Title: Chain Letter
Pairing: James/Elizabeth, Will/Elizabeth
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Disney.
"Can I see you again tomorrow?" Will asked hopefully.
"I'm afraid I have to go out with James tomorrow…." Elizabeth admitted with a sigh as she put down the feather pen she had been using and glanced around the tiny room they were in. Her father would kill her if he knew she was alone with Will in his small bedroom up above the blacksmith shop. It simply was not proper, but she didn't really care. Besides, they really hadn't done anything , unless you counted a few simple kisses or the sword fighting lessons. "But be sure to practice your penmanship, so Father will be impressed."
"It seems that you are going out with him every few days…" Will frowned unhappily. "Why can't he go chase some pirate and give the two of us more time to ourselves? I don't like sharing you with him!"
"I guess he caught all of the pirates, except for Captain Jack Sparrow that is." Elizabeth stood and stretched, her arms reaching upward above her head and she felt her dress tighten around her body from the movement. She caught Will admiring her form and she smiled at him. They had been sitting side by side at Will's slightly crooked desk for at least an hour and her muscles felt stiff. The desk's surface was covered by sheets of Will's attempts to write. "I really don't think he has anything else pressing while in port and now he has that big fancy office befitting his new rank. All of the paperwork bores him no doubt, so he asks me out often."
"But you agree."
"What else am I to do? Father expects me to marry James someday. He says we are a smart match. For him to even consider you, you have to at least know how to read and write. You know that, Will. It's why I'm teaching you! Now don't get jealous of the time I spend with James. He's my friend just as much as you are and he's not perfect either, you know."
The unexpected news that the Commodore with his high rank and the great wealth was not perfect was startling to the young blacksmith. "Really? What's wrong with him?"
"Well, he just doesn't know how to relax as you do so he is always very formal. I wish he'd loosen up a bit."
"I wish he'd disappear…" Will muttered as he stared down at his ink-smeared fingers. How did Elizabeth manage to keep herself so free of the sooty black India ink? There wasn't a single spot on her and here it was smeared all over his fingers, the side of his hand and even on his sleeve! He just wasn't used to writing. Banging on hot red metal was his thing. The two were very different indeed. But no matter how Elizabeth saw the Commodore's stiff formal attitude as a flaw, it just didn't seem so flaw-like to him. It seemed minor in comparison to his lack of schooling, a decent paying occupation and wealth. He didn't know how much the Navy paid, but it surely was a lot more than a blacksmith earned and Norrington had no doubt been stockpiling it for his future.
"Beg pardon?" Elizabeth gazed at him as she pulled on her cloak.
"Are you going now?" Will asked even though he knew she was. The hour was growing late and she was expected home for dinner.
"Yes, although you know I'd love to stay longer." Elizabeth headed out the room and down the narrow stairway that led to the blacksmith shop. "And I'm sure you have a lot of work to do as well."
"I always have work to do." The air for the moment was perfumed with her sweet scent but once he started the forge up, the scent would be gone; replaced by the acidic stench of melting metal. It was a miracle that the stink never clung to her clothes, but he supposed the walk home must air them out.
"Now I want you to write me a letter. I'll read it when I come over next time, the day after tomorrow. I think you're ready for that. We don't have much time so we need to press on with the lessons."
"A letter!" Will cried, horrified at the mere idea. As soon as the idea had been announced, all ideas fled from his mind and now it was in an empty state. What would he say? "I don't know how to write a letter!"
"Oh, but they're easy. Just start it with "Dear Elizabeth" and write something down. Instead of saying it to me in person, you'll be writing it. It'll give you the opportunity to practice spelling, sentence structure and penmanship all at once."
Will frowned. "I'm not good at spelling…"
"It's just practice!" Elizabeth promised as she pushed the door open to reveal a wet and muggy day, large raindrops splashing against the cobblestones. Pulling her hood up over her perfect hair, she paused in the doorway and glanced back at him. "I had to practice with the sword, didn't I? Well, you have to practice, too!"
"I love you!" Will declared as he swept Elizabeth up into his arms and kissed her passionately. Her lips were soft under his and so warm. He wished it could go on like this forever but he knew it couldn't. Reluctantly, he pulled back and dropped his arms to his sides. And then she slipped through the narrow crack and was swallowed up by the rain, just another gray shadow in a weary world of gray. The shop already seemed deserted and empty of life, even though Mr. Brown was sleeping upstairs in a drunken daze.
"A letter…what in the world could I say in a letter?" Will asked as he headed over to his forge and fired it up. Perhaps some mindless work would give him some idea. He knew writing and reading was important, of course. It was a skill highly prized, as most common folk didn't even know how to spell their own names. If they were ever required to sign a paper, they just made a mark, any mark and it was good. But the nobility and the wealthier people were different. Their world operated by the written word. The laws were written, stories were written, sales of goods were written, news and history was written….everything was written.
Will banged away at the sword he was forming, red hot flakes flying all about him. "If only this writing thing could get Norrington out of my hair for awhile! Then it would be good! Maybe if I think like Jack…"
What would Jack do? Jack would pull some scam, wouldn't he? Or maybe create some big fuss, something to keep the good Commodore occupied for a few days, something to interfere with his planned date. Then his duty would demand he cancel and Elizabeth would be free! But it would have to be something legal, so he wouldn't get in trouble. He was just lucky that the Governor had freed him of the piracy charges when he had rescued Elizabeth from Barbossa's crew. And now that he thought of it, things have been very dull around Port Royal lately. The trip with Jack had been exciting and now things just seemed extra dull. Did Elizabeth feel the same? He was pretty sure she did. It was hard to go back to one's dull life after living on the edge and facing death multiple times. Seeing Elizabeth was the only bright spot of gold in his life of dull iron.
Slowly an idea started to form in his mind. It was clever and maybe, just maybe it might work. Either it would be a brilliant success or a miserable flop, there was no ground in between. Of course, he had to make certain that it didn't lead back to him, as he certainly didn't want Norrington to know who the letter was from. No, Norrington was too smart. If he wasn't, he wouldn't have risen to Commodore so quickly. His two lieutenants would be better targets for the ill-meant letters. And from there it would spread outward to others, including the time-hogging Commodore.
The young blacksmith paused in his hammering to laugh out loud. The picture that formed in his mind was utterly hilarious. Better yet, it wouldn't harm anyone. It was just a bit of good fun really, nothing more than a childish prank. And if Norrington was as stiff and uptight as Elizabeth claimed, he would be left utterly confused by it all. He would be annoyed and would run all over trying to stop it. "That should keep you busy."
The hours passed as Will continued his work, the plan forming in his mind in better detail. Then when he was finished for the day, he went upstairs and put nib to parchment carefully. Ever so slowly the words formed on the paper in a straight line more or less. Some letters were larger than others and there were a few ink spots here and there, but thankfully no telling fingerprint smudges of a novice writer. While the first letter dried, he made a second copy. Digging a coin out of his desk, he flipped it in the air and watched the light reflecting off of its smooth sides and curved edges. It was just a pence, not worth much really, but he needed to hire someone to deliver the two bits of parchment to Fort Charles. Spending a pence would be well worth it if it got him more time with his beloved Elizabeth.
Lieutenant Groves stepped off of the wooden gangplank of the Dauntless and onto the solid ground of Port Royal. Lieutenant Gillette was right behind him. They had been overseeing some repairs to the ship after its disturbing battle with the undead pirates, something that they were both troubled by. Such things were just not normal or natural. It would be good to get back into the solid walls of Fort Charles where things did not go bump in the night.
"Do you have the list of parts we'll need to finish repairs?" Andrew Gillette asked his friend as they walked towards the dark shape of the towering fort. The sun was setting off to the west in a red haze, the first they had seen of it all day. The cobblestones shone wetly under their buckled shoes and wet drops splashed upwards onto their white hose and knee-pants.
"Yes, I have it right here." Theodore Groves replied. "I'm uncertain if we have all of these in stock, but I'll go see the quarters master first thing in the morning. Those pirates did more damage than I thought."
