Chapter 10. - "I am not going to be your latest plaything."
Disclaimer: PotC still belonged to the Mouse last time I checked. As for Shakespeare, doesn't he belong to the world by now?
A/N: Long time no see. Mildly put. Very mildly. First of all, I apologize. I never meant for it to take so long before I would get around to update this tale, but the DMC and AWE movies infected me with a curious form of writer's block and things went - slowly. I'm sorry. I'd say I'll try not to take so long before posting the next chapter, but knowing my luck, saying that would simply cause me end up taking even longer, if such a thing is even possible, so I wont.
Second of all, to anyone just tuning in: this story was - as you can no doubt tell from the dates - started back long before DMC and AWE came out, and though it has proven to be a slow writing process, then the simple fact is that most of the story was thought up back then. What I am trying to say is that I am not going to go back and change the story to fit the movie sequels, nor should you be surprised if parts as yet unwritten might directly contradict those movies. For such purposes, this is very much an AU.
Right then. On to the story. If anyone still wants to read it...
I must have lost my mind. It is the only logical explanation. Completely and utterly insane.
I suppose they ought to take me away and lock me up in Bedlam. Then the keeper would come by my cell with his gaggle of well-paying gawkers and say: "Look 'ere, look 'ere. Would you believe, that this 'ere fellow used to be a right proper Commodore. 'Ad it all, 'e bloody well nearly did – and then what do you think the silly bugger went and did? 'E fell in love! With a pirate!" and the ladies in the group would have trouble deciding whether to giggle or be properly scandalized, and any man of a clerical persuasion would make some comment about the wages of sin.
Absolutely and completely stark raving mad.
Sometimes it seems to me as if it is the world itself that has gone mad as of late. Everything has been turned upside down, nothing is in its right place anymore – not even death. It sometimes feels like I am living some fantastical tale, some particularly odd picaresque. Sometimes it most of all seems like some delirious fever-dream.
Oh, but could that be it? Has this – all of this – perhaps simply been a particularly vivid dream? Surely, surely it is so. I must be ill – most likely I suffered a sunstroke at my promotion ceremony (the sun was so very hot that day, not a friendly breeze to be found in the courtyard of the fort, and all these layers of uniform – not at all appropriate for these climes, but will the Admiralty listen?) and everything since then has taken place while I have been confined to my bed, some good nurse by my side – perhaps even Miss Swann. And everything since – the failed proposal, the attack, the unnatural pirates, Miss Swann's humiliating rejection of me, even the very existence of the insufferable individual known as Captain Jack Sparrow – has simply been the product of my imagination.
Of course, that begs the question of why my imagination – fevered or otherwise – would ever conjure up a character such as Jack – but never mind.
Cheered immensely by this thought, I immediately reach out to do as many others have before me and attempt to ascertain whether it might be so. I pinch myself. Hard.
I am still sitting here, my back against the rough bark of a solid tree, my naked toes burrowed into the warm sand. Before me is still the same excellent view of the Black Pearl and her busy crew – and busiest of them all, their undeniably real captain.
And when did he become Jack, anyway? When did I start to think of him by his given name? When did he cease to be Sparrow, the most infuriating pirate I had ever heard of, and begin to be Jack, the man I am falling in love with?
Except, of course, that I am most certainly not falling in love with him. After all, he is a man! And a pirate! A pirate who had me flogged! Annoying and infuriating, unbearably smug and insufferable, nothing I would lament being rid off. Clever and sneaky and cunning and smart, crazy and brilliant and cocky, brilliant and exotic and dazzling and fascinating and…
Very well, so I might very well be falling in love with Jack Sparrow, even if he is a man and a pirate to boot. Except that I cannot be. Because I am in love with Miss Swann. I mean I am in love with Elizabeth. But in that case, why has it been so very long since last I thought of her by her Christian name? And why is the thought of her no longer accompanied by that butterfly feeling in my chest, the feeling that would always make me stumble over my words in her presence? The feeling that flutters through me now at the thought of Jack…
So, perhaps I am in love with him. But surely, surely it is only a purely Platonic love. Surely.
I remember the feel of Jack's lips against mine, the feel of a sleeping embrace. I imagine – though I am somewhat hazy as to the details of such encounters between men – myself touching, him touching me.
My heart beats somewhat faster and by various other signs my body leaves me no room for doubt. It is not purely Platonic.
But then, perchance, it is only physical? Perhaps it is simply the effect of not having had any intimate company for so long, something that the surgeon aboard the Hippolytos used to warn the midshipmen against again and again, hinting at consequences most dire and unnatural (this was the same surgeon, who like clockwork would complain to the captain two weeks out from every port, because the common sailors' liberty ashore had practically emptied his fresh stores of medicine against such things as the great pox, but never mind). Perhaps these – these feelings are those dire consequences, are not real, are simply my body expressing its wants.
But if that is the case, why have my desires not directed themselves toward the woman aboard? Possibly simple self-preservation, but then it makes even less sense for them to be towards a man whom I have given every reason to desire my death.
I imagine never being touched by Jack and I feel a chill. I imagine never seeing his smile again or sharing a meal with him and I feel like the Arctic Sea.
Not purely physical then.
So, apparently, despite the fact that it is madness of the very worst sort in every conceivable way, I am well on my way to being in love with Jack Sparrow, Captain of the Black Pearl.
