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7th Sea Fiction
The Fountain of Youth
By Dana DeVries and Vicki Kirchhoff-Martin

Not a cloud marred the sky and only a light breeze ruffled the surface of the water so the ship's launch rocked very gently in the surf as Maggie and Cossette rowed closer to the small scrap of land. The Discovery lay anchored several ship lengths further out with her guns run out and trained across the isle to where the Sea Dog vessel Black Dawn, Jeremiah Berek's own ship crouched. The Avalon privateers had already landed and two men were combing the small rise, but the tall blonde captain strode out into the waves to catch the Explorers' longboat and help pull it onto shore.

Berek smiled at the small, lithe topman as she tied the ship up to a twisted piece of driftwood. "How are you holding up, Maggie? I heard about your 'passenger' and I was concerned."

Maggie smiled and then glanced at her captain guiltily. "I'm fine, sir. A little surprised to find you here though."

"I know. Hopefully we can both get what we're after and move on."

"That'd be real nice."

The short red-headed captain stalked up to Berek and snarled as her hand toyed with the cutlass hanging at her side. "What are you after Berek? Why attack the other Explorers and rescue us? Youíve killed scores of men, what could be here that you want that badly?"

"I told you before, I didnít ambush anyone. Iíve spied on you, but I donít kill if I can help it. Iíll admit though, Iíd hoped to find the fountain and leave before you even arrived. I knew it wouldn't work, but I had to try."

"How did you know it wouldn't work? If we hadn't worked through the night to get the repairs done, you'd have had another day or so before we arrived." "A day or a week, it wouldn't have mattered." Berek drew a pair of daggers from his belt and lifted them up. "I think you'll remember these? I gave one to Sean Garloise when he told me he was joining up with you. They're a matched pair, always pointing to each other. That's how I could keep just out of sight, but always near you. Derwydonn warned me that I would not find what I sought, but that another would. I'm certain he was referring to you." "Am I supposed to believe that? Some Avalon crackpot gives you a prophecy and you've followed me thousands of miles based on that?"

Berek sheathed the daggers again and took her hand in his own. "Yes. I've come to realize that sometimes luck and skill are not enough. Sometimes you have to rely upon someone else."

Cossette peered at him for a moment and then jerked her hand back. "This is the famous Jeremiah Berek? Rogue of the seas and lady's man? You think I should trust the man that seduced the Marquis du Mar's wife before his very eyes and stole from Reis himself!"

"That's right. I stole from Reis. I paid the price." Berek's eyes grew hard at a sudden memory and he turned away. After a moment, he called over his shoulder. "Your semaphore stated that we'd search the island together. Let's get it over with."

For a long moment, Cossette stared at his back and then she reached out for him. Before she could touch him, Maggie called from the top of the hill. "I've found it." The two captains turned towards her and began running up the hill. At the top of the hill lay a smoky grey flat stone larger than a human being. Maggie pointed at it and loudly declared, "It's underneath that."

Berek frowned slightly. "How do you know?"

Cossette stared at her excited topman and smiled. "She just does. We brought some shovels in our longboats. We'll need to dig it out."

Maggie shook her head. "No. I don't think that'll be necessary."

The two captains turned back towards the rock and caught their breath. The stone was slowly rising out of the ground before their eyes. An inch and then another. Cossette glanced at Maggie and saw that the topman's hands were clenched into fists and her brow was furrowed in concentration. Long moments passed until the stone lifted completely above the ground and then slide to the side revealing a dark tunnel leading into the ground.

Maggie staggered for a moment and then suddenly sat. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse and low. "I'll be fine in a moment, Cossette. I just need to catch my breath."

Berek and Cossette exchanged glances. The Sea Dog spoke first. "Shall we head down and take a look. We can bring whatever we find out to her." The Explorer nodded in reluctant agreement as Berek motioned the searching Sea Dog over and ordered the man to watch Maggie.

Cossette grabbed the side of the tunnel with both hands and slowly lowered herself down. She called up, "It's only ten feet down. But be careful, it's slick."

Berek lowered the lantern down to her to reveal a rough hewn passage leading deeper into the ground. Water trickled through a carpet of moss along the floor. He leapt down and landed in a crouch beside Cossette. Waving her forward, he declared, "After you."

She smiled "You only say that because you want me to find the death traps for you."

"You are the captain of an Explorer vessel and a talented woman. I am certain you have far more experience than I in searching ancient ruins. Besides, Derwyddon told me you would find the fountain."

Cossette shook her head slightly and led the way down the long slimy tunnel, pushing cobwebs aside. After only a few feet, the sounds of the surf faded away. She stopped and asked, "Did you hear that?" The words came out quiet and muffled, as if she had spoken through cotton.

