Time went by slowly on the Black Vengeance as Baltazar counted it. When the hour finally came to a close, Papi came back up on deck, “Bad news Captain.”
Baltazar nodded, “Well I expected we’d have more than our fair share of it. What’s the matter?”
“It looks like Jaspart was scraping the bottom of his holds in order to catch us.” Papi replied. “We’ve enough left for maybe two days.”
“I see.” Baltazar replied while deep in thought. “We’ll have to put about then. That’ll also give us time to repair the damage this ship took from the Specter’s guns.”
Gilles turned to Baltazar with a nervous expression, “Put about sir? We’re sailing through Spanish waters, if we put in to a port along the coast…”
“I know,” Baltazar interrupted, “we’re being hunted by two major powers in the area… fortunately Portugal isn’t one of them.”
Morgan smiled, “Viana do Castelo is it?”
Baltazar returned his smile with a nod, “Aye, Viana do Castelo. I spent some time there when I was younger. It’s a large port city where a lot of adventurers sail from. Their merchants and dock masters don’t ask a lot of questions, so we should be fine.”
He then turned back to Gilles, “The hour is up, turn hard to port and steer us a course south, southeast.”
Gilles nodded and brought the ship around. The Black Vengeance listed slightly to port as they turned sharply. Once Baltazar was certain that they were going the right way, he turned back to Gilles, “Rudder amidships.”
The Black Vengeance quickly righted herself and began her voyage south. Baltazar looked behind him. He couldn’t see the French ship, but he could hear thundering explosions off in the distance.
Morgan turned his attention to the noise, “They’re firing at us?”
“They must think we’re not very smart.” Baltazar replied. “They’re firing blindly either hoping against hope to hit us or scare us into doing something stupid.”
He shook his head as he turned back to Gilles, “Amateurs… hold your course Mr. Gilles.”
Gilles nodded, “Aye Captain!”
Once Baltazar was satisfied that they were safe, he turned his attention away from their French pursuers. Though it was hard to see anything, he was able to pick out Melisande standing at the bow of the ship. Her face appeared to be directed downward toward some of the battle damage. A shot from the Specter had ripped up part of the aft railing on the forecastle of the ship.
Baltazar made his way down the starboard walkway to the forecastle. It was a bit of a squeeze getting around the deck guns Jaspart had added, but he managed to do so without running into anyone. The extra cannon limited the Black Vengeance’s cargo space. At one point, this ship would have only carried three cannons on either side, but the hull had been modified by a skilled shipyard to carry double the armaments on the gun deck, as well as three deck cannons on either side. Muzzle loading swivel guns had also been added to fore and aft castles.
This extra armament gave the Black Vengeance a rather cluttered feel. In addition, she also had to give up significant cargo space for the powder magazine. It was a hefty price for the extra protection, but Baltazar still considered it a fair trade as she still had far more cargo space then the Specter.
Baltazar climbed the small stairway to the deck of the forecastle. He made his way over to Melisande, when he noticed that she had a look of despair on her face. Once he was close enough, he placed his hand on her back and caressed her gently, “Everything okay?”
“No,” she replied, “everything is far from okay.”
Baltazar turned to face her, “What is it?”
“What is it?” She yelled. “Are you jesting? All the people I know and love with the exception of Papi, are dead. There is a chance that my home is far away from here, and that is where we are heading. It also appears that some inhuman creature is after me… I would think ‘what is wrong’ would be obvious, even to a ruffian like you!”
The moment the words left her lips, she regretted them. She was under a lot of stress, but Baltazar was only trying to help and didn’t deserve it. She lowered her eyes and calmed her voice as she spoke, “I’m sorry… I… I didn’t mean that.”
“It’s okay.” Baltazar replied. “Look, I know it’s not Mont Saint Michel, but you do have a home here with us. You will always be welcomed aboard the Black Vengeance.”
