Flint was outwardly furious and inwardly frantic. Silver was missing, and how he'd managed to disappear without anyone seeing him go, let alone now he was missing a leg, was an unanswered question.
Flint had interrogated the crew, he'd looked for evidence of where Silver might have gone, he'd tried to discover (though came up empty-handed) if Silver had stolen from him.
He fought his feelings of betrayal and anguish. He'd thought they had an understanding. He'd thought their relationship was, or could be, something more than captain and quartermaster. Friends, maybe even – never mind. The point was he'd thought Silver had developed a loyalty to the crew. To Flint.
And now he was gone without a word.
Still mourning Miranda, and with plans to attend to, Flint gave up on ever seeing Silver again.
So naturally the next day Silver reappeared, his arrival heralded by a ramshackle boat banging against the Walrus's hull. A sorry looking Silver was brought aboard, hair in disarray, eyes wild.
And with two legs.
"What the fuck?" Flint demanded.
Silver opened his mouth but no words came out. He gestured with frustration. He put both hands to his throat, miming being choked. His eyes pleaded with Flint.
"Lost your tongue?" Flint took another menacing step forward.
Silver nodded fervently then shook his head. He stuck out his tongue, then held his mouth open, trying to speak though no sound emerged. He pointed to his leg, then made a sweeping gesture.
"Come with me," Flint said. He would not let Silver see his relief at his quartermaster's return, nor his confusion over events. He would get Silver alone and somehow have the story out of him.
In Flint's cabin, Flint threw himself into his seat behind his desk and pushed a piece of parchment towards Silver.
Silver snatched at a quill pen and, dripping ink over the desk in his haste, wrote on the parchment, passing it back to Flint.
Flint stared at him. "Sea witch?"
Silver gave a decisive nod.
"You expect me to believe that?"
Silver rolled his eyes. He hitched up his trouser leg, showing flesh where only iron had been before he left.
It was quite the trick, Flint had to admit.
"You made a deal with a sea witch?"
Silver shrugged helplessly. Flint leaned forward.
"She took your voice. That was the price."
Silver scrawled on the parchment again.
SHE LIED TO ME
"Well, witches do that, or so the stories say," Flint mused.
Flint scoffed. "You disappear on me without a word, then show up having consorted with a witch, and now you want my help?"
Silver wrote again, biting down on his lip the entire time. Flint read the finished plea.
I'M SORRY. I DIDN'T WANT TO BE A BURDEN. TO BE AN INVALID. I THOUGHT I COULD FIX THIS. I WAS GOING TO COME BACK. THIS WAS NOT THE BARGAIN I MADE. SHE WANTED SOMETHING VALUABLE. I DIDN'T EXPECT HER TO TAKE MY VOICE. NOW I'M AN INVALID IN ANOTHER WAY. PLEASE HELP ME.
Flint noted a tremble in the words "I was going to come back", the lines less precisely drawn, an ink blog marring the letter c. He wondered if that was the whole truth. But Silver was back, and he wanted, needed, Flint.
"I'll think about it," Flint said, though he'd already made up his mind. Silver sank into a chair, relieved, and gave a wide grin because naturally he assumed Flint was going to help.
Which of course he was.
Flint had the crew set a course for the lair of the sea witch and, when they were close enough, he and Silver took the rowboat out to the beach. Towering basalt cliffs sat at the edge of the stretch of sand. Boulders at the base of the cliffs spoke of erosion worsened by recent storms. Silver pointed to a narrow cave entrance.
Flint shook off a sense of foreboding though he teased Silver, saying, "You know, maybe I like you better like this. Unable to talk back nor to lie to my face."
Silver looked so hurt and upset, becoming teary-eyed and letting his lower lip tremble, that Flint rolled his eyes. He presumed the real emotions were being overlaid with some dramatic effects to ensure his co-operation. As if Silver didn't trust him to follow through on his promise, which stung a little. "Come on. Lead the way, since you've been here before. Are there any traps or things to worry about?"
Silver shook his head. This information did not reassure Flint. Anything valuable usually had some means of protection and a witch who could restore a limb was surely aware of her own value and her power. No obvious traps could mean hidden security measures.
They moved into the dark passage, Flint on full alert, but after a few claustrophobic but uneventful yards the narrow rocky corridor gave way to a large cave.
In the centre of the cave was a deep pool of water which roiled as if it were a miniature ocean. Several torches mounted on the walls gave light to the space. A hefty wooden chest sat near the back of the cave.
On a flat rock near the pool sat a woman with bronze skin, sea-green eyes, and a mass of dark curls. She wore a filmy blue and green dress that shimmered as she moved, putting Flint in mind of fish scales.
"Welcome," the sea witch said and Silver moved closer to Flint.
