I had this idea so long ago, half of it written up on my red firefly before it was tragically crushed. It was intended to be a series of Norribeth-centric one-shots revolving around each of Elizabeth's birthday from the time she arrives in Port Royal up to the events of The Curse of the Black Pearl, yet time restrainsts prosper, so it's a stand-alone as of now. Regardless, I hope you like it! I took a break from Principles of Compromise for this because I am sorely tempted to write Norribeth in it when it is in fact Sparrabeth, so I'm getting it out of my system here. Meant to be a fun, light piece. Let me know what you thought, please! I greatly appreciate it! Enjoy! :)
NOTE: The chantey is set to 'Two Hornpipes.' The song inspired this.
The heavy door slammed off the wall, causing a fine stream of ink to steer across the paper recklessly, marring an excellent display of penmanship.
James Norrington inhaled his frustration sharply, staring at the shining black ribbon as it bled into the fibers of the page. He looked up at the entrance of his small office at his officer on duty expectantly. The lanky young man recoiled his hand from the doorknob timidly as he stood ramrod straight and swallowed hard.
"I- Apologies, Lieutenant, for the door. I didn't," – he peered around the door at the wall, biting his lip at the cracked molding – "Oh. I am so sorry, sir."
Norrington sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He'd sat behind that desk for hours doing paperwork, and God willing he had several more to go. Now, not wanting to think about having to restart one of his longer reports into the early hours of the morning, Norrington blinked his heavy eyelids open and watched his officer fumble with the cracked molding and brass doorknob. He was trying to even be discreet about it which gave James's stream of flat-lining consciousness a small rise in entertainment.
Four long seconds of this would suffice. Norrington sat up in his chair with a wince. His shoulders were uncomfortably stiff.
The young officer smiled hesitantly, easing the door against the wall as he straightened himself once more and cleared his throat nervously.
"Governor Swann has requested that you come to his majesty's aid. At once, sir," he added quickly as if trying to accurately remember how to recite a sonnet. "He would like you to come with as many men, uh, as you can spare, and he wishes you to forgive him for the lateness of the hour."
Norrington's quill hovered over the reports. He glanced at the mantelpiece clock, its hands reading at nearly half passed eleven. Replacing the quill to the inkwell, he stood, his aching, forgotten muscles welcoming the stretch of rising from the chair for the first time in hours. James inhaled deeply to recover some alertness and put on his hat as he walked away from that cursed desk.
"Have you notified Commander Martin and Captain Everson?"
"The Captain left on board the Regal with the Commodore this afternoon, sir. Commander Martin has ordered the rallying of thirty men outside and asks that you see them to his lordship's mansion at once."
"Notify the officers at Fort Carlisle. Whatever this urgency, we need them ready."
x x x
Governor Swann's eyes were in such a state that they looked as if they had never been closed once his entire life. Norrington, feeling his heart quicken at the unexpected news, watched the Governor swallow his emotion only fractionally before glancing out the front door at the thirty men waiting dutifully for their commands in the heavy midnight rain.
Norrington inclined his head to Governor Swann at his prolonged silence. "Sir, are you certain she is not in the manor?" he implored, hoping to hear that which he knew he would not.
Governor Swann sighed unevenly as he looked over at the staircase in the foyer. "She went upstairs after the dinner. I watched her go myself. Estrella went to fix her bed for the night when she discovered that she was not there, and we searched the entire estate. She is nowhere to be found."
James blinked, his mind quickly formulating ideas of search strategies, the places and situations in which she might be. All of the truly disturbing ideas and images leapt first to the forefront of his thoughts that made him shudder inwardly. He closed his eyes momentarily; it was almost unbearable to think of her facing the gruesome reality of the world on her own.
Returning from his brief mental tangent, Norrington met Governor Swann's eyes directly.
"When did you learn of her absence?"
"I… I believe it was near two, two and a half hours ago," the Governor said quietly. "Her birthday dinner was over by nine o'clock, and less than an hour after that she was gone. We spent a good deal of time searching the manor, the gardens, and the stables before calling on your services."
Two and a half hours. Too long, Norrington thought. It was a terrifyingly long span of time in which any kind of harrowing fate might have befell her. He knew the Governor was aware of this from the upset etched into the lines of his face and the sadness veiling his clouded, grey eyes that had suddenly ambushed him, rendering him somewhat speechless.
"Lieutenant Norrington, if there is a chance that she will be found unharmed?"
James masked his own escalating distress behind confident speech, hoping it would not only reassure the Governor but himself as well.
"There is no guarantee to her safety after such length of absence, sir, but I will do whatever I must to find your daughter and return her to you."
If anything, the words had the opposite effect on Governor Swann; he lowered his eyes with a short nod and disheartened smile. Guilt slammed into the pit of Norrington's stomach at this, and he tried to quickly recover control of the conversation.
"Sir, were there any signs that she might have been taken? A broken window or door?"
Governor Swann shook his head, trying not to wring his fidgeting hands behind the back of his fine olive green jacket. "I noticed nothing."
A strange surge of discomfort flowed to Norrington's fingertips. He flexed them slowly.
"A thorough search of the immediate area will be conducted by seven guards while I divide the remaining men to search the port," he said, his posture perfectly aligned. "All ships in the harbor will be searched as well, and we will ensure that all are prohibited from leaving until Miss Swann is found."
