Author's Note: I started my PotC fic long before the sequels came out so it is completely AU for anything but CotBP.

Q Me?: Chapter 15: Pride and Prejudice

"So when did you run into his Highness before?"

"It was 1703. After Hyde killed Segur I wanted away from Europe for a while so I shipped out on a schooner called the Maribell which promptly sank in a gale. I was adrift for weeks….

I drew a deep breath and for the first time in what seemed like eternity it was air I gulped in instead o salt water. The feeling of water rushing up my legs was enough te propel me inte flight. It wasn't until I'd cleared the dune and charged inte the surf on the opposite side that I realized just how tiny the island I'd washed up on was. I spun as voice commented dryly "Not much to it is there?"

He was leaning against the island's lone real tree with his back te me sighting down a pistol with a loaf o bread and bottle o water at his feet. Me waterlogged brain took a few seconds te put together the fact that he'd been marooned on this god forsaken spec o land.

"I imagine you're probably hungry and thirsty."

I was ravenous but he wasn't Immortal I couldn't possibly take what little he had.

I tried te thank him and refuse but it came out as a croak. I blinked trying te focus but the world was spinning. I was on me knees with him at me side with the glorious water I shouldn't be drinking at me lips. What was wrong with me? I was Immortal once I was back on me feet I should be fine. I could hear Connor's voice in me head telling me that we could die o hunger, o thirst. But so could the other man and he wasn't the type te rise again so no matter how much I wanted it I couldn't hae the water. I tried te turn my head away but he had a grip like a vise as he tilted me head just a little.

"Open your eyes" he commanded and such was the sheer authority behind it that I did without thought or question. A little black two masted vessel I hadn't spotted afore was tucked up on the lee side o the island. "This was an arranged marooning, my boat was here fully provisioned and waiting for me so you drink your fill. You washed in on the tide just as I was about to leave so I thought I'd let you come round rather than carrying you out to the boat."

I grabbed the bottle and tried te drain the entire contents in a single shot but he pulled it away after little more than a gulp. "Sips" that same tone that could marshal a regiment "you don't want to make yourself sick."

I slowed down savoring every drop, when the bottle was about half empty he offered me a piece o the bread. I snatched it angry that it wasn't the entire loaf I moved te take the rest but recalled good sense and manners just in time.

I swallowed and forcing myself te slow down said "I'm Duncan MacLeod o the Clan MacLeod. Thank you, sir, I am in your debt and would be eternally grateful if you could convey me te civilization."

He rose and giving me a sweeping bow, better than any I had seen while serving the Doge "Mallory Adfyw of the Peregrine and it would be my pleasure, troth a little company would not go amiss." The accent, the bow, the authority all screamed nobility, and not just some snob with airs. This was a man who was used te command and the court but his dress was Puritan plain. Then there was the matter of the 'arranged' marooning. There were likely plots o some sort afoot though what they were out here on some lonely Caribbean island was anyone's guess. His piercing green eyes were studying me nearly as intently as I was watching him. Clearly having decided that I wasn't going te choke myself to death he let me have the rest o the loaf.

"Were you enroute to anywhere in particular or will any port do?"

"Where ever ye were going will be fine."

"Excellent well. Do you need a few more minutes or do you think you can make it to Peregrine?"

I thought aboot it for a second and then took the offered hand. Odd, he looked like a sailor, but the hands were the smooth ones o a gentleman with the only calluses the ones I would expect o a serious swordsman and I could swear I felt rings though his hands were clearly bare. He steadied me when I swayed only stepping back when he was certain I had my feet firmly under me.

The not-so-little pleasure yacht more than made up for its master's plain dress with enough bright work for a ship three times his size.

"Peregrine may I present Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, MacLeod this is my stalwart companion Peregrine."

He crossed his arms and gave the mast an indignant glance "You'll have to humor Peregrine he's a bit put out with my habit of picking up 'flotsam'". He wasn't the first sailor I'd met that acted like his boat was alive but I was a little indignant aboot the slur even if wasn't far from the truth. "I think it might be best if you lodged in the green cabin" He measured me with his impossibly green eyes as he opened a door "You can rinse off in there" he indicated a second door "and I'll see if I can find you something a bit less ragged."

With my benefactor momentarily gone I glanced around a chamber far finer than any captain's cabin I'd ever been in and this clearly wasn't the captain's cabin. The entire hull seemed te have been split into a half-dozen oversized cabins. I'd never seen the like. The drapes and bedding were finer than the Doge's own, one wall was glass and the other was mirrors. I'd never seen this many mirrors in my life. The chess table in the corner was made of gold and ivory. Pearls, some nearly as big as my thumbnail were worked into the designs of the bright work where they provided soft contrast te sparkling emeralds. You could more than buy Glenfinnan ten times over with the jewels in the window frame alone. The sound of splashing water pulled my attention te an ornately carved wooden door which instead of swinging open slid back into the wall. The little room inside must be a water closet. I'd heard o them in Venice but never seen one. I pulled what was left o my clothes off and stepped into the low, broad jade basin and let the water stream over me until there was a light rap on the outer door.

I looked for some way te stop the water and finally pulled a little lever. Amazing. I cautiously poked me head out and discovered garments as plain as Mallory's own but made from fabrics te rival anything Kristin ever inflicted on me. I quickly dried off and dressed so that I could go in search o me host but I shivered a little in the Caribbean heat. Something about all this felt damn uncanny and I couldn't quite shake the notion I'd fallen in with something unnatural. Me mother would be ashamed o me for being so uncharitable. Here the man had saved me from a long miserable time o continually dying of thirst and I was thinking ill of him. Besides I was likely far more unnatural than he was. There was undoubtedly a perfectly reasonable explanation even if the hairs on me neck were standing at attention. It was completely my imagination that the boat was bigger on the inside than the outside.

I found me host forward in the galley which was nearly as well appointed as the cabin. Kristin had brow-beaten enough 'good taste' into me te realize that this wasn't just some random collection of ill gotten gains. It might be a bit baroque and overdone for my tastes but there was no denying the decadent artistry. Mallory offered me fine cheese, preserved meat, and toasted bread artfully arranged on a solid gold plate.

"Do you prefer fish or fowl for dinner?"

"Fowl" the thought o fish was almost enough te ruin me appetite, at least until me first bite. I wasn't certain it was the best cheese I'd ever tasted because I was starving or because it really WAS the best cheese I'd ever tasted. I should hae given him a hand as he busied himself around the galley but my entire attention was for the plate in front o me. I sipped the claret as the howl in my innards finally quieted. Mallory put a platter o fruit between us and passed me a silver goblet of sangria just as I cleaned the first plate.

"I was heading for a friend's plantation on Hispanolia. There aren't any major ports between here and Cap Francois but if a French port isn't to your liking I could easily take you to another colony after the nuptials."

"Are ye getting married?"

He nearly choked on a piece o pineapple before clarifying "A friend's daughter" he canted his head as if listening te something "If you'll pardon me."

I started te rise but my host waved me back down "Peregrine is designed to by run but a single sailor in a pinch and honestly it doesn't appear that long dip of yours did you much good. Please, finish eating and then get some rest. Captain's orders. I've no desire to scrape you up off the deck or gaff you out of the Sea when you go tumbling out of the rigging. There'll be plenty to do tomorrow when you're a bit steadier on your feet."

I wanted te protest that I was perfectly capable o working but even Immortals need rest and I couldn't deny now that me belly was full me eyelids were sagging. I finished the last o the fruit and setting the platter in another (black granite with veins of gold this time) basin stumbled back to me cabin asleep before me head even touched the pillow.

When a light rap woke me the sun was a rapidly fading memory on the horizon.


"Supper is nearly ready if you are so inclined, if not I can"

"I'll be right there" I interrupted swinging off the still made bed. Despite having te sail the ship alone Mallory had laid quite a feast out in the small but extremely elegant formal dining room. He had tidier manners than any four nobles I'd ever met put together. The man had been unfailingly generous, courteous, and polite so why were my hackles up? Probably because I felt more naked without a sword than I would without clothes. The fact that this boat had more than a king's ransom in jewels in it and apparently not a single cannon didn't make me feel any better. Then there was the matter o him waiting for me. If I'd drifted in alive I would have been awake – wouldn't I? Could he possibly know what I was?

"Is Cap Francois to your liking or would you prefer to continue on aboard the Peregrine?"

"I hate to ask for more but do you have a spare sword?"

"I have a rag-tag collection of pistols but Peregrine is a vessel of peace. There will be cutlasses aplenty in Cap Francois but you'll undoubtedly want something a good bit finer" was it only my own fear that made it sound like he'd emphasized that 'you'll'? "The best swords to be found in the Caribbean are forged at Master Brown's blacksmith shop in Port Royal Jamaica but they run more than you're likely to earn as an honest sailor."

I stiffened and through clenched teeth stated "I'm no pirate."

My host bounced a single dark brow "No, apparently not. A word to the wise, these waters are not particularly friendly to honorable or honest men. You'll need to take care."

"So you're a thief"

"Wait, wait, wait" Amanda interrupted "this guy waits for you to revive, takes you on his boat no questions asked, feeds you, gets you fresh clothes, and you insult him?" Amanda muttered several things that probably weren't charitable to Mac under her breath.

"You were saying" I encouraged shooting Amanda a quelling glance to which I got an exasperated sigh.

Me host looked more amused than insulted "You'll find no stolen goods aboard Peregrine nor was any item purchased with ill got gains. Clan MacLeod - would that be the MacLeod's of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel?"

I blinked "Ye ken where it is?"

"Been there once or twice back when I was in Europe. I encountered a Connor MacLeod who hailed from there, any relation?"

I felt a wave of loneliness. I missed having my teacher, friend, and fellow Immortal around. It seemed like every time I found an older, wiser Immortal te learn from they ended up dead. "Aye" I said softly "he was my teacher."

