Removing his new greatcoat and tossing it across a large rock, Bill Turner took a seat on another nearby and looked out to sea while the breeze whipped around gently, drying him. It was strange to see it after all these years from a landside perspective, and for the first time he wondered at how he was so entranced as a boy to leave home for the ocean.
He suspected his initial fascination had less to do with embracing her many charms and more to do with escaping a fate scratching out a living as a farmer under his father. Hamish Tournee’s whole world was the small plot of land he and his father and grandfather (and great-grandfathers, ad nauseam) had been born upon, and he was determined his son would carry on the family tradition. Bill had started helping with mucking and plowing at age five, and by the time he was twelve, he’d had quite enough of dirt beneath his fingernails. On nothing but Grandfather MacGonnigal’s tales of the sea as a young man in naval service, Bill had fled, determined to captain his own destiny – and, with any luck, ship – by age twenty. The closest he’d come was as Jack Sparrow’s quartermaster, and even that had been a bust.
“Well, bollocks,” he muttered, standing to walk around so his breeches would dry out, as well. Will had insisted on new togs for this assignment, and it would hardly fit to show up for his meeting looking like a drowned rat. Truth be told, he was rather grateful for the excuse to linger, not at all sure of his reception or what he should say. Bill’s forte was not speaking, though as a young man he’d talked almost as much as Jack Sparrow – mostly empty words, though he fondly recalled the many times they’d been enough to entice some pretty young wench into his bed for the evening.
This pretty young wench, however, was a different story.
An hour later, Bill summoned the courage to pull his mostly-dry coat back on, patted down his pockets to make sure the bottle and packet were in them, and felt the reassuring weight of another sewn into its front. He set off for Shipwreck Town to parley with the Pirate King.
He expected guards or pirates or something more than the middle-aged woman who opened the door when he knocked. She fixed him with a long stare, and when he said nothing, prompted him with a, “Well?”
“Is Captain Swann in?”
Her expression didn’t change. “She’s not here.” When she made to shut the door, Bill stuck his foot between it and the facing and tried again.
“That is … Mrs. Turner?”
At that, the matron raised an eyebrow. “Who’s asking?”
He offered a half-smile, the one that used to work so long ago with the girls. “Mr. Turner.”
She looked him up and down, critically. “I presume you’re not the captain,” she observed dryly.
He couldn’t resist answering the gibe. “You mean other than the fact I’m standing on land and it’s not been ten years?” When she didn’t move, he wondered what more to say to convince her he was safe, but didn’t get that far before hearing footsteps from beyond.
“Maggie, who’s there?” A familiar face appeared behind the older woman, over her shoulder, and blinked at Bill. “Bootstrap?”
“Aye.” He dipped his head. “Your Highness.”
Elizabeth’s lips quirked, and she put a hand to Maggie’s shoulder, pulling her back gently. “I’ll handle this,” she murmured. “Could you finish dressing Liam?” The older woman nodded, gave Bill one last critical look, and swished off in her skirts.
When Elizabeth pulled the door open wider, Bill saw she wasn’t dressed the same. She wore a loose, flowing type of trousers and a short robe tied around her waist, very shirt-like. Dark blonde hair looped over one shoulder in a plait, and her feet were bare. She was dressed almost like a sailor, and he wondered how much was the freedom of being king and how much was simply her. Perhaps they weren’t that far from each other. He said the only thing that immediately came to mind. “You received William’s message, then?”
Again, a quirk of the lips, but this time it spread into a full smile. “I’ve been waiting for a month.” She waved him inside. “How is he?”
Bill nodded. “He’s doing well,” he answered gruffly, giving the stock answer. “Job’s getting done, things are almost back to what they’re supposed to be, I reckon.” Hastily, he added, “At sea, I mean. With the souls. I don’t mean things are how they ought to be-“
She nodded, and for the first time she didn’t look quite so calm or assured. “I know.”
He said nothing else, and the silence stretched for an uncomfortable moment or two, while Elizabeth fidgeted in place and kept looking as though she wanted to say or ask something else. Their last conversation had been fraught with too much honesty and accusation, and Bill knew he wouldn’t have been so bold had he not been losing his mind. Elizabeth probably realized that – but it didn’t make seeing her again any less discomfiting.
