Paulek

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 
CHAPTER 10


For the next month, the boys settled on doing what had too be done, the younger ones protected Tito and Bevic during the night and the older ones went into training, for Paulek and Milac it was a very condensed training program for sailing a ship, they learnt about rigging the three lanteen sails, how to ride the wind, navigation and how to use the stars at night too keep a steady course, Margate also had to learn how to navigate during the daylight hours, it turned out he had some natural talent at numbers and found the navigation relatively easy once it had been fully explained.

Pavlik took to training the other boys as night Marshals under the tutelage of Sergei, the day Marshals were kept under very strict control while Pavlik worked out whom he could trust and who would have to be attended to in another way, as it appeared there were some six day Marshals in the pay of the Mayor and his cronies, Pavlik just watched and waited, it was not yet time to take action against the cabal that continued to meet at the rear of the council building.

Hawk was taken back to the castle by Sergei, there he was trained in court proceedings and how to administer the laws of the King, he would be given absolute authority once he fully understood all he needed to know, every hour of the night was spent either reading or listening to Sergei on the Kings laws, by the time he was ready for his bed at sun rise, he felt as though he had been washed in hot water and only wanted to sleep for years.

Finally the night arrived that the ship could leave port, at two hours after sun down, the tide was at its highest, all hands were called on deck and the Captain set Margate to giving the rowers the order to get them moving, at this hour there was very little wind and only the faintest of breezes came from the cooling land, it appeared that the chance for the one time slaves to be free did wonders, the ship moved easily and gained speed towards the sand bar at the entrance as the rowers put their backs into the hard work.

On deck Paulek along with Milac, stood beside the Captain as the calm waters rolled past the well cleaned hull of the huge trireme, on the dock stood Pavlik along with the other two boys that were now full night Marshals, Paulek’s sharp eyes caught the wave from the three as the ship began to slightly lift with the incoming swell of the open sea.

As the ship moved under his feet, Paulek looked at Milac, it appeared they both felt the same, he knew that it was impossible for their kind to get ill but now they both looked as though they had somehow been afflicted by some strange illness, Paulek could feel his stomach roiling and his legs were shaking as the ship pulled into the open sea, Milac’s face turned even whiter as he tried to not run to the side and throw up; he could not understand what was happening.

The Captain looked at his two young trainee officers and smiled, he knew exactly what was happening, with a glance at the smiling face of Margate, the Captain told the two boys to climb the centre mast as look outs, he knew that the exercise and the need to keep their concentration on what they were doing would soon get them over the advancing sea sickness, they would come right in time as they spent more of their days on the ship.

The order was given for the rowers to cease and come up on deck to help with the large triangular sails, once this was accomplished, the crews were divided into watches, those no longer on duty were allowed to go below to the newly cleaned and scrubbed lower decks to sleep and rest.

The ship would sail North to the edge of the Kings land and then turn about and go as far south as they could all the time keeping watch for pirates or those involved with smuggling to avoid the Kings landing taxes and port duties. During the day Margate would take control of the ship, all the crew well knew who they worked for, after all, they had been with the Trader for some years, the penalty for disobeying an order was final and the body was dropped over the side without benefit of any service for the dead.

It was four days sailing before they came across the first of their objectives, just as the sun was sinking into the horizon, Milac, who had just awoken and climbed effortlessly up the centre mast, spied in the distance a single sail, had it been any other time he might not have taken much notice of just another ship on the wide sea, this time however was different, the Captain had told them to watch for ships trying to sail at night as it was the habit of most inshore ships to seek shelter during the night hours, any small ship continuing to sail during darkness probably had a good reason.

Milac called to the deck where Paulek stood alone taking the first star sightings for the night, at the sound of his little brothers voice coming from above, Paulek sent Tito for the Captain, Margate ran up on deck from below and began to call orders for all hands to make ready, the rowers went to their oars in case they needed extra speed, some of the other sailors went to the two large siege machines and readied them for action should it be needed.

As was his habit, the Captain appeared on deck soundlessly, looking out to where Milac had seen the smaller ship, the Captain congratulated his young officers on their prompt action and recognition of what they may be looking for, within minutes the ship was at ready status, the crew stood at their stations waiting for the Captain to issue orders to either chase or leave the smaller vessel.

