A Testing of Pride, Class and Past (cont.)
Vengeance and Josiah's Aesthetic anchored in a secluded cove, one
they scouted out during their many forays up and down the coast.
Learning where to hide along with knowledge of the waters often
proved invaluable when and if the British got close enough to chase
them. JD rowed to shore, disguised in his masks, meeting up with one
of their covert sympathizers, keeper of one of the many signal
lanterns up and down the coast.
The schooner needed to know when to sail. It took too long for one
courier to carry the information they needed, or to alert all the
crew. Therefore, they implemented a relay system, putting a series
of trusted persons along the ocean's edge with a prearranged system
of codes. If the privateers needed alerting to something, the
tenders would then light fires or wave lanterns to signal the next
point until the signal reached the Vengeance in North Carolina. In
order to keep the schooner's location hidden, the signals always went
all the way up and down the line, well past her actual berth, keeping
the signalers unaware of the ship's actual whereabouts.
"I have a horse waiting," the cloaked figure announced, hiding JD's
small rowboat in the thick dune grasses growing along the shore.
"Many thanks," he replied, intentionally deepening his voice to
disguise it. He mounted, taking off toward the county seat. Once he
felt sure he was out of sight, he changed out of his Vengeance black
and into the more familiar everyday wear of a ship's pilot. Using
his training, he made good time with the sturdy horse provided him.
Upon arrival, a few discreet questions located Chris in one of the
His quick knock on the door caused the door nearly to fly open; he
almost stepped back from the ferocious glare aimed at him. "It's me,
Chr. . . err . . . uh, Mr. Larabee."
"Get in here." Chris grabbed him by the shoulder, pulling him into
the room and closing the door. "What news?"
"The crew's not too far away. They await your orders."
"I obtained a copy of the warrant. Find Vincent Livingstone." Chris
passed the paper to JD. "You are our messenger. Vin never arrived,
meaning he escaped somewhere between Vermenton's and here. Rafe
never arrived either. Ezra's staying at Vermenton's. At the end of
the weekend, he will be moving here as our point of contact."
"Yes, sir." JD knew Chris slipped into Captain Vengeance mode, one
where he expected acknowledgements to his orders without question.
"Report back here once you drop off the warrant."
"Aye, aye." Dunne left as quickly as he arrived. His mind reeled
with the news of both Vin and Rafe missing. His ride back to the
cove, stopping only for a quick change back into Vengeance black
clothing, went smoothly. So far, he counted himself lucky that he
had encountered no patrols and fewer travelers along his journey. He
never felt confident in making stories to cover his true purpose, and
he had no desire to try to face a British patrol at this time.
Arriving back at the cove, he ground tied the horse, rowing silently
out to the schooner Vengeance.
"Permission to come aboard," JD called. He knew they were aware he
was there; they waited until he got close enough for identification.
"Get up here, Rascal, 'fore I swing you from the mast." Rakehell,
aka Buck Wilmington in his real life, yelled to the boatswain JD.
"Aye, aye." JD climbed quick and swift, his hands sure on the ropes
bringing him aboard. A conference quickly formed in Chris's cabin,
the largest spot on the schooner that afforded some privacy.
"Out with it," Rakehell ordered. "But keep your voice low. We need
not have the rumors abound aboard."
"Cap'n Vengeance wants us to find this Vincent Livingstone." From
inside his vest, he pulled out the wanted flyer. "Seems the Brits
think that our Vin is this Vincent."
"Livingstone?" Raphael, aka Caballero on board, rubbed the back of
his neck, his face hidden by the mask. "I know of a Vernon
Livingston living in the Islands."
"There was a Livingstone in Georgia," Raven added. "It was one of
the estates we checked when looking for my father." The ex-slave
frowned as he tried to remember the exact location of the holding.
"Great," Rakehell swore. "That will take time."
"It will take at least a couple weeks to sail to the Islands and
back," Josiah, aka Barrel, said to the assembled officers.
"We might have time," Rascal added. "It appears Vin escaped when
they tried to transfer him to the county seat."
"That's our boy!" Rakehell whooped, though there was no cheer from
the others as they thought of the consequences.
"There are search parties looking for Vin now," JD continued.
"If we could search both places we could save some time," Josiah
noted. "Where's Rafe?"
"We don't know." JD paused noting the shocked faces of those around
him. "He was supposed to meet Chris at the county seat. He was
going to petition the Magistrate to drop the charges."
"The boy better not have taken off," Rakehell growled.
"He did not," Barrel was quick to defend Rafe. He knew the boy to be
a hot head but he had a good heart. "Perhaps you should tell us the
"Yes, Rascal, but where's Morgan through all this?" Raven asked the
younger man. "He should be helping."
"Cap'n has him staying at the Vermenton estate. He is staying with
the horses, and covering for Chris Larabee's sudden departure. Also
trying to stop any rumors and spread a few of our own, to cover Vin
and Rafe once the charges are dropped."
"It gets so damn confusing with all the names," Rakehell muttered.
"You are only jealous because I do more honor to my name," Raphael
"I live up to my name," Buck retorted.
Barrel interrupted what appeared to be a replay of a frequent
argument. "If you both want to live to have a name, we best set
"Do we go to Georgia first then the Islands?" Caballero asked.
"We should split up to save time," Barrel argued. "I can sail my
Aesthetic for Georgia while you make haste to the Islands."
"Alone?" Rakehell blurted.
Barrel straightened to his full height and crossed his arms,
shoulders squaring. "You think me unable to take care of myself?"
Rakehell shook his hands in front of him. "Never. But the warrant's
for murder, not something stupid like disturbing the public peace."
The marine nodded. "I will take a few Marines with me. You will be
in greater danger on the crossing."
"Best wind to us all," Raven murmured.
"Aye," Rakehell agreed. "Rascal, tell the captain our plans. Good
luck says we will be back in two weeks time, he must stall if needed."
The young messenger nodded. "Tides are well enough you can leave
now," he told them.
"I hadn't noticed," Rakehell dryly replied, cuffing Rascal on the
side of the head. "We're only waiting for your lollygagging to
JD left the Vengeance, a part of his heart saddened he could not make
the trip to the Caribbean with them.
Vin ached. Every part of his body screamed in agony. Trying to open
his eyes, he found the task impossible. They felt heavy and
swollen. What progress he gained, the small amount of light brought
a wave of fresh pain, reminding him of bolts of lightening striking
his eye directly into his brain. He closed the aching orbs, not
wanting to aggravate them further. Darkness beckoned, but hazy
shapes took form within his mind.
"Get up, you lazy lieabout," a familiar voice called to him.
"Jess?" Opening his eyes, he found himself back at the place where
his life changed. But Jess was dead, wasn't he?
"You think you are a la-de-dah now? Wake with the sun's rise, not
the hangabout at noon."
"Jess, you should not be here, it's not safe."
"I go where I wish," Jess interrupted. "'Tis you should be gone.
I'll see you tomorrow morning."
"But," Vin protested.
"Off with you, or 'tis trouble that redcoat will give ya. 'Tis me he
wants; do not get in his way again."
"No." Vin shook his head. "But -"
"Go now!" Jess pushed him. "My lookout signals he comes."
"Be careful." Vin disappeared into the trees. He would do as his
friend asked, but he would stay close. Fearing for his friend's
safety, he had vowed to protect him.
He ran to gain a little distance, trying to stay away from those who
hunted him. He was tired though and through, finally dropping to
rest. A faint noise snapped him awake, to find himself in the middle
of a nightmare. His enemy had found him.
"You cannot protect him; he will go where I say. You will not bother
He could only blink in confusion and stare at the muzzle pointed
between his eyes. He thought he blinked; he was not sure. All he
knew is he was on the ground and his friend's body was covering him.
"NO!" he screamed.
A hand held him. He struggled and screamed again.
Rafe fought to hold the struggling man down, to prevent him from
doing further damage to himself. "Vin . . . Vin . . . wake up."
The ill man finally ceased his struggles. Rafe could tell he was
trying to open his swollen eyes, but he was not sure how aware Vin
was of his surroundings. He spoke softly to reassure him, "T'was but
a nightmare," Rafe comforted. "I swear you are safe here."
The pain was unrelenting, it would not allow him to catch his breath
and make sense of what was happening. Where was Jess? He shook his
head, seeing the flash of the nightmare in the darkness that called
to him. "No."
"Vin, calm down," Rafe noted the man's breathing began to quicken,
and the muscles tense as if to fight again.
"No," Vin sighed in despair. "No." He slumped on the
bed. "No. . .he's dead. . .I killed him." The whispered words were
barely mutterings, mostly to himself.
He could not stop the words. "I killed him." Just admitting it
drove the strength from his body; he allowed the darkness to take him
back into its comforting, forgetting embrace.
Rafe stared at Vin Tanner half in shock. He knew the man ran a
fever, illness setting in. Their differences aside, they worked
together and he thought he knew the man, he did not believe the
warrant to be true, but to hear the confession in the man's own words
truly shocked him. No, Rafe berated himself. The man was ill,
confused, and possibly recalling one of the sea battles they fought.
Both of them killed during their duties aboard the Vengeance. He
would be just as guilty. Much as he wanted to believe the worst, he
refrained. He knew what it was like to be judged solely on half-
truths; perhaps he could learn a little discretion instead of
assuming the worst. What had assuming the worst gotten him so far?
Trouble, that's what. His friend lay ill and confused, and he lost
the respect of Chris Larabee and his other friends as well.
Rafe mentally slapped himself. He would not do this. He would make
amends. To that end was caring for Vin's injuries. Looking down at
the hurt man, he winced and wondered not for the first time how Vin
escaped in this condition. The man's iron will, his strength of
character, must have something to do with it. Rafe wished he had
that strength of character. Nevertheless, he recognized that instead
he often let his temper guide him, putting him in bad situations.
He tried to remove Vin's clothing to clean and check his injuries,
but his ministrations only irritated Tanner, embroiling him in a
constant battle to keep him calm. Feeling he was doing more harm and
he might cause Vin to aggravate his injuries more, he stopped,
settling for cleaning the wounds he could get to and trying to manage
the fever by keeping cool clothes on Vin's forehead.
Rafe knew his administrations were futile; he was not a healer and
Vin fought his care. He would not give up, but he did not see how he
could make things better without help.
Chris paced his small room at the inn. He tried sitting at the pub
or in the dining hall below stairs, but found it impossible to remain
seemingly uncaring. It did not set well with him, not being in
control. He acted his part with the Magistrate and the soldiers,
showing only shock and disbelief at the warrant and their charges
against his employee. Showing his outrage about delayed justice
because of their ineptitude. Inside he did rage, and did find them
inept. None of this should have happened, and with Vin's
disappearance his fear grew. He felt things were worse than he knew
deep in his bones.
The soldiers played their part too. Not totally believing his
interest in seeing justice done, or wanting to show him they were
still in charge despite his threats, they continued to harass him.
Almost hourly, one of the British beat on his door and searched his
room for any trace of Vin. As a Gentleman, this was not supposed to
happen; but with the new laws passed by the Crown, along with the
suspicion cast on him for hiring Vin, he had to endure these
So now, hidden from the ever-watchful eyes, he paced . . . and
Ezra felt each hour pass with alarming speed. All too soon, this
weekend would end, leaving him trying to salvage their reputations.
