|Overall rating: R
Genre: slash, drama - Pirates of the Caribbean
Pairings: Norrington/Gillette, Gillette/OMC, hint of Elizabeth/Will
Feedback: very welcome. Good or bad.
Summary: Captain Benham has been ordered to Port Royal to sort out the mess Lord Cutler Beckett has left behind. He's confronted with a web of lies, secrets and a lieutenant who refuses to accept that his captain is dead.
Author's note: While this story is a stand-alone, it can be read as a sequel to "UNSOILED".
Mr. Wallace's original intention had been to inform Captain Benham of his visitor's arrival, but as usual he found it difficult to interrupt his captain's word flow.
"Wally, what do we have here?" Benham asked, gesturing at the bookcase in front of him. Mr. Wallace scratched his head. It was always difficult to tell whether the questions Captain Benham asked were genuine or of a rhetorical nature.
"I'd say it's a bookcase, Sir," he finally replied. For the last twenty years he had served Lucas Benham, and was more of a father than a servant to him, which explained the rather informal tone of their conversation.
Mr. Jeremy, midshipman and Benham's secretary, tapped his foot impatiently. "Captain Benham is aware of this piece of furniture's purpose, Mr. Wallace. He wants to know what's wrong with it."
Mr. Wallace considered the situation and eyed the bookcase in question once more.
"It's - empty?"
"Exactly!" Benham cried out, and gestured at the empty shelves. "I'm standing in the late James Norrington's library, and here I have a bookcase without books. Now I'm well aware that Lord Cutler Beckett was a thieving magpie, but I doubt he looted the library."
"One never knows with the EITC, Sir. Maybe he needed the books. To sit on. So his visitors could see him behind the desk, you know."
Benham had to hide a grin.
"Good point, Wally. Mr. Jeremy, which books are missing?"
The young man went through his papers and finally found the list with the books.
"Cookery, gardening, medicine, poetry, romance..."
"Imagine Lord Cutler Beckett reading Dante's Divine Comedy while sitting on a heap of coals in hell. I like the idea."
Wallace cleared his throat.
"I suppose it was Lieutenant Gillette who took the books, Sir."
Benham groaned and leaned on the desk.
"Not again! What would he want those books for?"
"Don't know, Sir. Maybe he likes reading them. Some people do, I've heard."
The seaman looked innocently at his captain, but Benham couldn't be fooled.
"With the formidable Mr. Jeremy here we already have an avid reader in our midst, Wally. Not much would get done if I'd spend my days with Shakespeare's sonnets, lovely as they might be. I was told they were, at least. Wally, I'd say I'm a decent chap. There are even people who genuinely like me. So what have I done to Lieutenant Gillette to deserve such treatment? The maps are gone. The books have disappeared. The house is empty. I don't understand it. James always held him in such high regard and sung his praise in his letters. This is ridiculous."
"He sounds like a brute, Sir," Jeremy said, wrinkling his nose. Wallace, who found the midshipman to be rather toffee-nosed, shook his head.
"You know, Sir, I don't think it's anything personal. I guess it's just that you're not Commodore Norrington. I know I wouldn't want anybody to poke around your effects, should anything happen."
"I'm touched. What would you do with them? Put them in a chest and bury the treasure? Future generations would be excited to excavate my stockings and cravats, no doubt."
"Don't know about that, Sir. Might just keep them somewhere safe. But that's just me, Sir."
"Sooner or later I'll have to talk to that odd fish. But you came with a message, Wally. What is it?"
"It's Mrs. Turner, Sir. She's waiting outside. And she's armed."
"Good grief! I hope the guards will take care of this!"
"Armed? Very good. I find women carrying swords rather attractive."
Wallace, who secretly agreed with Benham, grinned as well, showing large tooth gaps.
"No, Sir. I mean she has the wee one with her."
"The baby? That's what I'd call heavily armed. She isn't crying, is she? I can't deny crying women anything."
"No, she's not. Doesn't look like the crying type to me, anyway. A bit of an Amazon, I'd say, Sir."
"I thought so. Send Queen Antiope in then."
"Aye, Sir," Wallace replied, and hurried to follow his captain's orders.
"Do you wish me to order tea for your guest, Sir?"
Benham shook his head.
