We mourned her together.
You cannot grieve when a person isn't truly dead but might as well be dead. But you can mourn.
We made an odd pair. The formal commodore and the rash young blacksmith. Not that I had any i right /i to mourn, but I grew to understand that Turner expected me to mourn with him. As if he couldn't bear this by himself. He needed a metaphorical arm to lean on.
I was in no state to deny him.
And so, three, four, sometimes twenty times a day, I would force my face into its usual stern, composed lines. I broke down only once in six months, and that was the first day. The day Mr. Turner appeared in my office with a piece of paper in his hand.
He didn't say a word, he just handed me the paper. It was covered in sooty fingerprints, as if he had read it standing over the forge. Indeed, a quick look at his hands, black from grime, confirmed that he'd come directly from the smithy.
The "William" on the front, the "W" penned in a delicate, feminine flourish, could only be from one person. I raised an eyebrow in question.
"Read it," he murmured as if exhausted, without the usual clipped tone of respect he used with me. "Sir," he added.
I unfolded the letter carefully, aware that any errant soot would stain my trousers. What an idiot I was. As if ruined trousers were important in the larger scheme of things. And they were not. Because after I finished reading that letter, I let it fall to my lap.
Dearest Will: I must leave. It is not you, my love. But everything so much larger than you or I. He will take care of me. He promises. Love Elizabeth.
There was no doubt who the "he" was. There was no doubt where she'd gone. Take care of her? Utter bollocks! That man was only capable of seeing to himself. Seeing to his own pleasure and damn the rest of us.
"That bloody scoundrel!" I shouted and upended my chair as I rose from my desk. I flung open a drawer and grabbed a pistol and a bag of gun powder. While trying to load the pistol, my hands shook so violently that the powder went everywhere, coating my desk and my hands. My trousers. "He will hang this time. I will put the noose around that foul neck myself. I will..."
"You will not," Mr. Turner stated flatly. "Leave her be," he ordered. Snatching the pistol from me, he shoved it back into the desk drawer. "Leave her be," he repeated and added before he left the room, "He is not the only scoundrel."
Elizabeth Turner's flight was soon known to all. Where and with whom she had fled was still a great secret, but it hardly mattered to her reputation. Naturally, I never said a word about whom she was with, but she was ruined nevertheless.
I'd never quite appreciated the force of that word. Her name was now synonymous with whore. She would never be able to come back. The townsfolk both scorned Turner for setting his sights so high--no wonder she fled. Married to a blacksmith--and pitied him--always thought she was above the rest of us. Hussy. His trade suffered dramatically, and it was only through my commissions, the battle with the undead pirates had severely depleted our stock of weapons, that he was able to eat.
Her father was, oddly enough, absolved of her apparent sin. She'd been wayward from birth. Everyone agreed he had done his best.
As her failed suitor, I was the object of both condolences and congratulations. Everywhere I went, well-meaning people whispered in my ear: I'd been extraordinarily lucky that she'd fallen in love with Turner. It was a blessing. I should get down on my knees and thank god that I'd escaped a fate worse than death. That I hadn't married a whore who would eventually show her stripes and desert me. It took all my training to refrain from telling them go to hell.
I grew to detest all social functions that I'd previously attended with placid ennui. I wanted neither their pity nor their ill-conceived felicitations. Conversations halted when I came into the room. People would spy me across a ballroom, and then cup their hands in front of their mouths, as if I could hear their nasty exchanges above the strings of the quartet.
By tacit agreement, Turner and I never spoke of it. I would visit the forge and see the mourning so clearly pronounced in every limb of his body. He'd regained the slender, reed-like figure of boyhood, which on a man's body is a travesty. Because he had so little work, his shoulders thinned, as did his hips and waist; he pined for her.
I wanted to shout at him, "She is not worth it, you fool. Look with whom she went." But this would be an utter lie. My own trousers hung on my hip bones, my own frame rambled around in my jacket, mocking me every time I got dressed.
