The next morning, Elizabeth awoke gritty-eyed and unrested. She found herself alone in the cabin and was jerked awake by sudden panic; Jack was gone. But as she stumbled toward the door her feet tangled in something and she realised that a blanket had covered her. That gave her pause. He'd been lucid enough, then, to do her that service before he’d left the cabin. Perhaps he had slept well for the rest of the night? Certainly he’d been exhausted beyond endurance when she’d helped him back to bed and coaxed him to sleep. She’d watched him as long as she could, but sleep must have claimed her too and now he was gone.
Carefully picking up the blanket, she threw it onto the bed and hurried for the door.
Outside, the sun shone like a blessing and her heart lifted. She saw Enri by the rail, a little green perhaps but at least on his feet, and not twenty feet away stood Jack. Elizabeth stopped short, a strange tumult of emotions rocking her composure. After the trauma of the night, he looked calm. He stood quietly upon the deck, his face lifted to the sun as if in supplication, and a rum bottle dangling from the fingers of one hand. The bandana was once more tied about his head, and her breath quickened at the sight of it trailing down his bare back; exotic whorls of ink patterned his skin, pale scars marked him elsewhere, and muscles shifted as he lifted the bottle to his lips. Beautiful. The thought was formed before she had time to censor it, and her cheeks flushed hot.
She turned hurriedly away, afraid her visceral response might be obvious, and found herself skewered by the smiling eyes of Enriquillo Barahona. He turned from the rail and walked toward her with the careful tread of a man possessed of a delicate stomach. “Jack seems quieter this morning,” he said. “Did he sleep well?”
Enri frowned. “The dream?”
“Yes.” She looked back toward Jack, fragile as glass in the bright sunshine. “I think he slept after, though.”
“After the dream?”
She frowned. “What else?”
He made no answer, just looked away. “Mr. Gibbs reckons three weeks, in good winds.”
“I’ll not disagree,” Elizabeth said. “How fairs your stomach in these seas?”
“The ginger helps,” he said. “Though I—”
“These seas? I’ve known him sea-sick on the rafts we built as boys.” The voice was Jack’s, stripped of all his usual swagger as he walked warily toward them.
Enri smiled. “I can’t deny that, though I could tell Elizabeth a story or two about your propensity to get yourself lost in the forest.”
“It’s because you can’t see the bloody stars.” A fleeting glance brushed across Elizabeth’s face – bruised from the blow he’d given her the previous day – and he frowned. “Can’t navigate surrounded by trees.”
A silence fell. Jack gazed down at the deck, Elizabeth tried not to gaze at Jack’s bare chest, and Enri seemed to watch them both with a strange kind of amusement. “Ah,” he said at last, “and here comes Gibbs, no doubt determined I should eat breakfast.”
“You should,” Elizabeth told him with a smile.
“My stomach disagrees,” Enri said, backing away. “If you’ll excuse me…?” And with that he was gone, arms flailing as he staggered across the deck, leaving Elizabeth alone with Jack. She risked a glance in his direction, but he wasn’t watching her. His gaze was fixed on Gibbs, one arm bandaged and strapped to his chest. As the man drew nearer Jack stepped forward.
“Captain,” he said, drawing to a halt. “Did you want to take the helm, sir?”
Jack shook his head. “The Pearl’s under Captain Swann’s command,” he said quietly. “Gibbs, I hope you’ll forgive my— The shot I fired—”
“Sir,” Gibbs interrupted, stepping closer and lowering his voice. “’Twas no mutiny, I swear it.”
“I know,” Jack assured him, a firm hand grasping his arm. “I was not myself, mate. You know that, better than any here.”
“Aye,” Gibbs nodded. “But mad or not, sir, I’ll not have you think me a mutineer.”
“Mad or not, I’d never believe it.”
“Well then,” Gibbs said gruffly, raising his fist. “Take what you can.”
“And give nothing back.” Gently Jack knocked his own fist against his friend’s.
Something passed between them then, something solid and true, before Gibbs gave a curt nod and went on about his business. Jack watched him go, grim faced. “He’s been a good friend to me, over the years. I owe him more than I can give.”
“All he wants is your respect,” Elizabeth said. “And that he has already.”
“For all the use it is.” He closed his eyes again, turning his face to the sun. “Only a madman would follow a madman to sea, and Gibbs always keeps his wits about him.”
