Summary: "Keep a weather eye on the horizon." Elizabeth and Liam visit the isle, foam white waves lashing against shell studded white sand, every year. For ten years.
The first time she visits, the stretch-marks of her pregnancy have not faded into the soft, pampered pale smoothness of her abdomen. There is still a touch of youth in her velvety brown eyes. Hardened perhaps by the battering salt-spray that leaves both man and ship tarnished after months on the sea, but still there. The nursemaid, a wretched shilling-for-the-night girl, who Elizabeth could not bear to leave in Tortuga, trails after her, Will's son, swaddled in faded bedclothes in her arms.
Elizabeth races up the slopes of sandhills, thin clumps of yellowy-green grass swaying like the crinkly folds of her lavender skirts in the chill breeze. She feels beautiful, beautiful as she has not felt in months, on this island, seemingly made for passion and bliss, where she last saw her love. The howling winds seem to whisper his name to her, and their touch is as the touch of soft fingers on her tanned skin. She feels like Elizabeth Swann again, here.
And then she remembers that Elizabeth Swann, the Governor's treasured daughter, would never wander out of the mansion barefoot, stocking-less, hatless. Her hair would never have flown over her shoulders, the loose curls would never have caught the sunlight and glowed – they would have been neatly pinned up, veiled under a frail lace cap or a bonnet.
She is not Elizabeth Swann anymore… she is not even Elizabeth Turner now. She is a shadow hiding behind the stone walls of her heavily-guarded fortress in a dying town, perched on tethering chalk cliffs over a weeping black sea. Or, less poetically, an opium dealer, mistress of five ships of brigands and mercenaries, the crowned Pirate King… and in general a blackguard, as James used to say. Opium really is very good business, she's discovered over the past year, no more dishonorable or dangerous than piracy, just another way to earn her living and provide for her son.
But it's not what Elizabeth Swann had been bred to become. An opium dealer – Father would probably die of shame.
He's dead now, Lizzy. Her thoughts are never delivered in her own voice, always in the sweet, low-pitched voice of the mother she never really knew, a fragile English Rose with tawny-golden eyes and magnolia-white skin, always in the second person. You're an orphan.
Martha, the nursemaid, has caught up by now. Cheeks apple-red, her sun-bleached hair disheveled over her peasant-boned but comely Irish face, she drops down onto the sand with a grunt of relief. "Tired?" Elizabeth murmurs, "There's a spring round there – go have some fresh water." She takes the child from Martha's lap, cuddling it to her chest. Three months after the birth it's still hard to think of him as her baby, she usually thinks of him as 'the baby', or more unflatteringly, 'the howler'. Busy as she is, she has little time for small William Weatherby Turner. It's been enough for her to know that he has a wet-nurse, that he's strong and healthy and happy.
You're not a good mother at all, are you? You'll have to change for your baby. She looks down at closed eyes, the little button nose and the plump lips, set in a pout like her own, and feels a surge of tenderness for him that she hasn't felt since his birth. He's the only family she has left – mother, father, Will gone. She'll change, for him she will.
Liam can just about totter when they arrive next year. But it's Jack Sparrow's strong fingers that he clutches as he stumbles and slips over the shell-studded sand. Elizabeth sweeps past, a dark scowl plastered on her face. Her shadow paints the figure of a tall, lean young woman, in a man's breeches and shirt, on the golden, sun-splashed sand. Her hair once long, now brutally hacked short, is tucked under her cap.
"A fine strong young man you've made," Jack calls after her but she doesn't even deign look around. "Really, Lizzy, be reasonable now…"
"For the last time, Jack Sparrow, this spring is bloody not the Fountain of Youth!" she howls bitterly. "Your idiocy has – once again – led us to the brink of disaster!"
"We have a pistol," he says brightly.
"With one shot!" she shrieks, feeling as coarse – and foul-tempered – as a fishwife. "And no, Jack, we are not going to use it and cannibalize Liam!"
