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Finding North by dee
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Jack's first memory was sun on salt-weathered decks, the wood golden-warm against his bare skin up on the forecastle with the sea all around, endless, sparking like perfect-cut gems. She cradled him, held him aloft triumphant and surging through the waves as he kicked and shouted with glee. Them against the world.



He wasn't good at ages, but he couldn't have been more than twelve when he lost two teeth in a brawl with another crew member over a pearl-drop earring. Jack can't even remember what it looked like now, but he remembers the blow that rattled all his bones and his eyes in their sockets.

"If he's old enough to want it, he's old enough to bleed for it," the captain - a leather-skinned Spaniard called Delgado - declared.

Jack spat the jagged splinters of tooth onto the deck. Someone clapped him on the shoulder, but he was too dizzy, his blood on the deck and ringing in his ears. He fell forward, and for a moment he was sure that his palms and knees were melting into the welcoming wood.



Not long after that, he killed his first man. Delgado's Pearl lured her would-be attackers in, blinding them with the enticing vulnerability of a faked list and hastily-struck merchant colours. The pirates were ambushed on the deck of their prize by her lurking crew.

The Dutch first mate was pressed hard against the mizenmast when Jack leapt out of his hiding place. His opponent had no attention to spare for skinny boys, right up until Jack's knife ripped through his kidneys.

Van Guyt handed him his own sword as the man went down. "Finish him off, lad."

The blood slicked over the deck, thick and fast. It ran into the cracks between boards, and over Jack's toes, and he felt the Pearl shiver as the wind and waves crashed the two ships together and screaming chaos skittered over her.



They hove to off Guadeloupe for repairs and the crew dragged Jack into the taverns. Van Guyt himself paid the barmaid - a saucy half-caste native girl - to take Jack upstairs. She was perfunctory and his education was brief, but he was too caught up in it to notice or care, and he thought maybe this felt like the sea, swallowing him whole and salty and overwhelming as he cut clean and crisp through its pulse.

When they returned to the dock, Captain Delgado gave him a sword of his own, a brutal, heavy cutlass that had belonged to an Englishman they'd called Cutter, before he got himself swept overboard in a storm.

"You're a crewman of the ship now," Delgado said.

Jack looked up at the angelic figurehead of the Black Pearl, with her supplicating hands and blank-carved eyes. "She'll be mine, one day," he swore, glutted and sated and drunk on youth.

Delgado laughed. "You'll be hers."



Jack climbed her rigging and reefed her sails and stripped and caulked her seams. He scrambled over every inch of her, learning her draft and her pitch and her yaw, the pull at the sheets that meant she could quarter further, the whisper of her masts that meant she could take more canvas, the beautiful shot-sharp slice of her stretched to her utmost.

He dreamed, wrapped in her depths, of clean-lined limbs that danced to the wind, ephemeral and salten and more sensual than any serving girl he tupped when they made port, their feet earthbound and their faces dirty.



In Curacao, sleeping off a headfull of rum in the dunes, Jack missed the tide. He woke with the sun high, sand down the back of his neck, and the dock, when he finally sprinted its echoing length, empty save for him and the circling, mocking gulls.

He served fourteen months on traders, counting and begrudging every single day of scentless zephyrs, dull-eyed Dutch and Portugese sailors manning lifeless, tarred hulks plodding along stinking slaving routes. Torpor was contagious, and Jack could feel his blood slowing, like tree-sap, like molasses fed to bored cattle.



He found her again in Bissau, laid up for refitting. Seeing her was like a blow to the solar plexus, like falling from the rigging and losing his breath in the cold sea. He stepped up on the edge of the wharf, one hand on the hawser, the other outstretched to press palm and fingers to the gentle swell of her hull. She moved with the respiration of the sea, and he exhaled-inhaled with her. The water slunk below him, inky and narrow.

Half the crew had changed, but they were the blood in the veins of a body that remained the same. It welcomed him back like a forgiving lover. Van Guyt was in the captain's cabin. He needed a second mate.



The Pearl spoke to Jack. She sculpted the world and fed it to him. She spiralled and twisted and gathered together the skeins of the wind in the snap of her canvas. She told him things beyond his imagining in the sussurations of the hull through the deeps, tales of the fish and the mermaids. She flowed through his hands curled on her wheel. She moved her to move him, and they sprang forth through the waters of the Atlantic, secrets laid bare.

Reunited.

And Jack dreamed.

He dreamed of her, the spirit, the succubi who teased him no more but ravaged, rampaged, bucked and fought and drained him even as she filled, refilled, brought him to boiling quickness with her bright dark beauty and this, yes, this, oh yes, was the sea and the wind and the world. She drove him mad and made him whole.

"Never," she whispered. "I will never be parted from you again."



They ran back to the Caribbean, and the air off the Lesser Antilles smelled as close to home as Jack could imagine. They skulked into Barbados for provisions and news, rum and women. Wind at their back, they trawled the coast. The Pearl sang a different song in Van Guyt's hands than she had for Delgado. She swooped and stung, fought hard and vicious like a prize bitch to emerge ragged, smoking, victorious.

They sacked Maracaibo with two merchantmen spare to hold the plunder. Jack killed the commander of the fort himself and took his longsword for his own. It was a fine Spanish blade, and when he examined it in his cabin, reflecting and refracting candlelight, cleaned of blood and gore, he felt his own grim joy in its gleam returned and honed.

Like recognised like.



They divided the plunder in Campeche, and the men scattered to squander theirs. They'd be back by the time the ship was refitted, Jack knew, broke again and hungry for more. They would return to the Pearl because she the best pirate vessel in these waters. Some, maybe, would return because they knew she was more than that.

It was the Captain's last voyage. Van Guyt was feeling his age, and there was a plump and wealthy widow in Cartagena waiting. He called Jack back just as he was leaving the ship.

He said that the Pearl was his.



But I'm only the second mate. What about Barbossa? I'm too young.

You understand her. You know her. She knows you.

She is yours.

You are hers.



The captain's cabin came with the heart-stopping fulfillment of too many dreams, and a small casket of treasure beyond count. Maps and charts. And a compass in a hard, plain case.

Jack raised the instrument, and watched the needle swing a lethargic circle, lolling and lurching.

"You'll understand," Van Guyt said, smiling slow. He closed the case, and tucked it into Jack's pocket. "When you need it, you will understand."



Jack could not sleep in the cabin. He stretched on the bare boards of her deck, amidst the coiled ropes, the tamped barrels, the port-ready order. The warm Caribbean air curled around him. Through the furled spread of the Pearl's masts, he could see the sky. Shivering over the timber of her body, he could hear the revelry of the town.

He slept.



Do you feel the slow swell of the water buoying up letting down let me cradle you in my arms its arms let me show you the world take me guide me make me yours always feel the salt the blood the essence you know it let it run give it to me will you slave my master my own?

Yes.

Do you feel the slow swell of the water?

Yes.

Do you feel?

Yes.

Doyes.

Yes.



The Black Pearl is a war galleon, tall and proud - three masts, two decks of guns. She doesn't slink close to the waterline like more modern frigates and corvettes, but she can outrun them still. She's a relic of a century past, of a time when pirates ruled the Main, whatever the Spanish said.

They say she sailed in the Treasure Fleet, that she was a Manila Galleon, that she was loaded with booty the day Henry Morgan sacked Havana.

She keeps her own secrets.

She is a spirit, clean-lined, dancing to the wind, running bright over spume, just ahead of yesterday.

His last memory, Jack knows, will be of her sun- and salt-tempered timbers, riding the infinite gaping promise of the dark waves, shivering under his hands, carrying him into forever.