The Doctor

El Lobo Del Mar

405 posts in this topic

Wales--February, 1652

Riding up to the manor of the house she grew up in, Rhiannon rode straight to the stable. Currying an incredibly large stallion was a groom. She alighted from her horse and led Taliesin into a stall.

The groom turned around and said, 'What in the name of the gods do ye think ye are doin' there? This be estate of Lord Conaway. This not be a tavern and ye canna be just droppin' yer steed 'ere."

He stood there with his hands on his hips and started towards her, his face red with indignation.

She barely suppressed a grin. "Hello to you, too, Parry."

Parry looked closely, "Do I know ye?"

She faked a little girl voice and said, 'My father said I could ride Goliath. He gave me permission. So are you going to bridle him for me or shall I do it myself?'"

Parry looked at the young woman before him. "No! Can't be! Impossible!"

She grinned at him and said, "Do you need any more proof than that? 'Here, Parry--I brought you some blueberries. I am sorry they got squished in my pockets. They were delicious!' "

Parry's face split in a grin. "Well, I'll be! Miss Rhiannon! Thought I'd ne'er lay me eyes on ye agin! Are ye home to stay?"

Rhiannon led Taliesin into a stall and grabbed a curry brush. "It all depends, Parry. How welcome do you think he would make me?"

Parry shrugged. "Been--what? Ten years?"

"More like eleven. I'm seventeen now."

He took the curry brush out of her hand and with his hand under her chin, tilted her face up to meet his.

"Ye be in trouble, child."

She turned her face away and patted Taliesin, ignoring the question.

Just then Muir ran into the stable. He looked at Parry and then jumped up on him, knocking him down.

Rhiannon commanded, "Muir! Down! Muir sat down at her feet. She reached out and helped Parry up.

He said, "That be MUIR? Why, he be a mere pup when he left. But then, ye be a mere slip of a lass when ye left."

She looked at Parry and said, "It won't get any easier, will it?"

Parry shook his head. "No."

"How is he?"

"Older."

"How will he receive me?"

Parry hesitated and then picked his words carefully. "He'll be beside himself."

She turned to go. "That's what I was afraid of."

Rhiannon made her way to the manor house, Muir at her heels. She knocked on the front door. It doesn't feel like home anymore. Do I even have one? A man who she did not know opened the door.

"All trade is to be taken to the rear of the house by the servants' entrance."

He closed the door. She turned to Muir and laughed. "Can you believe that, Muir? KIcked out of my own childhood home! She continued to laugh as she went around the rear. In reply to her knock, the door was opened. The cook, Mrs. Quincy, took one look at her and the dog and then threw out her arms.

"You've come home, dearie! And with the dog too!"

Rhiannon laughed and said, "You are the only one who recognized me, Mrs.Quincy!"

Mrs. Quincy bustled her inside. "I thought about you every day and twice on Sunday! And you are just how I imagined you would have looked. Had you been allowed to stay here and grow up proper!"

The cook hurried to give her a glass of milk and some hot scones. She took them eagerly. "No one could match your scones, Mrs. Quincy!"

"Are you home to stay, child?"

"That depends."

"Have you been let go from the Order?"

"Let's just say I left voluntarily and let it go at that, alright?"

Mrs. Q. sniffed and said, "Never was a place for a bit of a lass like you anyhow."

"Is he about?"

The cook nodded, "Aye. He is in his study."

Rhiannon made a face. "That was the last place I saw him. Couldn't even come to see me off when I was handed over."

Mrs. Quincy pursed her lips. "Don't think the servants didn't notice either."

"And my sisters? How fare they?"

"All married well and contented. They are scattered over the shire. You have several nieces and nephews."

"Wonderful! I shall catch up with you later. I had better get this over with. I need to see if I have a bed tonight or if I sleep in the stable."

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She knocked on the study door. A gruff voice from within said, "Come in."

She opened the door tentatively. "Hello, Father."

Lord Conaway stared. "What are you doing here?"

"Happy to see you too, Father."

He stood up and gave her a perfunctory hug. Not much warmth there, she thought.

"Order couldn't handle you either, could they?"

"It was time for me to leave, Father."

"And tell me the story."

"I'd rather not."

"Either you tell it or you can keep going."

"You'd throw me out?"

They both stared each other down. He motioned for her to sit down. She did. The silence was palpable.

"Alright, if you must know, I made a few mistakes. So I felt the time was right to come home and reacquaint myself with the family."

He tented his fingers and said, "No need to tell me what mistakes you made. You're not with child, are you?"

She grew indignant. "Certainly not!"

He shrugged. "You may stay here. For now. Until we can work out a mutually beneficial solution to this problem."

"Problem. That is the way you dismiss it?"

He said nothing.

"Very well," she said.

Lord Conaway said, "Your room is exactly as when you left. Your sisters insisted."

She left the room without a word.

Lord Conaway ran his hands over his face. What to do with this unexpected problem that showed up on the doorstep, he thought. If she is in trouble with the order, then that is trouble I don't need either.

He went to the stables.

Parry came forward and said tentatively, "Aye, it be good to have young miss home again, yes?"

Lord Conaway ignored that and took Goliath out of the stall. He mounted his stallion and then said to Parry.

"Don't get too used to it."

And with that he rode off to negotiate a release from his 'situation.'

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Rhiannon looked out the window of the carriage. How different her life had turned out.

From summer to winter, she had metamorphosed from an innocent girl to fallen angel to reluctant bride.

The man who sat next to her was Lord Madoc Castlemaine.

Her new husband.

"What do you mean, I am to marry Lord Castlemaine? He--he's OLD!"

Rhodri Conaway looked at his youngest daughter. He gave a deep sigh.

"What do you expect, Rhiannon? You have acted in a most disgraceful manner. Consorting casually with a pirate. Despicable lot, they are. They have been using my property for their ill-gotten gains. And I found out who it was. Captain Rhys Morgan. And from a fine family, he is! Turns out he is the youngest son of Sir Owain Morgan. Had a promising career and educated at Cambridge until he fell in with his renegade uncle. Coincidentally, it turns out to be the very pirate you consorted with. The one who left you after he amused himself with your virtue. If I ever get my hands on him, he will pay. Not only for trespassing, but the humiliation he has brought upon this family and the Conaway name. I'll hunt him down and when I find him, I'll stretch his neck."

"NO!" Rhiannon cried.

Rhodri folded his hands across his chest and looked at his daughter coldly.

"Then I would say you had no choice in the matter. Save his worthless hide. Marry Lord Castlemaine and it is that or I will see Morgan hung."

She hung her head in defeat. Lord Conaway took a gentler approach.

"Rhiannon, it's not so bad as that. Lord Castlemaine is willing to overlook your past--indiscretion---in exchange for a young bride. And after you give him children---"

"Children? With THAT fossil?"

Coldly, Rhodri said, "Watch what you say. He is scarcely older than me. As I was saying, all women want children. Lord Castlemaine would provide handsomely for them. And you.

"He already has three. And they are older than me."

"It doesn't hurt to have spare."

She stood there and her shoulders sagged. "I have no choice, do I?"

"Not from where I sit, you don't. Rhys Morgan's worthless life in exchange for a life of privilege and title."

She nodded slowly, her eyes filling with tears as she met her father's gaze.

"Allright," she whispered. "I'll do it."

And with that she ran out of the study.

Within a minute, Dilys stormed in the room. "What on earth is in your head?"

Lord Conaway looked up from his papers.

"I assume you have something to say, Dilys?"

"I just saw Rhiannon. She looked like she was about to faint."

"Brides sometimes do."

"WHAT?"

"Rhiannon has agreed to marry Lord Madoc Castlemaine."

"Are you out of your mind?"

"And you are out of line, Dilys."

"The man's wife died under suspicious circumstances. And you are selling my baby sister to him?"

"He is looking for a young wife and I have a daughter that needs a husband. One who is willing to take her."

"Why? Because she fell in love?"

"With a pirate."

"With a man she loved."

"And where is that man?"

"Something has delayed him."

"Or he took what he wanted and what he wasn't entitled to and left her."

Dilys locked his with her father's. "And when is this happy event?"

"In two days."

"TWO DAYS? Not even enough time to post the banns."

"We can file them after the ceremony. The bishop---"

"Can be bought. The mighty Conaway and Castlemaines throw a few extra coins in the coffers and he will turn a blind eye and wink at the lack of propriety."

Lord Conaway stood up and slammed his fist down on his desk.

"Sometimes I wonder what I have done to deserve daughters such as this."

Dilys raised her chin defiantly.

"Still upset that I married Angus?"

"He's a Scot."

"He loves me. Something that is in short supply in this family. It's a wonder Mother ever had children."

Lord Conaway grew silent and said in a hoarse whisper, "She loved me."

Dilys replied, "And you changed. What you did--and are doing--to Rhiannon, she never would have approved. She was Mother's last gift to you. Instead of cherishing her, you got rid of her. It wasn't her fault what happened to Mother."

"She's always been defiant and headstrong. If she had been an obedient child, I may still have had a wife."

Dilys spat, "You disgust me!" and left the room, slamming the door on the way out.

Lord Conaway ran his hands over his face.

'It's the right thing. It's the ONLY thing.'

Megan sat on the bed holding Rhiannon as she sobbed, grieving for the apparent desertion by Rhys. In between her cries, she haltingly said, "Something must have happened to him. Rhys would never do that! He wouldn't!"

Gwyneth solemnly looked at the clothes strewn on the bed. Quietly, she asked, "Rhiannon, love. What dress do you want?"

Dilys, leaning against the dresser, asked hotly, "What difference does it make? May as well pick out her shroud."

"Dilys!" Gwyneth admonished as this brought fresh wails from Rhiannon. Dilys held Rhiannon's hand as she said shamefully, "Forgive me, darling."

Megan rocked her sister and soothed her. "Rhiannon, we will always be here for you."

Gwyneth added, "In time, Rhiannon, it all works out. In the end, all things are equal. Now...what dress, dear?" she asked gently.

Dilys retorted, "That one. The black one over there. And a black veil over her face!"

Gwyneth shot her a look.

Rhiannon stood up. She blew her nose in a handkerchief and with her red-rimmed eyes, defiantly threw the clothes in a pile.

She pulled one out of the bottom. "This one. I want this one."

Gwyneth was shocked.

"You can't wear that! It--it's scarlet!"

Dilys applauded. "I think it is perfect!"

Megan started, "Rhiannon----"

But her little sister raised her chin and said through clenched teeth, "I wear the scarlet one or I don't get married at all."

In the end, a cooler head prevailed. But one act of defiance was known to Rhiannon and Rhiannon alone.

She wore a dress of butter yellow.

The dress she wore the day she gave herself body, heart and soul to Rhys Morgan.

Lord Conaway did not kiss his daughter.

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Bridgetown, Barbados

Renee transferred the gold and silver coins from one hand to the other as she counted them out. She gave the older man a dubious glance.

“Now there, gov'nor, you know full well it's one more gold than what you gave me.”

“Oh! Terribly sorry,” the gentleman said. “I must have miscounted.” He dug another coin from his purse and reluctantly handed it to her. “An honest mistake.”

“Of course it was, dove,” she said with a smile. “Come along, Fancy,” she said to one of the girls, a pretty sable-haired young woman in a bright red dress. “Be good to him, yeah?”

“Just like I always do, mum,” said Fancy with a smile as she took the hand of the island's commerce minister and led him up the stairs.

Renee walked to the back of the house where she kept the ledger. It was a large space, encompassing the kitchen and pantry, and a common area for eating and generally getting away from the clientèle. She made a few notations, then put Fancy's money into one lock-box and her percentage into another. As she closed the ledger, she heard the shuffle of feet nearby. She gave a glance off to the side and saw Briggs standing near the doorway, grinning at her like a schoolboy. A coquettish smile played upon her lips as she straightened the lock-boxes on their shelves. They didn't need straightening, but it gave her a little more time in the gaze of a man that didn't look at her the way a starving dog would a fat roast.

Renee de Bertrand dealt with men day in and day out, and for the most part she enjoyed being in their company. As long as they had manners, that is. She had never been a prostitute herself, but understood the trade well and had managed to establish the finest house in all of Barbados. In her view, just because these women had turned to prostitution to survive did not mean they should be treated as social outcasts. Her girls were healthy and happy, each of them there of their own free will. Renee treated them all with motherly compassion, making sure they were safe, educated, and taken care of. If someone decided to leave her employ for whatever reason, they were free to do so with no repercussions or animosity. Renee didn't believe in burning bridges. Nor did she believe that anyone was truly irredeemable. She made sure to instil those beliefs in her girls. Her goal was to give them more than a place to work; she wanted to give them hope.