Governor Swann held his breath and flashed Norrington a dour grin, worriedly biting his lower lip. "I trust wholeheartedly that you will find her. You are most qualified."
His blessing allowed Norrington a minor swell in confidence. Governor Swann observed the slight change in demeanor with a purer smile pulled somewhere from the depths of his grief.
"Thank you, sir. I will keep you updated as often as possible."
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
He bended at the waist respectfully. "Sir."
Immediately he turned on heel and exited the manor, the unspeakable horrors she might likely encounter further driving his desire to see her safe. A deep, ominous roll of thunder greeted him on the front stair. He saw the expressionless faces of the officers, guards, and soldiers illuminated by a jagged lightning strike as the rain blew into his own, cold and stinging. He squinted only as much as was necessary to prevent blindness from the downpour as he stepped down next to Mr. Murtogg at the edge of the path. His officer looked downright miserable trying to stay still in the intensifying gusts.
"Gentlemen, Governor Swann's daughter Elizabeth has turned up missing from the manor this evening," he announced loudly over the rain. "It is likely she is still within the perimeter of the town. To be sure of this, Mr. Murtogg-"
"- all those available at Fort Carlisle need to be dispatched." He scanned the front line of men quickly and landed on a portly fellow staring ahead wide-eyed, a curious, over-exaggerated display of attentiveness.
The rounded man started in place at his bark, stumbling over his surprise of being called on. "Y-yes, sir? Mullroy, sir."
"Mullroy," he repeated blandly. "Ride to Fort Carlisle with Murtogg. Alert them to the situation. My orders are that half of their unit is to search all of the ships that have made port and forbid them leave until Miss Swann has been found. The other half will surround the town to do checks of all carriages and carts attempting to leave. Is this clear?"
The two officers exchanged a glance as Mullroy came to Murtogg's side.
"Yes, Lietenant," they chorused.
James nodded his permission for their leave, continuing to divide them into smaller search parties after another foreboding display of fiery light and monstrous thunder overhead. When he had finished, seven men were sent to further inspect the grounds of the Governor's estate while the six small troops were sent forth in every direction conceivable but one; Norrington mounted his riled horse, turning the brown stallion in the direction of York Street.
Commander Martin rode up beside him, holding to his hat in the blowing gale.
"You sent Thompson and Carothers down York, didn't you?"
"And Hillard to the Old Church and graveyard," Norrington said. Martin's brow furrowed at the disquiet in his lieutenant's lackluster eyes, their gaze fixed over the roofs of the honest businesses that lined High and York streets.
"Lord, James. Senator Street?"
"And New Street. More particularly the allies that lie between them."
His commander's face shadowed. "She'd be lucky to be alive from any adversity she meets in going down those avenues."
Norrington felt his heart turn to weighty stone. He knew all too well this ghastly truth. Ignoring it as he was so sorely tempted to, to push all the awful thoughts of her agonizing unheard shrieks of capture from his mind entirely, he thought only of them. How else would he be able to do all that he could for her if he did not? What if the man responsible for the recovery of his own missing daughter had an inkling of cowardice in his deliberation?
"True enough, sir, but I will not be burdened with the guilt of ruling out the possibility."
"Have the men you've sent to the fisher's market look there on their way. Their path lies parallel to it. You can stay here to oversee the search of the mansion."
James set his jaw resolutely.
His conscious would not stop berating him, his longing for her safe return insatiable.
"My efforts are best expended there."
"You need to trust your men, Lieutenant. You can't search the whole of the port on your own. Be realistic."
"It is not a lack of faith in them, sir," Norrington said, leading his horse forward into the stormy darkness. "It is an unyielding fear in me."
x x x
It was some time before the rain relented, the light drizzle and mist being the only remnants of its earlier fury. James felt every hair on his body standing on end as he shivered under his many layers. Soaked right through to his skin, they provided little warmth, his hands frozen around the reigns of his horse's bridal. Next to him, Commander Martin, who had insisted on joining him, looked to be just as rigid from the conditions. Large pools of mud mired their horses and slowed them significantly; so much that it was all Norrington could do to stay on the beast while his spirits diminished
Their rides up and down Senator and New Streets had been fruitless. Businesses were dark, yet the residents were woken. None had heard of Miss Swann's disappearance, though some had been kind enough to offer an eye or ear in the event that she was nearby. One man had shouted angrily, yelling that they had just woken up his infant son after finally putting him off to sleep. Norrington and Martin decided to let him off with a warning for his disrespect, their urgency to find Elizabeth more pressing as time worked against them into the early morning hours.
Risby's Alley only found them the victims of a servant throwing a bucket of water out of a high window. Martin commented on it being an ill-fated omen. As James's defensive attitude beat the helpless voice in his head silent what suggested it true, he was left wondering if denial had blackened his mind without his knowing.
Now finding himself in the vacant Dove Alley, Norrington watched the buildings on either side of him inch by, determination helping him to keep his adamant vigilance. As they approached the middle of the street in silence, something from beneath the sloppy carriage tracks glinted at him in the light of his commander's lantern.
Martin stayed his horse on a second's notice, surprised to see that Norrington had already jumped from his own, splattering mud up to the middle of his waistcoat.