Mallory looked vaguely surprised "He struck me as being a bit solitary for taking a student not to mention broody and taciturn. I do recall that he had a passion for swords, blonds, and single malt whiskey in that order." A tilt of the head "If you're in the mood for a friendly bout after the wedding I'm curious how good a teacher Connor was."

Since me plate was empty I rose and gave him a Clan Chieftain's son's shabby imitation o his flowing courtier's bow,

"It would be me pleasure" I said wondering what on earth I'd landed in the middle o as I started toward the galley with my host deftly balancing the rest o the dishes behind me. What was a vessel more bejeweled than a sultan's boudoir doing bobbing about in the middle of the Caribbean all alone? And then there was me host, a courtier to the bone but dressed as plain as a church mouse. Who in their right mind 'arranges' a marooning. The whole thing felt like a fairy tale.

I flinched as water flowed like magic out o a spout.

Mallory ran the dishes under it "You know the idea isn't new. Queen Elizabeth had water closets over a hundred years ago and you should see some of things the Romans were doing thousands of years ago. Absolutely fascinating. And not just the Romans, I explored some ruins in the Indus Valley far more ancient. The ruins of Babylon have some very impressive water works as well. We have fountains and mills why not running water?"

Good question. Since every protest I could think o had me sounding like a superstitious fool "Do ye happen te have any sketches o the designs?"

"I have all manner of them in the library, both layouts of ancient and modern systems and ideas I've not yet found the opportunity to test."

"Peregrine has a library?"

"Starboard side just before my cabin. You're welcome to read anything you like, let me know when you're done so I can shelve them properly."

Odd that he assumed I could read. Not that I couldn't but it wasn't a common skill. I grabbed a scrap o cloth and started buffing the dishes after he was done with them. Since he'd obviously cleaned the galley itself before waking me we made short work o the dinner dishes. I had been going to protest that I was capable o putting a book back til I saw the way he fussed over the precise placement o his plates. Worse than a bloody woman. He led the way to the library, pulled out a text on water works, and vanished into his own cabin.

I looked up at the groaning shelves loaded with books in what appeared te be at least a dozen different languages some with symbols so strange and bizarre it was hard te believe that they were real. I wondered if he could read in them all or if like so many other nobles he just collected things he would never understand. I got my answer as I flipped through the book on waterworks as the same hand that wrote in English, French, Italian, and Latin so flowery it made me eyes water switched into numerous others. From the look o things he was the most learned noble I'd ever met and the only one with a lick o common sense. His maps and charts were the best I had ever seen. The detail and accuracy were beyond belief and they were also in the same hand. I knew men that would sell their souls for these. They might even be worth more than all the jewels on this bloody boat. I scanned the shelves noting the few works I'd already read, the volume of Shakespeare reminding me fondly of Walter and with a mix of sorrow and rage of Timmon. Damn Kalas. One day we would meet again. I turned back to the maps. The waterworks ideas might fascinate Mallory but these were likely be of far more use to me. I just wished that the notations were all in one intelligible language instead of using dozens. How many languages could one man speak? If I kept my head I would get to find out. I traced the outline of places I bloody well knew hadn't been 'discovered' yet, but looking at the perfect rendering of places I knew I couldn't doubt the rest. He had called this a ship of peace was he an ambassador from some land as yet unknown? Or perhaps a spy seeking to learn all or secrets before attacking? I tapped the unknown continent with its strange symbols – was this his home?

I started awake dumping the book my face had resting on into me lap and blinking inte the bright light streaming in through the windows.

"While I've often wished" Mallory observed as he smoothly caught the book before it could slide to the deck "that a book's knowledge could be imparted by merely using it as a pillow I fear tis not so." He ruefully shelved the medical text I'd been trying to make heads or tails out o'. Grace would have given an arm for it. I'd been reading as much as I could knowing that I'd remember and hoping she at least would understand. But it had been so bloody boring.

"Are you perchance interested in medicine?"

I shook my head "I have a friend that would give everything she owns for a text like this."

A moment's thought "They're woefully out of date" he traced a finger down the spine eyes distant "I started them back on my first circumnavigation. I'd planned to winnow the superstitious away so that what I was left with was the REAL medical wisdom of every nation on the globe and then to establish an academy where that knowledge could be passed on an army of healers."

Ye could cut the regret in his voice with a knife.

"What happened?"

He'd turned his face away so all I could see was the one sided shrug "A friend in need called me away, I made a few spectacular mistakes, and the rest is as they say history."

"It isn't too late."

His reply while softly spoken had all the finality of a funeral bell "Yes, it is." He drew a deep breath, tossing his head a little before turning back to me shoulders square, head high, eyes shuttered "You must be hungry and your breakfast is growing cold."

This man had saved me from what would likely have been a very long unpleasant stay on a deserted waterless island. I owed him no matter what I suspected he might be and the loss o that dream clearly still bothered him. I was tempted to force the conversation back. Te make him see that he was by no means an old man. Life might yet give him a chance. But something in his manner killed the words on me tongue. He swept past me then whirled staring back at the tomes.

"If you think she might be interested I could start some updated copies, does she read Latin? The originals are all in the local tongues but it would be a simple enough matter to translate into her language of choice" the words were a rush so fast I could barely understand them "it would take a few months of course since there are nine volumes is there somewhere I could post them?"

God but I wanted to be able to give him an address for Grace but I didn't even know what name she might be using these days. In the pause something flickered and died in his eyes.

"No matter" he said and mounted the stairs to the weather deck so quickly it almost seemed that he disappeared.

After a moment's debate I followed only to blink in surprise at the sight of my host all but buried under a wedding dress fit for a queen.

"I thought ye said ye weren't the one being wed" I quipped as I watched him tatting tiny diamonds, sapphires, and pearls into lace fast enough that I couldn't even follow his fingers.

I got a green glare of warning "I made the mistake of promising Marissa that I would make her dress" he gave the shimmering silk confection a slightly annoyed look. "You should eat and then, if you're of a mind to, I'm certain Peregrine would enjoy having his decks scoured."

The deck looked clean enough to eat off of but having seen how spotlessly tidy everything else was he undoubtedly thought it was a disaster. I decided to let the matter drop for now.

I woke the next morning to find clothes far too fine for scrubbing decks in a precisely folded pile on little table. Not that what he'd given me earlier hadn't been but these rivaled some o the things Kristin had packed me inte. Mallory moved quietly enough te put a cat te shame and I didne like the way he slipped aboot though I could hardly complain o it. The clothes fit better than Kristin's servants could manage after a half dozen fittings. So, chef, doctor, tailor, sailor, inventor, cartographer, I was beginning to wonder what Mallory didn't do well. Settling the fancy plumed hat onto my head I made my way to the deck curious to see what Cap Francois looked like.

I looked back at Mallory who had become quite the fop overnight waiting for orders but he slipped the little ship up to the dock with hardly a ripple and not even the slightest hint o a rub.

"If you would be so kind as to secure him, Mr. MacLeod."

A well dressed older mulatto glanced at me in alarm before his eyes landed on Mallory with palpable relief.

"Lorencillo is something amiss? I've had no word of trouble in these waters." Mallory said in unsurprisingly perfect Parisian French.

"But we have had word of you, Captain Mallory" an older but still striking woman with ivory skin and red-gold hair standing in the lee of the mulatto said "and it has been dire indeed."

Mallory gave her a bow that put all prior ones to shame "Bright the day Madam, as you can see any and all reports of my distress are greatly exaggerated."

"So you were not some six months ago sailing on a vessel of the British Royal Navy?"

"Madam in the score of years you have known me have I ever shown the least inclination to join the British Navy?" Mallory protested as he passed the bag containing the completed wedding dress to the watchful mulatto.

"Press gangs are notoriously indifferent about the enthusiasm of their recruits" she rejoined dryly.

Mallory glared down his nose and with all the arrogance of one born to the purple purred "Do you believe for an instant that a press gang could take me against my will?"

"Joshamee Gibbs must have been mistaken" the mulatto slave finally spoke thought with surprisingly little deference to either o them.

Mallory's head snapped around to the mulatto and then up the hill "Mr. Gibbs is here?"

The woman eyes widened at his reaction and she flew to Mallory who caught her hands just before she could embrace him, stepping back to put more space between them. I wouldn't have stopped her myself she was a good sight too pretty for him.

"You flatter me above my merit with your concern Madam but have you no sense of propriety?"

"No, none" she said in a manner that reminded me too much of Kristin "As you should well remember."

"Then I will merely have to have it for both of us. I have no idea what stories Mr. Gibbs has been telling but I am, I assure you, quite well."

"We feared you dead, my friend" the mulatto said as he came to stand beside the woman "under the circumstances I'm inclined for forgive Marie-Anne for a little impropriety."

"Gracious as always Lorencillo" Mallory gave him a bow "but I am forgetting my manners. Lorencillo Baldran, may I present Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, Mr. MacLeod Lorencillo Blandran and his wife Marie-Anne Dieu-le-Veut."

I blinked, this was De Griffe?! One of the most successful and honorable pirates (or privateers depending on which side of the political fence you were on) in the Caribbean? "Ye're supposed te be blond" fell out of me mouth afore I could stop it.

"Yes, well it would hardly be politic for it to get about that a former slave could be so successful" Mallory observed "one shouldn't believe everything one hears, particularly when the source is a drunk given to tall tales. Is Mr. Gibbs still here?"

Marie-Anne shook her head pointedly and said waspishly "No, he left a fortnight ago, looking for your son."

"I will swear by and upon anything you care to name milady that I do not and never have had a son."

The two of them were still glaring at each other when a blue whirlwind arrived "You're LATE!"

Mallory's attention shifted to the lovely quadroon as the bells on the small wharf rang out the fore noon watch. "On the contrary I was a quarter of an hour early."

