DISCLAIMER: Pirates of the Caribbean is the property of Walt Disney Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.
RATING: T (for violence, language, adult themes)
THE MEASURE OF A MAN
CHAPTER FOUR: TO PILLAGE AND PLUNDER
Perhaps surprising some, the pirate city of Tortuga simply adored gossip. One might not expect strong affection for scuttlebutt to exist in such a place, where the cleanliness and soft arrogance of British society was a distant thing to be mocked and mutilated. And yet, in the brothels and taverns, over mugs of rum and frothy ale, under ringlets of smoke and between hiccups, brawls, and other tasteless activities, the denizens of this dirty little hole could whisper and exaggerate with the best. Tales of raids, pirates, and women were as abundant and about as full of credibility as the discarded bottles lining the street were full of rum.
Still, it was hard not to listen, and harder yet not to believe. Even a visitor as experienced and well-versed as Gibbs commonly found himself catching the snippet of some hushed conversation and wondering at the truth behind the slick and quiet words. As a pirate, he knew well the value of being apprised of the movements of other pirates. It did a ship and crew little good to wander into a plunder already underway or to accidentally cross swords with an enemy hopefully forgotten. He liked to be aware of the most recent conquests, so a mistake was never made in calculating a plausible and lucrative target, thus preventing embarrassment. He also preferred to be informed as to how other crews fared. To say there was not competition in this little, black world would be a blatant lie; like any other nook of society, a man labored, often to incredible lengths, to prove himself the better captain, the better scoundrel, the better pirate. And, as silly and ridiculous as such a thing might sound, it was a game many took very seriously. To be the scourge of the Caribbean was a title ferociously coveted.
So this night, as he sat at the bar and tried to drink himself into a fairly pleasant stupor, he parsed through the conversation humming about him in a quest for tasty morsels of intelligence among the drunken shouts, pleasured cries, and angry curses. As usual there was some damned brawl going on in the back of the bar, and it was creating quite a deafening ruckus. Damn pigs, thought Gibbs disdainfully. He lifted his head and glanced behind him. Like most fights in Tortuga, this particular engagement seemed to be over a woman. The doxy stood to the side of the rolling and struggling brutes, smiling smugly with her hands upon her hips. Gibbs shook his head in disgust, growling and turning back to his drink. Like there ain't another woman waiting.
He took a long swig of his tankard. The rum here was too sweet for his tastes, and his rear was starting to ache smartly for sitting crouched on this barstool for too long. It was too loud and unruly in this particular tavern. He wanted to achieve a state of alcoholic bliss, free of interruption. Here someone backed into him every few minutes it was so crowded, and the barkeep had already proven himself annoyingly slow with refills. He sighed, quite miffed with the prospect of moving to another bar but completely unwilling to suffer the disorder of this one.
A particularly large, smelly brute decided the matter for him by jabbing him quite unceremoniously in the side. Gibbs nearly choked on his rum. "Watch it, ya damned drunk!" he snapped, turning to face the clumsy oaf. But the man was already lost in the crowd. Quite vexed, Gibbs swore, reached into a grimy pocket, slammed a few shillings down on the nicked bar, drank the rest of his rum in one gulp, and left.
Outside, were it not for the stench of garbage and the constant noise spilling into the street from the many establishments, the night might have been pleasant. There were stars overhead, still faint with a new twilight, and a cool breeze had come to relieve the sweltering heat of day. Gibbs stood there a moment, drawing deep breaths to rid himself of the smell of suffocating smoke and sweat, watching the sky absently. Then he grunted and looked away, lamenting the lost moments. A man didn't come to Tortuga to ogle the stars and long for the sea. A man came here to drink and partake in pleasurable ventures. There would be many nights to watch the sky and feel the sea caress with wind and spray and roll beneath him. He'd been on shore for hours, and he still wasn't drunk.
And that was a failure he planned to rectify immediately.
But Gibbs was above all a man who believed in luck. Perhaps it was a silly philosophy for a pirate. After all, a true man of the sea depended on nothing save himself. He was not chained to fate or happenstance or any other such nonsense, as the ocean was nothing if not unpredictable, and when things went poorly, there was rarely anybody to blame. Good fortune was too fickle a mistress for most, and when it mattered she never remained faithful. No, a pirate must master his destiny as he did his ship. This seemed a good enough attitude, but Gibbs was too seasoned to believe in such a farce. Idealism was for the naïve, and superstitions had served him well. No man was so grand as to command his own fate.
Along the street, slouched outside the tavern and propped up against its dingy wall, sat two men. One had a bottle of rum clenched in his hand. He waved it as he spoke, his words slurred with drink. "So you see, I asked 'im where dey were headed, and he says to me, you know what he says… Port Royal!" This he exclaimed boisterously, and his uncouth companion nearly choked on his laughter. It was amazing how a little alcohol turned the most inane and purposeless conversation into the world's funniest joke. The two guffawed rudely for a moment, one displaying a terrible smile of rotting teeth as he did. Then the first recovered enough to speak. "Port Royal, I says, are you crazy, man?" The jug of drink was passed, the dark liquid sloshing over the lips of the vessel to spill to the dirty road. "Ain't nobody gettin' in there, 'specially not now."
"Why not now?" asked his friend dumbly, the expression of glee disappearing into a stare of vacant confusion.
"Ya dunce!" The first man cuffed his cohort upside the head before downing another mouthful of rum. "Dere's dis high-and-well-to-do in the city now. Seems some mighty Earl is acomin' from the homeland, you know, all business-like and what not…" The man shook his head, dirty locks of thinning black hair framing his narrow face. "And I says to 'im, I says, you don' wanna be headin' that a way. All of the damned Royal Fleet's been watchin' da waters, and there ain't no way you can possibly make good on dat place."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow in curiosity, turning slightly so as to hide his eavesdropping. He doubted the two drunken sailors were aware of his presence. For a moment he considered simply continuing on his way, for these two were undeniably intoxicated and were probably spewing a belly full of lies. But he didn't. Luck had had him hear this conversation, and he didn't take such things likely. Life was too random for coincidences.
"And den he tells me that 'is mates'll do it."
"Ya. Some ship. Andrea Adora, I think he called it."
"Never 'eard of it."
Me neither, thought Gibbs. "Bunch of younguns out fer adventure or somethin' of the like prolly. I tell 'im that ain't nobody touchin' Port Royal, and den he goes on about this man dey prepo – prosit – propositioned at the harbor er somethin'. Sounds like a plan, but you never know. I think it's a damn fool's plot, but to each 'is own!" The man sighed contentedly and then started to chuckle again. "I figger their funeral is our laugh! Once them navy ships is gone, then we can strike."
