The morning had come to them in Southend. Windsong was still tied to the stone dock. The crew had gone ashore had returned for their bit of revelry in town and were below deck still sleeping it off. Callum had just come to the wheelhouse after looking at the lines from the Mizzen spire and cross arm for the Spanker sail, he was without his tunic and was only in his shirt, his vest open and unbuttoned, a pistol tucked in his belt.
“Sir.” One of the young Marines on guard said, getting Callum’s attention. He nodded toward the end of the gangplank, a man was standing there. Callum looked at the man, tall, dark, and in a suit that was finely tailored. Callum stepped away from the wheelhouse and walked over to the end of the gangplank that rested on deck.
“Captain Callum?” The man asked. His voice was firm but not deep. His eyes scanned about at the two Marines that were handling their muskets.
“That’s right.” Callum said.
“My name is Paupling. I was wondering, sir, if I might have a word?”
“State your business.” Callum said as he folded his arm, the pistol tucked in his belt drew the eyes of the man on the dock.
“It is of a rather delicate nature, Captain. I am wondering if there is some place that we might speak that is less,…open?” The man looked about on the dock. There were several men that moved about that did not belong to Windsong. The man seemed a bit nervous about them.
“Come aboard, Mr. Paupling, if this matter is urgent.” Callum said as he was looking the man up and down, not seeing any sign of weapon. Callum backed up a step, unfolding his arms, keeping a hand near the butt of the pistol in his belt. He watched as the man came up the gangplank and onto the deck. He stopped at the top of the plank and carefully reached out his hand.
“How do you do, Captain?” The man gave a partial bow of his head.
“I suppose that all depends on what you wish to speak to me of, Mr. Paupling.” Callum said, not reaching for the hand in reply. Paupling lowered his hand.
“Is there some place that we might speak in private?” Paupling asked Callum as the young Marine standing near him.
“Why don’t we step over here, Mr. Paupling.” Callum said and raised a hand to guide the man over to the port rail on the other side of the deck. Callum watched him walk with him out of the corner of his eye.
“You seem to be a little more on the guarded side, Captain. I am wondering, are you possibly expecting trouble, sir?” Paupling asked as they reached the rail.
“Who are you and what do you want, Mr. Paupling?” Callum asked. The man looked at the two Marines as they kept an eye on him from their positions of post, fore and aft. He brought his eyes back to Callum.
“As I said,” The man said, his voice was lowered a bit and he spoke softly so as not to be heard by anyone else, “my name is Paupling, Captain. I work for the Diplomatic Service.” Callum narrowed his eyes at him, “I have come from London after visiting the Admiralty. I was there when your note arrived late yesterday announcing your return.”
“What is it that you want of me?” Callum asked.
“First, I wish to offer my congratulations on the success of your mission, Captain. It means a great deal to all of England with your success.” Paupling said, Callum gave a nod in reply, “Secondly, I know that Lord Hood wishes to speak with you and take your report. Before that happens, Captain, we would like a chance to ask you a few things.”
“We?” Callum asked.
“The Diplomatic Service, Captain. You see, you are in possession of vital information, information that may change the balance of power on the Continent. You did come across a Dutch merchant in the North Sea, did you not?” Paupling asked as he reached into his suit jacket inside pocket, he pulled out a folded piece of paper. Callum watched him carefully and was hesitant about saying anything, “I can see that you would not wish to discuss anything with a complete stranger, Captain. Perhaps if you were to read this, then we might continue our discussion.” Paupling held out the paper in his fingertips, Callum took it and opened it slowly, seeing the crest and the seal upon it. He read who it was from and what was written on it.
“Lord Eldon.” Callum said softly.
“Do you know His Lordship well?” Paupling asked just as soft.
“ No, I’m sorry to say. We have met once.” Callum said, handing the paper back to Paupling. He took it, folded it and returned it to the inside pocket of his suit jacket.
“His Lordship spoke highly of you, Captain, the meeting that you and His Grace had with him in his chambers. He said that you impressed him very much as you were staring great danger in the face from the Earl of Cambridge.” Paupling said.
“You seem to know a great deal about me, Mr. Paupling.” Callum said as he folded his arms over his chest again.
“Indeed, Captain. We make it our business to know those that can be counted on in times of need in the service of England.”
“I am just a simple sailor, Mr. Paupling.”
“Come now, Captain, don’t be so modest. You and I both know that you are much more than just that. Your insights to stopping a plot of French assassins and spies saved the lives of both Lord Hood and His Grace, and you killed one of the key French spies here in England, Maupin.”
“As I said, Mr. Paupling, you seem to know a great deal about me.” Callum said and lifted an eyebrow.
“His Grace also has a very opinion of you, Captain, not only for saving his life, but for actions that continue to prove your value to England.”
“What is it that you really want of me?” Callum asked.
“We wish to make you an offer, Captain.”
“An offer of what?”
“Service, Captain. As I said, you have proved your value to England over and over. We want a man such as you to work with us. You can continue in your service to His Majesty’s Navy but at the same time,…”
“You know enough of me, Mr. Paupling, but apparently not all.” Callum said as he cut Paupling off, “I am only here because of the request to return to service for this one mission, to stop this madman in the North Sea and The Channel. Now that that is done, I will be resigning and going home.”
“I’m afraid that is not how Lord Hood sees it, Captain.” Paupling said as he tilted his head a bit.
“What do you mean?” Callum asked.
“Perhaps I have said too much. His Lordship will more than likely discuss it with you when he arrives here later today.”
“I had not heard word yet of his arrival.”
“My dear Captain, all of England knows that you have returned.” Paupling said. He turned away from the rail and looked over at the remains of the starboard rail and the gangplank. One of the Marines was moving toward it from his post aft. Callum looked over as well, seeing the Marine lift his musket and hold it as to guard the gangplank. He turned toward Callum.
“What is it?” Callum asked.