She had no answer for that, no denial that wouldn’t be trite. Instead she said, “You spoke to your brother? He explained what it is we are to do?”
“Enri?” He opened his eyes and looked at her, a humourless smile lurking. “I doubt snuffing cohoba will restore me to myself, love, though it’s a pleasant enough pastime.”
Elizabeth frowned. “Cohoba…?”
“Ah, so he didn’t elaborate on this little ritual then?”
“He told me he’s brought you back from this place before…”
“A child’s stories. You’ve seen my father— You’ve seen Teague chase the dragon, I suppose?” When she nodded, he just shrugged. “Tis the same, more or less, with the Taínos. No magic there but what your mind invents, eh?”
For the first time, Elizabeth felt a beat of doubt. A beat of fear. She’d trusted Enri completely, but if he was mistaken… “He can see your dreams,” she said, remembering. “He came to us six months ago, Jack.”
His eyes shadowed. “There are few who’ve not seen my dreams, or their effects, these past months, Elizabeth. Don’t attribute that to any supernatural cause.”
“I saw your dream last night,” she admitted softly. “You dreamed of the Kraken, I think.”
He was silent a moment, then said, “Of nothing else, each time I close my eyes.” He frowned. “I hope I didn’t—”
“It was just a dream,” she assured him, though the memory of his kiss fluttered low in her stomach.
He met her eye then, for the first time all day, strained and weary but himself at least. “More than just a dream, I think. I remember… I remember you there, at the worst of it.”
Elizabeth’s heart tumbled unexpectedly at the hesitancy in his voice and didn’t stop falling, didn’t hit the ground at all. “Had I never left you there…”
“The past is unreachable, Elizabeth. Best let it be, eh?” He smiled, a fleeting expression, and her fate was sealed. Or, perhaps it had been long sealed and it was only now she had awoken to the truth of it. Either way, she knew the answer to Will’s question, felt it in the core of her being; she did love Jack, she had loved him from the start and never stopped.
Dry mouthed and hot cheeked she said, “But a wrong course can be corrected, can it not?”
“Not when the ship’s already sinking, love.”
“Don’t say that.”
“’Tis naught but the honest truth.”
She cast him a sideways look. “’Tis naught but the ramblings of a madman.”
His lips curled toward a smile. “That too.”
“You will be made well,” she said, folding her arms and gazing out toward the bright horizon. “I will not allow any other end to it.”
“Is that so?” He was silent a moment. “Am I to gather, then, that I’m your prisoner?”
“Of course not…”
“Then the Pearl is mine, to sail where I choose?”
Elizabeth looked over at him and shook her head.
“Ah.” He lifted the rum to his lips. “Then I am your prisoner.”
“I only insist that you accompany us to Borikén,” she said. “After that… Jack, I could never take your freedom.”
He laughed a short, disbelieving laugh. “I think we both know there’s no truth in that, love.”
His words stung, though she could not deny the truth of them. Wrapping her arms about herself, as if to ward off a chill, she said, “I would give anything to live that day again and to live it differently. But, as you say, the past is untouchable. All I can alter now is the future, and that I intend to do.”
“I don’t doubt you’ll try.” His voice was low and warm, but when she looked at him his gaze had drifted out to sea. “But there are some things beyond even your power, love.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “We’ll just see about that, Jack Sparrow.”
Will Turner did not leave the Black Pearl, though there were times during the voyage when he wished he had. And though he detested the swell of the ocean beneath his feet, shivered at the cold cries of the dying that flittered around the edges of his perception, he could not leave Elizabeth. Not now.
For the first time since he’d come ashore at Shipwreck Cove, a year earlier, he felt as though he were truly seeing her. She was a different woman to the one he’d left on the beach, and sometimes he wondered if the decade he’d served aboard the Dutchman had changed her more than himself. He had not aged, of course, suspended between life and death; he had not changed at all in the living world. But her face carried the passage of time and tide; more angular, tanned, and strong. No firebrand child, but a woman of power. A king, no less. And here, aboard the Pearl, he saw it most clearly. Her hand was sure upon the helm, her eye fixed on the horizon and her orders sharply given and obeyed. She smiled too, a bright smile of pure joy. Here, at sea, was where she truly came alive.
