Callum looked up into the canvas, it was starting to billow a bit, the wind was returning slowly, but it was coming. He looked about the deck, all eyes were on him. He knew it, he could feel it, as the crew waited for orders from him and what to do next. They had all been through so much together, and they could see the exhaustion in their Captain’s face.
“Amos.” Callum said. The big muscular man came over to him.
“As soon as we have the wind, set course for Portsmouth.”
“Aye, sir. What about Southend, sir?”
“Later. Once we reach Portsmouth, we can disembark, you and the men can head there if you wish. The paymaster there should have your tally for the prize ship as well your wages for the sailing. I need to return home immediately.” Callum said.
“Is something wrong, sir?” Amos asked. He could see the look on Callum’s face, the worry that was all over it as well.
“Yes. The Captain of that frigate has brought me very distressing news.”
“I see, sir. What about the boy?”
“I will see to him, with Carson’s help. We need to return home as quickly as possible to see to his safety as well.”
“As you say, sir. We’ll see to it, not to worry, and get you there, sir.” Amos said with a nod and tipped his hand. Callum gave him a brief smile, Amos turned to the waiting crew that was scattered about the deck, “Set and make all plain sail! Dorfman, set your course south! We sail for Portsmouth and home! Lively now!” Amos said loudly as he moved toward the center of the deck away from Callum. The hands jumped to it, setting lines and securing them. Callum looked up into the canvas again as the wind came on, the canvas took it fully and Windsong began to move.
Late afternoon had them rounding the shores of Dover, into The Channel. The white chalk cliffs could now be seen clearly in the distance off to the starboard as they reflected the late afternoon sun off them as it was beginning to drop toward the horizon in the west. It would be well after dark by the time they reached Portsmouth and home. Callum was pacing the deck, his hands clasped behind him, his head down in thought as he paced slowly along the starboard side. All of the hands on deck would glance at him from time to time as they went about their work. Carson emerged from the steps and went toward him.
“Would you care for supper, sir?” Carson asked. Callum stopped his pacing and looked at him.
“What was that, Carson?”
“Supper, sir, would you care for any?”
“No, thank you, Carson. I suppose I should see about packing my trunk.” Callum said as he looked into the older face that was before him.
“Already done for you, sir.” Carson said.
“I see. Thank you, Carson. You should get yourself packed as well, I suppose.” Callum said.
“I have, sir.” Carson said and gave a brief smile. Callum only shook his head and then chuckled.
“Of course you have. I don’t even know why I would have said anything at all, Carson. You always seem to have everything anticipated, don’t you?” Callum asked.
“My duty, sir.” Carson tilted his head to one side and flashed his eyes.
“Sail, sir!” Patkin called from his spot on the Mainmast. Callum looked up at him and saw where he was pointing. Callum looked toward the stern as all hands looked as well. Callum stepped in that direction around Carson and stopped.
“Can you make her out?!” Callum called out.
“One of ours, sir! I think it’s the Fleming, sir, her pennant is flying!” Patkin called back down.
“Damn.” Callum said softly as he stared toward the stern. He could see the sails off in the distance, “Phelps.” Callum said a little louder.
“Commodore Phelps, sir?” Carson asked at Callum’s shoulder.
“He means to have the boy, Carson. We have to get to Portsmouth and get him to safety.” Callum said as he stared at the sails aft.
“I have a thought about that, sir.” Carson said. Callum turned and looked him with a questioning look. He could clearly see the wheels turning in Carson’s mind as their eyes met, “If I may be so bold, sir, and if you can trust in me to make it work.”
Windsong sailed into Portsmouth in the dark of the evening, Callum giving orders to secure them at the end of the dock, their starting point in all of this. They had come full circle now in the voyage home, Windsong had survived, even with her damage, she had performed with grace and strength and Callum was very proud of this little ship of his and what she did for them.
Sails had been pulled up as she made her turn gracefully coming to the dock. Dorfman was a skilled hand at the wheel, guiding her into place. Amos and the other members of the crew had taken lines and had them at the ready to tie off to the dock and secure them. The gangplank had been sent out and was placed on the dock, the lines were sent over and finally secured. Once she was tied and at rest, Callum gathered his small crew in the middle of the deck.
“I wanted to say thank you to all of you. You have performed your duties with great courage and have made me very proud to have served with you all in this. Our mission was a complete success thanks to you all. England is proud as I am to have men such as you in her service. As I told Amos, the paymaster in Southend will have your tally and your wages. I am not sure what will happen next, but if I know Captain Tomlin, he will have Dover here in less than a fortnight. I hope that we will meet again, lads. I wish you all luck and thank you for your service not only to me, but to our lady here that has carried us.” Callum said.
“Thank you, sir.” Amos said. He tipped his hand as did the others.
“Now, all of you, go home and see your families as will I.” Callum said. He was given another tip of hands by all that were on her deck, and Callum stayed in his place, holding out his hand, shaking each of theirs one at a time. He watched as they gathered their meager belongings and left Windsong, setting off to wherever they wished. Callum turned and went to leave the deck, to get his trunk from his cabin, and make his way to the Heritage Arms. He went down the steps, through the door, down the companionway to his cabin. He opened the door and reached for the lamp above the table turning it up, he started to turn but the voice behind him stopped him.
“A word with you, Callum.” The voice was firm, not wavered. Callum put his hand on his sword pommel, his back to the voice, he turned slowly and looked toward the door. There were several men that stood there, but the one in front of them caught his eye.
“Commodore Phelps, this is an unexpected pleasure, sir.” Callum said, taking his hand away from the sword.
“Where is the boy, Callum?”
“The boy? What boy?” Callum asked.
“I will not bandy words with you. I want the boy,…now.” Phelps said firmly.
“So do several others, I dare say, Commodore.” Callum said as he moved away from the table, getting in front of a group of loaded pistols, “This is becoming rather troubling. You know, this is the third time in as many days that I have been boarded regarding this boy.”
“Where is he?”
