Unlike the tiny, sleepy, and barely populated Philipsburg of the real world Caribbean, the town in the prison system was a bustling trade center. 

The town hugged the edge of a gorgeous, crescent-moon bay. The deep sapphire of the crystal-clear water became a turquoise blue that mirrored the sky as it grew shallower. A long, golden beach lined the deepest part of the bay.   

On the west side of the bay stood Fort Amsterdam, a triangular mass of stone bristling with large cannon that guarded the colony against attack. 

On the east of the bay stood industrial buildings and warehouses and the port, with a nest of docks capable of handling many vessels. It was currently a hive of frenzied activity, both mercantile and military, as ships were loaded and unloaded, crates and barrels and bundles flowing in both directions. 

All around the crescent bay, colourful, colonial-style buildings made a pastel rainbow amidst the dark, green jungle. Windmills turned, and two smokestacks emitted gray clouds and ash. Workers filled streets and nearby fields. Behind the town, the island rose up into small, emerald mountains. Fluffy, white cumulous clouds drifted overhead. 

That a war was going on was evident. Great Bay was filled with naval vessels and merchant ships of all sizes: brigs and barques, caravels and ketches, even a couple of frigates, according to the sailors who were happy to point out the differences to Mei and the others who had far less knowledge of the subject. 

In the centre of them all floated a castle with masts, a giant among dwarves that made all the other ships pale in comparison. 

The Dutch captain pointed to it. He, Mei, and her companions lined the rail as they slowly sailed towards the docks. His voice filled with pride. “That’s a ship-of-the-line, the Vernietiger. Destroyer, in English. One of the most powerful vessels in all the oceans. Ninety meters long and almost a hundred cannons spread over three gun decks.” 

“It’s a monster,” Juan breathed. “Nothing could survive a broadside from that thing.”

Cheeto was in awe as he stood atop the rail, one hand on a line to steady himself. He stared, openmouthed, at all the warships. “Wow! You guys have a huge navy!”

Captain Enderman puffed his chest. “Currently, the Netherlands has the most powerful navy in the world. That is, in terms of the most ships-of-the-line and cannon-heavy frigates. Only the Spanish can rival us and only because they have sheer numbers, huge fleets at their disposal, though most are slovenly run, I should think. The Brits survive because of speed; they’ve got the fastest ships, though not always the firepower we have. The French have soldiers and fill their vessels with marines, making close-quarters combat overwhelming when ships meet up. The Americans are trying to be clever by developing ironclads and wooden subs, but these are only good in shallow waters close to home.” 

“Why are you flying a white and orange flag?” Mei wondered. While the merchant ships bore the colours of many nations, naval ships universally flew an orange and white flag. “Isn’t the Dutch flag red, white, and blue?” She was uneasy standing next to the slaver, but he’d been friendly and accomodating the entire trip, and she and the others were doing their best to remain on his good side despite the atrocious practice he was engaged in.

“It is,” Enderman admitted. “Those are the colours of the Orange Guard, our army. I can only assume that, with the outbreak of the war, someone has decided that we must rebrand ourselves.” He chuckled. “I have to admit, the British, the Americans, the French, and the Dutch, until now, have all sported red, white, blue. Unimaginative, hmm? The orange strikes me as a bit garish, but I like how bold it is. I approve.” He nodded to himself before returning to the job of preparing to enter the port.

Mei glanced Lia’s way and grinned. 

The young Carib woman had been in low spirits during the voyage. Tending to the slaves in their abysmal conditions had torn her heart apart. But now, with Philipsburg laying before them like a pile of brightly-coloured jewels, Lia’s enthusiasm and equally-bright energy had returned. She leaned out over the rail, eager to see all the strange ships and the town and the people. She grabbed Mei by the arm and pointed to this and that, and spoke rapidly in Kalinagan. 

Mei couldn’t understand, of course, and wished they could communicate better. However, they continued to have daily English lessons and Lia was picking things up quickly, eager to learn. 

