Callum was next to the wheel as Dorfman had his hands on it. They were both looking toward the bow and the darkening horizon ahead of them. Windsong was approaching the point where the fortification was that had been destroyed earlier in the day by them, that had been guarding the small bay at the mouth of the Somme River.
“Port your helm just a bit, Dorfman.” Callum said gently as he leaned slightly toward the older man.
“Aye, sir.” He said and rolled the wheel a bit. The bow rolled over and away from the shoreline just slightly as Callum wanted.
“That’s fine, Dorfman. Hold this course. We’ll swing wide and then into the bay.” Callum said.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Dorfman said and gave a nod of understanding.
Callum looked aloft into the canvas, seeing the billow. He turned and looked over his shoulder and could not see in the dark any sail from the squadron as of yet, but he knew they were coming and were behind them. He turned back to look toward the bow. Collingwood was coming toward him across the deck. He tipped his hand as he reached the short rail before the wheel.
“Sir,…Sergeant McGuffin reports that his men are at the ready.”
“Very good. It might be prudent to have the extra muskets brought up from the locker and placed on deck as well, Mr. Collingwood.”
“As you say, sir.” Collingwood said, tipping his hand, turning and headed back toward the open hatch. Callum went behind Dorfman and opened the wheelhouse storage door. He pulled out a pistol and stuck it in his belt, grabbing another he handed it to Dorfman, who took it with one hand and tucked it in his own belt, his other hand still on the wheel.
“Whatever happens, Dorfman, keep your hands on this wheel. If we’re boarded from the Avion, we will do our best to set up a perimeter around you here. I will need clear steering to see us through.” Callum said as their eyes were on each other.
“Aye, sir.” The older man said and nodded once again. Dorfman turned and looked toward the bow again. Callum took another pistol and put it in his belt opposite the other. He reached in and took out a signaling rocket and set it on top of the wheelhouse and closed the door. He smiled briefly at it and turned back looking toward the bow. The darkness was about them fully now. He saw Talon in the middle of the deck.
“Mr. Talon.” Callum called out, making the young man turn and look in his direction, Talon tipped his hand toward Callum.
“Light the lamps if you please, Mr. Talon. No need for us to be in the dark any longer.” Callum said.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Talon said, tipping his hand again. He turned, “Light the lamps!” Jennings moved toward the one at the bowsprit, taking a sparker that was there and blowing on it. He opened the glass door and touched the wick and it began to glow with the soft brightness, growing more and more as he closed the little glass door. He moved toward the Mainmast, putting his hand on the lamp and opened it. He touched the sparker to the wick and it glowed, coming to full life as did the first. He closed the door and looked aloft. He raised his free hand in the air and Patkin saw it from his perch and began to pull it up. Jennings came toward the short rail and went around, going to the stern and the lamp there, doing the same for it. The deck was aglow with soft light now, giving the wood a look that was warm and soft.
“Jennings,” Callum said to him as he drew near his Captain, “make certain of all of the sparkers. I want one at every rail gun.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Jennings said and tipped his hand to him. He went over to the port aft rail and checked the sparker there as Callum looked forward toward the bow again. Windsong was nearing the point now, the bay was opening up to them as they approached. The going was slow with the light wind that they had. Callum looked aloft again seeing the billow was not quite there, the canvas was fluttering a bit, gently rolling like the swells of the water under them.
“Damn.” He muttered softly, “We need more wind.” He looked toward the bow again hearing the clatter. Collingwood was leading some of the Marines up the gangway ladder with the extra muskets, shot, and powder. They reached the deck and Collingwood directed the placement along the port rail and where they could on the destroyed and missing sections of the starboard side. Callum saw it was now time.
“Starboard your helm, Dorfman, make it three points.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Dorfman said and cranked the wheel over as he watched the bow. Windsong made her turn in response but it was slow with the lack of the wind. Callum saw Collingwood coming toward him. He tipped his hand to his Captain.
“Muskets in place, sir.”
“So I see, Mr. Collingwood, very good. Let us prepare this rocket that I have taken out. Place it at the aft rail and standby to fire it off if you please.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said, tipping his hand. He came around the short rail and reached for the rocket on the top of the wheelhouse, “Pardon me, sir. Should we not wait for the squadron?”
“With the lack of the wind, Abel, their going will be as slow as ours is currently. The Avion will have the same problem if not more with her size. When we reach the near the mouth of the Somme, we’ll fire it off, make our turn and head back out into the bay. It’s just to let him know we’re here and waiting for him, taunting him further as it were.” Callum said and flashed a brief smile.
“As you say, sir.” Collingwood said with a nod and took the rocket to the aft rail, placing the firing stand into a hole in the rail. He reached for the sparker and took it firmly in his hand and waited for Callum to give the word.
Windsong was coming into the bay now with the starboard turn. Callum saw that Dorfman turned the wheel back and was pointing the bow toward the mouth of the river ahead. Callum looked over to starboard and saw the remains of the destroyed bluff and fortification that had been under it. The darkness outlined the remains of the bluff, the change to the landscape from the destruction they caused earlier in the afternoon. He looked forward again and watched, seeing nothing there at the mouth of the river. It was still early evening, not late enough quite yet.
“Ease your helm.” Callum said as he stepped close to Dorfman.
“Aye, sir.” Dorfman, moved the wheel a bit and held the course. Callum looked aloft again.
“If we don’t have better wind and soon, we may have to lay over just north of the river.”
“North, sir?” Dorfman asked.
“The current of the river, Dorfman.” Callum said as he leaned toward the older man a bit, “When the river empties itself into the bay, the current rolls toward the south. I noticed it earlier when we were coming out of the Somme, it’s cut deeper into the bottom of the south bank.”
“Very good, sir. I didn’t notice that at all.” Dorfman said as he looked at Callum and was surprised. Callum paid no attention to the look as was watching the bow and the river.
“Details, Dorfman.” Callum said softly, “Captain Powers instilled that in me years ago. He constantly reminded me that the smallest detail that is missed can mean either victory or defeat in a battle. I watched that very thing happen when we were at the Nile, as I’m sure you remember. The current of fresh water is much heavier and faster, cutting into a sandy bottom easily.”
“As you say, sir.” Dorfman said as a feeling of confidence came over him as he stood next to his Captain, a certainty that his Captain knew what he was doing in all of this. His chest swelled with pride as well. He looked forward as did Callum, the mouth of the river was plain to see, even in this low light.
“Mr. Collingwood.” Callum said, looking over his shoulder.
“You may fire off that rocket if you please.” Callum said.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Collingwood said and smiled a moment toward Callum. He blew on the sparker, bringing the glow up even more and touched it to the end of the fuse. It ignited with a shower of sparks, Collingwood leaned away from it a bit, the rocket shot skyward, all eyes on the deck followed it up, heads tilted back as the rocket reached its highest point up in the sky and exploded with a soft boom, raining a shower of trailing sparks in red and yellow trails and then faded.
“Port your helm, Dorfman.” Callum said, “We’ll head out to the north side of the bay and wait for him there.”
“Aye, sir.” Dorfman said and cranked the wheel over giving a soft smile.
“Mr. Collingwood, adjust sail if you please.” Callum said over his shoulder.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said as he set the sparker down at the rail gun, “Adjust sail! Throw over the Driver! Trim out your lines!” Collingwood called out as he walked around the short rail and further out on the deck to its center. The hands moved that were aloft, angling the cross arms. The light wind took the canvas better now as Windsong’s bow began to swing. Dorfman held the wheel over with the gradual turn to port.
Jennings and Bateman came aft and let loose the lines, throwing the Driver over to port, the wind took the canvas and it snapped full, the turn came a bit quicker and the deck groaned a bit from the tension on the masts. Callum watched the bow for a moment and then looked aloft. Hands on deck were tying lines down holding the tightening to the canvas as it billowed more.
“That’s it my lady, take all the wind that you can.” Callum whispered. He looked back as he turned on his heel, the Driver was losing the wind now from the turn, “Throw it over to starboard now.” Callum said and gave Jennings and Bateman a nod. They nodded in reply back to him and pulled on other lines, swinging the Mizzen cross arm, the sail filling once again with the wind, “Ease your helm.”
