The Doctor

El Lobo Del Mar

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Petit Goave -- December, 1650

A sultry breeze blew steadily off the coast of Hispaniola, washing over the sleepy port town of Petit Goave and out into the harbour. The ships anchored there bobbed gently, their masts slightly swaying like mangroves. Among these was a fine weathered vessel of quiet majesty; the Neptune Rising. Her captain, Rhys Morgan, sat in his cabin as he stared at a desk littered with maps, notes, and plotting instruments. Lines of frustration creased his brow as he puzzled what their next destination. Prizes had become few and far between lately, as merchants shifted their trade to other ports or out of the area entirely in response to the threat of one pirate who seemed to time his attacks with uncanny precision and effectiveness. Rumour had it the pirate had supernatural assistance from a dark, mystical woman. Rhys didn't believe the stories, but after nearly two months without a prize of value, he would have been happy for such an advisor.

“I'll be damned if I'm left to raiding fishing boats for food,” Rhys swore. He poured another glass of rum and sipped it as he stared bitterly at the maps. There had to be some place left to hunt... but where?

A knock at the cabin door broke his concentration.

“I said no interruptions!” barked Rhys testily.

The door opened slightly, and the quartermaster, Dolan, poked his head in.

“Begging your pardon, but there's a man come aboard to see you. Says it's mightily important.

“Whatever he has to say, he can say to you,” Rhys answered. “Keep him out of the crew's way, and send him off when he's through. I have enough trouble.”

Dolan's head disappeared, but the door remained open. Rhys could hear voices, and after a few moments Dolan reappeared. “He won't hear of it, Captain. He claims to have vital information. Says it's a matter of life and death.”

Rhys exhaled through clenched teeth. He had promised his men a solution to their predicament before the day was out in order to keep any of them from jumping ship. And here was some damned fool with “information” that he was certain would only put him further behind.

“All right, damn it. Show him in.” Rhys picked up his quill and hunched over his desk, pretending to be make notations in hope that by appearing too busy the visitor would leave faster. He could hear the sound of a pair of boots on the deck in front of him, with an almost lackadaisical gait. Without looking up, Rhys said in his most impatient and officious tone, “I'm a very busy man, a fact I hope you can appreciate. So please, say your piece and be on your way...”

A casaba melon rolled across the table and stopped right under his gaze.

Rhys blinked in disbelief and looked up into the face of the man who had brought it.

His eyes hardened into a contemptuous glare.

“You,” he growled.

“You were expecting Father Christmas?” smiled Jack Wolfe as he casually took the chair opposite Rhys. “Captain Morgan. Has a nice ring to it. You should take out a patent. And is that any way to greet an old friend? I had hoped they at least taught you some manners at Cambridge. Why so glum?”

Rhys sat back in his chair and looked at the man he had saved from certain death at the hands of jealous Spanish warlord a scant few years before. He looked the almost the same, save for even longer hair held back from his face with a red head scarf and a close cropped goatee which served to give him a wild look.

“'Mad Jack' Wolfe, master of El Lobo del Mar. Thanks to you, my crew haven't been able to take a prize worth the effort in months. Apparently Oxford taught you the vice of greed very well.”

“Nope. Picked that one up all on my own, thank you,” Jack smirked. “That is the name of our game, yeah? Greed? Take all you can, and give nothing back?”

“What do you want, Jack? If you came to gloat, then you've accomplished your mission.” Rhys picked up the melon and tossed it to Jack. “You can take your remembrance and go. I'm busy.”

Jack put the melon back on Rhys' desk. “I'm not here to gloat, Cambridge. I'm here to help.”

Rhys choked back an incredulous laugh. “Help? How? You're not planning to retire already, are you?”

“Not on your life, mate,” Jack replied coolly. “I'm offering you a partnership.”

Rhys stared at Jack for several seconds, unsure of what he had just heard. “Come again?”

“You heard me right, Rhys. I'm offering you a full partnership. A lifeline of sorts. The question is, are you willing...,” he picked up the melon and looked at it for a moment, then tossed it without warning to Rhys, “... to take it?”

Rhys caught the melon in both hands, still puzzled by Jack's mysterious arrival and even more unexpected business proposal. He regarded the melon before placing on the table again. “What's the catch?”

“No catch.”

“Oh, come on, Oxford. I didn't just fall off the turnip wagon. You've got quite the reputation for heavy conditions on any deal you strike.”

Jack smiled to himself. “Yeah, I know. I started the stories. It's a sweet bit of leverage whenever I have to negotiate. When they're expecting outrageous demands, it's easier to sneak in onerous ones.”

“How perfectly underhanded of you!” chuckled Rhys, with a hint of admiration in his voice. Jack's audacity never ceased to amaze him. For that very reason, Rhys was still wary of what his old acquaintance had in store.

“It beats a career in politics. This way is more honest, as an old friend once pointed out. But I'm serious, Rhys. No catch, no conditions.”

“There have to be terms.”

“What good business deal doesn't have terms?”

Rhys tapped the end of his quill on the desk. “I'm dying to hear this.”

“Still cautious. I like that. All right then, the terms.” Jack leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him as he looked Rhys in the eye. “A division of labour. There are too many prizes and not enough of me to take them. We take certain territories, which will shift over time, and hunt them clean. Whatever you take, you keep to share out as you will.”

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Rhys thought for a moment, and laughed. “I'm still waiting for the catch, Jack. What is it? A steep percentage after six months? An annual lump sum payment? My soul, perhaps?”

“Please! What would I do with your soul? I've no use for my own.” He shook his head. “As I said, no catch. No cut, no payments, no usury. Simply a place for your men to ply their trade, and the information with which to do it.”

“Information? What information would that be?” asked Rhys, a little faster than he meant to. Jack's offer was intriguing, to say the least. But he needed to know everything before considering taking the offer.

“Where to cruise, who to hit, and when.”

“Nobody has those kind of specifics. It's impossible.”

“I do.”

“You really are mad.”

“A great many would agree. But it doesn't change the fact that I'm telling you the truth.”

Rhys searched Jack's face, and found nothing but cool, rational composure. For Jack to be talking like a madman, he certainly wasn't acting like one. “I have to know where this information comes from.”

Jack gave a sly smirk. “The same source that told me where to find you. You went to great lengths to let everyone know you were going north from Jamaica to Nassau. But here you are, due east, hidden in the French port of Petit Goave.”

“That doesn't mean a thing. So someone recognised my ship sailing into port. Tongues wag.”

“You've been in port barely a day, Cambridge. Word travels fast in the Caribbean, but not that fast.” Jack leaned forward. “I sailed in from the east. Directly here. Because I knew this is where you'd be. Just as I knew where those Spanish military payroll sloops would be, just as I knew where the new French governor of Montserrat's ship would be, etcetera, etcetera.”

“And where does this intelligence come from? Not even a network of spies could be so accurate.”

Jack's gaze shifted to somewhere over Rhys' shoulder. “I have an associate. You might say she has special talents. Special sight...”

“This is madness...”

“No, it's NOT! Damn it, Rhys! I'm offering you something rare here. Something I wouldn't offer anyone else.”

“Why me, then? Why seek me out?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “My God, you're thick for an educated man! It's right in front of you. Literally.”

Rhys looked down at his desk. “This? It's a melon. You hate these things as I recall.”

“And if you hadn't yanked me off into a cartload of the damned things, I'd be a dead man.” He sighed heavily. “I am trying to repay a debt. You saved my arse when I was in trouble. I want to do the same for you.”

Rhys looked at Jack, and then back to the casaba. He gave a slight scowl as he pondered Jack's offer, and idly spun the melon as he thought.

“You're asking me to take quite a leap of faith, Oxford. Your success is practically legendary, to be sure. You've all but eclipsed Will Harkness' reputation. By the way, what ever happened to him? He seemed to vanish about the same time you got your ship.”

Jack gave a slight smile. “He... went on to bigger and better things.”

“You didn't...”

“NO! God, no! I left Will on St. Eustatius. He said something about seeing how the other half lives, whatever that means. And that's the last I've seen of him.”

“Maybe your paths will cross again one day.”

“I'd like that. As long as he's not bringing the hangman's noose with him, that is!”

The two men laughed together, but the thoughtful frown returned to Rhys' face.

“Who is this 'advisor' of yours? And how reliable is she, really?” Rhys asked.

“You really can't take anything on faith, can you, Cambridge?”

“Not where you're concerned, Oxford.”

They looked at each other for a long moment, before they laughed in unison, “Oxbridge!”

“Pour me some of that rum, and I'll tell you,” said Jack.

“Now we're getting down to business,” replied Rhys as he poured. He handed the glass to Jack, then refilled his own. “Tell me all about her.”

Jack took a sip, and sighed. “Her name is Bonita. Ask her what her last name is six different times, and you'll get different answers. The men have settled on 'le Mystère', since that about sums her up. She is an Obeah priestess, among other things, and she is very, very good at what she does.”

“That doesn't tell me much,” replied Rhys sceptically.

“The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Look at the success I've enjoyed. You tell me how I can be in the right place at exactly the right time, every time. Defies the odds, even reason itself, wouldn't you say?”

“You're incredibly lucky, I'll give you that.”

“Luck, nothing,” said Jack. “All I did was take Bonita's word as gospel truth, and there were the ships. Just as vulnerable, just as loaded with swag as she said they would be. How in the world could any man be that bloody lucky?”

Rhys ran a finger around the rim of his glass. “And what is to stop me from declining your offer and exposing your secret?”

“Pffft! Easy! You're honourable to a fault, Rhys Morgan. You have no reason to expose me, nor anything to gain from it. If anything, you're terribly intrigued. Besides, I don't care if you did tell anyone. They'd think you barking mad, and you know it. Frankly, I have nothing to lose in this deal. But you do, if you walk away.”

“You seem to have all this figured out. With the help of your Obeah friend, I suppose?”

“With the help of a solid Oxford education, which you were so tragically denied.” Jack shook his head. “Rhys, I'm trying to help you. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't know I could fix things. All I'm asking for is the chance to prove I'm sincere.”

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“Jack, everything you've said borders on preposterous! I need to think about this long and hard before I can hope to give you an answer. You're asking me to risk my very future on your word.”

“Then I'll tell you what,” Jack said solemnly. “Sail with me on one cruise. I'll tell you where to strike, and you take the lead. The Lobo will hang back, as support only, flying the colours of the ship you're going to take. You'll know ahead of time your prey's weaknesses and cargo. Whatever you take is yours. Outside of that, I don't know any other way to convince you.”

Rhys cocked his head. “And why would you do this? Why are you trying so very hard to convince me to come along with you?”

Jack looked down and took a deep breath. “Rhys, I hate debt. I owe you my life. That's a pretty big debt. You're in trouble, and I can make it right. I'm asking you to let me do this for you. As repayment. No strings, no games. We work together until you decide to break company. I ask nothing in return, not even a stake in your smuggling operation between here and Wales.”

“How do you know about that?” demanded Rhys.

“I told you. Bonita is very good.”

“I should say so...”

“And it took about fifteen minutes to verify it the last time I was in Jamaica. The Morgan legacy is a very poorly kept secret.”

Rhys could feel his face colour. “That many people know?”

“Well, no, not that many. I'd say fully half of Port Royal is still ignorant to your dealings.”

With a chuckle, Rhys picked up his quill again and tapped it on the table. “I have to admit, Jack, your offer is very intriguing.”

“Then, say yes.”

Rhys stared at Jack for several moments as he weighed the pros and cons. Finally, he answered.

“Yes.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Jack as he jumped to his feet. He produced a set of papers bound with a blood red ribbon and slapped them on the desk. “Here is where we sail next. As agreed, you sail lead with the Lobo as second. Take both ships on your own. If anything goes amiss, sound the bell and I'll be there to help. But I doubt that will be necessary.”

Rhys looked at the packet. “All right. When do we sail?”

“Tomorrow, at first light.”

“No, that's not possible. I'm waiting on supplies that won't be available for another two days.”

Jack gave him a sly smile and motioned to starboard. “Look out your window.”

Rhys went to the window on that side and looked out. To his amazement, a set of supply boats heavy with goods was headed toward the Neptune Rising. He turned back in amazement.

“How... how did you know I would agree?”

“I told you, mate. Bonita is very, very good.”

Rhys turned back to the window, still in shock. “I should say she is. But you never mentioned this! How much will I owe you for this courtesy? Jack?”

He turned back to find Jack gone, and the casaba melon spinning in the middle of his desk.

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Beaumaris, Wales--Early summer, 1651

Rhys Morgan's hired coach pulled up in front of a massive grey stone manor. Turrets spindled up to the sky. He looked out the coach window and saw the wrought iron gate with the stone wall around it. Almost like a fortress, he thought.

As the coachman opened the door, Rhys gathered his coat and put his cavalier hat on his head.

"You sure you don't mind waiting?"

The coachman shook his head.

"I have nothing to do way out here...may as well wait for you, Guv'nor."

Rhys pressed a few coins in his hand.

"I don't know how long I shall be. Not long though, provided my business goes smoothly with Lord Castlemaine."

The coachman tipped his hat. "I'll meander towards the kitchen. Unwritten law that there may be a scone or two in my future. Ta, Guv'nor."

Rhys laughed inwardly. 'Guv'nor....for a pirate? Or is that a privateer now?'

He walked up to stone steps and lifted the huge lion's head that was the doorknocker. The door was heavy English oak. 'Probably from a tree since Domesday....'

"This way, please."

The house servant led Rhys down a long hall with marbled floors and into an opulent study with a massive desk of mahogany.

"He shouldn't be but a few moments. Would you care for a brandy?"

Brandy sounded good to Rhys, seeing he had his fill of rum enough to last a lifetime. But Uncle Henry always told him, 'A captain is no better than his men. And you can lose the postion by a whim of the crew.'

So Rhys drank rum with his men.

"A brandy would be fine, thank you."

The servant poured him a snifter in a Murano glass. He bowed as he closed the doors, saying, "Lord Castlemaine will be in shortly."

Rhys looked around the library. Impressive but Rhys was used to a study like this. His childhood home was a manor on an estate. He strolled over to the books and picked one out. Leatherbound...well worn. Lord Castlemaine was a reader. Or his ancestors had been.

Above the fireplace mantel hung the portrait of a woman. No doubt his wife, Rhys surmised.

She wore a dress of dove grey, her shoulders white and her face reflected her patrician upbringing. Her ebony hair was piled on top of her head. A handsome woman, Rhys thought. But something was missing....no warmth in her ice blue eyes. Almost as if she was looking down in disdain at all who disturbed the sanctuary of her home.

He walked over to the window and looked out to the vast grounds of the estate. The grounds were landscaped--and almost too perfectly. At once he had a longing for the sea, wishing the Neptune Rising wasn't in for repairs. It would be at least a month or two before she would be ready to sail again.

*Ahem!*

Rhys Morgan turned around to meet his 'landlord' of the smuggling operations.

There he stood.

Lord Madoc Castlemaine.

Lord Castlemaine stood about 6'2', broad of shoulder and slim. His raven black hair, without a trace of grey, was in waves and his close-trimmed beard gave his face a sardonic look. Brown of eyes, his mouth was what could only be described as cruel. He carried himself with the air of what could only be described as breeding. Rhys judged him to be in his mid-to-late forties.

Rhys gave him a slight bow and removed his cavalier hat.

"Lord Castlemaine."

Madoc sat down and surveyed the young man in front of him. Rhys had the air of a man who spent a great deal of time in the sun and was all the better for it. He had a lightness to his manner that was incongruous with a man who made his living by the pre-emptively salvaging of goods destined for other ports. Of which they never arrived.

Rhys had dressed in one of his best frock coats, his breeches were impeccable and his boots had a high shine to them. The cavalier hat set his features off to the mirth with which Rhys approached life.

Lord Castlemaine leaned back and crossed his arms in front of him.

"So you are Henry Morgan's nephew. Have a seat."

Rhys sat down and nodded. "The operation is going smoothly and I have found new sources of revenue---"

Madoc waved him away with his hand. "I have no interest in what the operation is doing. The less I know, the better. Do you have the draft for the bank?"