"No, Mr. Jeremy. This visit shouldn't last long. Please stay here, there might be some papers to prepare and sign."
"As you wish, Sir."
Captain Benham returned to his seat behind the large desk, and tried to collect his thoughts. He had made captain at a very young age, and while his family's connections had helped his ambitions, the main reason for his success was his original way of thinking and his recklessness in battle. He had repeatedly been declared insane by his peers for his risky actions, yet he had been highly successful. Sitting here in the Caribbean, sorting out the mess Lord Cutler Beckett had left behind, was just another step on the stairway to success.
Or so he had thought.
Upon arrival in Port Royal, he had been confronted with fantastic stories about undead pirates, cursed ships and witches. At first he had laughed, but then he had been shown solid proof and had talked to credible witnesses. This could not be brushed off as mere seaman's yarn. His gnome-like lordship had obviously ruled over this part of the world by his own laws, and every time Benham thought he'd finally reached the bottom of Beckett's cesspool, somebody came along and passed him a shovel to dig deeper.
It was a mess, a disgrace to the British Empire, the Royal Navy and the EITC, and every time Benham visited the garden behind his house to look after his cabbages, he cursed and swore at Lord Cutler Beckett's portrait. At least it kept the crows away, a small comfort.
Benham wasn't quite sure what James Norrington's part had been in all this. He knew him as a man of honour, a bit hesitant in his decisions and probably not as reckless as other officers. Norrington had lacked ambition, but he had been a gentleman through and through. They had been friends, and Lucas Benham wanted to know the circumstances of James Norrington's death. By his orders, Wallace had spent many hours at the local taverns, trying to learn more about the events of the last year. What he learnrd he reported to his captain, so Benham knew many pieces of the puzzle, but he couldn't see the full picture yet.
There was a knock on the door, and upon his invitation, the maid entered, curtsying.
"Mrs. Turner to see you, Sir," she announced.
Benham rose and bowed; after all Mrs. Turner was the daughter of the late Governor Swann, who had been a friend of Benham's father. She had also been the captain of a pirate ship and was married to the captain of the Flying Dutchman, facts Benham had only come to accept after many bottles of whiskey.
"Very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Turner. Please take a seat."
"Thank you, Captain Benham."
Elizabeth Turner knew that Benham was not a man to be trifled with. He had a keen mind; the dark eyes were friendly, but alert, and she always felt as if he could look right through her. Unlike James, who had made a point of being dressed perfectly and according to regulations at all times, Benham didn't wear a wig. His black hair was held back in a pigtail like that of an ordinary sailor, the freckles on his nose a stark contrast to his otherwise pale skin. He had what her father would have called "blackberry looks", and HMS Blackberry just happened to be the name of his ship.
To Elizabeth, he looked more like a bird, though - a raptor.
Captain Benham leaned back in his seat and waited for the maid to leave. When he heard the door close, he looked at Elizabeth expectantly.
"Mrs. Turner. What can I do for you?"
Elizabeth shifted the baby from left to right, trying not to drop the small bag she carried. Will was getting heavy, and like many young mothers, she hadn't quite figured out the art of performing deeds with two hands that would normally require three yet.
"I have what you're looking for and I'm here to conclude our transaction. However, I wish to state that I'm not a petitioner, I merely demand what is mine."
"I hope you are not here to claim James Norrington's books, Mrs. Turner. I'm afraid they have disappeared just like the rest of his estate."
"I'm not in the mood for jesting, Captain Benham."
Elizabeth held up the bag.
"I offer you this in return for my father's estate."
"There is no estate, Mrs. Turner, as has been explained to you several times. I regret this; I wish somebody had prevented Lord Cutler Beckett from his thieveries, but as things are, you are destitute. However, I was under the impression that arrangements have been made for you and your son?"
"Arrangements?" Elizabeth laughed bitterly. "Indeed! A small, draughty house next to a pigsty!"
Benham folded his hands.
"I know you are a woman of great intelligence, so I will not beat around the bush. You have been allowed to live here because my father was a friend of your father, because James Norrington was a friend of mine, and last but not least because I was of the opinion that a pirate ship was not the right place to bring up a child. If I would act according to the law, living next to a pigsty would be the smallest of your problems. Why are you of the opinion that you have any right to make demands, Mrs. Turner?"
