Making a Fresh Start-Conviction-Absolution
Elizabeth returned to herself slowly. Her hands were cramped and cold, and
every muscle in her body ached. She could remember nothing since that
morning when she'd been at the helm. Looking down, she saw that her clothes
were drenched in blood.
She felt her head uncertainly, but Jack reassured her, "The blood's not
"You don't seem to have sustained any injuries," Norrington added with an
"How do you feel?" Will asked anxiously.
Jack produced his flask from his coat pocket and offered it to her. She
drank deeply, the burnt-sugar taste of the rum thankfully erasing the
coppery taste of blood. "Is it. . .over?"
The men exchanged relieved looks, and Will and Jack helped her up. "That
damned priest is dead, and de la Cruz too. All that's left is to find my
compass, and divvy up the spoils."
"And destroy the knife." Will added.
With a frisson of horror, Elizabeth realized that the stone blade was still
clutched in her hand. Will gently pried her fingers apart and took the
knife, wrapping it in his sash.
Norrington stared at Jack. "You don't intend to claim that ship, do you?"
"She's an English vessel, isn't she? I expect your Gillette would appreciate
you returning his ship."
Will shuddered. "Surely not now. Remember what Madame Reynaud said about the
Elizabeth's head was swimming, and Jack's reply was interrupted when she
stumbled and fell against him heavily. He swung her up in his arms, and the
warmth of his body was an immeasurable comfort. "First things first, eh?
Let's get you to my cabin and clean you up."
Will felt as if too much had passed for him to comprehend it all. He
couldn't take it all in, and he needed to busy himself with something to
stop the worrying and wondering. Luckily, there was no shortage of work.
Once they'd ascertained that Elizabeth was unhurt, he spent the rest of the
day taking stock of the crew and the Pearl, while James and Jack
performed a similar assessment on the Princessa
The damage to the Pearl was superficial, and would be easily repaired
once they were in Port Royal. There was nothing to prevent them embarking at
once, save the detritus of the battle to clean up. The decks could be
scrubbed, scattered weapons gathered, but the bodies of the fallen presented
something of a problem. In the end, they stowed them all in the hold to be
given a decent sea-burial once they'd sailed far away from the Isla de
Muerta -- no man would wish that for his final resting place.
Most of the survivors had only slight injuries, although there were two men
with badly broken arms, and three who probably wouldn't survive the night.
Henrick had taken a hard blow to his left eye; it was too early to know if
he'd recover his sight, but it looked terrible. Will greatly suspected
Henrick never see out of that eye again.
It was nearly dark when Jack and James returned from the Princessa
looking grim and weary. The Spanish prisoners had been removed to the
Pearl's brig, and Jack had hardly set foot on the Pearl before he
was ordering the crew to make sail. As they raced away, it became clear why;
with a thunderous crack, the Princessa exploded and bright flames
illuminated the night. The water around them boiled and seethed, and a
singeing wave of heat encompassed them.
Jack, James, and Will watched from the quarterdeck until there was no more
sign of the Princessa. Jack clutched his compass tightly in his hand.
When the distant glow had faded entirely, he said, "There was no salvaging
James nodded in full agreement, and closed his eyes, as if to shut out some
awful memory. To Will's amazement, Jack rested a reassuring hand on James'
shoulder. After a moment, James met Jack's gaze, and quietly said, "Thank
Will shivered, profoundly glad that he'd stayed on the Pearl.
The aftereffects of the battle kept Elizabeth in her bed for most of the
trip to Port Royal. She was unharmed, but weak as a kitten; even when she
began to recover her energy, she chose to sleep -- it was easier than
thinking about what in the world she would say to her father.
When they arrived, she asked Norrington to go ahead and send a dress for
her, but he refused, insisting that no word of her should come to her father
before he saw her and knew that she was well. She reluctantly donned her
cleanest coat and a loose, floppy hat and set out.
She took a circuitous path through the rougher parts of town, as much to
delay the inevitable as to avoid being recognized. Not surprisingly, she
encountered no one she knew in the back alleys, although a young African boy
with a string of fish squinted at her face as if trying to place it.
All too soon, she found herself in her father's back garden. In spite of the
mid-day heat, she felt a chill as she put her hand to the door. What if one
of the servants should see her and make a commotion? She tried to remember
the daily routine -- this was a time when the cook was busy with dinner
preparations, and the maids were cleaning upstairs. If she was fast, she
could slip in without detection. The schedule must not have changed too much
in her absence, for she successfully made her way through the back hall and
into the main part of the house without being discovered.
