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He was as silent as if he had had his tongue cut out which for all that she knew, he had. Determined to show no hurry, she bid him to wait just inside the cabin door while she wrote the letter.

 

HMS Princess's Fortune
Amidala Wharf
London


3rd of August
1769


MASTER Saul GERERRE
c/o the agents of
The Abbey of Lamego
LISBON

SIR,

It seems unlikely that this letter will reach you ahead of my arrival, but since this is the last address at which I knew your agents to be available, I will at least make a venture of sending it ahead on a fast packet.

I expect you will be surprised to hear from me after so much time, perhaps even more surprised to find me still living.

I have attained my majority since we last parted company and consider that if we meet again, it should be with the standing of equals.


Since we parted company, I have made my way independently in the world. Some months ago, a disagreement with agents of the Crown, the details of which would not be expected to hold your interest, resulted in their insistence that I take up residence at Newgate Prison.

While officers of the Court were conveying myself and other individuals to this place, they were abruptly and forcefully interrupted by a party of men who earnestly desired that I accompany them.

I had hoped to find that you had engaged them but found this was not

Despite some initial reluctance on my part, I was presently brought to a place some miles from London and introduced to several gentlemen and a lady who claimed acquaintance with you.

One was presented to me as a Lady Mary Monmoth, who I recognized from my time under your care in your company, but the others, one Mr. David Draven and Mr. Anthony Merrick, both presented to me as civilians, but with the carriage and demeanor of military men,

were unknown to me. They addressed me by name, to my surprise, since I have, of late conducted all my affairs under several aliases, and thought the name of Miss Jane Erso long forgotten by anyone living including yourself.

They questioned me at great length about my father, inquiring most Insistently about his employment and whereabouts. When I expressed my belief that he was deceased these ten years, they indicated that they had some recent knowledge to the contrary.

They presumed even further upon our former connection, seeming most anxious for news of your current activities and company, clearly disbelieving me when I assured them that I had had no contact with you since

You found your responsibilities irksome with regards to

my status as your ward became inconvenient to

we parted company some years ago

From their accents I might have assumed them loyal subjects of the British Crown, excepting their unexpected liberation of myself from the custody of His Majesty's officers. Instead, I found them to be agents of your former compatriots in the Alliance.

Mr. Draven disclosed to me their certain belief that my father is presently living and in the service of a clandestine venture, funded by the British Crown, but executed by one Doctor William Tarkin, somewhere in the Provincial territories of Florida, in the Americas.

When I attempted to make plain that it was of equal interest to me whether my father were alive or dead, on the Spanish Main or in Hell, they pointed out that I was now most significantly in their debt.

Also in their company was a young man, introduced to me as an officer. His manners are cool and correct, but his accent betrayed him as a Spaniard. Presenting himself as another Alliance agent, he outlined the nature of this Doctor Tarkin's venture as an attempt to develop an indigo plantation in violation of Spanish and Portuguese treaty.

I politely indicated that, while fond enough of the color blue, I had no fixed attachment to the origins of my dye-stuff, having already resigned myself to a life in cheap prison cloth.

This attempt at levity was unappreciated. Lady Monmoth, whom I now remembered as an ally of yours in an action against the expansion of the vile trade in the Azores, made it clear that they sought your help to gain further intelligence with regards to this "construction" in the jungles of the Americas and my father's connection to it. I formed an impression that, while they were most eager for your assistance, they parted with you on very bad terms, and now feared a violent refusal without the action of an intermediary.

I cannot help but wonder sir, how it was they came to so distrust you and you they?

They have not fully shared sources and intentions with me, and I confess I trust none of them further than the length of my arm, but they firmly propose that I aid in finding you and provide them with introductions. They suppose, for reasons I cannot fathom, that I hold some key to your good graces.

You will understand sir, why it is not in my current interest to disabuse them of this notion.

The "Spanish captain" - who I profess to think may truly be neither of those things - accompanies me, whether as my protector or jailer is unknown to me. We are also attended by one of my "rescuers", a truly terrifying person -  a toweringly tall gentlemen of uncertain heritage, with the accent of British gentleman and the aspect of a murderer. I saw him snap the neck of one of my would-be jailers with his bare hands, and from this expected him to be one of your former associates. After spending time in his company, however, I find that his allegiance seems to be solely and specifically to Captain Andor. Whether as his freeborn servant, chattel slave, bastard half-brother, or fellow assassin, remains unclear.

We are traveling to Lisbon on some intelligence that you are still based there.

I have bought my dear liberty with this venture sir, and hope you will oblige me and at least consent to meet with this "Captain Andor" and his large companion, to hear their proposals.

Having deserted a young woman, barely more than a child, trusted to your care, who rendered you the duty owed a parent.

Is it true, as they say sir, that you have intelligence from my father?
Are his whereabouts known to you?

Can it be true that you knew that he was alive and in the service of Crown agents all these years and yet did not tell me?

 

She stared at the paper, for several moments, then methodically tore it onto shreds. Taking a fresh sheet, she wiped the pen, dipped it again in the ink pot and wrote:

 

Expected Arrival at English Wharf in Lisbon aboard the Princess's Fortune sometime between August 13 -17.

S. Gerrere

SIR, I would speak with you.
Jane Erso

 

She folded the paper, sealed it, and handed the envelop to the grey-cloaked, grey-faced man who waited. He in turn nodded and departed without a word, out of the cabin and down the gangway to the wharf. She wiped the pen and laid it aside on the table. Wrapping the brown short cape around herself, she walked out onto the quarter deck and to the rail. The Portuguese agent had already disappeared into the dusky shadows of the warehouses.

When she turned back she saw Captain Andor standing with his back against the cabin doorway she had just quit. Silent as a cat.

"Will it reach him?" He asked, carelessly, as if the answer were of little concern to him.

"Perhaps " she said, with a shrug. "We will find out when we reach Lisbon."

He nodded, and walked back up to the front of the ship where his tall companion was keeping watch.

What will be my fate if he is not there? Jen wondered.

How long have you been told to allot me for this search before you cut my throat with one of the knives you keep in your jacket and your boot? Or will you pass that task on to Master Kay?

She wrapped the brown wool more firmly around her and pressed a hand against the front pinning of her gown, finding reassurance in the thin sharp steel slid between the boning of her stays. He had surely noticed by now that he had only one knife in the sleeve of that good-quality-but-strategically-worn blue greatcoat, not the two that had been there formerly. But, if he had, he had clearly not thought it worth mentioning.

 

They sailed with the tide the next day.

Looking for the notorious pirate who had once called her his daughter, and now, to her fury, seemed to hold her life in his hand again.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Falcon's Rest

Port of London

August 4 1769

 

 

It was extremely vexing to find that he had lost the game again, just as he nearly always had, ever since they were boys of scarcely twelve, carrying messages for Captain Reikken, dodging in and out on the wharves of Amsterdam and Southampton and London like underfed rats.

He checked all the tavern’s rooms twice and asked that a bottle of decent Madeira be brought up to the second floor parlor that he had previously engaged. He then placed one of his men at the door to the street and another in the taproom, with an eye to the stairwell. All these precautions were for naught. When the landlord unbolted the door to the small chamber upstairs, Andor was already to be found inside, leaning back dangerously in a chair, with his black boots propped on the fender of the unlit fireplace and hat pulled low over his eyes.

"Damn you, sir," Ruescott Melshi said.


"My apologies" his fellow agent said, as the startled landlord fled downstairs, growing yet more discomfited as Melshi insisted on relieving him of the bottle and glasses. "I nearly dozed off waiting for you."

"I confess, Andor, I was almost hopeful of winning for once, thinking that a dagger between the shoulder blades might be enough to defeat even your skill."

That merited a rare, dry laugh.

The bottle was already opened, so Melshi poured two glasses and seated himself in the second of the three chairs.

"You considered that likely? That a girl of scarcely 19 should get the drop on me?" Andor shook his head, reaching out to take the glass he was now offered. "Do you think my edge worn so dull?"

"My optimism was not founded on a poor estimate of your keeness, my friend, but a rich one of hers." Melshi took out his pouch and fixed one of the reed stems the landlord had brought him to the small stone pipe bowl he kept within. For politeness’ sake he lifted both pipe and the bag toward Andor, as indication that he was more than willing to share his store of tobacco.

As he expected, the dark-haired man shook his head, refusing the offer.

If Captain Cassian Andor had even small vices, he kept them starved and out of sight.

"I am not jesting, Andor," Melshi lit the pipe from his own tinderbox and took a draw. "Do not think of her as a girl of 19, consider rather that you have been given the management of an 8 stone Hell cat. No sooner did we have the shackles off of her than she snatched up the constable’s club, knocked Rice and myself to the floor and struck Lennon a blow that broke his arm cleanly. Had you not made us a loan of Kay, she'd have been off like a hare."

"So Kay tells me." Andor took a small sip of the Madeira.

"He knows full well that she has obtained a knife," came a voice from the doorway.

Mr. Kay had joined them.

"Yet he has refused to allow me to relieve her of it." The giant ducked his head through the doorway and entered, maneuvering himself carefully onto the third chair. He removed a small silver folding cup from his coat pocket, poured a thimble-full of the Madeira in and wet his lips with it. "If she cuts his throat in the night, as he sleeps, it will be no more than he deserves," the man intoned solemnly, with a disapproving glare at the Captain.

"In the name of God, Andor," Melshi found himself genuinely alarmed, "surely you did not leave her alone? I may have seemed to speak lightly before, but I am in earnest when I tell you this is not a woman, this is the Devil himself gone mumming in disguise as a woman.”

"He wouldn't even let me chain the cabin door shut," Kay said, morosely.

"There is no need for such measures. She will not try to take leave of our company just yet.” Andor insisted, calmly.

Melshi rubbed the shoulder and elbow still bruised and smarting from when young “Leah Hallick” kicked a delicate foot against his ribs and toppled him to the street.

“Confidently spoken, Andor. Pray, what gives you such assurance?”

 

“Her own face,” his friend said. “At this moment she burns to speak to Gerrere as much as we do. Whatever else she has been all her years,…..whether hardened pirate, cutpurse, whore, murderess, or all in turn….she has known herself an orphan. Now Draven has told her Mr. Galen Erso may still live. The foundation beneath her shifted in that hour. It was plain in her eyes. There is a chance that she has family yet living and I think she would risk anything to know if such a chance could be possibly hold true.”

Andor looked appraisingly at the last drop in the glass, then finished it off.

“I know I would, Rue, and so would you.”

 

Chapter Text

HMS Princess's Fortune

Port of Lisbon

August 13. 1769

 

They reached the Port of Lisbon on the morning tide, coming up the Tagus as the sun rose.

He had dressed and readied their equipment in the main cabin hours before dawn. They would need to travel lightly, but many dire scenarios were possible and must be prepared against, to the best degree possible.

Kay lifted the smaller pistol from the table and checked the flint, before holding it out to Andor, tilting his head as if in inquiry. The Captain shook his own head in the negative, having already decided that the encumbrance of shot and powder, would be far more trouble than gain in the crowded streets. There was the sword, mostly for show, admittedly, but still quite serviceable, the three knives already concealed on his person, and the wire-thin cord of the garrote in his sleeve. These would need to be enough.

The chief "loose end" that remained to be tied was Miss Erso herself.

 

Assuming no enlightening messages awaited them at the dock, it was necessary to go out into the city to gain news of Gerrere or make contact with his people. Against Kay's strongest recommendations, Andor determined it was now additionally necessary to take the woman into their confidence with regards to at least the first part of their plans.


"Please tell me that you have some reason for this course, that you have perceived some heretofore concealed virtue in this girl, one of a more positive character than merely her temporary inactivity with regard to the matter of cutting your throat in the night," his friend had grumbled sourly.

 


Thus it was that Miss Erso was called to be present as they laid out the day’s strategy.

 


There had been no need to wake her. Miss Erso had been up on the deck already in the dim hours before they turned in to approach the Harbor. He had gone out for a breath of air before dawn only to find her standing at the rail beneath such stars as still shone, in her shift and bare feet, wrapped in one of Kay’s more threadbare greatcoats. She had been staring fixedly toward the dark indistinct silhouette of the city across the water as if she could burn it down with the fire of her eye alone. The coat reached past her ankles and dragged on the deck. Her chestnut hair was loosely braided back and covered only with what looked to be a sailors’s scarf.

My God, the thought came to him, she does not hesitate to steal openly from any of us, even the crew.

The sailors of the Princess’s Fortune had, no doubt, seen far stranger sights than a woman in her nightclothes pacing the deck and so they paid her no mind.

She cast him nothing more than a sideways glance as he approached her at the rail.

“I am anxious for daylight,” he said as if she were merely a lady he had struck up a conversation with in a carriage. “When last I was in Lisbon, more than half the city was still in blackened ruins after the Great Earthquake. I am told that the Marquis, whatever else one thinks of him, has rebuilt the Harbor and the docks magnificently. Whatever rot she may suffer within, Lisbon is said to present a pretty face to the world again.”

She turned toward him with a look of flat disdain in her green eyes, lifting one eyebrow as if to ask, “Truly sir? Is this the petty best you can manage?”

Without a word she left him at the rail and walked back toward the quarter deck.

“Miss Erso,” he called after her.

She halted, her back still to him but did not turn.

“We must meet to discuss what awaits in the city before we dock. Please join us in the main cabin in two hours.”

She nodded in silence and still without turning a backward glance walked on toward the steps.

He had been cut less cleanly by duchesses in drawing rooms.


And please, bella dona, he thought of calling after her, put some clothes on or I shall never hear the end of it with Kay.

 

At the appointed time she joined them in the main cabin. To his relief...and if it must be admitted, amusement.... she had in partial concession to propriety dressed in the jumps and wrapper from the trunk Lady Monmoth had provided. Kay was still shocked but civil conversation was at least now rendered possible.

"I had but one reliable contact amongst Gererre's trusted circle,” Andor said, “It was he who told me that, despite the dangers, the Lion was lingering in Lisbon. The reasons for this he could not or would not elaborate. He also indicated that Gerrere had received urgent messages from his vast network in the West Indies and Spanish territories originating from one Galen Erso, a secretive engineer of legendary skill, long supposed deceased, who had the distinction of being employed by both the Spanish AND the British in the late wars.”

“We need to know the nature of these messages, their origins, and what light they can shed on the nature of the current project being undertaken by Tarkin in the jungles of Florida.”

“Where is this ‘reliable contact’ now?” Miss Erso asked, “If I could meet with him, he might be able to…”

“I last had contact with him in Havana,” Andor heard his own voice lie smoothly, “and he has since vanished. Since Gererre’s policy is to assume any operative delayed or missing to be captured and turned informant, they are treated as dead and quickly made so if seen again at liberty. Using his name will gain us nothing.”

Come, he thought, surely you know the reason why we moved heaven and earth to gain your company for this enterprise, niña? I myself heard Mr. Draven clearly explain to you. There is a possibility that a foster parent's affection will slow the old mad pirate’s murderous hand long enough to let us deliver the Lady’s message. We’d have left you walled up in Newgate otherwise.

The woman nodded. She no doubt knew full well of Gererre’s harsh policies, having grown up under their strictures.

Andor continued, “He has, or had, a sister, a nun living in one of the convents within the city, who may still be in contact with some of Gererre’s people. I have arranged to meet with her, in the hopes of her passing your name and desire to meet, on to his cadre.”


I can also try to put her mind at rest by assuring her, in some disguised fashion, that your earthly sufferings are over, Tivik. I ceased to believe in the efficacy of such things long, ago, but who is to say? Perhaps her prayers for your soul will give some comfort. When we meet again in Hell,…soon, I do not doubt,….you can tell me if I was right.

“Hopes?” Miss Erso asked, as if amused by his choice of words. “Agents in the employ of the Alliance, one of them a Spaniard, no less, are going seeking one of the most wanted pirates on the Atlantic, in a city tightly held in the gloved hand of the Marquis of Pombal, with no better plan than a name, a cloistered nun and a thin chain of hopes?”

He met her gaze solemnly. “What else is the Alliance but a chain of hopes?” he asked, “What else have the likes of we to hold onto?”

She looked up and across the table at him, quite openly then, as if suddenly re-considering some previous assessment, taking some new measure of him. In that instant he felt a shock, and realized that this was the first time she had met his eyes clearly, with no veil of concealment or distrust.

“The problem,” Kay intoned. “Is what Miss Erso is going to wear.”

Chapter Text

Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa
August 15, 1769

The Se’, as the great Cathedral was called, was one of the few buildings within the city not totally rebuilt. The mighty earthquake and fire of the previous decade had largely spared it. A miracle, no doubt. The King had fled the capitol and in the years since, the ”enlightened" despotism of the Marquis d'Pombal had swept away the remnants of the Church’s political power, much as it swept away the rubble of death and disaster. The politically involved Orders had been banned outright, while the more contemplative adherents either remained behind their crumbling walls in prayer, like the sister of Captain Andor's missing informant, or thronged the steps of the last great Cathedral, begging for alms or lay preaching...depending on the strictures of their cloth.

It was all one to Jen.

She leaned against one of the fat Roman inner pillars of front portico, as the crowds of the city moved and swirled about. Street cries carried from the gleaming new plaza, crowds of the "devout" of all classes moved through the Gothic ambulatory, eager to see and be seen. Wealthy ladies gowned and veiled in lace, walked on the arms of peacock-like men. Nuns in grey habits, dogs, rosary sellers, praying monks, beggars, and street urchins picking pockets, all filled the spaces between the pillars.

Her interest was only piqued by the pickpockets.....

Good hunting, irmãozinhos, she thought.

.....and the considerable number of soldiers. Many armed men were in the red and gold of the Royal Army, but a nearly equal number wore the gold-trimmed black of Pombal's personal guard. She could not help but notice that their swords gave the appearance of being the lighter, sharper, and better used.

The cries of the street sellers mingled with the prayers of the mendicants.
"Jovem senhora!"
"Rosas, rosas frescas!"
"Fragmentos da cruz verdadeira!"

 

 

"Wait for me here," Captain Andor had said, "my interview at the Monastery di Odivelas has been granted for but one hour and only one man at a time is permitted in the interview chamber."

"How very inconvenient," she observed, "perhaps there is still time for Mr. Kay to bring you your razor? I am sure between the two of us we could manage you into stays."

How she should be garbed for this venture had been the object of much strategy.

 

More than a fortnight ago, when she was directly and roughly brought from the hands of her jailers to a pleasant small house on the outskirts of London.....where precisely was still unclear to her, as she had been blindfolded for the duration of the journey.....she had been presented with a trunk of women's clothing and toiletries. Two English gowns, one of brown stuff, fit for a better sort of house servant and one of blue chintz. Petticoats,...one of quilted Matillaise,....chemises, kerchiefs and caps appropriate to each, one set of serviceable front-laced jumps and another set of fashionable stays and two pairs of shoes- one sturdy leather with pattens and one finer, with very good buckles. All of these had fitted her most exactly. She had been quite torn between a certain tactile happiness.....it had been long since she had had any but the roughest clothing....and a profound unease that her precise dimensions were so well known to persons of whom she had no previous knowledge. Her feelings had been equally divided about the steaming tub of hot water, combs, brushes and fine quality soap.....most profoundly welcome......and the two rather phlegmatic maidservants there to ensure her rigorous use of the same.....considerably less welcome.

This treasure trove, to her, of clothing had been eclipsed by the contents of three trunks that the dour Mr. Kay had brought out into the main cabin of the Princess's Fortune shortly after they docked.

Dear God, she thought, how many women have you had aboard this wretched ship and how many of them swam away naked?

There were fine gowns and plain ones, a changeable silk polinaise in shimmering colors, jackets, ribbons, jewelry, French panniers, stays and rumps of various fashions, what looked to be a nun's habit and more. She thought she saw a faint smile on Andor's face as he observed her clear discomfiture.

"No," she said, flatly.

In the end, another trunk was brought, containing clothes suitable to a boy of roughly her size. There were sufficient  long binding cloths to render stays or jumps unnecessary, decent moleskin breeches, a lined waistcoat, good jacket with pressed buttons, a cravat and trimmed hat. With the addition of clocked stockings and low-heeled shoes, with good but not fine buckles,  she made a fine servant boy of the better sort, fit to work for a ships captain, which seemed to be Andor's guise.

"Will you dress yourself here, Miss Erso, or do you require more privacy?" the towering Kay asked, blandly.

Damn you.

"Pray, how much privacy, am I to be allotted on this venture sir?" she snarled, "being unaccustomed to it, I should dislike to overspend my account."

"Kay!" Andor reprimanded the man sharply. "Miss Erso can make use of my cabin .”…it adjoined…..”to prepare herself, and we will wait for her here."

The giant shrugged, as if the matter were of no further concern, and excused himself to consult the dockmaster.

Andor unlocked the cabin door and held it for her.

"My apologies," he said. "You must believe me when I tell you, though it will often seem otherwise, he quite genuinely means no insult."

Must I sir? I should hate then to hear how he speaks when offense is his goal, she thought. 

Feigned indifference seemed by far the wisest course, so she merely shrugged and gathered the garments up, intending to pass into the cabin without further conversation.

"Please have patience,” the Captain said, dropping his arm to slow her way, as if her understanding of the matter was somehow of great importance to him, "Kay is a unique man. He cannot, I think, measure as the rest of humanity does. Matters of....distinction...." he spoke, pausing often, as if to search for the right word to convey his thoughts, "niceties of rank and….. preference between persons, have almost no meaning for him. This can make him seem very harsh in his manners but....there is…… an equality of regard in him that is...can be.... almost admirable ...once understood."

What an odd pairing they were, this smooth and careful assassin and his violent, blunt and tactless companion.

Attempting to pass him in the doorway, she found herself looking up at eyes both dark and utterly serious, and felt obliged to be serious in turn.“Tell me, do you find this “equality of regard” to be an advantage in a servant, Captain?"

"He is not my servant," Andor said, "Advantage or no, he is my friend. Kay, is exactly as Nature has made him to be.....no more , no less. How many people can say so? You and I cannot, certainly, Miss Erso. We are what a wicked world has made of us.”

He moved aside then to let her pass and closed the door, giving her the time and solitude to transform herself.

Less than an hour later Jen met him on the deck and they disembarked, to present themselves as a British merchant captain and his servant boy.

Despite his protestations, the natural Mr. Kay was to remain aboard, lest his unique appearance draw attention.

 

 


"Jovem senhora!"
"Jovem senhora!"
"Young woman!"

Among the cacophony of voices, one impressed itself, cutting through her thoughts.

"Young woman! Shall I bless your necklace?"

She turned, startled, seeking the source of the voice.

Her eyes now fell upon a figure she had seen before, but had hardly marked among the crowd of beggars sitting in the shade of the inner portico. A bowl lay on the stones in front of him, with a few coins inside, while a battered staff lay alongside it. The man was dressed in the robes of a Franciscan but belted with the soldiers red sash, and presented both a beardless face and head close-shorn of peppered dark hair. He faced up at her now with a wide, pleasant smile and eyes silvered white with cataracts, sightless.

How had he known her English?
How did he know her a woman?
How could he have perceived her necklace?

She glanced around herself, alert to danger, but no one else seemed to mark the beggar's words. The blind man gestured for her to approach.

"The cross you wear has many tales to tell, young lady, do you know them?"

She stepped close to him, telling herself later that it was only to forstall further revealation of her disguise, but in truth out of sheer fascination. Involuntarily she laid her hand against the pendant concealed beneath the linen of the borrowed shirt. 

She had preserved this ornament, on a waxed leather cord around her neck, through every trial and torment that had befallen her. Had it seemed made from any material more valuable than wood, it would have been taken from her long ago, had it had any form other than that of a religious character, being carved into a rounded cross roughly the size of a gold sovereign, it would have been questioned. As it was, the flat diamond-shaped stone within the center was hardly to be seen anymore, so carefully had she kept the precious thing varnished with wax to preserve it from damp and misadventure. It was her only talisman, her sole memento.

 

 

Once they had lived in a fine house in an English city. She could no longer distinctly remember which city. One dark night, arms had lifted her up from her bed, and all of her dolls were left behind. She recalled traveling on boats and a miserable succession of carriages before arriving at a new and strange “home” on the Cornish coast. It was near a small village they only seldom walked out to. What work her father had obtained in such a strange and isolated spot she could no longer recall, even had she ever truly known it. Her memory contained sketched recollection of a small isolated farmhouse, a garden that she and her father had planted together, a view of the seacoast that both thrilled and terrified her and the books her mother read her. It had been a child’s paradise. There must have been more servants, but she recalled only one tall thin girl who helped with the laundry and a cook who sang beautifully in English of such an odd accent that Jen thought it another language. An old man brought letters and newspapers with regularity from town, but she recalled only because he had a dappled pony she fed carrots to. Her father and mother took it in turns to wait by the road for his coming, in all weathers. They played odd games. She and her mother would sometimes take a small lantern to play “Pixies-in-the-mound.” The game entailed dashing as quickly as possible out of the house, while Papa tried to spy them from various vantage points, out to an old cistern, hardly to be seen behind the hill mounds at the far end of the gardens. There were child-high grey stones that stood around the mounds, and the laundry girl always crossed herself when passing them, as Jen recalled. Child and mother would lift a grass-covered wooden tray that covered the mouth of the dry stone well, climb down a ladder within and sit. Mama always brought a great bag of beads, which was the “hoard” in the game, and they would blow out the lantern and name all the stones by touch alone, in the dark. After a time, sometimes a very long time, Papa would “discover” them. They must not come out before he did, or the sun would melt them. By the time she was seven she had sensed, by some means, that this was not in any sense merely a childish game, but being a self-possessed and obedient little girl, she did as her mother asked without question.

On a particularly stormy afternoon, as she had been gathering sticks on the high hill above the road, for some infantile building project, she saw a group of men riding on horses, not up from the town but on the steep winding track from the shoreline. Most were cloaked in black or blue against the wind, but one wore a white scarf and hat. A number of other men below were disembarking from dinghies, tossing on the rough shore. Additional horses were being held by other men who seemed to be there waiting for them. It occurred to her in later years that her father had no doubt chosen the house because of this vantage of both the road and the shore. She ran toward her home. Her father must have already seen the men, for he was walking, mist-dampened and hatless from the direction of the cliff. Without a word, he had swept her up in his arms and carried her into  the house.

Her mother had been standing at the foot of the stairs. “Lara,” he said, “He is here, he has found us.” Her mother, pale but resolute, had gathered the cloaks and a leather case that, she later recalled had always lain folded and ready by that door. Her father set her down on her feet and kissed her fondly.

“My Star,” he said, for so he always called her, “Everything I do, I do to protect you. Say you understand.”

“I understand,” she answered and embraced him, for she had always been an obedient child.

Her mother seized her hand then, and they ran, as always before, out the back garden toward the mounded hill, beyond the circle and the cistern. This time, however, her mother altered the game. She stopped and knelt beside Jen, just as they reached the grey stones that tilted and leaned at the end of the yard. Removing the the wooden cross she always wore on a chain, from off her own neck she kissed it and then placed the necklace around her daughter’s. “Trust in God, my darling, trust in the truth.” Jen had tried to cling to her then, but her mother held her hands away. “You know where to go, brave girl. Wait until I come, it will not be long.”

 

 

“It belonged to my mother,” Jen found herself saying to the blind man, as she drew the ornament out from beneath the folds of her neck scarf and shirt. The man, whether monk, or beggar, held up a hand as if bidding her to keep it concealed.

“The stone is rare and came from the East Indies, or so my father told me,” she said, most startled to find herself speaking remembrances that she had never before uttered aloud, even to Saul. “He said that the marks in it were like writing, and contained prayers and stories in some language that people had forgotten how to read.”

The beggar nodded approvingly.

She became aware, in that moment, that a large, broad-shouldered and swarthy man, roughly dressed, had stepped into the archway beside the beggar and was eyeing her with suspicion.

She stepped awayslightly, only to find that Captain Andor had returned and was standing directly behind her.

“What are you doing?” he said, in the tone of one reprimanding a wayward servant, “You were not sent out here to make friends.” Grasping her elbow, none too gently, he steered her back and away from the beggar, who only smiled and lowered his head, as if returning to prayer.

As the Captain directed her, with a degree of urgency, away from the crowds in the portico and back toward the plaza, she heard the blind man call, “There are words written in the heart of every star that shines.”

“Move!” Andor fairly hissed in her ear. His previously polished manner seemed quite ruffled now.

She looked back to see the swarthy man laying a hand on the blind beggar’s shoulder, and gazing after her darkly.

“Who were they?” Jen enquired, now hurrying her steps to keep pace with the Captain as he maneuvered against the movement of the crowds, away from the bright plaza and toward the shadows of the narrow alleyways beyond it.

Her companion was clearly agitated, looking over his shoulder as if anxious about pursuit. “The city is full of, monks, priests, half-mad missionaries from the colonies, hermits from the hill. With all the abbeys and most of the shrines destroyed, and the Maquiss Guard arresting anyone suspected of being loyal to Rome, or inciting discord of any kind, they cluster around the catherdral, causing difficulties for everyone.”

How? Jen could not help but wonder. We came here to look for Baba Saul, sir. Surely you know that “difficulties” draw him like a flame draws a moth?

“You seem most anxious,” she said, breathless as he hurried them through the back streets. “Did your cloistered novice give you news that disturbed you?”

“We must return to the ship,” he said, brusquely, “Lisbon may find itself shaking again soon.

They had circled around the Plaza by the less-gleaming back ways, but as Jen glanced down a new, straight, avenue she was provided a glimpse across the bright open courtyard and of the classical splendor of the newly built Palacio do Governo. A movement on the ornate cornice of the top story caught her eye. A flicker of a red scarf in one spot, a thin whisp, as if of smoke, there then gone at another.

Gerrere’s men, her heart told her.

“Captain Andor,” she said. His eye had followed hers and his mystified expression indicated that he might be less familiar than she with what was about to occur. “I earnestly hope, sir, that you have prepared some additional plan of escape.”

The Palacio exploded with a deafening roar.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa and environs


August 15, 1769


In written report later, he made the point to Mr. Draven thus:

A crowded city in which a greater number than half the adult population have experienced the worst natural disaster of modern Europe, most of whom still wake nights in dreams of screaming terror at the memory of heaving earth, collapsing stone, and man-high rivers of fire ignited as vast tanks of oil and brandy collapsed onto the broken street torches, to be fanned by roaring winds through the streets, and were reported by survivors to shriek with the wails of the damned….is not a city which will respond calmly to the resound of a massive explosion of gunpowder.

 


It was instinct rather than the force of the blast that flung him to the ground. He reached for the woman but she had already echoed his action.

Lighter than he, quicker of recovery, she was up on her feet at an instant clutching at his coat and pulling him back from the crush. Death by trampling crowds would quickly become the nearest danger.

Up. Run, was his sole thought.

They bolted together back down the narrower way.

The shopkeepers, workmen and whores who had frequented the little intersection of streets but a moment before, were now fleeing, running from the buildings. Many were screaming. Some men dropped to their knees, caught up in the memory of the earthquake and unable to bear more. Others wailed and called upon God for salvation lying in the street already like corpses and blocking the escape of those in flight from the Plaza.

Looking back over his shoulder a gust struck his eyes and he was blinded of an instant by stinging powder smoke.

¡Joder!

Her hand pulled him back from a stumble as a fat man on the ground crashed against his legs and would have downed him.

The woman pressed near his ear and, as a cat might, hissed “Back now! Guards!” pressing him toward the gutter-side wall. Eyes clearing, he stumbled forward. Assured of his motion she released her grip on his coat and moved behind him.

Out away from the plaza was their best course, and pressed to the wall was painful but lessened the risks of being swept into the center and crushed. Black boots and red coats thundered past them. 

Royal Guard were among the throng moving up behind. Trying to shove the shrieking crowds aside with bayonets now in their haste to reach the Palacio.

The direct path to the docks was impossible. Away, was the only goal now. All else must wait.

Another smaller blast rocked, this time from nearer, perhaps the Cathedral courtyard?

Diablos! How many were there? Where they trying to bring down the Palacio or the whole Cathedral quarter? Or was it mostly smoke and thunder designed to panic? He could not see.

There was further action erupting in the Plaza, but the smoke and press of bodies covered it from his sight. Guards began to form ranks to fill the street and were firing musket at adversaries unseen

Ears ringing, he felt something give beneath his hand...the narrow wooden door into a blank passageway between the buildings. As he pushed through, the woman fairly dove beneath his feet to reach the way that opened.

Fully upright now and at last able to breathe they ran through a paved gap between the walls in places barely the width of his shoulders.

They were safe in this instant for the crowd feared earthquake by reflex. Most would run FROM buildings till they knew better or came at least to fear the guns more.

She was ahead of him but their eyes saw the barrier of black and gold at the same instant. She stopped herself, shoes skidding for purchase on the fresh gravel.

Heart pounding, he twisted, scraping his back against the brick to halt himself lest he crash into the woman and knock her further into the street.

Now facing into one of the avenues at the back of the Cathedral they halted, frozen.

Ahead a volley of muskets fired.

 Screams. Shouted commands. The reek of smoke.

They had emerged from the gap in the walls behind a squad of the Maquis di Pombal’s Men. Rows of the Kings Guard lay ahead in the street, dead or struggling to rise, shot in the back. The Men in black were setting for a second volley

The only safe way was behind.. back into the passageway.

She pressed back against him, sharing his instinct. They must not be seen here.

The percussion of a second volley filled the air with smoke but before it stunned him deaf he had heard the screaming and noise of bodies behind them. The panicked crowd of the street they'd escaped had found the passageway and was rushing toward them like a thin torrent of flood water. Retreat was blocked. They had but seconds before they would be trampled or pushed into the armed column.

Digging fingers into her now coatless shoulder, he shoved her sideways.

Sliding now with backs pressed against the brick wall they moved parallel to the fixed column of soldiers.

Riflemen, well-trained and firing in formation would be focused like greyhounds on the forward line of their shot, rendered almost incapable to look neither right or left, he knew.

God! how he knew.

He and the woman might glide like shadows, flat to the wall, inches away but unseen…in the smoke between those shots.

They did so, managing a few....feet, yards.... just as a line of panicked souls poured out the gap they had quit and crashed like a forced stream of water into formation of black-clad riflemen.

Line broken then by the unexpected force of bodies, muskets knocked aside from hands of those in the center shoved by the inrushing crowd, Pombals Men in their black turned now, striking about with rifle butts and bayonets, some fired even into the passageway.

All was a chaos of white smoke and screaming as more bodies fell.

He and the woman reached the end of a wall,...nearly free, nearly to a clear passage behind the West facade,....just as five black-clad officers rounded the building.


These new men stood rooted, appalled at the scene before them.

In such moments, time slowed, he knew the sensation.

Don’t see us, we are not your target. Captain Andor beseeched inwardly.

What must they look like he could not fathom. Hats lost, the boy/woman’s coat was gone, his was torn, her cheek bloodied, his hands scraped and bleeding.

Evev in such a narrow space they might have stumbled by unseen in such tumult had God or the Devil smiled. They did not.

“Você aí!” one of the Marquis's Men turned to them, as if seeing them in that very instant and drew sword with his right hand while reaching for the “boy” with his left.

¡Joder!

Within the span of his hearts beat the woman dropped flat to the cobblestones, turning quick, with both hands out flat to break her fall. Then pushing herself up from the street leaped to her feet swift as a cat and dashed away.

His saber was out and struck the man's extended arm, cutting to bone. The effect of surprise on the others bought him nearly a second to prepare. 

Pulling back from the screaming soldier whose arm he’d cut, he slashed the underside of another’s forearm.

Four turned, drew on him.

The woman was there again crouched on the ground.

She launched herself low against the knees of one, rolling away from a down-cutting blow the man aimed even as he fell.

Three were on him. One edging to his left side, two in front. He slashed left, dodging a blow and falling back. Pulling them toward him. Focused on him.

Win or lose they would have him now surely but it would purchase her time to run.

One officer lunged ahead. He parried but the steps were close now.

Damn. Their swords were good.

The taller one was the better.

Another powder blast, from the Plaza, unseen in the smoke, shook the air.

The woman had the musket off the man she'd downed and swung it to his head before he could rise. A skull cracked.

The West passage was emptying as fast as people ran past them.

He fell back, up toward the Cathedral steps.

Get them back around the corner, out of sight of the melee on the street in front of them.

Fell back again.

Sooner or later one would get behind him.

Run! Madwoman!

Where was she?

He back-dodged a thrust that nicked through his coat sleeve. Not deep.

There. ¡Tonto!

She had something in hand... a piece of broken pike... and slid behind trying to flank the short one, who swung his blade at her, startled. Dropping to the side she struck the man in the kneecap, crunching bone.

Two.

One lunged for him, undeterred as the other tried to flank to the right. Open. Cassian fell back and left, switched hands and took the man in the chest.

Jesu, this was a good blade after all, flexible.

But to pull from a dropping body took time, a precious half-second. The last was on him now. The tall one.

The woman was out of sight.

Tall had a dagger in the right hand and the saber in the left.

His own cutting blade lay in his boot. No time.

The fellow stepped forward to close just as Cassian saw a blood-grimed, striped waistcoat emerge from the portico pillar a bare span behind and over the man’s gold-braided shoulder, pistol raised.

He dropped as she fired and the tall soldier pitched face forward onto the street.

Miss Erso threw the now-useless pistol from her and ran to his side.

The West street was emptied now. The sound of musket fire still echoed in the Plaza beyond. They ran up and away from the sound. Red-coated bodies littered the Cathedral entrance.

Pombal’s Men were shooting the King’s Guard. ¡Joder! Por qué?


Up past the West Porch an abutting street ran along the North side.

His thought ran to attaining the shelter of a building, out of sight.

To be cornered was bad, but he needed safety, to orient himself, to draw breath and try to form a plan.

That narrow street to the left...if they could but reach it.

God clearly hated him, as he had long suspected.

From the street they moved toward emerged a squad of five in red, Kings Guard.

Panicked and unsure of who or where their enemies were, they had likely been cut off from their regiment on the Plaza.

Under other circumstances he might have tried deception to gain some advantage.... Pombal’s Men were the greater devils here all in all.....but the sight of a bloody man with a sword slash across his arm and a battered coatless boy spattered with gore was a poor foundation for confidence.

Muskets were aimed at them.


“Deixe estes passarem,” a voice said from above them. A beggar in tattered robes,.... Franciscan? Cistercian? ...came walking down from the North portico, above the Guardsmen. He tapped ahead of him with a long silver-tipped staff. His hair was close shorn and eyes pearled white, blind.

“Deixe estes passarem. Let them go,” the man repeated. The Guards stood as though confused while the beggar calmly passed, placing himself between Cassian and the woman and the muskets of the Guards.

“Deus está com eles, and they walk where truth sends them.”

“Ele é cego,” said one Guard, sounding uncertain. 

There is no time for this, Cassian thought. Either musket fire had finally taken his hearing or the echoing of blasts had faded from the Plaza beyond.

There was groaning and shouting from the streets behind them but no sound of gunfire.  Whisps of white smoke still lingered as a haze from black powder ….cannon perhaps? Could that second blast have been cannon? Whose? 

The streets for a strange instant seemed almost empty of the living.

They will be here soon….and who "they" are hardly matters at present. 

“No,” the woman at his side whispered, her hand gripping his uncut arm. “He is blind, don’t….”


“Ele é louco,” barked another, an officer by his coat. He raised a saber as if to strike the blind man away like a fly.

 

A number of things happened before Cassian Andor had the presence of mind to do more than grasp the woman to prevent her launching herself forward into the fray in the blind man’s defense.

 

The beggar swung his stick like a pike, tripping the Guard attacking him. Faster than thought he leaped up and struck another behind him in the head, jumped briskly onto the body of the man he had tripped, kicking him in the head as he passed and striking yet another in the back.

One of the remaining Guards fled. The other made the mistake of raising his musket barrel toward the blind man. He fell backwards with a bolt in his throat.

Another man, large and dark, with rough hat pulled low with a small black beard in the Portuguese style and long braided hair tied back, emerged from the shadow of the portico.

He held a well-used crossbow of Italian military make.

“I could have managed him,” the blind man said, clearly piqued.

“Your gratitude is touching,” snarled the dark fellow, walking out to meet them.

“God protects me,” the beggar laughed as if this banter were a common matter with them. He stood straight now and leaned smilingly upon his support.

“I am sure God will thank me for my help when he next sees me,” his protector grumbled. He turned a dark eye to Cassian and Miss Erso. Scooping up one of the fallen sabers, he eyed its length and tucked it, sans scabbard, into his belt.

“You should go now,” he said to Cassian, as if he were a market town Nightwatch and they were errant boys out after curfew.

The blind man turned toward them. One of the fallen Guards attempted to rise, groaning, and the beggar struck him a quick negligent blow with his staff as he passed, rendering him senseless again.

 

Cassian felt as if a hand had passed lightly over his heart.

“¿Eres de la Orden Bendita?”

Stupid! What had come over him? If he was so bemused as to let Spanish slip from him on a Lisbon street he fully deserved death by nightfall.

 

The dark man cast his eyes heavenward, as if begging for mercy, “The Order is dead, all that remains are madmen and moonstruck gulls like this one.”

His sightless friend chuckled, “Yet here I stand, true heart.”

To counterpoint his words he seated himself upon the Cathedral stair between two red-coated corpses..

They might have squabbled on in this way, in the midst of death and danger, but Miss Erso spoke then, desperately, stepping towards the beggar, “Can you assist us? We must find Saul Gererre?”

Whatever the blind man might have answered they had no occasion to hear.

Men of a sudden appeared from the pillars behind them, and from the buildings at their backs. Cassian spied more on the roof above them. All wore rough garb, with red-brown scarves tied across their faces concealing their features. They were Gererre’s men beyond certainty, at least twenty.

Cassian felt a pistol pressed against the back of his head. The woman was pulled from beneath the hand he had reached toward her. All four, beggar and dark warrior as well, were forced to their knees and their arms well bound before.


One tall brigand loomed over him, resting a second pistol against his chest lightly. “Não se mexa, soldado da Espanha” a muffled voice spoke, with unconcealed venom.

Cassian made return only with his most charming and defiant smile, which earned a hard cuff to the cheek in return.

“Why do you bother us?” The blind man could be heard to say as they took his staff away and bound him. “Do we look as if we are in favor with either King or Marquis?”

The woman spoke,”You will not harm me or any of my friends, not even a hair. I swear by my life.... Any who do will answer to Gerrere for it with the loss of a hand.”

One of the men laughed roughly, “And who are you that the Commander will take such tender care for you?”

She looked round at them all then, with the bold smile of a queen returned from exile, and her green eyes were shining. “I am Jane Erso. Take me to the Commander. Ọmọbinrin mi ni mi.”


His eyes were bound with a rough cloth and he was forced to his feet and half-dragged, half-pushed forward some distance, then dragged through a door way, and down many stairs.

Behind, he could hear the others. The blind beggar was saying, “You fools can see that I am blind, can you not?”

 

Chapter Text

Alfonso was resolute in his loyalty to the Commander. When the sea rose up to smite the Islands everyone ran…slave and master, priest and sinner….when the vultures came to pick through the shattered bones of the sugar plantations and great houses of the governors of the Azores… pirates and vandals...... none had marked an albino youth clinging to a raft of wreckage nor would have done more than crush him for amusement if they had. Only one, a towering black man with the voice of a lion and the carriage of a king had swept him up…."Go free at the next port or stay and fight with us," the man had roared. "Make your choice."

Alfonso was nearly blind, he could not fight but he had served the old physician on the plantation and he would serve the lion who saved him until he died. At sea, on land, after battles, he had healed and patched. It was the only fight that he could make in a cause that he truly believed in and he loved the old man with a worshipful heart. It would not be long now.

 

 


Lady Mary Monmoth

Somewhere in England

August 1769

 

My dearest Mary,

I will address you as I once did. There was a time you cared not who knew of our regard for each other. If that time has passed, you need simply burn this letter.

I write to you now, knowing that my end is nigh, whether by the hand of man, or God is not revealed to me, but I hear footsteps and it drives me to fight the more fiercely for whatever can yet be forestalled or achieved in the time this broken boat can still sail. I gave up long ago the dream that you or I would ever live to see Justice rendered, or the eyes of men opened, but I swore to fight while hope lasted and now that it is gone I will fight on still without it. 

You and the blind and cautious net-casters you have thrown your lot with fear England and watch Spain though neither enough and they forget Portugal.

I saw Steela last night Mary, and not for the first time. It is never in my sleep that she comes, nor in the hours I am in motion, but I have seen her many times when talking to others. Oft times, when I consult my lieutenants or question a prisoner, or take my meals

…..there have been too many attempts by poison of late, what taster could I trust when so many would forfeit their own lives to take mine? I have a small she-goat ever with me that I milk myself, and bid them bring me fish alive, so that I may see them swim, before I cut them with my own knife and eat them. I eat them raw with salt most often, adding much to my fearsome reputation, so many of them murmur me a monster, but I do laugh and remember who first taught me the trick of it. Do you remember Mary? When we were in hiding on the coast nigh to the Faroes and I thought the cold would kill me? That ancient woman who hid us in her house of stone and driftwood sliced fish and fed it to us raw with seaweed broth. Ah! When she handed you that small bloody fish and you took it in your trembling hand and thanked her as if she were a great lady serving you from her own silver plate. I never loved you more than when you ate that fish with grateful relish.

Do they yet name me a monster Mary? Do you?


Is this a trap? Has the Alliance sold me to the Enemy to purchase time? They lie Mary.

They are only men, you said to me, when we parted. You were wrong, for the darkness they serve is beyond imagining. I have stood at the fortress of Elmina, Mary. What men are capable of shames the gods, all of them, yours and mine….there is no need for Devils.

Is it worth your soul Saul? you said to me. Aye, I said then and aye I say still. 

It is a price worth paying, one mind and body, one soul, a handful of lives, to inconvenience Hell, to tear one small corner off Evil's blanket.

I trained her my falcon, Lara's child and Galen's but then I set her free. Did I do wrong? It haunts me.


Do they offer me what I most long for to trap the lion one last time? Do they stake my own lamb to draw me out!

Merrick was a man once, and Akbar, I would not think it of them….but foolishness is also treason.

Have you betrayed me? Has she?

There is no bond like that of twins. In my mother’s country the old people considered all twin-born children creatures of magic, creatures of prophecy and I believe it, though I hold faith in nothing else but my own hand now. My sister never speaks. She stands and looks out at windows or watches me with a knowing patient smile. She holds a hand up when I reach for her. “Not yet,” she signs to me. My hour draws close but it is not here yet.


If this Turkish boy tells truth I will bring him to you….you will believe me then, as to how far this blight reaches. If he lies I will have his skull tucked in with the first shot I fire at them and use his hide to wad it.

Is it truly her?

How did you find her?

All may be lost, but nothing is forgotten.

The way one falls matters.

Saul Gerrere

 


The Commander slept seldom and then only fitfully. The false leg chafed at him now and the wounds remained raw. Alfonso did what little was in his power. Tincture of poppy brought ease for the pain but the old man shunned more than a few drops and then only at direst need. He had been prevailed upon to take a few this night, as they had brought a prisoner, taken from a ship at Porto and the Commander had excited himself greatly in questioning the captive. He had then written at the desk, most wildly for nearly an hour, crumpling papers and flinging them aside, as was often his wont these days whenever he was denned up on land, in his cave and cliffside hiding places on a score of coasts, and whenever his mind was perturbed. It was unsafe to approach him at such times, but now the physic had taken some effect and he dozed at last upon the battered chaise. He kept a knife beside his pillowed head always. Alfonso, though only he, was permitted to approach him then, to unstrap the steel and wooden leg bound to the stump below his right knee and bathe the swollen flesh there. In a few hours the men would return from Lisbon, with messages and appraisals of the raids success. Then the broken old lion would rise and Saul Gerrere would roar again. Alfonso righted the fallen ink stand and picked up the crumpled, half-written and blotched missives from the floor around his captain's couch. As he had been instructed to do always, he collected and burnt them all unread.

Chapter Text

Amongst his earliest recollections were his mother's remembrances and tales of Agra, the city of her birth. She regaled him with stories of a golden old Fortress and white sparkling palace of a tomb that some prince whose name she could not recall had built in honor of a wife that died young.

"And that, my wise boy, is why he mourned for her so mightily, and raised for her a memorial that would rival the moons light. Had Allah willed it that she live to grow old, to be battered by time and fail of her bright promise, perhaps he would have forgotten her." Batur considered, when hearing her speak thus, that she was perhaps not speaking only of some long-dead Maharani when she said, "It is hope that drives great deeds and makings, not grief, or vengeance."

"Why did you leave Agra, dear Ana?" his young self would ask, as was always his part, and her answer would always be to pat the corner of the blue robe she wore, or touch a blue curtain or cup, or any other object of a blue color. "Civit" she would say. "Indigo." Her father had been a merchant, who had taken them to Goa where she had been married to a merchant who had taken her to Oman and then to Greece.

 

 

He had come so very far, and spoken nothing but the truth, yet not a living soul seemed to believe him.

Erso Bey had told him to find this Saul Gerrere, no matter how and at any cost. "He will be an old warrior...but men like him fight even death. He knows. He alone will not hesitate."

The English ship had found him on the dinghy and brought him to Barbados. The captain clearly disbelieved his tale, but proved so fearful of the names he spoke that he did not press or kill him, but only tossed him ashore. The vilest of men seized him there, but when he cried out that they must take him to Saul Gerrere, that Galen Erso had sent him, even they had stood back as if he were a plague victim. He knew enough French to understand when one said to the other. "Qui chercherait le diable avant sa mort?" Many had heard of Gerrere. Some seemed to imagine him a phantom, while a few admitted him real but claimed that he was long dead. Most disputed that assertion, claiming in hushed voices and in many tongues that the Commander could never die until the fires of Hell itself claimed him. No one, it seemed, knew where he was. For two precious days the young man who had been Batur Farouk and was now called Bodi Rook, wandered that hideous port, shunned by all. Then, on the third day two African men, dressed in ragged grey with red kerchiefs, one old and one young, both with hands covered in heathen tattoos, came and found him weeping in frustration on the docks. "The innocent are dying," he begged of them, "and there is no time. I have a message for Saul Gerrere, from Galen Erso. He must stop them." They gave him water and food and put him to a working passage, on a leaking wine ship called The Wookiee, bound back to Porto. The crew onboard abused him no worse than any of the other sailors, but his sufferings came at night when he dreamed all through of the men hacking stone from the ground with knives, of the little Minorcan girl who fell in the vat and how her mother wailed, of Erso's face, filled with pain yet shedding no tears, as he had slowly related his message and Sefla wrote the letters. His mother came to him at the end of these visions and, it seemed to him, laid a cool hand upon his forehead. Be brave my son, she whispered, you are the messenger. 

When they reached Porto, there had been several grey and red clad Portuguese men there waiting, but without a word and as heedless of his protests as beasts, they had bound and blindfolded him.

He had been afraid when he pushed off onto the Atlantic, afraid at sea for the day and night until he was picked up, afraid of the knives at his throat. It had not been fear of death, only fear of failure that shook him.

Now he found after all these desperate weeks that he was done with fear, and that its place had been supplanted by anger.

"What is the matter with you people?" He shouted, as they dragged him from the ship and threw him over a ponies back, "I am begging to be taken to the most dreaded pirate between Istanbul and the coast of Mexico! Is this such a common request that you fear overcrowding!? Take me to Saul Gerrere!"

Erso Bey had described Saul Gerrere to him as a tall personage, dark-skinned and broad shouldered, with a shaven head, imperious voice and stern eye.

The man who who ordered the blindfold pulled from his eyes, after he was dragged roughly up steep pathways and flung down on a stone floor, might have been truthfully described so once, but no longer. The young pilot called Bodi Rook now faced a scarred and battered wreck of a man. A patch of leather covered one eye and scars upon the dark forehead testified to its loss. Wild grey hair might have recalled the lion Rook had oft heard him called, but his aspect now seemed more wolf-like. His right hand was gone at the wrist and a crutch was braced beneath that shoulder drawing the eye to a carved wooden stump that took the place of the right leg, dressed in ragged blue sailors trousers tucked around and bound with leather straps.

Galen Erso had told him that Saul Gerrere would be fearsome even in old age. He had not told him that he would also be quite mad.

He trembled but freely told them of Erso Bey's message which they took from him, but the old wolf was dissatisfied with himself or his answers, or perhaps with some demon in his own mind. Before he would even read the written words he ordered Rook beaten, demanding again and again to know who had truly sent him, despite the constantly repeated truth given in answer, and asking over and over, until the pilot fell senseless, a question that he could neither understand or answer.

"Where is she? Have they driven even the child, my ọmọbinrin, to betray me?"

Chapter Text

It had been a source of no small professional pride to him that he had seldom, since boyhood at least.....which he supposed might have ended earlier for him than for some men.....been taken completely unawares.

The circumstance of the explosions, the action of the crowd, and the revelation of their flawed intelligence regarding the loyalty of Pombal's personal guard....the Marquis was moving directly against the Royal forces, no doubt using the actions of Gerrere's brigands as a cover. The Princess Juana must be warned. This might be the lever to trip her sympathies to the Alliance....these factors alone, combined with the unsettling presence and actions of two outlandish gentlemen who might or might not be survivors of one of the outlawed Orders, might have more than accounted for his current unacceptable position.

He knew better than to flatter himself impervious to capture. "Overconfidence is the last and most dangerous trap. Not even the most skilled juggler can catch every time," Draven had told them long ago.

"Especially if someone sets fire to the stage," Senora Tano had muttered as an aside. The first and the most skilled of them all, she had vanished in Venice two years ago and was now assumed dead.

Even the best could be taken down by circumstance, but the knowledge did not lessen his self-chastisement.

His current predicament felt to him directly related to the effect of Miss Jane Erso. The woman seemed to throw his game off at every turn.

 

 

In his experience Saul Gerrere's people all fit a mold as being ruthless, direct and desperate. Those who remained in his rapidly shrinking band were personally...some said fanatically....devoted to the man, by necessity perhaps.  Many wanted Gerrere dead, and the price on his head was legend. The Spanish sought him most of all and they had gold enough to hunt down God himself. He had endured a dozen attempts at assassination over the years and word circulated that he was now grown nearly mad with suspicion and fears of treason, seeing enemies everywhere.

How was it then that his "child" had come to leave him?

Old reports had made reference to a "son" always at the pirate's side, but Alliance sources had confirmed several years ago that the Commander's "ọmọ" was in fact a European girl, the daughter of a promising young Swedish military engineer, and an impoverished British lord's clever and wayward third daughter.

Jane Erso's whole existence was an improbability although this in itself was not the cause of his perturbation. Cassian Andor knew himself to also be a fairly improbable creature. Further he was a true agent of the Alliance none of whom were supposed to exist. They were all of them in their own several ways the stuff of fairy tales.

No, the most nagging mystery of the woman to Andor's mind lay in her wardship and subsequent leave-taking of the "Commander." She had said in her interview with Draven and Lady Monmoth that Gerrere had "grown weary of her upkeep" some four years previously, leaving her to her own devices in Sardinia. It was one of the few times her mask of sullen bravado had slipped. A child's hurt had shone in her eyes like a scar glimpsed before being quickly hidden again beneath a sleeve.

This had not sounded like Gerrere, at least as Andor imagined him. Those the Lion wearied of usually found their heads decorating the rigging of his dreaded flagship the Onderean.

Even had he not been witness to the troubled glances that passed between Mr. Merrick, Draven and the Lady at that point in the interview, Andor should have suspected some missing chapter. Draven had been most forthright in his warning that, in this matter of Gerrere, the young woman and intelligence from the Florida territories, Captain Andor was being sent to sail in dangerous channels but poorly charted.

They had provided him a dossier of information regarding her, slim though it was, and he had read it so thoroughly as to commit it to memory. Although confident about her motives in agreeing to the venture, since leaving England he had come to find her personally more and more of a cypher. Her actions in Lisbon had proved entirely unpredictable. Given ample opportunities for escape and she had availed herself of none. Even in the face of grave danger she had stubbornly remained to assist him at every turn. It had not seemed a matter of strategy, but as if she had pulled him up from the street by the same instinct he now recalled seeing her scoop up a fallen child as they ran, thrusting the terrified little girl without a glance into an open doorway to protect her from trampling feet. She had struck fatally when threatened but reacted equally without thought in risking herself to protect others. These were not the actions of one lost to conscience. She confused him. 

Kay, of all persons the most unlikely, had spotted his weakness first.

"You have a developed an appreciation for her," his friend had pronounced a few days into the voyage, with the expression of a surgeon announcing that he had found a suspicious lump, as they had been going over the maps of Lisbon in the main cabin.

"De qué diablos estás hablando?" Andor had protested. "I appreciate the skills of a thief who can steal a coat from your twice-locked trunk and I profess a certain gratitude for the lastingly delightful image of a girl of barely eight stone dropping Lt. Ruescott Melshi to the street, nothing more."

Kay had only shaken his head. "I can hardly credit it myself," he said, closing up the document cases, "I have known you to be not unresponsive to the charms of women, but in the past you have always remained aware and sensible enough to compensate for the distraction. I hope that you will do so now."

He heartily detested these occasions when his friend's judgement was correct in opposition to his own.

 

Kay and Captain Rostok would have responded to the crisis and their late return appropriately. The Alliances operatives in Lisbon had been alerted. He must trust to the plan.

 

Andor and his three unwilling companions had been taken down and through low tunnels for a considerable distance before being shoved up ladders into what smelled like a stable. There Miss Erso's voice came to him for the first time since their capture, growling "Damn you, that man was hurt as well!" Water and something that stung like brandy was splashed over his scraped palms and they were covered with what he could only hope was clean cloth. After a short time in silence their captors guided them none too gently to mount ponies, their hands were re-bound to the pommels of rough saddles and the beasts led outdoors onto rutted roads. The journey took several hours and their blindfolds were not removed until the sun was well set and they were long  miles from the city. Through the ordeal he listened carefully. Amidst the sounds of the beasts and the grunts and arguments of their captors, all in Portuguese, could hear the beggar's large protector occasionally rumble what were clearly oaths, although in a language unknown to him. The beggar/monk alone seemed to be in good spirits, chatting with the ponies in Portuguese and addressing them as "brother," all while periodically chanting prayers in what sounded to Andor's ear like a dialect of Greek. The woman was largely silent. His ears strained for any sound of her but except for a short burst of Portuguese invective during a brief pause to answer the requirements of nature, a few coughs were all that he could confidently assign to her.

When the cloth was finally taken from his eyes, the sun had set and he was being pulled, aching bitterly, from the pony and set on his unsteady feet. They were up in the hills now, down the coast and well south of the city. Bonds were cut and they were all taken at pistol and knife point into some sort of shelters carved into the hillsides, some ancient hermitage now converted to smugglers caves it seemed.

As his eyes became accustomed he caught sight of Miss Erso, pale and battered, being lifted from the pony nearest him. The bandits seemed to take slightly more care with her, one even reaching out a tentative hand to steady her when her legs seemed to give for a moment. Shrugging the man off impatiently as the cord that bound her hands was cut, Andor saw her eyes searching avidly around her. She was looking for Gerrere and the rest of them had almost ceased to matter to her.

They were separating her from the rest of them now, clearly moving to take her out another doorway up some stone stairs, and into a tunnel dimly lit by several flickering fat lamps. Hoping to gain her attention he called out her Christian name "Jane!"

She turned, startled, as though suddenly remembering his existence. Her green eyes widened as if considering some impropriety, clearly as cognizant as he that he had never before addressed her so intimately. She met his look and gravely nodded.

Their rough captors laughed.
"Não se preocupe. Nós não feriremos seu amante," a yellow bearded man barked, and with that they pushed her up the stairway and out of his sight.


He found himself left with the two strangers as they were moved, at the point of three pistols, into a dark adjoining cell gated with iron bars and a lock. Their captors kept well back from the large dark-bearded man, who kept a hand upon his sightless companion's shoulder.  Clearly he was their greatest concern. Another crowd of eight assorted men came up from an inner passageway to join the ten that had accompanied them. A fight with such odds could only prove disastrous. The large fellow met Andor's eye and shrugged, clearly having come to a similar conclusion. He and his blind fellow-traveller walked into the cell with an enviable degree of weary dignity.

He noticed that they had taken the beggars staff. Clearly some of the men accompanying them had witnessed the combat at the West porch of the Cathedral.

Finding no other choice available, Andor followed both men into the cell. As he entered one of Gerrere's thugs aimed a kick at his back that he was only partially able to dodge. 

"Bem-vindo ao inferno, espanhol," the pirate snarled as Andor sprawled to the floor, barely catching himself before striking his head against the dank stone wall opposite.

Gracias, he considered replying, but thought better of it.

The blind man was already seated on the floor, his back against the wall. His companion stood, leaning, his head brushing the low soot stained roof.

"They do not like you, Captain," the beggar said with a laugh. "My name is Churrit Imwe. Rest if you can. My friend and I have been in many prisons. I assure you this is not the worst." His brooding friend grunted, but seemed to smile with some amusement at Andor's discomfort.

He did not find either of them remotely reassuring.

"This is," he said, climbing to his feet, and rubbing his bruised elbow, "I must admit, my first time in such circumstances."

He felt sure the beggar would now feel compelled to offer advice and in this he was not mistaken.

"Captain," the man who called himself  Chirrut Imwe said, almost sadly, "you seem to me the sort of man who carries a cage with him wherever he goes."

The large dark man laughed wryly at this as if much amused by his friends wit.

Andor suspected he would grow heartily weary of both of them if he remained in this cell much longer.

His captors had relieved him of sword and knives, even taking the small blade hidden in his boot. They had however left him still in possession of said boots, and had appharently not discovered the small set of lock-picks hidden in the false heel of the left. 

He peered between the bars at the ten or so guards, some playing cards in the dim light on a bench near the entrance, and others sitting smoking tobacco pipes against the wall. His options were constrained but he kept watch and waited.

Where had they taken her? was his chief thought.

It was only much later that he realized that there had been no point at which the blind man could have been apprised of his military rank.

 

 

Chapter Text


They brought her in silence up a torchlit passage. This was not a shelter she recognized from her own time, but she had seen enough like it on other coasts to find it recognizable. Not a home, it was but a hiding place, an osprey's perch. She had spent the better part of her girlhood in such places. Pale Alfonso sat as always on a stool by the door but if he recognized her he made no sign of it He only looked up, and then stood silently to part the curtain that served as a door over the old anchorite cell that served here as the Commanders quarters.

The chamber was filled with bright lamps of whale oil and wax candles. He had always hated darkness, an aversion they both shared.  Within the room a figure stood with back to her, indistinct but turning as she entered and the curtain slipped back.

She had imagined this confrontation a thousand times but all the bitter words she had practiced in her heart vanished when she saw again the man she once loved as a parent, the much-feared Saul Gerrere.

There was nothing left of him now. The figure before her appeared as only a scarecrow hung with familiar clothes. There were parts here of a man she had once known and loved and cursed but only when the wind filled might it even look human again. There was no wind now.

Olori, she thought, Baba Saul. What have they done to you?


The thin and wild-haired figure seemed aware of her now, towering even when leaning on his crutch and took a few limping steps toward her.

No. No pity. He would not want it. He did not deserve it.

“Jen? My àşádì. Is it truly you? Are you really here?”

She had prepared herself for battle with the cruel and imperious Commander of five years ago. A man who might kill her but not before she said her piece.

No, she told herself. Not this. This would break her. She must remember what she came for. This was a ghost before her, a shade of the Olori whose praise she had once lived for. This was a broken old man who looked almost happy, smiling as if welcoming home a favored child long lost and feared dead.


“Are you surprised, Sir?” She hoped her voice sounded contemptuous, but feared it shook and that she merely sounded like an angry child. “Did you never wonder what became of me?”

The aged pirate turned his head, as if the remaining eye could take her in only from a certain angle. His look was one of surprise. “What? Are you angry Jen? You sound angry.” There was a chair beside him and he laid his last good hand upon it. “Have I offended you? Speak freely.”

The hand? Oh God. When had this occurred? She recalled the leg wound now….a ball struck the bone at Tripoli, but he had sworn that it was mending…nothing but a matter of poultices and a few weeks rest.

He drew himself very  tall then, "Speak!" he barked as if it were an order, "Tell me who has sent you?" and she found that if she looked obliquely she could see her old Commander now as he had appeared in his chosen masquerade of the bloodthirsty brigand.

How old had she been when it ceased to be a masquerade?

She found her anger again, clutched it to her.

“Freely? The last time I spoke freely, Sir, you left me in a Spanish tower ten miles from Porto Torres and told me you would return for me by nightfall. Do you recall my age at the time, Sir?”

He shrugged, smiling indulgently as if this were a thing of no consequence, her fear, her despair, the days she waited.

”I knew you would be well. You were the most fearless, the strongest and best of my hawk-chicks.”

There was a time she would have relished such praise as water in the desert. It was ashes to her now.

 

“I was three days from sixteen. I fought for you from the age of eleven. I would have gladly died for you. Olori Baba,” she said, “And you left me to die. Was it a punishment or a test, sir? Did you think I would come back chastened, or forgive such a betrayal? Would you have done so?”


Why? This was the question her soul burned to ask, but she could not. Was it because I confronted you about the burning of the fort? Was it because I was no longer an unquestioning child?

He hobbled toward her, then paused distracted, looking up over her shoulder toward an empty corner of the chamber as if he saw someone there that she could not perceive,  “Is this the place?" He asked of some person unseen, "Is this the time? Have you….is it her hand I wait for?”

She had come to do battle, but it was already too late, all the answers she had sought were no longer here.

“The Alliance sent me,” she said, “Your old compatriots, all still standing at the shore and trying to stop the tide. They say you have word from my father sir, from Galen Erso, of some plot involving the British, or some other crowned head, in the West Indies. I bought my liberty by promising them an interview to make their proposal. Had your men not nearly blown us all to hell we might have been more civilized about it but as it is there is an agent of theirs in your dungeon now who will no doubt tell you more, The fellow may or may not be Spanish, like most of them I suspect he has no nation. You will like him sir. He is a very handsome youth and quite good with a sword. I suggest you take up your business now with him and give me leave to go.”

There. She had gotten most of it out in a torrent, but it was done. All she could think to do was flee, escape the sight of this scarecrow in the shape of her once mighty hero before she screamed or wept. She turned as if searching for the door. Would his men hold her? Stop her? Let them try.

“Jen. Do you give up the fight my falcon?” he said, and now his voice sounded more like himself, in his diplomatic vein, the voice he used to argue terms of surrender and ransom, "What can we do but try. Would you drown without struggle? See all men drown?"

She turned back. "A message from Galen Erso? The same Galen Erso whose name we found upon those crates of mercury in the wrecks off Tortuga? Whom you assured me was long dead?

“Jen. I could not watch you die for me, I….I forgot my bargain until it was almost too late but I swore an oath,”

Damn you, old man! 


“An oath to whom sir? For surely you did not keep the one you swore to me.”

“To your mother Jen. To Lara and Galen. If it is not a trap….and yet it might be….” He looked at her, distracted now, as if she were bringing him news of some vital engagement, a movement of ships, the approach of an enemy.


“Jen!” he said, his voice growing strong again.

It was as if he suddenly saw her for the first time since she had entered, or had abruptly decided she was real and not a phantom of his own mind.

The wind had filled the scarecrow. “I have something you must see.”

“Alfonso!” he roared, “Bring me what the Turkish spy carried!”

He hobbled swiftly over to a wide table on the far side of the cavern all surrounded by lit candles and oil lamps and waved his one good hand for her to follow, as if she were still under his command, “Come my child, see your legacy!”

Alfonso came running with what looked to be a bundle of cloth in his hands.

She considered that she should run. She desired to and yet….the habit of obedience remained stronger in her than she had credited.

She followed.

Leaning heavily upon the mahogany surface, Her Olori laid out what she now saw to be a man’s linen shirt. Every seam was cut open and as it was laid flat she could see that it was covered with script. Written in a fair hand in clear blue-black ink

It was not in English and she could recognize only a name written in another hand, across what would have been the garments hem.

Something rang like a bell in her heart.

GALEN ERSO the letters said.

“Alfonso!” Commander Saul Gerrere ordered, “Read her what it says”


شاول
هل تصدقني ميت؟

أنت لست مخطئا في اعتقادك


إذا كنت تستطيع قراءة هذا ربما هناك فرصة لمنعجريمة واحدة كبيرة
أتجرؤ على الأمل في أن تكون
هناك فرصة لإنقاذ طفلي.
بلدي جين. بلدي النجم الحقيقي
أقول لها أنني أحبها. الحقيقة مريرة ولكن ابتلعت. يخبرني عدو أنها ميتة لكني أعلم أنها كذبة. هل ابنتي آمنة؟ هل ابنتي حرة؟
K هو الشيطان. هو كما كنت تخشى ولكن أسوأ. أسوأ بكثير. إذا كنت أحاول أن أموت، أو هرب. ويمكن بناؤها دون مساعدتي. إنهم خدعوا وهم لا يعرفون ذلك.
هناك 400 النفوس هنا. الأطفال هنا. سوف يموت عدد لا يحصى من الآلاف. جعلت إنجلترا الصفقة لأنها الجشع. 29.0258 ° شمالا، 80.9270 درجة غربا. أخبر ماري. أخبر الآخرين. لا يزال هناك وقت لتدميره. وسوف تحمل طالما أستطيع.

 قلبي يبكي لها كل يوم. أنا لا أسألها أن يغفر لي. هل هي سعيدة؟

The albino flattened down the cloth with pale hands. Holding his weak eyes close to it he read, clearly and without expression, as if he recited a text he had already memorized.

Saul
Do you believe me dead?

You are not mistaken in your belief
If you can read this maybe there is a chance to prevent one last great crime
I dare to hope.
There is a chance to save my child.
My Jen. My star
I tell her that I love her. The truth is bitter but swallowed. An enemy tells me she is dead but I know it a lie. Is my daughter safe? Is my daughter free?
K is the devil. It is as you feared but worse. Much worse. If I try to die, or run away. It can be built without my help. They were deceived and they did not know that.
There are 400 souls here. Children here. Will die countless thousands. England made the deal because it was greedy. 29.0258 ° north, 80.9270 degrees west. Tell Mary. Tell the others. There is still time to destroy it. I will carry as long as I can.

My heart weeps for her every day. I do not ask her to forgive me. Is she happy?

 

 

The voice went on, the words went on:

 

Spain has made a bargain with England.

England has made a bargain with men who seek to build a fortress, unbreakable.

There is stone here of the kind Lara had found, so long ago, at Madagascar.

 

Her tears had begun upon the words “My Jen. My star,” but her knees had not given way beneath her until she heard her mother’s name.

 


She had always been an obedient child but on this occasion she had disobeyed. Upon reaching the covered well she had turned and run back to follow the way her mother had gone. Unable to see her, Jen had run around to the side of the house nearest the sea and concealed herself in a thicket by the garden’s edge. It had always been her favored hiding spot to watch the ponys come up the road. The dark-cloaked men had dismounted from their several horses and, while two or three stood to hold the reins, a party of eight approached her father as he stood statue-still by the edge of the cliff, hatless, the heavy mist soaking his hair and coat. The Man in the white scarf and hat came at the front of the party.

“Galen,” the man said, his accent pleasant but odd, “You have proved exceedingly difficult to find. Even the oldest of friends must take offense.” He laughed but it had not sounded a sincere laugh and her father’s grim expression had remained unchanged.

“I know you desired a ‘peaceful life” as you poetically termed it but Galen, this place beggars belief..” The man raised a white-gloved hand to wipe the dew from his brow. It had begun to rain in earnest now, although her Papa remained still as stone. The man continued, laughing, “When we came around and passed a village, most genuinely called “Worlds End” I finally saw the humor in it and…”
Her father interrupted the man. “What do you want, Mr. Krennik?”

“There is trouble with the work.” The Man said, no longer feigning pleasantries. “Extracting the stone has proved far more difficult than expected and the English..” he paused again to wipe the rain from his brow, and smile, “…the English have upped their price for silence. The prices for indigo have made them quite mad with avarice. Since it is has proved impossible to find another man with your genius for the materials involved, Galen. I have come to take you back.

“No.” Her father was soaked with the rain but seemed to register it not at all. “I find I am no longer fit for the work. I….” he paused, as if to shake the rain from his eyes, or gesture back toward the house. “Grief has left me a shadow. Our child was taken by fever last summer and Lara followed her soon after.” He lowered his head as if overcome.

“How very tragic,” said the man, “Let me be the first to…”

“You will not take him!” came a voice from the doorway of the house. It was Mama, wrapped in a large hooded oil-cloth. She was striding quickly down the slope.

“Ah…” said the Man as if to himself, “As always, defying God and Nature, dear Lara.”
Seeming to gather himself then he called “Come now! There is no need for unpleasantness.” His men, as if on this signal, drew back their cloaks. They carried both swords and daggers that they unsheathed now.

The white-hatted Man held up a hand, as if to calm them.

“You shall all live in great comfort,” he said, “The jungles are somewhat strenuous, I admit, but while Galen works a fine home can be prepared for you and your child in Jamaica, dear Lara. He may join you regularly. Every proper English child there has half a dozen slaves of their very own, or so I have heard. What could be more delightful?”

“Go back to hell,” Mama said, “And tell the Devil he shall never win.” She lifted the oil-cloth before her and whatever was concealed beneath caused the men to step back.

The Man kept his eyes on Mama but raised a hand, toward one of this clocked companions, saying “Stay calm.” At the same moment Papa had cried, “Lara, No!”

Mama fired a pistol and the ball struck the Man in the upper arm.

One of the black-cloaked men threw a knife and it struck Mama in the head.

It was the first time, although it would prove far from the last, that Jen saw a body fall lifeless before it even struck the ground. Yet somehow she knew by instinct that her mother was gone.

She did not scream, pressing her small fist into her mouth to stifle the cry. Lifting her head she caught her last glimpse of her father as he knelt over her mother’s prone form, weeping. Carefully and quietly, she crawled backwards out of the thicket and ran like the brave little hare whose part she acted in her favorite game. Running with all her strength back to the well she pushed back the cover and crawled inside.

Recalling her practice with her mother, she climbed down the ladder into the dark and found the lantern and tinderbox hidden inside by touch alone. With some difficulty she managed to strike the tow and light the small candle lamp. At times she fancied she could hear shouting and feet running above the ground but after some while all fell silent. Curling up like a dormouse against the cold she held her mothers wooden ornament and waited.

The candle lasted for several hours. How much time passed after it flickered out and darkness descended she never knew but it was long, two days at least, perhaps three. She drank from the little bottle of water and when that was gone she held her hands up to catch the thin trickle she felt dripping down the stones by the curved wall and licked her fingers.

It was night when the lid was finally pulled back but even the light of the moon dazzled her dark-accustomed eyes.

The man who came for her was not her Papa. Standing there instead was a large brown-skinned person, utterly strange to her, with a bald head and grey-black trimmed beard. Fearsome in demeanor, his face nevertheless wore an expression of pity mixed with immense sadness.

“Child,” he said, “Dear child, come with me. We must take a long journey.” He reached down a scarred and mighty hand, decorated on the back with an image in bluish-black of a bird with wings spread. She had taken it without hesitation.

 

 


Old Alfonso’s voice read on but though Jen marked the words they all seemed to slip over her like water.

Jasper….Indigo…..kidnapped and held in slavery….no escape…..liquid explosive….trap. Saul. I have set a trap…..Fire upon any of the outward canals….black powder….destroy everything.


It seemed to her that she was now trapped blind and unfeeling in a vision that had tortured her since childhood, one of dark stone walls closing her round in blackness as she struggled for breath. Kneeling and blind to all around, she was insensible of the shaking of the floor beneath her.

Though unable to assign sense to any of the words, she heard distant voices crying, “Tremor de terra!”

Chapter Text

 HMS Princess's Fortune

Port of Lisbon

August 1769

 

 


In general, he found Captain Rostok to be unobjectionable company.

Aside from being a highly skilled mariner, Rostok excelled in calculation and management skills. These were essential, Kay had found, in the success of any ships captain especially given the diverse character and eccentric interactions of a sailing crew. Many commanders maintained order through the liberal use of brutality, as Timothy Samson Kay could verify by personal experience, but Captain Rostok did not.

 

 

Three years previously, on a voyage out of Marseilles, there had been some difficulty originating with two or more crew members personal disagreement regarding wagers on the result of a cribbage game. Daggers had apparently been produced and nearly half of the crew of the Queen Amidala (as the ship was then named) seemed to have become involved in the altercation that erupted in the forward crew cabin.

“Should I go down and intervene?” he had asked Cassian, largely because the sound of the argument could be clearly heard all the way up and over to their rooms in the quarterdeck, in at least six languages. “There are a concerning number of threats of physical violence being made.”

This observation seemed useful since Kay was verbally fluent in nine languages, while Andor was fluent in only four and as such might lack understanding of the finer points of the conversations.

“No,” Andor had replied.

“A number of them are commenting on the physical attributes of each others female relatives and referencing bestiality,” Kay felt obliged to point out, “This often leads to escalation in conflicts.”

Andor only sighed, “No, Kay.” He had been lying on his bunk at this juncture, his leg elevated on several pillows for ease and to prevent swelling.

The pistol ball had gone cleanly through the shin, well clear of the bone, and since Kay had seen to the cleaning and bandaging of the wound himself he had been quite confident that the risk of infection was slight.

“Does Rostok appear concerned?” Andor inquired wearily, one arm raised, bent and resting over his eyes.


“Not at all,” Kay admitted. Captain Rostok had been up on the foredeck at that point, appearing altogether unconcerned though surely aware of the ruckus and vile language erupting below decks.

“Don’t worry about it until Rostok does,” his friend had said,  then he had fallen silent, clearly asleep.

The operation at Marsailles had been exhausting and taken quite an ugly turn despite Kay and Andor’s best efforts. In the end Andor had been able to fatally dispatch the French merchant before he could board the ship back to Louisiana but his escape had been a near thing, involving a pursuit across rooftops and a pistol shot to the leg.

Despite misgivings, Kay had let the matter rest. Even when uninjured, Andor often suffered unpleasant after-effects from missions that involved strategic murder and assassination. Sleep was the best medicine in such cases.

As it was, Andor had proved correct on that occasion The crew had indeed eventually settled the matter of their own accord and Rostok had not even had to flog anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Kay found himself standing beside Rostok, at the rail of the Princess’s Fortune, looking out at the new wharf, gazing up at the fair and orderly face of Lisbon reborn. The towers of the cathedral of Santa Maria Maior were visible partway up the hillside of the city.


“Ik heb een slecht gevoel hierover,” Rostok said.


Kay was inclined to agree. He also did not have optimistic feelings about this venture.

 

 

 

 

 


He had strongly urged that he be permitted to accompany Andor into the city.


“We have already discussed this, Kay,” his friend had said, as he had been choosing carefully from among his coats for the one best suited to project the impression of an English merchant of respectable and ambitious but not-yet wealthy status. “The authorities at the convent are most strict. It is also highly likely that the Odivelas are being watched by Pombal’s men and you, my good friend, unlike Miss Erso and myself, present too remarkable and memorable an appearance to blend into such a landscape unmarked.”

"I concur, insofar as the meeting goes,” Kay said, sorting through the neck stocks and cravats, and handing Andor one of appropriate quality. “My concern is with the woman.”

“The plan is for ‘Captain Andrews’ to leave his servant boy John at the cathedral,” Andor said, “It will be for two or three hours at the most. Besides,” he smiled lightly, “one capable of dispatching Sargent Ruescott Melshi and Mr. Bisten Rice with nothing but a truncheon can surely manage unmolested by the footpads of the Plaza di Government for a morning. If Irmã Angelina gives us a lead about Gerrere’s agents I will have Miss Erso available to present as an earnest of good will, if not, her face may at least be recognized and some word filter back to the old man, leading him to approach us. Either way we will send word or return to the ship before the first hour past noon. You know what to do should we fail to do so.”

“Miss Erso’s safety is not what concerns me, as you well know, Andor.”

“She will not run,” Andor said, with a confidence Kay could not share, “not yet.”

The woman made him quite uneasy. The fact that she did not seem to make Andor sufficiently uneasy only added to his concern.

 

 

 

The morning stretched toward noon. if all was proceeding according to plan, they would know soon.

Captain Rostok, perhaps bored, perhaps merely curious, then surprised him by asking an uncharacteristically personal question.

“Tell me, Mr. Kay,” he inquired, "how did you come to meet Captain Andor?”


This was not the sort of thing persons in the employ of the Alliance normally did. Those recruited to the cause were of almost every nation and creed, and came to it through many routes, but the most common were pain and loss.

“We serve Light, they serve Darkness,” Señora Tano had put it, long ago. Which had seemed confusingly poetic to him. Kay preferred to frame it in his own mind as Mr. Draven had once put it to them “Conscience and Reason standing against their opposite.”


