Hellooo there! And welcome to Against the Tide, a Norrington resurrection story. I own nothing except for one crusty old fisherman and fisherman's wife. Enjoy!
Dying didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. It was only a sort of pressure in his chest. He was more aware of the chill against his face and the railing against his back. What did hurt was the way she screamed his name. That cut through to his very soul.
It was hard to breathe and with each struggle, a discomfort grew inside him, an increasingly sharp ache and that's when the fear blossomed in his mind. His hands shook. Her face swam in his vision, eyes studying his, filled with worry. He remembered when he'd finally mustered the courage to propose out at the parapet of Fort Charles, looking out into the harbor. She had looked so beautiful.
Her image faded and he was suddenly struck with cold as a monstrous visage loomed over him.
"Do you fear death?" The words were distant and took a second to reach him. Vaguely, he could feel the comforting weight of his sword still in his hand. Did he fear death?
Yes. He did. He feared it so very much.
But none of that mattered now. He thought he raised his sword from the deck, though he wasn't sure.
He could no longer feel himself breathing.
For a brief moment, he thought he'd gone deaf and was now going blind.
He wished it wasn't quite so cold.
With his first startled gasp, Norrington's lungs filled with sharp, salt water. His eyes opened, unseeing. His failed breath instinctively prompted another and panic set in along with a tremendous burning in his chest, like fire. He thrashed, unable to tell up from down and then instincts took over and his legs kicked out and his arms moved, following the rising flurry of bubbles created from his frantic movements. He rose quickly, burning, blind, the ascent maddening in the eternity it took until finally his head broke the surface and he wretched seawater and bile into the endless ocean around him, fingers clawing at the cravat around his neck and tearing it loose. His gut clenched, his throat was red and raw. His eyesight was just beginning to clear, giving him the vague image of a blue horizon. Something roared distantly in his ears.
"Do you fear death?"
Norrington shuddered and when he'd gathered his wits back about him, he realized that he was alone. He treaded water, bobbing as the sea lapped the sides of his head. Rasping and grimacing with every sharp breath, he spun around and found nothing in any direction. There was no sign of the Flying Dutchman and he realized with startling clarity that he'd been thrown overboard.
Thrown overboard because he was dead.
Norrington continued to struggle for breath and tried to come to terms with this realization. He felt numb, his situation unreal as if it were happening to someone else. Gingerly, he adjusted his stroke and reached up with one hand to test the flesh of his throat, fingers just above his sodden cravat. It took a moment for him to stop his hand from shaking and at first, he could feel nothing. And then it was there, quick and strong. He let out a shaky breath and then coughed. Salt scratched his throat.
He was alive. Somehow, despite his circumstances, he was alive. He didn't understand. The sky was clear, the sun setting in the west and he realized he'd been in the sea for at least a day and part of a night. If anything, he should have drowned. Only he'd died, hadn't he? Before landing in the water. Thinking back on it now, he wasn't so sure.
Taking a breath, he ducked under the water to examine himself and quickly spotted the brown stain on his waistcoat, faded from the water and the events of that night rushed in with shocking suddenness. He quickly undid the buttons to expose pale skin and an even paler wound, a ridge of puckered flesh that had impossibly been busy healing while he'd been dead.
If he had indeed been dead. He was starting to have his doubts. He hadn't the slightest clue what had truly happened to him; his last memory was shooting his pistol out over the water, smelling the smoke, and hearing a woman scream.
His head emerged from the water and he breathed and leaned on his back to float. He was tired. The breeze buffeted him like a piece of flotsam and water got in his eyes and nose. He stared upward and watched as the stars began to come out and night began to settle around him like a shroud.
He had no food, no fresh water, no boat. He was in the middle of the sea, stranded, alone. He spared the thought that he would soon be dead again. He wasn't sure what he thought about the idea. He'd made such a mess of his life. Perhaps it was no more than he deserved.
Miraculously, perhaps by divine or supernatural intervention, he didn't drown. His throat still ached, he couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that there was still liquid in his lungs. His tongue was dry and he wanted nothing more than a drink of fresh water and had to force himself not to settle for seawater. All around him was nothing but temptation and not a single fish.
He didn't know how many days passed or why his body persisted in drawing breath. He dipped in and out of consciousness, in and out of reality. In his dreams, he kept seeing Elizabeth. He remembered when he'd first met her, a young child in England and he remembered watching her grow up into a beautiful young woman and he remembered the moment he'd realized that he loved her. It was during a ball at the governor's mansion. She was wearing a faded yellow gown with pleated skirts and her hair was pulled up fashionably, exposing her slender neck. He dreamed of her and lost contact with the real world and with his desperate thirst and weariness and for a long long heartbeat did not know whether he was alive or dead.
