Authors: Rob Kidd
Copyright © 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved. Published by Disney Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney Press, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
The bold, dark handwriting gleamed on the paper as if the ink were still fresh on the letter, although the message had traveled nearly halfway around the world.
We are all in grave danger
A soft breeze wafted through the open window, carrying the distant scent of the ocean. Beyond it were the fish market, the brightly colored flowers in the trees outside, and the murmur of the city down the hill. The breeze lifted the paper a little, then darted away as if the contents had scared it off.
A new threat has arisen. A scourge worse than any pirate. He calls himself the Shadow Lord, and he commands a vast army capable of unspeakable horrors. We cannot even describe the scene of devastation we found in Panama…the brutality, the destruction, the waste—of life and property.
And it grows worse still. Our agents tell us he has formed an alliance with the Spanish—our mortal foes. Together, they plan to slaughter every pirate on the sea…and then turn on us.
Take heed, my good sir. Watch closely for any sign of this Shadow Lord. Warn us if you hear anything of him. The Company depends on our loyalty and strength. We must all be vigilant in this time of peril.
The letter was signed by a fellow employee of the East India Trading Company, a man who had once served on a merchant ship with the recipient. The latter, a skeletal, fastidious, pale blond gentleman who now sat at his desk studying the letter through a monocle, had risen higher and faster in the Company than his friend had. If you asked the recipient, he would have said that was because he did not suffer from the flights of fancy, ridiculous fears, and soft-hearted sentimentality that the letter-writer clearly displayed in his melodramatic tale of horror.
This man with the monocle was Benedict Huntington, and he was manager, lord, and chief of all business appertaining to the East India Trading Company on the very profitable island of Hong Kong and its surrounding seas. How profitable? Huntington’s mansion reveals that: set high above the bustle and smells of the city, surrounded by lavish gardens, elaborately furnished and decorated with the most expensive silks and treasures of the Far East. Or perhaps the entourage of fifty servants that attend to his every whim might paint a clear picture of just how vast his riches are. Perhaps you could guess at his wealth from the fawning looks he gets from every other Englishman in the city, or by the heavy jewels adorning his strikingly beautiful young wife.
Benedict slid the letter under a book as his wife, Barbara Huntington, swept into the room. But Barbara’s sharp green eyes spotted the movement instantly. She pounced.
“Nothing to trouble yourself with, my dear—” Benedict began, but Barbara was already perching on the edge of the desk and yanking the letter out from under the book. Her unnaturally bright red locks were pinned back with an enormous peacock feather that swooped out of the top of her hair, and Benedict had the uneasy feeling that the eyes on the feather looming over him were staring at him disapprovingly. Barbara’s long silk gown matched the brilliant blues and greens of the feather, and strings of emeralds dripped from her ears, wrists, and neck.
People who met the couple couldn’t help wondering if the wife had drained all the color out of her husband upon marrying him. She was dazzling, like a startling bird flashing out amid the jungle foliage, while he would be easy to lose in a mild snow flurry. His hair was so pale it was nearly white. Even his eyebrows and eyelashes, perched above nearly colorless light blue eyes, barely made an appearance on his bony face. He was partial to wearing entirely white suits, with white stockings and shoes and a wide-brimmed white hat to protect him from the sun, which he seemed to loathe, as he avoided it with the same cautious, austere intensity that he devoted to his business affairs, wardrobe, and all his habits.
Where his wife was loud and vivacious, he was quiet and calculating. Many a diplomat had found himself distracted by the charms of one member of the couple, only to discover later that the other had weaseled some vital secret out of him without his noticing it.
“What rubbish,” Barbara said, tossing the letter back on the desk. “A Shadow Lord indeed! Someone has been reading too many ghost stories, don’t you think, Benny?”
“As I said,” her husband replied calmly, “nothing worth your attention.”
“Well, I don’t know.” Barbara examined her nails, painted the same fiery red as her hair. “Perhaps we can use this to our advantage in some way. Terrified bureaucrats are so easy to manipulate. We could give the Company higher-ups a little kick in the knickers—maybe expand your position to encompass the entire Pacific Ocean. Wouldn’t that be thrilling, dear? Or maybe we should make a deal with this ‘Shadow Lord’ ourselves! Ridding the sea of those flea-bitten pirates sounds like a brilliant idea to me.”
Their eyes narrowed simultaneously, and anyone watching would have been struck by the sudden similarity in their faces—the cunning ferocity that had drawn them to each other despite their outward differences.
