Dearest Clever Silk,

Do you wonder at my use of pseudonym when I have always eschewed its use as unnecessarily dramatic?  Do not!  For I am having an Adventure, the likes of which are not fit for your staid and mundane cousin Adele.  No, this is most definitely an Adventure for the daring Ardent Rose.

It began on the Sails of Destiny well after you were no longer even a speck on the horizon.  I recall as I departed that you said that the ship had a prophetic name.  At the time, I dismissed your notion as fanciful.  So now you may have my admission, written in my own hand, you were correct.  I shall even write it again:

You were correct.

Have you finished crowing in triumph now that I have eaten my own words?  I must tell you though, that they are not bitter in the least.

There was a man, not one with whom I began a flirtation--that would be an entirely different man.  Yes, I know, I have always insisted on discretion regarding such amours, but I am on an Adventure.  I shall allow, no insist on being reckless with my reputation. Our association has not kept it the most pristine in any case, though perhaps not exactly in that way.  Bah!  I have become distracted from my point:  the man.  The man in question is one of our countrymen (by which you may infer that the other one is not, though further details must wait until later in the narrative).

When he boarded the ship at Eisen, he seemed quite ill--and the motion of the waves did not do him any favors.  I could not tell, at the time, whether his ravings were due to excessive drink or an unfortunately extreme case of seasickness.  I know, now, that it was neither, but I shall reach that in due course.  Lest you think me heartless (no, do not deny it cousin, you have accused me of such before), I did attempt to help him, but without any of Cook’s tonics I could only offer him water and a bit of hardtack.  It seemed to settle his illness, but as I am no physician, I was unsure.  He, on the other hand, seemed quite desperate.  Desperate enough to ask me, a complete stranger to him, to assess the welfare of his sisters.  Of course, I agreed.  What else was I to do?  Well, obviously you would have done the same, though I doubt Chauvelin would see eye to eye with either of us.

Now, dear cousin, is where things turn a bit difficult to believe.  I would venture to say fantastical--and given that l’Empereur encourages such liberal use of Porte that it has become almost commonplace, that is something of a statement.

As you are well aware, I am not fond of being below decks on ships. They are dark and cramped and the waves make simple actions--such as walking--a feat of skill rather than the commonplace activity that it ought to be.  My opinion has not noticeably altered.  I found the first of M. du Lac’s sisters sleeping beneath the stairs to the deck.  Sarah du Lac--as I later learned her identity--is a dainty little thing, pretty, in that waifish way that some men like.  Well that was simple enough, no?

Alas, it was not to be.

At first glance it seemed a natural slumber, but something hissed at me from the shadows.  No, cousin, it was not a rat. I could not see what it was, but I admit it felt like I could almost make out words, if I listened long and hard enough.  Though I am certain that those words would not have been pleasant.  You, I am certain would have laughed in the face of such a craven adversary--and in the light of day, I can as well--but in that moment I was afraid.  Fear, however, did not make me insenical--I was not lost all reason as that.  Shadows, as they were, are merely an absence of light, so I simply increased the available illumination with the aid of a nearby lantern.

One might label that cheating, but I was more concerned with the well being of Sarah du Lac and less so with sportsmanlike conduct with respect to whispering shadows.

Sarah, to my sorrow, did not awaken, but she did not appear materially harmed--merely bound in a state of slumber.  In her hand was a bit of apple, and, now cousin, you may laugh yet again, for what came into my mind was nothing less than the tale of Snow White.  Reason and logic would insist that such a tale is merely fodder for nursery children, but I had already seen whispering shadows (and I would see more).

