The Commodore's Daughter

Chapter One

Bright blue eyes narrowed, Anna Norrington raised herself to tiptoes and scanned the tiny dots at the harbor that were men unloading a ship. Crates of various imports were hauled off the deck by crew members, and a red-clad marine handed down the occasional passenger. Anna could just make out the word "Mercury" painted in bold yellow letters on the hull - the ship's name. She leaned farther out. Somewhere among the mass of humanity surrounding the Mercury's landed side, was her father.

"He's been away for a year this time!" complained a light female voice next to Anna. Turning, she raised her eyebrows at her older sister. Elizabeth straightened her hat and veil, which she always wore outside to protect herself from the sun, and sighed dramatically. "Anna, why on earth do you want to wait out here for Father? He's going to come home. You can see him then."

Anna did not answer. Elizabeth had never really understood Anna's bond with their father, having been much closer to their mother, and as a consequence Elizabeth did not understand Anna's need to be the first to see Commodore Norrington as he left his ship. Ignoring Elizabeth's huff of annoyance at her silence, Anna took a few steps forward and squinted her eyes. "Anna, don't squint, it puts wrinkles in your face," her sister cautioned automatically.

"You sound like Mama," Anna teased, making Elizabeth frown before she remembered her own warning and smoothed her face. "And I can't see a thing from here! I'm going down to the dock."

"Are you insane?" Elizabeth cried, scandalized. "I'm certainly not going down there! And you can't go without a chaperone. You're sixteen, Anna - try to have some propriety! Anna!" But Anna had already scooped up her encumbering skirts and was picking her way down the bluff to the dock. Elizabeth sighed heavily and made for the more roundabout and safer way down.

Slipping and sliding on the bluff, Anna arrived at the dock. A few of the crew members knew her - they nodded quickly and said, "Morning, Miss Anna," as they unloaded cargo. When Anna caught sight of Gillette, the captain of the Mercury, she plucked his sleeve and asked, "Where's my father?"

Gillette was not a man given to displays of emotion, but something flickered across his face as he recognized Anna. "He's probably just disembarking, Miss Norrington," he said. Anna had the impression that he was telling her this reluctantly. "You might want to wait before you see him."

"Is something wrong?" she asked, staring at Gillette. He was a man who had been her father's first lieutenant ever since he had been made captain himself. If anyone could tell her honestly if there was aught amiss with her father, it would be Gillette.

The captain's pause before he spoke told Anna all she needed to know. But his words made her feel even worse. "Aye, there is. Miss Norrington, it's not just any ordinary bad thing, either. If I might give you some advice, it would be this: do not rush in on your father."

Anna's instincts were warring with each other. On the one hand, Gillette would know best. But on the other hand, she was his daughter and favorite child - who could comfort Norrington better than she? And if the news was as bad as Gillette was hinting, he would need comfort. She made up her mind. "Thank you for the advice, captain," Anna said quietly, releasing Gillette's sleeve and turning to fight her way through the crowd to the gangplank.

Gillette watched his commodore's daughter go, sighing. He hadn't really expected her to heed his advice, but at least he had given it. Settling his hat on his head, Gillette walked away from the Mercury, thinking that if ever there was a man with bad luck in the prime of his career, it was Commodore Norrington.


Gillette had been wrong. Norrington was sitting in his cabin, at his table, a thick sheet of parchment in his hand, when Anna entered quietly. Closing the door behind her to alert him to her presence, she moved next to him and asked, "Father? What's wrong?"

Norrington looked up, startled to hear Anna's voice. Even with the news he had received, the sight of his favorite daughter was able to bring a smile to his face. It faded, though, as soon as he processed her words. "How have you all been getting along in my absence?"

"Oh, fine," Anna assured him. "Thomas and I manage all the financial affairs - he can do long division in his head, Father! I taught him barely three months after you left!" Encouraged by Norrington's smile, she went on. "And of course, Mama and Elizabeth made sure we weren't forgotten by our neighbors. I swear, Father, we must have gone to two balls every month!" Again her father smiled - it was no secret in the Norrington household how much Anna disliked formal occasions. "I think Thomas and I have managed affairs impeccably. You can fire your accountant and let us do it for you any time - and we'll be a good deal cheaper, that I promise!"

"I will make sure to examine the account books," Norrington promised. Then his face became graver. "Anna, I'm gladder than you know that you and Thomas have done so well. Very glad indeed." He trailed off, staring at the parchment he still held.

Anna decided she must breach the topic at some point soon. "Father, what is that?" she asked, gesturing toward the parchment.

With a heavy sigh, Norrington looked back at the parchment. "It is," he said, in a voice so dull it frightened his daughter, "a discharge from the navy and a notice that I will be facing a court-martial in two months' time. I was lucky to be allowed to come back here and tell you."

Anna sank into the other chair by her father's, stunned. A discharge? A court-martial? "But - but why?"

"They claim that I smuggled goods that I did not pay for on this voyage," Norrington replied. At the shocked look on Anna's face, he hastened to assure her, "I did not do it, Anna, I swear that to you. But even if I bring the list of cargoes we shipped to England, I think that they will still court-martial me. You know I am not liked by influential people in England."

"Because of the pirates," Anna supplied. "They think that if you were planning to eradicate the pirate threat in the Caribbean, that you should have done it by now."

"Exactly," finished her father. "Just so. And they did not see the pirates as an important threat in the first place. What I mean to say, Anna, is that we are in danger, financially at the least. Which is why I am so glad that you and Thomas are proving to be so quick-witted." A slightly wistful look came into Norrington's eyes. "I suppose I should not hope that Elizabeth, too.?"

Anna shook her head. "No. Elizabeth, I think, will never gain a head for figures or management." She hated to disappoint her father, knew he had had great hopes for his first child, named for the woman he had loved, but Elizabeth Norrington would never be the equal of Elizabeth Turner.

"Very well, then." Norrington rose. "Come, Anna. We should leave the ship. I'm surprised she hasn't picked up a new crew and another load of cargo and sailed back to England by now!" They both knew the joke was weak, but Anna laughed anyway.

"Father?" she ventured as Norrington opened the cabin door. He turned back to look at her. "Don't worry about us. Thomas is fourteen and I'm sixteen. We can take care of Elizabeth and Mama. We're not children anymore."

Norrington reached out and pulled her into a fierce hug. Anna returned it no less fiercely. "And I won't let you be court-martialed and thrown out of the navy," she whispered into his coat. "The navy is your life, Father, and if I can do anything to save it, I will." She did not think he had heard, and she was oddly glad of it.

Wordlessly Norrington held out his hand. Anna took it, and they both left the cabin and the good ship Mercury.