Callum was standing next to the large oaken table next to Fitzwarren as the stewards, under Barrington's direction, came into the room silently. They carried trays covered with metal domes, Callum assumed that it was the luncheon that Fitzwarren had ordered. The stewards set them on the table end, and also set about glass decanters, glasses, silver, and flatware.
Callum was impressed as he watched them with one eye as they worked about the end of the table silently, setting things here and there, while Fitzwarren was talking to Callum. Callum was divided in his attention as Fitzwarren was giving Callum an update about the repairs to the Dover. The name brought Callum back to the conversation.
The other officers filtered into the room, Captains all. Callum knew a couple of them by sight, but had never been introduced. He knew them by reputation as well, and he was feeling awkward in being in such company, as most were actually stuff of legend within the Royal Navy. Fitzwarren looked up and about at all of them, introducing them to Callum. Callum would give each of them a polite bow or nod and then shake their hands.
"Where's Smythe?" Fitzwarren asked, looking about the room. "Where the devil is he? The man is never on time for anything." Fitzwarren was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Enter!" Fitzwarren called out. The door opened and Callum's eyes went wide.
He was tall, very tall, dark haired, blue eyed, and the most elegantly dressed officer that Callum had ever seen. He closed the door behind him and walked toward the group. Everyone parted out of the way as he approached Fitzwarren.
"Ah, Smythe, there you are."
"Beg pardon for being late, My Lord. I was detained by the Secretary. He was wrestling with a question."
"Yes, yes." Fitzwarren looked up at Smythe. "Well, I believe you know everyone..."
Smythe looked around at his fellows and then caught Callum. Smythe narrowed his eyes at him. "I don't believe that we have met."
Callum nodded slightly and then put out his hand. "Callum,...Quintan Callum, of the Dover."
Smythe smiled wide, showing the whitest teeth Callum had ever seen in his life. "I was hoping that was you." Smythe said, taking Callum's hand, gripping it very firmly. "I have heard of you. They are saying that you are the one to watch."
"Oh?" Callum asked, taking his hand back slowly.
"Yes, that you could probably win the war single-handedly." Smythe smiled out of the corner of his mouth now. "I heard of the two frigates you took in the same engagement. Very impressive."
"Thank you." Callum said, blushing.
"Walton Smythe, at your service." Smythe said, giving Callum a slight bow.
"Well, now that we have all been introduced," Fitzwarren said, "let's get to the confounded war." Fitzwarren spread out a large map on the table in front of him. "Napoleon is on the move, gentlemen. He is gathering troops here at La Rochelle, some ten thousand. Our best information is that he will put these men aboard his ships to sail to the Mediterranean to meet up with the Spanish probably here in Valencia. Napoleon hopes to cut off any possible invasion we might mount from the south." Fitzwarren looked up from the map, seeing if he had everyone's attention. "We will take our squadron and cut them off at La Rochelle."
"How many ships do you think there are, My Lord?" Smythe asked, studying the map.
"Our best information is that there are at least eight ships."
"Probably frigates." Smythe said, rubbing his chin with one hand.
"When do they sail, My Lord?"
"Within a week. Which is why I have summoned you all here. We must make haste to reach them before they leave La Rochelle."
"My Lord," Smythe said, making Fitzwarren look up at him, "might I suggest that we divert some of the squadron to the south, in case some slip past the squadron, thereby holding them or destroying them as they try to escape the rest of us."
"That was one part of the plan that we had, yes. There is another thought, however. It is very dangerous and I would not order it." Fitzwarren said, in a soft voice. All eyes and ears were on him now. "The other plan is to send in one or two ships, our fastest in the fleet, to draw them out, as the rest of the squadron arrives. These one or two ships would have to act quickly, striking, then withdraw, then strike again, holding the French till the fleet arrived."
"With the fortress there at La Rochelle, it would be more like a suicide mission, My Lord."
"That is why I will not order it." Fitzwarren looked about at his captains. Each was thinking the same thing and Fitzwarren could see it in their faces. "So, we set sail in three days time, together, three bells in the fore-noon watch. It's a sound plan, gentlemen. We shall all go..."
"Beg your pardon, My Lord." Callum spoke up, stepping forward.
