3.0 – Quandary
After the captain of the Bloody Diamond had bargained her life away for the well-being of her crew, the prison at Fort Charles became her home.
When they reached Port Royal in battered states aboard the Interceptor, Commodore Norrington escorted Captain Jay down to the refurbished cell personally. Much of the events that led to Elizabeth and Claudia’s abduction and Cutler Beckett’s demise were shrouded in mystery and trumped up to preternatural detail. By the time the royal decision had reached the island, Norrington couldn’t count how many versions of the true events he had heard.
Governor Swann informed them when they returned that Jessica’s execution was stayed pending the recent events. He did not elaborate what force had caused these events, and speculation surfaced placing him the arbiter of this turn. Claudia, with her inheritance from her mother’s death and earnings from her musical ventures, rented a house in Port Royal and fired off a volley of fierce and emotional letters imploring anyone to spare her sister’s life. One of those had been to Admiral Merrell whose son had contacts close to the King’s ear. Jessica accepted her fate stoically. For her, her life would not end in vain. Her sisters were free. Cutler Beckett was dead. She could die satisfied.
In the middle of the deliberation over Captain Jay’s fate Norrington found himself at an impasse. Here was this offender of the law, a pirate, who by law deserved nothing less than hanging. However, from another perspective, this offender was a woman who did not acquire this life nonchalantly but to shield her sisters. The non-existent protection she was entitled to receive from males resulted in her having to resolve problems on her own. While Commodore Norrington received accolades for catching the notorious criminal, his sense of chivalry balked at the slight.
His resolve broke completely when Claudia stormed into his office a month after their return.
She was impeccably attired as usual. Her pale blue dress accentuated her small frame and heightened the color of her eyes. Her dark hair was pulled back from her face and left to freely fall down her back. Ever since they had docked after her abduction, she emanated a newfound fierceness that invoked a bit a fear. It was in stark contrast to her sister’s lethargy, which to her was unsettling.
“Miss Vargas,” Norrington said blandly in way of greeting.
“When do we receive word on my sister’s fate?” Claudia demanded without preamble.
Having been in the middle of paperwork, Norrington merely laid down his quill and raised an eyebrow at her. “These things take time, Miss Vargas. I suggest that you practice some patience and enjoy your sister’s company while you still can.”
Claudia’s eyes flashed with indignation. “Commodore Norrington, are you so mired in your rules and regulations that you fail to see what happened to my sister? She was trying to protect us.”
Norrington leveled a serious gaze upon her. “Your sister resorted to a life of piracy and she must suffer the consequences. Had she sought assistance—”
“Assistance? You mean assistance from a man.” Claudia laughed sardonically and the sound grated. “Not all men in this world possess a moral compass as strict as yours. Cutler Beckett was the embodiment of that reality, and you witnessed his treachery. It nearly ended my life, Commodore. So forgive me if I seem dubious of the concept.” She stepped forward and laid a fist heavily on his desktop, causing his inkwell to tremble. “You need to do something, and you need to do something now.”
At this moment he rose from his chair, and Claudia had to raise her head to stare at him. The movement hardly changed dynamics overmuch. The glint of defiance still glittered Claudia’s eye. “I am not at your command, Miss Vargas, so please refrain from ordering me about.”
“You serve others, Commodore Norrington,” Claudia countered. “Including myself and my sister. You are at our command.”
Fleetingly he thought of the night at Fort Hamilton when he met Admiral Merrell, and he had recounted Jessica’s story much to her chagrin. When he had heard how her father had left her with his debts, how her younger brother had been killed leaving his sisters powerless, he had uttered the first thing that had occurred to him: Why didn’t you seek help?
“I will act as my conscience dictates, Miss Vargas,” Norrington promised, his voice firm. “I cannot promise anything more.”
“Then I hope your conscience recognizes the injustice,” Claudia said.
“Injustice that your sister resorted to a life of piracy?”
Claudia made a violently impatient gesture and he feared that she would knock something over—himself included. “Pirate is but a word, Commodore. A string of letters put together. It is you who gives it so much permanence. Please do not condemn my sister for a word.”
“Words are all we have to separate ourselves from beasts,” Norrington shot back. “Your sister chose her life. She could have solved her problems in any manner of ways.”
