Disclaimer: Not mine, I be only borrowing for a while.
The Company had been gone for a few days when Elizabeth returned to Port Royal, and the town was once again full of red-coated Marines, some bearing new wounds and the dazed expressions of men only recently escaped from death. But it did not seem like the same little port she had left – how long ago was it? Less than a year, but it seemed like ten thousand.
She hoisted her bag on her shoulder and set off towards the distant shape of the mansion on the hillside. She was still in the comfortable anonymity of men's clothing, but plain English garments borrowed from some of the Pearl's crew. Her elaborate Chinese things were in the bag, covering the heavy weight of the chest, dulling the steady thump, thump from within.
Her brow was damp by the time she reached the mansion's gates, which stood half-open. The building did not seem to have been touched by the East India Company's occupancy, and was as quietly, massively comforting as ever. Elizabeth looked at the front door for a moment, and turned to go around the side of the house.
As she had hoped, the kitchen door was open. She slipped in and paused, looking around her. The stove was lit, but otherwise there was little sign of occupancy. Elizabeth put her bag down carefully, and loosened her sword in its sheath before going towards the door leading to the rest of the mansion.
It opened before she could get there, revealing two of the servants with buckets and cloths. They squealed, and dropped the buckets, at the sight of Elizabeth and her sword.
"Estrella!" Elizabeth said. "Mary! It's me, it's Elizabeth."
Her maid took a step back. "You don't look much like Miss Elizabeth, beggin' your pardon."
She took off her hat, and moved her hand from the sword's hilt. "It's me. It's really me. Estrella, what's happened here?"
The maids exchanged glances, and Estrella came towards her.
"Haven't you heard, miss?"
"The Governor … oh, miss … we had word from that Lord Beckett, that he'd died at sea. Some illness, we was told."
Elizabeth pulled a stool out from the long kitchen worktable, and sat down. "I know he's dead, Estrella. That he died at sea."
"But where have you been, miss?" Estrella asked, coming to stand nearby. "We've been so worried, what with the Governor gone, and no word from you, and that Lord Beckett …" She made a face, one that Elizabeth knew well. "It's not my place, of course, but some of the townsfolk were saying what he was doing wasn't right."
"It wasn't right," Elizabeth said, suddenly weary. "You can say what you like, Estrella; Beckett's dead too."
The maids both gasped, Mary putting her hand to her mouth.
"That's why the Company's left, then?" asked Estrella. "Nobody was sure. We heard all sorts of things. And Lieutenant Groves and the rest of them only got back the other day, and they released all the prisoners in the fort, and since then they've been cleaning the place up."
"Prisoners?" asked Elizabeth, keen to finally get some news of Beckett's reign over Port Royal.
"'Twas dreadful, miss," Mary said. "Anyone they said had dealt with pirates – hanged, without trial. Hundreds, they said."
"Dear God," Elizabeth said, and remembered the sound of the Endeavour exploding under the guns. Remembered Beckett's cold little smile as Jack and Will made the exchange that he thought would seal his victory.
"You still haven't said where you've been, miss," pursued Estrella.
Elizabeth sighed, and slid off her stool to pick up her bag. "A long way, Estrella. A very long way, and back again." She met her maid's eyes. "And I would give a lot for a bath?"
"Of course, miss!" The pair set to immediately, collecting ewers for water. Estrella paused. "We'll have it hot in no time. Your room's ready for you, miss."
She left them to it, and made her way wearily up the long flight of stairs to her room. The mansion seemed quiet, and sad, and peaceful, and the sameness of her girlhood bower was comforting. She put the bag down on the bed, and emptied out the soiled Chinese clothes. Estrella could wash them later.
The chest lay quietly in the bottom of the bag, and Elizabeth lifted it out. It was odd to see it here in her flowered, sunny room. She dug out the iron key from where it hung on a cord around her neck, and opened the chest.
Will's heart lay in a corner of the box, beating steadily and strongly. She gazed at it, put out a finger and touched it. It was warm and moist and, she realised, alive. Though his heart was imprisoned in a casket of wood and iron, Will was alive.
