|Disclaimer: The Queen of Swords characters are copyright to Fireworks
Productions and Paramount. The other folks in this tale and the story
plot are original and copyright to the author, Maril Swan.
La Reina del Mar
by Maril Swan
The huge bay horse seemed infected by its rider's high spirits as it
charged along the beach, its hoofs churning the surf at the water's
edge, throwing up clods of sand and turning the ocean spray into a
rainbow that followed its headlong dash. The rider, a young woman,
hung low over the withers, a wide grin on her face as the wind whipped
her dark hair away from her rosy cheeks, waving it behind her like a
banner. The hard drumming of the horse's hoofs beat through her body
like her own wild heartbeat. The girl whooped and laughed with sheer
exhilaration as she urged him to go faster, the wind and speed almost
taking her breath away.
At the far end of the beach was an outcropping of rock which divided
this little cove from the next. Nearing this barrier, Tessa slowed
Chico, her horse, to a trot, then walked him deeper into the ocean,
and around the rocks. Coming out of the water onto the beach on the
other side, the horse balked and snorted nervously. Tessa tensed,
alert for what had disturbed her horse. Farther down the beach, she
saw what looked like a boat drawn up onto the sand. Her eyes narrowed
as she tried to see if anyone was near the boat, but it seemed
deserted. Came in with the tide, most likely, she thought, but from
what ship? Turning to the ocean, she suddenly saw it—a three-masted
brig, anchored far off shore, away from the treacherous rocks and
shoals of this coastline. A sense of unease possessed her as she
looked at the ship; her spine began to tingle with an intimation of
danger. The horse pranced and whickered anxiously, the whites of its
eyes showing its fright.
"Come on, Chico", she said, "Let's get out of here. Something isn't
right." With an anxious glance at the ship, she kneed the horse back
toward the rocky outcropping.
"Don't move, or I'll shoot the horse!" a male voice above her shouted.
Atop the rocks stood a tall, fair-haired man dressed in tattered,
knee-length pants held up by a knotted rope. His scrawny upper body
was covered by a grimy white blouse, torn in several places, exposing
his white flesh. He was aiming a pistol at Chico. Hard blue eyes
glittered in his seamed, bewhiskered face as he grinned wolfishly at
the young woman trying to control her terrified horse. "Get down and
move away from the horse," he demanded, waving the pistol
Tessa gauged the distance and decided he had a very good chance of
hitting her horse fatally from his perch on the rocks. Resignedly, she
slid out of the saddle and stepped a few paces from Chico. The horse
attempted to follow but she held up her hand and he stopped to await
her next command. She turned to the man now descending the rocks
toward her, his gun still aimed at the horse.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here, on my land?" Tessa asked,
her voice rising in anger as she watched him approach. A frisson of
fear ran through her looking into those cold eyes insolently looking
her over, making her feel exposed somehow. His clothing was filthy and
ragged; his footwear just barely covered his feet. His long sinewy arm
held the gun without a tremor, and Tessa could see his nerves were a
lot steadier than her own at that moment. She swallowed hard, and
moistened her mouth which had gone dry suddenly. If he got close
enough, she thought, she could get the gun away from him and possibly,
escape. But he kept his distance, waiting, it seemed for something, or
Tessa scanned the beach and the cliffs above, wondering what he was
waiting for. "You didn't answer my question. What are you doing here?
What do you want?"
He laughed shortly. "My mates," he answered in his halting Spanish.
"They're out getting some water to supply the ship." He nodded in the
direction of the brig. "And now we've got something else to take back
with us," he said caustically, his eyes narrowing at her.
"What do you want me for? I have no money if that's what you're
after." She shook her head. "Of all the haciendas you could have
landed at, mine is the poorest. You're wasting your time here."
The sailor turned suddenly at the sound of voices approaching, and
Tessa took advantage of his distraction to charge at him, knocking him
off-balance. His wiry strength saved him as he turned aside her attack
and struck her on the back of the head with his gun butt. She
collapsed, unconscious onto the sand, as a group of men rushed up the
beach toward them. They encircled the woman, looking down at her with
surprise and fear.