Their conversation turned to the prostitutes they had recently found, and Gibbs made his exit, the thought of hearing of their exploits in the night turning his stomach. He walked a bit, and though Tortuga was wildly alive with music and shouting and light around him, he was blind and deaf to it. His mind chewed upon that conversation. Something… irked him about it, and he couldn't discern what was so troubling. He as well had heard of the heightened security about Port Royal. He hadn't been there since the little escapade that year past. Captain's unspoken orders.
But would the captain care if somebody else touched it?
"Not bloody likely," Gibbs grumbled. He lifted his head and narrowed his eyes, realizing suddenly that his feet had subconsciously carried him to the entrance of another tavern. Golden light spilled into the street from old windows and an open door, inviting him to come inside and finish his quest for inebriation. But he hesitated. It just didn't sit well with him. And he figured that if it was bothering him this much, it was probably important. Might as well tell him, he decided, turning away with a sigh. Getting drunk was as sure as hell not a good enough reason not to.
As the carriage descended a gently winding path and the grand, glowing ballroom came into view, Will's stomach twisted into knots. He'd been quite proud of himself earlier as he'd been collected enough so that he thought (or at least had grounds to hope) that he hadn't showed it. Now he felt the color drain from his face, and his eyes widened subconsciously as he beheld the palatial structure. He'd had no idea that the Governor's estate was so massive as to encompass this seemingly remote and beautiful locale. In fact, he hadn't been aware such a palatial building even existed in Jamaica. This was the sort of magnificent place of which he'd only heard, and as they drew closer, the buggy rattling lightly as it bounced along the dirt path, he felt a cold sweat tickle the back of his neck. His heart began to pound, and he felt slightly sick. It was suddenly beginning to occur to him that he was entering a completely foreign world, a world in which he didn't belong.
Nervous was too modest a term. He was undeniably and unequivocally terrified.
"Don't gawk so," Elizabeth admonished softly from beside him. Her smooth hand grasped his from where it rested on his knee and gave him a gentle squeeze. Irritation stung him; that was certainly easy for her to say! He ripped his eyes from the window and skewered her with an annoyed look, but she smiled sweetly and swept her thumb lightly over his knuckles. "And don't worry. It will be fine." These last words were a whisper of confidence, and he couldn't stay angry with her. Perhaps her faith in him was unwarranted. He didn't know how to conduct himself at such an event. He didn't know how to act or what to say. Worse still, he felt the fool for imagining himself capable of finally asking Elizabeth to marry him amidst all the gold and glamour of this distant realm.
The ring felt heavy in his pocket. Heavier than it should have.
Don't be such a coward, his mind harshly admonished his despairing heart. You've stolen ships, braved storms at sea, narrowly escaped drowning, and battled undead pirates. You can handle a small party.
His eyes were drawn outside again, to the pretty blur of darkening leaves and flowers. They approached the ballroom, and it was anything but small. Great windows lined it, shedding golden light into the twilight sky. The construction was magnificent. Pale stones rose high and elegantly, bringing an ethereal glow to the sides of the ostentatious building. From this vantage he could see its central design was a long, tall room, undoubtedly the locale of tonight's festivities. A few balconies extended into the night. The lengthy section was flanked on both ends by a rise of a series of three towers, which were most likely housing of some sort. Finally, the complex continued on the west end into a smaller foray of rooms, these fitted with large, expensive windows, marking the place of dining rooms and meeting chambers. Truly this was a social building, designed to ensure the safety and comfort of guests and promote Port Royal as a wealthy, prosperous, and proper civilization.
He looked away as they continued toward the western entrance, finding the sight unnerving to say the least. Yet there was no easing focus for his eyes inside the carriage. Governor Swann sat in front of him, erect and proud, leaning on a white cane. Will chanced a quick glance at him and was greatly disturbed by what he saw. The man was veritably fuming. His dark eyes were hard and malignant, glaring harshly in Will's direction, but glazed as though the man was caught in a storm of troubling, vexing thoughts. He was still, his smooth face twisted into an expression of dismay. His fingers tapped methodically against the polished pommel of his cane, and the steady thumping of those pale digits became a thunder to Will's ears. Tension, thick and suffocating, hung on the air. The Governor seemed understandably unhappy (Will had, after all, expected no less), but the man was noticeably nervous. At least we are alike in that respect, Will thought bitterly. The part of him that was still aching fiercely from the other's scathing comment from a few minutes passed was greatly pleased that his presence was so upsetting the other. A greater part of him was too tightly tethered to Elizabeth and her love to stand for such sadistic bitterness, and once more he found himself pondering what he planned to do this night. Like waves swelling against the shore, he was oscillating between almost giddy excitement and utter despair. At this particular moment, he felt rather silly for bringing the ring, for considering such high aspirations a possibility. For even agreeing to involve himself in this mess. He despises me. I can't do this!
But it was too late to turn back. The carriage came to a stop, and Will bit the inside of his lower lip to stifle a short breath of nervous misery. He glanced outside the window to see the line of red-garbed soldiers awaiting the Governor's arrival. Beautiful flowers that were perfectly pruned turned bright petals to the dying daylight, bringing a bit of a rainbow to the stone walk leading to the open entrance. Guests were arriving in expensive carriages of their own, the horses' hooves clicking loudly on the cobblestone courtyard as they arrived, and butlers and stable boys rushed to see they were properly aided from their vehicles. The area was buzzing with activity, but Will found he could hardly concentrate on the flurry of movement he was so mortified.
The doors to the carriage came open on both sides. What to do? Will wondered for a moment as the cheerful face of one of the butlers appeared before him. Mrs. Brown's instructions had rarely ever failed him in the past, and even now they came to his rescue. Her firm words flitted across his muddled mind. "Never allow a lady to step down without proper assistance. She is delicate thing, meant to be aided, and it is the gentleman's task to bravely lead her into every venture, novel or trivial."
