—This story was originally published at http://www.fanfiction.net/~libfeathers on Oct 28, 2007.—
Disclaimer: Hector Barbossa may not be my invention, but in the movies the story of his life is left mysterious enough that it could belong to anyone who seeks it out. Here, then, is my take on the tale.
An Account of Hector Barbossa
written by a lady
who wishes to remain anonymous
To begin my story, I wish to state that Hector Barbossa is not dead. As I write these words, he sits across from me in front of the fire in my humble quarters. An open bottle of wine along with two glasses sits on a small table between us, along with some aged cheese. As the captain watches me write, he slices an apple into thin wedges and slowly eats them. His companion, the monkey named Jack, sits perched on the edge of Barbossa’s chair, examining the shiny buttons on his master’s cuffs.
Whatever else he may do or be, Hector Barbossa does not hold with lies. He does not tell them nor will he tolerate them from others. Which is what brought him here. He has decided the time has come to set things right. Six months ago, stories of his death began reaching our small island. Vicious stories they were, tales of children being murdered and nuns disrespected, and the tellers swore Barbossa had done it all and been tortured, poisoned, shot, hanged, and killed. I never believed any of it. I had known the man long enough and, I thought, well enough not to put faith in stories. The stories had reached Barbossa’s ears, too, and he did not like them at all. He decided it was time to have his own say.
And why, might you wonder, has he come here? It was the Aztec gold. I own a tavern on an island which he will not allow me to name – for my own protection, he says. I’ve known Barbossa for many years, so many, in fact, that I cannot say the exact number. Many of my patrons may be pirates. As long as they behave themselves, I don’t ask questions. I don’t keep records. Life isn’t easy for a widow with neither chick nor child to look after her, and money is money. Hector Barbossa has visited my humble establishment numerous times, first as a member of other men’s crews, later as captain of his own. When he started bringing the monkey with him, I began to recognize him from the other men. There’s not many as has monkeys, and none were so smart as Jack. Barbossa trained him well. But Barbossa always made sure his men behaved themselves, too, and he always paid what he owed.
My tavern must have been one of the first places Barbossa’s crew visited after lifting the treasure of Cortes. How well I remember the beautifully crafted coins he put in my hand that night. I’d never seen such workmanship before. After he and his crew shoved off, I put the coins safely away to help see me through the hard times that would always come again.
It wasn’t long before they were back. I’d not even heard the Black Pearl was in port; I just looked up one afternoon to see Hector Barbossa striding in the door with three or four crewmen close on his heels, all of them armed to the teeth. Barbossa left me no time to offer them food and drink. Instead, he took me by the arm and pulled me into the back room, oblivious to the fact that I was up to my elbows in flour from kneading bread.
“I need the gold back,” he told me, simple and direct.
It wasn’t often I’d seen a man with such a black look in his eyes, and never before had I seen Barbossa anything less than composed. If it was that important to him, he could have it.
“I still have the gold,” I said. “Just let me get it.”
Sending him back into the tavern, I did my best to dust the loose flour from my hands and then retrieved the gold from its hiding place. The captain and crewmen waited right outside the door. With both hands, Barbossa caught my hand and all the flour and gold it contained and held tight for a moment.
“I owe you.” He scooped the gold up and left. The crewmen filed out after him, as silent as they’d come in, and I did not see Hector Barbossa again for quite a long while. Later I heard stories, of course, of the settlements and ships destroyed by his crew in their search for the gold, but I never knew what to believe. The look on his face that day gave me cause to think he might be capable, but then again, it wasn’t my place to decide what a man can or cannot do. I only knew what I saw.
It took a while, but Barbossa proved to be a man of his word. Again he showed up with no warning, this time without crewmen, to make his offer. His story would be the means of settling his debt to me. He wanted to set right the lies and he chose me to do it because he’d heard me many times reading a newspaper to the sailors hungry for what they couldn’t get themselves. Knowing I could read, he figured I could write, too. I would write his words, sell the story, and keep the money for myself. In addition, he would pay me a few bob for the days I worked. The captain plied me with fine wine from his own stock and the impeccable manners he could display when he chose. He also pointed out that time wasn’t slowing down any, and this would help support me when I could no longer do for myself. I might have taken it as an insult if he hadn’t pointed out his own years.
