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: More angst alert. Welcome to the ongoing path to destruction. Fasten your seatbelts. Please keep your arms and head inside the vehicle. The end of the story of Will and Master Brown. We will rejoin our regularly scheduled movie for the epic fight between Jack and Will in the next installment. 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
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 5
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 6a
Ch. 3: Canticle for a Blacksmith, Part 6b

* * * * *


Once more, the fire in the forge was re-kindled. The hammer blows rang their anthems again and the smoldering coal breathed its incense. Will ignored the doctor’s advice to begin slowly and attacked his work as though in molding steel, he could remake his world. He was aware of the day Elizabeth sailed for St. Kitts, but he made no request for time off to see her departure. Elizabeth looked in vain for him, long after the waving crowd on the docks had shrunk to a blur.

The burden of reviving the business fell heavily on the young blacksmith’s shoulders. Work had not rejuvenated the mastersmith. Will scarcely recognized his master now. Joe would have a terrible home-coming, he reflected. He would find his mother and sisters gone and his father a mere husk of a man. Will found himself counting the days until Joe’s return. Then surely Master Brown would come back from whatever far country he had withdrawn to.

But that longed-for day passed and then weeks went by. The Gabrielle, on which Joe was to have sailed, was already a month overdue.

Will was straightening the smithy at day’s end when the news came. Master Richardson, the sail maker, whose shop was down by the docks, entered the dim shop near closing time. “May I help you?” Will asked politely.

Richardson stood there, twisting his hat in his hands, the muscles around his mouth working strangely. Finally he croaked, “Is your master here, boy?”

“Yes, he’s in back. I’ll get him.” Will turned, but the sail maker stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“No. That’s fine. I’ll go myself.” The man headed to the back of the shop looking stooped and somehow older than Will remembered. Something about the look in his eyes sent a shiver of memory through Will’s heart. That was a man who was carrying bad news. Half-heartedly, he continued replacing tools, one ear strained to the back room.

“Joseph.”

“What is it Henry?”

Silence.

“Joseph, it’s the Gabrielle. She was attacked by pirates. I’m sorry, Joseph. Your son . . . Joe Jr. . . . is dead. The pirates killed him. They killed them all.”

* * * * *

Will, who had learnt very young that everything and everyone he loved would be taken from him, merely bowed his shoulders under this new weight of loss and threw himself against his work like a wounded animal against the bars of its cage. The forge became the sanctuary where his soul revived. He experimented with the techniques about which Joe had written, feeling that the only way he could memorialize his friend would be to achieve that goal for which he had gone away—to make the name of Brown famous for its blades. It would never now be Brown and Son.

One morning, he came down to the shop to discover that Master Brown had preceded him. The fire was already built up, although the smith was gone. When Will walked over to the forge he discovered the flames slowly consuming the new sign, prepared so many months ago for Joe’s homecoming. The “& Son” had almost completely burnt away. Will stood dry-eyed with an aching throat and watched until the last of the wood had been reduced to ashes.

* * * * *

Master Brown had always spent an hour or two of nights at the local tavern with some of his fellow master craftsmen, relaxing over a pint of ale. The occasions had been pleasantly social and had never interfered with his duties. But now, he began staying later and later, leaving Will to lock up the shop for the night. Then the drinking began to follow him home, gradually increasing. Will would find his master in the smithy with a bottle at his elbow, tipping it more and more frequently. The mastersmith began drinking seriously earlier in the evenings and later in the mornings until he was almost never completely sober.

The alcohol may have numbed the pain, but it was showing in the man’s work. Customers who had never had cause for complaint began returning goods with polite and not-so-polite remarks, pointing out flaws and breakages. They objected to having “apprentice work” passed off as the work of a master craftsman. Will always bit his tongue and flushed.

One terrible day, an angry shipwright barged into the smithy demanding to know why he had been sold a gear that had fractured under the stress and had struck one of his apprentices. The lad would be lucky if all he lost was a hand. Master Brown was profuse in his apologies, taking the man into the house where he apparently managed a settlement of some sort. The shipwright left the shop gripping his payment, eyeing Will hostilely. But Will and his master stared at each other in horror and dawning surmise. It had not been “apprentice work” that had shattered.

“Will.” The smith looked at him from red-rimmed, pleading eyes. “Please don’t let me kill anyone.”

Will opened his mouth to protest. Then, innately honest, he closed it again. He gave a short nod. “I’ll check the work before it goes out,” he said simply. If part of him condemned the smith, part of him wished only to ease the terrible burden on the man.

Master Brown stumbled to the loading dock stairway and slumped down with his head in his hands.

