“Some audacious fellows actually began their privateering careers without a ship, putting to sea in whaleboats, skiffs and fishing smacks . . .” –Daily Life in the Age of Sail
A tress of Elizabeth’s long brown hair flew into her face, impairing her vision; quickly she tossed it away with a weary impatience. She was waiting in the poor light of a dismal fire in the grand brick fireplace in the Governor’s mansion in Port Royal Colony Jamaica. Embroidery had never been for her; her pricked fingers had convinced her nurses early on that fancy-work was out of the question. She might fly into tantrums so violent over the injury the hoop and needle had done her that her mother must be sent for to calm her. But now it was the household accounts which she had spent many an evening burning her eyes over that were cast aside in favor of the embroidery. The truth was that she was nervous, and the mindless task of sewing flowers calmed her, whereas the harsh reality of her household’s funds were much too abrasive for her nerves now.
It was in the middle of embroidering another fat pink flower and the beginning of her Latin motto, Forewarned, forearmed, that she jumped when the sound of the door startled her. She quickly put away her sewing in a small, dented marquetry table by her feet and stood to check her reflection in the hazy scrap of a mirror above the mantle. She wore a simple, faded gown of grey silk that was at one time patterned with cabbage roses of pink and yellow. The skirt was a little too stiff and short now, allowing her white-laundered petticoat to show. But in general she looked elegant and imperious, though her carriage was perhaps a little too unbendingly rigid for true grace.
She stood. She heard the door open, the whispered words exchanged, the heavy padding of the footman wandering away while a pair of lighter feet came toward her. She listened to the uneven, theatrical cadence of the jack-boots on the stone floor. Then in the doorway traipsed a long black broadcloth cloak from which a pair of dark eyes glittered. “Captain Jack Sparrow,” she said.
The figure was silent and still. Then, from within its cloak it produced a dirty bit of parchment paper upon which had been drawn a crude but recognizable ink design of a small bird soaring above ocean waves. It elicited a faint smile from Elizabeth’s otherwise passive, even grim, visage, for she had drawn it—some six weeks before. On the reverse, she knew, it had borne her signature and an eager plea for the help of the one it named. “I see you received the message,” she said. Captain Jack Sparrow removed the broadcloth coat with a highly dashing flourish that nevertheless failed slightly in its intent when it doffed his hat as well; he spent the next few moments attempting to retrieve it. “Right inconvenient though it were, I did do as you asked,” he said, with a courteous inclination of his head.
To her satisfaction, Elizabeth saw that he had changed very little since she had last seen him. He had obviously replaced his ragged and faded long coat with a new and rather sumptuous one of red wool, with gold trim on the cuffs, flared at the waist in a slight concession to the fashion of that particular season. She could not be certain if his doublet and white shirtsleeves were new or simply washed. The trousers, slightly baggy in the Dutch style, were obviously new and of a shiny, coppery-colored material. The buckles on his belts showed evidence of recent polishing, but the wide and heavy scarves and stiff buccaneering boots were the same. The red scarf wound around his head was the same, as was the ancient and battered three-cornered hat, but his long dark hair, braided and wind-woven (though perhaps it too had been recently washed) was still full of all manner of strange trinkets. There was still the curious amount of eyeblack which Elizabeth could only equate to archaic descriptions of Egyptian kohl. Yes, this was the self-same Captain Jack Sparrow.
“I would’ve expected a more cheerful welcome from the likes o’ ‘Lizabeth Swann,” he said.
“It’s Mrs. Turner now,” Elizabeth said briskly, taking a few reluctant steps toward her guest.
“Ah, so you di’ marry young Mr. Turner,” said Jack Sparrow pleasantly, smiling. She watched his smile warily. There was something that unnerved her about it. Then she realized why: One, two, three. Three gold teeth. She recoiled slightly. He reached out for her hand, an assortment of rings of various sizes and qualities glittering from his darkened, sinewy fingers. She gave him her hand slowly and when he took it, he kissed it. His close-clipped whiskers tickled the back of her hand. She drew back quickly.
“Well, then,” she said, looking down and moving to her chair opposite the fire, “will you sit down?”
“No, than’ ye,” said Jack Sparrow, swaggering across the room and resting one elbow on the mantle. “I prefer to stand.”
Elizabeth cleared her throat. “I’m afraid I had better get right to—” She looked up. Jack was examining the cut-glass carafe of very old brandy lately on the mantle. She watched in preponderance as he peered at the glass.
