The Nature of Freedom
by The Stowaway
Fandom: PoTC Rating: NC-17 Pairing: Sparrow/Norrington Full Header Sparrington Arc - 3
The lookout’s cry of “Sail Ho!” provided a welcome distraction, and he stood to watch the arrival. Using his glass, he determined that it was the Antelope, 6 weeks overdue from England. Fresh news would be pleasant, he thought, and returned to his desk and the work already there.
It was barely an hour later when his clerk entered, laden with the dispatch pouch from the Admiralty and a large stack of welcome, if somewhat out-of-date, publications and letters. He had just begun sorting through the official communications when a messenger from Government House brought him an invitation. Mrs. Turner, in her capacity as her father’s hostess, requested the pleasure of his company this afternoon for tea. So sure was she of his acquiescence that the messenger had been told not to wait for a reply. Norrington’s mouth thinned and his brows drew together. By all accounts the Turner marriage was a happy one, but Elizabeth, as doyenne of their small circle of society, seemed to feel it her due to command the attendance of her jilted lover whenever it suited her. That he might be unwilling to visit her and her blacksmith, or that such visits might be painful to him, seemed never to enter her head.
He hesitated on the verge of declining the invitation. The press of new business from London would serve as an ideal excuse. Just then, his eye lit on the topmost of the newspapers awaiting his attention The headline, “Being an Account of the Latelye Concluded Truce with The Kingdom of Spain”, drove Elizabeth Turner and her unconventionality right out of his head. Hastily, he unfolded the broadsheet and read with eager attention. It seemed that Spain had sued for a truce to allow time for negotiations, and the King and his Ministers had graciously granted one of six months’ duration. He looked at the date of the paper – three months old. That meant the truce had yet another three months to run. He rose and crossed again to the window to stand, hands folded behind his back, gazing thoughtfully down at the harbour. As if by chance, in all the welter of a busy civil and military port, his eye lit on the Gull, a small sloop he had purchased some time ago for his personal use, but never had the time to take out. “That’s it,” he breathed, and smiled.
Shuffling quickly through the still unopened official dispatches, he located what he sought and pocketed it. He shrugged into his coat, snatched up his hat, and strode out of the office, calling for his horse. He had urgent business at Government House.
“So, you see, Governor Swann,” Norrington concluded, “this truce comes at a very opportune moment. I have been meaning for some time to familiarize myself with the coastline west of this place. It does not do to rely on charts drawn by others. Now I shall be able to take leave and do so, secure in the knowledge that an attack by the Spaniards is unlikely.”
“Hmmm,” the Governor considered the beribboned document in his hand and turned twinkling eyes on the Commodore, feeling as ever a stab of regret that his daughter had seen fit to reject so fine a man. “Well, I see that the Admiralty is certainly very confident that this truce will hold. And I don’t doubt you are eager to escape the, shall we say, somewhat confining life we live here for a time.”
The younger man stammered and disclaimed, until stopped by Swann’s hand laid on his arm.
“Calm yourself, James, my boy,” the Governor said, in a fatherly tone, “we have all gone stale during this war. No shame in admitting you wish for a change of scenery. This exploration sounds the very thing to refresh you. But, if you will take an old man’s advice, do not spend all your time on charts and maps. I hope you will do some hunting, or fishing, or something equally enjoyable.”
“Sir, I hardly feel it is proper…”
“Tush, man! You are mortal, just like the rest of us. Living always at full stretch is to lose all the pleasure in life. Carpe diem, eh? Seize the day.”
Norrington was obliged to admit that the prospect of a holiday was tempting.
“Good, then we will consider it settled. You are not to come back for a fortnight – and that is an order!” Governor Swann linked his arm with Norrington’s. “Now come along and pay your devoirs in the drawing room. Elizabeth would be so disappointed to have missed you.” He noticed, but did not comment on, the slight hesitation he felt in the younger man; continuing blandly, “You needn’t stay long; I am sure there is much you wish to do before you leave.”
Next morning, despite having worked half the night on the London mail, Norrington was up and about betimes, brisk and efficient. He sent his manservant down to the harbour to see to the provisioning of the Gull, giving instructions that supplies sufficient for three weeks should be stowed in her lockers, along with two dozen bottles of wine and some fine brandy from his cellar.
Turning to the next order of business, he sent for Captain Groves.
“Ah, Groves,” the Commodore greeted him, “you will have heard, no doubt, of the truce with Spain?”
“Yes, Sir. The crew of the Antelope has been ashore for the best part of a day. I doubt there is a soul in Port Royal who has not heard by now.”
“Indeed. Admiralty confirms what the newspapers report, without adding much detail. But they are secure in their belief that the truce will last the time specified. It is for this reason that I have decided to take a fortnight’s leave, beginning tomorrow. I shall be leaving you in command, Captain, in my absence.”
“Thank you, Commodore, it will be an honour. May one inquire as to your plans?”
Norrington smiled. “I am taking the Gull and heading west. I don’t know the coast as well as I should like, and shall use the voyage to better my knowledge. I hope to get as far as the Black River before turning back.”
“Beautiful sailing weather this time of year,” Groves said, returning his commander’s smile. “The Gull is a sloop, is she not? You should make good time in her; it is the perfect rig for these waters.”
“Yes, I anticipate a very pleasant sail.” He smiled again. “Now to business; I have gone over the London dispatches and replied as required. The clerks are making fair copies now, which you may use to familiarize yourself with the latest intelligence. Admiralty’s information squares with ours – the Dons are in disarray and it is doubtful, even leaving aside the truce, that they will regroup sufficiently to be a threat in the near future. I think we may safely careen the Forrester for repair as planned without rendering ourselves unduly vulnerable.”
And so it went. The remainder of the morning was spent meticulously briefing Captain Groves, providing him with a thorough knowledge of the status of their forces. Norrington was confident he would discharge his duties ably.
