Bloody Beth

Chapter 9: Stirring Battles

Jacob walked into the tiny cabin he shared with his wife. Somewhat stunned, he exclaimed, "I just caught my sister and the lady Speer on deck, stark naked!"

Elaine, nonplussed by the announcement, looked up with a smile. "And what were they doing, dear husband?"

"They claimed to be bathing. I suppose--" He heard something fall over, and a loud moan. "I suppose that claim could be taken as true. They have apparently retired to their cabin and--" A louder moan, clearly from the lady Speer, again interrupted him. "I don't understand it."

"Understand what?"

"I don't understand what it is that they're doing in there. I can imagine sodomy, although it strikes me as a painful and unhealthy practice, not to mention the Church's opinion on the subject! There's always--" The loud cry of his sister's name interrupted him again and he shot a black look at the door. "With two men, it's easy to see what there is to, um, handle. But, my God, Elaine, I can't imagine what two women would do with one another. There are two insides there."

Elaine stared at him, that faint, deliriously lovely smile alive upon her lips. They listened as a final soft moan died away next door, then the rustle of bodies climbing into bed. Above it all, the patter of the rain on the upper deck continued. "Bathing sounds like a wonderful idea," she finally announced, walking toward the door.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"To bathe," she said. "Coming?"

Jacob stared at his impetuous wife for a moment, then smiled. "Someone will have to stay on deck and guard your honor."

"From the sodomites?" Elaine laughed. "You must be joking."

"There are at least four people, aside from myself, whose eyes follow you around with a lean and hungry stare, Elaine."

"Four?" Elaine asked as they made their way up the narrow steps to the deck. On her fingers she counted off names. "Patrick, Spike..."

"Jessica Speer and my sister. And my sister I trust the least of all in this matter. She has commented on your beauty often enough."

Elaine pulled her shirt over her head, allowing her pale breasts to swing free in the darkness. She pushed her breeches down over her wide hips and stepped out. "Your sister and I have talked earnestly and often, Jacob, about you and her, and her interest in the lady Speer." She began opening the buttons on his jacket before tossing it aside. "And I admit that she has piqued my curiosity. But I am curious about many things, Jacob, that I cannot do because I have sworn myself to you, and obeying that oath has brought me such happiness and... and... and adventure! For me to break my oath would be a terrible pain that I do not wish to bear. I am happier being your wife than anything." She pulled open the belt about his waist and let his breeches fall to the deck.

Jacob pulled Elaine into his arms as the warm rain beat down upon them. It dripped into his eyes, making him blink. "Oh, Elaine, you have made my heart the gladdest thing on the Earth. I would put Mohammed's mountain back for you, one teaspoon of dirt at a time if that's what I had for a tool." He could feel her large breasts pressed against his chest and his own heart beat loud in his ears.

She squirmed free and, grabbing a rag and a bucket, returned to him. "Let me wash you, Jacob?"

This was a new offer, but Jacob agreed readily. She looked around the deck; there was nobody else here. The one man on watch had readily moved to the forecastle where he could see much of the sea but little of the deck below. He could hear them, but he had been gracious enough to leave them alone otherwise.

She began at his shoulders, washing under his chin and along the line of his back. "You are a handsome man, Jacob. So athletic. I did so love you at first sight."

"I'm glad your father agreed to the marriage."

"As am I. I think he was hoping that I would find someone not inspired to the journeys that he has traveled. He would be angry to discover that I have found someone as romantic and attached to world as he, as I am." Her cloth washed his buttocks, then she trailed down his long, lean legs. "Turn around."

She stood back up and began again, doing his arms, his chest, his flat, strong belly. "Oh, in the olden days, you'd be a knight in shining armor, Jacob!" As she knelt before him she said, "And here is your lance, Sir Jacob."