"Excuse me, Good Sirs!" a high pitch voice called.
Both Groves and Gillette paused to gaze down at the young dark- skinned boy dressed in simple white cotton, his head a mess of curls. The child could be no older than ten if he was a day. A bit of parchment was clasped tightly in one hand, the knuckles white from clinging to it greatly.
"Yes, what is it?" Gillette asked as he already surmised the boy was delivering a message meant for someone at Fort Charles.
"Letters for Gillette and Groves at Fort Charles. They be Lu-ten-ants. Could you give this to them?"
"For us?" Theo asked, surprised. Letters from someone living in town was the last thing he had expected. "We're Lieutenants Gillette and Groves."
The boy's dark eyes widened with surprise and glee at finding his marks on the first try. "Great! Here ya go!"
"Who are they from?" Gillette asked as he accepted the slightly bent and damp letters. It was clear they were on fine parchment, that he could tell at first glance even in the quickly fading light. The paper was smooth in his callused hand and of good thickness.
The boy smiled up at them, all white teeth. "'Tis said it's a secret!"
Theo's eyes brightened at that and he poked Andrew in the ribs with his elbow good naturally. "We must have secret admirers in town!"
"Do you think?" Andrew asked him as he turned the two letters over in his hands as he waved the young boy off. There was no indication of which letter was for who or any writing at all on the outside where a letter would normally be addressed, just the parchment folded in thirds and sealed with a glob of hardened wax.
"Of course! What else could it be?" Theo replied firmly as he bent over to study the two letters in his friend's hands. "They may be shy about approaching us in person, so they sent us these to break the ice. Is there no clue as to who each one is meant for?"
"None whatsoever." Andrew handed one to Theo and kept the other for himself. "Perhaps they are invitations to some ball at a manor house! If that's the case, then perhaps they need not be addressed so specifically at to our names. James has been invited lately to those parties by the dames of the town, you know, thanks to Miss Swann."
"But they are practically engaged…" Theo commented on the idea. "I think that our names may be inside, on the first line. The ladies would want to introduce themselves before inviting us to balls surely, wouldn't they? But I do know they love men in uniforms and we do look very sharp in our powdered wigs and Navy finery."
"Who could they be?" Andrew asked as started at the blank outer side of the mysterious letter in his hand. "Come, let us head to the Fort and read out mail in the comfort of our dry quarters."
The two walked side by side and passed the marines who were guarding the doors to the Fort. They both had a noticeable bounce to their steps and the dark gloom caused by the undead pirate encounter had totally flown their minds. Eager anticipation reined instead and both were thoroughly enjoying the short wait, like young boys waiting for their birthdays and the unknown presents that would be waiting for them. This was just what they had needed to improve their mood.
Finally they reached their quarters and settled inside. They each broke the wax and carefully unfolded the parchment, their hearts pounding in their chests as to what it may say. Their delight, however, quickly changed to confusion.
To Whom It May Koncern,
Tis letter was started in England in the year 1720 and has ben traveling the world since then. 'Tis a good luk letter. You must now make 25 copies of this letter and send them to other people. You have 3 days to do so. If you do tis, you will have good luk. If you don't, then bad luk will be yours! Nothing will go rite and ill fortune will hound your heels!
Now please mak the copies and send them out!
May lady fortune smile on you.
"What the…?" Andrew stared at the letter in his hands and then lifted his gaze to Theo. His hands were shaking visibly, even though he tried his best to hold them still. "Do… do you have what I have, something about good and bad luck?"
Theo nodded silently, his normally cheerful face pale as if a ghost has passed by right before his eyes. Even with the clearly misspelled words, the meaning had been very clear. "If we don't do as this letter says, we will have bad luck!"
"It's some leftover curse from those undead pirates!" Andrew nodded in utter agreement as he stared at the crudely written words on the bit of parchment. "Their abnormal state and our contact with them has attracted the supernatural to our door! Why else have we received these letters and not someone else in town? The odds are against that, you know? Why not two of the drunks in the seedy bars by the wharf or some simpleton? I for one do not want ill fortune at my door, not when we have to work on a ship where so many things can go wrong at any moment."
The two sat silent with grim expressions on their faces as they thought of all of the ways their fellow seamen had died over the years: falling off the rigging to the hard deck, drowning in the freezing sea, being blown apart by cannon fire, stabbed through with a cutlass, dying of scurvy, being crudely injured by falling parts of damaged rigging, being shot and so on…and that didn't even count the ship sinking in a storm!
"What are we to do?" Theo asked Andrew, who was a little older than he was. "Shall we each make twenty-five copes of this letter and hand them out to others?"
"I don't see any alternative. And we must do it now, as we may be called to duty on the sea at any moment. We don't have a moment to lose." Andrew reached into the desk drawer near his bed and promptly pulled out a stack of parchment, a small bottle of India ink and a quill. Hefting the parchment carefully in one hand, he frowned. "I hope I have enough sheets here. I didn't expect the need to write twenty-five letters."
"But what of our report we're to hand in to James, on the condition of the Dauntless? That's due today and if we make these copies, then we won't have time for the report." But even as the words left Theo's mouth, he too was digging in the drawer of his own desk. "Where did my quill go? I can't find it in my desk!"
"See? You have the bad luck already!" Andrew cried as he waved the ill fortune letter in the air before Theo's nose. "It knows you don't want to make those copies so now it has stolen your quill!"
"No! It can't be!" Theo moaned as his eyes widened in horror, his pale face going white as a starched sheet.
"Aye, it is!" Andrew nodded as he settled down at his desk, the ill fortune letter carefully set in the upper left corner so he could dutifully copy it, bad spelling and all. He intended to even slant the sentences just as they were on the original, just to be safe. When it came to the supernatural, it was best to be as careful as possible. Before he would have laughed it off as sheer foolishness, but now after seeing those undead pirates and their skeleton bodies… "You have best go borrow a quill from someone before you end up undead as well! For all we know, its how those pirates got that way!"
"You know those pirates can't read! They must have received one of these, couldn't read it, and ignored it and then poof! They were cursed!"
"But I don't want to be undead!" Theo wailed and started wildly throwing everything out of his desk drawer as he frantically searched for the missing quill. Item after item sailed through the air, crashing either into the wall behind him or onto the floor. He was so intent on finding the quill, that without thinking, he threw the glass ink bottle over his shoulder only to have it shatter on impact with the wall.
"Bad luck…" Andrew commented as he studiously bent to making a flawless first copy. Secretly he was rather pleased, as before he had the bad luck. It still stung that Turner had stolen the Dauntless right from under his nose and then his longboat had been run over by the Interceptor. It seemed to him that Groves always had some secret angel on his side, something that had lifted him above the petty troubles of an officer.
Theo's eyes suddenly brightened and he spun around on his heel, spitting on the floor and patting himself. "Black spot!"
Andrew lifted his eyes from his half done bit of parchment and stared at his roommate. "What bit of foolishness is that?"
"I read that pirates do it, so I thought it might help me as well." Theo explained as he carefully stepped over the mess he had made on the floor and headed towards the door. "I'll be right back. I need to go borrow some supplies from someone…"
"You and pirates!" Andrew scoffed. "You just keep admiring them like that and you'll end up one, an undead one no doubt! And when that happens, you best find a new roommate as I ain't sharing no room with a guy that has a skull for a face!"
That was too much for Theo and he fled the room into the relative quiet of the corridor. With his luck, James would pick that day to do a room inspection and then he'd be written up for being a slob. Perhaps his punishment would be a twenty-four or thirty-six hour watch. It was certainly better than kissing the gunner's daughter, but it was awfully hard staying awake all of those hours. To ward off any evil eyes that may be spying on him, he did the Black Spot spitting ritual again for good measure.
"Theo, what are you doing spitting in the corridor?" A calm and cultured voice questioned. "It's not becoming for an officer to behave like that. I thought you knew better."