As Renee straightened the lock boxes, she thought back to a time when she was still known as Penelope Woolston, Pip to her friends and family. She laboured as a tavern wench in her home town of Penwyn on the easterly coast of Cornwall. The money wasn't good, but it was an honest day's work. Every spare penny she had, she squirrelled away for the day she could finally leave Cornwall for some place – any place – more exciting. Though she had no formal education, she was a voracious reader, devouring any book she could find that could tell her of life in other lands. Her father, Robert, had a modest trade as a tinsmith. He wasn't the best at what he did, but he managed to provide for his wife and daughter. Pip's obsession with leaving Penwyn was a source of irritation for him. He feared her wanderlust made her a bad marriage proposition. No man wanted a woman with her “head in the clouds and an eye down the road” for a wife, in his estimation. That suited Pip just fine. She had no desire to be tied down or answer to anyone. Her mother, Felicity, was quietly supportive of Pip's ambitions, however. She would sometimes accept books as barter for her services as a laundress, and she would tuck them under Pip's bed for her to discover later. Their private jokes about the book faeries coming to visit were a delight for both women, and kept Pip out of trouble with her father. Her mother's encouragement helped her hold on to her dreams, even when she was certain they'd never come true.

Then, one day, someone walked into her tavern and her life that not only made her dreams seem possible, but right within her grasp.

A quietly intense young man named Jack Wolfe.

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Jack was a sailor aboard the merchant ship Laura Anne, in port to take on a shipment of tin and other goods. He kept to himself at first, content to pass the time as Pip did, reading a book. He didn't seem at all the type to be making his life on the sea. He had good manners, was obviously educated, and rarely drank anything stronger than beer. His ship ported there every three months, and Jack would spend his time ashore at the tavern, reading. Pip would make a point of waiting on him, sometimes giving up half her tip money from him to the other girls to do so, all for the chance to find out what he was reading. And to find out more about him. Finding someone who seemed to be a kindred spirit in a tin town was an opportunity too good to pass up. And the other girls agreed with her that he was easy on the eyes.

It didn't take long for Pip to strike up a friendship with Jack. She began asking him about the books he was reading, and his favourite subjects and authors. The range of subject matter in which he was well versed surprised her. Philosophy, literature, ancient civilisations, natural science, art-- he seemed to have an interest in everything. A friendship was quickly sparked. She told him of her dreams to travel and see the world, and he told her of the different ports he had been to and the people there, fuelling her desires to be free to go where she wanted. Since the Laura Anne was in port every few months, Jack made a bargain with Pip. He would loan her as many books as she wanted, as long as she never stopped reading and learning. And foremost, that she never give up her dreams. "The world will not record the things we wish for but never try," he told her. Pip took his words to heart. Her free time was spent reading and learning, and her time working was filled with thoughts of where she would rather be. Jack's stories of the New World intrigued her greatly, and she read everything she could find about it. It was a wild and dangerous place, and Pip Woolston wanted to be at the heart of it all.

In a short time, their friendship progressed from long talks by the fire to something far more intimate. Not a romance per se, but it served to alleviate their mutual loneliness. This arrangement suited them both just fine, as neither was interested in romantic commitment. They had both tried and failed in that arena before, and weren't in a hurry to fail again. Pip made it clear that whenever Jack was in port, her bed was warm and waiting, and Jack was happy to oblige her. Their friendship over the next year a satisfying one, intellectually and physically.

Then, one foggy April morning, Jack failed to walk through her door.

"What day is it, Benny?" Pip asked the tavern owner.

"Thursday."

"I know it's Thursday, you prawn. I mean what's the date?"

"The 18th. What do you care?"

She looked at the door and frowned. "Just wondering is all."

"Oh, you're looking for your sailor boy, aren't you?"

Her cheeks flushed. "Why would I be looking for him?"

"Call it a guess," said Benny. "The stack of books under the counter and the fresh linens you took three days ago gave it away. I'll be taking a tuppence out of your pay for that, don't be mistaken! You're not due fresh sheets for another two weeks."

"You can take your tuppence," snapped Pip, "and you can shove---"

"Why don't you go down to the docks and see if his ship's here?" interrupted Grace, another tavern maid. She was ten years older that Pip, and was looked upon by the other girls there as sort of an older sister. "I'll take care of things 'til you get back." She cut a look at Benny. "And it won't even cost you a tuppence."

Benny threw his hands up in the air. "Fine, then! Go! 'Cause I'm made of money, what should I care?"

"Oh, shut it!" said Grace. "She won't be long, and the work still gets done. Bloody heartless, you are."

"You watch your mouth, girlie!" he warned.

She gave Benny a dismissive roll of her eyes and turned to Pip. "Never mind Old Tight-Pockets. You run along and find out about your lad."

Pip smiled happily and gave Grace a quick kiss on her cheek. "Thanks! I'll only be a few minutes, I promise!"

Pip ran down the lane toward the docks, her sky-blue skirt flying in the gentle morning breeze as she did. She stopped at the top of the small hill that led to the quays and looked out over the harbour. Her heart sank a little when she saw that the Laura Anne wasn't there. Nor was she anchored in the harbour, and there were no sails approaching that she could see. In a way, it was a relief that he hadn't suddenly decided to end their friendship without explanation. But he was almost four days overdue. What happened to him?

She walked down the hill toward the harbour master's shack, her feet feeling more leaden with each step. 'Maybe there was a storm, or there was a delay at the last port,' she told herself as she put her hand on the door handle. 'No need to bother the harbour master. I'll give it a couple more days...'

The door opened, and Pip let out a little yelp.

"I'm sorry!" said Mr. Smithers, the harbour master. He was a kindly, white-haired little man with a chubby face and ready smile. "I saw you come to the door, and when you didn't come in I thought I'd left the door locked again. Bother old age anyway, it makes you forgetful."

"No, I didn't want to pester you," she said.

"Nonsense! I pretty girl like you, pester me? Why, you'd only brighten my day. Now, come on inside. What is it you need, my dear?"

"I- I was wondering about a ship."

"Then you're in the right place!" Mr. Smithers laughed warmly. He opened up a large blue ledger. "Which one, and when was it due?"

"The Laura Anne. It was supposed to be here three days ago."

Mr. Smithers ran his finger down the columns on the page and frowned. "Actually, four days ago. She's very late indeed. I should have known something was amiss. The Henrietta and the Laura Anne almost always meet up on their way here. At the worst they're no more than half a day apart. The Henrietta ported right on schedule." He looked up from the book, his face full of concern. "I'm sorry, but I don't know what to tell you. Is a family member aboard?"

"No," Pip said softly. "Just a friend."

The man reached across the counter and put his hand on hers. "Well, they probably got delayed in port. Ships are always getting held up by slow warehouses, money squabbles, foul weather, and such. Nothing to worry yourself about. Your friend will be here soon enough."

She smiled and nodded at his reassurance. "Thanks. I appreciate your taking the time to listen to my silly worries."

"Not silly at all, my dear. You're at the tavern, yes?"

"Yes, at Benny's place. The Dog and Doublet."

"I'll make sure word gets sent when the Laura Anne arrives. The minute I'm certain it's her!"

"You're so kind!" she smiled. "I hope to hear from you soon." She turned and opened the door to leave.

"He's a very lucky young man, your friend."

Pip blushed a little as she grinned. "I like to think he is!"

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Another week passed, and no word from Mister Smithers. Every morning, Pip would stand at the top of the hill and look out on the harbour, straining her eyes to see Jack's ship, as if she could will it to come over the horizon. It never did. A week turned into a month, then three.

She had gone to the hilltop less and less frequently, until she stopped going at all as her hope of Jack's return evaporated. It was good while it lasted, she told herself. And like all good things...

Then one evening, she overheard two men talking in the tavern. She was certain one of them had said the name Laura Anne.

"Excuse me, but I couldn't help overhearing," she began. "Did one of you mention the Laura Anne? The merchant freighter?"

"Aye!" said one of the men. "You knew someone aboard her?"

Pip's blood ran cold at his choice of words. "Yes. A friend. His name is Jack Wolfe."

"Hmph. Never heard of him. But he's got me pity if'n he were aboard her a few months back."

"Please, no riddles," she said. "Do you know what happened to the ship?"

The second man leaned on his elbows and got a grim look on his face. "Pirates."

The blood drained out of Pip's face at the word. "No..."

"Afraid so, missy," said the first. "About three, maybe four months ago, give or take. Word is they became a prize of Iron Will Harkness hisself. Ruthless bastard he is. And he ain't known for taking prisoners. Ye either join up with him, or die."

Pip's heart felt like it wanted to stop beating. She knew Jack hated pirates, and would never submit to becoming one.

"I hope it were over quick for yer friend, miss," the second said. "I'm sorry for ye. Hell of a way for a man to go, what that lot do to ye."

She backed away from their table, running into another as she did. "Um, thank you... thanks. I, I have to..."

Pip broke and ran from the public room of the tavern toward the back stairs and the seclusion of her own room. Benny and Grace watched in surprise as she fled.

"Oi, get back here, missy!" shouted Benny. "These tables won't wait themselves!"

Grace gave him an angry look as she went to follow Pip. "Could you shut your yap for half a moment? Something's upset her, and I'm going to find out what."

"Oh no you're not," said Benny. "We've got paying customers to serve!"

She snatched off her apron and threw it at him. "Then put this on and start serving! If the string will reach around that belly of yours, that is. I'm checking on Pip, and that's the end of it."

She left the main room, leaving Benny with a handful of apron and an open mouth.

Grace knocked softly on Pip's door. There was no answer. She put her ear to the door, but couldn't hear anything. She turned the handle and pushed gently, and the door opened. Pip was sitting on the bed with a book in her hand, staring at the floor in silence.

"What's the matter, love?" asked Grace as she sat beside Pip on the bed.

Pip blinked, but didn't look up. "He's dead, Grace. The men downstairs said so. It was pirates."

Grace gently brushed Pip's hair away from her face. "Your friend Jack? The handsome one with all the books?"

"Yeah. Him." Pip ran her hand over the cover of the book. "This was one of his favourites. About some bloke named Socrates by another named Xenophon. Took me forever to get the names right when I read them aloud. Always made Jack laugh when I botched them. Never mean like or anything. Just a gentle laugh, then he'd help me say them right."

"Oh, Pip. I'm so sorry. I know he meant an awful lot to you."

"That's why it doesn't make any sense, Grace."

"What doesn't?"

Pip looked at her friend. Grace could see a hundred emotions behind the girl's eyes; pain, sorrow, anger, despair, confusion... Those and more roiled just below the surface.

"Why can't I cry? I'm supposed to cry, aren't I? But I can't."

"I don't know, love," Grace sighed. "Maybe you're just in shock." She pulled Pip close and stroked her hair. "It'll come. Everybody grieves differently. Just give yourself some time."

"I miss him, Grace. I just can't accept he's gone. It hurts too much."

"Did you love him?"

Pip's eyes searched the room, as if the right thing to say would appear on the wall or on a shelf before her. She bit her lip, then quietly said, "I don't know."

The words sounded hollow to Grace. She could tell from the way Pip sat on the edge of her seat listening to Jack, the way she looked at him, the way she would laugh and play with her hair when he said something funny, that she did indeed know. But it didn't matter now. Jack was gone, and Pip's heart needed to heal.

"You're done for the night, young lady" said Grace. "Here. You lie back and don't worry about work. I'll take care of everything. Including Benny." She stood and waited for Pip to lie down, and pushed the candle on the table closer to the bedside. "I'll be back in a few minutes with a blanket and some hot cider for you."

Grace quietly closed the door, leaving Pip to the silence of her room. Pip took a deep, shuddering breath, and looked at the book that was still in her hands. She ran her slender finger along its spine, then opened it at page 1 and began to read. And as she did, a solitary tear rolled down her cheek.

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Fourteen Months Later...

It was a muggy June evening, and the Dog and Doublet was standing room only with patrons. The harbour was choked with a dozen or more ships, and it seemed as if every sailor had descended on this one tavern. Laughter and loud conversation filled the air, competing with the off-key stylings of a drunken fiddler. Nobody knew who he was or how to get him to stop playing, so the general consensus was to let him keep drinking until he couldn't hold on to his fiddle any longer. Pip made her way through the pressing throng as quickly as she could, her face only a few shades lighter than her hair. Once she got to the bar, she slammed her tray down, glaring at it with gritted teeth.

