Title: The Great Kidnap Caper (1?)
Disclaimer: For too long I've been addicted to fanfiction and unable to quit. Too long I've been writing PotC stories and haven't made any money.
Summary: A storm-damaged ship is boarded by pirates. A young mother tries to save her children, whatever the cost to herself. Among other things, this story will contain the epic battle between Jack Sparrow and Mrs. Fitzbrace-Pennythump. Many OC's but none of them will be falling in love with Jack. Prequel to "Crossing the Bar." No spoilers at all. This is comedy, folks. You thought I'd forgotten how to write that!
Thanks to geekmama for her wonderful beta work and to rennie1265 for nautical suggestions.
"'Ellen' means 'courage'," the young woman murmured to herself for about the hundredth time in three days. However, she did not feel at all courageous at the moment. Huddled in the cabin where her husband, Captain Robert McBride, had ordered her, she wished she had someone to comfort her in the way she was soothing her two small children. But it had been many years since the arms of a grownup could banish her fears. She knew how helpless adults truly were, now that she was one.
Young Robert, Jr., at five years old a serious-faced imitation of his father, was attempting to remain stoic and play the man. Little Aemelia, already a seasoned sailor at the age of three, had tucked her dark head under her mother's chin and was clinging fiercely. The child did not understand what was happening, but she felt the terror in the air about her, and so she turned to her mother for security. Not for the first time, Ellen McBride asked herself what kind of a mother she was, exposing her babes to the perils of the sea in order to sail with their father.
She had been impossibly romantic at the age of nineteen when she'd been swept off her feet by the dashing young merchant shipmaster, Robert McBride. Fearing that he would disappear back to sea, she had incautiously accepted his proposal and married him in haste. Her parents had been pleased with the match. The twenty-three year-old McBride was a rising captain who stood to inherit a substantial family business. Their complacence had altered, however, when they had learned of their daughter's determination to follow him to sea. Neither tears nor remonstrations had moved Ellen from her purpose. While it was unusual for a captain to carry his wife on board his ship, it was not unheard of. Some captains preferred the comforts of home that traveled with them in the persons of their wives.
And so the daughter of a scholar had gone to sea with the barque Rosalind on her trading voyages to the New World. Never even having been in a rowboat, Ellen had endured several months of sea sickness, paying her daily tribute to Neptune, as her husband unfeelingly referred to it. Even now, six years later, she had difficulty in stormy weather. She had grown used to the cramped quarters, to sharing her parlour with spare sails and her meals with the mates, to having to shift her work to the opposite side of the ship every time the call went out for a change of tack, to regulating her life by the ship's bell, to washing her clothing in irritating salt water. She had become resigned to the sparse diet, the periodic shortages of food and fresh water, the company of rough sailors, the loneliness when weather or business kept her husband long hours and days away from their cabin. She had learnt to mend sails and ropes and to navigate.
When the children had arrived, she had faced a whole new level of trials trying to keep them clean and fed and healthy, striving to keep them from falling into holds, off the rigging, or indeed, off the ship itself, struggling to keep them quiet so they didn't annoy the sleeping watches. She was their mother, their companion, and their teacher.
It was a hard life, but one she had come to love, not the least for the chance it gave her to be with Robert. Now that she was older and had seen more of the merchant commanders who sailed these waters, she knew how fortunate she had been in her choice of husband. He could be a hard man, but he was fair and even-tempered. And he loved her and their children, something a girl couldn't take for granted in a marriage.
Ellen hugged that thought to her heart. Robert's love. Like a lifeline in a raging sea. Whatever would happen to them next, she had experienced six years with her husband that she would never have had on land. She had the memories of starlit walks on the deck of the Rosalind, of standing in the bow with his warm arms around her watching the dolphins dance in the phosphorescent bow wave, of his grateful smile when she succeeded in bringing him hot tea on a stormy night. She had no regrets for the time she had spent with him. But oh, her babies! She hugged Bobbie's thin shoulders and squeezed Aemelia until the little girl squirmed and whimpered. What would become of them? For herself she cared nothing. But she couldn't bear the thought of harm coming to these little ones.