We live in a nation of sorcerous wonders, but perhaps we ought to entertain the thought that such familiarity has blinded us to the possibilities of powers and magics not bound by blood.  That, however, is mere speculation unfounded by any supporting evidence.  Suffice to say, it was not what on my mind at that moment.  No, what I was considering was how I was to move here.  It seemed obvious to me that her current location beneath the stairs was eminently unsuited (Rather like that canary yellow robe d’anglaise you mother insisted I wear to Mme. d’Aubrey’s engagement party.  It was grotesque.  I still maintain that she was hoping that you would make a match with M. Bellerose and did not wish anyone to draw any attention away from you--as if I were in any danger of doing that.) but I could not carry her and still continue the search for the still missing Anabelle du Lac.

The next events were of mixed fortune, though I would not have countenanced it at the time.  A rogue wave, which was the origin of the mixed luck, rocked the ship, throwing me off my stride.  This was moderately embarrassing, but harmless to me--save my dignity and that would suffer more before long.  I was not, however, the only one affected, and that was to be the greater loss.  There was a cry of dismay and a crashing, tinkling sound, like broken glass, behind one of the doors.  Hoping that it was the missing du Lac sister I went to investigated, but, of course, that would have been too simple.  (Yes, cousin, I am aware that no fairy tale has so elementary a solution, and that, against my better judgement, I had already ventured into the realm of goblin markets and fae curses, but I still held out hope for a resolution that was rooted in mundane reality.)  On the other side of the door was a cabin boy weeping over some shards of glass and spilled sand.

His name, as it happened, was Benito--a good luck name for a rather ill fated trip--and the hourglass--the remnants of which were scattered on the carpet--had been rather important.  With some patient questioning and deduction, I determined that the sleeping girl was Sarah du Lac--which I have already related to you-and that her sister, Anabelle du Lac, had left in the company of a mysterious man with the shadow of a monkey.  No, I am not having a roast at your expense, cousin, Benito even called the creature “the monkey man.”  I would have been less credulous if not for events which I will relate in due course.  This “monkey man” said he was taking Anabelle to plead her case to “the Blood King” and that the now broken hourglass was to aid them in returning.

At that moment, I held little hope that would find Anabelle aboard the ship any longer.  As I am certain you have also considered, I connected the thought of blood to Porte.  If Anabelle had been taken by a sorcerer, it was unlikely he would bother to remain aboard if he could Walk to a safer location.  Of course, it was possible that he was not competent enough to do so, but given the vagaries of chance up to that point, it was unlikely.  Still, it was a possibility that could not simply be ignored.  So, I left Sarah in the dubious safety of Benito’s care.  I did, however, collect the bits of hourglass and sand that could be salvaged.  I held little hope that it was anything more than a ruse to fool Anabelle and Benito, but a little hope is better than none.  It was at this point that I resolved to descend into the bowels of the ship to search for Anabelle du Lac--or at least some sign of how her captors had made their escape.

Enter Lord Raghnall Macduff, and a finer specimen of masculine virility you will be hard pressed to find.  You may cease your knowing sidelong glances and sly, teasing smirks.  Yes, the man is attractive in a roguishly handsome, broad shouldered, sort of way.  Yes, he is a teasing, flirting rogue--rather like Viola before Lord Guy d’Ishavriel sent her off to Castille for Uni (though her last letter hinted that her deliciously scandalous habits continue without her father to interfere).  Yes, I took him as a lover.  No, I won’t share any salacious details and I’ll thank you not to share that bit of news with anyone--not that I think you would, dear cousin, but who knows what Chauvelin might take it into his head to do.  He might decide to marry me off just to get me out of the way or drag me back to Montaigne to keep me under lock and key.  As I do not want to have to knock him unconscious (again) and ship him back to you.  I would enjoy it, and it would certainly serve him right, but you do not deserve the abuse he would heap upon your head from the embarrassment.

Now, I have little doubt that you will find the following events either endlessly amusing or unbecoming of Ardent Rose--possibly both.  My only defense is that even Ardent Rose has very little experience with ships and the unpredictability of their movement.Well, Raghnall (though you may continue to think of him as M. MacDuff) and I continued our descent into the ship.  He went first and I followed, a fortunate happenstance as another rogue wave buffeted the ship, causing me to lose my grip and sending me falling into his waiting arms.  No, I did not do it a purpose, though I did not particularly mind that turn of events.  Still, taking a tumble off a ladder was not my finest moment.