The irony was his status as a merchant barely put him into the
Gentleman category; yet it was up to him to save their good names and
protect their covers. It was time for him to go to work. Standish
went to stand and stretch from his chair in the veranda. He heard
voices, causing him to still and sink deeper into the evening
Phineas Vermenton walked by talking to a man Ezra knew Vermenton
competed with constantly.
"I am telling you, Bartholomew, Seagold will be a fine addition to my
"That's Larabee's horse. You must have paid well for him."
"A pittance. The man's a fool."
Ezra's eyes narrowed. Vermenton got what he wanted, Seagold, and now
he badmouthed the man who made it possible. Something must change.
The merchant waited until the other men were gone until he stood.
His canny mind made plans, while his heart continued to beat
furiously with worry. He would never admit it to anyone else, not
even himself, but he knew he had more to lose here than his good
name. He could not let emotion deter him though; he had to stay
alert. He did not acknowledge that what he did protected his own
heart and mind from the thought he kept buried . . . that he might
lose a friend.
JD arrived back at Larabee's room, yanked inside almost as soon as he
knocked. "They need you to stall," he reported without
preamble, "because they must sail to the Islands."
"As long as Vin remains missing, stalling will not be hard," Chris
"I hope we find him before the British," JD commented without
thinking then cringed. He glanced at Chris and noted he did not seem
to hear, just stood staring off at nothing. JD could only imagine
what thoughts were running through the captain's mind.
Chris stared at the flickering shadows on the wall. "Why the
"Raphael knows of a Livingstone living there," JD explained. "Josiah
is sailing to Georgia. Nathan remembered the name from when he
looked for his father."
"It still may be for naught," Chris sighed.
"Any word, sir? About Vin."
Chris shook his head.
"I could go look myself," JD suggested eagerly. "I will not have to
check back at the rendezvous for five days yet. Vin was teaching me
to track some; I might find some sign."
Smiling fondly at JD's eager face, Chris reluctantly shook his
head. "No, JD. If I thought it would help, I would be out there
myself. We cannot risk any more of us under British scrutiny."
"Yes, sir," JD agreed reluctantly. "I just need to do something."
Chris could well understand the youth's feelings, having spent the
last day dampening his own urges to react. He reached out and
squeezed JD's shoulder in support, "Ezra must be told."
"I'll ride now," JD said eagerly. "Any other orders, sir?"
"No. If Vermenton will put you up, stay there. If you hear nothing
before then, meet me back here in three days; then you can check for
the men from here. Now, we will get you a meal and decide on a spot
I can leave you a message if I am not available."
Chris led JD out of his room, neither speaking more of the dangers
and challenges still before them.
After a filling meal and ascertaining the message drop, JD took his
leave, riding again through the night. He could tell the hour grew
late by the positioning of the stars; but he doubted Ezra was in bed
yet. It would be a matter of finding him quietly without raising a
stir or give the entire estate more gossip. They could not help the
servants talking; all he could do was minimizing what they learned.
Vermenton's estate beckoned him, the stillness of the night broken by
the steady gait of his horse. He realized it would be a good idea to
remain here for a few days. The poor loaned horse would not make
another trip. JD chose to ride on the grass for discretion to the
stable, nodding to the sleepy groom who staggered over on his
"You're back late," the boy muttered. "Larabee's party, right?"
"Yes," JD answered. "I'll tend my horse; find your bed."
"Many thanks. You'll find the Standish fellow playin' cards in the
master's study. I can get my sister to run a message to him. She's
married to the master's head butler."
"You wouldn't mind?"
"We haven't had this much excitement since two years ago," the boy
answered with a grin. "Tend your horse; I'll have the Gentleman
notified you're here."
"My thanks." JD led his horse to one of the empty stalls near the
Larabee horses, waving the grooms sleeping outside the stalls back to
sleep. He took care of his trusty companion, giving him extra oats
for all the hard work. This was someone's everyday transportation,
and he would take good care of him while he was in his care. Sailing
he knew almost from instinct, and it earned his respect and place
with the crew, but his association with Larabee also taught him about
horses. His growing knowledge he welcomed and made use of daily.
This horse was sound and sturdy enough to handle the numerous trips
he might be forced to make, without being so flashy to draw
attention. If he needed speed, he could readily take one of
A voice startled him from his thoughts.
"You're supposed to come with me," the groom said.
Grabbing his saddlebag, he slung it over his shoulder and
followed. "What's your name?"
"Nice to meet someone that knows what he's doing with horses. You
are to wait for Mr. Standish in his room. He said he would arrange a
spot for you to sleep there for the night. He will join you once the
game's finished, but it'll be late. It has been most these nights."
"I figured as much. Appreciate the help."
Silas waved him off, passing him to a butler once they reached the
back of the house.
"If you'll follow me?" The butler led him up the back stairs to a
well-apportioned room, much better than JD expected.
He settled on the pallet arranged for him, gratefully stretching
out. Even though he willed himself to stay awake, he fell asleep
quickly from his long day.
Rafe worried. Vin's fever grew stronger, burning the man up from the
inside out. His skin heated the cool cloths faster than Rafe could
replace them. Even worse, delirium set in.
The ramblings unsettled Rafe. He could not make a lot of sense of
the disjointed remarks made by the fevered man, but what he heard
disturbed him. Vin's first admission of possibly murdering a man was
frightening enough to learn about, especially when he thought Tanner
a peaceful soul. The later entreaties, thought, mixed with what
sounded like pleas, pleas for someone to stop hurting him.
He always wondered about Vin's life. A man who could move freely
among many of the tribes in the area, someone both at ease on land
and at sea, yet filling the role of a quasi-Gentleman with little
effort. Tanner cared not for class, treated everyone almost the
same, and those deserving with a great deal of respect. If the cries
he was hearing were true memories of the man's past, he wondered how
Vin managed to survive so much.
"No. . . Stop . . . no more . . . please."
The painful cry made Rafe cringe. He knew the strong man before him
had a lot of pride and fortitude. To think that he was once driven
to plead in such a heartfelt manner drove a knife in Rafe's soul.
His guilt now multiplied because not only had he brought new pain, he
was the cause of the painful memories the man apparently relived.
Rafe tried to place another cool cloth across the much too warm
forehead. Even weak with fever, the man fought even the barest
touch. "No. . .leave me."
This was no good. He was doing all he could, yet he was fought on
even his meager attempts to ease his pain. When he was able, Rafe
checked the cabin and realized it had been some time since his father
visited the area. The water supply was no problem, with a clear
running creek behind the cabin. Firewood was in short supply though,
and Rafe had only a bit of trail rations in his saddlebag. He would
need so much more if he were to make sure Vin lived. He would need
It was time to fetch Chris. Rafe worried about leaving the ill man
alone, but after a lengthy argument with himself, knew he had no
choice. They were well off the beaten path, and if they weren't, Vin
would only be helped into a jail cell and more than likely an early
death. Finally assured he was doing what was best, Rafe moved
Wrapping Vin completely in damp, cold sheets, binding him to the bed,
Rafe saddled his horse in record time. He rode hard and fast for
town, only slowing when he knew he would encounter patrols. Thinking
about where to find Chris, there was one logical place to start - the
tavern; Larabee frequented them often enough. With Vin missing,
there was no point to the blond loitering around the garrison or the
courthouse. He only hoped Larabee was still in town and had not
chosen to go back to the Vermenton estate. The one thing Rafe did
not allow was to think of the reception he would receive from the
Captain when he did find him.
Ezra stepped lightly over the sleeping body. His entire body ached
from holding the same position at the card table. It took almost
until the dawn to achieve his goal - the hand to end all hands. Lady
Luck with her whimsy laid it on the line until the very last hand,
the very last card, the very last bet. It exhausted him just
thinking about it.
Another hour after the end of the hand, while the remainder of the
male guests crawled to their beds, negotiations continued with
ferocity, both parties leaving the table tired and drained.
Shaking off the memories, Standish sat heavily on the bed. "JD,"
Ezra said softly, stripping off his jacket.
"What huh?" Muffled by the pillow firmly planted over his head,
pressing down on his nose, JD's voice sounded nasal and stuffed.
Since he could not fall asleep until he knew the latest updates on
Vin, his tolerance for JD's grumbling stayed low. Taking a handful
of water from his basin with his right hand, he lifted the pillow
with his left and let fly. "I said wake up."
"Geez!" JD shot to his feet, falling over his pallet, his body
crashing back to the ground. "You didn't need to do that."
"Orders from he whom I slave for?" Ezra pulled off his boots,
wiggling his sock-covered toes in pleasure of the freedom. "And
please, lower your voice, lest the roosters hear you and begin the
"You mean Chris?" JD straightened himself out still trying to shake
himself from sleep. "Vin's missing. . ."
"What?" Ezra had to fight to keep his own voice down after the
JD blinked for a minute before he realized Ezra was hearing the news
for the first time. "Oh . . . Vin escaped on the way to the county
seat. Embarrassed his majesties dragoons," JD allowed a
smile. "They have search parties out, but there has been no sign of
"There wouldn't be," Ezra said, astonishment at the turn of events in
his voice. "Mr. Tanner has always proved most resourceful. And our
leader, how does he fare?"
"Like a caged wild animal." JD snorted. "Rafe never showed."
"What?" Again, Standish gaped at the unexpected news.
JD shook his head. "No word from him."
"Can we hope they are together?"
JD shrugged. "It bought us time. Chris obtained a copy of the
warrant they claim is Vin. The others have sailed to search for the
Ezra frowned. "A Herculean task I am sure. Any clues?"
"Most of the crew sailed for the Islands. Josiah is on his way to
Georgia. It will take time."
"That we may be short of," Ezra was thoughtful. "Two. . .three
weeks." His eyes closed, the events of the night playing behind his
eyes. Could they stay here that long? Should they? Perhaps for a
day or two they could remain here. "What did our captain suggest we
"Hold here for now, if Vermenton is agreeable," JD relayed Chris's
plans. "In case Vin makes his way back here, or Rafe. If we hear
nothing, I will go back to check with Chris. He is counting on your
magic to do what you can here about the gossip."
"As I have been," Ezra assured him. "Well, may I count on your
assistance for the next few days? We will need to delay our
departure with our host."
"I think the horse I rode will need a rest," JD said slowly. "He's
sturdy, but not that sturdy for all the riding I did today."
"Of course," Ezra nodded in satisfaction, giving a broad yawn. "And
for now I suggest we retire and discuss our plans further at a decent
"A decent hour to you is late afternoon." JD smirked.
"Precisely. Now get some rest."
Chris sat in the inn's common room eating his midday meal, all the
while ignoring the glares and suspicious glances of the redcoats.
They searched his room again at seven this morning, with another
visit at ten just to make sure he did not sleep well. It was not his
fault they lost their prisoner, looking incompetent in the process.
Everyone else gave him a wide berth suiting him just fine.
Checking the door each time it opened, this time his diligence
received a reward in the form of Rafe Mosely. The young man ignored
Chris, walking directly to the bar. Once he drank a glass of ale, he
paid and left.
Curious, Chris finished his meal, waited for what he felt an
appropriate amount of time, paid, and exited. He paused outside the
inn, glancing up and down the street. Walking slowly toward the
stables, he passed through the market when he spotted the familiar
figure bartering at one of the stalls.
"Mr. Mosley, quite a surprise to see you here."