And of course he must never ever know.
Imagine the kind of power he would have, this pirate, if he knew himself to be loved by a Commodore of His Majesty's Royal Navy. Imagine how he might exploit it. If Miss Swann – a proper young lady of good family – was willing to make me sacrifice the lives of my men (though I cannot truly make myself believe that she intended for them to die, but, nevertheless, they did) for the sake of the boy she cared for – and then reject me in a manner that could hardly have been more public, more embarrassing, more scandalous – she might as well have left me at the altar! If she was willing to do all that when I offered her my heart…
I shudder to imagine what a pirate might be willing to do with it.
So no, under no circumstances can I entrust Jack Sparrow with this. It must be a secret. Besides, it is not like he would return my affections, so what would be the point? Oh, I have not been blind – I could hardly have missed Jack's habit of touching and kissing me at every turn or the innuendoes he seems to be fond of – I suspect that he would not hesitate to indulge in the physical acts with me, or so I flatter myself, at least. He would play with me and then tire of me and discard me. No. Better to have a secret heart than a broken one.
Oh damn it all to Hell!
I glare in the direction of the cause of all my miseries, but he is absorbed in a busily gesticulating discussion with Mr. Gibbs and Anamaria, not even looking occasionally in my direction. Which is as it has been for the last few days – ever since we came ashore. Now all of Jack's attention is focused on the beginning repairs of his precious ship. Me? He told me to "go wherever ye please, just don't get in the way." So I keep my distance, mostly.
Since the landing I have had one – one! – conversation with him. I was looking at the materials for the repairs that had been laid out on the beach, ready to be used. He was inspecting a pile of copper plates intending for use as sheathing. He held up one for me to look at.
"What d'ye think, Commodore James?"
"I think that I would have expected you to use gold for your precious ship, not something as common as copper."
"Ah, but my Pearl's a lady, not some Roman trollop. 'Sides, the point is to make her a faster hunter, not an appetizing piece of game, savvy?" and he grinned at me before returning his full and undivided attention to the metal.
Oh, but I am pathetic. I know that it is good thing that Jack has kept his distance. As long as he continues to do so, the chances that I might accidentally reveal my feelings are slim indeed, and perhaps I can even manage to suppress them – something that I doubt I could accomplish in the glare of his immediate presence. But despite all of my common sense, I cannot help but miss Jack's company. I miss his prattle and oddness, I miss his close presence – I even miss the Spanish lessons that were left behind aboard. I know perfectly well that Jack's whole purpose on this island is to repair the Pearl, but that does not prevent me from missing him – and resenting the whole situation.
My situation has made me think of a dazzling toy given to a child, while the trusty old favourite is away at Grandmother's for repairs. For a while the new toy is played with, but then the old favourite is returned and the new is left in a corner to gather dust and for spiders to hide behind.
It is not enough that I am in love with a pirate, I have to be jealous of his ship. Oh, but I am a sorry creature, am I not?
Not that that would be anything new. Ah, but I have a rare gift for choosing the absolutely wrong people to fall in love with.
The first time I fell in love (not the first time I indulged in the physical act – something which occurred at the country house of an uncle during a three week long leave during my time as a young midshipman, and which involved a stack of sweet-smelling hay and a very friendly milkmaid a few years my senior) – the first time I fell in love it was with an Admiral's wife.
I was still a midshipman then, though not a year away from my examination for lieutenant. The ship I served on, the Hippolytos, was laid up for repairs in Boston, and during this time we were all expected to attend various social events such as balls, as it would be beneficial to our character. My full dress uniform saw more use during those few weeks than in the three full years preceding them.
Her name was Sophie.
She was the jewel of the dance, only my elder by a few years, dazzling and with a smile for everybody, dancing and laughing. I think all the men present must have loved her at least a little.
It was only later that I realized how scandalous her behaviour actually was. I should have realized it when discreet inquiries produced the information that she was a married woman, but that her husband, Admiral von Schneider, an older gentleman, mostly left her in town while he was away at sea, leaving her practically a widow in all but name for long stretches of time. Not that she spent her time pining. No, quite the contrary, hardly a night went by without her going out, attending every dance and ball and recital in town.
I should have seen the way the old ladies present frowned at her, but at one point she favoured me with a brief smile and it outshone all else. In retrospect I wonder if the smile might not as easily have been intended for someone else who happened to be standing next to me at that moment, but at the time there was not a doubt in my heart.
I left the party with a faint flutter in my heart. Pleasant romantic fancies played out behind my eyes – saving the lady fair from wicked pirates and being awarded with a kiss was one. I was still young and still quite innocent as far as matters of the heart was concerned – besides, she was a married woman, and even if she had not been, then she was far too fine for the likes of a mere midshipman like me.
Still, at the next dance I was to attend, I did my best to look more than merely respectable – I even received a few pointed comments from my messmates. I ignored them.
I had been worried that she might not be there, that there might not be any chance of her catching even the faintest glimpse of me in my fine uniform with its gleaming buttons (those buttons alone had cost me hours of work before I was satisfied). But of course she was there, unmistakable and magnificent.
I am to this day not certain how I managed to work up the courage to ask her for a dance, but I did. It was scandalous, really – me, a mere midshipman and not even from a particularly wealthy or influential family, having the nerve to ask an admiral's wife for a dance. Even more scandalous was the fact that she accepted.