He slid in the thin, watery mud running forward, eventually stumbling and catching himself on his hand and knee. Disregarding the slick muck now smattered over half his uniform, James surveyed the long, coiled silk object lying in the road. His heart leapt to his throat. Gently freeing it from the soft, misshapen wheel ruts, he held the tiny shawl over his painfully icy palms and frowned.
Martin crouched beside him, eyeing the delicate piece of material curiously.
"You don't suppose it belongs to Miss Swann?" he ventured skeptically. "This place is overrun with thieves. It could have belonged to anyone to end up here-"
"No. It belongs to her. I've seen her wear it to Sunday mass several times."
"This very service," he murmured, fingering the smooth shawl betwixt the grit of the wet dirt pensively. He prayed it was only the wagon wheels that had damaged the fine beaded accents of its border.
"She was here, John," he said distantly. Norrington looked up, his eyes beginning to dart from building to building. "Here in this very street."
Martin nodded up the alley. The mist began to solidify into light rain again. "Should we check The Red Crier?"
Norrington carefully folded the molten silk and stood, tucking it away with the utmost care on his person. The sight of the lively music and yellow glow pouring into the street ahead did nothing to quell his fear for Elizabeth.
x x x
James Norrington had been in the Red Crier once.
After the return from his first successful mission being a stationed lieutenant in Port Royal some four months previous, Captain Everson had coerced his men into a few drinks. James remembered the cramped interior, the repulsion of sitting amongst the loud, putrid, drunken scum, the horrible, bitter burn of the whiskey. Midshipman Kelley and one of the cabin boys set a working girl on him as well, immediately after which he ended up in a fight with and arrested a patron. Needless to say, he had not returned.
Yet now, he was on duty, charged with the task of recovering Elizabeth Swann. The Red Crier was merited another reluctant visit by James Norrington under these circumstances.
His lips thin and disposition no-nonsense, James slipped inside the entrance, pressing against the wall at once as a fist flew within an alarmingly close proximity of his face. A sound punch was delivered to the man right next to him. He stared in shock as the two men brawled passed him and fell out into the street. Commander Martin met James's wide eyes from outside before being knocked to the ground from the scuffle.
Norrington drew his sword. "Sir!"
Martin shook his hand, crawling to his feet and pulling out his own blade as he motioned to the men rolling in the mud. "Search the tavern, Lieutenant. I'll see to these dogs."
Norrington nodded, watching only a second longer to make sure he was not needed. Turning back to the raucous activity of the pub, he could not seem to bring his eyebrows down from his hat line.
Not one person had his mouth closed unless it was around the rim of a pint; uncanny and unattractive laughter, leers, and hollers filled the leaky, disintegrating structure and its rotting supports. Some kind of music kept starting and stopping amidst its phrases at the distant end of the room somewhere, and he found its disjunction grating on his nerves. The prostitutes ran amuck, another fight broke out, and someone had raised a barstool over his head, chasing another with it. It was the epitome of madness.
James pressed into the wall further, half-hoping it would consume him.
Someone shoved him aside, knocking him into a woman whose bosom threatened to spill out of the top of her gown. Norrington gasped as he leapt back, blushing furiously as she turned to him with a wicked grin.
"Oh, madam, pardon me."
"You already look like you've been tussled, sailor," she said as she approached, eyeing up his mud-caked attire. Norrington's chest heaved something fierce when he backed into one of the wooden pillars, her body pressing right into his. She knocked the hat from his head. "We should get you out of these wet things."
"N-no, you misund-"
A hot exhale shot out of him when she tugged at his cravat, removing it in one swift motion. He blinked, frantically trying to look anywhere other than at the woman and her voluptuous features for the sake of his dignity that dwindled with every fleeting second. He remembered the sword hanging loosely in his hand, his mind urging him to use it, but he was so flustered by this vertigo that he had forgotten how to properly grip it.
"Madam, please!" he tried to shout through his constricted throat, attempting to slide to the adjacent side of the pillar.
She smiled impiously, a husky groan coloring her chuckle. To his horror, her hands disappeared from his sight, running down his sides.
"You don't need to beg, sir."
He opened his mouth to protest profusely yet again when the unthinkable happened – standing on a barstool across the boisterous room, he saw her. Elizabeth Swann. Smiling, laughing, dancing...
Elated and livid alike, James could hardly breathe.
"Hm," the momentarily forgotten woman against him growled. "You can call me whatever you want, darling."
At the immediate sensation of her finger at the waistband of his trousers, Norrington seized her hand and jumped aside, throwing her hand back at her without care. He raised his sword warningly at her scowl.
"I have no need for your services, madam," he panted, swiping his hat and cravat from the uneven floor indignantly. Thankfully, she was not as insistent as the woman he had last encountered here and left him with not but another scorn.
James looked back over at the back bar quickly for fear that his sighting of Elizabeth had been a hallucination amongst the spinning room – and there she was, still standing on a barstool that looked ready to crumble under the weight of her small frame dressed to the nines in a flattering lavender gown, its hem ragged and dirty.
That he saw her against this background what looked to be suspiciously willingly puzzled him to no end, but he paid no heed to his jumbled thoughts. Catching his elusive breath and lowering his sword, Norrington pushed his way through the sordid crowd as anxiously.