"Let's be clear. I don't want any trouble," Flint said. He jerked his head towards Silver. "Numbnuts here made a deal and he feels he was misled about the details. I don't really care whether that's true or not. He wants his voice back and I'm here to make sure he gets it."
The witch leaned forward, her eyes flashing like foam-flecked storm waves. The pool bubbled and foamed. "You defy me, James McGraw?"
Flint folded his arms, unimpressed. "Nice trick. I once saw a magician pull doves out his sleeves. Got any rabbits or anything you can produce from thin air?"
Silver was tugging at his sleeve, possibly due to hearing the unknown name, possibly in terror at the witch's growing fury, but Flint ignored him. A gale force wind blew up from nowhere making Flint's coat flap around his thighs while the witch's dress, and her and Silver's hair, billowed wildly.
"I'll just go back to my ship then," Flint yelled over the howling wind, and told a lie he'd come up with the moment they had landed on the beach. "My crew have already aimed the cannon at the cliff above your cave, about five feet above and just to the left of the entrance. Three, four, good volleys at that weak point should bring down the rock face and seal you in."
The wind stopped as suddenly as it had started. The pool settled back to quietly ebbing and flowing against the edges of its rock basin. The witch smoothed down her hair.
"There's no need for violence, Captain Flint," she said, using his self-given name and current title to show contrition. "If so-called John Silver thinks the bargain was made in bad faith I offer my apologies."
"Forget your apologies. His voice. Now!"
The witch swallowed nervously. "I would comply if I could. However I have since traded it to another."
Silver stepped forward, tried to yell, shook his fists at her. Flint sighed.
"I possess more cannonballs than patience," he warned.
"Wait," the witch said. She went to the chest and opened the lid. She took out a heavy worn coin pouch which she threw to Flint. "Those coins are what I was paid; if you return them, perhaps the gentleman in question will agree to let me return Silver's voice."
"You traded Silver a leg for his voice, but you gave away his voice for a handful of coins?" Flint was outraged on Silver's behalf.
The witch shrugged. "There was another payment but I will not speak of it. It was a private matter and is non-refundable."
Flint thought about that, decided he didn't want to know the specifics. "All right. Who did you sell to?"
The witch's gave a sly smile. "Jack Rackham."
"It's all been a terrible misunderstanding," Jack said. "You see, I borrowed Anne's ruby necklace. An heirloom. I needed it you see, to secure an investment opportunity."
"You lost it gambling, didn't you?" Flint asked, arms folded. He hid a smirk as Silver mirrored his stance.
"Well, if you want to put it that way, yes." Jack clutched at the bars. "This is all the sea witch's fault! I asked her to give me something to help get the necklace back, gave her all the coin I had left! She said she'd give me a silver-tongue, a voice that would allow me to persuade and manipulate and talk him into handing over the necklace."
"That clearly didn't go to plan."
Jack shook his head. "I found myself saying all sorts of ridiculous things and there was another terrible misunderstanding and now I'm in prison for breach of the King's peace. And I can't pay the fine because I have no money. And I can't send to Anne for help because then she'll know I lost the necklace. I need it back!"
Flint's opinion of Jack had never been particularly high but he'd never seen the man look quite so pathetic.
"Did I mention that this is all the sea witch's fault?" Jack was not done complaining. "Never make a deal with a witch. It's all fun and games until someone gets cursed and then it's being turned into a beast, or sleeping for a century, or ending up in jail on trumped up charges!"
Flint was certain that Jack Rackham was more than capable of getting himself into mischief, Silver's voice, or sea witch, or not.
"And where's true love's kiss when you need it to break the curse? Unapproachable! Anne will kill me if she finds me empty handed." Jack moaned and banged his head against the bars a few times.
"Will you give the voice back if we get you out of here?" Flint asked when Jack finally fell silent.
"God, yes! It's been nothing but trouble!" Jack, not one to miss an opportunity, and no doubt spurred by Silver's voice, added more casually, "But I'm sure I can learn to live with it. You have to get the necklace back as well before I'll return the, er, gift."
The cursed "gift" that he blamed for his current predicament, but Flint let it go.
"I'll pay your fine," Flint said, planning to do so with Rackham's own coin which was sitting snugly in his coat pocket, "when we get back from retrieving the necklace." He didn't want Jack disappearing in the interim.
Jack sighed and nodded, having no further cards to play.
"So," Flint asked. "Who did you lose the necklace to?"
Still, Flint decided it was time to have words with Silver. He dragged him into the shade of a tree and pressed him up against the trunk. Silver tried to whimper in protest.
"You are a little shit," Flint said. "I have better things to be doing than running myself ragged fixing up your messes."
Silver used his puppy-dog eyes to little effect.
"Yes, I know you think you were trying to help matters."
