The Admiral's Captive
Aydindril was burning.
Fog obscured the scene; cannons blasted, women screamed, children cried, the sounds of battle filled the ears as swords clanged, people ran through the streets—
All was chaos. Admiral Darken Rahl, Pirate King of the entire ocean, from southern Eldoria to D'Hara to the long Midlands coast, loved it.
He smiled, adjusted his hat to a more rakish angle, killed a passing man in the uniform of the United Midlands Navy, and stood stock still for one blissful, shocked moment.
She was a vision. Dressed all in white, long dark hair tumbling over her shoulders as she wielded her daggers with a competence no man but Admiral Rahl would expect from a woman, her beautiful face locked in a mask of deadly concentration—
Even before he saw the ornate sash that proclaimed her rank as Lady and Governor of Aydindril, Admiral Rahl vowed he would have this woman—body and soul.
Lady Kahlan's eyes snapped open. Before she was more than passingly aware of her surroundings—an almost empty room with an ostentatious lock on the door—a cascade of memory assailed her.
She was the Governor of Aydindril, the capitol city of the vastly disunited Midlands. Even before she had taken on the task, the Midlands had been trying to fight off the ravages of the D'Haran pirates, led by Admiral Rahl. The few ships not under his control had been dealt with, the United Midlands Navy not being completely incompetent. But Admiral Rahl, undisputed tyrant of the waters, and his crews of ruthless female warriors were something else.
And then Captain Cypher had come from the Westland Navy, to teach the Midlands sailors a thing or two about fighting piracy.
It was Captain Cypher who had grabbed Lady Kahlan's wrist at the same moment the handsome pirate with the forbidding eyes had grasped her waist. Lady Kahlan had a smile for Captain Cypher's gallantry, at the same time that she was irritated beyond bearing—he had cost her precious seconds, in which she might have struck the handsome pirate with her other dagger—
Now that she came to think of it, Lady Kahlan realized two things: one, Admiral Rahl's ships were crewed only by women—so the handsome pirate who'd captured her could be none other than the infamous Admiral himself—and two, she felt the gentle rocking motion that meant she was aboard ship. What did Admiral Rahl mean to do with her?
The door opened; the Admiral entered, followed by a beautiful blonde woman, whose mouth was set in a tight line.
"Ah, Lady Kahlan," Admiral Rahl said delightedly. "Good, you're awake. I have a proposition for you."
The Admiral's captive didn't scream and beg for mercy, as so many did when confronted with his ruthless notions of justice.
Captain Cara approved of her, this quiet Lady Kahlan. She was so focused upon her goal, of safety and prosperity for her people, that nothing could entirely discompose her.
Admiral Rahl's proposition was simple: Lady Kahlan was to help him and his pirate armada completely subjugate the Midlands.
"As attractive as the idea of looting and pillaging for the rest of my days is," he said regretfully. "There comes a time when a man must settle down, and look to his empire."
"Why, by all the circles of the Underworld, would I help a monster like you?" Lady Kahlan asked. Her tone was more curious than accusatory, however.
"Simple," Admiral Rahl beamed at her. "Under my rule, there will be peace. The only pirates to sail these waters will be mine, and I'll even undertake to make them fly the colors of D'Hara, instead of the traditional skull and crossbones. This could be the beginning of a new era, Lady Kahlan."
"I'll see you in the Underworld first!" Lady Kahlan rattled off, in fine dramatic style. "And all your rotten followers!"
"Think about it!" Admiral Rahl called, as he and Captain Cara withdrew. "She'll come around," he said. "What'd you think of her?"
Captain Cara put her lips next to his ear and told him, in a wealth of detail.
"Ooh," he agreed. "Mmm, yes…and the chains, mustn't forget them…"
But Admiral Rahl had a soft spot about free will. He'd never admit it, but the mere idea of forcing a woman to his bed reminded him so much of his father that Captain Cara had had some work convincing him she was interested.
In the end, it was for his own good. And Lady Kahlan's, too—Captain Cara could feel her repressed sexual tension from all the way up on deck. And that curiosity…it would be a crime worse than piracy not to satisfy it.
Captain Cara smirked. She had a cunning plan…
The Lady Kahlan really was perfect. Admiral Rahl knew she hated him and everything he stood for, but he couldn't help admiring every breath she took anyway.
Besides, the vistas of possibility if she did agree to help him conquer her homeland and rule it as it should be ruled, with proper organization, were breathtaking.
All that was worth a little risk. Still, he prudently kept her door locked and never let her venture on deck without himself or his most prized warrior, Cara, Captain of his flagship, the Palace.