“Another ship yesterday,” Benedict hissed. “Lost with all its cargo, probably never to be seen again.”
that insipid Mistress Ching!” Barbara said violently, jumping to her feet and stamping her foot. “There was a wondrous selection of tea and spices coming to me from Shanghai and she
it. Oh, Benny, we must catch her and have her hanged. Does she not know that the world belongs to the East India Trading Company? Or, worse, does she know and choose to ignore the fact?” Barbara inhaled some snuff, patted her hair, and wiped her nose.
“I will catch her,” Benedict said in a voice that was as soft and sickening as opium smoke. “Shadow Lords and Spanish armies—their kind means nothing to us. Someone else can deal with them back in their own waters; we have more pressing troubles. I assure you, darling, sooner or later, that pirate woman will be at our mercy.”
want to kill her,” Barbara snarled. “I’ll tighten the noose around her neck myself. That’ll teach her—teach them all—to steal my things. She and every other pirate should be twitching at the end of a rope somewhere on the Seven Seas.”
one,” Benedict said, touching his long white fingers together. “And that is where they will all be…before long.”
Barbara patted her hair again and smiled dazzlingly. “Thank you, darling. I knew you would have a plan.”
knew you didn’t have a plan, Jaaaaack!” Hector Barbossa bellowed. “Ye barely even know which end of the ship is up! I bet you’ve never read a chart in your whole misbegotten, pernicious, confounding—” The rest of his words were (perhaps mercifully) lost in a deluge of water as enormous waves swept over the side of the
, leaving Barbossa, her first mate, clutching his hat and sputtering.
“What? Eh?” said Captain Jack Sparrow from the helm, cupping his hand around his ear. “Did you hear something?” Jack asked Diego, his kohl-rimmed eyes darting from side to side as if there might be sprites talking in the air all around him. Then he winked at Diego. “Must have been the wind, eh?”
A howling gale raged around the
, trying with furious force to smash her against the rocks of the Strait of Magellan. Rain lashed the sails and drenched the poor souls on deck, while an icy wind off the South Pole chilled them all to the bone.
The ship had been trapped in what seemed like an endless storm for three days straight as they navigated around the tip of South America, heading for the Pacific Ocean. “Go that way” seemed like a perfectly reasonable plan to Jack. He didn’t know what Barbossa was on about—but Barbossa was always grumbling about something, so Jack had learned not to pay much attention.
Diego was too cold to answer Jack. He had never been so cold, not even when he was a young boy sleeping in the stables in the depths of Spain’s winter. He wanted to be a good, useful sailor, but his teeth chattered as he clung to the mast and he couldn’t feel his fingers or toes anymore. When he saw a slim figure emerge from the hatch, he let go and slid over to her. His shoes slipped and splashed on the soaking deck.
“Carolina!” he yelled over the roar of the storm. “Get back down below! It’s too dangerous up here!”
“So why are you out here?” she shouted back. The rain plastered her tunic and trousers to her body instantly despite her long cloak, which was less of a shield and more of a plaything for the wind. Carolina grabbed the edges of the cloak to make sure it didn’t fly away, perhaps even taking her with it. “It’s just as dangerous for you as it is for me!” she challenged Diego.
“Well—but—but I’m not a princess!” he answered. From the flash of her dark eyes, he knew he’d said the wrong thing.
“I’m not a princess anymore, either!” Carolina snapped, her long dark hair flying wetly around her shoulders. “I’m a pirate now! And if you think I’m just some weak, simpering child of royalty who has to be pampered, I dare you to race me to the bird’s nest and we’ll just see who’s the better sailor!”
Diego felt sick at the thought of climbing the ratlines in this weather. “No, no!” he cried. “That’s not what I meant! You’re a much better sailor than me! It’s not that you’re weak—I meant that you’re more important than I am!”
The ship heaved to one side, tossing Carolina into Diego’s arms as they both stumbled on the slippery deck. He shivered at the nearness of her soft skin and scented hair. “Oh, you are cold,” Carolina said, instinctively putting her hands under his shirt to warm him up. He jumped, startled, and to his regret she pulled away, looking embarrassed.
“You have to stop thinking of me as being more important than you,” Carolina said, leaning close to him so she didn’t have to shout. “We’re the same now. Just two pirates aboard Captain Jack Sparrow’s ship.”
Diego all but ignored her. He tried to stand in a way that would shield Carolina from the bitter wind. The rain lashed against his back.
“Besides,” Carolina added, “I couldn’t stay below for one more minute. I’d rather be out here in the pouring rain than stuck down there with your ‘bonnie lass,’ as Captain Sparrow calls her.”
