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Allegiance - Chapter 20

by The Stowaway


Aboard the Black Pearl

It was not long before she heard a brisk step in the passage and Sparrow's voice. "Wake me in three hours," he said, as he opened the door.

"Aye, Jack," said a voice without that sounded to her like Gibbs.

Elizabeth listened to Sparrow moving about the cabin. There was the chink of a stopper and the gurgle of pouring liquid, then the rustle and crackle that told her he had unrolled a map. Shortly afterward he sat at the table and put his heels upon it with a thump; she held her breath, terrified lest he discover her now, before they sailed, and put her off the ship.

It was only a few minutes - although it seemed longer - before Sparrow stood and crossed the cabin to the bunk. Elizabeth heard the creak as he threw himself down upon it, tossing and turning to get comfortable, and then silence.

She drew a deep breath and relaxed against the table leg, taking her hat off and leaning her head back. It was stifling under the heavy tablecloth; she struggled against a yawn. Incredibly, despite her excitement, she felt herself growing sleepy. She settled her sword more firmly in her lap and toed off her shoes, lest in her sleep she scrape them along the deck and make a noise. She closed her eyes.

"Jack. Jack! It's four bells," a voice cried, waking Elizabeth from an uneasy doze. She heard Jack's feet hit the deck.

The cabin door opened. "Jack," Gibbs said. "Oh, ye're awake. Looks like we'll be getting under way within the hour."

"'Bout time," Jack muttered, crossing the cabin. "Bloody Navy. Is there coffee?" The door slammed and their voices died away.

Elizabeth stretched. Not long now to wait. Once they were at sea - when it was impossible for her to be set ashore - she'd make her presence known.

Her back felt as if the carved wood against which she was resting had bored a hole in it. Too stiff and cramped now to go back to sleep, she listened to the sounds of activity on the deck above. Amidst the pad and slap of many bare feet, she heard the tread of Sparrow's boot heels. It was tempting, knowing he was certain to stay on deck until they sailed, to come out of her airless hiding place, but she was too close to success to risk all by being hasty. With a sigh she shifted around, trying to get comfortable. After a time, she dozed again.

A change in the motion of the ship woke her. She sat up, suddenly alert. In a few moments she began to smile; they were under way at last. Once the fleet was clear of the island, she would be safe. The final hour was, of course, the hardest, but at long last she felt the movement of the open sea beneath the Pearl's keel. She lifted the tablecloth and saw by the grayness of the stern windows that dawn was well advanced.

Elizabeth crept out from under the table and got to her feet, stretching gratefully. Then she retrieved her shoes and put them on. Moving with caution, mindful that her footfalls might be heard, she moved about the cabin, inspecting it with considerable curiosity.

The map table, over which hung the dim night light, held her interest for some time; there were maps and charts from Asia, the New World and the Old. Sparrow's claim to have sailed the world over appeared to be supported by their presence here on the Black Pearl.

She moved to the sideboard, the top of which was cluttered with objects both mundane and exotic. In the steadily growing daylight she saw a sewing kit, a box of watercolours and an empty rum bottle sharing the space with an elephant carved of ivory, with gilded tusks and jewels for eyes. There were bits of frayed rope and a whale's tooth, a piece of driftwood studded with shells in an odd spiral pattern and a flat stone that bore the lifelike impression of a starfish. She spotted a London playbill from fifteen years ago, held down by a tiny pistol and a clay pipe stem.  

The desk she passed over - oddly scrupulous of Sparrow's privacy - to inspect the rows of books beyond it. It was a large and varied collection and, as she read the titles on shelf after shelf, she found herself wondering once again about Sparrow. Who was he? What was his history? Presently she came to the Shakespeare and, pulling out a volume of sonnets, she perched on the stern lockers and began to read. So engrossed was she that she did not hear the cabin door open.

"And who the hell may you be, young fellow?" Gibbs asked.

Elizabeth started violently and leapt to her feet, the book falling from her hands. She stared at the burly man advancing on her with a grim light in his eye and shrank back against the bookcase.

"Mister Gibbs," she cried. "You frightened me!"