“Aye, sir.” Dorfman said as he kept the wheel steady. Callum watched over the stern rail toward the river, there was nothing yet, but he knew it was only a matter of time. Windsong made her way up the north shore of the bay slowly, Callum watching all about them, gauging the distances from both the river and the shoreline.
“Port your helm, Dorfman. Bring us out into the center of the bay. We’ll hold position there and wait.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Dorfman said, cranking the wheel over a bit.
With the turn of the wheel, she responded, the sails taking the wind still, but now it was the water that was guiding them. The surge of the swells from The Channel into the bay, as if there was a hidden line they were riding, the differences in current from the deeper water of The Channel to the shallower water of the small bay made Windsong rock and sway a bit more than usual. Callum could feel it under his feet and knew he could use it to his advantage. They reached near the position Callum wanted, a halfway point between the north shore and the point of the destroyed fortification.
“Strike sail, Mr. Collingwood.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir. Strike sail!” Collingwood called out. He looked over at Callum, “Shall we drop anchor, sir?”
“No, Mr. Collingwood, I want us to be at the ready. There won’t be time to pull the anchor up if the Avion approaches. We will draw a line in the sand as it were. I dare him to try and cross it.” Callum said.
“Very good, sir.” Collingwood said.
“Dorfman, keep us relative on this line with the drift. I want us to stay with the bow pointing toward the south and the bluff.” Callum said.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Sail, sir!” Patkin called down from aloft. Callum lifted his head toward him.
“To the south, sir!” Patkin called down as he pointed forward.
“Captain Tomlin and Dover.” Callum said and gave a brief smile as he looked in the direction pointed out over the bow. He could not see it in the darkness. He knew Patkin had the better advantage for that being aloft, “How far?!”
“Four, maybe five miles, sir!” Patkin called down. Collingwood came closer to Callum.
“With what wind there is, maybe another two hours, sir.” Collingwood said.
“I would agree with that assessment, Abel.” Callum said, “Now,…we wait.” He went to turn away, but stopped as Carson came out from below on the steps. Carson turned and saw Callum standing there at the short rail.
“I have coffee, sir, if you’d like.”
“We might as well, Carson, while we wait for the next step in this.” Callum said. Carson gave a nod and went back below on the steps. Collingwood raised an eyebrow as he looked at Callum for a moment, Callum saw it out of the corner of his eye, “Something troubling you, Abel?”
“Well, sir, I was just thinking that,…”
“What, that I might possibly be,…becoming complacent in this?” Callum asked.
“I do not wish to offend, sir, but coffee while we wait, sir?” Collingwood asked. Callum went to the end of the short rail, tilting his head a bit, signaling Collingwood to follow him. Callum stopped and leaned against the end and crossed his feet, his back to the bay and the river. Collingwood came up in front of him.
“May I share something with you, Abel?” Callum asked as he folded his arms. He gave Collingwood a look of calm.
“Of course, sir.”
“I learned a long time ago that if you show any anxiety or hint of uncertainty, the crew will not respond well in time of need. If you are calm and relaxed, yet steadfast in your resolve, they draw strength from it.” Callum said.
“I understand that, sir.”
“Good.” Callum said and gave a brief smile, “Besides, coffee keeps you sharp, especially Carson’s.” Callum said and flashed his eyes a bit.
“As you say, sir.” Collingwood said with a hint of a smile.
“You’re worried about the Avion. Why is that?” Callum asked Collingwood as Carson came out from below. Collingwood looked at him for a moment and then back at Callum. Carson came close to them holding a tray with coffee cups that were filled. Callum reached out and took one.
“I suppose I am, sir. It’s not so much the ship itself, sir, it’s the crew that is aboard her.” Collingwood said as he took a cup off the tray, “When we were boarded that night, sir, there were so many of them, and they fought as if they had nothing to lose at all.”
“Very true, Abel.” Callum said and then sipped his coffee, “And from what that French officer said, they are nothing but murderers from prison.”
“Does that not give you pause, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“I agree they fought with reckless abandon, and those that were stranded aboard here chose to try and fight until we had the upper hand, and I do regret the actions I took when they tried to surrender. But knowing now what we know, it might have been disastrous to have spared them. That doesn’t excuse what I did however.” Callum said thinking about that night, he sipped more coffee and then looked Collingwood in the eye, “I would think that if we stay organized, as we finally did than night, regrouping as we did, they will fall apart as they have no structure, no formal training or tactics. To me they are simply a rabble, a mob as it were. If we take the upper hand in this by taking Battenou out of the equation, they will certainly fall apart and then will be easier to handle.”
“I’m not quite so sure, sir.” Collingwood said.
“It seems that they are killing just to kill, Abel, no doubt under the direction of Battenou, yes, and his madness, but killing to satisfy their own needs possibly, as well as going to the next step beyond that with all of this dismembering that they are doing. That’s what still puzzles me in all of this, why do that?” Callum said, finishing his coffee. Carson returned with the tray.
“Would you care for more, sir?”
“Thank you, no, Carson.” Callum said.
“Perhaps we’ll never know why, sir, if we take out Battenou.” Collingwood said as he put his cup on the tray in Carson’s hands.
“Perhaps you’re right, Abel.” Callum said.
“Sail, sir!” Patkin said from aloft. Callum stood away from the rail and turned to look up.
“Where away?!” Callum asked.
“The river, sir! They’re coming!” Patkin called out.
“The Avion,…finally.” Callum said, “Abel, have the Sergeant bring up his men to make ready.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and tipped his hand, walking quickly away to get McGuffin and the Marines. Callum looked at Carson, who was standing there with the tray.
“Carson, get below. If it goes bad, you will be needed to tend to the wounded until Dover arrives or Triborne.” Callum said, Carson looked at him, he went to protest but stopped, “Keep the boy with you as well.”
“Aye, sir.” Carson said quietly. He went to the steps quickly and was out of sight. Callum looked toward the river but couldn’t see anything yet. He looked about the deck and saw the hands. He stepped forward and came to the middle near Talon.
“Brewer, you and Tegner man the forward rail gun. Hawkins, Jennings, take the aft.” Callum said, “Standby to fire when I give the word. Reload as fast as you can. Remember, keep the rail of the Avion as clear as you can to prevent them from boarding us.”
“Aye, sir.” They all said.
“Amos, take Bateman and Hammond, grab muskets each with extra shot and powder, standby at the short rail and protect the wheel at all costs. I will need clear steering.” Callum said,
“Mr. Talon and I can assist with the trimming of the sails.” Callum said to Amos, “You three can throw over the Driver from there, one of you to stay with Dorfman at the wheel and cover him at all times.”
“Aye, sir.” Amos said. They tipped their hands and set off to get muskets and go to their stations. Callum looked at Talon.
“Ready, Darin?” Callum asked.
“Quite ready, sir.” Talon said and gave a nod as well.
“Very good.” Callum said as McGuffin led the Marines up on deck from the gangway ladder. Collingwood came up as well and came over toward Callum and Talon, tipping his hand as he came close. “Abel, take station before the short rail, oversee the helm. I’ve given the hands their stations already. Mr. Talon and I will remain here to help on the lines for the sails.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said. He tipped his hand, turned, and headed to the short rail seeing the hands where they were. He came near the steps leading below, nodded toward Dorfman at the wheel, turned and looked toward the river over the port rail. He saw against the night sky the square sails above the trees on the banks. The squares were small from their distance, but very clear as they blocked the stars near the dark horizon. “I see her, sir, amidships!” Collingwood called out.
“I see her, Mr. Collingwood!” Callum said as he was near the port rail, “Sergeant, form up your men at the port rail from bow to stern.” Callum said as he looked over his shoulder at McGuffin.
“Yes, sir.” The deep graveled voice said, “Line up along the rail now! Arm’s length from each other! Standby at the ready!” McGuffin stopped at amidships, looking from bow to stern as his young Marines followed his instructions. They filed in and stood rigid, muskets resting beside each on the deck. All were in full uniform and to Callum, it was a very impressive sight as he scanned up and down the line himself. He backed up a few steps to the middle of the deck.