The rooms seemed small and cramped after so much time in the open, and,
although there were no overt signs of neglect, the air smelled musty and
stale. Her footsteps echoed on the stair, but no one came to investigate.
She found her father in his study, his head bowed over a book. He looked
old; his shoulders were narrow and bent, and the hand that turned the pages
was frail and thin. She smelled old books and ink and wig powder - smells
that were ineluctably associated with her father. She wanted to embrace him,
but panic gripped her; she couldn't let him see her like this. What if he
disavowed her? What could she say to justify her actions? Better not to face
him at all then to be turned away. She longed to turn tail and run, rather
than admit that she'd done wrong.
He coughed, and the dry, rattle shook his frame. Was he ill? Fear drove her
forward, and she stooped down beside his chair.
She touched his arm, and he looked up querulously. He blinked, and tears
shimmered behind his spectacles; astonishment and joy replaced the peeved
He clasped her to his chest and the tears she'd been holding back burst
forth. "Papa!" she cried, as if she were still a child. "Papa, I'm so
Will's smithy appeared to have been untouched since he and Elizabeth had run
away. His tools were coated in dust, and the hearth was cold and empty. He
felt like an intruder, although as far as he knew, the building -- a gift
from the governor -- was still his. But he picked up the hammer and the
weight of it in his hand, the heft of it, was still familiar after all these
Jack and Elizabeth had followed him in, and were coughing at the dust he'd
Jack rubbed a clean spot on the window with his cuff and looked around with
interest. "Nice place."
"It was. But it's not my place. Not anymore."
Jack acknowledged this with a lopsided smile. "Well, we'd best get on with
it then, hadn't we?"
Elizabeth had been keeping the knife in a little leather pouch. When she
drew it out, dried blood flaked off onto her hand, and she flinched,
dropping the knife.
"He has no power now," Jack assured her. Nonetheless, he picked it up with
the tips of his fingers and hastily tossed it onto the anvil. "Well?"
"What should I do?"
"Smash it to bits with your bloody great hammer, love. Isn't that obvious?"
"Shouldn't we. . ." Will groped for the right phrase. "Say something?
Some sort of charm or spell?"
"Do you have anything handy?" At Will's silence, Jack continued, "All she
said was to destroy it and throw it in the ocean. If anything else was
required, I'm certain she'd have told us."
Will nodded and brought the hammer down with all his might. A shattering
note rang out.
"Again," Elizabeth said vehemently.
He smashed the knife again and once more for good measure, leaving nothing
but shards and dust on the anvil.
Government House had grown quiet and still, but Elizabeth couldn't sleep;
just as she had for the past three nights, she crept down the hall to the
room where Will was sleeping. She could see a thin golden bar of lamplight
beneath the door -- he was waiting up for her.
Once she was tucked up in the bed with him, he pulled off her shift and
gently rubbed the red indentions the corset had left on her skin.
"Oooh, that's better!" Elizabeth stretched and twisted, trying to get the
kinks out of her spine.
"Do you think you'll ever get used to wearing those again?"
"Never! Don't grow accustomed to me in skirts -- I don't intend to dress
like this except when we're visiting Father."
"We'll all have to endure some sacrifices if we're to frequent Port Royal."
Will grimaced, obviously remembering their uncomfortable dinner.
Elizabeth's father had invited his good friend Colonel Wallace to dine,
along with his spiteful shrew of a daughter. Miss Wallace had made it clear
that she felt she was above her company, and it was all that Elizabeth could
do not to slap her for her barbed remarks. Will had responded with his usual
civility, but when Miss Wallace dipped her head to taste her chowder, he'd
shot her a venomous look that revealed his true feelings.
"Perhaps we can avoid dinner engagements in the future," Elizabeth mused.
"We could claim we've contracted some dreadful plague and can't risk
exposing Father's guests to it."
Will wriggled his toes and sighed as he sunk into the soft featherbed.
"There are some compensations. I don't remember when I've slept in a
bed this comfortable."
Elizabeth snuggled up under Will's arm. "It feels too big to me."
Will flashed a devious grin. "Next time, we'll sneak Jack in."
James sighed contentedly, ruffling the feather on his quill. He'd never have
thought he could derive so much satisfaction from paperwork. But to be
sitting at his own desk, wearing his own uniform was a joy that he'd never
thought to partake of again. And there was something to be said, after all
that had come to pass, for composing a letter assuring the Admiralty that,
as much as he appreciated the kind eulogies, he was very much alive, and
prepared to resume his duties posthaste.