“An officer, sir, he wishes to come aboard. He carries dispatches for you, sir.” The young Marine said. Callum sighed and looked at Paupling once and then back at the Marine.
“Very well. Let him come aboard.” Callum said.
“Yes, sir.” The Marine said and stepped aside from the end of the gangplank. A very young officer came aboard on the gangplank and stepped up toward Callum, tipping his hand.
“Captain Callum?” The soft young voice asked.
“Dispatches for you, sir, from the Admiralty.” He said as he opened the bag that was hanging over his shoulder. He pulled out three envelopes and handed them to Callum. Callum took them from him, looking at them and who they were from.
“As I said, all of England knows that you have returned, Captain.” Paupling said clearly. Callum looked at the envelope from the Admiralty, in Lord Hood’s handwriting. Callum opened it and read it, he lifted his eyes to the young officer.
“Thank you, no reply.” Callum said folding the paper back and placing it in the envelope.
“Yes, sir.” The young officer said with slightly wide eyes. He tipped his hand, turned and went back across the deck to the gangplank and left Windsong. Callum turned back to Paupling.
“Alright, Mr. Paupling, let’s have it. I have no time for games.” Callum said.
“Of course you don’t, Captain, you have to prepare for His Lordship’s arrival and to prepare your report no doubt. Do you know Commodore Phelps, Captain?”
“We have met.” Callum said, his eyes narrowed a bit, “We had a brief introduction yesterday. I know more of his reputation than of the man himself.”
“Commodore Phelps is a very powerful man, in certain circles. Tell me, did he ask questions about this Dutch merchant?” Paupling asked.
“Did you tell him anything?”
“Only that I was going to make my report only to Lord Hood. Phelps said that we would meet again after that meeting.” Callum said.
“I will ask that you be cautious, Captain, regarding Commodore Phelps.” Paupling said in a low voice.
“Why is that, Mr. Paupling?”
“He has his own agenda, Captain.” Paupling said flatly, the tone of it left it as a statement and not to be questioned. Callum pursed his lips for a moment as he looked at Paupling, “As I was going to say before we were interrupted, we want to offer you a posting with the Diplomatic Service.”
“I thank you for the offer, Mr. Paupling, but I might be out of my depth with something like that. As I said, I am only here because of this mission. If Lord Hood has other ideas regarding me, they are his own, sir. I will be returning home and to my life in the country very shortly.” Callum said.
“I see.” Paupling said with a bit of a pause, “May I call upon you again, Captain?”
“If you would like, Mr. Paupling, but I don’t see the point.”
“You might,…later, Captain.” Paupling said, “It was indeed an honor to meet you, Captain. Good day to you.”
“And to you, Mr. Paupling.” Callum said as the man turned and walked across the deck to the gangplank, going down to the dock. Callum leaned against the rail and looked down at the letters still in his hand. He shuffled them about in his hands. One was from his old friend and former 1st Lieutenant, William Arvin, who was now a Captain and posted at the Admiralty. The last was from Lord Fitzwarren, Rear Admiral and Lord Hood’s second in command at the Admiralty. Callum had always had the deepest respect for Fitzwarren, even though some of his decisions were not quite what Callum would have thought to be correct, for instance his decision to send the previous sloop out to lure Battenou, the madman, into a trap, that sloop was commanded by Callum’s friend, Lt. Paul Eddington. The end result of that mistake by Fitzwarren had caused Eddington’s death. It had left a bitter taste in Callum’s mouth losing his friend that way. Callum opened the letter and read it. It confirmed their arrival and report to be made today in the afternoon. Callum folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope. He looked at the one from Arvin, it made him smile briefly. He opened it.
My Dearest Quintan,
The word of your safe return reached us today and was met with
the greatest of relief by all here. Lord Hood is making preparations
for us to join you in Southend to hear your report. I look forward to
seeing you and hearing it as I know that if it involved you, it must
have been have been quite the undertaking.
His Lordship wishes to discuss another matter with you. I give you
forewarning of it as he feels that it is a matter of great importance, and
to please listen with an open mind when he presents it to you as I know of your temperament.
I will see you in Southend. I am and always will be at your service.
Callum narrowed his eyes at the letter. He sighed a bit folding it and placing it back in the envelope. He looked up as Carson was coming toward him across the deck. Callum put the envelopes in his back pocket of his long pants.
“Would you care for breakfast, sir?” Carson asked.
“No, thank you, Carson, just coffee if you please.” Callum said.
“Something wrong, sir?”
“Possibly, Carson.” Callum said, “We are going to have visitors this afternoon it seems.”
“Lord Hood and Lord Fitzwarren, Carson.” Callum said. Carson went wide eyed over it, “We need to rouse the crew and make our own preparations for their arrival.”
“As you say, sir.” Carson said.
The late morning was upon them, Callum had given Carson money and sent him off to the mercantile in Southend to get new clothes for the boy, Hans. In the meantime, Callum had set about preparing for the arrival of Lord Hood with the crew, making everything right aboard Windsong. He had given Clemens, the young Marine Corporal, instructions as well to have his men form up and to be ready. All was coming together as far as the preparations when Callum looked over at the dock. He saw something that made him smile briefly.
“Permission to come aboard, sir.” Tomlin said at the bottom of the gangplank.
“Permission granted, sir.” Callum said as he stood at the top of it on deck. He watched as Tomlin came up, followed by Captain Stewart, and Captain Carrington of HMS Hunter. Callum formally bowed his head to them all as they came on deck, “Gentlemen, it is an honor to have you aboard.”
“Captain Callum, a pleasure, sir.” Stewart said as he tipped his hand to his broad hat. Carrington did the same.
“What do I owe this pleasure to, gentlemen?”
“We are here, sir, at the request of Lord Hood’s summons.” Stewart said.
“Really? I was not aware of that of that. I have just been made aware of their coming this afternoon but that is all.”
“Yes.” Tomlin said, “Each of us has received a summons delivered just this morning.”
“I see.” Callum said, “Well, it must be quite important to His Lordship to have us all together.”
