As the Tides Change
Deep beneath the ground, in the fiery land of hell, an imp creature approached the entrance to the darkest cave in the Underworld. This cave was the only way to reach Lucifer’s castle by those not capable of flight. Even so, most creatures avoided it. The imp stopped at the entrance and peered in, “Master…”
There was a heavy moan as a black cloud of smoke appeared in front of it, “You had better have a good reason for awakening us!”
“I beg your forgiveness, Lord Legion,” the imp said nervously as he groveled before his master, “but we’ve found her.”
The creature took human form and opened red eyes, “It certainly took you long enough. Where is she?”
The imp lowered its eyes, “Our scouts located someone who matched the description of the girl… it was a young maid living in an abbey in the northern region of France, but we couldn’t be certain it was her. She was either unaware of her powers or unwilling to use them.”
“You begin to bore us, imp.” Legion growled. “Get to the point!”
“We couldn’t move on her until we were certain… that would surely have attracted the attention of the Most High… but surely you felt it, master?” The imp replied nervously. “There was a massive power spike in that region.”
“Yes…” Legion nodded. “Where is she now?”
“We don’t know my lord.” The imp said, stepping backwards. “I took the liberty of dispatching our scouts, but the area that they are supposedly located in is nothing but open ocean and wreckage… however we did find something that may be of interest.”
“And what’s that?” Legion asked.
The imp smiled, “Master, one of the souls that was present in the water spirit has come here. I recognized him almost immediately. I’ve brought him to you.”
The faint ghost stepped out of the shadows. It was in Jaspart’s form, but already looked as though his persona had been corrupted by the trappings of Hell. The spirit bowed to Legion, “Jaspart, at your service milord.”
Legion nodded, “Tell us, what did you see?”
Jaspart sighed, “Had I known, I might never have gone after that man. By what magic does an angel protect him and his crew?”
“You begin to annoy us.” Legion growled. “Tell us what you saw, or proceed to the pit where you belong.”
“Apologies milord…” Jaspart replied as he lowered his eyes. “We were in pursuit of a revolutionary against the crown of Spain. His name is Baltazar Del La Fuente. We had him beat. I had just cut down his first officer and was about to cut him down as well when that… that bitch suddenly appeared. I should have killed her when I had the chance in Granville. It was like she suddenly exploded with power and sent my men flying over the sides of two ships, but it didn’t seem to affect La Fuente’s men. Now I’m here and he has my ship!”
Legion nodded, “She possesses more power than you can ever know, but we need her alive. Did you see where their ship was heading?”
“My ship,” Jaspart replied strongly, resenting Legion’s words, “and I regret that I was already on my way here before the battle ended.”
“Then you are of no further use to us.” Legion hissed as her turned to the imp that was still standing to his side, “Take this condemned soul to his fate.”
The imp nodded and took a step toward the spirit. Jaspart backed away slightly, “No, milord. I can still help you! Please, hear me.”
Legion raised his hand, signaling the imp to stop as he turned back to Jaspart, “And what could you possibly offer us that’s worth saving you from your fate?”
“I know La Fuente.” Jaspart replied. “I’ve been his competition for years. I know his tactics and I know the man. He’s a scoundrel, but he lives by a code of honor. If you go after the girl, no doubt he’ll use everything he knows to protect her.”
“This is pointless,” the imp hissed, shaking its head, “if he tries to interfere, we’ll just kill him.”
Jaspart scoffed, “You think it’s that easy? La Fuente knows how to stay alive in the most dangerous of situations and knows how to weasel his way out of them. Don’t underestimate him.”
“So you would help us outwit him,” Legion mused, “and what would you want in return?”
“To be spared this judgment and allowed to return to my life,” Jaspart replied, “as well as a ship if possible.”
Legion nodded, “Very well, serve us well, and you will have a ship powerful enough to bring you riches beyond compare.”
“My liege,” Jaspart replied with a bow, “I am at your command. What is our plan?”
“We need more information about the girl, how much she knows, how she has lived, and where she’s going.” Legion thought out loud, as he turned back to the imp. “Let us pay a visit to this abbey where we know she’s been. If you find the girl matching her description there, bring her to us.”
