Love is a Many Plundered Thing
By Katie Sullivan, a.k.a. Scarlet

Author's Notes:
This is the story of how Gonzalo and Lorita (Don Karnage's parents) met.   If you haven't read my other fic, "Letting the Fox Out of the Bag", please do so before you read this one!
This fic is rated PG for a little mild profanity, drunkeness, violence and sexuality.
When you get to the part where I give Gonzalo's full name, you might be interested to know that I chose "Rodolfo" as one of his names because it means "famous wolf!"  :-)
Also, except for two short scenes (the very beginning, and one near the end) I wrote this entire fic in one day: Jan. 11th, 2001.  It took a few days to proofread and revise, but the entire story was basically a one-day affair.  When the muse strikes, it strikes!

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Lorita hated the man sleeping next to her. It had taken her a long time to realize it. Nearly two years, in fact. But the more she thought about it, she did. He was arrogant, cruel, unsophisticated, unromantic, unintelligent, drunk too often, and he snored...loudly. She rolled over and put a pillow over her head.

Yes, she hated him. Now what? Since her father's ship had burned and sunk with all hands on board, she had no close family left. A few aunts, uncles and cousins back in Puerto Rico, but no one she really cared about. She was on her own. True, she was a perfectly capable pirate in her own right, but without a ship of her own there weren’t many options.

And she feared Lorenzo more than she hated him. She had seen what he could do. There were permanent bloodstains on portions of the deck. And that was from his own crew. The victims of his plundering...

Lorita threw off the suffocating pillow and slid out of bed. Her skin crawled just being in the same room with him. She dressed, knowing she wouldn't be getting any more sleep that night, and went up on deck. The Seaslaughter was anchored in a cove off the island of Cabo Orgulloso. These waters were Karnage territory, and few other pirate families dared to compete here. Her own, the Estrellas, had a tenuous truce with the Karnages, but they were a family on the decline and were thus little competition. The Calaveras family, on the other hand, was infringing more and more on Karnage waters, and Don Andres Karnage was not happy.

She strolled up the deck to the helm, where a scruffy hound named Lefty was keeping watch. "Can't sleep, Doņa Lorita?"

"With that racket?" she sneered, gesturing down toward the Captain's cabin. Even at this distance, Lorenzo's rum-amplified snores could be heard. "Davy Jones himself couldn't sleep through that!"

The hound gave an uneasy laugh, not wishing to be known for criticizing the Captain. Far too many of his mates had lost their lives to Lorenzo’s fickle blade. "Aye, he can set the deck timbers a'quiverin', our Cap'n can," he said under his breath.

Lorita smiled a little and leaned on the railing, enjoying the cool breeze. Her wavy black hair usually brushed halfway down her back, but was now sent swirling to the side like a midnight medusa.

"I hear the Cap'n's meetin' up with his pater tomorrow in Cabo Orgulloso," Lefty said, referring to the nameless main city on that island. "D'ya know why?"

She gave a disdainful snort. "He doesn't tell me anything."

"Oh. I was just wondering, y'know, 'cuz with the Don Karnage situation bein' what it is...I thought maybe somethin' big was coming."

"It is tense, isn't it?" she mused.

"Something's bound to break soon. I can feel it in my bones like a hurricane. Mark my words, Doņa Lorita. Before the month is out, either Don Karnage or Don Calaveras will be sent to the great beyond, one way or another."

She was silent, not doubting his words. Strangely, she felt no great loyalty either way. Don Calaveras, Lorenzo's father, was just as pompous and obnoxious as his son. She didn't know the Karnage family personally. They were wolves, and a very powerful force in the western Caribbean. Don Karnage and his two sons, Gonzalo and Joaquim, were known by name and reputation, if not by face, throughout the Latin American underworld. Gentlemen of fortune of the highest caliber.

"Between you and me, who do you think would win that duel?"

The hound shifted his weight uneasily and took a long swig from his stein of grog. "I wouldn't want to say, Doņa Lorita. Don Karnage is a great fighter, but he's getting on in the years. Don Calaveras is also a great fighter, but..." He lowered his voice. "A bit over-confident in his own abilities."

"A bit?" she scoffed.

He merely smiled, not willing to risk mutiny any further. "T'will be interestin'."

"There's an understatement."

"Best get some sleep, Doņa Lorita. You never know what the dawn will bring."

"It won't be a long wait," she said, studying the purplish aura on the eastern horizon. "And I'm through trying to sleep with that vulpine foghorn in there."

She turned and headed for the galley, leaving the watchman to wonder if she meant for tonight or forever.

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"Small craft at ten o’clock!" yelled the spaniel in the crow’s nest.

Lorenzo Calaveras peered through a spyglass, one arm draped carelessly around Lorita’s waist. She had tried to squirm away from him, but gave up. There was no point in annoying him. She had learned the hard way: never make Lorenzo angry.

"Well, well, well…" he murmured. "Looks like a private pleasure craft. Some rich slobs on vacation, no doubt." He lowered the spyglass and licked his lips, showing sharp teeth. "Bring us about! My father can wait."

The one-eared beagle at the helm began the turn. "Aye, aye, Cap’n!"

Lorenzo shoved the spyglass into Lorita’s hand and left her standing at the railing. He disappeared into his cabin and soon emerged with a wicked sabre, its blade serrated to cause maximum damage. Lorita had seen just how efficient he was with that weapon. It was now at the point where the mere sight of the jagged blade turned her stomach.

As they sailed closer to the coast of Cabo Orgulloso, the yacht cruised obliviously forward. Yes, she decided, definitely some rich socialites on holiday. Her favorite kind of target…

"You know, Lorenzo, you’re taking an awful chance, attacking in Karnage waters," she said.

He spat over the railing. "I don’t see their name written on the waves, wench."

