Caribbean Cartography by dee
Summary: The unthinkable occurs to the Commodore, and Sparrow's involved. What a surprise.
Categories: Pirates of the Caribbean
Characters: Norrington, Sparrow
Published: 05 June 2005
Updated: 28 August 2007
Chapter 1: Letter of Marque
Chapter 2: Close Quarters
Chapter 3: Barratry
Chapter 4: Barratry [continued]
Chapter 1: Letter of Marque
Author's Notes: To Mary, for the seed.
letter of marque ~ licence or commission granted by a state to a private citizen to capture and confiscate merchant ships of another nation.
"He has a what?"
I looked from the gold-glittered smirk to the resigned, drooping wig, and knew I'd heard right the first time.
Governor Swann cleared his throat uncomfortably, shooting an exasperated look across the desk, and then he held the document out to me. I took it with a sinking heart and a stomach-flutter - dread the likes of which I hadn't felt since I took my officers' examination. I didn't want to hold this in my hands. Good parchment, it took the ink well. I had to force myself to read the words, and even then I only got patches. 'Let it be known that... agent of the Crown... with Our blessing... Captain Jack Sparrow.'
"He has a Letter of Marque," I repeated, dully.
"He does." The well-documented Captain Jack Sparrow attended to the state of his cuticles with the sort of smug satisfaction I usually associated with well-fed cats and well-married young ladies. "And it's official, Commodore. So you'd want to stop picking at the seal, or you'll be destroying a Crown document. You know what you get for that."
I bared my teeth at him in response, but my fingers stilled. The seal was real anyway, the heavy wax intact and the imprint perfect. I consigned the man to my peripheral vision before I did something that wasn't quite a hanging offence, and addressed Swann. "How did the blackguard get this?"
The not-quite-slandered man protested, but we both ignored him. "The signature is real as well," Swann told me, regret lacing his voice. On the document, a slashed tangle of lines crawled over the top of 'Fitzwilliam Forth, His Majesty's Governor of Barbados'. "Forth's been out longer than I have. I hear he likes it here."
"So he's clearly mad," I muttered.
"But official," Sparrow interjected, playing his trump card again.
As if we'd missed it the first time.
I escorted Sparrow - not nearly as forcefully as I would have liked - to the door. "My men will be given orders not to molest you," I promised through a faked smile that I suspect wasn't fooling anyone.
Sparrow grinned, one cheek full of sharp delight, as he donned his hat. "And spoil all me fun, mate?" With a wink, he disappeared out the door.
I didn't bother not slamming it behind him.
"What a debacle," I announced as I returned to Swann's office.
The governor had his elbow on his desk and his forehead resting on his knuckles. He grunted against his palm.
I continued the conversation for both of us, since he seemed to be temporarily incapable. "Obviously we have to honour the document."
"Obviously," Swann repeated, pushing himself upright in his chair again. "Forth must be out of his mind."
"No doubt. It seems to be catching. But he's done it." I crossed to the window, and watched Sparrow swagger his way down the hill.
"Why has he come back to haunt us?" Behind me, Swann sounded plaintive, and mostly rhetorical. Just as well; there are no answers to questions like that with Sparrow. Although I had a theory about that one, involving some sin of my father's that required having a torment like Sparrow visited upon me.
"Well," I said, as the bloody pirate disappeared from view, "if we have to put up with him, let's at least keep our finger on him for a while."
Finding Sparrow the next morning was a long process, as we systematically checked every tavern and bawdy house in the port.
We found him in the church.
The light was burnt umber and sickly green, tinted by the sun sparkling through new stained glass and bolstered by candles melted down in their sconces. Sparrow was seated in the centre like a bubble caught in amber, his hands together and his head bowed.
My tread sounded very loud on the bare stone floor, but Sparrow didn't look up as I reached his pew.
Was he praying?
I waited, uncertain. Time passed, and Sparrow didn't look up. His lips were moving slightly, with the sibilant edge of words. Not that that necessarily meant he was talking to God, of course.
I sat at the end of the pew and contemplated the altar, the magnificent arch, the splendid depiction of the crucified Jesus. This pious behaviour from Sparrow certainly cast a pall on my personal-devil theory. Ah well, I wasn't particularly wedded to it in any case.
"Commodore." The voice slid from beside me, insinuated itself into the silence. I glanced sideways, and Sparrow was smirking back at me, leaning elbows on his knees. "Come to throw me out? No rest for the wicked?"
"I thought you were on our side now. The side of the good and righteous," I countered.
"Ah, but can I truly change my spots?" The question was offered with a considering finger.
Aggravating man. How was it possible that I was doing this? Surely it wasn't too late. I could still hang him. Apologise later. So sorry, terrible mistake. A blemish on my record, but could that compare to being free of Sparrow?
I said, "I am come to convey to you a mission from the Crown."
"The Crown!" That enthusiasm must be faked, at least in part. The naivety too.
"Through Governor Swann," I elucidated.
"And what task does the glorious and illuminated Governor have for his lowliest servant?"
I leaned back in the pew, and started an explanation more terse than the one Swann had given me. "The HMS Reward seems to have disappeared to the south. The Spanish report her destroyed in a storm, but we have reason to believe that is not the case. We are to find out the truth."
That finger lifted again, the tilt of the wrist, a face of inquiry so innocent that it made my teeth itch. "We?" Sparrow echoed.
I looked up into the face of the suffering Christ. "I'll be going with you."
The Black Pearl floating smug and unmolested in the port was an affront every time I saw it, and since the window of my office offered an unparalleled view of the harbour, I saw it often.
At sea level, it wasn't so bad. I could pretend not to see it behind the masts of the Dauntless. It was just another ship that wasn't my concern in the mass of a harbour that was. So it would have all been fine, except that Sparrow was standing on the foc'sle with Groves.
I hunt the man for six months and get nothing but tantalising glimpses. As soon as I can do nothing about it, he's constantly underfoot. The vicious cycle of life in action, or more evidence for my 'Jack Sparrow is my personal demon' theory?
I ignored him. "How long until we're ready to go?"
"Ah, now there's the problem," Sparrow cut in, and I had to acknowledge him. He had that apologetic look that meant he was about to be offensive, and I braced myself with one raised eyebrow before he said, "I'm not tagging along on this floating brick."
Refreshingly blunt. I passed over his pithy but wildly inaccurate description of the Dauntless to set everyone's mind at ease. "No, you're not."
"You're not." I folded my arms across my chest. "The purpose of this exercise, Captain Sparrow, is to assess whether you are suited to receive the endorsement of the Crown upon your ventures, a question which can hardly be answered if you aren't captaining your own ship and crew."
He almost looked relieved. Had he really thought I was going to have him aboard for the duration of this outing? His belief in my dedication to my duty was flattering, if somewhat over-generous.
"You could come aboard the Pearl." But his grin told me he knew precisely how likely that was.
"Thank you. But no, Sparrow, I will not impose upon your hospitality." I stepped aside. "You'd best see to your own refitting. We sail on the morning ebb."
Groves' grunt beside me told me that that may have been slightly earlier than was truly feasible. Oh well. He should have mentioned that earlier.
Sparrow paused at the head of the gangway, and looked back up to us.
"What?" I asked.
His grin widened, and he rapped his knuckles against the ship's railing. "She won't keep up with the Pearl, y'know."
"Oh, she'll keep up."
Two days out of Port Royal, bearing south-south-west towards Santa Catalina, the helmsman voiced a similar concern.
The Black Pearl had been trailing a respectful distance behind us since we left the harbour, but this morning she was starting to inch forward, creeping up on us to port.
"I don't like it," Gillette stated baldly. "With the wind westerly he could shadow us and stop us dead, and then make a run for it." Gillette, it's possible, is even less trusting than I am.
At this point, the helmsman offered his view. "Aye," he said, "and with the wind freshening she'll outrun us an' all."
Gillette and Groves, flanking me at the aft rail, both stilled, and I could feel their expectant eyes on me. "I hardly think," I said mildly, "that having gone to this much trouble to annoy me, Jack Sparrow means to cut and run with the job half done. Nevertheless, let's not give him the option." I turned, and addressed the helmsman. "You, sir. Are you really suggesting that the most modern warship in his Majesty's fleet may be incapable of matching speed in open water with a galleon a good forty years her senior?"
He touched his brow. "Beg pardon, sir, but, well, the Black Pearl's--"
"I know," I interrupted. "The fastest ship in the Caribbean." Beside me, they were grinning, I could see it from the corner of my eyes, and I didn't dare look directly, or I'd grin too; most improper demeanour. "Groves, take the helm. Gillette, full sails."
"Sir." They both came to attention and moved to their positions, Groves taking the wheel as the helmsman stepped aside, Gillette stepping up to the railing and bellowing fit to send the crew scurrying through the rigging like spiders.
I glanced over to the Pearl. "Floating brick, was it?" I muttered.
But as I braced my feet, I wondered if we could still do this. It had been the stupid trick of three devil-may-care midshipmen under the only captain in the Caribbean worth a damn, and that was more years ago than I cared to count. And now that I'd done this rash thing - forcibly taking direct control of my ship - I needed it to work.
I needed all the help I could get. Propriety be damned; I pried my shoes off, and flexed stockinged toes against the deck.
Then I closed my eyes and concentrated.
For the first time I envied Sparrow his ridiculous hair. Those beaded braids, the way they tugged at his scalp - he'd be able to read the wind like it was whispering straight in his ear. If he'd stay still long enough, that is.
Just as I was considering losing the hat and wig - a bit drastic, really - it started to coalesce. The hiss of the wind across my ears and through my spread fingers, the tilt of the deck against my soles...
"Tighten high to port," I said, and heard Gillette shouting at the crew - reef that topsail. "And helm a finger to starboard."
The Dauntless shifted into a new position, boards relaxing and contracting under my feet, and I read her, eased her faster and sleeker through Gillette and Groves. Felt her slide into alignment, past it, back towards it. Teased her ever closer.
The Captain always said: "What you want is for there to be no wind on deck, because you've harnessed every last skerrick into your sails. That's perfection."
"Of course," he'd continue, "you'll never manage perfect, but don't let that discourage you from trying."
The night before we were due to sight the island, Sparrow invited us to dine. Tempted as I was to take Gillette - who still called Sparrow "that bloody pirate" - in the end I left the Dauntless in his care, and Groves and I were rowed across to the Pearl.
'That bloody pirate' set a good table, and we were joined by his second mate, a dark beauty called Anamaria. "To balance the numbers," Sparrow declared, and intimated further that she was there because Gibbs was terrified of being at the same table as me.
"Well," I said, sampling Sparrow's surprisingly decent wine, "at least I frighten someone."
"But Commodore," Anamaria almost purred, "pirate children across the Caribbean are scared into bed with threats that Norrington will get them."
Groves laughed out loud. And witnessing the decidedly carnal glance her dark eyes cast across the table at him, I formed a few theories of my own as to why Miss Anamaria was present, at least as far as she was concerned.
"Tomorrow we should reach Santa Catalina," Sparrow said as the dishes were cleared away.
"Yes. We do seem to have made good time," I noted, and Groves made a sound into his wine that might have been a strangled laugh.
"Indeed," Sparrow drawled, and I had a feeling he was mocking me. Ridiculous. Of course he was mocking me. "What's the plan once we sight land?" he asked.
I swilled the last of my wine around the glass, contemplating the colour. "Do you have your charts here?"
"Of course." I'd thought he would. We stood as one and he led the way to his chart table, against one wall.
It was a beautiful piece of furniture, the surface at just the right height, though predictably one of the weights holding down the maps had gone missing and there was an apple - of all things - in its place. Charts filled slot after slot in the side of the table, the carved ends of the pins they were rolled around protruding. No perceptible differences to them, but their owner - Sparrow - would know by feel which was which. I trailed my fingers along the row, but just as I gripped one, Sparrow slapped my wrist.
"Naughty," he scolded absently, going back to sifting through the charts already on the table. "No peeking."
I stepped aside, unsurprised. A captain's charts were more precious than his ship. The ship was just a means of transportation, albeit a very dear one. Charts were life and death, the hard-won secrets of the ocean.
Sparrow found the one he was after and pulled it free of the pile to spread on top, weighting it. He placed his wine glass at the fourth corner, and picked up the apple. "I present to you," he said, flourishing it in the air before taking a bite, "Phanta Ca'alina." He swallowed. "I assume we aren't precisely going to sail into the harbour with colours flying and drums rat-tat-tatting."
"Probably not, no." I set my glass on the table, leaned over to examine the map closely. Much more detailed than the one I had. But the tiny island had never, before now, been worth the trouble of trying to acquire something beyond the official charts. Sparrow lounged against a corner of the table, eating his apple with loud, crisp bites. Low, mingled laughter from the dinner table distracted me, and I glanced over. "You know," I said quietly, "I'm going to need my Lieutenant in one piece."
Following my glance, Sparrow laughed. Just as quietly, he replied: "Anamaria never breaks her playthings. She'll give him back safe and sound."
I just raised an eyebrow, then stepped back from the map, reaching for my wine. "This is your mission. What do you recommend?"
Still smirking, Sparrow jabbed a finger at the chart. "Little bay, here. Not two hours walk from town." And I'd swear he hadn't even looked, but he was right. "We wait for sunset, creep in under cover of darkness - very piratical, but you'll get the hang of it - toddle on down into town," he walked his fingers over a spur on the map, "and get your ship back."
"We're not supposed to get it back, we're supposed to determine if it's there," I reminded him.
"Even easier! Home by tea, with time to do some shopping. I hear they have nice lace, the Spanish. And this," he took a final bite, "ish me lasht apple."
"You can't be serious," Gillette declared.
"Oh, give up," Groves shot back.
The two of them bracketed me like particularly argumentative bookends, metaphorically shoving the books back and forth between them.
"No, I won't, it's a stupid idea," Gillette insisted.
"It serves the purpose."
"It's a stupid purpose."
I was ignoring them - it seemed best, and they certainly didn't need my help to have a raging row - while I rummaged in my sea-chest.
"Yes, well, that's you all over - we shouldn't even be here, let's sulk in the corner," Groves ranted. "Do you want to suggest something useful?"
"Fine. If this has to happen, send one of us with that that bloody pirate."
"What, like you?" Groves laughed. "He'd sell you to slavers and I wouldn't blame him."
"You aggravate me beyond reason, and I consider you a brother."
I found what I was after - at the very bottom of the chest, of course - and stood up, shouldering into their conversation. "Enough."
Two jaws snapped shut, and both of them leant back. I shrugged my way into the coat I'd pulled from the chest, and turned to the glass to work on straightening the collar. "I'm going - ah!"
Two jaws snapped shut again.
"I'm going," I continued, "with Sparrow, because that's part of what I'm doing here, and that's just the way it is. Duty, gentlemen. Ugly brute that she sometimes is, we must still obey her dictates." I turned around to face them. "Will I pass?"
They pulled a simultaneous face. "The wig has to go, sir," Gillette said.
"He's right," Groves said. "It's too well-made to pass as anything other than a gentleman's."
I glanced back at the mirror. "Yes, I suppose you're right." Under the wig my inch of hair had been pushed flat by the weight, but I ignored that and hid it again under a plain tricorn before trying again to pass the Lieutenant test.
Better results this time. "Might work," Groves said doubtfully. "Helped by that coat, of course. Where did you get it, Norrington? It's the most boring coat I've ever seen."
"Thank you," I returned. "Gillette, you have the watch."
They saluted, and I left.
"That," Sparrow said consideringly, as we were rocked gently back and forth in the back of the cart, "is the most boring coat I've ever seen."
I honestly hadn't thought it was that bad. Ten years out of fashion and a little tight across the shoulders, and yes, admittedly, the brown was a little drab, but it was perfectly serviceable and hardly deserving of such censure, especially not twice in one day. I think I'd even been proud of it, when I'd bought it in London. I'd been young then. Hard to remember.
I looked over my shoulder to the driver of the cart, humming vaguely to himself and not paying a single bit of attention to his passengers. We'd found the cart trundling along on the road, and that road shortly after we'd crested the spur that hid our bay from the township. A man from some plantation or other, heading down to town for the day. He'd been more than happy to accede to Sparrow's florid request for a ride.
"Are you sure this was a good idea?" I asked.
"What, you wanted to walk?" he returned, from where he was lounging against the cart railing with no perceptible change in equanimity. With a grin, he added, "You're just jittery because you can't hide behind your wig. Are you sure that was a good idea?"
I brought my hand down from scratching at the short hair at the back of my exposed neck. "A gentleman would draw too much attention."
He just laughed. "Commodore," he said chidingly, and I shot a quick look to our driver, but Sparrow's voice was so low it barely reached me, and the driver didn't stop humming. I looked back to Sparrow, who was saying, "You could be two weeks unshaven and bundled up in a sack, and you'd still be unmistakably a gentleman. If you don't believe me, we could try it."
The idea seemed to appeal to him. I just gave him a level look.
"Well, perhaps another time," he demurred, blatantly undismayed. "In any case, when we get there, just keep your head down and don't say a thing."
"I can speak Spanish, you know."
"With a perfect accent and all the proper tenses and cases and those little wriggly things over the Ns, I'm sure."
I grimaced. "Yes, alright, you've made your point."
"And could you perhaps walk instead of marching everywhere? Oh, and--"
I cut him off with a menacing finger. "Don't push it, Sparrow."