Claudia shook her head in consternation. “That time you spent with her, searching for me and Elizabeth. When she saved your life and the lives of your crewmen. Did you learn nothing?”
He remembered the moment as if it played out right in front of him. Above and around them a storm had raged, sending bursts of illumination into the room at frequent intervals. Her eyes had sparkled with fury, grief, and vulnerability, her feminine garb adding to the effect. They hadn’t noticed that the Admiral and Nicollette had left them alone to quarrel in relative private.
“Help? And who would have helped me, Commodore? Why would I have gone to a man to save me from another man’s perfidy?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do!”
“Right?! What the hell do you know about right? Right would have been my father not using me as a pawn. Right would have been Cutler Beckett not taking advantage of me. Right would have been my mother not dying a wasteful death. And the moment I do something that feels right, everyone tells me it’s wrong because I circumvented their flawed rules. Where the hell do I get any credit for taking matters into my own hands?”
The idea had tugged at something inside of him, and his lips had formed words before he could stop them. “If you had asked the right man, Jessica, he would have helped you.”
Eyes wide and tearful with the implication she hadn’t wanted to explore, she demanded, “And who would have been the right man?”
That question echoed in his head, a shot fired in an empty, cavernous room.
Claudia’s voice, showing her confusion, brought him back to the present. “Commodore Norrington?”
He blinked the memory out of his vision. The dark-haired woman in his midst knew something had shifted, but she could not discern what or what it meant. She stepped back and allowed for him to answer her query.
When he finally spoke, he seemed to have found his usual poise. “As I stated previously, I will act as my conscience dictates.” His tone held an air of dismissal. “Good day, Miss Vargas.”
With those words, he lowered himself into his seat as if the past several minutes hadn’t happened. Claudia stood over him and said nothing. After a long moment, she turned and drifted out slowly in direct contrast with how she entered. She brushed past Gillette, who frowned at the woman’s back as she walked away.
He must have hesitated too long for Norrington boomed, “Report, Lieutenant” and had Gillette turning back to him.
“Yes, sir,” he said, then gave his report. Claudia and her sister escaped mention because, while he wouldn’t say it aloud, Gillette sensed that Claudia’s visit had troubled the Commodore—and perhaps that wasn’t a horrible turn of events.
* * *
Meanwhile, down below in the prison, the woman in question received a visitor.
Other than Claudia, Gretchen and Samantha, Jessica had been largely left alone. She received meals twice a day but no one engaged her other than that giving of food. From the snatches of outside life she had gleaned from her few visitors, Port Royal awaited her execution. Life for them inched along, while for her it hung in abeyance.
She regarded the young woman in the dark cloak in bemusement. The princess of the town gracing her with her exalted presence threatened to upset the delicate balance that she maintained to uphold her sanity. But she chose to cling to her curiosity instead, seeing no apparent reason for Elizabeth Swann to be visiting her.
Jessica knew that Elizabeth and Claudia had become friends and bonded over their mutual danger. She also knew that Elizabeth had tried to protect Claudia while Delia had them in her clutches. For that she had Jessica’s respect and gratitude. However, despite their mutual caring for Claudia, Jessica felt the two women possessed nothing in common, and that fact made her slightly suspicious.
Jessica did not stand, but she did turn toward the younger woman. “I never expected to see you here amidst these bars,” she remarked, voice devoid of emotion.
Elizabeth’s expression held a bit of sadness, which bemused Jessica even more. “I never expected to see you here either.”
Jessica’s eyebrow quirked. “I did not know that you would care about my predicament, Miss Swann.”
Elizabeth shifted her feet, appearing tentative. Jessica observed the movement and wondered where this conversation headed. Her instincts told her that she wouldn’t like the turn.
“The fact of the matter is that I…” Elizabeth paused, gathering her nerve. Jessica watched patiently. “I feel that what is happening to you is unwarranted. And I don’t understand why you’re not fighting against it.”
Jessica chuckled sardonically as her chest tightened. The naïve notion of her fighting, picking up a weapon and testing her wits scored her deep. A part of her agreed but she squashed that tiny blossom before it grew. “Oh Miss Swann, you have no idea what I have done to deserve my imprisonment.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “You saved our lives out there. Whatever you did—”
“The ends do not justify the means,” Jessica interrupted sharply. “If you’re looking for a triumphant turn of events, please look elsewhere.”
