Voyage Home

11

Callum went over the side of Triborne, climbing down into the longboat that was held and waiting. Marines were in it, some of the crew set to row and Talon at the tiller. Callum looked up for a moment, the others of his crew of Windsong and Collingwood were standing at the rail of Triborne, waiting for the boat to return for them, looking back down at them.

“We’ll have the boat back for you in a few minutes, just hold on until then.”

“We will, sir.” Collingwood said, the men left were all about him. They watched as the longboat pulled away and headed for Windsong a short distance, tied off at Triborne’s aft section, drifting on the two lines from Windsong’s bow.

Callum stood in the bow of the longboat, Talon was steering her in a circular course and headed directly for her now. Callum saw her outline clearly in the fading dark of the night, the more deeper blue was emerging now in the sky, the approaching dawn. He let out a soft sigh to himself, this night had been difficult, very difficult and draining to all of them.

Hunter had survived the attack from the French madman they were pursuing but with terrible loss. Captain Renner was dead, a once hero of England and highly decorated for his accomplishments in the Royal Navy. Callum was saddened over his loss, but knew deep down that the 1st Lieutenant, William Carrington, was a good officer and would lead his ship and crew in continuing their mission as the new Captain of HMS Hunter.

The losses to the crew were considerable, Callum and the other Captains with him estimated about one third of them were either dead or wounded. The exact number was not known as of yet but would be coming, Callum was sure. HMS Hunter was a seventy-four gunner, a third class ship of the line, like her sister ship, HMS Triborne, that they had just pulled away from. Each of these ships had a crew of six hundred, all able bodied men, experienced sailors and fighters, a dozen officers each. But the loss of that many of this crew of Hunter’s could be harmful to ship function, they would be stretched thin on the various watches until they reached port and were resigned with more crew. Callum could not wait for that to happen however, there was the mission, the pressing point of it even more now.

He and Windsong had been attacked the night before by the very Frenchman they were pursuing, his own losses to Windsong were few in number, six Marines dead, but eleven in total lost to being moved to Triborne for their care. He was now spread thin as well. The Marines had been transferred from Dover to Windsong to replenish those numbers, those Marines that could not be taken originally when they left Portsmouth with their mission. But something the night before last had happened during the first attack and Callum was very pleased over it.

Callum’s 1st Lieutenant, Abel Collingwood, had been ordered by Callum to fire off signaling rockets to call for help from the other ships that were standing by off in the distance while they were under attack, but Collingwood had made an error, a good and wondrous error that actually saved their lives, the rockets were fired off, but instead of them going skyward as they should, they flew directly into the mast and sails of the large French ship, doing damage and spreading fire on the deck. The attack was broken off and they were spared. Another rocket was fired doing even more damage bringing more fire.

Last night’s attack on HMS Hunter was done, and another blow was given to the French ship. Returned cannon fire was sent over, a few shots only, but the Frenchman had received damage at or near the waterline forcing the French ship to break off yet another attack. Callum knew of the ship, the French ship, the Avion, once the flagship and pride of the French Navy when Louis was on the throne. The Admiral that commanded the Avion, Admiral Francois Battenou, was known to be a brilliant officer with his tactics, and fiercely loyal to the French Crown. The thought of the man, Battenou, filled Callum’s mind. He thought that the man must be about in his sixties by now at least as he had served the Crown for decades, according to what Callum knew of him.

The longboat pulled alongside Windsong, Callum reached up and grabbed the gunnel, pulling himself up and over the rail onto the deck, he turned and held out a hand, a line was handed up to him, he tied off on the port rail and held out a hand to help the Marines up out of the boat. He hurried them along and out of the way. He untied the line and sent the boat back to Triborne for the rest of the crew, it might be two more trips for all of them. Callum turned and looked at the Marines.

“You men are dismissed. Go below and get yourselves some rest, I’ll tell the Sergeant when he arrives.” Callum said, they all looked nervous without receiving orders from their Sergeant, “Go ahead, he won’t have issue with it, I assure you.” Callum gave them a soft smile of reassurance and they moved to go to the hatch and down the gangway ladder, obeying the Captain’s instructions. Callum looked over and saw Carson there on the deck, he had come over with Callum on the longboat. “You should rest as well, Carson. It has been a long couple of days for you as well.”

“For all of us, sir. I will put on some coffee after I stoke up the stove, I’m certain you would like some as well, sir.”

“You always read my mind, Carson, why is that?”

“That’s part of my duties, sir.” Carson smiled and turned to head for the steps to go below to the galley, Callum just shook his head after him. He followed slowly behind Carson and went down the steps after him, going by the galley as Carson turned up the lamp, Callum going to his cabin and opened the door, he slipped off his tunic and hung it on the peg on the bulkhead wall. He looked over at the opposite side of the cabin and saw the boy, Hans, the boy they rescued from the attacked Dutch merchant ship they found adrift, sleeping on his pallet, curled up in a ball on top of it all. Callum went over to him and knelt, pulling out a shabby blanket from behind and underneath him and covered the boy, tucking him in a bit. He rose to his feet and turned the lamp down a bit more that was overhead in the center of the cabin. Callum turned and went out closing the door, going back by the galley.

“Are you hungry, sir?”

“No, thank you, Carson.”

“Coffee will be ready in a few minutes, sir.”

“Very good, I’ll be on deck.” Callum said and went out the door and up the steps as the boat pulled up alongside Windsong, more Marines came up and over the rail, McGuffin was with this group this time. Callum came over toward him, “Sergeant, I dismissed your first group and sent them below to get some rest.”

“Thank you, sir.” The graveled voice behind the big whiskers said.

“You should do the same. We will be getting underway in about an hours’ time with the dawn.” Callum said as he stood before the large muscular man.

“We shall do that, sir.”

“I am of hopes that there will be no further incident until we reach the Somme River.”

“One can only hope, sir.” McGuffin said, saluted and turned away, leading his men down the gangway ladder. Callum watched them all go below and was left alone on the deck. He looked aloft, seeing the mast points swinging a bit with the dim points of the stars in the fading night sky. The dawn was coming on them rapidly and Callum wanted to be underway. He was feeling a bit anxious that the mission was soon going to be over. He wanted to speed it up as much as he could, but he knew his men were tired, as tired as he was right now. He would not push them beyond a certain point, it was not what he wanted to do, not to these brave men who had volunteered to go with their Captain to serve on this dangerous mission, aboard this vessel that had only light weapons on it to defend itself. This was not a ship of the line by any means. Windsong had been the sloop that Callum and the crew of Dover had captured while enroute to La Rochelle, the ‘mission of destiny’, Callum’s love, Dustin, had called it once. Callum smiled at the thought of the love of his life at home, waiting for him to return.

He is probably sleeping right now, Callum thought, in the middle of the bed as he always did when he was curled up next to Callum’s side, nestled into the small of Callum’s arm, hands together in a praying pose against Callum’s chest, resting his cheek on them as he slept. He was so angelic when he slept, Callum thought and smiled wider at the visualization that in his mind, the tanned skin, barely covered, always just below the waist with the coverings of their bed, the slender lithe body that Dustin had was jaw dropping to Callum, he loved just looking at him, taking him all in with only his eyes.

When they were together, Callum could not help himself in touching him, holding him, caressing him in so many ways, the soft skin was like an aphrodisiac to Callum, the tight muscle, the soft deep brown eyes, and the golden brown long hair that he had just rounded out everything. Dustin had facial features that were soft and almost as if they were sculpted by a master artisan, he was just so handsome, no, even more than that, he was truly beautiful. There was not a flaw to anything about Dustin. And Callum was not the only to think it as well. Several other that Callum knew thought and felt the same way about Dustin as he does, and some remarked about it even. It did not worry Callum, nor would he be jealous, as Dustin was as loyal to him, as he was in return to Dustin. Callum smiled wide and long thinking that Dustin would be the one and the only for him for the rest of his life, he loved him that much, no one else could or would be ever able to tempt him away, Callum knew that deep down in his soul and he would never betray Dustin in that way, ever, he felt that strongly about it.

Callum’s thoughts were interrupted by someone next to him, he looked down as the coffee cup was handed to him. He reached out and took it from the hand of Carson, he looked over and gave him a brief smile, Carson beamed back at him with his usual broad smile.

“You seem lost in thought, sir.” Carson said. Callum definitely had been, he now found himself leaning against the half rail before the wheel and couldn’t remember how he wound up here.

“Yes,…apparently I was, Carson.”

“Thoughts of home, sir? A particular person perhaps?” Carson asked as he knew.

“I suppose so, yes.”

“Don’t worry, sir, you’ll see him soon enough, I’m sure. We’ll get through this, I know you’ll see it done.”

“I hope so, Carson.” Callum said softly as he looked at this older man, a very wise and caring man that he had inherited from his previous Captain, Captain Powers. They smiled briefly to one another again and Callum looked beyond Carson to the port rail, the rest of Windsong was coming aboard from the longboat that was obviously now alongside. Collingwood came over the rail and set foot on deck. Callum stood and came toward the group.