He smirked, subsided back against the cart rail and tilted his hat forward over his face.
Santa Catalina was just another tuppenny Spanish town. They're scattered all up and down the Main, like fleas on a dog. A few flourished - Rio de la Hacha, Campeche, Maracaibo - but mostly they were the equivalent of those places on a coastline where the flotsam accrues. All driftwood and seaweed and the stink of fish.
This one at least had, amidst its refuse, a fort. It was an unimpressive thing, though. Couldn't have had more than a dozen guns, and almost certainly didn't have the men to defend it. Nor did those men seem to have the discipline required.
"Stop that," Sparrow muttered out of the corner of his mouth, as we meandered down a street. The pace wasn't really our choice, but was somewhat dictated by the number of impediments, human and otherwise, we had to negotiate to make any headway at all.
"Stop what?" I returned.
The look Sparrow shot me as we skirted a barrel was honestly amused. "Stop going over the place as if you were planning an offensive. Unless, of course, there's a hitherto unmentioned secondary purpose to your presence here."
I shook my head, smiling despite myself as I looked down to the uncertain path. "Just habit."
"Glad to hear it. Hate to think I'm not worth a Commodore all by me onesie."
I snorted at that, and paced along beside him down the hill, to the sea.
I'll say one thing for Santa Catalina, and that's that the harbour was naturally magnificent, and entirely wasted on the paltry collection of twigs and canvas that bobbed desultorily at the jetties.
"They used to get the Treasure Fleet in here, y'know," Sparrow said unexpectedly as we strolled along the waterfront, stepping over the inert bodies of those who had yet to realise that last night was over.
I looked again at the harbour, squinting and pulling the tricorn lower against the morning glare. It was high water, maybe an hour into the ebb, and it was easy to imagine the bay a forest of masts and rigging. "Well, not any more."
"No," Sparrow agreed. "And that's equally your fault and mine - the pirates and the British, and the combination of the two. With a little weather thrown in. Diminishing the glory of the world for petty monetary gain."
Not the sort of thing I expected to hear coming out of that mouth, and I'd turned to him in something approaching astonishment, when he pointed away in front of us and across me. "That one, what d'ya think?"
I followed the line of his arm, out past the unimpressive collection of patched fishing vessels and two-man pinnaces. There was a smart little merchantman moored in the road, her rigging naked and her deck bare. Not Spanish make. "I think we need a closer look."
But when I started forward, a hand closed around my arm, and Sparrow tugged me towards a side street.
"Now what?" I demanded, but followed, if only to avoid the ignominy of being dragged through the streets by a flamboyant pirate who'd have no qualms about milking the event for every last drop of drama.
"Now we get a closer look," he said. We went up the hill, and though I kept my eyes on the treacherous road, Sparrow kept looking up, craning his neck and catching his hat before it fell off. "Here, this one."
I looked up. 'The Bell and Whistle', a dingy sign declared, jutting off an even dingier building with two listing upper stories. "Now we get a closer look at the bottom of a tankard?" I suggested caustically.
Sparrow fixed me with a stern eye. "I really don't think we should be drinking on duty, Commodore." And he shoved the door open.
For close to eleven in the morning, the tavern was doing a roaring trade. At least two thirds of the tables were occupied, a matching pair of barmaids - sisters, perhaps - wending their way through the many-handed gloom with an ease that spoke of long practice.
Sparrow yanked on my collar, and I stumbled over something that I didn't want to investigate, nor think too closely upon. "C'mon," he declared brightly. "Mind on the job, sailor."
I followed him through the room and into a small corridor. I consoled myself with thinking, as we climbed a narrow flight of stairs, that we'd have to come back down again, and then I could be rid of my personal demon with just one little nudge.
We wound up on the top floor, which had obviously - from the low ceiling and general lack of space on the landing - been attics before some enterprising innkeep had decided to turn it into rooms. Sparrow did a little dance; he wiggled hips and hands left and then right, spun around once, then seemed to reach a decision, lunging to one side with a cry of "ah-hah!" and flinging open a door.
Sunlight, a shoe and a feminine scream hit him almost in unison, and he flailed wildly, shouted, "Sorry ma'am!" and pulled the door shut again.
"Not a word," he said to me, and I performed the best smug stance I could, given I didn't dare lean on the railing of the stairwell for fear it would collapse.
He crept up on the next door as though expecting it to bite him, and opened it with almost ridiculous care. When neither footwear nor affront seemed forthcoming, he pushed it all the way open and stood up straight. "Good. Right. Come along, then."
The room was plain well and truly beyond the point of sparsity, with only a narrow cot, single blanket and a chair that looked about as sturdy as everything else in the building. It was surprisingly pleasant for this sort of establishment. The window was clean enough to let sunlight in, and getting cleaner by the minute as Sparrow rubbed at the lower left pane with the cuff of his coat.
"Bring your spyglass, Commodore?" he asked, grinning over his shoulder.
And as I stepped up to that shoulder, I had to admit that the bloody pirate certainly had his moments of brilliance. Out the grubby window we had a perfect view over the low roof of the building opposite, leaving the entire bay spread out before us. "Lucky for you I did," I said, reaching into the inner pocket of the boring coat.
Sparrow relinquished the window, throwing himself with unwise force into the chair. "A man would lose no money wagering on your being responsibly prepared," he said.
"One of these days I'll surprise you," I said idly, concentrating on arranging glass, ship and eye in the right relationship. I ignored the disbelieving snort from behind me as the circle of my vision filled with wooden hull. She was a well-constructed ship - definitely not Spanish - though obviously built for cargo rather than speed.
The chair creaked, and then Sparrow was looking over my shoulder. "Bloody wallowing cog," he said dismissively. "No offence, mate."
I shrugged him off. "None taken. She's not my ship." I looked over the empty deck - there was a man on board, just a lone guard, looking bored and sleepy. "You sank my ship."
"Now that wasn't me."
I hadn't really meant to say that at all, let alone sound so petulant, but Sparrow was so immediately contrite that I lowered the glass and turned from the window to regard him steadily.
He had both hands crossed over his chest, and earnest solicitude on his face. "It wasn't! I'd never do that to someone."
"And yet you made off with her," I reminded him.
The crossed hands flew up in a desperate flap. "I was going to bring her back!"
It was too much - I lost my composure and laughed outright. "How, precisely, did you plan to do that?"
He started at me, wide-eyed. "Somehow."
I grinned, and collapsed the spyglass. "It's the Reward. We're done here."
Showing amazing restraint, Sparrow lasted until we were down the stairs and almost out the door before he stopped, tugged at my elbow and said, "What's the rush? Still plenty of time. Let's have a little drink, shall we?"
I managed a feasible performance of surprise before grudgingly giving way. "Well, alright, I suppose. But just one. If we leave this afternoon we can be halfway home by sunset."
A gross exaggeration, but he didn't comment on it.
We took a table by the simple expedient of tipping its snoring occupant onto the floor. He didn't object, just kept snoring. The maid brought us two flagons and we made ourselves reasonably comfortable.
After one mouthful, however, I set down my flagon and said, "Right, let's get started."
Sparrow squinted suspiciously over the rim of his mug. "What?"
"I know you probably want to mellow me before you go to work on this, possibly you even have some unlikely notion of getting me slightly drunk, but while this beer isn't bad enough to spit out immediately, it's certainly not worth suffering through a second or third mug while you get to the point. So..." I lifted my mediocre beer and waved a 'carry on' hand.
He matched it with a 'you spoil all my fun' glare, and nudged his own mug aside to spread spider-leg fingers on the table. "Alright then. We aren't really just going to scurry off home now, are we?"
"We've completed our assignment," I countered.
"Well, yes," Sparrow allowed, shooing that pesky detail away into a corner. "But honestly, that's a bit ridiculous, don't you think? Just go and have a gander at what the neighbours are up to. Are we gossips, or men of action?" He brought down an enthusiastic fist on the table, slopping his beer.
I sipped my own, and raised an eyebrow.
He changed tack, and turned wheedling. "C'mon. You know if we go back with this news, he'll go hmm, hmm..." He did an amusingly accurate impersonation of a thoughtful Swann and I almost choked on my beer. "And then he'll send us right back here to get her, by which time she'll be long gone anyway. So we'll be saving everyone time in the long run if we just pick her up now, sort of anticipatory-like."
I peered into my flagon. "I'm almost finished," I told him.
Those spider-fingers braced on the edge of the table, and he fixed me with the most direct look I'd ever seen on him. "You owe me."
I choked again. "I what?"
"You owe me," he repeated, getting a sparkle, a quirk at the corner of his mouth. "You owe me for the change to play your little sailing game, getting your hands on your ship, an actual chance to sail, haven't done that in a while, have you, Commodore?"
I met his gaze as long as I could, but I was remembering the joyous leap of the timbers beneath me, the chorus of wind and canvas. When I dropped my eyes to the lees of beer in my mug, I knew Sparrow's smirk had become a grin.
"Besides," he added, voice closing as he leaned across the table, "you want this too." He waited until I looked up before he said, quiet and serious, "We are men of action, Norrington. And you can bluster about serving others, but it will rankle you no less than I to walk out of here and leave that ship in Spanish hands." He leaned back, distance creeping between us again. "Now, look me in the eye and tell me we're leaving."
Well, since he asked... I met his gaze and said, "We're leaving."
He watched me, and I watched him, and then he grinned. "Barmaid! Another round!"
"If we're doing this," I said, leaning forward on the table, "then we do it properly. For God's sake, no getting caught."
"I never get caught," Sparrow declared grandly. I raised an eyebrow, and he added: "You cheated."
I snorted. "How?"
"Threw your fiancee off a cliff."
There was nowhere to even start with that - I just laughed. The barmaid, slopping down two tankards of beer, gave us each a smirk and slid away.
"Come on," Sparrow said. "No worries. I could do this one-handed and drunk in a typhoon. She's all alone out there, begging to be taken away. There's not another ship in port could hope to catch her, lumbering hulk though she might be."
"The fort," I pointed out. "The guns'd range at least out to the headland, which puts a good few hundred feet of cannonball territory between you and getting away with it."
"Alright," Sparrow allowed, "it would be useful if we could get the fort to look the other way for a minute or five." He squinted at me suspiciously, and then pointed an accusing finger. "You've got an idea."
"I do," I admitted, pulling my purse from my waistcoat and feeling its heft. I eyed the nearest waitress consideringly. "I don't think there'll be any trouble distracting the fort."
Sparrow beamed. "Then we do this!" He held his tankard aloft to toast.
I held up a cautionary finger rather than my own tankard. "We go back to the ships, gather a suitable skeleton crew to help you make off with the Reward, wait until nightfall, and then we do this."
"Deal," Sparrow agreed, and jiggled his mug.
This time I lifted mine to knock against his. "Deal," I echoed, and we drank.
I thought Gillette's eyes were going to fall out of his head. "You're-"
"Mad, yes, I know," I said, cutting him short. "Someone's going to have to take nominal command of the Pearl while Sparrow's having his little adventure. I say nominal, because technically whoever he leaves behind will have command, but while we might be forced to embrace a measure of trust for the captain, I draw the line at blithely trusting the whole piratical crew."
"Better be me, sir," Groves spoke up, both of us ignoring the interesting colour Gillette was turning.
In the circumstances, I had to agree with him.
We gathered on shore as the sun skulked behind the peak of the mountain - Sparrow, Gibbs and two other of his crew, me and four of the most capable sailors I could find aboard the Dauntless, to form the other half of his skeleton crew.
"Amazed you're relinquishing them into my command," Sparrow muttered at my shoulder, as we milled around on the beach, getting ready. "Not worried I'll turn them pirate?"
I snorted. "They're sailors of his Majesty's navy. They're practically pirates already."
I left Sparrow, and went to stand with Groves, who was getting ready to return to the Pearl. He looked up at me with something like the familiar cheeky grin that had got all of us in trouble more than once. "Last useless pieces of advice?" he asked. Or offered.
"Be careful with her," I told him, taking the opportunity to check my pistol.
To his credit, he didn't even try to pretend he didn't know what I was talking about. Just looked down and scuffed his shoes in the sand. "Sir, what if you don't return?"
I lifted an eyebrow at the change of subject. "In that case, return to Port Royal and hope that Sparrow's inevitably ridiculous escape will include my own liberty."
"No sir." He shook his head, and cast a dark glance over to where Sparrow was introducing himself extravagantly to the sailors. "What if they come back without you?"
It was a chill, even though I'd always known it was a possibility. That there was, somewhere in here, a more sinister plan than just annoying me into madness. Always a possibility.
However, this was hardly the - what did he call it? - the opportune moment.
"We have his ship," I pointed out. "If it comes to it, sink it."
Further up the beach, so far away he couldn't possibly have heard me, Jack's head came up, his eyes locked on mine.
I looked back to Groves. "But it won't come to that."
It didn't come to that. Everything went off without a hitch. Despite Sparrow being involved.
"This is just wrong," he complained as we stood at the railing of the Reward. "You hear me?"
"I hear you," I muttered, running my spyglass along the battlements of the fort. One man, two, three. "Keep in the shadows, man."
Sparrow kept in the shadows, and kept complaining. "Too damn easy," he grumbled. "Too planned." He spat the word out like it was something he'd scraped off his shoe.
We'd rowed out to the ship as easily as if we were going fishing, and as loudly as if the urge had come upon us when we were filthy drunk. With the result that the lone guard on board the Reward had been involved in a frank exchange of views with us when the two pirates came out of the water on the other side of the ship, scaled the side, and knocked him out with the butt of his own rifle.
Now they were amusing themselves, and the sailors I'd brought from the Dauntless, by coming up with increasingly amusing situations to strand our prisoner in, while the lot of them were hiding out of sight of the fort in the lee of the poop deck.
"Serves me right for getting involved with the bloody Navy," Sparrow said.
"It does." The men were still at their posts on the forts. Had my distraction gone astray? Or did they have more discipline than I'd bargained for? Suddenly my plan seemed about as clever as one of Sparrow's; which was to say, utterly laughable.
"This," the devil himself declared, "is about as much fun as not doing it at all. I'm sorry you talked me into it."
And, of course, as soon as I'd likened my methods to Sparrow's, it worked. First one fort sentry, then the other two together, left their posts. A further sweep of the battlements showed them empty.
"We're clear," I stated, lowering the spyglass and collapsing it again.
Sparrow was looking at me steadily, the light from the single lantern sparking once, deep in his eyes. He was smirking. "You were nervous," he accused.
There didn't seem to be any possible dignified answer to that, so I turned to the others. "Look lively. And I'll be taking the Spaniard with me, Mr Gibbs."
"Right you are, sir," the man said, and started directing the other two pirates in loading the still-unconscious man into the rowboat.
When I turned back to him, Sparrow was still smirking. Hardly surprising. The man only seemed to stop when a noose was waved in his face. And then not for long. "Well? You have a ship to commandeer, Captain."
The smirk broadened into a gold-glinted grin. "I do," he agreed. "So get off her and let me get on with it."
I was halfway down the ladder to the rowboat when his head appeared over the side. "Oi. Anything happens to my Pearl it'll be dire, savvy?"
I paused and looked back up. I could barely make him out, just a shadow amidst shadows. "Oh? And what'll you do to me?"
"Burst into tears all over you, for starters," he shot back.
"A terrifying thought," I admitted, and went back to climbing. "I'll see you at the rendezvous in three days, Sparrow."
"Aye, you will at that." His voice floated down to me.
I practised my Spanish on the guard as I rowed back to shore. He was still unconscious, which was probably just as well - it'd been a while since I used the language, and I was more than a little rusty. Not that I'd ever been entirely fluent to start with. My tutor had always been prone to throw his hands up and declare my accent an abomination. Melodramatic Spaniards.
Maybe there was Spanish blood in Sparrow's background. That would explain a few things.
As you'd expect, the pirate could move fast. Before I was halfway to shore, the Reward was a shadow slipping from the harbour. By the time I was tying the little boat to the mooring we'd liberated it from, she was gone as if she'd never been.
"Well, look at it this way," I told the guard. "If you'd really wanted to keep her, you would have been guarding her more thoroughly, wouldn't you?"
I'd obviously been spending too much time with Sparrow.
I left the Spaniard trussed, gagged and out cold in the bottom of the boat. It was a balmy night, and the coracle was steady enough that I doubted he'd be able to wriggle enough to tip himself out. He probably wouldn't be found until morning, but the timing of that mattered little. The Reward was gone, and Sparrow with it, and after one small matter more, I'd be gone as well.
I didn't have to loiter long outside the fort before the sally port opened and two giggling girls spilled out. One was lacing up her bodice as the other blew kisses back to the gateman.
I waited until the sally port closed again before stepping out of the shadows.
The barmaids from the Bell and Whistle stopped as soon as the lead one saw me, the one who'd been blowing kisses almost running into her sister. "You," she said, sounding surprised. "Didn't think to be seeing you again."
I bounced my purse on my palm. "I said same again after."
"But you could have skipped without paying," she pointed out.
"And you might have pocketed the first payment without any intention of fulfilling your obligation," I countered.
Her chin came up. "And you're obviously up to no good, so we could make more money by turning you in right now!"