As if on cue, the lookout called, "Cap’n! There’s another galleon comin’ ‘round the point!" They turned to look. Sure enough, there was a galleon of comparable size to their own approaching. It had previously been hidden from view behind a thin finger of land. The flag on its mast was the unmistakable wolf skull and crossbones of the Karnage pirate dynasty.

The crew looked nervous, but Lorenzo just gave a cocky grin. "Well, what are you sons-of-bilge rats waiting for? Fire a warning shot!"

"A-at the Karnage ship?" asked a wide-eyed deckhand.

"No, at the moon, you lily-livered milksop! Yes, at the Karnage ship!" he bellowed, taking a careless swipe at the deckhand with his sabre.

"Ayeayecap’n," he yelped, rushing to load one of the smaller cannons. Before he could get a shot off, however, the other galleon beat him to it. A puff of smoke erupted as a cannon on the Karnage ship fired a warning shot that fell just short of where Lorenzo and Lorita were standing, sending up a plume of spray.

Lorenzo growled several unkind remarks about the parentage and hygiene of the Karnage family, then ran to the helm, shoving the steersman out of the way. "So that’s the way they want it, eh? Fine! May the waters run red with their blood!" he howled.

Lorita skulked toward the other side of the ship. She didn’t want to be anywhere near him when he was in one of these moods.

The Karnage and Calaveras ships seemed to ignore each other’s warning shots, and both proceeded toward the yacht. Grappling hooks snaked into the air, trailing ropes, and before long the hapless yacht was swarming with two varieties of pirates. The passengers, two young bear couples, cowered in blubbering terror beneath a table.

Generations of pirate blood stirred in Lorita’s veins, and she grabbed her own sword. No point in wasting a good plunder just because she hated the captain on her side…

She threw herself into the battle, taking out her frustrations on the enemy pirates. In the satisfying rush of the fight, everything seemed so simple. Kill or be killed, and get the plunder. She hacked her way though the crowd of curse-spitting corsairs, slowly working her way toward the cabin where the booty would be.

Suddenly, she spotted a tall, gray wolf in an elaborate blue coat, standing on a chair, bellowing orders and swinging a heavy sword with obvious skill to fend off attacks from Lorenzo’s pirates. That would be Karnage…whichever one it was. He seemed young enough to be one of the Don’s sons…either Gonzalo or Joaquim. In the split second it look Lorita to observe and deduce this, she hurled herself forward in his direction, her sword raised above her head in anticipation of a smashing blow. The wolf saw her instantly and jumped down from the chair, his own sword aloft as he rushed to meet her challenge. As they dashed toward each other, however, their eyes locked, and both came to a stop at the last moment, letting their swords drop harmlessly to their sides.

Lorita stood like a statue. The battle around her seemed to fade, and the only thing in the world at that moment was this dashing stranger. He was tall, muscled, handsome, well-groomed and had the bearing of a master swordsman. His royal blue coat was trimmed with gold, and until the battle began had obviously been spotless. A lacy cravat billowed down his front, and his powerful legs ended in a pair of large-cuffed boots. His fur was a silver gray, thick and soft-looking.

She stammered, attempting to speak. He was equally flummoxed. For several moments, neither got a word out. Instead they merely stared at each other.

He recovered first, and slowly reached out to take her hand. "Seņorita," he said with a bow of his head, formally kissing her hand. "What is a beautiful flower like yourself doing in the middle of this melee?" His voice was deep, like the rumbling of distant thunder, and Lorita’s knees felt weak.

"I, uh…"

By this time, many of the warring pirates stopped fighting to stare in confusion.

"Oh, forgive me, Seņorita, I was so taken with your loveliness, I neglected to introduce myself. Don Gonzalo Alejandro Andres Bartolo Rodolfo Karnage."

Only when he finally let go of her hand was she able to say with a minimum of stammering, "I am Doņa Lora Paulina Maria de Estrella. But most call me Lorita."

"A pleasure," he said.

"Step away from my wench, Karnage!" Lorenzo’s voice rang out, shattering the dreamy bubble around them. A second later, his iron grip closed around her arm, and she winced. "You’re mine, you little harlot, and don’t you forget it!" He dug in his claws, and she gasped in pain. Then he put his bloody sword point in the wolf’s face and snarled. "So...Don Gonzalo, isn’t it?"

"Ah, Lorenzo Calaveras," Gonzalo said with calm disdain. "I might have known it was you. Your foul stench has scared away all the fish for miles around."

"Why you—" Lorenzo began.

Gonzalo batted his sword aside with an expert flick of his blade and stepped between the two foxes. "You have a few things to learn about how to treat a lady, Seņor Calaveras." He had consciously downgraded the title from the nobler "Don," and Lorenzo's eyes flashed like hellfire. The rest of the pirates stopped what they were doing to watch.

"She’s my wench, and I’ll treat her any way I want, Karnage!"

Gonzalo took a step forward, forcing Lorenzo to step backward. The wolf was taller, and his dark, imposing glare kept the fox from remembering he had a sword. "What you fail to understand is that there are certain rules, Lorenzo. Rules which must be kept. Piracy has not survived all these centuries by submitting to anarchy. And one of those rules is—" Gonzalo took another step, making him retreat further. He leaned in, baring his teeth. "We do not harm our women!"  He ground out each syllable carefully, making sure even Lorenzo’s limited brain would understand.

"What I do to that wench is my own business, Karnage," Lorenzo growled, spitting on Gonzalo’s coat.

Gonzalo slowly shook his head, his black eyes narrowing. "You’re in Cabo Orgulloso waters now, Calaveras. Anything that happens here is my business." His hands shot out and took Lorenzo by the lapels of his filthy red coat. "I’d spill your tripes on the deck right now if there weren’t a lady present, you disgusting piece of filth," he snarled, then picked up the fox with no visible effort and tossed him over the railing. At this, the rest of the Calaveras pirates fled back to the relative safety of the Seaslaughter.