“Oh, do go on, ‘Lizabeth,” he said with the grandness of a monarch, flicking one hand at her in almost an almost dismissive gesture.
Elizabeth, perturbed, opened her mouth to speak again but was thoroughly distracted by Jack’s insistence on staring at the contents of the brandy bottle while appearing entirely nonchalant. “Would you like a drink?” she asked sharply.
Jack looked up slowly, as if attempting to sense the source of an insect’s infinitesimal buzzing. “Oh, well, if you’re offerin’,” he replied with mock concern, gently replacing the glass bottle on the mantle. Elizabeth, flustered with anger, got none too gracefully to her feet to pour. “No, no,” Jack went on, lazily waving her away, “don’t get up, love.” An enormous grin. “I’ll be pourin’ meself.” Elizabeth rustled her skirts angrily and sat down again. “Now finish your splen’id narrative, an’ I’ll be on my way.”
She had not intended to be unjustifiably harsh with this outlaw of the noose, this daring, incautious brother of the coast, this fato profugus (as Horace might have had it). He had long before proved his mettle as a good and worthy man instead of the disgusting, vulgar thief she had taken him for originally. But her anger over his flippant temper when her own perils were so grave, well—it almost brought tears to her eyes. But in lieu of letting those wretched things show, she struck out acerbically, “An inconvenience, you say, Mr. Sparrow—”
“Captain Sparrow, Mrs. Turner,” he said pleasantly, if pointedly, consuming the brandy with a well-satisfied look on his face.
She ignored him brutally. “—but did you not notice that Port Royal was perhaps a little more facile to infiltrate this time?” Her eyes burned with the hectic light of an angry, wearied woman cut to the quick.
Jack was dribbling the last of the brandy out of his tumbler before looking at her in such a way that may have been uncertainty towards the meaning of the word “facile.” “Aye, I did notice it,” he said, without conviction.
Her voice was hard-edged, cold. “Have you heard no word at all of anything amiss in Jamaica Colony? No word of a sickness, perhaps . . .?”
“We heard summat o’ a fever,” he said. “What o’ it?”
She smiled in a sad, arch way. “The population of Port Royal was devastated by the disease. You must have seen how overcome our small colony was when looted by Barbossa’s men—this was many times worse. Those who did not die left by necessity. Those who stayed
. . . did so only because there was no alternative.”
Any giddiness the brandy may have produced in Jack ebbed away; his eyes were clear and focused, even in the unsteady firelight. “I think I’ll be wantin’ that seat now,” he said gravely.
She watched silently as he tumbled into the chair beside her own, arranging the tails of his coat like a court gentleman might. His pistol—and his teeth—shone in the light. She cleared her throat. “Let me confirm what you already believe—Will and I were married some months after your daring escape.” Her glance was darkly ironic as she recalled him tripping, rather than leaping, to safety from the gibbet.
“A little ‘asty there, love, don’t you think?” Jack asked with a wicked glint in his eye. He set to using his dirty fingers to curl the ends of his Spanish-style mustachio in a manner she had seen once before—and did not like to recall the circumstances. Nevertheless, she did not go after the bait, and after a time of her frostily peering down her nose at the interruption, he added, “Not something your friend the Commodore would quite approve of.”
And she did flush a little, but said merely, “Perhaps not. In any case, we were married--”
“Well, glad tidin’s to you both. I ‘ope quite sincerely there were no inopportune discoveries on the, ah, wedding night.”
She gave him a look of pure venom, the look of one annoyed almost beyond her patience. He grinned quite cheekily at his little joke, settling comfortably into his chair, resting his booted feet on the table without a word. “When I lived in England,” she said very coldly, “I sometimes visited my cousin Edward, who was a surgeon. So I had some skill in attending illness—”
“And you di’ not catch the fever,” Jack interposed.
“I was one of the first to fall ill,” she corrected. “But I recovered quickly and began nursing those too weak to tend themselves.” He gazed at her, as if only then seeing the dark, puffy skin under her eyes. “My father took sick, and the sickness lingered. Then Will followed.”
“The boy . . .” The pirate’s voice was wistful and his look far away. Elizabeth noticed this with some astonishment, though she said nothing.