“Have you had another visit from the other,…?” Tomlin asked with a raised eyebrow.
“You mean Phelps? No, I have not, but there was someone else that came aboard early this morning.”
“Who was that?” Tomlin asked.
“A man from the Diplomatic Service.” Callum said.
“A man by the name of Paupling by chance?” Stewart asked and Callum turned to him.
“You know of him?”
“We have had dealings before, yes. He is one for shadows it seems.” Stewart said.
“I got that impression as well.” Callum said.
“I learned quickly to be careful of anything that I said around him.” Stewart said and rolled his eyes a bit.
“He is not to be trusted then?” Callum asked.
“He is, that much is certain. But, he takes things to another level entirely.” Stewart said.
“Yes, I noticed that as well.” Callum said, thinking for a moment, “Perhaps we should compare notes as it were, Alistair.”
“I think we should, after we hear from Lord Hood.” Stewart said, “May I ask what is this about Phelps?”
“Do you know him?” Callum asked.
“Not many really do from my understanding. I do know that the Commodore has connections in shipping however. His father, I believe, owns a large company based in Bristol.”
“Now it begins to come together a bit more.” Callum said and Tomlin was wide eyed.
“What if you were right, Quintan, in your suspicions?” Tomlin asked.
“I don’t think that that is all of the pieces quite yet, Thomas.” Callum said.
“You suspect Phelps of being involved with Battenou?” Stewart asked.
“It’s a possibility, or possibly Phelps’ father, if they are indeed operating a shipping company, it would make sense.” Callum said.
“From my understanding, they handle all the shipping from Jamaica and the Indies as well.” Stewart said.
“Interesting.” Callum said as he folded his arms over his chest.
“I beg your pardon, gentlemen, I am a bit lost in all of this.” Carrington said.
“It’s quite simple, William,” Stewart said, “our mission was to stop this madman from wreaking havoc on shipping in The Channel. He was trying to control it, all of it by spreading fear and panic, thereby stopping it. Someone was telling him where those merchant ships were at. If Phelps or his father was doing just that then,…”
“They could control all the shipping here in England.” Carrington said as the realization came to him, “If it’s true,…”
“Then Phelps is a traitor.” Callum said for him.
“My God,” Carrington said, “He was at Trafalgar,…”
“Yes, we all know who he is and what he has done. But that, as I have found out in the recent past, does not guarantee his loyalty.” Callum said.
“What do you mean, sir?”
“There have been others that Thomas and I have discovered that were traitors, men of supposed reputation and good standing.” Callum said.
“That much is certain.” Tomlin said rolling his eyes a bit.
“Alright, with that said, gentlemen,” Callum said as he raised a finger, “trust no one with this. We four have been through too much recently in our mission together, and I know that I can trust in you all.”
“But surely, Lord Hood and those at the Admiralty, they,…” Carrington said but was cut off.
“I know of only three that I can safely trust at the Admiralty,” Callum said, “and they are the ones that are coming here today. I will remain silent until I have heard what Lord Hood says.”
“You know of something else, Quintan?” Tomlin asked.
“Not as of yet, Thomas, but, I received a letter from Arvin this morning along with the others from Lords Hood and Fitzwarren.”
“What did he say?” Tomlin asked.
“He gave me a bit of forewarning that Hood wants to speak with me about another matter of importance. It seems that this man, Paupling, knew of it as well. He seemed to know that the special messenger was on the dock, even though they were not together.” Callum said.
“Smoke and shadow.” Stewart said as he shook his head a bit, “How I hate it so.”
“Yes, it rather turns my stomach as well, Alistair.” Callum said. They all stood together in silence for a long moment.
“Quintan, I almost forgot, Camden has the coffin finished for Collingwood.” Tomlin said, touching Callum’s sleeve.
“Alright. I’ll make arrangements to take him to London then.”
“The Dock Master here can make them for you. He has the means for transportation and men to do it. I can speak with him if you wish. I have had to do it several times actually in the past.” Stewart said.
“You know him well?”
“Yes, he is a good man. When we were based here for a time after our return from Gibraltar, I had the need of his services beyond the repairs to Triborne.” Stewart said.
“Thank you, Alistair, I would appreciate that.” Callum said and Stewart bowed his head a bit.
“Excuse me, sir, Mr. Carson is returning.” Amos said from behind Callum. Callum looked over his shoulder at the dock. Carson was carrying a bundle that was paper wrapped. He came up the gangplank, tipping his hand to the gathered Captains on the deck.
“Did you purchase enough, Carson?”
“I believe so, sir, thank you.”
“Excellent. If you would get him ready as well. Something tells me that he might have to be introduced to His Lordship.” Callum said.
“As you say, sir.” Carson said, tipping his hand again, walking toward the steps to go below.
“What is this about the boy, Quintan?” Tomlin asked, “You said something different about him yesterday.”
“This man, Paupling, asked about the Dutch merchant. If he knows about it, then I have a suspicion that Lord Hood knows as well. I don’t think that I can keep the boy out of it for very long.” Callum said.
“I see. You think they’ll take him then as he knows something?” Tomlin asked.
“It’s a possibility, a remote one. We shall see.” Callum said.
“What do you think he knows?” Stewart asked.
“When Phelps was here yesterday and was asking about the Dutch merchant, he said that there was a special cargo aboard her as well as documents of a state nature. Paupling didn’t mention it to me as I really didn’t give him the chance, I suppose I should have. I have questioned the boy, he didn’t know of any cargo being brought on board, but he did know of the documents, he saw them, but he said that he couldn’t read them, probably as they were in French.” Callum said.
“That makes sense. Do you know if he can read and write?” Stewart asked.
“No, I never asked him, but I wonder that now.” Callum said as he scratched his chin for a moment in thought.
“It seems that we have far too many questions with all of this.” Tomlin said.
“Yes,…remind you of something, Thomas?”
“La Rochelle.” Tomlin said as he nodded slightly.
