Weekly Photo Challenge: Ornate

The challenge this week is Ornate my lovelies, so I figured a little trip to a beautiful church (Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon) in England with some ornate and gorgeous stained glass windows was in order… And by the way, this happens to be where Shakespeare himself rests eternally after penning some of the greatest works in the English language! I hope you enjoy!

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And finally, one from the beautiful Casa Monica back home in St. Augustine:

Photo Friday: Home 8

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Weekly Photo Challenge: (Extra)Ordinary

Sorry this is so late my lovelies, but I gave myself the weekend off (plus a little extra lol) to recharge my blogging batteries but I’m back and I’m happy to share with you this week’s challenge: (Extra)Ordinary!

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And one more elephant…just because they’re so cute!

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The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Thirteen

If you need a refresher course on the Ratha James series here on Moonstonemaiden, go ahead and click here to catch up on all the piratical adventures of this amazing woman and her steadfast friends!

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Thirteen

The sun was setting in a blaze of citrine and ruby light into the churning cobalt sea beyond the massive diamond-paned windows when Ratha finally stepped into the glorious St. Clare library. Maddie, Joona, and an unusually weary-looking Eric sat near the warmth and light of a crackling fireplace on the far side of the room, soft conversation enveloping them with the love of longstanding friendship. Each looked up when the door opened, their words halting as Ratha strode towards them, a scowl tugging her lips downward and darkening her bright eyes. Eric St. Clare rose from his seat and moved to meet her with a warm smile, pulling her to him in a brotherly hug that squeezed what little breath she had left from her lungs. Even after all this time, he worried for her safety and to see her and Madeline alive again and home brought him such fierce joy. When he finally released her it was only to lead her to an overlarge chair beside Maddie and to fetch her a glass of port.

Doing her best not to wheeze, Ratha sank into the chair with relief, breathing in as deeply as she could manage in her borrowed gown. She accepted the port with a small smile and took a deep drink, letting the liquid burn it’s way down her throat to her belly, warming her from the inside out. In brilliant contrast to the jagged fire inside her, the crystal goblet was cool and perfectly smooth in her rough, weathered hands. She bit back a rye smile at the sight of her scarred hands holding something so perfect and fragile before setting the goblet down with a decisive clink. Looking back at those before her, she leveled a pointed glare at the red-haired woman sitting before her, her brows arching questioningly.

“Well Joona St. Clare,” she huffed, gesturing down to the emerald gown in disgust. “Why am I in this monstrosity?”

“I think you look lovely Amalee,” Maddie offered with a grin, running an appreciative hand over her own rose pink gown with unabashed pleasure. The sea had yet to take Madeline’s enjoyment of beautiful things and Ratha doubted it ever could. Madeline was born to see beauty in a cruel, sparkling world.

“That’s not the point,” Ratha said with a wave of her hand and a ghost of a smile at her friend’s deserved happiness. But her eyes never left Joona’s. Some new secret lurked beneath their sharp green surface, churning in the depths where love and intellect normally resided. Ratha’s heart beat a little faster. “What is it Joona, what haven’t you told us?”

“There’s a merchant ship moored in our shipyard,” Joona admitted, her mouth a slight grimace. “You’ll have seen it no doubt as you came into port.”

“Yes,” Amalee nodded, thinking back to the ship bearing the garish orange and silver flags with entwined songbirds that had given her pause before she had arrived. A matching grimace turned her mouth downward as well, settling into port with strange ships and crews so close by was never something she enjoyed, but the bulk of the St. Clare’s fortune was made on the seas and ships came and went through their shipyard far too often for it to frighten her away. The vessels never stayed long, and the crews were kept bust unloading a foreign cargo or loading a new one bound for some exotic destination before settling sail on the next earliest tide. Her women had strict orders to stay well clear of the St. Clare shipyard and the men who worked them and the sailors who passed through them. Their names and faces did not need to become known. But her women knew this well and St. Clare had never before felt the need to draw her aside just to mention a ship. Her stomach tightened into a thick fist. “Is it dangerous?”