Well, contrary to appearances, Elizabeth was certainly not delicate; she was strong and powerful, a fact proven to him completely many times in the past. And she did not care to be led about, even by him. But the behavior seemed appropriate enough, as he'd often seen gentlemen help their wives or daughters from carriages as they went shopping in Port Royal. So he nodded to the butler and rose as elegantly as he could as he stepped down from the carriage. His knees felt rubbery and awkward and his heart was pulsing madly in his throat, but he held his head high and nodded to the butler as the man greeted him. His long legs quickly carried him about the carriage, but as fast as he was, he was simply not fast enough. The Governor had already stood, and Elizabeth's hand was clasped in his own. The man cast Will a warning glare as his daughter rose from the carriage, stopping the young blacksmith immediately. Elizabeth stood and looked over her shoulder at him as her father began to escort her inside. Her eyes were wide, filled with hurt and anger, and Will stepped forward instinctively at seeing her distress. But it was too late. The two of them were already walking gracefully along the path and into the brightly lit estate, and he had no choice but to follow behind them.
Will's misery was lessened, though, by the sheer awe of this place. As he stepped inside, his shoes clacked softly against the floor, and he came to realize almost instantly that the marble beneath him was expertly polished. Without blemish or fault, it glowed, radiating the light blasting from an ornate crystal chandelier suspended some twenty feet above them. This mere entrance foyer was perhaps the grandest, most majestic room in which he had ever stood. The ceiling was vaulted, and from this vantage it seemed to Will that the dark beams were engrained with glittering gold. These massive shafts of wood continued down the walls, and closer to the floor they became ornately inlaid with designs. Long banners hung from the junctions where the ceiling met its supports, flowing beautifully to the ground and telling silent tales in tapestries of vibrant color. Ahead were two large staircases, each bending outward to form a massive horseshoe shape that extended from a striking balcony. These were adorned with wide, scarlet rugs that looked new and hardly used. The balcony led to another room, the nature of which Will could not see from below. However, he very quickly became certain this was the center of the event, as the flow of people about seemed to be lazily heading towards it.
As he followed the Governor and Elizabeth, he couldn't help but stare at the people about him. He had never been amongst so many aristocratic citizens before this night, and the feeling was strangely exciting and intimidating. Of course he'd known a fair number of the English nobility had decided to brave this "uncivilized", new world, and he had seen these folk every so often in the more dignified locales of Port Royal. This was, though, the first time he'd ever been so close to them, and he felt woefully misplaced. All around him was a rainbow of colors, the gowns of the ladies fine and more often than not garishly beautiful. The women walked daintily, their hands wrapped carefully about the extended elbows of their lords, touching as though by necessity rather than personal preference. The room glittered with jewels and smiles. Men milled about, discussing political affairs and other issues of import, their hands gloved and their stances tall. Most seemed arrogant and pompous, looking down their noses at any they deemed of lesser standing. Rich wigs adorned their heads, and they as well were dressed lavishly in expensive coats and frilly blouses. Will glanced down at his own attire and winced. He was terribly obvious, sporting a nice coat certainly but nothing so wealthy or opulent as these gentlemen boasted. They patted their ladies' pale fingers with digits equally delicate and white. His hands were bronzed and callused, and there was still a small amount of dirt about his nails that he'd been unable to completely clean. They were confident and poised as they spoke and walked, sure of their status, of their wealth and breeding, of their purpose and power. He was a blacksmith, a boy with no breeding to be certain, the son of a lowly pirate and a whore.
While he'd been observing the others, his feet had carried him up the left staircase. Now he stood upon the balcony behind the Governor and Elizabeth. They seemed to be waiting in a line, or the aristocratic version of some such thing. Curious, he glanced over the Governor's shoulder. A lord and his lady were in front of them, and the tall man leaned slightly to his left to whisper something to a man standing between the two rooms. Then the second man nodded, bowed slightly, and called in a crisp, clear voice, "Captain Jonathon Pennings and his wife, Lady Catherine Pennings."
Will blanched. They were announcing the guests. It made good sense. After all, this was an event of extreme social importance, and these were people of prestige. Their station warranted such treatment. Terror spiked inside him, turning his blood to ice water. He was a commoner with a terribly common surname.
Elizabeth looked behind her again as she and her father approached the man declaring the guests to those in attendance. Her eyes met his, and though he tried to steel his face to show to her he was not perturbed, he knew she saw through his farce. She seemed about ready to wrench her arm free of her father's grasp and run to him, and Will wished she could be so bold. He felt awfully alone. The Governor finished whispering to the other man, and then he said something low and scolding to his daughter. She turned her wide eyes away from Will after that. "Governor Weatherby Swann and his daughter, Miss Elizabeth Swann," proclaimed the man in a calm tone.
The two began to descend the stairs on the other side. Then it was his turn.
"Your name?" The man looked to him with beady black eyes. He was old, his skin splotched and very white. Will could see the veins reach like spidery blue fingers about his face. He prayed the other would not recognize him or his name.
"William Turner," he replied. The words sounded weak and unworthy to his own ears, but he clenched his jaw and lifted his head slightly. He admonished himself for the burst of shame. He had no reason to feel that way. Elizabeth wouldn't stand for it.
The other raised a thin eyebrow and met his gaze with a doubtful and disparaging glower. It was more than obvious from his disgusted expression that this old codger knew the likes of a commoner when he saw one. "That's all? No title? Just William Turner?" He sniffed sharply, as though repeated the name offended him.
"The Second," Will appended rapidly. The man looked slightly taken aback and even more miffed at his curt response. Truthfully he had surprised even himself with such a response. But it had been the only thing he could think to say. Something inside him hurt, though, and the pain was familiar enough. He didn't know if he respected his father enough to openly admit his lineage. At times, he wasn't even sure he loved his father. His words from the picnic yesterday returned to him, carrying with them a sense of cold bitterness. All he left me was his name… A common name.
The man eyed him warily. "Very well, then," he said with a sigh, as though he had acquiesced simply to rid himself of Will's presence. He then raised his voice and turned to the ballroom once more. "Mr. William Turner, the Second!"
Perhaps it was merely a figment of his overactive and at the moment extremely paranoid imagination, but he thought the hum of conversation in the room beyond hushed. He felt eyes turn upon him as he began to descend the grand staircase. He lowered his own gaze to his path, his gooseflesh prickling under the strength of many disapproving glares. He had never before felt so strange and unwanted, so completely alienated, and the experience was decidedly unpleasant.
"Why, Mr. Turner!" Will stiffened, recognizing the voice almost immediately. It was Gillette, one of the Commodore's lieutenants. The blacksmith cared little for this particular officer, as he was haughty and quite rude. That combination made the man almost insufferable. Gillette never allowed an opportunity to assert his superiority slip through his greedy fingers, and from the smug look plastered upon his young, smooth face, Will concluded this night would be no different. The lieutenant approached, sporting his fine dress uniform. A retinue of other officers (the names of which Will cared not to remember) followed. "Fancy meeting you here," Gillette declared with a mock tone of surprise in his voice.
