|Rating: PG-13, drama, adventure, humour
Characters: Gillette, Groves and Melusina, a mermaid
Warnings: Telling would be spoiling. Also: Spoilers for "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"
Summary: Trapped between a rock and a hard place, Gillette and Groves find themselves at the mercy of a mermaid.
His dear old mother, may God rest her soul, used to say that her youngest son was as bull-headed as the smith's donkey. Not much of a naturalist, Gillette had never wasted any thoughts on the thickness of a donkey's skull, but considering the mere fact that he could think about it now, albeit lying with his face in the mud and with his eyes closed, gave him every reason to believe that it must be very thick. The blow he'd received to the back of his head had been very powerful; he'd hardly registered the pain before he'd lost consciousness. But now there was pain - a searing, pounding pain; worse than any hangover he'd ever suffered. And he'd suffered many.
What coward had attacked him from behind? A Spanish soldier? One of Blackbeard's maggoty zombies? Barbossa? Well, he'd find out, and then God may have mercy on them, because he definitely wouldn't! Gillette tried to move, but his body was weighed down by a leaden tiredness he couldn't shake off yet. When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the blurry sight of two faces, or rather, the upper half of two faces; four eyes looking at him with great curiosity. He blinked, and slowly, with his vision improving, the two faces merged into one.
"You look funny."
Difficult as it was for somebody in his position to glare, Gillette managed quite well.
"Nothing to see here," he grumbled. His tongue felt as if it was made of sandpaper, and he'd given his non-existent kingdom for some water. Of course, the Fountain of Youth was only a two feet away, but for one, so was the mermaid, and for another, he'd never dared to drink from such a cursed source.
"Unfortunately, that's very true," she sighed, moving her tail lazily in the water. "Nothing ever happens here. Very boring."
Gillette felt some of his strength returning, and he moved one arm so he could prop up his head and have a better look at his uninvited company. She was fair and looked like a young woman, but it was very likely this creature had lived for centuries already, and who knew how many innocent sailors she'd murdered in her long life. Her dark hair floated in the water like algae.
"Boring?" Gillette licked his lips. "Boring? We had an epic battle here involving the British Navy, the Spanish Navy and dozens of pirates! Oh, and zombies!"
"Yes. As I said: very boring. Can you sing?"
"No, I can't sing." That was a lie; he knew many songs, but none of them were suitable to be performed in presence of a lady, even if she had a fishtail and was a man-eater.
The mermaid pouted.
"You're not very amusing."
"I'm an officer of His Majesty's Navy; I'm not supposed to be amusing."
"Can His Majesty sing?"
Gillette thought of George II and had to grin. The mere thought of old Augustus breaking out in song was absurd. "I can't tell. I don't know him that well."
"You look much nicer when you smile," the mermaid said after a moment of consideration. "Our Queen, she sings beautifully. Indeed, none of my sisters has as beautiful a voice as Tamara."
Gillette moved his right foot, then his left. Good. The faster he was back on his legs, out of this cave and away from the mermaid, the better.
"How interesting. And what is your name?" he asked. It was probably best to humour her; he'd seen how dangerous these creatures could be, and he had no intention to end like his shipmates.
She moved forward, rising herself out of the water and rested her head on her arms.
"My name is Melusina," she replied. "I was curious to see the Fountain. But now it has been destroyed, so I'll return to my sisters."
"That's an excellent idea. I wish you a good day; it's been nice meeting you, now on your way."
She laughed. "Not now, you silly man. I want to see what you two will do now. It's not easy to leave this place, you know. You might need my help."
Two? Gillette frowned. Had anybody else survived the battle? That was bad news; he was in no condition to fight. It was time to move, and slowly, he began to stand up. Melusina quickly swam away, keeping a safe distance between them.
Gillette touched the back of his head. Then he looked at his hand and frowned upon seeing the blood.
"That must have been quite a blow," he said to himself. His wig was gone; at least one good thing about the whole mess. But his sword was still there; he picked it up and put it back in the scabbard.
"Where is the other?" he asked Melusina.
"Over there, behind you," she said. "He's not very amusing, either."
Gillette turned around, and there was Groves, sitting on a rock and nursing his arm.
"Groves!" he cried, his voice echoing from the walls of the cave. "By God, is it true?"
Groves looked up, startled by the unexpected noise. When he discovered Gillette at the other side of the cave, he jumped up and waved wildly with his healthy arm.
"Gillette! You're alive? How is that possible? Gillette! I'm over here!"
"Well, of course he is," Gillette grumbled. "Does he think I'm blind?"
"Is he your friend?"
Gillette looked over his shoulder.
"Yes. No. Well- yes."
Melusina shook her head.
"So is he or is he not?"