That was, until they put in port for supplies, and somehow he and Captain Cara and the Lady Kahlan and lots of rum ended up on the beach…
"What a ship is…what a ship really is," Admiral Rahl was saying, waving his rum around in a vaguely illustrative way, "is freedom."
"Freedom?" Lady Kahlan asked. She wasn't drinking, Captain Cara noted with disapproval. "Then why do you want to rule the Midlands? You may be able to conquer them by ship, but you can't hold them unless you're on land—how will you organize the farmers and the nobles, the armies and the navy and the peasants?"
"That's why we need you," Captain Cara said significantly. It was true: the Lady Kahlan had all the experience Admiral Rahl needed, having been Governor of Aydindril, and raised in the Midlands all her life. Captain Cara sipped her rum, thinking this careful talk wasn't quite her style. "Have a drink."
Admiral Rahl was gazing off into the distance. "It's just…" he said, frowning. "The world is such a mess. The Midlands fight between themselves, of course; there's never been an easier target for piracy in the history of the ocean. And someone has to set things right. You know?"
Lady Kahlan laughed happily. "It's like you have a duty," she said, and Admiral Rahl nodded.
"Exactly! Those with the power and intelligence to rule have an obligation to do so."
Lady Kahlan glanced at Captain Cara, who was thoroughly bewildered by the sudden accord between her and the Admiral, and toasted her. "To responsible government," she said, and drank.
Captain Cara shrugged. If responsible government was anything like running a pirate ship crewed by hard-bitten women who'd rather hit someone over the head with an oar than row, she figured she had a better grasp of it than either Lady Kahlan or Admiral Rahl.
But, she thought, watching Lady Kahlan's eyes twinkle at her across their fire, there were worse things than looking after two people who thought they should be ruling the world.
The next morning, Lady Kahlan woke with a terrific headache, but a faintly blissful feeling not entirely banished even when Captain Cara gave her a wad of bitter leaves and said, "Chew this, unless you want a little Admiral junior running around."
Kahlan chewed obediently, and then tugged Captain Cara down to sit beside her. "How long have you been working for Admiral Rahl?" she asked.
"Since I was a little girl," Captain Cara said gruffly. "My parents…well. I stowed away aboard Captain Denna's vessel—she was just a junior crew member then—and Admiral Rahl took me in and taught me everything I know."
"That must have been hard," Lady Kahlan said sympathetically. She was no stranger to difficult home life herself.
When she leaned her head against Captain Cara's shoulder, the other woman didn't protest. After an uncertain moment, Captain Cara put her arm around Lady Kahlan's waist.
They were still sitting like that when the sound of cannon fire rent the air.
Captain Cara rushed to the deck, and Lady Kahlan followed, because after last night, they didn't lock her door—a mistake, she thought when she reached the deck and, shading her eyes, recognized Captain Cypher's alert form across the water.
He saw her, too; with a glad cry, he grabbed a rope and swung across the gap, landing smoothly on the Palace's deck. "Lady Kahlan!" he said, kissing her hands as though she were still the remote and powerful Governor. "You're safe!"
It was an optimistic statement; battle raged across the decks, and more of Admiral Rahl's ships were fast closing on their position.
"Come on!" Captain Cypher said, trying to tug her closer.
But Lady Kahlan twisted out of his arms, stepped back, shook her head—
The war was only killing more people. Admiral Rahl, with her and Captain Cara by his side, could change all that. Besides, the Admiral and Captain had stolen her heart, like the pirates they were. Lady Kahlan had tasted true freedom, and she didn't mean to give it up.
Not now—not ever. And she smiled.
When they saw Lady Kahlan endorsed Admiral Rahl, the Midlands fell into even greater disrepair. Conquering them proved child's play.
Admiral Rahl built a castle by the sea, and made piracy an unofficial part of politics, where it belonged.
Captain Cara remained his right hand, and the Lady Kahlan ruled beside him. One morning, she stopped chewing the curna leaves, and nine months later, little Nicholas was born.
The last nail in the coffin of the Resistance was the day Captain Denna dragged the erstwhile Captain Cypher into Admiral Rahl's throne room, battered and bleeding.
"He's so sweet, Admiral," she said, her grin razor-sharp. "May I keep him?"
Captain Cara curled tighter next to Lady Kahlan, on the window seat overlooking the ocean.
"My rule is on land as well as on sea," Admiral Rahl said, standing behind them. "Thank you."
He kissed Lady Kahlan's hair, and watched the sun set over the ocean with the two women who had helped him create his empire. He even had an heir, and Admiral Rahl would see to it Nicholas knew his way around a ship.
It was not the end for piracy—only a new beginning.