'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.
In a previous life, midshipman James Norrington had once witnessed a Naval captain (not his own, thank God) checking out the fitness of a newly impressed crewman. At the time he'd found the spectacle repulsive, but now he was glad he had that example to imitate.
Norrington disdainfully brushed the sleeve of his gaudily trimmed green coat- the usual finery of a merchant ship captain- as he studied the figure tied to the base of the support beam. Noted the damaged clothing, the dirty rag tied over the mouth, the familiar dark-chocolate eyes glaring defiantly back at him. James gave that defiance no more acknowledgment that the stench assaulting his nose. This decrepit shed must've previously been used as a fish-gutting station.
"I was expecting something larger. Where'd you hook this one- a bait pond?"
The disreputable individual to his left, clad in a much harder-worn topcoat, gave him a gap-toothed smirk. "Bulk hain't all what figgers in a deckhand's value. Jus' take a closer gander at 'im."
"Very well." James sounded like he was consenting to do his 'host' a favor.
Two of the subordinate thugs bent to remove the cord fastening the prisoner to the post, then hauled him to his feet. James inspected the merchandise with a critical eye, peering into the irises for casts, checking the scalp for lice. Next he examined the musculature, poking the torso, back and shoulders, then grasping the bound arms to determine their circumference. His lip curled scornfully.
"Skinny. Any brisk gust will blow him off the deck."
"Not likely, Cap'in. This 'uns lean, but 'e's strong. Took all three of me lads ta rope 'im- hain't that so?" The three sullen underlings grunted confirmation. One pointed out his own blackened eye, another touched his bruised jaw.
"So he's insubordinate."
"Jus' 'cause he's fresh-caught. A few stripes'll cure 'im. 'Kin see fer yerself, hits been a while since he's needed any." The captive was turned around, his linen shirt ripped further to uncover the faded lash marks. James gave them a perfunctory look, snorting noncommittally. As Jack was spun forward again, Norrington seized the fine jaw, frowning. "How am I supposed to check the condition of his teeth through that cloth?"
"Hits necessary ta spare us bein' deafened from all 'is jawin'." The minions nodded again. "A right chatterbox he is, but cat'll fix that too."
"Aye- cat's a remedy fer all that ails!" gloated the bruised thug. All four members of the press gang laughed.
Norrington released the prisoner's head and stepped back, eyeing the length of him in a dismissive manner. "The asking price better not be high for such a small one."
"Thing is, Cap'in, bein' o' manageable size hain't disadventacious fer certain usages." Sparrow's eyes widened for an instant. James manufactured the contemptuous glance of a man who knows his opponent is bluffing.
"I'll give you four guineas."
"Four and halfpence."
"Couldn't consider less 'en eleven. Got ta make up expenses."
The press gang leader stroked an unwashed finger down Jack's cheek, leering as the captive flinched. "Mate, theer's establishments in this verra port that'll pay twice ez much fer a bloke comely ez this'un."
James controlled his distaste. "Seven. I'll even add an eighth, just to be done with it."
"Ten, gent. What the market'll bear."
"All right, nine. And not a farthing more!" Norrington knew he was taking a risk, agreeing to such an exorbitant price for a mere tar. The seller might deduce his customer had personal concern for the captive, and keep the price beyond his capacity to pay. James would very much prefer not to conclude this bargaining with a drawing of weaponry- that always involved a possibility of somebody being killed before their time. Instead, the ex-Commodore yanked all nine coins from his pocket and flashed them in front of the leader's discolored nose. Gambling that, upon viewing the actual money, this bastard's cupidity would override his strategic sense.
"I have other duties to attend to- I've no more time to waste here! Will you accept my bid or not?"
For a tense moment, the seller regarded the bright discs with suspicion. Then he took one, giving the edge a careful nip. His thick lips curved with greedy satisfaction as he gathered up the rest. "Done!"
The 'lads', their eyes already fixed on the gold, pushed Jack towards his buyer. James grasped the prisoner's arm as firmly as he'd once done on a Port Royal dock. Sparrow squirmed to mimic protest.
"Will ya be needin' any assistance deliverin' the merchandise?"
"No thank you. I can certainly handle this pathetic specimen." Norrington haughtily turned towards the shed's farther end, tugging his purchase along.
As they passed through the door the press gang leader called, "Pleasure doin' business with ya, Cap'in- come back anytime!" Norrington didn't bother responding. He just wanted to get Jack away from this pestilential hole as quickly as possible.
Once clear of the odious shed, the two hurried down the sagging pier and past the other abandoned docks, to the marginally less-decayed section of the waterfront. James spared a glance to check the coils encircling Sparrow's wrists- the surrounding skin was pinkish, but not bleeding or overly pinched. He could leave them there a while longer.
Jack made a demanding noise behind the splotched gag, accompanied by a sharp head shake. "Not until we're clear of this area," Norrington growled. Seeing the cold anger in those green eyes, the ex-pirate quieted.
As they rounded a derelict frigate, Norrington peered intently ahead- to his relief, that weathered hackney carriage was parked where he'd left it. The stout driver turned his head as they approached, his wide face a portrait of indifference. It was that very trait which had prompted James to chose this cab in the first place.
Norrington flung the door open and pushed Sparrow inside. "North, to the town limits!" he barked before following. The dullard obediently cracked a whip over his horse's rawboned rump, and they were off.
