~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Nathan slumped low behind the ship’s railing, peering through the spyglass he had propped in the small knothole.  He searched the dense foliage then followed the island coast around to the entrance into the small harbour but saw nothing. 

 

“Everything is so quiet.  It makes me nervous.” He muttered to Crocker who was crouched down next to him.

 

“It’s an out of the way island.  There isn’t much traffic through here.”

 

“That’s true,” Nathan conceded although he still didn’t like the situation.  But of course Zellar wouldn’t pick an island with a major port for his home base.  “We are bound to attract some attention if we just tack back and forth out here.”

 

“I thought of that.  O’Neill and Ortiz are unpacking a load of fishing gear now.  We throw some nets out and if anyone pays any attention to us they will think we are out on a pleasurable fishing trip.”

 

“Somehow we need to make contact with Jonathan or Raleigh and find out the lay of the land.  I don’t want Zellar getting wind of us but I need to know he is in residence before I bust in there.”

 

Crocker nodded, understanding the reason for Nathan’s haste.  Almost a month had passed since Nathan had last seen his new bride.  Rough weather had delayed the arrival of the sloop from Boston by several days and some minor damage needing repair had further detained them.  Then there had been the fight… Nathan was adamant about going alone, consenting only to take Crocker to help him sail the boat.  The crew remaining on his island had threatened revolt if Nathan attempted to leave without them.  Nathan had privately wondered why so many of his officers had begged off the London trip but he soon found out.

 

“Ortiz is going to take the landing boat in with a small complement, ostensibly for supplies.  He’ll make contact with one or both of our men and smuggle them back out to brief us.”

 

“Maybe I should go…”

 

“No sir.  We need more information first and we’ve got to work on your appearance a bit.  Loosing the beard was an excellent touch,” Crocker nodded at the captain’s clean-shaven face.  “We’ve just got to take care of a few more details.”

 

“Like what?”  Nathan didn’t like the gleam in Crocker’s eye. 

 

“Don’t worry, sir.  Just leave everything to me.”

 

“Leave everything to him… and he expects me not to worry…” Crocker overheard Nathan mutter as he moved away.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Darkness was falling by the time that Ortiz and O’Neill guided the tiny landing boat back to the sloop and climbed aboard.  A frenzy of activity around the supply vessel as it was unloaded provided the perfect cover for Jonathan Ford and Raleigh Young to slip on board from their hiding place beneath the tarps.  Crocker quickly motioned them into the lower decks.

 

Nathan was waiting.  He shook Jonathan’s hand warmly and embraced Raleigh before motioning them into chairs.  Crocker settled in the last remaining chair opposite the other men while Nathan perched on the desk.

 

“Please tell me that you have found out something that might help us?”

 

“We’ve tried, sir.”  Jonathan answered as Raleigh reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small journal.  A folded piece of paper slipped from the book’s cover and Raleigh opened it out on the desk. 

 

“I’ve walked every inch of the island that I possibly could.  Zellar’s men did challenge me immediately but a trip to town verified the identity of the harmless old man who likes to study volcanic rock formations and cleared the way.  They have mostly ignored me except to warn me away from the house since that time.”

 

“This is amazing, Raleigh!” Nathan was pleased with the detail of the map that Raleigh had drawn.  He knew from experience that the measurements would be exact.  Raleigh was a perfectionist after all.

 

“I’ve marked the areas that I think you should use as your entry points.”  Raleigh gestured to three points on the map.  “The terrain is a bit harder to traverse here… but these are their weakest points.”

 

“Will we be able to make it from the harbour to the compound without being spotted?”

 

“Don’t use the harbour.  This stretch of coast… here…” Raleigh pointed to a section of the map,  “should allow you to land without ever being seen.  The ship should come within ten feet of the sand so bringing your equipment in wouldn’t take long at all.”

 

“Good, Raleigh… excellent.  What about the house?  Were you able to do any reconnaissance at all?”

 

Raleigh smiled, white teeth gleaming brightly in his dark face.  “That is where young Mr. Ford can help.”