 They were forced to wait a few hours until moorage freed up. It was time spent worrying. Mei, Juan, Armand, Cheeto, Andon, and Stasio were all prisoners. This was a colony. While the captain had assured them that it was a mostly free port and that they would find work here as privateers, there was no guarantee of this. It was just as likely, perhaps more so, that they’d be taken into custody, their freedom short lived. Coming here had been a gamble. 

The cellists brought out their instruments and played lively tunes to distract themselves and the others, and to entertain the waiting sailors as well. The pair had done this many times throughout the trip. They were incredibly skilled, and there was no shortage of clapping and whistles of approval whenever they performed.

When the vessel had been secured to the docks at last, Enderman rejoined Mei’s group. 

“I’d best disembark with you. Have a word with the lads on shore, else you all will find yourselves in the dungeons soon enough. Come.” He led them down the wooden gangplank to the dock. 

For now, Jie had been left on the sloop, which floated next to the larger vessel. Mei and the others carried their stolen weapons and, in the case of the musicians, their instruments. Lia held her blowgun, curare and darts hanging at her waist. But for the coins in Mei’s pocket, they had very little of worth between them, but they did have the ability to defend themselves. 

They strolled onto the pier and reached solid ground once more. All around them, sailors and dock workers ran about, rolling a barrel here, carrying a wooden crate there. Shouts and grunts filled the air. Seagulls floated in the nearby water or jumped about, looking for food. Eight men lugged a new anchor up a reinforced gangplank to a naval brig. A crane on the pier was used to lift a net of goods out of the hold of a merchant barque. 

Mei felt a mixture of relief and regret at leaving the slave ship behind and saw similar feelings mirrored on the faces of the others. It was troubling and frustrating that she could do nothing about such evil. If only she were still a journalist and had the power to tell the public outside the prison what went on in here. Surely that would cause things to change. 

It would, wouldn’t it? Seeing how many people here willingly enacted or supported such behaviour, her pessimism rose.  Maybe the public wouldn’t care. Maybe evil was inevitable. Maybe there was nothing you could do to change things. 

Hating that attitude, she shook herself and walked straighter, refusing to let her negativity get to her. When that happened, evil won. 

Cheeto was the first to spot the morbid decorations swinging in the wind on the pier. Perhaps he’d been looking for it. “Look.” He pointed. “Pirates. Or prisoners.” The naked fear on his face reminded the others that this was the exact thing he’d spoken of before, the reason he’d been scared of becoming a pirate. 

Six poles stood in a row down the side of the pier. From each hung a small cage. Within the first five were human remains, nothing but skeletons in sun-bleached rags, the bones half falling out between the steel bars. 

“A warning,” Captain Enderman happily explained. “Piracy doesn’t pay. Unless it’s in service to the Dutch Empire, of course.” He laughed at that. 

Andon nudged his brother and pointed at the skeletal remains. “Look, Stasio. That’s what your audience looks like every time you try to play Mozart.”

“No, no,” the other countered. “It’s all the women you’ve made love to, bored to death because you’re better at finding the G on an instrument than you are at finding the g-spot on a woman.”

“Don’t be jealous just because I delight more women than you do.”

Stasio rolled his eyes. “Only because you insist on being with all the women I’ve already been with—and moved on from.”

Andon shrugged, smiling. “Waste not, want not, as they say.”

Stasio turned smug. “One might say you’re just desperately trying to be me.”

“Never. I get them into bed by telling them I’m a direct upgrade, the experience they were dreaming of getting from you in the first place, before leaving so disappointed.”

“Andon,” his brother mock-scolded, “it’s not nice to lie to women.”

They continued down the pier. In the last cage, a prisoner had been crammed inside so that his knobbly knees touched his sunken chest and it was impossible to move at all. His prisoner uniform was torn and falling off his emaciated body. Crows stood on the pole and cage, watching him with shiny, obsidian eyes. It appeared that they’d been harassing him for a while. The prisoner held a dirty hand over a scratched and bloody face. 

