The Curse


Part 13

by Anita Louise

copyright 09/98

Chapter Sixty

She hadn't made her way very far when she heard the man's voice calling up, "Are ye some heathen come to rob in the dark of night? Or just a curious stranger?"

Almost losing her grip, she gazed down at the stocky man. The light from the windows seemed to be skating across the top of his bare pate. He wore dark clothes and carried a saber on his left hip. He stood, legs spread, and both hands on his hips.

"No. I thought I saw a friend and I was going to see. This is no concern of yours, be on your way."

The man guffawed. "Seems to me ye be heading toward Asterea's place and I would warm ye, tis not a good idea." He leaned back, and eyed her. "Best come back down. Never get that she devil mad, she'd as soon slit your throat as look at ye."

Star thought over the man's words as she began her climb back down. Once her feet touched the cobblestone, she glared at the man. "I don't want any trouble. I have come to see a friend. So I will go in the front door and wait till she comes out."

He shook his head then turned and walked away. She watched him until he was out of sight, then she pursed her lips and began to pace back and forth, each time gazing up at the window. When the light went out, she waited to see if Ann Bounty would soon be appearing at the doorway. Sure enough before she knew it, the tall redhead walked out onto the street.

Thinking for a few seconds before she walked toward the woman. "Ann."

Ann Was thinking of how she left Asterea dead to the world and about the map which pointed to the treasure that seemed to be all the woman could talk about. It had sparked an interest, something she had not had for a while. The strawberry blond that was approaching her looked friendly enough. She had encountered the woman earlier and wondered at the time if she really knew her. Stopping she stared. "You have my name right. But you are a stranger to me."

Star stopped, shook her head in disbelief. "Ann Bounty, as I live and breathe the vortex must have done something to your mind. It's me, Star, your . . ."

Looking perplexed Sea mumbled, "My what? I don't know you. Though I have a feeling, we might have crossed paths once. Vortex? It is you that must be mad. I haven't even seen a vortex for sometime. Who is this Gabe or Star you speak of? And why are you following me?"

Not one to give up so easily the woman tossed her hair back, her blue-green eyes sparkled toward Ann Bounty. "It is a long story, do you have somewhere we can go and talk. I need to tell you what has happened and find out what has happened to you since last we were together."

Keenly interested in this woman's words, Ann nodded, "Follow me, I have a dwelling on the island. No one comes out there," she pondered her words then added, "except Asterea and she will be out for sometime."

Smiling, Star hurried to keep up with the lengthy strides the woman was taking. It felt good to be walking alongside Ann once more. The woman was quiet and so she choose to keep silent till they arrived at the lodging. But her mind was thinking fast and furious.

Walking along the beach would have been a nice leisurely stroll, except she had to run to keep up with Ann. She never realized her stride was so much longer than most that she left them in the dust. Star was doing her best to keep up and was not prepared for Ann's quick stop. She was made aware of this when the woman's hands grasped her shoulders pushing her back. "Hold up there mate, from the looks of you, it has been hard going."

Feeling she had been caught doing something she shouldn't have and for no reason, Star, blurted, "Not everyone has legs so long they leave a person in their wake."

Releasing the hold she had on the woman, Ann stepped back, her eyes surveying Star. "Sorry bout that. I tend to forget. Chalk it up to the fact I've had way too much to drink this night. Are you all right? "

"I'm fine, just a bit winded. Walking through sand is not the easiest," she glanced at the beckoning darkness of the foliage and added, "no one wants to get lost out in a place like this. I have no idea where we are."

Reaching out, Ann held several branches back, offering, "Go on through, my place is just around the bend."

Hesitating, running the palms of her hands down the sides of her pants, she replied, "How do I know you are not taking me to my resting place?"

Ann shook her head in disbelief before she muttered, "Cause if I wanted to do that, you would have rested way before now. Now go on through before I take it in my head to leave you out here to all the things that crawl in the night." She had never seen anyone move so fast. The woman was through and out of sight before she had the chance to follow.

As she made her way around the bend, her eyes gleaned the area, looking for the woman that called herself by two names. She was standing by a lone tree, gazing down toward the stream. "There you are."

Star turned, smiled as she sighed, You certainly found a secluded area. Might I ask, what are you hiding from?"

Walking past, Ann headed toward the shack she had been calling home. "Coming? Or are you going to stand out there all night?"


The sounds of birds fighting near the window, woke Ann. She moved slowly, her head ached and the taste that lingered in her mouth made her realize she had, had way to much too drink. Groaning she sat up, ran her hands through her hair as her eyes came to rest on the woman stretched across her bed. She was sleeping as if neer a care in the world. Standing, she shook her head and made it worse. Carefully picking up her belt and cutlass, she made her way from the room. Once outside she strapped on the cutlass, stretched and headed down to the warm springs.

After what this stranger had told her last night, her mind was filled with thoughts of what was happening to her. Was she really this Ann Bounty from another time? Did she and this woman have a love, one she could not recall? She seemed sincere in her words and this woman knew more about her body than anyone. So either she really knew her or this was some sorcerer's spell cast upon her to make her life more tortured than it had already been. Before Star woke Ann decided that time in the hot springs, might clear her mind, and make her body feel a whole lot better.