"It had better be done" she snapped hands on hips.

"Marissa" Marie-Anne hissed as Mallory's eyes narrowed.

"Perhaps, or perhaps you will find yourself marching down the aisle naked as the day you were born."

Interesting that while Marissa ignored the threat to dig into the bag Mallory had handed her father both parents looked more than a little worried.

"And now who is lacking a proper sense of propriety?" Marie-Anne demanded archly.

Mallory's ire vanished like fog before the noon day sun to be replaced by amusement "I suppose Lorencillo will have to have enough for us all then."

Marissa gave a shriek of delight and enveloped Mallory in a hug. Interesting that he didn't bother to stop her "It's PERFECT!!!" she squealed before gathering it up and racing off to a waiting coach.

"Well of bloody course it is, I made it" he muttered to no one in particular while looking affronted that perfection would not have been presumed. "I would say it's amazing how quickly they grow up" Mallory glanced at Lorencillo "are you certain you should have approved of this? No matter their years they are both terribly young."

"Better to them under my roof than" an awkward pause followed by a worried "have you seen anything of our 'Ria?"

"As of last week she was well and doing a damn sight better than my own wayward Sparrow" Mallory made a show of checking the angle of the sun "but with the nuptials to take place in but a few hours I am certain there is much to be done." And with a rather abrupt bow (by his standards) he whirled and mounted what I hoped was his horse.

Lorencillo shook his head, laced his arm through his wife's, and turning said "You are more than welcome to join us Mr. MacLeod."

They couldn't possibly be planning to leave this floating pirate's dream unguarded could they?

Lorencillo lips curled but it wasn't a smile "You must be new to the Caribbean. Allow me to assure you there's not a soul on Hispanola who'll touch anything belonging to Captain Mallory. He could leave a king's ransom on the dock for a week and not find a coin missing. He's not one to trifle with is Captain Mallory."

It was almost more a warning than a reassurance and a chill ran up me spine. There was something uncanny aboot the man but I followed the Baldrans te a second small coach.

The grand chateaux not far from the docks would have been more at home in France than in the midst of a sugar plantation. I nodded a thanks te the driver and jumped down te hold the door for Mrs. Baldran.

Mallory swept by, tossed me a sheathed cutlass, and waved for me te follow. We ducked quickly around into kitchens that made Algiers seem like a Highland winter. Mallory slipped around the bustling servants as smoothly water around pebbles, I on the other hand couldn't seem to move a foot without having te apologize te someone. When I finally caught back up te Mallory he was deep in a discussion with the ugliest human being I had ever seen. Wider than she was tall, black as black could be and with so many wrinkles she put some of the dogs I'd seen in the east te absolute shame. The discussion had become fairly heated with a good deal of hand waving and despite having been te Africa and Asia I couldn't make heads or tail out o it. They finally seemed te arrive at some sort o compromise.

"Adola has shown exquisite taste and acquiesced to my requests. I assume you have some skill with a knife, correct?"

"O' course" I pulled out me dagger to demonstrate but Mallory took it from me so quickly he was already half done carving the little vegetable..thing before I even realized I'd been disarmed.

"I need you to do all of these EXACTLY like this one."

I looked at the little flower he'd carved out o the whatever it was, the overflowing bushel basket, and back at him "Cooking is women's"

The words died in my throat at the glowing green glare I got. If me ego could survive playing Kate on stage it could survive carving vegetables into little flowers.

"Something amusing Joe?" Mac grumbled. Damn had I laughed out loud? I had a tough time not smiling every time I imagined Mac playing Kate. I couldn't help it. God but what I wouldn't give for a picture or better yet a video of Mac in drag. I wondered if Ari-El with his foresight might have made a copy to tempt me with? Not that I would take it or anything else from the s.o.b. but still.

"I think it's great that Duncan can cook" Amanda protested.

I'd did NOT say the first thing which leapt to mind (namely, especially since you can't) "So do I" man was a damn fine cook, or at least better than Amanda and I combined, "I was thinking more of Walter and 'fair Kate'.

Mac glared at me before continuing "You likely have Mallory to thank for convincing me that even if cooking was normally woman's work a man alone still needs to eat and plain porridge gets boring fast" this time Mac's lips twitched "first time I ever heard the phrase 'gracious living'."

I had to snicker though I wasn't quite stupid enough to make any Martha Stewart comments in relation to the elf king.

Mac shook his head, "I learned a lot from him and from Adola. Good woman once you got past the fact that she had more folds than a Shar Pei. Now where was I? Ah, yes the kitchens…"

I kept half an eye on Mallory as he both directed the slaves and kept his own hands flying until a young woman's howl distracted him. He muttered "Spoiled brat" before saying something to Adola and flitting off leaving me in the clutches o a walking landmass. I set the last 'flower' down and she said something I couldn't make heads or tails out o. Finally with an annoyed look she chased me out o her domain and I was more than happy te flee. I found me way te where preparations were continuing by following Marissa's shrieks. I wondered what Shakespeare would o made o her. She was more than pretty enough te turn a man's head but nothing could compensate for that tongue. She glittered like an overdone chandelier in the dress Mallory had made for her. I'd never seen anything so fancy even in the courts o' Europe. It was a dress more than fit for a queen's wedding and I could feel me hackles rising again as I tried te fathom the mysterious Mr. Mallory. Speak o' the devil he backflipped off the balcony te land neatly at Marissa's side glaring at her like he dearly wanted te slap her. I could sympathize but a gentleman did not strike a lady no matter the provocation.

He swallowed down his ire and said dryly "Marissa, darling, if you expect a musician to play you can not break his fingers on the very day of the ceremony."

She whirled and snapped "Fix it" at Mallory who awarded her with a baneful glare. "I will certainly see to the poor man's hands."

"Even if I could play I will never play for you" the young sambo musician hissed looking up for the first time.

"How dare you? I will have the flesh flogged from your back" she spat blue eyes narrowing.

Mallory tsked "How impolite to threaten another's slave."

Marissa blinked at him like he'd grown a third eye "He's mine to do with as I will."

"You promised me anything I wanted if I would make your gown. I'll be taking Philippe as payment."

She scoffed hands on her admittedly very nice hips "You never take payment."

"Never say never" he purred back.

A toss of the head "Pick something else you can't have him."

A smirk and a wicked twinkle in his greens eyes, "Then strip."

"You wouldn't" she said nose in the air.

He brought it back down with the tip of the snow white dagger I hadn't even seen him draw. I took a step back the thing was uncanny, magic, and evil. Marissa huffed and tried not to go cross-eyed as the point stopped just shy of her nose.

"Take it off or I'll cut it off."

Marissa smirked back almost daring him te do it. Personally I was looking forward te the show because the girl might have been te much o a fool te realize he'd do it but I could tell by the look in his eye she was seconds from being in the middle o the grand hall naked as the day she was born.

"He's yours, with our thanks" I sighed in disappointment as Lorencillo came te his daughter's rescue just in the nick o time. "My profound apologies, preparing for the wedding has Marissa a bit overwrought."

She glared at her father but miraculously held her tongue long enough for Mallory te deftly straighten and splint two o the young man's already swelling fingers. He was blinking too hard and I suspect he chewed a hole in the inside of his lip te not give Marissa the satisfaction of hearing him moan but his voice shook when he asked "Will I play again?"

"Most certainly" Mallory replied earnestly "but not for a few days."

Marissa looked like she'd been baptized in bad vinegar "We need another violinist."

"Perhaps you should have thought of that before your little temper tantrum" Mallory pointed out with a decidedly unfriendly look.

"Marissa even Peregrine isn't fast enough to fetch another musician so quickly."

Marie caught Mallory's arm as he turned to lead Philippe away "Is there anything you can do?"

"You aren't doing her any favors. The more you indulge her the worse she becomes."

"Pity you never took the same advice from me regarding Jack."

Mallory visibly paled "Then learn from my error."

"It's her wedding day" Mallory melted at her plea and with a heavy sigh turned te Philippe "May I borrow your violin for the evening?"

The young man blinked in surprise, moved his hand without thinking, hissed, swallowed and finally managed "I am your slave, you don't need to ask."

"I've never owned a slave and" he swallowed something biting "I have no intentions of starting now. You're a free man with every right to refuse me."

I would have thought Philippe would have been overjoyed but he looked terrified "But my fingers."

Mallory tried to give him a reassuring smile but the boy's fear only seemed to grow. "I'll see you settled in a port where they place a higher price on a musician's hands" he promised and the boy nodded still looking more terrified o his benefactor than o the girl who'd broken his fingers and sworn te strip the meat off his back.

"I'm waiting" the little shrew shrilled. Mallory just looked at her mother for a moment before accepting the violin Philippe was holding with his good hand. As he bowed his thanks he whispered "If I smash it over her fool head I promise to replace it with a better one." The man who whispered, eyes glowing with lethal rage, was replaced in an instant with an affable fool who inclined his head te Marissa and actually looked pleased with the turn o events. Walter would sell his soul te be able te act like that. All courtiers were good actors, it was a survival requirement but I had the feeling me host went above and beyond the call. There would be guests at the wedding who knew the man and I was determined to find out just what kind o man I'd been sailing with.

"What selection was Philippe to play?" Mallory asked as he settled the violin inte place. There was utter silence as all three Baldrans blinked at him in shock.

"Over twenty years I've known you" Lorencillo was the first te find his voice "And you've never shown anything but annoyance with music."

"A dislike born partly of having had it forced upon me in youth and if you value our friendship in the slightest you will forget that fact as soon as the evening is over."

Since staying in Marissa's company would tempt me te break me own rule aboot not hitting women I decided te go in search o some answers aboot Captain Mallory since more than a few guests were already enjoying the Baldrans hospitality in the foyer.