"My Lord, the Dover has the shallowest draft of all of our ships in the squadron. She is also the fastest, with full tack. Your plan to lure the French out is sound, My Lord, and they won't give much thought to a single ship, being confident that they can best it. At most you and the rest of the squadron would be is a day behind. If I were to bring the Dover in late in the day, launch an evening attack, do as much damage as possible, it might take them by complete surprise."
"I won't hear of it." Smythe said, standing next to Callum, looking down at him. Callum looked up. "It is sheer folly, sir. A single ship, against the fortress and eight frigates, possibly more? Madness."
"Attack in the evening when they are filling their bellies, and have had far too much wine? I'm certain that they will be caught unawares."
"And I'm certain that there is large amount of prize money as well." Smythe said.
Callum angered. "I take that with great insult, sir."
"It was not meant to be as such."
"Prize money is not my intent, I assure you, sir. I have a greater goal in mind." Callum said with his voice now in authority mode.
Smythe tilted his head slightly. "And what would that be, Captain Callum?"
"A swift end to this war, sir."
"My apologies if I insulted you, sir." Smythe said. Callum smiled briefly, then looked around at the other officers about him. They all had wide eyes watching he and Smythe. "My Lord, if I may suggest, that if you let our daring young captain here go off and do this, that you allow me to do the same. The Tarkington also has a shallow draft, and I'm certain that with enough tack, we can keep up with the Dover, in good fashion." Smythe looked at Fitzwarren, who was looking back and forth at the pair. Smythe looked at Callum, and gave him a smile. "Would you allow me to sail with you, Captain Callum?"
"Only, if you think you can keep up." Callum held out his hand again. Smythe took it again, firmly. "It would be an honor to sail with you, sir."
"Then it's settled." Fitzwarren said, "The squadron sets sail in three days time. Once we are into the Channel, the Dover and the Tarkington will break out under full tack and go on to La Rochelle. We will load you with extra shot and powder. Are we all agreed, gentlemen?"
Dustin stood at the front door of the house, looking out the window of the door toward the road. He was watching for any movement off in the distance, but saw nothing. He was so focused on what he was looking for that he didn't hear the footsteps behind him. He was almost startled by the hand that softly touched his shoulder.
"It hasn't been that long yet, you know." Martha said softly. "Don't fret yourself, my dear. He will return in short order."
Dustin looked back over his shoulder, smiling at her. "I have never really been apart from him in quite some time."
"It will be alright. I promise." Martha smiled at him, then patted his shoulder with her hand. "Why don't you come into the kitchen with me and lend me a hand. We can start preparing a few things for his return."
"But, it may be tomorrow." Dustin said, hanging his head.
"I don't believe so. He has too much here to leave for too long. He will return in short fashion, I'm certain."
"You really think so?" Dustin brightened, as he turned to face her. She reached up and cupped her hands on his cheeks and smiled.
"Haven't you learned yet?" She said as she let him go. "With a looker such as you to come home to, it's a wonder he even left at all." She smiled again. Dustin blushed. "See? That's what I mean, that look, right there. You're the real heart breaker in this house. Now, come, let's get your mind on something else." She turned and walked toward the kitchen. Dustin turned and looked out at the road one last time. A long moment later he followed Martha to the kitchen.
Callum walked out of the large building of the Admiralty, the door was closed by a marine for him. He walked across the smooth stone, past the columns, and down the steps, his hat tucked under his arm. He looked about for Owen, but didn't see him. He wondered if he was still down at the end of the park. Callum started to walk along the cobblestone of the edge of the street.
"Captain Callum!" Came a voice from behind him. Callum stopped and turned. He saw Captain Smythe coming down the stone steps from the columns. Callum started walking back toward Smythe. "Might I have a word?" Smythe asked as they came close to one another.
"Certainly." Callum replied.
"I sincerely hope that you are still not offended by my remark from earlier. I feel I must apologize again, sometimes I speak without thinking. It's a...well, has been a problem in the past."
"Think nothing of it. I have forgotten it."
"Well...that's magnanimous of you," Smythe stumbled for words for a moment. "would you do me the honor of joining me for a drink then? Just to make sure that we can be friends, of coarse."
Callum smiled. "I thank you for the invitation, however, I need to locate my driver and set off for home to Birmingham. I have some packing to do, to get back to Portsmouth in time to sail."