Elizabeth stepped forward, hand on the bars. “If only you could have seen yourself…” She trailed off and placed her other hand on the bars. “My intention right now is to convince you to see your life as others do. I do not mean to cause you any grief.”
“What others?” Jessica asked. “You mean the humble masses who would love to see me hanging from a rope?”
“You could change their minds,” Elizabeth insisted. “But the people to whom I am referring witnessed what I had witnessed. I am not alone in my estimation of you, Captain Jay.”
“Thank you for holding me in such high esteem,” Jessica said, voice flat. “Now if you would please obey my wishes and leave me in peace to die—”
“There is little chance that you are truly in peace,” Elizabeth broke in, causing Jessica to blink at her in astonishment. “You are too strong, too smart. You have done things that the men in this town have only dreamed of doing. You have wisdom that the men in this town only wish they possess.”
“Men will parade foolishness in our faces and force us to take it as gospel even if that’s all they own,” Jessica remarked. “They do not admire me for my experience–they condemn me for it and steal whatever they can to pass along as theirs.”
Elizabeth lowered her head slightly until her forehead almost touched the bars. When she spoke, her voice was gentler. “Father is afraid that if they put you to death that he will lose me.” She raised her gaze to the stoic woman in her midst. “There is some part of me that understands his fear, but I find myself compelled to assist in saving your life because there will be a part of me lost if I don’t. There will be a part lost of us all.”
Elizabeth marveled at Jessica’s resolve. She stared at Elizabeth placidly as if they discussed a difference of opinion over dessert that evening. “Your father loves you and would do anything to protect you. Take solace in that fact because there are fathers out there who see a daughter as the biggest punishment Heaven could send them.”
“I am fully aware of my luck in that regard,” Elizabeth advised her. “And I understand that your own father was a selfish bastard who left an empty legacy to his daughters, Claudia won’t shut up about it.” Jessica chuckled dryly at that. “But that hardly means you get to demean your worth and accept this fate. You are better than this.”
Jessica stared at her. “Have you entertained the thought that perhaps I am not?”
“I refuse because I know better. You need to fight, Captain Jay. Make yourself free.”
“I cannot fight, Miss Swann!” Jessica exclaimed in a voice that was thick with emotion. “If I fight against this now, it will ruin everything. We have come so far—they have come so far. They’re getting everything that they wanted. Leave it be.”
“Who is getting what they want?” Elizabeth demanded. “Claudia can barely function without writing a letter so someone pleading for your life. When she’s not scribbling she’s trying to keep Samantha from knocking people about and Gretchen from falling into a pit of her own despair. And don’t get me started on the Commodore.”
The Commodore. That statement stole the breath from Jessica’s lungs. She averted her eyes as tears blurred her vision. “And what about him?” Jessica choked out. “He benefits the most from this so I hardly see how he could be distraught. Not to mention he sees me as a pirate, a non-person. There would be little chance of him having feelings for me.”
Elizabeth was shrewd enough to discern the change in her tone. She had witnessed Norrington’s reaction when Jessica nearly died banishing her aunt’s creation; others took his determination to preserve Jessica’s life as a display of loyalty to his orders–he had been ordered to bring her back alive, but Elizabeth, even in the midst of the excitement and relief of being reunited with Will, had noticed the subtle panic in his eyes. Now Norrington was more rigid than usual and kept Jessica out of sight. Jessica possessed enough intelligence to notice, and hurt radiated through her words.
“The Commodore is very confused by what should be a simple matter,” Elizabeth explained. “He possesses more empathy than you believe he does. Please do not condemn him for his outward demeanor.”
“Just like he has done to me?”
“What do you expect him to do? Utterly defy everything he knows? Even if he did, you wouldn’t want him to so.”
The veracity of the statement sent a shockwave through Jessica and she nearly buckled. Elizabeth, regrettably, was correct; as romantic as the notion would have been, Commodore Norrington letting her escape had no practical purpose. Jessica would be looking over her shoulder for him for the rest of her life, and he would most likely suffer ridicule for allowing for her to evade his clutches. She cared for him. She did not want that to happen.
