|"C'est un prêté pour un rendu."
Tit for that.
The captain of the Maxton was true to his word. Gillette and Norrington were allowed to leave the ship and go ashore in the next port; from there, they planned to find a ship heading for Port Royal. It would have been easier to approach the captain of any Navy vessel, explaining who they were and demanding to be brought home, but they agreed it would be safer to undertake this sea passage incognito. It was impossible to tell who stood in Lord Cutler Beckett's services and who didn't - they couldn't trust anybody.
"I suggest we search for a tavern, Sir. I'm thirsty."
"There's one down the road, let's have a bite and some wine."
They knew that this decision had been a grave mistake the very moment they spotted Meek and some of his friends sitting at a table in the back of the tavern. Norrington caught Gillette's sleeve and directed him to a table on the other side of the room.
For a while, all went well; the food was good and the wine not too sour, a fact which improved Gillette's mood significantly. From time to time, women would come to sit down next to them, only to leave soon after with disappointed faces. No business would be made with Mr. Smith and Mr. Miller that day.
"I'm in the lead with three offers," Gillette noted, a bit dizzy from the wine.
"Must be your irresistible charms."
Norrington bit his tongue - where had that bit come from now? Gillette leaned forward and gave him a sly smile.
"So I've been told," he said and winked.
Norrington had no doubt about that. He remembered a good number of young ladies who'd blushed profoundly at the sight of Lt. Thomas Gillette. While not handsome, Gillette could be very charming and witty at times. In connection with his boyish, lopsided smile, said charm and wit had quite an effect on the ladies.
They also had quite an effect on Norrington, as he noticed to his great confusion, and he quickly lowered his gaze.
"This must be my lucky day," Gillette declared when a blonde woman in a dirty blue skirt headed for their table.
"Maybe when it comes to ladies of easy virtues, Thomas, but not in other aspects. Mr. Meek has spotted us."
Indeed, John Meek was glaring at them across the room from bloodshot eyes. With his captain not present but all his mates around, he thought the perfect opportunity had come to goad on his mates and twit the much-hated Mr. Smith.
"Look over there, mates," he boomed, elbowing Mr. Eccles in the side. "It's the ginger tosspot! What are you havin', boy, glass of milk?"
They laughed and Gillette paled, but otherwise, he didn't react.
"A tosspot and a wimp! Smashin' couple they make, don't they?"
The laughter increased, Gillette's patience grew thin.
"One word and I'll go over and kill him, Sir," he hissed. Norrington took another sip of his ale and shook his head.
"No. It's a tempting thought, but we can't afford to take the bait. We have to make it home without being noticed. The last thing we need is trouble in public."
Gillette frowned but nodded; he knew an order when he heard one.
However, Mr. Meek seemed to have set his mind on a tavern brawl and continued his provocations.
"Awe mates; look at the two little mollies! What's wrong, ginger, afraid of being the man for a change? Hey, muck-rake, is he ginger all over?"
Gillette clenched his jaw, his hand gripping so tightly around the tankard that the knuckles stood out white. He knew that Norrington was right, that he should just turn the other cheek and not go for it, but when Meek refered to Norrington as a "muck-rake", something snapped inside of him, and he finally lost control. Gillette jumped up and went straight to the table Meek and his mates were seated, ignoring Norrington's attempts at holding him back and shaking off his hand.
Before Meek could open his mouth for another insult, Gillette wiped the smirk off his face with a punch so hard that a couple of teeth were knocked out and rolled across the table. He didn't give Meek even a second to hit back, his fist crashed down again and again, blood splattered over the table, and the ugly sound of breaking bones and squashed flesh made those witnessing the scene wince. Norrington was reminded of a pig being slaughtered; the heavy hammer impacting with the poor beast's head made a similar sound. Gillette's face was a mask of rage, never had Norrington seen him like this, and the fury in his eyes scared him.
Finally Gillette ended his attack; Meek fell back over, rolled off the bank and remained lying motionless on the floor. Gillette wiped his bloody hand off on the coat of one of Meek's friends. The man didn't dare to protest.
"Anybody else here who wants to make some smart remarks?"
A muttered chorus of "no, Mr. Smith" followed.
"Good. I'm very glad to hear that. And should the need for smart remarks arise in future: stow it."
Norrington hastily threw some coins on the table, grasped Gillette by the arm and dragged him out of the tavern. Once they were out on the street, he shook him hard.
"Have you lost your mind? Has it come to this now, that you're ignoring my orders? What a foolish and dangerous thing to do, Thomas! They could have killed you!"
"But they didn't." Gillette looked down at his hand and frowned. "I think I broke something there."
Norrington pushed him forward.
"Quick, we have to get away from here!"
They hurried down the dirty back road, and when Norrington saw the half-opened door of a stable, he shoved Gillette inside. The two horses in there neighed, but didn't take further notice of the intruders.
Gillette flopped down in the hay and began to examine his hand. He wiggled his fingers carefully and pulled a face.
"Not broken. Only scraped," he announced. Norrington looked around and saw a bucket with water. Not very clean, but it would do. He carried it to Gillette, who dipped his hand in the water and sighed, giving him a grateful smile.
"That's much better. Thank you, Sir."
Norrington began to pace up and down.
"We have to leave this place as quick as possible, Thomas. If you haven't killed him, Meek will come and look for us, and he's not the man to forget and forgive. I acknowledge that your actions were honourable, but it was a really idiotic thing to do. For God's sake, you're an officer of the Royal Navy, not a street urchin!"
"Yes, I'm an officer of the Royal Navy, thank you for reminding me, Sir! And as such, it's my duty to protect my superior officer, that would be you! Pity I didn't kill the bastard."
"He deserved all he got," Gillette muttered stubbornly, and wrapped a dirty handkerchief around his wounded hand. "Nobody's going to call you a molly or a muck-rake while I'm still alive and breathing."
Norrington halted his steps.
"It doesn't matter what Meek or any other idiot calls me."
"Well, it matters to me! And I owe it to you, Sir."
"You don't owe me anything."
"I do, and for ten years already!"
Gillette was furious, and Norrington felt helpless at the sight of his anger.
"Ten years are a long time, Thomas. Let go, please!"
"No, I won't! I'll never forget it; he had no right to do that to you in the first place!"
Norrington pinched the bridge of his nose.
"He had every right; he was the captain. It was my decision and my responsibility."
He turned his back to Gillette.
"And the alternative was not acceptable."
* * *
Ragetti's random notes: for once, Mr. Ragetti has nothing to say.
|CHAPTER 16: Fit Of Rage
by Molly Joyful