The Doctor

El Lobo Del Mar

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“Bollocks,” Jack exhaled.

“What's the matter?” asked Briggs. “The father-in-law droppin' in for an unexpected visit?”

“Oh, I wish. I'd rather see Rhodri than what's walking this way.”

“Well, are ye gonna keep it a secret 'til they set foot on deck?”

Jack looked over at Josiah and stole his coffee cup. He downed the brew in two gulps and handed the cup back. “It's Rose.”

Briggs' eyes went wide. “Well, don't that beat all. For a woman, she sure has a pair of brass ones to be showin' up here after the shenanigans she pulled.”

“And what's in Duckie's head, bringing her here? I swear, Josiah, it will be a contest to see what happens to her first; me strangling her, or Honour scratching her eyes out.”

“My money's on Honour. Hell hath no fury like a woman settin' out after another one what has designs on her man.”

Jack sighed as Duckie and his sister began to climb the gangway. “I'll have to get her off the ship fast. Hopefully it's early enough, and she hasn't been...”

Rose grabbed Duckie's jacket and steadied herself as she almost lost her footing.

“... never mind. Too late. Hand me that rum. No use arguing with a drunk whilst stone cold sober. It's annoying.”

Briggs fetched the rum and filled Jack's cup half way. “Ye really think she's been tippin' at this hour?”

“Um, did it stop us?”

“Good point.” Josiah refilled his cup and took a healthy swig. “On that note, I'll be leavin' ye to receive special dignitaries, captain sir!”

“Bloody coward.”

“Damned straight. Now, be charmin' and evasive. Like usual.”

“You're going to pay for abandoning your captain, Mister Briggs.”

Briggs grinned, then pretended to smell something. “Oi! Smells like smoke! I need to investigate. Just doin' me job, captain!”

Jack laughed and slapped the taffrail as Briggs jogged down the steps. The quartermaster greeted Rose and Duckie, and pointed up to the quarterdeck and Jack in response to something Rose asked. Rose then patted her brother on the shoulder and walked toward the stairs. Duckie looked up at Jack and shrugged helplessly, then beat a hasty retreat to the surgery.


Rose stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

“Permission to come aboard, Captain Wolfe!” she said cheerily.

“Rose, you're already aboard. You should have asked that question way over there when you were still on the dock, and I had an opportunity to say no.”

“Oh, Jack!” she laughed as she climbed the steps to the quarterdeck. “You're not serious!”

“Don't count on it.”

Rose paused and sighed in mock exasperation. “You're still upset about the party.”

“And I shouldn't be? Rose, you tried to destroy my marriage.”

“I think that's a bit of an exaggeration.”

Jack crossed his arms and stared at her. “You dragged out a secret that would have torn apart a lesser couple. But that's where you miscalculated, Rose. It's been tried before. And like your attempt, it failed. So I'm not quite sure what you hope to accomplish by showing up here this morning. But I'll tell you what – if Honour sees you aboard, I won't stop her from trying to take your head off.”

Rose gave him a petulant look. “I'll have you know, I wanted to see my brother off properly before you take him gallivanting for God knows how long again. And my, don't you look handsome in your captain's outfit! What is the nautical term for it?”

“Clothes.”

“Well, no matter. It suits you. But it is a bit threadbare in places. I thought for certain you'd be more fastidious about your appearance, being a captain and all. You cut such a dashing figure the other night...”

“Everything looks different in the daylight,” he said flatly.

Rose sighed heavily, and Jack could faintly smell the cognac on her breath. “You're set on being cold towards me, aren't you?”

Jack nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“If you'd give me a chance, you'd find that I'm trying to apologise to you.”

“Really?” he laughed. “And was part of your plan to apologise to Honour as well? Because she's the one who was hurt the worst by your foolishness. I was collateral damage.”

“Well, I hadn't... I mean, I should, but...” Rose stammered.

“In other words, no.”

“If you'd just give me a chance to explain!”

Jack shook his head. “No. I don't give second chances. Not anymore. You were crystal clear the other night what your intention was. To humiliate my wife. And you accomplished that. So I can't imagine what kind of 'explanation' you might have to offer. Frankly, I don't care.”

“You will not shut me out, Jack Wolfe! I'll invite you to remember your place in polite society!”


Jack gave Rose a bemused look. She was trembling with indignant anger.

“You're the one forgetting their place, Countess. When you stepped aboard my ship, you left your world and entered mine. Your title is worthless here. Mine is the only one that matters. Now put a sock in it and listen to me.”

Rose stared back at him in stunned silence. No one ever dared to speak to her as Jack just had, and she had no idea how to react. This was not the Jack Wolfe she remembered. This was something new, and quite frankly, it frightened her.

“I used to have so much patience, Rose,” he continued. “So much mercy. But not anymore. I'm older, and a fair amount of wisdom has come with that. I can't excuse what you did, or what you tried to do. I won't. So I'm going to tell you this one time; leave my ship.”

“Jack, you're just being cruel now.”

“No, cruel is me telling how I can't stand the sight of you. But you brought it up.”

Rose swallowed hard. She had underestimated just how much Jack could have changed, how much she had hurt him by her actions at the party, and how far he would go to support his wife.

“Jack, please. What do you want from me? Do you want me to beg forgiveness? Here, in front of your crew?”

“Rose, get this through your head. I want nothing from you, except to see you off my ship.”

“Not until you forgive me,” she said stubbornly.

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“Right, then! Since you don't want to leave, I'll personally let Honour know you're here. How's that? Makes no never mind to me. And I have to tell you, there are a lot of sharp, pointy things aboard a ship like this, all in easy reach. You know yourself just how talented she is with a blade. Still want to risk it?”
Rose stared at him in astonishment. “You wouldn't do that. Not to me.”
Jack locked her arm up in his and started to march her toward the stairs. “Here we go! Oh, she's going to love seeing you! Well, not love. More like grab the nearest heavy thing she can find and swing it at you. Then we're right back to that whole her taking your head off thing again. But if that's what you want, far be it from me to be a poor host...”
She quickly pulled herself free and stepped back from him. “Fine! I can see that I can't reason with you.”
“Really? You were being persistent? I thought you were just being thick. Doing a fine job of it, too.”
“I'm sorry it's come to this, Jack,” she said, trying to regain some of her dignity. “I'll leave. But I'd like to say goodbye to my brother first. Would you escort me?”
Jack looked at her impassively. “Down the stairs, walk toward the gangway. You'll see a door to your left. Go in, follow the hallway, second door on the right. Mind you don't get lost.”

Rose took a deep breath, and walked past Jack and descended the stairs. She could feel his eyes on her back. While she hadn't really expected him to listen, she certainly never thought he would be so cold. She stepped through the doorway and paused as her eyes adjusted to the largely unlit hallway.
“Second door on the right,” she reminded herself.

Taking a flask from her clutch, she took several long swallows of the amber liquid to help steady her nerves. She put the flask back in its hiding place and started down the hall to tell her brother goodbye. A familiar warm feeling began to spread inside her as the cognac started to work its magic, and she could feel her tension slowly fade. She continued on until she reached the door of the surgery, which was slightly ajar. Rose took a moment to smooth her clothes, then knocked on the door.

“Yes? Do come in, the door's open.”
Rose opened the surgery door to find her brother restocking a low cabinet with medicines. Duckie looked up when he heard the creak of the door hinges to see her there, and went back to restocking.
“I was expecting to see you right about now,” he said.
“Jack was... less than receptive,” said Rose, obviously embarrassed by what had happened. “In fact, he ordered me off the ship.”
“And what exactly did you expect, Rose?” Duckie closed the cabinet and stood to face his sister. “Far be it from me to say I told you so, but there it is.”
“Yes, you were right, Drake. I hope you're happy.”
“Far from it. It's not pleasant watching you embarrass yourself not once, but twice. Are you all right?”
“A bit shaken. He was terribly angry with me.”
Duckie sighed, then went to his desk and poured her some brandy. “Here. This usually settles your nerves. But this is all you get. I'm surprised Jack let you come down here after ordering you off. He's being more generous that I would have.”
“I think he did it more for your sake than mine.” She quickly drank the brandy and set the glass on the desk. “But he's right. I have no business here. I suppose I should take my leave before he tells Rhiannon – or whatever her name is – that I'm here.”
Duckie smiled at her. “Her name is Honour now. And that's the best idea you've had all day. Still, it was good to see you, Rose. I promise I'll try to get back to England on a more regular basis.” He hugged her, then held her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Promise me you'll take better care of yourself? You worry me.”
“I'll be fine, I promise. Honestly, Drake, you worry too much.” She kissed his cheek. “I had better go.”
“I'll write you when I get to Barbados to let you know everything's fine.”
Rose forced a sunny smile. “I shall look forward to it! Safe travels, Drake.”
“Safe travels, Rose.”

She quietly left the surgery and closed the door behind her. Her head was beginning to buzz from the cognac and brandy, and she found herself unable to remember which direction she had come. The hall was even darker thanks to someone having closed the door at the end of the hallway. Rose found herself feeling flustered, so she took another drink from her trusty flask. Everything was turned around for her. She tried to settle down and remember the instructions Jack had given her.
“He said the second door on the right,” she whispered to herself.
Unsteadily, she made her way down the hall, keeping one hand on the bulkhead to make sure she didn't miss the door. When she reached it, she pulled up on the latch and opened it. To her surprise, it revealed a set of steps leading down. A lamp hung from the overhead, casting a pale, flickering light on the surroundings. Rose gingerly made her way down the steps.
“Why on earth would he send me this way?” she asked herself. “This doesn't look right!”
She found herself surrounded by crates and bales and barrels, all stacked and held in place by ropes and nets. Panic started to rise in her throat. But she caught herself and stifled the urge to cry out for help.
“Steady, Rose. Don't go losing your head.” She found a clean looking crate and sat down on it. “Screaming is undignified and not for the aristocracy. I shall wait for someone to find me. Yes, that's what I'll do. Surely someone will be along soon.”
Besides, she was afraid that her shouts would catch the attention of Jack's vengeful wife, and that prospect was far more frightening to her than being lost.

Rose Carlisle sat there in the ship's hold, waiting more or less patiently for someone to come round and discover her. But she found her eyes getting heavier by the moment, and it was becoming difficult to focus on her surroundings. She leaned back against the crates, and let her eyes slowly close. After all, what could a little nap hurt?

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El Lobo del Mar swept out of Beaumaris' harbour on gentle and following winds. Her course was southerly, plying the cold waters of the Atlantic en route to her home port in Barbados. Jack had never considered any particular port as “home” until now. But he could scarcely wait to get back there with his wife and child, and to begin their new life together there... at home.

“Studying those charts won't have us to Barbados any faster,” Honour said with a smile in her voice. She was busy looking at some of the scrolls they had recovered from the Ancient's temple as she enjoyed some tea.
“Oh, I don't know,” said Jack. “Never count out a little Wolfe willpower. Add a bit of Conaway to the mix and we'll be home in a week! Maybe I should let Zara steer?”
“And throw poor Josiah into fits? I feel guilty enough that he's taking most of your duties so you can have more time with Zara.”
“So do I, but he insisted. You know how stubborn he can be. Besides, he is for all intents and purposes the captain now. I'm just the owner.”
“The men still look at you as the captain, and probably always will.”
Jack shrugged. “That will all change once we make port in Bridgetown again. Some of the crew will move on, new men will join-- eventually, they'll forget all about Captain Jack Wolfe. I'll be just another faceless ship owner to them.”
Honour shook her head, her long golden tresses glinting in the lamplight. “You know that's not true. No one will forget about 'Mad Jack' Wolfe.”
“I don't know... there are a few I'd like to have forget about me. For all our sakes.”
Honour got up from her chair and went to Jack's side, and put her arms lovingly around his neck. “I doubt we'll even encounter those people ever again. They're ghosts now as far as I care.” She paused and ran her fingers through his hair. “You're not having regrets again about leaving the account, are you?”

