Disclaimer: Thanks Miranda Lambert.
Chapter 11: Control of the Center
Elizabeth didn't dream when she laid her head down on the pillow. Instead, memories attacked, playing on the inside of her eyelids without ceasing, as real as when they first occurred.
Twelve and sneaking out and sword fighting in the mud with Will.
Six and watching her mother fade away.
One week ago, playing chess with Cutler and he was making fun of her French and she was calling him Napoleon.
When she woke up the next morning, the blankets were twisted up around her ankles and his side of the bed was cold. And her stupid, treacherous brain wondered where he spent the night and with whom he might've spent it.
She cried into her pillow.
She spent the next day in relative hiding, venturing out to the library to write Rose a letter. Halfway through tattling to his mother about him, Elizabeth realized if he was having her followed, he was probably monitoring her correspondence as well. So she just left it there, half finished, and hid herself away in the bedroom again.
She wondered what would happen when he came home from work. Everyday for the past month she had waited for him in his study. They had tea and played chess and insulted each other and talked about books and argued about politics until Ester came in and told them dinner was ready. They would eat dinner and keep talking and have a glass of wine and sometimes he would have to return to his study but most of the time…most of the time, they would retire for the evening together and the words stopped but they were still communicating.
Elizabeth wasn't waiting for him in his study and he didn't send for her.
She skipped dinner and he didn't come to bed.
The next morning, Francie had apparently decided that she had had enough and woke Elizabeth up with breakfast and good news. And Elizabeth could hardly hold on to her annoyance of the curtains being unceremoniously tossed open, letting in bright, blinding rays of the morning sunrise, when Francie handed her the package that had arrived from the seamstress.
All the women at the stables rode side-saddle, which was fine, of course. It had just become boring to Elizabeth after a while. So she had placed an order for breeches. The seamstress, at first, was terribly scandalized by the whole ordeal, but not so terribly scandalized as to risk losing the Beckett's as customers.
Elizabeth squealed when her maid opened the box and jumped out of bed, breakfast forgotten.
"At least eat something, my lady!" Francie called after her like a doting mother hen.
Elizabeth grabbed an apple from the tray and took off running out of the house, half dressed. She bit down on the apple to free up her hands and finish pulling on her riding habit. They kept Fortuitous on their grounds with their other horses that were used for pulling their private carriage. But whenever Elizabeth wanted a ride, she took For to the public stables which had a bit of land devoted to equestrianism with room to run and a jumping course on which to train.
She held the apple in her hand and took another bite, smiling as she walked. She hadn't worn breeches since she was just a wee little thing, sneaking over to Will Turner's shop and changing into his clothes and pretending to be pirates. The memory caused her heart to twist in her chest and the smile to fall from her lips. She took another bite and decided to save the rest for Fortuitous.
Only…he wasn't in the stables.
Elizabeth blinked. There were no horses in the stables. And for stables that normally had three horses, the fact that there were suddenly zero was very strange. There should at least be one, even if her husband had taken the other two to work that morning.
She blinked twice more, but no horses appeared. She frowned deeply and glanced to the right, and to the left. But the only thing that suddenly appeared was her husband's loyal manservant. Mr. Mercer - or as Elizabeth had begun to think of him, Mr. Stalker - flashed a slick sort of smile and took her by the elbow.
"Alternate transportation has been arranged, my lady," he told her, lightly guiding her away from the stables.
She tossed the rest of her apple at his shoes and reluctantly allowed herself to be led. He sneered at her but didn't say anything about the apple that bounced off his toes.
She returned his sneer. "I was just going to take my horse for a ride."
"Yes, I do have eyes," Mr. Mercer said and she almost wondered if he was telling a joke. She huffed and he continued. "Fortuitous has been moved to the public stables. If you wish to visit him, you will be taken by carriage and returned home by carriage."
Elizabeth barked out a laugh. "Wh-what? I have to take a carriage to ride my horse?"
They turned the corner and started down the pathway to road. Sure enough, the gates were open and a carriage was waiting.
She glared at Mr. Stalker and yanked her elbow from his grasp. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Alternative transportation has been arranged, my lady," he repeated, reaching for her elbow again.
She yanked it from him, again, and kept glaring. "Yes, I have ears. Why has alternative transportation been arranged? It's a ride on a horse!"
A footman opened the door and Mr. Stalker ushered her inside. "Lord Beckett's orders. Anytime you wish to leave the house, you will do so in the comfort of a carriage."
Elizabeth, stunned, could only stare at him wide eyed. She opened and closed her mouth three times before finding words. "This is a joke!"
