honorat: (Will Turner by Honorat)
[personal profile] honorat
By Honorat
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Well, then, I confess, it is my intention to commandeer PotC, pick up the characters in Port Royal, raid, pillage, plunder and otherwise pilfer my weasely black guts out!

Summary: You all knew it had to happen. Welcome to the path to destruction. Angst alert. Fasten your seatbelts. Please keep your arms and head inside the vehicle. The story of Will and Master Brown. More movie novelization and missing scenes. Still entirely off the edge of the map.

Thank you, [livejournal.com profile] geek_mama_2, for the wonderful beta work; I’ll buy you a hat—a really big one.

Links to previous chapters:
Prologue: To Miss An Appointment
Ch. 1: Pirate Attack
Ch. 2: Unrestrained Piracy
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 1
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 2
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 3
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 4

* * * * *


Six months after Joe had departed Port Royal, a delivery wagon from the harbour arrived at the smithy with a shipment of crucible steel from Sheffield, England. Packed in with the crates of steel was one crate containing four odd clay vessels. One hadn’t survived the passage, but the others were intact. A letter in Joe’s scrawl, enclosed with them, shed some light on the mystery.

Tell Will these are for him to experiment with. Huntsman is as hard to crack as a fire-weld. He guards his secret like it’s his hope of heaven. I spoke to an iron founder named Walker who is the only outsider who has ever made it inside Huntsman’s works. He rigged himself out as a tramp and picked a snowstorm in which to arrive, claiming to be ill. The workers took pity on him and let him sleep in a corner where he spied on them. He tells me that Huntsman uses a coke-fired furnace to heat clay crucibles like these containing iron to white heat. Then they’re charged with bits of blister steel and a flux of broken glass. Three hours later the impurities are skimmed off and the molten steel is poured into ingots. The proportions are a mystery. So have fun young William. Meanwhile, I’ve arranged for a regular shipment of crucible steel for the smithy. Can’t let the French beat us out.

That evening, after his day’s work was complete, Will returned eagerly to the opened crates that had been calling him all afternoon. Reverently he lifted one of the steel ingots. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on its weight in his hands, its pure, clear, hard perfection. He breathed in the fragrance of metal warming in his hands. This was magnificent steel. He’d never felt steel with such an unclouded presence. His hands itched to try working it.

Looking up, he saw Master Brown smiling at him in understanding. “Go ahead, Will. I know you wouldn’t taste your meal anyway. I’ll tell Mistress Brown not to expect you.”

Will grinned in elation at the mastersmith. “Thank you, sir!”

Brown nodded at him. “You’re a good lad, Will Turner. You have the makings of a fine smith, perhaps even a great one.”

His heart singing under the unaccustomed praise, Will turned back to the alluring steel.

He did not know what hour of the night or morning it was when he straightened and stretched his cramping muscles and contemplated the folded steel ready to be worked into a blade on the morrow—or later today, whatever it was. Still holding the shaping hammer in his hand, he rubbed his eyes with the back of one grimy wrist. His body felt empty—of strength, of volition, of emotion—as though he had spent it all on the steel, infused himself into the swirling pattern in an unseen seam of spiritual ore.

This steel was unlike any he had ever worked before—recalcitrant, adamantine hard, thwarting all attempts to drive it into a shape. He’d never had to have such patience with a metal, never had to listen harder to what it wanted to be. But finally he had broken through whatever was barricading him from understanding this fierce new medium. Finally they had ceased to resist each other. Finally, he had succeeded in surrendering to the steel, in allowing it to mold itself in his hands. When he held what he knew was the most perfect thing he had ever created, shivers ran through him like the tremors of an ague. His breath came light and fast as though he had been running. Surely molten metal was flowing through his veins. If he cut himself, he would bleed fire. He did not feel joy or accomplishment or pride—merely an overwhelming, elemental sense of new life.

Master Brown found him still standing by the forge in the morning, rapt as an acolyte in a vision.

“That good, is it?” he inquired.

Startled out of his reverie, Will stared at his master, gradually processing the question. A slow smile dawned on his pale, tired face. “Oh yes,” he said. “It’s very good.”

* * * * *

The spring that the smithy of J. Brown began to turn out unsurpassed swords made of the finest steel, a foe impervious to the sharpest blade stalked through the streets of Port Royal. The air was thick with the choking odour of tar burning in the streets. A slow trickle of fearful people bled out of the town, trying to escape.

The conversations of Mistress Brown and her gossips ceased to revolve around children and husbands and produce and fashions. Instead Will heard snippets of grim stories.