“You might ask your compatriots that question, Commodore.” Callum said as he glared at Phelps, and then was somewhat surprised by another that stepped to Phelps’ shoulder, “Mr. Paupling, how was your stay at the Garrison? My, that is a rather nasty looking cut on your neck.”
“Yes, it is, Captain, good evening to you. I believe the Commodore asked you a question, if you would answer it for him, please.” Paupling said.
“Ahhh, smoke and shadow.” Callum said as he crossed his arms over his chest, not moving, “Now I begin to see who is who in this. Paupling, I always thought of you as shadow, but now, it occurs to me that you must be the smoke in all of this.”
“Callum, you are under arrest.” Phelps said.
“On what charge, Commodore?” Callum asked.
“Kidnapping, conspiracy, sedition.” Phelps said.
“Commodore,” Callum said as he let out a breath, “I am tired, very tired. And as such, I want no further games in this. You people can play whatever you wish, but please exclude me. The boy is not aboard this vessel. As I said, perhaps you should ask your compatriots in this, Phelps, the traitorous lot that you seem to associate yourself with.” Callum saw several of the men behind Phelps went to step forward, but Phelps stopped them with a raised hand.
“You speak to great insult, Captain. Perhaps I should seek satisfaction from you for that?” Phelps asked.
“I would be more than happy to oblige you,…Commodore. Name the time and the place, or we can see to it right now.” Callum said, and Phelps narrowed his eyes a bit, “I have taken on a greater number than what you have present, I assure you, Commodore. Do your worst, if you dare.”
“All we want is the boy, Callum.” Paupling said trying to ease the tension.
“And I told you, he is not aboard.” Callum growled, “Go, have a look for yourselves if you wish, I have nothing to hide and there are few hiding places aboard such a small vessel as this.” Callum watched as all looked at Phelps, “Well,…go on then, search the fucking ship! Or are you just going to stand there?” Callum was loud and it made Phelps jump a bit. Paupling was guarded having dealt with Callum before like this.
“Search the ship.” Phelps said. The men behind Phelps and Paupling took off.
“At last, the Commodore has found his voice.” Callum said.
“Have a care, Callum. You are treading in very deep water.” Phelps said.
“You know, Commodore, I said to you once that I was only here to complete this mission. Now that it is done, sir, I will be returning to my own life away from the service. You have nothing that you can use against me, sir. I am a freeborn Englishman and will do what I like as my service to His Majesty is now over. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I will be on my way. I am in need of an ale and a soft bed for the night.” Callum said as he went to move to get his trunk.
“Stay where you are, Captain.” Phelps said flatly, putting his hand on his sword. Callum stopped and looked at him with an intense glare.
“Phelps, I’m not above killing you, just ask your friend Paupling here. Provoke me a bit more and you will see.” Callum said as he glared at Phelps.
“We will wait until my men return, Callum, and then perhaps I will seek that satisfaction from you after all.”
“I know of your reputation, Phelps. You always have someone else do it for you, rather than yourself. And from what I saw,…Commodore,…you will need a few more men as I said.” Callum said with his continued glare.
“You certainly have some brass, Callum.” Paupling said with a bit of a smile.
“Yes, I do, Paupling,…they’re big, round, and very heavy. Would you care to try again what you tried yesterday?” Callum asked as he put his hand on his sword.
“I don’t think so, Callum. You have to understand, we are not your enemy.” Paupling said.
“Really? You come aboard my ship, unannounced, claim I have this boy in my possession, threaten me, and then have the nerve to tell me that you are not my enemy? Who the hell do you think you are? I should slice your throat from ear to ear for calling me a liar. I have had just about enough from all of you and all of this. Now, get the fuck out of my way, or I will gut you where you stand.”
“The boy is not aboard the ship, sir.” One of the officers said as he came up behind Phelps. Callum just glared at Phelps.
“Get off my ship, you sorry son-of-a-bitch, and pray that I never meet you on a street anywhere here in England, because I will gut you then.” Callum growled.
“Have a pleasant evening, Captain.” Paupling said as he nodded once to Callum and looked at Phelps, then turned and pushed his way through Phelps’ men in the companionway. Callum, hand on his sword, started to pull it. Phelps swallowed hard and then backed up, turning and pushed through his men. They followed him, but not before having a good look at Callum.
“Are you serious, Quintan?” Farrow Dunhill, the proprietor of the Heritage Arms and an old friend of Callum’s said as he leaned on the table toward Callum a bit, “Phelps? You made an enemy out of Phelps?”
“He’s a traitor, Farrow, plain and simple.” Callum sat back in his chair and let out a breath.
“Hell, Quintan, so am I for that matter.” Farrow rolled his eyes, “You know he’ll be coming for you, either here or at home, it’s his way.”
“Son-of-a-bitch.” Callum said through clenched teeth, he picked up his tankard of ale, “Doesn’t anyone ever fight fair anymore, Farrow?”
“When they can gain the upper hand by sneaking about and slitting your throat in the dark while you sleep? Why would they?” Farrow asked, “You know you’re a dead man, don’t you?”
“He can try.” Callum said as he pulled on the tankard.
“He will, mark me.” Farrow said and leaned forward again, “What are you going to do?”
“Go home.” Callum said and put his tankard on the table.
“And do what? Play house with Master Perkins, and that boy that you took off the streets? Quintan, you’re a sailor, always have been, always will be, and you know that.”
“What do you think I should do, Farrow? Buy a tavern like you did and hide in it?” Callum asked. He saw the look on Farrow’s face when he said it and wished that he hadn’t, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”
“No,…it’s true.” Farrow said and shook his head a bit, “Quintan, you were always the best of us, all of us, and you still are. Look at what you have done, your missions that you have had, the successes of them. No one can best you in that, it’s true. Be proud of it and what you have accomplished. You have become the stuff of legend, my friend. They will be talking about you for years to come. Young boys will want to follow what you have done, being their hero as it were and will flock to the service.” Farrow said and leaned even closer on the table, “But,…Phelps is a powerful man, and has very powerful friends. Making an enemy of him has put your life on the line, as well as Dustin’s, and your boy.”