“Exactly what I was thinking, yes.” Callum said.
“I don’t understand.” Stewart said. Callum looked at him.
“When we were enroute to rendezvous with our squadron before proceeding on to La Rochelle, we caught sight of a French sloop and captured her. She had several dispatches for the Dock Master there as well as for the fortress commander. Those dispatches named the traitor in our midst but at the same time raised many more questions beyond the events that were taking place around us.” Callum said.
“I see your point. This is becoming a bit much, I agree.” Stewart said.
“And why we need to keep this to ourselves for the moment. All we really have at this time is speculation, and nothing tangible.” Callum said.
“Agreed.” Stewart said.
“Yes, I agree as well.” Tomlin said. They all looked at Carrington.
“Well, you can count me in. I am not about to go against any of you.” They all smiled at the young Carrington.
“And, to add to that, I have a letter of recommendation for your Captaincy, William, in my cabin waiting for you. It clearly states that you acted accordingly with your duty in the action with the Avion and my promoting you at sea after Renner had died. I make no promise with it, but it will lean toward your confirmation for certain with Lord Fitzwarren as he oversees postings as you know.” Callum said.
“Thank you, sir, thank you very much.” Carrington said.
“I would also write one for you, William, if you wish, lending my opinion to it as well.” Stewart said.
“Thank you, sir, I appreciate that very much.” Carrington said, Stewart gave him a brief smile and a nod in reply.
“You’ve earned it, William.” Stewart said.
“Excuse me, sir.” Carson said as he came out of nowhere, Callum looking at him with a bit of surprise.
“What is it, Carson?” Callum asked.
“Would you gentlemen care for coffee? I need to prepare for their Lordship’s arrival, sir.”
“Yes, I think that might be in order, Carson, thank you.” Callum said, “We’ll take it in my cabin if you please. Captain Stewart has a letter to write it seems.”
“Very good, sir.” Carson nodded.
“Gentlemen, if you will follow me please?” Callum asked as he held out a hand and led the way to the stairs across the deck.
“Sir!” Amos called out and Callum stopped after he led his fellow Captains. He turned and looked at Amos, who was excited and happy pointing over the starboard bow at the dock, “Sir!”
“What is it, Amos?” Callum asked.
“It’s Mr. Talon, sir! He’s back!” Amos said and Callum stepped over to the destroyed rail and looked for himself. Talon was walking along the stone dock that Windsong was tied to. He looked at Windsong and saw Amos and some of the hands and gave them a brief wave and a slight smile. Callum waited as Talon came up the gangplank and onto the deck, and they saw one another, Callum coming over to him.
“Reporting for duty, sir.” Talon said with clenched teeth as he tipped his hand. His head was wrapped with a bandage under his chin and tied at the top of his head.
“You look a little on the beat down side, Darin.” Callum said.
“I’m sorry, sir. The doctor’s idea of trying to help out, sir.” Talon said through clenched teeth.
“I take it your time at the infirmary was not at that pleasant, Darin?” Callum asked.
“Indeed not, sir. Quite a filthy place to be sure. Dr. Crawford is there right now and is having a fit over the conditions that they have. He compared it to a rubbish barge, sir, and it was not pleasant. He is moving all of the wounded right now back to Dover, sir.” Talon said.
“Is the good doctor having the infirmary burned to the ground, Darin?” Callum asked.
“He just might, sir.” Talon said and rolled his eyes. Talon looked tired, very tired.
“Amos?” Callum asked.
“Take the deck, Mr. Talon is going to his cabin to recuperate for a bit. I will be in my cabin.” Callum said to the big muscular man.
“Very good, sir.” Amos said, tipping his hand. Callum put an arm about Talon’s slender shoulders and led him to the steps.
“I want you to rest, Darin. You need it. When I am through with the meetings of this afternoon, I will probably be leaving for London in the morning to take Abel home. You will be in command while I am gone.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and seemed to be almost in a haze. Callum guided him to the steps to go below and steered him in the right direction and watched him go into the cabin, closing the door behind him.
“Poor, Darin.” Tomlin said at Callum’s shoulder.
“Yes, he did receive a bad time of it on the Avion for certain.” Callum said. He turned and looked at his friend as they were at the cabin door. Callum held out a hand.
“May I ask what all the pistols are about?” Stewart asked as Callum came in behind Tomlin. Stewart was pointing a finger at all of the pistols on the table.
“Extra precautions, Alistair.” Callum said. Carson came in behind him at the cabin door carrying a tray containing a small pot and cups. He slid it on the edge, pushing the pistols away from it, “I had a thought that if they figured out that the boy was aboard they might try and take him. I wanted to be ready just in case.”
“Sound reasoning.” Stewart said as Callum stepped forward.
“I will get them out of the way for you, just a moment.” Callum said coming around the table. He started moving the pistols, putting them in his haversack nearby, leaving them there. Stewart started to hand them to him and the table was cleared in no time, “There is paper there on the table as well as the ink and quill.”
“So I see.” Stewart said as he sat down. He took the quill in hand, dipping it in the ink and began to write the recommendation for Carrington. Callum poured the coffee for all, passing out the cups, getting nods as he handed them out. He had Tomlin sit at the table as well as Carrington. Callum poured the last cup for himself and set the pot on the tray. Stewart was still writing when the cabin opened. Callum looked over and saw it was the boy and took a second look at him.
He wore the new clothes and they fit him well. His appearance had been completely transformed by it and for a moment, Callum thought he was someone else. Callum set the cup on the table and stepped away from the table. The boy had a nervous look about him as he saw the look on Callum’s face.
“Well, well, well.” Callum said, “You certainly look like you are brand new.” Callum said quietly. He flashed a brief smile at the boy and held out a hand and signaled him with a couple of fingers. Tomlin looked over and saw him as well, then looked at Callum briefly and then back toward the boy. The boy stepped a step closer into the cabin.
