DISCLAIMER: We do not own the Peter Pan books/movies, nor do we make a profit from this.

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My dear friend,

I feel like an utter oaf writing this very letter, but you if anyone should understand why I found myself forced to act in this manner.

'The Relentless' should make port in London in little over a month. It is also then you will receive this letter, if the couriers cannot find a better route due to the rather horrible weather conditions we have heard of.

I am sorry to be so blunt, but I must inform you I am hereby releasing you from our engagement, the reasons as to which I will detail further. Just know that it is in no part your fault. I take full responsibility in this matter.

The war has been so long and tiring. But even before that, things were beginning to get overwhelming. I am not ready to be at court permanently – no matter what father says. My brother is of a much better disposition than I and would be far better suited to it. If only our roles were reversed – he as the future head of family, and I as the one destined to a military career or priesthood. I feel I must point out that Sebastian knows nothing of my desertion. He is at the moment aboard 'the Swift' and is celebrating Port Day with the rest of his crew. Tomorrow morning, the captain and crew of 'the Relentless' will find me gone. I have no doubt that Captain Barbossa will conduct a very thorough search for me before reporting me to the authorities and command, but I will be long gone by then. I cannot tell you where I will go as that would completely defeat the purpose, but know that I intend to never come back. This is to spare you and our families the shame of my conduct. Tell father that he is free to disinherit me and cut me from the family.

You know me - I do not need money or estates to survive as I am not shy to do labor work or take less than court-acceptable work to survive. You, my dearest, also know how much I have struggled lately. It has only gotten worse, and so I find no other way to spare you all from this but to simply disappear. Run away as it were. I intend to start a new life far from here where I can hopefully find some peace.

I wish you a good life.

Commander James Lawrence Arkwright

XXX

The skies were partly obscured with gentle clouds and the moon cast a muted silvery shine down on the docks of the small sea-side trading town. The view would have been very romantic and picturesque were it not for the great warships sitting in the waters just outside the small bay. Some were clearly under repair, battered and bruised, and others were as majestic as the day they first set sails. The small coastal town was a brief stop on their way home from the war that had ended just three months ago. While most of the lights in the town were out, the villagers sleeping peacefully now that they knew they did not have to fear raiders and pirates, there were movement and light on many of the ships. Music and laughter could faintly be heard and a dog in the town barked his reply to an especially jarring note. All in all it was a very pretty sight.

But all of this escaped the young man who was silently climbing out of his little dinghy that he had just secured to a pole. He wore dark clothes and carried a small duffle bag. His face was hidden in shadow but with his slightly slumped shoulders, it was not hard to guess that his mood was far from festive. He all but flowed down the wharf, making no noise and if you didn't look carefully and knew what to look for, you would miss him entirely. Once he reached the houses closest to the harbor, he turned around to silently regard the mighty ship he had just left. The ship was a Man o War with 74 cannons, but even as the size was very intimidating and could look very sinister during the night, it had gained a very handsome quality in the still air and almost seemed to twinkle with the light filtering through temporary open gun ports. The man sighed and turned around, disappearing into the shadows.

"And just where do you think you're going, Jamie boy?" a voice suddenly boomed behind him.

The man stiffened, but made no other outward appearance of alarm. Then he slowly turned around, his intense gaze burning into the eyes of the older man that had stepped out from behind a corner.

"You followed me", he accused.

The older man scoffed, putting a hand on the sword that hung at his side, the younger man following the movement with his eyes. "Of course I did. You might not realize it, but you are not as stealthy as you would like."

"And what will you do, Samuel?"

"Do?" Samuel barked out a laugh. "Come on James, you know I would never harm you. No. I have come to tell you something very important that you have failed to notice."

James' stance changed subtly as he straightened minutely, raised one eyebrow and waited. This decidedly aristocratic, aloof, mannerism was completely at odds with his simple clothes. Samuel seemed to find this highly amusing, if his barely concealed huff of laughter or exasperation was anything to go by.