After a light nuncheon with Groves, Norrington left him reading intelligence reports, and betook himself to the harbour to inspect the preparations aboard the Gull. He spent several agreeable hours going over her stem to stern, stowing his gear, and assuring himself that she was entirely seaworthy. More than once he found himself smiling, and was amused at the contrast between his present mood and that of one day previous. Even his promise to dine at Government House, given with some reluctance the day before, did not dampen his spirits overmuch.
Later that evening, seated at the Governor’s dinner table, Norrington was conversing with well-bred ease, but little enthusiasm. Listening with the appearance of interest to the prosy matron seated on his right, while at the same time fending off the unpracticed advances of a very young lady with matrimonial aspirations on his left, he found his attention wandering. Even Elizabeth, throat-catchingly lovely in the candlelight, gracious and graceful, seemed less real than the prospect of freedom ahead of him. He suddenly felt he was in a room full of hollow mannequins, mouthing platitudes and nonsense. He was not in general a fanciful man, and he brushed the thought aside as unworthy, although the impression lingered for some time, distracting him. As early as good manners permitted, he made his farewells and escaped.
In the dark before dawn, clad in stout homespun and serviceable boots, James Norrington left his quarters in the fort and strode down to the harbour. He whistled softly as he went, a most unaccustomed sound that caused the sentry at the gate to shake his head in wonder. The Commodore was on the gad, seemingly.
The Gull awaited him at the quay, bobbing gently as he stepped aboard, and he smiled. Moving quickly but without haste he made final preparations, stowing the charts and spare linen he had brought with him, and making a last inspection of the water casks and supplies. He planned to catch the morning tide and make use of the land breeze to get well beyond the harbour by sunrise. Satisfied, he cast off and was under way at last.
Leaving the harbour at Port Royal behind him, he set a course southwest.
The weather was perfect, as only July in Jamaica could be. The rising sun shone brightly, and the northeast trades were blowing, mitigating the summer heat. As Port Royal sank astern, he felt a curious and pleasurable lightening of the heart, for which the joy of being under sail and at the tiller was only partly accountable. To be sure, the Gull was a lovely little boat; sloop rigged, fast for her size and easy to sail, and he had loved his infrequent chances to take her out for a few hours. This would be his first extended trip aboard her, and he found himself eager to get to know her better – her quirks and foibles, the idiosyncrasies that make each ship different. He wondered idly if those little individualities were what made sailors refer to their vessels always as “she”.
From there, it was but a short step to thoughts of Elizabeth. Not that she was capricious! He understood her much better than that; saw clearly because of, or in despite of, his love. When she gave her promise to him that day aboard the Dauntless, she did so honourably; of that he was certain. She had honestly intended to marry him, although she did not love him. Friendship there was in her for him, and esteem, but not love. He had accepted her hand because he could do naught else; he chose to believe that a love such as his could not but inspire, in time, a return of affection. He still felt a flush of shame that he had been so self-deceived and willing to take her on those terms.
Hers was a bold move in a desperate game to save her beloved Turner. She believed herself able to give him up in order to save him. It was a heroic effort, worthy of so passionate and determined a nature as hers. He had watched her grow from an engaging, fanciful child to a lovely and willful woman, impatient at all times of the constraints imposed upon her by sex and class. Nothing she could do, no matter how outrageous or headstrong, would ever truly surprise him. He might be shocked and disapproving, of course, - or heartbroken - but not surprised.
He was not a man generally to indulge himself with vain repining, to brood on lost causes; but the thought of her – so dearly loved and so nearly won – tormented him. He often wondered if she were as happy with Turner as she appeared. She had pride enough to sustain her and enable her to hide any disappointment or regret in her choice so, mercifully, he would never know if she found herself dissatisfied in her marriage. To see her unhappy and her cure out of his power would be well nigh unbearable. He fell into a brown study.
The Gull skimmed along, mimicking the flight of her namesakes as they swooped and glided above and beside, uttering the mewing cries that haunt the heart of every sailor born. Her varnished woodwork glowed warmly, and the polished brass gleamed as the sun rose higher, her sails full-bellied in the morning breeze. Gradually, the brilliance of the day penetrated his abstraction. Port Royal was behind him, and already was becoming a little unreal; in that moment it was as if he awakened from a dream. He felt more alive, more aware of his surroundings, than he could ever remember – all his senses sharpened. The tiller smooth and moving beneath his palm, the rail at his back were all at once solid and real and ‘present’ to an almost painful degree. He glanced aft at the wisps of foam dancing in his wake, and forward to the misty heights of Portland Point with wide eyes. He was piercingly aware of sounds; the slap of wavelets against the hull, the cries of the gulls and the creak of the rigging, the faint whisper of the wind in the lines. Nature seemed to have been new made in this very moment; glittering fresh and poignant beyond description. Bereft of words, he laughed for pure heart’s ease, joyfully accepting the challenge laid before him by this smiling world. Carpe diem, indeed.
With the wind near astern he made good time. By mid-afternoon he had left Portland Point to starboard and was bearing west and a little north to keep the coast in sight, while staying far enough off shore to catch the trades as they blew across the heights. These were unfamiliar waters to him, and he observed the ever-changing view ashore with interest. The euphoria of the morning had stayed with him throughout the day, making each breath as heady as a draught of wine. He was at one with the sea, the wind, his boat; content for the time being to live without thought, entirely through his senses, a creature of the here-and-now. The past had no longer any hold on him and the future was veiled, and yet he was most uncharacteristically at ease, willing for once to wait for what might come.
Well before nightfall, he took advantage of the sea breeze newly sprung up to sail in close; seeking a small river that the chart indicated flowed hereabouts down to the sea. He located it quickly, pleased with this indication of the accuracy of his map. Carefully navigating the sand bars set at its mouth, he sailed a short way upstream and tied up to the bank, intending to pass the night in that place.
After a short walk ashore to stretch his legs, he returned to the Gull and set all to rights for the morning. He thought of fishing for his supper but rejected the idea, preferring first to make use of the perishable foods he had brought with him. He dined simply on bread, cold meat, and fruit washed down with wine, and felt it a most satisfying meal. By then it was full dark, and he sat at ease in the cockpit, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, arms folded behind his head. He leaned back, gazing at the stars and smiling as they twinkled and wheeled above him, and the night sounds from the riverbanks sang to him of sleep. He felt pleasantly tired; a little wind-burned and sun-burned and altogether relaxed. Shortly, he went below and fell quickly into a dreamless sleep.
