for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea
e. e. cummings, maggie and milly and molly and may
There was a beauty in the rain washing over Port Royal; it was washing the blood and the tears and the sins away, first, and second it was watering the ground and preparing it for growing things. Elizabeth could not see that beauty. Who could blame her? It had rained on her wedding day, rained in torrents, and she had arrived at her new home soaked to the skin, despite the servants' best efforts. As she'd stumbled in the door she'd nodded and smiled wanly at them, but they merely bundled her cloak away, as though they were frightened of their new mistress. Perhaps they were – how would they know that she wouldn't be cruel, that she wouldn't be capricious?
It had been evening already. Though her memories faded, even at only a few hours' distance, certain moments stood out like beacons. She had called James and he had pointed out that that was only necessary in formal settings. But she remembered that only incidentally. What mattered was his expression when she'd done it, passing from emotion to emotion: dismayed, offended, understanding. He had settled on understanding, which was intolerable, as the many candles standing on the side-table limned his face in light and forced her to look at it.
Mrs. James Norrington did not want pity from her husband, and he was forcing it on her. More to the point, she didn't want her husband at all, and although he had never forced himself on her she had gone to him all the same.
Now it was morning; she knew it because she had woken to a roaring, new-built fire, not because any sunlight peeped in at the shuttered windows. Water and fire, she thought to herself, staring out from under the covers, barely daring to move a muscle. Whatever poetry she might have come up with (for when she was younger she had been a great rhymer, charming her father and everyone around her with snippets of childish verse) was lost, though, when she became aware of the slumbering body behind her.
Unlooked for, the other memory of the night previous came back to her, like a letter from an old friend – and if it was a letter, it was filled with good tidings, but sent from a person she had parted with on bad terms and spoken with only a little. This is – that is to say, if you like it, this will be your room, the Commodore had sputtered. She was still thinking of him as – she couldn't help it, had known him too long as a military officer to break the habit in a day. Mine is the next. There is a connecting door, but I don't know that you'll care to use it.
That could be taken two ways, and Elizabeth should have found one of them pleasing. He was not going to command her; she would not have to close her eyes and pretend she was elsewhere, not if she didn't want to (although that would change, eventually, she knew. One could only ask so much). If she hadn't taken advantage of that subtext, the reprieve he'd offered her, it was her own fault.
This is your fate. This is what has happened; there is no going back, she decided, and turned her head to look at her husband.
He was still asleep – that was no surprise, not when she could hear his steady breathing and feel that he wasn't fidgeting. Without his wig, he looked a great deal younger, even though his hair had been shaved close to his head to allow for a proper fit. She could barely credit her first meeting with him, Lieutenant Norrington then, when she was a child of perhaps ten years. His face was pleasing; it had more regular features than Will's, although Will's charm lent itself to rakishness and the Commodore's to buttoned-up propriety. There! Thinking about Will already. Dwelling on the past is useless, you know, she reminded herself. Once she would have dreamed about Will, purposefully occupied her thoughts with his rough blacksmith's hands and smiling, gentle aura. She fancied she was better than that, now, more mature and smarter. She would perhaps be unhappy with the man she had married, but she had as much of a chance of being his friend (she would have to be both a friend and an ally; Commodore Norrington moved in politics, where one always needs allies, and so she would spend the rest of her days a society wife). She would never be his lover. Not that.
His eyes fluttered open, and Elizabeth pretended to sleep with the intention of carrying on the charade until he had gone. The rain pattered down on the roof. Norrington moved as though he was going to kiss her awake, then thought better of it.
There were ships in the harbor, moving through the mist with their billowing white sails. Elizabeth found her mind consumed with them – but not with the comfortable, typical white of a navy ship, nor with the flags they flew. No, she remembered the Black Pearl's tattered black sails, almost too ratty and diaphanous to pick up the wind.