"You are a fool, my friend. Did you not think we would follow you wherever you go?" Samuel suddenly exclaimed. "Do you think so little of us? We have noticed your depression and have prepared accordingly. Dear Lord, man! Even Hector thinks this has gone on for too long and he is not one to coddle anyone."

This earned a shocked look from James. "You mean to say…"

"Yes, commander. We have made preparations to enable the crew of the Relentless to be gone, vanish as it were, by morning. We are going with you." A flash of white teeth as the man grinned mischievously . "The ship included."

James blinked once and sat down heavily on a barrel, burying his face in his hands, the long locks that had come loose from the quick tie he had put it in, now obscured his face slightly. "I will not be your commander anymore if you all follow me, and neither will you be part of his Majesty's service. You will be deserters, just like I. I cannot let you all make that sacrifice."

Samuel crouched down to his friend's level and put a hand on a slightly trembling shoulder, sighing softly to himself. James' biggest character flaw was that he felt he should take all the responsibilities and worries of the world on his shoulders and, by doing so, he would sacrifice everything that he was, for everyone else. And now that he had reached his limits, he not only felt a crushing sense of guilt for actually thinking about himself for once, but also that he had somehow coerced his men into his personal little hell. Samuel, or 'Smee' as James liked to call him, wanted to take James over his knee for even daring to think such a preposterous thing. Could the youngster not see that he inspired people; made them strive to become the best they could be? That they would follow him to their deaths if needed be? None of them would deny James the chance of getting a well-deserved rest, hopefully away from everything that burdened him. That mainly meant getting him away from his father, Count Arkwright.

"There is nothing you can do. The men have made up their mind and our plan is being set in motion as we speak. I am surprised you did not once notice that we were up to something. Now", he nodded encouragingly as James looked up to meet his eyes. "Remember that most of this is Hector's and my plan. He has consented to go back to being your boatswain if you are willing to once again be our captain. I will remain first mate and most of the crew has worked out their new positions…" he hesitated, pondering. "… or rather, old. I guess it depends on which way you look at it.

James seemed to hesitate before nodding. Then he stood up and the two of them slowly began to make their way back towards the wharf and the small dinghy.

"But why would Hector leave Jack? Or is he coming with us?" the question was hesitant.

Samuel shrugged. "Jack is staying on the Swift with your brother. He thought he could better help Sebastian if he were to stay right where he is, working towards his captainship. In that way he can also help us in the future if we would need it."

They walked in silence for a while with Samuel shooting worried glances in James' direction. At a street-corner, James seemed to hesitate. The older man took this as his cue to speak of something that had been on both their minds for the past few minutes.

"What of young lady Fairbairn? How will you explain your disappearance to her?" he carefully did not mention James' father.

"I have written her a letter", James retrieved it from his coat pocket. "I meant to send it before I left this town… do you think we could arrange something before we go?"

Samuel grinned. "Oh Jamie boy, when have I ever let you down?"

XXX

"I wish you a good life. Commander James Lawrence Arkwright…"

The high noon sun blazed in full glory through the tall lounge windows of the Fairbairn city mansion. It was exceptionally, unusually, nice weather for the island nation. It was funny how the weather always seemed to be so excessively good whenever you had a mental storm of Scottish winter tempest proportions brewing around you.

I guess that's someone's funny way of making up for incorporeal bad weather… but if that was the case, it'd mean almost every man and woman in the kingdom have perfect lives and that is such a lie even the Lord couldn't sanctify the darkness out of it, the young woman thought as she stared at the letter in her hands. She wasn't sure if her ability to make such a detached statement was because she was reading this letter for the fourth time or not, but she had to confess that it did come easier to her. She'd read it three times alone already. Once, with near giddy anxiety and happiness slowly dying and, like a phoenix, rising again as worry and horror, and twice in a state of shock simply to make sure she hadn't misread anything. The third time came about half an hour after simply staring at the letter and trying to figure out how all this would fall. Now she'd just finished reading it a fourth time. She'd read with a clear, as-steady-as-possible voice to a lounge filled with not only her family but also the members of her betrothed's, or, well, ex-betrothed's family as it now seemed to be.