"What the hell's got you in a snit?" asked Benny.

Pip ignored him and looked over at Grace, who was filling some tankards with ale. "I swear to God above, the next tarry son of a whore that pinches my bum or tries to grab anything else is gonna get his teeth knocked out!"

"They're a grabby lot tonight, that's for certain!" agreed Grace.

"It's like a bloody sea of hands out there!" said Pip. "And if they're not grabbing low, they're pawing high. I've never seen it this bad!"

"Oh, quit your complaining," Benny said. "You're making plenty of tip money, yeah? What's a little pinch or slap?"

"I'd like to put you in a dress and shove you into the middle of them," grumbled Pip. "You'd sing a different tune!"

Benny threw up his hands. "What do you want me to do? Throw them all out for being men?"

"You could be a little sympathetic for a change," said Grace.

"All right then. I'm sorry you got your bum pinched in the line of duty. Feel better?"

"Yeah, I feel right cheery about it now," laughed Pip. "God, you're useless!"

"I don't know," teased Grace. "I think he'd look pretty in a frilly dress and pigtails. And this lot is so drunk, they'd never know the difference!"

Benny tried not to look uncomfortable at being the butt of their joke as Grace and Pip laughed and giggled. But Pip's laughter was cut short as a pair of arms snaked around her waist from behind and pulled her backwards into their owner. She could smell rum on his breath, and could feel the butt of a pistol poking into her. At least she hoped it was his pistol.

"'Allo, lovely," he said in a boozy slur. "How I've missed you!"

Pip pulled away from her assailant, grabbed her tray off the counter, and swung it hard against the man's head with a loud crack. He stumbled backward holding his face in pain.

"Damn it, Pip!" he howled. "I was trying to say hello!"

Her mouth fell open, and she dropped what was left of the tray to the floor. That voice! She knew it. But it couldn't be!

"J- Jack? Jack Wolfe? Is it you?" she stammered.

"Who the hell were you expecting? King Charles himself?" Jack straightened up and checked his nose to see if it was broken, then worked his jaw. "Whoever said only goodbyes are painful never met you!"

"JACK!" she shouted joyfully, and launched herself at him. Jack quickly found himself on the receiving end of a warm and lingering kiss.

"Did you miss me?" he asked breathlessly.

Pip promptly slapped him hard across the face.

"What was that for?!"

"For dying, you jackass!"

Jack gave her a puzzled look, and pointed back over his shoulder. "Know what? I'm gonna go out and come back in, and maybe you'll start making sense. Where in the world did you ever get the idea I was dead?"

Pip stood with a fist planted on her cocked hip and glared at him. "First, your ship doesn't show up when it was supposed to, leaving everyone, including my dad, scrambling to find buyers for their tin. Months go by, and not even so much as a letter from you. Then two men came in, talking about how the Laura Anne was taken by some pirate named Steely Pete Harper, or something..."

"Iron Will Harkness," Jack corrected.

"Like I give a damn?" she snapped. "They said that any man who wouldn't join him was as good as dead. You always did say how much you hate pirates and would never be one, so what was I supposed to think after hearing that?"

Jack took a step back, and with a smile he spread his arms. "Take a look. What do you see?"

In the heat of the moment, Pip hadn't really paid much attention his appearance, just that he was alive and well. Jack's hair was now shoulder length, hanging in loose curls. He sported a goatee that gave him a slightly sinister look. The man who had been loathe to carry a knife now openly displayed a pistol and cutlass, and something told her there were a god many more blades hidden on his person. His clothes were very different from what she remembered. Gone were simple shoes, slops, and short jacket. Instead he wore a loose shirt of silk, a long waistcoat, a heavy belt that served as a holster for his pistol, cotton breeches, and expensive looking tall boots. Gone was the young sailor she had known. Jack had become more than just a little rough around the edges. He had become a pirate.

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Pip's eyes narrowed in disdain. “You idiot.”

“Now that's not the Pip I remember,” he said with a hint of disappointment in his voice. “When did you become so judgemental?”

“When I discovered you sold out.”

“We need to talk, then.”

“I'm busy.”

Jack dug in his pocket and put some coins on the counter. “Here you are, Benny. She's done for the night.”

Benny picked up the coins and rattled them in his hand. “It's a busy night.”

Jack rolled his eyes and put a few more coins in Benny's hand. The tavern owner raised an eyebrow, then looked at Pip. “I think we'll manage. Off you go.”

Jack took Pip by the elbow to lead her to a table, but she jerked her arm away from him. He held his hands up in acquiescence.

“All right, fine, we'll do it your way.”

Jack followed her to a corner table where it wasn't quite so noisy. She took a seat, and he sat down beside her. He tried to disarm her with his best charming grin, but Pip met him with a stony glare.

“Well, this is cozy,” he said, trying to lighten the mood. “Miss me?”

“I thought you were dead,” she replied curtly.

“You sound disappointed that I'm not.”

Pip shook her head slowly. “I waited for you, Jack. Every morning I thought, 'This will be the day he comes strolling through my door with some wonderful story about where he's been.' You never did. And each day, it hurt a little more. Then I heard about your ship being taken my this Harkness fellow. They told me you were dead, and I went numb. Now, after all this time, just as I start to feel again, you finally come strolling through my door. How am I supposed to feel?”

“Happy, perhaps? You find out after a year--”

“Fourteen months, eleven days, and a handful of hours.”

“-- fourteen months that I'm alive and well! I should think that would worth more than snarling at me. Or would you feel better if I had died?”

“No, of course not. It's just that...” She took a deep breath. “It took a long time to let go of your memory, Jack. I suppose I'm in shock.”

Jack gave her a quizzical look. “You... Pip, I had no idea you felt that way about me.”

Her eyes went wide. “Whoa, Nelly! Don't get any ideas I was in love with you, sailor boy! I missed your library, that's all. Fine, our talks, too.”

“That's all you missed?” he asked with a mischievous smile. “What about after the talks?”

Pip's face turned instantly crimson, and she burst into giggles. “Yeah, I missed that, too!” But her laugher quickly faded, and she leaned on the table and rested her chin in her palm. “What happened, Jack?”

Jack sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Like you heard, we got taken by pirates. By Will Harkness himself. Probably the most notorious pirate in the Caribbean. Certainly the most successful.”

“You sound like you admire him.”

“You'd be right.”

“I don't understand. You hated pirates.”

“I did. But some of the men told Harkness I knew a thing or two about ship building. I struck a bargain to help Harkness modify his ship in exchange for keeping Josiah alive.”

Her face lit up. “Briggs is alive? Oh, thank goodness!”

“He's done too much to keep my sorry hide safe, so I couldn't very well abandon him. But Will took me under his wing. And as irony would have it, I'm a pretty good pirate!” Jack laughed and shook his head. “Who'd have thought? But the life suits me, Pip. As strange as it may sound, I like it.”

“If only those stuffed shirts at Cambridge could see you now!”

“Oi! Oxford, thank you!”

“I'm sorry!” she laughed. “I get those two mixed up!”

Jack tilted his head and smiled. “I have missed you, Pip. Have you kept up your studies?”

“Of course I have! Just because you were out of the picture didn't mean my dreams went with you. My eyes are still down the road, as my dad is so fond of saying. I just have to get my feet to follow.”

“What would it take?”

Pip gave him a suspicious look. “Some place far from here, with something I can call my own.”

“Then I have just the thing.”

“Oh, I have to hear this.”

“During my travels, I managed to win a business in a game of dice. I haven't the foggiest what to do with it, and I don't want to go through the bother of selling the thing. What I need is someone to run it.”

“I'll bite. Just where is this business?”

“Bridgetown, Barbados. About as far away as you can get from Cornwall and still hear your mother tongue.”

“And the nature of this business?”

Jack shifted in his chair and looked at the table. “A brothel,” he said quietly.

“Come again?”

He sighed and looked her in the eyes. “A brothel.”

Pip stared at him, open-mouthed. “Are you out of your bleedin' mind?! Me, a madame? What if my parents found out?”

“It's over three month's sail from here to there. It's not like they can nip off round the corner and find you.”

“I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted.”

“Flattered! You were the first person I thought of.”

“'Oh my, I just won a whorehouse. Whatever should I do? Wait! Pip would be perfect to run it!' Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm insulted.”

“Oh, don't be so melodramatic. Frankly, I don't care what you do with it. Leave it a brothel, turn it into a coffee house, it doesn't matter. But think of it, love. It's something you can make your own, far away from here. That's what you want most, isn't it?”

Pip crossed her arms and thought for a few moments. “How many other houses are there?”

Jack fought back a smile. “Two. This one is supposed to be the classiest in all of Barbados.”

She thought some more, tapping her heel as she did so. “The classiest, you say?”

“The best.”

“Hmph. It would be a shame to turn it into a coffee house if it's the best.”

“That's entirely up to the proprietor.”

“What's in it for you?”

“A minimal stake. 15%. That keeps me a minority stakeholder, which means you, or whoever, calls the shots.”

“I'd get free run?”

“Totally free. And at 15% share, I can assure you stay afloat.”

“So you're saying I can't lose?”

“Now would I let that happen?” Jack smiled.

“You're making this sound very enticing.”

“What a relief! I meant to.”

Pip thought about it a bit more, then hit the table with her open hand. “Let's do it.”

“What, right here? In front of all these people? The scandal!”

“Be serious for half a moment, could you? I mean yes, I'm accepting your business offer!”

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Jack grinned. “Yes! I knew you couldn't pass up a good offer! There's only one problem.”

“A problem? You're telling me now?”

“It's your name.”

She looked at him and blinked. “My name? What the hell is wrong with my name?”

“Well, think of it. Pip Woolston. You'll need a fancier name than that. You can't run a proper brothel as Pip Woolston from Cornwall. People would be expecting sheep in the parlour.”

“Listen here, mister minority stakeholder...”

“All I'm suggesting – suggesting, mind you – is that we give you a name befitting your proprietorship, yeah? And the upside is that with a fake name, your parents would never be the wiser in the unlikely chance someone should walk into your dad's tin shop and start extolling the virtues of Barbados' bawdy houses.”

Pip thought about it for a second, and burst out laughing. “All right, smart guy! What kind of name do you suggest?”

Jack tapped his finger to his lips as he thought. “Something exotic, something madamely-sounding... something French. That's it! Madame Renee. Madame Renee de Bertrand. How does that sound?”

“Ooh, I think I fancy that! Madame Renee de Bertrand. I do like the sound of it! What's it mean?”

“Beats me, I just made it up!”

“Well, I like it!”

“Wonderful!” said Jack. “You'd best wrap things up here as soon as you can. We leave day after tomorrow.”

Pip's mouth fell open. “Now, just a minute! This is awfully fast...”

“That's when I sail, love. And if you're going to take this opportunity, you have to be aboard my ship.”

“But, my parents... and Benny! Someone's got to look after that useless lump.”

Jack looked at her sadly. “I'm sorry. I thought you were serious. It's a hard thing, really going after your dreams. Forget I asked.” He pushed back from the table and started to get up.

“Wait!” she exclaimed. “I-- I do want to come along.”

He settled back into his chair. “Then come with me. You'll be under my protection. The captain's woman. You'll be untouchable.”

“The... 'captain's woman'?”

“Yeah, didn't I mention? I've got my own ship! And it's magic. It's going to take you to your dreams, Madame Renee de Bertrand!”

Renee smiled as she though back to those days, and how eagerly she grabbed hold of the chance Jack had given her. She pushed the last lock-box into place and ran her hand over the counter.

“What, you going to hang about all day smiling at me, Josie?” she asked with a playful lilt. “Or is there something here of mine you'd like?”

The entendre sent Briggs into a full blush, complete with nervous laughter. “Um, I, ah, no... I mean, yes!” he stumbled. “For Jack, I mean! He's in need of water, and the pitcher's run dry.”

“Has it, then?” she asked. “I don't see a pitcher in your hands. Plan on carrying the water in your pockets?”

A look of embarrassed shock came over Briggs' face. “Damn! I plum forgot to bring the thing! I'll go and fetch it.”

“Hold on, love,” Renee said quickly. She picked up a fresh pitcher from the table and sauntered toward him, her eyes locked on his the entire time. Briggs watched as she approached, totally mesmerised, unable to look away from her. It was only after she pressed the pitcher against his chest that he remembered to breathe.

“I know you're good for the other one. Not like I don't know where to find you, right?”

