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Allegiance - Chapter 16

by The Stowaway


Three days later, at dawn, they rounded Boatswain's Point, then North West Point, and headed south on the last leg of their journey. They were less than ten miles from George Town, so the boom of cannon, when it began a few minutes later, came faint but clear to their ears. This heartening proof that the defense still held lifted the spirits of all. Final preparations for battle proceeded swiftly and in an atmosphere of renewed hope.

On the quarterdeck of the Dauntless Commodore Norrington was conferring with Captain Marshall and Major Thacker. The latter, it was clear, had not reconciled himself to the presence of the privateers. He glanced often astern to where the Pearl, less than half a mile back, held her place behind the Forester, with the Fury beyond.

"Commodore," he said, when Captain Marshall had left them, "about those privateers."

"What about them, Major?" Norrington asked, speaking coldly and raising his brows.

Impervious to the hint, Thacker replied, "Are you quite certain that they will fight on our side?"

The Commodore frowned. The Major was like a bulldog - once he took hold of an idea he did not let it go. It made him, on occasion, tiresomely obtuse. Were he not such a good soldier, Norrington would have arranged for his transfer long before this, but as it was, his value outweighed his ability to annoy his Commodore - just barely.

"Major Thacker, we have been over this ground more than once," Norrington answered with asperity. "I have good and sufficient reason to trust Captain Sparrow's offer. Yes, I am certain he is on our side. In a very few minutes now, we will see whether that trust is misplaced. Until and unless I am proved wrong you will treat them as allies. Dismissed."

Thacker, somewhat red in the face, saluted and took himself off. James looked astern at the Pearl's black sails. He remembered the dark eyes steady on his and the tiny nod and was reassured. "Be true, Jack Sparrow," he whispered.

The cannon fire ahead of them was slackening. The lookouts reported the pirates had broken off their assault on the fort and were falling back to avoid being caught between the defenders on one side and the attackers on the other. Norrington permitted himself a tiny smile, which was returned by Captain Marshall. Short of trapping their prey against the fort, this was the next best thing, for now the Navy had the weather gage.

"Sharpshooters aloft," Norrington ordered. There was a last, mad scramble and then everything was in place.

Before them the buccaneer ships, which had bunched together in their haste to reach open water, were spreading out in a ragged line athwart his advance, with the Vengeance - their flagship - closest to land. They had begun firing - long before the Dauntless and her companions were in range - and Norrington drew reassurance from his quarry's at least momentary disarray and indiscipline.

He held their course - his ships in strict formation behind the Dauntless, presenting almost no mark for the pirates' cannons - until it appeared certain his intention was to ram the Vengeance amidships. There was, despite the thunder of pirate cannon ahead, a waiting calm aboard the Dauntless. Norrington glanced away from the enemy line to run his eye over his ship. Sailors, marines, gunners - all were poised, eyes forward, ready to spring into action at his word. Even the preparatory clamour from the gun decks was muted in the pause before the command to fire.

Closer, and closer still. The Dauntless began taking some slight damage, but Norrington knew it was worth it to have the pirates caught with most of their ordnance discharged and reloading when he made his move.

At last he gave the order. A flare went up from the poop as a signal to those behind him. In that instant, the Dauntless swung hard aport and loosed the full starboard broadside at the pirate flagship. The ship roared and shuddered beneath his feet and wall of white smoke bellied forth and rolled up to obscure, momentarily, his view of the enemy. Behind them the Mercury and the Forester turned simultaneously to starboard and opened fire further down the enemy line. Battle was joined.

As her head came up into the wind, Captain Marshall brought the Dauntless neatly around with her stern to the enemy as they returned fire. She continued her stately pirouette and finished by emptying the port broadside into the Vengeance. The sharpshooters began to fire, the crackle of their muskets riding like a descant on the deeper boom of the cannon.

At this moment, the fourth pirate, which had been obscured by its flagship, came up into line and opened fire. James watched, through the wind-shredded smoke, as it was answered by the Black Pearl, in a whirling maneuver very like that of the Dauntless.

"Neatly done, Sparrow," he murmured.

Even as he looked away, the Fury, all sails set, flashed between him and the Pearl and bore down on the enemy line as if she would crash into the Pearl's opponent, heedless of the fire belching from the flanks of the buccaneers. At the last possible moment, Anamaria swerved and passed between the two ships, loosing both broadsides as she did so - doing some slight damage to the Vengeance and smashing the stern and rudder of the starboard ship into matchwood.

Once through the pirate line, the Fury turned to starboard and, passing along behind the battle, was able to loose broadsides at three of the enemy - not only the one engaged by the Pearl, but the opponents of the Mercury and the Forester as well, as she flew downwind as fast as she could go. Long before any of the pirates were able to spare the effort from their main battle to fire on her she was far out of range and on a long reach westward before beating back toward the island.

The allies meanwhile kept up a relentless barrage against the enemy fleet and the pirates responded vigorously. The surface of the sea was churned to a froth with the impact of cannon balls; the smoke rapidly became so thick, despite the stiff breeze, that nothing could be seen save the muzzle-flashes of the cannon. Only the steady, rhythmic booming of the Navy broadsides told Norrington that his ships were still in the fight.

Aboard the Pearl, Jack efficiently continued the job of disabling his chosen adversary. He sent a round of chain-shot to shred the rigging, missing the masts, but wreaking havoc with the stays and shrouds.  Next, he pounded her waterline - round after round -  to such good effect that she soon began to take on water and fled downwind, listing badly and without the means of steering - hors de combat. A ragged cheer went up from the Pearl as one enemy was thus eliminated.