Sparrow slid over on the less-than-luxuriantly-padded bench, eyeing James imploringly as the latter settled beside him. Norrington regarded him sternly as he reached to the back of Sparrow's head and undid the knot. Jack spat the loosened cloth from his mouth, working his jaw. "That's appreciated." He shrugged his still-bound arms. "It'd be even more appreciated if you'd..."
The dark eyes sparked annoyance. "This is unbecomingly vindictive of you, cousin."
"But entirely justified, if it teaches you to be more resistant of temptation while on Missions."
"That weren't how it happened! I thought that pox-ridden git might be our contact!"
"You thought our contact would be offering to exchange a drink for a yarn, prior to confirming who he was."
Jack shifted from a discomfort other than the rope. "In retrospect, it might've been a good idea to establish his ID before acceptin' his offer."
"It might have!"
"Mr. Norrington, I'd much prefer you didn't raise yer voice. That mickey's left a fierce headache."
"You're damned lucky that's the worst result. Do you realize what a disaster this almost was- what could've happened if another 'customer' had arrived before I managed to track you down? I'd of been in no position to pursue you out to sea! We both know what abuses impressed sailors are subjected to in this era- do you imagine it would've been a matter of indifference if I'd had to abandon you here?"
Jack closed his mouth, his resentment fading entirely. "Well... it didn't happen."
"Only because I located our real contact and completed the transaction on schedule- I could just as easily have been delayed! Or, once I started looking for you, it might have taken longer to find the correct tavern. You can guess how I felt when I shouted out your description and a dozen people averted their eyes. That told me something had befallen you there, but none of these lowlife witnesses were inclined to tell me about it. And I didn't have many options for making anybody speak!"
"'Tis evident you managed," Sparrow noted humbly.
"Again, that was largely luck. I happened to chose the right individuals to ply with bribes, or carefully phrased threats. If I'd had to resort to anything more drastic..."
"Seems you didn't. Not even with them as deserved it." Jack's tone was frankly admiring.
James thawed a bit. "Murphy's still not going to be happy about this. We're responsible for putting gold into several pockets that wouldn't otherwise have it, which means items might be purchased that should have gone to others. In the case of that press gang, this incident could delay their next hunt to the point that different people will be affected. Heaven knows what repercussions that could have over the years."
"Odds are 'twill only be a twang."
"We can only hope. We can also forget about any bonuses for this Mission."
"Do ya really think we need ta report this?" The navyman bestowed That Look. Jack blew against his mustache, letting his gaze stray to the passing array of whitewashed buildings. "I suppose we do."
The carriage hit a rut and lurched- Sparrow barely managed to avoid being thrown to the floor. He turned another pleading look on his companion. "Surely you kin turn me loose now."
James' tone was still ice-hard. "First, you need to make me a promise. You've got to be a lot more restrained about these meanders from the assigned Mission. No matter what enjoyable prospects they present."
"I promise, Commodore." Jack bent forward, raising his fettered wrists.
Norrington got to work unfastening the rope. "I hope you mean it," he grumbled. "We're not going to be this fortunate every time. I don't want to think about what Mare would say, if I ever came home without you."
The last loop came free. Jack sat up again, tenderly fingering his abraded skin. James dismissed an irrational twinge of guilt. Sore wrists, plus a forfeited bonus, were a very small price to pay. For a few minutes the men remained silent. The passing landscape was now dotted with modest gray homes, set in ever larger plots as they entered the farmed areas.
"So, you did retrieve our objective?" Jack asked.
"With considerably less difficulty than was required to retrieve you."
"Would it be permissible fer me ta see it?"
James reached to a hidden pocket under his shirt, pulling forth a bronze-colored object. Jack took it, examining closely. It was a cigarette lighter, of a style popular in the 1950s. Not valuable, but premature discovery of it's mechanism would've added a few major fires to the historical record. "Rather a small thing, ta require all this effort."
"Small things can be the most troublesome." With a grudging smile, James added, "Though sometimes they're worth it."
Jack pouted a moment before returning the smile, slower and warmer than his usual flashing grin.
The carriage lurched to a stop. "Town limit!"
Norrington stirred uneasily. "We may have to bolt, Jack. I've spent everything I had."
"My treat this time." Sparrow deftly pulled off one battered shoe and extracted a coin from the lining.
The two men got out. As expected, the slack-faced driver made nothing of the 'prisoner' now being free. Nor of said prisoner being the one who handed him his fee. He just accepted it with a nod, and set about turning his horse. As the hack clopped away, Jack and James began the short hike along the barley field to their pickup spot. Sparrow practically skipped along, his ordeal already a distant concern.
"Ya know, you jus' got a real bargain, cousin. In our natural time the price on me head was ten thousand an' one guineas."
"I remember. But you still owe me for the nine. You can repay it by keeping out of trouble... at least as much as you're able to. Breaking in a new Mission partner would be a huge nuisance."
Sparrow gave him a sunny grin. "I'd feel the same. Can't think of any bloke I'd rather have watchin' me back than yerself, Mr. Norrington."
There was no rational cause at all, James considered, for him to respond by tugging one of Jack's tangled dredlocks back into place, whilst muttering "Scamp."
But he did it anyway.