Heat rose up into Theo's pale face and he slowly turned to face Commodore Norrington. Of all of the people to get caught by, he was the worst. Why couldn't it have been Phillip or even one of the Middies? "I … I have misplaced my quill and was going to get another one…."
"And you think spitting on the floor is going to help you acquire a quill?" James asked as a slight hint of amusement lit his green eyes.
"It's to ward off bad luck?"
James sighed. "Not more pirate nonsense. I have enough of it with my fiance thinking she's a pirate. Next she'll want fencing lessons! I swear, some days she thinks' she's a man with running around in borrowed Marine outfits – although I admit she does look very fine in them."
"You did know she was headstrong." Theo reminded James, feeling slightly relieved that his commanding officer was apparently willing to overlook his lapse of judgment this once. Still, he felt the doom from the ill-fortune letter breathing down the back of his neck like icy fingers. The clock was ticking and he had to get moving if he wanted to finish those copies and write the report.
"Yes, I did. It's why I admire her so." James admitted. "She always knows what she wants and has no problem going after it. And she seems so… free. She doesn't seem to worry what others think of her. Most women, after being kidnapped by pirates, would be horrified and feel ruined by society's standards. They would go into hiding and would be ashamed to show their face in town. But it didn't faze her at all and she admittedly held her own against them, unlikely as that is."
"Yes, Miss Swann is very strong." Theo agreed. He whetted his dry lips, in preparation for his upcoming request. "May I borrow some supplies so I may write up the report, James?"
"Of course you may, Theo, on the condition that you don't do more of that spitting. I don't want the young and impressionable Middies learning that bad habit." James smiled and pointed down the corridor in the direction he had just come from. "You know where my office is."
Thrilled, Theo raced off down the hallway and quickly darted into the office. Taking a big stack of parchment, a bottle full of India ink and a quill, he raced back to the room he shared with Andrew. Upon entering, he almost tripped over his scattered belongs on the floor, but managed to catch his balance and hurried to his desk.
"I already have three copies finished," Andrew bragged happily. "Just twenty-two more to go! We're lucky this letter is so short or our hands will be cramping up before we're done."
"It may anyway…" Theo said as he settled at his desk, arranging his supplies just so. "Twenty-five copies are still a lot and who will we give them to?"
"I haven't the slightest idea…"
James was thinking of his upcoming date with Elizabeth and where they would go. Last time they had gone out to listen to some beautifully played chamber music by gifted musicians. He had enjoyed the hour long live concert very much, but he had sensed that his date didn't care for it very much. Elizabeth had fanned herself expertly as a proper young woman should, but he also had noticed she had fidgeted a bit, too. No doubt the music had bored her.
Chamber music is not very pirate-y at all.
He still couldn't forget her singing that "Yo Ho A Pirate's Life For Me" song years and years ago when she had been but a young girl. A lively jig was probably more her style, the stuff that the basic deck crew enjoyed playing in the evening hours after supper and when they were off shift. They could get quiet rowdy, with the loud singing and the boot stomping on the decks. The officers allowed it, of course, as the men needed time to relax and keep their spirits up. But he could hardly take Elizabeth to a common sailors bar!
Here he had a date with her tomorrow and he still didn't know what they were going to do, mainly because all of the common respectable things would bore her. But what did that leave? A pirate outing of some sort? Could he have something exciting staged to please her, to show that he was willing to try? He thought of how Theo admired pirates and seemed to know a lot about them. Could he use that somehow in his idea? Feeling that he could, James turned on his heel and backtracked the way he had come. He would go seek the aid of his two best friends.
Knocking on Theo and Andrew's door, he waited for a reply. He heard a muffled cry through the door and odd sounds, as if something was being rapidly swept under the bed. The door flung open just then to reveal a slightly disheveled Theo.
"Come in, James." Theo said as he headed back to his desk and sat down.
James' green eyes darted around the room and saw that is was relatively neat and that both had their desks covered in pages of written parchment. "I'm glad to see both of you are working on your reports. That business with Barbossa's crew was ghastly and we need the Dauntless in top shape as quickly as possible. But for the moment, I have another assignment for you two, a special assignment."
"Oh?" Gillette turned around in his chair so he could see James. "And what may that be?"
"Well, it's highly irregular what I'm about to ask you and it shall go no further than this room. Is that clear?"
Theo's eyes widened in utter surprise. "A secret mission?"
"Yes, a secret mission." James confirmed. "You know a lot about pirates, Theo, and you both know how my fiancé is obsessed with them."
"Just as much as you are…" Theo boldly stated. "No one has caught as many pirates as you have."
"True, I do love catching pirates, but she just likes pirates. Even after her ordeal, I don't think she realizes what brutal monsters they are. She thinks they go on daring adventures digging up treasures on barren islands and sing songs all day. Oh, and they have exciting sword fights and swing around on ropes from the rigging, no doubt while singing more pirate-y songs."
"That doesn't sound like a pirate at all!" Andrew gasped, his letter writing forgotten for the moment. "What do you want us to do?"
"I want you two to dress as pirates and then accost us at sword point while we're on our date." James blurted out.
"That's … that's …" Andrew started to say.
"Crazy, yes, I know." James agreed with his first lieutenant. "But all of the normal dates simply bore her and I fear if I don't change I will lose her to Turner."
"I think it's brilliant!" Theo heartily agreed. "Dressing as pirates, I mean."
"Well, of course you would agree!" Andrew rolled his eyes. "But Turner is just a blacksmith. He couldn't possibly marry her!"
"But she feels that he is a pirate and that may be enough. Besides, he rescued her and I fear that counts for a lot. Women like that sort of thing I hear. I also fear that she may not care what her father thinks of the matter: she will follow her heart. She is headstrong and not too practical in regards to the future. She is not looking at the big picture or what life being a blacksmith's wife would entail."
"It's certainly not what she is used to…" Andrew agreed. "But maybe she thinks he will move up in society instead of her moving down."
"Or that Governor Swann will buy him a commission in the Navy." Theo added.
"That is all I would need." James frowned at the idea. If that happened, he would have to put up with Turner on a daily basis. It would be far too much to bear; especially should the young man actually win Elizabeth over. Still, there is a certain pleasure in making life tough and miserable for Middies…
"What exactly do you want us to do?" Theo asked as he was already planning in his head where he could quickly acquire pirate clothing.
"Tomorrow afternoon I will take Elizabeth on a beach side picnic. After we are seated and comfortable, you two pirates will come along and threaten us. I will gallantly protect her from the scoundrels with my sword."
"So you want us to put on a sword fight show for her?" Andrew nodded as he thought it over. "I could do that, but I'm doubtful if I could play a convincing pirate. They're so carefree."
"And they do things spur of the moment, without any planning." Theo added as he thought of how clever Jack Sparrow had been in stealing the Interceptor.
"Just do the best you can…" James eyes drifted to the pages of text on their desks. "And I'll expect those reports before you turn in for the night."
Just as James was leaving and closing the door, he thought he heard his two lieutenants groaning loudly, but surely that couldn't be. By the look of things, they must almost be finished.
The next morning a very sleepy Theo headed for the quarter master's with his list of needed supplies for the Dauntless. Through sheer determination and willpower, both he and Andrew had finished the cursed letters and the reports. They still had to send the dumb letters out to someone, but that wasn't a problem. Fort Charles held countless red-coated Lobsters and blue-coated sailors. Should he give one to the quarter master? Why not? The man had a cushy job just keeping track of supplies in a huge storeroom. If anyone had time to make twenty-five copies, it was he! He would just leave it on the man's desk while the man was out checking on the equipment needed.
Upon reaching the man's desk, Theo handed him the long list and then watched him head off to check the supply book. The supply book rested upon a heavy table and thankfully, the man was facing the other way. Glancing around, Theo slipped one of the twenty-five letters out of his uniform and placed it on the man's desk. Then he waited patiently.