Will had seen death, knew it intimately, but Elizabeth Swann knew life. Her eyes were at once bright yet shadowed with it; she’d known joy and grief, loss and great love. While he had learned the ways of death, she had lived. Really lived. Sometimes he felt as though she had left him behind, as though he were still a boy while she had become a woman of the world. Fierce, and beyond his reach.
And so he watched her, keeping his distance. He watched her at the helm, on occasion in the rigging, and often in the company of Jack Sparrow.
After his frenzied outburst, Jack had calmed. Grown too quiet, if anything. He haunted his ship like its lost captain, especially during the dark hours of night when the other men slept. Will, who had skirted the edges of the world for so long, rarely slept now. He felt no need for it, no weariness, and so he would often pass the night above deck, and there he would see Jack restlessly pacing, or standing for an hour gazing sightlessly at the mast. And later he would see Elizabeth join him, emerging from the captain’s cabin with her hair hanging loose about her shoulders and nothing covering her but a shirt no lower than her knees.
She slept there every night now and had offered no explanation. He’d asked for none, either. He told himself it was out of respect and trust, although in truth he thought he would rather not know if she shared Jack’s bed. Let the crew cast him a sideways glance, but he had married Elizabeth and widowed her in the same day and her love had not wavered in ten long years. Whether she had shared other men’s beds in that time he did not know and would not ask – he was not her keeper. All he wanted was her love, and that she gave him freely. Even now.
And so he’d watch her walk softly from the cabin and find Jack, her hand on his back or arm gaining his attention. Sometimes he would startle, as if woken from a dream, other times he would just talk quietly and they would sit together in the dark, never touching, just talking.
In the daylight they rarely spoke, at least not with words. But as the days and weeks moved on, Will noticed that they were seldom apart. If she had the helm, then Jack would be sitting on the quarterdeck steps, barefoot and toying with his ubiquitous rum. When they ate, he picked at his food at her side, when one of the men played or sang to pass a long evening, Jack would listen stretched out on the deck next to her.
On one such evening, not far from the coast of Borikén, Will sat listening to the sailor’s rough music and watching Elizabeth – and Jack. His thoughts, howerver, were disturbed by the presence of another.
“She’s anchored him, I think,” Enri Barahona said quietly. “Helps him keep himself together.”
Will glanced over at the man who sat, now, at his side. “Is that what you think this is?”
Enri’s shrug was a lot like Jack’s. “Do not blame him for loving her, he’s not the only man to lose his heart to Elizabeth Swann.”
“He lost his life to her, too.”
“And cannot forgive her, for all his love. That’s his tragedy.” He cast Will a curious look. “I wonder, Captain Turner, what is yours?”
“Mine?” His breath escaped in a soft sigh. “Mine is to be married to the sea, my friend.”
“You do not like the sea.” Enri said, and it was more of a statement than a question. “A strange thing, for a pirate.”
“I’m no pirate,” Will said sharply. Too sharply, perhaps. “My father… Well, piracy was in his blood and he dragged me into his troubles, but I’m an honest man. Thievery does not sit well with me.”
Enri nodded and from his waistcoat pulled out a long-stemmed pipe and began to fill it with tobacco. “You sound like Jack.”
“Jack?” He couldn’t help but sound incredulous.
It took a moment for Enri to light the pipe before he spoke. “He’ll tell you he’s cursed with an honest streak and was dragged into piracy against his wishes.”
“An unwilling pirate? I find that hard to believe in the son of Captain Teague.”
Enri puffed out a stream of smoke. “Not so unlikely as you might think.”
There was a story there, to be sure, but all Will said was, “You’re not a man of the sea.”
“Despite your father.”
“Men like my father – like Jack – think a man can only be free while afloat on a pile of sticks.” He smiled. “I take after my mother, it seems.”
“I wonder, sometimes, who Elizabeth’s mother might have been, that she should be so born for the sea.”
“Or who her father might have been,” Enri said, with another puff on his pipe.
“Her father was—” He stopped. “What are you saying?”
Enri cast him a sideways glance. “I see Jack’s dreams,” he said softly. “I know his heart, we are natiao, yes? And when he sees Elizabeth, he sees a kindred spirit. There’s pirate blood in her veins, sure as day follows night.”