The Captain called for Milac to come down to the deck and report all he had seen, once on deck, Milac told the Captain everything he could make out about the ship with his better vision, he reported that the ship was smaller than they were and had a single mast and was very low in the water as though it was well loaded, the Captain nodded his understanding as Milac finished his report.

“Mr. Margate.” Called the Captain, “Set the sails to go inshore and call the oarsmen to the lower tier only, they will row for one hour and then change over, each tier will take one hour a shift, with the aide of the inshore wind we will catch them in the early hours of the morning, hopefully before they can put inshore to unload their goods.”

Margate saluted the Captain and began to yell orders, at a time like this, every man was on duty, they would be given a rest time when all was under way, the deck weapons were checked and readied for action if they were needed, it was immediately obvious to Paulek once the rowers began, that the ship, even with only one tier rowing, that they had the speed over the smaller ship, their eye sight giving them the benefit of just being able to see the other without being seen themselves at this point.

Once inshore of the other ship, the extra off shore wind gave them even more speed and the distance was closing at a good pace, the Captain said they would probably close with the smaller vessel only one or two hours after midnight, it would then be a matter of how the other vessel reacted to them, if they close hauled and slowed for boarding and inspection, then they were more than likely innocent and would be allowed to go on, if they tried to run then they were up to no good and would be taken.

The hours of the chase continued, it was easily evident that the larger ship had the speed on the other as the off shore wind along with the now third tier of rowers, gained on the single masted vessel, it was also noticeable when the smaller vessel saw the Trireme bearing down on them from the darkness inshore, they had been cut off from making a run to the safety of the shore by the Triremes superior positioning, it also became evident that they were up to no good as they tried in vane to escape by tacking out to sea in the hope of losing the larger ship in the dark not knowing who was on board to keep a sharp eye on them.

At the first sign of a tack, the Captain called all hands to the oars and the deck weapons prepared to fire, with the three tiers now in full speed the Trireme seemed to lift itself from the water and fly at over ten knots, a speed that the smaller vessel could not compete with, slowly the Trireme bore down on the vessel, with a loud yell, Margate gave the order for the Ballista to fire, the first ball of fire flew through the night air like a falling star but it fell a little short and hissed as it ploughed into the dark waters, the next shot landed at the rear of the running vessel but, as it hit the water, there was enough of the fire ball to strike the stern of the ship to set light to the dry timbers although not enough to really set it alight fully or force the vessel to stop, the sailors on board, be they pirate of smuggler, well knew what would happen to them if they could not shake off the larger ship.

With only one advantage to fight with, the smaller ship began to zigzag and try to disappear into the dark night not knowing that there were those on board the trireme that had a distinct advantage in the dark hours of the night. Although out manoeuvred, the trireme still managed to make gains until finally the smaller ship was almost under their higher bows, within a minute their colours were struck and the small crew of twenty lay down their weapons even though they knew what their penalty could be.

Captain Stanislaw set the trireme along side the smaller ship, his boarding party including Paulek and Milac, jumped the short distance between the two ships, swords drawn and ready for anything, it took no time at all for the crew to be surrounded and checked for any hidden arms, once that was done, the crew were transferred and chained before being placed in the small cells in the hold, next it was time to see why it was running at night, Stanislaw had reason to think they were just smugglers as, had they been pirates they would have been fighting to the death.

Paulek along with Margate, went below to look around while Milac followed the instructions of Stanislaw in getting the ship ready to sail, Paulek and Margate found the holds full of contraband, there were large wooden casks of fine spirits from foreign countries, wide bolts of cloth from the Spanish countries and a new and aromatic leaf called Tobacco from the new world, it was a very valuable cargo and now it belonged to them as well as the ship.

Captain Stanislaw had a full inventory done on the cargo then detailed a small crew to sail it back to port with Paulek in charge, Tito was allowed to go with them as Paulek’s helper, the crew was picked and the ten men which included four of the ex slaves, were detailed to go with him, they would tie up and unload the cargo setting aside an amount that was to be sent to the King as his share, the balance would be sold and divided among the whole crew as payment for its capture.

Being a smaller and slow ship than the trireme, Paulek’s first command took five days to make port, the crossing of the sand bar was a little easier as the ship had a shallower draft, as it was still daylight, the ship anchored off the wharf until dark, it would not serve them well to be found out by all and sundry, Tito had been told to go ashore and find an agent and dock crew for their unloading after dark, although it was unusual, it was not unknown for a ship to anchor for a few hours to clean up before unloading so the agent did not think it was strange that they did.