Will narrowed his eyes. Yes, fancy that. As much as he disliked Gillette, he could not disrespect an officer of the British Royal Navy without serious cause, and especially not when he was so seriously outnumbered. "Good evening, sir."
"Yes, well, though the night is young, I do hope you remember to retire early enough. One of the blades you delivered seemed quite flawed, and I simply detest sparring with a damaged sword. Surely your master oversees your work. Well, do have him inspect it this time, boy." This he said loud enough so that all those around him could hear.
There came a chorus of laughs from the men, and Will gritted his teeth. He flushed with anger; every muscle in his form was taut with humiliated rage. This time he could not stifle a retort. "A sword is only as good as the hand that wields it," he commented coldly, narrowing his eyes.
Gillette's face fractured in surprised rage. "Why, you little brat–"
"Mr. Gillette," came a stern tone from behind them. Gillete's eyes widened slightly and the color left his cheeks. He turned to face Norrington, who stood with his shoulders firmly squared and his hands clasped behind his back. The Commodore's glare was dark and annoyed as he beheld his subordinate. He was a tall, powerful man, gifted with a serious, regal air that demanded respect. His face was smooth and noble, his chin slightly rounded and his forehead high. Lips that rarely smiled were pressed into a thin line, and he exuded a potent aura of command. Dark eyebrows were straight, adding gravity to his face, and his eyes were intense and ardent. Few men openly contested the orders of the Commodore, for Norrington was an intimidating force. He had achieved a high rank at a relatively young age. He excelled at naval combat and strategy, and his men venerated him. To the best of his knowledge, Will was among the few who had ever defied him. Soreness still existed between the commoner and the Commodore, and though Will was hardly so proud or cruel as to boast a victory, he was still pleased that he had managed to best Norrington when it had come to rescuing Elizabeth. The man was haughty, secure in himself and his opinions, and such conceit did not sit well with Will. Since that day, when Will had saved Jack from the gallows and Elizabeth had accepted his love, a thick tension had come between the two men. Norrington had come to realize that Will, despite his limited means and regrettable breeding, was formidable enough to win Elizabeth's heart and take her from his capable hands. And the young man sincerely doubted Norrington had ever accepted that. "That is quite sufficient," the Commodore said lowly.
Gillette flushed in anger. "Sir, yes. My apologies," he responded, coming to attention quickly. He shot a heated scowl in Will's direction as though to blame him for enticing the lieutenant to insult him with his mere presence. Will's expression hardened, but he could not deny the tinge of pleasure coursing through him at seeing the disagreeable man scolded for his behavior.
The Commodore held Gillette paralyzed with his stare a moment more before turning hard eyes to the young man. "Mr. Turner," he said in greeting, his voice a tad softer.
"Commodore," responded Will.
There was a moment of awkward silence. It was a rare occurrence indeed to see the Commodore waver in his poise, but he certainly appeared a bit riled in this bizarre situation. After all, Norrington was quite accustomed to dealing with a blacksmith's apprentice, one he could easily order about and one who was bound by decorum and societal castes to obey. At this ball, they had entered into a different, novel arena, and all standard behaviors and normal attitudes seemed suddenly inadequate. At this particular moment Will was no simple blacksmith's apprentice who would do well to remember his place. He was Elizabeth's guest, and Norrington would never besmirch her honor.
Norrington's moment of insecurity ended as quickly and abruptly as it had come. "Be on your way, Turner," he commanded. His tone held to it no heat, but it also left Will no chance to protest or debate. It was clear from his hard jaw and stony eyes that, though he had prevented Gillette from making the already embarrassing scene worse, he had no wish to remain in the Will's company any longer than necessary. Perhaps he was more refined than to blatantly spit his disgust as Gillette had, but he was no less discomforted by Will's entrance into their realm.
Fury made Will's heart thunder as he turned away and continued down the stairs. Anger burned hot and acrid within him, and his body tensed, his hands clenched into fists beside him. Though the situation had been diffused, the damage had been done. Those close enough to hear the engagement were now whispering to their companions. Rumors begot much the same, and they spread like a rampant, opportunistic disease. As he reached the floor, words came to him, spoken softly and delicately. From the mouths of these pampered ladies and smug men, they were knives sheathed in golden scabbards.
"There! That's him. Miss Swann should really know better."
"He is a commoner, after all, and quite below her station. The Governor truly ought to stop this silly romance of hers. It will go nowhere, mark my words."
"Imagine a girl of her breeding consorting with a boy like that! Vulgar thing! And Mr. Brown drinks like a pig, so my butler tells me. No wonder the boy is as he is."
"He doesn't belong here."
"What is he doing with us tonight?"
"Scandalous! I cannot believe he would be so bold!"
"Who does he think he is? He's a peasant!"
"An orphan, no less."
"I heard he is the son of a pirate. A pirate! The thought of my own daughter reveling with such a crass wretch simply turns my stomach."
"The Governor should really have him hung. They do not simply change their ways. If he was born a pirate, he will always be a pitate. They all deserve nothing less than the gallows."
"Will." The sound of Elizabeth's soft call shattered the hold his rage had upon his senses, and he turned. She stood behind him, apparently having found strength or reason enough to free herself from her father's vise-like attentions. Will darted an apprehensive gaze to the Governor, finding the man deeply engrossed with greeting his guests. He didn't like the thought of stealing a moment, of using Swann's distraction, to speak to her. It felt disgustingly wrong to him, like he was being cheated and abused. The thought of not seeing her at all, though, was far more disturbing, so he quieted his anger.
Her eyes were wide, nearly glistening in the golden light. She was striking, enchanting. He had never seen her so beautiful, but the pain on her face and the hurt in her gaze made his heart throb. "Will, I'm so sorry," she whispered. She looked as though she yearned to touch him, but the bonds of propriety had tied her hands and manacled her heart. "I didn't know they would be so… so… I shouldn't have asked you to do this. I'm so very sorry."
They already hated him with such prejudice that giving them another reason hardly mattered. He stepped closer to her, his hand seeking hers. Tentatively she accepted the caress of his fingers. She gazed at him with such open apology, with such adoration and imploration, that whatever fears he had harbored, whatever doubts that had plagued him, whatever hurt he'd sustained suddenly seemed inconsequential. He was strong because of her. "I'd understand if you left me here…" Her voice betrayed her, cracking slightly under the weight of her anguish.