But a question plagued me right away. “Why do you not write the story yourself?”
He gave me a wicked grin. “I can’t read.”
“Ah, so you’re not going to tell me, then.”
“What would I do with a book? I could never get it printed nor collect the money for it if I did. But you know a lot of people, you could get it done. Besides, it would square my debt with you.”
“And what’s got you so all the sudden worried about unpaid debts?”
Barbossa kept his eyes on mine but the mischievous look faded the tiniest bit. “Well, that has nothin’ to do with this, missus. Do ye want the offer, or not?”
I considered. With the money he promised I could hire another girl to help with the cooking, and it might be pleasant to sit and write for a while. My bones weren’t as spry as they once were and could do with a rest. Not to mention that the possibility of learning Hector Barbossa’s secrets did hold a certain appeal. So the deal was set. Together we would craft the life story of a man named Hector Barbossa.
It proved far from a simple task to pry enough information from Barbossa to make a story. He wanted to tell only what he wanted known, but it wasn’t enough. I needed to know it all if the story was to be honest, or at the least, I needed to know most of it. After two days of struggle, he finally suggested a compromise: if he was to trust me with the truth of his life, I would have to trust him with something about myself.
“I’ll be wantin’ somethin’ to use against you if I ever feel so inclined. Then we’ll be on an even keel.”
Of course I had things from my past that I wouldn’t want my mother, rest her soul, to hear of, and perhaps a bit that the law might be interested in. But did I really want a pirate knowing any secret of mine? How much did I even know about Barbossa? As I studied his weathered face, I realized I knew as much about him as he knew about me. For some reason, he trusted me; maybe I should return the favor. Besides, as long as he knew only the name I used now, most of my secrets wouldn’t do him much good, anyway. I picked one dishonorable enough to get his attention and gave it to him.
“Alright, then, Bet, we have an accord,” he said.
His words caught me off guard. That wasn’t the name he knew me by. I tried hard not to react, but my face must have betrayed something, for he smiled like the very devil.
“Why did you call me that?” I asked.
“So it is true. Now that’s two secrets I know about you. I suppose it’s time for me to start lettin’ you in on some o’ mine.”
Once I’d got my breath back, I readied the quill and ink to write. Hector Barbossa was, of course, not born with that name. As he now knew, I’d been re-baptized, too, so I was in no position to quibble, nor to pry. His birth name does not matter, but he assures me he entered this world as a member of the nobility. His father, after inheriting land and a minor title, eloped with a well-to-do young lady whose family tree branched out of royalty – a match her parents decidedly opposed. She was meant for better things than a minor noble. Her father forcibly ended the union by shipping her off to an unknown location, and Hector’s father was left bereft.
For years his father indulged in gambling, wenching, drinking, and other pursuits befitting a broken man. His temper became well known. Over the next few years, he delivered and received a goodly number of black eyes, broken bones, and gambling debts. Then he met Hector’s mother. A quiet, self-possessed young woman fifteen years younger than he, she was his equal by birth and more than his equal by temperament and grace. With her having four sisters younger than she, waiting to be married off, her father easily gave in when she began finding excuses to meet up with this man. His temper and his binges never swayed her. Somehow she saw a good man underneath. Within a month, he had sobered up and settled down. They were married the next spring.
Hector arrived a year later. As first-born son, he was groomed from the start to one day take over for his father. He received a proper education at a boarding school and excelled at fencing and languages. He made many friends at school and thus never suffered from homesickness. His father was calm and settled, with no signs of his previous wildness; his mother was gracious and always serene. Shortly before his tenth birthday, Hector was joined by a little sister. He doted on her, claiming he spoiled her shamelessly when he was home from school, and she adored her big brother.