“Margery Bidley over on Market is very ill, and a man at the shoemakers next door to the Pages!”

“There is a man next door but one who Dr. Branigan says will quickly die of this horrible disorder!”

“Master Stimpson and his family are moved out of town.”

“Poor Sarah Peabody died yesterday.”

Down at the docks, Will saw slave women paddling canoes up to newly arrived ships from which British colonists were disembarking. With gleeful sarcasm they chanted:
“New come buckra
He get sick.
He tak fever.
He be die!”
They could laugh, for everyone knew that African slaves were immune to the dreaded yellow fever.

Meanwhile, upwards of 70 persons in the town were stricken by the disease. Each Sunday, the vicar prayed that the alarming fever now prevalent might be abated if it pleased kind Providence so to order.

But it did not please Providence, and the disease continued to rage.

Willingly, the Brown family and Will endured being dosed with Daffy’s elixir and vinegar on a sponge with a sprig of wormwood in the hopes of staving off the putrid and bilious fever. They walked as little as possible in the lower streets, but the precautions proved ineffectual.

One morning Master Brown eyed his wife’s flushed face with concern. “Are you feeling quite well, dear?” he asked.

“Just a touch of the headache,” she admitted, rubbing her temples. “I’ll be fine.”

The mastersmith slipped an arm around her waist. “Then you should lie down. Emily will bring you some tea. She’s a young lady now, twelve years old, and quite capable of managing the house for a little while.”

Mistress Brown rested her head on his. “Perhaps I shall. Just for a minute.”

She did not, however, recover in a few minutes. Instead, by the end of the day, fear coiled in the corners of the smithy and set its fangs into the hearts of the little family. Yellow fever had struck. The overworked, harried Port Royal doctor was called.

The doctor placed Mistress Brown on a regimen calculated, so he said, to dilute the blood, correct the acrimony of the humours, allay the excessive heat, remove the spasmodic stricture of the vessels, and promote secretions. Only liquids and very light foods such as fruits and gruel. No animal food.

Faithfully Emily prepared the special diet and sprinkled her mother’s chamber with vinegar, juice of lemon and rose-water with a little nitre dissolved in it. Daily, Master Brown bathed his wife’s feet and hands in lukewarm water. Will took the brunt of the labour and ran the forge almost entirely on his own.

They learned then that Susanna had also been stricken by the disease. Perhaps she and her mother had run across some foul air on a trip to the market together. The burning tar was not driving it out fast enough.

After the third day, Mistress Brown appeared to rally. Her fever went down and she felt well enough to move around a little. But the doctor was not encouraged. Yellow jack was tricky that way. Often a patient would seem to be regaining his health when the disease would strike a second time with far more deadly results.

In this, the doctor proved to be correct. The next day, Mistress Brown collapsed into bed again, her fever raging higher than before, her pulse tumultuous. When the symptoms of inflammation did not decrease, and her pulse remained quick and hard, the doctor recommended bleeding, although not more than a patient of her strength could endure. As the fever rose, he repeated the procedure a second and later a third time to no avail. Mistress Brown continued to deteriorate.

Joseph Brown did not leave his wife’s side those final seven days as her once clear skin turned the characteristic jaundiced yellow of the disease that was rotting her from within, as the putrified blood oozed from her gums, nose, and ears—from every orifice in fact. In the last few days, he held her while her body purged the terrifying black and bloody vomit, while her mind wandered in delirium and she no longer knew he was there, while convulsions racked her wasted frame. And finally, he sat beside her, holding her hand and talking to her as she lay immobile and comatose. That night she died in his arms.

Susanna died two days later.

The two of them were buried in the church yard next to three small markers where lay Brown children Will had never known—two girls, ages four and five, who had died in an outbreak of dengue fever ten years ago, and a stillborn baby boy who would have been older than Joe, had he lived. There was no place for Gordon who rested somewhere at sea.

Will stood with Emily and Master Brown as the plain boxes were lowered into the dark graves. Father and daughter seemed smaller than ever to Will. After his first meeting with the mastersmith, he had never again noticed the man’s height—his spirit was too large, his personality too expansive, his skill so towering that his apprentice had always looked up to him even when Will had grown head and shoulders taller. But now the man seemed shrunken, as if half of himself were being buried in that crumbling earth.

The three of them returned to the house above the smithy to find that it was no longer home, that no amount of candles could lighten the shadows, that no voices could lift the long silences. It was as if the spirit of the house had died of the yellow fever as well, leaving only wood and stone and loneliness.