When the prisoner caught sight of them strolling below, he reached out with both weak arms through the bars, revealing an empty socket; his eye must have been snatched away by the raven-feathered thieves around him. “Save me. Please! Mercy!” 

Mei let out an involuntary shudder. Unfortunately, this was yet another thing they were all powerless to do anything about. It was not a good feeling. Were they all going to be the next ones stuffed in those inhumane cages, or would they be able to extend their freedom and become privateers? Everything rested on convincing the authorities here that they were more than just your average prisoner to be put to work in the fields. They had to show that they were worth more than that. 

Seeing Cheeto’s unease, Juan put a brotherly arm around his narrow shoulders as they walked. 

Lia’s earlier enthusiasm dampened. Coming up beside Mei, she slipped her hand into Mei’s and walked shoulder-to-shoulder, nervously eying the many strange men and the cages.

Mei tried to reassure her by squeezing her hand and offering a smile. Yet she, too, was nervous. 

At the end of the pier, white-and-orange marines stood in a group, rifles slung over their square shoulders. All looked very professional, a step up from many of the English soldiers that Mei had witnessed on Barbados. They guarded an officer and a clerk engaged in discussion and pointing to various items piled nearby and one of the ships anchored in the bay. When the marines caught sight of Mei’s group, they unslung their rifles and pointed them at the former prisoners. 

The officer spoke with a frown. He was cold and stern. “Prisoner delivery? Or have you picked up escapees?”

Captain Enderman put on his best merchant’s smile. “Volunteers for the empire’s navy. Good souls ready to fight and kill those French scum who dared declare war on us.”

The officer’s eyes roved over the odd group. He shook his head. “Nonsense.” Motioning to the marines next to him, he gave an order. “Fetch handcuffs. Take them all to Prisoner Admissions and have them registered.”

One of the men nodded and pulled a set of handcuffs from his belt. “And the Carib, sir?”

“Throw her in a whorehose.” Dismissive, he turned back to the clerk. 

“Now, officer,” Enderman wheedled. “They’ll make fine privateers. I picked them up in a ship. This one here’s a captain!” he slapped a hand on Mei’s shoulder. 

The officer eyed her with suspicion. “Stolen clothes don’t mean anything.” He waved them away.

The marines moved closer, dangerous looks in their eyes.

This was exactly what they’d feared. Panicking, Mei instinctively raised her sword. “Wait! Give us a chance. We’re willing to sail, to fight!”

Juan and Armand hefted their rifles, ready to use them. 

Seeing the armed prisoners ready themselves, the marines sprang into action. Rifle barrels snapped up and tensions grew taut. 

The one with the handcuffs dropped them and aimed his gun at Mei’s head. “Prisoner! Drop your weapon! Facedown on the ground. Now! Hands behind your head!”

Captain Enderman backed up a hasty step. “Now, see here. Let’s all calm down. I’m telling you, they’re sailors. There be a war going on and we could the bodies, yes?” He looked back and forth between the officer and the clerk. “Are we not giving out letters of marque then? Are no ships plundering the French in our name?”

The marine ignored the captain, who was only a merchant, not military. He shouted in Mei’s face. “I said on the ground. Now!”

Cheeto pulled a knife, looking scared but also angry. 

Armand cooly pointed his gun at the marine. 

Lia slipped behind Mei, using her like a shield, her hand on her own knife.

Mei held up her free hand, the tip of her sword not wavering as it pointed at the face of the marine challenging her. She looked away from that marine and spoke to the officer. “Let us plead our case. There’s no sense in fighting.”

The officer turned icy eyes on her. “Shoo—“

Before he could finish the command, a sharp whistle pierced the air three times. 

Enderman’s head snapped in the direction of his ship, suddenly serious, his charm gone. “That’s the alarm.”