Rafe smiled as he turned to Chris and played up their chance
meeting. "Mr. Larabee, how are you sir?"
"Fine. I thought you would be back in New Berne by this time."
Accepting the parcel of goods from the merchant and passing him a few
coins, the young man turned to face Larabee. Although for the nearby
public and those listening, the two were carrying on a polite and
unexpected greeting, Rafe could read the hidden anger in the
Captain's eyes. "I wish that I could," Rafe had no trouble speaking
that truth, but his continence remained serious. "My father has been
unable to travel of late, and asked that I check with some of his
constituents. I found one family ill and in need of assistance. I
am attempting to do as my father might wish to help all I can."
"As a dutiful son should do." The steel glare in Chris's eyes never
wavered, knowing Rafe read it easily.
"I fear it may not be enough, or I may be too late." Rafe tried to
relate his own message to Chris. "And you sir, have you settled your
business and are you on your way home?"
"There are still some matters left to close." Chris looked around to
see who might be listening. "I must travel back to Vermenton to
complete my transactions there."
"May you conclude your business satisfactorily then, sir," Rafe
tipped his hat and prepared to take his leave. "It was such a
peaceful ride from the country. I found an especially restful spot
with a thick grove of trees with a sizeable pond. I might have to
travel back and invest in some property around here."
"Always a wise choice," Chris agreed. "Safe journey, and I hope we
meet again soon."
"It would be my pleasure. Good day." Rafe turned and continued on
his way, stopping at a few more vendors as he made his way back to
Chris turned and slowly made his way in the opposite direction,
although inside he wanted to run and leave with Rafe in utmost
haste. He had no doubt that Rafe knew Vin's whereabouts and that he
was in trouble, as he feared. Instead, he remained calm and thought
of a plan to keep the suspicious soldiers from following.
Making his way to the constabulary, he entered and found the sergeant.
"Sergeant," Chris greeted him tersely as they met.
"Mr. Larabee, do you bring news of your trainer?"
"No, I was about to ask if you had news," Chris lied.
"I assure you once the man is apprehended, I will summon you."
"Thank you," Chris acknowledged. "I cannot stay here any longer,
however. I must conclude my affairs with Mr. Vermenton. I wanted to
advise you to send a messenger there when you have news."
"Of course, sir," the sergeant agreed. "I might I remind you, sir,
that it would be in your best interest if you encounter the man, to
alert the authorities immediately."
"Certainly, I will do so." The lie fell easily off his lips as he
imagined what he would really like to do to the offending British
Leaving the constable's office, he made sure to keep his walk
leisurely back to his room. Along the way, he stopped at a few
specialty shops to make some purchases he felt he might need. Once
back at his room, he quickly packed his saddlebags and prepared a
note to leave for JD at their prearranged spot. In the meantime, he
relied on Standish's cunning to be able to cover for him at
Vermenton's should someone be sent to check on him before he could
relay the latest news. He settled his account with the innkeeper and
hinted that he would be back a few days time and require the same
As he made his way toward the stables, like Rafe, he took advantage
of the market, making several more small purchases along the way. He
figured gathering supplies for his trip would be expected, a cover
for his true purpose. As he moved among the vendors, he thought more
on young Mosley, and the arrogance he portrayed as he conducted his
business earlier. His entire demeanor screamed Quality and not to
stop him, allowing him to pass through the town without one redcoat
He would give the kid respect for the way he handled himself, even
though he caused this entire mess. Performing as he did, and keeping
his cool, avoiding British scrutiny. At least it showed the young
hothead did not always think with his temper first. If only he
learned to control it more often, messes like this would not happen.
Perhaps a good scrubbing with rags, no brushes, of Vengeance's decks
might help knock some of the arrogance out of the whelp. He should
let the old salts watch and give Mosely pointers.
Realizing he dawdled, he finished his purchases and made for the
stables. His green eyes never missed the soldier escort he had, nor
did he acknowledge he knew they followed him. He kept his pace
leisurely and seemingly without hurried purpose.
At the stables he took his time preparing is mount, giving the black
a quick brushing before placing his own gear, upon his back.
Saddling Hades, he felt a surge of excitement. Again, he casually
exchanged pleasantries with the stable master as he settled his bill
with man. He also alerted him that he would return in a few days,
possible with his full string of horses to board. Chris had no doubt
the man would be questioned as soon as he departed. Leading the
horse out to the main street, he mounted. He did not go through his
usual routine of showing Hades he was boss. Once his weight landed
on the black's back, Hades showed he earned his name.
Hades was not one to go without exercise, and was more than ready to
make up for lost time. Even expecting the fight, the first rear
nearly unseated him. For a half-second, Chris thought Hades allowed
his rump to touch the ground to get that vertical. When the stallion
went back on all fours with a bone-rattling thump, the back legs shot
out, nearly spilling Chris off the front end. Allowing a brief show
for those who watched, he uttered a few curses and mentioned a hard
run was needed to settle the devil down.
He continued the show through town, noting the grinning soldiers and
civilians that wisely chose to stay out of the eager horse's way. He
kept appearances up as he cleared the town, making sure no soldiers
meant to follow. Then with a verbal declaration, in case there were
any spying unseen ears nearby, he gave the horse his head.
"All right boy, I will work the idleness out of you," Chris urged
Hades into a fast gallop to the pond Rafe mentioned.
They met up under the shadows of canopy trees, Chris allowing Hades
to rest and drink deeply.
"Tell me," he demanded.
"They beat him badly. His ribs, his face; much I could not see. A
fever has developed and delirium set in. I did what I could, but I
am not a healer. You have more experience than I in tending the
injured from your sailing days, and I knew you wanted to see him. I
did not want to leave him, but I did not see a choice."
"You did right. We must go before my watchers decide to check."
Rafe pointed the almost indiscernible path through the thickest part
of the trees. "Follow the path straight until it forks. Take the
right fork; go straight to the rock formation. Make no sound, for I
will be behind you disguising our trail."
"You have experience?"
"More than I care to; my father forbade me socializing with the boys
in the Indian villages. In order to learn how to take care of
myself, I snuck away with the boys, learning everything they were
willing to teach me." In the telling, Rafe realized it was another
area of contention with Vin. While he had spent a great deal of time
with the local tribes as his father conducted his missionary work, he
thought he built his own rapport with them, yet he still received
suspicion when with them. Whereas Tanner was often treated as a long
lost brother, not receiving the same wary looks. He shook himself
from dwelling on his jealousies, sadly knowing that this was possibly
the root of his behavior toward Vin and not truly his sister's best
interest as he often boasted. It made him feel more shameful and
reinforced his guilt. He had much to make up for, and a limited
opportunity in which to complete his reparation. Rafe looked to
Chris for his reaction.
Chris accepted the explanation, nodding once before leading Hades
down the path. He continued even though he did not hear Rafe behind
him. At the rock formation, he turned to find Mosely carefully
concealing their passage. Larabee found himself impressed despite
his desire to hold his anger with the young man.
"Which way now?"
"We will make one wide loop around the cabin to be sure it has not
been approached, then we will go in."
Much as he hated the waiting, it was necessary to be sure they did
not lead the British right to the hiding place. "Where are we
going?" Chris asked.
"My father's house of sin," Mosely retorted, sarcasm heavy in his
voice. "He was in a bad way; I fear it will take some time for him
"The others are on their way to the Islands to find the true name on
the warrant. They will need all the time we can give them."
Rafe looked away from Chris. "I apologize. Again."
"Get me to Vin, and we'll go from there."
It took a couple hours, Rafe exceptionally careful about making sure
they left no trail to follow, but Chris followed without complaint.
Upon their arrival at the cabin, Rafe took charge of the horses.
Handing his saddlebag to Chris, he declared, "Go on in, I will hide
and tend the horses."
One look took the breath from him. Twisted and tangled in the sheet,
the bruised and battered man did not resemble the friend Chris saw
too few short days ago. His skin held a clammy, sheen under the
window's meager light, his eyes deep purple and angry red where the
skin split. His lips looked chapped and cracked. His hair hung in
greasy strings. Just the heat in the room told Chris the fever was
"Vin," he whispered.
His friend did not move.
Rafe entered. "How bad since I left him?"
Larabee's temper snapped. How dare Rafe ask how bad Vin was; it was
obvious his friend was deathly ill. He wheeled on Mosely, forcibly
picking him up and pressing him into the wall. "Bad enough I should
thrash you into his condition for causing this mess. If you could
have controlled your temper, you would have prevented this from
"I know, I warned you," Rafe replied. "If it makes you feel better
to beat me, go ahead."
Chris heard a moan behind him. Disgusted with himself for losing his
temper and lecturing Rafe about controlling his, he let go of the
other man, turning his back on him. "Fetch cold water."
Mosely left without another word.
The Aesthetic sailed better than the Vengeance marines believed
possible by her appearance, all by not leaking, taking on water, or
letting her lines tangling throughout the journey to Georgia. None
of those on board wore masks, the Aesthetic still not connected with
Josiah donned clothing he once gave up, dressing as a monk in order
to gain cooperation from the locals. He planned to say that he had
word of a distant relative and the Livingstone family members
requested him to contact their kin before the patriarch passed away.
Dressing as a monk gave him a certain credibility, along with a
modicum of respect from all classes of society. More respect than a
crazy sailor would get, and more Society doors should open for him in
It irritated Josiah in a way that he should have to go through such
guises, especially in this Colony. Of all of the settlements,
Georgia consisted of those who were not members of peerage in the
home world, or publicly disgraced members of the ton and exiled for
their missteps. Aside from the governor and a few in authority, the
settlers came from the lower classes and those that would be
considered the dregs of society, along with a larger military
presence, as the Crown used the settlement of Georgia as its defense
against Spanish invasion from the South. Josiah knew that even his
disguise would not bode him well in all sectors, as the religious
here were treated with suspicion and disdain, since many fled the
persecution of their churches.
So it was here among those who one would think should be most
tolerant for those without social standing that the opposite was
true. Those given their second chance at life took and made their
own rules for their version of society. As they progressed fast in
building their new world, those truly successful in gaining property
and wealth set out to prove that they were just as good if not better
than those who had lorded it over them in their old world. It
disheartened Josiah that this colony, though one of the smallest,
held the most slaves. Part of him rejoiced Nathan rescued his own
father from its clutches, leaving him bittersweet about the entire
colony, and despairing about their future.
Following Nathan's general directions, they arrived in the county
where he remembered hearing about the Livingstone family. A few
discreet inquiries netted the location of the Livingstone Manor, a
far distance away. Renting sturdy horses, he and the two marines he
chose to accompany him rode the two days' journey for the Manor.
They needed answers. Hopefully, they would obtain them.
"Vin?" Chris called out first, armed with the experience of knowing
to touch Vin without warning resulted in a swing, no matter how
His friend moaned.
"Vin." He spoke up.
The entreaty only garnered another moan. Chris did not need to touch
the ill man to feel the heat radiating off Tanner's body. His nose
wrinkled as the stench of sweat and bodily waste generated from the
bed. With gentle care that would surprise many who saw it, Chris
began trying to check the various injuries. When he attempted to
lift his friend's body to remove his shirt, it elicited another
aching groan from the man. The pain the movement caused apparently
brought Vin around as he began to writhe on the bed and absently bat
away the hands that touched him.
"Vin?" Chris again tried to gage the man's awareness.
"No….leave me alone…..Jess?"
