Perils of the Black Fury: River of Tears

Time to Read:41min
Views:213 (All Time)
Added Date:10/11/2022
Tags: Bondage

WARNING: Though based on familiar comic book themes, the story is NOT intended for children. This story contains scenes of violence, bondage and insidious deathtraps. If you are offended by tales of daring heroines battling impossible odds to save the world from the schemes of sadistic madmen, then by all means do not read this story.

The great riverboat DELTA ROSE was dead in the water, drawn swiftly down the Mississippi by the unpredictable river currents of late spring. At her stern, a tiny skiff had moored at the base of the massive 40-foot paddle wheel, the yellow light of its two hurricane lamps all but consumed by the wispy river fog swirling all about the helpless vessel. Even under the best of circumstances "attending to the wheel" could be dangerous work, where treacherous footing, rotting timbers, and unexpected shifts could send workers hurling into the muddy water. In the dead of night and with the river swollen to flood stage by torrential spring rains, the task was doubly dangerous. Yet despite the risks, the men went about their work eagerly and without hesitation. Whatever duress they endured out on the wheel, they could feel confident that it was being inflicted 100-fold on their beautiful prisoner, the Black Fury.

"I ain't seen bullets that caliber since Antietam," one of the pole men leered. "Getting right cold out here, ain't it Miss Fury?" The other men laughed harshly.

The young US Marshal had been bound spread eagle to the center of the paddle wheel, wrists and ankles lashed with heavy rope to the iron mooring rings used to secure the wheel when docked. Additional coils of rope were tightly wrapped around her waist, and one of her captors stood in the skiff before her, engaged in the process of securing the loose ends to the mooring rings. She still wore her exotic costume a black satin blouse with loose sleeves, black leather pants and matching corset -- but the tight suspension bondage pulled the fabric of her blouse tight against her breasts. The night breeze was indeed taking its toll on her modesty, but at the moment she had more serious matters on her mind.

"Indeed," the man attending to her waist rope agreed. "And if I may say, Miss Fury, strict bondage becomes you. Pity I get to kill you only once."

"Mhhhh!" was all the red-headed dynamo could muster through her gag, an insidious French device consisting of a large rubber plug held firmly in place by a broad leather strap bucked at the back of her head. The chance of anyone hearing her cries for help was remote, but they were taking no chances.

"Still got some fire, I see. We'll be dousing that soon enough."

The man's accent identified him as a Frenchman, short and painfully thin with a prominent nose and unwashed long brown hair that gave him an oily, almost girlish appearance. But his face wore a permanent sneer of superiority and his casual disdain for his companions suggested that he was their leader. But this wasn't exactly true.

"Rothschilde, what in the world is taking so long?!" A voice bellowed from the fantail overhead. "You were to tie her to the paddle wheel, not escort her to a -- how you say -- a hoedown."

"I assure you, her dancing days are over Monsieur Monterrey," the Frenchman shouted up, never taking his eyes off his lovely victim. "I just want ensure that our brave young friend here is completely helpless."

"I don't want her helpless, I want her DEAD! Save your tie-up games for your other girls!"

"He does not appreciate art," Rothschilde's lips arched in humorless grin. "Now, take a deep breath."

"Mhhhhh," the Fury moaned softly through the gag as Rothschild pulled the ropes taught, constricting the coils around her waist and pulling her firmly against the rough timbers of the wheel. The massive device groaned ominously on its heavy iron spindle as the boat pitched on the rough water.

"There," Rothschilde slapped the Black Fury almost affectionately on the belly. "A much more fitting death for such a gallant law woman than a crude bullet in the head. Don't you agree?"

Apparently she did not. As the Fury locked gazes with her captor her eyes were haunted and her chest heaved as she struggled for breath within the confines of the strict bondage. Yet despite her utter helplessness, she refused to look away, even as her executioner looked on her with a cold, cynical smile. She would not be broken so easily.

"If only your quick draw could save you now, eh chre?" Then to his accomplice on the fantail, "She is fully prepared, Monsieur! You may commence with her paddling."

The men untied their skiff and poled away from the mighty paddle wheel, abandoning the Black Fury to her lonely fate. The sexy gunslinger tested her ropes without result as the wheel lifted her ponderously skyward. The arc of her rotation finally tipped her head-over-heels into a final inverted confrontation with her captor, Dr Felix Monterrey. Monterrey was flanked on either side by a gaunt, heavily-armed Mexican

pistolero. One of the guards braked the wheel to a screeching stop as soon as the Fury had reached eye level with his boss.

Despite his unassuming size, Monterrey had the air of a Spanish Don, with noble features, thinning jet black hair, and piercing gray-blue eyes with deeply-worn crows feet from a life time of squinting beneath the hot Western sun. His black suit and maroon silk vest were immaculately tailored and his head was bare. He leaned almost casually on a walking stick, smiling broadly at the plight of his shapely enemy.

"Ahh, Black Fury. I must say, I was not pleased that Rothschilde won our little wager. Still, I must admit that he has contrived a most amusing end for you. You look extremely uncomfortable."

The one-time personal surgeon to General Santa Anna now turned criminal madman stepped to the rail and reached out with his cane, running the silver tip down the Fury's taught abdomen, over the swell of her left breast and finally to the Marshal's badge twinkling dully on her chest.

"I'm sure you will be relieved to know that Captain Dawkins took good advantage of your heroics to lower the longboats and row most of the passengers to safety. Pity he didn't realize the REAL carnage was yet to come, just down stream."

The Black Fury stared at him quizzically for a moment, but then her eyes flew open wide with dawning recognition. Monterrey chuckled.

"Very good, I see you're getting the idea. The Great Bend National Federal Reserve lies just a few miles to the south of us. And all that stands between the city and my gold is a very waterlogged, earthen dike."

"Mhhh! Mhhh!!" The Fury screamed through her gag, much to Monterrey's amusement. Great Bend was home to over 80,000 people, safe behind a network of dams and walls that had protected the city for over 40 years. But if the earthworks were breached, the city would flood in a matter of minutes, killing countless thousands. Of course, it would take a tremendous impact to weaken the dams, like an explosion, or a riverboat.

"Fortunately you won't live to witness my heinous crimes. My men have fired the boilers to the bursting point and as soon as we're free of the boat, the DELTA ROSE will begin its final catastrophic charge. And you will have the LEAST desirable seat in the house."

