A Song for the Wretched and Wrecked, Part II
It is sunny, as always, when she becomes a Commodore's wife. She wonders, as she steps out into the sun, if she had wanted the weather to echo whatever turbulence was rocking her own body – a tempest, perhaps, or even a small summer storm. But instead it is beautiful, there is a cool breeze blowing over her skin, and she is to be married in a few hours time.
She's nervous, because some part of her is not sure why she agreed to go through with this: she still feels something for Will, and nothing save admiration for Com – James, the man, who is about to become her spouse. The loss of Will is acute now, for she has had time to become used to it, and she almost expects to see him standing in the shadows of the church.
Instead, she sees blue coats and gold braid and a nervous smile on James' face.
Shortly after she accepted his proposal, he came to her house dressed modestly and without the white wig. He looked incredibly nervous and, for the first time she's known him, incredibly human.
"If we are to be married," he told her, "I think it best we learn more about each other."
"Such as?" she asked.
"I'd like it very much if you'd call me James," he said softly.
"Of course, James," she says.
Her servants told her how this sort of thing never really happens, that most women marry with little real knowledge of their husbands, most of it gleamed from letters and words spoken before chaperones. The first thing she learned about James Norrington – not Commodore, not Captain, just James - was what a good man he was, and how he had many admirable qualities, including setting his future wife at ease.
She learned his favorite poems, his favorite composers and dances. She learned how about his first trip at sea (he was twelve) and his favorite destination (a cove on the other side of the island that one can only reach by boat) and the worst experience he ever had (Portuguese slave traders, surprisingly, not pirates). She learned how different he was when not bound by the constraints of his uniform, how there was wit behind that smile and humour in his eyes.
And, one day, she learned the man sitting before her was indeed a man, and nothing else. It was nothing out of the ordinary, merely stretching her neck but when she focused her eyes on him, she was surprised. For a moment, there was a glimmer of something else in his eyes, something that marred his stoic air and unblemished façade. She couldn't name it if she tried, because it had many names but none she'd ever spoken (at least, not in front of him).
He recovered, quickly, and departed soon after, leaving her to consider for the first time what a man so proper could be capable of when left to his own, more instinctual devices.
After the ceremony, he takes her to the house that will be their home. It is a very fine house, not as luxurious as the house she is leaving but lovely, nonetheless. There is a garden and a wonderful library and the furniture is lovely. It is a fitting house for a Commodore and his new wife.
They walk side by side, not touching, and when he leaves her to unpack her trunks she is nervous, for she doesn't know what will be expected of her tonight, nor how she will respond to the kisses of someone she does not love. She is worried that mere affection will be enough to carry her through the night, and wonders if she may beg for a stay of execution. Her thoughts come to halt, however, when she finds him standing in her doorway, his eyes looking everywhere but at her.
She will admit that her husband cuts a handsome figure in his pristine uniform, and an even nicer one without it. She catches a glance of tanned skin at his neck and her eyes travel downwards to the tight fit of his breeches. She cannot deny that he is an attractive man, and has admitted to harboring a childish infatuation with him only a few years back (it seems at some moments a lifetime ago). At this very moment she is the envy of Port Royal, she knows, which is humorous considering she is feeling so very unlucky.
He asks if she is hungry, for there is some food in the kitchen if she wishes it. He asks her if she is tired, and if so he will leave her be. He seems so nervous standing there that her heart catches in her throat and she inquires about the state of their bedrooms. She stumbles through some words about marriage and beds and she's so nervous her hands are shaking but then his are there to hold them still.
He's so close to her that she can feel the catch in his breathing when she steps forward, just a bit more, into his arms. He seems astonished that she lets him kiss her, and she is astonished that kissing him is not horrible – in fact, it's almost enjoyable.
Elizabeth is a curious girl. She has listened, these past few months, to stories about wedding nights and marriage and been unsatisfied with the conclusions she has reached: that it is a duty, it is uncomfortable and boring and best if it's hurried along to its natural conclusion. If this is true, then she is doomed to an unhappy life regardless of her attractive husband.
And then his lips are gone, and she blinks. His eyes are wide and his breathing as labored as her own and he takes her hand, walking backwards towards the larger of the two rooms. His eyes never leave hers and she trusts him – she's always trusted him, and always will.
She is shaking from nerves and fear and he does his best to calm her with words and reassuring touches. She kisses him in return. His mouth against her neck makes her arch towards him, and after that everything moves in slow motion as he touches her all over. It hurts when he enters her, but he tries to calm her with kisses along her forehead, her temples, her mouth. She assumes that this will become more enjoyable – she does not mind him touching her, because she sees how that can be nice– but he groans and stills, and then kisses her one last time before rolling away from her onto his back. She looks up at the ceiling, then at her new husband, and finds herself suddenly very tired. She does not want to think anymore.
When she wakes the next morning, his is gone and she is glad, but only for a minute. It allows her to slip into her dressing gown without feeling awkward at being undressed in front of him, and she appreciates this small kindness.
She finds him calmly drinking tea at the breakfast table. He looks tired, and there are dark circles under his eyes that were not there before.