"Shut up, Bella," the other sister snapped. She was shorter, and younger, I hazarded, but there was a sharp intelligence in her face that reminded me of Sparrow's second mate. I tossed her the purse, and she caught it deftly, hefting it once to get a feel for the weight. "You've been right generous," she said guardedly. "But we won't be lashed for you. If they ask, we'll tell everything."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," I assured her. "Oh." On the point of leaving, I turned back. "Don't forget to mention my friend. The fellow I was with earlier."
The older sister frowned. "Ridiculous hair, funny walk, quite handsome?"
"That's the one."
Because if I knew Sparrow, the only thing better than getting away with it, was everyone knowing about it. Maybe that would help ease his sulk.
The rendezvous point was a certain bay in the coast of the mainland, well know to both sides of the law as a favourite haunt for smugglers. (No doubt because it was the only stretch of truly solid shore for miles in either direction.)
There weren't any there when we arrived. Not a single pirate in sight. Which, just to be contrary, annoyed Gillette to incoherence, a point he admittedly hadn't strayed far from for the entire journey. Perhaps it was time to give him his own command, if only to get him out of my hair. Wig. Which I was, of course, back to wearing, and it was amazing how in the space of a single day you could forget how much the damn thing could itch.
I scratched at the back of my neck, watching Gillette pace the quarterdeck like an affronted cat. "When was the last time you had any extended shore leave?" I asked, and he gave me a look as though I'd just stepped on his tail. "For God's sake, man, be at ease. He'll be here. Sparrow is not going to leave his ship in my hands."
He glanced over to the Pearl, moored between the Dauntless and the shore (I wasn't a complete idiot, after all). "But sir--"
"No. No but-sirs. There's no need to be worried--"
Anything else I might have said was cut off by the look-out's cry of "Sail ho!"
I was immediately at the rail, spyglass out and scanning the starboard quarter. A sail. Colours. They were English - I'd wager that amused Sparrow no end.
It was him. The Reward.
I lowered the glass to see Gillette smirking at me. "No need to worry, sir?"
"Shut up, Gillette."
Three ships moored in the bay, their crews spilt forth on the beach. It seemed a suitable time to break out the grog rations, a few bonfires were built on the sand, and the whole thing devolved into something of a celebration. As the sun sank over the land behind us, the festivities showed no signs of slowing.
I spoke to the sailors who'd been with Sparrow, making sure they weren't significantly closer to pirate than they had been previously.
I briefly joined Gillette and Gibbs, who seemed to have found common ground in not very fond reminiscences of a captain they'd both served under. My presence obviously still made Gibbs nervous, however, so I moved on.
I didn't even try to bother Groves and Anamaria.
Eventually I wandered up the beach, out of the immediate circle of firelight. Near the edge of the forest there was a chunk of driftwood so significant it had resisted all attempts to add it to the pyres. Perhaps it was a fallen tree. I sat on it and took off my shoes to empty out the significant portion of the coastline I'd accumulated.
"Skulking?" was the first thing he said, a disembodied word out of the darkness that made me almost drop the shoe. I looked up, and picked out the mass of reflective surfaces that was Jack Sparrow, approaching me from further along the beach.
I put my shoe back on. "I prefer 'hiding'."
"You would." Somewhere between a decision and loss of balance, Sparrow deposited himself in the sand a few feet away from me. He waved a hand, holding something. A bottle, I'd imagine. "Never be involved with something so sinister, would you? Bet you're a right-handed man an' all."
Obviously not his first bottle, either.
"I can have my ship back now, can't I?" He sounded almost plaintive. "One of your boys can captain the Reward home."
I stared into the darkness, hoping it would hide my smile.
"Commodore," he said, something of a scolding schoolmaster in his tone.
I laughed. "Of course. How cruel do you think I am?"
He didn't answer that - probably just as well. Just beamed a cluster of gold-glints in the night, and passed me the bottle. "Drink up!"
"Rum?" I asked with distaste, but still reached for it.
"Brandy," Sparrow corrected. "We're all out of the good stuff."
I took a careful swig from the bottle. "You're a heathen. This is the good stuff."
"I'm accustomed." He accepted the bottle back. "But I'll put up with this in lieu."
We sat, and the sailors caroused (as much as they could when not really ashore and still nominally under their commanding officers eyes - but they managed, being the well-practised carousers that they were). When Sparrow passed me the bottle, I swigged politely. He stretched his legs out, leaning back on his elbows, and started humming something that seemed familiar, though I couldn't think how.
I held up the bottle to the firelight, measuring the remains, and a burning question popped into my mind.
"Jack, how did you get that letter of marque?"
"Oh, that old thing. Had it forever. Scraped the date off and wrote it in new, didn't I?"
Well, that set the world to rights again.
With a slithering jingle, he sat up straight. "Eh, don't tell Swann."
I grinned into the brandy.
"Norrington," he growled.
"I won't," I assured him, and passed the bottle.
He hesitated a long moment, looking up at me - and the fire was behind him, his face in darkness, mine in light - before he took the bottle. "Well, good."
I grinned. "And now," I said, "you owe me."
- The Treasure Fleet actually sailed for the last time in 1788, and most of the problems with it were caused by two sinkings, in 1715 and 1733. But my version's much more romantic and useful to my story.
- Santa Catalina is related to modern-day San Andres (it's a tiny island in the same group, near Providencia). Henry Morgan used the island of Santa Catalina (St Catherine) as a base. What's most untrue about its depiction here is how little Norrington knows about it - ownership of the islands was contested by the Spanish and the English for about two hundred years, up until the late 18th century, so he'd probably have more detailed maps at least.
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Chapter 2: Close Quarters
Author's Notes: To Gloria, for repeatedly poking me with sticks, spoons, fantasy authors, beta deadlines and anything else that came to hand.
quarter ~ to sail closer to the wind
close quarters ~ to be in a small space, esp. enclosed with others
The firelight was thick, like deep seawater, rocking me lazily. Soothingly. It was peace. And yet, a frisson. A thrill. A lingering, and a voice said, he said...
The dream exploded in a cloud of light and I sat up in bed, shielding my eyes from the sudden onslaught of sunlight.
"Pardon, sir," Godfrey said, standing by the curtain cord. "But you did say..."
"I did," I agreed, trying to trap the last strands of my dream, to name a face or even a form, or... something. What? It was gone, like a wave on the sand, leaving me with only an inexplicable warmth and tightness twisting up my insides.
I pushed back the covers and climbed out of bed, to avoid the inevitable half-hour of lethargy that would be induced once I remembered that I was landbound. After this long, I knew myself; that apathy could linger even a week after returning from a sea voyage.
Ridiculous, though, that as Commodore of the Fleet I seemed to spend less time on the decks of that fleet than ever before.
"Luncheon with the captains," Godfrey reminded as he dressed me. "Afternoon meeting with the Quartermaster. And dinner at the Governor's mansion."
Which still left plenty of dreary time locked inside four walls with the listing piles of paperwork that had accrued in my short absence.
Who'd be an officer of His Majesty's Navy?
"You look thoroughly fed up," Swann greeted me.
That was worth a smile at least, so I gave him one as I accepted a glass of sherry. "There's some truth in appearance, then."
It was turning into a beautiful evening, the heat chased away by the fresh breeze off the water, all of the wide windows of the house cast open to the late afternoon. On an evening like this, in good company, with good sherry in my glass, I could even admit there were some charms to life on dry land.
"Cheer up," Swann ordered blithely, as we took seats, he by the cold hearth, me beside the window. "It will get better."
Not unless I demoted myself back down to midshipman. Now there was an idea. "Yes, I imagine so."
"For starters," he continued, settling back in his chair, "Sparrow won't be cluttering up the place for much longer."
I looked up from my glass. "Oh?"
"Came to lunch, requested permission to sail on the morning tide, in pursuit of ventures beneficial to both himself and His Majesty - his very words."
That was it? He came crashing into our lives again like a drunken seagull, and then a month later was quietly and politely leaving by the back door? "No doubt the reprieve won't last long."
"Probably not," Swann agreed. "And he'll most like be getting up to all sorts of mischief out there in our name. But he did leave me with a most interesting and intricate report of the Santa Catalina voyage. Most extraordinary. Talking about reimbursement for money spent in the pursuit of his Majesty's aims, and dancing girls."
I snorted. Typical Sparrow. "I hope he wasn't claiming payment for them."
"What, the dancing girls? No." Swann frowned. "Why?"
"Because he didn't pay them; I did."
He was still staring at me, somewhat dumbfounded, when Elizabeth marched in, dragging young Turner behind her like a recalcitrant puppy. "Father, Will declares that he won't stay for dinner, though I've told him we already have a guest - hello, James - and he would in fact be making up the numbers, isn't that so?"
The puppy looked embarrassed, but made the best front he could, after that introduction. "Good evening, Commodore."
"Mister Turner," I responded, rising from my seat to shake his hand. "I trust you're well."
"Tolerably," he answered, the solemnity of the word reduced somewhat by his smile.
My gaze slipped to Elizabeth, and I kept up my own smile through polite habit alone. A young man in love - yes, I imagined he was very happy indeed. Bursting with it. I don't know that I'd ever be able to be that openly, gloriously happy, even had our positions been reversed. "I do hope you'll join us for dinner," I said, pulling my eyes back to Will. "Since I'm certainly not looking forward to being glared at all evening if Elizabeth doesn't get her way."
Turner managed to declare that, in that case, of course he'd stay, as the girl in question smiled at me most charmingly as she stepped up to take his arm.
She was beautiful. More than ever. Radiant as though she took all the sun-soaked glory of the Caribbean and made it her own. And she'd been so since I'd left her on the parapet with Turner, my quarry and my bride both lost. Not a bad morning's work.
I'd be lying if I said it didn't still ache. But it was bearable, and the world moved on. Sparrow and I drank - in a Spanish tavern, on a beach - and I could admit that though Elizabeth and I could have been happy, that future was well and truly lost. Turner was a good man, or at least, he would be one day. At least he'd stopped attempting to grow a beard; he hadn't been very good at that at all.
"How was Santa Catalina, then?" Elizabeth asked, as we sat down to dinner.
"Spanish," I told her. "Dissolute."
"Sounds thrilling," she smirked back, as I'd known she would.
"Unutterably dull," I countered, as she must have known I would.
"What, even with Jack there?" Turner interjected. "Unheard of."
I smiled thinly, looking down to my soup. I had to acknowledge his point. "Sparrow was -" watching with smirking disbelief giving way to laughter as I dangled the purse in front of the barmaid, told her what I needed her and her sister to do; bawling in bastardised, drunken Spanish at the guard as he waved a bottle; teaching every sailor not sprawled snoring on the beach the words to Elizabeth's ridiculous pirate song. "Sparrow was bearable."
From the nigh-on hysterical responses around the table, you'd think I'd advocated declaring the man an archbishop.
"Bearable!" Elizabeth repeated. "High praise indeed. No short drop, then?"
I could think of a long list of things I wanted to push Sparrow off. "Perhaps no sudden stop. Besides, I have to get used to not hanging him while he's commissioned." With a letter of marque that was, I knew, a forgery. Or tampered with. I wasn't sure of the legal name for what Sparrow had done. I'm a sailor, not a lawyer.
"Yes, well." Swann looked like he'd encountered something unpleasant in his soup. "At least we have the Reward back. Though that was hardly the aim of the exercise, it is most appreciated."
I looked down again, hopefully appearing contrite.
"Still, no harm done," Swann noted. "Unlikely we can be blamed for this and even if we could, there's the question of how the ship came to be there to be stolen back."
Elizabeth smiled, sweet and winsome. "So James has got away with an act of piracy."
I met her gaze steadily, which of course quelled her not even slightly. "It would seem that way, wouldn't it?"
We returned to the drawing room for brandy and coffee, Swann and I staying by the window while the young lovers bent their heads together by the still-cold fireplace.
Swann watched them for a moment with a stern, worried eye. "The sooner they marry, the better," he grumbled, and then started. "Oh, James, I'm sorry -"
I gestured with my brandy glass. "Please, don't trouble yourself over it." I braced myself, and asked, "Has a date been set, then?"
He rolled his eyes most expressively. "She has, at least, admitted that there are certain preparations essential to her station and she cannot merely conceive of a fancy to be married one week and have it done." A considerable victory, with Elizabeth. I smiled into the last of my brandy, and he added, "We have settled on two months hence, which is hardly enough time, but will have to do."
I nodded, and glanced out the window. Dusk had settled over the port, descending with tropical swiftness. In the brief period of dark blue light that lingered on the brink, lanterns were being lit on the manned vessels in the harbour - the Dauntless, the Reward, the Black Pearl. That last was sprouting pinpricks of light like a cluster of fireflies, the deck rippling with movement. Readying for tomorrow's departure, no doubt.
"Coffee?" Swann offered, and I blinked as I turned back to the lit room. The pair by the fire giggled. "Tell me," Swann said, taking a more serious tone, "how did Santa Catalina look?"
"Look?" I repeated, accepting the coffee dish. But even as I said it, I knew what would have to come next.
"It used to be an English possession, you know."
I sighed. "Yes, I know. And before that it was Spanish again, and before that ours." I'd checked that when we returned to Port Royal. I attempted to forestall the rest by adding, "It's a miserable clump of rock not worth the bother."
"Good position," Swann countered, unperturbed. "Better ours than theirs."
I grunted non-committally.
"That's neither here nor there, in any case. What's the situation?"
"After having a ship removed from under their noses, they'll be much more vigilant," I hedged.
Swann gave me a sharp glance, and I looked down. Could hear Sparrow's voice at the edge of my mind, even as I ran the defences of Santa Catalina through my mind, perfectly remembered from an unconsciously meticulous consideration.
"Single fort," I recited dully. "Good position, coverage of the whole bay, but only a dozen guns at the most in firing positions. No coverage of the landward side. A half-complement of men, of indifferent morale and dedication."
Swann nodded. "Excellent. I'll add that to my report."
"Very good, sir."
Via the docks was not the quickest route back to my lodgings, but I went that way anyway.
The Pearl was still lit up like some sort of summer garden party. From the quay it was unclear how much of the movement on deck was work and how much carousing. Things didn't really become any clearer as I walked down the dock toward the ship. The rum bottle was doing the rounds, the man coiling a rope pausing in his task to take a swig as it came past.
I didn't mark anyone taking note of me, but by the time I stood alongside the ship, Sparrow's head appeared over the rail.
"Done with society for the night?" he grinned. "Come up and join the party, Commodore."
"I wouldn't want to disturb your crew," I demurred.
"I'll come down then," he declared, and trailed along the rail until he could sashay down the gangway. "They're disturbed enough as it is," he confided, and leapt the last distance from plank to dock, boots thudding hollowly on the wood in front of me. "And what can I do for you?"
A very good question. I was unaccustomed to finding myself in positions where my purpose was unclear, especially to myself. "Swann told me of your imminent departure."
"Yes, well." He grimaced with exaggerated embarrassment. "A pirate cannot live on good will alone." He shifted, shadow to light to shadow, and his eyes glimmered. "And the sea calls."
And the sea called. It lapped against the hull beside us, whispered at distant shores.
I cleared my throat. "I'm sure you see that I'm bound to a certain professional interest in your intentions."
Sparrow seemed irritatingly uninterested in my sudden need to explain myself. "Shall I take a cage of carrier pigeons and send you daily updates?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I ordered, which curtailed his behaviour quite extensively.
"I don't know where we'll go or what we'll do," he said, more seriously than I could credit, but I couldn't see his face in the dim, shifting light. "I thought maybe east. The Antilles. Perhaps castigate the French a little."
I nodded to him. "Thank you."
He inclined his head in return, and then there came the glint of his grin. "Apart from that, you'll just have to trust me, mate."
"Unlikely," I replied, but I was smiling in the darkness.
"Good morning, sir."
I turned my head away from the sudden sunlight, into the pillow. No good; I was very awake, and the dream was gone. Utterly gone. Just my fingers clenched in the bedsheets, my palm sweaty, and Godfrey waiting for me to rise. Nothing for it.
Groves was in my office when I arrived.
"At ease, man." I took my time, set my hat on the desk, checked the harbour and aspect from the window. Something of a ritual. The harbour wasn't anywhere near empty. Just one conspicuous absence. "Are you certain you want to discuss this matter?"
I looked back at him as Groves started laughing, shaking his head. "Tell me James, do you just guess or are you actually brilliant?"
"It's amazing how often the one is mistaken for the other." I turned my back on the sea view and came back to the desk. I didn't sit down; there wasn't another chair for Groves. "Miss Anamaria sailed with her captain?"
"That's what sailors do," Groves said with a tight smile. "It was never likely to be something... permanent. I'm not afraid of facing the consequences." He looked down, fidgeting with a corner of his hat. "Are there going to be consequences?"
I did sit then, tired despite the fact that the day had just begun. "On the grand scheme of the sort of things that have been transpiring in the last six months, Lieutenant, I hardly think the admittedly somewhat unorthodox and highly questionable relations between a Naval officer and a former pirate will excite undue attention." I smoothed thumb and finger up the bridge of my nose, looked up to a loyal officer and a good friend. "I was going to recommend you to your own captaincy, but now..."
Groves, unimaginable in many ways, somehow the balance to Gillette and myself, merely shrugged. He was smiling as he settled his hat back on his wigged head.
I was asking the question before I could think better of it. "She was worth that?"