The Black Fury glowered at Monterrey as she twisted in the heavy ropes binding her to the massive paddle wheel. The great stacks overhead belched smoke into the night sky and the surface of the wheel vibrated ominously as the stream engines strained to move the wheel against the iron clutch. Soon the paddle would be allowed to surge forward, forcing the young Marshal through the water with progressively greater force even as it propelled the 200-ton steamboat at full speed into the dikes of Great Bend. Her only

hope was to escape, but Rothschilde's ropes were expertly tied and painfully tight. Escape was all but impossible, but if the Fury perished thousands of innocents would die with her.

"And now forgive us if we must be on my way on our way," Monterrey narrowed his eyes. "This river boat is quite unstable. When you see Black Cloud in Hell, give him my regards."

As Monterrey walked away, his lackeys relayed his commands to the pilot house and after a moment the great stern wheel groaned into motion. As the Black Fury's head descended toward the muddy water she forced herself to remain calm and deep as deeply as the tight ropes and heavy gag would allow. She took one last glance at Dr Felix Monterrey, the infamous Butcher of Santa Clara, before the dark chilly waters claimed her for the first time.

She might very well soon be joining Black Cloud the infamous bounty hunter that had led to her capture -- in Hell. But thanks to Monterrey, her own private hell would begin a few minutes early.

* * *

Earlier that evening:

Gray Dawkins had been a riverboat captain for over 15 years, but he had rarely seen the river so high or so fast. The spring rains had been unusually heavy, transforming the dry creek beds of the Mississippi basin into raging torrents and the great river itself into a lake over half a mile wide. Many of the smaller towns on the river flats were already under 15 feet of water, and the cities rich enough to afford levies were reinforcing their water-logged earthworks with burlap sacks of sand and cinders. The storm clouds had finally dispersed, but the chilly evening air had given rise to thick river fog that swirled all about Dawkins' great stern wheeler, the DELTA ROSE, often completely enveloping the stately vessel in a blanket of white. The vast majority of riverboat pilots had opted to remain moored upstream until the treacherous floodwaters had receded, but Dawkins steered his vessel unerringly down the main channel, relying solely on the call of the depth-sounding chainman and his own intimate knowledge of the river bottom to chart their course. The veteran river man actually savored the challenge and with the current running so fast there was a good chance he could secure his place in local folklore by breaking the speed record for the run from St Louis - New Orleans. Little did Captain Dawkins realize that his record-setting voyage was about to take a bizarre and deadly turn.

"Good evening, Captain Dawkins."

Dawkins' semi-trance of concentration was suddenly broken by a voice, almost a whisper, chilling and disturbingly close by. A man stood next to him, a lean dark haired Indian half-breed, stripped to the waist and dripping wet. He was clad only in rawhide trousers with a long Pawnee fighting knife sheathed at his back. Steam rose from his body just as it did from the river. At first Dawkins thought that the figure could only be some sort of Indian river spirit, but then he spied a trail of wet foot prints leading through the starboard hatchway. He quickly concealed his surge of supernatural terror behind a mask of good old-fashioned anger.

"Dammit, man, who let you up here! I'll have no passengers on the bridge."

"Fortunately, I am not a passenger. The river bore me here. Now shut off your engine."

Dawkins sized the man up incredulously. He was whip thin, with long gangly arms laced with taught muscle. He had the heavy brow, strong jaw line, and narrow eyes that proved his Indian blood, and his "warriors braid" of thick dark hair hung to the base of his shoulder blades. A Pawnee warrior grew out his braid until defeated in battle and by the looks of him this man had never know defeat. But still

"You expect me to believe that you actually SWAM to a river boat under full steam?!"

"Believe what you will," the man drew the long fighting knife from his back so fast and smoothly that it almost seemed to magically appear in his hand. The blade gleamed wickedly in the moonlight and the half breed narrowed his eyes. "Now shut down the engine."

"Easy, son," Dawkins heart was suddenly in his throat. "Just don't skin me when I reach for the controls."

The strange intruder stood motionless as Captain Dawkins reached out a shaky hand to adjust the valves that regulated the flow of steam from the two boilers at the heart of the DELTA ROSE. The river queen slowed to match pace with the river current and ever-present sound of the waterfall cascading over the paddle wheel faded away.

"There now lad, we're hove to. Now put down the knife. No one needs to get hurt."

"You're wrong, Captain Dawkins. This night the river will run red with white men's blood." For a moment Dawkins was certain that he was a dead man, but the knife disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared, back in its wood and leather sheath. Dawkins swooned with sudden relief at the simple realization that he would have at least a few more moments to live.

"Come with me, Captain Dawkins, to welcome your new passengers."

* * *

The great pavilion of the DELTA ROSE was as stylishly apportioned as some of the best saloons in San Francisco. The bar of polished mahogany commanded the stern bulkhead, backed by mirrors and neatly lined liquor bottles and flanked on either side by small doors leading to the galley and interior storage rooms. On the stern wall was a small burlesque stage, where an Irish showgirl crooned out the words to

"Meet Me in St Louis" to the accompaniment of a tin pan piano. The polished wooden floor between bar and stage was lined with gaming tables occupied by well-to-do passengers playing roulette, cards, and craps. An ornate but faded wheel of fortune secured on one wall alternately led to jeers and hurrahs from the gathered crowd. Stairs carpeted in plush red Berber lead up to the second-floor balcony that ringed three quarters of the pavilion and gaudily dressed harlots shouted out crude jests to the gentlemen below.

As one of the few southbound boats on the Mississippi, Captain Dawkins had had little trouble finding people wishing to book passage on the DELTA ROSE, and the pavilion was packed with people celebrating their early voyage south. Amidst the general din, nobody even notice the arrival of Dr Felix Monterrey and his two companions.

"There, you see, Rothschilde. The sheep celebrate even as the wolves enter their pen. I told you no one would recognize me this far East."

"Pity," said Rothschilde, in a silky French accent. "Perhaps then we could at last have a bit of excitement." His bored gaze and mocking grin clearly communicated his disdain for the rough pleasures of the New World.

"Patience, my good fellow." Monterrey steered toward the bar. "All things in good time."

"I thought you said this was to be a great bank robbery," Rothschilde persisted, "Not some midnight boat ride."

"Please watch your tone, Marquise; you are far from your palace walls." Rothschilde had been traveling with Monterrey for six months, enjoying the life of a Western outlaw as an escape from court life in France. Monterrey's reputation as a cruel genius living beyond the reach of the law had drawn the world-weary Frenchman immediately to his hacienda, Monterrey had put Rothchilde's wealth to good use to mastermind a spree of spectacular and grisly crimes.