A worried look came over the imp’s face, “My lord, won’t that attract the attention of Chiors of Angels?”
Legion nodded, “Probably, but they won’t be anticipating this. Their… leader… knows what I am and wouldn’t dare commit her forces against me unless they were assembled. She’ll cut her losses and assemble her people.”
The imp bowed, “Very well, if you’re certain. Thy will be done my lord.”
Before the creature vanished, Legion pointed an accusing finger at it, “You know the price of failure.”
As the imp disappeared, Jaspart looked at Legion with worry, “What job do you have for me, milord?”
Legion smiled, “Don’t worry; I have special plans for you, ones that involve the use of some of your countrymen.”
The crew watched as the ship slowly sank beneath the waves. Gilles stood next to Baltazar, “She was a good ship.”
Baltazar smiled, “With an excellent crew.”
“And the best captain.” Gilles added.
Baltazar shook his head, “If that were true, she wouldn’t be sinking.”
“Ah come on Captain,” Gilles replied, “Ye gave better then you got, and now ye’ve got a better ship.”
“Bigger isn’t always better. “Baltazar said softly. “The Specter was a much smaller target she could easily sneak into port without being noticed. She had a lot of advantages this one might not. So we’re going to need to adjust our strategy.”
“More noticeable perhaps,” Gilles replied, “but faster, better guns, and a stronger hull be a fair trade if ye were to ask me.”
Baltazar nodded, “Fair enough… by the way, have you figured out how this ship was able to repel our attacks so easily?”
“Aye,” Gilles said through a long breath, “but I still kind of find it hard to believe.”
Baltazar narrowed his eyes, “Explain.”
“Aye sir.” Gilles replied. “Most of the caravels built before a certain time were made to be cargo vessels, but this one… this one was built based on the design of the old cargo ships, but the skeleton of the ship is a sophisticated arrangement of crossed beams and a thick support frame. This ship was designed to be able to take a beating.”
“What are you saying?” Baltazar asked.
“She be a hunter-killer.” Gilles replied. “This ship be designed to lure in unsuspecting pirates and then blast them to bits before they know what they be dealing with.”
“Then why is it none of us have seen anything like this before?” Baltazar asked, getting very interested.
Gilles shrugged, “It’s only a guess, Captain, but I’d say the cost of building something so intricate be too high for those even with deeper pockets. I’d be guessing this be a test ship?”
“It makes sense.” Baltazar agreed.
“Excuse me Captain?” A voice appeared from behind.
Baltazar turned to see Morgan standing behind him, “What can I do for you Mr. Morgan?”
“Sir,” Morgan replied, “I be thinking someone is going to come looking for this here boat in no time. I was wondering what course we should set?”
Baltazar thought for a moment, “That’s not an easy question to answer… it basically comes down to what we want to do with the newest member of our family.”
“Aye,” Morgan agreed, “that’s exactly what I be thinking.”
Gilles looked over at Morgan, “What do ye think she be, Captain?”
Baltazar cut them off, “Let’s not start jumping to conclusions just yet. No one knows for certain what we saw.”
He put a hand on Gilles’ shoulder, “For now, you are first mate. Steer us a course west, northwest.”
Gilles nodded, “Aye aye sir.”
“Taking us back to Granville are ye?” Morgan asked.
“Not too far from there.” Baltazar replied. “The people at the abbey no doubt knew something we don’t. Why else would they confine her behind their walls for so many years?”
Baltazar thought about it for a moment. “Meet me in the galley in ten minutes. Gilles and Mr. Clement need to join us as well.”
Morgan saluted as he turned away, “Aye aye sir.”
Baltazar watched the last part of the Specter’s bow disappear below the surface, “Good bye old friend, and thank you.”
He sighed as he turned and headed for his new cabin in the aft castle. The wood working was far more intricate, as were the doors and windows. Baltazar pushed the cabin door opened and saw that Melisande was still sleeping. He sat down next to her and tried to fix her hair, “You saved my life… and that of my true family… I can never repay you for that.”
He let out a deep sigh, “But where ever your journey takes you, where ever you decide to go, I swear to you that you will have a friend in me until the end. I will see to it you find what you are looking for, honor demands no less.”
