It was sometime later, and they had figured out the basics of how to get Hannah to the Maiden. Her only concern was stirring up the crew's resentment with her presence. Donovan was packing once more, and had both her ceremonial sword and their wedding blade resting on the bed.
"Let us go find you a ship to sail on beloved. I will insure that the Maiden departs on the same day." When Hannah didn't move, Donovan raised her eyes from her packing to see Hannah studying the etching on the wedding sword.
"I understand these," pointing to the book, quill and parchment. "They are supposed to represent me." She looked up and Donovan nodded. "And these," motioning to the standard, insignia and crest, "are meant for you, I believe," seeing Donovan's head nod again in confirmation. "Okay, so what is this for?" indicating the pair of eyes just at the hilt.
Donovan chuckled. "That was John's idea of a bit of humor... tweaking the Admiralty without actually giving anything away." She noted Hannah's perplexed look and sat down to explain.
"These are your eyes... the eyes on my pirate standard. Merchants and pirates who see the Ice Maiden's pirate standard tremble in fear, because we always exact justice for whatever crime they have committed. To the locals, we are heroes. To those we punish, we are fearsome. To the Admiralty, though, we are criminals who would be executed on sight if they caught us."
"Why do it then Donovan? Is it worth the risk?"
Donovan laid the blade to one side and took Hannah's hands instead. "We do it for many reasons. Some of them are shared by all of us, and others are shared by only a few. But they are all important." Donovan kissed the hands clasped in her own then rose from her seat. She walked to the window and looked out on the rainy landscape.
"We started out trying to protect the people of the islands. Unfortunately, as sailors of the Crown, we could not take action. We are bound by too many rules and regulations, and thieves and murderers go free while innocents suffer at their hand. So we do the throne's business to the best of our ability, and when that does not suffice, we become pirates and do as justice demands."
"Then that makes you judge, jury and executioner," Hannah commented.
"Yes, I suppose it does."
"And what happens if you're wrong, Donovan? What then? I'm not saying you should stop defending the people. God knows they deserve to have someone like you watching out for them. But the odds are that eventually, something is going to go wrong. The wrong person will suffer and they will come looking for you and the crew."
Hannah, torn between anger and anguish, looked at Donovan and continued, "I know this is selfish of me, but I don't want to give you up. I have no desire to be a widow. Dammit, Donovan! I just found you!!"
The outburst was unexpected and Donovan found herself nearly crushed in Hannah's return embrace when she wrapped Hannah in her arms. "It is not selfish, Angel. It is human nature. We have made contingency plans for various scenarios going awry. For now we do the best we can and hope. If... WHEN it catches up to us, we will do our best to escape with our honor intact and disappear forever."
She took a deep breath and resumed her seat, cradling Hannah on her lap. "Many of the crew have homes and families scattered across the small islands in the area. Everyone would be taken care of. But no matter what, I promise you we would be together."
They sat quietly for a time before Donovan spoke again. "Do you remember what I told you on our wedding day? That neither time nor distance nor death would ever separate us again? I meant that Hannah Scott, with everything that I am, and I promise you again here and now that no matter what, we will always, *ALWAYS* be together."
"Eternally... soulmates bound by love and life and time itself."
"You keep reminding me of that, will you?" Sometimes I just need to hear it for reassurance, and others I like the goosebumps it sends skittering up my spine."
Donovan chuckled at the blushing confession and ran her hands up Hannah's sides to see the goosebumps follow in her wake. "That is good. I like that reaction in you."
Hannah did her best to get a few pokes in, but found herself slipping from her seat as Donovan squirmed to stay out of her reach. Clutching Donovan's neck, Hannah chose to poke her in the chest to emphasize her words. "You. Are. An. EVIL. Woman."
"Thank you, beloved," Donovan replied with a smirk. "I do try."
She rose from the bed and brought Hannah with her when it became apparent the smaller woman was not going to release her hold. "Come, Hannah. Let us go book your passage and then send a message to my father."
Four days later, Hannah was boarding a passenger ship bound for the Colonies, as the British were wont to refer to the United States at that point in time. She checked in with the man holding the manifest lists, and indicated that her luggage had already been brought aboard. Hannah mingled on deck for a bit, watching the chaos on the dock with interest.
There were so many things going on preparing the ship for departure that it was easy to slip away during a moment of distraction on the crew's part. They never even missed her. And in the chaos, no one saw the small sloop ease away from a nearby dock and out into open water.
"Yes, Ernst?" The sloop was taking the long way around to meet up with the Maiden, and they had several hours to kill before their rendezvous. Ernst Scott decided to use the time to his advantage and have a bit of conversation with his daughter-in-law.
"Can I ask a favor of you?"
Hannah edged over from where she'd been sitting watching out towards the horizon. The tug she felt pulling her towards Donovan was strong... stronger than she'd ever realized, and she understood that their being together in the same time and space, coupled with their physical and emotional entwining made separation almost physically painful. She was glad to hear Ernst voice directed towards her to take her mind from her thoughts.
"Certainly, sir. What can I do for you?"
"First, stop being so formal. I know we are still getting to know one another, but we are family now. Ernst is acceptable, though Papa is preferred, but sir will never do. That is for sailors and Captains, but not a new member of the family. All right?"
"Yes sir... Ern... Papa." She blushed and smiled at him. "Sorry... old habits."
"Ernst chuckled. "I understand, my dear. I just want you to feel comfortable with Margaret and me. Those manners are ingrained in you, and that is a credit to your parents, Hannah."
Hannah flushed and tried to divert the conversation away from herself. "Um, what was the favor?"
Ernst kept his eye on the jib, but Hannah could clearly hear his emotions through the timber of his voice. "You hold something very precious and rare, Hannah. I am asking you to take special care of my daughter. She is one of the strongest people I have ever known, and yet there is a fragility there that needs to be protected. Look after her, Hannah. And look after yourself for her. She depends on your presence more than she realizes."