“All hands!” Callum called out as he looked up and down the rail, no one looked at him as he called out, but they were listening to him as they stared at the approaching hulking mass of the Avion, “Remember to keep your heads about you! Listen for the instructions of the officers! We will let them make the first move! Standby!” He looked over the port rail and saw the Avion slowly coming out of the river, a huge dark figure silhouetted against the horizon, there was no sound that could be heard coming from her. Callum looked forward toward the bow and was not able to see any sign of sail from Dover as of yet. He knew that they were on their own in this.
The Avion cleared the mouth of the river and was coming out into the small bay. Windsong was some six hundred yards distant but the sheer size of the Avion made her seem even closer to them. Her dark outline made the mystique of her even more menacing to the crew and the Marines alike. Callum could see them, some of them swallowing hard or licking their lips slowly as they stared over the port rail. He stepped forward, coming up behind a Marine by a few steps.
“Stay focused, lads.” Callum said, his voice was calm but full of authority, “Remember this,…she’s an old ship, rotting out at the waterline. I would wager we could put a musket ball through her hull. Her crew are nothing but cutthroats and murderers,…cowards,…all of them,…they need the cover of darkness to find their balls and to act like men. The thirty of us could take the entire lot with no trouble at all. Each one of you is at least ten times more of a man than any one of them. Remember that! Show them all who you are and what you’re made of!” Callum watched in the glow of the lamplight, the faces of his crew and the Marines, the resolve of them changed and they drew on his words from down deep inside themselves and the fear of the hulking mass of the Avion slipped away from them. Callum let out a breath and stepped back once, McGuffin turned and looked at his Captain and gave him a brief and quick nod of approval, and then looked back at what was coming.
Four hundred yards now and nothing could be seen on the Avion, no movement at all, sails taking what wind from the easterlies that there was. The Avion was heading toward the port aft quarter of Windsong heading toward the north end of the bay. Callum wondered for a moment if they were going to swing in on them.
“Mr. Talon.” Callum said, his back to Talon who was near the starboard side.
“Standby to loose the Headsail.” Callum said as he looked over his shoulder a bit.
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and then backed up and took a tied line in his hand and waited. Callum continued to watch the Avion on the approach. He shook his head a bit.
“What are they doing, sir?” Talon asked. Callum watched for a moment longer.
“She’s heading out into The Channel. Something’s not right with this.” Callum said. He was watching the Avion in the darkness now coming by them.
“They’re baiting us, sir.” Collingwood said from his position.
“Possibly, Abel.” Callum said without looking at him, “And I’m willing to take the bait.”
“Sir?” Collingwood asked, his face had a look of shock. Callum looked at him and frowned a bit.
“The squadron will be here soon, there is risk, yes, but, we can easily board her.”
“They’re laying in wait for just that, sir.” Collingwood said.
“I don’t argue that, Mr. Collingwood. Mr. Talon,…”
“Loose the headsail.” Callum said as he stared at Collingwood, “Mr. Collingwood, bring us around and alongside the Avion. I will lead a small party aboard and repay the visit to our Frenchman that he gave to us the other night.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said, still looking shocked. Callum turned and grabbed the line at the port rail for the Headsail, he undid it from the belaying pin as did Talon and the sail dropped, “Dorfman, port your helm, bring us around.” Collingwood said as he looked over his shoulder.
“Aye, aye, sir.” The older man said and began to turn the wheel hard until it stopped.
Lines for the Headsail were retied and as the turn began, the light wind took the canvas and began to fill it. Callum looked up and saw it filling out and then looked over at Talon, giving him a firm nod. Talon looked nervous and nodded back once toward his Captain.
“Sergeant?” Callum asked.
“Sir.” McGuffin snapped.
“Reform your men on the starboard side, two lines. I will take two of them with me. Mr. Talon, would you care to board the Avion with me?” Callum asked. Talon swallowed hard.
“Certainly, sir.” He said.
“Good. You had better draw out a pistol for yourself then. Sergeant, you had better ask for volunteers rather than,…”
“I’ll volunteer, sir.” Lauder said as he stepped forward. Callum and McGuffin looked at him.
“I’d like to go as well, sir.” Randall said, the young Marine from the shore party that helped take the semaphore.
“Your volunteers, sir.” McGuffin said and looked at Callum.
“So it would seem. Mr. Lauder, didn’t you get enough from today’s action already?” Callum asked.
“There is never enough, sir, for a Royal Marine.” Lauder said and snapped to full attention.
“Well said, Mr. Lauder, quite right. Sergeant, I do believe your man here is bucking for a promotion.” Callum said as he folded his arms and looked at the young Marine.
“I do believe it may be time for me to retire, sir. It seems that he might become a suitable replacement,…” McGuffin said as he also looked at the young Marine and then at Callum, “in about ten years or so.” McGuffin said and twitched his big whiskers.
“I would agree with that, Sergeant.” Callum said and raised an eyebrow.
“Sir.” Collingwood said and nodded forward. Callum turned and looked. Windsong was making her tight turn to the port, coming in behind the Avion. All was dark aboard her. The windows of the cabins at the stern were black, no lamps lit at all.
“Bring us in alongside to her port, Mr. Collingwood. Sergeant, once I am up and over the side and on their deck, I will give you a sign, you and your men can follow us up then. Fix bayonets and have them prepare for rapid reloading.”
“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said and looked at his men and started to give orders.
“Mr. Collingwood.” Callum said, Collingwood looked at him, “Just to be on the safe side, perhaps you should prepare some rockets and your hollow tube to fire them with.” Callum gave him a half-smile.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood felt a bit more at ease now with the order. He stepped around the short rail and went to the wheelhouse. He opened the door and pulled out the remaining rockets and placed them on the top, closing the door. Callum watched him for a moment and then looked forward as Windsong was at the stern port quarter of the Avion now. They were making progress as where the larger ship was slow as the sails were unkempt and untied, being sloppy and losing some of the wind.
“Amos,…” Callum said as he came to the short rail, “have some of the hands grab those lines from the Avion to secure us.”
“Aye, sir.” The big man said and set his musket down. He went over to Jennings and Hawkins, telling them what Callum ordered and then went aft and came to Brewer, the big crewman, telling him as well.
“Standby, lads.” Callum said as he looked up at the size of the Avion, the black hull blocked all of the sky out on the starboard side, Windsong was coming alongside into position, slowly, but making progress.
“Sir,…” Collingwood said as he was at Callum’s shoulder. Callum looked over his shoulder and turned a bit, “He will have you if you do this, sir.”
“He will try, Abel.” Callum said and turned to look at his 1st fully now, “All I need to do is get close enough to him, Abel. If I can kill him, this will be done, this nightmare. If I can’t shoot him, possibly I can run him through, I don’t know. But, what I do know is, I have to try. I have to end this, Abel, for all of us, and for those that were lost to him.”
“I understand, sir, believe me I do, but, if you were,…”
“I am only one man, Abel, and there will be others that can replace me should something befall me. If it does, make certain that you destroy that ship, whatever it takes, do you understand?” Callum asked, his voice was soft, but firm. Collingwood nodded a bit, “Good. Together we can see this through. The squadron will be here soon, I know it.”
“Yes, sir.” Collingwood said softly.
“Keep the Headsail lowered and in place. If you need to cut and run, cast lines and then send rockets into her sails. Burn her to the keel, Abel.” Callum said.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Collingwood said. Callum went to turn but Collingwood touched his sleeve and Callum looked down at the hand on him and then back at Collingwood giving him a puzzled look, “If Captain Tomlin were here,…”
“He would probably clap me in irons thinking I was insane for attempting this.” Callum said with a brief smile.
“I was thinking, sir, he would probably simply say,…be careful, Quintan.” Collingwood said softly.
“He might at that.” Callum said and put out his hand, Collingwood looked at it for a moment and then took it, “I will be careful, Abel, I assure you.”
“I hope so, sir.” Collingwood said and swallowed hard, his eyes misted slightly and then he drew himself up, taking his hand back, “Good luck, sir. God be with you.”