She had been laying back enjoying the feel of the water massaging her aching body when she heard the words, "Found you."

Opening one eye than the other, she gazed toward the woman who called herself Star. "I wasn't hiding. Thought a good soak would help me feel better."

Star sat on the bank, crossed her legs and gazed at the woman. "I thought you had left me. I didn't know if I would be facing your new friend Asterea's wrath or not."

Laying her head back against a flat rock, Ann muttered, "You certainly aren't very trusting are you? Especially since you are telling me how very close we are. I have my doubts you know?"

Nodding she replied, "Yes, I can see it in your eyes. Which I might add are a bit bloodshot this day."

"Woman, don't start on me. I know I had too much to drink, I can well imagine Asterea is not feeling all that great today. Speaking of Asterea, we have to do something with you."

Star's eyes widened, "With me? Why? What?"

Swimming toward the woman, Ann answered, "Because she has green eyes."

Star stood, reached out to offer a hand to the woman as she said, "Green eyes? I take it you are not talking about their natural color?

Grasping the woman's hand, Ann replied, "That's right." And with that she tugged pulling Star over her head landing with a kerplop in the water.

Star was sputtering, as her hands flailed about the water. "Damn you Ann Bounty, I've risked my life to come here and bring you back and you are telling me that . . . you . . ." she had gone under, leaving her last words, left unsaid.

Grinning, Ann swam over to the woman, reached out and pulled her to the surface. Never releasing the hold she had on Star's blouse, she kept her face above the water. "Don't tell me you can't swim?"

Shaking her hand loose, Star tread water as she headed toward the shoreline. "I do just fine, it's not every day a person wakes and gets tossed into this much water so early. Gods, I was hardly awake."

She pulled herself up on land and turned to gaze at Ann in disbelief. Water trickling off her as if it was heading out to sea. Ann followed and soon was standing near Star. She ran her fingers through her hair, then squeezed as water cascaded down. Shaking her head, allowing the hair to fall about her shoulders, she reached for her pants. Hopping about as she attempted this Ann said, "Sorry. I was trying to be friendly."

Hands on her hip's Star watched Ann's attempts to get her legs in the pants and failing miserably. She was upset, and at the same time she felt herself succumb to a giggle.

One foot in and one foot out, Ann lost her balance and fell. "What's so blasted funny? Haven't you ever seen a woman put on a pair of pants?

Star walked over reached out and said, "I have. But I have never seen one have so much trouble putting one leg in and then the other." By this time she was guffawing completely unaware that the water that clung to her clothes left little for the eyes to imagine.

Sea took her hand and when she made it to her feet she thanked the woman. Dropped the pants and dove into the water once more. "I don't know about you, but I do not like sand anyplace but on the ground. Once I rid my body of this, we can talk. By the way, I wouldn't say anything about me, you may be dressed but then you are not."

Star glanced at herself, her eyes widened when she realized she might as well been nude. "Have your laugh, I'm going back to the cabin, when you get through frolicking around out here, we need to decide what comes next." She started to walk away then turned and winked at Ann. "By the way, what you are feasting your eyes on, is nothing you have not seen many times Ann Bounty." With those words she was gone. Ann scratched her head, if she had a life with this woman, it definitely was not a quiet one. Smiling, she lay back in the water.


When Ann finally made her way to the shack, she had plenty of time to think. She knew that having Star there was very precarious. The one thing she knew about Asterea or Ann or whoever she decided she was at the moment, was that she did not tolerate any new blood.

"Glad you made it back before I had to come look for you."

Star was wearing one of Sea's Calcutta blouses, and that was all. Her clothes hung on a window sill. "If I knew you were going to look like that I would have stayed out there, would have been interesting seeing you walking around like that."

Wrinkling her nose at Sea she pointed to the table, "Sit. I fixed breakfast. You do eat don't you?"

Grinning, Sea pulled out a chair and sat. Taking in this woman's movements as she set a plate of scrambled eggs in front of her. "You'll like these, I went out and got them myself."

Leaning forward, she sniffed the food. "Smells good. This is very nice. Want to tell me what you are doing wearing my blouse?"

Standing close to Ann, Star reached down and lifted the blouse off, handing it to her. "It scratched anyway."

"Wa . . . You . . . Put this back on." It was evident this woman was very comfortable in her own skin.

"Are you sure?"

Yes, I'm, sure." Sea tossed the blouse toward her. Then began to eat the meal. Star poured her a cup of tea she had made from some of the herbs she found nearby then sat and joined her. When Sea finished the meal she smiled toward Star. "Looks better on you than me anyway."

Star leaned forward, "I wouldn't say that, but till my clothes dry, this will do. Now, tell me, pirate, back to your friend Asterea, you say she has green eyes. I want to know how you know this? Sea had a mouth full of tea and on those words, she almost choked on the liquid. "Know? I . . . I know the woman. I can see it on your face . . . You are jealous. She may have thoughts but nothing has come of them. Still Asterea will do away with anyone that gets in her way. And woman, you would definitely be in her way."

Standing, Star asked, "Then what do you propose? After I searched for you, I should just give up and go back home?"

