Hey guys. I seem to have gotten caught up in the momentum of finally finishing the first story for Narelle. Needless to say, I'm glad I finally finished it, but I realize that it's already going to need a major overhaul. I've definitely learned a few things while reading other people's works. I'm glad to say that I feel great about publishing this as a way to test the waters with an improved style. Please let me know in PM's or in reviews of your opinions, I'll be glad to read constructive criticisms and feedback! Thank you! :D
He had walked these halls before; almost every day, in fact. The grandeur of the palace had all of its charm about it still, with the statues, paintings of kings and queens long passed, treasures from distant lands, and the richly colored tapestries that colored the history of the relations of his beloved country and the friendships and alliances of others. Sometimes he would admire the marble columns. Were they also a gift? Was it bought and paid for on the blood of enslaved people forced to make these columns, then presented as a peaceful offering on the credit of the giver's rule, or was it more along the lines of the powerful family that resided here that conjured these massive slabs of rock that showed anyone else from society the capability of not only the family, but the vast resources at their disposal? He never asked, therefore he never knew. Something so frivolous of such details would be ignored immediately, no one would possibly ever answer his endless questions of the building itself. He remembered the first time he walked these halls, his eyes full of silent wonder and awe of the history, colors, and overall regality of the palace.
He had felt out of place. He shouldn't have been there, at least his mind screamed it to him those many months ago. The walls seemed to echo his thoughts as he strolled them with the troupe of men he would follow. His timidness would eventually grow into determination, his meek silence to outspoken deals and speeches, and his shyness to confidence as he not only grew older, but as he rose higher in stature. He came from a respectable family, sure. Father was a businessman, and mother was well respected and liked among the people. Their children were brought up well, even his sister received an education, something considered a privilege to most of the women in London. Father had other intentions with his only son. Sure, he was educated, but he was always told he was destined for something higher than their current standing in society.
Now, the King trusted him. Something he never thought would ever happen, let alone the King even just talking to him, or looking in his general direction. The monarch hung on almost every word of advice, eager to hear what the man had to say. He didn't believe he had the charismatic virtues that King George boasted about, but he seemed to find the right words at the right time. So much so, that he was invited to almost every meeting that involved international dignitaries. He made an impression on the guests, as well. They were more open to trade and peaceful negotiations when he was present. Unlike the King, he was patient. Not only was he willing to hear the other side, he was always the one to concede with requests from England. Withdrawal of troops? Done. Increase of wheat export? Check. He was fair when it came to trade. What the King saw as a lack of ambition, he saw as a more diplomatic approach to international trade and attitude. The King sought to dominate, but he sought to be equals.
However, he felt empty; like a shell of who he once was.
She was gone.
As an act of appreciation, the King had set him up to be married. Who could refuse such an offer? He would be lying to himself if he said he wasn't excited to learn of his bride. Anyone worthy of the King's approval would jump at the chance, and he would be a fool not to. He met her for the first time in public and was struck by her beauty. He had seen her after, many times in fact, in Court. He was curious about her, studying her features, expressions, and her true emotions in her eyes. She rarely spoke in front of Court, but her words carried a weight to all except the King. She would leave after her speeches and the men would almost always agree with her, but the King would cut them down. He always wondered why the King even invited her, unless she was there solely for him to belittle her after she left? The man pitied her. He wondered if she knew what happened behind these closed doors after her exit.
The first time he witnessed the King's tauntings after the woman left, it changed him. He silently vowed to cast away his silence and shyness. How was he to stand up for her if he barely talked? He was enamored with her, though he would never say so. She spoke with a passion that marked his drive of ambition. He gave her the credit, even if he didn't outright tell her. She sparked the confidence within him. He wanted to thank her but didn't know how; he wouldn't even begin to know where she went after her speech. He didn't even know her name, but he was determined to find out.
The King wanted him to marry her. It was if his wishes had come true. He was beside himself with silent happiness that all his questions were going to be answered.
The first time they met as a couple, however, didn't go quite as planned.
She was beautiful, he would never tell her otherwise. Seeing her up close rendered him almost speechless. He wanted to treat her like a queen, regardless of where she comes from. When she told him she was the daughter of the late King John, he was astonished. Realizing that his only daughter still lives was such a shock, the man didn't believe her at first when she told him. She asked that he study the family portrait a while longer, and to come back when he believed her. She had turned on her heel and walked away from him, leaving him in shock and slight embarrassment. Not because of her behavior, but because he should have known about her family ties. He had seen the portrait of John a great many times, and he read everything there was to know about not only his life, but his death.