I entrusted the naval commissions to no one, preferring to visit the forge myself. I would never see him idle. He'd be languidly pounding away on metal that never looked like anything. Not a passing resemblance to a sword or a horseshoe. Nothing. I began to suspect that he just raised that hammer for something to do. Smashing his disappointment endlessly to no avail.
At the end of three months, I invited him to dinner. I was no longer sure whether he did not eat because he did not have the money or he did not care to eat.
I shoved a plate of cold mutton in front of him. "Eat," I ordered. He lifted his glass of wine to his mouth and finished it in one gulp.
"More, please," he begged.
I filled his glass and then my own to the brim.
We let the cat feast on the mutton.
"Has she contacted you?" I asked after we had finished the third bottle.
"No," he said, sounding surprised.
I forced my face into its usual stern, composed lines
The nights were the worst. I would pace the town, visit the ships, secure the rigging myself, confer with the night watch, anything to avoid sleeping.
In my dreams I smelled the salt in his beard. Watched his long fingers, heavy with silver, tracing over her small breasts, pinching a nipple, following the curve of her waist. I heard the sharp rhythmic clickclickclick of the baubles threaded through his ridiculous hair jostling against each other as he moved and thrust and took her slowly in time to the rocking of the waves. I imagined his throaty laugh as a calloused palm cupped a pert buttock, and the dark of that hand against the white of her skin made me ill, even in my dream, so that every morning when I awoke I would taste bile in my mouth. The worst and best part of these dreams was that I never imagined her response. Thank god.
We met every night after that. I no longer kept up the pretense of offering him dinner. Cognac or wine was on the table when he arrived. He determined the course of the evening. Which only seemed fair as it was his wife.
Some nights we would sit in the garden in the heat of the night and drink. Silently. He'd enter the room and not even look at me, but grab the bottle and shove through the French doors to the garden without his habitual grace. We'd sit side by side on the bench that overlooked the harbor. I'd be a liar if I said my eyes weren't fixed on the horizon, desperate to spy a ship with black sails. His were not, his eyes downcast, even as he hoisted the bottle to his mouth.
Some nights he'd arrive with a sword banging against his hip. These were my favorite nights. We'd fight in the garden for hours, trampling the flowers in our zeal. The continuous clang of our swords overrode the rushing sound of the tide coming in; our sweat soaked our shirts, obliterating the overbearing scent of tropical flowers under foot. On those nights, I'd lead him to the guest room and wouldn't even bid him good night or give him a candle to see by, trusting the moonlight to guide him to the bedstead. Exhausted and still panting from our exertions, I would fall atop my bed, not bothering to remove my clothes. And sleep. On those nights I never dreamt of him taking her; I dreamt of killing him. Silencing those baubles forever. Running my sword through him, twisting it as I pulled out the blade so that I was sure to slice organs. Sure to kill him.
He'd arrived one evening without his sword and did not reach for the bottle.
"Teach me to navigate," he demanded.
I was surprised to find that Turner was quite bright. This was most foolish of me, because in all honesty I could not see Elizabeth marrying a simpleton. But then again, I would not have believed in a million years that she would desert her husband of six months to fuck a pirate. There you go.
And when the stars no longer held any mystery for him, we went down to the dock and he bade me teach him about lines and sails.
His few days with Sparrow had not been for naught. It only remained to take him out and let him feel the wind, let him best it, let him tame it, mold it to what he desired of it. Then he would be a sailor.
I took him out on a small ship that two men could handle safely. We skirted the shoals around Port Royal before heading out to open water. We sailed for two days before we found a deserted island with fresh water and then dropped anchor.
Even after the sun went down, the heat was unbearable. We shed our shirts and trousers, clad only in our smalls. I had stocked plenty of wine for our trip. The pop of the cork elicited a snort of approval from Turner. We passed several bottles back and forth for a couple hours before I had the courage to venture a question.
"Were you surprised?"
"No," he answered in his now nearly habitual terse monosyllable way. The shy, somewhat inarticulate young man was now gone. The William Turner of last year would have stammered and blushed and not known how to answer something of such import. When he did, he would have replied with no less than fifty words, half of them prepositions. Last year I would have said this new Mr. Turner was an improvement. "Were you?"