The events of their wedding night are not repeated the next night, nor the one after that, and so on. She had assumed that since he requested they share their marriage bed, that he would also want her to share with him in other things. But instead he kisses her softly before turning onto his side, and going to sleep.
Sometimes, she wakes in the middle of the night to find herself on the far edge of the bed, startled by his presence as well as hers in the room. Other times, she'll wake to find herself curled up against him, or her arms thrown across his chest; sometimes it'll be him against her, and his hand resting on her stomach.
And then there are the nights with the nightmares, when she holds him as he moans and thrashes, shaking from fear herself. She presses kisses to his fevered brow and curses the devils that torment someone like James.
The first few months of wedded bliss pass far easier than she expected. They have established routines, and she is coming to realize a husband is a companion unlike any other she has ever had, and nothing like the books say. Yes, the books she bought told her that they would be needy, and require patience and discipline but James does not frown like her father would when she breaks something or breaches decorum by discusses unladylike topics in mixed company (she forgets, sometimes). He says nothing, smiles and encourages her interests, seems more interested in being her companion, not her father or master and she appreciates this.
The only time he seems remotely cross with her, however, is when she discusses pirates, or mentions Will, something she does not do often but his name does cross her lips from time to time. She watches him purse his lips and nod, his face growing drawn and pale and she wonders why he worries so, for she is his now. She hardly ever thinks of Will anymore, which surprises her but not so much anymore because she has James to think of.
She likes nothing more than to see him relaxed, in the evening before bed when he wears nothing more than breeches and a shirt, open at the neck, his hair freed from the confines of that wretched wig. It makes him more human, in many ways, and she feels more comfortable around James as opposed to the Commodore.
The Commodore, she is coming to realize, is merely one extreme of his personality. The other side retains some characteristics – he hides his feelings from most everyone, including her – but is more welcoming and, she is coming to find, lovable. He is an affectionate husband, bringing her presents and indulging her whims. She finds that with every day she opens to him more, much like the flowers in her garden opening to the sun (if there is a sun in her world, then it is definitely James). It is not so horrible being married to him after all.
It is not hard to like James, and she does what she can to make him smile. She instructs the cooks to make him the sweets that she cannot stand but which he enjoys so much. She doesn't mind tending house – she thought she would loathe it a great deal more than she does – but the little things, the moments of intimacy she shares with him make her revel in this silly domesticity.
He has caught her staring at him, and she blushes.
"I am sorry – I was distracted."
He says nothing, smiles that crooked smile of his that she admires, and says "Perhaps it is time for us to retire, then?"
She nods in response.
She wonders why he doesn't reach for her in the middle of the night, or ever. He seems to keep her at arms length, treating her with the proper respect that a lady deserves.
When he does touch her, she remembers their first night and how he made her feel when his hands moved across her body. She had felt nervous, silly, and awkward, yet when he touches her now she remembers none of that.
Instead, she feels everything rushing towards her stomach, a jolt of something like excitement, and a slow throb that stays with her long after his hand leaves hers.
There is a party, with dancing and men in fine uniforms and ladies in expensive dresses. The dress James buys her, newly arrived from England, is lovelier than anything she has ever seen before, but far lovelier is the small smile on his face when she descends the stairs. He cannot take his eyes off her all evening, and her body hums with excitement and when they arrive home he kisses her with abandon, pressing against her and drawing the air from her lungs before pulling away and leaving her. He storms off to the parlor and she hears the door slam, followed by the shatter of glass and she cannot breathe from all the confusion.
She wonders why he will not touch her like a husband touches a wife and the mere thought makes her ache.
He tells her the next morning that he does not want anything from her, but his eyes speak the words he cannot say: that he does not expect her to ever desire or want him as much as he does her. It's often in his eyes, and every time it breaks her heart into millions of tiny pieces, because sometimes she does want him and so that night, she cannot help but reach for him, wanting things she can't even name.
She is grateful when he kisses her back.
Their first coupling was nothing like this – the feel of his skin, warm against hers, makes her want to press her body close against his and crawl into his skin. She cannot help but moan when he touches her and this is so much better, full of desire and perhaps even love.
She has been coming to love him, slowly and surely. She loves the way he smiles and the gentle tone of voice when they are alone, conversing at dinner or the library. She loves the way she feels around him, the intimacy they are now sharing which has grown over these past months and which, at this very moment, makes her dizzy.
The next morning, he reiterates that she not feel obligated. She wonders if he really does love her and, if he does, what could possibly make him so terrified of her.
Now that she has tasted a glimpse of what married life can offer beyond companionship and household duties, she desires more. When she finally works up the nerve to address the subject on her own, she is not disappointed with the results.
She enjoys how afterwards, they lie next to each other sharing kisses and gentle caresses. His guard is always down and her heart sings with the small smiles he gives her, the words he says while their breathing returns to normal.
"You," he tells her one day, "are my Achilles heel."
"I am your downfall?" she asks jokingly, rolling over to lie on his chest.
"You," he says, "are my one weakness. I cannot deny you anything."