Gibbs stopped in his tracks, astonished. "Miss Elizabeth?" he exclaimed, not quite believing his eyes.

Elizabeth nodded.

"But what in the name of all that's holy are you doing aboard the Pearl?" Gibbs asked. Suddenly his eyes narrowed. "Does Jack know you're here?"

"No," she replied, shaking her head. "Nobody knows but you. I… well, I guess I stowed away." She tried a smile.

Gibbs did not smile back. "You stowed away," he repeated, slowly. "On a ship bound for battle. You've run mad, that's what it is."  He looked Elizabeth up and down and shook his head. "At least you had the sense to dress as a boy. You just come with me, missy. Time to face the music."

So saying, Gibbs laid hold of her shoulder with one beefy hand and, heedless of her struggles, marched her out of the cabin and down the passage.

"No," Elizabeth gasped, attempting to wriggle free. "Wait."

"Best shut your mouth," Gibbs told her curtly, giving her a shake. "The less you say, the better it will be for you."

They burst out onto the main deck and he hurried her up the steps to the quarterdeck. Elizabeth had a confused impression of the gaping faces of a number of sailors before Gibbs pulled her to a halt at the top of the steps.

"Captain," he said, "It seems we got us a stowaway."

Sparrow turned. "Do we?" he replied, coming over to where they stood. Elizabeth saw the instant when he recognized her; his step faltered almost imperceptibly and his eyes widened a fraction.

Recovering from his surprise, the Captain stopped directly in front of her and looked her up and down insolently. Hooking his thumbs in his sash, he met her eye and bared his teeth in an utterly humourless grin.

"Well now, what have we here?" he drawled.

Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply only to feel Gibbs's hand tighten warningly on her shoulder. She shook off his grip and glared at Sparrow without speaking.

"Answer me, boy," Sparrow ordered. "Why are you on my ship, eh?"

The emphasis on the word 'boy', coupled with the warning look in Sparrow's eyes conveyed a message reinforced by the crowd of sailors gathered around, watching her with avid interest. Suddenly Elizabeth was afraid. She took a deep breath and felt a faint thread of courage return; she could do this. She stood up straight and put her hand upon the pommel of her sword, giving Sparrow back stare for stare.

"I want to fight pirates," she said, in her deepest voice.

There was a stir of amusement through the crowd but her gaze did not waver from Sparrow's. She saw his mustaches stir.

"And can you fight?" Sparrow asked her, his glance flickering to her sword and back to her face.

Elizabeth swallowed. "Try me," she said.

"Very well," Sparrow replied, drawing his sword. The crowd pulled back, leaving a large oval space into which Elizabeth stepped. She drew her blade.

"En garde."

At the first clash of blade on blade, Elizabeth's fear fell away, to be replaced by the concentration and carefully controlled exhilaration that fencing always evoked. Sparrow's attack was slow and careful; he was holding back, she realized. Her counter-attack, much faster, made him laugh even as he parried. The pace picked up.

Up and down the quarterdeck they fought; two minutes… three. By the time the bout had lasted five minutes, Elizabeth was tiring, but still holding her own, when suddenly, in a move too fast to follow, Sparrow disarmed her - her sword clattered to the deck. He touched the point of his blade to the center of her chest, feather light, and she acknowledged the hit.

"Impressive, lad." Sparrow bent, scooped up her sword and tossed it to Gibbs. "But not good enough to fight pirates, I think." Elizabeth stood where she was, breathing hard.

"Gentlemen," Sparrow said to the crew, "Give us leave."  Soon all save the helmsman had left the quarterdeck.  Elizabeth looked up as Jack took her elbow and led her to the taffrail, out of earshot.

"Now," Jack said. "What in the name of all the hells are you doing here, Mrs. Norrington?" His voice was level and low but Elizabeth could see fury in his eyes.

"My husband insisted that I return to Port Royal," Elizabeth replied. "I did not wish to go, and…"

"Are you mad or merely a fool?" Jack snapped, cutting her off. "Do you not see? He wanted you safe. With you here, the fate of everything he loves now rides on a single roll of the dice; his ship," Sparrow's finger stabbed first toward the Dauntless, a half mile ahead, then at her, "And his wife."