Chris felt his stomach lurch as realized the fever truly held his
friend in its grasp and he was not aware of his surroundings. "Sh-h-
h, Vin, it is Chris. I am here to help, let me check your injuries."
"No. . .leave." Even weak, Tanner put up a strong resistance.
As he continued to struggle, Vin suddenly gasped and started to
cough. Soon he was gasping as if he could not get his breath,
followed by the dry heaves. Larabee briefly despaired there was not
much he could do, yet determined to do all he can for his friend's
recovery. He gently rolled Vin to his side as the dry heaves
continued, lightly rubbing his back and talking quietly in an effort
to calm him down. He heard the rattle in Vin's chest from the
congestion. Finally, Vin settled, or as Chris thought, more likely
passed out from pain and exhaustion. Angry at this unnecessary
illness, he threw the thin covering off and set about stripping off
Vin's soiled layers of clothing.
Mosely reentered with two full buckets of water, setting them near
Chris. Larabee took his anger and frustration out on the young man
again to snap, "You didn't take his clothes off? Did you even check
his injuries? He's burning up."
"He did not allow it," Rafe replied in a measured, factual tone of
voice. "I feared hurting him further if he continued to fight me."
"Did he say anything when you found him?" Larabee was desperate to
know how Tanner got in this condition. He concentrated on tending
the wounded man, but in the back of his mind he wanted find those
responsible and dispense some of his medicine, mostly with his fists.
Rafe shook his head as he tentatively moved up, began helping Larabee
remove the torn, dirty clothing, and soiled bedding. "Not much.
Just that he got out of the wagon over a bridge and hid from the
soldiers in a creek until he felt safe to get away."
"Wonderful," Chris exclaimed, now knowing the congestion was not from
any injury, but the after effects from being in chilled water for a
length of time.
"Since we got here, he mostly called for someone named Jess, asking
not to be hurt again."
Chris kept his face averted. He did not want to see the questions in
Rafe's eyes, nor did he want to try to provide answers. He was
afraid he did not know them all himself. "We will need fresh
bedding. Do you have more?"
"Yes," Rafe said simply, instinctively knowing he must wait to
satisfy his curiosity. He moved to the long, low chest at the end of
the bed. Lifting the lid, he reached in and pulled out several more
sheets, a blanket, and one of his father's nightshirts. He returned
to the side of the bed just as Larabee finished removing the last of
Vin's clothing, including the ever present kerchief. Rafe gasped at
the evidence of a scar around the trainer's neck. It was faded, but
one side was obviously worse, a glaring reminder of some hell the
injured man had been through.
"Look hard, Rafe, at British street justice," Chris said without
turning around as he continued to try to clean the fevered body as
quickly as possible. "Soldiers tried to hang him."
"Related to the warrant?"
"No," Chris hissed in his Captain Vengeance voice. Chris briefly
thought back to their first meeting. He knew if he had not already
hated the British with a passion, he would have after the stories he
heard. "We will speak of this later, understood?"
"Yes, sir," Rafe responded immediately, placing the sheets to the
side as he moved to help Larabee.
Using cold water and torn cloths, Chris bathed Vin's body. His
fingers gentled around the ribs, along the knotted bruises on the
thighs, and blotted the swollen flesh on Vin's face.
"What more can I do?" asked Rafe.
"Fetch more water."
Rafe turned back to Chris.
"How far to the stream?"
"A few steps," Rafe replied.
"We'll submerge him. The fever's too high. Help me." The two men
hefted Vin, carrying him out the door and to the stream. Setting the
fevered man beside the stream, Chris stripped off his boots and down
to his long underwear. He eased into the cool water. "Help me get
him in the water." Chris directed. Mosely carefully helped Larabee
ease Tanner into the water, then assisted him in helping hold Vin
until they were sitting securely on the bottom.
Vin moaned and thrashed a bit as he was immersed into the cold water,
but he stilled as Chris squeezed tight and whispered a few quiet
After seeing the two men secure, Rafe backed out of the water,
seemingly unaware of his own soaked clothing. "What else can I do?"
Chris wanted to ask if Rafe did not believe he had done enough, but
the blond stopped himself. He wanted to flay Rafe, either verbally
or physically, for causing this entire problem, but too many people
already lost their tempers to unfortunate results. Yelling at Rafe
reminded him of kicking a puppy; the younger man tried to correct his
mistakes, paid for good care for Vin which fell through, finally
bringing Vin here to hide out from the search parties. All Chris
could do was let Rafe continue his efforts to redeem himself and give
him a second chance.
"The bedding will need to be changed before we move him back in,"
Chris stated, securing his grasp again as Vin started to thrash again.
Rafe nodded and started to move back toward the cabin.
Rafe turned back toward the captain.
"If you have dry clothes, you might wish to change." Chris smothered
a smile as saw the younger man's expression when he noticed his
sodden attire. More seriously, he warned, "I don't need you coming
down with a chill, too."
"Yes, sir." Mosely moved quickly to do his Captain's bidding.
Cold seeped into his body. He craved warmth, yet something held
him. Vin struggled, trying his best to get free, yet he could not.
"Vin, stop it. We're trying to break the fever."
He knew that voice - that familiar voice - it belonged to a friend.
He stopped fighting for a moment. Awareness came slowly. "Chris?"
he asked weakly.
"That's right, Vin." Larabee breathed a sigh of relief, realizing
the fever was losing its grip. "Just stay calm; let us take care of
Just hearing that voice allowed him to quit resisting. He was safe,
just like the last time. Chris would take care of him. A stray
thought crossed his mind before he allowed the warmth of darkness to
embrace him again - Chris was an insufferable nurse.
After Rafe had turned the bedding and remade it with fresh sheets, he
returned to the creek and helped Larabee carry the ill man back to
the cabin. Rafe held Vin up while Larabee bound his ribs. They
rubbed liniment into the deeper bruises, cleaned the various cuts,
and bandaged the more serious wounds, including the one on the side
of his head, just inside his hairline. Finally, they left him
resting, lying slightly raised on the pillow to aid his breathing.
Chris took some of the water near the fire and cleaned himself as he
changed his own clothes. Rafe brought in more firewood, stoked the
fire, and made them a meager supper as they settled in to watch over
Afternoon turned into evening, which turned into night. Vin
slumbered on, his fever still causing him to thrash in his sleep, and
call out in his confused state of mind.
Tired green eyes watched every movement with worry. "Rafe."
"Tomorrow morning, first light, you need to ride to Vermenton's.
Change in plans." Chris outlined what he wanted Rafe to do.
Morning broke and Rafe wasted no time riding to Vermenton's estate.
He found Ezra still a guest. "Mr. Standish," he greeted. "Mr.
"Mr. Mosely. Have they apprehended Mr. Larabee's trainer yet?"
Vermenton asked, passing the younger man tea.
"They still search."
"Do you believe he will return here?"
"I assured Mr. Vermenton that would not happen," Ezra said dryly.
"I am very confident Mr. Tanner will find refuge elsewhere. I am
surprised, Mr. Standish, to find you still enjoying Mr. Vermenton's
gracious hospitality. I have never known you to forgo your business
for such a length of time."
"Ah but I am on business." Standish grinned broadly, completely in
his element. "Mr. Vermenton has an interest in Mr. Larabee's horses,
specifically a mare requiring services. Since Mr. Larabee also
provided me with negotiation rights, I will be staying here until the
completion of the transaction. Perhaps a week or two."
"More like three," Phineas said. "I welcome the entertainment. Mr.
Mosely, you are more than welcome also."
"Mr. Larabee asked me a personal favor of relaying messages from
yourself and Mr. Standish to him in the county seat," Rafe
replied. "If that will not be a problem?"
"Absolutely not." Phineas smiled. "What about Mr. Larabee's pilot?
Has he not been performing this duty?"
"Yes, sir, he has. However, Mr. Larabee now feels it might be best
to send Master Dunne to contact Magistrate Travis. He wants to
protect his interests. I'm sure you understand." Mosely used some
of his natural arrogance to convey his message.
"Absolutely. I would do the same if I were him."
"That said, Mr. Larabee requested I pass on instructions to his pilot
in the event that you proved to be an understanding host. He said he
would be more than willing to compensate you for your trouble, and
thanks you for your graciousness." Mosely nearly choked on the
words, but if Vermenton let Ezra and the horses stay, their plan
"I appreciate Mr. Larabee's concern."
It was not until almost an hour later that Rafe and Ezra got a moment
alone, speaking quickly and quietly. JD was found and sent on his
Throughout the day, Chris continued to bathe Vin with cold cloths,
praying for the fever to either stop climbing or break. He listened
to the raspy breathing and the painful coughs, finally doing
something he rarely saw fit to do, something he abstained from since
the tragedy tearing his life to shreds. He prayed.
Every so often Vin would cry out. Like Rafe, Chris cringed when he
listened to the man's desperate pleas, frustrated his comfort at
times was not enough to shake Vin from his delirium. It saddened him
to think that the friend he knew with so much pride in himself was
forced so low. During the worst moments, Chris could do nothing but
try to soothe him as best he could. He would freshen the cool
clothes, speak softly and thankfully, Vin would settle down.
Toward evening, Vin seemed to be resting easier. Chris managed
getting a few sips of water into him. Larabee thought his tired mind
might be playing tricks on him, but the man felt cooler; he fervently
As Chris sat watching his patient and thinking over his plans, he
felt his own eyes grow heavy. He finally gave up and fell asleep.
Josiah and his marines found the Livingstone estate with little
trouble, and by pushing, reached it faster than predicted. The
holding was of a modest size and though Sanchez noted the buildings
were sturdy, many were in need of repair. The disappointment came
when he found he would be unable to find answers right away.
The overseer of the property was a stern faced man, as tall as he and
almost as broad. He advised Josiah that the owners were not in
residence, and he could not or would not elaborate further. He saw
to the upkeep of the property and kept the field hands in line, just
what he was paid to do. Any answers Sanchez sought would have to be
handled through the family's attorney, the lawyer located in Savannah
on the coast.
Josiah cursed their luck that they wasted the trip inland for
naught. After resting their horses and receiving a modest meal from
the overseer in a reluctant gesture of hospitality, they prepared to
Sanchez walked to the outhouse. His mind enjoyed the long path
snaking through the woods, but not the smell when he neared, he heard
He stopped, finding a young man concealed all but his eyes behind a
large tree. "Yes, my son?" His hands clasped and disappeared within
the folds of his robe, giving him what he believed a less threatening
"They say you lookin' fer the massa."
"Yes, I am. Can you help me?" He looked the man directly in the
eye, giving him respect, no matter the man's obvious status as a
"Me and my family, we're lookin' ta get outta here. Overseer's a
cruel man, beats us, takes our women."
Josiah lowered his eyes. "May God have mercy on his soul, for His
final reckoning will be fierce."
"Praise be to God, but I'm lookin' fer somethin' a little quicker.
If yer lookin' fer the boys, find the younger one - Massa Vincent."
"There are two boys?" Josiah tilted his head in confusion, keeping
his voice low and non-threatening.
"Aye, Massa Vincent and Massa Vernon. Massa Vincent's the good boy,
always did right by his mother, God rest her soul."
Josiah's mind reeled; they thought the name on the warrant was
fictitious and now he learned there was actually a Vincent
Livingstone. "I thought there is a warrant on Vincent, not Vernon."