Gonzalo turned away from the foul curses erupting from the spluttering Lorenzo below, and bowed elegantly to Lorita. "I hope you find better company soon, Seņorita."

"Th-thank you," she said with a wide grin. "He needed a bath!"

He wrinkled his nose. "Indeed," he rumbled, then swung back to his own galleon on a rope. Lorita stood numbly for a moment, watching where he had gone even after he had vanished into his cabin.

There was a gentle tugging on her tail. She whirled around to see the hound she had commiserated with before sunrise. "Better get back on board, Doņa Lorita. The Captain won’t be none too happy when he gets done swimmin’." Lefty winked, and she sighed as she followed him back to the Seaslaughter.

"None too happy" didn’t begin to describe Lorenzo Calaveras’ mood. As two deckhands helped the sodden fox climb over the railing, he slashed at one of them with his sword, delivering a fatal wound. He stormed past the slain crew member and into the cabin, where he proceeded to break everything he could get his hands on. Lorita made herself scarce, deciding it was the perfect time to visit the filthy hole below decks that served as a galley. Her options were limited, but she managed to whip up an edible stew. Her mind kept straying back to the chivalrous wolf, his shining dark eyes standing out in her memory.

As she stood by the refuse barrel, peeling potatoes, she heard a crash above her. The candelabra in the dining table, she surmised. The chairs would be next… The sound of splintering wood confirmed her guess. She sighed and flinched at the sounds of violence above. Still, she thought...better the furniture than me...

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The Seaslaughter moored at a public dock in the port capital of Cabo Orgulloso later than evening. Lorenzo’s father’s ship, the Wave Raider, was already there. As head of the family, Don Gaspar Calaveras was entirely convinced of his own skill and importance. It wouldn’t have surprised him one iota if the sun and moon suddenly started to obey his commands. This overwhelming pomposity made him a difficult person to be around, and an impossible one to like.

After their initial argument over Lorenzo’s tardiness, the two headed for the local tavern to get slobbering drunk--one of Lorenzo’s favorite pastimes, Lorita had learned. She stayed behind on the ship, alone in the Captain’s cabin with only her thoughts. She had some decisions to make.

Soon after dawn the next day, once all the fishing boats were at sea, Don Calaveras swaggered—the only way he knew how to walk—to the town square. Lorenzo followed, keeping his hand locked around Lorita’s wrist as securely as any handcuff.

Don Andres Karnage and his two sons were waiting for them in the town square. They hadn’t been expecting that, and Lorenzo seemed momentarily nervous. However, nothing short of an apocalypse would shake the confidence of Don Calaveras. He strode unwaveringly to Don Karnage and whipped a brown glove from his pocket.

"I suppose you’re going to hit me with that, now, aren’t you?" Andres said, obviously unimpressed by his enemy’s attempt at chivalry. Although pushing sixty, the Karnage patriarch was sleek and fit, and bore the scars of numerous battles.

Don Calaveras looked disappointed. "Well…yes." He smacked the leather glove across Don Karnage’s face. "I challenge you to a duel!"

Andres smiled thinly. "That’s usually what that means, yes."

Calaveras quivered with rage. Being made fun of did not sit well with his ego. "A duel to the death!"

"Oh, is that all?" Andres smirked.

"And the winner is the true lord and master of Cabo Orgulloso."

"Really, Gaspar, with your enormous delusions of self-importance, I would have thought you’d want the entire world. Well, I suppose if you want to start here, so be it. It will also end, here, of course, but it’s your life."

"Enough!" Calaveras roared. "Do you accept my challenge?"

Andres calmly slid out of his hunter green velvet coat, leaving himself clad in a loose white shirt and dark pants. His younger son, Joaquim, took the coat from him and handed him his sword. Andres swung his free arm around in the socket a few times, limbering up. Joaquim and Gonzalo stepped back, as did Lorenzo and Lorita.

Finally, Andres turned to his opponent. "Yes. I accept your challenge."

"Good." Don Gaspar Calaveras drew his sword and adopted a fighting stance. "No quarter asked or given. The one who survives is the master of Cabo Orgulloso."

"Yes, yes, I heard you the first time. Let’s get on with it, old boy."

Lorita shook her head slightly. The clash of these two egos would be something to remember, never mind their swords.

With a roar of rage, Don Calaveras lunged at Don Karnage, and the duel began. Word spread quickly through the town, and before long a large crowd had gathered. Lorita briefly caught Gonzalo’s eye, and although he didn’t smile, it was obvious he recognized her from the day before.

It was remarkable just how evenly matched the two combatants were. Don Karnage was a wolf, and thus taller and larger than Don Calaveras. Calaveras, however, was some ten years his junior. Both had decades of sword fighting experience, and each had chosen their own weapon. Steel clashed on steel, the crowd cheered and gasped as the tide of the duel swung back and forth, and Lorenzo’s hand closed even more tightly on Lorita’s wrist. When she tried to twist free, he only dug in harder. She grimaced and tried to concentrate on the duel.

It was a lucky blow. Sloppy, ugly and lucky. But it had the desired result. Taking advantage of a split second’s hesitation on the part of Karnage, Calaveras brought his sword forward in a sudden, clumsy thrust. The crowd gasped as Andres Karnage arched in pain and fell to the cobblestones with the sword of Gaspar Calaveras through his chest.

Andres was dead before his sons could reach him. Don Calaveras stepped back and laughed a wicked, breathless laugh, more winded by the duel than he would have admitted. "Look, people of Cabo Orgulloso! Look! Look upon your new lord and master!" he crowed, holding his arms up in triumph. The people gathered around the town square were stunned. Many of the women were in tears, and few people were looking at Calaveras with any sentiment approaching affection. The Karnage family was well-liked in Cabo Orgulloso. They had been the unofficial rulers of the island for generations, and the thought of a shift in power was unthinkable.