 

Nathan turned to Ford.  “Talk to me, Jonathan…”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Be careful!  That was my eye, dammit!”  Nathan huffed at Crocker.

 

“Well stop movin’!  I’ve got to do your eyebrows or the whole thing doesn’t look right.”

 

“My eyebrows yes… but not my whole face!”

 

Gator scrubbed Nathan’s temple vigorously with the towel thrown over his shoulder then stepped away.  “That should do it.  Just give it a chance to dry then try to avoid getting it wet.  Have a look.”

 

Nathan picked up the small mirror on the desk and peered into it, amazed at the transformation.  Crocker had smoothed boot blacking into his hair and eyebrows… then combed it through.  The result was Nathan with a head full of black hair.  He barely recognized himself and told Crocker so.

 

Crocker laughed.  “I don’t know how to do it brown so black will have to do.  Wonder what the countess would think if she could see you now?”  Gator cursed inwardly the second the words left his mouth, knowing that mentioning Kristin was the wrong thing to do but surprisingly Nathan’s spirits didn’t fall as they had done over the past several weeks.

 

“Are the men in place?  Do they know what to do?”  Nathan’s full concentration was on the mission before them.

 

“All signs indicate that the cloud cover will be heavy tonight.  Once darkness falls we move in toward the shore.  Jonathan and I figure that we can get the men and our gear off loaded in less than an hour.  Raleigh will guide one group and Jonathan will guide the other.  I will take the third.  Just before dawn… we move in.”

 

Nathan nodded.  “The men must stay alert.  I don’t want any one of them hurt or killed.  This fight is between me and Zellar.  Provide me cover to get to him and keep his men off while I deal with him.  Do not take him on yourself.  Is that understood?”  Nathan’s voice held a captain’s authority.

 

Crocker immediately snapped to attention.  “Understood, Captain.”

 

“Do the men understand that as well?”

 

“Yes, sir!  But I will review it with them again.”

 

“Do that, Crocker.  I know that the bulk of Zellar’s remaining men left today to widen the search area for Kristin and me but we still can’t afford any mistakes.”

 

Crocker executed a curt salute and departed, leaving Nathan alone.  His gaze fell to the braided strand of auburn hair and sapphire blue ribbon looped around his wrist.  He sighed as his mind slipped back to the moment when Kristin had slipped it on him. 

 

Both of them were thoroughly exhausted after their last night together but time had been their enemy and finally they had reluctantly left the bed to wash and dress.  Just before stepping out of their bedroom Kristin had stopped Nathan and grabbed his hand. 

 

He’d felt the touch of silk against his skin and looked down to see her gift as she’d carefully tied the ends around his wrist.

 

“Kristin… your hair…”

 

“I wanted you to have something… to keep part of me with you.  I have this…” she held her hand up, gesturing to the sapphire ring.  “…but you didn’t have anything… I wanted… something to remind you…”

 

Nathan cupped her face.  “I don’t need anything to remind me of you.  I’ll be thinking of you every single second.  But this… this is so very special.  I’ll bring it back to you soon.  We’ll put it in a special place and pull it out to show Lucas and Cynthia’s children someday.  What a story we shall tell our grandchildren, my love.”

 

His fingers trailed over the silky locks.  “Soon, Kristin…” Nathan whispered.  “This will all be over soon.  Don’t give up on me, my love.”

 

A knock at the door drew his attention and he pulled his sleeve down and carefully buttoned it over the bracelet.

 

“Come.”

 

Crocker stuck his head around the door.  “Twilight is coming up fast, sir.  We’ll be ready to move in about half an hour.”

 

Nathan’s face looked as if it was carved in stone.  “Good.  Let’s go take care of this bastard.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

The sound of the muffled oars sliding through the water was barely discernible to Nathan’s ears as he watched the black silhouette of the small boat disappear into the shadow of the sloop.  When a tiny glint of light fluttered once then twice and was gone he turned back to his men.  “That is the signal.  Small and Coates have gained the ship.  They will keep our get away route open in case we have to fall back.”