The slave scoffed. "A mistake. Lemme tell ya, Mista, the whole
truth about Massa Vernon and Massa Vincent."
After spending ten minutes listening and asking questions, Josiah
headed for Savannah with a lighter heart. He also made a promise to
himself to do what he could for Ezekiah and his family, seeing if
they could be rescued from the Livingstone estate.
Vengeance caught a tail wind, sending her sails flying to the
Islands. A sense of purpose kept the ship sailing even when they
should have anchored and hid. They passed two British man o'wars at
a distance, a confiscated Stewart James merchant flag hiding their
identity. Their flying jib remained concealed.
Reaching the Islands in record time, they set about finding one
Vernon Livingstone. Sending members of the crew ashore, they
discreetly learned where to locate him.
In the dead of night, men dressed in black, armed to the teeth, the
Marines minus their leader, but not his ever-constant training,
stealthily stormed the estate. They snatched Vernon Livingstone from
his bed, carrying him gagged and knocked unconscious to the ship.
They were under way before the light of dawn crossed the horizon.
"He awake yet?" Rakehell called.
"Getting there, Senor," Caballero answered. "Unless he is accustomed
to the lack of blood to his brain."
"With a sissy name like Vernon Livingstone, I have no doubt brainless
and stupid qualifies." Rakehell walked over to the man hanging
upside down from one of the spars, dangling three feet from the deck
on a long rope. He reached over and spun the man in a hard circle.
"Ooohhhhhh," the captive cried. "What?" He waved his arms, sending
him into a hard spiral. His feet, anchoring him by the thick ropes
binding his legs together, did not move, but the rest of his body
twisted in crazy loops. "God help me! Bring me a priest!"
"He's awake," Caballero announced. The Spaniard put out a hand to
stop the swaying, but not the twisting. "We have no padre, senor, I
will however, be happy to hear you repent your sins."
"I have done no crimes! I will pay you to leg me go! Release me,
and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams!"
"The perro Rake begs better when sniffing a woman's skirts than this
fool," Caballero said, disgust lining his tone. He laughed when the
other man in black, a mask covering his face, punched his shoulder.
"Let me go!"
"You know a Vincent Livingstone?" Rake asked.
"He's lying." A man in the deepest, darkest black - Raven to his
shipmates - held a dangerously long dagger aloft, all while staring
into the man's eyes. "Let me cut him. He will speak the truth then."
"Hell, I just wanted to beat him," Rakehell muttered to Caballero.
"Vincent Livingstone." Raven ran the knife along the man's
leg. "Truth or cut, you decide."
"I know him. He killed my mother and father!"
"LIAR!" Caballero roared. "Drop him."
On command, the rope dropped, Vernon Livingstone stopping only scant
inches from the hard deck planking.
Vernon screamed. "I'll tell you nothing!"
"Sissy wet himself," Rakehell complained. "We're gonna have to scrub
the decks because of him."
"Pull him up," Caballero ordered.
Vernon shot up again, this time stopping with his head four feet from
"He's gettin' heavy, sir!" one of the sailors yelled. "Might we ask
for assistance, mayhap a break?"
Raven motioned with his hand.
Vernon plunged to the deck again, his scream echoing on the water.
He gasped. "If this is about the warrant, the authorities won't come
to the Islands for me. They have no proof I did it!"
"Hello, Vincent," Rakehell said. His masked mouth showed teeth
pulled into a grin.
"I am not Vincent! You have no charges on me," Vernon continued to
Caballero crouched beside Livingstone. "We are not the authorities.
You are aboard the Vengeance, not a navy ship."
"Vengeance, the pirate ship? What do pirates want with me? Money?
I can give it to you by the bucket. Property? I have estates all
over the Colonies."
Caballero slapped him once across the face.
"Since you offer so nicely, we will take your money. I am sure you
have much to pay recompense. You will go to the authorities…when
we're done with you."
"Tell me, young Ver-non," Rake drawled the name out as he leaned in
close to the prisoner and whispered evilly, "Do you believe in hell?"
Josiah arrived in Savannah, once again he and his marines pushing
their horses for speed. His arrival at the law offices of Nagle &
Sons brought a raised eyebrow from the clerk. A few moments in the
posh waiting room, and Sanchez received an escort into a large ornate
Balding and portly, the attorney pushed his glasses up his nose and
stood. "Hello, Brother Josiah. I am Sampson Nagle."
"May the Lord bless you," Josiah replied. "Thank you for taking the
time to see me."
"Please, be seated." Nagle waved him to a chair.
"My thanks." Sanchez lowered himself into the seat with the ease of
long practice, his robes not interfering in the least.
"What can I do for you? My clerk told me of your interest in the
Taking a long, hard look at the attorney, Josiah decided to trust him
with the truth. "Yes. I have received word from one of those I
provide spiritual counseling for, that one of the Livingstone family
has been arrested." He did not mention that Chris, aka Captain
Vengeance, was the one that asked him to find the real Vincent
Livingstone, or that he did, upon rare occasion, provide counsel for
"Oh, no! Not Vernon." Nagle's hand reached for his handkerchief,
cleaning his glasses.
"Vernon? No, Vincent Livingstone."
"Vincent? There is no Vincent Livingstone. There was a Vincent
Tanner. He never used the last name of Livingstone. Are you
familiar with Mr. Tanner? I have been searching for him."
"As I said, I only received word through the man I counsel. I
hesitate to break his confidence, but he considers Mr. Tanner a
friend. Apparently the authorities believe Mr. Tanner to be this
"Some distance away," Josiah hedged. He wanted to be honest, or
appear so, hoping to gain helpful information, but he did not want to
put Vin in more danger should Nagle prove false.
"Brother Josiah, let us not mince words." Nagle clasped his hands in
front of him atop his desk. "Vincent Livingstone, or Vincent Tanner,
stands accused of a horrible crime. The Livingstone family, in order
to protect their interests, retained me and I must hold this
resolve. There are those who consider my profession corrupt and look
unkindly upon it, but I believe in the laws. We need them to
maintain order in a civilized society; I do my part in that process,
honestly I might add. However, personally, I feel the warrant issued
was in error, but I cannot prove any different, no matter how much I
wish. Though there are some that may be bought, the Magistrate here
is fair-minded, and judges only on the facts as they are presented."
"What can you tell me about the warrant?" Josiah leaned forward a
bit, inviting confidences. He kept his voice warm and welcoming, a
voice that served him well.
"Only what the oldest son, Vernon, was able to tell us. He blames
everything on his younger brother, Vincent. Said that his father and
brother were fighting, it was a common occurrence, but apparently,
this one became violent. There was no one available to confirm the
story but Vernon, and he could not, or said he could not remember
what happened. He had a head wound, you understand, said he fell
down the stairs, or was pushed. The next morning the servants found
Mr. and Mrs. Livingstone murdered, Vernon unconscious and many items
in the house missing as well as Vincent. The local authorities could
never locate Vincent. Therefore, Vernon's less than clear
accountings of the occurrences of that night are all we have to go
by, as well as the possibly guilty disappearance of Vincent."
"You sound unsure."
Nagle sighed, obviously uncomfortable discussing the matter. In his
mind though, this man was a priest and he felt by unloading some of
his thoughts on matter it would lighten the burden he had carried all
this time. He was ashamed of himself that he had not done more to
find Vincent. Nor did he protest enough when the warrant was signed
when in his heart he felt it was for the wrong brother.
"I do not know what became of Vincent, but I can not believe him
capable of killing, not in cold blood," Nagle finally blurted. "The
boy did fight his father, tis true. Much of that was personal and of
matters he did not understand. I begged John Livingstone to tell all
to him but he refused, based on a promise. Vernon, however, I never
knew a more evil soul. Probably Elaine's doing; she was a vain and
selfish soul. Forgive me for speaking ill of the dead, but it was
true. Much of Vernon's greed and mistreatment of the servants he
learned by her hand; otherwise you would never believe the two were
sired from the same loins. Elaine ignored Vincent unless it was for
"But you need proof?"
Nagle nodded. "Yes, I am afraid that is all that will allow justice
to be served."
"Would it interest you to know that some of the slaves know what
happened? That they were threatened with grievous physical harm if
"It would indeed. Who threatened them?"
"Another witness who did not want to come forward in fear of losing
his own job, or his life. The overseer."
"We must get the sheriff!" Nagle leapt from his seat, straightening
his coat and crossing the room in brisk steps. "Please come, Brother
Josiah. I have control of the estate in Vernon Livingstone's
absence, and I will not be put off any longer. This matter will
finally be put right."
"After you," Josiah motioned.
Over two weeks passed in the cabin. For Chris, it was days of worry
and fatigue. As he directed the others to various duties as they
worked to find information that would clear Vin of any charges, he
struggled to fight for Vin's life. For the first week, it was a
fierce battle to control the fever. It was a fight to get the man to
take any liquids, either water or the teas he tried in an effort to
clear his congestion and lower his temperature. Finally, the
stubborn fever did break. It turned into a struggle to listen to his
friend's harsh coughing as Vin cleared his lungs in nature's way.
Chris was in a constant conflict with his own emotions as he watched
the once strong man, fall as week as a newborn lamb. He knew if Vin
was fully aware, that it would eat at Tanner's pride to know how weak
and dependant he was for even his bodily functions. Now, after two
long weeks, Vin rested more, taking more nourishment, and slowly
growing stronger every day.
Chris smirked as he heard the man move, and Larabee mumbled under his
breath, "and twice as ornery, too."
"I wanna get up, Larabee." Vin's raspy, weak voice broke through the
near-silence of the cabin.
"Ya ain't stoppin' me."
"If you can stand without wobbling for ten seconds, I will walk you
to the horses and back."
"I ain't yer dog." Vin pushed himself to his feet. He stayed on
them, albeit wobbly, leaning his calves against the bed for
support. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five."
"You can count."
"Six. Seven. Aw, hell." Vin fell back onto the bed, his legs
giving out on him.
"We're here for at least another two weeks. Get used to it."
"Go t'hell, Larabee."
"Already there. Nice of you to join me."
The next week was more unpleasant; the thrice weekly visits from JD
and Rafe to bring supplies and news the only break in each other's
company. In addition to the weakness left by the fever, the pain of
the broken ribs, aggravated with every cough or move, Vin also
suffered from the blows to his head. He endured bouts of confusion,
not remembering things told to him minutes, hours, or days earlier,
and with the bouts, fierce headaches usually followed. It grew
frustrating for all involved.
"What did you say the name on that warrant was?" Vin asked.
"Vincent Livingstone," Chris answered for what he was sure the fifth
"I ain't no Livingstone," Tanner replied; he could never understand
why people kept trying to make him one.
"Lived with 'em for awhile."
"What?" This was new; Chris almost dumped himself out of the chair.
"Back when my ma was indentured. See, my ma and pa sold themselves
as indentured servants to earn their passage over. Pa died on the
way to the Colonies, leaving Ma ta raise me alone and work off the
contract. Livingstone bought the contract. Worked for 'em when Ma
died ta pay off the rest."
"You never told me any of this."
