Chapter Seventy Two - Williamsburg
Is courage in a woman's breast
less pleasing than in man?
And is a smiling maid allowed
no weapon but a fan?
'Tis true, her tongue I've heard 'em say
is woman's chief defence
And if you'll b'llieve men, gentle youth,
I have no aid from thence.
And some will say that sparkling eyes
More dang'rous are than swords
But I ne'er point my eyes to kill
nor put I trust in words.
Then, since the arms that women use
successless are in me,
I'll take the pistol, sword, or gun,
and thus equipped, live free.
The pattern of the spartan dame
I'll copy as I can
to man, degen'rated man I'll give
that simple thing, a fan."
The Amazonian Gift ― Dorothea Dubois
I had a rough awakening as the ship suddenly lurched to one side. I felt myself rolling towards the floor and reached out to try and grab onto something. A strong arm snaked around my waist quickly and pulled me back into the bed. James held me tightly with one arm and with the other he clutched onto the frame of the bed until the ship managed to right itself again.
"What on earth was that?" I whispered softly.
"They've weighed anchor, but why?" James sat up and moved around me, getting out of bed to glance out of the window. It was the middle of the night though and there was nothing to be seen but our own ship's lanterns. "Stay here," he mumbled softly to me.
I was already scrambling to get out of bed though. "Like hell I'm staying here!" I shot back at him as I hunted the floor for my abandoned shoes. Giving thanks silently that we were both still fully clothed, I followed him out into the narrow and dark hallway and grabbed his arm as he took a lantern from its hook on the panelled wall.
"Stay close then," James countered, and I nodded my agreement before I realised he couldn't see me.
Out on deck things remained as quiet as they always were at night. The only difference was the group of men standing at the railings. I dropped my hand from James's arm as we approached, still conscious of everyone's curiosity of our newfound accord with one another.
"What's the matter, Gillette?" James called out to his friend as we reached his side and starred out at the horizon. Gillette did not need to answer us with words. He simply held out his telescope to James who then in turn handed it to me.
"Spanish ships," I said quietly as I lowered the telescope and passed it back. "Do you think they mean to come along side us?"
Gillette was shaking his head. "All of the lamps on this side of the ship are doused. I doubt they've seen us. If they have, they don't seem to have made any attempt to veer off their own course. Their own lamps are lit. my guess is they've just recently come out of another skirmish rather badly and don't want the trouble. Look at the starboard side of the second ship. The gun deck is almost blown away. They are perhaps too shaken up to even ask for help."
"help is not something we could give in our own current state," James surmised as he shifted beside me. "We have not even the numbers for a full crew and we have nothing aboard to use as leverage." It also went unsaid that there were currently five women that made up the ramshackle crew of The Surgence, which some might have thought to have been a weakness. The men around me though I knew thought differently. "It was quick thinking of you to weigh anchor Gillette, even if the movement was a little rough for the middle of the night."
Gillette grinned at the mocking admonishment. He seemed to be rather enjoying the newfound camaraderie he had with James now that his friend was no longer his superior. "I'll be sure to hammer on your cabin door in warning beforehand next time then, sir. I just thought you would not wish to be disturbed."
I glanced quickly at James but did not see that he thought anything of Gillette's comment. I let the notion drop and leaned against the railing, just able to glimpse the outlines of the Spanish ships in the gloom. Their lanterns were like pinpricks or stars in the inky blackness, gliding silently onwards.
"The lamps at the stern are still lit. Should we douse them?" I asked.
James shook his head. "I think Gillette is right. They don't want trouble. I doubt they care for us even if they have seen us. Perhaps they were attacked leaving English territory though, which is something we should think upon."
It was Thompson who voiced what they were all thinking. "You think they might have been ransacked off the coast of The Americas?"
