It was, without a doubt, the worst storm any of them had ever seen. The black clouds rolled in first; the wind picked up; and the rain poured down in torrents. The Black Pearl was tossed and turned on the rolling waves, truly at the mercy of the elements.
They had reefed as soon as the wind strengthened, and the ship was driven forward through the tempest with only a small piece of canvas. Her masts creaked, her lines were taut. Lashed to the helm, and guiding his ship with rats-tails of hair whipping around his face, was Captain Jack Sparrow.
The storm lasted all night. The sailors, save for their captain, worked short two-hour shifts on deck before retreating below with drenched clothes, to huddle in groups and pray to whatever gods they believed in for salvation.
As dawn broke, lighting the sky behind them, the weather abated. The clouds drew aside, the waves calmed, and the rain stopped. The first mate Gibbs came to the helm and untied Jack Sparrow, who grinned cheerfully from under his sopping hat.
And then came the cry from the lookout: “Land ahoy!”
“Take the helm!” Jack told Gibbs, and the mate hastened to obey. Whipping out his telescope, and shaking it to rid it of moisture, Jack put it to his eye.
“Away east, cap’n!” the lookout shouted down. Jack Sparrow swivelled to look east, and there, sure enough, was a dark line of approaching land on the horizon.
“We’re only two days out of the Antilles,” Gibbs said, scratching his head. “Shouldn’t be any land yet, not for a week at least.”
“That’s so,” agreed Jack. He looked over his ship. “Still, it might come in handy. The lady could do with the odd repair after last night. Maybe we discovered a new country, Gibbs.”
“Mebbe.” The old sailor looked doubtful. “If so, what’ll you call it?”
“Pearlania?” suggested Jack. “Isla de Sparrow.”
Gibbs shook his head in dismay. “Awful, cap’n, awful.”
Throughout that day, the horizon grew closer. The crew hung around on deck and watched it, though Jack set them to doing what repairs they could. He kept a man aloft, too, on lookout duty; and it was mid-afternoon when the cry drifted down, “Sail ho, cap’n! Three of ‘em!”
“First land, now ships!” Jack said. “Busy day.” He peered through his telescope. “Well, now, fancy that.”
“Fancy what?” Hat concealing her long hair, the Black Pearl’s second mate Anamaria came up behind him.
“Take a look, love.” He passed her the telescope. “Black sails, just like ours.”
She looked. “But they’re not like any ship I have ever seen. Look again.”
Jack took the telescope, and put it to his eye again. Squinting, he focused on the three ships beating their way across the horizon – and realised Anamaria was right.
The ships carried two fore-and-aft rigged sails each, above a narrow, sharply pointed prow. They rode low to the waterline, compared to the Black Pearl at least. Jack examined them and frowned. “Sort o’ like sloops, only not,” he observed.
“Captain!” The shout came from the bowsprit of the Pearl. “Another vessel!”
“Another one?” Jack raised his eyebrows. “Bleedin’ marvellous.” He moved for’rard and had a look at the fourth ship. “Now she is a beauty.”
The vessel currently following the three black-sailed ships parallel to the horizon was large, but her lines were elegant and graceful. She almost blended into the steel-grey of the sea, for her hull seemed to be made of some silvery wood. She carried a full press of shimmering white canvas, and was racing southwards after the black ships, gaining on them quickly.
“What’re her colours?” asked Anamaria, as Jack gazed at the grey ship.
“Black,” said Jack, trying to keep the telescope on the flag flying from the topmast. “There’s a ... there’s a tree, I reckon, and some stars.”
“Tree and stars?” Anamaria frowned. “I have never heard of those before.”
Jack turned, and headed for the quarterdeck. “Me either, love.” He reached the helm. “Gibbs, hand her over.”
Gibbs nodded, and moved aside. “What’re you doing, cap’n?”
"I'm following them," Jack said.
Jack called for the sails to be trimmed as the Pearl shifted on to her new course. She paused, before catching the wind again and surging forth once more.
"'Cos where there's a ship, there are people," he said, turning to meet Gibbs' eyes. "Look, mate, you and I both know summat strange has happened here. We didn't get turned around overnight -" he flipped open his compass to demonstrate the point "- and by rights there should be naught around us but sea. Instead, we've land. The sailors on those ships can set us on our right course."