Melisande nodded, “I know… and to be honest, it’s what I’ve wanted since I was a child, reading about the discoveries of others, but I didn’t think my freedom would come at such a high price.”
“You can’t blame yourself.” Baltazar insisted. “You had no knowledge of whom or what you are. Perhaps if the people in the abbey had not hidden the truth from you for so long, things might have turned out different. Perhaps then you could have come up with a more careful plan to gain your freedom.”
“Maybe,” she said softly, “we’ll never know.”
She turned to face Baltazar and threw her arms around him, “Thank you for everything you’ve done. For a scoundrel, you’re pretty wonderful.”
Normally, Baltazar shied away from affections like this. He didn’t like anything that resulted in the formation of attachments, however something was different with Mel. When she touched him, it was as though something was obstructing his breathing. Within seconds, he could feel his lungs aching as he struggled to focus his breathing. His heart was racing and a warm feeling came over his skin.
Slowly, his arms went around her and his hands pressed on her back, “Don’t mention it.”
When Melisande finally released him, she looked out into the pale gray fog, “So we’re heading to Venice then to look for this Patrisi?”
“Eventually.” Baltazar replied. “We need to resupply first, so we’re going to put in at a Portuguese port. It may take a day or two to fix everything.”
Melisande nodded, “I’ve waited my whole life to find answers to the questions of my existence. I can wait a few more days.”
Baltazar smiled, “Good.”
The fog cleared around the Black Vengeance as she sailed south. The sun began its descent behind the horizon. The sky turned from blue to purple as the clouds turned from white to red. Almost ten hours had passed since they evaded the French galleass and, to the relief of the crew, Viana do Castelo came into view.
Baltazar stood with Morgan and Melisande on the forecastle. He kept a tight grip on his spyglass as he spoke, “It’s truly a sweet feeling whenever we make port. The men are restless, the goods are plentiful, the tavern wenches…”
Suddenly, he remembered Melisande was standing behind him, “Uh…”
“The tavern wenches… what?” Melisande asked with an evil grin. “Go on, finish the sentence.”
“The tavern wenches… are…” Baltazar stammered, trying to find the right words, “are ready to engage us in stimulating conversation!”
“Is that so?” Melisande asked musingly. “Very interesting, considering I’ve yet to meet a so-called ‘tavern wench’ capable of such conversation. Most of the time they’re just going on about how drunk you’ve gotten them.”
Baltazar shrugged, “Well you have met…”
“Save it.” She interrupted as she turned and left the forecastle.
Baltazar watched as she disappeared into the cabin. He turned back to see Morgan with a wide grin on his face. Baltazar glared at him, “All right, all right, wipe that grin off your face and get back to work!”
Morgan shook his head as he turned and walked to the aft castle. He worked on some of the rigging as they prepared to bring their ship in. Gilles looked over at him from the helm, “I’ve been noticing lately, the captain be acting a bit strange.”
“Aye.” Morgan replied. “It be the young lass. He looks at her differently than any of the innkeepers’ daughters he’s bedded over the years. She’s gotten her hooks into him.”
“He’s smitten!” Gilles realized. “That does not bode well for him at all.”
“Nay…” Morgan agreed. “Where once there be a man who could smooth talk his way up any lass’ dress, there now be a stammering idiot.”
Melisande slammed the door as she entered the cabin. Again she was biting her lower lip. Tears formed in her eyes as she put her back against the door and sat down. Really, she shouldn’t be surprised by Baltazar’s habits. Such is the lifestyle of an adventurer, she thought, but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t show a little more tact.
A moment later, Melisande stood up and walked over to the starboard window. She leaned out and watched as the city grew larger in the distance. She could see the large buildings adorned with yellow and black flags bearing the city’s coat of arms. If she got a chance, hopefully she would get some time to go exploring. Her lust for adventure would have to wait as it would most likely still be some time before they docked. She turned back and lay down on the bed. Within moments, the rocking of the ship put her to sleep.
