The Ace of Swords
Every time James became convinced that nothing more could go wrong on this
infernal voyage, something even more atrocious occurred. He couldn't
remember when he'd spent a more uncomfortable twenty-four hours. Immediately
upon returning to the Pearl, he'd felt an anxious, restless yearning,
and his mind had turned to the most lascivious thoughts. He'd recognized it
for some after-effect of the spell, and he'd been determined not to be
manipulated by some ridiculous glamour. The rest of the men seemed more
susceptible, or less willing to fight the magic; everywhere James looked
there were men engaged in obscene acts, and he'd been approached five times
in the space of an hour. The first four offers were relatively easy to
decline as they came from grizzled sailors with little to recommend them.
But the unnatural lust demanded to be satisfied, and it was only with the
greatest of fortitude that James was able to refuse handsome Harry's
The final straw had been the sight of Will following Sparrow to the great
cabin, doubtless for some debauchery. James fled the chaos and locked
himself in his cabin, determined to stay there until this mad mood lifted.
He took himself in hand, but the yearning was not entirely satisfied. He
dined on a stale biscuit and resolved to sleep off the madness, but his
dreams were painfully erotic, and he awoke to sticky, wet sheets.
Thankfully, his desire had dissipated in the morning, but the restless night
had left James cranky and out of sorts. He stewed in his cabin for a while,
reflecting on the past few days, and then went in search of Elizabeth.
He found her alone in the great cabin, breakfasting with a contented and
satisfied air that only served to corrode James' patience all the more.
Unable to contain his fury, he burst out with, "How could you abandon your
She responded as if she'd been slapped, jerking away with a shocked
expression. "It's none of your concern."
"Strange, that's what Will said as well."
"Well, it's true." She tossed her head and took a small, precise bite of her
eggs, as if the matter were closed.
"Do you never think of anyone but yourself? What of Will -- did you consult
him in this matter? Or did you simply go on your headstrong way, without so
much as a by-your-leave?"
"Will's not the one--"
James ranted on, heedless of her excuses. "He's an orphan, with no family,
and you separated him from the one blood relative he has, because it was
inconvenient for you to raise a child! And what of your father? Did you not
think he might want to know his grandson?"
Brought up short, she repeated. "My father?"
"Yes. Could he not have taken the child?"
She stared at him in disbelief. "Surely he wants nothing to do with me now."
"If you believe that, then you're a greater fool than I thought." A bitter
laugh escaped James' lips. "Where you're concerned, your father has neither
discernment nor discipline."
With a kind of harsh satisfaction, he saw tears welling up in Elizabeth's
eyes. James thought to drive home his point by speaking of how brokenhearted
Swann had become, but there were footsteps in the passage, and Sparrow
called cheerfully, "Good morning, Miss Slugabed!"
Will came through the doorway, laughing and carrying an armful of oranges.
He stopped abruptly when he saw James, and Sparrow, rushing in behind Will,
crashed into him, sending Will stumbling and the oranges rolling all over
the cabin. There was an awkward pause, in which Will's eyes shifted uneasily
between Elizabeth and James.
Sparrow adjusted his hat in an attempt to recover his dignity, but then
noted Elizabeth's expression and turned narrowed eyes to James. "What've you
been saying to upset Bess?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "Home truths." She wiped her eyes and squared her
shoulders. "I'm afraid I've been dreadfully selfish."
Will went to her, touching her arm tenderly. Clearly he was expecting an
apology. "Elizabeth, there's no need--"
"I believe we should take William to my father."
Will yanked his hand back as if it had been scorched. He searched
Elizabeth's face and then, flatly, said. "No. Absolutely not."
"Don't you see? He should be with family! Norrington said father has become
quite melancholy. It will cheer his spirits to have a child in the house
again. Why should we not give him to my father to raise?"
"Because I'll never see my son again, if we do! Do you imagine that your
father will allow us to visit Port Royal with a price on our heads?" He shot
James a poisonous look. "I thank you for your interference, Commodore."
