Then said the soul of the Angel of the Off-shore Wind:
(He that bits the thunder when the bull-mouthed breakers flee):
“I have watch and ward to keep
O’er Thy wonders on the deep,
And Ye take mine honour from me if Ye take away the sea!”
~ Rudyard Kipling, “The Last Chantey”
Rain scatters the ground. Elle turns her face up to it, licking at the drops that gather at the corners of her mouth, and then shrieks as something slimy drops down the back of her blouse.
“You little rat!”
John takes off running, cackling like a fiend, and Elle goes after him, bare feet slipping on the wet grass. She skids to a stop just as John runs into their father.
James swings John up onto his hip, grinning. “Go help your mother,” he says to Elle, ruffling her hair fondly. To John, he says, “Let’s put the nets out, shall we?”
“Okay,” John says, sucking on his thumb.
Elle curtsies prettily, spreading her skirts out to either side before scampering away. She can hear her father’s laughter ring out through the thick tangle of mangroves, over the gentle slopes of the fields below.
“Strong storm,” her mother says, gathering Elle into her lap.
Her father looks up at the roof. Elle can see him judging the strength of the weathered timbers, smoke-black and hung ‘round with dried herbs and stranger things, tools of her mother’s trade. “I think we’ll survive,” he says finally. To John, “Don’t eat that,” taking the delicate piece of bone out of his son’s hand. “What’s this for, Tia?”
Her mother snags it neatly. “A love charm,” she says. “For Becca.”
“I thought you didn’t do love charms,” James says, amusement in his voice.
“It’s not a love charm if he already wants her,” she informs him, lowering her lashes devilishly. “Just…encouragement.” She smiles, dark lips drawing back from clean white teeth.
Becca says her mother’s teeth used to be black, back when she was still Tia Dalma the swamp witch, still cursed, but Elle doesn’t remember it, doesn’t think she’s ever seen it. As far as she remembers, her mother’s teeth have always been as white as the deep streak in her father’s hair. “Papa,” she says sleepily, turning her face away from her mother’s shoulder.
“Yes, baby?” James says, shifting John on his lap.
“Tell me a story?” Elle asks, and adds, “Please,” belatedly when James raises his eyebrows.
“What sort of story?”
“Tell us about the pirates!” John says, jerking abruptly awake in the way he does.
Elle glares. “I don’t want to hear about the pirates,” she says. “You always want to hear about the pirates. You’re boring.”
“Tell them about the day the sea died,” Tia Dalma says firmly.
“But I don’t want –”
“Papa, will you show us your scars?” John asks, sleepy again.
Elle sees her father’s shoulders draw together, abrupt and awkward, the way she’s seen him do before like it’s more reactive than anything else. “I don’t really think it’s necessary –” he begins.
“Show them,” Tia Dalma says. “Let them know what the Englishman will do.”
James bites his lip so hard he nearly draws blood, but he moves John off his lap – “Go over to your mother,” he says fondly, and John crosses the floor to take up residence on the floor against Tia Dalma’s legs, where Elle only kicks him once out of habit – and undoes the ties on his shirt, pulling it up over his shoulders.
Elle’s father’s skin is very dark, but not the way her mother’s is; dark and golden and sun-streaked. She’s seen the marks on his back before, but it’s fascinating every time, the way the thick white ridges separate across each other, a pale crisscross of damage that stands out from all of James Norrington’s other scars.
“Tell us the story,” Elle says, because someone has to, and she’d rather it be her than her brother.
Lord Cutler Beckett is nowhere near as good as his word, Norrington thinks clearly, cheek pressed against the smooth wood of the post. There’s a marked strain in his arms – it feels like he’s been waiting forever. The ropes are cutting badly into his wrists and the sea-laden wind is raising goosebumps on his bare back, but the worst part is the waiting.
He’s shaved. He’s shaved and he’s trimmed his hair and he’s dressed in clean clothes, something that’s not a bad facsimile of military uniform. He thinks maybe he’ll go somewhere else – the colonies in America, maybe, or one of the Empire’s many outposts in Africa or Asia. Maybe back to England. He won’t stay in the Caribbean.
Norrington has a pardon with his name and the king’s seal on it, and he’d thought that would be enough, but clearly not. Instead Beckett has decided that while Norrington isn’t guilty of a hanging offense, he does need to be made to understand a point, and for that a flogging should suffice. Norrington has faced worse since he joined His Majesty’s Navy – he’ll take being flogged over undead pirates or cursed seamen any day – but that’s different. This is Beckett and nothing else, Beckett doing his damnedest to tie Norrington to him with chains that get stronger by the day.