Jacob gritted his teeth as the coarse cloth stroked the length of his already inflamed manhood, then treated his testicles and the space behind them with as much care as Elaine could manage with such a rag. He closed his eyes against the rest of the onslaught, but instead gasped as he felt something incredibly warm and soft engulf his sex. He looked down to see Elaine with her mouth about his sex, her head slowly closing in on his belly. He couldn't believe it; she had to be choking herself on this manhood. But she persevered, taking the whole of it down into the back of her mouth, and then she began bobbing back and forth on it. It was more than he could bear; he had never been given pleasure in this way, had not even believed that such an act was possible for a woman of Elaine's breeding.

Her tongue did obscene things to the underside of his swollen sex as her lips and the back of her throat teased the head and shaft. He entwined his hands in her hair, holding onto her. He promised himself that he would let go if she needed him too, but he didn't believe that he would be able to keep that promise at some point.

Elaine's fingers diddled about his sac as she slowly teased his erection ever harder. Jacob could barely keep his balance as she sucked his manhood down her throat until her nose was buried in the hair of his belly. She was tossing her head now, wild, an animal wrapped around heaven wrapped around his throbbing need. He could feel the fire welling upwards between his thighs, and when it erupted he shouted her name like a benediction.

She knelt there for a moment, letting his climax wane, and then she stood, visibly swallowing down the last traces of his climax. "My God," he breathed. "When did you learn to do that?"

"Just now," she said. "I thought that after cleaning you... Did you like it?"

"Like it? It was so wonderful I'm sure the Holy Church has condemned it!" He gasped, still reeling from the explosion that had wracked his body and soul.

He was still trying to figure out what to say next when Elaine handed him another rag. "Wash me," she insisted.

Blinking, his body weakened from the effort, he took to washing her. He washed her neck and her shoulders, then spent such time on her breasts that she had to remind him, "There's more of me than that."

"What? Oh. They are very lovely."

"Yes, but there's more of me to wash. Please?"

He grinned and resumed his assigned duties. Soon he had her completely clean, from top to bottom. Or so he believed.

"You missed something," she said.

"I did?" he asked.

"Let me," she said, taking the rag from his hand. She knelt on the deck, her legs parted, and with the rag liberally washed her sex clean. Jacob, familiar with the texture of the cloth, had avoided washing her there for that very reason-- he had expected it to be painful. But Elaine washed her sex very seriously, rinsing it completely with water two or three times. Jacob had never been aware of the intensity with which women treated their genitals and was fascinated by the ritual. "There," she said as she stood. "Clean as the day I was born. Come on, let's go back to our cabins. I must show you something."

They gathered up their clothing and hung it in the cabin. Jacob retrieved the long shirt he had taken to wearing as a nightshirt but Elaine stopped him. "I said there is something I must show you."

"Yes, you did say that. What did you mean by it?"

"Come here," she said as she sat on the edge of the bed. She lifted one leg onto the bed, exposing her sex to his eyes. "Have you ever had a good look at my pudenda?" she asked. The filthy Spanish word rolled off her tongue without a blush from her.

"I can't say as I have. I never thought to look."

"Then look," she said. "Look well, Jacob. This is the portal to your paradise, and mine, and this is the gateway from which your babes will come." With but one oil lantern, Jacob couldn't see much, but he could make out the basic shapes. She touched herself with two fingers, parting what appeared to be lips, showing him her core. There was a small opening, barely large enough for his finger. How he had managed to find such a tiny orifice with his organ in the dark all these times, he could only guess. She had guided him often enough. He looked closer, and finally she whispered, "Jacob, kiss me. Here." She indicated a tiny object, just a little more pale than the surrounding skin, near the top of her pudenda.

Jacob thought to protest, then remembered how studiously she had washed herself. This must be the reason why, he realized. She had wanted to be clean for him, so that he wouldn't be put off by her request. He considered it for a moment, and then, with his eyes closed, kissed her where she had indicated. "Oh, Jacob..." he voice trailed off in a kind of surprised pleasure. "Again. With your tongue. The way we kiss."