He possessed but dim memories of the place where he had been born and those mainly involved landscape and a River he later learned to identify as the Esk. He had somewhat clearer memories of living in a small farmhouse with a woman he had every reason to believe was his mother. One could never be absolutely sure of such things in childhood recall, but his supposition was supported by the fact that he had always addressed her as “Mother.” She treated him well and spoke to him with great kindness. Also, while most overt forms of direct physical affection were quite distressing to him, he recalled that when she had embraced or kissed him he had been far less distressed, and sometimes even comforted by the contact. Also she had been, to his recollection, significantly taller than most women.

The land they lived on was not their own, nor did it belong to the black-bearded man to whom they paid the rent, and perhaps not even to the unknown man to whom he paid rent. As he was later to learn, this reflected a complex and often brutally exploited legal peculiarity regarding property ownership in Scotland. Soldiers came one day to forcibly evict all the tenant farmers prior to a transfer of the land. When some of the people protested, the soldiers shot them and burned their houses. The woman he recalled as his mother killed two of the soldiers, one by pulling him directly from his horse and breaking his neck with her hands, before she was overpowered. “You run away now, my clever Tim,” she had said to him, “You grow up and fight the bastards.” At least five soldiers struggled to hold her and she might well have escaped them even so, but one of them fired a pistol and killed her. It had been an instantly fatal shot at that range and she had died without further suffering. Kay ran away as the other people from the farms fled, but he did not run far. He followed the soldiers and when the band the made camp that night that night and for two after he had gone in while they slept and killed a number of them, mostly with a knife he had obtained. Immature as he had been in his thinking, he knew that there were many more soldiers throughout the countryside and that there was no possibility of killing them all. It seemed to him very important however to kill those particular soldiers. The neighbors gave him food and a very small amount of money, which was exceedingly generous as they had quite little to spare and their own situation was likely quite dire. With this he eventually made his way to the city of Montrose on the coast and obtained work there on boats. He calculated that he had been perhaps ten at this point in his life, but because of his uncommon height and quick capacity for language and learning he was conveniently mistaken for older.

Listening in through windows to lessons offered at a dockside kirk school he soon learned to read and this enabled him greatly.

He read and listened and watched. His size protected him from most common predations and direct injuries, but he spent a number of years pondering what his mother had meant by “the bastards.” In time he had come down to Edinbrugh and had occasion to see a group of wealthy men gathered around some ships recently docked from the West Indies, they were taking perhaps a dozen small dark-skinned children off the ships and he learned from the conversations of passers-by that these children had been actually “purchased” and were being taken home as slaves to serve in the rich mens houses. He put this knowledge together with accounts he had heard from a merchant seaman named Holden who had found himself on a ship carrying slaves to Jamaica, considered it in light of the treatment he had seen inflicted on women especially and poor persons generally in the cities he had visited and put that information together with other stories he had read and heard and decided that he was able to form a working idea now of what his mother had meant.

This analysis had an effect on him that he later realized was perhaps a sign of some lingering immaturity, although he was never able to regret his actions in retrospect, only their lack of broader consequence. When the captain of one of the tobacco ships elaborated to the customs official upon his intention to seek increased profits in subsequent voyages by expanding his activities in the slave trade, Kay walked up to the man then and there upon the wharf and snapped his neck.

He spent a number of weeks afterward  imprisoned in a “Tolhouse” that served as a holding gaol for the city at that time, awaiting execution. They chained his leg to the wall after he injured a number of the guards who attempted to restrain him.

Then came a night when a commotion wakened himself and the several other prisoners in the cell. A dark-skinned woman dressed in a man’s coat and trousers entered, accompanied by a tall red-haired man in an English military uniform and a dark-haired boy whom he judged to be some years younger than himself. They were looking for one particular prisoner, an older white-bearded man who had fallen unconscious after a beating some days before. Finding the gentleman lying near the wall, the red-haired man and the woman made shift together to carry the man out. It seemed clear to him that the guards must have been disabled somehow and that these persons were not connected with the local authorities.

The boy had remained behind holding the lantern and now approached Kay. “What is all this?” he said, swinging the light over to the walls and floor upon which Kay, in order to pass the time until they came for him, had scratched various diagrams, of sails and rigging, the streets of various cities he had visited, water-wheel designs, the words of Holden’s story of the ships and Jamaica, and mathematical formulae, covering all the space as far as the length of his arms and the chain would let him reach.

“Things that interest me.” Timothy Samson Kay said.

The boy looked at him for a moment most fixedly, then he put down the lantern and ran back out the doorway, returning a moment later with keys.

“Cassian!” The dark woman called from the hallway, “there is no time.”

“Señora Tano!” the boy said, “Él debería venir con nosotros!” He unlocked the chain on Kay’s leg. They were leaving the doors unlocked, and all the other prisoners who had the presence of mind where escaping.

“I may have some difficulty walking,” Timothy Kay said,”circulation to my legs has been impaired for several days.”

“Lean on me," the boy said, “I will help you.”

Kay was reasonably certain that he had been approximately 15 at the time and that Cassian Andor had been twelve or thirteen.

 

 

 

 

“He unlocked my chains,” Kay told Captain Rostok.

Roughly two minutes after after he said this, there was a rumble as of thunder and black cloud of smoke rose in the general direction of the cathedral and the Praça de Governo

 

“Verdomme,” said the Captain.

There immediately followed another explosion and the sound of musket fire, and possible light cannon.

This seems to be far too many explosions for two people”blending in,” Kay thought.

“Captain Rostok, he said, “please prepare the ship to sail, and lower the dinghy, I will proceed to the emergency rendezvous at Setúbal."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


HMS Princess’s Fortune
near Setúbal
off the Portuguese Coast

August 31, 1769

Mr. David Draven
4 Tavin Park
London, England


Sir.

You will have received reports under separate cover from Mr. Kay and Captain Rostok. I will place into your hand this account to be shared at the nearest convenience with Lady Monmouth and the rest of the Council as you see fit.

 


“Cassian. Do you want the notes I prepared about the chemicals and the evidence of their peculiar actions?”

“I have your notes Kay, I am including them under a seperate cover, to be sent on to Señor Dodonna and Mr. Merrick, this report is for Draven.”

“They have stabilized it as both a liquid and a solid, this seems very clear, the potential effects are orders of magnitude greater than anything heretofore available. Please stress this.”

“Yes, Kay.”


Mr. Saul Gerrere is dead. This is confirmed by eyewitness account. I myself have seen the body. Before his death he passed on a cryptic but alarming message sent from Mr. Galen Erso via an escaped conscript from the Tarkin plantation. His accounts of the situation at the fortification being constructed in Florida are alarming in the extreme. A partial transcript of Mr. Erso’s message is enclosed, the original having been destroyed with Gerrere’s base. Miss Erso was read the message in its entirety and can confirm the contents.

 

“There is no reason for them to believe that. Her account is less credible owing to her state of distress when the image was read. Also she is….”

“Damn it Kay! What have I told you about reading over my shoulder?”

“That it interrupts the course of your thinking and increases the likelihood of error. You have blotted the paper, should I fetch you a fresh sheet?”

“No. You should bloody well leave my cabin and allow me to finish this in peace.”


Our initial theories seem verified by the accounts enclosed but the courier, one Mr. Rook, originally of Ottoman-controlled Cyprus, has provided us with horrific and alarming details.

He confirms that the indigo plantation is a cover, albeit an extremely profitable one, and forms the foundation of the bribe to those British authorities participating in the conspiracy. The weapon manufactory is some short distance inland from the indigo fields and vats and is being prepared for the production of the long-suspected explosive. Tarkin and his agents have clearly succeeded far far beyond the previous efforts of the French and Italians. I believe the the fatal attack on Gerrere’s base to have actually been a test of the explosive. Mr. Kay’s detailed report of ship movements in the area and the scope of the explosions support this assessment.

Mr. Rook further reports that Mr. Galen Erso has been secretly attempting to sabotage and delay the project but is becoming limited in his scope to do so. More than 1000 souls, innocent workers conscripted unknowing to the project, are held as both enslaved labor in hellish conditions on the indigo plantation and as hostages against the behavior of men such as Erso who might balk at Tarkin’s aims or have been late overcome by conscience into refusal or sabotage. If his efforts are discovered these will be killed, and likely himself. He has provided us with a description of a flaw in the defenses of the plantation and potential access to the manufactory itself.

We cannot know how much time remains for us to attempt an Atlantic crossing sir, but speed is of the essence and some hope lies in that storms in the area during the past summer and autumn months may have impeded the projects’ progress. Additionally, Rook’s reports combined with information I have previously gathered from my West Indian and Spanish sources support my belief that Tarkin focussed most of his attention on Gerrere as an adversary and believing himself now safe from Alliance interference and may let down his guard. Swift action is our only hope of disrupting this evil project.

I await your instructions sir.

 

He signed the document and folded it together with the other sheet.


Being my Report specific to the actions in Lisbon 29/30 of August 1769 and specific to the Death of the Pirate and former operative of the Alliance, Commander Saul Gerrere

 

For the eyes of Lady Monmoth, Mr.s; Anthony Merrick, and David Draven, Captain Carl Reikken and Cmndr. Gael Akbar.

 

My confidential informant proved to no longer be reliable due to direct coercion by agents of the Marquis di Pombal and I was forced to leave the rendezvous point in order to avoid exposure.


He had been able to see Angelina’s face only through the screen…..what greater challenge for an operative was there than to assess the motives of a veiled woman glimpsed only through a pierced copper mesh?

Her brother had been a good fighter once, he knew. Tivik had been packed off to the army and his little sister Angelina to the convent. He had been sturdy, and no doubt she had been clever. Stationed to Madiera, what he saw there was too much for his decent heart and he was recruited to Gerrere’s cause, but to face down the devil in a hopeless place, day after day broke even the strong of mind and Tivik was not strong. He turned to drink. How long before Gerrere himself would have dispatched him as a risk? He had been like a hare cornered by a dozen dogs when Andor met him last at Funchal, clever enough to know that Gerrere’s madness was blinding him, still sensible enough to see that the ships moving Peruvian guano North toward British territories instead of East to Spain must mean something, soldier enough to recognize the stink of saltpeter in bales of hemp marked from the English Carolinas. Cassian had persuaded him to share information wth the Alliance, although he had known full well how fragile the man's state was. Then somehow, somewhere, Tivik had met a man who met a man who saw the name Galen Erse on a crate and panicked. Drunk, wounded, Tivik had probably already been deserted by Gerrere’s people as a loss. Answering a scrawled message left at the tavern Andor had found him cowering in an alley and, in those moments, raked every stratagem he possessed for a way to get the man out, to get him to a ship unseen by either pirate or Guard. All came to nothing. The Governer’s men cornered them and his choices had suddenly condensed.

Andor could scale the wall and escape. Tivik with his shattered arm could not.
He had been a soldier once, and had feared death nowhere near so much as the rack.

 

Cassian had time to spare him one but not the other.

Did he die at peace with God? The disembodied voice had asked him.


Your brother died without fear, he had told her.

That at least was true. He had made sure of it.

 

Pombal’s men had been waiting outside of the Monastery gates. He evaded them but only barely.

Who had betrayed him? Angelina or the Abbess? In a way he hoped it was Angelina. There was a certain justice to that at least.


While in the city Miss Erso and I were witness to an attack by Gerrere’s men upon Pombal’s headquarters. It is my belief that Gerrere was tricked into staging the attack, possibly even deceived into thinking he could assassinate the Marquis, in order to provide cover for a slaughter of the King’s remaining forces in the city by Pombal’s men.

In the chaos we were captured by Gerrere’s men and taken to a fastness of his several miles south and west from the city, overlooking a straight of the Tagus. Two gentlemen who may be refugees from the Order’s missions in the East assisted us greatly and were also captured.

On our arrival, Miss Erso was separated from us, to be interviewed privately by Gerrere. Myself and the Easterners found ourselves detained in the same cell as Mr. Rook.


It had been an anxious hour. Andor had been staring fruitlessly through the barred wooden door. Imwe had seated himself against a back wall of the unlit cell and begun chanting in a language unknown to him. For some reason these actions annoyed his large companion.

“Praying? Do you joke with me? Listen to him Captain, Perhaps he thinks if he asks his God nicely enough the door will open.”

The blind man, to whom at least the darkness was no distraction, laughed, “Oh listen to him. It angers him so because he knows all too well that such things occur.” He smiled beatifically. “Would you believe it? Baze Malbus was once the the most devout of monks, held up as a model to us all.”

Oh God. They were like an old married couple, appealing to strangers in the street to take sides in some argument between them. He might well go mad before Gerrere’s men even got to him.

Suddenly the beggar turned his head, as if looking toward the near pitch dark at the back of their cave-like cell “What is wrong with him?”

“Who?” said his fellow.

“The man at the back.”

The large fellow edged back toward the moldy recesses with greater confidence than Andor could have done. Time spent in the company of the blind must have some benefit to the sighted.

“Hey!” he said, “Hey! There is someone back here. Hey fellow what is wrong with you? Spanish boy, help me get him up here where we can see him.”

Cassian edged back toward the man’s voice. The former monk took his wrist and guided it down to the shoulder of someone, a man huddled at the back of the chamber, still breathing, but trembling in the dark. When they touched him, he whimpered and tried to pull back but it seemed the cell went no further in.

“Bring him up here,” said the blind man.


Malbus needed no assistance it seemed. He slid arms beneath the prisoner and lifted him easily, carrying him forward to the light by the barred door.

Barefoot, the stranger wore a sailors torn smock, far too big for him, and filthy breeches. Hiding his face in his arms, he seemed young but broken with long dark hair and a patchy beard. His eyes were dark and frightened and filled with tears. “Lütfen. Artık yok.” he whispered,

“Oh this is the limit,” growled the big man, as if mightily inconvenienced “An infidel. This day cannot get worse.”

“Please,” the man said, in English now. “I am not lying. Galen Erso sent me. Please….. They are dying. I am the messenger.”


Andor knelt on the dirt floor. The man flinched back toward the shadows. His arms and legs seemed unbroken. They had not pulled or hung him at least. Something that looked like dried blood was crusted around his ears and he clutched at his upper arms. In the poor light he thought he could make out the punctures and spots of blood.

Oh sweet Mother of God.

Calm. Calm.

He waved Malbus away from the man. The renegade monk was a terrifying figuire under the best of circumstances. “Quiet,” he said.

“It’s alright," he told the prisoner, in as soothing a tone as he could manage. “What is your name?”

The man shook his head, as if he could no longer remember.


Oh God. Damn you to hell, Gerrere. What have you done?

 

“Come on,” Andor said, “You said Galen Erso. Do you know him? Did he send you?”

The man looked up at the mention of that name. He looked back at him now, still trembling but reached a hand toward Andor’s shoulder as if grasping at a rope while drowning. “Galen Erso sent sent me. Do you believe me?


“Where,” Andor “Where is he? Where have you come from?”

“Indigo,” said the man, “They hide it in the indigo.”

 

 


This stronghold, built within the remains of a former coastal guard house, well fortified and concealed by the pirates, was rocked by a mighty explosion. Mr Kay had described the situation in greater detail than I could gain from my disadvantaged view, but I assure you that the blast was such that it did destroy not only the fortification itself but the hillside above it. It was perceived by myself and those inside as a sizable earthquake. A repeated bombardment might, and I stress MIGHT have caused such damage over a course of hours or days, this was accomplished in but a fraction of an hour.

 

 

 

“Tremor de terra!” Most of Gerrere’s men here were Portuguese…..or from the Azores….he had heard that the ocean had risen as far away as Brazil in 1755..... No words could have struck more terror.

The guards, the Commander’s last most hardened favorites, clearly feared only one thing more than their master’s holy wrath. They fled in utter panic.

Where was she?

Andor had his arm out the barred door and the lock opened in seconds. The ground trembled beneath his feet. He had been in earthquakes before.

He remembered the pictures of the saints sliding from the walls in the orphan house at San Miguel.

 

This was different, a strange thought came to him that he felt it through the air not his feet, a slow rolling, as if there were a rhythm to it.

 

It did not matter. They must get outside before this place came down on them.

 

The door was open. “Bring him!” he shouted to Malbus. “We have to get out of here.”

“Where are you going?” called the blind man.

“Jane!” He had said, with no thought in his mind beyond getting up the tunnel the men had taken her through.

 

Over his shoulder he heard the monks voice, booming, “Come then, infidel, we will go!”

Gerrere’s men had run past him, some saner portion of his mind had marked the way they had run, down and to the right. There must be an exit that way. Had the tunnel branched he would surely have lost his way, but there was only one way up. Gerrere’s lair was in what what must have once been the guard room above a gate in the place. The lurching of the floor paused but the walls still trembled. As he half-ran- half-stumbled into the room, his eyes were almost dazzled. It had been filled with lamps and candles, but now several had fallen to the floor, and a pool of oil was lighting the corner of a carpet on the far side of the chamber. A candle had fallen against a bed in the corner and the flames were curling across the coverings.

“Welcome to hell, Spaniard” the man had said to him.

Dear God, the place would burn even before it fell.

 

A small white skinned, white haired man in yellow sat motionless on a stool by the door,...a statue perhaps?.... But the scene was commanded by the terrible apparition of tall dark-skinned man standing silhouetted against flames blooming on a curtain behind him. Wild-haired and with one eye covered by a bandage....So might the Devil look enthroned in fire.... The single dark eye regarded him with as if surprised, the man's eft arm knocking aside a stick that seemed to support him as he reached across with his right and drew a short blade. By instinct Andor reached for a sword he found he no longer carried. The old man tottered then, and Andor saw that he looked down toward the floor at his feet. As he did so his fierce expression faded, replaced by a look both pitying and sad. As Andor followed his gaze he saw her, crouched, half hidden by a fallen chair at Gerrere's feet.

Jane Erso was on the floor, on her knees, in the boys clothes they had dressed her in, her hands over her face.

My God, did he stab her? he thought, his heart cold in the middle of all this madness.

She looked wounded, stricken, bent.

“Miss Erso!” he shouted, but she made no sign that she heard him. Keeping his eye on the unmoving man,….Gerrere, it must but a ruin, a shadow… he crouched down to grasp her arm. The vibration grew in the air and the floor began to tremble again. “Jane,” his head was almost level with hers now and he pulled her hands away from her face with his own. “Look at me,” he said, “Jane, we must go.”

“Go with him,” the old pirate said, quietly at first then, with greater power “Go Jen! I order you to go with him!”

She turned at this, moved by the voice. Andor had her arm and was pulling her to her feet, but she reached her other hand across to Gerrere.

“Olori! No!” she cried, reaching for him, “come with us!”

“Go my àşádì, my hunting falcon, I will run no more, but you must fight on.”

Another lamp had fallen and flames now raced across the floor between themselves and Gerrere. He was pulling at her, urgent.

The old man could not run and there was no time.

The Commander looked above and past them, to a wall of flame that now bloomed where the bed had stood, as if he saw someone in the corner. He had said his farewells and now seemed to speak to one they could not see.

“O ti duro de mi. Olufẹ, Mo nbọ,” he said, opening his arms.

 

Only at that instant did Andor recall the unmoving person, the ghostly man in a yellow coat, who still sat silently beside the door of the now collapsing tunnel. Flames had spilled across the table and a written cloth upon it was burning. The pale man beat the flames out with his hands as if insensible to the pain and stepped toward them. Andor had Jane Erso on her feet and the man walked over the burning rug and thrust the smoking rag into her hands.

“Go Jen. Find the truth. I will stay with him now.”

The room was half in flames by then, and the walls were shaking as the the albino pointed toward a small covered opening at the back. Then he returned to sit upon his stool, as if content die with his Commander.

The woman’s face turned toward Andor then, aware and grim, as if seeing him at last. “This way,” Miss Erso said, she pulling at him now.

 

The small doorway took them out to a narrow wooden platform that jutted from the hillside. Flames licked at the beams, but they made their way out and across onto the crest of the slope, No sooner did they feel firm ground beneath their feet and hands than the part of the hill they had just quit slid down. The ruin of old hill fort, the burning chamber, the cells and tunnels they had walked through, all fell away, crashing toward the sea below. The ground shook beneath them still but they were on a part of the bluff that held.


The sun had not yet risen, but as he looked up the half fallen cliff, Cassian Andor could see all the hilltop that had sloped above it for more than a mile leveled and gaping as if a great crater had opened in it, curls of flame still burned upon the edges.

Miss Erso pulled at his arm as they scrambled down the remaining slope and as he looked down at her he saw the shape of a masted ship. A dark sillouette against the storm clouded West, it lingered at the mouth of the Tago, rigged and moving away.

It took them an hour or more, scorched, bruised and shaken as they were, to reach the beach below. If any of Gerrere’s men had escaped the disaster, they had, like all those who remembered the calamity of Lisbon clearly feared the wrath of the sea as much as the earthquake and  sought safety on some other higher ground. The only living souls at the water’s edge were Mr. Baze Malbus, Mr. Chirrut Imwe, and the Turkish prisoner, standing on trembling legs, who was finally to give them his name as Mr. Bodi Rook.

They remained on the shore despite it's exposure, partly at Mr. Imwe's instance and partly because they were too shocked and injured to move far at first. Miss Erso, with his help, shredded what was left of her neckerchief and made shift to bathe Mr. Rook's wounds in seawater. As the sun rose  the sails of a six man dinghy came into sight. It was Kay, coming to investigate the site of the disaster. They signaled him and to his tall friend's profound disgruntlement Andor insisted that they fit all four of the "extra" persons aboard.


We were able to escape our cell during the confusion of the attack and further to locate Miss Erso and salvage a portion of her father’s message. The pirates fled and Gerrere, unable to escape due to his injuries died. Upon making our way to the shores of the Tagus, we were located by Mr. Kay, who in taking a separate way to the rendezvous point we had set in case of emergency, had had the presence of mind to track the ship, sailing under no recognizable colors or flag, long enough to witness the firing of the incendiaries. He located us there and thus enabled us to rejoin Captain Rostok and the Princess’s Fortune at Setúbal. We sail for Gibraltar to await further re-fit and orders.


Captain. Cassian Andor

 

He sealed the packet, and went out to give it to Mr. Maddel, the fresh-faced sailor Rostok had assigned to row their bulletins ashore to Portimão and pass them on to an Alliance ship held there that could swiftly get them to England.

They would proceed on to Gibraltar and wait. It was all they could do now.

As he passed out of the great cabin he found himself lingering by the closed door to the room Miss Erso occupied. He raised a hand to knock lightly, but stopped himself, reconsidered that action and proceeded on out to the deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Within the cabin, she folded down the lid of the desk, laid flat a sheet of paper and prized the cork stopper from the small bottle of ink. Dipping a fresh pen she wrote, while the light lasted.

 


Off the coast of Portugal,

Sir,
Father,

I hardly know what to say to you, nor how you should even regard me after all this time.

I hope that you can forgive me,

The man into whose care you entrusted me

Mr. Saul Gerrere has died, murdered by his enemies and yours,

I have wasted many years in bitterness although I now know that he tried to

After a life at war I hope he has at last found peace, but I know that he has at least found rest.

In time I hope I can perhaps

Before his death he passed to me the gift of your message.

The young man in whom you placed your trust, Mr. Rook, has proved both brave and true.

I can remember now how you  

There is no point in speaking further of the past. Put your mind at ease in this at least, and know that I am alive, and free. Be assured that I am provided with skills and resources most women my age do not possess, enough to make my way in circumstances that might daunt others.

I
We have endeavored to gain assistance from agents of the Alliance, and others sympathetic to your pleas, our purpose. We have passed your message on to to them. This hideous venture will be thwarted and our loved ones avenged.

It may be that this letter will never reach your hand. But I will send it, by hands in which I have some trust, to wait for you, sealed, in hope at the fort of St. Augustine, which lies in British hands now. If you by some miracle reach the fort in safety and hold this in your hands I will know that Providence is indeed merciful.

Dearest Papa, do not despair. I am coming for you. Stars are constant, even when hidden from sight.

Your Jen.

 


She copied it again, more neatly, folded and sealed the envelope and went out to place it in his hands. He would read it, of a certainty. She knew most clearly whose agent he was, and that she must steel her heart against any weakness in thinking otherwise.

Let him read it, she thought, I have no secrets left.

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________ 

 

 

 

 

HMS The Princess's Fortune

Port of Gibraltar 

September 1769

 

 


Captain Rostock had brought them in close enough to Portimeo to send a dinghy ashore with reports and messages to be sent swiftly to those of the Council waiting in England. Now their aim was to sail onward to Gibraltar, where orders might reach them.

Captain Cassian Andor was well out of his depth, by any possible measure.

The two "monks" had proved apt and experienced sailors and settled in quickly with the crew. Any reservations First Mate Monsbee might have had about taking on a blind crewman vanished when Chirrut dashed nimbly up the mast to tie sail. Mr. Rook professed to have been a ships pilot of some experience  in Mediterranean and Black Sea waters.

“Where do you wish to go, Mr Rook?” Andor had asked him.

It was after a long afternoon of listening to the man’s heart-rending account. Rook had grown perilously exhausted and Andor felt it best to stop the interviews for a time, and seek air up on deck. “I have no means now to return you to Cyprus, but it seems likely that, once you have satisfied the Alliances agents at Gibraltar with a repetition of your testimony, we may find you some passage back.”

The haunted expression in Rook’s eyes had faded over the few days voyage. As if he had regained or found anew some strength or purpose. Perhaps he was simply one of those men more at ease at sea. Whatever the reason, he, like Miss Erso, seemed to dread the thought of shore at present.

“There is nothing for me there,” he said, looking out from the rail in the direction that the Mediterranean lay. “I will go with her.”

It was unnecessary for him to elaborate on who he meant by “her.”

Mr. Malbus had pulled off his torn coat when offered a sailors smock to reveal both a sinewy torso and skin well patterned with exotic tattoos. He furthermore refused to part from his crossbow, although he agreed to store it in his trunk until needed.

Rostok merely nodded at this request. No doubt he had seen more exotic hands on his travels.


Andor happened to be present below decks as the large man was being assigned a bunk. He overheard one of the crew, a young Dutchman named Bastteren ask “You are a harpooner then Sir?” The term seemed to confuse the “monk’ but the young man continued, “Whales.” he said, pointing to the crossbow and the outlandish man's mighty arms, while miming the action of a harpoon gun.

“Oh! Bloody hell, no!” said Mr. Malbus, clearly horrified. “Why would I shoot whales? No whale ever did me any harm. What is the matter with you people? I only shoot men.”

Kay regarded him and their new companions most cooly. He proposed himself to leave the ship first with Rostok when they reached Gibraltar.

“Are you anxious that I was perhaps exposed in Lisbon?” Andor asked him. “Your concern is touching, but it seems most unlikely given the chaos in the city.”

His friend replied tartly in the negative. “My primary concern,” said he,”Is that if allowed to leave the ship, you will return with yet more lost souls and we are running out of bunks.”


As they approached the great fort at Gibraltar he did not know which eventuality he feared more, that he would receive fresh instructions with regard to the woman or that he would not.

Miss Erso had barely spoken to anyone but Rook since their escape from the utter destruction of Gerrere’s stronghold. They two sat together, often near the bow, tucked against the rail, or stood out of the way in the main cabin. The character of their conversations seemed most often to be that Rook spoke quietly and earnestly and she listened.

At all other times she retreated to the cabin provided her and barely left it. Food left outside her door seemed to go largely uneaten. On the second night out after their escape he had heard a sound coming from the closed door of the cabin they had given her, which would have been the surgeon’s cabin on another ship, and as such across from his own. It had not been the sound of weeping, as might have been expected perhaps of a different woman, only a kind of gasping as if of a child in pain, too stubborn or too afraid to cry out. His hand hovered over the door, but yet again he felt too unsure of what her response might be to pursue any inquiry. The sound ceased after several minutes and the yellow light appearing under the door indicated that she had lit her lamp. He returned then to his own cabin and lay awake for the better part of the hours until dawn.

When they docked at Gibraltar she still remained mostly aboard, at least at first.

 

Several days, or even weeks, would not be an unexpected time to wait for instructions and support to come from England. His own account of events at Lisbon and of the circumstances of Gerrere’s death could have only just reached London.

On their first evening at the dock,  she approached him up on the deck, hair combed and pinned and fully dressed in the stays, better gown and petticoats that Lady Monmoth had given her. It made her look like an ordinary very pretty young woman if one did not look too closely. A most effective disguise.

“Am I yet your prisoner Captain Andor?”

“No, Miss Erso,” he said.

Were you ever? he thought.

“You may go whenever and wherever you wish.”

That he was exceeding his authority in making this offer he was almost certain, but lacking instructions to the contrary he would let her go. She had done what they had asked of her to the best of her ability and suffered in the doing.

She looked at him most steadily.  It was a very strange sensation, this feeling of being constantly weighed and judged by an admitted pirate and petty thief, and with it the inescapable anxiety that one would be found wanting.

Kay is right, the thought came to him, it would be better for me, all of us perhaps, if she left now went ashore and vanished again, to make whatever sort of life she could for herself. She has a pleasing face and form, a fierce intelligence and probably the ability pick any lock in Europe. It is not too late for her.

“You know where I will go, Captain, and what I mean to do there,” she said, “The question that remains is whether….your Alliance… will help…us?”

He found himself very conscious of almost imperceptible pauses and the words she substituted for others left unsaid. “Your Alliance” for “You”, “Us” for “Me.”

In the name of God, woman.

“How do you intend to reach the Florida territories?” he asked, “Do you and Mr. Rook even know what you would face there? How you will find  friends, allies or resources? Do you have any notion of the nature of what you will need to do?”

“Mr. Rook knows,” she said.

He knows and he is terrified, Andor thought but did not say.

“The fortress at Saint Augustine is in British hands now,” she said.

“At this moment,” he confirmed, “probably. Unless England decides to trade it for some other game-piece on the board, or Spain loses one too many silver galleons on the return route from Mexico and decides she wants it back enough to take it.”

“Does your Alliance have connections there?”

“Miss Erso, I am not privy to every Alliance contact in the West Indies and the Americas, and even if I were I would not…”

“Do YOU have connections there, Captain Andor?” she pressed.


It was growing darker but Gibraltar was a busy port. Lanterns were being lit and lights began to appear on the wharves, the sound and bustle of taverns could be heard even out to where they were docked. Added to all of these, the moon was bright and rising. He could see her face quite clearly.

He did not answer. 

“You,” she said, “I mean yourself, personally. Am I wrong in my conjecture that a man in the service of English connections of the Alliance, whom I have heard speak three languages flawlessly, but who swears in the accent of the Spanish colonies….my experience has not been encyclopedic but I am guessing Veracruz. Mexico at the least…...and whose familiarity with the West Indies and Americas seems considerable, am I wrong assuming such a person might possess friends in an ancient vital Spanish fortress, currently in the hands of the British Crown but still populated by former subjects of Spain and within spitting distance of the Spanish treasure fleet for fully three months each year?”

She spoke clearly and without anger. Rather after the fashion of a lawyer laying out the terms of contract of trade.

“If I did,” he said, “of what matter would that be, here and now?”

She took a letter from a pocket beneath her petticoat skirts, and put it into his hands.

He turned it over lightly, observing the black wax seal and the written name Mr. GALEN ERSO.

She spoke earnestly. "Can yourself or your Alliance, I do not care which, can Put this letter to trusted hands at the Fort Mark of Saint Augustine? I ask nothing else but that it be held there against some day when he himself or some person in whom he places trust may claim it. From what I am given to understand that fort the closest place spot by land not under direct control of his enemies.”

Captain Cassian Andor was quite astonished. He considered many demands that she might make of him. This had not been one of that number.

Surely you know, he thought but could not find it in himself to say, Surely you know he will never come? That he is almost certainly dead, and if by some chance he is not, I may well be ordered to kill him?

“Miss Erso…” he began.

But she would not permit him time to either lie or prevaricate. “Will you send it Captain?”

He could do so of course, he would meet a Spanish contact before dawn tomorrow. Messages would go out to Havana and he could easily make sure that this reached the hands of a friend who would take it to Old Grafis, who was surely still at St. Augustine. Spanish mails were still allowed, largely unchecked, even to a fort temporarily flying the British flag.

He placed the letter inside his coat and bowed.  She left him at the rail and returned to her cabin.

 

 

Chapter Text

 


Tavin Park

outside of London
September 5, 1769

 

 


Lady Monmouth wore a white gown, as was ever her habit in company, for such was her authority that she made no concessions to age and but a very few to any fashion that did not suit her taste, a well-cut closed front robe a l’anglaise of flawless white silk, white silk scarf and ribbon. Her ornaments, as always, were few and her luxury, as always, seen most visibly in the quality of the Chinese silk, the ribbon and the fine stitching on the quilted petticoat. Her only jewels were fine pearl earrings and the heavy silver locket and chain she always wore. She commanded attention thus of a kind that showier ladies in their rainbows of changeable silk could never do, or so at least, Mr. David Draven had always found, in the now-long years of their acquaintance.

 

 

"In the name of God, Draven, Merrick, sit down," she said as both he and Mr. Merrick rose upon her entrance to the private library, at the same moment she waved a hand in signal as if to dismiss the two young maids who had accompanied her, one in grey riding habit the other in blue. Each dutifully took a place at either side of the door outside the room. Draven recognized one of them as Mary Jade, once a pickpocket in Newcastle, later numbered among Bishop Kenobi's protégés....how interesting.... No doubt the other "maid" was a trained assassin as well.

Lady Monmoth had never been mistaken for a fool, and was never without resources within resources.

 

The gentlemen regained their chairs and Lady Mary seated herself at the head of the library table. The usually gleaming mahogany surface was covered now by papers that they three, along with Señor Dodanna and Ackbar had read and reviewed many times throughout the previous night. Included amidst the layers were the reports from Captain Rostok, the voluminous and detailed written accounts, graphs and maps of Mr. Kay, preliminary reports from other agents in Lisbon and the private reports of Captain Cassian Andor.

 

Saul Gerrere was dead.

His methods had long ago passed beyond the bounds of the Alliance’s code. Ackbar had said it best perhaps, that he had taken the battle upon himself with his whole mind and soul and it had consumed him. "The Angel of Death is feared, and justly so, but he builds nothing."

Gerrere had followed the path of vengeance, and that it was a righteous and just vengeance could not be argued, but by his going their strength was ten times less by one.

 

 

"She never gave up hope for him, I think,” Merrick had said when they had first read Andor's report of the events at Lisbon. "That he might return."

No, Mr. Draven thought to himself, she would not.

 

"I have sent emissaries to the Princess Juana," Lady Monmoth reported now, " It is possible that that this information may finally enable her to rally her people openly against Pombal, as she has long worked in secret to support refugees from the Orders and to prevent the Marquis and his allies from expanding their power."

 

 

Draven had seen them departing the park before dawn, a short stout naval officer and a foppishly dressed courtier. Odd choices indeed for messengers to a court in exile and a girl of sixteen expected to mitigate generations of her royal families sins, but the Lady no doubt knew her business best and there were even rumors that Kenobi had been seen last on the Spanish frontiers. No doubt miracles were expected.

 


Before them now, if Kay and Andor's reports were to be credited, lay a danger most profound and action requiring the swiftest response.

Ackbar and Dodonna had left hours ago, to set wheels in motion with the French. Mr. Kay’s report in particular had contained much that might motivate their military contacts there.

For his own part, Mr. Dravin had never been able to unravel much sense from the scientific ramblings of Mr. Kay, but others more learned than himself in such matters clearly had and seemed riveted with alarm.

His concern was Tarkin and the plantation. They could hope to delay but not forever prevent the eventual development of more powerful explosives. So be it, delay they must and delay they would, but Tarkin truly served no nation and no state, an Austrian who had lived long in the service of the British crown he here clearly served a power as dark as any deeds of Nations and Princes. The cruel imprisonment and death of a thousand captive Turks, Greeks and Minorcans was a vicious crime…..but Tarkin and his masters hands were steeped in the blood of countless thousands more for mere daily profit…..the fist of their hidden “Empire” well concealed beneath the glove of man’s universal greed and cruelty…..why let it slip into view now?

Andor had written it and underlined it, their code for his attention, “Tarkin focussed most of his attention on Gerrere as an adversary “ What had Gerrere known about this venture?

 

“Can we move such ships as we have to openly assault the position?” Merrick asked, for Draven had known Anthony Merrick since their days as soldiers. It was Merrick who had saved him at Culloden, hiding him when all their plans had unravelled. Defeat he could bear but inaction was agony to him.

“Dodonna probes Spanish aid,” the Lady said, twisting the silver locket in her fingers, “but that would probably come at a price we would never willingly pay. Ackbar may have greater luck with the French, but in the end we may need to turn to our friends in the West Indies.”

Madame, he thought, but did not say, for he had already spoken his piece upon the subject last night, and she surely knew his views without the necessity of further repetition. The Commander is dead, without his gore-soaked leverage what hope have we of aid from the Pirate’s quarter?

 

“I propose, ma’am,” Draven said “that we send orders immediately to Andor, ordering him into position with such information as he has derived from this Turkish conscript, releasing funds and personnel that will enable him to fit a ship and crew of his own assemblage with what discretion he may at Gibraltar. i further propose we send instructions and men to meet him at the Cadiz, before he crosses. This will give us time to make what arrangements we can…or cannot….achieve at Jamaica. I hope you will forgive me ma’am, if I restate my distrust of Captain Solo, I fear his entanglements with Jabba and his company have left him compromised, but we shall have at least six or seven weeks with good winds to put wheels in motion. Dependent on the situation that meets him at Kingstontown, he can either pass on his crew and mission or proceed to St. Augustine, where he has lingering connections.”

 

Lady Mary nodded in assent and looked to Mr. Merrick.
Anthony Merrick sighed, but looked at Draven most shrewdly. “You place great weight on a young officer of twenty-five, Draven. From what I know of Andor, naval action is not his forte.”

“From what we see here, a conventional naval action might not prove the action to pursue,” Draven said, unwilling to reengage with his friend an argument that had already occupied them for the hours between two and four of the previous night, “but Captain Andor is a man of wide-ranging skills, the most admirable of which is an ability to unhesitatingly find a path to difficult objectives in circumstances that would baffle others.”

“Captain Andor is a young man with equal experience in drawing rooms, villainous seaports and the forests of New Spain, I know, David,” Lady Mary said, laying a hand to her unpowdered brow. He recalled that she had slept no more than they, likely less, since the reports arrived the previous evening.

She seldom made concessions to weariness this way, her appearance never less than perfect save on those occasions when he had known her to dress in men’s clothes on a mission that required her personal action. It had been many years since he had seen her do so, but he did not doubt she still kept shirt, breeches and coat hidden somewhere at hand.

“The word I lay stress upon in my positive assessment of his skills, however,” she continued, directing her gaze now keenly at him, “Is young. Andor’s cleverness and dedication are unquestioned, and I concede that his Spanish connections at St. Augustine and Havanna may prove crucial in this venture, but I ask you to consider carefully David, what happens to a fine young horse ridden too hard and too often at post.”

Andor had potential, she was saying, she had her eye upon him for leadership, perhaps even, someday upon the Council. She had spoken of it often before, their Alliance had labored in the shadows, fighting a rising tide of darkness. ‘We cannot think of today only David,” she had once said to him, “but of those who come after us. We will all fall in time and there must be hands to take the torch when we drop it lest it go out forever.”

He could not face those clear eyes, that he knew had wept for Gerrere, or yet would, when some private moment was at last given her…..Whose picture is in that locket you never part with ma’am?…. and say other than the truth. Tano was dead. Kenobi’s urchins skilled but too prone to religious mania and all too young. Melshi, Mandine, Bridge... were all soldiers of courage, good hands and capable when they knew the mission but without the skill to find a way through the shifting sands here.

Besides, he knew Andor, had known the dark paths he had had to walk since they had found him, a ten-year-old stowaway on a ship out of Veracruz. His heart told him Andor would not live to see thirty, Draven wanted to tell her, Dear lady, The boy is brave and true and clever but I have seen that shadow in men's eyes before.

 

“He is the best I have left. There is no one else with the faintest hope of success.”

Merrick, to his surprise, supported him, “Captain Andor is the only one who can manage Mr. Kay, ma’am, and if we cannot send this expedition out with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the libraries of Oxford College, twenty Grenadiers and a battering ram, Kay is the next best thing.”

The Lady reached across and lifted on of the papers, Andor’s personal report, and read it carefully.

“What of the girl,” she said, “Miss Jane Erso, Saul’s ward, and Mr. Erso’s daughter. What is to be done with her?”

“Ward?” Mr. Draven could not help but think, a strange choice of description.

 

“I will send orders that Andor use his discretion,” he saw Lady Mary’s eyebrows raise at this and felt a rush almost of anger at some condemnation unspoken…You of all people madam? Do you think I do not know the number of each and every life I have taken with my own hand in this war? Do you think Andor does not?….“Left alive and well with papers, contacts and a sum sufficient to provide at Gibraltar would be my recommendation and no doubt her wish,” he said, “But Andor will have scope to decide if she may be of use in some other aspect of the mission.”

They were all tired, tempers were frayed. He knew her well enough, he hoped and she him, to know she did not think him likely to relish the thought of ordering his agent to needlessly murder a girl of nineteen. No more surely than he would relish ordering that same man to dispatch the girls's father should it prove necessary.


Lady Monmoth sighed at this, “That perhaps may prove less straightforward than it appears,” she smiled and laid Andor’s report atop the other papers, as if she had read something in it invisible to the rest of them. “In any case, I reluctantly agree, we have less time for reflection than the danger warrants, so we must act as we can. Send your orders Mr. Draven. Mr. Merrick, set out for Southhampton as soon as you can and set your wheels in motion. The fates will cast the dice at Jamaica and Spanish Florida. We can only throw the dice we have.”

She turned her head then, “Mary! Pamela!” she called to her Amazon guard outside the door. “Tell Essie to tell Mrs. Yaddle to send up breakfast and coffee! Sit with me gentlemen, starving ourselves will avail nothing.”

 

Chapter Text

 

La Fortuna de la Princesa

port of Cadiz

September 1769

 

 

▪ Dried Beef 462 pieces in 6 barrels
▪ Salted Pork 777 pieces in 5 barrels
▪ Beer 12 barrels
▪ Water 60 hogsheads and 30 casks
▪ Bread and Biscuit in 54 bags
▪ salted Butter in 20 casks
▪ Oatmeal 20 bushels
▪ Pease 16 bushels
▪ Flower in 4 barrels
▪ Suet in 1 barrel
▪ Raisons in 2 barrels
▪ Rum 4 half hogsheads
▪ Vinegar 1 hogshead
▪ Cabbages 10 bushels
▪ Dried limes 3 casks
▪ Carrots in Vinegar 1 barrel

“Carrots in vinegar?” some of the the provisioners had puzzled when Quartermaster Forell had set them the lists for the brigantine. The old seaman could do more than shrug in answer

“Rosemont captains her,” he said. “He favors the pickled root as lucky and will not sail without it.”

He knew that this requirement would puzzle many of the suppliers at Cadiz but some handful would know the request for what it was. No words were to be whispered, no names to be  mentioned even in private, but separate sets of books bound with white cord would be brought out by those few provisioners who had knowledge and understanding of who it was they served, ofttimes handed from father to son, of whose whose ships it was they stocked

“Pickled Carrots” meant an Alliance ship, which in its turn meant no stinting, no cutting of corners, all water to be fresh and in unused barrels sealed inside and out with wax and caulk, not lead, and no flour to be cut with powdered chalk, no moldy meat and all pease, oats and flour sealed well and well bagged.

The ship to be provisioned was seldom the same, and never showed the same colors twice in turn, one might come a year or none for three, and the captain’s names changed often. The price paid for goods was better than fine and a proper turn out brought repeat custom. Cheat on provision provided for such a ship and you might well find your shop burned in a fire of mysterious origin. Breathe a word to any, including your near and dear, whether of the extra cask of pickled vegetable, or the circular mark of a bird with wings spread that the Quartermasters showed on the back of a forearm as they handed over the list, and you would be found abed with your throat cut no matter how many locks upon the door.

Mr. Kay had accompanied Mr. Forell upon the expedition, while Captain Rostok and Captain Andor had gone out separately to speak with a number of persons in the fort and to other ships at dock about the taking on of crew.

Forell knew Mr. Kay but slightly yet his acquaintance was sufficient for him to appreciate the gentleman's rapid skill in converting currency, unerring eye for the evaluation of weighs and measures and the most arresting effect he had on any pickpockets, thieves or shopkeepers inclined to deception. Such positives,to Mr. Forell's mind, when added to his flawless command of Spanish and the Andalusian dialect, more than compensated for a lack of conversational variety. They had put in at Gibraltar as a British ship and waited some days for news, he was well aware. Some crew had departed there and others been taken on. Mr. Kay and Captain Andor had left the ship several times and gone frequently up to the fort, or out onto other ships at harbor there. After a week they must have received the orders they waited for because Captain Rostok ordered them to set out and make haste for Cadiz to fit there for a journey to the West Indies on account of resources at Gibralter being too meager for such a venture.

No English ship would have passed unmarked at Cadiz, but that was a small matter of paper, flags, coats and paint. La Fortuna de la Princesa, would be provisioned and ready to sail before the week was out.

Mr. Gustav Forell's Spanish was serviceable but his Dutch was native so he combined the two to worthwhile affect. Cadiz was a fair port and a busy one, having of late taken on much of the American traffic from Seville, whose sand bars had proved too troublesome to those fat-bellied boatloads of gold and silver. Much could be hidden in such a port.

He knew better than to try to bandy gossip with Mr. Kay, but as they stood together to supervise the loading he could not help but make inquiry, his curiosity much piqued by the young woman who stood at the rail of the ship, now watching the harbor with eyes that seemed to be looking further, a blue scarf covering her cap.

The Turkish gentleman, Mr. Rook, was not with her now, having been advised to stay indoors while visitors might board, his Spanish being poor and his nerves less than recovered from his late ordeals. Instead, Forell saw that the Eastern fellow, Mr. Imway was standing beside her.

No doubt that gentleman was not looking at the harbor, being to all appearances quite blind.

Still, he was a most amusing fellow and had already become a great favorite with the crew, most frequently winning at cribbage while equally often losing at cards.

He had his hand upon the young Englishwoman's shoulder an seemed to be speaking quietly to her.

His mighty friend and bedfellow was on the dock loading barrels with three or four of the other crew. Forell half hoped the Port Guard might question him, or ask after his enlistment, if only for the entertainment of seeing the surly fellow drop two or three of them off the dock, but the crew had all been warned to behave most civilly at Cadiz. Speed was needed upon their next venture. It was of no matter, in any case, whatever the fellow's nation might be not even a blind-deaf drunken Jesuit would have suspected him English. He looked as proper and well-papered a pagan as any man the old Dutchman had ever seen.

"Will you ship on with us, sir?" Captain Rostok had asked him at Gibraltar and the large man, Malbus, had only shrugged, "I go with him," had been the reply with a nod toward his blind partner.

"And you then, Mr. Imway?" The Captain had asked in further pursuit of his answer.

"I follow the lady," said Imway with a wide smile, meaning it seemed, Captain Andor's female companion, Miss Erso, "as dawn follows the Morning Star."

Malbus grunted. "Poetry?" he said, "is that what we are doing now?" The fellow sighed then and raised a hand and there beneath his arm, amidst all his other markings, could be seen the bird of the Alliance, not drawn as small or simple as most of them wore it or as the more heathenish members of the crew had it marked upon their skin, but clear and much decorated with a fanciful script.

 

 

 

 

"Mr. Kay," Forell asked, still he looking up at Miss Erso as she stood upon the deck, "Do you know sir, does the lady follow us on this venture?"

The giant gentleman turned his head slowly. Miss Erso had finished speaking to Imway it seemed and had walked back up to the bow, out of their sight.

"I fear," he said in his usual melancholy tone, "that it is more accurate to say the lady leads us."

Had another man been speaking Forell might have suspected some attempt at wit.

It is not always Morning that follows the Star, he thought, sometimes it is Evening.


They left Cadiz to take the Southern route, as the season and current demanded, to round the Canarie. Once they had done so they would change colors and coats yet  again. La Fortuna would be re-christened the Rogue's Venture.

Chapter Text

HMS Rogues Venture

off Gran Canarie

September, 1769

 

 

 

It seemed to him as he lay on his bunk in that hour before dawn, eyes fixed upon the planking above his head, as a thing somehow accomplished before he had even seen it's motion begun. The track was traceable by him in hindsight, as if on a map, at least as far back as his panic in the hills above Sertubal.

He understood now that he could have no more left her on that falling hillside then than he could have raised arms and flown as a bird. He still believed it of himself that he would have done anything in his power to have rescued an innocent woman from such a death, but that impulse alone was not what had driven him to run from a crumbling cell up that hallway to confront Gerrere.

The line ran even further back, it seemed, through the moments before Gerrere’s men had thrust him into that gaol, when he had called out to her by her own name.

His self-deception then had been that he had done so wholly by design, to shock her perhaps and focus her thought again upon his presence and the mission at hand. From where he found himself now, he realized that he could give himself no such credit, recognize in fact that he had been moved by an impulse….no, too much credit there as well...more in the nature of need…. to speak her Christian name out loud, at least once, in the event he never saw her again.

The warning signs should have been clear to him, surely, if only by the way in which certain recollections still stuck in his mind with such abnormal clarity.

Her face framed in the smoke of the pistol shot as she killed the officer of Pombal’s guard who had threatened him at the San Maria Major. Her utterly unconsidered lifting and thrusting aside to safety of the fallen child in the thronging street. The uncompromising look in her green eyes as she questioned him about Kay.

 


Self-knowledge being an accomplishment almost essential to their work, he had fancied he knew at least the rough catalog of his own strengths and weaknesses. The clouding of judgement by....attatchment?...what had Kay's term been? "appreciation?".....desire seemed both too crude a word and too poor.....had never been one of his failings.


“Pequeño sacerdote” some of the other boys had teased him, on the docks at Veracruz, partly because of his looks but mostly because he would not bully women or littler boys as they did. Few had ever pressed their advantage of size against him for he both walked and slept with a knife in those days and taking a few pieces of ear usually sent them after weaker prey.

It had always seemed such a stupid taunt to his mind anyway. Where he came from priests were usually the most avid pursuers of women.

Like many of the countless children set so adrift, he supposed now, he had known the outline of what he hated and feared far better than he knew that of what he wanted and might love. Comfort by then had appeared a childish thing anyway, safest left behind in the shared beds of the orphanage he’d fled. To see its memory used to cloak cruelty and abuse of petty power was nothing he could bear.

In the end he had stowed away aboard the right ship and though that choice had come to cost him some part of his soul he still felt it had saved the greater part. He believed even now that bargain the only one worth making.

While never “insensible to women” as Kay so often charmingly put it, he had in truth only ever fancied himself in love on one occasion and then but for a few weeks.

Sick with snakebite he had missed the rendezvous on a darkened beach on Lousiana, and been left behind there on the coast with barely the strength to crawl to a fishing shack, filled with drying nets and traps, that was the only poor cover. Some hours before dawn a black-haired girl found him there. Because she spoke only French Creole and a very little very accented English, while he spoke but Nahuatl and Spanish and English in those days, they had barely ten words in common and he had been too fevered by the time she found him to speak nine of them. When Sabine saw the small bird etched in ink on his swollen ankle, she whispered, “Alliance?” and then dragged him the limping half mile through the forest to her own little house, that she shared with an older woman. There they both of them worked together to hide him under the raised floor from the soldiers who came to search. He had been sixteen although it seemed to him now that he had he surely never told her so.

Once the fever broke at last and his foot resumed the appearance of something better attached to a live human than a dead alligator, she hcarefully removed the last of the poultices she had applied and assured him in tentative English that all of his toes would remain still attatched. She confirmed by counting them, to his not-uncomfortable discomfort.

“Soldat de l’Alliance,” she then said, slowly as if greatly concerned she might not be understood, ”I am alone here and would seek your company, pour un peu de temps.” There might be boys of sixteen years somewhere on the earth who would have refused such a request although he could not imagine that there were many. Most certainly he knew that he was not among their number. While aquainted well enough what men and women did together he had not until then known how it might be done with kindness and regard.

The thought often came to him in years after that he might easily have died without knowing so and that most people probably did.

He remained with her for almost two months before she persuaded some trustworthy fishermen to lend him clothes and take him with them to New Orleans, where he might find an Alliance ship to return him to his cadre. Puppy that he was, he would have begged to stay with her or urged her to come with him but she had told him most clearly, “Vous êtes un homme bon, mais j'aime un autre,” which was enough like “pero amo a otro" as to be understandable. She had told him about her lover on nights when they had lain out on the open porch of the unpainted little house. Strange as it seemed he had not felt any jealousy but listened to her almost happily as she spoke, half in the French he was slowly learning and half in English. She told how she had "come to love" of this sweetheart, who worked with her and another small band of L'Alliance pirates upon the Gulf, saving those they could, striking both the French and the Spanish. She fought with a true heart, but then her mother had fallen ill and she had had to come ashore. A year had passed she said, but he and her friends would return for her one day and they would fight the Enemy again. Her eyes shone as she told him these stories and what envy he had felt was not for this young man, to whom she remained faithful even as she lay by another's side, but of her, that she could be so sure and know her own heart so well. She knew her sweetheart to be still alive, she said, because they were “lié au coeur”, she placed her hand above her breast as she said this.

“Fight bravely, my friend,” she said as she kissed him goodbye holding his face in her hands. "Your heart is true and I hope another waits for it."

What could she have been? Not much further from childhood than himself surely. Sixteen. Seventeen? They took him back to Europe afterwards and by the time he found that part of the coast again storms had wiped it clean of any landmarks he could recognize. There was nothing to do but pray that her lover and friends had come back for her but those who fought in the Americas fought an ugly war. Merrick had great hopes for events there, while Draven, he knew, was less sanguine. Shamed, he realized that years had probably passed since he had last thought of her.

"Oh brave Sabine," he wondered, "I thought I had no heart left. What advice would you give me now?"

 


The basics of seamanship he had learned, and could to a degree skillfully practice but unlike those few who found in it their vocation, Rostok, Merrick, Veilleuse..... he was not a born sailor, and knew it. He could read a map or a chart but it was not his gift to take what he saw there and look across a tossing sea to sense by instinct the path across it. Was this pass he found himself in now because of some weakness akin to that one? It was as if, unable to recognize the current, he had been caught fully up in it before he knew.

If this were so, the same condition existed, he now believed, for her. Surprise was a state hard to feign at such a near distance.....and she had been surprised

 

 

 

 


Late in the night, through the sounds of the wind and the waves, and the creaking of the ship, he had heard again a sound coming from her cabin. It was the faint but now familiar gasping of breath. It reminded him of nothing so much as the sound of some panicked creature, hunted, forcing themselves to quiet. Opening his door, to see if she had once again wakened herself and lit her light, he had been surprised to find her outside of her room, crouched on the floor in the darkness of the great cabin it adjoined. Wearing only a shift, she was shivering, although he sensed not from some present cold. Her eyes were open but her hands reached out on the wall she huddled against as if she were blind. She ran fingers against the panelling and brought them to her mouth. Taking up the small lamp he had been reading by, he approached her quietly.

She was clearly in the grip of some nightmare and he had no wish to startle her into a fit, as could sometimes occur.

“Miss Erso,” he said very quietly, kneeling beside her and laying the lamp on the deck supported by the wall. The motion of the ship was perceptible though regular and steady against the wind, still, a hard pitch could come at any time.

She seemed utterly insensible of his presence either by sight or sound, so he quietly placed his hand upon her arm. She hid her face still, but reached abruptly toward him then, as if he were but another wall that pressed her now from the other side. Her fingers clutched his shirt hard enough to bruise the skin beneath.

She was not weeping. Even in such a state she did not do the expected thing.


“I am not afraid,” she whispered, perhaps more than once, not to him at all it seemed, but to the wall, probably to the very night itself.


He remained as he was and made no attempt to touch her further or speak to her more.

Some demons must be wrestled alone, he knew. The presence of others was more hurt than balm at such times, so he waited in silence.

He could not simply leave her, for fear that she might injure herself or disturb those sleeping in the other adjoining cabins, Kay, Rostok, Antilles..… He felt sure that to be seen in this state by others would be deeply humiliating to her.

As minutes passed, she seemed to return to herself. Not startled but through a kind of struggle as if slowly bringing her nightmare to heel. Her jaw unclenched, the trembling eased and her eyes focused at first on the lamp he had steadied against the wall, then lifted slowly to his face.

“Andor?” she said as if in some doubt as to his identity, or perhaps his reality.

“Si,” he said, forgetting good sense yet again in her presence and slipping back to Spanish.

She nodded and lowered her eyes. Her fingers loosened their grip upon his shirt. Another few minutes passed until, drawing a breath, she made use of his shoulder as a lever to push against and so stand herself upright again upon bare feet, remaining in this position for a long series of heartbeats while he knelt beside her. She looked down at him but he could not rightly read her expression, hampered as he was by the poor light that flickered with the motion of the ship. Her eyes, it seemed to him, were open wide as if with astonishment or some other strong emotion held in check.

“I apologize for disturbing you,” she said quietly, as if they were the most ordinary of strangers in some embarrassing but mundane situation, as if he had but retrieved a basket she had dropped in the market, or reached to assist her from a stumble as her shoe heel caught upon a cobble on a busy street. “Thank you for your help.”

He considered in that moment that he might have kissed her hand. He considered in that moment that he might have done a great many other things.

She shivered then and took her eyes away, passed around him unshod across the boards, into the cabin assigned to her and closed the door.


He did not even attempt to return to his bunk immediately but remained sitting upon the floor, extinguishing his own lamp as the light of hers showed, re-lit again beneath her door.

Santa Madre de Dios, he thought. What have I done?


It was the creak of the ship that no doubt kept him from hearing another cabin door open, so that when he finally looked up in the dark to find Kay leaning there with his head bowed, as he of necessity was often required to stand in any interior space, in silence at the doorway of his own cabin, it was impossible to guess with any degree of certainty how long he had been watching there. His friend stood in this position for several long moments more, without comment or change of expression, before he shook his head and turned to return to his own bunk.

 

Captain Cassian Andor had no doubt that he was shortly to receive an unwanted lecture upon a subject he had no desire to discuss.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Once she mastered the shaking of her hands sufficiently to light her small lamp and had regained her bunk again, Miss Jane Erso slept for the few hours that remained until the second bell was struck. The lone mercy in the affliction, she had found to her wonderment, lay in that after recovery from these painful dreams she would often sleep inexplicably well.

It was far more cruel when they came upon her while waking. For these last several years she had dared to hope that that particular agony was left far behind in her childhood. At least it had seemed so until poor Alfonso had spoken her father's message aloud.

"I do not ask her to forgive me.."

These words it seemed had broken down walls she had fancied herself to have built of iron around her weakness.

They had been set to take her to Newgate, she thought, as the light of dawn reached beneath her cabin door from the Great Cabin windows and she rose to put out her little light. They need hardly have bothered, for it seemed she still carried her own prison within her.

Baba oliri, is this what your death has done? Put me back in that well where you found me?

Her most earnest wish was that she had at least not uttered, within the Spanish captain’s hearing, that cry of accusation she knew herself to have made aloud as a child when the panic had come blind upon her.  She remembered waking, holding onto her pillow or Saul Gerrere's coat often in those first weeks after she had been carried away, first to a sloop and then to a stronghold off the Irish coast by her rescuer, and crying  "You left me! Papa, you knew where I was and you left me!"

It made her bitterly angry. Had she so lost herself again?

Only four of them had been in Gerrere’s chamber when the nightmare returned. Of these two were now  dead and, though pride seemed pointless, yet she could imagine no way this side of her own grave that she would ever ask the other what he had heard.

Oh God, she thought, twice. Twice he has been there to see me fall so and not spoken of it.

Captain Cassian Andor had a weapon he could use against her lying at his feet yet he had not, so far as she could see, yet taken it up. She had no notion of what that might mean, so long had it been since she had known any, whether enemy or temporary ally, to forgo an advantage.

 

 

 

 

 


The Commander had told her the tale of how her mother had sent a message to him, through men he had set at Penzance, to keep a watch upon their house and begging him to send aid if a noontime ever came when no red apron was hung by the kitchen window. It was the fierce weather that had slowed the watcher’s message for some days, and further delayed Saul Gerrere’s own arrival for another day further. Had the rescue been tardy much beyond that she would likely have died of thirst in that dark place and this fierce-appearing but strangely generous man, then still a stranger to her, would have simply laid her beside her mother in the unmarked grave he had dug in the turf behind the standing stones.

She could blame Saul Gerrere for many omissions but not for dishonesty in this one matter for she had never herself asked of him, in plain words, where is Galen Erso?

He was dead, she told herself, a condition she took Gerrere's silence to give assent to.

Obedient no more, she had blamed her once-adored father with a child’s unjust judgement as a weak fool who had left she and her mother insufficiently protected from powerful enemies.

 

 

 

It had been well off of Tortuga that they had taken the ship...claimed her rather for not a shot had even needed to be fired,…..truly a massive galleon, more than a thousand tons. The crew had cheered at the sight of her, wedged hard on a sand bar by the fierce storm of the week preceding, for the pickings of the Caribbean had already begun to grow slim in those days.

She had been up on the mast at watch when the Commander whistled to her and she had scampered down the rigging at his call. "That ship, my Jen," he said, "What ails her?"

Her Olori's tone had been off-hand but she knew a test was couched within the question.

How came a galleon alone to this coast at this season? Her keel was sunk too deep surely..she was heavy...too heavy by half again....Such a battering over a such time should have broken even the fattest treasure barge off the sand or at least turned her sideways. Living men still clung to the masts, the shredded flags of Spain still flew and yet...

"Sir," she said, "she sails for New Spain not from her. What ballast holds her so firm if not gold?"

"What indeed little hawk?"

The galleon’s few remaining officers were a handful of Spaniards, who threw themselves for mercy on the deck and a bare sixty survivors of the hundred or more who should have crewed her. Many had washed away in the storm and those remaining were Africans, Moroccans, Libyans all kidnapped and sold to this fate while a few others showed themselves to be Spaniards and Basques but all branded on hand or face as convicts. Yet these it seemed were all pressed to sea here, not bound and shipped to cruel labor in the sugar fields, in other words, not the usual state of affairs in these waters. They all clung to the rails or the masts and begged to be taken from the ship as if in terror of her very planks. The Commander and what translators he had began to question them.

Jen took a party below decks, as was her standing order in those days, when her Olori still took some care to find her other duties, if wholesale executions seemed at hand.

There were boxes of light goods, cloth and wine mostly, tumbled and broken...to the crews bitter disappointment....but nothing to account for such weight, until they came to some too-small crates stacked lonely in the lowest hold. The sea had leaked in from above and below, but some of these crates had turned and broken, and were still to be seen at the high end. Sand spilled out from those and three had even turned sideways to drop out other even smaller boxes that must have lain packed within the sand. One of these in turn had also broken and squared leather bags had tumbled out from it. Drops of silver liquid oozed from their seams.

Such was her ignorance that she stepped forward across the tilting boards for a closer view, but one of the older pirates seized her shoulder violently, holding her back. "Poison," the fellow warned her, "quicksilver, out of Almedan.”

Those who mined it were said to die within weeks, burned with seizures and raving. Prisoners and enslaved captives were the only ones set to handle it and this was clearly the intended fate of those wretches above.

In that instant the men above decks must have communicated the same story for she heard her captain's roar down the hatches, "Out! Out!  All hands!"

The whole party moved with great speed toward the ladders, but as they did so the Commander pushed them aside, coming down himself past them. Reaching to take her arm with some ferocity, he demanded, “Se o fi ọwọ kan o?”

 

She had not, but that was not what had frozen her in place. She, for the first time in all her loyal service, did not answer him but only pointed back toward the small broken inner crate from which the bag of poisonous metal had spilled, stained dark blue within and marked with letters burned in black: De la mano de: Sr. Galen Erso

Seven years and many a thousand miles had passed but the man in the white scarf and those words of her mothers remained in her memory, ”You will not take him."

Those men had wanted her father alive, even a girl of eight had divined as much.

"Indigo....stone.....your gift for the materials involved…"

 

The Commander had all but seized her by the ear and pulled her up to the decks. The Spanish officers were dead on the boards, throats cut. The bodies were tossed overboard. They stove the wreck and pulled the hull out to deep water to let her sink.

The imprisoned crewmen were all given knives, maps, what water, biscuit and food the Onderean could spare, and a free choice to take their chances dropped on the beaches to try to make their ways on foot to the settlements on the far side of the island or to set sail on their own in the dinghies still clinging to the galleon.

Her Olori had kissed every one of the captive sailors, “Forgive me brothers,” he had said, in the language of each, or through whichever of his crew who spoke their tongues, “that, to my lasting shame, I cannot myself take you to back your homes." He passed them tokens that might buy their way with his name on other ships if they had strength to reach the right ports.  "Go with God.”

Thus was Saul Gerrere, before his mind broke, and for a time even after. Men would have died for the Commander, God knew she would have done so gladly at fifteen, but he would not answer her questions after the quicksilver galleon, ordered her sternly to silence, turning away from her, in what she had taken at the time for disgust at her weakness, when she begged for answers. It was, it seemed to her now, the beginning of the change in him and in his treatment of her.

 

 

 

 

Now the walls of that dark well claimed her again in her sleep and there was no soul living save herself to pull her out.

Very well then, she must and she would.

Whether some Spanish assassin sat waiting at the top of the ladder was a matter she would deal with as it came.

 

 


Rising from her bunk she prepared to dress, putting on stocking and shoes, lacing the jumps over her shift, tying the lesser of the petticoats and pinning a jacket and kerchief  Once they had fully rounded the Canaries and made the Southern currents, with their greater safety from unexpected boarding, she would assay whether dressing in breeches and shirts would outrage Captain Rostock. His was the only opinion she gave credit in the matter at this present time.


A knock at her cabin door called her attention.

“Miss Erso. May I claim a moment to speak with you?” a voice without inquired.

Her heart had faltered with something like anxiety that it might be Captain Andor at her door but, of all the 65 crew and officers aboard the brigantine now re-named the Rogue’s Venture, the one person she would have least anticipated a visit from was Mr. Kay.

By reflex she found her eyes straying toward the narrow ledge above the door where she had concealed a thin-bladed knife some days before, but mastering both her astonishment and her trepidation, she managed to answer, “Certainly, sir” and unseal the door.
Mr. Kay bent his pale close-cropped head to peer within a few inches.

“Before you fully open the door, I should inquire whether you are sufficiently dressed to comfortably converse?” he asked.

“He genuinely means no offense…” Andor had said. Oh dear God….

 

“I am,” she said, steeling herself. “What is it you wish to discuss, Mr. Kay?”

The door opened the remainder of its span, and the gentleman's head and shoulders now maneuvered more fully into view.

“I should ask your permission to enter, Miss Erso, as I wish to speak with with some degree of privacy.”

She devotedly hoped that her face did not betray the profound degree of her surprise and confusion…..and, were she pressed to admit it, amusement.

 

“Sir, I have no objection on principle but were we gambling I would lay even odds that you cannot even get into the room.”

“I can if I am willing to entertain a certain degree of discomfort, which I have prepared myself to do. You would be obliged to sit upon the bunk, however, to facilitate this, if you could so arrange yourself.”

Well, she considered, I suppose it is safe enough. If he wished to strangle me he at least could not do so here. Once the door is closed it seems unlikely he would be able to sufficiently move his arms.

“Where is Captain Andor, Mr. Kay?” she inquired suspiciously.

“He is up on the quarter deck with Captain Rostok discussing our route, Mr. Rook and Mr. Antilles are also on deck, as the watches are changing at present. Thus my request for audience now, since opportunities for private conversation are by necessity much limited in such close quarters and I would wish to speak with you outside his hearing.”


Unable to pass such a novel opportunity by, whether for good or ill, She closed the folding desk, sat far as back on her small bunk as was possible, tucking legs and feet beneath her, reached over to slide her small trunk beneath and then ventured, “Very well Mr. Kay, please come in and speak your piece.”

The gentleman did so, bowing curiously at the shoulders and resting head against the very ceiling, he seemed to fold himself into the small cabin somewhat after the fashion of a long-legged insect, even managing to close the small door behind him. He smoothed his dark grey coat and vest and then, being somewhat constrained by being unable to straighten his elbows, proceeded to stand for a moment as if in thought.

“What, sir,” she found herself biting the inside of her cheek to still the impulse to laughter, “What is it that you wish to speak of that you concurrently do not wish Captain Andor to hear?”

“Are you well, Miss Erso?”

Damn the man, his expression was so fixedly blank it was impossible to tell any motive he might either possess or lack.

 

“I am tolerable sir, why do you ask?”

“You walked abroad in the Great Cabin last night and seemed in some distress. This is not an unknown affliction in times of mental disturbance but I wished to inquire….”

Having no wish to hear more she cut him off, “I apologize for disturbing you Mr. Kay…I assure you I will take measures not to be abroad again.”

“You did not disturb me, Captain Andor did. He did not return to sleep again afterwards and I attribute this to anxiety as to your welfare.”

“You may assure Captain Andor that he need not concern himself further on the subject.”

The giant regarded her calmly with over-large grey eyes that seemed to blink at intervals far less frequent than any person she believed herself to have met previously.

“He is a good man. I refer to Captain Andor."

What in the devil? was the only thought that came to her.

“I know Captain Andor is your friend,” she said.

The man nodded, seemingly pleased by this neutrality. “The work we do, in attempting to impede the excesses of forces such as those who oppress for gain and incite cruelty for the furtherance of their own power. In the support of Reason and Conscience against their opposites….”

“This is very nicely put, Mr. Kay, do you seek to recruit me for the Alliance?”

The fellow blinked again, and paused,  but her impulse at sarcastic wit did not disturb him long, and he merely continued.

“The phraseology is not my own, Miss Erso, so I cannot accept praise for it, and more formal allegiance to the Alliance is unnecessary since you have undertaken this present mission of your own volition, against both my and Captain Andor’s advice…”

The Hell you say, sir?

“I do not understand you Miss Erso, but that is only a minor inconvenience, for I am frequently required to work with people whose motives and actions I cannot fathom, my concern is for Captain Andor's well-being and continued service. The work we do is, at many junctures, rendered more painfully difficult for a good man than one of less keen sympathy and less thoughtful morality. It is strange that it should be so, but it is.” Kay tipped his head, in a way that seemed almost an expression of concern, almost sadness, but without its more common outward shows.

“As Nature made him”…indeed….


“It is my belief that he has an developed a deep appreciation for you , Miss Erso.”

“The Hell you say?!” burst from her lips. 

She wished urgently to stand and leave the room but it was utterly impossible.

“It is quite unaccountable,” Kay said, shaking his head against the ceiling again,”but men and women do pursue attachments to each other for a variety of reasons,” he paused as if parsing some mystery, “It is unlike him to do so, especially under conditions like this, and largely outside my previous experience in his company. I can only conjecture that it is a response particular to your individual person, since he has certainly shown no such connection of feeling or specific carnal attraction for any of the other women aboard.”

She found herself seized with a need to end this conversation as quickly as possible.

“I am glad to learn that you believe, if I understand you correctly, that Captain Andor is a man who can be trusted with regards to women, Mr. Kay, now if you please…”

“You mistake me, Miss Erso. I know Captain Andor to be utterly trustworthy in his care of those placed in his protection and those for whom he has come to feel attachment. It is yourself I do not know to be trustworthy in such regard.”

He appeared to be in deadly earnest, but it was difficult for her to credit what he seemed to be asking her.

Was this terrifying personage telling her that Captain Andor had developed an affection for her? Was he asking her not to break his heart? 


“I assure you, Mr. Kay, I have no ill will toward Captain Andor.” It seemed strange to her own ears as she said it.

The giant nodded in a melancholy way then, as if satisfied. This, it seemed was what he had come for and his mission was done.

 

Another thought came to her most suddenly, “Mr. Kay, exactly how many women are there aboard this ship?”

“Including yourself?” Kay said, “Eleven, but except for Pamlo and Maddell they are all common sailors,” he shrugged as if this explained all.

 

“Kay? Where the devil are you?” came a call from the Great Room outside, it was Captain Andor’s voice.

“I am in Miss Erso’s cabin at present,” Mr. Kay said quite clearly in reply, ‘We are having a private conversation.”

He attempted to bow then and mostly failed, but managed to work a bent elbow behind himself to maneuver the door open, “Thank you for your time and attention, please consider what I have said.”

As he improbably re-folded and backed himself out of the cabin she caught a glimpse behind him of Captain Cassian Andor’s handsome face as utterly undone with confusion as any man's she had ever seen. She rushed to close the door and flung herself back on her bunk laughing harder than ever previously in her memory.

Chapter Text

HMS Rogue's Venture

three days off from the Grand Canaries

late September, 1769

 

 

 

The Rogues Venture beat against the wind most skillfully, but westward took longer than eastward. ‘The world turns one way and no matter how much we need it to turn another,” Captain Rostok said, when Miss Erso chafed at their progress, “As such it is often a fitting metaphor for the life of man, I suppose.”


Rook had taken to standing much up on the deck. Mr. Antilles was the helmsman but seemed now to have taken the Turkish pilot as a kind of unofficial apprentice.

“I do not know these waters well, sir. I have only sailed them once and I was hardly at the helm, ” Rook had said the first time Antilles let him take the wheel in fair weather.

“Fairly said, Mr. Rook,” the Scotsman said, ”But you know the sea, sir, and she is everywhere much the same. That’s no simple sailing, the Greek Islands, from what I've heard. Take what you know and make it larger. The currents may be wider, and the storms bigger, her water colder, save where it is not, and her winds harder betimes, but if you have the knack of it, a man can learn to sail a new ocean.”

Beneath all his joy at being alive, whole and well-fed, asea again aboard a good ship, and his gratitude for the kindness of these people, insofar as they had sought to aide him, always lay the questions in his mind. How many of them will be left alive by the time I can get there? What will we do to stop them?

 

 

 

 


Papaz Malbus had put him down upon that path that heaved beneath his feet and said gruffly, but not ungently given the dire situation, "Run if you can now, infidel, stay close behind.” So great was his pain and fear that he would have thought himself unable to stand, far less to run, and yet he did so. Staggering, sometimes alone and at other times clutching the back of the big man's coat. The pirates, amongst their number probably even those who had beaten him, stumbled around and past them heedless. After long seconds they escaped out from a tunnel that crumbled into a wide doorway even at their feet. He thought the world about them to be cloaked in a night of choking darkness, but that was only the dirt that filled the air like smoke.

Voices were shouting "Out! Run!" and "Acima! cai fora!”

Someone… the blind man Papaz Imway he knew now… had held his shoulder and said "Come! Young messenger stay with us." He found himself partly pushed and partly dragged onto a windy shore and as his feet touched the wet sand he looked up. It was broad daylight and half the hillside was gone behind them. The path that they had escaped down was no more..

Stumbling beside his new companions he managed some unknown distance before finally falling to his knees in the shallow surf.

Both of the men and himself were much caked in dirt. The sound of the earth rumbling and the shouts, all bound up with a false echo as if of bells in his ears, faded and was slowly replaced by the sound of waves and gulls.

His head ached bitterly.

Padaz Malbus pulled off his coat and waded out into the surf waist deep to wash himself, rinsing head and beard in the cold sea. The blind man stooped ankle-deep and did the same, scooping handfuls of water over his bare head, and rinsing the dirt away. After several handfuls he dried his eyes and ears with a corner of his inner robe. Carefully, with a hand extended he reached out. "Pilot? Messenger? Are you there?"

Rook reached back trembling and guided the blind man’s hand to his arm.

"Rest a short while" Imwe told him, "they will come soon."

Who? He had wondered too weak to speak the word.

Erso Bey, he asked himself, what do I do now? Oh God help me.

 


Malbus returned with his scarf and shirt soaked in water, and began to gently wipe the face and neck of his sightless companion, “No. No. Wǒ méiyǒu shòushāng. Bāngzhù zhège rén.”

The large man grunted, and only after having statisfied himself that his friend was uninjured did he bend down to Rook.

“Come now, Infidel,” he said, “Let us see what the bastards did you for.”

For reasons he could not credit, likely utter exhaustion and despair, he did not flinch as the man rolled back the ragged sleeves of the shirt the pirates had given him after they took his own away. The fellow hissed behind his teeth at the sight of the triangular punctures.

“They cut me and put…” he searched his mind for the word in English or any language they might speak, “sülük…worms, maggots……on the wounds and said they would get inside my blood and eat the truth out of me…”

The blind man lowered his head as if in pain to hear this and the other, Malbus, lost his scowl and looked at him then shocked almost into pity it seemed.

“Boy,” he said, splashing salt water over the wounds, “Boy, they lied. They lied to frighten you. They put a poison in your arm to make you speak then put the Shuǐzhì on to pull it out again, so you would not die.”

Padaz Imway stepped carefully forward and laid a hand on Rook's head saying some words quietly, as if in a blessing.

He would have wept but he was past that too now.

“Please,” he said hoarsely, “Whoever you are and whatever God you serve, help me. I must go back. I was sent to carry a message. Someone must stop them before they can kill more.”

 


The big man looked up, as if his eyes caught something on the hillside above him.

“They are coming,” the blind man said, “The English woman and the Spanish Captain."

“Ha!” said Malbus, “and how do you know?”

“I know because she shines so that even the blind can see where she goes and he,” Imwe laughed a little, as if to himself, “he will not leave her.

 

 

 

 

The dark-haired man, whose voice he remembered from the cell climbed down onto the beach some time afterward, also with clothes torn and much spattered in dirt and unshaven. He was accompanied by a bruised and battered looking young boy, pale and just as dirty.


They helped him struggle to the dry sand and he lay down, almost seeming to sleep for some time. Hours may have passed, in which he was at times aware of what passed around him and at others not. 

The Spanish man and Malbus seemed to talk and argue for some while, and Padaz Imway appeared to be determined to annoy them both.

The boy came and sat beside him with his head down upon his own knees.

By the time his senses finally returned to him a boat had come, the Spanish captain came and spoke to him then, “Sir, he said, “What is your name?”

What is my name? He wondered. Batur Farouk was dead, he told himself, they had buried him beside his mother. He had been a good man, a merchant ships pilot, a loving son, not as devout as he should have been perhaps but he had tried to serve God.

Someone else it was who had signed that paper in Farouk’s name, who had been a weak fool and fraud, made himself complicit in great crimes for mere pay, let his skills be a tool for wicked men, and had been deluded, telling himself the world was a place of such customary and universal cruelty, where the strong abused the weak as the way and the order of things, that there was nothing one weak sinner could do against it.

He would not be that man anymore either. He would use the name Sefla had called him by and Erso Bey had used when they embraced him and set him out on the current that dark night with a message on his back.

 

“I am called Bodi Rook,” he told them.

 

The man who stood beside the sailing dinghy could have walked directly out of one of his Ana’s most fanciful stories. He was seven feet tall at least, but broad-shouldered, pale and smooth-skinned with shorn hair so fair as to seem white when he removed his hat. His expression was as blank as the moon, if the moon could be irritated.

“If the entire party is to accompany us, we should go now, while the tide suits,” the gigantic man said, in English…..he could have whistled like a bird and Rook would not have been surprised, so supernatural did he appear….. “Now, Captain Andor, or we risk regaining the ship.”

 

“Miss Erso?” said the Captain, his hair still wet with the sea-water he too had washed in, had turned and was speaking to the boy, “You should come with us.” He proffered a hand.

The “boy” was a woman. There was a time such a thing would have shocked him, perhaps, but that was long ago and in another man’s life, in any event, it was but a trifling surprise now.

The woman’s eyes had lifted to Rook when he had spoken, filled with what might have been sadness,…shame?….but now she looked at the Captain with a small smile as of grim defiance.

“I will indeed, sir.”

She ignored the extended hand and climbed to her feet

Erso? Oh God. Was this she? The daughter?

 

They pulled him up, and they all crowded into the small craft.

 


“Are you she?” he asked, as they huddled on the bottom of the dinghy and the tall man worked the sails and rudder, with Captain Andor’s help moving them skillfully into the wind and away from the broken shore. “Galen Erso’s daughter?”

She looked across at him then, huddled between the curve of the starboard side and the bulk of Padaz Malbus, who appeared to be snoring.

Erso Bey had not said how old his daughter was, somehow he had pictured her in his mind as a child. This woman must be grown, nineteen or twenty. It was hard to tell in such garb. It was a miracle. The man had spoken in agony of his longed-for daughter, in that cabin where they few had met always in danger, in the dark of the night, to plan his escape. Was this the beautiful child that his friend Gerrere was to have found and taken to safety? The fearless and clever girl with her mother’s green eyes who had captained armies of small lead soldiers?

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I am so very sorry.”

She was looking at his arms, and self-conscious, he covered them with the rags of the sleeves. That was not important now.

“You know my father? You have seen him?” she asked him eagerly.

“Yes,” he said, “It was your father who showed me the truth, who told me that if I used the heart that I was given….if I was brave enough and had faith …I could help the people I had harmed, fight for what was right....”

She was looking at him, pale and serious, her expression almost avid, as if she had been in some desert place and his broken words were as water to her.

She resembled Erso Bey in many aspects of her expression. It seemed to him so foolish that he had not known her at once.

“Do you know where he is? Can you take me to him?” she said.