He presses his cheek into the wood of the post, feeling the sea on his bare skin. Except for the cold wind – unusual for the Caribbean, but it reminds him of England, of the shipyard – it’s an illusion, because he’s on land, not shipboard.
He keeps his eyes open when the first blow falls, and he notices when the tears start running down his cheeks.
The wind comes in the night, stealing the breath from men’s lips, and Norrington can hear it from his cell next to the barracks – not his old room in the fort, but appropriate for a younger officer. He lies on his stomach with no shirt on and listens to the wind shake the fort walls, rattle shutters and panes of glass in their settings, steal anything not nailed down, like the men who live by it.
It sends the sea roaring against the rocks, down in the docks where the ships are anchored. He is a seagoing man; he doesn’t need to guess to know the damage that will be there in the morning. The navy will be decimated by this night’s work, more than anything Sparrow or Jones could have done even given a year and a full fleet. It hurts to think of, because he has always been a staunch patriot, a true believer in crown and country even after Jack Sparrow destroyed everything he loved, but his heart is given over to the navy, to his men and his ships. They don’t deserve what the sea is giving them and he half-fancies that it’s his own fault for selling his soul to Beckett for the sake of a piece of paper with his name and the king’s seal – bargaining away the freedom of the seas for his own sake.
“Commodore –” The title comes with an immediate hesitation following the stumbled syllables. He still holds the rank, he supposes; Beckett had said something about giving him his commission back. He’d earned that rank, at least; he hadn’t bought it like he has so many other things.
Norrington puts a shirt on before he goes to the door, wincing at the feel of the smooth linen against the damaged skin of his back. He does up the laces as he crosses the tiny room; he’ll have his pride at least.
It’s Gillette. He looks relieved to see Norrington reassuringly human, although the expression passes quickly from his pale face, and says, “Sir, the sea –”
“I know, the ships at dock,” Norrington begins, and is startled to see Gillette shaking his head.
“No, sir, the sea. You have to see, sir, I can’t –” He stops abruptly, looking helpless.
“What about the sea?”
“It’s –” He waves a hand, evidently unable to vocalize his thoughts properly. “Well, sir, it’s just – it’s gone.”
Norrington remembers the wind in the night, the sound of the ocean descending on Port Royal. “The sea can’t just disappear,” he says, even though he’s seen stranger things in the past two years.
“I don’t know how else to explain it, sir,” Gillette says. He’s recovering quickly, professionalism falling over him like a blanket, and Norrington nods.
“I’ll be out shortly, Lieutenant,” he says. “Just let me dress.” He almost shuts the door, and then freezes. He doesn’t have –
“Lord Beckett ordered me to bring these, sir,” Gillette says, motioning behind him. A pair of Marines haul up a sea chest – not Norrington’s old one, the one lost somewhere at the bottom of the Caribbean, but a new one, wood freshly polished and the metal fastenings gleaming – and Norrington stands back so they can put it in the room. They salute sharply before disappearing down the hall.
“I’ll wait, Commodore,” Gillette says, and Norrington nods, shutting the door. It takes him a moment to get up the strength to cross the room, but when he does he flips up the lid of the sea chest with the very tips of his fingers, watching them mark up the shining lock.
Naval clothes. Good ones – fine quality, and new. Even better than the ones he’d lost, battered by weeks at sea and stained by saltwater and blood. He pulls the jacket out with fingers that start to shake as soon as he sees the gold trim and nearly drops it, because Beckett has him now for certain. He’s tied Norrington to him with more than words on a page – more than lies and spilled blood. Badly shaken, Norrington puts the jacket down on the bed and kneels to dig through the rest of the chest, wondering what else he’s been bought with. Boots, more clothes, a new wig – there’s a wooden box in the bottom, long enough to take up the length of the chest. He lifts it out.
It’s not his sword, not the one he turned over to Swann when he resigned his commission. The realization is oddly comforting. The maker’s mark on the hilt is familiar, though, and Norrington can’t help but smile, testing the balance – perfect, of course, but then, Turner’s work very nearly always is. It’s a little like having an old friend at his side, not the searing guilt that the rest of the chest encloses. It’s enough that he can start breathing normally again and go to dress, taking special care with the jacket he doesn’t deserve – a little overlarge, but then he’s lost weight since the last time he was fitted for a new uniform. Beckett must have taken the measurements from his last promotion. The man can’t read minds after all, even if he knows how to manipulate them.
