The Knight Steps Aside
by Siryn

He stepped out onto the veranda, the sounds of tinkling glasses and idle conversation left inside. The air was thick and damp, as if the sky could burst open at any second. The wig was heavy on his head and there was a trickle of sweat running down his back, but it was a small price to pay for a few moments peace.

The party was in full swing. The whole of Port Royal had turned out to congratulate the happy couple. Soldier, tradesmen, and society wife alike had been invited and were getting along, thanks to the unending supply of wine and champagne provided by the Governor on the occasion of his only daughter's wedding.

There had been a point that morning where he'd almost stayed home. Even after all these months, the thought of seeing her pledge herself to someone else still made his heart ache. But he had given his word and off he went, to stand beside the man who was marrying the only woman he'd ever loved.

 

It had been at a party much like this one when he had truly seen her. She had been standing at the door with her father, greeting the guests. The Governor shook his hand and spoke to him, but his eyes had been locked on her. In his mind, he still saw the curly-haired little girl that had pestered him with her questions of pirates the entire voyage from England. Apparently while he had been fighting the French and Spanish at sea, she had become a woman.

The rest of that night was a blur, except for his single dance with her. He couldn't remember a single thing they'd talked about, only the weight of her in his arms and how they seemed to fit together just right. When the music stopped her released her, but she had captured him.

Over time, he began to see how different she was from the other women he had known. She was terrible at embroidery; she had no interest in taking tea with the other ladies of Port Royal. They would sit for hours in the front parlor and play chess and discuss books, music, and art. Her father had spared no expense on her education and she was a refreshing change from her simpering contemporaries.

One afternoon he had escorted her to the docks. A new ship was arriving into port and she was anxious to see if her latest shipment of books had been amongst the cargo. As he spoke to the harbor master, he watched her make her way toward a cart stacked with fruit. She embraced the woman there and they laughed like old friends. A small girl peeked out from behind the woman and Elizabeth, mindless of her dress, knelt down so they were eye level. A red ribbon appeared and she looped it around the girl's neck as she spoke to her. The girl threw her arms around Elizabeth's neck and hugged her before running off to show her new treasure. He looked away discreetly as he saw her press something into the woman's hand. When she came back to him she had two large grapefruits in her bag and a secretive grin on her face.

"Why do you suddenly look like the cat that ate the canary?" he asked as he offered his arm to her.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, James. I'm merely pleased that Marian will be able to send Christine to school this year, that's all. She's so bright, it would be a shame if she didn't get a chance to go, that's all," she said with a wink.

He shook his head. "You are a most peculiar woman, Elizabeth." She leaned into him and laughed.

"I'll take that as a compliment. And since my books weren't here, do you think I could persuade you to let me try and win back my pride at chess? You did promise me a rematch," she said. "I suppose I could be persuaded," he answered with a smile.

Three weeks later he got word he had earned the rank of Commodore. Along with his new title came a large house and an increased salary, enough to support a wife and family. He knew that she was the only woman he would ever want to marry. It was a fine match and he could make her happy, maybe even as happy as she'd made him.

He met with the Governor and over port and cigars he asked for his permission to propose. Despite his irritating foolishness sometimes, he truly liked the Governor. If it hadn't been for his indulgence of his daughter's whims, she might have been a very different woman indeed.

The day came and she was beautiful. He wanted to say something pith and witty, make a joke of it, like they often did about such serious things, but out there on the wall, all rational thought flew from his mind. He was stuttering like a fool and mistook her breathlessness for excitement.

Everything was a blur after she disappeared. The only thing he could think about was getting her back in one piece. When they saw the smoke from the Dauntless, he knew it had to be her. No one else would have thought that something as wild as that just might work.

The moment Will's name left her lips, he knew that even if she married him, her heart belonged to someone else. The plan was foolhardy at best and there was a good chance they all might be killed, but if he denied her, he would lose any chance that, in time, she could learn to love him. The ghost of Will Turner would haunt their marriage forever.

 

In the days after their return, she was quiet and withdrawn. He tried everything, even letting her beat him at the chess, but nothing changed.

"Elizabeth," he began.

"Please, James. I don't want to hear it again. You are bound to stand by the law. To you, Jack is a pirate and he must pay for his crimes," she said flatly. He stood and turned her around so they were eye to eye.

"I don't understand this. You were on that ship, he's a criminal. He's a thief, and a liar. You don't have any proof that he wouldn't have left Will, or you, for that matter, to die in order to get back his ship. He's not your friend, Elizabeth. It just so happened that this time his insane plan worked out so you both lived."

She pulled away from him and went to the window. The moon was bright and he could see the tears reflecting in her eyes. He wanted to reach out and touch her, comfort her, but found he didn't know how.

"I'm a bit tired. Perhaps we should say good night, James. I'll see you in the morning," she said, never looking back at him.