So far not even a minute had passed but the silence-of-the-grave that had settled in after her voice had read the last syllable of the letter had been deafening and as telling as a fatal pistol wound. The letter had arrived this morning by breakfast. It was now noon, almost time for a lazy lunch and a friendly chat outside in the garden. Too bad that there wouldn't be lunch anytime soon.

Melisande raised her attention from the fine paper in her hands to gaze out over the assembled people. The heavy golden ring with priceless stones and deliciously delicate designs of leaves on the band that she'd been given eighteen years prior on the settlement of hers and James' engagement hung from its golden chain around her neck like usual but it seemed to burn with the same ferocity that her heartbeat was quickly reaching. It was an heirloom of the noble family of Arkwright, always given to their future brides upon engagement as a pledge of troth.

For the eldest child and only daughter of a baron to receive it had been such an honor. Of course, then like now, her family had enough riches to make the deal lucrative and more than just passingly attractive. And as said in the letter, it wasn't she that had made her poor friend flee despite treason branding and hanging being the definite consequences and that was only the official reprimands, not the social or familial.

The minute of silence wasn't even allowed to pass through all its sixty seconds before the grave-esque atmosphere broke like a boil poked one too many times. Even if you'd expect a bad reaction there are times when even the worst of pessimists are surprised and lady Melisande Fairbairn was far from a pessimist to begin with.

"Treason! Your bloody boy has gone and committed treason!" Theodore Wilfred Fairbairn, 5th baron of Fairbairn spat at the man and woman sitting on the settee opposite of him. The shock of the sudden outburst was there but it didn't take long before a rebuttal was ready to be launched.

"How dare you?" the countess of Arkwright hissed with such low, cold venom any animal that crept along the bottom of the cold, northern seas would be proud.

"I dare," the baron growled back at her with heat as his wife tried to pull him away from that dangerous edge he was clomping closer to. "This is the thanks we get after eighteen years of tirelessly devoting our only daughter to your eldest when he should have married her long ago! That little prat of yours!"

It's a good question who took more offense, the count or his wife, but it was the countess who flew out of her seat first and with such force that one should have wondered if she really wore a corset under her fine gown.

"You swine! It's probably your little hussy of a daughter who led my sweet boy to this!"

At this, the baroness Fairbairn shot to her feet. "You dare, madame! Your 'sweet boy' is no more than a brazen rapscallion! Who knows what he's done in all those foreign ports while our girl has been sitting here with virtue and patience!"

Melisande watched the carnage unfold, unable to do anything as the exchange rose in heat and anger. It took several heartbeats, but at last she raised her voice in an attempt to pacify both, or any, side. "Mother—"

This time it was actually the count himself, Maximilian Lance Arkwright, who raised his voice in anger. "You low-blooded cheat! None of mine would debase themselves with such inferior stock! I ought to—"

"Mother!" The letter crumpled as Melisande's hand closed tight around it.

"Touch my wife and you will leave this house blooded, you philandering oaf!"

"Fa…" It was pointless. Her voice died away as more insults filled the room. All this hate growing into excessive proportions and she just knew that her little brother, whose ears were of the age where you shouldn't hear words like these, was eavesdropping somewhere near. With hands covering her face, one still clutching her letter, she shook her head, regretting it all. If she could take back just one thing in all her life, among all the court blunders, social and familial trip-ups, she'd take back the decision to gather up her family and prospective family to read this letter out loud.

As another insult flew across the battlefield in this war of the families, Melisande closed both fists hard, digging her nails into palm and paper. "Enough… Enough!" she bit out in an enraged whisper. She didn't want this. If James' happiness came, partially, from being free then she didn't mind. She'd survive it. Just…

With an angry flurry of skirts, the young lady turned on her heel and rushed from the room. Not once bothering with giving the war she left behind even the illusion of privacy as the lounge doors were left to swing wide open, Melisande ran down the halls. Not even halfway down the staircase from the ground floor, she began yelling.

"Frederick! Frederick!"