"Mister Blake, you wasn't supposed to kill `er!" one of the sailors
cried in strongly accented English, as he gazed on the prostrate
figure on the sand.
"She ain't dead, just knocked out. Pick `er up and put `er in the
boat," Blake commanded. Four of the sailors lifted the limp woman up
and started toward the boat. Chico followed at a safe distance, his
loyalty divided between self-preservation and love for his mistress.
Blake, noticing the horse, picked up a stone and hurled it, hitting
Chico's flank, causing him to shriek with pain and flee up the beach.
He chuckled at the retreating horse.
Above, on the cliffs, an old man watched with alarm as the sailors
dumped the unconscious woman into the ship's boat and began to drag it
toward the water. He turned and fled in the direction of the Alvarado
Her first sensation was nausea; she felt as if the world were pitching
and rolling crazily. Tessa opened her eyes into a dim, small room that
smelled strongly of man sweat, tar and filth. The only illumination in
the tiny cabin came from a porthole and she dashed to it, opening it
to get a lungful of fresh air before she was sick. Her head hurt
abominably and her mouth was so dry she could barely moisten it. But
the sea air helped clear her head a little. She took stock of her
surroundings, and realized with horror, she was on the ship she had
seen earlier. Outside the porthole, the light was fading from twilight
to dark. I must have been unconscious all day, she thought in shock.
How far can we be from Santa Helena by now? She found it hard to
breathe suddenly as a wave of panic overtook her. Leaning on the wall
to steady herself against the rolling of the ship, she tried to beat
back the terror and form some idea of escape. Not this time, a
despairing voice told her. There's no getting away this time.
By holding onto the wall, Tessa was able to get to the cabin door. She
tried it, and as she had expected, it was locked. She hammered on it
with her fist, anger replacing terror. How dare they lock me up, she
fumed. Who are they anyway? "Open this door!" she shouted, rattling
the handle. There was no response, and she pounded harder, bruising
her hands. Stopping for a moment to catch her breath, she heard some
movement outside the cabin—the grating of the lock being turned. Then
cool air rushed in as the door swung open to reveal the man who had
knocked her out. He grinned and stepped toward her with a pistol in
"Cap'n sends `is compliments, m'am. He would like you to join 'im for
dinner in `is cabin." The sailor's Spanish was rudimentary, coloured
by a strong Cockney accent, and it took Tessa a few seconds to
understand what he said. Then she exploded with fury.
"Compliments! You can tell your captain to go to the devil! Take me
back to my hacienda. Now! I demand it!"
Blake's eyes narrowed in concentration, not understanding the
rapid-fire Spanish she spat at him, but the tone seemed to convey all
he needed to know. "This ain't exactly an invitation, señorita.
It's a command performance. Now come along like a good girl." He waved
the gun toward the open door, and stepped back to allow Tessa to past
him. Seeing no choice, she stalked out into a narrow hallway below
decks. At the end was a stairway toward which Blake steered her with
an ungentle push. The rolling of the ship made her stagger
ungracefully, fuelling her anger so that by the time they reached the
Captain's cabin, Tessa was in a fine rage. She shook off the sailor's
hand as he prodded her toward the cabin door, and turning, glared at
him defiantly as if daring him to touch her again.
The cabin was situated beneath the upper deck, on which the helmsman
stood. Blake knocked then opened the door into a room, a bit larger
than the one in which she had been imprisoned. The Captain's cabin
was tidy, and smelled of candlewax, and some type of cologne. From the
neatly made bunk to the chests and maps – everything stowed away in
its place – the room betokened a man who loved order and cleanliness.
Tessa looked around without interest, then turned as another person
entered the room behind her.