“No,” Joona said slowly. “But there was a storm at sea some weeks ago and the vessel was badly damaged, the hull breached and a mast snapped in two. The repairs will take some days and in that time the crew will work and sleep aboard their own ship. They will not be a danger to you and yours so long as your women remain out of their way and in their sight. But unfortunately…”

“But unfortunately what?” Ratha demanded, her heart beating so fiercely that sure it would explode out of the confines of her blasted gown at any moment.

“Unfortunately, you have already been noticed. Or rather your beauty has. It seems the Captain was quite intrigued with a certain person, and asked Eric just who the exquisite brunette was wearing men’s trousers and boots as though she was born in them.”

Ratha’s face paled. How on earth did a sailor recognize her as a woman from such a distance, especially with her long hair — her most telling feature — tied up and out of her face?! “What did you tell them?”

Joona held her friend’s gaze, the very air tense with unspoken possibilities before her lips curved upward. “That you were my cousin of course. Fresh from Ireland with a few companions and on the hunt for an English husband to rival my own.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

The challenge this week my lovelies is Happy Place, so I promptly dug around in my massive photo vault (aka the many, MANY picture folders on my laptop) and selected a few that I think do this wonderful challenge justice! I hope you enjoy 😀

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OK, OK, OK, so maybe these two are only in my dreams (and my grandparents’ photos from England), but that totally counts right?! I mean I’m a writer, imagination is encouraged in my profession! 😉

But, if I have to pick a place I’ve actually been to (which I guess rules out Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast, because that was my second choice…) I’d have to say my Happy Place really is my beautiful hometown in all its historic glory!

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Screw it, I’m adding it anyways!

MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA 😉

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries

The challenge this week is Boundaries my lovelies, so I’ve scrounged up a few delightful images from my grandparents’ trip to Scotland and England a few years ago, as well as a picture from my own hometown. I hope you enjoy 🙂

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And because I just couldn’t resist…

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Encounters With Elephants

So a few months ago my lovelies, I won a raffle from the wonderful British authoress Diana Hardy on her facebook site and she was kind enough to send me a collection of insanely gorgeous Lucky Elephant figurines all the way over from misty England. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I ADORE elephants (and all-things England as you know), so I pretty much flipped out and promptly ran around the house screaming at informing everyone of my incredible good luck! Don’t judge, I never win anything so my excitement was totally justified 😉

I waited for two long weeks for the new addition to my elephant collection to arrive and when they finally did I was ecstatic! They are so freaking adorable, and I couldn’t wait to introduce them to the other elephants that make up my “herd” lol! The result was too adorable and I just have to share it with you, so sit back and prepare for the utter cuteness that is about to take place! (The shiny gold ones are gifts from my mom and dad, the glittery ones are from Diana.)

We begin our Elephantine Encounter with cute little fellow:

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But it isn’t long until others arrive on the scene:

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It’s perhaps the most colorful herd I’ve ever encountered in the wilds of Florida:

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An inquisitive fellow…and so photogenic:

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He can’t help mugging for the camera:

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Family time:

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The two herds seem to have converged into one:

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I’m sensing a great deal of newfound friendship is in the works:

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The little darlings:

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My new mantra- I am one with the herd:

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I was supposed to write up this post a while ago, but I got caught up writing my novel and took a break from blogging for a month or so, but I didn’t want to not write it, so better late than never right?! A big shout out and thank you to Diana Hardy! 😀

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Six

*Warning* As I said before, this segment and the previous one are very dark. The imagery is violent and disturbing but I think it is vital to understand how dark and terrifying Ratha and Maddie’s lives were before they became the women they are the for remainder of the story. This darkness shapes them, strengthens them, and ultimately pursues them, so I don’t want to water it down, although I admit, it is pretty much the darkest thing I’ve ever written.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Six