 

He turned and looked at Jonathan, who had been waiting on beach for their arrival.  “Anything further to report?”

 

“I worked my way as close to the residence as I could this afternoon.  I observed six different men on the premises.  This didn’t include Zellar and there could be more men indoors that I didn’t see.  The guard watch changes every three hours.  Raleigh knows where the watch post is and the guard walks about ten minutes out of each half hour.  If you have to take him out he shouldn’t be missed until the next guard change.  They should change about two then again at five.”

 

“Okay, let’s move into the edge of the forest and try to get some rest.  We need to be on the move by two if we are going to take them by surprise at dawn.  Get all the rest that you can.  I’ll take first watch.”

 

Crocker stepped up.  “With all due respect, sir, you need more rest than any of us.  Your task is the most difficult.  I’ll take first watch.  In two hours Ford and O’Neill will relieve me and so on.”

 

Nathan recognized the determination on his friend’s face and realized that any argument would be futile.  “All right, my friend.  I’ll sleep.”

 

The men quickly spread their blankets beneath the trees and rolled up in them, their gear stowed carefully at their sides.  Within minutes silence reigned once again.

 

Sleep evaded Nathan as thoughts of Kristin filled his mind.  He stared up at the night sky, imagining the stars he knew were twinkling high above the clouds.  It would still be dark in England as well and he wondered if by any chance Kristin was looking up at the same stars.  His fingers slipped beneath the cuff of his sleeve and fingered the braid of hair.

 

“After tomorrow you will never have to fear this bastard again, my love.  I will be coming to you as quickly as I can.”  He closed his eyes in intense concentration as he projected his love out over the water, hoping by some miracle that the special link he and Kristin seemed to share would let her feel it.

 

Knowing that he needed rest to be prepared for his confrontation tomorrow, Nathan didn’t fight when sleep finally came, dozing off quickly to dream of his wife.

 

In what seemed like the next instant Crocker was shaking him awake.  “Almost two, sir.”

 

Nathan glanced down at his watch and noted the time – a quarter till two.  He jumped up and rolled his blanket, tucking it out of sight beneath a low bush as the other men were doing.  Finally they were all grouped together.  “All right men.  Don’t forget your instructions and don’t take any unnecessary risks.  If any of you are having seconds thoughts don’t hesitate to tell me.”

 

He stared at each of the nine men individually.  Every man returned his stare with a resolute mirror image of their own.  Finally Nathan gave a short nod.  “Ortiz, O’Neill, Ellis and Masters… you are with Raleigh and I.  The rest of you are with Ford and Crocker.  We’ll see you at the compound.”

 

Crocker stepped forward and held out his hand.  Nathan took the hand in his own for a vigorous shake, his other hand clamping down tightly on his friend’s shoulder.  With a knowing look and one final curt nod the men parted and the groups moved in separate directions towards the dense tropical foliage.

 

Nathan’s men moved silently through the brush, ever mindful of the old man leading them. A single shaded lantern and the occasional beam of light through the clouds providing their only illumination.  Raleigh knew his terrain well and took no chances. Almost an hour passed before they reached the perimeter of Zellar’s compound. 

 

The group stopped instinctively, huddling around Raleigh as the old man whispered.  “The guard tower is about thirty yards ahead of us.  We’ve seen no sign of the man walking but he must be due soon.  Nathan, do we wait or do we forge ahead?”

 

Nathan thought a moment.  “I don’t want to leave anything to chance.  Any man we leave standing now might become a problem later.  Let’s take him out.”

 

O’Neill and Ortiz nodded then moved quietly forward into the darkness.  Nathan listened intently but heard absolutely nothing until about ten minutes later when O’Neill whispered his name.

 

“Ortiz?”

 

“He’s fine, sir… just standing in for our guard at the tower in case someone looks for him.  There is a lantern burning there so it could be visible from the house.”

 

“Any trouble with the guard?”

 

“None at all.  He never knew what hit him.  We’ve bound and gagged him tightly and stowed him in a thicket several yards away from the tower.  He won’t be letting anyone know that we are coming.”

