They had told her to go to bed. They had told her that she was save now. That nothing would harm her.
Constance stared at the bedroom door, her gaze empty. Her hands were fisted around the thick, cotton blanket. She had stopped crying hours ago, too exhausted to continue sobbing. Her throat was raw, her lungs were aching with every breath she took.
They had told her that everything was going to be fine.
But nothing was fine. It was never again going to be fine. Her sister was dead.
Constance could not close her eyes without seeing Isabeau's blood stained body lying underneath the black sky. Her sister's brown eyes, now black in death, staring at her, pleading with her, accusing her. Constance knew that she would never forget those eyes. They would haunt her till her dying day.
Rationally, she knew that there was nothing she could have done to save her sister, but in her heart she felt only grief and guilt. There was a voice in the back of her mind that kept whispering to her. Telling her that she should have done something, anything, to save Isabeau.
No one had told her about the shots. But once the chaos had quietened, the whispers had started. And everyone had looked at her with that knowledge in his eyes. The knowledge that she had only survived because she had stumbled. Her own clumsiness had saved her from catching the bullet that had been meant for her. Instead it had claimed the life of a young Private. Constance had asked about his name, feeling the irrational urge to know who had died in her stead. But they had not answered her. They had just looked at her with pity and concern, as if she had been so far into hysterics that she would fall apart any moment.
In hindsight, Constance could not deny that their concern had been warranted.
With a shacking hand, she reached for the glass of water, that one of the maids had placed by her bed. Swallowing carefully, Constance forced the cool liquid down her sore throat.
Although she felt almost numb with grief, she could not entirely ignore the cold, freezing fury that had begun to lace her heart just beneath the surface. For some reason, she could not stop shivering. She had inquired after Mirabelle, but no one would tell her if her youngest sister was unharmed. Her father, trembling with anger and grief, had come by late this morning and had attempted to soothe her. He had finally admitted that her mother had suffered a severe concussion and was resting. But no matter how she had pleaded with him, he would not tell her what had happened to Mirabelle.
Bereft of any information that might have calmed her, Constance had been left to the relentless trappings of her own imagination. When she was not confronted with images of Isabeau, she saw pictures of Mirrabelle's cold body lying in her bed, the sheets drenched with blood, her little sister's innocent face twisted into a death mask of fear and anguish.
Constance had tried to push these thoughts away, firmly reminding herself that the pirates had meant to abduct them, not kill them. That it had probably been the unexpected presence and resistance of Lieutenant Gillette that had forced these men to change their plans.
But Mirabelle, little Mirabelle, would have been sleeping. She would have caused them little trouble. There could not have been any need to kill her.
But even if she had only been kidnapped, would her fate really be much improved, Constance could not help but wonder. Maybe a quick death would have been merciful for her little sister.
Every time her thoughts circled around to this point she berated herself. She did not wish for the death of another sister. She just wanted to wrap her arms around Mirabelle and convince herself that they were both safe. That nothing could harm them as long as they stayed together. That eventually everything would be fine.
She had told her father that it had been Pamela, Mirabelle's maid, who had told Isabeau and her to go to the gardens. She was sure, if the servant girl had not been found yet, a wide search would currently be undertaken, but Constance doubted that the woman would be found.
Constance stared at the door until the singular beam of light, which fell through drawn curtains upon the thickly woven carpet, told her that it was almost noon. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. She had to know.
She slipped into her dressing-gown and quietly walked to the door. Now that Constance had decided to take action, she felt anger boiling to the surface. The feeling of helplessness, which had consumed her while she had been confined to bed, fled from her mind.
Carefully, avoiding even the smallest sound, Constance opened the door and peaked outside.
The corridor was empty.
With a sound of relief, she hurried through the door and pulled it almost closed, leaving but half an inch between the frames, in case she had to return in a hurry. She reached Mirabelle's bedroom within a few seconds and slipped inside. As Constance had expected, the room was empty. She looked carefully at the bed and floor but could not find any blood stains on the sheets or carpet. Constance left, not feeling relieved at all.