Jacob pressed his open lips to the lips of her pudenda, his tongue reaching past his teeth to find that little spot she had pointed to, treating it as if it were her tongue and they were is one of those wrestling kisses she adored so. Her body went rigid, her knees trembling, her moans soft and constant. "More, Jacob, more..."

Jacob forgot treating it like a kiss and took to licking her in earnest, kissing her sex. He found that the further away from that spot the less she moaned; the closer and the stronger the sensation. "Slowly, Jacob, build slowly..." she moaned as he intensified his attention. He relented and went back to the slow, gentle flickering she had been so enjoying. "Whatever happens, do not stop, beloved," she gasped. "I will be all right..."

If that was meant to make him feel less anxious it was a miserable failure. He was concerned, but he didn't know what to do except plunge onwards. He pressed his mouth to her sex, stirring his tongue about that solid little spot. Her body shook with an intensity he had rarely seen before. She held one hand on her belly, the other holding her up on the bed, as he licked her pudenda, now harder. Suddenly, her body bucked upwards so hard he had to grip her thighs to follow her. She stopped breathing except to whisper, "Don't stop!" He pressed his tongue hard against her and then, with a sob, she fell to the bed, gasping, trembling, her whole body shaking like the ship in a storm. "Oh, Jacob!"

She was crying. Jacob scrambled onto the tiny bed with her. "My love, have I hurt you? What happened? What have I done?"

"No, beloved, you did not hurt me. You have given me what I have craved since your sister described it to me. The pleasure of the pearl, Jacob, that little thing at the top of my sex, where my ecstasy can be as great as a man's. You have given me a climax I did not think a woman could have. It was so powerful I feel like I have been reborn." She stroked his hair gently. "And you, my beloved Jacob, oh, you have given this to me."

"I... You climaxed? Much as man can?"

"No, not in the same way. But with the same pleasure. I have no shaft, I do not shoot as you do. But I can feel the same way, Jacob, in a womanly way." She kissed his mouth softly, thanking him with her body. "That is what two insides may do with one another."

Jacob smiled. "Oh." Then he grinned wider. "You are an excellent teacher."

"Thank you," she grinned. "Now, if you are satisfied, I am as well. Let's to bed."

He agreed. "And the next time, we do that when it is sunny. There is more I want to see, Elaine."

Four bells and dawn broke over the ship with quiet shafts of light in a sky barely littered with pearlescent clouds. The cries of men and the sounds of grinding drifted across the ship as the pirates hauled sandstones back and forth over the deck, polishing it clean. This was one of many behaviors that at first had astonished, and then pleased, Jacob, about the Ladder. Elizabeth had assured him, however, that any pirate vessel worth its salt did much the same. It was not the discipline that men chafed under and so deserted their fleets for the pirate vessels; it was the bloody unfair-mindedness of the Captains with their self-importance and callous attitudes that drove men away.

The men who stayed with the pirate ships truly loved the sea and the work they did. To Jacob, there was a feel to the ship as if the whole of it were alive in its own right. The days traveling out and back were some of the most peaceful he had known. It was completely unlike the trip from England, which had been all workmanlike and unpleasant. The captain had been a good sort, but not the kind of man one would invite to dinner. He supposed that he understood some of the men's' complaints about English captains.

He commented on the ship's liveliness, but Beth disagreed. "We loaded the gold too fast, Jacob. There's a gripe and a bent to her, a tendency to swing to port if we're not paying attention. We didn't get a chance to trim her right." Beth looked up. The mainsail was full and the foresail billowed out. "But we're getting good wind. Even with the cargo we're full up to seven knots." She stepped up on a ratline to get a good look along the length of the ship. Cupping one hand to her mouth she shouted, "Spike! The smaller jib and tighten the spanker."

She jumped back down. "We'll be in Jamaican waters tomorrow, if I don't miss my guess."

A whistle brought her attention. She looked up to see one of the younger boys in the crew, Filip, pointing out over the sea. "Sails on the horizon, Captain! It's a corvette!"