I had never danced so well, or so I felt. In retrospect I suppose it was her doing, her and her smiles. Her skill kept me from blunders and her conversation made me feel wiser than ever before, as if I was a far more experienced man of the world than I truly was. The way she smiled and the way she lowered her eyelashes made me feel - something more.
There was a lull in the music and the large room where the dancing was done was momentarily cast into confusion as people started to look around for friends and refreshments. My beautiful dance partner tugged at my sleeve, pulling me into a dark corner. Before I knew what was happening she had pushed aside a heavy
tapestry – some hunting scene, a unicorn hunt I think it was – and pulled me through a narrow opening into a small room devoid of people.
Apart from her and I.
In the room was a luxurious sofa, all tassels and green velvet. She pushed me down into it, crawled onto my lap, her fingers not so much unbuttoning my shirt as tearing it open, her lips crushing against mine.
I was a young man and my blood could run as hot as that of any young man ever. Still, I am ashamed to say that I was – most enthusiastic.
We returned to the party somewhat later, slipping into the crowd undetected. Moments before she had been adjusting my collar, sneaking a kiss. Once we were out she left me with a wink and a smile.
The time until the next dance passed in something like a haze for me. I was reprimanded several times for inattention to my duties (such as they were), but I found myself unable to stop the daydreams. She was in many of them, of course. Well, to be honest, she was in all of them. I conjured up an image of her husband also – an old man, pox-marked no doubt, bald under his wig, ugly as sin – quite unworthy of such a lovely woman. In my mind he became the worst of all naval officers, his every command a veritable floating hell, not a sailor under him who had not tasted the lash often for perceived offences of the pettiest sort. I imagined that he treated his wife in a similar way. In my dreams I would confront this monster, deal with him. I would elope with her, afterwards, go somewhere far away and never come back.
Was I ever so young? It seems unreal sometimes.
When I was off duty I spent a lot of time writing bad poetry comparing her various charms to those of assorted pagan goddesses. Even now the memory of some of those lines can make me blush.
And every night, in my dreams, I found myself back on that sofa, her milk-pale skin smooth beneath my hands.
Finally – finally! – came the day of the next dance I was to attend, my next chance at meeting her. We had made no arrangements, but I imagined that she must be pining for her young lover, searching eagerly for him at every dance she attended.
I suppose, in a way, I was correct.
The officers attending the dance arrived together and it was some time before I could leave their company, but eventually I managed to begin my search. It was swiftly met with success, for there she was, dancing
with a dashing young lieutenant. I smiled. Now all I had to do was catch her eye and she would be mine for the next dance and the rest of the evening – and maybe forever?
Or so I thought.
She saw me. She never acknowledged me. No wink, no smile, no elegant movement with her fan. I, on the other hand, could not tear my gaze away from her – as she danced, as she conversed with her lieutenant, as he brought her punch and preened like a peacock.
I could not tear my gaze away as she led him into the dark corner – for the dance was held as the same house as the last – and then away from sight.
I stood alone, frozen, cold, watching that very spot where they had last been. I waited, a drink in my hand quite forgotten. Over the noise of the music and the chatting people I could hear the ticking of an old clock, each tick a thundering roar with an abyss of silence stretching forever between them.
About half an hour later the pair reappeared, looking flushed. A lock of his hair had somehow escaped the confines of his wig. She tucked it back in its proper place and kissed him teasingly on the very tip of his nose – they must have thought themselves still unobserved. Then they parted.
The next thing I remember is standing outside, vomiting into the gutter. When finally all the twisting of my stomach could not bring forth any more I left. I walked and walked, no set destination in mind. I just walked.
I passed a bathhouse and then doubled back, not looking at the coins I handed the man when I demanded a fresh tub. The water was steaming, scalding hot, but I did not care. I got in and I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until every part of me was red and raw, even the most intimate parts. I sat in that tub, scrubbing, until the water grew so cold that an employee at the place grew concerned that I might catch a cold from the chill of it. Then I got out, feeling as filthy as when I got in.
When I came back to the ship some time before dawn I found my poems and – suddenly filled with a violent rage – I tore the pages into so many tiny pieces that there was barely room for a single letter on each. Then I threw them overboard and stood there, watching as the currents and small waves parted them, mixed them, and – finally – carried them away. Then I was sick again.
I suppose it was a mercy that the ship left Boston three days later, headed for the Mediterranean with orders to save some Christian slaves from the Barbary corsairs. I shudder to imagine how it would have been, if we were to have joined Admiral von Schneider's squadron. As a youth I might well have imagined that he could have seen in my face that I had given him horns – ridiculous as that thought is. But my luck held with the husband, as it had not done with the wife.
Later I heard more or the Admiral, always forcing myself to listen well when he was the subject of conversation. An elderly gentlemen, somewhat cantankerous, but well-loved. Alas, he suffered from severe seasickness and so had always preferred to stay at sea to preserve his easily lost sea legs. He died a couple of years ago. I never knew if he knew about his wife's promiscuity. I never met him.