The steward of the house almost jumped out of a nearby doorway, probably having hurried down the servant passages to make it there before her. "Y-yes, young mistress?"

"Open the door!"

"What?"

"The door, man! Open the blasted door!" she yelled, flinging an enraged glare his way. The door was flung open just before she reached it. The poor head servant barely had time to jump out of the way.

"Where are you going, my lady?" he called after her as she rushed down the steps of the marble porch.

"Lord Rayne," was the two-word reply she growled, not even bothering turning her head for him.

"My lady! My lady, wait—!" The man stared after her, letting out a sigh as his plea fell on deaf ears. Melisande was already crossing the courtyard, yelling for the next person. The servant let his hand fall that had reached out for his young mistress.

"Jones! Jones, my horse!"

"Where's Mel going?"

The man in the doorway didn't even look down as he stared after the young noblewoman. "To see a friend, young master Roderick. The duke of Rayne."

The next baron of Fairbairn stared after his older sister. At just nine years of age, he didn't understand exactly how bad the situation was, or was going to become in the future, but he'd understood it was bad and that it was about their friend James. He hoped they'd be back soon, both Mel and James. He wanted Mel to explain the lounge argument to him and for James to bring him stories of faraway places.

XXX

The ducal family of Rayne was related to the royal family of Britian and one of the most respected in the nation. Close friends of such people always gain certain favors or treatment and sometimes… they just take them. However, like most close friends, they are forgiven most things.

"Horatius!" The door to the private study of eldest child and heir to the duke of Rayne, Horatius Neville Terence, slammed wide open as a very unexpected and unannounced but nonetheless always welcome guest barged in.

"Jesus Christ, Ave Maria!" the man in question put a death grip upon his chair behind the beautiful, gilded desk. "Melisande," he stared at the rumpled figure swiftly covering the floor between the two. For a second, he wondered if it was safer to back away from her but put that notion aside and rose from his seat to meet her.

"Good Lord, Melisande," he said as he reached out for her, not sure if she'd stop when she reached him or if she'd just collapse. "You look horrible. What's happen—?"

"A ship!" she desperately pleaded as she gripped his lower arms just below the elbow. Horatius raised a confused eyebrow at her.

"Melisande, calm down, I implore you. What's happened?" he asked gently as he pried her hands off him and took them both in his.

Not having cried once since she got the letter, Melisande now swallowed a sob and dug out the letter that had, despite the wild ride in normal corset and house dress, survived with only the crinkles she'd given it in her family lounge. She refrained from thrusting it at him as she handed it over. Horatius took the letter before solicitously taking her to the settee and parking her there rather adamantly. He knew she wouldn't have sat down if he didn't take the letter first. Melisande this upset was unusual on its own but she still functioned much the same as always. Some women just lost their senses when they got upset or, worse, became hysteric. Of course, the day Melisande became hysteric was the day he'd check his eyesight to make sure it really was her and not his eyes playing tricks on him.

As he smoothed out the letter, the young woman locked her gaze on his face. "Please help me," she whispered.

Brow furrowing, Horatius turned his attention onto the first words, seeking the answer to this craziness that had decided to visit upon him, and apparently his dear friend, this day. Expression quickly growing grey, much like a sky as a storm approaches, he read on. It didn't get better.

"Where did it come from?" he angrily stated, almost rhetorically as if daring anyone to answer, as he finished the letter. "I'll go there, find him and drag his sorry arse back myself."

"Small sea-side trading town. Santa Maria del Castella, I think," Melisande said to the hands folded in her lap. She knew his anger was because he was worried about their friend and the consequences too, but the complications this turn of events put on Melisande wasn't lost on him either. At 21, Melisande would've been a spinster to the rest of society if not for her engagement and if she lost that…

"Done. I'll—"

"No, Horatius, please," the young noblewoman stood up and placed a gentle hand on her friend's arm. Meeting his gaze, she sadly shook her head. "I don't blame him for anything, not even for this," with her other hand, Melisande fished out the ring hanging upon its chain from inside her bodice. "I just want him to be happy but I cannot sleep soundly knowing he's branded as a traitor. He does not deserve it. If there is any way, any possible way in the world, that he can live like normal then I'd give my all for that. I'd give up our engagement for him if it would change anything, but I must talk to him. I cannot just give in and let him run with a traitor's brand on his back. I'd never sleep again if I knew there was even the slightest possibility of him being hanged for treason anywhere in the world."