She spotted Dismas climbing the ropes, glass in hand. He reached Filip and found himself a secure spot to sit. "It's trouble, Captain! It's the Medusa!"

"Damn!" Beth swore. "All hands, prepare for war!"

"What is it?" Jacob asked. The deck was a flurry of men pulling the protective canvas off their deck guns. Other men with buckets hauled water up from the sea, wet down the canvas, and prepared for wraps of powder to be hauled up from the powder room.

"Jacob, go below. Find Elaine. And pray. It's Morrow's Medusa."

"There is to be a battle?"

"Jacob, if Morrow sinks us, he gets my bounty, plus a bonus, plus a pardon from Marbry for being a pirate himself! Better still, Morrow hates me with a passion for being a woman and a better seaman than he. Accuses me of being a weather witch, among other things." She growled, a deep sound that alarmed Jacob. Such sounds should not come from one's sister, he thought.

"How soon?"

"At best, he is six miles from here." She glanced at the sun. "Maybe by sundown. Maybe tomorrow. It is one ship against another here, a small action by any measure. Unless he's an impetuous bastard, and he is, we will be waiting a while. We can't outrun him. Not with the gold loading us more ballast than our usual stones." She turned and found Patrick beside her. "Patrick. Port guns with iron, starboard guns half iron, half grape. And you know what to do with the Americans."

"Aye, Captain," he smiled and hurried to her orders.

"The Americans?" Jacob asked, nervously.

"Aye. Two red-skins from a country inland called Sher-o-kee or Ker-o-kee. I cannot pronounce it correctly. Brought to Haiti as slaves, but they got out and into the Jacob. Sharpest shots with a rifle you ever saw with your own eyes."

She watched as Stede brought the ship to starboard, running before the wind. "Keep the yards in, Spike!" she shouted. "We can't outrun him and I need all sails in all points!"

She watched, anxiously, as Medusa swung about and began the chase. "I want the topsails gently reefed," she told Spike, "and ready to drop, just in case."

He nodded. "Keep the wind in reserve."

"It's a steady wind," she said. "How is the glass?"

"Steady as she can be, Captain. If we're lucky, it will be the one constant."

She sighed. A sea of glass, a constant wind. This would a game of chess, every move out in the open. She shooed Jacob down into the cabins. "Good. Spike, move as much powder as you can from the gunroom into the mess."

"The mess?" he asked, surprised.

"We're going to give Morrow our rudder. He'll think we've made a mistake, and try to ball us there, either to smash the rudder or light the powder. If we're lucky, he won't do the one, and if we move the powder he won't do the other."

"It's a risky maneuver."

"He's got heavier guns but fewer men. He needs all the hands he can get."

"Ah," Spike said. "I think I see. The men aren't going to like it."

"Then hope that there's not too much blood on our side, Spike. This is for everything."

"It's always for everything," Spike observed.

Nervously, she watched as Medusa swung out wide. "Keep her astern us, Stede."

He nodded. He didn't take it as an affront at all that she reminded him.

The morning wore on. Noon, and dinner, arrived on deck-- hard tack, wet beer, and strips of salted beef that sat in the stomach like the 18-pound round-shot neatly stacked by each gun on deck. The Medusa came upon them, her flag a bloody red flag with a black skull sewn to it waving out behind the ship like a war pennant. Morrow was telling them what they already knew: no quarter.

The crack of a gun from the rear told her that Morrow was already sizing up the range. "Fire in kind, Spike," she shouted.

The men leaped to her command. Morrow had the wind on his side, and so his range was better. This would be the hard part of the fight, she thought; getting Morrow to think she was scared. "You men! Make it look like we're putting on more sail! Make it look desperate! But not one extra tenth-knot out of her, you hear?"

They heard. Although she feared greatly for her men-- back there was no mere merchanter, no Company ship taking the long way, but the real thing-- it was also one of the few times when her heart soared to the cap of her mainmast, to see them all enthralled to action, all called to the same desperate measures. Some men may die this day, but none would go down unwillingly, without giving his all while he lived.