"Ya never asked." Vin leaned back in the bed. "I think I best rest
Chris wanted to either throttle or beat Vin. Either would give him
great pleasure. The two men were friends, but in truth, Chris knew
very little about Tanner's past. Over the last year or so, he
learned a bit more, but only in the small amounts was willing to feed
him. Since his illness, Tanner picked up the habit of giving a
tidbit of information about his past, then falling asleep. When
asked later, he forgot what he said or did not remember the
conversation. Larabee thought it was just Tanner's way irritating
him as payback for what he considered - and loudly pronounced - as
insufferable nursing skills.
Sheriff Terryson led the way to the Livingstone estate. He cornered
the overseer, Daniel Smith, in his quarters on the property. Sampson
Nagle and Josiah stood off to the side.
"You want to tell me what happened that night?" Terryson asked.
"Which night, Sheriff?"
"The night of the killings, Mr. Smith."
"I didn't see nothin', I told you that," he replied.
"Brother, I feel that you are burdened with falsehoods. They press
down upon your soul, each day growing heavier and heavier. The
promotion you received tastes sour in your mouth." Josiah stepped
forward, holding his hands out in supplication. "Lord, grant this
man your wisdom, grant him the strength to break his bonds of
silence, to lift this weight from his shoulders. Do not smite him
for hiding from justice, do not cast the plague upon him for holding
his tongue -"
"Stop!" Daniel Smith yelled. "Enough! Vernon killed his parents.
I sent Vincent away that night because Vernon tried to kill him. I
found Vernon cuttin' Vincent's cinch before the younger's nightly
ride. Vernon saw me and sliced the horse instead. He ran ta the
house, leaving me tending the horse."
"You said nothing of this to me before," the sheriff said. "Why now?"
"Because I never had a job such as this, and. . . Well . . . Vernon
threatened to kill me if I told. He's held it over me ever since.
But no matter what, my mother, God rest her soul, was born, raised,
and died a Catholic. I'm dishonorin' her memory if I lie in front of
a man devoted to God." Tears glistened in Smith's eyes. "Let me
finish the telling, Sheriff. Mr. Nagle, you do what you must when
"When I finished tendin' the horse, Vincent came in the stable. He'd
been fightin' with Vernon, been beaten again. Vernon was always
beating up on Vincent, 'specially since he was littler. Boys weren't
more than a couple years apart, but Vincent was the smaller of the
two, and did not seem too keen on hurtin' others." Smith wiped his
brow with his handkerchief. "He came in carryin' a bag, said he were
leavin' fer good, didn't care what Mr. Livingstone wanted. I said
nothin', just gave him a horse. Knew that boy might get hurt more
iffen he stayed."
"Where did he go?" Sheriff Terryson asked.
"I did not know, and I did not care," Smith answered. "When I went
up to the house to tell Mr. Livingstone what I caught Vernon doing, I
heard yellin'. Got a little closer," Smith closed his eyes at the
memory, "I'll never forget what I saw."
"What does he know?" Rakehell asked as the meeting gathered in the
Captain's cabin, attended by Rakehell, Raven, and Caballero. "I'm
sick of looking at charts wondering what's happening above decks."
"Ah, but not having you there gave us leverage," Caballero reminded
him. "He did not know what you could or would do."'
Rakehell threw down the map case in frustration.
"I learned he screams like a girl," Raven replied. "Never saw a man
so scared of a knife when it's put on his skin."
"I ain't talking about his sissy habits, or his vapors. Is he or is
he not the man named on that warrant?"
"He is," Caballero confirmed. "They were his parents; his father was
about to disinherit him."
"Money." Rakehell shook his head. "So he did the robbery, too."
"Aye," Raven answered. "To cast suspicion on his brother, Vincent,"
he paused anticipating the effect his next words would have, "Tanner
"Hell's bells!" Rakehell yelled.
"I reacted the same," Raven added. "But it's true, and Vin does not
"Did you get a confession?"
"We will," Raven promised. "Once we're through with him, he will
wish to be in British custody."
"Just leave enough to tell the Magistrate the truth."
"Aye, and he will forget about us," Caballero grinned, "lest he truly
meet with our vengeance."
Vengeance anchored off shore, well hidden in a sheltered cove. A
group of anxious men rowed their subdued prisoner ashore, meeting up
with Rafe/Peacock, Ezra/Morgan, and JD/Rascal, who received
notification through the signalmen and reached at the Vermenton
"This him?" asked Rascal, taking in the cowering, blindfolded man
"Yup," Rakehell answered. He reached down, pulled the prisoner up,
giving him a punch for good measure. "He'll be quiet for you now.
"Officially still among the missing," Morgan offered. "Did you learn
The men secured their prisoner, moving off to make their plans. They
needed to get Vernon to the Magistrate without knowledge of their
involvement. JD voiced some concern that Vernon would not confess
once free of their control. Those aboard the schooner during the
return trip with the man assured their associates that Livingstone
was correct in believing - and strongly encouraged to continue
thinking - he was safer among the British than meeting Vengeance
should he cross them. Satisfied, they continued discussing their
options. Feeling they covered all problems, Standish set off to make
Ezra, Rafe, and JD presented themselves at the county seat jail, a
few days later. The three, accustomed to unusual situations, managed
to mask their surprise as Josiah, dressed fully in his monk's robes,
accompanied by a man they were unfamiliar with, receive friendly
escort from the Magistrate's office while they waited for an
As the Magistrate shook hands with the men when saw them out the
door, he turned to the three. "I understand you men wish to see me on
a matter of some importance?"
"Yes, sir," Ezra bowed slightly in greeting to the judge. "If we may
impose, we believe it truly is a matter of someone's life or death."
"Well then, join me." The Magistrate waved them toward his recently
vacated office. Once inside, he closed the door and moved around to
sit behind his expansive desk. "Now Gentlemen, what can I do for
"I understand your soldiers located Vincent Livingstone?" Ezra
A brief hint of surprise flashed across the judge's face before it
closed to a look of question. "A popular prisoner to be sure; those
two men were just here also for Mr. Livingstone. We do have a man in
custody, which does not resemble the description on the warrant, but
claims to be the perpetrator."
"Then we may have some more news," Ezra began, but Rafe cut him off.
"Magistrate," Rafe spoke up anxiously. "My name is Rafe Mosely. We
met at the debutante ball a month ago?"
"I remember. We discussed the harsh penalties of the law for some
time. In truth, our talk was the main reason I chose to see you."
Magistrate Tyler clasped his hands on his ample stomach, leaning back
in his chair.
"I wish to clear up an unfortunate matter."
"This would be in regards to the prisoner?"
Rafe looked embarrassed. "Not quite sir, but some relation to the
circumstances. It seems I caused an innocent man to be arrested and
subsequently it was believed he was the man on the warrant."
"Ah," the Magistrate leaned forward and shuffled through the papers
before him. "This would be the horse trainer . . . a Vin Tanner?
Mosely nodded, "Yes, sir. May I ask that charges be dropped?"
"May I ask why?"
Rafe looked even more embarrassed and shuffled his feet as he looked
down, hesitating a moment before answering. "It seems, sir, I was
the cause of a gross misunderstanding. I am acquainted with Mr.
Tanner and have had a long-standing difference of opinion . . . of a
friendly nature," Rafe was quick to assure the judge. "I'm afraid
that night, I was a bit into my cups and. . . Well . . . I behaved
most ungentlemanly. It pains me to admit it, but I confronted him,
provoked him. It was I who attacked him; all he did was to defend
himself against my drunkenness."
"I see." The Magistrate frowned in thought. "The report says you
were on the ground and Tanner was standing over you, beating you."
"No!" Rafe fairly shouted, then quieted. "I am sorry, sir. With
respect, I do not believe that is true." Rafe hung his head as in
regret. "As I said, I believe it was I who tried to strike Mr.
Tanner. In doing so, I lost my balance and he tried to support me,
but I pulled him down. What your soldier's saw was not Mr. Tanner
trying to hurt me, but allowing me the chance to recover my control.
It was unfortunate that Mr. Dunne here charged over, startling him,
causing him to react. I truly do not wish to press charges against
"Nor do I," JD piped up.
"Interesting," the Magistrate sat back and studied the three.
In the tense silence, Ezra spoke up, "Sir, I have also come across
some information which may help clear up the matter of the warrant.
Vin Tanner is not the one named."
"Yes, yes," the judge waved his hand. "That matter has already been
cleared. As I said, the man in custody has confessed and those two
men provided supporting evidence in the matter. Very tragic, but it
cleared up many untruths."
The three men managed to hold their surprise and delight, working
hard at not showing their smiles.
"Well, then," Standish smiled. "May we hope you will find favor with
Mr. Mosely's request?"
"I know his employer; Mr. Larabee is a respected member of the
Colonies, as are you. I also feel he would not employ a wanton
miscreant. I feel no good would be served by taking action against a
man who only did what you or I would do in the same situation.
However, as for the escape from custody, I cannot turn a blind eye."
Ezra spoke up. "Sir, I have received information that Mr. Larabee's
horse trainer suffered a beating while in custody."
"So you know his whereabouts then?"
It was Ezra's turn to look shamefaced but stared back at the
Magistrate with confidence. "Yes, sir. I do. He is prepared to
turn himself in to the mercy of the court; however, before he did so
I believed it was in his best interest . . . and yours . . . that
these extenuating circumstances come forward first. We live in
troubled times, Magistrate. Our working class citizens already show
signs of unrest. How much more would it cause and how much more
faith would they lose in British justice if they discovered that a
false arrest resulted in prisoner abuse? Why, I would not find it
hard to believe that the horse trainer escaped to survive, especially
in light of the statement I have from the sergeant who witnessed the
aftereffects of such a beating."
Magistrate Tyler considered. He stared hard at Ezra as he thought
about the situation. This altercation that was not truly an
altercation, more of a series of errors, was such a small matter to
trifle with; the capture of the fugitive for robbery and murder,
especially with holdings all over the Colonies, was a lucrative bonus
for his career. He smiled. "I will need to speak with this horse
trainer and the sergeant. If such a beating occurred, and I have no
doubt that it did, then the escape would be considered self-
preservation. I could excuse that as well."
"Thank you sir," Ezra bowed again. "Your consideration will be
noted. I must say when word of your fairness and the news of the
capture of a murderer and robber, removed from polite Society
spreads . . . you and your soldiers will look quite good to the local
residents. They will be proud they are so well protected by such
JD held in a snicker and Rafe managed not to roll his eyes, as Ezra
stood before the Magistrate smiling broadly.
The Magistrate smiled knowingly at the businessman before him. "I
see your point, Mr. Standish. And may I say, you have more than
earned your reputation as a wise negotiator."
"Thank you sir," Standish saluted the man with two fingers.
"The sergeant's outside," Rafe offered. "We hoped for your immediate
attention to this matter."
Shaking his head the Magistrate held in a laugh, "Bring him in, we
will indeed get this matter over with."
It took two more weeks before Vin was well enough to travel to make
his own appearance before Magistrate Tyler. It was long enough for
the astounding rumors to spread. Once he heard he was a free man
again - at least in this area - he showed up at the garrison to
receive his official apology from the sergeant.
His next visit was to see Vernon Livingstone, who refused to allow
him to visit. Leaving the garrison, he still held a number of
questions. Since he was still suffering from some confusion and
headaches, although it was with less frequency, none of his friends
would tell him the full story of how they won his freedom. They
found Ezra and Josiah at the local inn, quickly joining them to share
some ale. Josiah enjoyed the full plate of food sitting before him.
