A/N: Thanks so much for the reviews! You should be happy to hear that as of last night I actually know where I'm going with this story. lol, before this I just pretty much had a dangling beginning teaser, but now I've got it all planned out. Which means I'll probably finish it! Yay!
SD: thanks for PM. I get kind of crazy over bitty details like that. Like, I just figured out that in clear weather it would really only take two to three days to travel from Port Royal to Tortuga, which made me want to go back and change what I said in chapter one about the trip taking nearly two weeks. But then I figured, hey, it was stormy. That could have slowed them down. ... a lot... ;p
William was completely lost within minutes. He had heard of this town countless times since he was a child- it was the centerfold for nearly every one of his uncle Jack's tales- and William had foolishly come to believe that he had actually come to know it. More careful recollection revealed that this was far from the case. Jack's flowery descriptions had always been a bit fuzzy when it came to details such as directions. William had never been bothered as a child, but now he was frustrated that he hadn't pushed for more specific information.
"And then I hopped of me Pearl and popped into the tavern..."
He had made it sound as though it were right at the edge of the pier, but William had not seen any signs proclaiming what Jack had always steadfastly asserted to be the ninth wonder of the world (his Pearl, of course, being the eighth).
Finally, William came upon a pair of men with gray hair, long beards, and faces turned to leather from years of hard work in the sun. Laughing through cracked teeth, they strode down the cobbled road, talking about the drinks they were hoping to collect on from the tavern, from a bet they had won earlier that day.
William, smiling at his good fortune, turned to follow the pair back toward the docks and, hopefully, Jack's fabled tavern. If there was more than one tavern in town then William might be in trouble. His intended contact was only ever seen within the walls of the Crow's Nest... or so Jack had implied on his last visit the summer before. William could only hope that the situation had not changed in the past seven months.
So caught up was William in his contemplation and worry that he thought nothing of it when he followed the pair of suddenly much quieter sailors around a corner and into a very questionable looking alley. The buildings rose up high on either side of William, and were positioned so close together that only a hint of starlight could find its way down.
William only had a moment to marvel that anyone at all could find his way to the tavern surely hidden back here, before he felt the touch of icy metal against his throat. He took in a sharp breath, thought momentarily of darting back, out of reach, but decided against taking the risk. Instead, he lifted his hands and offered softly, "Please, I have very little money, and nothing of true worth."
This was not entirely true; he had enough money to provide him a bed for several days, and some jewels and trinkets, besides, to barter for information and fair passage on a ship out of Tortuga once he had a destination in mind. Still, his mother had always taught him that honesty was not nearly so important as security, and there would be no point in losing his possessions now if he could possibly avoid it.
"I have not seen your faces," he continued, "nor any other way of identifying you. If you walk away now-"
"Not seen our faces, eh?" A voice cackled from somewhere off to William's left. His eyes darted wildly in that direction, but all he could make out was a darker shadow amongst shadows. "Our faces are what ye've been following for three streets now, and it won't do any of us good for you to deny it."
A second voice sounded, sharp and angry, from a place slightly behind the first.
"Who sent you after us? Splinter? Don't tell us he's that sore over losing a simple wager."
William realized suddenly that the voices of these two matched those of the men he had been following to the tavern.
"I am sorry," he breathed, heart pounding. He had been so foolish to openly follow them in such a way. He had always known that pirates were an untrusting lot, and yet now, when it counted, he had completely forgotten such common knowledge. "This is a terrible misunderstanding. I haven't been sent after you..." The metal pressed more firmly into his throat, and William silenced, wincing.
"Didn't I tell ye it'd be no good denying it, whelp?"
"I..." William stopped abruptly. It was painful to speak. He wanted to arch his neck back to lessen the pressure against his throat, but was sure that the stranger would feel no qualms about striking if he sensed William making any movement to escape. He could not speak, he could not move... he had no idea what he could do.
In his mind's eye William saw a flash of what his uncle Jack might have done in this situation: smiling, lifting his hands innocently, and distracting the men with a long and winding explanation for his presence there until he had worked his way past their blades and suspicions.
"You see, mates, I was just working me way down to the Crow's Nest, honest and proper, when I saw you fine lads on your way to the very same place. I was only just hoping to include you in me most recent business endeavor- I've been looking for a few more strapping young men to add to me crew, see, and you seem just the proper sort..."
His mother would have no trouble getting out of this situation as well. Raising her hands, she would stammer her innocence in the likeness of a woman far less daring than she was.
"Please, please don't hurt me. I only came here to deliver this, from a mutual friend." She would lower a hand slowly to her pocket and draw out an ordinary handkerchief, which she would then hold out to the men, visibly trembling. When they took it and switched their attentions that way, believing a message of some sort to be scrawled inside, she would draw out her cutlass and strike.
And then a third image appeared in William's mind- old and faded- of a man he had only seen once before in his life. A man who was tall and well built from years of constant exertion at the forge and with a blade. A man whose eyes could burn with an angry passion so terrible as to make any opponent quail and surrender (or so Jack said). The finest swordsman throughout the seven seas, Will Turner, doubtless, would have no need of words or trickery to best these two old men. He would draw out his blade, with the swiftness of the very wind, and bat their swords to the ground with practiced ease. Then he would press his metal to their throats, a bold reversal of fortune, and politely request that they point out the location of the tavern.
William's jaw tightened at the image. Will Turner would think these men nothing more than a joke, while William could not imagine a scenario where he escaped their clutches alive.
And then a sudden glow from behind him lit the alley, making his aggressors wince at the sudden brightness in their eyes. By the time William thought to take advantage of their blindness, however, they had recovered.
