Well, heaven forgive him! And forgive us all!
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall:
Some run from brakes of ice, and answer none:
And some condemned for a fault alone.
Measure for Measure, Act II, Scene I.
Lieutenant Lesaro stood stoically at his usual post on the quarterdeck.
For any casual observer amongst the crew, he looked much the same as always. As steady as clockwork, and as steadfast as a toy soldier was el teniente – and as loyal to el Capitán's will as a bulldog. No one questioned his loyalties. Ever.
No, the only person who ever questioned Lesaro's motives was Lesaro himself. Had anyone caught a glimpse of his one good eye that morning, they would have seen it filled with enough care and worry for three men.
He shifted, striding purposefully over to the ship rail in an effort to dislodge the thought. The hint of a south-westerly wind set the floating fragments of his shattered right shoulder dancing lazily in the breeze.
He had always wondered about that; how the phantom underwater currents that held them allstill prevailed. It could be a calm day out on the open sea, but Lesaro would see his jacket sleeve move against the prevailing wind, knowing that somewhere in the Triangulos del Diablo, the water was moving... differently.
Reminding us where we belong, Lesaro thought, in a moment of uncharacteristic darkness. We are still galley slaves chained to the will of the Curse. It just chooses to let us wander.
Lesaro was not often ill-at-ease. A good lieutenant has no business, he had always maintained, showing any open doubt in his captain's actions or his judgement. Public criticism of a capitán's actions? That way led to mutiny and dissent and all manner of evils.
But when…uncomfortable, shall we say, with Capitan Salazar's decisions, he became much more formal. He withdrew the marks of his friendship and approval and became a stiff, mechanical officer – operating almost more by stiff mechanism than by his own willpower. My duty and loyalty may compel me to obey you, he seemed to say without speaking, but I do not like it – and you betray my faith in you by asking it.
Something of this had been present in Lesaro since the introduction of the Señora aboard La María. His conscience smote him cruelly when he thought of the whole affair.
I doomed her. That is what I did.
But it had been almost... instinctive. He had not seen or heard a fellow countrywoman in over fifty years; just hearing another Spanish voice, asking so earnestly for help had reminded him of so many things he had long thought forgotten. Better things. The things he'd gone to sea to serve in the first place.
He hadn't dreamed that things would fall out as they did.
The situation had been such that he had thought Salazar, confronted with a frightened innocent fellow citizen, was at least capable of allowing her to leave unscathed. He had still enough belief in Armando Salazar's sense of honour and duty that he had thought: Capitán will not kill her, Capitán will set her free. Capitán will remember what it is that we once were...
But I forget. Lesaro thought bleakly. There is no mercy. Not with Capitán..
His intentions had backfired, miserably. Salazar had been far too interested to relinquish such a precious thing as new information, even when it came in the form of an unprotected innocent.
Capitán was doubtlessly rubbing his hands together at the prospect of knowing more of Spain after so long and so little gleaned from the miserable survivors of their sea-raids.
His plan seemed beyond cruel to Lesaro; making a living woman a caged bird, taught to sing their macabre notes of death and vengeance as a warning to others.
And what if he takes it into his head to kill her, if she displeases him? He could do it. And then the chill realisation. He would do it, too, rather than show weakness in front of the men. Let his temper get the better of him once, and she'll be tipped overboard with her throat cut…
His mind recoiled from the thought.
No. The Señora is an innocent. Not a pirate, not an enemy soldier – nothing Capitán has any excuse for keeping or killing. She should have been allowed to go free ashore.
This is wrong. This is all wrong.
And the worst of it was that Salazar hardly seemed to know what he had done. He was so wrapped up in his own calculations he hadn't allowed for the devastating change in the precarious equilibrium of the crew. Even the officers couldn't help but be... disturbed.
Surprisingly, it was Cortez who had given Lesaro the clue to how bad things were.
Several lifetimes spent in the man's company hadn't given Lesaro much knowledge of his brother-lieutenant– a deep one, was Cortez. But he was a staunch officer in his surly fashion, and a good man to have beside you in a fight. Nothing ever seemed to shake teniente Cortez.