"We're short several parts, Lieutenant Groves. We'll have to order them from the blacksmith. The rest I can have sent over to the Dauntless right away. "
"I'll order the needed parts, as I have to go into town today anyway." Theo happily agreed as he thought of his pirate clothes buying trip. What fun that ought to be! He had the good luck already, as he could feel it coursing through his veins. And later, he could be a pirate! Accepting the list of the missing parts, Theo left and headed towards Fort Charles exit.
Approaching the main gate, he saw that the ones on guard duty were Murtogg and Mullroy. They were the most bumbling of the marines, yet were very loyal and steadfast. Should he give them copies of the cursed letter? Did they even know how to read? More important, would they tell James who had given them the letters? Most likely they wouldn't.
"Here. Some mail came in for you two…" Theo said as he handed each one a copy of the letter. He watched them salute him sharply and then accept the bits of folded parchment. And with that done, he passed through the gate and headed past the Navy piers into town.
Peering about and seeing no other officers, Murtogg and Mullroy peeled open the letters and gawked at them.
"Say, what is this all about?" Mullroy asked his counterpart Marine. "It's speaking about ill fortune and whoever wrote this can't spell at all."
"It looks like we got to make twenty-five copies … each."
"Where we gonna get the paper from?" Mullroy commented as he thought about making twenty-five copies. "I don't have any and I know you don't have any either. And I certainly ain't going to buy any. That stuff is crazy expensive!"
"Well, we do have to guard the Commodore's Office this afternoon while he's going to be gone. Surely he has paper."
"But it's his paper, not ours."
"But this is clearly Navy business, like Official Navy Business. Just think, we don't want bad luck befalling us, do we? That could affect the entire Fort Charles! The Navy is as weak or strong as its weakest member and it not be proper if that be us, so we would be doing it for him, see?"
"I guess so…" Mullroy shrugged, clearly uncertain. "But we better not get caught taking his parchment."
"We can hide it in our uniforms until we get to our quarters."
"But who do we send these copies to anyway?"
"I don't know."
"Hmmmm….it better be someone who can afford paper, that's for sure!"
"You're right about that! Not too many around here got paper, unless one steals that weak stuff from the loo…."
"Could never write on that stuff, you idiot! The sharp point of the quill would just tear it! Besides, that stuff is unnatural! I heard it's from China or someplace like that…"
"Well, with these letters going around even that will be gone. Maybe we ought to stock up after our shift here?"
"Go around stealing loo paper you mean?" Mullroy asked, frowning. "How are we going to explain that?"
"Just say we're restocking the mens' room? Who would question us anyway? People these days take loo paper for granted. They don't miss it until the roll runs empty and there's not another one available. Soon it'll be back to using leaves!"
"It's that bloody Lord Beckett! I heard he made a fortune for his East India Company by bringing loo paper to the Caribbean after it was discovered in China. What else you think he needs all of those big ships for?"
"I thought he sold spices…"
"Sure he does, but think! Spices go on food and food means you need loo paper later!"
"That's crooked! He's making money on both ends!"
"Shhhhhhh! I think someone is coming!"
"Look, it's him! Lord of the Loo!"
"Stop that! You're making me laugh and we got to look all serious so he won't suspect anything."
Both men put on dull expressions and saluted sharply as Lord Beckett headed into Fort Charles. He passed without even glancing at them and both Marines sighed with relief. The last thing they wanted was to get in trouble for calling Lord Beckett the Lord of the Loo.
"We had better take the rest of this shift seriously. Then after lunch, it's off to the Commodore's Office."
Elizabeth sighed as she waited for James to show up for their planned date. Where would he take her this time? Wherever it was, she hoped it wasn't to listen to more dull music. Only by fanning herself last time did she manage to stay awake. Did James really like that stuff or did he just think it was the proper stuff to listen to because all of the other people listened to it? The thing was, she never really knew what he was thinking and so she was on unsure ground. With Will, she always knew exactly where she stood and she appreciated that. But James, he was as tight as a clam about his personal feelings and what he thought of things.
Still, she had dressed up for him in a new gown her father had just bought, a pretty shade of blue that almost perfectly matched the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean. She loved that color, as it reminded her of the recent adventures she had lived through. The dress sported a tight bodice and lots of skirt so she could run if needed. No, it was not ladylike but she loved running anyway. And running during a daring sword fight was even better!
She and Will had been practicing steadily and dare say she was getting good! Not as skilled as he was, but good enough to hold him off during their mock fights. Of course, he was always careful to not hurt her and he did explain in clear detail exactly what a sword could do. Sword fighting was not done for fun; it was a very serious thing. The blade of a cutlass was extremely sharp and it could easily slice through tender flesh right down to the bone. A person could die from a simple cut that deep, if it hit a major vein. The blood would just come gushing out and that would be it. Still, dangerous as it may be, she appreciated the fact that he had taught her how to do it and hadn't made a fuss about her being a female.
Will was so understanding that way.
The rumble of carriage wheels on cobblestones filled the air and she sighed again. She peered out the window and saw it was James as she had expected. She watched him climb out of the carriage and saw he was wearing his fancy feathered hat, the one he wore to his Commodore ceremony and on all of their dates. She supposed it made him feel dressed up, even if the rest of his uniform was the same.
She waited in the other room as the maid answered the door and bid him to enter. Then and only then did she approach, a pleasant smile on her face. "James, how nice to see you again."
"As always, I am pleased to see you, Elizabeth."
James held out his arm and she took it, holding on as she was expected to as he led her outside and down to the waiting carriage. "May I enquire as to where we are going this time?"
"I thought something a bit less formal would suit us better this time, if I may be so bold?" James replied as he gripped her waist and helped lift her into the carriage. "So I have set up a beach side picnic for us to enjoy."
"Really?" Elizabeth was truly surprised. Something so informal as a picnic was not James' style at all. Had he figured out the other things had bored her so greatly? "That sounds splendid!"
And for once she meant her words.
James must have picked up on the enthusiasm in her voice as he smiled at her, a real smile that lit up his green eyes and changed his entire face. Usually when she saw him, he was always so serious so when he smiled it was like he was someone else entirely. She watched James call to the driver and then they were off, the wheels noisily carrying them over the cobbled streets down to the ocean. Then they followed a muddy road until they reached a beautiful but deserted beach. James climbed out first and then helped her out, although she really didn't need help. Still, society expected them to follow certain rules and so she went along with it. The salted sea air filled her nostrils and the gentle breeze wafted a few loose tendrils of her hair, blowing them about her face. She watched as James accepted a heavy basket of lunch and a folded blanket from the driver.
And then they were off, walking through the sand.
It made her remember the night with Jack on the beach, drinking rum around a blazing bonfire and singing pirate songs. It had been almost perfect. But the memory made her want to kick off her shoes and run around the sand, shouting meaningless words at the sea and sky. But with James she didn't dare.
Well, not yet anyway.
The afternoon was young and so far this was the most promising date yet.
She watched as James spread out the soft blanket on the sand and then set the straw wicker basket on top of it. He knelt down then, the tip of his scabbard cutting a line in the sand behind him. For a moment her eager eyes fastened on the shiny hilt of his sword, the gold filigree catching the bright sunlight and reflecting it a thousand fold. What fun it would be to run around the beach with his sword, flicking at imaginary enemies! James would think her mad, of course! Or he would worry needlessly that she would do herself an injury.
Settling onto the blanket, Elizabeth studied him as he pulled out cheese, a bottle of wine, bread and several ripe fruits. It was a splendid feast and one she truly looked forward to eating with him, especially since there was no one else around. The isolated beach gave her a chance for freedom, not that she usually cared what people thought, but she always tried to be more careful around James.
"Oh, I should have told you to bring a parasol…" James suddenly said as he realized that the bright sun was beating down on her head. "I don't want the sun burning you…"
"James, I survived on an island just fine you know; just me and Jack. I didn't have a parasol then."
"I suppose you are right." James agreed as he picked up a knife to slice the cheese. "The beach is lovely, don't you think? I am surprised that we have it all to ourselves, as it is such a beautiful location. Surely someone else must have discovered it by now."
