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Aug. 1st, 2006 | 04:12 pm
posted by: d_r_o_n_e in get_stoked

Or, as our German friends say, Hertzlichen glückwunsch zum Geburtstag! Sorry i am late in the afternoon with posting this but as is somewhat well-known, my intarwebs at home has gone the way of the dodo and my access is limited to when i manage to drag myself and my laptop to Panera for a coffee. Being as how last night i celebrated your birthday in absentia by drinking many PBRs at a bar called the Speakeasy while playing Penthouse Photo Hunt and beating a monkey with a club (no really), i am a bit late on the uptake...or the up-post, rather.

Ok, so i hope this doesn't make you want to poke out an eye instead of go "yay what a great present", unless of course what you really want for your birthday is an eyepatch and no depth-perception, in which case, poke away! But, i digress. This is one of two things: it is a self-contained gen PotC fic building on my earlier piece, growkin jack a de surgu, and it is also potentially the first chapter in a longer piece that covers from Jack's initial employment by the EITC, the sinking of the Black Pearl and Jack's actual backstory with Cutler Beckett, right up until he gets the compass from Tia Dalma and sets out to find Davy Jones to raise up the sunken wreckage of his ship. So, if you LIKE to think of it as a WIP, please do; there will eventually be more. If not, the piece, like the cheese, stands alone.

The inspiration for this came from the second film's merchandising, specifically a game in which Jack's back-story with Beckett mentions that he once captained the Black Pearl under the flag of the EITC, but he turned pirate and made off with a hold full of the Company's property when he was forced into transporting a cargo he found immoral (rumored to be a hold full of slaves).


"We're to set 'em free, Bo'sun!" The deep baritone of First Mate Bootstrap Bill Turner preceded his actual physical appearance. He shortly emerged, making his way with careful surety down the galley ladder to where the oarsmen sat shackled.

The bo'sun looked aghast, then astonished. Finally he laughed. "'At's a good'un, Bootstrap. Haw haw, set 'em free! Had me goin'!"

Bill produced a pistol and pointed the business end of the barrel at the bridge of the bo'sun's nose. He wasn't laughing.

"Jack'll be down shortly. You'll listen to what he has to say, and then can do the honors, mate, or i'll be painting the galley walls the color of your brains. Captain's orders: Jack says there'll be no slaves on the Pearl, not under his command."

"Wha-...?" The bo'sun fumbled to make sense of the situation. This was mutiny!

Except, how could it be mutiny if the captain were leading it?

Freeing slaves? The majority of the cargo was slaves, men chained up in the galley making themselves useful pulling the sweeps as needed, wi' th'women and little'uns down in the brig. Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of slaves, all belonging to the East India Trading Company, the mother company under whose auspices the Pearl sailed.

Captain Jack Sparrow picked his way a bit more gingerly down the ladder than had his able First Mate. His clothes were a slight bit more disorderly than some more fastidious merchant captains, and his long brown hair was tied back in a less-than-tidy manner. He was more-or-less clean-shaven, more-or-less well-spoken. The galley slaves looked from one to another, then to the strange bird of a man standing before them, trying to comprehend the events unfolding.

Jack smacked his fist three times against the oarsmen's drum, then addressed the lot of them.

"'Ello, men! I am Captain of this ship, Captain Jack Sparrow." He clapped his hands to his chest as he spoke his own name.

"This ship be the Pearl." He gestured broadly to the hull walls on either side.

Then he raised his hands above his head. "Hands up, fellows, who's got some English then?"

About half of the chained men--some black, some Carib, a couple-dozen men ranging the gamut of not-white--raised palms to the sky.

Jack clapped his hands together in a manner that might've seemed girlish in another man, and crowed, "Very well! Very well then! Them as can follow me, follow along, and then all may confer and convey to your un-Englished fellows what I have conveyed to your fellowship. Once we've come to a general understanding, and you know where I stand, and i know where you stand, we'll determine who's to be conveyed ashore and who's to remain aboard."

He paused so that the English-speaking oarsmen might briefly explain his words to the others, then continued.

"Three days ago, we sailed from Kingston. We are now just off the coast of Montego. I regret that I had to keep you in the galley even that long, but bear with me; my motive was, I believe, excusable. I needed to get us out of range of the Navy powers and the Company's shipping lanes. I needed to get us to a free port, somewhere i could make you all this offer and mean it. So forgive me for that, but hearken. My offer.