Horatius regarded her silently for a moment before speaking softly, almost as if regretting his statement. "You love him." Melisande smiled warmly at him but for some reason, he thought she saw someone else before her eyes.

"I love to see him happy. All else is irrelevant now. Always was."

"You love him."

Melisande only smiled at that. "Please help me. I need a ship."

Not moving an inch, a hard resolution in velvet gloves held sway as Horatius met his friend's gaze. "The Honoria is yours. Crew and all. It will go wherever you gaze. She could be sea-ready in a day and crossing the English Channel by tomorrow evening." Good old Horatius and his love of sailing.

"Thank you, Horatius dear. Truly… thank you."

"Allow me—"

Melisande silenced him with a squeeze from her hand upon his arm. "No. I need you here. Please look after our families. Do not let them tear each other to pieces. They were already threatening blood and duels when I left. I need your clever tongue as well as your swift and sharp mind here." Then she smiled, a slightly amused light with a faint mischievous glint in her eyes. "You can give James the spanking you're itching for when we return." The she sobered up again. "For now, just hold down the fort. Please?"

The ducal heir regarded his friend for a short moment before speaking up, a faint tilt to his lips. "I've got a ship to prepare, a captain to brief and crew to chase to their positions. I would be grateful if you could aid me in finding our dear friend's last location on a nautical chart and then make whatever preparations you need yourself."

"Thank you," Melisande smiled. Horatius raised an amused and mocking brow at her.

"I suspect that their lord and lady Baron Fairbairn do not know of this little boating trip."

"And neither shall they until the sea meets the bow, if your Grace would be so kind," Melisande answered with a faint curtsey and an equally mock-serious expression, tone of voice giving her away on purpose.

Horatius backed a step to be able to take her hand and, holding it, giving her a very deep, formal bow. "And so they shall not, your ladyship," he said before looking up, still bowing, and winking at her. It earned him a grin and a light giggle. Better. Much better in his book.

XXX

The day had flown by seemingly all too fast with his dear friend worried about the ship not being ready to leave port the next afternoon. Horatius had assured Melisande that that was not the case. They were making good time considering the short notice. While not a ship of the line, the Honoria was grand and held an adequate amount of weaponry for its own protection. Being the eldest son of a duke, no expense had been spared on Horatius' 20th birthday present. If his parents wouldn't let him go to war, they would make certain he had a stately ship to steer around the British Isles.

At the end of the day, the decision had been made to have Melisande stay in the guest suit and send two different notes to the Fairbairn house. One was official, friendly and to the point; Melisande would be staying with her dear friend for the night and some into the next day to gather her wits about her. The second note went discreetly into the hands of the servants to run up the hidden hallways until it reached Melisande's maidservant. It was a note to prepare as much for the trip as was secretly possible. With the help of the steward and a few other trusted servants, a trunk with the Honorable Melisande Fairbairn stated on it in gilded letters left the Fairbairn estate at the crack of dawn and was transported to the docks to be loaded aboard the Honoria.

It was now late afternoon and the Honoria had been gone for a few hours. Horatius had waved her goodbye and God speed. He was now back in the bustling city, his carriage had just arrived at the Fairbairn estate. Getting out of the private transport, he looked up at the house, the sun glinting happily down on it.

No time like the present, huh? he thought as he began walking towards the porch. Hopefully, the baron wouldn't take it too badly that his daughter had gone on a trip to the New World. Horatius would do his best to lessen the blow and ensure her safety. Well, as much as one man can when he's not present. He had complete trust in his crew being competent and loyal to his every word so if he said 'see Melisande to the New World and protect her by any means possible' that was what they would do. Much like what James' crew would do for him.