Rhys reached into his pocket and said, "Yes, I have it right here---"

Madoc gave him a cold look. "Deposit it in the account. Cardiff. Henry gave you the instructions, did he not?"

"Yes, he did and--"

"Then do it."

Madoc stood up. Rhys did also.

"Make sure your crew clean up after themselves next time. I don't want to see any evidence the caves are being used."

"You won't, Lord Madoc. I'll see to it the men are discreet."

He walked Rhys to the door. Rhys looked up at the portrait and said politely, "Your wife is a fine-looking woman, Lord Castlemaine."

"Was."

"Beg your pardon?"

"She's deceased these three years."

The way Madoc said it, Rhys couldn't help but wonder what she was like. She had a haughty face and a face devoid of warmth.

A good match for him, Rhys thought.

Madoc opened the door. "I will expect another draft in six months."

"I shall have it."

With that, Madoc left the room. Rhys stood there, not quite knowing what to do.

'Nice doing business with you....bastard,' he said to himself.

He sighed, put his cavalier hat on his head and headed back towards the carriage.

The coachman sat on the grass enjoying an apple he had plucked from Lord Castlemaine's tree.

"Done already, Guv'nor?"

"Done."

As he took his seat in the coach, Rhys turned to the coachman and asked, "Might I ask, is Lord Castlemaine married?"

"Not now. Heard he is in the market, as it were. Wife died a few years back. Tragic, it was."

"Really. What happened?"

The coachman picked up his whip and took his place on the buckboard.

"Fell down the stairs one night. Broke her neck."

"How tragic!"

The coachman's face turned stony. "Aye. For all but Lord Castlemaine."

"What do you mean?"

He lightly switched the horses. "Upon the death of Lady Castlemaine, Lord Madoc Castlemaine inherited for himself four hundred acres of grassland between the forest on the edge of the property all the way to Lord Conaway's land."

Rhys sat there and pondered, "You don't say."

"Aye, I just did, didn't I? But you didn't hear it from me."

Rhys murmured, 'Bastard...'

"What?"

"Nothing. To the docks, please."

"Sure thing, Guv'nor."

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A Tavern on the Island of Tortuga-- Summer, 1651

First mate and quartermaster of El Lobo del Mar Josiah Briggs gave the tavern wench a wink as he took the two tankards from her tray. He looked around the crowded room with a somewhat perturbed exp​ression on his face as he worked his way back to his table, trying hard not to spill any ale while he jostled his way through the throng. He gave an exasperated sigh when he reached the table, and sat the mugs down before taking his seat.

"I swear, Jack, I never seen times as bad as what's befallen us now," Josiah complained. "Nary a bit of prey in sight, and what we do take ain't worth the powder to blow it up with. How in the name of all what's holy did things dry up so fast? We had the run of the sea, takin' whatever ship we wanted, when we wanted it. Now, nothin'."

Jack took a deep drink from his mug. "Just as Bonita foretold, my old friend."

"Ye know damn well I don't believe in her spells and whatnot. All that witch woman does..." Briggs dropped his voice and looked around furtively before continuing in hushed tones. "All she manages to do is unnerve the hell out of me."

"Why, Josiah! I never knew you found her so attractive," said Jack with a smirk.

Briggs' face began to flush. "Ye know that ain't so! Besides, I prefer redheads."

"Just pulling your leg, mate. Everyone knows your taste for ginger," Jack laughed. "I admit, Bonita's ways are a bit, well, unorthodox, but she hasn't been wrong yet."

"Ye call it unorthodox, I call it scary."

"Be that as it may, I trust her. A month ago, she predicted that the French would arrive en masse with privateers and completely disrupt shipping in this area. What happened? The French crowded in here and New Providence to prosecute their grudge against Spain, clogged the ports, and we can't hope to get the prices for prizes or goods we're used to. I swear, if one more French ship detains us to 'check our commission', I'll hand them over to the Spanish myself."

"Why didn't ye say ye knew this was comin'? Though I should have known, the cavalier way ye've been takin' all this adversity."

Jack shrugged. "You said you didn't believe in Bonita's abilities. Didn't want to bother you with a lot of trifling nonsense that just happened to be spot on yet again."

Briggs rolled his eyes. "And ye intend to rub my face in it, don't ye?"

"Every chance I get," grinned Jack.

The truth was, Briggs did believe in Bonita's divination skills. She had provided Jack with flawless information on what targets to hit and when they would be most vulnerable. Her readings helped fuel Jack's meteoric rise in the ranks of pirates over the past two years. But the quartermaster couldn't help but wonder what might happen should Jack anger her. Rumours and speculation about the true extent of her powers circulated in whispers among the crew. How much danger would they all be in?

"Well, like ye've always said, peace is bad for business. Especially ours. Hang Cromwell and his Roundheads for inflictin' these poppin' jays on us! Them and their damned treaties," fumed Briggs. "It's a good thing Rhys left for Wales when he did. I like him. He's a good lad, and a better businessman. Why did he go back, anyways?"

"He has a smuggling run between here and Wales. Beaumaris, I think. You remember that port from our time on the Laura Anne, don't you?"

"Yeah, vaguely. I remember it was chilly, but the company was warm."

"That's right, I recall that redhead. Robbed you blind the next morning if memory serves..."

"Anyway, we were talkin' about Rhys," interrupted Briggs.

"Right," chuckled Jack. "He said something about a transaction he had to take care of personally. That's it."

"Did he say when he expected to be back?"

"No. But I'm guessing before the end of Fall. He'll up against the winter squalls if he waits any later."

"He's avoided the indignity of bein' a pirate with no prey, I'll give him that," grumbled Briggs.

It was Jack's turn to roll his eyes. "I hope you don't intend to cry in your ale all night."

"Bein' a realist ain't what I call cryin'," Briggs retorted. "So, what's left for us to do? I can't see ye turnin' gentleman farmer after all these years on the account. I hear tell the Portuguese are offerin' commissions for little of nothin'. Are we to turn privateer, too?"

Jack gave Briggs a sour look and offered his mug. "Here. Wash your mouth out with this. How long have we known each other, Josiah?"

Briggs thought for a moment. "I reckon about twelve years, give or take. Why?"

"Then I'm even more shocked that you were able to ask me that question with a straight face," chided Jack. "Absolutely not. Out of the question. I will never turn privateer. Everyone else can sell out, but not me."

"I don't figure you as bein' much for starvin' either, Jack. You must have somethin' stirred up in that schemin' head of yours, or another prediction from yer pet witch. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this talk."

"Should I tell Bonita you have a new nickname for her?"

Briggs began to go pale. "All right, that was uncalled for. I shouldn't have said it."

Jack motioned around them. "It's a full room, my friend. Lots of ears, and lots of lips to spread what they hear." He held a finger straight up in the air. "Bonita has a nasty temper. Unfortunate things can happen." Jack slowly curled his finger over until it was pointed at the table top, then waggled it.

Briggs' eyes grew wide in horror. After a few seconds, Jack burst into laughter.

"Just having some fun with you, Josiah! I know you don't like Bonita, and she feels the same about you. If you haven't had a problem yet, I'd say you're safe."

The quartermaster nervously took a sip of ale. "You were sayin', about our plans?"

"Sorry I rattled you so, Josiah," Jack chuckled. "All right, to the future. I hear tell that Barbados is relenting to pressure from England to become a colony. Most likely it will be official early next year. They've appointed an interim governor with strong ties, so he's almost guaranteed to stay on once Barbados is made England's latest jewel. Said governor will be under enormous pressure to succeed. What is the biggest problem facing any governor, provisional or not?"

"Ah!" smiled Briggs. "Supplies! If there were to be a flood of goods for his people to buy on the cheap, the happier they'll be, and the better he'll look in England's eyes."

"Precisely. And we are the altruistic and enterprising lot that can give them those goods at the right price." A sly grin spread across Jack's face. "Of course, we'll need the cooperation of one provisional governor."

"Oh, of course. Of course!" chimed Briggs, taking on the air of a stuffy merchant.

"We'll have to be sure to do this right. I'm in no mood to prop up a second governor a year from now. I want him squarely in my pocket and keep him there."

"I take it Bonita's 'seen' this plan as workin'?" asked Briggs.

"Put it this way, my friend. She has seen us commanding the entire stretch between Barbados and Trinidad."

Briggs blinked. "I'm startin' to take a shine to her visions."

"I don't think the good people of Barbados will mind that their goods were made in Spain or The Netherlands."

"People ain't real picky when the price is right, I've seen. But that puts us right on the doorstep of the Spanish Main. What are the odds yer old friend Mendoza is hangin' about round there? Word was he's left Cuba for a better appointment, whatever that means."

Jack had a bit more ale. "He's probably still the laughing stock of the Spanish Royal Court. I'm not worried about him and his crusade."

"They did nearly strung him up over our raids. You know he'll never stop blamin' you for that bit of mischief".

"Let him blame. He's of no consequence to us. I'm sure Mercedes is keeping him tied in knots, if she has a fresh hunting ground."

Briggs raised his mug. "We're sailin' to Barbados, then?"

Jack banged his mug against his friend's.

"To Barbados, and new fortunes!"

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Wales--Spring, 1651

Rhiannon sat there on the bluff with her writing journal. Gazing out to the horizon, she could see the ships with their tall sails as they appeared to kiss the heavens. She sighed deeply and looked over at Muir, her dearest companion. He was stretched out in the sunshine, his eyes half-closed.

"Someday, Muir. Someday we shall be out of here."

He raised his head and she pet his ears. "Well....we'll just have to be a little more patient, won't we?"

He licked her hand and she laughed. "I don't know how...but we will!"

She returned to the journal, licked the tip of the wax pencil, and scratched a few words down on paper.

A sudden shadow fell across her paper and she quickly covered the words with her hands and turned sharply. The sun was shining in her eyes and she shielded her eyes, jumping up quickly. Muir instantly sprang into action, standing by his mistress's side, growling.

A voice said, "A thousand pardons, lass. I didn't mean to startle you."

He stepped away from the bright sunshine into the shade.

Her finger touched her lips as she thought deeply. Muir sat quietly but his tail thumped in a wary recognition.

The face had grown more mature. He had an air of confidence but there was something...something there that reminded her of another time.

She said excitedly, "I can't believe it. I know you! We met before. You--you're Rhys Morgan!"

He looked at her quizzically. "We've met?"

She smiled broadly. "I see you got a new frock coat."

She glanced down and said, "Same boots but they are alot scuffier. I wonder if I would still look real piratey."

She reached over and took his cavalier hat off his head and perched it on her own.

Comprehension began to dawn on him. He grinned, "Now I remember! You were the little girl who stole my uncle's skiff when you took an unexpected dip into the sea! You and your dog! I should have at least recognized him!"

Rhiannon feigned a hurtful expression, "Well, that isn't very flattering! You would remember the dog but not the girl?"

He laughed, "Man's best friend, you know."

Muir came over to Rhys and gently put his muzzle into the man's hand. He pet him and said to the lass, "It's been a while since I rescued you, Miss.....? I'm sorry. I forgot your name."

"Miss Conaway."

"Ah, yes! Miss Conaway, nun in training!"

She closed her book with a definitive clap and said frostily, "I thought I made it clear that day that I was NOT a nun. I would never be a nun."

He bowed deeply. "I should feel for a young woman like you to take the veil would be a disservice to mankind. No, Miss Conaway, beautiful hair like yours should not be hidden under a wimple."

She looked out to the sea and murmured, "The first chance I get, Muir and I are out of here."

He motioned to the grass and asked, "May I?"

She nodded and he sat on the grass and patted the spot next to him. She tucked her skirts under her legs.

"I thought pirates never left the docks but here you are on the bluff. May I inquire what brings you up here?"

He laughed and said, "We DO like to lose our sea legs, you know. Land under our feet is a refreshing change."

"And what have you there?"

He withdrew a few sheets of paper and a stick of drawing charcoal. "I like to sketch. Does that surprise you?"

She said, "As a matter of fact, it does. From all the stories I heard as a child, all pirates did was plunder and drink rum. You are disillusioning me, sir!"

Rhys looked up at the sun and then back to her face. "This is fantastic light. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity."

"I don't understand..."

"Wait! Don't move! I need a model!"

She sat there for a half hour and when he was done, he handed her the sketch. It was a portrait of her looking towards the sea.

"This is wonderful! No one has ever done a portrait of me before!" she exclaimed.

Rhys put the charcoal in his pocket. She tried to hand it back to him but he shook his head. "No, that is for you."

She smiled radiantly at him and held it close to her heart. "No one has ever given me something so personal before. I shall cherish this forever!"

He laughed and then stood up. "I need to get back to my ship."

Rhys held out his hand and helped her up. She dusted off the back of her skirt and said, "I'd say Mother Superior has figured out where I am. We have finally come to a meeting of the minds. She lets me go and my father continues as the abbey's benefactor and--what did you say? YOUR ship?"

He grinned proudly and said, "Aye. My ship. My uncle Henry went on to bigger and better things."

"He didn't---"

"Oh, hell no! He's still alive. What I meant was that met up with a few friends and over a bottle of rum, they decided to form an organization of pi--privateers. We had taken a French frigate and Henry decided it was more fitting to his station to have a larger ship. Along with a new hat and lots of feathers. Dandy that he is!"

Her eyes glowed with a newfound fascination for the young man. "So--you are officially a pirate captain!"

He smiled and said, "That's a given fact. Say, would you like the grand tour, Miss Conaway?"

"Oooh, I would love it! But Muir would have to go with us. I never leave him behind."

"By all means, he is invited! After all, if it wasn't for him, you wouldn't have taken a swim in the briny deep and I may not have had the privilege of rescuing you."

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Rhys and Rhiannon walked down to where the skiff was tied up.

"Is that the same one?"

Rhys chuckled, "It so happens that one met with an unfortunate encounter with a shark. Bit it clean in two. This one is a bit more sturdy. May I?"

He held his hand out and she took it as he helped her into the skiff. Muir jumped in of his own accord.

Rhiannon sternly admonished, "Muir, you will SIT and not move."

He looked at her with baleful eyes and Rhys burst out laughing.

"I guess he won't be moving."

He picked up the oars and began rowing towards the Neptune Rising.

As they neared the ship, Rhys called out, "Dolan! Throw the ladder over!"

A rope ladder appeared and Rhys helped Rhiannon up and over the gunwale, then reached down for Muir.

Dolan did a double take. Rhys Morgan? Bringing a woman to the ship? He looked closer and relaxed. She was naught but a young girl. And with a dog even.

"Dolan? This is Miss Conaway and the esteemed pooch Muir."

Dolan touched his fingers to the brim of his tricorn and grinned. "Pleased t' meet ya, lass!"

She gave him a warm smile. "It is wonderful to get a tour of a real pirate ship, Mr. Dolan."

Rhys took her by the arm and said, "I'll take over now, Dolan."

The quartermaster grinned and said, "Aye, Captain."

Watching Rhys and Rhiannon head towards the different parts of the ship, Dolan saw the pride that Rhys had pointing out the various features of the brigantine.

"Wot ye make o' it, Dolan?" Carson the master gunner asked.

Dolan looked at the pair thoughtfully and then laughed. "Nothing, Carson. Ye know the cap'n. He always throws the little ones back. This be no exception."

Carson frowned, "Aye. If ye say so. Yet he ne'er brought one in fer th' grand tour before."

Dolan took a pipe out and lit it. "She just be a slip of a girl. The dog be the chaperone!"

They both laughed and resumed their work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"And this is the captain's quarters."

He opened the door to the room. It was small but a bit messy. A comfortable looking bed was pushed up against the bulkhead, the covers rumpled. The desk was covered with maps and charts, a quill was stuck in its inkwell. Rhiannon looked at the charts. She picked up one.

"What is this? It doesn't look like one of the sea with islands."

He looked over her shoulder. Suddenly she was aware of how close he was and how nice he smelled. A combination of the sea and leather.

He pointed to what looked like a circle with dots and lines radiating from the the center, bisecting each other.

"This is a map of the stars. See this over here?" He pointed to three stars in a row

She proudly said, "That is Orion's Belt. The stars are Rigel, Bellatrix and Betelgeuse."

