by Christine Morgan
email@example.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org
Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and used
here without their creators' knowledge or permission. Latin by Tim Morgan
(thanks, love!!!). Mature readers only due to sexual content and violence.
#52 in an ongoing saga.
GURPS Swashbucklers, by Steffan O'Sullivan;
Under the Black Flag -- the Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates,
by David Cordingly.
(Broadway, voice-over) Previously, on Gargoyles ...
From "Tales from the Skiff" --
"You!" Reaper snarled. "This
time, you will die!"
"I doubt it," MacBeth sighed, "but we can hope, can't we?"
"You put the spell on them?" Broadway blurted. "Sure, that makes
sense! You must've had it in for gargoyles ever since Demona, but you're too
noble to kill them --"
"Noble!" Brand's sword sliced through the air. "He hunted us like
"You attacked my town! Killed my wife!" MacBeth shot back.
"Stole our lives from us!" Melusine screeched. "Not death, but strange
waking in a world not our own! Now we have no clan, no ship, no future! And
you, Rogue, will pay!"
Three hundred years
Cannonfire and the cutlass ruled
It was a time of piracy
It was a world of greed
It was the age of ...
Wood by day, warriors by night
Betrayed by the crewmen we were sworn to protect
Frozen in wood by a magic spell
For three hundred years
Now, here in the Caribbean
The spell is broken
And we live again!
Off the coast of the Bahamas
The gentle surf tilted the
mildly this way and that. The sun had
nearly reached the horizon, turning the sky into a pastel dream of pinks, oranges,
and golds. All was an idyllic scene ... except that two of the men aboard the
small vessel were on the verge of a fistfight while a third tried ineffectively to
calm them down.
"They were expecting us at six!" one man shouted. He was very tan,
very fit, looked like he could have stepped right out of a travel agent's brochure.
He thrust his watch into the other man's face. "At six!"
"It's not my fault, Scott!" the other shouted back. He was, if anything,
more tan and fit than his buddy.
"Sirs, sirs, please!" The third man was much younger, eighteen if he
was a day, with gorgeous coffee skin and lush black hair. "I'll fix the boat, and
we're back by nine o'clock."
"Nine!?!" the first man, Scott, gasped. "Are you crazy? I finally get
Dana to come away with me, perfect romantic vacation, she'd give in, finally
give in, and now we're stuck out here in the middle of the frigging ocean!"
"He said he'll fix it --"
"By the time we get back, she'll be in bed with some island stud, just to
spite me! Why did I listen to you anyway? 'Hey, the girls want to go shopping,
what say you and me do a little sport fishing?' You conehead! We didn't even
catch any fish!"
"Sirs, please --" the third man tried again.
"I wouldn't blame Dana if she did," the second man snapped. "You've
been a jerk all day! She knows the only reason you brought her here was to get
into her pants."
Roderigo shook his head and walked away muttering. Let them beat
each other up, then, if that's what they wanted. He was going to take a look at the
He glumly realized that the men would probably want their money
back. First no fish, as if that was his fault, and then the engine dies. If he'd only
listened to his father, who had told him again and again that a sailboat was more
reliable. But no, he'd had to insist that a motor was more reliable than the wind.
When all the while, he'd just liked the motor better, liked being able to speed
across the crystalline waters without having to wrestle with sails and lines.
While he tinkered, he heard the argument continue above, but it seemed
his customers weren't going to start punching after all. Then he heard their
exclamations of surprise, as the dusk brought some fish to the surface. They
would get their catch, at least.
By the time he emerged onto the deck, scrubbing his hands with a rag,
the sky had gone indigo and the sea shimmered beneath the diamond points of
the first stars.
The men seemed to have made their peace, or set aside their grievances
long enough to do some fishing. The peace had been helped by the now mostly
emptied cooler; their fishing hadn't particularly benefited.
"Ready in five minutes?" Roderigo suggested.
"Aw, what's the rush?" Scott said. "Dana's probably already got her legs
wide open." He finished a beer and flipped the bottle over the side.
"Hey, look!" the other man said, peering into the distance. "I see
Roderigo looked, and felt sudden nervousness worm its way into his
heart. Another boat, yes, with an odd shape and no lights except for the uneven
flicker of oil lanterns. Every spooky story he'd heard over the past year came
rushing back. Stories he had discounted at the time. Stories that were easy to
discount while basking in the languid sun, but seemed a lot more plausible in the
"We go now," he declared, rushing to do just that.
"What kind of a boat is that?" Scott wondered aloud. "Bri, do you
"It's a pirate ship!" his buddy laughed in boyish glee. "A pirate ship!"
Although the wind was barely more than a breeze, the ship bore steadily
down on them. It was a schooner in miniature, maybe 1/3 scale of the ones that
had once plied and plundered their way across this part of the sea.
Scott, also laughing, grabbed the spotlight on the Coral's rail and
switched it on, training it on the approaching ship. The figurehead at the prow
was of a woman-shape in regal garb. Letters were painted across the hull in a
style to suggest woodburning edged in gold -- Lady MacBeth, it read.
"Where's the crew?" Bri asked.
Roderigo started the engine but it came on with a protesting cough and
he knew instantly that they were not going to be able to outrun the other ship. He
gave it his best try anyway, nearly throwing his customers overboard with the
shuddering jolt as the Coral leaped forward.
The spotlight escaped Scott's hands and swung crazily across the sky. It
caught and lit a dark, winged shape descending toward them, then the beam of
light tilted down to illuminate nothing but the sea. Fish, mistaking it for the sun,
swam up into the oblong glow.
"Did you see --?" Bri bit off the rest, as if unable to believe he'd seen it
A butterfly of flame unfolded on the Lady MacBeth. No, not a butterfly,
but wings of fire framing a robed body. The man, or angel, or whatever he was,
lofted himself from the deck and drew a blazing sword as he glided near.
Something heavy thudded on the roof of the Coral's cabin. Roderigo,
inside, heard it but couldn't see. He did see, though, the expression of utter terror
on Bri's face.
"You've been boarded!" a deep voice announced.
The fiery one swung his sword, shattering the spotlight. Glass and
charred metal rained hissing into the water. Scott screamed and backpedaled.
"Huh?" Bri said. "Huh? What?"
"Idiot human!" the voice thundered.
Roderigo had a quick impression of feathery black wings, great and
sweeping. A curve of silver whispered through the air. Then Bri was on the deck,
his legs kicking as if he were swimming, his arms clutching spasmodically ... yes,
Bri was on the deck ... in two places on the deck ... he'd been cut in half and in
the moment before life fled him, his eyes met Roderigo's with hellish awareness.
The shape standing over Bri turned to see what the dead man's last sight
had been. Roderigo felt his mouth fall open, heard himself yammering a prayer
he had learned at his grandmother's knee and thought he'd entirely forgotten.
Death stood before him. Death, his skeletal form somehow seeming
awesomely powerful, his hooded face monstrous. He held a scythe, its gleaming
edge now dulled by blood, and his eyes were the white-blue of St. Elmo's fire.
Without pausing for thought, Roderigo slammed through the small door
and raced for the rail. He expected at any moment to see his legs run on ahead of
him as his severed torso toppled like a felled tree, trying to prepare himself for
the swift, awful invasion of that slicing blade.
He saw without caring that the wrathful fire-angel and cornered Scott
and was toying with him, feinting with his blazing sword as if Scott might have a
chance of escape.
Roderigo dove, and felt or imagined the billowing back of his shirt split
by the tip of the scythe. Then he plunged into the cool, silken waters and started
swimming for all he was worth. He'd been swimming since before he could walk,
nobody could outdistance him in the water. He left his boat behind and never
cared if he saw it, or his customers, again.
A shape glided through the depths beneath him. He saw the sleek
fishtail ... the bare breasts ... the long streaming green-gold hair ...
A mermaid? But it couldn't be! His mind was playing tricks on him!
Yet she came closer, propelling herself with fluid ease. A mermaid, the
most beautiful thing he had ever seen! He gasped, forgetting that he was
underwater. His lungs rebelled against the intrusive seawater. He kicked toward
the surface ... then felt a three-fingered, webbed hand close around his ankle.
As she drew him down, the last things he saw were the batlike wings
folded tight against her sides, and the deep turquoise glow of her eyes.
"No offense, Uncle Brendan,
but this is more boring than a seminar on
"So much for next weekend's outing."
Her boisterous laugh at his deadpan reply turned many heads in her
direction. Birdie Yale, center of attention yet again. Dressed, as usual, in
typically eye-popping style: amethyst-colored tube dress belted with a silver
chain, black tights, black jacket, low black boots with clunky soles.
The New York Conference on History and Archaeology was in full
swing. The hotel's meeting rooms were packed with seminars on everything from
Incan pottery to Native American medicine to African folklore.
"Should be Elisa here instead of me," Birdie remarked, studying the list.
"She's experienced most of this stuff first-hand."
"Uh-huh," Brendan said, rising on his toes to peer over the crowd in the
large ballroom, which had been converted into a dealer's hall where a display of
yellowed maps might be flanked on one side by Roman coins and on the other by
reproductions of cave paintings.
Most of the attendees were as dry, dusty, or mummified as the artifacts
they studied. Elderly professors whose hands were permanently bleached with
chalkdust. Aged adventurers whose strong chins and manly chests had softened
over the years. Here and there, college students who hungered for a time when
the world had been full of mystery and challenge, a simpler era when instead of
clear-cutting the rain forest, brave men explored and found hidden temples,
Yep, all that ... and her and Brendan. But Brendan even qualified in a
half-assed sort of way; his grandfather had been an explorer and he himself had
been on a thrills-and-chills vacation with Broadway and Elektra. So he fit in.
Which left her.
"Why'd you want to come, anyway?" Brendan sank back to his feet with
a look of disappointment.
"Fergs asked me to check it out," Birdie said. "She would have come
herself, but a.) it's daytime and b.) she still hasn't gotten the knack of illusions on
film. Her dad's birthday is coming up and she wants to find him some moldy
oldie from the Middle Ages."
"I certainly hope you're not talking about me," a voice said behind her.
Birdie smiled and turned. She'd know those drop-dead-sexy inflections
anyplace. "Heya, Prof!"
"Good afternoon, Miss Yale, Mr. Vandermere."
"Professor MacDuff," Brendan said, shaking his hand.
"So what's this about moldy oldies?" he demanded with a teasing glint
in his eye.
"Oh, I wasn't talking about you," Birdie assured him. "If Fergs gave you
to her dad for a birthday present, I'd never speak to her again!"
He gave her a look as if to ask 'and what is that supposed to mean,' so
she fired one right back that said 'what do you think it means,' with a little
extra smolder. Nothing like some nice safe flirting for a lost cause.
"Are you speaking on any of the panels?" Brendan asked.
"Tomorrow at three," MacBeth said. "The effects of gunpowder on
warfare, downfall of the era of castles, that sort of thing. Yourself?"
"Just ... looking around, mostly," Brendan said.
Birdie smirked, knowing full well why he was here. "So, Prof, see
anything you like?" Turn the smolder a little higher ...
"A few exhibits have caught my eye," he said, either low and
insinuating on purpose or she was reading too much into it ... no, she was
definitely reading too much into it, wishful thinking, anybody? "But at the
moment, I was on my way to lunch. Would either of you care to join me?"
"We'd be delighted," Brendan said, and Birdie could have stepped on
his foot, whaddaya mean we?
The hotel pub was called Canterbury's, and they were between the noon
and dinner rushes. The decor was heavy on the dark oak, going for the country-
squire-fox-hunting motif. Maroon leather chairs with about a bazillion brass
nubbies punched into the backs. Slightly schmaltzy faux-history that probably
annoyed the living hell out of 80% of the conference guests.
MacBeth took the booth side, while Birdie and Brendan sat opposite
him in those leather-and-nubby chairs. The menus transcended shmaltz, with
theme names taken from the Canterbury Tales. The Miller, the Wife of Bath ...
"I can't believe they carded me!" Birdie groaned in chagrin as the
waitress left with their order.
"Compared to most of the people they've been seeing all day, you're just
a baby," Brendan said.
To change the subject, Birdie filled MacBeth in on the latest Aerie
Building news. Things had been fairly quiet since Alex's accidental trip to a
world that sounded suspiciously like one she'd read about in a novel two years
ago. Goliath doted on baby Amber to the point that Angela was starting to get
her feathers ruffled, not that she'd ever admit it, of course. Elisa had been getting
threatening letters from some crackpot. Xanatos had been busy with Illuminati
stuff, Owen's kids had spent some time in the castle. That was about it.
"And you? Keeping busy? Out of trouble?"
Brendan chuckled into his wineglass. "Half her friends call her Jail Bird
"Watch it," she warned her uncle. To MacBeth, she said, "Trouble?
"Tell him about your audition," Brendan said.
"Oh, God." She rolled her eyes.
"Audition?" MacBeth prompted.
"I wasn't even there to audition," Birdie said. "I was just tagging along
as moral support for Jeff Morton, do you remember him? I didn't say a word!
But the director took one look at me and said I was perfect."
"You don't seem very pleased."
"I'm an actress, dammit! I want to act! They cast me as Rizzo!"
It took MacBeth a moment, but then he started to laugh, and Brendan
"Yeah, yeah, very funny," Birdie grumbled.
"I'm sorry, Birdie," Brendan said, "but I just couldn't see you as Sandy.
Your friend Aiden, maybe ..."
"Oh, now, that'd be something," MacBeth said. "A gargoyle version of
"I could so do Sandy!" Birdie protested.
"The final scene, maybe," Brendan allowed.
"What, where she's a slut?" Birdie plucked the festooned toothpick
from her sandwich, put it in her straw, and aimed it like a blowgun. "The 'tell me
about it, stud,' scene? Is that what you meant, uncle dear? Think before you
speak, now ..."
"I'm sure you'll do splendidly, whatever the role," MacBeth said.
