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Allegiance - Chapter 15

by The Stowaway


En route to George Town

Commodore Norrington stood on his quarterdeck as the three Navy ships sailed west along the coast of Jamaica. He was attempting, with a notable lack of success, to make sense of what had occurred that morning on the quay at Port Royal.

Elizabeth, it was clear, still loved him. How this could be so he was not sure, but he was grateful beyond measure nonetheless. He cursed the necessity that bore him away just at the moment when they seemed on the verge of breaking through to a mutual understanding. But now, at least, he carried with him the assurance that, when he returned, there was an excellent chance that they would reach that happy state.

James remembered the Governor's words the day before: "You have the name of a lucky man." He smiled to himself; the old fellow had been right, as usual. He was not one of those who made the mistake of underestimating Swann. He'd had ample opportunity over the years to see past the careful mask of fatuous amiability that his father-in-law habitually wore, to the kind-hearted and perceptive man beneath. It suited the Governor to appear faintly ridiculous; in this manner he not only disarmed those who would seek to use him in their political or economic schemes (leading, as James had been privileged to witness on several occasions, to the intense chagrin of plotters who had suddenly found themselves neatly outfoxed) but he also misled London into passing him over for promotion or reassignment. Swann was comfortable in Jamaica and did not desire to leave a post that suited him; he therefore took good care to stay off the lists of the lauded and able - civil servants who found themselves moved from place to place like pieces on a chess board while he 'languished' in contented and intentional obscurity.   

Norrington had noted that it was Swann who had brought Elizabeth down to the port this morning. Had she, he wondered, confided in her father? He doubted it; it was not Elizabeth's way - she preferred to go her own road. Swann may have seen for himself that all was not well and had chosen to throw them together in the hopes that the shock would set things right. James chuckled; it was a move both shrewd and sentimental - and wonderfully effective. If Elizabeth were half so relieved and hopeful as he was, then her father doubtless was congratulating himself even now on the success of his stratagem.

But enough. His thoughts turned back to his current mission. He hoped that Livingston and Groves were yet holding out against the pirates. It would be a far simpler matter, although still perilous, to lift a siege than it would be to dislodge an occupying force from Grand Cayman.

As he had so many times in the past day and a half, he asked himself why this newly-formed buccaneer fleet had chosen George Town as their target. Had it been mere chance? Had their victory over the Relentless while in those waters made them think the town an easy mark as well? Or were their plans more deep-laid? Did they perhaps think to take the island and hold it as a base for their operations? Surely, they could not believe that England - in the shape of the British Navy - would stand for that! Dry and barren the Caymans might be, with naught save turtling to support the inhabitants, but that did not mean that the Crown would give them up.

And who was leading the raiders? With Barbossa's death, Norrington had hoped the back of piracy in the Caribbean had been broken, but this, obviously, was not the case. Some lieutenant of Barbossa's perhaps. Jack - Captain Sparrow - had said that a score or so of the Black Pearl's crew had escaped his trap - it was possible that one of them was a man with sufficient ability to rise to the top of a fraternity bereft of its chief. Well, he would soon find out.

James's thoughts veered from pirates to privateers. He took a turn about the quarterdeck, pacing with his hands clasped behind him and a slight frown between his brows. What in heaven's name was he to do about Jack Sparrow? It was too much to hope that the man had any intention of departing the West Indies and yet his presence - for obvious reasons - was undesirable. Jack was no more a privateer than he was; the man was undoubtedly a pirate. James had seen…

The golden skin, battle-scarred and barbarically tattooed, moving like silk over lean muscles. Sleek and slick and hot.

…enough to assure him of that. Now that Jack had two formidable vessels under his command, he was in a position to become, if he chose, a power in the region. The Lazarus - or the Fury as James supposed he was now to call her - was heavily-armed for her size and Jack had proven what she could do. And now he had the Pearl

The black timbers of her hull unyielding against his spine, smooth and oddly warm beneath his desperately groping fingers as he … as Jack…. Slick and wet and hot.