I nearly growled in frustration as yet another man took very hasty leave the moment the conversation turned te Captain Mallory. What the bloody hell could any man do te render former pirates this spooked. I wished now that I'd paid more attention to all of DeValincourt's bragging about his time among the Caribbean pirates. Come te think on it DeValincourt had bragged about knowing De Griffe (while never mentioning that he WASN'T blond) but had never said a word aboot Captain Mallory who was clearly very well known.

"I told you Captain Mallory isn't one to trifle with" De Griffe himself said behind me. I turned te face me host but his attention was focused on Mallory who was putting Philippe's violin through its paces "you aren't going to find anyone willing to carry tales about him."

"What about Mr. Gibbs?" I challenged hoping for something.

Lorencillo was silent long enough for me te sigh in defeat "There's nothing known about Captain Mallory before he appeared in Tortuga with a ship that no shipyard ever built. Where does he come from?" he shrugged his broad shoulders "No one knows. What's his real name? No one has ever heard. Where did the Black Pearl come from? If you believe Jack Sparrow, Mallory built her all by himself."

"The Black Pearl?" I interrupted, now there was a name I'd heard. The ship as supposed te be one o the worst, a mercilessly sea wolf, captained by a man 'so evil hell itself spat him back out' which made me wonder if he was Immortal, that laid waste te whole towns.

"I wouldn't mention the Pearl around Captain Mallory. When I met him he was sailing the Pearl as merchantman even though she was, is, clearly meant for war. Insisted that he was just keeping her til her real captain was ready. Never could figure out what it was Mallory saw in little Jack Sparrow but he worshiped the ground the kid swaggered on. After ten years of teaching the boy he handed the best ship I've ever seen over to him. He stayed on as mate for a little while despite the fact the first thing Captain Sparrow did was turn pirate which Mallory was less than overjoyed about. When Mallory was mate they did very well for themselves."

Captain Sparrow, I'd heard the name mentioned "He's the one that sacked Naussa without firing a shot?"

At Lorencillo's nod I remembered DeValincourt mentioning him. The 'gutless' pirate that didn't like killing, wanted te get in, take the shiny items, get out, and brag aboot it. The description reminded me o Amanda.

"Apparently Sparrow decided he was ready to strike out on his own. Abandoned his crew on Tortuga including Mallory and took a nasty bit of work calling himself Barbosa and his crew on instead. They promptly took over the ship and marooned Sparrow. When Captain Mallory tried to intervene Sparrow turned on him." Lorencillo closed his eyes savoring Mallory's skill with the bow. "He covers it well, if I hadn't known him for years I'd never guess but that boy gutted him when he turned his back on him. Ripped something out of him and he's still bleeding." He opened his dark eyes and leveled them on me. "Can't get him to stay in port with shackles, but I'm a good judge of men, and you're a good one Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod you're also the type that pays his debts. Don't let him brood too long out there on the deep because I suspect that underneath where no one sees that he's dying by inches. He's a good man and a good friend under the bluster."

I blinked at the man. I hardly knew Captain Mallory. Just as I was about to answer his own voice hissed behind us "I don't require a nursemaid."

We both jumped guiltily, how the blazes had he gotten behind us? But there was no denying that his spot among the musicians was empty.

"Nor do I appreciate gossips" he continued green eyes glinting "you have an odd way of showing gratitude Mr. MacLeod and I trust it won't inconvenience you too greatly that there simply won't be space for you aboard the Peregrine on the morning tide."

I bowed and withdrew uncertain if I was relieved, angry, or disappointed but I paused listening te the conversation behind me "I expected better of you." Mallory chided but he sounded more weary than angry.

"I have many acquaintances, Mallory, but few friends, too few to let any of them slip through my fingers. To quote you, not all treasure is silver and gold, mate. I'm worried about you, friends do that."

Mallory set the violin aside "I'm fine. What the bloody hell did Gibbs say?"

"Oh, nothing much, just that you goaded some sadistic bastard into beating you to death to stop your father from finding your son, a certain 'Sparrow' and that your man made certain that the entire ship's compliment was tried for mutiny."

"What?" Mallory's voice was a stunned whisper "All of them? When? How many were executed? How did Gibbs escape? Why did he come here?" for all that he was supposedly speaking to Lorencillo it was as if he was listening to something else. And he slumped in visible relief BEFORE Lorencillo spoke.

"Your man made certain that the two officers you favored, a Norrington and a Remington were in the clear, he ruined Gibbs with the British Navy, got him branded as a fugitive but made certain he had a chance to escape before he committed suicide." Mallory wordlessly accepted a crystal glass of absinthe which he downed in a single gulp.

Lorencillo blinked in surprise "Jesus wept, it's all true."

"Hardly, I'm clearly not dead" and not the type that rises again I noted to myself "it was a ruse you bloody drunken sot." I was fairly certain that the last wasn't actually aimed at Lorencillo "Please give my apologies to Marie. I have to go."

Lorencillo caught Mallory's arm and got a white dagger at his throat for his trouble "Let. GO. I can't stay. It isn't their fault they got caught up in this. I'm not leaving what's left of them to die."

"I've been approached about leading an expedition to the mainland" Mallory shifted impatiently clearly eager te be off "I'm not planning on taking Marie-Anne with me."

"What are you saying Lorencillo?" Mallory sounded wary.

The mulatto put a hand over his heart "I can feel it, I don't have many years left. It's time for you to do what you should have done twenty years ago."

Mallory took a step back and drew in a quick breath "No, Dragon's breath Lorecillo, don't you dare be even thinking what I suspect you're suggesting."

"Will you deny that you forced me into marrying Marie because you were in love with her yourself?"

"By the time the honeymoon was over I didn't recall either of you complaining" Mallory replied coldly.

Lorencillo closed his eyes a little smile teasing his lips "No, you chose well for all that part of her heart has always belonged to you Marie has been a better wife than I ever deserved" he pinned Mallory with his gaze "I want to know that my family is safe when I'm gone. I want to know that the most steadfast friend I ever had has a port to call home" a slightly sardonic grin "consider it your just reward for what you did twenty years ago."

"Fool" Mallory spat back "Do you think if I dared to claim her for my own I would ever have pressed her upon you?

"Then damn it let us help. I can't even recon what I owe you anymore but it's a hell of a lot more than the year or two I have left."

Mallory whirled away "You can't."

"Now you sound like Sparrow" when Mallory didn't answer he charged ahead "Did it ever occur to you that if you had just told the boy he was yours he never would have turned on you?"

I blinked God the man was fast, so fast you didn't even see him move as he leaned into Lorencillo's face. "I will say this once more, and only once. Captain Jack Sparrow is NOT my son. I don't have any children and I likely never will." There was a pain I knew too well meself in his voice "I let Bledri believe Sparrow was my son because he never would have assisted me otherwise. If he had known who Sparrow's father really is he likely would have tried to murder Sparrow himself."

"If you can accept his help then you can hell be damn sure accept mine" Lorencillo barked back "I want to go out doing something worthwhile, let it be fighting for you. Let me repay a tithe of what I owe you."

All the anger bled out of Mallory and when he whispered "You can't" he sounded as sad as a crucifixion angel. "You really, truly, can't Lorencillo. I have to go." Between one blink and the next he was gone.

I frowned "The Elf King seemed to think you owed him your life but if he knows about Immortals then he knows that rescuing you off that island wasn't really a life saver."

Mac fiddled with his sleeve flushing just a touch before continuing "That wasn't the last time I saw him before leaving the Caribbean. With Marissa off on her honeymoon things were much more pleasant at the Baldran's plantation. I stayed there for a while helping out, learning as much as I could, and trying to earn a bit of coin so I could purchase a better blade in Port Royal. The cutlass Mallory had given me was perfectly serviceable and the best available in Cap Francois but it wasn't good enough for one of us. The trip was uneventful but no sooner did I step off the dock when I felt the presence of another Immortal…

I froze, fingers tightening around the hilt o the cutlass Mallory had given me, as my eyes swept the bustling docks trying te find the other. Whoever it was had a distinct advantage since only four o us had stepped onte the quay. No one appeared te be paying me the slightest attention. Sneaky then. I didn't like Immortals that slunk around in the dark refusing te show their faces and declare their intentions like a man. I'd come here te buy a sword and now I was betting my life that the local blacksmith's blades were as good as I'd been told. I paused as me gaze lit on Captain Mallory and the Peregrine further down but his entire attention was focused on a small knot o men whose every action seemed te shout 'pyrate' with an intensity that should o brought the watch down on 'em in an instant.

I sighed with relief as the other's Presence faded. As much as I didn't like leaving a potential unknown enemy at my back I didn't particularly want te face them with this cutlass either and even if the blacksmith's swords were as good as everyone said I didn't relish the idea of fighting a Challenge with an untested blade. I turned a corner and found meself face to face with several o the scalawags Mallory had been watching. I felt more o them cut off me retreat. I wrapped me hand around the hilt o me cutlass looking forward te a little action and te cleaning up the streets o Port Royal a bit when the hard muzzle o a pistol was pressed against the base o me skull.

"Don't even breathe" I fought not te gag at the bilge water breath "or I'll scatter yer brains all over the wall. Tie him up boys the Captain wants a word with 'im." I recalled all the comments about Captain Mallory not being a man te trifle with – was this revenge for nothing more than asking questions? I considered just letting him shoot me but I wanted te give the cocky bastard a piece o me mind. I didn't care for men that left their dirty work te others.

We were out o town when I was hit with the Presence. Oh, bloody hell, not Captain Mallory at all. I'd been testing the ropes the entire way here but bilge breath knew what he was doing.

"That'll be all boys" a stocky man dark o hair and eye said "this one's personal, I'll meet ye at the Bride later." The men trooped off clearly disappointed.

"I am Duncan MacLeod o the Clan MacLeod" I said trying desperately te get me hands free.

The other Immortal didn't look impressed and didn't bother to answer as steel caressed me exposed throat.