"Thank you, professor," she said regally, putting down the straw. "It is
nice to know that someone has confidence in me." She saw him grin, saw his
struggle, and added, "Just leave it at that, okay? Whatever you were going to say
about how they should do a movie based on Madonna's life or something, just let
it go. Deal?"
"Deal." They shook on it.
It was Brendan's turn to change the subject, so he showed off his find
from the dealer's hall, a fragment of an urn that showed the little-known Egyptian
goddess Kal-Tet. That turned into a lively recounting of his trip there.
"Is he embellishing?" MacBeth leaned over to ask Birdie in an
undertone at one point.
"I know it sounds like one of those cliffhanger shows, but according to
Broadway and Elektra, that's really how it happened. Of course, they were
sleeping for most of it ... "
Brendan, oblivious, went on. Dakota this and Dakota that, until it
passed endearing and went straight to annoying.
And then, like timing from heaven, an announcement filtered in from
the conference desk over the hotel sound system, that there had been a change in
the schedule and the seminar on 3rd Dynasty Egypt would be taking place in
fifteen minutes in the Ames Room, and due to a cancellation, Professor Henry
Jones, Jr., would be joined by his granddaughter, esteemed Egyptologist --
The fastest excuse-me-gotta-go-nice-seeing-you that Birdie had ever
heard came rapid-fire out of Brendan's mouth. He nearly smacked her in the face
throwing her his Gold Card to cover lunch, and was out the door so fast he
nearly left flaming treads like a cartoon character.
"I do believe your uncle is in love," MacBeth said once Brendan was
out of earshot.
"I guess she made a hell of an impression. It's about time, though. He
and Aunt Margot were never really what I'd call romantic. Not sure exactly
what I'd call it, but it's over now so it doesn't matter. She's Castaway's cuddle-
"All of this must be very difficult for your family," he said.
"Yeah, well, life's not a weenie roast," she said. "The weirdest part is
that Chas and I both like Brendan a lot better now, but he's not really our uncle
anymore. We get stuck with Aunt Margot as a blood relative. Ugh."
MacBeth shook his head resignedly. "One cannot choose one's kin."
"Good thing, too, or I'd be on my own!"
"That would be a shame. No one should be alone." He peered into the
depths of his glass somberly.
"You're not getting depressed on me, are you?" Birdie chided. "Are you
one of those mopey drunks?"
"I'm hardly drunk, nor am I mopey. I was merely making an
observation. Your uncle is most fortunate to have found someone to capture his
heart. I wish them the best of luck. Love is a treasured thing; to live without it is
"And you say you're not mopey?"
"Perhaps I am," he admitted. "Or envious."
"What happened with that woman from the pirate place? Broadway told
me he thought you two really hit it off." Lucky thing, lucky, lucky thing!
He sighed. "Lynne ... a charming, elegant woman. My mistake was in
being honest with her. I told her everything, right from the start so that there
would be no surprises later. It was more than she could take. Not at first, but it
grew on her. The knowledge that I had lived so long, done so much, would
remain forever unchanged. That I was unlike everyone else. It disturbed her so
that the only thing we could do was end our acquaintance. I'd dared to let myself
hope again, and once again it came to nothing."
"Maybe you're looking for the wrong things in a relationship," Birdie
"And what do you mean by that?"
"Well ... what are you looking for? You seem too hung up on this
lifespan thing. Why not just enjoy what you've got while you have it?"
"I do not like dishonesty in matters of intimacy. How could I love a
woman while keeping such a truth from her? Yet the knowing of that truth erects
a wall of difference."
Birdie mulled it over. "One -- you could find someone who doesn't care
about that. So you're immortal? So what?"
"So what?!?" he echoed, clearly appalled. "So what? I have lived for a
thousand years! I have seen and experienced things no one alive today will ever
know outside of a history book!"
"Yeah ... your point?"
"It has a tendency to upset people when they learn that."
"Exactly, so you find someone who doesn't freak out."
"Mmm-hmm," he said, unconvinced. "And your second choice?"
"Just get laid."
He'd made the error of lifting his glass and very nearly sprayed a
shocked mouthful of beer. "What?!"
"Quit being all long-term about it and just get laid. You get so wrapped
up in thinking that she'll get old and die while you remain how you are, so you're
already doing the grief and loss thing before you've even gotten started. Forget
about what'll happen in fifty or twenty years. Carpe diem, for crying out loud!"
"I don't think of myself as the sort of man who would indulge in a
casual affair," he said, drawing himself up proudly.
"Didn't you ever, in all those centuries, tumble a wench or something?"
"That's hardly the same."
"Not to mention greatly frowned upon in this day and age. Wenches are
no more. Respectable women expect, with good right and reason, something
more than a single night, and whores are illegal."
She laughed again. "So find someone in between!"
"Your counsel is thought-worthy --"
"Oh, stop, that's the same tone of voice you used in the classroom when
you thought your students were so full of crap they squeaked."
"This is why you never made the Sterling Academy Debate Team," he
"I was robbed; I would have been great at it!"
"I witnessed the tryouts. You flipped off the opposition. With both
hands. And a raspberry."
"I was trying to make a point."
"You certainly did. Two alumni fainted and your friend Aiden very
nearly joined them."
She tossed her head, the burgundy blaze at the front of her mass of
black curls bouncing across her line of sight. "It could have been worse."
"I'm well aware of that."
What she was going to say next was drowned out as two college-age
guys passed behind her, half-drunk and pretending to spar. One of them tripped
on the leg of her chair, blundered into his friend, and they came to a discordant
"Hey!" the one who had tripped shouted. "How about moving your fat
ass out of the aisle?"
MacBeth had him by the shirtfront before the punk even realized the
older man had gotten up. "That's no way to speak to a lady."
"Come on, lay off!" protested the punk's pal apologetically, a little less
drunk and with keener animal instincts that let him see MacBeth not as a grey-
haired old fart but as a powerfully-built warrior of excellent reflexes.
"Don't break him, okay?" Birdie said nonchalantly. "He's too 'faced to
"I'd be fine if your fat ass wasn't blocking the aisle!" the punk, Mr. One-
Track Insult, spat. He threw in, "Bitch!" for good measure
Birdie then started as if she realized he was speaking to her, and
whirled around with an innocent look. An innocent look, hand curled over her
mouth in a pose of astonishment, and one elbow raised so that the pointy wedge
of bone whammed squarely into the fly of the punk's jeans.
"Oh, was I in your way?" she inquired all breathy and wide-eyed.
"Hhhoargh!" the punk groaned.
"Maybe I'd better just sit someplace else," Birdie continued, pushing
hard away from the table. The back of the chair collided smartly with his already
MacBeth released him, and the man duck-walked backward with his
His friend grabbed him by the shoulders while those around them
snickered. "Come on, Randy. Let's get out of here."
"Uuuurgh," Randy agreed.
Birdie abandoned her chair and slid into the booth. "That was very
gallant," she said.
"They had no right to treat you in that manner."
"Well ... I do have a fat ass," she said, shrugging. "It's not like he was
totally out of line."
"Nonsense," he said sharply. "You have a lovely figure. You forget, it's
only within the past century that women such as that --" here he jerked his head
toward a pair of model-types lounging artfully by the bar, "-- have come to be
considered attractive. Throughout most of history, beauty such as yours was the
"You shouldn't tell me things like that."
"Because," she said, sliding around the curve of the table to sit closer to
him, "it might make me think I have a chance."
He chuckled. "I'm afraid you're much too young for me."
That one caught him without a ready reply, as she thought it might.
"I already know your secret," she added. "Doesn't bother me at all. My
best friend is a spell-chucking gargoyle, remember, and my roommate is part
Still speechless, he only stared at her.
"And maybe there is a wench or two left in the world," she concluded
with a wink.
"I'm beginning to think you've seduction in mind."
"What gave me away?"
"Your hand on my thigh, for one."
She looked down in apparent surprise. "Oh, mercy, how did that get
there?" She retrieved it, spanked it briskly with the fingers of her other hand.
"Bad Birdie! Bad!"
"I'm relieved to see you have some sense of propriety."
"No, I meant to put it higher."
"Did you," he said evenly.
"Shall I demonstrate?" She knew the devil-may-care look was dancing
in her brown eyes, making him wonder and worry that she would do it, would do
that and more, right here in this dimly-lit little bar with sixty or more people in
"Not here." He spoke with decisiveness, rising and pulling on his long
Astonished, it was her turn to stare. "What?"
"Not here." He pulled her to her feet.
"Are you serious?" Her mind was whirling. Did he think he was calling
a bluff? Or did he really mean it?
"Aren't you?" He fixed her with a steely gaze that said he didn't
appreciated teasing wenchly games, that in his view, a man or a woman should
say what they mean and stick to it.
"Yeah, but I never thought ..." she shook her head smartly, took a deep
gasp, and recovered. "Well. Let's go."
"More of this useless parchment,"
Reaper said scornfully, flinging a
wad of money into the barrel. "What a world we've awakened in!"
Melusine poked through the glittering pile of jewelry. "Even their gold
is thinned with base metals, and many of these gems are imitation."
"But spices!" Brand said, holding up one container after another.
"Pepper, cinnamon, ginger, so plentiful!"
"I like the toys," Imp piped up. One of their most recent victories had
been against a houseboat, which had yielded the chest of fanciful childrens'
Reaper looked down fondly at his son. It was lonely for Imp with no
other hatchlings, but the playthings delighted him and kept him busy. Chimera
was as always a dutiful caretaker, better than many other gargoyle beasts Reaper
had known because Chimera's three heads let him keep an eye on every possible
avenue of mischief.
"Yes, the food is much better in this time," Melusine agreed. "No more
hardtack, or salt pork. These humans live as kings at table."
"Food will feed our clan, but what of gold?" Reaper said. "As we once
took sails, we now take fuel drums ... but what of bolts of silk, kegs of rum,
slaves, cotton, tobacco?"
"What would we do with them?" Brand asked. "Where would we sell
such plunder? The world has changed, Reaper. The pirate havens of old are long
"Those we meet see us even more as monsters now than ever,"
"Aye, that fear and their weakness mean that with only three warriors,
we can seize entire ships, but for what?" Reaper picked up a gun. "Even the
weapons we seize are small and feeble! I cannot fit my smallest claw to pull the
trigger. We've not seen a cutlass or a saber all this year! That place we awakened
was a stage for playacting nonsense; the weapons aboard our ship were as much
for false show as the ship herself!"
"What else are we to do?" Melusine asked. "This is our purpose, what
we know, all we have. We've a ship, we've each other, we've the wide seas to call
our own. Better this, even if the gold is thinned and the weapons are strange,
than to be frozen again in wood. Better this than to join with those other
gargoyles we saw, the fat one and the frail one who were allies with our old foe."
"She was not so frail," Brand murmured with a lecherous smile.
"Can't we find pirate men?" Imp asked, clinging to Reaper's leg and
peering up at him with large wistful eyes. "Like before?"
"I will not ally with humans again," Reaper declared. "The rest of our
clan paid the ultimate price."
"Captain Tate would not have willingly let us come to harm," Melusine
said. "You know he was in Vera Cruz when it happened."
"His place was on his ship, not in his mistress' bed," Brand said. "For
all we know, he could have had foreknowledge of the attack and let us go to our
"We'll never know; he and all his crew are fish-food long since."
Reaper sighed. "No, we cannot trust the humans. We cannot trust other
gargoyles. We have only ourselves."
Melusine rose, balancing on her tail, and undulated to him. "At least
that, my love. At least that."
He gazed into her turquoise eyes. "I promised you a ship of gold, my
angel of the deep. This cavern is not much of a dream come true."
"It is home," she told him, opening her arms to include the cavern with
its clutter of furnishings gleaned from plundered pleasure boats. At one end, an
opening was veiled by the moonlit sparkle of the waterfall that cascaded from the
height of Veradoga Point. At the back of the cave was a steeply sloped tunnel
that wound down to the concealed seacave where the Lady MacBeth was
moored. "Where the five of us can be together, it is home."
"Yes." He embraced her, but even her warmth and the glory of her hair
could not entirely turn his thoughts from the time that had been, when their clan
was strong and the Wyvern ruled the seas ...
Belize, on the Gulf of Honduras
The sun slipped below the
horizon, and the pirate galleon Wyvern was
filled with the sound of splintering wood. An observer might have first thought
that the ship itself was coming apart under some unimaginable stress, until that
observer chanced to look upon the dozens of wooden figures that lined her sides.
Wood split, falling away in scrap and sawdust, revealing living bodies
beneath. The figures stretched and moved, their eyes coming alight in white-blue
or blazing turquoise. Wings began unfolding, wings like those of angels or
dragons, bats or birds of prey.
Reaper roared as he cast off his wooden skin and welcomed the rush of
the sea air through his dusky black feathers, over his dark-and-pale patterned
skin that gave him the appearance of a skeletal nightmare. Gripping his scythe,
he dove from the prow and swooped in a soaring arc to join the rest of his clan as
they glided around the masts and sails.
As always, their first matter of business was to scan the horizons for
enemy ships. Nary a one this night, neither plump barque laden with sugar and
rum nor hunter's vessel bent on scouring the seas clean of pirates.
The newest additions to the crew stared upward in awe and dread as the
gargoyles descended to the deck. A few began babbling prayers but were quickly
silenced by clouts from more senior crewmen.
"They're na demons, ye squealing, squalling nancies!" Sharkey scolded.
"Na the wrath o' God come ta punish ye for yar sins, less'n thar be a man among
ye what's been given over to buggery!" He laughed and pointed at Reaper's
scythe. "If so, thar's the answer for ye!"
Reaper turned toward the old sailor. "What news?"
Sharkey spat over the rail. "Gah. Yon fool --" he jerked a thumb in the
direction of the captain's cabin, "-- be bent on plotting a course for the Red Sea."