All eyes looked down the pier. 

Someone was standing on the rail of the slave ship, shouting at them and pointing at the pier, but was too far away to be heard. 

The officer stepped forward. “What ship is that? What are you hauling?”

“Prisoner transport,” Enderman replied. “From Africa by way of Brazil.”

The officer frowned more deeply. “A breakout?” He turned to one of the marines. “Fetch another squad. On the double.”

The marine nodded and sprinted off.

Mei warily stepped back and turned to the side. While her sword remained pointed at the marines, who still had her in their sights, she glanced down the pier.

Three more blasts of the whistle. 

Something seemed to be happening at the other end of the pier. Dockworkers started fleeing toward them or running up onto the ships. A big man covered in tattooed muscles jumped up onto some crates, screaming like a scared girl. A skinny man, too far from the nearest gangplank, jumped into the sea. Others ran down the pier towards the marines while throwing fearful looks over their shoulders. One man scampered up a crane. 

“What the triton is going on?” the officer barked. 

Then they all saw it. 

A jaguar, dripping wet from swimming in the ocean, trotted down the center of the pier, her golden gaze sweeping back and forth. Her mouth hung open in the heat, large fangs visible. 

“Jie!” Mei took a step towards the creature. 

“Kill that animal!” the officer shouted. 

The marines turned their rifles away from the prisoners and took aim at the great cat. 

“No!” Mei lashed out with the sword and knocked the nearest rifle sideways, fouling the man’s aim. The gun went off and the bullet just missed Enderman, who threw himself out of the way after the fact. 

Juan and Armand stepped forward, shouting at the marines to stop, guns pointed at them. When one of the marines went to grab Juan, the larger man grabbed him by the front of his uniform and threw him off the pier. Armand stepped up and used his rifle to slap aside someone else’s gun and grabbed a second one with his hand, lifting it too high to fire at the jaguar. 

Seeing their resistance, the officer shouted and commanded the prisoners to be shot as well. Unfortunately, only six marines remained, besides the officer, and one of those quickly went down when Armand clocked him in the jaw with the butt of his rifle. Another ran forwards, towards the jaguar, leaving the others behind to get a better shot. The cellists abandoned their instruments and charged the marines. Everyone piled up in a brawl, fists and kicks bashing anyone and everyone. 

The clerk backed up and hid behind a stack of crates. Hope on his face, he craned his neck in the direction the marine had earlier run for reinforcements. 

Mei trusted the others to hold their own. She had to get to Jie before the jaguar was shot. 

The marine in front of her fired.

The bullet hit the wooden planks right in front of Jie, sending a chip of wood flying. 

Jie stopped and crouched, growling. Her eyes narrowed at the shooter.

Mei ran hard. She body-checked the marine from behind. With a cry, he flew off the pier and into the water. 

Unfortunately, seeing the marine take action, armed men on the ships took to the rails and aimed down at the jaguar, hoping to bag the prize. Shots rang out and more splinters flew. 

Jie, scared and probably angry, leapt about, first in one direction, then another, dodging but not knowing where to turn. Then she saw Mei, a familiar face, and went for her. 

Mei screamed up at the shooters. “Stop! Stop! She’s with me! Stop shooting!” She waved with her sword, trying to get their attention. 

By some miracle, most of the men ceased, surprise or confusion on some faces. 

Seeing the jaguar running right at her caused Mei’s heart to pound even harder than it already was. On the one hand, she wanted to save the cat’s life. On the other, it was scared and probably ready to claw someone’s face off. Would that be her if she got close?

She skidded to a stop and dropped the sword in her hand. Spreading her empty hands wide, she called out. “It’s ok, Jie. It’s ok.”

Someone took a shot. This time, it was towards her. 

She jerked her head up and saw the gunman on the deck of the nearest ship, a smirk on his lips. She pulled a pistol out of her waist and fired a warning shot over his head. “I said stop!”