Elizabeth raised her chin. "And you," she retorted, softly.

Jack regarded her for a long moment, an arrested expression on his face. "Ah," was all he said.  His hand shot out and grasped her arm; he hurried her down to the main deck and through the cabin doors.

Once in the main cabin, Jack released her. Leaving her standing by the door, he crossed to the table and poured two glasses of wine. He offered one to Elizabeth, who shook her head. Then he folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the table, sipping his wine.

"Explain yourself," he said.

"I am not blind, Captain Sparrow," Elizabeth replied. "Nor am I a simpleton, and I would have to be both not to have seen that you and my husband… care for each other. It was quite obvious to me almost from the first moment I saw you together."

"Was it?" Jack asked. He looked faintly amused; his black eyes gave away nothing.

Elizabeth nodded. "Not to someone who knows him less well, to be sure," she said. "But to me, yes, it was very clear."

"I won't say yea or nay to this interesting accusation, which, if proven, could hang your husband, as I am sure you know - you being so very clever." Jack's mockery stung. "Let us set it aside for a moment while you tell me why, exactly, you chose to stow away on the Black Pearl. What do you hope to accomplish by it?"

"I told you," Elizabeth replied, beginning to be angry. "My husband wanted me to return home and I did not wish to go…"

"Because you wanted to run away to sea and fight pirates," Jack interrupted, grinning nastily. He put down his wine and moved to stand over her. "You said. Now, Elizabeth, let us have the truth, if you please. Why?"

"Because," she shouted, "I was not going tamely back to Port Royal and let some damned pirate steal what is mine."

Sparrow's grin became a sneer; he laughed in her face. "And do you think you could stop me?" he asked.

Too angry for caution, Elizabeth slapped him with all her strength.

Jack caught her arm and shoved her backwards until she slammed against the door. She tried to hit him again and in an instant he had pinned both her wrists against the panels at the level of her shoulders.

"That may have been a mistake, Mrs. Norrington," Jack snarled. "There are penalties for striking the Captain of a ship, you know."

Elizabeth bared her teeth. "You wouldn't dare."

"You have no idea what I would dare, you foolish child," he snapped. "Pray you never find out."

"Let me go!" she cried, struggling without effect.

Jack looked down at her and, very slowly, he smiled.

"No one knows you are here, do they?" he asked, gold teeth glinting. Elizabeth's eyes went wide and she froze. Jack chuckled.

"I see you understand me. Nothing to stop me, is there?" Jack looked her up and down once again. "A bit skinny for my taste, but you know what they say - a bird in the hand…"

As he spoke, he bent his head until his mouth was a hairsbreadth from hers.

"No," Elizabeth gasped, her voice barely a whisper. "Please. No."

"No?" Jack asked, raising his head again. She shook her head jerkily. "No, perhaps not," he said, abruptly releasing her and turning to take up his wine again.

Elizabeth sagged against the door. Her heart was pounding and she could not seem to breathe properly.

"It is fortunate for you, Elizabeth, that I am not the pirate you named me," Jack told her. He pulled a chair out from the table. "Come here."

Pushing herself upright, Elizabeth walked with a tolerably firm step to the table and sat down, snatching her hand away when Jack would have seated her.

"What are you going to do with me?" she asked, not looking at him.

"That's the question, isn't it?" Jack replied. "What is to be done with you?"  He went to the door.

"First things first," he went on. "Wait here."

Jack went down the passage and out on deck. Gibbs met him before he had gone more than two steps; he was still carrying Elizabeth's sword.  Jack took the sword with a word of thanks.

"Have some breakfast sent in," Jack added. "Our guest has had a trying morning is must be hungry."

"What are you going to do, Jack?" the old salt asked.

"Keep her out of mischief and hope we all live through the battle," Jack replied, shrugging. "Because I very much want to see Norrington's face when I return with his strayed wife."

When Jack re-entered the cabin Elizabeth was gazing out the stern windows and did not look around until he spoke.