"If they don't shoot us first," grumbled Gibbs.
Jack flashed him a grin. "Aye, if they don't shoot us first. Chance you take, savvy?"
Gibbs frowned, and went off to shout at the pirates hanging around doing nothing. A short while later, Jack ordered the cannon to be readied and the Jolly Roger to be raised; and so the Black Pearl raced after the strange ships, gaining slowly but surely.
* * *
Aboard the Grey Pilgrim, an air of silent tension reigned. The white sails were billowing overhead, and the water foaming under her prow, and the Corsairs of Umbar were not going to escape. Battle was certain, and it would come before nightfall.
"How much longer, think you?"
The voice came from behind Elphir, and he turned to see the tall, lean figure of the King at his side. He shrugged. "Two hours, maybe. If the wind holds."
"Then let us hope it holds." Aragorn's hand was resting on the hilt of Andúril at his side. "We must take them, Elphir. These pirates have been ravaging and looting our lands too long."
"They're pirates, my lord," Elphir said. "None too good at taking a hint."
Aragorn's mouth curled in a grim smile. "We shall give them more than a hint, my friend."
A sailor came running to the helm, his eyes bright.
"My lords. My lord Legolas says there is another vessel, astern of us."
"Another ship?" Elphir turned, shading his eyes and looking back along the Grey Pilgrim's wake. "What manner of ship?"
Light footsteps sounded. "An odd one," Legolas Greenleaf said, having descended the rigging and joined Elphir and Aragorn at the helm. "Of very great size." He pointed. "See, her masts carry more sail than we could ever muster, and they are black."
"Black?" Aragorn turned to his friend. "Another Corsair?"
"Nay, Aragorn." Legolas shook his head. "This is not a Corsair. Indeed she resembles our own Pilgrim more."
"Elphir," said Aragorn, "I judge that ship will not catch us before we catch the Corsairs - am I right?"
"Aye," Elphir agreed. "Indeed I see her only as a shadow on the horizon. She will be pressed to catch us before nightfall."
"Good." Aragorn nodded, decisively. "Then we pursue our original plan. Close on the Corsairs, my lord Elphir; once we have dealt with them we will turn and engage this new ship, should she be a threat."
"It shall be as you command, your Majesty," Elphir said, and turned to his crew.
Aragorn and Legolas moved aside out of the way. "Are the archers ready?" asked the King.
Legolas inclined his head. "Yes. There is an archer of Ithilien with each group of your Guards. The Corsairs will stand no chance."
"What if they have archers?"
"We have a longer range and a better shot," Legolas returned, confident. "The bows of the South are short and less powerful."
Aragorn smiled at the Elf. “I trust in your confidence, Legolas. It is reassuring.”
“This is a thing that needs to be done,” said Legolas.
An hour passed. They were close enough now to the Corsairs that even the Men aboard could see the pirates with their naked eye, though not so close that it was yet worth firing an arrow. Legolas and his archers were distributed over the ship: some aloft, clinging to shrouds, and some ranged along the rails, extra arrows at their feet. Aragorn stood with Elphir at the helm. Occasionally he turned to watch the strange ship, which was bearing closer all the time. She seemed to be a tower of black canvas, strangely beautiful yet menacing.
Soon, there was no time to watch the approach of the vessel astern. The Grey Pilgrim was coming within range of the rearmost Corsair, and the pirates were readying their defence.
Aragorn drew his sword, and raised it high. In the sunlight it glittered, and the men turned to see him.
“These pirates,” he said, his voice carrying over the ship and up into the canvas above their heads, “have ravaged your land. They have sunk ships and slain men, pillaged and stolen without cause. If prisoners can be taken, take them; otherwise show them no mercy. You fight for Gondor!”
The men cheered, and the mariners put their weight to the sheets. The Grey Pilgrim rushed forwards, into battle.
The pirates fought fiercely and bravely. As Legolas had predicted, the range of their bows was considerably less than that of the Gondorian archers. On the smaller, darker ships, man after man fell, pierced by an arrow or many. When the Pilgrim was close enough, ropes flew through the air and the swordsmen boarded the Corsair, led by their King. Andúril glittered in the sunlight as it rose and fell, staining the boards of the pirate ship with red blood. For the Umbarians were not giving in without a fight. Some of them surrendered, and were led, bound, back to the Grey Pilgrim; but most raised their swords for battle.
