PotC fic: Sea Urchin (Jack, PG, 1/1) Title: Sea Urchin Author:shyaway Rating: PG Character: Jack Disclaimer: Pirates of the Caribbean and its characters belong to Disney. Sequel compliant?: No. Summary: How do you get from the slums of London to the Caribbean sea? Young Jack Sparrow, pickpocket extraordinaire, hasn't the slightest idea. Perhaps an encounter with a rather impressive pirate will set him on the right track ...
Execution Dock was a place that the Londoners usually avoided. The ever-present stench of the sluggish grey river mingled with the reek of the rotting corpses that hung desolately in chains along the bank. Some said that the ghosts of the dead rose from the waters at high tide (or low tide, depending on who you asked) to drag unwary passers-by into the depths. Others, dismissing this as nonsense, said that the stink of the dead bodies would infect those who smelled it with the plague.
Today, however, none of this mattered, for it was a hanging day. On this spring day in the year of Our Lord 1693, the populace put aside their qualms and came to see Him wreak His vengeance upon the convicted pirates. Every one of them hoped the condemned would put on a good show.
So far the onlookers were dissatisfied. The first three of those highwaymen of the sea to be executed today had been whinging bastards with no flair about them at all. Irritated by the spectacle of men cowering on their way to the gallows, the crowd had entertained itself by jostling them, jeering at them. Street vendors hawked their wares at the tops of their voices. "Hot pudding pies!" "Last words of famous rogues, get your copy here!" "Oranges!" The diffident man collecting money to feed the 'poor prisoners' was ignored while the fruit-sellers were soon doing a brisk trade, people buying fruit as missiles for pelting the felons.
No one noticed the boy weaving his way through the throng, dipping his hands into likely-looking pockets. Jack liked execution days. All those people gathered in one place and none of them on their guard, all gawking at the prisoners and not looking about them. He couldn't understand why; what was so interesting about someone who'd been foolish enough to get himself caught? Especially considering that they were such dull fellows. If it were him, and it never would be, he would not cringe like that. He would have a grand send-off. He would die with style.
Not that he would die at the hands of the Admiralty, or see the inside of Newgate or Marshalsea. He carefully lifted a handkerchief out of a woman's bag.
The crowd's yelling subsided, and the voice of the parson became audible. He was saying a prayer for the soul of the man currently on the scaffold. Jack looked around for his next benefactor. A few yards away was a large, beefy man who, having just purchased one of the hot pies, was shoving a handful of coins into his pocket. That would do nicely. Handkerchiefs were all very well, but money was so convenient. He started to thread his way towards the man.
The parson was addressing the pirate directly now, hoping for a show of repentance. "What is your disposition now?"
"Better now you've shut your mouth. These good people've come to see me, not to listen to you spout."
The mob roared its approval. Jack stopped in his tracks and craned his neck to get a better view.
"Ungodly, wicked pirate, if the Lord does forgive you it will be more than you deserve!" cried the priest. The pirate nodded, bored, then feinted towards him and laughed when the parson jumped backwards in alarm.
"See, I'm all trussed up and you're still quakin' in your boots 'cause of me. I'll help meself in the afterlife, thanks."
Practically squealing in indignation, the priest allowed himself to be assisted down the steps of the scaffold. When safely out of reach he turned and shook his fist at the miscreant. The pirate took no notice. He had spotted a buxom blonde at the front of the crowd. "Don't look so down, sweetheart. There's nothing to this business but a wry neck and a wet pair of breeches. You and me'll meet up again some day, eh? Edward Craig wouldn't forget a face like yours."
The hangman decided that that was quite enough. He readied the noose. The drumroll began. Jack tore his attention away. He was cheek by jowl with his intended victim now, or would have been if he were tall enough. The man was the size of an oak tree.
Something drew his eyes back to Craig. Even at that moment he cut rather a splendid figure. His waistcoat sported gold embroidery, his boots were of fine leather, his hands glittered with numerous rings. All these would go to the hangman, Jack knew, unless the spectators could contrive to get to the body first and strip it. He resolved to be at the front when Craig was cut down, to be ready to loot the looters.
Craig held his head up as the noose was looped around his neck. (Tethered, said Jack's mind, feeling a small flutter of panic at the idea.) The river breeze ruffled his warm gold hair – like palm trees in the trade winds of the West Indies, thought Jack who had never seen a palm tree. How wonderful to see those strange plants, to feel hot golden sunlight instead of tepid milky rays, to see the water stretching on for ever instead of being confined between the built-up banks. There would be treasure – lots of it – and adventure. Cannibals and sea serpents and –
"Oi, what are you doing?"
A big red face with beady eyes peered down at him. He realised that he had been absently fumbling with the man's coat pocket. For a moment they stared at each other transfixed. Then Jack offered up an ingratiating smile, and took to his heels. A ham-like hand snatched at him and missed.
"Come back here, ya little bugger!"
Pounding footsteps told him that the giant was giving chase. Others were taking up the cry of "Stop, thief!" and various pickpockets, thinking themselves rumbled, began to sidle away. A good number of the crowd joined in the pursuit, with the result that Craig in his last moments lost much of his audience.