"Why?" Brand demanded. Reaper's rookery brother was fiery by both
appearance and nature, the brightness of his wings dictating the intensity of his
mood, and now they flickered red and gold. "Why sail so far when there's wealth
aplenty to be had here?"
"The talk of John Avery's what's done it," Sharkey explained. "Every
man-jack worth his powder's heard tell o' his prize. The Great Mogul's daughter
to ransom? Shares of a thousand pound? Aye, who'd not be thinking o' trying his
luck against the pilgrim fleets? Including our own captain. The English and
Spanish have gone and put a scare into him, that they have. He's thinking the Red
Sea sounds much more to his liking."
"Aye, 'tis gone bad, here," the first mate said, overhearing. "Port
Royal's gone, sunk into the sea, and we'd all do well to set sail for the heathen
lands. It's raiding the Christians what's done it. Talk o' God's wrath, Sharkey,
look on Port Royal!"
"Our clan has sailed these islands for two centuries!" Reaper said. "We
know every beach, every cove, every sandbar! Why should we abandon our
"Ye'll go whar the cap'n sails ya." Fat Jim's gap-toothed grin was
anything but friendly. "Ye're no better'n a mast or a cannon. Whar the Wyvern
goes, so go ye."
Reaper turned slowly to the round-bellied carpenter. "No better than a
mast or cannon?"
"Here, now!" Sharkey interposed himself between them. "Jim, ye'd do
well to mind yer manners. Carpenter ye may be, but na worth yer weight in
"That'd be a pile of doubloons indeed," Scylla, one of Reaper's rookery
sisters, muttered snidely.
"I will speak to the captain," Reaper decided.
"Yes, tell him we cannot make such a long and dangerous journey
now!" Melusine said. "My sisters and I plan a breeding season soon!"
"Thar's all we need," Fat Jim said. "The best hold taken up with yer
mess o' straw and eggs."
"I've told ye once, Jim!" Sharkey said. "Again and I'll take a belaying
pin to ye, so help me!"
Scowling, the carpenter hauled himself upright and began lurching
away on the wooden foot that replaced the one he'd lost off Nassau.
"I don't trust that man," Brand said. "I don't trust him not to come at us
with his carving tools one day."
"Captain Santiago would never allow it," Melusine said. "He is a good
"A good man, but a frightened man," Scylla said. "British warships
everywhere like ticks on a dog, not to mention the Spaniards! Is it any wonder
Santiago's thinking of far seas?"
"I will speak to him," Reaper said again, and strode purposefully to the
door of the captain's cabin. He knocked and opened it without waiting for a
Within, Enrique Santiago was bent over his table, where maps of the
Indian Ocean were held in place with brass clamps. As befitted his alleged status
as an exiled Spanish nobleman, he wore a crimson damask coat and a ruffled
shirt, and his black hair was pulled back in neat waves to be caught in a ponytail
with a red ribbon.
"How sounds Zanzibar, Reaper?" he asked without looking up. "Or
does Mogadishu better strike your fancy?"
"Portobello," Reaper countered. "Or Cartagena."
A grimace crossed Santiago's face. "The Caribbean is not as welcoming
as once she was."
"When have we ever been welcome? When has the black flag ever been
greeted with joy?"
"There are better prizes to be had --"
"You've lost your spine. You flee like a coward at the first sign of
danger. All it's taken is one whisper of that Scotsman --"
"Better a lost spine than a lost head," Santiago said sharply. "And you
should heed those whispers, my friend, because they tell me that the Scottish
Rogue, as they call him on Hispaniola, knows your kind and has no love for
"Show me a man who does." Reaper crossed his arms and looked down
on Santiago -- no mean feat, for the Spaniard towered above most men and many
gargoyles. "My clan will not forsake their home for fear of some would-be pirate
Santiago pinched the bridge of his nose as if his head pained him. "This
Moray is no normal man, from what I've heard."
"I suppose they say he can catch musket balls in his teeth and spit them
back with the force of a cannon," Reaper said with contempt. "My clan do not
wish to leave."
"Who captains this ship?" Santiago, out of patience, snapped.
"Whoever the crew chooses," Reaper replied. "You know as well as I
that they choose a man both bold and ruthless. If you'd keep your crew and your
ship, then you'd do well to keep that in mind. It's been weeks since we've taken a
ship, months since we've sacked a town. You can't think these men will follow
you all the way to the Indian Ocean with no victory to feed the fire in their
"I will not linger here to be slaughtered! I have a wife and son in
Tortuga to think of!"
"Then take another ship! Leave the Wyvern --"
"To another captain, whoever that may be. I have seen six captains
come and go, and the leader before me knew close to twenty. You humans come
and go. Only our clan remains constant."
Santiago crossed to the porthole and stood staring out at the moonlit
verdant hills that rose above Belize. Reaper fell silent and let him think.
"Very well," Santiago finally said. "We'll find a good prize ship, seize
her, and those of the crew who wish to stay behind may do so with my blessing.
We'll divide our plunder and go our separate ways."
Reaper inclined his cowled head, grimly satisfied, and went back on
deck to give his clan the news.
Excerpt from a letter to Albert Barker
From his brother Henry, a passenger aboard the Marie Jeanette
August 14th, 1698
The crew did not seem to
expect an attack by night, but they chose the
brave and foolish course of rallying to fight back. I was wakened by the shouting
and came onto the deck to see the pirate vessel Wyvern bearing down on us.
There were gargoyles flying vanguard, and a more ferocious and
horrible sight I thought never to see -- this was yet before I witnessed the
atrocities committed upon the crew for the crime of their resistance.
It is said that pirates do these hideous deeds to create a terrifying image,
and from what I saw that hellish night, it is an image well-deserved. To those
who surrender without a fight, more leniency is accorded, or so I have heard,
because the pirates wish quick victories.
The crewmen, and I fault them not for this, concentrated their fire upon
the gargoyles in their raw panic. But the demonic things avoided and evaded
with what seemed to me scornful ease, and in the meanwhile, the Wyvern drew
close and allowed the pirates to swarm aboard our decks.
That show of defiance had doomed the crew. The pirates fell upon
them, and soon the air was filled with the stink of black powder, smoke, and
blood. Those who resisted were given brutal beatings, then hacked with cutlasses
and thrown, many yet conscious and screaming, into the sea.
I thank God my dear Margaret had not accompanied me, for the
indecent molestations accorded to the wife of one Andrews are too horrid to
relate, and Andrews himself in trying to defend her was punished by having the
heart cut from his breast, soaked in spirits (of which I believe rum was chief
among them), and then devoured by a many-headed serpentine monster which
accompanied the gargoyles.
Our captain, wounded but unbowed even in the face of all these terrible
acts, refused to divulge the whereabouts and nature of the ship's cargo and
treasures. For this, he was subjected to a torture I was later to learn is called
'woolding,' in which a length of cord was wrapped about his head and twisted
until the eyes burst from his skull.
Six other passengers and I were spared any harm, once we had turned
over all that we had of value. Of the crew, the surgeon's mate and the carpenter
were forced to sign Articles agreeing to join the pirates, three others willingly
petitioned to join, and the rest were killed with cutlasses and knives the better to
The pirates then seized control of the Marie Jeanette, and spent two
days ransacking the ship from end to end. The fate of myself and my fellow
survivors was not yet determined, but as the pirates grew more drunken and
high-spirited, taking to wasting the gunpowder they had only two days ago
sought to save by firing on gulls and other seabirds, we began to fear for our
"Oh! Oh, now! Now!" Birdie
tugged on MacBeth's hair, gently at first,
then with more insistence as he did not quit but kept on with what he was doing.
"Now! Oh! I can't stand it!"
At that, he did raise his head, but only long enough to look at her with a
bemused smile. "Young people today have no patience. Is nothing worth waiting
"I'm going crazy!" she informed him.
He slowly ran his tongue along the inside of her thigh, his beard
brushing like soft plush against her skin. Then he slid both hands beneath her
buttocks and lifted her hips, resuming his diligent efforts, until Birdie really
did think she was going to lose her mind.
Most of the other guys she'd been with seemed to take increased
excitement as a cue to fixate harder-and-faster attention, not realizing that too
much direct stimulation quickly sent many women right over the narrow line
dividing extreme pleasure from extreme discomfort. MacBeth knew better. Oh,
did he ever know better!
Several minutes later, when she could move her legs again and the
tremors had dwindled to occasional little twitches, she rolled onto her side and
looked at him. He'd moved up to rest beside her as she recovered, and only the
stiffness prodding her hip betrayed his own state.
Now she reached down and caressed him. He was uncircumcised, which
shouldn't have surprised her but did, leaving her feeling silly for being surprised
in the first place -- of course he wasn't; they didn't do that in early 11th-
century Scotland ...
Besides, she'd discovered that although it looked different flaccid (not
that she'd seen it that way for very long, a fact of which she was quite proud), it
sure didn't seem to matter once it was a fine upstanding citizen.
And, really, given whose it was, she probably wouldn't have cared if
it was painted purple or shaped like a curlicue ... well, she would have cared
but it still wouldn't have mattered all that much. This was MacBeth, MacBeth
naked, naked and in bed with her; to hell with everything else!
Luckily, though, it wasn't purple (a tad rosy at the tip, was all) and
not at all curlicued, just the right length and thickness. If there had been a
contest, the blue ribbon would have been all his.
That reminded her of a bawdy song, and that made her laugh.
Generally, laughing while gripping a man's erection is an automatic trip
to Shrivel-Town, but that applied only to insecure guys and not to supremely
confident immortal kings. He just hoisted an eyebrow at her and invited her to
share the joke.
"There's a song, I can't remember how it goes, called The Sleeping
Scotsman," she said. "This Scotsman is going home drunk and passes out under
a tree, and two girls walk by ... I do remember that part. See yon sleeping
Scotsman, so fair and handsome built, I wonder if it's true what they don't wear
beneath their kilt. So they hike his kilt for a look, then tie a ribbon around it as a
joke. The Scotsman wakes up later, has to pee, so ..."
MacBeth sang the rest. "He marveled for a moment at the sight before
his eyes, and said, Lad, I don't know where ye've been --"
Birdie joined in, "But I see ye've won first prize!"
"I'm flattered," he said when they were done laughing together.
"Though I don't wear a kilt."
"That's okay; I like what you're wearing now."
"I can think of something I'd like to try on."
"I'm sure it'll fit."
"Shall we find out?"
Later, much later, Birdie was fairly sure she wouldn't be able to stand
steadily for an hour or more, and would probably have a smile on her face for
the rest of the year at least.
She curled against him with her head resting on his chest, crisp grey
hair tickling her cheek, the rhythm of his heartbeat beneath her ear. She couldn't
get over how at ease with each other they were, but knew that to talk about it
would be to ruin it, so she just basked in the utter companionable comfort.
"Older men," she eventually murmured.
"Hmm?" MacBeth replied from what sounded like the threshold of
sleep -- usually, she found that annoying as all hell, that men were poof! out of
energy and ready for naptime right after, but hey, he had earned it!
"Older men," she said a little bit louder. "Guys my age don't know what
"Is that so?" Amused now. "Well, as we noted before, you won't find
many as old as me."
"Does that mean you're the best ever?"
He gave her bottom a friendly squeeze. "I would never come right out
and say such a thing."
"Oooh, and he's modest, too!" she teased.
"So then, what is the problem with men your age?"
She blew through her teeth, making a pffff sound. "Seems like they
think they can learn everything they need to know from a porno movie. I can't
speak for every woman in the world, but I for one know that there are some parts
of my body I don't want yanked on, jackhammered into, or eja --" she bit off
what she was about to say; too crude. "And I sure as hell wouldn't want to be
trying to balance on a barstool with my legs in the air."
"A spinal injury waiting to happen," he agreed.
"Though probably a damn good abs workout," she said.
"I assure you, even before such movies were commonplace, many men
held very foolish ideas about what a woman liked. Those men that even gave a
damn, that is."
"Right, our male-dominated history; a man's pleasure is in the act, a
woman's is in raising the resulting kiddies. A real lady wouldn't be allowed to
enjoy herself, would she?"
"Hence the wenches," he said with a grin. "Wenches were free to enjoy
a good tumble."
"And we're back to wenches. So, do I qualify?"
"You would have made a fine wench."
"Have you known many?"
He chuckled. A bit self-consciously, she thought.
"Aw, come on, do you think I'm easily shocked?" she wheedled. "I
heard you used to be a pirate, so there must have been wenches aplenty --"
"I was a pirate hunter," he interrupted to stress.
"How'd you become a pirate hunter, anyway?"
"Well, first," he admitted, "I _was_ a pirate ... "
"Every woman's fantasy," she grinned.
"Oh, no," he said seriously. "It was not like that at all. The romantic
ideal of the swashbuckling rogue was fictionalized even in those days, but the
truth was ruthless, brutal, and vicious."
He was wide awake now, arms behind his head as he gazed up at the
ceiling and the sheet bunched just above his waist. The posture put his well-
defined pecs on gorgeous display, but Birdie kept her hands to herself (for the
time being, at any rate). His eyes had taken on a faraway look, remembering
those wild events of three centuries past.
"I left London in the early 1600's," he said. "Following the death of
Elizabeth, England lost much of its charm for me. She was a great lady, and
although we'd had our differences, I, like many of her courtiers, loved her well.
But there were beginning to be a few too many questions about Lord Moray,
who'd come to Elizabeth's court thirty years earlier. So, I began a period of travel
that would take me first to France --"
"Musketeer France?" Birdie interjected.
He nodded. "An era also greatly glamorized today. Eventually, I set sail
for the colonies. I lived many years in Charleston before deciding to return to
Europe. A few weeks out of port, our ship was attacked and all able-bodied men
were given the choice to sign the Articles or be tortured for the amusement of the
"Oh, very. That particular lot was made up of some of the most
inventively cruel people it has ever been my misfortune to meet, and that is
coming from a man who spent centuries in pursuit of Demona."