“We’re about to eat,” she finally said, gesturing toward another part of the small residence. “You’ll join us?”
“Don’t really need to eat,” he explained, shrugging one shoulder, catching sight of her expression of desperation enough to add, “But I suppose I can have some tea, if you have it.” He preferred Dutch courage (an expression he’d come to loathe in the past decade), but it was too early in the day and there was something about Elizabeth that forestalled his asking, anyway. He recalled Will’s story about her burning Jack’s rum, and fought down a grin as he followed her to the kitchen; he would’ve liked to have seen that, he would.
It wasn’t until he was sitting that Elizabeth said, “Oh!” and stood again, halfway from sitting herself, to ask for his coat. He remembered its contents and shook his head, reaching into a pocket to withdraw the letter in the bottle, when a high giggle interrupted them.
Maggie was close on the heels of a short, chubby child, toddling before her, his arms outstretched toward Elizabeth. When he caught sight, he increased his speed and burbled laughter as she knelt and caught him. “What’s so funny, hmm?” she asked rhetorically, lifting him on one hip as she turned toward Bill. When he shook his head bashfully at the question, she tickled his tummy. “What’s funny, huh?” He giggled again and leaned back sharply, trying to twist away and down from his mother. “No – no, Liam, stop it, now.” She wrestled to bring him back up on her hip, and straightened his shirt. “There’s someone here to meet, Liam … see?” She swung him to look at Bill, who’d stood again. “Can you say hello?”
The boy shook his head, but watched Bill, curious. For his part, Bill was amazed at the resemblance – admittedly, he’d spent little enough time with his son as a child, but he’d stayed on land while Will grew past the toddler stage, and Liam was so obviously his father’s son that it nearly broke the older man’s heart. He was possessed of huge, brown eyes set in a round face, and the same fine, loose blond ringlets that had crowned little Will’s head. He wondered if this boy yanked on his the same way Will had, seemingly annoyed with their presence and scowling every time some neighbor woman cooed over how “adorable” he was.
The one word broke his reverie, and he blinked. He hadn’t realized he was staring, his mouth open, and shook his head in apology. “Reminds me of William, is all,” he explained, smiling at the kid. He lifted a hand and gave a little wave. “Hello, Liam, boy.”
He pressed his temple into Elizabeth’s shoulder, but kept his eyes on Bill. “He’s usually talking up a storm,” she informed him. “But he gets around someone new and develops a case of the shy for a while, until he’s used to them.”
He nodded. “Will was the same way. Used to like to clutch the side of his mum’s skirt, or my coat, depending who had him. Just stared at the person, like some little judge or such.”
At that, it was Elizabeth’s turn to laugh, with a slight snort. “I can see that!” she exclaimed. Liam was startled by her reaction, and again took advantage to squirm to get down. This time she let him, and he immediately rounded the table to stop a few feet short and stare at Bill again. His small hand clutched the closest chair for a moment, then he turned back toward Maggie. “Eggs?” he asked.
“We’ll have some eggs in a little bit,” the woman nodded. “Can you climb up and sit like a good boy?”
He nodded, pulling out the chair and making soft noises beneath his breath. Bill leaned forward, brow furrowed as he listened – it sounded for all the world like the boy was imitating a clucking chicken. When he looked to Elizabeth, she grinned and took her seat, as well, scooting to sit closer to Liam. “We’re learning animal sounds,” she explained. “He knows chickens and dogs and cats so far. And cows.”
“Mooooo,” the boy offered, making all the adults laugh. He grinned and leaned on the table, on his knees in the chair. “Bwak-bwak bwak-bwak-“
“I think your grandfather knows what a chicken sounds like,” she interrupted, putting a finger to her lips to shush her son. “Let’s give Maggie some peace while she cooks the eggs, yes?” She nodded, and after a fashion, Liam nodded.