Gillette had no intention to explain to her how much strife among friends a promotion could cause. Especially if, as far as Gillette was concerned, the promotion of Groves to lieutenant commander had been undeserved. While Gillette's stubborn loyalty to the late Commodore Norrington and his equally persistent refusal to join the East India Trading Company had been noble, it had not been the wisest career decision.
Groves, good-natured and well-meaning, had moved heaven and earth to have Gillette employed as second lieutenant in HMS Providence. He thought that he'd done his old friend a favour, but Gillette couldn't see anything positive in serving under Barbossa and Groves. In short, he had a chip on his shoulder the size of sixth rate frigate.
"It depends on the day," he finally said, but Melusina had already left. He looked around, but couldn't see the mermaid anywhere. She'd probably returned to her sisters - good. One problem less to worry about. Gillette made his way across rocks and dead men towards Groves. He could see him touching his shoulder, wincing, touching it again and then trying to take his coat off.
"Can't he just wait for me to help him," Gillette continued his monologue. "No, Mr. Lieutenant Commander has to do it all by himself."
His headache and some bruises aside, Gillette felt fine, a little light-headed, maybe, and he had no problems climbing the rock where Groves still struggled with a sleeve.
"Let me do that," Gillette said, and helped Groves out of his coat. "I thought they'd shot you dead?"
"That's what I thought as well. But it was just a clean shot through the shoulder. And you?"
"Knocked on the head. Nothing serious."
Groves smiled, obviously relieved. "Thanks God for that. Did you see the mermaid?"
"Melusina?" Gillette nodded, and looked once again over his shoulder. "She wanted me to sing."
"She asked me as well. I don't think she liked 'Hunt the Squirrel' much. Ouch!"
"I think your singing could be counted as torture. Now keep still, I have to dress your wound. Ah, that's just the thing I need."
Gillette picked up the Union Flag next to Groves, and before the man could protest, he'd cut a piece off the cloth. Groves stared at him in disbelief.
"You've cut the flag in two! Are you mad? You can't do that!"
"I certainly can, as I've just proved."
"I was shot for that flag!"
"Then it's indebted to you and won't protest."
Gillette worked fast, and Groves' wound soon was dressed. His arm rested in a sling, also made from the Union Flag.
"That's perfect. You're every inch the patriotic Englishman now, right down to your sling."
Groves preferred to ignore Gillette's sarcasm.
"Thank you. Now let me have a look at your wound, Thomas. It certainly needs some cleaning."
"I'll see to that later. Remember, the water here is cursed."
"Cursed?" Groves shook his head. "It prolongs life; how can that be a curse? I'd rather say it's blessed."
"The mermaids who have died for this 'blessing' would probably beg to differ."
"Your glass is always half-empty, isn't it? Now stop being difficult and let me have a look at that. We need to find a way out of here, and you'll be of no use if you drop dead five minutes into our escape."
Gillette frowned, but eventually he turned around and allowed Groves to examine the wound. For a moment, there was silence, then Groves sucked in his breath.
"Bad?" Gillette asked.
"I - don't know if 'bad' is the right expression," came the hesitant reply. "How are you feeling?"
"I've got a headache and I'm sore. That aside, not too bad."
Gillette didn't like the sound of that, and turned around. Groves just stood there, with a shocked and confused expression on his face.
"What? What's wrong? How bad is it?" Gillette asked impatiently.
Groves scratched his head.
"There's this - hole."
"Hole?" Gillette touched the back of his head, and carefully ran his fingers across the wound. Indeed - it seemed to be deep. For a moment, he felt panic. "Do you think - do you think I'll die?"
"There's nothing you need to worry about," a cheerful voice said. The two officers turned around, and there was Melusina, drifting in a pool behind them. "You can't die. You're already dead!" She playfully splashed water into their direction and smiled, as if she hadn't just said the most outrageous thing.
"What did you just say?" Gillette thought that he'd misheard.
"I said, you're already dead."
"Don't be ridiculous," he snapped. "I'm walking, I'm talking, my heart is beating. How can I be dead?"
"Your heart is not beating," Melusina insisted. "And it was the doing of Blackbeard's sword. He was the one who knocked you down, and it's his sword that carries his magic. You should count yourself lucky."
Gillette swallowed hard, then he untied his cravat, put two fingers on his throat and desperately tried to find a pulse. When he couldn't feel anything, he tried the same with his pulse point, but again without success. No pulse.
"That's not possible. That's just not possible," he muttered, pushed his shirt aside and placed his hand on his chest, just above his heart. Nothing.
"And?" Groves asked. "Is there - anything?"
Gillette slowly shook his head.
"No. No heartbeat. But how can that be?"
"Oh, it was quite a blow, and a good part of your brain is missing," Melusina explained helpfully. "But don't worry, I don't think anybody will notice."