Paulek woke just as the last rays of the sun disappeared and the first sliver of the moon rose in the East, the ship was being slowly guided up to the now vacant wharf where a night crew waited to unload them, the agent stepped on board as soon as the gang plank hit the wharf.

Paulek introduced himself and then took the agent below to look at the cargo, too say the agent was pleasantly surprised was an understatement, quickly he began to set prices but Paulek suspected he was under valuing it and so tried to read him while still keeping a smile on his face, it did not take long for him to see how the agent was trying to make as much for himself and his friends as he could while thinking that a young boy like Paulek would not know.

Paulek let him finish his inspection and then listened to the price he said he could get, Paulek kept smiling as the agent told him the cargo was quite good but would only fetch no more than 400 gold as there was a bit of a glut on the goods he had, Paulek read him again and then shook his head.

“I think not, the cargo is worth at least 3000 gold, also the dock crew will be paid from your side as it should be.”

“No, no, young man, that’s not how business is done on the wharf, the Captain is responsible for the dock workers and your estimate of the cargo’s value is way too high, I could never make a profit at that price, perhaps I could offer you 500 gold but that would be my best offer.”

“I see we are not close to the price of its true value, perhaps I should look for another agent.”

“There are no other agents, I have the exclusive contract for all ships unloading in this port, I can show you my authorisation from the council if you wish?”

“That won’t be necessary, I think our business is done then, I will make my own arrangements to dispose of the cargo.”

“Well young man, I would not want you to try to do that on your own, the wharves and workers belong to me so, if you wish to unload then it would have to be by my men, as you can see there is little option left for you.”

The agents voice had become a little harder and his stance more aggressive as he looked down at the very young teen before him, he was well used to dealing with obdurate Captains so this boy stood little chance, Paulek looked at the man, he well knew that he was in the pay of the councillors, Paulek turned to Tito and whispered in his ear, the small Roma boy left the ship and ran into the dark while Paulek kept the agent talking.

“I think you will find my men are quite capable of unloading without your help if need be, it would be better for you to make a genuine offer than to make us do that.”

All the while, Paulek had kept his eyes over the shoulder of the agent so he was the first to see the returning Roma along with four other shadows which he easily identified as Pavlik, Hawk and two of the other boys, all were armed and wore the sash of the Kings Marshals, with their ability to move without sound, the four newcomers were beside the agent before he was even aware of them, with a small smile at Paulek, Pavlik spoke.

“Good evening Captain, you asked for my help?”

“Yes Marshal.” Paulek replied as he tried to keep a straight face so the agent would not realise he was about to be the ham in a sandwich of five friends.

“How can I help you Captain?”

“This man is the dock agent, he has set a price for our cargo way below the true value, I was about to tell him that this ship is under arrest in the Kings name but he seemed to want to listen to his own voice and take advantage of myself and my men.”

Pavlik turned to the two younger boys still trying not to laugh and give the game away.

“Marshals, arrest this man, he is to be held for the next court on charges of corruption.”

The two young boys stepped forward and each one grasped a wrist of the agent, he at first tried to wrench his hands from the boys but found they were stronger than he at first thought, next he felt the cold hard steel of shackles being placed on his wrists, it had happened so fast he was still trying to think of a way to get out of this predicament, hastily he said to Pavlik.

“Perhaps I did make a mistake on the cargos value, if you would just release me I could go back and look it over again and then perhaps we could make another offer and reappraise the conditions on the wharf.”

Pavlik covered his mouth with his hand to keep from showing his growing smile and then mumbled through his hand.

“Sorry too late, Marshals, take him away, Captain perhaps you can make other arrangements, I’m sure that by morning there will be a new agent you can work with, in the mean time would you like to accompany me to my office where we can discuss this mans attempt to cheat you?”

Paulek nodded his head and then told his crew to keep the cargo below decks until he returned; he then walked away with Pavlik trying to keep his own giggles from being heard.

“Are you really going to charge him?”

“Yes, it will be one less of the Council’s men on the street, now how did your first trip on a ship go, it’s evident you had good luck and a good capture.”

“Yes it was exciting, I think I’m going to enjoy being a seaman and Milac loves it, Captain Stanislaw is really good and teaching us a lot about sailing, I hope he will let us both join him on his new ship, how are things here?”