"I intend to do so, sir, with everything that I am. She has trusted me with her heart, her career, with her very life, and I have no intention of betraying that trust. What we have between us is something that many spend a lifetime hoping to see or experience even once. I am holding on with both hands and never letting go. I need it... her... as badly as she does." She bit her lip in thought. "May I know what brought this up?"
"You should be aware that there may be trouble brewing for Donovan. There are one or two of her crew that have been waiting for a time to cause trouble, and my gut tells me that time may be very near." He patted her knee and shifted the sails just slightly before turning to face Hannah. "Just be careful. Losing you would kill Donovan at this point, and I have no desire to lose either of my daughters."
"I'll take care of her Ernst. You can count on that."
Ernst Scott noted the fire in the green eyes that held his and nodded. He was sure if her expression was any indication, Hannah was more than capable of dealing with any threat to herself or Donovan. He almost wished he could be there to see it.
There was silence between them after that, and they were each left to their own thoughts. After a bit, Ernst pulled a basket from the small hold. "Mama sent us some lunch along. Are you interested?"
Hannah turned back to him at the sound of his voice. "Hmm?" Then seeing the basket he held, she continued, "Oh, yes, please."
Ernst looked relieved and the blushed just slightly, reminding Hannah greatly of Donovan with the same sheepish expression on his face. "Good," he said with a grin. "I was afraid you were going to say no, and then I would have to be a gentleman and wait."
Hannah's laughter caused a sympathetic chuckle to rumble from Ernst's broad chest. "No, actually I have been waiting patiently hoping you would suggest lunch. Something about fresh salt air makes me ravenous. It feels like it's been days since I had breakfast."
"Is that why you took to helping Cookie in the galley?" Ernst asked conversationally as he passed Hannah a thick sandwich. "I have never been as surprised as I was when Donovan told me that not only were you helping, but that Cookie was also enjoying it. Cookie was always quite protective of his galley."
"Well," Hannah said around a bite of sandwich. "I think my approach to Cookie made have made a bit of difference... I came bearing gifts of chocolate."
"That had to go over well with Donovan also. It's never been something we could afford, but it has always been a treat Donovan loved the scent of."
Hannah giggled. "I think she's a true convert. I'll just have to find a way to keep a small supply for special occasions."
"She is very lucky to have you."
"I think we're both lucky to have each other, Ernst."
"I believe you are right, Hannah. Thank you for loving her."
"I couldn't not. Thank you for taking me to her. I'm not sure we could bear another separation."
"I was glad to do it, Hannah. There are days I miss my life on the open sea as part of the Navy, and others I am glad to be home in my own bed every night."
There was silence for a while then as they finished their sandwiches and Ernst divided the fruit between them. Hannah looked up from her apple and pinned Ernst with a look. He returned it with a raised brow that reminded her very much of Donovan and had to smile at the resemblance.
"Ernst, may I ask you a question?"
He started to make light of his answer before realizing the underlying seriousness of her question. He simply nodded.
"What do you think of Donovan being a pirate?"
Well, nothing like asking the hard one first, he thought even as he considered his answer. "I think, Hannah, that sometimes the world needs people like Donovan to stand up and do what others will not. I do not like the fact that she seems to be the one chosen to stand between weakness and greed, but I am very proud of the fact that she does, and that she does so well."
"It scares me a little," Hannah whispered, feeling Ernst of all people would respect and appreciate the reality of her fears.
"Does it change the way you feel when you see her as a pirate as opposed to a legitimate sea captain?"
"No, because both are genuine parts of who Donovan is to me. It scares me because the piracy could destroy her. If she is caught...."
"I have seen the logs she keeps for the Admiralty. She has taken steps to protect herself without actually lying about her activities, and the Admiralty sees what it wants to see in her reports. And her crew knows and supports her decision. Many of them are protecting their own loved ones when they leave their official duties behind and become pirates. Therefore they do their very best... for her and for themselves." He paused, thinking. "I would like to think they would do it even without loved ones of their own involved, but I cannot say for certain. I do think most of them would defend Donovan to the death, though I hope it never comes to that."
"Me too," Hannah agreed. They sat silently for another little while as they steadily moved towards their rendezvous and the sun continued to show the passage of time. Finally Hannah turned to Ernst again, noting the similarity between his profile and Donovan's. "Can I ask something else?"
Ernst turned and took Hannah's hands in his own, noting both a strength and a fragility that was familiar to him since the reminded him greatly of his Margaret's hands. "Hannah, you are my daughter now. You do not need permission to talk to me or ask questions. You need only ask. I can refuse if I do not wish to answer. Agreed?"
She nodded, but kept her eyes on their hands. "Papa," he smiled at her use of the familial title. "How did you really feel when Donovan told you she was in love with a woman? I mean...." she hastened on, trying to ask something she'd never been able to discuss with her own father. "Honestly, what was your first reaction? You see, my mother died when I was born, and my father died when I was fifteen, and it wasn't something we talked about before he died. You remind me a lot of him, though and I'd like to think he'd be as accepting about it as you are, but...."
She trailed off as she realized she was babbling and sat quietly waiting for his answer. "Hannah, you were there when Donovan told me she was in love with a woman."
Hannah's head jerked up to meet blue eyes and she stared at him in mute incomprehension for several stunned moments. "I'm sorry... I don't...."
"Hannah, Donovan and I never discussed her love life." He let her hands go and turned his attention back to the steering rudder while he continued to talk. "When Donovan took to the sea, I knew she was searching for something, and I suspected she was searching someone... a lost love perhaps. And I knew that given the life she had chosen, she would have to find a woman who could accept her duality if she was to have love and her career. So I cannot honestly claim surprise when she introduced you, but we had never discussed it before you crossed the threshold into our home."
"We talked about yours and Margaret's suspected reactions to me on our crossing. Donovan told me that you would be happy to marry us, and that Margaret would be unpleasant at the very least. She knows you both very well, and I really don't know what my parents would have done given the same circumstances."