The Black Pearl then turned her attention to the Vengeance, coming to the assistance of the Dauntless. Rather than waste precious time tacking, Jack put the Pearl's sweeps to use, moving upwind of the combatants. Norrington, as the Pearl moved past his ship, was grimly amused to see the privateer's oars. The mystery of the legendary speed of the Black Pearl was now solved.

Once clear of the stern of the Dauntless, Jack opened fire on the Vengeance, assaulting her starboard quarter with everything he had. The Vengeance responded by slewing round to starboard so that her formidable batteries could threaten both attackers at once. The noise of the battle escalated once again to almost unbearable levels as the three ships fired upon each other at once. Jack continued to move the Pearl upwind, putting distance between himself and the Dauntless and forcing Turner to choose one or the other of them to fire upon. Receiving at that moment a broadside from the Dauntless, he swung the Vengeance back to port and replied.

Putting about, Jack ordered the Pearl's sweeps racked again and drifted down upon the battle with topsails reefed and with his rigging full of his best marksmen. As the Pearl's bows drew close to the stern of the Dauntless, he searched through the rolling white clouds of acrid smoke and caught a glimpse of James standing near the starboard rail of his quarterdeck.

Just then there was a rending crash and the foretopmast of the Vengeance splintered and fell, dragging sails and rigging to the deck in a deceptively slow cascade; the fog of smoke parted for an instant and flames could be seen as canvas came into contact with the guns. Though her fire did not immediately slacken, it became apparent that this may have been the decisive blow; the Vengeance was now preparing to disengage. Jack looked again for James, wondering if he would give the order to pursue. He saw James turn as if to issue an order, throw his arms up in the air, stagger backward and tumble over the rail - plunging into the water between the Black Pearl and the Dauntless.

"Gibbs!" Jack roared, racing forward. But Gibbs, having seen the Commodore go overboard, was already busy - he had snatched up a line and was furiously knotting a loop in one end. By the time Jack reached him he was already at the rail with the loop in one hand and a large coil of the line in the other. They searched the roiling water and, as Norrington broke the surface, flailing with one arm only, Gibbs tossed the loop with such accuracy that it landed within half a foot of him. Norrington reached for it and missed, sinking once again beneath the water. Jack swore wildly and yanked off his boots. His coat followed and he vaulted to the rail and dived.

An instant after Jack hit the water, Norrington rose again. His struggles were weakening and he was unable to catch the line that Gibbs once again tossed to him. Gibbs spared a glance up at the great ship above him and saw a row of men at the rail, gesturing vehemently toward the Pearl and shouting. He saw them tossing life lines and preparing to lower a boat in the second before he returned his attention to the water.

Jack broke the surface so near to the other man that he was able to reach him in two strokes. Nevertheless, Norrington had again slipped underwater. Jack dove and surfaced in seconds hauling the Commodore - who appeared to be unconscious - by the collar of his coat.

Gibbs tossed the line a third time; Jack caught it and hung on while he and his burden were towed alongside the Pearl. Once against the hull, a sling was lowered and two of his men dove into the water to assist him in getting James into it. Once he was secure, the sling was speedily hoisted up to the davit and swung on board. Jack came dripping over the rail as Gibbs freed Norrington and laid him down upon the deck.

Less than five minutes had elapsed since the Commodore had gone into the water.

Jack knelt beside Gibbs as the grizzled sailor examined Norrington. There was a spreading stain on his left shoulder and Gibbs lost no time cutting away the uniform coat and shirt to reveal a wound that bled heavily. Gibbs wadded the torn shirt and pressed hard upon it as he lifted Norrington and checked his back.

"Ball's still in 'im," he grunted. "No exit wound."

"Get the bleeding stopped, Josh," Jack said. He ran to the quarterdeck; his view was obscured by the haze of smoke that lay heavy upon the surface of the sea, despite the breeze. But he did not need to see to know that the battle was all but over. No cannon boomed and the crack and rattle of small arms fire was tailing off.

The Vengeance and one of her companions could be seen downwind spreading sail to flee while the remaining buccaneer was held tight in the clutches of the Forester; grappled and boarded. Through the thinning smoke Jack saw the Mercury moving to help subdue the captive. The Dauntless meanwhile was keeping close to the Pearl and Jack grinned as he thought of the consternation aboard the Navy's flagship at seeing the Commodore in his hands.

He gave orders to put about and make for George Town with all speed. "Man the sweeps," he snapped, hurrying down again to where Gibbs was still at work over Norrington, who had not regained his senses.

Jack watched without speaking as the quartermaster bound the wounded man's shoulder and tied the bandage tightly in place with strips of linen. "Well?" he asked at last.

"Don’t like it," Gibbs shook his head. "Where he's been hit, if his lung ain't already been touched, then digging the ball out will do it for certain. It's beyond my skill, Jack."

"There'll be a doctor in George Town," Jack replied.

"What about the surgeon from the Dauntless?"

Jack made a scornful noise. "You know and I know, Joshamee Gibbs, exactly what a Naval surgeon's likely to be worth. We'll find a proper physician ashore."

Gibbs was about to reply when James stirred and uttered a low groan. He opened his eyes, blinking to clear them. Focusing on Jack and Gibbs as they bent over him he frowned in puzzlement. "Where…?" he asked hoarsely and coughed; the movement jarred his shoulder and his face contorted in pain.