Through sickening breath laughed into his face and a series of awkward positions he prevailed, finally acquiring a space of his own against the bar. He relaxed slightly, glancing to his right where Elizabeth stood talking avidly with a very unkempt man holding a rough-looking accordion – the source of the fragmented melody heard throughout the room. His urge to envelop and comfort her from certain danger vanished when it became apparent to him that there was none, and Norrington instead stayed quiet as his irritation rose and she remained oblivious to his presence.
"How many days should he be away?" James heard the man with the accordion ask her.
"Hmm," – she suddenly cleared the section of the bar behind her and sat on its ledge – "Eighty. And he's at battle."
The man gave a gruff laugh. "How about ninety, huh? Better number."
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed enthusiastically. "He is battling pirates and thinks he won't make it out alive and see her again, but he does because he loves her so deeply."
James made a face. What on earth were they talking about?
"So," the bouncy tune continued on his instrument as he sang, "And he sings this song the whole day long, 'I need your sweet caress-'"
Elizabeth picked up where he left off, her voice floating over the notes pleasantly. "As the canons blaze for ninety days, something that rhymes with caress…"
"How about digress?" James suddenly said, a bite in his tone. The accordion man leaned forward as Elizabeth wheeled around with a smile to welcome another to their merriment, but it quickly fell away, her eyes growing as Norrington's cast her an unhappy glare from under his level brow. "Yes, digress. Shall we?"
Elizabeth's mouth formed a small 'O'.
"Good evening, Lieutenant Norrington," she said hesitantly, rising from the bar to curtsy on the wobbly stool. He shot out his hand as she braced herself on the bar's ledge, easing herself back down.
"Good evening, Miss Swann," he said, speaking in thick measure.
She looked his horrid appearance over to avoid his eye, genuinely taken aback by it.
"Good gracious, what happened to you?"
Norrington's expression did not change. "The Governor's daughter has gone missing."
No longer successfully averting his stern gaze, she tried to pretend as if this were a happy chance encounter with a friend. Yet, one shared glance, and they both knew that was not the case. Elizabeth swallowed.
"Has she?" she squeaked.
The man holding the accordion looked at him. "How is that coming?"
A smirk edged into Norrington's face. "Rather well. However, I have found her under some interesting conditions. Despite believing her captured and searching every inch of the port for her for the last three hours," – he watched she shrunk guiltily at his words – "I find her completely unharmed."
Elizabeth broke out of their coy little game, her thoughts snagged. She pursed her lips at Norrington incredulously. "You wanted me come to harm?"
He calmly shook his head at her misinterpretation, turning to her fully. "No. I expected you to come to harm, and I am grateful to see that have not."
She had nothing immediate to say despite the decline of hostility in his professional stature from which the copious amounts of mud could not even seem to detract. His earlier concerns of how to deliver a deserving reprimand to her dissipated when his wasted fear for her safety calculated into the formula.
"Miss Swann, your father called on every available soldier in Port Royal tonight to find you. He, I, and sixty others were afraid that you had been taken. We are searching the town high and low expecting the worse, but here you are on your own accord. Do you understand the seriousness of this? The inconvenience for the sixty men in the streets right now?" he implored. "What anguish you have caused your father?"
Elizabeth's voice was barely audible. "I didn't know he would find out I had gone. I planned to return before daybreak."
Norrington was appalled. She being a young lady able to visit a tavern of ruthless characters and expect to return home before morning without incident? He could not grasp the idea.
"Miss Swann, do you realize how blindly you have walked into danger? A young lady should never go unaccompanied, especially in a storm, especially at night, and especially in the worst part of town."
"I was not out the storm," she boldly corrected. James huffed at her insolence.
"Regardless, your actions were selfish and exceedingly foolish," he said, perhaps more sharply than he had intended. "What prompted you to do such a thing?"
Elizabeth looked at the wavy floorboards, downcast. "Today was my birthday, and I had no fun at all."
The man next to her crooned sympathetically. "Poor girl. That's downright awful, it is."
"More awful than you may know," she glowered, now tearing the pins from her hairdo. "You didn't have every one of your hairs fastened to your head."
With a rebuke poised on his tongue for her shaking loose her curls like a wet mutt, Norrington bit it back. He took a moment to reexamine her, surprised to see such glum in her pretty brown eyes. She was obviously greatly bothered by this.
He made an effort to soften his tone. "Your father held a dinner in your honor this evening-"
"Yes, another dinner," she practically spat, smoothing the dress over her knees moodily. "It's always a pish-posh social gathering where fun amounts to talk about the wealthiest person's latest activities and purchases, all the grown-ups trying to out-do each other."
Norrington blinked at her, astonished at how blatantly she had observed and summarized her surroundings. She picked a wooden splinter from her dress and tossed it.
"I am thirteen now. I wanted to have fun today, not a boring dinner. Did you have a dinner for your thirteenth birthday?"
Lord, he couldn't remember. "I believe I was out to see with my father."
"I was as well!" the accordion man said brightly. "I had the best orange for supper, I'll never forget."
Jealousy embellished Elizabeth's scowl as she picked off another splinter. "I didn't even know most of the people there." She suddenly rounded James, "Why didn't you come? Father must have extended an invitation."
"I was on duty, Miss Swann," he said, overriding her gently, "as I am most every day."
Her angry frown made James briefly forget his disappointment in her; he only wanted to extend his compassion to her and see her low spirits lifted. She had grown on him in the seven short months they had known one another, and it was troubling to see her so depressed.