"Who can tell." James shrugged. A cold wind whistled through the masts and caught the back of my neck. I shivered involuntarily and brought my arms up to hug myself. James placed a hand on my shoulder and pulled me in closer to his warmth. My immediate reaction was to pull further away from him because I was very aware of everyone else on deck with us, but I stopped myself. No one seemed affected by the tactile movement, but I thought they'd certainly notice it if I protested. "All we can do," James continued as his hand continued to rest on my shoulder," Is keep a whether eye. I doubt anyone in these waters will think to attack us if we are flying English colours so close to English territory. We should remain as vigilant as we have ever been until we are upon dry land again."
We stood in silence for a few moments and watched the fading lanterns of the Spanish ships disappear entirely into the night. James was rubbing a gentle pattern into the skin of my neck with his thumb, and I tried my hardest not to lean into him in case anyone noticed. I needn't have worried as everyone seemed occupied with other thoughts. At length we left the night crew to it with James asking them to wake him about anything else untoward. Back in our shared cabin James returned easily to bed and watched me as I made rather a fuss of taking off my shoes and finding somewhere to place them. When I eventually returned to his side, I stopped short of climbing back into the bed. "What did Gillette mean when he said we didn't think you wanted to be disturbed?"
James gazed at me curiously. "I expect he thought we were asleep, which we in fact were."
"You don't think he knows ..."
"Even if he does, why does it matter so much to you? They all know we are married. They witnessed that all in Georgetown. They know you and I are close. It makes little difference whether they know or not."
I felt myself squirming a little under James's gaze before I carefully sat beside him on the bed. "But won't they judge you for being with me. I'm not exactly your match in any way. You're still a gentleman."
"You still think I care more about what the rest of the world thinks. I don't know how to get around it or what else I can do to make you see things as they really are."
I was shaking my head at him then and I attempted to pull away, but his hand caught my wrist and he pulled me closer to him. In the gloom of only one lit candle and the lone lantern outside the window, I could barely see his face, so I pulled myself up to sit on my knees and looked straight at him. I was just able to make out his emerald eyes as the flickering flame of the candle danced across his face. "You've done more than enough for me already, James. Whatever my doubts are, they are mine to deal with. I just don't want to see you tainted by your association to me." I held my hand up to stop him when he opened his mouth to speak. "I know you don't care about all of that, but I do. I just don't want to ruin your life in the eyes of the rest of the world. I want them all to see you as I do."
"Tell me this," he mused as his hand left my wrist and fell gently to rest on my injured knee. He had been persistent in treating my injury as if it did not exist at all, perhaps to instil some confidence in me. I still felt a little strange about it all in truth, but I knew I could no longer pull away from his touch like a silly child because that threw us back weeks and months. "What kind of man denies the woman that he loves because he is more worried about his reputation or his position? A man who does not genuinely love is the answer. I have come to realise neither rank nor fortune are what make me happy. Why would I deny your company? Why would I deny you? After everything that has come to pass, I'd be an utter fool to cast you off over something so trivial. I gave up my previous life because I believed it no longer had meaning. Even now, with little or no clear intention of where we should go next or how we should proceed in life at all, I still think I have found more purpose than I ever had before. That is your doing. You have spoken often of your love for the sea, and I think you reignited my love for it too. I had lost it somewhere to formality and ambition, but it is returned to me. For two souls like ourselves, how lucky is it that we have found so much in common? What more could we possibly desire in life than someone to sail with?"
I must have been staring at him with my mouth open for he chuckled softly and reached out to lift my chin. "I am as certain of us as you have been for a long time," James continued. "I know I have not spoken like this before, but it is not in my nature. I shall have to adjust a little because you cannot read my mind. I shall have to adjust in the same way you have. You have stopped fighting me about absolutely everything. You no longer pull away as much as you once did. It has given me hope. All of that is much more important to me than a title or some gold. Neither will keep us warm or content at night."
I frowned a little. "Yeah, I hear you James. If we end up in a jail cell together, I doubt we'd be able to keep each other warm and content for long."
He ran a hand through his dark hair and rolled his eyes at me, but I knew he was in jest. "Who says that is what is ahead of us? My letters will have reached England by now. Any work Beckett and your uncle have done to try and besmirch my name will unravel at the seams. My cousin Ambrose will also be the voice of reason once he leaves us. He will ensure those in London who need to know will hear the truth. In all honesty, I don't think we shall need to hide once we reach America. I am content to stay as long as we see fit. That is now confident I am."