I left Boston behind and threw myself into my work, putting all my energy into performing my duties well and studying for my upcoming examination, which in time I passed with flying colours. I buried the memory of that sordid tryst under hours spent studying the stars, the skill of measuring when the sun was at its zenith, the art of knowing how to lead men. I spared few thoughts for women and, well, life at sea is not exactly ripe with opportunities for more than thoughts. Oh, I was a young man with a young man's needs, but I taught myself discipline and only broke my sailor's celibacy on the rare shore leaves with discreet ladies of negotiable affection (having no particular inclination for breaking Article XXIX or the possible consequences of so doing.)
I did not seek love among women. I had been burned and had little desire for a repetition. In my heart I had friendship for some of my messmates – and I told myself it was enough.
And so some years passed and one day the ship I served aboard then – the Icarus – took a prize and – having already taken so many others that we were running out of able midshipmen – I was instructed to take a small prize crew and bring her into a friendly port. Alas, we met an enemy vessel and were forced to surrender. I was sent home to England by the usual route, having given my word as an officer and a gentleman that I would not return to active duty until a prisoner had been exchanged for me.
As it turned out, they need not have demanded my word. The news that the Icarus had been caught in a fatal argument between a stormy sea and a rocky coast awaited me in England. Since the Navy always has more officers than ships to put them in, I found myself in London on half pay.
I had the great good fortune to find lodgings at the house a kind, old woman by the name of Mrs. Walker – a naval widow whose husband had had more luck with prizes than promotions and had left her somewhat more than comfortable. She ran her boarding house more like a charity than a business, once confiding in me that she enjoyed the company of all the polite young naval men. She was a kind old soul.
Across the street lived Mrs. Walker's somewhat younger sister, Mrs. Davenport, with their brother and their sister-in-law, Mr. And Mrs. Goodyear, as well as what at the time seemed like an entire regiment of young women, the in-laws having five daughters as well as a number of nieces and cousins staying with them, some permanently, some merely visiting.
Now, both Mrs. Davenport and Mrs. Walker were what some people would call insufferable matchmakers. Since one lived in a house full of young ladies and the other had a number of mostly young and mostly
gentleman lodgers, why, it was little wonder that not a week went by without some picnic or tea party or evening with some musical entertainment – properly chaperoned, of course. In truth, I found it rather pleasant – perhaps partly because half pay rarely leaves a man sufficient funds to indulge in most forms of entertainment.
And partly because of Miss Jane Badcock.
Oddly enough, I find myself unable to recall the first time I saw her or spoke with her. It simply happened and at some point it seemed the most natural thing in the world to stand next to her or ask her opinion about this or that. She had a sweet smile and I soon learned that we shared tastes when it came to literature.
At some time the two old sisters began to share knowing looks in my presence or stop their conversation when I drew near. I did not mind their assumptions, but continued to talk with Miss Badcock, take walks with her, enjoy her company – always properly chaperoned. Of course.
I knew little of Miss Badcock's personal history. She was neither daughter, niece nor cousin, but a somewhat more distant relation of the Goodyears. She was a somewhat pretty girl with little in the way of money – I always supposed that she had been sent to London in the hopes of attracting a suitable suitor.
And so it was that in the mornings I would go to the Admiralty in the hopes of a commission and, as those hopes were ever shattered, I began to consider if it would be appropriate to marry while still on half pay or if it would be more proper to wait until I could actually support a wife and perhaps some children in a respectable manner. Eventually I settled on a compromise and hoped that it would not have to be too long an engagement.
We had been meeting increasingly often, Miss Badcock and I, and I fancied that she had shown some inclination towards me. Particularly in the last couple of weeks, during which her smiles had been common and her laughter almost more so. I had even fancied that she had winked at me, almost coyly.
Finally came the day when we were alone together and I found myself sweating nervously, not exactly certain of how to put the necessary question into actual words.
I need not have been so nervous. As it happened, it was Miss Badcock who opened her mouth to speak first – and as she spoke, I felt the blood drain from my face.
She told me that she was with child. She told me that of course everyone would assume that I was the father, that everyone would assume that there had been unchaperoned meetings. She told me that I had no choice but to marry her – and soon. She threatened to destroy my reputation and my career both. And finally she demanded money.
I honestly cannot remember how I managed to answer her or what exactly my answer was. All I know is that I somehow managed to promise her money, more money than I could truly afford, without promising her a husband. Then we parted.
For the second time in my life I visited a bathhouse to scrub myself clean of a kind of intangible filth.
I did not sleep that night.
The next morning found me at the Admiralty as the first among hopefuls, desperate for a commission, desperate for a way to get far away from London, far away from the adventuress and whatever men she had fornicated with, far away from the child that was not mine.
There was no post for me that day, nor on the second, but on the third day Lady Luck at long last deigned to smile at me. Apparently, one Lieutenant Redford had managed to involve himself in a brawl and had emerged less than unscathed. In fact, his present condition was such that the ship he served aboard as third lieutenant – the HMS Dauntless – was due to leave without him within the week, to bring the new governor of Jamaica to his new home and afterwards to stay in the Caribbean as the new flag ship of the Jamaica squadron. Of course, there was no way the governor was to be inconvenienced by the delay caused by a lieutenant, so a replacement was needed. The post was mine if I wanted it.
And so it was that I found myself aboard a ship that I did not know would one day be mine to command, heading for a posting that was most unpopular among the officers of the Navy – particularly because of the great likelihood of never coming home to England again, having met one's end at the claws of some tropical fever.
In my darker moments I found that the thought actually appealed to me.