That is, until the Senora had been sworn in. Lesaro had to lay a restraining hand on the man's sleeve. Cortez, had been shaking with shock and anger – so much so that he had let fly that indignant protest.
He might as well have been a fly trying to sting a bull through its thick hide.
Cortez had turned an aghast face to Lesaro once el Capitán had left the deck.
'La María is not for the living!' he hissed. 'She is ours! Ours alone! He can't... he has no authority to-'
'Authority?' Lesaro's brow furrowed darkly. These were dangerous waters – and all the worse for coming from the mouth of a second lieutenant. 'Tread carefully, Cortez. He is the capitán. What other authority does he need?'
Cortez stared at him, wide-eyed. 'Are you truly that blind?' he rocked back on his heels, jerking his arm away from the lieutenant's reach. 'There are some spaces in men's souls that should be left free, Lesaro. Capitán grants us nothing. And now he takes away what little we still have to call our own?'He shook his head. 'The men will not stand for it-'
He had a point, Lesaro recognised silently. La María was all they had. She served them as both home and floating purgatory. Up until now, she had been theirs alone. She was their guardian, in a way; a fellow-sufferer, bound to them by the Curse as surely as they were bound to her.
In a world filled only with the screams of the dying or else grey... silence, where there was nothing else, the men could at least be sure that La María looked down on them kindly, as someone who could understand them. What could the living know about that need for reassurance?
But she had sworn, nonetheless. And now, by Capitán's decree, she was one of them. Not a prisoner; not, as Lesaro had thought, an uneasy kind of guest.
Did the poor woman even know what she had done? It wasn't a light oath, by any means. If you swore service to Salazar on La Maria – as they had all done, in life and death both – La Maria would hold you to it. She had her own means of doing so, too. Lesaro had seen it for himself
And that was even leaving Cortez's claims of the men's jealousy and anger aside, too...
Inwardly he groaned. Capitán, what are you doing?
'They will have to stand for it,' Lesaro said sternly, quashing his own doubts. 'Remember, he is-'
'He is a fool.'
Meeting Lesaro's shocked, angry gaze, Cortez spat carefully -and contemptuously- over the ship's rail.
'There! Capitán can have that for his authority, if he pleases.' He said, hoarsely. 'He cannot do this. It is a blasphemy. He will undo us all. Again.'
Lesaro took a threatening step forward, his hand involuntarily clenching over the verdigrised hilt of his sword. 'Watch your mouth, Cortez. You speak tr-'
Treason, he had been about to say. But Cortez interrupted him.
'-Truth,' he finished, eyes glinting with frustration. 'I speak truth, teniente. And you know it as well as I do.'
He saluted ironically, before turning on his heel and marching away.
Lesaro glared after him, briefly considering how best to counter such open aggravation. Insolent young puppy. To say such things openly to his senior officer was bordering on defiance.
But he's right. Damn him. It was the truth, even if it sounded no better coming from a wild-eyed young hothead like Cortez.
But Capitán is worse. Lesaro recalled, with much misgiving, his commander's changed and preoccupied manner, even in their fruitless, endless sea-wanderings before the Señora. He grows worse every day. He no longer knows when to draw back, or when to stop.
And the poor woman –
Lesaro hadn't missed the way his captain followed the Señora hungrily with his eyes at that parody of an officer's dinner. His heart had sank into his boots. He had known, even before the oath on La Maria, what the end would be.
The trouble was that the lady was spirited. Perhaps too much so for her own good. It had caught El Capitán's attention. Drawn it, in his unswerving fashion, straight to her, with the relish Capitán always had for a challenge.
She was something new but... familiar, at the same time. A reminder of home and a future that never was. It would have been an affecting combination in any circumstance, but...
Salazar had not had much outside their unceasing patrols of the sea to catch his interest. And that was the trouble. The lady-embajadora was now his new focus. His only focus.
She was a source of valuable information for them, true enough, but...
If she'd truly been nothing more than a source of intelligence, he would have interrogated her more closely from the start. They could have reached Saint-Martin by now, the transaction over and done with.