"It is not always easy to say. I had many years to think on it and reflect and decide if losing my daughter was worth giving up a religion I am not sure I always agree with. I have found a medium that allows me my faith and my child, and I am content with that."
"Do you think Margaret will ever reach that balance? Donovan doesn't say much, but I know her mother's rejection of her, even though it was the expected reaction, cuts very deeply."
"I like to think so, Hannah, and I honestly believe that given time, Margaret will come around. She has made amazing advances in the relatively short time you have been here, and much of that is due to you. You stood up for yourself and for Donovan without stooping to pettiness or rude behavior. Margaret respects that, and I think she genuinely likes you. Give her some time. I think you will find her more accepting as she gets to know you as an individual, and you and Donovan as a married couple."
"I hope so, Ernst. I think Donovan needs her mother's approval whether she will admit it or not."
"I think we all need that parental approval at some point, Hannah." He smiled and tapped her shoulder, motioning when he had her attention. "Do you see what I see?"
Hannah turned her head, and just at the edge of the horizon she could see the bare outline of a man-o-war. She turned back to Ernst with a dazzling grin.
"Take me home, Papa," was all she said.
"How did you like Papa's sloop?" It was late at night and the two women were settling into their cabin. The Maiden had picked Hannah up mid-afternoon, but this was the first chance they'd really had to talk. Donovan had been busy watching two of the men she suspected of causing trouble, and Hannah had gone immediately to settle her things in their cabin. She smiled now before she answered.
"Not as much fun as your ship, but it was nice. He taught me a little about how to steer it. We had some good conversation too."
Donovan smiled in return, and munched on a cookie from the batch Hannah had prepared for supper. "Did you now? What did you talk about?"
"Daughters and love and understanding." Hannah chuckled at the slow blush that crawled up Donovan's neck then sobered. "Papa gave me the names of two sailors he suspects will make trouble for you very soon. He asked me to keep an eye on them and on you."
Donovan's eyes turned to ice. "I can take care of myself and my crew. I will handle any problems."
"Yes," Hannah answered. "You will. It is your right and your privilege as Captain. BUT...." and here she poked Donovan firmly in the chest to emphasize each and every word. "It is MY right and MY privilege as your wife to protect and defend you, and I fully intend to exercise that right."
Donovan looked shell-shocked by Hannah's vehemence and the green eyes softened. "Donovan, we look out for one another. It is part of being married. I won't interfere with your duties as the Captain, but I will watch your back."
Now Donovan smiled and took Hannah into an embrace. "I cannot think of anyone I would rather have doing that, beloved." She cleared her throat. "Who did Papa... you called him Papa?!"
Hannah wasn't sure by the tone of Donovan's voice if she was pleased or mortified by that fact, but a glance into Donovan's face showed Hannah that it was surprised pleasure. It reminded her greatly of the look on Ernst's face when she'd finally looked at him after referring to him as such, though he'd had more than a touch of pride in his expression as well. Hannah nodded her affirmation.
"He asked me to; said we were family now, and I was his daughter too."
Donovan smiled and tightened her hold, then brushed a kiss across Hannah's hair. "He is right about that, you know. We are family now, so that does make you his daughter. I am glad you do not mind calling him Papa. I am sure he was thrilled by it."
"I think it made him happy, yes."
"So who did he tell you to watch?"
"Simmonds and Walker. He seems to think they have already been stirring up trouble at the Admiralty and figures they will do their best to make the crew discontent. Especially since I am on board with you and the crew of course doesn't have their families."
"I have been watching them. They have been unhappy since we brought you on board, but it makes no sense."
"Because they are shipboard lovers and have been for years. Not common knowledge and they do have women on both sides of the ocean as well. Makes me wonder who or what is behind it. I know there is a big push to find the Ice Maiden now. With our disposal of Blackthorne, we have become the Navy's number one target."
"How did they find out about Blackthorne, love? I know that didn't go into any official records," Hannah asked as she loosened the braid Donovan wore and began running a gentle brush through the long, dark tresses. Donovan closed her eyes and gave herself over to Hannah's tender ministrations.
Hannah felt Donovan relax under her touch and loosened the laces on the front of Donovan's shirt, sliding her hands in enough to start a massage of already stiffened shoulders. Donovan groaned when Hannah hit a knot, and leaned into the firm touch. When the knot worked out, Donovan straightened and turned, wrapping herself around Hannah. Hannah stroked the smooth hair and waited, wondering if Donovan remembered her question.
"The remnants of Blackthorne's crew were picked up by the Hawke. They told the story of the Ice Maiden defeating and marooning them. That took Blackthorne off the most wanted list and put us squarely at the top."
"Does that mean your pirate activity will be curtailed?"
"It means we have to be more careful, but Hannah, I cannot in good conscience let others' piracy continue to protect myself."
Hannah didn't answer, but Donovan felt the stiffness in her bearing and looked up to see her biting her lip to keep from... crying? Screaming? Donovan didn't know for sure. She felt Hannah pull away from her and the chill was frightening. The kiss Hannah brushed over her dark head was comforting, but not nearly as reassuring as Donovan would have liked.
"Be careful, love. I have a very bad feeling about this." Then Hannah blew out the candle and crawled between the sheets.
Donovan sat in the dark, suddenly feeling cold and bereft. Then Hannah sat partway up, and lifted the covers. "Are you coming to bed, sweetheart, or are you gonna sit there in the dark all night?"
"Come to bed. I'll give you something else to think about." The tone in Hannah's voice was sultry, and Donovan felt her body warm in response.
"But I thought...."
"I'm scared Donovan, for you and for us. Doesn't mean I love or desire you any less." Her voiced deepened again. "Now come to bed, Captain."
Donovan was quick to comply this time, and there was no more talk of pirates or traitors or orders. Tomorrow would be soon enough to talk.