"Aboard the Pearl, Commodore," Jack said, "You took a musket ball and went overboard. We fished you out and Gibbs here got the bleeding stopped."

Norrington's right hand groped toward his shoulder and fumbled with the bandage. "The Dauntless?" he asked.

"Just astern and coming about," Jack replied. "Captain Marshall no doubt intends to follow us to George Town."

"The battle?"

"Over. One of theirs captured, the others fled. Ours all still afloat."

Jack's laconic summary appeared to annoy Norrington. He opened his mouth but Jack forestalled him.

"It'll be two hours before we make port, rowing against this headwind," he said. "Let's get you out of the sun and into a bunk. Can you stand or shall we carry you?"

"I can stand," James replied. But once helped to his feet he blanched as if he would faint again, and swayed until Jack steadied him with an arm around his waist, drawing James's good arm around his own shoulders.

James insisted on moving to the rail, in sight of the Dauntless, so that Marshall - who was certainly watching the Black Pearl through his glass - could see that he, James, was alive, but he made no objection when Jack very soon obliged him to go into the great cabin.

Until the doors to the passage closed behind them, Norrington managed to keep upright - with Jack's help - and put one foot in front of the other, but once out of sight of the crew he sagged heavily against Jack. With Gibbs helping, Jack all but carried James into the cabin and laid him down upon the bunk, where he lapsed once again into insensibility.

Gibbs shook his head. "He's lost a mort o' blood, Jack."

"Not enough to kill him," Jack said, looking sidelong at Gibbs. "So don't start."

"Start what?" Gibbs asked.

"Prophesying doom, you old buzzard," Jack snarled. "I'll have none of it."

Gibbs raised both hands, palm out, in a placating gesture as Jack turned back to the still figure on the bunk. The wound had bled a little - there was fresh red staining the bandage - but it had already stopped again.

"Someone should stay with 'im," Gibbs said, "To keep him from moving about and making it worse."

"I intend to," Jack replied. "See to things on deck for me, will you Josh? And change out the rowers after an hour - we'll make better time that way."

"Aye, Jack."

Once Gibbs had gone, Jack stood for some time watching James. He pressed an ear to the pale chest and listened intently; after a few moments he straightened again with a look of profound relief. Although rapid, Norrington's breathing sounded normal; there was nothing to indicate that his lungs were affected - no bubbling or gurgling, no (gods forbid!) rattle.

He shivered and was suddenly conscious of his dripping clothes. He stripped and rubbed himself briskly with a cloth before pulling on dry breeches and shirt. He went over to the bunk once more.

James was still in his wet breeches and a chill was the last thing he needed. Jack debated getting him out of them, but decided against disturbing his rest. Instead, he drew up the light blanket, covering James to the chin. He paused and then went to a chest and pulled out a quilt and spread that atop the blanket. As he was tucking it in, James opened his eyes.

"I fainted?" he asked.

Jack nodded. "You did."

"Nonsense," James frowned, "I don't faint."

"You do with a musket ball in you," Jack retorted, fetching a tumbler and the water jug. "Thirsty?"

"Parched. I think I swallowed half the Caribbean." James began to push back the bedclothes but Jack stopped him.

"No," he said, "You'll start the bleeding again. Lie still." He pulled up a stool and placed the water upon it. Then he went to the head of the bunk. He slipped his arm carefully beneath James's shoulders and raised him until he was half-sitting, perching on the edge of the bed and supporting him against his own shoulder.

"Now, then."  He handed the tumbler to James, who drank thirstily and held it up for Jack to refill. After the second glass of water, Jack reached under a corner of the bedding and drew out a silver flask. He poured four fingers of golden-brown liquid into the glass and offered it to James.

"Rum," he said. "For the pain."

James tried to protest but Jack put the glass in his hand. "Shut up and drink it," he said. "You'll want the fortification when they probe for the ball."

"Good point," James said, his tone wry. He drank. "At least it's not the usual rotgut."

"No indeed; that's my private stock of eight-year-old rum," Jack chuckled. "Nothing but the best."

"Sybarite," James murmured.

"Ascetic," Jack countered with a grin, taking the now-empty glass. He lowered James to the bed and once more covered him with the quilt. "Rest now. You're going to need your strength when we find a doctor for you."

"Find a doctor?"

"Gibbs tells me that ball is lodged near your lung. It will take some skill to extract it," Jack replied. "Surely, you don't want the surgeon from the Dauntless working on you?"

James frowned, as if he would take exception to the implied aspersion, then sighed and closed his eyes. "Spencer is a good man, in his way, but not the one I'd choose, no. He will have his hands full enough with the crew, at any rate."

Silence fell. Jack drew up a chair and, pouring a generous measure from the flask, he made himself comfortable for his vigil.

James sighed again and opened his eyes. "Jack," he said softly.

"Right here, mate."

"Thank you."

Jack waved his glass dismissively. "Don't mention it. Entirely self-serving - never hurts to have the Navy indebted to me." He grinned.

"Liar." James smiled sleepily and Jack was struck momentarily dumb; utterly taken aback by the unguarded sweetness of that smile. He cleared his throat and drew a deep breath.

"Yes. Well, then." He took a long swallow of rum. "Go to sleep," he said, but James's eyes were already shut.