Salazar was dancing around, playing for time. Prolonging their forced acquaintance.
Lesaro had seen Armando Salazar fascinated by women before. In the old days, his...attachments had rarely lasted the length of leave ashore. But women had been little more than a pleasant recreation for him then –something to do, but barely worth the talking to. Or... so he claimed, at any rate.
Lesaro remembered the business in Veracruz, and said nothing,
No, this interest in the widowed Señora... this was new. This was worrying.
Perhaps it's simply a case of forbidden fruit, Lesaro reasoned. He wants what he can't have any more. It will pass...
Oh, but that closed stateroom door! Lesaro knew what that portended. He wished he didn't.
He's using the inundacíon de memoria again. To look at her.
Oh, I cannot bear this. Lesaro thought despairingly. I am tired of it. He barely even obeys his own rules now. The next opportunity -the very next that presents itself, I must warnhim. I must keep him from his folly despite himself…
There was a respectful "ahem" at his elbow.
Lesaro made an effort to pull himself from his gloomy calculations. Better not to show his foul mood, even if recalling Cortez's insolence had spoiled his temper. He made a feeble pretence of fiddling with the begrimed spyglass in his hands, in order to recover himself. If it was chattering Magda or heaven help us, blasted Cortez again...
'Your pardon, but... teniente?'
Ah. Lesaro relaxed a trifle. There was only one man who still spoke so formally on the quarterdeck after all this time, and he was a man to be trusted.
'Officer Santos.' He returned, amiably. 'I assumed you were on watch until-'
'I was.' Santos said, briefly. He lowered his voice. 'Magda relieved me. And then... El Capitán relieved him. He is... walking with the lady now.'
Inwardly, Lesaro cursed.
Of course he is.
'Of course.' He said, attempting a brisk assurance he did not feel. 'I believe he has much to learn from the lady of political affairs in Spain before she acts for us ashore.'
Officer Santos was too loyal a man to openly voice any doubt about this to his lieutenant. He nodded, as if accepting this as fact, before clasping his hands behind his back.
'I will be... glad when this is done, teniente.' He said in a low voice.
'Oh?' Lesaro looked more closely at him. If it had been another officer, Lesaro would have instantly shot the man down with a withering verbal broadside. But Isidoro Santos was a steady, methodical young man, never one to shirk a duty simply because he didn't care for it. And he looked…strained. Something was wrong.
'You do not find your guard duties agreeable?' Better to be cruel in order to be kind here. Whatever the trouble, it needed forcing to the surface. 'Dull, perhaps?'
A dull mottled purple flush came to Santos' wasted cheek, stung by the reproach. 'It is not that, teniente!' he cried, stung into indignation. 'I would not forget my place and go against orders-'
'Then what is it?'Lesaro's tone became more icy. There was a "but" in there he dreaded. Things were coming to a pretty pass when even Santos was fermenting with doubt and misgiving.
Santos looked at Lesaro almost… helplessly, as if wishing him to say it for him. 'I…' He desperately shook his head. 'It will sound foolish, but I do not feel at... ease in the Señora's presence, teniente.'
'At ease,' Lesaro repeated, numbly. For once, he was dumbfounded. 'You are not...at ease?'
The incredulous tone of his lieutenant's voice must have cut deep. Santos looked up unhappily. He was striving to appear calm, but the way he was now fidgeting with a loose sleeve cuff suggested otherwise.
'I – I have some shame of it.' He said, avoiding Lesaro's gaze. 'But... it – it is hard...' he struggled to explain. 'With the piratas –' he swallowed. 'With enemies that we know, it is different. There are rules. There are –ways to steel yourself against them, because they deserve it. Of course they do. But... the Señora...'he swallowed. 'She…'
He didn't say it. He didn't need to. By no stretch of the imagination did the Widow de Barrós meet any qualification of 'enemy.'
'Ah,' Lesaro said wisely. 'I understand you.'
'I cannot see it. And it is...hard.' Santos looked up with a troubled expression. 'How am I to steel myself against a prisoner who bids me 'good morning' as if we are fresh out of Cadiz, teniente? As if we were still...'
As if we were still alive.