Jack looked up at her and smiled. “No. Not a one. I won't miss it, not one moment.” He looked over at Zara sleeping quietly in her bassinet. “With her around, I think I'll have my fill of adventure for years to come.”
“And her little brother or sister...”
Jack's eyes went wide. “You mean-- you're not-- are you? Again?”
“Oh, heaven's no!” she laughed. “But maybe one day. And you shall be there with me when the time comes, hearing every name I dream up for you!”
“Mrs Wolfe, it would be my honour to have you creatively conjecture about my family's history.”
Jack gently kissed her and drew her to him. They kissed again, deeply, and Honour looked into his eyes.
“You're not planning on trying to make another little Wolfe just this moment, are you?” she asked. “We haven't even had dinner yet, and Zara's just gone to sleep...”
“You're ever so practical,” he chuckled. “In fact, I'm glad you brought up dinner because any minute--”

A soft knock came from the door.
Jack gave Honour another kiss then answered the door. Three crewmen came into the cabin, carrying trays filled with roasted meat, warm bread, plates and utensils, and wine. Wordlessly, they set places at the large table, laid out the food, and filled two pewter goblets with deep red claret. Jack thanked them, and as quickly as they had appeared, they departed.
“But... what's all this for?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“To celebrate the start of our journey home, my love.”
“You didn't have to do this!”
“Of course, I didn't. But I do enjoy spoiling you.” Jack pulled out her chair for her. Honour sat down, taking in the elegant meal arrayed before her.
“Might as well enjoy this now,” said Jack, “because we'll both be tired of ship's food over the next month.”
Honour took a sip of wine and chuckled. “Remember the last time you surprised me with a meal aboard ship like this?”
“Oh, do I ever,” he said, his face colouring a bit. “I'm sorry for that. I should never have behaved...”
She put her hand on his. “Forgiven and forgotten,” she said with a smile. Jack nodded in agreement.
“But this time, we have an even more precious treasure in our midst,” she continued.
“Ask Puddin' if he agrees. He'll get quite good at hiding whenever Zara is toddling about, just you watch.”
“Poor thing. And poor Zara! She's just learning to walk; now she has to get her sea legs as well?”
Jack smiled proudly. “She's a Wolfe. She'll find a way.”

Another knock came at the door.
“That can't be dessert, not yet,” said Jack. “Come in!”
The door opened, and Briggs stepped into the cabin.
“Beggin' yer pardon and all, but, um,” he said looking like he would rather be anywhere else at the moment. “We got us a bit of a problem.”
“What kind?” asked Jack. “Are we taking on water? Is something wrong with the crew?” The last thing he wanted was another mutiny.
“I'm afraid we got us a stowaway,” Briggs answered slowly.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Oh, lovely. Fine. Give them some blankets and let them bunk with the crew. Once we make Madeira, off they go.”
“I think ye want to see this one for yerself, Jack.” He motioned behind him for someone to approach. “We found her sound asleep in the hold.”
A crewman stepped into the room, bringing with him the stowaway.

A dishevelled, unhappy, and very hung-over Rose Gander.

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Honour called out, "Jack, is there a--what the HELL?"

Jack deftly stepped between his wife and the misplaced Countess of Shrewsbury.

"Now, Honour..."

"How did she end up here?"

Jack said to the crewman, "Thanks, Boswell, for bringing this... problem to my attention."

Rose drew herself up, "Problem? You think this is a problem for YOU? I have house staff who will worry about me! And the annual ball at the Duke of Argyle's next week and--"

Honour cut in with, "I can arrange it so you can get there on time, Countess."

"You can?"

Honour took a step forward. "How are you at swimming?"

Rose took a step back and Jack held up his hand.

"Alright, cooler heads need to prevail. There has to be a way around this."

Honour folded her arms across her chest. "I have a dozen ways to get rid of the problem."

"Honour, I'll handle this."

"Excuse me? She tries to ruin my--our--lives and you won't put her off in a tender with enough liquor for a week?"

Rose looked imploringly at Jack, hoping her doe eyes would win him over. Or at least, buy her some time.

"Jack, you can understand how easy it is to take a wrong turn on your ship. I said goodbye to my brother and well, the next thing I knew, I was in that dark place with all those barrels. You really should get them better organised. And that lamp needs cleaning. Don't you have servants here to do that for you?"

Honour put her hands on her hips and looked at Rose. "This isn't the Good Ship Lollipop, sister. It's a merchant ship."

Honour looked at Jack. "Well, what do you intend to do?"

Jack sat down. "Rose, here. Have something to eat."

Rose sat down and smiled, fanning a napkin out to put on her lap. "Why, don't mind if I do."

Honour took the napkin off Rose's lap and turned to Jack.

"I will NOT share my dinner with that.. that... that..." she pointed to Rose.

He motioned for Honour to be quiet.

"I'll handle this."

Honour shut her mouth but Jack could see the thunderclouds behind her blue eyes.

He sighed. "Rose, yes, have something to eat. Honour, darling? May I see you in the other room?"

He took Honour gently by the elbow.

Rose looked over and said, "Oooh, Jack, is that your baby?"

She rose to take a look at Zara.

Honour broke away from Jack and laid her hand on Rose's wrist. "Touch MY child and you will never lift a flask again. You will have to pay someone to do it for you because your hand will be like this--"

Honour contorted her hand. Rose blanched.

Jack sighed. "Josiah? Keep an eye on Rose for her own health, all right? Honour? Please?"

She looked at Jack and then walked to the next room.


As soon as the door was shut, Honour whirled on Jack.

"John Michael Wolfe, I will not-- I repeat NOT-- sail to Barbados for the next month with that barracuda!"

Jack put his hands out in supplication. "What do you want me to do, Honour? Set her adrift to the elements and certain death?"

She raised an eyebrow and said nothing.

Jack exclaimed, "You can't be serious!"

"Try me. Does Duckie know she is here?"

"Doubtful. Otherwise, he would be here apologising all over the place."

"So what are you going to do, Jack?"

He put his arms on Honour's shoulders.

"I don't rightly know yet. I guess Briggs can share his quarters with Duckie. And Rose can take his room."

Honour said sarcastically, "Oooh, deluxe accommodations for the Countess yet!"

"I don't have much choice, do I?"

"I suggest she bunk with the crew. Give her a hammock and let her sit there for a month thinking about the wrongs she has committed.

He sighed. "You have a better suggestion?"

"Yes, but you won't like it. Sharks will, though."

"Honour, darling, be reasonable."

"Oh, I'll show you how reasonable I can be."

She headed towards the door with a candleholder.

"You-- you wouldn't! Not in the face!"

She retorted, "Nonsense. I just needed more light. But the dear Countess needs to realise the world is NOT her oyster."

Jack rubbed his chin. "We're about ten days from Madeira. She can book passage from there."

"Jack, are you going to make me tolerate her presence for the next ten days?"

"What real choice is there? Besides, I have a bigger problem than our mutual distaste for her presence."

"Oh?" said Honour. "And what that might be?"

"Securing all the alcohol on board. Round-the-clock guards with pistols should do."

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Honour stood there and gazed at an imaginary spot on the wall. Jack groaned, "Uh oh, I know that look, Honour. Your wheels are turning."
She turned back to Jack and smiled sweetly, "You are absolutely right, Jack."
He narrowed his eyes, "I don't like the sound of that, Honour."
She patted his face. "We certainly can't have a guest--however unwelcome--be cheated out of our hospitality, can we?"
Before Jack could stop Honour, she breezed back into the room. Briggs was chatting quietly with Rose, as she gave him a dimpled smile.

Honour gave Rose a welcoming smile. "Countess, my manners were a bit out of line. Please chalk it up to the surprise of seeing you so soon after the ball. I would like to extend a warm welcome to you as befitting the Captain's wife."
She let the word hang there.
"Jack, would you please give the Countess a glass of claret and then please leave us to have a little girl-chat?"
Jack and Briggs exchanged looks.
"Honour, I don't know about this...."
"Oh, fiddle faddle! It will be just fine. Frankly, it may be nice to have another woman to chat with for the next week."
Briggs handed Rose a glass of wine which she took readily. Jack looked skeptically at his wife. "Honour..."
She gave him a smile and pushed him out the door. "Please, Jack!"
He whispered, "Don't forget. I know where you live if she disappears and we have shark for dinner...."
Honour closed the door in his face.

Honour poured herself a glass of wine and raised it to Rose. "I want to propose a toast, Countess."
Rose looked quizzically at her. "A toast?"
"Yes. To you. If you hadn't opened up your big mouth, this would have always been between Jack and me. It made our love even more stronger."
"But--"
"Oh, Countess, no need to thank me! It is I who should be thanking YOU! And while you are staying with us, I want to make you feel comfortable."
Honour flung open the armoire.
"Now there should be some in--ah ha! Here!"
She pulled out a armful of clothes and shoved them in Rose's arms
"These should fit you. I hope you don't mind that they belonged to some of Jack's strumpets. After all, we WERE separated. But then I was no saint, as you have already told him."
Honour walked over to the basin. "Oh, and here's some soap. I'm sorry it is what I use for washing the basin but I am sure your creamy skin can take it. And here's a towel."
Honour piled a rough cloth on top of it all.
"I must say---"
"No need to thank me, Rose. After all, this is the LEAST I can do for you."
She spun Rose around and propelled her to the door. Shoving her gently outside the door, Honour said as the door closed, "Enjoy your stay. And please watch out for Puddin'. Sometimes he likes to show off his latest catch when you are sleeping!"

As Rose stood there with her cast-offs, Jack nodded and said, "Duckie's quarters are down the hall and to the right. The RIGHT. And please tell him he will bunk with Briggs."

As they watched her walk down the hall, Briggs smiled at Jack and said, "Ye keep tellin' me ye will teach me about women, Jack. But I think ye be the wrong gender for it."
Jack smiled. "I don't know what happened...but I think I like it!"

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Jack tentatively opened the cabin door.
"Umm....Honour? Sweetheart?"
She poured herself another glass of claret.
"Yes, darling?"
He looked around. "Where did that other Honour go? The one with the morbid ideas?"
Honour waved him off. "Oh...that. That was just a momentary hissy fit. I've calmed down now."
Jack looked at his wife skeptically. "Oh, you have, have you? It's when you get that angel-pie look that I REALLY worry!"

Honour sat down and put her bare feet up on the chair opposite her. She gently nudged it away from her and gave Jack an innocent look. He sat down opposite her and gently began rubbing her feet. She giggled.
"You aren't playing fair, Jack Wolfe!"
He gave her a grin and said, "Take what you can..."
She raised her eyebrow. "..give nothing back?"
He leaned forward and whispered, "You know that isn't how it works around here.!"
She leaned forward and whispered too, "I know."

He kissed the tip of her nose and asked, "I want to know why the sudden change of attitude. You are up to something, Honour Wolfe. And I don't know whether to be proud of you or worried!"
She pulled her foot back. "Are you impugning my hospitality?"
He sighed. "Not at all."
She stared back at him. He relented, "Alright, maybe just a little...A LITTLE!"
Honour took a sip of her claret and ran her finger idly around the rim. "The countess is about to learn a lesson in humility."
"Humility? Or humiliation?"
Honour flared up. "Are you protective of your former sweetheart?"
He sighed. "I wish to God she never set foot on this ship. Ducks is second only to Briggs as my best friend."
Honour stood up. "And it is because of Duckie that I don't rip her to shreds. She can spend her time with her brother and sitting in his quarters. I don't want to see or hear her."
"You won't."
Jack put his arms around his wife and kissed her. She gently took his hands at the wrist and disentangled him from her.
"No."
"What do you mean, 'no'?"
She drew the sheets back.
"You can thank your countess for this."
"For what?"
"She ruined the mood. Now extinguish the candle, please. I am going to SLEEP!"

Jack sighed and from the dark, he said, "You sure?"
"I'm sure."
"Damn Rose."
From the other side of the bed, she sighed, "You can say that again."

Rose struggled down the hallway under the burden of the clothes Honour had thrust upon her.
"Whoa now, Rose! What do you have here?" Duckie looked up from his medical book.
Rose peeked over the load of garments she was carrying.
"It seems the esteemed Mrs. Jack Wolfe decided I should wear what is available."
Duckie took the clothes out of Rose's arms.
"Here. Let me take that for you."
"And I am to take your quarters and you are to bunk with Mr. Briggs."
"Oh, I am, am I? Well, if it is alright with Josiah, it's alright with me."

He kicked the door to his quarters open.
"It isn't much, Rose, but I guess it will have to do."
She looked around. "My butler lives in quarters bigger than this, Drake."
"Well, I am not your butler. You should be glad that Honour didn't push you overboard as soon as she saw you."
"Oh, if she had her way, she would have. Jack's gallantry rescued me."
Duckie held up his hand. "Hold it right there! Jack is NOT being gallant. He is NOT your knight in shining armor to rescue you, princess. He's trying to protect his wife from any undue aggravation."

She sat down and crossed her arms over her chest. "I was only trying to protect Jack. I knew Lady Castlemaine. Why Madoc married her is beyond me. He was a well-respected and courtly man. Why, he even was involved with the political machinations to restore the House of Lords!"
Duckie sat down opposite her. "And what did Lady Castlemaine ever do to you?"
Rose said hotly, "She was all wrong for him. Everyone knew about Lord Conaway's wayward daughter. She was in a convent and was turned out for...well, for unseemly conduct. It wasn't hard to figure out. News travels fast in my social circle...."
"...with you being the herald of rumours..."
"..and no one was invited to the wedding. Just family. And it was within a month after she returned home that she was now an....equal!"
"Is that what bothers you?"
"What?"
"The fact that she was so young and was now your peer. Maybe even the fact that Lord Castlemaine was a rung up on the social ladder than Edward?"
She glared. "It is NOT! She played Madoc for a fool!"
"And what did he get out of it?"