She held out her small hand. Clutched within it was a scrap of cloth, scorched at the edges and written in blue. He knew it at once. It was the message he had carried all the way across the sea upon his own back. Most of it was gone, but the numbers and the script were still visible.

الصفقة لأنها الجشع. 29.0258 ° شمالا، 80.9270

He laid his hand across hers. “Yes,” he said, as if he swore thereby an oath, which indeed he did.

Chapter Text

HMS Rogues Venture


October 1769

 

Back again at last in sailors shirt and breeches, she stood atop the cross trees on the mainmast, feet upon the yard, with the clear and open view around her. She watched the horizon, breathed the air as God had made it, and tried to clear both her heart and mind.

  

 

In her girlhood, of all work aboard ship, she had loved most to climb the mast. From those first days, after Baba Saul had brought her aboard the Onderean, she had taken to it as if born to be a Rigging Monkey.

In fair weather, when the sky showed blue and perfect above and the horizon without flaw in every direction, it was truly the only Paradise her mind could encompass.

Even the foulest weather had never caused her real fear. The danger at such times had seemed at least clean, formed as it was by a direct and immediate task requiring only strength and will to master. One knew that one  should hold fast, reach out with hands, move, tie or untie sail in the proscribed order, moving up and down at need. The adversary at such times was God’s wind and rain, which neither knew nor cared for name, nation, faith or history. She found peace in a task so dependent upon the action of the body alone. Hold on and live or fall and die. There was no other deliberation or negotiation to be made.

God, how she had missed this.

As she now found to be true of many things, she had not permitted herself to feel the bounds of it’s loss until it was restored to her.

Captain Rostock would not let her take another’s place on the rigging crew at present, which she knew to be no insult of itself, for each ship was different. They knew their order of sail and she did not, but he agreed after waiting to consult with Captain Andor that she might take turns at the watch.

 

 

 

She had bristled at Rostocks “consultation", indeed, more and more as she thought on it. Was Captain Andor yet her keeper or was he not? She had assumed this matter resolved at Gibraltar.

 


Determine to go and confront Captain Andor on the matter, she found him in the Great Room into which the greater number of the officers and passenger cabins opened, standing at the table with Mr. Melshi, one of her “rescuers” at London.

He had joined them at Cadiz and Jen had felt a certain shock when he tipped his hat to her on the foredeck that first morning out. “Miss Erso,” he had said, in utter insincerity, bowing slightly, “We meet again.” She had been truly taken aback, as if meeting again some person she had known but seen only far away in some other decade. The prison transport, Newcastle, London, the shackles around her ankles, all these seemed a lifetime ago.

 

As she entered she saw that the gentlemen had been looking together over a number of maps showing various renderings of the Florida coast and that these now lay spread across the table. To her incalculable relief, Mr. Kay was absent, being on the upper decks on watch with Mr.s Rook and Antilles. Mr. Melshi had sensed the wind's direction,  or perhaps being warned by a glance from Captain Andor, excused himself.

“Captain Rostock makes all decisions with regard to the service of personnel aboard ship,” the Captain replied to her evenly, when she confronted him about her dislike of the assumption of his retaining authority over her. “I have only made clear to him that when we arrive at Jamaica, and….” he paused here, perhaps because the phrase ‘God willing’ seemed so inappropriate to their situation, “…dependent upon the situation we find there, on to East Florida, I will likely need you alive and unbroken. At that point, you may well find me acting as your officer, dependent on the perimeters of the mission.”

“Dependent upon the situation” indeed. God damn the man.

“I have known what it is to serve under command without question, sir, but I do not do so now, save at only sea and then I answer to Captain Rostock, as is right, and not, I hope you understand, to yourself. I had hoped to have made it clear that I do not participate in this venture as an underling to your authority but as a full partner.”

Captain Andor’s eyebrows raised and his shoulders set, but he smoothly answered, “Miss Erso, this is an Alliance ship, with an Alliance crew. I am the senior Alliance officer appointed to this action. To my knowledge the only man aboard who has sworn you personal allegiance is Mr. Rook, and I should hope you will not put him at further hazard by proposing mutiny this early in the voyage?”

An interesting conjecture sir, she thought. Though I cannot help but wonder, what consultation you have actually made with Mr.s Imway and Malbus on that score?

 In truth she wondered herself what mission the two monks pursued here, for they clearly sought some end of their own. She had difficulty imagining either of them reliably submitting to a military order of command.

She had spoken to him at Gibraltar...although, she realized now, only in general terms. He had then offered her a “last chance” to depart at Cadiz with resources and when she had refused this taken her answer cooly. Indeed, she had been unable to gauge his where his response measured between the poles of displeasure or relief. If they sailed to Florida, she sailed with them, had been her firm assertion at that time and she had taken his nod before turning away as assent.

 

Skirting the Canaries they had not put in at Santa Cruz but a small packet had come out to them from the Spanish port with provisions the previous day….and letters? Had his orders been changed with regard to her?

Very well, she would make herself clear again. “My father has given us the location of this dreadful plantation and proposed a way and means to attack it. I mean to do so. I mean further to free my father and the other captives who are held in bondage there and kill each and every one of those devils who have tried to conceal both their own cruel ambition and the manufacture of vile weapons through kidnapping and murder. Do our aims now differ in this, Captain?”

As she spoke she had crossed close and now found that her hands were gripping the polished edge. He, in his turn, had leaned down with palms flat upon the maps, equally tense.


“This is not a pirate crew, Miss Erso,” he said sharply. “Some of us cannot strike as we wish and when we wish.”

Something was amiss here, the thought came to her.  His manner had indeed changed.

 

He drew a breath, seeming to wrestle some strong emotion back into check in order to  present himself again as the cold officer she had met in London. At the end of the table lay a leather message case, half-hidden under some of the flattened maps. He took it in hand and slid it toward her.

‘A full partner do you say, Miss Erso?, read our orders then.”

Astonished, but unwilling to yield ground, she kept eyes on him even as she took the untied case and slid the document inside out with the fingers of one hand.

He stood back two or three steps then, turning toward the windows, away from her. Perhaps his intention was to give her some measure of privacy, although it seemed equally likely that his intention was to show he did not give a damn whether she ultimately determined to stab him in the back or not.

 

She lifted the first paper and read. 


Tavin Park

London

28th of September, 1769

Captain Andor

You have received the best of maps we have available. Proceed to Jamaica and Kingston. There make contact with Captain Solo. Messages have already been sent to the West Indies and further reports to the British ports in which our agents have scope. Changes of order or additional instructions may await you with that Gentleman. Do not pay him until he had produced them to your satisfaction.

The reports you and Mr. Kay have sent us give us reason to believe that the explosive being developed is indeed many times more dangerous than the advanced powder substitutes pursued by the French and the Italians.

We know from your reports that prior to his disappearance twelve years ago Mr. Galen Erso was in the employ of Britain and other European Courts and seems to have greatly advanced upon the work of Count Dukoy at Brescia.

The Turkish escapee's report indicates that they are preparing to move the materials concealed through British transportation of dye-stuffs. It is possible that the current political unrest in the Americas will thus be used as  cover for some major action.

At present the operation is still experimental and full production may have not yet begun. It must not be allowed to.

In Tarkin's own subturfuge lies the best hope we have. If this is the sole manufacture and the difficulty of procurement and preparation of the components in secrecy leads us to hope that it is, it must be destroyed utterly.

if the Turkish escapee and Miss Erso’s accounts are to be fully credited - and we must prepare for the likelihood that they are faulty either by accident or design - Mr. Erso is himself attempting to delay the project. Your comment that this may correspond with his previous attempts to escape Tarkin’s employ and hide his wife and child in order to render them useless as leverage to enforce his cooperation, has been noted, but we must prepare for all contingencies.

Mr. Galen Erso is clearly the key to the weapon’s sudden advancement.

If the gentleman is alive it may be possible to extract him, but if this proves impractical, your orders are to dispatch him directly. 

Should this prove neccesay or if Erso is already dead, it is imperative that all his records be destroyed and any other persons associated with the project who might have practical knowledge of the explosive’s techniques of production also be eliminated.

Barring further orders proceed with best haste and discretion,

 

Mr. Davits Draven

Council of the Alliance

 


Another small note was included, this one written in a fine hand upon good quality of whitest paper.

 

London,

September 29, 1769

Captain Andor,

It is a terrible task we set you.

But we are all soldiers and know all of us too well how the possession of such an explosive of such devastating power rendered stable would transform warfare irrevocably. That such a substance would be in the hands of an organization more brutal and less answerable than any single nation at this hour must further spur us.

That such horrors and greater will come in time is inevitable, the dike which we defend leaks in many places, but if we can hold back that tide for a year, or ten, or fifty we give the world some hope yet that truth and justice will  have time to advance against the Dark and one day triumph. At least we will save the countless lives that would fall within those years if we do nothing.

Delay them here Captain, for it lies with you and those you sail with. We cannot know how long the dike will hold but we know what will happen if it breaks now.

May God’s blessings be with you

Lady Mary Monmoth

 

The deck remained fairly steady. There had been no hard roll, either to port or starboard. Their motion had been ten knots South and west and she was sure it had not markedly changed in the few minutes required for her to read the documents.

Why did it feel as if the deck had fallen beneath her feet?

 

Captain Andor remained with his back to her as she refolded the papers, placed them back inside the case, all without any clear consciousness of doing so, and tossed the leather enclosure back onto the table.

Face me, damn you!

She could not speak so. If she began she would not be able to stop and they were in the middle of the Atlantic, there was no where to go.

Very well then, if she could not run, he could not hide from her.


“He said you were a good man,” she said to his back, with a small bitter laugh, Her own voice sounded tight and false, even to her own ears.

“Who?” he asked.

“Mr. Kay. He made particular point of telling me so….that you were a good and trustworthy man….I hardly thought to credit it even at the time. In my experience “good” men carry far fewer knives.”

His head bowed a little and his shoulders as well, though he remained looking out the windows at the stern. He seemed to laugh mirthlessly in his turn.

“He is wrong, then” his posture straightened and he turned then, finally, to face her, “If I was ever good I assure you I was forced by circumstance to yield that virtue up, by my own calculation, at roughly the age of eight. Still, I would think, with  regards to your “experience” Miss Erso, that the trustworthiness of a soldier who held to the duty of an oath he swore, might still hold its color well against that of pirates and thieves, who fight when impulse serves and hide when it does not.”

“You faithless bastard.”

Both their voices were rising now.

“I trusted you sir! My father, a prisoner, risked his life to send this message, Mr. Rook has endured danger and torture to bring it to you and your Alliance. What kind of man betrays those who have put their lives at such hazard?”

She had, in blazing anger, already crossed the distance between them and they stood now inches apart.

He stood a good head taller than she but by instinct she found the calculations already made, her balance shifted …forward and to the side, bone and muscle prepared to either strike first or return a blow.

The glared at each other like combatants barely held in check for long heartbeats, then he mastered his temper first, with most visible effort, although still standing close, now as if unconcerned that she might strike him.

“I have not broken faith with either you or Mr. Rook, Miss Erso," he said cooly,"and I have no intention of doing so, whatever these orders say and whatever awaits us in Kingston. I believe you both and will act according to that belief when we reach Jamaica. Although," he turned carefully and walked past her around the table, "I freely admit that, in respect to the rest of your assessment of me, you are quite correct."

 

A tall figure now loomed in the doorway coming in from the deck. Mr. Kay, no doubt, fully prepared to toss her overboard.

“”Kay!” Andor said sharply, “Out!”

The giant withdrew and the Captain went into his cabin and closed the door.

 

 

 


Jen took a moment only to compose herself, then strode purposefully out onto the deck and requested that she be permitted to begin the next watch early.

 No doubt half the crew had heard she and Captain Andor loudly arguing, and near to blows. No doubt there had been wagering on the outcome, Captain Rostock however, answered her request with his usual unflappability calling Dinnes down from the mast.

Jen swiftly climbed up the ratlines and perched herself perched atop the rail.

It was there that Mr. Imway found her at the end of her watch, and they spoke at length.

Chapter Text


Lying in her bunk, as she had done over the last seven nights since her tense argument with Captain Andor, Jen repeated again and again within in her own mind Marie's lectures about the foolishness of attachments of any kind. She found they lacked their former virtue.

"Do you know why they do not nail the boards on bridges? Because when the flood waters come, the riven board twists and splits. Peg yourself to others but lightly, cher, so you will not break in the deluge."

She had taken such words as gospel upon a time, coming as they did from that bold older girl whom she had so devotedly admired. Marie had been one of the Commander's chosen fighters at sea and keenest agents ashore. As one of the few females near her age, Gerrere had let Jen take much worshipful instruction from Marie, in both combat and pickpocketing.

"There are mostly two kinds of women in the world, sweet Jen, the smart ones are like steel that the world breaks and foolish ones like clay that the world grinds to dust."

The other women in the tavern their crew had taken over at Billingsgate had laughed heartily at this. "And what of men Bold Maria?" said Ayasha, egging her on.

“Ha!” Marie said, “The Lords and Sons of Earth? There is really only one type. For every rare jewel formed of some virtue, you will the find in the rest ten thousand painted millstones born to break and grind.”

“Oooooh!” laughed old Suki, “such foolish youngsters! Never lie beneath a millstone if you fear being crushed, far far safer to be on top!” Jen had laughed along, although she had only the most general idea then of what they talked of.

 


She could recall now, what in girlish devotion she had noticed then but never marked, Marie’s brittle too-ready wit, the lash marks that bespoke a harsh past never spoken of, the way the older girl had sought out danger so very recklessly, captaining every boarding party, begging for a place in every raid. What Jen's youthful eyes had seen as a fiery spirit to be emulated, she now, from this battered perch of twenty, had to temper with the memory of the haunted looks upon Marie's beautiful face whenever she thought herself alone, her anxious spurning of any comfort, any tender feeling, even the embrace of friends.

Fear is the nurse to a certain kind of bravery where there can never be rest nor pause in battle, for any lowering of guard might leave one prey to losses feared worse than death.

Marie never saw the end of nineteen, but had died shot through the heart at Tripoli.

Before they stitched the hammock closed over her pale face, she had looked so young, so lonely, that Jen had on a grieving impulse tucked a small cloth doll inside the shroud before they dropped her body over the side. It had been one of the dozens of crude minuscule toys she secretly fashioned for herself, a lingering childish habit in those days, made out of tied scraps of cloth or twists of hemp with knots of thread for eyes. Tiny things they had been, most no bigger than her little finger.

Sailors are a superstitious lot and pirates the worst of all, so when a scarred and bald old midshipman saw what she was doing he eyed her with distrust, clearly thinking her to be attempting some witchcraft or spell. When she told him "Buroda mi, it is only so she will not wait alone," he had then nodded and even helped her with the stitching.

She had been no better than Marie, she knew now. The Commander, in shame or strategy or belated loyalty to conscience, had turned her loose to the wind and she had spent the years since cutting away at every tie, even the ropes that might have saved her. The sole thing she had held onto was her mothers little charm, though she could not have told herself why, almost as a memory of a memory. How long could she have lived so?

Oh Marie, how many weeks would it have been before some stranger at Newgate would have sewn my shroud shut and simply tossed me into a pit instead of into the sea?

Now she was bound back toward the past at ten knots or better. Toward Papa and her Oloiri’s enemies. Toward the Man in the white hat and scarf who had killed her mother, he or men of his same cut and mold. Bound with her were sixty men and women, strangers all, sworn to the Alliance yet sailing with her. By strongest bounds she found herself tied to the brave Mr. Rook who spoke of her Papa with the devotion of a son and sought his own redemption along with that of herself, the guilt-ridden and disloyal daughter. Among the number were also the tactless and truthful giant, Mr. Kay, wandering monks, Mr. Imway and Mr. Baze, who followed a path that only they could see against their same enemies, a brigantine master in Rostock of the smoothest temper and broadest mind she had ever known, and lastly Captain Andor, the riddle that most discomfited her now, her former guard and rescuer.

Why had he come back for her? Mr. Rook knew her Father’s message by heart, why risk death and failure to save a mad pirate’s cast-off brat? Why had he shown her those orders? Would it not have been simpler, safer to his purposes to conceal them? She had been already beguiled half to trusting him, as he surely knew. Why not wait until they reached Jamaica or even Florida, with the situation before him more clearly ordered, before he dealt with the bloody business of betraying her?

Why had she not bolted in Lisbon when he gave her ample openings, nay even instruction to do so?

As comical as Mr. Kay’s interview had been, it’s subject lay under her skin like a thorn.

Spanish, by birth at least, surely he had been raised Catholic.

Did they teach you what an “occasion of sin” is in New Spain, Captain Andor? She had been among a dozen of the youngest crew left for two months of winter to be sheltered by the nuns on that rocky little Island one year and it was, strangely, the only lesson of their muddled catechism she could still call to mind: “a thing or person--which either because of their special nature, or the frailty peculiar to some individual, can incite or entice that one to error.”

I cannot say if I am yours, sir, but I think, God help me, that you are mine.

Before the Commander’s Portuguese men had shoved them into the passageways below the streets of Lisbon one had laid a pistol square against his heart and snarled as a curse, “Soldado da Espanha,” while another spit as if the Devil had been named. He had smiled then, sunny and amused, his message clear. “Amateur,” it said, “Your little insults mean nothing and your little threats even less.”

Her heart still pounding from the fight and her outrage still burning high, she had wondered, as if in a lightning flash, what it might feel like to kiss such a beautiful mouth.

It was a thought which despite all the anger and fear, weariness and confusion endured since, had never quite left her.

 

 

When her watch at mast ended, she was called from the deck by Mr. Melshi to a meeting of the officers in Great Room. Many maps were again laid out upon the table and Mr. Rook was there showing Andor and Kay a number of newly drawn maps he had been working on, corresponding his own skilled memory of the plantation itself and the waters surrounding and approaching it. Captain Rostock and Mr. Antilles also stood nearby.

“Miss Erso,” Captain Andor had said with a curt nod, as she entered, the rest of the gentleman also addressed her by looking up, and nodding heads in greeting, her garb rendering them perhaps uncertain of polite address. Mr. Rook smiled and Mr. Kay, unsurprisingly responded to her entrance not at all.

“We are compiling our knowledge of the area and setting up maps both to assist us in our preparation for any necessary actions of our own and to provide to our agents at Jamaica and Saint Augustine at need. Captain Rostock has knowledge of the Atlantic currents on the Treasure routes and Mr. Rook, of course, has knowledge particular to our target. It is my understanding that you also have some experience on the coasts of East Florida.”

Five men looked at her, or rather four, since after a quick glance in her direction Captain Andor moved his gaze cooly back to the charts on the table and kept it there.

“I have,” she said, “For several miles inland of the Saint Johns River and the along the coasts of the Amelia Islands, which the British call the Edgmont. I was not the helmsman on either voyage but I accompanied several shore parties and have some notion of the countryside thereabouts.”

It may have been her imagination but she thought she saw some glimmer of respect in Mr. Melshi’s eye at her speech.

Andor’s eyes remained fixed downward upon the charts “Very well,” he said with dispassionate clarity, “I have made clear to the other officers, and those likely to be called into action on the venture….dependent, as must always be understood upon any orders standing at Kingston….that you are a full partner in this endeavor and to be both apprised and held responsible as such.”

His gaze swept upwards to meet hers then, “Is this situation clear and accepted by you Miss Erso?”

A sound came from Mr. Kay’s corner which might have been either the creak of a floorboard or a disapproving cluck of the tongue. No doubt some argument had preceded her being called in but, as was habitually the case, the giant's countenance remained unmoved.

It hardly mattered, she found the majority of her concentration focused on holding her vision level with that of the gentleman addressing her.


The feeling engendered was akin to climbing the mast and beholding a rope was placed within her reach. She could not clearly see what the line was tied to but the decision here was the same, her senses told her, hold on or fall.

 

“It is, Captain Andor,” she said.

 

 

 

The meeting proved a productive one and went on for a number of hours afterward. The cook, a Mr. Decks, was prevailed upon to serve them dinner as they worked, much to his grumbling. She reviewed the charts that Mr. Melshi provided and was able to make several changes that might prove useful in time.

“Mr. Imway says God is with us in the wind at least,” Mr. Antilles said as he went up to take the evening watch. “What does Mr. Malbus say?” Captain Rostock asked. “Mr. Malbus says he would rather God rushed on ahead so as to make ready and meet us in Florida.”

Mr. Rook took her hand. “This helps us to a great degree,” he said quietly, as hopeful as she had seen him. “The more we know of that coast and it’s perils the better prepared we can be. They made sure the people they held in bondage, even those of us who sailed, had no charts so that ignorance of the geography would hold us prisoner just as soundly as chains.”

 

The bells rang and she returned to her cabin.

The wind was holding true and the boards creaked with it but the Rogues movement was steady.

Save for the calls of the men on deck the ship fell silent save for wind and wave. She dressed herself for sleep in her third clean shift and slipped on the wrapper for warmth, carefully lying her sailors clothes in her chest for tomorrow.

She lay awake, for some hour or more, conscious of a decision that she had somehow already made without any clear recollection of the steps by which she had come to it.

Then she rose from her bunk and walked across to Captain Andor’s cabin.

A light still burned within but the lamp was clearly turned down. She stood for a time in silence and laughed at herself inwardly, for being willing to risk so much but yet dreading to gamble the exposure of knocking upon a door. Touching the handle for a moment she felt it turn on its own beneath her fingers, opened outward by one within. She stepped back and to the side then. He stood in his shirt sleeves, undressed but clearly not yet abed.

There had been some previous supposition on her part of asking if she might enter, and a look upon his face as if questions pertaining to doubts, or the wisdom or madness of such permission being granted formed briefly, but none of these things were ultimately uttered. She stepped into the cabin, pulling the door closed behind her and reaching up with her other hand drew his head down to hers to take the kiss she had long wondered about.

Chapter Text

 

HMS Rogue's Venture

Westward on the Atlantic

November, 1769

 

 

The most exquisitely painful moment of the whole mad business might have come several days later.

 

He met with Mr. Kay up on the deck. His friend had been dropping a number of small weighted pails tied to ropes over the rail near the starboard bow and afterwards pulling them back up, with the assistance of Mr. Weems. He measured the temperature of the seawater within using a glass instrument, recorded his findings neatly in pencil in a notebook specific to the purpose, and then dropped each of them over again to repeat the process. Scrupulous records were being kept, as was Mr. Kay's invariable habit, of all proceedings.


"Could one venture to ask why?" Lieutenant Melshi asked, observing the operation from the distance of the quarterdeck.

"One could," Captain Andor admitted, "But what are the odds one would understand the answer given?"

 

He ventured down just as Kay seemed to be concluding his project and Weems made shift to carry the ropes and pails back to secure below decks.

"I am glad to see you have found some scientific value in this passage, Kay," he said feeling rather light of mood as he handed that gentleman back the coat he had left lying on a capstan.

Mr. Kay nodded, unsurprisingly ignoring the attempt at conversation.

Taking a white kerchief from the pocket of the proffered coat, he wiped some sweat from his shorn head and then replaced the linen square again.

"It would be more convenient to exchange cabins," he said.

"What do you mean?" Captain Andor asked.

“That Miss Erso should remove her things to the cabin I currently occupy, so that I might make use of the one currently assigned to her. I foresee no added discomfort to myself thereby, as the size of the room differs negligibly, and the exchange would provide far more convenient access for her nightly visits to and from your cabin."

Oh santa Madre de Dios.

"Damn it, Kay!" he stepped closer to his friend in hopes of inducing him to use a quieter tone, "That is quite enough."

Kay's head tilted, by far his most common indicator of surprise.

"Does the suggestion not seem a useful one?"

"No, Kay...damn it," he tried to keep his voice low and his tone neutral, "the point is not....it is just that it hardly seems a good idea to draw attention to...."

"Are you referring to the alteration of your relationship to Miss Erso to include intimate congress on a regular..."

"Stop speaking, Kay."

His friend complied with his request, although clearly without even slight understanding as to why he was being asked to do so.

Cassian Andor took a long breath.

They were weeks out aboard a ship at sea and he was not so lost in the novelty of this situation….novel at least to his own experience…..as to be able to deceive himself in regard to how little about their movements and actions could be concealed from the eyes of others.

 

 

 

 

It had been the morning of the third day, after Miss Erso had begun visiting his room, that a squall of rough weather had come upon them. Captain Rostock had ordered hands available up to loosen the sails quickly. Coming in from the foredeck, turning his coat collar against the wind, Captain Andor must have let his eye stray up to the mainmast even as he moved toward the shelter of the quarterdeck cabin. Through the rain he could make out her form distinctly amongst the others moving out on the rail. The winds were dangerously high, and he found it took some effort to bring his gaze back.

She has no more fear of falling than a fish has of drowning, he berated himself, And she would call you a fool or worse to your face if you presented yourself as fearful on her behalf.

Thus steeled, he looked down again and to find Lieutenant Melshi standing directly before him and eyeing him most warily.

"I would never presume to question you with regard to your own affairs, Andor," that gentleman said, " but I do earnestly hope you know what you are doing."

"I do," he replied .

Of a certainly he did not.

 

 

 

Neither did he ever deceive himself that Captain Rostock was unaware of the regular movements of all persons on his ship, though he knew enough of Rostock to know he considered the amorous activities of either his crew or his passengers to be of no more interest than their cribbage playing. So long as tempers were maintained, no blood was drawn, and all hands remained healthy for duty he cared not a whit.

 

 

 


Kay, however, was quite another matter. He had frequently heard his friends lectures upon the subject of personal health and hygiene in matters of intimacy addressed to others and had no desire to now have the practicalities of such outlined to himself or Miss Erso.

Even less did he desire to have such lectures pronounced to him in clear tones well within the hearing of all officers and sailors on deck.

 

"You feel I am exceeding the bounds of propriety in the matter?" Kay said, showing rare insight.

"Yes Kay, thank you, this regards a private arrangement between myself and Miss Erso and we prefer it remain so to the greatest degree possible."

"Ah," his friend nodded, "I understand. I assure you I will be most discreet. Do you wish me to inform the rest of the crew as to the facts of the matter in order to spare you and Miss Erso further discussion and embarrassment?"

"No, Kay."

"Because it has come to my attention that the majority of those aboard labor under the misapprehension that you and Miss Erso were previously connected and that these present episodes of carnal affection are in pursuance of some long-standing arrangement, and not, in fact, a very recent matter."

"No, Kay.".

"Very well.” Rolling down and rebuttoning his shirtsleeves, his friend took both his coat and his scientific notebooks under his arm, bowed slightly and moved back toward the stern.

He stopped, a few steps past on his journey, turned as if recalling some matter nearly forgotten, and addressed Captain Andor further.

"I do confess, to my surprise, that the effects of the change in the short term seem to be largely positive."

"What Kay?” Andor asked, despite the full knowledge that he would most likely wish he had not.

"The effects of the altered arrangement you have asked my discretion upon, at least those perceptible with regards to your morale and your physical and mental condition.  Though the liaison is likely to eventually prove to be detrimental, dependent upon developments in the Caribbean, I must admit that in the nearer term you seem....happy."

 

 

 

 

 

 

There had been no question as to whose shadow he perceived before his cabin door that night and no question as to whether he would open it.

Neither considered wisdom nor present thought had the slightest bearing in the matter.


The Great Cabin lay darkened behind as she stood in her bare feet yet again….The thought Did this woman never get cold? came to him with an incongruity that almost made him laugh at his own nervousness … in her linen shift covered by the blue wrapper he had seen worn before. Her appearance was so perfectly aligned to that which he imagined....when he permitted himself the luxury of doing so....that he considered briefly whether he might have fallen asleep at his book. Her hair was unpinned and tied back with a string, and looking far darker against the shadow than the streaked auburn he knew it to be in daylight.

He had found her wandering thus in her nightmares weeks before. She had glanced past him unseeing on that occasion but those same eyes seemed to hold him now with perfect clarity, quite unclouded by judgment or artifice.

It was her utter fearlessness that undid him.

Stepping inside, very close, she closed the door easily behind her and laid her free hand first upon his shoulder then up across his jaw and behind his head. She lifted up on her toes in the same instant of drawing his head downward and pressed her lips against his, lightly at the first then again, harder, parting hers beneath his own.


An officers cabin on a brigantine is a much confined space but they needed less space than they had.

Her hands slid beneath his shirt and, before God he almost winced, it was so much as if his skin burned where she touched him.

Dios, was the only clear though that came to him, It is already too late.

She might vanish from this room in the instant and he would be just as doomed, he knew.

He grasped her arms and shoulders, pulling her back the few inches it took to reach his bunk. She whispered then, but only to gasp, “The light.”

The small safety lamp was fixed over his bunk, for he had been reading when she appeared…. fixed as the shadow of everything he had given up without the knowledge of having wanted it…at his door. The wick was trimmed, but she reached her lovely self across him even so to snuff the flame.

A pirate’s daughter, reared abroad ship, was never unconscious of the danger of fire.

The light gone, they were in the dark with each other. Her breath seemed to catch as he tried to hold her to him with one arm and reaching to pull the shirt over his own head. She half-shrugged his hands away, pulling her own inside the sleeves of her shift, wriggling, as if impatient to be rid of the garments she wore. He took the task from her, finished it. She kept only the small round wooden cross on its ribbon still around her neck.

Querido Dios. Ella era una cosa tan pequeña.


Her skin astonished him, soft as silk over muscle beneath, and she kissed him again and again. Then, half through his efforts and half through her own, brought her self onto him on that narrow bunk.

“Jane,” he said, as best he could, kissing her shoulder and collarbone, “Jane.”

 

He brought a hand to her face and forced himself to stop, and her to look at him.


“Pensar ¿Estás seguro?”


God, he could not even hold on to his English.

 

In the near darkness, there was yet enough light from the small porthole of glass for him to see that her eyes were wide.

“Jọwọ,…please,” she said, “Jen, call me Jen… that is my own name.”

He kissed her breasts and touched her with his hands but she would not let him go and her heart beat so fiercely he could feel the tremor against his lips as he kissed her throat.

Jen.

“Jen, Debes decirme ... ¿es esto lo que quieres?”

He could not bear much more but he was half afraid with it. “No, listen..” he said, trying to see her face again, “..is this what you want?”

“Olufẹ mi…Please..” she whispered, looking at him again with those unrelenting eyes, her hands in his hair now, “Awọn ọna mejeeji gbekele.”

As if able to order herself as poorly as he.

The coasts of Africa and hills of the Caribbean had not been the scene of his childhood as they had hers, but he knew what “Olufẹ mi” meant and that“Igbekele” was kin to “fiarse de”..…trust.

 

He found he could speak no more after that, and nor could she, it seemed, save for pressing her mouth to his neck and gasping his name almost without voice some moments later.

Able to hold no further account soon after, when all was done, he  could think of nothing else but to kiss her mouth and shoulder and turn a little from her but not far, for there was nowhere to go.

She lay in his arms, her back curled against his chest in that small bed and, unaccountable as it seemed, they both slept so at least until the bells for the First Watch rang. At the sound she untangled herself from him without a word, rose, and pulled her chemise from the floor. Slipping the garment over her head she then moved, quiet as thought, out of the cabin without so much as a backward glance.

 

 

 


He saw her up on the mast afterward, and when the watch was done, noted she had dressed again in her women’s clothes.

Trained since boyhood to think one part while acting another, he managed to conduct his business that day mostly undistracted and they conversed at dinner in much the same form among the others as they always had. She went up on deck after and he saw her sit a long time with Mr. Imway and Mr. Malbus, playing at cards. Mr. Imway seemed to be telling her something of interest regarding the small wooden cross she wore. He felt as if he knew it well now.

Attempting to manage his thoughts without the scourge of expectation, he told himself that he should not hope for a return of her visit. Most certainly not that night, perhaps ever.

Even taken as a strange singular occurrence it felt to have changed the world in some way he could barely fathom.

Best to let it lie, he told himself, until he could understand what had come over him and what, if anything, it meant.

 

He was wrong, of course. She returned after the Night Watch was set.

He heard Melshi leave his cabin to take his turn up on deck, and moments later she opened his door of her own accord and slipped inside.

She returned each night after and always left before dawn.

Jen Erso he was learning, possessed perfect courage in this. Having chosen a course for herself, whether it be redemption, justice, friendship, the rigging of a sail or the love of a bloody-handed soldier, she would look back only to dare others to follow.

He found himself committed to go with her.

 

Chapter Text

HMS Rogue's Venture

Off the south coast of Jamaica

December, 1769

 

 

By fortunate winds, whether or not driven strategically by God as Mr. Imway so often speculated, and the aid of skillful seamanship they were set to come up to Jamaica the next day or the one after that, dependent upon a breeze that had now slackened a little.

Mr. Rook suffered agonies at the thought of delay, even if it were to prove to be of hours only. All agreed, that the venture could not hope to progress much further until they had possession of whatever strategy and aid might be waiting for them at Jamaica. Faster ships than they were to have been dispatched by the Council directly here from England, and if, as seemed likely, this vile plantation was still being funded and provisioned from English purses some word of its scope and shape was likely to be found in the sticky gossip of the low and high at Jamaica’s port.

Brave Mr. Rook suffered agonies for the fate of the people left behind in peril, for his friends, for her father. Even his gentle heart, she knew, yearned now to finally be able to strike back somehow and act against those who had ruined his good conscience, who had hurt and abused him.


Her own anxiety was no less. These weeks aboard the Rouge’s Venture had been at some level like an extended state of preparation for battle or storm, unavoidable, but not yet come.


What was it the Catholics called it… “Limbo”? A notion she had never been quite clear on, but dimly recalled hearing described as a suspension of souls somewhere between Earth and Hell and Heaven, a holding place for those innocents ignorant of truth, babes, virtuous pagans .... and as she had childishly, and no doubt heretically, imagined when the Irish women had briefly instructed her and still resolutely clung to in her mind's picture.... dogs and all other sensible but illiterate beasts. It had all sounded quite pleasant to her savage infant mind but according to the prints she had seen in books and upon church walls, it was supposed to be a pitiful state and one to be avoided.

And yet, and yet …she could not help but thank Providence for this unasked-for and unavoidable delay. Freed for a time from both the poison of her fruitless bitterness against those who had, she thought, abandoned her,…Papa, Baba Saul, her mother….and the burden of guilt for those she had failed…Marie, Signora Ponta and that lady's son….these odd six weeks of the voyage had been strangely happy ones. She was at sea again, well and strong, in the company of people dedicated to a fight she knew and at least had sympathy for, no longer feeling such a stranger…what had been the old phrase, “as a goat among sheep”?….on the face of the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back she could make herself laugh now at some of the fits and starts of her residency aboard.

Even before they sailed out of Cadiz, Jen had gone down below decks to Mr. Forell, the Quartermaster to ask about matters…in a general way.

“Eleven women” Mr. Kay was to reveal to her after, but even so early in the voyage, and despite being much wrapped in her own affairs, she had marked at least one of the midshipmen, Maddel and the Ships Carpenter, Timker, as likely members of her own sex. A company that did not wickedly deny itself the skills of half the earths people must provision for them, she knew, even if it did so only roughly. Forell had only rolled an eye when he saw her and shouted “Kanata!” At this a tiny wizened person had appeared, rolling a barrel that they…she?…stopped near the counter and used as a step stool. This original appeared to be nearly blind and peered at Jen’s face at a very bold proximity.

Making a whistling sound that might have been either calculation or annoyance in equal measures, this person said only, with an accent of the Eastern coasts, “How old?”

“Twenty,” Jen replied, as they squeezed her wrist and forearm in a calculating fashion, as if measuring the weight of a chicken. “Ah!” Kanata pronounced and, climbing from the barrel, walked back around to the numbered boxes and barrels lashed behind the folding table to fetch something, returning to toss Jen a squared bag made of waxed canvas, filled with necessities “Enough to get you to Port Royal, or come back!”

They then abruptly paused and, looking up at her in squinting appraisal head to toe, inquired. “Erso? An officer? The new one above decks?”

“Yes, elder,” Jen said, bowing. Which caused the little person to chuckle.

“Mucendewabasokwe? The blue sweetberry? Holy leaf? Wife’s Bay? You know this? You are a woman of a wise nation?”

“Bẹẹni,” Jen said, for was not preparation for even the most unlikely of events always wise policy? “Yes, please, Ndiyo.”

“Ah!” Kanata then gave her a smaller bag, this one filled with dry herbs. “Count and measure! To rule yourself is a treasure and must be guarded as such. Hmmmm…” Abruptly climbing up on the table now, the aged person lifted two fingers and used them to prize a wrinkled brow and cheek yet further apart as if to see her more clearly. “I know you, bold girl, or at least I know your kind…they always come….the few, the brave.”

“Ah!” they waved a hand dismissively then and, climbing down, walked away back toward the hold, calling over a narrow shoulder, “Good luck!”

 

 

 


For, indeed there had remained through all those first days aboard, the prickly matter of Captain Andor.

 


That Andor was pretty she had marked from the first moment she had laid eyes upon him at that house in London. Not so boldly or fashionably handsome as to be remarkable of course, oh no, she felt sure, not unless the role called for it. She had seen such men before in the employ of a dozen nations and companies.

Indeed, he might have come from a printers book of images, she had thought then, “A” to stand for either “Agent” or “Assassin” depending upon the letters of type available. That he was there with the chiefs of that Council of the Alliance and named as their representative, trusted with both command and her keeping, told her of his intelligence and dedication to his cause. All she knew of the Alliance was that, while they did not serve those named and marked as villains and, as such, not subject to attack or harassment, the Commander had parted from their confederation long ago over points of strategy and engagement.

As a child she had stood back by the cabin door. ”Dreamers! Netcasters!” Saul had raged to an Alliance agent who had approached them as they took on goods off the Cornish coast. “You fight for hopes? The oppressed cannot eat hope! You sail for some distant horizon!…. but I stand in the water with the blood and the sharks!” but the blue-eyed boy, with a patchy blond beard… Mandine, Jen thought she remembered, something French…. had stood firm about whatever bargain he had come for. The Commander had threatened and howled but in the end had given him guns and a boat, snarling only, ’Tell her I am done! Tell her never send to me again!”

“Cowards!” one of his lieutenants had barked in scorn as the fellow had rowed off toward the cliffs but Gerrere had swiftly struck the man silent with the back of his hand. “They may be insensible fools, gulls, fantasists,” he said in a controlled tone, poised midway between anger and sadness, “but they are none of them cowards.”


Captain Andor was not a fantasist, to appearances. Nor was he to any conventional definition she knew, a coward. He fought well, very well, she had seen that at Lisbon. How old could he truly be, despite those sometimes weary eyes, a handful of years her senior at most? It took rare skill to fence equally well with either hand. Those knives she had taken from his coat the first time he left her alone on the ship at Southhampton were well balanced and well-maintained. She had watched him set up and load a brace pistols to keep at the ready below the rail, as a surety against any unexpected trouble when they approached Cadiz, and noted that he did so quickly and well, like a man who knew the task well enough to execute it blindfolded.


Something began to grow in her perception of him, though she could not tell quite when. Things he might have done with those in his charge and yet had not, drew a mirror-wise kind of respect from her. A man of decency may, if in possession of an actors skill, feign the actions of a bully but for a bully to convincingly present his opposite is a far harder task.

She began to note other incongruencies as well.

His passionate defense of Mr. Kay as his friend, and his reluctance to hear that odd gentleman spoken ill of had confused her. And then...

She had been on her knees in that burning room. How had he found his way there? Climbing down that broken hillside in silence for what seemed hours he had reached back to stop her falling again and again, as if without thought.

Something in the way he had spoken to her at the bottom of that hill, when they reached the shore, had needled through even her shock and distraction.

”Jane..." he had begun, then seemed to stop himself, "Miss Erso....Are you injured?" She had hardly known herself. The strength and instinct of animal survival had brought her off that cliff and down but words and thought had been beyond her. He asked again and yet again, relentless, and she must have finally made some reply or movement.

Stay here," he had said, and she found herself kneeling upon the sand beside Mr. Rook, unable to look at more than the ground before her.

"I am sorry." She had thought she heard him say, although she could not be certain, against the surf and the throbbing in her ears. Then he had turned away, as bruised and bloodied as herself. Had she but imagined it?

What sort of assassin saves strangers whose welfare cannot aid his mission? He had argued with Kay that no one could be left behind. Why? He had offered her her freedom at Gibraltar but made no contest when she attached herself to this venture. What did he want? She found herself unable to measure him by any tape she possessed.


None of which will be clarified, stupid girl, she had told herself after, by allowing yourself to be distracted by recurring preoccupation with such things as with the curve of a jaw and the shape of a hand.

 


She was not the only person he remained a puzzle to. “What can you tell me about this Andor?” Mr. Imway had asked, “I sense an air of the murderer about him, yet his actions belie it. What do you think of his face, Baze?”

His companion looked up to where Captain Andor stood then, near the helm with Captain Rostock. Jen expected some rough jest from Mr. Malbus, but he seemed instead to consider his instruction most seriously, looking long at the Spanish officer with great consideration. “No,” he said, finally “He has the face of a friend.”

Mr. Rook, as well, defended him, in their private conferences. “They are helping us.” that true man had said to her as they sat together on the deck, those first days out from Cadiz. She sat beside him whenever she could in those days and listened, fighting back tears at every tale he told. Rook's relief as they left Cadiz was palpable. He had endured so much to reach this point and his noble heart pressed him to fight on. “Your father begged for help, for someone to believe and to come, and the Captain has committed to doing this. I ask no more. Dear Miss Erso, I had almost given up hope in that prison, but I have found it again.”


Rook's heart was better than hers she knew. Perhaps he saw virtue where her jaded eyes could not.

What sort of man behaved at such cross-purposes?

She had been badly struck by his reckless action of showing her those orders with regard to her father, clearly willing to risk her wrath and contempt….maybe worse.

Why? Why tell me this?

She had  found herself asking Mr. Imway on the mast.

“Do not be unjust in your anger," that gentleman said, "You speak of Captain Andor as a soldier of war, and so he is, but I find myself also reminded of a peasant boy who stands on a cliff above a river. He tries his own strength there, as much as the edge. Does he dare himself to jump, hoping that the water might take him to a freer place he longs for? But oh,….what if his nerve fails him in the jump, or he has misjudged the depth of the water, what then? Fear can look like anger at such times."

The monk had chuckled to himself but Jen, in no mood then to credit Captain Andor with any sympathy, spitefully replied, “A chance for freedom seen but not taken is worse than a broken neck.”

“True, true,” Mr. Imway had said, gazing out with her at the perfect horizon he could not see. He smiled then, rather after the manner of a conspirator, “Of course you are right, bold diver, but even you must credit the task a little harder if the boy is also blind.”

Mere days afterward, Captain Andor had revealed himself to be much braver than she had unjustly taken him for. Having made clear that he believed her, he proceeded to back that belief by actions. Risk, indeed. “A chain of hopes,” he had said to her in Lisbon.

 

As sometimes happened, when the quiet hours came she found a pattern in what had seemed only fragments to her before, and sensing a course she had walked through a darkened room to a cabin door to pursue it.


Very well then, sir, let us stop walking to the edge of this other cliff as well.


It was not merely the pleasure she found with him that so astonished her, although that had proved as fierce as any she had known since she came to understand such things, it was as if her heart had been returned to her, newly refitted, and she felt bound to test the gleaming thing to it’s limits before the world could take it from her and break it again.

 

He seemed equally surprised by what was passing between them, as if he were so unused to even simple happiness he could not credit it. “Are you sure?” he had asked her, each night for the first seven she came to him, as if somehow afraid he yet misunderstood her. “The answer is the same,” she whispered back, laughing against his neck, “No matter how many languages you ask it in.”

She saw that surety mattered greatly to him, and could not help but wonder at it. For most of her life she had been content to measure certainty in teaspoons, but that she wished to lie in his arms seemed to her the surest answer she had ever found.

 

 

 

 


The eighth day after her jump into the river she came down to change clothes after her watch to find Mr. Kay dragging a number of trunks through the Great Cabin over to her door.

“Miss Erso,” that gentleman said, “Will you at least show sense and agree to a change of cabins with me? Captain Rostock has agreed we may settle the matter amongst ourselves.”

Oh.

“I am sorry, Mr. Kay,” she found herself stammering, “I hope that…..”

Aboard the Onderean, before darkness settled over the crew as firmly as over her captain, this would have been a matter of the Mate shouting, “Damn you randy ferrets! You will shut the hell up and let the rest of the crew sleep or you can share a hammock in the lower hold and keep the rats awake!”

“There is no need for apology,” Miss Erso,” Mr. Kay said seeming, if such a thing could be gauged from that gentleman's blank countenance, pleased to understand her meaning. “You and the Captain do not disturb me of yourselves. I have taken to placing balls of cotton soaked in paraffin wax in my ears at night and find that protects me from a number of minor nighttime annoyances and ensures my rest. I suggest this change merely as a matter of convenience for all concerned.”

Moving her few effects proved a short matter. Later she heard Mr. Melshi, as he returned to his own quarters, call out, “Kay? What the devil are you doing in here?”

“Miss Erso and I have exchanged cabins.”

“Have you?” the officer said, pitching his voice most clearly, “Oh, thank God, I was about to ask you to lend me some paraffin from your store.”

She resolved to beat Mr. Melshi most soundly at cards that night after dinner.

 

The days of the voyage passed and they worked and acted as fellow officers and crew by day and spent part of the hours of each night sharing his narrow bunk, with few words passed between them there save in whispers.

The rest was must lie ahead around the bend.

 Ah God, where was this river taking her?

 

 

 


Now they neared Jamaica.

“Have you ever been inside the Hall of Audience of the Palacio de los Virreyes de Nueva España?” He asked this almost conversationally, as they leaned, conscious of the proper and careful distance between them, looking out across the rail of the port bow. The Rogue’s Venture had shifted course to the North and Northeast and bore them now toward land again. Only days remained before they should make sight of Kingston Harbor. Land was not in sight yet, but it soon would be and thus would be its direction.


“I have spent but little time in palaces of any nature,” she said, “Veracruz and Havana I have seen but Ciudad de México is too far inland for any business I might have accompanied in New Spain.” She stole for herself a glance at his profile beside her, “Or is your question more in the nature of a riddle, or the opening of a tale?”


He half-smiled in his turn but his gaze remained on the horizon. “The latter, I suppose, but neither in truth. You know what “Las castas” are, do you not?" She thought she did. "A most popular subject for paintings. Prints and copies are made of them sometimes and hung in all government offices, and they are gaining popularity on the Continent as well, I am told, as illustrations of almost scientific interest." He continued, dispassionately, "A very fine set graces that hall within the Palacio and I myself have seen them there. Sixteen portraits hang, each portraying two parents and a child, representing each possible mixing of the various peoples of New Spain. The English fancy themselves great catagorizers and the Germans even more so, but Spain outdoes them all. Organizing all the vast nations and persons under her sway into sixteen orderly boxes of birth, shade, and relationship. All is determined by one’s placement on this grid, this mathematics of purity that determines what one may wear or buy, where one may walk, love, live and be buried. Thus they tax and conscript, pay and punish. One child, whose mother lies, or worse yet will not speak, whose shade does not quite find its match within the chart….such a child undoes all the work of Empire. The system despises such anomalies, I can assure you. Numerous fanciful names are invented in order to attempt their description. Most, as you may imagine, are of a derogatory nature but my favorite is “tente en el aire” to ‘hold in mid-air.’ What do you think, in such an orderly system becomes of such a child?”

She knew much of what those in control did to maintain their power, but she also knew that any answer she could make now would sound glib. He was not asking her a question, rather he was giving her a gift, one bought at cost to himself. She sensed that the only pay that she could offer was her attention, so keeping her eyes upon his face, she said, as quietly as sea and wind would permit, “Tell me.”

“He vanishes,” Captain Andor said, and turned to look at her. “He becomes a spy and lives his life to tear their charts asunder.”

He smiled at her then and she knew that whatever came after, she could not love a man more than she did him in that moment

The ships bell rang and he bent to kiss her hand, the first time he had made such a gesture above decks, although he did so often below.

The wind had freshened now and she could feel it on her face and hear it in the sails.

“Miss Erso,” Captain Cassian Andor  said, “I believe it is time for us to meet the other officers and principals and make our plan for how we will best manage affairs at Kingston Town, and Port Royal.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Port Royal, Jamaica

December 19, 1769

 

 

 

"He aha ta koe e hiahia ai kia mahi ahau ki te tinana?" his friend inquired.

The word for "wish" being very similar to the word for "command," dependent upon how one pronounced it, and given that his friend had fully half of a roasted fowl in his mouth as he spoke, Captain Han Solo felt he was more than justified in being momentarily confused as to his meaning.

"Body! What body? King George's Balls! Did you kill someone before I even got here you savage bastard?"

His friend chewed, swallowed and wiped his mouth with a hand so patterned with lines and shapes of black ink that his natural tanned skin could barely be seen upon it.

“Tou.”

Such a wit.

The disreputable Hanover Tavern was one of only three of size still standing in the Old Town and, as such was teeming with drunken thieves and thieving drunkards. Every bench and table was filled, excepting the immediate space around his massive friend, whose ordinarily alarming appearance was now augmented by his present use of the point of his own dagger to remove some errant fragment from his teeth. Solo sat upon the rough bench and laid his elbows upon the littered table.

“Ka taea e au te kite i tetahi pouaka me te puehu Karaitiana?” His friend passed a mug of ale over to him while speaking, which the Captain gratefully seized. While his First Mate shunned strong liquors himself it was a frequent habit for him to purchase them in such establishments and hold the libations in reserve for Solo’s arrival, since the Captain so often had need to avoid direct conversation with landlords.

“Ka taea e ahau te maka ki roto ki te moana?” the man asked.

Solo drank the wretched stuff back and replaced the half-empty tankard on the table before answering.

“I thought I made my funeral instructions clear. I am to be carried to the docks by twelve beautiful women, who shall lift my mortal remains with their shapely arms and lie me…wrapped in cloth-of-gold may I bloody well add, sir…on the deck of the Falcon. There, amidst wailing and tears, I shall be pushed out to sea and the ship set aflame like a fucking king of old.”

“Ae. Pai. Ka maka koe ki te moana ka tango i te waa.”

 

Solo finished the rest of the ale. His friend was watching the doors, although his decorated face made his gaze as difficult to follow as that of a mask for most people. Solo was used to him. They were probably safe enough in a crowd like this, and he had caught sight of no one in need of active avoidance on his way in but “safety” was a state subject to change at any moment for Captain Solo in the main ports of the Caribbean. He kept his collar up and his hat down.

“We have a few hours to dispose of, before this meeting but it is best we leave separately when we go. You head out first and check the docks. We will need to ferry across to the new Harbor, so find a boat. I will meet you there shortly. These fellows are reliable to pay in hard coin but they’ll want to see it all first and no doubt press my brain for the juice of any extra knowledge they think me to have soaked up.”

“E mohio ana koe ki a ratau?”

“Know them?” Captain Solo shrugged, as if to indicate the question had no bearing, “the odds lie against it, these fellows change flags as often as a Paris wench changes sleeve ruffles, and they seldom live to pension out. They are…” he glanced over a shoulder to ascertain that no eyes could see the table, then linked his thumbs, spreading the rest of his fingers out as if to fashion the shadow of a bird with wings open.

His friend grunted.

“I fully anticipate your rebuke, thank you sir, and I assure you I was in utter earnest when I swore I would carry for them no more, but you know as well as I…” he glanced sideways again, “They pay better than any…” he let his voice trail off, then finished, as if in response to his large grotesquely patterned companion’s raised eyebrow, “at least any I can ever stomach working for again.”

His friend nodded with eyes closed. His usual signal of grudging content.

“Tenei indigo. He mea kino tenei,” he said in the quietest voice he possessed.

“Aye,” Solo agreed “Aye, that it is….I think…” he rubbed a hand over his eyes as if overcome with an older man’s weariness, for all his twenty five years, “Aye, that it is.”

His friend rose and laid a cartooned hand briefly upon his shoulder, then went out to secure a smaller boat to fetch them over to Kingston Port before the appointed hour. The Falcon herself must remain in one of the dodgy illegal wharves off the old graveyard on the Atlantic face of the Palisadoes spit. He did not like to be so far separated from her but to bring her into the orderly, well-lit and well-watched wharves of Kingston Town proper was to court disaster at the moment

“Khaeuri!” he called over his shoulder, “Get me another drink before you go!”

His friend but growled one of his habitual curses, which generally involved comparing Solo’s appearance and habits to those of a dog, and passed on without honoring his request.

He managed to persuade a weather beaten but spritely lass nearby to go fetch him a jill of rum, “Only a jill, sir?”she asked, pausing meaningfully.

Ah Jesus wept, the girl could not be a day over sixteen. There was far harder work than smuggling and worse fates than the noose wasn’t there?

He held up the two thin coins that were, in truth, the last in his pocket, and kissed her non-too-clean hand without hesitation.

“Sweetheart,” he said, for what need was there here to add another lie to the wicked world’s store? “I am but a poor brother-rascal with naught but these poor pennies in his purse and a moment’s rest to fortify himself before setting out to earn bread again this cold morn.”

He held the two coins together, so that they might look as one to any eyes that watched. “Bring me a half jill with one and keep the other hid for yourself as a wishful token for better days.”

The girl palmed the coins and a few minutes later returned with the measure, departing his company wordlessly to seek more profitable tables.

He looked at the spirits. It was short of the measure,…bless the little thief…but seemed to be unwatered. He tipped his hat to her across the room, downed his rum and departed.

 

 

Port Royal depressed his spirits. Nigh on eighty years ago it had been the wickedest city on God’s blessed earth, they said, until earthquake and wave had washed the better part of it into the sea. In his boyhood, he’d heard it said, on calm clear days the masts of a hundred ships lost and the roofs of merchant and pirate kings mansions were still visible under the water. If they had been once, they were no longer. He knew, for he had looked.

Since then it’s ruins had been rebuilt and burned at least twice. The ghosts of dead buccaneers, some said. Others credited the desire of the His Majesties Governors to prevent the old hard-to-control position at the Harbor’s mouth from rising again. Both, Captain Solo reckoned. The main port now lay inside the great reaching arm of the Palisadoes bar, so that to enter it you must pass the chastening facade of the Fortresses and batteries and cross to the fair and orderly, wide and straight wharves and streets of Kingston. Where there was just as much wickedness, he ventured but all was much better lit and a far greater portion now wearing gold braid.

God how he hated it.

The West Indies were done for the likes of them. The end of the war had brought order. Britain and Spain and France were now holding hands, like brothers who despise each other but have finally decided who shall have which joint at dinner. They still eyed each other’s necks, of course, but there was endless supply of sugar, silver, and human souls to be sold as chattel and they were at the moment content to share and share alike.

The Commander….Saul Gerrere, the last Lion of the Seas….was dead, the man at Southhampton had said so. Surely such a mustache would not lie?

 

Solo had only ever half-credited the legends but….still….one wanted to believe that somewhere giants still walked the Earth.

 

He could not save the world. It was all a clever wayward second son could do to save himself and his friend.

They were skirting the edge of a very nasty business here, his guts told him so and his guts were seldom wrong….frequently unlistened to but seldom wrong…. but these angels of the Alliance paid well. With careful management, maybe even enough to get them to the East.

He had always wanted to see Madagascar….. although his friend claimed to have been bitten by some weird sort of monkey there and it had given him an unnatural prejudice against the whole continent. For a very fearsome fellow he had odd anxieties about trivial things….. and there seemed to be opportunities on the Pacific, or the New Spanish coasts thereof. He had an odd sympathy for the North American Provinces too, nothing good could be said about the weather, of course, or the beer, but the people of Newfoundland and the New England ports were a practical and likable lot.

Europe he found he had lost his courage for.

The clouds had cleared. As he made his way down to the water’s edge and the straggling docks, he could see across the Harbor’s mouth to the Fort and behind that to the mountains.

He wondered if Alando was still alive and up there. Word was that the free people of the mountains had made their own nation and government. Maroons they were called….bless them…and were strong and secure enough to have maneuvered a bargain with the British for terms and alliances.

What terms? he wondered. The bastards usually only sold you liberty on short lease and the price, all too often, was somebody else’s.

Khaeuri still blamed Lando for the manner of the breaking of their partnership but Han Solo could not. Who was he to judge such choices?

Well, great good luck to you, old fellow, he thought, looking up at the mountains. I suppose we shall never meet again for it is my vowed intention, if I survive this project, to never darken Jamaica’s shores more.


He proceeded down to meet his friend as arranged and they took a small borrowed boat out to catch the tide and beneficial winds to take them over Kingston Harbor to the Port for a rendezvous arranged many weeks past back in England.

Chapter Text

Kingston Harbor

Jamaica

December 20, 1769

 

 

“I beg of you Andor, to tell me we will not be long here,” Lt. Melshi said as they sailed around the point, past the battery and the first of the many fortified emplacements on the shoreline to port. Leaving the tattered remains of once proud and wicked Port Royal to their starboard they crossed the Old Harbor at good speed toward Kingston.

“I hardly care what awaits us after. This island is a prison.”

He could not find it in his heart to disagree. These brooding fortifications had been built at the great harbor’s mouth a hundred years ago by the Spanish to repel the British. After the Surrender they were rebuilt and strengthened by the British in order to repel the Spanish and the pirates. Now it seemed they raised their walls and placements just as firmly to keep a captive population in. The fair, straight and orderly wharves and wide, lined streets of Kingston were laid so as to discourage fires, it was said, but they were designed just as much to enable the swift movement of troops from the garrisons in street-to-street fighting, and to promise a swift evacuation of the ruling elite should those thousands held in bondage here rise again to fight back.

“We must meet with this fellow, Solo, first,” Captain Andor said. “Doing so here gives us a chance to resupply and set a properly convincing cover if, as seems more than half likely, we must then needs circle round to Nassau under a British flag and try to move without raising suspicion for St. Augustine.”

“Damn the British. Had they bargained differently seven years ago we might be setting our trail from Havana and going forward under Spanish flag.”

Andor shrugged...in his experience Spanish bondage was no less brutal than English, it was only less salted with Protestantism,...“And so we might in three years time, if we were yet spared and our enemies a little slower on their cruel play. Do you think these devils care? My guess is that Tarkin’s Spanish is as good as his English.”

“You are sure it is the old Grand, himself?”

“The Council thinks so,” the Captain said, “Hence our orders and hence our haste in executing them. They consider that the grand master himself would take the risk of a crossing only if he knew the project likely to have already born fruit, so that he might claim credit for the harvest.” He watched the shoreline and counted the number of ships at this end of the well-laid wharves. Twelve merchant ships and two frigates, two dozen smaller packets. Enough to render them unremarkable, but not enough to hinder them in turning and departure in a helpful tide.

"I tell you Melshi, I saw firepower used at Setúbal the like of which….”  he found that the memory of that shattered hillside deprived him of the words he needed, and left him able only shake his head.

“It has born fruit, Rue," he said. "We cannot fail here.”

 

He did not share with Lieutenant Melshi Mr. Draven’s suspicions regarding the current whereabouts of Ritter Vader. The dearth of sightings for that gentleman’s scarred countenance in Europe, under any of his usual aliases, for almost two years stirred many fears. None dared to hope him dead. He had last been seen in Portugal near the Spanish boarder, hunting Kenobi some said. Save for a handful of rumored sightings of his ships at Havanna a decade ago, Vader had never played a direct role in the Americas. Perhaps that was about to change? Draven and Merrick were both assured that the New World was to be the next flash point. The dread commander had allied with Tarkin’s faction before.

There was no point in raising that dark specter until needed.

 

"Hopefully useful information awaits us in this prison that we can fashion into a plan," he said, drawing his eyes from the approaching shore and turning back toward the Quarter deck. “We need to set ourselves for action. The sooner done the sooner gone.”

Lieutenant Melshi laid a hand upon his arm then, as if  to hold him as he turned.

"Andor, I hope you know I do not question your command on this venture," the gentleman seemed most ill at ease. "What I ask now, I ask only as one who has known you long and counts you among a small circle of surviving friends. Are you quite assured still that having Miss Erso accompany you ashore for this project is the best course of action?”

Ah. Here it comes. Very well then. Let us have it out.

“I thought I made my reasoning quite clear when we met yesterday, Lieutenant, but I will lay it out again if you require reassurance, ” Cassian Andor put greatest effort toward making no outward show of either annoyance, defensiveness or doubt.

This must be carefully handled.

 

Ruescott Melshi was the best of men, he knew. Bold, intelligent and loyal to the ideals of the Alliance, as all of them were, no matter the sacrifice demanded. They had crewed together since he had stowed away on Reikken’s ship and that gentleman had seen in him some merit for their cause. It had been Senora Tano who had  first paired him up with an Alsatian beggar boy whose name he had pronounced wrong for months as they both learned English together. If Lieutenant Melshi was expressing doubts it was likely that others shared them but did not speak. This was a state of affairs Cassian Andor could not allow to continue. Many among the crew knew Melshi well and trusted his leadership. If the officer's mind could be put at rest upon this matter it would go far towards settling the discomfort of others.

 

"We are set to present ourselves as a commercial merchant vessel here and have precious little time to waste setting up subterfuge," Captain Andor outlined patiently. "The vile economics of this port is such that nearly every vessel that trades at Jamaica and moves Northward trades in lives as well as goods, but the visible presence of female passengers aboard, most especially that of an officer’s wife, will go a very long way to deflecting suspicion and comment as to that lack. It is also essential that the hand of the Alliance cannot be seen here, and Miss Erso is a new face to any who might be watching. I know better than to suspect you think it likely that the lady will quail at the danger, or require unusual protection, and I can only remind you that it was you yourself who saw her action at combat and compared her favorably with the Devil himself.”

He regarded his boyhood fellow soldier as evenly as he could. “We should settle this now and here, Rue, for once we commence ashore I can and will brook no hesitation regarding my orders. Tell me plainly if your doubts lie with Miss Erso’s suitability for the task assigned her here or with some aspect of my judgement regarding her?”

Lieutenant Melshi pitched his voice low, turning so that their conversation might be rendered as private against the shoreward wind as any aboard ship could be.

“Forgive me then,” he said, “I unreservedly agree Miss Erso is as capable as any operative I have seen, and think her as committed as any recruited to our cause in my time. We have all dedicated ourselves to a course that we requires we find friendship when and how we honorably may. Only those of us who....well, to be quite fair only Kay and myself I think......retain a personal concern, for we have known you long enough to know that such a connection is not a….usual thing for you.”

My old friend, We have none of us kept our hands clean in this fight but I was sent along a path of shadows long ago while you travelled another way, he found it on his tongue to retort. In many ways you know me far less well than you think.

 

But Cassian Andor stopped himself, took a breath and held his temper firmly, taking the flash of his own anger apart to see the makings of it. These thoughts were unjust. Melshi was not wrong.

This was not a usual thing for him. In truth, this connection with Miss Erso was such unknown country to him that might as well have been Atlantis or the moon, but it could not change the task that lay before them.

 

“Andor,” his friend asked, meaning well and seizing on what he took to be a hesitant silence. “I venture to say you are in love with the woman. No one with a heart not made of stone would question any desire on your part to protect her.”

“Lieutenant Melshi…” the Captain began but amended himself, “Rue, my friend, affection and whatever stuff my heart was or is made of does not matter to what lies ahead of us. We are committed to stop these people and stop them we shall.”

Jesús, you are worse than Kay, he thought and did not suppress a small smile. Besides, in these many weeks I think you have come to know the lady well enough to venture some guess as to how she might react if she thought anyone was trying to protect her.”

He clapped a hand upon the officer's shoulder. “The matter is closed now Lieutenant ," he said, “Come help me prepare. I need to shave and practice my Portuguese accent in English.”


Miss Erso emerged from her cabin shortly after he was dressed and otherwise prepared. Their light luggage was already bound and ready to be carried ashore. She had dressed herself as arranged, with some help, to his surprise, from Mr. Kay. Having taken clothing from the trunks, in the form of an English gown with a skirt of cotton printed with a design of sprigged blue flowers and green leaves and a closed, pinned brown silk bodice, she had set herself up with a fashionable appearance and somehow managed to press a better sheer cotton apron and kerchief and a small and neat pleated linen cap from Lady Mary’s supply. A blue velvet ribbon was tied to decorate her neck and a pair of pearl earrings.....had her ears always been pierced? How had he not noticed this?.....had been procured from some locked box.  He did not doubt but that her small wooden charm and it's Eastern stone also lay concealed beneath her chemise. Her hat was tied with a red silk ribbon and he felt certain that the pin that held it was sharpened steel, as well that she had a dagger concealed in her stays and at least one other small blade sheathed either in her garter or a sleeve.

 

No one could ask for a sweeter picture of a former pirate transformed to a Madiera wine merchant’s English wife.

 

“Dear God,” she said, “What have you done to your face sir?”

 

 

 


He had questioned it all himself the night before.... far more than Melshi or Kay could ever have done..... as she lay against him in his bunk during that small and precious hour or two in the dark between their embraces and the sound of the bell that marked the change of the Watch, at which sound she always slipped back to her own cabin. He found that he could say things to her there… and she to him, it seemed…that he would have censored from his speech before others, or in daylight. “Above decks” was the phrase she used to describe the world beyond this cabin.

 

“This will be very difficult,” he said, quietly against the back of her neck.

“Playing a good English wife or not knifing every waistcoated murderer I see?” she whispered. She might have smiled, he could not tell, but he found that he was not in jest.

“Both,” he said.

She drew his arms more tightly around her then, if possible, and pressed the curve of her back against him.

“I know,” she told the darkened air around them.

 

 

 


The Rogue was now rechristened the Lady’s Gambit. Not long after she docked, Mr. Charles Avelar and his wife disembarked.

 

After a short walk to accustom themselves to the sights of Kingston, and to arrange the purchase of some necessities, they and their servant hired a chaise to take them a short distance from the port, up the road to Spanish Town, were Mr. Avelar had business. The hour being late and Mrs. Avelar still weary from the voyage, they stopped as arranged at the Ferry Inn for a meal and an evenings rest well away from the bustle of the Port.

 

 

It was there that they met with Captain Han Solo.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Kingston Harbor, Jamaica

and environs

December, 1769

 

 

 

 

It would not have entered her mind to reproach Captain Andor with regards to the matter. He had warned her from the very first suggestion that it would be most difficult, for her and for all of them. 

 


The Ships Master Gunner, Mr. Cor, had volunteered to come along to act the role of an enslaved servant, and was supplied from the seemingly endless store of trunks with a fustian jacket and waistcoat, cut well in English fashion as befitted a successful merchant’s man and all accompaniments thereof. He and Captain Andor clearly had much previous acquaintance, for the confidence involved in such a project was great.

“¿Captain Andor, son los botones correctos?” he asked at the Great Cabin door, but the Captain had answered him in English “We must play it seamlessly from the dock onwards, Baldwin. Check with Kay.”

One of the other sailors, revealed as a member of the sisterhood of eleven, was a slim midshipman named Hera Syndalla. She had acted the role of agent in the West Indies in her girlhood and now elected herself to serve as Jen's “maid.” Syndalla joined them in a pale blue gown suitable for a well-off ladies personal servant, although Mr. Kay had to search to find a sleeve of just the right cut to conceal the bird-winged tattoo on her upper arm.

“Sometimes I inquire of myself where an Englishman-born, who stands near seven feet tall in slippers, learned to straight lace French stays,” she said holding her ribs and groaning, “And then I recollect that I have no real desire to know the answer.”

There was a certain light-heartedness to all their sartorial preparations that masked the real risks they all took. Cor and Syndalla were vital to the shore party by virtue of their African descent and their experience as agents, but the risk they took was the greatest, not least because they dared not carry any weapons themselves in case searched. Jen noted Midshipman Syndalla making sure that the leather cord that bound her pocket was strong and sharp enough to cut if required to and nodded as she showed her the concealment of an additional knife in the false side of one of the trunks, where it might be reached quickly at need. For all the trappings of pantomime Jen was painfully aware that this was not even remotely in the nature of a game. 

 

"My birthplace is more accurately placed as Scotland,” Mr. Kay, who among his other myriad duties was apparently the ship’s costumer, tartly corrected Syndalla and that lady laughingly apologized for her unwitting insult.

 

 

 

 

Jen felt herself to be the weak link in a chain, by virtue of being the least experienced Alliance operative on this part of the venture. In the years after her departure from Gerrere’s company Jen had lived a dozen lies, taken on many names and guises, but her aim had always been her own survival and whatever theft might be necessary to accomplish the same. Never had she undertaken a masquerade where the lives of others depended upon the quality of her performance.

 

 

 

“You have often seen such women,” Cassian had said to her, a few days before, when the plan was broached.

And despised them, Jen thought.

“Aye, and robbed them,” she said.

“A demure new bride on her first voyage at her husband’s side will be expected to say very little. English women are still rare birds here so most will be content to stare or fawn. Be shy, be polite. If they ask you of anything it will be with regard to fashions or gossip from England. Where shall you be from?”

She had considered upon the question. “Cornwall,” she said.

A captain’s daughter from Penzance might marry a Madeira merchant met on familial travels but no one here would expect even a well-off Cornishwoman to be remotely current or fashionable.

Besides, she thought, it might help her better recall the cliffs above the tossing sea and the little house at the end of the meadow.

She had forced herself, through all these weeks of confusion and preparation…..and this unexpected respite she could not dare call happiness, even to herself…..not to think of Papa.

“Stay by me,” he told her. “Don’t kill anyone unless I tell you to and keep your eyes open. You are likely to note things the rest of us miss.”

 

 

 

 

“The contact is Captain Han Solo?” Cor had said, as measurements had been taken for shirtsleeves “His ship is the Faucon San Rival?”

“You have personal acquaintance with the man?” Captain Andor asked.

“I? None sir,” Cor replied as he tried on another waistcoat. “I know him only by reputation. He sails a single masted sloop of extraordinary speed, it is said, with a crew of never more than six, and that six changed often. All save for his First Mate…who is said to be a fearsome fellow.”

“Is this the first mate who might or might not be an East Indian cannibal?” Syndalla said, tying on petticoats.

It occurred to Jen that such a First Mate might prove a good incentive for frequent changes of crew. It also seemed to her that Solo was a name she dimly recalled, though she could not be sure it was the same man. Smugglers all looked alike but surely she would have remembered a cannibal?

 

“We will deal with Solo,” Captain Andor had said….and Jen found that that “we” affected her more than she would have credited….. “The fewer of us he sees the less of our company he can betray if pressed.”

Ah, you do not like this fellow, Jen thought, or at least you do not like the mold that he is fashioned from.

 

 


When she joined her “husband” on the deck, the crew was finishing work tying up. She had caught a glimpse of Mr. Malbus at first working hard at the ropes and then, as he tied off, approaching Mr. Imway, who sat with his back against the fo’castle wall. As Malbus moved back from the rail he glanced in her direction with a rough chuckle and could be seen to whisper in his friends ear. Mr. Imway laughed delightedly and held a hand up toward her as if in greeting.

Damn the bastard monk, he is telling him how I am dressed.

It was a strange sensation to blush at the thought of a blind man’s opinion of one’s clothes.

 

 

 


“It is hard to take you for yourself, sir,” she said, standing close to "Mr. Avelar", as befitted a new bride in unfamiliar surroundings.

He wore a cut away silk frock coat with covered buttons, breeches of a matching pattern in blue on grey ground, and a buff waistcoat of fashionable length for a young ambitious man of businesslike demeanor and more than modest means, along with snowy white shirt with good cravat and sleeves.

No wig, thank God, only his own dark hair tied back, and a good hat with braid and feather. That he had shaved nearly unsettled her altogether.

She felt, quite unreasonably she knew, that he might have given her some warning of the change, for he looked now barely older than herself, save for a weariness in his eyes, as he looked out on the ordered fronts and boarded wharves of Kingston. It occurred to her that she had no idea of his true age, and so she steeled herself to ask when….if….she might find herself again in that safe current they sometimes managed to sail.

“Mrs. Alevar,” he said, giving her his arm, “it is time to go.” His voice and accent was not his quite his own. Christ! but he was good at this.

 

 

 

“It will not be for long,” he had told her, below decks, the night before, “Two days, three at worst, but there will be many eyes on us for many reasons and we cannot be marked for what we are.”

It almost came to her to be annoyed at this, to protest her capability, but something in his grave tone arrested that impulse. Her thoughts brought to her the memory of her Olori speaking in just such a voice the first time he taught her to walk the ropes on a boarding party under fire.

“It is not about who is bravest or strongest, when one runs the ropes. It is about not falling. Not falling is a trade, àşádì, like any other. It has its tricks.”

They had been sitting upon Captain Andor’s bunk with just light enough through the small casement to see him by. She had slipped her shift back over her bare shoulders in preparation to depart, but he had halted her this one time, reaching to hold her two hands with his own as he spoke.

She calmed herself at the sight of his serious expression. It was his trade to teach then, and hers to learn. “Where should I watch my steps?” she said, “What are the best places to grasp the ropes?”

He understood her meaning and told her several things she might best do.

Amongst his lessons was one that ran thus, “If you are suddenly lost or at risk in your feelings….it may seem almost like drowning…..fashion for yourself some simple thing that can be done out of sight and silently and set that in your mind as an anchor, a reminder of who you are and where you are.”

He showed her a trick he had of pressing his thumb against his forefinger.

“Is it so simple as that?” she asked, wondering.

“Sometimes it can be,” he said.

 

 

Now as she looked out on the bustle of the mornings activity on the docks and streets before them, brave Midshipman Syndalla standing behind with her arms hidden and eyes downcast, Jen felt a cold shiver that she never had on any mast in any weather.

Mr. Avelar took his wife’s dainty arm in his own, as she took his hand she pressed her thumb gently to his fingers.

“My dear husband,” she said looking at that handsome young gentleman’s face, in an accent she hoped recalled her lost mother’s, “Let us see what lies before us in Kingstontown.”

He assisted her in putting her foot upon the gangway and they went down together into the city with their servants.

 

 

 

 


A number of the wealthiest dealers in town were most glad to meet with Mr. Avelar with regards to contracts for good wines and spirits. His company for such supplies at Porto and Madiera was well known. The quality of the additional goods he had brought for his British backers, chiefly in the form of woolen cloth and tea, was also most excellent. He was willing to fix price for wares of similar quality next year and was obligingly amenable to taking good quality sugar in payment now and setting some contracts on credit to be redeemed upon his return journey. His backers were most interested in dye-stuff and as he had already taken on Brazilwood and cochineal, he made many inquiries in the town about the price and quality of any indigo available.

 

Several of the representatives for the merchant houses and plantation companies chuckled to themselves and ventured to each other that sending a young man out to bargain new contracts when newly wed, might not have displayed the sharpest of business sense, though in general they were impressed with Mr. Avelar and most charmed by his petite and pretty wife. The delightful couple were asked to stay by several well-off clients and a man with most of his mind on trade would surely have been expected to take advantage of such opportunity for connection.

Mrs. Simon Taylor, however, related to her husband that Mrs. Avelar had shyly related as how that they had been married only eight weeks ago at her uncle’s home at Madiera and had commenced upon the voyage immediately after. It was easy then for all to understand why Mr. Avelar might be overeager to conclude his day’s business and seek the comfort of his lodgings earlier than shrewd dealing might warrant.

Sometime after a good dinner at Mr. Simon Taylor’s fine town house, during which they were urged to return and stay through the New Year if their business permitted, their man brought round a hired chaise and they departed for their lodgings convenient to the Spanish Town Road and their next day’s travel.


Mrs. Simon Taylor watched from her window as young Mr. Avelar helped his bride into the chaise and seated himself beside her as their girl, no doubt a wedding gift from the Madeira uncle, climbed up to take her place beside the driver. As they drove away that estimable lady could not help but sigh.

She was by no means a sentimental woman, and considered that Mr. Taylor’s annual income of 47,000 pounds, 2000 slaves, three houses, two ships, outright ownership of four plantations with controlling interest in a dozen more, and greater political influence than any gentleman on the island, up to and including the Royal Governor himself, more than made up for a great many personal shortcomings and disappointments over the years. Notwithstanding, she found herself wishing for just a moment that he at least once had looked at her the way Mr. Charles Avelar looked at his pale young wife as he carefully lifted her into that conveyance.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 


The Ferry Inn
St. Catherine’s Parish
Road from Kingston to Spanish Town

December 22, 1769

 


The Inn was just outside the lines of of Kingston Proper on the main road to Spanish Town, whence the Colonial Government offices had moved after the great earthquake had dumped fully half of Port Royal into the sea as punishment for her many sins. Now all the cleanly brutal merchant trade of the island took place at Kingston and the messier and slightly less profitable tumult of governance took place a few miles up the Fresh River. There being no bridge across the usually shallow crossing a ferry did brisk trade transporting all who came by horse or carriage to do business over the line in St. Catherine Parish.

The Ferry Inn was an ancient and honorable establishment, with a taproom and victualing house popular with common travelers and screened parlors and airy rooms in the spacious whitewashed stone Inn for the better class of gentry.

 

 


Captain Solo had brushed his coat and donned a hat kept in a bag in his trunk on the Falcon just for such occasions.

Khaeuri had assured him he looked well enough, but Captain Solo wished now that he had asked Sabe for her opinion, she being the only woman remaining with the crew he sailed now. She was a plain sailor at sea but a dandy ashore and although she had, in her own words “as much an interest in the fashion of men as a fish in the fashion of shoes” she would at least have given him an honest opinion of the state of his coat.

Damn these angels of the Alliance, why they couldn’t they conduct business in a proper low pub like ordinary mortals?

 

His First Mate had chided him roundly for his grumbling, and he knew well enough how the reasoning of these fellows must run. This “business”of the Florida indigo plantation….he did not know for certain the flavor and full outline of their venture against it and he did not wish to, what he had seen a hundred miles south of Saint Augustine where the Mantazas and Indian River wandered into the sea was more than enough for him…..must be silently managed and there was not gold enough in the Vatican to bribe the rum-soaked tongues of Port Royal.

His orders were to go to the taproom of the Ferry Inn for three nights running in late December and wait for someone to contact him.

Spies, saboteurs and magicians, these Alliance usually hid in plain sight. When you took the Starbird’s coin, for all you knew, you might find yourself reporting to a fat English ship's captain, a Greek maid, a native boy of twelve, or a fully saddled Arabian horse.


He maneuvered his way into the busy tap room just after noon to find that a package had been left with the landlord, Parker, for a “Captain Corelli” ….ah, Italian, the ladies always liked that……with enough coin within to pay for a bed and a meal for a night or two, perhaps even more than with care.

He ordered a spiced meat pie, ale and tobacco and spent a pleasant afternoon reading the three month old London newspapers and smoking. Evening was near on when a dark-skinned fellow dressed as a footman, or something very like it, came down to ask the landlord for a bottle of wine to be sent to his master in one of the upstairs rooms. Nothing of note in any of that, half a dozen or so such transactions had already passed while Solo had killed time there, but as he came near Solo's chair this man paused and reached down for something on the sand and sawdust strewn floor.

“Sir,” he said, politely, “I believe that you have lost a button from your coat.” He laid it on the table, bowed, and went his way.

Solo looked at the button, it was plain pewter, scuffed and bent, cheaply pressed with the figure of an eagle with wings spread.

A fellow in Cadiz had tried to recruit him for the Alliance many years ago. He admired the boldness of these people, he truly did, but he found he also prized his own precious life far too dear to sell it for a shadowy dream…besides, these sort of games would have driven him mad in a week’s time.

With a sigh, he pocketed the coin, set his jaw and went the way he’d seen the fellow go.

 

Up the narrow stairs, before the entrance to the public areas for gathering and refreshment, were rooms that could be closed off or divided as private bedchambers and parlors for guests of the better sort to rest and be served in. He saw the velvet footman go inside one of these so he tapped lightly on the door.

It was opened and he immediately found the man he had followed just inside, now holding a pistol pointed directly at him. This “servant” grabbed Solo by the collar and brusquely pulled him into the room, shoving his hands to the wall. The Captain’s carefully brushed coat and person was patted down most thoroughly. Only once he had been relieved of envelope, dagger and pistol, did Solo find himself released.

“Una buona sera a tutti voi,” he said, turning to face the room with his best rakish smile and straightened his great coat sleeves with an exaggerated dignity.

The dark-skinned fellow remained stern of expression merely turning to another man who Solo now saw standing by the fireplace. A very small fire havung been lit against what was a slight evening chill, for Jamaica. “Nothing else upon him,” he said to the man,”Unless you want his shoes off of him.”

“Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary,” the standing fellow said with a faint smile.

He was young, light-skinned but dark-haired and lightly tanned as if from travel. There was something self-contained about the fellow, and he wore that fine patterned coat and waistcoat as if he were doing the garments a favor by it. “I’m sure Captain Corelli understands we mean no insult and are simply being thorough.”

“Leave us for an hour and check in with her. Take care," he said to the man who-was-most-clearly-not his footman.

The other did not bow so much as nod, like a soldier taking orders, and departed without a word. He closed the door behind him and left Solo’s pistol, sans cartridge and ball now, lying by his knife on the table in the center of the room.

The man in the coat was still standing, but Solo perceived that they were not alone in the chamber. A slim young woman in a fashionable but not opulent silk gown stood by the window.