With the instinct of the born sailor he woke at slack water, and came on deck to survey the morning. Another lovely day promised fair in the clear sky above him, and in the feel of wind and water. He stretched and yawned, well-rested as always from a night spent on the water, and grinned to himself. While he waited for the ebb to gain strength, he ate breakfast and made all ship shape for the day’s sail. Then he cast off and rode the tide down over the bar and out to sea, swinging west as the river’s current lost itself in the ocean, and setting the sails to catch the freshening breeze.
The day was the twin of the one before, for the most part, with one notable exception. Late in the afternoon he was overtaken by a squall. He had seen it coming, and ran forward to drop the jib and had just time to take 2 reefs in the mainsail when it struck. The squall quickly blew itself out, but while it lasted he had ample opportunity to see how the Gull handled in a storm, and he was well pleased, even though he shipped a quantity of water that kept him busy bailing for some time after calm was restored. She was as sweet and willing to his hand as a lover, even with wild wind and water whistling and whipping at them. Truly, he thought with pleasure, she had been a good choice.
At evening, he was passing a seemingly endless line of bluffs and highlands with no break to mark the location of a convenient river or stream. Consequently, he simply anchored in shallow water and spent the night where he was, quite comfortable and carefree.
That night, he dreamt of Jack Sparrow. It seemed he lay in darkness, quite awake, and felt another body near his. As he drew a startled breath to speak, a hand, lean and hard, was over his mouth and that unforgettable smoky voice was murmuring in his ear, low and amused. “Ah mate, you can’t run away from me as easily as all that. I’m in your blood now, and you’ll have to square with that someday.” Norrington struggled to turn his head, to see the speaker, but, in the manner of dreams, he was powerless to move a muscle. The voice spoke again, “Not yet, love. Not quite yet.” and the dream presence was gone. Abruptly and fully awake, Norrington stood swaying in the tiny cabin and raised a trembling hand to his mouth. “Jack?” he whispered. The Gull rocked undisturbed on the swell and the soothing lap of the waves went on unchanging. Slowly, he lay back down and stared, wide eyed, into the dark. Torn, as ever, by the thought of the pirate, into two warring parts – attraction and rejection, and no closer than ever to resolving his predicament. At last, he slept again, and in the morning retained no memory of his dream.
By noon of his third day at sea, he was rounding Parottee Point and entering the Black River Bay, where he planned to spend the next several days. Before him lay a scattering of islets with sandy beaches and, on the larger ones at least, small stands of trees. Knowing there was a settlement further west, at the mouth of the Black River itself, and wishing for the time being to preserve his solitude, he considered making camp on one of them. To be sure, there was no fresh water available, but that was a minor point; as a small stream was visible on Jamaica itself, directly across the narrow strait, and his casks contained sufficient supply for many days without need of replenishment. Furthermore, the trees on the islet would provide both shade and firewood. Accordingly he chose the largest of the tiny islands and put in, anchoring the Gull in the shallows and wading ashore to inspect his new domain.
The afternoon was spent gathering firewood, setting up a sailcloth awning for protection against rain showers (less common in July than at any other time of the year, but inevitable nonetheless), and conveying provisions ashore. Late in the day he returned briefly to the Gull, and from her fished for the first time for his supper, returning to the beach to clean and cook his catch just as darkness fell.
He sat long beside the fire that evening, watching the glowing heart of it, and listening to the sound of the waves shushing at the wet sand and the rustle of the trees in the night breeze. His only movements were to sip occasionally from his cup of brandy, or to toss more wood on the fire and tilt his head to watch the resultant sparks fly upward. If any had been there to see, they would have said there were thoughts moving in his eyes, or rather the shadows of thoughts, for nothing so precise as words were at play now. He was suspended in time, at peace.
The prick of a cutlass at his throat brought him awake with a start. He gazed up in astonishment. “You,” he gasped, “what are you doing here?”
The point didn’t budge, but Jack grinned. “Now of all the daft questions in the world, mate, that takes the prize.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, man,” Norrington batted the weapon aside irritably, “I meant, how did you know where to find me?”
The pirate sheathed his cutlass and extended a hand, “Spies and informants, of course.” Norrington grasped it and made to rise, but Jack, rather than helping him up, allowed himself to collapse and they landed on the sand with a thud. “Everything the Commodore of the Jamaica squadron does is of interest to me.”
“Oaf! Let me up!”
Jack’s eyes glinted in the light of the setting moon. “And waste a golden opportunity, love? Give us a kiss, then.”
“Get OFF!” roared Norrington, shoving mightily and scrambling to his feet.
Laughing, Jack stood and faced him. “You’re cross when wakened, James. Must remember that. Now,” he closed the distance between them, “how can I make it up to you, ay?”
“Sparrow, you idiot,” he began, but stopped on a sharply indrawn breath as Jack’s fingers grasped his hips and pulled him close.
“There, is that better?” And he rocked his pelvis slightly, chuckling wickedly at Norrington’s answering groan.
“Damn you, Jack Sparrow.” Norrington took the grinning face between his hands. “You are a madman.”
“And you wouldn’t have me any other way, mate.”
Norrington’s answering smile was rueful. “For my sins, no doubt,” and kissed him.
Jack hummed approval, welcoming him with lips and tongue and teeth, stinging sweet. As their mouths slowly parted he asked, “And what sins are those, James?”
“You,” Norrington whispered against his throat, biting softly on the word, “and this.”
“Ah now,” Jack chuckled, his voice hitching a bit as a tongue teased his ear, “there’s where you’re wrong, love. The only true sin is wasting your opportunities. Now, let’s have another kiss, ay?”
