Title: A Canopy of Green
Series: Exploring Jamaica
Characters: Norrington, Elizabeth, Governor Swann, Gillette, Groves
Genre: Man vs Nature, Adventure, Romance
Status: In progress
Word Count: 3,700
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Disney or whoever owns the Rights to Pirates of the Caribbean. This is just for fun.
Summary: James and Elizabeth go on a picnic just beyond Port Royal and run into a few unexpected problems. Includes elements of a Regency romance. This story is the sequel to "A Moment's Weakness".
Author's Note: I have added a few aspects of modern day Jamaica, such as a few words and foods, to help bring the tropical environment alive. All the geological names mentioned in this story are true and exist near where Port Royal used to be (an earthquake in 1692 put most of the town under the sea). The Tainos are the first Jamaicans and were already there when the British first arrived. And yes, I have done research on Jamaica as to flora, fauna, wildlife, etc. This was originally posted on LJ under a different account I opened there.
James Norrington rested in bed, the room a comfortable darkness around him. Although the hour was late, his heart was filled with joy and he kept replaying the steamy kiss he had shared with Elizabeth up on the battlements of the Fort. It was still hard for him to believe that she had chosen him over Turner and that the romantic interlude was not just a dream. Yes, it was reality and actually had happened. It was without doubt the happiest day of his life. Although Elizabeth loved pirates and their dashing ways, he was glad to see she possessed a practical streak as well. The young blacksmith could never keep her in the lifestyle she had grown accustomed to over the years, a lifestyle that included servants, fine meals, new gowns on a regular basis so she could attend social functions and all the other sundry things that went along with high society. Port Royal wasn't London by any means but even here in a town that was barely out of its colony status there were standards. He doubted if Turner even had enough coin to buy a cheep home on the outskirts of town.
Smiling, a hand resting behind his head, James thought of the home he had bought in preparation of asking for Elizabeth's hand. Although it wasn't as large or grand as the Governor's house, it wasn't small, either. It was well constructed and situated in a good area of town. Better yet, the master bedroom had a grand view of the sparkling Caribbean and was far closer to the sea than the house his future bride lived in now. Having spent most of his life in the Navy, James doubted if he'd ever be able to live far from the roaring tides or the salty sea air. He had paid dearly for that but it was well worth it, especially now that she had agreed to become his bride. He was thankful now that his father had taught him the value of money and how to save it for what he truly desired instead of fritting it away carelessly on frivolous things. Better yet, he still had a large sum in his bank and that would be needed for running a household.
A household. Those two words more than anything remarked how real his dream was becoming. Still, he needed to get to know his bride better and for she to know him. He should take her out on a date so they could talk and grow accustomed to the other. There were several fine restaurants in town but somehow he thought the formal environment would chaff at the wild streak that ran through her. Had she not asked him to be a pirate?
He sighed, his other hand idly scratching an itch on his bare chest. How could he ever be a pirate? Oh, he knew she didn't mean it literally but as a request for less formal attitudes. Still, he had been in the Navy so long that the formal behavior was practically a part of him and he doubted if he'd be able to swagger around as freely as Sparrow and his other compatriots. Still, he had to attempt it, be more relaxed in her presence.
But the idea of where he should take her still vexed him. He spent most of his time either at sea or in the Fort. And some of the establishments that popped up in town were hardly suitable for a lady. Rolling over onto his side, he decided he would ask Gillette and Groves in the morning. Perhaps between the three of them they'd think something up.
The morning came soon enough and after a breakfast of ripe fruit, sausage and biscuits; the three strolled along the wharf where the Navy ships were anchored. James had his hands folded neatly behind his back as he paused to gaze at the Dauntless. "I seem to have a problem that requires your assistance. Advice would be much appreciated."
"What is the nature of the problem?" Gillette inquired politely.
"I wish to take Miss Swann on a date so we can get to know each other better, yet I feel the formal environment of the posh restaurants in town are not wholly agreeable to her nature." He admitted, frowning slightly. "Can either of you suggest a less formal setting that would still be appropriate for a young lady?"
"What of a picnic?" Suggested Groves helpfully. "A picnic among the natural splendor of this island?"