 

Although he would never admit it, he was rather glad Jack Sparrow escaped that day. Chasing after him and the Black Pearl gave him a place to focus on after the end of his engagement. They had almost had them, but true to form, Jack managed to pull off a rather dazzling escape and he sailed back to Port Royal empty-handed again.

Well, not entirely empty-handed. On the way back, he and his men were in port waiting on repairs when he passed a curio shop. In the window was a stunning chess set. It was a dark cherry wood with mother-of-pearl accents. Before he could stop himself, he bought it.

Two nights before the wedding he found himself at her door. She led him into her father's den, the only room in the house not bustling with preparations.

"James, I didn't expect you back so soon," she said cautiously.

"Elizabeth, did you truly think so little of me? That I would miss your wedding?" he asked.

She didn't answer right away, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully, and he was struck again at how much he would regret not being able to keep her for his own.

"Elizabeth," he prompted.

"I'm so sorry, James. This whole mess is because of me. You were such a good friend to me and now I've hurt you and nothing will ever be the same again," she said quietly.

"You're right. They won't. You will be a married woman and no matter what Mr. Turner says, I don't think he'll appreciating me keeping his wife up until all hours of the night debating Plato and the merits of different sailing knots," he said with a smile.

"James, do you mean it?"

He shook his head. "Of course I mean it, you silly girl. Have you ever known me to say something I didn't? Although I do think you've condemned me to a life to bachelorhood," he said wryly.

"There are plenty of women who would give their eyeteeth to marry a Commodore," she teased.

"You know, I'm finding a new appreciation for the life of a single man. I can carouse in any port in the Caribbean without a stitch of guilt hanging over my head," he replied as he handed her the box, wrapped in brown paper. She tilted her head and looked at it curiously.

"It's a wedding present, more for you than for William, but perhaps in time he can make good use of it too," he said. Sliding her fingers under the paper, she gasped when she pulled the board out.

"This is gorgeous," she stammered. "James, this is too much."

"Nonsense. I knew that your father wouldn't part with his set, it being.."

"A family heirloom, passed down from my grandfather," they both finished together.

"So, I thought you might want one of your own. You know, so you can practice and finally beat me one of these days," he said with a superior tone.

She gasped and tried to look hurt. "Commodore Norrington, I think you have insulted my honor," she said with mock horror.

He stepped back and shook his head. "Not your honor, Ms. Swann, just your prowess at chess."

A knock interrupted their laughter. One of the maids popped her head in the door.

"Ms. Swann, your father is looking for you. He's in his office, fretting over the guest list again," Mary said. Elizabeth nodded as she shut the door softly behind her.

"I should go and find him. I don't know what he's worried about. He's invited the entire town, I think," she said, repacking the box.

He moved to the door and offered his arm. "I'll see you as far as the door. I have some reports I need to finish the Fort."

The weight of her arm in his reminded him of the day at the dock. It seemed so far away, as if in another lifetime. A life where all of this fuss would have been for a wedding that he was part of. Her voice startled him back to reality.

"James, do you think I could ask a favor of you?" she said hopefully.

He raised his eyebrows. "This favor does not have to do with any pirates by any chance, does it?"

To her credit, she blushed a bit. "No, that has been made clear to me. There are to be no pirates at the wedding. And that's the favor, you see. Will has no close friends, except for Jack, no brothers andÍ" she trailed off.

"And he needs someone to stand as his witness?" he finished.

"Would you consider it? I know it's a lot to ask, but we discussed it and it would mean so much, to both of us," she replied.

There was a part of him that wanted to say no, to respectfully decline and watch the proceeding from the back of the church and then go home and drink very last drop of brandy he could find until he passed into oblivion. But when he looked back her, her face shining with hope, he knew he couldn't. He'd never been able to say no to her.

"I'd be honored." She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him.

"Thank you," she said. He held her close and inhaled deeply; wanting to remember the citrus smell of her soap one more time before the possibility of her was gone from his life forever.

 

Behind him, he heard the door open again. He didn't turn around and was surprised to see Will lean against the railing next to him. The blacksmith's fingers were tugging at his collar uncomfortably.

"Will this madness ever end? I think I have either danced with or spoken to every person in that room except for Elizabeth," Will said exhaustedly.

"Don't worry, it'll be over soon. There's just the father-of-the-bride toast left and you can slip away unnoticed," James said with more humor than he thought himself capable.

They were both quiet, watching the tide pull in and out of the bay. Inside a waltz had started. He spoke without looking. "She's determined for us to be friends, you know."

Will sighed. "I know. And once she latches onto an idea, she never lets it go."

He turned back to the party. Through the glass he saw Elizabeth dancing with her father, her head thrown back in laughter. Will had turned and was watching too, a look of love written plainly across his face.

"She's quite a woman, isn't she?" he said reverently.

James smiled a genuine smile at that. "Yes, she is. A fine woman, indeed."

 

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