"Had I known," he continued kindly enough that she established proper eye contact with him, "that my very presence would have made so much of a difference to your dinner, I suppose I would have made more of an effort to come."
The corners of Elizabeth's mouth pulled up into a small smile. "Really?"
He nodded once to appease her. "Though I don't see the correlation of my attendance to the rise in level of fun."
She took no time in elaborating.
"At Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope's dinner, your napkin caught fire because the maid bumped the table and knocked over the candlestick, and Mrs. Stanhope screamed and threw her champagne on you, completely missing the napkin?"
Norrington shut his eyes. They began to burn at the memory. "Yes, I remember."
"So you bumped over the other candle and caught my Father's cravat on fire, and that little yippy dog got your hat so the maids had to chase it-"
"Miss Swann, the word you are thinking of is 'disaster', I believe. Not 'fun.'"
"Oh, but it was," she insisted, smiling over at the man who was laughing.
"Sounds like a party t' me!"
"If only my dinners could be so interesting and eventful! Perhaps I should get a dog."
The indifference on James's face threatened to succumb to a smile. Interesting was the word. "I assure you that any dinner you have without a napkin going up in flames is better than a dinner at the Stanhope's where one does."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. While I respect your opinion, I will disagree with it."
"Do with it as you please, but why again did you have to come here?" he asked, censure returning to his voice. "You couldn't have had fun in a more tasteful setting?"
"Tasteful? It's the middle of the night, Lieutenant. There are no tasteful places with people to have fun with unless you know of a place I do not."
"Please," he said, taking a step closer to her, "We've been her long enough. I do need to return you to your father-"
"Miss – Swann. I am only trying to do my job."
"So you're a fun-stealer, are you then?"
"You have no interest in being here," Norrington hissed, disregarding her strange comment. She fought his fire with her own.
"I have great interest in being here!" Her resentment visibly transformed to haughtiness as she batted her eyelashes at him dramatically, turning away with her little chin in the air. "I am helping to write a song."
"Aye," the man on her other side said with a lazy stretch of his accordion. "She has a talent for comin' up with words."
Elizabeth smiled at the compliment, shying away. "Though not ones that rhyme necessarily."
Norrington couldn't stand it any longer to see Elizabeth's pristine figure next to the scruffy man slopped with alcohol, mud, and God only knew what else. He stepped up to the man, ignoring Elizabeth's protests.
"I'm afraid you will be solo for the rest of the evening, sir."
"You leave him alone! He's done nothing to harm me!"
"Yet," he said, regarding the tranquil man darkly. Elizabeth's mouth fell open to object, but he would have none of it. "Miss Swann, we are leaving."
"Lieutenant Norrington," – she stood on her stool, now eye level with him – "I am staying with Mr. Rowe!"
"Do not cause a scene-"
"There wouldn't be a scene to cause had you not interrupted us!" she scolded hotly. Norrington's lip curled.
"You are going to fall. Get down from there." Not that it wasn't entirely improper for her to have snuck out of her home at night to end up in a tavern to begin with, Elizabeth defied him further by stomping up onto the bar. She put her hands on her hips as Mr. Rowe's chuckle pricked Norrington's ears.
He was losing control of the situation.
"Do not encourage her," he snapped at Mr. Rowe. "Miss Swann, you are testing my patience."
"I will come down," she promised surreptitiously, "if you can point out one person in here that recognizes me. Someone who serves a prominent threat to my reputation as the Governor's daughter."
James didn't bother to even spare a glance over his shoulder. He knew that she was aware that she could get away with this disobedience only here. For a young lady of her social status, she was impressively sly. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow to his hard stare.
A bargain it was.
"If you come down now, I will allow you to stay long enough to finish your song."
She narrowed her eyes in consideration. Mr. Rowe nodded up at her.
"You also cannot tell my father that I was here."
James tilted his head somewhat amused. "He probably wouldn't believe me if I did."
Elizabeth's smile flourished at Norrington's peeping grin, quite proud of her bargaining skills. "Then we have deal." She sat back down, smiling between the two men on either side of her happily. James briefly wondered what the consequences of allowing this to continue would be. She suddenly nudged him. "Oh, do try to at least look like you're enjoying yourself. You are not at a garden party."
"Help us with the end of the song!" she suggested heartily. "Then all three of us can lay claim to it."
"I believe we left off findin' a rhyme for 'caress,'" Mr. Rowe said, his eyes pinching shut as his large cheeks pushed up in a wide grin. Elizabeth spun on the bar to James quickly.
"Think of a word that rhymes with caress."
"Other than 'digress'," Mr. Rowe said. "It doesn't fit the tale, you see."
"I do not know what tale you are trying to tell," Norrington informed them. His heart skipped fondly at how the revelation registered on Elizabeth's face.
"That's right! We'll sing it for you," she said. "Then you can let us know if it sounds any good."
"Worthy of a sing by every seaman, it is," Mr. Rowe smiled to Elizabeth. "I sing my words and you sing yours?"
"Yes." She stood on the stool again. Norrington harrumphed peevishly, his hands hovering near her sides protectively.
"You promised you would sit down."
"I'm performing! I can't very well sit and perform. Mr. Rowe is standing, and he is an outstanding musician."