"So you joined up ... sure, it's not like they could kill you, but pain still
"Right. And given that pirates are superstitious by nature, had they
noticed the rate at which my wounds mended themselves, they might have
decided I was some unnatural creature. I didn't relish the idea of being burned
alive in an attempt to sear the devils from my flesh. So I signed their Articles,
joined their crew. And to my surprise, I found that many aspects of that life
"Travel, adventure, nobody staying around long enough to start
wondering why you weren't getting any older ..."
"In time, I got a ship of my own, a letter of marque from Louis XIV,
and a good stout-hearted crew. Now they call it the Golden Age of piracy, and I
suppose it was. We were with Henry Morgan at the sack of Panama in 1671, but
my greatest prize and my greatest folly would come several years later ..."
Off the Spanish Main
"The vows men make when drunk,"
the man going by the name Lennox
Moray said, shaking his head ruefully.
"It were a grand funeral," Tag said. "Every ship's gun in Port Royal
harbor all firing in salute. His wife wept, I heard."
"You speak fondly of him for a lad who was a babe in arms when
Panama was burning to the ground," Moray said.
"I'm eighteen now, hardly a lad," Tag pointed out. "And what was
Panama to me? You raised me. No town is my home, but the wide and rolling
What good would it do to tell the youth how it had been in those final
violent days? The assault on Panama had been a lengthy and grueling process
indeed, from the costly battle at San Lorenzo to the overland trek through the
jungle to the disappointing and deadly findings in Panama itself.
They'd overrun Don Juan Perez de Guzman's army, leaving better than
five hundred men dead or dying at a cost of only fifteen of their own, but the
determined Don Juan had made sure the pirates would have little to show for
their victory. The city's wealth had been loaded onto ships and spirited away, the
houses rigged with barrels of gunpowder.
Moray closed his eyes briefly, still seeing the grisly aftermath although
more than seventeen years had passed. The furious buccaneers, running from
house to house searching for gold, while the city burned around them. They'd
even raided the outlying villages and islands, savagely torturing the inhabitants
to get them to reveal where they had hidden their money.
Tag's mother had been one of those unlucky villagers. When beating
failed to gain her cooperation (in the eyes of her attackers, anyway; they would
later find that she could not tell them where any gold was for she had none), they
threatened to slaughter her infant son before her very eyes.
Unable to stand a drop more of bloodshed, Moray had intervened. The
woman died from the extent of her injuries, and with her dying breath had
exhorted him to look after her son.
Now Tag was grown tall and strong, and on occasion reminded Moray
forcibly of his own son, although there was no resemblance between them. Tag
was dark, quick as a whip, and given to poetic flights of fancy, quite unlike the
"It is the end of an era," Moray said. "Morgan's death will bring many
"Seems a strange way to honor his memory," Tag said. "Didn't he spend
the past half-score years hunting pirates? Yet here we are, lying in wait for a
likely fat merchantman."
"That's what I meant -- the vows men make when drunk. To recapture
Morgan's glory days and sack some Spanish silver."
"Aye, and give it all over to the French, like as not," Bosun Guthrie,
lounging indolently by the helm, said sourly.
"The men will have their shares," Moray told him.
"Shares or no, ye're treating them like they signed on with the Royal
Navy. Rules and drills ... why, there's some what say ye'll be having us in
uniform before much longer."
"It has been my experience that the better disciplined a crew, the more
profitable their endeavors."
Guthrie's expression suggested that he'd heard this particular line of
reasoning many a time before, and was less impressed with it upon each
repetition. But he chose to say nothing, settling for fishing out his tobacco
Three days later, a sail was sighted. The Saunders, a barque leaving
Puerto Cabello. She was riding low, her hold likely brimming with provisions
Under the pretense of hailing for news, Moray had the Fleance close to
a short distance before hoisting the black flag.
Surrender at once, that flag proclaimed.
Immediately, the captain of the Saunders tried to bring his ship around
Now that the chase was underway, Moray's growing doubts fell away
from him and he barked orders sharply. His men swarmed to obey -- when
plunder was at hand, they didn't complain about discipline; it was only during
those long becalmed days when the air hung still and humid that laziness spurred
The black flag came down and the red was raised. The Saunders had
had her chance at peaceable surrender and declined.
Riding low, yes, of course she was riding low! The Saunders swung
about and revealed a design of shipbuilding Moray had never seen before, three
ranks of cannon ports, so that the entire side of the ship was pocked with black
He barely had time to shout a warning before the cannons roared. The
angle was off, so many of the balls splashed into the deep, but several others tore
through the planking of the Fleance. Men cartwheeled overboard from the
"She'll send us straight to the bottom!" Guthrie shouted.
"Fire a broadside!" Moray yelled.
The Fleance's return fire was a pitiful spitting compared to the
thunderous voice of the Saunders. Men on both ships raced to reload, but the
Saunders was turning, turning to bring her other side and other ranks of cannons
"Ram her before she can come about!"
"Ye madman!" Guthrie opined. "'Tis suicide!"
Moray clouted him on the shoulder. "Just do as I say!"
The Fleance, even damaged, was the more maneuverable of the vessels,
and responded deftly. Wood shrieked as the hulls collided and scraped. More
men were thrown in all directions. Moray saw one unlucky crewman fall with his
legs tangled in a line, dropping into the crevasse as the ships rebounded apart,
then slammed back together.
Ropes flew, grappling onto the Saunders to secure them together.
Moray led the charge across the pitching deck, Tag at his side and his crew
behind him, bristling with weapons and bloodthirsty cries.
The men of the Saunders met them, fighting ably and determinedly.
They knew that, having resisted, they were sure to meet an ugly fate, and thus
planned to take as many of their foes with them as possible. But Moray's drills
paid off; his crew worked in concert without even seeming to be aware of it. Tag
comported himself admirably, taking a shot in the shoulder but still managing to
disarm the Saunders' first mate and then best him in a short but brutal knife fight.
The battle raged back and forth for nearly an hour, but then the favor
slowly turned in favor of the crew of the Fleance.
"Blow her!" the captain of the Saunders bellowed when it came clear all
was lost. He was clearly an expert swordsman, holding off three of the pirates
while contending with a keg tucked beneath his left arm.
Those of his crew that were still able paled at that order, and many left
off fighting to scramble to the longboats, or to the rails to leap overboard. Many
of the Fleance's crew caught their fear like the pox and followed, for it was
suddenly clear to all of them that the ship was packed with gunpowder.
Moray spied two men headed for the hatch, terrified-looking black
slaves who dreaded their captain's wrath more than the certain death that awaited
In the best tradition, he grabbed a line and swung. His fold-top boots
struck one man in the midsection, knocking him over the rail. The expression on
his face was almost one of gratitude.
Then Moray let go and tackling the other. They rolled-bounced-crashed
through the hatch together, fetching up against a lashed triangular stack of
barrels. The flaming taper the man had been carrying flew from his hand,
guttered as it struck the wall, then gusted to new life when it landed in a heap of
wood shavings. Tongues of yellow flame licked hungrily at the curling wood,
leaping as they tasted the draft from the open hatch.
Moray was none too eager to survive an explosion at such close range.
He seized the man, pummeled him senseless, and hurled him onto the flames,
hoping to smother them beneath the body.
It worked, or almost did. A sole ember, coughing out from beneath the
man, alit on a spill of powder and grew too quickly to be extinguished. With bare
seconds left, Moray scooped up the unconscious man and carried him back on
deck, hurling him over the side into a crowded, bobbing longboat.
"Here!" Tag beckoned, waving frantically.
He returned the wave, looking about for the Saunders' captain, and
spied him. The keg had become fouled in a tangle of cut lines and a torn sail, and
the man was disregarding his own safety to struggle with it.
Moray raced across the deck, fancying he could feel the gathering
rumble of the explosion readying beneath his feet.
"No, you shan't!" the captain yelled, brandishing his sword. "'Tis mine!"
The gleaming steel swept toward him, biting through the sleeve of his
black frock coat and into the meat of his left arm just below the shoulder. Moray
drew his own sword, and attacked. He would just as soon leave the man to die in
the dragon's breath of the explosion, but he wanted that keg, for whatever was in
there was evidently worth the lives of a hundred men, and after all of this, he
meant to have it.
A cloud of swirling embers and heated air belched from the hatch,
setting the tattered sails afire. A single loud report, like the world's largest
cannon, shook the Saunders. Both captains staggered across the heaving deck.
Moray's back slammed painfully into the rail, and then his enemy's hand was at
his throat, forcing his head backward, clenching on his windpipe.
They wrestled and struggled, neither able to bring their swords into
play. Then the Saunders captain hooked his fingers into Moray's sash and
heaved, flipping him over.
Moray caught the rail, his legs smashing into a cannon port. He had
time to think that a few inches lower and he would have never needed wonder
again if the Weird Sisters' spell had somehow left him infertile, for it would have
been a moot point.
Rather than lean down to finish him off, the other captain turned and
went back for his keg. Swearing in a hodgepodge of languages, Moray hauled
himself back up and limped after.
"Mine!" the captain, unaware of Moray coming up behind him, shrieked
in triumph as he freed the keg from its entanglement.
Just then, the powder blew. The rear of the ship seemed to lift
completely out of the water, and in the eerie silence following the deafening
boom, Moray imagined he heard seawater dripping from its raised hull.
A fist of fire drove both captains into the air, their coats ablaze. They
went into the churning froth, with debris raining down all around them.
Moray came up, gasping, and saw his foe only a few yards away. Hair
burnt away, skin crisped to char in places, the man was still clinging to the keg.
His eyes turned toward Moray, huge and dark, but then Moray saw they weren't
eyes at all but only sockets from which the soft tissue had been boiled away.
In horrified pity and revulsion, Moray drew his knife and thrust it deep,
piercing the man's heart. Clutching hands slowly released the bobbing keg, and
the captain of the Saunders slipped under and disappeared.
The longboats had been tossed and wallowed by the waves, but Guthrie
and Tag rowed over to Moray and pulled both him and the keg aboard. Soon
they were back on the Fleance, dousing small fires started by burning debris.
They'd lost twenty men and salvaged six from the Saunders, who had pleaded to
be allowed to join the crew.
The ship's cook passed out grog, the rum only slightly watered. The
surgeon went about his business, but when he came to Moray, it seemed once
again the captain had had a lucky break, his enemy being between him and the
worst of the explosion. His only wound was a faint scratch on the left arm, and
his dip into the ocean had washed away the worst of the blood that would have
exposed it as originally being far worse.
"I told ye t'was suicide!" Guthrie snapped. "Why, if we'd rammed her a
touch harder, 'twould have been like the Magdalena for us all! And for what?
One keg? Twenty men dead and twice that wounded, for a cask of sugar, most
likely!" He lashed out at it with his foot.
The keg, weakened and scorched black in places, cracked open and
emptied its contents onto the deck in a glittering torrent.
"God and all the saints," one of the sailors said softly.
"A cask of sugar?" Moray asked Guthrie.
A cheer rang to the crow's nest. The crew would have fallen upon the
treasure as children in later centuries would dive upon piñata candy, but Moray
ordered them back and scooped the diamonds into a bag.
"Each man will have his share," he promised again, "But we'll need to
divide them fairly."
Some grumbling, not entirely surprised, greeted this. Moray noted the
look that passed between Guthrie and a few of the other crewmen, not a look he
cared for, but he was certain that once they'd gotten their share of the prize, they
would be more jovial.
"There's papers in here as well," Tag said, holding up a half-dozen rolls
of thick parchment bound with ribbon and sealed with stamped dollops of wax.
"Give them over," Moray said, a thrill going through him at the sight of
that seal. No wonder the Saunders captain had been willing to destroy his ship!
The diamonds were bounty enough, but magic scrolls as well?
Thanks to his experiences with the Sisters, he had devoted much time to
the study of secret arcane arts -- which was why it had been so ironically funny
in 1603 when Demona had tried to arrange his trial and would-be execution for
the crime of sorcery, for she had no idea he truly was capable of some of the
things of which he was accused.
Once the Fleance was underway, he returned to his cabin and locked the
bag of diamonds into his seachest, along with the scrolls.
They sought a deserted cove where they could careen and repair the
ship, a task which the carpenter estimated would take several weeks. During that
time, Moray examined the scrolls, determining the safest way to open them.
He found, to his surprise, that one of them contained information about
gargoyles. Not the sort with which he was familiar, Demona and her ilk, but
gargoyles who turned to wood with the rising of the sun, who made their homes
on ships instead of castles. Here was a spell to waken them even at the hottest
noonday of summer, here was one to imprison them in sleep ...
Although the weeks of work -- making their camp, winching the
Fleance onto the beach, scraping her hull, repairing the holes, caulking the
planking, applying the pungent sulfur-and-tallow mix to deter teredo worms,
hunting, fishing, drying and smoking the catch, mending and making barrels,
gathering and preparing herbs for the surgeon -- were hard and unpleasant, the
crew were in high spirits.
Moray was soon to find out why ...
"Mutiny," Birdie said. "The
bastards mutinied on you, didn't they?"
MacBeth sighed heavily. "The diamonds were too great a temptation.
Bosun Guthrie convinced them that I would keep most of the haul for myself,
leaving scant shares for the men. Enough of them believed him to let him seize
the camp, and most of the others joined their cause soon after. I was left with
only a handful of loyal men, and the battle was over before it really began.
"They killed two of my men, took the rest prisoner, and demanded that I
hand over the diamonds and command of the ship to Guthrie. They planned to
take me to St. Kitts, where the governor was offering a substantial price on my
head for an incident some years previous.
"But matters got out of hand. The men fell to arguing, fearing
retaliation from the rightful owners of those diamonds should they appear too
soon. Finally, Guthrie suggested burying the swag, something done much less
frequently than movies would have you believe.