“Are you certain that is him, Quintan? He looks like he has grown up all of a sudden.” Tomlin said.
“Indeed he does, Thomas.” Callum said. The shirt was a dark blue, vee cut with a draw string weaving through it, billowed sleeves, tucked into the waist of the long pants that he wore with a smart belt. The pants were a heavy knit, flapped in the front fitting his slender young form quite well, lending more to the look of maturity. His shoes that he wore were shining with the buckles on them. Callum folded his arms over his chest and touched his lips with fingertips for a moment, “I would have to say he looks more like a gentlemen than that dirty cabin boy that we rescued, wouldn’t you agree, Thomas?”
“Indeed I would. Very impressive.” Tomlin said. The boy seemed to relax a bit seeing the looks now on their faces. Stewart looked up from his writing for a moment, giving a look over the boy and then went back to his writing.
“It is too bad that I don’t speak Dutch.” Callum said, “I would tell him just that.” Callum lowered his hand from his mouth and touched the boy on the shoulder for a moment and then gave him a nod with a soft smile.
“Thank,…you.” The boy said to Callum with a bit of struggle as he pointed at himself and the clothes.
“You’re welcome.” Callum said and gave him a nod.
“Here you are, William.” Stewart said as he pushed the paper toward Carrington that sat to his right, “Your letter of reference.”
“Thank you, sir.” Carrington said as he looked down at it. He looked at Stewart and gave him a brief smile as well.
“As I said, you earned it.” Stewart said as he put the quill down, he turned and looked up at Callum’s back and then at the boy again, “So, this is what all the trouble is about?”
“Presumably.” Callum said with a bit of a frown.
“Hmmm, I have a thought.” Stewart said as Callum looked over his shoulder down at him, “Have you asked him yet who he really is?”
“I don’t follow you.” Callum said.
“What I mean is, who are his parents? My thought is, that he himself may be the special cargo that you mentioned.”
“Of course.” Callum said as the realization came to him losing his frown, “How did you come to that, Alistair?”
“The royal house of Denmark is in dispute from what I have heard in recent news and gossip of course. Several are trying to vie for control of it. What if this lad of yours, Quintan, is a member of the royal house?”
“That would answer quite a few questions to be certain.” Callum said as he looked back at the boy.
“Yes. Well, he certainly looks regal enough, I would say.” Stewart said.
“He does, doesn’t he?” Callum asked quietly as he stared at the boy, giving him a soft smile. The boy returned it, “And with that, I begin to see where you might think,….Carson!” Callum called out, making the boy jump a little, Callum put a hand to the young shoulder.
“Yes, sir?” Carson asked as he stepped into the companionway with a surprised look.
“I need you to ask him some more questions for me.” Callum said.
“Certainly, sir. What would you like me to ask him?”
“We will not sugar coat it any longer, Carson. Ask him exactly as I tell you, do you understand?”
“Of course, sir.” Carson said, his look on his face became worried.
“We are running out of time, Carson, and if his answers are what I think they are going to be, I may have the devil to pay in trying to protect him from all that may be involved.”
“We can discuss that later, Carson.”
“Of course, sir.” Carson said as he stepped close to the boy.
“Now, ask him this, who are his parents, his mother and father.” Callum said.
“Hans, die zijn je ouders?” Carson asked the boy.
“Waarom wil je dat weten?”
“He wants to know, sir, why we want to know?” Carson asked.
“Tell him this, Carson,..that we want to protect him from others that might want to hurt him or take him away from us. If he tells us who he is, we can help him and protect him even more.”
“Hans,” Carson said as he put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, turning him to face Carson, “de Kapitein wil om u te helpen, om u te beschermen tegen anderen die zou kunnen komen en wil je niet wilt dat. U moet ons vertellen wie je ouders zijn.”
“He,…made me, …promise not,…to say.” The boy struggled with English and all eyes went wide toward him. The Captains at the table stood and stared at him. Callum was a bit wide eyed over it all.
“He speaks English, Carson.” Callum said.
“Apparently so, sir.” Carson said as he looked at the boy a bit shocked as well.
“Hans, can you understand me and what I am saying to you?” Callum asked. The boy looked at him and nodded his understanding, “That’s fine, Hans, very fine.” Callum said and gave him a nod, “Hans, do you know that I will not let any harm come to you?”
“Yes, Kapitein, I,…know that.”
“Why have you kept silent all this time with us then?”
“My uncle,…the Kepitein, he told me not to trust,…anyone.”
“Hans, surely you would trust us. We saved you from your ship and certain death there.” Carson said.
“Ja, I know.” Hans said.
“Your uncle, Hans, who was he?” Callum asked. The boy hesitated and looked afraid, “It’s alright, Hans, you can tell us, please?” The boy hung his head a bit looking at the deck and Callum’s boots.
“My uncle,…was the Duke of Aalborg,…he was next in line,…” The boy’s voice trailed off.
“Next in line for the throne.” Callum said softly, putting a hand gently on the young shoulder making the boy look up, “Your mother,…she is his sister, is she not?” The boy nodded in answer, “That makes you a Prince of Denmark.”
“Oh dear God.” Tomlin said as he stepped close to Callum, “What are you going to do, Quintan?”
“I gave him my word that I would take him home, and I intend on keeping it.” Callum said.
“But, Quintan, what if this were to become known, about him?” Tomlin asked.
“I believe it already has.” Callum said as he looked down at the young face, “Phelps and this Paupling fellow, they obviously know. Carson, it is imperative that we keep him safe and under our watch at all times. Pass the word for Amos and Corporal Clemens if you please.”
“Aye, sir.” Carson said and was shocked by it all. He turned and walked toward the steps to go up on deck.
“Well, my lad,…” Callum said, “Hans, do you still want us to take you home?”
“Ja, Kepitein, please.”
“Alright. As soon as our business is concluded here, we will set sail for Aarhus.”
“Thank you.” The boy said and wrapped his arms around Callum’s waist, burying his face in Callum’s lower chest. Tomlin looked at Callum and shook his head slightly.