"I see." Smythe looked stiff, hurt at being rejected.
"There is little time, and it is a long journey, there and back again." Callum smiled softly. "Perhaps, we can have a victory drink together after the mission is completed?"
"Done. Aboard the Tarkington. I have a special bottle of port for just such an occasion." Smythe's eyes brightened, he smiled with those perfect white teeth showing.
"Very well then. Aboard the Tarkington it is." Callum heard a carriage pull up behind him.
"Captain Callum? I'm here, sir." Callum heard the familiar voice behind. Callum turned and smiled up at Owen.
"Ah, there you are my good man. I was wondering where you'd gotten off to." Callum winked at Owen, who sat still and stone faced. Callum looked back to Smythe. He held out a hand toward him. Smythe took it and gave him that now familiar, firm grip once again. "A pleasure to finally meet a living legend, Captain. I shall see you in three days time." Callum pulled back his hand, turned, and opened the door of the carriage, stepping up and then closing the door as he sat in the rear seat.
"I look forward to it, Captain." Smythe said with a slight bow, and then signaled to a carriage across the street.
"Where to, sir?" Owen said, looking over his shoulder.
"Home." Callum said. Owen looked forward and whipped the snap whip making the horses step forward. They went about half a block past the Admiralty, when Callum leaned forward in the seat. "Owen, continue down the road and then make the turn toward home, then pull up."
Callum waited until they reached the corner and made it. Owen slowed the team and then came to a stop. He turned round on his seat looking back down at Callum.
"Is everything alright, Quintan?"
"Not really, my friend." Callum sighed heavily. "I wanted to ask, are the horses properly rested?"
"Certainly. I watered and grained them. They're set for the trip home."
"What of you?" Callum asked, looking concerned. "Have you had anything whilst I kept you waiting?"
"I did. I, too, am ready to go, if need be."
"I'm sorry, my friend, but I must press you to return us home. I had hoped to stay over, here in London, but I am to set sail in three days."
"From Portsmouth?" Owen asked, his eyes wide.
"Yes. That is where the Dover is docked, as you know."
"Then I shall drive you there as well. I know that you have many things to do to ready for your departure, so, we should not delay any longer."
"I would press you to take us a day early so I can oversee the loading of the Dover and her supplies." Callum said with pleading eyes
"As you wish, my friend. I am always here at your service."
"And I thank you for that, and your friendship." Callum said, with a smile. Owen turned in the seat above Callum and cracked the snap whip in the air. The horses set off, making Callum set back in the seat.
"Will there be anything else, My Lord?" Barrington asked as he stood behind Fitzwarren.
Fitzwarren stood over the map still out on the table, not looking back. He uttered a grunt, which Barrington took as a 'no'. He turned and walked toward the door. When he opened it to leave the room, Fitzwarren called out to him. Barrington stopped, his hand on the handle of the door, turning back.
"If I may ask a question?"
"Certainly, My Lord."
"What would be your appraisal of Captain Callum?" Fitzwarren asked without looking up from the map.
"I would think, My Lord, that he is a man of conscience. He cares for others around him."
Fitzwarren turned and looked at Barrington. He put his right hand on his hip. "Yes. That is what I think as well." Fitzwarren said in a low tone. "That will be all, Barrington, thank you."
"Very good, My Lord." Barrington bowed and then walked out the door, closing it behind him.
"And that just might get him killed." Fitzwarren said to himself as he turned back to the map.
Dustin watched Martha rolling out dough on the wooden board. Her fingers seemed to glide with the rolling pin and she would roll out more, then dip her fingers in the flour, sprinkle it about over the dough, then set the roller to it again. Her motions were almost fluid to him. He watched her intently, she did not even look up at him while she did it.
"So, what are you making?"
"It is a dessert. It will have preserves in it. I have not made it for you yet."
"It is like a pie, then?"
"Similar, yes, but it is more than that." Martha said as she was rolling out the dough more, rocking from one foot to the next as she did it. "Wait till you smell it baking, my boy. It will simply drive you mad."
Dustin smiled wide at her words. "There has to be a way to sneak you onboard. Mr. Carson could learn so much from just a single day with you."