Behind me I left a somewhat confused Mrs. Walker, who though used to the abruptness of the demands of the service, had begun to expect a certain event to occur before my inevitable departure. Fortunately, she did not ask any questions. Even more fortunately, I contrived to avoid seeing Miss Badcock for the brief period of time before I left London behind.
It was a balm to my soul to leave her and almost her entire sex far behind, to be aboard a ship that of the female persuasion only carried the nanny goat that supplied the milk for Captain Farrow's tea, a few ships cats (one of which left precious little doubt as to her gender by determining that the ideal place to have her litter was in the good governor's second-best wig) – and a tiny girl with a somewhat annoying love of pirate tales, which a good number of men from before the mast were quite happy to cater to.
For every mile the ship left behind I found myself feeling slightly better. I did my duties and did them well, despite the slight resentment from a couple of my messmates who had rather liked Lieutenant Redford and were less than happy about me taking his place, even if he himself was most of all to blame. To my surprise, I would often find myself conversing with the good Governor Swann, an elderly gentleman with whom I ought to have had little in common considering our difference in station, and with his daughter.
The voyage went well – we had fair winds and encountered only the traces of pirates, but none of the despicable breed dared to show themselves – and soon enough we anchored at Port Royal. Governor Swann assumed his position in society and – on his daughter's insistence – found a position for the young Mr. Turner in town. The boy had become something of a favourite in the officers' mess and had been offered a place as midshipman, but Miss Swann and he had apparently grown rather friendly despite their great difference in class, and he accepted the position as a blacksmith's apprentice instead, so as to remain in the same town as his new friend.
Personally, I found myself transferred to the Zephyr, a small, but swift vessel that was ever in need of both officers and crew due to the climate as well as the fact that her standing mission was to hunt pirates and privateers – the Interceptor had been intended to take her place. I did not mind, even though she was a less prestigious ship to serve aboard than the Dauntless. After all, I was now second lieutenant, and I found a pair of fast friends in two midshipmen who in truth were quite old enough to pass for lieutenant themselves – Andrew Gillette and Theodore Groves.
And so life passed, with weeks at a time spent at sea, hunting pirates, smugglers and hostile privateers, occasionally escorting convoys and – depending on which way the political winds had blown a couple of months earlier in far-off Europe – taking prizes and engaging enemy ships in battle. I acquitted myself well during all of this, as did I on the few occasions when I was charged with leaving the Zephyr to visit the islands held by foreign powers and seek whatever pertinent information I might find in a clandestine manner. Perhaps that is why, when the captain and the first lieutenant both perished during an encounter with a particularly vicious band of Dutch privateers, I was given command of the ship.
The Zephyr was in many ways home, but so was Port Royal, whereto I found myself returning every few weeks for provisions, repairs and orders – and often I found myself a guest at the governor's mansion at such times. He and I had remained friendly since the shared crossing. At his table I would often find myself socializing with my superior, the old Admiral Giddens, whose flagship the Dauntless had ever been destined to be. It was he who eventually recommended me for promotion to post-captain and gave me the position of Captain of the Dauntless in his place, since his duties tended to demand that he remain ashore.
I suppose I ought to be praising luck for my successful career at such a young age, but in truth I suspect that it was partly Governor Swann's support and partly the fact that many better men were reluctant to accept a station in the fever islands.
The admiral took me into his confidence, listened to my proposals and my advice, explained matters of policy to me. In short, he was a mentor to me. I grieved when a slippery step in Fort Charles cost him his life.
Admiral Adorno, his replacement, fell sick with yellow fever within a week of his arrival and died soon after. During all this time I served as senior naval officer, with the kindly advice of Governor Swann. Still, it was a surprise when the new ship for our Jamaica squadron, the Interceptor, did not bring another replacement, but a promotion for me.
Now, during all these years, the only female company I had sought was in a discreet house of ill repute in Port Royal. Occasionally I had participated in various social occasions which brought me into contact with the colony's eligible ladies, such as they were – planters' daughters, merchants' sisters, officers' widows. All quite suitable for a man of my station, yet not a one appealed to me.
Then Miss Swann began to join her father at dinner, playing the part of hostess to perfection. At first I found it hard to think of her as a woman, the image of the child still in my mind from the distant days of our crossing, for I had only infrequently had occasion to see her since. Soon, I noticed that she was a lovely a young woman and quite intelligent, if still somewhat given to slightly improper flights of fancy – which somehow made her more appealing still.
Of course I knew that she could never be my wife, I harboured no such illusions. A rich young heiress wed to an admittedly successful naval officer, whose pirate-hunting would never bring in the rich prizes spoken of in the stories and whose accomplishments in the service were too remote and not often enough against esteemed enemies to earn him a title? Unlikely. Imagine my surprise when, on the eve of the Interceptor's arrival, Governor Swann made it clear to me in a private conversation that he was most receptive to the idea of me as a son-in-law.
And so, on the day of the ceremony to mark my promotion, I gathered all my courage and dared to hope that the third time might actually be the charm, as they say. It was not. Which, of course, brings me right back to where I started.
Cool blackness falls on me, as if a lonesome cloud has blocked the sun momentarily. When it does not cease, I sit up straighter and open my eyes, looking up at the silhouetted form of – who else? Why, Captain Jack Sparrow, of course.