“How do you manage to get into these things, Quintan?”
“I wish I knew, Thomas.” Callum said as he wrapped an arm around the young boy’s shoulders.
“Sir?” Amos asked as he came walking up, he tipped his hand. Clemens was right behind him.
“Amos, no one, and I mean absolutely no one is to come aboard without escort. Corporal, I want six of your men on deck at all times until we set sail, anyone tries to come on board without escort, they are to shoot them. Do you understand?” Callum asked.
“Perfectly, sir.” Clemens said and saluted.
“Get to it.” Callum said, “Amos, Lord Hood and his party should be here shortly, prepare to man the side. I will have extra hands brought over from Dover to fill in our numbers.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Amos said, tipping his hand. He turned and walked away.
“Thomas, I will be leaving for London in the morning, I would ask,…”
“I’ll take care of it and him, Quintan, fear not.”
“Let me go make those preparations with the Dock Master right now.” Stewart said, “Before His Lordship shows up.”
“Thank you, Alistair.” Callum said, letting Stewart go by him and out of the cabin.
“What can I do for you, sir?” Carrington asked.
“See to Hunter and her repairs, make them as quickly as possible, William, and see to provisioning as I may need you to sail with all of us as escort.” Callum said.
“Right away, sir.” Carrington said, “I will return shortly.”
“And remember, William, say nothing about this to no one.” Callum warned.
“I won’t, sir, I assure you.” Carrington said with a brief smile and a nod. He walked out of the cabin.
“And now for you, my Prince.” Callum said as he tucked a finger under the soft young chin, lifting the bright young face up, “You have carried and have been through so much and have been very brave with all of this. I must ask you to remain below and out of sight however. Do not go up on deck until after we set sail for Aarhus.”
“Ja, Kepitein.” The boy said.
“Good.” Callum said, “When I leave for London, my friend here will stay with you and protect you as I would, do you understand?”
“Alright. You look tired, Hans, did you not sleep last night?”
“A,…little, Kepitein. I will be,…alright. May I help Carson?”
“If you wish.” Callum said. The boy smiled warmly, turned and walked around the corner into the galley.
“Dear Lord.” Tomlin said with a slight sigh, “What is this really all about, Quintan?”
“I am not entirely sure yet, Thomas.”
“It is becoming a bit complicated.” Tomlin said.
“It makes life interesting, don’t you think?” Callum asked and rolled his eyes a bit.
“Life with you is always interesting, Quintan.” Tomlin said and shook his head a bit. Callum chuckled softly and went back into the cabin, Tomlin followed.
“Attention to order!” Amos yelled out as he stood at the end of the gangplank, some of the crew were behind him and stood stiff. The Marines snapped to full attention, their musket butts resting on the deck. Lord Hood came up the gangplank, followed by Fitzwarren, and Captain Arvin, who hobbled with his wooden leg. Hood stepped off the gangplank and was met by Callum, in full uniform now.
“My Lord,…” Callum said with a formal bow of his head, “welcome aboard Windsong.”
“Callum, my lad, it is good to see you have returned safely.” Hood said, looking at the very thin numbers of those assembled on deck, “I trust that is all is well?”
“It is in my report, My Lord. We have sustained many casualties and there were some that were lost in this action, not only here aboard Windsong but aboard Hunter as well, My Lord.”
“What is this?” Hood stiffened as Fitzwarren and Arvin came on deck as well.
“I regret to inform you, My Lord, that Captain Renner was lost in the action against the Avion, as well as several officers between both ships.” Callum said, catching the look from Fitzwarren and then the concerned look from Arvin.
“Captain Renner you say was lost?”
“Yes, My Lord, it was most unfortunate.” Callum said, and slightly turned behind him, “My Lord’s, if I may present Lt. William Carrington, 1st Lieutenant of HMS Hunter. I appointed him acting Captain as he was the senior officer. And, if I may, he acted with the greatest distinction with our action.”
“Indeed.” Hood said, “Mr. Carrington, is it?”
“Yes, My Lord.” Carrington said as he stepped a step closer and gave a formal bow of the head.
“Do I take it, Callum, you support Mr. Carrington and he also carries your trust?”
“Indeed he does, My Lord. I have written a letter to that fact for recommendation, My Lord, as has Captain Stewart.” Callum said.
“I see.” Hood said and turned to look at Fitzwarren briefly, Fitzwarren raised an eyebrow, “Yes, we can discuss that later. Callum, do I take it that the Avion is destroyed?”
“You do, My Lord. She and her Captain are at the bottom of The Channel.”
“I see. There was no way to capture Admiral Battenou then?”
“It was not the Admiral, My Lord, that was responsible, rather it was his son that was our madman.”
“Are you certain, Callum?” Fitzwarren asked.
“Yes, My Lord, quite certain. I met them both face to face aboard the Avion.” Callum said.
“Oh my Lord.” Arvin said softly.
“It is detailed in my report, My Lord.” Callum said.
“Your reports read like an adventure novel, Callum, I always looked so forward to them.” Fitzwarren said.
“With thanks, My Lord.” Callum said and gave another formal bow of his head.
“Were you able to recover anything from the Avion, Callum?” Hood asked.
“I am sorry, My Lord, I am afraid I don’t understand what you mean?” Callum asked.
“Any documents of any type that they might have had?” Hood asked.
“I apologize, My Lord, there was no time to search for any documents. As the Avion was being fired upon, she sank rather quickly.” Callum said.
“Why did she sink so quickly, Callum? Were all of you firing on her at the same time perhaps?” Hood asked.
“No, My Lord. Only Triborne was firing on the Avion per my instructions. She was in such a dilapidated state and rotting at the waterline, My Lord, that,…”
“The flagship of the French Navy, in a dilapidated state and rotting at the waterline?” Hood asked.