For the rest of the trip to George Town, Jack sat and watched James sleep. He drank steadily but judiciously, becoming more and more amused as the day wore on. He should have foreseen this, he told himself. "Who's susceptible to whom, eh?" he whispered. Chuckling quietly, he shook his head. "You're a fool, Jack Sparrow. A damned fool."

**********

The afternoon was well advanced before the Black Pearl was able to tie up at the short quay in George Town's harbour. At that, they were far ahead of the Dauntless which, lacking sweeps - and far too large in any case to be propelled in such a fashion - was forced to tack against a head wind.

They were met by Lieutenant Livingston and Captain Groves. Fortunately, Jack was known to Groves - who had met him on Grenada and who introduced him to Livingston - a rather haggard young man who clearly took a dim view of privateers. To his credit, Livingston did his best to hide his ill opinion under a punctilious formality that fooled no one and merely served to make him seem very young indeed. Jack, vastly entertained, responded with a grave courtesy that caused Captain Groves to struggle against untimely laughter.

When introductions were complete, Jack asked, "Tell me Lieutenant, is the Blue Turtle still in existence?"

"It is, sir," Livingston replied, surprised. "You have visited George Town before?"

"I have," Jack replied with a grin, "A number of years ago, on, er… business. That hostelry, as I recall it, was uncommonly good, for so remote a place as this."

He turned and indicated the litter at that moment descending the Pearl's gangplank in the hands two of his men. "Commodore Norrington was wounded in the battle this morning - a musket ball is lodged in his shoulder - and he will be more comfortable at the inn than aboard ship."

"The Commodore!" Groves hurried to the stretcher, bending over it with anxious attention. "Sir," he said, "Commodore, can you hear me?"

"Perfectly well, Groves," James replied, opening his eyes and smiling faintly. "My ears suffered no injury, just my damned shoulder. Captain Sparrow would have me carried ashore like an invalid, and I found it easier to humour him, for in truth I am not quite steady on my feet."

"But sir, how did you come to be aboard the Black Pearl?" Groves asked.

"Apparently," Norrington replied, "I went into the water when I was shot, and Sparrow and his men were the first to get to me. Never mind that, how is it with you?"

"Tolerably well, sir," Groves said. "As well as can be expected after withstanding a week-long siege, and much better now that you have lifted it for us."

Lieutenant Livingston joined them as Norrington was borne along the quay.

"Ah, Lieutenant," Norrington said. "You are to be commended on holding out against the buccaneers for as long as you did. Well done."

"Thank you, Commodore," Livingston replied, bowing. "But I can by no means accept all the credit. It would not have been possible without the assistance of Captain Groves and the Lord Weldon."

Norrington was silent for moment, closing his eyes with a frown as the bearers jostled the litter. "I shall expect your written reports, gentlemen, as soon as convenient," he said, his voice tight with pain. "At present, I expect there are good many things demanding your attention. I doubt we have heard the last of Turner. See to the wounded and effect necessary repairs with all possible speed."

Livingston, correctly interpreting this as dismissal, saluted and departed; Captain Groves, however, continued at the side of Norrington's litter as it was borne along the town's main street toward the inn.

Norrington cocked an eyebrow at him. "That was meant for you, too, Theo" he smiled. "Go about your business, man. I am fine."

"Fine, James?" Groves exclaimed. "With a ball in you? How like you to make light of it! No, I will see you properly cared for, first. Elizabeth - and Mary as well - would expect no less; I am more afraid of them than of you, you know."

James chuckled and then winced as the laughter jarred his shoulder. "Be serious, Theo. Captain Sparrow will look after me," he said. "You are needed elsewhere; you can best serve me by seeing to the fleet. If I should become temporarily unable to command, the responsibility will fall on you. With Gillette gone, you are my most senior officer. "

At the mention of Gillette, Groves's expression clouded. "I… There was nothing I could have done, James," he said. "The powder went up. I was lucky just to get the Lord Weldon away. If we'd been facing all four of the pirate ships, instead of only two, we'd have gone the way of the Relentless, I make no doubt."

James held out his hand and Groves took it. "You did well," he replied. "Now go; there's work to be done."

"Very well," Groves said, pressing James's hand before releasing it. "I'll find the Lord Weldon's surgeon, at least, and send him along."

"No, don't," James answered. "I want the men seen to first. The Dauntless and the others will be here soon - all the ships' surgeons have enough to do. Captain Sparrow will get me the civilian physician."

"Doctor Selwyn?" Groves cried. "But he's on Little Cayman; he was stranded there during the siege. Livingston sent the swiftest of the fishing boats for him this morning, as soon as it was clear you'd broken the siege, but he can't possibly be here before tomorrow night."

"Then he will see me when he arrives," James said impatiently. "I'll last. Now, Captain Groves, will you obey your Commodore and get to work?"

Groves frowned at James, who waved his hand in a shooing motion.

"Very well, Commodore," Groves replied. "I shall send later to enquire as to your condition."

"Anything you wish," James smiled, "Just so long as you stop fussing over me."

Groves shook his head at this, pressed James's hand once more and took himself off at last.

The litter had by this time reached the inn where Jack, who had gone before, met it at the door. The innkeeper, a rotund individual by the name of Hobson, was with him.

"Commodore Norrington, sir," Hobson said, bowing, "Welcome to the Blue Turtle. Jack - er, Captain Sparrow, I should say - has bespoke our best room for your honour, and a private parlour, what's more, for when you're feeling more the thing."