"During the days it took them to settle these debates, I was able to sway
some of the mutineers back to my side. Guthrie learned of this, and decided that
I was too great a danger to be left alive. And so, when they buried the treasure,
they shot me through the heart and threw me into the hole as well."
"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest," Birdie said, shocked.
"Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum," he finished gravely.
"They didn't know ..."
"So there I was, left for dead atop a chest containing a fortune in
diamonds and six scrolls. I began to recover quickly, but by then I was buried
alive. I could hear and feel each successive spadeful of sand and earth as it
landed atop the rest, filling in the hole. Pain ran all through my chest, I could
scarcely scrape out room to breathe, and I must have died countless times over
from taking in the used-up air, then reviving."
Birdie took a deep breath, her own lungs automatically tightening.
"Jeez-Louise! How did you get out of that one?"
"I dug," he said. "Bit by bit, gradually forcing myself up through the
loose soil. Until at last I broke through."
"How long were you down there?"
"I don't recall, and I prefer it that way. Yet to this day, I am not terribly
fond of enclosed spaces."
"Once I had recovered, I dug up the diamonds and scrolls. Eventually, I
hailed a passing ship and made my way to London. I had been somewhat soured
on piracy by then, and vowed to do what I could to put an end to it. In 1695, I
commissioned a new ship and returned to the Caribbean, and set about making a
new name for myself as a pirate hunter."
Excerpt from a letter to Albert Barker
From his brother Henry, a passenger aboard the Marie Jeanette
August 14th, 1698
... when another sail was sighted and the lookout identified it as the
Valorous, the ship of the man coming to be called the Scottish Rogue. This threw
our captor, named Santiago, into no small distress and he gave the order to get
As this was midday, the gargoyles of the Wyvern were all in wood,
unmoveable in their perches alongside the ship. Santiago, being more concerned
for his own fate, took the Marie Jeanette and left the Wyvern with a skeleton
crew to follow or fend for themselves.
The Marie Jeanette still laden with provisions and goods as well as we
seven prisoners, and as such was slower than either other ship. A fog had begun
to settle, further making difficult the endeavors of the crews to stay near one
another. Soon the Wyvern was gone from our sight.
The Valorous overtook us, this despite Santiago's (in my mind craven)
attempt to divert the attention of the Valorous after the Wyvern by playing upon
the fears with which many hold gargoyles.
There followed the only words spoken by the Scottish Rogue that I
remember clearly. A great and powerful man he was, of advanced years by the
silver of his hair and the tremendous weight of years that seemed in his eyes, but
you and I should hope to handle ourselves half so well when we are that age, my
"I have no quarrel with these gargoyles," said he. "Not yet, at any
And with that, he and his men made short work of Santiago's cutthroats,
and took excellent care of us and saw us safely to Santo Domingo ...
The Atlantic Ocean
"I must find her, man!" Henri Nejou declared, his voice ripe with
brandy and desperation.
"We will find her," the man now calling himself Findleagh Moray said.
"Ours is the faster ship. Your Isabelle will be restored to you."
"If they've harmed her ..." Nejou broke off with a strangled sob.
"They'll not harm her," Moray said grimly. "If that had been their intent,
they would have done so already."
This failed to comfort Nejou, who, in his shirtsleeves hoisted the brandy
bottle and took a swig straight from the neck. "But when they reach Algiers --"
"They will not."
"My precious Isabelle! Sold to some fat, oily pasha?"
"I tell you, my friend, it will not happen."
"I once thought I would lose her to you," Nejou confided. "I thought
then that I should rather devour my own liver than see that, but now I would
gladly stand aside and wish you all the luck in the world, if only to see her again,
free and unhurt!"
"She loves you, Henri," Moray assured him. "You will be reunited, this
He upended the brandy bottle again, this time draining it, and by now
his urgent pacing of the cabin had taken on a tilt contrary to the pitch of the
deck. "From the moment I saw her," he said. "Loved her from that moment.
Picking flowers in her father's garden. Her hair had the luster of polished
cherrywood, and those eyes, like the winter sea on a cloudy day! I had never
seen such a beautiful creature!"
"Yes," Moray said softly, lost in his own reminiscences.
"Do you remember ..." Henri chuckled drunkenly. "D'you remember the
time we even dueled over her? I thought I had you!"
Moray rubbed his chest. "If not for the medallion that had been a gift to
... to my great-grandfather ... from Queen Elizabeth, you may well have slain me
that day," he lied.
"What was I thinking? Dueling with my own best friend. Why, if I
had slain you, Isabelle would have been furious. She was furious anyway.
D'you remember how she threw that vase at me, shouted at us both? For
foolishness, she said. That we'd be shooting each other over her? She'd sooner
have neither of us!"
"I shtill ... still don't know how I won her," Henri said. He picked up a
silken handkerchief, regarded it for a moment, and then crushed it to his weeping
Moray caught a ghost of a scent. Lilies. Isabelle's perfume. His heart
wrenched in his chest. But he showed no sign of it, just patted Henri firmly on
"My Isabelle!" Henri choked.
"We will find her! I swear!"
So vowing, he left Henri to his own grief and worry, and went above.
Still no sign of their prey, the pirate galleon Sea Hawk. Still no sign, and with
each day that passed, pretty Isabelle's fate grew more bleak. If they did not
overtake the Sea Hawk before it reached Algiers ... but no, that did not bear
He remained on deck until night fell, then returned to his cabin. Henri
was sprawled face-down on a fine rug, snoring thickly, a second bottle of brandy
in his outflung hand.
"I thought I'd locked that cupboard," Moray said to himself. "Ah, well,
old friend, at least your sleep will be deep." He covered Henri with a blanket and
went to bed.
Distant gunfire brought him instantly and fully alert, moments before
one of the crew hammered on his door. Henri still had not moved, and showed
no signs of stirring even when a sudden roll of the ship made Moray stumble
A tropical storm had whipped the sea into a landscape of troughs and
valleys, with curling curds of white foam at the tops of the slate-grey waves.
Lightning flashed on the horizon, but Moray didn't think for a moment that he'd
mistaken the sound of thunder for that of pistols.
"It's the Sea Hawk, captain," the crewman reported. "And another ship,
a merchantman flying the English flag. Or was, afore she struck her colors."
"Close in," Moray ordered. "Ready the cannons, but hold your fire."
He hurried to the rail and took the proferrered spyglass from his second
mate. The Sea Hawk swam into view in the circle of the lens. The other ship was
the Cecily, and by the look of it, they had surrendered promptly. The gunfire
looked celebratory, the pirates firing into the air as they gleefully looted the
Just then, the sky opened like a faucet. The gunfire instantly ceased;
black powder was unreliable in the best of conditions, and all but useless in the
rain. Moray lost sight of both ships, seeing nothing but hissing sheets of dull
"If we can't see them ..." he said, then turned to his crew. He was
already drenched to the skin, as were they all, but they knew what was expected
"Cutlasses," he said. "Prepare to board."
"Should I wake Lord Nejou?" the cabin boy, Pierre, asked anxiously.
"No," Moray decided. Even if they could rouse Henri, he would be in
no condition to fight, and they hadn't come all this way just to let him die in
Isabelle's arms. If all went well, Henri could awaken to the sight of his bride-to-
be's beautiful smile.
He belted on his own cutlass and tucked a flintlock boarding pistol into
his sash beneath his coat. The ship kept to her course, and now and then through
the shifting rain, Moray was afforded a view of the Sea Hawk and the Cecily.
Hopefully, the pirates would be so concerned with stowing their haul that they
wouldn't notice the Valorous upon them until it was too late.
His crew waited, tense and silent and armed to the teeth. Men held to
the rails, grappling hooks and rope piled in neat coils at their feet.
A gust of powerful wind belled the Valorous' sails outward and made
the ship leap like a toy sailboat blown by a child across a mudpuddle. The mast
creaked in protest. One line snapped and the end whipsawed through the air,
striping a weal across a crewman before it was wrestled into submission.
The sheets of rain parted, and they were almost atop the Sea Hawk.
Now the enemy crew was aware of them, their shouts of alarm audible even over
the storm. They began to come about for a broadside, but were too late.
Grappling hooks flew like striking snakes, catching on the rails of the
Sea Hawk. Moray's men pulled with all their strength, locking the ships together,
while their companions swung or leaped or clambered over and engaged the Sea
Cutlass against cutlass, the deck planking slippery with first rainwater
and then shed blood as the battle was joined. Moray led the charge, hacking his
way toward the helm. He spied the enemy captain, backing toward the longboats
with a struggling woman held before him.
Her glorious cherrywood hair was turned to sodden maroon strands, her
eyes and mouth were wide in terror, her gown was soaked and pasted to her
body. The captain held a knife to her neck, the point dimpling that smooth skin,
a bead of blood already welling.
Moray advanced, his jaw set tight, a cutlass in one hand and the large
parrying-knife known as a main-gauche gripped in the other.
Three men moved to block his way. Two were the lowest and scurviest
type of cutthroats to be found in any a seaside town. The third was a tall man
with long black hair, and as he raised his cutlass, startled recognition filled his
"Tag!" Moray said in astonishment. The youth of eighteen had become
a man of thirty-five, but still easily recognizable.
"I thought ... I'd heard ... they said you killed Bosun Guthrie in a
Kingston tavern six years ago, but I never believed ... you look just the ..."
"What are you waiting for? Kill him!" the enemy captain ordered.
"No!" Tag whirled and put himself between Moray and the two other
"Findleagh!" Isabelle gasped, extending one pale, trembling hand.
"You treacherous dog!" the captain bellowed at Tag.
Cutlasses clashed as the two other men attempted to cut down their
former crewmate. The captain dragged Isabelle back, throwing a quick glance
over his shoulder to the waiting longboat below.
Moray hesitated, torn between the woman he loved and the man he'd
raised as his own son.
"Don't worry about me!" Tag yelled, deftly disarming one opponent and
matching blades with the second.
Knowing that to say such words all but ensured Tag's death, Moray
nonetheless had no choice. The captain saw him coming and set the knife's edge
to Isabelle's neck.
"Another step and I'll slice her up like bait."
"Findleagh --!" she pleaded.
"Let her go," Moray said, "and we'll finish this between us."
"Do you think me a fool? Stand down!"
He was weary of debate. He slowly extended his arm, letting the cutlass
drop to the rain-slick deck.
"And the knife!"
A hideous gurgling scream came from just behind him as Tag opened
the belly of one of his foes. Moray didn't turn, didn't look, but the captain's eyes
flicked that way and his arm around Isabelle loosened for just an instant. The
instant Moray had been waiting for.
He yanked the concealed pistol from beneath his coat and fired,
knowing that a malfunction now would mean Isabelle's death.
The pistol roared, belching black smoke and jerking in Moray's hand.
The ball took the captain in the side of the jaw, shattering it so that fragments of
broken teeth sprayed from his mouth like bits of crockery. His head snapped
back, he collided with the rail.
Moray sprang forward, seized Isabelle, and delivered a kick to the
stomach that sent the captain of the Sea Hawk over the side. Then Isabelle was in
his arms, pressed against his chest, shaking like a leaf in a gale.
"Oh, Findleagh!" she wept.
He let himself hold her for a moment and turned to Tag, expecting to
see the younger man fall. But contrary to his expectations, Tag was still standing,
breathing hard and bleeding from a cut to the forearm but otherwise unhurt.
Beyond him, the crew of the Valorous had succeeded in overpowering the
Victory was theirs!
Isabelle was safe!
With a heavy heart, Moray let go of her and set her gently away from
"Let's go see Henri," he said.
"So you saved her and she went home with Henri, huh?" Birdie asked.
"She was his bride-to-be," MacBeth said.
"Still reeks. You're the hero; shouldn't you get the girl?"
He laughed, not without some bitterness. "Is that what I am? As it
turned out, it wouldn't have mattered. Isabelle died three years later."
"Oh. Oh, I'm sorry."
"She died of a fever. I was worried for Henri's sanity. If not for Giselle,
I believe he may have gone mad."
"Their daughter," MacBeth said slowly. "She was born in 1707, only a
year old when her mother died. Henri was devoted to her, but because he was
concerned for her safety, he raised her as a boy. Until she was thirteen, that is. At
that point, her ... burgeoning womanhood ... made such a continued ruse
impossible. Some women can manage it, but Giselle was to become very buxom,
and of sweetly abundant hips."
Birdie looked down at herself. "Yeah, I get the picture; I'd have a hard
time passing myself off as a boy too."
"It didn't matter so much by then; Henri was governor of St. Gilbert and
his seagoing days were mostly at an end. He had his duties and his plantations to
oversee, and his daughter's future to think of."
MacBeth paused, sighing.
"And, oh, how she resembled her mother."
Birdie's eyebrows went up. "I'm getting the feeling there's still a lot
more to this story."
"Yes ... in 1722, I married her."
"Jump back! You married a ..." she did some quick subtracting, "... a
fifteen-year-old girl? And you fed me that line about being too old for me?"
"As you said, there is still a lot more to this story ..."
"Why should I believe you?" Emil Santiago asked scornfully.
"Fer I were thar, boy! I seen yer father die!"
All around them, the Running Roach Tavern was rioting with noise and
About a third of the patrons were gathered around a wooden box on the
floor, wagering fortunes on racing roaches. Another third were engaged in lively
games of knucklebones or Squall (or the attendant arguments that went along
with each). The last third were involved in a variety of other pursuits ranging
from solitary steady drinking to negotiating with the blowzy whores that lined
Nobody was paying attention to the corner conversation. Emil himself,
twenty, hot-blooded, and hell-bent on avenging the father he'd known only
through his mother's stories, looked with wary disdain at the man sitting opposite
Sitting, perhaps, not the best word. Sprawled, more like it. Overflowing
his chair in all directions. The only narrow part of him was the stout wooden peg
that replaced his left leg at the knee. His beard lay over his vast bulging belly
like a hairy blanket, clotted with food and matted to the point that Emil would
not have been surprised to see a rat's head emerge for a quick look-around.