“She’s not my bonnie lass!” Diego protested. “Stop saying that! She might hear you!”
,” Carolina twittered in a perfect imitation of Marcella, the bonnie lass in question. “You’re my
, Diego. You’re so
, Diego. Take off your
“Oh, calm down,” Carolina said with a smile.
Neither of them spotted the glimmer of lamplight through the grating over the hatchway below, where another figure was crouched, listening intently. Marcella’s eyes narrowed as she drew back further into the shadows. She could only catch a few words through the storm—but she’d heard enough to be sure that Carolina was making fun of her. That Spanish ragamuffin trying to poison Diego against her! Marcella clenched her fists, wondering if anyone would notice if Carolina “accidentally” fell overboard during the storm. But to do that Marcella would probably have to get wet, and Marcella hated getting wet with a strange, fiery passion.
She absolutely refused to go on deck in this weather, no matter who cajoled or entreated her.
“Marcella? What are you doing there?” Jean Magliore, Marcella’s cousin, said as he emerged from the crew’s quarters, his reddish hair standing up in sleepy tufts.
“Nothing,” Marcella snapped. “I don’t understand how you can sleep in this horrible boat, with all these horrible smells and all this horrible noise and everything flying around everywhere. I nearly had a barrel fall on me earlier! A whole barrel full of those nasty biscuits they think we’re going to eat!”
Jean hid a smile and tried to nod comfortingly.
“And there’s no one else down here,” Marcella went on, “so you don’t have to call me Marcella—which is a stupid name, by the way—”
Jean jumped forward and covered her mouth with his hand. “Shhhh!” he said frantically. He peered around at the flickering shadows belowdecks. “I told you not to talk about that,” he whispered. “If Jack finds out who you are, he’ll throw us both off the ship, and he won’t care if we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when he does it!”
Marcella shoved his hand away. “Well, I think that’s just rude!” she said.
Just then, Jack flounced by.
“All right, Marcella,” Jean said loudly, “why don’t we go find out what’s for dinner?”
Marcella rolled her eyes and stormed ahead of him toward the galley.
what’s for dinner,” she sniped at top volume. “Something
with a side of something very nasty, plus a ‘biscuit’ with all the flavor and texture of a New Orleans cobblestone.”
Jean glanced around nervously one more time and then followed her. He tried not to look straight at any of the hanging lanterns, which were swinging madly as the ship bounced over the waves. Marcella was one of the few who had not been affected at all by seasickness during this storm. Somehow she was still able to eat astonishing amounts of food, complaining vigorously over every bite.
Unfortunately for the rest of the crew, Marcella did have a point. The situation in the galley had deteriorated rapidly after the
’s cook, Gombo, had gone off to captain his own pirate ship as Gentleman Jocard. While the
had been sailing south along the coast of Argentina, the pirates had gone ashore several times for fruit, but now it had been days since their last landfall, and the remaining food supplies did not look very appetizing.
Billy Turner was sitting at the long table in the galley with his head in his hands. Jack had lured him onto the
with the promise that he would take Billy straight back to his family in North Carolina. But Billy should have known better than to believe anything Jack said. Now he was trapped on this mad expedition to Asia, with no prospect of getting home anytime soon.
After a brief encounter with the creepiest mystic in the Caribbean, Tia Dalma, Jack was on a mission to collect vials of Shadow Gold to defeat the Shadow Lord and his Shadow Army, whatever that was all about, and Billy was fairly certain he was stuck on this ship at least until the Shadow Gold was found. At
The vials of Shadow Gold Jack was looking for had been scattered by Tia Dalma’s zombie, Alex, and they were now being held by five of the nine Pirate Lords around the world. The problem was figuring out
Pirate Lords had them. Jack had run into the Spanish Pirate
Lord, Villanueva, while Jack was liberating a wayward vial from the Incas. So now Jack knew two things: Villanueva did not have a vial. And, according to the rumors, Mistress Ching—Pirate Lord of the Pacific Ocean, based in China—did. That was enough for Jack.
“Cheer up, Billy,” Jean said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Just think, we’re going to Asia! We’re going to see Shanghai and Hong Kong and Singapore again—and who knows what else!”
what else,” Billy said gloomily. “Lots of water. Lots of angry pirates. Lots of swords in our faces. It won’t be any different than the last time we were there.”
“Why, you don’t think Mistress Ching will just hand over her vial of Shadow Gold?” Jean said with a cheerful grin. “Jack is
at persuasion, after all.”