Martha looked up and smiled into Dustin's cheery face. She winked at him, then went back to her dough. Once she was done she half rolled it back on the rolling pin, and lifted it, moving it over the baking pan, and then lay it down. She set the rolling pin aside and then began to press the dough into the bottom of the baking pan.
"Now, would you get that jar of preserves off the top shelf there?" She asked Dustin. He moved toward the shelf near the pantry. He looked and wasn't sure which jar she meant. "That one to your right." She said as Dustin was reaching up. "No, the one next to that. Yes, that's the one." She said, as Dustin laid his hand on it. He turned and walked back to the table next to her. "Now, cut the wax seal from it, and we'll lay it in the shell."
Dustin picked up a paring knife from the table and stabbed the top of the jar at the edge of the rim. He traced around the wax seal and then used the knife to flip up the wax. The smell that rose from the jar was heavenly. It was both sweet and spicy at the same time.
"The last of the preserves that Quintan's mother put up before she passed."
Dustin was silent as Martha choked back a tear from what she had said and the memory. Dustin watched as Martha took a wooden spoon and reverently doled out the contents of the jar into the dough. She loving spread it around and then took the paring knife and trimmed the edge of the baking pan, removing the excess dough, letting it drop to the board under the pan.
"There." Martha said, looking at her creation. "Alright, my boy, let's stoke up the fire in the wood box and then we can bake this."
"You really think he will return in short order?" Dustin asked.
"I do indeed." Martha looked up into those beautiful eyes. "If not for you, then for the smell of this." Martha smiled. "But, as I said, it will be more for you." Martha reached up and patted his cheek with a slightly floured hand.
Dustin smiled warmly at her and then went to the stove and stoked it. He moved out of the way as she carried the torte to the oven and opened the door of the oven, sliding it in. She closed it and then looked up at him.
"I had a thought." She said, Dustin raised an eyebrow to her. "Would you be willing to go into the village and visit the butcher?"
"It is a Wednesday. I know that he always has a fresh cut of lamb on Wednesday. You like lamb don't you?"
"I've never had it."
"Well, that settles it." Martha reached up for a tin that was on the shelf next to the dry sink. She opened it and started to pull out a few notes.
"What are you doing?" Dustin asked, watching her.
"You will need money for the butcher."
"I have money."
"This is for the house, and it's supply." Dustin put a hand on hers to stop her. He leaned forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Let me do this. It's for Quintan. It's the least I can do."
"Alright, if you insist."
"I do." Dustin said, he turned to walk away. "Is there anything else that you need?"
"No. Unless, you see something that you might like."
"I'll be back shortly then." Dustin said, he smiled and walked out of the kitchen. He patted his pocket, feeling that he had money and walked out the front door. He walked down the path and through the new gate, and continued on his way toward the village. He walked at brisk pace, feeling that he needed to hurry as he wanted to be back at the house when and if Callum came home.
Dustin walked into the village toward the main square. He caught the eye of a few, seeing him almost as a stranger in their midst. Dustin tried to smile at a few, most just looked away and went about their own business. A few others returned the smile briefly.
Dustin knew where the butcher was in the square and walked in. He saw the man standing toward the back of the shop over a large squared table.
"What can I do for ye?" The large man asked looking up. He held a large clever in his right hand.
"I was asked to get a cut of lamb." Dustin replied.
"Certainly. A whole leg? Or do ye want something else?" The question perplexed Dustin. He and Martha hadn't discussed it. He had no idea that there were different cuts of it.
"I don't know." Dustin said, looking lost. "What else is there?"
"How about a nice rack then?" The man said, as he put down his clever and walked toward Dustin.
"What is a rack?" Dustin asked.
"It's ribs." The man said, using his fingers running them up and down his side to show Dustin what he meant. Dustin nodded his understanding.
"What would you suggest?" Dustin asked.
"Let me get you a nice rack." The man said and walked toward the back. Dustin turned away as he was curious about the shop, and started to look around. The were different cuts hanging about that he had no idea what they were. A few birds hung up near the window in the front, those he knew were chickens, geese, and a turkey. They had all been plucked of their feathers. But the large chunks of meat hanging he could only guess at what they actually were. Dustin turned back around as he heard the sound of paper being crumbled. He watched as the large man was wrapping his request in it and tied the bundle with some string. He walked over to Dustin, smiling.
