|"L'habit ne fait pas le moine."
It's not the clothes that make the man.
All odds that their mad plan would succeed were against them, but for the first time since Norrington's and Gillette's capture, fortune favoured the Navy.
"We're alone, Sir," Gillette said, noticing the absence of the guard. He had watched the stairs for hours, fearing the guard might return, but nobody had come.
"The pirates feel too confident about the matter, Mr. Gillette. Logan thinks that we're no danger considering the state we're in. He must assume that we're trapped on this ship with no way to go. They don't expect that we might attempt to escape."
"A gross negligence on their part."
A gross negligence, indeed, and one with fatal consequences for the pirate who shuffled in later on with a jug of water and some hard tack. Gillette smashed the man's head repeatedly against the grid of the brig, and as he didn't like to leave things half-done, he snapped his neck, just to be on the safe side. Gillette looked down at the man without any regret.
"Here, Sir, this will be helpful."
Gillette handed Norrington the pirate's ratty coat and put on the hat.
Norrington gave him a puzzled look.
"What's your plan, Mr. Gillette?"
"Nobody has noticed the incident yet, Sir. Our chances are best if we hide in full view. We'll just go up those stairs, across the deck and overboard. They won't notice, trust me on that. They're too busy getting drunk."
Norrington put on the coat and sighed.
"Who'd thought I'd ever have to abandon my ship."
"We'll get her back, Sir, and if it's the last thing I'll do. But now we have to hurry before anybody decides to come looking for this bastard here."
Gillette had been right - nobody cared or noticed. They passed several men, but none of them paid any attention. On deck they even had to climb over drunk pirates, but again, nobody held them back, and it wasn't even noticed when they jumped overboard.
The water was cold, and for a moment, Norrington couldn't breathe. The salty water stung his eyes and the wet closed put him at risk of being drawn down. He saw Gillette close by, who quickly undressed, and followed suit. They could see the familiar silhouette of the Molly against the clear night sky. The laughter and the yelling of the pirates quickly faded, and finally, Norrington and Gillette were alone in the dark and silence.
* * *
Fortuna still held her hands over the two men, so the sea was calm and the sharks showed no interest. Still, if the 'Maxton' hadn't found them, they would have drowned as sure as eggs is eggs. Maybe Gillette, despite his injuries, could have made it on his own, but promise and order or not, he refused to leave the exhausted Norrington behind. Sink or swim, and Gillette wouldn't do either without his captain.
Norrington first swore a blue streak, then he threatened Gillette with court-martial for his refusal to leave him behind. That didn't go down well with the lieutenant.
"Once you're there, you can write the Admiralty a letter from Davy Jones' locker and complain. But until then, Sir, stop struggling and shut up!"
At that point, Norrington resorted to begging to convince Gillette not to waste his strength on him. Alas, Gillette pretended to be deaf. He dragged his captain behind him as long as he could, once again doing his reputation as being unsinkable all honour.
It was also him who saw the 'Maxton' first. A small merchant, flying the British flag. Gillette yelled and waved weakly once the Maxton came within hearing. Norrington hadn't said anything for quite some time, being exhausted and in pain. He just tried to float and make his remaining strength last as long as possible, and fighting to give in to the temptation to just close his eyes and fall asleep, never to awake again.
At the "man overboard!" yells from the distance he stirred. Gillette still held him, not allowing him to slip under water during the last hour. Next thing he knew, Gillette let go, and Norrington was hauled to safety. Oh the comfort of a deck's solid wood! Gillette dropped on his knees next to him and passed out, at the end of his strength. There were voices, but Norrington couldn't understand what they said. Somebody brought a blanket, he was lifted up and carried away. Then everything went dark.
* * *
Gillette didn't care to have anybody looking after his injuries; his back would heal in time. He made sure that Norrington rested as comfortable in his hammock as possible and nobody bothered him with questions. Sleep, rest and food - that was all the captain needed.
The Maxton had a fine crew, with exception of one Mr. Meek who'd taken an immediate dislike to Gillette, declaring that women and redheads on a ship meant trouble, and who had tried to bait him into an argument several times. The feeling of dislike was mutual, but Gillette had other things on his mind.
He told the captain of the Maxton that their ship had been attacked and captured by pirates; that they had been tortured, and the man, having heard enough scary stories about the dangers in this part of the Caribbean, didn't doubt Gillette's words in the least. He agreed immediately to set 'Mr. Smith' and 'Mr. Miller' off in the next port, all the more so when Gillette declared that he was an able seaman and would work for the passage.