His smile broadened. "It's a little late now to quibble, don't you think?" He touched his hat as he nodded. "Good morning, sir. Thank you for your time."
The first message from Sparrow arrived a week after he sailed, carried in on a merchant sloop that had been hailed by the Pearl for news three days north-east of San Juan.
"Don't know any more, I'm afraid, Commodore," the jovial captain told me. "Right odd chap he was, though."
"That's Sparrow," I agreed, turning over the message he'd given me. It was sealed with the same swooping bird I remembered from the pirate's forearm tattoo, pressed into good-quality dark blue wax.
Sparrow's penmanship was quite as florid as you'd expect, though very even for all its flourishes. The epistle read: "Weather lovely, wish you were here. All my love, Jack."
Fortunately the merchant captain had already gone on his way, and there was no one else in the office to witness me laughing out loud at three lines from a pirate.
This time I was shaken awake, but candlelight was more gentle, closer to firelight, and that seemed to matter, because I could remember laughter, wild and exuberant, and a lower, darker thrill.
I recognised that laughter, and it was hard to think, it was late and dark and why was I awake?
Two figures by my bedside. Godfrey with a candle and a nightshirt; how did the man sleep in that in this heat? Gillette in full uniform. A duet of apologetic looks. "What?" I demanded, scrubbing a hand over my face.
"We've just apprehended a party of Spaniards," Gillette reported. "I think they were trying to steal the Reward back."
I swore at that, but I think a man's allowed certain liberties when he's been woken up in the middle of the night to a potential crisis and Jack Sparrow's laughing in his dreams.
There was an unfamiliar sloop in my harbour, a dozen Spaniards in my cells and their captain detained in my office at my pleasure.
I looked the ship over first. Unlike men, seasoned timbers, canvas and rope can't lie.
She was a trim little thing, nice standard lines, a beautiful little craft. Lovely ships, sloops. You can quarter them so close and still keep a line. They can leave everything else in dead water, even those new corvettes. An easy task for five men, four if everything is in perfect order, as was the case on this ship. She'd been made fast by my men when they took her in, but even where they'd had no occasion to dabble, she was scrupulously neat, every line tied and coiled.
Gillette was waiting on the wharf. "The captain," I said, as he fell in beside me. "What has he said?"
"Not much of anything," Gillette replied, "and all of that in Spanish." His grimace was eloquent; much more so than his ability in that language. "But he certainly isn't claiming any sort of rights as a Spanish officer. Even I can make that much out."
My officers know me and my suspicions well. "If that ship belongs to buccaneers then I'm one too," I stated.
"Indeed, sir," Gillette agreed, as we reached the fort.
I may have been a bit harsh on the Spanish captain. But it was the middle of the night - or rather false dawn by the time we settled to questioning him - and the bloody man was making my life more complicated than anybody else since Sparrow. Moreover, Groves seemed to be the only man in the whole company not awake, and he was usually the pleasant one in our usual three-part interrogation routine. Tough luck for the Spaniard.
Regardless, he stuck to his story. He knew nothing about anything official. They were privateers. They'd had nothing on their mind but plunder. I didn't lose my temper. I think that was quit an achievement, under the circumstances.
By the time I made my way up the hill to see Governor Swann, the sun was climbing the sky and it felt at least three hours later than it no doubt was. Swann was at breakfast, unsurprisingly alone; I'm sure Elizabeth wouldn't be seen for at least another hour.
Swann greeted me with customary courtesy. "For heaven's sake, man, sit down. Eat something." God bless Swann and his hospitality. I didn't quite fall into the chair, and accepted a cup of tea. "What's happened now?"
"I have a baker's dozen of Spanish sailors in my cells."
"Congratulations?" Swann offered, clearly perplexed.
"You might want to hold off on the good wishes," I advised. "I'm about to make them your problem. I don't know what else to do with them."
Swann put his teacup down.
"They say they're privateers, but their discipline is impressive, and their ship looks like it's been arranged by men with their superior officer breathing down their necks. Not to mention the sheer ridiculousness of a party of privateers of that size attempting to steal an empty merchant ship from a harbour like this one." I rubbed at one eye.
"You're telling me you're holding a Spanish naval vessel and its crew."
"Not according to what they're telling me," I pointed out, helping myself to bacon he obviously wasn't going to be wanting any more of.
"What were their intentions?"
"The Reward, we assume. That seemed to be the likely target. Whether to steal it back or burn it to the waterline, I don't know."
"You're going to cause a war with that ship," Swann predicted.
I didn't point out that I wasn't the one who wanted to invade Santa Catalina. It didn't matter; the Spanish obviously thought we'd think that way in any case. "Don't tell Sparrow," I said instead. "He'll gloat."
Swann aligned his cutlery gloomily on his plate. "Leave it with me. And get some sleep."
It was a nice idea.
The days dripped past in clusters of small problems, weighed down with paper. There was no further word from Sparrow, and I did my best not to think about the cells full of Spanish sailors.
The next big problem went to Swann first. Of course, that was only on its way to plague me; Swann invited me to dinner and introduced me to it, which was quite appallingly sneaky of him.
"Ah, excellent. Mrs George, it's my honour to present to you Commodore Norrington, our most able commander here in Port Royal."
Mrs George was small, prim, of respectable age and utterly respectable dress. She had the air of a capable and wealthy widow, which was, in fact, precisely what she turned out to be.
"Mr George," Swann explained, "was the owner and captain of the Reward before, er, the original business took place."
"Oh." I inclined my head to the lady. "I am most sorry, Mrs George."
She dismissed my condolences with a wave of her lace-gloved hand. "I had been reconciled to my loss, Commodore."
"Well, with the recovery of the ship, your loss is significantly reduced, though of course nothing can ever provide recompense for the death of a spouse--"
"I should say it can't," she interrupted me. "He certainly wasn't insured, but the boat was. And now the company's demanding its money back, which I need not tell you is most inconvenient. I am here, Commodore Norrington, to see if something cannot be done about the matter." She eyed me sharply.
Did she want me to lose the ship again? Set fire to it myself, perhaps?
Under the circumstances, there didn't seem to be much for it but to promise to bend my every effort to the purpose.
Because my life is such a blessed, free, untroubled existence, Elizabeth accompanied me outside as I took my leave that evening.
"You'll catch cold," I warned her.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "Now, James, there's something very particular and serious I want to ask you."
The entire time I was courting her she called me by my Christian name once. Now she's three months away from marrying another fellow, and she can't break the habit. She was looking at me, arch and expectant, so I did my best to look as though I was paying particular and serious attention to her.
Elizabeth took a deep and careful breath; not a good sign, I was sure. "I know I have no right to ask this of you, but it would mean a great deal to me, and to Will, if you would agree to stand with him at our wedding."
No one could take the wind out of the sails of a good bit of righteous indignation like Elizabeth, by admitting all the problems with it right at the beginning. I agreed, of course. Because she had no right, but she looked so earnest, so hopeful. It would mean a great deal to her, to both of them, and her face lit up with joy when I said yes, and she embraced me with absolutely no decorum whatsoever.
"Elizabeth," I chided, which had no effect, of course.
"Thank you!" she declared, grinning like an imp. "Good night!" And she lifted her skirts and ran back up the stairs into the house.
It bothered me. Of course it bothered me. I would be standing beside the man marrying the girl I'd wanted to marry.
But that didn't bother me as much as the fact that it didn't bother me as much as it should. I'd never been the romantic sort, but she had been different. A girl worth falling in love with. And I had. I shouldn't be able to face this turns of events with such equanimity.
At the end of such an evening, there was nothing else to be done. I went home, and went straight to sleep.
It was the beach, that nameless beach on the mainland where we'd caroused, navy man and pirate. Except not, for the fire was there, and we were there - Sparrow and I - but no other.
Sparrow was laughing. With me, laughing with me, that spirit filling my lungs.
"You owe me," I reminded him. And he did, for I hadn't told Swann that his letter of marque was falsified. Why hadn't I?
Then Sparrow was over me, blocking the firelight and laughing his other laugh that I could feel from my bare feet to my bare head and he said, he said...
He said, "How can I repay you, James?", and his voice was like the thunder across the horizon.
I remembered every minute of it when I woke the following morning. And I truly wished I didn't.
The knock at my office door revealed itself to be both Gillette and Groves, neither looking eager to step inside once they'd opened the door.
"What?" I barked, tossing aside the armoury report I hadn't really been reading. "For God's sake, you two, come in or go away." They came in, Groves then Gillette, closing the door behind them and taking up their places before my desk, tricorns in hand. "What's so bad that it requires both of you to inform me?"
They exchanged a glance, and seemed to nominate a spokesman. "There's a ship in from St Kitts, sir," Groves said.
I raised my eyebrows. "Full to the brim of Spanish sailors claiming to be pirates? Or perhaps more widows bent on cheating insurance companies?"
Neither of them smiled. "Uh, no, sir," Groves answered.
After a moment of silence, Gillette said, "It's word of Sparrow, sir. Just Caribbean gossip, heard from a ship who heard it from a ship, but..."
I'd never known Gillette uncertain about anything. "What's he done?" I asked, low and steady.
"Sacked Antigua?" Swann repeated, aghast. "But that's an English colony!"
I said nothing, merely stared at the cold fireplace, my arms locked, hands braced against the mantelpiece.
At the window, Swann swore. He didn't say anything I hadn't already, so I didn't feel I could berate him for it. "But there's nothing in the letters I've received about this," he objected.
I turned to face him; he was back at his desk, looking over the letters that had come to him on the same ship that had brought this news. "Do the governors of Barbados and St Kitts tell you about every pirate attack that has occurred in their area?"
"Of course not, but this sort of act at the hands of one of our commissioned privateers warrants at least a line!" he countered, reasonably. "I can't understand why they haven't said anything."
"Because--" Because Sparrow wasn't a commissioned privateer. Just a pirate with a talent for forgery. But what good would telling Swann do? No, the guilt for this rested upon me. I should have told him sooner, I hadn't. I'd answer for it, when the time came. For now, let Swann retain his relatively blissful ignorance, without this bitter taste in his mouth.
He was looking up at me. "Because...?" he prompted.
"Perhaps they had not heard when the letters were written," I said. "Ships' news always travels faster than official channels."
Swann sank into his chair, his face grim. "I want him this time, Norrington. I don't care about my daughter's romantic blind spot. I want him caught, condemned and hanged."
I stood straighter. "Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see it done, sir."
The official content of the letters from the other influential Caribbean governors was that an assault upon Santa Catalina seemed to be an idea so reasonable as to constitute a definite future action. Soon. Let's say a few months, and start organising yourselves. St Kitts and Barbados would both provide ships, marines to fill them and guns to arm them. However the command of the venture would fall to the man who made it all possible in the first place.
That's right. Me.
I should have been honoured. Flattered. At least pleased. Not only did this suggest that the unfortunate business of six months ago - the misplacing of the Interceptor and all - had been forgiven, but I was being given an opportunity for a notable military success. Of course, they didn't know the mistake I'd made since then, but this could still be more than just a feather in my cap; there could be an admiralship in it.
I managed a reasonable rendition of a gratified smile for Swann. The honour did not escape me.
I should have been pleased.
I arranged a full accounting of equipment and an appropriate refitting of all vessels. I reviewed the men and saw to extra training. I avoided the question of the Reward as much as possible, whether in the form of Spanish prisoners or English widows.
But I didn't sleep well, and had trouble with certain details, and every time I woke sweating in the middle of the night, and every time I laid eyes on a map of Santa Catalina, I cursed Jack Sparrow.
There was no reason why he should be haunting my dreams still, nothing he owed me that could be repaid with his body any way but dead at the end of a rope.
There was no reason I should feel guilty for betraying his trust when he'd betrayed mine so thoroughly already.
I should have been pleased. But I wasn't.
I missed it getting late. I realised the day was waning when they came in to light candles and lamps. Outside, the setting sun was gilding the promontory and the caps of the waves in the open sea beyond. Good; I'd be able to go home soon and leave this mess behind for another day. Bad; I was closer to having to sleep.
Splayed out on my map desk, held at one corner with an inkwell to replace the weight that had inexplicably gone missing, was a map of That Bloody Island. It wasn't accurate, of course. It wasn't even bloody close. By the lamplight, I glared at the hopeful wobble of the cartographer's pen that stood in the place of the true coastline.
When a knock sounded at the door, I barked, "What?" and transferred the glare to the door, and thence to Groves, who stepped in and flinched back.
"What?" I repeated, slightly less tersely.
"Mrs George," Groves said, and I must have flinched, because the shadow of a smile twitched across his face and he hurried to add, "Just a message from her. An invitation to luncheon with her the day after tomorrow."
I looked down, but Santa Catalina was there, utterly unhelpful. I stalked back across the room to my desk, where the latest reports weren't any better. Why couldn't that woman just go away? Still, there was a limit to how often one could avoid engagements while remaining polite.
"Tell her I'd be delighted to join her."
I felt almost sorry for making Groves lie, until he said, "Yes sir, I already did."
My officers knew me well, but there were limits. "And send the Quartermaster to see me," I growled.
Groves clicked his heels, delivered a stiff bow, and left without another word. Never let it be said I command fools.
Or sluggards. The Quartermaster was knocking at my door barely two minutes later. I tossed the report across the table to him. "Rotation of three companies, what's the discrepancy in provisions for the fort?"
He glanced over the figures. "The prisoners, sir."
I swore, but quietly enough that he could pretend he hadn't heard. Of course, the prisoners. I'd blessedly forgotten them. Just another thing nudging me towards a war I had no rational reason not to want. Just another reason to curse Sparrow, because if he hadn't tempted me across a tavern table like a dusky, glittering devil, the Reward wouldn't be sitting in my harbour and the Spaniards wouldn't be sitting in my cells.
Of course, I could have said no. The pirate had had the right of it. I'd wanted it done as much as he.
Another knock sounded at the door. I was the most popular man in Port Royal this evening. "Yes?"
Gillette this time, agitated enough to set me back in my chair. Justly so. "The Pearl!" he gasped. "She's slipped into the harbour."
I came to my feet, but the night was quiet and devoid of cannonfire. "And?" I prompted.
"And... she's docked at the wharf."
Three of the Black Pearl's crew had drawn short straws and been detailed to remain on board while the rest went carousing. Their mood wasn't improved by the arrival of a squad of marines and the announcement that they could consider themselves arrested.
"Where are the rest of them?"
The flavourful fellow in charge shrugged and spat eloquently over the side. "Dunno."
We started with the church this time, but it was empty at this hour. The taverns, on the other hand, were full. The pirates were in the third one we tried, raucous in the corner nearest the fire and in very good cheer.
Even as I turned to give the order to change that, a serving girl tapped me on the elbow. "'e's upstairs."
"What?" I demanded.
She gave me a withering look, but the opinion serving wenches had of my manners was currently somewhere at the bottom of things I cared about. "Sparra," she said. "Waiting on you upstairs. Though I must say yer right quick. 'e only just now sent the message."
"Gillette," I ordered, already heading for the stairs, "round up this lot."
Sparrow was in the cozy upstairs dining room, sprawling like a cat in an armchair by the fire, but he bounced beaming to his feet as I entered. "Commodore!" he declaimed, apparently delighted. "You came!"
How dare he. How dare he come traipsing back into my harbour and be happy to see me. How dare he stand there painted in firelight looking just like he always had, unchanged and unchangeable, when everything had shifted thrice over. How dare he tie me up in complications and smile so simply.
Assumptions are always dangerous with Sparrow. But surely it's safe to say that he didn't expect me to hit him.
My fist caught him on the chin, snapping his head back and away, tipping him into the chair he'd just vacated. I'd swung hard. It felt good. Sharp impact coiled up my arm, and my breath was audible over the pop of the fire. I smoothed it, straightened my shoulders.
Sparrow gurgled, wallowing in the chair. His hands cradled his jaw, monkey-fingers splayed over his face. They muffled his voice. "Now you hit me?"
"Seemed like the opportune moment," I said, each word cut and precise. "Considering what you've done."
"What I've done?" His hands fell away from a face that showed only perplexity. I clenched my fists, knuckles starting to throb. Itching for him to stand up so I could knock him down again.
"Antigua," I elucidated.
"Antigua?" I wondered if there was an echo in here. "I haven't been anywhere bloody near Antigua, mate."
I think the worst thing was how much I wanted to believe him. "We've heard all about it, Sparrow. And you were sighted off San Juan."
"Heading south," he countered. "Cut down to the southern islands and the eastern Main. The closest we got to your precious Antigua was Guadeloupe."
"You don't have the men to raid Guadeloupe." I don't know why I said it. It was irrelevant.
Sparrow was on his feet, eyes glittering hard like brilliant-cut gemstones. "Never mind that fever and the natives have made it worthless to even consider raiding the place, Antigua's an English colony. Did you really think I'd..." I didn't say anything. "You bloody did." He tilted his head, curved and wicked and sharp, more a raven than a sparrow. "I heard the story about Antigua too, and I laughed, because we were in Barbados refitting after a storm and the night it was supposed to have happened I'd been having dinner with the governor."
"Forth." Also irrelevant. Except that his was the signature on Sparrow's questionable letter of marque.
The sparkle of that smirk was dulled. "His memory isn't what it was, but the old rogue still sets a good table. How's that for an alibi?"