Mr. Mercer smirked. He pulled out a neatly folded piece of parchment from his coat pocket and handed it to her.
Frowning, Elizabeth opened the proffered letter. Written in the exact center of it, right between the two folds, was one sentence of her husband's elegant scrawl.
"This is not a joke," she read out loud.
She pursed her lips and bobbed her head up and down in a fine imitation of a parrot. "Hilarious!"
"Hardly," Mr. Mercer said in that same teasing tone of voice before shutting the door.
Elizabeth glared at the door, and then at the letter in her hands, and then at the door again. The carriage began moving and she raised her eyes skyward. "What is this?" She asked the roof. "What is he doing?"
Was this…was this about her breeches? Did he not want her riding through town in men's clothing? Was that it…he was trying to preserve her reputation? Or was this a threat - a reminder…that the freedom she thought she had, the freedom she thought he was giving her, was never real. Was he making the figurative ties he had on her all the more literal?
What did he want her to do? And how could she do the exact opposite?
She closed her eyes and brought her fingers to her temples, rubbing them in small circles. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to act in order to win. And it was that thought, that thought of acting and winning, that suddenly reminded Elizabeth of being seven and heartbroken, crying out for a mother who could no longer comfort her. Elizabeth's paternal grandmother had wrapped her so hard on the knuckles with a make shift switch that she had bled, saying, "It doesn't matter how you feel, only how you look."
She sat up straight and nodded to herself. It didn't matter what he wanted, or how he wanted her to react. He was in control of this game, and he was obviously in control of her way of life, but he was not in control of her feelings. He was not in control of her actions. And if he expected a fight - if he was trying to provoke her into fighting him - then he would be sadly disappointed.
Elizabeth was going to be the most classy, elegant, silent wife that Port Royal had ever seen. She was going to be so classy, so elegant, so silent that it would hopefully kill him.
Four months into marriage and she was already hoping her husband would drop dead. Wouldn't her grandmother be proud of her now?
Elizabeth took a long, hot bath before dinner. She washed and scrubbed every inch of her body until she practically squeaked. The dress she chose was too low cut to be worn with a shift, so it was only her corset and stockings and skin. She asked Francie to pull the corset even tighter than normal, figuring she would need the pain of it to remind her she was supposed to be acting.
The dress was a deep, dark red and hung off her shoulders. She and her maid spent a good half an hour pinning her hair up, every strand in perfect place. This hairstyle, not so coincidentally, showed off every inch of skin that the dress revealed.
Cutler was already seated at the dining room table that could comfortably seat a dozen or more guests, eating and staring out the windows. The wall that ran parallel to the table was so filled with them it was almost completely glass. He looked up at her when she entered the room, and it took everything in her not to stick her tongue out at him.
He exhaled not so quietly when she took the seat next to him and she interpreted that as a good sign that she had picked the right dress. But she kept her chin high, her shoulders straight, and stared out of the windows, letting her anger seep out of her pores. She wanted the room to be filled with it. She wanted him to feel her anger without ever having to open her mouth.
Cook set before her a plate of food. Elizabeth was too angry, too busy acting like the perfect, stuffy wife, to pay too much attention to what she was eating. It rather tasted like nothing. But she ate that nothing with perfect manners; no elbows on the table, no utensils in the air, no food spilling onto her lap.
She refused to look at husband, which was just as well, considering the fact that he didn't even attempt to speak to her. He kept his eyes on her while she ate though. She could practically feel his gaze burning her skin, but she wouldn't give in to it. She acted like it didn't bother her. She forced herself to act like she wasn't bothered by his eyes on her when all she wanted to do was jam her fork in them.
When he finished his meal, he left the table without a word, but trailed his finger across her bare back as he passed by. She held her breath until he had cleared the room, praying he hadn't felt her involuntary shiver.
Cutler came to bed that night. He brought a book and read. Elizabeth stared up at the canopy, pretending she could see stars. She clutched the blankets to her chest and waited for him to speak.
He set his book down and doused the candle, sending the room into darkness. "Goodnight, Lady Beckett."
Elizabeth tried to find Polaris in the canopy.
A/N: So here's what happened. I started writing some chapters towards the end of this story when I realized I hate what I had written for the middle. Like, this chapter, and the next four that follow. So, I'm re-writing them. Updates will probably be slower than they have been, but I'll be aiming for at least once a week, no less than once every other week. Sorry it's been, um, two weeks since my last update! You should all review and tell me how terrible I am.
The title of this chapter is borrowed from a chess move.
Thanks to the guest reviewer: Beckett is easiest to write when he's being a prick for some reason.
ETA: Fixed the timing issue here.