“Welcome aboard, Abel.” Callum said as he lifted his cup to his lips.

“Thank you, sir.” Collingwood tipped his hand to his hat brim.

“Let us prepare to get underway, if you please. Check lines and stays. We will set sail at the first light.” Callum said and turned away.

“Sir,…” Collingwood said at Callum’s back, making him turn back around, “I would respectfully ask, sir, the services for Captain Renner and those lost aboard Hunter.”

“What about them?” Callum asked. Some of the hands stopped what they were doing and watched the two officers.

“Respectfully, sir, you’re the Squadron Commander,…your presence would be sorely missed if you weren’t there, sir.”

“Mr. Collingwood, I am fully aware of my position in this, painfully aware of it, I assure you. I see your point, but, now you must see mine.” Callum said as he squared off with his 1st Lieutenant, “There have been two engagements with our quarry, and with this last one, the information that I have received leads to believe that the Avion is damaged, possibly severely. Our mission is of utmost importance and I cannot afford to have time lost, no matter what the situation is presenting, am I clear?” Callum spoke gently but firmly about this.

“It is clear, sir.”

“Then let us prepare to get make ready to sail.” Callum said.

“It’s very unchristian, sir, to not show our respects.” Collingwood said flatly, giving Callum a look that he never had before. Callum narrowed his eyes.

“I am wondering, Mr. Collingwood, did Captain Renner think that when he stood idly by, did he think that when he was not present when we buried our own dead? Two wrongs do not make a right, Mr. Collingwood, and I will not argue or explain my decisions to either you or anyone else. We have a mission and I will do everything in my power to see it successfully through. If we act now and swiftly, we can have this blackard son-of-a-bitch that did all of this and justice can be served, as well as our orders.” Callum said flatly without changing his tone one bit. Collingwood was slightly wide eyed, “There are things that happened aboard Hunter that you have not been made aware of as of yet. Dover and Triborne will be setting sail two hours behind us, Hunter will set sail after they have buried their dead. Now, is there anything else you would like to ask, Mr. Collingwood?”

“Nothing at all, sir.” Collingwood tipped his hand to his hat.

“Then carry out my orders and get us ready to sail.” Callum said flatly and turned away, walking to go below. Callum walked by a wide eyed Carson and went down the stairs, setting his cup in the galley, and then going on to his cabin, opening the door, the low light of the hanging lamp made the timbers and planking of the bulkhead walls glow a burnt orange. Callum balled up his fists, angry with himself for treating Collingwood that way. He knew that Collingwood was right, but too much was at stake now, the end could be close at hand if they moved quickly in this. Callum growled in his throat.

“Sir,…” Carson said and Callum spun on his heels, “I’m sure if Mr. Collingwood had only known, sir, he wouldn’t have tried to make a point of it, sir.”

“Ugh, Carson,…” Callum said and ran his hands over his face and then over his hair, “Why? Why? Ugh! I should have stopped myself from saying anything. I was such a damned fool.”

“Yes, sir.” Carson said, making Callum look at him with a look of shock, “You’re tired, sir, we all can see it, you really haven’t slept well or for very long in days, sir, since Dr. Crawford removed your stitches and drugged you that night before we sailed, sir. I’m certain that Mr. Collingwood understands that, sir.”

“No,” Callum said and sighed out loud, “I am a poor commander indeed, Carson, for not explaining to my 1st anything about what happened this past evening. This is entirely my fault.”

“Sir, I know what you’re thinking. Don’t go out there right now.”

“What are saying, Carson?”

“It will be seen as you being weak, sir. Don’t fall into it. You said one thing to him, sir, one thing that was correct, you don’t have to argue or explain anything about your decisions, sir. He knows that, sir. He’s an officer as well.”

“As I said also, Carson, two wrongs don’t make a right.” Callum said, coming close and putting his hands on Carson’s upper arms, “This is not a ship of the line, and I may be his Captain, but that does not give me the right to treat him or anyone else like that, sleep or no sleep is not an excuse.” Callum said and gripped the arms a bit tighter, “Carson, you are a very wise man, and a wonderful asset to me. The next time you hear me going off like I did, I order you to stop me. Hit me in the head with a fry pan or whatever, is that clear?”

“I might enjoy it, sir.” Carson said and rolled his head a bit. Callum chuckled and shook his head. Callum let him go and walked out, going back up on deck. He saw Collingwood directing some of the men about, checking rigging and lines, they all saw Callum coming, tipping their hands and getting out of his way, Collingwood had his back to Callum, his hands clasped behind his back as Callum came up behind him.

“May I have a moment of your time, Mr. Collingwood?” Callum asked quietly, Collingwood jumped a little and turned, tipping his hand, Callum walked forward toward the bow, Collingwood following him. Callum reached the bowsprit, turned and sat down on it, folding his arms over his chest and looked up at Collingwood.

“Sir.”

“In the mood for an apology, Abel?”

“Sir?”

“I was out of line with you, I wish to apologize.” Callum said.

“Sir, I,…” Collingwood said.

“I was out of line, pure and simple. I have not had the opportunity as of yet to explain anything to you about this night and what I have learned. As I said to Carson just a moment ago, I am a very poor commander indeed to not do so. Abel, it is important to all of us to be successful in this mission, England itself may be at stake in this, you know that. I need to have you with me in this, and I cannot afford to have us at each other when the time comes. So, I will do everything that I can to keep you informed, starting with everything that was learned tonight aboard Hunter. You see, the other Captains and I did all of the surveying while you and the other officers saw to the repairs.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Strathum and I discussed that as well.”

“I do not know the type of rapport that he and Captain Stewart have with each other, but I do know what goes on between Captain Tomlin and Mr. Sommers, they have been close for the past two years. I know they are discussing the events and the information right now, I’m sure. I should have made it a point with you earlier and I apologize for not doing so.”

“Sir, if I may,…this really is not necessary. You are the Captain, I will follow your orders, sir, and without question as we see this through.”

“I appreciate that, Abel, I really do. But that does not excuse my behavior with you. I was out of line to speak to you like that, especially in front of the hands. It was disrespectful on my part. And I was also out of line about slandering Captain Renner and his memory.” Callum said, his arms still folded over his chest. Collingwood flashed his eyes a bit.

“I won’t argue that point over Captain Renner, sir.” Collingwood lowered his eyes a bit.

“As well you shouldn’t.” Callum said and stood, unfolding his arms, holding out his hand, “I offer my hand, and my most profound apologizes to you.” Collingwood looked at the outstretched hand for a moment and then up into his Captain’s sparkling eyes that looked so tired, the handsome face was haggard looking to Collingwood. He reached out and took the hand, clasping it slowly but firmly. “Thank you for being so gracious, Abel.”

“I will stand with you, sir, at your side until the very end.” Collingwood said as he stared into Callum’s eyes. Callum gave him a brief smile as they let go of each other’s hands. Talon was walking up to them.

“Sir, would like the boat brought up on deck?” Talon asked.

“Yes, Darin, see to it, would you?”

“Aye, sir.” Talon said and tipped his hand, looking at both of them, knowing that he missed something that had happened. He turned and walked away to see about the boat, calling to a few hands to assist.

“Amos can take the deck, if you would care to go below and we can discuss this further in my cabin.” Callum said.

“As you wish, sir.” Collingwood said. Callum gave him a nod and walked toward the port rail, Collingwood following him as they drew nearer to Talon.

“Darin, have Amos take the deck and see to the boat, join me in my cabin if you please.” Callum said. Talon looked at him, and tipped his hand, his eyes slightly wide.

“That was very good of you, Grandfather, to be that way with your officer.” Dustin said, the old man shifted his eyes a bit and looked at the soft young face that was near him on the ottoman.

“It was simply not done, ever.” The old man said, tensing his jaw a bit, “A Captain was not ever to apologize to a subordinate, I knew that, and my steward was right in that, it might be seen as a sign of weakness on my part. I had a different view of it, outside of regulations however. I always felt that the more that my officers knew, the better for all involved. I had fallen short of that, and I would pay for it eventually.”

“In what way, Grandfather?”

“It went hard for us, all of us, after that.” The old man said.

“Sir,…may I ask you something?” Andrew asked as he lowered his pencil, the old man turned his head toward the settee and the other young man in the room.

“What is it, Andrew?” The old man asked softly.

“You said that there was a good deal of loss of the crew of Hunter. I have done quite a bit of research for this before I came to you, sir, I must say. I have never heard or seen an account of this in the records.” Andrew said.

“You would be correct in that, Andrew.” The old man said quietly, “Did you find the account officially describing Captain Renner’s death?”

“They were sealed, sir, in the archives of the Admiralty and were not presented for viewing.”

“I would think not, Andrew.”

“Why is that, sir?”