Rose's mouth went into a thin line and she said nothing.
Duckie started laughing.
"You were jealous!"
"Jealous? Of HER?"
"Yes. Because she was young and beautiful and Madoc Castlemaine was rogering her roundly!"
Rose stood up and put her hands on her hips, her face flaming red. "You never would have talked to me like that before, Drake! Mother would be appalled!"

"You have a bigger problem than that, as far as I can see."
"And what is that?"
"The blue dress on top is Desdemona's dress."
"Desdemona?"
"Yes. One of Jack's....close friends. Jack and Honour were separated for a time. And the man does have an insatiable appetite."
"You mean...this dress....?"
"I wouldn't worry about it. After all, who is going to know if it is last year's fashion? Goodnight, Rose!"

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Honour's eyes slowly opened. It was morning. Sunlight shone through the gallery windows, helping to warm the large cabin. While it had been wonderful to see snow again, she longed for the warmth of the Caribbean sun. She raised her head and looked over to see Zara playing quietly with her little toy rabbit. It must still be early, Honour reasoned, because Zara wasn't hungry enough to want food yet. She smiled, then rolled over to see if Jack was still sleeping.


He was gone.


She stroked the bed where he had been. It was cool to the touch. He had been gone for a while. Honour hated when Jack got out of bed early. She could understand it when he was responsible for the ship, but now?

Maybe it was old habits. Yes, that had to be it. He couldn't possibly be that upset over her not wanting to make love the night before.


Could he?


It was true that Rose's presence had ruined the mood for her. That shrew from Shrewsbury had invaded Honour's world yet again. Damn that woman! It figures she would get “confused” and need a bit of a lie down to sleep it off. Now she was their guest for the next ten days. If Honour had her way, it would be the worst ten days of Countess Rose Carlisle's life.


Honour got out of bed and pulled on a heavy dressing gown. She went to Zara's where the little girl was still pulling the toy rabbit's ears. She picked Zara up and brushed the little girl's locks out of her face.

“Does Zara want to see how silly mean old Rose looks all tarted up in that stinky dress?”

Zara gave a little laugh and playfully grabbed Honour's nose.

“That's right! That's my little girl! Smelly, smelly Rose!” She looked toward the door, and a sly smile played on her lips.

“I think it's a fine day for your mummy to look especially good, don't you agree?”


Jack looked out over the main deck. If there was any time he wished he could will El Lobo to move faster, this would be it. This was supposed to be a pleasant voyage back to Barbados and a new life. Instead, an aggravating bit of his and Honour's pasts had managed to stow away. Now Honour was out of sorts in more ways than one. It was going to be a very long ten days.

“Keep starin' like that, and them waters may just part,” said Briggs from behind him. “Only one man I know of pulled that off, and he had help. What has you up here when ye should be playing with that wee bairn?”

“Oh! Good morning, Josiah. I was lost in thought.”

“Broodin' is more like it. Still upset about the stowaway?”

“Annoyed. Honour's more upset about it, though.”

“How upset? I know she hates that uppity countess somethin' fierce.”

Jack looked at him. “VERY upset. To to point of... distraction.”

“Distraction?” Briggs thought about it for a moment, and his eyes grew wide. “Oh, THAT distraction!”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Hmph. This is goin to be a long stretch for all of us, then.”

“Excuse me?”

“If Jack Wolfe ain't happy, ain't nobody happy aboard this ship, and ye know it. Ten days of no... diversion, ye'll be wound up tighter than a capstan holdin' two anchors. Not that anyone could blame ye.”

Jack laughed. “I'm that bad?”

“Jack, everyone knows how much you and Honour love each other. Ye both be... um, passionate people, as it were. So it stands to reason that if ye ain't able to, um, express them passions, if ye follow, ye'd get a little keyed up after a while. It's, y'know, normal.”

“Very nicely put, Josiah.”

“Thank ye.”

“That settles it. YOU get to tell Zara about the birds and the bees.”

Briggs nearly spit out his 'coffee'. “Like hell! That job goes to the man what sired her!”

“Coward!” Jack laughed.

“Damn straight! And proud of it!” smirked Briggs.

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“It's good to see you laughing this morning!  May I join you?” called a voice from the weather deck.  Jack looked down to find a sheepish Duckie looking up at him.
“Of course, Doctor!  Since when have you felt the need to ask?”
Duckie jogged up the steps.  “After yesterday, I wasn't sure you'd want to see me.”
Jack waved his hand.  “I know it's not your fault, Ducks.  Rose's stowing away was her own doing.”
“Yes, well, if I'd known she'd been drinking before I let her have some brandy...”  He shook his head.  “Oh, who am I kidding?  She's a slave to the drink.  Would you believe I found TWO flasks in her clutch?  And both nearly empty?”
Briggs gave Jack a worried look.
“I'll have the men secure the rum stores.  And the wine, and the brandy, and that stuff you're so fond of from Russia,” he said as he quickly departed the quarterdeck.

“I've already put a lock on my brandies,” said Duckie.  “But honestly, Jack, I feel awful about this.  I know it upset Honour terribly.  I should have escorted her off the ship.”
“She's a big girl, Duckie.  One would think even a countess could find her way down a hallway.”
“To be fair, it's been years since she was on a ship.  And you had her quite rattled.  Unfortunately, drinking is her way of dealing with stress.”
Jack raised an eyebrow.  “Drinking is her way of dealing with her eyes opening in the morning, from what I've seen.  Look, I know she's your sister.  But after what she tried to do, I was in no mood to listen to her half-hearted 'apology'.  I should have let Honour toss her off the ship back in port.  Then we wouldn't have this mess.”
“You don't mean that.”
“Oh, don't I?  I can't believe you're defending her.”
“I'm not defending her, Jack.  I'm just trying to make the best of a bad situation.  Events conspired to create this mess, as you put it.  We have to cope with it together until Madeira.”
“You're right,” said Jack with a sigh.
“I'll take responsibility for watching over her.”
“Damned right, you will.  I've got two women to look after.  I don't need a third!”
Duckie managed to laugh a little at that.  “Especially two at each other's throats.  I hope Honour wasn't as upset as Rose portrayed?”
“Did she tell you Honour wanted to watch the sharks eat her alive?”
“No, she left that part out.”
“Between you and me, Duckie, I don't think my wife is quite done with your sister yet.  Best we keep them out of each other's way.”
“That will be some trick, Jack.  The ship isn't that big.  Though the clothes Honour gave her to wear should help to keep her in the surgery and out of sight...”
A piercing whistle followed by catcalls from the crew interrupted the conversation.  Jack and Duckie looked down to see what was going on.
“Oh, dear,” said Duckie.  “So much for that theory.”

Storming toward the quarterdeck stairs with fistfuls of royal blue skirt clenched tightly was Rose.  She tried to ignore the catcalls of “Hey, it's Desi's sister!” and the like as her cheeks flamed red.  Without breaking stride, she climbed the stairs and stood on the quarterdeck facing Jack and her brother.  Jack leaned against the gunwale with his arms crossed, wearing the expression of a man trying hard not to double over in laughter.  Duckie fared only slightly better.
“It's considered polite to ask permission before coming to the quarterdeck, Rose,” he said with a barely disguised snicker.
Rose shot her brother a withering glare.
“Not to be a critic, Rose,” said Jack, “but blue simply isn't your colour.”
“This is what your wife gave me to wear!” she fumed.  “Castoffs from your... your trollops!”
“Well, Desdemona was a lot of things, but she wasn't...”
Duckie gave him a look that said: “Oh?”
“All right, I guess she was.”
“Jack, I insist you find me more suitable clothes to wear!  Surely you have something amongst your cargo?”
“Hmm, let me think...  No!  Sorry.  Can't recall dealing with any French ships in the past several months.  Which is just as well, since they'd be out of fashion by now anyway.  I'll tell you what, I can see if some of the younger crew have a clean shift they're willing to donate.”
“I will NOT wear pants!” she exclaimed in outrage.
“Them I'm afraid you're stuck wearing the same clothes for the next ten days, or what's been provided you by my wife.  No point of you asking for any of hers, because, well, you wouldn't fill them out as nicely.”
The colour of Rose's face matched her name.  “I think you're enjoying making sport of me.”
Jack thought about it for a moment.  “As a matter of fact, I am.  Sorry about that.  Consider it penance for the other night.”
“Honestly, Jack,” said Duckie.  “Things are bad enough.”
“Oh, all right.  For your sake, Duckie, I'll stop.”

“Can anyone join this party?” came a voice from the stairs.  Honour appeared, dressed in a beautiful seafoam green silk dress with intricate lace work in off white.  Her hair was done up in a matching satin ribbon.  Zara was bundled up in a little off white dress that matched her mother's lace, complete with matching bonnet.  When she saw her father, she began enthusiastically waving her little toy rabbit.
“Da!  Da!” she cried and reached for him.  Jack took her gently from Honour and gave his wife a kiss.
“Well, aren't we the lovely pair!” said Jack.
Honour gave a pirouette.  “Remember this dress?  You bought it for me when we were first married.  It still fits perfectly!”
Rose's jaw clenched tight.  She began to say something, thought better of it, and hastily departed the quarterdeck.
Honour watched Rose leave and turned back the two men with a feigned look of surprise.
“Was it something I said?” she asked with a wink.

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"See the moon, Zara?"
The little toddler looked up in the night sky. Her father had her on his shoulders and brought her down to his chest. 
"Now look up and say, 'Moon, come closer!' See it? See it come to Zara?"
Her eyes grew wide and she reached her hand out.
Jack laughed. "And now you can hold the moon in your hands, sweetheart!"

"Jack, what are you telling her?"
He turned around to see his bemused wife standing there, her hands on her hips. 
"Just showing her that if she wants something, nothing is out of her grasp!"
"But the moon?"
"Why not? She already holds the world in the palm of her hand."
"Yes. YOUR world!"
He leaned towards his wife and as she brought her face near his, a little face stuck hers between the two of them. Zara patted both their faces and laughed.
Jack sighed. "I think she is on to us!"
"Well, I came outside for two reasons. One--please get the baby out of the night air. I don't need her coming down with the sniffles."
Jack protested, "Oh, come on, Honour. I have her bundled up. What is the second reason?"
"Cook brought dinner. Grady caught some fresh fish and we still have some field greens. So come in before the fish gets cold."
Jack put his arm around his wife's waist and whispered, "And you are now over your snit-fit regarding you know who?"
She gave him that smile he loved to see. "I figured why should I punish myself along with you?"
Zara pouted, "Da-da!"
Jack shook her head. "She can't possibly be jealous of her own mother, can she?"
"Certainly not! But you keep spoiling her and she will be the diva of Barbados!"
"Well, why not? I like spoiling my girls!"
He bounced Zara up and down gently as the little toddler laid her head against her father's chest.
Honour leaned over and kissed Jack's cheek. "And we like being spoiled! Now, come in so we can have a nice, quiet dinner."
'"And later?"
"Dessert?"
"And after dessert?"
"Let's just see what transpires," Honour laughed.
Jack laughed and opened up the door to their cabin. 
"After you, munequita!"
As their door shut, her voice was heard to giggle, "No, Jack! Not until after I have my dessert!"

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"See the moon, Zara?"
The little toddler looked up in the night sky. Her father had her on his shoulders and brought her down to his chest. 
"Now look up and say, 'Moon, come closer!' See it? See it come to Zara?"
Her eyes grew wide and she reached her hand out.
Jack laughed. "And now you can hold the moon in your hands, sweetheart!"

"Jack, what are you telling her?"
He turned around to see his bemused wife standing there, her hands on her hips. 
"Just showing her that if she wants something, nothing is out of her grasp!"
"But the moon?"
"Why not? She already holds the world in the palm of her hand."
"Yes. YOUR world!"
He leaned towards his wife and as she brought her face near his, a little face stuck hers between the two of them. Zara patted both their faces and laughed.
Jack sighed. "I think she is on to us!"
"Well, I came outside for two reasons. One--please get the baby out of the night air. I don't need her coming down with the sniffles."
Jack protested, "Oh, come on, Honour. I have her bundled up. What is the second reason?"
"Cook brought dinner. Grady caught some fresh fish and we still have some field greens. So come in before the fish gets cold."
Jack put his arm around his wife's waist and whispered, "And you are now over your snit-fit regarding you know who?"
She gave him that smile he loved to see. "I figured why should I punish myself along with you?"
Zara pouted, "Da-da!"
Jack shook her head. "She can't possibly be jealous of her own mother, can she?"
"Certainly not! But you keep spoiling her and she will be the diva of Barbados!"
"Well, why not? I like spoiling my girls!"
He bounced Zara up and down gently as the little toddler laid her head against her father's chest.
Honour leaned over and kissed Jack's cheek. "And we like being spoiled! Now, come in so we can have a nice, quiet dinner."
'"And later?"
"Dessert?"
"And after dessert?"
"Let's just see what transpires," Honour laughed.
Jack laughed and opened up the door to their cabin. 
"After you, munequita!"
As their door shut, her voice was heard to giggle, "No, Jack! Not until after I have my dessert!"