"No," he said softly, his thumbs tracing the length of her fingers. "For you, I'd face all the cruel comments in the world. And I would tell those that spoke them that we are madly in love, and that they are fools for doubting that…" His voice dropped to a whisper. "And I would fight for your honor, and stay forever at your side, should you only ask it of me."
She smiled at that, tentatively at first, and then wider as he grinned as well. "I know," she said softly. Her eyes twinkled, and in a blink it seemed her moment of tearful apprehension had disappeared. There was a shuffle behind them. Her father was coming. "Wait for me?" Elizabeth pleaded quietly.
"Forever," he said. And he meant it. He meant it with all his heart.
The Governor was nearly upon them, bringing with him a world of dances and demands, of propriety and power. "I'll find you," she vowed. "I promise." Then, in a flash of dazzling yellow and honey she turned to meet her father, and the smooth warmth left his hands.
Will watched her slip into the crowds of ladies and lords. She shone like a star among them, luminous and dazzling. He stood, observing her slip her arm into her father's. Doing nothing as she smiled pleasantly to a young man beside a lavishly dressed, elderly lord who was undoubtedly Earl Whittenby. Hating himself for his inadequacy as the youth placed a chaste kiss upon her hand. Wondering how life could be so cruel as she was whisked away from him upon the arm of another man.
Norrington cast him a warning glance from the Governor's right. That was enough to beat his already bruised pride into complete submission, and Will stepped away. He slipped to the side of the room, a gray ghost lost in the splendor of the richest colors. Silent and utterly alone, he faded into the shadows.
Elizabeth was becoming quite weary. Hours had passed, and her feet ached terribly and the edges of the corset were digging painfully into her skin. It was warm and noticeably humid, and the assemblage of so many people within the grand ballroom only served to elevate the temperature further. She wished for nothing more than to simply rid her feet of these uncomfortable shoes and find her way into her cool, cozy bed, but the evening was young yet and she couldn't excuse herself so easily.
She curtsied and accepted yet another kiss from the Earl's son, Daniel, as a song ended. He was a nice enough boy, though she could already detect his father's insufferable pretentiousness seeping into his mannerisms. It was a pity, really, for he was quite fetching, and he certainly would become a proper, perfect husband. Her experiences this evening had put an entirely new and unflattering perspective on wealth. The Earl boasted an amazing fortune, most of which the profits of early and lucrative investments in various eastern trading companies. The nobleman was executor of numerous businesses himself, and his son was the one who stood to inherit that coveted position come his father's retirement. The mere prospect of such money had already inflated Daniel Whittenby's ego to ends Elizabeth found revolting. He practically exuded an air of superiority. Had she not experienced the life of a pirate, had she not fallen in love with a blacksmith, such an attitude might not have left her so appalled. As it was, when he turned to answer his father's beckoning, she was immensely glad to be free of his smothering narcissism and high talk of economics and business ventures.
Elizabeth was unable to stifle a sigh of relief as she slowly made her way from the dance floor. Absently she nodded to the ladies who greeted her, responding to their pleasantries with thoughtless salutations of her own. Even before her escapade with the Black Pearl, she'd been simply unable to understand the merit in events such as this. These sorts of things hardly appealed to her. Dancing for hours, entertaining the whims of guests, listening to their mindless and idle palaver as they discussed courting and dresses and gossip… It was terribly boring and exhausting to Elizabeth. As the Governor's daughter, though, she was rarely excluded from even the most insignificant of community gatherings. She was constantly in the eye of the public. Other girls might have flourished with such constant attention. She was beginning to find it annoying at best and disastrous at worst. The public had no business in her affairs, and they had no right to so openly abuse her suitor. It was no secret about Port Royal that she was courting Will, and though he seemed often worried that her reputation would suffer because of it, she saw no reason to hide their relationship. The opinions of others mattered little. Still, she would not stand for their poor treatment of him, especially at such an important event. She had wanted to prove to Will and to her father that this world could be accepting of an outsider, and that dream had thus far been cruelly dashed by conceit and coldness. Anger rolled through her as she stepped through the crowds of nobles, glancing about suspiciously despite her manners. Which among them had so cruelly insulted him? Elizabeth would throttle them if it would put these prejudiced thoughts out of their stuffy heads! Sadly, she knew it would do little good, even if she could be so bold or powerful. To them, it was simply uncouth for a lady of her station to accept the affections of a commoner, and this unspoken law was binding and unquestioned.
Tiredly she broke away from the chatter of the ladies. Tears pricked her eyes, and for the second time that evening, frustrated grief battered against her composure. One of the large balconies opened before her, its entrance framed by red velvet draperies. The air that crept inside was cooler, powered by a surprisingly strong wind from the darkness beyond. It brushed against, slipping about her hair and easing her, relieving the stifling hold of the arrogance and heat within the room. She drew a deep breath, steadying herself and lifting her head slightly. This was a minor defeat, one which warranted neither despair nor doubt.
She wondered again where Will had gone. She hadn't seen him since they had arrived, and that had been hours ago. She prayed he hadn't left, though she would hardly blame him if he had. Elizabeth sighed softly. He had sworn to wait for her, and she had never known him to go back on his word. She smiled faintly. Suddenly she couldn't think of anything aside from his face, from his hands and voice and eyes, and she decided to find him.
"Elizabeth." She turned to find the Commodore behind her. He smiled gently. There was concern in his kind eyes. "Are you well?"
She grinned feebly. "Yes," she answered, turning her eyes outside once more. "I just need some air."
She felt him look down. His hands were clasped behind his back as he stepped closer, coming to stand at her side. "I sympathize completely. It is quite stuffy in here." They were silent. Elizabeth felt her heart pang in discomfort. Turning the Commodore's proposal down had not been an easy task. Though she loved Will completely and without reservation, Norrington was a good man. He had never been anything aside from the perfect gentleman, and despite his often times aloof demeanor, he was a kind individual. Marrying him would have been a wise and honorable match, and she knew she had hurt him with her rejection. Since that day, an awkward tension had come between them, one festering with unwanted emotions and unresolved matters. She didn't care for it in the least, but at times she couldn't help but wonder if Norrington would ever truly put the past behind him and allow them both to embrace their futures.