"Oh, indeed. Perhaps someone might assault me with harsh language, or bad whiskey. But Giselle will protect me, will you not?"

"As my lord commands."

Their third companion was a petite young French girl, strikingly beautiful with huge brown eyes and long chestnut hair that hung to her waist. She wore a loose silk blouse and peasant skirt that all but concealed the much tighter clothing she wore beneath. The chains securing her wrists before her were almost lost in her billowy sleeves and the manacles on her ankles were hidden beneath her skirts. Clearly, Rothchilde's comment was a cruel jest.

Monterrey ordered himself a whiskey, then pulled a gold pocket watch out of his vest and snapped it open. "11 o'clock -- my pistoleros should be in place. Time for work."

He drained the shot glass before him then stepped out into the middle of the room. Two Derringer pistols flashed into his hands from their wrist holsters and he fired two shots into the air. Suddenly he was the center of attention.

"Excuse me ladies and gentleman! If everyone would please put their hands in air! I'm afraid you are all in terrible danger!"

At that moment, the doors on either side of the room burst open and a dozen masked gunmen stormed into the room. The women screamed and the men protested, but they all raised their hands. Monterrey looked on in amusement as his men worked the crowd, throwing aside tables and chairs and herding all of the passengers to one side of the room while shotgun-toting sentries barred the doors. The rough, unshaven

Mexican bandits screamed at the terrified passengers in harsh Spanish and lashed out with leather bull whips at the slightest provocation.

"This is madness man!" Captain Dawkins spat as he was led, bound and quivering with rage, up to Monterrey. "You can't just rob a river boat!"

"Oh, you misunderstand me, captain," the gentleman-villain reholstered his Derringers. "I'm not interested in robbing your passengers. I'm stealing your river boat."

Dawkins' eyes bulged out of his head. The grand pavilion of the DELTA ROSE was now a mob scene, with furniture and glassware strewn everywhere, and passengers begging for their lives even as they were being stripped of weapons and bound with rope. The bandits joked crudely among themselves and lashed out randomly with their whips between swigs from stolen whiskey bottles. "Never! If you think for one minute that I would help you steal my own ship!"

"That won't be necessary. I won't be taking it far." Then to one of his men, "Dias, please take the captain to stand with his passengers."

Then he turned his attention to the terrified crowd. "My friends, I am in need of this river boat. But I am sad to say, your presence here is an unfortunate inconvenience. One I must rectify."

The room fell silent as Monterrey walked slowly to the Wheel of Fortune, now surrounded only by overturned chairs and broken glass. "But I can see you enjoy games of chance, so I will leave your fates up to the Wheel. I will give you one spin. If black, then my men will throw you overboard with your arms tied to drown. If red, then my men will cut your ropes and give you the opportunity to swim to shore. Care to do the honors, Captain Dawkins."

"You you wouldn't." Was all Dawkins could manage. "These people are helpless."

"Yes, it makes murder so much easier when the victims can't resist. If you do not spin, then I will assume black."

"Perhaps you should allow me."

"Hmmm?" Monterrey looked up casually, then gasped in surprise. "You!"

The sentry at the doorway closest to the bar had been knocked unconscious and in his place stood a stunningly beautiful woman, dressed all in black with a mane of coppery red hair flowing out from beneath a black Bolero hat and her features partially obscured behind a black silk eye mask. Her costume consisted of a black satin blouse with loose billowy sleeves, skin-tight leather pants and a matching leather corset with scallops along the top to cup her breasts like a brassier. With knife tucked in one boot, and a nickel-plated .32 holstered low on her left thigh she looked much like a sultry bandit herself. Only the US Marshal's badge twinkling on her chest identified her as an officer of the law.

"The Marshal's service calls me in all the way from Havana on reports that the Butcher of Santa Clara has declared war on America, and were do I find you?" her tone was relaxed and her subtle British accent was unmistakable. "Stealing wallets on a steam boat."

"I'll have none of your chatter, woman! Kill her, compadres. Kill the Black Fury!"

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

Monterrey's raiders responded quickly, but not nearly fast enough. The mysterious lawwoman known as the Black Fury drew her gun with the reflexes of mongoose and dropped three desperados in rapid succession before vaulting lightly behind the bar. Monterrey too dove for cover as the gun battle began in earnest, the bandits pouring gunfire down on their lone adversary. The terrified passengers scattered in all direction like spooked cattle as the grand pavilion erupted in cacophony of thundering guns, screams, and heavy black smoke. Only Rothschilde refused to seek refuge, watching the drama unfold around him with delight even as he clutched a terrified Giselle before him as human shield.

At first the veteran pistoleros didn't even both to take cover, confident that their superior numbers and firepower would quickly overwhelm their petite and lightly armed opponent. But the Fury proved a much more formidable enemy than they had anticipated, somehow braving the hail of lead that shredded the heavy oak of the bar and returning fire with deadly precision. The bandits fell in rapid succession until the remainder were forced to seek cover themselves. The gunfight the degenerated into a lethal game of cat and mouse, with the remaining pistoleros exposing themselves only long enough to squeeze off a few unaimed shots in the direction of the bar.

"What are you doing, compadres?" Monterrey shouted from his hiding place behind a bullet-marred slate gaming table. "Why do you hide from one frightened girl?!"

"I might ask you the same question." Monterrey whirled around to find the Black Fury, standing behind him with her gun leveled on his temple a point blank range. Her voice was calm but icy. "Call off your men, Monterrey. Or you die."

Despite the proximity of the Black Fury's smoking .32 to his forehead, the master criminal retained his trademark arrogance. He looked upon the young Marshal with a faint smile as if he were still master of the situation with a secret that she was not privy to. But he complied with her request. "So, it seems that I have been outmaneuvered. Men, please holster your weapons, lest the Marshal put a bullet through my favorite skull."

The men the five that remained of the original dozen -- grudgingly lowered their weapons. Monterrey stood up from his hiding place behind a heavy poker table and dusted the bits of wood and glass off his suit.

"So I assume that you are going to arrest me?"

"That's right," the Fury took out a pair of steel hand cuffs." You're coming with me back to Washington to stand trial for murder, kidnapping, extortion, and war crimes committed while in the service of Santa Anna. I'm sure you'll make a charming traveling companion. Now drop those Derringers."

"It seems you know all of my tricks," Monterrey kept his hands up and removed each Derringer from its sleeve holster one at a time. The Fury took them and tucked them in her gun belt.

"YOU are the Black Fury?" Rothschilde stared fascinated. "The famous gunslinger?"