I couldn't find words. Any words. I didn't know where to start looking. There were feet on the stairs, stopping in the doorway behind me. "Sir? We've detained all the pirates."
Sparrow's eyebrows twitched. "Pirates," he repeated, voice scaldingly blank.
"Give me a moment," I said.
Gillette's foot scuffed in the doorway. "But, sir...?"
I turned on him. "Just a moment, Gillette. It's not that difficult."
His face startled to stillness, he backed out of the room, closing the door after him. I couldn't face Sparrow. I sank into the other armchair, eyes closed, pinching the bridge of my nose. I thought fondly, wildly, of my life half a year ago. When I'd hoped Elizabeth might marry me, instead of being bothered that I didn't mind that she was marrying another. When Jack Sparrow had been someone who troubled others, not me, waking and sleeping.
God help me. I believed him.
There was a slither, a thump, and when I opened my eyes, he was kneeling on the rug in front of the fire. In front of me. "I asked you to trust me," he said. His eyes weren't hard any more.
"You're a pirate," I pointed out. "You're Captain Jack Sparrow."
"But I wouldn't." There was something imploring in his eyes, his voice, and his fingers wavered vaguely in his urgency to make me understand. (And another irritation; the man like this and I couldn't properly appreciate it.) He frowned, helpless, and it was nice that I wasn't the only one. "Norrington. I owe you."
It wasn't just like the dreams. But it had enough similarities. The firelight gilding him, the words on his lips, the chaos within me.
I'd moved before I recognised my intention, forward off the chair to kneel before him. Over him, my knees sliding outside his as I leaned, caught him up...
And I was kissing him.
Even as I realised it, he made a noise in the back of his throat that buzzed against my lips as he opened his mouth. Even as I thought to pull back, Jack Sparrow drew me in, his hands coming up, under my coat, around my neck, his tongue darting betwixt my lips, quicksilver and taunting like the rogue himself. My hands were on his shoulders, my eyes closed and tinted with firelight. He tasted of rum and salt.
A knock on the door tore us asunder. I almost fell over the chair, leaping to my feet. Sparrow was nonchalantly sprawled back in the other chair as I turned to the door. I hesitated with my hand on the latch, realising I was breathing as though I'd just run down to the docks and back.
"Sir?" Gillette asked, from the other side of the door. I pulled it open. He didn't look reassured. "Your orders, sir?"
My orders. I resisted the urge to rest my forehead against the edge of the door. "Take Gibbs, Anamaria and two other sailors aside, and ask them where they were during the period pertinent to Antigua. Send a man for Groves, he can help you."
Gillette cleared his throat. "I already took the liberty of summoning Lieutenant Groves, sir; however, he was not at home. And, ah... Miss Anamaria is not amongst the crew downstairs."
Behind me, Jack said, "She missed him," in a voice so devoid of humour that I almost flinched.
"Never mind that, then," I said. A much more satisfactory solution had just occurred to me; let Swann decide. "I'll interview the sailors myself. You escort Captain Sparrow to the Governor, where he can present his defense as he's just outlined it to me."
"All of it?" Sparrow asked.
Gillette was staring past my shoulder. I turned to follow his gaze. Sparrow was standing in the middle of the room, head tilted, cheeky little bird. The red mark of my fist's impact on his jaw was already purpling towards bruise. It didn't disrupt his smirk, however. I dragged my eyes away from his mouth and met his gaze steadily. "You may tell him as many particulars as you deem appropriate to clearing up the matter at hand."
I expected him to pull a face at that, but he just nodded, apparently satisfied. He ambled towards the door. "You know," he said, with a frightening rendition of thoughtfulness, "I invited you up here for a quiet drink."
He had. I'd almost forgotten. "Another time."
On his way past, he wavered towards me, a negligible tilt on Sparrow's personal axis. "I'll hold you to that."
Gillette frowned at the world in general, and followed him down the stairs.
The crew corroborated Sparrow's story. Of course. And I was sure Jack could talk Swann around without difficulty. I could have found out once I'd declared the crew free to continue their interrupted carouse. I could have gone up to the mansion and delivered my report in person.
I had no difficulty with erring on the side of caution. Sparrow was the pirate, not me. I sent my findings in writing, and went home to bed.
If I dreamt, I don't remember it.
At his not unexpected invitation, I joined Swann in his office mid-morning.
My harbour was getting crowded, what with the ships of the line, the merchant vessels, the damn Reward, the insolent Black Pearl. And another ship had been spied inward-bound just before I left the fort. At least three masts, a lot of canvas. She'd have to moor in the road; we didn't have the wharfage to accommodate her.
"The ship from England's arriving this afternoon," I told Swann, accepting tea but declining scones.
"How do you know?" Swann asked, with the mildly annoyed tone of rhetoric.
I don't know. I just did. Something about the scent of the wind blowing it in. Something in the line of the ship, yearning for land. "She's two hours or so out," I said instead.
Two hours until we found out whether the Crown was as willing as its Governors to overlook the quite astonishing irregularity of events in its Caribbean colonies.
Brooding on it wasn't doing any good. "What did you make of Sparrow's story?" I asked.
Swann sighed the sigh of one with the weight of the world on his shoulders, or Jack Sparrow causing complications in his life. "We didn't really have anything to go on, did we?"
"Just ship gossip," I agreed.
"Do you believe him?"
Stupidly, I was entirely unprepared for the challenge. "Well, I, yes. I suppose so. I do."
Swann nodded as decisively as my answer wasn't. "Good enough for me."
How reassuring for him. I wasn't so sure how I felt about it.
I was still contemplating that when the door burst open under the combined impropriety of Elizabeth and the pirate in question, with Will Turner shame-faced and bringing up the rear.
"Father," Elizabeth began, and then beamed at me. "And James! Even better. Both of you: it's far too nice a day to allow you to moulder away inside. We're having a picnic lunch on the north lawn. Don't argue, Father, I've already arranged it with the cook and I asked your secretary; you're not doing anything else. And don't you try either, James. I'm sure they can get on without you perfectly well at your silly fort for an hour or so. Besides, I'm insisting, gentlemen, and how often do I insist on anything?"
Her wide eyes and the imperious tilt of her chin told us both that 'all the jolly time' was not the appropriate response. Over her shoulder, Jack grinned unrepentantly. I looked away to Swann.
Who looked pained but benevolent. "Very well, Elizabeth."
It was, as she'd promised, an absolutely beautiful day. Somehow I'd failed to notice it before then. It was, I thought, digging hard in my memory, an almost English day, and not Caribbean at all, the air mild, the sky clear save benign puffs of cloud that couldn't possibly ever turn into raging storms.
The Swanns' cook had obviously approved of the idea - or maybe she was no more immune to Elizabeth than the rest of us - for there was an impressive array of victuals on offer, spread out on what I suspected was an old horse blanket. Elizabeth, of course, insisted we all sit upon it. At least it kept those of us unfortunate enough to have white trousers off the grass.
Well-fed and suffering from sun-induced lethargy, we wallowed about on the lawn. I suspected Swann may have gone to sleep; he hadn't said anything in a good five minutes, but I was too comfortable to turn and look. Further out on the lawn, Jack and Will were playing at boules, the pirate teaching the blacksmith, or maybe the other way around, or maybe they were simply making the rules up as they went along. Elizabeth cheered them on indiscriminately.
I wondered what hour it was. Had the ship entered the harbour and moored yet?
A flitting shadow heralded Elizabeth, swooping over me and saying, "Father, come and play with me."
"What?" Swann said, in suddenly alert tones. "Yes, lovely day. What?"
I squinted up at Elizabeth, haloed by the sun and as pretty as any other girl. "Can I go inside now?" I asked, doing my best to sound pathetic.
"Of course not," she told me, tugging at her father's sleeve. "You must endure the tedium of our company and the weather for at least another half-hour yet."
Swann allowed himself to be drawn to his feet, brushing a leaf of grass from the hem of his coat. "They'll bring all the official missives up here anyway," he pointed out. "May as well stay."
I allowed he had a point, and the sun really was rather pleasant.
Swann and his daughter took up the boules set, making quite the pretty familial picture. But if they were playing, that meant-
Jack dropped down beside me on the picnic blanket. "I think Will cheats," he said.
"I should certainly hope so," I returned. "Playing against you."
"I'm a pirate. I'm supposed to cheat."
"All his bad habits are of your teaching."
"That may be true," Jack allowed. "But it doesn't make it any less unfair."
I smirked into the sun. "He beat you, I take it?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
I stretched my shoulders in the sunshine. It was almost getting hot under brocade and wig. I still hadn't looked at Sparrow; he was just a jewel-toned shadow at the corner of my eye. "What do you want to talk about, then?"
The answer came so fast he must have been waiting for the question. "Santa Catalina."
All the tightness I'd just eased out of my shoulders came back. I had no reason to feel guilty; but wait, that had been before, when I owed Jack Sparrow nothing. Now he hadn't betrayed us. Me. What did I owe him now?
The truth, at least. "It wasn't my idea." That sounded truly pathetic. "We're going to launch an assault on the island, it's almost a certainty. All that's needed is the inciting event, the one thing to make it sooner rather than later. That's just the way it is. Statecraft. I don't know."
A long moment of silence was broken only by the clink of boules across the lawn. When he finally spoke, his drawl was laced with amusement. "Are you all knotted up about it because of me?"
I turned on him, angry, and he was right there. Not that near; not nearly far enough. The bruising along his jaw had come up beautifully overnight, blotching along his jaw like fruit ruined in the heat, crawling up to pool in the hollow of his cheek. He was bright and stark and shadowed under the sun, the Caribbean sky, he belonged here. He looked right.
I blinked, and realised that I didn't know how long I'd been lost in rapt contemplation of him, what might have happened in the interim. I reached for something to say. "You didn't tell Will and Elizabeth how you came by that bruise, then, or they'd not be talking to me in such a civil manner today."
He smiled, slow and careful. "I could tell them you kissed it better." I opened my mouth - to say what, I don't know - but even as I did, he continued, expression unchanged: "I should lay it to rest, shouldn't I? There's not a chance anything can ever come of it."
The man was wretchedly unfair; I hadn't the faintest idea how to handle a serious Sparrow, his very stability knocking the balance from me.
I wanted to contradict him, that was the worst of it. But I couldn't, for there wasn't. Not a chance. Not for a Commodore of his Majesty's Navy. Not even in a world with Jack Sparrow in it.
He was the first to look down. "Aye," he murmured. "I know it."
Across the lawn, I'd missed the arrival of the master of the new addition to my harbour. He was reacting very well to being greeted by a Governor in stockinged feet and sweating from playing lawn games with his daughter. I knew I should go and add some naval gravitas to the exchange, but at present it would probably only be a different strain of colonial madness.
I was reluctant to know. What message he might have for me, what might be contained within the packet of papers he was handing over to Swann. Not that I could avoid the knowledge forever. Especially not when the entire party - master, Governor, daughter and fiance - were coming back to the picnic blanket.
Introductions were made. My own sealed letter was delivered; I left it to sit in my lap, heavy and somehow cold. Captain Gareth Abernathy blinked in very well controlled surprise at meeting Captain Jack Sparrow. "The pirate?"
"Turned privateer." Sparrow offered a grin that was rendered truly blinding by the sunlight. "For the good of Queen - sorry, King - and Country, seen the error of my ways, the redeemed sinner, etcetera."
"Well!" Abernathy declared, though he seemed fired by more than merely the mix of awe and horror that usually struck at first exposure to Sparrow. "This can only add to your reputation, Commodore."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Oh, James had very little to do with it," Elizabeth said, rather disloyally, I thought. "But what do you mean, his reputation?"
I was prevented from throwing her a stern look by Abernathy gesturing to my neglected letter. "Open it, man. I don't want to reveal aught before you are aware yourself, but I fear I shall not be able to hold my peace should the lady press me."
Which, of course, was all the invitation the lady required to begin to do just that. Abernathy declined to reveal this sudden secret with decreasing vehemence as I gazed down at the letter. No sooner had I picked it up, than Swann, head bowed over his own correspondence, said, "Good Lord!" Elizabeth began pestering him, and when I looked down again, a spider-fingered hand was passing me the cheese knife. I glanced at Sparrow, hovering at my shoulder with curiosity equal to Elizabeth's (though more quiet). I took the knife and broke the seal.
Official letters are never much like letters, and always a lot like each other. I brushed through the formula phrases, until I struck one that caught in my head, turning my blood cold, even in the early afternoon sun. I returned to the beginning, but it was still there the second time.
"Oh," Sparrow said in my ear, an echo of the noise I couldn't quite make.
"What, what?" Elizabeth demanded.
I looked up at her, her colour high, Will at her elbow. If I told her, it would somehow make it real. In the end, it was Sparrow who answered. "He's been recalled to England."
Her hand flew to her mouth. "Recalled?"
"And promoted!" Abernathy objected. "Special appointment to the Continental flotilla preparatory to becoming an Admiral." In which period We are sure you shall deport yourself in such manner as to lay to rest any lingering doubts regarding your suitability, the letter said. "The King has his eye on you, sir!"
Somehow Elizabeth had become the pin holding the party together. We all looked to her. "When do you go?" she asked.
I refolded the letter, hiding the words away on the inside. I'd seen enough. "I am given another six months to present myself in London," I said, and managed a smile for her. "Don't worry, I'll be here for your wedding."
I had never seen Elizabeth so uncertain. I looked down, and passed the cheese knife back to Sparrow.
It was late, and getting later. With the windows open, I could hear the faint echo of ships bells across the open water, as the watches changed. I should go to bed. I'd been telling myself that for hours.
My personal desk was far less crowded than the one in my office. The man had fewer concerns than the Commodore. Naval worries had supplanted the personal, at least on a tangible level; the desk was strewn with paperwork. A report on the Spanish prisoners, a rather forceful letter from Mrs George, the damnably inaccurate chart of Santa Catalina.
For all that I was poised over my desk, I wasn't really looking at any of them. My mind couldn't settle to anything. Irrespective of which direction I bent it, it returned endlessly to the contents of my most recently received letter.
God knew why. It wasn't as though I wanted to consider what it decreed for my future.
Ten years I'd been out here, in the Caribbean. When I'd been posted it had been a useful position, a place where a man might make his reputation. But also the end of the world. It had been fashionable to despise being removed from the civilised world of Europe.
Honestly, though, what had I cared for fashion? What had I cared for society or the other trappings of 'civilisation'?
What had I known, then, of the waters of the place to which I'd been sent? Nothing. Nothing of the secrets they hid in their transparent depths, the treacherous reefs, the capricious winds. Nothing of the way the slap of the waves against the hull could sound like the breathing of the world.
I could drown in the idea of cold northern oceans. Forget the sand, forget the sun. Perfect English days forever.
There was a discreet knock and a cough at the open door. "I'm sorry, Godfrey," I said, turning to the sideboard to refill my brandy glass. "I shall retire soon."
"It's not that, sir," he said, stepping fully into the room. "Though the night does grow long. This was just delivered, sir."
'This' was a document case, worn but well-made, polished more by handling than by industry. I knew, even as I took it, who it must be from, but I didn't dare imagine what might be contained inside. I knocked the end off, and shook forth the rolled contents, laying it out on the desk, an inkpot in one corner, a paperweight in another, my brandy glass in the third corner, my hand on the fourth.
It was a map. Beautifully detailed, painstakingly complete, entirely accurate. It was Santa Catalina.
There was a note rolled up in the middle, a familiar hand jaunty on the scrap of parchment. Imagine this is going to be of more use to you than to me. -Captn J S
I traced a finger down the coastline. Outside the edge of the map, I could see a corner of what was underneath, the Spanish prisoners, Mrs George...
All we need is an inciting incident.
It was a blinding moment of clarity, all my problems coming together in their own solution.
"Send for Gillette and Groves. I know it's late; apologise, but this won't wait. And send word to the fort that whoever is on prison duty is relieved, they may have the night off."
Godfrey wouldn't blink if I ordered the city torched, he'd just advise as to the best method. "Very good, sir. Will that be all?"
I picked up the brandy glass, letting the map roll up, and looked into its depths with a smile. "Find another bottle of this brandy, if we have one, and send it to the Black Pearl, for the captain."
"Very good, sir."
Yes. Maybe it just could be.
Back to index
Chapter 3: Barratry
Author's Notes: For Sheila. Who else?
barratry ~ a wrongful act of a ship's master or crew at the expense of the owner or charterer, reckoned as one of the perils of the sea in marine insurance
On the third day, my hat washed up on the beach. I jammed it onto a coconut and impaled that on a stick, propped upright in the sand beside me. From the corner of my eye it could almost have been a man. Buried up to his neck in the sand.
Where the blazes was Sparrow?
The beach was two hundred and thirty paces from the rocky headland to the place where a hefty stream drizzled down to the sea and turned everything into impenetrable muck. From the edge of the forest until I got my feet wet was thirty paces at high tide, forty-five at low.
Trees, sand, water, rocks, birds, seaweed, mud up to the knees, sunburnt for the first time in years, idle unwatched hours of emptiness. This was some sort of Caribbean purgatory.
I hadn't climbed a tree since I was eight and my mother admonished me for dropping chestnuts on my sister and my father told me that eight was far too old for such childish pursuits as tree-climbing. I was up a tree when the ship appeared on the horizon.
Time started again.
