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Authors: Lee Rowan

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Home Is the Sailor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home is the Sailor

 

By

 

Lee Rowan

 

Book Four of
The Royal Navy Series

 

 

Bristlecone Pine Press * Portland, Maine

 

Copyright

Bristlecone Pine Press, an imprint of Maine Desk, LLC

10A Beach Street, Suite 2

Portland, ME 04101

 

First Bristlecone Pine Printing, August 2010

Copyright © J.M. LINDNER, 2010. All rights reserved

 

Rowan, Lee

Home is the Sailor: a novel/Lee Rowan

Book Four in
The Royal Navy
series

 

ISBN: 978-1-60722-022-0

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the above publisher of this book.

 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

 

This is a work of historical fiction. Apart from well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

 

Published in the United States of America

 

Edited by Leslie H. Nicoll & P.T. Smith

Cover design by Alex Beecroft

eBook formatting and design by Jim and Zetta www.jimandzetta.com

Please visit Bristlecone Pine Press at www.bcpinepress.com

Please visit the author’s home page at http://www.lee-rowan.net/index.html

 

The print version of this book is published by

Cheyenne Publishing

PO Box 872412

Vancouver, WA 98687-2415

ISBN: 978-0-9828267-0-6

[email protected]

 

A message from the publisher…

 

Dear Reader,

 

Thank you for buying this book from Bristlecone Pine Press.

 

I started Bristlecone in 2008 with a goal to bring high quality books to the ebook platform. I realized that we were at the start of a revolution in how books are selected, published, and provided to readers. Traditional large publishing companies, which have had a stranglehold on the industry for decades, are starting to lose their grip. Innovations in content delivery are allowing small independent publishers and independent authors to bring their works directly to readers, quickly and efficiently. Purchasers, such as yourself, have much more flexibility in deciding what they want to buy and read versus being at the whim of marketing departments who make choices based on what they believe will sell.

 

When you buy a book from a small independent publisher, such as Bristlecone, you are making a statement that variety and choice are important to you. You are supporting a vibrant and growing community of authors, editors, and publishers who value quality over quantity and substance over mere content. Thank you for your support and commitment to this vision through your purchase.

 

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Thank you again for your purchase. Your support of my independent publishing imprint is important and appreciated.

 

Happy reading!

 

Leslie H. Nicoll

Publisher and Owner, Bristlecone Pine Press

[email protected]

 

Dedication

 

To PS: As always, forever

 

Acknowledgments

 

Thanks to Ann, Marnie, and JD for Brit-picking,

 

Marian for cheering-on, & Dr. S. Watson for medical review!

 

Chapter One

 

January 1803

 

No one saw it coming. The only warning of attack was the shrill whistle of a cannonball, a second before the schooner
Mermaid
shuddered under its impact. Splinters flew from the starboard bow as a puff of smoke on a high bluff they were passing betrayed the attacker’s position.

 

“Hard a-port!” shouted the
Mermaid’s
captain, William Marshall, running back to take the wheel from his bosun, Barrow. “All hands!”

 

“Aye, sir!”

 

“All hands” was a pitiful fighting force; the
Mermaid
was a private vessel, and had only four small guns—swivel guns, at that. They could not defend themselves against a land-based cannon, and in fact they had nothing aboard that could reach their attackers. But his men–twenty of them, barely enough to work the vessel while their mates sprang to the guns–responded as though they were still on the frigate where he’d first commanded them as a midshipman—his crew, men with whom he’d survived five years of war.

 

Marshall had not expected anything like this. They’d been sailing on a quick and supposedly routine mission to pick up an agent of His Majesty’s secret service from the coast of Spain, and the rendezvous had been uneventful. A lone fisherman in a rowboat had caught no one’s attention, and had been brought aboard with no fuss. All had seemed well—until now.

 

Marshall pulled the wheel with all his strength, dragging the
Mermaid
as close to the cold, powerful wind as he dared, ticking off the seconds in his mind. He held the schooner on the new course, fighting the wheel, watching over his shoulder until he saw the puff of smoke that signaled the next shot fired.

 

He let the wheel run through his hands, freeing the rudder to bring her sharply about, bracing himself as the sloop wheeled over and her sails filled once again. The second cannonball splashed harmlessly a few yards off the port bow. He brought her back into a steady run, still counting off the seconds. The trick had worked—but it would not work a second time.