Dressing takes very little time. Norrington buckles the sword on last and adjusts the set of his wig in the handspan of looking glass set in the lid of the chest, then opens the door.
“Com – Admiral,” Gillette corrects, eyes widening.
Norrington gives him a thin smile with no sincerity at all in it. “Lead on, Lieutenant,” he says.
The sea is gone.
As far as the eye can see, bare land stretches, covered with the dead and dying forms of sea life, thick waves of drying salt. On the beach below, townsfolk are running out with wide eyes and eager hands, grasping weakly flapping fish up with triumphant shouts. The children are frolicking among the mess of a world destroyed.
Inside the fort, navy men and Marines are staring blankly, filling the walls with barely an inch to spare. Gillette pushes his way through, uniform speaking for him, and men are distracted enough that they don’t notice Norrington’s uniform – the damning uniform.
Up here, he can see for miles. The day is clear, sun shining brightly with no water to reflect off of, and all he can see is destruction. Far off, he can see something white that must be sails – ships trapped on the ocean when it fled. The harbor below the fort is a wreck of broken spars and tangled sails, rigging tying the ships together. The sailors on board are all perched on the masts, staring.
Only the landsmen are delighted.
“Lieutenant –” Norrington says in a strangled voice, but he doesn’t know what to finish it up with. Has he done this? Somehow, selling Davy Jones’ heart for his own broken honor – is the sea taking her revenge on him for his betrayal? The cuts on his back burn at the thought, like a memory.
Gillette must be reading his face better than Norrington can read his own thoughts, because he says immediately, “Aye, Admiral,” and turns away, shoving at the crowds of seamen. “Here now! Back off, you lot!”
They still can’t spare an eye for Norrington, and he goes through the crowd unnoticed.
“Is Lord Beckett –” Norrington begins.
“He came over from the Governor’s palace afore dawn, sir,” Gillette says. “He’ll be in your – in the commander’s office, then.”
Norrington nods. He remembers the way – as if he’d forget – but Gillette keeps with him nonetheless, one pace behind as is proper.
He remembers a day, some two years ago, when it was Will Turner in his place. He’d come with an axe then. Norrington rather wishes he had an axe, but all he has is one of Turner’s best swords, Gillette, and a uniform he doesn’t deserve.
“Commodore –” Governor Swann begins – Beckett’s joke to have him here, undoubtedly, some way of mocking him, letting him see what little power he still has left. Norrington can see Swann’s eyes widen when he sees the jacket.
“Ah, Admiral Norrington,” Beckett says, amusement playing over his face. “How good of you to join us –”
Norrington draws the sword in one smooth motion and buries it in an inch of hardwood and paper, half a foot to the left of the gash left by Turner’s axe. It stands perfectly upright, quivering, and he can hear Gillette’s quick intake of breath, the snap of Swann’s mouth shutting abruptly.
“Have you done this?” he says in a low, dangerous voice. “With what I gave you – have you done this, Lord Beckett? Is this your idea of a joke? Of punishment?”
Beckett stares at the sword. “What a waste of good steel,” he says, and reaches for it.
Norrington is faster than he is. He snatches the sword back and holds it out, point at Beckett’s throat – dulled a bit, but the edge on the blade is still as good as it ever was. Behind him, he can hear Gillette holding back the Marines on duty as they all go for their weapons. “Answer me,” he says. “Did you do this?”
“Put that down,” Beckett says, all amusement gone from his voice now. “I made you, I can unmake you –”
“I can unmake you,” Norrington tells him, “and I think that’s a bit scarier, don’t you?”
Beckett doesn’t say anything, but his eyes fix on Norrington with an expression of absolute hate.
“Did you do this?” Norrington asks again, pressing forward. A bead of blood appears just beneath Beckett’s chin, rolling down to stain his lacy jabot. “Did you do this?”
“You must be mad,” Beckett says. “No.”
Norrington stands there with his heart hammering in his chest, sword still against Beckett’s throat. “Who?” he says. And then, “How?”
“Do you honestly think I know?”
“I think this is your fault,” Norrington says. He pulls the sword back and wipes the point on the shoulder of Beckett’s jacket before sheathing it. “And I don’t think you’ll be able to fix it.”
“Get me ten men who can ride and eleven horses,” Norrington says to Gillette, striding away from Beckett’s office – from his old office.
“Yes, Admiral,” Gillette says and hesitates. “Ah – they’re Marines –”
“I don’t care if you get me naval officers or Marines or just talented blacksmiths,” Norrington says. “Get me men who can ride.”