Will was silent a moment. “You’re not suggesting that Teague—”
“No.” Enri chuckled sofly. “No, but there’s many a pirate who’s stolen the heart of another man’s wife, is there not?”
He didn’t answer, his gaze drifting across the deck to where Elizabeth sat, her foot tapping to the music. Jack lay beside her, gazing up at the darkening sky, one hand behind his head and the other at his side, close to Elizabeth. And, as Will watched, her hand brushed Jack’s, threading her fingers through his and clasping tight; though neither looked at the other, the air between them fair crackled. Will looked away, out to the dusky horizon. “I don’t blame him for loving her,” he said, “and I can’t blame her for loving him. But the pain is sharper than the blade that cut out my heart.”
Enri puffed again on his pipe. “Your people are strange, Will Turner. You treat love as though it were rare as gold, to be apportioned in equal pieces to all and any excess to be hidden as though shameful. But is love not as limitless as the capacity of the human heart? If Elizabeth loves you, can she not also love Jack? Among the Taínos a man may take as many wives as he chooses, and a woman as many husbands.”
“But Elizabeth is all I’ve ever wanted,” he said, glancing at her again, at her hand entwined with Jack’s. “I live for her alone.”
“That is hardly healthy for any man.”
“Perhaps you have never been in love,” Will said pointedly.
Enri smiled. “I have two wives,” he said. “And five children.”
“How old are you, Will Turner?”
A good question, as it happened. “I was twenty-two when I took command of the Dutchman. And I’m not sure I’ve aged much beyond it – I saw more of death than life in those years.”
Enri nodded. “Then take some advice from a man who’s lived more than a score of years longer.” He puffed again on his pipe and turned to face Will. “You cannot live your life for another alone, or you’ll smother the love that drew you together. Let Elizabeth sail free, and carve your own life into the land.”
Into the land… He closed his eyes and for a moment thought he could detect the faint aroma of loamy soil, the tang of freshly cut grass, and the shady woodlands of his boyhood. Oh, how he yearned for it over the salt-slap of the waves against the hull and mile upon mile of empty horizon; an eternity of water and air. “She is of the sea,” he said softly, “I am of the land. Perhaps we were only destined to meet at the shore?”
“A beautiful meeting, indeed,” Enri agreed. “But each has a different life beyond it, do they not?”
Will opened his eyes and found Elizabeth. From the deck where he lay at her side, Jack watched her stand up, then rolled to his feet and murmured something in her ear. Elizabeth smiled and together they walked away, barefoot and swaying with the same sea-swagger, pirates both. “I understand,” Will said. “I see what we are now. What we all are. ”
Next to him, Enri sucked on his pipe and was silent.
The cabin was dark as they entered and Jack lingered by the open door while Elizabeth crossed to the table and lit a lamp. Light flared, gold on her golden hair, and he let the door close behind him with a soft thud.
She busied herself with this and that, ordering charts she’d consulted earlier, slipping her coat from her shoulders and arranging it on the back of a chair. And he was content to watch, to allow her quiet bustle to distract him from the constantly circling thoughts. Ironic, really, to think any of her kind could think my kind worth a ha’penny when it comes to life and death. Worse than a dog, as it turns out, because she’d not have chained a dog and left it for the beast to feast upon. Third mistake was the worst. Bloody fool to imagine she could— “You know what they’re thinking,” he blurted, reducing the sound of his madness to a restless whisper. “About you and me. About us.”
Elizabeth stopped, her fingers poised over the lantern. “What do I care what they think?”
“Most women have a care about their reputation.”
“Most women,” she said, turning around, “are not kings of pirates, nor captains of ships.”
He smiled slightly. “I’ll grant you that.”
“I am not like most women – nor any woman, I should imagine.”
With her sculpted features, only made more beautiful by the refinements of age, he could quite believe her. Unique, indeed. Nonetheless… “You have a husband. What says he to this arrangement?”
She looked away then, a shadow falling. “He has said nothing.”
“Nothing?” Even for William, that was surprisingly stupid. “Out of pity for me, or neglect of his wife?”
Her proud eyes flared. “Out of trust, I would imagine. We were parted ten years, Jack. When Will returned his heart was restored, intact, and that is all that matters. He never asked me then whose bed I shared – he will not question me now.”
Jack scratched his head. “’Tis a strange idea of marriage, you have.”