"You take a man's joke too seriously, Lizzy," Jack says, shaking his head. "How could you ever possibly imagine that I, this lovely lad's godfather, would ever jeopardize his safety in such a diabolical scheme?"
"And dangling him over the water, threatening to drown him if I didn't give you the charts wasn't a diabolical scheme that would jeopardize his safety?"
"Good for the boy's character – we can't have him grow up a milk-sop, immune to the dangers of life."
Elizabeth finally turns around. "His life, Mr Sparrow," she says coldly, "will most certainly not require him to expose himself to the dangers pertinent to the life of a common seafaring brigand."
"Those dangers were good enough for his father, weren't they, Lizzy? And his dear grandfather too?"
Her lips tighten and in the end it costs her much but she answers him. "I hope he will never have to lead his father's life." Then she turns around and lopes up the sand dunes, her strides long and purposeful.
Jack as a young man is disturbingly… attractive. Good thing you didn't meet him before you did Will… it would have been the scandal of Port Royal – Miss Swann running away with a pirate.
She thinks idly about the little things of life as she curls up dreamily on the sand-dune, watching two-year-old Liam scuttle around the beach, collecting shells with Martha. A lot has happened in the last year – Jack finally found his Fountain of Youth (after much suffering on her part and none on his), Liam learnt to talk and she peered into the looking glass hanging in the dim parlor one day to discover the first taut lines around her mouth and eyes. And you're not even twenty-five yet.
She feels older though and it makes her rather wonder how much she's seen, how much she's done, at how many people she's been. Annoying brat, demure debutante, society belle, damsel-in-distress, rum-burning vixen, scandal of Port Royal, loving fiancée, fugitive from the law, sneaky devil, murderess, accomplished swordswoman, Pirate King, war-bride, wife for a day, opium dealer, awful mother… really it makes her ill to think of it.
What next, Elizabeth?
The clouds over the Caribbean are like little balls of down, feathery little puffs over the wide sapphire arc of the sky. It's so quiet, so peaceful that she fantasizes for a moment about spending the next seven years here. I'll have a house built. Martha will attend on us, I'll have ever so much time for Liam. We'll wait together, we'll keep a weather eye on the horizon for Will.
But it's only a fantasy. She's more than just Will Turner's wife and living seven years on this lonely isle, pleasant as it might seem for a moment, will be, she's wise enough to understand, unutterably painful.
Liam is a perfect cherub at three with his adorable cupid face and velvety brown eyes, fringed with long, bold black lashes. Jack might say he's quite effeminate, mutter about his father's lovely singing voice and make snip-snip motions but Elizabeth thinks Liam beautiful. In his moss-green velvet clothes with the curled little parrot feather in his play-pirates' hat he looks like a little prince.
And Elizabeth, her flowing, gem-studded silk upper garment and the loose, floating pants gathered tightly at the ankle making up a magnificent outfit cut in the Chinese fashion, looks like a queen. Strands of moonstone, amethyst and onyx, pearlescent, their colors interchangeable as they glitter in the scorching light, weave through her tow-colored hair, bleached from it's beautiful golden-brown color after years in the sun, and as chains, bangles and anklets adorn her long neck, her creamy, rounded arms and fine ankles.
They've spent several months in Singapore, 'dealing' with the pirates who dare oppose her monopoly of the opium trade over the South China Sea. Her band of Swiss mercenaries was well-trained and the resultant bloodbath was, to put it mildly, more of a massacre than even she'd expected. Three hundred men and their families – because families if left alive could cause trouble – put to death or killed in open battle. It makes her wonder how her blood has chilled over the years, how she's managed to distance herself from the deaths she's ordered, the deaths of innocent and guilty alike.
Elizabeth Swann would never have done it.
Years on the open sea are enough to blacken even the most merciful man's character. Perhaps, as Barbossa puts it, it's the battering effect of the salt-spray. The tarnishing effect.
What next, Elizabeth?