Standing, Ann walked over, placed a hand on Star's shoulder. "No. But we have to figure out a way to get off this island without her finding out about it."

Beaming, Star exclaimed, "Then you will leave with me?"

Nodding, Sea replied, "Yes, I always knew something else was out there for me. You are the first one to really talk to me about my past. And I have to leave. I need to put my life back together."

"What about Asterea, I thought the two of you seemed awfully friendly?"

"It is hard to explain. She saved my life, she has been there for me. She has lied to me and I think this is to keep me with her, confined in a way. I owe her a lot but I do not owe her my identity.

I'm happy to hear that. Linden and the others will be happy to see you."

Shaking her head, Ann retorted, "No. I have no intention on going to another world where I will only become more confused. I feel that I do not know everything I need to in this one. Besides, I picked this up last night."

She was holding out a parchment as Star took it. "What's this?"

Smiling, Ann replied, "According to Asterea, it is a treasure never seen before."

"Gods Sea, you took this from her? She will have your head."

Ann walked toward the door. "Not if we get off this island before she finds out about it." Now come on, If we walk to the other side of the island, we can catch a ride away from here. Then it will be on to the village of Osara." She turned and stared at Star, "First, you might put on some clothes."

"Hold on, I will. I can't believe it, I have found you and we are off on a great adventure."

Ann bit at her lower lip. "Yes and we will have a she demon hot on our trail and it will be more than treasure she will seek."


Chapter Sixty One

From the way the shadows were casting a spell along the mountain ridge, it soon would be dark and once again, time to make camp. Gabrielle was tired, discouraged and at that moment lonely. Stopping by a bubbling stream, unsaddling the horse and letting it graze, she set about collecting firewood. Hoping this would keep her busy, busy enough to forget the village she had left in the distant dust. She had no plans of combat, all she wanted was some rest and drink. It seemed the Gods had different ideas. She was elated to have outmaneuvered the men but she also knew that they would be coming for her. It seemed all to familiar and she did not like the feeling at all.

Tossing a blanket on the ground, she sat. The campfire was a welcome warmth in the darkness that had now overtaken the land. Gazing into the flames, she reached out to warm her hands. It was at this time a beautiful woman with raven hair smiled toward her. "I miss you, she whispered."

She hoped Xena had been able to reach her mother and take care of whatever the problem was. Cyrene would never ask her daughter for help unless she really needed it, of this Gabrielle was certain.

It had been a long ride, filled with danger and adventure. Her hands now toasty warm, she reached for the bottle of Port.

"Mind if I join you?"

The woman's voice brought Gabrielle to her feet, as she began backing toward the tree stump where she had laid her sheath and cutlass. "Whoever you are, I want no company, be on your way."

Before she could make it to her cutlass, a swish was heard as Gabrielle spotted a flash and a woman somersaulting toward her. Stopping, she stood tall, hands ready, body ready to meet the person that dared interrupt her silence.

As the woman landed between Gabrielle and her cutlass, she said, "I didn't know you had followed. Am I glad to see a friendly face."

Spinning, ready to fight this person, her mouth fell open. The flickering light from the campfire, traced the statuesque figure. The leather pants that looked as if they were part of her skin, the Calcutta blouse, open at the neck, ties hanging loosely. Hair redder than an island sunset and a body that said more than any person could ever utter.

"Did some creature cut out your tongue? You did a job on those men back in that village. I am proud of you."

Gabrielle turned away, she leaned over and grasped her knees. Her breathing was shallow, it took a few minutes before she caught her breath. "When I turn around it will have been a spirit, the Gods playing tricks on me." She turned slowly, her face scrunched up as if it too knew when she gazed at this spot once more, it would be empty.

The woman was still there, legs spread, hands on her hips, her flaming red hair bouncing about her shoulders in the night's breeze.

"Sea? I have searched for you and was so close to giving up. Mary and Gina, are still searching."

Sea took several steps forward, wrapped her arms around the woman, and pulled her close. "That fight must have knocked something loose my Love. I've never been happier to see you."

It felt so right, like home as she embraced the woman. "I'm happy to see you too."

They stood like this for a few more moments then Sea stepped back and asked, "What were you doing in that tavern?"

Walking toward the fire, she replied, "I have been looking for you. I was beginning to think you and Asterea had fallen through a crack in the ground. No one could fine you, it seemed you both vanished."

Sea followed her and when Gabrielle sit, she sat beside her. "Crack in the ground? Vanished? Asterea? I have no idea what you are talking about."

Uncorking the bottle she handed it to Sea, "Here, have a drink. It will settle your nerves."

Sea took it and smiled, "My nerves are fine."

Chuckling to herself, Gabrielle whispered, "Then it will settle mine."


The two women were stretched out on the blanket, each one chewing on a piece of dried meat. Sea was tugging on a strip as she grumbled. "Good thing you brought that bottle of port, something needs to wash this down."

Sitting up, Gabrielle replied, "Well, I don't see you carrying anything to eat or drink. So don't knock the food."

"Grinning, Sea responded, "Touche. Now you want to tell me what you meant by me and Asterea? If it is the Asterea I am thinking about, she is not a friend of mine."