“Thank you, Abel.” Callum said, giving him a nod and a touch to his shoulder. Callum turned as the lines of the Avion were grabbed and tied off on the starboard side of Windsong, their slow movement stopped. Callum looked at Talon, Lauder, and Randall, giving them a nod, “Follow my lead. Once on deck, make ready.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said. He watched as Callum grabbed a step on the hull and started to climb, Talon moved and was right behind Callum, Lauder followed and then Randall. All eyes aboard Windsong watched them and waited. Collingwood backed up across the deck and went to the short rail, never taking his eyes off them as they climbed. Callum reached the rail of the Avion and looked over it for a moment, moving his head as he looked forward and then aft. He climbed up and over, Talon was right behind him, Lauder and Randall followed and were gone from sight.
Callum stepped on the deck of the Avion, pulling his pistols from his belt, holding them out in front of him. He looked carefully and slowly forward and then toward the stern. All of the deck was empty, no one and no movement at all. The canvas was fluttering and flapping in the breeze overhead. The smell of rot of the decks filled the air. Callum had been aboard many old ships in his time, but this was different somehow, the smell was not quite the same as he recalled from the other ships.
Talon pushed away from the tall rail, pulling his pistol from his own belt and held it up with a bent elbow. He was looking about as well, not seeing anything or anyone moving at all. Lauder and Randall came over the rail, stepping on the black deck, swinging their muskets off their shoulders and putting them in their hands, cocking back the hammers, the bayonets gleamed in the low light of the stars and the new moon. The quiet of the deck was pounding in their ears, they all strained to hear anything different, anything at all, but there was nothing, only the canvas and the soft moans of the wood of the decks and masts from the swells of the water.
Callum stepped forward, taking a pistol and used it to point forward to Talon and the Marines to send them off in that direction. He walked a few steps toward the staircases and the doorways that led below under the upper deck where the wheel was, which Callum could see was lashed in place, keeping them on this course out into The Channel.
“Darin, I’m going to cut the wheel loose. Keep looking around, Lauder, go to the rail and signal the Sergeant to have the rest of the men come up and join us.” Callum said quietly. He went to turn as one of the doors to go below under the upper deck opened creaking as it did, he swung his pistols in that direction, and narrowed his eyes as he saw who was there.
“Bonjour, Capitaine Callum.” His English was heavy with a French accent. It was him, the man from earlier today that Callum had seen on the upper deck. He wore the same long black coat, the vest underneath was dark, but undoubtedly the same and the ruffled white shirt was there as well. He was large, slightly over six feet and quite a bit heavier than Callum, more toward McGuffin and his size. The dark hair looked as black as night in this limited light, “It is an honor to have such a distinguished guest aboard my ship.”
“Your ship? I was under the impression that this ship belonged to Admiral Battenou.” Callum said, still holding the pistols out, and then he saw them, all of them. They came as if from out of thin air, more than dozens of them, possibly hundreds. They were all dressed very shabbily but carried either muskets, swords, boathooks, axes, hatchets, some had belaying pins to use as clubs. Callum looked around him and they were completely surrounded and there were more coming to fill in around those that were coming closer, more than one hundred of them.
“Yes,…I could see where you might be confused about that, mon Capitaine. Please,…do us all a favor and lower your weapons. There is no need to kill you,…right away. We should have a little talk first, no?” The dark man said, closing the door and stepped forward as Callum lowered his pistols a bit, “Drop your weapons or I will have to have my men kill you where you stand, yes?” He asked and Callum thought for a split second, and then changed his mind. He dropped his pistols to the deck.
“Sir,…” Talon said.
“Drop your weapons, Mr. Talon.” Callum said.
“Your Capitaine is a very smart man.” The dark man said, pushing his dark long coat back with one hand, resting the balled up fist on his hip, “Tell me, mon Capitaine, why did you come aboard?”
“The invitation seemed open,” Callum said as he pulled himself up, his eyes were still narrowed, “and I thought it was only polite to return the favor from the other night when you visited us.” The dark man chuckled and shook his head.
“You English, you are always so very polite to return favors. But, you are also very rude as you come aboard without formal invitation.”
“Forgive me.” Callum said, “But, after our brief encounter this afternoon, you said you would see me later. I took it as an invitation, and as we were standing by here in the bay and you were sailing out into The Channel,…” Callum said as the dark man stepped forward quickly three steps, he pulled back an arm and backhanded Callum, the blow spinning Callum’s head to one side.
“Enough from you and your clever comments.” The dark man said. Callum went to move but was stopped by hands on him from crewmen of the Avion. Callum heard the shuffle and the grunts and looked over his shoulder. Talon, Lauder, and Randall had been grabbed by several of the surly crew and were being held tight, unable to move at all. Callum turned back and looked at the dark man.
“You know who I am. How?” Callum asked.
“It has been revealed to me, by special messenger. If you will excuse me a moment, mon Capitaine, I must see to something.” He said and cocked his head slightly to one side. He walked around the group about Callum and threw his head over a bit as he came near the rail. Several of his men joined him, numbering close to fifty, all carrying muskets, they went to the rail and the dark man looked over and down as muskets swung and pointed down at the deck of Windsong, “You, all of you on the ship, listen to me, and listen well! If you move, or do anything at all, my men will shoot! They will kill each and every one of you! Your Capitaine has led you into a very difficult position! He is my guest for the moment! When we have had our little talk, then we will see what will happen, yes?! For now, remember what I said and no one will die!” He looked over the deck of Windsong, “Now,…drop your weapons or I will give the order to fire! None of you will survive if you do not do what I say!” He watched as everyone looked toward Collingwood who nodded in reply, but slowly, as Collingwood looked up at the dark man. The clatter of weapons on the deck could be heard by Callum, “Good! You,…the officer, you have made a wise decision, and I thank you!” He said and turned away from the rail, he walked slowly back toward Callum and stepped in front of him, looking him up and down, “I have heard much of you, mon Capitaine, and I must say that you have quite a reputation. Your capture of several of our ships and the destruction of the fortress at La Rochelle, and then the unfortunate demise of Maupin,…very impressive. You know, Maupin was a friend to me many years ago. I was sad to hear of his death.”
“You should choose better friends.” Callum said and received another backhand for it, bringing blood this time, “But, I must say that his manners were far more refined than yours.” Callum said and spit blood on the deck, then looked at the dark man, “What is it that you want?”
“It is simple, mon Capitaine, answer my questions, and then I will set you to go back to your ship.”
“Bien sur.” The dark man said, his fist going to his hip again, his long black coat pushed back, “Where is Wellington?”
“The Duke?” Callum asked in reply to the question, he gave a look of deep thought for a moment, “I believe he is in London.”
“When and where does he plan to invade?”
“Are you planning to try and stop him yourself? If you are, I must say, you really should give this ship a thorough,…” Callum was stopped by another backhand, even harder this time. He blinked hard from the hit and glared at the dark man.
“Answer my questions,…” The dark man hissed through clenched teeth.
“Well, truth be known, several places have been discussed but I don’t think he has made up his mind yet.” Callum said and received another backhand. He grunted softly as he straightened out his head, glaring at the dark man, spitting blood again on the deck, “There is another way to find out you know, rather than just asking me.”
“Oh? And what would that be, Capitaine?”
“You could ask him yourself. You see, part of my mission was to scout the landing sight here on the Somme. Your dock would be the ideal place for several large ships to disembark The Duke’s Army from. We could wait for him there, or, we could sail the Avion up the Thames,…” Callum said still glaring.
“You are trying to be clever, Capitaine, as your reputation suggests, no? You tell me this, but you tell me nothing, as you should. I think you need a bit of,…persuasion, yes?” The dark man said, “Perhaps, if I were to take your young officer here and to slowly remove his,…manhood in front of you, then perhaps you might tell me what I wish to know.” The dark man said and started to put his hand on his sword pommel.
“Why do you want to know?” Callum asked, the dark man stopped moving and gave him a puzzled look, “Surely with the state of the Avion, you must realize, you could never survive the engagement from the support ships, there would be too many for you.” Callum said.
“So you are telling me that there are many, yes?”
“Think. If The Duke were going to invade, don’t you think he would have support ships not only in the lead, but covering his landing, no matter where it was? You take the Avion, in the condition that she is in, and they will blow you out of the water with no trouble at all.” Callum said with a smirk.