She was pale but pink cheeked, perhaps even a little freckled under the powder she wore, and a strand of light brown hair strayed from under her cap. Pretty enough, from the right direction, but unsmiling.

“Please have a seat, Captain,” the dark-haired young man said.

May I?” Solo asked, gesturing with open palm to indicate his pistol and knife.

“Of course,” His host said nodding pleasantly. The man projected utter unconcern.

Solo found he did not doubt the sincerity of that show. The captain knew himself to be an excellent shot and a fine swordsman but he had been in a sufficient number of rooms with a sufficient number of killers to know that this fellow could handle a blade quicker than he could.

 

Well and good. These were not errand boys, they were the fist beneath the glove. 


It was the woman, however, who stepped forward before Solo could reach toward the table or attempt to claim his property upon it. She lifted the pistol, glanced at and down the barrel, checked the flint, and took a delicate sniff at the mechanism, even running a slim finger over the pan then touching it to her tongue.

Damn the girl, she was checking to see how recently he’d fired it.

Why don’t you just ask love? he thought. It was but four days ago.


She eyed him with the same appraisal a cat might, and with eyes just as green, then handed the gun back to him. The man glanced down for an instant, as if trying to suppress a small smile.

Solo pocketed his now-unloaded pistol and slid the knife back into the sheath tied beneath his waistcoat while taking a chair in utter defiance of good manners. The man walked round to pull one out for the lady, and when she had settled herself, sat in the third chair. “My name is Avelar,” he said.

“Shall I assume this then to be Mrs. Avelar?” Captain Solo asked.

“You shall,” the man said.

Solo tipped his hat but young Mrs. Avelar continued to regard him as if suspending judgement. There came a knock and a voice at the chamber door. His hand itched toward his now-unloaded pistol, but since neither Mr. nor Mrs. Murderer envisaged the slightest alarm he kept his seat.

It proved to be only the landlord’s boy with the wine and three glasses.

The letter in the envelope had been passed to him at Southhampton by an Alliance operative he had met once before at Dublin.The name had changed, only the splendid mustache remained the same.

“Why me?” Solo had asked.

“Because you have the fastest ship," the fellow, who had called himself “Merriman” at Dublin, had said.

 

Sail across to the West Indies at breakneck speed, up to Saint Augustine and then hug the coast to see what could be seen and get around Jamaica to be in Kingston to meet before the 24th. For this he was to be paid a sum that would clear his pressing debts, pay his crew and set the Falcon, himself and Kheuri into safer waters.

Simple? Well, he wasn’t a fool, these people fenced with devils and a man might get scorched or worse, but it seemed straightforward enough.

It was his own curiosity as much as business cunning that had almost gotten the better of him at Ponce Inlet, if he was honest with himself. He would have no one else to blame, as Kheuri seemed almost grimly delighted to point out to him, if this all went wrong.

 


The man who called himself Avelar unsealed and read the papers which seemed to consist of only two handwritten sheets and a folded map, with an unchanging countenance, then passed them to his fairer counterpart.

There was something about his gesture as he did so, as well as in the glance that passed between them across the table, that sent a most unaccustomed shiver down Han Solo’s spine.

He was suddenly keenly thrust into the recollection of a tall man making the same motion, that of sliding papers to a woman, this one in a yellow dress and white cap, all within in a narrow room, with a carpet on the tiled floor and a door that opened into a small bright garden. “Wat denk je ervan, kapitein?” the man had been saying. Solo reckoned that he must have been very small, for in his memory his head had barely reached the tabletop.

Bloody hell, he had not thought of his parents in long long years, but he still remembered that his father had always called her “Captain.”

We moeten de kapitein vragen, matroos, had been what he said, laughing, and swinging a small boy up to ride upon his shoulder.

 

Ah God, what a thing to think of now.

 

 

“You put in at St. Augustine? “ Avelar was asking him at the present moment.

Solo availed himself of the wine. Two of them. This might well yet take on the flavor of an interrogation unless he played his cards soon.

 

“I did,” he said, “but only for a day. I passed the messages given me to your man there and set straight out on the next tide, much to the displeasure of the fort's officers. I then came South, by plain skill of saiI against a less than convenient current I wish to assure you, putting in at the Matanzas River and coming up that way there for a time.… too long a time almost …. for I reached here but yesterday morning.”

“Those were not your orders,” Mr. Avelar's dark eyes were sharp, now.

“I made a judgement. There seemed a great deal of unexpected traffic on the coast that it seemed good for me to avoid.”

“You put in at the old fort?” the woman asked.

“Aye,” he said. “The British claim to man it now but the poor fellows keep dying of fever, it seems….and then carelessly falling into the river so their bodies are never found, most negligent of them.”

He smiled but neither Avelar nor his bride seemed amused.

Herself seemed keenly suspicious about the river, as if she knew the geography.

Fair enough, pretty lady, but if it was easy, everyone would do it.

 

It had been a fools gamble at many levels. Solo himself had feared they’d have to row for it before that lucky wind had picked them up on that becalmed stretch of washwater, and Kheuri’s opinions on the matter hardly bore repeating.

Best give them the meat of it then, he risked all if he made them too angry to bargain.

 

“I think I saw your plantation, set back from Mosquito Inlet to the sea,” he said.

 

The woman looked up at her "husband" quickly and he laid a hand upon her shoulder, in the barest gesture....reassurance?....warning?.....From such cool customers as these that rated as the equivalent of an earthquake and though Solo knew he should not have been, he found himself curiously pleased.

The man's eyes narrowed darkly. Which Solo suspected was about as much warning as he ever gave anybody before he cut their throat.

"You damned idiot," he said quietly, "were you seen?"

"I was not, sir.”

Come now! Do you think I do not know my business you bastard? I did not gain a price on my carcass in two dozen ports by getting caught.

 

“I beg confidence of you, sir, as a fellow professional if nothing more, that I would not be here to tell you so otherwise. We held back on the Matanzas until it was full night and slipped out the Inlet, sails down in the dark with the tide. God himself and all his alligators didn't see us. What we found in the tangled rafts of the mangrove on the waterway five miles out was more than enough to teach us caution."

Taking the wine again he poured a glass for both of them and refilled his own.

"From the inlet I suspect all that could be seen even in daylight is a good plantation house of that Cuban stone they seem to mine locally, a few outbuildings and a dock. The stink of the indigo is hard to miss, but far back in the meanders of the forest swamps a great many oddities are lurking."

"Such as?" the man asked.

So he told them....about the corpses of birds with badly burned feathers, of the strong stink of saltpeter that two of his crew, twins named Leonis, knew far too well from their days as powder monkeys to mistake for anything else, of the broken hull of a smugglers boat, sunk with rocks in a backwash inlet, and the bodies....not whole ones, bits, ragged clothes, a single arm being the largest, all stained bright blue, wedged up where some alligator had cached it, and the box tied back in among the trees, tied round with a flag of pirate red that young Marcheur had found, based on one of his "bad feelings”, filled with crumbled powder of what might be dye....

 

"Where is this box?" The woman interrupted him.

"On my own ship." Solo said, leaning back in his chair and applying great effort into a feigned casualness, "tied up back at Port Royal. I saved the arm as well, if that interests you?"

Well, it was a risky play, but at least he now had their fixed attention. For all his savage friend’s dark doubt about using the information gained on the Florida coast for a renegotiated bargain, Solo was reasonably sure that he might now wring a few critical extra pounds from this Alliance fellow. Desperate times called for desperate measures. If he didn't get sufficient coin to pay back Jabbar's men by the end of the year it would hardly matter who cut his throat, the well-dressed Mr. Avelar or one of cartel's hired assassins in a dark pub somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

The Ferry Inn

St. Catherine's Parish 

Kingston, Jamaica

 

December, 1769

 

 

“Does it pass?” she had asked him, as she stood in her shift and stockings, regarding the silk gown as it hung upon the pegs to air. “Mrs. Charles Avelar” seemed to hang there as well, after the fashion of an empty snakeskin.

“In time,” he said, quietly, from his seat on the chair behind her, “the greater part of it, at least…..if one is lucky.”

Oh my dear sir, you have done this many times, have you not?

This knowledge did not alter her feelings toward him, although she realized now that he had greatly feared it would do so. Aboard the Rogue, when he had taken her hands below decks and talked to her of how such things were played, his aspect had been as of one who was gambling his last possession. The way he had held her that night had been somehow more tender and more desperate, as if he thought it their last. Then it had seemed to her that he dreaded some physical danger of this venture ashore, but it had surely been this that troubled his heart.

She felt be-grimed and hollow from the impersonation of a simpering, blind-eyed, slave holder for little more than the span of one day. What must it be like to wear the skin of some despised other, day upon day for weeks or months at a time? How had he been able to bear it and not despair? How did any of them?

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Cor and Midshipman Syndalla reentered the chamber immediately after Captain Solo left it. Both of them, in fact, had stood a disguised guard outside while that gentleman was within, as a surety for his conduct. Togerher they four sat to discuss the dispatches and the interview of Captain Solo at length.

 

“A baby buccaneer,” Syndalla summed the fellow, “Longing in his heart for the glory days of Drake and Windu, Morgan, Kanhoji and Grace O’Malley.” She shook her head as if with pity.

Captain Andor removed his coat and laid it upon the bed. “We could well use a man of his nerve and skill, were we but assured he had the stomach for the long fight.”

Jen was surprised at his tone, for she would have wagered he heartily disliked the fellow.

“You trust him?” she asked.

After Solo tried to bargain with what she felt to be her father’s life, and that of Mr. Rook’s compatriots, she had been more than mildly tempted to gut him then and there and try after to get the body out the window and into the river under cover of darkness.

Her Olori would surely have done so, she knew, the moment the fellow first mentioned sailing the coastal river against orders.

Andor smiled at her. To her enormous relief it was recognizable to her as his own half-unwilling smile, not Charles Avelar’s.

“Trust him not to betray us by direct action?…yes,” he said, “If the man intended such he would have done so already in far greater safety. He lacks the guile to convincingly act that kind of part I think, even if blackmailed. More to the point,. you saw him when the boy knocked at the door did you not?”

She had. The startled fool reached for an unloaded pistol then stopped himself, half abashed. Were these bloody stays not so tight she might have laughed aloud.

“Did you note which way he started to turn, before he corrected his overreaction and elected to lower himself back into his seat?”

Jen tried to recall the scene.

They had set the scene so that his back must be to the door, purposely putting him at disadvantage and Solo had at first moved as if alarmed, though afterwards the smuggler had made great show of brazening out. Cassian had been to his right as Solo had been addressing him the moment before. She stood to his left by the window.

“On the turning of the latch he began toward Mr. Cor….” she pictured the man’s hand jerking toward his coat, but…”yet he moved to his left even as he did so. Awkward... It almost seemed as if he meant to pitch toward the doorway and not to back away from it,” A brief and amusing show of clumsiness but hardly what one might expect of an experienced law-breaker. " “Why?” Miss Erso wondered.

“To cover you had a shot or some other danger come from the door,” Captain Andor said. ” I doubt he was fully aware of positioning himself so. His thoughtless instinct being  to place himself between danger and the person he perceived weakest in the room. Such men can be gulled by the Enemy. They can be outfought or killed but they do not seek its service.”

“Has anybody had sight of the cannibal?” Syndalla asked.

Mr. Cor had spoken with several held in bondage there, as well as the freedmen and servants gathered at the stable yards and tap room. Captain “Corelli” it seemed had arrived alone some hours earlier on a horse that looked to be hired from one of the shabbier liveries in Kingston. If this renowned cannibal First Mate or other of his crew had come out they must be positioned some distance away from the inn.

Directly after leaving them Solo had paid off his account with the landlord by writing it over to theirs and departed the Inn... Syndalla had learned so much from the kitchen servants, several of whom had been most admiring of the Captain’s dashing looks and careless manner. Before tipping his hat farewell to them the rakish man had also requested and paid for two gills of rum to be poured in his own flask and that a whole cold roasted duck he had ordered earlier in the day be wrapped in paper. These items secured, along with a loaf of bread and several oranges, he departed by the River road.

As he had arranged to meet with them again next morning on the road back to Kingston, it seemed clear the the captain had secured a private resting spot nearby and provisioned for the feeding of someone of good appetite there.

 

Plans for tomorrow and its contingencies were outlined as best they could be. Mr. Cor had been assigned a bed in the attic room above that kept as accommodations for “better” serving men. The “girl” would normally have been expected to lodge in her ladies room but Mr. Avelar’s presentment of himself and his wife as newlywed made their otherwise extravagant and unusual engagement of a separate small closet for “Helen," far less remarkable than it would have otherwise been.

After bringing up from the outside kitchens two cans of hot water to set by the fire, some small towels and two basins, one large and one small, for her “ladies” ablutions, Syndalla helped her out of the silk gown and the outermost layers of petticoats, showing her how to stow the many pins carefully. Jen in her turn helped the midshipman loosen her own stays, then took her hands and bade her goodnight. It seemed so inadequate to her gratitude that she could think of nothing else to say. Until a few weeks ago she had barely spoken to the woman, for they had usually served at different Watches aboard the Rogue.

The Midshipman was a few years older than herself, with a heart-shaped face and pretty, serious features. Her hands had the callouses of a working sailor but she moved with the confidence of a soldier in the field and with a kind of sad steadiness.

“You did well today,” the woman said to Jen, holding her hands in return.

“Helen” then retired to her own small space for the few hours rest she could earn before she would need to appear up and ready about her “ladies” business.

 

 

Back aboard the Rogue, when Syndalla had first appeared in the Great Cabin volunteering her services for this venture, Jen had chanced to overhear Captain Andor speak with her individually, “Capitão,” he had said to her quietly, “…você tem certeza de que está pronto?….” She had moved quietly into another conversation with Mr. Kay, at the other end of the room, in order to avoid the appearance of eavesdropping. So it was that while she had had seen the woman’s shoulders straighten and her head held high at this address the reply given to it had remained by her unheard. Mr. Melshi enlightened her slightly some minutes later, mistaking the cause of her unease, “She commanded a cadre based in Brazil a number of years back but most of them were lost and she returned alone after a leave of convalescence. Unwilling to be reassigned command since and yet equally unwilling to leave the fight she has asked to work as a common seaman. I assure you Andor knows her well and is confident she can well manage this business.”

Jen thought she understood. Once you have seen the true battles fought behind the stage scenery of the world you cannot “un-see” them. These people were braver than she had been upon that day the Commander left her in that watchtower. Knock them down and they would fight still upon their knees, taking each chance as it came, until they won the day, or all their chances were spent.

 


Between the two of them all clothing, petticoats, ornaments and shoes were arranged for airing overnight and wear in the morning.

 

 

 

 


All duty done, Captain Andor rose to check the locks on the doors. That accomplished he carefully laid the patterned waistcoat aside, so that he stood now only in his shirt and breeches. It came to Miss Erso that she was with him alone now in a room both larger and better lit than she had ever been before.



Placing the smaller basin on the table, he used a little of the hot water to wash his hands and face, drying them on the small linen towel.

She in her turn laid the larger basin on the floor near the fireplace, and from her trunk took a square of cotton cloth and the bag of pearlash and small bottle of oil.

 

“What are you doing?” he asked curiously.

“Washing in something better than a bucket of cold seawater, sir,” she said. Her tone affected to lightness but having laid the other linen towel upon the floor, she looked up to meet his gaze and found that she could not.

“Please avert your eyes sir. I promise I will not be long”

Surprise seemed to show more clearly on his face shaven than unshaven.

 


Miss Erso hoped he would not question her request, for she hardly knew what her answer might be, or why it seemed of such painful importance to her that a man whose bed she had happily shared these four weeks past should not look at her now.

Blessedly, he said “Of course,” and bowed slightly, as courteously as if they were strangers and not two persons intimately acquainted to each other. Turning then to the table he carried one of the chairs nearer the window and seated himself with his back toward her.

 

The sun was setting outside so lamp and candles now began to take up the greater share of the lighting of the room.

 

Very quickly and methodically she took up the task of washing herself just as the women of her Olori’s crew had taught her on shipboard long ago. Laying her shift aside upon the chair and turning her charm upon its cord around to her back, she crouched beside the basin. Pouring a cup from the can of warm water she first dissolved a little of the white lye ash in it, then poured the mixture over her unbound hair and wrung it out into the basin. Twisting and piling the hair atop her head she then stepped her feet carefully to stand in the basin itself. After soaking the cloth well and scrubbing her all skin, she poured the remaining clean water by cupfuls over herself to wash the ash away.

The rule of the Onderan at sea had been at least one seawater bath weekly. Oh how some of the crew had howled at the requirement! But her Quartermasters had been most inflexible upon the point. “The Commander has decreed that you shall die in battle and not of some scabrous fever! So all wash yourselves you rats!” At good port, or even after heavy rain, fresh water was always portioned out as luxurious as pay and each crew member had been allotted six cups, seven for women if requested. Old Suki would measure the water and laid tarp beneath them. The girl, or boy Jen supposed, who used their full measure but spilled not a drop would be granted an extra ration of cheese. Marie was taller than the rest of them and had long hair that curled, but she always won the cheese.

 

Finished with this, Jen stepped out of the small basin and crouched over it again to pour the last cupfuls of plain water through her hair and wring it once more, combing with her fingers. Pouring a little of the oil onto her hands she rubbed the water off of her skin as best she could then used the small towel to dry first her hair, then her little charm...placed right way round now  and last of all her feet All this was done most carefully there by the fireplace.

Seven cups, Suki, she thought with some pride, and not a drop spilled.


Oh how you would laugh if I told you I used the extra cup and a little oil of almond because it is my honeymoon.

Something seemed to catch in her throat then and she felt required to lay a hand upon the mantle, as if for support.

No. No, àşádì. Stop this, she scolded her self, surprised by such sudden weakness. Why tears now?

 

 

“…Are you unwell?” Captain Andor asked, concerned but sitting still by the window, as good as his word.

Her own name was not said aloud for such was his discipline of himself that there would be no risks of a slip while this endeavor lasted. He had warned her it must be so that last night in his cabin.

Yet there was a pause in his voice where he would have placed the "Jen,” and she felt it there, unspoken.

Pressing her thumb to her forefinger again she drew a slow breath and more slowly still let it out. 

“No,” she said. “I am only tired but…it is passing now. Thank you.”

“May I turn around yet?” She felt obliged to laugh a little for he sounded almost plaintive, like a boy asking if it was yet time to come in from the rain.


“Yes,” she told him.

The sound of patrons departing the tavern below was fading away and the little frogs in the trees began their nightly chorus, as audible as music even here on the side of the Inn facing away from the river. In the growing shadow within the room his face looked more familiar that it had during the day and his eyes were again those of the Captain Cassian Andor she had come to know.

He sniffed out the candle closest to the window and approached her as she still stood near the fireplace. Laying hands upon her shoulders and brushing aside her damp hair he kissed her neck.

‘Ah,” he said, “You must show me the trick of that.”

“Come,” she said, “I will teach you now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seemed to Khaeuri Manaaka that his life was divided into two parts, the before and the after. Whether these two parts would ever be joined he could not say.

On some days it seemed to him that they would, that upon the day of his death the spirits of his whanau would find him somehow. He had dreamed of this often. They would make a marae wherever he was, by raising their hands up and making the place flat and clear. Since his days of mourning were already long over his flesh would fall away from him and his bones would lie clean and show themselves already to be painted with the red ochre. “”Do you see?” his father would say to him “We have performed the tuku wairua for you already, long ago. Cease your wandering now and come with us.”  Matiu with their child on a cradle-board would be there, holding out her hand from a great voyaging canoe, the like of which he knew only from stories. This would take them all together to the afterlife and his long exile would be over.

 

Dreams did not mean truth, as he knew very well. He was not a Matakite with powers of seeing. Besides, in that dream the Dutch boy, Solo, was always sitting in the canoe beside Matiu, and was also waving and calling him to come along, which made the whole thing seem highly unlikely.


Most days it seemed to him far more probable that he must have already died and that all that had happened since was because he wandered now as a kēhua, lost upon the face of the earth and the waters.

 

Time would tell, he supposed. 

 

 

In the meanwhile this mahi waimori of the messages and the wretched indigo plantation remained to finish.

 

 

He waited at a shaded spot some two miles or so up the road from the Inn. Solo would appear either tonight or tomorrow depending upon how he sorted matters with the Alliance fighters. Several of the European English soldiers looked askance at him as he walked up the road, but since he was clearly not one of the people they gained by oppressing in this place, and moreover as he was walking OUT of their city, they only puffed and barked like the dogs they were and left him alone. He had only to hold up his rope of carved fishhooks and they fled.

Some little brown-skinned children were gathered by the same spot along the river watering a few goats and a pony set to pull a small cart. They were very shy of him and stayed timidly behind the bushes as he approached the water. Khaeuri tossed in his rope and such was the skill of the kaha he had laid on it that he caught a large fish right away. He unhooked it and offered it to the children.

They were much afraid of him but one of them, an older girl from her garments, screwed up her courage and reached for it from his hands, looking at him as if he were a tupua all the while. She shouted to her companions in English and they all fled then, dragging their goats jangling bells and pulling at the rope of the pony. He saw her hide the fish beneath her apron and chuckled. Brave action in the face of the unknown should be rewarded.

Then he placed his blanket beneath the low trees along the stream and laid down to light his pipe and smoke tobacco.


It was possible Solo would mismanage the business and they would kill him but most probably they would not. The Dutch puppy was a good fighter and these Alliance dealt fair unless they thought you likely to betray them. Hopefully the great hākawa would abandon his idiot scheme to try to bargain them up. Solo was worried that with his debts still looming he still might not have enough to pay the crew off properly. After the mōrikarika they had seen up that river he had now taken it into his head they must all be sent away. Not here though, this was a terrible place and unjust place. Veracruz maybe, or up North in the British lands. It was a muddled plan as usual.

Solo always did it this way. As soon as he found himself taking a liking to a crew he would dismiss them all.

Khaeuri knew why he did so but it was really too bad. This was a particularly good crew. The Leonitus’ were twins and that was always lucky. Sabe was a deft hand and very good at ignoring Solo’s stupid orders and only following the good ones. The European boy Marcheur, though he was “green as grass” as Solo said, seemed born to sail with a keen eye, a right quick hand with a sword and a very pleasant manner. Best of all, he was the only one of them for a long time who had learned to speak a few words and had even begun calling Khaeuri “Pā” which was a clear sign of goodness and sensibility.

Still, maybe Solo was right and it was for the best. Much as he liked him, Lucas Ceil-Marcheur seemed a little too fond of Solo at times and the last thing Khaeuri wanted to deal with was another broken heart. That business with Alando had been bad enough.

 

Besides, something very wicked and dangerous was clearly happening on that river at Florida. It was mōkinokino if he had ever seen it. The wise thing would be for the Dutch hākawa to give those Alliance what they wanted straight out and let them handle it rather than exercise his cleverness for a few extra gold pieces.

That Jabbar at Havanna was going to try to kill him anyway, whether he paid back the money or not. They would just have to deal with it.

Before sunset the little frogs all began to sing in the trees and the cheerful sound comforted him greatly.


Solo returned before dark and being a hoa tāpui brought him some bread and a roasted bird. There was not enough light left to play cribbage so they sat together and listened to the frog-songs for a pleasant long while then wrapped up in the blankets and got a decent night’s sleep for once. It proved to be the last such for a long time after.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

HMS Princess Fortune/Rogues Venture

Port of Gibraltar 


September 8-10, 1769

and later


out of Cadiz toward Gran Canarie
end of September, 1769

 

 

 

 

 

The first time that Mr. Imway spoke to her at any length regarding the charm she wore was while they still lay in harbor at Gibraltar. She had remained aboard chiefly for those days, almost dreading to go ashore......indeed, what profit was to be gained by her in any British fort? Let Andor and his officers settle their business as they would.....her wounds yet too fresh and her mind still too much in turmoil.

She spent a portion of the hours in her cabin but a greater share up on deck with Mr. Bodi Rook. They walked when that seemed the better salve to one or the other of them upon their distress of mind and when that did not serve they frequently sat together in the Great Cabin or upon the deck near the bow. At times that gentleman and  herself would be joined by Mr. Malbus and Mr. Imway when their duties permitted.

One afternoon as they sat so arranged, watching the evening shadows stretch out from the great fort upon the rock and all listening to Mr. Malbus venture a small strange tune upon a bone whistle he had won from one of the crew at cards, the blind gentleman said, most unexpectedly, ”With your permission, Miss Erso, might I hold the necklace you wear?"

Mr. Imway held an open hand toward her and she found herself, to her own great astonishment, drawing that object from beneath her neckerchief. Her mother’s small charm hung still upon it’s cord. On very few occasions had she ever allowed anyone see her treasure closely, much less to lay hands upon it. Yet she took it then from her neck and laid it on his palm.

 

It was but a little larger than a gold shilling, carved of wood into the shape of a circle with four small triangular holes pierced through, which gave to it a shape as of a quartered cross. She wore it by means of a cord placed through one of the pierced holes. Whatever color the wood might have been upon it's making it was now quite dark with age and oil and varnished smooth by her fingers. Since childhood she had held it in moments of trial and discomfort, though she could never articulate to her self why that action gave her comfort.

Mr. Saul Gerrere had seen it first upon her neck when he carried her from that dark wet hillside to the waiting boat. In a rare moment of tenderness he  had kissed first it and then her forehead as he wrapped her in a blanket. “Keep it with you child," was all he said, "Let no man take it from you.”

 

A small teardrop-shaped stone was set in the center and polished almost flat. If she held it in strong light this jewel was still visible through the dark wax and varnish. In some lights it looked plain brown, while in others it appeared as of a dark golden color and flecked with pale lines and specks.

The monk traced his long fingers across the charm, “Ah,” he said, closing his eyes as if feeling some great pleasure of recognition, or perhaps of relief from some pain, “Sṭōna skripṭa. It is a script stone. Baze, what was it they called it when we first began to travel West upon the road?….Mariam? Yes. These were at the heart of many holy places. Do you know why child?”

Jen could but shake her head. A memory seemed to come to her then of sitting upon her mother’s lap, looking at the charm and her mother telling her a story, but she could not recall any details of it now.

 

“Only that my father told me such stones held a story inside them,” she said, hesitatingly, repeating again what she had told him on the streets of Lisbon.

Chirrut Imway smiled, “Yes!” he said. “That is one way of putting it, I suppose. The most important verses and stories and names can never truly be concealed or wholly forgotten. These find their way always back again and again even through stones of the earth, for darkness can never wholly hide the truth.”

He gave Jen back her charm then with great ceremony and reached his hand toward his friend.

Throughout this speech Mr. Malbus had only gazed resolutely at the rail and the fading light on the sea beyond.


“Mērī priya,” Mr. Imway said, “You remember this?”

Mr. Malbus only scowled and shook his head, his dark braided beard and hair moving in the evening breeze. “I assure you, I have long forgotten all such nonsense,” he said.

The blind man, undeterred, groped down his companions rough sleeve to take his tar-darkened hand.

“Yet I always find you, and you me,” he said, "You know that this is true."

“Ha! You are surely joking ” Malbus gave a short laugh, ”If I hold still enough I have seen you lose me in the middle of an empty room!”

Yet despite his gruff words he smiled and looking down at the slender monk, grasped his hand with visible affection.

 

 

They continued to meet this way, the four of them together, as often as they could as the voyage went on though Mr. Imway did not ask so directly to see her charm again.

 

Once the venture west was set and the brigantine set out from Gibraltar and then Cadiz, Captain Rostock assigned the renegade monks to space in the crews quarters, which suited them quite well, they said. To Mr. Rook he designated a small cabin with a hanging bunk and and though it was comfortable in comparison with the circumstances that gentleman had lately been forced to endure he often sought the air and light above deck whenever weather permitted. A day seldom came when Jen did not walk with him there.

It came to Jen's mind later how strange it might have seemed to unapprised persons that the two of them derived such comfort from each other's company.

She felt with Mr. Rook a profound kinship for all that their journeys and trials had been no wise the same. He also was a stranger among these people. He had been born to one place and situation, reared in another and when thrust from that as well had fallen far in his own estimation and been near to dangerous despair. Now, like her, his quest was to do right by himself.


Mr. Rook's courage and his belief that he could yet find strength and act upon it inspired her.

 

She was also much moved from the very first by his lack of bitterness and recrimination towards herself. Catching sight of the scars upon his arms and noting the painful stiffness that still seemed to afflict his fingers her heart fairly wept.

Please forgive us, she yearned to say, though of course there was no "us" anymore. Saul Gerrere was dead and his people scattered.

My Olori did this to you. There is no excusing.....he would be the first to say so.... but know that he was not always what he became. It was because he saw so much evil without flinching that he could no longer see good. They blinded him like the crows blind a downed eagle when they lack the strength or courage to kill it.Thus crippled it strikes its own kin.

Finding herself unable to speak any of the things that filled her heart she bound herself to listen. Mr. Rook began, even before they had left the coast of Portugal behind, as if it were a thing much upon his conscience, to speak to her of her father. Had any other person addressed her so the subject would have been too exquisitely painful to bear but from this good gentleman she found could bear at last to hear the truth.

“Erso Bey, your father, he is a man of great strength. I was desperate. I would have died with all my sins upon me if he had not found me in the hold. I had conceived a mad plan of drilling half-holes in the hull of the remaining ship, for seeing what we had brought those desperate souls to and what dark use their suffering was put to nearly broke my mind. The Director meant to take the Estella….for that had been the name of the ship…..out to bring Mr. Tarkin to meet a British buyer at the mouth of the Mosquito River with the first bribe of indigo. My hope was that I could at least kill them both and wreck the ship. That I would forfeit my own life in the attempt seemed only justice to me in my despair.

I knew that I could not defeat them thus, that at best I could but hope to delay them a few months, but I was past caring in my shame.

The guards found me in the lower hold and would have slain me outright but your father was there and called down to them.

He said, “No, no you fool, you have quite misunderstood my orders regarding those barrels, come out of there at once!”

He lied, telling them that that he himself had ordered me into the hold to drill barrel holes for the ventilation of the powders and compounds stored there.

Taking my collar, to the laughter of the guards, he dragged me out and sent them away.

Your father took me then straight to the small cabin behind the works and said to me, “Do not throw your life away boy. If you have the strength, help me. Help me save these people and stop this madness.” He and old Sefla worked together and conceived a plan. I worked to memorize the charts and bound myself to be their messenger.”

“He spoke of you,” he told Jen, “to steady my nerves, or perhaps his own.  For months he did so, always in bits and snatches of time, while Sefla wrote the words in ink that the sea could not wash away and in letters that few in these pagan and Christian lands could read. While Formi and the others built the raft in sections, hiding it in the brush at great risk. Always he would start his stories the same way, “Let me tell you about my Jen, my Star, my little daughter….”

 

Jen wept when he told her these things and sometimes he did too.

 

 

While making ready to depart for Cadiz, Captain Andor had offered both herself and Mr. Rook freedom to depart and they had both refused it. She then wrote a letter to her father that she knew he would never receive and vowed to bring him the help he begged for at whatever cost. Whether she came as the last Fury of the Onderean or a soldier of the Alliance had not mattered to her then.

 


“I will take you to him,” the loyal Mr. Rook said, taking her hand at the rail as they sailed out from Gibraltar. “Miss Erso. Get me a ship and I will find a way. These people took my honor from me and your father from you. We will go and take them back.”

 

That first night out into the Atlantic,  Andor had called the officers, including Mr. Kay and the returned Mr. Melshi into the Great Cabin. While he had interviewed Mr. Rook privately before, he bid him to begin tell his tale to all of those concerned. For reasons that had seemed quite inexplicable to her in those early days, he had permitted her to attend.


Mr. Rook, pale in the dark coat and vest they had provided for him, cleared his throat and spoke thus:

 

“I was hired aboard a ship at Cyprus, at Limasol. Having incurred debts I could not pay I was persuaded for most handsome wages to hire on as a ships pilot with a company. Seven ships, I was told at first, were hired to transport Greek workers and equipment to a British commercial venture in the Azores. I had no experience in waters beyond Sicily but was told by the Captain, an Englishman named Mott, that I and the other pilots and officers would be trained and thus gain opportunity. Nothing but misery sat with me in Cyprus so I took what I thought to be a betterment of my lot. The ships for the most part rolled like a tubs, being but lightly cargoed at first with stores of equipment, tools and a small number of Greek and Turkish dye workers, indeed I thought perhaps that I was taken aboard partly because of my ability to speak both these languages with fluency. Discipline was very strict but not, at first, brutal. The principals of the venture were two passengers, both European, seldom seen by us aboard the lead ship, the Estella. They dined alone and spoke only to the Captain who seemed to fear them greatly. One was called Mr. Krennik and was addressed as Director and the other was a very cultured older gentleman addressed only as Mr. Tarkin. A lady, pale and modestly veiled, accompanied Mr. Tarkin and was referred to by Captain Mott as his wife. We saw her even less than either of the men…indeed I heard her speak only once, in Greek, begging to be allowed to go ashore… although several of us thought we heard her weeping at night.

We sailed on to Malta and the coast of Italy, taking on more workers, older men some of them missing fingers and toes, who described themselves as gunpowder makers. Mr. Tarkin left the ship at Corsica along with a body wrapped in black cloth. Mrs. Tarkin was not seen afterward. Extra crew in the form of uniformed officers and guard were taken aboard. The Estella and the other ships sailed on to Minorca and the harbor at Palma. We found the port draped in yellow ribbons and the docks themselves crowded with people nigh to death from hunger. A famine had struck the island and in it’s wake a sickness. Mr. Krennik went ashore there and when he returned we were ordered to prepare all ships to take on additional cargo. The cargo we took on was people.“

He stopped, lowering his head, but the company remained silent and he then mastered himself and proceeded.

“I have never....had never....served aboard a slave ship but I know those who have, and none are ever made clean of it. I made my dying mother a vow that I would never take such work, not even if I were starving. In truth the Estella and her sisters could not by law be called slave ships for those captured and sold into death and bondage are driven aboard in chains. These people of Minorca freely walked to their fate, many giving what little they had to pay for what they were told was passage to the Americas. They were promised that the men among them would serve for six years and have land and freedom after and their families be allowed to remain with them. A set of ships such as these were might have carried perhaps seventy five or eighty more souls in each vessel, under painful conditions even with a light crew, considering such passengers as we already had. Yet we took on 1500 souls at Palma. Whole villages must have emptied. Women and children formed nearly a third of those who boarded. Krennik took them on in groups, always by night, so that those who came after could not see how many were held below decks until they were already aboard. I spoke no Spanish then, I could not warn them even had I had the courage. Some of the crew tried, but their dialect was such that they said they could not make them understand or believe what they had assigned themselves and their children to until it was already too late. We sailed for the Americas directly and did not stop again for any further provision.”

“From Palma you say?” Captain Reikkan asked, almost in quiet horror.

“Some packets came out from Cadiz and the Azores with barrels of bad water. We ourselves did not put in to any harbor.” Mr. Rook said, clearly overcome with emotion again, “I will say no more about the crossing, for I know there are those among you who know more bitterly than I the evil that passes as a constant river on the Atlantic in far worse barbarity. These people were not chained and could at least fling themselves overboard to seek God’s forgiveness for their despair. Some did, I assure you, may their souls find rest. 400 or more perished but they had, many of them as I have said, their children with them. Such were the Director’s orders that such water and food as remained after that portioned to the crew be given to the children first, not out of mercy but that they might live as surety for their parents behavior.

By the time we reached the coast of Florida, all aboard were in most desperate straits but the place to which we were brought revealed yet more of the criminal enterprise that was underway.

I had wondered previously why so many of us had been brought across as crew with no experience in these treacherous  waters, now I understood why. Knowledge came to be later that we were some considerable distance south of the old Spanish fort of San Marco, called Saint Augustine, but I did not know so then. It was of necessity to their scheme that none of us know clearly where we were or be able to find our way out or back again. The coastline lay before us flat and jungled for mile upon mile, broken only by occasional inlets that gave access to coastal rivers. We came in one such inlet  at highest tide. A dizzying warren of inlets and sand bars brought us round eventually to firmer ground, or at least to scrub oak and soil that, though still mostly sand was at least other than a sponge of matted vine. A few dozen people were already there, survivors of a previous labor gang, their guards and a few men set as Engineers and Chemists who I would later learn were mostly held captive as well. There were a  few small buildings there of sticks and a strange stone that men were cutting with knives and carrying as if it were of no more weight than dry pinewood. The foundations of some large house seemed to have been begun but little provision of any sort seemed to have been made for so many people. Those capable of standing were whipped out of the holds and set to work cutting brush for their own shelters. We of the crew were ordered to set to work ourselves and to break up four of the ships that brought us there, leaving only the Estella, the Black Saber, the Pax Aurora, and the Mantelet de Guerre. It was clear that most of the officers and crew of the ships were now just as much prisoners as those wretches who had been tricked aboard for the labor of the plantation. We were given a single stark choice, join now or die. Disbelieving what was being said to them, many protested and were killed outright. I was spared, for like others frozen by cowardice, I held my tongue, which Captain Mott took for sufficient assent.

The wind from the sea drove the foul stench back but when the wind shifted a foul smell struck us from inland. Many fell ill at once. “Indigo,” some of the men said. Indeed the rot of it in its preparation is most loathsome, as I had often heard before then and learned well after but it was not that which assailed us then. There was a man beside me named Renaro, an Italian but who spoke Greek to me, “Maybe, but not that alone,” he said, “Nitrikó kálio. Saltpeter. They are making gunpowder here, a great deal of it. We are surely in Hell.”

 

Mr. Rook continued on at length, describing a little of the layout of the plantation and what he saw there with regards to the manufactory, although he admitted that he himself had been kept mostly nearer to the shore. He told of attempts by some of the men to escape and their brutal recapture.

Mr. Melshi and Captain Rostock began to ask numerous questions regarding such matters as the manning of the place and the depth of the waters at the entrance to the inlet and surrounding areas. Mr. Kay carefully began to scribble notes in his neat and regular handwriting.

 

Jen stood at the back of the cabin like a shadow through all, dressed in her blue wrapper and Mr. Kay’s old coat, for she had not yet found her place among the crew and this new world of purpose. Having drawn her mothers charm on its cord outside the neck of her chemise without thought she had found herself holding it tightly in her fingers. No tears had come while she stood, for she had not felt capable of weeping as she listened to this part of her friend's tale. It was if her heart was wrung dry with sorrow.

Twelve years. Twelve years these men had held her father, was the thought that tore at her heart.

Mr. Rook seemed to almost fail with weariness after nearly two hours of this painful recitation but would have bravely continued.

Captain Andor it was who said, “Enough.”

He had not uttered a word throughout the speech, only stood at the table to Mr. Rook’s left, making no comments and asking no questions, his face as still as any mask. Finally he laid a hand upon the Turkish gentleman’s shoulder and said, “It is enough for now sir, we have weeks ahead and will plan more carefully in the days to come. When you have had more time to recover further we will speak in greater length and consider details.”

Andor had glanced directly at Jen then. In meeting his eye she had found, just as she long ago had been able to recognize the Commander’s orders even when given without words, that she understood at once what was being asked of her. She would have objected most sharply then had she sensed Captain Andor to be giving her an order with regard to any matter save this one, but within that moment she was more than willing to obey.

Crossing directly to Mr. Bodi Rook’s side she had said firmly, “Sir, please come with me now. Let us walk upon the deck for a while,” and taking his arm had led him outside to where they might stand together in the sun and the clean air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

The Ferry Inn

St. Catherine's Parish 

Kingston, Jamaica

 

December, 1769

 

Winter being a stranger to these climates the fields and trees, even so close to the road and the bustle of the ferry, were filled with bright birds all seemingly mandated by Nature to sing at sunrise. The chickens of the Ferry Inn's yard were not the least vocal of these.

Captain Cassian Andor found himself roused from far sounder sleep than he was accustomed to take upon any mission by this dawn chorus assisted by the distant lowing of cattle being driven to the River crossing for the morning market. He lay quite still upon waking, as was his disciplined habit when waking in unfamiliar surroundings, always taking time to apprise himself of place and circumstances before stirring lest some lurking danger be alerted by his movement.

A decent bed, well-curtained against the night's insects and air. Jamaica. Avelar. The Ferry Inn. Dawn....or somewhat past it. His throwing knife placed beneath a bolster near the top of the bed frame.

The woman yet beside him.

This last was by every measure the most unfamiliar circumstance of all.

Throughout their time together aboard the Rogue, she had always stubbornly returned to her own bunk before dawn and he realized now that he had never before seen her lie asleep outside that darkened cabin.

 

A very foolish and commonplace thought it surely was but...Dios como mi testigo.....she was a lovely thing, with her uncombed hair spilled over the cotton sheet and one slim arm flung across to rest lightly on his shoulder.

She had seemed to him from their earliest acquaintance as if lit by some fire, whether silent or speaking, still or in motion. So seldom had it ever dimmed that it felt quite strange, as if he saw her here with new eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps it was the unexpected question she had asked him last night as she had moved a dampened cloth across his back...."How old are you?".....or perhaps it was the sound of the birds that made him think on such things. It seemed a very long time ago that a half-starved boy had hidden aboard a ship at Veracruz, risking death crushed or drowned by the rolling barrels and leaking water of its lowest hold. He had done so out of a great need to answer a question for himself.

 

 

In the foggy light of a nearly full moon, the boy had been awakened within the almost inaccessible, and thus safe, sleeping nest he had made for himself under the eaves of the warehouse on the embarcadero. Hearing sound of sandaled feet running on the boards of the wharf beneath him, he had peered out with sharp owlish eyes much accustomed to the dark and made out the forms of three people on the gloom, a man and two women. One he saw was a mulata who dressed in the common clothes of a dock woman. She It was who uncovered a small lantern and set it aside on the boards while another woman, an india in brown skirt and Nahuatl blouse, approached. Hers had surely been the feet he heard. A European man, wigged and well-dressed in blue and white coat stood beside the mulata. La india seemed to be thrusting some small package into the gentleman's hands and whispering urgently. Cassian could make out only a few words “Nelli…tequitl…tochan….” but these caught at his ear and would not let him ignore this disturbance and keep to his hiding place like a sensible rat.

They never allowed any of them to speak Nahuatl in the orphanage but when she came to see him, in the evenings, while most of the other children were asleep and the other Sisters at prayer, she always did or tried to. While another nun stood watch by the door she would sit beside his bed and stroke his hair. In that language she would speak to him and he would answer. Sometimes she made foolish mistakes but was always pleased when he corrected her. The visits never lasted long but before she kissed his cheek and left him she would ask that he say his prayers for her and would whisper along with him “ToTajtzin aquin tinemi ….” How old had he been when she stopped coming?

 

He crept down carefully and peering from behind a barrel saw  another larger man approach the three, perhaps from some previous concealment in a doorway. This new gentleman was cloaked in black, although the red and gold of a Royal officer showed beneath. Loudly barking some order that Cassian could make nothing of, save to note that it was not spoken in Spanish, he pointed a pistol at the man in blue and grabbed the Indian woman by the neck.  The bluecoat began as if to answer but the mulata dove to the side. Her action was almost too quick to see but as she moved her foot darted out to trip the other woman, causing her to fall down and thus away from the black-cloak’s grasp. The European dropped to his hands as well and then leaped swiftly back up, knocking the pistol away. The mulata had meanwhile darted behind and now grasped throat of the man in black and red from the rear. He struggled for a few seconds, hands flailing, but within a few moments dropped dead to the boards.

Cassian did not understood at the time but when he later made Señora Tano’s better acquaintance he learned of her skill with a strangling wire and preference for it as a weapon when surprise was available and silence needed.

On that occasion he had only tried to hold himself still and unseen as any mouse.

He saw the man run back to the Indian woman and help her to stand. Together all three rolled the body off the dock so that it fell into the water below with a splash, but first the mulata took the dead man’s purse.

“Capitán, ¿cuáles son sus órdenes?” the man in the fine blue coat said to the mulata.

That woman coolly tucked the pistol in at her waist and tossed the purse into the sea, putting an arm around the Indian as she said “La llevaré. Ve, llévalo a Londres y luego a Roma.” The man nodded and bowed, as the two women ran back into the fog between the buildings.

As they vanished, placing the small package firmly beneath his coat, the European said, “Ve con Dios, señora” quietly and turned to walk quickly toward the ramp of the ship docked nearby. The matter in its entirety had take only a dozen minutes to unfold.

Cassian had seen much violence already in his young life before the time he had come to be one of the “ratos” of those docks. Murder and robbery might bring risk but they were of nightly occurrence in the busiest port of the New World. The world was accepted by him then as a dangerous and inexplicable place, but some truths he thought he knew at the ripe age of ten.

Men did not address any woman as “Captain.”
A European did not take orders from a Mulata.
No one bothered to save an India.

The biggest man with the biggest gun always wins.

 

The women were already lost to his sight but as he saw quite clearly where the man had gone he made up his mind to follow. Scrambling up to his hiding place one last time he took only his ragged blanket, a cup and the broken blade that served him as a knife.

It seemed to that boy well worth giving up everything he had to know the answer.

If so much that he had been told about the ways of the world might be a lie, was there another way or even just the hope for one?

 

 

 

 

In his soldierly way Lt. Ruescott Melshi was most concerned on his behalf he well knew. That Mr. Timothy Kay thought him slightly mad, also he knew, though that assessment in itself was nothing new. Kay thought the whole of humanity rather mad and he was not wrong.

Captain Rostock it been..... who in Andor's previous experience had ever made it a point of high honor in service to keep his eye to his ship and the horizon and almost nothing else..... who had spoken to him. That good officer had come up on the quarterdeck to stand beside Captain Andor as he had been watching Miss Erso’s quick figure up on the mast one fine evening still more than a week still out from this dreadful port.

 “Do you know the old saying, sir?" Rostock asked, "'As a pearl on a battlefield?”'

Captain Andor did not and must have looked at that good captain in silent surprise because Rostock had proceeded “Two soldiers there were on the field of a great battle. One of them saw, as they made preparation for the charge, a great fair pearl glittering on the field amidst the wreck and ruin there. Unbuckling his armor he gets down to take the gleaming thing up and places it in a pocket above his heart. His fellow then chastised him saying, “Why take such a chance? A pearl cannot serve you in this battle. It is neither food not physic. You will have no occasion to sell it, nor trade it for anything better. When this battle turns against us you cannot take it with you into the next life and when you stand before God the former possession of a pearl will surely not lessen the number of your sins.” “Perhaps you speak true,” the first soldier said, “But at the very least I will stand before God as a man who has held a fair thing of the Lord’s making in his hand and near his grateful heart.”

A great smile had parted the old sailor’s dark beard. “I assure you sir that it sounds far wiser in Dutch, although probably just as maudlin.”

 

 

 

It seemed doubly cruel to think of Syndalla lying on the other side of that wall, having taken on a burden she had sworn never to bear again. Mourning her dead lover still, he knew.

 

 

This was a a terrible place. Their orders brought no hope and now they must go and treat with this reckless fool Solo. If this box contained what he thought it did Kay must see it. Solo might well have charts and hopefully his compatriots would not eat them all before they could be prized from his mercenary hands. She knew the stakes as well as he, better perhaps.

Tarkin at least, Vader at worst, hostages at risk and no way out but forward.


Yet here he was with a pearl in his hand and a grateful heart.

 

 

 


She opened her eyes then and lay quiet for a time seeming as thoughtful or confused as he had been but moments before. After a little while passed she lifted herself up onto her elbows and smiled as a fair and true-hearted woman of twenty might smile at a man she loved.

“Well, damn you husband,” she said, “why are you staring at me like that? What an odd thing to be doing.”

 

 

 

Less than three hours later, Mr. Charles Avelar and his new young bride, along with their servants, left the Ferry Inn and proceeded on the Spanishtown Road back toward Kingston Parish.

 

Mr. Avelar made arrangements to return to the Inn within three days time as he said he intended to continue on to the capitol after some unexpected business in Kingston was completed. He did not, however, do so. This was not a surprising as it might have otherwise been since shortly thereafter a great tumult broke out in Kingston in which a number of Governmental soldiers and other persons of a lower sort were killed. This resulted in not only the temporary closing of the road but the closing of the town gates and, for a brief time, even the port itself.

 

 Since Mr. Avelar had paid in advance the landlord, Mr. Parker, was not seriously inconvenienced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Kingston Harbor and 

The Ferry Inn

St. Catherine's Parish 

Kingston, Jamaica

 

December, 1769

 

 

Captain Andor had reviewed orders before they left their good ship.

“Solo has served the Alliance well in the past, but as he has served nearly everyone else in addition, it would be reckless in the extreme not be prepared for contingencies of betrayal. Cor, Syndalla, when you are separated from us use your own good sense and discretion. It is possible that someone from Leeward or one of the other Maroon townships may try to approach you. Thomwell’s people are known to have watchers in the port, and Quao would be a fool if he did not do the same.”

“What do we tell them if they ask if we are Alliance, Captain, and what if they ask our mission?” Mr. Cor had asked.

“If they approach us it will surely be because they already mark us as Alliance,” Syndalla proposed.

“You are correct, without doubt" Andor said. “Tell them as much of the truth as you judge safe to pass on. If the British gain access to such weapons as we think are being ventured in this Florida plantation, they may find themselves a most likely target and their leaders will need to know.”


It had seemed to Hera Syndalla that Mr. Kay turned his head rather inquiringly at this statement, although that that gentleman’s thoughts were never easy to gauge.

Was Captain Andor exceeding his authority in this matter? Or perhaps it was nearer to say, ‘In this matter as well?’ Many of the cells in the Americas once derided the Greater Alliance in her hearing as cautious to the point of timidity. Not here it seemed, not Captain Andor and most certainly not now.

She had not known Mr. Baldwin Cor previous to this venture, although she well knew the physical valor and unnatural calm required to serve within his position. Mr. Melshi, with whom she had previous acquaintance, recommended him as a Master Gunner capable to lay out a plan of cannon and the manning of such to sink a French warship with only 20 eight-pound guns, 30 one-handed orphans, a hundred balls of shot, ten barrels of gunpowder and a leg of mutton.

Fool that she was, she had asked “What purpose does the mutton serve, sir?”

All three gentleman present, Mr.s Melshi, and Cor and Captain Rostock himself, quite doubled over with laughter and answered “Supper!” in delighted chorus.

Sometimes Mr. Kay, for all his oddity, stood as a restful oasis among the Sons of Adam.

 

 

Master Cor had volunteered for this mission, as had they all. Who knew better than a Gunner the devastating potential of a stable and exponentially more powerful explosive in the hands of an enemy sowing the seeds of Empire among three seafaring nations? Add also the facts of his being a handsome fellow of the correct heritage, who knew the British ways and the role of a footman well enough to play it, having begun his life in bondage to a weapons merchant in Bristol and she could understand well why Captain Andor had taken him on for this subeterfuge, even if he was green to such work.

The woman, Miss Erso, was quite unknown to her as well. She seemed almost painfully young, but had clearly been newly recruited to the Alliance for this venture in particular, possessing skills and intelligence pertinent to their target. Word regarding her filtered among the crew along two dominant lines of discussion. Firstly as she was confirmed to have served for a number of years at the right hand of the dreaded Saul Gerrere, which of itself dismissed any and all doubt as to her capabilities in combat, and secondly that Captain Andor was her lover.

 

 

Captain Hera Syndalla had first made acquaintance with Andor years ago, when she had newly taken command of her first ship. He had been one of Mr. Draven’s child couriers, a phantom-like boy all dark eyes and quick heels, distinct from amongst the others only by virtue of his youth.

“Great Lady of the Rivers, please let that child be older than he looks,” she had thought, as he slipped a sealed packet of orders into her basket on the Southhampton docks. Some years subsequent she was re-introduced to the young man at Veracruz in the uniform of a Spanish officer and given orders to get him into the castle of San Salvador de la Punta at Havanna ahead of the British assault. A handsome young cavalier he had been, though by his looks only newly come to shaving. His orders, as he tersely summed them, were to “Steal a book and kill a man.”

“How long shall we wait for you,” she had asked, her concern for her own crew’s safety being paramount to her. Their mission to Brazil lay still before them and time was running swiftly.

“You will not,” he informed her, most coolly. “You will proceed to Salvador and may God go with you.”

“We leave this young man to die,” Kanaã had said, much distressed at the thought and she could not disagree. Yet, orders were orders and young Andor had seemed to face whatever lay before him with equanimity.

The Espírito had brought him to the West side of the great bay under cover of night and dropped him ashore as the British warships gathered on the incoming wind.

What his mission had been in detail and how he got out of Havana she never learned. They proceeded on to Brazil and the great battle that lay ahead for them there. Within two years all those she loved more than her own life would be dead and her faith and hopes dashed.

 

 

Her spirit broken they brought her back to Europe after. When her body recovered, she felt herself little more than an empty shell but being still in possession of eyes and hands and back she went to Dodonna and asked to be set aboard a ship, any ship, to work as a common sailor.

 

So she had lived these last five years. The last ghost of the Espírito…..unless loyal Talhador lived still and fought alone among the rebels in the forests or the bairro…..Of those aboard this vessel only Captain Rostock and the other officers knew of her former rank. When she had signed on and claimed her hammock the old Quartermaster Kanata below decks had peered at her closely. “Binti,” she had said, “Tunatumikia kwa nguvu tuliyo nayo,” then taken both her hands and kissed them. “Huruma waits ahead and we can only walk toward it.”

Blessing on her, she had said nothing more and spoken to Hera no more after.

Why she had signed on when the call for crew came at Cadiz, she could not truly say. Rostock, she knew, was a good man but the Americas were as the land of death for her.

 

Yet she had had a dream one night in that port, not one of her nightmares, but a new one of standing with her old Second Mate, Orrelioza, looking out at a red horizon. “Look, Little Captain,”….for so he had called her…. saying in his great booming voice, “It is a sky to wonder at.” Confused, she had not known even whether she faced East or West. “Does it rise or set?” she asked him. “Ah,” he had said, standing in all his towering bulk beside her, “It sets. But you and I, Little Captain, we are not like these priests and mystics. We are sailors. We know that however long the night or bloody the sun's setting it will rise again to a fairer day.”

 

She had awakened in tears and risen from her bed in that Cadiz hostel at daybreak to find Rostock’s ship at dock and sign on to Andor’s venture to the West Indies.

 

When word had come down that they sought a woman of Africa to join the shore party her hand had lifted, as if of it’s own accord.

 

Only afterwards did Captain Cassian Andor approach her to speak privately. “Capitão. ..você tem certeza de que está pronto?”

She knew well what was required of her here. To play the part of one held in bondage was bitter beyond measure. The danger was great, but that was not why he asked. Still, she had felt no resentment regarding the inquiry. Five years she had hidden from action in the field. Andor commanded this venture, it was his right and duty to ask and she would have done the same.

Yet the thought that came to her mind, if not her tongue, was “Oh far better to ask young man, if YOU are ready?”

 

For she had seen the way his eyes followed the English girl upon the mast, and seen as well the way hers sought out his location first when she entered any room.

 

She had last seen her love as they turned to fight face outwards against the Viceroyalty troops that stormed their last stronghold. He had not seen her, for they had blinded him already by then, but before God there was never such a swordsman, sightless or not, as her Kanaã, her bold ex-Jesuit, and the love of her life. They had fought to the end and her last memory was of his back pressed to hers before loss of blood caused her senses to fail.

“Leave me,” she knew she had cried as Talhador had dragged her from under the wreckage where her enemies had left her for dead. “I cannot,” he had said simply, dogged and loyal.


Had any person asked her, or had she considered the question herself, whether serving with another pair of soldiers in their fraternity of Light who stood as she and Kanaã had stood, she would have said the pain would be too great. Yet now she found, as she looked at this shrewd and capable officer and bold young pirate, that she felt only an overwhelming wish to protect them. Hera Syndalla did not envy or begrudge these lovers whatever joy they could find, only bless them in her heart and pity them the separation that surely lay ahead.

 

 

 

Now, as Mrs. Avelar’s “Helen” she had walked through Kingston invisible and unafraid. Fashions had changed since she had last vested herself in such garments but little else in the visible relation of mistress to slave had. They walked as carefully as upon shards of glass to the Ferry Inn and events there passed as their necessitiy required. A merchant’s lady’s maid traveling through was treated in a dismissive but businesslike way lest her mistress take some offense.

She made sure she held a spot on the back stairway as Captain Solo passed her by with a rakish smile to follow Mr. Cor.

Damn it. She had seen this man before.  Not under this name, or perhaps she had never been given name, for her business then had been with a popinjay mulatto fellow at New Orleans who had been giving her….selling her in truth…..a ships log and charts stolen from the guano boat. Alando was the name the handsome swain had used but this European boy had been there on the dock too, also a larger man, silent, cloaked and hooded.

Interesting. She would pass this too on to Captain Andor.

 

 

 

In the kitchen she was given a plate and sent to a table reserved for the people of the “gentry” travelers. It was only as she spoke to the chief among the housekeepers that she noticed the white-aproned girl with the slight limp. She worked as a cooks helper, but seemed to be tasked with some upstairs serving as well. As “Helen” made ready to return upstairs to help prepare her “mistress” for bed, one of the other Inn girls made to carry up the cans of warm water.

“No there, Sara,” the crippled girl said,” Nan says I am to do it, you must take the pots up to the front room.”

As they crossed into the hallway the girl bent her head back toward Syndalla.

“Alianza?” she hissed softly.

Hand still upon the rail “Helen” pushed back the white linen ruffle of her fitted blue silk sleeve to show the bird tattoo upon the inside of her elbow.

“Here,” the girl said nodding at a closet door off the hallway, then with a glance down both ways she ducked inside. “Helen” followed her. It came as no surprise to her that the young woman stood tall and her limp vanished when out of public sight.

 

Captain Andor had been right. The Free people of the Maroon Townships in the high central mountains did indeed keep spies in Kingston. No doubt Cor would also be approached in the stables, either tonight or in the morning.

She made arrangement for an exchange of information the next day and reported fully to Andor of the encounter when she returned to the rooms with the items for the evenings ablutions and helped her “mistress” to undress. This was indeed a mission of far-reaching import.

 

 

Miss Erso had performed quite admirably, and she made certain to tell the girl so. She had neither under nor overplayed her part, the latter being the most common error of the novice spy. The poor buccaneer seemed shaken now that the masks were dropped and held Hera’s hands in gratitude.

 

 

Midshipman Syndalla retired to her closet room to give the lovers what time together they could have, hung her own gown and garments upon pegs and laid down in the small bed to sleep.
In the cross-stitched reticule she had carried at her waist she found the tiny pressed tin box that held the balls of paraffined cotton Mr. Kay had given her.

“They are generally far more discreet than other couples of their general age and health, “ that gentleman had replied to her shocked questioning of the purpose of such an item, “but as you may be at close quarters with them over several nights it is a precaution that may help assure your rest.”

Indecorous as it was she could not help but smile at the thought of the endless embarrassment his friend’s forthrightness must cause this reserved young Captain.

She placed the small circles of wax in her ears and lay to rest.

That night she was gifted with a dream of her Kanaã in happier times at the helm of the Espírito, his sword at his hip and his eyes clear. “Nothing is lost or forgotten my love and what is bound is never undone,” he said with his arm around her shoulder.

In this vile place and on the edge of terrible hazard, Hera Syndalla slept better than she had in many years.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spanishtown Road
and the Leeward Road

Kingston

and environs

Jamaica

December 24, 1769

 

 

Afterwards, when Captain Andor dispatched his report of the incident back to London, he included, under separate cover as he had always done, Mr. Kay’s personal commentaries as well as notes and pertinent selections copied by that gentleman from the variety of useful volumes of reference he had included in his luggage and equipment on the voyage.

 

[c. 17—- THE LAWS OF JAMAICA

C A P XIX

An act for the building of a guard-house and barrack in the town of KINGSTON. —(2nd December, 1749.)

preamble. WHEREAS, account of the great concourse of negro and other slaves, coming from divers parts of the country into Kingston to market and on other occasions, it hath been found necessary for the public safety that guards should be kept there to prevent, as much as possible, any disorders or disturbances amongst them and to frustrate and defeat any of their evil purposes or designs: and Whereas, for want of a proper guard-house and barracks for the reception of soldiers, that duty has been performed by, and fallen very heavy on, the inhabitants of the said town, who have been obliged as civic obligation to supplement in the keeping of guard there from from Saturday until Monday in every week and on all the usual holidays in each year……]

  

[Mr. Edward Long, The History of Jamaica. Or, A General Survey of the Ancient and Modern State of that Island:: With Reflections on Its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government. In Three Volumes. Illustrated with Copper Plates. 1764

……In the towns during the Christmas holidays, they have….in parade….several tall or robust fellows, dressed up in grotesque habits, often with ox-horns on their heads sprouting from the top of a sort of horrid viper, or mask……The Masquerader, carrying a wooden sword in his hand is followed by a crowd of carousing women, who refresh him frequently with cups of anise-seed water whilst he dances at every door, bellowing out John Connu….these feasts are characterized by great crowds……. in which it seems nearly all those slaves held within the town and adjacent plantations participate along with some numbers of the white bondsmen and lower servants….dance, song, drums, banners and costumed figures many with Cow Tails and other odd things that give them a most extraordinary appearance…..]

 

 

 

 

 

 


When Syndalla knocked discretely upon their door Captain Andor and Miss Erso had been awake for some amount of time. The Inn was already abustle with the day’s activities but as“Helen” had upon the previous evening left instructions that bread and coffee be available as a breakfast for Mr. and Mrs. Avelar, she had gone down to procure it and brought it to the room at the appointed hour.

Captain Andor realized that the pang he endured upon noting that officer’s fleeting expression of concern and slight sigh, as of relief, at finding them both out of bed and mostly dressed was a trial he would have to become accustomed to.

Oh mi Dios, Capitão, he thought, torn between amusement and embarrassment, what sort of scene were you expecting?

 

 

 

Miss Erso had an hour earlier disengaged herself from his arms after one last hurried embrace and slipped into the clean linen chemise laid out the previous night. The clever woman even managed her stays and first two petticoats herself, although he gallantly offered his own assistance in the lacing

“I confess sir,” she had said, smiling most delightfully, “the range of your skills continues to astonish me. Is training in the techniques of a lady’s maid a common part of a gentleman’s curriculum where you schooled?”

He took the needle from the ribbon, after pulling its through the last eyelet and tied the laces at her back. The temptation to kiss her neck seemed hardly worth the effort of resisting at this juncture.


He whispered in her ear as he did so, “I assure you, could you be granted some sight me at the age of fourteen, this would be far less mysterious to you."

Upon later reflection, it came to him that Miss Erso’s following peals of of laughter may have been the cause of Syndalla’s quizzical expression upon entering the room moments afterwards.

 


By the time Mr. Cor joined them, both women were groomed and prepared. With their painful armor back in place they must quit the rooms that had offered them an evenings illusion of shelter and turn back to Kingston and the Harbor.

 


Andor planned, as he had been trained to do, for every contingency visible to him.

Their original and most optimistic hope had once been to gain whatever intelligence they might from Solo and depart within a day, skirting the main West entrance of Kingston with the mornings traffic and returning directly to their ship, with only a brief stop at a “safe” house upon the Harbor Street to change clothing and identities if necessary. Solo’s “box” and the agreed-upon necessity of now at least meeting with a representative from the Maroon Townships after their approach to Syndalla must delay them and engage contingencies.

The numbers moving toward the city from the Spanishtown Road for the upcoming holiday would make their concealment and escape easier in some aspects but more difficult in others.

 “I had almost forgotten the date," Miss Erso had said, peering out the window at the Inn, before their departure,  "Is the custom here that the revels should be on Christmas Day or St. Stephens? I have seen such in Barbados and Cuba.” She watched as wagons of wares, in the form of foodstuffs, fruit and barrels of what was surely rum passed by upon the road before the Inn and and the oxen of the Ferry moved ceaselessly, carrying passengers


“St. Stephens,” Captain Andor told her, “The peculiarity of Jonkannu upon this island, lies in the layout of the city and the peculiarities of its military defense. If we can conclude our business, my is hope to be gone from here before it commences, but that as that depends on Captain Solo”…… he had a strong intuition that the phrase ‘ depends on Captain Solo’ presaged disaster as often as it’s opposite….. 

 

 


By ancient custom….indeed it seemed a universal thing, for he had seen its like, varied in details of date and scale, everywhere from Seville to Odessa, and Boston to Lima……Those held in slavery and lowest servitude were given their “holiday” from labor at years end and some kind of constrained opportunity in riot and spectacle to vent their anger or forget their pain. In many ports of the Caribbean it was called “john canoe.”

 

 

 

 


Melshi knew this port well and Kay, as was his habit, had diligently researched the structures, events and geography they would encounter in Kingston.

“Unlike more ancient cities there is no ‘merchants row” or common district of business in Kingston,” he had informed them, “the town itself is very carefully designed to resemble a box.”

Cassian noted that he had paused at this juncture in showing them the maps, tilting his head in a manner the Captain had come to realize was one of his friend’s few indications of a kind of distress that in others would pass as some strong emotion. Why now?

“A cell might be a more illustrative metaphor,” Mr. Kay, “with limited and easily sealed points of access and egress and wide clear lines of sight to a single pre-determined spot for the gathering of groups, an open common indicated on this map as “the Parade." There is no visible wall around the city but the closing of three roads would seal off all escape This accomplished the only open end faces the sea,”

There had been no change whatsoever in the gentleman’s dispassionate voice.

 

A cell. Captain Andor wondered sometimes if anyone save himself ever noticed such mannerisms or indeed if Kay himself were aware of them.

Few others had occasion to notice the faint scars upon the man’s wrists and ankles, or commented upon them if they did.

He wished, at such times that he might offer some comfort or sympathy, but he knew even after all these years no way to do so. 

 

“Thank you, Kay,” he said and his old friend had nodded.

 

 


They ate the last of their bread and conferenced as they did so.

“The governors of Jamaica know, as do all oppressors, that they are vastly outnumbered by those they torment." he said,"the climate and fevers of the Caribbean act as a further discouragement to the emigration Britain would require to fully control its most profitable colonies. One peculiar effect of this in Jamaica has been that one of the inducements to the many soldiers posted here to remain at their dangerous stations and not desert en masse has always been that upon Sundays and all festival and holidays they shall be allowed to remain safely in their barracks while all the white male citizens shall be pressed to act as their own militia to guard the cities upon such days.”

“Thus for some fifty-four days of the year a number of them must put their own precious hides at hazard in order to defend their bloody riches,” Cor said.

Syndalla shrugged, “Perhaps they do, but generations of edifice assure their risk is lessened. The people held at labor know that even the whisper of open resistance would be death for many. The red coated soldiers do but wait inside the forts and when they come out again no nation or power could or would come to aid those standing before them. Strong as they are, the Maroons have bargained for their own safety, since the end of the War with Spain they are surrounded and resurgent Britain threatens all they have built here. They say they will give shelter no more to those who escape the yoke and since, with Gerrere's death, the pirate confederacies are all now broken or foresworn…”

Andor felt rather than saw a reflexive tension in Miss Erso’s form, even bound as it was in the pink silk gown, at these words .

 

“…..there is no escape and no long path forward unless the world itself can be changed to cast light upon one. Few as we are, that is our task.” Hera Syndalla’s voice was firm.

Ah, this again was the woman he remembered at the helm of the ship that had brought him into Havana Harbor in moonless dark, with sails down on a night tide, almost under the very guns of a waiting naval force.

Bienvenido de nuevo, valiente Capitán, Cassian Andor thought.

 

“Amen,” Mr. Cor said quietly.

Miss Erso lifted her eyes and nodded.

Though her face remained composed, he was surprised to feel her small strong hand press his own beneath the shadow of the table.

“So,” Mr. Baldwin Cor said, “if I understand you, we must potentially walk back into a contained sanctioned riot of hundreds of desperate souls with nothing to lose, girded all round by trigger-happy and brutal amateur Sunday soldiers, all of them soaking in rum. Through this we will try to find our way back to our ship with Solo in shackles at pistol's point?”

‘That is one scenario, yes,” Andor was forced to agree, “in a more hopeful one, Captain Solo will betray us by neither design or mere idiocy, and we can be back aboard our ship, out of Kingston Harbor and well outside the Pallisados and the graveyards of Port Royal before midnight tomorrow.”

“If not,” Syndalla said, with a fatalistic smile, “The costumes are often quite wonderful.”

 

 

 

 


Mr. Cor preceded them to the stables and brought round the carriage. “Mr. Avelar” handed his bride in and took his seat beside her, as his man lifted “Helen” into the seat across before climbing up to take his own. There was no sign of the woman who had spoken to Syndalla last night, but it was the Maroons play to make, they could not delay longer.

 

The number of travelers upon the road was greater than that of the previous day, but mostly consisted of wagons and carts bringing victuals and supplies. The 24th was a day of excessive cooking and work. All must be done, not only for the graceful Christmas dinners of the gentry, but to stand for the day following when nearly all who cooked, cleaned, sewed, tilled or washed would be permitted to attend the grand parade. The greater part of the traffic on foot and horseback would come tomorrow as the middling sorts of white planters and their sons, clerks and and shopkeepers from all of the Parishes adjacent came toward the town to organize for their day of “military”service.

 

It was a fine morning and although the number of carts at the shallow Cobre River crossing delayed them some, the sunlight shone on Hunts Bay and the breeze was pleasant. A dark young man in a green coat and a ferryman’s cap stepped forward to lay hand upon the horse’s harness.

“Please, let me assist you here, sir,” he said, “if I may hold the reins I can lead your horse with safety across the shallows. The water is but two spans at deepest  but several have slipped today and traffic has roughed the bed..”

His hand moved to his jacket cuff at once to loosen the knife and he sensed that his “wife,” who but a moment before had been resting her head upon his shoulder now reached for her ribboned straw hat, not to prevent its blowing away in the sudden breeze, but to reach the six-inch hardened steel pin within it.

“Ah,” the young man said with a smile, and a tip of his brimmed hat, ”surely we have met, Miss Helen? My sister at the Ferry Inn does send her regards.

Cor flashed a look at Captain Andor and upon his nod of assent, passed the fellow the horses lead.

“Best you should climb up and drive if you know the ground,” Mr. Cor said and the green-coated man swung up into the seat beside him.

The stranger kept his eyes upon the river, but spoke quite clearly, “Your message has been passed on, Alliance, but you should know we will proffer no aid. I speak for Captain Quan at NannyTown, heir of the Great Lady herself and leader of Windward, but I assure you you shall fare no better with the Leeward. Fortune smile on you, he says, if you fight the British but speed away from this Island. We will not risk for you the treaty our fathers won."

The Captain saw Syndalla’s jaw work in frustration, as if biting back words, but she held her tongue.

Mr. Cor spoke. “We do not ask your help,” he said, “We offer you warning without any request for favor beyond the courtesy that you forgo any mention of us to the King’s officers.”

The young man snapped a sharp look at Cor. “If such calumnies are spread abroad about the free people of the mountains, know them to be lies. We honor our treaty because we must but we do not spy for the vultures.”

From beside him, rather unexpectedly, Miss Erso spoke, “Do you know who I am, asafo of the Windward Township?”

The man did not turn his head, only his eyes flitted back, “No. Who are you, Oburoni baa?”

“I am the abanoma of Commander Saul Gerrere.”

 

There was silence for a moment, save only for the sound of the breeze and the bay. Even the lowing of the cattle and other horses on the road seemed to fade.

 

The man bowed his head, “It is true then that he is dead?”

 

“He is gone,” she said. Then, injudicious as it was to stand in a carriage even if it moved but slowly over rutted sand, she held out her hand to Captain Andor without a word so that he might help her step forward to take the seat beside Syndalla. Closer to the man now, she turned her head as if toward her “Helen,” but spoke clearly so that the Windward agent could not miss her words.

“Darkness spreads and the Onderean sails no more. I hunt the E-dom and these are my friends who fight with me. I assure you in his name, firstly that any one of them is worth ten of you, asafo of the Windward Township, and secondly that we seek no action against you. Tell your leaders to believe me as they would my agya when I give you this warning, his Enemy have made an explosive in Florida, a black powder so powerful that 20 pounds will tear a mountain asunder, that will burn even wet, pour like oil or be carried in a knapsack and yet do no harm to he who carries it until a match touches it. Ask them this: When the British have such weapons how long will they honor your treaty?”

They had now crossed the ford at the marshy flats of the Obore and were in clear sight again of the Leeward Road.

The green-jacketed man stopped the carriage and climbed down. “What is your ship at Kingston Harbor?”

It was a risk, but how great was the likelihood that they did not know already? If not them then Trelawnly’s people at Leeward?

 

“She sails as The Lady’s Gambit,” Captain Andor said.

The man bowed then to Miss Erso, who had returned to Captain Andor’s side, “I am called Nine," he said. "It is an honor to have met you. My father was freed from death and darkness by the Lion’s hand as a boy. We live under a shadow and it is not for me to make decisions for the elders or my Captain but I will pass on your message, asafo of the Alliance, and I thank you for your trust.”

Nine stepped off into the crowd of workers gathered to pull the wagons across the marshy shore, pulling off the green jacket as he did so and they soon lost sight of him.

Mr. Cor resumed driving and the horses moved ahead to the arranged meeting place with Solo a few miles ahead and nearer to Kingston proper.

 

“Well,” Syndalla said. “That went as well as it might have, I think.’

“Good,” Miss Erso said, “I admit I was a trifle concerned. It is not the sort of thing I am used to. You do not consider that I overplayed it?”

She had replaced her hat pertly and looked at him with genuine inquiry.

Where have you been all the days of my life and what saint do I thank for bringing you to me now? he wondered.

“Not at all,” he said, “You managed it quite well.

 

 


Some miles later they came to a place near to a shady and pleasant stretch of the road, a copse of trees beside a travelers well that had been marked upon their maps as New Greenwich, although there were no buildings save a farmhouse some distance back from the road and a few shacks down by the shore. Two men with horses were in the shade by the covered well and horse trough. One was recognizable as Captain Solo. The other man wore a wide hat pulled low. As they approached, Solo caught sight of them and raised his hat with one hand while tapping his companion with the other.

 

Captain had thought the man to be standing beside Solo, but now as they drew closer he saw that he had been sitting on the edge of the well with his back to them. Now the fellow truly stood and pushed back his brim so that his face visible to them.

“Heaven save us,” Mr. Cor said,” Is that….?”

“The cannibal?” Miss Erso ventured, quite leaning over him in the carriage, “By God, I hope so.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

The Trooper's Head

Kingston

 

Jamaica

 

December 25, 1769

 

 

 

 

 

 


“E wha nga tangata kei reira,” Khaeuri said. “I korero mai koe ki a au e rua nga tangata.”


‘Do not concern yourself, sir,” Captain Solo assured him. “All will be well. I am confident that I have the situation under control.”

His friend managed to convey enormous skepticism by means of the short grunt with which he replied.


As from my mouth to the ear of God, Solo told himself as he watched the agents of the Alliance approach. For some reason he found the thought of dying by the hands of good men far more distressful than that of dispatch by the wicked.

Mr. Avelar’s driver dismounted first.

A dark fellow, African by birth from the look of him but not tall. Broad of shoulder though, and the hand he laid to that horse's bridle looked strong. The bottom joint was missing from the small finger of his right hand. Gunpowder?

 

Avelar himself still bore the look of a well-tempered and self-possessed journeyman assassin thriftily saving up his pay to rent his own workshop. He stepped down and reached his hand back to assist his lady. That dainty creature was much flattered by her pink gown. As she lifted back the near transparent scarf she had worn over her hat to shield her fair face from sun and the dust of travel,  Captain Solo caught sight of those sharp green eyes again.

Had anyone been there to take the wager he would have bet she had already calculated the precise distance between her right hand and his left eye and how hard she would have to throw a knife to strike it cleanly.

 

His first mate chuckled behind him.

“Kaua e tinihangatia enei tangata, Ka taea e enei iwi katoa te patu ia koe.”

 

“Enough!” Solo hissed.

 

His friend, stepping forward to stand close now spoke more quietly, laying a hand upon his shoulder.

“Te tiaki. E mohio ana matou ki tenei wahine.”

 

What do you say? Which woman?

 

Mrs. Avelar’s handmaid had stepped down as well, a slender mulatto lass in a blue gown. She was quite pretty with a heart-shaped face and a shrewd expression, a few years older than her “mistress,” but still young. He had seen her on the stairway in the Inn….but Khaeuri had not been there.

 

The heathen was right. Why did she look so familiar? Damn! No good had ever come to him from an incompletely recognized woman.

 

“I hope we have not kept you waiting long, Captain Solo?” Avelar said, pleasantly, ‘We were delayed at the river.”

 

“Not at all,” he replied, “The day has been pleasant enough, but we should press on. It is best to be well within the arms of Kingston proper before the crowds and make our arrangements before evening overtakes us.”

 

“What arrangements are to be made then sir? Do we make for your ship tonight?”

 

“The Falcon is anchored out on the far side of the Palisados, at old Port Royal. If you have, as you informed me at our previous meeting, the ability to secure accommodations where we may stay in the city with safety tonight, my proposal is that you yourself sir, and as many of your party as wish to accompany,” he tipped his hat to the ladies now, “should come with me in a small sloop I have borrowed for the purpose to my ship where she lies at anchor to assess the trinkets we obtained in East Florida. If you find them worthwhile, we shall set upon a price and your ship can come out on the most convenient tide either tomorrow or the next day, as whatever fiction you have spun for yourselves with the port authorities demands, to fetch you back again. We shall then part company, yourselves on to whatever battle with Satan awaits you and myself to spend your money.”

 

Mrs. Avelar, eyed him suspiciously, “You said you had the evidence we sought aboard your ship sir, why the danger and trouble of the additional crossing of the Harbor? If your intention was to parlay and trade as contracted why would you not have brought in to Kingston wharf yourself?”

 

“Parlay?” had he not known her pirate-born before, he knew it now.

 

“My dear madam, your associates engaged me because my ship is universally known for speed and and discretion. I defy you to find any another who can make the crossing quicker, in any weather under any amount of sail. Still, in normal course of honorable business we have come to have entanglements with a number of parties in the Caribbean. The ports are none so free as once they were and certain, rivalries shall we say, have become testy as opportunities for those of us who prefer to be our own masters have diminished.”

 

Avelar cut him off there, “Might you state it more plainly, Captain, by saying there are those in this port who would recognize you or your ship, those you earnestly wish to avoid?

Damn the fellow, there are those in practically every port between Veracruz and Istanbul he wished to avoid. He ought to know that well enough.

 

 

"Not all of us can live on the good bread of hope, sir, and as the walls of Empires rise some of us poor rats have all that we can do to wriggle through the few cracks remaining in pursuit of our crumbs," he spoke lightly, but found a certain bitterness creeping in to his words, "sometimes the smaller rats fall afoul of the larger in these dark days."

 

Avelar seemed unperturbed his words although his bride scowled, a disconcertingly fierce expression on one so young, "Your ship is watched for and would be marked, and you hope to use us as your cloak as well as your purse."

 

Her well-dressed young husband sighed slightly, as if assured of some disappointing but expected conjecture. "And thus your election to meet so well away from the port itself, and your proposed timing to reenter it shielded by the crowds of the bondsmen's festival and to the quit the harbor under guise with us as the regular authorities yield their places at watch to the planter's own well-armed but more inexperienced militia."

He did not know which he found more uncomfortable, the husband's cynical dismissal, the wife's clear disgust, or the "maid's" faint, knowing smile and shake of the head. Who were these angels to judge him? And, damn it all, where did he know that maid from?

 

 

As it so often served him, he made bravado his shield.

“Come sir, we are all men….and women… of the world here. What serves us serves you in this instance. I have no wish to be caught by my competitors and having glimpsed their housekeeping set up in East Florida, even less to be detained by yours. Unless you wish to negotiate this by some other means..." he brushed his coat lightly in such a way as to bring his hand closer to his blade without actually reaching for it and felt rather than heard Khaeuri rumble slightly behind and to his left. His fearsome friend thought him a reckless fool, he knew, but would stand with him no matter the odds.

For an instant he thought he had finally cast in too high.

 

The driver's hand moved toward the cushion of the carriage, where he had no doubt a pistol was concealed, and both women tensed as if ready to move sideways and widen the field of attack. Mrs. Avelar openly reached for whatever blade was hidden in her left sleeve.

 

The dark haired gentleman himself however lifted his right hand slightly in a gesture that restrained his colleagues. It was not always easy to tell with Alliance who the lead angel was in any squadron of them, it was just as likely to be the cabin boy as the captain, but now he knew.

This dark-eyed (Spanish? Arab? Portugese? American?) killer was the St. Micheal here.

 

"We will play this by your script for now, Captain Solo," he said, "but I pray you, no more revisions or we shall be obliged to re-negotiate from the ground up.”


Solo bowed and tipped his hat. Khaeuri, stepped back.

 

“Lead on then, sir. We shall be your Christmas guests. Afterwards….well, the sooner ventured the sooner completed.”

 

Avelar glanced back at his compatriots with a turn of the head. The order to “stand down” seemed by all taken without word or further motion, save the hand he laid lightly on his bride’s right wrist.

 

They resumed their carriage and he and Khaeuri mounted the horses that his Mate had procured at one of the Guard Houses adjacent to the Bay upon the previous night.