“My father died.” Her voice was unadorned with sorrow, as she had trained it to be. She showed no outward feeling at this pronouncement, as she had not the day her father had been buried. Even with Jack there, looking at her curiously, she could still not help returning in her mind to the very day. The plague of fever seemed to have personified itself in the land; Port Royal was unseasonably hot, even for summer. Elizabeth had long since, as a matter of custom, abandoned wearing corsets though it was the fashionable thing to do, but standing in the dust and flies in a gown she had recently dyed black was enough to make her woozy. Only three soldiers from the fort could be spared to assist with the burial—the others were either lying in sickness, dead, deserted, or trying to maintain some sense of order through the colony. The air was hot and humid, sticky—the pall-bearers had almost stumbled with the coffin twice—and the lean Chaplain was sweating profusely. Before she had known it, the ceremony was over—without the fanfare as befitted a Governor. Only Commodore Norrington was there to comfort her, offering her his arm while he looked upon her with sad, distant eyes. “Will you not come in now, Elizabeth?” he asked her quietly. “The heat is quite intolerable.”
“Yes, Commodore,” she had said mechanically, taking his gloved hand. Even he was looking unkempt; he’d abandoned his powdered wig, and his own hair was streaming, untidy, from his military queue.
“Will recovered,” she said.
“Strong lad, I ‘ad no doubt,” said Jack, in a voice with a larger degree of concern than befitted one who had all assurances that Will Turner had lived. The pirate hoisted his empty glass in a toast and quietly put it down when Elizabeth ignored the hint. “I am sorry ‘bout your father,” he added as an afterthought.
“Yes,” she said frostily. “My father’s accounting was sound, but his investments were not. It had been Will’s original plan to gain some capital of his own after our marriage—”
“So he turned to piracy—best way to quickly gain capital,” said Sparrow gaily.
“He did nothing of the kind!” snapped Elizabeth, glaring at him vituperatively. “He set sail for England to inquire what family assets he might still have there.”
“And you di’ not go wi’ him? I am astonished indeed,” he replied.
Elizabeth’s anger was rapidly exploding, her cheeks flushing with it. “He didn’t come back, do you understand? In the official records, William Turner is lost at sea!”
Jack looked thoughtful for a moment, stroking his beard with one dark hand. Then his look turned to disbelief. “What do you mean to imply, ‘Lizabeth?”
She realized now by looking at him that he had taken her statement as an insult to his integrity—whatever integrity he believed he had. In some disgust, she murmured, “I mean to imply nothing. I mean only that the vessel on which Will sailed—the Rose—has not been caught sight of for three months, and neither has any of her crew or passengers . . .”
“I assure you,” Jack said, with uncharacteristic hardness, “that had young Will been ta’en by any under my command, I would know.”
“Yes, I realized that in asking you to meet me here,” Elizabeth replied coolly. “His Majesty’s Navy called off the search within a month. By this time, the officers had been ordered to relinquish Fort Charles in accordance with their poor conduct during the epidemic.”
Jack pantomimed the release of a trigger on a flintlock pistol, clicking his tongue. “Ah. No Commodore. Savvy.”
“Yes . . . Commodore Norrington has been recalled to London.”
“Well,” said Jack, feigning a yawn, “I un’erstand you perfectly, ‘Lizabeth. You asked me ‘ere so’d we could take the Pearland search for Will.”
“No, that is not what I asked you here for,” Elizabeth replied.
Jack cocked his head in skepticism and surprise. “Er . . . no?”
“Well, of course that’s what I mean to do—eventually!” she snapped. “But you must have noticed that the Governor’s palace is as impoverished as Port Royal in general, as I have sold many of our things to pay my father’s debts.” Jack looked away from her briefly, and she thought she could seem him studying the room more closely, probably noticing the loose tiles on the floor that had been pulled away, the lack of a mantle clock, the empty closet where there would have been a dumb-waiter. “So what would I have to pay you with when I so obviously needed your help in order to find my husband? Captain Jack Sparrow, I’m sure you’ll own, does not seek adventures without compensation.”
Jack, examining his close-cut, dirty and frayed fingernails, had the grace not to argue. Instead, he said, “So I assume you ‘ave a plan?”
Elizabeth smiled. His tone indicated that they were at last on equal footing. “My father’s brother is Sir William Swann—a baronet, among other things. He does not yet know of my father’s death, so I mean to inform him of this—in person.” If Jack’s ever-fluttering fingers—the fingers of a pickpocket—indicated how preoccupied his mind was, she suspected the wheels in his clever brain were turning and spinning. This encouraged Elizabeth, who found this narrative increasingly difficult to relate to the pirate sitting opposite. “My hopes—and I hardly expect to be disappointed—are that he will fund me with enough money so that I may continue the search for Will unmolested.