James tried to speak, but Will carried on over him. "He's my son too, and I
won't have it! Swann might even take the child back to England. My God,
Elizabeth, have you no-"
Sparrow hastily stepped forward and held his hands up. "Let's not do
anything rash. We still have a little problem with the Spanish to take care
of before we can worry about babies and governors and the like. Once we've
dealt with de la Cruz there'll be time enough to--"
"The Caxtons speak of returning to England, Will," Elizabeth said, ignoring
Sparrow. "And Sarah is to have a baby of her own. She hinted in her last
letter that perhaps we'd best make other arrangements for William--"
"Oh yes, you'd best make other arrangements. By all means, don't think of
consulting his father!"
Losing all patience, James banged on the table sharply. "If you will let me
speak!" When the babble of voices had subsided, James continued, "What if
Swann were to issue Sparrow a letter of marque?"
Now it was Sparrow's eyes that burned. "You're a bit well-to-live if you
think I'm signing on to be at King George's beck and call."
Elizabeth stood defiantly. "Be reasonable, Jack!"
"Oh that's rich, coming from you!" He pivoted around and jabbed a finger in
James' face. "Not for love or money, d'you understand?'
Will spoke slowly, beginning to comprehend James' plan. "We never attack
English ships anyway. As privateers we could come and go from Port Royal as
Ignoring Sparrow's sputtering, James nodded. "Exactly. Elizabeth could see
her father, you could both see your son. . ."
"And the crown would take all our--"
"You could attack French and Spanish ships with impunity, and you'd
have access to the king's shipyard."
Sparrow stopped mid-sentence and rocked back on his heels. "The king's
James nodded. Will and Elizabeth held their breath.
"Well, why didn't you say so?" Sparrow clapped James on the shoulder
heartily. "Sounds like a brilliant plan to me!"
"Jack was right -- it's a brilliant suggestion. Perhaps -- when he's older
-- William could even join us on the Pearl." Will smiled to himself
at the thought. In a few years, Tommy would be nearly grown, and they'd need
a new cabin boy. Looking down at the sword in his hands, it occurred to Will
that he could even teach William to fight and to do some small bits of
James, who was carefully honing his blade, spoke absently. "I don't normally
approve of privateers, but it seemed like a sensible compromise. I can't
think that Swann would object, under the circumstances. And from what I've
seen of Jack Sparrow, I believe I'd rather have him on England's side." He
gave Will a rueful, sidelong look. "Not that I hold any delusions that
Sparrow's on anyone's side but his own."
"You'd be surprised. He can be infuriating, but his loyalty is. .
.unassailable, even if it sometimes takes a rather convoluted form."
"So it would seem."
There was a companionable silence while they worked on their weapons. The
ship was quiet -- everyone seemed exhausted from the previous day's frenzy,
and those who weren't on duty were mostly sleeping. The clear morning had
given way to a sudden rainstorm, and Will and James had taken shelter in
James' cabin, along with Dinah, who was purring contentedly at Will's feet.
Finishing the repair on his grip, Will set aside his sword, peeled an
orange, and offered James half. The orange was sweet, but excessively juicy.
Will grimaced at the sticky residue it left on his hands and licked his
James colored faintly and looked away. "It seems that you and Sparrow have
buried the hatchet. And you and Elizabeth as well?"
"Yes. . .It's for the best. At any rate, you'll be back in Port Royal soon
enough. Unless you intend to turn privateer with us?"
James laughed dryly. "I think not." He examined the jeweled hilt of his
sword intently. "I'm not fool enough to think that you were going to throw
them over for me, you know."
Will pondered this. Of course, that had never been an option. But he was
loath to lose James' friendship. "If all goes according to plan, we'll be
visiting Port Royal quite regularly."
James cocked an eyebrow inquisitively and Will added, "Sometimes they get to
be a bit. . .much for me. I could use a friend to escape to."
James offered his hand. "That I can give you with all my heart."