Work Header

Bitterly Ever After

Chapter Text

In quiet country estate on the coast of Sussex, there is a medium-sized manor house.  And in this house there is a portrait, hanging proudly above the fireplace in the main parlour.  In this portrait are five people—three women, all seated in this very same parlour, and two men, standing in the midst of the ladies.

A tall man is at the centre of the portrait, his figure trim and his posture upright and in a particular way which indicates he was once a military man.  He is wearing a coat of fine green brocade, a waistcoat embroidered with brightly-coloured tropical flowers, and a powdered wig.  There are laugh-lines cut into his handsome face, and a hint of wit lurking in the green eyes twinkling under straight brows.  This is the master of the house, and the man who commissioned the portrait: Sir James Norrington, Lord Hargreve, who was once a great naval commander in the Caribbean.  His hand rests on the shoulder of a lady, seated before him, and his pride in his family and his happiness with the same is plain, even through the medium of mere oil paints.

The lady reaches up to rest her hand on her husband's, displaying a sapphire ring on her third finger.  She is far smaller and more delicate than her husband, though she is dressed richly in a deep blue gown with a rich necklace of star-sapphires and pearls adorning her swanlike neck.  Lady Hargreve is not a beautiful woman, but there is something compelling in her sharply-featured face and in the keenness of the black eyes which stare out of the painting.  Her black hair, just touched with grey at the temples, is piled high on her head, and a simple comb of stars tooled in mother-of-pearl adorns her dark locks. Meanwhile, her expression is contented, bordering on smug; Stella Norrington smiles the smile of a cat who is sated on cream.

To the left of Lady Stella sits a lovely young woman with a mysterious little half-smile on her face.  Her kinship with James Norrington is obvious; they share the same chestnut-brown hair, green eyes, and patrician features.  However, she takes after her mother in build; Bellatrix Calypso Norrington is not a tall woman, but is instead quite diminutive in stature.  Around her neck is a string of silver bells, and in her lap is a compass.  Her dress is decorated with a variety of colourful fish and all her other jewels are pearls; apropos, for Bellatrix Norrington has an affinity with water.

Bellatrix was seven and having her bath when her powers manifested.

She had always been fascinated with the ocean, and spent long hours staring at it.  In her early years, she had been on many voyages across the Atlantic, as her parents had land in both Jamaica and England, and she loved to be out in the middle of the sea with water all around.  She would swear that the waves whispered to her, sharing with her the secrets of the deep; her mother agreed, and would tell her stories about the sea goddess whose name she shared.  Sometimes, father would come out on deck with them at night, and her parents would teach her all they knew about the stars and how to navigate by them.

The Norrington family was in Sussex that summer, and Bellatrix was letting her nursemaid wash her hair when she suddenly felt rather strange.  As the water ran past her ears, she suddenly felt as though it was the only sound there was, the sound of the water, and that all water was connected for she could hear and feel the ocean as well...

Nanny Jacobs started screaming at the top of her lungs, rushing out of the room and crying for Lord and Lady Hargreve.  Stella hurried into the room, James on her heels, and grasped Nanny Jacobs by her shoulders.  "What on earth is the matter?" she snapped.

"Miss Bellatrix just disappeared!" Nanny Jacobs shrieked.  "I was washin' her hair, and she just vanished under me hands!"

Stella smiled brightly, confusing the nurse, who had expected at least a measure of alarm. "Did she, now?"  She went over to the bathtub and peered into it.  "Bella, darling, you've given your nurse a terrible fright. Perhaps you might reconstitute yourself?"

Bellatrix opened her mouth to ask what 'reconstitute' meant, and then the world suddenly became much less watery.  She sat up in the tub, water streaming down her face.  She guessed what had just happened, and the brilliant smile on her mother's face confirmed it.  "Do I have my powers now?" she asked excitedly.

"You do, my dear one," Stella confirmed.  "It seems you can become one with the water.  Given your patroness, I'm not at all surprised."

James patted Nanny Jacobs on the shoulder.  "Best not mention this," he advised.  "But, for your mental health, it probably won't be the last time this will happen."