“I have to get home. I need to see to their safety.” Callum said.
“And you will need help, Quintan, more help than you have right now. Thomas is not strong enough, and neither is his very exquisite Marine lieutenant, what was his name?”
“Christian.” Callum said softly.
“Yes, hmmm, very exquisite as I recall.”
“What do you suggest, Farrow?” Callum asked bringing Farrow back into focus. Farrow blinked hard to lose the image of Christian Holt in his mind.
“I suggest that you take a bed for the night, stay guarded, and then take the coach home in the morning to Birmingham. I have a plan if you will allow me, I’ll be just a minute.” Farrow said and got up from the table, he came around and put a hand on Callum’s shoulder, then pat it a couple of times and then walked away.
Callum lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, his arms folded, his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes and tried to relax but his mind was working too fast. Everything that was happening, going on around him, all of those that were involved, and he could prove nothing of it. He wanted to have Phelps arrested as being a traitor as Lord Hood had suggested but he needed the proof to make it stick. He opened his eyes and shifted them toward his feet as he heard the door of the room open, interrupting his thoughts.
“I have left the front door unbolted, and my register on the counter with a lantern burning nearby to be able to read it. Your name is registered in it, room eight.” Farrow said, he came across the room and went over to the far side of the bed, “I have two men, Neville and Cranston, in your room. They are good men, I have used them before.”
“Have I ever said to you that you can be very devious, Farrow?” Callum asked.
“Once, I believe, if memory serves.” Farrow said as he looked like he was lost in thought about it, staring at the ceiling for a moment, “They are right above us. We should hear something, if it happens.” Farrow pulled off his shirt and lay it over the foot rail of the bed. He kicked off his buckled shoes and sat on the far edge of the bed and looked over at Callum, “It has been quite some time since we have shared a bed.”
“Yes, and don’t get any ideas, Farrow. As much as I appreciate what you’re doing for me, I have no want to be engaged with you tonight.”
“A pity.” Farrow said as he lay next to Callum, “I remember our last time together, it was truly wonderful.”
“Perhaps for you, it was, but for me, it was something very different, I assure you.” Callum said.
“Such a spoiled sport you are, Quintan. I remember it quite clearly. Would you like me to recount it to you?” Farrow asked as he lay his head over and looked at Callum.
“No,…thank you, I recall it quite clearly myself.” Callum said and closed his eyes again for a moment then opened them and stared at the ceiling. Farrow rolled his head back and looked at the ceiling like Callum.
“As you wish, Quintan. Just as well, for if I were to take you, I am sure that Master Perkins would have my balls cut off and mounted over the bar.” Farrow said. Callum smiled slightly.
“He might at that. He has always been a tad bit jealous when it comes to you, Farrow.”
“Really? I wish I had known that, I might have had a bit of fun with that fact.” Farrow said as he closed his eyes.
“Not too much, I hope.” Callum said and brought his arms down.
“He is a very sweet lad, Quintan. You are most fortunate to have him in your life.”
“That I know, Farrow, and I will not jeopardize that situation.” Callum said softly.
“But you are, Quintan. Look at what you’re doing in all of this. You are in jeopardy and now so is he.” Farrow said as he stared at the ceiling.
“I just want this to be over with, Farrow.” Callum said with a sigh.
“And you will have it, as soon as you figure out who is really behind all of this.” Farrow said turning his head a bit toward Callum.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Phelps is not one to be a mastermind. He is more of a follower or one to pick up the pieces as they are handed to him and then acting on it. No, there is someone else that has his strings.” Farrow said as he turned on his side, propping on an elbow.
“Upton. It has to be this Upton.” Callum said.
“Who is Upton?”
“I am told by Lord Hood that Upton is a member of a radical movement in Parliament. He has associations with Phelps I am told, how and what I am not sure.” Callum said as he looked at Farrow.
“Then Hood knows all about it.”
“I suppose he does, but he will not act on it as there is no proof, and then there is this Paupling, the one for smoke and shadow that I spoke of. Stewart knows of him and said he can be trusted, but he was with Phelps tonight, when they came aboard. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Perhaps he is playing both sides.” Farrow said.
“But to what end?” Callum asked looking at Farrow, “If he is who he says he is, why carry on in this fashion? I can understand about the boy and what he was doing, but with Phelps, letting him lead the charge as it were.”
“Only to snatch the boy from him perhaps after he was taken. Where is the boy now?”
“In safe keeping with Carson.” Callum said.
“You don’t know where?”
“No. I got them off the ship just before we docked. Carson said he would contact me when they were safe.”
“You are in deep, aren’t you?” Farrow asked.
“Deeper than I like, I assure you.”
“You’ll have to kill him you know, Phelps that is. He will keep coming for you until he gets what he wants.”
“I came close to doing it tonight, too close.”
“Keep your head and don’t lose your temper in this, Quintan, it will see you undone.” Farrow said and then they heard it above them, a muffled bump, and then another.
“Do you think,…?” Callum asked as he tensed up a bit, looking at the ceiling.
“They’re here.” Farrow said and got off the bed, he slipped his shoes on and grabbed his shirt, pulling it over his head, letting it drop. Callum was on his feet, sword in hand, grabbing a pistol from the trunk at the foot of the bed. He went to the door, Farrow right behind, taking a pistol as well.
Callum went quickly around the bar and up the stairs, Farrow close behind him. Callum heard a crash of something as he reached the top of the stairs and the long wide hall. He went to the door toward the end, room eight where he and Dustin had stayed together before. Callum stayed wide of the door and lifted a boot, sending it to the knob on it and kicked it in, breaking it apart and the door swung open wide.
“You’re paying for that.” Farrow said with a huff and Callum charged into the room. The two men that Farrow had placed there, Neville and Cranston, were engaged in a wrestling match with three men in dark clothes, with heavy boots, one turned, letting go of one of Farrow’s men, taking a step toward the approaching Callum, Callum aimed the cocked pistol at him and pulled the trigger without a second thought, shooting him through the throat, dropping him to the floor, Farrow had his pistol cocked and lifted as the smoke filled the room from Callum’s shot.
