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part seven.
IP: 213.172.38.134

Part seven
Graveline, The Netherlands
This was how Sir Francis Drake liked to live. Somewhere between the bow and the stern, beneath the billowed white sails and the twinkling stars, the everyday grumbles and worries of life lifted from his shoulders. There’s no guilt at sea – no law, no morality, no religion. There’s only the crash of the waves against the hull, the mocking cry of the gull and the maps over which to mull. Francis’ lips twitched. Only with the ocean at his feet was he transformed from a man to a poet.

This particular ship was no specimen to be proud of, but Francis didn’t care – a boat was a boat, as long as it had a rudder, a deck and some sails. As he crept across the wooden boards of the deck, something crunched underfoot: gunpowder. Everything was in place. He could see the lights in the distance which indicated the Spanish ships in the dockyard, and his smile widened. Only one thing pleased the famous adventurer more than naval exploration, and that was relieving the arrogant Spaniards of their treasure.

One day, he thought as he looked out across the water; one day it will be the English who rule the waves, not you.

Crunch.

Drake stiffened. Slowly, very slowly, he unsheathed the trusty knife he always carried with him from a belt on his waist. Who could it be? Not a Spaniard, surely; not even a glory-seeking Spaniard would swim such a distance and risk facing a potential crew, not when he could simply raise the alarm and have the whole of the Armada come out in force. No, some curious Englishman must have snuck aboard with him to try and get a share of the credit. Francis would easily slit his throat and hurl him over the side.

Choosing his moment, Francis whipped around and pinned the intruder back against the edge of the deck, holding his knife ready. He dropped it when he saw who it was.

“Aura!” He exclaimed, half angry, half relieved; “how did you – what – I don’t…”

“Shh,” she slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him. It was a few moments before he was able to speak again, and even then his livid tones were half-hearted. There was something wildly exciting and romantic about kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife on a condemned ship in the middle of a soon-to-be war zone.

“Help me with this,” he whispered, breaking free of her grip and tugging at a little rowing boat used to ferry people to and fro the large ship.

“You aren’t going to tell me off?”

“Later,” he kissed her again, “I shall have to punish you severely. But now you’re here you may as well give me a hand.”

With both of their help, the boat was soon in the water and ready to launch. Francis ushered Aura onto it, before pausing to take one last look at the vessel. It was sad when boats fell into this condition, but he felt that they were doing the right thing in giving it such a magnificent funeral. Savouring the moment, Francis pulled a matchbox from his pocket and struck one.

Adios, you Spanish bastards,” he muttered, dropped the match and leapt onto the escape boat.

The flaming ships were a master stroke. Drake’s was the signal; once the others saw his vessel alight, they promptly lit their own and made their various escapes. Unmanned, the floating infernos steamed into the dockyard in full force, but their intent was not to cause damage. A shout from one of the galleons told the brave English sailors that their work was done. In order to avoid the flaming ships, the Spanish would have to leave the harbour as quickly as possible; there would be no time to form their formidable crescent formation, and when they entered the open water the English would be waiting for them. The English soldiers were confident that once they had broken the Armada’s formation, the ships would be easy to pick off, but they had taken no chances and had employed as many ships and people as was possible.

At least that part of the plan was proceeding nicely. Drake had another problem: the lady Aura. How she had snuck aboard the ship he did not know (and did not care to know), but the primary issue was what to do with her now. He could hardly pack her off in the little rowing boat and point her in the direction of the English shore – it was twenty miles at least, and the damned woman would have to row through a warzone to get there. He couldn’t take her aboard either, not without arousing the suspicions of the crew – the superstitious fellows would probably think her a witch and try to throw her overboard. There may even be a mutiny, since the very thought of a woman on ship would turn the unintelligent minds of most of the commoners.

Drake took no chances. Most of the men were busy with preparations. He pulled his first mate aside, swore him to secrecy and then used his assistance to bundle the lady below deck. There, he ordered her to stay. She made no protests (nor any promises), but watched him with deceptively wide, golden eyes. Just to make sure, he locked the door. None of the men would come to the cabins while they were fighting the Spanish, but he couldn’t risk her getting out.

Just as Aura had expected. She waited until she heard the key turn in the lock before leaning back against the chair her love interest had pushed her into. “You can come out now,” she murmured.

Mallos ambled out from behind a curtain. Useful hiding places, curtains. He scratched his nose. “What do you see in that guy?”

Aura chose to ignore this. “It’s time you chose where your loyalties lie, Mallos. I am not in the mood for one of your little mystery games. Philip or Elizabeth?”

Although he’d probably made up his mind long ago, the Spaniard took a deliberately long time to (apparently) mull it over before answering. “You’re a lot better looking than Philip, so I guess I’ll go with you. There’s also a better chance of getting laid.”

He winked jokingly, which she also ignored. “Then we should get to work immediately. What is the cause of Philip’s aggravation? If he had ever been inclined to attack England, he would have done so on Elizabeth’s coronation, or after she rejected his marital proposals and turned the country Protestant.”

“Elizabeth has been annoying him for years – probably on purpose. Never give a woman the reins of power.” He grinned cheekily at her, but she knew better than to rise to his provocations. After all, he had quite happily served under her when she had been the leader of the originals. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was dear old Mary Stuart, though. The execution of a Catholic monarch, not least the monarch who Catholics believe should rightfully rule England, sent the maddened imbecile over the edge. He’s been set on attack ever since. Why on Earth did Elizabeth sign the blasted warrant for execution? She must have known what she was doing.” Their eyes met. “Unless…” He said slowly.

“Whether she actually signed it, the level of influence from the Privy Council and other members of the nobility and her state of mind are all under debate.” Aura replied with equal hesitancy. “But Elizabeth is a highly intelligent and controlled woman, and she has succeeded thus far in resisting the whims of the nobles and governing them effectively. The story which circulates the court is that she signed the document in a fit of rage which she was only freed from after the execution had taken place. Her regret is well known.” There was a long pause, before Aura stated aloud the conclusion which had occurred to both of them: “Elizabeth would not have condescended to such a deed even in a temper. She was under magical influence.”

“You would have felt it if one of the other originals had intervened. In any case, none of them care for the state of affairs between England and Spain; those which aren’t busying themselves in the New World are still in Africa.”

Silence. A long silence. Aura got up and, in the absence of a window to stare dramatically out of, started pacing the floor instead. In the distance was the sound of gunshots and cannons – the war had begun. Mallos respectfully waited a few more minutes, but his companion did not speak.

“You know what you have to do,” he said softly. She didn’t reply, so he lifted himself out of his seat, intercepted her path and took her by the shoulders. “Aura. She is your daughter.”

She stared back at him with the glazed, resentful expression she always reserved for whenever conversation turned to that subject. “She’s no daughter of mine. I have no children.”

“You disgust me.” Mallos told her affably. Taking advantage of the distraction, he pulled her towards him and kissed her passionately. He left her in that position as he teleported away, so that by the time she opened her eyes he was gone.



Replies:
    • part eight. -
    • part nine. -
    • part ten. -
    • epilogue -


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