Unbeknownst to me, another ship, the Artemis, had also run afoul of the weather--along with other things--but their situation was much more hazardous.  In fact, the ship had been lost with only two surviving souls--Aed MacLir, one of the deckhands, and Mia, a pregnant young woman whose import I would learn of later.  I mention this now because, while Raghnall and I were puttering around below decks, other passengers and crew were effecting a rescue effort.  One that culminated in hanging off the side of the Sails of Destiny and attempting to gain access via the gun ports.  I can already hear you weeping with envy at their impetuous gallantry.

Fortunately for the rescuers, I was there to help them in.  Believing that time was of the essence, I sent Raghnall off ahead and attempted to let them in myself.  Now, gun ports aren’t complicated mechanisms--a couple of chains to lift the door--unfortunately, being not large, nor having full control of my balance, I only managed to pry the door open by means of sheer body weight. Of course, I slipped and fell into a puddle.  You can stop laughing now. Still, embarrassed as I was, I did manage to get the door open enough to allow the rescuers inside.

There were two of necessary import--Don Rafael Gallegos y Torres, a knight of the Rose and Cross (yes, that is how he introduced himself, hanging from a rope on the outside of ship in the middle of a storm--I think he is exactly your sort of man, cousin), and Remy.  I did not learn M. Remy’s surname until later, and when you learn it, I am certain that you, as I will, have questions.  Unlike myself, however, you have the means to discover the answers, which I trust you will communicate to me in due course.

But to reach that point in my narrative, I must return to Raghnall.  While I was aiding sopping survivors to safety, the Highlander had descended another ladder.  Sitting in my puddle, I could hear snippets of an argument with some man by the name of Dougal--and by argument I mean shouting and throwing heavy, dangerous objects.  Though to be fair, it sounded like Raghnall was doing all the shouting while Dougal was the one throwing things.  Unsurprisingly, he had not found Mme. Anabelle as I had hoped--though what he had found was far more shocking.  Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I left the rescuers to care for Mme. Mia, as I was otherwise engaged, and traced Raghnall’s steps further into the ship.  Dougal, as I discovered later is an associate of Raghnall’s, a sailor on a ship that he frequents.  However, given Sarah’s talking shadows and Benito’s monkey man, I was already on guard for things that weren’t exactly as they appeared.  Which was fortunate, as Dougal’s shadow did not match his shape.  I cannot express to you, dear cousin, how bizarre it was to look at a creature that appeared in almost all respects to be human, and yet know that my eyes were perceiving less truth than a masquerade ball.  Still, at that moment, I knew that I must do something.  The Dougal-creature had already injured Raghnall, and, given it’s obviously superior strength, I didn’t care much for my chances, should he be defeated.

Now here is where a steady diet of fairy tales and romantic adventure novels became detrimental to my health.  (Which reminds me, you still have my copy of Cecillia, which I should like back.  You may keep Coelebs in Search of a Wife, or use it as fuel for your fire,  I care not.)  Of course, when presented with an obviously magical creature of superior size and strength an adventurer with vim and vigor would deduce a hitherto unsuspected weakness and use it to her advantage. This being reality, dear cousin, my plan to attack his shadow rather than his stolen shape, which was based entirely on fairy-tale logic, failed spectacularly. Even worse, my I'll conceived idea left me entirely open to being captured--which the creature accomplished with shocking celerity.  I would be a liar if I said that I was not afraid. I was, in fact, nearly terrified out of my wits--certain that I would die--but I had the presence of mind to offer the creature the apple I had preserved from Sarah's slumber.  I had only the faintest of hopes that it would take the bait, but it was better than blubbering like a fool.  Sadly, my ingenuity was not rewarded.  What the thing truly wanted, however, was to extract an oath from Raghnall.  Unfortunately, this was no trivial quest such as retrieving one of the fruits from the tree of eternal life, securing an area of land betwixt the beach and the sea strand, or claiming a rose from the gardens of Cathay.  No, in exchange for my life, the creature wanted him to deliver his sister into its keeping.