By the time he reached his fifteenth birthday, Hector had become quite popular with the young ladies. But he had eyes only for one. Unlike his father, Hector chose well, and the girl’s parents approved him, as his did for her. And then, on the eve of his sixteenth birthday, a stranger came to the door.
At this point, Barbossa grows difficult. His memory of the next few weeks seems confused and he grumbles if I ask for additional details. It takes more wine to convince him to continue.
“To be sure,” he finally says, “it was two strangers showed up at the door, not one. A woman and a young man. She was my father’s first wife, released from her exile when her father died. The young man with her was the son from that first marriage. A son my father never knew he had.”
With her father now dead, the first wife was free to follow her heart. Hector’s father, who never forgot this early love, returned to his first wife and reclaimed his older son as his rightful heir. Hector, his mother, and his sister were left with nothing – no inheritance, no home, no future – not even a name. Hector’s young fiancée, upon learning he would now inherit nothing, promptly abandoned him and became engaged to his half-brother.
Hector’s father disposed of his second wife and her now illegitimate children by moving them to Wales, to land owned by a distant relative, and then he moved on. They had thought to be living as guests of the relative, but when they arrived, they found themselves expected to work. The womenfolk were put to use in the kitchen, cooking and washing up, while Hector found himself chasing after a flock of sheep and fielding taunts from the Welsh-speaking natives in a language he didn’t understand. Unaccustomed to working for a living, and so far from home, Hector’s mother found it difficult to keep up with the never-ending chores. Heartsick and exhausted, in that first cold winter, she developed pneumonia and died. The now 16-year-old Hector was left alone with his 6-year-old sister, who had never been in very good health but now began to fail.
“She weren’t no bigger’n Jack here when she was born,” Barbossa recalled, stroking one finger along the monkey’s head. “Tiny little mite. But she was always a fighter.”
Hector appealed to his father for help with no luck. His letters went unanswered. The only news he heard was that his father now had a brand-new son to add to his household. Hector’s mother’s family was somewhere in Europe, and he did not know how to contact them. So he decided to set out on foot for home. His sister grew worse as they traveled. They didn’t make it half the way to the English border before she could go no further.
“At the end, she couldn’t even walk,” Barbossa speaks in a very calm voice. He is not reluctant to talk of her, as he is with his father, yet he does not seem sad, either. “I don’t think she knew who I was anymore. She didn’t sleep well. She wouldn’t eat. She wouldn’t even cry.”
Finally, by offering to work in exchange for help, he convinced a local midwife to see to his sister, but when they returned to the haystack where he’d left her sleeping, his sister was dead.
After burying his sister, Hector paid his debt to the midwife and then wandered at loose ends, working where he could, drinking most of his wages. Eventually he crossed the border and found himself in the port of Bristol. In the slums he met two other young men with very few prospects and they became friends. Jim and Charles were both orphans, but unlike Hector, they knew what they wanted to do. They would go to America. The more they talked, the more interested Hector grew. It would be a chance to start over in a brand-new country, far away from his father’s England. It was a place where they could be what they wanted on their own ability, not on someone else’s ideas of who they were. Their only problem was lack of funds. But Jim knew how to get around that. All they had to do was find a ship taking indentured servants. A landowner in the Colonies would pay for their passage to America in return for a term of service. It sounded like the perfect answer. They sold themselves as indentured servants to a plantation owner in a colony called Maryland. The two-month journey was nothing less than horrible – not enough food, illness, plenty of death. Charles succumbed halfway across. The passengers, crowded and hungry, squabbled constantly. Nonetheless, Hector did get one good thing from the journey: his first taste of the sea. He also adopted Jim’s manner of speech in order to be more accepted by the others on board.