"I just don't want you to lose friends because of me," I explained.
"Fiona, I do believe you had won over most of my men before you ever won me over," he said with a grin. "They saw you as one of their own very quickly indeed. You have the kind of resilience that they desire in a crew mate. I highly doubt I will lose any of my friends unless I severely wrong you. I do not doubt that a fair few of them might take your side."
I laughed at him then and in answer he took my wrist again and pulled me closer still. Still sitting on my knees, I lost my momentum and tumbled straight into his chest. Perhaps that had been his motive all along. His kiss was soft but alluring, seeking nothing more than reassurance. Even so, I felt there was something new there, something more. Six weeks we'd spent kissing each other senseless as soon as we were alone in the cabin, and for four of those weeks we'd been sharing a bed. Our hands had gingerly and nervously explored one another in the dusk a few times, both of us content with the little progress we made each night. That was beginning to feel like an alien concept as I threw my hands around James's neck and pressed myself as closely against him as I could manage. I let my hands trail along his shoulders, my fingers gently delving beneath the neckline of his shirt to touch the warm skin beneath. His arm enclosed my waist, holding me against him as he lifted me and lay me down beneath him on the bed. It was easy for me to look back on my life then, and to realise just how long I'd spent looking over my shoulder in fear. Now, with the cabin door locked and him on top of me I knew I wanted to be nowhere else in the world. With him I felt safe and secure, but it was even more than that. I had something in my life that was so worth living for, so precious that no matter what else befell me, if I had James, I had everything in the world I could ever need.
When I woke the next morning, for a split second I wondered what felt different. Then I realised there was nothing between my skin and the counterpane of the bed. I grinned wickedly and turned my head a little to find James still asleep beside me. He was lying on his front, his arm draped across my stomach. I snuggled into his side and as I brazenly decided to drape one of my legs over his I realised he too wore no clothing. Even if I'd wanted to pull away from him, I didn't get the chance. His hold of me tightened. And his lips found mine before he had even opened his eyes. The kiss was slow and tender, the kind that almost burns all other thought from your mind slowly and persistently until you're falling back to sleep in your lovers' arms once more.
"God why did we ever waste so much time when we could have been doing this for months," I mused in a whisper as I finally pulled away from him.
"And why are you wasting more time now thinking of that?" James exclaimed as he moved so that he was hovering over me. A lock of his hair fell over his face and I reached up to brush it back into place before caressing his jaw line, the rough stubble that was the beginnings of a beard a welcome feeling and sight to me.
I grinned at him. "Come to think of it, we've got a lot of time to waste now…"
"A whole lifetime!" James agreed as he lowered his weight onto me and began to kiss me once more, his gentle featherlight fingertips about to brush against one of my breasts when a repeated thudding on the door had him groaning in disappointment.
I could tell that James was trying not to snarl a reply to his friend. "What is it Gillette?"
"Land is sighted sir. I thought you'd want to know!"
"Speaking of time wasters…" I rolled my eyes for affect, not believing for a second that James would even know I was in jest or find me funny.
I was shocked when his eyes met mine for a second before he threw back his head and let out a hearty laugh. It was a sound I'd not heard him make in the whole time I'd known him. The mirth in his eyes as he gazed upon me once more was worth more than anything. How long was it since he had laughed so easily and so readily?
"Sir?" I snorted as James threw a glance towards the door. Gillette had clearly heard James's laughter.
"I'll be on deck presently, Gillette."
"Very good, sir." The footsteps disappeared along the corridor and I wondered how we had not heard Gillette's initial approach. That was a dangerous thing, that we had been so lost in one another.