The other two Corsairs turned, as they saw their companion was engaged, and rushed back to join the battle. But Legolas and his archers turned their attention to these other ships, and the defeat was quick.
Aragorn sent sailors aboard each of the Corsairs, with instructions to turn North and sail for Pelargir. The prisoners, brought on board the Grey Pilgrim, were taken below decks and put under guard. They grumbled and complained, spitting at their guards and cursing the Northern King: but Aragorn spoke to them briefly in the Umbarian he had picked up many years before, and they quietened.
Elphir had remained on board the Pilgrim throughout the battle, and now, at Aragorn’s command, he turned the ship around. “We’ll be tacking,” he cautioned. “She will have the advantage of the wind.”
“Yet I would rather we met her head on, than act as if we were running from her,” said Aragorn, gazing at the strange black ship, now coming very close.
“Meet her head on we will, then,” Elphir agreed, and began calling orders.
* * *
“What’s ‘appening?” Gibbs asked, steering whilst Jack used his telescope to look forwards at the grey beauty ahead of them.
“Battle,” said Jack. “Looks like, at any rate. Oh!” He hurried down the steps to the maindeck, caught a shroud and leaped up on the rail to lean outwards for a better view. “They’ve boarded. Some sword work going on. No guns.”
“No guns?” Gibbs frowned, as Jack came back to the helm. “Odd, that.”
“I like the idea,” Jack said, grinning. “No chance of a hole being blown in the ship.”
They kept moving, watching the battle progress and then, seemingly, end, still with no guns being fired. The three dark ships turned as one, moving further out to sea before beginning to tack northwards; the grey flagship turned also.
“He’s no coward, the captain of that ship,” observed Jack, nodding in approval. He raised his voice. “Right, lads. We’re going for information here, but if there’s some profit to be made, we’ll make it. Be ready to fire a broadside across her bows. Ana, ready the grapples.”
“Aye, sir!” Anamaria nodded, sharply, and went off to go and coil the grappling ropes with the wicked, sharp irons attached to the end.
The two ships approached each other, each tack of the grey ship bringing her closer to the dark shadow of the Black Pearl. Jack did not need his telescope now to see the sailors at the bow of the other vessel. They were dressed in simple breeches and shirts, much like his own crew, and most wore their dark hair long. The banner flying from the topmast was clear now; a silver tree in blossom, and seven stars, and a high crown, all on a black background. Jack had never seen anything like it before, and told Gibbs so.
“Me either,” said Gibbs. “Strange, ‘tis.”
“Captain!” One of the topmen hurried to the helm. “Captain, there’s something you need to see.”
“What’s that?” Jack asked.
The pirate gestured upwards. “Better come aloft and see, sir.”
Jack gave Gibbs the helm once more, slipped off his boots, and followed the topman up the mainmast to the lookout point.
“In the rigging, cap’n,” the pirate said. “Don’t need your spyglass.”
Scanning the rigging of the other ship, it took Jack a moment to see what his crewman was saying. Then, he swore fluently and floridly.
“Just what I said, cap’n,” said the topman with a wry grin.
“Well done for spottin’ them, mate,” Jack said. “This changes things a bit.” He nodded at the pirate, and descended the rigging swiftly.
Gibbs was incredulous. “Archers?”
“Archers,” Jack confirmed. “Sittin’ in the riggin’ with their bows. Still can’t see any cannon.” He paced the quarterdeck, tapping his lower lip with a forefinger. “This is all new,” he said, after a few moments’ pacing.
“Aye,” Gibbs agreed.
Jack spun on his heel. “We’ll run up a flag o’ truce,” he decided. “But should they use them bows, we’ll take it down and fire on them.”
Anamaria came back from preparing the grapples. “Truce?” He explained, and she listened, expressionless. “All right,” she said, at the end of the explanation.
The Black Pearl surged forward, a white flag now flying above the Jolly Roger, streaming out in the wind. Her entire crew were on deck now, armed but cautioned by their captain not to draw unless provoked. The cannon were likewise readied, but would only be fired in an emergency.
They were close, now, very close, and Jack ordered Gibbs to turn the helm to starboard, bringing the Pearl alongside the grey ship but at a safe distance.