Baltazar covered her over with a blanket, rested her head on the pillow, and placed her swords next to the bed, “Rest well, you’ve earned it.”
He looked around the room while she slept, this is too much luxury for a sea captain. No wonder Jaspart was getting soft.
He looked down at her. She almost seemed to smile as she slept. There was a strange aura of serenity about her, almost as though she were projecting peaceful feelings throughout the room. Her golden hair gleamed from the sunlight as it came through the window. She’s very beautiful… I hope never to see her unhappy.
A knock came at the door as Baltazar stood up, “Yes?”
Morgan opened the door, “Beggin’ yer pardon, Captain, but the men be waiting for you in the galley.”
“Thank you Mr. Morgan, “Baltazar replied, “I’m coming.”
Morgan nodded, “Aye sir.”
Baltazar left Melisande to sleep and made his way down to the galley where Morgan, Giles, and Papi were waiting for him. The galley was a massive space intended for far more people than Baltazar had under his command. It was far more luxurious then anything they had on the Specter. So far, not many of the features aboard the Black Vengeance impressed him. He had a hard time deciding if this ship was a warship or a luxury yacht. Such things did not fit a respectable pirate.
The three men stood as their captain entered. Baltazar nodded, “Stand easy men.”
He then looked at Papi, “Ah, Mr. Clement, I’m sure it’s been an adjustment getting used to your new kitchen. So I am grateful that you’ve obeyed my orders so quickly.”
Papi nodded, “Sir, may I ask…?”
“No need,” Baltazar said in an assuring tone, “Melisande is fine. My guess is what ever happened, put a strain on her. She’s in the captain’s cabin, resting comfortably.”
“Thank you, sir.” Papi said with a sigh. “That is a relief.”
“Aye.” Morgan agreed. “Once again the girl probably saved our lives.”
Baltazar nodded, “No doubt about it, but the question is, what is she, and what do we do with her now?”
“We should send her back.” Papi replied. “The church obviously hid her for a reason. Please sir, allow me to take her home.”
Baltazar shook his head, “I respect your opinion and we are currently sailing for Mont St. Michel, but I will not just throw her over the side for no reason. She signed on as a member of the crew and she has as much right as any of us.”
Baltazar took in a deep breath as he continued, “Mr. Clement, you’ve known her longer than us, she calls you Papi, and she seems attached to you.”
“She’s like a daughter to me,” he replied, “but really, I don’t know any more than you do.”
“I be finding that impossible to believe.” Morgan said in an accusing tone. “What do ye think yer protecting her from by not telling us?”
Papi sighed, “Okay… I’m telling you the truth when I say I don’t know much, but what I do know is that she was brought to Mont Saint Michel’s as little more than a baby. The Orders were doing everything they could to get her as far away from her home as possible.”
“What were they trying to get her away from?” Baltazar asked.
“That,” Papi replied, “I… do not know, but they would not let her leave the abbey at all. She got so restless that she used to convince guards to let her sneak out. I remember how sad she would get being cooped up there. Everyone hated it… everyone. I always wondered what would happen if she asked me to smuggle her out. I don’t know that I would have refused.”
“Where did she come from?” Morgan asked.
“No one would tell me.” Papi admitted. “All I know is that she is not from this area, and judging by the accent her caretaker, Sister Mary, spoke with… I’d say she was probably from one of the lower kingdoms, possibly either Milan or Florence? Definitely somewhere in the old Papal Alliance.”
“That’s considering she even came from the same region.” Baltazar replied.
“Right exactly…” Papi admitted.
Baltazar looked as though he was in deep thought, “So we don’t know where she’s from… but can we figure out what she is?”
Gilles looked up nervously, “In my short time at sea, this be the first time that my eyes have laid witness to anything like that. Could she be a witch?”
Papi glared at Gilles, “She spent most of her life in an abbey, where she brightened the locals’ spirits. When she got here, she started healing people after the battle. Even when she turned into… whatever that was, the only people she hurt were the ones attacking us. Does that sound like a witch or a demon to you?”
“Mr. Clement be right,” Morgan added, “she be no witch. Be I the only one who saw the wings appearing on her back?”