"The Earl is an interesting man," he suddenly declared, commenting idly as though to simply fill the burdensome void. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and scanned the blackness outside, listening half-heartedly as he spoke of his meeting with Whittenby. He explained to her his impression of their guest, which was, of course, nothing less than flattering. "He is a powerful ally in London, and the money he has brought this eve is promising indeed. Your father is greatly pleased to have him amongst us." Norrington sighed again, drawing her attention fully. "It will do some good." The quiet came again. It was empty and terribly stressful. Elizabeth shifted her weight, wishing vehemently to be left alone. "I... I had hoped to dance with you," Norrington began, a tinge of wistful nervousness in his voice. She cringed inwardly; he sounded like a young boy sheepishly asking a girl to join him. "You seem a bit piqued, though, so I believe I shall have to ask another time."
She could stand this no longer. "Commodore, please." She turned upon him a firm stare, hoping that was enough to stress to him that at the moment she did not wish for his company.
Norrington sighed. The youthful hesitation fled him, and he was again the Commodore, stern and tall and proud. "I do not know what you thought to accomplish by bringing Mr. Turner here, Elizabeth." She stiffened, biting her tongue to restrain herself from speaking out-of-turn. Her anger was mounting by the moment. "I won't presume to understand you. I doubt I ever have. Moreover, I won't broach again a subject that has long been settled. But, please, you must remember your father."
"I can hardly forget him," countered Elizabeth hotly, her eyes flashing. "He reminds more than any other how I've disappointed him with my choice in a suitor."
"And you would do well to listen to him." His answer was short and curt, and it cut deeply into her. Her irate expression collapsed into one of hurtful shock. Immediately his face softened. He as well could not bear to hurt her. "I do not say these things because I wish to have you as my own wife, or because I revel in Mr. Turner's degradation. I can't stand to see your reputation battered. I care for you, Elizabeth, and I would rather you kept your honor intact than have it dragged about all of Port Royal by the loose tongue of every woman!"
"That doesn't concern me," she insisted, but her spirit was not so adamant. No matter how vehemently she wished to deny his words, she knew he was right. On some level, she realized that she was acting selfishly. Her disregard for her own image was damaging that of her father, and that was a disgrace he could not afford. She was not ungrateful or so narrow-minded to act that spoiled. But her heart refused to believe that. What she felt for Will was not wrong!
Slightly reaffirmed, she turned and looked to Norrington. She smiled weakly. "I thank you for your concern, Commodore. But you needn't worry. Excuse me, please." He opened his mouth to protest, but Elizabeth had already turned from him. Quickly she stepped out onto the balcony, desperate to flee this place, this noise, this shame and embarrassment. She needed Will.
She had to find him.
There was a storm approaching. Will narrowed his eyes, watching anxiously as wicked fingers of lightning grasped the clouds violently. A rumble of thunder followed, distant still but growing ever-closer. He'd been observing it for quite some time now, since it had been but a few flashes looming miles away over the crystalline surface of the sea. A hot wind pushed at him, tearing a few strands of hair loose, and again came an irritated, ominous grumble from the sky. The weather, he found, was entirely appropriate for his own foul mood. If it began to rain, he would have to go back inside the ballroom to seek shelter. He scowled and glanced over his shoulder as a particularly loud bout of laughter reached his ears. Perhaps becoming soaked in a deluge was preferable to weathering another moment of that party.
The young man sighed softly and retreated from the railing of the banister, returning to the little nook he had found for himself. The balcony was very dark near its end, as the butlers had come about some time ago to extinguish the lights of the sconces, sending the area into a pitch that was decidedly uninviting to the guests. That was just as well for Will, for it had offered to him a place in which he might stay without the threat of discovery. Very few from within had ventured outside, and nobody had spotted the lone blacksmith hidden in the shadows. Will enjoyed the relative peace. He sat gracefully, drawing his legs up to his chest and leaning back against the wall. It was not proper of him to be like this, but he hardly cared. He had tried to be what they wished, and they had spat in his face.
Another song was ending, the orchestra concluding the melody in a jovial, tremulous chord. A round of applause followed this, and Will released a slow, tired breath. His lack of sleep the night before was beginning to take its toll upon him, and his eyelids were continually slipping down. He allowed himself a moment of luxury, closing them and bracing the back of his head on the smooth, stone wall behind him. The hours had passed so slowly in this dark crevice. He had listened to the music but he had not enjoyed it, for it only made sharper the absence of Elizabeth. Bitterly he seethed in the silence, clenching his hands upon his knees in anger. He supposed it had really been too much to suppose the night could have gone differently. It really hadn't occurred to him the obligations Elizabeth faced at these social events. He felt the fool now for hoping he could remain at her side during the ball. He'd been right to tell her that he didn't belong. They simply wouldn't have him. A few times he'd grown frustrated enough to look or even step back inside the warm, glowing party. Ladies and their lords strolled about, brandishing glasses of rich wine. The aroma of food had made Will's stomach groan, and though he supposed nobody would notice him slip inside to the grand tables in the back to acquire a scrap of a meal, he found the prospect too daunting. He had no wish to face their vindictive dejection again. A bleeding heart and a growling belly were not strong enough to silence the hurt of his trampled dignity.
So he had stayed in the shadows, scanning the floor of dancing nobles, searching for a glimpse of Elizabeth. And every so often he had found her, always in the arms of a different man. That was another strange practice of these celebrations; the women seemed to be passed about, as though they were bound by ladyship to dance with whoever requested it of them. From Elizabeth's fatigued and decidedly bored expression, he became certain his conclusion was accurate. She hid her distaste well, but Will knew her far too intimately to be convinced by her façade of enjoyment. She and her various partners had slipped gracefully in and out of the rows of dancers, and never once had she met his gaze.
Now he breathed deeply and tried to ease his frustration, finding that his faith in the appearance of the opportune moment was rapidly becoming little more than a foolish memory. He had no notion of the hour, but so much of the evening had passed already. At the time the minutes had been long and miserable. He looked back on the parade of time and realized the night had escaped him easily and without regard to his plans. His hand dropped to his side, resting over the slight bulge in his coat pocket. Where his hopes had before exhilarated him, they now needled and disgusted him. Long fingers slipped inside and brushed against the small leather bag. They closed about it, squeezing until the ring pressed painfully into his palm. Damn this, he thought, opening his eyes and tipping his head forward to glare indignantly into the shadows ahead. Damn this all!
The thought of leaving crossed his mind. To say he hadn't considered the idea before would be a lie. In fact, as the dreary hours mounted and he grew less tolerant of his exile, the prospect became more and more alluring. But his heart was finding faith in Elizabeth's oath, even if his mind wouldn't. And thus he banished the notion. He couldn't betray her or abandon her. Even if she never came for him, he would remain still, nestled in the night, waiting. But she wouldn't be that cruel as to lie, as to lure him into this mess and then leave him. The fact that he had even considered such a thing possible twisted his stomach.