Amalee was kept from Madeline during those last horrible months, though in truth she had rarely been allowed to call upon her friend since their arrival in London. While Maddie drifted further inside herself, desperate for relief, she never thought that her dearest Amalee was doing the same. And indeed Ratha was. From the first moment Derek Richard’s entered her life he seemed hell bent on controlling it. He had not smiled at her when she approached on the dock, nor did he promise her a life of comfort and joy, but ordered her into the grand carriage he had waiting with an air of haughty dissatisfaction and impatience. When she was not fast enough in arranging her voluminous skirts inside the coach, Derek climbed in, purposefully treading on her gown hard enough to rend the material. Amalee had gulped, frightened of being alone with this arrogant man who so easy and callously destroyed something that undoubtedly cost him a fortune. Tiny diamonds that had been painfully hand-sewn into the gilded skirt skittered around the floor beneath his feet. When asked if she was as incompetent as she seemed Amalee tried to reply that her nerves caused her hands to slow, she apologized about the dress and reached downward to gather the torn material, suggesting that she could sew it fine enough that no one would ever see the tear.

With her face downward she did not see the blow until it sent her reeling. Her neck snapped back painfully as her head struck the carriage wall; with an insuppressible whimper, she clutched the side of her face where his hand had marred her beautiful skin. “I did not pay for an Irish seamstress,” he sneered without so much as a care for his intended bride’s pain. And bought her he had, in every way she belonged to him. Amalee knew that her father’s wealth had been greatly depleted over his lifetime and that it was her beauty, not her heritage that had secured this marriage to such a wealthy English gentleman. He had bought and paid for her months before she arrived, even commissioning her wedding trousseau without so much as asking her opinion of color, cut or fabric. Since she had no other choice but to accept his “gifts”, Amalee had told herself that what Lord Richard’s did was only for her betterment, that perhaps he was not much in the company of women and did not know that certain things were usually handled by females. She had not known then that she lied to herself, but within moments of entering the massive black and grey coach, Ratha knew that whatever Lord Richard’s did, he did for his own enjoyment and pleasure, not out of any misguided kindness to her.

Secluded in a house filled with servants too afraid of their master to even think of helping their new mistress, Amalee prepared herself for her wedding day, taking great care to artfully conceal the black welt that covered her cheek. It was a skill she soon mastered. It seemed nothing she did was right nor could ever be good enough to deem some sort of mercy from her new husband; Derek was a demanding man, he expected perfection but changed his definition of it on a whim. To punish her for being the embarrassment of the Richard’s house, Derek took away her friends, took away any and all people who lived outside the great house. He confined her to certain rooms which he visited often to abuse her with his fists, his voice and his lusts; disgracing her by taking her violently outside the marriage bed. When his desire rose, which it did often, Derek did not care where he found Amalee; he forced himself inside her, beating her until his pleasure was spent. Her life reduced itself until she was nothing more than an ever fearful ball of shaking nerves, waiting for the next time to come and for her life to fade with it.

She miscarried twice within seven months, earning her the worst beating she had ever had in her life. A doctor was summoned to inspect her since Derek had heard that one of the other Irish sluts had been found to be unfertile. The physician poked and prodded her in places that made her blush beneath her bruises; she hated him as much as she hated Derek in that moment but yet hoped that he would take pity on her and tell someone of her abuse that they might intervene. Derek watched impatiently as the man worked over his naked wife, Amalee knew what would happen when the doctor took his leave, she could see Derek’s stirring from where she lay. When finally the man proclaimed the examination over, she held her breath, would he help her?

“She’ll never carry a child full term if you don’t ease your fists upon her,” the graying physician muttered unsympathetically. Amalee’s heart rose but fell, shattering and breaking before she could even feel a tinge of relief. “Bed her often, spent yourself that way but you must ease your punishments if you wish an heir. If she is obstinate, dose her with the opiate I have here and she will loosen up quickly enough. Women of her particular beauty inspire men’s darker, more primal urges, it’s understandable but a good long ride every few hours should help you both.”

