|For the next two days, Messrs. Turner and Norrington were fully occupied with the construction of a shelter. Will hacked with his sword at the trunk of small tree while Norrington sat in the shade, plaiting palm leaves for the roof of the hut they were building.
"Your sword will not last long with such treatment, Mr. Turner. I suggest you go for the trees felled by previous storms instead."
Will, sweating under the hot tropical sun, did not take kindly to Norrington's comments.
"Thank you for your good advice. I suppose you will help me with this task? So far, the distribution of duties seems a little unfair."
Norrington sniffed, making no move to stand up.
"The creation of a roof demands a capacity for abstract thought that unfortunately you don't possess, Mr. Turner."
"What abstract thinking is required to stick some leaves together?" Will protested. "Are you telling me I'm stupid?"
"No. Simple-minded, rather. You're a typical example of how the lower classes forget their place just because they were taught the alphabet. And now don't bother me further; you will accomplish nothing with idle talk."
Will returned to his work, but not without muttering and swearing every time he struck at the tree. The more his body ached, the more he resented Norrington, sitting in the shade and ordering him around.
Needless to say, that conversation did not improve relations between the two men. They could not stand each other, had nothing in common save their shared pleasure in thinking up creative and amusing ways of paving Captain Jack Sparrow's path to the afterlife. And even that became repetitive and stale after a while.
After dinner, which consisted once again of unidentifiable roast rodent, Will had the headache from hell as a result of his hard work in the sun. He was snappish and irritable, and since he had already criticised everything else he disliked about Norrington during the day, he now targeted the commodore's pièce de résistance.
"Can you tell me why you still wear that coat?" he asked while still chewing. "We are frying here like a couple of poor souls in the devil's pan, and you wear that ratty, tattered and dirty coat. There's no point, really, or do you expect King George himself to come by and pick us up?"
Norrington, who was just in the process of taking his coat off to hang it over a branch for the night, sniffed derisively.
"A gentleman will always hang up his coat, not allowing it to fall to the ground or throwing it carelessly in a corner. Not that you would know anything about that, of course. Your manners leave much to be desired – for goodness' sake, stop talking while you're still eating."
Despite his headache, Will laughed. It was the laughter of youth, cheerful and careless, and Norrington once again felt an urge to hit the young man over the head with a blunt instrument. How could he laugh like that while they were stranded on this bloody island?
"I see," Will grinned. "A real gentleman will make sure his coat is hanging neatly over a chair at night, but he doesn't mind rolling among the swine if he's wearing it. What a pity we don't have any pigs here, Mr. Norrington. Would it help your gentlemanly needs if I went and found some wild boar?"
Norrington looked at his coat. It was dirty and torn to shreds. It stank of all the hellholes he had been in these last months. But he remembered the day he had bought it. He had still been a commodore back then, a highly respected representative of His Majesty's Navy. The coat had not come cheap. He had loved the feel of the silken lining on his skin.
He sighed. All that seemed a thousand years ago; the coat belonged to another life, when he had still been someone.
Will had been watching Norrington, and the man's silence instead of the expected sharp retort made him feel uncomfortable.
"Are you not well?" he asked, looking a little worried. Truth be told, this was more his fear of being left here alone than actual concern for his companion's well-being, but Norrington chose to ignore the question, anyway.
"I will go and bathe before I sleep," he said.
"You have refused to swim in that pond since we arrived. Why now, in the middle of the night?"
"Because I feel like it," Norrington grumbled, and before Will could voice any further objections, he was heading for the small pool close by. Will, who was dead tired and ached all over, cursed the other man. He hauled himself to his feet, groaning as his muscles complained, but still, he followed Norrington.
Will had decided that they should never separate if it could be avoided. So far, the isle looked peaceful enough, but if there had been one lesson he had learned these last weeks, then it was that you could trust nothing and nobody.
When he reached the pool, Norrington was in the process of wading into the water. At that sight, Will had to grin.
"Say, Mr. Norrington, are real gentlemen not allowed to take off their clothes before they take a bath? Or is one of your Scottish ancestors showing through, and you aim to save on soap?"
They had no soap, and for all he knew, Norrington's ancestors could have come from the moon. But it was so easy to wind the other man up, and at the moment, annoying Norrington was the only entertainment Will had.
Norrington turned around, glaring angrily at Will.
"You can't possibly expect me to undress!" he protested. "We don't know what dangers lurk in this jungle, and I would prefer not to meet an enemy naked!"
"Do as you please. So will I," he said, and pulled his shirt over his head.
"What do you think you are doing there, boy?" Norrington yelled at him.
"Well, that should be obvious. I'm taking a bath."
He hoped for further protests from Norrington, but the man did not oblige him. Instead, Norrington took stilted steps, always careful not to slip and fall into the water.