The whole scenario made Elizabeth want to pound her head against stone.
“This is truly the best set of circumstances for all involved,” Jessica remarked so softly that Elizabeth barely heard her.
Elizabeth looked at her, sadness descending upon her features. “I don’t agree.”
Jessica said the only thing left to say. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth.” She stepped closer and placed her hand on the younger woman’s curled fingers. “I am sorry if I have disappointed you. I…” She swallowed, trying to keep the overflow of saliva from making her choke. “Please take care of…them. All of them. Even…”
Elizabeth turned her palm upward. Their fingers brushed, their gazes locked. “Him the most.”
Realizing that Jessica was not going to budge, Elizabeth stood there a moment longer before drifting away wordlessly. When Elizabeth was out of sight, she slumped to her knees, weeping over reopened wounds. And when the tears had run their course, she silently pushed the emotions away until she was numb again.
* * *
The month stretched into nearly two. Fort Charles had been almost completely repaired from the previous invasion from the crew of the Sea Dragon, and Commodore Norrington oversaw the recruitment of more officers. The formal announcement of Elizabeth’s engagement overshadowed the predicament of the imprisoned Captain Jay. The citizens of Port Royal chattered excitedly about the wedding plans, while Norrington hid his feelings behind a mask.
He was shrewd enough to understand he was being watched, too.
He spent his days at the fort preparing the new recruits and overseeing repairs on the Dauntless, hiding behind the veneer of a man with too much on his shoulders. When he allowed himself to rest, his dreams were filled with a dark-haired woman. Her presence unnerved him. He knew who she was instinctively but didn’t and couldn’t have the evidence to confirm.
Their recent meetings were less whimsical than their first. She usually appeared staring out his window or sitting in a chair, never too close. After his conversation with Claudia however, when she appeared, she was perched at the end of his bed, at his feet. Her long hair was unbound and uncovered, giving her the illusion of youth. She emanated sorrow and as he sat up—he clearly resided in the dream state and ignored the warmth and permanence of her hip next to his right foot—he saw the tear stains darkening her skirt.
He said nothing at first, knowing what plagued her. “I’m sorry,” he finally managed.
She wiped at her tears. Her free hand held a sheet of parchment. His stomach clenched when he realized what it was.
It was Jessica’s death warrant, unsigned.
“I should have seen it coming,” she murmured, looking at Jessica’s offenses listed in ink. “From the moment she came into this world, she was determined to live her own way. I never got a chance to teach her the right course…”
He reached over and took the warrant. She raised her eyes, and the knot in his stomach tightened. His reason attempted to remind him that he spoke to a ghost but failed. “Every step that she took was her own. You cannot blame yourself for things that are out of your control.”
She shook her head. “When you have children, I will make sure you remember that sentiment, Commodore.” He certainty in her voice gave him pause, but she continued. “Yes, she made her own path, and yes she is her own person, but I set her on this course.” She placed a hand on his leg and he nearly jumped out of his own skin. This was supposed to be a dream. She wasn’t supposed to be solid. This wasn’t supposed to feel so real. “You have to intervene.”
“I cannot,” he argued. “I must uphold the law.”
“And so you will,” she countered. “But this once. Just this once. Let it go.”
He hopped out of bed, relieved to be free of the eerie weight of her hand on his calf. “Do you know what will happen if I do what you have requested of me? I refuse to ignore the reprehensible things she has done just because of her situation. She is not any more remarkable than the other pirates I have had hung.”
“No,” she shot back fiercely, standing. In another life, she would have been an excellent lawyer. “I am disappointed that you would look at everything so strictly in absolutes. Do you know why you are an agent of the law? Do you know why you have been entrusted to carry it through to completion? Because you are intelligent man, and you understand right from wrong. My daughter may not possess the purest heart but she does have one.” She stood and crossed her arms over her chest, reminding him instantly of her eldest. “You are smarting over the fact that Jack Sparrow lingers out of your grasp.”
“This has absolutely nothing to do with Jack Sparrow,” he snapped. Good thing this was only a dream or he would have awoken everyone in town. “The fact that your daughter was so closely aligned with that pirate is immaterial. It doesn’t detract from her own offenses. I plan to pursue him in due time.”