Norrington opened his eyes to daylight and gazed hazily skyward, momentarily at a loss. He was lying on a beach, he could hear the waves. Where was he and why….. Jack. As memory of the night rushed back into his mind he gasped and surged to his feet, looking around wildly. Surely he hadn’t gone already? No, there were his boots and his coat and effects, as he called them, in a heap on the far side of the dead fire, right where he had shed them, before…and here Norrington’s thoughts skittered in confusion. Whatever had possessed him to kiss Jack in that shameless fashion? There was no one but himself to blame for what had followed. He blushed, grateful Jack was not there to see and comment, with his ever-ready wit and sharp tongue.
But where had he got to? It was then that Norrington noticed movement aboard the Gull and heard faint sounds of activity emanating from below decks. Alarm was his first reaction – what if Jack meant to maroon him here? He was crazy enough to do anything. But a second glance assured him that no such preparations were underway. And with that reassurance, predictably, came annoyance. What was the rogue doing aboard his boat without permission? Had he no sense of propriety? Wading out as quickly as he could, he reached up and grasped the stern rail just as Jack came on deck carrying a bottle of wine – his wine! – and the last of the bread.
“Ah, morning love,” said Sparrow, no whit abashed at being caught red-handed. “Just getting us something to eat.”
Norrington surveyed him with as much dignity as he could muster, standing chest deep in the sea and looking up. “Permission to come aboard?” he reminded the pirate, sarcastically.
“Granted,” said Jack absently, entirely missing the point, “Fish for breakfast sounds good, don’t you think? Shall we fish first or swim first?”
“You will suit yourself, of course,” Norrington huffed, climbing aboard, “but don’t expect me to join you in either activity.” And he ducked into the cabin, looking around suspiciously for more signs of depredation. He turned about in the tiny space only to find himself nose-to-nose with an amused and unrepentant Sparrow.
“Sextant, compass, charts, brandy,” Jack said, pointing past him to various lockers as he named their contents. “Shall I continue?” he asked blandly, raising his eyebrows at his silently fuming companion. “You’re well found in biscuit, dried meat and fruit, but the wine is a bit of a worry, now that there’s the two of us drinking it. Hate to have you reduced to drinking my rum, love. It don’t agree with you, if you recall.”
There was a charged silence as Norrington scowled at him, breathing heavily through his nose. Jack’s eyebrows rose another fraction and he tilted his head to one side in polite inquiry. The moments stretched out. All at once the utter absurdity of the situation struck Norrington and he burst out laughing.
“Out, out, you Bedlamite,” he gasped, shooing Sparrow before him up into the sunshine. “Much more of this and I shall be as mad as you.”
“Sea-bathing is a sure cure for madness, you know,” Jack remarked helpfully, stripping off his shirt and reaching to do the same to Norrington, who, still chuckling, swatted at him.
“I can manage for myself, thank you,” he said, suiting action to word.
“Well do so, then,” replied Jack, speedily removing his breeches, “and be quick about it. I feel another attack coming on.” And, stepping up onto the rail, he dove into the water.
Some little time later, they sat fishing off the bow of the Gull. Jack divided the bread and handed half to Norrington. “No point in waiting, ay? May as well start breakfast now.” And he opened the wine, ignoring the displeasure evident in Norrington’s slight frown.
“You are a presumptuous devil, Jack Sparrow, to play host on my boat.”
“Captain Jack Sparrow, if you please, sir,” was the demure reply.
Norrington maintained his composure with an effort. He looked around with a very creditable assumption of hauteur and raised his brows. “Well, I don’t see your ship, Captain.”
“Nor will you, mate – even I know that would be a bad idea. Sent the Pearl on an errand to keep her out of your way; the crew were restless and wanted to be doing. I’ve a small sloop of me own anchored on the other side of the island. Oh, not a pretty, gentleman’s boat like this, to be sure,” with a faintly mocking glance at the fresh varnish and gleaming brass, “but she suits me.”
Norrington wondered with a certain discomfort what sort of “errand” the Black Pearl was on, but deferred his questions for the time being.
They fished in silence for awhile, munching their bread and passing the wine back and forth companionably. It occurred to Norrington that this was the first meal he and Jack had ever shared. The very ordinariness of their present circumstances stood in startling contrast to their previous encounters; it suddenly made what was between them a daylight matter, to be dealt with on the everyday terms of real life. Before this, Jack had always appeared long after dark and left long before dawn, leaving him to wake next day and wonder if the night had been merely a dream of heated pleasure… and of shame. For the second time that morning his mind shied like a nervous horse, and again he felt himself flushing. He glanced up to find Jack watching him with a small smile that, for once, held no trace of mockery and he looked away in confusion. Just then Jack’s line twitched as a fish nibbled at the bait.
“Hi! Mind what you’re about, Sparrow,” he snapped, taking refuge in irritation, “that’s our breakfast about to escape!”
“Not on my watch,” laughed Jack, setting the hook with casual ease and hauling his catch alongside, where he deftly flipped it aboard and dispatched it. “That should about do it, ay? Let’s go ashore and cook this beauty.”
Jack said he wanted to fetch his boat around to the cove by Norrington’s camp, adding wryly that he didn’t feel comfortable, mooring her for so long out of his sight “what with pirates about and all”. The island at its widest point measuring a mere half mile, they decided to walk the distance. Accordingly, they set off at mid-morning through the trees, whose shade by that time was very welcome. As they went, they continued a discussion begun over breakfast.
“Jack, don’t be a fool! I did not mean to imply that I was displeased with your plan to raid only Spanish settlements. If you have, as you say, confined yourself to such targets, and the Pearl is not threatening any English holdings, then so much the better. The Navy need not pursue you for such activity which, under the present political circumstances, can be called almost patriotic.”
“Patriotic!” cried Jack, with a crack of scornful laughter, “It’s you who’s the fool. This is purely practical, James. The chances of treasure are much greater among the Spaniards. If the English towns were half as full of gold, why then, I would raid them just as cheerfully.”
“Yes, yes, that’s all very well. I don’t doubt you delight in making this as difficult as possible. But never mind that now. I want to know what were you about, stopping and boarding – actually boarding – the Relentless last month? What did you hope to gain by it?”