As he stepped onto the porch, the front doors opened and the steward gave a deep bow.

"Good day, Frederick."

"Good day, my Lord. I trust the weather is pleasing you?"

"Oh yes. It has been most wonderful. A perfect day for a boat trip," Horatius answered with a nod. The servant let his shoulders fall slightly in a visible sigh of relief. He'd probably not enjoyed having to keep such a secret from his master and mistress but the successful departure of the Honoria meant he no longer had to try and keep it under wraps. It would all soon be known anyway.

Meeting the ducal heir's gaze, however, the man looked apologetic. "The young master is very skillful."

For a second, Horatius had to think but then it hit him. Roderick. Naturally. Well, if he could get hold of the little boy, he'd speak to him. Melisande had expressed remorse about not being able to explain it all to him or say goodbye. Horatius couldn't say goodbye for her but he certainly could try to explain.

Entering the reception room, Horatius met the baron himself who was just coming down the main staircase. He stopped for a second then continued down the steps.

"My Lord, we weren't sure whether to expect you and our daughter today or tomorrow."

Horatius inclined his head in reply. "Melisande is a strong woman. I have the highest faith in her mind and heart."

"Speaking of which," baron Fairbairn said, casting eyes beyond Horatius as he arrived at the bottom of the stairs, "where is she?" At this point in time, the lady Fairbairn appeared at the top of the stairs and began to make her way down. Horatius nodded at her, acknowledging her presence.

"My dear friend has decided to stay away for a bit longer. She feels the presence of close but not familial company would be most enlightening and, hopefully, sort out any troubles that will come from this little episode."

Arriving at her husband's side, she gave him one of her hands as she smiled gratefully at Horatius. "I don't think we can properly express the gratitude we feel over Melisande having such a good friend she can rely on."

Horatius gave a small bow. "I hope to always be of service to her. She's very dear to us." By us, he'd meant James, not the lord and lady Fairbairn. That she was dear to them didn't need stating, seeing as they'd threatened a count and his family with a blood feud.

"I hope we can always rely on you and we'll always strive to repay the favor," Melisande's mother smiled at the ducal heir. "Especially now. I fear our daughter will come under attack due to her age. I pray you'll render her aid in getting through these troubled times."

Horatius frowned. He was seeing a pattern here. Yes, the lady Fairbairn was very good at the talk, as polite society put it. He was too. It was one of the reasons Melisande had asked him not to go with her even though a woman going without a chaperon that had her parents' blessings on a ship half around the known world looked bad. They needed him here. He did see where her mother was pointing her metaphorical fingers, and it put a sour taste in his mouth. He loved Melisande as a friend, and sometimes that made for as nice of a match as any marriage based in such circumstances could but he knew where her heart lay. He wouldn't do it to her or to James. To imply it was, in truth, insulting to their friendship whether the lady Fairbairn knew it or not. Melisande would've been furious had she known.

"My lady, I must say that I will always stand her by and defend her but I will do the same for our mutual friend, Lord James Arkwright. Also, I would in no way be so rude as to—"

Running feet and shouting interrupted the ducal heir as a footman from the front gates came bursting in through the doors. "News from the New World! My Lord and Lady! Dreadful news!"

This was so not what we needed right now, Horatius moaned internally, wishing he could cover his eyes with a hand in exasperation.

"Speak, man!" Lord Theodore Fairbairn barked at the man who was now huffing for breath a few steps away from Horatius. Horatius wasn't sure if the baron hoped for a swift change of heart from his daughter's fiancé or for more damnation just to give him further ammunition. Whatever his reaction to these news would be, depending on what they were, Horatius would agree with Melisande or not about the "to war" comment.

At that exact moment in time, Horatius had no idea how bad this "war" was about to get…

"The entire crew of the Relentless has deserted his Majesty's service to follow Lord Arkwright!"

"…What? The entire crew?"