“Reputation, Andrew. There was great reputation to protect, reputation of the service, Captain Renner’s memory, as well as the disaster of Hunter almost being lost by inattention to detail and duty. It is something that the Admiralty would not want out in the public eye, I’m certain, especially in those times. We were asked not discuss it openly when we returned, ordered actually.”

“They covered it up.” Dustin said.

“They were protecting in not disclosing, a matter of perspective, my boy.” The old man shifted his gaze back to Dustin.

“Why?”

“There was much that was discovered after our return, in time. The traitors had to be found out about and tracked down. We had set certain things into motion with this mission, and to all our horror, none of us involved actually knew where it would all really eventually lead to.” The old man said.

“It was far more than the Frenchman then?”

“Yes, for certain, as I have said before. The Frenchman that we were pursuing was merely the instrument being used with the destruction and the terror being brought upon the merchant shipping.”

“When did you find out about all of it, sir?” Andrew asked.

“It was actually quite some time later, long after our return to port.” The old man said, “I had actually written out the entire account in my official reports,” The old man closed his eyes a moment and shook his head, “I actually drained an inkwell in doing that.”

“I can only imagine, sir.”

“I only wish that I had had you there with me at the time, Andrew, your shorthand.” The old man smiled as he looked over at the very handsome young man, “I might have given the Admiralty a far more detailed accounting of events, as I am now.”

“Grandfather, do you think this will change anything, what you are speaking of now?” Dustin asked.

“No, my boy, it will not. It merely eases my own mind with all of this.” The old man said and smiled. He reached out and squeezed the young hand that was nearest him, “Now, how is supper coming by the way? It smells wonderful from here. Mutton, perhaps?”

“Yes, quite right. We can also try out that new wine that I picked up in the Square.” Dustin said.

“I see. Are we through for the evening then?” The old man asked.

“Only if you wish to, sir.” Andrew said, the old man looked over at him, “It’s entirely up to you.”

“Well, we can keep going then.” The old man said and reached a hand up and scratched his chin for a moment, “Let me see, I had taken my officers into the cabin with me and brought them up with the details of what I had learned during the night with my fellow Captains. Collingwood understood fully now, and even though he felt that we needed to stay for the burial, he knew Dover and Triborne were not going to be there as well. The dawn was upon us as we left my small cabin and went up on deck,…”

Callum came up the steps into the breaking morning light, he stopped and looked aloft, the wind was good, gently washing over the deck, giving Windsong a gentle sway side to side as she was still tied off to the aft quarter of Triborne. Collingwood and Talon came up to each side of their Captain.

“Let’s get underway. With this wind and if it holds, we should be there before the evening, giving us a bit of time.” Callum said as he looked about again at his men, they were all tired, he could see it, “Mr. Collingwood,”

“Sir,”

“Once we set sail, let us do the right thing in this. We will break up the crew into three watches, between the three of us, giving them some rest as we proceed in our course. I will need everyone at their best and somewhat rested when we reach the French coast and the Somme by tonight.” Callum said as Collingwood was looking at him.

“Understood, sir. That should include you as well, sir.” Collingwood said.

“I suppose it does, Mr. Collingwood, thank you.” Callum said as he looked up aloft, “Let’s get to it.”

“Aye, sir. Cast off those lines from Triborne! Set all and plain sail!” Collingwood called out as he walked away further out on the deck away from his Captain.

“Darin, would you care to take the wheel?” Callum asked as he looked at his young officer.

“My pleasure, sir.” Talon replied and tipped his hand.

“Make her south by southeast if you please.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Talon smiled and nodded once, stepping away to go around the short rail and go to the wheel. He removed the lashings on it and put his hands firmly on the spoke handles and was ready to accept the wind with the canvas. He looked at the back of his Captain and watched him for a moment as his Captain stepped forward a few steps further on the deck, hands clasped behind his back, looking aloft as the hands went up the rigging, getting ready to lower sails, the Mainsail first. Talon looked aloft as well as the canvas dropped, starting to go into billow as it dropped, snapping and taking the wind. The deck responded with soft creaks around Talon and it was time. He turned the wheel slightly to follow the direction and course his Captain wanted.

Hands on deck went to lines, tying out on belaying pins at the port rail and those lines to the starboard where they could on the damaged or destroyed sections of railing there that were received when they had been attacked and rammed into the Frenchman that night. Two of the hands, Jennings and Hawkins came aft and set the Spanker or Driver out on the Mizzen arm, the angled sail that helped with the steering of Windsong. Talon felt the change in the feel of the wheel as the canvas was set and billowed fully. He was used to it now and was becoming very familiar with Windsong and her moods. He smiled to himself over it and then looked out over the deck. He saw Callum, Collingwood, and Amos together talking. Talon looked up again as the Headsail was now set, lines being taken as well and tied down.

“Don’t worry, sir, we can handle her.” Amos said, tipping his hand, receiving his orders about letting the crew get rest, some having to stay on deck to maintain their positions. Callum nodded to him, Amos turned and went off to carry out those orders.

Sails continued to drop and to be set, letting the wind carry Windsong more along their new course. Talon could feel the pull and the swells now even more in the wheel and he enjoyed the feel of it, the power that there was under his feet from the water and the wind working together. The bow was now dipping and rising easily, the spray from it could be seen over the gunnels at the bowsprit and Talon smiled openly as he was joined once again by his Captain at the wheel.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself, Darin.” Callum asked and Talon nodded as he looked ahead.

“Very much, sir. She is handling quite well, sir.” Talon’s soft young voice sounded happy.

“Excellent.” Callum said as Carson came up the steps and around the short rail on the port side, looking at Callum.

“Would you care for breakfast, sir?”

“No, not at this time, Carson. What about the crew?”

“I have started theirs, sir. They will be taken care of shortly, sir.”

“Very well. They haven’t eaten since we were attacked.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I was going to ask, Carson, those supplies that were sent over from Triborne when they came to our aid?”

“Eggs, sir, as well as some smoked meats. There seems to be quite a roost onboard Triborne, sir.”

“I see. I will have to thank Captain Stewart for being so thoughtful towards us.”

“Indeed, sir.” Carson said, “But, I would think it was Denton that was more responsible for those supplies being gathered. He is known to do that, sir, and is quite generous in that respect.”

“I was not aware of that, Carson.” Callum said and folded his arms over his chest, “Tis a pity that we cannot return the gesture in some fashion.”

“I will have to think up something for that, sir.” Carson said and flashed his eyes a bit. Callum chuckled a bit.

“Then I will leave that in your capable hands, Carson.”

“Thank you, sir.” Carson said and nodded once toward him. He turned and went back around the rail to go to the steps and below.

Callum lowered his arms and turned and looked over the aft end, seeing the form of Triborne now off in the distance in the dawn light. She was the only one seen as she blocked the view of Hunter in the center, and Dover on the other side of her. Callum felt alone for a brief moment, a tightness clutched at his chest in that brief moment, he looked over at young Talon next to him at the wheel, who was still smiling but only slightly.

“You should have your breakfast as well, Darin.” Callum said, Talon turning and looking at him, “I can take over while you do that.”

“Is that an order, sir?” Talon asked softly. Callum smiled at him.

“Yes, let us consider it that way for the time being. You can come back up on deck if you wish afterward.”

“What of you, sir?”

“I am fine for now, fear not. I have had my coffee and that will suffice for now.” Callum said and put a hand on the wheel, Callum put his other hand on the young shoulder closest to him, “Go on, I’ll take her for a bit.” Callum guided him gently away from the wheel and removed his hand from the young shoulder, placing it on the other side of the wheel, taking another spoke handle firmly. Talon turned slowly away and went to go around the short rail to go below. Callum turned his attention aloft for a moment, checking the billow, then lowered his eyes, seeing Amos forward on the deck sending some of the hands below, leaving only four of them on deck for now, as Callum had told him. Collingwood came toward the wheel and Callum.

“Go below, Abel, and join Mr. Talon below. Carson said he was preparing breakfast. And then get some rest.”

“Aye, sir. May I be of any other assistance to you, sir?”

“Later perhaps, yes.” Callum said and gave him a half-smile and a nod. Callum looked forward again as Collingwood tipped his hand to his hat brim and went to the steps and to go below.

                                                        ********

“Mr. Collingwood, I beg to ask, sir,” Talon asked as he looked up from his breakfast at the small table in their small shared cabin, Collingwood looked at him, lifting his eyes from the plate before him, “what was it that the Captain was discussing with you, sir, when I came forward from the boat?”

“Why do you ask?” Collingwood asked with narrowed eyes.

“I ask, sir, as the Captain seems to be not quite himself with all of this that has happened.”

“Do you really blame him, Mr. Talon?” Collingwood said as he sat back in the chair a bit, “Let us look at the facts of this mission, shall we?” Collingwood paused for a moment, Talon backed away from his plate as well, “Much has happened since we set sail, the merchant ship, the boy we rescued, the attack upon us, the attack on Hunter, need I go on? The Captain is under great strain with all of this, I’m certain.”