At Jack's direction, the litter bearers carried James into the common room, which, while somewhat stuffy and warm, seemed a cool oasis after the blazing sun.

The innkeeper hovered nearby. "My rib's upstairs, your honour, preparing your room. It won't be a moment."

"Hobson!" a shrill voice shouted from the floor above, "Bring him up."

James wished to walk up the stairs, but Jack gave him no opportunity to try. The litter was maneuvered up the narrow staircase and into a surprisingly light and airy room on the first floor, where the innkeeper's wife, a lady as stout as her husband, was turning down the bed.

"Oh the poor gentleman," she cried, catching sight of the bloody bandage about James's shoulder. "Wounded fighting them wicked pirates. Let's get you into bed, sir, and made comfortable. Once Doctor Selwyn gets back, he'll see you right, never fear. What a pity he's gone to Little Cayman, but I daresay he'll be back quick enough, now that it's safe and all."

"Thank you, Mistress Hobson," Jack interjected smoothly, shepherding her to the chamber door, "The room is lovely - just what was wanted. And now, I will take it from here."

"Go on with you, Jack Sparrow," she scoffed good-naturedly, swatting him on the arm. "You, playing nursemaid! What next, I wonder? Ah well, just as you please. Be sure to call if there's anything you lack."

"I will, Sally, never fear," Jack replied, shutting the door upon her and turning to James with a grin and a roll of his eyes. "A heart of gold," he said, "But she can talk the hind leg off a donkey. Now, then."

With the help of the stretcher bearers, Jack shifted James to the bed. The men then took themselves and their litter back to the Pearl. Jack accompanied them to the landing and issued some instructions in a low voice before returning to the room.

James lay with eyes closed, breath shallow, and a light sheen of sweat on his brow. The trip up the stairs and the move to the bed - despite the best efforts of all concerned - had caused him considerable pain. He concentrated on not losing consciousness and presently the faintness passed. Gradually he became aware of his surroundings. The bed was wide and soft, the pillows beneath his head were feather ones and the sheets, smooth and cool against his back, smelled of lemon and fresh air. He opened his eyes; Jack stood by the open window, watching him. He smiled.

"You were right, Jack," he said, "This is far more comfortable than a bunk aboard ship."

"One of these days," Jack grinned, "You will learn to take me at my word. Now, let's get you undressed, eh?"

James frowned. "It's not fitting," he said. "Surely there is someone…"

"It's Sally Hobson or me," Jack chuckled. "Which would you rather? The only nurse on the island is the midwife and they tell me she's not been sober a day these ten years. Don't be missish, James," Jack went on, laughing at the scowl this elicited. "Think how pleasant it will be to get out of those soggy breeches."

James acquiesced with as good grace as he could muster. In truth, Jack was a skillful attendant and managed to get the breeches off without causing any additional pain. In a very few minutes, James was tucked up and drifting once again toward sleep.

Jack waited until James was sleeping soundly, then checked his pulse - elevated but regular and strong - and felt his forehead for fever. Finding him only slightly warmer than was normal, he smiled. Luck, so far, was with them.

Leaving the potboy sitting in the sickroom, with orders to have him fetched instantly if the Commodore should waken or if his condition changed, Jack hurried back to the Pearl. There he found Gibbs and Anamaria - for the Fury had just made port - conferring over needed repairs to their ships. The wounded had been doctored and were resting; the five dead were being stitched into their hammocks. In short, all was under control.

Anamaria, predictably, scowled when he told them he would be staying at the inn for a few days. Gibbs's careful lack of expression was no less disapproving.

"It's five minutes' walk," Jack snapped, "if that. I'm not going beyond reach. Don't argue."

"Who said anything about arguing?" Gibbs asked as Anamaria rolled her eyes. "You're the Captain."

"And don't you forget it," Jack replied. "Did you get the message I sent with Williams?"

"Aye, Jack," Gibbs nodded. "We're to keep the common room at the Blue Turtle at least half full of our men at all times."

"On their best behaviour," Jack said. "No brawling or breaking up the place, either. Not that they'd get away with it. Remember Hobson? He's the innkeeper."

"You don't say!" Gibbs exclaimed. "So this is where he fetched up. And Sally?"

"Same as ever," Jack grinned. "Come pay your respects, or she'll come looking for you."

Gibbs laughed. "I wouldn't miss a chance to see old Sal."

"Right then," Jack said, "I'm off. See you at the Blue Turtle." He paused at the top of the gangplank and came back to where they stood. "One other thing," he said.

Anamaria glared and even Gibbs looked cautious. "What's that?"

"Well done this morning," Jack said, serious for once, glancing from one to the other. "Brilliant work, both of you. Bloody brilliant." He startled Anamaria considerably by kissing her hand. "You're a Pirate Queen, love," he said with a grin. "See that the men know how proud I am of them, will you?"

When he had gone, Gibbs looked at Anamaria, who shrugged. "Must be the rum talking," she said.

"Must be," Gibbs replied. They laughed and went back to work.

*************

The late afternoon sun was pouring in the windows of James's room when there came a brisk knock upon the door. Jack opened it to find a dapper gentleman in a plain black coat and a doctor's wig. He held a black bag under his left arm.

"Captain Sparrow?" he said, "I am Doctor Selwyn."

Jack shook the offered hand and then stepped aside to allow the physician to enter. "We weren't expecting you until tomorrow evening, Doctor," he said.