Horatius had to agree as even he was a bit surprised seeing as the Relentless held a number of about 1000 capable men. He knew that James could inspire but to have 1000 men leave homes and families and willingly be branded traitors… now that was talent. Horatius would tip his hat to James… after having given him an earful and that spanking Melisande mentioned. And then they would drink away a whole evening because it seemed to be desperately needed. He'd suffer James' drunken singing voice for a whole night to have his friend back safely.

And then the shit hit the fan and Horatius got to see what Melisande saw the day before. The exact state of the "war".

"That inebriated little dog!" the color of the Lord Fairbairn face was becoming significantly redder. "Not only does he drag our daughter along for years upon years in a false sense of security but now he drags a whole crew into damnation?! Where is my daughter? She needs to hear of this." Lord Theodore threw his head around as if he had forgotten that Horatius mentioned earlier that she was not with him. The ducal heir steeled himself to not let anger at the insults to his friend get to him. Melisande relied on him to control both hers and James' family in this difficult time. It would try even his soul and stretch his skills but he was determined to succeed, or die trying.

"The Lady is not here nor will she be anytime soon. The Honorable Melisande Fairbairn is aboard the Honoria, bound for the New World and departed this afternoon. She has my blessing in all she does and the ship will not return to port until it has reunited the Lady with Lord Arkwright and she has spoken to him. That is final. Good day, my lord and lady Fairbairn," Horatius said with steel in his voice as he turned and left.

This would not be over anytime soon. The air needed to settle and he needed to talk to both sides when they had gotten their minds wrapped around the situation. He needed to come up with a plan of attack. Horatius sighed heavily. Melisande was right. This was a war and he somehow felt rather unequipped to fight it. He would do his very best though. For both of his friends' sake.

A small shadow snuck up on quick feet to walk beside the ducal heir as he headed for his carriage. Horatius slowed, not only to adjust his stride to the shorter legs beside him but also to gain more time.

"When will Mel return?"

Horatius sighed again, this time far more remorsefully than irritated. "I don't know, Rody. It will take a while, but she will. Don't you worry."

"I'll wait for her."

Horatius couldn't stop the amused snort. "You do that," he smiled. "You do that…" And then he stopped and went down on one knee in front of the baronial heir, placing his hands on the shoulders of the young boy. "Never let anyone convince you that she is wrong. Melisande is completely sane and worthy of all praise. And so is James. Never let anyone change your view of that. They are both honorable."

Roderick nodded fiercely. "I won't. I'll look after Mel's stuff for her."

"You do that," Horatius grinned. To be young again when all was so much easier… "It might be a while, but I'm sure she will be very happy and thankful if you keep all her things as she left them."

XXX

The weather had been as you could've expected; varied. The trip had so far been uneventful, much to the crew and Melisande's relief but now… now the storm clouds towered thick all around them. They'd come right out of the blue, no warning, no build-up, just a thick, gray wall out of nowhere. There had been whispered rumors and warnings about this particular region in the last port the visited, a small sea-side town, but the Relentless had been seen taking this course. Melisande had point blank refused any other direction, local superstition or not. She didn't care, she was going this way.

Silly peasants who'll be afraid of their own shadow! the noblewoman scoffed silently. Sailors believe it bad luck to have a woman onboard and how much bad luck had the Honoria and crew had so far? None! Not a single attack by pirates or sighting of enemy colors. Nothing, nothing at all. So they had to excuse her for not believing the silly townsfolk. Most of the crew had grown used to her now, referred to her warmly and even respecting her. She apparently possessed most of the sought-after qualities of a good woman and fine wife, something she wasn't about to dispute. She wasn't being proud or vain but you could only disagree with compliment so many times before people began thinking of you as self-deprecating rather than humble. Most commoners expected a certain surety from nobility about their person and station in life. Take away that and they'd start to wonder where the world was going, so Melisande tried to do everything in accepted amounts.

