The sad thing is, I can't blame anyone else for this. But I got it in my head I'd like to NPC a particular character for milliways_bar plot, then someone else said they'd do it, and I have enough to do, so...
Then this fic happened, because I didn't have to write an OOM. It's an IB fic, so naturally it's PG, although I did take one of the most moving scene and, according to emmlet, make it worse, so there's that.
Um... I don't think there're... oh, yes! Spoilers (mild) for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
When Edward first found Tortuga, he ran away for the second time. The first time had been from his father, who had turned to the bottle since Edward's Mama and sister had died, and who had begun beating his son more times than Edward felt he deserved. Now he was running away from the crew of the ship that had brought him from England: they had found him stowed away and threatened to sell him at the pirates' haven, but Edward didn't fancy whatever it was he was to be sold into, and resolved to run away at the first opportunity. And this was at Tortuga.
He didn't really have a plan from there. He just hoped he could find a ship that needed a cabin boy and go from there. He spent his boyhood so far listening to tales of the sea, and as much time as possible while hiding on the voyage over had been spent watching the sailors at work. He was sure he could do well.
But he really knew he was born for a life at sea when he ventured into a noisy tavern and he heard the strange three-piece band above the noise of crowd.
"Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, a pirate's life for me..."
The ship was called the Defiance, and in Edward's opinion she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. They were short a cabin boy, he heard, though the reason given didn't really make sense to him.
"Bad luck, it was. They all are. Don't know why they didn't put it ashore the second they found out."
"Always the way. Think its all romantic, they do. Think they can handle the danger, then they get scared, or lose their heart within a year."
"That's not all they lose!" And then there was course laughter.
"Good luck to 'em, that's what I say. Though damned I am if I know how they'll survive. Maybe he'll find work in a port."
"I'll give him work in a port!" And the laughter was even louder, more course.
The Captain was called Black, but that was a name only. He was a ruddy man, nearly as red of beard and he was of face. Quick to smile, with a laugh never short behind. He flew the Jolly Roger with pride and courage, and his generosity and good humour made him almost popular among the men of Tortuga as he was amongst his own, fiercely loyal crew. He found Edward before Edward found him, for the boy was having to work to pay for his time in this town, in the only way he knew how, other than sailing.
Captain Black found Edward singing for his supper.
"Sitting at the dockside, lining for fish..."
Edward found himself spending a lot of time in the Captain's cabin, much to the amusement of the rest of the crew. It was nothing like they suggested, of course. Captain Black said Edward reminded him of his own nameless son, lost along with his mother within hours of coming into this world. He looked fondly on the boy, and liked to pass time of a quiet evening just talking to him, or teaching him to play with bones, or sometimes pouring out rum, watering Edward's down.
It was on one of those nights when he'd perhaps had more than he should, that Captain Black pulled out a tuneless old guitar, and strummed a few chords on it clumsily.
"You like singin', eh, Teddy? I hears you singin' that Yo Ho song"
Edward was usually called 'lad', or 'boy', or 'hey' on the ship. But when the crew deigned to be friendly to him, he usually insisted as politely as he could muster that they stick to 'Edward' or 'Ned', 'Teddy' being what his Mama had called him. But he tolerated it from Captain Black, and not just because he was captain.
"I'm gonna teach you a song now, Teddy. But you mustn't ever tell anyone I taught it to you, y'hear? And you must never sing it excepting when you absolutely know it must be sung. You'll know, Teddy, just as I knows I gots to teach it you."
Edward nodded again.
The other man on board who called Edward 'Teddy' was Mr. Gale. Mr. Gale was third mate, but everyone knew the current second mate wouldn't keep his job for long, with what the rum was doing to him. Mr. Gale was perhaps the youngest crew member apart from Edward himself, and vain even for a pirate. While everyone took pride in their appearance and cultivated a beard of some sort, from tidy Spanish triangles to bushes big enough to hold candles, Mr. Gale elected to remain clean-shaven, which emphasised the masses of gold and silver that jangled in his ears and nose. And he was young enough that he could remain so with only a quick shave each morning.