"Not a name I would have chosen for myself, but I suppose it suits. That would make you Jean Sebastian Rothschilde, youngest son of the Marquise de Salbon."

"Indeed," Rothschilde looked at her intently, clearly impressed. "The tales of your daring are no exaggeration. Nor, if I may say, are the tales of your beauty."

The Fury smirked at the awestruck Frenchman, but his reaction was not uncommon. With her lush coppery hair, striking green eyes and sculpted hourglass figure she was even a standout at the courts of Europe, let alone the rough trails of the American West. The buttery leather of her costume fit her like a second skin and her corset accentuated the swell of her firm breasts beneath the folds of Italian satin. The choker at her throat bore a single huge green cats' eye, but the effect could not have been more striking had she been studded with diamonds.

"A defenseless girl needs every advantage she can get. Now if you would kindly place your hands on the bar."

"As I told you, Rothschilde," Monterrey smiled. "Pretty as a king's concubine but tough as an old saddle."

"And she found you immediately, just as you said."

"It wasn't difficult," the Fury turned her attention to Rothschilde, "Your adolescent Western outlaw adventure hasn't been exactly secret. But who is your friend?"

"Oh that is Giselle St Sauveur, youngest daughter of the Lord Chevours."

"Ahh yes, I heard she rejected your proposal of marriage, and you fled Court in a rage."

"Yes," he toyed with the chains around Giselle's wrists," and I've been beseeching her to reconsider that decision ever since. But I am suddenly thinking that perhaps I've found a much more suitable object for my affections."

"Sorry," The Fury smiled, "My mother warned me not to marry into old money."

Rothschilde looked on her with his bored aristocratic eyes. "Well, perhaps you'll be willing to reconsider, after we get to know each other better."

The attack was utterly silent and perfectly timed, but the flicker in Rothschilde's eyes gave the Fury just enough warning to duck as the Pawnee fighting knife whizzed over her head in a blinding arc of steel. The Indian warrior emerged from the shadows like a ghost, over six feet tall and bare-chested with taut sinewy muscles and a long black braid hanging to his waist. His face was a mask of hatred as he howled with rage and lunged at his slender opponent with his 16-inch knife. The Fury was caught completely off guard by his sudden appearance, and just barely managed to slip past his back swing and sprawl again as he buried the knife up to the haft in the thin wall of the pavilion. She drew her .32 but it was kicked out of her hand the moment it cleared leather, and the red headed avenger driven steadily backward before a flurry of expert slashes and thrusts. Finally, she managed to catch hold of his arm in the midst of a vicious thrust, pinning his arm between her body and elbow and flipping the huge man across the room. But he retained his grip on the knife and sprang back up immediately onto his feet with another fierce battle cry. Her attempt to immediately follow up by sweeping his legs out from under him failed, and she very nearly paid with her life. She only just managed to get her hands up in time to stop a downward swipe that would have split her skull, catching her opponent's wrist in both her hands. The Indian continued bearing down with wild eyes, intent on driving his blade downward despite her resistance. The Fury was deceptively strong, but was no match for the magnificent warrior. She sunk to her knees to buy a few precious inches between her face and the deadly blade, but was powerless to halt is descent.

"I had considered the possibility that you would attempt to interfere with my plans," Monterrey stepped forward with his arms clasped behind his back. He couldn't resist taking the opportunity to gloat. "So I took the liberty of bringing along a guardian angel. Or demon, if you prefer."

"Uhhhhhh," the Fury snarled as she slowly lost her desperate battle for life. Her arms quivered from the effort but it was clear that her struggles had bought her nothing more than a brief respite from the descending blade. She once again attempted to use her opponents own force against him to pitch him over her head, but this time the warrior was prepared. He pulled back at the precise moment she attempted to pull him forward, and the effect was that she dropped to her back with his wrists beyond her reach and the sword now pointed directly at her heart.

But this time it was the Indian warrior that moved an instant too slow, for his hammer thrust hit only wooden planks. The Fury arched her body at the last moment and had managed to draw her own boot knife. She sliced and neat line across his chest even as he wrenched his knife free from the floor, followed by a roundhouse kick that sent him reeling. That gave the Fury the moment she needed to regain her feet and even as her turned to reengage the sexy Marshal, she delivered a rap with the grip of her knife. The

Indian retained his vice-like grip on his fighting knife, but this time it worked to his disadvantage. As he fell the floor his blade was forced through his chest, emerging red with gore from his naked back.

"Guess they don't make demons like they used to "

WHAM! The Black Fury's victory was short-lived as a crushing blow struck home from behind her, filling world with stars and forcing the sexy gunslinger to the ground near her fallen opponent. Rothschilde stood behind her, now holding the Fury's heavy .32, which he had used to cold cock her. The Marshal managed to get back up on all fours before Monterrey's men were on her, seizing her by the arms and lifting her to her feet.

"Well, well, well, it seems that Black Clouds demise has not been in vain," Monterrey said, as he plucked his Derringers from the Fury's belt. He cocked one pistol and immediately held it to her head. "You'll forgive me if I don't take you up on your traveling offer Marshal. But I'm afraid you're about to die in the line of duty."

"A bullet in the head, mon ami?" Rothschilde interjected. "Sounds a bit pass, to me."

"I know what you are thinking, Rothschilde, but speaking from experience I think you would find that this woman is particularly poor bed company. The kind that gouges out eyes and knocks lovers unconscious with her own forehead."

Rothschild persisted. "You misunderstand my intentions monsieur. But let us give her the same courtesy you offered the other passengers. A spin on the wheel black, you kill her your way; red, I kill her mine."

Monterrey turned for a moment to regard the Black Fury, who was still trying to shake off the effects of Rothschilde's blow. At 5'7" and no more than 115 pounds, she was dwarfed by her captors, and her custom-tailored leather costume left little of her magnificent physique to the imagination. Yet Monterrey realized that her haunting beauty was a weapon, in some respects just as dangerous as the .32 that she wielded with incomparable speed. But still, she had very nearly foiled his plan for the greatest American bank robbery in all time, and the thought of contributing a bit her mental anguish before killing her seemed harmless enough.

"Very well, as long as your approach to her death is as reliable as mine. Will you do the honors?"

"It would be my pleasure," Rothschilde bowed, and stepped to the wheel. When he turned he noticed that the Fury had somewhat collected herself and was watching the proceedings.

"Welcome back, chre, to the land of the living, if only for a brief time. Now let us see if you die fast at the hands of Spain, or slow at the hands of France."