He snapped his mouth shut, looking stricken. His hand drifted automatically across the gaping hole in his shattered ribcage, as if to hide it.
Oh, Lesaro thought, dismayed. The gesture would have been enough to disconcert a harder man than Santos. He'd forgotten just how young the officer was when they died. Barely twenty-five. And little enough of a life lived.
'My –my apologies, teniente. I – I came to beg to exchange duties with Officer Magda. I should like another duty, for now. Any other duty.' His voice broke. 'I cannot guard the Señora only to watch Capitán kill her-'
'Capitán will not kill her,' Lesaro said sharply. Santos' thought had followed his own too closely for his liking. 'I will see to it she is released on Saint-Martin, safe, ashe promised. She will not be here for long enough to disturb your peace. I swear it. But you must continue in your duties. I will divide it between you and Magda; maybe even Moss will lighten your load.-'
'But teniente!' Santos protested. 'I-
'This must be managed between the officers, Santos. You understand?' Lesaro clapped a hand on the young man's shoulder, casting a look behind him in case and hands were trailing within earshot. 'You know how things are with the crew.'
He lightened his tone. 'Come, after everything else? This is light enough. Nothing to daunt a brave man. Be ...pleasant, that is all. And don't think too much about it.'
'Pleasant.' Santos repeated, distractedly, lifting one hand to his hat in a vague approximation of a salute. It wasn't the answer he'd wanted, poor boy, Lesaro could see that – but it was the best he could do for him. 'I... I will try that, teniente.' He bowed his head.
Lesaro, moved by an unaccountable impulse of pity, wordlessly pushed his spyglass into the boy's hands. 'Here,' he said, not unkindly. 'Take my place. I must speak with el Capitán in any case.'
And that without delay, Lesaro thought silently. Before it is as Cortez says, and Capitán undoes us all... again.
There was an unusual hum amongst the crew at the bows as Lesaro hurried towards the head. Nothing too demonstrative – the hands of La María weren't stupid enough to risk drawing Capitan's attention to themselves. But there was a certain buzz that indicated a scene of more than usual interest taking place at the head –
Oh seven hells, Lesaro thought, impatiently. Quarrelling, again, no doubt? The Senora appeared to have a sharp tongue when she chose – and she chose mostly to use it with El Capitan when braver men would have blanched at the idea. Well, that might serve – if Salazar was growing impatient of her as a nuisance, perhaps he would discard his plans more easily-
But the hum of conversation, whilst animated, did not sound like a quarrel.
'So was she Italian originally, your María?'
'Italian? Bah!' Salazar waved away the suggestion, impatiently – shaking his head in mock-sorrow at her ignorance. 'She is Spanish from her stem to her stern, Señora, and as ready to outmatch any vessel afloat as she was in her prime.' He settled himself more easily on the ships rail, leaning over it with the genial air of a gentleman surveying his estates. 'Ah, she was a glory to see then, our María! A little fanciful, in some places – 'he waved at the charred skeletal outline of a turret. 'But what shipbuilder has not their fashions of the day? And a ship should have a little something of the fantastic about her – sí, as your ships carvers well know-'
'Certainly,' the Senora agreed. 'I should have liked to see the turrets. It is a pretty fancy, having a little of Granada about her.' She had seated herself neatly by Salazar, perching herself on the rail. Not quite by his side – not quite. But there was an element of settled interest about her that did not now suggest reluctant captive or unwilling emissary. They might have been friendly acquaintances exchanging pleasantries, whilst promenading on a packet ship. 'Lord of your own floating castle, like an El Cid of the sea-'
Salazar made a gruff noise of vague acquiescence. His literary education had not been extensive; books read simply for enjoyment had never seemed important enough to waste good silver on when he was ashore. There had always been so much – too much - that needed attention onboard. But he would rather have cut out his tongue at this point than admit ignorance to the Señora . Ignorance was... weakness, as he was only too well aware.