“You think I cannot,…”
“I have seen it first hand, sir,…you have had the weather gauge against not only me but a Man-of- War, sir, and you disengaged both times when it got a little rough for you.” Callum said with a growl.
“You call me a coward?” The dark man asked and backhanded Callum again.
“The proof is in your actions,…sir.” Callum growled again, “And I am not the only one that has said it as you well know, your father, the Admiral, has said the same thing.” Callum watched the expression change on the face of the dark man, almost going off balance, his eyes shifting back and forth with his mention, “I am wondering what he would have to say about meeting The Duke and trying to stop him from invading, or are you just giving the information to Napoleon, in hopes that he can stop him, because you can’t?”
“I will kill you,…” the dark man said as he put his hand on his sword and started to pull.
“Ah, again, you show your true self, killing someone who is unarmed and unable to defend himself, even though I still wear my sword.” Callum said as he looked back and forth at the two who held him by the arms tight, “Again, I wonder what your father would say? I know of his reputation, a man of true honor and to be given the greatest respect. It would be one of the greatest moments of my life if I were to be able to meet him. I have many questions to ask of him as I have studied his tactics in school. He is more than the stuff of legend among we English.”
“You know of my father?” The dark man asked, his face was a blank now.
“I do indeed. He is well respected in the Royal Navy, and was well feared by us. His accomplishments are many.” Callum said and the dark man just stared at him, “You did say, I was a,…guest aboard ship, did you not? To meet him face to face would be a great moment in my life as I said.”
“I will take you to meet him, Capitaine. Perhaps he can suggest,…something to make you tell me what I wish to know.”
“What of my men here?” Callum asked. The dark man looked over at Talon and the Marines and then around at his men that held them. He looked back at Callum. The look on the face was blank. Callum knew he was insane, but how much and how far he was unsure until that moment and then he knew.
“They will not be harmed,…for now.” He turned and walked toward a door under the upper deck, the two that held Callum went along, pushing Callum as they went. The door was opened and they stepped into darkness. The smell of rotting and musty wood was heavier here in the dark companionway, “Light the lamps.” The voice of the dark man was heard in the blackness. Callum heard a squeak, he assumed that it a panel on a lamp. There was a glow and then a lamp on the wall started to give off soft light. The walls came to life slowly as the light increased. Callum looked at one section below the lamp and was amazed by the intricate woodwork. The panels and the surrounding moldings were beyond anything he had ever seen before on any ship, telling him that this must have been more than a ship of beauty or a ship of war, but a showpiece, a floating palace in her day. It nearly broke his heart to think of her state right now, the neglect, the uncaring of this man and those that served him.
Another lamp was lit in the companionway, lighting their direction even more. They proceeded along and came to a set of great doors, wide as well as being tall. It seemed to Callum as the lamplight grew that they were in a house, a fine house rather than on a ship at sea. The dark man knocked once and then opened the door. He stepped inside the black cabin, letting go of the handle of the door, Callum was pushed inside and stopped, looking over his shoulder at the gritty looking crewman.
“Father?” The dark man asked in the darkness. He crossed the cabin and reached a table. A match was struck, Callum scanned the cabin quickly but couldn’t make anything out at first. He started to see better as the candle began to come to life. Fine furniture was all about, a large heavy table with chairs at the ends, upholstered arm chairs, cabinetry with glass doors. The dark man went over to another small table and lit another candle. He came close to a set of upholstered high backed chairs, lighting yet another candle on a table between them “Father, we have a very distinguished guest that has come to meet you.” The two men that flanked Callum pushed him forward a bit.
“Who is it?” A grained and deep voice asked from the dark corner of the cabin near the heavily draped windows at the stern windows. Callum shifted his eyes toward it. He couldn’t see who was there. The dark man walked over toward another large upholstered chair, the back of it could only be seen from where Callum stood.
“An English Capitaine,…the one who destroyed La Rochelle.” The dark man said as he drew near to the chair. Callum watched as the man that sat in it rose to his feet slowly. He turned and Callum narrowed his eyes from the low light as the man, older, grayer, but elegantly dressed, stepped around the dark man. He wore an older French uniform, very decorated. The dark blue long coat had wide lapels, there was a sash under it, wide and red, Callum could tell from the flickering candle light. The coat covered a vest that shimmered in the light, he knew it was silk, the shirt had ruffling at the collar and the cuffs. The breeches were knee length, gathered and the ties for the legs dangled on the outside below the knees, the stockings were long and white, the buckled shoes were highly polished and gave a glow of their own. He was elegant and impressive looking Callum thought even though the uniform was out of style by at least twenty years.
“Admiral Battenou?” Callum asked and then gave a formal bow to the older man. He rose and stood, “I am Quintan Callum.”
“So,…you are the one that I have heard so much of.” The older man said as he tilted his head back a bit, looking down his nose at Callum, “You have quite a growing reputation. They say you are the one to watch, a rival to Nelson and his tactics.”
“I am honored, sir, to be compared to as such. I assure you that it is overstated with what you might have heard.”
“You are too modest, Capitaine.” The older man said, “I have heard from a few of the Capitaines of the ships that you took at La Rochelle,…something quite different.” He stepped closer and looked Callum over carefully, “And I also see from the split in your lip that you have had a taste of my son’s hospitality.”
“Yes,…I have at that.” Callum said and gave a brief glare at the dark man behind the Admiral. He looked back at the older man again, “Although, we have not been formally introduced.”
“I see.” The older man said softly, “Andre,…have your men leave us.”
“Father, I think,…”
“I know what you think, Andre.” The older man said as he stared at Callum, “But, the Capitaine is a man of honor, I do believe. The three of us can have a talk for a bit,…without your men being here.” There was a long silence in the cabin and the dark man began to move slowly, coming around the older man.
“You can leave us.” The dark man finally said. The two grisly looking men backed away, turned, and went to the door, going out.
“Now,” The older man said, “may I present to you my son, Andre Battenou.” The older man held out a hand. Callum bowed his head slightly toward him, the dark man just stared at him, the look on his face was blank.
“Admiral Battenou, I was under the impression that you were in command of the Avion, sir.” Callum said.
“Yes, I suppose there are a great many things that are being assumed by others as well, Capitaine. For instance, you are probably wondering why the Avion is here on the Somme.” The older man said.
“No, I am very clear about that, sir, as well as to why the attacks continue on merchant shipping. What I do not understand, sir, is why you allow it, this butchering of innocent crews.” Callum said, “Your reputation is being quite tarnished by it, sir, with these gruesome acts that are being carried out.”
“You are trying to provoke a response from me, Capitaine.” The older man said, his eyes flashed toward his son, who was coming behind Callum a few steps away, “I do not share in what happens to those crews, nor do I care for it.”
“Then why? Why do you allow it, sir?” Callum asked, “It is not for profit, that much is certain, as the cargos are not taken.”
“Yes, that is very true.”
“Then, again, I ask,…why?” Callum asked.
“My men,” The dark man said from behind Callum, “they require,…to how you say, satisfy a need.”
“A need?” Callum asked as he looked over his shoulder, “To murder innocents? Dismembering those crews and leaving them to rot aboard their vessels? It’s insanity.” Callum spat out and then looked at the older man, “And you are aboard when it all happens, you know of it, you sanction it as you allow it but not doing anything to stop it. How many prisons did you liberate to find all of these murderers that you have aboard?”
“Be careful, Capitaine.” The older man said, “You are standing on very shaky ground right now.”
“You have not answered the question as of yet, sir.” Callum said, “You wish information from me, and I wish information from you. Help me to understand why a man of your standing, sir, your reputation for greatness would stand by and let this happen.”
“There is nothing that I can do about it, Capitaine.” The older man said and turned away from Callum.
“I say there is, sir. Help me to put an end to this,…please.” Callum said as he stepped once toward the older man.
“I will tell you, Capitaine, that what is happening will continue.” The dark man said to Callum’s back, making Callum turn to face him.
“You, sir, are quite mad and must be stopped.” Callum said and the dark man chuckled.
“And I suppose that the Admiralty of your navy sent you to stop me? You, with your little boat and your few crew. You really think you can stop me?” The dark man asked as he put his balled up fist on his hip.