A ball skipped off the water; Morrow was firing his shot low to get his range. Like a stone on a pond, it skipped thrice before striking the Ladder on the starboard quarter, doing no damage. Beth swore. "They've got our range."

The next ball went high, sailing through the rigging. It tore through a shroud and fell harmlessly into the sea; men leaped to tie the shroud tight lest another one weaken the sail. It was all to the the pretense to desperation. "Let it fall!" Beth cried. "Let it fall, but be ready to haul it back at once!"

The men, surprised by her command, paused only a second before they took their action, moving to drop down the main topsail as if the roundshot had actually done the damage. "Up the ratlines!" Beth cried. "Every man without a gun, make it look right! Up the ratlines, damn you!"

The ship slowed even as the men tried to make it look as if they were sailing faster. The Medusa now came upon them hard, even as Stede pushed the Ladder to port, desperate to keep the profile narrow and the Medusa's aim hard. "Down, down! Take to repair! Oz! Saverri! Get below, I need my carpenters alive!"

Beth smiled. It was all going well. Another ball hit the Ladder, glancing downward by her waist, splintering her port gunrail. Men scrambled to pick up the roundshot that had scattered. Nobody had been hurt.

"Stede! Now!"

The ship tacked hard to port, and Morrow came up, his front guns taking their shots long, whistling through the lines. There was a pause. "Starboard guns ready," she said low to the man beside her. "Crawl to it if you have to."

The man took off, passing the word down the line to the men who hid behind the gunports on the topdeck. They removed the tompions. Beth waited. "Stede... NOW!"

The ship wheeled to starboard even as Morrow bore down on them. "All sail, all sail!" Beth yelled. Morrow's wheelman panicked, sure that he would crack his own ship ramming the Ladder, and turned hard to port. It was fast enough to prevent a ram, but not so fast to prevent what Beth intended. "FIRE!" she shouted.

Eight cannon spoke all at once. Four heavy roundshot soared almost precisely the length of the Medusa, smashing the wheel and cracking at least one mast. Four rounds of grapeshot, small balls of iron held in the cannon by a bag of thin canvas, scattered across the deck, killing mercilessly. Screams went up from the men of Medusa, shouts of pain. "Now!" Beth shouted as Stede wrestled the ship to port again.

For a moment, her rudder was fully exposed to the Medusa at nearly point-blank range. The Medusa took full advantage of that. Her ten guns fired, smashing into the Ladder's rear. The gunners knew what they were after; their shots went at her orlop, the bottom deck. They meant to flood the rudderroom and keep the carpenters out until she sank.

"Captain!" Stede shouted. "I can steer! It's hard, but it's there!" It lightened her heart to know that Medusa had half-failed; the rudder was still there, splintered but there. But they were taking water now, and they would be able to neither patch nor pump until they got out of battle.

"Keep the turn!" Beth shouted. "Starboard guns, roundshot! Port guns..." The ships were now at broadsides, even as the Medusa's men fought to reload. "Fire!" The cannon roared again, their roundshot smashing into Medusa's guts. Fire and water seemed to billow about Medusa. "Stede, get us out of here!"

It was not to be. The wind died to almost a whisper. "No!" Beth swore. "Half and half, keep it going!" They were almost close enough for pistol shots, and up high Beth heard the sound of rifles. The Americans! One cheered hard, a strange whooping cheer.

Then the wind picked up again. Stede turned the wheel to get the Ladder away. The Medusa's men had reloaded her cannon and hit the Ladder hard and low. The Ladder shuddered as she pulled away, the sounds of splintering and a scream filling the air. "She's wallowing like a grogged pig, Beth!" Stede cried out.

"Keep her moving, Stede! Buckets and pumps!" she shouted. Men ran back to the chain pump to clear the bilge and hopefully save the Ladder from sinking.