She tiptoed through the hallway, towards the main staircase, where she found an adequate hiding place between a polished wooden cabinet and a large Chinese floor vase, which was stuffed with long ferns and exotic flowers.
Her father's loud, agitated voice was drifting through the closed study doors. Constance listened carefully until she heard the deep, calm timbre of Commodore Norrington and the lighter, more fragile nuances of Governor Swann's voice as well. Hoping that the mansion's servants would keep their distance from the argument, Constance crouched lower and listened.
* * * * * * *
"I am not asking for your permission, Commodore. I am informing you of my decision as a courtesy."
Commodore Norrington met Richard Travers' look of open anger with cold solemnity. It was that composed, stern manner that had caused Mr. Travers temper to rise.
"With respect, I don't believe you have the authority to make that decision, Mr. Travers," the Commodore replied.
Richard took a deep breath, trying to get the rage and desperation inside of him under control, but it was to no avail.
"One of my daughters is dead," he said, and felt a vicious sense of satisfaction when Norrington flinched. It was the first display of emotion that he had ever witnessed from the officer.
"My youngest is missing," he continued. "Constance is in shock and barely escaped within an inch of her life, and my wife was viciously assaulted. And you're telling me that I don't have the authority?!" He stepped forward until he invaded the Commodore's personal space.
Richard could hear the Governor's attempt to arbitrate the conflict, but he ignored his friend. Isabeau's death had jolted him badly. And the thought that Mirabelle was at the mercy of the same monsters, who had ended the life of his eldest daughter, was unbearable.
And all because of that damned map. He had been so sure, that Robert was the only one who knew of the map. That he would be the only one to come after it and take his vengeance on him. Not for a moment had Richard considered that his family would also be in danger.
Richard felt the Governor's restraining hand on his shoulder and allowed himself to be pulled back. The Commodore was still looking at him with an unmoving mask of indifference.
"Richard, it has been my experience that Commodore Norrington is most capable to handle situations such at these. He has earned my absolute trust and confidence." Governor Swann forced Richard to turn around. "I assure you that everything will be done to free your daughter and return her to you unharmed. We had dealings with this Jack Sparrow before and I am certain that Mirabelle is not in any immediate danger."
The words of his old friend held no comfort.
"He killed Isabeau," Richard reminded Elerby in a broken voice. He did not miss the uncertain look the Governor exchanged with Norrington.
To Richard Travers, Norrington's reputation had provided an additional measure of safety. The Commodore had proven himself to be a fierce opponent for any pirate who sailed the Spanish main. Richard had thought that his brother would be hesitant to cross paths with an officer of such renown, and had hoped that he would have enough time to decipher the map before Robert would make another attempt to steal it.
Upon his arrival in Port Royale he had been surprised to discover that the Commodore was rather young. Once he had heard the Governor's account of Elizabeth Swann's kidnapping, and the way Norrington had left Port Royale unprotected in his effort to find the Governor's daughter, his opinion of the officer had greatly diminished. Adding to this was the fact that Jack Sparrow had evaded justice twice while Norrington had been in command.
Richard could not bring himself to leave the fate of his youngest daughter in the hands of this man.
He shook off Elerby Swann's hand and stepped back until he could face both men.
"Commodore, I will accompany you on the Pirece. My daughter's life is at stake here. When you go after her captors, I will not be left behind."
The Commodore gave him a measured look, which put Richard immediately on guard.
"What about the map?"
It took Richard a moment to realise that the Governor had been the one to ask the question.
"The map? What do I care about that map? This is my family which was ripped apart."
Poisoned tendrils of guilt wrapped around his mind. He had wanted the Moon Tide's treasure for so long, had sought it desperately as his wealth diminished. He had seen his father's money slip from his fingers, cascading into a bottomless pit filled with creditors.
Richard had never been a man to squander his inheritance. He had prided himself on his steadfastness and strength to escape to lure of gambling and excessive drinking. Instead he had continued in his father's footsteps and expanded the trading grounds of his shipping company.