"How about the bird hanging there?" Dustin said, pointing toward a large chicken. "I'm sure she could make good use of that."
"Who be she?"
"Martha. The lady from the Callum house."
"Ah. Then ye be one of the nephews, then?"
"You could say that, yes."
"Well, if it be for Martha, then she will get the best then." The large man smiled wide. "She will be knowing what to do with that rack, that's for sure." He walked over and pulled down the large hen and handed it to Dustin.
"Thank you." Dustin said. He reached into his pocket and started to pull out money. "How much do I owe you?"
"I'll give you everything for her for a shilling." Dustin used his thumb to move some coins around, pushing a shilling out to his fingertips, handing it to the large man. He smiled and took it. He put the coin in his own pocket. "You be given her my best now."
"I will, sir. I thank you again."
"Good day to you, young sir." The big man said and turned and walked back to his large table, as Dustin walked out of the shop.
Dustin walked across the square, seeing the open vendors with fruits and vegetables. Dustin looked over some of the things in wooden boxes. He saw lots of greenery, some he knew, others were strange to him.
"May I help you, sir?" A soft voice asked. Dustin looked up. A young pretty girl was standing on the other side of the boxes from him. He gulped, seeing how pretty she was. He stood there, just staring at her. She smiled at him, and he just continued to stare.
"Can I help you?" She asked again, leaning toward him just a little. He blinked his eyes, snapping out of it.
"Are you looking for something?" She asked, smiling wider.
"Something we can do for you, sir?" Came another voice from beside Dustin. He looked over and saw an older woman standing there. Dustin gulped. "You're Martha Trelawne's boy, from Callum's Cross, aren't you?"
"Yes...uh,...Callum's Cross?" Dustin asked, not knowing what she meant.
"You know, Callum's Cross? The little house on the knoll? The one being worked on by the towns tradesmen? It's called Callum's Cross."
"I...I...didn't know that." Dustin stammered out, looking at her, and then the younger girl.
"Odd." The older woman said. "Did Martha send you into town to do her shopping for her?"
"Yes. Well,... I volunteered, actually."
"Ah, then she is tending to the needs of the sea captain, then."
"Actually,...he is in London...he was recalled to there."
"I see." The older woman said. "Did she ask you to bring her something?"
"Oh, yes. I...uh,...I have already taken care of that." Dustin stammered as he looked at the young girl again. He had no idea what was happening to him. He took in a slight breath, and then focused on the older woman next to him. "She said I should get anything else that might interest me."
"And is there something that interests you?" She looked at him and then to the girl, and then back at him.
"I am not certain what she might need in the house for vegetables." Dustin was thinking hard as to what was in the pantry, but he was drawing a blank. "I suppose I should take stock of what is at the house and then come back if anything is needed." Dustin nodded to her and then looked at the girl. "Thank you."
"You are very welcome, young sir." The older woman said to him. Dustin turned and hurried off out of the square. He was muttering to himself the entire way back to the house. He walked by a few of the workmen at the house still muttering, and then reached the door and went in. He walked into the kitchen and stood next to the table. Martha saw him and narrowed her eyes.
"Something troubles you, my boy." Martha said, putting her hands on her hips. "Trouble in the village?"
"Huh?" Dustin snapped out of it, looking at her. He looked around the room. He didn't even realize that he had reached here.
"I take it, that is the lamb in the parchment?"
"Oh...yes it is." Dustin said, handing it toward her. "The butcher said to tell you hello. He suggested this cut." She took the paper from him, and was looking at him.
"That hen is almost as big as you are." She said, nodding toward the bird. Dustin took the bird hanging from his shoulder and set it upon the table. "What happened in the village?"
"Huh?" Dustin looked at her. Her eyes narrowed seeing the questioning look upon his face. "I am not certain."
"Did you talk to anyone beside the butcher?"
"I did." Dustin said, looking down at the floor. He slowly lifted his face. "I don't know who she is, or the other lady, but, something happened that has me confused."
"Oh? And what is that?"
"The girl I saw. She was so...pretty. I have never seen a girl that was so..."
"Ah, I see." Martha said, taking a step toward Dustin. "And you are wondering why she is stealing your thoughts, making you... question yourself."
"Yes. Is that wrong?"