"Yes," I responded, unable to keep the shock out of my voice.
I passed him the bottle, determined I would say nothing more, despite my desire to know. That would be it for the night. That I had pushed enough.
"Do you think she left us for him?" Now it was his turn to sound shocked. "She left us for this," and he flung his arms wide. "You of all people. I thought you'd understand. Need to piss, you bloody stupid commodore," he slurred, his voice angry.
I started at the insult and would have said something, but Turner hoisted himself up. For some reason, I half expected him to hit me, but then he turned away from me and dropped his smalls to his feet and grabbed himself.
Despite being the most formal of men, I have always relished this simple camaraderie among men. When women were on board, I would insist on the men maintaining some semblance of propriety. In the absence of women, we could piss over the side and drop our smalls without shame. Loll around in the cabins stark bollocks naked when the heat below decks was insufferable. Which is why I hated women on my ship.
Plus, I found most women boring. The coquettish snaps of their fans, their practiced prattle was lost on me. By twenty-five, I had resigned myself to bachelorhood, with the occasional visit to a respectable brothel when the mood struck.
And then Elizabeth Swann grew up.
While the blossoming of Elizabeth into a woman had meant the transition to hooped skirts and corsets, and all the trappings of what society determined was proper attire for a lady, the spirit, so irrepressible in the child that she stole a pirate's medallion from a young shipwrecked boy, was never quite repressed in the woman. She merely learned to hide it. As we all came to learn. She might have lengthened her skirts, but she never lost her cheek. Her intelligence. Her spark.
The most startling thing about the affair of the undead pirates was not the fact that there were undead pirates. What was truly amazing was the sight of Elizabeth Swann in that grimy slip. Seeing her figure unfettered by suffocating stays or corsets was intoxicating, truly intoxicating. She was like a young filly, all legs and energy; an energy unnaturally suppressed and restrained by all that Paris finery. God, I wanted her. I knew I loved her, but until that moment I had never desired her. Until then. And until her flight, and, I am ashamed to admit, even after her marriage, every night was devoted to lurid dreams of my mouth all over her. Everywhere. My hands on her. Sweaty eager hands that wanted to touch. That wanted to guide my cock into her and feel the wet and warmth of her. If I had never seen her in that slip, with those pirates, her spark as equally unsheathed as her figure, her double desertion, first to Turner and then to him, would have been a thousand times easier to bear.
I made to speak, to say that all of a sudden I understood, perhaps to apologize. Turner had finished his business and just stood there on the deck, one hand on a line steadying himself. His smalls were still crumpled in a heap around his ankles. He stood there naked in the moonlight, letting the breeze sober him. Turner hadn't cut his hair in months and in the humidity of the night, it curled around his head and neck in delightful ringlets. The full moon was just past, and I could clearly see the slight indent of his waist and then the corresponding flair of his hips to long, slender legs. Dear god in heaven, I began to harden. My eyes followed the rounding of his buttocks as they nestled into the top of his thighs, and I brought a hand to myself.
I had never desired men. I had never desired William Turner. But the lean line of his body and gentle rounding of his arse, so reminiscent of that other body I coveted, was so overwhelming that I couldn't help but moan.
He turned at that sound. I was going mad. I scurried down to the cabin. To hide. To deny this.
I began to pray. Asking god for the impossible. That Turner never heard me above the still of night. That god deliver me from this unholy, unnatural lust. That he cleanse my soul for such...
I had witnessed this man grow from a boy, had known him for ten years, and this was the first instance in which he had used my given name.
I had scrambled to the very far end of the cabin, flung myself into the corner of the room. I could barely make out his form in the dark of the cabin as he slowly moved forward, trying to avoid hitting the small table and chairs where we supped.
"James," he repeated, continuing to inch his way forward.
"I apologize, Mr. Turner," I managed to say in what was a completely inadequate attempt to imitate my usual command.
He did not respond, but continued his slow approach. He did not stop. He stepped right into me, dipping slightly and then swooping up while standing on his toes to brush our nipples across each other.
Mary, mother of God.