Someone tsked "Going to kill a man without even introducing yourself" Captain Mallory slipped free o the shadows like he'd been born there "how terribly impolite of you Robert Culliford."

Culliford went pale under his tan and took a step back adam's apple bobbling "C-C-Captain Mallory. Yer supposed te be dead."

"I see you remember me and I am no ghost. Did you really think I would let what you did to Captain Kidd go unanswered?"

"Weren't me fault. The lords were dead set against 'im. Me neck or his. Can't blame a man for trying te save 'is own neck." The blade still at me own throat was shaking.

"I can when having your own neck stretched would have done you no lasting harm" Mallory bared his teeth at Culliford. There was no mistaking it for a smile. Me own blood ran cold. No, not a man te trifle with at all "Oh, I know what you are, what both of you are, and I know how to kill you."

Culliford ducked behind me blade still pressed te me throat "Take another step and I'll kill him."

A pistol replied afore either o us even realized Mallory had drawn it. The shot took out a fair bit o Culliford's hand as Mallory deftly slipped between us from the sound o things shoving Culliford onte his arse.

"Cut me free" I demanded but Mallory replied "My apologies, Mr. MacLeod, but this is personal and I don't want you interfering."

"If he kills you" I began only te have Mallory cut me off with a wickedly amused laugh.

"He won't" Mallory promised but he did drop what had te be the world's smallest stiletto inte me palms. It would take me a week te cut the ropes with it. I turned awkwardly nearly dropping the stiletto and missed the beginning o the fight, or make that slaughter. Culliford was no master but he handled a blade reasonably well except Mallory was obviously toying with him, taunting as cruelly as any cat with a cornered mouse. He ran him through a second time only te back off again letting him heal in clear anticipation o continuing te humiliate him. I caught his eye as I kept sawing on the rope and he flushed a little ducking his head away before finishing it. Culliford never saw the cut that killed him.

"Find cover" I snapped at Mallory as the Quickening gathered itself, tendrils of lightening shooting across the ground, then flickering, caressing when they found me. Mallory stayed rooted te the spot looking fascinated and far te close.

"Move!" I roared struggling te me feet and setting me shoulders I rammed him. Caught by surprise he went a damn sight further than I would hae thought he would. Come te think on it he'd seemed much lighter and slighter than I would hae expected but the first bolt o the Quickening lashed through me banishing all thought o Mallory. A dozen, a hundred, a thousand? lifetimes flashed through me te much, it was always te much, ecstasy the like o which was never found even with the most willing woman, indescribable agony, both in perfect mindless balance. Pleasure, pain, pain, pleasure in white hot sheets as bolt after bolt struck home driving me panting te me knees, head spinning, body aching, full, satiated, and yet desperately longing. Damn I wanted a willing woman. As soon as the Quickening was over I scrambled te my feet something instinctual telling me I did NOT want te show weakness in front o Captain Mallory who was blinking a touch te quickly as the last few leaves from the shattered trees fluttered down around us.

He offered me the now clean sword he'd used against Culliford "I made a brief stop at the blacksmith's for you" he sounded almost hesitant "my apologies, I have read of the transfer of the Quickening but never seen it. It was not my intention to harm you in any fashion."

"I'm fine" I snapped as I dropped the fine blade "and I don't need yer bloody charity."

He rocked back, eye narrowing "It isn't charity. If your pride is too wounded to accept it as an apology for interfering in a Challenge then you may work it off aboard the Peregrine."

"I thought there wasn't room on the Peregrine for me" I said flatly.

He sighed "Marissa rarely brings out the best in me. What do you say we go down to the Dreadful Bride and get back what's left of your purse?"

"Shouldn't we bury him?"

"A friend of mine's corpse ended up in a cage to feed the birds because of him" Mallory didn't bother te finish the thought he just pointedly turned and sauntered away. I slid me new sword inte its sheathe debating what te do. Something aboot Mallory still raised me hackles. He knew what I was, he knew how te kill me. I had washed up dead on that island but he'd stayed and waited for me. He knew and it didn't matter to him that I was Immortal. I wouldn't hae te hide what I was, wouldn't hae te worry aboot what might happen if I slipped up. He was one o the best if not the best swordsman I'd ever seen. His library was full o ideas I'd never heard o afore. And if Lorencillo was right he needed a friend and I knew more than a little aboot brooding meself. Decision made I hurried after Mallory leaving Culliford te the crows.

"So what's the plan at the Bride?"

"What is your opinion of vigilante justice?"

I froze straightening "The law and the courts should mete out justice."

One dark brow arched, "How old are you?"

I could feel meself tensing. The bloody man reminded me of St. Cloud when he asked if I was a Christian or if I painted myself blue and bayed at the moon. Either way it was an insult, if Christian then I was te young te bother with, if Pict then I was a member o a backward and defeated people. If he hadn't just saved me life I would have challenged him over me honor but he had so I choked down me pride.

"I was born in 1592."

"Over a century old and you can still believe that there is justice to be found in either?" that he thought I was hopelessly naïve was clear, but I could see in his eyes that he wished he was te. What kind o life hae he led afore now that had spawned that look o longing and near despair?

"Culliford and his crew, while not the worst of pirates, have certainly engaged in a fair bit of rape, murder, and larceny."

Interesting order on that.

"This is NOT a good town to be a pirate in anymore. Captain Norrington is newly promoted. His love of order and his desire to protect those under his charge will drive him to use the law as a convenient means to clear the Caribbean of those of whom he does not approve. It would take very little to get them summarily hanged."

"That's murder!" I protested. Now I knew why the man set me teeth on edge. He had all the morals o a bloody snake in the grass.

"And what was it I just interrupted? These men don't play 'fair' and they don't leave living witnesses. If we let them sail away it will only be to continue raping, murdering, and pillaging."

I laid me hand on the hilt o me new sword, head high "We challenge them like men o honor."

"Which would be vigilante justice" you could hear the eyes rolling why hadn't he just said what he meant te begin with? "Sometimes straight forward is best" he sounded less than confident about that "Captain Norrington and his men believe they saw me beaten to death. It is VITAL that they continue to believe that."

"May I ask why?"

"A young man's life may well depend on it" his green eyes turned venomous "you don't want to be responsible for putting him in the least danger."

I covered the flash o fear with a swaggering step towards him. He replied with a little smile that chilled me to my marrow as his fingers brushed against the dragons on the hilt o his dagger. It was purely a trick o light and shadows that made it look like the red dragon tried te nip him and that the white dragon was giving me one o Walter's lean and hungry looks.

"The boy's mother intentionally drowned herself in order to deceive my sire into believing that they were both dead while others brought him to me in secret. I won't apologize for doing all that I can to make certain her sacrifice was not in vain."

I spread me hands, feeling foolish, you would think I would hae learned. Hyde had shamed me so te cover me fear, te try te regain me pride, I'd taunted St. Cloud and Hamza, the Immortal who had saved me from being enslaved, had died in me stead. Realizing that while Connor had trained me as best he could but he was young himself and I was no rival for some of the older Immortals that were hunting. If Hyde had considered me worth killing, if St. Cloud hadn't been content with killing Hamza I wouldn't even have lasted a mortal lifetime. I'd gone back te Europe, looking for another mentor, older, more skilled than Connor, not that Connor hadn't done right by me. Found Grayham Ashe, good man, good friend, far better swordsman than Connor, and he'd been slaughtered right in front of me. Humiliated and panicking I'd fled te Paul's monastery, hoping te find peace, or at least somewhere where people weren't trying te separate me head from me shoulders so they could steal me soul. Except for the lack of women, and the constant prayers, it had been wonderful, first time since I died that I felt safe, like I had a place te call home. It all came tumbling down as I watched Kalas slaughter Timon. The only way I was ever going te be safe was by being the best. I'd been doing well until Hyde reared his ugly head again and killed Segur. I'd come within a hair's breadth o dying tonight so here I was acting like the cocky young fool I'd been sixty years ago when I should be learning all that I could from a man good enough te toy with a seasoned Immortal.

"They'll not get your name from me" I swore.

A gracious inclination o his dark head "I docked as Pen Alltudion."

Lord of the Exiles, an interesting choice o alias. I hadn't thought o it afore but Mallory Adfyw meant ill-fated and half-dead, neither name was cheerful. Nor was it news that me savior was in some sort o trouble.

"Then let's go prove that the Pen is mighty with the sword."

Captain Mal, no Pen, best I think o him as such, groaned behind me. Why was it no one found my witty comments amusing? It wasn't until we reached the outskirts o town that it dawned on me that I had no idea where the Bride was.

"It's difficult to lead" Pen noted with just a trace o amusement in his voice "when you don't know where you're going."

"After you then" I retorted grudgingly as he sailed by with a regal nod.

Bloody noble know-it-all.

The Dreadful Bride turned out te be a brothel tucked inte a dark corner near the docks.

"Since you evidently need to make use of the Bride's ladies, best we don't unduly irritate the proprietor" I could feel me face flushing since apparently the after effects o the Quickening were obvious te all. "I'll ask the 'gentlemen' to join us outside."

I was half inclined te tell 'Pen' te handle the pirates himself while I visited the ladies but that would hardly be honorable. Didn't hae te wait but a moment afore 'Pen' came strolling back out sashaying backwards hands flying as he spun some yarn or another for Bilge Breath and his four friends.

The light wasn't good but Bilge Breath's eyes narrowed as he recognized me.

"Where's Culliford?" he snarled at me pulling his cutlass.

"He ran into a sword, terribly foolish of him" 'Pen' purred "He should have known better than to touch a friend of mine. All of you should have."