Jack darted through the masses. The people at the back of the crowd, who had not yet realised what the commotion was about, let him pass. Those following him had to push and shove to get through. Some gave up, feeling that the hangings were better entertainment after all. Not so the aggrieved and very determined giant, Jack realised after a hasty glance over his shoulder, who was barrelling through the throng like Goliath through the Israelites (or was it the Philistines? Jack wasn't sure).
The gathering was thinning out. He had reached the thoroughfare. There were carriages parked here, vehicles belonging to ladies and gentlemen who came to see justice done but did not care to risk themselves among the hoi polloi. Several wigged and beribboned heads were poking out of the windows, staring at him curiously. He favoured them with a baleful glare, something that was difficult to do while running, thus failing to notice the oncoming horse until it was almost too late. The rider swerved, Jack stumbled. By the time he picked himself up the angry giant had reached him. The rider, too, had dismounted to inspect the damage to his horse, which was non-existent, and to harangue Jack for it anyway. "Clumsy brat, do you know what happens to a horse that breaks a leg?"
"Do you know what happens to little boys who steal?" the big man demanded, grabbing Jack's shoulders and shaking him. The coins he had purloined jangled.
"Hold up there, my good man," a new voice said. Jack recognised that accent. The braying tones of a country squire in London for a few days to see to his business affairs, the voice of a man used to getting his way in his own life and everybody else's. The lord of the manor. Probably a bleeding magistrate as well. He wriggled, trying to shake off the enormous hands gripping him. They held fast.
The new arrival was a gentleman in his late fifties with a prim mouth and an expensive blue coat. The lady of a certain age hastening after him wore an equally costly silk dress, and the footman bringing up the rear, ready to defend his master and mistress against the ragamuffin if need be, sported a livery that must have cost as much as either of his employers' outfits. Jack wished that that party had been standing unawares among the throng.
"What seems to be the problem?" the squire was asking.
"This little swine tried to rob me!" the red-faced giant said, and gave Jack another shake.
"All right, let me handle this, I'm a magistrate," the squire said. "Did he actually take anything of yours?" The giant admitted that he had not. "Be on your way then. The rest of you, too," he said to those who had followed Jack this far. Muttering, they dispersed. He got hold of Jack's ear in a painful grip, the giant released his shoulders, and instinctively deferring to authority, left them to it.
"Now then, young man," the squire began in time-honoured fashion, "hasn't your mother ever told you that stealing is wrong?"
"I haven't got no mother," Jack pouted.
"Poor child," breathed the squire's wife, hand on heart. He spotted a potential ally. Maybe she was a philo – philaf – charitable sort who would let the down-on-his-luck street urchin on his way with a pat on the head.
"Be quiet, please, Harriet. I know what to do in cases such as this. A taste of Newgate prison will sort this youngster out."
"He's just a little boy, Charles."
"I'm not, I'm twelve!" Jack said indignantly. The kind, understanding lady frowned. He quickly adopted his most mournful expression. Best to look like one of the Deserving Poor.
Grumbling something about 'no harm done', the rider mounted his horse and continued on his journey.
"Well," Charles said, "he is very young."
"As like as not this is his first offence," Harriet agreed.
"Quite possibly, but without a mother to guide him… Do you have a home to go to, young man?"
The answer was 'no', but that would certainly be the wrong thing to say. He hesitated.
"I know! Lady Winsborough was telling me just yesterday that her new boot boy had proved unsatisfactory and she was in need of another. Perhaps he would like to earn an honest living… What is your name, child?"
A boot boy! Jack stared at her aghast. Going into service was not part of the grand story that was the plan for his life, not then, not ever. "Jack," he answered, finding his voice. "Horner," he added, since he had indisputably harvested plenty of plums that afternoon.
"Well, well," Charles said in a tone which meant that as far as he was concerned it was all settled. "If you come with us in our carriage we'll take you to Penelope Winsborough's. She'll see you fixed up in a nice uniform. What do you say to that?" He finally let go of Jack's ear. Jack smiled at him sweetly and kicked his shin. For the second time that day he ran for his life. Charles howled, Harriet exclaimed in horror, but they did not come after him. They would be too busy complaining to each other about the ingratitude of the young today.
Having ascertained that he was not being followed, he slowed to a walk and made for the river again, heading eastwards. Boot boy indeed. Uniforms. Who did they think he was? Pity he hadn't told them his real name, so that when they heard about Jack Sparrow stealing the Crown Jewels or being made governor of his own island, like Morgan and that mythical land Jamaica, they would remember this day and blush to think of their paltry plans for him.
He reached the slow-flowing water. From here he could see a few of the decaying bodies displayed as a dire warning to anyone wicked enough to think of following their example. Soon the pirate he had seen hanged earlier would be among them. Not where he belonged, Jack thought. No fate for a wanderer such as that sea-rover must have been.
The weak sunshine of earlier in the day had disappeared, covered up by thick grey clouds that suddenly confined him, restrained him, fettered him. The river too, reflecting the clouds, was overcome by them. Or was it that the waters swallowed them up? He took a deep breath. Beyond the reek of decomposing flesh, he caught the scent of something else, something the river carried to him. Something salty and sunlit. Jack had always liked the river. Someday he would follow it and see where it took him. Perhaps it would lead him to the fabled blue skies and clear waters.