"Simple as this: any men as wants to, may go free. Women, children, all go free. Make homes, lives, settle or wander, wive or whore or farm or fish, whatever ye like, whatever ye choose. Montego's nominally Spanish, and it's but a short journey back into the swamplands for those inclined to disappear. But any man as wishes, may remain. The Black Pearl has just shirked the yoke of the law, turned pirate vessel. Them as stays will receive one share in all prizes taken."

There was a commotion among the galley slaves. The men who'd understood Jack's words whooped and cheered and began to tell their fellows in a polyglot of varied tongues the gist of Jack's announcement. Shortly, Jack struck the drum with his fist again, this time until the men quieted, seven drumbeats.

"Any man as chooses, be welcome in this crew, and...well, no promises, but I'll try to see ye get home to see your wives every now and then, if wives ye have. Now, ye must be civil to one another and to me crew, and we'll have the irons off ye all in short order.

"Be advised, men, of these two salient points:

"First, ye owe me nothin'. Nothin' but yer loyalty if ye choose to serve. Freedom ain't a gift from me to you, it's a right restored.

"And second, any man what causes any trouble before we put to port, with all due respect will be shot where he stands. The irons gone, you are no better nor worse than any other man on this ship, and we brook no discontent here. Any scores to settle will be settled ashore.

"Do I make myself clear?"


When the irons came off, many of the men rushed abovedecks for a long-longed-for look at the sea and the sky and the shoreline so close. Membotu, however, had approached the man they called Bootstrap and asked to be led to the brig. He was leery of this sudden freedom--mightn't they all be shot for sport in an hour's time? This glimpse might be fleeting, and he had a better mind of how he'd like to spend it than gamboling on-deck.

"Ye have business wi'me?" Bootstrap asked, without malice. Membotu nodded.

"My wife, my children, they down there."

Bootstrap considered. "Very well, mate, someone'll need to explain all this to them as well--guess you'll do."

His wife, Malaika, had stood dumbstruck for a full minute after Bill had swung open the brig doors and Membotu had relayed the situation. Then she burst into tears.

An hour's passage didn't bring the sport-shot Membotu had suspected and feared; instead, the freedmen were turned ashore and told that, if they wished to join the crew, to return at dawn. Membotu and Malaika took their two boys and, along with a number of their fellows, ran for the woods, for the swampland. Twilight's twisted shadows brought a lifetime's change in a matter of hours--acquaintance with the small but welcoming and tight-knit community of swampdwellers, a position for Malaika and the boys in the home of a weaver-woman named Jubala, a candle-lit tangle of man and wife both tearful and joyful, and perhaps the most portentous decision of Membotu's life.

Shortly before the sun put in his begrudging appearance, Membotu presented himself at the Pearl's gangplank, along with perhaps fifteen other former galley slaves. He knew he would miss Malaika and their two boys fiercely, but he felt that service aboard the Black Pearl was not only a potentially-lucrative new vocation, but something he owed Jack Sparrow, no matter what he'd said to the contrary.

He was immediately assigned to the starboard side, manning one of the sheets that controlled the mainmast topsail. One of the older crewmen deftly showed him how to belay a line, and how two men might work together to pull a sheet even tighter than one could manage. When the ship had set sail and was finally out in the open sea, every man was doled a ration of grog and set to scrubbing the deck clean. It was hard work, but Membotu didn't mind. He actually took a bit of enjoyment in it, learning new skills, even the most basic tasks that the running of a ship required, enjoyed it because he knew he had chosen it.

After the sun had set and he and his shipmates had gone to hammock, Membotu lay awake. Sleep comes slow, he thought. I wish i could just look at the stars tonight, and just as quickly as it had come to him, he realized: he could. He was free to do as he wished. Membotu quietly climbed abovedecks. The sea was calm, placid, and the Pearl rocked but gently on the smallest of waves. Membotu looked up at a thousand Caribbean stars scattered across the black night sky. He wondered if Malaika might be looking at those same stars, back in the thick of the swamp settlement.

"Beautiful night," came the voice of Jack Sparrow from the darkness. Membotu turned; the Captain had materialized beside him. In his right hand he carried a half-filled bottle of rum.

"Yes," Membotu nodded. "My second night a free man. Almost as beautiful as the first." Membotu smiled and the Captain grinned back, clapped him (a bit drunkenly) on the shoulder.

Then the two men stood for a while in easy silence, each caught by his own thoughts.

Finally Membotu spoke. "Why you do this, Captain? Turn pirate? Free this hold of men? You must care for riches, if pirate you be turned, and you must know we'd all be worth much gold on the block at Port Royal."

"What is your name, oarsman?" Jack asked him.

