One loop of the coarse rope binding Raven Winthrop to the mast of the pirate vessel was around her neck, holding her cruelly. Acrid black smoke from the cannons still hung in the air, stinging her eyes, burning her throat, and making her so uncomfortable. She twisted her hands, trying to loosen the grip of the bonds that cut deeply into the tender flesh of her wrists, and strained against the ropes tied too tightly around her chest and narrow waist. After struggling for a long time without any positive results, She finally stopped her useless struggles, defiantly held up her head with its black, tangled mass of hair and gazed at the carriage around her.

The ship she had been erected from was sinking and the half naked pirates hastened to finish their looting, tossing boxes and bags and every other valuables onto the deck, heedless of the blood still pooled there. They leered at her, laughing and making coarse jests about the ways in which they would enjoy their captive once their work was done. Fear congealed around her heart, constricting her chest even more tightly than the bonds that held her, until she felt she could scarcely breathe.

On the second pirate vessel on the other side of the stricken ship, the pirates worked just as feverishly to unload the spoils of their victory before the sea stole their prize. The second ship was the smaller of the two pirates vessels but had taken the prominent role in the battle. Perhaps because it was lighter, sleeker, and more maneuverable it had taken the most dangerous positive during the struggle and its cannons had more often found their exact mark. Or perhaps it had been more skillfully handled, its crew more disciplined, its bottom less barnacle befouled.

But it had not been an easy victory for the pirates. The gallant Dutch Captain has put up a brave fight, all the braver for its hopelessness. He was outnumbered, outgunned and outmanned, and his fat merchant ship outmaneuvered. Raven wondered where the captain and his crew were now. Surely the pirates had not just killed all of them ..No! She should not think about that now. She closed her eyes for a moment to the terror about her, gathering her shattered courage. A shout made her open her eyes to see the last pirates swing onto the deck in front of her before the little Dutch vessel shuddered and sank forever beneath the waves.

The pirates began shuffling the cargo into some sort of order and a table was set up on deck for dividing the spoils. Raven leaned her back against the mast and tried to moisten her lips with a tongue dry from fear and thirst. She began to slip into a comforting oblivion when a touch on her throat jerked her back to her harsh reality.

She opened her eyes to a face that was a grinning caricature of evil. a tattered rag held back his greasy hair and little black eyes glittered avariciously at her. A low suggestive laugh bubbled up from a scrawny neck and tumbled over half rotted teeth while his calloused finger ran down her shoulder then along the scoop of her gown to the dip between her full breast, making her gasp in embarrassment. She tried to struggle away from his touch but the rope that held her was too tight, too expertly tied. Her gown was already torn, nearly exposing her left breast, and he was about to pull the last ragged strip away when an authoritative voice Monsieur De Lessops! startled him, making him spin around.

Raven looked up and noticed that the voice must have come from a tall lean man with sun bleached hair sauntering almost casually across the deck towards them. He picked his way nonchalantly through the carnage as if he were on an afternoon stroll through a meadow. He was smiling and walked with lithe grace of a cat – or a master swords man. But there was a tenderness about him, a hardness in his flint blue eyes that, in spite of his easy manner, implied he was a man to be reckoned with.

Though blood and black powder stained his once white cambric shirt and the two gnarled ruffians followed only a pace behind him, somehow, she felt that he was not one with the evil barbarians who has captured her. A brace of pistols were stuck into the red sash at his waist and a saber rode easily at his his hip, yet Raven took a trembling breath of hope when she saw the man approaching. She felt like a breath of sunlight has come into her dark world.

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