"And here I thought you much preferred your trifles to me," she jokes, only to find herself once again in his arms as he kisses her laughter away.
But there is a darkness in his eyes which frightens her. It lingers in his eyes when they are together and grows when they are apart until one day, it finally consumes him.
He accuses her of thinking of others, though it takes her more than a moment to understand what he could possibly mean. She has never thought of anyone besides him – in fact, cannot get the thought of him out of her head – and this accusation confuses her until she realizes that, despite all of this, he still does not believe she has come to love him.
"You have claim over me," she tells him, hoping he can tell the depth of her feeling in those words. i You have claim /i -
I am not heartless, whatever you may think. I will not force blood from a stone, nor demand you to love me nearly as much as I love you. Goodnight. I will not see you in the morning.
He leaves, and she feels so lost and alone. She does not sleep that night, instead cries into her pillow wondering what she could have possibly done wrong.
Three months without him and she is lost. She cannot talk to the maids, because then they will gossip. She cannot ask her father, because he will not understand. She has no one, and so she is alone.
Prior to her marriage, she read as much literature on the proper duties of a wife that Port Royal offered. She combs through their bent pages now, hoping for the solution to her problem but there is nothing to tell her what to do. They tell her how to dress, how to act, how to be a dutiful wife but they do not tell her what love is, nor if this feeling inside of her could be love.
She turns to other sources: poets and playwrights and authors but none of them adequately describe up what she thinks. Their words are too strong and yet too hollow to explain the feelings coursing through her. Love is not rough, nor does it prick or act in a boisterous manner – at least, not this love, not James.
Perhaps she has not found the right words. She fears she never will.
She writes him letters every day, telling him how she misses him and detailing the daily trials and tribulations of the household. Some days they are one page length, others they span several until she runs out of ink or parchment or both. She always closes them with declarations of love and affection, sometimes writing what she thinks and other times (depending on how trying her day was) leaving them short but attempting to be meaningful nonetheless. She seals them and places them in his desk drawer. She will remove them before he returns but for now, she enjoys pretending he has read them and knows.
Then a ship arrives in the harbor, his ship, and he is i home /i , in their bedroom, slipping his coat off and shirt and folding them up neatly on the chair in the corner. She has never been happier in her life.
She sits up in bed, watching him because she has missed him more desperately than she can possibly say. Her fingers ache to touch his forehead, his mouth, his shoulders, to make sure that he is real. She wants nothing more than to hold and be held, to feel his heartbeat and to know that he is home and with her.
But then, he opens the door and leaves the room. She is out of bed in an instant, following him down the hallway until she catches him at the top of the stairs.
"James," she says softly. He turns to her, looking very tired.
"Elizabeth," he says quietly. "You should be sleeping."
"As should you," she tells him.
"In due time," he admits, taking a step down the stairs.
"No," she says. "In your own bed. With your wife. Not in the library or anywhere else."
His response – "Elizabeth" is a sigh, and he does not look at her. She reaches out to touch him, terrified he will pull away. The words he spoke before he left echoes in her ears, and she wants to tell him that she loves him, that only he possesses her heart, and yet she does not know how. She does not think that kisses or touches will do anything to convince him, nor will pleading, so she steps forward and leans her head against his chest, arms encircling his torso. She breathes in the scent of him, which makes her pulse quicken and her head spin.
"I've missed you," she says, "so much-" hearing her voice catch and there are tears in the corners of her eyes.
He holds her to him, pressing his lips against her hair. He does not say anything, just holds her.
"I have some business to attend to," he tells her. "I will be up shortly."
She pulls herself from his arms and walks, alone, to their bedroom. His footsteps recede down the stairs.
He does not come to bed, and when she wakes she is cold. It is Sunday, and she can hear the church bells and her maid brings her tea. She does not see James until they must leave for service.
He waits for her at the bottom of the stairs, looking very tired and she bites her lip to keep from saying anything. He looks out the window on the way to church, and says, with a small smile, "It is lovely to be home."
"On land, you mean," she teases with a smile and he's caught off guard.
"Yes," he concedes. "Home."
It is nice to sit with him in their pew, even if the back is too straight and uncomfortable and the sermon about husband and wives makes her blush. Members of the congregation stop to ask him about the voyage on their way out, and she smiles while he politely answers all their questions. Their carriage arrives, and as they make their way towards it, he bends his head towards her ear and tells her "I read your letters last night."
She stops, startled, and he helps her up and into the dark space. She had forgotten to move them before he returned. She had not meant for him to find them -
He is looking at her calmly. "I'm sorry, they were –"
"No," she says. "I'm glad you read them."
"Did you – " he starts, looking away from her and she knows. She knows and she nods.
"Every last word."
He reaches for her hand, and she thinks of how they seem to fit together so well.
"When we return to the house," he says, "I have something for you. A gift I found at a port of call. And then, perhaps you will allow me to make amends for my rudeness last night…" he blushes, looks down and away and she brings his hand to her lips, kissing the knuckles. His eyes widen and they are green, oh so green.
"Of course," she says softly. The ache in her chest has gone away, now, and is filled with something else entirely which she knows, for sure, to be love.