When King George came into power, he gave an emotional speech about how his predecessor had died unexpectedly, and in his memory, George would take care of his only daughter. Everything else would be preserved. A statement that was an outright lie. When he walked through the threshold of the palace, he ordered that only his portrait was to remain on the wall, everything else in his name was to be locked away or burned, including his very alive niece. She had been spared the stake but was locked away in her room until he saw fit to either bring her out to Court. Until then, she was a nuisance to him, even when she wasn't visible to him. He felt he had to get rid of her somehow. Marrying her off to someone lower than what she deserved seemed like the right idea. He would never have to see her again, and he would live comfortably with his own two daughters while his niece would live in misery as he always intended for her.
During their engagement, the man felt he truly loved her. Everything she ever wanted, he would do his best to procure for her. She never asked of anything out of his reach. He admired that it seemed that she enjoyed the simpler things; she didn't care for the elegance of food served in golden cloches or eating with the finest silver. She just enjoyed being outside in the sun. He felt that he was her ticket to going outside, but he didn't mind. He actually liked that they sometimes didn't speak when they went about the town. He enjoyed her company, whether they talked or not.
There was a nagging feeling in the back of his mind, however. He felt that she resented him. She never said it directly, but she was always at least annoyed with him. He never meant any ill towards her, but he was frustrated that he not only didn't know what was wrong, but she wouldn't talk to him about it. In his mind, he would plead with her to just say something, so he could fix it for her, and that she would see his worth. He never did, however. Every time he came close to asking her what was bothering her so much, a royal guard would approach and demand the return of her under the King's order. It bothered him that he let her go. It bothered him that the King had an unusually tight hold over her. The whole situation seemed wrong.
Of course, that was then.
Now, she is gone. Normally, after a fairly long day's work, he would ask a guard to retrieve her, so he could spend time with her in one of the parlors. Now, he wandered the halls alone, unsure of where everything went wrong. Had she finally had enough of him, and ordered the guard to lie about her leaving, or was she actually gone?
He had a nagging feeling in the back of his mind as he stared into the eyes of her portrait on the wall. He was being watched. Slowly, he turned his head and locked eyes with one of the staff. She crossed the length of the hall cautiously, and approached him, fear in her eyes. She was his height, her hair hidden in a cowl, her dress a plain brown with a white apron tied about her waist.
"Sir," she whispered with an accent he couldn't place. "You are the princess's fiancé, yes?"
He nodded slowly, caution mixed with concern dominating his features.
"Come," she said, not waiting for an answer. "I wish to show you something." She gestured for him to follow, then turned on her heel and briskly walked away.
"What is it you wish to show me?" he asked, trying to keep up with her.
She only turned her head to the side so he could hear her.
It was all she said, but he knew he should trust her. He was confused with her words. What truth could he possibly not know about her? Had she been hiding from him this whole time? Had she taken to another without his knowledge? He hoped not.
The two twisted through the halls of the palace. Soon they were crossing into halls he had never been down. He would be the first to admit there were some places of the palace he never explored. Some part was fear of crossing into rooms he shouldn't be in, others were the air some halls gave off, as if warning him to turn around.
They started up a narrow staircase. There was enough room for maybe two people if the second person was flat against the wall. There wasn't enough room for wall-mounted candles, and the sparse spacing of windows made the climb dark, therefore difficult. He could just make out the maid in front of her, but still had a hand brushing the wall in case the stairs spiraled. He almost ran into her before he realized she stopped.
"Please sir," she whispered as he heard jingling of keys. "This will be a bit of a shock."
He heard the familiar sound of the key in a door, and in a moment, he was relieved to see light when it opened. The relief was then turned to genuine appalment once he finally saw what was in the room.
The wardrobe, small desk, vanity and anything that warranted dusting or cleaning was caked in dust. The floor had most likely not been washed in months. The bed, though clean itself, was in the worst environment of all. Long dried blood splattered on the walls, and the floor surrounding it. He could see a small trail of it leading from the door to the bed. He slowly entered the room, only to stand in the center of what he considered a hovel.
"Why are we here?" he asked.
The maid entered the room, went to the desk, and picked up a book. She handed it to him.
"I cannot read English," she said lowly, "but I was told from a maid before me that all of your answers are in here."
Confusion etched into his expression, he took it from her. He opened it, and his eyes darted back up to hers.
"This is hers?" he asked.
She nodded. "She said she had no reason to hide it. If I may say, sir, she may have left this for you."
"Wouldn't anyone be able to take it?"
"No one ever saw her up here. No one else knows this room exists except for His Majesty and his daughters, but they would never come up here now that she's gone."
"Where did she go?"
"I cannot say, sir. I don't know where she went."
They heard a noise below. The maid's eyes grew wide.
"Hide the book on your person, sir," she whispered. "We must leave!"