“Oh, I'm pretty easy to find, for you anyway,” Briggs said absently.

Renee smiled and gave him a wink. “Keep talking like that, Josie, and I'll take you up on it!”

Briggs swallowed hard, and backed up. “Um, yes ma'am! I'd like that! I mean... I'd best get this up to Jack! Thank ye, ma'am!”

He beat a hasty retreat up the stairs. Renee watched him as he went, and smiled to herself.

“You know, Mister Josiah Briggs, I think I just might do that...”

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Three weeks later...

Rhys quietly closed the back door to Renee's house and looked around. Everyone was either in the front parlour or otherwise occupied, save Doctor Gander. He was sitting at the table with his back to Rhys, making notes in a leather-bound book. Not wanting to disturb him, Rhys turned to walk to the stairs.

“Come to see Jack, Rhys?” asked Duckie.

“How did you know it was me? You never looked up.”

Duckie finished a notation and turned around in his seat. “You come here nearly every day to see him, and always at the same time.”

“God, have I become that predictable?”

“Everyone has routines. It's perfectly normal. But today is a bit different, isn't it?”

Rhys' shoulders slumped a little. “Briggs told you?”

“Of course. But don't worry, no one has told Jack. That's up to you.”

“Lucky me. How is he today?”

“Doing fine! In good spirits, as usual. Renee tells me he still cries out from night terrors, though. Not that he'll ever admit it. His body is healing exceptionally well. The psychological scars, however...” Duckie drew in a breath and sighed. “Time will tell. Wounds to the heart and mind can be just as devastating as wounds to the body. More so in some cases, because they are insidious. You can see a bodily wound, and that makes them simple to treat in comparison. I'm afraid we have yet to discover how much Mendoza really injured Jack.”

“How do you think he'll take the news?”

“If you're looking for the perfect time to tell him, Rhys, don't waste your time. It will never come. The question is, how much longer can you wait?”

“I can't decide if you're a better philosopher or physician, Duckie.”

“I'm just a simple healer, nothing more. Now, go tell him, before you talk yourself out of it again.”

Rhys gave a wan smile, then turned and went up the stairs to Jack's room.

Jack heard a knock at his door. Quickly, he set his book aside and got up from the bed. He hastily poured a glass of rum and took a seat at the table.

“Come in?”

The door opened, and Rhys stepped in. “Hello, Jack. Good to see you up and about.”

“Rhys!” Jack exclaimed happily. “I was just about to indulge. Please, join me!”

He poured another glass as Rhys sat down.

“Duckie says I'll be strong enough to go back to the ship in a week,” said Jack. “God, I can hardly wait to be aboard her again! Now, I've been thinking – and trust me, I've had far too much time to do that – about what our next target should be. How does Guadeloupe sound? Poorly defended and not terribly rich, but enough of a statement to let the world know I'm back, and good as ever! What say you?”

Rhys looked at his friend, and thought about Duckie's words. Jack was animated to the point of being almost manic. Rhys felt a twinge of pity for him, something he never thought he'd ever feel for this man. It certainly didn't make his next words any easier to deliver.

“I'm sorry, Jack. I can't.”

“What do you mean, you can't? Did your ship sink overnight?”

“No,” said Rhys. “I hate to tell you this, I really do. But I have to leave.”

“Nonsense! You just got here. Haven't even touched your rum.”

“That's not what I mean, and you know it.” Rhys paused and took a deep breath to compose himself. “This is why I came back to the Caribbean in the first place. To tell you I'm leaving the life behind, for good. I'm signing over the smuggling business to you, effective immediately. Then I'm sailing home to Wales.”

“What, you sailed all the way here to tell me you're homesick? Why didn't you save yourself the trouble and stay there?” asked Jack, his voice becoming agitated.

“Because I had to do right by you. We're business partners and friends, and that means something. But now I have to leave this world behind, and go back home.”

“What the hell is there that's more important than riches here?”

Rhys took a sip of rum. “Rhiannon. She's all the riches I need.”

Jack could scarcely believe what he was hearing.

“Oh, of course. That girl you keep moping about. Rhys, mate! You know yourself there's a killing to be made there! The Spanish can't move fast enough to protect themselves, and the Dutch are becoming nearly as vulnerable.” He looked intently at Rhys and leaned forward. “I've been tracking Dutch East India Company shipping for several months now. Less the time I lost to that foolishness with Mendoza, of course. It set my timetable back, but I'm certain I'm on the verge of a major haul, too much even for me to spend in a lifetime if I play it right. And there's no one I'd rather share it with. It's the least I can do after you saved my life.”

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Jack looked hard into his friend's eyes. "Rhys, our business venture has been wildly profitable. Just think of it; in less than two years, most likely sooner, you could be wealthy enough to set up a fine life for yourself and- what's her name again? Rebecca? No, that's not it. Not enough consonants."

"Rhiannon. And I don't have that kind of time anymore, Jack"

"Well, if she's half as in love with you as you are with her, she'll wait."

"That's the problem. She's been waiting. I promised I'd be back in Wales by now to marry her. I'm months overdue as it stands," said Rhys longingly.

"There's the problem with falling in love, my friend. It makes you lose your mind and rush off to stick your head in a noose." Jack poured them both some rum. "Where is your young bride to be? Still at home under her mother's wing?"

Rhys shook his head. "Her mother died when she was a little girl. Not long after, her father sent her away."

"To boarding school?"

"To... a convent," fidgeted Rhys.

Jack looked at him and blinked. "You're kidding."

Rhys shook his head.

"Wales is far more progressive than I thought. How does that work? You walk up to the door and ask 'I'm looking for a girl. How are you for blondes this week?'"

"You can see now why I never told you this." Rhys sighed and rubbed his eyes. "We met on a hillside overlooking the harbour at Beaumaris It's up in the north of Wales."

"I've been there, several years ago. Nice place. Never made it past the taverns, though. A shame, that. Sounds like the real treasure was in the countryside."

Rhys ignored Jack's characteristically flip attitude. "Anyway, I was on a hillside, sketching ships and the water. To clear my head, you know? You've seen me do it a thousand times. She was there as well with her dog, writing poetry."

"So one thing lead to another, and you showed her your etchings?"

"We struck up a friendship, and it became much more over time."

"So, what's the plan? Divest your holdings here, sail back home, and spring her from the convent? An elopement?"

"Something like that. Lord Castlemaine would never agree to me marrying her." A look came into Rhys' eyes that made Jack pause.

"Oh, please! You're going to steal her away from Sister Mary Monstrosity and Rhiannon's father? To think they call me mad..."

"What would you have me do, then?"

Jack leaned forward and looked his old friend in the eyes. "I'd say 'sod it all' and set my sights back on the Caribbean. Rhys, you've seen the incredibly beautiful women here. You'll forget about her in no time."

Rhys shook his head. "You don't understand, Jack. Rhiannon is... she's everything. There's not a moment goes by that I don't think about her. I wish there was a way to make you understand why I have to go. But you've obviously never been in love."

Jack paused for a moment mid-drink. "Don't be so sure of yourself, Cambridge."

"Oh, right," Rhys laughed. "I've seen you in action, my friend. You don't let a woman get close enough. You see women as a diversion. Playthings. 'Unprofitable enterprises,' you've said before. I can no sooner see you falling in love that I can imaging my living without Rhiannon."

"A bit of advice, Rhys. England is in turmoil. This Lord Castlemaine, he's watching his wealth and status evaporate in front of his eyes. Now you want to spirit away his daughter? He may not consciously think of her as a possession, but that's what she is to him now. One more thing to try and hang on to. A man in his position is dangerous. You keep down this path, you're likely to end up getting yourself killed. Or worse, heartbroken."

"Rhiannon would never do anything to break my heart."

Jack leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "She's really worth the risk? Worth walking away from this life for one of domesticity?"

"Jack, if you even met her, even your ice cold heart would melt."

"My heart's not nearly as icy as you think. All the same, I doubt it."

Rhys finished off the last of his rum. "I'm sorry, Jack. I'm sure this looks like a foolish move, like I'm cutting and running. But it's something I have to do."

"Of course it's foolish. But I have a soft spot for outlandish plans that haven't an ounce of good sense behind them. And while I am sorry you won't stay here, it's just that much more swag for me," smiled Jack. "It's been a good run, yeah? So when do you set sail for Wales to enact your grand plan?"

"Tomorrow. It's going to work, Jack. It has to."

"I'm sure it will," Jack said with mock sincerity. "It has success written all over it. Have you decided where you'll go once you rescue your damsel from the monsters? You'll need a place to start anew."

"I have a few places in mind. Why, do you have a suggestion?"

Jack stamped the floor with his heel. "Right here, in Barbados. Her father will never think to look for the two of you this far away from Wales. It's the perfect place to disappear and start a new life. In face, I'll personally guarantee your safety. Call it a wedding gift."

"Thank you, Jack," said Rhys. "Don't be surprised when we show up on your doorstep."

"And miss out on the chance to help Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the newlyweds? In fact, I'm looking forward to it."

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Beaumaris, Wales--April, 1652

The Neptune Rising pulled into the harbour of Beaumaris as the dawn's light was breaking through the indigo sky. Rhys shouted out his commands as they brought the ship into the dock.

Dolan stood at the gunwale and looked at his friend. Never before had Rhys Morgan seemed so antsy to leave his ship.

Finally Rhys joined him. Breathing the salt air, Rhys smiled at his quartermaster.

"Ahh! The sweet smell of Wales!"

Dolan smirked. "I'd say we could be anywhere she was and you would say the same."

Rhys shielded his eyes and looked towards the port.

"I know she will understand once I explain what happened."

"You honestly think so?"

Rhys shook his head. "No. No, I don't. Hopefully she won't be too upset. I'll take a room at the inn and then I'll wait for her gypsy friend Athena to get word to her to meet me on the bluffs. Then we head off to my father's estate and properly wed her. And then off to Cambridge to resume my studies and live a happily ever after."

"You think Jack is doing alright?"

"He was the last we left him. Weak as a kitten but Dr Gander said with the care Renee will give him, he will be on the mend. Don't know about his mental state though."

"I thought you said he was 'Mad Jack' anyways."

Rhys looked out over his ship. "An experience like that has to change you. It would anyone. Whether it will make him more introspective or reckless, only time will tell."

Dolan lit his pipe. "I know it changed me. How can one man be such a monster?"

"Power. Someone must have told him that he was put in that position by God. And he believed it."

"Heard he was a Castilian."

"Yeah. Full of himself. Probably descended from Joanna the Mad. Totally bonkers, that one. Obsessed with her husband. And Diego was totally obsessed with Mercedes."

"Where is the doxy now?"

"Divides her time between that fortress but escapes to Havana when she can."

"Well, I hope Jack pulls out of it all with minimal scarring. Both mentally and physically."

"Time will tell, Dolan. Time will tell."

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

His ship was docked, the men were given shore leave for a week. Rhys knew that Dolan would take care of the ship and the men would be loyal to him.

He stopped in front of the grey stone cottage, anticipation that perhaps by day's end, Rhiannon would be lying in his arms in the room he booked.

Knocking on the door, it was opened by a beautiful gypsy girl.

"Are you Athena?"

She nodded. "And you are Rhys Morgan. Rhiannon described you perfectly. Right down to the sun streaks in your hair and the eyes she said were the colour of the sea. But you were supposed to be here at the end of December, Rhys Morgan!"

He sighed.

"I know. I ran into a complication where lives were at stake. Is she really upset?"

Athena shrugged. "Well, it's hard to---"

"I'll make it up to her, I swear. Would you be able to get word to her today at the convent?"

Athena shook her head. "She's not there."

"What do you mean, she's not there?"

Athena sighed. "You had better come in, Rhys Morgan."

Rhys followed Athena into the parlor. The cottage was immaculate, the smell of patchouli and sandalwood filling the air.

"Please sit down."

Rhys sat and took off his hat, twisting it in his hands.

"But she is well, isn't she?"

Athena poured a glass of wine for Rhys and handed it to him.

"She's gone."

"Yes, you said that. Now where is she? Back with her father?"

The gypsy shook her head. "I don't know where she is."

"But...but you go to the manor, don't you?"

She nodded.

"I do. I hate to have to tell you this, Rhys. But when you didn't come back, the Mother Superior found out about the two of you and sent Rhiannon home in disgrace. I saw her when I went there to drop off the season's vintage of wine. And I saw what I hoped was not true."

"You are speaking in riddles, Athena. Please! Tell me where she may be and I will find her."