"And a kettle cleaner in the back," he added, jerking his head over his shoulder. He laughed at Norrington's shifting eyes. "Play when I can is all I can do! Ready, Miss Elizabeth?"
She faced James excitedly, less than two feet separating performers from onlooker. The lieutenant felt his reservations pass as her infectious smile leapt to his face; it was truly beautiful thing to see her glad, even more so to know that he had caused it.
A swift, jovial melody sprang from the accordion of Mr. Rowe. The kettle-cleaning musician sang with thick, weathered voice:
"There's a bright young lad who looks too sad to be a captain brave; there's a girl on shore that he longs for as he sails amongst the waves."
Elizabeth followed right after, dancing in place. "She's the stars and sun, the only one whose love that he desires; Wheree'er he goes he hope she knows that she's all that he requires."
"And he sings this song the whole day long: 'I need your sweet caress!'"
"As the canons blaze for ninety days, da dum-dum da da dum…"
James began to chuckle humorously as the melody came to an end, Elizabeth beaming back at Mr. Rowe. "That was a marvelous song," he said.
"Do you think so?"
"Absolutely. Though we need to absolve the ending for the sake of this sad captain," Norrington said, leaning against the bar on his elbow, now part of their chantey-writing conspiracy. "How do you intend it to turn out?"
"The girl loves him, too," Elizabeth explained. "She tells him right before he leaves port. And when he's at sea engaged in a terrific battle with pirates, he thinks of her and fights to stay alive to see her again."
"Hmm." Norrington furrowed his brow in thought. "Before he leaves for this campaign, does she maybe give him her kerchief?"
Elizabeth and Mr. Rowe consulted with one another.
"I s'pose she could," Mr. Rowe said. "And he keeps it close to him at sea."
"In his vest!" Elizabeth shouted eagerly. "That rhymes! Sort of, I mean."
"Close enough," Norrington said.
"But wait," Mr. Rowe said slowly. "What if she forgot her kerchief that day?"
"Oh dear," Elizabeth sighed.
"Yes, it is a shame. She promises to write him instead, and all those days he only get one letter. And that battle is in the middle of the night. He's gotten dressed so quickly that he doesn't have a vest with pockets on, but he grabs the letter just in case he doesn't make it back to his cabin that night."
Norrington eyed the salty Mr. Rowe knowingly, unable to help himself. This was more than a song pulled out of thin air to entertain a girl's imagination for the jolly kettle cleaner.
"Where does he keep the letter?" Elizabeth asked Mr. Rowe.
"Tucked right over his heart, Miss Elizabeth. He can't bear to live or die without it. It's all he's got of her."
"So," Norrington thought aloud, "'caress', 'vest'…. Uh, 'breast'? 'chest'?"
Mr. Rowe gives the accordion a pull. "Her letter 'gainst his chest."
Elizabeth jumped around atop the stool again, and, yet again, Norrington thought this would be the time the blasted thing broke beneath her. It held its own, however.
"Let's sing the whole song!"
Mr. Rowe smiled over at Norrington. "Care to chime in, Lieutenant?"
"Yes! Sing with us, please!"
James outright laughed, looking out at the rowdy crowd before him uneasily. The idea…
"I prefer to remain your most humble spectator."
"Oh, all right," Elizabeth said, climbing on the bar again. The stool rattled, his hands shot out, he snarled in frustration. His conscious was convincing him to break it himself before they left.
"Miss Swann, I asked you not to stand up there. Performance or no, you are violating our bargain."
She shrugged at him. "Would you rather I stood on the stool?"
"Point taken," he muttered in surrender. "Just-" She turned to the room with Mr. Rowe, and his eyebrows shot up in alarm. "Miss Swann, what are you doing?"
A handful of people staggering in front of the bar looked up at Mr. Rowe's bellow. He smiled to those able to maintain eye contact with him as Norrington inched closer to Elizabeth, fearful of the many eyes now on her. He gripped his sword's handle.
"Ladies and gents, we have a new tune for your ears tonight!" Mr. Rowe announced grandly. "Miss Elizabeth here calls it The Captain."
Norrington stayed right up against the bar in front of Elizabeth as the accordion screeched to life amidst the background noise of the patrons, cautiously watching the revolting men stare up at her with thoughts certainly as filthy as their attire. While he was sorely in favor of grabbing Elizabeth and making straight for the door, he did not move.
"There's a bright young lad
who looks too sad
to be a captain brave;
There's a girl on shore
that he longs for
as he sails amongst the waves."
Suddenly, a man appeared next to Mr. Rowe with a fiddle and a smile, playing the effervescent melody line under the accordion's jig. Elizabeth cheered with other members of the crowd, Norrington surprised to see her dancing about behind him as she sang.
"She's the stars and the sun,
the only one
whose love that he desires;
Wheree'er he goes
he hope she knows
that she's all that he requires."
James felt his hat lift from his head suddenly; he wheeled about, only to see Elizabeth giggle at him as she jammed it atop her flimsy curls and continued dancing to Mr. Rowe's voice.
"And he sings this song
the whole day long:
'I need your sweet caress!'"
Her fast-moving shirts brushed the back of his head, swooshing to a standstill.
"As the canons blaze
for ninety days,
her letter 'gainst his chest!"
Thinking it the end, James turned to help Elizabeth from the bar when Mr. Rowe and the fiddle player increased the tempo of the already fast song and sang on.