“Yes, sir. I do understand that, having shared in those events myself. However, he is not quite himself in this. I have seen the Captain under even greater pressure and he was calm and smooth in his actions, unlike now. Forgive me, sir, but I couldn’t help but notice that it seems strained between the two of you.” Talon said with his soft voice.

“Strained? What is it that you mean, Mr. Talon?” Collingwood asked and was guarded a bit.

“I mean, sir, no disrespect at all, you must understand. My intention in this is only to be of help to you both, I assure you.”

“Then state what you wish to say, Mr. Talon.” Collingwood said flatly.

“Only this, sir, I witnessed a difficulty between you and the Captain. You know of my loyalty to him, sir, I have served with him more than two years aboard Dover. The Captain always has had my highest respect and my deepest loyalty, sir. I will do anything to continue in that.”

“I see, Mr. Talon.” Collingwood said and looked at his junior officer closely, “Then let me assure you, sir, that I feel the very same about our Captain. There are things about him that we both know about him and his character, those not being the same things, but, he remains who he is, Mr. Talon, our Captain, a man who commands deep respect and complete obedience. He deserves nothing less, I assure you in that.”

“Kind of you to say, sir.”

“Put your fears to rest, Mr. Talon.” Collingwood said and smiled briefly, “To let you know, in answer to your first question, the Captain took me aside to speak to me about Hunter, but more than that, he offered an apology to me,…for the way he spoke to me before you came on deck from the longboat.”

“Did he, sir?”

“He did. I have never had a superior officer offer that as long as I have served.” Collingwood said as he was thinking about what actually happened between he and Callum, “I must say, it still has me rather spellbound, as it is quite unheard of as you well know.”

“He is a different sort man, sir.”

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Talon?” Collingwood asked pulling himself out of his own thoughts.

“I have had the privilege of being in the Captain’s home, before this mission and after La Rochelle, as I’m sure you are aware of, sir. I have witnessed things about the Captain, his manner, his heart, and also other things.”

“His heart? And, what other things do you mean?”

“I should probably not discuss things in detail, sir, but suffice it say,…”

“Mr. Talon,…Darin,… please understand me when I say that nothing of our conversation will go beyond this room, not to another living soul, you have my word on that.” Collingwood said with narrowed eyes.

“Sir, I hesitate as that would be the Captain’s place to speak of his personal affairs.”

“But you have witnessed it, Darin, and you know that the Captain will not speak of it openly. If this, what you know, can be of benefit to him, as well as to us in this mission, I beg of you to tell me.” Collingwood said giving Talon soft eyes for a long moment. Talon sighed.

“Nothing was confirmed to me, nothing totally witnessed, you must understand, but it was drawn by my own conclusions as I returned from the Captain’s home back to London.”

“And?”

“The Captain is a man of very deep feeling. He protects those fiercely that are close to him. He has a son, as you know, a very young lad. I met him.” Talon smiled at thinking of Henry, Callum’s son, “but there is another that is foremost in the Captain’s heart. He served with the Captain aboard Dover. He lives there with the Captain.”

“Who?” Collingwood asked.

“I am not sure that you know him, sir, he is Dustin Perkins.” Talon said and Collingwood was racing it through his mind and then it hit him.

“He was the helmsman of Dover when I came aboard at the end of the mission at La Rochelle. I met him, yes. Quite a striking young lad as I recall.”

“You recall well, sir.” Talon said, “I saw the great affection between he and the Captain. The looks between them, the manner of how they spoke to one another, the very ease of it all between them. I could not get over it. It was something to see for certain, something that was more than wonderful. My only hope now in life is to have someone like the Captain has, someone devoted to me completely as he has, then I could count myself as truly happy.” Talon said and lowered his eyes to the table. Collingwood reached out and touched Talon’s sleeve bring his eyes up to Collingwood’s.

“You will, Darin.” Collingwood said.

“Do you have someone at home, sir?”

“I do. We are to be married at the end of the summer actually. Her name is Annalee.”

“That sounds wonderful, sir.” Talon said.

“May I ask, do you know of Captain Tomlin?”

“I’m not sure if I take your meaning, sir?”

“I understand that Captain Tomlin lives on the adjoining property, next to the Captain, is that not so?”

“He does, sir.”

“Is there something else,…between them,…?”

“You have to understand, sir, the Captain has known Captain Tomlin for years. The Captain was a 3rd Lieutenant when Mr. Tomlin came aboard Dover as a midshipman. They became good friends soon after, the Captain always protected and instructed the junior officers, as he did with me as well when I came aboard. He always called us the family of Dover, sir.” Talon said and smiled softly, Collingwood smiled back at him, “He was always like the older brother to us, all of us. I know that is how he sees Captain Tomlin, sir, as a brother and why he has him with him and keeps him close.”

“Where is Captain Tomlin from originally?”

“He is from Norwich, sir. I always understood that he lived in his mother’s home when we returned from sea, but, she had difficulties with the death of her husband and was always depressed about it. It saddened him, Captain Tomlin, and I am sure that is why he was always hesitant about returning home to port.”

“That is sad to me.”

“Indeed, sir, it is.”

“What of you, Darin? I heard a bit at dinner aboard Triborne about someone?” Collingwood asked, and Talon blushed.

“Well, sir, there isn’t much to tell actually.”

“Come now, Captain Stewart went on about it at dinner, something about girls from the country and their natural beauty as I recall?” Collingwood smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

“She is that, sir.” Talon smiled wide, “It is hard to describe, and we only spent a short time together, but she has taken my mind, always in my thoughts.”

“And as well as your heart it seems.” Collingwood smiled warmly, “I know how you feel, Darin, truly I do. You see, my Annalee does that for me as well. She is always in my thoughts, I can’t seem to escape it or her. And now, being out at sea, and away from her, it brings it to an intensity that I have never known before.”

“I can understand that, sir.” Talon smiled warmly back at Collingwood.

“But, back to the Captain. I have never known anyone quite like him before. His reputation does not do him justice. He is quite the man in it all, to be sure.”

“That he is, sir.” Talon said, “I remember once, while having dinner in the Great Cabin, with Captain Powers and the other officers, the Captain was the 2nd Lieutenant then. Captain Powers had sent him on a mission, along with Captain Anders of the Marines. They were away from the ship for three days on their mission. That night at dinner, Captain Powers spoke nearly the same words that you just did about the Captain’s reputation. That seemed to anger our 1st Lieutenant, Mr. Dunhill.”

“Is he the one that owns the Heritage Arms Inn now?”

“Yes, sir, the very one. He left the service shortly after that and purchased the Heritage. There was a long standing rivalry between the Captain and Mr. Dunhill. Apparently they had known each other since school.”

“I didn’t know that. I do know of Mr. Dunhill and his reputation however. He was always quick to temper and faster with his sword.”

“Yes, that much is certain. But, in all the time I was onboard with both of them, and the practices that they always had between them, Mr. Dunhill could never overcome the Captain with a sword. He has been called a devil with its use.”

“I saw that firsthand when we were attacked, yes.” Collingwood said and flashed his eyes a bit, “I heard you mention something the night before we sailed, when Dr. Crawford was aboard taking the stitches out of the Captain, you mentioned something about a duel caused it?”

“Indeed.” Talon said and then puffed up a bit with pride, his face warmed and almost glowed to Collingwood, “When I was visiting at the Captain’s home, Mr. Perkins related the account to me

nd even though he did not witness all of it, it was thrilling the way he described it and the way the Captain was.”

“What happened?”

“Colonel Holt came to collect his son, who lives with Captain Tomlin, Lt. Christian Holt,...”

“Yes, I remember him. He was wounded during the mission to La Rochelle, wasn’t he?”

“Severely, yes, sir. Anyway, Colonel Holt was a professional duelist. The Captain stood him off and then they fought. Mr. Perkins said that the Captain was very antagonistic and provoked the Colonel to action to keep him off balance. It seemed to work from what Mr. Perkins said. The Captain was doing quite well against him while Mr. Perkins said he held off the Colonels seconds, keeping them busy until help arrived.”

“Wait just a moment. Are you saying that the Captain intentionally fought this duel, provoking it?”

“Yes, sir. It seemed the only thing that could be done as the Colonel was going to apparently murder his own son, why, that was never revealed to me. The Captain apparently had every intention of killing him to just stop him, but Colonel Holt was able to get the upper hand and struck the Captain more than once during the duel, leaving him the wounds that you saw.”

“Dear God.” Collingwood said and sat back. His eyes wide with what he heard, “Our Captain seems to be a bit on the,…”

“The Captain is a man of honor, sir, as I’m sure you can clearly see. As I said, he defends and protects those that are close to him.”

“Yes,…I can see that.” Collingwood said, his mind was racing with all he had been told. He was seeing Callum in a completely new light now, “Our Captain seems to be rather fearsome.”

“He is indeed, sir.” Talon said and smiled faintly.