Athena took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"Rhiannon Conaway was being fitted for her wedding dress."

Rhys caught the goblet right before it slipped out of his hands.

"She--she--what?"

"She was getting married."

"But...when?"

"About three weeks ago."

"Then I have time to get her. Would you please go and tell her I am here?"

Athena shook her head no.

"It's too late."

Rhys turned pale. "What do you mean....too late?"

"She was married two weeks ago."

Rhys was hearing the words that Athena was telling him but it sounded far away. Like it was happening to someone else and he was eavesdropping.

"...and when I saw her, she wouldn't look me in the eyes. I never saw her again. And I haven't been able to find out who she married or where she is. I'm sorry, Rhys. I really am."

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Rhys sat on the boulder for an hour, just staring out to sea. She didn't wait for me...she's married... He repeated it like a mantra. Finally he stood up. His heart was heavy. Then he turned and headed for the tavern in port.

The innkeeper came over to him.

"What'll ye have, son?"

Rhys said absentmindedly, "Hmmm? Ale. A tankard of ale."

The innkeeper came back and put it down. "That be all?"

"For now."

Rhys sat there and drank his ale. He signaled for another one. The innkeeper's daughter, a pleasant girl named Sally, approached Rhys. She said shyly, "Can I get ye anything to eat?"

Rhys shook his head. Sally leaned over.

"Ye be alright?"

"Don't think I ever will be."

She sat down. "Ah, it be a girl ye be pinin' for..isn't it?"

Rhys shook his head no. Need to play this one carefully, he thought. "I hear tell there was a fancy to-do wedding up at Conaway Manor a few weeks ago. One of Lord Conaway's daughters..which one was it again?"

Sally said, "Oh, that be Miss Rhiannon. Funny thing about that, no one in the parish knew she was betrothed. It were one minute she be in the convent, the next she be getting wed. I hear tell he was a baron or something like that. Also, funny thing. The banns were not posted in the church. Yet she be married here."

"And who did she marry?"

"Not sure. But he's moneyed. Took their wedding trip to Scotland. So maybe he be a lairde there. Don't rightly know, just that she got wed and now she be settled somewhere."

Rhys sat there brooding over the new information. Banns not posted? Who in hell did she marry?

Damn Jack. Damn Jack Wolfe for screwing up his life. And damn the Morgan honour.

Damn...everyone.

And everything.

Rhys stayed into the late night and drank himself into oblivion. He took a few bottles of whiskey and went to his room. He continued to drink until he passed out. And he continued this pattern for a week.

Finally a knock on his door.

"Go away."

"No."

"GO AWAY!"

"If you don't open this door, then I am breaking it down, Rhys Morgan. And I'll have the innkeeper send you the bill."

Dolan waited a minute and then he heard the latch.

Rhys came to the door with bloodshot eyes and disheveled hair. He looked like he had slept in his clothes.

Because he had.

The quartermaster took one look at his captain and said quietly, "I heard."

Rhys looked at him with red-rimmed eyes and the tears started to well.

"I was late. Too late. TWO...DAMNED..WEEKS LATE!"

He punctuated each word with a hole to the wall with his fist.

Dolan gathered Rhys' things.

"Come on."

"What?"

"Come on. We're going home."

"Home? And where is that?"

"Anywhere but here, Rhys."

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Beaumaris, Wales--July, 1652

"This way, Captain Morgan."

The butler led Rhys to the library where he had met with Lord Madoc Castlemaine

several times before.

"Thank you. I hope he won't be long. I have business elsewhere to wrap up."

"I'm sure he will be here shortly. Please, help yourself to the brandy."

Rhys poured a generous snifter of brandy and surveyed the room. Something was different. Something was....missing. He looked up.

The portrait of Lady Castlemaine was gone and in its stead was a huge empty wall.

"Captain Morgan."

He turned around to face Madoc Castlemaine, lord of the manor.

The past few months had brought a cynicism to Rhys. Bitterness time had not managed to abate but intensify.

He swirled his brandy nonchalantly.

"Castlemaine."

Madoc raised his eyebrow at the lack of title in Rhys' greeting but said nothing.

"I trust the funds are in the bank as directed."

"Yes, and no way to be traced to our....arrangement. Here is the receipt showing the deposit amount."

Madoc took the receipt and looked at the figure.

"I must say--I am impressed. The smuggling business must be paying off."

Rhys took a deep drink of the brandy and said, "I've decided to concentrate on business rather than personal pursuits. And also to tell you this will be your last draft."

Madoc sat back and steepled his fingers.

"Well, I would say this demands an explanation. Have a seat, please."

Rhys took the leather chair opposite the one that Madoc had indicated. It let Madoc know he was no longer acquiescing to him. And that he would no longer have any hold over him or his commerce.

"I'm pulling out the goods and relocating to Jamaica."

"Really. And why, may I ask? England, Wales and Scotland have need of your merchandise, you know. You have a good arrangement here."

"England, Wales and Scotland no longer hold any interest for me. I have made arrangements elsewhere and find the Caribbean more suits my lifestyle now. I have inventoried all goods at face value and have calculated your percentage. The goods will be out at the end of the month and then it is 'nice doing business with you. Don't call me.' "

Rhys rose to go. Madoc gave him a sardonic smile.

"It's a woman, isn't it? You either are nursing a jilted heart or have something going on with a dusky beauty down in Jamaica. So which is it?"

Rhys put on his cavalier hat.

"That, Madoc, is my personal business. Not yours."

Madoc looked at Rhys with faint amusement.

"I think I just got my answer."

Rhys turned to go and Madoc replied, "I'm having a soiree tonight. I'd be honoured if you would attend. My wife--"

"Your wife?"

"Yes, I've recently wed since we last saw each other."

"That explains the absence of the first Lady Castlemaine's portrait. The new Lady C. found it disturbing?"

"My wife has no say in the running of the household matters. She is here simply to be a hostess, keep me satisfied and provide me with heirs."

"Well, that's a pretty tall order. I wish her the best then."

"She's learning the first. The second is working quite well and the third will be a product of the second in no time at all. Shall we expect you this evening?"

Rhys chuckled, "Sure. Why not? It may be entertaining to see how the other half lives."

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"Madoc, please--why do we have to have these constant social occasions?"

"Because it is not only our social obligations, it is good business."

"But I am tired of playing hostess to your stodgy old friends. Why can't I invite my sisters? At least there would be someone to laugh with. If I have to hear about Lady Crowley's gout or Lady Byerly's non-stop lying-ins, I will scream!"

Madoc tied his cravat and looked at her in the mirror.

"And isn't it about time you had something to contribute to their conversations?"

Her face blushed.

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

"No? It should be about time your belly started to swell. We have been married for five months and yet no sign of the quickening of life."

Rhiannon said indignantly, "I am NOT barren, if that is what you are implying. The time just hasn't been....right."

Her eyes involuntarily darted to the small chest where a vial of herbs held the key to her 'barreness'.

'At least wait until I figure things out,' she reasoned. ' Until my heart heals.'

Dealing with a pregnancy, a lying-in and the thoughts of a baby was something that Rhiannon just couldn't deal with at the moment.

Madoc caressed her cheek.

"No mind, we just have to make sure the time is right then."

He traced his hand from her face to her chest.

"Maybe accelerate the efforts then."

Inside Rhiannon shuddered. Not that Madoc was clumsy or a bad lover. On the contrary, she did not like the way he made her feel. Her reluctant but obvious enjoyment made her feel disloyal to the one man her body still craved.

The captain who betrayed her.

The captain that left her to face the music and pick up the pieces.

Alone.

She gently took Madoc's hand and placed it away from her.

"I have to get dressed for want of your 'social obligation.'"

Madoc reached in the armoire and pulled out a dress of royal blue.

"This is the dress you shall wear. With the matching sapphires to show your eyes to full advantage."

She took the dress.

"Is that all I am to you, Madoc? Decoration?"

"Of course not. Everything that matters is what the Castlemaines can get. And more Castlemaines, of course. And when you do produce an heir--a son--you will be rewarded."

"By the way, how goes the portrait? You find Monsieur Gerard enjoyable to work with?"

Her face blushed. "Yes, I do. He is a delight."

"I'm pleased. When shall it be finished?"

She shrugged. "I'm not sure. You would have to ask him as I am not the artist."

The portrait was taking longer than anticipated. In Monsieur Gerard, Rhiannon had found a lovely diversion. The flirting, the innuendoes...

In her loneliness, Rhiannon found nothing wrong. After all, he was an artist.

And French.

A man to her Welsh eyes deemed to be 'forbidden fruit'.

Yet he was entertaining to be with. Witty, charming....and very attractive.

It was Rhiannon's way of dealing with the hurt that pierced her heart and the pain laid bare by Rhys Morgan's desertion.

"We shall have another 'social engagement' as you like to call them when it is to be unveiled, Rhiannon."

Her heart dropped as the portrait Madoc commissioned would not be what he expected.

No piety.

No drab, hand me down dress from the late Lady Castlemaine the First.

But one of Rhiannon's own choosing.

"...and I invited him."

"I'm sorry, Madoc. What did you say?"

"A merchant. Very profitable and successful in his own right. I invited him tonight. Just so you know when you see a strange face."

'Alright--now go so Rhoslyn can dress me."

Rhoslyn came in with combs, brushes and scented lotions. As she brushed Rhiannon's hair, she gingerly approached a subject of a delicacy.

"Ma'am, the portrait--you will take care that propriety and all due respect is accorded you?"

"What do you mean, Rhoslyn?"

"I mean...well...servants talk. And there is an exceptional amount of talk about Monsieur Gerard. The closed doors, the laughter....the whispers. You be careful of your station in life, Milady."

Her worried eyes met Rhiannon's in the mirror.

"Duly noted, Rhoslyn. And...thank you."

She nodded.

"Now, shall we try the ivory combs or the velvet band?"

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

Madoc knocked at the door. "Rhiannon, are you almost ready?"

"Come in, Madoc."

Rhoslyn was finishing up the tightening of Rhiannon's lacings.

Madoc looked her appreciatively up and down.

"And you look every bit the lady of the manor."

She groaned. "I don't WANT to look like the lady of the manor. I want to be the girl picking blueberries and wildflowers again, not talking to boring men. Like that merchant you invited. What am I supposed to talk to him about?"

"Oh...silks, lace, spices....you can always find something to talk about, Rhiannon. Just don't act your age."

The fact that she was thirty years younger than Madoc always smarted. He made her feel like such a child.

"Now, shall we go downstairs to greet our guests?"

She sighed. "If we must. Although I do feel a headache coming on..."

Madoc held his arm out to her. She sighed and laid her hand on it as she had done so many times before for the social soirees.

As they descended the stairs, Madoc said, "Ah! There he is. The merchant I was telling you about."

Rhiannon looked down and felt as if her heart had stopped beating. She tried to catch her breath.

At the foot of the stairs looking up at her was the last person she ever expected to see again in her life.

Captain Rhys Morgan.

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How Rhiannon made it to the bottom of the staircase she never knew. She felt as if she had been thrown underwater and was struggling to rise to the surface to gasp a breath before reality dragged her below the surface again.

"Captain Rhys Morgan, may I present my wife Lady Castlemaine."

If Rhys showed any surprise, he certainly kept it hidden. He extended his hand and took hers into his. Drawing her hand to his mouth for a kiss, Rhys said, "A pleasure to meet you, Lady Castlemaine."

Rhiannon fought hard to keep any emotions to herself. It was as if another person was saying the words she had repeated over and over at these balls and social functions Madoc was fond of hosting.

"It is indeed a joy to meet you, Captain Morgan. Will you be in Beaumaris long?"

Act! Act! The voice inside her head screamed.

But her heart was telling her to throw herself in Rhys' arms and beg him to take her away with him.

"Unfortunately I will be gone by the end of the week. I have other commitments that take precedence. Tying loose ends up and all that."

"Will you be making port here again?"

Please, Rhys, please! Take me with you!

"I can't say, Lady Castlemaine. I am dispersing some merchandise and then will have to see what the future holds."

The future holds me, Rhys. Me!

Madoc watched with amusement and a sense of pride that Rhiannon could ask just the right questions. She had a blush on her face but that could be due to rushing around to get ready, he reasoned.

Madoc slipped his arm around Rhiannon's waist in a proprietary sense.

He could see that Rhys Morgan was intrigued by his lovely wife. And she was his.

Madoc's and no one else's.

He looked over and saw Lord Dimsworth.