Gillette snaps off a salute. “Yes, sir!” and hurries off.
“Sergeant,” Norrington calls, and the Marine hurries down the stairs toward him.
“Find me Lieutenant Groves,” he orders.
“Admiral Norrington,” Beckett says, leaning over the rail, and Norrington turns around to glance up. “You appear to be taking an awful lot for granted.”
When Norrington was still just Captain Norrington – before his promotion, before Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl, before a hurricane and before finding himself lower than the lowest scum in Tortuga – he would never have done this. But he’s not and he isn’t, not anymore; Jack Sparrow and Cutler Beckett and yes, Norrington himself, have made him what he is today. So he shades his eyes with one hand and says, “Lord Beckett, all things considered, you put me here. You deal with what I choose to do in this situation, or you replace me.”
Beckett looks like he’s considering this. The Marines on guard stare off into the sky, expressions studiously blank. Surprisingly, it’s the Governor who speaks.
“Admiral Norrington,” Swann says, coming up beside Beckett but staying studiously away from him. He glances briefly at Beckett, then continues, “You have my full permission to engage in whatever provisions you feel necessary in order to investigate this…occurrence.”
Norrington snaps off a sharp salute, triumph rising through his veins. “Of course, Governor,” he says, meeting Beckett’s eyes. He smiles.
“Sir,” Groves says in a strangled voice. “Comm – Admiral.”
“Lieutenant,” Norrington says, twitching his horse’s reins. The animal picks its way through the thick salt flows and dead fish gingerly, snorting nervously and shaking its head in distaste. Norrington firmly agrees; the very least he can say is that this is disorienting.
The ground dips steeply down where Groves’ horse is standing at the edge. Norrington rides up beside him – not too close to the edge because of how slippery the salt is, and they don’t know exactly what’s hiding beneath it – mostly dead and dying fish, and one of the Marines’ horses has already slipped and broken its leg.
“My God,” Norrington says inadvertently, staring.
He’s heard tales of the kraken – seaman’s stories, legends, like mermaids – but he’s never seen it. He’s looking at it now – at its corpse, high and dry, starting to bloat as the sun rises over the remains of the ocean.
One of the Marines crosses himself, then jerks guiltily, glancing around as he remembers where he is. Neither Norrington nor Groves say anything.
“The Flying Dutchman –” Groves says finally.
“It can’t survive without the ocean,” Norrington says immediately. He can’t say why he knows – he just does. It’s true. Maybe Elizabeth mentioned it back on the Black Pearl; he can’t remember. Then what he’s just said catches up to him.
“My God,” he says again.
He’s worthless now. The price he paid for his pardon – the price he paid for his honor – is worthless, because the heart is nothing without what it controls. Davy Jones can’t set foot on land, and everything is land now.
“Sir?” Groves says.
They’ve been riding for near on an hour, judging from the position of the sun in the sky, and Norrington’s back and thighs are burning badly. He hasn’t ridden in far too long, and he’s well aware that the motion is pulling open the healing gashes on his back. With luck, the blood will stain Beckett’s gifts. He won’t be owned, not again.
“Tell the men to turn back,” Norrington orders, still staring out over the vast expanse of wasteland. They’d found one ship keeled over on its side, spars and mainmast broken, sides shattered and sails covering it like a shroud. The sailors inside were gone – only the dead remained, blood staining the decks. His men had muttered uneasily among themselves, whispering prayers for mercy from God. They’d looked at Norrington like he was a curse, some plague bearer coming down on Egypt with the vengeance of God in him.
He bows his head and turns his horse around, sparing one look over his shoulder for the dead monolith behind him. Whatever else the kraken may have been, whatever it did, it was of the sea, and the sea has always been a cruel mistress.
A week passes. Norrington sends out patrols every day to scour the ocean floor in all directions, roaming farther out as the horses become accustomed to walking on salt, but they come back with nothing, only reports of more foundered ships, dead men, missing sailors. No news of the Flying Dutchman; no news of the Black Pearl. Norrington thinks grimly of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, mind on the empty ship he’d seen that first day. Governor Swann asks him about his daughter every day after the patrols return; Norrington can never give him an answer. Not the one he wants, at least. They haven’t found the Pearl.
Lord Beckett hasn’t said anything, not yet, just sits in his office and lets Norrington run Port Royal. He puts the town under military command and sends townsfolk out to scrape the salt off the bottom of the ocean, store the fish that haven’t rotted yet – Port Royal is, after all, a sea town, and without the ocean they’ll die soon.
