Contrary to the expectations of Port Royal society, Will and Elizabeth were
happy in their marriage, and in their happiness, they were determined to
make amends to Norrington for the unhappiness their marriage had caused him.
With this lofty goal in mind, they had invited him to dine with them.
Will supposed that Norrington had first accepted as a kindness to Elizabeth
and to her father, as a way of proving that he found Elizabeth and her new
husband perfectly respectable. But the initial invitation had led to a
second and a third, and, over time, the stilted conversation had given way
to comfortable discourse, spirited debate, and teasing rejoinders. James (as
they now called him) became a regular fixture at their table.
Still, he seemed disheartened, and Will knew that James' loneliness weighed
on Elizabeth's mind. When she suggested that the three of them row out to
the island with a picnic, Will was certain the outing was designed to take
James' mind off his duties and his lack of romantic prospects.
Cook had packed a hamper with cold roast chicken, crusty bread, goat cheese,
and several bottles of wine, along with an apple tart . They ate their fill,
and then lolled indolently on the blanket, drinking wine and soaking up the
sun. It was a warm day, with a pleasant breeze off the water, and Will laid
his head in Elizabeth's lap, shutting his eyes against the glare.
Elizabeth was in a livelier humor and she pleaded with James to tell them a
story. "King Arthur, as you did on the Dauntless, when I was a girl!"
With mock reluctance, James acceded to Elizabeth's request, intoning, "Once
upon a time," in a mocking voice. However, he quickly surrendered to the
natural rhythms of the story, invoking all the details Will remembered from
Elizabeth's stories when he was a boy: the sword in the stone, the knights
of the round table, Lancelot and Guinevere and the rest.
Will's stomach was full from their fine picnic and the blanket was soft.
Elizabeth was running her fingers through his hair and the pleasant sound of
James' voice had a soporific effect on Will. He quickly lost the thread of
the story, and fell into a light slumber.
He awoke abruptly to Elizabeth's reproachful voice. "That's not how the
"Why ever not? I remember, years ago, you said it was sad, so I changed it.
. .It's only a story."
"But thatís not how it happened!"
"Indeed? And I suppose next you'll assure me that Arthur will return in our
darkest hour to save Britain?"
Elizabeth tossed her head, setting the blue ribbons on her hat aflutter, but
did not reply.
In an almost wistful tone, James continued. "It's a fairytale. Why not give
it a happier ending if we choose?" He made as if to touch Elizabeth's
sleeve, but when Will sat up, James yanked his hand back.
Rubbing his eyes, Will asked, "What's happened?"
"James was explaining that Lancelot and Arthur, being such good friends,
were loath to let a woman come between them."
"Very sensible," Will agreed.
"If only it really worked that way!" James turned up his glass and drained
Will felt like he'd missed something important. He poured them all more
wine, considering James' words. "Why can't it? Love shouldn't come between
friends, for who can control where his affections settle? And surely there
should be nothing but sympathy between two men who care for the same woman,
for who else could understand a love better than one who shares it?"
"Only if they are both rejected! If one is lucky enough to win the lady's
love, their interests must naturally be in conflict, unless the loser
resolves to let friendship override envy."
Elizabeth looked out at the sea. Her white dress billowed in the wind like a
sail. "Not so with pirates." James raised an eyebrow, as if to communicate
how little weight the practices of pirates carried with him, but Elizabeth
pretended not to notice. "One hears of the most unorthodox arrangements
between them, even two men -- matelots -- sharing one wife amicably, without
jealousy or disagreement."
Will had ceased to question where Elizabeth learned such things. "So Arthur
and Lancelot should follow the pirates' example and share Guinevere between
Her mouth curved in a saucy grin. "Especially seeing as how they're such
To Will's surprise, this scandalous suggestion didn't seem to shock James.
"Perhaps you are right. In such a case, it may be that the spirit of love
would be better served by such an arrangement than by jealousy and deceit.
But the poets tell us that Guinevere loved both Arthur and Lancelot. Surely
you don't suggest that a woman who loves only one of her suitors should make
such a sacrifice, for the sake of the men's friendship?"
Elizabeth grasped Will's hand. "Even Guinevere did not know that she loved
them both at first. It was only in time that she knew her heart. And a young
woman -- such as Guinevere -- should not be faulted for believing that she
must pick one or the other of her suitors." Her voice faltered. Will
squeezed her hand and she clasped James' fingers with her other hand. "I
would not suggest that a woman should feign affection for someone she does
not love, but what if she did care for her husband's friend? If they
three should agree, who should gainsay it?"
"Why, no one." Will's voice echoed off the cliff and he started at his own
James now looked as if he was wondering if he'd missed something. In the
bright afternoon light, without his wig, he looked very young. "Truly?" He
stared first at Elizabeth, then at Will.
Elizabeth nodded defiantly. "Yes."
"Yes," Will echoed. "Yes."