No fish. How in blazes were there no fish in this area of the sea? Didn't they understand that they were his livelihood? How was a man to live without any damn fish?
Tom grumbled and cursed his way back to shore, fishless, and grumbled and cursed as he tied his boat up to the dock and grumbled and cursed as he stomped back onto the beach and only stopped when he spotted the prone body of a man lying in the surf.
He wandered over and prodded the body with his foot which was clad in a shoe so worn he hardly noticed its presence anymore. The body didn't move.
"Poor chap," Tom said and took in the state of his clothes which, while grubby and water-logged, were rather ornate under all that. He hoped there were some items of value in the man's pockets or maybe a money purse and he knelt down to check, pushing the man onto his back to do so.
The man groaned.
"Aw, damn," Tom said. He glanced back over his shoulder and then back at the man and considered rifling through his pockets anyway. Under his hesitant prodding, the man groaned again and his eyes flickered open but they were unfocused and unseeing. They closed and Tom cursed again.
This just wasn't his day.
The world transitioned between light and dark, things rushed past his eyes, snatches of conversation he was too slow to catch. He remained on the precipice of wakefulness for a second or an eternity, it was hard to tell. When finally time and reality snapped back and melded with his present, he found himself lying on his back on a straw mattress with a wool blanket pulled over him.
Norrington stared up at the wooden ceiling, studying the whorls and imperfections in the grain and then he sat up. His throat was dry, there was an ache in the back of his head. He found that he was wearing a simple shirt and breeches and that his waistcoat and shoes sat in a heap in the corner of the room. Somewhere along the path from the sea to here, he'd lost his coat.
There was a window beside the bed and he looked out to see the receding shore under overcast skies.
The door opened and woman entered. She was plain to look at, in an informal gown worn by years of chores, her graying hair bundled up haphazardly beneath a bonnet. Her face was lined but not ugly.
"Yer lucky yer not drowned," the woman said as she placed a bowl of water on a side table. A swollen rag bobbed around in it. Norrington wondered if there was anyone else in the house. She certainly didn't look like a maid.
"What happened?" The sides of his throat stuck together painfully when he spoke and his words came out scratchy beyond comprehension. Despite this, the woman seemed to understand him or at least guess his meaning.
"Tom found ya washed up on the shore. No wreckage or nothin' though. Didja fall overboard?"
Her words brought back memories of coldness and fear, going to sleep on the slimy deck of a ship and waking up in the sea. He shuddered.
"That may well have been what happened," he said or tried to say.
The woman frowned. "I'll get some water," she said and left, returning moments later with a grimy-looking glass that under ordinary circumstances Norrington would have taken only reluctantly but the water was fresh and slightly cool and hurt on the way down only in a good way. It made him cough and wince and then put the glass on the table.
The woman waited for his coughing fit to subside before reaching for a wet rag, wringing it out, and dabbing it on his face and he realized that it was rather hot.
"Tom says that's a navy uniform," she said. Norrington wasn't really sure how to respond to that or if she'd even understand his response but she continued before he could figure it out. "Were ya in battle?"
He could still feel the sword in his ribs and hear the screaming and the chanting. He reached for the glass and stared into it despondently. It was empty.
"I'll get another," the woman said and took the glass from him and left again.
Norrington shifted on the bed and again gazed out the window. Once his thoughts had begun to come back together, his mind had immediately gone to reporting to the admiralty and resuming his commission but then stopped short. What was there left for him in the navy? He'd already resigned once in disgrace and had stooped to betrayal in order to regain his position. Since then, he'd tried to perform his duties as he always had, but it had never quite sat well with him, pledging loyalty to that distasteful man who no doubt cared very little about the loss of one officer, admiral though he may have been. And if Norrington was honest with himself, he didn't want to go crawling back to Beckett. Elizabeth's words to him after her capture left a bitter taste in his mouth and it had been then that he'd realized the depth of his mistake. To think he'd believed Beckett's lies and that the governor, his friend, had died without knowing that his daughter was safe.
No, not died. Murdered.
A door opening and then closing somewhere in the house jolted him away from his thoughts. He heard voices. And then the door to his room opened only it wasn't the woman who stood there but a man. He was shrunken and sun-tanned with an unkempt beard. His eyebrows nearly met in the middle, big and white and bushy.
"I got fish," was the first thing he said.
"I'm surprised ya didn't die," was the second.
