A/N: I apologize in advance for changing a few things in previous chapters. You may want to re-read the chapter before this one for some continuity issues I updated. Also, I was too lazy to delete the double spacing. It's supposed to be easier on the eyes, anyways. Thank you all as always for reading, reviews are greatly appreciated, and always lead to speedy updates. - Adrian

CHAPTER 14

When it came time to make the final decision and step over the threshold and into the home of the Black Queen, I found myself hesitating. It was clear by the mystified look on Elena's face that she had heard all the old stories about the Black Queen and believed everything she had heard. I knew enough to know that the scandalous woman was, if anything, a politico, and I trusted little someone who made their living off of government affairs, even if the governed were only thieves.

But as the old tales seemed to have foretold, the Black Queen was alluring, and she had easily caught Elena with her charm. Quickly we were ushered into a dimly lit entry way where Delaney bid us wait for her to return in a short while. We sunk down in the darkness and waited there rather impatiently for the woman to return.

"It wasn't so long ago that I was too important a woman to be made to wait in the dark like a slave girl," Elena deigned to remind me, after her efforts to make me laugh had failed. I was still angry that she had decided to trust this woman without any input from me. Childish as it may have been, even pirate lords gave expert cold shoulders. I'd seen my Father give them to my Mother for weeks at a time. Elena stood up when she realized I wasn't going to respond and proceeded to pace about the room in the dark.

"Ah, forgive me, my sweet lady," the Black Queen swept back into the room in a completely different robes, and held open her arms to Elena,who fell into them dramatically. I wondered if she hadn't actually sipped too much house wine. "Come with me, our pleasure awaits."

And the two of them stole up the stairs before I had a moment to protest, the rails of Delaney's new silken robe and the soft skirts of Elena's dress both fluttering up as they ascended.

At the top the house seemed to narrow into one long corridor, off which several rooms had been built. Between the door to each room portraits of long dead members of the Valency family hung, the polished wood frames gleaming even in the low light of the corridor. A woman greatly resembling the black queen stood in full royal attire before a shelf full of books in what I assumed was the house's library. The next space between rooms was home to Lord. Ashley Valency, born 1202. He looked rather obtuse, the left eye slightly off track, his hands painted clenched tightly at his sides. The portraits began to blur into one another after that, and I was too busy trying to keep track of where Valencey's hands where touching Elena's body to remember each one.

Just before the double doors at the end of the corridor, the final family portrait had it's own illuminated place above a fireplace set into an open corner. The portrait above the mantle left me dumbstruck for a moment. The golden plaque beneath the painting read "Lord Ferdnand Velancy & Don Ridolpho De Saviola".

I lunged and took Elena's arm in my hand, hoping to shake Delaney loose in time to run. The sick look in the woman's shining eyes and the strange smell of incense coming from the room at the end of the hall warned me enough.

But as I pulled the woman in silk pushed, and then together the three of us fell into the room, and the doors swung shut behind us.

I could feel hands that were not Elena's on my skin before my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and then a moment later I felt the familiar pull of my sword from it's scabbard and I span and punched, realizing the room was full of people at the same moment that I realized they had already silenced Elena.

"Hurry up," the Black Queen's voice cut through the muffled darkness. "Subdue him and let's go."

I hadn't the time to wonder where we were going, or why, but the questions did repeat themselves in the back of my mind as I felt my fist connect with solid flesh for the first time. In quick succession I landed another punch where the first had been aimed and felt my knuckles crack against bone. The man fell to the ground with a groan, his hand coming lose from my rapier in time for mine to slip around its decorated hilt. I pulled the gleaming sword from its scabbard and span, acutely aware of where Elena was in the room, in a heap on the floor with two men over her, tying her wrists and ankles roughly.

Everyone else was fair play, in my opinion. I took a leap forward and slashed one soldier across the stomach, pausing as he fell. Elena screamed as she was drug over the threshold of the balcony and towards the railing. The night outside was still as warm as it had been when the sun was setting, except now the breeze had strengthened. It whipped the skirts around Elena's legs, her pale skin shining in the summer moon. I ran towards her, only to be cut off by the woman in black, who was before me in a flash, throwing her body in my path, her words sweet in my ear as I fought to reach my love.

"Forget about her," Delaney's harsh whisper seemed to rage. "You are the important one, Ridolpha. I lured you here using her, but you're the one I want. Your allegiance lies with me. It's what your father would want."

At that I paused, searching the woman's face in confusion. "How do you know who my father is?" I asked her, wrapping fingers tight around her forearms, pulling her face close to mine. "How do you know who I am?"

"I've been looking for you, my dear," the Black Queen smiled, sickeningly sweet, dark eyes shining, white teeth bared in a lunatic's smile.

Behind us the two men who had tied Elena now stood over her, waiting the Black Queen's command. Elena looked unconscious, blood dripping from her nose as she lay in a heap on the balcony. I bristled at the sight of her, sinking my nails into the woman's arms as I shook her. "Who are you!"

The dark queen smiled at me and pressed a cloth to my face, the scent overwhelming as the world around went dark.

When I opened my eyes again I could feel the dead weight of my limbs asleep too long. Elena's small body was on top of my lower torso, her hair splayed across the soft matress. I reached out to her, sitting up in the darkness of a rocking ship. The poison that had been shoved into my face by the Black Queen still lingered in my nose causing my sinuses to ache. Elena looked worse, her bottom lip bloodied, a shallow cut from her eyebrow to temple dripping blood slowly into her hair. I grimaced as I pulled her closer to me, wiping the blood gently with my shirt.