"Welcome to the sweet air of freedom," Ezra remarked. "And back to
the roster of honored company. Or should I say infamous?" A single
"Shut up, Ezra," Vin snapped, a slight quirk to his lips to show his
humor at the situation.
"He will be included on the must-invite lists back home," Ezra said
"Of course he will," Josiah replied.
"I ain't no Gentleman," Vin retorted.
The others shared knowing glances that Tanner did not notice.
Tanner looked around the room. "Where's JD?"
"Back on the ship with the horses. We're going to depart for home
soon," Chris said. "We've both had enough of each other, and they
need their own stables to unwind."
"And you, Josiah?" asked Vin. "What are your plans?"
"I intend to stay around and be available if needed."
"You're welcome at my place," Chris offered.
"I just might take you up on that." He gave speculative looks at
both Chris and Vin.
"Mr. Tanner, might I inquire something of you?"
"What?" Vin looked at Ezra.
"Why did you hide after leaving Livingstone's estate? You knew
nothing of the warrant on you."
"Weren't hidin'; just left." Vin shrugged.
"And how did you come to live with the Livingstones?" Ezra asked as
Chris glared at him. Secretly, Larabee admitted he wanted to hear
the story from Vin's point of view, but knew if pushed too hard, the
trainer would not respond. He was astounded by the facts the crew
presented to him though, and could not believe Vin had kept it all a
Tanner leaned back in his chair and sighed. "My pa wanted a better
life. The only way he could see to get it, was here in the Colonies
and they only way ta get here was to sell themselves them into
indenture fer a few years. He only did what he thought was his only
choice." Vin shook his head. "My pa died on the voyage over,
leavin' my ma pregnant with me. When they landed in the Colonies the
cap'n told her she still owed passage fer both her and my pa, even
though he died. Cap'n sold her papers, and ended up charging for me,
"A deplorable business practice," Ezra said.
"Strong statement for you," Chris remarked.
"A woman cannot help her indelicate state, nor should she be
penalized during the long journey because of it. Even I have my
limits," Ezra sniffed. "Getting back to you, Mr. Tanner, will you
continue your tale?"
"Reckon there's not much more to it. Ma, worked at the Livingstones'
different places all over the Georgia and Virginia Colonies, movin'
every couple of years. Mr. Livingstone took a shine ta me, I
remember when I was little he would bring me things, but Ma didn't
like him being around me much."
"And what happened to your mother?" Josiah asked.
Vin shrugged, "Guess I was 'bout six or so. She took a real bad
fever." Vin's voice dropped off and he sat looking sadly into his
"Who cared for you then?" Ezra asked.
Vin frowned in thought. "Mr. Livingstone. He took me in said bein'
little I could work in the house."
"He kept you as a slave?" Ezra was astounded. He was aware Vin had
never been told of his circumstances, but still found it hard to
believe he was treated so unjustly.
Vin shrugged and answered matter of factly, "Still owed on the
"But that was a lot to put on the shoulders of a child," Josiah
"Weren't bad," Vin continued. "Mr. Livingstone was nice enough.
Like I said he treated me kind, better than his son. That was the
trouble. Mrs. Livingstone did not hold much with me and Vernon,
hated kids I guess, always pickin' fights and sayin' I didn't belong
"What happened to make you leave?" Chris asked, his eyes imploring
Vin to continue his story.
"Just got tired of it." Vin did not want to comment on the treatment
he received at the hands of the mistress of the house and her son.
It was in the past; as far as he was concerned, forgotten. His
friends' knowing now would not help him and in his opinion, only make
them pity him, which he would not allow. "They were all fightin'
with Mr. Livingstone 'cause he wanted to send me for schoolin'. It
caused even more problems with Vernon. We had a big fight one night
and I decided that was enough." Vin stopped and thought a
moment. "Guess if I stayed I could have stopped him."
"I don't think so son," a new voice said from behind them.
"Brother Sampson, welcome." Josiah stood, bringing over a
chair. "Please, join us. Have you met Mr. Larabee and Mr.
Standish? Mr. Tanner?"
"A pleasure to meet you," Ezra said.
Chris inclined his head.
"Gentlemen," Mr. Nagle nodded his head in greeting and turned to Vin
who was staring at him hard. "Vincent, do you remember me?"
Vin frowned, "Weren't ya the attorney fer the Livingstone family?"
Vin shifted back in his seat.
"Yes, that is correct and I have been looking for you. There are
some matters we need to clear up." Nagle sat down in the chair
"You goin' to take me back?" Apprehension filled Vin at the
appearance of the new arrival.
"What?" Nagle asked confused.
"The contract," Vin stated, "About the time I still owe."
Nagle looked at the other three men, confused for a moment, before he
realized that Vin was still not aware of the truth about his past.
"No; that is one of the matters we must clear up."
"Ain't sure it matters much to me." Vin stated and started to rise
until he felt the firm pressure of Larabee's hand on his arm to hold
him in his seat.
"You need to hear what he has to say, Vin."
Vin looked around the table at his friends. He realized then that
there was something they knew he did not, and it had something to do
with this man.
"Please, I have wanted to settle this for some time. Please allow me
"Get ta it," Vin warned. Again, he felt Chris shifting into
protective mode, one he recognized all too well from his enforced
closeness during his illness.
"With these revelations, once the accuracy of the facts is
established, you will be the sole heir of the Livingstone holdings,
Mr. Tanner. Mr. Livingstone recognized you as his heir before his
premature death, and I drew up the will and papers stating such.
Unfortunately, I left the country soon after that transaction. Upon
his death, the old will, which was produced by Vernon, was the one
filed, since no one knew about the new will. With the warrant
outstanding, until I could prove otherwise, I could not in good
conscience come forward with the new will. Now I can. You are a
Gentleman, sir, and a wealthy one at that."
"That's a lot of hot air yer blowin', Mr. Nagle."
"Truth, Mr. Tanner, all truth. It will take a couple months for this
situation to be resolved. Until then, may I contact you at Mr.
"Of course," Chris said before Vin answered. "Please keep us
"You will have a choice, Mr. Tanner, whether or not to accept the
status according you. My instructions were clear - your father felt
you deserved the choice, and that the wealth would always be
available for you regardless of your decision."
Nagle realized his mistake.
It was not a mistake as such, but again the young man was still in
the dark about the truth.
He softened his voice. "I am sorry; it was not meant for you to find
out in such an abrupt manner."
"You talkin' crazy," Vin snarled. "My father died before I was born.
I'm leavin' so I don't have ta hear this."
Chris held tight. "Sit."
"I ain't that sick, Larabee."
"You don't know everything yet," the blond told him. "Are you
willing to be a coward and walk out, or will you be a man and
listen?" Chris let go.
"Your choice. Your pride so big you can't hear something you may not
Furious, Vin sat back down. "I ain't a coward. I'll listen."
Nagle looked to the other men for some support. They too were at a
loss at how to help Vin assimilate the astounding news. "I am afraid
your mother told you your father died to protect you."
Vin stared at the man, wanting him to take the words back. Then he
looked around the table at his friends and realized they knew too.
He stared at Chris, confused, feeling hurt and angry.
"You knew," Vin accused. His fury had a target - the insufferable
nurse, a man who was supposed to be his friend, yet he knew something
so important about his life and did not tell him. How could someone
claim to be a friend and keep that friend in the dark? It was like
lying. "You didn't say a word, just pretended bein' my friend."
"We just found out ourselves," Chris explained.
"It is the truth, Vin," Josiah confirmed. "God strike me dead if we
are lying. We all just found out within weeks of each other."
Vin looked back to the lawyer. "My mother would not lie to me."
Nagle winced. "There is much honor in a mother protecting her
child. Your mother did so, and I respect her for that. I will not
dishonor her memory, I give you my word. Will you hear me out?" The
lawyer asked, seeing the ever-present desire to run in the trainer's
Vin looked warily at the man but nodded in agreement, unsure if his
legs were sturdy enough to carry him far anyway.
"It is true, your mother was sold to John Livingstone to pay off a
created massive debt. Unfair to say the least," Nagle commented on
the circumstances. "John Livingstone never meant to mistreat your
mother: however, he was quiet taken with her as she was quite
beautiful. Eventually he offered her a choice - either submit to him
and minus the debt for the man you considered your father, or she
would owe for all three, and be sold that way to someone more cruel
Vin felt his anger rise; Nagle, upon seeing it hastened, to explain.
"It was a false threat, your fath…John…would not have carried it
out. As I stated, he adored your mother. And I believe she soon
learned how much he cared for her, she used it to her advantage."
Vin started to rise with clenched fists, perceiving the man was
insulting his mother. "How could a man that claimed ta adore my ma
threaten ta sell her?"
Nagle waved his hand. "I mean no offense. She was a very strong
woman, and knew how to survive. She did what she had to and to
Tanner settled for the moment, but was still unsure if he liked what
he was hearing. "How can a man ya say adored my ma threaten her like
"He threatened her to hold onto her. You remember Elaine
Livingstone; theirs was a loveless, arranged marriage. He wanted his
happiness, and thought he could give her joy."
"Why'd she put up with it?"
"He never mistreated her. John threatened her, but he never followed
through once she agreed. He romanced her the best way he could, but
she refused to allow him to put her up as his mistress. She received
the lightest duties in the house, decent pay, good quarters, and
favored status. "It was not long before she found herself pregnant,"
the lawyer continued.
"With me?" Vin asked, shocked at the negative shake of Nagle's head.
"No, with Vernon."
Vin thought he was ill again. He definitely felt sick and found it
hard to breathe; the shock was so great. Absently, he felt the
supportive hand on his shoulder and knew that Larabee was offering
"That ain't right," Vin declared, not wanting to believe the story
being woven. "Ma told me she was pregnant with me when she arrived
at the Colonies and my pa died on the voyage over."
Nagle looked sad. "I cannot speak of her reasoning for the stories
she told." He held up a hand, sensing the angry man before him was
ready to pounce. "Except as I stated her desire to protect you.
Perhaps she wished to protect herself, a bit of the dream she and
your father carried with them when they took the voyage to this
unknown world. She was pregnant when she arrived here."
There were several indrawn breaths of shock among the four men
sitting around the table.
"What hap. . .," Vin stammered but could not get the words out.
"I did not know her then, but John told me she lost the baby. It was
not long after he acquired her contract. I know he felt guilty at
first, but I think the spirit, the strength she showed is also a part
of what drew him to her."
"So she lies with a man who threatens her," Vin spat, the world he
knew spinning in turmoil.
"Vin." Josiah was afraid where Tanner's thoughts were taking him.
"No." Vin shook off the comforting hand. "If Vernon was my brother,
why did I not know? Why did he not live with us?" Vin was sure he
would catch the lawyer in a lie.
Nagle was almost apologetic. "It is not uncommon for the social
elite to claim the children of their mistresses."
The lawyer did not mean to be unkind; he was only stating the facts
as he saw them, but it was still a slap in the face to here him speak
of his mother in such a way. "How…wh…" Vin wasn't sure what to
"John was very happy. You see, it was a well-known fact Elaine could
not have children. They tried for years. Moreover, when a son was
born, it did not take much persuasion to get Elaine to accept the
child and raise it as her own, removing the stigma from her own
name. Your mother agreed, albeit reluctantly, and in truth what
choice did she have? Any other man, in similar circumstances, has
the right to do with his children as he wishes; the woman has no
voice. At least she felt with John her son would have the life her
husband and she dreamed of for their children."