And then, thirteen years ago, everything had started to fall apart. His merchant ships had been attacked with conspicuous regularity and as his ships sank and their cargos were stolen it did not take long for revenues to deplete. Faced with bankruptcy, he had doubled his efforts to apprehend his brother, for he was sure that Robert was the instigator of the attacks on his ships. In the end, it had proved to be a futile endeavour. Robert had eluded capture, his reputation growing more vicious and fearsome as the months had passed.
When he, Richard, had first heard of a map marking the location of the Moon Tide's treasure he had not really believed it. Too many legends had conglomerated over time, placing the Moon Tide in the same realm as Atlantis and the Holy Grail. It was desperation which had inclined him to investigate the rumours. A search which had led him back to his brother and another pirate by the name of Captain Gareth.
At this time his ambition to find the treasure had become an obsession. By chance he had finally acquired the map, but with it came the knowledge that he had as good as snatched it from his brothers greedy fingers. His elation was short-lived as the realization dawned that from this day on he would never be save. Robert would come after him. And there was no stopping his brother. Still, Richard had taken the risk, combined the last vestiges of his possessions and set sail for the new world, hoping that the voyage and the protection of his old friend Elerby Swann and the Commodore of the Port Royale fleet, James Norrington would buy him enough time to translate the map and maybe, just maybe, put an end to Robert 'The Bulldog'.
But now his family had been assaulted and Richard Travers had to pay the price for his arrogance. Suddenly the treasure wasn't important anymore and he spent hours berating himself for his foolishness and self righteousness. He had never spent much time with his family, but he had taken pride in seeing Isabeau grow from the young complacent girl into a beautiful woman. To compare the same woman with the lifeless form he had just hours before seen sprawled on the garden path was simply so inconceivable, so... wrong that his brain refused to accept that this was indeed his daughter.
It was for that reason that Mirabelle's disappearance struck him even harder. But it was also at least a problem he could focus on solving, providing him with a desperately needed occupation.
Elerby sighed in exasperation. "You were not afraid that Jack Sparrow would steal the map, Richard. You said yourself that you had never even heard of him. Yet, ever since you arrived in Port Royale, you've been looking over your shoulder."
The Governor cut of his protest with a short motion of his hand.
"I did not press the matter, because you have been a good friend to me, Richard, but given the circumstances…"
Richard backed up. He had expected the question, of course. Just as he had suspected his brother to knock at his door one day. He had been immeasurably relieved when the Commodore seemed convinced that Jack Sparrow, and not someone else, had been responsible for last night's incident.
He had dared to hope then that his brother had not found him yet. That he was still safe. Nevertheless, the life of his daughter could not possibly be measured against all the gold and diamonds in the world. Now he only feared for Mirabelle's safety and the revenge Robert would bring down on him once his brother caught up to him.
But he had not caught up, yet. Robert had not found him. It was Jack Sparrow who had taken the map and harmed his family. Jack Sparrow and no one else. It had to be. He had to believe that.
"Do you honestly think that I would withhold information from you, when my daughter's life is at stake?" he sputtered.
Governor Swann stared at him for a long moment. "Yes."
Richard's eyes widened in outrage. The fact that Norrington seemed as taken aback by the frankness of Elerby's answer as he was, provided little consolidation for him.
"How dare you!"
"Richard, I've had quiet enough." The Governor insisted, uncommonly stern. "You said it yourself. One of your daughters is dead. And this map has blinded you beyond reason."
He took a deep breath, his expression grim.
"I blame myself. I have known you for years and yet, I refused to see the influence this confounded piece of paper had on you." He grasped Richards by the shoulders. "I implore you, if you have any information that might help the Commodore to find Mirabelle, tell us."
Richard stared at his friend for several moments, incapable to form coherent thought.
"There is nothing to tell. It was Jack Sparrow. The Commodore said so. He saw Jack Sparrow running from the guards. He killed my daughter and took Mirabelle." There was a desperation to his voice that even he could not deny.
Elerby looked at him crestfallen, his eyes full of regret.
"If that's all you have to say, Richard."
Governor Swann rubbed a hand over his tired face. "Very well, then. Would you excuse us, please? The Commodore and I still have a few matters to discuss."