Things settled into a routine in the next few weeks, though Donovan and Hannah continued to be more vigilant. Something just wasn't right, and it was putting them both in knots. It was beginning to wear on them, and everyone noticed the strain. Finally, John could stand it no more and knocked on the Captain's door. He was going to confront them both.
"Come in, Mr. Merryweather," Donovan called at his knock. It was almost time for the evening meal, and John made it a point to meet with her around that time to settle any ship's business before he took over for the evening shift.
"Evening Captain, Mrs. Scott," the first mate greeted as he closed the door behind him. "Do you have a few moments sir?"
"Of course, John. Please have a seat."
"Do you need me to leave?" Hannah asked, looking between Donovan and John. She'd never had to leave so far, but she didn't want to make things difficult, and it was obvious by the way Merryweather was acting that he had something serious on his mind.
"No, ma'am. You are fine. I actually need to speak with both of you."
Donovan was intrigued and it showed. She gestured to the chair again. "Have a seat John, and tell us what is on your mind."
The first mate shook his head. "No, sir. This will not take but a moment. I um... sir, what is going on between you and Mrs. Scott?" Two sets of brows rose in tandem and Hannah and Donovan looked at one another in startlement before turning questioning eyes back to Merryweather. John stuttered, realizing just exactly how impertinent and invasive his question had actually sounded.
"I... I'm... I'm sorry, sir. What I meant to say was... well, there is obviously some strain between you, and I was wondering if there was anything I could do. The whole crew has noticed it sir, and it is affecting morale."
Blue and green gazes returned to one another for a long moment, and John watched their wordless conversation in fascination. "Well," Hannah finally commented, "I supposed we better not ever really fight."
Donovan grinned at her. "I guess not." She sobered. "I will admit I did not realize the crew was so sensitive to, well... us, though."
"I think the crew is sensitive to the fact that something is wrong, Captain, and you and Mrs. Scott became the focus because it is apparent you are aware of the problem," John said. "Am I making the least bit of sense here?" He looked at the two of them in confusion. "Because I think I lost myself somewhere in that explanation."
"You are fine, Mr. Merryweather. We did not realize that the crew had picked up on our unease."
"Then there is a problem?"
"Yes, there is," Donovan continued. "I believe... *we* believe we have two traitors on board. We are fairly sure we know who they are. We are just not positive what they plan to do or when they plan to strike. The waiting and uncertainty is making us somewhat uneasy, and that is what the crew has picked up on, I suppose." Donovan turned her attention to Hannah. "I think we need to work on hiding our anxiety."
"Agreed," Hannah responded.
"Um, Captain?" the first mate cut in. "Begging your pardon, sir, but what is going on? If we are facing treason from one of our own, I think the crew deserves to know."
"Mr. Merryweather, telling the crew of our suspicions will tip our hand, and that will help no one. However, if you would like to keep an eye out on Simmonds and Walker, I would not object. And perhaps institute a few more surprise drills. I believe when trouble comes for us, it will be when we are pirates of the Ice Maiden and not when we are British sailors of the Warrior Maiden's crew."
"Understood, sir. I will get right on it."
"Thank you, Mr. Merryweather. I hope I am wrong, but I do not think I am."
"We will keep an eye out sir. If we have traitors, they will be betraying us all. Most of the men will not stand for it."
Donovan swallowed and nodded. "That is good to know, John. But you and the rest of the men need to keep in mind that if it comes down to it, we will be fighting our own to survive. I do not want you to have to give up your privileges as British citizens...."
"Captain, we all went into this with open eyes. We knew when we became pirates that it might come to this one day, and in all honesty, we knew that it probably would. The odds against us were simply too high. We chose this destiny... as a group. We will face the outcome together, sir. You let us do our part, and you take care of yours," with a look in Hannah's direction.
Hannah met his eyes squarely. "I assure you, Mr. Merryweather," and he audibly gulped when she used his military salutation, "if it comes to a fight, I will be protecting what is mine as well."
He nodded at the fierce burning fire in her eyes, and swallowed again before answering. "Yes, ma'am. I am certain you will. And we will all be better off for it too." He saluted and left the room before Donovan could even dismiss him. She chuckled.
"I think you put the fear of God into him, beloved," then found herself swallowing at the intensity of Hannah's gaze when it focused on her. She cleared her throat. "I believe I understand why, too."
Hannah smiled and her eyes softened, and Donovan found herself responding in kind. "C'mon, love. It is dinner time and I think we should eat together with the crew tonight."
"Sending them a message, Hannah?"
"Yep. I want them to understand that we are together and that messing with you is messing with me." Her voice deepened. "And they really don't want to do that. I still have to share my world with you, and we have a lifetime to spend together. I won't let some pansy-assed scum screw that up."
Donovan's eyes widened at the aggressiveness she felt emanating from Hannah's very being. "You know," Donovan said conversationally as she took Hannah's hand in her own. "I believe it will turn out all right. Simmonds and Walker have no idea the hornet's nest they have stirred up tangling with you."
"In the meantime, though, let us hope we are mistaken. I really do not want to be a part of the carnage this will produce."
"I know, love. But sometimes, ya just gotta stand up and fight for what you believe in."
"Oh, I will, Angel. You can count on that. I just hope it isn't for a while."
Two days later all hell broke loose.
It started out fairly simply. The Warrior Maiden came across a merchant ship docked at an island in her patrol. Seeing nothing illegal in that, she pulled around to the far side of the island to allow her own crew a chance at R&R. They had been at sea for several weeks, and all the men were glad to see dry land again.
The Maiden's crew was one of several making use of the small island, and her sailors had long ago learned the value of blending in to their surroundings. So now Merryweather, Trilby, and several other men sat in a back corner table at the tavern sipping on ale and eating a meal that made them wish heartily that Cookie or Hannah would come in and assume command of the kitchen.
That was the way the quiet conversation was going when a bit of loud talk from the next table over caught their attention, and they concentrated more firmly on eating so they could overhear what was being said by the biggest man at the table.