At that moment, I resolved not to plead for my life--after all, how could I ask a stranger to give up his own flesh and blood for me?  Besides, begging lacks dignity, and if I was to die in any case, I wished to do so on my feet.  Much to my surprise (and an embarrassing combination of dismay and gratitude), Raghnall agreed to the exchange and I was released into his custody (and, yes, his arms).  I was, however, determined not to allow his sister to fall into the hands of supernatural villains, whatever he had promised--though later he revealed that he had no intention of keeping an oath made under duress.  In the heat of the moment, though, I reacted in the manner of rescued damsels everywhere.

Now, if my life were a romantic adventure novel, this is where I would bid you adieu and report all of the licentious details in person.  My life is not a work of romantic fiction, more’s the pity, and there happened to be more pressing concerns at that moment.  You may recall that the Artemis had been in a rather significant degree of distress.  So much so that the survivors--of which there were only two--required rescue.  Well, as it happens, they had not entered that state by chance or the vagaries of the ocean.  No, their misfortune had come at the hands of the Black Freighter, Legion’s own pirate ship crewed by the restless undead.  You may express your disbelief, dear cousin, but as much as I might wish that I were roasting you, it is the truth.

Raghnall and I emerged from below decks to find the Black Freighter nearly within striking distance, bringing its own storm of turbulence with it.  It did not take long for the mere approach of the Black Freighter to cause problems.  I must admit that the sight of that dread ship made me feel anxious, but that was nothing compared to another passenger--a fiery (in more ways than one) Castillian woman--who drew her knife (a knife while she had a perfectly good sword at her hip) and spat curses at the undead.  I cannot tell you more than that, however, because at that moment a great wave struck the ship.

No, I did not lose my footing (this one time), but M. du Lac found it necessary to dive nearly over the railings to rescue a rather bulky box. Another member of the crew (by the name of Charlie, as I discovered later) came to his rescue, but between the two of them managed only to delay the container’s tumble into the ocean.

Entre moi.

Given that I had already failed to rescue either of the Mme. du Lac sister, I could not, in good conscience allow their brother to fling himself overboard.  Certainly not for the negligible value of what I assumed were the contents of the box.  At the time, however, I swore that I would teach his sisters Delicatesse if it did not turn out to be important.  While it is true that my small stature is not home to any great strength, between the three of us, we managed to keep M. du Lac’s treasure (not to mention the man himself) from tumbling into the deeps.  As it happened, M. du Lac’s items were explosives intended for use upon the Black Freighter, so my assistance was quite fortunate after all.

Coward that I am, though, I could not bring myself to tell him that I had failed to rescue either of his sisters--one to magical slumber and the other to kidnapping--even after we were safe.  Well, as safe as one can be with a ship of dead pirates bearing down upon you.  Instead, I took myself up to the stern where the shouty, mad, Castillian lady had set her sword on fire.  Literally.  Of course, I have heard tales and legends of fire wielding sorcerers, but to actually have one present, well, considering that I had already faced sleeping curses, shadow dopplegangers, and the bloody Black Freighter, it was not all that surprising actually.  I was quickly distracted from the fiery sword, though, because the Black Freighter attempted to send over an early boarding party via grappling hooks and swinging line--why is it that the undead pirates get to have the flashiest entrances?  As I was already there, along with M. du Lac and the mad shouty Castillian, we had the opportunity of fending them off by the expedience of cutting their ropes.  Not particularly sporting, I admit, but since they were already dead, I reckoned that they had enough advantages.  At this point, M. Remy strolled up and demonstrated his contempt for the undead pirates by dropping trou.

