Acting-Commodore Groves sat behind the large mahogany desk and stared at the
neat piles of paperwork in front of him, feeling uncharacteristically out of
sorts. Through the windows, opened to catch the early morning breeze, he
heard the mewing of the gulls and, faintly, the noises of the port far
below. The Marines were drilling in the courtyard of the fort, the stamp and
clatter carrying to his ear despite the intervening offices and two closed
What ailed him? He was acting commodore, with a fair hope of being confirmed
in the office in due time. It would be at least six months before Admiralty
could be expected to reply to the dispatches sent off last week, very likely
longer. Meanwhile, he had a chance to prove himself in a post he might never
have expected to attain so young, were it not for Norrington's abrupt
Norrington. At the thought of his former commander the formless discontent
that had plagued him for days settled into a pattern and Groves sighed.
Norrington would be missed; was missed already. Groves shook his head and
smiled. He could almost hear what his friend - and, yes, they had become
friends - would say to that; the dry, amused tone of his voice as,
with one eyebrow raised, he drawled, "Sentimentality, Captain Groves? In a
Groves shook his head again. It wasn't sentimentality, not exactly, to miss
someone with whom he had served for nearly ten years; a good leader and one
from whom he had learnt much. On the other hand, if not for Norrington's
departure, he would not have this opportunity to rise. And there had been a
something in Norrington's demeanor - an air of anticipation almost - that
told Groves he had not been reluctant to go, despite what Groves knew of his
superior's difficulties with Admiralty. That last afternoon, as they had
worked to transfer command, Norrington had said nothing about his plans for
the future, but Groves had sensed an eagerness to be gone that had intrigued
him. Norrington had not volunteered any information and Groves had not
pried, but he wondered…
He looked again at the piles of reports. How had Norrington done it? How had
he stood this for all those years? Then he chuckled, for, clear in his mind,
he heard the Commodore again, "It was my duty, Groves, and I did it."
"Oh very well," Groves muttered, half-grumbling, "Duty it is." He pulled the
first report toward him and began to read.
Two hours later, he was still reading when Captain Pitt of the Forester
was shown in.
"You are returned early from your cruise, Captain Pitt," Groves said, once
greetings had been exchanged. "Why is that?"
"Well, sir," Pitt replied, "Two days ago, we came upon something rather
disturbing and I thought it best to report it as soon as possible."
"Disturbing?" Groves asked. "How so?"
"We stopped a small sloop. It had tried to flee at the sight of us and this,
naturally, had aroused my suspicions. It was sailing very erratically,
what's more," Captain Pitt said. "As we overhauled them, I recognized the
sloop as Commodore Norrington's Gull."
"What?" Groves exclaimed.
"Just so, sir," Pitt nodded. "There were six ruffians aboard her, with some
small quantity of bread and water, and nothing else. No sign of the
Commodore, nor any of his belongings. We took them into custody, of course."
Groves regarded him with alarm. "What did they have to say for themselves?"
"Beyond insisting that they had bought the Gull from 'a gentleman'
they will say nothing," Pitt answered. "I've kept the crew away from the
captives and put my most discreet men to guard them. It was best, I thought,
to keep them quiet until they could be questioned here."
"That was well thought of, Captain," Groves replied. "Until we know the
truth, there is no need for rumors to run wild. Where are they now?"
"I've had them placed in the old cells, to keep them away from other
prisoners," Pitt said. "My marines are on guard."
"Good," Groves said. He stood. "I will see to them myself. What did you do
with the Gull?"
"We took her in tow, sir. She's back at her mooring as if nothing were
"Well done," Groves nodded dismissal. "Thank you, Captain Pitt."
"Thank you, sir." Pitt saluted and took his leave.
As Groves hurried to the cells in the oldest part of the fort, his mind was
filled with uneasy speculation. How had these men got hold of the Gull
and what had become of Norrington? He was determined to find out the truth.