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The door to Duckie's quarters slammed shut.
"You break Jack's door and it won't sit too well with him."
Rose sat down on the chair.
"I am so bored I could just scream!"
Duckie leaned back and sighed. "Rose, it is only a week left---"
"NINE DAYS!"
"---until we port in Madeira. Jack and I will make sure you are booked for passage on a reputable ship and under the captain's protection. With any luck, you will be back in your own bed by the first of March."
 
Rose tried to smooth down the dress she had on. It was a satin dress in purple. Too short for a woman of Rose's stature. The waist hit her under her bust and the sleeves pulled every time she reached. 
"These clothes---they are hideous! What kind of woman would wear a dress like this?"
Duckie looked up from the ledger where he was taking a few notes. 
"That? Oh....I can't really recall her name. Buxom girl with brown hair."
Rose stretched her arm and the sleeve ripped in the armhole. 
"She must have been a dwarf! Was there ANY kind of woman that Jack did not consort with?"
Duckie put his pen down and thought. "Um....no. If they were female, they qualified."
"So Jack Wolfe had no morals."
Duckie thought for a moment. "I wouldn't say that. He never bothered Bonita again."
"Who's Bonita?"
Duckie waved his hand. "Just someone...spooky."
She crossed her arms in front of her. "I was up on deck a few minutes ago."
"Taking in the night air?"
"Yes. Is it a crime?"
"Not at all. If that was really your reason for being there."
Rose hesitated. "I saw...them."
"Them who?"
"Rhiannon and her child. With Jack. They looked like a..."
"Family?"
Rose looked away. "It could have been me.." her voice trailed off.
Duckie shook his head. "No. It couldn't have been. You two weren't right for each other."
"But Jack has matured."
"The Jack you see now has. It wasn't even Honour--Rhiannon--that changed him as much as it was that little girl he holds in his arms. Honour tamed him. Zara refined him."
"And you are saying I couldn't?"
"Jack was wild, Rose. He endured situations no one should have. When Honour got him, he was coming to terms with alot things. He talked to a friend about his dream of quitting the account."
"And so that little tart was his key to freedom."
 
Duckie rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Please don't call her a tart, Rose. She's not."
"Carrying on like she did behind Madoc's back? And what makes you think she wouldn't do the same to Jack? Once a cheating wife, always a cheating wife. Madoc was good to her. He gave her the world. And did she appreciate it? No! She was more like his pampered pet. And from what I can see, Jack is treating her the same way."
Duckie burst out laughing. "I know what is bothering you! The same thing that bothered you about her and Madoc! She's warming Jack's bed!"
Rose retorted hotly, "Of course not! I was just mentioning that a woman like that falls backwards into money and position. Everyone knows that she was sent home in disgrace from the abbey. And the next thing we hear, Lord Madoc Castlemaine takes a wife. And that child-bride was barely seventeen!"
"Rose, from what I understand, Madoc Castlemaine wore two masks. The one he kept for the nobility of the land and the one he wore behind closed doors. Honour and I talked one evening when Jack was recuperating from a bullet wound. She painted a portrait of a controlling, cruel man. He used to pinch her and grab her for any slight breach of etiquette or any conduct that he felt didn't reflect well on the House of Castlemaine."
 
Rose sniffed, "Regardless, she took a lover. Who would have thought it? It was so...so common."
"What is, Rose?"
Her words were biting. "Cuckolding your husband with the help."
"The help?"
She laughed derisively, "And who would have thought Mortimer capable of doing that to Madoc?"
"Rose, I'm not following."
Rose took another deep drink. "Of course. Who do you think was found dead there? Madoc and his wife's lover. Edmund Mortimer. His very own valet."
 
Duckie dropped his wine glass. 
Rose looked down. "Drake, you made a mess." She handed him her napkin. As Duckie picked up the shards, he found his voice. "You--you mean she was having an affair with her husband's valet?"
Crossly, Rose said, "Isn't that what cuckolding is all about? Madoc's son Henry came home and found two dead bodies in the bedroom. Madoc Castlemaine and his servant Edmund Mortimer. Edmund was sprawled across the bed. And the girl was gone. No one knew where she went. But Henry said the jewels were missing. Also gold coins and family heirlooms. And then the truth came out. She had a lover. And Madoc struck the blow that felled him before he himself died."
 
Duckie's head was swimming. 
Two bodies.
Madoc Castlemaine and his valet.
But then...what happened to Rhys Morgan's body?

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Duckie lay awake, staring up at the overhead.  Briggs was nearby, snoring quietly.  It was well into the wee hours of the morning, but he couldn't find sleep.  Not after the things Rose had said over dinner.
He thought back to the day after Mendoza's sniper had shot Jack.  Honour asked if he had known Rhys Morgan and how he had met his end.  Finding out that she was the woman Rhys risked everything for and lost was the last thing he'd expected.  
Honour had made him promise not to breathe a word of it to Jack, and he lived up to his end of the agreement.  Thanks to Rose, Jack found out Honour's secret anyway.  As much as he deplored Rose's actions that night, Duckie was relieved to be free of that particular burden.  The truth about Rhys Morgan's death was out, the need for secrecy over and done with.

Or was it?

Honour claimed that Rhys died in her arms.  Her description of the scene and those moments could not have been fabricated, in Duckie's opinion.  It was too vivid, too detailed to be anything but the truth.

Now Rose had introduced a new version of the events that night.  Instead of Rhys, Honour had been cuckolding her husband with the help!  At least that is what popular gossip assumed, given that it was not Rhys' body that had been discovered with Madoc's but that of the manservant.  It was just the sort of tawdry, salacious grist the gossip mill loved to churn through.  But it made no sense.  Not with what Duckie knew of Honour Wolfe, née Rhiannon Conaway.

Duckie tried to make sense of it all.  There were always two or more sides to every story, with the truth falling somewhere in the middle.  Despite the intricate web of falsehoods Honour had hidden behind from everyone else, she had been for whatever reason honest to a fault with him.  She confessed her love for Rhys, and he knew first hand how much in love Rhys was with her.  Enough to give up a successful life as a pirate and smuggler.

Therefore, Rose's statement that Honour had been carrying on with the help could not possibly be true.

Honour claimed that Rhys died in her arms.  But what of Rose saying the second body was that of the servant, and not Rhys?  As much as Rhys must have visited that area over the years, he had to have been known by more than few people there.  And knowing human nature, the story of a nobleman and a pirate killing each other over a woman was far more entertaining for the masses than the one currently accepted as truth.  If the second body was indeed the manservant, how did he die at that scene, and why had Honour never mentioned him?

And what of Rhys' body?

Honour and Rhys were to have made their escape that fateful night, only to be discovered by her husband.  Had one of Rhys' crew been waiting with their transport back to the ship, and come looking for them when they were overdue?  And if so, did they retrieve Rhys' body, killing the servant in the process?

No, thought Duckie.  It was too far-fetched.  But the question remained-- what happened to the body of Rhys Morgan?  If the servant had been positively identified, then Rhys' corpse must have been spirited away somehow.

A terrible thought gripped Duckie like icy fingers around his heart.  Honour was in a state of shock and panic that night, having killed her husband and seen her lover mortally wounded.  She assumed Rhys died in her arms.

What if he hadn't?

He knew from his own experience that shock from profound blood loss could cause a man to appear dead, only to recover later if help comes soon enough.  Perhaps, if someone had gotten to Rhys in time....

Duckie shook his head.
“No.  He can't be.  The odds are too outrageous,” he said aloud.
“Hmph... Huh?  What?  What's that ye said?” asked Briggs blearily.
“I'm sorry, Josiah.  It was nothing.  Just thinking out loud.  Sorry to wake you.”
“No, 's all right... g'night...”  In moments, Briggs was snoring softly again.

Duckie went back to staring into space.  Could it be that Rhys Morgan, by whatever miracle, was still alive?  Or were his remains spirited away to some unknown fate?  Either way, Honour could never know.  He would not see her and Jack's happiness jeopardised by this possibility.  Closing his eyes, he tried to will himself to sleep and forget this new burden that had been thrust upon him.

Another secret to keep from seeing the light of day.

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Honour wrapped her dressing gown around her and tied the sash. "I swear, the water never felt so....and what is this?"
"What is...what?"
"That."
She pointed to Puddin who was sitting on the bed with a scowl on his face. Zara was attempting to pick him up. But that was not what Honour was perturbed about. 
It was the way Puddin was dressed.
 
"Who's idea was it to put a ribbon on his neck and drape him in beads?"
"Um...Zara's?"
"I think not. Guess again."
Zara tentatively reached her hand towards Puddin to touch one of the beads. His answer was a hiss.
"No, Zara! NO!" She drew her hand back. 
"And just WHY is Puddin wearing beads?"
"Um....well, it's in honour of Shrove Tuesday."
"Jack, get those beads off that poor cat. I don't care if it is Shove--"
"--Shrove."
"--Tuesday or Michaelmas. This cat had a wonderful existence before you started using him as a fashion plate for the amusement of your little daughter."
Puddin scratched his head and the beads slipped over his eyes. 
Zara clapped her hands and laughed. 
"Kee! Kee!"
Honour sighed and took the beads and ribbon off the cat. With a backward glare and an angry swish of his tail, he fled the scene of the crime.
 
Honour picked Zara up and said, "It's time for bedtime, sweetheart. Kiss Daddy good night!"
"Good night, precious!' Zara leaned over and they gave each other an Eskimo kiss.
As Honour pulled the curtain shut in the small alcove that was sectioned off for Zara to sleep, Jack reached over and opened a bottle of merlot for the two of them.
Ten minute later, Honour emerged. 
"It took a few minutes but she finally settled down. Of course, Muir is sleeping at the foot of her bed."
Jack laughed and handed a glass of wine to Honour.
"And shall we drink to our detente?"
She took the glass and clinked it with his. "Is that what we are calling it now?"
Jack smiled, "I guess what is behind that curtain is a joint communique."
 
Honour sat on the bed cross-legged, looking at the scrolls. 
"Jack, I really don't know what to make of these. Just when I think I am close, something curtains off the thought process."
"Darling, you only started to look at them when we were on our return to Wales. You haven't looked at them since."
He took them out of her hands and put them back in the alabaster and ivory chest. 
"Lets put them aside. Then when we get to Barbados, we can spread them out and look at them carefully. We will be settled in and can take all the time in the world we want."
She raised her eyebrow. "Jack Wolfe, why do I think you are trying to distract me?"
"Is it working?"
"You, Captain, are an incredible distraction!"
He stood behind her chair and whispered in her ear, "Then close your eyes."
 
Honour closed her eyes as Jack massaged her neck.
"You're very tense."
She sighed. "You can feel that?"
"Honey, if you were any harder, you would be a brick wall. Let's see if I can turn you into plaster!"
She bit back the clever wenchmouth that threatened to escape her lips. 
"Now just stretch out and let me see if I can unknot your muscles."
 
She closed her eyes and enjoyed the massage. "I think alot of it comes from you-know-who down the hall. I swear, Jack, that woman is a raw nerve."
"You're tensing up again...."
"Sorry. And I've been thinking about the scrolls. The wavy lines bother me. Are they a long-forgotten road? Is it water? And if so, is it a river?"
She felt his hands releasing the tension in her back as she continued thinking out loud. 
"And those little pointed signs in the corner. The ones that look like inverted 'v's. Are they mountains? Or a direction?"
"Mmm hmmm.."
"And if they are.....mmm...what are you doing?"
"What do you think I am doing?"
"You know I melt when you do that. Don't...not when I am trying to concentrate. Now the...arrows...point....and..and the writing....at the...bottom.....oh, hell!"
 
She rolled over and locked her hands behind Jack's neck, pulling him towards her. 
"I guess you found a way to shut me up."
He smiled down at her with that look she loved to see, knowing what it would lead to.
He whispered, "Dios mio, te amo, mi querido...."
She kissed him deeply and whispered, "You know I can't resist you when you speak Spanish to me..."
He laughed softly and said, "Pirate!"