Jack Sparrow is a pirate, and a good man, Will had told Elizabeth's father when he had been granted clemency. If the law doesn't see it, the law is an ass – a veritable ass! That had shaken him up. It was one thing, she supposed, dealing with a blacksmith's upstart apprentice; the fine young swordsman who had emerged after their adventure was quite another. Governor Swann had been first indignant, then tried to chuckle as though it were a joke (and it could have been – Will was tricky like that, couching his humor in seriousness, waiting to see how the other person responded before he broke out laughing and made it all right again). Sitting in the far corner of the room, pretending not to notice as she bent over her needlework, she had imagined him a romantic hero, a sort of Robin Hood of pirates.
Her visions of glory had been thoroughly squashed when he absconded the next day, taking Jack Sparrow with him. They were last seen jumping up and down, waving at Commodore Norrington from the stern of the Black Pearl as Anamaria steered her away from Port Royal forever.
So much for romantic heroes, she thought, looking composedly out over the bay, although she had spent hours crying after she'd discovered Will had gone. The crisp, cool wind coming in off the ocean smelled salty to her, like the water or like her tears. It was surprising how quickly the weather had turned from winter to spring; it had been less than a week since her wedding day. The sun came out every day now (perhaps the storm had been the last of the rain for a while, and there would be none again till summer?). Still, it was cool even at high noon, a reminder of the months before. The wind was sharp in the front garden of the hilltop house.
Are you cold?
No, I'm fine, she responded reflexively. It was James, of course. Of all the men in Port Royal, he was the romantic hero to a gaggle of giggling girls: the dashing Commodore, fighting pirates with his pistol and his sword, defending the town and the sea surrounding. That was perhaps what made their marriage rankle so. Elizabeth had always counted herself among the few not taken in, those who could see him for what he really was. She had thought what he really was to be pompous, ungraceful, arrogant.
Ungraceful she kept; he had joked about it, even, one morning as they ate breakfast. Pompous was more difficult, but it had to be discarded: his words to her on the ship, after the desert island, were anything but pompous. Arrogant – well, Jack was arrogant, and so was she, after a fashion. Hadn't she reveled in the fact that her charms could change the lives of countless people? Jack's trickery –
Are you quite all right? Elizabeth?
Yes – yes. Quite, she told him. I'm just thinking, that's all.
I was wondering if you might like to walk down to the docks with me. I have a small matter of business to take care of there, but if you –
No, I find little pleasure in the docks. Dirty, humid, swarming with people.
If her husband replied, she didn't hear it. Her own words had startled her: dirty, humid. She could almost smell the place as she spoke, redolent with the scents of too many people, the sea tang barely slipping through to form a top note. She hadn't been there for weeks; what could bring her down into the main thoroughfares but visiting friends, and who had she to visit? Her bridges were all burned long ago, for there weren't many girls her age in Port Royal, fewer still that would forgive her the grave sin of not wanting to marry Commodore Norrington and none that would forgive her for doing it anyway. In any case, none of them could understand the feeling that gripped her now.
I am not a bird in a cage, she said to herself, feeling a bit of the old poetry come back to her. I am a beast, filled with formless rage. It was a poor rhyme, and she discarded it, thinking instead about all that she had given up. Then, moving her limbs as though they were leaden, she went down the path and to the gate, out into the streets, out to the sea.
You said you didn't want to come, Commodore Norrington said. Elizabeth had heard the footsteps behind her, knew that someone had accompanied him: it was probably Gillette, who had danced so well at their wedding; Gillette, or perhaps one of the other officers. He must have only just seen her on the beach as he was doing – whatever it was he had to do at the docks.
The water lapped at the shore, coming in and out with each wave in a miniature version of the tides. There was a strong smell of seaweed. She had passed through the crowds on the boardwalks, ignored them haggling over fish and vegetables and skeins of silk thread. She had walked by the sailors and hired hands unloading the one merchant vessel that had come that day – there were not so many, lately, because of the season. She kept her head held high, half-expecting whistles and jeers; none had come.
She realized now that it was probably because someone had mentioned that she was the Commodore's wife. Try as she might, she could not resent it.