He reached up and gave the wheel a healthy spin. The Fury had regained her footing and watched grimly as the wheel slowly lost momentum, rapidly transiting between red and black -- quick death or prolonged death, but death none the less. She tried to pull one of her arms defiantly away from her captors, but she might have well been secured in irons.

Finally the wheel came to a stop.

"Red, it is." Monterrey announced the verdict. "Rothschilde, she is yours to kill."

"Excellent, monsieur," Rothschilde ran the back of his hand lightly across his prisoner's cheek. "I will need to sacrifice a few of Giselle's toys to implement my plan. But what could be a more noble cause than the death of the Black Fury."

* * *

Time lost all meaning for the Black Fury as she was drawn ever deeper into a nightmare world of utter disorientation, choking water, and mind-numbing pain. The first dozen rotations of the wheel were broken up into distinct periods of dark submersion separated by intervals of icy wind. But as the wheel continued to accelerate, the interval of each phase shrank until only the pattern of alternating light and darkness provided any real clue as to whether she was under the water or above it. Though her proximity to the paddle wheel lessened the force of each impact with the waters surface, the momentum of the wheel had the effect of throwing her outward against her ropes even as she was drawn through the water like a fast-swimming fish. Though the rope Rothschilde had tied around her waist was meant to increase her suffering, it had actually saved her life. Without its restraining force she would have been torn limb from limb in a matter minutes.

But at the moment it seemed precious little comfort, as each plunge through the water felt like the grasp of a giant's hand trying to rip her from the wheel. For brief moments she would break free of the waters icy grasp, only to be plunged into darkness again and again as the wheel spun with ever mounting force. Her screams were all but lost except in her own head and soon even those were lost in her choking attempts to breathe through the steady sheet of mist generated by the whirling paddle wheel. The young avenger rapidly lost any sense of up and down as she spun over and over through space, and as the blood was forced in rapidly shifting tides throughout her body, the ordeal lost the sense of reality and descended into the realm of a horrible nightmare, but one made all the more terrifying by the knowledge that she would never wake up. Each spin of the wheel was drawing her closer and closer to death.

In the drowning remnants of her conscious mind, the Fury had all but given up any hope of escape. Rothschilde's ropes had held up well despite the wild and brutal force of the water, and the moments of open-air release were far too brief to give her any opportunity to loosen the knots. The effect of the chilly water was compounded by the even colder grip of fear, quickly draining the young Marshal of her remaining strength. Yet even the release of peaceful drowning was denied her. The extreme force of the ropes as she was dragged through the water made inhaling while submerged all but impossible. So the nightmare went on and on and on.

SPOING!

Suddenly the red-headed avenger was roused from her deepening stupor as the pressure on her left arm suddenly went slack, forcing her hand against her body like an otter slicing through the water. It took long seconds for her pain-clouded mind to realize what had happened the iron bolt holding her arm had pulled free from the slimy wood! The sudden shift in the balance of forces tearing at her body allowed her feet to drop of the level of one paddle timber, but at the cost of cruelly wrenching her right arm, still tightly bound overhead.

Responding reflexively to the pain, the Fury grabbed hold of the jagged piece of iron still secured to her left wrist and stabbed desperately at the ropes still binding her right. After several swings, the ropes snapped and her right arm was free as well.

Again acting on instinct, the law woman plunged the sharp bolt shaft in the ropes securing her waist. The force of the next plunge pulled them free as well, forcing the half-drowned Fury to pivot around her ankle ropes until she was forced face-first against the raising surface of the wheel. The paddle wheel now whisked her into the air legs first with her arms above her head clutching at one of the slime-choked timbers for dear life. In this position it was certainly possible to breath under water, but her recent advances filled her with a renewed, if possibly unfounded, sense of hope. The idea of allowing herself the luxury of a quick easy drowning was suddenly out of the question.

With each rotation she struggled to take a quick slash at her leg ropes before finding her footing to ride out the next spin of the wheel. Each upward surge of the wheel threatened to rip her legs out of their sockets, and each stomach churning descent threw her face-first against the wheel with the force of a sledgehammer. But her slashes were having their effect and soon one leg was free, followed by the other. As soon as the last rope was free, she released her desperate grip on the wheel, flying backward and landing heavily on the fantail of the DELTA ROSE, precisely where Monterrey had been standing when he had left her to die. The world went dark for the Black Fury the impact against the hard timbers of the deck knocking her out cold.

When she regained weak consciousness, it was to find Grey Dawkins hovering over her. She was still lying on the fantail of the river queen, but the gray-bearded captain had covered her in blankets and removed Rothschilde's hateful gag. Dawkins brow was knit with sorrow and his eyes even seemed to be moist.

"Captain Captain Dawkins?" the Fury croaked. At the sight of her open eyes, the

Captain breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

"I'm so sorry, Marshal. I was stowed away in aft portage, waitin' for them rapscallions to run off. But if I had only known what they were doing to you."

"You did the right thing. They would have killed you had you tried to interfere." The Fury slowly sat up. "So where are we?"

"Headin' back north away from Great Bend. The boys got her simmered down before the boilers blew, so now I'm heading away far away from "

"No!" the young gunslinger said with sudden intensity. "Turn the ship around. Then gather your men. We're taking Monterrey tonight."

* * * *

"There she is! Right on time."

Monterrey and his entourage stood atop the earthen embankment marking the boundary of Great Bend, awaiting the arrival of the DELTA ROSE. To their right was the river, swollen to within three feet of the dike's summit. To their left and 25 feet below were the river flats of Great Bend, block after block of neatly ordered warehouses, shop fronts, saloons and tenements. The river flats sloped upward only grudgingly; the city stretched away for nearly a half mile before the street level rose to parallel the top of the dam. In only minutes, half of Great Bend would be underwater. Including, conveniently, the Great Bend Federal Gold Reserve.

The darkened riverboat itself was hard to spot on the misty river against the night sky, but the rush of its great wheel was unmistakable.

"And how can we be sure that the entire dike will not wash away once breached?" Rothschilde asked, as if hardly interested in the answer. "Taking us with it?"

"We don't," Monterrey replied. "But even under 8 feet of water, the Federal Reserve won't be vulnerable for long. We must rely on the element of surprise, boat in the moment the current stabilizes, and slip out before daylight. Carrying a much more suitable form of ballast."

"If only your impetuous fried -- the Black Fury could be here to see your moment of decision"

"Oh, do not worry, Rothschilde, she will be along soon enough. What is left of her anyway."