Elizabeth looked around her and had to agree. It was truly beautiful! The sand was white and smooth, the deep blue sea in great contrast to it. Just a little inward from the surf, tropical palm trees waved their fronds in the warm air, air that was sweetly scented with unseen flowers. Birds called raucously overhead, their loud voices music to her ears better than any fussy orchestra of snobs. And the land here was not flat, as the beach rose and fell in height as it traveled along the ocean's length. A little distance behind James, a sandy dune rose up flecked with bits of green sea grass. And to Elizabeth's amazement, just that very moment two people came over the dune and quickly headed their way.
"Well, I think someone has discovered this place…"
"Oh? Who?" James asked, one brow rose in question.
"Them." As the two strangers rushed forward, Elizabeth took in their appearance, an appearance that cried "Pirate!" due to their clothing. They both had on white shirts with puffy sleeves, dark vests and dark pants with tall boots. Their hair swung free about their faces and extended just past their shoulders, about the same general length and color as Will's hair.
And they had their swords out and tightly gripped in their hands.
Excitement filled her thin body at the unexpected sight. Finally something was going to happen, something other than dull tea parties and fancy soirées in stuffy houses where the hosts wore perfectly powdered wigs and spoke just so and where every little bite of food was to impress someone and not to satisfy one's hunger. Her blood thrummed in her veins and her breath quickened. Her whole body grew hot as she anticipated the coming action, the sword fight that would surely ensure. She had no idea who these pirates were, but it didn't matter, not really. They were pirates and that was all that was important.
"Avast!" One of them cried as he raced towards James' back, his boots kicking up clouds of sand in his wake.
"There she is!" The other cried loudly in a voice that rang out and spoke of authority, this one hot on the heels of the first. "The Governor's Daughter!"
"Pirates!" James cried in clear distaste as he dropped the knife he had been using to slice the hunk of cheese and prepared to rise to face the coming danger.
But Elizabeth's hand was faster. With lightning speed she bent forward over the blanket and snatched his sword right out of its scabbard. It slid free with the satisfying metal sound that swords make and she gripped the hilt firmly in her experienced hand. Then she sprung to her feet and raised the sword. James was so startled by her action that he lost his balance where he was kneeling and fell over backward in a much undignified manner. Elizabeth, however, paid him little attention as she charged forward to meet the first pirate.
The pirate, unexpecting such a bold move from his quarry, skidded to an uncertain halt, shock clear on his clean-shaven face. He stood there blankly for a second as she charged at him, his brown eyes wide in utter amazement.
"Aaaarrrrrrrrrrr!" Elizabeth cried, mimicking Barbossa's pirate sounds as she slashed James' sword at the halted pirate.
Theo woke up out of his daze in time to see the sharp sword coming at him and he easily deflected her first blow. But to his utter astonishment, he quickly realized that she knew what she was doing and then he had to earnestly defend himself. He was amazed at how easily she moved across the sand in her dress, how easily she swung the sword at him and how she suddenly pivoted to attack Andrew, who had come into range with his mouth gaping open in astonishment.
Elizabeth slashed at the second pirate, who wore a matching expression to the first one. "I'll not be so easily kidnapped this time, pirate!"
"Ye be outnumbered, two to one, Missy." Theo said in his best pirate voice, mustering up the courage to continue the mock fight. Still, his eyes skipped to James for instructions on what to do, as this was not in their plans at all and the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt Miss Swann.
James hurried to his feet, scared of what he might see, but this … this was not what he had expected at all. When Elizabeth had grabbed at his cutlass and had stolen it right from under his nose, he had dreaded some awful injury. What if she hurt herself? But to his amazement it appeared she actually knew how to sword fight and was actually giving his lieutenants a good workout!
How had this happened? When had this happened? Who had taught her how to handle a sword? Surely not the pirates that had kidnapped her, no, that would not have been in their best interest at all. So who? Only one answer sprung to mind.
But knowing the obvious answer didn't solve James' current predicament. For one, he had no idea what to do. Should the pirates run away like cowards? But surely real pirates would not do that, would they? Of course, Sparrow did it all of the time.
He could see Theo and Andrew looking to him with questions in their eyes, wanting to know what they should do. The problem was he had no idea. The whole thing had gotten way out of his control and Elizabeth was running wild. More importantly, she seemed to be enjoying it.
And she was without doubt beautiful and graceful, even as she was fighting with his men. Not that they were in any danger.
And Elizabeth was more of a wild handful then he had ever dreamed. Could he ever convince her to marry him?
"You'll never take me, even if I'm outnumbered!" Elizabeth vowed seriously. "And don't you dare mention pain, either! If you want real pain, try wearing a corset!"
The mention of a woman's undergarment started the two and they miss-stepped, almost falling before catching their footing again. And then she was at them again, the sword flashing brilliantly in the sunlight.
The loud clang of steel hitting steel rang out across the beach and Elizabeth happily ran across the sand as she fought the pirates, the pirates who suspiciously looked way too clean. And when she drew in close, she could smell how clean they were. In fact, they smelled like the perfumed wig powder that James used! No honest pirate would ever smell like that, as they did not know what personal hygiene even was. And since when did pirates send looks to Commodore Norrington with their eyes? And now that she actually looked at them, their faces were very familiar indeed.
Like his two lieutenants, Gillette and Groves.
No wonder they were so startled!
So James had arranged a little pirate entertainment for her? How sweet of him! It truly pleased her that he was clearly trying now, even going as far as to convince these two to dress up as pirates. Perhaps he had planned a daring sword fight to rescue her from the dastardly villains, not realizing she could perfectly take care of herself!
"Parlay?" Theo asked breathlessly, hopefully. He didn't want to admit it, but he was tiring. The fight had gone on a lot longer than any of them had planned and had been much fiercer to boot.
Elizabeth paused, her blade pointing towards the sky. She smiled smugly at him and Andrew. "Don't you know, you have to be a pirate for the pirate's code to work? But I'll accept your parlay gladly as mine was accepted once."
Turning on her heel, Elizabeth headed back towards the blanket and the forgotten picnic. James was standing there, waiting. At first she was nervous as to how he would take this, but as she grew closer she could see he appeared somewhat pleased, if a bit surprised. She wordlessly offered him his sword back, hilt first, and he accepted it. His green eyes darted from the sword to her.
"So, you can sword fight…"
"Yes, of course. A girl has to be prepared to face pirates and can't depend on others all of the time to defend her. Besides, it is fairly exhilarating."
"I can see that you think it is exciting. And that you're relatively good at it as well. Tell me, does your father know this?"
"No, of course not. And I don't see any reason why he should." And with that, Elizabeth sat down on the blanket and snatched a piece of bread up from the platter. She bit off a piece and chewed, swallowed. "I really don't see how it is any of his concern."
Murtogg and Mullroy arrived for guard duty that afternoon at the Commodore's office. The relieved the other two marines who had been stationed there with a few short words of greeting. During lunch they had noted an odd stir in the air and that many were acting a bit off, as if it were the eve of a battle instead of a peaceful day at Fort Charles. People were nervous, both the marines and the sailors, many casting their gaze about in nervous flickers. The two friends exchanged a look and instantly knew that the ill-luck letters had been spread wide. And with most not having access to paper, well, it could get ugly fast. The two had ate their meal as quickly as they could and then practically dashed out of the large mess hall for the Commodore's office, hoping beyond all hope that some parchment would be left on his desk.
The two took up their posts by the elegant doors for the moment, holding their weapons upward as they always did. Their backs were ramrod straight and they stared straight ahead into the empty office, but both of their eyes drifted towards the desk. Murtogg strained his neck, trying to see the distant desk better but couldn't make it out in any great detail. There was stuff on it, for sure, but maybe it was reports or military orders or maps, not blank parchment.
"When shall we do it?" Mullroy hissed in a whisper as he glanced at his best friend.