Horrified eyes all round as apparently they only now recognized Captain Mallory. Bilge Breath charged me as the lot o them panicked and tried te flee. Bilge Breath knew what he was doing with a cutlass. He forced the fight in close where me longer blade was no advantage. I tried te catch his heavy blade in the quillions o me own sword but he was wise te that. I scrambled back before he could gut me. It might not be enough te kill me forever but it would bloody HURT and 'Pen' had four men te deal with on his own. I needed te finish this afore me benefactor ended up dead. He was no Immortal. Even a scratch could be deadly if it turned septic. Problem was Bilge Breath wasn't being obliging.

With a flick o the wrist I'd never seen afore he laid me entire forearm open. 'Pen' clicked his tongue like an annoyed instructor thought it was impossible te tell if he was miffed at me for allowing it or Bilge Breath for doing it. In his panic Bilge Breath all but threw himself onte me blade.

"What did ye do that for? I had it sorted."

I received a single arched brow and a sardonic glance "Just as I thought" he said cryptically afore plucking me purse from Bilge Breath's bloody corpse and tossing it te me.

"Whot's just as ye thought?"

"Connor may be a passable swordsman, but he's no teacher."

"Mayhap I'm not much o a student" I challenged, not happy aboot belittling meself but feeling the need te defend me absent Teacher more.

"If you are aboard the Peregrine when the tide turns I would put that theory to the test if you would permit me."

I glanced down at the four men dispatched faster than I could handle one, thought o Culliford who I suspected had been likely me equal casually and cruelly toyed with, and o that reputation that had te come from somewhere. There was no doobt there was much I could learn from this man but he still made me want te tuck me own tail and flee inte the night meself.

"Three hours, Mr. MacLeod, if you want to learn how to survive.". I hefted the purse, surprisingly most o me coin seemed te still be intact.

"There's enough for two" I offered.

'Pen' gave the Dreadful Bride a haughty sneer "You are most generous, Mr. MacLeod, but I have much to do ere the tide turns, perhaps another time" with one of his flowery bows he slipped away. Bloody well bred snot. I shrugged, his loss.

I grimaced as I found meself looking down the white dagger at me throat as I clawed at the lance buried in me side.

"Ye bloody cheated" I panted spitting blood as the world grew dark round the edges.

"Do you actually believe that all of your opponents will share your sense of honor?" Mallory scoffed "If you want to fight fair then you have to be twice as skilled as they are, you have to know all the dirty little tricks and how to counter them."

My knees gave out as I dropped te the sand unable te find the shaft I knew had te be there. Mallory took 'mercy' on me and I managed te finally draw a breath that wasn't wracked with shear agony. This was the eighth time this morning that he'd struck a death blow but he hadn't cheated afore. I spat blood and raise me head to look at the bitsy little dripping knife he had in his hand. That could NOT be what he'd stabbed me with. It had felt like I'd been neigh te cloven in twain.

"It isn't about strength or size; it's about getting past your opponent's guard and landing an incapacitating blow. Not all of your kind are big, burly, chieftains' sons and those who will never be able best you in a 'fair' fight will use any weapon that comes to hand to stay alive."

I heaved back te me feet looking down me own nose at him (at least I was taller, handsomer, and looked younger) "I would never attack someone weaker than I am."

"So you'll bare your throat to anyone you deem is not your equal?"

'"I never said I would nea defend meself."

"You can't best a cheat at his own game if you don't know it."

"And how do ye know so bloody much aboot it?"

"Knowledge is power, Duncan, you can never have enough of it."

"Some knowledge is evil."

"Knowledge is knowledge, it's how you USE it. ACTS are good or evil" he riposted "if you prefer death" he shrugged and turned his lethal grace on a bit of driftwood moving so swiftly me eyes could hardly follow him. It did me pride no good at all te see that he'd been holding back, slowing his strikes so that I could keep up. I'd never felt more like a draft horse competing with a thoroughbred in me life.

"I can nea win by trickery" I said finally wondering if me prickly companion was going te maroon me, at least this was a slightly larger speck o nowhere than the islet I'd met him on.

He paused back still te me "In the end, all that matters is what a man can or will do, and what he can't or won't do. I can help you learn how to survive" he held up a hand as I started to protest that I'd lived over a century without his marvelous presence "You're quite good, but you could be better, you NEED to be better. And at more than just swordplay." He whirled te face me "I would be pleased to assist you but I have no time for those bent on suicidal heroics."

"Ye dinnea believe in heroics then?"

"Oh, I enjoy playing the hero as much as any man, I just believe one should always have a plan so that one survives to reap the benefits of one's daring." He glared at the Peregrine riding at anchor and I could hae sworn he muttered somewhat aboot boats minding their own bloody business. "I believe in precision, strike the blow that counts most. Swiftly in, swiftly out."

"Like a pirate" I observed.

"Like a surgeon" he retorted, eyes glittering "I like things NEAT" ye could say that again, never met a tidier soul in me life "sloppy gets you killed." There was something in his eyes when he said it. Something I'd seen far te often, the look o' a man who's been beaten te the brink o' madness, mayhap even pushed over it and clawed his way back. There was history there, and not the pretty kind. "And precision is where you are most lacking. You swing your sword like a bloody butcher. It has a point too. You need to refine your use of it."

"Why? If I'm facing another Immortal there's only one blow that counts."

Green eyes just blinked at me, and I had te look twice te be certain that his ears hadn't flicked forward. But that was impossible. He threw up his hands and went back te fencing with the piece o driftwood. I rubbed the spot where he'd stabbed me feeling like a fool. He could easily hae taken me head then.

"I'm not a complete idiot" I said "I've long known that an incapacitating blow can allow yea te finish off an opponent. I just never really considered the point good enough te do that against another Immortal" not te mention the fact that there were enough Immortals out there that were better than me I didn't want te be fussing aboot being 'precise' while they took me head. "But I'd be pleased te learn different if yer inclined te teach me."

And I was scrambling in the fight o me life. His dagger was everywhere. No sooner did I block in one location than it was coming at me from another but he refrained from actually killing me. Only when I was so blown I could barely lift me sword did he finally pause. Bloody bastard had yet te break a sweat.

He pointed te me heaving chest "Every spot I've pricked would have dropped you if I'd carried through. I'd hoped to start training now but you haven't sufficient wind."

Unable te stop gasping no matter how hard I tried only whipped me pride harder whilst proving his bloody point. The man wasn't human. No man could go as fast and as hard as he just had and not even be winded.

Suddenly I was looking down the blade of the nastiest sword I had ever seen. The thing made the back o me head itch and despite the sultry heat I broke out in gooseflesh.

"Defend yourself" he hissed.

"I can barely breath" I panted.

"So what? he snapped back as I stared at that blade made o the same strange white metal as his dagger but this thing was a monstrosity. The main blade was straight and keen but the back curved with a wicked serrated edge. One side to slice, the other to shred flesh into quivering bits. And it WANTED to, I could feel it longing te spill blood and drink it down. I shook me head te clear it, must have been getting light headed from the sun. Swords were just swords, it was the man wielding them that made them dangerous, and Mallory looked positively deadly. I swallowed and gave ground fear dredging reserves I'd no idea I had. I wasn't certain at all that he was going te pull his blows and unlike the piddly little daggers he'd been using that thing could easily separate me head from me neck in a single unblocked slice. Me one advantage was Mallory was a shorter, slighter man than I and the blade was fundamentally te big for him. It would have been neigh unte unwieldy for me. Thing must o been an heirloom o some sort for no one would wield a blade so poorly suited te both their style and their person otherwise. It more than halved that deadly speed o his and ye could tell he didn't often actually use the sword for offense even when he did unsheathe it. He blocked beautifully with it but ye could see how much he wanted that dagger o his for offense. For the first time I had the advantage. I should o had it all along with me longer reach and the fact that he'd been pitting a long dagger against me sword but he was quicker than lightening with that dagger o his. I felt a grin split me face as for the first time I managed te make HIM take a step back. I'd show the blighter, force him all way inte the sea. Now we were finally in a proper, I staggered as the blade ripped inte me sliding inte me left breast which I'd foolishly and only te late realized I'd left open. He spun deftly away from me feeble counter-strike and that wicked blade was at the back o me neck. I'd spent entirely te much time bleeding inte this speck o beach.

"Are you going to give up so easily?" he tsked "I thought you wanted to live."

I swallowed blood "I do"

"Then ACT like it" he snarled back "real champions NEVER give up, no matter what. Do you think death will politely wait until you are properly prepared like some silly duel between spoiled fools who have read too many tales? GET. BACK. ON. YOUR. FEET!!" He smacked me with the flat of the blade and I swore it mocked me for a clumsy young fool. In that moment I hated him as much as Hyde, as St. Cloud, as Kalas. I roared, throwing sand in his eyes afore attacking te kill. He gave a fey laugh and matched me blow for blow up and down the beach the fight ending only when all strength deserted me and I collapsed in a quivering huddle in the foamy water at the tide line. Mallory rescued me sword and leaning in close growled "I can take the worst you can dish out, Highlander, and if you ever pull another blow against me I will take your head" before leaving me where I lay.

"It wasn't a pissing contest, Amanda. It's just the way he is. He pushes, hard. He was testing how much I'd learned."

"And?" I asked curiosity itching.

Mac winced "And now he's only twice as good as I am instead of four or five times" he flushed looking down at his hands "I'm a bit surprised that he would accept me as a guest again."

"What did you do?" Amanda sounded exasperated while Mac looked completely hangdog.

"Once I stopped holding back in our sparring matches he actually proved to be one of the better teachers I've ever had and a surprisingly witty and good humored captain. Providing everything stayed in its proper place" Mac smirked "in four centuries I have never met a worse neat freak. Things went well for few months. We took on some passengers" from the grin Mac had 'comforted' some 'lonely' female. I was with Connor, somehow Mac always seemed to end up with the best (read all) women. Lucky bastard. "and did a fair bit of mostly legal trading in high price perishable goods."

"Mostly legal?" Amanda teased "I'm shocked at you."

