Disclaimer: I don't own the PotC characters and settings, Disney does.
Notes: irishchannel rox0rs for beating. All remaining mistakes are my own.
Jemmy's mother dies of childbed fever, but the blow to her husband is softened when the new babe, a sickly girl, dies within hours of her mother. The Norrington estate is barely profitable enough to provide a decent living for the existing family of prudent wife and two boys, and would not have supported any dowry at all.
Sir George's fortunes further decline by the loss of some properties in the West Indies, due to what he calls "those infernal, endless wars" and for some years the Norringtons' not keeping a carriage and other, similar misfortunes are the cause of much malicious gossip amongst the neighbours.
By the time Jemmy is breeched and Richard is already running wild, however, the tide has turned; for Sir George has met and successfully wooed a distant relation of his, one Miss Anne Edmead of an obscure branch of the Derbyshire Russells. Miss Edmead is no great beauty, as the very same neighbours are quick in pointing out, but she has an amiable disposition, is quick in making friends, and, most importantly, has some ten thousand pounds; inherited from a long-dead father.
The money is quickly – and surprisingly well – invested, and by the time Jemmy exchanges his toys for the tutors' cane the house not only boasts a fine carriage for Mrs Norrington to pay her morning calls but also a larger addition to the family. Both Richard and Jemmy – who is now called James by everybody but his old nurse – are fond of their new sisters, and even Sir George is quite predisposed to tolerate them, seeing as enough money has been put aside to attract respectable suitors for Anne and Mary in due time.
It is agreed by all that James is a quiet, polite boy. Although as arrogant as his father, at least not prone to the same displays of violent temper that make Sir George a powerful but vastly disliked neighbour. Most tutors prefer James to Richard, for even though James has to be all but regularly caned for daydreaming, he is quicker in understanding than his older brother and at least twice as good at remembering his lessons. It is not, of course, as if Richard will ever need to learn as much as James, who will, in time, take orders or purchase a commission, but such things are rarely remembered in the classroom.
Richard has two passions in life: horses and shooting, both of which find grudging approval with Sir George. James has but one interest outside the library: the sea.
The house, situated as it is, affords a splendid view of the ever-changing waters far below, with their lacy crests breaking at the cliffs. The nursery windows face right out to the Channel, which is how Nurse comes to claim that "her Master Jemmy" must have been cursed by some sea spirit as a babe. It is dismissed as an old woman's tale, but most servants, having come from sailors' and fishermen's families, nevertheless have much to whisper about every time James comes in soaked from the spray or with sand in his boots; and that is almost every day. His eye colour, a changeable green so unlike the Norringtons' typical brown, adds yet more fuel to the fire.
James is seven when he first meets his cousin, one Lieutenant Drew of the HMS Adventure. Drew is a cold, silent man prone to handling the upstairs maids too roughly, but even the few terse morsels of information he lets escape make James wide-eyed with wonder and keep him up at night, ears straining to catch the distant sounds of the surf.
There are others: the fishermen from the village, an Admiralty clerk's brother married to the judge's niece, a distant relative coming to visit, old seamen smoking outside the taverns, even one of the tutors, whose sister is married to a merchant sailor. Sir George never learns of those snatched minutes of conversation, but even he notices the boy's endless fascination with all things nautical. He is not too displeased: a career in the Navy certainly promises more glory than writing sermons, and there might even be some prize money and a good marriage in the distant future.
All possible relatives and friends are applied to for patronage, and when James is told that if he is a good boy a commission will be purchased for him when he turns twelve his eyes grow wide. He barely manages to stammer a "Thank you, sir" before bolting from the room. Sir George shouts about the ingratitude of the boy but Mrs Norrington, understanding her stepson better than anyone could have expected, persuades her husband that his reaction was lacking only words, not feeling.
James runs – where else? – to the cliffs overlooking the sea, and can't breathe for the enormity of the horizon, the sky, the water laid out in front of him.
"Mine," he says out loud, overwhelmed by the notion. "Mine now."
And every day of his life – whether wreathed in smoke beside his gun crew, trying on his first Lieutenant's coat, on the bridge of his first command, on the battlements of his fort looking down at his fleet – he will never forget that feeling.