Bay of Biscay
Off the coast of Southern France
“Can you see her?”
Francois Gudren peered through the telescope shaft to study the ship, bobbing in the distance. It only took a few twists and turns of the lens before a red flag, with white and green stripes, snapped into focus. At the sight, a lazy half smile curled the corner of his lips.
“Yes, I see her,” he replied.
“Well.” His first mate, Jean pressed his spectacles to the bridge of his nose and squinted over the railing. “Is she the Basque one you been searchin’ for?”
The ship’s bow plunged downward from a swell, casting a bracing spray of salt water upon them. Francois swept strands of dark, sodden hair aside and bent to clap the stout man on the shoulder.
“Bring us about,” Francois ordered, stuffing the telescope beneath the red sash about his waist. “Phillipe!”
“Aye?” A voice called down from above.
Francois tilted his chin to the lad in the rigging. “Be sure our colors fly high. I will not abide the prize court disallowing seizure on account of one of our blunders again.”
“Then it is her,” Jean exclaimed, padding behind him.
Francois let loose a sigh, and wheeled around. The gusting winds set his overlarge white shirt to flap agape, sending a refreshing breeze against his heated chest. Propping his hands on his hips, he stared hard upon Jean, certain the sight of him, all togged up in tight black breeches and sash about his middle, projected the look his role as a bloodthirsty pirate captain required.
“Jean, I told you to bring The Vengeance about. The Emak Hila has finally returned to Spain. If we lay in wait for her, she shan’t be able wind her way about us and reach shore. She is ours.”
“Aye, Capt,” he replied, his aged face beaming, as he scurried to take the wheel.
Francois pivoted, spouting off orders to the rest of his crew, who immediately bustled about, manning their different positions. Most ran to the lower decks to ready her sixteen guns, while the rest hastened to the twelve mounted on her upper deck.
As their quarry grew nearer, Francois again stepped up to the rail with his scope. Shoving his sleeves to his elbows, he propped a booted foot upon the lower railing, and set his eye to the rim. A glance showed the “giver of death,” as The Emak Hila was named, bestrewn with nigh 80 visible crewmembers. All frantically attempting to get the vessel to tack into the wind, and flee the trap he’d set.
“She’s using evasive maneuvering.” He slammed his hand down, collapsing the device. “Let’s go and get her, men. Unfurl the sails!”
Shadows skirted and swayed in the rigging above. The square and triangle shaped canvasses whipped and cracked, as the sea air billowed them wide. The familiar rush of excitement blasted through his veins at the feel of the Vengeance splicing through the waves with the ease of a razor on skin. At the imminent chase before him, an amused smile twisted his mouth.
Francois rested his forearms on the rail and leaned forward. The sun’s bright rays sparked against the gold band dangling from a timeworn leather cord around his neck. At the sight of it, his smile fled and all the air left his lungs.
Her name whispered on the wind like a lover’s caress. Francois gritted his teeth as a fresh whip of agony and regret lashed his soul. Pinching his eyes, he leaned his forehead on the wood rail and fought for control. It was useless. His guilt forced him to suffer, forced him to relive the worst day of his life.
Sweat beaded on his brow and his chest tightened as the scenes of that fateful night replayed in his mind. When it was finally over, he opened his eyes. They fixed on the wedding band on his left hand and he wanted to close them again. Wanted to be back in La Rochelle, drinking his life away in that hovel of a tavern his father’s death had forced him from.
It should be Cosette’s ring he wore on his hand. Instead, he wore a ring of duty, keeping hers hidden beneath his shirt, yet close to his heart. Love. Duty. He scoffed. Such was life, he’d discovered. For it seemed he would forever crave one thing yet be given another. Experience a moment of joy only to be drug through the fiery pits of hell for eternity as a price.
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