“Yes, My Lord, from docking her all that time in the fresh water of the Somme. She was losing her salt from the hull. She was a black as a kettle, My Lord, and reeking of that rot as well. I am actually surprised that she lasted as long as she did, My Lord, when she was fired upon.” Callum said.
“And there was no hope of capturing her, I suppose?” Fitzwarren asked, his hand on his hip.
“No, My Lord, there was not. This madman, Battenou, fought fiercely and refused to surrender several times when it was put to him.” Callum said.
“I see.” Fitzwarren said.
“Callum, is there somewhere that we may speak that is less in the open of your deck?” Hood asked.
“I have little facility aboard Windsong, My Lord, uh,…I apologize. Perhaps we could take a boat out to,…” Callum said.
“You have a cabin, do you not, Callum?” Hood asked.
“I do, My Lord, but it is not,…”
“It will be fine for the four of us for this.” Hood said. His older voice was firm as he tipped his head back just slightly with a look of authority. Callum narrowed his eyes a bit.
“I beg your pardon, My Lord, and with the deepest respect, but, I must insist that the Captains of my squadron attend.” Callum said.
“And why is that, Callum?” Hood asked.
“My Lord,…these officers and men have gone beyond their duty in this mission. I owe my life to them several times over in this action and I trust them implicitly. Respectfully, whatever is to be said, they deserve to hear it, My Lord.” Callum said and was equally firm, lending toward authority as well.
“Very well, Callum.” Hood said, “If you would lead the way, Captain?” Hood asked and held out a hand in direction.
“Thank you, My Lord.” Callum turned to lead the way, his Captains were slightly wide eyed at what he had said to Lord Hood, and Hood had backed down.
They crowded into the small cabin. Callum had shown Lord Hood to a chair at the table, and pulled another out for Fitzwarren and then came to his old friend, Captain Arvin, pulling the last chair out for him and holding it. Arvin waited to sit after Hood and Fitzwarren had settled in theirs.
“As I said, My Lord, the accommodations are slightly cramped, I do apologize.” Callum said.
“Understandable, Callum, as this is not a ship of the line.” Hood said, Fitzwarren fidgeted a bit in his hard chair at the table. Callum had put a hand on Arvin’s shoulder as he came around him. Stewart, Tomlin, and Carrington were against the bulkhead wall near the door out of the way.
“May I have my steward bring you any,…” Callum started to say.
“I’ll come right to it, Callum.” Hood said, “We have been informed that you came across a Dutch merchant ship in the North Sea.”
“Yes, My Lord, we did.”
“What became of it?”
“I ordered that the vessel be destroyed, My Lord, and carried out that destruction myself.” Callum said.
“Why in God’s name would you do that?” Hood asked.
“Had you seen it, My Lord, you would have understood my decision and agreed with it.”
“What did you find?” Hood asked.
“Bodies,…and parts of bodies, My Lord. They had apparently been attacked three weeks prior to our finding the ship by the Avion. The crew was like the others that had been found, all dismembered, My Lord.” Callum said.
“How do you know how much time had passed?” Hood asked.
“It was evident in the condition of the rotting corpses, My Lord, an estimation of course.” Callum said as he was at the edge of the table, Arvin reached out and touched Callumon the back of his sleeve at the cuff to ease him without being seen by Hood or Fitzwarren, “I am sorry, My Lord, are you asking about something in particular?”
“Yes, damn it,” Fitzwarren said as he looked up at Callum, “did you find anything on that ship, Callum? Anything of possible value? Cargo or documents?”
“No, My Lord, we found no cargo, the hold was empty save for bodies that were scattered about, but I did find a logbook in the Captain’s cabin. It was in Dutch, and I could not read it. It was left behind when we set the charges at her hull and sank her, My Lord.” Callum said.
“And you found nothing else as far as documents?” Hood asked.
“No, My Lord, I am afraid not. We really did not search the ship if that is what you mean, My Lord.” Callum said.
“Callum, I will take your full report with me. I will have you report to the Admiralty tomorrow morning at three bells in the forenoon.” Hood said.
“I beg your pardon, My Lord, I had thought that my report would be sufficient enough, it is quite detailed I assure you.” Callum said.
“I am sure that it is, Captain.” Hood said, “There is another matter that I wish to discuss with you and several documents to go over with you as well at the Admiralty.”
“I have a prior arrangement, My Lord. I am afraid that I will not be able to attend until the late afternoon at best.”
“I beg your pardon, Captain?” Hood said and was taken aback by Callum and what he said.
“I gave my word, My Lord, to my acting 1st, Lt. Abel Collingwood, on his deathbed to take him home to his family and deliver a letter to his betrothed.”
“I see.” Hood said, “You can have one of your other officers perform that duty, Callum.”
“I beg your pardon, My Lord, I gave my word to him.” Callum said firmly.
“Yes, I understand that.” Hood said.
“I mean no disrespect, My Lord, please understand me,…” Callum was doing his best to stay in control of his temper, “I am only here to perform that mission which you summoned me for. It is now done, My Lord. I will keep my word to my brave officer that gave his life to save many members of this crew, and if I may say, sir, no one is going to stop me from keeping my word to him.” The look that Callum had in his eyes was intense to say the least, Fitzwarren knew it, had seen it before several times before and looked down at the table to avoid the gaze. Hood returned the look right back at Callum.
“I can see that there is no swaying you, Callum.” Hood said, “And I can’t damn you for your loyalty to your fallen officer or for keeping your word to him. I suppose it will have to wait until you are finished with your business.”
“Thank you, My Lord.” Callum said and gave a slight bow of his head. Hood stood up from the table, Fitzwarren followed, as did Arvin.
“I will leave Captain Arvin here in your company as escort. He will assure your delivery to the Admiralty tomorrow afternoon. I will be expecting you then, Captain Callum.” Lord Hood said.
“As you say, My Lord.” Callum said with another slight bow of the head, “Shall I escort you, My Lord?”