“Hold fast, all of you.” Farrow said. One of the men in dark clothes turned and went to move, “Uh, uh, uh.” Farrow said, stopping him as the barrel pointed right at the man’s forehead. The other man went to move to go out the window by the bed. Callum swung his sword, the tip stopped at the man’s throat, stopping him as he grunted to a halt.
“I think not. Stand easy or I’ll slice your throat.” Callum said with a growl, “Who sent you, Phelps, Paupling?” The man was silent, Callum pressed harder with the sword and broke the skin, “Answer me.” Callum growled deeper.
“It might be in your best interest, believe me, he is a bit angry right now.” Farrow said, “And you don’t want him to become enraged over this, it won’t be pretty.”
“Answer me.” Callum said, staring into the eyes of the man. They flashed, but he remained silent. Callum pulled his sword back, arcing his elbow and sent the point of the sword into the man’s thigh, going deep. He grunted loudly as Callum pulled it out, the man clutching the wound and going to the floor, “I’ll say it again, who sent you?”
“Quintan,…remember what I said about the blood.” Farrow said. Callum arced his elbow as the man tried to move on the floor. Callum sent to the point of his blade into the other thigh, this time the man cried out. The other man was wide eyed at it, Farrow had never taken his eyes off the man he held, and cocked his head slightly, “I warned you he was angry and now he’s enraged. I think you’re next.” Farrow said and the man swallowed hard, the pistol barrel still pointed at his forehead.
“We are only acting under orders.” The man that stood in front of Farrow said.
“And what are your orders?” Callum asked as he turned looking at the man that Farrow held with the pistol. Eyes flashed as they looked at Callum and then back to Farrow, “Out with it, damn you, or by God,…” Callum growled.
“We were to take you.”
“Take me? To kill me, you mean.” Callum said, flashing his blade in the candlelight, the glint captured the gaze of the man.
“No, to take you someplace.”
“Where?” Farrow asked. The man shifted his eyes back to Farrow but didn’t speak. Farrow pressed the barrel end to the forehead, eyes looked up at it, “Believe me, if I pull the trigger it will be easier on you than what he is going to do to you if you don’t answer, leaving you with a lifetime of pain, and possibly missing body parts.”
“The Harbor Master’s warehouse at the docks.” The man said and swallowed hard.
“Why?” Callum asked, “Who is going to be there?”
“Phelps.” The man said.
“Kill him, Farrow.” Callum said flatly and went to turn. The man swallowed hard again. Farrow pulled the barrel back from the forehead. The man closed his eyes. Farrow cocked his head slightly as he stared at him, then swung the pistol hard and hit him over the head with the heavy barrel, the man fell to the floor. Callum looked at him, “Or, you could do that.” Callum said. He turned and looked at the man against the wall on the floor. Callum stepped to him and knelt in front of him, sword out and away, “How are your legs?” Callum asked with narrowed eyes, “Are you in the mood to answer questions now perhaps?”
“I’ll see you dead.” The man said through clenched teeth.
“It will be hard to do I think, as you’re scooting around on your ass after the surgeon takes your legs. Tell me the rest and perhaps I will see about saving your legs.” Callum said.
“Go to hell.” He growled.
“I will no doubt.” Callum said, “Are you right handed or left?”
“I would hate to take off the wrong one.” Callum said as he started to get to his feet, flexing his arm that held the sword.
“You, sir, are the bastard in this, you and your fellows, sneaking about in the middle of the night to try and take me. I know that you’re a Guardsman, and what you are capable of, or rather, were. Who else is waiting at the warehouse?” Callum asked.
“Why don’t you go and find out for yourself?” The man growled as he looked up at Callum.
“I just might do that.” Callum said, “But I am also wondering what to do with you now. Do you have any thoughts on that, Farrow?” Callum asked as he stared at the man below him.
“Hmmm, I’ll have to give that some thought, Quintan.” Farrow said, “Perhaps if we let his wounds fester a bit, I might think of something.”
“Well, while you make up your mind, I’ll go down to the docks and see about this.” Callum said.
“You’re not going alone.” Farrow said.
“You seem to have your hands full at the moment, Farrow, I’ll be alright.” Callum said.
“If Phelps is there, Quintan, he’ll have at least a score of men with him, you know that.” Farrow said with a worried look on his face.
“Then God help him, Farrow. I mean to kill him tonight and end this.” Callum said as he looked at Farrow.
“You won’t.” The man on the floor said as he groaned a bit trying to move a leg. Callum and Farrow looked down at him.
“What makes you so certain?” Callum said.
“They are not just at the docks.” The man groaned as he put a hand to the one leg over the wound. Callum narrowed his eyes a bit and knelt.
“Are they along the street as well on the way there?” Callum asked. The man just glared at Callum. Callum reached out and grabbed his throat tight, pushing his head back against the wall, “Answer me, damn it, or I’ll snuff you out like I did your friend.”
“Some were sent to Birmingham.” The man said as he was being choked. Callum let him go and went wide eyed.
“How many?” Farrow asked as he stepped close, “How many?”
“Half dozen.” The man choked. Callum let him go and stood.
“Dustin.” He whispered.
“Neville,” Farrow said as Farrow looked at Callum, “go over to the freight office. Wake the station man, tell him to get a coach ready right,…now.”
“Right away.” The man, Neville, said giving a nod to Farrow’s back and went to the door.
“He’ll do it, Quintan. He can have you in Birmingham by dawn.” Farrow said.
“It’s not fast enough, Farrow. They’re probably already there.” Callum said softly as he stared down at the man beneath him, “Isn’t that right?” Callum asked and the man just stared at him, “Who gave the order,…Phelps?” Callum asked with clenched teeth, Callum waited only a moment for the answer that didn’t come, he moved his sword tip and put it under the man’s chin, lifting it, “Was it Phelps?” Callum asked with a growl.