“I was sent to arrest him for the court martial, ordered by Lord Fitzwarren, as you may or may not know. The detachment of Marines that accompanied me were all rather nervous about it as I recall. The Marine Lieutenant especially, he remarked while we were on our way to Portsmouth that it might take all dozen of them just to handle the Captain if he were to put up a fight. Apparently he had witnessed the Captain’s actions more than once.”

“I can understand that, sir,” Talon said, “having witnessed it myself several times.”

“So, I think it safe to say with all of this, that our Captain is more than the stuff of legend.” Collingwood said.

“Yes, sir, and to add to that, sir, I sleep quite well knowing he is aboard.”

                                                  ********

Callum had his hands on the spokes of the wheel, watching ahead, their progress as they sailed on. The horizon beyond the bow was only open sea meeting the bright blue sky of the morning, the color of the sea before him was that beautiful deep blue green, shimmering with light from the sun, a sight that Callum simply loved so much. Callum looked up at the morning sky, seeing the position of the sun, knowing that they were on their course, continuing south, southeast. He smiled softly to himself and thoughts began to wander in and out of his mind about their quarry.

Callum thought to himself about what they would find when they reached the French coast at the Somme. Would there be troops at the fortification that guarded the river? If so, how many? Would they be Regulars or members of the Guard, a far more fierce some group that Napoleon used as enforcers to hold key positions. Callum knew that Wellington was not going to invade from that point, but, if they succeeded in their mission, it might prove to be a good place for The Duke to land for the invasion, or a contingent force as a secondary position. Callum knew down deep that much was riding on what he was to do next in his mission.

“Sir?” The young voice asked, breaking Callum away from his thoughts a bit and looked over.

“Darin, what are you doing on deck?” Callum asked.

“Sir, it’s almost noon. Would you care for me to relieve you, sir?”

“Noon? What are you talking about?” Callum asked, being completely confused now. Talon narrowed his eyes.

“Sir, it is almost noon.” Talon said with concern in his voice, “Please, sir, you should go below and get some sleep. Mr. Collingwood sent me up on deck to take over for you, sir.”

“I had no idea of the time, Darin.” Callum said as Talon stepped into the wheel, forcing Callum back and out of the way, letting go of the wheel, “I suppose I should go below.”

“Indeed you should, sir.” Talon said as he looked at his Captain.

“Very well. If you are forcing me out, I suppose I will get out of the way then. Where is Mr. Collingwood, by the way?”

“I believe he is with the Marines and the Sergeant, sir.”

“I see. Alright then, if there is anything, summon me immediately.”

“I will, sir.” Talon said as he looked at his exhausted Captain walking slowly by, the tired face was showing the strain now and Talon watched him go slowly around the short rail and below on the steps. Talon looked forward and then over at the compass that was behind him on the Mizzenmast, checking the bearing and the course they were running on, still south, southeast.

Callum opened the cabin door, the room was dimly lit and was empty of anyone. The boy, Hans, was gone. Callum let out a breath and went over to the table and dropped on one of the chairs. He stretched out his long muscular legs and sat back in the chair, his head resting against the bulkhead wall behind him. He closed his eyes, his hands were resting on his lap. His mind was a fog with so many different things coming together, visions of Dustin, Henry, home, the fight, the battle with the French crew, the Marines, and then those brave young lads hanging in their haversacks in the hold, wounded, Renner lying dead on the table aboard Hunter. He jumped slightly as he felt he was being touched, he tilted his head forward a bit and opened his eyes. Callum smiled briefly at what was knelt before him on the deck, the smiling face looking up at him.

The boy was taking Callum’s boots off for him, one at a time, slowly pulling them. He got the first one free and off and set it down next to Callum’s chair and then pulled the next off. Callum did not have the energy in him to fight him, to stop him from doing it. He looked up further and saw the cabin door was open, Carson was there, a smile on his face.

“I couldn’t stop him, sir.”

“I don’t think I can either, Carson, at least not right now, truth be told.” Callum exhaled.

“You’ve worn yourself to a frazzle, sir.” Carson said as he came into the cabin, going by the table and went to the haversack, getting it ready, pulling back the coverings, draping them off over the end. He turned and looked back at Callum and the boy, as the boy was putting the boots out of the way, under the table a bit, “Now sir, let us get you settled and then we will let you rest for a while and then see about something for you to eat.”

“You’re beginning to sound rather like my aunt, Carson.” Callum said as he stood. Carson looked at him and pursed his lips a bit, “I meant no insult in that, I assure you, Carson.”

“It’s alright, sir, I think I understand. If she were here, I’m sure she would have quite a few words to say to you, sir.”

“No doubt.” Callum said and rolled his eyes a bit as he stepped over to the haversack and got in it. He settled, folding his arms over his chest and closed his eyes, “Carson,…”

“Don’t worry, sir. If anything happens, I’ll wake you, sir.”

“Thank you.” Callum said softly and was gone almost immediately.

“Sir,…sir,…” The voice woke Callum, his eyes going wide and he sat up in the dimly lit cabin.

“What is it?”

“We’ve raised the French coast. Mr. Collingwood’s compliments, sir, he’d like to see you on deck when you’re able.”

“Get my boots.” Callum said to Carson as he swung out of the haversack, his feet hitting the deck. Carson had the boots already in hand and held them out, Callum focused and took them one at a time, slipping them on and stamping his feet in them. He went toward the door and went through, going to the door out onto the deck. He went out and looked forward seeing the coastline very clearly.

“Sir, I believe we are just north of the Somme.” Collingwood said as he tipped his hand and came beside Callum.

“Very good, Abel.” Callum said and looked over at Collingwood, who was in uniform, “Abel, perhaps we should remove uniforms until we can survey the situation. I would think it might tip our hand to be seen as officers of the Royal Navy.”

“Of course, sir, our deception. I understand.” Collingwood said, tipping his hand and then removed his hat and slipped out of his tunic while Callum saw some of the Marines coming up in their red uniforms. He went forward quickly.

“You lads, lose your jackets if you are to be on deck.” Callum said as he went to the edge of the hold looking down, “Sergeant,”

“Sir.” McGuffin said as he stepped into view, looking up.

“Have your men either dress down or stay below for the time being until we see what we are up against.”

“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said, turning and looking at his men, “You heard the Captain, lads, we will be standing proud and tall soon enough.” Callum turned away as the Marines went below from the deck. He walked down the deck, looking aloft. The wind was still good and the canvas was billowed fully. He made his way to the short rail and went around it to come next to the wheel.

“How is she doing, Darin?”

“She is handling quite well, sir.”

“Excellent.” Callum said as he looked aloft again.

“Are we going to hold over and wait for the others to join us, sir?”

“I think we might have a look first while the others are still on their way. I promised Captain Tomlin however that I would not do anything without him.” Callum said as he looked at young Talon.

“I’m sure he would appreciate that, sir.” Talon said and rolled his eyes a bit. Callum chuckled.

“Let me know if anything is spotted.”

“Of course, sir.” Talon said and Callum went around the short rail and went below. He closed the door as Collingwood was coming around the corner on the narrow companionway.

“Abel, I just asked Mr. Talon to let me know if anything is spotted as well as asking the Sergeant to keep his men below and out of uniform.” Callum said as he was standing at the galley doorway.

“Very good, sir. It shall be done.”

“I’ll have something to eat and then return to the deck. We can take a bearing and get our exact position then.”

“As you say, sir.” Collingwood and tipped his hand as Callum looked at Carson in the galley with the boy standing there at the stove. Collingwood went by and out the door to go on deck.

“Carson,…”

“Coffee, sir.” Carson said and poured a cup and handed it to him, “I’ll have something for you in just a couple of minutes, sir.”

“Thank you.” Callum said and lifted the cup to his lips, sipping the hot liquid. He turned and went out of the doorway and made the few steps to his cabin, opening the door and going in, leaving the door open and went to the table, sitting down with his coffee cup. He sipped at it some more and settled back. He was lost in thought as Carson set a plate in front of him, bringing Callum out of it. He looked at the plate as Carson set down the cutlery.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“I seem to be a bit out of sorts yet, Carson.”

“It’s understandable, sir.” Carson said as he backed up a step from the table, “Would you care for anything else, sir?”

“No, this will do, thank you, Carson.”

“My pleasure, sir.” Carson and nodded once, walking away slowly to the door. He stopped and looked at Callum once again, then went on to the galley. Callum ate slowly in the silence of the cabin. He was finally done after a few minutes and pushed the plate back, his cup emptied. He got up, taking it and the plate to the galley, those few steps away and came in through the open doorway. Carson looked up from the stove and looked at him.

“I was just about to come and fetch that, sir.”

“No bother, Carson, I was wondering about a bit more coffee actually.”

“Certainly, sir.” Carson said and reached out, taking the plate and then the cup. He set the plate down and filled the cup, handing it back, a little wide eyed, “Are you alright, sir?”