Servitude on the plantation proved worse than being aboard ship. Food was doled out stingily, sleeping quarters were dirty, and the master had a free hand with the whip. It mattered not to him whether the servants were male or female, he’d beat any of them for the slightest infraction. After one particularly bad day when the master had whipped six servants for no discernable reason, Jim made up his mind to run away. He said he would rather live with the heathen Indians than stay where he was and be whipped to death. He slipped away one moonless night and was never seen again, despite a widespread search. When he could not be found, the master ordered no food for any of the indentured servants, hoping to get them to talk. When that didn’t work, he got out his whip again.
Another month went by, and the servants figured the runaway had made it to freedom. The master grew more cantankerous at losing what he considered his property. After drinking enough to inflame his temper, he then took liberties with one of the female servants and left her, bruised and cut, in the field. The servants who tried to help her also received beatings. Finally Hector had had enough. He would run away himself. He waited for the next new moon and set out alone, telling no one of his plans.
But Hector knew little of the American countryside and had no destination in mind. By noon of the next day, the master and his pack of hounds had located him. Awaiting him at home was the worst beating he’d ever received. But the master still expected him to be at work early the next morning.
Hector dragged himself out of bed and into the tobacco fields with the other hands. Once the master was convinced Hector was working, he went off to tend to other matters. By mid-afternoon, however, the wounds on his back were bleeding again and Hector could barely stand up. The others urged him to take a rest. He collapsed under a tree, in the shade, and meant to rest only for a minute, but soon he fell asleep. He woke to shouts – the master was coming back. One of the unlucky females who’d been forced to work with the men in the fields offered Hector a hand and helped him to his feet. Just as he stumbled back up, the girl tripped and went to her knees. And at just that moment, the master came into view. He saw the girl on the ground and accused her of shirking. Her punishment: ten lashes.
Hector intervened. He explained that he had been resting, not her, and if anyone deserved punishment, he should get it, not the girl. In reward for his gallantry, the master allowed him to take the ten lashes. Then he turned around and whipped the girl, anyway. Suddenly Hector couldn’t take it anymore. He lunged at the master who backslapped Hector and knocked him to the ground, and then went back to whipping the girl.
The other servants urged Hector to stay down but he wouldn’t listen. He pushed himself up again. This time the master scarcely missed a beat as he moved his aim from the girl’s back to Hector and caught him square in the face with the whip, laying him open to the bone. As he turned back to the girl, Hector snatched at the whip and tried to pull it away from the man’s grasp. But the man didn’t need the whip. He pummeled Hector with his fists till the younger man was flat on the ground and not moving.
Here Barbossa chuckles at the memory of his own inexperience. “I didn’t know how to fight, and once I started, I didn’t know how to stop,” he tells me. He fingers the scar marking the right side of his face. “Kids can be such fools. Glad to say I’ve learned a lot over the years.”
“That is one benefit of age,” I agreed.
“And you know, for all my fight, that man still beat the girl. So then we both got it. And he added six months to my indenture. Ah, but even then, I didn’t learn. I ran away again, three more times, and got dragged back and whipped every time. But I learned a lot about fighting and about America, and finally, on the fifth try, I got away. And I ne’er looked back.”
He stood up, yawned loudly, and stretched. “Let’s have a bit of a walk, shall we? My bones are gettin’ tired from all this sittin’. C’mon, Jack.”
The monkey jumped up and Barbossa offered me his arm. I took it with a smile.
“Quite the gentleman, aren’t you?” I said.
“Train ’em early, they never forget. My mother taught me manners.” Barbossa opened the door for me and closed it behind. “My father taught me how to use a sword and a pistol. But he never taught me to fight. Every boy should be able to fight.”
We started off toward a nearby hill which showed a grand view of the sunset. Barbossa paused to scan the sky.
“No moon tonight,” I said. “It’ll be fair dark.”
“I like it that way.” Jack jumped down and Barbossa led me toward the hill. “You got to take care of yourself. Girls, too. Look at you. Widow woman, all alone, but you can handle yourself fine, can’t you?”
“Aye, independent. Tis a good thing to be.”