She closed the chest, and put it away at the bottom of her wardrobe. It would be safe there, for now.
The bath came soon, and was hot and fragrant with the rose oil Estrella poured in in liberal doses. Elizabeth sank into the water gratefully, and watched the dirt stream off her in murky clouds.
Estrella bustled about, fetching fresh water and laying ready a robe for afterwards. Her presence was comforting, and normal, but Elizabeth knew she could not relax into normality for too long.
She submerged for a moment, and then sat up.
"Miss?" Estrella paused for a second.
"Come and sit by me," Elizabeth said. "I have something to tell you – two things, actually. Will you listen for now, and not talk?"
"Yes, miss." Estrella folded her hands in her lap.
Elizabeth took a breath. "I'm going to go back to England, Estrella. I can't stay here, not now … not now Father's gone. And I don't want to stay. I'd like you to come with me, if you will." She looked down at her hands, which were beginning to wrinkle in the water. "And I'm not miss, not any longer. I married Will Turner."
Estrella's eyes went wide, and a smile broke out across her face. "Miss – I mean ma'am! Why, that's wonderful! But why did you not say before, and where is he?"
"He's not going to be around," Elizabeth said.
"No," Elizabeth said, "but where he is, I cannot be. Perhaps it would be better if we act as though he is dead, Estrella – people will tolerate a widow more easily." She stood up, and accepted the wrap Estrella gave her. "Can you pack my trunk, tomorrow, while I find us a ship home?"
Estrella, unexpectedly, put her arms around her mistress and gave her a warm hug. "Of course, ma'am. I'm glad you and Master Turner married; I always thought you would." She released Elizabeth. "What was the wedding like?"
Elizabeth laughed, remembering the noise of swords clashing, of cannon blasting, of the rain pouring down, of Calypso's wind and waves. "Quick," she said. "Listen, Estrella, I'll tell you all about all of it once we're aboard a ship to England. For now, I think I just want to sleep."
Her maid nodded, and helped her dry her hair and change into a clean linen nightdress. And then, just like in the old days, before any of this madness began, Elizabeth found herself tucked into her soft bed with a warming pan at her feet, and she slept.
She was tired enough to get through half the night without dreaming, but towards morning she dreamt of the Flying Dutchman. There was Will, at the helm, looking piratical in a headscarf with a sword at his hip. And his father – no longer barnacled, apparently no longer crazy, yet nevertheless still the man that had killed James Norrington. She tried to tell Will, to warn him of the danger, but he did not seem to see her. Had he forgotten her, so soon, so easily? She tried again, to speak to him, to touch him, but he turned away.
Elizabeth awoke with her covers all awry and her skin hot, the sun flooding in through her windows. Estrella was drawing back the curtains.
"Nightmare, miss – I mean ma'am?"
"Yes." Elizabeth sat up, and accepted the cup of tea held out to her gratefully. "Thank you. Can you find me some clothes – I need to go to the harbour to find a ship this morning."
After some consultation and rifling through her wardrobe, they decided on a plain dark dress that reflected Elizabeth's status as a new widow and orphan, and Estrella helped her dress and put up her hair.
"There. You look lovely, ma'am."
"Thank you." Elizabeth patted her hair. "I'll be back later."
Estrella bobbed a courtesy and left the room with the tea-tray. Elizabeth went to her bag and after some searching found what she was looking for – the plain silver band Jack Sparrow had pressed into her hand before the Black Pearl dropped her off.
"You're a married woman, love," he had said. "Ought to have a ring. Typical of the whelp that he didn't give you one."
"He didn't exactly have a chance, Jack," she had replied, but she had accepted the ring. Now she slid it on to her finger and found it fitted perfectly.
There were several merchant vessels provisioning in the Port Royal harbour for a journey back to England. Elizabeth soon found a captain happy to take a young, pretty widow and her servant aboard for a reasonable fee.
On the way back up to the mansion she heard her name called. She turned, her hand automatically going to her hip for a sword.
She let her hand drop, and stitched a smile on to her face. "Why, Lieutenant Groves!" she said.