“Heave to!” he shouted, and his ship came shuddering to a halt as her black sails emptied. “Now, let’s see what happens,” he murmured to himself, looking across at the other vessel.
* * *
“She is unlike anything I have ever seen afloat!” Elphir said, as the strange black ship came swinging to a halt. “And yet, I cannot help but find her lovely.”
“What are those tubes along her sides?” Aragorn asked, gazing intently at the other vessel.
“I do not know, my lord.” Elphir pointed. “Look, she carries a white flag. Does that mean she holds allegiance to the Stewards?”
Aragorn frowned. “If so, there is some part of the land that has not yet heard of the changes in Gondor.”
“What of the other banner?”
The wind caught it as Elphir spoke, blowing the black fabric out so that the grinning face of the skull shone in the light.
“It is not from any land I know,” Aragorn said, “and I know many. Neither Umbar nor Harad, nor Rhûn; she cannot be from the East!” He straightened his sable cloak. “Well, let us sound the challenge and discover the mystery behind this odd vessel, my lord Elphir.”
“Aye, your Majesty.” Elphir turned his head, and nodded at the herald who was waiting nearby with a horn.
The harsh sound of the horn rang out over the water, and the herald spoke in a loud, clear voice, using Westron.
“Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar Telcontar, rightful King of Gondor and Arnor, requests that you identify yourselves and your purpose in sailing these waters. Are you friend or foe?”
All aboard the Grey Pilgrim were silent, waiting for the response. Then, a single figure on the deck of the black ship stepped forwards, his hands held in front of him.
“Lost sailors!” the voice came back. “Looking for bearings. Hope you can supply ‘em.” The accent was unfamiliar, but Aragorn recognised the tone. It was one that Elphir used when the wind picked up; one that he used in mid-battle. A voice used to making itself heard even in the greatest din.
“Friend or foe?” the herald repeated.
There was a pause. “Friend!” came the reply.
Aragorn looked at Elphir.
“You wish to go aboard, my lord?” Elphir asked.
“I think so.”
Elphir nodded. “Permission to come aboard?” he called across to the other ship.
The sailors hurried to lower the small pinnace hanging from the side of the Grey Pilgrim, and Aragorn climbed down into it, followed by Elphir. At the last moment there was a light thud, and Legolas dropped into the boat.
Aragorn looked at him, and the Elf shrugged, elegantly.
“I wish to see these strangers closer up,” he said.
“Ever curious,” said Aragorn.
“The Sea calls many to her,” Legolas returned, with an inscrutable expression. “I would like to know what she has said the mariners aboard the black ship.”
“We are about to find out,” the King observed, as the pinnace drew up alongside her. They looked up at the tall dark sides of the vessel with interest and curiosity.
A rope ladder was flung down, and Aragorn took hold and started to climb. At the top, helpful hands aided him over the rail, and he landed on the deck of the strange ship and looked about him, his hand resting on the hilt of Andúril at his side.
Legolas and Elphir followed him, automatically taking up positions on either side of the King and just behind him.
The three of them stood facing the motley crew of the black ship: twenty or so men dressed in a variety of ragged clothes, bearded and with bad teeth. They carried swords at their hips, most of them, the hilts faded with use.
From the crowd, out stepped a slim, tanned man with a mane of dark hair braided and twisted into long tails, the strands threaded with beads and other bits of jewellery. His eyes were rimmed in some dark substance, and glittered with intelligence and wit. He took off a battered leather hat and held it to his chest, bowing slightly.
“Welcome aboard the Black Pearl!” he said.
* * *
Jack examined the three strangers. They were all significantly taller than him, and built like fighters. The one in the middle was fingering the hilt of a long broadsword. On the left stood a man in worn but once-elegant clothes and tall sea boots, who Jack fingered immediately as the captain of the grey beauty. On the right, a lithe figure in a short tunic, a bow slung over his shoulder, who was gazing at Jack with the brightest eyes Jack could ever remember seeing.
He took them in, and then swept off his hat and bowed. “Welcome aboard the Black Pearl!”
“Thank you.” The tall man in the centre of the little group inclined his head; regally, Jack thought. “I am glad there is no quarrel between us. I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn; this is my captain Elphir, Prince of Dol Amroth; and Legolas Thranduilion of Ithilien.”