“Paupling.” The man said with a grunt.
“That son-of-a-bitch.” Callum said, “Is that who’s at the warehouse?” The man shook his head a bit, “Just Phelps?” The man nodded in reply, being cut a bit on the blade as he moved. Callum looked at Farrow, their eyes met.
“Get yourself ready, Quintan, gather your things. Forget the warehouse, forget Phelps, Dustin will need you.” Farrow said, Callum nodded once and then looked down at the man on the floor, taking his sword away, he leaned down just a bit.
“If any of my family is touched, I will return and find you, all of you and finish what I started.” Callum said. He straightened, taking his sword and the spent pistol, turning and going to the door. Farrow watched him walk out and then turned back to the man against the wall.
“If I were you, I would start praying that all is well in Birmingham.” Farrow said. The wounded man narrowed his eyes a bit.
The large coach was rocking as it rolled down the road, the four horses that pulled it were at a run, being driven hard by the driver. Callum sat inside on the seat, looking out the window of the door. He had told the driver where to stop once they reached Birmingham, at the Cross, his home. He couldn’t tell where they were exactly as it was still somewhat dark outside, the dawn was approaching but not quite upon them yet. He reached down and felt the pistol handles that were in his belt, his sword in its scabbard resting in the holder along his left leg.
The coach began to slow a bit and Callum leaned over and then scooted on the bench to the door. He saw in the distance a light softly glowing and knew it was in the kitchen window at the Cross, his kitchen of his home. He was here, finally. His chest tightened and his throat went tight and dry as he put his hand on the door, he held his breath for a moment and his eyes burned, holding back the tears that he wanted to let go of, the fear of what he might find inside the house. The driver pulled up to the gate and stopped, Callum swung the door open and jumped out. He looked up at the driver, as he tied the reins around the brake handle. Callum put a hand in his pocket and pulled out a note and handed it up to the driver.
“See to my trunk, set it inside the gate if you will.” Callum said as the driver took the note and gave him a nod in reply. Callum turned and opened the gate and ran up the path to the front door. He opened it and came into the house, a hand on a pistol butt. He went halfway across the parlor and stopped. Martha, his dear aunt stood there in the kitchen doorway, her long dress, her apron around her waist. Callum saw the look on her face, the tears welling in her eyes and he came to her silently, taking her in his arms, wrapping her tight as she buried her face in his chest. She wept as he held her.
“My boy,…you’re home at last. Thank God you’re alive.” She said as she clutched his shirt and vest still in his arms. He kissed the top of her head.
“Yes, my dear, I’m home.” Callum said softly, he kissed her again, “Are you all alright here?”
“Yes, why wouldn’t we be?” She asked as she tilted her head back to look at him. She saw the intense look on his face and then looked down at the pistols in his belt along with his sword.
“Where is Dustin?” Callum asked softly.
“He’s next door at Harbroughs, tending to the horses.” She said softly. Callum let her go.
“I’ll be back.” He said as he went to step around her.
“But,…?” She started to ask and he looked at her.
“Secure the front door, bolt it tight. I’ll be back and will explain everything.” Callum said softly. He went to the back door, opened it, looking about as the dawn was now giving light to everything, he closed it behind him and started down the knoll, along the path going quickly. He didn’t see any of the horses about as they had been here when he left, he thought they might be in the stable for a moment and saw the large opening in the stone fence and started toward it. He reached it and looked across the pasture of the neighboring property that he purchased, Harbroughs on the Road as it was known. He saw the house, yes, but there was something else now, another structure was there in the pasture. The barn that had been discussed was under construction and stood. He could see horses moving about as he started going quickly across the pasture toward it and them.
He stopped after coming almost halfway across the pasture. The horses milling about near the structure and clearing a path as it were to let someone else through, and when Callum saw him, it took his breath, it was almost like his dreams had been when he was aboard Windsong. Dustin, his long brown hair in a tail shining in the dawn light, his shirt with the billowed sleeves and his long pants tucked inside the boots as he was tending to the horses, a pail was in one hand and Dustin was patting one of them with other hand as he walked around the mare. He never looked up as he went about what he was doing, Callum just watching him, more than relieved to see him alive and well. His chest was still tight and now his throat clenched again in a knot and he stepped forward a few steps. The horses snorted a bit with his movements and Dustin stopped and looked up, his eyes went wide and his mouth opened a bit. He dropped the pail to the grass he stood in.
“Quintan.” Dustin whispered as his eyes welled. Dustin stepped forward, walking through the tall grass as Callum was coming toward him as well, their eyes locked on one another and Callum stepped faster toward him and he held out his arms. Dustin stepped into him and grabbed him about the waist pulling him tight and Callum wrapped his arms about Dustin’s shoulders. Dustin sobbed into Callum’s shoulder as hands went up and down Dustin’s back, feeling him and his warmth.
“You kept your word.” Dustin sobbed.
“There was never any other choice.” Callum whispered as he kissed Dustin’s ear, “Thank God you’re alright.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Dustin asked as he pulled back. Callum took his arms back and put his hands to each side of Dustin’s tanned young handsome face and cradled it.
“I have missed you more than I can say.” Callum whispered.
“No more than I have missed you. I can’t believe you’re here.”
“Believe it, my love.” Callum said and smiled wide, his eyes scanned every part of Dustin’s face and he leaned forward slowly. The kiss was tender at first and Callum let his hands go of the soft young face and brought them back around the shoulders, down Dustin’s back, pulling him in tight to him. Dustin moaned in Callum’s mouth as they began to probe each other with dueling tongues, their passion for one another building. They rolled their heads, working each other furiously and Callum pulled back as he felt the breath of a snort. He looked left and Dustin chuckled.
“Someone else missed you as well it seems.” Dustin said. Callum looked back at Dustin for a moment and then back at Dustin’s mare as she stepped closer to them, lowering her head. Callum reached up and put the flat of his palm to her between her ears and she almost purred at his touch.