“Aye.” Baltazar said as the mental picture returned to him. “They felt like mist when I touched them.”
Papi turned to the captain, “Could she be some sort of an angel?”
“It makes sense…” Morgan replied.
“If that is the case,” Papi said softly, “no doubt she is unaware of her powers.”
“This is all conjecture.” Baltazar added, breaking the air. “We don’t know enough about what we’re dealing with to say one way or the other. Let’s focus on what we do know. This girl snuck out of the abbey after living there for most of her life. She is intelligent, well rounded, adept in the art of healing, and she posses some kind of supernatural powers.”
“Aye,” Morgan agreed, “that be the way of it.”
Baltazar thought about it for a moment, “So what do you men think? Send her back to the abbey, or keep her with us?”
Morgan scratched his beard, “Ye already know my feelings. I was the one who first wanted her off the boat, but she’s become a part of the crew. I be wantin her to stay with us.”
“I agree,” Gilles said, “I still owe her my life. I say she stays!”
Papi sighed, “At this point, I suppose voting to send her home would do little good. At least I’ll still be able to watch over her here.”
Baltazar nodded, “I think she has earned the right to choose, she saved all our lives. So if she decides to stay, we’ll welcome her.”
Gilles nodded, “Aye that be fair.”
“I agree,” Baltazar replied, “but for now, I’d also like to find out more about her, so we’ll hold our course for the abbey.”
Morgan narrowed his eyes, “Are ye wanting to take her on some quest to answer all these questions, Captain? Doubt there be much profit in that.”
“No probably not,” Baltazar nodded, “and I won’t force anyone to go on this journey with me.”
He stood up in front of the crewmen, “We have all agreed that she is a member of this family now. We all agreed that we do not care if she is an angel or a demon. Now I’m asking the three of you, if she decides to stay with us, will you help me repay everything she’s done for us? Every one of us at some point has needed help and the rest of the crew has been there. She’s entitled to the same treatment.”
Gilles stood up, “As I said before, I owe for more than the lot of ye. I’m onboard.”
“Hm…” Morgan thought for a moment. “There be plenty of times for plunder after she has the answers she needs. I be up for an adventure. Count me in.”
Papi smiled, “I’ve wanted to do this for years. Of course I’m in.”
“Alright, it’s settled then,” Baltazar agreed, “but we can’t do this without a crew. I suspect some of the men already had questions they wanted answered before we were attacked.”
He turned to Gilles, “Pipe all hands on deck in ten minutes. I’m going to let them know what’s going on.”
Gilles saluted, “Aye sir.”
The men filed out and made their way to their posts. Baltazar climbed up to the deck and went to his cabin. Once he was in front of the door, he placed his hand on the doorknob and paused for a moment. Am I doing the right thing keeping her here? He thought to himself.
Baltazar put his fears out of his head and opened the door. Melisande was still lying in bed unconscious. He sat down next to her and brushed the hair from her face, “You saved our lives…”
Baltazar had several ports of call out there and double the number of maidens that both hated his guts and loved him, but there was something different about this one. She was more beautiful than the others, but she had an almost mystic innocence about her. Perhaps it was for the best that she stayed aboard. Papi wouldn’t be around forever, so if possible, Baltazar would need to find some way to ensure that she was taken care of.
A knock on the door shattered his thoughts. He stood up and faced the door, “Enter.”
“Pardon the interruption sir.” Morgan said as he entered the room.
Baltazar nodded, “What is it?”
“By yer orders sir,” Morgan replied, “the men be assembled on the main deck and be waiting for ye.”
Baltazar stood up and moved towards the door, “Oh yes. Thank you.”
He followed Morgan out and moved to the quarter deck where he stood in front of his men. Baltazar looked over the rag tag bunch that he had come to call family. He began to wonder if anything was about to change with what he had to tell them.
Baltazar finally decided that there was no point in postponing the inevitable, and addressed his men, “Brave crewmen, you have all served loyally and without question. You have yet to refuse a single order or disappoint me in any way, and for that I am grateful. Because of that, I now feel the need to address some of the questions that have arisen over the last few days… My father is Philip II of Spain… the late king. I am a member of the Habsburg family.”
A voice from the crowd interrupted, “Sir, what about Mel?”