"Well, we should do it now before any of them lieutenants come in here looking for something. And you know they're in and out of here a lot. At the moment it's still and I don't hear anyone a coming." Murtogg glanced at the door behind him, the one he was supposed to guard, and then took a few hesitant steps towards the heavy wooden desk. "If anyone comes in, we'll say we heard some noises over by the balcony door and we were checking it out."
"That's a good idea!" Mullroy nodded as he moved forward, his marine bayonet with its sharp pointed tip at the ready to give credence to the concocted tale. "One never knows who might break in through those balcony doors, as there's lots of important stuff in this office."
"I thought I saw a shadow move over there by the desk…" Murtogg said softly as he inched closer and closer to his goal. "Someone might be hiding underneath it."
"No doubt some vile pirate wanting to steal secret orders from the Admiralty in London. We had better check that nothing was taken."
The two marines started to carefully lift piles of papers up and peer underneath them, hoping to find the blank parchment. Not seeing any, they started pulling open desk drawers.
"Aha! Look, a big thick wad of it!" Mullroy exclaimed in utter glee as he eagerly reached for the paper.
"Quick! Count out fifty sheets!"
Mullroy did just that and handed the first twenty-five to his friend and kept the next twenty-five. They carefully slid the fine, stiff papers underneath their uniform jackets and then remembered to take glass bottles of ink and the quills. The quills went up their sleeves and the ink was safely hidden in their bags of shot that all marines carried. Making certain that all was as they had found it, they headed back to the doors they were supposed to be guarding.
"Guess that shadow was just my imagination…" Murtogg commented, his heart pounding from the thieving he had just done.
"Must have been some shadows from that swaying palm yonder." Mullroy agreed; his wide palms sweaty and damp. Several times he had to adjust the hold of the bayonet butt in his hands as its long length leaned against his shoulder. "Them shadows can play tricks on you. Besides, it's best to check everything out as you never know what those bloody pirates may do. Some are bold enough to stroll right in here and make like the office is their own!"
The two grew silent as they heard the loud sound of hurrying boots out in the hall, the noise coming their way. The door flew open then and two lieutenants came charging in, their long white ponytails from the wigs practically flying in the air behind them. The two ran straight to the desk and started searching.
The two marines exchanged looks then and an almost invisible nod. They had taken the parchment just in time.
Drawers were pulled open and then a loud exclaim of triumph filled the air. It, however, was short lived.
"There are only four sheets!"
"But we each need twenty-five! What are we to do?"
The marines carefully placed the dull expressions they always wore on their faces. They knew most of the time the higher ranked officers didn't even notice them, as if they were not there or statues. Hopefully it would be the same with these two.
"I don't know, but we need to find some quick! Maybe there is some on the Dauntless?"
Parchment in hand, the two lieutenants left the desk and headed back for the door. One stopped almost mid-step as he finally realized they were not alone in the office. "Oh, how Norrington works us hard, making us write these long reports! And here I thought being a middy was difficult!"
The other man quickly agreed and then they were gone.
The room grew silent.
"We had better commandeer that loo paper right after shift. The madness has started already."
Will was busy working on the order that Lieutenant Groves had placed just that morning for blocks and chain plates. It wasn't often that he made parts for the Navy ships, but he certainly knew how to make them. It was a good thing too, as his master was once again dead drunk and passed out in a corner.
As he worked on forming one of the blocks needed, he couldn't help but think of the young officer's visit. Groves had seemed cheerful and in good spirits. Had the little urchin delivered the letters to the Fort as he had promised or had he just run away with the coin? There was no way he could be certain, not yet anyway, but the man certainly had not looked spooked. Weren't sailors superstitious? That's what he had always heard and he had been counting on that in order to get the plan to work.
Pausing to wipe the sweat from his brow, Will stared at the open window and the bright light streaming into the dark shop. What was Elizabeth doing this very moment? Was she with Norrington on their date, off enjoying themselves somewhere? Were they holding hands perhaps or gazing into each other's eyes? Did Elizabeth do the same things with the Commodore that she did with him? Odd how what she did never bothered him before, as he had always admired her from a distance. He hadn't even dared to call her by her name in her presence, as it wasn't proper so she was always Miss Swann to him. But that had changed with her kidnapping. The two had grown closer in the madness and chaos the pirates had brought down on their heads. Both had broken the rules, the rules of minding one's place in a society built with levels. Elizabeth learned fencing and spent countless hours with a mere blacksmith, not caring what others thought. And he, he had dreams of marrying the Governor's daughter now and with that dream came these unsettling feelings and thoughts. Suddenly Norrington was a rival instead of being just another officer in the British Royal Navy.
But maybe it was all a pipe dream anyway? Would he even fit into her world? He thought of how Elizabeth described things in her life, how she had to do this or that. Like that thing with spoons…Will shook his head at the memory. It was crazy and hadn't made any sense to him at all. Why have a ton of different spoons and forks for just one person? He just didn't see the point to it.
Either way, he loved spending time with her and maybe, just maybe, he could steal a few extra days away from Norrington and claim them as his own. And if he needed to learn about spoons, well, then he'd do that too.
His train of thought was broken by someone banging loudly on the door to his shop. Wiping his hands on a rag, he headed to the door to see who it was. Lifting the drop bar free, Will swung open the door to see the portly but short gentleman who ran the stationary shop. Although Will knew the man on sight and had seen him about town, he didn't exactly know his name and had never talked to him. Blacksmiths and merchants didn't run in the same circles.
"Turner, is it?" The man asked as he gazed upward at him. "I have a commission for you, a very important commission, you understand? I need nibs and I need them now! Fine writing nibs, mind you, not crude blobs of metal. I presume you know how to make those? My shop has sold out and there are costumers beating down my door to get them! And before you say a word, I can assure you that people do not write with chicken or goose feathers as most commoners think. We of the upper-class use nibs that attach to a wooden handle."
A stupid look appeared on Will's face. "Why the rush?"
"Something has lit a fire inside the people of Port Royal. I don't know what it is, but they all want to write letters and I intend to cash in on this business boom! Now be a good boy and quickly make me my nibs!"
"How many do you want?"
"A thousand!" Will exclaimed as his mouth dropped open. "An order like that would cost a lot. Making nibs is delicate work, especially the fine ones you want for writing. It's not like making swords, so it carries a slightly higher fee."
"Yes, yes, I know that." The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a little cloth sack made of crushed velvet and shoved it at him. "Here. This ought to cover it. I'll give extra if you can bring a portion of them to my shop today."
"I'll get right on it!" Will promised as he held the soft but heavy sack against his sweat drenched chest. He stood there in the cool doorway, amazed at his sudden turn of luck. The order had just dropped out of the blue into his lap and that had never happened before. He was pretty sure the man normally ordered his nibs from England, so why the sudden rush for locally made ones? Did all of the gentile break theirs at the same time? And how could he have "sold out" of nibs? It wasn't exactly a high priority item. Turning around, Will headed back into the shop and secured the door again with the thick beam. Satisfied it was locked, he headed back to the forge. The Navy would just have to wait a bit, it seemed. Laying the sack of coins down in a safe place, he picked up the partly made block and set it aside.
And then it hit him.
"My letter…it was delivered and they did make copies!" A broad smile spread across his face as he realized that soon Norrington would be too busy to go out on dates with any luck. Getting this extra unexpected job, that was icing on the cake. Humming a merry tune, he started to gather the supplies he would need for nib making.
James watched Elizabeth chew on the perfectly baked bread, the upper crust just the correct shade of golden brown and of suitable chewiness. He had made certain that all of the food had come from the best shop in town and befit her high station. But he noted that she wasn't eating with the usual dainty mini-bites he had always seen her use. No, she was tearing big bites off with her teeth and gulping it down like a man or perhaps a pirate. Apparently the rash bit of exercise increased her appetite. He resettled himself on the blanket and once again picked up the cheese knife and started to slice the cheese. She quickly snatched two pieces and started to chew on those as well, eating a bit more slowly.
"So, do you have any other … hobbies?"
"Are you saying you approve of my sword fighting?" Elizabeth asked him.