* * * * *

That night Will knew he should stop working. It was long past when he usually retired to his room in the attic, and he was so exhausted nothing he was working on was worth the coal it would take to reduce it to slag. But he couldn’t endure the thought of the stillness high under the eaves.

“Will?”

He looked up, startled, to see Emily standing in the doorway. Her normally rosy face was pale, her eyes haunted and circled with shadows. A twelve-year-old should not look so. Will remembered losing his own mother when he had been Emily’s age. He’d felt as though all solid ground was crumbling beneath his feet.

“Emily.” He crossed to her with a single quick stride. “What’s wrong?” he asked gently, although he knew.

“What isn’t wrong?” her child’s voice held a bitter adult wrench to it. If she’d been Susanna, dreamy, passionate Susanna, who rested silently now in the churchyard, she’d have wept and thrown herself into his arms. Being Emily, she stood awkwardly in the door, suffering alone and in silence.

“Come here, Emily,” Will invited impulsively. “I could use some help.”

Curiousity burned away a little of the numb look in her eyes. “What can I do, Will?”

It struck Will that it was always Emily who had fluttered about the edges of the smithy like a small, dusty brown moth. Her mother had constantly rebuked her for leaving her own work undone until Emily had brought her patchwork into the forge. “I hate patchwork,” she’d confided to Will, “but if I do it here, at least it will be bearable.”

When she’d watched her father and brother work, her eyes had held the same sparkle as theirs in the flicker of the forge.

“Here,” he said, digging out his old apron that had also been Joe’s. “Put this on. Let me show you how to make a nail.”

Yes, he’d guessed rightly. Fascination superseded grief in her face as she shrugged into the stiff, heavy leather that hung down to her toes. Will had to smile at the sight. She took the hammer he handed her and weighed it in her hand, shifting it until she found its balance.

Removing a bar from the forge with a pair of tongs, Will asked, testing her knowledge, “Is this ready to draw out?”

“No,” she answered firmly. “It’s only cherry heat—too cold.”

Will raised a brow. Emily had obviously been paying attention. He replaced the bar and encouraged the donkey to power up the bellows. The next time he withdrew the bar it was a bright orange-red. “How’s this?”

“That’s just right.” The corners of her mouth turned up in a ghost of a smile.

Will nodded. “Good. Now I’ll hold the bar on the face of the anvil and you try out the hammer. This time you’ll just be testing the way of the hammer against the metal. Don’t try to force it down. Swing from your shoulder and let its own weight do your work.”

Two hours later, Will was even more exhausted and Emily was flushed with triumph as she displayed a rather large, ungainly nail in the palm of her hand. Remembering his own first attempts, Will admitted that she’d done reasonably well.

Gazing down at her achievements—one nail, two blisters, and a burn—Emily reflected, “My father always told me smithing was no task for a girl.”

“Well, he’s right that you’ll not be keeping those pretty hands if you spend much time with the hammer and tongs,” Will admitted.

“Oh!” Emily flared up. “Of what use are pretty hands?” She held up her nail. “Of course there’s not much use in this nail, either.”

Will opened his mouth to demur, but she forestalled him. “You’re being very polite, Will Turner, but I’m a blacksmith’s daughter, and I know apprentice work from masterwork. This barely qualifies as apprentice work. About the only thing this could be used for is hanging the scrap pail for the chickens. But it’s a start. It’s evidence that a really useful nail is at least a possibility.”

Will smiled at her. “It’s not just a possibility. It’s a certainty. You are a blacksmith’s daughter.”

Emily blushed at this, as she never would have over a compliment to her looks or her stitching.

“Whenever you feel the urge to hammer something,” Will offered, “come on down, and you can make another nail.”

She looked at him measuringly. “Does it help? To hit things.”

“Sometimes.”

“But the difference with you, Will Turner, is that when you hit things, you don’t destroy. You create.”

Without considering his words, Will said. “That’s the only way any of it makes sense.”

Emily paused in the doorway, an arrested look on her face. “Yes. You’re right, of course.” She turned to go, then looked back over her shoulder. “Thank you,” she said simply. “You’ve a kind heart, Will Turner.”

Will did not have to ask for what she was grateful. He knew. Now, he thought, he could bear to climb up to his solitary room and rest.

* * * * *

Over the next months, Emily spent at the forge any spare time she could squeeze from the burden of household responsibilities now resting on her young shoulders. At first Will did not think Master Brown even noticed his daughter was there. The man seemed to be drifting in a fog, not really seeing anything that was around him, going through the motions of smithing by rote. But one day, he’d simply asked Emily to hold a piece of work for him as though she had always been his apprentice. Emily had glowed for hours after that.