As James had predicted, that wasn't the last time Bellatrix transmorphed into water during her baths.  She could also do so in the ocean and in the streams and ponds on the Norrington lands—and, when she was a bit older, anywhere else as well, though her parents weren't very happy when she changed inside and soaked the carpets and the bedclothes.  James was also heartily amused when Bellatrix learned to create water from the air and gather it in her cupped palms; he proclaimed it was a very useful talent for a sailor to have. Bellatrix was happy with the compliment (she confided in her father that she wished she could be a sailor, and spend all her time at sea; her father in return confided in her about a young woman he'd once known who ran off to sea and became King of the Pirates; and both of them swore not to tell Stella), even though Stella had pointed out acidly that her daughter was not a sailor.

Whether in England or Jamaica, Bellatrix Norrington spent much of her time in the water, either drifting along in the currents as part of the ocean, or merely swimming—though swimming for Bellatrix was different than swimming for the rest of the world, for she had discovered an ability to breathe underwater even when she was still in her body.  Somehow, though, her mother always knew where she was, even when she had turned into the water and dispersed along with it.

Standing, in the portrait, behind Stella Norrington and next to James, is a tall, gangly young man of about sixteen, nearly of a height with his father, dressed in a dark blue frock-coat that matches his mother's gown and a silvery-grey waistcoat.  James Rigel Norrington is very much his mother's son.  He has her black eyes, pale skin, and stark, pointed features; only his chestnut hair, his laugh, and his height are inheritances from his father.  The younger James stares out of the painting with a sharp, piercing gaze and a thin, canny smile which anyone who had ever met Stella Bell would recognise instantly.

In February 1527, Stella Norrington conceived another child.  Bellatrix was almost two, and the family was in Jamaica for the winter.  This pregnancy was everything the first was not: easy, peaceful, and happy.  Stella started craving blackcurrants and eels in April, which were more easily got in England, so the family sailed as usual in May.  There they remained until October, when Stella gave birth to a son.

"We'll call him James, for you," Stella announced from her bed at Hargreve House, their seat in Sussex.

James grinned widely, looking up from the bundle in his arms which was his newborn son.  "But Bellatrix has two names—shouldn't young James have two as well?" he suggested innocently.

"Have you something in mind, husband?" Stella inquired, arching a tired brow.

"Choose a star, Starling," he bid her.  "I can tell already that he's going to look as much like you as Bella does me.  He ought to have a star name as well, especially if we're to ensure that he knows he's just as much a part of the family as the girls."

Stella smiled as she thought about it, running through the stars she knew and the placement of the heavenly bodies as they were at the time.  She eventually chose, "Rigel.  James Rigel."

"I like it," James grinned.  "It's not too long."

Bellatrix was soon presented with her new brother, and her parents had to speak sternly to ensure she didn't treat him as one of her dolls or drag him down to the beach to go swimming.  She adored him nonetheless, especially when he was old enough to toddle around with her and play with toy boats in the duck pond.

James Rigel didn't take the sea voyages with the same passion as his older sister when the Norrington family finally returned to the Caribbean in 1528, shortly after his first birthday.  He was terribly seasick, like his mother, whereas his father and sister were happy as clams.  "He's your son, through and through, Starling," James teased.

It was true, James Rigel did take after his mother very much, even more so as he grew, and it became apparent he had inherited Stella's sharp wit, her cleverness, and the same keen insight into people.  Though he enjoyed the astronomy lessons with his parents and elder sister, Rigel (as the family called him) would not, as James had rather hoped, enter the navy as his father had.  He had no desire to fight pirates, nor did he have the stomach (or the legs) for long voyages.

"That boy is a born lawyer," James eventually remarked.

"Rigel will be whatever he wants to be," Stella replied calmly.  Then she grinned.  "Though I don't doubt you'll be right about his eventual choice of profession."

James Rigel never got the sense that he was excluded from his family.  He always knew that both his parents loved him, and though he occasionally teased Bellatrix in the fashion of younger brothers everywhere, it was always done with fondness.  He was his father's beloved son and heir (and a reliable fishing or riding companion whenever the women got involved in something magical), and had a special bond with his mother, whom he was so very like and who always kept in mind her vow to never make her sons feel as though they were worth anything less than her daughters.

James Rigel Norrington, therefore, had a much happier childhood and life than either Edward Teague or Cutler Beckett.

The last lady in the picture is the youngest, appearing about thirteen.  She has a bright, open smile tinged with a bit of mischievousness lurking in the corner of her lips, and her spirit shines out from the canvas.  Electra Eleanor Norrington has her mother's black hair and her father's green eyes, her mother's chin but her father's nose, her mother's lips but her father's smile.  Her gown is a soft, vernal green which makes her eyes seem as clear as jade, and in her hand is a sketchbook and a pencil.