Billy snorted. “Perchance you’re forgetting the last few times Jack has tried to charm somebody into doing what he wants.”
“He charmed you onto this ship, didn’t he,
?” Jean winked.
“I’m not eating
,” Marcella interrupted, slamming a hardtack biscuit down on the table. The biscuits were round and sturdy and could last for months. They were baked ahead of time exactly for a trip like this. In fact, as far as Jean could tell, these biscuits already had lasted for months. Possibly years. Maybe…centuries?
Marcella repeatedly banged the biscuit against the side of the table. It went CLONK, CLONK, CLONK, like a hammer against a nail. Not even a crumb fell off. The biscuits were called “hardtack” for a reason.
“I’m not breaking my perfect teeth on something this horrible,” Marcella said. (“Perfect” was a bit of a stretch, Billy thought. In truth, Marcella’s teeth were a bit yellow, a bit crooked, and surprisingly small.) “And I’m not eating
, whatever it is,” she went on, pointing to a barrel of dried salt pork that looked orange and wrinkled and flaky. “And I’m definitely not eating
nasty things.” She ran her fingers through a barrel of shriveled brown peas and shuddered.
“You miss Gombo, don’t you?” Jean said.
“I most certainly do not,” Marcella said, throwing her shoulders back and crossing her arms. “That ungrateful, self-centered wretch just sailed away without even a good-bye. Leaving us with no cook at all! He didn’t spend even one second thinking of what would happen to the rest of us! He’s just a stupid, dreadful
. I don’t care if I never see him again!” She tossed her stringy hair.
Jean looked at her closely. Were those…tears in her eyes?
A muffled sound, like faraway thunder, echoed through the ship. Jean and Billy exchanged worried glances. Surely that wasn’t—
The ship rocked as if something heavy had just landed in the water beside it.
Something like a cannonball.
“Anyway, he never cooked my fish as rare as I like it, and he was all big and muscley and—hey!” Marcella realized that Billy and Jean had raced away to the deck. “I was
, people!” she fumed. “Pirates!” She threw the biscuit at the wall. It bounced off and hit the floor with a dull, unappetizing thud.
Jean poked his head through the hatch and realized that the storm was finally dying down. The heavy rain had become a light shower, tapping gently on the boards of the deck. The cold wind still whistled through the black sails, but something much more urgent than the thunderstorm had appeared on the horizon.
Two ships were bearing down on the
with frightening speed. It was as if they had hidden behind the thunderclouds, lying in wait until the
reached the end of the strait and came upon the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Even through the rain, Jack recognized the winglike shape of the red sails, the sleek outline of the ships, and the bright crimson banners fluttering from the masts. He snapped his spyglass shut. These were Chinese pirate junks, a type of ship known throughout the world for its speed and maneuverability. But here? At the gateway to the Pacific, just off the South American coast? It was clear that someone did not want the
to enter the Pacific Ocean, and Jack had a good idea who that might be.
If there were ever a time for the
’s legendary swiftness to be tested, this was it! But first they had to get around the junks, which were planted directly in their path.
Jack narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to speak.
“Mistress Ching,” Barbossa muttered darkly.
“Hey, I was about to say that!” Jack objected. “I even had an excessively ominous tone of voice prepared. Quite better than your own, actually. Here, listen: ‘Mistress Ching,’” he intoned, pitching his voice as low as possible and drawing the words out slowly. “See? You’re not the only one who can do that whole sinister, brooding thing.” He waved his hand up and down as if summing up Barbossa.
“Jack, this is no time for your strange behavior,” Barbossa snarled. “Mistress Ching’s ships will blow us out of the water in a matter of moments.”
Jack, my dear Hector.
Jack,” Jack reminded him with an unruffled smile. He wasn’t worried. The effects of the second vial of Shadow Gold, which he had poured down his throat on top of a mountain in South America, were still coursing through his veins. He felt strong and alive and full of a powerful energy, like he could almost go running across the water to kick in the sides of those ships if he wanted to. That’s what the Shadow Gold did. It wasn’t valued as a precious metal, but as a liquid amalgamation that could restore youth to the person who consumed it.
It also was a cure for the heavy shadow-sickness that had plagued Jack since Tortuga—a shadow-sickness that only all seven vials of Shadow Gold could cure. That was what Tia Dalma had told him. But Jack had decided it best not to share all that information with his crew. They might take it amiss that they were sailing all the way around the world just to save Jack’s life. They were pirates, after all. Selfish, the lot of them.