He looked at her with amazement.

"Very good! And do you know what this cluster of stars is?"

She shook her head.

"That is the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. I was studying to be an astronomy cartographer at Cambridge."

She looked at him with a look of admiration.

"Cambridge! Rhys Morgan, you just may be the smartest pirate I have ever met!"

Within a half hour, Rhys and Rhiannon emerged from his cabin. Dolan raised his eyebrow and behind Rhiannon's back, Rhys drew his finger across his throat and the quartermaster could hardly contain his mirth.

"Dolan, I'll be back as soon as I take Miss Conaway back to her---where do I take you back to? It's getting late."

She laughed, "The bluff will be fine. Mr Dolan, it was a pleasure to meet you."

He nodded. "As it were fer me too, young miss."

Rhys couldn't help but hear the emphasis Dolan put on 'young miss'.

He helped her over the gunwale to the ladder along with her dog.

Before he threw his leg over the rail, he whispered, "Don't be thinking I am getting ideas, Dolan. She's pretty but young."

Dolan grinned and gave his captain a two finger salute.

'Ne'er brought one on board, Captain. Ne'er in all the times I have known ye.' he said to himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~

As Rhys helped her from the skiff, she gave him a smile.

"I had a wonderful afternoon, Captain Morgan. Thank you for the portrait!"

"Please. Call me Rhys. Will you be back here soon?"

She smiled and said, "I am usually here every Saturday. Perhaps I shall see you again?"

Rhys took her hand and kissed it. He replied, "I would dare say you can count on it, Miss Conaway."

Rhiannon's face blushed as she curtseyed. "It was a pleasure. The ship was beautiful--all that I hoped and knew it could be. And now I must get back before Mother Superior sends her snoopiest novitiate out here to look for me."

He removed his cavalier hat and swept into a bow.

"Till we meet again, Miss Conaway."

As she walked off, she looked over her shoulder and with a wink, she said, "Please. Call me Rhiannon."

And with that she disappeared down the stone path.

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Barbados--Summer, 1651

Jack impatiently paced the long grand foyer of the governor's mansion. The stuffy butler had made it clear that the governor was 'unaccustomed to receiving visitors without a proper appointment.' But an exception to that rule was easily purchased with a few Spanish escudos. What they didn't buy, apparently, was expedience. The otherwise infuriating delay gave Jack a chance to learn a little more about the England's newest representative in the Caribbean beyond what he'd found out after a few rounds at the tavern the previous night.

Symbols of the Commonwealth were strategically placed throughout the space, ensuring visitors were constantly reminded of the relatively new order of things. Governor Christopher Culley was determined to transform this far flung outpost into a right proper colony of England, starting with his own residence. If it weren't for the the steamy morning and scent of tropical flowers, one would think they were in London. Jack was becoming thoroughly tired of of having to look at the gaudy, inescapable seals of state. He had inherited a strong dislike of the Roundheads from his father, a talented shipwright and staunch Royalist. Normally, he couldn't be bothered with politics. Politicians were to be bought or gotten around, simple as that. Bored with pacing, Jack stopped in front of the seals and began picking at its gilding. Just as he thought. Nothing but worthless wood underneath. With any luck, Governor Culley would be equally lacking in substance.

The sound of someone loudly clearing their throat caught his attention. He turned to find the stuffy butler standing just outside the doorway of the governor's office.

"Governor Culley will see you now," the butler announced.

Jack briskly traversed the length of the hall and brushed past the manservant. "About bloody time," he grumbled.

Culley's chambers were opulent for those of an interim governor. This man clearly intended to stay in office, and thought himself sufficiently well connected to do so. Two large portraits, one of Culley and another of Oliver Cromwell, consumed one of the walls. Symbols of state and station were so garishly displayed that one might guess Culley was either wildly egotistical or putting on airs. Jack was betting on the latter.

"Governor Culley! Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I'm Captain Jack Wolfe..."

His voice trailed off when he realised the door hadn't been closed behind him. There stood the butler in the doorway, staring off into space.

"Pssst! Oi! You there!" Jack said in a hushed voice.

"I beg your pardon, sir. Is there something you require?" asked the butler.

"Yes," replied Jack. "Privacy. Shoo! Go... buttle something."

The butler gave him a sour look and closed the door. Jack turned his attention back to the governor.

"Herndon has been with my family for over twenty-five years, Captain Wolfe. Do show him some respect," said Culley.

"Twenty-five years, you say? And he still manages to get out of bed each morning and do it all again. Admirable. As I was saying, I'm captain of the ship El Lobo del Mar."

"Welcome to Barbados, Captain. And what may this future colony of England do for you?"

Jack smiled. "We'll get to that in a bit. What I'd like to talk about is what I can do for your colony."

"Really?" Culley asked with surprise. "Are you offering the services of your ship and crew for the colony's protection?"

"Oh, slow down there, mate," Jack laughed. "Nothing quite so honourable. You have a veritable flood of colonists coming in every month. That must put quite a strain on your warehouses, eh? And those new folk, they must be upset over the prices."

"It's true, the supply ships are rarely in step with the colony vessels. That is an economic reality every colony faces. Exactly what is it you're getting at, Captain Wolfe?"

"Right to the point. I like that," said Jack. "You have supply chain problems, and I have inventory that can be, one might say, difficult to move."

"This port is not open pirates, Captain. We're done here," Culley declared.

"Such a harsh word, 'pirate'. And we've only just met."

"And what would you call yourself?"

"'Visionary entrepreneur' has a nice sound to it."

"Even so, I cannot condone illegal activities in my jurisdiction."

"They're only illegal if you see them as such, Governor."

"The answer is still no, sir. Please leave."

Jack cocked an eyebrow. "Suit yourself, Governor. I'm sure your principles will keep you warm when they call you back to England because of all the colonist's complaints. Ta."

He walked to the door and began to turn the handle.

"Just a moment, Captain," Culley said quickly. Jack smiled to himself and turned back to face the governor. "Perhaps I was... rash, not to listen to your proposal."

"A wise man knows when to consider previously unexplored options. Here's what I envision. I bring in goods to your markets for a fair price, and in payment for the courtesy, you'll receive ten percent of the proceeds, and the pick of the luxury items as they're available."

Culley mulled Jack's words over for a bit.

"You're asking me to take a bribe to allow you to sell stolen goods in my colony."

"I'm offering to shore up your supply houses to supplement to your normal shipments. You'll receive a percentage as your fee for legally condemning our salvaged goods for sale. It's all perfectly legal, in that light."

Governor Culley leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his chest.

"You make a most compelling business offer, Captain Wolfe."

"I was going for irresistible, but compelling works."

"I like to know just who is using my port and why, so I had my people do some listening in the taverns. Your name kept popping up. I made a few inquiries. You have quite the reputation throughout the entire Caribbean."

"And a dubious one, no doubt," Jack offered with a disarming smile.

Culley chuckled, but held his air of authority. "You have a gift for understatement, Captain. If I were mad enough to consider this partnership, what assurances do I have that you'll honour any agreement we might make?"

"As dubious as my reputation may be, Governor, I understand the need for discretion. We have no written contract, so there is little that might be traced back to either of us. This is a gamble for me as well, as your reputation has no doubt been sanitized by your Roundhead friends. That's what my sources have found, at any rate."

Culley shifted uneasily in his seat. Indeed, he had been a miserable failure as a politician, but had gained critical alliances when he threw in with Cromwell's political machine.

"Go on," said Culley.

"I've arranged for a good faith gesture to arrive at your personal residence late this night. I promise that it will be done swiftly and unnoticed. If anything goes awry, you can deny any knowledge and we part company. Otherwise, I'll do what I do best, and you can polish your medals and sharpen your smile whilst you collect your percentage. Everyone benefits."

"Don't you think that a bit presumptuous? What if I say no?"

"Forgive me for getting ahead of myself, Governor. I am, above all, an optimist. I would be terribly disappointed if you were to decline, of course. But I am a good sport. If that is your choice, I'll leave your residence and go about my business, and never speak a word of our conversation. Though the merchants may sleep a little less easily over their shipments..."

Jack extended his hand. "So I ask you, Governor Culley; deal, or no deal?"

The governor weighed the options in his mind, including the thinly veiled threat against commerce in his waters. He stood and shook the pirate's hand.

"We have a contract, Captain Wolfe. Your goods are welcome here at equitable prices, and your prompt payment of all 'fees' will ensure a long and happy business relationship, as well as your continued enjoyment of the protection of my garrison and patrols."

Culley wasn't above making veiled threats, either.

"A pleasure doing business with you, Governor," Jack beamed.

He strolled out of the Governor's chamber and was met by Briggs at the foyer.

"Well, how'd it go? Are we in?" Briggs asked enthusiastically and a little too loud.

Jack grabbed him by the shirt collar and, without breaking smile nor stride, hustled the quartermaster past the stony-faced butler and out of the governor's residence.

"Your subtlety could use a bit of work, Josiah."

"Damn subtlety. What'd the stuffed shirt say?"

Jack patted the front of his frock coat. "Guess what I have in my pocket, old friend?"

"It ain't jinglin', so my guess would be a governor?"

The two men laughed heartily. "Nice and snug in there, he is," chuckled Jack. "Just as Bonita predicted. But I need him to really enjoy being there.

"What have ye got in mind? A few luxuries?"

"No, just one." Jack began walking down the street. "We need to stop and visit Madame Renee."

Briggs' eyes lit up. "I could use a bit of celebratin', after all this good news..."

"Not for you!" Jack laughed. "We need to arrange for the good governor's gift."

"Do ye think she'll go along with it?"

"Of course she will. I'm a stakeholder in her business. In the minority, but I can bargain the difference. One of her girls in the governor's bed is the governor in her pocket, as well. Besides, if it wasn't for me, she'd still be wiping tables and scrubbing floors at that tavern in Falmouth."

"Aye, she's come a long way since those days at the Dog and Doublet."

"Better name, too. No one would give a second thought to a madame named Pip Woolston from Cornwall."

"She's an exotic one, for such a plain name. And her new one, Madame Renee de Bertrand, it suits her. She even looks French..." said Briggs dreamily.

"Steady, Josiah. Keep your blood in one place, eh? Tomorrow, I need to go ahead with the purchase of those three warehouses."

Briggs snapped out of his reverie. "The ones on St. Michael Row? Consider it done, Jack."

"Good. You know what? I'm beginning to like Barbados."

"Just as long as ye don't become married to her."

"You know, Bonita said something very similar..."

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Wales---Late summer, 1651

The summer sun shone through the trees on the two girls sitting on the boulders by the stream. Their feet dangled in the cool water as they idly chatted.

"He sounds like a wonderful man but honestly, you are courting disaster, you know. If the Mother Superior finds out about it, she will send you packing so fast your head will swim!"

"Don't worry. It is all very innocent. We just meet on the bluffs. We sit and talk for hours. Athena, the extent of that man's knowledge knows no bounds! I've never met anyone as fascinating as him."

Athena looked askance at her.

"A month you have been meeting him. So, tell me the truth--how does he kiss?"

Rhiannon blushed and shrugged. "I couldn't say. He's been a perfect gentleman."

Athena looked at her friend with doubt on her face.

"Either you are lying--to me or to yourself--or he's got a passel of problems. Rhiannon, he's a pirate! They plunder and pillage and do a whole lot more than that! IF you know what I mean."

Rhiannon lifted her feet out of the cool water and dried them off with her skirt.

"He will be leaving in another month. And I shall miss him enormously. Unless I decide to stow away on his ship."

Athena looked incredulously at her friend. "Stow away? Now I know you have gone around the bend! You wouldn't last a week on a pirate ship. They would throw you overboard so fast your head would spin. Females are considered bad luck. And no pirate would take the chance of incurring the sea's wrath. Besides, your dog would be a dead giveaway!"

Athena was one of a rare breed of gypsy. Her family had stayed in one place in Wales. Her mother was the midwife and local herbalist that all came to for cures and remedies. Her father was renown throughout the countryside for his vast knowledge of horses. Many a Welsh farmer sought Gideon out if his horse was sick. It was said that if Gideon couldn't cure it, it couldn't be cured.

Meeting one day long ago when they both had ventured into the woods to pick blackberries, they discovered they were the same age. Even though cultures apart, the two struck up a fast friendship as girls the tender age of seven were apt to do. They met frequently to pick their berries and wildflowers. She found Athena to be fascinating with her knowledge of herbs and potions. She jingled when she walked. Her many gold and silver bracelets and colorful headscarves were the envy of her. Rhiannon would look down at her plain grey dress the sisters made her wear and sigh. Oh, to dress like Athena in many colours and silks! What a contrast the two girls were as they grew towards womanhood! Athena with her beautiful dark brown eyes and curling dark hair, Rhiannon with her long light blonde hair and blue-green eyes. Fpr ten years they had been best friends, realizing even though they were from different worlds, they really were not so different.

"So...you are meeting him again today?"

"Yes. He said he had a surprised for me so I have to look my best."

'A surprise, huh?" Athena was dubious."What kind of surprise?"

"Athena, if I knew it wouldn't be a...ah! Right where I left it!"

She pulled a cloth bag from behind the log and shook some fabric out. Rhiannon held up a dress of butter yellow for Athena to admire.

"Oooh, I love it! And how did you procure THIS dress, may I ask?"

Rhiannon unbuttoned the dress from the abbey and stepped out of it.

"My sister Megan was here to see me last week and she slipped a package to me while the Mother Superior was tending to some abbey matters. Megan just got married last year, you know. Daffyd Llewellyn of Bancroft Hall. I've never seen Megan so radiant. They just had a baby in May. Anyways, Megan told me she was tired of seeing me in drab grey and I deserved a new dress so...here it is!"

She pulled it over her head and shimmied into it. When it was situated, Rhiannon drew the lacings tight, stuffing and fluffing herself.

Athena's dark eyebrows furrowed over her beautiful dark eyes. "I still say you are courting disaster! I really would hate to lose you, Rhiannon. You have been my best friend."

Rhiannon said, "Well, Mother Superior WON'T find out, will she? Now....help me with tighten the laces just once more. I need to look positively smashing for Rhys!"

Rhiannon pinched her cheeks and bit her lips to redden them. Athena shook her head and said, "You Welsh girls! Why not use berries? Here..."

She picked up a raspberry and crushed it. "A little here...some here...NOW! Go meet the young pirate that has captured your heart and tell me all about the surprise next week!"

She hugged her friend and said, "That I shall! Anon, Athena!"

She turned and waved goodbye. Athena watched her go and murmured in Romani, "God help you, my friend."

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Rhiannon sat on the grass of the bluffs, waiting for him to show. She inhaled deeply the heady smells of a late summer afternoon. All of a sudden, a pair of hands covered her eyes. She gave a sharp intake of breath when a low, gentle voice whispered, "Guess who!"

He took his hands away and she turned to peer into a face she was beginning to realize that she loved.

"Rhys!"

He laughed and said, "Rhiannon, we have been meeting here for two months now. I would have been disappointed if you had said another. So...where is Muir?"

She laughed and said, "He was busy gnawing on a bone and so I decided to leave him back at the abbey. Sister Mary Margaret--or is it Margaret Mary? I forget--said he could keep her company."

He held something behind his back.

"So..is that the surprise you have for me?"

He nodded and said, "Close your eyes and hold out your hands."

She did as he told but she couldn't help the smile on her face.

"Oh! OH! How wonderful!"

In her hands were a pair of beautiful black calfskin boots. He grinned, "I take it you like them?"

"I love them!"

She already had her shoes off and was pulling the boots on.

He sat next to her and said, "They are from the finest bootmaker in London."

Rhiannon stood up and put her foot out to admire them, her eyes shining.

He laughed and said, "What was it you asked me once? 'Do I look real---piratey?' Was that the word?"

She smiled, "You remembered?"

"Miss Conaway, even at the age of ten you were hard to forget!"

She hugged him and said, "I shall never take them off!"

He offered his arm to her which she willingly took. "Let's take a walk along the shore."

She smiled happily at him and said, "You know how I love the sea."