Before it could all sink in, Lorita saw Gonzalo, stone-faced and dry-eyed, pull Calaveras’ sword from his father’s body. He came up behind the pompous pirate and forced the fox’s fingers around the handle, then smacked him soundly across the face. "Pardon me if I don’t remove my glove to issue the challenge. But you’re going to have to defeat more than one Don Karnage before this island is yours," Gonzalo said, his deep voice reverberating with hatred.

"Oh? Junior wants his turn? Very well. I beat your old man, and I can beat you. En guarde!"

Lorenzo took a step forward, dragging Lorita along beside him. "Father, don’t listen to that blowhard! You already defeated the old wolf. You’ve got nothing left to prove. Cabo Orgulloso belongs to the Calaveras family now!" he snarled.

"No, son," he said firmly. "This whelp needs to be put in his place, as well. Stand aside!"

"But—"

"Shut up, Lorenzo!" Don Calaveras got back into fighting posture. "Have at you!"

Gonzalo didn’t give him time to get in the first blow. With his furred jaw set in determination, he attacked with a skilled sideways thrust. Calaveras was caught off guard, and just barely managed to fend off the blow. The people cheered, and Lorenzo swore. "The old fool’s going to get himself killed," he said under his breath. Only Lorita heard, but she wasn’t paying attention. Her eyes were riveted on the strong wolf as he wore Don Calaveras down. Already winded from the first duel, Calaveras struggled simply to defend himself. Gonzalo was relentless, his face hard and emotionless as he swung again and again, brandishing his blade with an expert grace.

Despite the barbarity of it all, Lorita found herself enchanted, unable to tear her eyes away. The raw power in that gray wolf made her whole body tingle warmly, and she found herself holding her breath.

She was so entranced that it barely registered when the duel came to an end. Don Gonzalo Karnage was younger, stronger, larger and more skilled than his enemy, and the duel could only end one way. Don Gaspar Calaveras howled in pain and despair and fell on the blood-spattered cobblestones near where his previous opponent’s body lay. Gonzalo put a foot on the fox’s chest for leverage and pulled his sword out. Slowly, his face still grim and pitiless, he turned to glare at Lorenzo. Lorenzo hesitated for a moment, weighing the silent challenge, then turned and fled. Lorita stumbled to keep up with him, still unable to free her wrist from his viselike grip. Behind her, she heard the people of Cabo Orgulloso erupt in cheers for the new patriarch of the Karnage family. Even as Lorenzo was now Don Calaveras, Gonzalo was now Don Karnage.

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The Seaslaughter departed on the evening tide. Lorenzo half-sat, half-leaned on the railing at the prow, staring into the darkened sea. Lorita didn’t want to know what he was thinking. She retreated to the galley again, since it was one place Lorenzo almost never went. The slovenly pirate who usually did the cooking was asleep in the crew quarters somewhere, so she was alone. A lantern swayed gently from the ceiling, casting odd, wavering shadows on the walls. Lorita absently peeled potatoes, with no recipe in mind. It didn’t matter. It gave her nervous hands something to do while she sorted through her confused mind.

She was certain now that she could no longer stay around as Lorenzo Calaveras’ wench. The very sight of him revolted her.

But Gonzalo Karnage, on the other hand… She shifted her weight on the wooden bench and stifled a sigh. The sight of him made her giddy. If forced to label what had passed between them, she would have chosen "love at first sight." But he was a wolf. She was a fox. Such things weren’t even spoken of in polite society. Interspecies relationships were so taboo they even made pirates squeamish. So why did she find herself besieged by feelings for Gonzalo that could only be described as lustful? She couldn’t stop thinking about him. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she had glimpsed something that had been missing from her existence, unnamed and unknown…until now.

Lorita realized suddenly she had stopped peeling potatoes, and was staring blankly into space. This wasn’t like her. Yet she remembered a time before she met Lorenzo, before her father and his ship were lost, when she was outspoken, vivacious, smart-mouthed, strong-willed, and independent. Grief had started the process, but Lorenzo had completed it. Her spirit had been broken. She had become nervous, subservient and fearful. A glimmer of her old self surfaced and scolded her. This wasn’t who Lorita de Estrella was supposed to be.

She stood up and stabbed a potato, pinning it to the table with her dagger. Enough was enough. She would bide her time for now…stay on Lorenzo’s good side…but the next time they were in Cabo Orgulloso…

Lorita blew out the candle and left the room.

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Not surprisingly, the Seaslaughter avoided Cabo Orgulloso like the plague. Lorita began to lose hope of ever returning. Then, they were caught in the tail end of a hurricane, and the old galleon’s mast snapped in two. They needed immediate repairs, and the closest port, to Lorenzo’s chagrin, was Cabo Orgulloso. He might rather have taken his chances heading to a more distant settlement, but the crew was grumbling of mutiny. Best to get the ship appropriately ship-shape again, and let the crew get so drunk that they forgot how dissatisfied they were.

Lorita could have kissed that broken mast, but there was no point in getting splinters. Besides, she had other things to do. Lorenzo was moping about on deck, yelling orders and threatening to tear out the entrails of the crew if they didn’t hurry up and look lively. She seized the opportunity to take inventory of her possessions. Everything she owned was in a sea chest in the corner of the Captain’s cabin. She had some jewelry, but most of it had been given to her by Lorenzo. The last things she wanted were reminders of him. Her wardrobe wasn't particularly large, either. She had a few mementos from her family worth hanging on to. But for the most part, all she saw were reminders of the last few, miserable years. It was just as well. She wouldn’t be able to take everything, anyway…

Lorita was in for a surprise when the ship docked at Cabo Orgulloso.