The other two strangers bowed gravely.
“Captain Jack Sparrow,” said Jack.
“And you say you are lost?” the man called Aragorn (odd name, that, thought Jack), asked.
“Absolutely.” Jack waved an arm. “Got hit by a storm last night. Bloody great one, near took the masts down. Sailed out of it, and there was land. Only we weren’t expecting any land, not for days.”
“Where were you sailing from?” asked the other captain, his arms folded.
“Martinique,” said Jack. “Bound for Morocco.”
“Bound for where?” the captain said.
“North Africa,” Jack elaborated.
The three strangers exchanged glances. “I have never heard of such a place,” said Captain Elphir.
“Nor I,” added Aragorn, “in all my journeyings. Legolas?”
“Not in a thousand years have I heard word of ‘Africa’,” Legolas said.
Jack, hands on hips, looked from one to the other. “You’ve not heard of Africa?”
“There is no such place,” Aragorn said.
“Then where are we?” Jack asked.
“Two leagues or so off the coast of Umbar,” explained Elphir. “Three days’ sail south of Gondor.”
Jack turned his head to look at Gibbs, who shrugged. “Means nothing to me, mate,” he said, to Elphir. “Tell you what. You three gentlemen come down to my cabin and we’ll take a look at my charts.”
Once more, the strangers exchanged glances, and Jack had the distinct impression that, at least between the archer and the tall man, words were passing unspoken. Finally, Aragorn nodded.
“Wonderful.” Jack gave them a grin, and led the way below. Legolas and Elphir stood back to allow Aragorn past, and the three of them followed the Black Pearl’s captain below decks.
In his cabin, Jack cleared the table with a sweep of his arm. The ship’s log and a couple of books went flying; Aragorn winced visibly as the books landed with a thud on the floor. From a chest, Jack pulled out charts of the Antilles and spread them out on the cleared surface.
“We were there,” he said, pointing out Martinique on the chart. “Set sail due east three days ago. Fair wind, good weather. Must’ve been here,” he planted his finger on the parchment, “when we hit a storm.”
He looked up, and saw Aragorn gazing hard at him with steel-grey eyes. “You sailed due east?”
“Yes.” Jack leaned on the table.
“From the West?” The other man said the word ‘west’ as though it was the most extraordinary thing he had ever heard.
“That’s where the Antilles are,” Jack said. “The West Indies.”
Legolas, with an urgent look in his bright eyes, turned to Aragorn and said something in a language Jack did not understand. Aragorn nodded, and replied in the same language.
And then, Jack found himself pressed up against the wall of his cabin with the edge of a very long, very shiny, very sharp sword against his throat.
* * *
“He’s lying, Aragorn,” Legolas said, sharply, in Sindarin. “How can he have come from the West? He is mortal. I do not trust him!”
“Nor I, Legolas,” the King replied. “He puzzles me. I do not trust him.”
He met his friend’s eyes, and the Elf nodded very slightly.
Andúril was drawn in a moment, and swiftly Aragorn had the smaller man at the point of the sword. “Now, speak true,” he said, softly. “From whence do you sail?”
The captain of this strange dark ship looked back at him with eyes that were equally dark and strange. “From Martinique,” he said, his voice light. “Would you mind taking that sword away from me throat?”
Aragorn felt, rather than heard, the presence of Legolas next to him.
“You do not speak to the King in that manner!” the Elf said.
“King?” Jack Sparrow raised his eyebrows. “I missed that.”
Aragorn narrowed his eyes, his grip on Andúril never wavering.
“My lord,” Elphir said, from by the table, “I believe he speaks the truth.”
“Of course I’m speaking the truth!” Jack Sparrow protested.
Elphir picked up the chart, with a rustle of parchment, and brought it over to Aragorn. “See, your Majesty – these islands. I do not know them, and I know every inch of the coast from here to Mithlond. There are no islands.” He lowered the chart. “This man, this ship; they are truly strangers here, I deem.”
“Just what I’ve been saying,” said Sparrow.
Aragorn took Andúril from the captain’s throat, but did not sheath the sword. “Show me,” he ordered, and Elphir spread out the chart on the table.