And so Amalee Ratha Richard’s knew nothing outside the bitter taste of the opiate as it was poured down her throat at regular intervals though she had long ago given up struggling, and the feel of her insatiable husband spearing inside her with an urgency that was never absent for long. She drifted helpless and lost inside a black cloud of pain and sex and poison, too spent to even rise from her bed during the brief intervals that her husband left her alone. Once, after he was finished, Derek left the bottle containing the opium sitting atop the table beside her, it took her nearly half an hour to summon the strength to reach for it, uncork it and down the remainder of the entire glass cylinder. She hoped it would be enough to dispatch her to the land after this but when she awoke, it was not in heaven she found herself but beneath her husband’s bucking form.

There came a day when Derek was summoned to handle some business in the north that could not be put off; he would be gone for a week he told her. One week and he would leave in the morning, so tonight he would use her enough to ensure that this week did not disrupt his effort to forge an heir. She was bloody, bruised and well past screaming when Derek’s carriage pulled out of the gatehouse. She lay, unable to move for hours until she realized that perhaps this was her opportunity to escape the hell she’d been sold into. Scrubbing at her broken body with a scrape of a torn dress and some water she found still clinging to the inside of an overturned pitcher, she scrapped as much blood, sex and Derek off of her as she could before looking for something to cover herself with. Luckily the floor was littered with discarded clothing. Amalee hide her bruises under a tunic, long pants that she had to belt with a stripe of cloth torn from another tunic and boots that were far too big. She hid her hair beneath a soft cap of black velvet, and glanced around the room.

There was nothing of value here that she could take; Derek had never given her any trinkets or coin beyond the blood-ruby wedding band that she now slipped from her thin finger. Without a glance she threw it atop the bed and made for the window. It would be locked but the servants would be expecting her to try the door she was sure. Her room was on the second floor, a long drop but even death would be better than Derek’s return.

Wrapping the heavy pitcher inside one of the bed sheets, Amalee swung at the glass panes and was rewarded with the sound of shattering glass and thick porcelain. She didn’t wait to hear if an alert had been given at her attempted escape but all but threw herself out of the opening. She landed on her back with a sharp painful hiss, writhed upwards but forced herself to get to her feet, which she did. Blind of her destination other that out, Amalee ran, not bothering to wonder why she heard no footsteps behind her. It wasn’t until years later that she wondered if the servants had let her go, had given her a chance at life. When finally she slowed long enough to gather from her meager memory where she was and to think of where she thought Maddie’s house was again, she resolved to find her friend and beg for help.

 

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Four

Image From Google.

Image From Google.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Four

The crew of the Raven’s Wing was completely comprised of women; no man was allowed to set foot aboard her, not even to keep her from sinking. Most of the women were runaways, orphans, poor, but some were ladies of English society who had given up their fine titles and jewels because of abuse or mistreatment at the hands of their fathers, husbands, brothers or others. All those who boarded the Raven’s Wing, boarded as equals; there was no discrimination of rank allowed other than that of Ratha’s officers. Traveling home was a cause of joy but it was also dangerous, should the women fall foul of their old tormentors or the crown. “Be safe, all of you. Should you need me or become separated and cannot return, give the signal and I will come.” The women nodded solemnly at her, they knew she would find them, return any one of them that was stolen from her. It had happened before, they all prayed it never happened again. “The rest of you, let’s move. St. Clare, if you would be so kind to lead the way.”

 

Amalee had only been in this chamber once but still, everything was as she remembered it: the massive, white bed, the cream colored desk and chair, the scarlet drapes, framing the view of the sea, of the ship that was now hers. It had not been hers the last time she was in this chamber, not yet anyway. It had been night then, pitch black outside, with no moon to shine down on the two runaways as they raced to their friend to beg her to join them, to leave this awful place. They had run to her for help, they had run for their lives and now six years later Ratha was back inside the chamber that St. Clare had led her to that night. She wondered if Maddie was feeling the same in her chambers next door, did she feel this confliction of joy and sadness, of hope and hopelessness, of love and fear.