In his mind, Bill rolled around the word Grandfather. She’d said it easily enough; as long as she’d known Will, surely she had to know what kind of father he’d been – or hadn’t, rather. It seemed an odd honorarium, but he said nothing, instead watching Liam’s small fist close around a tarnished butter knife. He picked it up, then thwapped the flat of it gently against the table, tapping it over and over. Bill watched for a while before it occurred to him to once again put a hand to the inside of his coat, but he drew it back, leaving the package in there. Now wasn’t the right time or place, he didn’t think.
Finally, Elizabeth spoke, gesturing at Liam. “I think he’s going to be left-handed.”
Bill nodded. The child had leaned back to sit up straight again, now waving the utensil a few inches above the table as if pointing it at someone, and was turning his head this way and that. It took a moment to realize what the boy was doing, and he started laughing. “What?” Elizabeth asked, half-smiling in puzzlement.
He couldn’t help himself. “Tell me, Elizabeth, do you keep up your fencing?”
She continued to look confused, then her expression cleared. “Yes. Yes, I do. Don’t have as much time now, but I try to practice an hour or so every-“ She watched Liam wave the knife again, and covered her mouth. “He’s never done that before now!”
Bill grinned. “Looks like a master swordsman. Must be watching you, some.”
The tableau seemed to finish breaking the ice between them, thankfully, and they spent the remainder of Maggie’s cooking time trying to show Liam how to best hold his knife. Of course, in the tradition of two-year-olds, it was only a fun hobby for as long as it escaped adult approval and control – once they put some effort into trying to help, he decided it was time to abandon the knife, sit on his bottom in the chair, and lean forward to rest his chin on the edge of the table instead, kicking his feet and eyeing the new person at their morning meal.
When Liam went down for his afternoon nap, Bill volunteered to sit with the boy and tell him a couple of stories. Maggie, who had her own home to look after, left shortly after lunch each day, and Bill saw naptime as the perfect opportunity to slip the corked bottle from his coat and hand it to his daughter-in-law. “Here,” he said, as she studied the bottle to determine if there was any way other than breaking it to remove the fat sheaf of parchment. “I think he’s been writing them for some time.”
When he left, she was nodding, still holding the bottle up sideways as if looking for a ship inside. He wasn’t sure how long he should let her read and re-read Will’s correspondence, so once Liam was asleep, Bill remained seated near his crib. He’d told the boy a much-modified, simpler version of the battle of Shipwreck Cove, deliberately playing down the bloodthirsty violence and giving great detail of the hero’s exploits and those of his heroine. Bill hadn’t witnessed much, or known what he was seeing at the time, but he’d since heard accounts here and there from the rest of the crew and lost souls collected at sea, and filled in the rest as he saw fit.
When he wandered back into the parlor a good hour later, he found Elizabeth at her small secretary, still reading Will’s letter. He knew she had to have gone over it all at least once or twice already, and was faintly jealous his son had someone who missed him so that she devoured his words this raptly.
He tried to quietly turn and leave, but she stopped him with, “Wait.” Pushing back from the desk, she stood and faced him. The whites of her eyes were pink, but her face showed no signs of weeping. “Is he asleep?” Bill nodded, and she gestured toward a settee. “I wanted to talk with you.”
He waited for her to sit, then followed, lacing his fingers between his knees and watching her. She didn’t strike him as not knowing what she wanted to say, so much as finding a good way to phrase it. So what came next hardly surprised him. “When I was aboard the Dutchman,” she began, steadily, “you seemed very certain Will would return for you, once you knew he was alive.” She fixed him with what she probably intended to be a neutral gaze, but despite her breeding, he saw the anger – whatever it was – beneath the surface layer. “Why?”
Not wanting to answer too quickly, he gave the appearance of thinking it over before answering; he’d asked himself the same thing hundreds of times in the nearly three years since Shipwreck Cove. “More because he is who he is, and less because of who I am, I assure you.”
“How could you make that judgment on a man you didn’t even know?”