 

“Good work, Tim,” Nathan said then turned to Raleigh.  “Lead the way.”

 

Raleigh nodded once then with an agility belying his age and bulk; he slipped deeper into the jungle.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Zellar’s house was not as large as Nathan’s island home but it was vastly more ostentatious.  The outer walls were constructed of dark red brick and many of the windows were elaborate stained glass.  The pirate obviously liked to live well.

 

Nathan observed all of these things from his hiding place about fifteen feet from the back entrance just as the dawn first kissed the sky.  He prayed that the other party of men had reached their position at the front of the house.

 

At that moment a guard rounded the corner from the side of the house.

 

“Ready?” Nathan mouthed to his men.

At their nods Nathan moved a few yards away from them and opened a small flask.  He dumped the contents over his clothes then stepped boldly from the woods and began to stagger toward the house singing an off colour sea shanty.  The guard quickly drew a gun but Nathan appeared not to notice as he bobbed and weaved his way toward the house.

 

“Halt!”

 

Nathan snapped up and stared at the man with a glazed eye.  “What ish the meannnin’ of this, my good felloow?  I have an appoint… pointme… a meeting wish the president.”

 

“How did you get here?”

 

“Well… you shee…” Nathan lurched toward the fellow, falling into his shoulder and knocking them both off balance.  “Ish like thish… I was sailing wish my friends… they fish and fish and fish.  I wanted a little drinksy an they put me off the boat to sober up.”  Nathan drew himself up seriously.  “I’m sober as a judddsh… But I had to walk from the beasch… so tired…” Nathan sank to the ground and laid his head in his arms.

 

The guard prodded Nathan with his booted foot.  “Get up, you old drunk.”

 

Nathan groaned but didn’t move so the guard kicked harder.  This time Nathan responded by rolling to his back and staring up and the man with a totally disoriented look.  “Wha…”

 

“Get up!”  He pointed the muzzle of his pistol at Nathan’s face.

 

The sight of the gun seemed to do the trick and Nathan struggled to his knees then staggered as he tried to stand.  The young guard grabbed him by the forearm and guided him toward the back door, never seeing the signal that Nathan made behind his back.  Once the door closed behind them Raleigh moved the team around the fringes of the cultivated area toward the stables.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“What the hell is it?” Zellar snarled at the knock on his study door that pulled him out of a drunken sleep.  The three-quarters empty bottle of whisky slipped from his hand and fell to the floor with a clunk.  “I told all of you to leave me alone unless you had news of my woman!”

 

An older man with thinning hair that he tried to disguise and a potbelly hanging over his belt stuck his head through the door.

 

“Tezlof!” Zellar groused to his Slavic second in command.  “This had better be important.”

 

“The perimeter guard has captured an intruder.  I thought you should be informed.”

 

Zellar jumped to his feet, his muddled senses clearing.  “Who is it?”

 

“An old drunk from that fishing sloop we’ve been keeping an eye on.  He says that they put him off the boat to sober up… when he isn’t trying to fall asleep.”

 

Zellar moved around the room cleaning up the signs of his drinking binge and trying to ignore the pounding in his head.  “Bring him in.”

 

Tezlof and the guard pulled a tall lean man with coal black hair into view and pushed him through the door.  He managed to move two or three feet into the room before he fell to his knees, his face drooping.

 

“Who are you?”

 

“I’m the King of Englannnn… why don you peoples leave me ‘lone?”  The words were slurred.

 

“Don’t be smart with me!  What are you and your friends doing on that boat?”

 

“Fishishin… can you believe that?  Leave the little missus at home for days… weeksh… and all they wanna do is fish?  And they get mad at me for tryin’ to have a little fun… They wouldna even let me go to port to find a woman.”

 

“What is your name?”

 

Nathan thought quickly and prayed that Zellar wasn’t too familiar with the island community social register.  “Smith… Wendell Smith.”