About her the Rosalind groaned and shook, and she heard the rumble of men's boots as her husband's crew of forty-two souls struggled to wring the last drop of speed from the wind that buffeted the crippled ship. Three days earlier they had been caught in the most severe storm she had ever experienced. Her husband had not had the leisure to do more than drop for an exhausted fifteen minutes of sleep in more than seventy-two hours. The furious wind had howled for days and the pounding seas had swept the decks and poured in the hatches with every pitch of the ship. The Rosalind had fought the tempest bravely, but it had been too much for the gallant little barque.
In the darkness, Ellen had shuddered in horror to hear the deafening, heart-stopping shatter of spars. At first she had been sure the bowsprit had split out and they were going down. But it had not been so bad as that. Bad enough, but they were still afloat in the angry seas. However, the main topmast had snapped off and been lost, taking down the entire mizzenmast in its departure and sending three men to their watery deaths. They had been forced to cut the rigging loose before the whole ship was dragged under. There had been no way to go back for them, no way to find them in the dark even if they had gone back. They were left to make what way they could with the stunted mainmast and the foremast—slow, but still afloat. The storm was growing less and less frenzied by the hour. Which should have been a relief.
Ellen had ventured shakily up on deck to join her husband and breathe a little of the fresh air to sooth the sick feeling in her stomach. She had long since retched up anything she could.
Then the man high on the foretop had spotted sails off the port quarter. At first there had been general rejoicing. A great ship that could crowd that much canvas in such a wind might have an extra spar that could be purchased. Certainly the Rosalind had been spotted by the stranger, for her course had altered directly to intercept. But the anticipation soon took an ominous turn as the hours passed and the oncoming ship grew visible to the unaided eye. She seemed a piece of the storm, cut loose and running free. Black as the tempestuous night from waterline to topgallants. Flying no colours. She could only be one ship.
The Black Pearl.
They had all heard the stories. Every merchanter that plied the Caribbean waters felt a surge of dread at the hint of black sails on the horizon. Captained by a man so evil hell itself had spat him back out. Never leaving any survivors. The Black Pearl was a ship of nightmare. The only hope was to outsail her—a matter of luck and skill when she was the fastest ship in the Caribbean. But the Rosalind, limping away as well as she could, would never outrun that dark predator now stalking her.
Robert had called them all on deck to hear his decision. Ellen had stood, shivering, next to her husband as he addressed the crew and the passengers. The passengers. Yes, they had passengers on this trip.
A parson and his wife. Very quiet. Below the hatches with sea sickness most of the time. Three merchants and their servants traveling with their merchandise to transact business in Port Royal—one a rather portly, jolly, younger man, another sober and solid and serious, the third thin and nervous and dyspeptic. And finally, the wife of one of Robert's business associates who had been attending her daughter-in-law's confinement and was now returning to Port Royal with her maid and her grandson who had proved too much for his mother with her new infant to distract her. Mrs. Fitzbrace-Pennythump.
Ellen had giggled when she had first heard the name. But there was no laughing matter about Mrs. Fitzbrace-Pennythump in her substantial person. She had a gimlet eye and a heart of steel and a tongue like an awl. She considered herself the most important person on the ship, whose opinions ought to be heard with reverence, and whose pronouncements were commensurate with the Decalogue. The merchants, to a man, ran when they saw her coming. Ellen had not been so fortunate. As the captain's wife she had been expected to associate with the female guests.
No action of hers had escaped that woman's criticism. Her laundry was inadequately cleaned, her parlour shabbily out of fashion, her wardrobe inappropriate, her housekeeping abysmal, her children marvels of misbehaviour and impropriety. Once Aemelia had fallen on the deck and used "a word" that she'd culled from the men, right in front of that harridan. Ellen was still hearing about that incident as proof that no good could possibly be in store for such a daughter. Never mind that Mrs. Fitzbrace-Pennythump's grandson was a nasty, hypochondriac little tyrant, Ellen thought viciously. And then chastised herself for the viciousness. She should not lower herself to that . . . that . . . that virtuous woman's level. And that poor little over-worked, under-appreciated, sometimes beaten maid—Ellen's heart went out to the girl.