"I'm tellin' yer... Waxley's gonna git top dollar fer these 'uns. I've ne'er seen flesh so fresh 'n' sweet, an' he damn near won't let us touch 'em. Cut the balls off'n one man who tried. Rest o' us been content enough to leave 'em be. We been promised an extry ten percent of the haul to split if we git 'em there quick 'n' undamaged."
"Where ya be headin'?"
"Brighton's Corners," the unknown man answered to a chorus of "Shh's!"
"C'mon, fellers... we all be mates here. We gots nothing to be fearin' from each other, and I ain't talkin' loud enough fer anyone else here to care."
"That be true 'nuff, but yer never knows who may be listenin' in."
The big man guffawed, and clapped the younger on his shoulder. "Stanley, ya thinkin' the Navy could be sneakin' in here a-listenin'? Ya be daft, man. We be able to spot Navy from a league away."
Stanley punched the man in the ribs, causing him to release his hold. "Ya big dumb oaf!" ha spat with contempt. "Ya be fergittin' 'bout the worst enemy we gots?"
The entire table quieted and Merryweather risked a quick glace up to see the pale faces that sat there. He dropped his attention back to his meal as soon as the talking resumed.
"Ya meanin' the Ice Princess and her crew? Hell, we ain't heard hide ner hair of them fer better'n six months, and this be our fourth run through here. I be thinkin' that rep the so-called Ice Princess got's nothin' but talk 'n' bluster. I ain't never seen 'em. I don't think she's real."
"Oh, she's real all right. I gots a buddy on her ship... saw 'er take out Blackthorne with one blow. Took off'n the head of another crewman that refused to surrender his blade to 'em. I'm thinkin' they're 'bout due to be 'round soon."
"Ya ain't got no buddy on that there ship. Ain't no way."
"All right then. Ya believe whatcha wanna. But ya mark my words. Yer big mouth is gonna getcha caught by them Ice pirates, and I don't wanna be nowhere's near ya when it happens." The younger man got up and left and the big man just laughed.
"Let 'em go. He ain't got shit fer brains worryin' 'bout some cockamamied ghost story."
The rest of the men didn't agree with the biggest man, but none of them were in the mood for a fight. They had been long at sea, and this night was for wine, women and song. They never noticed when the men at the next table over slowly rose and left as quietly as they'd come.
It didn't take them long to find the younger man. He was walking slowly muttering to himself as he wandered back towards the docks. They surrounded him and he walked into Merryweather before he realized he was in something of a pickle.
"You will come with us please," Merryweather said, taking his arm gently but firmly and escorting him to a room they had taking at the small lodge. It wasn't much, but it was private, and that was what they needed now.
By the time they entered the room, the pirate had brought himself to bear and was pulling trying to get away from them. "Ya can't do this! Ya gots no right."
"Oh we have every right, and you're going to give us the answers we need, see?"
"Who are you?"
"That doesn't matter right now. What matters is you have information we need."
"And what iff'n I don't wanna be sharin'?"
"Oh, you will. You get to decided whether to give it to us the easy way...." John stepped back to allow the man a glimpse of Seaman Marcus. Marcus was a strapping fellow more than six feet in height and almost half that in breadth across the shoulders. The seaman was an oarsman, and it showed plainly in the bulge of muscles covered by his rough-hewn shirt. "Or you can choose the hard way," Merryweather went on conversationally. "It's up to you of course, but I will tell you up front that the seaman here is something of a boxing champ."
"Whatcha be needin' to know?"
"Let's start with something simple... name?"
"Well, Stanley, why don't you take a seat, and we can have a little drink and some conversation?"
Stanley looked around at the men surrounding him and nodded meekly before taking a seat. Merryweather leaned back and the rest of the crew stepped away a little, allowing Stanley to relax. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
"Are you sure about this information, John?"
"Yes, sir. We used the herbs you recommended the last time we did an interrogation. Stanley was more than happy to share a drink with us after he got a look at Marcus."
"So we now have confirmation that Simmonds is a mole. How did he pass information to Stanley?"
"Apparently they grew up together for a bit before being sent to sea to earn wages for their families. Both were part of a merchant convoy that was attacked by pirates some years ago. Simmonds' ship was rescued by no other than your father. Stanley was kept by the pirates and became one himself. They found one another again a couple years ago, and managed to keep in touch by notes and messages left in various ports."
Donovan ran her hands through her hair trying to keep from screaming in sheer frustration. Hannah moved up behind her and began to gently knead her back, smiling slightly when she felt Donovan relax and lean back into her touch. The Captain drew a deep breath and remained leaning against the muscular body behind her. Hannah complied with the unspoken request and kept a light, firm touch on Donovan's shoulders.
"I will admit to being more than a little confused."
"Glad I'm not the only one," Hannah mumbled for Donovan's ears alone. She felt Donovan's chuckle run through her strong frame.
"Let me see if I understand this. Correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Merryweather. Simmonds is friends with a pirate from a relatively unknown ship that is shipping slaves out of the islands to parts unknown once they leave Brighton's Corner's. But he hasn't told him that he is part of Ice Maiden's crew or that I am a woman?"
"That is correct, sir."
"Why? Nothing makes sense here."
"Is it possible that Simmonds friendship with Stanley has nothing to do with the big picture?" Hannah asked.
"A little too convenient a coincidence for me, I think," John answered quietly. "It is a tie-in to one side, but damned if I know what it all means. Excuse me, Mrs. Scott. I should have found a better way to phrase that."
"John, I appreciate the gesture, but I assure you I have heard and said worse a time or two."
"The thing is, we still don't know if Simmonds and/or Walker have ties to the Admiralty and a reason to see us caught." She paused and scrubbed her face, almost breaking out into a purr when she felt Hannah's nails begin scratching her scalp. "Very nice work, John," Donovan said in a voice that held a deeper timbre than he was used to hearing from her.
"Thank you, sir," he acknowledged with a nod of his head. "We will continue to keep our eyes and ears open."