"And Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked. All the men hung on every word of the
"After Vernon's birth, Elaine demanded that John sell your mother
away and have nothing more to do with her; she recognized the threat
she posed. Of course, he could not do it, for he was in love with
your mother. He would never go through the scandal of a divorce,
especially not to marry an indentured servant. She refused the
public mantle of mistress."
"Yes," Ezra drawled, "Appearances are everything."
Nagle chuckled but continued. "Instead John moved your mother to a
remote property he owned and made her in charge of her own home, a
quiet place where the world could not judge her, giving her the
privacy she craved. She was quite happy there, but soon found
herself expecting you. By this time, she realized her power over
John and used it to her full advantage. I also believe she developed
a certain fondness for John, as he did her. She demanded that Elaine
was not to acknowledge you in anyway. She gave up one son and would
not do so to another. John enjoyed seeing her happy, so gave into
her wishes, allowing her to give you the name of her husband. It did
not keep him from continuing to visit her or seeing you and bringing
Vin realized all his youthful memories now made sense to his adult
mind. But he still had trouble taking it all in. "I can not believe
"It is true, Vin," Josiah stated.
Vin turned startled eyes in Sanchez's direction.
"I was sent to the Livingstone estate to find information to help
free you," Josiah reminded him. "I have heard stories from the
overseer and some of the older slaves that back up Mr. Nagle's
account. And we found the birth certificates still at the estate."
"So I am a bastard," Vin muttered. His mind reeled with the
"A rich, recognized bastard, accorded the status of Gentleman," Ezra
"I can't listen ta no more," he said. "Need some air." Vin walked
out of the tavern without looking back. He felt Larabee behind
him. "Get away, Chris. Thanks fer all yer help. I'm fine, I ain't
weak, just need ta be alone."
"You also need to be careful," Chris said in a low voice. "There's
still the other matter."
"That is hell, ain't it," Vin snorted. "Seem to have a problem with
families. My friend Jess gets killed by his own brother and he
framed me for it; now I find out I have a brother….who just happened
to kill my father and framed me for it. What does that say fer me?"
"Vin," Chris reached out, but the trainer batted the hand away.
"I will be okay Chris, just need time." And Vin walked off leaving a
very frustrated Larabee behind.
Vin wandered around for awhile, avoiding as many people as he could.
His mind whirled with then newfound revelations. In his heart, he
did not want to believe any of it, but as he tried to piece together
what he was told and his fragmented childhood memories, he saw the
truth. There was one thing he needed to do before he allowed himself
to truly accept it though.
He made his way to the garrison. Where before he dreaded entering
the place, afraid he might not leave alive, now he faced it with
determination, filled with hope he might put pieces of his heart and
soul back together. He knew Vernon would refuse to see him again,
but the Magistrate, knowing the sordid details now, understood Vin's
It wasn't long before he was led back to the cell and left alone with
the prisoner. He stood staring at the man now standing, his glare
heated and aimed squarely into his eyes. Now that Vin knew the
truth, he could see the slight resemblance though the man in the cell
was several inches taller then he. There were the other points that
various people had pointed out before when he was younger and did not
understand the significance. Now, Vernon Livingstone no longer wore
the finery, nor the clean scent of freedom. Jail stench took over,
itchy wool garments his clothing now.
"Vernon," Vin greeted.
"So you think you won now, whelp," Vernon sneered.
Vin's brow crinkled. "I never knew there was a contest."
"He liked you better," the man snarled, spittle flying from his
lips. "He never stayed around after you were born, always gone with
her. When he was there, nothing I did was ever good enough."
"I weren't good enough either," Vin reasoned. "He did not bring me
ta live with him 'til Ma died."
"You were the lucky one," Vernon stated. When Vin did not answer
Vernon laughed. "You lived with Elaine, do you think she played the
doting mother on me? She put up with me because he bade her. You
knew how adept she was at punishing without leaving marks where he
"So you killed them."
"Yes, I - killed - them," Vernon emphasized. "They made my life
hell. My so-called mother did not know what to do. First she would
smother me, give me anything I wanted. Thought it was because she
loved me; she did not know the word. It was for me to do her
bidding. When she had no use of me . . . well, you remember.
And 'our' father. He could not bear to be with her, so he could not
stand to be near me, nor could he see fit to take me with him. All I
wanted was for him to acknowledge me, call me his son with pride. He
never could, and then to end it all he left you everything. A
favorite son." Vernon laughed. "A favorite bastard."
"Why was I never told?" Vin wasn't really asking Vernon, figuring
the man would not answer. He was just voicing his own thoughts
allowed, wondering why he had been kept in the dark for so long.
"It was worse after he brought you to live with us. You were so
pathetic," Vernon could not resist taking a jab at the younger
man. "Whining for your mother." He stepped up the bars and gripped
them as he continued. "Mother did not know about you either. She
was hysterical with anger. I am surprised the whole county did not
hear her diatribe that night. Your mother . . . the whore . . . made
him promise she could keep you."
"Do not call her that," Vin growled.
"Why not?" Vernon challenged. "It is what she was. Instead of money
to get what she wanted, she used her sons."
Rage fueled Vin, making him grab for the man between the bars, but
Vernon stepped back out of the way.
Vernon laughed. "Tell me, bro-ther, you had to know the old man was
your father. Especially after he brought you to the house. All he
gave you. He was sending you to school; if we had been in England
you would have been sent into the service. The adored, the prodigal
"I was told I there to finish workin', ta pay off Ma's passage."
Vernon laughed even harder. "You fool. He only told you that to
hold you there."
"I was seven when he explained that ta me. A kid don't know better."
"I am surprised." Vernon looked Vin up and down with distain. "You
outshined me in everything from the day he brought you home. If I
hoped to gain his favor, it was futile after that black day. That
last night, he told me I was out of the will. He was going to
recognize you as his heir. Said I was not worth the Livingstone name
or the estates."
"And you were not," Vin stated. "You killed them."
"Yes," Vernon hissed and stepped up at to bars and glared with hatred
at Vin. "And you want to know something lit-tle bro-ther. If our
whore of a mother would have been alive, or I found you, I would have
killed her and you too."
Vin matched his brother's glare with one of his own, fury facing
fury, hate with hate. He wanted to feel the life leave Vernon as he
choked the breath out of him. He wanted to give him a murder worthy
of a killer, a man without morals, scruples, or a reason to keep
breathing. The emotions rolled through him, along with the surprise
he could control himself, not attack him. Further thought made him
believe he was numb, and really did not know how he should feel. Too
much information, too much news at one time, he needed to get away
from here. It dawned on him he was not numb, that Vernon was not
worth his time; his life now too far removed from that old one to
hurt him any more.
"Short trip down the rope, brother." Vin turned and stormed out of
Vin stood at the rail and tried to let the usual calmness he felt
when sailing settle over him. This day, though, the ocean offered no
help for his tangled emotions. The gentle roll of the waves, nor the
call of the sea birds, nor the brilliant array of colors splashed
across the sky as the sunset could find him peace.
At the forefront of his thoughts was his mother, the thought that she
had lied to him. In his mind, all he could hear was her
voice, 'Remember you are a Tanner'. He scoffed. What did that
mean? Now he knew he had no claim to the name other than her wish.
There was the matter of the property he was supposed to inherit,
property that included slaves, a practice he abhorred. At least he
thought he could free them. With a gleeful thought, he imagined
setting the holding on fire to clear them of their stench, hoping it
would perhaps settle the fires unsettling his own soul. He laughed,
thinking of the horrified expression that would leave on Standish's
face. How could he be a Livingstone? Why would he want to be?
As the breeze rustled through his hair, he went over his last
questions again. His mother's voice came back to him
again, 'Remember you are a Tanner'. It suddenly dawned on him.
Perhaps that is what she was trying to tell him. Maybe he was better
than a Livingstone. Or at least she wanted him to be. He knew it
was going to take a great deal more pondering before he was satisfied
with his answers, and then he wondered if he would ever find peace
"You all right?"
Vin turned to the tall blond man beside him and gave him a small half
smile. "Should I be?"
"It is plenty to take in."
Vin nodded. "Master of the obvious, Larabee."
"You're a Gentleman. Should I kiss your feet?" Larabee joked.
"Bite me, ya la-de-dah."
"Says the man in the mirror," Chris retorted. "You're in for some
teasing," he warned, pleased to see some of Vin's humor
return. "Knowing that you're now a Gentlemen like myself, Rafe, and
Ezra…" Chris trailed off.
"Aw, hell. Shoot me now."
"Nope. I worked too hard to save your butt. Will you accept your
inheritance and take a place in Society?"
"I have ta think about it. I ain't gonna rush."
"I guess it will really test your pride, past, and class to change so
"Reckon so. Like I ain't been through enough yet. Ya never did tell
me if I said anythin' while I was fevered."
Chris looked and Vin and smiled, then he turned a walked back toward
the foredeck, totally ignoring the calls behind him.
"Larabee?. . .Larabee, ya do not play fair."
Rafe accepted the envelope with equal parts dread and glee. He
looked up at Vin and smiled hesitantly. Over the few weeks they had
returned to New Berne, they had held several talks. Rafe continued
to apologize and told Vin he knew he had a lot to learn, especially
about controlling his temper. They talked about Claire, the Indians'
acceptance, the suspicion, and the warrant. Rafe was surprised and
pleased that Vin trusted him with the information; or at least it was
a sign of his forgiveness as was the envelope he now held. It still
rankled that Tanner refused to take him to Claire, but he would be
satisfied with the letter the horse trainer relayed, for a time.
Now, he held the response in his hands and perhaps some answers of
Shaking fingers opened the missive, his sister's feminine swirled
script familiar to him and bringing tears to his eyes.
My dearest brother,
I know this has been difficult on you. It was a difficult transition
for me, but now I am happier beyond my wildest imaginings. I have a
husband, Chanu, whom you should remember meeting. He thinks well of
you for trying to protect me so fiercely, but believes that is his
job now as my husband. His hope is for you to learn to put aside the
anger, the temper you received as your birthright from Father in
order to bring harmony back to your life, and eventually back into
I have grown so much here that I am finally my own person, not the
little church mouse I once was. I can never go back to that life, to
Father, and I hope you understand that. I need you too, because I
want to have you in my life again, even if we can only correspond.
Please trust Vin to know how to contact me; he believes my safety is
as important as you do.
Hoping to hear from you soon,
With All My Love,
Ezra handed Seagold's reins to Chris when they unloaded the ship,
having hidden the stallion from Larabee's eyes to spring this
"I thought he was forfeit," Chris said, rubbing the horse's nose in
greeting, ducking the bite out of long practice.
"Mr. Vermenton needs to learn how to play cards. In exchange for
lessons, he returned Seagold after using him for stud service. I
figured you would prefer a horse that performed than no horse at all."
"You thought right." Chris clapped his friend on the back, giving an extra squeeze on the shoulder. "I owe you."
"Please, Mr. Larabee, do not make a scene. We are of different classes, not to mention the fee I will charge you."
"Like class or money matters."
"I hoped you would say that. Let me share my ideas."
Chris groaned while Vin laughed, the trainer removing Seagold to allow the two "Gentlemen" to talk business privately. He had a feeling it would be a long talk. Not everything about being a Gentleman was pleasant.
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