"Oarsman," he'd just said. Not "nigger." Membotu's eyebrow quirked--days of many firsts were these.

"My name is Membotu."

"Membotu, eh? Membotu." Jack rolled the name around on his tongue. "Sounds like a language me Da once used, speaking to me mother in the dark atimes."

Membotu wondered--what language would this man know so far removed from the slaver's tongue?

Jack cocked his head with a faraway gaze and continued, "Why would I set you free? I'll tell you, Membotu: I ain't always been a sailor.

"Ain't always been a white man, neither."

Membotu's eyes widened. How could that be so?

Jack offered him the half-empty bottle of amber liquid. "Go on, have a swig." Membotu took the proffered bottle, tipped a tiny taste into his mouth.

Jack continued, "The people I came from, as a boy, we was called gypsies. Travellers. Most places white men rule beneath a British standard, gypsies be held as another kind of nigger. Hated. Scapegoats. Sometimes lynched for being in the wrong place, the wrong time. Definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time when me Da were press-ganged into the Royal Navy. He never had no choice about being a sailor. Tars with cudgels just up an took 'im. Belike as how you never had no choice about being a galley-slave."

Membotu remembered the men with rifles, bayonets, that had stormed his village, forced his brethren into ponderous lengths of iron chain.

"What 'bout you, Captain? You choose to be a sailor?"

Jack took a long pull on the bottle. "Aye, Membotu. That I did. I chose it, knew asea I could leave behind the restrictions of a gypsy life. Wander the land, wander the sea, all the same to me, but better here, perhaps. Further ways of wandering, widening the world when you're aboard a ship. Thought I might run into me Da again someday out here, or someone as knew him, more likely than him ever finding me ashore again.

"Apprenticed to a navigator on a privateer ship, firstlike. Learned a speck of reading and script, found my way around a sextant and the stars, a good bit of cartography, 'til I began making me own maps. You prove yourself in me crew, I'll teach you too, if you like. Maps are a man's freedom papers, and there's not a man in the world with a more accurate set of maps of the seas than Captain Jack Sparrow."

Membotu smiled at the Captain's braggadocio. Jack passed him the bottle and he tried a bigger sip this time. The rum was warm in his throat, spiced and comforting in its dark clarity.

Jack went on. "It was that very fact as came to the attention of the East India Trading Company--they wanted me maps, they did, and I'm not ashamed to say they got them. Traded them for the Captainship of the Pearl and a place in their fleet of merchantmen. I knew with me own ship, no corner of the globe could hold me back.

"Never considered they'd try to force me to make her a slaver." Jack's eyes were bright as he leaned in closer, put his hand on Membotu's arm. "I swear to you, brother, I swear to you, I never meant her to be a slave ship." He shook his head, leaned back against the bulwark and polished off the end of the bottle.

"Indigo, ambergris, casks of wine or grain or god-knows anything, anything. Things. Never men, never women and children, but those bastards, those buggers, those Trading Company bastards... I'm so sorry. So sorry, Membotu." He turned the empty bottle over and over in his hands, swiped at his eye with the back of a dirty sleeve, then heaved the bottle over the gunwale.

"And that's your reason, man. That's your reason I turned a pirate two days gone and set my galley free, flung my brig doors wide.

"Always know: you're ever free to choose to go. Or stay. By your choice, do what you will."

Comments {6}


From: basingstoke
Date: Aug. 1st, 2006 08:28 pm (UTC)


YAY. and thank you. and YAY.

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From: jacquez
Date: Aug. 1st, 2006 09:02 pm (UTC)

...beating a monkey with a club. o.O

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From: d_r_o_n_e
Date: Aug. 2nd, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)

A computerized monkey, mind you. :D

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Veronica Rich

From: veronica_rich
Date: Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)

Wow, that is REALLY a good story. I've been thinking of writing something myself about Jack's background, but I don't know that I could do better than this. (I might, however, at some point use this as a sort of hopping-off plank for something I'd write beyond the timeline of this story, if it wouldn't bother you?)

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From: d_r_o_n_e
Date: Aug. 2nd, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)

Thank you! And feel most free to run with your inspiration, that would be wonderful!

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From: cbtreks
Date: Aug. 4th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)

You've done a wonderful job with Captain Sparrow's backstory and tied it into the current movie so well. (I'm assuming it's the families of those he set free who are mourning him in the final scenes.) I've always seen him as someone who would have nothing to do with slavery, as well - freedom means so much to him and it doesn't seem to me that differences such as language and skin color do.

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