Pitt's marines came to attention as he clattered down the stairs to the
guard room from which a thick door led to the dungeon-like cells.
"Bring the prisoners to me here," he ordered, indicating a small
interrogation chamber off the main room. "One at a time."
Groves seated himself behind the splintery table that, along with the single
chair, comprised the scant furnishings of this apartment. He had not long to
wait before the guard thrust a shackled captive through the door.
"Wait outside," Groves instructed the marine. Once the door had closed, he
folded his hands on the table, studying the man - who stood hangdog and glum
before him - for some little while. "Look at me," he said at last.
Raising his eyes to the level of Groves's chin, the lout shifted nervously,
his fetters clanking.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" Groves asked.
"'T'weren't me," came the reply. "I done nothin'. I'm an honest man, I am.
Weren't my idea, see?"
"What wasn’t your idea?" Groves barked, "Speak up, man."
"I… uh… nothin'," the prisoner replied, cringing. "Nothin', y'hear? I done
nothin' and I ain't talkin'."
"We will see about that," Groves replied. "How did you come by that sloop?"
"We… um… bought it."
"Where? And when?" Groves snapped.
"It was in… Nassau, it were, nigh on two months ago. Gentleman was wishful
to sell and me and my mates, we bought it."
"I see," Groves nodded. Norrington had been gone less than ten days, so the
fellow was surely lying. "And where," he asked, "were you going - with no
cargo and little food - when you tried to flee from our patrol?"
A sullen glare and muttered curses were the only answers forthcoming until
Groves threatened to have him flogged to loosen his tongue.
"I tell ye, I'm innocent," the rogue repeated, over and over, clinging with
stubborn stupidity to this claim even as Groves's questioning surprised bits
and pieces of information out of him.
It was a long hour later when Groves called the guard. "Put him in a cell
far from the others and bring me the next one," he said.
While he waited, he tried to make sense of what he had gleaned. A mutiny
aboard the Black Pearl and Norrington somehow involved - what could
it mean? And where was Norrington now?
The next prisoner came in with a swagger, looking him defiantly in the eye.
"Well, fellow," Groves said. "Tell me about this mutiny."
"I don't know nothin' 'bout no mutiny," the pirate growled. "I ain't done
Groves just stopped himself from sighing. This was going to be a tedious
Some hours later, Groves was back in his office, turning over in his mind
the extraordinary story he had pieced together from the interrogations just
completed. It was almost too fantastical to believe and yet he did
believe it. The captive pirates were too stupid to have concocted such a
tale and their stories - when stripped of the obvious lies - all pointed in
the same direction.
James Norrington had joined the crew of the Black Pearl as purser -
had become a pirate, in fact. And he was, apparently, the lover of Jack
Norrington and Sparrow… This, as outrageous as it might appear, made sense,
after a fashion. It would explain Norrington's eagerness to be gone,
certainly. Groves pictured Sparrow - the mocking dark eyes and the lithe
body, swaying and staggering as if too drunk to stand - and smiled. The man
was infuriatingly attractive, although he was sure that Norrington, at
least, had not always thought so. He wondered how they had first come
together, and when; they had been extraordinarily discreet, in any case.
There was a knock and his clerk came in to say that Mister Turner was here
and desired a word with him.
"Show him in."
Groves stood to welcome his guest.
"Mister Turner, this is an unexpected pleasure," he said, as they shook
"Commodore," Will replied.
"Captain, please," Groves laughed a little, "I am merely acting-Commodore
until and unless I am confirmed in the post."
"Captain, then," Will smiled as he sat.
"Now," Groves said, resuming his place behind the desk, "How may I help
"While down at the harbour today," Will said, "I was… surprised to see
Commodore Norrington's sloop moored there. Tell me, has he returned to Port
Groves was thinking fast. In light of certain assertions made by one of the
prisoners, it was interesting that Turner should show up just at this
"No," he replied after a short pause, "He has not returned. The Gull
was picked up by one of our patrols."