Let me say, for your benefit, dear cousin, that M. Remy is no Brummagnums.  Yes, I am quite aware that I had already begun a flirtation with Raghnall, but really there is no harm in looking.  Besides, how else could I ascertain whether or not to recommend him to you?  Which I wholeheartedly do, on account of his humor and manly form.

All flirtation aside though, the Black Freighter was approaching and preparations needed to be made.  There were plenty of sailors above ecks, but M. Remy made the astute observation that pirates--even dead ones--rarely boarded in one place, and invited me to the next logical boarding point:  the captain’s cabin.  And we did not have long to wait, as the pirates wasted no time in boarding as quickly as possible.  From the sounds of things, the sailors above decks had their fair share of trouble, but M. Remy and I were fully occupied ourselves.

Now, this having been my first encounter with the living dead, I cannot say that these were typical specimens, but I would like to note that they are distressingly foul.  Their disturbing countenance and foul smell are unsurprising--they are dead, after all and the dead do decompose--but they were also terribly rude.  Each one declined to acknowledge my refusal to dance--one even attempted to engage me in a menange a toi with one of his fellows, without my consent--and I was forced to express my disapproval with words punctuated by steel.  One would imagine that with little to do but plunder and practice, the restless dead would prove to be battle hardened demons, but their aggregate skill with a blade was rather less than I feared.  M. Remy and I were able to fend off twice our number before things became remotely perilous.  One did attempt to take me in hand for a waltz (or whatever passes for a waltz among pirates), but I declined with prejudice and the sharp end of my blade.  Unfortunately, we were only two--three once Raghnall came to join us.  I rather think he might have been coming to my rescue, but fortunately for my pride, it proved unnecessary.  It was at this point, however, that reinforcements from the Black Freighter began to arrive--these particular ones being uglier and more foul smelling than the first wave, if you can imagine such a thing, and we were quickly outnumbered and surrounded.

Fortunately, M. Remy had prepared for this inevitability, by swiping one of M. du Lac’s explosives for his own use--lacking only the means by which to light the item in question.  It was a problem that had a ready enough solution though.  However mad I considered the Castillian lady, I cannot fault her daring and bravery.  When M. Remy asked for a spark to ignite his borrowed grenade, she did not hesitate to leap to our aid in a swirl of cloak and hair and burning steel.  Even with her help, we would have been overwhelmed, but after igniting the explosive, M. Remy grabbed us both and leapt bodily into the ocean.

At that moment, I bitterly regretted not taking advantage of my childhood by the Dechaine to learn to swim.  My regret was, however (if you will pardon the pun), drowned by the need to stay afloat.  Which I managed by flailing until I managed to grasp a piece of driftwood.  By this time, the Black Freighter had already retreated out of sight, so there were no delays in getting us back aboard.  A fortunate event as the waters around Canguine are apparently infested with merfolk--half-human, half-fish creatures that would as soon rape you as eat you.  While I was unable to test the trust of their demeanor as I was in rather a hurry to get dry, I can attest to their reality, since I saw one with my own eyes.  I had little enough time to gawk, however, as I was quickly hustled back aboard the Sails of Destiny and plunged straight away into exposition.

M. Remy introduced the female survivor of the Artemis as his sister, Amelie Cosette Valroux du Surlise--a name that I would request that you inquire after among the Montaigne Courts.  The lady had recently escaped from foul captivity, but suffered from an acute case of amnesia, which rendered her unable to recall the circumstances of her capture and captivity--and also, I am sad to say, the identity of her fiance (presumably the father of her unborn child).  The man, according to Raghnall, had been in quite a state for some time--and no wonder, though I fear her lack of memory may not be terribly helpful in that regard.

It seems, dear cousin, that I am engaged in a Quest!  One worthy of Ardent Rose:  to Rescue the fair maidens du Lac, Restore the memory of Mme. Valroux du Surlise, and Unravel the Plots of the foul Blood King.  Wish me luck!

Exquisitely yours,