Disclaimer: see chapter 1
Three hours later, the Black Pearl looked her very best. The brass shone, the sails not currently being used were tidily stowed, ropes were coiled and the deck was drying from being vigorously scrubbed. Even her crew had made an effort, putting on their least stained shirts and breeches. Sparrow was magnificent in a dark green coat and all his jewellery; very much the pirate captain. As the crew came on deck, Billy was amused to notice the general sprucing-up had even affected Piper, who seemed to have brushed his coat down and had tied his hair back with a new ribbon. From the stern the Jolly Roger streamed, but below the flag flew a white banner.
Some of the crew lined the rails, ready to haul or let go on a line. Billy waited by Sparrow's side on the poop deck and watched as the great Navy ship drew close. On the other vessel's poop deck he could see the upright figure of Commodore Norrington, and by his side two other figures with their arms around each other.
Nobody said very much as the ships hove to close by each other, save for the orders relayed from stern to bow on each vessel. Aboard the Navy ship, men busied themselves lowering down a longboat, and Billy watched as Norrington, his two companions, and several Marines climbed into it.
The pirates were all on deck now, waiting for the visitors. Billy shifted his weight from foot to foot, nervous with excitement and anticipation; and, if he admitted it, a small amount of fear.
The boat came alongside. Hooper threw down a ladder, and shortly the Marines came clambering up it, clumsy with their weapons. Commodore Norrington followed more easily, and stood on deck looking about him with a thin-lipped expression.
Sparrow said nothing.
The commodore was followed onto deck by first Elizabeth and then Will Turner. Billy hung back, a little afraid of the look on his father's face as he took in the ship, her crew and her captain.
"Billy?" Elizabeth took a step forwards. "Oh, Billy!"
"Go on, lad," said Sparrow, softly, giving him a push.
He took a step forward, and then, seeing his mother hold her arms out, ran to her. She enfolded him in a warm, soft hug that smelt of lavender and salt air, and he hugged back.
"I missed you," she said. "I missed you so much!" She held him away from her. "Have you grown? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Billy reassured her. "Honestly."
"You look all right," Elizabeth said, doubtfully. "Well. Let's go, shall we, now?"
Billy took a step back. "I'm not sure I want to," he said, carefully.
"Don't be silly, now," Will Turner broke in. "I'm sure this whole experience has been awful, Billy, and it's time to go."
"I was kidnapped by pirates too, once," Elizabeth added.
Biting his lip, Billy looked from one to the other. His mother held out her hand invitingly.
"I don't want to go," Billy repeated.
There was a pause. The Turners exchanged glances.
"Well, there we are," said Sparrow, breaking the silence. "You've seen him, he's all all right, he don't want to leave the Pearl - and who would? - so now you can leave and we can all go about our business."
"Jack!" said Elizabeth.
"What, Mrs Turner?" Sparrow turned enquiring eyebrows on her. "I will endeavour to answer any questions you might have."
Sparrow shrugged. "Needed a cabin boy. Still will, if you take the one I've got."
Commodore Norrington coughed, and everyone looked towards him. He frowned at the assembled pirates and Turners. "Captain Sparrow, may I remind you that although you may be under a flag of truce at this present moment, you are still a wanted fugitive. You have already complicated your position by absconding with the grandson of the Governor of Jamaica. Pray do not make things more difficult."
"But he didn't kidnap me!" Billy broke in.
From beside him came a deep sigh. "Like father, like bloody son," said Sparrow.
"I beg your pardon, Master Turner?"
"What do you mean?" asked Elizabeth. "There was a note! And the window was open!"
Billy sneaked a sidelong glance at Sparrow, who was standing with his arms folded and a pitying look on his face.
"This is the same Miss Elizabeth Swann who escaped from a ship o' the line by tying sheets together and climbin' out of the Great Cabin, is it?" the pirate said.
Elizabeth Turner glared back at him. "No, it's not. It's Mrs Turner now, as you know very well, Captain Sparrow. Were we to think that Billy faked his own kidnapping?"
"I believe we are," Will broke in. "Right, Billy?"
"Yes, sir." Billy met his father's gaze. "Captain Sparrow asked me if I would join him, and I thought about it, and I decided I wanted to."
"You're bound to be a blacksmith, son," said Will.
"Not yet," Sparrow said. "He's not indentured to you, not yet - you told me that yourself, Will. The boy's got talent for this. He's a natural. Lad was born to be at sea, savvy?"
Norrington took a step forward. "Mrs Turner. Gentlemen. Let us resolve this without resorting to violence."
"Who said anything about violence?" Sparrow said. "I never said anything about violence." He looked round at the crew, who were all watching with intense interest. "Let's go and settle this over a cup o' something, eh? Commodore? Mrs Turner?"
Glances were exchanged, and soon they were installed around Sparrow's table in his cabin. Billy found himself seated between his father and his captain, perched on the edge of a chair and feeling a little awkward.
Sparrow produced a dusty bottle of wine from somewhere and poured four generous measures into silver goblets.
"Bought, not stole," he said in answer to the commodore's enquiring look. "A while back. It's good." He drank deeply, leaned back and looked around at the group. "Now. We have a conundrum, do we not? You want your lad back, I want to hang on to him. He's one o' the best cabin boys this ship's seen since I came aboard."
Billy blushed, and examined his dirty fingernails intently.
"'Sides," Sparrow continued, "like as not he'll only run back aboard if you take him away."
Commodore Norrington leaned over, pushing his glass away.