"Good idea. You did manage to leave Stanley so he will have no memory of your questioning of him, correct?"
"Aye, sir. He will wake in that little room with a hangover, and no idea how he got there. He will probably be thankful to be in the little room," glancing out the window that showed clearly the summer storm that had been blowing since the early morning hours.
"I imagine so. Who is keeping a watch on the slave ship?"
"Trilby sir. We have a relay system set up to let us know the minute they begin preparations to leave port. We will be underway by the time they are."
"Very good, Mr. Merryweather. Pass along my compliments to your party. I will speak to them each privately later, but for now please ensure that they are aware that their efforts are greatly appreciated."
"Aye, sir. They were glad to do it. This is about all of us, Captain."
"Yes, it is, Mr. Merryweather. It just has the feel of something more personal."
"I understand, sir. We will remain alert. Now that we have some clue, I do not think the men will be satisfied until this is settled in our favor."
The first mate nodded and excused himself from their presence. Hannah came out from behind Donovan and settled herself comfortably in the Captain's lap. Donovan encircled Hannah protectively and buried her face in the blonde hair.
"You have to do this, Donovan. You have to go rescue those slaves. It is part and parcel of who you are."
"It has all the ear markings of a set-up, Angel."
"I know that. I also know that you being you cannot leave here while there is a possibility that the information is true."
Donovan lifted her head and looked directly into Hannah's eyes. "It sounds like you are trying to talk me into doing something about that slave ship. I thought...."
"No, love. I've made my peace with this. I am simply reminding you who you are. You can't turn your back on that kind of suffering and live with yourself in good conscience." Hannah pulled Donovan's head back down to her chest, and the two of them sighed at the peace the setting afforded them. "I told you... you take care of your Captain stuff. I'll take care of you."
"I love you, Hannah."
"I love you too, Donovan. We'll get through this... together."
It was still raining in the mid-afternoon when the slave ship slowly pulled out of port. Trilby waited until they were at the edge of the horizon before launching the flare John Merryweather had issued him. Then he ran as fast as he could to the dinghy, angling his course to meet the trajectory he knew the Maiden would have to take to intercept the slavers.
It was just short of midnight when Donovan and her crew caught up with the slave ship. Without being told, John had the pirate ensign run up the mast, and the men moved with silent precision to load the guns. They were going to do their best to disable the other ship, since they really had no room for any extra passengers or cargo. It was hoped the pirates would surrender to their standard at the first sight of it. Their hope was in vain.
As the Maiden drew within range of the darkened slave ship, the flames and roar of cannon fire echoed across the night sky. Only because the gunner had misfired did the enemy ship miss, but the fight was on.
Mr. Trilby had taken the wheel, since he was the most capable steersman Donovan had. By good sense and a lot of luck, he managed to keep damage to the Maiden to a minimum as she drew closer to her prey. Without warning, Donovan shouted out an order, and a volley of cannon fire erupted from the belly of the Maiden. The pirate ship began listing, dead in the water, and as soon as they were within boarding distance, Donovan grabbed a harpoon and fired it up into the main mast post. When she was sure it was secure, she yelled down to her boarding party, "Follow me, men!" Then letting loose with a thunderous war cry, she grabbed the line and swung across the divide to meet the slavers head on.
John Merryweather shook his head, glad Hannah hadn't seen that display of misplaced bravado. Those pirates stood little chance against Donovan and her crew. But the Captain and men of the Warrior Maiden stood no chance at all against the wrath of Hannah.
Quickly, the Maiden's crews dropped planks across and began swarming the other ship, meeting stroke for stroke and pushing the slavers further and further away from the edge. John could hear Donovan's feral focus as she slowly worked her way through the crowd of men doing their level best to kill her.
One by one they went down under her blows, most of them unharmed save the knot she left on their jaw or skull. Her men did the same. They had learned many things since their decimation of the first slave ship years before. Now, they tried to maroon the crew or leave them stranded for someone else to find. It was easier on their consciences, and everyone slept better at night.
Finally, only the Captain of the pirate vessel remained standing, and Merryweather and most of the boarding party started methodically binding the pirates while the remainder went below to free the slaves. Donovan rested her blade on her shoulder, unsullied as yet by a kill this night. She wondered if this captain would change that.
"You have a choice, Captain...? Captain...?" The man looked at her dumbly, and she shook her head. "You do have a name, correct?"
"Aye, but, ye'll not be hearin' it til I be ready to strike the killin' blow."
Donovan scratched her head. "Oh, I see. Well, then, let us be about it, because I have other things that need tending."
Her arrogance infuriated the man, and he swung at her head viciously, only to find that his strike was met and held well above the dark head. Donovan lifted a foot and kicked him away from her, and the man growled before stumbling to his feet with unsteady strength. He came at her again, not realizing she was forcing him to wear himself out, and she was merely holding his place until he came at her again.
This happened repeatedly, and the man marveled at the fortitude of the man Donovan Scott was. He shook the sweat from his eyes and said as much, noting that Donovan wasn't even breathing hard. He didn't understand the smirk that crossed her face any more than she understood the sudden craftiness that entered his eyes. Then four things happened almost simultaneously.
Donovan felt the blade enter her shoulder in a rush of fire and fell to her knees at the unexpected assault. At almost the same moment, John Merryweather yelled and threw his blade deep into Walker's heart, and watched as he toppled over backwards from the impact.
The pirate captain grinned fiercely and raised his blade with the words, "My name is Captain Waxley, Captain Sc...." But he was unable to finish his words as a shot rang out in the night, and he fell over dead with half his head gone.
Donovan looked towards her own ship, and saw Hannah standing there quite calmly with a smoking gun in her hand. She looked at her first mate who was also looking at Hannah and started to speak. Instead, Hannah spoke first.
"John, can you please help Donovan get back so I can dress her wound? We are expecting company very shortly."