All of them had gathered on deck now, looking variously miserable. The storm had been trying for everyone. Even the Pennythumps had been subdued as Robert informed them that the Rosalind could expect to be under attack by pirates within the next nine hours. At first the men were eager to fight. The barque had six guns to a side and two stern chasers, but Robert patiently pointed out that the pirates had easily four times that many. Also the barque was too badly injured to be easily maneuverable. And she could never outrun a ship such as the Black Pearl.
Ellen had watched her tall, rugged husband tell the bitter truth. The Black Pearl had never been known to offer quarter; however, the Rosalind had no choice but to surrender. Their only hope was to roll over and bare their throats and pray that these wolves of the sea would accept their act of submission and spare their lives.
Robert had never been the sort of man to back down from a fight. Ellen knew it galled him now to turn his ship to bay and allow these villains to board undeterred. But, as he had told the men, with women and children aboard, he dared do nothing else. He had made his decision.
So Ellen found herself huddled with her children in the captain's cabin, longing to be at home in Bristol, longing to be on deck with her husband, longing for the interminable, unbearable wait to be over. Praying for some miraculous deliverance. Trying to keep her fear hidden from her children.
Out on the shuddering deck of the Rosalind, she heard Robert's firm commanding voice ordering the ship's colours struck. He might have been ordering a sail trimmed, his voice was so unshaken. She had never been so proud of him. Surely she could comport herself to be worthy of such a man. "Ellen" means "courage," she thought again to herself.
Then a cacophony of strange voices and noises swallowed up the familiar sounds of the Rosalind and Robert's voice. The thunk of grapnels striking the hull of the bark. The clatter of planks hitting the rails. The thunder of booted feet battering the deck. Harsh shouts and orders.
"'Ellen' means 'courage'," the young mother whispered to herself as her heart failed her.
Then the door of the captain's cabin shattered open.
A tall man lurched through the broken door, cutlass raised.
Ellen leapt to her feet with a small shriek clutching at Aemelia and Bobbie. Aemelia buried her face in her mother's skirts and set up a wail, but Bobbie dodged his mother's hand and planted himself, pale and scowling, between his mother and sister and the pirate.
The intruder peered about the dim room, completely impervious to the pitching deck. His bare, bronze chest was crisscrossed with scars and two half-healed gashes. He was tattooed from wrists to shoulders. Not a hair adorned his shiny scalp. Gold hoops hung heavy in his ears, glinting in the low light. When his cold, foreignly-slanted eyes had catalogued the cabin's occupants, he bared his rotting teeth in a predatory grin.
"Ellen" did not mean "courage". It meant "terrified out of her cowardly mind." Somewhere, far away, someone was whimpering. Ellen wished she would shut up. Then she realized she was the culprit. She clamped her teeth over the despised sounds and accidentally bit her tongue. Paradoxically, the pain and the copper taste of blood in her mouth cleared her head a little. Managing finally to get hold of her son, she gathered him close.
Meeting the pirate's contemptuous gaze, she begged, "Please. They're only children." She hated the cringing of her voice, but she couldn't help it. "Do whatever you want with me, but please don't hurt my babies."
The man stepped towards her, leering. Bobbie made an abortive lunge in his mother's grip.
"No!" Ellen gasped. "Robert Alexander McBride, Junior, you keep still!"
"You leave my mother alone!" the small boy shrilled.
Ellen prayed for a third hand to cover her son's mouth.
The pirate transferred his attention briefly to his miniature adversary and grinned even more widely. "Plucky little bantam, ain't ye?"
He returned his inscrutable eyes to Ellen. "Now, ye just stay quiet like a good boy while yer ma an' me parley."
Ellen shrank back as the man drew nearer and she smelled the rank odour of his unwashed body. A grimy hand reached out to stroke her cheek. She realized her face was wet with tears she hadn't known she'd been shedding.
"Now that's a right friendly-like offer ma'am," the pirate drawled.
Ellen forced herself to remain motionless. She wanted to wail like Aemelia, but she had to be strong for her children.
"And I'd like t'be takin' ye up on it," the wretched man continued, winking at her. "But that'll be up t' the captain. Savvy?"
The rough fingers traveled over her jaw and dropped to her throat. Ellen shuddered, fighting to hold still. Bobby tried to kick at the pirate, but she hung on to him grimly, almost grateful for the distraction.