"If I give this back to you, will you promise not to use it against me?" he asked, holding out her sword.

She nodded. "Yes, Captain Sparrow," she replied wearily. "You have my word."

"Good." Jack said, sitting down opposite her. "You fight well; I confess it surprised me. Where did you learn?"

"My husband taught me," she shrugged.

"Did he?" Jack grinned. "And how did you charm him into doing something so outré, or shouldn't I ask?"

She gave him a look of faint distaste.

"Now then," Jack went on, still grinning, "Breakfast will be here shortly. And then, I expect you'd like a nap. Can't imagine you got much sleep last night."

"Thank you," Elizabeth replied. "You are very kind. Where may I sleep?"

"Right there," Jack nodded to his bunk. "You'll be staying in this cabin for the duration."

Elizabeth's eyes flew to his face. "And where will you…?" she asked.

Jack winked at her. "Here, of course," he said. "It's my cabin, innit?"

She jumped to her feet as if she would have fled and Jack chuckled.

"Calm yourself, Elizabeth. I will swing a hammock," he said. "Sit down, sit down."

Elizabeth obeyed, still watching him warily.

"Your virtue is safe with me, Mrs. Norrington," Jack told her, "I would not play such a scurvy trick on your husband. Oh, that?" he said, gesturing to the door, in response to her questioning look. "Thought you deserved a lesson, that's all."

"You bastard," she said, glaring.

"Got it in one, darling," Jack grinned. "However did you guess?"

There was a knock and the cook entered with their breakfast.

When he had gone, Jack said, "For your own safety - and for peace amongst the crew - it'll be best if you stay out of sight as much as possible. We'll let them think you're a boy, but the disguise won't hold up under too much scrutiny and we don't want word to get around that Commodore Norrington's wife sailed on the Pearl dressed as a boy, now do we?"

Elizabeth glanced at him thoughtfully. "You are very careful of my reputation, Captain Sparrow," she said at last.

Jack shook his head. "Of your husband's madam," he replied coldly, and Elizabeth blushed.

"I deserved that," she said, eyes on her plate.

"You did," Jack agreed. "I doubt the Commodore is the sort who'd beat his wife, but you deserve that as well. Be thankful you're not mine." He rose. "Get some sleep."

When Jack had gone, Elizabeth toyed with her food and stared out the windows. She had not anticipated that Jack would react to her presence as he had done. Anger she had expected, of course. But Jack was not angry for himself; his first thought had been for James, for how her reckless action endangered James's happiness. Jack was more careful of that happiness than she had been, and was that not proof of love? She rubbed her eyes, which had begun to burn. Remembering the contempt in his voice as he said, "Be thankful you are not mine." made her blush with shame. What a fool she was.

Leaving her breakfast untouched she went to the bunk and lay down with her back to the cabin.

*********

Elizabeth spent the next few days in the cabin, save for brief periods of exercise on the quarterdeck. When she was on deck, the crew kept their distance, no doubt acting on orders. The long hours below she beguiled with Jack's excellent library and with watching the wake frothing beneath the windows. And all the while she could feel the mood of the ship tensing, as they drew ever closer to their goal and the battle that should decide the fate of so many.

True to his word, Jack had swung a hammock and left her in sole possession of the bunk. He treated her with cool courtesy, conversing with ease over the meals they took together and in the odd hour he spent below with her, but never warming to cordiality. It hurt her that she had lost his good opinion. She didn't like to think about why Jack Sparrow's opinion of her should matter so much.

On the afternoon of the third day, as they beat up along the north coast of Jamaica - which lay like a blue cloud, faint on the horizon to starboard - Elizabeth was walking on the quarterdeck when the lookout shouted "Sail ho!"  Soon, even those on deck could see the three towers of sail bearing down on them from just north of east.

Jack snapped his glass closed and nodded. "That's him," he said.

Signals went up on the Dauntless and were passed down the line. Preparations began. The pirate ships drew near with frightening speed; it seemed to Elizabeth that she could see them growing larger by the minute.

Jack turned to her, his expression grim. "Get below," he said.
 

 

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