Lightning ravaged the sable sky, and a particularly loud boom of thunder resounded. A hot breeze swept up over the polished, stone railing to invade his spot, caressing him with warm fingers and smelling strongly of the sea. His mind drifted, rambling about this matter and that, and he closed his eyes again. His fingers slipped into the small leather parcel to grasp the ring, its cool sleekness reminding him that maybe all was not lost despite the disaster the evening had become. He thought of the rain and hoped it would abstain from sundering the island until he had made it home. He tried not to remember the mess he'd left in the shop due to his rush, or the disgusting stench of Mr. Brown and whatever woman he had procured for the night. And then his thoughts drifted leisurely to the topic they always seemed to inevitably reach: his father.
He thought of lightning and thunder, and a memory came to him. It had been storming then as well. He hadn't been scared of it, even at that young age, for it rained often in his mother's home in the slums of London. That night, when his mother had been busy with a caller, he'd rushed down to local tavern. One of the merchant ships had returned from the Caribbean, purportedly bringing a good number of sailors home with it. The thought of possibly seeing his father again had excited him immensely, and he'd been more than disappointed to find Bill Turner not among those that had arrived. Still, something else came of that day. A man he hadn't recognized had grabbed his arm as he had been about to leave. In a hushed voice he had spoken, shoving a wet parcel into the Will's hands. "You best be takin' this. Your father wanted ya ta have it. He ain't gonna be makin' this run again." As young as he was, he hadn't understood the man's cryptic words. But he had taken the package and run home through the rain, thunder, and wind, clutching the small box to his chest, shameful tears staining his dirty cheeks.
Had he known what was inside it, he probably would never have opened it. He remembered sitting on the musty, old collection of quilts that was his bed, his small, trembling fingers working to untie the bindings about the wooden box. He recalled his awe and confusion as he had finally pushed the lid aside and lifted the golden medallion into the flash of the lightning. The skull had wickedly shone, but for some reason, the innocence of youth had blinded him to its malice. And he had kept it, loving it as he loved nothing else because it had come from his father. He had hidden it below his bed, under the loose boards in the floor, terrified that if his mother found it she would sell it for the money they so desperately needed. And when she had died, he had taken it with him in his hunt to find his father.
Again, he should have left it behind. That cursed gold had nearly taken his life.
But it had also given him life. It had given him Elizabeth.
Thunder. Music and laughter. Then the sounds of fast footsteps reached his ears, and he parted with his thoughts. He looked up, his eyes narrowing, and looked to the place where the light of the room beyond illuminated the balcony. The steps grew closer and louder, and suddenly a figure appeared. Will's heart rushed suddenly, and he scrambled to his feet. "Elizabeth?"
She had turned to look out at the trees rustling in the wind, and at his voice she ripped about. Her hands flew to her cheeks, wiping quickly. "Oh, Will!" she said breathlessly. She smiled, but he knew immediately it was forced. All of his sour thoughts and troubling fears suddenly faded in a rush of concern. "I'm so happy I found you!"
She was upset enough not to care for appearances, for she surprised him as she threw her arms about him. Will nearly staggered, but he regained himself quickly. He shot a worried glance to the bustling ballroom that lay wide open but five feet from them, but no one seemed to notice their display. "What is it?" he asked softly, finding means and mind enough to back away into the concealing shadows.
Elizabeth seemed reluctant to lift her head from the warmth of his chest. "I thought you would leave me…" she admitted. The relief in her voice sent waves of worry washing against his spirit.
He held her tighter. "I swore to you I wouldn't," he answered, unable to keep a tinge of hurt from his tone. She didn't answer, burrowing her face into the nape of his neck, her arms squeezing his chest as though she was afraid he might vanish if she loosened her grip. Despite his concern, he merely stood, warm ecstasy claiming his body at having her near again. Those terrible hours he had spent without her seemed even longer now as his senses feasted upon her, memorizing anew the feel of her satiny skin, the smell of her hair, the curves of her body pressed against his. His eyes slipped shut once more and he released a long, relieved breath. "I missed you."
She responded by nuzzling closer to him, as though to bury herself in his embrace and hide from the world. He shook his head slightly, leaning back and slipping a hand between them to lift her chin. He was surprised to find her cheeks glistening in the meager light. "Elizabeth, please, tell me what's wrong," he pleaded, feeling useless and ignorant.
She sighed then and pulled away from him. She stepped to the balcony, staring out into the darkness as if the heated abyss of swirling winds and churning clouds comforted her. "It's… It's just everything. This place and all the people in it…" She trailed off, sighing again as if to vent her anger into the muggy night air. He stood, watching her as she leaned wearily into the railing, wondering what to say and how to act to ease her troubles. Typically cheery and calm, Elizabeth was rarely so riled. Though he hated seeing her upset, he knew there was little he could do to easily amend the source of her vexation. Will realized almost instantly from the frustration in her tight tone and the slump of her usually proud shoulders that she was beginning to see why he found their predicament so particularly difficult. "Is it so wrong, Will?" she asked tiredly, lifting her chin to the night. He hesitated, unsure if she wished for him to speak, unsure himself of the truth. "Is it?"
"No," he finally responded, forcing his voice to be strong. "Of course not."
She turned, leveling teary eyes at him. "Then why must it be so hard?" she whimpered. Exasperated, she shook her head and began to pace, her skirts swishing softly with each frantic turn of her slender body. "Why must they make it so miserable? I feel as though I'm a criminal for bringing you here, for choosing you and asking them to accept it."
This didn't sound like her. The words revolted him. They seemed alien and wrong coming from her mouth, from her heart. After all, she was the one who typically reassured him. She was their strength, their foundation, the unwavering flame of resolve that did not flicker even when the winds of adversity blew their heaviest. "It doesn't matter," he swore, stepping closer to her, desperate to alleviate her distress. "What they said to me doesn't matter."
"It's more than just that," she clarified, her normally melodic voice pinched by sad frustration. "It's the way they look at you, at me, at us, as though we're a spectacle. It's my father and the Commodore–"
"The Commodore?" Will frowned.
Elizabeth nodded, her eyes glinting furiously. Lightning sparked the sky and made her face glow. "Yes, and it's no business of his to reprimand me!" she snapped angrily. Will stiffened slightly, annoyed himself that Norrington would interfere. A pang of something he knew to be jealousy (though he was far too proud to admit it!) struck his innards, and he looked away, his eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched. "We love each other, and that's something… something wondrous and beautiful and precious! And yet they make it seem filthy and impure! I thought I could show him, all of them, that you are every bit as good as any young gentleman, but they never even gave you a chance." Her own words had upset her further, and with a weeping breath she collapsed again into his strong arms. "I just want us to be left alone."