"You’re staying onboard, wench," Lorenzo said in a tone of voice that allowed no room for discussion.

"What? Why?"

"This isn’t a pleasure cruise, sweetheart. The second we get that mast fixed up, we’re out of here. And I saw the way you looked at Gonzalo Karnage. Did you think I hadn't noticed? Well, I did. But don’t you forget, you’re my wench, and you’re going to stay my wench if you want to keep your guts on the inside of your scrawny little body! So you’d better be on this ship when I get back!" With that, he turned and headed down the plank to the dock in search of a shipwright.

She turned helplessly to her hound friend, Lefty. He shrugged. "You heard the Cap’n, Doņa Lorita." He nudged her away from the plank and sat down on the deck, blocking her exit.

The remnant of her former self ordered her current self not to cry. She’d figure something out, or die trying.

She stayed on deck through the hot Caribbean afternoon, strolling aimlessly from one end of the ship to the other. Her eyes brushed nonchalantly over the faces of the people on the oceanfront, until finally she spotted him. Gonzalo Karnage was walking down the street, deep in conversation with a scruffy, one-eyed tomcat who was probably one of his crew. She wanted to shout to him, but knew it would be foolish to dare. Within moments, however, he appeared to pause in mid-sentence and slowly turned his head. Somehow he had sensed her gaze, and their eyes locked. She saw him mouth the word, "You," and she smiled in spite of herself. There it was again, that yearning feeling that here was someone she had always known in her dreams. He made some quick excuse to his companion and hurried toward her. Her heart began to race.

He stopped on the dock directly below her. "Hello again, Seņorita," he said simply. He wasn’t smiling, but there was a glint of joy in his black eyes.

"Don Karnage," she said, leaning on the railing to get just a few inches closer.

"There’s no need for such formality, Doņa Lorita. Please, call me Gonzalo."

She was pleasantly shocked that he remembered her name. "All right…"

His eyes left her just long enough to indicate the black banner hanging askew from the broken mast. "Still with Seņor Calaveras the Foul-Smelling, I see."

Her shoulders sagged and her smile disappeared. "For now," she said quietly.

He waved a beckoning hand. "Come ashore. I’ll buy you a drink."

"I can’t."

He raised a thick eyebrow.

"Lorenzo forbade me to leave, and believe me, you don’t want to cross him."

His face darkened. "We’ll see about that." He gave a shrug. "Very well. If you cannot come down…" He leapt up and grabbed a handhold on the porthole directly below her, and before she could protest he had climbed over the railing and was standing in front of her. Luckily, none of the crew was nearby.

"Well....that’s one way to do it, I guess," she said.

Now he did smile, although she got the feeling he didn’t do that often. He had an intensity about him that made a smile look almost foreign on his features, yet paradoxically made him more handsome. That quivery feeling returned to her legs, and she put a hand on the railing to steady herself.

"I see you ran into a bit of trouble with the hurricane," he said, glancing at the broken mast.

She nodded dumbly.

"You didn’t get seasick, I hope."

She shook her head. "I’ve been sailing since before I could walk."

"I see."

"You seem to have nice legs, too. I mean, nice sea legs. You’re steady on your feet. You know what I mean," she said with a nervous giggle.

"Of course." There was that smile again. She began to feel dizzy. "Your…parts…are nice as well." She giggled again. The warm, tingly feeling was back. What was happening to her?

Well, for starters, she was being kissed. She was being held close by a pair of strong arms. For the first time in many years, she didn’t feel threatened. As his hands slowly moved over her body, she sensed a respect…almost a reverence…that was entirely new to her. Lorenzo threw her back and had his way, not caring about her in the slightest. He was an animal…Gonzalo was a gentleman.

She returned his kisses eagerly, quickly, knowing somewhere in the back of her mind that this was wrong…foxes and wolves did not, could not, love each other. It was forbidden. It was scorned. It was unnatural. It was… It was the most amazing feeling she’d ever had. Forget everything she’d been told. Forget taboos. Forget Lorenzo. Forget everything that had happened before this moment. This was what she wanted. This was her destiny. She could sense it with an almost frightening certainty. She had found her soul mate, and nothing could change that.

When the kisses subsided, they stood, breathless, staring at each other. "Come with me," he whispered. "Stay here on Cabo Orgulloso. Leave Lorenzo and all his cruelty behind. I’ll show you how a lady should be treated."

"Oh," she breathed, wanting nothing else more.

But before she could reply, a painfully familiar voice rang out from another part of the ship. "Lorita! Wench! Come here! Drag your carcass out of wherever you’re hiding and c’mere!"

"No," she hissed. "You have to go! He’ll kill us both!"

"I’ll protect you."

"You don’t have your sword."

"Damn. You’re right."

"Just go! I’ll find you later, I promise. Just hurry!"

Gonzalo brushed his lips against hers on his way to the railing. "I’ll be waiting for you, Lorita." He scurried down the side of the ship and melted into the waterfront with practiced ease. He was nowhere in sight when a drunken Lorenzo Calaveras came storming toward her.

"There you are! I thought maybe you’d jumped ship on me. I’d have to kill you, then."

"I know," she said, grimacing at the rum on his breath.

"The repairs’ll be done by tomorrow’s evenin’ tide. Now come on. Let’s you and me have a lil’ fun. How’s about it, wench?" He made a noise somewhere between a burp and hiccup, then slurped more rum from a tankard.

She wrinkled her nose. "Finish your rum first, Lorenzo."

He contemplated the half-full tankard with more affection than he showed for her. "Y’gots a point. No sense in wastin’ a good drink. But don’t you go too far away, sweetie." He slapped her playfully on the behind and staggered off.

Lorita shook her head, fighting revulsion. By the time he finished that rum, he would probably have forgotten their appointment, and, even if he remembered, he’d be far too drunk to do anything about it.