She'd asked herself the question a year before. She knew it now. The Brethren Court might have a Pirate King – but it was in name only. Piracy was a dying trade, even as Beckett had predicted it. Well he was a man of the world. He'd know things like that. And she… what was she?
You're a woman of the world now. And it's not pretty.
No, not it isn't. But she has her son, her little prince who she vows shall grow up, pampered and sheltered as she was, to look after. And if, to secure his interests, she must take drastic measures then… well so be it.
She is oddly restless as she treads the well-known path up the beach again. Martha tethers the dinghy to a pole fixed into the sand and Liam helps her tie the knot. She's spent the year almost completely cloistered in her manor, attending to her business interests. Tutors and governesses have been engaged for Liam already, stolid men and women of the world who know well enough never to question the mistress of the establishment, the silent, mysterious specter arrayed in the jewels of the East.
She knows that they whisper among themselves about her, believing her to be the mistress of some wealthy brigand, an upper-class concubine perhaps. Years ago she would have been insulted. Now she simply has more important things to worry about than her reputation with her servants.
Five years have passed. Five years more will pass before she can see the last of this accursed stretch of barren sand. In her mind's eye she visualizes herself then, her once-svelte, graceful figure reduced to hard-boned leanness, startlingly blond hair over time-bronzed and wrinkled skin, the sensual curves of her mouth hardened, made vicious by fresh carnages. And he? He'll be the same, dreamy-eyed and delicate as a Grecian effigy on marble. Ten years will not be enough to age the captain of the Flying Dutchman. Perhaps not even a hundred.
But what a terrible price to pay for youth and beauty, to be spared ten years from the ravages of age against ten precious years of watching your son grow.
Already Liam has begun asking her about his father. Now it is enough to satisfy him with the oft-repeated fairytale – "A great man, but he lives far, far away and he has work to do just like Uncle Jack, you remember him from last year don't you?" – but there will come a time when he will clamor for more. There will come a time when he will wonder why the only family he can claim is his mother, when he will ask questions about his grandparents.
And what will she have to tell him, then?
Your maternal grandfather was one of the most good-natured and gentlest of men and governors – it was precisely this gentleness, this lack of cunning and slyness that got him murdered before his time. Let that be a lesson to you. Your paternal grandfather, on the other hand, was a throat-slitting pirate who never laid eyes upon his son when he was truly alive. Sometimes I fear that that same fate will befall you.
His wife, my dear son, was a harbor whore that he had the lack of sense to fall in love with and marry when he was little more than a boy. The last he saw of wife and son was when she was three months along in the family way. And as for my mother, she was as beautiful and frivolous and truly loveable as I would have been if I'd stayed back in Port Royal and married Mr Norrington like a good little governor's girl would have.
Well she'd certainly never imagined bringing up a son like that. Ever since adolescence she'd always had a vague idea that she'd somehow marry Will. Her picture of bliss was a warm hearth (preferably in Port Royal), a loving husband and half-a-dozen rosy-cheeked little ones. Now she'll just gladly settle for a frozen hearth and a single son if only her husband, weather-worn, life-weary, is by her side once again.
How things change.
She doesn't know why she comes. The visits certainly don't serve any material purpose. There'll be plenty of time to keep a weather eye on the horizon four years now, so why does she come?
Liam hangs around his mother's skirts and the plump, woolly little puppy Jack had commandeered and shipped off – "Compliments from the Queen of France to the Pirate King" – to them, hangs around his breeches. The boy chatters away about anything and everything – sand-castles, Latin verbs, ships, dragons – and the little mutt keeps in tune with his constant yapping. Elizabeth – much to her surprise – really doesn't mind. "Get 'long with 'ya, ya little gossipmonger," she chuckles and pushes him along. Her polished accent, once so pure and upper-class, has regressed to the coarser level of those whose company she now keeps – servants, pirates, mercenaries, the very dregs of society.
She's sacrificed too much to really mind that now.