Baltazar nodded, “I was getting to that. I just thought you’d like a full explanation…”
Another voice broke through, “We don’t care what family you come from, sir. Royalty or not, you’re still Captain La Fuente!”
The entire crew cheered, agreeing with the first man. Baltazar was very touched, “I don’t know what to say… thank you men!”
A man in front yelled as he threw an arm in the air, “I’ll follow Captain La Fuente to hell and back!”
The crew looked as though they were getting restless, so Baltazar moved on, “Well then, to answer your question, Melisande is resting comfortably. Whatever happened appears to have drained her of all of her energy, so she’s unconscious.”
A worried look came over the crew. Baltazar shook his head, “Don’t worry men, I assure you that she is alive. She is still breathing and her skin is quite warm. I’m sure she’ll be up and about before we know it.”
As the look of worry faded into relief, Baltazar took in another deep breath, “That is the other reason I have called you here. Men, Melisande has done a lot for us in the short time we’ve been together, but she has no idea where she comes from or who her family is. I intend to take her to find out. This journey may be very dangerous and we may not make any profit at all. At the moment, we’re sailing for Mont Saint Michel. If anyone doesn’t want to be caught up in this, they may be released from service upon our arrival. I won’t blame any man jack who decides to leave.”
The crew all began talking at once. Shouts of annoyance went up from the crew, “What abandon Mel?”
“We ain’t going nowhere!”
“I said before I’d follow Captain La Fuente to hell, and I meant it!”
“Ye ain’t getting rid of us that easy Captain!”
“We owe Mel our lives! Who says we won’t find a prize on the way!”
Baltazar smiled, “Okay, okay, I am sorry I offended your honor. I’m sure Melisande will be very grateful when she wakes up!”
The men cheered as Baltazar looked up at the sails, “Alright then, all hands, full sails, man the braces, and bring us to Mont Saint Michel!”
He then turned to Gilles and Morgan. Gilles returned his glance and nodded, “Holding course east, northeast, sir!”
Baltazar nodded, “Very good. I’ll be in my cabin, hold us steady.”
Gilles saluted, “Aye sir.”
Again Baltazar disappeared through the doors. Melisande hadn’t moved as she slept. He sat down next to her. The sunlight from the window made her hair shine brightly and illuminate the cabin. Seeing her in this light, he couldn’t imagine a more beautiful site. He now knew that he wanted to keep her safe, no matter what it cost him. He leaned in towards her and whispered into her ear, “You needn’t worry, we’ll keep you safe.”
She moved around a little bit and half a smile appeared on her face. He then slowly moved his lips from her ear and pressed them against hers. She slowly began to stir as her eyes remained closed.
In less than a second, Baltazar felt a sharp pain in his throat. He pulled back to see Melisande’s eyes wide open in anger. She grabbed his shirt and held a knife to his throat. He put his hands up, “You’re awake… I’m sorry, you’re right, that wasn’t very chivalrous of me.”
A rambunctious grin formed on her face as she pushed Baltazar back against the cabin door. Baltazar felt his body squeeze as she pressed him against the wood. Suddenly, she brought her lips up and kissed him deeply. Baltazar kept his eyes open, unsure what was going on, but decided to go along with it rather than risk injury to himself.
After a few moments, she pulled her lips away from his, “From now on, you knock before entering!”
With that, Melisande opened the cabin door and, using impressive strength, pushed him out. Baltazar was pushed with so much force that he went flying back across the deck and landed on his back. He sat up to see the door to the cabin slam shut. He stared at the door for a minute shaking his head. Okay, what just happened?
Attempting to save face in front of his men, he got up and straightened out his shirt. That was stupid… He thought to himself as he heard soft laughter behind him. He turned to see three men staring at him, “What are you looking at, back to work!”
After throwing Baltazar out and shutting the door, Melisande bit her lower lip as she smiled nervously. Her heart was racing and she felt strange. She retreated to the back of the cabin and opened one of the windows.
The cool breeze helped calm Melisande as she sorted things out in her head. She still wasn’t sure exactly what happened. Where did that sudden burst of energy come from, why did she pass out, and most importantly, what made Baltazar think that he had earned the right to kiss her?