“Hello, my lady. I have missed seeing you as well.” Callum said softly to the mare, “You look well enough. The love of our lives here has taken very good care of you it seems.”
“She makes it easy for me, unlike this lot that Christian and I brought back from Cambridge.” Dustin said as he looked over at the rest of the horses, “They are a lot of work.” Callum looked at Dustin again and smiled wide at him. Dustin looked at Callum and had a puzzled look, “What is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re smiling so much, why is that?” Dustin asked.
“Because of you, seeing you, being here with you, and,…you’re safe.”
“Why wouldn’t I be safe? What are you trying to tell me, Quintan?” Dustin asked and Callum drew serious in his look. Dustin narrowed his eyes a bit.
“Much has happened in this mission, Dustin. I am here because of it and the danger that has arisen from that mission.”
“What danger?” Dustin asked, his face had worry all over it now, “Are you in trouble, Quintan?”
“Yes. My only thought has been to get here to you, my love. There is so much to tell.”
“Why you are wearing your sword and carrying two pistols no doubt.” Dustin said as he looked down and then back into his loves steel blue eyes, “What kind of trouble?”
“As long as we all stay together, we are safe. I can protect us from it.”
“Quintan, what of Henry and Martha?” Dustin asked.
“They will need to aware that there might be strange men coming, and to be alert of them.” Callum said.
“Strange men? Who are they?”
“Guardsmen.” Callum said flatly.
“Guardsmen, who are they?”
“They are a group of men, security for Parliament. They are acting for the Diplomatic Service and for a certain Commodore as his agents. I have already dispatched four of them. Thomas took another.” Callum said. He reached up and put his hands on Dustin’s shoulders.
“Dear God. Is Thomas alright?” Dustin asked.
“He is at Southend, with Dover. I expect him within a fortnight, along with His Lordship more than likely.”
“His Lordship? You mean, Fitzwarren?”
“No,…I mean Lord Hood.” Callum said. Dustin was wide eyed.
“What have you gotten yourself into this time?” Dustin asked as he trembled slightly under Callum’s firm and steady hands.
“Lord Hood asked me to undertake another mission, this time to the Indies.” Callum said.
“I did not say yes, my love.”
“But you didn’t say no either, did you?” Dustin asked and looked shrunken, “How long?”
“It’s hard to tell, and like I said, there is much to tell you. It’s very,…complicated and rather confusing really. People that I can’t trust, people that I can trust, and then there is this boy that is in great need,...”
“What boy?” Dustin asked.
“We rescued him aboard a ship in the North Sea that had been attacked. He is a Prince of Denmark it seems. Carson has him and is keeping him safe for now, but will be bringing him soon, after we figure out what we can do about him.” Callum said.
“Wait,…wait just a moment,…” Dustin paused as his mind was trying to figure out what had just been said, “A Prince? You have a Prince, a member of a royal house? Mr. Carson has him?”
“Yes, in safe keeping. It was quite the accident that we came across him really, but I am rather glad that we did, for his sake.” Callum said. Dustin closed his eyes and shook his head a bit.
“Perhaps you had better explain from the beginning.” Dustin said as he looked at Callum.
“Have you had word from Christian?” Callum asked. Dustin raised an eyebrow.
“Uh,…why do you ask?”
“Is something going on? Something you want to tell me?” Callum asked.
“Christian reported to the Garrison and I have not heard from him as of yet.”
“What is wrong with Christian?” Callum asked.
“He and,…Owen,…have kept company. Apparently something that Christian and Thomas had discussed before you both left, and then he did a week later.” Dustin said.
“Were you involved with,…?”
“Heavens no, Quintan. Although I had thought about it but was never seriously considering it.” Dustin said.
“Well, I don’t know what to say except that I am glad that you did not, without my knowledge, I suppose.” Callum was a bit wide eyed.
“Quintan,…” Dustin stepped forward putting his hands on Callum’s hips, looking into his eyes even deeper making Callum relax a bit in his look, “I am completely devoted to you, and you only. No matter how lonely I was in this past month without you, I will never stray from you that would be dishonorable. I know you would not tolerate it as you trust me, and I will not betray that trust as I know you would not betray mine.”
“Dustin, I love you, more than I can say. Of course I trust you, and would never give it a second thought. You are my world, Dustin, I have told you that before many times. Only you matter to me in this, Henry and Martha of course, but you are the focus, the key to my life and my happiness. Without you, I have nothing but actions and empty words. You are the one that kept me going in this mission, making me, forcing me to survive in it, to return home to you to make me whole and complete again. I never want to lose you, Dustin, I can’t, as it would surely end me.” Callum said.
“Then stay with me, Quintan, always. I have missed you so.” Dustin said as he leaned in closer.
“You will always be right here, Dustin, in both heart and soul with me.” Callum said as he put a flat palm to his own chest over his heart.
“I trust that there are other places as well on you.” Dustin smiled softly and Callum chuckled.
“You just wait and see.” Callum said.
“Now, what of this mission and more of this danger, tell me?” Dustin asked.
“What else do we need to do with the horses?” Callum asked. Dustin smiled wider.
“I’ll show you what Mr. Bockman has done about the barn and done for the horses as well. You can tell me as we walk together.” Dustin said and took Callum’s hand in his, locking fingers tight together, turning him. Dustin led him toward the horses and the new barn beyond.
Callum went in the back door of the house, Martha turned from the stove. She smiled at him even though he was armed, she felt comforted just by his presence. She stepped toward him and he came to her and held her again. Dustin came in and closed the door and smiled seeing the two together.
“I have missed you, my dear.” Callum said as he held her and then kissed the top of her head.
“As have I.” She said into his chest.
“I’m sorry I burst in so suddenly earlier.” Callum said.
“I just didn’t expect you, that’s all.” She said and looked up at him. Callum bent down and kissed her forehead.
“That coffee smells wonderful.” Callum said as he let her go. He turned toward the table, there was Henry sitting there looking at him fully dressed, “Good morning, my lad.”
“Morning, sir.” The little boy said but did not move. It struck Callum as odd.