The Señora perhaps divined it anyway from his blank countenance, for she elaborated. 'He was a crusader knight, Capitán. You would enjoy his feats, I think – he was known in days of old as the 'Campeador' of Spain-'
'Oh, the Campeador!' Salazar's brow cleared in understanding. He nodded. 'Si, my third ship, when I was just made lieutenant. The figurehead was a mailed knight...' He looked at her cautiously. 'That would be your el Cid, perhaps. '
'Perhaps,' Theresa agreed. For the first time since her arrival she found herself more at ease. It may just have been the reviving open air, or the sunshine that warmed her face. Or even the fact that the formidable Capitan Salazar, in all his ghostly grandeur, could still talk a little; and to a different pattern than terse orders or bellowed threats. There was a charm in it. Like...like stroking the fur of a tiger. Yes, it was made of teeth and claws and death, being able to soothe it, answer it on its own terms so it became softer, more peaceable...that had its own magic.
She wanted to sustain the conversation, simply to see how long she could make the moment last. She ransacked her brains for a suitable topic.
'I wonder... did you ever see Carmona's work when you were in Spain?' she asked. 'Your María... her carving does remind me of his work. He makes statuary for the Spanish Court in Madrid. Very fine work – the way he carves marble you'd think it was silk-'
She lifted her hands – fine long-boned, capable hands, Salazar noted –in her enthusiasm, sketching out an invisible veiled figure in the air.
'Very fine,' Salazar agreed, without having the least idea who Carmona was. He hardly cared what the topic of conversation was, for the moment . She could have talked about anything; about the phases of the moon if she'd pleased. Just so long as she did keep on talking to him as she did now –easily, and without constraint or fear.
He hadn't realised how restrained she had been before. Now she even leaned over, unprompted, to get a better glimpse of La María; suddenly all careless elbows and fluttering of skirts – so very human in her interest. It hurt, even whilst it delighted, but... he could have watched her all day, just to see that certain softness in her eyes when she talked about her family.
Why hadn't the inundación shown him that? He wondered, silently. He would have asked more about her heritage sooner, just hear her speak so freely of this father and grandfather of hers who worked with wood. A simple profession, but she was evidently proud of them. Speaking of them seemed to make her burn brighter and happier...
She was fortunate then, something old and embittered whispered within him. Fortunate enough to have a family name without stain-
His face darkened, and he turned away, suddenly unable to bear the old thoughts. After so many, many years – and that Inglés officer's taunts had still managed to wound him to the quick...
'They still remember on Hispaniola-'
Nearly seventy years, but the memory lingered. Seventy years since his father had -
'Enough! ' he said abruptly. 'Enough, Señora.'
The Señora stopped dead. Her face froze, startled and a little offended.
For one brief second, Salazar felt the urge to repair the damage. She would grow cold and formal to him again unless he made some excuse-
But then he caught from the corner of his eye the watchful figure of Lesaro above him – and pride held him back.
Whatever that brief moment of amiability had been, too late. It was gone.
'I believe my lieutenant has a word for me.' He said, staring ferociously into the middle distance. 'We must defer our conference, madam embajadora, for another time.'
'As you please, sir,' Theresa returned, coldly, to his turned back.
He didn't even turn around.
She moved pointedly away feeling oddly... hurt.
It seemed strange, even to her. Why should she care how this dead monomaniac acted towards her? He might dress it up with his crew's courtesy and those half-playful changes of manner, but he was still her captor, just as much as Scarfield. She had half-forgotten it in light of their verbal sparring.
You forgot what he is, she told herself sternly. You were talking as though he were human. And it had only been a soap-bubble kind of moment, after all – here one moment, gone the next. Perhaps he struggled to keep his brutality in check that long.
Head held high, she picked up her skirts about her, made a deliberately cool curtsey, and stalked resolutely towards the opening of her canvas-shrouded quarters.
Lesaro watched her go. And (although his huddled shoulders suggested otherwise) so did Salazar. For all his assumed indifference, it was not until the last whisk of her hem had fluttered out of sight that he turned and leapt in a single bound the distance between himself and his lieutenant, growling under his breath.
'You have something you want to say, Lesaro?' he demanded roughly. 'Some vital business that cannot wait, perhaps?'