The gold sweeping letters of the carefully painted Maroon shop sign read "Guildford and Grangers; Printers and Cartographers." I had stopped in my tracks before the shop window, immediately entranced by the fine charts presented there. They were propped up on a table so that those on the street outside could see every aspect of the charts through the windows. It had been finely printed, with gold foiling embossing all of those places in the world considered to be a part of the British empire. I couldn't help rolling my eyes at that. The gold leaf was surely supposed to be an indication of superiority and wealth. My eyes glossed quickly over the gold island of Ireland and I felt a strange sort of desire to scratch the gold away. I suppose you might say it was still a sore topic for me. There was just something about that notion of England claiming ownership of Ireland that I found difficult to swallow. It also rankled with me that England would claim that Ireland was making them wealthy when most of the Irish struggled to feed their families. I didn't harbour ill feelings towards the makers of the map, or for the English people who believed that Ireland was an English colony. They believed what they had been told to and had likely never crossed the Irish sea to see the truth for themselves. I'd come to like too many English people to hold any real resentment against the population as a whole and I was rather lucky in that I'd sailed around the world. I was witness to the harsh poverty that existed all around the world. I hoped in time that my new English friends would come to see things as I had done.
I dragged my attention away from that little gold embossed Ireland and took in the rest of the window, the fine craftsmanship of the items on sale luring me in. I could imagine the smell of the dimly lit shop with its rows and rows of old charts and tooms with the gold lettering on the spines twinkling in the candlelight. Uninterrupted, I knew I could easily loose hours of my day to such a shop. It was not lost on me that I was markedly different from those of my sex. Elizabeth had dragged Will off to a milliner to see if she could find some clothes and she'd taken Mai with her. Ambrose Beauchamp and Anastasia Turgenev had headed straight for the courthouse in the hopes of finding more permanent lodgings they could rent. I also had the sneaking suspicion that they may return from the courthouse as a married couple, even though they had not mentioned as such to any of our group.
I glanced around me then at the moderately busy street. It was only early morning, so Duke of Gloucester Street was not as busy as we had expected. In a few hours I knew to expect more crowds as people ventured out to shop. I could not see anyone else I knew, and I realised I must have lost Gillette and Thompson to the gunsmiths a little way down. James had instructed that they not leave my side. I hadn't really thought it all that necessary, for no one in Williamsburg seemed to know us. We got a few strange looks when we first disembarked the ship. I was sure that the Turners would be the ones hassled into buying more than they could afford in every shop they entered because Elizabeth had something about her, you see. Her perfect diction and the way she held herself told everyone she came from money. James at least was able to hide it somewhat better, having spent years aboard navy ships with all walks of life. He would be able to easily pass himself off as a merchant sailor with little trouble. James had wanted to stay at my side in Williamsburg, his hand immediately gripping mine tightly the moment we set foot on dry land, but we had both known we would need to separate for a time. He wasn't happy for Jack Sparrow and the crew of The Black Pearl to go strolling through the town unchecked in case they brought us trouble. He'd argued with Gillette and I when we had offered to stay behind on the ship with the pirates. I could understand his point of view. He did not want to leave his ship in the hands of pirates. Gillette and I were a little put out, having thought we could well enough keep the pirates in check ourselves. Eventually we came to an agreement. Jack Sparrow and his pirate friends would quickly be ensconced in a tavern out of the way, where James had very reluctantly agreed that they could drink their fill only because I had told him that the constant supply of rum was all that would keep Jack Sparrow firmly in one situation for the day. I had little worries about Jack and the pirates really. Anamaria I knew, would keep them well in check and remind them that I was their ticket to treasure.
"See something interesting?"
I turned slowly as James arrived at my side. He looked relatively calm for having spent the last hour or so in Jack Sparrow's presence. I surmised that the depositing of the pirates in the tavern had been a success and decided to make no mention of it. I shook my head blandly in answer to his question as he glanced up at the sign above the shop.
"Doesn't matter if I did," I replied after a few seconds as I turned away from the shop front and began to walk on. "I have to make do with the bakery, the butchers and the dress shops. They don't allow women into shops like that."
"Having met and come to know you," James said as he fell into step with me and took hold of my arm, "I can only conclude that they should."