“’Tis a strange marriage.”
There was no arguing with that. His gaze roved to the pillows and blankets folded on the floor, where Elizabeth had insisted on sleeping since the night he’d shot Gibbs; an evil night that, which hung heavy on his soul. Would that he could forget it; would that he could forget everything… Worse than death, is madness. The only sound in your head is your own voice, talking around and around and— “Since you care so little for your reputation, love, might I suggest a relocation? My bunk is wide enough for two, and infinitely more comfortable than the deck. I swear I’ll not lay a hand upon you.”
Elizabeth paused, then picked up the lantern with quick, nervy fingers. “Do you now?” She turned to face him with a curious look in her eye. Disappointment – or invitation? It certainly had a dangerous look about it and he—felt the cold burn of iron on his wrist and knew she’d played him for a fool; the cruel scorn in those eyes of hers stung worse than the shackles. Saw himself as she saw him, then; not a good man, not a man at all. Just a pirate, after all.
He jumped, panicked to find her close to him with her fingers shackling his wrist. He yanked it free. “Don’t—”
“It’s all right,” she said, hands raised before her. “Jack, it’s me.”
He was breathing hard and it took a moment before he could gather himself enough to speak. When he did, his voice was gruff. “Startled me, is all.”
He rubbed a hand across his face, trying to calm the racing of his heart. Wide awake now, despite the bone weariness in his limbs, he eyed his bunk warily and reached for the rum on the table. Sleep would not come now, frightened away by the horrible flash of memory.
But he’d only swallowed a mouthful before Elizabeth took the bottle from his hand. “Makes the nightmares worse, as you well know.”
“Helps me relax,” he countered, grabbing it back and taking another swallow.
She covered his hand with hers, lowering the bottle from his lips, and softly said, “Perhaps I can do that?”
He blinked, heart thudding – in panic, not desire. Dropping his gaze to the floor, he cursed himself in as many languages as he could muster. How long had it been now? Six months? More? How long had it been since he’d been able to endure a woman’s touch without terror, without a clutching fist tightening his lungs until he could hardly breathe? “You’ve a husband outside, Elizabeth,” he said in a strained voice. “I’m not so brave.”
There was a lingering silence, then in a cooler tone she said, “I meant only that I would sleep close to you, Jack. Ward off your dreams tonight. Nothing more.”
He glanced up, taking in the heightened colour of her cheeks, her bright eyes, and wondered if she was lying. Ten years ago, he’d have known; ten years ago he’d have bedded her with half as much encouragement. “I meant no offence, love.”
“I know.” Her face softened and he thought he might have seen a flicker of regret, but he’d long since learned to doubt the trustworthiness of his failing mind.
In silence, then, they readied themselves for sleep. Jack held out little hope of rest, his blood still fired as it was by his momentary lapse, but the simple routine held its own comfort. And tonight, for the first time, she joined him on his wide bunk and he thought that he would at least have something to study during the wakeful hours; despite everything that lay between them, her face had never lost its beauty to his eyes.
When the lamp was doused they lay in silence, the cabin lit only by the soft glow of a full moon. “More comfortable than the floor?” he asked after a while.
In the darkness, he heard her shift and smile. “Infinitely.”
Silence returned and the familiar shapes of his cabin began to emerge as his eyes adjusted to the low light. Chart table, chairs, the thick-glassed windows spanning the stern of the Pearl; he felt as though he’d spent an eternity of nights gazing at them as his mind spun around and around and—
A soft hand touched his chest, half on his shirt, half on bare skin. “Do you mind?” she whispered, her breath stirring the hair behind his ear as her cheek came to rest, warm against his shoulder.
He didn’t answer, just waited for the panic – for the suffocating fear – to overwhelm him. But it didn’t come. After a while he shifted slightly, feeling her draw closer as he tentatively curled his arm about her shoulders. Still no terror. “Apparently I don’t mind,” he murmured with some surprise, though he wasn’t sure she heard because her breathing had become deep and regular and her arm lay heavy across his body. Elizabeth Swann – Pirate King, wife of another, and betrayer – slept soundly in his arms.
He listened to her breathe for a long time, matching his breaths to hers – in and out, in and out – until, at last, his eyes grew heavy and the moonlit room faded into a blessedly dreamless sleep.
Continued in Chapter Six