Elizabeth chewed her lip. Benham was a clever man; of course her initial plan had been to return to her ship and bring up young Will there, but it wasn't possible. She didn't fear for her own life, never had, but she couldn't put her son's life at risk. Storms, fights - this was not what the boy needed, at least not as long as he was still so small and vulnerable.
"I did what I had to do. And James Norrington was a friend of mine as well."
"Again I have to apologise. I forgot - you were engaged once."
"Indeed. And despite everything James did, I held him in high regard until the end."
Benham smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes.
"So he redeemed himself for his sins?"
"He did," Elizabeth said firmly. "In the end he did the right thing."
"Saving your life, you mean? I would really like to understand what happened, Mrs. Turner, and you might be able to help me. What was the sin he committed?"
"He allied with Lord Cutler Beckett."
"Beckett promised to make him admiral and drop all charges."
"Why were those charges raised in the first place?"
Will began to stir, and Elizabeth gently rocked her son. The last thing she needed now was a crying baby.
"Because he allowed Captain Jack Sparrow to escape."
"And why did he do so?"
"Because - because Jack's a good man."
"Aha. And who persuaded James Norrington of that fact?"
Elizabeth would always remember the day when James had allowed Jack to flee. He had wished her and Will all the best for their future. How could she forget this? She was still convinced that she had done the right thing, yes, but at times, she felt guilty, and she'd never forget the way James had looked at her in the last moment of his life. Benham knew this, of course he did.
Elizabeth turned her head and looked out of the window.
"A thousand pounds, safe conduct back to Britain for me and my son, exemption from punishment for both me and my husband once he returns and the reassurance that I will never have to see Thomas Gillette again. In return, you will receive James Norrington's personal journal."
Benham tapped his lip with his index finger.
"I wasn't aware that Mr. Gillette was causing you trouble."
"No matter where I am, he's following me around. 'What happened to the commodore, Mrs. Swann? How did he die? Were you there?' I have told him what happened, everything, over and over again, but he doesn't believe me."
"I suppose that everybody has a personal interpretation of the truth, and I could well imagine that Mr. Gillette's version clashes with yours. I will agree to your terms, Mrs. Turner, but I have no idea how to keep Mr. Gillette away from you. He's a free man and can do whatever pleases him."
Elizabeth blew a strand of hair out of her face.
"Give him a command! Keep him busy! Aren't you looking for officers? Well, there you have one, and he's just the kind of pigheaded, arrogant fellow the Royal Navy appreciates! Do whatever you have to do, but keep him away from me!"
Benham turned his head to Mr. Jeremy.
"Please set up the necessary papers for Mrs. Turner, Mr. Jeremy. And tell Mr. Wallace to find Mr. Gillette, I wish to talk to him. If he should refuse to follow my order, Mr. Wallace is free to drag him here by his pigtail."
Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief. She hesitated a moment, wondering if she should wait for the papers to be signed and sealed before handing the journal over, but she knew that Governor Greene was a man of honour, and she had never heard anything bad about Captain Benham.
"Here - James Norrington's journal. It will explain everything that has happened over the last two years, starting with the day he arrived in Tortuga. Read it carefully, Captain Benham - I dare say you will find the content very informative and useful to put Mr. Gillette in his place."
There was an undertone in the last sentence that gave Benham an uncomfortable feeling, but he reached across the desk and took the bag.
"We will see. Please follow Mr. Jeremy to his office, Mrs. Turner. Good luck to you and your son. Should you ever want him to join the Royal Navy, please don't hesitate to contact me. We always need capable midshipmen."
"I doubt that this will ever be the case."
"A pity. And - Mrs. Turner? I will find out what really happened to James Norrington."
A nod from Elizabeth, a short bow of Benham's head, a whine from the baby, then Benham was alone. He waited a moment before he opened the bag, and had to swallow hard once he held the journal in his hand. The leather was hard from being soaked in saltwater, the pages held together by a blood-stained piece of cloth, probably a strip off a cravat.
"You were always an honest man, James. I trust you to be a reliable witness now. Don't disappoint me, old friend."
Then he began to read.
* * *
|BLACKBERRY - 1/15
by Molly Joyful