"You mean they found it abandoned?" Will asked. The thought did not seem to
alarm him, Groves noted.
"Not exactly," he shook his head. "But those aboard aroused suspicion by
attempting to flee when ordered to stop."
Will frowned. "Who are they?" he asked.
"That is what I have spent the morning trying to determine," Groves said.
"They admitted, after considerable persuasion, that they were from the
"The Black Pearl?" Will exclaimed. "But why would they be with the
Gull when the Pearl is…" He stopped abruptly.
Groves hid a smile. "Just so," he replied. He folded his hands and looked at
Will. "'When the Pearl is…' what, Mister Turner?"
Will shrugged. "I have heard," he said carefully, "That the Black
Pearl is to leave the Caribbean, bound for the Orient. It seems odd that
members of her crew are away from her at such a time."
"You have heard," Grove repeated, eyebrows raised.
Will stared him in the eye. "Yes."
Groves's lips quirked. "A little bird told you, I suppose?"
"You might say so," Will replied, his face expressionless. They stared
without speaking for some moments.
"Come, come," Grove said at last, chuckling, "Let us lay our cards upon the
table, Mister Turner. You can hardly suppose the Navy ignorant of the fact
that Sparrow has visited Port Royal to see you."
Will grinned a little reluctantly. "I am not quite as simple as that, for
all that Jack - er, Captain Sparrow - was of the opinion that he'd thrown
dust in your eyes." He paused and then squared his shoulders. "Since we are
being frank, Captain, I shall come to the point."
Groves nodded. "Please do."
"Have you word of Commodore Norrington?"
"In a manner of speaking," Groves replied. "Although the prisoners were not
very forthcoming, I got the impression that the Commodore is safe - and
aboard the Black Pearl. You do not seem surprised."
Will hesitated and then shook his head. "No, I am not surprised," he said.
Groves took this as confirmation that his guess concerning Sparrow and
Norrington was correct.
Will went on, "I am, however, puzzled as to what those men were doing with
"As near as I can tell," Groves said, "They mutinied - and failed."
"What?" Will exclaimed. "A mutiny! And they were not hanged?"
"Apparently they were spared hanging. Sparrow - and Norrington - sent them
off instead with 2 days' bread and water and nowhere to go save downwind to
the Main," Groves replied. "Harsh mercy, if that's what it was."
"Indeed," Will said. "But surely they did not tell you all this willingly."
"By no means," Groves laughed mirthlessly. "I have pieced the story together
from their several accounts. Most of what they said - under the threat of
the lash - was a farrago of blatant lies and protestations of innocence."
Groves paused a moment and then added, "One of them, however, claims
acquaintance with you, Mister Turner."
"Does he?" Will's tone was wary.
"He does," Groves nodded. "He was most eager to tell me all about certain
raids against the Spanish that took place last year."
"Ah," Will said. "And you…?"
"Paid him scant attention," Groves replied. "Privateering - for so I
presume it to have been, of course - is hardly a crime, after all."
He grinned and Will smiled back.
"Thank you," Will said.
"Not at all," Groves answered. "If it is as you say, and a certain… bad
influence… is leaving the West Indies, then such 'adventures' are unlikely
to recur." He cocked a questioning eye at Will, who nodded.
"It is well, then," Groves went on, rising. Will stood with him and took the
hand that Groves held out. "And I must thank you, Mister Turner," Groves
added, "For corroborating my information regarding the Commodore."
"You do not condemn him, then?" Will asked.
Groves smiled. "I think all his friends must wish him well," he replied.
"Good day, Mister Turner."
"Good day, Captain Groves."
Alone once more, Groves sat for some time deep in thought. What to do with
the pirates, he wondered. By rights, they should be hanged, and they had
certainly committed crimes enough to merit such punishment. But in order to
hang them, he must first put them on trial and therein lay the rub.