…which was still more dangerous. James's suspicions had been aroused when he had learnt that Jack had known the Black Pearl before he took her from Barbossa and Jack's coy reticence regarding that knowledge was not a good sign. James had a notion that the Pearl - and not pirates in general - had been Jack's object all along. Well, he had her now; what did the scoundrel intend? He scowled, causing two midshipmen standing nearby to shift uneasily and search their consciences.

He asked himself yet again: What was he to do about Jack Sparrow? It was not only the man's choice of occupation that was the problem, of course. James suppressed a shiver. Jack was (maddening) a stain upon his honour, he was (intoxicating) a danger to his peace of mind, and he was (addictive) a threat to James's marriage. James noted with dismay that Jack had already corrupted him to such an extent that the law and the penalties for what they had done together occurred to him only as an afterthought. Nothing could be clearer; Jack must be given up.

Perhaps it might be better if Sparrow took to open piracy. In that event James would know how to act; all need for decision would be gone. Jack would inevitably be captured and James could hang him (could he?) and be done with the matter once and for all.

He shivered again in good earnest and saw Captain Marshall watching him with careful circumspection. Unreasonably exasperated, James nodded curtly and descended to his cabin. Probably thinks I've the yellow fever, damn his eyes, James told himself, pacing up and down before his desk. He laughed bitterly. If only his ailment were something so simple.

After a time, the monotonous activity calmed him and he was able to talk himself into a more rational state of mind. Very well then, Jack Sparrow would be given up, their guilty connection severed once and for all. James nodded, his face grim, as he sat at the desk and drew a stack of reports toward him. There would be no 'next time.'

********

Mid-afternoon the next day, as they passed the western tip of Jamaica and altered their course a little north of west the lookout spotted sails bearing down on them from the northeast. In due course, the newcomers were seen to be the Black Pearl and the Fury, both of whom took a position a mile off the convoy's starboard beam, matching heading and speed.

This maneuver was the source of some consternation aboard the Dauntless; questions with no answers troubled not only Captain Marshall and his lieutenants, but the Commodore as well. What did Sparrow mean by it? And how had he known where to fall in with them - for no one saw anything of chance in his appearance at precisely the opportune time and place.

James lowered his glass. The Pearl flew no signals, but he needed none. Jack's sources of information were infuriatingly good; there was little doubt that the 'privateer' knew very well where they were bound and why. He was quite certain that Jack meant to accompany them all the way to Grand Cayman. But what did he intend to do upon arrival at George Town? In short, whose side was he on?

"Shall we heave to, Commodore?" Marshall asked him. "Signal for him to come explain himself?"

"Not yet, Captain," James replied. "Perhaps they will sheer off. We will wait them out."

But the two vessels held their place all that day and into the night. Dawn revealed them still in attendance at which point James, in disgust, gave the order.

A short time later, Jack Sparrow stood on the deck of the Dauntless, suave and smiling. He was shown into Norrington's cabin, there to be confronted by the Commodore, who was seated at his desk, with Captain Marshall and Major Thacker in chairs flanking him. Jack's smile did not falter at the sight of this reception committee - all of whom wore grave expressions - but James caught the slight, amused lift of an eyebrow and ground his teeth.

"You will explain yourself, Captain Sparrow," he snapped without preamble. "What are you doing?"

Jack's smile became a grin. He sauntered forward until he stood directly in front of the desk and made a show of looking around for a chair. Seeing none, he shrugged, dropped his hat on top of a stack of papers and chuckled. "I should think that would be obvious, gentlemen," he said, glancing at each man in turn. "I am on my way to George Town, hunting pirates."

"As a privateer," Norrington stressed the word, "You have no business interfering in Naval…"

"Under the circumstances, Commodore," Jack interrupted smoothly, looking James in the eye, "I should think you'd be grateful for the offer of two ships, rules or no rules. Think about it; two experienced crews and fifty guns between them. You'd be a fool to refuse."