"Yes, I suppose that may work." James agreed as he turned to face the other two men. "But where exactly would I have this picnic? Much of the nearby beaches are filled with common folk, fishing boats and the like. And we all know sometimes unpleasant things get washed ashore. The last thing I desire is for Miss Swann to step on a stinging jellyfish."
"Perhaps further inland?" Gillette suggested. "I heard that the Rio Grande River Valley is quite spectacular and it's not that far from here. It's also supposed to be filled with native wildlife. Perhaps Miss Swann would enjoy a trip to the country and a chance to see flora and fauna up close?"
James considered the matter seriously for a moment, his lips a straight line. Although he was more familiar with sea charts, he did know that the Rio Grande was the river that brought Port Royal its drinking water. The river started somewhere high up in the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains were the tallest mountains in all of Jamaica, reaching heights over three thousand feet. Turning towards town, he could see their hazy greenish form rising up in the far distance, like a squatting giant. Most of the mountains were covered with forest, hence their green color. The idea seemed plausible. He had no idea if Elizabeth had an interest in looking at animals or learning their behavior, still, he supposed it would be better than nothing. "I suppose it may work. But what sort of animals are we speaking of? I must admit a lack of knowledge as to native wildlife."
"Oh, there's nothing dangerous on this island as far as I know." Gillette admitted to his commanding officer. "When we first came out here to Jamaica I asked around, having never been to the tropics before. The tainos told me the largest native land animal is the coney, a large type of rodent. It's similar to our hedgehog or so I heard. But you're unlikely to encounter one in the river valley. You'll mostly see birds there."
"Well, that doesn't sound dangerous." James wondered if Elizabeth enjoyed bird watching. Perhaps she did. It was a bit odd, but he truly knew nothing of the young woman he was engaged to. "Still, it would be highly improper for her and I to be out there alone. It would be scandalous to say the least. Her reputation has been questioned enough since she was kidnapped by pirates and was without a proper chaperone, although she seems to unaware of the whispers."
"We could follow at a distance, stay out of sight." Groves offered. "I wouldn't mind seeing other areas of this island besides the Fort and the docks."
"That will have to do, I suppose. It is agreed then, for this coming Saturday?" James waited until they both nodded and then put his mind to planning the outing. He would have to acquire a horse. A carriage would be more suited to a lady traveling but no roads existed out that way he was certain, certainly none appropriate for a carriage's wheels. Yet he didn't think Elizabeth would be apposed to riding a horse with him. Although he was no expert at equestation, he had a basic knowledge of horsemanship. And the Fort owned horses the three could borrow for the day.
Saturday rolled around faster than James expected it to and he woke to an uneasy feeling in his stomach; much akin to the nervousness he had felt at asking Elizabeth for her hand in marriage. He had managed to clear the trip with her father, pointing out the fact that Gillette and Groves would be tagging along at a distance to supervise. The Governor had never been out of Port Royal, either, and expressed his concern as to dangerous beasts lurking out in the jungle. James had to smooth over those fears as well, reassuring the portly man that Jamaica was not Africa or India. Tigers or lions didn't lurk in the bushes waiting to snack on his daughter and no he wouldn't snack, either. His behavior would be totally honorable. Governor Swann had just grinned and stated he trusted him like a son.
After washing and dressing, James packed cheese, wine, fresh fruit, freshly baked bread, sweet rolls, and fruit pastries into the saddlebags. He would have liked to bring some baked chicken as well, but he worried it may spoil on the ride out to the picnic site. Spring had arrived with a sudden increase to the heat and humidity; not that the so-called winter had been cold. It never grew cold here and it was often unbearable wearing the multi-layer Navy uniforms, uniforms that had been designed for a much cooler climate. Still, their picnic would have to forgo any form of meat less it make Elizabeth sick. If that happened her father would never forgive him. He also packed a blanket to lay on the grass so Elizabeth wouldn't soil her dress with grass stains. He would bring his telescope as well, in case she desired to do some bird watching. Hooking water canteens onto the horse, he smoothly swung up in the saddle and waved at his two waiting friends.
Leaning forward in the saddle slightly, he signaled the horse to start walking. It's hooves soon left the cobblestones of the Fort for the dirt road of Port Royal. It was just after seven am and a few souls were out sitting on their stoops eating breakfast, but mostly everyone was still asleep. James knew the fishermen had been up hours ago and were already about their work. Guiding the horse with light touches, he soon had it walking up the path to the Governor's house. Glancing behind, he was pleased to see that Gillette and Groves had vanished from sight. Hopefully Elizabeth would be clueless to their presence.