Melisande slept through the ship docking at port. It wasn’t until she heard a loud thud above her head that she came out of it. She opened her eyes to see that someone had covered her over with a blanket and left something for her at the end of the bed. She sat up and saw that it was a white and blue dress. She gasped as she looked it over. The stitching was the most intricate she’d ever seen and presumably more expensive than her entire wardrobe back at the abbey.
There was a note attached to the dress, “A mysterious stranger requests the honor of your company on deck. Please dress for the occasion.”
Melisande rolled her eyes, but decided to oblige her ‘mysterious stranger.’ She stripped out of the worn out, torn, clothing, and stepped into the dress. She then brought the white undergarments up first and pulled on the blue outerwear. After stitching the dress, she looked at herself in the mirror and carefully pulled the straps tight.
Once she was decent, Melisande did the best she could to straighten up her hair and wash her face. Her strict attention to detail caused her some frustration as she fiddled with a knot in her hair. It took her a moment, but she finally freed it. When she was finished, she stood in front of the mirror again and let out a long sigh as she was finally presentable.
The light from the sun still shined through the window as it was now half way set over the horizon. Melisande sucked in a deep breath and then opened the door. The moment it creaked open, she could hear the bustle of carpenters, painters, and dock workers running around the ship.
Baltazar was standing on deck with a man holding red cloth, “So how long will it take you to have these new sails installed?”
Melisande realized that the man was a sail maker that no doubt Baltazar had hired to replace the Black Vengeance’s ragged sails. The sail maker smiled, “We’ve got the sails already made. You’re ship type is somewhat out of date so sails like yours aren’t in high demand. It should only take a day to get them rigged. We can start tomorrow morning.”
Baltazar nodded, “Sounds good, now about these sails… you have a reputation for making sails that last forever.”
The sail maker laughed, “I don’t know about forever, but barring being hit by cannon fire, it’s unlikely that your ship will outlast these sails.”
“Would that be because of the sails or the way I run my ship?” Baltazar asked with a smile.
The sail maker laughed, “You will be very satisfied with these. Now, are you sure you want the red ones, they will cost extra you know?”
“Aye,” Baltazar replied adamantly, “we’re looking to alter our appearance as much as possible.”
“Running from someone?” He asked.
“It’s probably better that you don’t know.” Baltazar replied. “I trust you understand that this transaction never took place?”
The sail maker nodded, “As long as I get paid, I don’t care who I make sails for.”
Melisande cleared her throat as she came out on deck. Every eye on the ship looked at her as though a bright aura had suddenly appeared on deck. Baltazar’s eyes widened as he noticed her coming towards him. He nodded at the sail maker, “That will be fine, you’ll get your pay and a bonus for your silence. Get to it.”
The sail maker nodded as he surveyed the ship. Once he was out of the way, Baltazar slowly made his way toward her. She bit her lower lip as her eyes met his. Baltazar took her hand and kissed her right between the knuckles, “My lady, I humbly request you company tonight.”
Melisande smiled, “And where would we be going on this fine night?”
“That’s a secret,” Baltazar replied, “but I promise it’ll be worth your time.”
“I see,” Melisande replied, “well then I accept your invitation, good sir.”
Baltazar extended his elbow to her and she rested her arm gently on his. He escorted her off the ship to a carriage that had been waiting for them. She was shocked to see the extent that he was going to impress her, “How did you manage all this?”
Baltazar smiled, “I divided up the shares of the goods from the Black Vengeance’s hold. My shares were more than enough to pay for all of this.”
“I didn’t know there was anything onboard that could be sold.” Melisande said surprised.
“Aye.” Baltazar nodded, “Good old Jaspart horded everything away hoping for a big payday.”
The carriage stopped just outside of a large building on the city outskirts. Baltazar stepped out first and then extended his head to her, “This way, my lady.”
Melisande took Baltazar’s hand as he guided her out of the carriage and up two flights of stairs. They reached the roof where some of Baltazar’s men had apparently set up a table with chairs and an impressive meal for the both of them.