 

 


“The bodies are disposed so as to make it look as if they drowned after too much drink at the crossing, are they not?

“E whakaaro ana koe ko taku kanikani tuatahi tenei?” Khaeuri had snarled.

“I merely inquire, as missing limbs tend to incite remark.”

 

 


As was his habit, his friend took a moment to speak quietly to his mount, assuring the beast that the journey would not be far, and asking pardon for the greatness of the burden. The great baby disliked to ride, but there was little good option here. They must look passably like a SpanishTown planter and his foreman sent into the city to take their Squire’s place at the muster.


Thus reconfigured they joined in the flow of traffic toward the narrow entrance to the city offered by the Leeward Road.

 

 

 

 


The city of Kingston was a marvel of modern engineering. It had no proper walls or gates per se for it needed none.

His memories of the thick-walled fortress that formed Dutch Batavia were few but very clear.

Here the pattern of the buildings and houses themselves largely combined with the brick walls that cornered the ends of the streets to form sufficient barriers. Whichever English bastards designed it after the Great Earthquake her streets were laid out at a pleasant grid so that one slid up and down the right angled streets as pegs upon a cribbage board, entering at one of three points and moving up or down from there.

 

 

It was well past afternoon when their party stopped at one of the several white-washed buildings upon Bourdon Street at Mathew's Lane. From the door facing the street of this modest dwelling swung a sign with the image of a Trooper’s Head. It was not quite the better lodging to be found some distance from the East side, nor yet one of the lower public houses closer to the West.

 

The borrowed carriage was driven back to a stable behind after Avelar and the two women disembarked. The landlord, delighted at the thought of such well-dressed patronage quickly ordered an aproned girl to guide them to a front parlor, probably displacing his own family from it in order to do so. Solo and Khaeuri, well cloaked, despite the warmth of the day, waited a few moments then followed in and were asked to tie their mounts back in a small high-fenced yard.

 

Avelar's "driver" met them there.

"Wait in the public room for an hour until I come for you," he said. "We will arrange affairs."

 

Send word to his ship, he means, Solo reasoned, nodding in assent.

 

The fellow eyed Khaeuri, who had removed his hat to fill it with water from the troughs set for the horses and now poured the liquid over his thick black hair and wildly patterned head in order to cool himself.

 

"I cannot help but wonder," the Alliance man said, "if concealment is your chief aim, why you elect this...memorable....gentleman from among your crew to be the one who acts as your second?"

 

"What? Do you refer to my First Officer, good fellow?" Solo asked, "I am afraid your meaning escapes me."

 

 

The man left them then and when Khaeuri finished drying his face and hair upon his coat, they proceeded into the cramped tap room.

 


Fully intending to put the costs on Avelar's account, Solo ordered a small bowl of punch and seated himself, back to the wall, behind a rough table. The room contained a few mechanicals and others with no households come to finish their day and make plans for the festive morrow.

 

 

"E kore ahau e inu i taua mea kino," his companion grumbled, as he always did, turning up his nose.

 


"Of course not," the captain apologized, "so great was my distraction that I forgot. I will bravely shift to drink both measures myself."

 

He was possessed of an optimism that had escaped him for some time. That Florida venture had put a chill upon his heart that was only now beginning to shake. Perhaps the risk had been worth it.

 

In truth he had hesitated in those windless leafy canyons on the Mantanzas River before that mad boy Luc had slipped overboard before the light failed, braving alligators and God alone knew what else to fetch that box.

“Some tormented soul perished to get this here Capitaine, I feel sure of it. I cannot bear to think of a restless spirit wandering without peace"

Bloody French Catholic chivalry.

He could not simply have left the boy to die there, could he?

 

Who but God knew?

Perhaps these fierce guardian angels might even win against whatever evil lurked back there, maybe, for a day, a year, ten. Long enough, it could be hoped, for him to close his debts in Cuba and pay his young crew off ashore some place reasonably safe.

 

The thought of it brought Captain Han Solo as close to a clean conscience as ever he expected to have again.

 

"My old friend," he said, quaffing the decent watered rum and good lime that even a poor tavern could manage in Jamaica. "I think we have managed a bad hand to our advantage here and may well have saved our own necks thereby.”

The room was beginning to fill.

 

“Go and check upon the horses to make sure they are not visible from the street and look to see if that fellow has come back around to tell us our employers are ready with their next move I will settle accounts here and meet you by the door.”

 

Khaeuri nodded and went out by the side passage, thus increasing the available space in the room by half.

 

All that was necessary was to manage tonight and part of tomorrow. Solo lifted the bowl in a silent toast to his own good spirits.

 

It was only as he laid that vessel aside and moved to rise from his bench that he perceived the threadbare green coat of the gnarled man who abruptly seated himself opposite. Solo also caught sight of the scarred bastard’s hand slipping a pistol, no doubt primed and loaded, quickly out of plain sight and under the boards of the table between them. It was aimed at either his heart or, from that low angle, other organs he prized even more greatly.

 

“¿Tienes un destino, Capitán Solo?”


Oskar Grediaz. One of Jabbar’s lesser henchman.

 

There was no mercy for a poor sinner, was there?

Vrolijk verdomde kerst, Han,my boy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

The Trooper's Head

Kingston, Jamaica

 

December 25, 1769 

 

 

 

Mr. Baldwin Cor knew that he might not walk long on the streets of Kingston alone without some question. Mr Kay had carefully provided their party with a number of convincingly forged “passes” to give to any authorities who questioned the movements of Midshipman Syndalla or himself when unaccompanied on the street, but these were no guarantee of safety. After sunset tonight the less professional volunteers would take over the duties of policing the streets and curfew and these measures might prove absolutely vital. Even at this afternoon hour he was stopped twice as he approached the Harbor Street, both times by men wearing the sash of the town guard. He had never known such fear in storm or under artillery fire. Yet he must have held his nerve and features in check, for seeming content with his letters they let him move on without apparent suspicion. One gentleman even smiled contentedly and bid him good holiday on the morrow.

He marveled most continuously at Syndalla’s courage and firmness of mind. What made his throat dry with imaginative apprehension she must have endured for months in Brazil.

 

In the West Indies, as indeed in most of the "profitable"colonies where the captives outnumbered their guards ten or twenty to one, the planters held their rule in thinly veiled terror of those they oppressed.  Any deviation in action or appearance was crushed ruthlessly.  Jamaica simmered on the volatile edge of revolt at all times and explosions occurred with regularity, the last but eight years ago.

 

If there was one thing Mr. Cor understood, with a natural affinity from boyhood that seemed as if it must have been granted to him by Providence, it was explosions.

 

 


He had been born in England, and his earliest memories were of bustling streets, shipyards and factory works.

His mother once told him of green valleys and mountains in the distance in a place called Futa Jallon near a village called Coré and how she and her sister had walked there where the wind rippled the grass like waves on the sea, to hold their hands outstretched together and dream that they could fly like birds.

“Where is your sister now my dear mother?” he had asked then and must have been so terribly young for he had not yet known that this was one of the many questions one must never, under any circumstance ask. “God alone knows,” she had whispered.

Never one other word of her life or trials or the place of her birth ever crossed her lips in his hearing.

 

He had been born in Bristol for his mother by virtue of her childish beauty and some agent’s whim had been purchased and brought back from Barbados as an age-mate companion and later maid-servant to the young daughter of the gunpowder merchant Mr. William Littleton and had later given birth below stairs in the house of that same gentleman.

They had called him “Anthony” as Mr. Littleton had an interest in the military generals of the ancient Empire. It was a luxurious affectation of his mother’s master that he be trained as a house servant from as early an age as he could be fitted into child-sized livery.

 

Anthony could not have been more than seven when he came down into the kitchens one day, balancing a tray twice his size, to see the cooks and maid-servants in a great uproar.

A one-eyed, eight-fingered Englishman with wig askew, in an unbuttoned brocade waistcoat with shirtsleeves rolled up was tossing thin twigs of wood into the kitchen fire. Each one was popping into a bright yellow and blue flame.

Unsurprisingly, the cook was quite distraught over the effect this might have on her roasts of beef. Her helpers were shrieking in terror, but the man seemed oblivious. He proceeded pulling envelopes of waxed paper from a leather bag he had dropped upon the table amid the cabbages and carrots of the day’s dinner and was emptying more and more of the sticks onto the table.

“Good!” he shouted, “Good, most of them are still dry, perhaps the fool has not cost us the entire demostration. Now I need the phosphorus! You, woman!” He shouted at the furious cook, “I need a kettle with tight lid, a copper kettle mind you, and a slitted wooden spoon. At once you bellowing harpy and this as well…” he seized a cabbage. The cook, much beside herself, picked up a cleaver and cursing all the saints in heaven, seemed to threaten the man with imminent decapitation. The butler and scullery maid made shift to restrain her.

“Do none of you fools speak the King’s English,” the man shouted above the dim, “A…COPPER..KETTLE…AND…LID! At once!”

The boy called Anthony laid the tray upon the back table and ran to fetch the demanded items from among the utensils hung upon the racks beside the baking ovens.

“Sir!” he said, running up and thrusting a small handled copper pot and lid toward the man amidst the tumult. The man snatched it up, and turned a sharp, small blue eye on him, rather like an inquisitive bird.

“Good!” he said, “And a little child shall lead them..’ the book says. Now, do you know where I can find a chamber pot?”

Anthony acceded that he most surely did, that there was a cupboard upstairs where these items were kept ready for distribution to the private chambers.

“Help me gather these up then and show me where to get one! Quickly child!”

Thus he first made the acquaintance of Mr. John Baldwin, chief chemist of the Littleton Powder Works.


From that eccentric gentleman, into whose service he was later given as a requested reward, he learned about chemistry and it’s engineering, how the basest and most vile of matters could be transformed. His new master had, after all, begun his career as an alchemist. In seeking gold he had become a keen producer of fire. Seeking the Philosophers Stone and the gift of life he now artisaned destruction.

Mr. Baldwin’s favoring of him for a quick mind and steady hand spared him the slow poisoning that could consume the lesser workers who bathed the phosphorus, and ground the sulphur. By skill and luck he escaped the accidents that struck all to often those who pressed the cakes of black powder that ships of war consumed like bread in Britain’s conflicts.

Possessing two good eyes to Mr. John Baldwin’s one, he became in time adept at the practical calculation and requirements of gun and cannon fire. Strong of stomach where that gentleman was prone to seasickness he became the one who documented the practical trials of the incendiaries developed for firepower at sea. He became, as Mr. Baldwin often conceded his "good right hand."

He as well saw how a brilliant man of keen mind and kindly nature could close his eyes to the consequences of the work of his hands, both near and distant. Much that he saw and learned troubled him, the injustice of his own situation and his mother's burned his heart, yet he knew full well how thin the thread upon which his safety hung.

One day, when he was seventeen, one of the mill foreman had tendered notice, having been hired away by a rival manufactory on another part of the coast in a dispute over advancement. "A free man makes choices," Mr. Tuskin said, "and unlike Anthony, sir, I may choose to leave your employ when opportunity presents itself." Mr. Baldwin had appeared quite startled as if in ten years he had never once made use of his luxury in considering the issue. 

“I have seen to some nonsense, with regard to your service Anthony,” Mr. Baldwin said, one day when Anthony was eighteen, and then thrust at him, with some obvious distraction of mind, his papers of manumission among a pile of shop orders and blueprints. He looked up to meet Anthony’s eye as he added, “Keep them with you, eh? these papers. I have set copies with my lawyer but….the Squire would not be pleased, best to keep it quiet for now.”

The name upon the paper was Anthony Coré. How Mr. Baldwin came by this he never learned.

 

They never spoke of it, though Anthony kept the papers well hidden in his rooms. He found that he was paid now, though always directly from Mr. Baldwin's hand, not from the paymaster. At twenty one, by the grace of God, he was even able to give his mother, if not justice for her suffering and lost youth, her liberty. When word came that Miss Mary Littleton was to marry a Bridgetown sugar merchant and remove with a household to the West Indies within the month he dressed in his best coat and withdrew the money he had saved. Mr. Littleton struck a hard bargain but as Mr. Baldwin had quietly offered to back any offer required the deal was struck. Miss Littleton wept at the loss of her lifelong maidservant but Anthony’s mother took his arm and walked away from the fine brick house without a backward glance.

He knew how narrow the road he walked was and the risk of asking aloud any questions that troubled his sleep was great.

He returned one day from an long errand to the Admiralty offices at Greenwich, with the secretary he was required to bring along when Mr. Baldwin was otherwise engaged, for many of the officials would not speak directly to a person of his history, to find his patron and employer stuffing papers frantically into a stove in his offices. Mr Baldwin abruptly ordered him from the room in round terms. “This is nothing to do with you!” he shouted. “Go! Stay away!”

Even for that increasingly erratic gentleman this behavior had been disturbing. With the doors locked behind him Anthony had no choice but to depart. His intention had been to go to Mr. Baldwin’s house adjacent to the mill upon the following morning and inquire with the housekeeper, perhaps even his physician, as to his health. It was in the dark of that night when he felt a rumble, as of thunder.  It shook him from his bed even in the small set of rooms he was let above the offices on the far side of the gunnery field nearly a half mile away. Books fell from shelves and the glass cracked in the windows that faced toward the powder mill two miles off. He knew at once what it must be. Half of Bristol knew what it must be.

The fire at the works smoldered for days. Yet when he came running he was told that Mr. Baldwin had been, by some miracle the only casualty, having declared an impromptu holiday for all the workers the day before. Why he had been alone in the milling room before dawn upon a Sunday morning remained a mystery.


Some difficult weeks after, he went to his mother, where she lived in the city now with her husband, a kindly ships carpenter. She told him men had been there looking for him but that she had put them off.

She gave to him an envelope inscribed with his name in Mr. Baldwin’s hand that the gentleman had given her some days before.


It contained money, copies of those papers relating to his manumission and this note.

“Anthony; When I was young I delighted in mysteries and powers and the charting of the wonders of Natures forces. I told myself that the poor man who makes the sword has nothing to do in the sins of the rich man who slays with it. I was wrong. I took the coin of kings and princes, hid my unfinished work from all and hoped that I would be forgotten as too unimportant but now I face the bitter truth. They slew even the families of the others, Levoisier's son, Erso's wife and daughter, Lioni, and Stahl, were killed when they tried to run. There is no other way. Forgive me. Learn the truth then choose a path. I beg you only, shun mine.”

Also contained within was a small slip upon which was written the name: Captain Jan Dodonna, Stjärna Shipping, Rowes Wharf.”

He burned the note and kissed his mother goodbye. She did not weep as she had when he was eight and went to the Powder Works.

 

The white-bearded man explained who the Alliance was and what they fought for.

"I know a great deal about what burns and what will not," he said "and I can figure the aim for a 30 pound gun on a pitching deck. Have you need of such in your fight?"

"Aye," the old man said, "that could come in most handy." He had been twenty five then and he was thirty now.

 

 

 


Rostok and Melshi were men he knew and admired. Captain Andor was much trusted by the Council. In recruiting a crew at Cadiz they spoke of the events in Portugal. Mr. Kay, whom all acknowledged a stranger to exaggeration, told how one ship from a distance of almost a mile had lain waste to a fortress with but two volleys of fire, each of which had exploded on impact. There was a plantation in Florida, Andor told them, whereby the avowed Enemies of their cause had developed a blasting compound many had sought for decades. If, as seemed likely, this was but a test to demonstrate its use to the watching powers of Europe, they must be found and their works destroyed.

“Do you understand what they are speaking of?” Porquins had asked him.

He did, all too well.

It was more than a week into the voyage that he had first learned the name of the young woman who served as new officer and their contact in the venture, Miss Jane Erso.

This was a battle he was meant to fight in any way he could, he felt sure of it. Yet, though he had served aboard Alliance ships at combat at Algiers, and Sicily and in long months of service had set cannon at forts in Cuba and San Juan. Yet he was forced to admit that this venture at Jamaica was by far the most fearful thing he had ever attempted. Despite all the expanded dangers that would have been attendant upon it, he wished with all his heart that he had a gun.

He recognized the cabin boy Toby, with great relief, passing out small broadsheets as if for a merchant ship's offerings at the edge of the wharf.

Mr. Cor presented Captain Andor’s instructions quickly to him and took in return a sheet penciled with the information they would need tomorrow.

“A blessed Christmas to you,” small Toby said, catching himself before “sir” escaped him.

“And to you as well,” he said with a smile. The boy leaned close and the Master Gunner thought that he must mean to impart some secret information. “But an hour ago,” the child whispered, eyes wide. “A man walked up this very street carrying a gigantic yellow cow’s head made of paper and another wore trousers fashioned the likeness of a horses rear end with a tail made of tinsel. Have a care!”

 

 


Baldwin Cor moved quickly back to the Trooper’s Head, with luck they would move to the safe house prepared for their escape after a perfunctory supper, to rest there a few hours and then be gone from this dreadful place upon the morning tide in guise as fishermen, for whom the ruckus of the holiday must wait. The Captain would proceed along with Captain Solo and his fearsome friend to obtain the intelligence they sought aboard Solo’s ship. Himself, Miss Erso and Midshipman Syndalla would return to their own good ship and bring it outside the Palisados. There Andor would rejoin them and they would move to their true target.

 

He disliked this plan, no one liked it in fact, Miss Erso possibly least of all. It had too many moving parts for any engineer to find comfort in.

So far, however, all had timed near perfectly. They had still a few hours of daylight. As he approached the street entrance of the hostelry, catching sight of Solo’s distinctive Mate leaning against the doorway he began to hope that all might proceed without dismay.

That, as Midshipman Syndalla later pointed out to him, was the mistake that marked him clearest as a novice to such clandestine ventures.

He heard the shot ring out as he was mere strides from the doorway. Frozen in shock for no more than an instant it seemed before Captain Solo himself came bursting out the tavern window.

 

 

 

 

 

__________________

 

 

 

 

 


Young Elizabeth Werther had been pinned into a clean apron and sent by her landlord father to serve the gentry who had been seated in the front parlor.

Normally such infrequent guests of quality would have been attended by her mother, but she was busy in the kitchen, as the girl who cooked would not work tomorrow and extra victuals for both service and sale to revelers would need to be set aside tonight. Even otherwise it should have been their Sula, or her father, but both of these were too busy serving in the taproom and the yard.

Workers and journeymen had begun to gather early in the public rooms, some for a Christmas toast, others to congregate and make plans for tomorrows festivities. At the same time, men from the countryside had been gathering through the town to take up duty, as the Governers soldiers repaired to their Barracks on the far side of the Parade park and inside the Forts East and West, and a few of them sought refreshment before reporting to their ordered meeting places. This growing mob took all of her father’s time and Sula’s as well.

The well-dressed lady and gentleman had stopped only to rest their rented livery and refresh themselves before going elsewhere. Father had brought in the wine that the gentleman ordered but dared not leave the bar cage unguarded long, even with the lock on, lest he return to find half the rum missing. So Elizabeth was set to serve the cakes and coffee. Her hands had shaken, bringing in the pot, but the lady in the pink gown smiled at her and pretended not to notice any drops upon the tray.

She hovered in the stairwell, half afraid to enter either the tumult of the kitchen or the crowd of the taproom. When she had tried to enter there to obtain, from her father’s box behind the bar, the cut cubes of sugar for the coffee tray she had found herself looking straight up at a terrifying man.

That his black-braided head scraped the ceiling had not been what caused her to jump back with a shriek of fright. It was his face which had been crossed by swirls of black lines spread out like great curling wings across his brows, down his nose like a birds beak and back to his ears. Black lines traced his lips and spiraled his chin. She had since babyhood harbored a secret fear of the great masks and heathenish pantomimes that paraded the streets on the Boxing Day Jonkannu but this had seemed one made flesh. Sula swept in at her panicked cry and told her, “Stay upon the stairs Miss Elizabeth.” She fetched her out the sugar, elbowing through the crowd of convivial men, and said that if young Miss Werther stayed in the hallway with the door closed she might adequately tend the folks in the front parlor without having to pass the fearful man again.

“Is he a devil, Sula?” Elizabeth whispered.

“Yes, I suppose,” the girl said as she closed the door to answer Mr. Werther’s orders from the cage to bring more lemon.

 

 

So Elizabeth sat upon the back stairs and she listened. There was nothing else to do. The gentleman, a slim and handsome man in his yellow coat, had asked for an hours privacy and quiet for his wife after the refreshments had been brought, but pinned thus she supposed she ought to at least be there to hear if they did call for more.

 

“I am still against it,” the lady in the pink gown was saying. “I do not trust this smuggler, or his cannibal.”

“He needs the money. I do not doubt. These fellows live hand to mouth out here these days.” That was another woman’s voice, their girl in the blue gown. “I know his type. They are honorable in their way, but they must play the fox sometimes, all their pride lies in it.”

“You say you knew him?” That was the gentleman.

“At New Orleans, but he was only the First Mate there, also of a quick sloop, maybe even the same ship. The captain I bargained with was another, a Creole charmer named Alando Calrissian. He charged me dear but did not shirk, I think this Solo cut from the same cloth.” The girl sounded as if she stood by the window.

“He has been there,” The gentleman spoke calmly and quietly, “We have not. It is a chance worth taking. I want his charts, the objects he found for Kay’s inspection and a chance to speak to his crew. I am adept at not getting my throat cut, my dear. Get the ship out. Melshi said it best. This Harbor is a ferret trap. We have learned all that we can learn here.”

“I think..” the lady in pink began.

“I understand your concern, but this is my decision at this juncture. We will adhere to the plan.” He sounded almost stern.

Silence followed.

“Ah, the cannibal has moved outside to smoke his pipe,” the girl spoke, she must be by the window.

“Perhaps at the request of the management, I am sure he has an interesting effect on the other customers,” the gentleman said, in a lighter tone.

“Baldwin should be back at any moment. By your leave, sir let me look and see, we will need to be ready to go upon the nearest opportunity I think, if all is prepared.”

“Check the street,” the man agreed, “but only if you can do so without peril.”

There was a sound, as if of the hallway door opening upon the other side.

 

“I take it I am I ordered to be silent on this matter, sir?” the lady said, softly but with reined anger. Elizabeth knew that sort of voice, she had heard her mother speak so often enough.

“Is it enough to say that there is no point? I know full well you mean to suggest I take you with me. I cannot agree to it and you know why. What will further debate serve us?” His words sounded stern still but his voice had softened.

It sounded as if they sat close together. There was a noise as if the lady were about to speak in protest, but perhaps it was only a cup being put down. The gentleman continued.

“If you are right, and this fellow betrays us. if I am mistaken and have foxed a fox one time too many, you must be safe aboard the ship to see this through. The others have their orders. They are to take you and Rook to the Fort and the River and proceed from there upon your authority.”

A silence followed, in which only the movement of a chair and the faint rustling of silk could be heard above the muffled bustle of the taproom, street and kitchen.

“Damn you, sir” the lady was barely to be heard. It seemed that she also laughed a little. 

“Ah, but this is hard. Had I known how hard I think I would have not had the courage to knock upon your door.”

“My dear,” the man said, in much the same gentle laugh, “As I recall you did not knock at all."

 

 


At that moment several things happened, all within the span of a moment, or two at most.

A pistol shot shattered the air from the taproom behind her. There was a scream…Sula?…followed hard upon by shouting and the breaking of glass.

Elizabeth jumped down from the bottom step in her fright and realized she must have cried out. Before she could gather her wits even slightly, the front parlor door opened and the gentleman in the yellow coat was standing before her. He took her wrist swiftly and turned her. Holding her tightly he put a hand over her mouth.

“Your pardon, little spy,” he said, “But not a sound please .”

The lady in the pink gown was directly behind him, having pulled what seemed to be an embroidered work-bag from the table.

“We will not hurt you,” she said, “but you must take us to a room above the back stairs, now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Trooper's Head

 

Kingston, Jamaica

 

the early evening of

December 25, 1769

 

 

 

 

The thought that first came clearly to her mind was, “I hope he has broken his neck.”

A dead smuggler in the street would have presented all manner of difficulties at that juncture. A live one might have laid out yet more. The matter was indeed a question of balance.

 

Still, no matter the scale used it would have been immensely satisfying to Hera Syndalla at that precise moment had Captain Han Solo actually gotten himself killed in pursuance of the mismanagement of his own affairs.

 

 

 


Syndalla in her guise had but stepped out from the side door of the Trooper’s Head to assure her mind as to the location the tall and lavishly decorated exotic described as Captain Solo’s First Mate, who had departed from the public taproom out to the street.

It also seemed well to give Captain Andor and Miss Erso a few private moments to resolve their continuing divergence of opinions as to which of the party should risk accompanying their shadowy contact and which should repair directly to the ship.

Captain Andor was in the right here, she knew. His was the command and he the most experienced field agent among them…..She still yearned to know how he had gotten himself out of Havana….and while the next officer in the chain of command, Mr. Melshi, was a keen and well-liked officer most capable to manage the venture in theory, the fact remained that should Captain Andor be lost under such circumstances Miss Erso’s ready expertise would become even more critical to the mission.

Syndulla herself would have made the same decision.

 

Yet the pang that struck her heart listening to them was not about rank of authority or wisdom of any mission’s command. She found herself painfully obliged to conquer a blind and passionate wish to take the young Englishwoman to her side and say into her ear, “Do not leave him. Whatever may come, whatever he says. Stay at each other’s side.”

 

Better for both herself and them to now avail herself of a moments opportunity to leave the room, plot the cannibal’s movements, and attempt some glimpse of Mr. Cor.

 

The free black men of that ward of the city as well as those enslaved men given liberty to do so gathered in the side yard and the tavern’s girl and a kitchen boy brought out purchased refreshments to them.

Several men greeted her with great conviviality, and a few with outright sauce as she edged around the corner to the street. She feigned the diffident focus of a maid bound upon some mission of her mistresses’ and ignored them. Her intention was to pass back in again by the front way and if accosted there claim she had been sent to seek the tavern girl for more wine but had been unable to press through the crowds inside.

Movement from the side door to the front would both gain her sight of both the wandering cannibal and the street beyond.

The impressive fellow had his hat off and a white clay pipe in his teeth as he leaned against the wall of the tavern nearest the road. Such carriage would have been ascribed vagrancy and on any other day and he might well have been warned off, had any guardsman on the street the courage, but a festival air already pervaded as the sun headed toward evening.

The cannibal seemed to smile widely when he caught sight of her coming around the corner of the place…that or a grimace, Lady of Heaven, it was hard to tell.

 

 

She had known many lands where decoration of one’s person was a rite and custom, often to mark profession, status or family connection. The mark of the Starbird she had had cut upon her arm, as many of them did, when as a girl she had defied her father to go to the coast and join the fight. Syndallas heart still burned with pride that she had spoken her oath to no less than the great Aayla Secura, herself. But where upon the blue earth was this fellow’s nation?

The Kayabi of the forests of Brazil, when she and her beloved had ventured there and shown their marks where asked by them, through the boy who interpreted, “Who have you killed?” For to those people inked designs pressed into the skin with thorns of a certain tree signified the cleansing of a warrior’s soul after some mortal contest. Accomplished warriors among them had many designs on face and body.

Were the tradition followed elsewhere, this accomplished person must have slain multitudes. She had caught glimpses of his neck and arms as he had saddled the horses and she did not doubt there was no discrete inch of him left uncovered.

 

 

Removing his pipe from his inked lips, Solo’s mate now tipped a cornered hat and seemed to call out to her.

“Kaua e manukanuka, wahine toa!” he said, and waved a great decorated hand back toward the tap-room door. “He iti rawa te waahi.”

Surely he knows I cannot make out a word he is saying?

 

From the corner of her eye she saw Mr. Cor progressing down the abutting lane toward them…Most excellent….she greeted him with a smile, which she could see him return from across the street.

She read genuine relief in his expression, but would not chide him for it as a failure of his role-play. No doubt every bondsman who walked the streets of this hellish place felt the hand of fear lift from him a little when he returned from even the mildest errand unscathed.

 

The Master Gunner-turned-agent was but a dozen yards across the wide sandy street. She debated in her mind whether she should wait for him or turn back inside to alert the Captain and Miss Erso first.

As it happened the luxury of decision was removed from her.


The sound of pistol shot rang out from within the Trooper’s Head.

Mr. Cor halted as if frozen. Syndalla turned back toward the tavern. Within someone shouted and a woman screamed. The cannibal let out a cry like a roar and a man came crashing out the half-opened front window of the public room in a hail of splintered wood and shattered glass.

Captain Han Solo landed in the street, shoulder and back first, rolling with arms crossed to protect his head.

The thought, I hope he has broken his neck, was followed instantly by, The bastardo insano has done this before and knows how to land.

 

“Rorirori! Kuri!” the giant was snarling. He threw his pipe aside and dashed forward with surprising swiftness to seize Solo from the dirt and debris of the road by his collar even as the captain scrambled upright.

 

Syndalla calculated in the instant. She gathered her skirts and ran to Mr. Cor, as he stood astonished across the street.

Passing the giant she snapped, “Come! now!” Even if the exotic could not understand her, the imbecilic smuggler could. Reaching Mr. Cor she grabbed his arm in a posture of alarm she had little need to feign.

“Where?” she demanded.

For an instant it seemed he did not understand….Come sir, you have ordered ranks of cannon under fire without flinching, do not make me slap you now….. but he gathered himself quickly and thrust a paper into her hand.

A broadsheet from the wharf.

 

“Conceal them. Now! Go!” she said. 

Mr. Cor rallied himself and took Solo’s other arm as the cannibal thrust his captain forward.

The three of them fled down the street and between the buildings.

 

Syndalla leaped back as quickly as her garments would permit, running back toward the tavern in hope that she might not be seen by those now emerging to be doing anything else but fleeing the path of the escaping men.

 

Although in the instant she turned she had not been able to forbear to growling, “Eu deveria matá-lo com a minha própria mão!”

“Hono atu ki te hiku,” Solo’s first mate barked. Although the words themselves were strange to her, it seemed to her that she could well guess their meaning.


Master yourself, Capitão, she berated her agitated heart.


As Syndalla ran back toward the front door she cried out, “That way! He ran that way!”

Making sure that she had both hands in the air and was pointing in no useful direction whatsoever.

Men were rushing pell mell from the public rooms of the Trooper's Head, arguing amongst themselves.

All of the freedmen who had filled the yards outside had, unsurprisingly, vanished.

 

The men in the street paid her little mind, save for one rough-handed fellow, whose plain coat buttons showed him a foreman or shopmaster, but who now wore a militia sash. He grabbed her arm hard and said, “What did you see girl?”

Leaning against the wall as if much afraid, she answered him. “A white man came through the window, sir and ran with another who had a face like a devil,” feigning trembling alarm. There was no concealing the unfortunate cannibal’s involvement, he had been seen drinking with Solo earlier and was doubtless the talk of the street even prior to this disruption.

Such men would be willing to accept, even from a woman of her station, whatever confirmed their own notion of events and so quickly dismiss her.

At a chance, she tossed in a small detail that might divert them,”I heard them speak French as they ran sir.”

Somewhere in this wretched place there must still be retired French smugglers or some French ship at harbor. Let them waste time checking there first.

 

 


Mr. Cor must have already achieved the appointed rendezvous. Rostock would take the ship out on the morning’s tide barring some other upset or instruction. The safe house was prepared at Harbor Street #39 according to the message hidden with the text of the advertisement.

If the Master Gunner could reach the place unrevealed he might lie safe with his charges and slip out with the dawn.

Syndulla must do the same if possible. Her intention had been to return to the parlor and rejoin the Captain and Miss Erso, passing to them the message and location of the refuge so that they three might escape together but she looked up to find that the curtain of the front parlor room street-facing window was now widely parted.

The Captain and Miss Erso must have quit the chamber. Something unseen to her had complicated matters within. If she could not reach them the understood order would clearly be to leave and proceed on her own to the safe house and thence the ship. It might be possible to wait for there for a set number of hours but if the Captain and Miss Erso did not arrive, the ship must be removed from danger and all must proceed with the mission.

Andor was an operative of high standing. He had gotten himself out of passages as fraught as this alone and without aid before.

But he was not alone anymore was he? Affection strengthens the hand, but it may also slow it. Who knew that lesson better than she?

“We leave this young man to die,” her love Kanaã had said to her, accusing, when they sailed away leaving Cassian Andor at Havana, a boy with a hand-rifled musket and a dark mission. She had followed orders then for hers had been the burden of command.

It was not her burden now. She would look for them first.

He was a sharpshooter. She was a rigging monkey. They would go high by instinct, to get the lay of things, if such a path was open to them.

 

Syndalla looked back at the tavern house. As with many dwellings here it had a sloping peaked roof and shuttered sleeping porches against the heat of summer at both front and back. Above these were likely attics and quarters for the laboring souls, and a long tilted roof against the storming rains that regularly dropped over onto the walls and fences of the adjoining houses.

She walked around through the now deserted yard.

The landlord’s wife had run out from the kitchen building at the back, calling for her daughter Elizabeth.

“Mistress,” “Helen” called, “do you look for the young lady who brought my master the coffee?”

Syndulla remembered the girl’s trembling hand, how she had winced at the shouts of the men in the tap room beyond...a nervous child, possibly prone to hide, or bolt.

 

“She took great fright at the shot I think and ran toward the neighboring house.”

A gesture of her hand directed the flushed matron toward another whitewashed building down the street and opposite.

 

The landlady, called back to the kitchen door, “Sula! Mind the fire!” and with a look fixed midway between anger and genuine concern ran down the lane, apron flapping, crying “Elizabeth, you foolish girl! Where are you?”

Syndulla managed an ear at the unbroken taproom window. The landlord seemed to remain within, with a younger man. No doubt the acting constables had been sent for, perhaps a physician or coroner as well, but with the gentry and soldiers at their Christmas toasts this would take some time.

“They are gone, father” a man’s voice, the younger one, was saving, “Aye!” the landlord said, miserably, “of course they are gone, what gentleman would not escort his lady quickly from such a scene? With their account unpaid. If we are lucky they will send their man back for the carriage. We must have the reckoning ready in writing for when they do so. The constables will want to speak to the gentleman in any case, none of those rascals are fit to give a statement…..ah damn it James, we shall need to re-plaster that whole wall!”

From the sound of it he had broken into his own rum store in his distress of mind.

She had a half of an hour, at best….safest to say a quarter.

Crossing now round to the outside kitchen door, she perceived that a small dark boy and the bond maid in the dark yellow gown and broad white apron were all who remained. The white apron had been laid aside now on the bench, spattered with what might well be blood....likely not from the pigeons for the pies. No doubt hers had been the scream in the taproom. Yet more mess to clean up, Captain Solo? 

 

 There might have been more servants but the rest had perhaps gone off to search for the missing girl. She must get the this Sula to take her into the house..

 

“Sula?” Syndulla said quietly from the door. “I was sent to fetch you.”

Her good chintz gown and muslin cap no doubt gave her credence, but the girl was clearly a sharp one.

“By who?” she asked with some suspicion.

Syndulla stepped up into the sweltering room. It distressed her to create fear in one already endangered daily, but she had no choice. There was no time to construct a trick. Two cooks knives, one for the gutting of fowl and one for the paring of fruit lay on the trestle to hand. She lifted the smaller knife and tucked it in her silk sleeve, then laid her hand upon the larger as it lay upon the table. The girl stared at her, eyes wide.

“This young man can tend the kitchen for a few moments, Sula, I will not detain you long,” she said quietly and conversationally, ”I have an immediate need to know more about the disposition of rooms on the upper levels of the house and where I might find clothing that would not be quickly missed.”

Sula nodded, without removing her gaze.

“Mind the pies, Arthur,” she said. “I will be back in a moment.”


Once outside Syndalla and across the yard told the young woman, “I shall leave you the gown and petticoats I am wearing. It shall fetch you a good price and none can accuse you of theft for none shall post it missing.….do you have a place to conceal it?”

“Yes,” the tavern girl said carefully, disarmed a little by the practicality. A clever girl indeed. She understood that if she could pawn this apparel tomorrow and conceal her gain, that money might serve her well.

Hera Syndalla also gave her back the small knife, for missing knives set off many alarms here.


Fear somewhat assuaged now, Sula quickly directed her up the narrow back stairs and brought her to where some low rooms faced over the yard beneath the roof upon the second floor.

As she climbed the girl whispered back over her shoulder, “Myself and Deborah do the work up here for the light. Mr. James’s old clothes are there for mending and giving to the boys in the stable for Boxing Day folded in the basket waiting to be cut down and made over also, some petticoats and aprons that cook is to have, and a patched coat of Mr Werther’s to be turned out for Cato at the farm.”

Letting her pass at the top of the stairs she then pointed to the rooms spoken of.

"If you are true, hide this," Sula whispered, waving her hand to indicate the gown “Helen” had offered in barter, "under the pallet by the door," Then she ran back downstairsonly to stop at the and turn for a bare moment.

“Are you from the townships?” the girl asked.

Poor child, she meant the Maroons. What must it be like for the people here to look up at the mountains and know that though some measure of freedom might lay there they were forbidden to even reach for it upon pain of death?

“No,” Syndalla said. “I fight the long fight of the Alliance.” It did not matter if this girl of Kingston knew. Who could she tell? Who would believe her if she did? Lifting and pushing back the ruffle of the sleeve she showed the Starbird.

There was a sound of pounding and hammering from the floors below and at the front of the house. Young Sula fled back down, out and across to the kitchen.


Removing her shoes to walk barefoot in better silence, Syndalla tiptoed up the last step,  skirts tuck back, toward the narrow portal the tavern’s girl had indicated.

Men were shouting outside, come at last to move the body of whomever it was the intemperate Captain Solo had shot and make some rude repairs. There seemed to be no sound otherwise.

She tapped three times with intervals of a three seconds between and pushed open the unlatched door.

 

Promptly to find herself facing the barrel of a pistol in the hands of Miss Erso.

 

“Hello,” the Englishwoman said, “I am most extremely glad to see you.”

The silk gown and petticoats were off as well as the pearl earrings. She stood only in her stays and chemise.

“Why in the name of Hell are you still here?”Captain Andor said.

He was already dressed in what must be the fustian cast-offs of young Mr. James.

Within the room, sitting on a rough stool in the corner, was also to be found the searched-for young Miss Elizabeth Werther.

“Ah, Blessed Lady,” Syndalla said, “Are we stealing children now?”

 

Miss Erso shrugged. “Elizabeth is a most inquisitive girl but I have promised her that if she stays quiet and out of the way she shall have my pink gown and cap.”

She closed the door quickly as Syndalla entered and began to swiftly unpin the flowered gown she wore, carefully tucking the silver pins into the ribboned front as she did so. Sula could conceal these easily and sell each.

They had only moments to safely effect a transformation.

 

“Sir!” Miss Erso tossed one of the thin steel blades that had hitherto been concealed on her person back to Andor, who caught it in his hand. “Get me the devil out of these.”

The Captain slid the knife beneath the laces that bound the fashionable stays at the back, and cut up them swiftly as if freeing a moth from its casing.

Little Elizabeth Werther hid her eyes with her hands as if she were seeing something far more shocking than a man shot with a pistol in her father’s taproom, which, from her lights, she no doubt was.

 

Miss Erso shortly after performed the same office for Midshipman Syndalla.

All things, clothing, stockings, accoutrements, being then swiftly concealed, they made ready to depart almost within the quarter hour she had allowed.

 

The sound of Elizabeth’s mother calling out in the street, as well the unmistakable sound of horses approaching on the street outside, bespoke the end of their time to manage here.

 

‘Miss Werther, farewell, ” Captain Andor bowed and kissed the young girl’s hand.

By God he was a marvel of convincing charm when required, was he not? It was rather terrifying.

 “Your father and mother will be most displeased when you reappear and tell them you had hidden upstairs, and will no doubt shout at you, but you must bear it. When the constables are well gone show your father the clothing and purses of money we have left behind. They will be most pleased with you then. My deepest apologies for frightening you.” 

Miss Erso had taken a pencil from the contents of the reticule she had carried, which was now transferred to a market sack slung across her shoulder to finish her garb as a boy. With this she inscribed some words upon a scrap of paper and placed it in Elizabeths’s hands along with the pearl earrings.

“Are you pirates?” the child whispered, in a kind of awe. Miss Erso bent forward to whisper in her ear. “Yes,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 


In the tumult surrounding the disposal of the corpse of the Cuban man whom no one would admit to knowing at the front of the house, as well as the fixing of the window and the alternating storming and weeping of the landlady when her tearful daughter finally appeared, no one saw a roughly clad serving wench and two men climb down the slanted roof to the stable wall, and then climb up its backing roof to drop down yet again into the stable yard of the house behind.

None at least save Sula, at the kitchen door, and she did not speak of it.


It would be a minor point to note that some nine years later Miss Elizabeth Werther married one Captain Ian Tosh in a reworked pink silk gown, and shortly thereafter, despite the disruptive continuance of the secessionist war in the northern colonies, removed with her merchant husband to Canada.

 

 

The murder at the Trooper’s Head was long remembered locally as one of many of the riotous events of that year’s Johnkonnu, the event having been infiltrated, it seemed, by pirates abetted by the French in a portent of future political upheavals.

Mr Werther was much recompensed for his troubles by the goods and money his daughter revealed to him two days later, wisely burning the note that read “Sorry about the mess” immediately after viewing its contents.

The cash especially cushioned him against the loss a year later of the slave girl Sula, who vanished from the house the following autumn and despite a handsome offer of reward for her recapture was never seen by Mr. Werther again.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Harbor Street

and the Royal Wharf 

Kingston

Jamaica

 

December 26, 1769

 

 

 

Companies of musicians with bells, drums and flutes, formed first in the Western portions of the city nearest the old burying place reserved for the people. Dancers and performers began to assemble in the streets in the hour just before dawn, raising banners and donning their costumes and form into troops around the outlandishly attired leaders. The true identities of the principal masked figures were never revealed from one year to the next.

This one secret, it seemed, the bondsmen of Kingston were allowed to keep.

Great animal-like heads and bodies constructed of molded paste paper and cloth mache were stretched and glued upon wooden frames. These wholly covered the lead men......although gender as well remained disguised...well-concealing those who wore them from the eyes of onlookers. Other figures in guises of hobby horses, and queens in pantomime, along with patched and fantastical beasts joined along behind to fill the streets, led by the towering central figure designated as "John Canoe" who always headed each procession.

 

 


The wooden building that comprised lot #39 of Harbor Street was owned by the offices of a Boston and London merchant company specializing here in waxed canvas and salt cod. Upon most days it was a place of brisk business, for at such a commercial location a house unoccupied or long empty would have caused greater comment. The clerks who travelled back and forth between it and the docks some blocks away, remained most often on the first stories. The porched rooms above were reserved for the housing and use of whichever shipping agents the company had presently assigned to the port. At this season they had been assigned to the occupancy of a Philadelphia captain named Raddus whose arrival was somewhat delayed. Had anyone noted the entry of three bedraggled men the previous evening they would likely have taken them as sailors sent to claim pay or carry messages. The access of two other men along with a serving woman, just after the lighting of the evening street lamps and call of curfew, might have raised curiosity but went unobserved in the late fog for they entered not by the street but through a concealed door between the privies, which very few knew about.

 

 

"You stupid, lying aja kòfẹ!!" Jen snarled when Captain Andor, Midshipman Syndalla and herself reached the relative safety of the dim rooms concealed at the back stairway of the house.

Captain Solo was seated upon a small bench by the wall in a most dejected posture. Only Captain Andor's swift action in seizing her by the waist prevented her launching herself directly at the gentleman with violent intention.

As Captain Solo jumped quickly to his feet in anticipation of a brawl, the cannibal chuckled and muttered something none save Solo could understand.

"Dat is genoeg om vanuit je richting te praten, jij bal van pels!" the captain admonished his Mate.

 

"Mr. Cor," Captain Andor said, "Your report please."

Cor related the details of their escape to this place and followed with those of his own brave survey of activities on the docks after the disposition of Captain Solo and his all-too-identifiable companion within the safety of the house.

 

"The militia seems most concerned about the surveilliance of ships and their crews, sir," Master Gunner Cor reported. "The Harbormaster has enlisted a number of the militia to patrol the waterfront during the parades and there was rumor that the port itself might be closed for the duration of the fete."

 

This must evidence great concern on the part of the merchant powers of Kingston, Jen knew. Hundreds of ships a day came and went from this treasure house of the British colonies  and the stream of misery, cash and sugar barely abated for the holidays. Only a handful of things ever paused the flow. Riot or Disaster. Uprising or Earthquake. Chaos unmanaged.

 

They suspected some pirate incursion, she thought bitterly, fearing the phantom of an enemy already defeated. Perhaps they imagined some action of unity by the Maroons, the ghost that always haunted their guilty dreams. Added to all this, rumor of a mysterious European murdering a Spaniard whose presence had probably been unknown to the authorities until his corpse popped up....Stolen horses, abandoned carriages and rumors of a painted giant? Chaos indeed.

 

Her temper had cooled somewhat from that attendant on her first view of the smuggler but Captain Andor still held her fast.

"Te lo ruego, dejame matarlo," she whispered.

 

"Todavía no, querida señora, tal vez más tarde," he said, near her ear, in the practical tone of a man assuring his wife they would purchase a new set of curtains as soon as the rent was paid.

 

"My comprehension of Spanish is quite excellent," Captain Solo protested, sounding somewhat aggrieved.

 

"As is mine of English and Dutch, I assure you," Andor informed him coolly. "Choose a language and give me a clear account of your fatal encounter at the tavern, the identity of the man you shot and the situation by which you have endangered both our lives and our mission." He waved a hand, indicating the bench Solo had previously occupied.

 

The adventurer took his seat again and Captain Andor availed himself of one of several rush chairs that hung upon wall peg on the wall in order to sit opposite him as if in conference.

 

"His name was Grediaz," Captain Solo confessed at last, unwilling, "a low-level cutthroat and lieutenant to Hidalgo Hugo Jabbar Tiure."

Jen whistled, aghast. "Did you try to cheat them too? I took you for a fool but not a suicide."

She put her knife back into her waistcoat as a show of her sentiment. Why dirty a blade killing a man who will not outlive the week?


The Tiure were an ancient shipping family, Venetian originally, it was said. Now they were "fixers" of most business-like reputation. An innumerable number of sons and nephews each seemed to manage the cartel's affairs in every section of the earth's rim, from Stockholm to Asia. It was also said that though they might own but ten ships outright they could put ten thousand to sea upon their errands at a whim. The trade in Spanish silver had much of their mark upon it but they seldom dealt in anything so tangible, and thus vulnerable, as coin or commodities, preferring instead to buy and trade other men's schemes, ventures and debts, advancing credit, influence, vessels, bail, space at wharf, and a thousand other favors as needed to the desperate.

"Go to any hanging, Saul Gerrere had once said, "you will find in the crowd an agent of the Hutta-Tiure, willing to trade the condemned tailor's last outstanding bill for an extra foot of rope."

Single favors were granted and unquestionably repaid, in coin or in kind, some a day later, others a decade, but a reckoning was invariably called in.

Such influence demanded constant upkeep for the merest whisper that it was possible to successfully renig upon any Tiure contract, no matter how small, would shake the house to its mighty foundations.

 

 

"Did I not say times have grown lean, Mistress?" Solo said bitterly. "I had...we will call them "debts"....and so committed to run a cargo from Cuba for Jabbar in payment. Luck turned against me. Even the best is boarded sometimes and as I had previously run afoul of the Crown and stood to lend my own head and those of my crew to decorate a gate at Southhampton, I was obliged to conveniently "mislay"the goods. Jabbar at Cuba doubted my tearful tale of loss at sea and pressed me most urgently to cover the "losses" of the cargo in cash before the year's end."

 

"He lies," Syndalla said. "I know Jabbar, cash is not his first commodity. He would have wanted something else"

 

Solo snapped back then as if stung, "The fat bastard wanted my ship, but I bargained him to take cash instead."

 

"No," Captain Andor said quietly, looking at Solo with something strangely like pity. "You were played, sir. Where they British ships that boarded you? You have worked for the Alliance before and have surely been marked. They wanted us, or someone like us. The Hutt-Tiure have either bought part of the Enemy's venture in Florida already or hope to trade information for some in future."

 

"Why send a man to kill him at Kingston then?" Jen asked.

 

The smuggler shrugged. "A chance meeting perhaps? Grendiaz was but a lowly break-bone, perhaps he merely thought to ingratiate himself with his employer by bringing my head in upon New Year's Day with the roasted goose. I might have learned more for he seemed one of those inclined to monologue his plans at length but I judged the best of my poor options was to cut the conversation short and retreat strategically."

 

If the Hutt-Tiure were calling in favors at Kingston to look for Alliance movements and the Enemy was watching, it hardly mattered now whose body laid on the tavern floor, Solo's or his would-be assailant. They were equally pinched.

 

Solo seemed to strive for the light tone of a jaded rascal but the eye he turned, first to his cannibal companion as if in apology and then to face Captain Andor, betrayed him.

Bravado quenched for an instant, she thought she glimpsed a man both young and desperate noting that he looked at the wall behind rather than directly meet the Alliance captain's gaze.

 

He is ashamed, Jen thought, struck suddenly by the contrast between the two men as they faced each other.

 

It came to her that they must be nearly the same age. Both were skilled in violent trade and both quite handsome fellows, though at this moment both were rather also in need of a shave. Each, it seemed, commanded and had earned friends willing to fight in their defense, but oh how different.

Only a handful of months had passed yet she understood her lover a little, she thought, well enough to know that he believed himself a sinner nigh on to damned and yet had done all for a cause he believed in and honored. Whatever the cost, Cassian Andor could not conceive to live otherwise.

Aye, Solo was the one who looked away.

 


Andor sighed, "What is done is done....Gentlemen, ladies, I am open to suggestions."

 

Mr. Cor spoke first, "If they watch or even board the ships at harbor they will find all in order with The Lady's Gambit. Captain Rostock is well rigged against such play. Moreover they will not dare keep the lucrative traffic in and out the port delayed more than one turn of the tide in such weather, the very Bank of England might tremble."

 

"True," Midshipman Syndalla agreed, "Yet once searched they will be surely be ordered to clear their berth and sail out. Where Rostock to seek delay after that he would raise dark suspicion."

 

"The landlord of the Trooper's Head stands to gain handsomely by concealing the luggage and rented rig of Mr. Charles Avelar a little longer, as does his fashion-loving daughter. That will buy us time," Captain Andor ventured.

 

"Aye, but how will such time merit us to reach Florida? With our ship set to sail out of Kingston Harbor by noon, we will be left behind when the lax watch of the festival ends at sundown and the Governors Guard and King George's finest emerge from their holiday rest to investigate these matters in earnest."

 

An idea came to Jen.

 

"This ship of yours, aja kòfẹ, you say she is on the outside of the Palisados. Is she quick enough to overtake a brigantine at sail with a days lead?"

 

Solo looked up and smiled, grasping the direction of her thought, "Aye sweetheart, with a sober hand aboard she will overtake the Four Horsemen on Judgement Day, the winds of both Capes or a pretty girl's favor."

Idiot.

 

"And your great friend," she said, "can he dance?"

 

The First Mate, heretofore sitting wearily upon the floor with long legs folded, threw back his head and laughed most heartily, bellowing "Wahine! Ko ahau te tino kanikani o nga mea katoa! E wiri ana oku hoariri i toku aroaro!"

 

"He says, "Yes," Captain Solo confirmed.

 

 

 

 

The many parades of Jonkonnu wound through the streets of Kingston from the cemeteries by the West entrance of the Leeward Road, circling around each through all of the gridded lanes at the whim of their costumed leaders to finally join and mass, after midday, upon the open field of the Parade, for music and dance. Even as the largest parades moved forward new processions would burst up at random from one side street or another, or out of courtyard of stately homes and common taverns, to swirl in opposition or parallel before eventually joining the main course and flow of the crowds. Every inn and many large houses served rum punches and cakes without cost to the competing troupes as they thronged past, pausing before every occupied doorway for raucous mime or song. The towering cow-horn studded figure of "Jon", draped from masked crest to the knees in black and dark blue cloth, stitched with brightly colored rag ribbons, rushed up to each and every door, amidst shouts and the clanging of bells, to loudly cry "Jonkonnu!!" and strike the ground most threateningly, sometimes with a stick, or by the stomping of bare or booted feet.

Those well-off householders of Kingston who remained in the town for the Boxing Day Festivities or arrived for the militia muster before and after often watched from their upper porches, enjoying the music and spectacle and reassuring themselves that all was right with their world by the enclosure of the allotted chaos below. Many even provided the colorful cloth and paper used to make the costumes knowing that their seamstresses skill might be admired and bring money to their own pockets thereby. A good turnout by one's "people" was always seen as a sign of status.

Among one of the wildly celebratory crowds that circled down Harbor Street to Royal a half dozen or more always went down onto the wharves themselves to to parade within sight of the ships at dock. Usually to the raucous cheers of sailors aboard, many of whom chanted "John Canoe! John Canoe!" in their turn. The briefly  unrestrained bondsmen traditionally threw fruit at the ships, especially toward any sailor glimpsed who seemed born of Africa or cried out in reply to the revelers in the language of the Ashanti or the Akan. For, on this day alone the people would not be censured or punished for the use of their own or their parents languages. They were never allowed too near the ships or even out onto the docks themselves, so the great bulk of the bruised mango and oranges fell into the Harbor amid cries and applause.

This year the militia were lined upon the edges of the wharf streets almost arm in arm, but even they could not hold back the crowds entirely.

One masked "figure" draped in white rags and blue with a mask in the shape of a "queen" climbed up upon one of the capstans and lobbed a number of moldy oranges so skillfully that they struck the boards of one ship already raising her sails to depart. A wizened old Quartermaster upon the deck dashed out to gather one, sure she had heard a voice cry out in the language of the Yoruba, little heard in those parts. The crowds were delighted and passed on, singing and shouting.

It was remembered, even days after, that the towering "Jon" of that particular troop had been most impressive in his charges and jumps. Although to the disappointment of some he was not among those who gathered at last for the final revelry on the Parade, having moved off with the early departing groups across the lone land road out to those houses that still stood on the barrier of the Palisadoes penninsula. All must return to the places of their service before dawn or face dire penalty and those dozens from the diminished parish at Port Royal had the farthest to walk by land.

The citizen militia had been ordered most sternly by their commanders to watch the wharves at all costs, so impossible was it for the authorities of Kingston to imagine escape from the city being effected by any way other than a ship at harbor.

 

Three days later the bodies of two of the Battery guard were found in some nets near the Salt River. Since they had clearly drowned several days before and their horses were found wandering nearby their deaths were never associated with the murder of the Cuban agent upon Christmas Day.

 

 


The spies sent into the city at great risk by the Leeward Maroons made their way back up into the mountains and reported to their officer, who was called Nine. He in his turn summarized their observations and included them in his full report to his Commanders, Captains Quao and Alando. Both men were much alarmed at the words of the Alliance spies and called for a council on the matter, but Captain Alando asked repeatedly for particulars of the events in Kingston town and laughed most heartily at several points.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady’s Gambit

at the Queens Wharf

Kingston

Jamaica

December 26, 1769

 

 

 

 

 

Old Kanata brought them the message, knotted onto a string and wrapped around an orange. In the hours before she did so Lieutenant Ruescott Melshi's heart had been filled with dread.

 

That the shore party seemed to have been delayed by a day or more, of itself, had not at first been enough to cast a shadow.

Master Gunner Cor had made contact within Kingston on the previous day and indicated that at least part of the party would return aboard, either before nightfall of the 25th or with the following dawn at worst. Christmas being quietly observed in British ports it had in fact even seemed a tactical advantage. All eyes might be set toward the raucous observances of the following morning to better shield their departure.

Yet dawn came and passed and Captain Andor's party did not return.

It seemed clear to him then that disruption to their plans must have taken place upon the previous day, at some point after Mr. Cor had exchanged messages with the cabin boy at the end of Royal Street.

 

 

The Lady’s Gambit found herself instead accosted and boarded just after dawn by men identified as the acting Militia of the port searching for, of all things, a European pirate....ostensibly a French pirate.....and a tattooed giant of undetermined lineage.

Captain Rostock, in this case bearing the identity of one Captain Rosewell, handled all with equanimity, efficiently calling for and presenting for inspection all bills of lading, papers and articles of registration pertaining to the vessel. These were, of course, in scrupulous order.

 

Mr. Kay was questioned at some considerable length, which caused Lt. Melshi a degree of anxiety, not because he doubted the gentleman but because he still found it impossible to share Andor's calm with regards to Kay's occasionally unpredictable utterances.

As it was, the nervous citizen-officers of Kingston merely asked that the impressively tall man remove his coat and hat and roll up his sleeves, an odd request with which the Mr. Kay silently complied.

The Harbor officers departed soon after, having remained to all appearances quite unaware that the crew were universally armed and fully prepared to murder the lot of them, or even to blast the Wharf itself with the surreptitiously loaded port side cannon at the slightest signal from Rostock or Lt. Melshi.

 

By the turning of the second tide upon the 26th, there was still no sign or word from Captain Cassian Andor or any of those who accompanied him

 

 

Captain Rostock saw the inspectors off with pleasant professionalism and then approached him at the rail. "Sir," he said, "shall I assume our orders stand?"

Since we were boys you have always won our little game of "Cat Comes Back,” Andor, Ruescott Melshi prayed. Do but win it this time and I will never grudge you again.

"Aye," the Lieutenant said, for his was now the command to give, "make ready to draw out and to the Harbor and raise sail quick when the instruction comes.”

 

_______________________

 

 

 

 

Mr. Rook had suffered mightily during the inspection of the ship by the officers of the port, yet he seemed to have successfully concealed his anxiety. He stood stronger now than he had as a desperate castaway. It was not until the crew was ordered to make ready to cast off upon the next hour that his courage nearly failed him. He found Mr. Melshi coming down from the quarterdeck.

"They are not returned," he said, “The Captain and Miss Erso are not returned. We cannot abandon them."

"Captain Andor's instructions in the event that he failed to make contact were most clear, Mr. Rook," the Alliance officer said, firmly, "I am to take command and we are to proceed to Bahamas and then to St. Augustine in continuance of the mission."

His face may have betrayed his distress somewhat then for the officer addressed him kindly, “You have taken no oath to us, Mr Rook, save as a passenger on this ship and an expert advisor to our plans. None shall hold you against your will. If you can not proceed further on this mission without Miss Erso, depart now, and God go with you.”

The man laid a hand on his shoulder, “But I will not conceal from you sir, if they are indeed lost, we would need you sorely, Mr. Rook, should you choose to stand with us.”

Oh, how will I face Erso Bey if he still lives? Rook thought. How shall I say to him "I saw your daughter sir. She lived and I tried to bring her to you but we lost her?"

God have mercy.

He had taken an oath to Galen Erso and his daughter, as well as to all the people at New Smyrna. With hope or without it, he must go.

"Aye sir," Mr. Bodi Rook said, head bowed, "I shall stand by the mission."

Mr. Melshi nodded with gravity of a fellow sailor and passed on toward the bow.

 

 

From the streets of the city the sound of music could be heard, the festival must be in full cry now. Whether these sorts of spectacle were supposed be actions of Christian or pagan observance had never quite been clear to him. He suspected the latter. If possible it added to his despair.

 

A line of the Militia were arrayed at the very edge of the great wharf, not in the red uniform of soldiers but dressed in light coats of yellow, buff, white and pale blue. Some wore brocade, others more plain attire but every man of them topped with a cornered hat. Some were even wigged for the honor it seemed. All stood lined up to hold the wild celebrants away from the ships that were Kingston’s lifesblood.


Bodi Rook turned away from the rail, looking to find a place to gather his thoughts, but as he moved through the crewmen who had begun to gather above he felt a hand touch his own and looked up find the sightless eyes of Papaz Imway upon him.

“Wait, Mr. Rook. The light of she we follow here is still clear to me. Have faith.”

 


Sailors aboard every ship visible along the length of the long wharf now crowded up on decks. Many had even climbed up the rigging, or stood on the crossbeams of the masts to better watch the throngs of Kingston's bondsmen and their wild and festive display pour out from the streets of the town onto the very edges of the docks. To a cacophony of bells and drums, accompanied exuberant applause of bystanders and the men aboard the ships, bright-garbed dancers followed figures in heathenish masks. Many of those so decorated reached into baskets carried by other dancers and tossed flowers and fruit toward the ships. “John Canoe!” all cried.

Held back as their pitchers were, most of these missiles fell wildly short of the mark, splashing into the water and onto the docks.Pulp and juice of the bruised and rotten fruit even bespattering the boots and coats of the guard, to the happy shouts of many sailors and bystanders.

A few well-thrown fruits did reach the nearest ships and a great cry rose up from the crowds when it did.

From where Rook stood, bid to wait by that wise gentleman, he saw a bruised and half-green orange fly over the rail to land near his feet.

Sooner than anyone else could move a small person whom Rook had seen but once before above decks, an aged woman half-bent and with head wrapped in a green printed bandanna, dashed quickly forward to snatch it up in wrinkled hands.

“Ayyyyee!” the person called.  "Captain! Captain!”

When this leathery ancient brought her prize to Captain Rostock, standing nearby, Mr. Bodi Rook saw that officer pull at something that seemed to be a hole or tear in the rind of the fruit and draw from under the skin of it a long string tied into knots.

 

Some knots were tiny, some square. At intervals small threads were tied to the cord in short tufts. Later, when he had a further chance to examine it, it had had a character rather like this: 


..- -. .... ..- .-. - .-.-.- / ... .- .. .-.. / --- ..- - / .--. .- ... - / -... .- .-. .-. .. . .-. .-.-.- / .-- .. - .... / ... .--. . . -.. .-.-.- / -- .- -.- . / ..-. --- .-. / -... .-. .. -.. --. . / - --- .-- -. / .- -. -.. / ..-. --- .-. - / -... . -.-- --- -. -.. .-.-.- / .-- . / .-- .. .-.. .-.. / ..-. .. -. -.. / -.-- --- ..- .-.-.-


It was Mr. Melshi who related to him the meaning of the code

Unhurt. Sail out past barrier. with speed. Make for Nassau town and Fort beyond. We will find you.

 

“What does it mean?” He asked that officer, who though still steady of his countenance seemed to breath easier now, as if some weight had been taken from him.

“It means we must move out quickly from Kingston Port and set course to continue the mission as outlined, but it also means they are all well and must have some means to a boat, for they mean to rejoin us. They are still alive.”


The heathenish parade moved off, weaving back into the center of the city.

Captain Rostock and Mr. Antilles gave orders and the sailors and officers moved swiftly to stations. The lines were thrown off.

There had no need to lay out the anchor and pull her by kedging from the dock. The tide and the wind served them then as well in their departure as the pilot had ever seen them do.  Such was the skill of the crew that they drew out from that crowded pier with mainsails well reefed and only a small pull at the jib. The ship now called The Lady’s Gambit moved out from Kingston port and across that encircled harbor as if Providence itself wished her out to the sea as swiftly as could be accomplished.


Mr. Imway laughed heartily and patted Mr. Rook on the back as he stepped out to work as called.

Behind him Mr. Malbus passed, “The bloody fool took a vow to be humble,” he groused, to the pilot, “Yet look how he takes unseemly pleasure in being right.” He winked an eye though, and laid a companionable hand upon Rook’s arm too as he set to his place to man the lines.

With no tasks set him here, Bodhi Rook edged to where he might see the crews action but be out of the way.

He found himself standing beside Mr. Kay at the stern. For that gentleman looked out, not toward the harbor before them but to the town behind.

 

“The Captain and Miss Erso,” Rook said, “They are alive and will rejoin us.”

He did not know why he felt compelled to speak so to the gentleman, as if to offer comfort.

As always that strange persons’s pale face and looming deportment seemed to betray nothing overt in the way of either sadness or anxiety.

 

“He is a highly skilled operative,” Kay said, evenly, “although he has sometimes been known to err on the side of protecting others at risk to himself. Miss Erso is an unknown quantity yet it is safe to presume her quite resourceful. If they have some access to a ship.…”

He trailed off, which seemed unusual for Rook had never before heard him leave a thought uncompleted, then turned his large pale eyes to gaze downwards. Rook saw that he held the knotted string that had conveyed the coded message in his hand.

“Yes." Mr. Kay nodded, as if in reassurance to himself. "Yes," he repeated, "there is some hope of optimism for his return. I am glad."

The little Quartermaster must have brought it to him after showing it to Captain Rostock and Mr. Melshi. Rook had seen her passing back below, munching the orange, rind and all.

 

He nodded solemnly and bowed, saying “Thank you, Mr. Rook,” before turning away.

 

Even on later reflection Bodi Rook felt he could not be certain what precisely the gentleman had been thanking him for.

 

 


Within the hour they were out and making swift time to pass the batteries and forts that guarded the shores and to circle round old Port Royal and the far side of the Palisades and reach there freer seas. Yet the music and shouts of “Jonkaonnu! Johnkonnu!” followed them well out onto the water even as the port itself shrank from sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Falcon

off the Palisados of Kingston Harbor

the coast of Jamaica

near to Old Port Royal

 

 

Late in the afternoon of

December 26, 1769

 

 

 

 

She had been asleep in her hammock up on the deck, for it was not her turn at watch. The dreams that came to her were strangely mixed, as dreams so often are. It seemed to her that she was a little girl again walking barefoot up the slopes of Serra da Estrela. Snow lay all around her, yet she was not cold. Looking back she could see the towers of Linhares below her but it seemed that she must hurry onward, for the others were waiting for her to lay out Her Highness' Winter robes. Before her now was the old shrine, the cave her grandfather had shown her as a safe place to shelter with her sheep from bandits or the storms that might sweep up unexpectedly. It was holy to the shepherds of those mountains and always had been, for all that it was only a cleft in the rocks. Nossa Senhora da Boa Estrela they called it. If she could just get the child there, surely they would both be safe…..for it seemed to her then that she carried an infant in her arms, tied in a shawl. “No sound,” she whispered, "No sound, my prince, or they will find us.”

Yet even dreaming, she knew that this was not right.

 

They were in the Monastery, within the walls of the Almedina of Coimbra. Old Kenobi,….not so old, her waking mind whispered, he had been vigorous and red-bearded then, but in her dream he was the old man she had last seen, wandering the port at Faro, a half-mad mendicant….he had been the one to hand her the tiny babe. Eirtaé and Fae carried the other infant to where her lady now lay upon the bed, as pale as death, and placed her gently in the crook of her mothers arm. That brave woman was yet too weak to do more than raise a trembling hand to touch the white silk swaddling her firstborn.

“Let me see him,” she said, still weak, “My son, let me see my son.”

“Mariana, it will be easier if you do not,” the Bishop said. With great care he placed a bundle in the handmaiden's arms, wrapped in a clean but common blue-checked cloth “Take him away now.”

Easier, damn you? she thought. Knight of the Holy Church, Bishop of the Blessed Order. Do you know what you condemn her to? She will never lie easy again. He was nothing but a man. What did he know?


So Sabéna ignored him, took the babe to her lady and held him beside the other, his sister, near to his mother’s head. Her lady’s cheek shone with the sweat of her labor and her long hair lay tangled on the pillows, but she turned her face to see.

“Mira,” she said weakly in her own tongue, ”Mira. ¿Ves a tu hermana allí? Donde sea que vayas nunca estarás solo,” and kissing the small head, above the wrappings Sabéna held back for her, she whispered,  “Adiós mi amor.”

Then Mariana Victoria, Infanta of Spain, and Queen of Portugal looked up to meet her eyes. Lips white with pain, she spoke then in a stronger voice, resolute, “My protector… my loyal bodyguard. Take my child to safety.”

 

“Yes. My Queen,” she rose and turned away with the child in her arms, never to see her beloved lady again.

 

Kenobi took her down the secret passage with her precious burden, to the hidden gate by the river where a cart and horse waited for her. The little kitchen girl and her baby were bundled already inside, for the Bishop had promised Dyan gold and all her sins forgiven if she would be wet nurse to the child and forsake Portugal forever. He hung his head as if in shame, that proud, skilled, man and spoke no word to her.

Because it was a dream she spat at him the words she had not the courage to speak in her old life...when she was only a girl, a noble handmaiden, reared to serve... “You own part of this. You brought him here, that German devil. Whatever comes after, I pray you answer to God for it.”

In her dream it was not Pombal’s men that followed them, but wolves with the faces of men, and not the gates of the monastery but the tall peaks of pagan stone beside the city roads that framed the night sky.

Sabéna looked up toward the distant mountains of her birth for the good star of her childhood. Taurus rose above her old home and the brightest light, the eye of the bull, Aldebaran, seemed to point down like a lantern beam at yet other mountains, in France, covered with grass not snow. In her dream the light shone down on a tiny village made of slate, slate and more slate. Though in truth it had been many months of hard aimless travel, to France and humble Tournemire, without road or castle only a thorn from the Saviors crown as relic in the little church. To shine upon the blond farm girl on her knees in the little chapel, weeping bitter tears in prayer, heartbroken that she and her sturdy young husband were yet childless.

She unwrapped the baby, now suddenly a laughing boy of nearly a year, and gave him to the weeping girl. The Bishop’s gold was long gone for bribes and travel, and a generous dowry for the kitchen girl Dyan and her little Tosh when she remained behind to marry the woodcutter who had sheltered them on the coast.

It did not matter. The farmer and his young wife cared for no gold save the boy’s bright golden curls. They walked away from her up into their green hills singing to the little one some French lullaby.

In her dream she stood alone before the statue of the Holy Mother in that chapel and tried to call after them. “They will come for him someday. They will kill you both.” But no…that was later, she had not known that then. The statue spoke to her, saying. “They will not listen, but they would say yes, even if they knew. Forgive yourself, Handmaiden.”

 

 

 

 

 


There was a tap upon her shoulder that wakened her.

They lay in a secret slip tied up upon the broken shoreline of Old Port Royal, which only the tattered pirates still knew. Once it had been the fine cemetery of Port Royal's privateer princes. Then the earthquake and wave had come to claim it's own again. Stone tombs still tilted above ready to slide down into the shore in places, and in the still waters of the tiny inlets, white marble headstones brought at rich cost all the way from Italy still gleamed faintly from the bottom at low tide.  “No bells out loud,” Captain Solo had said, “Keep all quiet and ready ’til we come back.”

 

“Sabé,” It was young Leonitus, “Eight bells done. You are on watch.”

She climbed out from her hammock, then took it down and readied herself. The dark-haired youth had brought his own sling to tie up back by the tiller, the weather was fine enough for them all to sleep above decks and there was little for any of them to do but eat through their remaining stores, tend the slender ship at anchor and keep ready. She found Luc sitting in the Falcon’s low-slung bow watching the horizon.

“No sign of the Captain or Khaeuri?” she asked. It was an unnecessary question, for had there been any news one of the siblings, either Zaccaria upon waking her or Darian Leonitus, who had gone ashore for water and could be seen returning now, would have mentioned it.

“No,” the boy said. “How long do we wait, do you think? Before we either sail away or go to try to rescue him?”


“That would require knowing where to rescue him and from what.” Sabé said, “I do not fancy searching the whole island of British Jamaica. “He said to give them four days.” She sighed. The boy admired Solo, though he would not admit it and for all his light tone the uneasy look upon young Luc Ciel-Marcheur’s face drove her to attempt some reassurance.

“I say we shall give him another day, Lucas, then search Port Royal for word among those returning from the cursed Town’s festival before we look to desperate measures. Do not worry boy. Khaeuri is a fearsome warrior and for all his misadventures Captain Solo has proved to have a fox’s luck for finding payment and a certain good share of courage.”

“Aye, that may be, but what good will it do us if he gets himself killed?” He stretched himself out flat then upon the deck, and closed his eyes. “I hope Khaeuri returns at least, I have been trying to teach him chess.”


Get what rest you can, my prince, Sabé thought. No doubt he will return as he usually does, with half the Kings Guard behind him.


As it fell out she was not so far from wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Falcon

 

off the Pallisadoes of Kingston Harbor

 

December 27-28, 1769

 

 

 

 

 

The land passage across the Palisadoes to the seashore, though short, was not an easy one.

 

This will prepare us in some part for Florida, Jen thought, then closed her mind off firmly from that anticipation. To think of her father and what he and Mr. Rook’s friends might be suffering even now, as they wasted time with this fool, would drive her mad.

 

The road that near a hundred years ago had passed along the length of the Palasadoes from old Port Royal to the plantations of the main island Parish were long ago sunk beneath the sea and buried in the sand. The fierce tangle of mangrove had reclaimed all and would have taken a week to hack through. They did not intend to try. Escaping Kingston by the eastward roads and skirting the small defensive battery of Fort Rock before nightfall, which would mark the return of the Kings soldiers to duty, was their aim in those hours. As the road parted, they left the company of the other celebrants. These surely knew them to be at least alien and likely fugitive as soon as they removed their masks, but none spoke.

A tall woman in a gown of faded sprigged calico, her hair tied in a white scarf, stepped out from the band they had followed.  She spoke to those few who still accompanied them in words Jen recognized as of the Akan language, bidding the bondsmen there to ask no questions and go on. Captain Andor stood before her as if at attention before a fellow officer of higher rank and she returned his gaze with a nod before turning to and walking away beside those people compelled to now return.

 

The Maroons had offered what aid they could by their silence. The rest of the journey they must make on their own as the sunlight dimmed over the mountains to the west.

 

The crook of the inner shore past the Fort was filled with many small boats brought out onto its shallow inner beaches for careening at low tide. To take one proved an easy matter.

 

Shaggy inlets and gaps marked the outer shore, between Plum Point and the shabby pubs and brothels at the back shadow of Fort James, as the square tower at Port Royal, atop the ruins of the old wicked pirate city, was called. Like all the many cannon of British Jamaica those of Fort James stood pointed to the Harbor leaving unwatched a few chancy anchorages. Small boats that drew shallowly could yet hide on the wild and haunted Atlantic shore.

Solo, of course, boasted of his ship that she could draw in to water as shallow as a ladies tea cup and sail back out again with no more wind than a French maid’s whisper.

 Dear God, Jen thought. Will this aja kòfẹ never cease extolling the virtues of that wretched sloop?

 

The destination they sought was the narrowest stretch of the barrier's neck where short crossing on foot might bring them away from the guarded Harbor's shore to Solo’s ocean anchorage on the other side.

They had taken a small nondescript dory from the outer edge, so that her owner might think her merely washed away and thank God when she turned up floating unharmed across the water on the Palasadoes tomorrow with no further question of how she came to be there, and rowed her out beneath the moonlight.

The towering mate manned the oars with enormous skill and the rest of them took it in turns to aid him.

 

 

 

 

Jen fingered her mother’s charm where it lay beneath her chambray shirt and breathed a prayer that the Rogue’s Venture and her crew had already passed out  safely from the prosperous purgatory of Kingston Harbor.

 

As they drew near shore at the place Solo had deemed the best for their foot crossing, he tossed a rope into the trees,  pulling in but not all the way to "land." There remained yet hours until dawn and to cross even so thin as a half mile strip of that swamp in the dark was to risk crocodile or scorpions.

All six of them were thus obliged to remain, crowded into the damp bottom of the fishing boat, amidst gear and nets, with nothing to do but to rest a little while and wait for light.

 

Mr. Cor laid his head upon a stack of rope where he sat and took immediate possession of the sleep of the just, wrapped in the painted violet cloth he still retained from his “costume.” Midshipman Syndalla stepped across his legs from the stern, looking for a place to lie herself down.

 

Solo stood shadowed against the moonlight, watching the dark shoreline. When he saw Syndalla’s movement he spoke rakishly.

 

Dutchman he might be, but too poor for sugar and tobacco, Jen guessed, for his teeth as he smiled gleamed white and straight.

 

“I have some space right here sweetheart,” he said, “Should it be of interest.”

 

"Eu preferiria me deitar com o canibal,” that lady replied tartly, tucking her feet instead beneath a roll of sailcloth wedged at the bottom and arranging herself in it’s limited shelter.

 

“Then I still remain at your service, madam,” the rascal laughed “ for that is also matter I can most conveniently arrange.”

 

The exotic gentleman referenced sat at upon the thwart, his decorated arms resting upon his great knees and his striped brow upon them in turn.

“Whakarongoa, kuri iti,” he muttered. “Ka kino nga wahine ki a koe.” He neither lifted his dark head nor spoke further, and within a few moments he too commenced to snore.

The night remained blessedly dry, the sky clear and the breeze not unpleasant though a little cool.

 

Jen herself climbed over another coil of rope to hand Captain Andor the workman’s corduroy coat and rough linen waistcoat he had given to her keeping when he took his turn to row.

The silvered light was just sufficient that she could see his face looking up at her from where he sat, back against the shoreward side and with legs half-bent before him.

 

He did not speak but only slightly raised his right arm, lifting his chin in a gesture she found she recognized upon the instant he made it.  Always the request for her companionship came first with him, she marveled, never the presumption.

 

Oh my poor spy, Jen Erso thought, have they made you tell and hear so many lies that you crave surety now the way a sailor craves strawberries at sea?

 

Her back was to the moon's light so she would have thought herself too much in shadow for him to see her smile, but he must have sensed her expression by some means, for he smiled himself in return. She climbed down then to sit beside him in the bow and nestled herself beneath that right arm, laying her head against his chest as he opened and spread the coat over them both.

 

 

“The Commander loved the Ondarean but he did not speak of her as if she were his wife,” she whispered.

"Ningún hombre habla de su esposa de esa manera. Ella debe ser su amante, ” he mused, laughing quietly against her hair.

 

 

“Should I stress again my excellent command of Spanish?” a voice sounded somewhat peevishly from the stern.

 

Captain Andor leaned his head back against the side and Jen listened as his breathing beneath her cheek grew slow and steadier.

 

 

 

Solo may have stayed at watch there through the whole remainder of the night for all that Jen could tell. When the dawns first light and the cries of the frigate birds woke her he stood there still.

 

 

 

 

They pulled in as close to the shore as they could and made ready to climb over side, all of them needing to swim and wade ashore while giving the little boat a push enough that it would come in time  to rest some place a little further off from their landing spot.

“Landing” seemed a poor term for their disembarking. Here the water lapped up beneath the finger-like roots of the mangle.

 

His First Mate spoke to Solo with some agitation and displayed great unwillingness to enter the water. He seemed, to Jen’s surprise, most touchingly distressed, hunching his great shoulders and shaking his head as he pointed toward the thin gap in the foliage’s curtain. It was little wider than the span of Jen’s arms but through it and a further short passage of water lay a thin strip of sandy ground.

A glimpse over the side revealed a sandy bottom perhaps five feet down. A wade or shallow swim of perhaps twenty feet would bring them through.

 

 

“Master yourself, Khaeuri, you great baby! I tell you you will be fine,” his captain scolded him.

 

“What is wrong with him?” Jen asked. “Is he afraid of the crocodiles? Surely if we all…”

 

"No, no, he rather fancies the great lizards as a delicacy,” Solo sighed, “The trouble is his unmanly terror of…..” he rolled eyes heavenward, exasperated,  and made a sinuous gesture with one hand.

 

“Snakes?” Mr. Cor ventured.

 

The cannibal howled then and hid his eyes.

 

“Verdorie!” Solo swore, “Was it an absolute necessity to speak the word aloud, sir?”

 

Syndalla elbowed the captain aside and took the exotic giant’s great patterned hands in her own.  “Warrior, I offer you a bargain. Come with me ashore. If you protect me from the crocodiles I will, in my turn, defend you from the snakes. They are plentiful in my country and I know many charms for driving them back and stilling their poisons.”

 

The cannibal seemed greatly comforted by this, and dried his tears, nodding.

 

Then, with a great sweep of his mighty arm, he lifted Midshipman Syndalla by the waist and jumped into the water with her.

 

The force of his departure nearly overturned the little craft, and the rest of them had all they could do not to spill out. Jen clutched at the market bag she had, by good fortune, already bound to her waist and Solo made a mad grab for his hat. Leaving their stolen boat to be well pushed out by the large man’s wake they now all swam as swiftly as they could for the thin strip of poor shore, dawn being also a time of great activity for the crocodiles.

 

 

 

Much bedraggled, they reached the spit of sand and made their way on. To cross the mile of the neck of the barrier peninsula took them more than three hours. Firm ground vanished often, so that for many yards sometimes they were required to almost crawl or climb. The mate Khaeuri, pushed through with his arms to make a path for them all, always with Syndalla close by his side, for he clearly took her at her word. 

 

"I had understood," Mr. Cor said in hushed tone to Jen, as he pulled behind her on the narrow path,"That the island of Jamaica's sole virtue was its utter lack of venomous snakes."

"Shhhhhh," Jen whispered

 

 

 

 

 

Scratched and weary, they heard the surf of the Atlantic side before they could gain any sight of it through the thick foliage.

 

When Jen, of a sudden, felt something firm beneath her feet at she looked down. What she had taken for a stone she now saw to be a gleaming white headstone, toppled and half-buried in the sand and decaying leaves “Jocast… Nu…. 163… Faithfu… Unt… Dea…”

 

They had reached the edge of what was once the High Street of Old Port Royal. A last mighty push by Khaeuri brought them through onto a small sandy cliff above a dark islet overshadowed by mangrove, and even some broken and decayed willow and scrub oak. The bright white shore of the free Caribbean Sea lay beyond.