Standing on the upper deck now, looking at the roiling sky overhead, Melisande hugged herself. It'd been too hot for most outer garments in her trunks for several weeks, perhaps even a month, but now as the sky darkened, all she wanted was to go below and dig something warm and comforting out. Unconsciously, she grasped at the front of her bodice behind which the engagement ring lay. There was something worrying about that sky but she couldn't put her finger on what exactly. Call it female intuition if you will but despite the apprehension she felt, the current course which was straight for the possible eye of that storm felt right. The opposing feelings that kept warring inside her made her fidgety but she stood her ground. It would all be fine in the end.

And it would… the end was just very, very far away and no one knew the ride they were in for before they reached it.

The storm hit suddenly, wreaking intense havoc upon sea, ship and crew. The oppressing sky seemed to press in close as if trying to suffocate the ship and push it down below the waves while the sea churned and spat angrily, trying to shove the ship up into the sky. Between the two primal forces it was a miracle that the ship wasn't crushed. It had hit so suddenly that all Melisande could do was cling to the railings to not fall and bash her skull open against the polished hardwood. Some small part of her mind was beyond amazed with herself that she wasn't spewing her guts up on the floor but the bigger part of her brain was occupied with the titanic effort of staying safe and onboard the ship. Go overboard now and you were gone. No one would have the ability to save you, no one.

Another thing no one would be able to save themselves from either was the wrath of their lord and master if they came home to Britain without their most precious cargo, however, sometimes life is cruel and it pitches you against the most terrible of odds and tells you to sink or swim, save yourself or drown. This was one of those moments and the poor captain of the Honoria had a front row view of the tragedy itself. The woman he'd tried to reach and get below deck since halfway into the storm, when she'd finally conceded to go below for her own sake, was flung over the railing as a terribly large wave washed over the side of the ship, nearly turning the vessel. The hard wind eaten the scream that the captain could've sworn came from the noblewoman's open mouth as she went flying into the dark beyond the relative safety of the ship's railing but it was her look, he'd later tell the next duke of Rayne, that would haunt him in his dreams for years to come. Some things you never forgive and you never forget. The captain of the Honoria never forgave himself and he never forgot those eyes.

XXX

It must have been the sun that woke her up because the world around her was calm. The faint sounds of seabirds and the clucking sound of water against wood reassured her that she was safe despite the fall that was her last memory. She must have been by an open window or very far below deck, inappropriately far, to hear that sound as loud and clear as she was though.

Forcing abused eyes open, Melisande squinted her eyes against the bright light. Her vision was so blurry she could hardly see a thing. Colors flashed, colors and light. She had to be outside for it to be that bright… Sheer willpower was what got her eyes open half-open and her gaze focused enough to take in her surroundings. Water. Crystal clear blue as far as the eye could see. The ground rocked dangerously as she shoved herself up into a semi-prone position. Turning her head around to look around properly, the dreaded truth came clear as the day to her.

Sea. Dead out at sea—or, well, almost. She squinted at something in the distance. Island… It was an island. Looking down, she realized what she was laying on; one of Honoria's smaller lifeboats that lay upside down in the water. It seemed relatively whole so chances were it had been torn off and not the worst case scenario… the Honoria went down. She didn't think she'd be able to live with herself if that would prove to be the case. She was the one who had insisted they press on, she had refused to take another course, she had steered them straight into the storm. She prayed to God Almighty that Honoria and crew had not gone down. They did not deserve it. Then again, seeing as she couldn't see any trace of a shipwreck or crew, she assumed the better case scenario was true but in that case… She turned her eyes onto the island that her upside down boat was slowly but surely making its way towards, it was possible that there were similar islands in the distance, she couldn't tell for sure but it was possible. There had not been any islands or isles that close to the coordinates where the storm hit them. How far had she drifted? She would've suffered more if she'd drifted that far and she wasn't feeling that bad. Bad was a very relative term at the moment but as long as she wasn't dead, she'd considered bad to be good.

Holding her head, Melisande carefully moved to straddle the boat the best she could. The boat rocked unsteadily beneath her but stayed upright, or as upright as an upside down boat could. Casting one last anxious glance at the island in the distance, Melisande began to slowly paddle her way towards it with her hands. This was going to take a while but by God, she would get there.