“A bit anxious, I suppose. The end seems to be near at hand in this.”

“I certainly hope so, sir.” Carson beamed.

“Excuse me, sir” Amos said as he was behind Callum, making him turn around.

“Amos?”

“Mr. Collingwood’s compliments, sir, there is a town coming in sight on the coastline, sir.” Amos said as he tipped his hand.

“Let’s have a look.” Callum said, setting his cup down, Amos stepped back out of the way as Callum went out the doorway and by him, reaching for the door to go out and up the steps. Callum stepped out on deck and looked over the port rail, stopping short, Amos right behind him. Off in the distance could be seen buildings and it looked like a few mast points before them.

“Is that Calais, sir?” Collingwood asked he stepped close to Callum.

“No, that would be Boulogne, Mr. Collingwood. Now we know where we truly are. I’ve been here before.” Callum said still looking at the coastline, a couple of miles off in the distance, “Damn.” Callum said softly.

“Is there a problem, sir?” Collingwood asked softly.

“We made better time than I expected, Abel.” Callum said and looked aloft seeing the billow they were under of the canvas and the wind, “I have no doubt that we have been seen by the people of the town, or moreover, those crews that belong to those ships.”

“What about our squadron, sir? Do you think they may be spotted as well?”

“Captain Stewart and Captain Tomlin should know better than to be spotted. I’m sure they will stay further off shore than we.” Callum said as he looked back at the town, “But, I am wondering about those ships that are there. From here none look large enough to be the Avion, they look more like frigates, but why are they there?”

“Supply ships possibly, sir?”

“You may be correct in that assumption, Abel. And if you are right, then what is Napoleon up to?”

“Your orders, sir?” Collingwood asked.

“Mr. Talon,” Callum said over his shoulder.

“Sir?” Talon replied from the wheel.

“Maintain your course for now.” Callum said and then looked at Collingwood, “We will maintain our distance from the coastline and continue on, Abel. At this speed and with this wind, it should be another couple of hours until we reach a point to lay over and wait for the squadron to catch up to us. That should put us near dark. We will be lights out tonight and then we can see about the fortifications there on the Somme.”

“Very good, sir.” Collingwood said and went to tip his hand, but Callum stopped him with his own hand.

“In case we are being watched, pass the word that there will be no more giving obedience, at least until dark.” Callum said and then winked.

“Aye, sir.” Collingwood smiled back and nodded toward him. He turned and started to pass the word of the Captain’s instructions.

Callum was at the bowsprit, glass in hand, lifted to his eye. He was scanning the coastline as they proceeded south, staying a couple of miles away, not too close, yet not too far as well. On one hill, Callum saw a semaphore in motion, the arms flaying about, stopping, then starting again. It was obvious to him that it was in code, in French, but he had no idea, other than thinking that the message being relayed was about them, Windsong. It made sense to Callum that all ships passing were noted and all signaled over with their movements.

“I would give a sailings wages to know what they are saying, sir.” Collingwood said as he was at Callum’s shoulder, noting the semaphore that Callum was watching.

“And I would give it, Abel.” Callum said as he lowered the glass, “An idea has struck me for some activity this evening, if you would care to join me ashore.” Callum said and Collingwood raised his eyebrow.

“What did you have in mind, sir?”

“Perhaps an evening raid on that semaphore. There should be a code book in their possession, wouldn’t you think so?” Callum gave him a smirk. Collingwood returned it with a smile of mischief.

“You’re right, sir. It might be useful to the Admiralty if they were to have it.”

“Of even more use to The Duke for his invasion, wouldn’t you think as well?” Callum cocked his head a bit.

“My heavens yes. I didn’t even think of that, sir.” Collingwood said, almost in a whisper.

“One must think ahead in all situations, Mr. Collingwood. Besides, I owe The Duke a considerable favor and this might qualify as full repayment of that debt if I were to hand him a code book.”

“I would certainly agree with that, sir.”

“Then it’s settled. We will take a dozen men, a group to row and a half dozen Marines.”

“From here, sir?”

“No. Strike the Mainsail. We will continue under Headsails only for another hour on course out of their sight, near dark, we will swing back and come to their windward end on the north side. We will come close to shore, set out in the boat and be on our way. Once we retrieve the code book, we will head south again and rendezvous with the squadron.”

“Sounds simple enough, sir.” Collingwood said, rolling his eyes a bit.

“I did promise Captain Tomlin that I would not do anything until they arrived, but, I will take it that he meant about the Avion as he really doesn’t know about the semaphore, so that shouldn’t count.”

“You wish to break a promise made to Captain Tomlin, sir? I understand that he can be quite formidable when provoked, sir.” Collingwood said as he looked at Callum.

“Not to worry, I can handle Captain Tomlin.” Callum said and then winked hard, “He might be in need of a good thrashing. He has been getting a bit too cocky as of late.”

“If you say so, sir. You know him far better than I.”

“Quite. Strike the Mainsail, Abel.” Callum said clasping his hands together and rubbing them.

“Aye, aye, sir.” Collinwood said, turning, “Strike the Mainsail!” The hands jumped for the lines and some went up into the rigging to gather the canvas and make it fast. Collinwood watched them for a minute and then turned his attention back to Callum, “Not to question you, sir, but are you sure of this?”

“No, to be honest, I am not sure of this, Abel, not in the least. However, there is much to be gained, would you not agree?”

“I do, sir. I am just wondering,…” Colllingwood said and hesitated.

“Speak your mind, Abel.”

“Well, sir, it occurs to me,…what if there is no code book? What if they send their signals by knowledge rather than from a printing?”

“A valid point, to be sure, Abel. I would counter that point with this, what if there is? If there is, then we would have vital information, information that might be critical to our cause and might save lives, a great number of them actually. And, then again with your point, if there is not, then we might render at least one semaphore out of use by the enemy.” Callum said.

“Then we will destroy it, sir?”

“We may have no choice in that, wouldn’t you say, Abel?” Callum asked and gave him a puzzled look.

“I suppose you’re right, sir.”

“All valid points to be sure.” Callum smiled briefly.

“Thank you, sir.”

A little more than an hour passed in their sailing, their speed had slowed with the loss of the canvas of the Main. Callum ordered their course to be changed, swinging wide out into The Channel away from the French coast, taking the wind now from the south easterlies, Windsong remained constant in her speed, never wavering in her performance. Callum smiled at that fact. The course given put her out further into The Channel by a few miles. Callum wanted to sail in with the coming darkness to not be seen from shore. Get in and get out quickly was what he had in mind with it all. Another hour passed, the sun was fading in the sky, the colors that were cast with the sunset, a deep burnt pink, going to an almost red, silvering out the linings of what thin clouds there were in the sky. He ordered the course change again, to head straight for the shore as they should be north of the semaphore now.

“You think we might sight the squadron, sir?” Collingwood asked as he stepped close to Callum at the short rail.

“Part of me wishes not, Abel.” Callum said and Collingwood looked at him with question, “That discussion with Captain Tomlin we spoke of earlier?”

“I take your meaning, sir.” Collingwood said.

“Sail sir!” Patkin called down from the Mainmast, Callum looked up at him seeing the direction he was pointing toward, Callum turned and looked toward the port aft quarter, near two miles distant, it was clear to be seen.

“It might be Dover, sir.” Collingwood said.

“I wonder.” Callum said and went toward the wheelhouse. He reached it and opened the door, pulling the glass, extending it and lifting it to his eye. He watched the approaching ship as Collingwood came up to him, “Damn.” Callum said and lowered the glass. He handed it over to Collingwood and went around the short rail going forward up the deck toward the hold, seeing Amos near the bow, “Amos! Break out the spare canvas and get it up on deck, hurry!” Callum shouted. Amos responded quickly with some of the hands as Callum reached the hatch, “Sergeant!”

“Sir!”

“Send up a dozen men fully armed, no coats, have your others standing by at the ready. We are about to have company!”

“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said and started barking out orders to his men. Collingwood was at the wheelhouse, the glass to his eye and then he saw it in the rapidly approaching night sky, a French flag, the colors unmistakable, his eyes went wide and he lowered the glass. Talon came up next to him as Dorfman had the wheel.

“Dear God.” Collingwood said as handed the glass to Talon. He lifted it to his young eye.

“They’re opening their gun ports.” Talon said.

“We have one chance at this, gentlemen.” Callum said, suddenly appearing at their shoulders. Talon lowered the glass and looked at his Captain, Collingwood turned and looked at him as well, “We are not flying any colors ourselves, so they have no idea who we really are,…yet. We will place Marines at the port rail and hide them under the spare canvas. I have no doubt that they will come alongside. When they do, we have the element of surprise. We can take them if we act quickly.”

“You can’t be serious, sir, they out number us three to one or more.”

“They can catch us, Abel, if they really want to. Right at this moment, they have the weather gauge, as they are bearing down on us, and they have cannon, we do not. No, it is better to face them here rather than running or continuing on to the Somme where we would be severely outnumbered with the Avion possibly joining them.”