"Darling, I am sorry but I must see Lord Dimsworth about that stallion. He has offered it for sale and I intend to be the one who purchases him. Captain Morgan? I do hope we meet again before you sail off on your journeys."

Rhiannon stood there not knowing what her role in this Greek tragedy was. Rhys extended his hand to her and bowed.

"The quartet is playing. Would you honour me with a dance, Lady Castlemaine?"

She heard the slight derision in his voice as he said her name. She tilted her chin up defiantly at that and said in a cultured voice, "I would be delighted, Captain Morgan."

He led her out to the polished marble ballroom floor. Bowing to her, she gave him a curtsey and he took her in his arms but in a way that was all proper to the morals of the occasion.

"You are looking well, Milady."

Rhiannon looked up at him and gazed into his eyes. They had changed. Gone was the softness when he looked at her. It had been replaced with a hardness that was almost frightening to see. While he was still handsome, he had the edge of bitterness to his demeanor.

"Thank you, Captain," she could barely utter.

"Marriage seems to agree with you."

Marriage to you, Rhys. That is what you promised me.

She fought to keep the accusations to herself.

"I wish I could say the same for you, Captain Morgan. Or has someone else stolen your heart?"

The bitterness and invective tinged her voice.

He smiled in faint amusement.

"Why, Lady Castlemaine! That is a bold question from such a genteel lady. Are you asking me if I am in love with someone?"

She said through clenched teeth, "I would like to know if I had been replaced."

Just then Madoc came over to the couple.

"Sir Morgan, would you mind if I took over the dance?"

Rhys bowed. "Not at all. It was indeed a pleasure, Lady Castlemaine. And thank you for the stimulating conversation."

Madoc raised his eyebrow as Rhiannon's face flushed.

Rhys tipped his cavalier hat to them both and nodded to Rhiannon.

"I shall bid you a good evening, Lady Castlemaine. I do hope you enjoy your...party."

Madoc took Rhiannon in his arms and whirled her around the ballroom.

"Interesting fellow, don't you think?"

"Yes."

"Imports all sorts of goods. Spices.....silks....coffee....gold..."

She took a bold step.

"If I didn't know better, Madoc, I would think he was a pirate."

A slight smile played on Madoc's lips.

"Pirate? Where would you get a notion like that?"

"From what you are telling me he is dealing in."

"No, my dear. No pirate. Just a merchant."

"You don't socialize with the bourgeois class, Madoc."

"It was just a business proposition, Lady Castlemaine. And may I remind you that your place is to look enchanting and not think so damn much?"

Rhiannon pursed her lips. "Then you shall hear no more of it from me, Lord Castlemaine."

The evening continued on with Rhiannon going through the motions. She made all the right replies, smiled in all the appropriate places yet her mind was in such turmoil that she was running on automatic.

As soon as the last guest left, she mounted the staircase, heading for her bedroom. Madoc was right behind her.

As she reached the door, she turned to him.

"I'm really exhausted, Madoc."

He opened the door for her and said, "I don't care if you are or not."

And shut the door behind them.

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

"And how did ye grand old party go, Captain?"

Rhys sat down at the tavern table and signaled for a tavern wench to bring him an ale.

"Keep them coming until I either say no more or pass out. Whatever comes first, luv."

He dropped a handful of coins onto her tray.

Taking a deep drink, he looked at Dolan with a look that measured between derision and defeat.

"It was a very enlightening party."

"I'll bet. That bastard Castlemaine has high falutin' ways."

"He recently got married."

"Oh? Well, bet she is a proper lady to the manor born. About as much fun as a nun in a convent, I bet," Dolan snorted.

"You got half that right."

"Proper lady, huh? Knew it."

"No, the convent part."

"He married a nun?"

"Not quite."

"Rhys, you're speaking in riddles."

Rhys looked at Dolan with a look that straddled heartbreak.

"I found her."

Dolan looked at him with a sinking feeling.

"Her?" Even though he knew.

"Rhiannon. The lovely Miss Conaway is now the blushing bride of one Lord Madoc Castlemaine."

And with that, Rhys hurled his tankard against the mirror over the mantle, shattering it.

The tavern went silent.

Rhys stood up and threw a few gold coins on the tavern counter.

"That should cover it. And if it doesn't....do send the bill to Castlemaine."

And with that he walked out into the dark night.

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Rhiannon sat on the bluff where she had sat so many afternoons writing her poetry. So many things changed, it was like a lifetime ago. She unconsciously twisted her wedding band.

As she gazed across to the sea, she heard a twig snap behind her. Sharply turning her head, she saw him.

Rhys Morgan.

She turned her head and looked out to the sea again.

"I knew you would come," she said softly.

He leaned on a crossed limb.

"I knew you'd be here."

"So...you are now Lady Castlemaine. Mistress of the manor."

She felt her eyes well up with tears and barely whispered, 'I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited..."

Her voice trailed off.

He sat beside her, plucking a blade of grass. "I came as soon as I could."

She whirled on him. "Eight months too late! Do you have any idea what you have done to my life?"

"I ran into trouble."

"So did I, Rhys. So did I. Mother Superior found out and I was sent home in disgrace."

"Disgrace? You didn't waste any time in getting married. Athena told me that as soon as you left, within a month you were married to landed gentry. An older man, she said. She couldn't figure out why no banns were posted. Were you afraid he would find out about us and change his mind?"

Rhiannon raised her hand to slap Rhys and he caught her by the wrist.

"Damn you, Rhys Morgan. You ruined my life. I loved you and gave you my heart. My soul. I was ready to sail with you and you wouldn't let me. Did you get delayed by some treasure? A woman, perhaps? Were you in prison?"

"As a matter of fact, I was."

Her mouth dropped open. He stood up and held his hand out to her.

"Let's walk. I don't want your reputation besmirched, Lady Castlemaine. I know your husband and I don't think he would hesitate to stretch my neck if he could."

They walked through the woods in silence for a few minutes.

"You are looking well, Lady Castlemaine."

"As are you, Captain Morgan."

"Nice dress."

Rhiannon smoothed the gathers on her silk skirt down.

"Thank you."

"Beautiful boots."

She said nothing.

"Is that ring an original or a hand me down from the first Lady Castlemaine?"

"Damn you, Rhys Morgan! DAMN YOU!'

He stopped and looked at her.

"I'm sorry. That was totally uncalled for on my part, Lady Castlemaine."

She turned her head. "Please. Don't call me that."

"Lady Castlemaine?"

She nodded miserably, unable to face him.

He turned her face to his and looked at the sadness in her eyes.

"I'm sorry. I'm...so..very...sorry," she blurted out.

She looked back into his eyes and fell into his arms, sobbing.

Rhys held her until her tears were spent. "Rhiannon, my love, I haven't the words to tell you how sorry I am. I came back as quickly as I could."

She whispered, "It wasn't quick enough, Rhys. Do you know what it was like waiting day after day, night after night for you to come? Muir sat by that window all night long watching. I think he wanted out of St Brigid's as much as I did."

Rhiannon sat on a boulder, dabbing her eyes with the handkerchief.

"If I hadn't married Madoc, my father was going to hunt you down if you were still alive and hang you. I--I did it to protect you."

"But how did Mother Superior find out about us? We were never seen."

"Oh, but we were. Mary Agnes--the damn snitch--decided in the interest of her immortal soul, to unburden herself to the parish priest. He in turn broke the rules of confession and got his mouth running to the old crone. And I was sent home. Father found out what it was and who it was with. Rhys, I never knew you used the caves as storage for your smuggled goods."

He sighed. "I was quitting the Account and I didn't want you to think I was using you as a ways and means to keep it there."

"Well, it turns out Father found out about what was in the cave. He didn't do anything about it right away since I turned up at the same time. And he used it as leverage to take care of his 'situation.' Seems I brought disgrace on the house of Conway. He knew Madoc Castlemaine was keen to get married again and regain his position in the social world of Wales and a young bride was just the thing."

"Did Castlemaine ever find out about you and me?"

"No. Father had intimated that I had been seduced by an unknown and it was a one-time thing. That seemed acceptable to Madoc. But in small ways, he never lets me forget that I am 'damaged goods' in his eyes."

"Is he good to you?"

She sighed.

"Good. No, he is not good to me. He's controlling and demanding. And he has a cruel streak."

"I'm so sorry, my darling."

He gently pushed her hair back from her face.

"God, I love you."

She turned her head so he wouldn't see the despair in her eyes. She could almost handle it if he were ambivalent towards her but this was salt in a fresh wound.

She could hardly get the words out.

"Rhys, why did you desert me? I waited for you."

Rhys took her hand. "I didn't desert you, love. But I had no choice. It was my duty as a Morgan to help out a friend. Honour above all things, Rhiannon. A friend of mine was being held captive by a crazed Spanish count over a slight indiscretion. His quartermaster was going in half-cocked to rescue him. If I didn't lead the rescue, the quartermaster would have gotten himself killed and Jack Wolfe would have died a horrific death. He's recuperating at a friend's establishment."

"I certainly hope Mr. Fox--"

"---Wolfe."

"---whatever his name is---I hope that namesake of vermin is pleased he ruined two lives!"

"Darling, he had no idea. He even told me to leave him, to go back to Wales and live happily ever after. I came back as soon as I was sure he was taken care of."

"So where does that leave us, Rhys?"

He reached over and brushed her hair from her face.

"I don't know. All is I know that I can't let you go. I won't let you go."

She turned her head.

"Rhys, Madoc's powerful. And he's connected. And he's ruthless."

"And cruel and vindictive. I have had dealings with him."

"I surmised as much. Merchant, my arse. You had the same arrangement with him as you did with my father. But with Madoc's blessings".

"Can you get away tomorrow?"

She nodded slowly.

"I'll find a way. But don't meet me here. It's too open. I'll take one of the horses out riding tomorrow. Madoc will be gone all morning."

"Where shall we meet?"

"See that path there? About half a mile away is an old grinding mill. I'll meet you there."

He gently caressed her cheek with the fingertips.

"I'll see you tomorrow then. Around 10:00."

"Rhys?"

"Yes."

"Just.....don't expect anything out of me. Not....not like before."

He looked towards the sea. "I'd never impose myself on the bonds of holy matrimony, Rhiannon."

She sighed and got up.

"It's better if I go first. I'll see you tomorrow, Rhys Morgan."

And with that she walked away.

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Rhiannon slowed Daisy down to a trot. She wended her way through the maple trees. The canopy of foliage provided just enough cover. Easing Daisy down the slope, she came to a clearing.

Ahead lay the grist mill.

A chestnut horse was tethered to an oak tree and on the millrace sat Rhys Morgan.

She reined her mare in and asked, "Where did you get your means of conveyance?"

He smiled.

"You always did have a fancy way with words. I hired her from a stable. Oh, don't look so alarmed. It was on the poor side of town. I told the stable master that I had to meet my brother to discuss family business regarding an inheritance. He didn't question the gold coin I gave him."

"No wonder. You always did dress in the finest of clothes, Captain Morgan."

"It's not the cost, sweetheart, it is all in how you wear them. A pauper can look like a prince if he struts right. And I gave my name as Liam Gallagher. So no one will trace me."

"Ha! With that Welsh accent?"

Rhys affected a perfect Gaelic accent. "I be beggin' ta differ, me sweet colleen!"

Rhiannon tried to stifle her laugh.

"Where's Muir?"

"He's back at the stables. Madoc won't have him in the house."

"Why not?"

"Because he thinks Muir is a bad influence on his damned wolfhounds."

"Muir? That pup is the model of obedience!"

"You and I know that but this is Madoc's way of being a bastard."

Rhys reached into his saddlebag.

"I thought you might be hungry so I brought some fruit and cheese. And here--"

He handed her a round loaf of bread as he reached back into the saddlebag.

"---is some rye bread and I got this bottle of wine from the innkeeper."

"Claret. My favorite."

He produced two goblets.

My, my! You do think of everything, Captain Morgan!"

"Well, I feel it is the least I can do for you."

He poured the claret and handed one to her.

Raising his glass, he intoned, "To Muir! A prince among the paupers! Long may he bark!"

Rhiannon burst out laughing.

"You always find a way to make me laugh."

They ate their fruit and cheese, making idle chat to avoid the one subject neither found the words for.

The future.

Rhys stood up. "I never knew this place was here. How did you find it?"

"Picking blueberries. I found the start of the creek and followed it. Around the bend there. And then I came across the mill. It has been deserted for over fifty years. Beyond the clearing is a pond with daffodils. They are all gone now since they only bloom in the spring. And there is a grove of walnut trees."