Truth be told, so was Norrington.
The woman emerged from behind her husband and placed the glass, now full, on the table. Norrington eyed it longingly but instead turned his attention back to the couple.
"I have you to thank for my life, I take it," he said. His voice was half-whisper, half-croak but somehow the man seemed to understand him.
"Name's Tom Abney," the man said. "My wife here is Martha. Found ya lyin' in the surf and woulda left ya fer dead if I hadn't taken pity and gone over ta check."
Norrington wrinkled his brow at this but chose not to press the matter. "Adm–" He coughed. "James Norrington."
"Well James, if yer well enough, feel free to join us at the table for supper. We're havin' fish."
Norrington had already supposed this and so he nodded. He imagined eating would be quite painful but also realized that he was very hungry. He drank some more of the water.
Cradling the glass in hands that were a lot more steady than they had been before, he said, "I'm afraid I don't have anything to wear." He eyed his discarded clothing, ragged and crusted with salt, an ugly brown stain over the waistcoat's front. Definitely not appropriate attire for supper.
"Tom can lend ya an extra waistcoat," Martha said and, taking in the state of the couple, poor, their clothing worn and patched in places, Norrington would have to be content with that.
And afterward, he would take his leave and head…where? He certainly didn't want to go back to Beckett nor did he wish to face the admiralty. He supposed that meant desertion but that notion left him feeling ill and ashamed.
He wondered if the fleet had found Shipwreck Cove yet. He wondered if Beckett knew what had happened to him. He wondered if Elizabeth was still alive.
All these thoughts and more troubled him throughout the rest of the day.
At supper, Norrington learned that he'd washed ashore just outside a small town in Essequibo, a Dutch settlement in Guyana. He knew very little of the place except that he was ready to leave as soon as he could book passage. He contemplated returning to Port Royal and then seeking out news of Elizabeth's whereabouts and of the conflict that was surely brewing at Shipwreck Cove if it hadn't been resolved already.
The problem was he had no money.
"I imagine you'll need to get back to yer ship," Tom said.
"Mm." The fish had been cooked and put in a sort of stew and there was a loaf of bread and some rum which tasted much better than the water had.
"Which ship were you on?"
Norrington grimaced. He didn't think it wise trying to explain that he'd been reluctantly posted aboard the Flying Dutchman, that legendary ghost ship captained by the fearsome Davy Jones. Instead, he said, "The Endeavour."
Tom nodded at that. Maybe he'd heard of the ship, maybe he hadn't, it didn't matter. He was simply being congenial.
In the distance, thunder growled.
Tom scowled at the window. "That storm better not come over here."
Norrington, who had hoped to go down to the docks the next day, hoped the same.
The thunder growled again. Then, several seconds later, there was lightning. Norrington frowned. That definitely wasn't the way it worked.
"Well, if yer all done, I have some cleaning to do before bed. Ya should go and make sure those lines are secure." This last was addressed to Tom as Martha stood and went to collect their bowls. It was then that Norrington realized he'd eaten the whole meal.
There was more of the thunder. Two seconds later, there was lightning.
Something was uneasily familiar in the backwards nature of the situation and he recalled, nearly two years earlier, howling winds, the creak of a ship's rigging, horizontal rain, lightning that came split seconds after bone-jarring thunder. And then the shadow of a ship emerging from the storm.
Norrington thanked his hosts and excused himself and went back to his room where he thought about hurricanes and ghost ships and death before slipping into a dreamless sleep.
The thunder shook him awake and he waited for the lightning until he realized that it wasn't thunder at all. Norrington bolted upright. For a second as he gazed out the window, his eyes adjusting, he thought the sky was green, the deep sea green of colonies of growing things on the sea floor and on the rotted carcasses of ships but then he blinked and the sky was dark.
The sound came again and he recognized it from a lifetime of service in the navy as cannon fire.
Instinct overrode weariness. Leaping out of bed, Norrington threw on the waistcoat Tom had lent him and put on his shoes and reached for his sword only to realize it wasn't there. Abandoning the notion, he ran from the room.
He met Tom who was loading a musket, busily ramming a ball down its long barrel. Martha was beside him and still in her night things.
Norrington couldn't see much through the window. "What is happening?" He couldn't help but remember a similar night, a stroll on the ramparts with Governor Swann when cannons had caught them by surprise.
"Pirates," Tom said, his voice low.
Norrington tensed. He'd thought any pirate who mattered would be at Shipwreck Cove to meet Beckett's fleet, but perhaps he was wrong.
"Do you have any more weapons?" Norrington said. "I intend to join your fighting forces in repelling them."