Taking a deep breath to calm his jangled nerves, James swung down and approached the door. Gripping the knocker firmly, he wrapped and waited. The butler answered and soon he was granted entrance. He passed through the foyer and was shown a seat in the living room.
Upstairs, the Governor was in Elizabeth's bedroom making certain she was properly attired for the picnic in a fine gown of palest pink.
"Now Elizabeth," Governor Swann said to his daughter. "I want you to be on your best behavior today with the Commodore. He is kind enough to take you on this outing and you will act like the proper young lady you are. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Father." Elizabeth replied as her maid handed her a pink frilly parasol to keep the sun off her delicate skin. "I assure you I will behave appropriately."
"I should hope so!" The Governor lightly gripped her arm and led her from her bedroom. "And you will do as he says. It may be dangerous out there. If he tells you not to go somewhere then do not go there. And please, don't try to touch the wild animals! Who knows what horrid diseases they carry…"
"Father, I'm not a little girl anymore." Elizabeth rolled her eyes and started down the staircase, her long skirts gripped in her hands and lifted slightly. "And this is Jamaica, not the Serengeti. I survived the kidnapping just fine, not to mention being stuck on that island…"
"Yes, I know. It's just that little of that area has been explored…" The Governor led her into the living room and they both greeted the Commodore politely. "Now James, I trust you to take care of my daughter on this trip? She has never ridden a horse and I take you will see she doesn't fall off?"
"Of course, Governor." James nodded to the elder man and held out his arm for Elizabeth. Feeling her delicate hand grip his arm lightly, he started for the door. "I will have her home before nightfall."
The Governor signaled to the waiting footman and they followed the young couple outside, the neatly dressed footman carrying a small wooden stepping stool. The horse was still waiting there, it's reins held securely by the Governor's stable boy. The silver bits between the leather bridle and saddle sparkled in the morning sunlight. The horse itself was white with expressive brown eyes with incredibly long lashes and was of a riding breed. It was a calm and experienced steed, a good riding horse of tranquil temperament; which was why James had chosen it. The horse was a gelding, of course: a neutered male. Carefully approaching the horse so it could see him, James gripped the saddle horn and stuck his boot into the stirrup, swinging up and throwing his other leg over the horse's back until he was properly seated in the saddle. Holding onto the saddle horn with one hand, he held his free hand down to his betrothed. "Elizabeth…"
The footman placed the stepping stool onto the ground before the horse and readied to help her up. "Miss.."
Uncertain as to how to get up onto the horse, Elizabeth stepped onto the stool and gripped James' hand. The footman gripped her around her waist and quickly lifted her, placing her up on the horse behind the Commodore. But something was amiss. Both her legs were on the same side of the horse and her brown eyes widened in surprise. "You placed me up here wrong."
"Elizabeth," the Governor sighed. "As a lady you will ride sidesaddle, of course. It's only proper."
"Can't I ride it astride?" She asked innocently, hopefully. "I feel like I'm going to fall off sitting this way."
The Governor's face reddened. "Heavens no! That wouldn't be proper! I assure you many women back in London ride horses perfectly fine just as your seated now and they don't fall off. Just hang onto the Commodore and you will be fine. And remember, never approach the horse from behind or it may kick you."
James felt Elizabeth's arm circle his waist and his heart leaped slightly in his chest, not that any emotion showed on his face. If command in the Navy taught him one thing it was how to keep his emotions under a tight rein. During emergencies at sea, like extremely bad weather, the crew looked up to the officers and one couldn't show fear less it decrease the morale to dangerous levels or install panic. Such a situation out at sea could be the difference between life and death. Leaning forward slightly again, he ordered the horse into a slow walk. Within moments the Governor's house was left behind and he was alone with Elizabeth.
"So, where exactly are we going?" Elizabeth's voice asked from behind him. He could feel her weight resting partly against his back, her slim arm tight around his waist and her hand pale against the dark blue of his Navy jacket. The sun was still rising to their east and it cast long shadows on the ground to the west of them. Elizabeth must have opened her parasol for he could see its long handled shadow riding with them. Relief flooded through him at the sight for it meant she must feel secure enough on the horse to hold the parasol with her other hand.
