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Allegiance - Chapter 9

by The Stowaway


Port Royal, a few days later

Elizabeth was returning from a drive with her friend Miss Johnson when a glimpse of the harbour showed her the Dauntless returning to port and her heart leapt. After dropping Miss Johnson at her home, Elizabeth had herself driven down to the docks. She arrived in time to join a little group of officers' wives come to see the Dauntless warped in to the quay. They stood chatting and twirling their sunshades while the work of mooring the great ship went steadily on. Elizabeth did, with some effort, maintain her part in the conversation, but she could not keep her eyes long from the Dauntless, to the perhaps somewhat envious amusement of the older women. They smiled at her eagerness, remembering, no doubt, their own days as brides.

When at long last the Commodore disembarked, his wife stepped forward a few paces and held out her hand, trembling with the effort of not running to throw herself into his arms. She watched with shining eyes as he approached. Norrington bowed over her hand, kissing it and then her cheek. "This is an unexpected pleasure, my dear," he smiled.

"I had been out driving with Cecilia," Elizabeth replied, "and saw you sail in. I could not resist coming down." She took his arm as they walked slowly toward the carriage. "Was it a successful cruise?"

Norrington who had been staring over the harbour with an abstracted frown on his face, looked at her. "Oh, ah, yes - very successful," he said, smiling a little. "In fact, some information came into my hands that will require a deal of work. I am afraid I shall be obliged to sail again quite soon."

Elizabeth could not hide her disappointment, but she smiled nonetheless and squeezed his arm. They had by this time reached the carriage door. "Will you come home with me now, James?" she asked.

"Matters at the Fort demand my attention, my dear," he replied, handing her into the coach. "But I expect I shall be able to get away by dinnertime."

"Then I shall go see to it that Cook prepares something special," Elizabeth said, smiling again, this time with a roguish air. She tugged on his sleeve until he leaned in at the door and she whispered in his ear. "You see what a good Navy wife I am, my James. I would not have you shirk your duty, but," and here she nipped at his ear, causing him to jump, "don't be too long about it."

"Elizabeth," James gasped, laughing a little, "You are incorrigible." He kissed her hand again, closed the carriage door and smiled at her through the window. "I will be home as soon as ever I can," he promised.

"Then I am content," she answered.

James signaled to the coachman and watched for a moment as the horses wheeled about and trotted away. Then he turned his steps up the hill to the fort, once again lost in thought. There was a great deal to occupy his attention, much to set in motion in order to make best use of the intelligence found in the Spanish documents. The coming days would be busy ones.

He glanced over his shoulder at the harbour and frowned. The Lazarus had beaten the slower Dauntless to Port Royal and was anchored a short way out. He wondered what Jack's plans were and once again he felt a stab of irritation at the independence of privateers. He would have to make certain that Sparrow kept clear of the Navy and did not interfere with any action they might mount against the Spanish. A summons to the fort… With a start, Norrington recollected himself. A note delivered to the Lazarus would convey the necessary information; a meeting was neither necessary nor advisable. He shook his head sharply, to clear it, and hastened through the gates and up to his office. He was resolved: That brief madness in Grenada would be forgot and all would be as it was. Nevertheless, it was some time before the view of the harbour ceased to distract him and he was able to give his full attention to his desk.

Later that day, when James arrived at his home, he found Elizabeth waiting in the drawing room. She flew to him and cast herself into his arms with a happy cry of "At last!" Her perfume - a blend of lavender and roses - surrounded him as he bent his head to hers. For a shocking instant her mouth, soft and sweet under his, was unfamiliar, and he gasped. He pulled her closer, banishing the other from his unruly mind by a fierce effort of will. When their lips finally separated, Elizabeth smiled up at him and sighed. "I missed you, too," she said. She took his hand. "Come in to dinner, darling. Cook has prepared all your favorite dishes and Mullins insisted on decanting a bottle of the best Burgundy."  James had kissed her fingers and followed her with a smile. It was good to be home.

***********

Toward daybreak, Elizabeth watched James sleep. He lay half on his side, his leg thrown across hers and one arm snugly about her waist. His breath stirred her hair. After dinner they had retired scandalously early and fallen into bed with such eager haste that they had dispensed altogether with night clothes, reveling in the touch of skin upon skin. Their lovemaking had been more than usually satisfying; her body clenched deliciously at the memory. And yet, there had been that which had puzzled her, a subtle thing; she was not sure there were even words for what she sensed.

