Melisande woke up the next morning in the cabin of the Black Vengeance. There was another set of clothes waiting for her. A new blouse, vest, and trousers sat folded on the edge of the bed. While these weren’t as fashionable as the ones Baltazar left for her before, they would allow her to be feminine while at the same time functional. She quickly changed into the lighter clothes and made her way on to the deck.
To her amazement, the ship looked almost totally different. The hull had been painted black with a brown trim, and was now equipped with red sails. The name on the side and the back was painted in gold. The helm had been replaced with a brand new one with a shiny finish on it and the cannons had been polished. The crews were finishing up the deck repairs and moving on to the lower hull damage.
Baltazar walked up next to her as she emerged from the cabin, “How do you like the Black Vengeance?”
Melisande shook her head, “It’s like a whole new ship…”
“Don’t worry,” Baltazar replied, “it’s still the same one, I assure you.”
“So why all the changes,” Melisande asked. “She seemed functional as she was.”
Baltazar frowned, “Well for one, we’ve got two major powers coming after us, and for two, Jaspart was a rather cheap man. This ship was in desperate need of updating to more than just her armament.”
Melisande looked around with her eyes open wide, “Well I’d say you’ve done a splendid job, the ship looks completely different.”
“Well thank you,” Baltazar replied, “I’m glad she meets with your approval.”
Melisande’s face turned serious, “Baltazar… listen… about last night…”
“Yes?” Baltazar asked as he gave her his complete attention.
“What you did for me…” she replied hesitantly, “It was really sweet. You made me feel like I belong here.”
Baltazar smiled, “You’re one of us. You do belong here.”
“I know that now,” she replied, “and I appreciate all of you and your crew’s help.”
Suddenly, a panicked cry came from the yardarm, “Sail ho!”
Baltazar’s eyes narrowed, “What…?”
He looked up at the crow’s nest with an annoyed expression, “Lookout, of course you’re seeing sails, you’re in a harbor for God’s sake!”
The lookout nodded, “Sorry sir, should have been more specific… it’s the galleass sir, coming in directly astern.”
Melisande followed Baltazar as he franticly scrambled to the aft castle. He grabbed the spyglass as Morgan joined them. He looked through and saw the ship coming in, “This can’t be… we shook them off in the fog.”
He turned to Morgan, “What’s the status of the repairs?”
“All the external damage has been repaired,” Morgan replied, “We’re just replacing a few of the braces below deck.”
“Anything we can’t repair at sea?” Baltazar asked.
“No sir.” He replied. “The crew is all back aboard and we’re fully resupplied. The support isn’t a crucial one either. Replacing it will be easy.”
“Then release the mooring lines and get us underway.” Baltazar ordered. “I want full sail. Make it happen and make it happen now.”
Melisande looked at him worried, “But Baltazar, wouldn’t they be able to blow us out of the water the moment we passed through the harbor entrance?”
“They could, yes.” He replied. “That’s why we need to hope that all the work we did on our ship wasn’t for nothing.”
Baltazar turned to another nearby crewman, “Make sure the name on the back and sides are covered. I doubt they saw either, but you never know.”
The new sails came down quickly as the crew struggled to get the ship moving. Melisande looked in awe at the beautiful crimson color that now adorned the masts. The ship pulled away from the dock and moved out into the harbor.
Baltazar ran over and grabbed the helm from Gilles, “Go and help get this ship moving.”
Gilles nodded and disappeared into the chaos on deck. Melisande watched as Baltazar placed his hands on the helm gently as though saying, ‘It’s okay, I’m here now.’
The ship began to pull away from the dock as the wind caught her sails. Melisande grabbed on to the hand rail to prevent falling backwards as the ship picked up speed. As the last mooring lines were cast off, the Black Vengeance made her way out into the harbor. Melisande watched from the back of the boat as the beautiful city slowly grew smaller. Someday, she thought, I would love to come back here.
The Black Vengeance reached the cove where the harbor met the open ocean. Here, they came face to face with their pursuers. They got so close that they could see the name on the side Le Terrible. Baltazar and Melisande ducked down to get out of sight. They could hear the groans of condemned men rowing the opposing ship as they passed. The sounds seemed to pain Melisande as they passed by. The two crews eyed each other suspiciously as the Black Vengeance exited the harbor.