At first it had seemed impossible to describe the events that had occurred
after he'd been rescued. However it turned out to be easier than he'd
expected; James had prior experience translating bizarre occurrences into
terms that dusty bureaucrats could comprehend, and he was able to address
the salient points without appearing to have taken leave of his senses. He
was trying to decide whether to use "deranged" and "maniacal" to describe de
la Cruz when there was a knock on his door.
Will came in, resplendent in a new suit of clothes. The green coat was
gaudier than James might have liked, but he was heartened to see that the
hat was serviceable and lacking extraneous plumes and frills.
"I wanted to say goodbye. We sail tonight for Nassau."
"To fetch young William?"
"Yes. We should be back in a fortnight, barring anything unexpected."
"I wish you luck. The Governor is delighted, you know; he seems years
younger since he heard the news."
Will grinned wryly. "I know. He's already hired a nursemaid and sent off to
England for a 'cunning and comfortable' bed. I imagine he'll spend a small
fortune furnishing the nursery. The boy will be spoiled rotten, I fear."
"No doubt. But Elizabeth survived it well enough; we can only hope that
William will fare as well."
Will laughed, but then his expression grew sober. "In truth, James, I had
hoped that you might look out for him as well, as a sort of godfather. He
could use a more sensible influence. And if he's to be a. . .privateer,
he'll need to know how to use a sword."
James was surprised at the sharp pang of pleasure this request evoked, and
it took him a minute to find his voice. "Of course. And you and Elizabeth --
and Sparrow -- will be here often as well. He'll have no shortage of people
to raise him."
"Thank you." Will's voice was thick with emotion.
James stood, wanting to speak, but unsure of what to say. Will took a half
step forward, and suddenly they were embracing tightly. Will's body felt
warm and solid in James' arms. James missed him already.
After a long while, Will pulled away; his eyes were shining through the
disheveled curls that had slipped from their tie. He repeated, "Thank you,
The full moon once again shimmered through the Pearl's stern windows,
its silvery light supplemented by the golden glow of the lantern. They'd
just gotten underway and Jack, Will, and Elizabeth were sitting down for a
late supper of stewed apples and ham. Will was glad of the homely meal,
after the rich fare they'd been eating at the Governor's table.
It made Will smile to see Elizabeth with her skirts ruckled up around her
knees, tossing back rum in a businesslike fashion. She'd sworn she'd change
clothes as soon as she was aboard the Pearl, but in the end, her
hunger must have been more pressing than her discomfort. For his part, Will
had no desire to shed his new coat, which he fancied made him look quite
dashing. Only Jack was still in his ordinary clothes, and when he pulled
Elizabeth into his lap, his worn coat and hat made an odd contrast to the
sleek satin of her dress.
"It seems downright quiet around here, after all the fuss and
commotion," Jack remarked laconically. "Intimate, you might say." Watching
Will with dark eyes, he bit the nape of Elizabeth's neck and loosened the
laces on her dress, until the bodice slipped down, revealing creamy breasts
spilling over the top of her stays.
She caught her breath and he nipped at her neck again, one hand disappearing
up her skirt. Will leaned forward avidly, inhaling the piercing sweet scent
of her arousal. She melted back against Jack and then gasped in obvious pain
and sat up abruptly. "Not in this bloody corset!"
Will yanked her to her feet, and her dress puddled on the floor. "I believe
I've heard of a remedy for this." With a slash of his knife (and a cry of
surprise from Elizabeth), he sliced the corset down the middle.
"Useful trick, that."
Jack lost no time in standing behind her and pulling the pins from her hair.
With a whoosh, it tumbled down her back, gleaming like molten gold.
In the kissing and licking and tasting that ensued, Elizabeth's shift
slipped to the floor and Will somehow lost his coat, but he was much too
occupied between Elizabeth's thighs to pay much mind.
When she could stand on her own again, Jack pulled Will to his feet and
swiped his tongue across Will's mouth. "I'd say you're overdressed, mate."
"I'd say the same of you." Catching Jack's hand, Will pulled it away from
his knife. "And if you cut the buttons off my new waistcoat, I'll shave off
all your hair and give it to the parrot for a nest."
"There's no need to hurry," Elizabeth drawled, even as she divested Will of
his waistcoat and reached for the buttons on his breeches. "We've got all
With drunken giggles and fumbling fingers they managed to get both men out
of their clothes. Jack promptly fell over into the cot, pulling Elizabeth
Will hesitated but a moment, and she sat up and looked at him invitingly
through her lashes. "Come to bed, Will."
Jack leered amiably and patted the space between them. "Yes, love, come to