He called Edward 'Teddy', because he said he'd had a brother called 'Teddy', once, and if if was good enough for Teddy Gale, it was good enough for Edward Morgan. At first Edward accepted it because he was scared of Mr. Gale, and with good reason.
A lot of the crew seemed to be scared of Mr. Gale. At least that's what Edward assumed. His well spoken attitude and soft voice made it all the more intimidating when the language that formed from it was as colourful and course as any of the sailors Edward had ever met. He was short of temper and quick to look for a fight, and the other crew members always backed down. This is why Edward first assumed everyone was afraid of him, but he eventually noticed the smile on the faces of the more senior crew as they declined to fight, and Edward knew they were somehow humouring this young hothead. But the junior seamen, they were scared, and with good reason; Mr. Gale in battle was louder, quicker and more violent than any other crew member. He loved a battle and revelled in it, always reluctant to offer any mercy to those on the end of his sword.
He liked Edward, though, and always offered the cabin boy a piece of any share the mates got larger than the others, and offered it with a smile and a wink. For that, and the way he always stopped the pirates from picking on the boy, earned Mr. Gale the right to use 'Teddy'.
"You should never be afeared of death, Teddy boy," Mr. Gale told him one day they sat together in the warm sun, sharing a moment of calm. Mr. Gale cut a fresh apple on his broadsword to share with the cabin boy. He never drunk more than a cup of grog when the others were drinking, did Gale, but he didn't need the rum to relax his tongue when the mood took him. "Never be afeared of death at sea, at any rate. Because to die at sea is to have the chance to serve under Jones, and that's immortality, that is, sailing the seas forever. It's dying on land you have to avoid, because then we'll be held accountable for our sinful life.
"Not that it'll ever happen to the likes of you and me. Pirate's life, what?"
Edward smiled and agreed, biting gratefully into his half of the apple.
"Now come on, Ted lad. Sing for me, won't you?"
Then there was silence over the ship except for Edward's thin voice rising hesitantly.
"They call me hanging Johnny..."
The change seemed to come gradually, but they all noticed when times got worse. They couldn't not notice. The skies seemed to get darker, the fights more dangerous, and the men more and more superstitious, muttering darkly to themselves in tones so quiet that no conversation seemed fit to share with more than two people. But Edward still caught the idea.
Things had changed. Things were bad. Worse than they'd ever been before. And the pirates he sailed with, for the first time he'd ever known them to be, were really scared.
Captain Black confirmed his worse fears one night when he'd been at the bottle again. Captain Black was at the bottle more and more these days.
"Our time's coming, Teddy me lad. It's coming or it's here. One of those. Word at port is that Jones is sailing for our enemies now. With the Dutchman out after us, we don't stand a chance, none of us. Pirates like me, and you, and like every one of me men, our time's here, and we'll be lucky to see Whitsun, we will."
Edward said nothing. He didn't know what to say. The Captain didn't seem to mind, though. He just took another long swing of his rum and waved the rapidly emptying flask at the boy.
"You listen to me, Ted-lad, and you listen well. When they come for us, you stick with Mr. Gale. If any one of us lives, it'll be you and Mr. Gale, you mark my words. not me, I gotta go down with the Defiance. Captain's duty, that is. She's me first love, anyway. Wouldn't have it another way.
"But you find Mr. Gale, you hear? He'll see you right. Got a soft spot for you, he has. I seen it. And when Gale's got a soft spot, he'll see it to the end. Never a seaman more true than good ol' Be... Benjamin Gale.
"And don't forget that song I taught ye, either. Don't forget it, but don't sing it 'til it's time. I'll have another one now, though."
Edward cleared his throat, well aware that his voice was growing courser in the salt air, harsh life, and by his advancing years.
"Oh, wrap me in my country's flag..."
All the crew were getting scared, now. And acting oddly. Edward saw the boatswain cross himself when they passed an island, the shore of which contained one dark mass that examination through a borrowed glass revealed to be some sort of giant octopus. He saw the first mate, usually one of the most amiable of seaman, curse darkly at Mr. Gale, as if the cloud that hung over them all was somehow the direct fault of the third mate.