Mac rolled his eyes "I don't actually know that there was any smuggling going on but…" he shrugged then breathed deep eyes far away "Peregrine was the first ship I ever fell in love with. Never been on any boat before or since that melded that perfectly to wind and wave" it was clear Mac was out on the Caribbean a couple of centuries ago and loving it. Some days Immortal memory had to be a bitch but I wished I could dredge up a perfect day like that. "I think I fell almost as in love with the sea as Mallory was. Caught that wanderlust of his too, before then I'd traveled but always because I HAD to not because I WANTED to." He frowned and looked around the shadowless room "He must hate this. I can't imagine him tied to one place; he was so fiercely attached to his freedom, to that next horizon."

"He was probably freshly out of that two by two by two foot box when you knew him" Amanda pointed out.

"True" Mac allowed eyes going even more distant. Oh, no you don't bub.

"You were about to explain how you got from the Caribbean to the court of Queen Anne" I prompted.

He sighed and began…

I spread me cards confident that this time I had him, until he laid out a perfect mirror image of me own hand. I tried te act like I'd known but I could tell he saw right through me.

"Shall we try again?"

I glared at the cards. "For an honest sea captain ye seem te know an awful lot o ways te cheat."

"Who ever said I was honest?" Mallory rebutted brows arched as he started te deal another hand.

"It might be a bit easier te spot yer cheating if why had a little more light" I grumbled. The full moon over the little bay provided a fair bit o illumination but not nearly as much as Peregrine's fine lanterns would.

Mallory froze, eyes narrowing as he glared in the direction of the plantation. I muttered a curse under me breath. If the damned overseer was enough o a fool te run afoul o Mallory's explosively lethal temper twice in the same day, I'd not save the arse again. Ostensibly we were here te collect the harvest but it was actually a surprise inspection on behalf o the absentee landlord. An absentee landlord who as now short one clerk since Mallory had made ribbons out o him afore I'd even realized what the beast had been doing te the boy. I wasn't certain what he'd had planned for the overseer once the lack-wit had admitted te having no problem with the clerk's unnatural appetites so long as he restricted himself te the slave children but I was certain it would have been bloody. I'd thought he was going te gut me te get me out o the way so he could finish him off when his eyes lit with a positively unholy glee. He'd been in a far te chipper mood ever since but I was certain we'd left the man breathing.

"What do you consider the greater crime to steal a man's life or his property?"

"His life" I answered cautiously wondering if this was leading to another of his philosophical debates or to sudden, usually violent, action. Predicting Mallory was like trying te forecast the weather, a few things were obvious but I hadn't a clue how te predict the sudden hurricanes that promised death and destruction te anything in sight. I had never met a moodier soul in me over a century o life.

A wicked grin "I thought you might share my view of slavery."

"What exactly are ye planning?"

"To take the slave ship that's currently slipping 'round the windward side of the island, kill the crew, and restore those held in its bowels to freedom."

"That's piracy!" I protested as Mallory's eyes went icy.

"If the means I intend to employ to right a greater wrong offend your delicate sensibilities you are, of course, free to take the dingy to the plantation where you can indulge yourself to your heart's content"

"Have a care. Ye've nae call te insult me so" I roared back still smarting a bit from his warning aboot Annie's reputation when she sailed with us a few weeks back. As if I were some hot blooded young fool with no notion o discretion.

Te me surprise he actually backed down a touch "True. That was completely beyond the pale, my apologies" I received one of his flowing bows "you may linger here in all honor while I commit the crimes my conscious demands."

"I dinnae say I wouldnae assist ye. I do hae one question - What do ye consider the greater crime te steal a man's life or his property?"

"Dead is usually simpler" Mallory observed "I have no desire to have Peregrine linked to any illegal actions."

"Consider it a challenge" I riposted as Mallory set aboot preparing us te get under way. The only reply I received was a wicked chuckle.

The full moon caste the whole world in a blue glow as we slid without so much as a ripple inte the slave ship's wake. Ye couldnae help but be awed by the man's seamanship. I drew a breath te speak and instantly regretted it. I'd heard o the reek put out by a slaver but all words failed. I had never imagined that such a stench could exist. Fastidious, neat te the point o compulsion Mallory never flinched but then from the sound o things this wasn't his first time raiding a slaver. Giving up the fight te keep down me last repast I settled for spewing me guts as quietly as possible over the stern. Knowing how fussy Mallory was I made a point o making meself presentable again afore rejoining him.

"Do we have a plan?"

"Capture the slavers, free the slaves" he said as he set a crossbow against his shoulder.

"Do ye care te be a bit more specific?" I tried breathing with me mouth open but ye could taste it te.

"I could but I was recently informed that I'm lacking in spontaneity so" he shrugged, fired the bolt deeply inte the stern o the slaver, and secured the slender rope te the Peregrine's rail afore hanging the crossbow up neatly and scampering across as easily as a squirrel on a limb. Even Amanda wasn't that graceful.

"Oh really?" the lady in question purred dangerously at Mac. I figured him for sleeping on the couch. Four hundred years of experience, sheesh, even I knew better.

I wasn't sure the thread o a rope was even going te bear me weight. Mallory was nearly as tall but more slightly built and surprisingly light for his size. The ships werenae that far apart and I could swim but even in the moonlight I could see sharks trailing the slaver. I didn't want te think why. I dinnae even try te follow in Mallory's footsteps and instead crossed the blessedly short distance hand over hand dangling above the cruising sharks.

I wanted te kiss the reeking deck when I finally clambered over the rail. Mallory dropped a gagged and bound prisoner inte a tidy little ring o likewise constrained sailors. A motley and disreputable looking bunch o scallywags. I was surprised te see two dark faces in the mix but then I'd discovered that no few negros owned slaves since coming te the Caribbean. Clearly the circle wasn't perfect enough for Mallory since he fussed a bit over the precise placement o his captives. I tip-toed over.

"Don't ye think we should capture the entire crew first afore we make certain we hae them in a perfect circle?"

"This is what's left of them" he retorted not bothering to whisper "Dysentery. Sometimes it rips through the crews almost as badly as the cargo." He pivoted on his heel, clearly dismissing the score o men he'd managed te take in the time it took me te cross the gap between ships. The man was wicked fast. "You might prefer to stay above, the air below will be truly fetid."

If this was fresh air I didnae like te think what we would be walking inte. I squared me shoulders if the persnickety Mallory could tolerate it then I certainly could. I started te light a torch te take below with us but with one hard glance from Mallory it sputtered and died leaving me blinking at a not even smoldering stub.

"You don't want an open flame below decks. You must not have noticed the closed ports. The fumes have been building below for who knows how long and I'd rather not chance an explosion. You might survive if the sharks glut themselves on the wretches below first but slaughtering them ourselves rather negates the purpose of this little sortie."

The full moon might give us enough light te see by on deck but it was going te be darker than the lower circles o Hell in the hold. I had no doubt that the scientifically inclined Mallory had somewhat up his sleeve. The man was a marvel I thought as blue white light spilled down the ladder illuminating our way. I wanted te know how he did it but decided a lecture could wait until we were somewhere where the air didnae burn. I coughed hard amazed that mortals could survive in this. The hold went from near silence to rapturous din in the space o a (fetid) breath. I'd learned just enough from Adola te realize that the entire hold seemed te be shouting 'Big Magic is here'.

Mallory passed me a bar and cloth wrapped hammer before grabbing one for himself "You start on the starboard side. Send anyone who can walk up on deck" he said before shouting over the din, it wasn't until his third sentence that I realized he was ordering them te leave the crew untouched in a few dozen tongues. Fighting not te gag I turned te me own task. The dark forms were nearly invisible in the strange blue light making it appear as if a multitude of disembodied eyes and gleaming white teeth were suspended in the depths. I figured the space, too many eyes, far too many eyes. Mallory moved on te ordering everyone who could stand up onte the deck. He singled out one big buck and after a few seconds they were cackling like a pair of jays. I turned back te me own task o prying the staples holding the chains te the heavy beams. Remembering Mallory's comments aboot flame I took care not te make sparks though ever since we'd come down the wind had been scouring through the close darkness. I carefully pulled the length o chain free began helping the men out o the shelf they'd been packed in like spoons without even enough space te turn around.

It was long past dawn afore I was able te rejoin Mallory on deck where he was seeing te the numerous ill and directing the healthier former slaves in the fine art o sailing. I stared out at the dark mass o humanity. There wasn't an inch o plank or rigging te be seen. I knew well from havaen pulled dark forms from every nook and cranny imaginable (and quite a few I never would hae imagined I now knew this stinking hulk better than the back o me hand) that they had been packed like, like nothing I hae ever seen afore.

"How many?" I mumbled te meself but Mallory answered "four hundred two score and seven living, a score and four dead, they set sail with five hundred three score and two. They had an easy katunga. Fair weather, good winds, no excessive illness, an almost competent surgeon, and the captain laid in sufficient provisions which is a marvel in and of itself."

"One in five died" I exclaimed, how could he call that 'easy'?!

"I've seen ships that lost half, one in four is expected. They made a good run. They only made an example of one trouble maker. Only flogged three. No one is complaining about rapes. The brands were clearly done quickly and neatly. It almost makes me feel better about letting them live. This might just be the best run slaver afloat." It appalled me that he seemed te be utterly serious. "Speaking of our prisoners I'd best be seeing to them."

Moving on deck was like swimming through a human ocean but they seemed rather anxious to part the way for 'Big Magic' who seemed te take it as his due.

"RAC" Mallory said making a point of looking at a branded breast before looking down his nose at the…I took a whiff…the slaves might hae kept their hands off the crew but that hadnae stopped them from expressing their contempt in other fashions. "The Royal African Company. So much for the 'natural rights of men' and your thousand year monopoly."

The best dressed o the lot raised his head "Is that the best ye can do? I expected better of 'Big Magic' given all the trouble ye've caused ye bloody pirate."