They were eighteen when their fathers sent them to England to be wed. It was a heady journey across the channel, filled with anxious joy and nervous excitement. When finally, they arrived the three dressed in their finest and fixed one another’s hair as best as they could before stepping onto the dock where their future husbands waited. They had known Eric St. Clare their whole lives and had known since early childhood that he was intended for Joona. In their youth they had had even nick-named her St. Clare, a name Eric found amusing and when he met them on the dock, he embraced all three of them like sisters. But though he loved them, he had eyes only for Joona, who sparkled in a fine, pale lavender that accented her fiery red hair and softened her watchful green eyes.

Madeline’s intended was a southern gentleman who made his fortune in tea leaves, which he imported from India and China. Lord Robert Gamsley was a fair-haired grey-eyed man with an unsettling smile and a slick countenance. Maddie had dressed in her nicest blue silk and a halo had shown around her golden head as she stepped forward to greet the man who would give her his name but would take much more from her. He kissed her hand and drew her away with sweet promises of the years to come.

But it was Amalee’s husband who drew every female eye; he was breath-taking in a way that left women shaking. With his dark chestnut hair slicked back framing his strong, marble chiseled face, dark arrogant eyes and a cruel, perfect lip, Lord Derek Richards was a lion amid lambs. And what’s more, he knew it. Derek had shown like a godling in his austere blacks when Amalee approached, a hesitant smile twitching on her nervous lips. Instantly she knew he approved of her golden dress that highlighted the gold flecks in her eyes and hair and curved dangerously low over her high, full breasts. The cut of the dress had not been to Amalee’s taste but her new husband had commissioned the gown and so she tried to wear it proudly.

 

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

The Adventures of Ratha James Pt. Three

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Three

This picture reminds me of St. Clare! Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

This picture reminds me of St. Clare! Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

 

“Are you excited to be back?” Maddie chirped unaware that her friend was no longer listening. “Amalee! I asked if you were excited to be coming back?”

“Yes,” Ratha sighed, “It’s been too long Maddie. We’ve been gone too long.”

 

The sun was high and the rain gone when Ratha stepped out of the long ship and nearly flung herself into the arms of her closest and most beloved friend other than Madeline. In seconds Maddie was there and for a moment it was like it had been before: the three of them wild with freedom and privilege, running untamed through their fathers’ lands in Ireland, best friends, all but sisters. Tall, willowy Amalee James with her unusual dark coloring, a laughing Maddie Kingston, shapely even then, and the cunning and far-sighted Joona O’ Donald, already known as the future St. Clare amongst her friends, they had grown up together. Born within months of one another and their fathers’ land bordering each other, the girl’s had been thrown together young, sent off to play in the woods and the friendship they had formed had stuck, becoming unbreakable with age.

“I thought you’d never arrive!” St. Clare exclaimed as she pulled away from her friends, holding them at arm’s length to inspect them properly. Amalee needed sleep, but she doubted she would rest well on English soil; there was nothing to be done about that. Madeline looked well, thinner than she remembered, and darker. Both of her friends had been bronzed by the sun, – Ratha resembled a Spaniard with her dark hair and sun-kissed face! Their skin would never be the porcelain it was in their youth but it didn’t hinder their beauty in the least. “I feared you would be taken before you reached me.”

“The Captain would never allow us to be taken!” exclaimed a young girl as she stepped boldly from the little boat and reached back to help the others. She was fairly new to the crew but her fervor and belief in Ratha’s ability to protect her shone in every facet of her expressive face. Amalee faded in an instant and once again Captain Ratha James stood surveying her crew of forty women, the oldest in her early fifties, the youngest only eight. Forty pairs of eyes turned to her expectantly, excitedly. These women were her crew, her friends, her family and her responsibility. She protected them, sheltered and harbored them and they trusted her with their lives, she would not let that knowledge slip from her just because her feet were once again on English soil.

She stepped away from Joona and Maddie, planting her arms on her hips as she moved to stand before them all. “Listen up, your lives and mine depend on this. You are currently standing on the shoreline of the St. Clare family holdings. This,” she said pointing to Joona, “is Lady St. Clare and this is her home. While you are here you will abide by the rules she and I set to you or you will be punished however I see fit. For those of you who plan to depart, you will give your names and intended destinations to Ulsa, if you plan on not returning to us inform her. We will leave in two weeks from this day. If you have not returned and I receive no word of distress then I will leave you. Do not miss the tide.”