And queerest of all was when Edward, coming up onto the deck late one evening, saw Benjamin Gale approach the captain's quarters with a determined and yet apprehensive expression on his face the likes of which he had never seen before. The third mate knocked firmly on by the cabin door and looked suspiciously over his shoulder while he waited for an answer.
Before Edward could make his presence known, he felt a hand on his shoulder. The boatswain had come up behind him, and placed a dirty finger on his hairy lips as Mr. Gale disappeared into the Captain's Quarters
"Don't question it," he said coarsely. "And do not mention it to Mr. Gale if you should have a mind to. He's got a head on his narrow shoulders, has Mr. Gale. Knows what's to come of us all and how to protect his own life. Would that it'd work for us all."
And that's all he allowed to be said about that.
When it came, it was as bad as they said, but Edward still managed to hear the boatswain yell at the first mate,
"It's not Jones. Thank the Lady herself it isn't Jones! If we're lucky we'll just hang!"
Edward had never smelled fear as bad of this in all his time at sea. And as he watched Captain Black take a shot between the eyes, fired by the first wave of East Indiamen swinging aboard, all he could think of was the man's last advice to him. But before he could seek out Mr. Gale, he felt one of the man's small hands, still delicate with youth, close on his elbow and pull him into the shade of the steps to the poop deck.
"Now you listen to me, Teddy boy," Mr. Gale hissed, his voice cracked like in a second puberty. "You listen good. We're lost here. The ship's lost, the Captain's dead, we're all lost. Don't fight, you hear me, Ted? Don't you dare fight, and you'll get through this. Here,"
Edward found his hand being grasped and something large and round pressed into his palm. It was a piece of eight, shiny and silver and warm from Ben's hand. "You take this," the third mate said, "and you get to Tortuga, you hear? It's not from the crew's bounty. It's from the Captain's own share and he gave me two for something I done for him."
Edward saw something silver flash in Mr. Gale's own hand as the seaman continued, "I'll keep one, you keep the other, and we'll find each other when this is all done. In Tortuga. You and me, we'll the only people come out of this. You're just a boy; you surrender and confess and get through this and find me in Tortuga, boy. Then I'll see to you, you'll see."
Edward's voice was quiet and dry and he managed, "I'll meet you in Tortuga," and he felt the word rise at the end, making the confirmation a hesitant question.
To his infinite surprise, Gale thumped his abdomen. "I have my own way out, lad. You'll see. We'll get out and meet in Tortuga. You're my Teddy, you are, since my brother died, you're my Teddy."
So Edward did has he was told, and surrendered.
They said he'd get out. They said he'd get through it; that not even the East India Company, that was the law these days, that not even they would hang him.
So when he found himself shuffling along in line, his feet chained tight together and to the strangers either side of him, he was too surprised to be afraid, or even sad. It wasn't until he was actually unchained enough to walk up to the scaffold, when he looked around saw the woman long down the line behind him, that he was able to fully grasp it.
Like all the women in the line, she was dressed poorly, in a cheap cotton cap and a skirt too small for her, that pinched hard around the waist before bellowing out over her stomach. Like everyone else, she was resigned and sad and a little scared, her head bowed and her mouth twitching over subsurface sobs.
Edward recognised the expression: he'd seen it enough times on his sister, Florence. She used to cry and scream every time Papa refused to let her have her way, and she'd scream and sob and yell and cry to get her have her way. It was the face of a girl who'd cried and cried and begged until her face was purple and her voice was hoarse, and yet had had to resign herself to the fact that she wasn't going to get what she wanted, that her plan had failed. It was the face of a woman who had cried herself at the same time that she lost the energy to be anything but mournful and resigned.
It was such a strange expression to see on the face of Mr. Gale, that it sent Edward crashing out of his disbelief, and he finally realised what was happening. His hands were already turning his piece of eight in his hands as he ascended the steps to the gallows, and as he looked up to the noose waiting for him - that would wait for Mr. Gale despite his watertight plan to save his skin - Edward realised now finally, was the time.
He turned over the coin in his hands, dragging his voice back from where jail had taken it.
"The King and his men stole the Queen from her bed..."