Martha smiled warmly at him, and then put a hand to his shoulder. "There are many in this world that are simply beautiful by nature. Beautiful in heart, beautiful in looks. It is easy to be captivated by such beauty. I think I know of whom you speak."
"You know her?"
"Yes, and her mother."
"Who is she?"
"Her name is Caroline. Her mother is a dear friend of mine." Martha pulled back her hand, still looking at Dustin. "She is always looking to find the right young lad to court Caroline. She is very picky about it." Martha raised an eyebrow toward him. "She didn't suggest anything, did she?"
"Not really, no. She knew that I was from here and the house. She called it by name."
"It is called that because of the cross road to the village."
"Would you like to see her again?"
Dustin narrowed his eyes, cocking his head slightly at her. "I think you know where my heart lies."
"That is what I thought." She smiled softly. "Perhaps it was just her beauty that captivated you."
"Perhaps you're right. It was unsettling, however."
Martha patted him on the shoulder. "It will most likely pass."
Owen slowed the team and pulled up on the side of the road. He stopped the carriage slowly, and then tied back the reins on the rail of the seat. He looked back at Callum, and then climbed down. Owen walked up to the horse on the right of the carriage and bent down, lifting the front hoof. He looked it over carefully, and then set it back down.
"Problem?" Callum asked, looking over the edge of the carriage.
"His shoe is loose." Owen answered. "We are only an hour away from Birmingham. We should be alright, but I will have to slow them down a bit."
"How long do you want to rest them?"
"Quarter hour or so. I'm sorry, Quintan."
"Think nothing of it." Callum said as he opened the door and stepped out of the carriage. "We have made excellent time. I confess I am anxious to reach home, however, if it means that we need to wait a bit, then so be it."
"Are you going to stretch your legs then?"
"Yes. My wound is troubling me." Callum said, rubbing his thigh. "It is a little tight. I think I'll walk toward home. You can pick me up when they are rested."
"As you wish." Owen said, watching Callum walk by him and starting down the road. Owen turned back to the horses. He went to the one leg and lifted it again, feeling around the shoe trying to move with his fingers. He set it back down and walked to the rear of the carriage. There, at the back, was a small lidded box. He opened it, removing a small hammer and a set of tongs. He closed the lid and went back to the horse, kneeling slightly, he bent up the leg and rested it on his thigh. Using the tongs with one hand, holding the shoe, the other used the hammer. With gentle hits to the shoe, he reset the nails that had worked loose, making the shoe tighter. He rubbed the leg with one hand, letting the horse know he was done, and then set the hoof down. He backed up a step, giving the horse a little room. The horse stomped the ground with the shoe, testing it as it were. He snorted, and Owen patted him.
"I think the torte is ready." Martha said, as she opened the oven door.
"It smells wonderful." Dustin said, as he looked over her shoulder, standing behind her.
"Now, give us some room." Martha said, looking over her shoulder. "You'll taste it soon enough." She grinned and reached into the oven box with her apron. She gently pulled it out, and set it upon the stove, then closed the door. She turned it round and round, looking it over. She smiled seeing that it was done evenly all around. "Now, I think we should start to prepare the lamb."
"What if he does not return today?"
"Then, I would say that we will enjoy a feast to ourselves." Martha smiled up at him.
Callum had walked quite a ways down the road. He did not bother to look back at Owen and the carriage. He knew that he would be picked up soon enough. There were too many things on his mind as it was. He kept going over the coming mission, the possibilities, the many issues that it raised. He wondered if the crew was going to be fully assembled by the time they were to sail. And then there was Captain Smythe. He was foremost in Callum's thoughts.
Smythe had a reputation in the fleet for being a daring officer, almost cavalier in his methods. He followed Nelson's teaching and tactics, which were, never mind about the maneuver, just go straight at them. Callum had heard that he would draw to point blank range and fire everything that he had. This could be a dangerous gamble, as at that distance, sometimes, cannonball would come back at you. Callum had heard that this had happened to the Tarkington, more than once. But, Smythe always seemed to win out and gain the upper hand. Such a man, especially on this mission, might prove invaluable, if they were to succeed.