“Not too bad, the new boys are well into their training and have become very good with their weapons, Hawk here is going to hold his first court tomorrow evening, the towns people are a little taken aback as to why he would hold court only at night but they seem to think that any honest court is better than none at all.”

“I’ll have to come along and see him in action then, what are we going to do about our cargo?”

“I think that as soon as the word gets out you will have no trouble hiring men to unload, you just need to find an empty warehouse to put it in until it’s sold, it might be a good idea to sell it in an auction, it may bring higher prices that way.”

“I never thought of that, it may be the way too do it, now how is the farm, has Bevic been able to get some of his land back yet?”

“Not yet but it is one of the cases in court tomorrow, it should be interesting too see how the Council will get past Hawk on this one.”

The two friends had by now reached the Council building where Paulek saw Pavlik’s new office for the first time, it was big and comfortable, the furniture was well made and the central desk was huge with a high backed chair behind it.

“How did you get this one?”

“Oh, the Mayor thought it would be a good idea to give me his own office to work from, very kind of him really.” Pavlik had a wide smile on his face as he told Paulek. “Sit down and tell me all about your first voyage.”

For the next hour Paulek related their first travels, it was well into the night before he finished his tale, by then the others had joined him and all five friends talked about their days of being official representatives of the King, Paulek could easily see a new strength in the young boys that had been kept as slaves to the now dead Trader.

Although Paulek wanted to go and see his lover Bevic, he knew he had a duty to his ship, this had been well ingrained into his brain by Captain Stanislaw, his ship and crew must come before any personal things, it was his duty. Finally, two hours before the first dawn light, Paulek got away from the wharves, using all his new speed, he ran to the farm and was just in time to run into the arms of Bevic as the farm boy was walking out for his mornings ablutions, around the farm house hidden in the dark shadows Paulek could plainly see the rest of the boys on guard duty, it appeared Bevic was now well guarded while Paulek was away at sea.

Just as the first rays of dawn showed over the far off mountains, the two boys heard the racing feet of a horse approaching, as it came to a halt outside the house, Tito appeared in the early morning gloom, he had raced from the wharf to be with Paulek and too see his other new friends, it was time for Paulek and the others to go to their sleep, for the rest of the daylight hours, Tito and Bevic stayed together and caught up on their own gossip, at sundown the first stirrings could be heard in the wagon as Paulek and the remaining boys woke, the first thing they noticed was that the wagon was on the move, it took them a little while to find out that Bevic and Tito had decided to take them to town for the first meeting of the Kings court and so Bevic could make his claims for the return of the families lands.

Hawks first court was held in the main meeting room of the council building, on all the doors and around the walls were the full compliment of Marshals, both day and night shifts, all overseen by Pavlik’s steady gaze, in the public gallery every seat was filled by the people of the town along with a few of the rougher element from the docks, all had come too see what the Kings law would do for those everyone knew were corrupt but could do little about.

Hawk had found one of the younger clerks to act as his secretary, thinking the younger man would be less likely to have yet been corrupted by the older and more experienced clerks or council members, his thinking had been correct on all points, as he had been told too do, the new secretary stood up and opened the first Kings court by reading out, loud for all to hear, the conditions on the scroll that gave Hawk his authority to hold the court, once that was done, the new secretary then called the first case, a dock worker who had been taken for fighting in a tavern and causing damage.

The first case, like many that followed, was quickly dealt with, usually by fine or by sending the offender to work off his or her debt, everyone that heard or watched, smiled and nodded in agreement as the sentences were read out, all were fair and just as far as they were concerned, to those gathered there, the Kings court seemed good and fair, after a short break, the Secretary then called for Bevic’s case to be heard.

Bevic stood in front of Hawk’s large desk and gave his own report of the events over the last year, he told of how he was stripped of the family lands for taxes he thought had been paid and about the pressure that had been put on him to sell what remained for next to nothing, he then named the men involved, to the ears of the towns people the names did not surprise them at all.

Once Bevic had finished his report, Hawk called for the four men to stand before him, after a few minutes there were still only two of the council present, with a voice not heard from Hawk before, he gave Pavlik the order to send Marshals to arrest the two missing men, one, the Mayor and the other, the Treasurer, it took ten minutes but the two men were finally stood before the large desk, Hawk had his Secretary quickly read out Bevic’s words then asked the four men what they had to say.