"Nice nap, was it, my dear Commodore James?"
"I was thinking."
"'Course. Just resting your pretty eyes, aye?" He grins. Infuriating man.
"Was there something you wanted, Captain Sparrow?"
"Aye, well, see, it seems to me that I've been a – a less than perfect host, as it were, what with not spending any time with my honoured guest!"
"I see." I see that whatever it is he wants I ought to refuse it, ought not to risk spending one moment more than absolutely necessary in the company of this man, lest he suspect. "I imagine you must be rather busy, refitting the Pearl. A captain can hardly be faulted for having little time to spare from his ship."
"True, but still, that's no excuse, savvy? That's why we're going on a picnic."
"A picnic?" I can feel my eyebrow rising of its own volition.
"Aye, a picnic." A grinning madman, that is what he is, but a grinning madman who is now gesturing to the basket at his feet. "I've got us a nice supper here and", he bends down and roots through the basket's contents before triumphantly straightening to present a book, "and old Willy himself. And I know the perfect spot."
I should refuse, should not risk his company, not dare, not when he is grinning like this, the gold in his mouth outshone by the gleam in his eyes, not even though it is made even more tempting by the simple fact that for the last few days my only real company has been Silver and Gold, and even they have preferred exploring the island to keeping me company most of the time. But on the other hand I must not risk him suspecting that anything is different. Besides, if I refuse, he will probably simply find some way to force me to do as he wishes – as he has done before.
"Very well then, Captain Sparrow." I say, having first sighed my best long-suffering sigh, then getting to my feet. "Lead on, MacDuff."
He picks up his basket and begins to do as he is told for once, then turns back, still grinning.
"Oh, and Commodore James."
"Yes, Captain Sparrow."
"I seem to be recalling that you were supposed to be calling my good self Jack, aye?"
"Very well then. Lead on – Jack."
He grins even wider and does exactly that, basket bouncing in his arms and with me following at a sedate pace.
He leads us past the Black Pearl herself, lying like a huge, beached whale, taut ropes pulling her to the side to expose her vulnerable underside. Of course Jack himself stood at the helm when she was carefully beached, having been emptied of everything that could be removed to lighten her just that extra bit. Nobody else was allowed to steer her into the shallows in the sheltered cove, nobody else was trusted with his precious ship.
He leads us past the tents, put haphazardly here and there, past the tent that he and I have supposedly been sharing since the landing, though most nights I have had it to myself. At one end stands my ship's chest, my wrinkled, but clean clothes all present and accounted for inside it.
He leads us past the cooking fire, where a couple of men are busily preparing the crew's dinner. They pause to shout something at their captain and he waves at them.
He leads us past the make-shift pig pen. Any other captain I know would have let them run wild and forage for themselves in the forested part of the island, rather than trouble his men with the extra work. Furthermore, this island seems to have avoided the seeding of all manner of livestock done by the early Spaniards – some future castaway would probably be most grateful if a couple of pigs managed to get themselves left behind. Yet Jack has insisted on the pen, and as far as I know has not deigned to explain this eccentricity.
He leads us into the forest, along the crystal clear stream that empties into the cove, the ready source of fresh water being invaluable, even if most of the crew prefer more potent beverages. We walk underneath the canopy of leaves, through a world bathed in green light, occasionally forced to wade through the shallow water when the undergrowth proves impenetrable. The third time Jack nearly slips on the rocks in the stream bed, and I relieve him – despite his protests – of the basket, citing my distinct lack of desire for a wet meal. He puts on his most affronted expression, then grabs the book and leaps away from me, holding the volume triumphantly – and stumbles over a rock, only this time he does not manage to remain on his feet. He looks even more affronted at my laughter at the sight of him sitting in the stream, then he too cannot stop himself from laughing. Oh well, at least the book did not get soaked as well, and he will soon dry in this heat. Somewhere between the trees are birds – I cannot see them, but I can hear them, calling, twittering, singing. A huge dragonfly – brilliantly green and blue, a living gem, easily as large as my hand – hovers in front of me, not an inch from the tip of my nose. Then it is gone.
He leads us past the lake which feeds the stream, itself feed by a picturesque triple waterfall that springs forth from some inaccessible points high up on the cliff. Usually a few members of the crew can be found
here, amusing themselves, swimming and laughing or enjoying each other's company in the relative privacy (not that being deprived of said privacy will make them stop, unless a man was to quite literally stumble over them, and even then only for as long as it takes to thoroughly express their opinion about people not looking where they are damn well going.) It is quiet now, the only movement a startled bird suddenly taking wing, and I expect this to be the setting for Jack's picnic, but as it turns out I am mistaken.
He leads us into the dark green twilight among the trees, where no creek or large animal has carved a convenient path for us, but to our right is the cliff, imposingly tall and very hard to miss. The ground grows steeper and at times one has to cling to branches. Somewhere in the darkness is movement and noise, points of brilliant colour darting away. Once I stumble and look down to see not the expected root, but a scaly, sinuous, sapphire blue snake vanishing into the undergrowth.
He leads us into the light.
I stand blinking, raising a hand to shield against the brilliant light of the sinking sun after the twilight between the trees. Then I put down the basket and take a step forward to better survey my surroundings.