“When Commodore Norrington left for England, he . . .” Elizabeth dropped her glance from Jack’s inquisitive stare to the fine gold trim on his coat which contrasted so tellingly with her own mediocre attire. It was going to be, er, very difficult indeed to tell him the next part. “ . . . he offered to convey me there, on the condition that I might—as a widow—consider him a potential . . . future . . . husband.” She sucked in a breath, embarrassed. “I refused, so I suspect I will receive no help from that quarter.”
Jack looked faintly amused. “So you asked Captain Jack Sparrow, who flies a pirate flag and mans the fastest ship in the Caribbean—if not the Atlantic, mind you—to take you to your uncle.” The deduction seemed to leave him well-pleased.
“But it is not merely an escort I require,” Elizabeth murmured, nervously pleating her skirt in her hands, “but a husband.”
“A what?” he asked, leaning closer. “A huntsman?”
“A husband, I require a husband!” Elizabeth snapped loudly.
Blast! she thought, chastised by his silence. Jack appeared quite rebuffed. Any semblance of a smile disappeared from his tanned face, but whether he looked more frightened or amazed, she could not say. “You want to . . . you want to marry--?”
“Not marry you, you dolt!” she cried, getting to her feet in a blaze of rage.
She stalked over to him, preventing herself from venting her frustration by murmuring hurriedly, “I need you to masquerade as my husband. My uncle knows of my marriage, but he has of course never seen Will. He knows only that I have married a man named Turner.”
Jack peered at her fixedly, twisting the empty tumbler in his hands, his rings clinking on the glass surface. She gazed at his black-lined eyes for some sign he understood. “Pretend’n be your ‘usband?” he asked skeptically. He raised one black brow. “My dear lady, what exactly ‘ud that entail?”
Elizabeth exhaled slowly. She had lost her nerve to tell him what was required of him and searched desperately for a means to employ herself while she confessed the rather ridiculous nature of her plan. She took the brandy off the mantle and plucked off the crystal top, gesturing for Jack’s glass. Her speech was hurried and unnatural. “Naturally I need an escort if I am to go to England, and there would be fewer . . . awkward questions if I was to have a husband. My uncle would be suspicious should I arrive seeking my inheritance without the husband I was supposed to have . . .”
“More awkward questions,” Jack replied grimly, looking at the open bottle of brandy with curiosity.
“I would only plan on staying at court for a fortnight.” She rushed over and began to pour the brandy with an unsteady hand.
Jack gently grabbed her wrist—his hand was rough, rougher than Will’s was—and stopped her from pouring (after a decent amount of brandy had been poured, that is). She looked at him as she set down the carafe, still-pinioning her wrist.
“I un’erstand the impor’ance of finding Will,” he said softly. “An’ I am right flattered—though not surprised—” he winked, “at your offer. But darling, Captain Jack Sparrow can’t just drop everything to take young ladies across the Atlantic—I’ve a reputation t’ keep up, and a—”
“And a hold to keep filled with swag, I understand,” Elizabeth replied rather bitterly, pulling her hand away. She tossed her head fiercely, putting away the brandy. “I would have compensated you handsomely.”
He was silent—he was listening. She feigned coyness, though really she couldn’t meet his gaze. She hadn’t expected him to actually take her seriously with the “compensate handsomely” part; she really had no idea what she could offer him that would live up to that colorful phrase. With the same ingenuity and determination that had caused her to set an island in alcoholic flame, she went on—with remarkable calmness of voice—“I would . . . split my inheritance with you . . . seventy-thirty.”
Jack waved his hand airily, bringing the tumbler to his lips but not consuming more than a mouthful. “I would not e’en consider it for less’n forty-sixty.”
“Fine, then,” said Elizabeth impatiently. “Forty-sixty.”
He smiled at her, though whether or not he was genuinely pleased with the offer she did not know. Perhaps I gave in too quickly, she thought, trembling. Perhaps if I had haggled a little more . . . “In banknotes, Mrs. Turner?” he asked with sarcasm. “To be honored only at establishments that might not overlook this?” And he pulled up the cuff of his shirt-sleeve to reveal the tell-tale brand of pirate, the eponymous ‘p.’