He hid her book in his coat, and followed her back through the door and down the stairs. During the journey back through the palace, she would hide near corners of a turn in the hall and would peek around to make sure no one was in sight. The noises grew louder, then quieter as their owners went down different passages.
They eventually made it all the way back to the grand foyer of the palace, just as a patrol of guards exited. He turned to thank her, but she was gone. Confusion of her disappearance was replaced by determination to solving the mystery of his fiancé. He turned to leave the palace to return to his home, when a voice stopped him.
"There you are, boy," a voice yelled from behind him.
He turned back. The lord he once served under approached him.
"I'm sorry, sir," was his reply. "I was momentarily lost."
"No matter. Come. The King requests your presence."
Knowing there was no refusing him, he followed. He had walked this particular route before and was fairly used to it. When he stood before the King, he gave a deep bow.
"Your Majesty," he said stoically.
King George, sitting upon his throne, eyed the man intently. The King's dark eyes locked with the man's hazel ones for a long moment before he spoke.
"It's come to my attention," the King started, "that someone of mutual interest has been seen lately."
"Mutual interest?" the man asked.
"You know of whom I speak," the King said flippantly. "Your fiancé."
The man remained stoic, his guard staying up as the monarch surveyed his features for any kind of reaction.
"You have news, Your Majesty?"
"It seems she has left my generous hospitality of the homeland and has been seen in the colony of Port Royal, dear boy. Which makes my proposition much more beneficial to you."
"I want you to go get her. Bring her back to London so you can marry her. Think of it as a man running to go save her betrothed and winning her undying love."
Sarcastic undertones dripped from his words, which were not unnoticed by the man before him.
"If you don't, I can have this all taken care of. You will be accompanied by a friend of mine."
With two fingers, he gestured to his guards to open the doors behind the man. The doors slowly swung open, and a single man crossed the threshold. He approached the throne, and bowed his head. The man took in the newcomer's features. His eyes were cold, a stony brown. His face was set, some wrinkles etched into his face, and a scar ran down the side of his head near his hairline from his right temple straight down to his jawline. He wore no wig, but his brown hair was tied behind his neck under a tricorn hat. He was taller than him, most likely by about five inches.
"This is Mercer," the King declared. "He's the best assassin I have to offer."
"Assassin, your Majesty?" the man asked incredulously. "Surely no such measures are needed?"
"Here's my offer, boy. You convince her to come back and marry you so you can live happily ever after with her out of my sight, or I'll have Mercer here dispose of her. I see it as a friendly competition."
"When is the next ship due to sail?"
"Tomorrow. Pack your things. You're going to be there for a while anyway. I'm making you the lead of the East India Trading Company, Lord Beckett. I hope you find her, boy. I hear the waters are perilous there and are no place for a lady such as Narelle to live in such fear. Now go. I have other matters to attend to."
Dawn was only a few minutes away when Narelle Westbrook sleepily made her way inside Fort Charles. The air was crisp, although it wouldn't last. The sun would warm the town on the island before long, and the sweltering heat would soon set in. The stone walls of Fort Charles provided some cooler temperatures towards the center, but most of the time it didn't help. The Caribbean sun was relentless, especially within the last week. Dress coats were often abandoned at midday, left to hang on hooks under hats, or draped around the back of chairs. During the extreme heat, the order of wigs was overlooked for troops and officers' safety.
Narelle was normally not the type of officer to show up so tired. Usually, she was awake, alert, and ready to start her shift for the day. If not for Sophie, her maid, she would have likely slept the day away, or shown up late with perhaps half her uniform on.
Port Royal was attacked the previous night. It was the third time in two months. It almost seemed that as soon as repairs to the island port were complete, they would fall under attack again. The first two were disorganized bands of pirates. Although they inflicted a lot of damage, the lack of communication ultimately led to their demise. Both crews were swiftly captured, imprisoned, hung, and their ships were scrapped to use as repair material for the home fleet and any necessary buildings in the port. Most ships with at least a moderately intelligent captain would turn sail and leave at the sound of warning cannon fire. Narelle had concluded that they were either desperate or completely stupid.
The group last night was led by Jack Sparrow. When she figured it out in the midst of a brief skirmish and mass confusion, Narelle slowly came to terms as she knew James Norrington was going to go after him. He made the promise to Governor Swann about four months ago, and she knew he wasn't the kind of man to go back on his word. It bothered her, but she knew she wouldn't be able to dissuade him.
She shuffled down the hallway inside the fort, fumbling around her pockets for the key to her office. Her fingers brushed the familiar cold metal and breathed a sigh of relief that she actually remembered to bring her key. The only copy was held by James, and she made the embarrassing walk to his office more often than not for him to let her into her own office. She slid the key into the hole, and was about to turn it, when the door swung open slightly already. She shrugged off the fatigue and was now alert; she opened it the rest of the way slowly, not sure what to expect.