The two shrugged and headed down the passageway, cautiously checking for traps or dangers. After several hundred feet, Berek commented "This part must be beneath the sea. The island didn't extend this far." His voice sounded odd in the muffled air of the tunnel. Cossette merely nodded and the two continued.

Several minutes later, they pushed through a thick layer of spider webs and say a wall only a few yards ahead. The water from the passageway trickled into a small pool of water at the foot of the wall. A faint greenish glow emanated from beneath the waters.

"At last," Berek whispered words were almost inaudible. Cossette knelt beside the pool. The Sea Dog laid his hand upon her shoulder and softly admonished her, "Don't taste it. The waters of the Fountain of Youth hold dangers untold." Cossette nodded silently and took out several small flasks from her belt. She filled three of them, noting that the waters were a mere inch deep and that each one stirred silt and moss up into the waters. As each one filled, she placed it within a leather pouch that Berek handed her. When the shallow water was too low to fill another, she stood and turned around.

Standing at the edge of the lantern stood a shadowy figure who stepped into the light at her gasp. An Avalon man with long blonde hair, the worn leathers of an experienced digger and a drawn pistol in his hands. A hooded lantern sat on the ground next to him. She shouted out, but the words came out barely above a whisper. "Warren Abbotsford! How did you get there?"

Abbotsford smiled and replied quietly, "Youíve been down here for several hours, Cossette. Long enough for us to drop anchor and put ashore." His low tone cut through the strange airs of the tunnel and were clearly audible.

Berek turned to Cossette with a confused look. "How long have we been down here?"

"Only an hour or so, but sometimes time flows strangely within the ruins." Cossette replied calmly.

Berek turned to the newcomer and pleasantly greeted him. "Hello, Warren. What are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to grab a few things and them pop back to Theah. You know how it is."

"What were you looking for?"

"Oh, the normal things. A loaf of bread, the water of the Fountain of Youth..."

"Hmm. Sorry, I don't think there's any bread down here."

"Don't trouble yourself. Iíll manage. Now, hand over the water."

Cossette shook her head wildly and declared something firmly but her words were almost inaudible. "No. I need this water for Maggie. This will cure her."

"That's very sweet, but it'll cure a lot of people. That is the water from the fountain of youth. A mere drink will restore years to your life. That's why Queen Elaine is willing to send her favourite pirate out looking for it." Warren gently nudged his lanternís shield aside and light spilled out to illuminate the tunnel.

Berek disagreed. "Gee. I know she likes me, but that hardly makes me her favourite."

"It doesn't matter. She will pay me a small fortune to anyone who has it. That is why you are going to turn it over. Well, that and because Iíll blow us all up if you refuse." Warren pulled an oblong object from his pouch and tossed it up in the air before stooping and lighting the fuse on the lanternís flame. "Give me the water and weíll all walk away. Refuse, and youíll die in this hole."

Cossette grimaced. "It was you all along. You were the saboteur all along. You killed all those people...for money?"

"Not just money, my dear. For fame as well. I will be the man who brought back the fountain of youth. No one else will be able to claim that prize."

Berek and Cossette glanced at each other for a moment until Warren prodded them, "I am holding a lit grenade, perhaps you could make cow eyes at each other some other time?"

Cossette suddenly smiled and turned away. She did not see the look of concern cross Berekís face as she nodded agreement and tossed the leather pouch towards Warren. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the pouch flew through the air. Warren tossed the grenade towards them and reached out for the pouch. Cossette began running towards him and drew for her sword. The blade whipped out and cut through the fuse. The grenade fell to the ground harmlessly as Berekís dove. His hands grabbed Cossetteís ankle and toppled her to the ground, so Abbotsfordís shot hit Cossetteís arm rather than her head. The two looked up to find Abbotsford standing above them with a pistol in one hand and the pouch in his other.

"Nicely done, Jeremiah. I am glad that you saved her from her impetuous action. After all, Iíd hate for her to miss my crowning moment." The traitorous Explorer fastened the pouch to his belt with one hand and drew out one of the flasks. Raising it to his mouth, he pulled the cork out with his teeth and spit it out. "After all, before I grant youth to the scabrous hands of the nobles of Theah, I shall reap the benefits."

Berek shook his head. "Donít do it, Warren. The Queen will pay you handsomely for it, donít drink it."

"Ah, but youíre still young, Berek. Wait until you find grey amidst your hair, until your joints ache from the salt air and the indiscretions of your youth are behind you. For me, selling two flasks will suffice." Abbotsford lifted the flask to his lips and quickly drank its contents down. Lowering it, he stretched his neck and closed his eyes for an instant. When his eyes flew open in horror, Berek pulled Cossette in close and embraced her for a moment. Abbotsfordís hand clutched his throat convulsively and then he sank to the ground and hugged himself tightly for a moment. Then he glanced down at his hands and cocked his head curiously.