Jaspart looked at the ship suspiciously. It looked like his ship, but it couldn’t possibly be. It looked almost completely different and the idea that a pirate would waste so much time and money to alter a ship that much was ludicrous. Not wanting to alarm his already suspicious host with possibly false information, Jaspart kept it to himself.
Once they were in open water, Baltazar nodded and handed the helm over to Gilles, “Well now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Aye Captain,” Gilles replied, “but how could they have found us so quickly?”
Baltazar shrugged, “Sheer luck, or maybe their captain is a better tracker than I gave him credit. Either way, we’ve evaded them again, so I wouldn’t think too hard on it.”
Gilles nodded, “Not a bad idea, Captain.”
“Capitaine!” A voice cried out from the deck.
Batlazar turned to see that it was one of the original crewmen of the Black Vengeance, “What it is mate?”
“Monsieur, I can’t be certain, but I thought I saw our old capitaine over there.” He replied nervously.
Baltazar’s blood ran cold, “That’s impossible, I ran him through with my sword. I saw him fall over the side! He’s dead.”
The man shrugged, “I’m sorry, mon Capitaine, I’m just telling you what I saw.”
“I see…” Baltazar replied. “If it was him, that will complicate things.”
He thought about it for a minute before returning his attention to the crewman, “Thank you, crewman, back to your duties.”
The crewman nodded, “Oui, Capitaine.”
Gilles shook his head, “If Jaspart be on us, we’d best be putting some distance between us and them. I think I can coax a little more wind out of the sails.”
As he headed for the deck, Baltazar turned to Melisande who hadn’t moved since they passed by the Le Terrible. He came up behind her and looked out onto the ocean, “From here it should be about a weeklong voyage, weather permitting of course, but we should arrive in Venice before too long.”
When Melisande didn’t respond, Baltazar placed his hand on her shoulder and turned her around to face him, “Are you okay?”
Her face revealed an angered expression and tears in her eyes. Baltazar pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and gently wiped the tears away, “What is it?”
“The Le Terrible…”she replied, “where do they get the men to row that ship?”
Baltazar’s lips twisted as he responded, “They’re usually condemned criminals, but they can also be captured enemy sailors and slaves.”
Melisande didn’t know how to react. She was teetering between rage and despair and both were easily seen on her face, “There must be at least a hundred people over there!”
“Aye,” Baltazar replied softly, “with replacements and such, I would think considerably more than that.”
“What a horrible thing to do!” She shouted, “What kind of a country would do that?”
“Pretty much any significant naval power,” Baltazar responded calmly, “Spain and France have done it on several of their ships. The thought is that it’s a much better way to get cheap, or in this case, free labor. Since most of those men were condemned to death, some would view this as merciful.”
Melisande shook her head, “A short time rowing might change their minds.”
“Probably,” Baltazar agreed, “but keep in mind, many of these men are there for a justified reason. Many of them are murderers and rapists who, in my opinion at least, belong there.”
She thought about it for a moment and nodded, “I suppose, but that doesn’t make it any easier to listen to.”
“No it doesn’t,” Baltazar nodded, “but there is very little we can do about it. Why are you so concerned for them, if I may ask?”
Melisande was about to respond when she stopped dead in her tracks. She had no idea why it bothered her so much. She’d read about the suffering of others, but it never impacted her like this, “I… I don’t know. I’ve never been like this before. Stories of atrocities never gripped me like this… Maybe it’s actually seeing it up close…”
“Or maybe you’re changing.” Baltazar added. “Whatever you did on the Specter may be affecting you in more ways than you know.”
“Maybe.” Melisande replied.
She quickly turned back to face the ocean and leaned back onto Baltazar’s chest for support, “I’m afraid, Baltazar… this is becoming dangerous.”
“What frightens you?” he asked.
She lowered her eyes, “Many things… If anything wer to happen to all of you, I don’t think I could forgive myself. You’ve all become dear to me in the short time that we’ve known each other. What am I risking just to find out what may be better off left a secret?”
“There is always that risk.” Baltazar replied. “In the end you simply have to decide what is easier to live with; the unknown, or knowing something bad.”