We are as best I can tell well over halfway up the cliff, on what seems to be a naturally formed ledge running along it. Most of it is covered in the forest we have just made our way through, but for some reason no trees have laid claim to the very tip of the ledge (which is small, but not small enough for a man or two to feel in danger of tumbling down). Instead the ground is covered with a layer of soft, green grass. I turn to look at the way we came and find myself face to face with what at first glance seems a solid wall of green dotted with flowers in every colour of the rainbow.
"Well, Commodore James, does it meet with your very fine self's approval?"
"Oh. Yes. Indeed. It is a remarkable place, Jack. But how did you know it was here?"
"Found it the last time around, savvy?" He grins like a very satisfied cat and sets about unpacking the basket.
I step to the very edge of the ledge to properly take in the view. This whole side of the island is laid out before me, a magnificent sight. I can see the sheltered cove with the Pearl in it, the pirates gathering at a tiny spark of a cooking fire. I remember how Jack insisted on sailing all the way around the island after he woke up again after the storm, as if he knew that cove was there to be found. At first I was dismissive of his claims of having found 'his' island, but now? Now I am no longer certain.
I remember sitting in the boat bringing men from the Pearl to the beach on that first day. The crew – being as gullible and superstitious as only sailors can be, no matter which way their moral compass points – had
accepted Jack's claims as gospel truth, but one – young and freckled, one of young Mr. Hawkins friends, unless is misremember – had asked for elaboration. When Jack just leaned back and grinned, Mr. Gibbs spun a tale – about a young, shipwrecked pirate who had ridden a sea turtle to shore, only to find himself on a deserted island seemingly far from any shipping lanes. He was alone except for a pair of wild goats. Then one day an immense bird had appeared, its wings turning day to night, each beat of them stirring up the waves. It swooped – and flew away, carrying a bleating goat in its huge talons. Clever Jack spent the next many days hunting the remaining goat, until finally one day he succeeded. On that very day the day turned to night once more as the bird returned and swooped – and carried away both the goat and the pirate clinging to it…
"Commodore James," the pirate in question interrupts my reverie, making me turn around. "Dinner is served," and he bows, making a sweeping gesture to encompass the blanket he has spread out on the ground and the food spread out upon it, leaving barely enough room for two men to sit if they are friendly. Not that I mind overtly much.
Dinner is delicious, if somewhat unorthodox. My host is all energy, sitting down and leaping to his feet before sitting down again. He picks out bits of food for the both of us –a piece of fruit, a bit of cheese, a hard-boiled egg, a morsel of spicy grilled fish – as the mood strikes him, meanwhile telling fanciful tales involving whatever he is proffering, stories that time and again make me smirk or grin or simply laugh.
Once the greasiest foodstuff has been eaten, Jack wipes his fingers and then proceeds to dig out a bottle from the basket, a bottle which to my surprise turns out to not contain rum, but a dark red wine. He pours a mug of it for each of us (having apparently chosen not to take the chance of bringing actual glasses and accidentally breaking them), then picks up the small leather-bound volume, which has been lying abandoned at the edge of the blanket. A play, I suppose, but no. He leafs through it, glances at me and grins.
"Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove:
For, thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason;
My soul doth tell my body that he may
Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,
But rising at thy name doth point out thee,
As his triumphant prize. Proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
No want of conscience hold it that I call
Her love, for whose dear love I rise and fall."
"Honestly Jack, have you no sense of propriety? Is not even the Bard safe from you?" and I pluck the book from his hands, glaring at him, though mostly in jest. Truly, I rather expected him to make his own personal interpretation of the poem perfectly clear and he has fully met my expectations.
Still, I glare at him. It is expected, after all, and it is met with a wide grin.
"Well then, my dear Commodore James, how about ye show me how it is done properly-like, aye?"
"Oh, I will," I reply, as I leaf through the slim volume, looking for a sonnet that will be proper to read. But as I turn the pages, my eyes gliding over one poem declaring the poet's love after another, my own inappropriate feelings stir, and suddenly, the formerly innocuous pieces seem like clever traps. I cannot read these to Jack, I cannot risk that he might somehow hear these lines ring with the truth of my emotions. Oh, but surely there must be a single sonnet among the many that will not betray me, surely – for Jack is still looking at me, expectantly, curiously. To not read, will that not betray me as surely as not…
Enough. This will have to do.
"O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame!
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark inferior far to his
On your broad main doth wilfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
Or being wreck'd, I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building and of goodly pride:
Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
The worst was this; my love was my decay."
"How very – nautical of you, my dear Commodore."
"As befits a sailor, surely?"
"Oh, aye," he nods, grasping for the book. "My turn."
And so it begins, this little game of ours, with Jack trying his best to scandalize me through gesture and intonation as surely as through his choice of sonnet, while I struggle to read them as they ought to be read.
Again and again Jack pours wine into our mugs. Again and again I forget myself and laugh at his antics instead of frowning and glaring as I ought. And as the evening progresses, it grows easier and easier to pick a fitting sonnet.
At some point I realize that it is getting dark and I root through the basket in search of a lantern, but apparently Jack has neglected to bring one. I look back at the trees and realize that night has long since fallen between them, dark and deep. I should not like to try and walk back in the dark without a light. It would be far too easy to break a leg or worse. I suppose we will have to spend the night up here. Sharing the single blanket Jack has bothered to bring.