Lesaro stared at his captain – meeting his eye long enough that even Salazar shifted uneasily. 'Perhaps.' he said, gravely. 'Walk with me, Capitan. There are things you should know...'
To Theresa's disappointment (for she was standing carefully beneath them in her quarters, listening intently through the cracks in the beams) the conversation did not continue within her earshot. There was an indecipherable growl from Salazar, some murmured reply from the lieutenant... and then the sound of their feet moving away.
Well. Let him go, then.
Sighing, she turned around – and let out a muffled curse under her breath. She had grazed her shins on something wooden lying directly in the path to her pile of blankets – something which hadn't been there before.
It was her trunk.
For a moment, Theresa blinked, sure she had imagined it. But – no. When she looked again, it was still there – down to the poorly painted out name and scuffed brass corners. She ran her hand over the lid, half-dazed. She had thought it lost with the Essex; but here it was, stolidly surviving sea battle and capture alongside her.
Her hand reached into her pocket to feel the reassuring weight of the key. At any other time she would have flown to it, to lovingly take stock of her belongings – even down to the unwanted pile of darning, but the morning's fresh duel of wits had drained her. The Caribbean sun was no longer pleasantly warm; below decks it was stiflingly hot.
A nap was an increasingly welcome thought.
'I shall just close my eyes for a minute,' Theresa told herself drowsily, falling back against her pillow. 'Just... a few minutes, no more...'
Sleep claimed her almost instantly.
And with it came... tumult.
Theresa found herself back in the old reception room; the one where the great glittering party had been held in her last dream with the little child.
But then it had been bright and hectic with the babble of party guests. Now it was dark, echoing and empty, the windows shuttered as though the family were away–
From a passageway leading to servant's quarters, a wild-eyed serving-man darted out, eyes shifting in panic around the room, before snatching for something and disappearing again-
A small figure ran forward, staring appalled after him, 'Marco! Where are you going?'
Theresa smothered her cry of surprise. Not that he could have heard it anyway, but...
It was her little boy. He was grown taller and older now; he looked thinner in the face .He was still a child. She wouldn't have counted him older than ten, at most.
He looked indignant, even in his bewilderment. This was not the usual order of things, evidently – fleeing servants, shuttered windows, darkened rooms as though the house were in mourning...
Oh no. Theresa thought. She'd had her doubts about that pitiful excuse for a father – and putting two and two together from what she saw – he must finally have lost all credit in the face of the world.
The little boy's eyes fell on a telltale empty place on the mantelpiece, and his mouth fell open in childish shock and outrage.
'Mama!' he called frantically. 'Mama – mama, the servants –they're stealing! They shouldn't do that. They shouldn't-'
He ran about, back and forth, looking for his mother, hands clenching in and out; into fists one minute, then back again into a child's shaky fingers.
'Mama? Where are you!?'
He hadn't seen the glimmer of crumpled silk lying stricken in the middle of the empty estrado.
Oh no. No. Theresa tried to move, but the dreadful slowness of nightmare seemed to drag at her feet. Please, don't let his mother be dead too. Don't...
But... no. The woman was breathing. In fact, she wasn't even unconscious, as Theresa had assumed. She was just... lying there as though she had lain down to rest in a field, eyes staring blankly up at the moulded ceiling. She blinked, occasionally, but that was all the sign she was alive.
Why hadn't she got up? Theresa wondered as she drew closer. Why hadn't she gone to berate the thieving servant, or risen to comfort her child? If Theresa's little boy had been her own child, she would have leaped up in an instant, no matter how hard the blow fell.
'Mama?' The little boy had caught sight of the silk. His face quivered. 'Mama!'
And then Theresa heard it. There was a remorseless pounding coming from the hall passageway; heavy gloved fists were beating on the front door – and there was the impatient stamp of hoof beats.
'It would be better not to make a scene.' A coldly polite but pitiless voice spoke loudly. 'Do not force us to break down the door, Señora-'
'Mama –' the little boy tugged on his mother's sleeve. She lay where she was, rigid as a wooden doll. 'Mama, there are men outside the door-'
'Can the wife have fled to join the husband?'Another rough voice murmured doubtfully. 'The house is shuttered-'
'Hah, I doubt it! See the fleeing servants? They're in there, no doubt. Hiding. The traitors.' The first voice spoke with withering contempt. 'Like rats in a bolthole.'