 

“Well, Mr. Smith… if you have a wife at home why are you so anxious for a woman here.  Why don’t you and your friends just go home?”

 

“Cause Mishush Smif is a barrachuda… Hate that wo… wom… witsh…” Nathan knew that the longer he could keep Zellar distracted… the more time that passed before the pirate looked close enough to realize who he was really speaking to… the more time his men had to move through the stables and crew quarters and capture the majority of Zellar’s staff.

 

Zellar bent down then backed away at the strong smell of alcohol emanating from the man in front of him.  “Why did you come to my home, Mr. Smith?”

 

Nathan raised his head slightly, taking care to keep his eyes lidded.  “Your house?  I wash trying to find the preshident’s house.”

 

Zellar rolled his eyes at the name of the island local brothel.  “You obviously have a one track mind, Mr. Smith.  My property is off limits to everyone on this island, both inhabitant and guest alike, unless invited.  You were not invited, Mr. Smith.  You are trespassing.  Would you like to know what I do to trespassers?”

 

“Offer them a drink?” Nathan asked.

 

“I shoot trespassers.  I don’t care if you are drunk.  I don’t want you on my land.  Tezlof, tell the guard to take this man out into the woods and shoot him.”

 

The guard moved toward Nathan just as he was reaching for the knife in his boot but a sound in the distance stopped all of their movements.

 

Nathan recognized the signal and leapt to his feet, throwing one arm around Zellar’s neck while his empty hand freed the knife and brought it to Zellar’s chest. 

 

“What the…” Zellar began to struggle against the lock around his neck.  Nathan pressed the blade into his captive’s ribs… just enough to reassure him of its presence.

 

“Be still, you bastard.  I’d love for you to give me a reason to cut out your rotten heart right now.  NO… none of that… call your men off or I will end this here and now.”

 

“For God’s sake back up!” Zellar motioned frantically to Tezlof and the young guard who were advancing toward them.

 

Nathan backed slowly towards the room’s double doors leading to the outside, dragging Zellar with him as he went.

 

“You’ll never get out of here alive!  I’ve dozens of men out there.  When we leave this house they will cut you down with no remorse at all.  You don’t have to do this.  Free me and I’ll grant you free passage.  I’ll give you money…”

 

“I don’t want your filthy lucre, bastard.”  Zellar began to sweat at his captor’s words… and at the fact that his guard dove out of the door and the man didn’t so much as blink an eye.

 

“You want to get killed… is that it?  You think that you’ll make a name for yourself by taking out the great pirate Zellar?”

 

Nathan laughed.  “Great pirate?  You are a two bit thug who won’t even be mentioned in the history books.”  Nathan carefully lowered his hand holding the knife to the knob of the door and slid the lock back.  Tezlof took a step forward just as Zellar wrenched himself out of Nathan’s grasp and fell forward into his minion.

 

Both men righted themselves to find Nathan standing his ground laughing at them but not making any move to retake Zellar.

 

“I won’t go down so easily.  Hardy will be back in a moment with the rest of my men.”  Zellar glared at the laughing man with the wild dark hair.

 

Suddenly the laughter stopped as the man took a single step forward.  “Are you sure about that, Zellar?  Are you absolutely sure?”

 

Something about the man’s compelling gaze captured Zellar’s attention and he stared intently, comprehension slowly dawning.  “You… it’s you… the Rogue!

 

“Very astute, Zellar.  Something as simple as a little hair dye managed to throw you off for quite a while.  Why didn’t you just let us go?  I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t tried to hunt us down.”

 

Zellar’s eyes gleamed.  “I knew you cared for the woman… both her body and her assets.  You don’t want to give them up!”

 

Nathan shook his head in disbelief, realizing that Zellar really believed the fifteen year fantasy he’d created about the woman in the portrait. 

 

“Don’t you get it, Zellar?  She hates you.  You killed her husband and her brother.  You tried to kill me.  I had to send her away to keep her safe from you.”

 

“She’s gone?  Where?” Zellar yelled.

 

“Far away from you… she’s safe someplace where you can’t get to her.”