I couldn't help it. I pushed back. He continued to push forward. We were both panting now, from the heat, in the heat. The heat of the cabin, the heat of our bodies, the heat of his breath against my shoulder. I was the bigger man. I could easily have pushed him away. Demanded that this stop. Stop.
He ran his hands down my arms, ending at my wrists. Pulling my hands toward him, he settled them on his bare hips. He was naked. I grabbed him, hard, by his hip bones and pulled him to me. We were flush against each other, his erection butting up against mine, pushing against the thin linen of my smalls.
First grabbing my shoulders as if to hold on, as if a storm were brewing, as if the ship weren't in the calmest of waters, he whispered, "Touch me." And then he dug his fingers into my shoulder blades.
"Jesu," I cried, even as I ran my hands all over his body. Carded my fingers through his sweaty ringlets. Flattened my damp palms over the broad plane of his equally damp back. He continued to grip my shoulders, hard enough to bruise, and began to nudge ever so slightly; thrust ever so gently against me as I mapped his body. I could feel the want tense in him. The thrusting intensified and I realized that I was thrusting back as my hands kneaded the swells of his buttocks. That we were humping against each other, the sweat running off of our stomachs, our backs. Soaking my smalls. With a grunt, he stepped back from me. With both hands, he ripped open my smalls.
He then turned away from me. Ignoring my cry of protest, he strode toward the table and then lay himself on it, his legs together, his stomach curving over the lip of the table.
I didn't even bother to remove my smalls. With two great steps, I was on him. Covering him. I shoved my cock in the wide vee where his legs met his arse. It was wet and hot. It would do. His squeezed his legs together, and I began to fuck him.
We grunted and panted our way through that fuck, so much that I felt like I was dying of thirst when we were done. At one point, he grabbed my hand to bring it to his cock. Sheathing him in the heat and friction of my palm, we thrust together in a frantic rhythm for mutual release. When I came, I couldn't help but mouth his neck, kiss him, afterward my lips aching and parched from the salt. I lay on him, heavy, but with enough energy to see him through his orgasm. The increasing intensity of his curses told me how close he was.
When he came, he did the most obscene thing. As he arched against me, that final act of surrender, he screamed, "Jack!"
I waited until the last of the seed had left him, until the last jerk of his body. Then I exited the cabin and immediately jumped into the sea. To wash. To cleanse.
When I pulled myself back on board, he was seated on deck. Waiting for me. He was still naked, letting the night air dry the smell of my sex on him.
"Does she know?" My tone was bitter, unforgiving. I stood there, unwilling to sit, to even give him the remotest idea that I countenanced this disgusting turn of events.
"She didn't." Then he added. "I would imagine she does now."
"Does he know?" I meant to mock.
"I wasn't..." he paused, as if choosing his words carefully. "...willing to share. Then."
"Share him or her?" I fairly snarled.
His silence answered my question. My silence spoke of my shock.
"I cannot...do this...anymore. I wanted...I thought...It is unbearable," he rasped, his voice raw with all the unspoken misery of the last six months. "You see that. You feel that. Too."
My moral outrage demanded that I end this conversation. Decent men did not converse about sharing a pirate with your wife. About sharing your wife with a pirate. He was clearly willing to bargain with the Devil himself. But I said nothing because he was right. Yes. It was unbearable.
"We shall make for Tortuga in the morning. I will be able to send word to them from there. Can you sail this back to Port Royal by yourself?" He gestured to the ship, as cool as you please. As if we hadn't just rutted like animals and he'd cried out the name of his wife's lover as his seed spilled into the hand of another man. Hadn't confessed to fucking a pirate .
"Of course," I replied in my frosty best.
"Good." he nodded, ignoring the tone in my voice. "I will send word when they come for me."
I didn't know what to make of that.
"Don't be stupid, James. For you to join us," he said, somewhat impatiently.
"What makes you think I will join you," I snapped, laying on the scorn with a trowel.
He got up and stood behind me. Laying his hands on my hips, he thrust against me once as he mouthed the back of my neck. "Elizabeth," he whispered into my ear, into the night.