Turning to gaze down at the woman, she replied, "Well, this one is. I really think some demon has control of your body. You up and take off with Asterea, leaving Mary and Gina, myself as well as Xena behind."

Sitting, her emerald greens catching the light from the fire in them as she stared at Gabrielle. "I left you in Linden's care. Now I see you here and fighting with men that could have taken your life. Then you go tell me I left with Asterea as well as leaving Mary, a woman named Gina and . . . ," She tipped her head to the side, thought for a second then added, "Would that be Xena the woman from Greece, the Amazon . . ."

Interrupting her, Gabrielle muttered, "You are talking about Xena, my Xena and now it is my turn, What do you mean the woman from Greece and the Amazon . . . what Amazon?

Sea tossed the piece of meat she had been gnawing on then said, "I left you in Linden's care, how did you get here? Time to fess up?"

Throwing her hands into the air in a futile attempt she stood and walked away, then turned, a determined look on her face. "All right. I last knew you were in Egypt. You and Asterea were prisoners. Mary Ready and Gina . . . ," She paused for effect, "your Gina were there. They were going to rescue you as well as Xena and myself. You managed to escape, and the two of you took off. We lost you and then it was as if you fell off the face of the earth."

Sea scrambled to her feet, shook her head then asked, "You don't remember Linden?"

Pondering the woman's name she shook her head. "No."

Beginning to pace Sea muttered, "Then we have a big problem."

"Seems so. You are Ann Bounty aren't you? I can't believe you are anyone else."

Sea walked toward the bottle of port, she reached down and picked it up. "Maybe we've had too much of this. Our minds are muttled."

Gabrielle stepped toward her, reached out and grasped the bottle with one hand and with the other she lightly pressed her hand. "It is not the port. There is something strange going on."

Ann pursed her lips then said, "If you and Xena are together and this woman, Gina and I are supposed to be, then might I ask your name?"

Amazement on her face, she stared at the woman. "You are pulling my leg aren't you? I mean it is pretty obvious I am Gabrielle."

Sea took a long drink of port, then walked toward Gabrielle and handed the bottle to her. "Best you take a long one . . . I think our two worlds have collided."

Taking the bottle, she took a drink, then said, "Just what do you think this will do? Collided? You are not making any sense. I have been searching for days and suddenly you appear as if out of nowhere. A little teched in the head but other than that you are Ann Bounty."

Nodding, Sea muttered, "Aye, I am but the Ann Bounty of another plane."

At first thinking the woman was joking with her, she smiled. Sea did not and it was then that Gabrielle took a long slow drink of port. When she finished, she sputtered, "The vortex, you found the vortex and came here." It was more a statement than a question.

Nodding, Ann replied, "Didn't have much choice it either was jump into the thing or be run through. I chose to jump. At first it was hard for me, seeing people I thought I knew and I was beginning to think the jump had scrambled my head. Now I know it was just the vortex and I am not in my world any more."

Taking another drink, then walking toward the woman, Gabrielle stared. "You could be her twin."

"Aye and you could be Star's."

Gabrielle pointed to the dying fire. "Help me find some firewood, then we must talk. I want to hear all about this other world."

Ann nodded, "And I want to hear all about you, and the Ann Bounty of this world."


Chapter Sixty Two

It was a long journey and the rough seas they had encountered had played havoc with her stomach. Gina was thankful they were now within easy distance of the pirate's stronghold. Alexandria was a distant memory and all she wanted to do was see Ann Bounty once more. She had been watching Saxton and Will lower a longboat into the water. They had received word that the pirate Asterea and her crew had put in to port. And it seemed they were in no hurry to leave. Gina recalled this place and the people that called it a safe haven. "I see you are lost in thought."

Mary Ready's smooth voice pulled her from her reverie. Turning, she smiled toward the woman. "Thinking. If Asterea is there, then perhaps Ann is also. And if she is not, then Asterea knows where she is."

Mary walked to the railing, placed both hands on it and said, "If Ann is there, getting her out will not be an easy task." The sound of the boat splashing into the water caused both women to take a quick look.

Gina leaned against the railing, as she sighed. "I am beginning to think we are chasing an illusion. Gabrielle and Xena have gone home . . ."

"It was good of them to come. They may still be looking. For a while it seemed Ann and . . . "

"Asterea." Gina offered as Mary seemed to choke on the woman's name.

"Had vanished," Mary finished, then added, "sorry, but the woman just rubs a sore spot where I am concerned. There is hope that we will find Ann there." Mary pointed to the ominous island. "I worry as to just what else we will find."

Saxton and Will were already lowering packs into the boat. Will gazed up at the two women and waved.

Gina returned the wave then called down, "Have you got everything?"

He smiled, "We are ready when you are." Mary grasped Gina's right hand. "Maybe you should . . ."

Pulling away, Gina replied, "Not likely. Come on let's go." "I'm right behind you."


They carefully rowed toward the far side of the port. Mary did not want to announce their arrival. If indeed Asterea was there, she knew there would be trouble. And at that moment they were outnumbered.

Once they landed the boat, and pulled it into the shrubbery. Saxton asked, "What now?"