"Repel them? Get slaughtered, you mean," Martha said, taking Norrington aback. He stared at her. "Those are no ordinary men. Why, they're no men at all. Beasts is what they are. Eldritch, cursed things." She shuddered.
"Madam, I have seen my share of curses," Norrington said. "If I let a little thing like that stop me, I wouldn't be where I am now." Which might have been for the best, now that he thought about it.
Still, Martha looked uncertain. Tom held the musket close, but made no move to go toward the door. A last defense, then. Whatever help that might be if the invaders were indeed cursed.
Steeling himself, Norrington left them and stepped out into the night. The air was warm, wet. The beach curved up and away from the little house and he caught the glimmering lamplights of the town. Just off-shore was the shadow of a ship and Norrington's heart seized. It was a two-masted schooner, its sails tattered beyond all practical use. Her gun ports flashed as she fired a broadside into the town.
His feet were frozen in fear, his heart in his throat, as he stared at this apparition from his past. There was thunder and then there was lightning. Above the ship, the moon was a vague, sickly green.
Norrington ran. Against his better judgment, against his mind's protests, he ran toward the town and toward that ship and toward his fears.
The first thing he heard was the crack of muskets. The second was a choking cry. In the dim light of the lanterns and moonlight among the clouds, he saw marines forming a firing line, pointing their muskets to the sea. It worked for a single round. No one had time to reload after that before the pirates were upon them.
They were indeed cursed.
At first, all Norrington could think was how someone had found Isla de Muerta again, now that it had sunk into the sea, and he wondered if these pirates had any intention of breaking said curse.
They fell upon the marines like rabid wolves. Wielding a varied assortment of weapons – cutlasses, sabers, daggers, boarding axes, even sharpened bones – they hacked and stabbed in silence, their vocal chords rotted away. Their bones were brown with leather, ragged strips of skin and tendon hanging from them, the torn remnants of clothing clinging to their sharp frames.
They looked just like Barbossa's crew on that night outside Isla de Muerta when he'd come to believe in curses.
A marine struck one in the head with his musket before casting it aside and drawing his sword which he promptly dropped when a pirate stabbed him in the throat. It was as he'd remembered and he wanted to shout out a warning. That these pirates couldn't be killed, that they were already dead.
What good would that have done?
Norrington ran and scooped up the fallen man's sword and used it to break the ribs of a pirate about to bury its axe in another man's chest. The pirate looked surprised insomuch as a skeleton could look surprised, but Norrington didn't give it time to recover. He kicked it just below the knee and there was a sickening crack as the pirate keeled over, one leg suddenly shorter than the other and then Norrington cut off its head. This didn't seem to deter it however as it continued to crawl across the ground, blindly searching for him while its head gnashed its teeth angrily. So he'd been right about that, at least. Fortunately, these critters seemed to be a deal more fragile than Barbossa and his lot had been.
Standing at the side of strangers, he joined them in fighting the abominable creatures. All his experience and skill as a swordsman washed over him and his mind faded as his body took over, muscles trained to act and react with strength and precision, eyes fine-tuned to the slightest of movements. He didn't think, he didn't plan. Thinking only got in the way. His sword slashed and stabbed and cleaved but for all the enemies it cut, it saw no blood, remaining as dry as the bones of the undead pirates.
For all the time that had passed and all the things he had seen and done, he could very well have been back on the Dauntless. Even as he fought on her moonlit weather deck, she was taking on water. He could taste it in his mouth and it stung his eyes and he could only watch as the dark ship vanished back into the storm.
A peal of thunder, the simultaneous silent flash of light.
Beside him, a man dropped dead with no sign of a mortal wound, only an expression of pure terror. Norrington's mind rushed back to him and he breathed heavily, half of a severed hand clinging to the sleeve of his shirt like a stubborn dog.
Another man let out a choked cry and fell to his knees, hands clawing at his throat and face before keeling over. Norrington's grip tightened on the sword. The ship's attack had ceased and so too had the pirates' invasion or perhaps he'd incapacitated enough to make a difference.
A figure materialized out of the darkness and in his presence, the survivors fled. Those who did not flee fast enough were struck down. Pirates cowered and backed away.
Norrington stood, transfixed. By the green light of the moon, he could make out the captain's features. Sharp, angular edges, deep eye sockets, a prominent brow with a simple design carved directly into the bone. One leg ended in a sharp hoof, one skeletal arm merged into a jagged mixture of sword, pistol, and dagger. A weathered tricorn sat upon his head, two playing cards stuck in the brim. His hollow gaze fell on Norrington.