"We'd be fools to accept," barked Major Thacker, glaring at Jack. "Impertinent jackanapes! Why, what are your ragtag worth, compared to a trained force such as ours? You'd be a liability, sir."

Jack burst out laughing. At the sound of this mirth, Major Thacker grew purple in the face and began to sputter. Norrington raised his brows.

"Captain Sparrow, please control yourself," he said sharply, as he placed a restraining hand on Thacker's sleeve. "I wish to know why you have made this… extraordinary offer. Am I correct in supposing that you have information about this pirate fleet?"

Jack grinned his approval at James. "Very astute of you, Commodore," he said, still chuckling. "I do indeed." He dragged a chair over from the table and sat in it, uninvited. Captain Marshall cleared his throat disapprovingly and Jack chuckled again, unabashed. "Now," he said, making himself comfortable, "Where do you want me to begin?"

James, who was beginning to be amused against his will by Jack's antics, released Thacker's arm and folded his hands before him on the desk. "At the beginning, if you please, Captain," he said. "What do you know of the ships?"

"Two French and two Spanish," Jack replied. "Newly taken and refitted. And the crews are hand-picked; sharper by far than those of the original owners, you may be sure."

"Armament?"

The numbers made Marshall whistle under his breath.

"Just so," said Jack, nodding.

"Who is their leader?" Norrington asked.

"His name is Will Turner," answered Jack. "Barely more than a lad, but trained by Barbossa; he's said to be a clever tactician - a savage and dangerous fighter."

Captain Marshall asked, "Is he the one the Spanish call El Diablo Inglés?"

"The same," Jack said. "You know of him?"

"Rumors only," Marshall replied, "but, even allowing for the inevitable exaggerations, he sounds formidable."

"And do you know why he is attacking George Town, Captain Sparrow?" asked Norrington.

Jack shook his head. "No. Unless, having started upon your Navy with some success," Thacker growled and James raised his hand for silence. "With some success," Jack repeated, "he thinks to draw you into a battle far from your base and complete the job. Apparently his ambitions are growing with each victory. He began this campaign, after all, with the intent to destroy just one man."

"Who is that?" Marshall asked.

"Me," Jack said, simply. "I took the Black Pearl, you see." After a pause, he added, "He's called his ship Vengeance."

Norrington nodded, but Marshall looked unconvinced. "How is it, then," he asked, "if his fleet is as strong as you say, that he has not succeeded in this aim?"

Jack gave him a pitying look. "Not for lack of trying, mate," he replied. "But I, not being a complete fool, have taken good care to stay out of his way. I've been waiting for the opportune moment to engage him, you might say."

"And you think that moment has arrived," James said. It was not a question.

Jack grinned and said nothing. He leaned back, steepling his fingers and crossing his ankles - very much at his ease - watching the three men before him with glinting eyes.

"Damned irregular," Major Thacker grumbled. "It all comes down to you sheltering behind the Navy. Why should we allow that, eh?"

"Turner is our common enemy and uncommonly powerful and dangerous," Jack replied, with the patient air of one explaining the obvious. "There is a better than even chance that he could defeat either of us separately. That being the case, I fail to see what is so difficult to comprehend about my offer to join with you in order to remove the threat."

"You understand, Captain Sparrow," Norrington said, looking fixedly at Jack, "that, were I to accept your somewhat unorthodox proposal, you would be obliged to place the Black Pearl and the Fury under my command for the duration of the mission?"

"Perfectly," Jack nodded, giving back stare for stare. "I trust you, Commodore."

Thacker gave a crack of scornful laughter. "Aye, but do we trust you?" he asked. "That's the question."

Jack ignored him, holding James's eye and dipping his chin a hairsbreadth in the merest suggestion of a nod.