"I'm Captain Stoner," the man said, his voice hardly more than a
hoarse whisper. He wore the blue serge tunic of the Royal Navy but
devoid of the braids of office. Slightly smaller than his tall first
mate, Captain Stoner, nevertheless, cut a dashing figure with his
neatly trimmed goatee, and fine blond hair pulled back with a clasp.
Along one cheek was a deep scar, long healed but still puckered and
red. But his most arresting feature was his eyes; they were the colour
of a winter sky, light grey with flecks of gold. Those pale eyes
looked Tessa over with an appraising glance, as if judging a mare,
making her temper flare.
"Why have you taken me hostage? Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, I know who you are, Señorita Alvarado. I hope to make your stay
aboard my vessel as pleasant as possible until my business is
concluded. In the meanwhile, won't you join me for dinner? You must be
quite famished." Gallantly, he held out a chair for her. Tessa
hesitated, then sat down. At least his elegant Spanish was a relief
from the torture of hearing her native tongue mangled by the first
mate. The captain was obviously a gentleman, one of her own class, and
Tessa knew how to deal with him.
"Ignacio! Be calm. What is it?" Marta took the old peon's gnarled
hands into her own, trying to get a coherent sentence out of him. He
looked half-mad with terror, his face florid and eyes bulging with
"Piratas! Piratas!" was all he kept saying, since he had run up to the
villa and encountered Marta. Finally, he gasped, "They have taken the
señorita! To their ship! El nave de pirata!" He seemed on the verge of
collapse, and Marta put him into the care of one of the other servants
while she ran for a horse. Not bothering to saddle it, she threw
herself on its back and sped in the direction of the coast. She reined
in on top of the cliff overlooking the coves, and down on the beach,
saw Chico, alone, his head turned toward the ocean as if watching for
It seemed as if all the strength suddenly left her body as she clung
to the horse for support. "So, it's true. She's gone." Her eyes swept
the sea for some trace of the ship, but it had disappeared over the
Guiding the horse down onto the beach, Marta rode up beside Chico who
watched her approach with seeming relief. He grunted and whinnied but
remained where he was. The sand near the horse was deeply marked with
the trail of the boat and many footprints leading to the water. For a
long time, Marta stared at the tracks and then at the ocean, utter
desolation making it hard to breathe. She tried to think what to do,
but all that filled her mind was her Tessa in the hands of a band of
pirates. She shook her head violently to clear those awful thoughts,
and leading Chico, remounted her horse and rode back to the villa.
Montoya's eyebrows shot up as he stood and began excitedly pacing.
"Pirates! Are you sure, Marta? There haven't been any pirates in these
waters for quite a while." He chuckled. "Not since the pirate queen,
Mary Rose, retired."
Marta slammed her hand onto his desk, startling the colonel. Glaring
at him, she said, in a voice barely under control, "Do you think I
would have come to you if I was not sure? She was kidnapped! Ignacio
saw them and I saw their tracks. What are you going to do about it?"
He spread his hands wide and shrugged. "What can I do about it? She is
on the sea, out of my jurisdiction. It is a naval matter. I will
dispatch a letter to Monterey and suggest the Spanish navy go after
these pirates and try to rescue your mistress. That is all I can do."
With a derisive laugh, Marta said sharply, "The Spanish navy is a sad
joke. And how long will it take to get a letter to Monterey, a week?
Who knows where she may be by then?"
In a gentler tone, Montoya replied, "I think you may be hoping for
something that is very unlikely, Marta. If she is in their hands, they
want one of two things. The best we can hope for is they want a
ransom. At worst..." He left the sentence unfinished but could see by
her wan look she knew what he meant.
"There has been no ransom note yet, Colonel. Whatever they ask, I will
"How? As I understand it, the Alvarado hacienda is just barely making
ends meet. And you have no authority to sell it, so how will you raise
a ransom? I don't mean to discourage you, Marta, but you must face
reality. She is likely gone for good."
Without answering, Marta turned abruptly and left Montoya's office, a
firm resolve having taken hold in her mind.