"Had I waited for Livingston's messenger, that would indeed have been the case, sir," the doctor replied. "But yesterday, impatient with delay, I persuaded the friend with whom I was staying to sail me home. He would come no nearer than Welch Point, but that is barely five miles from this place. An easy walk."

As he spoke he laid his instrument case upon the table, opened it up, and began setting out the tools of his trade.

"Jack?" James's voice was heavy with sleep.

"Ah good, you're awake," Jack said. "James, this is Doctor Selwyn, come back from Little Cayman sooner than anticipated. Doctor, Commodore Norrington." The two men shook hands.

"Now then, sir," the doctor said. "Let me examine you." He took a small pair of scissors from his pocket and began snipping away the bandages that bound James's left shoulder. His touch was deft and gentle; he wasted no time laying bare the wound.

Jack placed his flask in James's hand and uncorked it. "You'll want this," he said.

Selwyn nodded approvingly. "That's it, sir. A good long pull at that will set you up like nothing else. I daresay you will be grateful for it when we extract the ball." James nodded and drank deep.

A knock sounded and Jack went to open the door. Hobson entered, carrying a large basin and a steaming kettle, followed by his wife bearing a pile of folded cloth.

"Ah, there you are," the doctor exclaimed. "Now we may begin. The Hobsons have assisted me with surgery of this kind on a number of occasions, Commodore; you are in good hands."

James nodded. "I am sure of it," he replied, eyeing the preparations with some foreboding.

The table was drawn near to the bed and Hobson set the basin upon it - next to the doctor's instruments - half filling it with hot water and putting the kettle on the empty hearth. Mistress Hobson busied herself with tearing an old sheet into strips to be used as bandages.

Doctor Selwyn removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He then dipped a napkin in the basin and cleaned the dried blood from around the hole in James's shoulder, which bled a little, sluggishly. James took another pull at the rum and gave the flask back to Jack. The doctor tossed aside the bloody cloth and took up a probe and forceps.

"Sally," he said, "you stand here by me and hold the Commodore's arm still. Hobson, his feet. Captain Sparrow, if you would oblige me by taking his right arm? Thank you. Now, Commodore, I shall be as quick as may be, but the ball is very near your lung. It may take some time to remove safely."

James nodded. "Best get on with it then, Doctor." He turned his head to look past Jack and out the window, at the sliver of sea visible between the intervening houses.

The next few minutes would remain in James's memory as some of the most unpleasant he had ever spent. The struggle to breathe around the bright agony in his shoulder took every bit of will he could muster. He chewed his lip bloody in a vain effort to remain silent as the doctor poked and prodded relentlessly. He groaned - and knew he would have howled, could he have got enough air - but the pain sucked the breath from his lungs, leaving him panting and faint.

James became aware of a hand holding his, returning the convulsive pressure of his clutch, matching him grip for grip. He blinked to clear his vision and looked into dark eyes. Jack was speaking but he could not hear the words for the roaring in his ears. Suddenly he felt a lancing pain that dwarfed all that had gone before. He cried out and everything went black.

"Got it at last!" the doctor exclaimed as James fainted. He held up the bloody forceps to display a musket ball clamped in its jaws. He tossed it into the basin. "That little devil was buried deep, but I think we missed the lung."

Selwyn stepped away from the bed. "Mistress Hobson, if you will be so good, please see to the dressing. Quickly now, before he wakes up."

Sally cleaned the fresh blood from James's shoulder, folded a thick, soft pad and bound it to the wound with an efficiency that spoke of much experience. Jack, who knew just how she had gained that experience, was grateful for her help and said so.

"Now, none o' that, Jack," she replied. "I'd do the same for any poor soul, as you know full well." She winked at him over her shoulder.

Doctor Selwyn washed his hands and rolled down his sleeves, fastening the cuffs as he watched Sally work.

"Thank you, Mistress Hobson," he said at last, "That will do very well." He nodded at the innkeeper. "I thank you as well, Hobson. You have been a great help, as ever."

The Hobsons gathered up the bloody rags, the basin and kettle. On the threshold, Sally nudged her husband, who turned to say, "Anything you'll be needing, Jack, just ring the bell. Sally's got some broth ready, as soon as the Commodore feels up to taking some nourishment."

Jack smiled his thanks. The door closed and he could hear them descending the stairs. The doctor meanwhile was taking James's pulse and pulling back his eyelid.

"He should come around shortly," Selwyn said, donning his coat. "I shall be below stairs for a little, eating my dinner prior to going over to the Fort. I'll come back to check on the patient before I leave." He packed up his bag and snapped it closed.

"Now, Captain Sparrow, you realize, I am sure, that the Commodore must not be left alone until he is out of danger." Jack nodded. "Our only nurse is… indisposed at present. I could see about getting one of the fisherman's wives… no? You have dealt with persons in his condition?"

Jack grinned and, undoing the top buttons of his waistcoat, pulled aside the neck of his shirt.

"Ah," said the doctor, leaning a little forward to look closely at the two round scars on Jack's chest. "First hand experience, I see. You are lucky to be alive, sir."

"I am lucky, Doctor," Jack replied, still smiling. "My grandmother always said I was born to hang - no bullet stands a chance."

Selwyn laughed. "Well then. Keep him quiet and watch for fever. See if you can't get him to eat something when he wakes." He nodded pleasantly and left the room.

Jack stripped off coat and waistcoat - the room was hot with the early evening sun - and pulled a chair up to the bed. He turned to find James watching him.