Melisande turned back to face him, “What about you?” She asked. “Would you be better off not knowing your connection to the House of Habsburg?”
Baltazar sucked in a deep breath and thought about it for a moment. Finally, he smiled and shook his head, “No, I would not be better off not knowing, because that knowledge made me what I am. I’m happy that I know who my father is, because if I didn’t, I couldn’t defy him. Knowing where I come from enables me to do what I think is right. I may be related to the Habsburgs, but they are not who I am. It’s because of that knowledge that I now stand before you in command of a mighty ship.”
“That’s true,” Melisande said thoughtfully, “and actually makes a lot of sense. Knowing who you are prompted you to choose the life you did. You realized that you didn’t have to be like the rest of them. You chose a life that you find fulfilling and makes you happy.”
“Exactly,” Baltazar replied, “a Habsburg may be what I am, but it’s not who I am, and in the end, what you are, isn’t nearly as important as who you are.”
Melisande nodded thoughtfully, “Yes… yes, that is very true! Thank you Baltazar, you are absolutely right.”
“Glad I could be of use.” Baltazar said cheerfully. “So the question now is what do you want to do? If you want, I can turn the Black Vengeance around and we can go back to raiding Spanish ships.”
“No,” Melisande replied adamantly, “if it’s okay with you and the crew… I would like to continue. Sister Mary and the good people at the abbey died to keep my secret safe. It would be a disservice to them to turn back now.”
“Good,” Baltazar said confidently, “I already spoke to the crew; they are all onboard with this so you don’t need to worry about that.”
“Thank you.” She replied. “Thank you all.”
The next week passed by uneventfully for the most part. There was no sign of the Le Terrible, and most of the crew assumed that she was still patrolling the waters around Spain and France. The Black Vengeance kept to the coast as they sailed. The last bit of land they would see for days came into view when they passed through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Baltazar smiled as the land disappeared behind them, “Goodbye Spain.”
Within a few short hours, they broke loose into the Alboran Sea. By the next day’s end, they were in the Balearic Sea. By the third day, the crew sited Sardinia.
Melisande couldn’t escape the feeling that she had been this way before. The feeling grew stronger as they passed through the Tyrrhenian Sea and passed by Messina. There was some discussion about stopping, but they still had enough supplies to go on and decided against it.
By the fifth day, the crew was growing restless. Baltazar could see it in their eyes. They would never say such a thing out loud as they were men of honor and were loyal to Baltazar, but they were in need of a break. They hadn’t touched land in quite a while and most weren’t used to long voyages.
Less than a day away from Venice, Baltazar ordered his ship to put about in Ravenna to give his men a break. He divided up one of his shares from a previous voyage and sent the men on their way. Gilles and Morgan departed together.
Baltazar stopped them at the walkway, “Don’t you two get yourselves into any trouble now, I want you back here tomorrow at high noon.”
Gilles smiled, “Aye Captain, don’t worry, I’ll get this old bastard back in one piece.”
“Like hell,” Morgan replied, “don’t be assuming that just because ye be younger then I that ye’ll be drinking me under the table!”
Gilles laughed, “Hey captain, why don’t ye come have a drink with us, like old times!”
Baltazar looked back to see Melisande staring off into the northern sky. She was alone and deep in though. It almost seemed like something was reaching out to her from the north.
Baltazar decided that it was probably not a good idea to leave her alone and shook his head, “Next time.”
Both men saluted as they left the ship. Baltazar shook his head and smiled as he walked the length of his deserted ship and joined Melisande on the forecastle, “Are you okay?”
She glanced back at him with a faint smile and nodded, “I can feel it… the land to the north of here, it calls to me. The answers I’m looking for are waiting for me there.”
Baltazar placed his hand on her arms just below her shoulders and gently squeezed. She looked down to see them and raised her right hand to touch his left, “I’m sorry Baltazar, I probably won’t be good company tonight. You probably should go with you men and have some fun at the taverns.”
From the ship, they could hear the sounds of loud, drunken, laughter. Baltazar shook his head, “No thank you… I’ve had my fill of tavern girls.”
“If you are sure,” she replied, “I know you enjoy spending time with your men.”
“Aye, they’re a fun group,” Baltazar nodded, “but right now, this feels like where I should be. It’s where I want to be.”
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