Seven of them. Seven bloody agents of the bloody East India Trading Company. All wide awake, all staring straight at him. Jack shifted a little in his chains, trying not to jingle the damned things, looking for a comfortable position. There wasn't one, apparently.
He still heard Black Bart's laughter, heard him proposing the wager. And he, like a fool, had taken it, so certain he would win.
Jack'd rather die than admit it (and, come to think of it, he might), but perhaps, just perhaps, he'd bitten off more than he could chew this time.
It didn't look good.
Captain Carter prided himself on his seamanship. He liked to think that he could out-sail and out-fight any pirate or coasting smuggler in the Caribbean. His Redoubtable had the best record of victories of all the Jamaica squadron. He'd boasted of it more than once and, perhaps, too loudly. It was taken, in certain quarters, as a challenge.
He suffered, therefore, considerable mortification when Redoubtable was neatly dismasted and boarded by the 26-gun sloop Fury. Fuming, he stood with the remnant of his men; the pirate captain approached. Rage became apoplexy as Anamaria, grinning, broke his sword over her knee.
Jack inhaled another lungful of the oddly-scented smoke, held it, exhaled slowly. It had a musty-spicy sweetness to it, not unlike certain incenses he'd smelled on the Main, up in the hills, where the natives' influence had changed even the rituals of the Church. He rolled his tongue against the roof of his mouth to taste it again, pleasantly fascinated with the faint tickling sensation so induced. He closed his eyes and concentrated, running the tip of his tongue over his palate, teeth and lips, mesmerized.
Jack lay back and laughed. Someday, he'd smoke this with James. That'd be… interesting.
The offices at Government House were in a state of barely-organized chaos as the wedding day dawned. Servants hustled through last minute tasks. A chest of teaspoons, inexplicably misplaced, was located at last and the butler set three of the footmen to polishing them. The kitchens were a blur of stirring, kneading, basting, roasting, and baking – with houseguests to feed and the wedding breakfast to prepare. The flower arrangements were placed on the tables just as the sun rose in a red sky.
"Rain today," one maid said, as they hurriedly straightened the chairs.
"Bite your tongue!" her companion replied.
“Miss Elizabeth,” Estrella exclaimed, “give over, do! We’ll never be ready in time for the ceremony if you don’t stop fidgeting.”
The bride held herself still for a few moments before she forgot her maid’s injunction and was jigging up and down, and craning her neck to see her gown in the mirror.
Estrella huffed an exasperated breath and muttered, “If we hadn’t already done your hair up so nicely, I’d box your ears, see if I don’t.”
Elizabeth laughed and, whirling round, caught the other in a tight hug. “You wouldn’t!”
The maid laughed, too. “No, Miss. Not today.”
Governor Swann sat in Commodore Norrington’s office, staring at nothing. Tired… so very tired. Was it really just twelve hours ago that the world had changed?
Then: a peaceful evening stroll with (please God) his future son-in-law.
Now: the waterfront in ruins, townsfolk dead or injured, the Navy hard hit.
Then – it seemed another lifetime – his worst fear was that his headstrong daughter might refuse Norrington.
Now his darling child was gone – abducted for he dared not think what purpose. And that impetuous boy planning who knew what foolhardiness…
Swann groaned softly. Norrington would find her. They would find her.
Ragetti woke from a heavy sleep when Pintel shook his arm. He spent a lot of time asleep, every minute he could.
"They're bringing food," Pintel was saying. "Come on. Keep up your strength."
Ragetti turned away and closed his eyes. "No point in eating," he muttered. "Still gonna hang."
Keys rattled as guards brought hard tack and water to the Pearl's whilom crew. Ragetti ignored them, even when Pintel put his ration down next to him.
Pintel whispered, "If you don't eat, how you gonna come with me when I escape?"
"Hope's for fools," Ragetti answered, and dozed off again.
They lay panting, sweaty and spent; stuck together in places. The sheets were a mess. The last candle guttered on the table, wax spilling as the Pearl rocked on a gentle swell.
"I don't think," James said, after a time, "that I ever would have thought of quite that use for avocado."
Jack, eyes closed, looked smug. "I told you to trust me," he murmured. "You have yet to learn sufficient appreciation of my artistic temperament, mate."
James rolled, stretched out along Jack's body, nibbling on the offered mouth, and chuckled. "Is that what they are calling it these days?"
Will smiled to himself as he worked, these days. And hummed. And even, now and then, when no one was nearby, sang. Oh, to be sure, there were times when he would consider all the ways in which this… this fairy tale he found himself in the middle of could go horribly wrong, and then the crease would appear between his brows and he would fall silent for a time.
But then a servant would come from Government House with a note from Elizabeth inviting him to dinner, and he would know once more that it was real. And smile.
He whistled softly through his teeth as he rubbed down the dainty mare. She nipped at him playfully; he laughed and swatted her flank. "None o' that, you hussy," he told her. Sprite shook her head; went back to munching her hay.
In the tack room, still whistling, he polished the mare's bridle until it gleamed. The head groom, peevish, told him to leave off the racket.
But hadn't Miss Swann given him, Joe Barnes, the youngest stable boy, a whole silver penny today? "Because," she'd said, "no one takes care of Sprite half so well." Joe whistled louder still.