The Ladder and the Medusa lurched away from each other. "What's the numbers, Spike?" she asked as her second came to the deck. He had blood on his shirt and a long look on his face.

"Eamonn is dead. A roundshot knocked a splinter off the foremast, went right through his heart." He gestured with his hands to suggest a 'splinter' some two feet long. "Alban is wounded and may lose an eye. Only slight wounds otherwise. You were right to move the men forward. No grape," he said, amazed.

"Morrow needs my head to collect full," she pointed out.

"Lucky us," Spike replied without a touch of irony.

"Captain!" called Dahaya from the top of the mainmast. "Sails on the horizon! Another one! Big ship!"

"By my God," Dismas shouted, looking through his spyglass. "It's the Mary's Ranger. 74 guns. Three masts. A full head of wind. And we're limping like a three-legged dog with the shits."

Beth sighed. "So close. So close. Prepare to surrender."

"Aye, Captain."

"And, Spike? Run up the English flag."

Aghast, Spike looked at her. "They'll hang us all if we do that!"

"They'll hang us all anyway," she pointed out. "Run up the Union and the House of Harcourt. Signal 'English privateer, attacked by pirates, please help.' Put that on the port yardarm."

Spike shook his head. "If we get out of this, Captain, I'll raise a toast to you in old age."

"You'll probably die of some horrible disease caught in one of those old knocking-houses."

"From now on, I can afford Lofn's graces," Spike said with a grin. "If we survive." He hurried to the stores.

The massive ship came on them fast. In forty minutes she could see people on the deck, walking about, peering back at them through long-glass. The carpenter's mate came out to tell her that the rudderwell had taken canvas well enough and they'd be able to pump it dry enough for patchwork, but she really needed to be hauled out and fixed proper. Beth took the news easily enough. The Ladder was an old boat. She needed a lot. Looking through the glass again, Beth wondered if she would get it.

The Ranger came on, approaching fast. Without a change in her flags, she turned to the Medusa, bearing down on her with all speed. Suddenly she let out a tremendous volley of gunfire, raking the Medusa to the waterline. She went down silently without firing a shot in return. The soft crack of rifle fire reached Beth's ears, and with great sadness she realized that they were murdering the pirates left in the water.

"That could have been us," Beth said.

"It may yet well be us."

"Another sail coming fast!"

"What!?" Beth asked, pulling up her glass. "The party is complete. It's the Macedonia."

The Macedonia was Ranger's replacement; both of them took to the water until Marbry released one.

Ranger turned around and headed back toward the Ladder. "Ahoy, Ladder! Is your Master on board?"

"Get Jacob!" she ordered, sotto voce, then shouted "Lay on the sail, men!"

A minute later her brother, bruised but none the worse for wear, appeared on deck wearing a blue coat. Beth thought that a nice touch of Patrick's. "What am I to do here?"

Beth said, "You are the rightful inheritor of this boat. You have hired these men to do a job for you. This ship is a privateer, and you have the legal paperwork to show it. We are on a contract from King George."

"Do I?" Jacob asked.

"Yes!" Beth hissed.

Jacob surprised Beth by repeating what she had said in a loud and steady voice. "Spike. Help him." She disappeared down into the hold.

"Lie to, Ladder. I am coming aboard!"

Five minutes later, Beth emerged from her cabin to see Allison and Jacob standing on the deck. Allison was smoking some of that foul weed the Americans sometimes enjoyed. Jacob spotted her, and her change of attire, and smiled. "Ah, captain," Jacob said. "I see the quiet has finally coaxed my sister out of her hiding place. You have met my sister before? Captain Allison, Elizabeth Harcourt."

Beth, pleased that Jacob was such a fast learner, curtsied awkwardly for the captain. "A pleasure to meet you again, sir."

"Indeed," he said, with appreciation and amusement. "And in better light. It is nice to know that our meetings have been so fortuitous. Your brother and the first mate have explained much to me."

"Captain," Jacob said. "As you know, the Macedonia is bearing down on us even as we speak, and will be here in just a few moments. What shall we tell him?"