 

Directly below them, perhaps twenty yards, lay a little sloop with a long-angled bowsprit. She was made after the Bermuda and Jamaica fashion, with a single main mast and rigged with fore-and-aft mainsail and jibbed foresail all of dingy white, well patched with red and grey.

 

Captain Solo’s weary expression altered to that of a man returning to his beloved from twelve years press-ganged. He wiped the sweat from his brow, unrolled shirtsleeves down over his scratched arms and smiled, “Ladies and Gentleman, Valkerij van Duizend… better know to these seas as The Falcon.”

 

 

“Huh,” Jen said.

 

“What?” Solo, turned upon her, as if he would draw pistol and pronounce challenge upon the spot.

 

“She seems well enough rigged,” she conceded, “but, before God, the way you went on, I expected no less than Teach’s “Adventure” trimmed with mother-of-pearl. Surely you do not mean to tell me this will catch up to a brigantine with a days lead at sail? Can she even make 12 knots?”

 

“Mr. Avelar,” Solo said, in a deadly tone, “Kindly tell your wife that this ship will better 13 with extra sail, for I have made a few modifications of my own design.”

 

Jen felt herself smile. It wasn’t as if the fellow was even armed. Salt-damp, midge-bitten and weary as she was she found her spirits near lifted by the thought of a short scrap with a smuggler over some little boat’s virtues. It had the appeal almost of a return to childhood pleasures.

 

Captain Andor laid a hand upon her arm and flashed her look almost of warning, ready, it seemed to coolly step between them. “Come, my dear, we do not need such trouble now. “

 

 

The sound of a branch's crack behind them was the only warning they received. Jen berated herself sharply for that later, and did not doubt that Captain Andor did the same.

 

Syndalla being at the back of their narrow passage, still acting as "protector" of the large exotic First Mate, managed to react the soonest, turning to face out and dropping to a fighting stance, but it was too late.

Two brown-skinned youths, almost of a height and similarly dressed in blue shirts and linen breeches, faced them from the trees at each side of the narrow path. One stood upon a sideways funeral marker, the other knelt within the brush to their left. Both held most workman-like cutlasses.

One blade was pointed directly at Mr. Cor,

 

"Oh bloody hell," that good gentleman said, as if this, added to the large scorpion that Syndalla had brushed off the back of his shirt mere moments before, had exhausted his patience past the point of conventional fear.

 

The other youth held the point of the sword a hands-span from her own neck.

 

Hers, not Andor's, Jen noted, though he was taller and the more conventional-appearing adversary upon this side.

Clearly these were Solo's people. They must have judged her the nearest threat to that gentleman, being sensible enough to discern truth beneath appearance and loyal enough to stand for a rascal whose ship they might easily have stolen.

"Judge the fitness of a captain by his crew," her Olori had said on more than one occasion. She had seen it proved true many times.

Perhaps Solo was not quite the fool at sea that he appeared on land.

 

 

A shout came up from the deck of the sloop. They had been seen there as well.

 

“Hoy! Captain! Khaeuri! How goes it?"

 

It was a blond youth, of perhaps sixteen. He carried a rough musket and had it pointed with skilled directness at Captain Andor.

 

Beside him stood a small woman, sun-tanned, in sailor’s pants and shirt, dark hair peppered with grey and bound back in a ponytail.  Incongruously tied with what looked to be orange silk ribbon.

 

Later Jen would have occasion to inspect it more closely and recognize the decoration as a scrap of fine Chinese-embroidered hem from some long-faded rich red gown. It would put her in mind of her wooden charm and she would think, “So it is. Each of us carries some little relic of the past, tangible or intangible, that we cannot part with.”

 

"Stand down, children," Solo called out, reaching a hand to lower his crew man's blade from it's proximity to her throat.

"These are friends..." He could not forbear it seemed, flashing her a small gloating smile as he did so, "...or renumerative allies at the very least."

The other dark youth had lowered their cutlass on the opposite side. They both had close cropped hair and though the one facing her seemed slightly taller she guessed them near kin, if not siblings. "We were near to coming to look for you, sir."

"Oh, ye of little faith....Darian.." Solo chided.

 

"I am Zachary, sir," the youth said.

"And I will take your honorable word for it, sailor." Solo replied, utterly unperturbed.

 

He waved his now battered hat toward the ship.  "Ladies and gentleman, if you would but stow yourselves aboard we'll be on our way."

 

 

 

The process took some minutes, for there was no real shore to climb down upon at this measure of the high tide, only crowded tree roots reaching straight into the water, and the little sloop was fairly wedged against them. They were thus obliged to climb down one at a time from the rise of the small sandy bluff, around the stone boxes of old mausoleums and tombs crazily tipped and half eaten by the mangrove,  to a rough board the blond youth laid across as a tilted gangway.

Solo's crew had not been idle in their hiding place, it seemed. Baskets filled with mangoes and small but full water barrels lay upon the deck  and Jen, to her great relief, also saw a number of fish strung up along the mast, smoked and ready to eat. A welcome sight for many reasons, firstly because her own stomach rumbled,  n one of them having eaten more than some sweet rolls pocketed at the festival yesterday, and secondly because....while she had no concrete concerns about the cannibal's discretion and manners, the sight of ready foodstuffs did relieve her mind of some mild worry with regard to him..

 

 Solo's crew put to swiftly to stow gear and ready the sails, while that captain tossed his hat below the small cabin roof and moved up as his Mate took place by the tiller.

 

"This tide is as good as any we're likely to get. Ropes away. Khaueri, get us out of here."

 

They pulled out as swiftly and easily as Solo might have boasted, and the little sloop did indeed handle well. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

MSS, Being a portion of a secure request for endorsement by one Dr. William Tarkin, London

to the Crown Office of the Lords of Trade, London,

dated January __1767,

 

 

obtained by Mr. David Draven and forwarded by the hand of Miss Mary Jade under his seal to Lady Mary Monmouth, 4 Tavin Park, London

(Decoded from cypher)

…..Isolation and a climate suitable to the manufacture of the substance can be obtained in numerous other of our operations in the West Indies and the East Indies, operations on the African coast have proved untenable in the near term, yet suitable regions are rapidly becoming available in Asia, as per Captain Huxton’s report….…

Acceding to you honor’s wisdom in focusing on the British as hosts the Florida and Carolina ventures both provide ease of access to the sea, with Charles Town by far the superior port. Mrs. Charles Pinckney has proved a receptive and effective overseer of her pilot project since the leverage regarding her late husband’s debts has been applied. In comparison to Mr. Orren Krennik’s project in East Florida the less isolated location of the Carolina plantation clearly offers far readier opportunities for oversight.....


Processing the explosive compound alongside the indigo has proved simplicity itself even taking into account the additional precautions required to disguise it so that it may be shipped legitimately or smuggled as prized dyestuff, opens many avenues to the potential of the projects logical expansion.

The ease with which the manufacturing of the explosive could be concealed even beneath the very noses of the governments considered,  if one may be forgiven an assay into low humor, not to mention the distribution networks that could be piggybacked onto from Canton to Europe and New Spain must present itself well to the imagination. Moreover, as pointed out in the previous proposal, Our Honored Master's financial agents in London and Istanbul and Paris need neither purchase a ship or pay a pennyworth in bribe to transport it.. Indigo being traded more lustily at present than gold. When I presented the outline of the project to His Emminence some twenty years ago he was most intrigued by the prospect that commercial interests and royal governments alike would pay dearly in coin for the privilege of carrying a substance that could lay waste to cities directly into their own ports and capitals. Agents of our consortium need only be standing by.......

Whether events will prove more conducive to the use of such hidden stockpiles for manipulative trade with the childishly competitive powers of Europe or in direct assault against them will, or course be made by our Master himself when the time comes……..

Therefor it is my fixed if somewhat reluctant conclusion at this time that Mr. Krenniks East Florida plantation, notwithstanding that gentleman’s episodic mismanagement and less than transparent reporting must be the sole preferred venture for the time being. I recommend, however, that should the compounds developed there be definitively proved of value we investigate and even prepare a second, or even multiple locations of manufactory and be prepared at once to remove any vital personnel and experimental records….

 

(handwritten upon a separate sheet :

Madam, These documents were brought to us at cost by brave operatives long concealed within the Admiralty. The deciphering of the notes has proved difficult but this section was deemed essential to our current action and is being sent to you with priority. Other pages will follow as secured.

It being judged likely that Captain Andor and his company have already quit Jamaica by the 25th notice of this intelligence will be sent by the swiftest means possible in secure copy on to our agents at Freeport and Nassau, as well as to a contact we have recently confirmed as trustworthy at St. Augustine. We must pray that they reach him in time to be of use, and that his mission can conclude quickly and successfully but we must also prepare ourselves for the worst. We have less time than even we feared.

D.D.

December 12th, 1769

 

 

 

_____________________

 

 

 

 

East Florida

New Smyrna Colony

Mr William Tarkin, Proprietor

 

December 24, 1769

 

If the British naval officers were possessed of suspicions regarding any matters at the plantation they displayed it by no outward signs. Mr. Oren Krennik felt most secure in his opinion that they were none of them capable of convincing subterfuge.

Bless the stalwart sons of Albion, they had an inborn gift, almost to a man, of not being able to see anything that deviated from their pre-formed frames of reference. Move an object two inches out of place or dye it red when the fashion current in the Admiralty declared that it should be blue and their eyes could be counted upon to pass over it unperturbed.

 

As matters fell out, they drank their measures of rum punch companionably enough in the newly finished front rooms of the mansion house while the prisoners were transferred, then took possession of the dispatch cases containing those letters of thanks addressed back to the Governor at Jamaica and departed on the following tide with respectful well-wishes all around

His men were in position throughout, of course, primed and loaded to kill them all had the signal were given but their departure under their own power made for a much more convenient resolution.

 

Bodies could be disposed of with ridiculous ease here but it would take a dozen of his men more than a day to get a ship of such size back far enough into the inlets to strip it down adequately. Even with the season of storms not yet over he did not dare risk a fire that might be seen for miles at sea. The small ragged sloop that had been lingering on the inlets of the nearby Halifax several days back might well have been but smugglers trying to evade patrols, but no chances could be taken. The British were already showing far too much interest in the imagined economic potential of the peninsulas' eastern coast.

The officers had babbled of attempts at rice and sugar plantations further south....Good luck to those fellows, he told himself. They will last a season at best. If the Yellow Fever does not kill them despair and boredom will.

He glanced up at the British flag that flew above the outer wall.

The Spanish will take this wretched strip of sand and jungle back from you strutting jays upon the first instant you take your eyes from it, he mentally prophecied to the waving colors, and if the French decide to meddle again in affairs North you will very soon be required to do so. I shall deal well enough with them then, afterwards. The bribes will be higher but the sherry wine will be cheaper.


He would not second-guess himself this close to success. More bribes would solve any problems in the short term and once the success of the project was proved to his Lordship and their Master, cost would cease to be an object of concern.

Yet Mr. Krennik did not deceive himself. Time for that success was running short.

The trials here had been promising though prone to occasional dramatic accident. Erso had insisted that all issues relating to instability must be solved here before any full scale real-world tests of the explosives full capabilities.

This bespoke at best, over-caution and timidity on his Engineer's part, or perhaps some motive less worthy.

He would deal with Erso when other problems were, as they promised to soon be, under firm management. Wild and unconfirmable rumors circulated the smugglers ports, and the gossip of the British officers seconded, heartening tales of the death of the brigand Saul Gerrere and the dramatic destruction of one of his Portuguese bases.

Rich reward in the form of fortune..about which Krennick cared but little, save as a means to other ends…. and influence…about which he cared a great deal….came to those who brought their Master tools. This explosive nitrate stood to be the most powerful tool since gunpowder, perhaps since steel.


Striking against one of Gerrere's strongholds without waiting for Tarkin's direct approval had been a bold risk, but boldness was clearly called for now.

 

Standing within view of the newly finished "Mansion House," he watched the sails of the British ship that had returned his errant workers and most recent dispatches disappear out around the great matts of vegetation and through the watery maze out the “Mosquito” inlet toward the wider Atlantic.

Mr. Krennik was most content with the impression the “Governor’s Mansion" had produced, this being the first time since the completion of the facade that he had had occasion to display it to outside eyes. He had, after all, designed the house, himself.

In his youth he had studied architecture and he still took genuine satisfaction in design that achieved the goals set for it. Most persons, especially those of the ruling classes, whatever their nation, wandered about like sheep, thinking that their world simply happened, sprung from the mind of Jove not the forge of Vulcan, and that appearances always reflected some natural reality. Present a group of English officers with a graceful and imposing structure of a size, shape and style they interpreted as reflective of an orderly, prosperous, intelligently managed plantation of Britain's tropical provinces and that is what they could counted upon to see.


Sending messages through Jamaica had a taken a few irksome extra weeks in transit but the amenable if expensive General Grant was no longer in place as governor at St. Augustine. The interim governor was one Dr. John Moultrie, an unknown quantity.

Chances could not be taken with his goals so near in sight, Jamaica was by far the more secure route.


The document case so Britishly delivered was tucked firmly beneath his arm, still sealed. His impatient intention was to set his men to arranging the escapees while he returned to the house to securely digest it’s contents. His most earnest hope was these contained in their sealed envelopes official and detailed descriptions from his men who had set the trial in Portugal, along with copies of confirmed third party accounts of his success.


That he had such in hand was essential before Mr. Tarkin arrived from Charles Town as expected at the end of January.


His rivals now circled like crows.

Krennik knew full well what that grand gentleman's true motives must be on the coast of the Carolinas.

Mrs. Charles Pinckney’s rice and indigo estates were situated near the Carolina coast, within a few days reach of Charles Town. William Tarkin, whose shrewdness in matters of self-promotion was legend, clearly sought to hedge his bets with regards to all ventures in the New World. That gentleman’s spies…the sloop spotted on the River? Perhaps even turncoats within Krenniks own guard?….had no doubt informed him of the weapons enormous promise.

He thinks to steal the innovations….my innovations…with regards to the dual processing and concealment of the compound in indigo. The Widow Pinckney is being set up as potential competitor and Tarkin will swoop in to claim credit himself for whichever project bears fruit first.


Let him try, he thought.

Krennik had taken another bold step. Their Master prized Tarkin as lieutenant and gave him an ear, but there was another whose advice he rated even more highly.

Mr. Krennik had sent overtures directly to Freiherr von Vader

 

 

A quick glance at the seals upon the case, as well as a certain lingering anxiety…trembling, might be a better description….in the posture of the British officer acting as secretary while he handed over the dispatches led Krennik to hope that amongst the long awaited field reports from Europe he had received a reply to his request for an visit by Vader himself before the New Year.

If he could subvert the established ladder and greet that fearsome commander directly with some irrefutable record of success….success moreover in a direct trial against a European fortified site, documented so that Tarkin's lackeys could not conceal or twist the reports......it would cement his position in their Master's favor beyond question and Tarkin's self-serving interference could finally be dispensed with.

 

His ambitions lay within his grasp, but he must walk the knifes edge.

 

He would first read the dispatches and make ready his play based on their contents. These escapees must be questioned and dealt with….hopefully before midday.

Captain Pence followed him as he walked back the short distance from the dock.

“I will be in my offices at the Overseer's House,” Krennic told him, without a glance backwards. “Have Mr. Gesh bring a bowl of shrub and a plate of bread and cheese, but do not disturb me otherwise for one hour.”

He would toast Mr. Saul Gerrere's re-location to Hell with brandy later in his private quarters.

 

“Yes sir,” the officer replied.

“In the meanwhile send for Mr. Galen Erso from the works,”

Did he sense a flinch in that phlegmatic Scot? Damn the man, he should at least be grateful the wind blew from the sea today.

He did not bother to conceal his mild contempt. “You need not go yourself if you find the task offensive, Captain, send one of your men, but have him here before noon and make sure he is given instructions to wash and change clothes.”

Krennik found his eye drawn to the line of ragged men being led tied toward the palmetto huts beyond the guardhouse. Forni was no doubt among them, and a plan began to form in his mind.

Erso was perhaps overdue some refreshed awareness of his responsibilities with regard to control of his people.

“And have your men set up the gallows on the field.”

‘Yes sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 


The Falcon

North from from Jamaica

December 29, 1769

 

 

 

 


They made straight for Nassau with all good speed.

Midshipman Syndalla took a place on deck and watched Solo's crew set to well and quick. Though requiring great skill to work it was indeed a clever arrangement of sail.

The sun had passed over and both the rosy sky and fortunate winds seemed a good omen for tomorrow.

The captain came back as his mighty Mate took over his place at the wheel but paused as he passed near Syndalla with a considered glance.

"I have given it much thought sweetheart,” he said, tipping his hat back and smiling, “and find I still cannot escape the notion that we have met before."

This again? Spare us both, she thought. I know your sort boy, you are not half the villain you feign to be, yet to be thought a nearly-honorable man, or God forbid, pitied, for even an hour makes you feel yourself in such false costume you must quickly play the rogue again to better the fit.

 


She leaned back against the rail and regarded the young Dutchman evenly.
"You are slow enough to come to it, then, Captain Solo. Tell me, whatever became of that handsome fellow you called Captain at New Orleans? It was he I managed my business with. You played a much less forward part in those days I think,"

She could not fail to feel a flash of annoyance at the way the smuggler's eyes widened as belated recognition washed over him like a full moon tide, but quickly chided herself.

O false pride Hera Syndalla! No doubt you have changed, and greatly. How could you not?

 

 

"She was the Espírito, your ship?" Solo asked. The tide of memory had reached the high mark at last.

"Aye," the woman answered, "she was."

He touched his hat brim in salute then and bowed his head. "My apologies, captain," he said.

To her great surprise he seemed to speak now in respectful earnest, all his habitual sarcasm gone.

She returned the gesture.

What do they say of us? Do they remember us still in the Gulf and the South? Lay on her lips to ask, but she forced such weakness back.

 

"With regards to Alando, I cannot speak with any certainty" the man said, returning to her question, “We parted company some years ago, over cards in part but in the main because, it seems, he long harbored a secret wish to stand a citizen....to find another calling, as it were.”

Solo turned back then with a look almost of sadness toward the dark rise of Jamaica's mountains, now quickly shrinking in shadows astern.

The Maroons? Syndalla marveled. She would never have guessed that. Thereby must hang a tale.

 

Rumor in her days upon the Gulf had pegged the dashing young Captain Calrissian as a habitual gambler, required to engage in many bold and chancy ventures to pay his constant debts. She had paid the handsome fellow his money and dismissed him as yet another daring but self-serving privateer.

Yet who was Hera of the clan Syndalla to judge the fellow, it seemed? she wondered now. Surely to bind oneself ashore and give up ones boat to fight for the Maroon Townships was among the boldest gambles imaginable.

 

Solo might well have asked in his turn, since she had broken the code first, "How came you here?" Yet he did not, only turning to look off to the west and the open Atlantic again.

Therefore she ventured another question of him, knowing Andor would do so soon enough.

"Will you join us at Nassau, Captain Solo? You and your crew must surely have some notion of what we move against."

The man laughed, mirthlessly she thought and glanced first up toward the fair-haired boy and small but whipcord-strong woman at the lines, and then back toward his towering Mate. His manner as he answered remained in this new, in her experience with him thus far, more frank manner.

"Off the boards of this ship I would not presume to speak for any man or woman among them. My agreement is to pay them, and if your commander's purse proves dependable,I will do so at Nassau port. Afterwards they will reckon their own decisions. You are free to make your angelic overtures then. The Alliance may find young Luc at least, open to persuasion and perhaps Sabe as well, as she has all but adopted him..." the Dutchman shrugged.

She did not pursue the subject further.

Captain Andor was the senior officer on this venture. Any offers must be made and approved by him. Skill and even virtue alone did not determine who would swear the oath and take the Starbird’s mark. It required a commitment of hope, even in the face of despair and the certain knowledge of loss.

Would she have the courage to still go on, even with the treasure of her memories, save for the dreams in which her Kanaã returned to her and spoke of the better worlds she would not live to see?

 

 

She saw Miss Erso now emerge from the low cabin and speak to the fair-haired French boy, asking some question about the arrangement of the small sail heads.

Captain Andor came up from the cramped space as well. From where she stood Midshipman Syndalla could see how his eye looked up quick as a hawk's to locate the Englishwoman first, before sweeping around to place the rest of the persons aboard.

Once a marksman always a marksman, she thought of the young officer’s dark eye. He assessed all movable pieces in advance of any possible play of events. Perhaps he was not even aware that he did so.

 

Miss Erso however was the exception no matter were she stood, her placement always came first. Of that habit she felt sure he was unconscious.

 

Miss Erso, in her turn seemed as if she heard the Captain's step on deck despite the clamor of wind and wave. Looking back toward the stern and catching sight of her lover she smiled bright and quick as a fish's leap, then turned back to her study of the sails.

 

 


“Captain Han Solo,” Hera Syndalla said, “We have both sailed these waters in ships of some renown. In the name of that kinship may I ask of you a favor?”

Solo raised an eyebrow, as if questioning if she flattered to deceive. She did not and hoped him man enough to see it.

Perhaps he was for he answered her gravely,“I will if I am able, Captain Syndalla of the Espírito.”

Ah, that was painful indeed.

“You will find our officer a brave, capable and fiercely dedicated man, who will deal with you honorably,” she looked up to where Captain Andor stood, back toward the stern, and Solo followed her gaze, “but there may come an hour, while you remain in our company, when some trial or danger threatens and he asks you to take her…” there was no need to clarify her subject further, the man was not blind, “…to remove her unwilling from his side to some place of safety.”

The smuggler looked at her with furrowed inquiry, but Hera Syndalla went on, “I ask this only of you brother, should such an hour come and such a request be made, do not do it.”

 

 

 

 

 From the bow the young pilot, Luc, seemed concerned about something and had called for the spyglass to look West. 

"What troubles you boy?" the small crewman, Sabe, could be heard to ask, "Do you see something?"

"No," the boy said, looking toward the red sunset, "Or rather, I cannot say. It is merely a feeling."

Sabé laid a hand upon his shoulder but none of the rest of the crew seemed to pay any mind. They were perhaps by now accustomed to Ciel-Marcheur and his "feelings."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

East Florida

New Smyrna Colony

Mr William Tarkin, Governor and Proprietor

 

December 24, 1769

 

 

 

 

Krennik's man came to fetch him as he walked back up to the drying yard.

A kerchief held firmly to his mouth and nose the man quickly related the Director’s orders and as soon as Mr. Galen Erso had bowed and committed himself to arrival at the Directors Quarters within the appointed hour fled to await his compliance upwind of the works on the main path back to the riverfront in a place of more congenial air.

The fellow's name was Dorton.

Galen Erso knew all their names well after so many years, just as he knew their habits and most regular actions.

In a way they were as much prisoners in this place as those they guarded.

This knowledge bred no pity for them in his heart.

Officer Dorton betrayed a Dorset accent in unguarded moments, and had a particular dislike amounting almost to a disabling fear of the brown thumb-sized foul-smelling hard shelled insects that frequented the windless corners of the woods. This knowledge had proved of use two years back when Sefla and Peya had been able to distract his interest from the alterations to the mixing tank by having the children gather the insects and place them thickly along the path.


Thus unguarded Galen Erso walked the sandy path back to the small wooden house appointed to his use. At some point prior to an inspection by British "investors" two or three years back Krennik had sent men to paint the boards with lime whitewash but the rains had long since melted it away, and now the bare accommodation matched the yellowed grey color of the rest of the plantations shacks.

Within the house had been placed a desk, tables for his papers, a rough bed for his hours of sleep and also a tall chest kept locked with a key containing clothes. The lock was a necessity it was believed since the most desperately sought commodity in this hellish place, sometimes to a greater degree than even food or untainted water, was clothing. None of these furnishings had been placed at his request of course. The house had been arranged so upon his arrival here ten years ago.

Nearby the doorway sat a small wooden bench and here he seated himself to remove the scuffed and bespattered boots he habitually wore near the works. A pair of woven grass slippers waited beneath the bench and he shook them carefully before slipping his feet into him. The jungles of the Americas had taught him caution in this, among other things.  A small striped lizard fell out upon the board of the doorway step, eyed him with disgruntled alarm, and fled to the cool darkness beneath the house.

Galen Erso walked through the dim sparsely furnished room and opened the shutters to dispel such of the brooding air as might be displaced. He then walked through to a small shed that had been attached at the back and removed the dirty coat, headscarf and neckerchief he had worn for the bulk of the day.

He would need go to seek water for washing before he put on his reserved untainted shirt. Nothing worn near the putrefaction of the tanks could ever be wholly free of the smell again, neither cloth nor hide, but he resolved to go through the motions as required.  

Above the pegs where he hung his garments to gain what virtue still air could give them was a drawing in blue ink upon a scrap of notepaper. Fixed to the wall with a fragment of nail it presented a small sketch by his own hand of a monstrous dog with three heads. He touched the image lightly with his free hand if in greeting.

Guardian of the Third Circle. 

 Hej, gammal vän. 

His wedding band he kept always on a string around his neck when he worked, but he now took it off from this and placed it back again upon his finger. Saying to himself as he did each day upon so doing, 

Help me Lara. Guide me through.

 

 

___________________

 

 


He had found the volume in the original archaic Italian on the table when he first entered into the library of the stately house in Derbyshire.

Most of the impressive hundreds, indeed thousands, of volumes there contained had clearly sat upon their respective shelves carefully dusted and just as carefully unopened for generations. Whether originally hoarded and prized as knowledge, booty of war or fashionable affectation he could not tell, but the vast majority of the dazzling trove had clearly lain unexplored by the noble residents of Ogston Hall since the days of Richard III. He had been engaged by Lord Arian to fully catalog the scientific and alchemical tomes…for sale he doubted not but did not enquire. One of his patrons at the Royal Society had recommended him to the employment, knowing his dire poverty…and had come upon that day to do a first rough catalog of his task armed with ladder, ledger-books and quills. His one serviceable velvet coat was swathed in a linen duster for protection.

The room was well-maintained, cleaned, cavernous and cold. A small cursory fire was lit in the great carved fireplace at the far end of the room. He had considered at first that this might be for his comfort but later learned was simply by the Lords standing instruction. Lord Arian disliked that any room of his house be unheated, on the mere chance that he might one day choose to enter there.

Mr. Galen Erso, aged nineteen formerly of Uppsala University, presently an applicant of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, more commonly known as the Royal Society, was left daunted and astonished behind the closed doors of that stately room by the house servants. He stood frozen in awe for several long minutes before slowly taking hold of his dazzled wits and setting about measuring the full scope of the six months task before him.

A first clue that someone else had recently been in the room for purposes other than dusting ought to have been the small rug and stack of rather moth-eaten cushions he found hidden under a draped gate-leg table not far from the fire but the doings of the gentry of all nations were then such an exotic mystery to him....For all he knew there was a pampered and literate dog who liked to nap here.

What gave him pause, youthful pendant that he was, was a book out of place, atop a stack of newly printed volumes by Swift, just slightly off center.

The beautiful and ancient leather bindings of this volume made pointed contrast with the marbled covers of the more modern collections and so created a discord that caught his eye.

He opened the tome with greatest care.

The frontispiece brought his heart to his throat: La Comedia di Dante Alleghieri. The volume in his hands was the most ancient he had ever seen of the text…. Foligno…printers Johann Numeister and Evangelista Angelini da Trevi. 1472.

And between the pages lay a thin blue string, as if someone had marked a place. 

Young Mr. Galen Erso laid the work carefully back and set about his cataloging, working diligently until evening and then being shown out by a different serving man than the one who had admitted him.

The next day when he was re-admitted to the room he re-investigated. The ancient Italian masterwork lay on the same table and stack but was altered very slightly in position. The string had been moved forward to lie between the pages of the next Canto’s beginning.

On impulse he took a pen, tore an edge from the corner of one ledger page, dipped his quill and wrote: "Dante sees Aeneas as a prophet – as a one who might speak the future into being. Yet the Apostles Paul’s world shall replace Aeneas’ as the popes replaced Caesars – how might one pilgrim’s renewal usher in a new order of the ages? This seems the poet’s question” 

When the ink was set he placed the scrap within the pages of the book.

Ever a man who could blinker his mind when consumed with a task, for good or ill, he then stilled his trembling heart and set about his day’s work.

 

The next morning he fairly raced the stout brocaded serving man to the library door.

The fellow cast him many a suspicious glance as he closed the doors behind. Galen Erso was not at all surprised to find that evenings escort had received instruction to search his bags before he left, whether for theft or strong liquor he was was never sure.

His note was gone. The blue string had moved forward several pages and a small note on a folded and torn scrap of foolscap was inscribed thus in a small neat ladylike hand: “Will not the poet succeed Paul as Paul succeeds Aeneas, and by the same act: the rediscovery and renewal of love? The implication here surely is that it lies within each man and woman to do so. Whenever a human being is saved by love, the poet seems to say, the future is redeemed, both for that person and for the cosmos.”

 

 

So it began. The most strange of courtships surely?

 They wrote each other commentaries on Hell and Heaven and all the vagaries in between then moved to complaining about the limits of their own Italian. He knew the poem already but her commentaries made it fresh to him.


Or did at least until she wrote that the “Classical poets took infinite vision and seemed to aspire to reduce it merely to the level of their own over-rationalistic understanding,” then she simply made him want to argue with her.

Small cakes, some with bites out of them began to appear, wrapped in oiled paper in a corner of the hearth. He was, of course required to consume them to hide the evidence.

It was more than two months before he finally saw his heavenly guide, although she admitted to spying on him much earlier from her hiding place. Like Beatrice from the clouds she stepped out one rainy afternoon from behind a bookcase in a simple and slightly dusty dove wool gown, pinned over rope jumps, to judge from her ease. With a fine linen kerchief, shoulders wrapped in an India shawl as if against the damp and dark hair pinned beneath a lace cap, she presented as fair a picture of the Divine as he had every hoped to see. This vision of Holy Wisdom showed him the cobwebbed secret chamber behind an old “priest hole” left from the days of the Tudors. A backbreaking handspan of a staircase wound up from it to the third storey, opening she said into a narrow closet behind an upper chamber fireplace.

“I could never fit through such a passage,” he told her.

“No,” she said, as if genuinely saddened, “and I had so earnestly hoped you would prove to be short as well as young and handsome. Still, one must not look ungrateful to the fairies that grant two wishes if they stint a little on the third. As uncomfortable as it is I fear we shall have to meet here.”

 

He was overwhelmed by the risk she took even for the weeks when he stupidly thought her merely an overly educated lady’s maid, a paid companion to one of Lord Arian’s many daughters or some impoverished genteel relation kept on charity.

Had he known she was the Lord’s seventeen year-old daughter confined to her rooms as punishment for yet another public defiance of her father, he would have fled in terror.

Oh Lara, had I done so you would still be alive.

  

In the end they were caught, of course. They were too boldly and foolishly besotted not to be.

She was locked up for nine months at her sister's in Kent, where there were no secret passages until her father, satisfied that she was not quite the shame to her families name that she might have been, packed her off to accompany an eccentric elderly cousin, Lady Wortley-Montagu who lived scandalously in Italy and Turkey. Galen Erso was packed back to London, unreimbursed.

Through another year of smuggled letters she wrote of her growing interest in geology and the political causes her cousin was involved in. Despite insistence that her cousin would help them and the heartening inclusion of snippets of erotic Italian and Turkish poetry she included, always with sweet requests for his assistance in “translation” he vowed to himself that when he came to her it would be with a fortune worthy of her. The offer of his old University friend Oren Krennik seemed the answer to all his prayers. Galen Erso worked, afire as if his hope and future depended upon it and made enormous strides, pleasing his new patrons.

Coming a long last to Naples where her cousin had a villa he found her walking down on the Bay, her gown and petticoats tucked into her apron, barefoot in the surf with a wheelbarrowed servant in tow plucking volcanic samples from the sand, he knelt before her on the very beach.

“L'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle,” he said as the Mediterranean washed over his shoes.

“You bloody fool!” she cried and threw herself into his arms.

They were married in a little Italian church by a priest seemingly unconcerned that neither of them were Roman Catholics, their Italian was good, it was enough.

 

They travelled the world as they had each dreamed of doing and Jane, named for her disapproving mother, was born at sea on a Dutch ship, the Vallt, bound for India.

 

The Company, through the congratulatory Krennik, offered her scope for her talents as well finding her capacity with languages and prodigy-like skill with the identification of rocks and minerals a worthy contribution to their projects and imposed few restrictions as to her sex.

She accepted gladly especially when she learned that she would even be able to publish, albeit under an alias.

Her elderly cousin had disapproved, surprisingly, as that unconventional lady had in the past proved such an ally to them. He was grieved to see that she and Lara parted in argument. Even more grieved when word reached them that the good Lady Wortley-Montagu  had died while they were at sea.


For a year, even two, their happiness proceded perfect and without shadow, or so it seemed to him.

Galen Erso knew now that he had attached himself so strongly to this dream he believed himself to have built and at the same become so engrossed in his work….. the advancement of ideas he had only dreamed of in boyhood, the company and admiration of powerful learned men…. and so fixed upon the beauty of their daughter as she grew that he did not see…..so many other things.

Laura grew distant and he told himself that motherhood changed every woman. She was weary, he decided, perhaps of travel and determined to seek a house for the three of them.

Krennik agreeably helped them find a fine one in the city and urged that Lara and Jen remain there and settle in while Mr. Erso and some of the other men  surveyed sites for a possible venture in the West Indies.

Galen kissed a stricken tearful Lara and a round-cheeked little Jen goodbye, promising it would for but four months with good winds.

Upon that journey he saw…..at long last….many things he had been blind to.

 

 

Shaken he returned to London six months late.

 

The pretty house had been dark and for an instant as he stepped down from the hired carriage a terrible thought had struck him.

“She is gone. She has left me.”

A part of him thought, "Of course she has, and it is better so."

 

Yet it was not a servant who opened the door to him, it was his wife and he swept her into his arms with relief he could not articulate, then ran as if from a devouring beast upstairs to where Jen was asleep like an angel in her nursery and sat beside her crib.

Lara came to him there, pale and desperate and knelt beside his chair.
When had she become so pale? How had he not seen it?

“Galen,” she said, “You must believe me. These people are not who you think they are.” Then she told him the truth, laid it out with dates and names of ships and colleagues who had disappeared, she showed him the letters of a young Scotsman who had returned from Jamaica and more. All that he had seen made sense now.


He had not freed them. He had trapped them all. He had sold them to the Devil.

He wept and begged her forgiveness, and found when he did so that she was weeping as well.

“I was so afraid,” she said, shaking, “I was so afraid you would deny it. That you would…be like…”

They wept in each others arms like the rebellious lovers they had once been for a little while and then his Beatrice steeled herself.

She showed him that same dark night a package she had kept hidden in the false bottom of her traveling truck holding papers, gold, a few common clothes and a pistol.

How long had she been preparing?

She told him to carry Jen from her crib, choosing but one of her ten thousand little penny dolls and poppets to bring with along and the three of them came out together out of the house in the dark. A carriage waited in the dark at the turning of the road. There were people who would help them, she said. She had made arrangements.

All the servants were gone but he never asked how she had managed their absence.

They ran.

 


You should have left me Lara. Why did you wait? If you had loved me less you would still be alive.

 

 

______________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


As he walked out the back door to obtain at least a little rainwater from one of the covered troughs, one of the young Minorcan women, Sera Fortesa, appeared from around the rough stick fence behind the house holding a pitcher of well water and a cake of precious soap.

Dorton must have sent her down with it.

“Gràcies, Sera,” he said, standing with a slight bow. He knew the child well. Her mother worked the tanks and but so far this slight girl had been kept mostly to the fields and stacking barns and other of the plantation’s work.

As he took the items from her hands, he whispered, “Espereu. There is something for your mother.”

She kept her eyes averted but nodded and remained where she was as he carried her the items inside.


He never, unless forced to by the presence of Krennik or his minions, allowed any of the women or boys pressed as servants inside when he was there.

It was not that he hid anything of value that he feared stolen. Laughable. All that he had of value had been taken from him long ago. Nor did he fear anything from discovery. How could he? The house was searched regularly, quite openly in fact. Krennik usually made a great show of it.

Mr. Galen Erso still possessed secrets but they were not kept here.

It was simply all he could do, under the guise perhaps of misanthropy, to grant them some small appearance of dignity.

Within the plantation itself Krennik brooked no distraction from duty or disruption of routine but with these maintained he seldom bothered himself about any abuses his men committed so long as they did not affect security, imperil the work or damage the “equipment.” Debauchery itself held no personal interest for the Director, save for when other men’s indulgence in it provided him with a tool against them. This Galen Erso knew, from long acquaintance.


It was a hollow gesture perhaps, to say “I will not harm you,” but all that he could do. At least he could spare them that one moment of fear, that each must surely suffer each time they passed alone through the door of an overseers cabin.

He carried the items within and laid them on a table. Using a a penknife he pared the small cake of soap down by perhaps a third….more might be noticed,….and returned the scrap thus to the girl who waited with bowed head by the door, glancing about first to make sure that they were unobserved before pressing into her hand. When the rains came and water was freer a little soap might bring ease for a wound, or at least clean a scrap of cloth.

She concealed the precious morsel amongst some tied pocket in her tattered skirts, and then looked up at him with dark eyes.

“Senyor, és veritat? Els han trobat?” Sera whispered urgently

Ah, God. That was why he was sent for, why Krennick had demanded his presence with suitable clothes.

Galen Erso had dared to hope that it was only some new inspection, the guards had seemed to fear one.

“Què has sentit?” he asked the girl

“Les naus tenien banderoles angleses. Es van treure homes de cadenes.”

He had seen the mast of ships coming in in the morning, two small sloops but had fled up to the works. From their size he had hoped them to be no more than messenger packets.

Forni and the others had been caught, some of them. It must be.

Two weeks ago twenty men and three women, all but driven mad by desperation had taken two of the dories, killed a guard and made a run out the Mouskuto Inlet for open water.

He had tried to warn them, as had Sefla. They had no man among them sailor enough to get themselves to safety in these currents.

 


Young Mr. Rook alone had never been found, either dead or alive, and no scrap of the little boat they had built for him had ever washed up on any shore within reach of Krennik or his allies patrol. After a few months even Krennik’s suspicious mind numbered the Turkish pilot amongst those of the crew who had found they could bear the guilt of the task they had been set to no longer and given themselves up to either the jungle or the sea.

The memory of that brave youth’s face haunted Erso, even among the throngs of other ghosts. Sefla, last survivor of the first crew, had tied the shirt lettered with their desperate message upon the boy’s back and kissed him on both cheeks saying, “God is great. His eye will be always upon you.” When he had embraced Rook himself the spray and tears had soaked his face equally. “I will not fail you Erso Bey,” the pilot said, looking toward the wild moon swept sea they launched him on with what might almost have been joy. Galen Erso understood. He too had sinned and the innocent had died for it and now he strove, if not for the redemption of Paradisio at least to be lifted out of the Inferno.

“Gå med Gud, min son,” he said, “Go with God.”

Where are you Rook?

 


But Forni and the others lost hope. Almost a year had passed and against his advice they had braved a chance when the dories broke free during a fall storm.

They must have known they were most likely to drown, be swept back ashore and devoured by the great alligators or shot by the embittered and unforgiving natives, some of whom might give rough shelter to escapees they judged to be solely African but who vowed to slaughter without mercy those they judged “Spanish”. The cleverness of Krennik and his employers in pitting the oppressed against the oppressed was breathtaking.

Instead, cruel Fate seemed to determined that some of them would survive only to be captured by the ever-efficient British.

He knew what would come next. It would be as it had been four years ago and two before that.

An example would be made.

Galen Erso looked down at the girl’s thin face.

Her skirts were torn and dirtied rags, her “apron” a mat of woven local grass that the Minorican women had found the skill to weave and some now wore as coarse hats and shawls, having nothing else. Her single gown was but a shift of coarse sailcloth. Her feet were bare and stained with the blue that the wealthy of Europe and Asia prized more dear than gold.

 

Some years back he had gone to to the Directors then half-finished “mansion” and persuaded Krennik to allow them to take the torn sheets from the dead smugglers ship his men had wrecked in the back inlets that the women at least might have shifts. He knew better to ask it as a gesture of mercy, and took care to conceal any sympathy on his own part, but presented it as a mere matter of “discipline”with regards to the Director’s own men.

Krennik had laughed heartily then, and waved a hand. “By all means, portion out sufficient for coverings.”

“You see why I prize our partnership so, my dear Galen? Far aside from your estimable skills as a chemist and engineer, you simply take notice of matters that I would not. No doubt it is on account of having spent more time in the company of females of all classes and natures. I readily concede your point.”

The urge to kill the man with his own hands had nearly taken Mr. Galen Erso’s breath from him then, as he had no doubt Oren Krennik knew full well.

 

Krennik made most certain Mr. Galen Erso was never received into the Director’s company unaccompanied and had upon a number of occasions clearly outlined in his presence what the fate of the captive workers would be should some misadventure befall himself.

“Oh, Dr. Tarkin makes no secret that his first preference has always been to set the venture either further North or South and rely wholly upon Africans, no matter the up-front price in treasure. That this far more economical venture of my design with conscripted labor has real advantages even he must by now concede, but I assure you should I not be here to press my case, Galen all these stout fellows have standing orders to clear out double quick, cut every throat, leave the alligators to dispose of the corpses and set sail with all our hard work. Pray for my continued good health, my dear Erso if you are still a superstitious man.”

Mr. Oren Krennik’s personal interests lay in torment.

The circles of Hell could have asked for no keener workman.

 

 

Sera Fortesa might be almost eighteen years now, for he remembered her as a girl of ten or eleven, when they brought her here.

A little younger than my Jane’s age now. My little Jen. My star.


He recalled her father, Bartolomeo, as a large and strong man who had cut the stone until the dust of the work had shredded his lungs and hunger had wasted that great strength. The pleurisy had carried him off five years ago. The mother, Ana, still lived and raked the tanks, though by now the poisons had torn her breathing too as well as blistered her skin. He had seen her limping amongst the other women in the line and did not doubt the pain had begun in her joints. Women could bear what broke men and longer but it would not be long now.


“Ja sabeu què vindrà Sera. Hem de resar a Déu per força.” he said, laying a hand upon hers. “Tell your mother and the others to prepare themselves. “

The four hundred who remained were the strong, even the children, for the weak had perished long ago. This thin half-starved girl had grown to womanhood here.

She nodded. “Ocultarem les nostres llàgrimes,” Then she looked up, “In Hell they will burn,” she whispered, trusting him with her hard-earned English.

This at least he could give her. This goal alone kept him from ending his own despair and shame all these long years.

“Yes, Sera,” he promised her, “They will all burn.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rogues Venture

 

at sea and approaching New Providence Island

and the port of Nassau

British Bahamas

 

December 1769 through the First of January 1770

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being uncertain at the time of their departure from Southhampton what the ultimate needs of the voyage might be and greatly restricted as to available space Mr. Kay had made an early estimation with regards to what printed volumes would be of most use. Uncertainty was a state of being which Mr. Kay most heartily disliked to endure, but such matters could not be helped.

He had obtained a few other volumes at Cadiz before they sailed. The rest of the crew were, he knew, unlikely to make use of any but the geographical studies…although Master Gunner Cor had expressed some professional interest in several of the texts regarding the preparations of Nitrates…… but he kept them available in the Great Cabin, should they be required. He himself had pursued translations and made voluminous notes during the course of the voyage.

Additional careful notes were taken by him also as he frequently took the opportunity to reinterview Mr. Bodi Rook with regard to a number of points in his narrative which seemed to promise future relevance.

Several volumes proved to have been, in his opinion, most fortunately brought by him. The first being:

[Elements of the Art of Identifying and Assaying Minerals, 1764, by Johann Andreas Cramer Translated and including notes and observations of particular interest to the English Reader By Cromwell Mortimer.]

Cromwell Mortimer was in fact one of the names under which Mr. Timothy Samson Kay sometimes submitted papers to the Royal Society. He chose it for no particular reason except that it was the most profoundly ordinary and English-sounding name he could manufacture. Captain Andor had agreed, and seemed to find it most amusing when Kay solicited his opinion as to its suitability.

 


Mr. Rook’s descriptions of the plantation from which he has escaped included accounts of persons held at labor there cutting a kind of damp and crumbling shellstone from the bluffs inland with nothing but hand knives and broken sword blades. The stone itself appeared light enough, to his astonished observation, so that large blocks of it could be carried on the backs of single men or small teams. Bundles of bricks square-cut from it were loaded into bags and baskets and carried even by small children. These, he described as being were laid out on wooden racks in clearings hacked from the jungle-like growth and allowed to dry. After a year such slabs hardened to a firmness exceeding that of common sandstone, yet retained their lightness. When skillfully shaped before their drying….it seemed likely that the conscription of skilled stone workers, or perhaps even woodworkers had been ensured at some point, no doubt these were the more individually selected unfortunates deceived at the ventures’s beginning in the Ottoman territories and some of these either survived or were able to pass on sufficient training to other survivors…. these could thus be fitted, presumably without use of difficult-to-obtain mortars and were used to build all of the structures of the operation.

 


[MARGIN NOTE in Cramer’s Elements…: The stone itself may be the key to the profound alteration in the capabilities of the explosive compound. A porous quality of the stone perhaps acting as a filter and removing the inhibitive matter from the distillation? Or is there perhaps some chemical content peculiar to the largely undissolved shell that storage within these tanks added to the material or the water used to prepare it. The prospect is intriguing. T.S.K.]

 

 

The Turkish gentleman reported that was being used both to build great cisterns and systems of canals that brought in the fresh water necessary to the manufacturing of both the indigo and that which the indigo was meant to conceal, being the explosive. The wastes drained from the production would be most poisonous of themselves, and while Mr. Kay knew full well that the health of the workers and spoilage of landscape by such methods was seldom a consideration for even legitimate manufacturers of wealth-generating commodities he considered that the long term concealment of the circuit of death and blight such toxins would render might be difficult to wholly conceal from prying eyes.


[from Cramer:.....The conglomerated material termed “Coquina” (/koʊˈkiːnə/) presents an appearance of packed gravel composed either wholly or almost entirely of the transported, abraded, and sorted fragments of the shells of molluscs, brachiopods, or other hard-shelled denizens of the sea.

The term coquina comes from the Spanish word for "cockle" and "shellfish".
Coquina can vary in hardness from poorly to moderately cemented and forms near current or recently receded shoreline, seemingly as some unique process of pressure and vigorous wave action upon particular well-sorted sediments.

The environments associated with coquinas include beaches, shallow submarine raised banks, swift tidal channels, and barrier bars…MARGIN NOTE: through presently associated most with the West Indies and territories of New Spain evidence in the form of ruins may indicate it may also have once been obtainable on Asian coasts, Islands of the Arabian and Indian Seas at //notes of my own relating to interesting papers published in Reports of Current Geological Studies in India: Papers of the Royal Geological Society, 1751 under the name of Mr. Lawrance Arian. Inability to locate or further identify this Mr. Lawrance Arian may be indicative either of the use of an alias or suggest this individual to have been suppressed or assassinated by our adversaries. T.S.K. …..There have been within the last fifty years a number of sizable building projects undertaken with the stone in the Spanish controlled territories of the West Indies. It is said to form part of the walls of the Palisades at Havana and the near entirety of the fortifications at St. Augustine.]

 

 

Captain Andor had experience in both of these fortresses and upon his hopeful return might be able to provide observations. Mr. Kay found his absence more annoyingly inconvenient than he could quite account for.

 

Mr. Kay also began to compile a number of chapbooks on his own which he included as corollaries to the volume of Cramer:


[NOTES by my own hand concerning and pertaining to a rare mineral observed to be contained in Miss Jane Erso’s necklace: Scrip stone or Arabic script stone, coquina jasper, mariam jasper, elephant skin jasper, cobra jasper and other more fanciful appelations. According to the eminent Nicolaus Stenonis proposes (in his dissenting De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus 1669) it is not a “true” a jasper, but a form of limestone with mysterious materials embedded in it, after the fashion of amber. Yet, he concedes that all other limestone is much softer and lacks the often reflective qualities seen herein adding the known specimens carried colors and sparks as of light.… it is more like a quartz than a jasper in that it has been transformed under pressure to something harder…..perhaps having a both biological and chemical origin. (Mr. Timothy Samson Kay with additional observations by Mr. Chirrut Imwe late of Xi’an, province of Shaanxi)]

 

 

 


At several odd points during the voyage Mr. Kay had encountered Mr. Imwe, when not upon duty at the mast sitting in the Great Cabin or... with that lady's permission he knew... within Miss Erso’s often unoccupied cabin, with one or another of Mr. Kay’s books upon his lap.

He was a man most fastidious in his habits and took great pains to put the volumes back into proper order and place, so Kay had no objection whatsoever to his inspection of them but he was most baffled as to the gentleman’s reasons for so doing.

He peered at the Mr. Imwe for some time, upon first encountering him making use of the volumes, and observed his movements most keenly. He turned the pages at regular intervals but did not appear capable of actually discerning the print upon them.

”Are these books yours Mr. Kay?” the former monk asked, eventually seeming to become aware of Kay’s presence and closing the volume, “I am so sorry. I should have asked your permission, should I not? Please excuse me. I have wandered far since last I could partake of the joys of scholarly learning and may have proved overeager.”

"I do not object to their careful use by interested parties,” Kay truthfully assured the gentleman, peering as closely as seemed unobjectionable at the seated man’s placid face and clouded eyes, “But I had been of the understanding that you were blind?”

“You are quite correct in your observation, sir," Imwe agreed amiably, "God in his wisdom deprived me of the sight of my eyes in early childhood.”

He then returned to his perusal of An Account of Mr. Benjamin Franklin's Treatise, Lately Published, Intituled, Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America; By Wm. Watson, F. R. S. leaving Mr. Kay in a profound state of wonder.

 

Upon encountering Mr. Malbus on deck at the change of the Watch he enquired of him, “If your friend is, as I am assured, quite without sight, by what method is he reading my books?“

Mr. Malbus only shrugged and shook his bearded head. “Tall brother, I cannot enlighten you on the matter. Only take heed of a lesson that I learned as a boy of fourteen. When considering the actions of Chirrut Imwe, “How?” is a question of far less importance than “Why?”

 

 

 

One volume he had felt sure would be of use, even back in London was:

 

[L’Art de L’Indigotier by Pierre Claude De Beauvais-Raseau, Un traité sur l'indigo, contenant un compte succinct du bon sol, la culture et la préparation de cet important article de commerce. 1745 Acade Mie Royale Des Sciences (Translated from the French as: “A Treatise On Indigo, Containing A Succinct Account of The Proper Soil, The Culture and Preparation of That Important Article of Commerce.“ T.S.K. 1769)

 


[ from De Beauvais-Raseau: Another ancient term for the dye is nil from which the Arabic term for blue, al-nil, is derived. Our name “indigo” comes from the Roman term indicum, for since the time of Alexander it has been a product of India and the secrets of its cultivation and preparation jealously guarded..… The Several species termed Indigofera tinctoria and Indigofera suffruticosa, are most commonly used in the East to produce indigo of most superior quality…..but that numerous varieties remain undiscovered it cannot be doubted.……the leaves contain only about small amount of dye….it is here processed by methods almost identical to those observed in all the nations….all verdure is cut off, and the whole crop tied in bunches, and put into a very large tub with water, covered over with very heavy logs of wood by way of pressers: thus kept, it begins to ferment; the water seems to boil a yellow green, upon which are added most vile and unique compounds in specific measures until it becomes of a prized blue colour,…..this situation being successfully achieved the liquor is drawn off into another tub, which is something less, and the very noxious smell of this refuse is what occasions the peculiar unhealthiness always incident to this business. The mash is agitated by paddles adapted for the purpose, till by a skillful maceration all the matter separates from the water, sinking like mud to the bottom, as the greater part of the water is carefully removed, and all the remaining liquor is drawn off into a third tub. The sediment is put into proper vessels to dry, where being divested of its last remaining moisture, and formed into small, round, and oblong square pieces, it is become a beautiful dark blue, and fit for exportation.]

        

 


Also of interest was a slim manuscript pressed to his hand by Mr. David Draven himself prior to their departure:

 

[From the papers of The Royal Society of Sciences i Uppsala: ett förslag Fråga om Saltpeters alternativa förberedelser vid framställning av en överlägsen form av förbränning, med faktorer som tidigare obesvarats”, 1747 Sweden, Uppsala. (“Being A proposal Inquiring into the alternative preparations of Saltpetere in the production of a superior form of combustion, with factors previously Unconsidered” attributed to Mr. Galen Erso. Translated, T.M.K. 1769)

[from that paper: .....Prometheus is often described as the " bringer of fire" for the benefit of mankind. But a study of the Greek and Roman fire-making sciences and myths suggest that this interpretation may be an incorrect one.

Yet Prometheus did not bring the flame itself; he brought the secret of "holding" a spark.  Whether by the instruction of the divine or by mere chance Man discovered that some of the most common, useless, even base materials provide good tinder for kindling fires and learned to select those with which possessed some hidden yet virtuous matter for conversion….all nitrates present through the processes of decomposition and decay…..]

 

 

 


He had shown that particular volume to Miss Erso some week before their arrival at Jamaica considering that she might have some interest in her father’s work.

She had regarded it with a most curious presentation of emotion. Taking it from his hand without opening it, she merely ran her fingers over the words of the title page, for all the world as if she would derive meaning from them by touch alone, as it seemed Mr. Imwe did.

“Have you read it?” she asked keeping her gaze upon the paper.

“I have,” Mr. Kay responded, “In the original Swedish it presents quite clearly and with great economy of prose. Do you read Swedish?”

“No,” she said, seeming uncharacteristically subdued. “I cannot.”

“I have also included a translation of my own that holds quite well to the sense of the original. You could read that.”

“Is it….” she to seemed to hesitate and be decidedly less direct in her gaze and modulation of voice than he had previously known her to be….Kay wondered why this was and resolved to later inquire of Captain Andor who had vastly more experience of her than he.

 

 “Is it, good?" she asked, "…I mean, is it ….clever?”

Kay considered. “If your inquiry is in terms of the quality of his scholarship, I find the conclusions are uniquely advanced but extremely well-supported. His proposal of inquiry is very exciting in terms of the reconsidering prior alchemical researches with regard to practical industrial techniques. I was surprised to hear that he seems to have published little else afterward.”

“Thank you Mr. Kay, ” she said quietly, handing the volume back to him, "I am most grateful to you for showing it to me but I am unable to read it presently.”

She left him then and went not into her own cabin but into Captain Andor’s and closed the door.

This seemed presumptuous. She generally did not enter Captain Andor’s cabin until after dark and out of sight of other members of the crew.

 

When he informed Captain Andor of her having done so, he seemed more concerned than annoyed however.

“Is she unwell?” the officer asked.

“I do not think so,” he said. Mr. Kay had not considered this possibility… but that made no sense, surely if she were unwell she would prefer to remain in her own cabin?… “Judging from the sound of her movements within. I believe she did no more than lie down upon your bunk.”

“Thank you Kay," the Captain said. "That is quite enough. I will inquire after her shortly. Please say nothing more on the subject.”

He had returned to his cabin moments later after finishing a conversation with Mr. Antilles and so there had seemed no need to discuss the matter further. Still Kay could not rid himself of the sense of having missed something.

 


It was only a near fortnight later, after the shore party’s failure to return from Kingston and when the altered situation forced the ship’s movement on toward the Bahamas without either Captain Andor or Miss Erso that Kay conceived of an explanation for Miss Erso's behavior that seemed to him plausible.

 

He had come upon a conversation between Captain Rostok and Lt. Ruescott Melshi concerning the unoccupied officer’s cabins.

“Sir,” Captain Rostok had said, “The narrow boards of a ship hold no sentiment as to the allocation of quarters, as acting officer of command it would be well within custom for you to..”

“No,” Mr. Melshi said, evenly, ”It would hardly be worth my trouble to shift. We are but a day more from New Providence and the Port of Nassau and I have little doubt, given my experience with Cassian Andor, but that he will be there waiting for us with boots off and a measure of rum asking what delayed us.”
Captain Rostok saluted and went on about his work, for they had narrow paths to sail, skirting the patrols of Cuba in their sail North. Mr. Kay observed that Mr. Melshi stood in long and perhaps melancholy thought with his hand upon the frame of the cabin door previously assigned to Captain Andor, before finally moving to return to the upper deck..

Mr. Melshi was an exemplary tactical officer but lacked Andor’s wide experience in “unorthodox” operations and direct engagement with the enemy. To be confronted with a situation in which one’s own inexperience or ignorance was a limiting factor and time might not permit the acquisition of the necessary skills was uncomfortable and demoralizing. Observing this a corollary thought applied itself to him.

Perhaps Mr. Kay had inadvertently caused Miss Erso distress by embarrassing her with regards to a lack of literacy in Swedish or perhaps even, taking her piratical education into account, deficits even in her mother tongue of English? Thus distressed might she not have sought shelter in a space of familiarity, that being Captain Andor’s bunk? 

Miss Erso possessed admirable physical skills in numerous areas as well as a keen appreciation of maritime engineering and an useful command of New World coastal geography and verbal mastery of a number of languages including some dialects East African with which Mr. Kay himself was unfamiliar. There was no need for her to be left with the impression that he thought less of her intellectual capabilities


Yet this was certainly a circumstance that had bedeviled him before, the giving of unintended insult, and one he strove to correct when possible.

 

He determined to attempt to reassure her in the fortunate circumstance of she and Captain Andor’s return.

 

 

 

 

__________

 

 

 

 

 

They came up skillfully around New Providence Island and into the sheltered port of Nassau upon the morning of the first of January.  

Nassau was not so much a harbor but a wide protected waterway between two Islands. A generation before it had been another “free” pirate stronghold, but where the wrath of Nature and cannons of warships had subdued wicked Port Royal, Nassau had succumbed to a less fiery adversary. A wealthy British governor had simply paid the buccaneers off and persuaded them by means of his own silver to take their anarchic trade to Trinidad.

Sparsely populated now, with it’s dockage spread out upon two shores and a certain House of Orange efficiency, it was still less guarded than some British West Indian ports, no doubt because it was small, less lucrative and being far too shallow for any craft weighted with heavy guns or cargo little traded here in the way of sugar or human life, yet and as such was a frequent quick restocking port for smaller ships moving North or South.

 

If there was no sign or word of Captain Andor’s party here, Lt. Melshi would have to make the decision whether to lose the time to pause again at Freeport or proceed directly to Florida.

 

 

A place at Nassau wharf was allocated to ships in service of the Alliance whenever a flag positioned the end of Paradise Island’s point flew in a determined fashion so as to indicate safety. As Mr. Antilles received word from the watch on the mast that this signal was affirmative Captain Rostock gave the order and the ship was brought round and sailed in on the mornings tide.

Mr. Rook was most agitated and fairly paced the rail.

“May I stand by you Mr. Kay?” he asked, rather unexpectedly, for Kay might have thought him more interested in observing the docking maneuvers. Rook having been made rather an apprentice to Mr. Antilles and even been given a position upon the watch.

“I feel a need for company this morning.”

Somewhat mystified but glad to be of service, Kay bowed and touched his hat in assent.

Mr. Rook was a good man.

Trimming to make good use of the light wind they soon saw that a small and disreputable-looking sloop lay alongside their outside docking place. It’s position was of no inconvenience to the Rouge’s Venture, for they must anchor further out, but as it came into view Kay heard the sound of laughter coming from the mast above his head, where Mr. Imwe stood.

Mr. Rook had a spyglass and fixed it upon the deck of the sloop.

“Allah'a şükürler olsun,” he said, laying his hand upon the rail and holding the glass out to Mr. Kay to use.

Upon the deck of the smaller vessel could be seen a number of persons but to one who knew him well the form Captain Cassian Andor could be clearly seen sitting with legs outstretched upon the deck. A person in the garb of a male sailor but closely resembling Miss Jane Erso waved from the single mast.


Mr. Timothy Kay found himself exceedingly pleased at this turn of events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 


The Rogue’s Venture

Port of Nassau, British Bahamas

January 1, 1770

 

 

 


When the dinghy brought them near alongside it was all that Miss Jane Erso could do not to yield to impulse and fling herself overboard to climb the side of the vessel by her own means.

As they finally drew near enough to lay hands upon the good ship's hull Captain Andor called up from the bow of the landing craft, "Permission to come aboard sir?"

"Permission granted sir," was the welcome reply.

Captain Rostock greeted them all with the demeanor of a biblical patriarch rejoicing at the return of his prodigals.

The degree of emotion she felt as the ladder was lowered and hands reached down to assist her aboard... Mr. Imway's hands as it proved... quite overwhelmed her. The sight of Mr. Malbus' broad smile as he tapped that pocket of his rough canvas vest which she knew to hold his pack of cards induced immediate laughter, and that of Mr. Bodi Rook, who took her hand with great affection brought her near to tears.

 

Midshipman Syndalla was greeted with comradely shouts from her messmates, and Master Gunner Cor was saluted by Second Gunner Timkin.

"Are my cannon still arranged as I left them Timkin?"
"They are as of Second Watch today, sir, but the day is yet young,” that crewman answered with a smile.

 

 

"Welcome home, sir," Mr. Ruescott Melshi greeted Captain Andor and Jen saw a faint smile tug at the corner of her lover's mouth.

 

Captain Andor took it upon himself to introduce their companions. Captain Solo and his First Mate were accompanied by two members of his crew, a good-spirited youth named Luc Ceil-Marcheur and an older woman who gave her name only as Sabé .

The boy carried two bundles wrapped in oilcloth.


It was determined that the returning party and officers should proceed directly to the Great Cabin.

Upon their so doing less reserved welcomes were exchanged. Mr. Melshi in particular embraced Captain Andor with great good spirits, saying. “Thank God for the luck of Spanish cats.”

"You usually lose with less grace, Rue," the officer observed.

"That may be because I am usually not so immensely relieved of anxiety by the defeat, Andor," Melshi said.

The strangest expression of welcome may have come from Mr. Kay, who, standing behind Mr. Melshi, approached Captain Andor somewhat more closely than was habitual for him in her limited experience and removed his hat to bow with great formality.

If Cassian Andor found this greeting odd or off-putting he gave no sign.

"Thank you Kay," he said with a smile of such warmth as might pass between separated brothers, "it is exceedingly good to see you as well."

Miss Erso wondered, not for the first time, how such different men had come to befriend each other.

"My good friend, I think we will now have need of your expertise in several areas..” Andor turned toward the smuggler and gestured with a hand toward the large table, "Captain Solo, if you would apprise us."

Solo signaled his crewman with a nod and young Ciel-Marcheur laid his burdens upon the flat wooden surface and proceeded to unwrap them.

Within one tied bundle of canvas lay a small tight wooden box, bound round with a rag of pirate’s red, of the size and sort that might have once have held small lead shot. When the blond youth loosened the lid a sheet of oiled paper within was unfolded to reveal a dark cake of pressed powder, the size perhaps of a child’s fist.

“What the devil is that?” Mr. Melshi asked, leaning forward.

“We found it in the mangle some distance from the shore well back in the coastal river,” the boy Luc said, “there seemed to be boats upon patrol and at the Captain’s signal we sailed into the jungled canyons of those inlets and and waterways to hide from them.”

“We might well have been lost there, had Luc not found a way back to the main channel,” the woman, Sabé said. “He is a most skilled pilot.”

The youth smiled modestly, “No,” he said, “I but felt for the wind and trusted to that.”

Captain Solo cast his eyes heavenward for a moment leaving Jyn with an impression that this sort of conversation was a source of long amusement among his crew and had begun to cross the limits of his patience.

“The lad had a gift for the maze, I will grant him that,” he said evenly, “One can sail a boat even the size of my good sloop well back into those forests on the tidal streams and by tipping a mast hide from the sight of an enemy but a furlong away through the brush.”

Jen remembered the twisting waters of the Saint Johns well enough.

“The Pirates made great use of them, I know, in freer days. I was always told that the greatest danger was not finding one’s way out again, sometimes for days. The Commander would take only pilots who would not be dizzied into such hiding places for within those walls of green the wind would vanish and the current turn so sluggish that a wrong touch could strand one upon a sand bar unseen until the next full moon.”

She found herself smiling at a child’s memory of the old pilot, Magva pointing out through pressing walls of mangrove the graceful black backs of dolphins, “Look little Jen, follow the laughing ones, they see the truth of it, they know the way!”

Yet they had come inland in only a light dory. The Onderean herself had remained moored at the Matanzas Inlet, to have brought even such a sloop as the Falcon in and out of such narrow places spoke of skill indeed.

 

Solo and the boy both turned to look at her.

 

“You sailed with Gerrere?” Luc Ciel-Marcheur, asked with awed astonishment.

“For a time,” Jen heard a quiet voice say.
So strange were the words to her that she did not at first recognize the voice as her own.

 

Captain Solo nodded as if some matter he had previously puzzled over was now made clear to him.

 

Mr. Kay lifted the item gingerly and held it, still upon it’s wrappings, to his nose where he sniffed it consideringly.

“I would be most interested in your opinion Mr. Cor,” he said, and passed the matter to the Master Gunner.

That gentleman stood forward to inspect the parcel similarly , and his eyes widened as he did so.

“It looks like a dye-cake,” Jyn ventured, “Is it some variety of black powder? Have they somehow compressed it like a brick of tea?”

“Do you know the Hindoo scriptures?” Mr. Cor said gazing with a sort of horror on the object in his hand.

“Yes,” said Captain Rostok and Mr. Kay.


“No,” said most of the rest of the company.

“The God of Death shows his most awful shape to the warrior before battle and names himself “the destruction of worlds”

“ That is an overly simplistic translation of “loka-kṣhaya-kṛit pravṛiddho lokān samāhartum…” Mr. Kay began. “It might be better put..”

“Enough,” said Captain Andor. “You make your point Mr. Cor. I take it you believe this to be a sample of the explosive used by the Enemy on the Portuguese coast?”

“It is a powerful nitrate by appearances, yet seems bound in a wonderfully concentrated and stable form, I cannot say how,” the Master Gunner answered.

Solo tipped his hat back. “I would not concern yourselves over-dramatically,” he said. “Whatever it’s properties may have once been it must have stood long in the driving rains of that shore before we found it and is likely to have been kept none too dry in our holds these last two weeks. We have kept it from flames in an abundance of caution….”

“You wanted to strike a match to it the first night at sea….Luc was the one who protested that it might be dangerous and convinced you to wait,” corrected his female crewman.

“I would be reluctant to test it in any way within sight of this port,” Kay ventured, “lest we draw undue attention.”

“I am most reluctant to have it aboard this vessel at all,” Captain Rostok said. “We might secure it in one of the small lifeboats and let it off on a rope some distance away.”

So much fear for a cake of blue-black matter the size of a small apple, Jen wondered. It seemed almost comical.

“I cannot answer for the dangers of your little ink-block,” Solo said, “But near the shore where we found this object concealed as if being set out for some savage postal service, we found other objects more traditionally reminiscent of the Angel of Death’s passage.”

He reached forward to untie the other bundle that the boy had laid upon the table.

“The great alligators of these coasts, like every predator, will only swallow what their teeth can tear so like the tigers of the East they hide their unfinished prey in larders of their own devising for later more congenial dinners.”

Upon the wrappings lay a human hand and forearm, torn from it’s place roughly below the elbow, it seemed.

A grisly sight yet, battle-hardened company that they were, not a vision of itself sufficient to make most among them tremble.

Mr. Rook was the sole exception. That gentleman turned his face away and in a low voice asked Captain Andor’s permission to retire for a time to the upper decks. This the Captain with unconcealed sympathy granted.

As her friend passed by her Jen Erso reached out a hand to press his arm, moved by pity for that good man’s courage and pain. It seemed to her that though he did not speak or meet her eye he nodded in appreciation of the gesture.


Though clearly less personally moved than Mr. Rook the French youth also turned his eye away, Jen noticed.

He did so in sorrow, she sensed, more than fear.  From the look of his downy cheek he seemed unlikely to have seen sixteen yet.

 

The dreadfulness of the object to her practiced eye lay in its preservation rather than it’s decay. It was tanned almost it seemed, the skin and nails stained the pure blue of indigo.

“Jezus huilde,” Captain Rostok said.

“Ja,” Solo said, “So one would hope. We found no more and cannot speak to the mortal fate of the object’s owner, save to say that we found a few scraps of rag dyed the self-same red that bound the box and marked the branches that drew our eyes…”

“Luc’s eye,” Sabé corrected.

"Arrête mon ami, vous me gênes,” murmured the boy, eyes lowered.

Solo paused and lowered his head for a brief moment, as if to petition God for patience, then continued, “The sharper-eyed of our crew found the box and the other souvenir was visible beneath the roots exposed by the lowered tide.”

“An inspection of these remains may give us some clues as the disposition of the persons held captive and the physical situation of the place of their confinement.” Kay said, “if I might be allowed to….”

“We will set you up a place ashore Kay, and take a day for your investigations while we re-stock and make preparations to sail on. It is all that we can spare,” Captain Andor told him. “And Kay..” he added as the tall man saluted and turned to go, “please be solicitous of the sensibilities of the crew with regards to the remains, most especially conduct your reports well out of the sight and hearing of Mr. Rook. Mr. Cor will no doubt be willing to assist you with regards to an exploration of the box and it’s contents.”


Captain Solo reached across and covered the pitiful object with it’s drape of canvas again.


“I hardly know what name to call you by any longer sir, but I would ask what remains for you and I to conclude our business and terms of payment. Since my ever -slender prospects for long life are now greatly diminished I think it best to settle affairs with my crew sooner rather than later.”

“My name is Cassian Andor,” the gentleman he addressed said, “I am a Captain commissioned in the service of the Alliance, “as you have no doubt ascertained.”

“I am greatly honored Captain Cassian  Andor,” Solo replied with an exaggerated bow, “I would say that I feel better knowing the name of the man who hands me my earned coin, but in point of fact it is of only moderate concern to me.”

Syndalla had sized him fairly back at the Ferry Inn, the fellow could not forbear to speak the rascal’s part even as he acted with honor.

Miss Erso still thought him a strutting fool but could not neglect a thought that came uncomfortably to her.

And how was the pantomime stage you set up any better, àşádì? Where it not for the grace of God and Mr. Kay’s quick grasp would you not be playing an even less noble part?

 

“If I thought that true, Captain Solo, our business would have concluded much earlier and much otherwise,” Captain Andor returned, “Bring your charts of the Mosquito Inlet and the Rivers thereabout and answer for us a few question on points of navigation and we will give you the price we agreed on, along with our thanks. If you have no matters that press you to sail or depart sooner bring such of your crew as wish to and can be spared by you and join us for a dinner tomorrow, if you will.”

It surely presented an odd tableau, she considered later, Captain Andor looking somewhat the rogue himself in muddied shirtsleeves and tattered vest, his dark hair tied with a cord and several days unshaven having nearly restored his beard, proffering a polite dinner invitation to an overextended smuggler in a battered hat while a tattooed cannibal looked on and weapons unspeakable lay beside pitiful relics upon the table.

It was one of her lover’s surprising virtues, she realized, that he could speak and act in a such a way as to treat even the meanest situation with the dignity of a drawing room.

What was it he had said he admired so in Mr. Kay, those weeks….a lifetime…ago at Lisbon? “An equality of regard,” he had said.

No, you do not see in yourself that which you prize in others, my dear, she thought, but I see it in you.


Captain Solo agreed to consider the invitation and returned to his sloop with his crew. Disposition of the objects he had brought was seen to and the members of their party and other officers of the Rogue’s Venture went to their quarters and tasks assigned.

Miss Erso looked for and found Mr. Rook above decks and was gladdened to find him in a discussion with Mr. Imway that had much comforted his turmoil of mind.

She asked for and received a portion of the fresh water the crewmen attending their re-supply had brought aboard in barrels refilled at Paradise Island and checked her store of lye-ash, eager to wash the remaining traces of Jamaica from her as she had not been able to do in the confines of the Falcon, later overhearing Captain Andor ask Mr. Kay to obtain for him a measure of the same substance, with a secret smile.

Cards were played and lost upon the deck.

As evening fell and it’s Watch set to she waited until all was quiet in the Great Cabin and slipped once more to the door beside her own. Within Cassian Andor took her in his arms with nearly as great an ardor as he had upon her first visit.

Six months ago she would have sworn herself walled from all attachments and turned her back even upon the sea that had been her only native place. Yet here she was aboard a ship again whose very boards felt familiar and amongst men and women she knew, and admired.

All might well be swept away by the danger that lay before them, vanish as if a dream, she knew, yet here it was now.

There must have been tears upon her cheeks for he kissed them away and asked her, most troubled, “Jen, my dear, what is it? What is wrong.”

“Nothing,” she said, laughing at her own confusion even as she kissed him in return, “I….I hardly know…I am unaccustomed to coming back to any refuge after I have left it I suppose.”

“Welcome home,” he told her.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Falcon

and ashore

port of Nassau

New Providence Island

British Bahamas

 

January 1 - 2, 1770

 

 

 

 

The boy sat alone upon the Falcon’s deck watching as the sun lowered. Solo and Khaueri had gone ashore into Nassau port to see about supplies. The twins had taken an opportunity to walk up the shore as well, ostensibly to check the other ships upon the wharves and make inquiries about which captains might or might be taking on extra crew from here but also Sabe knew to speak among themselves of whether they would go or remain.

“If Captain Solo truly means to send us on our way and take on another crew they must find two new places, since wherever they go they must go together,” Luc said.

“Aye,” Sabe agreed, “and Darian must choose carefully. The world is a wicked place. Few captains in these waters now will knowingly engage a woman, even one who who sails in a man’s garb, and even if the captain will turn a blind eye, the chance taken amongst an unknown crew is cruel. Nassau is a discrete and independent port, at least for one held within the British fist, but it is a small one. If their intention is to return to Europe, as I have sometimes heard them say, it might be better for Zachary to take passage alone to VeraCruz or Havana and for his sister to book paid passage and meet him in one of those busier ports in some women’s guise, if she can bear it.”

“No,” the fair-haired youth demurred, “Whether it be better policy or not, they should stay together. Blood is a foundation that builds a stronger wall than any other. I have heard each of them say many times that they were never afraid save when they were parted to be sent away to school. He was told she had died but knew in his heart it was not true and went as a soldier to find her in an army camp.”


She sat beside him on the deck. With his blond hair bound back in a scarf, as it was now, she saw his mother’s face outlined in his. The good are often thought simple by the wicked but it was not so. They had a wisdom and a strength Evil refused to see. The boy knew somehow. His heart felt the shape of even those truths the cruel world demanded be hidden forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dyan had come and found her at the Abbey. She had been bringing the cattle in when one of the younger nuns came to tell her a common woman was standing in the milking barn and refusing to leave.

She had not known her for a long moment.

“Senhora Sabe você se lembra de mim?” the matron asked quietly, in the first Portuguese she had heard in fifteen years.

Feckless little Dyan the chamber maid was now a charcoal-burner’s stout wife, gray before her time from hard work with five children and a grand-child on her hip.

Sabé wept, knowing there could be no good news to come.

“Diane’s” son Tosh had been sent up to the little slate-sided village once a year to the saints-day market, set the task by his mother to lay eyes on a certain farm family there and return with news, a task that had been his father’s before him..

“Did they never ask you why?” she had asked as they sat amongst the brown cows and the babe sipped a little milk from a tin cup. “Oh no,” Dyan, said with a shade of her old saucy laugh, “He knows far better than to do that.”

 

Tournmere had been spared the worst of the predations of the border towns, saved by it’s poverty, it’s remoteness and the fact that slate roofs do not burn, but the people were still in terror of a brutal raid on one of the local farms a few weeks before. The Lares family, husband and wife, burned alive in their house while the nephew they had raised as their son was out with the flocks in the hills.

“There were whispers that both bodies bore signs of torture," Dyan said, ruffling the little one’s yellow hair as she slept upon her ample lap, and a number of goatherds and farm boys were found murdered in the hills over the same three days….all blonde and of an age… but the Lares boy returned safely for all that he was only a mile away. They did not give him up.”

No, Sabé thought, God forgive me. They swore before the Virgin that they would not.

 

Tosh knew the boy, named Luc, he had met him at market so it was not thought strange that he had inquired. Brokenhearted, the youth had buried his family and walked out of the hills, away from Tournmere. “There is nothing for me here now,” he had told the neighbors who offered him shelter. Like many young men he spoke of going to the coast.

 

Sabé, had bowed her head, ten years and more within these Abbey walls and she still could not pray, though in her sorrow she did try.

 

“Senhora,” Dyan laid her calloused hand upon the Handmaid’s own rough and chapped one. “While my boy was there, a few weeks after the burning and the murders a wandering hermit came into the village, dressed in rags, leaning on a staff. To see the relics he told people, on a pilgrimage, but he showed much interest in the recent sufferings of the people thereabouts and asked the way to the burned farm. My child has been warned since birth to stay away from such men and left at once but…”

Her heart turned cold. To leave the prince to wander, to find his way as a man anonymous, alone, might be the safest thing for him, who was she to say? But not Kenobi…..not that, never.

 

“Irmã fiel,” she said, “Who knows what powers that old fool still commands? He may find you.”

“Let him,” Dyan said, “I cannot tell what I do not know. If he plays his tricks on me he will at least have to listen to me tell him what I think of his sanctimonious ass.”

They had walked mountains together, risked death, two young women little more than girls with babes in arms. When brigands had menaced them in the Pyrenees little Dyan had struck one in the head with a bench to buy Sabé time to stab the other with his own knife. Dyan had clutched the rail of the fishing boat seasick and in utter misery while Sabé had held her hair even as she once held that of her beloved Rainha Mariana. Nobility lay in the bone and the heart. All else was but show and chance she knew now.

They embraced each other then, the nun and the charcoal-burner’s wife, and parted.

“We are the last Handmaidens,” Sabé said, “Faithful unto death. When you come before God I will meet you there with your gown and dagger and you will stand among the bravest.”

Each knew that they would never meet again.


She had stolen clothes and money from the Abbey hostel and departed before dawn. If the boy would go to the coast, all roads in time would lead to Marseilles. She had found him on the docks at that venal port, just one more country boy displaced and orphaned by war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


“Will you stay with the Captain?” Luc wished to know.

“He has not asked,” she shrugged, “Who knows which way that weather-cock will turn?”


“The Captain would not have taken me on at all, green as I was, if you had not said you would not sign without me. If he casts us off I have no desire to stay in the West Indies. The days of the pirate are done it seems. Whaling is a dogs life, I hear but I thought maybe to go North and try it. What think you? Would you go?”

She could not help but smile. “I will go where you go, for now cher Luc. I think you are lucky for an old woman.”

 

 

“Have you any family Sabé,” he had asked her as they sailed out of Marseilles and he watched his childhood recede behind him with the shore.

“I had sisters once, but they are all dead,” she said.

“Yet you never married?” he asked, “Never had a child?” At once he blushed and began to stammer an apology for his blunt country manners in asking such a thing.

“No,” she had said, with a laugh, “I never met a man I trusted enough to lend a dressing pin to, much less marry.”

She found herself adding, “I had a child once…for a little while…but I had to give him up.”

That kind boy, ever solicitous to avoid unnecessary injury to any, had asked no more after that, only nodding as if he understood. Perhaps in his way, he did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Besides, the Captain has always treated Darian fairly, and yourself as well,” he said.


Aye, there is a certain fairness in a man so self-involved he never looks past the curtain for the window, she supposed. She was fairly sure he could not tell one of the siblings from another and herself he had taken on after he had seen her drop a Customs guard with an elbow strike and when she said she would share her pay with the farm boy.

Still a man who did not abuse his crew was rare enough.

The Dutchman did not disturb her, it was the shadow that swirled around the Alliance and these dark doings on the Florida shore that set her on edge.

 

That dark-eyed Spaniard, “Avelar” Solo had said, then changed to “Andor”, had a look she had seen somewhere before.

Not of himself, he was far too young for that, but of his kind. The clever poor boys were the dangerous ones, the ones who became the spies, the agents, the assassins, the pirates, the Jesuits.

As they had disembarked the Falcon to come over to his fine ship he had turned and held a hand out to her sideways, as if to aid her in climbing into the dinghy. It was a gesture she had not seen in many years. The way a gentleman servant holds his hand to assist a lady of rank, so that she might use him for support without the impropriety of actually touching his palm. She had laid her hand upon the back of his without thought, betrayed by some long-forgotten reflex. Those shrewd eyes had snapped up to meet hers then and she cursed herself.

He knew and he wished her, in that instant, to know that he knew. If not who she was at least what she had once been.

 

Maybe he was a good man. Some of them were. Certainly that quick-handed pirate girl loved him with a fierce love and he looked at her as if she were the last line that bound him to shore. Whatever cold deeds he had done he still had a soul in him.

Sabé would withhold judgement so long as he posed no danger to her prince. The Alliance were the Enemy of her Enemy, but that did not make them friends.