For a moment, there was silence. The only sound they could hear was the water dripping from the walls and the splashing of Melusina's tail in the water.
"What are we going to do now?" Groves asked after a while.
"Why do you ask me? I'm dead! Why, why, why do these things always happen to me? I'm a dead man walking, for crying out loud! You are the superior officer here, so you will have to tell me what to do, Sir. I'm waiting for your orders."
"I'll never hear the end of this, will I? You could be a little more grateful, after all I've done for you, Thomas! And your current state isn't my fault!"
"It isn't? Well, who dragged me on that bloody ship and on this bloody journey then if not lieutenant commander Theodore Turncoat? Why couldn't you just leave me alone? I was quite happy before that!"
"Oh yes, I'm sure you had a lot of fun in debtor's prison!"
"It just happens that I had, yes!"
"Don't argue, my pretty sailors. I will help you; I like you better than the Spaniards," Melusina said. "They weren't entertaining at all. They never sang, only prayed all day."
Groves gave her a stern look. "We don't want your help. You and your sisters have sunk our ship and killed our men."
Gillette wrinkled his nose. "It's not like you've done much to prevent that, though."
"I can't remember having heard a word of protest from you, either!"
"Had I been lieutenant commander, I'd told Barbossa where to stick his seagull nests, trust me on that."
Groves pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"Fine, fine. It's my fault entirely. Mea culpa, ashes on my head. Now let's forget our disagreement for a moment and try to find a way out of here. Maybe we could just leave the way we've come?"
"The entrance to the Fountain only works one way," Melusina said. "And you can't follow the path where the others left, because they blocked the exit with rocks, so nobody may enter this place again. It certainly looks like you will need my help, whether you like it or not," she added, and looked very much like the cat that had eaten the canary.
"And why, if I may ask, would you want to help us?" Gillette asked.
"Don't," Groves hissed, and pulled on Gillette's sleeve. "Don't encourage her!"
"I like your hair," she said. "A very nice colour."
"And here we go again. Just what is it with that blasted womenfolk and their penchant for redheads?" Groves muttered.
"Shows they have taste," Gillette replied with a smug smile. "It's not my fault your head looks like an otter's arse at the moment."
Groves ran his hand over his short-cropped hair.
"It will grow back," he murmured.
Gillette climbed down the rock and went to the edge of the pool. Melusina was drifting in the water. There was something very alluring about her slow, elegant movements, and the way her hair clung to her skin. Be careful, he warned himself, her beauty is nothing but a trap.
"So, how could you help us to leave this cave then?"
"The pool," she said. "That's the only way out. There are underwater caves, and they lead to a spring on the surface. It's not far, only two or three of your miles."
"We're not mermaids, we couldn't hold our breath for such a long time," Groves protested.
"Ah, don't worry about that. Don't you know that a mermaid's kiss can save you from drowning?" She smiled and batted her lashes at Gillette. "Don't you want to kiss a mermaid, my pretty sailor? They say it's the best kiss you can get."
Gillette shook his head. "Thanks a lot for your offer, but no. A kiss, eh? I don't wish to end up as your supper!"
"That's insulting!" Melusina's face turning red with anger. "We're carnivores, not scavengers!"
Groves winced. "That was not a very tactful thing to say, Melusina. I don't think Thomas has come to term with his - new condition just yet."
"It's up to you then, Theo. You are the one who could lose his life. Are you willing to take that risk?"
Groves looked once again around the cave. Melusina had been right, all the entrances had been blocked with rocks. One had to compliment the Spaniards for their efficiency and sense of duty. It was either starving here, among the dead, or risking death in the depths of the sea and end up as a mermaid's supper. The decision wasn't all that hard.
"I rather go with a kiss; I think that would be a death worthy of a seaman. I don't trust you, Melusina, but I have no choice."
He climbed down the rock, careful not to hit his shoulder in the process. When he arrived by the pool, Gillette nodded at him encouragingly. Then he grinned.
"This is just too bizarre. 'A man, a zombie and a mermaid meet in a cave...' - that almost sounds like the beginning of one of Commodore Norrington's bad jokes."
Groves knelt down by the edge of the pool, and Melusina rose from the water, putting her arms around his neck. Her skin was cool, and he could feel her enormous strength. Her appearance was deceiving; he was now at the mercy of the sea's greatest predators. He looked into her eyes, then he smiled.
"I think it sounds like the beginning of a great adventure, Thomas."
Before he could say another word, Melusina's lips were pressed on his, and then two powerful arms dragged him into the water. All Gillette could see were two shadows in the water, quickly disappearing in the deep.
"From your mouth to God's ear, Sir," Gillette said. Then he closed his eyes and dived into the water, leaving his old life behind.
* * *
|DEAD MAN WALKING
by Molly Joyful