“How are you, Henry?”
“Fine, sir.” The boy said as Dustin came next to Callum.
“We have been doing much since you have been gone, Quintan.” Dustin said. Martha walked by them to the table and set a cup down for Callum.
“Indeed. Such as?”
“We have been studying with those books that you purchased at the mercantile. Henry and I, with Martha’s help, have learned to write our names as well as some other things, and I can read, Quintan, can’t I Henry?”
“Yes, Dustin, you can.” Henry said softly.
“I read him a story every night when he goes to bed now.” Dustin said and looked so proud of what he has accomplished, “I went to the mercantile and purchased a few more books for us, story books. Some of them are a bit difficult, but we manage, don’t we, Henry?”
“Yes.” Henry said softly.
“I think that’s simply wonderful. You can read and write.” Callum said as he looked at Dustin.
“With a bit of difficulty as I said, but it is coming to me slowly, and to him.” Dustin smiled, “Are you ready to start your chores, Henry?” Dustin asked and the boy nodded in reply, “Alright, go on then.” The boy got off the little stool and went around them both and to the back door. Callum watched him go out and then looked at Dustin, who sat down at the table, “Give him some time, Quintan, he has been very upset since you left. I tried to explain it, but he doesn’t understand. All he knows is that you left and didn’t know if you were ever coming back.”
“I see.” Callum said and sat down at the table, “I seem to be a stranger in my own home.”
“It may seem that way, I’m sorry, but we had to do something with how we felt.” Dustin said and Callum saw him a bit differently, more matured it seemed to him.
“I understand. I might have done the same thing.” Callum said and picked up the cup.
“Aunt Martha, Quintan needs to speak with us, it is rather important.”
“What about your breakfast?”
“That can wait.” Dustin smiled. She stopped what she was doing at the stove and wiped her hands on her apron, coming over to the table and sat down in her usual spot.
“There is a danger, and we must all be on our guard. I don’t want to alarm you, my dear, so let me explain,…”
Henry came back in the back door some time later, all of them still sitting at the table, the dog followed him in and came over to Callum and sat down looking at him. Callum gave him a look as Henry was standing next to Dustin at the other end of the table.
“And how are you, my lad?” Callum asked the dog.
“We finally gave him a name.” Dustin said and Callum looked across the table at him, “Fitz.”
“Short for Fitzwarren.” Dustin said and gave him a brief smile. Callum looked at the dog again and chuckled as the dog flexed his eyebrow once.
“Fitz. It seems appropriate. If he had a medal or two, he would look exactly like Fitzwarren, wouldn’t he?”
“It was Henry’s idea actually. When they were here that day to ask you to go, Fitzwarren and his manner stuck in Henry’s mind. We shortened the name and decided on it.” Dustin said with a smile. He slipped an arm about the boy’s waist and Callum saw the resemblance between them, it was more than remarkable, and even more than he had remembered. Their hair, their eyes, the color of them and the way they both looked back at him. It was like they were father and son. He had always suspected that they were brothers in the back of his mind as he had seen it before a few times, but them together like they were at the end of the table struck him, and it made sense to him, both coming from Portsmouth.
“Quintan, are you certain that these men will be coming?” Martha asked breaking Callum from his thoughts.
“Yes, my dear, of that I can guarantee. This man I spoke of, Phelps, will not let it go. He is more dangerous than Christian’s father was.” Callum said.
“What are we going to do?” Martha asked.
“As I said, we are going to be on our guard until this is over.”
“And this other boy, what of him?” Martha asked.
“That,…I have not quite figured out yet. I know that I can’t take him home as I said, it would be his end for certain.” Callum said.
“So sad. He must be very homesick, terribly, and very lonely.” Martha said as she shook her head a bit.
“He is strong in that way. He understands as he has been forced to, but you’re correct, it is sad and my heart goes out to him.” Callum said softly.
“If he comes here, will that ensure they will be coming?” Martha asked.
“They will be coming anyway as they think he is already here in our midst or that I know where he is.”
“Do you?” Martha asked.
“No, I do not, at least not yet. I hope to have word from Carson soon though.” Callum said, the dog scooted closer to Callum and put his head on Callum’s thigh, Callum looked down and pet him, “Dustin, my father’s pistols?”
“They are upstairs in the chest.” Dustin said and lifted his eyes toward the ceiling for a moment and then back at Callum.
“I will see to them and their loading then. As I said, we must be prepared. These men are dangerous and will stop at nothing.”
“Are you going to walk around the Square armed?” Martha asked.
“No, but, here at the house I want to be able to get my hands on them at a moment’s notice.” Callum said.
“Quintan, we can’t live like this forever.” Martha said.
“And we won’t have to, my dear, I assure you.” Callum said, “It is me that they want and the boy. Once I have word from Carson, then I can see to it and I might be off for a time.”
“You have just gotten home.” Martha said.
“My main goal was to reach you and to see that you were all safe.” Callum said.
“What of this other sailing that you mentioned?” Dustin asked with a serious look.
“Another sailing?” Martha asked with surprise as she looked at Callum.
“I have been asked by Lord Hood to take Dover and lead my squadron to the Indies. This man, Phelps, is part of the reason for that mission, to come up with proof that he is a traitor and to stop the pirating that is going on there.”
“Are you going to do it?” Martha asked.
“I don’t think so.” Callum said.
“He’ll do it.” Dustin said flatly. Callum shifted his eyes and looked at him, “You’re a sailor, Quintan, you always will be, you know that.” Dustin said softly.
“That’s what Farrow said to me as well last night.”
“You were with Farrow?” Dustin asked and raised an eyebrow.
“I was going to take a room for the night at the Heritage and come home on the coach this morning. The turn of events that I mentioned earlier made me come home sooner.” Callum said.
“Then you haven’t slept yet.” Dustin said. Callum shook his head a bit.
“You do look a bit worn out, my boy.” Martha said, patting the back of his hand that rested on the table.