"There's a bright young lad
who looks too sad
to be a captain brave!"
Elizabeth continued to laugh, tugging irrefutably at the bemused lieutenant's coat until he stumbled up onto the bar, ultimately - and quite unexpectedly - seated right next to her lively footwork.
"She's the stars and sun,
the only one
whose love that he desires!"
More whoops and cheers sprang from the swaying crowd members constantly knocking into one another, one thrusting his drink into the air with such force that it slapped into James's lap. He blinked at it in disbelief as the verses mixed together in rounds, Elizabeth hopping to either side of him tirelessly.
"Wheree'er he goes
he hope she knows
that she's all that he requires!"
It was useless. His smile was dead giveaway to her.
If you can't beat them, join them.
"As the canons blaze
for ninety days,
her letter 'gainst his chest!"
James took Elizabeth's hand in his and held it high as she twirled under it again and again. Mr. Rowe and the fiddle played upped the tempo a third time as the floorboards rattled from the rhythmic stamping of the loud, unruly horde. Lost in the thrilling whirlwind they were in, James actually heard himself singing a verse with Mr. Rowe.
"There's a girl on shore
that he longs for
as he sails amongst the waves."
Elizabeth, still spinning fast under Norrington's hand, shut her eyes, overcome with exhilaration as she belted out the final verse.
"She's the stars and sun,
the only one
whose love that he desires!"
The song ended abruptly, and Elizabeth tripped over her own two feet in surprise, James catching her in his arms as she fell across his wet lap. As the room filled with more yells and drunken applause, their stunned faces met, only to dissolve into insatiable fits of laughter.
"Sorry, Lieutenant," she giggled, standing up again with the aid of his shoulder. She let go and lifted her skirts to step down onto the stool. "I-"
Norrington and Mr. Rowe had both dived forward, catching her mid-air as the stool fell to no more than a pile of wooden sticks beneath her. She looked dazed, the happiness of a moment ago lost to shock as they set her to her feet on the floor. Norrington sighed as he retrieved his hat, exhaling a stomachful of invisible butterflies.
"I think, Miss Swann, you have had your fun," he said breathlessly, "and that it is time to go."
"Oh, just once more?"
James restrained from rolling eyes in exasperation. "That was not part of the deal."
"Extension for one more performance!" she begged. "I don't want to go back yet! I'm having far too much fun! Mr. Rowe?"
The scruffy man kindly smiled, leaning down to her. "Too much of a good thing isn't always good, Miss Elizabeth," he said wisely after an exchange with Norrington who nodded his appreciation to cooperate. "The Lieutenant's gotta get you home to your dad. You don't want him to get in trouble, now do you?"
"No," she said sourly. Everything seemed to quickly changing back to how it had always been, as if what had just happened did not really happen at all. Mr. Rowe tapped her shoulder playfully, however.
"Hey lass, buck up, eh? You wrote a song tonight."
"And performed it spectacularly," Norrington found himself saying.
"And boy, what a successful performance you had!" Mr. Rowe said. Elizabeth bit down on her emerging smile as Mr. Rowe winked at her. "Tell you what, Miss Elizabeth – next time you and I happen t' be in the same spot, we'll sing it again. Even louder."
Norrington's eyes widened. Was that even a possible feat? His ears were still ringing.
Elizabeth's smile lessened a bit at Mr. Rowe. Next time. There would be no next time. Not after this stunt of hers.
"I had a great time in your company tonight, Mr. Rowe. Thank you very much."
"Was an honor t' share in your birthday celebrations with you, Miss Elizabeth. And the Lieutenant, of course."
Norrington relayed his gratitude to him with the sincerest of smiles. Here he had been, terrified beyond hell that some overpowering monster has taken Elizabeth from them never to be seen again, and now here he was, face to face with this friendly man whose nobility and actions towards Miss Swann he could only admire.
"My gratefulness is eternal, Mr. Rowe. Thank you."
Mr. Rowe inclined his head. "Glad to do it, sir. I wish you both a safe journey back to your homes this evening. And you keep practicin' you song writin', missy," he said to Elizabeth. "Too good to go to waste, I'm tellin' ye."
Elizabeth dropped into a full curtsy, something Norrington had observed in the past that she loathed doing for any reason. "Good evening, Mr. Rowe."
"Evening to you two as well!"
James smiled with Elizabeth as the accordion and fiddle saw them out with an encore over the bustling multitudes.
x x x
They took the long way back.
He sat her in front of him on his horse, allowing her to assist in holding the reigns as her little hands poked out from under the large, heavy cuffs of his soiled coat. He lamented its condition only a moment before the adventure of the night of which it reminded him made him laugh at all the absurdity that had ensued. He was certain that he had lost the charming girl now nodding off against him in the exact same coat that housed her from the blustery after-storm winds.
He could replace his coat. He could not replace Elizabeth.
James eased the reigns from her, pulling the sleeves of the coat down over her hands in her lap. After relishing in the relief he felt of her peacefully breathing against him, she heard her speak softly.
He smiled down at her crown of freely blowing hair. "Yes, Miss Swann?"
"Why aren't you always that fun?"
His offense transgressing humorously at a question that was undoubtedly long-coming, Norrington smiled softly.
"I suppose it is because you don't run off as much." He looked down at her when he felt her head turn upward quickly. "Not that you will increase that number beyond what it already is."