The man backstepped in anger. The bullet had been surprisingly close. Frowning now, he aimed at her again.

Mei ducked, putting a pyramid of barrels between them. 

Then Jie was there. Fortunately, she didn’t attack Mei. She stopped at Mei’s feet, also sheltered by the barrels. Her eyes were piercing, and she looked dangerous. 

A bullet slammed into a barrel overhead. 

Jie growled.

Mei ducked out of instinct but knew she was safe. At least from the shooter. “It’s ok, girl. I’m not going to harm you.” She slowly reached out. 

Jie glared at her. But, after a moment, she nudged Mei’s hand with her wet nose and allowed Mei to pet her neck. 

Mei stroked the tense muscles, willing them to relax. 

It took a couple of minutes for people to calm down. The shooting stopped. Heads poked up and looked around. Several people stared at Mei in awe as she petted the predator. 

When it felt safe to do so, Mei came out from cover, one hand on Jie’s neck, and walked back to the others, the cat at her side. 

Unfortunately, the others had lost their battle. The marines were bruised and angry, and one was soaked to the bone. He must have climbed back up out of the ocean somehow. Weapons were being confiscated. It didn’t look like Lia had joined in the fight, but she, like the others, was forced to kneel with her wrists behind her back as she was handcuffed.

Mei handed her sword and pistols over. While the marines were giving her and the jaguar a wide berth, nobody was getting shot, so she felt it best to cooperate. At least Jie might be spared that way. 

The clerk reappeared, clipboard in hand. He seemed interested in a particular member of their group. Taking a close look at the American, he spoke. “What is your name?”

Lance looked up. He would have a black eye and probably worse all over his body. “Lancelot Kinsley.”

“The tech giant?”

Lance sighed and nodded. 

Brows rose. The clerk furiously scribbled something down on a piece of paper. Then he handed it to one of the marines. “Take this to the governor immediately. We have a person of interest.” The man paused and glanced at Jie. Then he took the note back and wrote something more before handing it off. 

The marine looked at the officer first. After a nod of approval, he took off at a run. 

“A person of interest?” Mei asked. She offered her wrists to be cuffed, but the marine trying to do so took one look at the hostile jaguar standing at Mei’s side and decided not to.

The clerk bobbed his head. “The governor is a very pragmatic man. He has plans for people like Mr. Kinsley, who can be of much better use than shovelling dung or plowing fields.”

Lance’s expression turned worried.

“He also has a menagerie,” the clerk added. “The jaguar might be of interest.”

The officer looked disappointed that he might not be hauling everyone to the dungeon for a good whipping but was too professional to say anything. While they waited for a reply, he and his men straightened themselves out. Business got back to normal on the docks, though the dockworkers and sailors walked well wide of Mei’s feline companion. 

A reply came. The group of prisoners, and the jaguar, were to be taken up to the governor’s mansion at once. 


As they walked towards the town, they saw that Philipsburg had been built on a narrow stretch of land that divided Great Bay and what they called the Great Salt Pond, a body of water larger than the town that extended behind it. The governor’s mansion rested halfway up one of the mountains on the eastern arm of the bay, overlooking both town and port. 

Philipsburg was a study of contrasts. Close up, the beauty of the place diminished in Mei’s eyes as signs of the vast gulf between rich and poor appeared. 

An immaculate four-horse carriage rolled by, as ornately decorated and gilded as any nobleman’s vehicle in Europe. Yet a string of prisoners in ankle shackles trudged by, the men covered in dirt, picks and shovels on their shoulders, their heads down and expressions lost. 

Commercial buildings, even things like warehouses, anything to do with generating money, were in tip-top condition, kept that way by a virtual army of forced labour. Yet the apartment complexes used to house that labour were in disrepair, completely neglected. 