“It’s his measure, Miss- um, that is, Elizabeth.” Well, why not? He’d already used the name. “Will’s not a light man, not given to empty pronouncements. A man who’ll aid Jack Sparrow and a lady in the same fell swoop can’t but be committed.” Bill held up a hand to forestall her. “It was a feeling. After being wrong enough about such things over the years, you get to a point where you start being more right than wrong.”
“Did you mutiny on Jack?”
“Aye, I participated. Was too much a coward to get myself tossed off the side and die of thirst, or be gutted like a fish. Got ‘em back the only way I knew how, by sending the cursed thing to Will’s mum. Asked her to toss it in the deepest part of the river, or dig a spot under a bush and leave it, but she didn’t take it serious.” He shrugged. “Hard to blame her for not doing it; probably sounded like a fairy tale, especially if he took a shine to it like I guess he did.”
Elizabeth blinked. “So … you didn’t even send it to Will himself?” Bill shook his head. “Did you ever send him anything?”
“Tried to. Usually gold for Siobhan, for room and board, and food.” It would be stupid to pretend he’d made peace with his parenting style, but he tried to explain. “I’ll admit I wasn’t a good father, Elizabeth. Not a very good man, apparently, either. But Siobhan – she never seemed very interested in having me ‘round, and told me she could get along without me well enough.”
“It didn’t matter if she needed you.” She stood quickly. “Will’s son’s never met him – not because of the kind of man Will is, but because of something he can’t control. What’s your excuse?” she demanded, keeping her voice at a low, imperious hiss.
Bill had long ago given up making explanations, and Will hadn’t asked. He wondered if he was supposed to get indignant at the young woman’s questions, but all he could think was I wish my wife had cared half as much about me being gone as this one does. “I don’t have a good one,” he admitted. “The sea called, and I answered.”
Elizabeth pressed her palms together and closed her eyes, then shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, sitting. “This isn’t my conversation to have.”
“I suppose someone needs to,” he pointed out. “He won’t bring it up.”
At that, she smiled tightly. “And I thought I was the one who avoided things.”
Silence fell over them for a long while, until Bill remembered. “I brought something.” He stood and crossed to the coat rack in the corner of the room. “I mean, it’s from Will. He sent it.” It took a couple of minutes of fiddling with the coat’s lining to remove the long package, but he carried it back and lay it in her arms. “One’s for you; the other’s not, obviously.”
Working at the twine and paper, it took her little time to pull it all apart. Eventually, she found the hilt, and Bill watched her face light up as she tore away the rest of the paper and withdrew the light sword. “Where did he get it?” she asked, holding it up to inspect sunlight coming through the window, bouncing off the sharp blade.
“Get it?” He laughed. “He made that.”
“Aboard the Dutchman?”
Bill sat. “There’s some advantages to having a ship that can’t be sunk or burned. Ripped out a pipe organ Davy’d had in the captain’s cabin and set up a brazier instead.” He smiled. “Course, it also helps to be able to create and douse a fire with one’s mind, too, I suppose.”
Looking down, she spotted the other item still in the paper. She lifted the small wooden cutlass, studying it. It had rounded edges and a short reach, the hilt carved to fit a tiny fist. “He’ll love it, Bill. Where’d he get-“ She cut her eyes to him. “I didn’t think he was a carpenter.”
“Actually, that’s me.” He cleared his throat and shrugged. “I’m handy with a knife and some wood. Passes the time aboard.” He gestured at it. “I’ll make him a bigger one when he’s a bit older, and Will’s already trying to figure what age’d be good for him to have a light fencing rapier.” Elizabeth was studying both, one in each hand, and Bill nodded toward the real one. “Would you like to see how it handles for you? I’ll step out in the back with you, you like.”
He figured she would refuse, but she stood. “I need to lock the door,” she explained, carrying little William’s sword to her secretary and putting it up on top well out of reach. “He should nap for a while, but if he does get up, he’ll not be able to get out unless it’s through the door out back. And one of us should hear him if he does, since we will be right outside his window.”