Norrington sat back in his chair. "Very well then," he said. "Gentlemen?" He glanced at Captain Marshall who, after a slight hesitation, nodded once. The Commodore then turned to Major Thacker, who glared under his brows for a moment, threw up his hands with a sound of disgust and looked away.

"We accept your offer of assistance, Captain Sparrow," Norrington said, looking again at Jack. "I base my decision in part upon the fact that you have once before worked with the Navy - in the matter of the Paloma - and have thus to a certain degree established your character as trustworthy. Furthermore the intelligence you have brought us today, if accurate, is invaluable and argues strongly in favour of making use of your aid."

Jack grinned and sketched a bow.

"But I warn you," Norrington continued, "if you fail to perform your promise or, worse, if you have treachery in mind, you will find in me an enemy far more dangerous and implacable than Will Turner. Do I make myself clear?"

"Inescapably clear, Commodore," Jack replied, with the hint of a smile. He sat up straight. "Well, now that that's settled, what's your plan of action?"

At this point, Major Thacker excused himself rather testily and left the cabin. Norrington looked after him thoughtfully for a moment before moving to the chart table and gesturing for Jack and Captain Marshall to join him there.

"It is my intention to take a swing round the island and come down on George Town from the north," he said, tracing the proposed route with his finger on the map.

"Aye, good thinking; that way we'll have the weather gage and, depending on the time of day, perhaps an element of surprise," Jack nodded.

The three spent the next hour poring over the map and adjusting the battle plans to accommodate the increased forces at Norrington's command. When all was arranged to the Commodore's satisfaction and Jack was clear on the parts to be played by the Pearl and the Fury and the system of signals to be used, they went on deck and Jack took his leave.

"Here's to success, gentlemen," Jack said, shaking first Marshall's hand and then Norrington's. "We will meet again in George Town."

Jack went over the side and James permitted himself an almost inaudible sigh as he watched the boat pull away to the Pearl. So long as he took care never to be alone with Sparrow, it would be possible to stick to his resolve. There would be, he reminded himself, no 'next time.'

********

Once they were under way again - and the Black Pearl and the Fury had swung into line behind the Forester - Captain Marshall took the first opportunity of private speech with Norrington to express his doubts of Sparrow's intentions.

"Sir," he said, "if I may speak freely…"

Norrington gestured for him to continue.

"It's Sparrow, sir. It's my guess that he's a pirate himself," Marshall said, "I've no evidence, else I'd've brought it up this morning to his face, but there is that about him that gives one to wonder, if you know what I mean."

Norrington smiled very slightly and astonished Marshall by saying, "I perfectly agree with you, Captain. I have very little doubt that it is as you say; Jack Sparrow is almost certainly a pirate."

"Then why are you allowing him to sail with us?" Marshall asked. "What's to stop him turning on us and joining forces with Turner's fleet?"

"Two points, Captain Marshall," Norrington replied. "One: I would rather have Sparrow under my eye at a time like this than roaming free working God knows what mischief, and two: I believe that there is indeed mortal enmity between Turner and Sparrow. I have heard of Turner before this and rumor always linked him with Barbossa and the Black Pearl. It makes perfect sense therefore that Turner would set out to re-take the ship and I doubt Sparrow will allow that. So, you see, Sparrow is on our side - at least at the moment."

Marshall nodded, clearly relieved. "Yes, sir, I see. So, we will be able to rely on Sparrow to bear his part in this action as planned. That is good news, for, to confess the truth, sir, when he told us of the fire power of Turner's fleet it shook me. It would have taken exceptional luck for us to have beaten a force like that without the addition of those two pirates."

"To be frank, Marshall," James replied, "I feel the same way. With Sparrow's fifty cannon we have a fair chance of winning. Without them…" He shrugged.

"What's that saying?" Marshall said. "Ah, yes. Necessity makes for strange bedfellows."

Norrington coughed. "Indeed," he said. "Carry on, Captain." He returned Marshall's salute and left the quarterdeck.
 

 

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