They make a pretty picture; she's sure, the three of them, surely worthy of a painting. A tall lady, not young, but not quite old, in a form-fitting gown of rose-and-ivory tissue, a little boy with glossy brown curls in dark blue velvet and the little golden puppy. White sand melts into the grey horizon and the clumps of fern sway in the chill breeze as they always do. Somewhere buried in the sand is a chest and locked within that chest is a heart that Elizabeth would sacrifice hers for.
Your lucky talisman.
It is. "Sit down," Elizabeth says, "Let me tell 'ya the story o' King Arthur – used to love it, I did, when I was your age." She smiles and adds, "Course, that was afore I really knew about pirates."
And so they do sit together, her thin bronzed fingers threading through his dark curls – so like his father's – the puppy sprawled across her lap and his. "I liked the story about Red Rackham and the Unicorn's Treasure more," Liam says very decidedly at the end. "The pirate story."
She laughs and slaps his hand playfully. "Eh, how could you not? 'Tis in yar blood."
"So tell me the story."
Elizabeth shakes her head slowly. "Maybe another time." Liam knows her to well, her firmness and of course, her ire when he disobeys, to protest. Still he pouts and jumps up, whining that she never tells him much about pirates and that it isn't fair, sprinting away over the sand.
You poor innocent. You don't know how intoxicating those stories can be, how they'll inflame your blood. Well she's glad that he doesn't know. She's very, very glad that the sea will never steal Liam away from her as it has stolen Will.
It's wet and cold and raining. The wind works against her, pushing her back but the wiry, whip-cord muscles of her arms and legs were trained against Caribbean gales. Chilled to the bone, heart pounding in rage, slipping and sliding over white sand turned to black mud, she fights her way to the top of the mud-dunes. If anyone could see her through the thick veil of grey rain and mist wouldn't they stare! A thin, barefoot woman in soaking breeches, a coat wrapped loosely over the white shirt that clings obscenely to her long, lean torso, her shoulder-length hair grimy and matted to her skull.
She howls in pain as her foot cuts against a sharp rock, and looks down to see a thin trail of pinkish blood. Her blood. She goes on.
Mud cakes her feet up to her ankles, once salaciously called the finest in Port Royal, and her face is ugly, ugly not because of scars and wrinkles, the dust and sweat but simply because it's no longer the façade, aloof, detached she wears for the world. All that's ugly in her seems to shine through, the scars and blemishes of character, now that her pretty mask has fallen off.
She slips on the slushy mud and falls down on her knees, slime seeping underneath her fingernails, soaking into the fabric of her breeches. A pitiful, defeated figure slumping on a barren dune on a barren island under a torrent of sleet. Nobody knows, nobody cares. She can't stand it anymore, she can't go up anymore. All she can do is whisper hoarsely, her voice hardly audible to herself, "Why? Why me?" She looks up and she all can think about is that the God she's been taught about – the God of whose infinite love and mercy she was taught whilst yet a lisping child, at her mother's knees, by sweet-voiced ministers – cannot exist.
Blasphemy, Elizabeth. You mustn't think things like that!
That's her mother's voice, harried and distressed at her daughter's disbelief.
You were brought up to be in Christ, do not forget that. You are one of his blessed.
Once she could believe those pretty lies. Now… now she'd rather rot in Hell if only her son would be spared.
A year has not been enough to erase the deepest pockmarks of smallpox on Liam's face. He is no longer the little prince he once was, only a very normal little boy, shorn of his finery and childish beauty. Thin and scarred as he is, he looks no more than a raggedy little mop-deck, pirate spawn. But he is alive and to Elizabeth, that's all that matters. Her darling little boy… she doesn't mourn the loss of his beauty in the least.
She's teaching him to shoot today, much to his delight. With a sling for a gun and pebbles for bullets, of course, but to the seven-year-old even a sling is enough. With the play wooden sword clipped to his belt and the dashing hat with the cardinal's feather tucked into it, he feels like a real pirate as he tells his mother.