Then miraculously, the pirate pulled back his hand. Turning to the creaking shards of door, he hollered, "Captain! There's somethin' here that'll interest ye!"
Pulling a chair over to the doorway, the pirate lounged back in it, his cutlass across his knees. Ellen crowded her little brood as far from him as possible.
"He's got a thing about prisoners," the man informed her conversationally, as though they were old acquaintances. "Right obsessed he is." He shook his head. "Tain't natural is what I say, but there y'are. He's the Captain."
Something worse than this wretch whose eyes roamed over her like she was merely a prize for the plundering? Ellen shivered. Of course the captain of the Black Pearl would have to be the hardest of a hard lot of men. A man so evil, hell itself spat him back out, her mind gibbered to her. When had her waking life slid over into nightmare?
Bobbie vibrated in her arms, reaction to his fright setting in. Aemelia's cries subsided to soft hiccoughing sobs, backed by sounds of the pirates looting the Rosalind—the shouts, the feet hammering down hatchway stairs, the merchandise and stores being hauled up on deck. Were they to be murdered, or merely left to starve?
And then, in a flurry of booted steps tripping down the companionway, the pirate captain appeared silhouetted in the doorway.
Pausing, he leaned over and peered with a puzzled expression at the ruin of the door; then he straightened up and sauntered into the room.
He had, Ellen noted hysterically, all of the hair that his crewman lacked, added to enough for several other people. And the dark masses of it appeared never to have met with anything so civilized as a comb. To add to the tangled mess, he'd apparently tied numerous odd objects, beads and ornaments to the various braids and knotted strands. In fact he chimed when he moved. A battered tricorn perched jauntily on top of a red scarf on his head, and his charcoal justacorps coat was faded and worn.
In spite of his unprepossessing stature and apparel, he seemed to bring his own light into the cabin, as though everything in it was a little less polished and everyone in it a little less alive. How he could accomplish it, Ellen was at a loss to say. Perhaps it had something to do with the fire sparking in his eyes, the expressions fleeting across his mobile face, the flourishing eloquence of his movements.
Just now his entire body was speaking of exasperation.
"Mr. Matelot," said his captain, rolling his eyes and tilting his head with an air of long-suffering patience. "That was, if I am not mistaken, a door at one time. I do hate to sound redundant, but you do remember how to use one, do you not?" He waved a hand with casual elegance at the hanging splinters. "How many times do I have to tell you? First you take hold of the handle. Like this." He demonstrated. "Then you turn the handle." He turned it with exaggerated care. The door shifted ominously. "And voila!" He waved both arms in enthusiastic circles, smiling madly. "The door is open, and you can enter a room with none of this regrettable production of kindling." The remains of the door clattered to the deck. The captain jumped back and eyed the wreckage accusingly.
The pirate, Matelot, had leapt hastily to his feet at the appearance of his commanding officer, but he was not looking overly-chastised by this peroration. He merely grinned at his superior in a less than needle-witted way. "Aye, sir," he agreed amiably.
The pirate captain grimaced and turned to scrutinize the "somethings interesting" his crewman had promised.
Ellen braced herself. This foppishly-behaved creature was the captain of the Black Pearl, after all. Whatever he might look like, he was the force behind the ship feared by the entire Caribbean. And the sword in the baldric slung across his chest looked as deadly as the two pistols protruding from his belted sash. Her arms tightened around her protesting children.
"Well now," the pirate captain said brightly. "What have we here?"
"Prisoners, sir," offered Matelot, stating what was surely the obvious. "Woman and kids. I didn't do nothin' to 'em, just like you said."
"Good man." His captain clapped him on the shoulder. "If you had to forget something, I much prefer it be the door. Now will you stand watch by the aforementioned former door and prevent any rashly stupid rescue attempts?"
"Aye, sir." The big man lumbered out of the cabin and stood with his back against the companionway.
Ellen felt strangely abandoned.
The captain of the Black Pearl came towards her, his movements perfectly matching the rolling of the Rosalind. A predator. Ellen pressed her back against the bulkhead, but it refused to absorb her. "Please," she began softly, ready to offer him anything to spare Aemelia and Bobbie.
He held up a forestalling hand, swept his hat off in an elaborate flourish of a bow, and introduced himself. "Captain Jack Sparrow, at your service my lady."