The man holding the sword to William's throat- whom, William could now see, had a face riddled with scars under his long, gray beard- snarled, "Who's there?"
The last voice William had imagined coming to his rescue responded from the alley's entrance.
"Someone who's got an interest in preserving that sweet face ye've been threatening."
William's eyes widened and, not daring to turn from Scar-face and his companion, he breathed, "Isobel, what are you doing? It's not safe here."
"That's what I should be telling you, sweet thing." Then her voice turned stern. "Harry Welles, Alexander Dobson." Both men started. "Ye used to be fearsome pirates, renowned across the Spanish Main, if old stories can be believed. Now ye amuse yerselves by threatening innocent boys in dark alleys." She tutted. "Time wore away at ye, like great rocks in the sea, slowly eaten up by the waters until ye're nought more'n shapeless pebbles."
Both men gaped at the woman, shocked into speechlessness. William held his breath, hoping that Isobel's words had not antagonized them so much that they would decide to simply kill him for the sake of it.
Finally Scar-face (Harry?) sputtered, "No one's called us by those names in ages. What kind of a witch are ye?"
A high, incredulous laugh came from Isobel then, and she responded lightly, "The kind that'll lay a hex on ye so fast ye won't see it coming if ye don't do what I'm asking. The boy followed ye by honest mistake, and there's no point in starting a whole mess of trouble over that. Now go."
Harry glanced to his companion, who was white faced and wide eyed, then took a step away.
"An honest mistake," he echoed, then scowled at William. "If we see ye behind us again ye won't get off so easy, boy." Then they both departed at a quick pace from the alley, their swords both still drawn. William waited until they had disappeared around the far corner and then turned to face Isobel.
She seemed to glow from the reflected light of the lantern she carried, her golden hair tinged with waves of wild orange, and her scarlet dress appeared dyed with blood. When her brown eyes caught the firelight they lit with and ethereal yellow glow. She looked just like a witch in every way that William had ever dared to imagine, but then she smiled, and the shiver threatening to race along his spine vanished.
"Isobel." He shook his head, smiling, shocked at how very pleased he was so see her again. "That was amazing."
"Oh, it wasn't so much as all that." She shrugged with the casual air of one who regularly spent her nights chasing armed men out of dark alleys. "Just keep yer eyes and ears open in a place like this, and ye're bound to come up with enough background on most of the regulars to throw them for a loop in a pinch." Grinning, she added, "Most pirates, see, they're a bit more superstitious than ye'd expect. All too eager to explain simple things away as being from ghosts or witches."
"Well, whatever it was, thank you." William moved forward, back out of the alley and onto a wide, cobbled street. "And, not to sound ungrateful, but what are you doing here?"
"What, ye thought I'd let ye wander all on yer lonesome like a little lost lamb? I could tell from the very first I saw ye that ye'd fall apart alone in a place like this. Ye were raised proper, up in a sparkling castle, away from the dangers lurking in dark corners."
"I most certainly was not."
He had been raised by the pirate king, after all, and had grown up enjoying regular visits from her "subjects." Along with lessons from school books on British history he had learned young how to properly swing a sword and fire a pistol, and even though he had never actually engaged in any sort of illicit activity before now, he was hardly as ignorant to the prospect as Isobel seemed to think.
If he had expected his indignant response to quiet her, however, he was to be sorely disappointed. The woman nearly doubled up with laughter, shaking her head so that her golden ringlets bobbed around her face.
William, despite his offense, suddenly realized just what a pretty face it was. The rouged cheeks and lips had distracted him from it at first- young and curved in the semblance of a heart, with a small, rounded nose that was dotted with freckles. She was younger than her clothes and makeup made her appear.
"See?" she announced, gleefully, "Even how ye talk gives ye away. 'I most certainly was not.' Like ye're a little prince, raised in a golden cradle."
A faint blush heated William's cheeks, and he could only hope that the firelight hid it.
Did he truly sound so strange? William's grandfather, on his mother's side, had been a governor- a man of very high social class. His daughter had drifted away from that social order as soon as she had reached adulthood, but her pattern of speech and mannerisms had always remained at the class to which she had been bred. William was, in that regard, very much his mother's son.
"Well," not knowing how to respond to such insinuations, William decided to ignore them entirely. "I thank you again for your attentiveness, Isobel, and for your concern. Now, if you could kindly point me in the direction of the Crow's Nest Tavern..."
The young woman frowned, free hand falling to her hip.
"Ain't nothing for one like ye in a place like that, sweet thing. The only crow's nest ye should be looking at is the one on that fancy ship ye rode in on."
William's polite facade dissipated in rush of open hostility. However grateful he was for Isobel's assistance, his pride could only take so many attacks in one night.
"And what interest, Miss, do you have in my well being, anyway?"
The girl smiled, unfazed.
"Nothing more'n I said before. It'd be a shame for a face like that to get slashed up. What's so important that's got ye all excited to get yerself chopped to bits, anyway?"
William shook his head, trying to dispell his frustration. A pair of women, as gaudily made up as Isobel, though at least a decade older, gave William appraising looks as they walked by. Not a single face that he saw looked remotely friendly, save Isobel's, and he was not going to find his way to the Crow's Nest without help. For the moment, at least, he needed her.
"If I tell you my reasons will you promise to take me there?" She nodded, watching him attentively. He sighed. "Alright, then.
"My father is away at sea, Isobel, and he has been for a long time. There are impossible circumstances keeping him there, and I am here in search of someone who might be able to help free him from those bonds. I have to find him, and find a way to bring him home with me. I am afraid if I don't, my mother is going to die."