Norrington's heart fluttered and stopped for two beats. The captain's left hand, the one that wasn't a bristling array of weaponry, was pointing in Norrington's direction, fingers splayed. Coldness washed over him, biting deep into his bones.
He couldn't breathe, couldn't think, something was burning him, attempting to strip the flesh from his bones. Something glowed darkly in the captain's eyes and then he closed the distance between them. Norrington noticed no transition between when the captain was standing several meters away and when he was standing directly in front of him. There had been no steps taken. One second, the spell had snared Norrington, the next, their faces were inches apart. Norrington grimaced. His borrowed sword fell to the ground. He reached up his hands to pry loose the hold on his throat only the captain was not physically touching him.
Then, just as quickly as the spell had grabbed him, it let him go. Gasping, he fell to his knees, sucking in grateful breaths of air, his skin tingling from the touch of fire but it was still all there and was not burnt.
The captain still stood before him, looming, ominous, a dark aura shrouding him and Norrington looked up and forced his gaze to meet that of those empty eye sockets. He didn't know why the creature hadn't simply killed him, why he had let him go. The skeletal captain was staring down at him, scrutinizing him. His gaze was penetrating.
And then he laughed.
It was a deep, hollow laugh that reverberated around in his hollow chest cavity and silenced the thunder. Norrington could still acutely feel the cold inside him and became colder still at the sound of that laugh. The laughter conveyed that the captain now knew something which Norrington didn't or perhaps that he found Norrington's mere existence as a humorous thing or ironic.
Norrington stared upward at him and didn't find the situation humorous at all.
Eventually, the laughter subsided. "I had no idea there were any of you left alive," he said in a hollow drawl. "This is your lucky day."
Norrington recalled the horrified, drained corpses of the men who'd been alive only seconds before. "What are you waiting for? I'm at your mercy, aren't I?" Still on the ground, unable to go for his sword, he felt himself falling back on the persona he'd once made for himself, the Norrington who fought and clawed his way through life, the wounded dog who bit any who came near whether or not they were friend or foe.
"What would be the point?" the captain said. "You're a cursed man, James Norrington. Far be it from me to deprive you of your second chance at life. And the monster you're destined to become."
His words chilled Norrington, not only because of the use of his name but because this thing knew what had happened, that he'd…that he'd…
Elizabeth had only just left him, the feeling of her lips against his very prominent in his mind, when the decaying sailor had confronted him at the stern.
"No one leaves the ship." Bootstrap's eyes were confused as he fought a continuous war within himself, fighting to hold on to the last shreds of humanity, of rationality.
Norrington put himself between Bootstrap and the escaping Elizabeth and crew. He gripped his sword in one hand. He didn't want to hurt this sailor but he would if he had to.
Humanity was losing the war. Bootstrap was muttering something under his breath.
"Stand down, sailor. That's an order."
Bootstrap did not stand down. "That's an order," he mumbled. "Part of the ship, part of the crew…" he chanted and it became a mantra and he advanced upon Norrington.
Norrington held his ground, sword pointing at Bootstrap's chest. "Steady, man."
It was no use. The pirate was too far gone for that. "Part of the ship, part of the crew. All hands! Prisoner escape! Part of the ship, part of the crew!"
"Belay that!" He drew his pistol.
A cry came from behind him and Norrington saw that Elizabeth was coming back for him, but he couldn't let that happen, she had to escape, had to be free.
"Our lives have been entwined Elizabeth. But never joined."
He bit his lip. It seemed he wouldn't be joining her after all. He swung the pistol around, aimed it into the night. Fired. His only shot. The aim was true. Elizabeth and those who hadn't yet made it to the Empress plunged down into the water.
Norrington turned and met steel as a blade slid between his ribs.
Somehow, this creature, this cursed abomination, knew what he was, knew that he had died. That was the worst thing.
"I've already been a monster," Norrington said. "Do not presume to know me."
"Your time is running out," the captain said. "I tire of this place and these cowardly, weak mortals. I leave now but I will return. And when I do, there will be a place in my crew for you."
"You're mad. What makes you think I'd have anything to do with you?"
The captain barked out a laugh. "When you're time comes, you won't have a choice. You died once and the curse revived you and now you will never die again. But soon enough, neither will you be alive."
Those damning words echoed in Norrington's ears even as the creature left and took his undead hordes with him and the dark ship sailed away and the storm passed and Norrington stared out to sea, surrounded by the bodies of the fallen.
His heart beat strongly in his chest.
He wondered how long he had until it once again fell silent.