Mary gazed toward the village. "You and Will go on in, take a room at the tavern. Stay low, keep your ears and eyes open. We will follow. Neither one of us wants to be announced. While you are inside gaining knowledge, we will look around outside, ask a few questions, buy a few things and try to mingle."

Will glanced at Saxton and rolled his eyes.

Mary stepped toward him, her face tense. "What? Do you have a better idea?"

He dug the toe of his boot into the soft sand. "No. But if either of you have noticed, you do not look like someone that will just mingle and fit in."

Mary glanced toward Gina, and at the same time Gina gave her the once over. "We look like we always do." Mary scoffed.

Saxton rubbed his chin as if this would bring him a fountain of wisdom. Mary stood, hands on her hips and she looked like she was ready to take on an army, as she made a disgusted sound deep in her throat. Saxton stared at her, and said, "That's the problem, two beautiful women, who, I am sure will surpass any here. You will be spotted immediately."

A strange look crossed Mary's face as she turned and walked toward the jungle. Gina tapped Saxton and said, "Now you've done it. Gods, Saxton, we do not need Mary going off and doing something stupid." Mary had now disappeared among the foliage and Gina urged, "Go on! Do what she said. We will find you."

They picked up their packs and started off and Gina went to look for Mary. She hoped to calm her. After what had happened in Alexandria, Mary was hard to reach. She had withdrawn and was punishing herself more than Sea probably ever would.


She found Mary Ready, sitting on a tree stump, staring into space. "Mary, don't let them get to you."

Mary picked up a pebble and tossed it. "Are they gone yet? You are beautiful and would definitely look out of place amongst that riffraff."

Plopping beside the woman, Gina looked at her in amazement. "Me? Mary Ready, you really know how to pull a person's leg. The beauty is you. You have beauty, brains and brawn." Tossing another pebble the woman replied, "You have been shipboard too long. Before we go in, we might make a few changes."

"Changes? What do you mean?" Both of us are too clean, our clothes are not showing wear. We neither one look like we need to hide out here. They may be right in a way. We would stick out."

Gina contemplated the woman's words then said, "Plus if either one of us gets caught, it will not be pleasant."

Nodding, Mary acknowledged her words. "Especially you. Asterea would soon as slit your throat as not."

Gina sighed, "Then what do we do and when?"

Mary stretched. "There is a small village not far from here. We will go there, do some trading for a change of clothes, get dirtied up a bit, maybe change a few things and then go in."

Smiling, Gina ran her fingers through her hair. "No cutting the hair."

Chuckling Mary replied, "No cutting the hair. Come on let's go. Don't want to leave those two alone for very long among all of the temptations there."

Gina stood, offered a hand to Mary as she said, "They will be fine. If it was just Will, I might be worried but he has Saxton with him. He is smart and has seen it all."

Grasping her hand, Mary stood, dusted off her breeches, then offered, "Let's go, don't want to get caught in this jungle after the sun goes down."

"Lead the way, I have no idea where you are going."


It was a small village and most of the villagers were working in the fields. Mary was happy about this, it gave them time to look around and decide what changes they might make to their appearances. Gina was sifting through a basket of multi colored fabrics. Holding each up and posing for Mary.

Smiling at the woman's performance, Mary shook her head in delight as Gina modeled, each time more playfully. As the two were absorbed in this, a woman's husky voice rang out. "Mary Ready! Is it you?"

Gina seemed to freeze on the spot as Mary whirled to face the person. A tall, robust woman, smiled toward her.

"It is you. Woman you are a sight for these tired eyes."

Quickly covering the distance between them, Mary reached out and embraced the woman. Their sounds of laughter brought about a big smile and a sigh of relief to Gina. She was very glad it was a friend.

"Tell me old-friend, who is your traveling companion?"

Mary stepped back, turned and gazed at Gina. "This is Gina." she motioned for her to come forward and as Gina neared the two women, added, "Gina this is Bella."

The two women exchanged greetings. Bella's dark eyes matched the color of her hair. As did the leather clothes she wore. The red sash that hung tied at her waist stood out, and so did the cutlass that seemed to find comfort dangling from her belt. Bella wore a leather headband that was keeping her dark hair in tow. She was striking and a woman one would not forget easily.

"Banshees got your tongue?" The woman's words reached out, snapping Gina from her thoughts.

"So---rry," realizing she had been caught gazing so intensely, Gina was at a loss for words.

Mary walked over to her, placed an arm comfortingly around her shoulders and said, "I think you have Gina in awe of you Bell. You are a striking woman, you know."

Gina flushed, embarrassment taking control of her body as she stammered, "I apologize for staring. "

Bella's hand seemed to play with the hilt of her cutlass for a few moments before she threw her head back and guffawed. This broke the ice and Mary and Gina relaxed. Bell stepped forward grasped Gina's hand, holding it firmly. "I am delighted to meet a friend of Mary's. What say we go in and have some refreshments aye?"