For three days, Bill was a guest of the Pirate King, meeting those who came by to see her, ask questions, lodge complaints, and, in one memorable case, try to talk someone else’s ship and crew out of her. He made a few deliveries for her, and his last afternoon, stayed with Liam while she left the small house to take care of various business. He played blocks and swords with the little boy, peeled a couple of oranges for a snack, and practiced some words with him (“Mast.” “Parry.” “Daddy.”).
Not wanting to miss time with the boy, Bill hadn’t bothered to put him down for a nap, so at around four o’clock, Liam started rubbing his eyes and yawning. Bill let him climb into his lap on the settee and tuck against his chest, asleep within moments. Three years ago, he mused as he hummed low beneath his breath, I thought I was forever condemned to that damned ship. And now I’m not. He glanced down at Liam’s head, a wave of guilt weighing in his chest. I don’t deserve this. I didn’t do it enough when I should’ve, and maybe my own son wouldn’t be where he is if I had. But by God, if I keep getting to come and see them time to time, I’ll take it. And I’ll tell him about Will, make sure he knows. I’m sure she will, too … but I can tell him about what his father actually does, how important it is to sailors, some of whom haven’t had a kind word of authority between when they put onto their first ship as striplings and becoming grey-bearded.
When he heard a scraping at the door, he covered Liam’s exposed ear and as soon as Elizabeth came in and caught sight of them, he put a finger to his lips. She nodded, carrying a pack into the other room; when she came back a bit later, she’d removed her light coat and hat, and sat nearly opposite Bill in a chair. “You want me to take him?” she whispered, leaning forward. He shook his head, and she hesitated, then leaned back.
She exhaled heavily, and Bill whispered, “Rough?”
She nodded, rolling her eyes; it reminded him of Barbossa. “Just once, when I say ‘No,’ I’d like to get to the part of why before someone draws a knife on me.” She huffed. “Bloody stupid pirates.”
He grinned. “I’m still surprised they agreed on a king. Jack tried to get it once, when he was near a stripling, but it was right after his mum passed on her ‘piece of eight’ and I think he was just feeling flush. ‘S what I gathered from the cockamamie tale he told me, anyway.”
She smirked. “I find it hard to believe Jack would want this job, considering the responsibility it involves.”
“Aye, that’s the same as William says about bein’ the ferryman.”
Their silence hovered. Though still not entirely comfortable around Elizabeth and her home – and itching, much to his surprise, to get back to sea – Bill was less nervous than he’d been three days ago, about there being nothing to speak of between the two of them for long stretches of time. Just as he thought it, she did speak. “When will you be leaving?”
“He’s coming for me this evening. Probably set out walking about six, thereabouts.” He sallied forth, since the topic of this visit was on the table. “Will you be here in case – if he wants me to return, again, for news or a delivery?”
She nodded. “For a couple of more years, yes. I’ve been talking with Tai Huang about helming the Empress in a while, when he’s old enough to travel without falling over the side because of wobbly legs.” She nodded toward Liam. “He’s more … sanguine, than I would’ve given him credit for, I believe.”
“Ship needs its captain,” Bill agreed.
Again, that smirk, though less humored and more rueful. “I’m not sure how much I ever earned being its captain, but I’ll take advantage of it. They’re not going to deny the Brethren’s king passage, or command – for their honor alone, if not for any great love of my presence.” She might have divined his thoughts, or maybe his expression was no great secret, for what she said next. “You can come see Liam anytime you like.” She hesitated. “I don’t want him denied what Will didn’t get to have, growing up.”
A weight lifted off his shoulders, immediately replaced by another of expectation. I’ll not want to be cocking this one up. “He said you’re perceptive.”
“Did he also tell you what a ruddy nuisance I was, as well?”
Bill shook his head. “No,” he murmured. “He never said that.” Off her wistful, lonely expression at that, he carefully removed a hand from Liam and reached into a pocket, withdrawing a tiny, twine-tied bundle. “Here,” he held it out, gruffly, voice still low. “This is also for you.”
She stood partway to take it, squeezing it experimentally before turning it over and looking for a gap or break in string. A moment later, she peeled a few layers of paper aside and sat, looking dumbfounded at its contents. When she said nothing at all after a minute had passed, Bill cleared his throat. “Lad said you didn’t have a proper wedding, and he’d be damned if you didn’t have a proper ring.”