By the time Captain Solo and Khaueri came back with a wagon of supplies to restock the Falcon’s depleted stores, Darian and Zachary had both returned seeming still undecided

“Fix yourselves as you may for this last night,” Solo said. “I have seen the coin that will pass briefly through my hands to yours tomorrow. Before you sign any contract or drink your pay away, you are invited to wash your ears, tie on any clean scarves you have remaining and attend a dinner yonder, at the invitation of our late passengers.” He waved toward the brigantine, moored some little distance off. “You may find yourselves made offers of employment thereafter you wish to consider, or you may not. At least you can dine one last time together as a crew upon our late employers expense.“

 

 

 

 


_______________

 

 

 

 

 

At dawn Luc watched from the deck as the very tall…nearly as tall as Pa Khaeuri!….Englishman rowed out with a a short sailor to the shore and set up a small tent with a table under it. The sailor returned to the brigantine shortly after but the gentleman remained.

Curious, Luc took himself ashore as his watch was done to go see what the goings on where.


Peering inside he spied the tall man, his shiny grey waistcoat covered with a large white surgeons apron and snowy sleeves rolled up high and gartered with ribbon, laying out a number of items upon a folding table.

He would have thought he made no sound audible over the surf but the man turned his head to look at him. His eyes were wide and the palest blue Luc Ceil-Marchuer had ever seen.

“You are the boy from the sloop,” the giant affirmed, as if to himself, “I remember you. Why are you here?”

“I beg pardon sir, I was merely curious as to what you were doing.”

“Oh, I understand,” the man said and turned back to his task.

Then he paused, as if abruptly recalling some task he had left undone, turned back and bowing his head said, “I am Mr. Timothy Samson Kay.”

“My name is Luc Ciel-Marcheur,” the boy returned in answer.

“Bonjour Monsieur Ciel-Marcheur,” the man said with cool courtesy.

Luc laughed, “I am but a common sailor, sir you ought better to call me Luc.”

“Very well Monsieur Luc,” Mr. Kay turned back to the laying out of the tools, a set of small knives, scissors and pins, with utter unconcern. Upon another bench laid behind him lay a canvas-wrapped bundle Luc recognized.

“Is it your intention, Monsieur Kay,” he asked, half in wonderment and half in horror, “to cut up the arm we found?”

“Yes,” the man said, removing that sad object now to lay it unwrapped upon the table beside the implements. “My goal to make an anatomical study of it.”

“Why?”


“It is our mission to make an assault upon the Florida plantation near to where these remains were found. We require as much information as possible on the disposition of the place, the condition of the people held as bonded labor and hostages there and the nature of the materials produced. Physical remains may hold extensive intelligence about conditions prior to expiration as well as means and manner of mortality.”

Luc found himself very unsure as to whether it was his inadequate command of English that rendered the man unintelligible and considered the possibility that he was not speaking English at all, rather after the fashion of Khaeuri.

“The man who left the box wished for it to be found,” the boy ventured. “He was willing to die in the hope that we might. Do you mean to say his poor arm is a message he has left us too?”

The tall man turned again. His expression was most strangely devoid of emotion, almost like a smooth mask, yet Luc could not escape the sense that it was not purposeful aloofness that made it so.

“How do you know the box was placed as a message, or even that the arm belonged to it’s carrier?”

 

 

Luc found he could not explain, probably not even in French. As always it had not been a dream or any sort of vision, it had come to him the same way tracking the kids and lambs had come. You saw the layout of the land, you saw the tracks, felt the bending of the grass, the wind. The silly thing had gotten stuck in the rock at the tip of the ravine, came to you clearly. Or you lay a hand upon the ground and felt the sense of footsteps on it like an echo fading and you assembled the picture in your mind. It was not always a happy picture. Sometimes it was a fox, or a slip above the stream and a frantic ewe bleating.

He had thought these things happened to everyone….well, everyone who knew goats and sheep anyway….but he was learning they did not. He had found himself able to find a dropping breeze, the current at sea, and a clean shot with the musket.

As they came down river the sense of a thin old man struggling painfully through the sharp sticks and tearing thorns of the mangle, untying threads from a red rag that was somehow precious to him to mark the way, had come to him as clear as the picture in colored glass in the window of the little church at Tournemere.

Yet I did not see the soldiers come for Tante and Oncle. I found the two little Mâchoire boys with their necks broken on the upper meadow and all their sheep gone. I thought it was bandits and stayed to bury them. It was not until I returned the next day that I even smelled the smoke.

What good is it to see things if I could not see that?

 


What good were the nightmares that plagued him after they floated, masts down, hardly daring to breath in the foggy dark past that dark foul-smelling shore, with only the flicker as of a few candles or lamps back from the forested shore to tell them where the danger was?

Zachary had held his sister’s hand and Sabé had reached to hold his.

 

Solo said that it was nothing but another plantation where rich men, or even less-poor-than-very-poor men who were willing to kidnap, maim and murder in order to get rich, made something people wanted to trade coin for and didn’t care how they got it.

“In other words, children, the standard state of affairs, save a little more so.”

 

Yet for all that even Solo’s face had looked shocked when they pulled up that arm, even he had looked frightened lying down in the dark as the slow tide had pulled them out the Mosquito Inlet with the tide.

As the wind and motion of the boat had told them the sea had taken them back and Luc had looked up to see the stars open above them between the shreds of cloud. Solo had tapped all their shoulders and they had set to to raise the sails quickly.

“Mon Dieu, qu'est-ce que c'était que ça, Pa Khaeuri?” he had whispered as the Mate had boosted him up the mast to tie off.

“Mōkinokino,” Khaeuri had hissed, under his breath, “mōkinokino.” He had not asked for a translation from the Captain. He did not think he needed one.

They had sailed for Jamaica but since that day the dreams had returned, almost every night. The same dream he had first had the second night after he left Tournemere, of a black ship on an empty sea and a lone figure in shadow at the helm.

The first time it came to him he had never seen either a ship or the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

“The man was shot, but he was dying anyway and he was not sorry because it meant the men hunting him would go away and not find the box he had hidden. He fell into the water…..after that….I don’t know.…I expect the alligators ate him,” Luc said.

The strange gentleman paused with his knife and stared at him again.

“You are not incorrect that the man was dying. He was seriously poisoned by the nitrates, to the point of damage to his joints and bone.”

“Is that why the skin was blue and did not swell from the water like other drowned things do?”

“Yes. That was from prolonged exposure to the concentrated indigo. It would have effected the permeability of….” The man halted and blinked very slowly, rather like an owl.

“Wait,” he said, “How would you surmise the man was shot pre-mortem?”

Luc shrugged. “I almost see things sometimes.”

“I do not believe you,” the man asserted bluntly.

“That’s alright,” the boy said, “Most people do not. I am growing accustomed to it.”

“There is an extra apron upon the trunk,” said Mr. Kay, “If you are interested you can assist me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Smyrna Colony

Mosquito Inlet

British East Florida

 


aboard the frigate Devastator

off Mosquito inlet

Coast of British east Florida

 

December 25, 1769 through January 5, 1770

 

 

 

 

 Class: Frigate (British Naval designation 5)

Tons burthen: 1,277 bm
Length: 159 ft 3 in
Beam: 42 ft 7 in
Draught: 15 ft 8 in
Speed: Over 14 knots running;
11 knots close-hauled
Complement: 300

Armament:
Upper deck: 26 × 24-pounder guns

QD: 14 × 32-pounder
Fc: 2 × 9-pounders + 4 × 32-pounder carronades

 

 

 

 

Had the few eyes that chanced to watch her made note of such things it could be seen that the dark frigate sailed under the British colors as she held position off the coast of East Florida. It was by no means the first time the Devastator had done so, though she had flown an equally counterfitted Spanish flag for many years as well.

 

Her keel had been laid, upon a time, in a French shipyard, but she was rebuilt nearly to the beams in the Netherlands some years after and yet again in England most recently.


She was a ship whispered of rather than spoken about and almost unique in her arrangements of full sail and armament. No ship she had drawn to in battle had ever escaped her..... those few who whispered of her said, in that winter of 1769....save only one, the Onderean, at Tripoli some years previously.

She was not a stranger to American waters, through she had sailed of late mostly in the North and Mediterranean Seas and before that been an object of terror off the costs of Africa and the East Indies.

Those few watchers from the inlets cared not at all for the dark ships history and even had they heard the name of her dread Commander would have been unmoved by it.

In their experience, no European ship carried anything but death and in this assessment they judged her truly.

 

 

__________________

 

 

 

Mr. Orren Krennik considered himself a bold man.

Certainly he was not a coward, at least in the traditional sense any European gentleman of the class he aspired to would ascribe to the word.

To willingly place oneself in the physical proximity of Freiherr Vader presented no small amount of bodily risk. Men had died for no greater crime than the displeasure or inconveniencing of his Lordship. Yet the brutal and mysterious Commander of their consortium's fleet was Mr. William Tarkin's only superior in their Master's council and esteem. 

To gain one must risk and to retain control of his life's work and gain the power he sought at this last throw Krennik was willing to gamble even his life.

 

The frigate had arrived in the night, on the 3rd of January, and the uniformed officer who came ashore to escort him made it clear that Captain Monferrat was under clear instructions from Lord Vader to sail her out before the following dawn. The officer, one Mr. Bircher, made clear that whatever overtures Krennik desired to make must be accomplished within that span.

So it was that the Director dressed with extreme care for the interview. The white silk waistcoat and fine wool coat with death's head buttons were spotless and of excellent quality but not ostentatious. The coat's cut bespoke soldierly efficiency and resolve, rather than luxury.

Hushed rumor held that Vader had himself risen to rank from humble birth, some said as a bastard son born of a servant, others a defrocked junior priest who dabbled in witchcraft, still others as a common soldier whose spectacular skill with a sword had so impressed the Master that he was raised at once.

Perhaps some combination of all three? Krennik wondered.

The question as it lay was whether Devastator's Commander was among those who favored fellow strivers, or  those who despised any reminder of shared common earth.

In the end Mr. Krennik decided to split the difference, choosing a white neck stock of fine linen but not lace and a black hat with ribboned cockade but not feather.

He would present himself as a supplicant but a worthy and soldierly one, a gentleman but not a fopp or courtier.

Krennik also wished also to allow sufficient opportunity for Mr. Bircher to observe the scene, the ingeneously constructed canals of the plantation, the well- built wharves and warehouses all stacked with crated bales of indigo, the impressive facade of the "governors" palace, the corpses of the seven returned escapees hanging still upon the gallows.

This doubtless would all be reported back to his lordship, and hopefully to desired effect.

 

 

 

 

 


The seven men had been much too weak and downtrodden to show much emotion over their impending demise. The ringleader Forni in particular stood in stony silence. It occurred to him to have the former ships carpenter Oliveros be the one ordered to pull the plank on the makeshift gallows. He had been a friend of Forni's and sternly questioned at the time of the escape. The fellow had wept copiously and begged to be excused but Forni and the other men had embraced him one by one and told him it seemed, that they bore him no ill-will, after which the matter was completed in full view of all the workers and officers. It proved an affective demonstration. The dispirited workers seemed to take the lesson to heart well enough and departed in silence. Even the usually apathetic Mr.Galen Erso appeared chastened.

Mr. Krennik only wished that Lord Vader's representative could have arrived in time to witness it and thus make personal report of what must surely stand as a display of authority in every way equal to Tarkin's example in the original management of the transport ships crews. At least one of the officials from St. Augustine had at been present, having arrived that very morning with cursory dispatches from the new acting British governor at the fort, so there was the likelihood that word of his firm hand would reach their Master's ear from that quarter.

The previous Governor, Mr. James Grant, had been a most congenially corrupt fellow, invalided back to the more kindly climates of England after one bout of flux too many. Pending appointment from England one Dr. John Moultrie had been placed as acting authority on the presumption that a physician could manage to keep himself healthy for a season or two.

This messenger, a raw gangly Scottish officer by the name of Lt. Evan Casrich had arrived by packet with the notifications and observed the disciplinary proceedings of with dispassionate British attention and departed with his bribes pre-packed. The overly solicitous young redcoat even made a point of shaking the hands of all officers above the rank of private, including that of the morose Mr. Erso, before departing to carry the new governor's dispatches to the struggling plantations further south.

 

 

 

 

 

The colony at New Smyrna was becoming quite a busy place. After months of storm and isolation that had received a fair parade of Christmas visitors. Now he himself was sent for to meet with a great frigate skillfully held at the mouth of the Inlet.

 

 

 


The letters from Portugal received in time mere days ago and reporting success beyond his wildest hopes, were safely stowed within his coat.

 


How he wished for some supernatural means by which he might have preserved and bottled the look of grave acceptance upon Mr. Galen Erso's face upon of this news.

"We must allow ourselves the luxury of celebration, my dear Erso. You must join me in my quarters after dinner and Tarkin's long-hoarded brandy shall brought forth."

The ever-infuriating man merely nodded but even that could not diminish Mr. Krennik's pleasure in the reportage.

"I promise to have copies sent you Erso. The Academy itself could not ask for more glowing reports. The pirate Gerrere, his band of fanatics, one of their fortified strongholds and by verifiable accounts half of an Iberian cliffside obliterated by two shots fired five minutes apart. Not two rounds dear fellow but two balls, each containing less than 5 measures of the compound. What better field test could even your near-womanly over-caution demand? It is time to begin production in quantity Erso. All our labors and sacrifices have come to fruition."

 

 

 

 


Mr. Oren Krennik's interests in design would have put him in awe of the frigate even had he been insensible of all other matters pertaining to her. The arrangements of sail and engineering of bow and keel had not been his direct study but he had an eye of some skill and never seen a ship whose lines bespoke speed so clearly.

A look at her cannon ports at broadside would have struck rank fear into the heart of any with knowledge of  armament.

These of course had become his study of late.

 

Brought aboard with terse ceremony he was introduced first to the sailing captain one Captain Montferrat, and then escorted by a junior officer to the main cabin where he was told, Lord Vader awaited him.

He swallowed his resentment at not being met personally, and followed without a word.

As he was brought within the cabin, the youth informed the Director, "The Lord Commander is engaged at present in private matters and will address you shortly'" then bowed and excused himself in a manner that seemed to Krennik overly quick.

 

Ones eyes took a moment to adjust after the bright glare of the sun upon the decks which made the cabin seem dimmer than it truly was.

Great maps were laid out upon the tables and beyond them a man of truly impressive height, dressed in deepest Hapsburg black, waistcoat, trousers, boots, cravat and fine shirt, stood with his back to him. A valet in red was buckling by means of leather straps bound to his shoulder and forearm a black gloved hand onto the standing gentleman's left arm. The servant then helped his master into a black silk coat with onyx buttons and black brocade. The right hand, identically gloved, reached for a black beaver hat, rolled in the Italian fashion and placed it upon a head not wigged but wrapped in a scarf of black silk. This accomplished the right hand was extended again and yet another scarlet liveried servant stepped up to place within it a mask, looking like nothing so much as one of those required of Venetians, being of stiffened black silk. This object was firmly placed to cover all save the eyes and lower part of the mouth of the gentleman who now turned to face him.

Krennik bowed almost to the floor, removed his hat most respectfully, "Frieherr Vader," he said.

"Director Krennik," said a slow and deep voice of fearsome authority. "What is this matter you wished to speak of so urgently?"

 

 

________________________

 

 

 

 

 


Mr. Galen Erso arose even earlier before dawn than was his habit.

He had lain awake the previous night and for much of two nights prior. Now he knelt before the small fire that burned in the fireplace of the house allotted to him on the plantation. The paper he had held, opened within his shirt so that the very letters could be pressed to his heart, he now took into his hands.

Three unconscionable days he had kept it putting them all in danger beyond belief by so doing because he could not bear to part with it. Now he found the strength. Kissing each word of the message, having committed them long ago to memory he laid the paper in the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He had stood as a man insensible through the public murder of the seven desperate escapees. Each of them men he knew, admired, telling himself that he was steeled for what he knew would come next.

Krennik's order that Oliveras be the one to pull the stand from beneath the condemned men had been an unforeseen cruelty. Forni and Oliveras had been as brothers once. He had been close enough to hear the condemned man whisper to his unwilling executioner, in his own tongue, "Do not be afraid. You set me free."

Erso had hardly noticed the foolish British soldier, just another uniformed toady, as complicit as the officers from the Jamaica patrol who had brought ragged men back to starve in bondage because that was what dutiful habit bid them do.

 

If asked he would have answered that nothing could be worse that to see the faces of ragged nearly bare children and the sagging shoulders of the women as they turned, dry-eyed, to return to their huts at the conclusion of the murders. Men put arms around the weeping Oliveros and led him away, reciting prayers in Catalan and Greek beneath their breath.

Across the clearing Galen Erso saw caught Sefla's eye and could do nothing but bow his head. 

One other ordeal would traditionally be demanded of him after the officers and overseers were dismissed to their dinners.

After having hands shaken in friendly farewell by the departing St. Augustine officers, he repaired, as was required of him to the rooms reserved for  Krennik's use within the monstrosity of the "palace" held in perpetual readiness for Tarkin's visits and infrequent periods of residence.

There he pressed the commanded glass of brandy to his lips and heard words that turned the last hope in his heart to ash.

 

Krennik had smuggled the compound to Europe....used it.

Men were dead, dead at his hand as surely as if he had killed them himself, with countless more to follow....

......and then came the nail hammered home into the heart he thought had long ago turned to a stone

....after the fashion of Lara's charm, a message sealed and forgotten for all time.

Saul Gerrere was dead and the last of his army with him.

 

Oh God. Oh Lara. Was she there? Had he murdered his own child?

 

 

 

 

By some means unknown to him he walked back afterwards to the dark house, unseeing, blind, escorted by one of the guard. When the door closed behind him he stood motionless in the middle of the room.

For how long he could not say, hours perhaps.

In the dark of the night a wind from the seashore rose and blew through the house, slamming the shutters. Startled, some animal reflex finally caused him to move then and began to take off his coat by habit, in much the same way ghosts are said to mimic the actions they took in life.

 

It was then that the folded envelope fell from his sleeve pocket into a square of light cast upon the rough floor by the full moon outside.

 


Mr. Galen Erso

it read.

 

 

He'd not known the writing and yet there was something almost familiar in the hand.

A seal of red wax was pressed to the back. Broken and resealed again, it seemed to him.

Within a small sheet lay folded, written in the same hand that had addressed the envelope.

 


Father,

I hardly know what to say to you, nor how you should even regard me after all this time. Mr. Saul Gerrere has died, murdered by his enemies and yours.

After a life at war I hope he has at last found peace, but I know that he has at least found rest. Before his death he passed to me the gift of your message.
The young man in whom you placed your trust, Mr. Rook, has proved both brave and true.

There is no point in speaking further of the past. Put your mind at ease in this at least and know that I am alive and free. Be assured that I am provided with skills and resources most women my age do not possess, enough to make my way in circumstances that might daunt others.
We have endeavored to gain assistance from agents of the Alliance and others sympathetic to our purpose. We have passed your message on to to them. This hideous venture will be thwarted and our loved ones avenged.
It may be that this letter will never reach your hand. But I will send it, to wait for you, in hope at the fort of St. Augustine, which lies in British hands now. If you by some miracle reach the fort in safety and hold this in your hands I will know that Providence is indeed merciful.

Dearest Papa, do not despair. I am coming for you. Stars are constant, even when hidden from sight.

Your Jen.

 

 


He knelt down upon the boards then and wept for the first time since they had taken his dead wife from his arms and dragged him to the ship.


My daughter is alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fresh supplies were brought aboard at Nassau.

Captain Rostock gave orders that a good dinner was to be set out. The crew had been delayed by the necessities of concealment in port at Kingston and upon the requirements of speed immediately thereafter from enjoying any festive observance of the New Years, so extra ration was to be made universal and guests were to be entertained in the Great Cabin.

Mr. Jesper Decks was an Englishman by birth, a true dockside son of the rough and tumble commercial port of New York, although his mother's people were of Dutch and African genealogy. A different turn of Fortune’s wheel might have seen him spend his life there, working in his father's tavern, had that profligate man’s debts not claimed it soon after his mother's death. A strapping youth he worked the busy docks for a time, but finding that city a place where his complexion placed most cruel constraints upon him he signed on with a whaler at eighteen in search of adventure. The pursuit of oily leviathan impressed him as a vile trade that left many a common sailor just as poor as he started but it gave him his first taste of a place where......for the span of a deck and the length of a voyage at least.....a man might make his way on his own merit. When the old cook on the Cormorant took an apoplexy and died the skills he learned in mother's kitchen brought him his first promotion and respite from the juggling of blood and blubber. A ships cook he became and never looked back.

His coming to the cause of the Alliance was a circular route involving, amongst other adventures, a shipwreck off the coast of Mali, a couple of sea-battles, and the finding and befriending of a bearded young Jesuit missionary hidden in a crate of pepper followed by the colorful adventure of smuggling of him out of Ceylon.

Mr. Decks grew both stout and old tending Alliance ships and homely ventures ashore. In time he even took a kind of retirement to tend a tavern of his own at Southhampton, but when he heard that Mr. Merrick and Captain Rostock sought a crew for a chancy American venture he tossed the cellar keys to his grandson and signed on again.

How old Kanata had laughed and laughed when she saw him stow his cooking pots and knives below decks.

"You fat old fool! You are just like me eh? That Starbird printed on your skin will not let you rest ashore!"

True enough. Once you have seen the truth of the worlds turning you feel a coward if you turn aside for the easier end.


The ship had a good iron stove after the new English fashion and for all his grumbling about short notice, Decks took a professionals glee at the notion of cooking a menu of good dinner in her.

Rostock was much pleased with a Strasbourg pie and Decks knew a toothsome manner of making it so that the potted liver was leavened with some pressed duck as well as buttered onions. This he would serve out with Braised parsnips, apple pudding, some spiced rice and peas, and a number of baked cod pies after the Greek fashion to provide those who must shun the meat.  It being New Years a lemon syllabub in the English style would be made up with sherry, eggs and the small vat of cream Young Tonc had procured ashore as well as spotted dog with custard. A great box of the Spanish marchepane that had been laid aside at Cadiz would be opened as well to treat all the crew on the holiday.

 

"To work lads and others!" he called to the little ones he set to work below decks. "They also serve who only peel the carrots!"


___________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Why did you invite him aboard?" Miss Erso asked. For it seemed to her mind a very odd time and place to host a party.

"We will need the day at least to prepare," Captain Andor told her. "Kay has taken a boat around to test the material on the far side of the Island and we may better equip ourselves based on what he learns. It will also be necessary to  rearrange our ships papers before sailing and time our tides well if we mean try to make for Fort Saint Mark and the Matanzas or their near vicinities."

 

They sat largely alone in the Great Cabin during this discussion. Her early turn at watch was now done yet she wished to put off the laborious process of dressing in gowns again for as long as possible. Captain Rostok and Mr.s Rook and Melshi being on deck for duty she and Captain Andor found themselves with a moment of near privacy, private rather save for the coming and goings of the cabin boy Toby and the vigorous snoring of Mr. Antilles as he rested in his cabin from his late turn at Watch.

 

"Aye," she said, "You answer well enough as to why we wait,"

 

The words "my love" she uttered in thought yet did not add aloud.

 

How very strange it was to feel an endearment lie upon her tongue held like a sweet to make it last a little longer.

 

They did not speak to each other so in daylight and even within the dark of his cabin they still did not do so save in whispers. Captain Andor's face was half-turned from her as he surveyed a map upon the table, yet it seemed to her that he held a smile with the same impulse by which she held her words.

She continued, "You do not inform however, as to why Captain Solo and his crew are invited to guest with us. Would it not be easier to simply pay the man or shoot him and thus either way be done with him?"

"Solo may be a lost cause, or he may not," Captain Andor said, deliberately ignoring her bloodthirsty provocation, "but to recruit his crew to our venture could prove most valuable."

True enough, Miss Erso could not but agree on consideration. They had seen this dreadful plantation..... seen it moreover and sailed away safe to tell the tale.

 

"You think to recruit them?” she asked.

Her lover shrugged. "The three young sailors all show some promise, but I should most like to know the tale of the woman, Sabe."

This greatly surprised her, for, though a deft enough hand, Sabe had seemed no different to her eye than many a she-buccaneer of the Commander’s old crews. Women who sought a freedom from law and custom at sea that would ever have been denied them on land and were willing to risk both comfort and bodily safety to gain it.

"I would have thought the mighty Mate's the more colorful saga."

She spoke lightly to tease him but he raised his dark eyes quite thoughtfully and seemed to consider her words gravely.

"I doubt we have any amongst us who could understand the telling save Solo and I wonder how much even he knows? That Khaeuri will go wherever his captain goes seems a given matter but how some young East Indies Dutch freebooter ever came to earn the allegiance of such a man is hard to imagine."

Is it sir? Miss Erso thought wryly, Surely no more difficult to imagine than tale of how an un-categoried youth from the shadows of New Spain came to be blood brothers with a gentleman giant of an Englishman with the marks of shackles on his wrists.

 

 

"Come now, look at these," Captain Andor said, laying a hand-drawn chart upon the table beside Kay's Royal Navy maps of the coasts and waters of the East Florida coast. "What do you see?"

Miss Erso looked over his shoulder.

Solo's charts were drawn in slate pencil, marked over here and there with ink. Little was labeled save several lines “rivier”, and an edge “zee”. Inked squares with faint lines drawn out from them were marked in small print “eng. geweren” and a cross well down along one thin line was penciled faintly “lijk.” Numbers that must be sounding marks were clear enough as was a skilled enough compass rose and the solid and broken lines of shore at various tides.

Jen Erso recognized the outline of the northeastern Florida coast and the Matanzas.

The Onderean had never sailed into Saint Augustine in her time, only skirted Fort Caroline to moor off the Talbots and venture a party up the river called the St. Johns. She did remember hearing often how Commander had sailed there in long years past, braving the kingly bounty Spain laid upon his head, to join with other captains in a failed attack when the fort, called San Marcos then, still lay in Spanish hands.

"If this square marks the Fort of St. Marcos......" she ventured, pointing with a finger, "and this, as I think it must, the island called the Anastasia..." she traced along an oblong shape. "But what does this represent?" she indicated by gesture another smaller square fixed by some round dots to represent something unmarked at the Southern end of the island.

“Some thirty years past,” Captain Andor said, moving aside other papers to show her an older Spanish map, “One Mr. James Oglethorpe laid siege to the Fort at Saint Augustine and but for the disadvantage of a mighty storm would have taken her. He nearly managed what a dozen failed pirate raids had ventured by the bold plan of getting into the inlet beyond the Anastasia and finding draft enough to sail up the Mantanzas River and her tributary the St. Sebastian to attack from the rear.”

“The old Pirates cursed that fort at San Augustin,” Miss Erso said, laying her other hand upon his shoulder and bending her head quite close to his for a better look. “It was said she perched like a hawk above her view to the Great Stream and had a fiendish arrangement of overlapping cannon that could tear to shreds any ship that ventured in her sight. My Oloru used to say it was the cleverest contraption ever built by a Spaniard.”

This worked his smile free of it’s bonds at last and with a swift movement he took the hand she had used to trace the maps and laid a kiss upon her fingertips, to her surprised pleasure.


Little Toby chose that precise moment to make a somewhat noisy entry into the Great Cabin carrying trays and pitchers.

Miss Erso had been fond of the child previously but considered just then an impulse to throw him overboard.

 

Whatever other recompense he might have paid her for her teasing thus interupted, Captain Andor released her hand and returned his attention to the charts.

“Clever is as clever does,” he said, a slight cough his only concession to a discomposure he seemed far better at concealing than she. “Schooled in the sole weakness of their position by Oglethorpe the Governers of Saint Augustine quickly built another very small fortress, of the same unique stone, as a miniature of the San Marco at the inlet that had given his ships access to the Mantanzas.”

He indicated the square she had noted on Solo’s chart.

“As her parent was devised to guard the near passage of the silver galleons this infant was built to guard the rear passage to the tidal rivers that canal along the coast and prevent their ever again giving access and shelter to pirates. By account she did her work very well.”

“No true pirate will ever sail these waters again,” Jen Erso said quietly, surprised to hear her own voice sound more resigned than bitter, “those who remain are nothing but vultures and ghosts.”

Captain Andor looked up at her then meeting her gaze most directly for a long moment.

To her boundless gratitude he neither corrected her nor offered any commiseration, only nodded.

 

“Yet,” he ventured, slowly turning back to his study, “Solo somehow got past these legendary defenses.”

 

Miss Erso remembered the Dutchman’s careless boast of how he had reached the plantation via the Mantanzas.

 

"“The British claim to man it now but the poor fellows keep dying of fever, it seems…'" those were his words," she said, “I thought he must be lying or else have mistaken his direction and circled round the old fort the free Africans long manned for Spain on the northern branch of the Marcos.”

“As did I,” the captain agreed, “and was not surprised, for the African men at Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé, claimed rights as soldiers and repaired to Cuba as Spanish citizens, when all Floridians were bid to flee or bend knee to King George of England. Those who fled the British lash in childhood knew well enough what awaited them had they stayed. That fort of wooden palisade has not been manned in seven years, the British having no need for defense from Georgia. No doubt the jungle has swallowed it as she swallows all the works of man.”

Jen Erso’s heart beat fast at the thought, “So…if this fool truly took that sloop all the way to the plantation from the southern inlet off Anastasia  he must have left the Mantanzas hard after and then found another way. ”

“Sí, mi querida pirata,” Captain Andor agreed, “Solo’s lucky Falcon found an unmarked channel river no smuggler or English enemy ever did, in from the sea and south from the Mantanzas Inlet and the Halifax. If the British indeed are not manning the stone fort there we have a chance to reach the plantation by water without braving attack by sea.”

This was what tore at Mr. Rook’s heart, she knew and haunted her own.

 

How does one assault a powderhouse packed to beams with the most terrifying of explosives without taking the life of every hostage held within her?

 

She turned his face toward her then and kissed him full on that handsome mouth.

If young Toby cared to gossip to the rest of the crew of her bold manner he was more than welcome to.

 

The Bells chimed above decks, marking the beginning of the next Watch. From within his cabin, Mr. Antilles could be heard to stir and shout, “By God, was there not to be a dinner aboard,Toby? What time?”

 

 

 


"Well then Captain,” Miss Erso said, “I suppose I shall go and make myself ready to present a lady again, a process that requires considerable time, as you know. Mr. Kay seems to have placed a new gown and accompaniments in my cabin, I suppose so that I should put some good face forward as the only woman who sits among the officers.”

‘It is the sort of matter that would concern him,” Cassian Andor concurred with a now unreserved smile. “He will not join us, being uncomfortable in such situations and wishing to take all remaining opportunity to continue his experiments in daylight, but he will surely demand detailed reports.”

Miss Erso proceeded to the door of her cabin while Captain Andor rose and began to stow the maps and charts again safely within their cases before the great table was laid for the dinner of the officers and their company.

“Sir,” she said, looking back “I have not yet made inventory of the costume prepared for me but should I require assistance with the back-lacing of any fashionable stays do you know of any aboard with experience as a lady’s maid who might be assigned to assist me?”

“I am sure a volunteer can be found Miss Erso,” he said with a bow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rogue's Venture

Port of Nassau

British Bahamas

 

January 2, 1770

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dinner manners for officers aboard an Alliance brigantine must be somewhat different,  Miss Erso supposed, from those aboard a vessel of any other fleet, though if pressed she would have been forced to admit that her direct experience of manners aboard any ship save those of Mr. Saul Gerrere was largely limited to that of a common sailor aboard fishing boats and freight packets.

When at sea on the Onderean the Commander had dined alone most often, either in his cabin or out on deck. In the later darker days he did not seem to eat at all. Yet always he fed his crews well, as was the acknowledged key to both peace and loyalty at sea, never stinting on generous rations and large measures of decent rum or arack, though it was on every third day watered and boiled with lime leaf, as another peculiarity of that ship, for Saul Gererre had strong views about the health of his sailors.

 
Previous dinners at Captain Rostok’s table with the officers aboard the Rogue's Venture had been assembled at numerous points through the Atlantic voyage. Miss Erso found them proper and entertaining affairs even if lacking the formality she had heard to be common in the naval fleets of the great powers, or perhaps because of this.

 

Clean uniforms were resurrected upon occasion and Captain Andor usually wore a dark blue wool coat with matching waistcoat, self-covered buttons and a simple white folded cravat which, in her opinion, suited him most handsomely. She most commonly wore her pale blue  or yellow chintz wrapper and jumps. Sometimes having just come from the Watch with her breeches directly underneath.

After such dinners many rounds of cards were played at which Miss Erso and Mr. Melshi competed keenly and Captain Andor, when he deigned to play, was unbeatable. Mr. Rook preferred cribbage and had passed what might have been innumerable fortunes back and forth in wagers with Master Gunner Cor using that gentleman's brass and whalebone board. The greatest treat of the voyage thus far had been the revelation, after the opening of a series of particularly fine bottles of Madiera by Captain Rostok upon the occasion of the feast of St. Nicholas, that Mr. Antilles had a fine singing voice for old Scots ballads.

During one particularly sad and pretty one, which held to the style of every other Scottish song she had ever heard in being about murder, in this case taking the form of an ancient lament about soldiers killing people who’d given them shelter in a snowstorm, a pleasant if plain tenor was heard to join in quiet accompaniment from the far end of the table.

Miss Erso looked back for the unfamiliar voice and was utterly astonished to see that it came from Mr. Kay.

 

 


She found upon such occasions that she began to recall with lessened pain the details of matters and events she had walled from her memory years before.

One reminiscence surfaced of being put in a clean if too-large ensigns jacket when very young, and sent to serve at table when other captains and dignitaries came aboard to parley or conference. She learned at such gatherings to how to pour wine and eat with a fork, skills she would never have either retained or learned in the common mess below decks.

On yet other occasions the Commander would send her along with others among the crew to work ashore at various ports where he had havens and allies….Ireland, Tunis, Portugal, Italy, Trinidad and Campeche came to her mind. There she would sometimes be ordered to put on women’s clothes of various fashions.

Dear God she how she had hated it as a girl of eleven, but in those days would never have dreamed of refusing an order. She showed great skill at some of her tutelage ashore, the picking of locks and pockets especially, and was most pleased to learn to ride a horse and drive a carriage.

Marie it was who taught her how to dance in the European fashion and how to costume as a lady of the better classes in order to enable the carrying of messages or concealment during the survey of a proposed robbery’s site.

 

On other occasions the work was less appealing, as in the learning of various types of servants work, the cooking and cleaning and tending of fires.

Still, all these skills had served her well when forced to make her way alone.
Was that your purpose all along Oloru?

 

 

 

After her abandonment off the coasts of Spain, Jen Erso had walked starved, footsore and so broken in spirit that she considered now that only rage against he whom she thought betrayed her had prevented her laying down upon the shore to perish of hunger and thirst. In the nearest little fishing village her Spanish proved sufficient to convince a sympathetic old fisherman to let her work for no pay but passage. If he recognized her as anything other than a small rather undernourished boy of 14 or less, he gave no sign of it and let her haul sardines aboard the battered boat and sleep among the nets to the next port.

She was not so lucky on the Sardinian coast and had to dive overboard after killing one sailor and hopefully maiming another.

Thereafter her wanderings were mostly ashore as a thief, bandit, or servant for hire.  A knife always within her reach awake or asleep, she migrated every few days or weeks in whatever clothing could be stolen and gave whatever name suited safety or whim, most often no name at all.  Thus she made her way alone through events and adventures as scattered and meaningless to her now as gravel tossed from a wheel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The one night before they disembarked for Kingston, when Mr. Kay had sorted out for her the garments and accoutrements of her masquerade as Mrs. Charles Avelar, and so bluntly quizzed on such subjects as whether she knew how to properly pin a hat and open a fan that she retired in nervous annoyance to her cabin, into which she knew him unable to fit himself without considerable discomfort. There she  had opened the box of dress pins and pearl drop earrings set to decorate her costume only to find a small gold ring within.

 A sudden memory came to her then of a woman's hand wearing such a ring with words inscribed on it, though she could not now remember what they were. The ring had been just loose enough that her infant fingers could turn it curiously.

A wedding band?

Of course, she thought, I am to present a married woman am I not?

 

 

 Hard upon that acceptance came another recollection, the pain of which she had turned her face from for two dark years, and she bowed her head ashamed, for this was not the first time such an ornament had been placed within her grasp.

 

 

 

 

The soldier at Livorno had pursued her with a vengeance. Most assuredly she had picked the wrong pocket upon the docks that day, or grown careless in her misery. When she had tried to give him the slip by ducking behind an empty market stall that she had hopefully estimated to back upon an open alley she found instead only a closed gate yard.

When the soldier, now joined in the chase by two of his comrades, knocked over the covered table to confront her she had turned to fight, cornered.

Suddenly the gate opened to reveal a stout middle-aged woman with a basket of bread. This lady stared at them all in great surprise, then abruptly began to shout, at the soldiers it seemed.

“Cosa fai! Cosa state facendo voi uomini? Assassini! Briganti!”

The men at arms also began to shout accusations but the woman now threatened them with a loaf from her basket as if it were a cudgel. “Sei pazzo? Sei cieco? Questa è mia figlia. lei non è un ladro più di quanto tu non sia un prete!”

As she was pursued from the docks Jen had cast aside the shawl her head had been covered with. It was hopefully enough alteration to allow her to feign innocence and she began to sniffle and wail like a frightened and wrongly accused market wench.

The shouting went on and on as the soldiers began to contradict each other. One of them, it seemed, knew the woman who was now shouting amid curses about a daughter only just returned from living with her aunt and known to be a virtuous girl who should not be insulted this way.

La matrona threw a yellow shawl over Jen’s astonished head and pushed her toward a door, “Tanith, mia cara, vai dentro!”

Inside the dim little taverna beyond the door she found herself with little choice but to wait until the woman returned.

This the lady did after some quarter of an hour, evidently having come to some agreement with the soldiers that involved parting with some of her bread.

Laying down the now-broken loaf she had previously brandished like a sword of justice the woman eyed Jen sharply.

"Tu chi sei?” she asked.

What was a name anymore? Did it matter what she called herself when no one knew or cared who she was?

 

“Nessuno affatto,” Jen answered. “Chiamami Gianna Guerra.”

It was at least a lie with a few broken bits of the truth in it.

 

The woman took a knife from her pocket but before Jen could react defensively used it to skillfully slice the cracked loaf in twain. Returning the blade re-folded to her skirts she silently laid a slab of cheese from a nearby shelf upon it before handing it to the girl. Miss Erso ate hungrily.

For the rest of the day she worked in the booth at the front of the taverna, dispensing food and watered wine to the passers-by on the dock and ate gratefully again with the widow in the evening.

The astonishment of Signora Ponta’s grown son upon returning home to find his long-dead “sister” returned to life was profound.

Mother and son proceeded to argue in Italian so rapid even Jen’s fluency was challenged.

“Ho fatto una promessa a Dio, Renato!” the lady pronounced Imperially to her son at last, slapping a hand palm down upon the table. Then with a glance at Jen, who had remained silent in the corner through this exchange though habit twitched her feet with the urge to run, she added more quietly,  “Lei è la figlia di qualcuno,” and that was the end of it.

Sr. Renato Ponta was a well-favored, intelligent youth of nineteen and under normal circumstances most devoted to his mother.

That first night he warned Jen sternly that if she stole or otherwise abused that lady's charity he would drag her to the guard himself. He repeated this threat every day for a month and then gradually stopped. They all three worked, almost as a family, she and the Signora side by side in the taverna , Renato working with captains upon the docks of the port, supplying wine and goods to the ships cooks, all of them at the street stall and in the small garden. Miss Erso remained a hopeless cook but proved a deft hand at selling in the market and managing the family accounts.

 

Why Signora Ponta had protected her was never truly explained. She was asked no questions and asked very few in return.

The real Tanith Ponta she learned from Renato Ponta had died ten years before at the time the family still resided in their ancestral home in Genoa. Some  tragic circumstance surrounding her passing had brought such sorrow upon both her family, younger brother, grieving mother and now-deceased father, that they had left their home to flee painful memories, eventually moving south to Livorno.

So it was that a twice-abandoned former thief and pirate came to call Signora Ponte “madre,” to sleep beneath a dead girl’s blanket, wear her tenderly saved clothes, re-sewn and mended, answer to the name Tanith and live out what should have been that girl's life.

Each night for almost six months she lay on the little pallet on the kitchen floor looking at the moon and stars through the small window above the unlocked yard door and told herself she would leave before dawn. Each day she did not .

 

One morning, at the end of winter, as the apple blossoms bloomed on the stunted tree in the small kitchen garden behind the street, Renato knelt on the stones by the hearth and professed that he loved her. He showed her the gold ring that had been his grandmothers and kissed her with great sincerity 

To her lasting shame Jen Erso told him that she loved him in return.

She was not insensible to the young man's embrace, or the sudden awareness of her aching loneliness as she returned it. Yet she knew in her heart that these were also, if not unmitigated falsehoods, at least not truth. This borrowed life, this forged answer that she made to a decent boy's earnestly offered affection was but a few broken pieces of something that might have been true but was not.

She loved his mother, was moved with humble gratitude of their unspeakable kindness for her, and awed by the sense that some power that she thought to have wholly abandoned her now offered her refuge.

All she needed to do was take a honorable man’s hand and live a good and quiet lie forever under another’s name.

Renato had made many plans. To marry one’s “sister” would never do of course, so he insisted they must return to Genoa. His aging uncle’s only son had died and he now wrote and begged Renato to return and learn the management of his boatbuilder’s shop.

They were young to marry, even by the local custom but the shame and sorrow of his sister’s death would surely be healed in the joy of bringing home a new bride. He was an ambitious and hard-working young man who had lived for years under a shadow of sorrow he now yearned to cast aside and provide for his mother and himself. English shipping companies were taking over much of the trade on the Western coast of Italy as Venice's influence crumbled. It was a time of great opportunity.  A clever and beautiful wife, he said with a flawless command of English would be a greater gift than any  dowry.

 

The girl called Tanith Ponta and Gianna Guerra lay awake that night and fingered the unconsidered talisman she still wore day and night on a string upon her neck.


In her mind she composed many notes,

“I am sorry”

"Despise me, be happy and find another who deserves you."


“I cannot be she whom you need me to be.”


“I was told to trust in the truth, I will rather die alone than live a lie, even a good lie.”


“Forgive me.”

 

In the end she wrote nothing, but left without a word.

 

Well before dawn she took from the mending basket some old boyhood clothes of Renato’s that the Signora had set aside to cut down for the servant boy. She also removed from it’s hiding place beneath a floorboard the wallet she had stolen from the soldier six months before. So dressed and provisioned she went to the docks and found there a ship needing a deck hand and asking no questions. If she hung in her hammock and wept at night she was surely not the only sailor boy to do so.

Her heart empty of all save guilt and despair it had seemed to her then that she went toward darkness rather than light.

By a series of short passages, she began to work her way back toward England, though she could not then have told herself why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We must go up soon. Are you ready?” Captain Andor had quietly asked her then at Kingston Harbor, standing at the open doorway to her cabin.

How long had he stood, clean-shaven in his fine merchant's coat, watching her sit upon a bunk fully gowned with a gold ring in her hand?

 

“Have you ever been married Captain Andor?” she asked him then.
My dear unrecognized orphan of New Spain, my truthful counterfeiter and honorable assassin, has anyone ever offered you safety and you turned away from it? Have you ever done wrong in your own eyes and broke another’s heart because something within you needed truth more than safety?

 

He had looked at her in his measuring daytime way, as if carefully considering his answer.

“No, Miss Erso, I have not.”

“Good” she had said, “I should hate for either of us to be committing bigamy,” and slipped the ring upon her own finger, then held out her hand to him to lead her out and above decks to enact, for the sake of the venture, a lie that cased truth at the heart of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Afterward when Mrs. Avelar’s clothing and luggage needed to be abandoned in their escape from Jamaica, Miss Erso had retained the ring only, slipping it for safety onto the same leather cord that held her mothers cross.

She had meant to formally return it to the trunks of borrowed finery aboard the Rogue, yet somehow, overtaken by events, had not yet done so. Captain Andor had surely observed or at least felt its presence there upon her necklace yet he had also not made any mention of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now as she laid out the green patterned silk closed-front gown and matching outer petticoat that Mr. Kay had chosen for her and managed to tie her petticoats over the ingenious front closing stays ….dearly hoping that they were not something of that gentleman’s own design….she slipped the little charm inside the neck of her shift but removed the ring before doing so.

A soft knock at her door gave her warning of the quick and silent entrance of Captain Andor. 

"Forgive the intrusion," he fairly whispered, "I came to see if you required assistance." Her swift smile gave him assurance of welcome.

By some miracle it seemed he had managed to enter boldly unnoticed while all within the Cabin were pre-occupied. He already donned a handsome black silk waistcoat, white shirt and black moleskin breeches but had not yet donned his coat and cravat. Appearing most disappointed that the design of the new stays rendered his expertise less necessary, he contented himself with stepping carefully behind her to help at least in the slipping on and closing of the long gown.

Both of them finding themselves curiously unwilling to speak aloud while others were awake and about in the outer cabin, she allowed his skilled ministrations in smiling silence.

After some pleasant time of this she reached for his hand, where it rested at her waist in the rearrangement of her skirts.

Through his visit she had held the little ring tightly in her left hand, now she placed it in his.

 

“Keep it,” she whispered, “for now,” most genuinely glad in that moment that she could not see his face.

The boning of the stays and snug pinning of the bodice left her unable to feel the direct sensation of his hands against the front of her gown but the pressure of his arms around her from the behind held her tight against him for a little while and she could feel his breath against her neck.

“For now,” he said.

 

A moment later a lull of sound in the outer cabin signaled a discrete moment to leave and he made use of it, without another word.

Indeed, she could have made no more headway in dressing had he remained within the tiny room.

 

Chiding herself at the foolishness of feeling so utterly breathless, which she attributed to a slight mis-tying of the stays, she tied round the filmy lace neck-kerchief and made use of the little mirror to pin the small lace cap and attach the small garnet drop earrings.

All clothing is costume for some theatrical, she remembered someone saying, perhaps poor lost brave Marie, and we prize them because they are our only chance to win the favor of the audience, it being in vain once the curtain is up to bargain with the playwright.

It was undeniably a pretty ensemble for a holiday occasion and flattered her rather specifically, Miss Erso could not help but see, even in so tiny a reflection.

 

 


Why Mr. Kay had carefully set out out garments for her so perfectly supportive to the role of a rising and prosperous young officer’s wife she hesitated to venture, and wondered if the strange gentleman even knew himself. She felt quite sure, however that whatever his acknowledged or unacknowledged reasoning that he had similarly laid out Captain Andor’s clothes and that these would perfectly compliment her own.

 

 

 

 


An hour prior to setting out in that morning by small boat to the deserted far shore of the barrier island with no escort save another of the cabin boys, sturdy little Arthur, and the announced intention or performing some several hours of tests upon upon the blue matter brought by Solo, Mr. Kay sought her up on deck and informed her of the disposition of clothes in her cabin.

Miss Erso had thanked him,…. for indeed, what else could one do?….but the gentleman had remained standing still after his speech, regarding her for several minutes as if in uncertain thought before abruptly stating,

“I regret any unintended discomfort your misinterpretation of my meanings may have previously caused you.”

What the bloody hell was he talking about now? Surely not the clothes again?

 

“Do not concern yourself, Mr. Kay.”

“I wished to apprise you that my original assessments regarding you have proved largely erroneous Miss Erso and I have fundamentally revised them. You have presented yourself as a consistently skilled and valuable operative.”

The powerfully tall man then bowed, which she had come to realize was a gesture he used to convey thanks or some other positive emotion.

Oh Heavens.

 

As they stood by the rail various members of the crew passed them nearly by, some glancing up as if to wonder what could be holding her so long in conversation with the notoriously odd gentleman before moving discretely on to their assigned duties.

“Thank you,” she felt obliged to say and, as Mr. Kay had strangely not yet either straightened or returned his cockaded hat to place, found herself adding, with awkward sincerity, “Our first acquaintance was less than congenial I agree but I have come to well understand and share Captain Andor’s enormous regard for you, Mr. Kay.”

This seemed to please him, for he stood upright again and replaced the hat upon his close-cropped head.

“It is difficult to conceive that the mission before us can be accomplished without significant or even universal casualties, but in the unlikely event we both survive Miss Erso I would be quite willing to undertake to teach you Swedish.”

 

“That is a most generous offer, Mr. Kay, I will consider it.”


He nodded. “I understand. I will, if spared,  revisit the question at a more convenient time. Your company had been beneficial to him quite beyond my expectation and as his friend I am most grateful.”

The gentleman's turns of conversation were so abrupt that she wondered if she ought to be concerned about the state of her own mind that she had followed one at last. He spoke of Captain Andor

As has his to me, she thought but did not say.

 

With this statement he turned from her and left to make ready the dinghy he would take for his investigations. She heard faint laughter far above her head and looking up realized that the keen ears of Mr. Imway at his station upon the mast must have overheard the unique conversation.

Miss Erso stuck her tongue out saucily in the monks direction.

The gesture was but a futile presentation of her own vexation of course, for she knew well that her friend could not see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Her reflection in the small square mirror now looked back at her consideringly For all his strangeness, Mr. Kay’s assessment was not unlike her own. At the near end of this journey the fearful plantation at New Smyrna lay before her, days at best away, and she knew that the odds that anything lay beyond it for either herself or Captain Andor were poor indeed. Yet she found could not wish undone any action that had brought her here. Though she bitterly regretted now the years she had wasted and the harm she had done to those who had tried to help her, she could misgive nothing else.

What she had found in the streets of Lisbon and Kingston and claimed aboard this ship was at least not a broken thing of pieces. It was a whole truth.

 

 

Upon her shelf beside the mirror was laid a small silk ribbon rosette, gold in color, with the thoughtful addition of an extra pin to hold it. She considered placing it on her cap but in a holiday spirit pinned it instead upon the bodice of her green gown, then went out to find either Midshipman Syndalla or Mr. Melshi, who must have been quite the dandy ashore for his views on ladies attire were extensive, to seek their opinion as to whether all her pins were set straight and her shoes buckled properly, for she could not sufficiently see them and the guests would arrive soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captain Andor surveyed the coat laid out upon his bunk. Black velvet and black brocade with selfed buttons. The buttons were new, they had been silver upon a previous occasion it seemed to his memory, but otherwise he recognized the coat from a venture they had completed in London in the Spring.

Jesus. It seemed a lifetime ago.

The black silk waistcoat as well? Dear God Kay, am I to look like a Hapsburg? What are you thinking?



His friend's inexplicable insight into the influence and message of the tailors art was unequalled and he would not dare to question it.

 



Some years past Mr. Kay disagreed with Mr. Mandine upon some fine sartorial point pertaining to the uniform proper to a striving French soldier of rank but poor pocket who had recently returned from the American Wars and the Frenchman took great affront.

"Come sir! Is there no one whose word you will yield to on matters of dress?" Mandine asked, most put out at being told his own assessment of a fellow Frenchman's garb was insufficiently subtle.

Mr. Kay had tilted his head as if considering seriously.

"With regards to European dress? I would presently accede superiority to the researches of Madame Rose Bertin, Lady Mary Monmouth and Sr. Giacomo Girolama Farussi Casanova," he answered with considered gravity.



The blind were said to be gifted with sharpened hearing. This being accepted as so it was hardly surprising that the tactile and concrete communication afforded by variations of dress should form a keen study for his friend Kay, when so many other matters pertaining to the clues of social discourse between men and women of all manners and ranks remained clearly mysterious to him.



Captain Andor recalled another occasion, when he at the age of perhaps fifteen been obliged to impersonate a Spanish official's groom in order to procure information for Senor Dodanna at Madrid.



While buttoning his own gold brocaded coat Andor had observed the also-young Mr. Kay sitting doubly bent on the planked floor of the tavern room sanding the soles of a pair of polished Iberian leather boots in order to approximate the correct usage and age, and asked an impulsive question.

"Kay, do you remember how old you were the first time you wore shoes?"

The older youth kept at his work but answered, "My exact age is unknown to me, but I would think it likely I was near to thirteen."



Any reckoning Cassian might make of his own age would also be a necessary estimation, but he ventured one in kind.

"I think perhaps I was nine."

Then brushing of the sand-cloth paused and Kay, to Andor's surprise for he had never previously heard him do so to anyone, asked him a personal question in return.

"Did you dislike them?"

I nearly cried, he thought of answering, but instead merely laughed. "Si. Muy difícil."

"I also found them most distressing and uncomfortable," Timothy Kay said, nodding with the air of someone making a profound discovery, "it required great self-discipline to accustom myself to an action I found so painful and unnatural but I persevered, because I considered that for once my sufferings were in the service of a much greater good."

He had looked up then and blinked slowly, as was still his habit, "do you consider this a matter we two could be said to share in common Mr. Andor?"

"Yes," Cassian Andor had agreed, "I suppose that I would."



It was shortly after this exchange that Kay began to consistently refer him as "my friend" in conversation with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 




A fine white linen cravat lay pressed ...when did he manage such things aboard ship?....and folded beside the coat and a small quartered note lay atop the snowy cloth.

When Captain Andor opened the paper he found small and precise drawn diagrams and written instructions in his friend's neat handwriting detailing the best and most appropriate way that he should tie the garment about his own neck.



When he recovered from the disability of the laughter this missive caused, he tied the cravat as skillfully and exactly to instruction as possible and put on the fine coat.



Once attired he took the gold ring that Miss Erso had returned to him from the shelf above his folding desk and turned it over in his hand.



It was small and, unlike most rings exchanged by fashionable couples in these more modern times, quite unmarked, still symbolizing hope but asking no questions and outlining no promises.

Perhaps I have taken so many painful and unnatural actions since those days Kay, he thought, that I am become unaccustomed now to what ought to be natural. It seems to me almost like another man's garment.



After several minutes of consideration he kissed the golden thing lightly and placed it in the waistcoat pocket.


He then went out upon deck to greet their guests.

Miss Erso stood by the rail already in her green gown and as she turned toward him with a smile, he could not but note that yellow ribbon rosette at the front of her gown matched the lining of his waistcoat most exactly.  

Who would have taken you for such a damned romantic, Kay? he thought.



____________________

 

 

 



The poor boy had worked diligently at cleaning his untorn shirt, rinsing it as he could in salt water and hanging it to dry in the sun on the ship's ropes.

All three of them proved almost endearing, Luc, Zacharie and even Darian in their eager efforts to dress well. Solo scoffed but she noted when he walked back up from the docks of Nassau port that his battered good hat had been blocked back into shape and had a tab of red ribbon tucked into the pinned corner.

Charmed off some lady ashore, she ventured, for she knew his pockets to be empty.

Charm was surely the only currency he had left. He must have taken time to  brush that blue coat as well, out of sight of the rest of the crew.

Sabé herself looked below the deck for her small sailor's trunk, tied beneath her rolled hammock.  It was but a simple locker purchased a few years ago at Marsailles for the price of a stolen silver cross. The little she called her own lay within it. Two spare men's blouses and a blue scarf of spotted India cotton, a sewing kit, two pair of woolen stockings, and a set of workmanlike boots taken from the convent shed. Also within was a woman's wool and hemp petticoat of faded brown and a woolen  shawl of checked red, seldom worn save when upon some errand ashore, nothing there not befitting a woman of the docks or countryside.

Two treasures only did she retain that told of any other life. A small Spanish silver medallion of Our Lady, given her in childhood, such as might name her as a former Catholic but communicate little else and, most preciously, a folded and torn rectangle of scarlet-orange silk, lined with what had once been white silk velvet. The fine cloth was aged now by moisture and rough storage…..almost like herself, she thought… until it had shredded nearly into ribbons.

Wrapped now in a rough linen bag, it was all that remained of a once costly hood worn in that distinctive color by only seven women. This fragment was all that remained of a cloak that marked the Handmaidens of the brilliant Mariana Victoria, Infanta of Spain and Queen of Portugal. In a world that seemed to her eyes reduced to a cartoon drawing rendered in shades of grey, only two colors revived her heart. One was the flame-color still held by the scraps of that hood, first laid upon her bowed head by the Infanta’s own mother when she as a girl of thirteen had completed the three trials and taken her vow of fealty.

The other was the blue in the eyes of her prince, the firstborn of she who she had honored as queen and loved as friend.

Many babes are born with blue eyes but that sky-blue which did not fade would have damned the babe and his noble mother as surely as any old wizard’s prophecy of destiny.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Sabé was to have taken the boy to Seville. That had at least been Kenobi’s first desperate plan, that they would say the child had died.

None of them had asked how this deceit would be managed. The vultures that circled would expect it surely.

“He will be safe,”  the Bishop said, “I will train him there, in secret.”

She had seen then the longing for redemption in his eyes.



“As you trained his father?” her lady had whispered between her spasms and fixed a dark eye on him so that even he looked away in shame.

Such was Her Royal Highness Mariana Victoria, little more than a girl herself, lying weak on her bed after dangerous hours of travail, heart-broken by the utter betrayal of a man she had once loved past reason, with the bruises of his fingers still upon her neck.



Hollé gathered them together for the last time suggesting prayers and the drawing of lots, but when Sabé looked down at the broom straw in her hand she had already known that it must be her.

Of the seven only she had no family living, no parents or sweetheart to question her disappearance. She alone knew the mountain passes from childhood. They steeled themselves for what God would bring as, without a cry, her lady at last delivered her son.

 



Then the midwives brought forth the second child, the unexpected twin and everything changed.



In that hour Rainha Mariana must have seen revealed a way that the girl by mere fact of her existence could provide the screen of safety necessary to save her brother. She must have seen too the years of suffering and strength of will that would lie ahead if she was to save her dark-eyed daughter as well.

The false one who had betrayed her….dead they thought then, for who survives such burns? Rumor had it that Hell itself had come for the handsome traitorous beast, Oh how she had wept when dark Rumor whispered again years later that by some black magic he had not…he and his evil masters desired only boys.  Even the spies of Rome and Spain and the jealous courtiers of Portugal would think a girl babe too unimportant to scrutinize carefully. Ineligible to ascend the throne a girl might be ignored as useless decoration until she grew to marriageable age.

That dangerous time was near at hand, surely.



When Kenobi, latching on to this new scheme as a drowning man to rope turned to speak briefly with his men outside the curtains and modestly averted his priest’s eyes from the doings of the midwives, her Queen had reached for Sabéna’s hand as she bent to mop her brow.

“Not Seville,” she had whispered. “Faithful one, take him out of their reach.”

And so she had.

 

Somehow the monsters have learned that he lives. How? My sisters went silent to their graves, this I know. One of the midwives? Kenobi’s people?

They look for him but they have not found him yet and while I breathe they shall not.








With a sigh Sabé put on the cleanest shirt, her petticoats and clean stockings, tied the white scarf around her hair with the ends in after the fashion of a cap and wrapped the shawl crossed in front to tie at her back.  She then took a thin strip of the bright precious silk and pushed it through the hole of a pierced shell Luc had given her as a when they had walked ashore at Trinidad. Tying it around her neck with the pride a noblewoman would wear a drop pearl upon a velvet ribbon she proceeded up onto deck to brush the boots.

Let that cunning Spanish spy take whatever he would from it, she told herself.



“You look well, Sabé” Darian said to her, and the older woman returned the compliment. The Corsican had dressed herself in a blue and yellow striped petticoat and pinned a red scarf about her shoulders and blue one over her head.

Captain Solo stared at both women in astonishment.

“Damn it Darian!” he cried, “How long has this been going on?”

Luc and Zachary laughed very hard.

Newly shaved and in their clean shirts and almost-fitting waistcoats, traded back and forth twice in an attempt to see which fit which one better, both youths looked as handsome as any princes she had ever seen.

Even Khaeuri had combed out his freshly dressed hair and bound it into a roll at the back of his head.

“Does anyone else plan to surprise me by putting on women’s clothes, or can we go to dine now and get our damned money?”

 



So it was that they boarded the borrowed dinghy and went together across the short distance to where the Rogue’s Venture lay at anchor.

One red-cheeked and bearded Captain  Rostok welcomed them aboard politely there as they stepped off the ladder and Zachary offered his sister his arm to walk the deck. To Sabé’s surprise Luc then copied his motion to offer her his, a little awkwardly but with a wide smile. She took it with as much dignity as she ever had any ambassador’s.



Khaeuri looked down at Solo quizzically.

“Dit zal nooit gebeuren in duizend jaar! Loop naar het eten en steek niemand neer,” the captain snarled. The towering mate merely shrugged happily and walked on.



Thus their ragged band passed the crew and officers of the brigantine to go to the dinner laid out in the large cabin.



My Queen, Sabé thought, he is humble, clever, well-spirited and brave. His sufferings have made him more likely to treat others with kindness than it’s opposite.

I cannot claim the credit for this miracle for it surely belongs to a flaxen-haired girl who lies now in a hillside grave in France, but I promise you no mother could ask for more.




___________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 



Mr. Decks had called upon the cabin crew to aid him in the setting of the dinner. Toby was assigned to serve at table.

Old Kanata came up to assist in the cooking...out of pity for the great fool whose pride in his skill and faith in that dreadful iron box of a stove may have exceeded his good sense.... because it pleased her to do so, not least since when the work was done she might sit inside the galley and watch on a chair while Toby and Decks served the meal

 

 She had seen the same eyes in many different people, the same fire in many hearts and the same story told a hundred different ways. Even so she never wearied as she sat and peered through the door with a fine mug of watered wine and a bowl of well seasoned rice and peas to  watch all and listen.

 

A ship of their Alliance could not nor would not be bound by rigid ladders of place and rank, but there was an order to the seating even so.



Captain Rostok sat at the head of the table with Captain Solo upon his right, for the Dutch boy was the highest officer of the guesting party.

Captain Andor sat upon his left in tribute to his rank as superior of the venture in a coat of rich black as befitted the shadows he had spent his young life wrapped in.

Miss Erso, the binti of the mighty Saul Gerrere.…may he rest….sat beside Captain Andor, swathed and pressed like an English woman in sweet China cloth the color of a new leaf. They spoke directly together very little, save with glances.  They touched no more than was ordinary for two people side by side at a crowded and talkative table of Europeans.

Such reserve signified nothing, of course. Whatever they did and whoever they spoke to they were bound together like a chord of music that wove in and out of whatever tune played around them.



Mr. Bodi Rook sat beside the binti and they leaned together and spoke often. He was a beautiful youth who shone like a steady fire. His accent was Turkish but he had the look of the sea of India about him somehow.

“….maps,” Erso was saying to him quietly, “You must look at them. We have formed a plan, it seemed clear there is a way in.…there is hope…”
Upon these words he looked at her with the eye of a hunting falcon turned loose. Such a heart once set upon a task, whether it be to find an object, reach a place, or keep a vow, never failed



This Solo fellow waved his hands and smiled charmingly when he spoke to Rostok. His manner presented a confident carelessness that could not wholly hide some great fear or lasting shame, at least from her old eyes. “..You will forgive me sir, when I tell you I have not immersed myself any such venture out of allegiance to your noble cause, nor for the friendship of man or the rescue of fair maidens,. My expectations are and always have been to be paid…”



Beside him was a towering muscular man who ignored all conversation and focussed his attention most profoundly on the dinner rolls, piling them high on his plate like the heads of his conquered enemies. His gleaming hair was most impressive but the markings upon his face, mighty neck and wide hands were a marvel. This was a man whose skin spoke multitudes, of stories, wars, rivals slain, miles traveled, dreams remembered, tales told.

Oh Kanata, she chided herself with a chuckle,  Every time you tell yourself you are too old and wise for such adventuring you see one last boat you wish to sail in. This fellow would be like reading a book, a very wordy book from the look of him. Oh my.

“Toby,” she called, as the boy passed by her with a tray, ready to bring out the next course. “Keep that handsome decorated fellow well supplied with bread, I will see there is an extra almond sweet in it for you.”



An older woman sat beside the beautifully written giant, and through dressed like a sister of the sea and the open road, she alone save Solo himself seemed quite undaunted by the silverware, holding the crystal glass as if it were not perhaps the first such ware she had ever touched.  Her eyes stayed mainly with her own crew, the brother and sister, Solo himself and mostly the yellow-haired youth at her side.

Once or twice the woman hazarded a glance at Andor with the look of one who notes a pistol upon a table and tries by sight alone to judge whether it is loaded and cocked.

Ah poor sister. It is always loaded. The question to ask is whether it is pointed at you.


The yellow-haired boy inclined his head and whispered a question.

“…no, mon cher,” the woman said, taking back one of the three rolls of bread the boy had put upon his plate, “This is only the first course, there will be more, much more… mimic Zachary or, God forgive me,  Solo for manners. Do not try to eat like Khaeuri here you will surely regret it.”

The sister spoke like the boy’s mother, though it seemed to Kanata that she was not.  

Then the yellow haired boy turned back she saw his eyes clearly for the first time and nearly fell from her stool. She knew those eyes.

Never in blue before, but she had seen them many times.

Ah, all the god and spirits of every nation help them if they were in THAT story now.



Some beautiful twins sat beside the one with the hero’s eyes, the short-haired one in boys clothes showed the hero how to take the salt from the bowl and they laughed together all three as friends.

Twins…those were always rich tales.



Brave Syndalla was there, invited from below decks in a jacket of blue and with a light in her eye again.

She spoke with the officer who sang beautifully, the Scottish one, who drank too much but might outlive them all.

The very handsome Master Gunner sat beside the one called Rook, and leaned across to talk to him and the bold pirate Erso.

“…no, no,” he was saying, “If, as you say, they have by some means rendered it inert under general conditions, and it is clear they have for such a devastating compound would be useless otherwise,  it is essential that we discover what activation triggers other than fire are in play.”

His mother must have come from the West, from one of those nations that harnessed the gifts of iron and fire, for he had the spirit in his eye of both.

 



An officer was missing, she noted. Kay, the tall one who was more than half a spirit and stalked about as if but lightly held to the earth. She was sorry for this absence because he spoke with her in Swahili sometimes, having visited that coast once and being a scholar of the old Arabic trade routes and charts.

This pleased her as it reminded her of the busy cities of Zanzibar in her younger days and ships of many nations that thronged there.

In addition to being by far the whitest man she had ever seen not actually living in a cave his discourse was most original.

 



“Una miaka mingapi?” the fellow had bent almost down on his knees to ask her upon the occasion of their first meeting.

“Jeuri roho,” she had said, “Nine hundred and twenty three years.”

“That is not possible,” the pale giant had said.

“Do you call me a liar, boy?”

The fellow had tipped his head, “It is possible you are lying for some dramatic effect but equally possible you are grossly mistaken or using some divergent system of measurement.”

She laughed hard. ‘You remind me of my fourth husband.”

He had stood upright then and bowed deeply, to her even greater amusement.

As was not uncommon with spirits he did not like to be touched so she made sure to hand him the small fruit jellies she saved for him wrapped in paper.

 




She enjoyed her wine and listened to snips of conversation as they passed like leaves in the wind.

The hero to his shipmates. “…..it sounds as if it would be awful to tell of it but I thought of the poor man who had suffered so and considered that it was done to aid him one last time and it did not seem so horrible. Mr. Kay is an interesting man….”

The clear-eyed Turkish pilot to brave Melshi, “….the canals were laid to be dug far back into the jungles. By now they have surely been built…..no, cost means nothing to him…..difficult to navigate… move into the back channels save the guards and they feared greatly to do so even when ordered for fierce Indians were said to still dwell back there and…”

Cor to Andor “…San Marco….the same arrangement of guns is laid out at Havana. I must admit I would be curious to see it. My…an employer of mine in my youth…. always recommended it a a pinnacle of land-based defenses…and the effect of ordinance on the stone is said to be remarkable.”

That son of New Spain answering, “…if you have suffered siege in any other castle the effect is quite unearthly….no, it was used only for small items such a troughs and molcajete… on the few islands was it suitable to quarry in size…some mystery….”

Brave Syndalla to the twins, “….because I could not do otherwise.….when a bird flies it sees no boundaries of nation, only the earth as God sees it, from that distance that gives all things beauty…not a contract one retires from, consider carefully.…”

Solo spoke in heartfelt  Dutch with Rostok about arrangements of sail.

Melshi recounted some story of a boyhood escape across rooftops in London that brought a smile to the lips of the dark-eyed  Andor and a delighted laugh from the pirate's daughter.

Rook was telling the hero and the older woman beside him a tale of the Maharini of Agara and the moon-white tomb built in her honor. Solo listened in.


As the dinner progressed, and the main courses all consumed….bless the little hero for he had clearly never been confronted with so many choices of food at table in his life. His guardian kept quietly removing items from his plate…..chairs were pulled back and various other conversations begun as persons moved about the cabin. Sweets and wines were passed round by Toby as good Rostok proposed the toasts.


Below decks the crew was enjoying their dinner as well, with extra rations of meat and good rum, the sweets must have been passed out there too for she felt the cheer beneath the floorboards.

The European feast of the New Year was being toasted in both places.

Such toasts held an extra poignancy always on an Alliance ship, perhaps on this ship and in this present hour most of all.

Rostok saluted the company, and bright day itself and the hope for more that might be beyond it, but as was the custom in their fraternity they raised glasses for the future of others not themselves.

Solo bowed his head and seemed to whisper something under his breath in Dutch, although she could not hear it over the voices.

The blue-eyed youth listened to Rostok with open admiration, while the woman who sat beside him looked at the boy with pride and concern blended.

The beautiful warrior whose stories lay patterned and complete on him took for himself a half-eaten tart from Solo’s plate.

The pirate girl in her gown of spring-green laid her hand upon the shadowed arm of her lover as she listened and though they did not look at each other it seemed to Old Kanata that the young man trembled a little.

That one had always reminded her of a sharp blade of finest steel, plain but beautifully made, dangerous but itself unstained by the blood that other hands used it to spill.



From where she sat she could see Andor slip his hand into the pocket of his waistcoat and take something from it which he then placed within the young woman's fingers, lifting the small hand to his lips for a moment as if to disguise the action in the movement of a somewhat intimate and private toast between they two.

Though they still did not look at each other directly, from the angle of their arms it seemed to her singular vantage of sight that they clasped hands beneath the table.

The attention of most of those present was rightly upon Rostok as he spoke, so that few eyes noted the pirate and the assassin and any who had likely did not understand what it was they saw. A lone exception was Hera Syndalla whose gaze it seemed caught the motion of the captain's hand and turned away discretely blinking back tears.

Ah, heaven help them all. In a story such as the one they sailed in now what course was more dangerous than love?


Looking back through the doors toward she saw that Mr. Decks lingered still by the ladder to the mess and nodded to let him know that all went well within. The good fellow smiled broadly. From the sound that carried up from below the crew found their dinner most convivial below decks as well.

A blessing on Decks, he was a happy man in this hour. What greater satisfaction was there for an innkeeper in this wicked world than to provide care and the respite of a few hours joyful nourishment to such courageous souls?

It was suggested that Mr. Antilles sing and that young man obliged with a song about a shepard tricking a girl, or was it about a girl tricking a shepard? His voice was most pleasing whatever nonsense came out of it.

Why were so many European songs about the amorous adventures of sheep herders? Was it a euphemism? She had always wondered.

 



"Sabé should sing as well, she knows lots of pretty things, even if they are mostly in Italian." Solo said, having applauded heartily with the others when Antilles finished.

The wine had placed him in an expansive frame of mind it seemed, though in truth he was far from as drunk as he played.

The manly Mate was much in favor of this proposal as well and slapped the table loudly with his palm. The woman demurred but the blue-eyed youth urged her.

 

"Sabé has the voice of an angel!" he said, sun-tanned cheeks flushed from the wine and Madiera, "Please sing."

 

The sister looked around not so much shy as uneasy and Kanata noticed that her eye fell briefly upon Captain Andor, with a strange look almost half of defiance. That gentleman met her gaze but merely raised an eyebrow.

 

 

What Solo's crew-woman would or would not have sung they never knew, for in that moment a might retort sounded and shook the very boards. The crystal glasses rattled and the battle-hardened crew of the Rogue leaped from their seats at once, man and woman all. Most turned swiftly to rush to their set combat stations by a reflexive instinct. 

Kanata leaped also, but sense returned to her and she stopped herself.

Old fool! We are at Harbor. That is not a cannon.

 

Mr. Cor, with fire in his bones, never lost his sense.

"Hold!" he cried, "Not a gun, an explosion, unconfined. It came from over the island."

 

The pirate girl Erso was on her feet with a hand flung out as if she would somehow protect Captain Andor but that gentleman, though he took her wrist and held it, looked toward the thick aft windows...one now cracked... facing west toward the water and the sand bar of the Providence Island beyond. His handsome face was pale even as he looked down at the woman.

 

"Kay," he said.

Those officers not already moving toward the stations assigned to them in all emergencies moved quickly to the upper deck.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end an elaborate explanation had to be devised. Some unlikely fiction regarding a sizable wagon of gunpowder left hidden and unseen by pirates, or perhaps the French in the late wars, near to the old watchtowers on the far side of the barrier island and then accidentally ignited by a cabin boy who had wandered off bird-hunting. 

 

Captain Cassian Andor despised elaborate explanations. They invariably became colorful stories and colorful stories were passed around by the garrulous and bored denizens of provincial seaports acquiring extra decoration and interest in eager and endless re-tellings. It was his professional experience that  lies and deceptions worked best when kept as mundane and plebeian as possible.

 

That said, there were few ways to phlegmatically explain the  massive explosion that had been heard by the whole port of Nassau and was later found to have left behind a crater visible at low tide in the sand of the barrier beach that remained twenty feet across and eight deep even after the action of the waves had diminished it. The smoke and water spout was seen by half the ships at anchor.

 

Only the preternaturally mild countenance of Captain Rostock, under his present guise of "Captain Stillwell", could have even hoped to drain such an unlikely tale of it's preposterousness so Captain Andor left the deception wholly to that officer's experienced manufacture.

 

Upon reaching the decks he had immediately pulled off the fine coat and passed it to Mr. Melshi along with a brusque instruction to that gentleman to "take command." The shallop being already alongside he climbed down to it directly, calling for Cor and Basteran to accompany him. To his annoyed surprise Captain Solo followed directly behind. 

 

"No sir," he snapped, "This is our business."

He found he had neither the temper, time, nor patience at present for this fool and his bravado.

 

"I carried that trinket here, Andor," the Dutchman insisted stubbornly, "and I mean to know what deviltry I hosted."

Miss Erso's many suggestions to knife the man and toss him overboard flashed through his mind but he mastered himself with difficulty.  

Very well, the bastard was supposed to have a hand at fast sail.

 

"Get the canvas up and get us out then! To it!"

"Luc, Venez avec moi!" Solo called, and the youth fairly leaped the rail to reach the ladder. 

 

At his order Mr. Basteran quickly recovered Mr. Kay's surgeons bag from his cabin and passed it down as he climbed into the boat. Captain Andor and Mr. Cor untied and pulled up anchor while Solo and the French boy swiftly put up the small sail. 

 

"Captain Andor!" came a call from above and he looked up to see the green-silk clad form of Miss Jane Erso leaning over the rail to toss him down a grey haversack. 

 

He did not need to look inside, from the feel and weight he knew at once what the bag contained. Several extra rolls of felt and linen bandage, and several small bottles, no doubt of spirits, all recovered additionally from Kay's cabin along with a rolled shape he recognized as his best long knife wrapped in oiled leather.

He did not doubt Miss Erso already knew of the short blade concealed in his boot but she clearly still distrusted Solo to such the degree of feeling an additional weapon required. It was a strangely wifelike gesture, he supposed, if one's wife were a pirate.

 

He had no more than the quickest glance of her as the item left her hands, for she then turned swift as a swallow away from the rail, vanishing behind the rest of the crew

She fled back to her cabin he knew, with a certainly that he might have marveled at had he been less pressed, to rid herself of the gown and don again her sailor's clothes in readiness for whatever this emergency might bring.

 

 

They moved away from the brigantine and made for the main channel moving swiftly out toward the open water. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winds they felt as they rounded the harbors mouth were already moving the column of smoke up and over the outer island.

Captain Andor had previously heard Mr. Kay outline his plan to set up on the seaward side of the harbor island, in order to be both well out of sight of the town and docks and to potentially measure the effects of wind on any smokes of vapors that might ensue should he succeed in igniting small amounts of the substance.  But in the clear afternoon light there was no need to search for the placement of the disaster. Solo handled the rudder and Luc and Cor the ropes to move them swiftly along shore toward the place.

 

 

"What in the name of God?" muttered Mr. Cor, standing up in astonishment.  

Cassian Andor had seen the white smoke of black powder constantly since boyhood, lying in thick haze over battlefields, twisting in ghost-like forms from single pistol shots fired in moonlight and in the mighty thrusting clouds hurled from cannon. 

Es el color equivocado, he thought, feeling as a child for a moment in his confusion.

 

This smoke rose in a thick column, bending with the wind, that looked almost solid, like a tower of shredded dirty grey rag.

 

Upon the white sand of the beach and behind  to a tumble of boulders that had marked the seawall of a long abandoned guard post he could see the little canvas canopy Kay generally set up to shield himself and his projects from the glare of sun and the small rowboat he and little Arthur had come round in lay pulled well up upon the shore nearby. As they came in toward shore the tall, unmistakable form of Mr. Timothy Kay could be see walking toward them from up the beach with the boy in his arms.

 

Even as he jumped from the boat to wade ashore, the surf swirling well above his knees, he could see that Kay’s yellow waistcoat and aprons were quite soaked with blood. 

 

Young Arthur lay  pale, eyes closed, in Kay’s arms. The large canvas coat was wrapped around the cabin boy and itself spattered with gore. As he drew near enough Captain Andor recognized at once the purpose of the sodden loop of cord and stick of wood that twisted it tight like a windlass above what might have been the child’s elbow.

 

“Doux Jésus, aie pitié!” he heard Solo’s boy gasp, for the French sailor had imitated his action and was close behind.

 

“The arm cannot be saved,” his friend said, loudly yet calmly, as if to be heard over the roar of the surf was his only consideration,  “his situation is quite dire yet if the bleeding is arrested soon and infection can be subsequently prevented in the limb and other wounds there is a possibility….”

 

“Kay!” Cassian said, reaching for the man’s arm, quite desperate to stop this speech… “Kay, must you do it here or should we take him back to the ship?”

 

The gentleman paused and looked down at the hand upon his arm, as if unsure of it’s purpose, then blinked his large eyes slowly.

 

“Timeliness would increase the likelihood of success….however….” he paused and looked back up the beach…any other man would be profoundly shaken if not incapacitated by such a situation yet Cassian found even such momentary  hesitation on Kay’s part most unnerving…. “my instruments are aboard the ship,” he said.

 

“I have them here sir,” Basteran, called out, moving toward them now through the surf with Kay’s bag above his head.  

 

Solo and Cor were working the shallop-boat further up on the sand by means of the small anchor and rope. 

 

 “Mr. Basteren,” Captain Andor called in turn, “Get to the canopy and clear the worktable….carefully by God!…set up Mr. Kay’s instruments but do not touch them directly. Go!”

 

“Msr. Kay.” Young Ceil-Marchuer held out his arms “ Give him to me. I will carry him, sir. You must prepare yourself. “

  

To Captain Andor’s surprise his friend nodded, and carefully lowered the limp child into the French youth’s arms.  

“Keep him as level as possible. It is essential that the tourniquet not be loosened or dislodged.” 

 

Cassian assisted in the transfer, steadying the grievously wounded limb while Kay held Arthur’s head. Solo’s crewman was far stronger than his slim frame suggested, for he took the burden more lightly than Captain Andor would have thought and moved toward the little work camp behind Mr. Basteren.

 

As they followed to the waters’s edge Kay stripped off the bloody apron and shirt and and laid them upon the sand. Stepping back into the surf he washed his arms and hands and splashed the seawater over his pale head.

 

“I have a clean shirt in the small trunk beneath the folding desk,” he said, as he returned to firmer sand. “Will you obtain it for me while I set up for the procedure?” 

“I will fetch it,” the captain assured him.  

Cassian Andor was deeply concerned. It occurred to him that though Kay might appear little moved to any other eyes but his own, in all their long partnership, fraught with violence as it had often been, he had never seen his friend so shaken.

 

“Kay…Tim.. are you injured?”

 

“I? No.” his friend looked at him more directly than was his custom, “I placed a portion of the material on a tripod some distance out into the shallows….with an enclosed oiled wick timed with the intention of….We were both to have remained behind the wall…and in what had seemed an over-abundance of caution…but I meant  to observe the first ignition with the aid of a mirror in the event that…….” then shaking  his head as if mortally confused, “….but the boy stood up and must have extended his arm beyond the edge of the wall and….Cassian..Cassian, why would he have done such a thing?”

 

Because he is a boy of ten…. perhaps he was curious, perhaps his hat flew off and he reached for it without thinking….any one of a thousand boyish reasons.

 

“It was an accident, Kay.”

 

“Not wholly,” the man said, his bland expression un-altered but his posture tense with what Cassian recognized as pain. “This is a terrible weapon, truly terrible…”  he continued, shaking his dripping head, “But I clearly underestimated the force and did not account sufficiently for variables. Part of the fault is mine, that conclusion is…..unarguable.”