"Master Turner - Billy - what do you want to do?"
"I'm not sure, sir," Billy said. "I like it here. I like the Pearl and being at sea." He looked over at Sparrow. "Captain Sparrow's looked after me … and, and I like it."
"Do you want to stay?" asked the commodore.
Billy said nothing, and thought about the question.
"If I say yes, will I be allowed to stay?" he asked, after a moment's thought. Sparrow grinned, but remained silent.
"That is not for me to decide, Billy," Norrington said gently. "I am but a mediator, between your parents and Captain Sparrow, and am in some sense a representative of your grandfather, whose role must not be forgotten."
"Yes," said Billy. "I do, sir."
"Thank you," said Norrington. "Now, kindly go up on deck while we discuss what will happen."
"Go on, lad," Sparrow put in.
Will nodded at him. Getting up, Billy left the cabin and went up on deck where the pirates and the marines appeared to have forged an uneasy truce and were playing cards.
Billy sat down on the steps to the poop deck, where Piper came to join him.
"Has your fate been decided?" the doctor questioned.
"I think they're deciding it now," Billy said, leaning his elbows on his knees. "I told them I wanted to stay." Thinking about the decision made him feel a little sick, and he swallowed.
"Brave boy," said Piper. "What did the captain say to that?"
"Nothing," Billy replied. "Not a word."
"Hmmm." Piper frowned to himself. "Hmmm. Do you want to stay?"
Nodding, Billy said, "Yes, I do." He was sure now that he did want to stay on board the Pearl, and stay at sea.
The doctor stood up, brushed his coat-front and shoulders down, patted at his hair, and was gone with a whisk of coat-tails towards the Great Cabin.
Billy was never quite sure how the agreement was reached, but half an hour later his parents, Commodore Norrington, Piper and a beaming Sparrow emerged from the cabin with the air of having settled the matter. Getting to his feet, Billy crossed over to them and stood waiting until they noticed him.
"I trust you'll hold to your word, Captain Sparrow?" Norrington was saying.
"Honest pirate," grinned Sparrow, and lost the grin as he saw the commodore's face. "Aye, I'll keep to it. For Bootstrap's memory, if naught else. You'll make sure your bunch hold to your word?"
"On my oath as a member of His Majesty's Navy," the commodore said.
They shook hands, and turned to Billy.
"Well, lad," said Sparrow, "it's good news for you and I. You're to stay."
Billy could not stop his jaw from dropping. He had fully expected to hear quite the opposite. "Really?"
"Absolutely," put in Piper. "But there are conditions, Master Turner."
"We'll let you stay," Will Turner said, "but you will be taking lessons in reading, writing, mathematics and so on from Mr Piper. He will be your tutor, Billy, and you must obey him as you must obey Ja - Captain Sparrow. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Father," Billy said.
Sparrow folded his arms. "In return, we're to put into Port Royal at least once every year, so as you can see your ma and pa. But the commodore's also promised not to shoot at us when we do."
"And you must write to us," added Elizabeth, laying her hands on Billy's shoulders. "Write often, and tell us how you are."
"But you're not to go running to the commodore here with them letters so he can chase after us," Sparrow said, a finger raised in admonition. "All right?"
"If you come to realise that you don't want to be a sailor …" said Will.
"Pirate," Sparrow threw in.
"Sailor," Will repeated, firmly. "If you don't want to be at sea, you can come home at any time, Billy."
"Thank you, Papa," Billy said. "You're not angry?"
Elizabeth smiled, a little sadly. "We're furious, Billy; but not at you. Mainly we don't want you hurt."
"I believe," said Norrington, "that insofar as running away to be a pirate is ever a good thing, Billy has chosen a good ship to be on. She is a beauty, Captain Sparrow."
Beaming, Sparrow bowed his little bow of thanks in the commodore's direction. "Good of you to say so, commodore."
Elizabeth gathered Billy into a tight hug, resting her chin on his head; Will joined them and for a moment nobody said anything. They broke apart. Elizabeth's eyes were damp, and she turned aside to dab at them with a handkerchief. While she was doing so, Will unbuckled a short dagger from his side and handed it to Billy.
"Take this," he said.
Billy took the knife and half-drew it from its leather sheath. "Papa!" he exclaimed.
"You need to be protected," his father returned. "That'll help."
"Thank you," Billy said, fastening the belt around his own waist.
Will turned to Piper, holding out his hand. The blacksmith and the doctor shook, without saying anything. By the rail Sparrow and Norrington were involved in an inspection of the sails, and seemed to have come to a cautious agreement about the future.
As Norrington beckoned the marines from their card game, Billy and his parents said a final farewell. The Turners paused next to Sparrow; Will and the captain shook hands, and Sparrow kissed Elizabeth's hand with a courtly flourish. Then the party from the Navy ship climbed down the ladder, into their longboat, and were pulling away from the Black Pearl.
Sparrow, looking rather pleased with himself, favoured the crew with one of his glittering smiles. "We make for Barbados," he said. "Mr Hooper?"
Stepping up to the helm, Hooper loosened his neck-tie and began bellowing orders. As the great ship swung into motion once more, Billy stood by the rail and watched his parents boarding their own vessel. The flagship's sails billowed, and she slowly began the complicated manoeuvres that would swing her round to head back towards Port Royal.
"Turner!" came a cry from Hooper. "What are you doing just standing there? There's work to do, lad."
Billy turned from the rail, and went off to do whatever there was to be done.