Callum walked a little while longer, reaching down and rubbing his wound now and then as it was beginning to loosen up for him. He touched over it through the cloth of his long pants, and then another thought crept in. It brought a smile to his face. His thought was of Dustin, and how Dustin had been there when he first came around in his cabin after being stabbed in the thigh. He thought of how Dustin had been there after his fight with Farrow, in the morning, trying to clean him up of the dried blood. Dustin was always there, and always there for him. His chest tightened as he realized how much he missed him. He picked up his pace a little, every step now brought him closer to him, the one he left at home. Then slowly the thought occurred to him about the mission and Dustin, how much the danger was and how impossible the odds could be. He made a decision right there and then. He was interrupted in thought by the sound of hooves coming up behind him. He turned and saw Owen coming at a slow trot.
Callum smiled as Owen approached, but Callum waved his arm, to bring him on without slowing. Callum half turned and began to trot alongside the road as Owen brought the carriage up near him. Callum matched the pace a few steps and then jumped to the step of the carriage, grasping the railing. He stepped over the door and into the carriage, as Owen was looking over his shoulder.
"I could have stopped, you know?"
"Don't waste the time. I am still able to move about." Callum said, his eyes a little wide, as he had never jumped into a moving coach before. "Does he still have a problem with the shoe?"
"It should be alright until we get home. I'll make new ones. He'll be right as rain for the trip to Portsmouth."
"Excellent." Callum smiled, as he was still standing on the floorboard. He put a hand on Owen's shoulder. "Might I ride with you?"
"It is rather uncomfortable."
"Truth be told, it is rather firm back here in the seat."
Owen smiled wide. He scooted over to one side, making room for Callum. He watched as Callum swung a leg over and made his way to the bench seat next to Owen. Once Callum was in place, Owen gave the horses a little more rein, letting them know it was alright to pick up the pace. They responded, going neck and neck in movement together, matching each other's pace. Callum smiled at Owen as he sat down.
"This is more like it now." Callum said, the wind in his hair. He leaned forward a little as if to catch more.
"How is that?"
"The wind in my hair,...me up front looking over the team? I don't feel so...imperial, like sitting in the back seat."
Owen laughed out loud. "You're a rebel at heart, aren't you, Quintan?"
Callum looked over at him, grinning. "A rebel? Me? A ship's captain? Perish the thought, man."
Owen laughed out loud again.
"So you see?" Martha said, as she slid the tray into the narrow oven, and then closed the door. "It needs to cook slowly, precisely. No one wants a burnt rack of lamb."
"I see." Dustin smiled wide. He clasped his hands together and rub his palms with each other. "So, now what?"
"Would you be a good lad and go out and split some more wood for the stove?" Martha said putting a hand to Dustin's shoulder. "I'll go out and see about some more eggs with the hens."
"I would be happy to."
"Thank you, my boy. I knew I could count on you." Martha said, as retrieved the egg basket. She and Dustin walked out the back door together. He went out on the flagstone and found the broadax and began to split more wood. He knew how she liked it, having seen and heard what she said about the wood before. He was busy with splitting and stacking, and paying attention to the workmen who were walking about doing their own tasks. Dustin had finally quite a stack when he heard something behind him, something like someone clearing their throat. He turned and looked behind him and saw Kelsey Hargrove standing there. Dustin knew who he was, as one of the workmen on the house, but didn't know his name.
"Beg pardon, Master Perkins. I didn't mean to give you a start, sir."
"You didn't." Dustin looked at him with a questioning look. "I'm afraid you have the better of me, sir. You know my name?"
"Indeed I do, sir." Kelsey held out his hand. "We've not properly been introduced, sir. I'm Kelsey Hargrove."
"A pleasure." Dustin said, taking his hand in his. "I'm Dustin."
"Yes, I know." Kelsey said, taking in Dustin's sweet boyish smile. He groaned to himself looking him over. Kelsey slowly took back his hand.
"Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Hargrove?"
"Uh, no, sir." Kelsey stammered out. "I just wanted to introduce myself to ye, sir."
"Well, will you be staying on to work on the house then? I know that some of the others are moving on to another task out of the village."
"They don't want to be too close to the village, sir. The women watching what they do and all, sir. But, yes, sir, I plan to stay working on the house, here, sir."
"I see." Dustin nodded his understanding. "You live in the village, Kelsey?"
"Yes, sir. Born and raised."