“Flaw in the steel, son,” he muttered brokenly, no longer speaking about the ruined gear. “Flaw in the steel. I never, never meant to be this way. It’s just . . .” He couldn’t continue.

Will laid a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “I know.”

But the steel in Joseph Brown had not been flawed, Will knew. It had been shining bright and cutting-edge hard. However, his wife had been the iron heart of his steel blade. She’d given him the resilience he’d need to spring back from life’s blows. With her death, he’d lost that flexibility, become brittle and bitter. And the loss of his entire family had been a blow that had shattered him utterly.

* * * * *

After that incident, Will took on all the tasks where an error could be fatal. And he quietly re-did any work his master turned out that was beneath his standards. Customers ceased to complain about “apprentice work.”

He thought the problems were solved. The first hint that anything was still amiss at the smithy was so small he scarcely noticed it—just an unpaid bill. The cooper had not liked to bother the mastersmith on the heels of the tragedy and had approached Will. Will settled the bill with coin from an earlier customer’s payment and thought no more about it.

Then one day, he was accosted by an irate iron merchant demanding to know how many more times Joseph Brown expected to have credit extended if he was never going to pay. “You tell him from me, boy, that if the bills aren’t cleared by the end of the month, nary a pig of that iron will I be delivering!”

Will hurried home in a turmoil of new worries. He was relieved to find Master Brown was not yet down to the smithy. Going to the cupboard where he knew the ledgers were kept, he unlatched the hasp and opened the door. A rain of crumpled paper tumbled onto the workbench in front of him. Smoothing one of the wrinkled leaves, Will rapidly scanned the text. Apparently their supplier of coal was reluctantly forced to take legal action to retrieve his due payment.

The words were polite but the meaning was clear. A dunning notice. Rapidly, Will shuffled through the shocking pile of paper. These were all duns! Some of them considerably less than polite. All of them making it very obvious why Will had been noticing shortages in the smithy’s supplies.

With a sinking heart, Will pulled down the leather-bound ledgers. Dust rose in an ominous puff. He flipped through the most recent accounts, no longer surprised that, from the date of Mistress Brown’s death, the entries grew more and more haphazard, and after news had reached them of Joe’s murder, there were no more entries.

The afternoon passed without the mastersmith ever appearing. The long evening light faded to dark, and the night candles burnt on into morning as Will struggled to make sense of the mess in the bookkeeping. He sorted all the work orders he could find. He listed all the jobs he could remember doing and all those the mastersmith had done. He added up the bills. When he totaled the figures, he was relieved to see that even if he’d missed some entries, there should be enough to cover the smithy’s debts, although he greatly feared there would be household debts for which he hadn’t accounted.

He would have to corner Master Brown when he finally came to work and shake him upside down until the coins fell out! Will vowed he would tie the man down until he was stone cold sober and force him to cough up the payments.

He was so tired.

Will ran his fingers through his mop of hair and stretched his cramping shoulder blades. An entire day of beating steel couldn’t make him this stiff. He’d just catch a little sleep before the day started again. Then he noticed the dark between the slats of the smithy walls was actually a lighter shade. Dragging himself to the door of the shop, he looked out on the pre-dawn gray sky. It was already morning. He’d have to begin his chores immediately, and he’d have no time to practice with his sword. Work must be completed if the smithy was to survive. Resigning himself to the inevitable, Will brought up the fire and fed the donkey.

That afternoon, when the smith at last staggered down the stairs into the shop, Will confronted him with the execrable state of the smithy’s accounts. When pressed, the man admitted he’d been paying little attention to either the money he owed or the money owed him. He also confessed he didn’t know how much money was left. Unspoken between them was the knowledge that rum and ale were not free.

Will, at age eighteen, held out his hand to his mentor, the closest thing to a father he’d ever had. “The key,” he said, low and firm.

Slowly, Master Brown drew the chain off his neck and handed his apprentice the small key to the chest where the smithy’s income was stored.

In that moment their roles finally reversed. There were still two and a half years left of Will’s apprenticeship, but the two of them knew who was now the mastersmith.

* * * * *

The financial situation had been even worse than Will had feared. The medical expenses of the last year had eaten all of the reserves. The time lost from work had sent them into debt. The fact that Will was the only full-time blacksmith now working was preventing them from regaining ground. And Master Brown had been drinking up any profit that came in. The rest of the smithy’s income appeared to be still owed by customers taking advantage. They would have to retrench with a vengeance.

Will’s life began to resemble a nightmare of the kind where he ran and ran and never seemed to move. Master Brown descended further each day into drunkenness while Will gritted his teeth and set about hauling the business back from the brink of destruction by main force and backbreaking work.