Will thought he looked remarkably like a stork.
He quickly slipped out of his clothes, then ran into the water with a lot of splashing, finally diving in. For a while, Norrington could only see the pale shape of Will's body under the surface. He couldn't help thinking of the dolphins he had seen during his travels, playfully jumping in and out of the water, accompanying the ship for days.
The sea. It was certainly odd to miss the sea while on a small island surrounded by it, but Norrington, a sailor through and through, missed the deck under his feet and the wind in his hair. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, concentrating on the scent of salt carried on the breeze.
Meanwhile, Will emerged from the water, his back to Norrington. He snorted and sneezed, shaking his head and sending water droplets flying in all directions.
"It looks like you have managed to get yourself into trouble again, Mr. Turner. Is there anything I should know?"
Will turned around, a blank look on his face.
"What makes you think so?" he asked, running his hands through his hair. One leech had affixed itself to his upper arm, and he pulled on the animal. It stretched to three times its length before it let go with a plopping sound. Blood began to run down the otherwise pale skin.
"You've been whipped," Norrington stated. "As I don't think Jack Sparrow would ever have been sober enough to score a hit..."
Will quickly turned around. A good thing it was dark, with only the moon shedding some dim light. He didn't feel comfortable with Norrington seeing his wounds.
"I stepped on Davy Jones' favourite eel," he muttered. Hell would freeze over before he'd tell Norrington about his encounter with his father.
"Ah. Interesting to learn that even on a cursed vessel a certain discipline is adhered to."
Will shook his head, then he looked at Norrington with curiosity.
"Have you ever ordered one of your men whipped?"
"Of course I have. Discipline is the beginning and the end of all things. Not that I enjoyed having to give such an order, but at times, it was necessary."
"Why? I mean, what crimes did you have men whipped for?"
Norrington did not like this interrogation, with his lower half in the cold water.
"Well, stealing, for one. Drunkards starting fights, or sailors disobeying my orders. I also remember two men who had to be punished for – uncleanliness."
Will splashed water over the wound left by the leech. Then he looked at Norrington in disbelief.
"You had two men whipped for being dirty?"
Norrington didn't like the distain in Will's voice. He had always adhered to the laws and rules of the navy, but he was not cruel. So far, he hadn't cared much about Will's opinion of him, but now he found that he didn't wish the young man to think him heartless.
He shifted uncomfortably from one leg to the other.
"Well – as a matter of fact, they had committed another offence, one that would have carried dire consequences for them. They promised not to repeat said offence, and in return, I punished them for a lesser crime."
"And this means what in the language of the common people?"
Norrington cleared his throat.
"There was some – indecent behaviour."
"Indecent behaviour… so they took liberties with a lady?" Will asked.
Norrington pinched the bridge of his nose.
"They took liberties with each other."
"As per the Articles of War, article 30, any person in the fleet that shall commit the unnatural and detestable sin of buggery and sodomy with man or beast shall be punished with death by the sentence of a court martial."
"Good grief. You know all 398 articles by heart, don't you?" Will commented.
"37. There are 37 articles."
"37 or 500 – I think death is too harsh a sentence for a crime that harms no-one."
"Mr. Turner, I didn't make the law. And I'm aware that circumstances on a ship can be such that good men do bad things. But they must be aware that nothing that happens onboard can stay a secret. I caught them myself, red-handed, so to speak, there was no way I could have let them go and maintained my authority. In England, they would have been sent to the gallows. All things considered, I'd say a good whipping was preferable to death. I had only their best in mind."
"No doubt. Quite a mate you were."
The irony was lost on Norrington, who decided that he'd had enough of fresh water and odd conversations for one day, and attempted to leave the pool.
"No, I was already captain at that point. And whoever executed your punishment had only your best in mind as well. Those wounds are superficial and will heal without leaving scars."
"Thank you for pointing that out, Mr. Norrington. Seems I didn't realise that I'm surrounded by saints."
Norrington, who had reached safe ground by now, took off his shirt and wrung it out.
"I'll return to our camp. Please don't get yourself into trouble while I'm away," he said. "And beware of the leeches – they tend to prefer the most vulnerable parts of the body."
Will jumped to his feet, looking alarmed.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
"Nothing. I was merely offering information about the local fauna that I thought you might find useful," Norrington replied, a smug smile on his face.
He threw the wet shirt over his shoulder, turned around and exposed his back to Will. The young man stared, then whistled through his teeth – whoever had executed that punishment had certainly not had Norrington's best in his mind. Those scars were deep and old.
"I wonder what that was for," Will murmured.
Then he quickly left the pond to follow Norrington, careful to check his most precious parts. Maybe Norrington had been joking about the leeches, but then again, maybe not.
* * *
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|WITHOUT FAIL 3/7
by Molly Joyful