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Jack walked onto the weather deck, smiling contentedly as the morning sun warmed his face.  The crew were becoming accustomed to seeing him arrive on deck a little later each day, just as he was learning to savour that extra time in bed cuddling with Honour or playing with Zara.  He drank in the morning air and gazed around the deck.  The men were going about their usual duties.  Everywhere there was movement, save one figure leaning on the gunwale near the waist of the ship.  It was Duckie.  He stood there motionless, gazing out over the water.  Jack walked over beside his friend and leant against the gunwale.
“Doing a bit of whale spotting?” he asked.
Duckie smiled a little but didn't take his gaze off the sea.
“Good morning, Jack.  No, no whales.  No answers, either.  Just that damnable horizon we're endlessly chasing.”
“Answers?  What's the question?  Maybe I can help.”
“I'd be happy if I could figure out the right questions to ask.”
“Can't help you there.  I've quit asking questions and simply try to enjoy the moment.”
“You're lucky you can do that.  Speaking of bliss, how is Honour today?”
Jack chuckled.  “In a surprisingly good mood.  She's seemed happier with every day we're closer to Madeira.  I'm guessing that when we make port in two days, she'll be dancing jigs on the forecastle!  Why?  How is Rose?”
“Not surprisingly, she's equally ready for us to make port.  For very different reasons.  She's more miserable by the day.  It seems that someone has been playing pranks on her.”
“Oh, no,” sighed Jack.  “Like what?  I can guess the who.”
“It started with little things, like her bed being short-sheeted and the like.  Then the day before yesterday, someone let the cat into her quarters.  With three fish.  He ate them under the bed, and left a horrid, smelly mess for Rose to find that night.”
Jack tried to stifle a snicker and failed.
“Then came last night.  Remember dinner?”
“Yes.  The cook made up salmagundi.  Did a fine job, too.  Even Honour thought it was delicious.”
“I'm sure hers was.  Rose's, on the other hand, managed to contain a ship's hold worth of curry.  It took her the better part of an hour to get her mouth to cool off!  I've never seen her so drenched in sweat.”
“And here I thought Honour was in a good mood because of all the-- well, never mind,” said Jack.
“No,” said Duckie, “I'd wager it had more to do with her tormenting Rose than any romantic goings on, though that couldn't hurt.”
“Believe me; it didn't hurt a bit.”

Duckie looked at Jack in exasperation but quickly burst into laughter, as did Jack.
“Look, Ducks, I'm sorry Honour has been picking on Rose.”  The apology would have sounded a bit more sincere had he not been chuckling over the thought of Rose eating from a bowl of molten fire.
“Oh, no you're not,” laughed Duckie.  “I think it's funny, too.  Lord knows Rose had it coming, and I hope she's learnt her lesson.  But if you could talk to Honour and ask her to ease off for these last couple days, I'd be grateful.”
“I'll see if I can negotiate a cease-fire, my friend.  Though it may cost me dearly, like a shopping spree in the boutiques of Martinique.”
“The lady of the manor needs to dress the part, no?  You could do with an updated wardrobe, yourself.”
“You're beginning to sound like Honour.”
“She's right!  You'll need to dress like a man about town, not a notorious pirate come to lay siege.”
“I suppose you're right,” said Jack.  He looked down at his favourite frock coat, with its cracked buttons and threadbare edges.  “Something a little less broken in is in order.”
“You're a wealthy man, Jack.  You should dress the part now.”
Jack looked out over the waves.  “How things have changed, eh?  It all could have been so different, any number of times.”
“That's just what I was thinking about when you came up here,” said Duckie quietly.
“Come on,” said Jack, seeing that the faraway look had returned to his friend's face.  “Let's go to the quarterdeck and talk.”
 
Duckie gave a wan smile and nodded agreement.  Together the men ascended the steps to the empty quarterdeck.  Since the weather was good and they were far from shore, the wheel had been tied off to keep the ship on course.  This allowed a crewman who would normally man the helm the opportunity to do something productive, rather than needlessly hold the wheel in place.  Jack double checked the ships heading.  There was no reason to make any adjustments, so he put away the compass and pulled out the bottle of rum.  He poured himself a cup, then held up an empty cup for Duckie.
“Care for any, doctor?”
Duckie looked at the cup and frowned.  “Yes, please.  I'd like some.”
“Oh my,” said Jack.  “This is serious.  Ordinarily you'd never touch the stuff.”  He filled the cup and handed it to Duckie.  “What has me in the role of tavern keeper this lovely morning?”
Duckie took a swallow of the dark liquid and winced as it burned its way down his throat.
“You'll probably think it's foolish...”
Jack shook his head.  “Bollocks.  If it's got you to the point you'll drink rum, there's nothing foolish about it.  So spill it, doctor.  Enquiring rum enthusiasts want to know.”
Duckie gave a heavy sigh and took another sip of rum.  “This whole thing with Rhys.  It's set me to thinking, what with his tale being so tragic and all.”
Jack nodded in agreement.  “Glad to know I'm not the only one.”
“I can't help but wonder, what would things have been like if he hadn't died?”
“Easy.  He would have gotten the girl, and I really would be occupying that grave in Rio de la Hacha instead of that turncoat monk.”
“And Zara would never be.  In a way, his death made her possible.”
“There's something you're forgetting, Duckie.”
“What's that?”
“Mine wasn't the only life he saved.  If he hadn't rescued me, then our paths wouldn't have crossed again.  As I recall, it was your pulling me back from the brink that got you to quit drinking yourself to death.”
“You were pretty determined to die, and I wasn't about to let that happen.  I spent every waking hour for nearly a month tending to you.”
“Which kept you too busy to drink.”  Jack finished off his cup.  “So you see, Ducks, his sacrifice saved us all.  We wouldn't be having this conversation, Honour and I wouldn't be married, and Zara wouldn't be stealing hearts and terrorising the ship's cat.  Rhys Morgan was a hero in that regard, and I'll always be grateful to him.  God rest his soul.”

Duckie looked on his old friend and reflected on the changes he could see in Jack Wolfe.  Gone was the self-destructive, morally conflicted man he'd known for so long.  He thought about the way Jack's eyes lit up whenever Honour came near and the way he would smile with pride and joy when holding his little daughter.  It was then he decided that even if there was a grain of truth to Rose's story that the second body discovered at the Castlemaine house wasn't that of Rhys Morgan, it was best for all involved that the memory of Rhys remains just that.  A memory.
He raised his cup in the air.  “Yes, quite right.  Bless and rest his soul.  Here's to looking forward!”

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Somewhere in the Caribbean.....

The captain stood on the quarterdeck, his dark green frock coat spattered with sea salt. His hands never left the wheel, his eyes never moving from the sea ahead.
"POUR MORE CANVAS ON!" he shouted.
"Captain, this mast will only take so much!"
"DAMN YOU, I DON'T CARE! YOU SLAP IT ON OR YOU'LL BE IN THE BRINE BEFORE YOU KNOW IT!"
The boatswain turned to the quartermaster. "What the HELL is his problem?"
The quartermaster grimaced, "He's sensing a storm. Seems to have a sixth sense about it. Best heed it and do as he says. Captain never let us down before."
 
The captain held the course, noting the winds had started to pick up. He held his side and winced.
"Still giving ye problems, Captain?"
The captain nodded. "How do you think I know a storm is coming up? A divining rod?"
The quartermaster looked to the left of him. 
"Wind is picking up. Ye be right again, Captain. Clouds are building in the east."
The captain stared out with grey-green eyes. 
"We head for Madeira. Run before the wind, I always say."
"Ye know best, Captain."
"Take the wheel. I'll be back in a few minutes."
 
The captain went down to his cabin and checked the charts briefly, holding his side. The pain always grew sharp during weather changes. It was something that he had come to accept over the last three years. 
Along with a few other realizations in life.
 
He took a bottle of Jamaican rum and put it into his frock coat pocket, then joined his quartermaster on the deck. He took out his compass.
"Take us five points to the east."
"But, Captain, that puts us right with the storm."
The captain took a deep pull on the rum and handed the bottle to his quartermaster.
"Precisely. We are going to let the storm push us right to Ponta del Sol's front door."
"You're crazy, you know."
"Crazy doesn't begin to cover it."
"Wound hurt?"
"As it always does."
 
The quartermaster took a deep breath.
"Heard he got married."
"Yeah...so what?"
The quartermaster shrugged. "Just making idle conversation, that's all."
"So now he gets to live the life I should have had. Damn Jack Wolfe. DAMN HIM!"
He slammed his fist down on the ship's wheel.
"Never could trust an Oxford."
The quartermaster knew better than to say anything at this point.
The captain took out his bottle of rum. He took a deep drink and turned to his friend.
"She ran."
The quartermaster nodded. "Door was wide open, safe was empty."
"Dog gone?"
He nodded. 
"Figures. Where she went, he went also."
"Sounds like she planned it."
"She was scared."
"Think you will ever find her?"
The captain shrugged. "I have no idea. She could be anywhere in this wide world."
The men were silent as the quartermaster angled the ship.
The captain said quietly, "I never did thank you."
"For what?"
"For....everything."
The quartermaster looked at his captain and gently touched his cap with his two fingers. 
"I did what I had to do for ye. No thanks needed."

The captain nodded and looked out towards the horizon.

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"Well, here you are!"
Honour climbed up to the quarterdeck. She had Zara by the hand as the little girl was tottering on her steps aboard a rolling ship deck. Her chestnut curls, so like her father's, was blowing in the wind and she scrunched her little face up to feel the ocean breeze, a smile on her face.
"I do believe Zara loves the sea air. What do we do when we smell the ocean air, Zara?"
Mother and daughter both took an exaggerated sniff of the air.
Jack burst out laughing. "She scrunches up her nose just like you do!"
Duckie patted Jack on the back. "Got your work cut out for you with those two, Jack. Better pray the next one is a boy!"
He finished off his drink and nodded to Honour. "I never did tell you, Honour. But you did good!" 
He touched Zara's curls as he walked by. 
 
Honour watched Duckie as he climbed down the stairs. 
"I always wondered what Duckie's life was like before you met up with him again."
"Scattered. Not grounded. But he, like the rest of us, survived it."
Zara tugged on her father's pants leg.
"Kee? Kee?"
Jack scooped her up. "Kee is probably looking for mice, sweetheart."
Zara peered over Jack's shoulder, her eyes wide. Honour laughed. "And if she is like me, she is petrified of them."
Jack kissed her daughter's head. "I didn't know that."
"We had them at Conaway Manor and once day, the cat left one on my pillow. I've been afraid of them ever since."
"Well, we will have to make sure that Puddin doesn't get near Zara's crib."
 
Zara snuggled herself against Jack's chest and idly played with one of his curls.
Honour laughed. "Most children like security blankets. I remember your first introduction to your daughter."
"Well, she seems to have gotten over it."
"Yes, but will you?"
Jack kissed the top of Zara's head. 
"Oh, I think all is forgiven. And now I am going to take Zara to the cabin. I think there are cookies there."
"You mean YOU want a cookie. Or three."
"Nothing wrong with thin mint cookies. Come on, Zara, let's see what Dada has stored away. Coming, Honour?"
"In a minute. I want to just stand here and feel the sun on my face. A month in Wales was long enough. When do we make port in Madeira?"
"I'd say by Thursday. We port in Ponta del Sol."
"And how is the shopping?"
"Um...grand, I would say. Especially if the brethren have had an exceptionally good pillaging last summer."
"Then, my love, I shall drain your coffers dry. Zara needs new boots, don't you sweetheart? Of course you do!"
Honour tickled Zara's feet and she giggled, burying her face in Jack's hair.
"Come on, Zara...maybe we can find 'Kee' while we are at it. Muir? You coming?"
Muir's tail wagged his body because he knew where Zara went, there was food. And crumbs.
 
Honour breathed deeply the scent of the ocean breeze. It always invigorated her. She thought, 'And a home near the seashore where I can open the windows and...'
"Honour?"
She turned around and there was Rose Gander, Lady Carlisle standing on the steps.
"May I speak with you?"
Honour looked over and then looked back to the sea.  "Do I have a choice?"
Rose climbed the steps. "I guess you do but I would prefer to say what I have to."
Honour shrugged. "Then I'll listen."
 
Rose took a deep breath before she started to speak. 
"This past ten days...I just wanted you to know that I have watched Jack Wolfe."
Honour opened her mouth to speak and Rose held her hand up. 
"It's not what you think. I've watched Jack with his crew. With his child. And with you. And--I can't believe I am saying this--but I am happy for him."
Rose stood next to Honour at the rail. 
"When I met Jack, he was a charming, idealistic young man. Head full of books and knowledge. And he was my brother's best friend. He was too innocent. Too...perfect."
"And you think otherwise now."
"There's an edge to Jack Wolfe. He's been through some hard times. It shows on his face. And his soul."
"I hadn't noticed."
"Of course not. You got the finished product. He has layers and layers of what he is. And I think each layer tells a story."
"And you are in the mood for a bedtime story?" 
Rose held her hand up. "I'm not here to start trouble. This is so awkward...but please let me finish. When I told Jack about your past--yes, a part of me wanted him to thank me and see me again as the young woman I was twenty years ago. But there was one thing I didn't count on. His love for you. And his daughter. And...in a strange way, I am happy for him."
"This surprises me, Lady Carlisle."
"Please...after all the tricks you have played on me, at least call me 'Rose'. I have to admit, it surprised me too.  I know we will never be friends, Honour. But I wanted to say one thing---I respect you. From what Drake has told me, you tamed him. And you saved his life a few times. The mutiny...the snakebite...and that business with that horrid Spaniard. I think the world would be a less bright place without Jack Wolfe in it."
 