"I fainted again," James said. There was an aggrieved note in his drowsy voice.

"You did, mate," Jack chuckled. "It's just not your best day, is it?"

James smiled. "Did he get it out?"

Jack retrieved the ball from the table and dropped it into James's palm. "A memento," he said. "How do you feel?"

"Sore," James said, wincing a little as he tried to move his shoulder. "But better than I did, thank God."

"Hungry?" Jack asked. "Sally's got some broth ready; she's a good cook, that one."

James shook his head a fraction. "Not just yet, I think," he replied, and yawned. "Sleepy."

"Then rest," Jack said. "I will be here if you need anything."

James nodded. "I must speak with Groves and Marshall," he murmured. "If they come, I wish to be wakened - no matter the hour. Will you do that for me, Jack?"

"Of course," Jack said. "No worries." To himself, he added, "We will just see about that."

He was familiar with the Navy's chain of command. There would be someone - Groves, most likely - designated to take over if the Commodore was incapacitated. And Jack was not going to allow James to suffer a setback if it could be avoided. If fever set in, the Navy could bloody well do without James Norrington until he was well again. Jack thought of the common room, with its complement of his men on duty, and grinned. No, nobody would disturb James's rest without the permission of Captain Jack Sparrow.

************

Late that evening, Jack was startled out of a doze by a knock upon the chamber door. He opened to find Gibbs standing in the passage.

"There's two officers below," he said in a low voice. "They want to see him and they'll not take no for an answer."

"Their names?" Jack asked.

"Groves and Marshall," Gibbs replied. "The doctor's with 'em."

Jack nodded. "Send them up in five minutes, no sooner."

"Aye, Jack."

Jack went to the bed. James was asleep, but moving restlessly; his forehead - when Jack laid his palm upon it - was damp and very warm. At the touch of Jack's hand James opened his eyes.

"Jack? What is it?"

"You asked to be woken when Groves and Marshall got here," Jack said.

"Oh." James blinked. "Oh, yes, I did. Where are they?"

"They will be up in a moment. Doctor Selwyn is with them," Jack said.

James tried to sit up and fell back with a groan. "Weak as a kitten," he complained.

Jack made no answer, merely raising James and slipping pillows behind his back to prop him up. James sat with his eyes closed.

"Here," Jack said, "drink this." He handed James a glass of water.

"Thank you," James drank. "I will need to see them alone. Navy business."

Jack grinned at him as he took the empty glass. "No privateers or spies, is that it?"

James's lips thinned; he did not deign to reply. Jack chuckled. They heard footsteps on the stairs and Jack went to the door.

"Gentlemen," he nodded, admitting Captains Groves and Marshall, with Doctor Selwyn bringing up the rear. Groves and Marshall returned his nod and went directly to the bed; Selwyn stopped to look a question at Jack.

"Some fever," Jack said quietly. "He's slept but not eaten."

"Fever is to be expected," Selwyn replied. "I will examine him. Thank you, Captain Sparrow."

Jack left the chamber, closing the door behind him, and went down to the common room. It was full of his men and Anamaria's, drinking and laughing; the serving maids were rushing about, trying to keep up with orders that never seemed to cease. He made his way through the crowd - with a word and a smile for those he passed - until he reached the doors leading to the kitchen. Entering this sanctum, he found Sally Hobson and two more girls busily cooking for the unexpected influx of guests.

When she spotted Jack, Sally dusted the flour off her hands and greeted him with a smacking kiss. Without waiting to ask if he was hungry, she cleared a corner of the great table, set a place and pulled up a chair. In a twinkling Jack found himself sitting down to roast chicken, turnips, carrots and a hunk of fresh bread, with a flagon of ale to wash it down withal. He thanked her and tucked into this feast with no words wasted, while the work of roasting, baking and frying went on all around him.

When he had done with his meal, Jack spoke to Sally about sending a tray up to James's room, which she promised to do directly. Ale in hand, he strolled out once again into the common room to listen as Gibbs regaled his mates with yet another of his endless supply of tales. At the highly improbable conclusion of the story, Jack left his empty tankard on the bar and slipped upstairs.

As he put his hand on the latch, the door was opened from within and Groves came out, followed by Marshall. Marshall nodded to Jack and went past them and down the stairs. Groves pulled the door to and spoke.

"A moment, if you please, Captain Sparrow," he said.

"Yes, Captain Groves?" Jack replied. "Or should I call you Acting Commodore Groves?" He grinned.

"Captain will do," Groves replied, raising one eyebrow. His lips twitched. "I see you have anticipated me, Captain Sparrow. Commodore Norrington, on the advice of Doctor Selwyn, has appointed me to act as his deputy."

"A wise decision," Jack said. "The Commodore's in for a spell of fever, seemingly."

"I fear you are correct, sir," Groves replied, his face grave. He hesitated. "Doctor Selwyn assures me that the Commodore is in capable hands with you."

Jack bowed. "The doctor is very kind," he said blandly.

"Furthermore," Groves said, frowning as if he suspected Jack of mockery, "Commodore Norrington has expressed himself satisfied with his accommodations and with the arrangements you have made for his care. He does not wish to be moved at this time."

"Very gratifying." Jack's amusement was now unmistakable.

"It is for that reason and for no other," Groves went on, glancing pointedly at the staircase, from which the clamour in the common room could be heard, "that he will remain at this inn for the period of his convalescence, which, I trust, will be short."

