There's a ghost of a ship with its black sails furled.
And night after night, she would stand on the shore,
And dream of a love that she knew before.
The tide rolls out,
The tide rolls in
Without a thought for the ways of men.
-- The Pirate's Bride
The sun dipped below the horizon, and the Flying Dutchman disappeared in a brilliant flash of green that seemed to suck all the color out of Elizabeth's world. Sea and sky turned slate gray; dark, patchy clouds the color of tin, remnants of the unnatural storm, were all that remained on a dull canvas quickly folded into the skirts of twilight, as if Mother Nature was embarrassed by her own work.
Stars blinked into existence one by one, creating patterns and shapes that Elizabeth usually liked to pretend she could trace with a fingertip.
The ocean encroached further on the shore, frothing about Elizabeth's ankles and lapping her shins. By the time the moon shone with icy white light, each receding wave pulled at her knees with increasing urgency, tugging her forward step by involuntary step, tempting her with the false hope that she might easily follow.
Eventually her feet began to sink in the sand, and she waited to pull them out, distantly curious to see if a point could be reached where she could go no further or if the sand and surf would slowly consume her. When the pressure to free herself became too much, Elizabeth held her arms wide and lifted her feet, blinking at the resulting pop of suction, and backed away from the water line.
Still her eyes were fixed on the horizon, nearly indistinguishable now from the inky black sky.
Awareness returned slowly. She noticed the noises first -- the crash of the incoming tide, the breeze rustling the trees behind her and the cry of a hungry gull. Next she felt the grit of sand between her bare toes and tasted the salt on her lips. A shiver traveled through her long limbs, and she rubbed her arms and thought how very different she felt in her own skin.
Because of Will.
Elizabeth choked on a breath and shook her head from side to side. No. He couldn't really be gone. They couldn't be expected not to see each other for ten years. Her nails bit into her palms.
“Will," she shouted into the night, fierce and commanding, as if his name might carry all the way to world's end if the winds were right. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but when she opened them again, there was no ship on the horizon and she was still alone.
Seagulls and sand crabs rarely make good conversationalists, especially when confronted by a young woman losing her temper.
"You knew all along, didn't you?" Elizabeth raged at the sea, who, by her very nature, was disinclined to offer a straight answer. "You knew what would happen to Will. To us."
Waves washed over her feet as she paced back and forth between two rocks, the chest -- Will’s heart -- just visible out of the corner of her eye.
"You knew. All your talk of destiny, and you could have stopped it at any time!"
Her voice sounded shrill in the near silence.
Cheeks flushed with anger, Elizabeth stomped up the beach and sat down heavily. Her black shift offered little coverage, but she quickly discarded the idea of retrieving the rest of her clothes and settled for stretching the fabric further around her thighs. There wasn't a point to dressing, no one would see her, and she dreaded collecting her carelessly discarded garments.
Elizabeth felt confused. All her life she had dreamed of meeting a pirate, and now she was the Pirate King, married to the captain of the Flying Dutchman, and although both facts still filled her with a rush of pleasure, had they come at too high a price?
Father. James. And now Will, lost to me for ten years, she mused, sifting sand through her fingers.
Swallowing a sob, she turned her head and gave the endless stretch of ocean her undivided attention. "Bring him back to me," she demanded. "I will serve you as well as any pirate who loves you, and see that those under my command respect you for what you are, not what they wish you to be. Just bring him back to me."
The moon reached its zenith and began its descent, pulling the tides with it. Drained, Elizabeth walked the beach, stooping here and there to examine a shell or choose a small rock for skipping.
Hours after his departure, she could still feel his warm hands on the slight curve of her hips, fingers marking her as his, and his breath on the sensitive skin under her ear. The experience had been everything and yet nothing that she had expected or imagined. No words could have prepared her for the rush of sensation. Now it tore her in two to think how long she would have to wait to feel it again. To feel him.
She wondered if Will pined similarly for her touch, or if all such sentiments had been left behind with his heart.
Rather than look at the chest, Elizabeth found herself wandering into the surf, moving deeper until her shift billowed at her back, and she began to float. The stars were bright and twinkled merrily, but she closed her eyes and instead relived every moment of their day until she had drifted a fair distance from the beach. Will’s scent tickled her nose and tortured her memory, and then it was lost to the sea.
Lost to the sea.
Dimly, Elizabeth pondered what her new crew would do if she didn't return -- if she kept floating over the ocean, drifting from this life to the next and earning her passage aboard the Dutchman. She could be with Will. They could do his duty together, and never be apart.
Even as she entertained the notion, Elizabeth turned over with hardly a splash and struck out for shore, eyes locked on the chest like it was her own personal homing beacon, a light only she could see.
Fully dressed, Elizabeth watched the red and gold hues of dawn with relief. The day promised to be clear, much like yesterday, though yesterday felt like another lifetime. The sun rose higher and bathed the beach and everything on it in warm, bright light, and Elizabeth turned to the boat with the chest held tightly in her hands, determined to keep her back to the spot where she and her husband had loved and laughed and lived for one perfect day.
Dwelling on what she cannot change, she decided during the long night, would do her no good. She was never a wilting flower, never the sort to waste away over a broken heart. Captain Elizabeth Turner, Pirate King, would never let sorrow get in the way of all the living she had yet to do.
And her heart wasn't broken, not really. Her heart was full to bursting and right beside Will’s, where it should be. It wouldn't be easy, but their path had always been peppered with difficulties. What mattered was the treasure at the end.
The treasure he had given to her keeping.
Carefully, she stowed the chest under the bench where she would sit and pushed the boat into the sea before the heat of the day made her voyage unpleasant. After steering through the breakers, she locked the oars to catch her breath and trailed her fingers through the crystal blue water, eyes closed against the sight of the beach fading from view. She didn't want to see it again for ten years. The water felt cool and vaguely inviting, but its seductive pull was well tempered by the morning light.
A small smile played about Elizabeth's lips as she imagined a hand rising up through the water to brush hers, and from under her seat came a sound she’d deliberately ignored since Will waded into the ocean.
"I'm watching over you, Will."
Smile not quite reaching her eyes, she grasped the oars and rowed for Shipwreck Island, thinking that minutes and seconds would always be measured in heartbeats, and there were far too many to count.