 

“I will find her.  I’ll never give up.  She was meant to be mine!”

 

“She is already mine and I don’t share.  As for the not giving up… that is why I am here.  This thing ends today.”

 

Zellar’s ears pricked up as he heard the doors swing open behind him.  “You are right.  It ends today.  First you are going to tell me where the woman is.  Then, if you are very lucky, I might let my men kill you before they dismember you.  Take him!”

 

“I don’t think so, you stupid…” Crocker let loose a string of profanity that made even Nathan blush. 

 

Panic flickered in Zellar’s eyes as he noted two more strangers standing behind the Rogue’s second in command.  He swung back toward the Rogue just as a young black man and the old volcano explorer stepped through the outer door to join him.

 

“My men… what have you done?”  The significance of Raleigh’s presence dawned on him.  “You’ve been planning this… you had him here to watch my movements.”

 

“Good strategy, Zellar.  That is what wins the game.  Is the perimeter secure, Mr. Ford?”

 

“Aye, sir.  All of the pirate’s crew are under heavy guard in their quarters.”

 

“Very good.”

 

“Very well played, Captain.” Zellar executed a mock bow.  “I am at your mercy.  Tell me… are you going to kill me now?  Or make me suffer first?”

 

One eye squinted and his lips pursed as Nathan thought a moment.  “Suffer I think…  you definitely need to suffer.  The way that I’ve suffered this past month having to be parted from my wife.”

 

“Wife…  You married the woman!?  My woman!  You stole her from me and you planned this entire operation so that you could murder me in cold blood!  You call me a thug… what does that make you?”

 

“I am not going to murder you, Zellar.  It is going to be a fair fight.  Your men have been locked away simply to make sure that they don’t interfere.  The subterfuge was necessary to make sure that no one else got hurt.  This battle is between you and me… not the crews of our ships.”

 

Zellar glanced at Tezlof who shrugged his shoulders.  “I suppose I should say that it is damned decent of you to give me a sporting chance but I am not feeling very magnanimous towards you at the moment.”  Zellar muttered to Nathan, realizing that he had no other choice.  “What happens if I win?  Your men slaughter me?”

 

“My men will not lay a hand on you… but my men will make damned sure that you never find my wife.”

 

“But, Cap!”

 

“This is a fair fight, Gator.  If he kills me he goes free.  But if he makes one move towards my wife… ever… you know what to do.”

 

Crocker didn’t like Nathan’s answer but he knew the kind of man his friend was.  In a way, Crocker was glad.  Although he didn’t like the idea of Nathan fighting the man he knew that his captain wasn’t the type of person to kill a man in cold blood, no matter what heinous crimes that man had committed.

 

“She will be safe, sir.”

 

Nathan nodded sharply at his friend then turned his attention back to Zellar.  “Swords or pistols?”

 

“Why… swords of course.”

 

“Mr. Ortiz, assist Zellar in getting his sword.  Mr. Crocker, we want no interference.  Secure Zellar’s ‘friend’.”

 

Crocker quickly pulled a length of rope from the loop on his belt and secured Tezlof’s hands and feet.  When the paunchy balding man protested Crocker happily shoved a wad of cloth in his mouth to shut him up.

 

“Where do you wish to fight, sir?” Ford asked.

 

“The light is high enough now.  We can fight on the lawn.  Will you check the lay of the land?”

 

“Right now, Captain.”

 

Ortiz reentered the room with a sheathed saber, having followed Zellar’s directions to the letter.  Zellar reached for the weapon.

 

“Uh uh uh… not yet.  We fight outside where the light is better.”

 

Ortiz led Zellar out while Crocker pushed the bound and gagged Tezlof behind them.  When they reached the porch he quickly secured his prisoner tightly to one of the porch columns.

 

O’Neill approached with Nathan’s sword, having retrieved it from the place in the bushes where it had been secured.  Nathan grasped the pommel like an old friend and unsheathed it.  He turned and took his stance then nodded to Ortiz.

