03/01/2007 - Special thanks to one of our faithful reader, Rachel Tenney for her editorial comments and contributions.
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"What are you doing?" Charlotte exclaimed. She tried to wrestle away from Crayford's grasp, but his hold was secure as he bound her wrists. "Why did you leave my father on that ship! I thought you cared about me! I thought you wanted to protect me!"
Crayford's expression remained as cold and feelingless as a stone statue while he mechanically completed the task and took the oars of the small lifeboat.
"Where are you taking me?" Charlotte prodded after a few more moments of silence. She turned around to watch the Silverado and the Charlotte slowly sail away.
Crayford stopped rowing and laid a hand on Charlotte's shoulder. Her expression softened as he said, "Charlotte I do care about you...that's why I've been in San Mateo for so long."
Charlotte furrowed her eyebrows in confusion compelling Crayford to go on. He averted his eyes uncomfortably and took up the oars again as he continued the narrative. "I was trained for this mission my whole life," he began.
"The mission of traveling to San Mateo to enlist in the Guard."
"Then why am I the only reason you stayed?" Charlotte thought aloud staring intently at Crayford as she tried to piece together the puzzle in her head.
"I wasn't joining your army as a soldier, I was joining it as an enemy spy."
His eyes were still fixed on the floor; even so he could sense her gaze upon him. "I was told to find the secret our Captain claimed only one man knows – one of the leaders of the San Mateo Guard, a man named Harold Robertson – but I have since learned that Harold Robertson is long dead."
The tears had welled up in Charlotte's eyes as he spoke. She felt so betrayed.
"Charlotte," he said, once again showing a glimmer of compassion. "Ever since I met you I couldn't bear the thought of leaving without you. I completed my mission years ago, but I kept the information about the late Captain Robertson to myself so that I could stay with you, but now that you are of age, I have the opportunity to leave and bring you with me. When your father denied me that, I decided I would take it anyway," then suddenly his countenance turned harsh, bitter and angry. "But if you don't want to cooperate, I may be forced to dispose of you just as I dispose of all who stand in the way of what I want."
He paused and pulled the oars in, looking Charlotte in the eye for the first time since they left the Silverado. "So, which do you choose?"
"If the rest of you won't go with me then I'm going alone – even if I have to swim the whole way!" Duke said rising to his feet, his face flushed with anger as he looked at the soldiers around him.
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"Duke, you're not thinking straight," a man named Bruce said. "You're injured like the majority of our crew. You can't take them alone!"
"Then come with me!" Duke said resolutely as he stormed over to the railing of the Charlotte, his eyes fixed on the Silverado as she sailed away.
Bruce sighed and followed him saying, "Duke, even with the whole crew look how we failed!
Duke turned to face Bruce and said sternly "How we failed doesn't matter now – we need to think about how we can succeed! Are you with me or not?"
There was an awkward pause until Matthew stepped out of the crowd. "I'm with you!" he he boldly stated.
Duke acknowledged his courage with a nod, then scanned the other men. "Any one else?"
"I guess you can count me in too," Bruce said.
"And me!" said another.
Charlotte was speechless. She knew she couldn't agree to go with Crayford, but she wasn't sure what he intended to do if she refused. "Please, Crayford! I just want to go back to my father's ship. You can leave, I won't send them after you, but please don't take me with you!"
Without a word, Crayford picked up the pace of his rowing and changed directions, but instead of heading back toward the Charlotte, he headed north.
Charlotte was afraid she would only dig herself in deeper if she spoke, as Crayford did not appear to have any genuine care for her. Within a few moments land was visible in the distance.
That can't be! Charlotte thought. We are several weeks travel away from the nearest shore! As they approached, she realized this was not a continent, but an island. As picturesque as it would have been it had a dark foreboding appearance to her as they drew near, for now she understood what Crayford had planned.
Duke was halfway in and halfway out of the small porthole in the side of his enemy's ship and Matthew was treading water beneath him.
"Do you see anything?" Matthew said as quietly as possible.
Duke didn't reply. He was studying the dark area below deck that used to be his home. His eyes were still adjusting from being in the bright Caribbean sun. He could hear the dirty water he'd grown so accustomed to sloshing on the floor and could see the door to the brig where Charlotte and he had been kept, which now had no lock because Captain Rogers had shot it off. As he pondered what the best next move would be he heard someone whispering. He squinted trying to decipher more shapes. He jumped when something struck him in the arm and looked to the side where the unexpected hit had come from. He saw Captain Rogers tied to one of the posts with a sturdy rope. Duke swiftly pulled himself out of the porthole and told Matthew to hold the backup unless he called for it, then wriggled through, landing with a louder thud than he had intended. He made short work of the Captain's restraints with his knife and then asked about Charlotte. The Captain was already below the porthole offering to give Duke a leg up before escaping himself. "Crayford took her!" he said softly, but urgently, and I think I know where!"
...continued next month