"Of course not" Mallory returned far te politely "given that I'm the only thing keeping you from the wrath of those you wronged do you truly want to take that tact?"

"From what I hear you've no mercy for honest sailors. One way or another we're going to die."

I would hae expected him te say somewhat aboot there being many ways te die, some less pleasant than others but Mallory could be a hard man te read.

"On the contrary, I have immense respect for honest sailors, someday I would love to meet one. Now, men in the business of trading in human misery, who turn men into chattel for the rest of their days for a mere 18 pounds a head. Those men aren't honest."

The entire crew blinked at Mallory like he was a bloody mad man. Troth I wasn't certain he wasnae meself. It seemed half the world was involved in the trade and most o the rest in favor. Until Algiers I'd been neither for nor against but if it hadnae been for Hamza (Allah rest his soul. One day I would repay Xavier for his death) I would hae been a slave meself. I had been raised te treat others as I wished te be treated meself and having no desire te be a slave I was now firmly against in principle but couldnae see how it could be stopped.

"I've never broken a law in my life" the captain snapped back "I'm not a thief nor a liar. I have never seen such hypocrisy in my life, pirate. You stand there bold as brass having illegally seized my ship, and dare to lecture on honesty."

"Laws are made by men in power for no other cause but to protect their wealth and power. I'm not interested in laws I'm interested in justice. Now, my 'good' man you look me in the eye and you tell me that buying a man, packing him like so much livestock across the sea, and selling him and all his descendents into perpetual bondage is just."

"They aren't even men" the captain's face twisted as he snarled with contempt "just a pack of hooting beasts meant for no better than to serve their betters."

For a heartbeat I thought Mallory was going te gut him then and there but with glance in me direction and a bit o grinding teeth he said "It never ceases to amaze me the lies men will tell themselves to excuse whatever horror they wish to inflict on their fellows." He rose shaking his head clearly done with the conversation but the captain wasn't finished.

"What can you possibly hope to achieve? One man against the entire world? I wager you won't find three REAL men who share your opinions."

"You might be surprised at what I've achieved" Mallory retorted in a tone o velvet steel "I may be a single drop in the ocean, I might not be able to stop the slave trade today, or tomorrow. I have no doubt a dozen more ships will replace every one I take but I made a difference for them. At the end of the day all that matters is did I do all I could to make the world a better place, did I challenge injustice, was I a faithful friend. Do unto others as ye would have done unto you. I'll leave you to chew on that before sentence is passed for your crimes."

"You have no right to judge me."

"You fly a British flag that gives me every right" Mallory shot back leaving me as befuddled as the captain.

"And what are you going to do with them?" the captain asked with the tone of a man twisting a knife "for all your principles they're Denkyira and you know damn well they're as guilty as everyone else on this ship. They've been selling Ashanti down the river for a hundred years. So what are you going to do with them? You can't send them back with the Ashanti in power they'll be on another ship within the week and you can't sail into one of your maroon colonies because the Ashanti will slaughter every last one of them. So where's your vaulted justice now? Justice was letting them reap what had sown."

"I don't hold men guilty for their fathers' sins. To sell the adults into slavery might be just but the children as yet unborn? Never. And there is such a thing as mercy."

"And will you be merciful to my crew?"

Mallory didn't bother to answer, he merely slipped through the human ocean with a nimble ease that left me floundering te keep up.

"What are we going te do with them?" I asked when I finally managed to draw back alongside him. I wasn't quite certain meself which set o them I was referring te nor was I certain Mallory who could clam up with the best o them was going te bother answering or if he did if it would make a lick o sense.

"I already knew I was going to have to start a new maroon colony. I was thinking Barbuda would work well" he retorted a bit absently, eyes narrowed in calculation. "I fear a fair bit of my time for the next few months will be taken up teaching this lot to sail and establishing the colony. I have no right to shackle you to my cause. The Codrington's have a plantation on the lee side of the island, trading boats sail in about once a month or I could easily take you to Guadeloupe in a fortnight."

Uncertain o what I actually wanted I asked one o the questions that had been bothering me while Mallory and the captain had been snipping at each other "Did ye know they were Denkyira afore ye spoke te them in the hold?"

Mallory did one o his infamous tact changes and reposted with a question o his own "Do you eat things sweetened with sugar? Smoke tobacco? Wear cotton?"

Mallory's tact changes usually ended up bringing ye right up te the dock but I had no notion where he was going with this one "Aye."

"Congratulations you have as much culpability in the slave trade as the Denkyira on this ship. Your government is involved in the trade and you receive goods as a result. No one on this ship ever sold or captured anyone else but the Ashanti have been under the Denkyira's feet for a long time. They're out for revenge and they aren't being particular about how they get it. A few of the real traders are dead, a handful fled, and most are working for the Ashanti. The rich and powerful have a habit of avoiding justice even when it comes calling leaving the little fish behind to be ground into grease."

I looked out te the east "Do ye think it will really ever end?"

"The slave trade? Yes, I generally get what I want and I'm superlatively stubborn. Eventually I'll find the right lever and move the world again. Men thinking up creative excuses to commit atrocities? Of course not. As soon as this fire is stomped out there will be another great wrong to stop."

"That's depressing" I complained.

"Consider it a challenge. You have eternity before you there are worse ways to spend it. Do you really want to look back three centuries from now and say all you did was survive? That you accomplished nothing? That you left no mark on the world? That you left your light under a bushel? You're a good man Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, a far better one than I am or am like to ever be"

I opened me mouth te protest that Mallory was clearly a fine man but the words died on me lips under his glare. He shook his head with a sardonic smile "You've only known me for a few weeks Duncan and I am no innocent. So will you spend all your time slipping around in the shadows killing your fellows?"

"It's what we do" I said a touch confused, the Game was the Game.

"Whoever said wisdom comes with age was no Immortal" he mocked, I flinched, angry now but he continued afore I could protest "the sword might keep you alive Duncan and the Draigs know you still have much to learn of it to reach true mastery but it's just to a tool don't let it become your raison d'etre. All that is necessary for the conquest of evil is for good men to do nothing and all that. Everyone should have a cause or two to pass the time championing."

A shout from the bow distracted us and he slipped away afore I could think o an answer.

It didn't take long for Mallory te find a spot he liked on Barbuda for his new colony but then he did have the finest charts I'd ever seen. Getting the bulk o the former slaves off the ship took a good bit longer but once there Mallory assembled them around the crew. Me gut was in knots as I watched Mallory. He'd consented te let them live but Mallory was not the sort that forgave and forgot. He had something else planned for them and I was fair certain I wasn't going te like it.

Mallory began te chant in the same tongue in which he spoke te the Denkyira I only knew a few words but I had no trouble seeing a result that was enough te nearly make me piss meself. Asses, he'd turned the entire crew inte asses. The one that had been the captain brayed loudly in protest as the rest milled in clear distress.

"You made your livelihood selling your fellow men as if they were beasts of burden" he told them "and so now you will be beasts of burden for the rest of your days."

"What are ye?" I demanded as he started te pass me.

"An Ellylon" he said with a shrug.

"Yer not even human" I roared at him, backing away in terror as his eyes glowed with anger.

"Mr. Pot please allow me to present Mr. Kettle" he said sarcastically behind me as I plunged inte the surf. "If I'm not human neither are you" he continued as I started swimming "or did you somehow NOT notice that normal people don't rise from the dead?" I swam harder but I simply found meself looking at his boots as he stood on the water in front o me. "That's blasphemy" I growled trying te swim round but he could walk on the water far faster than I could swim in it.

"Oh honestly, don't even attempt to tell me you're a good little Christian."

"Better than ye, devil spawn."

"Actually that's more your lot than mine. Draigs you don't even know what you really are Duncan."

I paused terror and curiosity fighting for dominance as he walked leisurely beside me "And ye do?"

"More than you do" he riposted.

"I don't believe ye, ye serpent."

He sighed "Duncan, what do you think swimming off is going to accomplish?"

"It will get me away from ye" I snapped sputtering slightly on sea water "And don't ye ever say me name again yer not worthy o it."

"Only if I let you" he returned "Swim to the Peregrine and I'll have him take you anywhere you want to go."

I shook me head and found meself on the surface o the water. "Can we not discuss this like rational beings?" The water had a strange feel like a drum skin that wasn't quite tight enough. I swayed a little, he reached out te steady me but I didn't want his filthy fairy hands on me. I threw meself backward landing with a splash in water that wasn't bespelled.

"I see we can't" he said sorrowfully "If you keep swimming in that direction the currents are going to send you straight into the Sargasso Sea where you will likely spend a few centuries entangled in sea weed before someone stumbles across your extraordinarily well pruned personage."

I didn't answer. He muttered something about stiff necked Scots, whistled a tune, and the world went dark.

"I woke up on Iona a month later" Mac said without looking up.

"How could you do that to my Tada when he was wounded, hunted mercilessly, and beset on all sides?" Morfran asked sounding even younger than she appeared. I wondered how Mac, sucker for all things female, was going to answer the little Ellyllon girl who looked like she might cry.

Several muscles jumped in his jaw before he spoke "I was raised by people who feared the Fair Folk more than anything else. I'm not proud of letting my fear get the better of me" I'd known about his Clan's fear of changelings but I'd never thought about what it might have cost Mac to willingly enter the Other World. It must have been like someone offering me a ticket to tour Hell. Ari-El had damn well known though. God but I needed to kill him slow. "I'm a good bit older and hopefully wiser than I was then."

"I seem to recall you being able to charm anything in skirts" we all jumped at the King's voice "I sincerely hope you haven't lost that knack because my Queen has decided that you will be joining us for dinner."

The Queen, the one we'd been informed didn't much care for regular humans. I had the sinking feeling I was about to find out more than I'd ever wanted to know about prejudice delivered with a royal fist.