"I love you, Elizabeth," he had said, over and over, "I love you." There had been something desperate in the way he repeated it. She had been pleasantly taken aback by the force of his desire; homecomings, while always ending in bed, heretofore had not been occasions for quite such an outpouring, and she wondered what had changed. James had never been backward in such matters - indeed they frequently shocked the servants by slipping upstairs at odd times of the day to dally away the hours in a most delightful manner. But still, something was different.

James stirred and pulled her closer, murmuring her name, and she gave over thinking to snuggle contentedly against his chest. She fell asleep to the beat of his heart beneath her ear.

***********

Next morning, James went early to the fort, full of determination to put his plans for the Spanish operation into practice as quickly as possible. He spent several hours in conference with his captains and Major Thacker; it was a lively meeting, at which the general outline and many of the details were hammered out. The men left to set about their various tasks with an air of keen enthusiasm that boded well for the success of the undertaking.

James spent the balance of the morning and into the afternoon working his way through the sack of correspondence that had arrived from Admiralty during his absence. He became absorbed in what he was doing and lost track of time, allowing the familiarity of the busy-work that had so often exasperated him in the past to distract him from other worries.

It was therefore with some surprise that, about mid-afternoon, he looked up as his aide entered to announce, "Captain Sparrow of the Lazarus."

Jack sauntered in and bowed with a flourish as the aide left, closing the door behind him. "Commodore," he smiled, "we meet again."

Norrington sat back, a slight frown creasing his brow, and nodded coolly. "Captain Sparrow."

Jack's smile took on a hint of mockery and one eyebrow rose. He came forward and seated himself. "Not very pleased to see me, I gather, Commodore?" he said.

"What are you doing here, Captain Sparrow?" Norrington asked. "I should think you would be busy about your pirate-hunting," he said with emphasis, "as authorized by your letters of marque."

Stretching his legs out and crossing his ankles, Jack chuckled. "Tut, tut, James. So unsubtle of you." Norrington scowled and Jack grinned at him. "As a matter of fact, once I complete a few preparations, I shall be off to do that very thing."

"That is well," Norrington replied. "I must remind you that - despite your possession of privileged information… "

"Information which I obtained," Jack interjected.

"Despite that," Norrington continued, frowning at the interruption, "You are not to consider yourself in any way welcome to participate in or interfere with the Navy's activities. I trust I make myself clear?"

"Crystal clear, as always," Jack nodded with a smirk. "You have a gift for the obvious, James."

Norrington flushed and rose abruptly. He strode over to the window and stared down at the harbour, with his hands clasped behind him.

Jack joined him at the window and looked out, his eyes searching for the Lazarus in the swarm below them.

James started as Jack's fingers trailed across his own and he snatched his hands away, placing them on the window sill and leaning upon them. "Not here," he whispered, "Not now."

Jack's voice was in his ear, smoky and smooth as the rum they had shared on the beach. James's mind shied violently away from the memory. "Where?" Jack was asking, "And when?"

James stared straight before him and drew a steadying breath. "Never," he said, "As you know perfectly well."

"I know nothing of the sort," Jack murmured, so close that his warm breath tickled James's neck, causing him to shiver. Jack chuckled. "You see? There will be a next time, love. You know it as well as I do."

"You go too far, Sparrow." James's voice was cold.

"Hardly far enough, but I shan't push you - not yet. In fact, Commodore," Jack went on in a louder tone, "This is purely a courtesy call. I have come to take my leave of you for a time."

Norrington half-turned. "Where," he began and stopped when Jack grinned. "I beg your pardon," he said stiffly. "It is, as I am sure you are about to remind me, none of my business."

"Not at all," Jack said, "I am most willing to tell you. I am going after the Black Pearl."

If his intention had been to astonish then the effect was all he could have hoped for. James turned and gaped at him in shock.

"Jack," he exclaimed. "You must be mad! Why, the Black Pearl is the most dangerous pirate in the Caribbean, and the deadliest. Surely you don't mean to take it on with only the Lazarus?"