“Have you quill and ink?” he asked Jack Sparrow. The captain of the Black Pearl found some – a rather ragged quill, and a bottle of black ink, and laid them on the table. Elphir pulled a spare bit of parchment towards him, and sketched a line on it. “This is Gondor’s coastline,” he said.
Bending over the table, Aragorn nodded. “And I recognise it.”
“Whereas this,” said Elphir, his finger running along the line of islands on the chart, “bears no resemblance to anything I know.” He looked up, at the other captain. “And do you know this?”
Jack Sparrow took the scrap of parchment that showed Gondor, and examined it for a moment. “No. I’d say, mebbe, it was Spain, but it’s not.” He lifted his head. “You know what I reckon? I reckon that storm took us much further than I’d intended on going.”
“Out of your world, and into Arda,” said Legolas. “It is not something I have ever heard of before.”
“There’s more oddities out there than you’d think,” Jack Sparrow said, throwing himself into a chair and resting booted heels on the table. Aragorn was suddenly reminded of himself, much younger, settling into a comfortable seat at the ‘Prancing Pony’ in Bree. “Curses and dead men walking ...”
Aragorn’s lips curled into a smile, despite himself. “Yes, we too have come across curses and dead men walking. They once helped me defeat some pirates.”
Jack Sparrow returned the smile. “Mine were pirates.”
“It seems,” said Aragorn, sheathing Andúril, “that though our worlds be separated by more than the Sea, there are not so many differences between them.”
“Save this ship,” put in Elphir. Aragorn glanced at his captain, and saw enthusiasm beginning to replace the wariness that had been on Elphir’s face since they boarded the Black Pearl. “She is lovely; like and yet unlike my own Pilgrim.”
“That the grey beauty over there?” Sparrow asked, his hands gesturing. “She’s got good lines.”
“But your ship has the power, and the speed,” Elphir said. “We could not have outrun you.”
“You turned and faced us,” Jack Sparrow returned. “Takes a lot, that does. Most run from the Pearl, when they see her.” He rose from his seat. “Want the grand tour?”
Elphir, smiling broadly now, nodded. Captain Jack Sparrow bowed in a flamboyant manner. “Your Majesty?”
Aragorn stood up, and returned the bow. “You are no subject of mine, Captain Sparrow. I would be honoured to see your vessel.”
“Then follow me,” said Sparrow, and led the way out of the cabin door.
* * *
He took them over the Black Pearl from bottom to top, pointing out all her qualities. Elphir asked lots of questions, about the working and the running of the ship, but showed the most interest when they arrived on the gun deck.
“What are these things?” he asked, running a hand over one of the Pearl’s battered cannon.
“First line o’ defence,” said Jack. He was met by three uncomprehending faces. “Ship’s guns,” he elaborated.
“They smell of Helm’s Deep,” said Legolas, his voice taut.
“Right, now you’ve lost me,” Jack said.
Aragorn, his arms folded and his back hunched in the confined space, said: “At the battle of Helm’s Deep, a strange art was used against us. It blew a rent in a thick stone wall, scattering men. Legolas is right – there is the same scent in the air.”
“Devilry of Saruman,” Legolas said, and then added something fierce in that language Jack did not know. He chose to ignore the latter half of the sentence and address the first part.
“It’s not devilry if you use it right,” he said. “I fire as a warning. I don’t like blowing holes in ships if there’s no need. Wait here!” He climbed up the ladder heading on to the deck and stuck his head out.
The crew were gathered in groups, talking amongst themselves, and Jack addressed the nearest group. “Oy! You there!”
“John, Hoskins, Sanchez,” said Jack, briskly, “get below and let’s give our visitors a one-gun salute.”
The three pirates followed Jack below, and began to ready the cannon. Jack gave a running commentary as they loaded it, primed it, and indicated to him that they were ready to fire.
“Stop your ears!” he said, and nodded.
With a boom that echoed around the deck, and a puff of acrid smoke, the gun fired. Both Captain Elphir and the King grimaced, looking rather uncomfortable with the noise and fumes, but Legolas had gone very pale. In the darkness his eyes seemed brighter than ever. As the smoke died, he muttered, “excuse me”, gave a hurried bow to Aragorn, and disappeared on deck.
“Legolas!” Aragorn called. “Forgive us, captain.” He followed his friend out.