It took over an hour for the men to tell their story but those who could, read the minds of the four men as they rambled on with excuse after excuse, as the time went by each of them got closer and closer to blaming one of the others although they were unaware that Hawk could well read their thoughts, finally, Hawk had heard and seen enough, he silenced the four men then asked any of the people present if they had anything to add to the court hearing, he was suddenly deluged with requests for other to be heard.

The court went on into the early hours of the morning, it seemed that there had been barely any business in town that had not suffered under the yolk of the four councillors, as each person in the room was becoming tired from the long session, Hawk held up his hand for silence, he had heard enough, calling all four men by name he had them quickly surrounded by Marshals.

“In the Kings name, I place all four of you under arrest, you will be taken from here in shackles, all your lands, properties, goods and chattels will be come the property of the King until such time as they are returned to their rightful owners, you are to be taken from here and sent to the Capital as galley slaves for the King for a period of not less than ten years, Marshal Commander, they are to be made to walk the distance in their shackles, at no time are they to receive any aide, their families are to be evicted from their properties immediately and all goods and chattels are to be taken under lock and key this night.”

Pavlik nodded and smiled at hawk as he led the four away under guard, Hawk called the court closed and left the large desk for the first time in hours, he thanked the young Secretary and told him to get everything written and copied the next day, it had been a long night and many would sleep late when the sun rose.

It took seven days and nights of work before the true size of the men’s corruption became apparent, many in the community had been sent into poverty by their actions; it was also on the seventh night that another ship arrived packed to the gunnels with treasure and a small figure on its deck called out for Paulek.

The ship was just a little smaller than the one Paulek had brought in to the port, standing proudly on its main deck stood Milac along with a number of the men from Captains Stanislaw’s larger ship, once they had hugged, Milac told Paulek how they had come on this new ship and captured it only five nights ago, Captain Stanislaw once again decided to trust his instincts and let Milac take the small ship back to port, he also told Milac to pass on his orders for Paulek.

The two brothers were to get their ships unloaded and return to the sea with Milac’s being left in port, they were given the co-ordinates of where and when to meet the Captain and they would go on together as a small force of two, as more captures were made, either Milac or Paulek would take the capture back to port while the other brother stayed to help, the Captain explained he wanted to use the smaller ship as a decoy each time.

Over the next two months they captured another five ships, each one was escorted back to the port by Paulek and then, once emptied, they were anchored in the harbour until the Captain returned, he had told Paulek and Milac that he had plans for them, if they went right then they would have a little fleet of their own to work with.

There were very few pirates or smugglers that surrendered, most preferring to fight to the death as they well knew the penalty for their crimes was to be hanged on the docks, of those that did surrender, after a long interrogation by the Captain, most were given the option to join the Kings ships or hang, most joined, they were slowly building their fleet.

Finally the time came to return to the port, it had been a long hard three months but the results had been well worth it, they now had seven smaller ships to ready for sea as well as the over large Trireme, with what the Captain had told them about the alterations he wanted to make on the smaller ships, the boys were looking forward to a new life although it would still be all played out in the dark of the night, a good time for pirates and smugglers.

In port the town became a hive of activity, there were new plans to be followed and soon there were not enough workers for all the new changes, near the end of the bay, close to the sand bar at the opening of the harbour, the cobbles of the Mayor and his cronies were now being laid for a new road that led to a grand sea wall being built out into the bay, behind the wall were the frames of a large new warehouse with the Kings seal on it, in the walled off marina, the captured ships waited for the new slip to be finished, the break water also still had a little further to go before it would be finally done, this now became known as the Kings Cove it would be where all the ships would anchor and be rebuilt to the new specifications of Captain Stanislaw as would all captured ship from now on.

Paulek looked over the new plans for the ships after the Captain had finished drawing them, the little ships would gain more than 1 or 2 knots of speed when they were done, it would also bring much needed work to many of the townsfolk who had over the years of the Mayors rule, lost almost everything including their pride, now under the Captains guidance, they had a chance for a new start and also new money into the towns coffers as more and more work came up as the port enlarged.