So it happened that Thomas Gillette returned to being an ordinary seaman, climbed the rigging and occasionally also scrubbed the deck as he had done many years ago. He didn't mind doing it; he didn't care about the tar on his hands or following the orders of the Maxton's captain. He had only one goal: getting Norrington on shore, returning home and smashing the head of Lord Cutler Beckett as often against a wall as it took to shut him up for all eternity. He had no doubt that they owed this mess to His Undersized Lordship, and Thomas Gillette was not the man to leave debts unpaid.
* * *
Norrington and Gillette kept to themselves, limited contacts with the crew to the necessary and the Maxton-crew left them well alone - with exception of the aforementioned Mr. Meek, whose aggression was growing proportionally to Gillette's unwillingness to acknowledge his existence.
A week into their journey, Meek decided that he'd waited long enough to give the annoying Mr. Smith the well-deserved rub-down. Norrington was already resting in his hammock and watched Gillette, who had just taken off his shirt. He winced upon seeing the angry red welts on the pale skin; the wounds were healing well, but he just couldn't forget why and how Gillette had been injured.
"You know, I wonder what you got that good floggin' for, Smith," Meek said. "Been caught red-hand, maybe? You an' your mate?"
"Put a sock in it, Meek," Gillette muttered.
"Hit a sore spot, didn't I? Right, you just look the type, you know. All white an' soft like a lady. What a pity we don't have any dresses aboard."
There was some laughing and wolf whistling, and Norrington could see that Gillette would lose his temper very soon. He considered calming him, but then he changed his mind.
Norrington swung out of his hammock and walked towards Meek, hands clasped behind his back. Gillette wanted to hold him back, in a rare reverse of their roles. Usually it was Norrington who had to prevent him from getting into trouble.
Meek eyed Norrington. There was something about the man that aggravated but yet also intimidated him. An arrogant bastard through and through.
"Mr. Meek, I understand you have some concerns regarding our presence on this ship as well as our unfortunate encounter with pirates, is that correct?"
Gillette knew that tone and winced. It was the one Norrington used when he was about to tear strips of some unfortunate seaman. Meek blinked, not sure what to make out of it.
"Well, Mr. Miller, I mean, it's all good an' fine sayin' you've been attacked by pirates, but how do we know that's true? Might as well be you an' your ginger mate over there got caught at doing somethin' godless, catch my meanin'? In any case I've never heard of a ship called 'Perfidious Bess' before."
"I've never heard of a blithering idiot from Portsmouth either, but yet you exist."
Meek made a step forward, closing his hands into fists. He was a burly man, and Norrington had not fully recovered from his ordeal yet. Gillette began to get worried - if only he'd had a sword!
"Who're you're callin' a blitherin' idiot here, heh?"
"You. I call you a blithering idiot, basically because you are one. And if you shouldn't cease your infantile attempts at trying to involve Mr. Smith or myself into a quarrel, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that your backside could have a very painful, yet also very educational encounter with a grappling iron. Have I made myself clear, Mr. Meek?"
Meek was too baffled about this dress-down to answer. He wasn't a fool, at least not when sober, and he could tell from the look in Mr. Miller's hazel eyes that the man wouldn't hesitate a moment to smash his head in if he should intend to cause trouble. This only solidified his suspicions regarding the relationship between the two men, but he knew when to back off.
"Heh, it was only a question, no reason to get all upset, mate. A man's allowed to ask, or not?" he said, faking a smile.
"A man certainly is, Mr. Meek," Norrington replied, shooting one last poisoned arrow.
With that, he returned to his hammock, passing a dumbfounded Gillette. Norrington looked over his shoulder, a small smile on his face.
"I can't tell you how very much I miss the 'Perfidious Bess', Mr. Smith. A fine ship, indeed. Yet I can't help but wonder who gave her such a name."
"Probably a man with a cantankerous wife, Mr. Miller," he grumbled. "I bid you a good night."
* * *
Hours later, Norrington still lay awake. Gillette was sleeping in the hammock next to Norrington, snoring. He'd only had to reach out to touch him. He wanted to, just to make sure he was really there. To him, Gillette was the only real person in this nightmare. All through the years, Gillette had been the one to keep trouble away from Norrington. Where had that come from now, that sudden feeling of having to look after and protect him in return?
Norrington sighed. This was all so confusing, and he longed to be home again, back in his uniform, on the bridge of his ship, back in his normal life and the comforting safety of orders and regulations.
* * *
Ragetti's random notes: on stormy nights, a headless horseman can be seen in Maxton. This has nothing whatsoever to do with this story, but as I began to run out of names for ships.
|CHAPTER 11: The Maxton
by Molly Joyful