Flint still thought Silver might, if his deal had left him with two good legs and his voice intact, have left while the going was good. He was unpredictable and unreliable, after all. But he'd give Silver the benefit of the doubt for the moment and believe Silver had intended to return to his post as quartermaster.
"I want to be clear," Flint said, loosening his hold on Silver. "You were never a burden. You are a member of my crew and a valued one. And that clever tongue of yours is something that was very useful to me, as well as being an important part of who you are. What was half a leg compared to that?"
Silver stared at him.
"Look how much worse things are," Flint admonished. "Next time you get a ridiculous notion into your head about being a burden or making a deal with a witch, talk to me first."
Silver gestured to his throat with a defiant look that clearly meant how?
"I'm going to get your voice back!" Flint shook his head. "Come on."
Silver didn't immediately follow.
Silver took Flint's hand in both of his, drew it close to his chest. Thank you, he mouthed.
Flint gave him a wry smile. "Let's go and get this necklace back."
Flint blinked. "Are you disobeying your captain?"
Dufresne scowled. "I need it! I can't find my glasses."
Flint looked to Silver, who shrugged, as puzzled by the statement as Flint was.
"You'll need to explain that to us," Flint said.
Dufresne had lost his glasses and they had been his favourite ever pair. They were especially valuable to him because the man who had made them for him had since retired and refused any further work, not for any amount of coin. However he could sometimes be persuaded to repair or manufacture a new pair of glasses in exchange for something interesting or exceptionally rare.
The necklace qualified; Dufresne fetched a book and showed them a sketch of a necklace said to have belonged to a Spanish princess, stolen a century ago and never seen again. Dufresne was quite convinced that the necklace he had won from Jack was either the actual necklace or was a good enough replica that it would gain him a new pair of glasses.
"If that necklace is real it's worth a king's ransom," Flint pointed out. "Why not just sell the necklace? Buy yourself a pair of glasses for every day of the year!"
Silver nodded fervently.
Dufresne pouted. "They were my favourite pair," he repeated.
Flint threw his hands up. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! We will find your fucking glasses!"
Billy wandered over, looking upset.
"Unless it is about fucking Dufresne's fucking glasses I don’t give a shit," Flint said.
Billy gave a nervous nod.
"Out with it," Flint said, clicking his fingers to get Silver's attention. Silver came like a well trained dog.
"Um, well, I may have borrowed them," Billy admitted.
"Go on," Flint said, because there was clearly more to this story and if Billy had dropped the damn glasses overboard then Billy would be joining them.
"We were on the beach, sitting by the fire, drinking," Billy said. "And Dufresne went to sleep. I took off his glasses to um, pretend to be Dufresne." Billy demonstrated, mimicking Dufresne. Not well but Silver gave a small smile. "And I guess when I took them off I put them down somewhere and forgot about them. We carried Dufresne back to the ship and he never even stirred. Sorry, Captain."
Flint counted to ten. "On the beach?" he asked in a strangled tone.
After ten minutes, Flint sat down on a rock. "This is hopeless."
Silver wandered over. He crouched down and wrote in the sand with one finger.
Flint laid a hand on his shoulder. "I know."
Flint couldn't help but stare into Silver's striking blue eyes. To wonder what he'd have done if he'd truly lost him – he'd been angry at Silver's disappearance but that rage would soon have turned to grief.
Flint considered what he would say now, if he knew he'd never be able to speak again. If he might dare to tell Silver the truth, to say I –
There was a commotion and Flint got to his feet, one hand on his sword hilt. Silver stood too, searching for the noise. Flint led the way and they soon found Vane, picking himself up from a spill that had knocked over two empty barrels.
"What the fuck," Flint said, for when Vane turned to see who was approaching him it was revealed that he had Dufresne's glasses perched halfway down his nose. "Where did you get those?"
Vane folded his arms behind his back and puffed out his chest. "I found them," he said. "Aren't they elegant? I think they make me look educated."
Silver's mouth fell open. He tugged at Flint's coat, nearly exploding with the unachievable desire to comment.
Flint smothered a laugh. "They belong to one of my crewmen," he said evenly. "I'd like them back."
Vane shook his head, still preening. "I think I'll keep them."
"I don't think you can even see where you're walking with them on," Flint said, gesturing to the barrels.
That hit home. Vane frowned. "Finder's keeper's," he said sulkily.
"Oh, very educated," Flint retorted. He had enough of childish behaviour from his own crew. He had no desire to listen to it from Charles Vane. "Look, don't be a prick. I'm sure we can make a trade. What do you want?"
Vane considered. "Buy me a drink," he said, taking off the glasses and tucking them into a pocket.
"A drink?" Flint was cautious. "That's all? One drink?"