'Mama!' the little boy pleaded. He was trying to drag his mother to her feet. Her lips were moving silently; in prayer, perhaps. Some plea that this could all be averted.
Get up, Theresa thought, willing the woman to rise. Get up and do something. God helps those who help themselves Señora. Please comfort your boy. Please.
No matter what foundations of her world had been shaken, Theresa couldn't imagine herself lying unresponsive whilst a child was calling for her. Any child. Let alone her own...
'Mama, please!' the boy was crying, silently, in frustration and terror. 'M-mama, please! Get up, you have to get up...'
A small serving-maid scurried out from the kitchen, eyes wide with fright. Her red-knuckled hands twisted one over the other. She hadn't fled with the other servants; perhaps, looking at her threadbare dress and bare feet, for lack of anywhere to run to. Scullery maid, if that. Or perhaps pot-girl.
'My mistress is ill, Señors.' She called out, voice trembling, as she advanced towards the door. 'And her husband is away from home-'
'Oh, we know where her husband is, woman!' The voice sneered. 'He'll rot in his chains in the Fortaleza San Felipe, if there's any justice. Selling state secrets to pirates and lining your own pocket with the profits has its price-'
The little boy had stopped dead at the mention of his father. His mother's arm twitched in his grasp.
He had gone white as a sheet.
'Papa would never do such a thing!' he shouted, his voice shrill with childish anger. 'You lie! My Papa is an honourable Capitán, he would NEVER-'
But he'd caught a glimpse of his mother's ashen face. He saw the truth in it.
'For the last time, open in the name of His Majesty, or else-'
The timid little maid, unnerved by their shouts, reluctantly unbolted the door. She was almost crushed behind the weight of the armed men shouldering their way through.
A haughty sergeant, followed by three burly men in uniform.
Oh God. Theresa's heart sank for them all. This was worse than an unpaid bill or angry creditors, after all. They were things that allowed of escape. Treason – and it was nothing short of treason, robbing the silver fleet – meant that the consequences were inescapable for his family as well as himself. Everything that could be laid hands on would be seized.
The sergeant – a brutal, thickset pan with a bushy black beard, looked disgusted at he took in the painted rooms. 'Look at this!' he snorted, kicking contemptuously at the expensive Turkey carpet beneath his feet. 'Hiding amongst their stolen loot, like the thieves they are-'
He clicked his tongue, gesturing two of his men over. They shoved the boy aside to drag the fallen lady roughly to her feet by her wrists. She sagged between them like a bird with a broken wing. 'Enough play-acting, Señora. You know the penalty for conspiracy with traitors-'
'No! Not Mama!' The boy was beside himself. He had taken his father's guilt in his stride. But his mother. 'Mama doesn't know anything! She's innocent! She never even been to sea; she's been here in Cadiz all this time! Let her go!' He swiped ineffectually with his small fists at the guards as though he thought he could knock them down. 'You're hurting her! Let her go –'
But he was lifted away the burly Sergeant had grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, lifting him as easily as if he were a spitting kitten. 'Oho. A young serpent here, eh? A real viper's nest here!' He shook his head, before dragging the boy close by his shirt collar. 'Here's a lesson for you, viper– there's no such thing as innocence. Especially not between husband and wife. If the husband's a traitor –' he grinned, unpleasantly. 'The wife's one, too. And their bastard brat too, most likely-' He struck the boy across the face. The weight of it sent the poor child tumbling like a bundle of rags, face bleeding.
No! Theresa was screaming soundlessly, beating with invisible hands, kicking with unseen feet . She might as well have been a puff of air.
The sergeant yawned. 'Right. Bring her along then. Where we taking this one?'
'Orders are for the sisters, sir. The penitents, you know?'
'Oh, in with the reformed whores? Best place for her.'He guffawed. 'Shows they're taking things seriously.' He nodded, virtuously. 'Very proper, wife of a traitor should pay for his sins.'