Tilting both pieces of jewelry into her cupped hand, Elizabeth shook her head. “Wedding was fine,” she murmured, more to herself than anyone. “It was just right.” She held up the thinner, smaller ring, set with a small diamond and opal custom-cut to sort of swirl into and around one another without quite touching. “Did Will make this?”
“His skills aren’t quite to that level,” Bill answered. “Traded an Italian jeweler the finest sword I’ve ever seen, for those, he did.” He suspected the fact the sword had been forged by – or even delivered by emissaries of – the captain of the Dutchman had done far more to sell it. Elizabeth picked up the thicker gold band, and Bill added, “That’s the one had made for himself. He wanted you to see it.”
Wasting no more time, she slid the smaller ring on, then added the larger to her middle finger, so the two were side by side. She held her hand up, looking them over, and closed her eyes. Bill said nothing, looking away when a few tears rolled from under her lashes. He wished he’d left the package somewhere for her to find earlier, then asked her for Will’s ring back in time to leave. He presumed this made her uncomfortable, as well, especially when she sniffed a few times and he glanced back to see her rubbing at her face with her cuffs. “He wanted to hand it over himself, but didn’t know how long it’d be before you were at sea again. ‘S why I asked.”
“Well.” She took a deep breath and looked over at Bill, her other hand wrapped around the fingers of the bejeweled one. “You may tell Captain Turner that Captain Swann will be setting sail on their fifth anniversary, and not a day later.” Her smile wasn’t as pained as he might’ve expected, and it brightened in short order when she looked at her hand once more. “He’s actually learning to make things like this?”
“Man needs a hobby, stuck at sea – or many, if he’s stuck long enough. Captain’s got access to a lot of different tradesmen who die at sea on voyages, willing to trade training for what they imagine is a longer wait to get to judgment on the other side.”
Slipping the larger ring off, she reluctantly handed it back to Bill. “Tell him it’s exquisite,” she instructed, “and that I’d rather have him warm in my home than something cold on my finger.”
Bill understood it wasn’t an insult. “Aye,” he nodded. “He’ll not be surprised, I think.”
“So, what did she say?”
Bill unceremoniously picked a strand of seaweed from his coat and dropped it over the side of the ship before repeating Elizabeth’s message to his captain. Will chuckled, his face lighting up, and Bill searched his pockets, finally locating his son’s ring and handing it over. Will wasted no time in putting it on, flexing his fingers, and eyed his father. “You look like you rested well.”
“Aye, and ate well, too.”
“I expect Elizabeth wasn’t cooking.” There was a twinkle in Will’s eye; Bill well remembered his account of how, when they were thirteen, she had attempted to bake a cake for the governor’s birthday, with all the kitchen help gone and with only Will assisting in keeping the coals hot enough. According to Will, he’d held up his part of the task admirably, but Elizabeth had forgotten baking powder, and substituted water for eggs, resulting in a soggy, misshapen mess badly burned.
Instead of answering, Bill reached into his coat, withdrawing a small rough-hewn box. “Said she’d already memorized this, telling it over and over, and you might want it instead.”
Will pried the waterproof box open; inside was a small, well-worn book. He chuckled at the title. “We’ve not had enough adventures with sea disasters that she has to read Robinson Crusoe?”
“That, Captain, is young Liam’s favorite story. Said she’s been reading it to him since he was a babe in the cradle.” He cleared his throat. “Course, now his other favorite story’s about how the Dutchman and Pearl saved Shipwreck Cove.”
The younger man looked at the novel again, clutched in both hands, running one thumb over the fading cover. He said nothing for a long time, and just when Bill had given up that he would, Will spoke quietly, not looking up. “Take the helm, would you, Father?”
“Aye.” He hesitated, and when he walked past his son, stopped to clap a hand on his shoulder and leaned in to speak near his ear. “I told you, you’re not going to be a stranger to him, Will.” He patted the arm, then moved off to take up position and start planning what he could take to his grandson the next time he saw the lad.