"Walnuts? Show me!"

They untethered their horses and taking the reins, Rhiannon led Rhys to a small clearing.

"There really are walnuts here!"

They tied the horses up and scooped up a few nuts, cracking them open with a rock.

Rhiannon sat down.

Sometimes I come here to be by myself."

"Do you do this often?"

"Every chance I get. Most of the time with Muir and---oh, look, Rhys! A daffodil!"

One lone perfect yellow daffodil grew by itself near the pond.

They walked over and Rhiannon reached down to pick it.

"Don't!" Rhys said.

She raised her eyebrow at him while removing her hand from the stem.

Rhys took her hand in his and said, "Don't you see, Rhiannon? In spite of everything--the timing and the season, that daffodil proved nature wrong. There is a lesson there. If it is right, nothing can stop it. And it will grow and flourish in spite of everything."

"Like us," she whispered.

"Like us," Rhys said.

She looked up at him and saw what she had hoped to see in his eyes.

The love that never left them.

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"So where does that leave us, Rhys?"

He looked tenderly at her, and removed her hat, tossing it into the shrubbery. Unlacing her waist cincher, it fell to her feet.

He gave a gentle tug and her drawstring skirt drifted to the ground. She stood there in her light chemise.

Reaching up, he took the ribbon and pulled it from her hair, falling to her shoulders.

All she could manage to say was, "Oh, Rhys...."

The only sound was their two hearts beating and the wind through the willow trees.

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

As they lay in each other's arms, Rhiannon whispered, "I love you, Rhys. I never stopped loving you."

"Nor have I for you. A part of me was always hoping I would find you again. Someday, some way...."

"So what do we do now, Rhys?"

He stroked her hair.

"I guess I never thought that far ahead, love."

She propped herself up on her elbow, her fingers trailing lightly on his chest.

"And now that I have found you, I never want to let you go, Rhiannon. But I swear, I'll find a way for us."

"Madoc has a very violent temper. I--I'd fear for both our lives."

"Can you get away tomorrow?"

She shook her head.

"Madoc is having a few gentlemen over to discuss the breeding of Welsh ponies. They are arranging some sort of 'encounter' for one of our mares. I can't go off riding too many times or he will question it. And I need to pick some blueberries--Blueberries! I forgot my blueberry basket!"

He hushed her with a kiss.

"So you dropped them on your way back."

She sighed.

"Madoc leaves for London on the twenty-first for some Parliamentary thing for two weeks."

"Will he take you?"

"Not this time. Nothing is going on in the social season of London. And I hate to ride in a carriage. Madoc deems it unladylike for me to ride by horseback to travel with him."

"So...how do you feel about a week in Cardiff?"

"Cardiff?"

"I have some business to wrap up there. We can hire a couple horses and a nice week at a seaside resort where no one knows us. No one looking over our shoulders. What do you say to that?"

She threw her arms around him and drew him down for a kiss.

"I'd say it sounds like heaven on earth but I think I just had it."

Rhiannon looked up at the sun.

"I'd better head back."

She gathered her chemise and pulled it over her head.

"Now where is my....ah! There it is!"

Finally she got herself presentable and picked up her velvet ribbon.

"Allow me," Rhys said.

He gathered her hair together and tied it with the ribbon. Kissing her tenderly on the nose, he asked, "And you will be alright?"

She sighed. "There is one thing about being rich, Rhys. You are always 'alright'. We aren't allowed to be any other way."

Arms wrapped around each other, they made their way to the horses. Rhys helped her up on the mare. She looked down at him and said, "Thursday. Same place."

With that, she lightly kicked the mare and headed towards the meadow.

Rhys watched her ride off until he could see her no more.

'I won't let you go this time, Rhiannon. We have a second chance and damn it all if we aren't going to take it!'

With that he mounted his steed and headed in the opposite direction.

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Two weeks later.....

"A room, please."

Rhiannon tried not to look nervously around her.

'Why should I worry?' she thought. 'I am a hundred miles away from home and Madoc is safely esconced in London. As far as the staff at Castlemaine is concerned, my sister has a bad cold and needed me to fulfill a few social obligations for her. It was so much easier to stay at her home anyways....'

"Sign here, please."

Rhys picked up the pen and signed 'Mr and Mrs. Liam Gallagher'.

"This way, please."

The innkeeper's wife led the way up the stairs.

"You and your wife are traveling through?"

"No, ma'am. My wife and I decided to take a holiday for the week. Getting away is just what she needs what with her father dying and all.'

Rhiannon couldn't help but smile. Rhys was certainly going to elaborate lengths to cover their tracks.

"I'm so sorry, my dear."

Rhiannon feigned a pained look.

"Thank you. Hearing the news that he died was such a severe shock. I certainly didn't expect it."

Rhys raised his eyebrow and smiled behind the woman's back.

"Well, I hope you enjoy your stay, dear."

"I'm sure we will. I just need to rest. Thank you for everything."

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

Rhiannon sat on the edge of the bed and bounced.

"Look, Rhys! An actual BED!"

They both looked at each other and laughed.

"Yes, well.....it will be the first time I have woken up next to you!"

She laughed, "Or said goodnight."

"Or had breakfast in bed."

"Or..."

Rhys silenced her with a kiss.

"You never did tell me what business you have in Cardiff."

"Oh, that. Well, I have to arrange for disposal of wine, spices and coffee and pick up some wool and whiskey. Irish linen. Did I mention the whiskey?"

"Yes, you did. And how are you going to get it here on horseback?"

"I'm not taking it with me. Dolan wil sail the Neptune Rising to Cardiff in a few days. I'm here to sign the manifest and I'll take you back to Beaumaris and then come back here and rejoin the ship."

"Rhys, I don't like this. It is just like the last time when you were delayed rescuing Captain Fox..."

"...Ferret--damn it! Now you have ME doing it! It's Wolfe--with an 'e' no less!"

"Please, can't we just run away NOW?"

"Sweetheart, I would love to. But I am picking up the whiskey in Scotland and then I swear I will come back for you. We can still meet. And I noticed an abandoned caretaker's cottage near the gristmill. Besides, I'll be in port every few weeks. I have to visit my folks, too. But by January things will be wrapped up that we can sail for Barbados."

"I guess you have to scrap your plans of being a cartographer."

"For now. As long as...."

"As long as Madoc is alive?"

Rhys shrugged.

Rhiannon bit her lip. "He's frightfully healthy. Once he took an arrow in the shoulder. He pulled it out and continued the hunt to the end. Rhys, he frightens me. Nothing fazes him."

Rhys could see Rhiannon was getting upset so he changed the subject.

"Is the portrait almost done?"

"It will be by the end of December. I think Madoc wants a big 'unveiling' so that means another social occasion. He's in for a surprise, though."

"How so?"

"He thinks I am wearing this matronly dress that belonged to his dead wife. But I um....got too close to the fire and oh dear! It seemed to have gotten a bit singed."

"Will Madoc be upset?"

She hesitated. "I guess I didn't think that far in advance. It was just a whim. I'll deal with it later. But let us not speak of Madoc anymore. I want to enjoy this time together."

He kissed her. "Your every wish is my command, Milady!"

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

"Lady Castlemaine? I thought that was you! What are you doing in Cardiff?"

Rhiannon almost dropped her teacup into the saucer.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Lady Castlemaine! We met at the ball at Lord Overton's estate. Don't you remember me? Sir Winston Radcliffe?"

"Is there a problem?" Rhys came over to Rhiannon and sat down at her table.

Rhiannon put her hand over Rhys' and said, "Dear, this gentleman seems to have mistaken me for a Lady....Castlemaine, is it?"

Rhys gave Sir Radcliffe a condescending smile. "I am quite sure you have made a mistake, my good man. This lovely woman here is Katie Gallagher. My wife."

Sir Radcliffe looked from one to the other, an expression of doubt on his face.

"Are....are you sure?"

Rhys burst out laughing. "Aye, mate. I am sure. She has been my wife for the last two years. We are from Dublin. Here to visit Katie's sister."

Rhiannon nodded. "I'm sorry I can't be who you want me to be."

She turned to Rhys, " A lady no less, Liam! Imagine that!"

Sir Radcliffe mopped his red face with a handkerchief. "Begging your pardon, Mrs. Gallagher. But you look just like a Lady Castlemaine from Beaumaris. My deepest apologies."

She nodded. "No pardon to be begged. I'm sure she is a lovely woman."

Rhys raised his eyebrow at Sir Radcliffe. "Anything else I can do for you, Sir?"

He shook his head in confusion. "No. I am sorry to have intruded. Please enjoy your day."

They watched as Sir Radcliffe disappeared. Rhys frowned. "I don't like that. Don't like it at all."

Rhiannon's hands shook as she tried to bring her teacup up to her lips.

"Do---do you think we fooled him?"

He gave her a reassuring smile. "I am sure we did, darling. But just to be safe---maybe we should be a bit more cautious when we go out."

She nodded. "I really don't remember him. But I meet so many people at these affairs, it is hard to keep track of Sir this and Lady that."

Rhys scanned the crowd. "Still...to be safe...maybe we should head back to Beaumaris a day early. I hate to do it but my business is wrapped up here and as much as I would love to stay here with you, I think it best we leave. Who knows how many more of his kind are here."

She nodded. "I knew it was too good to last, my love."

He stood up and pulled her chair out.

"Then let's not waste any more time here. I know a room where a bottle of wine is waiting."

She put her arm in his and gave him a kiss.

"Then lead the way!"

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Rhiannon and Rhys stood at the edge of the woods that led up to Castlemaine.

He gently took her hand.

"I hate the thought of you in that cold manor, darling."

She squeezed his hand and looked into his eyes.

"I'll be fine. I know you have to go back to Cardiff by the end of the week. And I have to play the dutiful wife."

He kissed her gently.

"I'll be back before the end of the month. I'm only sailing as far as Calais. I'll leave you a note on the table in that old caretaker's cottage when I am back."

She laid her head on his chest.

"I love you, Rhys."

"As I do you."

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

"Madoc!"

He put his papers down. "So...no welcome from my wife? I came back and you weren't here."

"When did you get back?"

"Late last night. The servants told me you were staying at your sister's to help with the children when she was ill? Does she not have a governess?"

Rhiannon hung up her cloak.

"She does but Dylan was asking for me and since you were away, I saw no harm in it."

"And you were gone a whole week?"

"Thereabout. But enough of me. Act for the Settlement of Ireland. But this is way over your head, Rhiannon. You wouldn't understand it."

She felt her face turn hot and she kept her retort to herself.

"Well, then, what good am I then if you can't discuss things with me?"

"Your place is to plan the dinner party for Wednesday."

"Wednesday? Madoc, another one? I'm a bit tired of this."

"And that is one thing a wife is good for. I think the brown dress with the ecru lace on the collar and cuffs would be best."

Madoc returned to the papers he was reading.

"This is interesting. Cromwell passed the Act of Adultery. I didn't think that would ever happen."

Rhiannon felt the blood leave her face. "Wh-what act is that?"

He rustled his papers and read, "Adultery shall be adjudged Felony.

And be it further Enacted by the authority aforesaid, That in case any married woman shall from and after the Four and twentieth day of June aforesaid, be carnally known by any man (other them her Husband) (except in Case of Ravishment) and of such offence or offences shall be convicted as aforesaid by confession or otherwise, every such Offence and Offences shall be and is hereby adjudged Felony: and every person, as well the man as the woman, offending therein, and confessing the same, or being thereof convicted by verdict upon Indictment or Presentment as aforesaid, shall suffer death as in case of Felony, without benefit of Clergy."

He put it aside. "Well, my dear, that should keep many a wife from leaving her husband's bed for another, wouldn't you agree?"

Rhiannon laid her forehead against the window and looked out.

"Yes, dear. I should think so."

But her mind took her back to a seaside town.

And to a man with eyes the colour of the sea.

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The night passed quickly by. Madoc spent most of the night chatting with the other members of the upper class about his horse breeding and what changes Cromwell was implementing in the Commonwealth.

Rhiannon occupied her time dancing with guest after guest and listening to the latest gossip among the ladies. It was all she could do to keep her face from registering the boredom she felt. There were too many Lord West---- and ----cliffes to suit her. All the while she was wishing Rhys was there. That it was Rhys she was dancing with. As the guests were leaving, Rhiannon and Madoc stood by the door as they exchanged good nights and final compliments on the portrait.

The door finally closed on the last guest by midnight.

"I'll be up in a few minutes, Rhiannon."