"The truth, of course. That William Marbry crafted an illegal order making the Jacob's Ladder a pirate vessel when it is, in fact, an armed merchanter operating under the King's aegis."

"This will keep you in Jamaica a little longer," Beth said.

"If my men can get off the ship, they'll be happier for it. I've been forced to keep them on, in sight of land, for too long for fear they'll abandon." He looked back. "We may have that chance now." He took Beth by the arm and led her out of earshot of the officers who had accompanied him. "I don't know if it is you or your brother who is truly in charge now, but since you have been Captain of the Ladder for so long it is you I will ask. I need a favor of you. I know that a significant weight of the gold is yours and your family's. Since the Medusa is sunk with all hands and probably had not much on board anyway, could I ask you for a favor, peer to peer?"

"You want a prize?" she asked.

"A small one. Enough to give my men a night in the stew."

I don't know the meaning of that phrase," she said. "I haven't lived in England in quite some time, sir."

"A night at Lofn's. A full meal. Warm beds. That kind of thing."

She smiled. "Anything to make them happy, but not so much to think they can abandon dear old England, eh?" He nodded. "I will do what I can, Captain."

"Thank you, Captain," he said, his voice earnest. She liked Allison. He was a capable officer. They returned to the forecastle even as the Macedonia came into hailing range. The Captain of the Macedonia, a man named Higgins, joined them on the deck.

The difference between the two was night and day. Where Allison was trim, Higgins was given to portliness. Where Allison understood the nature of long duty, Higgins was fresh from coastal patrols along the civilized coasts of the Mediterranean and Atlantic and not the wilds of the New World and the Gulf of Florida. He was the sort of man who employed floggings more frequently than oakum or bilge duty. "These are grave charges, Allison. What proof do you have of them?"

Allison spread his hands. "We have the principles here. The Lady Jessica Coke, the Duke of Harcourt, his sister long thought dead. We have the Letter of Course, and we have the gold with the King's insignia upon it, which Lord Harcourt here is well and ready to take to England. That alone should be enough to make the point. And we have Marbry's own suspect activities. As a pirate vessel, the Ladder was a mere irritant, the Medusa a true terror. Yet the Ladder not only fetched a price ten times higher, but the Medusa was hired and pardoned if she should sink the Ladder. Finally, the Letter of Course specifies the Harcourt family, yet the Harcourt map was found in the home of the Duke of Coke." He stunned the listening conspirators with his next words. "A man whom Marbry murdered to keep the gold for himself. Isn't that true, Lady Speer?"

She nodded, mutely, her own eyes hovering between guilt and surprise.

"That is a very serious charge," Higgins said.

"It is nevertheless true. The night that Lady Harcourt learned the truth from the duke, Marbry was alerted of the meeting and rode to the duke's residence. He failed to stop the Harcourts, but murdered the duke in a frustrated attempt to keep the secret for himself. I have the testimony of several people, including the one who alerted the Governor. I hate to bear bad news, Lady Harcourt, but it was Amalynn who betrayed your meeting at the duke's residence. I saw her speak with the duke moments before he tore out of Lofn's for home. Then she left the house, I would guess to find Marbry."

"Amalynn?" Beth closed her eyes. "I am a sadder woman for it. To know that one of my sex could be so deceitful." She tried to hide her disappointment, but the news stabbed her deep as a knife in the guts. She had adored Amalynn for her skills and bright eyes. Had it all been deception? What price had been worth...

Allison nodded. "I understand. Come. Your ship is wounded. We will tow you back to Jamaica, where we will entice the Governor into open ground and arrest him for treason."

Jacob shook his head. "We will not accept a tow, Captain, not while she has a mast standing."

Allison grinned. "You are a true man of the sea, Lord Harcourt." That made Beth's smile return, if only as a flash before her grief took her again. "Very well. We will... escort you back to Kingston. And we shall make it once more a town of the King."