For the sake of the past, for the family he had been given, for the gift of the skill that now lived in his hands, Will bore with patience the burden Master Brown had become. He arose early and worked late to keep up the necessary output of the shop. Days stretched into months. Will could no longer remember the last time he’d taken his half-day off. Since he was prevented from seeing Elizabeth—Miss Swann—there was really no reason for a holiday.

When Elizabeth returned from St. Kitts, she immediately became the toast of Port Royal. Will only caught sight of her once in a long while, like a glimpse of fresh water in a desert. She was every inch a fine lady now, elaborately gowned and coiffed, surrounded by billows of young ladies of her own class. The hordes of fine gentlemen paying court to her had none of them worked a day in their lives with their velvet, white-skinned hands. Will shut his eyes and his heart with a clash of bolts and chains.

His only relief from unremitting labour was his daily three hours of practice with the sword. During this respite, he fought with all the pent up fury of his thwarted life until there was no one at the fort who could match him. Even Captain Norrington had been intrigued enough to try a few rounds with the blacksmith’s apprentice. Will had bested him two times out of three. The victories mattered nothing to Will—only the fighting itself was a relief, whether he won or lost. In the violent action, in the clash and scrape of steel, he could forget.

He kept the smithy’s books in the dusty ledger in his careful cramped hand. In the last year of his mother’s life, he’d had to take over much of the household accounts, but he’d never had to deal with unpaid debt before. He forced himself through the agony of confronting the customers whom Master Brown had let punt on tick for far too long. He visited the irate creditors, arranging repayment schedules, his sensitive soul raw with the shame.

He grew resigned to awkward questions and adept at fielding them. Carefully, he guarded his master’s debilitation from his neighbours and associates. He told them that since the business would in all likelihood pass to him now, Master Brown was involving him more in its administrative elements. The lies never got easier, but he managed. In uncharacteristic charity, the townspeople accepted the fiction with nothing more than sympathetic glances at the driven young man. Joseph Brown had been well liked. It had been such a tragedy—almost made one think of Job. Will was a fine lad.

The personal care the mastersmith now required was no less arduous. Until the accounts balanced, Will could not justify hiring any help. So in addition to his duties as blacksmith, he tried to keep up the household. Never had he appreciated the sheer hard labour involved in the most simple of meal preparations and cleanup, in the laundry and mending of ill-used blacksmith’s clothing, in fighting back the chaos of dirt that seemed determined to coat every surface in a smith’s house. Mostly, he lost the battle, but he struggled on grimly, aware that to give up would be fatal.

The alcohol itself assumed an almost personified demonization in Will’s mind. This creature had kidnapped his mentor and friend and replaced him with this changeling child, dependent on Will for nearly everything. He had to help the man to his bed when he would stumble into the smithy in the early hours of the morning, waking his exhausted apprentice. Sometimes Master Brown would not come home, and Will, who needed to be working, would have to comb the alleys around the taverns in the chill, gray light of morning for the unconscious smith. When he found him lying in some filthy corner, Will would cart the man home, clean off the effluvia, the vomit, the bodily waste, as though his master had been an infant, and put him to bed. Then would come laundering, which Will tried to accomplish in brief moments between tasks in the shop. Some days it seemed more than he could bear.

The months stretched into years. Years in which the smithy regained some of its former prosperity. Years of loneliness as Will spent almost every waking hour in the dark, fiery heart of the forge. Years in which he drove himself in desperation to master his art with surpassing skill and speed. Years in which he watched all the credit for that skill given to his master. The blades of J. Brown were indeed becoming well-known, as Joe had dreamed.

For the sake of what he owed Mastersmith Brown, for the love and the home that had been given him, for what the man had once been, Will endured his master’s drunken, childlike dependence. He cared for the shattered man with the tenderness of a son. Some days were better than others. Sometimes Master Brown would come down to the shop, red-eyed and haggard, but almost sober, and they would work together in silence as they had in the past. But such occasions were vanishingly rare now. And the laughter was gone.

* * * * *

Reaching the square on which the smithy was located, Will paused by the solid double doors, took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and laid his hand on the latch. He would deal with whatever awaited him behind that door. Then he would go to the fire and let its heat on his face burn off whatever dross of resentment might remain in his soul that the wind had not blown away. The steel and iron in his hands would absorb the energy of his banked emotions. The song of the hammer on the anvil would drown out the fretful noise of the world. The rhythm of creation, the music of the forge would empty him and fill him.

As he forged the steel, so the steel would forge him, folding his grief into his courage, giving him that hardened edge of strength combined with the gentle resilience that would allow him to bow almost to the very dust without breaking.

TBC
Ch. 4: Drawn Steel
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