Well what did you expect? What's in his blood will out, in the end.
He has a sharp eye, for one so small and takes aim carefully. "We'll make a marksman out of ya yet, aye?" Elizabeth chortles, mussing his hair. "What would ya rather – marksman, like yar Uncle Jack or swordsman like yar father?"
"Marksman," Liam answers promptly.
"Aye yar saying that because you haven't been seeing yar father fence," Elizabeth tells him. "Uncle Jack… well, sure he's a good man but yar father…" And then she stops herself, mentally berating herself. "I hope he will never have to lead his father's life." Well she does hope that, still – what mother would not pray for a better life for her son? – but yet there's a part of her that wants to see him grow up to be just like his father. Just like his father.
"Don't listen to me, I'm an old sea-wench," she mutters, though she's only twenty-eight. "Marksman, swordsman, dancing bear – it doesn't matter to me. Yar to be just what ya like."
Liam looks up at her appraisingly. "Ya won't mind if I become a dancing bear?"
"Well," Elizabeth thinks it over. "Perhaps I might."
Nine years… all she can think about is how time passes so quickly. Six years ago I didn't believe it would. Then Liam was a tiny tot, still stumbling over the sand, now he's a strapping young lad, bounding across it with his dog at his heels. And she… what has she become? Laugh-lines, worry-lines, furrows, freckles crease and dot her once smooth, alabaster face. She wears no silk and lace, as her mother always wore when Elizabeth herself was Liam's age. She died when I was eight, didn't she? Seems so very long ago.
That day, with the mourners arrayed solemnly around the coffin of the beautiful young woman – she was hardly twenty-seven – who had died of consumption, the black crêpe in which she, a bewildered little urchin of a girl, had been swathed, the smoke and mist and sparrows that made up the London skyline… she can only vaguely remember a few details. Father had been heartbroken, of course he had. And she… she'd been more surprised than anything else. It was only later at the funeral, whilst watching the fussing over their own little girls, that she'd realized how much she'd lost.
There will come a time, she thinks when Liam will be in the same position as her. Motherless. For his sake she hopes it will be later, rather than sooner.
Death… she's seen men evade – and rise from – death countless times. Jack, Barbossa, the pirates on the Black Pearl, Davy Jones… would she like that for herself? To live forever? She shudders. Then if not eternal life… what is there after death? A fiery hell of brimstone like the Good Book insists? Or your own personal hell, just like Jack had his? Or perhaps a vast nothingness, a white void, like a mist, into which you must slowly dissolve into… rather like Eternal Rest.
She's seen and done too much to hope for Heaven. In her heart she knows that there will be no fields of asphodel or lilies and streets paved in gold and gems for her after her death. She hears a child's shout and turns around quickly, fumbling for her pistol in fear, but then relaxes as she sees Liam waving her over to a dune far away. "Mother look, I think there's a treasure chest over here!"
She bursts out laughing in relief. "Tis yar father's treasure chest, love. Come over, I'll tell ya the story."
She throws herself languidly on the warm – not too warm, just right – sand, kicking out her legs and feeling the softness of it tickling her toes. The grass dances in the breeze, surprisingly sweet and refreshing today, and the sun is pleasant on her back. The sky looks just like it's been hollowed out of a giant sapphire – the true Caribbean color as James used to say, proudly surveying the landscape as though he owned it because he was a captain –, cloudless and as exquisite and exotic as any of the fruits of Paradise. The sea glitters as it never has before, or so it seems to her, it's color deepened by the brilliance of the sky above – all shades of green and purple, blue and indigo represented.
Liam trots obediently towards her, the golden dog treading behind him, and he seems just like part and parcel of the vista. A dark-haired young boy, plainly dressed, the love of the sea already shining in his great brown eyes, his blood inflamed by beauty.
This is her son. This is her Heaven.
A/N: Epilogue up next.