"Sounds good to me, lead the way." Mary tapped Gina on the shoulder as the two women followed Bella into a thatched hut. Once inside the very plain building, she pointed to several wooden chairs. "Sit. I'll find us some goblets, a fresh bottle of port to wash away the dust." Gina gazed at Mary she felt uncomfortable and was not happy the way things had suddenly changed. Mary smiled toward her whispering, "It's all right. Do us both good to sit, have a few, then we can prepare to go see what the men have gotten themselves into."

"Men, did I just hear the word men?"

Both women had just sat and were startled that Bella was so close. "Bell, that was quick."

Bell sat three goblets and a bottle of port on the wooden table. Then she sat and gazed at the two women. "Like I said, men? What are you fixing to do?" She poured each a goblet of port then smiled, "Drink up."

Gina still found herself amazed at this woman she was mesmerizing and yet there was something that sent a chill up her spine. "Taking a sip, Gina looked to Mary for guidance. She did not know this woman and she was not sure, just what to say regarding Will and Saxton."

Mary leaned back in her chair, her right hand playing with the goblet of port. Her blue eyes trying to read Bell. "We are here with some men from the ship. They went on ahead of us, that's all."

Bell's eyes darted from one woman then the other before she finally said, "That's all . . . With you in the mix Ready, there is no such thing as all. Now if you won't tell me, perhaps your cute friend will." She had edged her chair near Gina, as she leaned forward and gazed steadily into her eyes. It was as if she was expecting to find the answer to her question there.

An uneasy feeling was overtaking Gina as she mumbled, "Ma . . ."

Bella took a long gulp of her port, then turned to gaze at Mary Ready. The woman had a very mischievous look about herself as she watched Gina turn crimson.

Finally she leaned forward set her goblet on the table and said, "And you? Just what are you doing in this place? Don't tell me you are running once more from . . . "

Bella sat back in her chair, both hands caressing her goblet. "Don't try to change the subject woman! I asked you what is going on. If there is something that is afoot, I want to know."

"The only thing that is afoot at this moment is the boots that are on feet."

Heaving a very long sigh, Bella conceded. "All right, I'll give that to you for now. But before you and the cute one leave this place I will know what is going on."


The day was waning and neither woman was ready to meet Will and Saxton. They had been visiting and drinking with Bell. Gina was happy to see Mary festive once more, her mind on other things. She felt the woman had chastised herself over what had happened to Sea for too long. Gina was happy to sit back and watch the two women exchange stories. In a way, it reminded her of Sea and Mary when they would find rare moments to talk.

Mary stood, looked at Gina and said, "We best be going."

Scrambling to her feet, Gina asked, "Where?"

Bella walked over, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "With me."

Gina's eyes darted to Mary. "Want to tell me what is going on?"

"Sure, I have told Bell about our hunt and she has offered to help."

"No . . . I mean she can't."

Bella grinned, "Mind telling me why?"

She could feel the woman's grip on her shoulder tighten and she tried to explain, "It's just. . . "

Mary stepped forward, reached out and removed Bell's large hand as she said, "Bell and I are old friends. She will fit us in different clothes, and show us the best way to get into the village. It is always good to have someone that knows what is going on inside."

Shrugging her shoulders, Gina thought for several seconds then asked, "When did you decide this?"

"When you went to relieve yourself. You were gone for so long I was beginning to think I should send out a hunting party."

Wrinkling up her nose at Mary, she grinned and replied, "I ran into several women that were selling some beautiful wares. That's all, besides you two looked chummy and I didn't think I would be missed."

Mary's eyes lit up as she beamed toward Gina, "Miss you? Your dimples take me to my knees as I speak."

Feeling flustered once more, Gina turned and started for the doorway, "Come on then, let's get this thing over. The sooner done, the sooner we find Ann." Realizing what she said, she turned and stared at the two women. A look of horror on her face.

"Mary smiled, "Don't worry, I have already filled Bell in, she knows all about it."

"In that case, does she know where Ann is?"

Pursing her lips, Mary offered, "She has told me a woman matching Ann's description is here. Once we get to where Bell is taking us, maybe we will know more."

Hearing these words, Gina's step was lively as she hurried out the door calling back, "Then don't dally, hurry up."


Chapter Sixty Three

Gina turned to gaze at Mary. Both women were now dressed in peasant garb. The loose britches and stretched out tunics, had certainly changed their look. As well, they both had concealed their long hair with fabric hoods. A few smudges here and there and neither woman was recognizable.

Bell had gone ahead. She didn't think it would be good for the three of them to be seen coming into the village together. People might ask questions.

Mary caught the twinkle in Gina's eyes and grinned toward her. "Want to tell me what has you beaming so?"

Grinning, as she neared the woman, Gina replied, "You are so cute in that outfit."

Feeling as if things were crawling all over her body, Mary began to wriggle and scratch. "Very funny. At least you don't have unmentionables crawling all over you."

Her eyes grew wide as she walked toward the woman. "You're funning me aren't you?" At this time she began to wriggle. Standing, Mary smacked her lips together making a loud suctioning sound. "Stop that. My imagination is conjuring up enough crawling things, you having them also, is not helping."

"Mary, do you really think this Bell can be trusted?"

Mary gazed at her and replied, "About as trustworthy as any pirate."

"If that is the case, we have just set ourselves up."