The privateer bared his teeth in a bright and feral grin. "You underestimate me, James," he said. "Barbossa will, I believe, make the same mistake."

James shook his head, his expression concerned. "You can't know that, Jack. And I - the Navy - can do nothing if you find yourself in trouble."

"Nor would I expect it of you." Jack, still grinning, picked up his hat and prepared to depart. "Best of luck to you in your enterprise against Spain," he said. "Since you disapprove of my choice of quarry, I do not ask for your good wishes in return."

"You have them, nonetheless," James replied. "And thank you."

Jack bowed. "James, I am touched. And so I take my leave." He placed his hat upon his head and went to the door. Turning, he winked and added, "Until next time, Commodore Norrington."

James scowled at the closed door and turned once again to the window. Damn Jack Sparrow, he thought, damn him. It was some time before he returned to his desk and the work awaiting him.

***********

That evening at dinner James listened with amusement as Elizabeth told him of the feud that had grown up between Cook and one of the stable cats. The creature was adept at sneaking into the kitchen, and had raided the pantry more than once. Cook had brought in her nephew's terrier, but a pitched battle between marauder and defender in the scullery had resulted in four broken plates, whereupon the maid had had hysterics and threatened to give her notice if the dog came near her again.

"And so Rip was sent home," Elizabeth concluded, "but the depredations have stopped since that day and we must conclude that the cat has decided to do its poaching on less well-defended territory."

James raised his glass. "Here's to Rip the Terrier, then. Congratulations on an action well-fought."

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Elizabeth watched her husband stare out the window, deep in thought. He looked tired.

"Well, James," she said, "I have told you all our domestic drama, now let me hear how your plans are coming along."

He looked up and smiled, albeit a bit perfunctorily. "Matters are moving forward very well," he replied. "Speed is of the utmost importance, if we are to make full use of the intelligence we have. In fact, we will sail before the week is out."

"So soon!" Elizabeth exclaimed.

"I am afraid so, my dear," said James. "But we will be back as quickly. Three weeks or a little more should see us returned to Port Royal."

She smiled, although her heart sank. "Not so very long, then. Why, I shall hardly have time to miss you. Still, if you must leave in just a few days, then I suppose you will not have time for some fencing practice before you go?"

James looked at her sharply. The thought of Elizabeth in her breeches, slim and boyish, made him suddenly and acutely uncomfortable. He remembered rolling about on the lawn with her after a bout, kissing and laughing and he felt a jolt as if someone had struck him a blow over his heart. In his mind the lawn became a beach and he gasped in shock. It was too much; he could not bear to see her dressed man's clothes. He shook his head.

"No," he said, frowning. Acting on a sudden resolution, he added, "In fact, Elizabeth, we must put an end to your lessons."

"Put an end to them!" Elizabeth cried. "But why? What on earth are you talking of?"

"It is most improper. I don't know what I was about, allowing you to flaunt yourself so shamelessly."

"Shamelessly! But James…" The hurt in her eyes stung him, but did not change his decision. He flung up his hand.

"My mind is quite made up, Elizabeth," he said. "I am sorry to cause you pain, but it is best this ends where it does. Let us speak of it no more."

"Very well, James," Elizabeth replied with an effort, "If you wish it." Although astonished and, indeed, hurt by James's sudden reversal, she knew it was fruitless to continue the subject now. More than six months of marriage had taught her to pick her battles. With her husband wearing what she privately referred to as his 'Commodore' expression, she knew it would do more harm than good to attempt to argue her case. It was but a temporary setback; she would not give up entirely - merely, she would wait for the opportune moment to work on him to change his mind.

Over the next few days, Elizabeth had still more cause to wonder, for James was troubled in his mind over something. He was abstracted and often fell silent, frowning to himself. He slept restlessly, sometimes slipping out of their bed when he thought she was asleep to pace softly before the long windows. She put it down to the upcoming expedition, for she knew it meant a great deal to him to be able to steal a march on the Spanish as he intended. He had assured her most convincingly that there was very little danger and so she was able to see him off on the day with a smile. In the carriage on the way home, she told herself that when he returned - successful, of course - he would be restored to his usual humour and all would be well. She made up her mind to worry no more about it.
 

 

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