Rose walked down the stairs but turned to Honour. 
"I'll be gone when we get to Madeira. Drake and Jack will arrange passage on a safe ship and I will be back in merry old England inside of a month. But I wanted to tell you this."
She walked down the steps and Honour said softly, "Thank you, Rose."
From the companionway was heard, 'You are welcome....Rhiannon."

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Duckie and Rose stood at the waist of the ship waiting for the gangway to be secured in place.  Rose was in the dress she'd worn when she boarded in Beaumaris, though she appeared much soberer than she was that fateful day.  Jack strolled up to them, smiling happily.  He looked out over the town and breathed in the fresh island air.
“Ah, Ponta del Sol.  'Port of the Sun.'  Grand name for a grand place, don't you think?”
“Yes, well, I don't intend on staying here long,” said Rose.  “Drake is going to help me book passage back to England.  I think the faster I am on my way home, the better it is for all parties.”
“I wish I could say it's been fun, Rose, but I'm not much on lying these days,” said Jack.  “Though I am glad you and Honour managed to come to terms.”
“She's a strong woman and a good person.  I see that now.”
“Isn't she, though?  Absolutely brilliant.  The best thing that ever happened to me.  Except for Zara, of course.  I don't know where I'd be without them.  Dead, I suppose.  Certainly a lot less happy.”
“Honour has been a good influence on you, from everything Drake has told me.  It would be a lie to say I don't envy the happiness you have together.”  She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  “Jack, I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused.  Not just on your ship, but Wales, too.  I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me one day.”
Jack looked at her, and slowly he began to smile.
“Done,” he said.  “I know you felt you had your reasons, but that's water under the bridge now.”
“I don't know what to say...”
“'Thank you' is usually the customary response to a kindness given,” offered Duckie.
Rose felt her face colour.  “Yes, of course.  Thank you, Jack.”  She looked down for a moment, then met Jack's eyes.  “I do wish you and Honour, and little Zara too, all the happiness in the world.  You deserve it.”
“Thank you,” he said.  Then he stepped forward and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead.  “Do find yourself some happiness, Rose.  You deserve it, too.”
“I'll try, I promise,” she smiled.  “Farewell, Jack.”
“Goodbye, Rose.  Safe travels.”
She nodded, then began to make her way down to the dock.  Duckie stepped onto the gangway behind her.
“I'll be back as soon as I get Rose settled,” he murmured.
“No rush, my friend,” said Jack.  “There's plenty of time.  Besides, Honour has shopping to do.  I'd never think of rushing her along.  Ah!  And speaking of my lovely bride, there she is!”

Honour walked across the deck toward the two men, dressed in the finery of a lady about town.  In her hands was bundle wrapped in brown burlap and tied with string.
“Oh good, Duckie!  I caught you before you left!” she chirped.  “Where's Rose?”
“Good morning, Honour!  She's already down to the dock.  She is anxious to get back home, as you might imagine.”
Honour peered down the gangway and saw Rose with her back to the ship, waiting more or less patiently for her brother.  Honour stepped back so she couldn't be seen, and motioned Duckie to come with her.
“I want you to give this to Rose,” she said as she handed the parcel to the doctor.  “I couldn't bear the thought of her travelling back to England with only one dress.  It's the most tasteful of the 'surplus' dresses on board.  The rest will be burned once we make Barbados, but I digress.  She can have this on the condition that she'll not know it came from me.  Can you arrange that?”
Duckie looked at the parcel in his hands and smiled at Honour.  “This is terribly generous of you, after all she's put you through!  Yes, I can tell her I'm sending it to a friend in New Providence or some such, then have it waiting for her in her cabin the day she sails.”
Honour smiled happily. “I knew I could count on you!”
“Of course you can, my dear.  Always.”  He looked at her, and he couldn't help thinking about what Rose had told him about the rumours surrounding the deaths of her first husband and her lover.
“Duckie, is something the matter?”  she asked.
He shook his head as if to clear a fog.  “What?  Oh, no, nothing.  I was just thinking about all the things that have happened over the past few months.  So many changes and all of them wonderful!”  He hefted the package in his hands.  “I'd best be getting along.  Rose is no doubt running out of patience with me.  Thank you for doing this for her.”
He turned and nodded to Jack, then went down the gangway to meet up with his sister.

“And just what are you smiling at, Jack Wolfe?” Honour asked.
“Only the most beautiful woman in the world, Honour Wolfe!  Just look at you!  Someone is dressed for serious shopping.”
She twirled in place to show off her dress, giggling as she did so.  “Are you sure you don't mind watching Zara while I shop?”
“The ship is safely moored, we're in a friendly port, the weather is glorious, and I haven't a care in the world.  Besides, Briggs has all the hard work now.  I'm just the owner, on a pleasure cruise with his family.  Watching Zara is a responsibility I welcome.”
“Whilst I brave the sharp-eyed shopkeepers intent on getting every last penny out of me.”
“Oh, they don't stand a chance against you, love.  In fact, I pity them a little.  Very little.”  Jack held out his hands.  Honour took them, and he drew her into a warm lingering kiss.
“Jack!” she exclaimed with a little gasp.  “I often wonder what the men think!”
“That I'm a lucky man,” he said proudly.  “And they'd be right.”
“We'll discuss just how lucky later,” she said with a wink.  “Right now, I have shopkeepers to plunder!”
“Spoken like a true pirate!  Do be careful, though.”
“You worry like a mother hen, Jack.  I'll only be gone a couple of hours.  I promise to stay safe.”
He kissed her cheek softly.  “I'll hold you to that.”
Honour playfully tugged his goatee.  “I insist you do!  Now out of my way, pirate boy!  Ponta del Sol awaits!”
Jack laughed and gave her a sweeping bow as she stepped onto the gangway and began her excursion to the sunny Portuguese town.

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Honour walked along the streets of Ponta del Sol, her boot heels clicking on the cobblestones as she perused the shop windows.  As accustomed as she had become to life aboard ship, there was something satisfying about the feel of solid ground beneath her feet.  She loved the sea because it was Jack's world and the stuff of her childhood dreams, but she would always be a child of the land.  Secretly she wondered how Jack would make the transition to life on dry land in Barbados.  Their first attempt was a spectacular failure, but she reminded herself that everything was different this time.  He had torn the entire Caribbean apart looking for her.  Even though he had originally meant only to recover that hideous gold key, they both discovered their love burned as hot as ever, and that their place was at each other's side.  And of course there was little Zara, the most valuable jewel in all their treasure.  Jack had taken to fatherhood as easily as he had taken ships in the past, to everyone's surprise.  Most of all, there were no secrets between Jack and Honour any more.  They'd all been chased out into the light and dealt with.  No more ghosts.  The skeletons were buried.  This time everything will be different, she told herself without one twinge of doubt in her mind or her heart.  Their happily ever after was close enough to taste, and it made her heart sing.

Honour's steps slowed as she enjoyed the warmth of the sun on her face.  It was good to be away from the chill of Wales.  It would always mean home and family to her, but she was anxious to make the plantation in Barbados into a real home for herself, Jack, and Zara.  It felt good to be running to something for a change.  She took a deep breath, and the smell of fresh bread sparked her senses.  A glance down the street revealed the bakery's sign, and she made a mental note to pick up fresh loaves to go with that night's supper.  But that would wait.  

Honour pulled the shopping list from her reticule and looked to see what was next to find.  She had already bought several new dresses for Zara, most of which she would have to grow into.  Another shop had bolts of silk she wanted to have made into shirts for Jack.  He may be adding “Retired” to his title of captain, but she could never resist the way he looked in a fine silk shirt.  It took some persistence and walking out of the shop twice only to be called back by the owner, but she got the price she wanted.  Now she had her eye on table linens.  The dressmaker recommended a shop to look at.  Honour had a feeling it belonged to a relative of the dressmaker, so she hoped this person was as easy to negotiate with.  She took one more sniff of the bread-scented air, and went inside.

An hour later, Honour was on her way back to the ship, with three long loaves of bread in a cloth sack tucked securely against her.  The linen shop keeper had been a pushover, refusing to call her “Honour” or even “Mrs. Wolfe,” opting instead for “Pretty Lady.”  She took the flattery in stride, and managed to talk him down to less than half price for a year's worth of tablecloths, charges, napkins, and tea towels.  It felt so good to be buying things for the plantation house.  Each step toward the security of a hearth and home that was truly hers was a welcome one, and they were coming faster every day.

As she approached the docks, her pace slowed as she beheld the spectacle before her.  A dozen or more tents had sprung up, deliberately arranged to choke foot traffic between the ships and town.  Vendors noisily hawked their wares to sailors and townsfolk alike.  Honour smiled as she thought back to the seasonal faires she remembered from her childhood.  Since she still had money in her purse and no pressing need to get back to the ship just yet, she decided to see what was being offered for sale.  She tore off a hunk of bread and nibbled it happily as she mixed in with the crowd.

After Honour worked her way through several of the tents, each brimming with baskets and blankets and somewhat interesting nicknacks, she found herself at the far end of the docks from El Lobo.  She cursed under her breath, because now she would have to go back through the crowd to get back to the ship.  With a sigh, she tore off another hunk of bread and waded back into the sea of people.  But before Honour could take a bite of bread, she saw something that made her stop as if rooted to the ground.
“Not again,” she whispered.

There, not more than fifty feet ahead of her, making his way toward the docks, was a man in a weatherbeaten green frock coat.  The same green coat she'd seen during the stopover in the Azores, she was sure of it.  His hair was mostly pulled back in a ponytail, but the wind blew tendrils of hair around his face, making it difficult to get a good look at his face as he looked from side to side.  The swagger was the same.  More than the usual sailor's gait, it was something all its own.  And it belonged to only one man.

Rhys Morgan.

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“No, it can't be,” Honour said aloud.  She went to put the piece of bread back in the sack, but it had fallen from her hand when she spotted the man.  No matter, she thought.  He might have eluded her in the Azores fog, but she was not about to let him get away this time.  Honour had to know once and for all if this ghost was indeed Rhys, or her overactive imagination.  She pressed on, trying to wedge her way in between the shoppers that suddenly seemed to be moving at a snail's pace.
“Pardon me,” she said as she forced her way around one person, then another.  “I said, pardon me....  damn it, MOVE!”
The gap was closing between her and the green-coated man.  He seemed to be looking for a specific tent, but was not slowing his pace.  So typical of him when he had his mind set on something, she thought.  She tried to skirt close to some tents without many patrons in order to head him off.  A nervously determined smile curled her lips as she began to close in.

Suddenly, a mountain of a man blocked her way.  Honour yelped in surprise.
“Hello, pretty lady!” he said in an impossibly deep baritone.  He grinned down at her at her with all six of his teeth.  In his hand were bars of soap.  Honour found herself wishing he'd use more of his own wares.
“Excuse me, but I'm trying to catch up to someone,” she explained, and tried to circumnavigate the huge man.  He sidestepped and continued to block her path.
“You're very pretty!  You like Flavio's soap?”
“Thank you, but no, I... yes, it's very nice.  Please, I need to go.”
“I make it myself.  Here, smell!”  He held the bars up to Honour's face, and she took a step back from the overpowering melange of scents.
“It smells like a garden run amok,” she coughed.
“That is good, no?”
“No.  I mean, yes!  Very good.  Please, I need to find my friend!”
“You like, you buy?”
“I'll tell you what, Flavio.  My friend LOVES soap.  Let me fetch her, and she'll buy lots of your soap!  Deal?”
The giant stepped aside with a smile and bowed deeply.  “Thank you, pretty lady!  See you soon!”

Honour rushed past Flavio, trying desperately to get a glimpse of the green-coated man again.
“Damn that overgrown soap maker,” she grumbled as she walked.  “I should go back and give him a boot full of 'pretty lady' right in the bum!  Now I'll never... wait!”
She caught sight of the frock coat again, and she swallowed hard.  He was standing at a tent, trying on a hat.  It was a black Cavalier-style chapeau, with a long burgundy feather that gave the wearer a rakish quality.  Honour bit her lip, and walked up behind the man.  She had to remind herself to keep breathing.  Her heart pounded like a hammer in her ears.  Part of her didn't want to go through with this, but the other part needed to know once and for all if this living ghost was indeed her first love.

She tried to raise her hand to touch him on the shoulder, but her arm felt like it was made of solid lead.  Finally, she found the courage to speak.
“R-Rhys?  Rhys, is that you?” she asked, her voice quaking.
The man stood up straight and hesitated a moment.  Then he reached up and took off the hat as he turned.  As he lowered the hat, she could finally see the face of the mystery man.

It wasn't Rhys.