 

It wouldn’t have to, though. By the time the crew could reload, the swift-running
Mermaid
would be out of range. If he could get beyond the fishing vessel that lay between them and the open sea, a weathered schooner not much larger than the
Mermaid
herself, they’d be too poor a target to even attempt. “Damage?” he called to Barrow.

 

“Rail’s clean off, sir, and we took on some water when she went over, but she’s got at least a foot clear of the waterline for now.”

 

“Will we need to fother—Damn!”

 

The apparently harmless craft, which they had passed on their way into shore, was now bristling with guns; passing close to it would be too risky. As the
Mermaid
came into small-arms range, the enemy began to fire.

 

At least this was a target their little guns could reach. “Fire as you bear,” Marshall shouted.

 

He could have sworn he heard a similar order from the other ship, and the pop-pop of the small arms was punctuated by the boom of an undersized cannon, most likely a swivel gun like their own. One lucky shot was all either of them would require, and the fight would be over. On his present course, he would be past them in only a few minutes. But with the wind as it was, he could not veer too far away, without risking that damaged section of bow. If the
Mermaid
dipped enough that the hole in her bow scooped up water, not only would she be impossible to steer, they might well founder, and if any of his men went into this cold January sea…

 

He put that fear out of his mind, concentrating instead on holding her steady in the strong current, hearing a yelp as one of his men at the starboard gun caught a flying projectile. His gun crews were at work, though, even with their pitiful popguns, and he grinned as the enemy snipers ducked down below their own railing. Just like old times. A pity they weren’t actually supposed to engage the enemy…

 

Then, amid the uproar of conflict, he caught a glimpse of a familiar figure running about in the smoke and flying lead, and his heart stopped within him. “Davy, to me!”

 

David Archer ran up, carrying a rifle. “Thought we’d need this. Orders?”

 

Marshall’s hands stayed steady on the wheel, but his mind was gibbering, flooded with memories of Davy lying near death, struck down during the last battle they’d fought together, carried below with blood staining his white uniform waistcoat. His throat was so tight he could hardly speak. “Get below.”

 

Davy frowned. “Sorry, what?”

 

A spent bullet ricocheted off the binnacle, and Marshall’s whole body jerked in reaction.
“Get below. Now,
Davy. Go! I can’t—”

 

Davy glanced about the deck, bit his lip, and nodded. As he disappeared down the stair to the captain’s cabin, Marshall’s attention returned to the matter at hand. The fishing boat—Frenchman, Spaniard, it made no difference, really, that neutral Portuguese flag they flew was a joke—was coming about, making ready to pursue them.

 

“Aim for her sails!” he shouted. But the words were barely out when he felt a ball slam into their own hull, and the wheel shuddered in his hands. The
Mermaid
kept moving, though, gallant little craft that she was. He prayed the damage was above the waterline, that it was something they could repair, and then they shot past the other boat and were out into open water.

 

He whirled at the sound of a shot just behind him, so close his ears rang. Davy stood there, his face grim. “You didn’t see the sniper in their chains, did you? He had you dead in his sights.”

 

Their stern-chaser boomed as if in emphasis, and the fishing boat faltered as the ball went home, carrying away their bowsprit and staysail.

 

“Thank you,” Marshall managed. They were out of range now, and so long as they could keep moving, they would have their passenger back to the
Endymion
within a few hours, and make at least part of the trip back to England under her protection. Though why anyone would bother to attack them, and under a neutral flag, was the real question. He could think of only one possible answer, and he didn’t like it at all, but he had no time to spare for speculation now.

 

“Take the wheel,” he told Davy, and hurried over to see about the damage to his ship and crew. The puzzle of why they had been attacked was secondary to another, far more critical matter. In the midst of a battle, he had been completely distracted from the matter at hand—life and death, his ship and all who sailed aboard her. That was unconscionable.

 

Marshall had suspected that this would happen, when the treaty was broken and war resumed. He had feared it would happen; worse than that, he had known it would. And it left him with an insoluble dilemma.

 

William Marshall was a Commander in His Majesty’s Navy. He was also, against all laws of God and man, David Archer’s lover. As his own behavior had just proven beyond all doubt, he cared more for Davy than for any living soul or even for the ship under his command.

 

With Davy aboard, Marshall could not command a ship of war. And he knew how to do nothing else.

 

He did know enough to stand back and let Barrow direct the immediate repairs, and to wait until his bosun stepped back with a nod of approval to ask whether the damage could be mended.

 

“Aye, we can fix her, sir, well enough for a few days, but we haven’t materials enough to do a proper job. Another close call like that, or a bad storm, and we might lose her.”

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