Will stared at the little house and thought back to the conversation that had gotten him into this mess in the first place.
"It's just a little favor, in't it, mate? Jack had pleaded the last time he had docked the Pearl at Port Royal and come to the smithy for visit. The house's not a days ride from Port Royal and you'd be doing me a kind turn. I'd owe you, as it were."
Will looked doubtfully at Jack and weighed the heavy bag of pieces of eight that the older man had handed him. "Don't you usually spend your treasure, Jack?"
"Not all, Jack protested, sounding hurt. Anys I has to spare, I always be sending it to Birdie. Only see, I'm in a great rush this very time and can't be going so far from my ship."
Will debated this in his mind. Surely Jack was up to something, but probably nothing so very bad. There was nothing in their past together that might encourage Jack to have Will ambushed by cutthroats, say, or arrested by the King's men. "You'd owe me?"
"More than I could hope to repay," said Jack in a relieved tone of voice. "Well, then, I hear a tankard or three of rum calling my name, now, Will, if it's all the same to you. Kiss Elizabeth right well for me, won't you, and I'll be off."
And with those words, Jack had gone out the door and vanished into the night before Will could rethink his answer.
So here Will stood in front of a small house, one of a line of them in this nameless town, with a well-tended garden and a goat and three chickens in the yard, wondering how he came to be here. Taking a deep breath, he stepped up to the door and knocked hard.
A big man, bald and bearded, with a peg leg, came to the door in answer to his knock. The man towered over Will as he stood in the door and said nothing of welcome. After a silence, during which Will screwed his courage to the sticking point, he managed to say, "Jack sent me? With a gift for Birdie?"
Silently, the man stood aside and let Will step in the door. The house was dark inside, and close, but it was tidy and showed a careful hand in it's decoration. Wide windows let in light on a pretty sitting room, and there were two doors leading off other ways.
A young woman, a far cry from twenty if Will had to bet, came through the right hand door, asking, "Whistler, did-," she stopped when she saw Will, and changed the end of her sentence. "Aye, I see I did hear the door. Who be you, stranger?"
"Will Turner, miss, from Port Royal. Jack sent me to you, if you are Birdie."
The man, Whistler Will took him to be, nodded silently at the woman and left the room without saying a single word. The woman, she laughed, not a happy sound, and responded. "Aye, Birdie Sparrow, that's my name. And my husband sent you to me then, and has once again not brought his bonny self home to me?"
Husband? He judged her to be of barely an age to start her courting. "You're Jack's bride then?" he hazarded, trying to figure out when on that last trip to Port Royal, between imprisonments and escapes, Jack had found time to wed.
Another laugh, no more happy than the first. "Bride says that Jack and I are but newly wed. Tis not the case. We've been husband and wife these last eight years."
"Eight... But you must have been a child!" he protested.
"Aye, and I willing one at that, seeing as me only other choice was to be sold to the brothel. Raised there, I was, me mother a whore. Only me mum had it in her mind I was one too many mouths to feed, don'tcha you know, with her earning her coin on her back and she not getting any younger. But Captain Jack, he took exception to me whoring before I even had me teats, and so he told me mum, if I must have a man, let it be him, and married me soon as the banns been cried."
"So... it's a legal marriage then?"
"Legal as they come in Port Royal. Said I deserved the protection of his name and it a fearsome one then. But he left, don'tcha know, and not been back but thrice these eight years, and thinking me but a child each time. Wager he's scared, I do."
Will looked again at the unlikely Mrs. Sparrow, small-boned, with a sharp, narrow face, but with a strange uncanny beauty well beyond her youth. Yes, he too wagered that Jack was scared. Or at least he ought to be, if he knew what was good for him.
A cry from the back room then, and Birdie excused herself a moment, came back with a babe in swaddling clothes. "Baby woke," she explained unnecessary.
"Jack's a child?" said Will. Was there no end to the surprises this favor' for Jack would bring?
"Not hardly," Birdie retorted. "Jack married me when I was but eight and I'm as virgin now as I was then, seeing as he comes to be here so rarely. No, neighbor woman died birthing him, and her husband too grieved to raise the child. So I took the boy to raise and named him Jack Junior, a small joke on my part. Miss saying me husband's name, I do and now I's the chance." She looked sad as she spoke, and comforted the boy by bouncing him a bit. For a time, silence reigned in room. Birdie seemed to be studying Will, her eyes keen and bright by the window's light. She was a pretty enough lass, Will judged, though she didn't hold a candle to his own beloved Elizabeth.
After a bit, Birdie spoke again, all the laughter in her voice gone, so that there was nothing but sadness. "Are you very good friends with my husband, then, Mr. Turner?"
"I like to fancy myself so," he responded, curious, cautious.
"Tell him something then, for me." At his wary nod, she continued. "I'm a fair woman, I am, and as much in love with my husband as I can be, without knowing him, and the right of my marriage bed goes to my dear Jack. But tell him, do you, that I grow weary of the wait and will be patient for only another year longer. For here I am a mother now, and I've never known the pleasure of a woman. The next handsome man Jack sends me instead of his ownself, that'll be the man I give myself to."
She eyed Will then, a woman's look and not a bit the child, and he felt himself flush. She was a pretty girl, she was. No, he loved Elizabeth and to think on Jack's child bride was surely the way to a quick end. Nervously, he thrust out the bag of gold at her, hoping to change the tone of conversation. No virgin should look at a man the way she did. "Here, ma'am, Jack's gift to you. And I'll be off then, to my own wife."
"You make her a woman already?" Birdie asked, sounding of honest curiosity. "On her wedding night or was she an eager lass and let you anticipate?"
"Ma'am," he protested, shocked. Old beyond her years, this one was and curious as a cat to boot. She sighed, rebuked, and leaned back, the better to coo at baby Jack. "I've best be off," Will repeated, and turned back to the door. As he reached it, Birdie called out again.
"You'll give him my message, then, Mr. Turner? You'll tell Jack his wife grows lonely for his company?"
"Aye, lady, if only for fear you will find me if I don't," he answered back, closing the door hurriedly behind him. As he walked to his horse, he spoke aloud, as if Jack was there to hear him. "It's a very large favor you'll be owing me now, Captain Jack."