"Tell me then, do you know a young girl by the name of Caroline? She sells supply in the market square..." Dustin's voice trailed off, seeing the expression on Kelsey's face.
"I thought you and the Captain..." Kelsey said in a whispery voice.
"Nothing, sir, nothing at all." Kelsey recomposed himself. "Yes, I know Caroline. Her beauty is renown throughout the county, sir. She would not be for the likes of you, sir."
"What the hell does that mean?" Dustin angered quickly, still holding the axe.
"Nothing, sir." Kelsey said, raising his hands to chest height. "It's her mother, sir. She has sights set on the Squires son, sir, that's all."
"I see." Dustin said, setting the axe down next to the block. "Well, a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hargrove."
Kelsey saw his opportunity and took it. He stepped forward, grabbing Dustin by the collar of his shirt. "I know of you and the captain." He hissed through clenched teeth, "And I know that my Owen has an eye for HIM as well. Best keep yourself on your own man. I know what you like, and what you really want." Kelsey was face to face with Dustin. He pushed Dustin back away from him by the collar, then turned and walked away. Dustin just stood there, breathing hard, and then gulped. He watched Kelsey walk toward the back of the house, and then disappeared around the corner.
"There were only a few eggs this afternoon." Martha said, as she walked up, looking down at the meager egg count in her basket. She lifted her eyes up to Dustin. "Did you get some more wood split?"
"Uh," Dustin said, snapping back to reality, looking at her, "yes...yes, I did. Is this enough?"
"Oh, that's a fine bit. Be a good lad, and bring some in, will you?"
"Certainly." Dustin said, in a growling voice, looking toward the corner of the house. He gathered some wood in his arm, and followed her in the back door.
"Almost there, Qunitan." Owen said, as he held the reins in one hand, and the snap whip in the other. "See it?" Owen nodded forward. Callum looked in the same direction. "Buckman's field, there. He's your neighbor. He has the largest field in the shire." "So, it shouldn't be long then?"
"Once around this bend, you can see the house in the distance."
Callum waited and watched. The movement of the horses, the sound of their hooves, their panting and snorting, the wind in his hair. He watched the grass of the field to his left moving in the breeze, making waves, like the sea. He waited with almost held breath as they came round the bend of the road. Then, he saw it, in the distance, the little house up on the knoll. His eyes widened as he looked upon it, it slowly growing larger as they approached. Callum looked at Owen, and then back forward again. Owen smiled, seeing Callum's reaction out of the corner of his eye.
"Good to be home, Qunitan?"
"Yes, my friend, yes."
Owen slowed the carriage up near the front gate. Callum climbed down, and turned back to Owen, reaching out a hand, his face bright, and his smile wide.
"Thank you, my friend."
"You are most welcome." Owen replied. "I shall reshoe the team and then be ready."
"Come by here tomorrow, if you please. I shall pay you for all your trouble of today."
"Think nothing of it."
"Very well. Tomorrow then."
"Tomorrow." Callum shook Owen's hand and then let it go. He turned and hurried up through the new gate and up the path. Owen watched him, smiling. He waited a minute and then set the team to the right, turning for the village, as Callum entered the door.
"I'm home!" Callum called out, dropping his hat on the sette, then crossing the room. He reached the kitchen door and was wrapped by Dustin, leaping into his arms, wrapping his legs around Callum's waist. Their embrace was tight, as they looked into each others eyes for a moment. Dustin closed his, slowly, as Callum took him, kissing him deeply, pressing Dustin against the doorframe. The kiss was deep and passionate, Dustin pulling Callum to him tighter, his arms about Callum's shoulders. Callum was moaning softly into Dustin's mouth. Dustin pulled back, slowly, kissing Callum all about his face.
"You obviously missed me."
"You have no idea." Martha said, as she stood nearby.
"Yes." Callum said, trying to pull Dustin off of him. Callum looked toward her, still peeling Dustin off of him. "And how are you, my dear?"
"Well, thank you. Trying to keep the young master here occupied."
Callum turned his attention back to Dustin, smiling. "It would seem that that was a chore unto itself." Callum freed imself of Dustin, finally, and had a firm grip on his upper arms. Callum smiled. "I have news. We must talk first." Dustin knew right then it was bad. Tears began to well in his beautiful eyes. "Fear not, my love, all will be well."