Will continued to teach her in the long, otherwise unbearably silent evenings, and soon she was consistently producing respectable nails. He’d been guiltily grateful to pass along that task to her. She was inordinately proud of her gradually roughening and darkening hands, counting smugly each fingernail that chipped off. And indeed, Emily, who had always been the plain one, achieved a strange kind of beauty as she planted her sturdy little figure beside the anvil, her sleeves rolled up on her short arms, and her tousled hair haloed by the firelight of the forge.

* * * * *

Will was showing Emily how to forge a chain link late one night. Emily was as out of temper as he, the two of them snapping at each other desultorily. She couldn’t do anything right and her frustration was increasing. For Will, himself, the work refused to cooperate. His hands felt stiff and aching and unskilled—about as clever as pigs of iron. The heat of the forge burned his eyes so he had to turn away. Suddenly, the entire smithy turned a cartwheel and disappeared. The fever had claimed another victim.

The next few weeks were a blur of intense misery through which floated strange faces and familiar ones he couldn’t name. His flesh felt as though fire consumed him from under his skin, as if, were he touched, he would crumble to powdery ash. Then the fever grew worse, and Will was sure, when he was conscious at all, that the sparks would soon fly off his body as the hammer blows raining down on his flesh unmade him entirely.

He awoke finally, too weak at first to notice, but eventually realizing that no member of the smith’s family came to see him. When he asked after them, none of the strangers who cared for him would tell him where they were.

When he grew strong enough to sit up in bed, his nurse, a slave woman in the household of the governor had he but known (Elizabeth was still insisting on taking care of Will Turner), informed him that the mastersmith was also recuperating, but that Emily had joined her mother and her brother and sisters in the little churchyard on the hill. He was a fortunate young man to have survived.

Will did not feel fortunate. As soon as the woman had gone, he turned his face to the wall and wept silently for the only little sister he’d ever had.

The minute he was allowed up, he dragged himself into the silent, dark shop, lit the fire and stirred up the donkey. When the forge was burning white hot, Will wired the bars of iron and crucible steel together. He had no one now to help him hold them. Thrusting the metal into the forge, he heated it until the sparks were spraying him like tears of fire. And then he began to “hit things,” over and over, reheating the metal each time to fire-welding temperature.

This would, he vowed, be the most beautiful sword he’d ever made. It would be shorter and lighter, a lady’s blade. For Emily’s sake, he would wrest creation out of all this destruction. As he folded the steel with the iron until the pattern rippled like water down the blade, the salt sweat of his face was indistinguishable from the salt of his tears.

They found him collapsed by the anvil, the fire going cold, with the unshaped blade hugged to his chest. They’d had to put him to bed with it, for he would not let it go.

After that setback, Will had been watched and thwarted whenever he showed a tendency to want to return to work. Master Brown was now up, but Will did not recognize him any longer. A stranger looked out of those blue eyes. The only comfort the smith seemed to find was in the dark liquid depths of a flagon of ale. Will hoped that when they were allowed back to work, the mastersmith would be able to re-forge his broken life as Will had done six years before.

* * * * *

For Will, the greatest benefit of his extended convalescence and banishment from work was that he was able to see Elizabeth—Miss Swann—more than he had in years. Since Elizabeth had suffered a mild bout of yellow fever the first year she had come to the Caribbean, she was immune to the disease—as if even the dreaded yellow jack did not dare inconvenience the imperious Miss Swann. After her first visit to Will, the nurse had made the mistake of commenting to her that Will looked much improved.

After that, nothing her father could say kept her from taking care of Will Turner. Nevertheless, Will was always mindful of the governor’s strictures, trying to stay polite and respectful, to keep his place and his distance. Elizabeth, however, made this task extremely difficult. She refused to be polite or respected, and she ignored distance—she was still his childhood friend, full of fun and plots and mischief. Her presence was an acute pleasure and her visits an agony of denial.

Elizabeth was not allowed in the house, but she and Will, followed by the sympathetic Estrella, who had been roped into trying to keep pace with her hoyden mistress for propriety’s sake, would wander along the shore, poking curiously into every shore worker’s business, tasting anything cooking that was offered, making any number of unsuitable acquaintances. Fresh air and mild exercise had been suggested by the doctor, so the two of them took every advantage of the excuse. Gradually, Will found himself beginning to laugh again.

TBC

Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 6a

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