He looked down. "I highly recommend that you put those boots back in the bag. They aren't waterproofed yet."

As they walked, Rhiannon stopped occasionally to pick up a few shells, her bare feet feeling the warmth of the sand between her toes. Rhys' eyes scanned the skies. Dark clouds were building.

"Looks like we may be in for a storm. Are you ready to head back to the bluffs?"

She said reluctantly, "I suppose it would be the wise thing to do."

They headed back in silence. Rhys looked up at the sky again. "Winds out of the west, we are getting that storm. That's what we get for taking the shoreline."

She said, "Think we can outrun it?"

"We can try."

As they walked briskly back, Rhys finally said, "I don't think this is going to work."

The raindrops started coming down. Lightly at first but heavier. The thunder began and flashes of lightning played out. He shouted over the rumbling, "The caves along the coast--let's take shelter."

He grabbed her hand and led the way as they ran across the sands and into a cave that was deep enough to provide shelter.

"I don't think I have ever been so wet in my life!" she said as she shook the water off her hands and wrung her hair out.

Rhys laughed, "Except for the time you took the dip in the brine when the skiff overturned."

"You will never let me live that down, will you?"

He looked at her and said, "No. Because if not for that, I never would have met that charming little lass."

She peered outside and said, "It only seems to be coming down heavier."

He sat down and took his boots off. "Oh bother! These may never be the same. She sat next to him. "Think the storm will let up?"

"Who can say?"

"Where are we?'

"Cliffs and caves along this coast that has been a drop-off point for smuggling operations."

"How do you know that?"

He just shrugged. "I just know."

"I think this land belongs to Lord Madoc Castlemaine."

"How do you know?"

"His land joins my father's along the shore up to where that rock juts out by the bluff."

"Wait a minute. You are Lord Conaway's daughter?"

She nodded, looking at him quizzically. "You didn't know?"

Rhys shook his head. "I never connected it with the manor over there. I presumed you were..."

His voice trailed off. Rhiannon said softly, "A homeless waif the sisters took in?"

"I just didn't think...."

"It's alright, Rhys. I do get to go home around Michaelmas for a few days."

"Did you ever...explore...the lands and caves of your father's?"

She shook her head and he breathed a quick sigh of relief.

He took off his shirt and held it up. "I hope this dries out soon."

She looked down at her yellow dress. "And this was a brand new dress, too!"

Rhys pushed her hair back out of her eyes and said, "It was very fetching on you."

She felt a blush on her cheeks. It always felt like that when Rhys complimented her.

But this was somehow different. She could feel a heat rising in her face.

He asked softly, "How old are you really, Rhiannon?"

She replied, "I turned seventeen in April."

A voice in the back of his mind whispered, 'Are you insane, Rhys Morgan?'

He reached up and caressed her cheek. She closed her eyes at the softness of his touch. When she opened her eyes, she saw a look in Rhys' eyes that she had never seen before. Tenderness, yes.

But something else.

A spark that could lead to a flame. And that would lead to an inferno Rhiannon had no desire to put out.

She gently touched his hand and brought it down to her bodice lacings.

"Rhiannon.....are you sure?"

She put her arms around his neck and whispered, "Yes, Rhys. I am sure."

That afternoon, as the storm raged outside the cave, they ceased to be pirate and lass but became man and woman.

Rhys changed her life and there was no going back.

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Cruising Off Barbados -- Early Autumn, 1651

A sultry tropical wind carried El Lobo along that morning as they hunted the heavily travelled waters between Barbados and Tobago. Jack drank in the clear sea air as the sunlight warmed his face. He yawned and stretched, then sleepily climbed the steps to the "holy ground" of the quarterdeck. Briggs, ever the early riser, was conning the helm in his captain's stead whilst enjoying a cup of what he referred to as "fortified" coffee.

"Good morning, Josiah," said Jack. "How's the coffee?"

"Terrible as usual, 'til ye sets it to rights," the quartermaster replied, tapping the binnacle with the toe of his shoe. In addition to the ship's compass and various navigational instruments, it housed a rather large bottle of rum. Oddly enough, neither man could recall ever seeing it full, though they were the only two to partake of it.

"One of these days we'll press a decent cook, I swear." Jack looked out over the main deck of his ship, when his eyes were drawn to the figure of a woman who was undeniably the most enigmatic member of his crew. No small feat in a world where keeping one's past a secret was the norm. He leaned against the railing as the willowy, dusky-skinned woman sat down on the deck near the ship's waist, facing the bow. The rest of the crew were used to her presence and early morning rituals, but they kept a respectable distance nonetheless.

"I'd be a fool to venture a guess as to what she's up to today," Briggs muttered. "Here. Have some coffee whilst ye take in the show." He handed Jack a large cup which, to Jack's surprise, contained straight rum.

"Just the way I like my morning cup; untainted by coffee. There's a good man," he said approvingly. "Now, let's have a closer look at dear Bonita's latest undertaking."

Bonita le Mystère the last name was give her by the crew, since she had never revealed her real last name, if she had one was seated, her waist-length dreadlocks spilling onto the deck around her. She had encircled herself with a ring of salt, as those who were wont to magical ceremonies would tend to protect themselves. As Jack approached, he noticed a small canvas sack beside her, along with a formidable looking bronze knife. He started to speak, but his words evaporated when the sack seemed to move on it's own.

"Careful where you step, Jack," she admonished in her thick Creole accent. "Do not break Bonita's circle wit' you clumsy feet. You wish for answers, den ask de questions, as always."

Jack took a gulp of rum and cleared his throat, then slowly stepped around in front of her. Unlike Briggs, he wasn't distrustful or suspicious of Bonita and her Obeah religious practices. Far from it. In the two years they'd known one another, she had become his closest confidant and advisor. So close, in fact, that rumours persisted that she was much more than Jack's 'good luck charm'. But there were aspects of her abilities his rational mind couldn't explain, so he never failed to show what he hoped was appropriate respect.

"The circle of salt, I understand," Jack said. "But I haven't quite sussed out the blade or that..." Something in the canvas sack jumped and squeaked. "... that wriggly bag of yours."

Bonita laughed quietly as she loosened the string holding the sack shut. "A mystery revealed, just for you," she said, and thrust her hand into the mouth of the bag. After a few moments, she produced a small lizard about eight inches long from its snout to the tip of its tail. She quickly grabbed the bag's string with her teeth and pulled it snug.

"A gecko!" said Jack. "I'd recognise those annoying little beasties anywhere. Always getting into and behind things they oughtn't. So, how does this aggrandized salamander fit in?"

She looked up at him with her dark eyes and smiled. "A simple question deserve a simple answer," she said. With that, she pinned the gecko against the deck and lopped it's head off with the knife. The body wriggled for a few seconds, then fell still. She set the carcass aside and tossed the head overboard.

Jack stared at Bonita for several seconds, completely astonished. "I suppose I should have seen that coming," he said.

"De bodies Bonita use to make many t'ings. Medicines, tonics..."

"Potions and talismans?" he mused. "And their wee heads don't count for much?"

"Many t'ings," she repeated slowly. "De heads, dey only make silly noises."

"Speaking of the heads that make silly noises," Jack said, "you're certain that Governor Culley will keep his end of the agreement?"

"De meeting went jus' as Bonita said that it would, yes?" she asked.

"Yes, nearly word for word," he said, dodging another airborne gecko head. Soon he found himself held by her gaze.

"An' de gift? Culley found her pleasant company, yes?"

"Enthusiastically so, according to Renee."

"Him know de answer, yet dis bring Jack Wolfe no peace to him troubled mind," she sighed. Her blade flashed again in the sunlight.

"Occupational hazard, darling. Worry is part of the job. All I'm asking is for you to read the cards for me again. Just to be sure, yeah?"

Bonita quickly finished off the last lizard and stuffed their carcasses into the sack. She stood and swept away the salt circle with her bare feet, then turned back to face Jack. She stepped close to him, and whispered huskily in his ear.

"Your quarters, after sunset."

She looked at Jack with an odd tilt of her head, her piercing dark eyes searching his. After a few moments, she turned and went below.

What he didn't tell her was that, despite her sight, despite her assurances, he couldn't shake the feeling that things wouldn't go as planned this time.

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Wales--Autumn, 1651

Rhiannon slipped outside in the early morning mist. She had taken a bottle from Mother Superior's secret stash of her best claret and two goblets. She wrapped her cloak around her and hid the bottle underneath. As always, she hurried down the path. Rhys was waiting for her in the cave. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. He had a candle lit and stuck in an upturned shell. She laughed and produced the claret. Rhys poured them each a glass.

"I must say, you are full of surprises, Rhiannon."

She put her arms around him, being careful not to spill the wine. "No, my darling. Just a woman in love."

He gently disentangled her arms and held her hands at her wrists. "Rhiannon, I have to go leave in two day's time."

"What?"

"The Neptune Rising is ready to sail. I have to make one more run but I shall be back for you."

Rhiannon lifted her head up.

"Take me with you, Rhys! Please! I can't bear to be apart from you another day! I am so afraid Mother Superior is starting to suspect things are not as they should be. I think I am being followed. Mother Superior isn't above having one of her lackeys--commonly known as a novitiate--do her spying for her."

He slipped her chemise down and kissed her shoulder. "Now, how would that be, a fine upstanding lass as yourself running off with a pirate? I swear, I will quit this life and come back respectable and shall ask for your hand proper. And then go back to Cambridge to finish my abandoned course of studies as an astronomy cartographer."

Rhiannon looked deeply into his eyes. "My father will never---NEVER!--give his consent, Rhys. You are a pirate! Your kind has left their booty in his caves and used them for smuggling. I have a bad feeling he knows about the booty stored there. He tries to ignore it because he fears repercussions. But he hates you all the same."

"I'll only be gone a couple months. I'll be back no later than December. I have to go to Barbados. There is an operation going on down there. I have a partner. And he is getting it started in Castara. I have to deliver the news to him that I am quitting the life and becoming a respectable member of society."

"Can't you just send him a letter?"

Rhys shook his head. "He's not the kind of man you send a letter to tell bad news to. I know him. He will try to talk me out of it but we need to square it all away. Papers need to be signed. I'm giving up my share of the company. It needs to be done according to the Code."

"What code?"

Rhys spread the blankets out on the floor of the cave. "It's more like Jack's own code. And I owe it to him. I can't really explain."

She pouted, "I don't think I like this Jack person. He's taking you away from me."

Rhys laughed as he took the ribbon out of her hair. "This it is fortunate that the two of you shall never meet!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She laid her head on Rhys' chest, listening to his heart beat. He gently caressed her back.

"Rhys, I thought of a way for you to let me know you are back."

"How, love?"

"My friend Athena."

"The gysy girl I met last week?"

Rhiannon nodded. "She lives about a mile from St Brigid's. Her father stops regularly to check on the horses. At least once a week. Athena sometimes comes with him and supplies the sacramental wine from her mother's vineyard. How else do you think I knew about Mother Superior's proclivity for red wine? Anyways, Athena lives in that stone cottage over by the edge of the woods."

"The one with the pink roses growing up the side?"

"That's the one. I can't slip away during the week to the bluffs. And you certainly can't come into the convent. But Athena can. She can get word to me and I can be packed and ready to leave by nightfall."

"It sounds plausible. Will she do it?"

"Athena has been telling me for years I need to get away from this place. And she knows I love you. So, yes, she will do it. Get word to Athena and she can get word to me."

He stroked the hair back from her face and told her, "I have something for you. Close your eyes, love."

She did and Rhys slipped a ring on her finger. He said, "It has been in my family for generations. Solid gold. Supposedly belonged to Owain Gruffydd. King of Wales in the time of Henry the Second. Of whom I am descended. Owain, not Henry."

Rhiannon's eyes shone as he slipped it on to her finger. She kissed him gently.

"I shall wear it forever."

Rhys laughed, "It is what I call a promise ring. Look inside. What does it say?"

She took it off her finger and said, "The writing is so tiny.. it says, 'wa--wait--wait for me."

Rhys said, "I had it inscribed. It is a symbol that I will come back to you. I promise, Rhiannon, I will come back for you."

She said softly, "You always kept your word to me, Rhys. And you will. You will come back."

It was growing late in the day. Rhys stood up and reached for his breeches. Rhiannon tried to be brave.

"This is it, isn't it, Rhys?"

He said, "Yes. I am leaving at daybreak. I have to check the supplies. I swear, I shall be back no later than the end of December."

Tears were beginning to spill down Rhiannon's cheeks. "Rhys, why can't you take me with you?"

"We've been over this, Rhiannon. I have a few things to straighten out. It's not like I can just bring you aboard the ship. The men are expecting to do a bit of privateering on our way back to the Caribbean."

Rhys reached into his sketch box and pulled out a paper. He handed it to Rhiannon.

"Here. I sketched Muir and you sitting on the cliffs."

She looked at it through her tears. "Oh, Rhys! Look at the details! You are a world class artist!"

Rhys said modestly, 'It wasn't hard. The subjects were fascinating!"

He put his shirt on and reached for his boots. Rhiannon turned her head so he wouldn't see the misery on her face.

He sat next to her and cupped her face in his hands. "Don't cry, my love. I shall be back. And we have a wonderful life ahead of us! Be brave. And keep this close to your heart. The knowledge that I love you."

She closed her eyes, the tears on her lashes and threatening to spill over. Her mouth trembled but she bravely nodded and barely whispered, "I know."

Rhys walked to the entrance of the cave and looked back just once at her with a face that reflected his love for her. He couldn't bear it any longer and squared his shoulders and walked out of the cave.

Rhiannon pressed her face into the blankets and cried as if her heart were breaking in two.

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St. Lawrence, Barbados – Early Winter, 1651

El Lobo del Mar was back in port after an incredibly successful ten day cruise. Seven prizes of various types and wealth taken, including an overripe French merchantman that had wandered off course en route to Martinique after a sudden squall disabled her rudder. Jack had ordered his crew to repair the French ship, and invited their captain, quartermaster, and other senior officers over to El Lobo for a celebration in their honour. In gratitude for their salvation, the Frenchmen brought several gifts, including bottles of absinthe, which Jack was all too happy to share with them. The party rolled well into the evening, the liquor flowing freely until the French contingent had passed out. The following morning, they found themselves prisoners of the infamous pirate, Mad Jack Wolfe. Once the French ship was repaired and “lightened of her burden, so as to speed her way homeward,” as Jack recorded in his journal, the prisoners were released to their ship and sent on their way unharmed.

But the sweetest prize taken on this cruise, the one Jack was most proud of, carried no silks or luxuries. Not even that much wine to speak of. It carried gold. Box after box of Spanish gold coins. The military payroll for the garrisons under command of one Colonel Diego Mendoza y Castille. Half a year's salaries for 2,500 underpaid and unhappy men, already well overdue, had fallen into the eager hands of pirates. And it all happened as Bonita had foreseen.

“Are you certain?” Jack asked the night of her revelation about the approaching Spanish vessel. “It's his? Not that I care one way or the other, but it would be so much sweeter!”

Bonita looked at Jack as she scooped up the tools of her trade. “De bones not lie, but him know dis to be true.”

“I know,” he said with a gratified smile. “You're never wrong. I simply cannot believe my luck at times.”

“Some t'ings are luck. Ot'ers are somet'ing different.”

“Different, as in...?”

“Some t'ings are destiny.”

Jack picked up the bottle of rum that sat at one end of the table and laughed.

“There are a lot of things I believe in, Bonita.” He took a long drink from the bottle and handed it to her. “Destiny isn't one of them.”

“De great Jack Wolfe, him make him own way in de world? Everyt'ing bend to him will?”

“Not everything. Just the important bits,” he smiled. “Though I couldn't make it happen without you. To be able to peer into the inner machinations of the Universe and see how things move together... I am envious of you at times.”

“Dere are t'ings dat even Bonita cannot see, Jack. An' some t'ings we should never see.”

“Really? There are actually things even you can't see?” He folded his arms and leaned against the table with a look of insatiable curiosity. “Like what? Do tell!”

Bonita took another healthy swig of rum and passed the bottle back.

“Like Jack Wolfe himself.”

“What?” he asked, dumbfounded.