“We could make for the English coast, sir.” Collingwood said.

“There isn’t time, they will fire on us within sight of it. No, better to surprise them out in the open Channel.”

“As you say, sir.”

“Keep your heads and follow the plan. If we secure their Quarterdeck and seal the doors and hatches below, we can level the odds very quickly. Without officers, the crew will simply be a rabble. I don’t believe that is a ship of their line, it must be a merchant.”

“What makes you think so, sir?”

“Opening their ports still being so far away, and they can clearly see that we are not of any size to carry cannon ourselves. No, they must be merchants. They may be disorderly and just being cautious.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“Keep the pistols at the ready but out of sight, have them stacked about at the port rail as well where we can get to them quickly. I’ll see to the Marines.” Callum said and turned quickly seeing the Marines coming up on deck, “You men there, stay low! Get along the port rail and lie down to stay out of sight, we’ll cover you up with the canvas. Do not rise until you hear me give the order, just stay at the ready.” Callum said and watched as Amos and some of the hands carried up the spare jib and the extra Main. The Marines did as instructed, lying down at the base of the rail, staying out of sight, Amos and the hands covered and tucked the spare canvas around the Marines and made it as neat as possible in hiding them, “Alright, standby now.” Callum said as he looked at the approaching frigate coming toward them, “Dorfman, starboard your helm! Let them come up our port side!”

“Aye, sir.” Dorfman said and turned the wheel, bringing Windsong’s bow around.

“Now, no talking. All hands remain quiet.” Callum said. He watched as there was still some time before the ship was on them. Collingwood and Talon carefully carried some pistols over to the port rail, setting them in the canvas and then covering them up to hide them. They walked back, acting like it was natural for them to be things, Callum turned and went below, meeting Carson at the door at the bottom of the steps. Carson had Callum’s sword in his hand, holding it out to him.

“Standby down here out of sight, keep the boy with you.”

“I will, sir.” Carson said, the boy behind him.

“Get those two pistols that are in my cabin, there is also spare shot and power next to my trunk.”

“Aye, sir.” Carson said and gave him a nod. Callum turned and went up the steps and went toward the port rail, his sword was carried with the length of his leg, he stopped at the rail in the canvas, dropping the sword on the canvas and used his foot to push it in and cover it a bit.

“Oh sur le sloop!” The voice from the frigate called out. Callum cupped a hand to his mouth.

“Oh! Que voulez-vous?” Callum answered as Collingwood came close to him at the rail, “I’m asking him what he wants.” Callum whispered.

“Qui etes-vous?! Ou etes-vous attaché?!”

“Marseille!” Callum answered back.

“Pourquoi entrez-vous en cercles?! Nous vous avez-vous vu plus tot, etes-vous eu l’ennui?!”

“He wants to know why we’re going in circles and if we’re having trouble,” Callum whispered, he cupped his hand again to his mouth as the frigate drew closer, her bow now reaching the port stern of Windsong, “Notre reparation necessaire de gouvernail de direction! Il est tres bien maintenant!”

“Nous vous aiderons, Capitaine, nous viendrons le long!” The man said at the starboard rail, looking down a bit at Windsong. Callum and Collingwood had seen the sails of the frigate being struck and pulled, slowing her down.

“Merci, Capitaine, mais nous sommes tres bien maintenant!” Callum said loudly.

“J’insiste, Capitaine, il doit seulement juste aider un compatriot!” The man shouted back.

“Damned Frog is insisting on helping, won’t take no for an answer.” Callum whispered, “Si vous souhaitez, Capitaine. Jetez-nous vos lignes et nous pouvons attacher!” Callum called back. The man on the frigate started giving orders and lines were tossed over to Windsong, the hands tied them off together in silence, the ships coming close to one another. And then Callum saw it, the opportunity was now there, hands of the frigate were lining the side at the rail.

“Let us welcome them, gentlemen,” Callum said in an even tone, “Marines! To your feet!” Callum shouted as he bent down, grabbing his sword, tucking it in his belt and then grabbed a pistol. The French crew were shocked for a long moment and did not move as Callum jumped up on the port rail of Windsong, cocking the pistol and pointing it at the man that had been talking to him. The Marines threw back the canvas and stood, muskets cocked and leveled, the rest of McGuffin’s men came up the gangway ladder, getting into formation, doing the same as the Marines at the rail, muskets cocked and leveled at the French crew. The crew of Windsong all had pistols in their hands, some had jumped up on the rail as Callum had done.

“Capitaine, est-ce que je te demanderais de se render pour sauver les vies de votre equipage!”

“Who are you?” The man asked back still stunned.

“You speak English.” Callum said and cocked his head a bit.

“And you, sir, speak French very well. Your accent had me fooled.” The man said.

“Will you surrender, Captain?” Callum asked.

“I would zink that I have no choice, no?” The man said and sighed, “Of course, Capitaine, we surrender. We are not armed.”

“Marines!” Callum said, “Over the side! Take the deck!” Callum grabbed a line from a mast block and swung on it with one hand, pistol in the other. He caught a scup opening at the bottom of the rail on the frigate and hooked his foot in it and climbed up over the rail as the Marines were coming to join him. Callum pointed the pistol at the man on the deck that he was speaking to, who held up his hands. The crew of the frigate backed up as they were boarded by the Marines and the crew of Windsong.

“Dorfman, secure the wheel, lash it tight.” Callum said, Collingwood and Talon came up behind him, Callum looked at the man, “Now, sir, where are you bound for?”

“You have not answered my question, mon Capitaine, who are you?”

“My name is Quintan Callum.” Callum said and the eyes of the man went wide, “Now, I asked you where you were bound?”

“This is the second time that you have taken a ship from me, I cannot believe my luck!” The man rolled his eyes and slapped his hips with his hands as he dropped them.

“The second time, Captain?” Callum asked.

“Yes, mon Capitaine, the second time. My ship was run aground by you at La Rochelle and was lost. I heard your name several days later as the one being responsible for that.”

“I see. My apologies, Captain. It seems to be a small world, doesn’t it?” Callum asked and bowed his head slightly, “So, may I ask, are you in the service of Napoleon in his navy?”

“I was until that disgrace. The Emperor took my commission and would not give me another ship. I have no choice now but to haul freight for my brother-in-law now. We were bound for Cadiz to pick up another cargo.”

“A cargo of what?”

“I have no idea, nor do I care at this moment either, as this ship seems to be lost as well. Another disgrace to it all and to my name. I will never live this down.”

“Might I suggest, sir, you might wish to captain a merchant for someone else, other than the French? You might have better luck.”

“Very true, Captain. I might consider that. Possibly for the Americans, no?” The man smiled slightly at Callum.

“A place to start as we have no quarrel with them right now.” Callum smiled in reply and then twitched his nose. The man could only shake his head.

“Sail, sir.” Dorfman called from the Quarterdeck, Callum looked in that direction.

“Where away?!” Callum shouted.

“A stern, sir, coming up fast!”

“Strike those colors, Dorfman!”

“Aye, sir.”

“Are you expecting anyone, Captain?” Callum asked. The man just smiled and shook his head again.

“Perhaps, mon Capitaine, perhaps.”

“What should we do with them, sir?” Collingwood asked.

“Lower the boats, Abel.”

“Sir?”

“Lower the boats, it will be a tight fit, but I think they can all fit with some care.” Callum said and pointed back toward Windsong but beyond, “England is ten miles in that direction, maybe less, they’ll make it with ease. There is a calm sea right now. France is that way,” Callum pointed in the other direction off the port side of the frigate, “we are going that way. The Captain and his crew can pull for England.” Callum said and looked at the man, “Now would be your chance, Captain, you can find transportation to get to America. You and your crew can have a fresh start in this. We will watch you row off toward England, depending upon who it is that is headed this way. You will be safer in England, I assure you.”

“I have no doubt of that, mon Capitaine. You seem to be a man of honor, I thank you for my crew.” The man said and bowed his head slightly. Callum smiled back once again.

“Abel, have the French crew lower the boats and then get them over the side.” Callum said.

“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and turned away.

“Captain, we noticed you opened your gun ports. You say you have no weapons, were you going to fire on us?” Callum asked.

“Not knowing who you were, mon Capitaine, it seemed to be the thing to do. We have a few shots for the guns we have, but not much to put up a very good fight.”

“Very bold, Captain, very bold indeed.”

“A bluff, I believe you English say, yes?”

“True enough. I might have done the same in your place, Captain.” Callum said, “I apologize for your inconvenience, Captain, to you and your crew.”

“It is understandable, mon Capitaine, in this time of war. I can only hope that it will not happen again, no?” The man asked and Callum smirked a bit, Talon at his shoulder.

“Boats are being lowered, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Talon. May I see you off, Captain?”

“If you must, yes.” The man rolled his eyes again, Callum held out a hand to show him the way. They went over to the port rail of the frigate, the French crew was going over as the Marines were guarding them, guiding them over the side, muskets in hand.