“Yet you allowed for him to escape. And my daughter still lives.” Something flickered his face at the revelation. “I sense a growing trend here. Which tells me one thing, Commodore Norrington.” She paused for effect. “You have no intention of putting either one of them to death.”
He froze. Her words echoed the small voice inside of him that had been whispering objections ever since they had docked. When he whirled, her eyes peered at him unwaveringly. Yes, this was the woman who had borne Jessica Thomas. No other person could manage that intense stare. Angrily he crossed the room and picked up the death warrant he had laid aside. Fear leaped into her eyes.
“I will sign this warrant right this very moment just to show you how wrong you are,” he warned her.
Her eyes flickered toward the paper. “You can’t do it, James,” she told him softly.
He glared at her for her perception. “Do not pretend that you have any knowledge of what I am capable.” He turned to his desk and picked up his quill. As he slapped the paper onto the surface, she stepped forward and snatched it up, causing his inkwell to spill. Quicker than he could blink she had it balled in her fist.
He pressed his lips together as she tossed it into the fire. For a while, the burning logs made the only sound in the room.
“It can be written again,” he reminded her. “You are only delaying the inevitable demise of your daughter and your presence here is doing nothing but causing me undue aggravation which will not endear me to show her any mercy. So if you would please, Madame.”
She eyed him with an inscrutable expression for a long, intense moment. “If you allow for some executioner to slip a noose around Jessica’s neck, she will not be the only person you’ll be putting to death.”
He tried to ignore the veracity of her words. “Her siblings will surmount their grief, in time.”
She tilted her head sadly. “Not my daughters, James. You are reluctant to admit it, but you know precisely who I mean.”
When he hastily emerged from the dream in his darkened and chilly bedroom, he almost expected to find her there. But he was alone. You know precisely who I mean. His quickened breath filled the stillness, and as he fought to calm himself, he noticed a dripping sound. His senses sharpened tenfold; he scanned the room, noting no rain fell outside, so it couldn’t have been the roof—
At that moment he caught sight of his desktop. He had been reviewing documents before bed, so papers were strewn across the wood. That however did not bother him. What he noticed next had his blood going cold.
The inkwell laid on its side, its contents staining his floor. Drip, drip.
He found with that discovery he could not sleep. So he righted the inkwell, cleaned up the spill, and lit the lamp he used whenever he worked. You know precisely who I mean. He found a blank page and composed his thoughts.
* * *
The next day came and passed with little ceremony. His melancholy specter avoided his dreams, leaving his slumber in darkness. He glumly assumed it was because she felt she could do no more, not to mention he had not been very hospitable. He didn’t bother reminding himself again no etiquette existed for preternatural relations.
As time neared the third month of Jessica’s incarceration, very little changed. Elizabeth’s engagement dominated the town’s attention, and Jessica remained out of sight. She rarely said a word to anyone. Norrington had permitted her to have books to pass the time, and he heard that Claudia had resolved to officially document her sister’s existence for posterity. He did not mind these things—or rather he pushed them out of his head, for the reminder that Captain Jay languished beneath his feet pained him.
The day the royal courier came had started out on the wrong foot. Storms the evening previous had left debris behind with some moderate damage. A frustrating incident in town involving an escaped hen had taxed Norrington’s patience. Amidst this Norrington seemed stiffer than usual. Truth be told, he slept badly the night before and he could not move his head without discomfort until early afternoon.
Lieutenant Groves simply avoided him for a short while, hoping that the tiny absence would endear him to his superior. Or make him less likely to throw a sharp object in Groves’s direction. The repairs on the Dauntless were nearly complete. Norrington would be pleased to hear that in his report. As he strode down the gangplank and back on to the dock, composing his report in his head, Groves spied the man in regal garb and felt a strange tingle in his spine.
He greeted the gentleman, revealed his name and rank. The man bowed, offering his title and position along with apologies for the delay, then pressed a leather pouch into Groves’s hands.
The thought unsettled him that he held the fate of the woman who had saved his life so much that he stood in place for several moments even after the gentleman had vacated his presence.
Lieutenant Gillette yelled his name but it didn’t register. When Gillette placed a hand on his shoulder, Groves finally acknowledged his presence. Gillette started to tease him about having his head in the clouds when he spied what Groves held in his hands.