It had been decided by the Captain that they would stay in port for a number of months, for Paulek this was very agreeable as he would get to see and be with Bevic every night, the work on the small ships was going at a furious pace, the new design would give them a totally different profile as well as more speed and space, they would also now be armed with the new rocket firing tubes that had come from the eastern lands.

The old light weight masts of the lanteen sails were removed and a taller heavier mast was placed, it had two sets of cross spars where they would fit two large square sails, to keep the bigger mast in place they ran extra stays to the stern, in front of the new mast were two cables for extra triangular sails that ran from the mast to the new bow sprit.

Down below where once the slave rowers sat, the oar ports were sealed off, the benches and chains were removed and the bilges scoured and scraped clean, a new deck was laid and hatches placed for putting in ballast or removing water, this would be the new cargo hold for any treasure gained at sea, the second deck was rebuilt for crew quarters and storage of food and supplies for their voyages as well as weapons.

At the stern was added a poop deck for the officers cabin and the new wheel for steering the large rudder at the rear which replaced the once long oar that had been traditional before, most of the slaves captured from the seven ships were given the chance to join the Kings fleet under the same rules as those of the Trireme, all of them signed their mark and were issued with the now distinctive uniform of the Kings Fleet, it was fast becoming a badge of pride in the once rough port town, even the roughest of free sailors thought twice before starting trouble with one of these new sailors as they knew that, if they attacked one then they would have to fight them all, not a good idea when the Kings men outnumbered them by many times.

Captain Stanislaw had watched carefully over the three months of the first voyage, he now had a number of men he would train and promote to take over the new rebuilt small ships, each would have one junior officer and a first mate, the crew would be trained in fighting and sailing and they would, once at sea, practice manoeuvring together as a fleet, once the new larger ship was completed, the great old fashioned Trireme would be stripped and anchored in the port, there it would be used as a prison hulk for any pirates or smugglers captured at sea, the Kings justice on shore would see to any of their futures, at the far end of the new breakwater a heavy gallows was under construction for just that purpose.

Once the first ship was done, the rest followed quickly as now the builders knew what was needed, the small ships were crewed with thirty men, the only ones not being soldier/sailors were the cook, the sail maker and the carpenter who also acted as the doctor for those in need, the crew would both sail and fight the small and now fast ships, they were put in training of how to operate the new type of sail and the new rocket weapon, the newly promoted officers were set the task of learning a new way to fight as a team of seven and co-ordinate their attacks together, with the rebuild of the smaller ships, the large Trireme would now have trouble keeping speed with them and so became the operating centre when at sea, it would stay back and watch over the others, the Trireme would only come into the attack if a larger force of ships were also there and they needed the extra and larger ship to help.

Paulek and Milac were recalled to the Trireme, they were told that when the new ship, which was now nearing completion, would need both of them as well as the Captain to run it, it was far larger than the Trireme and had three decks of the new carronades as well as three tall masts, it would be as fast as the smaller ships but a lot more dangerous with the new weapons, there would be very few on the sea that would compare or defeat it but it would need more men and more maintenance while at sea, there was also the need to learn new tactics as they would be adding to their new fleet as they could.

As a final thought, the Captain told the two boys about what the King had in mind should the new type of war ship be a success, if it was good enough then the King would immediately start to build a big fleet of them, he would need many new officers and many men to be trained to sail them, with the political situation with many close neighbours going down hill as it was, there would be a chance for the boys to become very senior officers in a very short time should it all go well.

At last it was all done, the seven ships were now anchored outside the newly finished breakwater in a long line, from the higher deck of the Trireme, Paulek, Milac and the captain could look down on the smaller ships, their hulls were painted black and had a red line running the full length, the new decks were shining white in the bright full moonlight from the hard scrubbing with holly stones, the new tall masts were bright with new varnish and the two rows of furled sails stood out in sharp contrast to the night, the rocket tubes were hard to see as they had also been painted black and the new poop deck stood high at the stern they were ready for the next battle, as they watched the scene in front of them, all three picked up the sound of galloping horse hooves on the new cobbled street, minutes later they watched as a small skiff rowed towards where they stood, apart from the man at the oars, there was another in the uniform of the Kings messengers, they all waited patiently.

The messenger finally stepped aboard and stood rigidly before the Captain, in his hand was a sealed scroll with the royal seal plain to see stamped into the leather of the round case, the Captain reached for the message and opened it to read, after a few minutes of contemplation, the Captain turned to the messenger and told him he could leave.