A lone figure rowed in towards the beach from the Black Pearl. The crew watched his progress, dangling from the rigging and the ship's sides. I watched his progress from the beach. When he grew close enough, waves swelling and breaking under the small hull, sweeping it in to shore, I stepped forward to help him draw the coracle up the beach.
He looked at me across the little boat as the waves shoved at our bare toes. "Bloody hell," said Jack Sparrow, and I don't think I'd ever heard such honest, unaffected startlement in his voice. "You're a sight."
What was left of the Commodore? No wig, no shoes, no brocade. All lost to the sea. Dried mud on my trousers, bark stains on my shirt, sun in my eyes, dirty fingernails.
"Took your time," I said.
He grinned, gold-glinted. "Need a moment to gather your effects?"
"I'm honestly not that attached to the coconut."
He started to laugh.
A decent wash and a decent meal, and I'd save my third wish for a special occasion. The shirt would be fine after a wash, and in the meantime I had a spare one of Sparrow's. With his sense of fashion, I wasn't all that surprised that it was only a little short at the wrists.
As I inspected my chin for any patches I'd missed, a dull thud sounded at the door. "Come in?" I hazarded.
The door opened and Sparrow came in backwards, holding two steaming wooden bowls that drew my gaze as though magnetic forces were involved. He spun about, almost losing the lot, and kicked the door shut somewhere in the act of melodramatically regaining his balance.
"Well!" he said, eyeing me. "You've scrubbed up quite well. For a dead man."
My stomach twisted mid-gurgle. I'd hoped he might have at least waited until after I'd eaten. "Yes, well."
He grinned. "So how about I put down the stew and you put down the razor - no sudden moves, now - and you tell Uncle Jack all about it?"
I smiled ruefully as I dropped the blade into the bowl and joined him at the table.
The stew was, in all honesty, absolutely the best meal I'd ever eaten. Including the mysterious crunchy bits. Seeing my incapability, Jack talked. "The problem was, you see, that we were all the way down in Cartagena--"
"What were you doing there?" I honestly couldn't helped myself. I did at least swallow before I continued. "They don't trade with pirates there."
"Yes but I'm Captain Jack Sparrow."
I raised an eyebrow over my spoon.
"Shut up. Eat your stew. And we were trading in information, which even stupid snobbish Spaniards are happy to have dealings with. The point is - and who's telling this story anyway? You'll get your turn... where was I?"
"The point," I offered.
He frowned at me, then his face cleared. "Yes! The point. Which is that it wasn't until we were two days off Port Royal that we even got your message which kept me in a fine state of perplexity - you could have shown a little more precision in your wording, you know - until we all get home and find out that you were magnificently brilliant in Santa Catalina - congratulations on that, by the way, always knew you had it in you - but are, unfortunately, dead and lost to the sea."
Sometimes, talking with Jack Sparrow was like being washed up on a beach. As long as you kept your head above water you'd get to solid land eventually. Lost to the sea. I liked that. I hoped it was true.
My spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl. "I'm glad you came," I told him.
"Well." He shrugged. "Your note wasn't entirely incomprehensible."
I settled the spoon in the empty bowl. "I just couldn't--"
"I know," he interrupted, and when I looked up his eyes were as unfathomable as the sea we sailed. "I know. I just couldn't quite believe you'd do it."
For all I wondered what that said about the stupidity of my actions, I returned his smile.
Perhaps this is where I should pause for breath - while I'm relishing the feel of sleeping in a real bed, or at least a far closer approximation to one than had been available on my beach - and take the opportunity to relieve any confusion. Lift the veil on that missing month. It might seem like boasting - stroke of genius the first, letting the incognito Spaniards make off with the Reward, winning the eternal gratitude of Mrs George for fixing her insurance dilemma, and providing an iron-clad excuse for invasion; stroke of genius the second, an unorthodox scattered infiltration attack of Santa Catalina whose only flaw was a certain degree of chaos in its execution, which might allow a disappearance to be overlooked, or hidden as a death.
I hadn't entirely believed I'd do it, either. Not even turning over in my hands my orders to return to England. Not even after I'd sent the message to Sparrow, when one might reasonably have expected I could feel the whole thing taken out of my hands, rendered fait accompli.
I was not unaware of the repercussions of my demise. On those I loved, on those I led. But my removal would happen in any case, and they were already becoming accustomed to it. Beginning to whittle down their futures to those possibilities that did not include my presence.
Even so, I wasn't sure. Until we took ship for Santa Catalina, running hard south with the wind in our port quarter, crisp and clear and Caribbean. The sun on the sea and salt spray in our sails; there do not exist the words to capture properly that moment of realisation.
Elizabeth and Will would find another to be their wedding's fairy godmother. Swann would know that such things happened, would drink a quiet toast to me on lazy summer evenings. Gillette and Groves would move along, climb the ranks. They'd even understand, I thought, perhaps. If they knew, though I could not tell them.
And as for Commodore Norrington... he would fall without disgrace, and remain in the Caribbean.
The only place in the world he wanted to be.
I slept late the next morning, an unthinkable luxury, but Sparrow had sent men ashore to find fresh water, and by the time I arrived up on deck, they were just stowing the last barrels and preparing to make way.
"Slugabed," Sparrow chided me, and I blinked in the bright sunlight, thinking that I hadn't heard that phrase since it fell from my nursemaid's lips.
I joined him on the quarterdeck, watching his crew swarm the rigging. Actually, there weren't enough of them to be a swarm. He was travelling with close to his skeleton crew, I suspected.
"What do you say?" Sparrow asked, licking a finger (an act of questionable wisdom, given the state of his hands) and holding it up to the air. "If we quarter hard to starboard and the wind holds, five days back to Port Royal, at the absolute worst."
I didn't round on him immediately, as he no doubt wanted me to, but it was a near thing. "I'd say you were mad, except this is you we're talking about, and I hate to sound redundant." I turned to look at him then, leaning on the railing beside me with the sun behind him; I had to squint. "There's nothing for me there any more, Jack. It wasn't a decision to be made lightly."
He watched me as canvas unfurled overhead, billowed and popped. "Then we'll continue on as we were, shall we?"
"Please," I said. "Do."
His grin bloomed, sudden and brilliant, and he turned to face forward, arms sweeping up like a diva addressing her audience. "North, lads!"
The Pearl was a truly beautiful ship. Her design was out of date, true, but perfection like hers never truly goes out of style. She was as finely balanced as the most exquisite sword ever to leave Will Turner's hands, and as responsive as a well-trained horse. I stood on her forecastle as she leapt towards the north at Sparrow's bidding, and her timbers shivered beneath me in something like ecstasy. I was barefoot already, bare-headed too. Nothing between me and her and the elements, and the feeling I had had to work for on the deck of the Dauntless came free and unbidden here.
I began to see why Sparrow had done what he had to regain her.
I watched the crew sail her, and counted faces where I couldn't place names. I was right; she was sailing with minimum hands. Not that that necessarily meant anything, with Sparrow, but I wondered where they were headed, and to what purpose.
We, really, not they. I was, for want of a better phrase, in the same boat.
"You just going to stand there for the whole damn voyage?"
I turned around, though there could be little doubt who the owner of that voice was. Sharp as Spanish steel. Female.
Anamaria was wrestling to reef a sheet that might have been tricky for two men. "Shall I give you a hand?" I asked.
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. She glared. She lifted a threatening finger. She took a deep breath.
"Is she always like that?" I asked Sparrow.
It was after dinner in his cabin. I lingered at the table over a very nice brandy - the bottle I'd given him, in fact - as Sparrow pored over his map table, working with more minute concentration than I would have believed he was capable of to effect an adjustment. He might have been a statue of himself; his hand was unthinkably steady. He referred to scrawled notes, measured, made a mark. Only when the pen was returned to the bottle did he speak. "Who?"
"Your second mate."
That brought him out of his trance; he laughed. I had to wait quite a while until he recovered himself sufficiently to answer. "More or less, that's Anamaria. But she is rather worse than usual recently."
"Who on earth did something to rattle her chains?" I was genuinely curious. I certainly wouldn't want to cross the lady.
"Your Lieutenant," Jack supplied readily. "He threatened her with matrimony."
I didn't choke on my brandy. "Good grief."
Jack hummed, consideringly. "Strange lad. I think he's feeling an impending sense of his own mortality, y'know?" He picked up his own brandy glass, watching me over the rim.
"You think I did the wrong thing," I said, sounding more belligerent than I'd really intended.
He shook his head slightly, sending hair ornaments swinging. "I don't give two figs for your right and wrong. And in the end, what does it matter what I think? It's you as has to live with it."
I wasn't surprised; since we first met, there has not been a moment when Jack made my life easier. I looked away from him, to the rear windows of his cabin, but it was dark outside, brightly lit within, and all I saw was myself reflected back. I looked back at him, but he'd turned back to his maps, holding his glass in his left hand as the fingers of his other hand twitched for a pen. "Is she going to accept him?" I asked, as though we hadn't strayed from the original topic.
"You'll have to ask her that," Sparrow replied.
"Not particularly tempting."
He laughed again, even as he set down the glass, hands and attention returning to the measuring, the notes, the ink well.
I eased out of my chair, slowly circling the dining table. "Why are we going north?" I asked.
"A piece of business for Anamaria," he answered, readily but unhelpfully.
"About which I can ask her, I imagine?"
I came up behind him, my attention following his to the pastiche of maps on the flat surface. He had been making amendments to the stretch of coastline where he'd taken me aboard. He worked now between that map and another, using his fingers as callipers to measure distances between a mid-ocean point and... "Havana?" I said. "Are you entirely mad?"
Jack yelped - actually yelped, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been standing at his shoulder when he made the noise - and slithered his maps together, smearing ink over his palm. "Look what you did!" he accused, holding up the indigo stain indignantly.
I leaned around him and tugged at the corner of a map. He slapped the back of my wrist, marking me like a bruise, and I picked up the brandy glass instead. "You don't have the men to even think about raiding Havana."
"Just as well I'm not thinking about it, then," he retorted, and then narrowed his eyes at me. "Is that my glass?"
I had, point of fact, left my own on the dining table. I raised an eyebrow mid-sip, but passed the glass over with barely a smirk.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you? he accused.
I honestly had to admit I was. The Commodore never got to do things like this. The Commodore never grinned, free and faintly smug, and watched Sparrow glower.
"Suppose you're going to be a pest until I get too annoyed and tip you overboard," he grumbled, seeking solace in his remaining brandy.
"Actually," I said, "I was thinking I might join your crew."
Jack choking was the crowning glory of a very pleasant evening.
When Sparrow came up on desk the next morning, I was waiting. He flailed a little, but didn't actually seem surprised. "So you're really going to do this?"
"It's the obvious option, isn't it?" I said.
"That's not necessarily a recommendation," he pointed out.
Especially not for him, I supposed. "I left Port Royal so I could sail the Caribbean. I'm damn well going to sail it."
The ghost of a smile visited his face. "Norrington--" he began.
But I interrupted him. "I know you know my Christian name." Elizabeth had used it at least once in his presence, and Jack Sparrow never missed a detail like that.
He tilted his head, allowing my point without precisely agreeing. "But some things," he said, as though it should be obvious, "are not there for the taking."
I wondered if he could be persuaded to put that in writing and perhaps sign it.
Then I realised the substance of what he'd said.
I don't know why it should surprise me that he wouldn't let us simply slip into this intimacy, that he should make me consciously invite it. That he should challenge me.
It didn't surprise me at all.
I faced him squarely, and said, "My parents called me James. I would be honoured if you would too."
The moment hung between us, and then split open on the glinting edge of his smile. "Honoured, eh?"
And it was that simple, to slip sideways into it. "Something like that," I allowed.
"Ever been called Jamie?" he asked, cheeky.
"Ever been called John?" I returned.
He winced. "It might be from the French," he protested.
"If you're a Frenchman, then I'm Welsh."
An insincere eyebrow lifted. "Got something against the Welsh?"
"Not half as much as I have against the French, and I still wouldn't wish you on them."
He tilted his head, still grinning, and had to squint a little into the sun. "How about Jim, then?"
"How about Mister Sparrow?"
Jack laughed and held out a hand that I shook without hesitation - his palm was as cool as the wind, roughened by calluses like barnacles. "Welcome to the crew, James."
Can you understand the timbre of the joy it was to be nothing more or less than a sailor? Not pure, not unmitigated, not without the sharp splinter of annoyance for the orders to be followed, not without a chafing against the helplessness of being merely another hand, certainly not without the ache and agony of a body unused to this sort of concentrated effort.
But with - with - the wave-top to wave-top singing of the hull, the deck, the timbers, she doing hers as you did yours, she needing you as you needed her, your devotion matched. The perfect poised moments - hanging one knee and one hand from her rigging, balanced between the spray and the snap of the canvas. Between sea and sky.
This I had given my life for. I considered the trade well made.
There was no good reason for Anamaria and myself to be sitting athwart the topgallant yard, except that we'd just finished reefing the sail for the evening and there was no good reason for us not to linger. The view was simply spectacular, the sun dying in golden splendour somewhere to the west on land, leaving us alone on the gently heaving sea. The Pearl tilted lovingly beneath us as I curled a hand around the reef-lines.
"Yer alright," Anamaria said, from somewhere out of sight on the other side of the mast. "For... you know."
I smiled into the breeze. No one mentioned what I had been. Jack had "introduced" me to the crew as merely James, and no one had stepped forward to gainsay him. Would have I received such a welcome on any other free vessel in the Caribbean?
"I should have thought you'd have a higher opinion of us," I said, feeling brave with the thickness of a mast between myself and the lady. "All things considered."
She sniffed, and I grinned and kicked my heels.
And then almost toppled off as she swung around the mast on a leechline, suddenly stern in my face. "It's all your fault!"
So much for my immunity. "I couldn't possibly have known he was going to prop--"
"Not that," she snapped, jaw clenched and frightening. "You brought him on board in the first place."
I'd what? I couldn't help it; I started to laugh. Thank Heavens she needed both hands and feet to keep her hold on her position. The only thing she could throw my way was a glare. "And if you'd snapped him up any quicker he would have been gone before I turned around. You can't blame me for that one."
Her glare subsided into a glower, gaining a hint of petulance. She looked down at her feet, braced against the stays on the mast, and we stayed like that for a moment. It seemed I'd got away with it.
It was pushing my luck, but I was curious. For myself, for Groves, for a desire to see him happy in this world I'd left him in. "Are you going to accept him?" I asked.
She squinted into the setting sun, the wind whipping loose strands of her hair about her face. When she spoke, her voice was almost carried away entirely by that wind. "He said we would sail a merchant ship. We could sail it together..."
Silence dragged past on the Caribbean wind, and I was helpless to fill it, caught up in the quiet, lost tone of her voice, the thread that drew it all straight back to Groves, the unthinkable, outrageous man. Anamaria blinked and look at me as if surprised to find me there, and I found something to say. "Does this have anything to do with why we're going north?"
She might have answered me, but before it could happen, a shout came from the deck. "Oi, you aloft. Lay alow!"
When I looked back, she was halfway down the mast. I followed.
It was Gibbs at the foot of the mast, looking uncertain as I slithered the last distance to the deck. He cleared his throat. "I - ah - didn't realise it was you..."
He did, at least, manage to swallow the 'sir' that had been threatening at the end of that sentence. I smiled ruefully. "Gibbs--" but at the twitch of his shoulders, I changed my mind about what I was going to say. "I don't know about you, but I need a drink. Join me?"
Thankfully, eventually, he did. If we were going to be sharing a space as small as a ship (even the Pearl) for any length of time, there were obviously issues we were going to have to deal with.
The grog we procured was eye-wateringly raw rum. Which worked to our advantage, since Gibbs actually relaxed watching me choke on my first mouthful.
"That's horrific," I coughed.
He smiled, somewhere amidst nostalgic and beatific, and took another swig. "Aye. Rough and ready."
He looked so satisfied that I couldn't help but laugh, and he laughed with me. When I held out my mug, he knocked his against it, and I braced myself for a second swig.
Gibbs considered the contents of his own mug as I recovered. With something approaching an apologetic wince, he said, "It's just a mite strange, I'm sure you'll agree, havin' you aboard."
"It's a little strange to be here," I admitted. "But anything's possible on the sea. Isn't that why we took to it?"
He ducked his head, and now we came to it.
"You're a good man, Gibbs." He looked up at me, hope peeking out. I smiled, a sardonic edge that we both knew he deserved. "More or less," and he grinned. "I'm not going to denounce you from the crow's nest, so you can stop tiptoeing around me."
He poured for himself again, and offered the jug unnecessarily to me. "I--" he hazarded, and I waited as he worked around to a full admission. "I always wanted to stay on the right side of the law." He looked embarrassed - as well he might, a man who'd been pirate for this many years.
"But the Navy isn't precisely the perfect place for a true man of the sea," I provided, and smiled at his expression. "Not among the sailors. I'll acknowledge that as readily as any, and more so than most."
"That why you left?" he asked his rum, darting a glance up as I grimaced (yes, so much for my immunity). "Begging your pardon, sir, but you're a good man yourself, and it's... well, it's strange, that's all."
In this light, the rum glinted like hidden treasure at the bottom of the mug. The inverse of the endless Caribbean sunlight on deck was the gloaming absence below. "Maybe," I said, and took a breath. "Maybe we all come to a point where the sea won't be compromised."