Wondering what Hannah meant, both Donovan and Merryweather took a moment to look around, and only then noted the rapidly approaching British man-o-war. John nodded and replied, "Yes ma'am," before putting an arm around Donovan and easing her to her feet. Then they started a slow shuffle across the gangplank.
In the meantime, the slaves had been freed, and Mr. Roberts and Mr. Trilby had escorted them topside and were sorting them out. The ship was listing, but still seaworthy enough to make it back to the small island they had come from earlier in the day, and they we now trying to determine the best way to go about getting it there. There were a few men in the group, but it was more women and older girls that made up this shipment, and that meant it would take a little more organizational effort to sort out who was doing what to get them home.
When Donovan's feet touched the deck of her ship, her knees buckled, and Hannah took up her place on Donovan's other side to help her across the smooth teak wood and down the short steps to their cabin. Once inside, Hannah sent Merryweather off with a few tense instructions, and returned to Donovan's side.
Hannah unlaced the shirt and gently eased it off Donovan's body, flinching when Donovan did as it ripped and left of bit of material embedded in the wound. She turned Donovan away from the door and searched the cabin, finally coming upon one of the pieces of rawhide leather that Donovan used to tie her hair back. Snatching it up, Hannah took Donovan's chin in her hand, and waited til the pain-filled eyes turned her way.
"Sweetheart, I have to remove the dagger. I want you to bite down on this, because it's gonna hurt, and I know you don't want the crew to hear you scream."
Donovan nodded wearily. "Thank you, Hannah," then waited for Hannah to put the strip between her teeth before she bit down. A knock sounded, and Hannah called out for Merryweather to enter. He did so, bearing a small, steaming kettle and some clean linen. Hannah nodded her thanks, and John stepped out to retrieve the medical kit she'd asked him to request from the priest.
"Can you stay and help me, John?" Hannah asked faintly.
He swallowed hard and looked at Donovan's back covered in blood with the still embedded dagger and swallowed again as he nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good, then get the linen ready. I'm gonna pull the knife free, and I'm gonna need you to help me staunch the flow and clean the wound."
The first mate didn't answer verbally, but nodded sharply once and waited. Hannah tucked a towel into Donovan's pants, then pulled on the knife. Donovan bit the leather hard, and soft whimper escaped her lips. As soon as the blade was free, John kept the blood from flowing down Donovan's back, and Hannah started to clean the wound as gently, quickly and thoroughly as she could. Finally the bleeding slowed and John began to clean the drying blood from Donovan's back as Hannah applied a bandage. When they were done, John gathered up all the used linen and the towel and dumped it in the pot with the dirty water, and made quick his escape. Hannah waited until he had closed the door behind him before she turned Donovan around to face her. What she saw then broke her heart.
Donovan had tears streaming down her face to mingle with the sweat the exertion of not screaming had caused her to shed. Hannah cradled her close and Donovan absorbed the love and warmth Hannah offered as the pain level equalized and she was able to slow her breathing. Hannah reached over with one arm and poured cool water from the pitcher into the bowl, dipping a cloth into it and tenderly wiping Donovan's face. Donovan accepted the ministrations gratefully, knowing that Hannah's loving care came from the heart. Not that Father Thomas' didn't, but it was different when it was the one who loved you the most in all the world.
They stayed that way for a time while Donovan focused on breathing and Hannah simply comforted her. A knock to the door interrupted them, and Hannah answered it.
"Yes?" she called out.
"Mrs. Scott?" John said through the shut door. "The Captain of the British man-o-war Hawke has arrived and requested a parley with the Captain. What shall I tell him?"
Donovan looked at Hannah and sighed. "Help me on with my shirt, beloved. We knew this day was coming."
"Donovan, let me greet him."
"Please. I don't know why, but I think it may help."
Donovan nodded wearily. "Very well. Have John accompany you to the deck when the man arrives. But you still have to help me get dressed. I am still the Captain of this vessel."
"All right, love. Let me tell John to grant the Captain's parley request, and then I'll help make you a presentable Captain."
Donovan smiled briefly, and leaned back against the headboard to rest as Hannah rose to speak to Merryweather. Then they set about the task of preparing Donovan for the coming interrogation.
Once Donovan was dressed and resting comfortably in the bed with her arm in a sling and her hair pulled back, Hannah changed into one of the simple dresses she'd had made during their winter stay in Britain. Then she went upstairs to wait for the Captain of the Hawke.
William Meredith stepped aboard the Ice Maiden, and realized several things at once. This wasn't a pirate ship. These were British officers and men. And he recognized the blonde woman who now stood calmly in front of him.
"Mrs. Scott? So you're not really pirates then, are you?" he asked almost rhetorically.
"Welcome aboard, Captain Meredith. I believe my husband is able to see you now, but I ask that you not push him too hard tonight. He was injured during the battle and needs a chance to recover his strength."
He nodded but didn't answer, choosing to take the opportunity to look around the well-kept ship. "Is someone going to explain this to me? About being considered pirates and such?"
"Yes. We're not what you consider real pirates to be, no, but we do operate outside the laws you are used to."
"Madame, your very presence here attests to that fact. No pirate ship allows women, except as cargo or slaves." He pulled his lip between his fingers as he thought. "Then again," he said calmly, "the Admiralty doesn't approve of them either."
"Come along, Captain. I assure you you'll get yours answers."
"Lead on, please," he replied, and gestured her to precede him.
Donovan heard the muted knock on the door and opened her eyes with a moan. Then she called quietly to Hannah, "Come in, beloved."
Hannah eased her head in the door, making sure Donovan was ready to receive her visitor, then opened the door wider to step in. Captain Meredith followed her and remained standing by the door until Donovan motioned him to the only chair in the room. Hannah closed the door behind them and crossed the few steps to take her place at Donovan's side.
William shifted uncomfortably in his chair and motioned discretely to Hannah. "Sir, do we need your wife present? I think what needs to be said between us should between the gentlemen here. There is no need to inflict the lady with such details."