 

Miguel pulled Zellar’s sword from its case and carefully inspected the edges before laying the blade across his forearm and offered the hilt to Zellar.

 

Zellar grabbed the blade and hefted the weapon into the air just once before he abruptly attacked.  Nathan wasn’t caught off guard, his weapon slicing up to block Zellar’s first blow.  Thus was the battle started.

 

Zellar bore down hard, hacking away at Nathan in an attempt to unsettle him quickly.  Nathan was ready for every move, giving ground to the larger man then using his leaner frame to advantage to twist the fight around so that he had more room at his back.

 

The all out assault was causing Zellar to tire quickly and Nathan encouraged him as he deftly parried each blow.  Zellar finally broke off and back up slightly, keeping a wary eye on Nathan as he struggled to catch his breath.  His eyes narrowed as he realized that Nathan wasn’t breathing heavily.  When he reengaged his thrusts were smoother and more controlled.

 

Nathan finally began to do more than just defend himself and soon Zellar was giving ground under the onslaught of Nathan’s saber.  A miscalculation saw a glancing blow catch Zellar’s left forearm and blood flowed to the surface, turning the sleeve of his white shirt red.

 

“First blood goes to you, Rogue, but that doesn’t make you the better man by any means.”

 

“I’ll always be the better man in her eyes, Zellar, no matter what happens here today.”

 

Zellar laughed evilly.  “Your wife is a whore, Rogue, high born lady or not.  I barely had to touch her to have her wet and panting in my bed.  She was begging for me to take her.”

 

“Liar!” Nathan knew that Zellar was trying to mess with his head to throw him off balance.

 

“She screamed at my touch, begged me to bite her breasts, to touch her… she wanted a real man between her thighs.  And she was so warm and tight when I drove into her…”

 

Nathan only lost his concentration for a single second but that was all that was needed.  Zellar saw the slip and used it to his advantage, driving in ruthlessly.  Nathan didn’t feel the cold steel as it sliced through the skin of his side, realizing that he’d been hit only when he felt warm blood flowing down his leg.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Cynthia wiped her mouth daintily with her linen napkin then laid it on the table as she rose, following her mother’s lead.  Lucas raced to pull the chair back for his mother and then his sister as he had been taught.

 

“You are becoming quite the young gentleman,” Kristin praised her son while ruffling his hair as she beamed at him.

 

“Thank you, Mama.  I’m trying to remember everything you’ve been teaching me.”

 

Cynthia smiled her thanks at her new brother as well.

 

“What are our plans for this afternoon, Mummy?” She asked as the small group entered the hallway.

 

“Lucas will be working on his lessons.  None of that now, young man,” Kristin laughed as Lucas tried to stifle a small groan.  “You are doing excellently but you still have a great deal to learn.  There are other subjects besides the sciences, you know.  I shall soon have to arrange for a proper tutor for you.”

 

“Yes, Mama.”

 

“Katie will be joining us this afternoon to visit so if you work diligently you may join us on the terrace for tea later, hmm?”

 

Lucas leaned forward to kiss Kristin’s cheek.  His lips had just brushed her soft skin when he heard her gasp.  He instinctively grabbed her waist to hold her as she screamed, her hands falling to her side, just above her hip.

 

“Mummy!  What’s wrong?” Cynthia quickly knelt as Lucas lowered Kristin to the floor then followed, supporting her torso with his own.

 

“Mama?  Do we need a doctor?”

 

“Pain… oh God, the pain…” Kristin gasped as she clutched her side.

 

Lucas quickly averted his head as Cynthia ran a hand along the area Kristin was clutching.  “I don’t feel anything, Mummy.  I’ll have Godard send for the doctor in the village.”

 

Kristin shook her head as she began to breathe easier.  “No… it’s ebbing…  Help me stand, Lucas.  It must be a muscle cramp.  Walking will help…”

 

Lucas and Cynthia shared a worried glance.  It was obvious that something more was going on with Kristin than just a simple cramp.

 

Once Kristin was on her feet Lucas wrapped his arms around her and carefully guided her towards the parlour door.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Crocker jumped forward but Nathan waved him back as he righted himself and pulled his sword level.