The rush grew more pronounced and the sulfurous smell of burning coal tainted the air as the 300-ton riverboat bore down on the sleeping city. It was heading directly for the most isolated point of the dam.

"Magnificent shot, for a bullet aimed from 10 miles up stream," Monterrey noted, as he closed his pocket watch. "Still, I'm glad to see her at last. Pity if some mischance came of Rothschilde's little deathtrap. Best have the men double lash our launch, lest it be born into the city along with the flood waters."

Monterrey's men hastily lashed extra lines to the steam launch that had served as their river ferry as the DELTA ROSE rapidly grew from a ghostly vision in the distance to a massive hulk bearing down on the dike some 100 yards down stream from the criminal assembly. The ship surged through the water at over 15 knots, and its groans of protest echoed across the water.

"Best keep tight hold of the leash of that pet of yours, Rothschilde. It's going to be quite an impact."

Monterrey and his men knelt down into the grass that lined the earthen dike, bracing themselves for the inevitable impact. Given their last-minute flurry of preparations and the cloak of darkness they didn't realize until too late that their plan was going awry. The steamboat had turned hard to port and the paddle wheel reversed. The water quickly leeched the momentum from the ponderous vessel as it bore down on the bandits. By the time Monterrey looked up to check on the progress of the DELTA ROSE, it was coasting almost directly toward them.

"Hold it right there, Monterrey!" Came an unmistakable female voice from the bow of the riverboat. Immediately following her challenge came another equally unmistakable sound -- the cocking of a dozen rifles. "You're under arrest. Round them up if you would please, Captain Dawkins."

Dawkins' sailors most of whom who had hidden aboard the DELTA ROSE rather than abandoning ship divided their force, half scampering to shore to take the bandits into custody while the remainder kept guard from the bows. The action was quick and decisive, and Monterrey could do nothing but bluster and swear while he was taken into custody.

"You miserable vermin! No one dares lay a hand on Felix Monterrey! I will kill each and every one of you myself, starting with you, Black Fury!"

"Of course, and our children, spouses, lovers, and dogs," the Fury muttered from the bow of the steamboat.

"It's a good thing my only wife is this 'ere river," Dawkins clucked as he spit a glob of tobacco juice over the side.

"Then perhaps you'll do me the honors of escorting these men to the Marshal's office in town. Tell Butch Westerfield that it's a present from me."

"Delighted. I'll leave a few lads to tend the boiler while we're away. Boys, heard 'em on their launch!"

Monterrey continued raging even as he was lead down to the boat, still incensed at the amazing turn of events. It was only when the steam launch pulled away that the Fury finally allowed herself to lower the hammer of the Winchester rifle and raise the barrel to the sky. She was still soaked to the bone and shivering in the brisk night air. Her wrists and ankles stung from deep rope burn and her joints ached from the ordeal she had endured on the paddle wheel.

"Well, that seems to be that. I'd trade a month of Sundays for a hot bath and a cup of tea, right now."

"Congratulations, chre."

The Fury whipped around but she was a moment too slow. Rothschilde caught her in a surprisingly powerful bear bug, placing a rag over her nose and mouth. The Fury gasped instinctively, filling her nose and lungs with tainted air drawn in through the sweet, oily substance coating the rag. Immediately her head began to swim and the deck seemed to sway beneath her feet. Her attempt to drive her had back into the nose of her attacker proved hopeless as her head filled with cobwebs and her vision faded to long, narrow tunnels.

"You have, once again, saved a thousand innocents from certain death."

The Fury finally went limp in Rothschilde's grasp. He left the rag over her nose and mouth for a few more second to make sure, and then he allowed the sexy gunslinger to slide to ground.

"The question is, who now will save you from me?"

* * * *

Consciousness returned only grudgingly to the Black Fury, and would have been deferred much longer except for the persistent gnawing pain that suffused her body. Her head throbbed as if as if she had massive hangover and her stomach was twisted in knots. She would have thrown up except that the acrid taste at the back of her throat suggested that that had already occurred some time ago. Her vision seemed to shimmer as if distorted by desert heat and even the meager amount of light in the room caused her to squint. Her arms and legs were numb, but her hips and shoulders ached maddeningly a common side effect of being tied up for a prolonged period of time.

"Ahhh, awake at last. For a while there I thought I had killed you."

They were back in the Grand Pavilion of the DELTA ROSE, still savaged from the attack and subsequent gun battle the night before. Light trickled down from the skylights overhead and from the French doors leading out to the deck; the lack of any bobbing or swaying motion indicated that they were run aground. Rothschilde sat at a felt-lined gaming table playing solitaire, a bottle of bourbon and highball glass near at hand. He had removed his long velvet coat and was now dressed in a vest and shirtsleeves. Other than herself, Rothschilde was the only person in the room and he appeared to be unarmed. Normally, the Black Fury would take good advantage of this kind of situation -- except that she was bound hand and foot to a heavy straight back chair near the Frenchman's makeshift gaming table.

"What what the hell did you do to me?"

"The latest new drug from the doctors in Paris. It is called ether -- a few whiffs and you'll sleep for hours. A few more whiffs, and you would have been dead."

"So why aren't I?"

"Because I prefer my patients alert and fully aware of what is about to happen to them."

Rothschilde gave the Black Fury a long stare, mocking and tinged with madness. The Fury had little doubt that he fully meant everything he said. A chill ran down her spine at the thought that Rothschilde just might have been the REAL villain she needed to contend with, and not Monterrey.

After a moment, Rothschild reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a small medicinal vial, and poured half its contents into his quarter-full glass of bourbon. Then he leaned forward and offered it to his prisoner's lips.

"Here, drink this. It will help you shake off the worst of the side effects."

At first she considered refusing his offer, fearing some sort of trick. But at the moment she felt so dizzy and nauseated that anything would be an improvement, even if it just put her out of her misery. She opened her mouth and tilted back her head. Her stomach did a lurch as the bourbon burned down her throat and for a moment she thought she might just immediately throw it up. But then her entrails seemed to relax a bit, soothed by Rothschilde's tonic.

"You know, " the Frenchman continued as he leaned back in his chair. "You're one of the major reasons I decided to travel to the West."

"Oh really? I thought it was the 5000 francs on your head from the Count de Leon."

Rothschilde looked up from his cards with a mixed expression of admiration and antipathy. "So very pretty and disarming, yet with such sharp talons. But speaking of history, I understand you betrayed your family at the age of 15 to spy for the Union army. Is this true? "

"No. It was my father that betrayed the family, by supporting the Confederacy."

"And he knew their navy, the manning of their coastal installations, and even the schedule of their international envoys. And so did General Grant, thanks to you."