Elphir hung back, studying the cannon. “A deadly weapon.”
“In the right hands, aye,” Jack agreed. “Like I said, I use them as a warning. I hate destroying a ship. It’s not right.”
“No, it is not,” Elphir said.
“Better go and see after your mate,” Jack suggested. “After you, cap’n.”
“I would not call the lord Legolas a ‘mate’, exactly,” Elphir said. “If indeed I understand you aright. He is not a friend of mine, but rather of the King’s. And I do not know him well. The Elves are strange folk.”
Jack turned, one hand on a rung of the ladder. “Eh?”
“The Elves are strange folk,” Elphir repeated. “Legolas is an Elf, from Greenwood in the north.”
Jack considered this. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “But be he man, Elf or mermaid, he wasn’t looking too lively just then.”
On deck, he found Legolas and Aragorn by the rail. The Elf was looking somewhat better now, with colour back in his cheeks, but he was gazing fixedly at the sea with a strange, longing look in his eyes. It was a look Jack recognised.
He led the three visitors to the quarterdeck, where he caressed the helm lovingly. “Here ends the tour,” he said. “That’s the old Black Pearl.”
“And it is clear you love her,” Aragorn said.
“She is your freedom,” said Legolas, his eyes turning back out to sea.
“Yes.” Jack nodded. “She’s that.”
The Elf smiled, briefly, painfully, and fell silent.
“So, that’s me ship,” Jack said. “Now, have you gents any idea how I might get her home, so we can get on with our usual business?”
“If you came from the West,” Aragorn mused, “then I would suggest you sail due West. You will not find the road that is forbidden to mortals, but you may find your way home.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jack agreed.
“As for your business.” The tall man drew himself up, and it was if he pulled on a mantle. His voice took on steel, and his gaze bore into Jack’s. “We are not fools, Captain Sparrow, and it has not escaped my notice that you have not declared allegiance to anyone. In the holds below I saw a quantity of valuables, and there is that strange banner of yours. You are a pirate ship, are you not?”
Jack put his hands together, and bowed. “I won’t deny it.”
“Then,” said Aragorn, “I would request that in sailing you do not attack any vessel you see, whether she be from Gondor, Umbar or any other realm in Middle-earth. You saw the justice we dealt out to the Corsairs earlier on, did you not?”
“Didn’t look like many of them survived,” Jack said.
“Few did.” Aragorn looked sternly down at him, and Jack knew this was not the time to try a charm offensive. “Turn your vessel West, captain, and sail until you find your home. I shall not tolerate piracy in Gondorian waters. Am I clear?”
“Inescapably,” said Jack.
“Good.” Aragorn held out his hand. “Then I bid you good speed.” Jack, after a pause, took the hand.
“Safe voyage,” said Elphir. “May Ulmo watch over you.”
“You too,” said Jack.
Legolas turned from his contemplation of the sea. “I envy you and your men, Captain. To have the freedom of the Sea and to be able to sail her wheresoever you will. I envy you that.”
Jack said nothing, for he did not quite understand the Elf’s enigmatic words. But he bowed, and followed the three visitors to the rail. They climbed down the ladder, and soon he saw them board their own grey ship once more.
He turned back to the crew of the Black Pearl. “Right, you scurvy dogs!” he said. “Hoist canvas. We’re going home.”
* * *
“Raise the sails!” Elphir ordered. “We sail for Dol Amroth.”
The white canvas rose above them, and the wind filled the sails. The Grey Pilgrim picked up speed, heading north for Gondor.
Aragorn leant on the rail by the helm and watched the dark shape of the Black Pearl recede into the distance. “An odd character,” he said.
“Sparrow?” Elphir asked. “Aye, my lord, very odd. Yet I found him ... likeable.”
“Likeable. Yes, he was likeable,” the King agreed. He frowned to himself. “I wonder if the Corsairs we have imprisoned below are as likeable?”
Elphir adjusted course a fraction, and called for the sails to be trimmed accordingly. “I do not know, sire. I do not know.”
They fell silent, as the Grey Pilgrim beat northwards. Her hull cut through the water, silver wood meeting blue-grey sea. On the horizon, the black sails of Jack Sparrow’s ship could just be seen.
“Namarië,” Aragorn murmured. “Namarië.”