"We are going to the Rio Grand River Valley for a picnic. I have heard it's a very beautiful place although I've never been there." James admitted, his posture perfectly straight on the horse and the reins loosely gripped in one hand. As they rode along the dirt road, the buildings on either side decreased in size and splendor. Gone were the carefully kept homes with neat yards and tidy businesses with clean premises that were found near the port. Here was where the poorer people lived, some of them of questionable morals. Small ramshackle huts lined the road now, many of them with assorted debris scattered about the front yards. Loud calls came from the open door of a questionable tavern and James frowned, as it was far to early to be drinking strong spirits. Here and there the fast-growing tropical plants were encroaching on man's claim on the land, a few tiny palm-thatched houses dwarfed by lush vegetation. "Are you well, Elizabeth?"
"Yes, I'm fine. I've never been out of Port Royal before." She admitted honestly as her eyes took in the poorer area of her town.
The river appeared to their right, no longer hidden by buildings. Man's claim on the land ended here or so it seemed. Nothing blocked the majestic sight of the Blue Mountains rising up and up to meet the deepening blue sky and James felt his breath hitch a little at the sight. Nature, when viewed like this, was awe-inspiring. The air was much cleaner here; free of the rank smell of human waste the poor section had sported. The sweet scent of tropical flowers rode the wind currents, but above all the air smelled of lush, green growth. Gently waving stalks of sugar cane rose up on either side of them now as he led the gelding along a narrow dirt trail running parallel to the Rio Grand. Sugar cane was Jamaica's number one product and also it's crux problem, for rum was made of fermented sugar. Realizing they must be riding through some farmer's field, he was startled to feel Elizabeth suddenly grip his shoulders with both hands and step on his foot. "Elizabeth, what are…"
"There!" She proclaimed happily as she cut his words off, her hands leaving his shoulders. "That's much better."
Her chest was pressed to his back as her hands encircled his waist, her thighs near his. Exactly what she had done dawned in his mind and his green eyes widened in surprise. "Elizabeth, this isn't exactly proper…"
"Oh, there's no one out here!" She exclaimed, rolling her eyes. "I don't care if some farmer sees us, do you? Besides, my back was starting to hurt sitting that way…"
And although he protested, James had to admit he secretly liked Elizabeth being this close to him. Every tiny brush of her chest against his back sent a little electrifying thrill through him. He felt her rest her head against his shoulder and it pleased him to no end. Abruptly the sugar cane field came to an end and a large expanse of open country was before them, two towering green foothills rising up on either side of the relatively flat valley before them. Tall grasses and reeds waved with a sea-like rolling motion that seemed very odd, for how can something on land mimic the sea so well? And Gillette had been right about the birds. What seemed like thousands of birds dotted the landscape before them, being of every size, shape and color.
"This is where we will have our picnic." James informed his future bride, his voice relaxed somewhat. Motion to the left caught his eye and he was startled to see a slightly stooped man walking towards them. Dressed in a sleeveless brown tunic of common weave, a floppy wide-brimmed hat and plain cotton trousers, the Commodore quickly assessed this must be one of the sugar cane farmers. The man's black eyes and rich brown skin said Taino.
The farmer waved a hand at them. "Chicken merry, hawk dah near."
Elizabeth's nose wrinkled in confusion at his words and she turned to James. "What did he say?"
"Something about a chicken…" James replied, not understanding the Taino's weird dialect. "These people have their own language and I do not truly understand it. Perhaps he was offering us a chicken, but then I do not see one."
Turning to regard the gap-toothed farmer, the Commodore pointed to the bird filled field before them. "Thank you for offering a chicken, but we have brought our own picnic lunch."
Kicking his heels against the horse slightly, he urged the beast forward. Dozens of birds fled skyward, their loud cries drowning out everything else. There was a slightly rounded hillock in the center of the valley, near the river, and that was where they would have their picnic. Military training taught the importance of high ground in a battle and such training was almost instinct to James.
The farmer watched them go and shook his head sadly, his wisdom lost on the young English couple. Although the word "chicken" had been in his sentence, he hadn't been offering them anything at all. His words were, in fact, a warning of sorts.
Be vigilant as danger can be found in unexpected places.
To be continued…
(The above phrase is a common Jamaican proverb or saying.)