 

Kay turned away from him and strode swiftly up toward the rough shelter then and Cassian Andor followed.

 

For all the years of their acquaintance he had envied his friends armored spirit. If Kay were, as he sometimes seemed to be, immune to much experience of human companionship and affection, triumph and joy, at least he was spared regret and the shame of guilt. 

 

Welcome to the sinful world mi hermano. I am so sorry.

 

 

By the mercy of God, Arthur remained largely unconscious through most of the proceedings, though Kay assigned Mr. Basteren, Captain Andor and Captain Solo to the tasks of restraint against those involuntary movements and spasms that ensued.

The procedure went as swiftly and cleanly as Captain Andor had ever seen it accomplished. Mr. Kay’s skill was exceptional. 

 

Young Luc Ceil-Marchuer acted as assistant, and he could not fail to find himself  impressed with the sailor’s self-possession. 

 

Mr. Cor, through no stranger to the cruel injuries attendant to explosions was assigned to the simultaneous task of assembling Kay’s notes and equipment and well surveying the damages for whatever clues could be gained. The alarmed officials of Nassau were no doubt on their way to investigate the site even now, though their survey would hopefully be misguided by Captain Rostock’s false representations.  The gruesome and pitiful prospect of catching sight of the swift life-saving actions of a ships surgeon who had happened fortunately to be near the scene would delay the suspicious and curious citizens of Nassau only briefly if at all.

 

 

 

“She did well to include the bottles of spirits,” Mr. Kay intoned as he proceeded quickly with the work of suturing his young patient. 

Captain Andor did not bother to question who he meant by “she.” 

 

“I am aware of the controversy regarding what some criticize as over-scrupulous attention to cleanliness with regard to surgical instruments and procedures but I have always found the Turkish methods to be efficacious, or at least not detrimental. In the absence of boiled water I agree with the learned Mr. Bell that strong clear spirits may have a cleansing effect almost equal to that of good soaps and be less damaging.”

Despite the serious nature of the task he assisted Cassian Andor could not help but be relieved. Kay was clearly returning to himself.

 

 

While young Arthur lay at rest, watched by Kay and Basteren, Captain Andor accompanied Captain Solo and his crewman down to the advancing edge of the tide to wash before assisting Mr. Cor in concealing all the remaining equipment not required for Arthur’s care into their small boat.

 

“Is that your surgeon’s customary style of address?” Solo asked, rolling down his sleeves. 

“Yes,” Andor replied.

“Thank God. Being mad would not, of itself I suppose, preclude a man from performing a successful surgery but it seems more hopeful if the condition is habitual rather than sudden.”

 

Captain Andor ignored the smuggler, and cast his eye instead on the rising waters churning in what looked to be a deep trench newly scoured in the shallow beach. The surf tore away at the smoke blackened sand but even Rostok’s stolid fictions and the scouring mercy of the sea would not wholly hide the evidence of some unnatural event here. The Rogue must sail as swiftly as could be arranged without fanning the already smoldering tow of suspicion. 

 

 

Four small boats could already be seen coming around up the coast out from Nassau port. Two clearly transported authorities of the town, he could spot the glint of sun off their brocade. One at least was manned by their own fellows, recognizable as one of the several other small shore boats carried by the Rogue.

Captain Andor folded the damp and likely ruined black waistcoat over his arm as he watched the boats advance and caught sight of Seaman Maddel and Mr. Porkins as well as, remarkably, Mr.s Imway and Malbus.

 

 

The weather being mild it was suggested that Arthur would be best left unmoved for as long as possible until the danger of shock was past, then carried carefully back, hopefully to recover, back aboard the ship or in town. 

 

Unable to do more for the child, Kay gave extensive and careful instructions to those who would carry the boy by stretcher up to a less exposed portion nearer the harbor’s mouth and remain with him. It was agreed that Casrich and the others would remain with him until morning at least.

Whether the boy would live or die was a matter only days or weeks would reveal.

 

“We will rejoin you before you depart, but there is no need for either of us to attend your discussions of strategy, Captain,” Mr. Imway told Andor, as Maddel and Porkins placed tents up and set a fire to prepare for their night’s watch with their wounded young comrade.  “We know where we must go and how we get there is of no matter.”

 

“Nǐ dàibiǎo wǒ shuōhuà ma?” Malbus queried from behind them where he worked at unloading 

“No, brave heart, I only speak the truth as I know it,” said the blind man with a knowing smile.

Malbus grunted and rolled an eye but only sat himself at the wounded child’s side like a protective lion and said no more.

 

 Hands were shaken all around. 

Chirrut Imway did not release young Luc Ceil-Marchuer’s hand at once but turned it over in his own as if, though sightless, he read the palm in an oracle’s fashion. 

“What is your name, young man?” he asked.  

“Luc, if you please Frère,” the sailor said with properly Catholic humility.

 

They sailed out then, back into the harbor before darkness fell utterly. Six men in a small shallop along with such gear might have made for tight quarters even had one of the men not been Mr. Kay but Solo’s skill clearly was sufficient to the challenge of a loaded boat in poor light. Kay sat in shirtsleeves up near to the mast, silent. Captain Andor positioned himself near to the rudder by Captain Solo

 

“Your pay, in accordance with our renegotiation, waits for you aboard my ship," he said, "in Spanish real as agreed.”

 

Solo, gave a short laugh. “Ik was het bijna vergeten….a first for me, I’ll grant you. Good then. I can pay off the crew and have a good laying-out suit fitted for myself in Nassau town. These English merchants in the provinces pride themselves on their clothes.”

 

“Where will your crew go?” Captain Andor inquired conversationally.

 

“They will go where they can and will. Khaeuri will stay with me, poor heathen, at least through the arrangement of my remains. He has been instructed on all the particulars of my funeral…and a fine show it will be. It is too bad you will miss it but I expect you will be elsewhere by then arranging your own.”

Andor shrugged, “All who live must die and few have any say in how or when. The best any man can hope for is some chance to affect what he dies for.”

 

“Spoken like a missionary of the Alliance faith,” Solo sneered, “and here I had come to think there might be a mortal man beneath that priestly garb.”

 

“If you think any of us, myself especially, angels you are a fool, sir,” Cassian retorted sharply. 

Damn! Tired as he was he had let the bastard get under his skin.

 

The Dutchman’s smile was visible even in the shadow, clearly pleased with his hit.  

“Come Andor, forgive me, some men grow glib beneath the gallows," No doubt that smile had served him as apology for many times in many places, although Andor suspected that even Solo held little faith in it's efficacy anymore, it was mere reflex. "Whatever we may think of each other sir, I respect you as a fellow veteran of the Fall from Eden and I hope you will do me the same courtesy."

He lifted his chin toward the bow where the French youth held the lantern.  "Make your offers. Luc is as good a lad as I have ever seen take a rope for all that we seem to have plucked him from a basket of apples at Marseilles. He looks for a place for his heart to work as well as his hand, I think.  The Leonitus children have fled one army and may desire to put their soldierly virtues to some better cause than the riches of kings. One of them is now a girl sometimes, or so it appears, but that will not bother your more sensible recruiters. Sabe might be a harder sale but that rough-handed auntie carries at least as many secrets as any of you wrapped in those scraps of fine silk, can read and no doubt write in at least six languages though she thinks I do not know it, and could put a dagger between even your skilled ribs I’d wager, were you careless enough to cross her purposes.”

 

“No recuiter, could give a better report Captain Solo. Thank you.”  

Andor came to a conclusion then on a matter that he had passed back and forth in his mind since Kingston. “May I ask about your own plans sir, beyond the advance order of the refreshments for your wake?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they reached the Rogue the moon was up.

 

The first hand that reached down to help him aboard up the ladder was hers.

 

Captain Rostok and the crew generally were informed of Arthur’s condition and it was arranged that a conference of the officers would convene after the dawn watch. 

 

Solo and took his money and agreed to go back to his own ship to consider the Alliance's offer.

 

 

Captain Andor undressed and washed as he could in the confines of his cabin, surprised at the ache in his shoulders, then lay upon his bunk in the dark listening through the murmur of wind and sea and the endless creak of board and rigging for other sounds. 

The sound of the scraping of Kay’s chair upon the boards could be heard even across the cabin. His friends lamp had been lit as soon as the door had closed. Kay would spend the night going over his notes and cleaning and drying his surgeon’s tools.

 

At last, hard upon the bell came the soft and now familiar sound of bare feet at his door and the turning of a handle to open and close again.

 

“You should rest,” she whispered as she slipped into his arms like mercy and relief.

It seemed as if she were unaware of the contrary nature of her words with regard to her actions.

 

“This is rest,” he whispered in turn against her forehead, her lips. 

As he moved her hands with his own he felt the ring upon her finger.

 

Live or die, Kay my old friend, we will neither of us end this journey the men we began it.

 

 

 

It was only later, before dawn when Miss Erso tiptoed away to the other cabin as Captain Andor lay awake for a few moments to gather his thoughts for the day which lay ahead that it came to him to wonder how young Ceil-Marchuer had known that the exotic Imway, dressed as he was in sailor’s garb, had been a monk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


The Residence of the Governor of the British Colony of East Florida

King Street
Port of Saint Augustine

January 8, 1770

 

 

It must have been some half past the tenth hour of night he judged, even without sight of his watch, for he had stood out upon the landing since just after the bell tolled in the eternally unfinished Basilica across the plaza. It was the quietest hour he had spent in a day filled to the very brim with tasks both public and discreet.

Acting Governor John Moultrie gratefully took the hour to stand with his own thoughts on the dark walkway above the courtyard of the former “Casa del gobierno,” and set his gaze west toward the water. The white moon shone down from a clear sky to scatter shards of flickering sliver across the dark water of the Inlet and beyond that upon the black sea herself. 

Even from this sheilded landing it was a fair view. 

By government mandate, the  fabled "Law of the Indies," in each port citiy of New Spain the mansion of the highest Royal officer must perch at a proscribed angle to the plaza below, open to view of and from the sea. Each of the government offices was also by ordained plan laid around the open park and placed at a pleasing and optimal distance determined to maximize air and light, diminish noise of the marketplace, facilitate commerce and increase the ineffable sense of Spain's wisdom, rationality and most importantly power.

It strove for the additional virtue of humbling the non-Iberian mind, he considered, and making other cities feel rather untidily haphazard.

Leave it to Spain to find a way to make even beauty slightly oppressive......Ah well, the breeze was pleasant.

The city of St. Augustine lay mostly shrouded in darkness to his leftward view, as did the ships moored at the inlet upon his right. Only a small gleam of candle here and there showed some scribbling secretary at work upon an upper story in the offices beyond, or some lamp of a sailor or watchman at work in the town streets or on the docks.

 

Behind his back, within the well lit upper floors of the house servants were still awake and awork. Amidst the sound of moving crates and furniture, his housekeeper Mrs. Jita could be heard swearing heartily as she went over the house lists and accounts for the fortieth time.

“Amilyn!” he could hear her shout, “There are supposed to be twenty-four silver plates here…twenty-bloody-four! Count again!”

Poor woman. His predecessor the Honorable James Grant, until lately governor of this British Colony of East Florida had, it seemed, reinforced his reputation as a particularly acquisitive fellow by relieving the house of anything that struck his fancy before his removal back to England. Apparently his fancy had included everything from bed-hangings, and silver plate to the pressed brass handles of numerous linen chests.


This petty theft amused rather than troubled the new Governor. He had more pressing worries with regard to his new-won station.


Chiefly, how much time did he have to take advantage of it?

The false identity of “Dr. James Moultrie”, physician to the corpulent previous Governor Mr. James Grant had held water seamlessly these last three years and now proved successful well beyond the Alliance’s short term expectations. Governor Grant’s intemperances had rendered the tinctures that facsimiled the ravages of gout successful months earlier than predicted, precipitating a voluntary removal by that gentleman back to his beloved England and placing his former doctor at a temporary pinnacle of authority. Though it was only a matter of time before London dispatched another official events in the Americas were in such political tumult that he might well be able to remain covert in the position for a year, perhaps even two.

Yet this success might have come too soon, for now the situation in East Florida had grown so suddenly fraught that he could have wished the old libertine to have held on a few weeks longer. As the newly installed Governor Moultrie could hardly move about unnoticed much less leave the city without drawing comment. To rectify this situation and enable him greater freedom of movement he had sent for his brother, last known to have been still in the Carolinas, but there was no way to know if "Thomas" had even received the message yet. He might arrive within a day or two or not yet for a month.

Events were moving more swiftly than communications could serve and without the aid of his double he was held as firmly as if chained. 

Weeks ago a fast sloop marked by the Alliance had appeared at the harbor sent from England with messages ordering him to gather whatever information could be obtained regarding the secretive New Smyrna venture and hold it. Though uninformed of his “promotion,” the Council instructed him nevertheless to provide all necessary aid to an identified Alliance officer who would appear sometime between the end of December and Twelfth Night.

Tarkin’s venture on the coast was more dangerous than previously conjectured, far more dangerous.

Much to the new Governor’s annoyance the saucy captain of the sloop had refused to wait even a day for him to ready another ship to accompany him but headed straight out to carry further orders to operatives set to arrive in Jamaica.

 

 

 

 


Even as he considered whether his position was concealed enough to allow the indulgence of a pipe, the Acting Governor of East Florida became aware of a movement on the darkened stairway to his right.

His guard had been positioned as in the courtyard below, but “Dr. Moultrie”s hand moved by reflex to the sword at his side.

Mr. Highsinger, his secretary, appeared at the top of the stair with a lantern in hand, which was quickly doused upon the Governor’s nod of recognition and replacement of his blade. A figure then stepped from the shadow behind and threw back the hood of a light cloak.

Through the figure was dressed in the breeches, jacket and shirt of British Naval pilot, the Governor recognized the visitor as a woman well known to him.

“What is it Bay?” the Governor asked, “Where is Casrich?”

“The Lieutenant comes as soon as he may change ships and coats,” the pilot said. “He sent me up alone in the single masted sloop to report urgently. Upon departing the plantation at the Mosquito we encountered an enemy frigate off the coast. Rather than risk being seen he sent the Lady Tantive down toward the southern coastal settlements as a decoy.”

The young pilot handed him a document case. The papers within were sealed with the mark of the Crown. Further concealed within the false lining of the case he knew wto expect another thinner sheet, this one sealed with the mark of the Starbird.

Bay was sharp, quick, dark of eye, and a bolder sailor than he had seldom seen, despite her years and sex.

Therefore the faint tremor in the hand that passed him the leather pouch….upon the word “frigate”....struck him at once. The night was not cold to cause such trembling, however brief.

Casrich’s mission was well-disguised, and his movements unquestionable. Why such caution with regard to being seen?

“An enemy frigate you say? What colors does she fly? Is the ship known to us?”

Even in the poor light it seemed to him the girl paled, but after an instants hesitation gathered herself to answer firmly, “Aye sir. She flew British colors but Captain Dreis identified her as the Devastador."

Gesù Cristo in armatura…Vader? Here? What the hell was happening at that indigo plantation?

“Are you certain you passed them unseen?” he asked and was treated the confident flash of a smile that belied the careful humility of the voice that answered.

“Aye sir, I do earnestly believe I did.”

God, he felt old….something he had in all honesty never thought to experience.

“Good," he said, “you are dismissed then. Find your husband, he is still at the house on Aviles Street Take what time you can but tell him I will send him to Fort Mantazas tomorrow night.”

Naval Officer Shara Bay saluted and turned to depart with a swiftness just this side of insubordination.

The new Governor then returned within doors. First dismissing his secretary and then as he passed through the public rooms ordering Mrs. Jita and the exhausted servants to bed as if by Royal decree….which, it occurred to him he now had some actual authority to do.

 

 

 

At the mahogany desk in his private apartments he lit three candles and, sitting back in the well-made chair, drew from a drawer the older message in cypher that the abrasive Captain Han Solo had brought him a fortnight before, unfolding it to lie beside the new missives and maps that Bay had brought from Casrich outlining the horrors newly observed at New Syrmna.

 


He re-read the older letter first.

 

September 6, 1769

Captain Fetta.

Tarkin’s venture in East Florida has proved neither a moneymaking venture, nor base for movement for or against the interests of Spain or England. It is confirmed now to be a manufactory for a weapon of extreme hazard. If possible obtain additional information through Grant but do not risk exposure. If you or your agents have opportunity reconnoiter but approach the plantation only with extreme caution. If in doubt forbear. A mission is being sent commanded by Captain Cassian Andor. He will contact agents in Kingston for late orders and may move to you directly or by messenger. Andor is commissioned to act on his own authority in this matter but should he fail to arrive or contact you by January 30, remove your people directly to Fort Carolyn and wait for further orders. This venture supersedes all others.

Mr. David Draven
Tavin Park.

Below sat an elegant signature and a seal in gold wax.

Sanctioned by the Authority of the Alliance Council
Lady Mary Monmouth

 


Cassian Andor was known to him slightly. An almost unnaturally self-possessed young man, skilled spy and assassin of last resort….the sort of weapon one drew when one’s back was well and truly pressed to the wall.

Cristo..... “This venture supersedes all others.” Those words struck him most forcefully for Mr. Draven he knew to be a cool fellow, not given to hyperbole.

Fetta was here being ordered to potentially abandon a mission eight years in the building.


He had at once upon the receipt of these orders dispatched an "envoy" to the coastal settlements, an action that would be fully expected of a new Governor. Given the British devotion to both endless documentation and clerical order in the transfer of powers no better cover occasion to surveil the secretive plantation was likely to present itself. Casrich was an astute and likely young agent with a face other men promptly forgot after seeing it, a priceless virtue.

A day before he’d dispatched the Lady Tantive however another message arrived at the the town docks by way of a small fishing packet from the Bahamas. A boy aboard had gone directly to Aviles Street and delivered a letter personally in to the hand of Mr. Kesare Dameron. He knew this only because Dameron had brought it to him. The young merchant was one of the few Spanish householders to remain in the city after it’s trade to the British. The Crown authorities credulous belief in the transformative power of a rote renunciation of the Catholic faith and a Protestant "baptism" enabled the man his freedom and acceptance as a citizen of the re-nationed colony. Grant had been so impressed with the strapping fellow as to recommend him as a trusted British sympathizer.

Spain of course believed the young man to still be their agent. In truth Kesare Dameron had served as a soldier of the Alliance since his boyhood in the hills of Puerto Rico.

"Que se celebrará por la mano o el representante aceptado del Sr. Galen Erso" could be read upon the outer envelope. Within lay another smaller note, sealed and inscribed in a woman's hand.

"What does it say?" he had asked Mr. Dameron, but young Spaniard's eyes had only widened.

"I have not read it sir," he said with utter straightforwardness. "It is sealed."

Bless the boy. How had he lived this long?

With a cynical sigh, Acting Governor James Moultrie, known once as Mr. Rex Fetta, carefully opened the note and read the small neat lettering that conveyed a daughters fierce and desperate message of redemption to her lost father.

Surely this did not follow as some feint of a famously careful agent. What was Andor up to? Why had he passed such a dangerous object on without alteration or instruction?

Instinct told him to burn it. Wisdom told him to keep it safe at the fort until Andor's arrival or until some other information appeared to clarify its purpose.


Instead, for reasons he could not articulate even to himself, he dismissed the sturdy, brave and shocked Mr. Dameron, resealed the small note and took the paper down to where the Lady Tantive made ready to sail. Placing the missive in Lt. Casrich's hand he instructed the young officer, "Use your own discretion, if you see the man and deem the situation secure, pass it on. If not, return with it. If compromised destroy it at once."

 

Had he done wrongly? God forgive him he could not say.

Mr. Galen Erso's name had appeared only once or twice in the patently false records of budgetary reports pertaining to the New Symrna Colony but never in conjunction with Tarkin's. The mention of a Turkish messenger gave the letter credence and corresponded most exactly to the rumors of cruel execution of the escapees from the plantation over the years, such as would birth the notion that the people held therein might seek aid through desperate means. Even the mention of the death of Gerrere rang true for  smugglers detained at Bridgetown most recently had been reported wearing black armbands as if in mourning.

Yet all these rationalizations came to him later. It was emotion that made him place Miss Jane Erso's letter in the Lieutenant's hand.

Now it seemed that even the wooden young Casrich's heart had been moved, for amidst the details regarding the condition of the plantation ("we were not allowed further back than the waterfront camp but indications are of a vast expansion inland even to the Duncan allotments and more") the workers seen ("half-starved wretches") and unseen ("...even so assuming, surely no more than 600 of the Mediterraneans remaining....of the Africans tragically nearly all missing and likely dead....) the lists of guards and musket estimated, schooners at anchor, tonnage of material that might or might not be indigo packed and warehoused for shipment, came his recounting of a risk taken.

"Being painfully unable to do more and fearing under the circumstances to press, for this Krennik seemed a man both cruel and observant to any unexpected action we made ready to depart. I took it upon my own authority to pass the letter you had given me to Mr. Galen Erso. I must admit that I was moved largely on impulse for tho' no opportunity presented to speak with the gentleman privately his demeanor and condition as well as the manner with which Director Krennik seemed to address him made me feel assured that he was more prisoner than participant. I am certain that my action was unseen but can only pray that I have not given the enemy warning by so doing." Casrich ended his mostly dispassionate report with an almost plaintive question to himself as his commander, "I hope I did right sir?"

What have we in the Alliance but hope? Fetta thought. And if we cease to believe in it, or forbear to share it with the desperate has the Darkness not already descended? What do we become then?


The Governor remained reading and pouring over maps for some hours longer, then said his prayers and lay down upon the well-curtained bed only half-undressed as remained his soldiers habit when unwatched and uncompanied.

 


Upon awakening with the early light of dawn he sensed at once that he was not alone in the room and reached by reflex for the concealed knife, then quickly stopped his hand. The shape of the shadowed figure resting in the chair by the gauze-curtained window as not one that he could mistake.

Once there had been three of them, now there were only two, but when a man does not recognize his own face then he is truly lost.

"Codomo," he said, more moved than he had thought to be.

"O perché così sorpreso vecchio?" his brother laughed, as gruff as ever, "Pensavi che non sarei venuto?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boy Luc stood at the bow as they brought the sloop up the inlet north against the current on the Greater Matanzas. Having so far hugged the shore of Anastasia Island in the dying light of afternoon they now trusted the cunning sails of the Falcon to bring them quick across. The plan had been to come up within reach of the little channel island fort that guarded the narrow passage while the light was dim enough for some concealment but not yet so dark as to risk grounding them. 

The French youth frowned as if considering something, “The name.. “Matanzas” …it means “le matin”? Morning?”

“No,” Captain Andor said leaning against the rail with a spyglass in hand, his eye upon the shore, “Cela signifie des massacres. “La Matanzas” meaning slaughters, killings, the shedding of blood.”

A distressed look crossed the boys face. 

“Pourquoi…” he asked then shook his head, determined to work on his English, and amended the inquiry, “Why?”

Cassian Andor suppressed a smile, remembering another boy…not much younger than this one… struggling to master languages in the midst of events that required them. Best not to tell him that this little channel island itself was marked "el crótalo," or "Rattlesnake" on some charts.

 

“The event commemorated was not a recent one,” the captain answered with a shrug. “Some two hundred years ago, in the days when the Americas poured gold like a proper fountain up the great current yonder,  Spain and France both contended for this section of the coast, the one for defense of that mighty stream and the other as a base to siphon a share from it. In the midst of their bloody contention it is said that a Spanish commander, one Menéndez de Avilés, came upon a band of French sailors and colonists whose ships had been beached and broken by a mighty storm. In the businesslike fashion of the times he accepted their surrender with full ceremony and then murdered them to a man and hung their corpses in the trees.” 

 

Ciel-Marcheur raised an eyebrow, boy enough to resent Captain Andor’s test of him with such tale, man enough to half-reason the officer’s purpose in telling it. 

Good.

 

For all the youth’s unguarded expression and rural accent, his nerve seemed firm enough. He must be hardier than he looked at any rate, it being most unlikely that a mere sense of adventure had sent him to sea. Even had the tragedies of the Bishops Wars somehow spared whatever part of ….Auvergne? the Monts du Cantal?….the youth came from, he had no doubt seen corpses aplenty venturing the West Indies for a year in Solo’s company. Moreover Kay had drafted him as apprentice surgeon without hesitation and though Kay was a poor judge of human frailty in many capacities he was seldom wrong in his assessment of a steady hand. 

All this of course lay aside the mystery of the court-bred lady. She whose weather-beaten hands now braided scraps of orange silk that must have once cost the worth of a racing stallion into Pyreneean knots and watched over a French Alpine farm boy like a broody hen while casting Andor as the hawk.

 

“Aye Luc,” Captain Solo ventured as he moved forward, having yielded his place at the tiller to Rook and Khaeuri, “And that charming antique fable presents a moral to warn all Frenchmen against placing trust in Spaniards.”

Captain Andor let the jibe pass like a breeze.

“Two hundred years is a long time to bear any grudge and like most orphans of the Americas, I cannot venture to guess whether the majority of my forefathers tied the ropes or hung from them.” Spying the shallow sand bar he sought the captain closed up the glass, “Both, I expect, but I can answer in God’s present daylight only for myself and assure you that should the men of Carlos III find me under any of a half dozen names I would dangle of a certainty.”

And that was as much of the precious truth as Cassian Andor intended to barter for a Dutchman’s usefulness and a French youth’s promise.

 

He pointed to the shallow landing bar, just visible as the river’s tide reached it’s lowest point. “There,” he said, handing the glass to Solo, “Bring us up there and we can make our way to the Fort on foot across the beach.”

 

The solid white-washed stone of the small fortress, more of a watchtower in fact, stood on the grassy shore some half mile from them in the fading light, hard upon the channels inner shore

 

“If it is your intention to go south as we did sir you had best hope that she is still unmanned.” 

 

“You have stated again and again,” Jen spoke up from her seat near the mast, "that you marked the Fort as empty when you passed down from St. Augustine, Captain Solo, yet you have remained vague as to how you determined it's state.”

Once again in sailor’s garb with her chestnut hair bound in a scarf she had sat quietly enough until now

At least she had stopped calling the man rude names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rogues Venture lay at anchor outside the inlet, trim brig though she was she could not venture through these passages. Further, this reconnaissance required a smaller vessel and fewer hands set at risk. Much depended on the situation they found at the entrance to the inland waterways. Solo's account of his passage weeks ago here raised a question that must be answered.  

 

So it was they brought had a crew of seven in on the borrowed Falcon:

Himself in tense but workable command.

Solo who alone had already mapped some part of their way and in any case would never have left his “mistress" in another man’s care.

Brave Mr. Rook, who would not forsake his quest so near its end and as a skilled pilot hoped to refresh his knowledge of the waters hereabouts directly from Solo’s maps and tutelage to further the next step of their venture.

The boy Luc was brought not only because his were the keen eyes had marked the message left in the form of the box of explosive but because, by Solo’s admission, it was he who had picked a course through the labyrinthine meanders and creeks of the Matanzas and the Halifax, now swollen by the winter rains,  that had enabled them to work inland around the dreadful plantation. 

Mr. Core who attended for reason of his technical skills and gunnery.

Lastly, Miss Erso, ostensibly for her knowledge of the nature of the swamps hereabout, having travelled the rivers further north with Commander Saul Gerrere’s band, though were the truth told, he would have had to tie her to the Rogue’s mast under guard to have prevented her company and that he could not do.

Up these waters lay his mission and sworn duty, but for her they led as well to revenge, which he did not grudge her, and  a hope of redemption.

Moreover he had given her his word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he found Miss Erso in the gunroom armory of the Rogue, after his conclusion of arrangements of departure with Captain Solo, she had already chosen for herself a pistol, and an oiled pouch for cartridge, powder and flints.  She had been trying the stored blades for a cutlass of length and weight suitable to her arm and upon finding one that satisfied her belted it in the scabbard low and a little front forward in the pirates fashion, with but a thin lace tying to her right thigh.

His time since that urgent conference of officers and principals upon their swift departure from Nassau had been taken up by argument with Mr. Kay, a confrontation with Solo’s crew-woman Sabe and numerous other arrangements. He had had no real occasion to speak with her privately before meeting her as she turned to face him below the open rack of weapons. 

Perhaps that was why she addressed him plainly there, allowing no time for discussion or even admittance that such might be needed, only saying, “I require your word, sir.”

“Upon what?” he asked, knowing better than to prevaricate long when fixed with those fierce green eyes. 

“That there shall be no nonsense in this matter. I need your sworn oath here and now that every step you take toward this place, toward my father, I will go with you.”

 

“..a full partner in this endeavor and to be both apprised and held responsible as such..” Had he not told her weeks before, when he and the world were different? Miss Jane Erso but held him to his own words. 

 

Ah, and she knew well what she asked for.  Who else knew, if not all that he had done, at least all that he had become in order to do it? A liar foresworn ten thousand times over, a murderer and a betrayer of some in order to save yet others, a bastard boy become a grown assassin  who had again and again walked away from that he wished to God he could forget in order to further the cause he believed in.

Of a sudden an off-hand line from some witty comedic play came to him to him with a laughable incongruity.

 

He had accompanied Lady Mary and Mr. Draven to a series of plays in at the Theatre Royal, Druy Lane in London, chiefly as go-between the Alliance and an Irish agent who was actor in the company, one Charles Macklin. He had seen little of the action on stage, the artificiality of theatricals always annoyed him in any case, but he had much admired the flow of the language as he stood in the darkened wings..... “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.”

 

 

“What would you have me swear by, Miss Erso?” to some hearer off the stage the line might have sounded lightly spoken, but she knew better. She was ready.

 

“By lamps lit and unlit. By fire and dark nights. By letters lost still unread, painted charts torn to shreds and little girls without names. By false garments worn true.”

 

¡Ante Dios! ¿Hubo alguna vez tal mujer?

No quarter asked and none given.

 

 

 

They stood in privacy for a moment within the gunroom, though by doors open to the lower decks on one side and the junior officers cabins on the other they could hear the movements of the crew.

Second Gunner Timker was shouting out to Seaman Calfour and Kanata could be heard up the ladder arguing with Mr. Decks.

Reaching a hand toward the collar of her sailor’s smock, his fingers displaced the plain linen and blue scarf to brush the skin beneath. It seemed to Captain Andor that her heart beat fast but even so she stood without moving, eyes fixed still upon his face, while he found the cord about her neck and lifted the little charm it bound.

The gold ring he had returned to her the day before lay threaded alongside her little wooden cross with its core of India stone.

 

Captain Andor understood now the glance of keen pity that Captain Hera Syndalla had cast toward them in Kingston when she thought he did not see. 

Did he have the strength to risk that she should die in front of him? He had not had enough in Portugal even before he knew he loved her.

Somehow he would have to find it now.

 

“Enough,” he said, “I am engaged… todo el camino.” Letting the rough necklace fall back, he bowed slightly in salute, “You have my word by all these things and more.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A number of clues recommended themselves to even my untrained eye,” Solo answered, “No flag of any nation flew from the tower though dawn was well up.  The morn was cold yet there was no smoke or light of fire visible from the Castillo’s little child-fort yonder. Those five six-pound cannon visible from the platform were not set forward to face the seaward channel and placed to cut apart any boat bold enough to attempt passage beneath them, as you can perceive they are now, but rolled haphazardly back….and then there were the alligators gathered on the near shore in argument about…”

 

“Kati te whakakake. Korero ki te wahine kamakama mo nga tinana," called the Mate up from the stern. 

 

“Who is telling this story, sir? You or myself? Captain Solo snarled, much offended.

 

“We stand but fourteen miles from the Castillo de San Marco and St. Augustine,” Captain Andor said. “A flag of distress flown from the walls here is easy visible from her walls. Even in times of expected calm in these waters a supply boat comes every three to four weeks. How well did it seem to you that those alligators were dining Captain Solo?”

 

“Two men, perhaps three, English to judge by the scarlet of the rags ….”  

 

 Mr. Core spoke up, “This defense must be manned by six to eight at all times to serve it's purpose, such cannon in that arrangement being impossible to manage otherwise.” 

 

 

The red, white and blue of the British flag flew now from the round corner tower in the last rays of sunlight. A thin stream of smoke rose from the topmost platform.  Fort Matanzas was manned and not, it seemed, by the ghosts of long forgotten betrayals. A figure in a scarlet coat could be seen on the platform raising a spyglass toward them.

A chance must be taken. 

 

“Jen,” Captain Andor said, “Raise the colors.”

 

Luc tossed her a bag from the stern and Miss Erso climbed the single small mast swiftly and surely. From the top she loosed a flag of white on which a painted emblem in red portrayed a bird with wings spread wide. The breeze from the sea unfurled it plainly in the last gleam of daylight for but a moment before she pulled it down.

 

Up on the watchtower the darkening figure moved, perhaps to raise a hand and the English colors began to lower, then paused in their descent to raise slightly again…a signal of tribute….before being drawn down properly to mark the daylight's end.  

 

Mr. Core lit one lantern for himself and young Luc lit another which he passed to Miss Erso when her feet reached the deck again.

 

The tide had receded sufficiently so that they would scarcely wet their boots in climbing ashore. 

 

“Mr. Ciel-Marcheur, Mr. Rook, Khaeuri, stay with ship. If we have not returned by dawn get back to the Rogue and report to Mr. Melshi.” 

 

The cannibal Mate looked to Solo for confirmation of the order and upon the Dutchman’s nod secured the tiller and began to spread the tarps.

 

“Who do you expect to meet?” Solo asked.

 

“We shall see.” Captain Andor said, and the four of them walked up the beach of that tiny island toward the tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Upon the rolling sound of the explosion the brigantines crew had begun to scatter and move with admirable efficiency. 

 

A odd thought had come to her then. 

What sort of ship allots stations and drills of action set in advance to proceed from the random sounding of hellfire? This was an Aliança ship and crew, down to her very boards, it seemed, a fact they had made no attempt to conceal from the Falcon’s crew.  

 

Luc and the Captain having gone out with the Spanish assassin and another man, the English-accented African gunner, in the little borrowed transit boat, the only options open to herself, Khaeuri, Zaccarie and Darian now were to swim to the Falcon alone or to wait here for their return.  

 

 

 

 “Zia Sabé,” Zaccarie asked, for so they called her, “where should we go?” 

Poor thing, he remained a soldier in his heart and longed for the comfort and order inherent in hierarchy. She understood the impulse though she had learned long ago to distrust it. By rights they should have asked Khaueri anyway as he was the more senior but none but save Solo could understand his speech. 

 As it was the heathen merely shrugged, a gesture Sabé recognized as his usual abdication of responsibility with regard to any mad act of Captain Solo’s. 

 

Besides, had Solo not all but dismissed them? Did they not merely stand waiting for their pay? It was most confusing. 

 

Her private impulse would have been to stand watch until Luc at least returned, but the deck was too crowded with activity in which they had no part.

Of a sudden, Sabé felt a hand laid upon her arm and turned to find a strange man at her side. 

 

He has of good but not exceptional height, bare-headed with close-cropped black hair peppered with grey, tanned and strong of jaw but with small features and a pleasant expression. Like most others around them his clothing was that of a common mariner being a short grey jacket with turn-back cuffs, a pair of wide linen breeches, a dark blue hempen shirt and red neck-tie. 

 

“Honored lady,” the fellow said, “Come with me if you will. I will show you a place where you can wait for your friends.”  Unable to fashion a better option she could only nod and the man led them surely up toward a place just past the foremast, a gap beside the bowsprit where they might at least sit upon some lashed bundles. He did this while dodging and weaving most confidently among his fellow crewmen and around various obstacles, all  despite the silver caul that marred his eyes. 

 

The man must be quite blind. 

 

Sabé thought for the first time in long years of her own grandfather and how he had walked his flocks and dog in the hills above the Mondenego with utter surety in each step even after his sight had dimmed so that he could not tell day from night.

 

Darian and her brother wedged against the rail to speak quietly together in their country Italian, while Khaeuri leaned himself against the mast standing and looked out across the tide thoughtfully chewing on one of the several rolls he had pocketed at dinner, presumably to await like a pillar the return of his captain.

 

Seating herself upon a lashed roll of sail she was surprised when the blind man took care to seat himself beside her. 

 

“Noble born,” he said gently, as if concerned not to offend, “What can you tell me of him?”

 

She felt then as if a hand touched her very heart. Not a cold sensation, as she had sometimes felt in dark days long ago  but still an unwelcome one. 

Who are you, blind man, and how did you come here? she wondered.

 

“I am by no measure noble born,” she said. 

Best to let him know at once that he was not so clever as he thought he was. None of these tricksters ever were. 

“I was a shepherd’s granddaughter and now I am but a sailor in a smuggler’s crew.” 

 

The man smiled and nodded as if not disappointed but pleased.  "I too have been many things.  A woodcutter’s son who could find his way to the well only by means of a knotted rope his mother strung to help him measure the steps, a beggar boy, and a robed Guardian of the Temple of  Jǐngjiào bēi, seeking to serve the Truth of God, to be one with the Universal Light because the Light within was the only one that would never desert him. Afterward, when the temple I served and all things and people I treasured save one burned to ash around me I found that rope again in my hand and, not unlike yourself I followed the path measured out for me, to this ship and this dreadful foreign shore. I am, faithful sister, the last of my kind save one as you are the last save one of yours but because we pass each other on the road and I seek comfort in the story of another’s hope, I ask you who is he and why does he seem like a bell about to be rung to mark a change of Watch, or a lamp waiting to be lit against some approaching night?”

 

Seek no comfort in my tale, foreigner, she thought.

 

“Are you a Jesuit?” she asked. “Do you serve the Orders or Rome?”

 

“No, no,” the man laughed as if amused. “My order was ancient but it is only a memory now. The sage Jingjing brought its texts from Daqin, as the Empire of Rome was called then, though we parted ways of thought and doing with our brethren of the West so long ago that it seems they have all forgotten us, consumed as they have been in their own battles. Their skill is real and great but this seems to have strengthened a false belief that theirs was the one true path.”

 

“Aye, you are right in that at least, woodcutter’s child,” Sabé said making no effort to conceal the bitterness in her voice. Why should she? If he understood so much already she would not diminish the sacrifice of her sisters by feigning, “Your blindness is nothing compared to theirs.”

 

The strange man nodded, “Tell me only this then, shepherd’s granddaughter,” he said, “Since we are both wanderers who will die far from the place we were born, is he your son? What is the darkness that searches for him and presses close even as we speak here?”

 

Who the Orders chose to mark as heretics had ceased to matter to her long ago. Sabé judged men by their deeds and so she answered him with as equal an honesty as he addressed her.

 

“I love him, but he is not my own child. He is the son of the bravest of women and a man who was offered the affection of a noble heart but became consumed by fear...perhaps of it's loss. Fear of loss turned in time to jealousy, defiling the free gift it claimed to treasure by treating love as a thing to be hoarded by greed and defended by cruelty and power. The pain of that self-caused defilement turned jealousy to anger and anger to hate.”

 

The strange man closed his clouded eyes and bowed his head, as if in sorrow or prayer. “And Hate, in the end, always becomes a sword for the the Devil’s hand," he said.

 

“Then I have answered one of your questions and you have answered the second for yourself.”  

 

The blind man reached a hand out gropingly to lay upon the mast and used it to help himself stand. 

“I must leave you now," he said, bowing, “my dear companion and I must help a child who lies grievously wounded on the shore. Perhaps we shall speak again honored lady or perhaps not for clouds gather as the storm builds,” he held out his hand palm up with the courtesy of a courtier. When she laid her fingers upon it he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it in a curiously European gesture. “I have known princesses and queens, great dowagers and ladies of wealth and rank to wear the silks of fair Suzhou but none, I assure you none to greater honor than you have done.”

 

Sabé heard a rough cough and looked up to see a swarthy bearded man standing by the rail with muscled arms folded.  

“We are called to go. The little boat waits on you, Lǎo shǎguā, are you done flirting with the foreign women yet?”

 

The wandering monk laughed heartily at this and saying no more departed with his friend. 

Other dinghies were being sent out to accompany the sloops of men from Nassau-town going to investigate the occurrence on the far beaches.

 

While Sabé sat considering these words she looked up to see that the twins at the bowsprit now sat against the rail, heads together, dozing. The children were clearly unused to the fine wines of the dinner. Khaeuri in turn stood stone-still after the fashion of an exotic figurehead, his back still against the mast. 

If he had listened or understood any of her conversation with the blind man he gave no sign.

 

Hours passed and sun had settled very low when the Mate moved at last to point a finger curled and patterned with dark ink up toward the opening of the harbor. 

“Ka hoki te rangatira,” 

She went with him then to stand by the rail with others of the crew, for the watch on the mast had also called out that the captains were returning at last.

 

 

Five men came aboard looking badly shaken....even that phlegmatic English giant which seemed most unsettling for reasons she could not put words to.....all with shirts damp with water and bloodstains only partly washed out.

 

The pirate maid had changed from that fine green gown to dress again in sailors blue jacket and breeches. 

She waited for her lover and the Spanish officer reached for her hand with the look of a weary soldier returned to his sweetheart. 

It was an alarmingly open countenance for one clearly so practiced at deception.  

 

Solo, glanced to Sabé and Khaeuri as he climbed up, shaking his head. “A bad business,” he muttered as he followed the one who called himself Andor and his warrior angel toward the upper decks. 

 

It was her prince who seemed most changed when he reached the top of the ladder. She had seen him in many moods both bright and dark over the last year at sea, lost and grieving  in Marseilles, bone-weary aboard the Falcon on the crossing, angry in the inhuman ports of the Caribbean, frightened in the skirting of that dreadful plantation but this was a new expression to her.

 

It was a look of resolve, as of some considered adult determination newly set upon a young face.

 

So many times she had looked and seen only his mother in his features  but now as Khaeuri clapped a heavy companionable hand upon the boy’s shoulder and he nodded to her with a faint smile of reassurance....n ow for the first time Sabé saw his father. Only as a shadow, in the set of brow and jaw, yet the recognition made her blood run cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The journey to Lisbon from Madrid had proved fraught with danger from all sides, Pombal’s men already had made arrangements to disrupt the wedding and thereby the treaty. Rome, then seeking both intelligence and evidence against Pombal and his allies had insisted upon assigning their own escort in the form of the renowned diplomat Bishop Kenobi and a “secretary” who would act as the Infanta’s confessor and translator.  “Adalwen Himmelsläufer” the Bishop had introduced him, “my trusted brother and deacon.”   

A tall blond youth, princely even in his simple clerical garb, had bowed before her lady.  

“Addie?” the Infanta Mariana had cried in delight and the handsome cleric had flushed with a boy's embarrassment as he stood. 

 Only then had Sabéna recognized the name, for she would never have recognized the man. 

 

 

Five years before when the Duke of Bourbon had sabotaged the attempted French treaty they had fled assassins in the mountains, dressing the Infanta in the gowns of a Handmaiden for safety while Sabé herself had put on the robes of the Infanta. They escaped ambush but found themselves cornered at the Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou and in desperation had sought aid from the Order.

That famous and respected warrior-ascetic Bishop Ginna arrived days later under pretense of a journey to the border to negotiate some trade dispute, Kenobi then a common priest had attended as his secretary and as their only servant they were accompanied by a ragged waif named “Addie” who spoke German and a little broken French and Latin. This angelic and sweet-mannered child had quickly become a pet of them all during the siege and the difficult journey of escape that followed but attached himself most firmly to “Pamela.” His slight stature and country bluntness made him at twelve seem so much younger than themselves, girls who had at fourteen already been trained and tried in combat and all the skills of court. 

Oh how surprised the little boy had been when they reached Madrid and it was revealed that the “Princess” was in fact the Handmaiden and that his adored playfellow “Pamela” was the Royal Infanta of Spain.

 

Now the former apprentice was attached to the Royal household as confessor and escort. The servant boy had grown now to a handsome and accomplished young man, bold, determined, clever and as keen a swordsman as any of them had ever seen. 

His was a rising star within the Order and set soon to move out of Kenobi’s indulgent shadow, it was said, being much favored by His Holiness.  

 

Yet he was still “Addie” to her lady, marked at first with the favor of a childhood friend but as one year passed and then another in that treacherous Lisbon where danger lay behind every corner and in the draining confinement that followed the arranged marriage....to an older man she respected but hardly knew..... he became more. 

 

Having been wise and politic beyond her years since girlhood she stumbled now loving that boy more than reason, convinced that she could find a way to conceal their affair.

 

“Sus ojos no me vieron primero como un premio de la política,” she said simply, “¿Qué otro hombre puede verme así?” 

He had adored her first as “Pamela” she believed and do we not all long to be loved for who we are within and not for the shape into which the knives of the world will carve us?  

They were only Handmaidens. She was Princess and then Queen. Their duty was to defend her upon whatever path she followed. 

 

 

 

Perhaps Queen Mariana deceived herself or, clever as she was perhaps she could truly have managed a way for them to be happy and together in some private way.

The King was though gone for months at a time fighting battles on the frontier, rumored to be an indulgent and practical man. Forced into a politic marriage himself he had spoken frankly and with some sympathy to his young bride in the days before and after the public ceremony. Rei Juan had his own "previous arrangements," and the Queen felt sure that he would countenance any plan that preserved the treaty with Spain and denied the Marquis de Pombal a chink in the royal armor. 

Thus hopeful she retired to her private apartments in her favored monastery with her ladies for a period of "meditation and prayer" during another of the Kings long absences and prepared for the birth of her child.  

 

What had happened? Where had the madness come from? Sabé had never known.

The Queen grew silent as her belly swelled. Sent them all away to weep in her chamber alone after secret visits and burned letters.  Her beloved it seemed was not content with an "arrangement." 

Nobles or priests, wizards or soldiers, some men it seemed must have all or nothing. Must destroy a treasure rather than share the smallest part of it.

However it came about, the Devil had found a sword in the heart of Father Adalwen.

 

 

Teckla fell alone defending their lady in the chamber that day as the rest of them were distracted by the melee at the doors.  

 

When masked men in black stormed the apartments and they had at first taken them for Pombal’s men or Bourbon’s. 

 

How one had gurgled through his crushed windpipe. Raising a heavy blade to strike at Eirtaé, the assassin had not perceived that her turn was only a feint to set him in line for the blow from Sabé’s short pike. 

“Meninas,” he had coughed as he fell, eyes wide almost in surprise.  

Aye, devil, she had thought with satisfaction,”little girls” indeed.

 

But Pombal's men would have known better.

It was their first clue that the assault at the doors was only a distraction. 

 

 

The pictures would never leave her.

Her lady great with child crawling from the bloody chamber. 

 

Teckla dead inside the door, cut shoulder to heart.

 

The once-handsome man his smoking black cloak thrown back now, bleeding from the wound brave Teckla had struck, face bleeding and armor and clothing slick with oil from the crystal lamp her Queen had broken across his face. 

 

Bishop Kenobi arriving too late, sword in hand, blade drawn against his former student, both men bellowing curses in Latin and other arcane tongues. 

 

Her sisters pulling the Queen to safety. 

 

The heavy wax candle and the arch of her arm as she flung it at the unrecognizable beast before her, once a boy she had called friend, whose tears she had dried with the hem of her apron.

 

Kenobi's face as he closed the door upon a shrieking man in flames and lifted the unconscious Queen to help them bear her swiftly away.

 

They hung in procession in her mind still and she walked them in her dreams like the stations of the cross in that village church at Tournemere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Solo finally returned it was with a heavy leather purse. By the aid of a lantern they returned to the Falcon in a little borrowed rowboat to count out their handsome wages in silver real and wait out the hours until dawn.

 

 

"Sabé," Luc said, as they sat on the deck under the moon. "They serve no nation or company, nor are they pirates. They call themselves the Alliance." 

 

"Aye," she murmured quietly, "I have heard of them." 

 

Excited he continued, "I love the sea but I hate so much of what I have seen since I left Tournemere, the way men and women are treated by those who seek money and what it buys, the injustice, the cruelty. Men make of God's most beautiful lands places of brutality and perhaps it is not in my power to change but I must try. I mean to go with them. At the very least to stand against the evil we saw on the Florida shore, and if I am spared to try further. I feel as if a storm is gathering around me and I must either run before or turn to stand and face it." 

 Senhora da Boa Estrela, help me.

 

"Oncle said that my mother was a girl of beauty and kindness who wanted me to grow up in a better life than she could give me and that my father was a brave soldier who went away to fight and did not return. It may sound foolish but I feel it has always been my fate to be a soldier too, but not for some king or captain's pride. I want to fight for what truly matters."

 

Truth was said to make men free, according to the holy book, but what can the truth do for you my prince, except destroy you?

“….the darkness that searches for him and presses close even as we speak here?” the blind man had said.

Would the Alliance save him from it or drag him toward it?

 

“The Captain only drinks from his bottle of brandy and will not answer but Darian and Zachary say that they will sign on too," he told her, "Your secrets are your own to keep dear Tante Sabé but I ask because you have been the best and wisest of teachers. I think you know what these people fight for and against and that they could use your help. Will you come with me? Will you at least stay to speak to Captain Andor?”

 

Oh irmãs antes de mim, todos os anjos do céu, help me.

 

"I cannot say now Luc, give me time to consider."

I will however most assuredly speak with your Captain Andor my prince, that I can promise you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 11, 1769

 

Fort Mantazas

 

some miles North upriver from the Mantazas Inlet

 

British East Florida

 

 

 

 

 

The flame of sunset set its color on the limed white of the walls as they approached from the shore. 

 

The sheer incongruity of the construction, a stone fortress of unexpected solidity, perhaps 30 feet in height held in surround by walls near 50 feet wide struck the eye, for it lay upon an island that was little more than a shifting spit of sand piled high and lightly held by waving grass. It had the look of a battlement somehow fallen from the sky.

 

Subtlety was never the aim of any fortress,” the old Gunner of the Onderean, “Two-Cannons” had been fond of saying.

 Six guns. Five six pounders from the look of them and a larger weapon held back at center… Bless us, maybe an 18-pounder…even negligently manned from such position they could splinter any ship within sight. She wondered how often they had needed to since the days of her late Commander's youthful assault up this river.

To be clearly seen to hold a gun was sometimes sufficient enough a weapon of intimidation as to render the firing of it unnecessary.

 

Captain Solo cast a worried glance back toward his sloop, tied up and anchored now in what must surely be plain view from the cannon platforms above. He was far too skilled in his trade Miss Erso reckoned to deceive himself as to vulnerability of their position. 

Mr. Baldwin Cor saw the tale as clearly mapped out as she. 

"An impressive command of the passage," he said admiringly. "Any point of weakness has been well engineered against."

Jen spoke without thinking then, "My Olohri Saul Guerrere always said that the forts of Spain had but two weaknesses once their mortar dried,  the hand of God and the venalities of Spaniards." 

The short laugh behind her came not from Solo or Cor, but from Captain Andor. 

"He was half wrong," her lover said, "the long and skillful application of blood and treasure have in the main protected them from God." 

 

No door or staircase was visible from the sides of the fortress facing them but as they climbed the bank and approached the thick stone walls a long and sturdy ladder was lowered down from the platform above. 

"Ladies first?" Captain Solo said. 

 

Before God she was going to kill this fool sooner or later.

 

"I will go first," Captain Andor said, "Miss Erso shall stand ready to climb up second on my signal but not before." Here he met her eye steadily, "Should I fail to signal within the first few moments or should anything else be perceived to go amiss get back to the Falcon by any course and Miss Erso will assume command of the venture thereafter."

Damn you, sir. 

 

With no more said he unbuttoned his coat, pinned it back to grant better access to the pistol in his belt and began to climb. 

 

She laid her hands upon the ladder and watched him go, holding tight to the sides with the effort of stilling her hand from reaching for her mother's round cross, as was her habit in prayer.

Miss Jane Erso had known the sudden loss of love and friendship from childhood onward, had seen her mother fall at the order of the man in the white hat, endured her father's disappearance, Baba Saul's abandonment, cut her own conscience to the quick at Livorno and watched her enemies burn the last of her girlhood at Lisbon.

All these shocks and more she had survived if some but barely, yet it came to her now as an absolute certainty that if this strange and unexpected man fell the last of her heart would die with him. Duty might drive her vengeful shade forward for a time, but it would be a hollow thing that would not last after its task was done. 

I pray that you are right in your judgement of this, mi amor.

 

There were men at the top of the platform. Even in the growing shadow she could see hands reach toward him as he crossed from the ladder over the embrasure of the gun deck above. 

She measured the seconds that passed by the beating of her heart.

One torch, and then another appeared at the top of the railing. Two others became visible on the tower's roof even further above.

"Come up it is safe!" Captain Andor’s voice called down and Miss Erso's feet were in motion before his last word had finished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the red coated officers escorted them up a narrow wooded stairway from the gun platform to an arched room of simple comfort. A curtained bed stood against the inner wall, lit lamps hung from hooks along the wall.  In a hearth at one corner a small brazier held a few bright coals, while three carved wooden chairs and a simple bench sat beside a rough table upon which sat a bottle and several small clay cups.

Also laid upon the cloth was a battered document case of folded leather, tied with a red string.

A brocaded scarlet coat marked by cream-colored trim and gold brocade to indicate a captains rank lay as if carelessly tossed across the bed beside a black cockaded hat. Upon their entry to the chamber a broad-shouldered man in cream officer's waistcoat with white shirtsleeves rolled stood to greet them. 

 

"Captain Andor," the man said extending a hand, "against all odds, we meet again."

 

"Commander Fetta," the captain said, touching his hat lightly in salute before taking the hand offered. "Or should I say, "Governor"? I understand from word at Nassau before we departed that congratulations are but lately in order."

 

"Proof that the perils of a venture that proceeds too well can render complications as perplexing as one that progresses to slowly," the man shrugged, "and so we adapt. It is a pleasure to have your company again so soon as well Captain Solo. May I take that your attachment to our fraternity of arms has changed?"

"It seems so Doctor Moultrie." Solo said. "Please forgive any confusion on my part though, I am but newly sworn to your band of fallen angels and the speed with which you fellows change wigs and names is still new custom to me."

The private who had brought them up, a sturdy strong-jawed fellow spoke then, casting Solo a suspicious eye, "You were most insistent some weeks ago sir that you served your own interests solely and sought treasure as your only recompense." 

"Captain Solo," her lover answered coolly, "has now allied himself with our cause by sworn oath and under my command for the execution of our present mission."

Solo smiled his bold smile, "It has been presented to me Master....Dameron was it?..... that the straightest route out of Hell may run through Purgatory."

 

 

"As I recall Kesare, Captain Andor is well-known for his powers of persuasion." The man addressed as Commander Fetta said, taking his seat again and signaling by wave of his hand that the captain should avail himself of the other chair. 

 

Captain Andor did so having first removed his hat and tossed it aside to sit beside the one that lay upon the bed. 

 

"Since Captain Solo is already known to you sir, allow me to I present Mr. Baldwin Cor, our Master Gunner..." The seated commander tipped his head in acknowledgement, "and Miss Jane Erso. We have the honor here to stand before Commander Rex Fetta a senior agent of our Alliance and, at present and under another name it seems also Acting Governor of the British Colony of East Florida."

 

The man, heretofore informal if authoritative in his manner, changed suddenly upon the pronouncement of her name and sat forward to eye her shrewdly.

 

The private was less controlled and spoke as if startled, "Miss Jane Erso? The daughter of Mr. Galen Erso?"

 

A most strange sensation came over her, as if in her heart were a cabinet and some drawer within it were suddenly unlatched.

Yes, she thought, That is who I am.

 

"You know my father?" Her voice sounded loud and strange to her own ears. "You have seen him?" 

"Mr. Cor," Captain Andor said, "if Commander Fetta approves, take two of his men from downstairs with you and return to the Falcon, bring Mr. Rook back here with you."

"If your ship is well anchored I suggest you bring all your men back here with you, at least until dawn."

"I dislike to leave the ship unwatched," Solo demurred, with the slightest twinge of  obstinacy. 

"Oh I assure you sir," Fetta said, "those who prowl this shore in dark of night are far more likely to dismember your men than your ship."

"Either the alligators hereabouts are more fierce than elsewhere or may I gather you refer to other enemies."

"Bring Khaeuri and the boy as well then," Captain Andor ordered and Mr. Cor departed with Private Dameron.

 

Jen barely noticed these exchanges so profound was her anxiety of mind. To hold still with her questions unanswered was almost painful to her.

 

"Sit down please Miss Erso, Captain Solo," Commander Fetta said, pouring out rations from the bottle, rum it seemed. The Dutchman found a place in one of the plainer chairs and took the spirits with a grateful hand.

"We have recent intelligence that pertains to your mission." The "Governor" said.

He withdrew a sheaf of papers from the case upon the table and slid them toward Captain Andor, who unfolding them began to read.

 

She herself remained standing. "What do you know of my father, sir? Is he yet alive?"

This Fetta's eyes were dark and his face, handsome still though his age must be near fifty, regarded her with something like curiosity and pity in equal measure.  

"I cannot give any testimony of my own sight, but one of my trusted men saw him less than two weeks ago and though he could not speak with him directly took the chance of passing on your letter."

 

Her letter?

The one she had written at Cadiz. Months ago. A lifetime ago.

She looked at Captain Andor and was overwhelmed by the memory of a bitter friendless girl afire with new purpose, challenging a stranger and expecting only betrayal.

Emi ko m pe aw n kunrin le j olõt ni aw n akoko idanwo.

 

"You sent it," she said filled with a strange happiness even in this anxious place on the edge of danger and dark.

It seemed to her that she turned to look for them only to find that those ghosts, Gianna Gerrere, Leah Hallick, Tanith Ponta had vanished like mist...blown away in a sea wind. 

“Yes," he said smiling gently, “I do remember now,” as if he too looked back astonished at some meridian he had crossed unknowing.  

He lay a hand upon her arm as if they were alone and for the space of a moment it felt as if they were. 

 

 

 

 

“Captain, Miss Erso…” Commander Fetta spoke with a firm reluctance, after the fashion of a man compelled to a hurtful but necessary task. “You should both peruse these orders and reports. When you have done so I must give you newer and darker intelligence that regards your mission."

She sat then and as Captain Andor passed it to her first read the letter from London, trying to recall the faces of the stern red-haired gentleman and regal lady in the fine white gown whose signatures marked it.

 

Lady Mary had herself entered the room after Jen’s compulsory toilette and in serene silence handed her a small folded silk packet. She had opened it sullenly and without thanks to find closed within a dozen exceptionally strong fine steel pins, doubtless for the closing of the borrowed gowns and a short length of waxed leather cord, to replace, it seemed the ragged and now damp hemp string that held her mother’s charm.

As she did so Jen had perceived a thin long-healed scar that crossed deep across the aristocratic lady’s now gloveless right palm.

Rope, she had noted, thinking of the many times lines of sail had cut her own hands. 

But a scar like that? Only luck and a skilled surgeons stitches would have held it well enough to preserve the action of those nimble white fingers. She had seen men lose hands from such cuts. 

“You must have wanted to hold onto something very badly madame,” had come almost to her lips but gone unsaid.

Six of the fine pins were tucked inside her sailors waistcoat even now, such things having many uses, and the cord tied about her neck to hold both the talismans that sustained her here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lieutenant’s report was longer and the plain words of it burned her heart. 

“…illness from the poisons rampant…half-starved wretches…children set to stand beside the walls of the warehouses to ensure the care of their parents in packing the “indigo” in which the explosive compound is concealed….the only unguarded soul, a dwarfish and withered Minorican priest allowed to administer to the dead and dying workers….maintains a rough chapel in a dim hut….Bey privately sought contact but he seems confined to the regional Catalan dialect would render English, French nor Spanish only in an unintelligible half-backwards fashion…in her opinion crazed by the despair of his position…surely no more than 600 of the Mediterraneans remaining....of the Africans tragically nearly all missing and likely dead…”  And then… “…a Chief Overseer one Mr. Orren Krennik….Tarkin not in residence….house appeared unoccupied….stumbled upon brutal public execution of attempted escapees regarded….among the overseers one…a broken, thin and silent man, …English with an accent of the Scandinavian…unrestrained but supervised with watchfulness and contempt more befitting a prisoner….the man seemed to be a particular object of torment by our host….this Krennik clearly a man both cruel and observant to any unexpected action we made ready to depart. I took it upon my own authority to pass the letter you had given me to Mr. Galen Erso….”

 

Papa.

 

 

  

Voices could be heard from the platform outside.

 

Mr. Rook was speaking, “Are Miss Erso and the Captain within, Mr. Cor?”

 

A stranger, one of the English soldiers, could be heard to clearly cry out,“Dear God! Where are you from sir?” followed hard upon by the deep voice of Khaeuri, “E te tangata iti, ki te pa ano koe ki a au, ka wahia koe e ahau ano he rakau!”

Young Ceil-Marcheur could be heard saying, “Be easy Pa Khaeuri!

 

Mr. Rook was here. 

 

Miss Erso quickly closed the papers and handed them back to Captain Andor wiping the tears that dampened her cheeks with the sleeve of her smock. 

 

“Do not let him read it,” she said, “Please, he has suffered so much. Spare him this.”

 

He piloted one of the ships that brought these people to this end. His brave heart will feel every death, every day of suffering since his departure upon that desperate raft as a weight upon his own conscience.  

 

“You know I cannot,” he said quietly. “He took the oath of the Alliance.”

"Trust God and the Truth.." her mother had said....Oh but Mama it is so hard

She nodded.

 

 

Captain Andor turned toward Solo then and handed him the pages of Lieutenant Casrich’s report. The Dutchman looked surprised but took them gravely, his foolish bravado gone for once, and taking a slow breath like a boy jumping into dark water he began to read them.

 

 

________________________

 

 

 

They conferred together through the early part of the night. 

He informed them of the rumors that had reached Fort Saint Mark at Saint Augustine of the mysterious actions attributed to the two or three native casiques active in the in the area. The bulk of the surviving Timican people, weakened and imperiled, had moved west toward the Gulf shores after the removal of Spain, only a handful of desperate partisans remained to inconvenience the English. A series of attacks north and west of this fort had left it unmanned for short periods under the lax watch of the lately removed Governor Grant.

Therefor whosoevers remains Captain Solo had spied being feasted upon from his lucky venture south in December they had not belonged to any men officially stationed at Saint Augustine.

 

A plan of sorts was developed and a clever contingency was proposed by, of all people, the French youth Ceil-Marcher.  The Governor sent his men for the uniforms and other items necessary from the Fort’s limited stores. 

 

 

While the he himself conferred with Captain Andor over the dark hints in Bey’s report, the pilot, Mr. Rook carefully read the reports from Casrich's visit to the plantation. After he had done so, ashen but stern with Miss Erso seated beside close him on the bench all the while, he folded and returned them to Captain Anndor’s hand.

"Teşekkürler bayım," he said.

The young Turk then asked for and was given the tide charts, maps of the channels and passages of the Mantazas, Halifax and St. Johns and proceeded to pour over them for some hours with that lady and Captain Solo.  

The rum was portioned out.  

Dameron grilled a few sausages on the brazier, since Solo implied keenly that it was advisable to keep the tattooed giant well fed.

What rest they could grant to their visitors they did. In times of emergency Fort Mantazas had been said to hold up to fifty men, a dozen was managed easily enough. Pallets were brought for Captains Andor and Solo and Miss Erso  in the upper chamber and the others were given space on the empty bunks in the soldiers quarters downstairs. 

 

 

 

 

At dawn he and Dameron escorted them back to the anchorage of their small sloop. 

My condolences Commander,” Cassian Andor said by way of farewell while the others made ready to sail. “I learned of your brother’s passing while at Gibraltar.  Those who knew and served with him spoke of him always as man of intelligence and valor.”

 

The Governor could have asked for details but did not. Though forbidden by his oath from lying to a fellow officer young Andor was unlikely to know details of that last fatal mission in the Pyrenees. Even were it otherwise the Governor knew that wider knowledge of the details of his siblings demise would neither increase nor decrease the burden of his sorrow.

 

 

 

When he had slipped out from the Governors House before dawn, leaving his double  dressed in his favorite banyon and slippers, after reviewing administrative procedures and carefully checking the quality of last night's hasty manicure, his habitually stern brother had embraced him with uncharacteristic warmth. “Dio ti protegga fratellino,” Codomo had said gruffly before turning away. 

Since their boyhood it had always been his stubbornly unprovable contention that he was somehow the elder of their threesome by some fraction of an hour.

 

 

 

 

“Thank you, Captain,” Rex Fetta said and bowed. 

 

Over the young officer’s shoulder he caught sight of the little sloop. The bright-eyed Englishwoman, Miss Erso stood ready at the mast to set the sails but still glanced quickly back toward Andor as a sailor would to check the fastness of an anchor rope.

 

“Andor, may I speak to you now not as an officer but as an older soldier to a younger one and share with you some wisdom painfully bought?”

“Yes sir, of course." 

“My brother Favio and I parted in argument…the closeness of our connection was…is… of course a rare thing but the universal truth that any farewell may be the last is one too easily forgotten by all men. Never part with harsh words from those dear to you, soldado. Even where regard is…or should be…understood do not let any true affection lie long unspoken of.” 

 

Andor touched his hat and bowed, then turned to the little sloop through the shallow water. Within moments he, the mighty Mate and the fair-haired youth had pushed her out and climbed aboard as the rising water pulled her out.

 

With remarkable swiftness she turned to and shot like an arrow to the south.

 

Dark times lay ahead the only question lay in how dark and how long the night would last.

 

He held but little hope that he would see any of those who crewed the Falcon alive again and whispered a silent prayer for them as he walked with Dameron back up the shore to Fort Mantazas in the red light of morning.

 

He would need to be in place in Saint Augustine within a day or two before his brother smoked all of the good tobacco and turned the corners of every book he had.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

January 4, 1770

 

The Rogues Venture

Port of Nassau

New Paradise Island

the Bahamas

 

 

Her officers being unwilling to risk further notoriety by sailing the brigantine out from Nassau inlet without clearance from the Harbormaster and authorities it was determined that the Rogues Venture would hold for at least two precious days while the local magistrates took statements from witnesses among her crew and if God spared him the grievously injured little boy. 

 

The whole port was abuzz with talk. Rumor and speculation concerning the mysterious explosion of the "French powder store” dominated all discourse but by the second day other matters slowly crept back into conversation. Widespread unrest was spoken of in the English ports north, especially Boston. Fears of another Maroon uprising in Jamaica were aired, as were rumors also of  the Yellow Fever in Antigua and terrifying dark warships seen off Barbados. All such matters reached Sabé's ears as she walked in men's garb through the bustling docks and taverns and listened to the talk, saying nothing as was her habit in port.

 

When morning came Luc went with Zacharie and Darian into Nassau town to spend their pay upon some of the few items they would need before reporting to their new crew, and Solo remained behind, much the worse for the brandy he had drunk, to argue with Khaeuri between bouts of groaning.

Sabé asked no permission but took the jolly boat directly over to the brigantine. 

 

Once granted leave to board by an officer at the watch...ah the Scotsman  who had sung at the dinner.... she most boldly demanded leave to speak to Captain Andor immediately. 

 

The crew was busy. Indeed had any eyes been watching the ship all aboard would have seemed much busier and more grimly impatient about their business than was ordinary to an American boat waiting for her barges of sugar to arrive before she headed to the Carolinas. 

 

The sweet-voiced Mr. Antilles appeared most hesitant to let her pass unchallenged but even as she stood poised between the choice of  violence or diplomacy as her quickest channel forward the officer she sought walked back from the quarter deck, changed now to a dove grey waistcoat and good plain long coat of indigo blue.

 

She wasted no breath but addressed herself to Captain Andor directly.

“Mia com você em particular senhor.”

To her not inconsiderable admiration  he met her gaze without condescension.

 

"Mr. Antilles," he said. "Mr. Kay requires your help sir with regard to the arrangement of the cargo. I am at leisure to grant a short interview and will take responsibility for our guest's escort."

The fellow saluted smartly and moved off. 

“Claro, honrada senhora.” Andor bowed and with a gesture indicated that she should accompany him back to the spacious cabin where they had dined on the previous day.

 

There was no denying he was very handsome in his way, the Spaniard, though she had ceased to be moved by such things long ago. His vocabulary, she had noted before, was near pure Iberian, but not his accent, in that Sabé heard a trace of the colonies, perhaps more than a trace when he had barked at the Dutchman in the high tumult after the explosion. Therein must lay a choice, for in her experience an Aliança, or at least the high agents thereof were trained to speak in whatever accent convenience required. 

 

Come, menino camponês inteligente, she thought. We should not waste each other's time. For time is a treasure neither of us likely holds much more of, one way or another.

 

All trace of the pleasant gathering had been cleared away as if it had never been. The tables of the well-aired cabin were now pushed back and covered with maps, instruments, papers, pens and pots of ink. A cluster of men including the giant, now changed from his bloody garb and restored to a patterned silk waistcoat with his shorn head bound in an India scarf, all straightened in attention as they entered.

The Captain must have signaled them in some way imperceptible to her for despite raising eyes curiously at her each only saluted in silence and departed. 

The giant did so by seeming to fold himself into one of the adjoining cabins with exactly the sort of deliberate care usually reserved to replacing a large document into a small envelope.

 

Upon this last removal she turned to Captain Andor without further preliminary. 

 

"Você serve Roma?"

 

 Sabe took a perverse pleasure in the officers momentary hesitation.....such men were not easily surprised....but he mastered himself quickly, and answered almost sternly.

 

"I serve the Alliance, Senhora" 

 

She held her hand up impatiently, as if they merely bargained in a Porto marketplace. " Yes, yes, I have heard your catechism, sir, and argue against not a word of it, but though it may stand on the side of the Angels you and your brethren are sworn to a campaign beyond the lifetime of one or many. You measure by God's long ruler and I am a simple woman. What remains of my little life narrows now to one goal alone."

 

"And what is that Senhora Sabé?" he asked. The shrewd gaze of those dark eyes gave lie to the lightness of his query.

 

To deny the Devil that boy. To save his body and soul  from an indenture his traitorous father sold him to before his birth.

 

"Before I can say more I require a true answer from you soldier of the Alliance. Do your forces at present ally with Rome or serve the Order?"

 

"We do not," he answered her with quick firmness….. God help him, he was a true believer….. "Rome is under the sway of the Enemy and the Orders are utterly broken. It is true that some who escaped the wreck find shelter in our ranks, pitied for their persecution and valued for their skills but any who would join us must take our oath and foreswear sorcery.  I assure you Senhora, none of us who fight and die under the wings of the Starbird do so to restore the Order to power."

 

"Our," "us," "we"?  The mask of the cool and weary officer made cynical by the sins of men slipped as he spoke so and it seemed to her that she glimpsed a boy of Nueva Espana, ragged but hopeful and proud, dreaming of a world where no man made another kneel. 

Whatever evils he had done, and she did not doubt he had done many, he had done all for a cause he believed in.

Small wonder then that the wild English girl loved him so.

 

 

Very well. She drew a breath.

 

"Once," she said, "I was Sabé Nabanno, Elect Handmaiden to Her Most Royal Highness Mariana Victoria, Queen of Portugal, Princess of the Royal House of Spain. I wore my colors as first among equals in that company, chosen and trained by the hand of my Lady's own mother the renowned Elisabetta Farnese of Parma."

 

Ah God, but the relief surprised her.

It was as if she had just laid aside a burden carried so long she had grown insensible of its weight. 

 

He did not insult her by presenting doubt that a small woman near to forty, sunburnt and in the rough garb of a sailor should claim the honor of being one of the most skilled warrior guards of Europe, but bowed only his head in salute as between one soldier to another. 

 

"Honrada Senhora, my crew and I have, as I am sure you know, a dire mission before us that we may not deviate from in the slightest particular. If it is your wish to seek the protection of the Alliance for yourself and your charge I will write letters of transit that grant unquestioned refuge. Your best course would be to take them and leave this place. Seek passage North and thence to London as swiftly as you may."

 

Poor Captain. Do you think my mission was but to save a great lady's honor or even a bastard babe's innocent life?   You think all this has been to hide him from that velvet-coated vulture Pombal?

 

Go ahead and think so then.

There is only one way to deceive those trained in deceit, she had been taught long ago. Give them the truth and let them deceive themselves.

 

“The circumstances of his birth are utterly unknown to him. Indeed he believes himself the child of a grass-marriage between a country maid dead in childbirth and a young soldier lost to the wars before his birth and still dutifully mourns the country farmers who reared him. I assure you that I have never lied to him for I have never had the slightest need do so to. Were he to ask “What is my mother’s name?” I would tell him truthfully but why should he ask such a question? His story and his strength are his own and I am so far as he knows but a stranger who has befriended him because he reminds her of her own long-lost son." Let him mark the catch in her voice as sorrow, for that it truly was. "Luc is a man grown now. For me to guard him longer will but draw eyes to him. He has chosen his own path and it lies with your brotherhood.  Determined as he is I know I cannot thwart him so I ask you this only, that you teach him to fight. Give him a sword. You will find him an apt hand with it.”

 

The Spaniard sighed as he took a seat at the table as if what he had expected from this encounter differed exhaustingly from the present circumstance. 

Sabe felt a certain sympathy for his plight.

On the wide chart that lay before them on the table she recognized the features of the coast of East Florida, and noted at once that these were far better maps than Solo’s in terms of detail and scale.  

“I cannot promise to protect him. If he joins our cause as he has asked to do then he joins this crew and answers with us all to the full pursuance of our mission here.”

She inclined her head, having steeled herself for this. There are worse fates that could find him than death, she could have said aloud but did not.

“But even if God spares us here, you surely know that the oath of service to the Alliance cannot be foresworn.  It may be that he is called to Europe, or even ... perhaps, to Portugal.  The decision then will not be mine. Would we not do him a disservice if we forever conceal from him such vital matters?”

 

“You must do what you think is right, of course sir,” Sabé said. “Whether the burden of a sorrowful truth unasked-for can do a brave youth any good or a royal scandal unprovable aid your cause will be up to you and them. “Them’ I say for I  assume it is your esteemed Council you mean by “we” ....or are you offering me a commission Captain Andor of the Alliance?”

 

“I am not, Lady, for reluctantly and at the risk of unintended insult, I confess that though I greatly respect you I cannot wholly trust you.” He might have smiled and made a joke of it but he chose a different tack,  and stood to bow formally. “Please know that it pains me past telling to stand here on the edge of battle, outnumbered and ill-informed and regretfully pass over access to one of the sharpest blades ever forged in Europe.”

She could not help but smile.

Ah, the Sisters of the Collegia refused all but a precious few boys, but you they would have treasured.

It was enough.  

She must do whatever remained alone.

Where will you go now Lady Sabé? ” he asked her, not unkindly.

 

“I will say my farewells and sail south to follow some old errands left unfinished. I think I will not need to go far or long. My sisters hold a chair in wait for me and my heart tells me I will find it sooner rather than later.” She stood as she once had in royal hallways and spoke with unfeigned sincerity, “God go with you Captain, you and all your brave crew. I pray for your success.”

 

He bowed and kissed the rough hands held out to him.

"Você concede a um pobre soldado uma grande honra, Senhora.”

 

 

 

 

 

She left him then, in no doubt that the giant in his cabin had heard and recorded every word. As she walked out upon the deck she looked up to the mast, searching for some sight of the Eastern monk but saw no trace of him or his bosom comrade. Captain Andor’s pirate maid stood in the bow with her hand upon the sad-eyed Turkish gentleman’s shoulder. They spoke earnestly and gazed northwest. Toward Florida and that haunted indigo-stained plantation that was their goal and likely their doom. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sabé climbed down into her small boat and rowed back for the Falcon one last time.

 

Luc and the twins would have returned by now. She would bid them farewell and not bother to conceal her tears, only their cause. She would even shake Solo’s hand if he were sober yet, and pay Khaeuri for three months of losses at cribbage.

 

I have obeyed your last command my Queen.  Whatever passes hereafter they will not have him. 

 

 

Then she would return to Nassau port, to buy a good blade and quick passage on the ferry to Freetown with what remained of her handsome wages. There was a boatyard at Freetown, she had learned and in it surely a small whaleboat or something of it’s like that could carry a single skilled sailor in good weather as far as the coast of Florida and the swift current North.

 

Unlike the brave Captain Andor and his crew she did not need to seek the inland rivers or their accesses at Saint Augustine. The dark warship the nervous fishermen of the islands whispered of seeing had been headed north. It might now lie anywhere between Charlestown and Kingston, she knew but sooner or later it would be drawn to Mosquito Inlet, to that hellish plantation the Spaniard’s map marked as New Smyrna. 

 

Evil draws evil as murder draws crows. 

 

There was one last safeguard she could set for her prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

March 3, 1766

 

The Hairy Man

Billingsgate, ward of London

England

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

As Cassian Andor's career progressed it had been his lot, and indeed his choice, to work largely alone, alone or with Mr. Kay as secretary and occasional bodyguard. 

Kay who, like himself was bound to nothing and no one on this earth and who it seemed to him then…in his block-headedness….might suffer loss less keenly.

After Havana, and the worse debacle at Venice, he had indeed taken something like comfort in the freedom of risking no life but his own. 

For more than three years of missions after Tano's loss he worked almost solely under Mr. Draven's command and was dispatched...somewhat to his surprise...largely in Europe. He did not question the strategy  of those who watched  a horizon hidden from his sight but only moved where those with higher view directed him, shadow-like through the courts and alleys of Marseilles and Paris, Madrid and Naples.  

Did we ever pass each other, my Jen, he wondered. Would your sharp green eyes have even seen me then if we had?

 

He also returned to England at regular intervals to make confidential reports and receive new orders, usually from Mr. Draven directly. 

Then came a morning when upon entering a dockside pub as arranged, in this case the Hairy Man back from Billingsgate, Cassian Andor found himself escorted to a low back room only to be confronted at the door by a red-tressed girl of scarce sixteen in a cut-down gown of cheap cotton print, single petticoat, patched apron and India spotted kerchief. 

 

You will allow me to search you, sir," this steely-eyed street wench cooly stated.

"No sweetheart," he said, availing himself of his most pleasant smile, "I most assuredly shall not."

"A formality only, Lieutenant" came a familiar though seldom-heard woman's voice from within the dim room, "After some recent lapses in security my new officer of guard tends to over-diligence with all contacts not personally known to her own keen eye. I beg you for my weary sake to endure this unpleasant but singular inconvenience."  

Lady Mary Monmoth stood at the head of the Council that commanded all their agents and forces North of Tripoli and West of Kiev and she had earned her authority by every measure of merit he knew.  

"...her own keen eye..." Here was code he knew. She wished him to know that this time-wasting charade was not intended as some test of himself but of the young guard. "...my weary sake..." held the further meaning that this request was a personal one. 

Captain Andor nearly laughed. Insult to rank was the paper armor of the weak and though he could feign it well enough when circumstances demanded they did not do so here. Let the youthful guard inspect away, she ought only to be grateful it was he who had come and not Kay, for Kay did not like to have his clothing or his person touched. 

He laid pistol and dagger on the small low table adjacent and removed Señora Tano's legacy, a wire, from the sleeve of his frock coat before placing that garment folded across the stool the girl had risen from and unbuttoning his waistcoat.

She patted him down quickly, in thorough and impersonal silence. 

Your boots," she then said, not being a fool, as he rolled down his shirtsleeves. He would have obliged her but Lady Mary seemed to have seen all that she required from this trial. 

"Enough, Mary," the lady said stepping into the light of the doorway. Her attire was that of a better than middling servant, being a printed bed gown sprigged white on a lilac ground, green petticoat and blue checked apron with her still-bright hair swept up into a white pressed cap with a pink ribbon. 

Rank was easily signaled or obscured by attire, he considered, dignity was not.

 

"Time presses. Lieutenant Andor carries a small steel blade in the top of his boot and concealment for other tools in one or both heels. Either you or I could disable him before he might make of use weapons thus concealed so set your mind at ease and leave us." 

The girl bowed and slipped back into the shadow of the hallway, a trifle over-dramatically it seemed to him but....youth....and he entered the dim room after the lady, and heard it close behind him.

 

"I most earnestly beg your forgiveness Lieutenant," Lady Mary Monmoth said, lighting an extravagant candle on the table to supplement the light from the grimed window and low brazier. 

"Mary Jade is come to us by a hard road," was the only explanation she offered. "She had yet to learn that both edges of the blade do not need sharpening equally."

 

A defector?  

 He had taken the healed scar of a burn on the wenches arm to be some mishap, or a branding for theft. 

It was the burning off of another mark. Dulce Jesús. A girl of sixteen marked with the Sword of Fire?

Lady Mary must indeed have the cleanest conscience in Europe.

 

 

"Sit, please young man," she indicated a battered chair by the low table, choosing for herself one opposite.

He took his seat as directed, attempting to hold himself without expectation in this most extraordinary circumstance.

 

"Mr. Draven will join us shortly."

Ah, Andor thought, so he is not dead. 

 

He realized then that the uneasiness that had gripped him upon seeing Lady Mary Monmoth herself in place of his usual commander had been fear...not sentimental fear that Mr. Draven himself might be lost, though he prized the older man as an experienced  officer for whom he held enormous respect. What pressed his heart like a stone was the fear that if Draven had fallen he himself might be promoted. 

No. Por favor Dios. Not that.