“Well, from what happened the other night when you tried to board us and we gave you quite the thrashing, you turned tail and ran from a ‘little boat’ and those few crew aboard. And then there is the condition of the Avion itself. As I said to someone just the other day, I could probably put my fist through the hull at the waterline as rotted as it is.” Callum said as he glared at the dark man, who was becoming enraged. The older man chuckled a bit behind Callum.
“You certainly have brass, Capitaine, I will give you that.” The older man said, Callum turned and looked at him, “You stand here and speak very bravely knowing full well that you will never leave here alive.”
“I was told that this mission that I am on might be one that did not allow me to return home. I am well prepared for that, Admiral.” Callum said, he turned and looked at the dark man, “But, not before the ‘little boat’ does some serious damage to you and the Avion, sir. You see, there is something happening right now that you do not know.”
“And what is that, Capitaine?” the dark man asked, his hand sliding to the pommel of his sword.
“If my officer and men and I do not return to our ‘little boat’, I have crewmen below decks ready and waiting to set off powder charges. The blast from it will blow out the rotting hull of the Avion and send her to the bottom of The Channel.”
“My ship,…you cannot do that.” The older man said behind Callum.
“I assure you, Admiral, I can and will.” Callum said, he half turned and looked at the older man, “All I need you to do is to help me to stop this, sir. Put an end to this madness, Admiral. You are the only one that can do it. Turn your son over to me and we will sail to England where he can answer for his crimes.”
“Clearly you are lying, Capitaine.” The dark man said, his fingers wrapping around the pommel of the sword.
“Are you willing to take that chance, Battenou?” Callum asked, seeing the frenzied look that was in the eyes of the dark man.
“You English always make the brave noise, no? But you are not that brave to sacrifice yourselves to do something like that, it is not in you.”
“It is apparent to me, sir, you don’t know what you are talking about. I would have fought to the last man the other night when you boarded us, but no, you turned tail and ran away like a beaten dog or a woman when it became a little tough for you. How many of your men did you lose? And the ones that you left stranded on my deck when you sailed away,…they’re all dead.” Callum said, watching as the eyes flashed on the dark man, as he was losing control of himself, Callum knew it was time to push him even further, “Tell me, did it not bother you to lose so many, what, perhaps forty, no, it must have been more than that, sixty perhaps,…hmmm, I wonder, more than that? The fact of it is, sir, you are a coward, plain and true. I am ready to sacrifice myself and my men to stop you, and believe me,…I will.” Callum said with a growl in his throat. The older man started to reach out to grab Callum from behind as the sword flashed from the dark man out of its scabbard. The lunge and the roar of insanity came in an instant from the dark man toward Callum, he saw it, heard it and moved in a flash out of the way. Another sound behind Callum came and then he saw wide eyes and an open mouth from the dark man, Callum spun and looked down, the broad sword point was stuck deeply into the belly of the Admiral through the brilliant red sash he wore.
“Andre,…” The older man gasped, closing his eyes. Callum reached out and grabbed the Admiral as the sword was pulled out of him. Callum helped lower the Admiral to his knees on the deck of the cabin.
“I have you, sir.” Callum said, “Easy now.” Callum got behind the older man and let him rest on a bent leg of Callum’s, “Let me get you down to the deck, sir, easy now.” Callum said and pulled out his leg, helping the older man slowly to the deck. The dark man stood there and then looked at his sword, more than the tip was red with his father’s blood. Callum looked up and saw the look on the dark man’s face, one of disbelief and of horror at what had happened.
“You,…you made me,…kill my father.” Battenou said slowly. Callum stood as he watched the expressions continue on the tortured face.
“No,…your own insanity has done this to him.” Callum said as a hand reached out so fast and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him off balance away from the Admiral. The roar in the throat of Battenou was deep and loud. Callum felt himself flying through the air. He hit against the edge of the large table and lay half on it, trying to get himself together as the hand was on him again, gripping his throat tightly.
“I will kill you for what you have done.” The growl was deep as the hand tightened. Callum grabbed the wrist that held him with both hands, but he could not break free of it. He choked, the air being cut off and then he felt the jerk, being lifted off the table and was flying again across the cabin. He hit the deck a few feet away and coughed, trying to get air back in his lungs. He shook his head and put his hands on the deck, pushing himself up but was grabbed again from behind and jerked up to his feet. He went flying again off balance and hit a large cabinet, bouncing off it and going back down to the deck with a clatter and in a heap. He lifted his head and tried to roll but was grabbed yet again. Another deep roar came from Battenou as Callum was lifted to his feet. He balled his fists and punched the dark face twice with all he had, the face turned with each hit but came back to look at him and then the snarl came over the twisted lips as Callum heard the clatter of steel on the deck, Battenou dropping his sword.
“I will tear you to pieces with my bare hands, English dog.” Battenou growled as he went face to face with Callum, the eyes burned into his, the look was wild as Callum was gripped again even tighter with both hands now. He felt himself being lifted off the deck and then the rush of motion, Battenou pushing and carrying Callum to the bulkhead wall and slamming him into it hard, knocking the wind from Callum a bit. Battenou roared in his throat again and Callum was slid up the wall and then was tossed across the cabin again, hitting the deck hard. Callum was stunned from the hit to the deck. He groaned a bit and tried to move as the hands grabbed him again, turning him and then the lifting again.
“You have brought destruction with you, and now you caused this with my father.” Battenou said.
“You brought it on yourself, you son-of-a-bitch.” Callum choked out and then was tossed with another roar, hitting the large table hard and sliding over the far edge and hitting the deck once again. Another roar came as he tried to shake his head clear and get up, the table was flipped away at the end, landing at the large doors wedging them, Callum’s eyes went wide as he got to his knees, he saw the hulking man reach down and grab him yet again, pulling him to his feet, and then the hit, another backhand with such power behind it, rolling his head, knocking him to the bulkhead wall, he hit and slid down it to the deck. The blood was coming from his mouth and he was breathing hard as he looked up.
“You still think I am a coward, English?” Battenou growled as he grabbed Callum once more, pulling him up, then slammed him into the bulkhead, making Callum grunt with the impact. He coughed and groaned a bit and took in a breath.
“Pushing someone around does not make you brave, you pitiful sot.” Callum said as he looked up. Another roar and hands were on his collar, lifting him to his feet. Callum growled back and started punching with both hands. He punched into the belly of the long black coat over and over and then jabbed upward into the square jaw, throwing it back, then he pulled back and threw one right punch directly into the dark face with a deafening smack to it. The head turned and stayed there. Callum watched the reaction for the briefest moment and then went on him again, punching him over and over. He was pulled close and kneed the dark man in the groin as hard as he could bringing a deep groan. Battenou doubled over from it and Callum punched the face downward again and again viciously, bringing the dark man down to his knees. Callum backed up to the bulkhead wall with one step and then sent his boot into the ribs of the big man, making him grunt with the impact and then roll to the deck. Callum fell against the bulkhead and was trying to catch his breath as he watched the hulked mass on the deck.
“You have lasted longer than any other, English.” Battenou said as he tried to get up, making it to one knee.
“Get to your feet you black hearted son-of-a-bitch.” Callum said, “Face me.” Callum said with balled fists, ready to do his worst. Battenou grunted and got to his feet, still doubled over.
“I will beat you into submission, English, and then give you to my crew. They will take great delight in slowly chopping you into small pieces and then throwing you to the deck of your little boat for all there to see. I am sure by now, that your officer and your men here have suffered the same fate.” Battenou said as he gave Callum a side glance, his hands on his knees trying to catch his own breath. Callum became enraged, taking his fists and clasping them together, he growled and swung them both like a hammer, hitting Battenou fully in the face, sending him reeling back.
“You miserable insane fuck!” Callum growled as he came at Battenou again, hitting him with both clasped fists, knocking the big man into a spin, Callum stayed on him, hitting him again and then again, knocking Battenou into the bulkhead on the far side of the cabin, “I will see you dead if they are harmed.” Callum growled as he pounded Battenou again, making the head lay over to one side. Battenou pushed off the bulkhead, crashing into Callum, picking him up and charging with him across the cabin, tripping on the dropped sword, the two fell to the deck in a heap, Callum underneath Battenou, the wind knocked out of Callum, he grunted. Battenou got up off him a little and grabbed Callum around the throat, choking him tightly, Callum grabbed the wrists and tried to wiggle away but couldn’t as he was held tight.