When I looked up, he was nodding. I felt as though I passed a hurdle, and lifted my mug.
The rum still burnt like the fires of hell, and Gibbs still laughed.
"So," Jack Sparrow said, leaning on the end of my hammock and considering me with more amusement than the cat ever did the canary. "Not a bad week's work, young James. You've successfully mended your bridges with every pertinent member of my crew. Except me."
I'd almost been asleep when he materialised. I was not fresh at all off a night aloft and almost comfortable in the close darkness of the crew quarters. In no way did I have my wits about me sufficient to deal with Sparrow, and yet there he was. Anyone would think this was his ship, the way he kept showing up.
I blinked and scrubbed a hand over my face, pressing my shoulder into the canvas of the hammock to counteract the slight rock Jack's grip had set off. "I wasn't aware our bridges were in a state of disrepair." He'd been my first thought of accomplice in my own disappearance. He'd picked me up off that lost beach. We were doing well, weren't we?
"I could make something up, if you like," he offered, swinging forward against the axis of his grip on the hammock and tilting his head confidingly. "Misunderstandings, arguments. Incidents." His other hand caught the edge of the hammock as it swung against him, holding me steady. "Shouldn't be too tricky, pair of fellows like us."
And I remembered, as I'm sure he had intended, the last incident. My breath caught against something in the back of my throat and my vision blacked with memory and vertigo. I blinked it away, off balance in the hammock, but when I could see him as more than a shadow among shadows, he still stood as he had.
"Jack..." I said, but I had nothing to follow it, and his name sat between us, like a tangible thing in the dark.
He smirked, eyes and teeth matching glints in the gloom. "Get some sleep, James. Still a ways to go before we're there."
"Where?" I called after him, but he'd already disappeared.
We weren't heading true north. That was simplicity itself to determine, from the sun and the stars and the wind. More nor-nor-east, easing further to the east as we went. I didn't peek again at Sparrow's maps, doing the best I could with what I had in my head, calculating distances and directions with mental callipers.
"You think too much for a sailor," Anamaria declared, accompanying the curt sentence with a not unfriendly elbow in the ribs as she climbed past me in the rigging.
She was right, but it didn't stop me. Port Royal, I was almost certain, had passed away far to the east and south. It occurred to me that we might be heading for Tortuga, which would be an interesting experience without a doubt. There was not much else beyond in that direction, but the absence of any reasonable target could never be considered a deciding factor when dealing with Sparrow.
I ran all my calculations again when the cry of "Land ho!" came from the lookout. It took another hour or two before the coastline was visible from the deck as more than a low line of grit along the horizon. By the time we were close enought to pick out the darker, greasier smudge of a city, I knew where we were.
Sparrow stepped up beside me, where I was leaning against the forward rail. "Santiago," I stated. Wealthy enough to draw all sorts, not yet established enough to have begun being choosy about who it welcomed within its walls.
"Not Havana," Sparrow pointed out, with admirably little smugness.
"Not your final destination," I countered.
"Cheerful spot to stop over, though," he continued, not missing a beat. "Nice fruit, good grog, lovely girls. Ever been there? Fabulous town. I could even consider leaving Tortuga for her, but you know how I hate to appear fickle."
Well, at least I was relatively unlikely to be recognised here. "Why is it," I wondered aloud, "that whenever you're involved I end up surrounded by Spaniards?"
"Because bouquets of flowers are very boring." Jack clapped me on the shoulder. "Look lively. We can spend tonight on solid ground if we try."
We beat the night to Santiago. The Pearl was berthed and made fast, and the appropriate officials bribed, by the time the sun slunk below the spur of the island that sheltered the town.
Jack gave the watch to two of the crew who'd let a minor disagreement get out of hand the night before. (The injuries weren't even sufficient to impede their ability to discharge their duties.) It was, I couldn't help thinking, almost precisely what I would have done. Excepting only the part where he shook a stern finger in their faces, telling them that if they continued behaving like scallywags he'd hang them out to dry on the yardarms.
Then the rest of us hit the town.
Though he couldn't have been said to be precisely leading the party, Sparrow seemed to know exactly where he wanted to go, and our rowdy group (entirely inconspicuous on the early evening streets of Santiago) drifted up one street and down another until we reached what I could only assume was the right place. The sign didn't have a written name, but suggested strongly through pictures that the place was called the Bell and Anchor. There was little to distinguish it from a dozen other places we'd passed, but Sparrow made a bee-line for the door.
I don't think there's such a thing as unjustified suspicion when it comes to that man.
The crew tumbled into the tavern like a spilt drink, trickling into all the gaps and soaking into the atmosphere. In minutes it was as though we'd been there for hours.
It would have been easy to lose Sparrow in the chaos if I hadn't been watching for him. He slipped through the crowd like a rat through rushes, graceful and greased, and washed up at a corner table occupied by a hard-eyed Spaniard who didn't seem at all surprised to see him.
There's a grim satisfaction in having assumptions confirmed.
I lost him in the swell of the first round arriving with a consonant-free roar of approval and unwinding that I joined in, raising my tankard to the group. When I looked back to the corner table, Anamaria had joined them, and I was entirely unsurprised.
There was little to be gained from continued watching; I was too far away to hear anything, and there was little remarkable to see. I turned back to the main body of the crew, who'd ambushed a passing serving maid and were engaged en masse in cajoling her into singing. When they finally prevailed, she proved to have a very clear voice (and a deft manner in turning down the multitude of other "offers" that were thrust upon her). Another serving girl (not a sister, I thought, and my eyes slid to the corner again) had a talent for dancing, and a much more mercantile attitude to other matters.
By the time I was languishing in the bottom third of my second tankard, the party was beginning to fragment and spread, getting rowdier in all directions. I saw Anamaria first, suddenly appearing in a knot of the crowd to be tucked under a burly arm and claim a tankard as her own, draining it in one long pull. I didn't look back to the corner, but finished my own beer as I waited, until Sparrow dropped into the seat beside me.
I didn't give him time to settle. "Profitable meeting?" I asked, keeping him in the corner of my eye.
From that angle I couldn't quite tell if he was smiling, but I thought so. "Yes, it was," he said.
I pushed my empty tankard across the table. "Where to now, then?"
He shifted in his chair, but I still wasn't looking. "Now," he said, "I thought would be the perfect time for that quiet drink you owe me."
When I did look, he was twisted in his chair to face me, grinning, elbow slung across the back of the chair and hand dangling. "That wasn't what I meant."
"I know." His fingers danced over my elbow, up my arm, twisting into a knuckled grip in the fabric at my shoulder. "Come on."
The men he'd left on watch were playing at dice on the quarterdeck, and looked rather surprised at Jack's response to their challenge. Even more surprised, though briefly so, when his next words as he strode aboard were, "What the bloody hell are you doing here? Go on, get off my ship. Enjoy yourselves."
They followed those orders with alacrity, hieing off down the wharf before he could change his mind again, no doubt. I crossed to the starboard rail, looking out over the harbour, letting the Pearl rise and fall below me as though she were breathing along with me. When he stepped up beside me, Jack was brandishing a bottle. "Did you have that in your pocket?" I asked.
"I certainly didn't have it under my hat," he retorted, failing to get a grip on the cork. Eventually he pulled it out with his teeth, spitting it grandiosely over the side to join the rest of the detritus on the water.
I followed him up onto the forecastle, where a lantern at least provided better light. Jack leaned over the forward railing, patting a familiar hand against the carved locks of the figurehead. Ritual of some sort apparently completed, he turned his back upon her, lounging back against the railing. I sat on the edge of the forward hatch.
"Want a drink?" he offered.
"Not particularly," I said, but took the bottle anyway. It was, as feared, the same breed of ferocious rum I'd sampled with Gibbs. Perhaps not quite as ferocious. Perhaps I was getting used to it. "What I'd like is answers."
Jack tilted his head, giving the concept its due consideration. I didn't hold out much hope. Sure enough, he answered, "Too easy," and smiled in a manner entirely not conducive to reassurance. "Let's do it this way instead: one question, one answer. What say you?"
I was sceptical, to say the least. "And would that answer be the truth?"
"Of course!" he cried, convincingly affronted.
I sipped again at the rum, weighing words and phrases in my head. I knew him. My question would need to be answerable with nothing but the truth I wanted. "What will be the end point of the Black Pearl's next voyage?"
"Havana." The answer was startling in its promptness, its stark simplicity, the ease with which Jack gave it up.
I blinked. "Are you entirely mad?"
He grinned and swung forward, holding himself upright with one hand on the railing. "One question, remember. My turn." He plucked the bottle from my hand, sweeping his head back and losing his hat in taking a long swallow of the filthy stuff. He bared his teeth against it, and nudged his hat further into the prow with his toe. "Why did you kiss me?"
The question was like a jab to the stomach, all my breath rushing out. I saw Jack there, I saw him before me, I saw him again kneeling on the carpet before me, before the fire. Firelight, lamplight, his face, his eyes, the way he'd tasted and felt and sounded... My lungs burned; I drew breath into my body again. He was looking at me; he hadn't been that close before, he'd stepped forward from the railing. "You were... there," I said. So incredibly, indescribably there in a moment where anything else was impossible - how could I say that?
The curve of his mouth was amusement not quite equal to a smile. "I was there? You mean to tell me that anyone--"
"One question," I reminded him, clinging to the rules Jack had made. I held out my hand for the bottle.
He relinquished it with good grace and a long, heavy look from beneath half-lowered lashes. "In that case, it's your turn," he reminded me.
My turn. I could ask him anything. I could ask him why Havana, how Havana, and he'd answer, he'd tell me everything. "Why did you kiss me back?"
His eyes glinted like the sea under moonlight. He was closer but still distant until he spoke, so quietly but I had no trouble hearing him. And he said, "Some things aren't there for the taking. But if they're given, how can a man deny them?" I didn't remember closing my eyes, but they were closed when he whispered in my ear, breath against the lobe and whiskers against my cheek, "James."
I turned, I reached, and he was there, right there, sliding into my arms, breath pushing against mine. I couldn't taste the rum on his tongue for the rum on my own (the bottle knocking against wood as I set it aside in favour of non-liquid intoxication) but he was still the flavour of the sea, of wild boundless freedom. He washed over me, lapped against my shores, and I drew him closer and closer still, taking him with me when he tilted me backwards with a hand tangled in my hair and a branding grip just above my elbow. We sprawled over the hatch cover, him kissing me kissing him because he was there, more there than anyone else had been, could be, and I told him, muttered against his jaw, "Not anyone. Not anyone else."
We rolled like the sea, like the ship beneath us, and eventually came the ebb as we eased apart, gasping. He began to shift back and, "Jack," I muttered, trying to keep my grip.
"I don't," he started, and I exulted to realise he was breathless. "I don't want to push..."
He half sat up, but I got my fingers around his shoulder and pulled him back down, pressed his shoulder blade into the wood with the heel of my hand, held him there. "When don't you want to push?" I growled in his ear, and moved my other hand down, palm pressed where I knew he was hard. Knew because I was, hard and wanting.
His head knocked back against the hatch with a hollow thud. "James," he gasped, laid out below me like some lost treasure of the Caribbean.
If such things are given, how can a man deny them indeed?
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Chapter 4: Barratry [continued]We sailed from Santiago on the early afternoon ebb, tacking south-east against the prevailing wind. Once we made the turn around the eastern end, it would be a blistering run along the northern side of the island. I was looking forward to seeing just what the Pearl could do with the wind full behind her. Perhaps another week to Havana, at the most.
Havana, the answer that only raised more questions. But before I played any more games at Jack's instigation, I judged it wisest to garner a little more information of my own. And that meant braving Anamaria.
I chose the ground a little more carefully this time. As picturesque as the view was from the topmast yards, I wasn't particularly fond of being at the mercy of both gravity and the lady at the same time. So I waited until I could slip away and catch her taking a moment out of the sun in the lee of the forecastle. I brought her an apple, from the new store Jack had taken on board in Santiago, as combination bribe and excuse.
Anamaria eyed both me and it with suspicion, the one more warranted than the other. "What do you want?" she demanded, snatching the fruit from my hand.
I should have known she'd appreciate the direct approach anyway. I took a seat on a barrel beside her and said, "Why are we going to Havana?"
She snorted and took a bite of the apple, large and ferocious. "You ask too many questions for a sailor," she declared, mouth full.
I nodded; she was quite right. "Some habits are harder to be rid of than others." That did not mean I was going to be deterred.
With a sigh, she wiped apple juice off her chin with the back of her hand. "I had a brother..."
She had a brother. Only half a brother really, it was complicated, but their mother had died in the birthing of him, leaving Anamaria to raise him, though she was still only a child herself. They'd both been born into slavery, on a plantation in the mainland colonies. She said only that it was intolerable, but she waited until he was strong enough, old enough, to look after himself before she fled.
Her escape had been successful, but he'd weighed on her conscience. Five years later, she'd gone back, half fearing he'd be dead or worse. When she found him alive, she took him away. Speaking of it brought a beautiful joy to her eyes.
But then it had all gone horribly wrong. She was used to looking after herself, and herself alone, and he wasn't used to not being looked after. He was a still a boy, maybe fifteen or sixteen, and handsome to the point of being pretty. There are so many predators in Caribbean waters.
I didn't press her and she didn't volunteer anything about the specifics. She merely said that she had never seen him again. Had assumed him lost, occasionally hoped him dead. There had been no way, no chance, of finding him. Years passed.
Then, suddenly, the faint end of a trail had appeared. It had been Groves, actually, providing the first clue, recalling that a certain merchant in Guadeloupe had called himself by a certain name when he traded in commodities less salubrious than sugar and cloth. Even given that first person to question, the trail should have been dead, but it had instead pointed her on, to a naval clerk in Cartagena. And thence to a hard-eyed Spaniard in Santiago, who had given her the final piece.
A year ago, he had told her, her brother had been sold as a catamite to the Governor of Havana.
The sun poured through the rear windows of Jack's cabin, slicing almost horizontally across the cabin to stripe its owner the moment he came through the door. He squinted at me where I was sitting along the top of the cabinets beneath the windows. "Wondered where you'd got to." He stepped inside and kicked the door shut behind him. "Hiding?"
"I prefer lurking," I replied. I was surprised at the ease with which I could watch him, how dispassionately I could follow the movement of that body, the tilt of the hips as he shimmied his coat down his arms...
Maybe not quite that dispassionately.
He joined me at the windows, fingers loosening the lacing down from his throat. I caught his hand, caught myself on the verge of swearing I would not let him distract me. Caught myself because one should avoid being foresworn if it's possible. But still, an attempt should be made.
"You said we weren't going to Havana," I said in opening.
"No," he answered slowly, wrist quiescent in my grip. "I said we were going to Havana."
"Not last night," I said. He smirked, and good God, I was not blushing. "My second night aboard."
Jack's eyes swivelled as he demonstrably dredged his memory. "Ah. What I said--" I thought I'd be safe atop the cabinets; I hadn't reckoned with the monkey-like skills of Sparrow. In a moment, he had a knee beside my leg, heaved himself up. One knee, and he teetered. I had a steadying hand on his hip before I even though of it and he beamed, shifted under my fingers as he swung his other knee across my outstretched legs, settling back on his heels and my knees. "What I said, was that I wasn't thinking of raiding Havana. Very different prospect."
"Semantics," I snapped. Or tried to snap, but he'd leaned forward, one hand bracing on my hip, the other tugging at the neck of my shirt, and somehow my voice wasn't as forceful as I'd intended.
"That's an awfully big word for a sailor," Jack purred - purred! - as he leaned in towards the part of my neck and shoulder he'd just bared, nudging my head back to knock against the window frame. Not all the stars I saw were from the impact.
It occurred to me that I could keep retreating, fighting a rearguard action, until he overran my defenses (and the idea was not without a certain distracting merit). Or...
I dropped both hands to his hips and drew him closer, until there was no further he could go and his mouth fell away from my neck on a gasp. I let it all meld, the satisfaction, the aggravation, the feel of him against me. "You still don't have the men to raid Havana," I reminded him, lip scratching his jaw.
"Still not planning on it," he replied, voice wound tight, but my smugness shattered as his hips rolled, my hands tightening on them. I tilted my head up and met his mouth coming down; the kiss was deep and instantly shocking, like diving into still water. I had to close my eyes as the sun refracted off the panes of glass.
Jack's hands scrabbled at my shirt, heaving it off over my head, and I had his off him a moment later. I slid one hand up the bare skin of his back, hooking two fingers into the waistband of his trousers. "What," I managed, between his lips on mine, shifting my weight, "were you planning then?"
"Something--" he began, and I used his distraction, pushed him forward, pushed him off me to come up onto my knees and push him back against the wood as he laughed. "Something sneaky." He smirked, fingers nimble at the fastenings of my breeches even as I worked on his. "More than one way to skin a cat, mate."
Then we were naked together, stretched out atop the cabinets in the last golden glory of the setting sun streaming through the windows. Naked and his hands so distracting, so maddening, that I caught them and held them away, above his head, stretching him beneath me as I pressed him down, and again, as he undulated beneath me, never still, never passive, not Jack Sparrow. He gasped, he kissed me, he bit at my neck as I asked him, breathless, unheeding, "What will you do? What will you do?"