“Once again, Captain, I apologize for the inconvenience. Might I ask your name, sir?”

“LeBeau, Arto LeBeau.” The man said and bowed his head slight toward Callum, “Perhaps when this war is over, mon Capitaine, we shall meet again. I might perhaps be able to call you,…friend.”

“My pleasure, sir.” Callum said and put out his hand. It was taken and set into with a firm grip. Callum was let go and the man went over the side, climbing down into the boat, “Darin, see to it they cast off and head in the right direction.” Callum said, turning and walking toward the Quarterdeck.

“Aye, sir.”

“Sergeant,” Callum said, McGuffin stiffened and looked at Callum, “have some of your men go back aboard Windsong to watch over her and see that the French crew does not try and sneak aboard to take her from us.”

“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said, pointing out toward a few of his Marines, they headed off back to the starboard rail as Callum hurried to the Quarterdeck, climbing the stairs and went to the aft rail, looking over the stern out into the growing darkness. He could see the sails of the other ship as Dorfman looked at him.

“Well, well, well. There is a sight, wouldn’t you say, Dorfman?” Callum asked as he looked at the older man.

“Indeed, sir, and a welcomed one.” Dorfman said and smiled as he looked back out into the distance. Collingwood came up quickly behind Callum.

“Shall I send some of the hands below to load the guns, sir?”

“No, Mr. Collingwood, I don’t think there will be much of a fight from that ship that is coming up on us.”

“I don’t understand, sir.” Collingwood said as he looked where Callum and Dorfman were looking.

“That would be Captain Tomlin and Dover, Mr. Collingwood, and I would think Captain Stewart should not be too far behind him.” Callum said.

“You seem to be having all of the luck, sir.” Collingwood said.

“For the moment, yes. Once we reach the Somme, that may change however.” Callum said softly, Collingwood looked at him with a concerned look.

“Ahoy, Dover! Would you care to come alongside, Captain Tomlin?!” Callum called out.

“Yes, Captain Callum, we will come alongside, sir!” Tomlin called back, “Standby for our lines!”

“With pleasure, Captain Tomlin!” Callum called back and smirked a bit. He watched as Dover slid up near them, drawing closer, sails being struck. The lines began to come over to bring the ships together, hands took them on the French frigate, pulling them and tying them off on belaying pins. Gangplanks were run out and set through the gunwales.

“Permission to come aboard, sir.” Tomlin said as he stood on the gunwale of Dover.

“Permission granted, sir.” Callum said as he stood on the Main Deck of the frigate. He watched as Tomlin came over, followed by Sommers and Middleboro, his officers, “Gentlemen, you are a most welcomed sight.” Tomlin stopped in front of Callum and tipped his hand to his hat brim and then took it off.

“Quintan, you made me a promise.” Tomlin said giving Callum a stern look.

“Yes, I know, Thomas, it couldn’t be helped however, they happened upon us.” Callum said and took Tomlin’s hand, giving it a firm grip.

“You have taken a prize ship.”

“An empty one, but, yes.”

“Empty? Where is the crew?”

“We launched them in their boats just before you arrived. They are rowing for our shores as we speak.”

“You are not holding them?” Tomlin asked with wide eyes.

“No, it is a rather long story.” Callum said and flashed his eyes.

“Do you have wounded? I can summon Dr. Crawford.”

“No, we have no wounded.” Callum said.

“Then,…?”

“Beg your pardon, sir,” Collingwood said to Tomlin as he stepped in closer, “the Captain took the ship from the French crew without firing a single shot, sir.” Collingwood said and puffed his chest a bit. Tomlin and his officers looked at Collingwood with complete disbelief, and then Tomlin looked at Callum, “They were taken by complete surprise, sir.”

“What? You’re joking.”

“Indeed not, Thomas. Where is Captain Stewart?”

“They are about an hour behind us.” Tomlin said, looking at Callum in wonder, “Without a single shot?”

“Yes, quite. It would seem that the former Captain of this frigate was at La Rochelle, he commanded one of the ships that we engaged, the one that Captain Barrish sailed in actually.”

“Surely you’re joking?” Tomlin asked.

“No, sir, he is not. The Captain had quite a conversation with the French Captain before they were sent over the side.” Collingwood said, Tomlin was still in wonderment over the whole thing.

“You have taken his ship from him,…twice?”

“Unheard of I know, but it seems to be his bad luck as it were.” Callum said with his best straight face.

“Well, no one at the Admiralty will believe this, not even Captain Arvin even if it is you and your daring.”

“Yes, I’m sure. And now with this turn, I have a new plan for the Avion.”

“Oh, I can’t wait for this.” Tomlin said and rolled his eyes bringing a smile to Callum’s face.

“You’ll love it, Thomas, believe me. We will wait for Captain Stewart to arrive and then we can discuss it together.” Callum smiled wide as all of the officers were about he and Tomlin.

“Quintan,…have you gone completely mad in all of this?” Tomlin asked as he stood next to Callum. Stewart was standing in front of Callum, the assembled officers standing around the three Captains were simply awestruck with hearing the plan from Callum.

“Thomas, as I said, with this new turn of events and the capture of this ship, a new and different advantage has been laid before us.”

“You would sacrifice a prize ship for the destruction of another possible prize ship. That is simply madness.”

“A means to an end, Thomas, would you not agree, Captain Stewart?” Callum asked as he looked on Stewart standing there.

“Callum, I,…I,…”

“Come now, Captain Stewart, I ask your opinion as I value it greatly. There is no need to hesitate.”

“Then I am forced to agree with Captain Tomlin, Callum. You wish to use this ship and its destruction to destroy the Avion. You yourself have said that the Avion would be a most valuable prize, Callum, and with the destruction of this ship, you would deprive your officers and crew of their share of that prize. It is simply not done, sir. And then what will they say of it at the Admiralty? You know that the standing order is to turn over all captured vessels.” Stewart said.

“I am well aware of that, Captain Stewart, thank you for reminding me.” Callum said and turned to look at Tomlin, “Thomas, our orders did say to capture or destroy this Frenchman by whatever means, did they not?”

“They did, Quintan, but, you are taking that far too literally.”

“Lord Hood’s words to me when they came to my home to recruit me were worded the very same. I only wish that you had been there at that moment to hear them, Thomas. So, as a matter of point, what would you suggest we do?”

“Continue with your original plan.” Tomlin said flatly, “Sail up the Somme, find the Avion, signal us and draw him out.”

“What of the fortification?” Callum asked.

“Have you ever seen it, Callum?” Stewart asked.

“Yes, from a distance, some three years back.”

“I see. It might have been fortified then as you suspect.”

“That would be my assumption, Captain Stewart.” Callum said, folding his arms over his chest, “And there is one other thing,” Callum said as he looked at Tomlin again, “the semaphore.”

“What semaphore?” Tomlin asked.

“We saw it while heading along our course south, we are off the coast from it now. Mr. Collingwood and I were going to take a squad of Marines and take it, in hopes that there might be a code book to be obtained, as well as rendering the semaphore useless.”

“Dear God, Quintan,” Tomlin rolled his eyes and exhaled heavily, “Crawford was right. Your next thought would be to sail up the Seine and take Paris singlehanded.”

“If the opportunity arose, yes Thomas, I would.” Callum said and bugged his eyes at him. The junior officers chuckled a bit seeing and hearing them, “I threatened to throw you overboard once before we sailed, I am half tempted to right now.” All eyes of the officers went wide.

“Quintan, let us be realistic about this,” Tomlin said, “do you not see a problem with this new plan of yours?”

“Yes, only if the Avion is not there where I think she is.”

“I concur with that.”

“Good.” Callum bugged his eyes a bit at Tomlin again.

“Callum, let me say,” Stewart said, “you are the Squadron Commander, the decision is yours and yours alone. We will follow your lead, sir. All of your decisions to this point have been bold as well as good, barring the death of Renner of course, which was not your fault at all.”

“Thank you, Captain Stewart, most gracious of you.” Callum said and bowed his head slightly, “I wish to give you gentlemen something else to think of however. You will recall what Carrington said last night aboard Hunter in the Ward Room.” Tomlin and Stewart looked at him questioningly, “Carrington said that they were able to get off a few shots and the Avion withdrew at that point. Ask yourselves why? The Avion had Hunter outgunned and outnumbered clearly having the weather gauge. I have thought it over long and hard since last night when he told us that. I have seen the Avion up close, too close for that matter, and I am of the opinion that she is rotting away. We have to remember that she is forty years old at least. If the shots that Hunter fired were at the waterline as Carrington said, she is rotted at the waterline and makes her not as valued a prize as I had originally thought. If we capture her, she might be less than the value of Windsong even with scrap and dismantling. Now, with that being said, what would be your opinion?” Callum asked as he looked at his two Captains as they looked at one another and then back at Callum.

 

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