Elizabeth sighed, relaxing back into him with a roll of her shoulders. The side of her face rested over his heart. She shut her eyes, James glad of her eventually drifting off. She had danced herself to exhaustion, a performance of which any gypsy would be envious. She had earned herself a decent sleep.
He smiled again, unable to shake the song from his head as he turned into Queen Street.
x x x
"Oh, oh thank God!"
Governor Swann and several officers fled to Norrington has he rode up to the mansion. He carefully dismounted his horse, his hand on Elizabeth's back to support her dormant body. His boots sloshed into the liquefied ground once more as Governor Swann helped him slide her from the saddle; Murtogg rushed forward last minute when the Governor slipped, safely seeing her into Norrington's arms.
"Thank you, Mr. Murtogg."
"You're welcome, sir."
Governor Swann finally released his breath he had withheld for hours, his face torn between a relieved smile and worried frown at the state his daughter's gown and Norrington's uniform were in.
"Lieutenant Norrington, thank God, I knew you would find her. Is she alright?" he asked, smoothing her windswept hair away from her face as he inspected it closely.
"She is just asleep, sir. Perfectly unharmed."
The Governor blinked in astonishment. "Asleep?"
"She told me that she left the manor and met a friendly gentleman across the road, following after him. When I happened upon them, he immediately turned her over. He did not seem to pose any threat to her at all; they were sitting in Lime Street where he played an accordion for her. He claims she has a talent for songwriting."
"Well, while it sounds innocent enough, I will still have the doctor examine her when she wakes," Governor Swann said, issuing him towards the mansion.
James slowly paid mind to the fragile package resting soundly in his arms as he followed the Governor up to her room, somewhat awed that her father had insisted upon it. He wanted to hear more of this made-up truth of theirs; that, and she would probably be too weak to climb the stairs herself had they woke her. James relayed all the fine details of the tale on the basis of improvisation, things he and Elizabeth hadn't discussed en route to the manor. Fortunately, they had sufficed.
Governor Swan's face became pained as Norrington laid Elizabeth in her bed, temporarily lamenting the irreversible condition of her dress and now sheets.
The emerging moonlight casting milky highlights on the gentle features of her face and pillow engraved the most beautifully serene image James had ever seen of her into his mind as he turned his face near to her before removing his arms from under her knees and behind her back. He straightened, his eyes lingering momentarily before he left the room with the Governor.
"I should advise you to let her wake on her own," he said once they were in the foyer again. "She was well spent when I found her."
"You look exhausted beyond all reason yourself." Norrington pushed a smile unto his lips, Governor Swann returning it wearily. "It has been a long night, Lieutenant. Get some sleep."
"Thank you, sir."
"No. Thank you, sir."
A month later, as Lieutenant Norrington and Captain Everson joined Governor Swann and Elizabeth for a carriage ride to tour the newest ship of the fleet, the Valor, someone from the streets suddenly calls out, "Miss Elizabeth!"
All four occupants of the carriage quickly look at the portly, waving man as they pass, Elizabeth catching Norrington's eye just in time to stay her own shout.
Governor Swann looks between the two of them and the window, confused.
"Elizabeth, who was that? Did you know him?"
Elizabeth sits back in her seat rigidly.
x x x
Three years later, as the newly-promoted Captain Norrington bids the Governor and Elizabeth goodbye at the docks before boarding a ship that will be taking him far from Port Royal, Elizabeth hands him a sealed letter, instructing him to only read it once the ship is out to sea.
He does as told, reading it on deck at sundown.
This seemed most fitting since you are now
The words of the song followed.
x x x
Three and a half years later, James sees a boy in the street with a fiddle playing next to a shop window that housed an array of instruments, an accordion in the front left corner.
x x x
Five years later exactly, when writing up reports in his office after Elizabeth's eighteenth birthday celebration (which he has attended), James reaches to replenish the ink of his quill when he realizes that his preoccupied mind has written something very different from what it should have.
She's the stars and sun, the only one whose love that he
He blinks at the page indifferently for ten minutes.
x x x
Seven years and some months later, when he sets sail to pursue Captain Jack Sparrow and The Black Pearl, Commodore Norrington takes her four-year-old letter from his sea chest, tempted to destroy it the way he felt she had his heart and honor.
Wheree'er he goes
he hopes she knows
that she's all the he requires.
He swallows, simply stuffing it back into the bottom of the chest. James will never again admit it aloud, perhaps even speak in riddles to himself of it; but if he is being truly honest with himself, he still needs her to know that he will always love her.
x x x
Nearly nine years later, he leans against a pillar in The Faithful Bride, choking back a long, hot series of drinks from his bottle and wiping his mouth on his tattered sleeve. The musicians beside him pick up a tune.
He recognizes it, deducting that he is obviously still too sober.
He also recognizes the man sitting at the nearby table, or thinks he does.
No, he definitely does.
The ex-Commodore empties his bottle, letting it smash to the floor as he approaches the table.
x x x
Just over ten years later, he invokes an attitude he had kept out of practice since that night.
If you can't beat them, join them.
Elizabeth nods stiffly, and her crew exits the cell in a hushed frenzy passed him. She glares at him unforgivingly.
"What are you doing?"
He meets her eye resolutely.
"Choosing a side."
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