She headed to the Captain’s cabin--not to await Lorenzo, but to finish packing her things.

________________________

Lorenzo Calaveras had the amazing ability to stay conscious, despite having ingested mass quantities of alcohol. Fortunately, he did forget Lorita. However, he was always around, making it impossible for her to sneak away. Plus, the crew was under strict orders to keep her onboard, and they knew what happened to those who disobeyed the Captain’s orders.

Lorenzo reeled and swayed on deck, singing some shanty Lorita might have recognized if it was sung in a coherent manner. She had lost count of the tankards of rum he had put away. He mumbled seemingly random lyrics in an off-key voice, shutting up only long enough to drink some more.

She sat on a barrel near the helm, scowling. There was one more thing to add to her mental list of things she hated about him. He couldn’t sing worth a damn, sober or drunk. She put her head in her hands and sighed wearily. It was going to be a long day…

Lorenzo finally passed out around eleven o’clock that night. His endurance was amazing. Of course, when he woke up, he’d be even more cruel and cranky than usual. Lorita and the crew left him where he fell, on the starboard deck. Let him sleep it off.

Lorita stood near the plank, pretending to be very interested in the workmen repairing the mast. Lorenzo had warned them to work as quickly as they could, or else. And everyone knew what he meant when he said "or else." They worked by torchlight, and would probably be done before lunch tomorrow.

She had hoped that the pirate posted by the gangplank would drift off to sleep and allow her to slip away, but the guard was changed frequently. None of the crew had access to as much rum as the Captain, it seemed. Finally, it was Lorita who fell asleep. Emotionally exhausted, she curled up right there on the deck and slept fitfully until dawn. She used the small bag containing her most prized possessions as a pillow.

The early morning sunlight on her face woke her, and she sat up stiffly. The workmen were nearly done. The quality of their work was debatable, but speed was what Lorenzo wanted. The less time in Cabo Orgulloso, the better, as far as he was concerned.

Lorenzo himself staggered toward her before long, holding his head and wincing in the sunlight. "There you are, wench. I’ve been looking all over for you. Make me breakfast. Something light. My stomach’s rotten."

"I can’t imagine why."

"Save the cute talk and get your fat tail moving," he snapped.

She stalked off toward the galley, still carrying her escape bag.

Lorenzo’s hangover didn’t improve quickly, and Lorita was, as usual, made to wait on him hand and foot until he was feeling normal again. Time was running out. By noon, the workmen had the mast repaired, and he ordered the crew to pull up anchor.

"But Cap’n, the tide’s all wrong," one pirate said timidly.

"I don’t care. We’re leaving."

"But—"

He reached for his sword, and the crewman went scurrying to comply. Although his hand was probably still too shaky to do any damage, there was no point taking chances.

Lorita watched in despair as the crew prepared to leave the port. How was she going to get away? Her list of options was quickly narrowing. She could try to bribe the crew, but they were far too terrified of Lorenzo to help her. Things weren’t looking good.

Then she had a brainstorm. "Lorenzo," she said sweetly, half-sitting on the arm of his chair. "Did you remember to stock up on rum before we ship out?"

Lorenzo’s bleary eyes widened. "Hell’s teeth, woman, you’re right! We’ve only got—" He did a brief mental calculation. "Three barrels left! We’ll be drinking water by the next port o’ call!" The thought seemed to make him nauseous. He stumbled out of the cabin and roared to the men to stop what they were doing and fill the hold with rum.

Lorita breathed a sigh of relief. That bought her a few more hours, anyway. The rum factory was on the other end of town. It was a small town, granted, but every little bit helped.

By the time the crew got back from the rum factory, it was nearing sunset. Purchasing and transporting the barrels didn’t take all that terribly long, of course, but they had to sample the merchandise first. Only the best for their Captain. By the time they returned, they were in good spirits but not quite as alert as usual. Lorita smiled to herself. This was even better than she thought.

"Tide’s right now, Cap’n," said the mutt at the helm.

"S’about time," Lorenzo griped. "Take us out."

Lorita stood aft, watching the streets for some sign of Gonzalo. Surely he was wondering what had happened to her. She didn’t want to cause him any worry, but hopefully soon she’d be there to allay his fears. She closed her eyes, remembering his gentle touch.

The ship began to move. Slowly, ponderously, the antiquated galleon moved away from the dock. Lorenzo broke open a fresh barrel of rum and headed into his cabin. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure he was out of sight. Now if the crew would just leave her alone, too…

But they didn’t. She watched with growing panic as the dock got further and further away. Before long, they were leaving the harbor, heading out into the open Caribbean.

Lorita’s heart raced. Now what? She looked around. None of the crew were nearby, and the ones who were near were tipsy. She had to chance it. If she died in the attempt…well, either way, she was free of Lorenzo.

She tied the small bag tightly to her belt and removed her boots. As quietly as she could, she dropped her boots overboard. The less conspicuous her exit, the greater chance no one would notice her absence right away. She took a deep breath, and, without a backward look, dived over the railing.

Although the sunlight was nearly gone, the waters were still comfortably warm. Lorita was a strong swimmer, but it was an awfully long way… She swam steadily, trying to conserve her strength. She kept envisioning Lorenzo behind her…fetid, savage and drunk…and Gonzalo in front of her, gentle, handsome and kind. Fear of the former and love for the latter drove her on.

She began to tire and dared to look up. Shore was still far away, but she would make it. She had to make it. She had promised Gonzalo she would meet him.

At long last, she stumbled out of the waves and collapsed on the beach. Sprawled in the wet sand, with her long black hair tangled around her, she fought to regain her breath through threatening tears. She made it! She was alive and free!

She lay back and laughed in exhilaration.