Immediately twenty or so women lined up to give their information to Ulsa, the ship’s head cook and scribe. Ratha surveyed them, they would all return to her, she was almost positive. She had known most of the women in this group for years, they would never desert her but if they did she knew it would only be because they had found something better. But even then, most still returned to tell their captain of such good fortune and she wished them well. For safety, she required them to travel in pairs or trios; no one was allowed to travel anywhere alone, and Ratha meant anywhere.

 

And just in case you missed them, here are part one and part two of this epic pirate tale!

The Adventures of Ratha James Part One

This one reminds me of Ratha! Image From Google. All rights Belong To Artist.

This one reminds me of Ratha! Image From Google. All rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Two

And this one reminds me of Maddie! Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

And this one reminds me of Maddie! Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James Pt. Two

This one reminds me of Maddie! Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

This one reminds me of Maddie! Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Two

With a shake of her head, Ratha dismissed such dangerous daydreams. St. Clare had made many provisions for such a thing happening, and they’d encountered none of the pre-advised warnings alerting her to turn back and flee. No, if there was any hint of danger, she would know. Her stomach somersaulted excitedly. It had been far too long since she’d been this close to home. The women aboard the Raven’s Wing needed this, they had been at sea for nearly five years, making port all over Europe, staying in one place for no longer than a fortnight or so. They returned to England a few times a year only long enough to reload supplies and gather the new recruits. A day, perhaps two if the women were lucky. But this visit would be the longest; two weeks, not a day longer, and then they would move to another port further north for those whose families dwelt closer to Scotland for yet another two weeks and then south to France. Or maybe Spain. Ratha had not yet decided.

“Maddie,” Ratha called, knowing her closest friend would be nearby waiting for instructions. Madeline Kingston, a shapely girl with a tumble of impossibly bright gold hair stepped out of the shadows. Her blue eyes were bright with barely suppressed excitement, her mouth pursed to keep from smiling. Ratha chuckled; her friend was nearly shaking with happiness, like an excitable puppy who was trying its upmost not to embarrass itself. “Drop anchor on the far side of St. Clare’s farthest vessel, I won’t have us too near the stranger.”

Maddie nodded, stepping forward to reclaim her place at the wheel. “Aye Captain.” The young girl who had taken the night’s steering patrol nodded sleepily at Ratha before clamoring below deck to her cot.

“Avangaline is doing well under your tutelage,” Ratha remarked as she and Maddie watched the other women begin their preparations to port. Most had been with Ratha and Maddie since the beginning, others had joined them over the years but each person knew her place and her job when it came to anchoring the massive ship. Ratha stood by with pride as the women silently and efficiently trimmed the sails and readied the massive anchor ropes.

“She’s young yet, sixteen is young Amalee James and don’t you give me that look,” Madeline snapped as her friend and captain smirked at her. “She’s a good listener, and heaven’s know she has some brains in that pretty head of hers but it will be some time yet before I let her steer without some sort of guardian standing near.”

“Not everyone was born with your father’s knowledge of ships at her fingertips,” Ratha ribbed, her eyes still on the approaching coastline. If she squinted now she could just make out the window where St. Clare would be watching their entrance into England. She felt like giving a wave, knowing that St. Clare would be watching them like a hawk for any signs of distress but decided not to antagonize her friend who risked her wealth, land, title and life merely by not turning them over to the crown, let alone harboring them. With the inky green and blue pennants flying from her masts, anyone looking their way would think that Reginald O’ Donald was making an unplanned visit from his native Ireland to see his English married daughter. Reginald himself had given Ratha the flags and had instructed them to rename the Raven’s Wing when they visited his daughter, with the name of his flagship the Sea Daughter. The name had indeed been painted over the original just yesterday, in gold sparkling paint that caught the sun’s every flickering ray.