A captain of industry strode by in an elaborate suit and curly white wig, gems on his fingers, servants trailing him. But the non-prisoner locals were dressed in the simplest and cheapest fabrics, all in the plainest tones.

They passed by several glorious estates, then through a shantytown. The military was everywhere, primly dressed in sparkling white and orange.

Mei was well aware of the vast wealth and power gap in the real world, the worsening differences between the shrinking middle class and the growing horde of selfish billionaires. She was disappointed to see that things were no better here in the prison world, a place that had, in theory, been designed to help bad people learn to become better people. Was there nothing they could do to prevent such corruption?

 The governor’s mansion was three stories tall. It had a peaked, clay-tile roof in the center. Four white columns supported the two-story entryway. While the mansion’s accents were white, the faces of the walls were pale orange. Palm trees decorated the property.

The governor himself was waiting out front in the driveway. He was trim and plain-faced, with thinning brown hair tied with a white ribbon in the back. He’d dressed in an orange vest over a white shirt, puffy orange pants that went to the knees, and white stockings below. Gaudy diamond rings bedecked many fingers, and a fat necklace of square gems hung from his neck, made of clear diamonds, light-orange citrines, and dark orange fire opals. 

The smile on his face was friendly and he looked fascinated and amused to see those being trouped up to meet him. His eyes came to rest on Lia and Jie with raised brows before landing on Lance. The smile broadened. “Lance Kinsley! I never thought we’d get the chance to meet. What a wonderful surprise.” He hastily waved for the marines to free Lance’s wrists so that he could shake the man’s hand. 

Lance shook the hand and nodded. “A pleasure. I hope.”

“It will be. I’ll make sure of it.” He gaily laughed. When Jie stepped away from Mei’s side to sniff the air, his attention returned to the animal and he took a half step away. He waved his fingers and spoke to the marines. “Put the jag in the menagerie before it bites someone. Remarkable it hasn’t already. What a fascinating animal.” He looked at Mei. “You must tell me how you tamed it.”

Mei put on her journalist facade: polite and friendly, but also firm, not someone to be pushed around, but someone to be respected. “Governor, I didn’t. She’s a friend. And I’m not letting her leave my side.”

His smile took on pitying tones. “You’re not exactly in a position to argue. Though I do see that you somehow don’t have your hands cuffed.” He arched an inquiring brow at the lead marine, who shrugged. 

Mei politely argued back as if also amused. “I’m in a position to encourage her to eat your face if we’re mistreated.”

He threw his head back and laughed. “What strength. What courage.” He bowed to her. “Allow me, then, to make you an offer. I have a menagerie, an area that is heavily fenced off, home to a variety of Caribbean wildlife. Inside, the cat will not be able to run away or harm anyone. I believe it would be safest for everyone.”

“While we talk about our future and how we can best be of use to each other—without being locked up. I think that would be fine.”

He chuckled. “Of course.” He spoke to the marines. “Escort them to the menagerie and see that the cat is taken care of. Then bring her to the reception room to join the rest of us.” He gave Lance another smile and waved the man towards the front entrance, leading the way inside.

Mei reluctantly allowed herself to be taken down a path, away from the house. Juan and Lia both followed.

One of the marines stopped Juan with a hand. “You’re going to the house.”

Juan gave him a flat look. “I’m going with her to make sure you don’t do anything unkind.”

The marine mocked him. “With your hands cuffed behind your back?”

His expression didn’t change. “If need be.” 

The marine, perhaps now sensing that he was half the size of the prisoner in front of him, shrugged. “Whatever. Come then.”

The menagerie was a large area on the side of the mountain, growing wild but for a white, stone path inside, with a few benches for sitting. The fence was wrought iron and three times as tall as any person. There was no way that Jie would be able to force her way through it, climb it, or jump it. 

The menagerie was currently in use. A woman sat on one of the benches. She was dressed in an air, white summer dress, her blond hair flowing freely. A book was open in her hands and her blue eyes rapidly skimmed the words. At the entrance of the others, she looked up, then stood in surprise. “Oh! What’s this?” Then she saw the jaguar and jumped back, one hand flying to her mouth. 