She shook her head. “Him stay always hidden from Bonita, just out of sight. Him, and dey who are closest to him.” Bonita caressed his face gently. “Which is why Bonita keep him close, all de time.”

“I never knew. How come you've never told me this before?”

“Him never ask,” she said with a smile that he was sure concealed more, but gave no hint as to what or how to ask for it. That was always Bonita's way.

Now, every last real taken from the Spanish vessel was being spent like water in every tavern, brothel, and back alley in St. Lawrence by Jack and his crew. One tavern in particular, the Elephant, was the noisiest of them all. This was the favourite haunt of the El Lobo crew, and they had been partying almost nonstop for the past three days since returning to port. Suddenly, a pistol shot rang out, and every head in the tavern turned to see where it came from. When they saw who fired the shot, a raucous cheer went up almost immediately. There, standing on a table in the middle of the common room was Jack, the still smoking pistol held above his head. He was grinning, his eyes wild and full of drunkenly gleeful mischief.

“How are we doin' tonight, gentlemen?” he asked loudly.

Another loud cheer went up.

“Still got plenty of money?”

This time the cheer was nowhere as loud, and punctuated with laughter.

“What are ya, pirates, or bankers?” he chided. “Spend it up, boys! There's more to be had out there, and we're gonna take it all!”

The men cheered louder than ever, and the women showed renewed interest in them without hesitation.

“Two days! Hold on, hold on!” Jack shouted over the din. “Two days, we set sail again. So don't go getting' yourselves killed, or worse, married!!

One cheeky tar in front of Jack's table comically took off his cap and went down on one knee before the doxy he'd been chatting up. Jack gave the display a mock look of disapproval, and poured his ale over the man's head. The whole tavern erupted in laughter.

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“Saved him in the nick of time, I did!” proclaimed Jack, and he hopped down from his makeshift stage. He grabbed another ale from the tray of a passing barmaid and gave her a wink as he laid down too many coins in payment. She gave him a smile that fell somewhere between gratitude and amorous interest before going on her way.

Jack sat back down and surveyed the tavern, smiling at his men as they continued their revels. He was on his own that night, which was unusual. Normally Briggs would be at his side, but the quartermaster had drunk far too much the night before and was in no mood or condition to be drinking again so soon. Jack took a long drink from his mug and stretched lazily.

“God, it's good to be me!” he said aloud to no one in particular. He was rewarded with the sensation of a woman's slender hands on his shoulders.

“I can think of so many ways it could be even better to be you,” she said in his ear huskily, with a heavy Spanish accent and a voice like velvet that made all the nerves down his spine tingle with electricity.

Jack's eyes grew wide when the mystery woman slid into the seat beside him. He stared for a moment, unable to believe his eyes.

“Mercedes? Is that you?”

The raven-haired beauty gave an amused smile and shook her head. “No, señor. My name is Rebeca. But I could be Mercedes, if that's what you want. And who are you, besides a man who is very happy with life?”

“Jack. Captain Jack Wolfe. No, Rebeca suits you just fine. It's that you're the spitting image of someone I knew a very long time ago.”

Indeed, Rebeca looked remarkably like Mercedes Mendoza, the noble woman Jack had a one-night tryst with in Havana a few years before. The same jet black hair, the same dusky complexion, the same hauntingly lovely eyes. At least that's what the abundance of alcohol in Jack's belly had tried to convince him. He shook his head and laughed. Of course it wasn't Mercedes. Lighting doesn't strike twice.

“This Mercedes, she was a lover of yours?” Rebeca asked as she toyed with her hair.

“For a night. You might say she deepened my appreciation for Latin women.”

She tilted her head and smiled knowingly. “Such romances are best, I think. Fewer complications, more variety.”

“I like the way you think, Rebeca.”

“I hope you are interested in more than my mind, Jack.”

He found himself becoming lost in her smouldering eyes. “Oh, most certainly. I can see you're a woman with a lot to offer.”

“And I'm guessing you are a man with a lot to give,” she said, running her finger up and down his forearm.

“Shall we go upstairs to your and find out?”

Rebeca shook her head. “I do not have a room here. But if you are willing, you may follow me back to my room at the Red Bulldog. It is only a couple streets over. And the bed is very large.”

Jack smiled in anticipation and kissed her hand. “The night air will do me good. Please, lead the way!”

Jack and Rebeca left the tavern together and began walking down the street. She held onto Jack's arm, partly to steady the very drunk man. The sounds of the tavern died as they turned the corner. Once they reached the middle of the next block, Rebeca began looking around them, as if searching for someone.

“Who are you looking for?” Jack slurred. “There's nobody out but us! I think they're resting up for church tomorrow, that's what I think. Is today Saturday, or Wednesday?”

“All this talk of church, and we have not even sinned yet!” she laughed. “Here, we can save time if we take this alley.”

“Oh, I like the sound of that!” said Jack. “It's a good thing I'm with you. Alleys can be dangerous places, especially for beautiful women like yourself.”

“I am very good at taking care of myself.”

“I'm sure you are, darling. But I can't help but wonder how you'll take care of me?” he laughed.

“You're about to find out, my friend,” she said, her voice unexpectedly grave.

The alleys that ran between the buildings of St. Lawrence were like a second set of streets, allowing deliveries to be made behind each house and business. For convenience, there intersecting alleys that allowed carts to easily reach their destination without having to go to the end of a block or wait for another cart to move. Rebeca stopped at one of these intersections, their surrounding illuminated only by pale moonlight. Jack took a more couple drunken steps, then turned to look at her quizzically.

“Why'd you stop?” he asked. “You're not lost, are you?”

“I am sorry, Jack,” said Rebeca, her voice filled with regret. “I actually liked you.” She backed away from him and into the shadows. “¡Éste es el hombre que Mendoza quiere!” she said loudly before turning to run back down the way they came.

Jack stood there for a moment, confused, trying to parse out what Rebeca had said.

“Wait!” he called to her. “What do you mean, I'm the one Mendoza wants....?” His voice trailed off as the realisation set in. “Mendoza? Oh, no... no, no, NO! You set me up!!”

Jack began looking around wildly, and it seemed as if the very shadows themselves were stirring to life and moving toward him. His heart pounded in his ears like the drums of war. He tried desperately to figure out just how many men there were and where they were coming from, and he began moving backwards away from the intersection. The heavy fog of alcohol made it hard for him to think. There had to be a way out. There was always a way out...

Two large hands grabbed him by the shoulders from behind and spun him headlong into the wall. Jack's head rebounded off the bricks, and he saw stars for a moment. He grabbed for his pistol and drew it. If he could get off one shot, one lucky shot, maybe it could buy him enough time to get away, or at least stay alive a little while longer. Gritting his teeth, he spun around and raised his pistol. A heavy fist slammed into his jaw, and Jack Wolfe's world faded into sickening blackness.

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A familiar sound teased Jack's ears as he slowly regained consciousness. Familiar, but not right. Not as he remembered it should be.

Creaking.

The creaking of a ship's timbers as she moved through the waves. But the sound was all wrong. Unfamiliar. Now he noticed the rocking of the vessel. Definitely a good sized ship. But even that felt wrong. The pitch and roll weren't as he knew they should be. He paid attention to how much she rolled from side to side and how long it took. This ship sat higher in the water, and her hull was shorter in length but wider at the beam. He was aboard a ship at sea, but it wasn't his ship. Not his cherished El Lobo del Mar. Where was he, and where were they taking him? He slowly opened his eyes. It was dark, save for the feeble light of a single oil lamp. At least he assumed it was an oil lamp. Everything was blurry. His eyes refused to focus on his dimly lit surroundings. He gave up for the moment and closed his eyes again.

Thoughts were moving in Jack's head like they were being dragged through molasses. He tried to focus, but concentration was terribly difficult. This wasn't a hangover. He'd had plenty of those in his life, and they never felt like this.

Drugged. That had to be it, he reasoned. Jack's limbs felt like lead weights. Nothing wanted to respond, at least not as fast as he wanted them to. Best to keep still and save energy for now.

Fractured bits of memories came slowly drifting back to Jack's mind. The tavern. The girl. The dark alley. Someone had attacked him.

Why?

All right, it's not like I don't have a few enemies and rivals, he thought. But who?

Then he remembered the name the girl had spoken.

Mendoza.

The girl had called out to whoever had knocked Jack out and brought him aboard this ship. He'd heard rumours that Mendoza had put a price on his head, but nothing specific. So much money for his head, more for his dead body, and substantially more if he were alive. If that was the case, his captors were going for the full payoff. Jack remembered what Rhys Morgan had told him about Mendoza's preference for having captives brought before him for torture and eventual execution when they were no longer amusing. Between his little tryst with Diego's wife Mercedes and the myriad other ways Jack had found to embarrass or humiliate the Colonel, he knew he'd get the deluxe treatment. Diego Mendoza was a career sadist and murderer, and he had no intention of becoming the Spaniard's next plaything.

Escape.

There had to be a way out. There's always a way out, Jack reminded himself. Granted, the mantra hadn't helped much in that St. Lawrence alley, but this would be different. He was sure of it.

Get out of whatever cabin he was in, find weapons, stay in the shadows, and steal a ship's boat. Try not to get captured or killed in the process. Simple enough. Even if he couldn't steal a boat, he could get off the ship and deny Mendoza his prize. Dead was dead, but Jack wanted it on his own terms if it came to that.

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He lifted his head, pausing to wait out the ensuing wave of nausea. When the spinning sensation stopped, he opened his eyes again and looked around the room. Slowly, his surroundings came into focus. Jack was in a small cabin. Not the surgery as he suspected, but a regular cabin like what would belong to a quartermaster or first mate. He took some satisfaction that his incarceration was an inconvenience for someone, and that they valued him enough not to chain him in the bilges. There was a small table with a chair against the opposite wall from the bed. On the table were what looked like a couple of apothecary bottles and a wooden bowl. An oil lantern hung from the ceiling, swaying with the movements of the ship. He quickly looked away from the lantern as nausea threatened a thunderous return. There was a crucifix on the bulkhead above the desk, with a rosary hung like a swag underneath. That clinched it. A Spanish ship, belonging either to Spanish bounty hunters or Mendoza himself.

Jack sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. To his relief, there were no restraints. Apparently they planned to keep him too drugged to be concerned with him mounting an escape. He steadied himself, then attempted to stand. Jack's knees buckled, but he caught himself on the side of the bed without making much noise. All right, no making a run for it, he thought. He slowly got back to his feet and made a few halting steps to the table where he was able to brace himself again. There was an almost clear liquid in the bowl beside the apothecary bottles. He picked it up and smelled it. His nose wrinkled at the sour smell of rancid water. Wherever his captors were from, they didn't waste time resupplying in St. Lawrence. He dipped a finger in the water and tasted it. No hint of anything but water from what he could tell. Despite the horrid taste, the water felt good in his mouth. He was parched dry and his tongue felt thick, no doubt from whatever drugs they used on him. Jack sighed as he held his nose and lifted the bowl to his lips. The water tasted terrible, but not the worst he'd ever been forced to drink. It eased the sandpaper feel of his throat and helped to clear his head a little.

He set the bowl down quietly and turned his attention to the three apothecary bottles. Two of them had labels too badly smeared for his blurry vision to make out. One of the smudged ones looked like it might have been labelled heroína, a word he was unfamiliar with, but it was hard to tell. The third bottle was clear enough to read. It contained a dark liquid and was marked láudano, Spanish for laudanum. A preparation of opium, a powerful narcotic, and alcohol in the form of liquor. So that's what they'd been using to keep him unconscious and under control, along with whatever was in the other bottles. Obviously whoever made the tincture knew what they were doing, or Jack quite easily would be dead if they didn't. More evidence that these were Mendoza's men. Your average bounty hunter wouldn't be so careful.

As Jack looked at the bottle, he felt himself growing angrier by the second. How dare Mendoza kidnap him and keep him in a drug induced stupor! If it's war Mendoza wanted, he had gotten his wish. Jack had been toying with him all this time. No more.

“All right, cool down, Jack,” he muttered to himself. “Escape first, revenge later. Anger makes you sloppy.”

He went to place the laudanum bottle back on the desk, once again trying to do so as quietly as possible without alerting anyone guarding the room that he was awake and moving about. As he did so, the ship pitched unexpectedly, and he knocked over one of the other bottles. Its glass plug popped free, skittered across the deck, and struck the bulkhead just to one side of the door with a bang. Jack left the laudanum on the table and tried to get back on the bed as quickly as possible before anyone discovered him awake. He had one hand on the bed when the cabin door opened. The guard's eyes went wide when he saw Jack looking back at him. The man was wearing a yellow and red tunic, black pants, and black boots. He was definitely Spanish, and definitely displeased.

“Bollocks!” said Jack dejectedly.

“¡Está despierto! ¡Ayuda venida!” the soldier called to his comrades as he charged.

Jack grabbed the crucifix from the wall and drew back to swing it like a hammer, but the soldier was on him too quickly and slammed him against the wall. The crucifix went flying from Jack's hand. His only weapon was gone. The next thing he knew, he was pinned down on the bed. The drugs had left him too weak to effectively fight back, but he tried anyway. A second soldier entered the room, leaving another soldier outside. The two men spoke heatedly in Spanish as Jack continued to struggle. The second man picked up one of the bottles as they talked.

“Hold him down!” he ordered.

“I'm trying! Hurry up! I don't know how much long I can hold him!” snapped the first.

The second uncorked the bottle in his hand. It was the laudanum again. “All right, I'm coming! Get his mouth open.”

The first soldier pinned Jack's arms against the bed with his knees, and grabbed Jack's face to force open his mouth. Jack responded by drawing up his knees fast and hard into the soldier's kidneys. The man hollowed in pain, and repaid Jack with a hard right cross to the jaw. Jack tried to clench his jaws after the blow, but the second man grabbed Jack's face under the jaw and used his powerful fingers to force Jack's mouth to stay open. The man poured the dark liquid into Jack's mouth and forced it shut. Jack struggled, refusing to swallow. The soldier responded by grabbing Jack's nose and pinching it closed.

“Quit squirming and swallow it, pendejo!” the first soldier growled.

Finally, Jack's lungs began to burn for lack of air, and he involuntarily swallowed the drug. The second man released his nose, but wisely held on to keep Jack's mouth closed. Jack stared with hatred at the two men, who leered back at him in triumph. The urge to fight began to drain from him, and he could feel his muscles relax. He tried to will his body to fight off the narcotic, but it was no use. Everything before him started blur and fade.

Even the laughter of the soldiers seemed to fall away into nothingness...

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Josiah Briggs sat at the table of El Lobo's great cabin - Jack's personal quarters - with his head in his hands. He was staring at maps of Barbados and its two major towns, Bridgetown and St. Lawrence. Frustration and worry furrowed his brow. Jack had been missing for over a week, and there was still no sign of him. It was as if he had vanished off the face of the earth. The only clue they had was that he had left the Elephant tavern with a beautiful young woman, a striking Spanish lass. No one thought it unusual for Jack Wolfe to take up with a woman he had just met, and Briggs waited the requisite three days before bothering to look for him. The quartermaster cursed himself for not following his gut and mounting a search much earlier.

Jack had intended to sail in two days when he had gone missing, and even he was disciplined enough be back aboard his own ship on the appointed date to sail. Josiah had fully expected to see Jack that morning, sauntering up the dock with a smile on his face and not a penny in his pocket. But he never showed, and the usual tour of the taverns proved fruitless. Now Briggs had every available crewman dispersed across the island, tearing it apart in search of El Lobo's missing master.

There was a soft knock at the door, followed by the creaking of its hinges. Briggs didn't bother to look up.

"Aye, what have ye got?" His voice was weary from the nonstop stream of disheartening news.

"Just 'eard from 'ornsby an' 'is men in Bridgetown, Cap'n," said the crewman. "No sign o' Cap'n Jack, an' nobody there's sayin' nuffin."

Briggs looked up at the man with hooded eyes. "For starters, spread word that the next man what calls me 'captain' get to clean the bilges with his tongue. There be only one captain of this here ship, and it ain't me! Got it?"