On the eighth day, when it becomes clear that the water will not return, the first riot occurs.
They are screaming for Beckett, for the Governor, for Norrington himself – anyone to blame for this tragedy. Beckett orders the gates closed and Norrington doesn’t disagree; he has a good idea of the damage that could be done if the angry townsfolk were to get inside the fort walls. Fortunately Swann is at the fort when the riot occurs; there aren’t enough men to cover both the Governor’s palace and the fort. Beckett takes tea while the townsfolk scream and batter at the walls, the gates, throwing stones and thick hunks of salt. He orders Swann and Norrington to join him, and Norrington puts up with it until he hears the sharp retort of a gun and a following scream. Then he dashes through the courtyard up to the walls, ignoring Beckett’s shout of protest and his veiled threats, and gets there in time to put his hand on a young naval officer’s head as the boy dies, moaning and crying around the bullet in his gut. He’s just brushing his hand over the boy’s eyes to close them when another bullet strikes the Marine standing next to him. It’s a shoulder wound, not fatal, but the startled shout the man lets out leads to cheers among the crowd beneath the walls. The volley continues with renewed fervor, more and less accurate gunshots flying around them now. There is a gunsmith down in the town; some few of the men keep pistols and rifles for hunting or protection. It seems like their mission has changed now.
The Marine beside Norrington is swearing in a thick Cockney accent, the words heavy in the air as he curses the townsfolk, and the gates shudder as the full might of Port Royal strikes them. Norrington is a soldier; he knows that there is no victory to be found in apathy, and the men on the wall are stirring unhappily, priming their guns, running their palms over the cannons. Not that, not yet – and then another naval man screams, the sound choked off as he falls backwards into the courtyard, a limp, broken figure on the dirt.
Norrington orders the Marines to fire on the crowd. Five men and a woman die before the townsfolk finally disperse, nursing wounds and screaming imprecations.
It takes two weeks, but the third riot destroys the Governor’s palace and almost breaks the walls on the fort. There’s no discipline anymore, soldiers firing wildly, some of them on the other side, deciding to take their chances with the landsfolk rather than with His Majesty’s Navy. Gillette takes a bullet to the shoulder and Norrington puts an arm around him and drags him back inside, empty pistol tossed aside and his sword in his free hand. Groves covers them both.
“Sir,” he says once the gates are closed, panting wildly and reloading his pistol. “Sir –”
“Hold the fort,” Norrington says, but there’s nothing left to hold it for. The rest of the Navy won’t be coming to help them.
In the end, order breaks down entirely. Norrington is no longer certain exactly who he’s fighting when he draws his sword and he’s long since lost sight of what he’s fighting for except to survive. He cuts down anyone who comes at him with an unfriendly look and a weapon, even bared fists, because he no longer has time to think and wonder if they want him dead or just want him out of the way. So he cuts and he shoots and he kills and he loses a little more of the honor he thought he’d come back to regain, until his admiral’s blue coat and gold trim are entirely spoiled and he takes some poor dead seaman’s clothes, borrowing a blue coat whose trim he remembers from what seems like a century ago. He was an officer of His Majesty’s Navy once; that time is a long time gone.
The salt that is all that remains of the sea becomes an ever-present reality, driving into the wind, into their skin as they strip to wash briefly in the courtyard. It covers their skin with a thin layer of white sediment Norrington never thought he’d see when landlocked, and it gathers in their wounds like sin.
The stripes on his back burn. So does the blood on his hands.
The truth is, even though the townspeople can run wherever they so choose, they still want the fort – the weapons stockpile, maybe, or the food – not that there’s as much as they think it is – or maybe they blame Beckett and the Governor. Beckett they string up, screaming as the rope goes around his neck. His screams cut off abruptly. Swann is already dead, his skull broken during one of the riots. The fifth one, Norrington thinks, although he can’t be entirely sure: they all blur together.
Norrington they drag out, arms bound behind his back, and throw him down in the center of the fort. There’s blood on his face, on his hands – his own, someone else’s, some of it Groves’ – it doesn’t matter whose anymore. He keeps his eyes open, breathing hard through broken teeth.
The man who approaches him is a shipwright, one of the best in Port Royal. He has a cudgel in his hand.
“You should have come back earlier, Commodore,” he says.
“My apologies for my tardiness,” Norrington says as politely as he can. He’d bow his head for the blow, but that’s a coward’s move; he’s better than that. He has nothing left; he can at least meet his death honorably. The townsfolk can see his eyes when the light goes out of them; this is cold-blooded murder, not the righteous execution that characterized Beckett’s death only hours earlier.