It was not a difficult task locating the Karnage residence. The first person she asked gave her clear directions, and everyone seemed to know where it was. Her legs ached from swimming, and her hair and clothes were still drenched with seawater. Still she trudged on, through town and down a country road, past sugarcane fields and palm groves. Then, looming up from behind a small hill, she saw it.

The Karnage villa was spacious and old-fashioned, with a huge porch and gardens. Lorita slowed her pace in awe, admiring the architecture. She was so busy gawking that she stubbed her toe on the front step, and stifled a curse. Finally, she drew up her courage and knocked on the door.

For several long seconds there was only silence, and she began to wonder if anyone was home. She hastily ran a hand through her wet hair, wanting to look as best she could, under the circumstances. At last, the heavy door creaked open, and the stocky, younger wolf she recognized as Gonzalo’s brother, Joaquim, answered. "Can I…help you?" he asked, paying more attention to her cleavage than her face.

She reached out and pushed his chin up, forcing him to make eye contact with her. "Yes. Your brother Gonzalo is expecting me."

"All right…" Joaquim shrugged and turned to yell, "Gonzalo! There’s a vixen here to see you!"

Immediately, there was a crash in the other room. Gonzalo rushed into the foyer, elbowed his brother aside and swept her up in a gigantic hug. "Thank heavens you’re all right! I was beginning to worry!"

Lorita rarely wept, but in this case she made an exception. She clung to him for dear life as streams of relieved tears coursed down her face. "I can’t…believe…I made it!" she gasped between sobs. "Lorenzo got drunk, and he wanted to leave, but the tide was wrong, and even after the tide was right I couldn’t get away, and we were halfway out to sea, but finally I had to do it, I couldn’t leave you behind, I just jumped right off the edge when no one was looking, and I swam and swam and swam until I thought I was going to pass out and drown, but then I kept thinking of you, and I knew I had to make it so I could see you again, and I did, and then I had to walk all through town to get here, and I’m so tired, but I’m so glad you’re here, and I’m here, and and and—"

He stopped her hysterical ramblings with a kiss.

"I assume you two know each other, then?" Joaquim said dryly.

"Shoo," Gonzalo said gruffly between kisses.

Joaquim shrugged and walked back into the other room. "You knocked over the chess set, you know," he called.

Gonzalo didn’t answer.

"I’ll just pick it up for you."

Gonzalo still didn’t answer.

"You’re welcome."

"Joaquim?"

"Yes?"

"Go away."

The younger wolf sniffed indignantly and slammed a door somewhere, and Gonzalo and Lorita were finally alone.

_________________________________

Don Gonzalo Karnage was everything Lorita had hoped he would be, and more. He was polite, intelligent, absurdly wealthy, respected, handsome, powerful, sober, and, perhaps best of all, he bathed regularly. He was also equally smitten with her, treating her like a goddess. Joaquim soon got fed up with them and rented a room above a nearby inn.

Lorita was deliriously happy. As she and her soul mate drifted off to sleep in each other’s arms, she mumbled, "Thank you."

"For what?"

She smiled at the way his baritone voice rumbled in his chest beneath her hand. "For saving my life. Lorenzo would have killed me before long. I know he would have. He threatened me often enough."

"Lorenzo Calaveras is an beast," Gonzalo said. "He is not worthy to bear the name of a pirate. He is not even worthy to breathe the same air as you. One day, I will kill him for you. I promise you that, Lorita. He’ll never hurt you again."

She snuggled in closer, suddenly afraid at the mere thought of Lorenzo.

"Don’t worry, my love," he whispered. "You’re mine now." He kissed her lightly. "And I’m yours." He wrapped his arms around her, and she was no longer afraid.

________________________

Their wedding was not long in coming. Their difference in species seemed irrelevant to them, but the rest of the world had other ideas. No church or legal official would endorse such a union. The legions of piracy, however, were more lenient. Many still balked at the notion of interspecies marriage, but no one dared to oppose Don Karnage. Gonzalo’s new status as the patriarch of the Caribbean’s most powerful pirate family carried considerable weight, and anyone who valued their life bowed to his whims.

Lorita had no elaborate wedding gown. Pirate weddings were often rather informal affairs. She wore a simple white dress with a white sash braided into her hair, and Gonzalo wore his usual blue coat. His ship, poetically named Triton’s Tear, was moored just offshore of Cabo Orgulloso. A graying lion, the patriarch of a smaller pirate clan, officiated. Technically, any Captain could perform marriages, but traditionally patriarchs had the honor. With Don Andres freshly in his grave, it seemed best to ask someone from another family to fill the role.

The only family members present were Joaquim and two distant cousins. The few surviving members of Lorita’s family were still in Puerto Rico.

The patriarch stood facing Gonzalo and Lorita at the prow of the Triton’s Tear. "Dear friends and family, brethren of the sea, sisters of the waves, honorable pirates," he began. "We are gathered here today on the depthless ocean to join two hearts as one in the holy bonds of matrimony. May those who are here united find strength in each other, joy in each day, and contentment in their shared life. If there is anyone here who finds fault in this marriage, may they voice their concerns now or forever hold their silence."

She held her breath. The union of a fox and a wolf…would anyone voice the objections she knew they felt?

No one spoke.

The old lion nodded, and the bridal couple knelt facing each other. "Gonzalo Alejandro Andres Bartolo Rodolfo, will you have this woman as your wedded wife, to live together in Holy Matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be true and faithful to only her for as long as you both shall live?"

"I will," Gonzalo said.

"And Lora Paulina Maria, will you have this man as your wedded husband, to live together in Holy Matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be true and faithful to only him for as long as you both shall live?"

"I will," Lorita whispered through her tears.

They recited the rest of their vows, then exchanged rings. Lorita’s had a sizable diamond flanked by two equally-impressive rubies.

"May those who wear these rings remain faithful to each other, and abide in love until their lives' end," the old lion said as they carefully slid the rings onto each other’s fingers.