A trial was dangerous; there was far too great a chance that Norrington's
name, or even Will Turner's, might be raised by the accused. Impossible to
avoid a scandal, if that were to happen. And yet, he could not simply hold
His thoughts returned to Jack Sparrow and James Norrington, bound, if Turner
was correct, for the Far East. Norrington, whose entire career had been
dedicated to upholding the law, had chucked it all to sail the world with a
reprobate buccaneer. Groves laughed to himself. Jack Sparrow was beyond all
doubt a very bad influence indeed, corrupting both Turner and Norrington,
and - here Groves's laughter became rueful - him as well, for he knew now
what he would do with the prisoners.
Still chuckling, he left his office and made his way to the guard room.
"Bring all the prisoners to the interrogation room," he ordered the marines
The pirates shuffled in to stand before him, each of them apprehensive or
defiant as their nature dictated. Groves shut the door and addressed them.
"Gentlemen, you are condemned men; doubly so, for you are both pirates and
mutineers. The law is clear - you must hang."
One of the men moaned and they all shifted nervously.
Groves smiled without humor and continued. "I have decided, however, for
reasons of my own, to give you a chance to escape the gallows. I will make
you the same offer your Captain made you - two days' provisions and a boat,
to go where you will. Do you accept?"
The prisoners stared at him, blinking, for a moment and looked at each other
as if they could not believe what they had heard.
"Wot's the catch?" one asked at last.
"You must each accept the offer; all of you go, or none," Grove replied.
The mutineers huddled, muttering and gesticulating. It appeared that two of
them wished to stay "and be hanged like Christians" and the others were in
favour of going. The argument became heated.
Groves watched for a few minutes and then took out his watch.
"I will give you a quarter of an hour to make your decision, gentlemen," he
said. "If you have not all agreed to take my offer by the time I return,
then I shall revoke it and you will hang." He nodded pleasantly and let
himself out of the room.
Several days later, Acting-Commodore Groves sailed the sloop Gull
down the bay on a sparkling afternoon. The gulls swooped and cried, the
canvas glowed in the sun and the sun danced upon the water. As they flew
along, heeled over before the fresh breeze, he realized he was grinning like
an idiot. She was a beautiful craft - a graceful and elegant lady - and she
The mutineers had, of course, accepted his offer. They'd been spirited out
of the Fort late that night, put aboard a small boat, towed out to sea and
released. If their boat leaked a little - well, they'd been given buckets
for bailing. They'd be kept busy, to be sure, but they'd not sink before
they made land on the Main.
The official version of events he'd had put about was plausible enough that
no one had questioned it, to his great relief. According to this story, the
men had indeed, as they claimed, bought the Gull from Norrington
before he'd taken ship for England and that Groves had bought it from them.
The Gull, as if to recall his straying attention, tossed a cupful of
spray up from her bows, striking him in the face. Groves laughed and gave
his mind to sailing. Today was the first chance he'd had to try her paces
and already he was in love with her. No wonder Norrington had snatched every
opportunity to take her out.
He glanced up at the westering sun. It was getting late; he ought to put
about, but he wasn't ready to turn back. He found himself wondering what it
would feel like to just keep going - to cast off and chase the horizon, as
Norrington had done.
For a few moments temptation tugged at him the way the sea pulled at the
tiller, testing his strength. And then, once more he heard Norrington's
voice in his ear, "Perhaps one day, Groves. But for now, you have your duty.
See that you do it."
"Bugger duty," Groves muttered, rebelliously. Scowling, he held his course
for another minute, before his sense of humour reasserted itself and he
burst out laughing.
He put about and brought the Gull's head up, sailing as close to the
wind as she would go. He watched Port Royal growing larger as he made his
way back up the bay and into the harbour. The evening gun boomed as he tied
up at the dock
Groves walked slowly up the hill, stopping once to gaze out over the harbour
full of Navy craft and then at the stone ramparts above him. They were his
responsibility, his duty. But one day….
He sighed and stepped through the gates.