“I will choke the life out you, you English dog.” Battenou said with a growl in his throat, his face was tight and his eyes were intense as he stared at Callum.
“You,…can,…try.” Callum said as he tightened his neck muscles to fight against the grip of the powerful hands. Callum reached up, cupping both hands and slapped them over Battenou’s ears, making him growl in pain and let go of him, Callum grabbed the thick upper arms and pushed back, rolling the stunned Battenou off him, getting away from him. Callum rolled away twice and got to one knee, pulling his sword at last as Battenou shook his head and got up. Callum lunged on one knee and stabbed Battenou in the upper left thigh making him cry out from the pain. Callum pulled back and got to his feet as did Battenou.
“You fight like a tavern brawler, English, with no honor.” Battenou grunted as he gripped over the stab wound.
“Whatever wins the day.” Callum said as he heaved his chest holding his sword out. Battenou was standing over his own sword on the deck, he looked down at it for a split second and then at Callum. Callum saw the look and got into a defensive stance, “Go ahead,…pick it up, Battenou. I will not stop you, in fact,…I welcome it.” Battenou looked down again at the blade and then back at Callum, “If you think you can take me with a sword, then be my guest and try.” Callum said as he started to regain his breathing, putting his left hand on his hip behind him, ready, “Your friend, Maupin, was not brave enough to try me with a sword, but his bedfellow was. It did not serve him well however.”
“Again with the brave talk of the English which means nothing.” Battenou said, bending down as he kept his eyes locked on Callum, finding the blade, wrapping fingers around the heavy pommel of the thick sabre. He picked it up and stood, lifting the blade to Callum’s, touching the blades together with the ting of steel, “Perhaps I will cut you into small pieces myself and not let my crew have the pleasure.”
“As I have said before, many have tried, many have failed. Do your worst.” Callum said, slapping the heavy steel with his own. They eyed one another in the candlelight for a long moment and then Battenou lunged, Callum blocked it and slid his blade, getting to a point and then pushed back, making Battenou stand straighter. Eyes narrowed on both men and then the swings came, Callum blocked each and every one, then gave three in reply, the last was not blocked well enough by Battenou, the three sided blade of Callum’s sword made contact with the long black coat on the upper right sleeve and cut into the heavy cloth. Battenou backed up a step and looked at it and then at Callum, who shrugged once, “One piece at a time?” Callum asked and looked firm in his resolve. Battenou roared and lunged all at once, Callum blocked it and slid his blade to the pommel of Battenou’s, pushing against one another. Callum knew he couldn’t hold against the greater strength of the man. He balled his left fist and sent it flying, hitting Battenou across the right jaw, turning his head, Callum pushed at that moment, sending him backward and Callum was on him, swinging and lunging with his blade, Battenou was wide eyed at the attack and was doing everything to block the advance until he backed up to the bulkhead wall and could go no further, Callum slid down to the pommel of the heavy sabre again and readied his fist, but Battenou struck first with his own fist, landing his punch in Callum’s ribs, making him grunt and back up a step. Battenou pressed his attack now, using his blade as he would an axe, chopping away, Callum holding up his blade over his head blocking the swings of the frantic madman.
Callum backed up under the pressure of the attack, the swings down on him were incredibly strong. He held on as best he could until Battenou stopped and glared at Callum with an insane look, Callum froze for a brief moment, Battenou lifted his blade again with one hand, this time he swung sideways, Callum ducked it, but Battenou charged behind it, pushing Callum off balance as he made contact with him, Callum spun, bringing the pommel of his sword up fast and hard, catching Battenou under the chin, stunning him, Callum pounded the pommel in again and again bringing the blood from Battenou. The look on Battenou’s face changed from insane rage to shock, Callum turning more to face him and then swung down with the blade, catching the back of the hand that held the sword, cutting into it deeply, Battenou grunted from the pain and dropped the blade. Callum backed up, blade pointed to the chest of the dark man, Battenou looked at it and then at Callum.
“Surrender.” Callum said as his chest was heaving.
“No,…I will never.” Battenou said and stepped into the blade, making it pierce the heavy clothing. He grunted a bit more but stayed with it and on his feet, Callum went wide eyed. Battenou took in a slight breath and slid into the blade again, Callum held on against the pressure of it. Battenou’s eyes fluttered a bit and he swayed slightly, then dropped to his knees with a heavy thud. Callum could not believe what was happening, the man killing himself, using Callum and his blade like this.
“Don’t let it end this way, I beg you.” Callum said.
“You wish me to die, in England, at the end of a rope? No, Capitaine, I will die at my own choosing, not yours.” Battenou said, then licked his lips a bit as he swayed. Callum pulled out the sword and backed up a step. He heard the sounds, the unmistakable sounds of booms, he knew they were from cannon. There were muffled shouts and screams now and then the impacts came. Callum sheathed his sword as the ball came ripping through the bulkhead wall. Wood splintered, glass shattered and Callum was knocked off his feet to the deck near the body of Admiral Battenou. Another shot ripped through the bulkhead, the ball making a sound like a roar as it came and went through the wood, letting the night sky be seen and bringing in the night breeze. Callum got to an elbow and looked at the large entry holes. More booms and the deck shuddered under Callum. The sounds of wood being splintered were underneath him, he knew the rudder was being destroyed. He heard something else and turned toward it. Admiral Battenou was still breathing.
“Admiral.” Callum said as he crawled closer to the man.
“You are destroying my ship?”
“My squadron has arrived, sir. This madness is over.” Callum said as he got to his knees, leaning over the older man, “Let me get you out of here, sir, and to one of our surgeons.”
“Very kind of you, Capitaine, but I wish to die here.” The older man said as he was having trouble breathing, “Andre,…” Callum looked behind him, the dark man had slumped to the deck and was still.
“He is done, sir, by his own actions.” Callum said as he looked back at the older man, “Please, sir, I beg you, let me get you out of here.”
“Go, Capitaine,…while you still can. Before you are,…lost as well. Your ships will not know where you are,…and will keep firing.” The older man said as he struggled to breathe. He closed his eyes for a moment and then more booms came, Callum lay over the older man in reaction to it, the cannonballs ripped through the once elegant cabin again, wood splintering, glass shattering and all it flying through the air, furniture was destroyed and thrown about and the deck shifted a bit.
“I’m not leaving without you, sir. You are an innocent in this madness.” Callum said as he got off the older man.
“Capitaine,…please, let me,…” The older man said and he became still, his eyes fixed and the breath escaped him slowly. Callum closed his own eyes for a moment and dropped his head as more booms were heard, another volley ripped into wood below Callum at the waterline, the great ship groaned. Callum got to his feet, looking down at the dead older man, the once great Admiral of the French Royal Navy. He turned and went to the door. He grabbed the heavy table and had to push it out of the way with everything he had as more shots came through the cabin, Callum leaned into the doors to block the shredding wood and debris. He put his hand on a knob, turned and pulled. The lamps were still glowing in the companionway that had been lit to show their way in. Callum saw them coming, at least a half dozen of the surly looking crew. Callum drew his sword and charged toward them. He ran the first one through and pulled his sword out, dropping him to the deck, the second he hit with a fist, and then stabbed him once. Callum realized that they had no weapons in their hands. The others froze for a moment, turned and ran back the way they had come. Callum charged after them.
He reached the open deck and looked around as more booms could be heard. Chaos was all around him and then the hits came from the cannons, he ducked a bit as rails were splintered, rigging was cut loose, men screaming and calling out in French, bodies were scattered about on the deck and Callum saw Talon standing in its midst of it all, fighting against two men with his bare hands, the Marines were at his feet, one on the other lying still. Callum went to charge forward but was stopped by several of the grisly crew. He swung his sword and his free fist as fast as he could, cutting and hitting them as fast as possible. They fell away from him as he moved forward toward Talon, his main concern and focus. He swung at the last of them, cutting the Frenchman deeply across his chest making him scream out and then ran him through. Callum pulled his sword out and pushed him away as the man fell to the deck.