Jack chuckled. “That was well done of me, wasn’t it? Not a single life lost and naught but the most minor injuries.” Catching Norrington’s furious eye, he shrugged.. “Captain Gillette’s first command. It was irresistible, believe me. No harm done, after all.”
“Pull his nose at your peril, Jack,” Norrington warned, “he hates you. And he is a clever man. He is compelled by ambition as well as by personal antipathy and that is a dangerous combination. He will stop at nothing to see you dead.”
But Jack just laughed and shook his head. “I’m not worried. Better men than he have tried to lay me by the heels, ay mate?” This with a sly, sidelong glance that mocked without malice, and Norrington was silenced.
After a brief pause, Jack said, “Although, to be sure, we’ve never crossed swords, you and I, have we James?” He stopped and turned to face the other man, his face alight with laughter.
They had come to a clearing in the trees a few dozen yards wide that looked as if it were the scar of a long-ago fire; the ground was smooth and flat and free of underbrush.
“Do you ever wonder,” he went on, “which of us is the better man?” And he drew his cutlass and tapped Norrington lightly on the breastbone with the tip. “Care to find out?”
“What, here and now?” cried Norrington.
“No time like the present, love. What have you got to lose?” replied Jack, chuckling. “Try a pass with me – all in fun, of course.”
By way of answer, Norrington threw his hat to the ground, shrugged out of his coat, and bent, grinning, to pull off his boots. “Challenge accepted, Captain Sparrow.” He drew his sword.
“That’s the spirit!” Jack stuck his cutlass upright in the ground and likewise stripped down to shirt and breeches. “En garde, then. Have at you!” And snatching up his sword, he attacked with great vigour.
Norrington met the attack and countered with one of his own, which made Jack laugh as he blocked it. They settled down to serious fencing, each probing the other’s defenses, testing for weaknesses. Norrington had the advantage of reach and a somewhat longer sword, but Jack’s speed and rather wild style balanced the scale – leaving them almost perfectly matched. The bout went on for some time, neither man willing to be the one to call a halt, and before long they were breathing hard and sweating in the windless heat of the clearing. Norrington was beginning to wonder how long he could continue when it ended as suddenly as it began. Jack trod on a stone hidden in the grass and faltered for the merest instant, Norrington’s sword in that second drawing a long scratch down his forearm.
Jack threw up his hand in the classic gesture of a fencer acknowledging a hit and they dropped their points, chests heaving. Norrington quickly sheathed his sword and reached for Jack’s arm. The cut was shallow and not serious and, although it bled freely, it soon stopped. Norrington was unnerved at how close run a thing it had been. An instant either way and his point might have found Jack’s heart, instead of merely scratching his arm. But Jack laughed it off.
“I’ve taken worse hurt from a Tortuga whore, mate,” rolling up his other sleeve to show the jagged pucker of an old scar running down the inside of his arm, “although I may have deserved it at the time.”
Resuming their boots, but electing to carry their coats, they completed the short distance remaining to the far shore of the island in silence. They emerged from the trees on the shore of a small cove, where they found Jack’s sloop riding at anchor, safe and sound. She was a somewhat nondescript lady ‘of a certain age’ but, as Norrington observed as they brought her round to the camp, essentially sound. With her, Jack might slip unnoticed into any port on the Caribbean, which didn’t bear thinking of. He said as much, wryly, to Jack, who merely grinned.
“What do you call her?” Norrington asked.
“That’s a question with many answers,” Jack replied, “it depends on who’s asking. She’s been the Scarlett and the Giselle, but for you, let’s call her the Elizabeth.” And he laughed at Norrington’s scowl.
They moored her alongside the Gull and took another short swim before going ashore to lounge lazily in the shade, high up the beach, dozing and talking for most of the afternoon. Norrington lay stretched out on his back, hands behind his head. Jack had chosen to use him as a pillow, lying back with his head on Norrington’s chest.
Jack sipped now and again from a small flask of rum. He offered some to Norrington, who refused with a shudder of distaste, which made Jack chuckle. “I see you’ve not forgotten the last time I plied you with rum, love.”
Norrington forbore to answer, preserving a dignified mien – no small feat for a man in his position.
“What a job I had getting you into that tavern, James,” Jack reminisced. “Had to take a whole town hostage with my fearsome horde of bloodthirsty buccaneers. I hope you noticed what neat work we made of it – and all a mock show. We had them terrified and managed it without killing a soul. Not that I didn’t have a bit of struggle with the crew to keep them to the letter of my instructions. But in the end it paid off, for you walked right into my net.” He paused for another swig.
“And the look on your face, love, when I handed you that noggin of rum. I treasure the memory.” He glanced round and crowed with delight, sitting up to get a better view of the outrage on the other’s face. “That’s it! The very look. Rather like my maiden aunt when the town constable went mad and danced naked in the square of a Sunday.”
“Sparrow, you are ridiculous.” Norrington’s tone was frosty.
“Not half so ridiculous as you that day, mate,” was Jack’s gleeful rejoinder. “For - once we got enough rum in you - we taught you to sing the pirate song.”
“You are making that up!” Norrington snapped, “I would never have sung in such circumstances and especially not that disgraceful song!”
“Ah, but you did, James me lad,” said Jack with satisfaction, flopping back down on his chest and wriggling to get comfortable, “and in a fine, clear tenor, too. It was a treat to listen to you.”
Norrington refused to reply and conversation languished. They dozed.
“Did you teach Will Turner to fence?”
“Why did I teach him, you mean? Because he asked me. He felt it would make him a better swordsmith if he understood more clearly the uses of the blades he was crafting. The boy makes fine swords.”
“He does. He’s a skillful fighter, as well,” said Jack, “He damn near had me once. It was touch and go.”
“Yes, there is little more I can teach him,” Norrington said, simply, “he has surpassed me.”
“If he has, it is not by much,” chuckled Jack, holding up his arm with the fresh scratch, “as I am living proof. I wouldn’t want to meet either of you in deadly earnest. Twice now you have had me at your sword’s point. Although,” mischievously, “you might have done so in order to say to me, as Theseus to Hippolyta: ‘I wooed thee with my sword, / And won thy love, doing thee injuries.’”