Mei led Jie to the side, giving the woman a route to exit the area, which she quickly did. “Sorry to disturb you. The governor has graciously allowed me to keep Jie here while we talk inside.”

The woman came to stand between the marines and the exit. “Jie?”

“The name of the jaguar,” Mei explained. She knelt and put her hand on the cat’s shoulder. 

Jie looked at her once, then nuzzled her arm before looking away. It seemed to be staring at the enclosure, but from the tense muscles under her hand, she could tell that the animal was still wary of the marines. 

The woman in white was impressed. “It’s tame?” She looked torn between fleeing and wanting to come closer. 

“No,” Mei insisted. “For some reason, she tolerates me. We’re…friends. I guess.”

“That’s so beautiful!” For the first time, she looked around at the others. When she caught sight of the handsome Spaniard, her breath caught. Then she blurted out, “Juan Fernandez!” She stepped closer to him in rapture.

Juan gave her a small smile. “Sí, señora.”

“I’m a huge fan!” she gushed. “El Honor de su Majestad. Víctimas del Amor. And, of course, I’ve seen every single episode of La Pasión de las Flores!” She squealed and danced up and down. “I’ve always wanted to meet you.” 

Mei snorted a laugh and couldn’t look away. The woman, probably a few years older than Juan, was totally fangirling like a teenager. It was adorable. 

Juan, for his part, flushed with embarrassment, though he’d surely been through this experience before. “That is all in the past.”

“No! Nonsense. You’re a wonderful actor. You always have been. You will be again.”

He shrugged somewhat sadly. “I do not think so, señora. But thank you for your kindness.”

The woman stepped closer so that they were almost touching. “No. You will be. I believe it.” She seemed frustrated and motioned to the marines. “Uncuff this man at once.”

“My lady, the governor—“

“And I am the governor’s wife,” she snapped. “I will take responsibility. Do it.” Then she saw Lia and gasped. She took in the younger woman’s attire and features. “Oh! Are you a local? A Carib?”

Lia tilted her head, not understanding, and looked at Mei for help. 

Mei stood and joined them. “Yes. This is Lia. A friend. I’m sorry, but she hasn’t learned much English.” She looked at Lia but nodded towards the woman and waved. “Mabpwika! Ita bia?”

Lia’s eyes brightened with understanding. She looked at the woman and waved with a smile. “Greetings! How are you?”

“I’m good! And you?”

“I am hungry,” Lia stated

Delighted laughter bubbled from the woman’s lips. She motioned to the marine. “Uncuff her too,” the woman ordered. 

The marine freed Juan, then did the same with Lia. 

The woman was quickly drawn back to Juan. She couldn’t stop staring at him and a red tint had taken over some of her neck. “Forgive me; I’m Brechtje.” She reached out to shake his hand with both of hers. The contact between the two lingered as they stared into each other’s eyes. Then she broke away, blushing deeply now, and reached for Mei’s hand as well. 

“Mei. A pleasure.”

The voice of one of the marines broke in. “The governor is expecting us, my lady.”

Unable to look at Juan any longer, she turned away. “Please, let me escort you.” She turned and led the way out of the enclosure. 

Jie tried to follow but was stymied when the door was closed. She went back and forth along the fence, looking for an opening. Not finding one, she looked at Mei with what Mei believed was hurt in her eyes. At least that was what the stab of guilt in her heart was telling her. 

“Could we have food brought? Any raw meet. And lots of it?” she asked Brechtje. “I feel bad leaving her by herself.”

The governor’s wife was happy to order it. A servant no one had even noticed appeared from where she’d been waiting in the foliage next to the path and ran to the house ahead of them to see it done. 

They approached the door to the mansion, and Mei forced herself to focus on the upcoming meeting with the governor. 

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