"It seems you have highly placed sources..."

"You have no idea just how much information you can learn in the bedrooms of King Louis XIV. And I assure you, the bounty the Confederacy offered for YOU was considerably more than 5000 francs."

"It's a bit late to collect on that bounty now, I should think."

The Fury's head was beginning to clear so she could take better account of her situation. She was still wearing her costume, though the leather was uncomfortably damp with a mixture of river water and sweat. She was bound to the chair by coils of hemp rope, wrists lashed to the arms, ankles lashed to the legs, and body secured at the waist and chest. The ropes weren't exceptionally tight but the knots were well done and the wooden chair was extremely sturdy. And, strangely enough, Rothschild had also enclosed her wrists, ankles, and throat in iron fetters, similar to those used for transporting slaves but larger and heavier. Then she noted that her belt had also been weighted down with lead cylinders before and behind each hip. The purpose of the heavy weights eluded her at the moment, though they were likely to prevent her from attempting to swim off the ship.

"Just pointing out that you of all people should appreciate the unforgiving nature of bounty hunters. I understand your were cornered a half dozen times, at least briefly, until, just days after your 19th birthday, you were captured stealing the plans to the Meeks sharpshooter rifle from the Savannah arsenal."

"A bit of an unpleasant birthday present, I must admit."

"Indeed, my sources tell me that you were interrogated for three weeks before they finally decided to execute you. But the very night before your hanging you were escorted to the private quarters of the camp Commander, Colonel William Peakes, to be fully indoctrinated into the 'mysteries of womanhood,' and at some point you managed to get hold of his cavalry saber. Rather than calling for his guards, Peakes offered to fight you. Despite three weeks of torture, a naked, 19-year-old girl managed to defeat a professional swordsman in single combat. Quite an outrageous tale, do you agree?"

"I'm not sure I understand where you're going with this history lesson, Rothschilde." That was a three week period of her life that she preferred not to think on. Her nipples still bore the scars of the piercing rings and her entire body bore the tell-tale marks of the lash. The rebels had taught her far more than the "mysteries of womanhood" -- they had taught her the terrible price that came with strong convictions.

Rothschilde reached down to the floor and produced a long mahogany box -- highly polished and inlaid with silver -- and set it on the table. "After your display of marksmanship yesterday I am not likely to challenge you to a gunfight, but swords are a different matter."

He opened the box to reveal two exquisite fighting sabers, both identical with sleek highly polished blades, grips wrapped in white leather, and guards made of intricate silver filigree. Rothschilde took up one of the swords and whipped it skillfully through the air.

"I've trained with the saber since I was 4 years old, tutoring with some of the finest masters in France. Guns I leave to others, but steel I wield myself. I came to the West hoping for the ultimate frontier experience and what could be more thrilling than killing the Black Fury with my own hands."

SHING! SHING! SHING!

The ropes securing the Black Fury to the chair parted like butter at the touch of Rothschilde's blade. His aim was so sure that he parted every fiber of the rope without so much as scratching the woman bound within. Two more swings and her leg ropes were similarly cut, leaving the amazed Marshal sitting bolt upright in the heavy chair in the midst of a pile of useless rope.

"You're challenging me to a duel?"

"Of sorts."

The red headed dynamo massaged her wrists to speed the return of the circulation, but the heavy manacles on her wrists made her motions awkward and tiring. Any glimmer of hope she had felt at being challenged to a duel suddenly dissipated. With a sinking heart she suddenly recognized the true purpose of the fetters.

"These bands, they're hobbling devices, intended to slow down my reflexes."

"Indeed," Rothschild smiled. "As I said, I want the thrill of fighting you. Without the actual possibility of dying."

The prickling in the Fury's toes told her that circulation was returning to her legs and she slowly got to her feet. Exhausted and aching, she looked even younger than her 23 years a thin wide-eyed slip of a girl with matted hair wearing scandalous black leather. Yet despite all she had been through, she still maintained her noble bearing, like a young royal bent on living her last moments with dignity. Clearly unsteady on her feet, she took up the second magnificent blade and checked its edge.

"It's blunted," she said. "Nothing but a training blade for its twin."

Rothschilde shrugged. "Still, its Spanish steel. It could raise a nasty welt if properly applied."

The Fury stood to face her captor, chin up in defiance. She extended her sword arm forward and let the blade rattle to the ground.

"If you're going to kill me, then kill me. But I'll have no part of your twisted games."

Rothschilde chuckled, unmoved. He placed his sword jauntily to his shoulder and walked toward the double doors. "A noble gesture. With the odds so heavily against you, it must seem pointless to fight me. Fortunately, I anticipated your reservations. A heroine needs someone to rescue, so a rescue you shall have."

He opened the doors with a dramatic flourish and the Fury gasped in horror. Just outside the door stood Giselle St Sauveur, the young woman Rothschilde had kidnapped from France, wearing a costume almost identical to the Black Fury's. Giselle stood atop a barrel with her wrists bound behind her back and her body secured at the ankles, knees, and waist with leather belts. A noose was snug around her throat, with the rope continuing up to a pulley set on the second floor promenade then doubling back toward the deck to end at a tin bucket suspended some four feet in the air. Immediately above the bucket hung a large leather bladder, with writing on the side indicating that it held 30 gallons of cod liver oil. Giselle's eyes were wide with terror but her moans of protest were all but completely muffled by a black gag similar to the one the

Fury herself had worn during her ordeal on the paddle wheel. Almost casually, Rothschilde nicked the oil skin with the tip of his sword, sending a rivulet of cod liver oil down into the tin bucket. The bucket was empty now, but as it filled it would exert an ever greater upward force on the noose around Giselle's neck. It was only a mater of time -- perhaps 10 minutes -- before the pail was sufficiently heavy to lift the girl completely off the barrel, hanging her by the neck.

"My little pet frequently gets the honor of playing you in our little love games. Now she will die along with you. Unless you can save her."

The Fury felt the tingle of adrenaline surging through her body as she contemplated her grim options. She had little doubt that Rothschilde was prepared to execute Giselle before her very eyes, a death that would be slow and extremely painful. Yet meeting him in combat fettered and wielding a blunted sword would be suicide. The one thing that she could count on was that Rothschilde would undoubtedly take his time, savoring the sadistic experience of the one-sided battle. But it was a small consolation, since each passing minute would only bring Giselle closer and closer to death.

There was no way out -- both Rothschilde and the Fury knew it. With a sigh, she knelt down and picked up the sword.