Gonzalo eased the gold band onto her trembling finger and solemnly intoned, "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee honor, and all my worldly goods with thee I share."

Lorita repeated the words, but her hands shook so that she could barely get the ring onto his finger. At last, they stood to face the small assemblage. The old lion raised his hands and announced, "These who are here joined, may no one ever put asunder. Gonzalo Alejandro Andres Bartolo Rodolfo and Lora Paulina Maria, as you have given your solemn vows to be united in holy wedlock, and have witnessed your love here today to these people here gathered, and have exchanged rings as a symbol of your promise, I do hereby pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."

They leaned into a sincere but restrained kiss, and everything before paled in the blazing light of their future.

_________________________________

Doņa Lorita Karnage sat on a wicker bench, watching a soft rain fall on the gardens surrounding the villa. A deep voice behind her made her half-turn in her seat. "Happy Anniversary, Lorita, my love," Gonzalo said, bending to kiss her.

"Happy Anniversary." She accepted the bouquet of flowers from him and sniffed them blissfully.  Had it really been a year already?

"And it is a happy anniversary, too," he said, sitting down on the bench beside her. "Let me see." He nudged her hands out of the way and peered at her stomach. "I think I can see it now, a bit," he mused.

"Don’t worry, love. In a few months, you’ll be able to see me from twenty miles out to sea," she said with mock despair, tousling his hair playfully.

"You’ll still be beautiful," he said, kissing her again.

She grinned and smelled the flowers. "Any more thoughts on names?"

"I thought of a few, yes. For a son, Ignacio, Felipe, Esteban, Juan…for a daughter, Dolores, Aldonza, Dominga…maybe Elena…"

"You have been thinking about this, haven’t you?"

"Now and then," he said with one of his rare smiles.

"Time will tell," she said contentedly.

________________________

Ignacio Juan Francisco Gonzalo Cesár Karnage was born three weeks prematurely, and within the first year his parents realized he wasn’t completely "normal." The boy developed more slowly than his age mates, panicked when neither parent was in sight, and spoke only when absolutely necessary.

Gonzalo and Lorita had known from the beginning that, beyond social stigma, hybrids often suffered from any number of mental and physical ailments. They had hoped their child would be different, but it seemed their hopes were in vain. Still, they loved their fragile little son, and decided to roll the dice one more time.

_________________________________

July was just a week old, but was already blossoming into its full damp, sweltering glory. An old squirrel at the market had told Lorita that approaching storms tended to send pregnant women into labor. Her advice was usually sound, so Lorita wasn't surprised when the pains started that evening. It came on slowly, but she knew what it was. She was secretly amused to watch Gonzalo attempting to look calm, when she knew he was inwardly panicking.

He went into town for the midwife while she busied herself with meaningless tasks. Little Ignacio was crawling around at her feet as she dusted, and she was afraid she would step on him, judging by her limited downward vision. That was a relatively small worry, though, when it came to her firstborn. He was thirteen months old, and should have been more developed. More aware. Speaking. Laughing. Instead he was quiet, detached, skittish. Lorita worried. There were so few hybrids, there was no way to know exactly how they worked. What problems they had. Perhaps the folk tales were true, they were all crazy. And what if...what if this second child, who even now was maneuvering to leave her womb...what if it was the same? Worse? What was she doing? How selfish was she, to think she should bring children into the world who would live such empty, tortured existences?

Lorita carefully dusted the bookshelves in her husband’s office. She knew all the titles by heart. A fresh pain gripped her, and she winced. Time to get horizontal. "Come along, Ignacio," she said, waddling toward the door. "Let’s go lie down." She tried to speak to him often, hoping it would encourage him to talk. Thus far she had had little success.

Gonzalo returned in record time with a midwife. This labor was easier than the first, and only slightly earlier than it should have been. Still, it was an excruciating experience, and little Ignacio wailed in the other room, reacting to her screams. Gonzalo did his best to comfort the boy and pace at the same time.

It was well after dark when their second child entered the world. Through a haze of pain and hyperventilation, Lorita heard the midwife announce, "It’s a boy, Doņa Lorita!"

A loud, miserable wail came from near her feet, and she smiled. He sounded healthy. Thank heavens for that.

Soon the baby was wrapped in a clean blanket on her chest, squirming and squinting as he adjusted to the outside world. Gonzalo approached hesitantly, Ignacio in his arms.

"Felipe," she said simply, gazing at her second born with adoration.

"Felipe." Gonzalo laid a hand on his tiny son’s head. "Felipe Esteban Gonzalo Andres Enrique Karnage."

"Such a big name for such a tiny boy," she cooed.

Ignacio just stared.

________________________

To Gonzalo and Lorita’s immense relief, Felipe appeared normal. He developed at the usual rate, or perhaps even faster. In stark contrast to his older brother, Felipe was constantly chattering. Yet the two were fast friends. Oddly, the younger often taught the older how to do things, and Ignacio was fiercely protective of his brother. Things were turning out so well, that three years later Gonzalo and Lorita tried for a third child. Their only daughter, Dolores, also developed normally.

Ignacio’s fur was a haphazard mottled pattern of gray and reddish-brown, as if swatches from each parent had been sewn randomly together by a drunken seamstress. Felipe shared many of his father’s features but had his mother’s red-brown fur. Dolores had a coat of silver-gray, just like Gonzalo, but fox-like markings. The three were odd-looking, perhaps, but their parents adored them and protected them with the same fierceness they used to plunder and pillage. Lorita and Gonzalo were completely content.

Yet there is no such thing as a perfect paradise. Lorenzo Calaveras still roamed the seas, threatening and bitter. He dared not attack the Karnages directly. They were far too powerful for the remnants of the Calaveras clan. But still, deep in her soul, Lorita knew he would one day cause her more pain…

 

 

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