Richard felt the resignation radiating off the Governor. However he was not about to be left out of any discussion concerning his daughter's rescue. "I want to make it perfectly….
Governor Swann interrupted him with a firm voice that allowed no argument. "You WILL be aboard the Pierce, when she leaves the Port. You have my word." Elerby was looking at him, as if he were a stranger.
*Tell them,* a voice whispered in the back of his mind. *Tell them everything. They can help.*
Richard beat that voice down. He could not bare to think that his relation with one of Africa's most feared and notorious pirates could become public knowledge. He could not tell the truth. Not even his wife knew about Robert. He had spent twenty years of his life to bury his past. The shame it would bring down upon his family... The shame that little Mirabelle would have to live with, if the truth was discovered...
*No,* he thought. *I will take that secret to my grave.*
Clenching his teeth, Richard left the study.
* * * * * * *
Several hours earlier. At dawn.
The sun was just breaking over the horizon, its light slowly reclaiming the ground it had lost towards the end of the previous day. The sea was still and quiet around the Rip Tide's hull. Not the slightest breeze disturbed the palm trees on shore.
The Bulldog's gaze swept the vessel's weather deck, the pier and deserted beach from beneath the giant ferns which provided him and his party with sufficient cover. All lay quiet before him, when suddenly a bright light blinded his vision. He flinched, then turned his eyes towards the light's source. His first mate stood on the Rip Tide's quarterdeck letting the sun reflect off a piece of glass.
That was the prearranged signal.
Without a word Robert made for the gangway, knowing that his men would follow him. He could hear Martin struggle with the trashing and wriggling bag on his broad shoulders, but Robert payed no heed. He stepped on board the ship and made straight for his first mate Stevens.
The men behind him dispersed, Martin and Saman taking their guest to her quarters, the remaining men, eager for some wine and sleep, hurried down to the galley.
"What news?" Robert asked without preamble.
Stevens face was grim. "Bad ones." The man gave his Captain a court nod. "The maries searched the whole Port last night."
"That was to be expected."
"Yes, but when they were aboard the Rip Tide a Private joined them, saying that they were to look for a Captain Jack Sparrow."
Robert leaned backwards, his gaze drifting towards the open sea, as something tugged at his memory. "Jack Sparrow?... I'm sure I've heard that name before."
Stevens shrugged. "Doesn't mean anything to me."
Deep in thought Robert rubbed a calloused hand over his chin. "Did they say anything else?"
"No, but we got a letter from our friend." And with those words Stevens handed a charred parchment to his Captain.
The Bulldogs eyes widened as he read the short message. "That blasted woman!" he cursed. Agitated, he started pacing the quarterdeck's limited space. "Why didn't he get a message to us sooner? This Jack Sparrow again. Who is he? How could this happen?"
Stevens looked uncomfortable. "I have no idea, Captain. But I took the liberty to prepare everything for an immediate pursuit of the Emerald Queen. If we leave immediately we can corner her before Cat Cassidy has a chance to leave Tortuga."
Robert, who had been striding across the deck, came to a sudden halt.
"Good man, Stevens. We will set out right away. But the Queen isn't going anywhere. She can't match us for speed. No Steven, we have to go after this Sparrow fellow first. I might not have heard about him, but the Black Perl sure means something to me. She fast, Stevens, very fast. If we don't catch her now, while she is still close by, we might never get close to her again. The sooner I get Sparrow's half of the map, the better."
Shifting from one foot to the other, Stevens nodded. "What about the girl? We don't really need her anymore now."
Robert leaned against the railing his face grim. "There goes a perfectly good plan to ruin," he spat. "If I ever get my hands on that woman..." He turned around, braced his hands along the wooden balustrade and sighed deeply.
"We keep the girl. For now. She might still have her uses. If only her absence causes her father to go mad with worry, then this plan was still good for something."
* * * * * * *
I apologise that it's taking me such a long time to get new chapters out. I hope to have more time once I'm done with my exams.
And a big "Thank You" to everyone who reviewed and encouraged me. It really means a lot and I can't say how much I appreciate it. Thank you.