"Very well, Rothschilde. I'll fight. But promise when you kill me you'll let Giselle live."

Rothschilde stepped toward her with his sword at the ready. "Sorry chre, but with you dead who have I for sweet Giselle to role play? Her only hope is that you defeat me in battle and save her yourself. Which is no hope at all!"

The insane Frenchman lunged at the Fury for a quick cut. She was a moment too slow in raising her defense, and the blow cut a neat gash in her left thigh. The trapped avenger gasped in surprise and sudden pain.

"Come now. You'll have to try harder than that."

His steel sang again but this time the Fury was just quick enough to deflect the blow. His almost casual back slash she knocked aside, and his next prod at her face found only empty air. But his foot didn't. The wily nobleman kicked her front leg out from under her. She landed flat on her back with Rothschilde's sword tip at her throat.

"Really, Fury, you disappoint me. How can you possibly hope to rescue my dear Giselle with such clumsy swordplay?" With a flourish he pulled his sword away, leaving a second gash across the Fury's left hip. The law woman doubled up hissing, clutching at the bleeding wound.

When the Fury turned her face back up to her tormentor, her eyes smoldered with a resolve that hadn't been present a moment before, her eyes fixed in hard slits that belied her otherwise youthful countenance. She again took up her sword, smearing its white leather grip with her own blood, and climbed ponderously to her feet.

"There now. Much better," Rothschilde mocked as she knocked aside three thrusts in rapid succession. "I see you're getting into the fighting spirit. Let us see what you can take."

Rothschild now laid into her in earnest, unleashing a flurry of blows against his hobbled opponent. She was forced to retreat steadily under his onslaught, twice taking her sword into both hands to avoid being disarmed, but she managed to fend off each attack. Once backed up against the bar, however, she had no room to retreat and Rothschilde laid a third gash across the tricep of her sword arm. Even at the top of her game the Fury would have been hard-pressed to defeat the calculating and excellently trained Frenchman.

Exhausted, fettered, and wielding a blunted sword, she didn't stand a chance. He could basically mark her at will. Which, apparently, was exactly what Rothschilde had in mind. The duel would continue until the Black Fury collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss.

Her only hope to even prolong the duel was to put some space between her and her opponent. She rolled backward over the bar as fast as the 50 pounds of iron would allow, and again struck a defensive pose.

"Vault the bar and you'll be singing soprano," she said simply.

"Very clever," Rothschild nodded with approval. "For your guile, I will make your next mark especially painful."

Rothschild lunged forward and again put the Black Fury to the test. The effort and concentration required was tremendous, but she managed to deflect each blow, all the while moving slowly down the bar toward the doors leading to Giselle's sinister deathtrap. The effort required to counter Rothschilde's rain of attacks was exhausting, and by the time she neared the open door she was gasping for breath, her face slick with sweat. Rothschild, on the other hand, seemed fresh and as pleased as she had ever seen him.

He missed with a final overhand cut before backing slightly away to check in on Giselle.

"Mhhh! Mhhh!," the French girl moaned desperately through her gag. The bucket was now almost a third full of heavy cod liver oil, and the noose was drawn painfully tight around her throat. She twisted Hopelessly in her leather straps as the barrel on which she stood wobbled dangerously. Her eyes silently pleaded Rothschilde to save her.

"Hmm, I think I understand now why you heroes enjoy your work so. People are most appreciative when you save their worthless hides. But now you seem to be all out of bar!"

His attack came so suddenly that the Fury was forced immediately backward, away from the bar and through the open door. Rothschilde's fencing was meticulous and deadly, each thrust intended to open another gash in his lovely opponent. The Fury worked her sword desperately, gasping from the effort of blocking each swing. Unable to retreat fast enough, the Fury lashed out with attacks of her own, but to no effect. In exchange for her bravery, Rothschild rewarded her with another slice, this time at her throat. Only blind luck saved her as his blade scraped across the surface of the iron slave collar leaving the Fury herself unscathed.

She seized opportunity to catch Rothschilde's blade against her grip, forcing both blades up into the air and bringing the two combatants almost chest to chest.

"A good fight," Rothschilde smiled as he pressed his pelvis against hers so that she could feel his hardened member beneath his trousers. "But I can think of a few other things I'd like to do with you while you expire. Shall we finish it?"

Rothschilde threw the Fury off like a rag doll, her backward momentum carrying her to the railing of the riverboat only feet from where Giselle stood on her precarious perch. Beyond the railing was the muddy water of some rain-flooded Mississippi tributary where the DELTA ROSE had run aground. The current was running swiftly -- leaping into the waters of the river would be just as fatal as the tip of the Frenchman's sword. Meanwhile, the cod liver oil was continuing to accumulate in the bucket in a foul smelling pool, ever increasing the upward force on the noose around Giselle's neck. But suddenly, the Fury saw a last desperate chance, for both of them.

"I agree," she said, "Lets finish it now."

Her sword was dulled, but it worked magnificently against the wall of the oil skin, shattering it like a ripe melon and sending a gout on oil into the bucket and out across the deck. Giselle was whisked up into the air as the bucked dropped to the deck, filled with dark oil.

"You fool, you've only doomed our little friends to "

Rothschilde stepped forward to finish off the Fury but with his thrust his foot slid forward in the oil. The Fury seized the brief opportunity to slip into the arc of his sword arm and swing her arm like a mace, striking him hard in the jaw with the full weight of the iron wrist manacle. Teeth flew as Rothschilde's jaw shattered under the force of the impact and his sword slipped from his hands. A second swing to the temple struck with the heavy wet sound of cracking bone. Rothschilde slipped lifelessly to the ground to take his place amidst the cod liver oil.

Wasting no time, the Fury scooped up Rothschilde's sword and slashed at the rope connected to the overflowing tin bucket. Giselle dropped lifelessly to the deck and started pitching over the edge. The exhausted heroine just managed to snare her by the back of her belt and drag her to the deck before she could plummet into the muddy river below.

"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle, are you alright." The red headed Marshal pulled the noose away from Giselle's throat and removed the gag. She was gratified to hear Giselle take in a deep gasp. After several moments the French noblewoman opened here eyes and tried to speak.

"Shush," the Fury comforted. "Don't try to talk. You had a close call."

But Giselle would not be comforted, so the Fury finally knelt down to hear her whispered words.

"Did ... did you kill that bastard?"

"No, but he won't be eating solid food again for six months." The Black Fury looked over at Rothschilde and scowled. "And by then, he should taste the bite of the rope himself."

FINIS