He stank, too, like a gone-over egg soaked in vinegar. But it was only
one more rank odor among many, so Emil leaned closer.
"You were aboard the Marie Jeanette?"
Fat Jim nodded and knocked his fist against his wooden leg -- a bit of a
reach, but he made it. "Whar d'ye think I got this? I were thar, right enough."
"And it was Moray, the one they call the Scottish Rogue, who killed my
"Shot 'im through the brainpan, 'e did. But 'twas the gargoyles what let
him die. If the Wyvern'd stayed with us, we'd've sent that Scot to the bottom o'
the briny sea. They turned tail and run, the cowards, an' left us all to die. So, me
boyo, if ye're lookin' for who killed yer father, don' just look ter the Scot. Look
ter the gargoyles what betrayed him."
"I knew it! No good can come of allying with such hellspawn! The
Scottish Rogue was a pirate hunter, aye, doing his job though that won't save him
from my sword. But the gargoyles, who betrayed their own captain -- they are
the ones who must suffer! But how? No vessel on the seas can best the Wyvern!"
"Not by night, aye," Fat Jim said cunningly.
"No one ever sees the damnable ship by day!" Emil said.
"I've a plan that may do for ye, boyo. I've two nephews, an' as luck
would have it, one be a ship's cook --"
"Which would explain much," Emil muttered.
Fat Jim either didn't hear or pretended not to. "Aboard the Paris Maid,
which be Le Nez's ship. Le Nez be sworn enemies o' Benedict Tate, the
Wyvern's captain. An' the other nephew, Bloody Pete, 'e be Tate's first mate."
"What are you proposing, old salt?" Emil was more interested now, a
plan already forming in his mind. "And what do you want out of it?"
"Same's ye, same's ye. Revenge. I bore the mocking o' those devil-
beasts many a year, an' this leg o' mine were but the injury added to the insult. I'd
see 'em gone, one an' all."
Near Vera Cruz, in the Gulf of Mexico
"'Tain't right, sailing without our captain," said Alistair Phipps, second
mate of the Wyvern.
"On his own orders, it was," Bloody Pete, the first mate, disputed
testily. "We're in need of provisions, and sugar's cheapest in Campeche."
"Could've waited for the captain."
"He be sunk balls-deep in that mistress o' his," Bloody Pete said. "Ye
know as well as I that thar be no reasoning with him once he's started thinking o'
those sweet tits."
Alistair, who had harbored a secret and poetic love for Ione even if she
was the captain's mistress, didn't take kindly to Pete's words. "She is a good
and decent lady --" he began.
"Imp! Come back here!" a female voice interrupted.
Just then, two small forms pelted past, nearly toppling Pete and Alistair
off their feet.
Imp, the spiny-backed hatchling that was the veritable apple of the
whole clan's eye, was riding astride the gargoyle beast Chimera, who disproved
the old adage that two heads were better than one. Or, perhaps, if Chimera had
had only two heads instead of three, he would have been better able to decide
where he was going. As was, he always crossed the deck in something of a
whirling crablike scramble, trying to go three ways at once, and as a result, the
twosome did run into the approaching quartermaster and knocked him cursing
onto his backside.
"I swear, woman!" the quartermaster roared, lurching upright to
confront bare-breasted Melusine as she pursued the rambunctious pair. "Get that
brat o' yours out from underfoot or I'll lash 'im to the mizzenmast!"
"My apologies," Melusine said, plucking Imp from his perch.
"He's gotten into the chickpeas again!" raged the ship's cook, storming
toward them waving a cleaver. "And that pet of his tore the very devil out of a
whole sack of salt pork!"
The rushing swoop of wings heralded Reaper's arrival, the clan leader
landing majestically between his mate and the irate crew. He socked the end of
his scythe handle against the deck, looking from one to the next impatiently.
"What is all the ruckus?"
"I don't know what we're going to do with him!" Melusine said, yet in
her tone was more of an indulgence than a true exasperation -- isn't my Imp a sly
little thing? it said.
"I can't run a proper galley like this!" the cook all but screamed. "When
the whole crew's got naught to eat but biscuits, they'll have those two to thank for
"None of the other hatchlings cause so much trouble," Scylla said
smugly, hefting her own two onto her hips. "You spoil him, sister."
"Imp," Reaper said sternly, "what have you to say for yourself?"
Imp turned large, soulful eyes to the humans. "I'm sowwy," he mumbled
around the thumb corked in his mouth.
"Oh, there, see?" crooned Melusine. "He meant no harm."
"He'll never learn unless you discipline him," Scylla said.
"What would you have me do, lock him in the rookery hold all night?"
"Praise God!" the cook cried, flinging his hands in the air. "A whole
night of peace?"
"I will do no such thing!" Melusine said indignantly.
Brand landed beside them in a glowing corona of fire. "You'd better.
And all of the other hatchlings as well. Our patrol has sighted the Paris Maid,
and she's almost upon us!"
At that announcement, the crew went into action. Humans and
gargoyles alike prepared for battle. Madre, which was what they all called the
matronly she-garg in charge of looking after the rookery, shepherded the young
ones below while the rest took to the air in anticipation.
Not once did anyone think to signal the Paris Maid and inform Le Nez
that his archrival, Benedict Tate, was not even aboard. Le Nez, who had earned
his nickname after Benedict's sword had flayed his nose wide open so that it now
clung to his face like an ugly flower, wouldn't have believed them even if they
Alistair, who had been a jeweler's apprentice before being lured to the
sea by talk of fabulous wealth and high adventure, checked and re-checked his
pistols nervously as he looked out over the dark and silent sea. Although he
couldn't see anything, he could almost sense the deadly weight of the Paris Maid
He glanced over at Bloody Pete as he would have glanced over at
Benedict, for reassurance. But Pete, he realized, had never led the crew into
battle before, and was probably even more nervous than Alistair himself.
What's this? Either Pete was the best playactor Alistair had ever seen ...
or ... was that a knowing look in his eye? An expectant look? Was there some
"Sail ho!" came the cry from the crow's nest, and then the Paris Maid
hove into view.
"Attack!" Reaper thundered from on high. "Defend our ship! Defend
Cannons and flintlocks began to hammer their deadly music into the
night, and Alistair put all other thoughts but survival and victory from his mind.
"There he goes again," Brand murmured, nudging Melusine and
motioning toward Reaper.
Their leader, sitting at the mouth of the cave and staring out at the
hissing curtain of the falls, had slumped into a melancholy. His dark-and-light
bone patterned arms were propped on his knees, hands dangling almost
lifelessly. His scythe leaned desolately against the wall.
"He blames himself," Melusine said softly. "Had you and he not gone
after the Paris Maid --"
"We would have been destroyed alongside our brothers and sisters,"
Brand cut in. "And you, Imp, and Chimera would have been left alone. There
was nothing he, or I, or any of us could have done."
"If we'd patrolled more diligently, we might have seen the Venganza
laying in wait beyond that island. We might have found out what Santiago meant
"But we didn't," Brand said harshly. "What use is it dwelling on the
past? If not for the fisherman who saw the Venganza leaving after destroying our
clan, we never would have known who to seek revenge against. We would have
had nothing. We did at the time what we thought was best, and that is all. His
brooding like that does him, and us, no good."
"Leave him be! He lost his clan --"
"We all lost our clan. I lost my mate, our child. What gives him the
right to make as if the weight of all the world's wrongs is upon his shoulders? I
recall how it was when we returned that next night, sister mine, to find the
Wyvern half-sunk on that sandbar, not a sign of life aboard her, the sea around
littered with shards and flotsam that had been our clan. He thought you were
dead; to this day his grief-stricken cry chills me to the soul. In the face of his
anguish, my own seemed diminished, swallowed up. But you lived, sister. His
mate and child were restored to him. So if any carry the greater burden now, it
should be me!"
Melusine touched Brand's brow ridge. "Brother ... I had no idea you felt
so strongly! It is Reaper's nature to take all the sufferings of his clan upon
himself; I never stopped to think that it might dim our own sorrows."
"It does no good," he said, brushing her hand away. "The past is gone.
We lost our ship, our clan, and eventually our freedom. Now we are here, and we
should make a new place for ourselves, carve it out of this modern era just as our
elders did when first they sailed." Having said his piece, loud enough for Reaper
not to have missed a word of it, he stalked off.
"Yet ... how can we forget the past?" Melusine wondered quietly to
herself. "When it is still so very fresh in our minds?"
Near Vera Cruz, in the Gulf of Mexico
In the rookery hold of the Wyvern, Melusine yawned and stretched,
shaking wood chips out of her hair. She checked her side, just above where her
skin and scales merged. The wound was gone, completely healed by a day's
"Hungry, Mama," Imp said.
Chimera capered around her flukes, obviously in agreement with Imp.
"Are you to be my good little hatchling tonight?" she asked, picking
him up. "You were into much mischief last night. You know when there's a battle
you're supposed to stay down here."
"Didn't want to."
"And you didn't mind Madre, either."
"Wanna be a warrior," he informed her, jutting his jaw.
"And you will," she promised. "A great warrior, like your father. But
not until you're grown. You could have been hurt last night. A battle is no place
He pouted. "Wanna help."
"When you're older," she said. "For now, my little one, you must do as
Reaper and Madre and I say. We don't want to have to spend another day down
here, do we? We should be on our perches, in positions of pride and honor."
"I will, Mama," he agreed, with such a sigh that it was as if she'd asked
him to give up all that he held most dear.
Chimera growled and whined, scratching at the floor.
"What is it?" Melusine set Imp down, only now noticing that the floor
seemed to have a pronounced tilt, and that it was far damper down here than
normal. Further ... she saw that the belongings of the clan had shifted, sliding
against the hull. She herself had awakened in a different spot, some five yards
from where she'd been before.
She listened. None of the usual shipboard noises came to her ears. And
the constant swaying motion had ceased. The ship was not moving. No sails
belled or flapped in the wind.
"Becalmed?" she asked herself, knowing even as she said it that it
wasn't right. Even becalmed, even with the sea smooth as glass, there would be
some sense of movement, some gentle rising and falling as if the Wyvern rested
upon the breast of a sleeping giant.
"Hush, I said!"
Hurt, he stuck his lip sullenly out and kicked at the soggy straw. She
never spoke to him like that, and was instantly sorry. But she couldn't comfort
him now; something was badly amiss.
"Have we run aground?" She thrust her tail against the planks,
undulating toward the hatch leading up to the deck.
The ship was canted at an angle that made the stairs, never easy for her,
an impossibility. She used her strong arms instead, hauling herself to the hatch.
When she made to throw it open, it only moved a few inches before colliding
with something heavy that held it shut.
What she saw through that narrow opening, though, was enough to send
the blood fleeing from her face. Her mouth gaped, the dainty gills along the
undersides of her jaw fluttered.
"Mama, what is it?" Imp, fearful and subdued, crept to her side.
Melusine could not speak. Her eyes darted around what little she could
see of the deck. The human bodies were the least of her concerns. The wood ...
the long jagged splinters and the hewn chunks and the identifiable limbs and
torsos with wedges hacked out of them ...
A scream built in her, but she could not release it. Instead, in desperate
denial, she slammed the hatch and clutched her son to her chest. This was some
dream, yes, she would yawn and stretch anew in a few moments and everything
would be back to normal.
She held Imp too tight but ignored his protests and squirms. She rocked,
back and forth on the bunched muscles of her tail. Chimera crouched next to her,
making a low worried noise in his throats.
She didn't know how long she stayed like that, but then her shock was
broken by Reaper's voice, from out on the platforms above the cannon ports.
"My ... angel of the deep!" he choked. And then a long, drawn-out howl
of rage and loss made the timbers shake.
"Reaper!" she called, dropping Imp and flinging herself to batter
against the hatch. "My love, we're in here!"
How could she have forgotten? Last night, after the battle had taken
fearful tolls on both sides, the Paris Maid had turned to flee. A foolish mistake
on their part; didn't they realize that in a mere hour or two, half the Wyvern's
fighting force would be rendered immobile with the dawn?
But Le Nez hadn't wanted to lose any more of his men, and with barely
a handful left, had come about and sailed for the horizon. Reckoning without the
wings of gargoyles.
Reaper and Brand followed, confident that they could chase off those
cowards by themselves to prevent them from returning during the day. They
hadn't returned in time! They'd been spared the fate that had befallen the rest of
"My love!" She pounded harder.
"Papa!" Imp joined her, and Chimera bayed loudly.
Debris slammed against the deck, a broken mast by the sound of it, and
then the hatch was wrenched open. Reaper's shadow blotted out the stars.
"My ... my love?" he asked, hardly daring to believe. "You're alive!"
She propelled herself into his arms, weeping.
"Are there any others?" Brand asked pleadingly.
Melusine shook her head. "Are they ..."
"Gone," Reaper said. "Our clan is gone. Only we five are left."
"What of the Paris Maid?"
"Burnt," Brand said grimly. "We finished off Le Nez and his crew, but
by then daybreak was upon us. We spent the day asleep, adrift. But before we
left, I set her ablaze."
"Then who ...?" Melusine looked around at the horror clearly revealed
by moonlight and the strong glow from Brand's wings. "Who did this?"
"We will find out," Reaper swore. "And then we will have our
Birdie, bundled in a cushy terrycloth robe with the hotel's name stitched
on the left breast, opened the door and admitted room service. Class all the way,
she thought as the uniformed man wheeled in a cart. Just like in the movies.
He was about her own age and couldn't keep from giving her an
interested once-over, which turned to a look of surprise as MacBeth, in a
matching robe, emerged from the bathroom toweling his hair. MacBeth merely
returned the look coolly as he signed for the bill.