"After your ordeal with the pirates, I cannot blame you for wanting the ability to protect yourself. You were taken right from under our noses and none lifted a hand to save you. Just as long as you promise to be careful…" James still felt guilty that she had been kidnapped by Barbossa's crew from right under his nose, as it were. No, he wasn't exactly there when it happened, as he was busy at the Fort commanding the battle, but she was his fiancée and thus he felt guilty. If only he could have done something or could have known…but he hadn't. He recalled how weak and powerless he felt after he had discovered that she was gone, carried off by the cutthroats. How useless his powers as Commodore had seemed then! "So yes, I guess I do approve."
He watched her beautiful eyes widen in surprise. Apparently she hadn't expected his approval. Was this the opportunity he had been waiting for, the real chance to win her heart and her hand in marriage? "Perhaps … perhaps we could practice together again? I noticed you did seem to truly enjoy fighting those pirates just now."
"James," She laughed. "They're your two lieutenants! Even I'm not that blind to mistake them for real pirates, not once I got close to them!"
Seeing Elizabeth laughing and truly enjoying herself while in his company sent elation through him and his own feelings soared skyward. Perhaps the secret to being with her was to treat her like one of the guys? But that, of course, was insane. But maybe, just maybe, it might work. If he could pretend she was one of his officers, then he wouldn't have to worry about each word he chose to speak, fretting if it was the wrong thing to say. She was just so beautiful that he felt tongue-tied and incompetent when around her, feared injuring her feelings by accident if the wrong word slipped out. It was very much like balancing on a spar high over the ocean while during a raging hurricane: his balance was never secure. But maybe the storm was coming to an end and a calm following sea would follow.
"What did we do wrong?" Theo suddenly asked as he inched closer from where he and Andrew had been lurking in the background. "I thought I had been pretty successful as dressing us as pirates."
Elizabeth shifted her gaze to him and smiled. "In two words: wig powder. You smell like it and you're far too clean. Personal hygiene is a thing real pirates apparently do not have or want."
"Well, I'm not going to roll around in the mud to be a pirate!" Andrew complained unhappily as he could envision this "secret mission" of theirs continuing on a future unspecified day.
"And our rank requires us to be clean, unlike real pirates." Theo replied good-naturedly.
"Which is highly preferable." Elizabeth agreed as she recalled the foul odors that had drifted off of Jack when he had grown too close to her. Hadn't he ever washed his clothes or did he just live in them? The skin of his face appeared clean enough so he obviously took care of that and his hair looked all right, but he really needed to invest in some soap for his shirt and what was under it. "I admit that is one thing the stories never mentioning about pirates: how sour they smell."
"They are very rancid ." James stated, finding it hard to believe that he was actually discussing how foul pirates smelled with a female. It was outrageous and if the Governor should ever find out, he would be in hot water indeed. "And you never answered my question if you had any other secret hobbies I might want to know about."
He watched as she seemed to think about it for a moment, a thoughtful expression on her face. He could see she was taking it seriously and not as idle gossip. Somehow that made him worry about what her reply might be. If she had actually gone through the trouble and time to learn how to fence properly, then what other pirate like activities had she picked up?
"Well, I admit I did a rather well job of commanding the Interceptor until the Pearl caught us. For a moment there I must say I was brilliant in thinking up strategy…"
A cold washed over him and he couldn't help but gawk at her dumbfounded. "You … you commanded the Interceptor?"
Elizabeth nodded, her eyes brilliant and shining, lit up from within. "And I shouted "Fire!" as we let loose the cannons at the Pearl. Of course, Barbossa was in charge of the Pearl at that moment, not Jack."
"And you were in charge of the cannon crews?" James asked, a large part of him numb. He had known she was obsessed with pirates, but to take it that far, to command a ship and cannons…
"Yes, why are you so surprised?" Elizabeth asked innocently. "Really, I've watched you guys drill all those months from England to here. Do you really think I wouldn't have picked up anything or how a ship works? It's not like I had anything else to do while stuck aboard the Dauntless and you were the closest thing I had to pirates at the moment."
"So you're saying that we have taught you how to be a ship's commander without realizing it?" James felt like laughing, as it was the last thing he had expected. His Elizabeth was full of surprise after surprise. He could see she wouldn't want to be some meek little wife to sit at home when he went out to sea, no, she would want to come with him and shout orders at his officers! And the little fact that she wasn't exactly in the Navy would be moot to her.
How in the world would he handle that unusual prickly problem? The truth was he had no idea at all. The usual just simply did not apply to Elizabeth Swann and so was useless.
"I admit I did drink it all in with proper fascination." She admitted as picked up a piece of fruit and studied it for a moment. Finding it suitable, she bit into it. Then she lifted her eyes to him. "Are we being open with each other now, James?"
"Yes, why not?"
"Then will you take me sailing?"
Why hadn't he thought of it before? With her pirate obsession, it should have been so clear! What's a pirate without a ship?
James walked Elizabeth up the walk towards her front door, her hand in his. He still couldn't believe how the silly little gimmick with the fake pirates had worked so well to bring them closer together. It was a miracle and dumb luck both. They climbed the scant few steps to the door and just as he raised his hand to reach for the door knocker, the door flew open to reveal the butler. "Commodore Norrington, the Governor would like to see you immediately."
Surprise at the unexpected words rushed through him, as it was clear it must be something very grave indeed if the butler couldn't even wait for him to knock. Surely word of their improper date hadn't made its way back to Weatherby already, had it? He had chosen the beach carefully and with great thought, as the last thing he wanted was the fake pirate business to get out. And he could think of nothing else of concern or importance at the moment.
"Of course." James replied as he nodded his understanding. He led Elizabeth inside and then bid his farewell to her as he turned to follow the manservant towards Weatherby's office. Try as he might to stay calm, the unexpected summons made him nervous and he felt his palms grow uncomfortably damp. Perhaps it was nothing and the man just wanted a friendly chat, but the urgency belayed that. He discreetly wiped the dampness off onto uniform jacket and hoped his actions were not seen. And then they were at the office and he was led inside immediately. The servant announced him and then left, closing the door behind him with a gentle click.
The Governor of Port Royal sat behind a huge and elegantly carved desk, an especially large stack of paperwork before him. He looked tense, a deep frown marring his face as he shuffled sheets of parchment about with great agitation. Then he glanced up and sighed loudly with relief as a weak smile touched the very edges of his mouth. His eyes, however, stayed gloomy and dark. "Ah, James, so glad you could come. It appears some odd sort of problem has cropped up and I'm unsure what to make of it. Baffling, very baffling it is and I was hoping you could help."
"Oh?" James stepped up to the desk, his mind filled with curiosity as to what the issue could be. "I will gladly help any way I can, of course."
"It's these letters…" Weatherby started as he waved a fistful of them in the air. "They started arriving shortly after you and Elizabeth left and they just keep coming. They're brought by the oddest carriers ever, not proper footmen at all. Mostly it's just the poor children delivering it for some trinket no doubt, but the thing is they are all the same!"
James picked one of the letters up off of the desk and read it. The message was extremely short and it just took him a few moments to scan its entirety. It was without doubt the oddest thing he had ever read and he winched at the awful spelling throughout the piece. "Who ever wrote this is clearly uneducated. Perhaps it is a harmless prank by someone?"
"These are all by different hands." Weatherby sighed as he wiped his brow with a lace-edged hanky. "Even I can tell that. If it is a prank, then someone went through a great deal of effort to get numerous people involved in it. I dare say this cannot be good at all but some ill omen of fate."
James bent over the desk and laid several pieces of parchment next to each other, studying the handwriting. To his dismay, he saw that the Governor was correct and each was written by a different person unknown. None of the handwriting looked familiar to him. He straightened, frowning. It didn't seem like the thing a pirate would do or any of the common town troublemakers that often ended up in the Fort's cells. No, pirates were usually straightforward and just attacked a town and sacked it. And others just brawled and smashed things before getting arrested. This had intelligence behind it, but he couldn't fathom its purpose. What did the originator get from writing it? "You are correct. There are many involved in this mindless plot. Do you wish me to investigate this?"