Shrugging her shoulders, Mary smiled briefly then said, "If something should happen, you get Will and Saxton out of here."

Horror had taken over Gina's face. It was apparent, Mary's words had struck fear. "Happen? What is going to happen? Gods Mary, if you thought this, we should have kept Bell out of this."

"Wouldn't do any good. She had her mind set on finding out and she is not one to just give up. I have fought beside her before, she is all right."

"I detect a little bit of hesitation there . . . All right? Tell me, before we go in there, just what is she capable of?"

Mary approached, placed both hands on Gina's shoulders and said, "I will not let anything happen to you."

Pulling away from her grip, Gina began to pace. "I've changed my mind. Let's go get Will and Saxton. Let's get out of here."

"Too late. The wheels have been put in motion."

Gina was filled with apprehension now, as she stopped her pacing, and gave Mary a fearful look.

Mary walked toward a bush and disappeared, soon to emerge, carrying the clothes that Gina had worn. "Here, I want you to get out of those things, except for the hood, and put these back on."

Totally confused, Gina just stared at her. Finally she uttered, "These are mine. Why do you want me to put them back on?"

Because I may think Bell is all-right but I do not trust her. I'd rather see you in your own clothes, rather than stick out like some peasant coming to . . ."

Cutting in, Gina finished, "Their own execution."

Nodding Mary replied, "Something like that."

Gina began to discard the clothes she wore and as she was doing this she asked, "Where are yours?"

"I'll go in like this."

Her body settling into her own clothes, Gina exclaimed, "Oh no you don't! If you think that Bella may double-cross you, then you need to get out of those clothes also!"

Shaking her head, in a voice that was low and soft she whispered, "They will be expecting two women in peasant wear, If one turns up and nothing happens then you will know it is safe. If something happens, they will not be looking for you dressed like that. Get Will and Saxton out of there and do not look back."

"Sure, and there are no Gods on Mount Olympus and Poseidon is on dry land now. " She shook her head, as she spouted, "Never! I will not leave you to the woman Asterea." She placed the palm of her right hand on her forehead, "What was I thinking. You can't go in there. I am sure they still have a reward offered for you. Gods, I was so filled with wanting to see Ann, I had forgotten your problems in this place." She dropped to her knees, grasping Mary's legs as she held tightly. "Please, don't do this. Let me go in. I will find Will and Saxton."

Mary reached down and gently helped Gina to her feet. "This is my choice. Bell may be all right. I just want to be prepared. Perhaps they have forgotten about me since last I was here."

"Ha, and your names not Mary Ready. Pirates don't forget, they get even. It is too much to ask of you."

Mary stood, her arms crossed as she watched the woman rant and rave, finally saying, "If you don't stop that confounded pacing, I am going to be too dizzy to do anything."

Gina stopped and tilted her head to meet Mary's gaze. "I'd rather see you dizzy and here than not. I can handle myself."

"And Sea? You have come a long way looking for her and now that she is so close at hand . . ."

"There will be another time. I am more interested in getting you and the others out of here."

"Won't work. Bell already knows we sent them in."

"Then why did you tell her?"

Because she would never have stopped until she knew. I just want you to be prepared in case something happens."

"You know, Asterea hates me as well."

"I know and it was foolish of me to bring you here."

Gina set her jaw and in a presence of authority she said, "Would not have done any good. I would have come with you or without."


The moon cast black, calm shadows over the undulating cobblestone streets.

The two women were haunched down, observing the few lights of the village and listening to voices that were traveling to them on the night breeze.

They had been observing a small band of men, sitting near a campfire. The yellow flames casting shadows up into the men's lean faces, long shaggy black hair and black eyes that glittered like the star-spattered, black sky overhead. Mary motioned for them to circle away from the men and Gina followed her lead.

They made their way into the village, keeping to the shadows and darting out of sight whenever they heard or saw someone coming in their direction. Mary stopped and stared at a large wooden door that was ajar. She was so busy concentrating on this, she did not hear Gina when she walked away.

Gina had spotted the form of a fleeting individual and in what light there was, she thought it might have been Ann. Deciding to walk over and take a look she left Mary staring at the magnificent door. As she rounded a corner, she heard the sound of a door creaking behind her then light footsteps. Darkness was beginning to feel smothering and she began to run, suddenly a powerful hand grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around. It was Mary and she was never happier to see the woman. "What are you doing wandering out here like you have no cause to worry?"

Gina gazed at the woman. "I thought I saw Ann."

"Is that enough to give you cause to leave me? A good thing I did not spend too much time admiring that door. And if it had been Ann? She doesn't' know you, and she might have done you harm."

"You're right. I'm sorry it won't happen again." She pointed in the direction she had seen the scurrying figure and said, "I'm going to go see who this is. You can stay or go."

Three burly men stepped out and blocked her path. It was at this time Mary pushed Gina into a doorway with one hand and with the other hand, she seized one of the men around the neck, grappling for a pressure point, through which she could make him unconscious. There was a dull glint of metal as the second man pulled out a dagger and watched the two as they struggled. He had been waiting for the opportunity to present itself to attack. "Run, Gina, this is your chance!" The man lunged forward, Mary seized his knife hand, and then, with an agile heave, she threw both the attacker and the weapon to the ground. As Mary whirled to see where Gina was, the man was on his feet once more and charged for her.