 

“I won’t have to find your wife.” Zellar sneered.  “Once she finds out you are gone she’ll be running back to me, desperate to have me warm her bed.  She’s a wild one and she won’t be long without a man to plow her.  She’s already had a taste of me… I’ll wager she’ll want more.”

 

Zellar could see the blood oozing from Nathan’s cut and knew that his opponent was growing weaker.  He continued his taunting.

 

“Were it not for her age I’d have her heavy with child every year until my hunger for her dissipated.  As it is I’ll have to be content with bringing her back here and tying her to my bed naked.”

 

With a roar Nathan launched himself at Zellar, steel flashing in the early morning sun as his adrenaline rose.  Zellar was forced backwards beneath the wild assault of Nathan’s blade.  He missed the slight rise in the ground and stumbled.

 

The tip of Nathan’s sword caught the back of Zellar’s hand then rimmed the handle of his sword and slung it across the lawn.  Zellar fell on his back with a loud ‘oomph’ then opened his eyes to find Nathan standing over him, the tip of the Rogue’s blade pricking the hollow of his throat.

 

“Captain!” Nathan barely heard Crocker’s voice over the blood pumping in his ears.  “You don’t have to do this, Captain.  You defeated him.  We can hand him over to the authorities.”

 

“No, he deserves to die.”

 

“That may be, Cap… but you don’t have to be the one who commits the deed.  He’ll be judged for his crimes and hanged.”  He moved slowly toward Nathan.

 

“Don’t!” Crocker stopped at Nathan’s shout.  “How could you do it, Zellar?  You don’t remember or care, do you?  Innocent people die and you don’t even remember their names.”

 

“I’ve killed a lot of people.  You can’t expect me to remember every one.”

 

“My wife’s husband and brother… do you remember their names?”

 

“Come now, Captain. They weren’t important.  The ship was important… the portrait in the watch was important.  Unfortunately my men destroyed all of the papers in the owner’s quarters in a drunken celebration before I found the watch and the beauty within.  All I knew was the name Carruthers… but my inquires turned up nothing.   Finding the woman… that’s been my life’s goal since the moment I saw her.”

 

“Don’t listen to him, Captain.  He’s messing with your head.  That’s his game, that’s what he does.”

 

“I have to finish this.”  Nathan’s voice was hard as stone.

 

“Then finish it.”  Zellar bit out.  “Go ahead, kill me, run me through!  If you let me live I will go after her again, I swear it!  I’ll never let her go!”

 

Bridger stared into the eyes of the man he held at sword point and realized at that moment that Zellar was truly insane in his obsession with Kristin.

 

“Nathan…” the name was spoken softly but in a voice that Bridger recognized immediately.  He didn’t let go of his sword but he did let up on the pressure.

 

“Let him go, Nathan.”

 

“I can’t, Bill!  He’ll come after Kristin and I have to protect her.”

 

“Trust me, Nathan.  I did some checking.  Zellar is a deserter from the US navy.  I have enough men of rank with me to convene a court martial.  Let Zellar be tried for the crimes he has committed.  Let the law take care of him.”

 

Noyce’s words finally penetrated and he broke his stare with Zellar to swing his eyes up to his friend’s face.  The topsails of three US frigates were visible in the distance over Bill’s shoulder.  His eyes questioned.

 

“When you sent for the sloop I knew what you were doing so I came after you.  Luckily Crocker had given me the directions you obtained from McLeary.  The authorities in Georgetown have been after Zellar for years.  They were glad to join me.  They are waiting to take him into custody.  We’ll convene a tribunal and court-martial him right here.”

 

Bill waved Ford and Crocker forward to take hold of Zellar as Nathan slowly lowered his sword and moved away.  Zellar was dragged away, kicking and screaming as Bill wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulder.

 

“You’ve done the right thing, Nathan… Nathan… NATHAN!”  Bill struggled to hang on to Nathan as he fainted dead away.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

  sail ahead...