I glare at him – again. It is getting to be a habit – as is his answering grin. He calls me back to his side with a gesture and we resume our reading, sitting shoulder to shoulder, holding the book closer and closer as the night falls.
"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare. "
I lift my head, having been forced to bend down and squint to make out the letters on the page, and freeze at finding myself suddenly face to face with Jack, so close that the tips of our noses are only just not touching. For what seems like an eternity neither of us moves, here in the dark.
Then Jack kisses me.
His lips are sliding over mine, lightly parted, tongue flickering out and in, teasing and oh, it is wrong, it is sinful, but it is Jack, but it is so good, and it has been so long. Surely there can be no harm in it, here in the dark.
I match him, lips to lips, tongues twining, teeth clicking with the clumsiness of a first kiss. He tastes of wine, of course, but beneath it is rum and sun and something else, something I cannot quite define.
Then the lips leave mine. I open my eyes (when did I close them?) and am about to tug them back, wanting more (and when exactly did my fingers entangle themselves in Jack's hair?), but Jack is moving, settling his weight in my lap, and then the lips are back and it is good. Yes.
Then the lips move again, sliding, sucking, nibbling at my jaw, gliding down, as clever fingers undo buttons, pushing cloth and a dangling gemstone aside.
Again he moves, the pirate in my lap, thrusting, sliding hardness against hardness, and it is all good, so good, and I moan and let my head fall back, baring my throat to those hungry, wicked, delicious lips, wanting more, wanting anything, wanting everything.
"Nice, Jamie-love, very nice."
It feels as if someone had just thrown a bucketful of ice water at me. Everything is cold for just a moment, cold and empty and sharp as broken glass. Then heat rises once more. The heat of anger. How dare he…
I scramble backwards, dislodging him. I try to get to my feet, stumble, try again with more success.
"How dare you! You – you pirate! How dare you!"
"Now, Jamie-love, where might you be…" and he is blinking up at me, sitting on the ground. Even in this meagre light I can see that his lips are swollen from kissing, and I know mine are too. Damn him.
"How dare you! Have you not humiliated me enough? Or did you feel the need to add corruption of a commodore to your long list of sins?"
"Now, Jamie, 'twas but a bit of innocent sport…" and he climbs to his feet, not quite managing not to stumble in the process, unsteadily – due to the drink, no doubt.
"Sport? How dare you, you – you blackguard?! You villain!" Is that all this is to you, you bastard? Just a bit of sport? A bit of fun? A game?!
"James, James, James, settle down, there's a lad…" and he moves towards me, raising his hands, almost imploringly, but I back away from him, back towards the trees.
"No! I am not going to be your latest plaything! How dare you approach me in this manner, you – you sodomite? Have you no decency in you? No shame? How dare you?!" How dare you pretend to give me what I want?
"Now, really, Commodore, 'tis not exactly a one-man dance we were dancing. If you'd just settle down…" but I will not. I cannot. Who knows what might happen if I do, if I succumb to Jack and his oh-so-reasonable words and his fingers reaching out towards my face, as slowly as if I was some wild thing he wanted to tame.
"How dare you?" and I slap them away, and again as they come back, harder. Repeating those words again and again and again, louder and louder and louder. Surely they must be able to hear this racket as far away as down by the Pearl.
"Commodore James bloody Norrington, will ye bloody well settle down!" and he grasps my right hand in his left, a grip like a vice, and with his right hand he slaps me, as if I was some hysterical woman.
We stand in silence for a bit, eyes locked. He never relinquishes his grip.
A drop of something slides down my cheek, down next to the corner of my lip. I catch it on the tip of my tongue. It tastes like salt.
I look down on his right hand. One of those gaudy rings has somehow gotten twisted and is facing the palm of his hand. There is a speck of something on it, but I cannot make out the colour.
I close my eyes, taking a deep, steadying breath, then another one for good measure. Then I meet his gaze once more.
"Unhand me, Captain Sparrow. Or is it perhaps your custom to rape your captives?"
For yet another long moment he does nothing and I begin to grow worried that… but then he does let got of me, with the abruptness of a man letting go of something suddenly painfully hot or utterly repulsive.
I whirl around and plunge into the forest. I run through the dark between the trees, down the slope. I run recklessly, not caring about the snagging branches or the danger of breaking my neck in the dark. I trip over a root, fall, get back on my feet, still running. I am surrounded by the noises of stirring night life, the splashes as I run through water that I cannot see, only hear and feel – and if I seem to hear someone calling my name from somewhere behind me, then it is nothing but the forest and the night and my mind conspiring to play an evil trick on me.
The forest runs out.
I find myself standing at a tiny beach, grey and cold in the light of the risen moon. Like a sleepwalker I walk down to the water, removing my shirt and holding it up for inspection. One of the sleeves has miraculously escaped getting soiled during my mad dash through the night time forest, so I dip it in the sea and cautiously dab at the tiny cut on my cheek.
That is when it comes crashing down over me like a tidal wave, the realization of what I have just done, what I have refused and what I have said.
Oh Lord. Oh Lord no.
Tiny waves licking at my ankles drive me back ashore. I pick a place on the beach well above the tidal mark, then I slowly lie down.
It is cold and I shiver, even having put my shirt back on.
I feel curiously – empty.
Tomorrow, the sun will rise and warm the sand, and I will wake up – alone.