“Hold a moment,” Gillette said. “Is that…what I think it is?”
“No,” Groves responded to the unspoken question. “I didn’t open it. For all we know, it could be something else.”
Gillette raised an eyebrow. “Somehow I find that hard to believe considering the fact that we have been waiting weeks for this correspondence.” He gave the leather a considering look. “Do you think he would know if we…took a small peek?”
Groves rolled his eyes. “That man is a bloodhound. He would most likely know that we discussed it even if we didn’t open it at all.”
Pause. “We should get this to him immediately.”
“Wait.” Groves placed a hand on Gillette’s arm. “What if this is it? What if he has to…?”
Gillette pressed his lips together. “The only way we could ever know is to simply give it to him.”
Fueled by their curiosity coupled with equal parts dread, Groves and Gillette took long, ground-eating strides to Commodore Norrington’s office. When they arrived at their superior’s office, Norrington was dismissing a newly appointed midshipman.
He blinked at bit at the sight of them in his doorway but regained his poise. “Gentlemen?”
“Commodore,” Groves began, “this just arrived by courier. I came here without delay.”
Gillette’s eyebrow quirked but he said nothing. He watched as Norrington took the leather pouch from Groves and extracted the parchment from the inside. The document was stamped by the official wax seal of His Majesty the King of England. With a small moment to regard the seal—and to visually verify its veracity, no doubt—Norrington unfolded the parchment.
He took one prolonged look at the document, face impassive, and sharply exited his office without a single sound. The document went into his coat, result hidden for now. Groves and Gillette shared a glance behind his back and marched behind his heels. They knew better than to ask any questions at this point.
Captain Jay was the single prisoner in their keep at the present. Norrington made little acknowledgment of the officer on watch even though he dutifully saluted and stood at attention as his superior went by.
The footfalls seemed loud in the absence of no other human interaction, but she didn’t even move when they clamored through. She sat on the stone floor in the cell, her back to the wall. She had eaten very little since her incarceration had begun, and her clothing hung limply on her skinnier frame. With her knees up to her chest and staring at her arms on her kneecaps, she appeared a pale version of her old self.
Her head only lifted when she sensed Commodore Norrington near.
To explain what Jessica Thomas felt at that moment would be complicated. Amid a myriad of feelings, she had tried to hang on to serenity. However, grief and indignation fought to shut it out, leaving her exhausted. She wanted this to end. If she was going to die, she wanted to get it over with.
Neither said a word. Finally she tilted her head to look at him, the starkness of her eyes popping out of her dirty, gaunt face. He did not react to seeing her this way but inwardly he cringed. She slowly rose to her full height, and if the bars had not been in place they would have been toe-to-toe.
She shattered the silence. “So when is the appointed hour, Commodore?”
He gazed at her unwaveringly. Something flickered in his eyes but his features did not change.
“The appointed hour is out of my influence, Captain,” the Commodore stated flatly. Her face started to fall, feature by feature. “It seems that you have been pardoned by His Majesty himself.”
She tried to hold on to her calm but it flew out of her grasp. Her heart started thumping with an emotion she hadn’t felt in a while: hope. He nodded to the guard, who unlocked the cell. It creaked open, and it was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard.
“You are free to go, Captain Jay,” the Commodore advised her.
Her lip trembled but she quickly firmed it while she mustered up poise. She still had enough pride left and she hardly wanted him to see her cry. She took a tentative step forward, then another. Now they were toe-to-toe. Volumes of words hovered in the air, silent and waiting to be used, spoken.
She only chose three. “Thank you, Commodore,” she said, her voice heavy with emotion.
He shook his head imperceptibly. “I hardly did anything.”
A smile ghosted at the edges of her mouth but she uttered nothing. She moved past him, flanked by Gillette and Groves and he watched her back, fighting with his emotions as well.
Norrington was a few paces behind, but he witnessed the tearful reunion between the two sisters. He heard Claudia fussing over her big sister, chattering about getting her cleaned up and in new clothes. Finally Jessica had to tell her stop talking I need a moment and began sobbing into her younger sister’s dark hair. Feeling like a voyeur, Norrington drifted back into his own world.