The only light shone down through the frosted panes of the captain's cabin I assumed we were in. The large desk covered in tattered sea charts and navigational instruments was an obvious clue. Elena coughed, peering up through swollen eyes to look at me.

How many times would my foolishness lead her into danger? I should never have threatened the merchant Vicente in the dining hall. I should have endured his idiocy long enough to secure us safe passage home. I could have killed him just before we stepped ashore, but instead – I couldn't bear to recount to myself what my actions had caused. Elena lay in my arms, her bruised body limp, fading in and out of consciousness in the belly of the queen's own. This was my fault. She was my responsibility.

"Don't cry," Elena's strained voice brought me from my sorrow. She reached up and wiped the tears that threatened to fall from my eyes. "You have to be strong," she smiled, her eyes closed.

I stared down at her as if she'd gone insane. How could she smile at a time like this? "I never should have let us trust that whore," I responded to her confidence with my own fears. "We're being kidnapped, Goddess knows where we are and where we'll end up."

"Goddess knows..." Elena repeated, the same silly smile on her face before her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she fell limp again.

"Elena!" I shook her, fearing the worst. "Elena! Wake up!"

"Quiet up there!" a growling voice came from outside the cabin door.

I scowled, cursing with vehemence at the guard who responded. "Oy! Quiet down in there you!"

"Are they awake?" the familiar accent of the Black Queen's voice came through the door, and then she stood in the doorway, smiling down at me, appearing pleased. "Good. We have much to discuss," she stepped forward and pressed two fingers to Elena's neck, checking for a pulse, which she seemed to find with a curt nod. Valency crossed the room and sunk down into the plush chair behind the captain's desk. "She'll be fine," she assured me, although her words were cold. "The effects of the pultice take a few hours to wear off."

"You said you knew my father," I responded pointedly, holding Elena closer to my chest, her breath faint. "You have his portrait hanging in your home. Who are you, really, and what do you want with me?"

The Black Queen laughed, sounding for all the world like an evil maniac, a few wayward black strands flinging loose from their proper hold as her shoulders bobbed up and down. "I have what I want already, actually," she reached beneath the desk and retrieved my rapier, setting the gleaming sword atop the maps. "I just haven't decided what to do with you."

Valency pushed away from the desk and stood in one swift motion. She grasped the sword with too tight a grip and swung it haphhazardly through the air, letting it twist so that the pommel pointed towards the low cabin ceiling. "This jewel is all I need, really," she motioned to the shining amber jewel. I frowned, more confused now then I had been before. Surely the Black Queen was never in need of fine jewels; something had to be special about this jewel.

"I can see you're trying so hard to figure this all out," Valency smiled sickly again, reaching up to loose her hair completely, silky tresses falling dramatically around her face. "So I'll help you along. I was married to your father's first mate aboard the Fortuna-"

"Mr. Ferdnand," I mumbled, recalling the man in the portait beside my father.

"Mr. Ferdnand Valency," the Black Queen corrected me with a tut, as she grasped the sparkling diamond . She paced before the bed leisurely as she spoke. "He was a very good man, both to me and in service to your father. When the two of them had made their largest conquests your father entrusted Ferdnand with the only way to read the map to where the treasure was burried."

"Map to where the treasure was burried..." I repeated, unable to hide the amazed smirk growing on my face. This woman must have been delusional. Even at the hight of his power, every cent my father owned belonged to his family, De Saviola, and his country, Spain. Only a pirate or a theif hides treasure, he would have said, and he would have been right. "My father hid no treasure. There is no map."

Valency smiled, going back to the desk, fingering the amber stone of the rapier eagerly. "Soon you'll come to know just how wrong you are."

"Keep the damn sword," I fought to keep my voice from cracking, slamming a fist against the black silk sheets of the mattress. "Just let Elena and I leave."

"I'm sorry, my dear, but it seems there's no where for you to go," the Black Queen motioned to the window, where cold seawater splashed against the fogged panes and the tell-tale flashing of lightnig told of a coming sea storm. "Soon we will find ourselves at my estate in Madrid. There you'll come to understand what your father really left you. And then I will take it from you."

I scowled in anger, frustated by the woman's blasé attitude. In my arms Elena stirred, her long eyelashes fluttering awake. She look confused, and hurting, the dried blood dripping down her neck and across her cheek into her hair dark and thick. "Where are we?" she whispered, looking around the cabin in confusion. I kept her from sitting up, pressing a corner of the duvet against her temple until the bleeding slowed again.

Elena followed my line of sight until her eyes came to rest on Valency, who was merely leaning against the captain's desk, as if Elena's pain was ample amusement for a queen. "I trusted you," Elena frowned, when she finally understood what had happened, the anger in my eyes and the smirk on Valency's face perfect indications.

"And you were right to, my dear," the woman crossed the room and sunk down onto the mattress across from us, taking Elena's hand in her own, drawing invisible circles around her palm absently. "Had you husband not fought me and my men, you would find yourself in a uch better position now."

"What do you want?" Elena coughed, her breath rasping as she squeezed my arms, pulling her hand out of the Black Queen's caress.

"What I want is security," Valency smiled her crazed smile once more. "And your little pirate lover is going to give it to me."