The man blinked at the quartermaster's vehemence. "Aye, cap-- I mean, Mister Briggs! I'll tell 'em all, like th' gospel trufe, I will!"

Briggs sighed and rubbed his forehead. "This is getting' us nowhere fast. Either Jack's dead, God forbid, or he ain't on this blessed rock any more. Tell Hornsby and the rest to keep lookin' for Jack, even raise the reward money another hundred, but I want that girl found, too! I'm willin' to bet me Aunt Betsy's cat she's still in St. Lawrence." He sat back and tapped a metal rule on the desk. "Is Jennings still in St. Lawrence?"

"Aye, he's searchin' warehouses an' such."

"Send word I want him back here. The lad's got new duties."

"Mind me askin' wha' ye have in mind for 'im? In case 'e asks?"

Briggs smiled grimly. "Our young Master Jennings is gonna be the bait for a certain señorita."

Cade Jenning was the youngest member of the crew, and for all intents and purposes Jack's protege. Cade had been a New Providence street urchin, barely 13 years old when he and Jack crossed paths one evening as Jack was walking back to the ship after a night on the town. Cade stepped out of an alleyway and confronted Jack with a sword.

"H-hold there!" the scrawny lad ordered, his voice quaking. "Hand over your m-money, and you'll keep your life!"

Jack stopped and looked behind himself, then back at Cade. "Me?"

"Yes, y-you! I won't tell you again, give me your money!" The boy's voice was steadily creeping upward in pitch in step with his anxiety.

"Oi! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? And shouldn't you be home in bed, instead of prowling the streets trying to get yourself killed?"

"You're the one that needs to w-worry about getting killed!" the boy said haltingly as he waggled his sword in what he hoped was a menacing fashion. "Now! Give me your money!"

Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. He dug in his pocket and found a few coins, which he threw at Cade's feet.

Cade stared back at him and shook his head. "You pick those up. I'm not stupid!" Nervously, he kept readjusting his grip on the sword that was obviously a little to heavy for him.

A smile curled Jack's lips. He had expected the obviously starving boy to grab for the coins. This lad might be out of his depth and terrified, but he had a brain.

"No."

"I'm w-warning you..."

"Look at you," Jack interrupted. "A shaking, snot-nosed whelp who fancies himself a highwayman, about to get killed by a pirate. Your parents must be so proud. Where do they live, so I can tell the authorities where to send your body? Don't worry. I'll pay for your funeral. I'm a generous bloke at heart."

Cade raised his sword and took a step closer. "Shut up! Just shut up!" he yelled, his voice jumping up an octave as it cracked. "I'm no whelp! I can take care of myself, and I don't need parents!" He stood there looking up at Jack, his body shaking as if it were the dead of winter in Scotland. "In fact, I intend to kill a pirate, or die by his hand! What do you think of that?"

This lad had something to prove, probably to a gang leader, Jack thought. The rite of passage into manhood for street thugs - a first kill. He had to find a way to bring this to and end, preferably without doing anything drastic.

"It explains your horrid manners," said Jack nonchalantly. "And I hate to tell you, you're doing a lousy job of trying to kill me, and I have no desire to kill you no matter how annoying I find you. Now, do us a favour and quit waving that sword around. You're liable to hurt yourself."

"I said pick up that money!!"

"And I said no. Why should I do your dirty work, little boy? You've already stated your intention to kill a pirate, and I'm a pirate! If you're going to do it, then do it! Or are you a whimpering, gutless little baby? That's what everyone thinks, isn't it? That you're weak, snivelling, and useless! Every moment you stand there shaking like a schoolgirl, you're only proving them right. That you are a FAILURE!"

Humiliated to the point of rage, Cade drew back his blade run Jack through. When he thrust it forward, Jack deftly sidestepped and grabbed the sword, and jerked it out of Cade's hand. The boy, off balance, stumbled past his opponent. Before he could regain his footing, Jack had him pinned face first against the wall with his feet off the ground, using the sword like a bar to hold him there.

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"Let me go!" demanded Cade, though it sounded more like pleading.

"School's in session, Junior!" said Jack. "You're not going anywhere."

"I swear I won't hurt you if you just let me go!"

"I suppose that's true. You couldn't hurt me before all this, so I can't image you doing any damage after."

"You'll do it, then?"

"Hell no! I'm only getting started with you. We're going to use this incident as a learning opportunity."

"A what?"

Jack exhaled in exasperation. "I'm going to teach you what you did wrong, sonny. You're listening skills are really rubbish!"

"Why would you do that?"

"Because I'm feeling charitable. Now shut it and pay attention. Let's start with this rusted bit of junk you call a sword. Want to know how I knew I could grab it?"

Cade stayed tight lipped.

"Fine. Suit yourself. When I wouldn't cooperate, you started waving it about. No light from the windows glinted off it. So I knew it was either rusty or made of wood. If you let it get rusty, then I knew you wouldn't bother keeping a proper edge on it."

"You tricked me. So what?" the boy said petulantly.

"That I did. And that was only part of it. You stepped in too close to make a good thrust with your blade. If you had managed to connect, you would have poked me, not killed me. And you know how I managed all that?"

"You're gonna tell me whether I want to hear it or not." The lad's voice was heavy with dejection.

"See? I knew you were clever. You blundered because I made you angry. Never let your emotions get out of control, boy. Your passions will be your undoing."

Jack stepped back and released the boy. He held the sword in front of him in both hands like a headmaster's rod.

Cade kept facing the wall. His shoulders were shaking.

"Wait a minute," said Jack slowly. "Are you... you're crying?"

"Just kill me and get it over with! You said it yourself. I'm a failure."

"I'm not going to kill you. I never was."

"But you said..."

"I was trying to scare you. That's all. Now face me."

Cade slowly turn around, his face downcast so Jack couldn't see his tears.

"What's your name, son?"

"C-Cade." He paused for a big sniff and wiped his nose with a threadbare sleeve. "Cade Jennings."

"Why are you crying?"

"You didn't tell me your name. That's not polite."

Jack chuckled at the admonishment. "Right you are, Master Jennings. My name is Jack. Jack Wolfe."

"Jack.. Wolfe?"

"That's right. Have you heard of me?"

"You've got the black ship with red around the gunports and the big wolf at the bow!"

"Oh, so you have heard of me!"

"Everybody has. You're famous!"

"I'm not famous. I'm just a pirate..."

"And I was going to try to kill you." Tears of regret began to flow down Cade's cheeks.

Jack crouched down and set the rusty sword aside. "Hey! Hey, no, there's no reason for that! It was an honest mistake. Well, as honest as it gets when you set out to rob a man."

"I'm so sorry! I didn't know it was you!" the boy sobbed as he slumped against the wall. "I never would have... You're right. I'm a failure."

"Cade, I didn't mean it. I said it to make you mad. That's all."

"But it's true! Everyone says it. Especially Tommy."

"Who's Tommy? Your father? Or brother?"

"No. Tommy is the boss of this neighbourhood. Five whole streets. They're all his."

"So you did this to make a rank in his gang?"

Cade nodded. "If I robbed a man, he'd let me stay on a while longer. If I killed someone, then I'd be part of the family forever."

"Well, that's about what I thought," Jack sighed. "Let me guess. He's watching us now?"

"Tommy's got eyes everywhere."

"What happens now, since I've ruined your chances?"

"I don't know," Cade said softly. The tears started again, this time from hopelessness.

Jack's heart went out to the lad. He knew what it felt like to be on the outside, not knowing where he fit in, or if he did at all. Cade's chances here had been dashed because he picked the wrong man to confront. Or had he? Anyone else would have hurt the boy or killed him outright. There's no telling what this Tommy fellow would do to him. Maybe this was for the best that he had been the one Cade tried to rob. Jack felt an enormous amount of compassion for the lad. He was smart and bright, but lost. Maybe, with the right teacher...

No, Jack thought. Rule number one, no strays. All right, he'd broken that rule with the ship's cat, but that was different.

"Where do you live, Cade? I'll take you home to your parents."

"I ran away about a year ago. Maybe more, I think."

"Then I think after the night you've had, going back home might be the best place for you," Jack said gently.

"I can't." More slow tears. The boy's despair was starting to make Jack's heart ache.

"I'm sure they'll take you back in. They must be out of their minds with worry..."

"They're back in England."

"Oh! Um, yeah. That would be a problem. Why did you leave?"

"My stepfather. I hated him. He beat me if I dropped a pea off my knife."

Jack shook his head and looked at the boy. Starving, friendless, desperate, and so very alone. But clever. He'd stayed alive by his wits, and made it all the way from England to the Caribbean on his own. In spite of his policy of cynicism, his heart went out to the waif.

Finally, Jack turned and started collecting the coins off the ground.

"What are you doing?" asked Cade.

"I need this money."

"Oh. I understand."

Jack looked back at him and smiled. "Why so glum? It takes money to buy you a hot meal."

Cade looked at Jack as if he had just turned into a giant spider. "A... what did you say?"

"A hot meal. For you. God, we'll have to work on those listening skills, too."

The boy ran to Jack and threw his arms around him, nearly knocking Jack over.

"Easy there, laddie!" laughed Jack. "If I drop these coins, we'll have to rob somebody. And you're not too lucky at that!"

"You're serious? You'd do that for me?"

"What, rob somebody? I like you, kid, but not that much!"

"No, I mean buy me food! Who can't listen now?"

"Yeah. I'll do that for you." Jack stood up and smiled at Cade. "You look like you could use a friend right about now. Come on. I know a place where the food it warm, and so are the tavern maids."

"Why's it so important if the tavern girls are warm?"

"Oh, you've got a lot to learn, Cade, my boy! A lot to learn."

As he and Cade left the alley, Jack thought to himself, 'So much for rule number one...'

Now the hopes of El Lobo's crew were pinned on Jack's protege. Briggs wasn't sure it would be enough, but Cade Jennings was Jack Wolfe's best bet for being found.

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A sharp pain in his right shoulder jostled Jack toward conciousness. How long had they kept him drugged this time? He felt dizzy and half sick. More than half. Involuntarily he leaned over and wretched, but there was nothing in his stomach. It took nearly every once of strength he had, so weak was he from lack of food and constant drugging with laudanum and God knew what. When his coughing subsided, he licked his parched lips and began to fall asleep again. Another sharp jab in the shoulder, rougher than before, forced him to open his eyes.

Wherever he was this time, it was gloomy, with only sparse, flickering light. No motion, so he wasn't on a ship. He found himself sitting on a cold stone floor, his back against an equally cold stone wall. Black iron bars completed the enclosure of the space, and a dank, fetid stench hung heavy in the air. This wasn't a gaol. He'd been in a few of those over the years. This was a dungeon.

Once again, something poked him hard in the shoulder. Jack looked over toward the bars closest to him to discover who it was that wanted his attention so badly. It was a man on the opposite side of the bars. He wasn't terribly tall, but he carried himself in a way that conveyed importance, even authority. His clothing was black with what seemed to be silver or gold woven into the material, except for a white shirt with lace at the cuffs and collar. The long walking stick he had been using to prod Jack was finely carved, probably mahogany, with a heavy ivory ball for a grip. A heavy gold chain, probably a chain of office, hung around his neck. He looked to be a few years older than Jack. Flecks of grey could be seen in his perfectly groomed goatee, but his cropped and coiffed hair was still jet black. But what stood out most to Jack about this obviously wealthy man was his eyes. Cold, cruel, and calculating, they peered out from under heavy brows. It was a face Jack had seen before, aboard the Spanish ship he had taken for himself years ago. The man he had cuckolded before that, and delighted in bedevilling ever since.

Diego Hernando Mendoza Y Castille. Baron, colonel, and butcher.

"Finally. You're awake."

"Hello there, Diego," said Jack, mustering all the sarcasm he could. "I knew it was you behind this. Love what you've done with the place. How's the wife?"

Mendoza rammed the walking stick ivory ball end first through the bars and into Jack's side. Jack couldn't be sure, but it felt like a rib cracked.

"A taste of things to come, Wolfe," intoned Mendoza in a deep, richly accented voice. It was a voice that could have been charming if one couldn't see the cruelty etched in every line on his face. "You are a stubborn man, even in slumber. Do you know I have been waiting three days for you to wake up?"

"You should have thought about that before you had your lackeys start pouring potions into me. I could have died en route and spoiled all your fun."

"It was a necessary risk. Your reputation for finding your to freedom regardless of the cage demanded it. No matter. The timetable will have to be changed somewhat."

"Yeah, a lousy character trait of mine, loving my freedom. Sorry to inconvenience you."

"You have been an inconvenience to me from the moment I first heard about you. I expect no different from you now. But that will end soon enough."

Diego's iciness was an unexpected change from the last time the two men came face to face. With all the problems and humiliation he had caused Mendoza, he expected the mercurial Spaniard to be in a rage, ranting and prone to mistakes that could be capitalised on. Instead, Mendoza was coolly in control, of himself and the circumstances. That control included Jack. The knot in Jack's stomach became less one of hunger and more one of the emotion he hated the most – fear. An angry man could be taken advantage of. Not so one who was this cold. If Jack was going to survive the impending ordeal, he had to abandon his usual ploy of treating life as a high-stakes card game. It had become chess.

“Don't tell me you're in a hurry to kill me, Diego. I thought our relationship had grown beyond that.”

The Spaniard chuckled. “Indeed is has, Wolfe. No, killing you quickly, while enjoyable, would not be as... satisfying. I have other plans for you.”

“Huzzah for you getting your giggles.”

“Do not be bitter, Wolfe! You have proven a most challenging prey over the years. You should be proud of yourself. It took much planning and a fair amount of luck. And of course, the perfect trap.”

“I'm beginning to see how this works,” said Jack, feigning boredom. “You're going to gloat endlessly, and in the process talk me to death. Very clever.”

Mendoza motioned over his shoulder, and a guard and two servants carrying trays stepped into view. “You will find me an hospitable man, Mister Wolfe. Here. Some food to end your hunger.”

"Forget it, Diego. I'll not willingly swallow poison."

Mendoza sighed, and picked up a piece of chicken from one of the trays. In full view, he tore off a bite and ate it, making a production of swallowing the morsel. He then poured some wine and washed it down.

"A bit dry, for which I apologise. But as you can see, there is no poison." He nodded, and the guard unlocked the cell door and let the servants inside. They left the trays on the floor in front of Jack, and quickly retreated.

"And if I refuse?" asked Jack.

"Then you can sit there and starve as the rats eat it all. If you are lucky, they will wait a while before turning their appetites on you."

Jack looked at the food arrayed before him, then back at his captor. "Not the most sparkling dinner conversation I've ever had, but you've made your case."

"Excellent! Eat well, my friend. I will see you again in five days."

"Five days? Why five days?"

"Because I want you to regain your strength. Then, Mr. Wolfe..." Mendoza smiled in a way that straddled sardonic and sinister. "Then, we shall talk."

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Rhys stood at the gunwale looking out over the whitecaps under the starlit sky. The air was warm despite it being winter in the Caribbean. He breathed deeply, knowing this may be the last time he looked upon a tropical night.

His quartermaster and best friend came up behind him.

"Feeling a bit melacholy, Rhys?"

Rhys sighed. "Nothing like a night like this under the skies of the Caribbean, eh, Dolan?"

Dolan chuckled. "Not too late to change your mind, you know."

Rhys shook his head. "No. Much as I love the sea and the islands, my heart belongs in Wales."

His uncle's words came back to haunt him.

'Some little lass will creep into your mind and get under your skin and then it is good-bye, briny deep and hello, hearth and home....She's out there, my lad. She's out there. And then you can say good-bye to your heart..'

Dolan leaned against the gunwale and took out a black cigar.

"You aren't looking forward to telling him, are you?"

Rhys shrugged. "He'll understand."

Dolan laughed. "Understand? Jack Wolfe will say you are crazy. 'Taken in by a tart' he would say."

Rhys's jaw clenched. Dolan was quick to add, "Of course, Rhiannon Conaway is no tart. We both know that. But Jack Wolfe, he has never been roped in. Never tied down."

"It's a shame. But Jack swore he would never be tamed by a woman. Maybe if he had found someone like Rhiannon, it would change him."

