"Wimmen. I want to hear about Cap'n Jack's wimmen!"
The raucous shout came from a ragged seaman sprawled across a nearby table.
"That's a broad request," Joshamee Gibbs mused, "and a worthy one. I could while away the hours simply listing the women that have passed through Jack's life. To do them justice in story . . . will be challenging."
"We've all heard stories of Jack Sparrow's whoremongery and thieving," a dark figure seated at the end of the bar protested hoarsely. "Give us something along the lines of unnatural."
"Aye. Everyone knows the rogue has lifted as many purses as skirts. But what, I'd like to know, has he lifted from the sea?" another voice demanded.
Gibbs frowned at the figure slouched at the end of the bar. "Not to impugn the Captain's reputation, but the number of purses far exceeds the number of skirts. You raise an interesting question, though. Captain Jack knows the sea as intimately as man may know woman. And what, besides the Black Pearl, has he procured as a result of that knowing?"
An errant gust of wind swirled through the Mermaid's stale atmosphere, setting candle flames a-dance.
"So yer interested in un-natural." Gibbs drew on his tankard, wiped his mouth and took a deep breath. "This will be complicated, and in part comes from the experience of others than myself. A tale within a tale, as 'twere. It ends with a hurricane, and begins with Leviathan."
"Leviathan." The word came from many mouths at once. The screech of wooden chair legs pulled across splintered floor boards made it hard to tell how many men had muttered the name.
"Aye. When I was a boy, I thought stories of the kraken, giant rocs, sirens and mermaids, the Leviathan were all nursery tales, meant to keep young men at home and away from the sea." Gibbs shook his head. "And here I sit to tell you -- all real. If not exactly what the stories say they be."
"I thought the kraken and the leviathan were one and t'same," a man called from the dicing corner.
"Aye. I've heard leviathan used to name any huge beastie of the deeps," Gibbs mused. "The true Leviathan is a singular, and by singular I mean the only one of its kind, creature who sleeps in the abysmal depths. It lights those unreachable valleys of stone with its own eyes. It dreams of the death of its mate, when the world was just begun, and has surfaced less than the number of fingers on two hands since that time. Those of you with religious leanings may know the description in the book of Job: When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid.
Gibbs closed his eyes and listened to the small creakings and settlings of his audience. "One of the first things that strikes you about Jack Sparrow is how at home he is in the sea. The man dives and swims like a sea otter -- have any of you been to the Aleutians and seen those creatures alive in the ocean? Sleek brown things, quick and clever, they are. Even fully clothed and wearing boots, Jack dives and swims more gracefully than any man I've ever seen. The story of his rescue of the governor's daughter is legend. He did that without sacrificing his boots . . . although her dress had to go. That was a substantial dive. It's probably five fathoms or more under those cliffs. But he can dive deeper.
"You may remember the loss of the Dauntless? The hurricane that took her, while then-Commander Norrington chased the Pearl after Jack's first encounter with Elizabeth Swann, and the return of the cursed Aztec gold, nearly took us as well.
"We were returning to the Isla de Muerta, a place of sudden vapours and treacherous seas. Visibility is always poor near the Isle, but that day it was as if the air turned to crystal, giving us a horizon view of the Isle's spectral shore. Our goal was the accumulated booty long hoarded by those cursed souls who served under Hector Barbossa.
"Jack stood at the helm, tapping his compass and muttering to himself. The promise of bad weather tightened our skins against our bones." Gibbs half-turned on his stool to look around at his audience. "I've sailed through some terrible storms, but that hurricane blew up sudden, blew up fierce. Now Jack may be at home in the sea, but he doesn't trust her. The Pearl he trusts. He made the decision to get distance from the hazards of the Isle, a decision that no doubt saved us all. We were just free of the graveyard water when the wind began to howl like tortured African hyenas. It was the last time the eyes of living man beheld the Isla de Muerta, for the sea claimed booty, isle and all in that storm."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"We're being blown straight to our doom." Driving rain and sea-spray drenched them to the skin and turned the Pearl's decks into gleaming, slippery ebony. Gibbs hung onto the wheel with one hand, a length of rope secured to the base of the wheel with the other. He seriously contemplated tying it around Jack, even as Jack fended him off with half-hearted kicks.
"Can't hear you," Jack shouted. "Storm's making too much noise. And stop that"
Even with the deck beneath him bucking like an unbroken horse, water cascading off the brim of his hat like a tropical waterfall, Captain Jack Sparrow stood relatively straight with both hands on the wheel.
"It ain't your normal storm, that's truth," Gibbs yelled. "'Smore like a judgment."
"Won't lose her again." Jack tilted his head to the side and let excess water run off the hat. One hand left the wheel to fumble at the back of his neck. "Gibbs, your knife. Can't get it loose."
"Your hat? Your head?" Gibbs bent near his captain's ear, trying to see what he had been trusted to use a knife upon. Ah . . . bits of black ribbon. Jack never ceased to amaze. That was a bonny hiding place, up under those thick locks of hair. A quick snick of Gibb's knife, and a small black bag fell into Jack's waiting hand.