When, in 1530, Stella Norrington bore another daughter, she and her husband did not agree on the naming of this one, and had a row about it that lasted for nearly two days.

"We're not calling her Electra," James announced, for at least the hundredth time since the birth of his youngest daughter three days before.  "Why can't we just name her Eleanor?"

"Because that's not how it works," Stella retorted stubbornly, rocking the cradle which held the as-yet-unnamed baby.  "We can't name her Eleanor, it'll ruin the pattern."

"What about Anne, then?" James suggested.

"Our other two children are named for stars; this one should be too," Stella insisted.

"But why 'Electra'?" James asked pleadingly.  "Couldn't we call her something else?  Electra Eleanor is just... just excess!"

"I think it sounds lovely," Stella maintained.  She glanced over at five-year-old Bellatrix and three-year-old Rigel, who were watching their parents argue with wide eyes.  "What do you think, Bella, Rigel?  How like you Electra Eleanor for your sister's name?"

"I like Electra," Bellatrix said loyally. Of course, Bellatrix would agree with just about anything her mother proposed, James mused wryly.

"'Lectra," Rigel tried.  And of course Rigel would go along with whatever Bellatrix said, James thought glumly, trying to ignore the creeping feeling that warned him he was going to lose this battle.  He didn't want to surrender just yet.

"What about... about Elizabeth, if you want something with that 'ell' sound you favour," James asked desperately.

Stella's face shut down, and James knew he'd made a misstep.  "I'm not naming my daughter after your first fiancée," his wife said flatly.

He'd lost more ground.  "Well, what about—" he tried to suggest.

"James," said Stella.  She'd set her jaw and her dark eyes were hard.  "I carried her.  I bore her.  I did, essentially, all the work.  We're naming her Electra Eleanor." Suddenly, she softened, and gave him a wicked smile.  "Besides, you threw up on my shoes."

James buried his face in his hands and groaned.  Would he never escape that indiscretion, which was by now six years old?  As his children giggled madly at the thought of their father doing something so silly, he lifted his eyes and scowled at his wife, knowing he'd lost and his youngest daughter was going to be saddled with a name as ridiculous and alliterative as Electra Eleanor.

Stella was laughing with the children, and reached out to grasp his hand.  "Let her be Electra Eleanor, and I swear on my life this will be the last you ever hear of my ill-fated shoes," she promised.

He'd lost.  "Fine," he surrendered, throwing up his hands.  He went over to the cradle, and picked up the chubby baby girl, who stared at him with sleepy eyes.  "My daughter, should you ever come to dislike a name as lengthy, mythological, and alliterative as Electra Eleanor, just remember... I had nothing to do with it.  This one is all on your mother," he said to the baby, who yawned in agreement.

Electra Eleanor was quickly nicknamed "Ellie", and took her place as the cherished baby of the family.  Perhaps her naming had been portentous, since Stella claimed that Ellie had inherited her maternal grandmother's sweetness of temper, though Stella also claimed it was leavened with quite a bit of James' dry wit.  Ellie was clever, as all the Norrington children were (and how could they be otherwise, James always said, with such an intelligent mother?), but her passion was not for the ocean, as Bellatrix's was, nor for learning and debate, as Rigel's was, but for art.  She loved drawing and painting and needlework, loved to set down her vision of the world on paper or linen.  It was to Electra that Stella taught embroidery, for Bellatrix had neither the patience nor the inclination for it, and on many lazy afternoons the three women would sit in the parlour, Bellatrix reading aloud from a book as Electra and Stella used needle and thread to stitch spells and charms into fine linen or wool cloth.

Electra's powers didn't manifest until she was eight. In addition to a near-eidetic memory, she also acquired the ability to create illusions, some of which seemed so real she even fooled her elder sister.  In fact, she nearly gave her father a heart attack when she was ten and she created a series of illusionary skeletons to try and frighten Rigel.  (Rigel wasn't frightened, but James certainly was, and Stella gave Electra a rather stern talking-to later about why she mustn't conjure skeletons, sea-monsters, or anything else likely to give Father or any of the servants a fright.  Eccentricity, Mother said, was an excuse that would only take them so far.)

Her mother, however, was never fooled by any phantom she conjured.