"Please!" Weatherby shuffled the papers more and moaned loudly, pulling at a few curls on his wig. "How will I ever write so many copies of this bloody thing before the three days are up? I already have over five-hundred copies to pen!"
Shock raced through James' body and his mouth dropped open. "Surely you do not plan on actually doing as it says?"
"What choice do I have?" Weatherby asked as he looked upward at him. "It says I will suffer ill fortune if I don't and I fear it is already at my door. Why, just this afternoon several of the plants in my back yard suffered a hideous fate! They were my favorites, lush and sported these wondrously thick dark green leaves. A single leaf was larger than my hand. Nothing like them back in England, you know. And now they are little more than bare twigs! All of the leaves have vanished and not a trace of them anywhere. They were just fine this morning…"
"They are not eatable?"
"Not that I am aware of and they have zero commercial value except the fact they look nice. It is highly unlikely that anyone would take all of the leaves off of several shrubs. I fear it is a sign that I must take this message seriously. This town has suffered recently with the attack and Elizabeth's kidnapping. I cannot be the fault of any future calamity."
"Most bizarre indeed…" James commented as he thought on the missing leaves and the meaning behind them.
"You can see the bare bushes there through that window." Governor Swann pointed to a large window off to the right. "Oh, I will be up all night with this nonsense! I pray you get to the bottom of it!"
James moved over to the window and peered through the glass. There were several naked bushes just beyond the panes, their light brown branches very noticeable against the green lawn. They were out of place here in tropical Jamaica and better suited a colder climate where the leaves dropped during the winter; the problem being these were tropical in nature and there was no cold season. He would have to go out there and see if there was any evidence of human activity. As unlikely as the Governor thought it was, theft was still the best answer. Turning on his heel, he went back to the older man's desk. "I will begin investigating this immediately. I will need the letters and then I shall head out back to look over the damaged shrubbery."
"Take them!" Weatherby waved his hands at the hated papers. "I have read these so many times I can recite the message by heart."
Gathering them up, James stacked them in a neat pile and then headed out of the office. Walking through the large mansion, he came to the rear door and exited it. Spotting the bare twigs poking up into the air almost immediately, he carefully made his way towards them, his green eyes to the ground. It had rained all day yesterday and the soil was still soft under the grass. He was certain if the leaves had indeed been stolen by someone, they would have left footprints behind. He was a sailor and not a tracker, but he hoped that whatever evidence there was would be obvious to his unskilled eyes. The grass had already sprung back and he was not capable enough to see any tracks in it. But to his relief, the ground just beneath the shrubs was bare earth, still soft and damp from the rain. Bending down, he could easily make out several tracks from boots, adult men by the look of it. "So someone did steal the leaves. The real question is to why? Did someone take them to frighten Weatherby into making those copies or are the leaves worth something after all?"
Weatherby was correct about one thing: it was very puzzling indeed.
Murtogg and Mullroy walked down the corridor of Fort Charles at a somewhat quick pace as they headed for the nearest men's room. They didn't want to draw any undue attention to themselves so they did not run, even if they both secretly wanted to. They both feared the same thing: that all of the loo paper would be already gone. Then what would they do? Everyone they passed had an insane glint to their eyes and it made the two extremely nervous. Their hands tightened on the heavy stocks of their weapons, the wood feeling solid in their hands. It was a good feeling, a safe feeling. It didn't matter that the others were their fellow marines or navy personnel, their chums and buddies that they had lived with for years. No, this was different, vastly different and everyone was out for himself.
Eyes narrowed in suspicion, Mullroy stared at a clump of sailors that approached him in the hall, their words a frantic and quick whisper. They were from the deck crew of one of the ships, rough fellows that mainly stayed in the navy for their daily rum ration. A large cloth sack was clutched in each one's hands, the sack containing unknown items. It could be laundry, would have been laundry on any other day, but their actions said otherwise. Hands sweating, Mullroy tightened his grip on the bayonet and straightened his spine even further, trying to gain a few scant inches in height. Next to him, he could sense Murtogg doing the same. Hearts pounding, the two groups came closer and closer, the marine knowing he was out numbered if it should come to blows…
But the sailors quickly passed by, cold expressions on their faces except for one man who lowered his eyes in guilt.
The bathroom was just up ahead and both fled into it gratefully, their hearts pounding with a very real fear.
"What's wrong with us?" Mullroy asked his friend as he leaned against the closed restroom door, a thick hand wiping at his brow. "I was about to dirty my drawers there for a moment, thought it might come to blows. Those are some real rough fellows, but we shouldn't be fearing them. They're us, not pirates. But I think they were feeling the same way, like we're on opposite sides and all…."
"It's them letters! None of us want the bad luck, but they're going around. I reckon they got some already and are upset over it like we were…and there's not enough paper for all of us. It'll be a right war it will be!"
"I hope they didn't take all of the loo paper!" Mullroy exclaimed as he dashed to the little cubbyhole where it was kept. Opening the small door, he sighed in relief when he saw several thick rolls sitting there. "Well, whatever they had it wasn't the loo paper, at least not from this room…"
Murtogg made his way forward and peered at the rolls of white paper. "How are we going to smuggle it out of here? It won't fit in our uniforms like that paper did. It's too round and thick. My uniform is tight as it is and I can barely breathe with that paper jammed in against my gut."
The two were silent for a long moment, standing shoulder to shoulder as they gawked at the white rolls of loo paper.
"If we don't take it now, there won't be any later! How are we supposed to keep clean and proper then? Them greedy people will steal it all, every last roll! You know they will."
Murtogg nodded his understanding, a frown on his face. "We'll be getting written up then all of the time by the Commodore. He wants us all sweet smelling since he started dating Miss Swann. We cannot offend her delicate nose. Maybe….just maybe it will fit into our hats?"
A gleeful expression crossed Mullroy's face then and he quickly grabbed one of the rolls, flattening it with his hands and stuck it under his tricorn. "How does it look? It is noticeable?"
"Good! Grab as many as you can!"
"But they all won't fit under our hats…."
"Doesn't matter. Take them anyway. Who knows when a new shipment will arrive from China? It could be months…."
"But where will we stick them all?"
"How about inside our jackets, under the arms?"
"Like by our armpits?"
"Yeah, if we walk like this with our arms downward no one won't see the bulges!" Mullroy started stuffing them in, being careful so they wouldn't fall out. Once all of the roles were taken, the two headed back out into the corridor and turned in the direction of their quarters. Anyone who passed them was glared at with suspicion, especially if it appeared the person in question had odd bumps under their clothing or clutched laundry sacks. Finally they made it to their shared bedroom and they promptly hid their stolen loot under their beds, against the far wall. "Now we must remember before we report to duty each day we take a roll with us under our hats, so we will have it on hand when we need it. No doubt by tonight it will all be gone."
"We stole it just in time then!" Murtogg sighed with relief as he straightened the cover on his bed so the purloined rolls would draw no attention. "Do … do you think we have enough?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if everyone is going to take them to write on, well, then they won't be any but these here. And a supply ship can take months to get here from China. Why, it would have to sail around the Cape of Storms to get here and you know how dangerous that passage is! Do we have enough to last until then? What if the supply room is running low on loo paper this very moment?"
Understanding dawned on Mullroy's face then and he frowned. Bending, he snatched up his empty laundry sack and motioned at his friend's sack that rested upon his sea chest. "Grab yours and we'll go make the rounds, take as many as we can find before they're all gone. It's every marine for himself in these delicate matters!"
"But what about those letters we need to write?"
"We can do that when we come back. The night is young. Just leave the paper here."
The two removed the stolen sheets of paper from their uniforms and hid them under the blanket on their bed. Next came the quills and the bottles of ink. Satisfied all was hidden from view, they headed back out into the hallway of angry stares and guilty expressions.
To be continued…