Norrington smiled; answered without thinking, “Concordia discors.”
“Discordant harmony, indeed,” said Jack, “but Audentis Fortuna iuvat – Fortune favours the brave.”
Abruptly, Norrington sat up, dumping Jack onto his back and leaned over him, pinning his shoulders to the sand with urgent hands. He stared into fathomless dark eyes as Jack smiled up at him and waited.
“You quoted Shakespeare,” he breathed.
Jack nodded, “Aye, and you Horace.”
“And you Virgil,” Norrington’s mind roiled. Latin and Shakespeare, from Jack? He spoke as an educated man, a gentleman. For long moments James hesitated – unable to reconcile this new idea with his perception of the pirate as a barely-literate bumpkin with a deplorable, common accent. Watching Norrington’s struggle, Jack’s smile widened.
“Who are you?” Norrington whispered.
“Captain Jack Sparrow, pirate and scallywag, at your service.”
“Don’t toy with me, man. For once in your life be serious,” and his hands tightened unconsciously; insistent. “Where were you educated?”
“The wide world has been my school, love, these many years, and Life herself my tutor,” Jack said softly, “and though she can be an ungracious jade at times, on the whole she has done right by me, I’d say.” He laid his palms flat against Norrington’s chest and moved them gently, soothing and distracting. “I am as you see, James. Don’t vex yourself with wondering. ‘What’s past is prologue,…’”
“’…what to come / In yours and my discharge,’” Norrington completed the quote automatically, without fully taking in the sense of it, as Jack drew him down and kissed him, effectively shattering his concentration.
After a few moments, Jack stirred beneath him and broke the kiss. “Let me up, mate,” he murmured, shoving gently at Norrington, who complied dazedly. Jack sprang up and headed down to the water with a purposeful stride.
“What is it?” James called after him.
“Hungry,” Jack said over his shoulder, “want feeding. Come help me fish.”
For a moment, Norrington gaped blankly at his retreating back before getting to his feet with a chuckle and a bemused shake of his head. The man was quicksilver, he thought, completely unpredictable and impossible to contain.
Jack was in high spirits as they prepared and ate their meal, singing snatches of the pirate song aloud and insisting that Norrington join him. “Oh come now, love, surely you remember the chorus at least?” he cried. Dismissing Norrington’s demurral with an airy wave and a laugh. “Well then, I’ll just teach it to you again. Here, have some rum first,” he coaxed, “You sing charmingly under its sway.”
But Norrington, refusing to rise to the bait, was steadfast in his refusal and in time Jack turned his attention to his food and dropped the subject.
As dark fell, they built up the fire and sat quietly for a space, each busy with his own thoughts. As on the previous evening, Norrington indulged himself in a small mug of his good brandy, savouring it appreciatively. Jack sipped his rum with equal contentment and moderation. Neither man seemed inclined to drunkenness this night.
After a time Jack stretched and grinned at his companion. “James, did I ever tell you the tale of how I stole the buttons off the Governor of Tortuga’s coat?”
Norrington smiled and shook his head. Jack’s tales, however improbable, were nothing if not entertaining.
“Well, this was a good few years ago, back when I was younger and inclined to be a bit reckless, you understand, not having grown into any discretion or commonsense.”
Norrington laughed out at that and Jack’s answering smirk was mischievous.
The Governor at the time,” he continued, “was Monsieur d’Ogeron the Younger, his father having recently died at a ripe age. How indeed the colonial governorship came to be passed from father to son is a story yet to be told, but it caused a good deal of gossip at the time. The younger d’Ogeron was somewhat less of a nonentity than his father. He was idealistic but inept, and susceptible, as are all the officials of government in that place, to the corrupting lure of pirate loot. And he was unwisely haughty to the Brethren. He placed himself and his sister (now respectably widowed but with a past rumored to contain nothing less than an elopement with the infamous scoundrel Levasseur, if you please) on so high a form as to make any social intercourse with the pirates that formed the economic backbone of the colony quite impossible. This state of affairs continued for some little while to the satisfaction of no one, unless the d’Ogerons, keeping the solitary state they felt due their rank, were content – and to be honest we didn’t much care if they were or not. A meeting was held…”
Jack was well away, eyes alight and arms waving animatedly as he embroidered and elaborated with relish. Norrington soon lost the thread of the tale, preferring instead to study Jack in the firelight as the varied emotions of the story swept across his expressive face and body in a sort of dance. Jack was beautiful, he realized; that was the only word for it. He watched a while longer, leaning at his ease on one elbow, content merely to exist in the sense of sight.
Suddenly Jack paused in his narrative and his eyes sought Norrington’s across the fire. As the glittering gaze locked with his, he felt a jolt that shook him from head to heels and his own eyes went wide. With devastating simplicity the words formed themselves in his head: I love him, and with that the world seemed to stand still.
The frozen silence drew itself out, paradoxically full of the thunder of his heart, until Jack, seemingly unaware that aught was amiss, resumed his tale and James, as if released from a spell, drew a shaking breath. He took a steadying sip of brandy, but hastily set the cup down when the trembling of his hand threatened to spill the contents. He risked a glance a Jack – still deep in the tale of the Governor’s buttons – but looked away again before his eyes could give him away. I love him. Like a chant it ran in his mind, crowding out for a time all rational thought.
He clenched his fists and forced himself to take long, slow breaths, laboring for calm. With another effort he stilled the clamor in his brain. How had it come to this? He reviewed the last few days with a kind of detached wonder. A welter of images tumbled through his mind like pieces of a puzzle: Governor Swann’s carpe diem, the challenge of sea and sky, the long slow days of peace aboard the Gull, and Jack’s presence in his dreams and in the flesh. “The only true sin is wasting your opportunities.” The pieces slotted together, but the shape of the finished picture was yet unclear.