Dolan asked, "Any last minute regrets, Rhys?"

"No. The deal between you and me is complete. The sale of the Neptune Rising and the smuggling operation will be turned over to you at the agreed upon percentage. Jack likes you. Maybe not as much as he likes me, but he trusts you enough to deal with."

Dolan flicked his ashes into the sea.

"That's good enough for me. Think Jack will try to talk you out of it?"

"Probably. But my mind is made up, Dolan. She's young but she's smart. And she is the one I have been waiting for all my life."

"What about Molly? How will she take the news?"

Rhys shrugged. "She won't be happy."

"Not happy? That is an understatement. I heard tell that Molly was last shopping for a wedding gown last you were in port. She all but had that ring on her finger."

"Then she can stop looking. I never was serious about Molly. She was a good time. But my heart wasn't with her. It is with a young lass in Wales."

"From a convent. If that doesn't beat all, Rhys. A nun."

He laughed. "I made that mistake once when she was ten. Asked her if she was a nun. Never saw a little girl draw herself up so regally.

'NEVER!' She was very emphatic about it too. I made the mistake of calling her a nun in training. I thought she was going to throw a book at me. 'I thought I made it clear that day that I was NOT a nun. I would never be a nun.'

He shook his head. "Lord, what a spitfire!"

"What of the smuggling operation up in those caves on Castlemaine's property?" Dolan asked.

"I'll help you clear the goods out. You can take it back with you or sell it in Scotland. Give me my fifteen percent and you and Jack can split the rest of the profit. I just want out."

"To go back to Cambridge and become an astronomy cartographer?"

Rhys laughed. "Among other things. You fail to remember, Dolan, that the Morgans are landed gentry. If I come back, settled and with a wife and a lucrative career, my father will overlook my--how did he put it?--shortcomings. My mother will just be overjoyed to have her boy back home!"

"What of Castlemaine?"

"That bastard? I clear things out of the caves and he gets nothing. He can't prove that his caves were used. And he certainly can't complain to any authority that he never got his 'cut', can he?"

Rhys inhaled the salt air. "Only one thing that can make me give this up, Dolan. It's her. I think she is my saving grace."

"You sure Jack Wolfe is gonna be in Tortuga?"

"If not, he will leave a message at The Red Bull where he was making port next. He always alternates another port with Tortuga. My guess is if he isn't there, then he is probably in Bridgetown or St Lawrence."

Dolan clapped his friend on the shoulder.

"I wish you and the little lass the best, Rhys. You know that. But I have a bad feeling in my bones."

"How so?"

Dolan looked up at the sky. "Last night, when I had the watch? I saw a comet."

"So?"

"So you know what they say about them."

"You honestly believe that stuff, Dolan?"

He shrugged. "The passing of a comet is an omen that often coincides with the fall of a great ruler. Several Aztec myths also point to the coexistence of a comet with the coming of the Spanish conquistadores."

"And what does that have to do with us? We are not great rulers, nor are we Aztecs and the last time I looked, you weren't Spanish."

"Yeah, but still...."

"Dolan, you Irish are a superstitious lot. Any more Irish and I will be calling you by your real last name--'O'Dobhailein'. As an astronomer, comets are nothing but dirty snowballs of rock and dirty snow."

Dolan just gazed at the sky.

"But what if the portent isn't about us?"

"What do you mean?"

"Look at it this way. Great ruler......great captain. Spanish conquistadores..those who took gold by force. Don't you see?"

"See what?"

Dolan sighed. "I feel trouble. And it all points to one man."

Rhys looked questioningly at Dolan.

He threw his cigar into the whitecaps and said, "Jack Wolfe. The portent is about Jack Wolfe. There is trouble, Rhys. Mark my words. Big time trouble."

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Cade Jennings sat more or less patiently in the public room of the Blue Gryphon tavern. He scanned the faces of the patrons gathered there and fought the urge to rub his eyes. For the past eight nights, he had gone from pub to pub trying to find the woman a few drunken souls had seen with Jack the night he disappeared. Petite, yet amply endowed, with raven-black hair she wore free about her shoulders and eyes like melted chocolate. Catnip to Jack Wolfe. One would think that such a strikingly beautiful Spanish woman would be easy to spot in a colony that strove to be the most English in all the Caribbean. But St. Lawrence was still an open port. Any and all ships were welcome save those of an invading armada. Finding a needle in a haystack was child's play in comparison. During the course of search only one person had put a possible name to her, though he couldn't be positive: Rebeca.

The strategy was simple: keep a high profile by throwing just enough money around to lure in women with a taste for big spenders. A few members of the crew insinuated themselves into the crowd and let any unattached woman resembling the description of Jack's mystery girl that the strapping young man with sandy hair was looking for company. Cade would have to set aside his preference for blondes, no matter how comely and interested they were. That is, if they would let him. He finally gave in and rubbed his tired eyes.

“Well, look at what the cat dragged in!” said a woman with a distinct Irish lilt.

Cade looked up and blinked. There stood Brandy O'Dwyer. She wasn't his girlfriend in the traditional sense. More of a steady favourite. No strings attached, at least none they had ever talked about. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back from her face with a green ribbon, which helped to emphasise the anger in her eyes.

“Brandy! I didn't expect--”

“Aye, that's for damned sure, lookin' at your face! Didn't think I'd come lookin' for ye? St. Lawrence isn't that big, boyo!”

“Brandy, darling, I can explain. Just not right now.”

“Explain what? How ye acquired a taste for the señoritas all of a sudden, like all the tongues have been waggin' about?” she fumed.

“It's not like that---”

“I'll tell ye how it happened! That no good, rotten Jack Wolfe. That's what done it!” She drew herself up and glowered at him. “I never expected a ring out of ye, Cade Jennings. Not ever, and not that I'd ever ask. But I'll be damned if I'll have your boots under me bed again!”

Cade, his mouth agape, watched as Brandy turned on her heel and marched off. He knew she was a passionate woman, but he'd never seen her this angry before. Apparently there were some strings he had overlooked. He hoped that one day he could make her understand what the charade was for. After she cooled down for a few days, of course. Maybe a week or so. Cade swallowed some of his drink and rubbed his eyes once more, trying to remember if he had anything stashed away that would serve as an adequate peace offering to Brandy. Suddenly he felt the warm caress of a woman's hand just behind his ear.

“Woman problems, señor?” asked a sultry voice.

Cade silently vowed never to close his eyes for more than two seconds in a tavern ever again as he looked up. And once again, his mouth fell open.

A stunning Spanish woman, petite yet voluptuous, with cascading hair so black that any reflected light revealed hints of midnight blue and inviting eyes the colour of melted chocolate, slipped into the chair beside him. He didn't recall any of the chair being quite that close to him before he closed his eyes the second time, but at the moment he didn't particularly care. He stared as, without ever breaking eye contact, she picked up his tankard and polished it off.

“Mmm, that was good. Is there more?” she asked.

Cade blinked and swallowed hard. “Uh... what?”

Yeah, that was ever so smooth, he thought. But he couldn't tear his eyes away.

The mystery woman smiled and traced the back of his hand with her finger. He was amazed at the amount of heat her fingertip gave off. “The drink. Is there more? Your cup is empty.”

“Oh! Of course!” He waved toward the bar, and a tavern girl came right over. She warmly at Cade, but her smile evaporated when she saw the Spanish girl.

“What can I get for you?” she asked, her tone decidedly lukewarm compared to earlier that evening.

“Rum, for me and the lady, please. Your best.”

She cut her eyes to the mystery woman, then back to Cade, and made a derisive little snort. “Sure. Right away.” The tavern girl went to get the drinks, wishing he had ordered ale. She could have spit in the cups first and they would've never known.

“You stare at me like a hungry man seeing food for the first time in days, Mister...” She trailed off and raised her eyebrows, waiting for him to fill in the blank.

“Yes, I am,” he replied dreamily. “I mean-- what?”

She smiled, trying not to laugh. “You have a name, no?”

“No. I mean, yes! Cade. Cade Jennings.”

The tavern girl returned and plunked the tankards down in front of them.

“That'll be six,” she said matter-of-factly.

Cade gave her a suspicious look. “The last one was two. Shouldn't it be four, then?”

“It's six now.”

He smiled to himself, knowing just what her game was. She had been attentive and flirtatious the entire evening, meaning to get him upstairs for something more than rum and ale. Now she was going to get that extra money out of him by other means. He pulled nine coins out of his purse and put them on her tray.

“Will that do?”

“It's a start,” she answered, finally giving him a smile. She pocketed five of the coins and turned her attention back to her other customers.

Cade felt the mystery woman squeeze his arm just above the elbow, then linger on his biceps. He reminded himself that he had to stay on task and not get caught up in the moment. The life of his friend and mentor hung in the balance. If this was the woman that had lured Jack into a trap, Cade could easily see how he would have gone for the bait.

“Are you always so very generous?” she purred?

“That all depends,” he countered. “Perhaps if I get to know you better, I will be. You never did tell me your name.”

She looked deep into his eyes and smiled disarmingly. “Is it so important?”

It was time to see just how well Jack had taught him about the art of the chase. Cade lifted his tankard. “It's very important, if I wish to make a toast to an incredibly beautiful woman.”

Her eyebrows went up and she smiled, obviously flattered. “You are a very persuasive man.”

“I'm just getting started.”

She lifted her tankard, giving her hair a little toss as she did so. “My name is Rebeca.”

Cade smiled broadly. This might be the one they had been looking for! Now for the next phase. He put his tankard against hers and held it there.

“A beautiful woman with a beautiful name. Could this night be more complete?”

“How do you English put it? If you play your cards right? Is that it?”

“That's it, exactly, love.”

Little did Rebeca know the game she had gotten herself into.

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For and hour, maybe more, the two teased and flirted and drank. Cade was amazed at the amount of alcohol Rebeca was able to put away, but it was finally catching up to her. She had become loud very affectionate, and he tried his best to mirror her drunkeness. Cade was certainly feeling no pain, but this was nothing like the times he, Jack, and Briggs decided to paint the town red. On those occasions he could hardly stand, and Jack was still going strong. He hoped that Rebeca wasn't putting on an act as well. Finally, he got his answer.

“Cade, I think you are trying to make me borracha!” she giggled.

“Borracha? What's that? Something good, I hope!”

“It means I'm drunk, you Englishman!” she said with feigned indignation. “You need to improve your vocabulary. And you need to be very, very careful.”

“And why must I be careful.”

“Because of what happens when me est borracha. Want to know what that is?” She was trying to act serious and flirtatious at the same time, but only succeeded in slurring her words whilst bobbing like a channel marker on a windy day.

Cade leaned on the table and propped his chin with his hand. “I can't wait to hear this.”

“Then I will tell you! When I am drunk, I really like to...” Rebeca leaned in and finished her sentence in Cade's ear. His eyes became the size of dinner plates.

“So? Does that sound like fun to you, Cade Jennings?”

“I'd be a fool if I said no to any of that.” He figured her proposition was a ruse, just like she had probably used a hundred times before. But he had to see how far she was willing to take things. Was she a serious player, or simply full of liquid courage? Cade needed to get her out of this noisy tavern room to some place where he could find out what, if anything, she knew about Jack. “I have a room upstairs. And I would love to indulge your whims. Every last one of them.”

Rebeca smiled enthusiastically. “Show me the way!”

Cade stood and helped Rebeca to her feet. As he turned to lead her upstairs to the room, he found himself face to face with the tavern wench who had been flirting with him earlier. She stood there, arms crossed, holding her tray to her chest, with an accusatory look on her face. Cade gave her a sheepish smile. She rolled her eyes and brushed past him.

“Another of your women?” Rebeca asked.

“No, and I doubt she ever will be now.”

“She is jealous!” she laughed, hanging on his arm. “Wait until I spoil you for other women. Then she will have a reason to be jealous!”

Cade turned and kissed her hand, never taking his eyes from hers. “I can hardly wait!”

She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him close. “I wonder... just who is seducing whom now?”

“Does it matter any more?” he asked, his lips nearly brushing hers.

Rebeca's expression had gone from that of a calculating seductress to one of willing abandon. She shook her head no. Cade lingered for a moment, then led her up the stairs.

They paused at the door to Cade's room. He fumbled for the key, finally finding it and unlocking the door.

“Cade?”

He turned, just as Rebeca practically tackled him and began kissing him deeply. The couple stumbled through the door and landed on the bed, with her on top of him. She began tearing at his clothes, but stopped cold when they heard a man's cough and the sound of the door closing. She looked up, startled, to find the room lit with candles. Two men were there, looking bemused. The oldest man, a fellow with shaggy light brown hair and a beard, had been the one to close the door. He stood there with his back to the door, blocking it in case she tried to escape.

“I hope we ain't interruptin' things, Mister Jennings,” Josiah Briggs said.

“What this hell is this?!” Rebeca demanded. “This is not part of the deal, Cade,” she said angrily. “Your friends are not invited. Get rid of them!”

“Oh, we wouldn't think of leavin',” said Briggs. “You're our guest for a little while.”

She looked at Cade, and slammed her fist on his chest. “You bastard!” She scrambled to her feet and looked from man to man like some caged animal. “I will scream, I swear it!”

“Go ahead,” said Cade. “The innkeeper knows we're here and what this is all about.”

“You-- you what? Someone, tell me what is going on!”

Briggs leaned nonchalantly against the door. “It's simple, missy. You're gonna park yer Spanish behind in that empty chair. And then you're gonna start answerin' some questions. Truthfully.”

“Questions? About what?”

“What happened the night Jack Wolfe went missing,” said Cade.

Rebeca's eyes went wide. She mouthed as if she was going to cry out for help. Instead, she fainted dead away.

Briggs looked at Cade and shrugged. “Looks like this'll take a little longer than we expected. Make yerself useful and get us some coffee.”

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Rebeca stirred, and her eyes fluttered open. She found herself in a chair with her hands bound behind her and tied fast the the chair. She could hear men's voices speaking softly. In anger and panic, she tried to scream for help. But her mouth was too well gagged. Her muffled cries would reach no one who could help.

“Well, lookie who's awake!” said Briggs. “McGlynn, pull her gag. Mind yer fingers. She's a feisty one, if the way she was maulin' Cade is any clue.”

McGlynn approached her cautiously, making sure to keep his fingers well away from her teeth. Instead of trying to bite him, she attempted to spit in his face. Her mouth was too dry from the cloth, but it got her point across. Briggs and Cade chuckled as McGlynn back-pedalled.

“What do you want with me, you Inglés carajo?!” she spat.

“Calm down there, missy,” said Briggs. “We got a few questions for ye, and yer cooperation would be kindly appreciated.”

¡Perro! I will not answer any of you until you untie me!”

“See, that there ain't what I'd call bein' cooperative. Be stubborn all ye want. We got nowhere to be but right here, waitin' for you to talk.”

“And if I refuse? You will beat me, am I right?”

Briggs shook his head. “My mama taught me that's not a nice thing to do. Don't go pushin' yer luck, tough. Mama Briggs ain't here to stay my hand.”

Rebeca stared daggers back at him.

“Now, McGlynn here, his mama never taught him any different. He likes to get right to the point, as they say.”

McGlynn never said a word, but smiled gleefully as he pulled from his pocket a whetstone and a long, menacing knife. Without taking his eyes from her, he began honing the knife's edge with long, deliberate strokes.

“Now, Miss Rebeca,” Briggs continued, “There be one thing keepin' ye from getting' acquainted with McGlynn's special talents. The truth. We know ye were with Jack Wolfe the night he went missin'. We want to know who ye were workin' for, and where they took him.”

Rebeca's body stiffened. “I do not know this Jack Wolfe.”

“You're a poor liar,” said Cade. “We all saw how you reacted to his name earlier.”

“You are imagining things,” she said defiantly.

“I'm gonna ask you one more time,” said Briggs. “Who are you workin' for? Tell us what we need to know, and we'll let ye go free. You're only makin' it harder on yourself otherwise.”

Rebeca kept her silence.

“Damn it, woman! A man's life is probably hangin' in the balance! Don't ye understand that?”