The shipwright thumps the cudgel into his palm, staring out over Norrington’s head. They have him facing the still-smoking ruin of the tower; his back is to the sea. He concentrates on breathing past the pain of broken ribs, steadying himself, so that he can say, although he died on his knees, he looked death clearly in the eye and didn’t blanch.
There’s a low, angry murmur from the crowd when the shipwright doesn’t move. Norrington meets the man’s eyes and says calmly, “What are you waiting for?”
“Her,” is all he says.
Norrington is tired of waiting, tired of seeing his friends and his men die, tired of killing uselessly to stave off the inevitable. He says, “Who?”
The shipwright leans forward. “Calypso,” he breathes.
“There’s no sea, you bleedin’ idjeet,” someone in the crowd says and the shipwright whips around toward him, snaps, “That doesn’t mean she’s not –”
“Ah, give off it, y’ auld fool. There ain’t no fockin’ sea and there ain’t no heathen goddesses.” The butcher starts forward, bloody cleavers in each hand. His apprentice follows. Norrington can see Turner’s old master the blacksmith in the crowd, a few men he recognizes from his command who have shed their uniforms, the candlestick maker waving a torch that shines dimly in the glare of sunlight.
“No!” the shipwright barks, waving his arms. “She’ll come, she’ll come for him, and we’ll have it back –”
“You fool!” the baker shouts. “Nothing can bring it back! That bastard Beckett saw to that.”
There’s a pulsing point just above his ribs where Norrington can feel the slow slide of hot blood against his skin, gathering in the folds of cloth there. He’s going to bleed out; he can already feel the blur in his skull, the clarity borne of battle fading into uncertain dizziness. He’ll keel over soon; he already knows he can’t get up from his knees.
There’s a shout of pain; Norrington jerks his head up. The shipwright is falling, hand clutched to the gash in his chest where the butcher’s cleaved him from neck to navel. Norrington stares at the man grimly as he approaches; he can’t spare a prayer for the shipwright, as good a man as he is.
“You’ll die now, Norrington,” the butcher says, raising his cleaver. “You brought this here; you’ll die for it.”
Norrington parts his lips to say, “Then so be it,” but the words crack and die on his tongue. There is a deep, dark flare of light that fills his vision until all he can see are vague outlines, then a woman’s callused hand touches the back of his head, curving over his skull.
“Be still, James Norrington,” she murmurs. “Dese t’ings don’t just happen, you know.”
He tries, desperately, to grab at consciousness, but it’s sliding away from him; the edges slip away and he falls, endlessly, against the background of a man screaming.
When he wakes he’s somewhere dark, with the thick heat of the tropics lying over him like a blanket. He can’t open his eyes.
“Shh,” a woman says, stroking a hand over his forehead. “Be quiet, James Norrington – I take care of my own.”
Her voice sounds like the deep roar of the ocean and Norrington slips under again, not bothering to catch at the shreds of consciousness that remain to him.
The woman is standing hip deep in dark water. Norrington steps out onto the porch and stops, because it’s water. He hasn’t seen water aside from the well in the fort for too long, and even though this is almost certainly fresh water rather than salt, it’s still enough to make his breath catch in his throat.
“James,” she says, turning around. She smiles, teeth black against the deep brown of her skin, and Norrington sweeps her his deepest and most elegant bow without even thinking about it. Once there, he stays down, lowering himself slowly to his knees, where he feels blood start to seep warmly from the wound bandaged tightly beneath the shirt he’s managed to do up one handed. But his head is clear for the first time since the fort, since Cutler Beckett fell to his death at the end of a rope. He stays on his knees, looking out at the water – upriver, he thinks; he does pay attention to the murmurs of black magic in the Caribbean, especially once he’s seen it.
The woman, dark as the water, steps out of the river and puts her palm against his cheek. “James,” she says again, low and warm, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Her father has Elle in his lap now, and she wraps her arms around his neck as he gets up to carry her to bed. Her mother is holding an already sleeping John, smiling at James over their son’s head, a smile that shows no teeth and includes lowered lashes.
“Papa,” Elle says suddenly.
“Yes, baby?” James says.
“What happened to them?” she asks. “To –” she pronounces the syllables very carefully, “– Port Royal?”
James pauses, and Elle feels rather than sees him turn his head to look over his shoulder at Tia Dalma. “I don’t know,” he says finally. “I’ve never been back.”