The Sea Dog and the Explorer stood up and walked towards him as he continued staring at the pistol with deep concentration. Berek merely shook his head and took both the pouch from Abbotsfordís belt and a third of Abbotsfordís pistols that lay on the ground. Cossette asked curiously, "Are you alright, Warren?" She reached cautiously for the pistol, but Abbotsford hand convulsed. The pistol fired and the shot ricocheted off one wall and then another. Without a pause, Berek and Cossette both grabbed one of Abbotsfordís arms and rushed up the corridor they had descended so carefully. Berek gasped as they ran, "What are the odds itíll hit that bomb?" Cossette glanced over her shoulder in time to see the bullet smash into the grenade lying upon the ground only inches from the pool of water. A wave of fire erupted out towards the two as they ran. The explosion rocked the corridor and threw them down upon the thick moss covering the rock floor as a cloud of dust and rock fragments flew overhead. She grinned at him and wryly stated, "Pretty good, Iíd say."

The two staggered to their feet and continued forward, still dragging the man so curiously gazing at his hands across the slippery moss until they reached the exit. They lifted Abbotsford up and then Berek quickly interlocked his hands and boosted Cossette up to the surface where Maggie and the Sea Dog crewman helped her up. Berek quickly leapt up and grabbed the edge as well and lifted himself out. As the group stood there panting, a low rumbling came crashing out of the passageway along with another cloud of dust. The tunnelís collapse was visible stretching out towards the sea. Looking around, they saw that the setting sun cast a bloody tinge across the entire island. The Discovery and the Black Dawn both continued to rock peacefully at anchor, but another ship had joined them. The galleon Stargazer also rode at anchor and her longboat had been pulled up onto the isle. With a grin, Berek reached into the leather pouch and pulled out the remaining two flasks. That grin faded as he noticed the crack down the side of one of the flasks. Uncorking the stopper, he peered inside. With a grimace, he looked at Cossette and turned the flask upside down. Nothing came out.

"The explosion must have broken it. Iím sorry, Cossette." With a smooth gesture, he drew Abbotsfordís pistol out and pointed it towards the Explorers.

"No!" Cossette shouted. "I found that fountain. I donít care if Elaine is about to die of old age, Maggie needs it more. This isnít cosmetics, itís her life, her sanity!"

"I know. However, Queen Elaine is hardly some dowager obsessed with her appearance." He pointed at Abbotsford, "Plus, as youíve already seen, the water affects the mind, not the body. I am certain Elaine has some need for the waters. I do not know the purpose, but she wouldnít have sent me this far on a trivial errand."

"I donít know her and I donít care. I only care about my crew. Maggieís hurt and this is the only cure. I need that water."

"I know. But she is my lady, my liege. I have sworn to uphold her and honour her. I promised to bring her back the water of the Fountain of Youth." Berek backed away slowly and waved his crewman back to the longboat. "I wonít let you do this." Cossette drew her own pistol and pointed it at Berek. "I wonít let you condemn Maggie like this. You know that fountain is gone. This is her only hope!"

"I have my duty. My word. My honour. I cannot go back on all that. If you can shoot me, so be it. But I will not relinquish it while I yet breathe."

Cossette stared at him for a long moment and then lowered her gun. "I...I canít shoot you. Even for Maggie. Berek, I love you."

Berek caught his breath for a moment and sighed. "I love you too. But we both have other duties. Other masters. Perhaps after Iíve given Queen Elaine her due, perhaps then we can be together."

Cossette stared at Berekís retreating form. "Weíll see."

Berek stopped for an instant, his heart plainly tearing in two. He reached down and took out the intact flask. Holding it in his hand, he undid the pouch and tossed it towards her. "Maybe you could squeeze some water from the pouch. I hope its enough. Iím sorry." Berek turned and rushed to his longboat.

Cossette stared at the pouch in her hand and quietly said to herself. "Itís worth a try." She motioned Maggie towards the longboat.

The red-haired topman quietly stated, "We could pursue him. The Discoveryís repairs should be completed by now."

"Thatís the Black Dawn, Maggie. I doubt there is a faster ship in the entire Midnight Archipelago. We would never catch her. Iím sorry."

Maggie nodded. "Donít be sorry, captain. I have lived this long with that thing in my mind. Iíll survive."

Cossette nodded absently and stared back as the Sea Dog ship set sail. For an instant, she thought she could feel Berekís warm gaze passing along her skin. Then the sensation faded and she could only feel the cold breeze of the sea against her.

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