He heard again Jack’s voice from this afternoon, suggesting that he, James, should take Theseus’s lines: ‘I wooed thee with my sword, / And won thy love, doing thee injuries.’ …‘And won thy love…’ Was this Jack’s way of telling him that he, too, loved? And what had he said next? ‘Fortune favours the brave.’ Well, that was plain enough, he supposed. The picture was becoming clearer. And Jack’s last quote, appropriately from The Tempest: ‘What’s past is prologue, what to come / In yours and my discharge.’ slipped into place with a snap. The future was theirs for the shaping, it seemed.
On that thought, he looked up to find Jack watching him, amused. “Wool gathering, James? Where did I lose you?”
As he looked across the dying fire at his lover (yes, his lover) James felt his heart turn over and the world tilted with it. It was as if he rode a wave of love that flung him toward an unknown shore, but beneath the sparkling surface there was a swell of something darker, primal – a desire to claim, to mark, to possess. His.
Something of this must have shown in his face for he saw Jack’s smile fade, to be replaced by a flickering look of interest. “James?” Without quite knowing how it happened, James found himself on his feet, standing over Jack. Wordlessly, he reached down a hand and Jack took it, rising lightly into his embrace. “What is it, love?” he murmured, but fell silent as James pressed two shaking fingers to his lips, and he kissed them. A moment they stood thus, a current of understanding flowing strong and sure around them. Then James closed his hand on Jack’s wrist, gently imperative, and led him the few steps to their blankets.
“I want you,” James breathed, as his hands slid up Jack’s back, under his shirt, “I want to see you.” And he lifted Jack’s shirt over his head and away in one smooth motion, reaching next to undo his breeches and slip them down past his hips and to the ground. Jack stepped out of them and stood before him naked in the firelight, fully erect already. James felt his heart lurch again. “Beautiful,” he whispered and bent his head to kiss Jack’s shoulder, pulling him close and gasping as their erections pressed against each other through the barrier of his breeches. Jack’s arms were around him caressing his back as his mouth worked its way slowly across Jack’s chest and up to his throat; licking, nibbling, sucking hard enough to bruise before claiming his mouth in a consuming kiss that held nothing back and demanded everything. And Jack matched him, meeting force with force as their tongues battled, teeth clicking, bodies straining together.
When James felt Jack tugging at his shirt he broke off just long enough to shed it and his breeches with trembling haste before reaching out to pull Jack to him once more and into another kiss. They sank to their knees and James laid him down, laid him out like a banquet for eyes and hands and lips. His. Biting again at the offered throat, he moved slowly downwards, inch by inch, across the smooth, hard chest nibbling gently at first one nipple then the other. Jack groaned softly and arched his back, stretching like a cat into his touch. He continued his exploration, across the flat belly to toy briefly with Jack’s navel, bringing another groan and a whispered “Please,” that made him smile. Patience. He kissed his way down to one hip, biting lightly to hear Jack gasp before nibbling southward once more.
Jack’s thighs parted decadently under his touch and he moved to place himself between them, running his hands softly from hip to knee and back again, feeling the tremors in the hard muscle sliding beneath the skin. Teasingly, he followed the same route with his mouth, first one leg and then the other, careful not to touch Jack’s twitching cock, until Jack was twisting beneath him, breath catching on bitten-back sighs, half out of his mind with need. James took him by the hips, stilling him, leaned forward slowly, so slowly, and ran the flat of his tongue up the underside of Jack’s cock before taking him into his mouth. Jack cried out and bucked upwards as James, still slowly, took him deeper before pulling back with a hint of teeth. Jack groaned and his hands came up to cup James’s head, “Don’t stop, please.” The merest ghost of a laugh puffed warm breath across wet skin and James took him again, sucking this time, first gently then harder, maddeningly without rhythm. Jack whimpered and his hands tightened in James’s hair.
But James had other plans; his searching hand found the little flask of oil Jack had used the night before and he poured some onto his palm. He smoothed it over his own cock and coated his hand. Reaching downward, his fingers found what they sought and he entered with first one and then two. Jack’s head snapped back and when James added the third finger he gave a strangled cry and pressed himself down onto them before thrusting up into James’s mouth. So ready for him. James withdrew his fingers and moved up, letting Jack’s cock slip from his mouth as he spread Jack’s legs wider still and positioned himself at the entrance, pressing slightly. “Mine.”
He was unaware he had spoken it aloud until he saw Jack nod once, dark eyes huge. “Yours,” he agreed.
Slowly, he thrust forward, forcing his way carefully past the tightening muscle, holding his breath, holding himself back with everything he had. He gasped as the tight heat surrounded him, waiting for Jack’s signal. Jack nodded again, and James’s breath left him with a rush as he began to move, rocking slowly in and out. He wrapped one hand around Jack’s cock and began to stroke him in time to his own thrusts. Sparks shot across his vision as, control slipping at last, he thrust harder and faster. He heard Jack’s hoarse cry as he felt the hot spill of his seed over his fingers, against their bellies. Jack’s convulsion sent him over the edge in turn; emptying himself into Jack’s body for shuddering eternal seconds, back arched, his mind the perfect scintillating blank of ecstasy.
When he came to himself, he was sprawled across Jack who lay, breathing hard, eyes closed, with a small, satisfied smile on his lips. James kissed him and rolled onto his back, feeling his heartbeat slow as tiny jolts of pleasure tingled through him.
Beside him, Jack stirred and opened his eyes. “I must remember to spin tales more often, love, if this is the consequence.” James smiled without answering. He brought his hand up to brush Jack’s cheek with his knuckles in the lightest of caresses and dropped it again, felt his fingers close lightly about Jack’s wrist. They slept.
James awoke to the sound of his name, hallooing up the beach. He sat up to see Jack splashing boisterously and waving from the shallows. “Safer to wake you from here, love,” he called back over his shoulder as he waded into deeper water. “I haven’t forgotten how cross you can be,” he laughed and struck out swimming.
“Wait for me, you villain,” James shouted in mock outrage, “I’ll show you cross.” Leaping up, he ran into the water and set out in pursuit.