When I glanced up at him, he offered me a smile that spoke a thousand words and again I marvelled at my current situation. We'd had six long weeks together that had changed our relationship for good. I'd never much been in doubt of my own feelings, and now I had little reason to doubt his. His every decision told me how he felt. Everything he did now was to protect me in a way that still enabled me as much freedom as possible. They say there is such a thing as the luck of the Irish, but I'd never felt I'd had much good luck until that day in Williamsburg when we strolled along, arm in arm and admired a world that was entirely new, and yet appeared so similar to one we both knew well. The shop fronts and buildings reminded us of England and Ireland respectively, but there was some new sense of the place that more promising. Yes, it was unnerving that we were new to Williamsburg and people would be apprehensive for a while, but no one was going to be able to judge us unfairly. Word would not have reached The Americas yet of what had taken place in Georgetown, and by the time it did we hoped to be long gone. James and I had discussed our stay with the others, and we agreed that a two week stay gave us enough time to hunt out the book stores and libraries before we took our leave again. James seemed quite confident that his good name would see us right, but I was still concerned that Beckett and my uncle could catch up with us.
Hours later, after our first meal in six weeks not cooked in some part by me, we tried our best to relax as best we could in one of the booths in the Raleigh tavern as James spread out on the table before us all the notes that we had made regarding what we already knew. It seemed that we knew extraordinarily little, really. We at least knew what we wanted to find out though. Holmes had gone off on his own that afternoon and had come back with a list of book sellers and libraries in the town, and topmost of his list was the Governor's residence.
"I don't like this," I said quietly as I absentmindedly doodled on the corner of Holmes' list with a quill.
"That's where we're likely to find the best books," Gillette replied.
I threw him an apprehensive glance across the table. I'd meant for only James to hear me, but it appeared the whole table had. I felt James shifting beside me as he turned towards me, his arm brushing mine as he did so. There was a time when I'd have been so nervous and overwhelmed by his close proximity to me, but now it only brought me comfort. Even if he'd just been at the other side of the table, I'd have felt his absence from my side.
"You're worried about the governor?" he asked me.
"Of course I am. What if it turns out he is in Beckett's pocket? What if there are soldiers waiting to pounce on us all when we enter that house, James?" I smiled softly at me as if he understood my apprehension, but I knew he didn't share it. "What a life it must be, to know that wherever you go you may just mention your name and you'll be given preferential treatment. The lot of you are almost too confident. It's a wonder your large heads ever fitted aboard a ship!"
That earned a few chuckles from James friends around the table and Thompson's eyes sparkled with the mirth that only came from him choosing to keep his own jokes to himself in that moment. "We don't have that confidence in regard to our own names," quipped Alden. He pointed at James. "We just use his."
James rolled his eyes. "Yes, and soon you will all have to make use of your own names. Now that I've gone rogue, I don't want you all banding my name about to get yourselves out of whatever trouble you cause. I've got enough trouble of my own to contend with."
"Yes, and said trouble had better stop scowling down at that list that took Holmes all afternoon to compose," Gillette teased from my other side.
"I threw him a withering glare. "Call me trouble one more time Gillette…"
"He won't," James concluded with a pointed stare at Gillette. There was no real admonishment there though. Gillette and I had come to find we made far better allies and friends than adversaries and I think James secretly enjoyed the fact that Gillette and I teased each other as a brother and sister might do. Gillette and I had finally grown to understand one another. It made liking each other a great deal easier.
"Have you that sketch I drew of Townshend's map?" I asked James then, finally giving in to the niggling notion that I'd kept to myself all afternoon. I hadn't been sure whether to voice my thoughts or not, but I reasoned that James and I trusted everyone at our table and his friends deserved to hear about all of our schemes first-hand. They had given up their own navy commissions to follow us after all.
"Why?" James asked curiously as he pulled the slightly crumpled piece of parchment from the leather folder he'd used to carry all of the paperwork we'd amassed. He spread it out before me on the table and it only took a glance to confirm my suspicions. I hadn't really needed to look at it again if I'm honest. I just didn't want to remind anyone that I had maps and charts lodging rent free in my mind.