Not his ship, not to be magically given an education, not some mystical artefact that would require Flint running off to get mixed up in yet another bargain. Flint closed his eyes briefly and gave a silent thanks to whoever wanted the credit.
"Fine," Flint said, trying not to sound too relieved. "Come on. I think we could all do with one."
And so, one drink later, the glasses were handed over.
Dufresne was relieved to have them back and retrieved the necklace from its hiding place.
Flint took Silver back to the prison, where they bailed out Jack. "You'll have the necklace back after we've dealt with the sea witch," Flint told him.
Maybe this would all work out after all.
He handed over a sealed letter that contained orders to fire on the cave. Silver looked worried, but nodded, and stayed put. Jack reluctantly followed Flint into the cave.
"Welcome," the sea witch said. "I see you have found your man." She gave a wide grin and lowered her voice seductively. "Hello again, Jack."
Jack smirked. Flint glowered at them both. "Yes, I found him. Now take Silver's voice from him."
She went to the chest, pulled out a spiral shell that was the size of her palm. She moved to Jack, folded his hand over it. "Not too tight, the shell is delicate," she said, and then she closed her eyes.
A warm sea breeze caressed Flint's face. The witch opened her eyes and took back the shell.
"Is that it?" Jack asked.
"Right. Um, about my money –"
"Get out," Flint bellowed and Jack cringed. "Go and wait in the rowboat you ingrate!"
Jack scarpered. The witch smirked. She held out the shell. Flint took it, handling it with care.
"What do I do with it?"
"Stand very close to Silver – I don't think that will be a problem," she said with a knowing smile. "And crush the shell. The spell will be broken and he will regain his voice."
Flint gave her a stern look. "If you're lying I will come back here and make you sorry you ever met me or John Silver."
"Oh, I know you will be back here one day," she said enigmatically. "There will be something you yourself want from me."
Flint scoffed and headed outside. Witches.
Silver was pacing, a long piece of driftwood in one hand. He dashed towards Flint when he saw him. He pointed towards the rowboat in the distance where Jack sat, looking out to sea. Then he pointed to the cave, and to Flint.
Flint was about to reassure him when a wicked thought occurred to him.
"I'm sorry," he said, and the anguish on Silver's face almost made him reconsider. He pressed on however. "She's a liar. She cannot break the spell."
He waited for this to sink in before he offered the ray of hope. "Only true love's kiss can."
Thank you, Jack Rackham, for reminding him of that detail from the stories.
Silver looked even more dejected, if that was possible.
"What?" Flint said. "There isn't anyone you care about besides yourself?"
Silver sank down onto the sand. He took out a piece of chalk from his pocket and worked to scrawl the words onto the driftwood.
NOT KISSING SHIP
Even rendered mute, and reduced to uneven scribbling on an unsuitable material, Silver had to try and be a smartass. Still, it was one of the things Flint loved about him.
"Maybe not the ship," Flint said. "She's more mine than yours anyway. Is there no one person you can single out for your affection?
If this went badly, Flint would have only himself to blame.
Silver swallowed. He turned the driftwood over and wrote some more.
WHAT IF I LOVE
HE NOT LOVE ME
He tossed the driftwood onto the sand. Flint wasn't sure if it was a challenge or a gesture of defeat.
"Maybe you should find out," Flint said softly. He held out his hand. Silver took it uncertainly. Flint pulled him to his feet, clutching Silver's hand even once he had his balance. He met Silver's dazzling gaze and felt his heart thud in his chest.
Flint brushed back a loose lock of dark hair, stroked his thumb against Silver's cheekbone.
Silver gave a small nod, leaned in.
The kiss was uncertain at first, but Silver soon gained confidence. While he was occupied, Flint fought his own pleasure to dip his free hand into his pocket. He dropped the shell behind him, pulled Silver to him as a pretext for him shifting position, and brought down his heel on the shell.
When the kiss finally ended, Silver drew back and Flint released his grip.
"How was that?" Flint asked.
"Better than I ever expected," Silver replied and then gave an undignified squeak of surprise. A smile split his face. "I have my voice back! Oh my God! Thank you! Thank you!"
He wrapped his arms around Flint, holding him close. Flint rested one hand on his head, ruffled Silver's curls.
"I hope you've learnt your lesson," Flint said without rancour.
Silver nuzzled at Flint's chest. "Don't make deals with witches? Don't do stupid things without asking you first? Appreciate my talent and not abuse it? Know when to shut the hell up?" He laughed. "Do you know me at all?"
"I do know you. The lesson I was thinking of was that I love you, you silly little shit. No matter what happens. No matter how many legs you have or how much trouble you put me through or how much you talk!"
Silver hugged him tighter in response.
They stayed like that a moment longer before Flint dropped a gentle kiss to the top of Silver's head. "Come on," he said. "Let's go home."