For a time they romped like boys, splashing and ducking each other, playing the fool and shouting gleefully into the sunrise. Then, refreshed, they returned to the beach and ate breakfast, still chuckling a little.
Later, they sailed the Gull across the strait to the main island, to replenish the water casks for both boats. It was an acknowledgement that their time was almost up, this preparation for journeys, but neither spoke of it yet. And James was mulling over a plan.
The day went lazily by. They had an enjoyable time poring over James’s charts of the south coast of Jamaica. Jack was able to correct them in certain particulars, especially in the area west of Black River, which James found helpful as he did not plan on sailing farther west this trip. It was a good thing, he thought, that Jack had given up raiding English settlements, else this minute knowledge he held might well be dangerous.
As before, they spent part of the afternoon lying in the shade and it was then that James broached the subject of letters of marque. He did so with mixed feelings. It was true that Governor Swann was issuing letters of marque to privateers willing to raid the Spanish, but James could never quite rid himself of the feeling that it was tantamount to sanctioning piracy. In the past he had approved them most reluctantly. And yet, if he could get Jack to accept one, a part, at least, of his own dilemma would be resolved. With Jack acting under the semi-official authority of the British government he would be protected from capture and execution by the Royal Navy and he, James, would rest easier for that knowledge. Accordingly, he made Jack the offer. And was stunned when Jack refused it instantly and unequivocally.
“What? Jack, you must be joking!”
“Not at all, mate. I trust I made myself clear.”
“But… why? Why refuse me without even hearing my reasoning?”
Jack sighed. “Because, love, your reasons are unlikely to interest me.”
“Will you not hear me out, at least?”
Jack stretched out on the sand, hands behind his head with the air of one willing to be amused and glanced at James. “Fire away. Let’s see what sort of a case you can make for yourself.”
James thought for a moment. “First, you would be protected from the Navy.”
Jack grinned. “The Black Pearl is the fastest ship in the Caribbean – not even the late, lamented Interceptor could outrun her. Why should I fear your Navy?”
“What about mishaps, bad luck? You are not invulnerable, Jack.”
“Aye, that’s true, but I’ll trust me luck a bit further yet. Next reason?”
“Secondly, you would have the authority to re-victual at any English port. It would considerably increase your range.”
At this, Jack laughed outright. “Now you know and I know, love, that there isn’t a port in all the Caribbean, including Port Royal, where gold is so unwelcome that it’s refused as coming from pirates. We can restock anywhere we wish as it is. You’ll have to do better than that. Next?”
“Patriotism,” he offered, rather forlornly, “King and Country.”
“There’s hardly a man of my crew with reason to love your king, mate, and what’s more you know it. Are there any more of these so-called reasons, because if not, I want to take a nap.”
“You could base yourself in Port Royal…,” James began, and stopped as if he had bitten his tongue at the look on Jack’s face. He felt himself flush but stubbornly refused to look away.
“Ah, so now we come to it at last. James, love, I have been a rover with no home port for many years. Why d’you think I’d want to base myself in Port Royal, of all places?”
“Well, it’s just that...” James’s voice trailed off.
“I thought that… You… We…” he faltered, then burst out angrily, “Dammit Jack, you know perfectly well what I thought. Now just laugh at me for a fool and be done with it.”
Jack rose to his feet and stood looking down for a long moment, but James would not meet his eyes. “You’re no fool, James,” he said at last, quietly, “it’s just that you haven’t thought it through. You see, love, it’s not where we are, it’s who we are.” And he turned and walked down to the sea and stood motionless, staring out at the horizon.
“It’s not where we are, it’s who we are.” The words hung in the air, making breathing painful. James dropped his head in his hands. Time passed. Humiliation threatened to become anger – but with whom? With himself? Of course, but that served no purpose, now. With Jack?
“It’s not where we are, it’s who we are.” What did it mean? All he had wanted was to keep his love safe and near him and… caged. The word repeated itself : caged…. Trapped in Port Royal….“It’s not where we are,”
He looked at Jack, who now was feeding the gulls by tossing bits of biscuit up and laughing as they, swooping and shrieking with excitement, snatched them out of air. Quicksilver, free spirit, ungovernable Jack – his Jack. “…it’s who we are.”
He walked down to the water’s edge and Jack turned to him smiling, dusting crumbs from his fingers and shooing the last importunate gulls away. A moment they stood and James slowly smiled back. “Jack, I…”
“Hush, love,” Jack shushed him.
“No, I will say it. I was a fool, forgive me?”
“Nothing to forgive, James. It’s forgotten,” said Jack giving him a quick kiss. “Now, what say you to some wine before dinner, ay?” And he drew forth from his coat pocket, with a flourish worthy of a conjurer, a bottle of James’s precious wine. “Nicked it while you weren’t looking,” he said, with simple pride.
A instant only James hesitated, and then burst out laughing. “Good of you to share it with me, you scoundrel.”
“Isn’t it?” Jack concurred, as he led the way up the beach. “What have we to eat? I’m famished.”
Next morning at dawn, they stood on the deck of the Gull. Camp was broken, gear was stowed. Goodbyes had been said - without words - in the night.
“Take care of yourself. See that you confine yourself in truth to the Spaniards, or we shall have trouble. And watch out for Gillette.”
“Oh, I’ll watch out for him, alright. He’s got a lesson or two yet to learn about pirate-hunting, I’d say.”
“Rash, Sparrow, you are too rash. I have always said so.”
“Aye, it’s part of my irresistible charm, mate, admit it.” And they laughed.
Jack stepped across to his boat (Norrington simply refused to call her the
Elizabeth), and they each hauled anchor and made ready to sail. A short way
they sailed south, side by side, until they were clear of the bay.
Norrington glanced across, now and again, to the other boat, but Jack’s eyes
were fixed on the horizon. And so it would ever be, James thought with a
smile. Then, with a wave, Norrington headed east into the rising sun and
Jack turned west Came a shout over the water, faint but clear, “My thanks
for the gift of the wine, mate. I’ve left you two bottles to get home on. My
advice is to stock a bit more of it next time.” And Norrington laughed.
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