Groves, in the plain naval uniform rather than the East India Company's gold brocade, bowed formally. "I had no idea you were here," he said.
"I got back yesterday," Elizabeth said. "I see you and your men have been busy already."
A shadow crossed his features. "There is much to do." He beckoned her into an empty doorway. "Miss Swann – your father … I am sorry. There was nothing any of us could do."
"So I have been told," she returned.
He rubbed his hand across his face.
"I do not know how it came to this end," he said. "Listen, Miss Swann. I think you should leave Port Royal, head for England. I saw you aboard the Black Pearl. Others will have too."
"I'm going tomorrow," she returned. "There is nothing left for me here."
"No. I suppose there isn't."
"What happens now, if you come upon the Pearl?" Elizabeth asked.
Groves avoided her gaze. "They are still pirates, Miss Swann. As much as I may ….admire certain qualities they possess, they are still pirates."
"Captain Sparrow would prefer not to take good men down," said Elizabeth. "Give him a chance, and he'll respect the Code."
"Thank you," said Groves. "I shall remember that. Good day to you, Miss Swann; and fair winds for your voyage home." He bowed, and hurried away.
The rest of the day was spent sorting through old memories. There was too much, far too much, in the mansion for her to think of taking more than a few trinkets, a few odds and ends – but deciding which things to pack proved difficult. There was little enough in her own room, and it took just a few moments to tell Estrella to pack her mother's jewellery and a few spare dresses.
But her father's study, which smelt overwhelmingly of the tea he used to drink and the faintly musty scent of his official wig, was harder. She sat at his great mahogany desk and rifled through piles of papers.
There was a small cameo portrait of her mother; a picture she herself had drawn years before. In a drawer Elizabeth found letters tied tenderly with yellow ribbon, and they went on the pile of things to take. In another drawer was an official-looking document with a seal, labelled "The Last Will and Testament of Weatherby George Swann".
She dismissed the books, knowing her father's taste, and left the study with her small collection of items.
From her father's bedroom – a strange and alien place – she took another small portrait, this time of the three of them in happier times, and a bundle of monogrammed handkerchiefs from the closet. That was all.
Estrella was on her knees in Elizabeth's bedroom, carefully folding clothes into the trunk. Her pirate gear – the men's clothes she had returned in, and the Chinese finery – were on the bed.
"I wasn't sure if you wanted those, ma'am," Estrella said, laying a dress into the trunk.
"Yes," Elizabeth said. "Put them all in."
At the end of the day all her possessions were packed away, and together with Estrella's smaller trunk were in the hallway ready for the morning. There was just one thing left, and a smaller trunk was ready for it, lined with thick, crunchy palm leaves.
Elizabeth lifted the chest out of the wardrobe, and carried it carefully over to put it in the lined trunk. Her maid watched, curiosity etched on her face.
"I want you to promise me something," Elizabeth said, her hand on the chest.
"This is important, Estrella. If anything should happen to me, anything at all, you are to take this chest and run. Escape. Hide. Nothing can happen to this, you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am." Estrella nodded. "What's inside?"
Elizabeth looked down at the carvings, and caressed the lid. "Something more valuable than anything else I carry."
She closed the lid of the outer trunk, and locked it.
"There. That's it."
In the cool morning, before the heat of the day had hit Port Royal, Elizabeth and Estrella boarded the merchant ship Rosemary. She was a trim little vessel, neatly-kept and seaworthy, and her captain welcomed the ladies on board warmly. They had a tiny cabin on the port side aft with two bunks and not much space for anything else.
Elizabeth left Estrella trying to settle in, and went up on deck to watch the Rosemary unmoor and set sail. Her crew, she noted, were efficient and well-trained, and they were soon drifting out of Port Royal's harbour under topsails and staysails.
She stood at the stern and watched the little town disappear for the last time.
The captain came up beside her. "Sorry to be leaving, Mrs Turner?"
"No." She shook her head. "No, I'm not."
"I hope the voyage will be smooth," the captain continued. "I should warn you, we may encounter pirates. The East India Company's been having a deal of trouble recently."
Elizabeth smiled. "Oh, I don't think we'll have any problems," she said.