Yes – I said that. Her hat threatened to fly off, and she put one hand to it, idly striking a pose that she knew was charming. If he was bound by the law, if he wanted propriety and the life of the perfect English gentleman, she would give it to him. She would even enjoy herself doing it. They could make a lovely couple, and when she composed her face into a fashionable, vacuous, disinterested mask, she would think of the sea, of Jack Sparrow, his rough life and his scars and his passions: that's what a ship needs. But what a ship is, is freedom. And she wanted that freedom, more than anything, more than Will even (and she was being brutally honest, more honest than she had been in her memory; he was a symbol, really, more than a man). She wanted choice . Will had been her choice, and she had been denied him. Looking back farther even, her entire adventure had not been her choice – what was she supposed to say but when pirates came to kidnap her?
But the Black Pearl, the Interceptor, the Dauntless, the Isle de Muerta – the whole thing was not any less wonderful for not being her choice, though it was terrifying too, and startling and beautiful. It was so much more than Port Royal, so much larger and more important. She would never have chosen it, not in a million years.
And yet -
I – I suppose I'll leave, then, came the familiar voice from behind her. Elizabeth did not want to turn. She knew what she would see. She had seen it before. Her husband would have hung his head, for he was forever unaware of how melodramatic it looked; he would press his lips together until they turned white, and if she waited long enough he would go away. It embarrassed him, to act this way in front of his men, but he could never seem to stop himself.
she said. No. I only changed my mind, but you rode down and I couldn't catch up. It was true enough – she had only ever learned to ride sidesaddle, one of the most impractical methods of transportation ever created. Walk with me along the beach – if you're done with your duties?
Yes, she had been right to keep ungraceful in her description of James Norrington, but perhaps guileless would have been better. Yes, Jack Sparrow was sailing somewhere out there, and Will Turner with him. Yes, she was trapped, in some ways: trapped by her own words, her own actions, her own pride and sense of duty. Yes – she had not chosen this, she would admit it, but was that a reason to take no pleasure from it?
You have watched the sea a great deal of late, James offered.
He stopped walking, nodded, looked down at her. He was apologizing, in an oblique way, though she had never seen it before. Had he always looked at her so? Had there always been such expression in his eyes? Had they always been the same green as the ocean?
she said, moving her lips carefully around the word. It is always difficult to let go of things. It's difficult to accept –
His response made her stop again, reformulate her words: now that she bothered to try, she could read every emotion on his face. It's difficult for someone of my temperament to accept that the well-trodden path might be the right one. I am quickly learning that piracy might have its charms, but I value loyalty more.
They walked on, but she was met with silence. She couldn't, wouldn't look up; she didn't want to know what he thought, needed to speak for herself and herself alone. I am happy, James. Or I will be. Happier than I would have been otherwise, I think, if you will let me go to sea again. Or let me learn to ride properly, or let me walk down into the town alone.
I once asked you if you were being quite sincere in accepting my proposal, he said slowly. Now I know that you were not. I remain second-best. Was I – so repulsive?
The wind curled around Elizabeth; it reminded her of waking up in the dark watches of the night to hear steady breathing and feel her husband's hand in her own, but it was cold rather than warm. It brought tears to her eyes, surprising even to her; she had not cried since the Black Pearl disappeared over the horizon, months ago. She almost yelled – thought better of it – spoke quietly, but passionately. Don't you see – oh, of course you don't. I was trying to tell you, James. Not all our choices are the right ones. You aren't second-best. I mean, you were, but now you're not, because you can't be. I don't give my word lightly.
She shivered, suddenly chilled, and looked up. Though her tears blurred her vision a little, she could see that his eyes were clear and his face expressionless – waiting, perhaps, to make up his mind.
I love you better, now. You didn't leave me, she said. Will Turner made his choice. By not going after them, you made mine.
The rain had begun, at first softly enough that she believed it was a mist, but suddenly increasing in pace and strength. Elizabeth couldn't feel it on her face, shadowed by the hat, but droplets struck her ungloved hands, clinging to her skin. Even so, she smiled.
After a moment, Commodore Norrington smiled back.