Once Hector had made a successful escape, somewhere around his 25th year – by then, he was no longer certain of his own age – he wanted to get far away from America. Realizing that he missed the sea, Hector signed on for another voyage, this time as a crewmember, on a ship bound for the West Indies. After that he stayed with the ship and went on two more voyages. On the third, however, the ship was attacked by pirates. Hardened by the years of servitude, along with his skills with both sword and pistol, Hector made quite an impression as he fought against the pirates. Rather than killing him, the pirates offered to let him join their crew. Hector consented, if only to save his life. But it didn’t take long for him to realize he’d finally found a home. Every time they attacked a ship or raided a rich man’s house, Hector felt a strength he’d never known before. His whole life, along with that of his mother and sister, had been taken away, because of money and power and legitimacy, and now he’d found a way to do justice. No one would be his master again.
“Piracy has a freedom to it,” says Barbossa. “There’s nothin’ like it. There’s nothin’ better.”
For more than a fortnight we worked. I knew not where Barbossa stayed in town, he didn’t say and I didn’t ask. I’d not have lasted long in that town being nosy. All I knew was he showed up to eat breakfast and lingered in his chair playing with Jack while the hired girl helped me clear away the dishes. After, I’d set her to working on dinner while Barbossa, the monkey, and I repaired to the back room. When I left to serve dinner, Barbossa himself would take up the pen until I came back. His handwriting was quite nicer than mine, to be sure. At night, when the girl left, Barbossa would also take his leave. He came and went alone, aside from the monkey. Never once did I see anyone who appeared to be one of his crew. I never even knew what ship he’d come in on.
Mostly he would tell part of his tale, and I would write, and then he’d read it over. He scratched out a good bit, and sometimes scratched it back in again. Then came the day when he arrived late and told me he would be leaving on the morning tide. With but the one day left, he knew he’d not finish what he started. We had to find a place to stop if not an end. We worked late into that final night to put order into what we had, but finally he called a stop to it. It would have to do.
“Maybe someday I’ll be back to finish it. If not, it’ll have to stand as it lies. I’ll leave it to you whether to print it as it is or to wait till I come back,” he said, standing up. When he doffed his hat, I expected him to bid me farewell. Instead he pulled a feather out of the brim and handed it to me. “So ye can write your own story – Bet.”
“Why must you call me that? It’s not my name.”
He pulled on his coat and reached down to scoop up Jack, who had fallen asleep, cuddled atop the stack of firewood kept beside the fire. The monkey squealed in protest then scampered up to Barbossa’s shoulder, chattering coarsely as he settled himself against Barbossa’s neck.
“One name’s as good as another, i’n’t it?” Barbossa grinned. “But you’ve no need to fret. I won’t use it again.”
I walked with him into the tavern, empty so late at night, and saw him to the door. “I don’t suppose it would be my place to ask where you’re going.”
“To the end of the world, my dear.”
“You still don’t trust me completely, ” I said.
“Ah, but I do, with the things I’ve trusted you with. Do you trust me?”
I could tell by his eyes that he knew the answer, he was just testing me by asking. “Fair enough.”
He kissed my hand in farewell and walked out into the night. I wanted to watch him leave, to see where he went, but something compelled me to go back inside and close the door. I didn’t need to know where he was going. Maybe I didn’t even want to. He wove a pretty web, but after all, you could easily get stuck in a web if you didn’t watch yourself. And I had my own life to worry about. So I put the manuscript and the feather safely away where once I had stored the Aztec gold. I returned to the tavern where I picked up the last few dishes the hired girl had left to dry and put them in the cupboard.
Still, there are mornings when I listen closely as one of my patrons talks of a new ship in harbor. I look up every time the door opens, hoping to see that familiar black hat and hear Jack’s chattering. Like a child impatient to know the ending, part of me hopes that he might come back and finish the story. There is much left to tell, and much he had told that he would not let me write. But without his permission, I dare not say more. It is enough to be what it is, and I must leave it at that.