Callum came up quickly behind Talon, running one of the crew through in the belly. Callum pulled out his sword and used the pommel to smash into the other’s jaw, stunning him as Talon dropped back with relief as his Captain had come to his rescue. Callum smashed the jaw again with the pommel, knocking the Frenchman to the deck. He pulled back his sword as the man went to get back to his feet and stabbed him deep in the chest making him grunt and drop. Callum pulled his sword and looked over his shoulder at Talon.
“You alright?” Callum asked, Talon nodded. Callum saw that Talon was beaten up badly, his right eye was swollen shut, his upper lip was split and his nose was bloodied, “What about them?”
“They’re alive.” Talon said with difficulty, “Are you alright, sir?” Talon asked as he looked at Callum, who was also bloodied and beat up looking.
“Is the ship still there?” Callum asked as he looked at the rail, he didn’t see the mast tips. Men were rushing about as more booms were heard and cannonballs were ripping into the hull of the Avion.
“They were cut loose, sir, but not before they fired down into them with their muskets.” Talon struggled to say as he slumped a bit. Callum grabbed him with his free hand to steady him.
“We have to get off this ship before Thomas blows it out from underneath us. He doesn’t know we’re aboard.” Callum said as he was looking about. He saw some of the surly crew coming toward them. Callum let go of Talon and turned to face them, holding out his sword. Two of the four had boathooks in their hands and held them out as they came. Talon pulled his own sword out of its scabbard and went to stand beside his Captain to meet them. Callum heard a grunt at his feet, Lauder was coming around as he was lying on top of Randall.
One of the French lunged at Callum with the boathook, the other one swung, Callum ducked, Talon backed up a step, the swinging boathook missed them both but hit the first Frenchman by mistake making him scream, Callum lunged with his blade, running the second Frenchman through, he pulled out as the third and fourth came forward as well, Callum slashed through the air on the backswing, slicing them both, one fell, the other grunted but still came, hands went to Callum throat and grabbed tight as the eyes of the man locked on Callum’s, but then they went wide and his mouth opened. Talon was at Callum’s shoulder now as he ran his heavy blade through the man. The grip loosened on Callum’s throat as the Frenchman started to drop away, Callum pushed him with his free hand, he dropped to the deck dead.
Callum looked down at the Marines at his feet, he bent and grabbed Lauder under one arm pulling him up. Lauder put a hand to his head, the open wound near his right temple where he had been beaten with something heavy and blunt.
“Can you stand?” Callum asked, Lauder nodded without looking at him, “Darin, see to Randall.” Callum said as he looked about, more booms came and Callum looked in the direction of the sound as Talon knelt and went to Randall’s side. Callum saw Dover over the port side, swinging around in the mouth of the bay at the stern of the Avion, firing yet again. Callum could now see that the Avion had sailed on out further into The Channel and was in open water. He turned and saw the sails of Triborne coming toward them off the port bow, he could not see Windsong anywhere, “Get him up, Darin, we have to get out of here.” Callum said as he held up Lauder under his arm. Talon got Randall up to his feet, holding him around the waist with one arm, Randall draped his arm over Talon’s shoulder.
“I have him, sir.” Talon said with a bit of struggle, “Where shall we go, sir?”
“The upper deck. If Thomas can just see us, then maybe,…” Callum said as he turned, “Stay close.” Callum moved as he helped Lauder, heading toward the port stairs that led to the upper deck and the wheel. Talon helped support Randall as he followed behind their Captain.
Several Frenchmen were moving about on the deck, seeing the group coming, but were trying to stay out of the way of the incoming cannon fire that was raining about them. They made no move to stop Callum and his group as they were trying to save themselves. The noise about them all was more than just chaotic, it was a frenzy. Splintering wood, screams and cries, shouts in French trying to organize themselves to possibly fight back or escape the destruction. The deck was beginning to list a bit to port now.
Callum reached the stairs with Lauder, Talon and Randall behind them as they met some of the French coming down the stairs. Callum raised his sword to the unarmed men, they held up their hands as if to surrender, Callum waved his sword tip a bit to have them get out of the way. They came down along the handrail, hands up, staring at Callum as they came down. More cannon fire came from Dover and hit the port aft quarter, the French on the stairs screamed as the wood behind them ripped apart, Callum and Lauder fell back a couple of steps, being forced back by the impacts. Callum shook his head a bit and looked at the sairs, the French were gone and he saw that part of the stairs were destroyed now and the hull of the rail was missing and gapping wide open.
“Come on.” Callum said as he pulled Lauder along with him up the remains of the stairs. Talon and Randall followed as best they could. Callum reached the upper deck, he looked about as French were there, some were trying to secure the sails of the Mizzen with what rigging was left, “We have to get to the rail, signal Dover.” Callum said, “Darin, stay close.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon struggled to reply. Callum moved forward as some of the French saw them coming toward them. They turned to face them. Callum let Lauder go and stepped in front of him, sword tip out. They came. Callum flashed a glance over at the wheel, seeing one Frenchman there handling it. Talon handed Randall over to Lauder as he came beside his Captain, raising his sword as well.
“Wait for them to make the move.” Callum said through gritted teeth. Talon only nodded once as the French moved forward, all had murderous looks in their eyes. The first three lunged on them with bare hands, Callum jumped forward a step to meet them, slashing once with his sword, taking two of them out with deep cuts, the third got his hands on Callum, hitting him once in the jaw, Talon stabbed him deep in the chest, the Frenchman grunted and stood still as he looked at Talon, the others came forward quickly, Callum ran one through, the others grabbed Callum. Talon pulled his sword out of the Frenchman as he finally started to fall to the deck. Talon stabbed another as Callum was overpowered by the group and pushed to the forerail.
Lauder let go of Randall, letting him go to his knees on the deck and jumped in with Talon to pull the French off Callum. Swings and punches were a blur as the brawl began. Callum was hit several times in his face and his ribs, his hand that held his sword was held tight and in the air so he could not use it. Callum punched back with his left, hitting the French as best he could and then the red of a uniform was fully in front of him, and a roar from it came, Lauder moved like a blur, fists, elbows, knee, all making contact with the French, knocking them all back. Callum turned on the one Frenchman that held his right wrist. He punched over and over into the face of the Frenchman, knocking him finally to the deck and was free of him. Callum jumped forward and was stabbing into the stunned French that Lauder was leaving in his wake, Talon was doing the same from the other side and the large group began to fall apart and retreat back to the wheel.
“Get Randall to the rail.” Callum said as he pulled Lauder back and stood in front of his group, sword out toward the remaining French. Talon stayed with Callum in defense, Lauder got Randall up to his feet and they moved slowly to the remains of the aft rail, Callum and Talon backed up as they turned, the French turned with them, keeping constant watch on them.
“Do you think Dover will see us from here, sir?” Talon asked with clenched teeth.
“They’d better.” Callum said, “I would hate to have to make a swim for it.” Talon gave him a quick side glance and then stared back at the French. Callum continued to back up slowly, sword out, Talon beside him until he felt the rail and stopped. Callum was in front of Lauder and Randall and stopped as well. He stared at the French for a moment and then looked quickly over his shoulder seeing Dover coming closer. He looked back at the group of French, they had not moved as of yet, “Keep an eye on them, Darin.” Callum said and looked fully over the rail with a half turn. Dover was now completing her turn to port and was coming directly at the stern of the Avion, two hundred yards away. Callum looked forward, seeing Triborne bearing down on the port bow of the Avion, he knew Stewart was going to make a turn into the bay to starboard and was going to rake the Avion with a full broadside from bow to stern in a few minutes as he could see they were coming in under Headsails only now.
“Sir,” Talon said with clenched teeth, Callum looked over at the group of French as they were backing up and away from the wheel now. Callum narrowed his eyes a bit and then went wide eyed and his mouth opened slightly as he saw why they were doing it. The dark figure stepped through them, sword in hand. Battenou stood there.
“You English dog.” He said with a growl, “You are surprised to see me, no?”