That is the portrait of the Norrington family, which relocated to England in 1537, so that James Rigel might have the best education in preparation for attending Oxford.  True to his father's predictions, Rigel had determined (at the age of seven), that he wanted to become a barrister and thereafter a judge.  And since most of James' business interests and lands were located in England, he discussed the matter with Stella and his children and the decision was made to spend the majority of their time in England.  The family became well-respected in the neighbourhood where they were some of the premier occupants, and visitors to the house would inevitably notice the portrait hanging on the wall—the portrait of a very happy family.

At this moment in time, there is a stack of parchment on the table—some sundry sketches done by Electra.  A viewer might recognise Theodore Groves on one page, accompanied by Anne Witcher, whom he had married; they both remained close to the Norringtons, even after their relocation to England.  James and Stella had stood godparents to Theodore and Anne's first child, a son called Andrew.  Another page has an image of Uncle Isaac, whose relationship with his brother-in-law had much improved over the years.  Part of that might have had something to do with Stella's obvious and visible happiness with her husband, her family, and her life... and it also might have had something to do with the fact that Uncle Isaac had married Aunt Margaret, who kept him on a very short leash.

There were also sketches done of several naval officers—a viewer intimate with the Norrington family might recognise Joseph Sewall, Allan Clark, Robert MacDonald, and Charles Parker.  Stella's midshipmen had remained close to the family, though they had long ceased to be midshipmen, and had their own ships and careers.

But many sketches are simply of the Norrington family, of the same people in the portrait during their everyday lives.  There are drawings of Bellatrix staring up at the night sky or out at the ocean, swimming in the pond or riding her horse or playing her harp.  There are drawings of James Rigel writing letters or reading books, peering through a telescope with his mother beside him, pointing up at some distant celestial body, or lounging on the grass with his father as they fished in the stream during a lazy summer afternoon.  There are some of Electra's self-portraits, though she seldom made the attempts; her image is the least seen among the sketches and watercolours.  But the majority of the drawings are of James and Stella talking together, laughing together, teasing each other and simply being together.  Their love for each other and their joy in their lives are apparent in every single stroke of their daughter's pen.

The bedtime story all the children most loved to hear was the story of how their parents met, married, fought sea monsters and an evil Lord, and fell in love.  Bellatrix loves to hear the story for she was actually part of it, though she was in her mother's belly at the time, and because she wants to know more about the goddess whose favour she has, who whispers to her in the movement of the waves.  Rigel loves to hear the story because it is full of pirates and sea battles and sword fights and monsters—he is a young lad, after all—and because his parents were so very brave.  But Electra loves to hear the story because she enjoys hearing about James and Stella, and how much they loved each other, like the heroes of a fairy tale—how her mother loved her father so much she stayed in the power of the wicked Lord Beckett, and how her father loved her mother so much he let the pirates get away.

James and Stella do not tell their children (at least, not until they are much older and can understand) everything about the winding road that brought them together—about their first meetings and clashes on Tortuga, about their decision to make a marriage of expedience, about the dark days when Stella loved James and James didn't love Stella.   They say nothing of the moral conundrums and the bad choices they made during that dark time; nothing about black magic and mutiny.  Instead, they quietly work to be the best people they can be, silently atoning for their perceived faults.  In time, peace comes to James and Stella Norrington, and the memory of that nadir ceases to cause them such pain.

There is one more portrait in the house, though this one is hung instead in the study, where a large, worn, massive old grimoire holds pride of place.  In this watercolour portrait, done by Electra Norrington, there are only two people: Lord and Lady Hargreve, who were James and Stella Norrington.  They are much older in this portrait than they are in the one downstairs in the parlour, or even in Electra's sketches; James' face is creased with wrinkles, and Stella's black hair has gone grey.  But the spark in Sir James' green eyes is just as potent, and the intensity of Lady Stella's dark gaze has not abated with age.

This watercolour was painted for their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and it would not be incorrect to say that they were as much in love then as they had been that day on the deck of the Endeavour, though it had perhaps mellowed and sweetened and grown more tender and less passionate.  Their hands are laced together, and they turn towards the other unconsciously, shoulders touching, even as they pose for their daughter.  There is a special affection in James' smile, and a softness in Stella's face which would be totally alien to those who knew her in her youth.  This is a couple still in love, a couple entirely happy with their lives, with their children, and with each other.

James Norrington and Stella Bell did not live bitterly ever after at all, but instead managed to find that rarest of fates: a happily ever after.