The man bore a passing resemblance to Rhys, but he was too old.  His eyes were brown, his teeth a mess.  The coat wasn't right.  A similar cut, but the embroidery was all wrong.  Even his boots weren't the right colour.
“No, ma'am,” the sailor said with a smile that made her skin crawl.  “But if it suits ye, I can be Rhys.  That'd suit me just fine, it would.”
Honour took a large step backward.  “I'm sorry!  I thought you were someone else.  Please forgive the intrusion.”  Her face flaming with embarrassment, she turned to walk away.  But the sailor caught her arm.
“That ain't very fair of ye, ma'am.  Ye gave me name, but ye never told me yours.”
Her embarrassment quickly turned to anger.  “You may call me Mrs. Wolfe.”
“Mrs. Wolfe, is it?” he laughed.  “Well, Mrs. Wolfe, how's about I give ye a reason to howl?”
Honour managed to pull herself free and glared at the man.  “Have you heard of the ship El Lobo del Mar, by any chance?”
The man's grin disappeared.  “Aye.  Everyone has, I reckon.”
“And her captain?”
“That'd be ol' Mad Jack.  Mad Jack...”  His eyes went wide.  “... Wolfe.”
“My husband.”
“Ma'am, I'm sorry, I am!  I was just havin' a bit of fun with ye, is all...”
“I'm sure my husband will see the joke when he finds out you were pawing his wife.”
The man started to say something, couldn't seem to find the words, then broke and ran off through the crowd.

Honour stood there shaking.  Partly with relief that it wasn't Rhys, and partly from having to face down a potential molester or worse.
“God, I'm out of practice,” she exhaled.
“Hey!  He was gonna buy that hat!”
She looked over at the tent, where the hat seller was glaring at her.  “Excuse me?”
“That man you chase off!  I lose a sale because of you!”
Honour picked up the hat the man dropped when he ran and looked at it.
“Do you have this in a size larger?” she asked as she handed it back to the seller.
“You buy it if I do?” he asked.
“I'll buy it.  But only if you add more feathers!”
“Deal, pretty lady!”

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"Why is it that everytime you go somewhere, I miss you?"
 
Jack stood there on the gangway with an armful of Zara and a grin on his face. And here is where Honour's heart lie. With the two that made her the most happy.
"And just where are your parcels? Don't tell me you couldn't charm the vendors into giving you the price you wanted?"
"Hmm? Oh...I left them with a vendor that will arrange delivery for all the purchases I made. I have some silk for your shirts and you---"
Honour held her arms out and Zara went willingly into them. "---you will have a few new clothes when we get to home, Missy!"
 
Suddenly her reticule, which she had dropped, began to squirm.
"What the hell...?" Jack said.
Honour handed Zara back to Jack and sighed. 
"You'll hate me for this."
"No, I won't."
Honour reached in the bag and brought out a little black kitten. She began to talk very fast.
"You see, there was this vendor on the end of the street and he had one kitten left. He wanted to go home and he didn't want to take the kitten with him. There was a man there who had a snake and he was going to...going to....well, I threw a few coins at him and shoved the kitten in my bag. And if you say we can't keep him then you can tell your daughter why she can't have the----"
"Kee! Kee!"
"--too late."
 
Zara held out her hands to the little kitten that was wrapped around Honour's hands. Her eyes were wide. '
"Gently, sweetheart. And if your Da says so, you may keep the 'kee'. What say you, Da?"
Both Zara and Honour looked hopeful at Jack. He laughed. 
"I guess Puddin' can put up with a kitten."
"I figured that Puddin would stay with the ship and this way, we are saving another kitten's life. She curled right up in my bag and slept the whole way here. I did buy her some milk when I stopped for tea."
Jack sighed. "Honour, the next one better damn well be a boy. I can't be outnumbered!"
"Well, the next kitten we get will be a boy then."
 
That night, over a meal of fresh beef and potatoes with the bread that Honour had bought, Jack totaled up the sums that Honour had spent. 
She looked at him hopefully.
He sighed and then smiled. 
"Well done! You drive a hard bargain, Mrs. Wolfe. The shops are a little richer but poorer on their merchandise. And I do love the silk that you bought."
She wrapped her arms around him from the back. 
"I am so pleased."
"You seemed a bit preoccupied at dinner. Did Ponta del Sol live up to its name?"
"Oh yes! It was very crowded though and a few ships must have ported."
She yawned and Jack drew her onto his lap. She rested her head against his chest and said in a small voice, "Jack?"
He kissed the top of her head. 
"Yes, love?"
"Jack....did they ever find out what happened to Neptune Rising after...?"
Jack gently stroked her hair. He knew it was a painful subject for both of them but he also understood Honour's need to verbalize things that were on her mind.
Softly he said, "I think the quartermaster took her over."
"Dolan?"
"Yeah, someone said Johnny outfitted her to suit himself and changed the name. Could just be tavern talk."
She sighed and absentmindedly twirled one of Jack's curls on her finger. 
"I--I'm glad. She was a fine ship and deserved someone who loved her almost as much as..as much as...."
And Honour burst out crying.
 
Jack held her closely and let her cry. 
She broke away and then dabbed her eyes. "I--I'm so sorry, Jack. I don't know where that came from. I guess I was just feeling a bit...I don't know.  A new port and all."
He gently wiped the tears off her face and then cupped her face. 
"Darling, I don't want you to ever feel you can't talk to me about Rhys. He was a part of your---both--our lives and if not for him, I wouldn't be alive."
She held Jack close and tried not to start crying again. "I just wondered if--if he is at peace now."
Jack picked his words carefully. "I think things happen for a reason, Honour. And if Rhys couldn't be with you, then I think circumstances were maneuvered to make sure you were taken care of. And I think the privilege fell to me."
He hesitated.
"Did something happen today to bring Rhys up?"
 
The image of a salt-spattered green frock coat and a swagger that belonged to one man flashed through her mind. 
"No. Like I said, a new port....just a new adventure. And I am very tired."
He set Honour on her feet and rubbed her shoulders. Looking into her eyes, he said, "I don't ever want you to be afraid to talk to me about Rhys, sweetheart. He was my friend too. And I miss him."
She nodded and yawned. 
"And now it is high time you got some sleep. You had a busy day."