"Because I think I saw something earlier. We think that Townshend had access to one of Drake's four charts at some point, right?" James nodded when I agreed. "What if that chart in his cabin was one of them or at the very least a copy of one? What if the one I copied or one of the others made its way here to Williamsburg? I saw a chart in the window of that cartographers earlier today and I think it's been copied from one of Drake's charts." I pointed to an cluster of islands on my hasty sketch made so many months ago. "This archipelago is on no other map or chart I've ever seen, apart from the map in Townshend's cabin and Drake's chart that you have, James. What if another of Drake's charts is here in Williamsburg?"
"Like I said, trouble." I threw another withering glance at Gillette, but he didn't appear to be teasing this time. "Trouble," he continued, "In the same way that Elizabeth Swann is considered trouble. I mean it as a compliment."
I frowned. "How is being called trouble a compliment?"
"Because none of us have ever met a woman who can read charts better than we can," James confirmed.
"That's a different kind of trouble altogether…" We turned then to find Jack Sparrow hovering over our shoulders, a sly grin firmly in place.
"I had thought you'd all gone rather quiet over there," James supplied thinly. He was still rather opposed to Jack's presence. I realised James was right. The pirates had grown noticeably quiet. "Perhaps it's time for you all to retire for the evening. I'm sure you must have drunk enough rum today to sink all of the ships in the harbour."
"I'd forgotten they were even here, in truth," Gillette whispered to me.
I nodded. "So had I. When James and I first came in here they were rather rowdy, but most of them must be worn out by now. They have been drinking all day after all."
"Which is the only reason I see fit to over my services," Jack exclaimed as he threw his arms wide, knocking over the bottle of wine that two merchants were sharing at the table behind us. "Do you not think old Norrington, that to make use of that which ails you to achieve your aims might in turn lessen the proverbial sting? The problem isn't the problem mate. Your attitude is the problem about the problem. And you," Jack turned his gaze towards me then and I got the sense that although completely hammered, he'd never been more awake. "You're a disappointment to your country. You spoke of witches and elves and fairies a lot when we first met, now your brains turned to mush-"
"That's rich coming from a piss head!" I snapped.
"Turn to books and you'll destroy your mind!" Jack crowed. The two merchants on the table behind us got up and moved to a table further away, clearly worried Jack would knock over more of their alcohol. "These navy sots have had their noses in books since they was born and look where it's got them! Wouldn't know adventure if it pulled a gun on them and stole all their gold. I can fetch that chart and-"
James stood then and turned towards Jack. When he spoke, his old authority was once more in his tone. The naval commodore was still very much a part of him, lying in wait until it was needed. "You are not stealing anything in this town, Sparrow. Least of all, that chart. If we need it, we'll buy it with the gold we've brought with us. Steal anything, and we cut the strings. You will be locked up in jail here like that friend of yours once was and not one of us will help you. Now, I think its time we all retired for the evening."
James's tone brokered no argument and all of the men around our table began to ready themselves to turn in. The pirates all stayed put at their table, likely too drunk to move. James swept our paperwork back into the leather folder and ushered me ahead of him. When we reached the cold and dimly lit staircase that led to the upper floors, I dared to ask what James had meant back in the main room. "Which friend of Jack's was in Jail in Williamsburg, James?"
He was ahead of me on the stairs, but he stopped and turned to frown down at me. "Call yourself a friend to pirates? I thought you'd have known that."
"Well?" I asked again when he offered up no answer.
"Blackbeard." He turned back around and made quick work of the remaining steps.
"Oh Christ!" I exclaimed. James turned back to me again, concern in his eyes this time. I think he thought I'd tripped on the stairs. "That won't have Jack Sparrow cowering away and minding his manners."
It won't?" We had reached the first floor and James produced a key and opened a door that I assumed was our room for the evening.
"No. If anything, it will embolden him. He'll feel inspired by it, possessed by Blackbeard's spirit even. I'd better place myself on pirate duty tomorrow. I'll stay here and if you find any books you want me to read, you can send them back here to me. That way I can make sure he causes no trouble."