Jack grinned. "Good choice, Captain Groves. I like a man with a grasp of the essentials."

"Let us understand one another, Captain Sparrow," Groves said, his patience obviously tried, "I recognize that your privateers, while technically answerable to the Navy for the duration of this expedition, obey your orders alone. It is, however, of the utmost importance that peaceful relations are maintained, in order that our work here goes forward with all possible speed. I shall therefore be blunt and point out that the force under my command outnumbers your men ten to one. Clashes would inevitably hurt you more than they would me, Captain Sparrow."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that, Captain Groves," Jack chuckled, in no way daunted by Groves's threat. "But, as it happens, I am in complete agreement with you. We shall have peace. Or, rather, if the peace is broken, will not be my men who strike the first blow. You have my word."

"Very good, sir," Groves said, a little stiffly. It was clear he found Jack's insouciance irritating. "It would be best, I think, to keep the two forces separate as much as possible. To that end, I shall order that this inn is off limits to the Navy and that the tavern outside the gates of the fort is likewise forbidden to your men. Is this agreeable to you?"

"It is," Jack replied. "My men will frequent the Blue Turtle exclusively."

"Very well, then," Groves said. He bowed. "I take my leave of you, sir. I shall send in the morning to enquire after the Commodore's condition. Good night."

Jack watched him down the stairs before turning and entering the room. He found the doctor changing the dressing on James's wound.

"There you are, Captain Sparrow," he said, tying off the bandage. "I have persuaded the Commodore that he ought to eat something, to keep up his strength. Perhaps Mistress Hobson…"

There was a knock at the door and Sally entered with a laden tray.

"Ah," Selwyn smiled at Jack, who nodded with a grin. "I see that you have the matter well in hand. In that case, I will leave you to it." Turning to James, he said, "I shall come round again in the morning, Commodore."

"Thank you, Doctor," James replied, with a slight smile.

Selwyn picked up his bag and opened the door. "Good evening, gentlemen, Mistress Hobson."

Sally meanwhile had set her tray upon the table and was engaged in setting out a light supper.

"Here's a tasty broth for you sir, in this jug," she said cheerily. "I've wrapped it in a tea towel to keep warm. I brought you a mug to drink it with, seeing as how you've only got the use of one arm at present."

"You are very good," James said, smiling.

"Here's a nice, fresh loaf," Sally went on. "And a pat of butter to go with it. There's a bit of roast chicken, if you feel inclined to something more solid than soup. And some wine."

She set the bottle and glasses down with a flourish and stood back, beaming.

"Thank you, Mistress Hobson," James said. "This looks delicious."

"I'll leave you to your supper, then," Sally said. "Ring if you need anything."

"Thanks, Sal," Jack blew her a kiss and she left with a chuckle, calling him a rogue.

"Soup first?" Jack asked.

"Yes, please," James nodded. "I didn't think I was hungry but that smells wonderful."

"Sally can cook," Jack replied. He placed the tray across James's knees and set a mug of soup upon it, along with a slice of bread.

In the end, James drank two mugs of broth, ate a little of the chicken, and some bread. When he had finished, Jack cleared away the tray and poured them each a glass of wine.

"So," he said, sitting in the chair and propping his heels on the mattress. "Captain Groves tells me you're on sick leave, so to speak."

"Yes," James replied, sipping his wine. "I thought it best. There is a very great deal to be seen to over the next days; it requires personal supervision and considerable energy. As much as the admission galls me, I am not fit for duty just yet."

"Between Selwyn's doctoring and Sally's good food, we'll have you on your feet in no time," Jack grinned. "No worries, mate. There will still be pirates for you to fight."

By coincidence, just as Jack mentioned pirates, there was a burst of noise from below - raucous laughter and the clatter of cups beating upon tables. James glanced sidelong at Jack, found himself being watched and looked hastily away. There was a thoughtful pause.

James finished his wine and leaned his head back against the pillows. "I am tired," he said.

Jack took his empty glass and removed the extra pillows so that he could lie down. When James was settled, Jack placed the remains of his supper on the tray and set it outside the door for the maid to collect.

He then pulled the truckle bed out - Sally had made it up when she had prepared the room - and turned it down.

"You will sleep here?" James asked, somewhat surprised.

"Where else?" Jack replied. "Doctor Selwyn feels - and I agree with him - that you should not be left alone quite yet." Seeing James frown, he added, "All part of my clever plan to put the Navy in my debt, remember? You played very neatly into my hands when you got yourself shot, Commodore."

James raised an eyebrow; his lips quirked and Jack laughed.

"Shall I read to you?" he asked, drawing a book out of his coat pocket. James saw that it was one from the Spanish library. "Robinson Crusoe," Jack said, resuming his seat and placing the candlestick on the floor, so that the rays were shielded from James's eyes.

"Thank you, Jack," James said. "I am much obliged."

Jack winked at him and opened the book and began to read. "I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate…"

He read for some time, keeping meanwhile an unobtrusive watch on James, whose eyes gradually closed as the combined effects of supper, wine and Jack's low voice, on top of his wound and the fever, made it impossible to keep awake. Jack let his voice trail off into silence. James did not stir.

Putting aside his book, Jack felt James's pulse and his forehead. The fever was up, but not yet very high. "Now, if it will just stay that way and go no higher," Jack muttered. "We will see what the morning brings." He drew off his boots, shrugged out of his coat, then stretched himself out on the truckle bed and fell instantly into sleep.
 

 

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