She had told herself that the tearing of her maidenhead, the heady wine of skin on skin, would quench the hot, restless yearning in her and turn her heart from the sea to the shore. That she would sleep in a shared bed without dreams, and wake without regret. That marriage would anchor her, that her beloved husband would be her harbor, keeping her moored, rather than slipping outward at the mercy of the wind and tide and ever-changing current.
She had been right, at least in part, but not in the way she hoped.
Sunrise finds her up on the widow's walk of her stately house in Port Royal, the insistent wind tugging her hair out of its confines and twisting her skirts around her legs. She curses softly and unwinds the fabric, wishing heartily for the easy stride of breeches. Her eyes are drawn out to sea, but she will not allow herself to look for sails, either black or tattered silver.
Around her in the warming light, the seagulls wheel and cry, soaring out over the ocean. Their flight against the wide, radiant sky is sharp in her chest, and their wild calls give rise to an answer that catches and chokes in her throat. Then they wing out to sea and are gone, leaving her breathless and aching. But the gulls, like her husband, go where she cannot follow.
Suddenly the pitiless arch of the sky seems to press down upon her. She drops to her knees, her hands clinging to the rail, but even this far from the port proper, she cannot shut out the feel of the waves lapping at the piers: rhythmic, ebb and flow, push and pull. The rip-current is so strong she can feel it in her blood; the ocean-roar echoes the pounding of her own pulse, as if her heart would beat its way out of her chest and take flight after the gulls.
Then one of her maids calls up through the open hatchway and the anchor chain snaps taut; the tension shudders through her, to her bones.
She relinquishes her grip on the rail and resolutely turns her back on the water. Her steps are firm as she descends the stair back down to her bedroom and lets her maid comb out her hair.
She lasts nearly a week before she returns to her morning vigil.
The world is too still by night. The bed that she had thought to share is both empty and unmoving, and neither state is conducive to sleep.
By day she can pretend that she does not hear the murmurs as she drifts through a room. Poor child, orphan and widow at once. It is good that the new governor found a place for her. Do you think she will re-marry someday? I hear the young Lieutenant Mason is quite taken with her. He's a third son, you know, can't hope to do better than her.
Each word, each whisper, is a link in her anchor chain, tethering her to a life that belongs to some other Elizabeth.
By day, she can pretend that she does not feel the weight of this chain, and smiles through afternoon teas and evening parties. She dances with a lighter foot than she feels; after all, a pirate king must be a consummate actor. Jack taught her that.
But by night, it suffocates, dragging her down, threatening to drown her under layers of expectations and normalcy. She hardly sleeps at all; her maid tuts and frowns, and the cook tries to tempt her with all manner of soothing remedies.
One night, she ceases to even attempt the illusion of sleep. She paces her room, from her small writing desk to the window and back again, wishing for the pitch and roll of a ship's deck.
She makes her silent way up to the widow's walk again, and stares out at the harbor. The full moon is bright, illuminating the stately Navy ships that line the piers like so many sentries.
As she looks further out into the harbor, a shadow catches her eye. She looks again, for there should be no shadow there, and her heart races. The sound rising in her ears matches the slap slap slap of waves against a hull.
She watches the set of the black sails, as familiar to her as any of her gowns, and she imagines that she can hear the clanking of the winch as the sea anchor is released. The ship comes to a stop just inside the harbor's mouth, and she almost believes she can hear the dull splash of the small boat hitting the water and the oars as they slip through the water towards the pier.
She runs down the stairs with light feet and a lighter heart. The candle on her desk gutters, burning down, as she seats herself, pulling a sheet of parchment towards her and dipping her pen.
The letter takes her longer than it ought to write, for the imagined sough of waves on the pier, on the ship, distract her.
At last, she folds the stiff parchment and tips the candle over it, the wax pooling like a tear. She has no doubt that tears for the poor young widow, weary of life without her father and beloved husband, are what her letter will evoke. Tears for a bright life gone too soon. They will troll the harbor, search the coast, in the hopes of finding her poor, broken body, but they will look in vain.
Tears are the further thing from her mind, though, as her heart sings with joy. She slips the ring off her finger and presses the fine gold band into the wax, her fingers lingering over it in a brief caress before she snatches her hand away, although the wax is no longer hot enough to burn her. She leaves the letter on the desk and bends to blow the candle out, sinking the room into darkness.
She slips down the stairs and out the door. She ghosts through the town swiftly in the almost-dark, treading a familiar path down to the quay.
The boat is waiting there for her, and a man, too. The words they say do not speak to what they feel; but even in the uncertain light, she sees the gold flash of his smile. The boat sways and shifts as she steps into it, returning her to the moving world; the movement under her releases something inside her, and she feels like she can breathe again for the first time in a year. The man must see the change in her, for he reaches out briefly and caresses her face once before returning to the oars. The dock shrinks and fades behind them, becoming indistinct, unreal, like a dream upon awakening.
The sky brightens, then, lifting and opening over the water; black sails unfurl in the boundless space between, and the gulls bank and soar around tall masts and spars in ever-widening circles, calling into the seaward wind.
And the heavy anchor chain, now broken, worn down, as all things will be in the end, by the sea. It buries itself slowly in the fine silt of the harbor floor, while the ends of her mooring lines drift upon the placid bay, with nothing left to hold her against the tide.
She had thought that marriage would anchor her, and it had, but not in the way she had hoped.
In the crow's nest of the Pearl, clad once again in breeches and a sword, she surrenders herself to the mercy of the wind and tide and ever-changing current, and a love that flies as freely as she does.