He wrapped a hand around the back of her neck as she sobbed quietly into his jacket. He didn't say anything, knowing she simply needed the solace of his silence, understanding her desire to unleash frustrations she had likely trapped inside herself for months. She was so strong to constantly drive back the bombardment of disapproval she faced, to ward away the wishes of her father and Norrington and all of refined society. He envied her that vigor. If she desired a moment of weakness, he would give her that.
Finally she quieted. Will smiled softly, though she could not see it. His thumb stroked her cheek, cupping tenderly the side of her head. "We're alone here," he declared in a low whisper. She leaned back, lifting her head to meet his gaze. Her eyes were red from crying, and her hair was slightly mussed from the wind tugging at it, but she was still perfect. The rough pad of his thumb wiped a wayward tear from her cheek. Inside, the orchestra began to play again, and this time the melody was slow and sensuous, the long, low notes slipping inside him with the tender caress of a lover. They smothered all the troubles of that day, directing his attentions instead to the beautiful woman in his arms. He cupped her face tenderly before leaning down to kiss away her tears. She leaned into his touch, closing her eyes.
When the moment ended, he smiled. "I believe you promised me a dance, my lady," he declared matter-of-factly.
Her breath was a warm, sweet brush of air against his cheek. "I did, didn't I." It wasn't a question. His arm instinctively slid around her slight form, his other hand coming to intertwine with hers as she stepped into his hold. And then they began to dance, slowly and without the energetic glamour of those inside, but every bit as beautiful for its quiet devotion. Elizabeth breathed softly, obviously contented to simply allow him the choice of direction and step, and Will impressed himself with his sudden bout of grace and talent. In the shadows they moved, gliding effortlessly among the winds of the inclement weather. The music reached them in warm waves, and the lightning made their embrace glow fiercely. The trees whistled and waved below them, singing their own chorus, and everything was perfect.
They reached the rail, and though the music still played, Elizabeth stopped. Will stood before her, their clasped hands lowering together. Then she raised them to her chest, pressing his palm to the smooth skin and holding it there. "Elizabeth," he breathed, shaking his head slightly.
"Shhh," she said softly, stepping closer to him. "I want you to feel this and know that it is only for you. Without you… I…" She brought his hand to her mouth and hastily kissed it. "Please, don't ever leave me, William."
The fear in her voice was achingly apparent, and it startled him. "I'll never leave you," he swore, his voice husky and his eyes glowing vibrantly with the need to make this clear to her. "I promise you, Elizabeth. I'll never leave you. I'll never let you go. Never."
And to that she smiled, faintly at first, but then stronger with the comfort of his words. "I love you," she said, snuggling close to him. She moaned happily, tucking her head against the heat of his neck. He enfolded her in his arms, burying his face into the sweetness of her hair. They were silent, locked together in a moment of seemingly perpetual bliss. Then Will's heart began to pound, and he opened eyes that had slipped shut. This seemed so right, this warm night, the soft music, her body against his and her heart open to him. He couldn't feel the weight of the ring in his pocket, but he knew it was there, waiting patiently for him to act. Could he do this? What should he say? There weren't words enough to describe the depths of what he felt for her. He was no romantic. Anything he might conjure up in this moment seemed dreadfully pathetic. All the speeches he'd rehearsed in the past suddenly fled him in his nervousness. Perhaps there would be a better time; this evening had been trying, after all, for the both of them. But his heart grew ardent, and with every ecstatic beat his hesitation was pummeled into submission. It didn't matter how he asked. The words he used were inconsequential. He could do this.
He drew a deep breath. "Elizabeth," he said softly, leaning back so he could see her eyes. "I have something I want to ask you…" She looked to him, her gaze expectant. He lifted her hands in his and planted a nervous, little kiss on each. He smiled feebly. Inside he was in a turmoil, jittery and frightened of what he was about to do. Instinct carried him, for his mind was lost and his heart was beating too loudly to concentrate. "I… That is…" He smiled widely, veritably glowing as he grasped her shoulders. "Would you–"
There was a distant boom. It distracted Will, and he turned, tearing his eyes from Elizabeth's to look into the night. It had been too short, too succinct, to be thunder. Another loud bang resounded, this time accompanied by the distinctive whiz of air being sliced by a rapidly flying object, and this time he recognized it for what it was.
"Get down!" he cried, and he threw himself into her. Elizabeth released a short shriek of surprise as he pushed her to the ground with his weight, pressing her to the polished stone of the balcony. There was a horrific explosion behind them as a shot struck the wall. Will cringed, curling himself tightly over Elizabeth's quivering body as the force of the impact shook them violently. A rain of stone descended upon them.
Another ball was launched from the abyss. Lightning flashed.
Will moved without thought. He pushed closer to the balcony, scrambling to his knees and pulling Elizabeth up with him. He pressed her to the railing, wrapping one arm about her waist and another securely around a stone banister. The cannon met its target, obliterating completely the area behind them. The explosion was deafening, and the wall shattered in a wave of flying stone.
He shielded her body as the debris slammed into them. And when that was over, he lifted his head, breathing heavily and peering over the top of the rail. Whiteness blinded him, but after that faded, he could see the harbor. Down the hill and through the trees the water rolled and rippled in the storm. There were puffs of smoke and blinks of sudden illumination, crowning the unforgettable profile of a massive ship. A bloody red flag blew in the wind, ripping and tugging madly at its tethers. It was the ship from earlier!
"Will, what's happening?" Elizabeth gasped weakly, leaning up from beneath him.
He never got a chance to answer. There came a horrific cry from behind them, and the ballroom erupted in chaos. A woman stumbled to the balcony. Will stood and pulled Elizabeth up with him. The lady wailed hoarsely, lifting her skirts as she struggled to run. The blacksmith stepped toward her, but he was too late.
A gun was fired, and the woman collapsed, shot in the back. Elizabeth screamed, her mouth open wide and her eyes terrified, as the body fell to the ground in a bloody mess. From the gaping balcony entrance a man exited, a pistol held in his hand. The hulking brute laughed crudely, pausing to shoot at the feebly struggling form. Then he turned. The pirate approached, his dirty boots clanking loudly on the balcony. He leveled his gun at Will's chest and smiled, revealing a gruesome set of rotting teeth. "Good evenin', chap."