"I need a message delivered to my uncle," Birdie said, handing him a
fiver and a sealed envelope (hotel stationery too). "Brendan Vandermere. He's
attending the conference, or was. You might find him panting after one of the
speakers, Dakota Jones."
He nodded and left, and Birdie chuckled.
"For all I know, Uncle Brendan's in the room next door," she said with
a sly wink at MacBeth.
"He would," MacBeth pointed out, grinning slightly, "have recognized
"People always ask, 'are you a moaner or a screamer,' and I say, why be
so limited?" She started lifting lids, and oohed. "You sure know how to spoil a
girl! What'd you do, tell them to send up one of everything from the dessert
"Very nearly," he said. "Except for the fruit cup and the sorbet."
"Yeah, to hell with the lowfat healthy stuff!" She patted her hips.
"Maintaining a bod like this takes some serious calories!"
"Do it with my blessings." He scooped a finger through a blob of
custard and brought it to her lips.
She took her time slurping it off, then fed him a hearty dollop of
chocolate mousse in the same fashion. They ended up parking the cart next to the
bed, feeding each other in between long slow kisses and leisurely foreplay. Not
at all to Birdie's disappointment, one thing led to another and they eventually
agreed that they should have showered after dessert.
"So," she said, "where were we before we were so sweetly -- in every
sense of the word -- interrupted?"
"I was about to tell you of Giselle, of St. Gilbert, of Santiago and the
St. Gilbert, also known as Dead Man's Cove
The Lady MacBeth, a lovely schooner of clean and classic lines, a swift
and sure ship known with dread by every dark-hearted scallywag who sailed
beneath the Jolly Roger, sailed into the sheltered harbor of St. Gilbert.
Once known as Dead Man's Cove as the result of a fierce battle that had
left the waters choked with corpses, now the gentle bay curved against the docks
of a tidy, thriving town. The governor's manor sat on a hill at the east end of the
bay, overlooking the town and the fields. A small fort guarded the point. The
people looked happy and prosperous.
"It seems Nejou is doing a fine job," Tag remarked as he followed
Moray down the gangplank of the Lady MacBeth.
It often caught Moray with a startling pang of concern that the boy who
he had taken from his dying mother's arms with a promise to look after him, now
appeared to be of an age with him.
Tag's black hair had greyed considerably over the past decade and a
half, and lines had begun to carve themselves more deeply into his sea-weathered
face. He had a wife now, pretty Bonita Alvarez in Havana, and although Tag's
duties as Moray's first mate kept him away more than half of each year, they had
made good use of his shore leave and borne seven children.
Moray, of course, remained unchanged by time's passage. His secret,
known only to a few, was now known by one more.
Once father and son, then mentor and student, they now climbed the
slope to the governor's mansion as friends.
Although the years had been kind to Tag, the same could not be said for
Henri Nejou. Having nearly lost his beloved Isabelle before they'd even wed, he
had made the most of their next few years. But her death had taken half of his
life as well, until he lived for only two things: their daughter Giselle, and later
for St. Gilbert.
He came to meet them, leaning upon his cane. A wildly-swinging
yardarm, torn loose in a terrible hurricane six years ago, had left him with a
broken leg that had never healed properly. But his smile was wide, his eyes were
And his hospitality, as always, was beyond compare. Weeks at sea were
soon forgotten as Moray and Tag were bathed, dressed in new clothes, and given
the run of the grounds.
Moray, hungering as he always did after a long voyage for fresh fruits
and greens, took himself to the walled orchard that sprawled behind the house.
He plucked a fat orange from a tree, peeling it with his thumbnail as he strolled
beneath the shade-giving leaves.
Perhaps Henri had the right idea, he thought as he walked. Perhaps
retirement to a warm, peaceful plantation was what he should consider. He might
be losing his taste for the wide waves, losing the inner fire that had driven him to
become a pirate hunter.
He'd been one of many last autumn trying to catch John Rackham, the
infamous Calico Jack whose crew included the notorious Mary Read and Anne
Bonney, but despite his best efforts he had consistently missed bringing them to
justice. That honor had fallen to Jonathan Barnet, a brisk young fellow who had
never even heard of the Scottish Rogue.
Musing to himself that his time may have passed, he didn't notice the
odd sounds at first, but finally they pierced his mind and he stopped, then looked
toward the source of the rustling, under-the-breath genteel French oaths, and the
irregular thump that sounded like someone kicking a mast.
No, not a mast, a tree trunk, he saw, and had to bite the inside of his
cheek to keep from laughing aloud at what he beheld.
Giselle Nejou was dangling from a tree, her hands locked over a sturdy
branch while her feet flailed for purchase, thumping against the trunk but finding
none. A rickety ladder lay on the earth, near an overturned basket and a litter of
"Are you in need of rescue?" he asked, unable to keep the amusement
from his voice.
She twisted toward him. Her elegant chignon had come half-askew and
hung against her shoulder in a deep auburn mass. Her eyes were widely spaced, a
clear green-grey fringed with dark lashes.
It struck him with nearly physical force how like her mother she looked.
Yes, Isabelle was there, in her coloring, in her features, in her shape -- far better
revealed by the light gowns popular here in the islands than her mother's had
ever been by the heavy fashions of Europe.
"Are you going to stand there smiling, m'sieur, or help me down?"
He bowed. "At once, dear lady."
Crossing to beneath the tree, he grasped her legs, trying without
measurable success to tell himself not to notice how nicely formed they were,
how plump her thighs, how charmingly cushioned her hips. This was Giselle,
daughter of one of his dearest friends. Giselle, who had been as a favored niece,
very nearly as a daughter, to himself. Further, she was fourteen if she was a day,
and never mind the womanly figure.
Yes, he told himself all of those things, but as she dropped into his arms
and her full breasts, riper than any oranges in the orchard, pushed against his
chest, he doubted he was listening.
"The ladder fell over," she told him as he released her, she apparently
innocently unaware of the effect she was having upon him. She bent, and the late
afternoon sun slanted through her gauzy skirt to outline her legs as she gathered
the spilled oranges.
Moray inwardly argued with himself, turning his eyes away. She was
not Isabelle, not the dear lost love he had never fully won. He should not look
on her as he had once looked on her mother.
He helped her pick up the fruit, then accompanied her back to the
house. She filled his ears with lively chatter, her spirit shining bright and
vivacious. Raised for the first several years of her life disguised as a boy, she had
been accorded far more freedom and travel than most young ladies.
They enjoyed a delicious dinner, the four of them, and spent the next
several days touring the island, visiting the shops, and generally relaxing. St.
Gilbert seemed like a bit of leftover paradise on earth
The crew of the Lady MacBeth had money to spend in the taverns and
the brothel, so Moray knew he wouldn't be hearing from them until it was time to
cast off again (and even then, he might have to send some men around to roust
them from overindulgent binges in their various pleasures).
On the dawn of their sixth day, Moray was awakened by the urgent
tolling of the bell in the town square. He sat up in bed, his first thought being
that a fire had broken out in one of the buildings.
Then the gunfire began, and the panicked, wakeful screams of the
Melusine descended to the grotto, to the seacave where the Lady
MacBeth waited. Not much of a ship, a mock-up of a true craft, made of some
light but tough imitation wood. Engines were concealed in the hold, the sails
mostly for show.
Such ships they'd seen since their awakening! Enormous ships, larger
than islands. Some carried stack upon stack of metal crates called boxcars, others
were warships the likes of which no one had ever imagined. Five gargoyles and a
false schooner could not hope to ever take such a prize. They had to limit
themselves to pleasure boats, fishing vessels, and other small craft.
She slipped into the water, sighing as it coursed over her scales. Not
even gliding could compare to the sensual joy of swimming. She opened her
wings, waving them in lazy finlike motions to steer as her tail moved her along.
They would have to make some hard decisions soon, she knew. Their
clan could not last forever like this, eking out a meager existence of piracy and
hiding. They would have to seek out others of their kind. More warriors to fight.
More females to breed. Brand was too practical to let his grieving get in the way
of their future; he needed a new mate. Someday, Imp too would need one.
Were there more of their kind? Other gargoyles, yes, their stone-turning
landlubber cousins, but she wasn't even sure if two such diverse types could
successfully breed. What would the children be? Wood, or stone?
Three centuries ago, there had been rumors of clans in Polynesia.
Gargoyles the humans worshipped as gods. Tikis, she believed they were called.
Something like that.
But at the time, sailing far around Cape Horn, the tip of South America,
had been one of the most dangerous courses a ship could set. And there had been
no need, as their own clan numbered in the strong dozens.
Now, though? Now that, according to their charts, humans had cut a
canal through Panama? The idea bore exploration. Surely, such a valuable canal
would be guarded, though. And who would protect them during the day?
She surfaced, rolling onto her back and watching the shadowed ripples
dance on the cavern ceiling above. Even if such a long voyage were possible,
would Reaper consider it? Would he be willing to let the past alone?
Their revenge, after all, was not complete.
Yes, those who had killed their clan were dead. Would be dead by now
even if they hadn't personally seen to it. She flexed her claws, remembering how
Santiago had begged for his life when Reaper pulled him from that prison cell in
St. Gilbert. His pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
There had been a moment, a brief and blessed moment, when their
revenge had been complete. Their clan had been avenged. It had taken three
years, three long years of shipless wandering and fruitless searching, but at last it
had been done.
And then the Scottish Rogue had come along, and enspelled them.
Robbed them of their satisfaction. Stolen their world from them, leaving them to
revive three centuries later in a strange and foreign one. Where they found that,
by some sorcery, their foe yet lived.
That score had yet to be settled.
When the battle was over, Moray was able to piece together what had
happened, and felt dire guilt burrowing into his heart like a worm.
When would he learn? He'd slain Duncan but spared Canmore, and then
Canmore had come back. Now here was another enemy's son, glaring up at him
from his bonds.
"Emil Santiago," he said.
"My father was Enrique Santiago; you killed him!" the young man spat.
"For that, I will have your life!"
"Good fortune to you," Moray muttered. Louder, addressing the
captive, he said, "For that, you've attacked this town, murdered innocent people?
If you wanted me, pup, you should have come for me! Not lead your army
against those who have done you no wrong!"
The attack had come not just by sea, where the fort's cannons would
have been able to repel an assault, but overland. The Venganza had moored on
the far coast of the island, and Santiago's men made the trek through the jungles
and farmlands to come at the town from its less-defended side.
Once they'd taken the fort, more ships poured into the cove. Only quick
thinking and quicker action on the part of Moray and the crew of the Lady
MacBeth had put an end to the battle.
Now the pirates were dead or in chains, but they'd cut a vicious swath
through the sleep-fogged streets. Those townsfolk not busy tending the wounded
were hard at work by the gallows. The surviving pirates would hang, all but
Santiago and his first mate.
Moray would just as soon see them swing as well, but the Englishman
Benedict Tate was offering a modest fortune for the chance to deliver his own
justice upon Bloody Pete, and the price on Santiago's head by the governor of
Jamaica would go a considerable way toward repairing the town, the stipulation
being that he was delivered whole and alive.
"Lock them away," Moray said.
The soldiers obeyed, conducting Santiago and Bloody Pete to the
prison, where they could stew and fester amid the rat-ridden filth for a while.
Best of all, the tiny barred window afforded a view of the gallows, so they could
watch their companions hang.
Leaving Tag to oversee the rest, Moray hurried back to the governor's
mansion. Giselle Nejou met him at the door, visibly trying to hold up. The poor
girl had lost her mother when she was too young to remember, and now it
seemed certain she would lose her father as well.
"How is he?" Moray asked. A useless question, that of a bystander, but
what else was there to say? He was no physician. The finest on the island were
already in attendance.
"They say his heart ... his heart gave out," Giselle managed before
breaking into a fit of sobbing.
Moray embraced her, stroking her hair while he looked past her to the
door of Henri's chamber. His heart. He hadn't even reached the plaza before
collapsing. It had been Moray who led the soldiers and rallied the townspeople
for defense, while Henri was rushed home.
"He wants to see you," Giselle said against his coat, her voice muffled.
He lifted her chin. Her face was smeared with soot and gunpowder-
residue, making him look down and swipe a hand across his coat. It came away
"Here, now," he said kindly, finding his handkerchief and offering it to
her. "I've made a mess of you."
"Will he ... will he be all right?"
How he wished he could tell her the consoling lies! But he could not.
"You must be brave, Giselle. He would want you to be brave. Remember, you
won't be alone. I'll look after you."
"Do you promise?"
She nodded, and hurried off to wash her face while he went into the
room where his dear friend lay dying. Henri's sharp gaze fell upon him.
"Moray." It came out a croak.
The physicians were hovering over him, mixing medicines, but he could
tell just by their movements that they knew it was futile.
"Is this farewell, Henri?"
"I want you to take care of Giselle," he gasped.
"You needn't even ask." He found Henri's hand and squeezed it.
"I want her to have a husband who will always be there for her. Who
will always be there." His words were coming with more difficulty, his chest
Despite his pain, Henri smiled. "Do you take me for a fool? I've known
for years. Will you? Marry her, and be governor after me. The king will approve
it. You'll take care of my daughter, of my island. I know you won't fail me,
"Don't fail me, Moray." His breath turned into a wheeze, his right hand
clutched Moray's. "Ah. God."
"Father!" Giselle rushed in. "No!"
"Isa ... belle ..." his final word gusted out of him, and his lips curved
into a smile before going slack.
"Oh, mon pere!" Giselle threw herself to her knees, wailing.
Moray folded Henri Nejou's limp hands across his chest. "I won't fail
you, old friend."
"I know what must be done," Reaper said.
Brand, who had been trying with little success to make sense of a
strange book scavenged from the Coral -- colored ink pictures chronicling the
adventures of foolishly-dressed humans who flew without the benefit of wings,
shot beams from their eyes, and had unlikely combats against equally ludicrous
villains -- tossed it aside and rose.