Melisande wanted answers, so she quickly grabbed some water out of the bowl next to the bed and cleaned herself up. She found some women’s clothing in the cabin that looked like it would fit her. She quickly changed, and made her way to the deck. She opened the cabin door and proceeded to the railing.
The air on the ship noticeably lightened when he presence became known. The crew was happy to see that she was up and about. Even the newer crew that had been victim to her energy waves could see the effect she had on the people she served with.
Morgan and Baltazar looked at each other for a moment. Baltazar nervously shook his head so Morgan decided that it was up to him to talk to her. He climbed down from the quarter deck and approached her as she watched the sea from the starboard railing.
“Top of the morning to ye missy.” He said with a smile.
“Morgan,” she replied as she turned to him, “good morning, what happened… where is the Specter?”
“We lost the Specter.” He replied. “She was taking on water and listing badly, we couldn’t save her.”
Melisande lowered her eyes, “I’m sorry… I know you all served on that ship a long time. I thought that if we could end the fight quick enough, there might be a way to save her, but I guess that was a fantasy. I wish I could have done more to help.”
“Ye have nothing to be sorry for.” Morgan said sternly. “Ye saved all of our lives and helped us take control of this mighty ship. Thanks to ye, we be a lot better off than we were.”
“Your words are too kind,” she replied with a half smile, “but I don’t even know what happened.”
“Do ye remember the battle?” He asked.
She nodded, “Yes, I remember everything… but I don’t know what happened.”
Baltazar did the best he could to listen in and decided to risk joining the conversation. He approached the two of them and smiled. Melisande flashed him an evil grim that stopped him right in his path. It took him a moment to calm the chills, but once they were gone, he walked up to her, “What did it feel like?”
Melisande lowered her eyes, “It felt like a raging tide that had been held back by a rickety damn just broke through. It felt like whatever chains were holding me back had been snapped. At least for a little while.”
She looked up at Baltazar with her bright blue eyes, “I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Baltazar smiled, “I think we get it.”
“So wait, if those powers be dormant and ye unleashed them…” Morgan said hesitantly. “Then can ye do that again?”
Melisande shook her head, “I don’t even know what ‘that’ was…”
She lowered her eyes as she continued, “What am I, who am I, what does all of this mean, and what am I supposed to do now?”
“What do you mean?” Baltazar asked.
“You all saw me,” she replied, “I can only imagine what you think now…”
Her eyes turned to a look of fear, “What are you going to do with me?”
“Keep ye.” Morgan replied. “Ye be one of us. Signed and sworn.”
Baltazar nodded, “Not only that, but we’ve spoken to the crew and decided that we’re going to help you find the answers to those questions. I get the feeling that there is too much as stake not to.”
The light in her eyes turned to fire as tears of joy flow from them, “But what about your plunder? I can’t imagine that we’ll have a ton of time for pirating if we’re doing this?”
“Don’t be worrying your pretty head about that,” Morgan replied. “There be plenty of time for that later. Maybe we’ll pick off a ship or two on the way as well.”
“I don’t know what to say,” she replied as her voice began to crack, “I… thank you all so much. I’m not sure how I can ever repay you!”
She grabbed Baltazar and hugged him tightly. Baltazar braced himself for a sharp object to pierce his back, but it never happened. He slowly pressed his hands against her back as she nuzzled into his chest.
Suddenly Melisande’s eyes shot open and she pushed away with a nervous grin. The two of them looked at each other for a few moments in total silence. It was a very awkward moment for them both. Morgan smirked as he turned his attention to the open ocean.
“Just keep me from dying.” Morgan said mercifully breaking the silence. “All I ask.”
Melisande nodded, “Not a problem, Morgan. Thank you.”
She turned back to Baltazar, “So where do we plan to start looking?”
“Mont Saint Michel,” he replied, “we’re going to go talk to this Sister Mary who has cared for you all these years.Mr. Clement believes she may know the truth of your origins.”
“Papi?” She asked. “Where is he…”
“Below in the galley.” Baltazar replied. “You should go see him when you get a chance. He was really worried about you.”
Melisande nodded, “I’m sure… I’ll need to go talk to him.”
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