Donovan laid her good hand over Hannah's as Captain Meredith spoke, easily discerning her ire. Hannah looked into Donovan's eyes and found the reassurance she needed, then sat back quietly, providing Donovan with the support she required.
"William, I appreciate your concern for my wife, but I assure you, sir that anything you need to say can be said in front of her. She knows everything, and in fact saved my life this evening."
"Did she now? May I ask how?"
"She is the one who shot Captain Waxley before he could... Hannah?" Donovan's attention immediately focused on Hannah as she began trembling. Neither one could miss the look of distress so clearly etched on her features. Donovan forgot about the man who sat across from him and concentrated completely on Hannah. "Beloved?"
For a moment, Hannah sat silently shivering in Donovan's arms. William Meredith sat silently with his eyes averted, not wanting to intrude, but needing to stay and finish his business with Donovan. Hannah let herself center on Donovan's voice and warmth, and put her own discomfort aside for the present. They would have time to deal with the after effects of her actions once Captain Meredith was gone.
With a deep breath, Hannah stopped shaking though she was content to remain in the circle of Donovan's arms. "My apologies, Captain Meredith," Hannah said delicately. "I'm not quite sure...."
"It is quite all right Mrs. Scott, and very understandable. Perhaps it would be best if I leave...?" He made to rose, but halted at Hannah's forceful headshake. He sighed; he'd not wanted to leave as he was eager to have this matter settled. But good manners dictated that he asked, and he had.
"No sir. It would be best if you can understand what is going on here so we can get this taken care of and leave."
"I agree, Madame." Meredith turned to Donovan. "What say you, Captain Scott, sir? Can you clear this up for me so we can finish up our business?"
"I believe I can, Captain Meredith."
So for the next hour Donovan told William Meredith about the Maiden's duality of purpose, and why they had come to be pirates as well as sailors of the Crown. Finally, exhausted, she sat back and let the Hawke's Captain absorb the knowledge he'd been handed.
For a bit there was nothing but silence in the room. Hannah rose and poured two cups of port, handing one of them to Meredith before taking the second back to the bed and helping Donovan to drink. William sipped at his while he pondered all the facts that had been laid before him. He cleared his throat to speak.
"It is a shame that your first mate had to kill Walker. I am more than a bit curious as to what lay behind his motivation for attacking you, and for his betrayal of you to the Admiralty. He assured everyone there he would expose you for being the fraud you were, and he was so insistent that the Admiral finally asked me to keep an eye on you out here. It is the reason we were following so closely behind you."
"I had wondered about that," Donovan murmured, taking another sip of port.
"Walker never said what his was going to expose you for though I am sure no one would have guessed the truth about you being a pirate, Donovan, or the fact that your wife is actually the famous Ice Princess." William sat quietly for a moment.
Donovan opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped by Hannah's hand and her arm and the miniscule negative shake of her head. Captain Meredith began to speak again.
"I see no reason for this to get out. Your father was very kind to me, and I honestly cannot disagree with your rationale for doing what you did." He saw her release a deep breath and smiled.
"As far as I am concerned, Captain Scott, we assisted the HMS Warrior Maiden to capture a slave ship. I will write up my reports for the Admiralty and show them to you before they go in the next courier post so that our stories concur."
"Thank you, William."
"Think nothing of it Donovan. As I stated, I do not disagree with your actions, though I am not sure I understand your reasoning behind them. I would like to make a suggestion, and I hope you will understand why I am making it."
Donovan nodded and shifted, then winced when she moved the wrong way. Hannah helped her, seeing a small bit of fresh blood on the back of the shirt and knowing the bandage would need changing soon. "Go on," Donovan said, motioning with her good hand.
"Take some time off. With the injury to your shoulder, it is a perfect excuse, and your crew should be able to handle some standard cruising without you. That way, the Warrior Maiden's presence is still out there, and the Ice Maiden will disappear from people's memories. If the pirates are not out there to be found, the Crown's attention will turn elsewhere."
Donovan drew breath to speak before Hannah caught her attention. "Listen to him, Donovan. It really would be best for all concerned if the Ice Maiden disappears for a little while. You need time to heal, love, and it will be good experience for John to handle the reins for a while." She lowered her voice until it was a bare whisper that Donovan could barely make out. "It will give us a chance to visit my world as well."
Donovan stared into Hannah's eyes, acknowledging the truth of everything she had said and seeing the need there. Then she looked at William and nodded her agreement. "I need to talk this over with John, but I believe it would be the best solution for all involved."
"Thank you, Donovan. And I want you to know that your secret life as a pirate is safe with me. I wish I had the courage of my convictions like you do of yours."
Meredith rose from his seat and went to the door, but stopped with his hand on the handle before he could open it. "I do have one question," he said, turning to face them. Donovan arched an eyebrow and waited. "How did you change the name of the ship? Everyone knows that the pirates are on the Ice Maiden while the Warrior Maiden is considered on of the Navy's finest ships."
Donovan chuckled, then winced. "It is simple. You know the windows over the name plate?" She waited for William to nod, seeing the dawning of comprehension in his eyes. "The Ice Maiden was usually only seen under the cover of darkness, and with her standard flying and a different nameplate on the back, people tended to overlook the similarities. We made a removable nameplate that is changed before every pirate action, and removed as soon as we go back to regular duty."
"Very clever, that," William said. He turned and saluted. "Thank you, Captain Scott. I will see that you have a copy of my report by the time we reach the port."
"Actually, Captain Meredith, we will not be going to the same port. May I arrange for Mr. Merryweather to pick them up from you? I would like to go ahead and get started on my recovery immediately."
William Meredith nodded. "Keep me advised of when and where to meet him, Donovan, and we will be there."
"Thank you William. It was good to see you again," reaching out her left hand for the other Captain to take, which he did.
"It was good to see you as well, Donovan. And you are to be congratulated again on your marriage. I am very happy for you both."
"Thank you, Captain, Meredith. So are we," Hannah said, and William took his leave as Hannah turned her attention back to Donovan's wound.