“We will be on our guard. Why don’t you go up and get some rest.” Dustin said, “There are some things that need to be done around here while you do that. Mr. Bockman and his men will not return until tomorrow as this is Sunday.”
“I didn’t realize this was Sunday.” Callum said looking a bit lost.
“All this running around that you’re doing, it’s a wonder that you haven’t lost your head yet, let alone the day of the week.” Martha said as she got up from the table, “Are you hungry?”
“No, I’m not, my dear, thank you.”
“Skin and bones once again. Well, at least this time you’re in one piece and not hurt.” Martha said as she went to the stove shaking her head.
“To my good fortune, I suppose.” Callum said as he watched her walk over to the stove.
“Go upstairs, Quintan, get some rest. Henry and I will keep a watch for anything.” Dustin said.
“That sounds rather like a command,…sir.” Callum said with a smirk.
“Yes, it rather did, didn’t it?” Dustin asked and was looking rather pleased with himself.
“Well, if I’m being ordered, I suppose I will go up and rest for a while.” Callum said and got up from the table. The dog moved out of the way. He turned and went out of the kitchen, Martha looked over at Dustin and their eyes met for a long moment and Dustin smiled briefly and then looked at Henry, giving him a gentle squeeze around his little waist.
“I told you he’d be back.” Dustin whispered to him and Henry just stared at the doorway that Callum had gone through. Henry only nodded.
He opened the door to their room upstairs. It was as he remembered, and like in his dreams aboard Windsong. The bed was made, the room itself was tidy, nothing strewn about at all, no clothes or anything. The chest of drawers against the wall to his right had nothing on its top but a candle stand, the candle it held was burnt down about halfway, the wax pooling on the top was hardened. He looked over at the bed again, the pillows on it were fluffed and up at an angle against the metal headboard under the window. The curtains that were hanging, thin and lacey let the morning light through them making the quilting almost glow as the sunlight was on it. The bed itself was thick and inviting and he realized how much he actually had missed it. He closed the door behind him and went over to it. The room itself smelled of Dustin, soft and warm and he smiled to himself.
He pulled a pistol from his belt and tossed it on the bed, the other he took out of his belt and put it on the candle stand table next to the bed. He pulled the sword and scabbard from his belt and placed it between the bed and candle stand, standing it up so he could reach it quickly. He turned and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling its depth and softness, the true comfort of it. He pulled off his boots and set them on the floor side by side and swung his legs up and lay down, resting into the soft thick pillows. He stared at the ceiling for a long moment and then closed his eyes. Sleep took him, even though he tried to fight it, to try and stay aware and on his guard, the bed took him and he finally surrendered.
He felt something touch him, something gentle and warm. He opened his eyes slowly and it was near dark all around him. He shifted his eyes and saw him sitting there next to him on the edge of the bed and he couldn’t believe what he saw at first. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly through his nose as his hand was gently squeezed. His eyes were adjusting to what light there was about him and he recognized who was there and thought he must be dreaming.
“Dustin?” He asked softly.
“Yes, my love.” The soft voice said in reply to him.
“What are you doing?” He asked just above a whisper.
“Seeing if you want supper? You have slept the entire day.” Dustin said.
“I have?” Callum asked as he shifted his eyes about the room.
“Yes, you have. To be expected, I suppose. How do you feel?” Dustin asked.
“Drained, as if I have no life in me.” Callum said.
“Hmmm, that may be a problem tonight then.”
“Tonight?” Callum asked.
“I was of hopes that we might have your homecoming.” Dustin said and gave him a smile.
“I see. Well, then I suppose I had better pull myself together.” Callum said. He turned his hand in Dustin’s and gave his fingers a squeeze and then smiled, “I have dreamed of being here, watching you sleep while I was away. I have missed you so, Dustin.”
“And I have missed you, Quintan, more than you know. It was difficult for me the first few days, but I realized that I needed to do things to keep going, the things that you tasked me with. Christian and Owen were of great help to me, they gave me focus. And with Henry, he needed me as well with your not being here and we became close, far closer than we have been. It has been good, for both of us.”
“I’m glad, Dustin, but I’m also sorry at the same time. This whole thing seems to have changed us somehow, my being gone.” Callum said.
“Yes, it has, I can see that. We are not our little band like we were when we first came here or when Thomas and Christian joined us. It is different somehow, and I feel better than I ever have about myself.” Dustin said.
“You’re not that young lad any longer that stood at the wheel of Dover, you’re a man grown, coming into his own, I can see that for myself.”
“Does that bother you?” Dustin asked.
“No. It makes me love you even more, if that’s possible.” Callum smiled and Dustin leaned down and kissed him softly and pulled back a bit.
“You’re still that man that I adore, Quintan, but I can’t help but notice that you have changed as well. You’re a bit more hardened as it were.” Dustin said softly as he hovered over Callum’s face.
“I have seen things, Dustin, had to do things that I have never had to do before. Some of them frightened me, the decisions that I made and there were times that I was second guessing myself, I’ve never done that before. I was always so sure in whatever I did. And now that I’m home, all I can think about is you.” Callum said.
“And what do you think?” Dustin asked with a soft smile.
“I think that I have wronged you, Dustin. I should not have gone on this mission, I should have said no to Hood and The King, I should have stayed here with you.”
“Quintan, if I may,” Dustin said and sat back up, “I was upset that you went as you know. You made me a promise that you would return and you have, and I somehow knew that you would, because it’s you, but more than that, I’m glad you went. It gave me an opportunity to step out of your shadow as it were, to learn to do more for myself. I suppose to even learn how to be my own man.”
“Dustin, you have always been a true man to me, with everything that you do. It’s who you are, that is what makes us successful together I think. You have always had such a command of wisdom and feeling, I have always been envious of that. As where I rush in where angels fear to tread, you can reason it out. I have said it before, I would be lost without you, and I mean that truly, you’re my focus, my center in everything.” Callum said.
“I love you so, Quintan Callum.” Dustin said.
“I love you more, Dustin Perkins.” Callum said with a smile. Dustin leaned down on him again and kissed him tenderly.