She stared a little as he hurriedly covered the brand with something approaching embarrassment—as if Captain Jack Sparrow could be embarrassed. Coolly, she went back to the mantle and took his now drained glass as she went. “Not banknotes, Mr. Sparrow, no. But gold. And land.”
“Land?” Jack scoffed, nevertheless accepting the brandy.
“Yes, land,” she retorted. “Property is the most valuable asset in England. Owning land means owning taxes. And surely you would like a place in which to settle—”
“Mrs. Turner,” he said, excessively formally, in a display on pareil with the most distinguished Earl’s put-down speech, “I owe nothing to the land. The sea is my life, savvy, and take away a man’s life . . .” He sighed—a real, genuine sigh?—and stared, somewhat sadly she thought, into his half-empty glass. “And you’re forgetin’ one very impor’ant thing, ‘Lizabeth.”
“What’s that?” She was half curious, half annoyed—in fact, very annoyed. More annoyed than curious, really. But then if she was really so very annoyed, she wouldn’t have felt sullen when he took his time in answering her.
“Ain’t no pirates gonna go anywhere near Hangman’s Dock.”
Elizabeth had nothing to reply. This was indeed a significant flaw in her plan. Still—still— She looked at Jack. He was polishing off the last of the brandy, looking rather lethargic. She suddenly felt a very real fear, a hand plunging deep inside her stomach and squeezing. She had had time to think about what she would say when Jack Sparrow arrived to convince him to help her. She’d tried every tactic that came to her mind. And there was no one else in the Caribbean who would help her—or could complete this unlikely plan successfully. Suddenly that squeezing fist wrenched up into her lungs, causing her to choke.
The noise startled Jack. “But you’re Captain Jack Sparrow!” she cried loudly in one last desperate attempt. “You’re the most daring, the cleverest, the . . . craziest pirate of them all!”
“You tried this line on me once ‘fore, love,” he answered quietly, although not unkindly.
“I asked you to help me!” Elizabeth cried, shaking now with emotion. “I trusted you—because I believed . . . I believed . . . in you. Even if half the things I’ve read about you are untrue, I’m still positively certain your particular talent for acting out of inconvenient situations is rivaled by no one! I asked you . . . to help me . . .” She could not go on; she turned away from him.
“Elizabeth . . .” she heard him murmur, heard him get to his feet (but not set down the glass of brandy).
“No use staying here, is there, when you’ve got a ship to go back to?” she muttered, moving away, her skirts swishing loudly. “Better keep an eye on that crew of yours or you’ll have another mutiny on your hands—”
If she had meant to say more in the way of crude, insulting remarks—which she probably had—she was stopped cold by a warning hand gripping her shoulder rather tightly. His wiry arm, possessed of a deceptively substantial amount of strength, turned her to look at him.
“If you even think—” she began.
“None o’ your high-toned talk, Mrs. Turner,” he said quietly, leaning in close to her. They had been this close before on a number of occasions, none of them proper or particularly enjoyable to recall, and then she had found herself remarking on his stench, or again his teeth. Now, she was forced to look into his eyes, which were glowing rather dangerously. “I don’ respond favorably t’insults, ‘specially when I’m being asked for favors, aye?” His voice was hushed, like a dagger cutting through silk. It’s strange, she thought. Sometimes there’s an imperiousness that comes into his voice . . . he sounds . . . grander. He still hadn’t released her arm.
“We was square a long time ago, or don’ you recall?” It seemed the slightest of smiles flickered across his face.
She jerked her arm away. “Yes, I’m sorry. But if you’re not going to help me—”
“I want gold and nothin’ else,” he interrupted crisply. “Or . . .” And here he paused, looking at her thoughtfully and stroking his dark beard, which shone in the light with all its trinkets and beads.
“What else could you possibly want?” Elizabeth burst out, not at all comfortable at the way he was looking at her.
He ignored her, taking a sip of the nearly drained glass. “Might your uncle be able to write me a letter of marque, d’ye think?”
Elizabeth’s first reaction was of absurdity, but she said only, “It’s . . . possible.”
“Then that,” he said, handing her the empty glass, “is what I desire.”
“All right,” she said, her voice deceptively steady as she looked at him. “Our words on it, then?” She held out her long arm with the proportionately long and delicate fingers on the end of it. He stared at it for a moment. “Oh, you don’t—” she said flusteredly, remembering the brand shamefacedly. He took her hand before she could draw it back and shook it firmly. Too firmly, she thought, but said nothing.