They watched the large carriage pull away on the stone dock. Callum stood at the top of the gangplank watching it drive away. Arvin was behind him a few steps, flanked by Stewart, Tomlin, and Carrington along with the crew and the Marines.
“You certainly have a way with it, Quintan.” Arvin said, making Callum sigh slightly, “It’s miraculous that he didn’t have you clapped in irons.” Callum turned and looked at his old friend, “I tried to warn you about your temper.”
“I know you did, William, and I thank you for that warning. Had you not, I might have really given him more of a piece of my mind.”
“I have never seen or heard of anyone ever speak to Lord Hood like that.” Stewart said, “It was almost terrifying to watch.”
“To say the least.” Carrington said as he was a bit pale.
“Yes well, leave it Quintan Callum. If anyone can do it, he can.” Tomlin said as he folded his arms.
“It’s a long swim across the harbor over to Dover, Thomas, if I were to throw you overboard.” Callum said firmly to Tomlin, making him gulp a bit. Callum looked at Arvin, “William, what is this all about? Why does he want me at the Admiralty?”
“I’d rather him say it to you, Quintan.” Arvin said, his eyes were bright and sparkling, “If you throw me overboard because of that, at least I can try out my new wooden leg and see if it actually floats.” Callum snorted and shook his head. He chuckled once.
“It’s so good to see you, William.” Callum said, wrapping his arms around Arvin and giving him a tight hug. Arvin wrapped his arms around Callum and patted his back.
“Not as good as seeing you, my friend.” Arvin said softly into Callum’s ear, “I have been worried sick about you with all of this.” Arvin pulled back as did Callum, “Fitzwarren has been pacing for days, the rugs in his chambers will have to be replaced because of it.”
“Fitzwarren was worried?” Callum asked.
“Positively beside himself.” Arvin said as he had a hand on Callum’s upper arm. Arvin turned a bit and looked at Tomlin, “Thomas, at least you had the good sense to keep your mouth shut.”
“Thank you, sir, although it was a bit difficult.” Tomlin said and smiled, he reached out a hand taking Arvin’s firmly, “It’s good to see you, sir.”
“Likewise.” Arvin said and looked at Stewart, “Alistair Stewart, isn’t it?”
“You remembered.” Stewart said with a slight smile, as they shook hands.
“You were on the Endeavor, weren’t you?” Arvin asked.
“Yes, when you were on the Revenge, you were the 3rd Lieutenant then, if I remember right?” Stewart asked. Arvin nodded.
“That’s right, and you were a young sniveling midshipman.” Arvin smiled.
“Well, truth be known, I still snivel every now and then even to this day. But as Captain, I seem to get away with it.” Stewart gave Arvin a flash of a grin and they both chuckled.
“You two know each other?” Callum asked.
“Yes,” Arvin said as he looked back at Callum, “it was quite a number of years ago. We were attached to the same squadron for a time.”
“Until you had your ship blown out from underneath you.” Stewart said.
“Well, only because we were in the lead of the squadron and took on three Spanish ships of the line all at once.” Arvin said. He looked over at Callum, “Something I think that you have tried a time or two, Quintan, but only to greater success.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right in that, William.” Callum said and looked at all of his friends, his fellows in arms, Captains all. He felt at peace within himself in their midst. With all of them together, there was probably nothing that could stop them, all of their talent and experience between them would certainly be a force to reckon with.
“So, tell me of this mission, Quintan. I know you were holding back in telling him. Once he reads your report however, there will be mountains of questions for you to answer, you do know that I’m sure.” Arvin said.
“Let’s go back to my cabin, William, there is someone aboard that you need to meet.” Callum said.
“Hans Pederson,” Callum said as the boy opened the cabin door, Callum came over and put a hand on the young shoulder, guiding the boy into the cabin, “I would like you to meet an old and dear friend of mine, Captain William Arvin.”
“Now, who is this?” Arvin asked with a soft smile at the boy, Hans looked a bit nervous with a stranger in the cabin.
“We rescued him from that Dutch merchant ship that we came across in the North Sea.” Callum said, Arvin looked up at him with wide eyes from his chair at the table.
“What? Are you serious?”
“Very serious. Hans here gave me a count of the days after the attack, that’s how I knew it was three weeks.” Callum said as he gently pulled the boy close to him.
“Quintan, is he,…?”
“What they are possibly searching for? I do believe he is, William.”
“Dear God.” Arvin said softly as he looked at Callum, “He was on board the entire time, right here under their noses. And you didn’t say anything about it,…why?”
“There are several reasons, William.” Callum said and looked down at the boy beside him and then back at Arvin, “Are staying aboard tonight with us?”
“It doesn’t look like there is much room aboard your little sail boat. Perhaps I should secure a room at an inn for the night.” Arvin said with a smile.
“You have no idea what this little sail boat of mine has been through, my friend, but, you are right, it is a bit cramp for sleeping accommodations. I, myself, have slept up on deck a few nights in all of this, that is when I have slept.” Callum said as he rolled his eyes a bit.
“Then I will not burden you with another body in which to find a bed for.” Arvin smiled wider, “But first, I would love to hear all about this with the Avion and your young lad here.”
“I will make certain that Carson prepares something special for us for supper and I can send someone off to secure a room for you. I seem to recall an inn on the next street over.” Callum said.
“Yes, I remember one there as well. What was it called?” Arvin tried hard to remember but couldn’t, “It has been so many years since I have been here.”
“Me as well. I do believe that Amos is from here. I could ask him.” Callum said.
“I believe you’re right. I remember him speaking about being from here aboard Dover a few times.”
“I will return in a few moments.” Callum said, he looked down at the boy, “Hans, would you be willing to speak with my friend here? He will not hurt you. I trust him with my life.”
“Ja, Keptein.” The boy said and looked at Arvin, who smiled warmly in return to him. Callum guided the boy away from him with a gentle hand. Hans walked over to the table and sat down in a chair next to Arvin. Callum and Arvin looked at one another for a moment before Callum turned away to go up on deck and find Amos.