Reaper stood slowly, stretching to his full impressive height. He
extended his wings until it seemed every dusky feather was splayed, taking up
fully the width of the cave. Then he exhaled and relaxed, and when he turned, his
air of melancholy was gone.
"It does not serve our clan to hide away in this cave," he said, "preying
on small ships when we have so few warriors. We must seek out others of our
"I was just thinking that very thing, my love," said Melusine, wringing
her hair as she emerged from the tunnel that led to the seacave.
"What of the Rogue?" Brand demanded. "And our revenge?"
"How would you have me find him?" Reaper countered. "You have
seen the maps; little of this world remains unexplored. He could be anywhere.
Could be far inland, places we would not wish to venture. In time, he may come
to us. Until then, we must look first to the survival of our clan. The
continuance of our clan."
"And if we are the last?" Brand asked. "The last of our seafaring race?"
"Then we die out," Reaper said. "But we do not die out in hiding and
He saw a shape against the moon, and his blood chilled.
"Demona," he breathed.
"Husband?" Giselle queried.
Moray flinched, not yet accustomed to having any other woman call
him by that title, and in the same voice of love and respect that his dear Gruoch
had used. Or perhaps it was that he was not yet accustomed to being wed again.
It did not seem right. Every night, when he got into bed beside Giselle, or took
her in his arms, or made love to her, a mantle of odd dread settled over him.
The shape was gone, if indeed it had ever been there. But its shadow
remained cast on his heart, making his skin creep with apprehension.
"What is it?" Giselle joined him at the window, which looked down on
the serene town.
"Nothing," he told her. "I thought I saw something, that's all. A bird, or
a cloud on the wind."
"Are you ready to come to bed?"
He patted her hand where it rested on his arm. "Soon."
She smiled at him, then returned to her writing-desk. "Another letter
from Captain Tate," she reported. "He's yet unable to come for his first mate, and
wishes us to hold him a while more. The settling of his father's estate is taking
longer than anticipated."
"Is there any news from the governor of Jamaica?"
"He promises the reward for Santiago soon," Giselle said, sifting
through papers until she came to the appropriate one. "But the state of his
treasuries is severely limited at the moment."
Moray sighed. "We've held those men for a year and a half. I could just
order them hanged myself and be done with it."
"They deserve to rot in their cell!" she said hotly. "A swift death is too
good for them!"
"Perhaps you're right." He was about to go to her, when the shape
passed across the moon's pale face again.
This time there was no mistaking it. A gargoyle.
But not Demona. No, even in that brief glimpse, he could tell.
"You still seem troubled."
Before he could answer, the dark gargoyle folded its wings tightly and
dove. Dove toward the town, toward the center of town. And now another one
appeared, whose phoenix-like wings wreathed its body in scarlet and gold.
That blazing light poured through the window, illuminating the room.
"What --?" she began.
Moray clutched her by the upper arms, setting her away from the
window. "Stay here," he ordered. "I must attend to this."
Once again, gunfire and screams echoed through the streets of St.
Gilbert, this time counterpointed with gargoyle roars.
"Where are you going?"
He strode past her, yanked open one of the drawers of the writing desk,
and removed a brass-fitted leather case. From it, he took the scrolls he'd kept
since that long-ago battle against the Saunders, scrolls that had been buried alive
with him on a desolate stretch of beach, carried with him to Europe and back.
Scrolls that might now come in very handy indeed.
"Don't leave me!" Giselle threw herself in his path.
"I will return," he promised, pulling her into a quick hug and pressing a
kiss on the top of her head. "You needn't worry about that."
"Or let me come with you!"
"No!" He kissed her again, this time on the lips. "Wait here. I'll be back
That cold dread became a weight of ice. He held Giselle to him, fearful
that it was some premonition, that he would only see her again with the spark of
life snuffed from her eyes.
"Go to the wine cellar," he told her. "Do not come out, until I come for
you." It was as safe a place as any, if anyplace could truly be called safe.
He'd heard of these gargoyles many times over the years. They'd
supposedly been massacred in 1720, but a few had survived, making up for their
lesser numbers by committing even more brutal atrocities against unprotected
villages as they made their way eastward. Now it seemed they had reached St.
"And here," he vowed as he left the governor's mansion and headed into
town, "here your rampage ends."
By the time he reached the squat brick building that housed the main
office o' the watch, half of St. Gilbert was in flames. The fire-winged gargoyle
flew from rooftop to rooftop, setting his burning sword to dry wood that went up
like tinder. The people were in high panic, the soldiers caught unprepared for the
task of dealing with airborne monstrous foes.
As Moray raced into the town square, he saw a giant black-cowled
figure looming over the tiny window that gave onto the prison. The light danced
eerily on his skeletal features, and those soldiers who had their wits about them
enough to attack fell back in superstitious terror from that death-mask visage.
Bone-white fingers wrapped around the bars. With a bellow of exertion,
the dark gargoyle tore the entire iron window free from the bricks.
Two others swooped down. One was a female with a sinuous fishtail
and green batlike wings; she carried a barrel and dumped it as she passed
overhead. The contents splashed onto a crowd of soldiers and townsfolk,
dousing them in oil.
Then the fiery one dove low, casting embers from his sword that lit the
oil. An inferno exploded in the square, then broke apart into a shattered flaming
phalanx as the burning victims ran in all directions.
Moray saw a tiny one, a demonic child-imp, capering and clapping on
the crossbar of the gallows. A three-headed beast with gnashing, foaming jaws
tore at fleeing humans.
The dark one thrust a long arm into the cell and hooked out a man. Not
Santiago but the other, the one called Bloody Pete. The gargoyle's reaction was
"You?" he bellowed, shaking the man by the neck. "You?!?" Without
giving the man a chance to speak, the gargoyle punched his claws through the
man's chest and ripped him apart as if he'd been made of cloth and straw.
"Stop!" Moray shouted above the din. He put a pistol shot into the dark
gargoyle's shoulder to get his attention, quite effectively as hot-white eyes pinned
him like knives.
"We will have revenge for our clan!" The wound didn't seem to affect
him at all, not hampering his effort to reach back into the cell and pull out the
panic-stricken Emil Santiago.
Moray aimed with his other pistol. Just as he shot, something heavy
slammed into his back and drove him face-first to the cobblestones. He rolled,
groaning, and saw the female gargoyle circle around. She'd struck him with her
tail, a blow that might have killed a mortal man.
"Let them all burn and die!" the flame-winged one cried, brandishing
his sword. People fled before him, perhaps mistaking him for the wrathful
avenging angel of an angry God. His brow ridges gave him away, as did the split
hooves and the tail visible beneath his robes.
Tag was at his side then, helping him to sit up. His back protested, his
legs were useless meat, and Moray realized that his spine had snapped.
"Get ... get out of here," he ordered Tag. "Get your family to safety."
"Already done," Tag replied. "My place is with you."
The dark gargoyle had turned away from them, seeing them as no
further threat when the object of his fury was so close at hand. Emil Santiago,
who had borne his capture and captivity with sneering bravado, blubbered like
an infant as the gargoyle's huge hand closed over his face.
"For my clan," the grim specter said, and clenched his fist, crushing the
front of Santiago's skull like an eggshell.
He shoved the man away. Santiago, blind and in immense agony but
still alive, reeled against the wall with groping, outstretched arms.
The gargoyle picked up a scythe that had been propped against a post.
Now, with that weapon in hand and his wings drawn about himself like a vast
black cloak, he was every inch Death's image. He swung the scythe on a slant,
the curved blade taking Santiago on the right collarbone and carrying clear
through to the left hip.
All of the gargoyles raised their voices in a howl of triumph.
"I'll heal," Moray said urgently to Tag. "Save yourself!"
Now that their main task was done, Moray expected them to go into a
frenzy of bloodlust, so that nothing would be left come daybreak but dead bodies
and smoldering wreckage.
"Fire!" Tag yelled.
Moray, startled, saw that several of his men, loyal ex-sailors who, like
Tag, had brought their families to settle in St. Gilbert, had wheeled cannons into
the square. The first bucked and jerked back as it went off, the cannonball
smashing through the brick wall only a few inches from the dark gargoyle. A
shower of broken masonry poured down, pummeling him to his knees.
"Reaper!" the female screeched.
The flame-winged one went for the next cannon, perhaps meaning to
light the gunpowder and blow it and the men to pieces. Moray was still holding
his other pistol, and only his legs were paralyzed. He fired, tearing a hole in a
wing, and the gargoyle veered in his flight.
Bricks went everywhere as the dark one lunged upright. "Go!" he
shouted to his clan, waving to the heavens. He bounded to an overturned wagon,
then to a burning rooftop. The beams creaked and sagged beneath his weight,
sending up a swirl of sparks. He leapt to safety, spreading his wings, just as the
The three-headed beast glided past on stubby wings, the imp-child
clinging to its back.
"Fire!" Tag yelled again. The second cannonball clipped the female's
tail, scraping loose a path of scales.
Moray tested his legs. The feeling was starting to come back. "They're
going. Let them. We have to put out these fires or we'll lose the town."
Tag marshaled men to begin hauling buckets. "Where is Giselle?"
"Safe," Moray said ... then looked at the governor's mansion, entirely
engulfed in flames. "Dear God! Giselle!"
"Where?" Tag was already six paces that way.
"The wine cellar! I told her to go to the wine cellar!" He forced himself
to stand, his knees wavering and then buckling.
First Gruoch, now Giselle; was every wife of his destined to be trapped
in a burning building? Pins and needles coursed down his limbs but he made
himself run after Tag.
The orchards were ablaze. The garden, where they sometimes made
love amid the fragrant flowers in the cool summer evenings, was a hellish
Tag plunged through the doors, arms crossed over his face to shield it.
Moray stumbled on the steps and struck his forehead, fighting to stay conscious
as blackness tried to encroach upon his vision.
That battle, he lost.
When he next opened his eyes, the first sight they beheld was the
blameless blue sky through a window framed with the blackened remnants of
white curtains. Bonita Alvarez leaned over him anxiously, bringing a damp cloth
to his face.
"Giselle --?" he asked. "Tag?"
She shook her head solemnly, and her dark eyes flicked to the corner of
the room. He followed her gaze and there was Tag, slumped in a chair with his
arm in a sling, bandages swathing his head, his hair mostly burned away.
"Giselle," he murmured, brokenly.
Tag moved, waking. The one eye not covered by bandages opened and
found Moray. "I'm sorry."
"Did you find her?"
"In the wine cellar. The flames never reached her, but the smoke ..."
"Tag brought her out," Bonita said quietly. "He thought you wouldn't
want to leave her there."
"Thank you," Moray said.
He lay back and closed his eyes, not wanting to show them the sudden
and intense burst of anger that came over him. Here he was, feeling whole and
sound with not a pain or an ache anywhere, healed when he should have been
dead. Here he was, alive and well, while pretty Giselle had died alone in the dark
and the heat and the choking smoke.
That same day, he toured the ruins of St. Gilbert.
The orchards had mostly burned, but the tree where he'd found her
dangling like the ripest and sweetest fruit of the island was mostly unmarked. He
had Giselle buried beneath that tree, and in the spring the orange blossoms
would cover her grave.
"You had these with you," Bonita said after the funeral, giving him the
scrolls. "I do not know what they are, but Tag said you might want them."
"Yes," Moray said, tucking them into his coat. "I have a use for one of
them, at least."
That night, Giselle only hours under the earth, he set out.
They couldn't have gone far. They had no ship, no human crew to
protect them during the day. St. Gilbert wasn't close enough to any other islands
to have let them reach safety by air.
It took him until dusk, but he found them, just waking from their
wooden sleep in an undercut bluff next to a bubbling spring.
"It is he!" the female said, unafraid after sizing him up and seeing
him unarmed. "You spoke true, Brand, it is the one they call the Scottish
"I am," Moray said.
"What do you want, human?" the fire-winged one, Brand, asked. "Had
you not enough last night?"
"That's why I've come. There's something left unfinished."
"Do you threaten us?" The dark one called Reaper drew himself up tall
and proud. "We've had our revenge; it is no concern of yours."
"This is not about your revenge, but mine!" He unrolled the scroll.
"Sorcery!" the female gasped.
Moray began to read the words of Latin.
The female came at him, so he pointed at her. Ladies first. A small
cyclone of tawny-gold radiance whirled up from the earth, trapping her
"Melusine!" Reaper reached for her, but the moment his hands passed
through the cocoon of magic, he too was frozen in place.
The spell expanded, enclosing the young one, the beast, and finally
Brand. They screamed soundlessly. Their eyes shone blue-white and searing
turquoise in protest. But the woven wind of magic tightened around them, their
flesh becoming stiff and solid wood, their skin taking on muted colors as of
"Vos Concludo penes somno ut Ligno donec mare fervat!" Moray
It was done.
After telling her about the spell, he was silent for so long that Birdie
was sure he'd fallen asleep. But then the sheets rustled as he moved, and she
sensed him looking at her in the dim light shed by the single bulb in the
"That," she said, "is one hell of a story."
"Yet you believe me."
"Every word. Why wouldn't I? I've seen plenty of weirdness myself,
mister, and you don't strike me as the sort of a guy who'd lie without a good
His sigh stirred her hair. "I thought telling it would hurt nearly as much
as living it, but instead, I feel better."
She kissed him, a warm, wet, openmouthed Birdie-kiss. "Glad to hear
"Is there nothing that astounds you, woman?"
"Very little. What'd you do with them? The Pirate Clan? After they
"For all they'd done, I could not bring myself to kill them. I understood
too well what had driven them to their deeds, and hoped that by sparing them, it
might someday break the cycle of vengeance." He sighed again. "It seems,
however, to have only delayed it."
"Because they're still out there."
"Yes," he said heavily. "They're still out there."