Cade shook his head in exasperation. “We're wasting our time trying to appeal to her better nature, Josiah. She probably doesn't have one.”

“Aye, ye have a point. Speakin' of points, maybe we should appeal to her self interest.”

Briggs turned to McGlynn and nodded in Rebeca's direction. McGlynn grinned and got up from his chair. As he walked toward Rebeca, he kept up the lopsided maniacal grin as he held the blade upright just in front of his face, swinging it back and forth like the pendulum of a metronome. Rebeca held her breath as the wild-eyed man approached.

“Such a shame,” said Cade. “And it was a lovely face, too.”

“Don't fret none,” Briggs said. “She'll find a job scrubbin' floors or muckin' stalls. Somewhere's they don't have to look at her.”

McGlynn stopped in front of the girl and gave an odd little laugh before slowly walking around behind her. Her eyes grew wider with fear when she heard his footsteps stop directly behind her.

“Once again,” said Cade. “Who were you working for? Who wanted to capture Jack Wolfe and used you as bait?”

“I can't... oh dios mio!” she gasped as she felt the icy steel of McGlynn's blade against her neck. “I swore I would not tell! Do not kill me, por favor! I beg you!” Tears of desperation began to stream down her face.

“The name,” pressed Briggs.

“It'd be a right pity to make a mess o' your face,” hissed McGlynn menacingly. “Do be a love an' tell us the name.”

Sobbing, Rebeca whispered the name.

“Louder,” commanded Cade. “Or Mister McGlynn has his way with you.”

“MENDOZA!” she shouted through her tears. “Colonel Mendoza! He is the one who hired me...” Her voice trailed off as she sobbed more.

“Damn it! I should've known it was that bastard,” growled Briggs. “Where did they take Jack?”

“I do not know! They never told me, only who was paying me!”

“I dunno, Master Briggs,” said McGlynn, placing the blade against her cheek. “I could cheer her up with a really grand smile...”

Rebeca wailed in terror, begging in Spanish and English. “Oh, God, please, no!! I do not know, I swear!!” she finally got out.

“Stand down, McGlynn. That's an order. She doesn't know.”

McGlynn let out a heavy sigh, and returned to her chair. Cade poured her a drink and went to her side.

“I'm sorry we had to put you through that, Rebeca. But you're the only one who could help us find our friend. I hope you understand.”

“If Mendoza finds out I told you, he will have me killed,” she said shakily.

“We won't tell a soul how we found out if it comes to that. Here, have a sip of this.”

She drank greedily, hoping to soothe her shattered nerves. “Please untie me.”

“Not until you're calmer. Then I promise we'll let you go.”

“I am feeling calmer, Cade. I promise not to tell anyone about you. It would mean my death if I did.” She paused for a moment and gave him a quizzical look. “My head feels strange. What did you do?”

“One more thing for you to forgive, I'm afraid. You'll sleep for a long time.”

“You... bast...” Rebeca slurred, before her head lolled over.

Cade quickly untied her and carried her to the bed.

“Sweet Jesus,” said McGlynn as he downed a cup of rum. “I'm surprised she didn't feel me bloody hand shakin', holdin' that knife to her. I was scared to death!”

“She was more scared than you,” Briggs said. “You did good. Had me convinced ye were off yer nut.”

“What do we do now?” asked Cade.

“Well, we know Mendoza has Jack. He won't be near as kind as we were to Rebeca here,” said Briggs. “We need to find where that Spanish jackal is, and fast.”

“Then what?”

“Then we get Jack back. Or die tryin'.”

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Low grey clouds scudded across the Barbados sky as the Neptune Rising dropped anchor in St. Lawrence's harbour. The winds kicked up the waves just enough to make any attempt to dock too risky, so Rhys elected to wait out the weather and ride at anchor. He stood on the quarterdeck and surveyed the docks with a spyglass, ignoring the winds as they whipped his hair into his face.

“Do you see her, Captain?” asked Dolan. “It'd be like Wolfe to have already headed back. We'll be chasing his crazy arse all over the Caribbean.”

“Patience, my friend,” said Rhys as he continued to scan the docks. “Jack is unpredictable to his enemies, but as constant as the stars to his friends. If he's not here, then Bonita has seen prey he can't resist.”

“You actually believe that witch woman has the sight?”

“I haven't seen anything to make me think otherwise. And the fact you believe in second sight at all tells me you think she may be genuine enough. But if Jack said he'd be in St. Lawrence, then St. Lawrence is where he'll be... ah! There's El Lobo. And there's a lot of activity around her. They're taking on a lot of cargo. Looks like they are getting ready to sail. That's odd.”

“Ha!” said Dolan. “I was right, they'll be headed back to Tortuga or Port Royal just as we arrive.”

Rhys collapsed the spyglass and looked on at El Lobo with worried puzzlement. “Something's not right about this.”

“A hunch, Captain?”

“A hunch. Make ready the longboat. We're going ashore.”

Briggs' face was a mask of grim determination as he oversaw the ship's preparation from the quarterdeck. Almost three weeks had passed since they found out who ordered the kidnapping of Jack Wolfe. After seemingly endless inquiries of personnel from every ship that came into St. Lawrence, Mendoza's stronghold was finally discovered. That was four days ago, and Briggs had worked ceaselessly to formulate a rescue plan. Worry and lack of sleep etched deep lines into his features. Cade was certain the quartermaster was growing old before his eyes, and he worried about the toll the burden of command was taking on Briggs. Josiah Briggs was superb at commanding a ship, but he was not a leader of men nor a military strategist.

Briggs expression brightened a little when he saw Rhys and Dolan reach the top of the gangplank. “If ye ain't a sight for sore eyes, Rhys Morgan!” he cried. Briggs hurried down to the weather deck, and for a moment Rhys was certain he was about to be on the receiving end of a bear hug. Instead, Briggs shook the young man's hand hard enough to make the knuckles roll uncomfortably.

“What's going on?” asked Rhys. “You look like you're laying in for an extended cruise. Where's Jack?”

Briggs' face went stony. “Ye ain't heard?”

“We just made port this morning. I saw all the activity and came straight here.”

“Come with me, then,” sighed Briggs heavily. “All hell's broke loose whilst ye were gone. I'll get ye up to speed. You're gonna need a drink. I know I do.”

The three men went below and aft to the great cabin. Rhys paused as he stepped through the door. It was a disaster area. Clothes strewn about, maps and other papers covering nearly every horizontal surface. In amidst the maps and rutters on the large table, there was a plate of partially eaten food. Rhys guessed the ship's cat had eaten more of it than Briggs. Briggs himself sat down. Collapsed was more like it.

“What's the big mystery?” asked Rhys.

“More'n a month ago, Jack went missin',” answered Briggs. “Vanished into thin air. It's taken us until now to find out who was behind it and where they took him.”

“Jack's got his share of enemies,” said Dolan.

“Aye, that's true enough of us all, if ye been on the account as long as we have,” replied Briggs. “Some enemies are more heinous than others.”

“Mendoza,” said Rhys.

Briggs nodded.

Rhys' jaw clenched. Jack and Mendoza's feud was well known, everyone knew the wisest choice was to not get between the two headstrong men. A good many dirty tricks hd been played on both sides, but this was Mendoza's most audacious. “Where is he?”

“Mendoza was made governor of Rio del la Hacha after leavin' Cuba.” Briggs turned one of the maps around and pointed to a spot on the northern coast of South America. “Word is he's got a right proper fortress there.”

An uneasy feeling settled in Rhys' stomach. He knew the quartmaster's next move. Mount a rescue of his captain and friend. “What's the plan?”

“We've signed on extra crew, and we've mounted four culverines, two a side, 22-pounders each. That oughta at least get their attention, I'm thinkin'...”

“Now, wait a moment,” Rhys interrupted. “With one ship, you intend to lay siege to a fortress? How many guns do they have? Do you even know?”

“There's a hell of a lot we don't know. Such as what we're up against, or if this'll even work,” said Briggs testily. “By I do know this: I'll be damned if I sit by whilst Jack gets tortured to death by that Spanish butcher!”

Rhys took a deep breath. He knew Briggs was out of his depth, desperate to try anything. But charging in, guns blazing, engaging a fortress in an artillery battle with only one vessel, was a suicide mission. The ship would be picked apart in short order by gunners trained to defend the harbour, and a lot more men than Jack would end up dead when all was said and done.

“Josiah, I understand you need to rescue Jack, but there's no way your plan can work. I'm sorry, but that is how I see it.”

“I ain't givin' up. No way in hell will I do that.” Briggs uncorked a bottle and poured everyone a drink. He leaned back with his cup and looked Rhys in the eye. “Fine. I knew this plan didn't have much of a chance, but it's somethin'. You're a smart man, Rhys. Smarter than me, and right up there with Jack by my reckonin'. How would you do it? How would ye rescue Jack?”

At that instant, Rhys didn't want to speak. He found himself wishing he had never followed Jack to Barbados. He knew that if he put forth a plan, he would be obligating himself to leading the rescue effort. How long would it take? Would it even be successful? How long would he be delayed in returning to Wales, and his beloved Rhiannon? And what if he never made it back? What would become of her, never knowing why he didn't return?

But he knew in his heart that if Jack Wolfe stood a chance of being rescued, he would have to step forward and lead the mission.

“All right,” Rhys began, dreading the words he was about to say. “Here's what we're going to do...”

In his heart, Rhys prayed Rhiannon would understand why he was delayed. And that he would indeed hold her in his arms again.

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"I'm here to see my sister."

Mother Superior looked up to see a stylish woman in her early twenties standing before her. She had luxurious honey-blonde curls and sparkling hazel eyes. And an air to the manor born.

"I'm sorry, Lady Llewellyn. Your sister is not able to receive visitors."

Lady Llewellyn took her gloves off carefully.

"And why is she 'not able to receive visitors'?"

"I'm afraid that is abbey business. She is a ward of the convent. And as such, she is under my care."

"And ownership? You seem to deny access to her on a regular basis, Mother Superior."

"I have been entrusted with her education and upbringing and----"

Lady Llewellyn leaned over the desk, her hands gripping the sides of it. She went nose to nose with the nun and said in measured tones, "I am well aware that you personally do not care for my sister. But she is a Conaway and I shall see her at once."

The nun and Lady Llewellyn locked eyes.

The younger woman continued, "Please don't make me go to the bishop with my suspicions that you tend to imbibe in the sacrificial wine."

"I NEVER!"

Lady Llewellyn stood up again. "True or not, it will result in an investigation and I am sure you would not like having to answer questions. Now I would suggest you get your fat arse up and lead me to Rhiannon."

The Mother Superior pursed her lips, her face turning crimson red. However, this was the daughter of her benefactor and any disturbance into the arrangement and the nun knew she could end up nursing lepers in Malta.

"Very well. Follow me."

"I knew you would see reason."

Mother Superior led the way down a hall to a small room. She knocked on the door and then opened it.

Stiffly, she said, "You have a visitor, Miss Conaway."

"Megan!"

Rhiannon leaped off the bed and hugged her sister fiercely.

Megan turned to the Mother and said, "You can go now. And close the door."

Without a word, Mother Superior turned on her heel and left.

Megan took Rhiannon's face in her hands and looked at her carefully. "Are you allright?"

Rhiannon nodded. "Yes, now that you are here."

"She's been up to the same shite?"

"Not since Muir finally bit her hand. She threatened to have him poisoned. And I told her if she laid a hand on him, I would personally throw her out the belltower."

"Why did Muir bite her? I mean, he must have had a good reason."

"She took a switch to me once too often."

Megan hugged her sister. "You will be eighteen in another year, darling. And then you will no longer be a ward of this convent. Daffyd and I will see that you make a smart match."

Rhiannon held her finger up and whispered, "I'm taken care of."

Megan stared at her sister for a few moments. She blurted out, "Oh, PLEASE don't tell me you have decided to take the veil! I'll yank you out of here so fast!"

Rhiannon burst out laughing.

"Perish the thought! Me? A NUN?"

Megan put her hand over her heart and stated, relieved, "Thank God! I can't see you as a 'bride of Christ!'"

Rhiannon said smugly, "Oh, I'll be a bride alright. Megan, the most wonderful thing has happened. I'm in love!"

Muir looked at Rhiannon with a look that almost said, 'Go on! Go on! Tell her who it is! Please! Please! Please!'

Megan stood there expectantly, her hands on her hips.

"Well? Out with it! It certainly can't be Lord Buckley's son Percival."

Rhiannon shook her head.

"Not one of Sir Neville's sons!"

"No, not one of the Neville brothers."

"I heard Lord Madoc Castlemaine is 'in the market'."

"Oh, please! He's as old as Father!"

Megan tapped her foot and gestured with an 'out with it' gesture.

Rhiannon let out a pent-up breath. "Do you ever hear of Lord Owain Morgan?"

Megan nodded slowly. "Yes. Very powerful and influential family to the south of us. From Monmouthshire."

"I'm going to marry Lord Morgan's son."

Megan looked at her sister and then burst out laughing. "Rhiannon, you have such a wild imagination!"

Rhiannon looked hurt at her sister.

"It's true!"

Megan shook her head. "Sir Cadfael is engaged to Lady Gwyneth Evans."

Then a long pause. "Wait...Rhiannon you don't mean...the other one?"

Rhiannon looked down and said, "By the other one, if you mean Rhys Morgan, then yes."

She looked up. "I am going to marry Rhys Morgan!" Her eyes were shining, her face full of hope.

Megan looked at her sister and said, mostly to herself, "I should have known. He's a---a pirate!"

Then she burst out laughing. "A pirate! Rhiannon, leave it to you to give Father the coronary he is certainly going to have!"

Rhiannon and Megan sat on her bed. Rhiannon told her how she met Rhys again and the plans they made.

"And we are going to live in Monmouthshire. As soon as he comes back."

"And where has he gone?"

"To the Caribbean. He is meeting a Captain Ferret--or maybe it is Coyote, I am not sure--but he is wrapping up his pirate business and then he will be back by the end of December to take me to Monmouthshire. I am sure Father will be glad that I will be Lady Morgan."

"And what will Captain Morgan do with his life now?"

She said proudly, "He will be an astronomy cartographer. He is going back to Cambridge to finish his studies. We have it all planned out."

"And what are these plans?"

"As soon as Rhys is in port, Athena will get word to me. And look!"

She reached under her bed and pulled out a few boxes of things.

"I have already begun to pack. Muir and I can be out of here in fifteen minutes."

Megan started to laugh.

"Oh, Rhiannon! This is priceless! I would love to see Father's face when he finds out."

"So will I. But alas, I shall be far away."

The sisters spent the next hour catching up on the shire gossip. Megan described every little thing her little son Dylan had done.

As Megan rose to go, Rhiannon hugged her tightly, the tears starting to spill over.

"I can't tell you how much your visits mean to me, Megan. I--I miss you and Dilys and Gwyneth so much!"

"Gwyneth will try to get here next week. She has a few essentials she thinks you need and Dilys always makes sure some sweetmeats are tucked away for you."

Rhiannon hugged her sister all the more tighter.

"I will send word with Athena when I am safely gone."

Megan held her sister at arm's length and said seriously, "If there is anything you need, you come straight to me. Understand?"

Rhiannon nodded.

"I don't care what time of day or night it is. You come home. Daffyd loves you like a sister.

Promise me? Promise me you will come right to me?"

Rhiannon nodded. "I shall. If I am ever in trouble, Megan, I know that you and Daffyd will take me in and take care of me."

Megan clasped her sister and whispered, "Promise me."

"I shall. No matter what happens in my life, I shall always come home to you, Megan."

Megan kissed the top of her sister's head and whispered, "God be with you, little sister!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Megan walked by the Mother Superior. The nun sat there pretending to be busy writing. All of a sudden, her wrist was caught in a gloved grip.

Megan leaned across the desk and said in a solemn voice, "You ever lay a hand or take a switch to my sister again, the Conaways will make sure this abbey is torn down. Stone by stone, brick by brick. And I'll personally make sure you are assigned to pick up any missing or detached body parts at a leper colony so far out of this realm, even God himself won't be able to find you."

With that Megan slammed the abbey door behind her.

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