Her ice blue eyes swept the room quickly for any sign of an intruder. She tiptoed inside, her hand gripping the hilt of her sword. She was rarely paranoid, but the door being already unlocked for her tripped a red flag in her mind. When her eyes settled on her desk, however, she dropped her hand, and smiled.
A note was lying on the surface next to a steaming cup of black tea. When she approached her desk, she recognized the penmanship. To her surprise, the paper only had two short sentences.
A little pick me up…
Come find me in my office.
She took a sip and sighed as she felt the tea warm her soul. She already felt more invigorated to take on the day. Her eyes closed for a moment, letting the hot liquid clear her mind. She felt the stress melt away, truly feeling serene, if only for a moment. It took her a surprising amount of willpower to set the cup onto the saucer and leave her office. Four doors further down the hall was the familiar door to James's office. She knocked softly.
"Enter" came his voice, muffled slightly from the door.
She opened the door and smiled at the sight. Already busy working, James's head was angled towards the papers he was writing on. He didn't see her come in, and simply kept writing.
"Already hard at work, I see," she said, amused.
She saw him hesitate and smile at his work. He didn't look up immediately, instead dipping his pen in the ink.
"Please allow me to finish this sentence, my dear. I promise to be with you in just a moment."
Instead of acknowledging him, she sat in one of the chairs opposite him. Her eyes roamed the space around her and rested on the bookshelf over his right shoulder. Adorned with books, charts, and various relics recovered from voyages, she always wondered about how he came to acquire the trinkets. Were they from mysterious adventures he never told her about? Were they something worse, like trophies from significantly notorious pirates? Were they simply gifts to him after saving civilians from an untimely demise? She never knew. She never asked, mainly due to her respect for him. It never dulled her curiosity, however.
With a final scratching of his elegant signature, he returned his pen to the ink bottle. James laid the piece of paper on top of a small pile and focused his attention on her. He met her eyes for a moment, a genuine smile on his face only briefly before his expression turned more stoic.
"I think you know what my plan is," he said.
"You did make a promise," she replied with a sigh. "I just wish…" she trailed off.
"I know. I wish we had more time together as well."
"Take me with you, then."
He smirked. "This will hopefully be quick," he said. "I need you here to command the fort while I'm gone."
Her expression fell slightly, but she nodded. She knew he was right; if neither he nor Narelle were here to keep the fort running, she was sure it would descend into chaos. The cleanup from the adventure chasing Sparrow the first time was horrendous. Many troopers left behind thought it was fun to not report for duty, instead partying and wreaking local havoc on the poor town. The disappointment from James upon return was nothing to the wrath that Narelle wrought upon her subordinates. As punishment, everyone was demoted, uniforms were taken from them except for their hats. In her eyes, every man had to earn their uniform back. It caused a spectacle when columns of troops marched back in nothing but undergarments and their hats. James at first was against the initial moves on her part, but eventually came around after seeing a truly respectable and professional detachment of troops under her command. She pushed them to train harder and longer, and the results were astounding. He had never seen the fort run so smoothly after finding their own purposes. He was proud of them before, sure, but his feeling of pride certainly swelled.
Her wrath was not just on the enlisted, however. She re-trained the officers also. While no man, officer nor enlisted, were able to defeat her in sword sparring still, she certainly was impressed with the renewed vigor and determination they gave.
Snapping out of her reminiscing, she nodded again. "I really don't want to re-train everyone again," she said with a smirk.
James chuckled. "But look at the results!" he replied jovially. "I'm tempted to take you with me just to make them even better!"
Smiling, she rolled her eyes and shook her head. She rose from her chair. James followed suit, came around her desk, and pulled her into his arms. Due to his height advantage over her, he gently rested his chin on the top of her head.
"I promise to be back quickly," he said over her.
"I know you will," she replied. "I'll send a ship after you if you take too long, however."
"I have no doubt." He closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the time with her.
"When do you set sail?" she asked.
"My ship is ready," came his reply. "I just wanted to make sure everything is squared away. I believe you are set up nicely as far as reports and paperwork, but I wanted to see you one more time before I disembark."
"I'm glad I came by, then."
He pulled back only to lightly touch her cheek with his thumb. She reached up to gently pull him closer to her, and she kissed him.
She pulled back after a moment.
"You're in charge, Captain," he said softly.
"Only until your valiant return, Commodore," she replied with a smirk. "Now go, dear. Sparrow isn't going to catch himself."
Thank you for making it this far, at least. Again, please let me know what you think. I'm glad you took the time to read this. :D