He never answered, twining his leg around mine, just gasped back, "What will you do?" and then the world was rushing past me in the hoarse sibilance of my name on his lips.
We lay together as the light died through purple and into the fleeting blue dusk of the tropics. I asked no more questions. Nor did he.
Anamaria shook her head. "Then how are we going to get him out?"
"Same way," Jack said, hopping his fingers back across the wall on the map. "Into the jungle, no one the wiser, mind the snakes."
She shook her head again. "No. I made this mistake before. Jorge is not one of us. He doesn't have the same skills and instincts."
I agreed with her. But just because no one had objected to my presence at this planning session didn't mean I felt I had any right to speak. I sat in my corner and kept my mouth shut.
"Well, you can't just walk in," Gibbs said. He wasn't overly concerned with the matter; it seemed fairly obvious that he would have command of the ship while Anamaria and Jack executed whatever unlikely and perilous scheme came out of this candlelit assembly. Since it wasn't directly responsible for his safety, that scheme was not receiving the dubious benefit of his undivided attention.
Jack pulled a face somewhere between a wince and a wrinkling of his nose. "No, probably not. Too bloody well known, and after the last time we won't get away with the old wimple trick again."
"What about this half-built fort?" Anamaria asked, pointing to her corner of the map.
When Jack went around the table to look, I stepped forward to the edge he'd been lording over. I wasn't really listening to his answer - "Map's three months old if it's a day, that'll be completed by now. Look, here, I'm telling you, that's the key." - as I examined it. Once again, a more detailed chart than any I'd ever had cause to peruse before, Havana being entirely outside even the possible realm of English interference. It was a fine town, a beautiful harbour, with aggravatingly well-planned defenses, at least so far as the map detailed them. I had little reason to suspect reality would err in our favour.
It was only when I saw my own fingers on the parchment that I realised I was measuring, calculating. Every inch of the harbour covered twice, the easy land approaches as well. No way to fight out of that harbour, not the Pearl by herself. Little chance of slipping in and out with hostile intent either. Which meant...
"Damn," Jack said, and when I looked up, he was watching the spread of my fingers over the lines of the map. "We are going to have to walk in."
"Sail in, at least," I confirmed, taking my hands away from Havana as I stood up straight, leaning against the edge of the table.
He shook his head. "I told you, I can't--"
"But he can," Anamaria interrupted. She watched me, the gaze of a hunting bird intent upon her prize. "Can't you, James?"
I supposed we were going to find out.
The least surprising part of the whole thing was that the Black Pearl's holds proved to contain not only the means to superficially camouflage her lines, but also Dutch mercantile colours.
"I shan't ask," I told Jack over the bundle of cloth.
He grinned. "Don't."
The most surprising part was the change Jack wrought upon himself. He changed his clothes, discarding the sash and trading his coat for one at least as boring as anything I ever found in the bottom of my sea-chest. He tidied his hair somehow, working deft-fingered miracles. He trimmed his beard. He scrubbed face and hands, turning the water black.
I caught his eye in the mirror over the shaving basin. He didn't say that he hadn't done this for me; he didn't need to, I knew.
He knew that I wouldn't have asked it of him. Nor would Anamaria. But it had been necessary, and he had done it.
"You could walk past Will Turner like this and he'd think you just another respectable man," I said, and he smirked, slightly marring the effect. "You could certainly walk into Havana. You don't need me along."
His gaze reflected was just as steady as direct. "There are numerous impressive stories of my exploits, but even in the ones I don't believe, I've never managed to dupe the entirety of the men under my command, all of my friends and dear ones, and an actual State into believing something so blatantly untrue as, say, that I was dead."
He turned to face me. I said, "There's an hour until sunset. We should start moving."
Muffled and fraudulent and swathed in the sunset, we sailed brazenly into the harbour, and simply tied up at the wharf. When the harbourmaster arrived and bawled up his challenge, I stepped to the rail to meet him, with my diacritic-perfect Spanish and the best impersonation I could give of the supercilious harried air of a Dutch trader.
The harbourmaster was eager to finish for the day, uninterested in complications. "Ship name?" he called up, the final question.
"The Hidden Pearl."
"Poetic," he commented.
"Named by my sister," I said, with suitable deprecation. There was a snort of amusement somewhere behind me. "My maiden sister," I added, tossing down the wharfage fee.
A sharp noise of protest, a louder laugh, and the harbourmaster looked puzzled, but shrugged and turned back down the wharf, home towards his dinner.
So easy even I was dissatisfied. Of course, we still had to make it out again. Sparrow joined me at the railing. "I make it about six."
"Close enough," I allowed.
"Excellent." He beamed, pleased with the world. "Time enough for a drink, then."
We had two, in fact, in a crowded and raucous establishment where no one looked at us twice, Anamaria glaring ever harder than usual, Jack unaffected by the circumstances, and myself somewhere between the two.
The message they had sent with the Spaniard in Santiago told Jorge to meet his sister at midnight - the traditional time for kidnappings and secret trysts and other dastardly deeds - tonight in a particular grove in the governor's garden, Jack's knowledge of which I once again chose not to question.
This was where I got out of my depth. I could construct a plan that would tick out with metronomic precision, but I had no recourse when it came to the vagaries that could occur by moonlight. That was why we needed Jack.
The wall around the Governor's mansion provided no real challenge, though it did prompt another hissed argument between Anamaria and Jack as to whether Jorge would be able to manage it with the same ease as we had. Jack pointed out that I had had no trouble. I pointed out that I'd hit him once before and I could do it again if he liked.
There was, one had to admit, more than a little of the ridiculous about the whole evening.
We skulked in a shadowed copse, waiting in a not particularly patient fashion. Time limped past. The moon must have been close to full; the gardens were limned with light.
"You're sure that fellow delivered your message?" I asked, finally.
"If he didn't," Anamaria growled from deep shadows, dark and menacing, "then when I find him I'll hang him from the yardarm by his--"
"Someone's coming," Jack interrupted, and I was quite relieved not to hear the end of Anamaria's sentence.
He was still barely more than a boy, a slight shadow slipping into the moonlit grotto. Instantly recognisable even if Anamaria hadn't leapt forward with a cry, dashed into the clearing to wrap him in a desperate embrace. Jorge had her features, her build, though in him the sharpness was tempered. The hawk was a dove. The ferocity was fragility.
He was, indeed, very attractive. He was also, I noticed as they stood, arms so tight around each other it seemed unlikely they would let go any time soon, very well dressed. He looked like someone who had been carefully looked after.
With a rustle and a scrape and a shifting of shadows, Jack sat down, making himself comfortable against the trunk of a tree. His voice emanated from around the level of my knee. "Might as well get comfortable," he said.
"You think it will be worth it?" I asked. The evidence, I had to admit, certainly did seem to suggest the siblings might be a while.
"Family reunions," he said, offhand and careless. "Can't rush 'em, mate."
My sister was still in England. I hadn't seen her in more than ten years, our communication reduced to letters at six month intervals, her drawing room society as exotic to me as my surroundings must seem to her. She'd been only fifteen when I left England. She'd married very well, and apparently happily.
I doubted she would have greeted me like this upon my return to England - the siblings had taken a step apart, but Anamaria still held his arms, as though he'd be snatched away again if she let him go entirely. But did that mean that Catherine felt any less for me as a sister?
How would she feel when news of my death reached her?
"Oh, sit down, will you?" Jack chivvied.
They were speaking animatedly now. I sat, leaning against my own tree, opposite him in the dark. A wind sifted through the branches above us, trickling moonlight down on our heads.
"We really must stop meeting like this," Jack quipped, half-hearted.
"What, stealing things in the middle of the night?"
"You'd better watch out," he cautioned. "It might become a habit."
I tilted my head back against the bark. "First a ship, now a governor's personal slave. Are we moving up in the world or down?"
More than a little of the ridiculous; I warned you.
Something in Jack's direction surreptitiously jangled. I could barely make out his outline in the dark - he could be his usual outrageous self, not the new-minted respectable he'd fashioned for this venture. "Why are you here, Jack?" I asked.
"That's a question a man often asks of himself, especially a sailor, though admittedly usually on an empty sea. I think it's the trees; all those leaves just get in the way of the philosophy."
"Shut up," I suggested. "Why are you here tonight, like this? We probably could have managed without you, though we would have been desolate -"
"- and you could have kept your own peculiar sort of dignity intact."
Jack shifted in the dark. "Maybe I just like playing dress-up."
"Or maybe," he continued blithely, "even I need reminding on occasion that Jack Sparrow is more than just the sum of his parts. Or maybe, just maybe, there's a debt between Anamaria and myself, and I suspect that this may be the last chance I have to repay it."
"Dangerous," I commented. "If I believe that third option I might have to start believing all that nonsense about you actually being a good man."
"Can't have that," Jack agreed. "I'd do something reprehensible immediately, but I fear you'd scream and bring the guards down on us."
The gesture was useless in the dark, but I couldn't help raising an eyebrow. "Scream?"
"Like a chambermaid who's had her bottom pinched."
"Only if that was what you were intending to do."
"It crossed my mind."
I gave up, and started laughing. He slithered and scraped against his tree, kicking my ankle in the process. "Sorry," he muttered absently. "What are they doing?"
I tilted my head around the tree trunk to look. "What about the sanctity of family reunions?"
"Time and place. They'll have forever once we get him out of here."
Anamaria had finally released her brother, using both hands now to gesture. Jorge, in his turn, seemed to be... imploring? "He's not coming," I realised.
"What?" Jack scrambled forward, hand on my knee, coming up at my shoulder as if it was somehow visibly obvious, not something I'd intuited. His profile showed faint and silver in the corner of my eye.
"He's not coming," I repeated. "Look at him. He's clean, he's well fed, he's well dressed."
"Nice fancy coat," Jack allowed. "But why would he want to stay here? He's... well."
I watched Jorge's face as he tried to convince his sister. "I suspect this will come as a surprise to you, Jack," I said, "but sometimes we have to make compromises to achieve what we want. Sometimes there are costs that come attached. And sometimes they're worth it." After a moment, I added, "Besides, there are worse things."
He leaned against my shoulder. "Are you blushing?"
We watched brother and sister for a minute. Jorge was, I noticed, unrelenting. Just as implacable as Anamaria. "But he's not free," Jack said, quiet and simple and sincere.
"It's not always that simple."
His frown was audible. "What do you mean?"
I shook my head. "Nothing. Maybe freedom isn't what he wants."
The siblings embraced again. Anamaria's shoulders were shaking, and she stood alone in the grotto for long minutes after her brother had left. When we met her at the edge of the trees, her eyes were clear and her chin was up.
We sailed before dawn, though the tide wasn't with us, and kept the Dutch colours until we were out of sight of the city. We continued in the direction we'd been heading. Once we rounded the western end of the island we'd turn south and back east a little, hoping that the wind held from the north-eastern quarter it had swung around to in the past few days.
"Take me back to Port Royal," Anamaria had said. So we were.
I had always known there would be a return to Port Royal, that I would have to go back. Jack was more or less sailing from there these days, would be returning for Will and Elizabeth if for no other reason. As long as I remained on board the Black Pearl, I had known that I would have to face the town.
I hadn't been sure, when considering all this as merely part of a plan I was setting in motion, how long I would be keeping company with Jack. Joining his crew had not been premeditated. Ending up in his bed certainly hadn't been.
Literally in his bed. Because it was, as Jack so helpfully pointed out, a much more comfortable sleeping arrangement than my hammock, and well-rested sailors worked better. I didn't argue too vehemently. There didn't seem to be much to be gained from the effort. Any claim that I did not want to share a bed with him would be known as a lie by both of us. I was no blushing maiden to have been seduced into this; I was a full partner in the business with the damned smirking pirate. Whose smirk I knew I had the power to wipe away into a gasp and a grin of a darker, richer hue...
I couldn't even be squeamish on grounds of my reputation. I was, after all, not myself. And moreover, not a single member of the crew batted an eyelid at the arrangement. I was forced to wonder how many other times Jack had done this, with how many people, who.
Every time I had a reasonable excuse to absent myself - like tonight, taking the dog watch - he would catch my elbow, already half asleep, and say, "Come back, after."
"You'll be asleep," I pointed out.
"Wake me up."
He was asleep when I came back in the smallest hour of the night, sprawled every which way over the bed, the cover draped haphazardly over one hip and down his leg. He was surprisingly tranquil to sleep beside, languid in slumber in a way wakefulness never seemed to allow.
As we had walked back through Havana that night, Anamaria had told us one thing only of her meeting with her brother: a question he had asked. "What will we do?"
"And I told him, anything we want. We'll go anywhere we please. The whole Caribbean will be ours. The whole world."
"What did he say?" Jack asked.
"He said that was not enough."
I was not the only one who knew what he meant. I though Anamaria also understood. I hoped she and Groves would be happy. It seemed as though we were all starting new lives.
When I looked at the bed again, Jack was awake, watching me steadily. "Nowhere to jump ship between here and Port Royal. Missed your chance, mate."
"I'm not going to run away."
He smirked, stretching like a cat. "Imagine that's what you told everyone back before Santa Catalina, too."
Except him. "The subject never come up."
"I don't suppose that it did."
When I joined him in bed, he wrapped those heedless limbs around me and whispered in my ear like the sea.
The place hadn't changed. I don't know why I expected it would have. I had only been gone perhaps two months, all told. From the deck of the Black Pearl I could see that the flagpole at the fort had finally been replaced, and that the last of the new buildings required after Barbossa's attack had been finished, and that the mansion still stood serene and sheltered on the hill. And that was all I was going to see, because I certainly wasn't going ashore.
We hustled about the deck, performing all the tiny tasks of docking and making fast. As the flow of necessary jobs slowed to a trickle, Anamaria lingered longer at the port side railing, until finally Jack surprised her at it.
"Go on," he said. "Might as well get off."
The embrace she caught him in was at least as fierce as that she had given her brother. It knocked the wind out of Sparrow, and the hat off his head, but he didn't seem to mind either. There were words spoken between them then, but they were quiet and not for me to hear.
I joined him at the railing as she strode off down the wharf. There was, I noted when I looked for it, a figure coming down the last distance of the way from the fort that might have been Groves. I smiled to see it.
"James," Jack said, and I looked at him. He looked back, so stern, so serious, that I turned to face him entirely.
"What is it?" I asked.
He took a deep breath. "I think it's time for you to leave."
Like falling, like being knocked overboard, that long weightless instant before the ocean closes over your head.
"No." He took two steps, was right before me, gripping my shoulders, before I realised. "Not like that," he said, blazing. "Were it up to me, James, I would keep you here, but I can't, any more than Anamaria can keep her brother."
"No." My turn. I shook my head. "It was not a decision to be made lightly." I'd said that before; it seemed years ago.
"But you'll regret it," he said, implacable. "If you don't already, you will." His hand slid up my neck, under my ear, framing my still-shaking head. "You will, Norrington. You will regret leaving them, and you will regret lying to them, and you will regret abandoning your post."
I had my eyes closed. When had that happened?
"And you'll never blame anyone but yourself, you'll hate yourself for it, and James, James, I can't let that happen."
I took a deep, shuddering breath, and opened my eyes. He was so close. "But England," I gasped.
"It's only an ocean away," Jack said. "And you know, as well as I do, that you have to. It's the cost." He rested his forehead against mine. "The Caribbean's a part of you. I know it is. You can't lose that just because you leave. It will always be here. So go. Make us proud. Marry a good woman. Name your first son Jack."
I managed a smile. "Well then." He straightened, hands falling away from me, and I added, slightly startled, I must admit, "Now?"
His head quirked, but his smirk wasn't as bright as it had been. "Need a moment to gather your effects?"
"Yes," I said.
And then I kissed him, there on the deck in the bright Caribbean sunshine, in front of the world and God. I caught him to me and kissed him as though by will alone I could force him into my memory, his taste, his feel, the grip of his fingers on the tendons in my neck as he kissed me back just as desperately.
Then I turned and walked down the gangway. The sun was so bright, baked out of the sky, dazzling off the water, turning my vision white like a tunnel along the wharf leading to the land and my future.
I stepped into that tunnel.
Back in my old Pirates!Gold days, I played in the 1660 era, and Havana was the Prize. The only town in the Caribbean with 4 forts, and guaranteed more treasure than you could haul. As soon as I conceived of a wider storyline, it was always going to be the ultimate goal. (Either that or the Treasure Fleet, and I eradicated that in the first part. Like Douglas Adams said, never blow up the world in the first chapter, because you might need it in the sequel.) I had honestly not figured out how or why I was going to get the boys to Havana until Anamaria showed up, making sub-plots with Groves and telling me her story. That was the best sort of luck (plus it enabled me to use the word "catamite", which should get more play, frankly).
This whole trilogy really was a story that came about due to other people. It would not exist if not for Monkeycrackmary, who first showed me the pairing on anything other than a purely intellectual level, and for whom the very first scene of it all was expressly written. I'd like to thank Bexone, LaT, Elessil and Brenda for their particular support, for various reasons. But primary thanks must go to Gloria, who has always been a glorious star of inspiration in the fandoms I've followed her through, and to Sheila, whose wonders I will never tire of singing and to whom I owe the deep, burning fire of my Norrington love.
Thank you girls. All of you - all of you who sent feedback or in some way let me know you liked this story - this was for you.
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