Gilles pulled out Melisande’s chair for her, “If you would take your seat, milady?”
Melisande nodded, “How kind of you.”
Behind them, a violin began to play and a voice started singing. Melisande’s eyes narrowed as she recognized the voice, “Papi?”
She turned to see him next to another member of the crew. He sang beautifully as the other man played. Melisande shook her head, “You are too much. I find it hard to believe that you had a part in this.”
Baltazar smiled as she turned back toward him, “Does this meet with your approval, my lady?”
She narrowed her eyes and shook her head, “Whatever magic you used to win over Papi won’t work on me.”
“I have no magic, my lady,” he replied, “I can only be who I am.”
“And what would that be,” she asked, “a ruthless scoundrel, an honorable theif, a wayward royal, or something else?”
Baltazar shrugged, “The man who managed to convince you to attend dinner tonight, who is interested in unraveling the mystery that is Melisande.”
Melisande nodded, “You know, flashy clothes, lavish dinners and…”
She looked out at the city as the last glimmer of sunlight disappeared, “… beautiful scenery… won’t win me over. I’m not some local tavern girl.”
“I know you’re not.” Baltazar replied. “I never would have put this much effort into winning the heart of a tavern girl.”
Baltazar looked out at the city. Lamp lights and torches lit up the night sky as the darkness took over. Melisande looked up at the massive church on the top of the hill, “What church is that?” She asked. “I’ve never seen one so big. Not even in Mont Saint Michel is that intricate.”
He nodded, “It is impressive, isn’t it? The Basilica of Santa Luzia was built there long ago.”
“It’s beautiful,” she replied, “truly beautiful…”
“It has one major flaw though.” Baltazar said softly.
Melisande looked back at him, knowing full well what he was about to say, “And what would that be?”
“It pales in comparison to your beauty.” He casually replied.
She rolled her eyes, “Flattery doesn’t work either, and especially not when it’s so predictable.”
Baltazar placed his elbows on the table, folded his hands, and rested his chin on top of them, “Then tell me, milady, what does work?”
She smiled slyly, “That depends on your intentions, if they are the right kind, you’ll figure out what will work sooner or later.”
Baltazar nodded, “I see…”
“And if not,” she continued, “then you can go to hell.”
“Understood,” Baltazar replied, “well in the face of eternal damnation, I would say that honorable intentions seem to be the best way to go at this point.”
Melisande’s smile disappeared, “You really mean that?”
“Aye,” Baltazar said softly, “I know I come off as a scoundrel and… lord knows it’s a reputation I’ve earned many times over, but with you… something’s different. I don’t feel the same way around you that I have around other women. With others, I’ve been able to talk my way in and out of everything. With you, I stumble over words, and at times, can barely breathe. I cannot explain it, and that annoys me terribly. You are unlike any other woman I have met. You spent your life sheltered in an abbey, yet here you are with more intelligence and knowledge of the world then most people could get in a lifetime. It’s… almost mystic.”
She smiled, “You are not the first person to say that to me. I can’t explain why I am this way. Most who have heard my life story would think I was some sheltered, naive girl. I guess in some ways that’s true, but since I was little, I feel like I’ve had someone watching over me, helping me make decisions.”
When Baltazar didn’t respond, she reached out her hand and touched his, “Sister Mary once told me that the things most worthwhile in the world are the things that test you. Those are the things you have to fight for, and the things that you will appreciate the most, once they are yours.”
“So I am to fight for you then is it?” Baltazar asked with a smile.
“If you wish to,” she replied nervously, “if it’s what you want. You have my attention. The rest is up to you.”
Baltazar sighed, “What about you, what do you want?”
She frowned, “To find the answers that have eluded me. I want to know who am I before I start thinking about what I’ll do.”
“I’ll do what I can to help you with that.” He said adamantly.
Melisande nodded, “I know you will. Thank you.”
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