"Hold the wheel. I won't be long." Jack staggered to one side.
Gibbs hung on with all his strength. He heard the Pearl groan, deep in her structure, above the noise of the storm.
Jack's hat was, miraculously, still in place. Gibbs squinted against the wind-driven spray, wondering as Jack opened the bag and rolled an object the size of a child's shooter marble onto his palm.
"Beautiful thing," Jack yelled. "Shame to use it up."
It was a beautiful thing. The pearl glowed with the cream and green hues of morning surf on a white sand beach. Jack rolled it between his fingers, and as Gibbs watched in horror, threw it into the waves.
Gibbs moved to let Jack join him again at the wheel. "Offering to Davy Jones?" he shouted.
Jack frowned, blinking water from his black smudged eyes. "You're not to say that name."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"M'throat's dry." Gibbs grabbed his tankard and turned it toward the ceiling. "Just thinking about the amount of salt water I took in that night makes me parched."
Thick, expectant silence filled the tavern. One of the dice players finally spoke up.
"Had Jack gone mad? Throwin' away a pearl like that? Don't leave us hanging, mate."
"As I said, that was the worst hurricane I've ever been in. We were in constant danger of foundering. I expected each wave to be the last." Gibbs looked around at his audience. "I did think Jack mad. Until . . ."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"About time," Jack said.
Coughing up salt water and chunks of something he didn't want to think about, Gibbs hung on to the wheel beside Jack and tried to focus. The sudden cessation of water-filled wind was as welcome as it was incredible. Underneath them the Pearl still danced, and far above the wind still tried to tear at the close-reefed main-topsoil.
"What in great Neptune's halls it that?" Gibbs took one hand off the wheel and turned about full circle to view the dark outline blocking view of the sea, surrounding the Pearl like some insanely impossible drawing room drapery.
"Friend." Jack wrung water from a dangling bit of scarf. "She'll bring us to a safe haven where we can ride out the rest of the storm."
Below them, Gibbs heard a surprising selection of oaths from a crew he had judged, until that moment, to be rather short of imagination.
"Get them to work on clean up," Jack ordered. "Deck's a mess."
"Aye." Gibbs joined the huddled mass of humanity on the lower deck. The men stopped whispering as he approached. "Captain says clean the deck."
"Listen," said Short Dave, a fairly recent addition to the crew, "Smitty was tellin' us about the thing what has its tail around us."
Tail? Gibbs felt his stomach heave with the deck.
"Nah. It ain't a tail. More a flipper, really, or fin." Smitty wiped his nose, then his eyes with the back of his hand. "I was in Singapore same time as Captain Jack. Drank wiv some of his old crew. We never actually saw Her, but them girls, Mingmei and Genji told us all about Her. We all saw the tadpoles. And the merman that Cap'n Jack rescued. It's Leviathan, no doubts. Owed Capt'n Jack a favor, an' now she's come to pay!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Gibbs pushed his tankard across the bar. "Empty," he said.
"I'll pay." The hoarse-voiced shadow at the bar's end tossed down a coin. "But this time you finish the tale."
"Aye." Gibbs looked around the darkened room. The faces he could see were wide-eyed, ready to believe. "Leviathan. A creature of the deepest oceans, older than time. So huge is she that a single fin could wrap about the Pearl and shield us from the fiercest hurricane I've ever known.
"She took us near to a sheltered harborage, released us with a flick of her fin that sent us racing toward land. We came close to beaching ourselves. Jack stood on the upper deck, hat in hand, waving."
"And did you see her? Did you get a look at more than her fin?"
"I'm not sure. Perhaps." Gibbs looked at his new drink, but didn't reach for it. "She was the color of the storming sea, and I did think, for a moment, that the sky had broken open and I could see a full moon reflected off the waves. Except there were two reflections, and the greatest wave of them all did not travel with the rest, but slowly sank into the darkness."
The ensuing silence lasted long enough for Gibbs to put away half the contents of his tankard.
"That was a tale, indeed," one of the audience said at last. "Are we to believe that a creature so vast, so powerful could be real? I've heard many sailors claim witness to appearance of the kraken. Your account is the first I've heard bringing verity to the existence of Leviathan."
Gibbs shrugged. "What happened, happened. For a while I managed to persuade myself the encounter had been a saltwater-induced vision. But later conversation with two of Jack's first crew who returned to the Pearl after he reclaimed her changed my mind. They were also in Singapore when Jack acquired that green pearl he threw overboard." Gibbs grunted and eased himself off the stool. "You did ask what Jack lifted from the sea. A green pearl to save a Black Pearl."
"Wait!" the man at the end of the bar protested. "You said the tale started with Leviathan and ended with a hurricane. Does that mean -- ?"
"Aye." Gibbs stumped his way toward the door. "The beginning of the story must wait until another night."