As Honour slipped under the covers, Jack emerged from the curtained area where Zara was sleeping. 
"You have to see this."
Jack led her to the cradle. Zara was curled up with the kitten resting on her pillow. Honour laid her head on Jack's shoulder as she looked at her little daughter. 
Yes, this is where her future lay.
And her heart.
~~~~~~~~~~
 
Jack laid there staring at the ceiling. Honour slept in his arms, curled up as if clinging to him for protection. Absent-mindedly he stroked her hair. It was on quiet nights like this that he fought his demons. 
The memory of Colonel Diego y Castille Mendoza.
Having Honour with him helped him keep his sanity and his need for revenge throttled.
He looked down on her sleeping face with tenderness. She was his epicenter, the thing that kept him on track and gave him a new lease on life. The eighteen months she had been gone was like hell on earth but after tearing the Caribbean apart, tavern by tavern--and brothel by brothel, convent by convent--good fortune had smiled on him once again. 
And in the bargain, he got a dividend.
Zara.
 
Carefully he disentangled himself from her and walked over to the porthole, the moonlight shining through onto their bed.
He looked up at the stars and said quietly, 'Thank you, Da--talking with you while I was Mendoza's house guest was my lifeline to sanity. I don't know why, but I think you had a hand in helping me get her back. And laughing your arse off at the same time. I'll do you proud, Da. I promise. I'll always do right by her.'

He lowered the blinds on the window and climbed back into bed.
"Jack? Are you alright?" Honour murmured sleepily.
"Just thinking about family. Hush and go back to sleep, love. I'm fine."
She snuggled closer to him and her reply was soft breathing.
Jack chuckled to himself, 'You always said women would be the death of me, Da. But I think you just proved yourself a liar. But I don't think you mind that. Because this one saved me.'
He snuffed the candle out and before long, Jack too was asleep, the deep sleep of security.

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Sixteen days later, El Lobo reached the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, a significant waypoint on the journey to the New World, her progress slowed by unfavourable winds cast from an unseasonably early storm.  But the weather was clear now, and the vessel turned toward the west and the Caribbean, carried along by the warm and friendly trade winds.  In less than two weeks time by Jack's estimation, they would be safely in port at Barbados.  More importantly, they would be home.

“That's it, Zara!  That's my girl!  Come to Da!” said Jack as he clapped his hands together.  He was sitting on the deck of the great cabin with his arms outstretched.  Zara clung to her mother's skirts, coyly peeking from around them at her father as she chewed on the ear of her toy rabbit.
“I don't think you're going to win this one,” Honour teased.
“She gets it from you,” replied Jack with a wink.  He got to his feet, then crouched a little and clapped his hands once more.  This time, Zara ran across the short expanse of gently swaying deck and into Jack's arms.  The little girl giggled and squealed as he swept her up.
“Ha!  I knew it!” he laughed.  “She wanted to be picked up!  Even at this tender age, she's a shrewd negotiator.”
“She got that from me, too!”
Jack gave his wife a smile.  “Don't I know it!  I'm gonna have to watch my back with the two of you around.”
Honour watched as Jack held Zara in his arms and smiled at the joy on his face.  It was at times like this she could scarcely remember the fierce, wild-eyed pirate he had been.  She knew that part of him was still there beneath the surface, but also that if it ever did reappear it would be in defence of his family.  Jack was a different man from when they had met, just as Honour was a different woman.  They had transformed one another through their love, embodied in little Zara.

“Da!” said Zara, pointing to the rafters.  “Kee!  Kee!”
Jack looked up to see Puddin' lounging contentedly on a beam.  The cat pretended not to pay any attention but gave a dismissive flick of an ear.
“Yes, sweetheart, you found Puddin'!” said Jack  He began to look around the cabin.  “But where is...  Honour, have you seen the kitten?”
“Evie?  She's around here somewhere.  I'm surprised Puddin' let her out of his sight.  He spends every waking moment watching after her and Zara.  The role of big brother suits him.”
“I never would have figured him for the guardian angel sort.  But there he is, picking Evie up by the scruff of the neck before she can get into trouble.”
“Or distracting Zara when she's nosing about where she shouldn't,” added Honour.  “I hope he's not staying with the ship. He's made my life so much easier!”  Suddenly she clamped her hand over her mouth to stifle a loud laugh and pointed at the table.  Jack turned to look at what his wife found so funny.  There, curled up and sleeping atop a wooden bowl full of apples, was the little black kitten.
Jack chuckled and shook his head.  “But of course!  Where else would you expect to find Eve?  First, she was in trouble with a snake; now she's piled in with the apples!”

Zara made a grunting noise and began to squirm.  While Jack and Honour had been looking for the kitten, her rabbit had slipped from her hands and fallen to the deck.  Jack leant down to pick it up, but Zara had other ideas.
“Me!” she exclaimed, and stretched out her arm toward the toy.
“All right then, Miss Independent!” said Jack as he set her down on her feet.
Zara leant over and picked up the rabbit.  She looked up at her father with a self-satisfied smirk and toddled off toward Honour.  As she did, the ship pitched just enough to cause her to lose her balance and fall backwards onto her bottom.
“Bolx!” she said with a loud huff.  Immediately Zara began working to get back on her feet.
Jack laughed at the nonsensical epithet.  “What a funny thing for her to say!”
Honour wasn't laughing.  Rather, she was giving Jack a look of disapproval.
“What?” he asked.  “It's not like she swore or anything.”
“Didn't she?  What did you hear her say?”
He thought for a moment.  “'Box', I think.  Where would Zara get something like that to say?”
Honour shook her head.  “She didn't say 'box', Jack.  Think about it.  What would you say if you fell on your rump?”
Jack's face began to colour.  “Most likely, I'd say 'boll'--”
“Bolx!” chirped Zara loudly.
“- 'ocks'.  Oh, my.  She learns fast, doesn't she?”
“Yes, she does.  What did you expect out of our daughter?  And she's going to start repeating everything she hears, more and more.  So please, watch your language around her?”
“Mea culpa, my love,” he said with a smile.  “I promise to think before I speak, which will be something new for me.  But we are on a crewed ship.  She may have quite the vocabulary by the time we make port!”
Honour chuckled a little.  “I'm hoping you'll lead by example.  They're still your men, Jack.  Even Briggs won't let the men call him captain yet.  Not while you're still aboard.”
“I'm still used to providing a perfect example of how not to behave.  And me, behave myself?  People will talk.”

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Honour walked to him and straightened the collar of his shirt.  “That was the old Jack Wolfe.  The new one is a respectable businessman.  A pillar of the community, and a loving husband and father.”
“Ugh!  You make me sound so dull.”
“You?  Dull?  Impossible.  What business is it you'll be excelling in?  Have you given it any thought?”
“You mean, what do I want to be when I grow up?”
“Something like that.”
Jack took a deep breath, and his brow furrowed as he exhaled.  “I still don't know yet.  Daffyd and I talked about a number of things, like horse breeding and land sales.  Of course, there's always the merchant trade.  Let's face it, if any merchant would be prepared effectively to repel any pirate attacks, it's me.  Wouldn't that be a bit of irony?”
He laughed, but he couldn't help but wonder how he would successfully rejoin the 'legitimate' world of business with his past.  People's memories were short, but how quickly would they forget about Mad Jack Wolfe, the pirate?  And how soon would Governor Culley be willing to forget about the regular under-the-table payments Jack paid to freely use the ports of Barbados?  Those were worries for another day, he resolved.  Somehow he couldn't bring himself to fret about such matters while looking into Honour's beautiful blue eyes.  She made him feel like anything was possible.  
He hoped she was right.
“Something will come to you,” she reassured lovingly.  “I know you too well.  That mind of yours is always working.”
Jack slipped his hands around her waist and pulled her close.  “Indeed it is.  Guess what I'm thinking right now?”
Honour pressed her hands against his chest.  “Are you forgetting we have a tiny chaperon?”
He looked past her to see Zara sitting on the deck, holding her rabbit by the back legs and shaking it to make its ears flop against the wooden planks.
“I guess you're right.  She doesn't seem the least bit tired, either.”
“She will be later.  Any chance those thoughts will still be fresh in your mind?”
“Honour, those thoughts are always in my mind where you're concerned.”
“Just checking.  I wouldn't want you to become bored with me.”
Jack smiled and stroked her cheek.  “Never.  That's a promise.”

At that moment, the door to the cabin swung open, barely missing Zara.  Eli Meredith stood there in the open doorway staring down at the little girl, looking completely flustered.
“Eli!” Jack roared.  “Since when don't you knock before coming in here?!”
Eli looked at Jack and Honour with a start, then took a step backwards.  The young man's eyes were panicky, and he wrung his knit cap nervously in his hands.
“Cap'n!  Sir, I'm sorry, sir.  And mum.  But it's awful urgent!  Mister Briggs said I should come get you right away!”
“What on earth for?  There's nothing Briggs can't handle on his own.”
“Aye sir, there is,” said Eli gravely.  “Three warships, with English flags.  They're on an intercept course, Cap'n.  We need you.”

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Jack's expression went hard as stone.  The last time Honour had seen that look was on their first disastrous crossing to Barbados.  She could feel her stomach tighten involuntarily.
“Are you sure they're interested in us?” asked Jack.
Eli nodded.  “Mister Briggs changed our course twice, he did.  So did they, matchin' us turn for turn each time.  Then they clapped on more sail.”
“Has he raised the flag of England?”
“No, sir.  Waitin' for your word on it, he is.”
Damn, thought Jack.  If they weren't suspicious before, they are now.  “Thank you, Eli.  Please tell Briggs I'll be up presently, and that he's not to do anything else until I get there.”
The young man nodded hesitantly before closing the door.  Jack turned to Honour and gently touched her hair.
“Everything will be fine, Honour.  But I need you and Zara--”
“To stay here.  Keep down and stay away from the windows.  I- I remember.”  
Her face was pale, and Jack could see she was struggling to hold back tears.  He placed his hands gently on her shoulders and gave Honour a smile he hoped was reassuring.
“Yes, my love.  For safety's sake.  But I promise you; I'll do everything I possibly can to resolve this situation peacefully.  Nothing is more important that keeping you and Zara safe.”
He looked into her eyes, hoping if she saw he was calm, her fear would fade.
“This isn't Mendoza, Honour.  My dealings with the Navy have shown them to be reasonable men.  Or at least easy to bribe.  Maybe they're lost and need directions to Barbados?  Or they're all out of sugar?  Briggs' sweet tooth will suffer, but it's for the greater good.”
Honour found herself laughing a little at the joke even though she was still scared.  She knew Jack needed her to put on a brave face, just as he was doing for her.
“You men are so terrible with maps!” she said, her voice wavering more than she had hoped it would.  “Go and be the captain.  Your men need you.”
“I swear, Honour, this is the last time I'll ever have to do this.  I wish to God I didn't, but...”
“But you're the captain, and if anyone can see all of us through this, it's you.  Now, go and take your rightful place on the quarterdeck, Captain Wolfe.  Go and be brilliant.”
Jack kissed her tenderly.  “I'll send word when it's safe.”
He picked up Zara and held her close.  “Here, sweetheart.  You be a good girl, and keep your mum safe for me, all right?”  He kissed his daughter's head, then handed her over to Honour.  Zara went willingly into her mother's arms.
“Da!” she said as she held her rabbit up so it could get a kiss, too.  Jack obliged before going to the door.  He opened it, and lingered a moment.
“I love you, Honour.”
She forced herself to smile nonchalantly.  “I love you too, Jack.”
The door closed with a loud clack of the latch.  Honour hugged her precious daughter and quietly began to cry.

Jack strode onto the weather deck just as he had done thousands of times before.  But this time felt different.  There was a terrible finality that gnawed at him.  This would most likely be his last official act as captain of El Lobo del Mar.  The next time she sailed, he would be her owner, not her master.  He pushed the feeling aside for the moment.
“Now's not the time for introspection, Jack,” he muttered to himself.  “Think more about not getting your arse blown off.”
The men at their stations traded nods and confident smiles when they saw him walking toward the quarterdeck.  The mood and tempo of the crew seemed to lift in his presence, knowing he would be there to see them through this latest trial.

Jack hoped their confidence wasn't misplaced.

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“Mister Briggs!” he called out as he jogged up the steps to the quarterdeck.  “Permission to approach, Captain sir!”
Briggs made a sour face and motioned him on.  “Quit arsin' about and get up here.  Since when do you ask permission for anythin'?”
“Just trying it on for size.”
“What do ye think of it?”
“Not much.”
Briggs handed Jack the spyglass and waited for him to get a look at the approaching ships.
“Three of the buggers; two heavy frigates and a corvette.  I changed course twice to see if they were followin' or just goin' our way.”
“And they matched us turn for turn.  Eli told me.”  Jack examined the three vessels carefully.  “Damn.  They're serious, and I know why.  The frigate with all the flags?  One of those is the pennant of a commodore or admiral.”  
He snapped the spyglass shut.
“What's that got to do with us?” asked Briggs.
“We're a lone ship, and we're not flying a flag.  Ordinarily, they couldn't be bothered.  With a flag officer in their midst, though, they're going by the book.  All the same, we've nothing to hide.  Mister Meredith!”  
Eli stepped forward, immediately pulling off his cap and twisting it in his hands.
“Aye, Cap'n Wolfe?”
“Run up the flag of England, mainmast and stern.  Let them know we're good citizens of the Commonwealth.”
“Aye, sir!  Right away!”
“Oh, and Eli?”
The young man turned back with a puzzled look on his face.
“Yes, cap'n?”
“Stop wringing your cap like it's laundry day, please?  Mrs Wolfe isn't going to buy you a new one every other port.”  Jack softened his remark with a smile.  
Eli laughed self-consciously and pulled the cap back on his head before going to retrieve the two flags.

“He's a good kid, isn't he, Josiah?”
Briggs watched Eli hitch the larger of the two flags to the flag line and haul it aloft.
“Aye, he turned out to be a bit of all right.  It's a good thing Honour saw somethin' in him we didn't.”
“He was a scared boy, and Burgess took advantage of that.  Not every young sailor is lucky enough to fall in with a good teacher and a better friend.”
“Ye just needed to get yer bearin's, is all,” Briggs demurred.  “I didn't always steer ye right, remember.  Like that time in Martinique...”
“Not one of our finer moments!” laughed Jack.  “I'm glad I waited a few years before showing my face there again.”
“Ye think the governor would have remembered?”
“It wasn't the governor I was worried about.”
“Ah, right.  His daughter.”
Jack paused for a few moments.  “Both of them.”
Briggs burst into laughter.  “Damn, but that was some fun!”

Eli bounded up the steps with a flag in hand but came to a stop when he got to the quarterdeck and saw the two men laughing.
“What, did I do something wrong?”
“Not at all, Eli!” said Jack as he caught his breath.  “We were just reminiscing.  Please continue.  You're doing fine!”
Eli gave them an odd look, then went about affixing the flag to the stern flagstaff.  He watched the trailing ships for several seconds before turning away.
“Cap'n, how long you figure before they catch us?” he asked worriedly.
Jack cast his gaze back across the water to the warships.  His eyes narrowed as he thought.
“I hate waiting,” he said finally.  “Waiting makes me edgy.  I hate being edgy even more than waiting.  Time to play this out.”
He turned toward the weather deck and went to the taffrail.
“Heave to!” Jack shouted.  “Take in all sail!  Step lively, lads!”
The crew stopped what they were doing, and quickly began climbing the ratlines to gather in the sails.
Briggs stepped to his side.  “I hope ye know what ye're doin', Jack.”
“That's just it, Josiah.  I don't.”
“What?”
“I don't know if that patrol have us figured as pirates and intend on blasting us out of the water, or if they want directions to the nearest good tavern.  I'm hoping, and it's just a hope mind you, that this will throw them off whatever their game is.  It's hard to justify firing on a drifting ship, no matter your suspicions.  Even harder with a high-ranking officer watching.”
“Unless he's the one what ordered it,” said Briggs grimly.
“When did you become such a wet blanket?”
“Always have been.  This be the first time ye've taken a notice.”
“I won't make that mistake again,” Jack quipped.  “All the same, I won't have us as sitting ducks.  Mister Meredith!  Another errand for you, good man.”
Eli stepped quickly to his side.  “Aye!”
“Eli,” said Jack quietly, “I need you to go below to the gun deck.  Tell them to make the lower guns, and only the lower guns ready.  But they must not run them out.  Not until so ordered.  I want all the gun ports left shut and shut tight.  If as much as one opens for any reason, I'll flay alive the man responsible.  Can you do that for me?”
Eli nodded, and his expression became stern as if in preparation for the task.  “Aye, sir!  I'll make it as clear as cut glass to them!”
“Good man.  Off you go.”
Briggs waited until Eli had left the deck to deliver the orders before drawing a deep breath.
“An insurance policy?” he asked.
Jack stared across the weather deck and rapped his knuckles on the railing.  “Let's hope we don't have to use it.”

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Less than two hours later, the three English warships approached to within a quarter of a mile of El Lobo and held their station there.  The corvette and the smaller of the two frigates had taken up flanking positions, leaving the larger frigate directly aft of the former pirate ship.  None of the Navy vessels made aggressive actions, choosing to keep their gun ports closed just as Jack had ordered his own gun crews.  The four ships bobbed in the ocean in unison, waiting.
“What the hell are they waitin' for?” groused Briggs.  “An engraved invitation?”
“They'll be waiting a long time,” said Jack.  “We're here, and we aren't running.  That's as much as they get.  If they want more, they can come ask.”
“I wish to hell they'd get on with it.”
“Probably looking up in the book what to do next, because I don't think they expected us to stop.  In that case, my gambit worked, and they're off their game.  Now they have to figure out their next move, and we've given them nothing to work with.  That's my guess, at any rate.  These are Navy men, doing things the Navy way on the Navy schedule.  No real point trying to make sense of it.”
Briggs snorted and took a drink of rum.  “I prefer dealin' with pirates, thank ye very much.  Ye know where ye stand with them, leastways.  No committees and none of this damn fool muckin' about.”

“Oh dear,” said a voice behind them.  “Honour wasn't exaggerating when she said we had company.”
Jack and Briggs turned to find Duckie standing on the quarterdeck with them, looking out at the silent warships.
“Come to help us stare back at them, Doctor?” said Jack.
Duckie joined them at the gunwale.  “I was working in my journal when I realised the ship felt different.  So I went your cabin, Jack, to see what the matter was.  That's when Honour told me about our pursuers.”
“I think we're in a waiting game,” sighed Jack.
“Waiting for what?  Who'll blink first?” asked Duckie.  He leant close to Jack and whispered, “Josiah is perfectly capable of watching three ships do nothing at all.  Honour is scared, Jack.  She needs to see you.  Now.”
“But, she seemed fine before I came up here.”
Duckie cocked an eyebrow and slowly shook his head no.
“The brave face.  I should have known.”  Jack clapped Briggs on the shoulder.  “Josiah, keep an eye on these lads for me, would you?  There's something I need to attend to below.  Let me know if and when they finally make their move.”
“Aye, Jack,” replied Briggs.  “If'n I don't fall asleep from all the excitement.”
“I'll keep you company, Mister Briggs!” said Duckie cheerfully.  “See you in a while, Jack.  Take your time.”

Jack left the quarterdeck and walked briskly back to the great cabin.  It wasn't easy for him to walk away from his station of command, but he knew Honour needed him and the reassurances that only he could bring.  He couldn't help but notice, however, that his crew already seemed used to not relying on him for everything.  In some ways, it was a relief to know they would be able to carry on without him.  Conversely, though, it made him feel something else, something that left him a little empty inside – that he was dispensable after all.

He shoved that feeling aside and focused on the task at hand: reassuring Honour that everything was just fine and under control.  Never mind that three warships were bracketing them like silent, hungry lions, and Jack had no idea why or what it was they wanted.  He took a deep breath, put on what he hoped was a cheerful face, and opened the door.

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