"Madoc, I am really tired---"

"I said a few minutes."

She sighed. "As you wish."

Madoc stood before the portrait staring at it. The merriment in Rhiannon's eyes haunted him. Something....something there.

Her smile seemed to mock him. He poured a glass of brandy all the while searching her face for something.

He drank the brandy in one gulp and turning he hurled the glass against the fireplace.

Because right now what he wanted were answers.

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

The door opened forcefully, slamming against the wall. Rhiannon turned with a start.

"My goodness, Madoc! You startled me!"

She stood before him in her underpinnings, suddenly feeling self-conscious under his penetrating gaze.

He crossed the room in three strides and grabbed her by the wrist.

"What was the meaning of that?"

She flinched but met his gaze. Wrenching her wrist from him, she said coldly, "I have no idea what you are talking about. I am tired and I want to--"

"Oh, no? The portrait shows it very clearly. Gerard DuPre painted you as he saw you. As a woman in love. And through the eyes of a man in love. DuPre is in love with you."

"That's not true!"

"DON'T LIE!"

He raised his hand and struck her hard across the face. Rhiannon fell against the wall. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet. She let out a scream.

The door burst open and Rhoslyn stood there with her mouth open, looking from Madoc to Rhiannon.

"GET OUT!" Madoc yelled.

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

Rhosyn cautiously opened the door.

"Madame? Lady Castlemaine?"

In the corner, in the dark sat Rhiannon. She had propped herself up against the wall.

"Oh sweet Lord, Madame!"

"He--help me up, Rhoslyn."

She gently put her arm around Rhiannon's waist as she braced herself against the wall to stand. Her leg started to buckle but she grabbed the bedpost in time to keep from falling. Her clothing was tattered.

"Just--just get me to the bed, Rhoslyn."

Gently her maid led her to the bed and helped her put her legs up.

"I'm getting you a cold cloth, Milady."

Rhiannon laid there with her arm across her face, too bruised to even cry.

Rhoslyn tenderly wiped her face, the cloth showing blood where she had wiped her lip.

"Did I ever--ever tell you how much I like you, Rhoslyn?"

Rhoslyn understood what Rhiannon was doing. She was talking to keep herself conscious.

"Let me help you out of these rags, Milady."

She got a clean chemise and helped Rhiannon as one would a child taking off a garment. She gasped.

Rhiannon's body was covered with bruises. Some were already turning purple.

"Milady...."

"The riding crop, Rhoslyn. It---it seems Lord Castlemaine wanted to try it out and I was conven...convenient."

Rhoslyn's eyes welled up with tears as she brushed Rhiannon's hair from her face.

Rhiannon moaned. "I seem to have a bit of swelling on the side of my face, Rhoslyn."

The maid said, "Do you expect Lord Castlemaine back?"

She shook her head slightly. "I think he went somewhere to cool off."

A slight smile tried to grace her face. "After--after all, he really put himself into it."

Rhiannon then covered her face with her hands as sobs wracked her body.

"Why, Rhoslyn...why? Was he always like this?"

"More or less, dear. More so after....she died. Almost as if he was mad that she dared to die on him. Wiithout his permisson."

"How--how did she die?"

"She fell down the stairs."

"How fortunate for her."

Rhoslyn got some more cloths and washed Rhiannon's bruises.

"At least he didn't break the skin. But he--he owes me a new chemise."

And then the shock wore off and reality set in. Rhiannon's tears began anew. Rhoslyn gathered her in her arms and rocked her as a mother would a child.

"Will...will this always be my life, Rhoslyn? Living in fear and waiting for the next beating?"

Rhoslyn stroked her hair. "I don't know, Milady. All I know is that what you reap, you sow. And as my mother used to say, 'things have a way of working out.' "

Rhiannon said softly, "I'm so tired, Rhoslyn. Can you extinguish the candle?"

"Aye, Milady."

"And Rhoslyn?"

"Yes, Madame?"

"Can---can you stay with me till I fall asleep?" she said in a small voice.

Her mouth set in a firm line.

"Aye, Milady. I certainly shall. I'll stay all night."

Rhiannon gave Rhoslyn's hand a squeeze and then moaned. "I guess it wasn't a good idea to try to defend myself. My hands....."

And with that, Rhiannon drifted into a deep sleep.

Rhoslyn covered her up with a coverlet and whispered, "Aye, little one. I'll stay the night. Just to make sure no more harm comes to you."

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The door creaked open. Rhys was waiting in the caretaker's cottage that they had been using for clandestine meetings and stolen moments.

A candle was burning down and a bottle of wine was open.

He turned and saw Rhiannon standing in the shadows.

"I was beginning to wonder if you would make it. I was getting worried about you."

Rhiannon kept the cloak hood up around her face and kept herself turned to the door.

Quietly she spoke, "I can't stay. I just came to tell you I won't be able to come here for a few weeks."

He crossed over to her, putting his hand gently on her arm. Her face was turned away.

"Rhiannon? Rhiannon, look at me."

She turned into the half-light.

"I need to go, Rhys."

Gently he pushed her cloak hood down.

"Oh my God."

Rhiannon's lip was still cut and swollen. Her left cheek had a black and blue mark and a welt .

She bowed her head in shame as a tear trickled down her cheek.

"The portrait was unveiled last night."

Rhys could feel blind rage building up.

"And so he expressed his opinion of it this way?"

She nodded wordlessly.

He gently touched her cheek said tersely, "Is this all?"

She shook her head.

"Where?"

"All--all over. His riding crop."

Rhys could feel his heart break for her. He enfolded her in his arms and drew her head gently to his chest.

She moaned softly.

"I--I just hurt all over. I even hurt too much to cry. I just don't want you to see the rest of it. I'll heal. Rhoslyn brought me some ointments for it. And I rest when I can."

"Oh, my darling. I am so sorry."

"He accused me of being in love with Monsieur Gerard. Fortunately for him, he was in Italy. Otherwise, I am afraid Madoc would call him out and there would be a scandal. As it is, I seem to have paid the price."

He held her gently.

"Rhys, I'm afraid. I talked to Rhoslyn a bit and I found out his first wife fell down the stairs and broke her neck. I am wondering now....was it really an accident? I'm so very afraid of him. He left for London this morning. I--I didn't want you to see me this way."

He pulled away and looked at her with a hardened look in his eyes.

"Then in two days we are out of Beaumaris. We will sail for Barbados at first light on Thursday. Can you be ready?"

She nodded.

"I won't take anything but Muir. I know he will be only too happy to get out of that barn and into a life of sunshine."

"I'll be by around six o'clock to help you pack. The I'll have Dolan come with a carriage. Pack as many clothes as you can. No sense leaving them behind. And your jewelry. You earned it."

"I'll tell the help that I am going to bed early because I decided to join Madoc in London. That way they won't be wondering where I am. And we will have a two week head start on Madoc."

"That bastard. I would love to stay and finish him off."

She gently put her finger to his lips.

"Just get me away from here. I don't care where we are as long as it isn't in England or Wales. Paris...Rome...Barbados...the Colonies. Anywhere that Madoc's connections can't reach us."

"I'll get in touch with my friend. He offered to help and guarantees or safety. We can go anywhere in this world, change our identites. And leave all this behind us till the coast is clear."

She laid her head on his chest and he stroked her hair away from her face.

"Thursday. After Thursday, I'll be free of all this. Promise me it will work out, Rhys. It just has to."

"It will, love. Or else it will be the last thing we ever do."

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Thursday night....

"Now where did it go?"

Rhiannon startled at the sound at her window.

There it went again. She cautiously opened the casement window and looked below.

"Hold your fire!" she said in a whisper.

Rhys stood there with a few pebbles in his hand. "I had to get your attention someway. I saw you through the window so I waited till you were near it."

"Can you make it up the trellis?"

"Darling, to rescue you I would fight St. George's dragon."

He deftly got a foothold on the trellis and clinging between the vines and the wood, he managed to make it up to the window. With his hands on the ledge, he hoisted himself up and threw his leg over the sill.

"Are you packed?"

"Almost. I have a few duffel bags and am taking all the clothes that are practical."

He held up a dress that was thrown on the bed.

"The yellow one?"

Her lips drew into a tight line as she remembered her one act of defiance in getting married in that dress.

"No."

"Why not? It was the dress you wore that first time we made----"

"NO!"

She picked it up and threw it into the flames in the fireplace.

"I'll never wear yellow again."

Rhys knew better than to ask questions to which he didn't want to know the answers to.

As she stared at the dress scorching and then being consumed, she started trembling.

"Just get me out of here, Rhys. Now."

"You have everything you want?"

She nodded. "All I need is to get Muir. He's in the stables and we can get him on our way out."

"Dolan will be at the edge of the woods at eight o'clock with a carriage and we can board tonight and sail at first break of dawn. The tide will be in."

"All I need is to change out of this dress and into some traveling clothes. I have my riding breeches over there."

"Then change and let's get out of here."

Rhiannon quickly dropped her dress, standing before her armoire in her chemise and grabbing a shirt. Suddenly the door opened slowly.

Her worst nightmare had come true.

Madoc stood there in the doorway.

And he was weaponed.

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Rhiannon's voice caught in her throat as she whispered, 'Dear God."

Rhys turned at the shaft of light and saw Lord Castlemaine framed in the doorway.

"So it is true."

"Madoc....." her voice was scarcely above a whisper.

"YOU!" Madoc yelled. "I thought all this time it was HIM. The Frenchman. But she was cuckolding me with you---a common pirate."

Rhys moved between Rhiannon and Madoc.

"And what sort of man beats his wife with a riding crop?"

"One whose wife needs to learn obedience. And now it turns out I beat her for the right reasons but for the wrong man. Well, that can be remedied."

He turned to Rhiannon. "Sir Winston Radcliffe told me he saw a woman who was my wife's double in Cardiff. I wanted to cut his tongue out for lying but I had to know for myself. All that time you and this cur were trysting in that cottage, you had no idea you were being followed, did you?"

Rhiannon stood there, not knowing what to do and not daring to look at Rhys. Not while Madoc was brandishing his rapier.

"It's not what you think, Madoc...."

"DON'T TAKE ME FOR A FOOL WITH YOUR LIES, RHIANNON! I had Mortimer keep a close eye on you. And he had heard through the window that you were planning your grand escape tonight. So he sent word to me. I have been staying at an inn about a day's journey from here just waiting for the word of your blundering plans."

"Madoc...."

"Remember Cromwell's Act of Adultery, my dear? I am perfectly within my rights to take the law in my own hands."

Rhys spoke up sharply, "Don't be a fool, Castlemaine."

He turned to Rhys and spat, "Stay out of this, you dog. This is between me and my wife. I'll settle with you too. After all, you forget who is the one weaponed here and who is the one who has been betrayed. No court will convict me. Crime of passion and all."

Rhiannon reached out to touch his arm in supplication, begging, "Please, Madoc. PLEASE!"

He threw her hand off, his eyes ablaze with fury.

"Please, Madoc. Please let him live. Don't add murder into it! Please! For me...."

Madoc sneered, "For you? FOR YOU? You think I want the entire shire to know I was cuckolded by the likes of him? A PIRATE? And the very one who has been storing his ill-gotten treasures in the caves on my land?"

Rhys retorted, "As if you didn't know. How will the bluebloods react when the story gets out how you received your percentage of this dirty money?"

"You bastard! You use my land and you treat my wife like a common trollop. Well, that is just what she is. A trollop. A whore. And you can both be together where I am sending you. To hell."

He drew his sword and advanced towards them.

Rhys grabbed Rhiannon and shoved her aside just as Madoc raised his sword. She screamed and the blade moved swift catching Rhys in the side. A look of astonishment crossed his face before he fell on her.

"And now to finish you off, you whore!" Madoc screamed.

He raised his rapier and advanced towards her. "No court will convict me. You cheating..."

He raised his blade and she rolled quickly off the bed. Her hand fell on what she now knew what she had been looking for when Rhys threw the pebbles against the window.

Her bodice dagger.

With lightning fast reflexes, she threw the dagger. In her adrenaline rushed drive to survive, the aim was true.

It found its mark.

Madoc's heart.

Or would have been if he had one.

Madoc was thrown back against the wall from the sheer force of her pitching. The rapier clattered to the floor. He said not a word but a look of incredulity crossed his face. He slid down the wall, reaching his hand out to Rhiannon. She recoiled in horror.

"Rhi...Rhia....Rhiannon......"

Blood bubbled from his lips as he pitched forward.

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