"Gina screamed, "Behind you, lookout!"

Seeing the woman turn, fire in her eyes as she waited with bated breath, he turned and started to run away, chased by Mary. He ran fast but he was unlucky. Mary deftly made several somersaults through the air and landed in front of him. The startled look on his face and the crack as her fist connected with it was all that was heard. Gina ran up to where the woman stood glowering down at the still form on the street.

Mary, who are they? What did they want?

She haunched down, and went through the man's pockets. Not finding anything , she said, "They were just looking for an easy mark. Let's get away from this spot. I know where Asterea used to hang out we will go there."

As they neared the building, Gina reached out and tugged at Mary's arm. "Thanks for back there. But I could have handled them."

Mary gazed down at the woman. "Perhaps you might have or perhaps you might be dead. You're welcome and I would do it again. I promised you I would not let anything happen to you."

The two stepped further into the shadows of the building as they waited for an opening that would gain them access in. Gina had found a wooden barrel to straddle and Mary was leaning against the wall.

Gina sighed, "I wonder what Will and Saxton are doing right now?"

Mary ran her tongue over her teeth as she mumbled, "Probably doing better than us."

"You talked with Bella last, did she say what she was going to do?"

"Yes, she was going to come in, look around and then get back to me. Of course I was supposed to wait until I saw her signal."

"Which was?"

A light that flickered in the open window of the stable."

"Since we did not wait, what do you think she might be up to at this time?"

"Looking for us. Maybe to talk, maybe not."

"She will not be happy with you that is for sure."

"She told me that she would do all she could to see if Ann is here. I do believe she will do this, however, Bell and Ann are not the best of friends."

"I smell trouble." Gina shivered.

The sound of loud voices caught their attention. Both women glanced in the direction and could see, Asterea, and Bella standing in a doorway talking. It seemed Asterea was upset, mad enough to kill. Asterea, fumed as she bellowed, "Damn them! Ann is gone! I have sent men but there is no trace of her. When did you say you saw Mary Ready and the woman Gina?"

Bella's voice dropped and the sound of rowdy passers-by drowned out her words. They only caught the last few. "---stable light."

Gina had left the barrel and was standing close to Mary as both women listened intently. She elbowed Mary lightly and said, "Good thing you did not wait for the stable light to flicker."

Nodding in acknowledgment Mary whispered, "We need to go find Will and Saxton, get out of here. Sounds like the place will be teeming with guards looking for Ann and us."

The two backed away slowly making their way to the tavern. Once they were within sight of the building, Mary glanced around. "Don't want to run into any of Asterea's friends. Let's get in and then out."

They entered the room behind several others. It was boisterous inside, and smelled strongly of drink. Mary walked casually toward the bar. She had left Gina near the doorway. Both women had been surveying the room, looking for Will and Saxton.

Mary made her way back to Gina and handed her a goblet of port. "Here, drink this, look like you belong here. I asked the man at the counter about Will and Saxton. He said they had rented a room. So it is my thought, we amble up those stairs and find the boys."

Nodding, Gina replied, "I'm right behind you."

It didn't take them long to find the room and the two men. Both were surprised to see the two women. Especially Mary in her peasant garb. Mary filled them in on what had happened with Bell and now Asterea. They also told her they had heard that Ann Bounty had disappeared. And that Asterea was blaming her disappearance on Mary and Gina.

Mary had been pacing the room. "We've got to get out of here."

Saxton stepped up to her blocking her path. "From all I have heard, Anne is in good health. She still does not know who she is. And seems she and Asterea have had this running thing where they keep trading names with one another. It also seems we have gone and gotten ourselves into some very hot water here."

Mary nodded, "You're right. Did you hear where Asterea thinks we have taken Ann?"

He frowned, "Some place called Osara. I think she is going to set sail there. That is, if she does not find Ann on the island somewhere."

Gina smiled at Will then glanced toward Saxton. "Osara, what is there?"

He bit at his lower lip, "Seems some sort of treasure."

Mary walked toward Will, and as she neared she said, "I have already told Gina this, now I will tell you. If something happens, I want you all to leave here, and do not look back."

Will jumped to his feet, as he said, "Leave here? As in all of us right?"

Gina shook her head. "No, she means if something happens and she is caught, we are to leave her behind."

Both men shook their heads. "Not going to happen. We came together, we will leave together."

Mary looked as if she would explode for a second before she said, "I meant it. I can take care of myself. You will need to get back to the ship, and make sail for Osara. Ann is going to need your help."

They all looked at one another then in unison said, "No!"

Pacing off the room, Mary sputtered, "I am the captain you know, you are supposed to take orders from the captain. And I am ordering you to leave me behind if there is no recourse."

Saxton looked beaten as he said, "Aye Captain. If it is your will, then it will be done."

Gina and Will just stared at one another in disbelief.

It was at this time footsteps were heard in the corridor. The sounds stopped at their door. All eyes were glued to the door knob as it began to turn.


continued in chapter 64

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