Once the messenger was off the ship, the Captain turned to the two boys and Margate who also stood nearby.

“The King is asking us to stay in port, there is still more work to do on all the ships including this one, all of the old style weapons are to be removed, he is sending us some of the new carronades to fit in their place, gentlemen, we are being armed for war, there is a build up of troops on the southern border and the King wants us ready to defend the coast and our sea lanes, we are all to receive the Kings Marque to enable us to go out and capture or sink any enemy ships we come across, the Marque will allow us to take any spoils as our own. Once the carronades are fitted, we will all come under the laws and Marque of the Kings privateers.”

For the next three weeks wagon after wagon arrived at the port carrying the new carronade, they were like a round tube bound with brass and set on a small wooden trolley with four wooden wheels, Paulek saw that the tube was big enough to push his whole arm into, as each small ship was tied to the dock, a flurry of men swept over it and began to place the carronade down in the second deck, they also made small hatches in the sides for the carronade to be pushed through to fire from, the lower deck was used for crews quarters and the storage of the powder and shot.

The smaller ships were mounted with twelve carronade, six on each side, the men trained to work them were also sent by the King and would sleep among the guns when not training or firing them, the ships crew would be both sailing crew and soldiers when needed, the larger Trireme was mounted with three decks of carronade, twenty to a deck, the lower hold once the deck to keep the slaves was rebuilt for the powder and shot stores as well as the sailing crews quarters.

Almost four weeks to the day of the Message arriving, the ships were ready, while the large trireme had been under refit, the smaller ones were sent out to train in battle tactics so the Captain could use co-ordinated attacks to make up for their smaller size, the Trireme would always lead the way into a battle but the smaller ships would act like grey hounds rushing in and nipping at the heels of bigger ships then pulling away for the Trireme to move in and finish the job, if there were a bigger fleet attacking them the Trireme would take the first place in line and charge through with the smaller ones close in behind.

The Captain had explained that the Trireme could take far more damage and, once the enemy had fired its weapons, the smaller ones could run in, fire their carronade and escape before the enemy had a chance to reload, it was also known that the enemy fleet did not have the new carronades and had to rely on the old fashioned types, Captain Stanislaw told them all to rely on their faster fleet tactics and not on fire power alone.

There remained now only one thing left to do, while Margate, Paulek and Milac were well trained enough to take charge of one of the ships, there was a lack of men who could sail the other four, Captain Stanislaw set about finding among the crew, four more men who had a reasonably good understanding of sailing and who were respected enough by the others to take charge, it was a further two weeks before every ship had an assigned officer who had been personally trained by Captain Stanislaw.

There was now a new feeling in the small fleet, the crew were now well dressed in the uniform of the Kings navy, the officers wore clothes that stood out in any situation, each officer in charge of a ship also wore a green sash over one shoulder so he was distinct from others. Finally the small Kings fleet was ready to put too sea, the new sail configuration gave them added speed and manoeuvrability and they could sail closer to the wind than the traditional lanteen sail of the day.

In the south the battles had begun, while the Kings army was no small affair, yet they were still slowly pushed back by superior numbers until they came to the pass of Severn, there the Kings army had finally been able to set up land based Carronades and were able to slow the advance, the battles now became a long range affair, the enemy was being supplied from the sea as they moved up the coastal flats, this was to be the target of Stanislaw’s small fleet.

As more and more young men were called to the Kings forces, the towns population grew thinner, it left only the Marshals now to keep order and the farmers and traders to supply the needs and demands of the army, the whole country was now on a war footing and every man woman and child did his best to keep their homeland free from the enemy.

From the south they could only be attacked along the narrow plains until they made it as far as the hinterland, there the plains spread out wider and, should the enemy make it to these plains then there would be great losses, the pass of Severn had to hold fast if they wanted to keep their freedom, to the northern border there were tall mountains and, while there were narrow passes through them, a few good men could hold them unless a major force wanted to push through.

Most of the Kings army was now in the Severn pass, they would be needed there for the immediate future, the enemy numbers were large and the pass could not be allowed to be over run, it was now up to Captain Stanislaw and his small fleet to harry the enemy shipping, while less in numbers, they had the advantage of the new carronades and their refitted sails.

In the last rays of the evening light, the small fleet set sail, once across the bar they lined up one behind the other, behind the Trireme, each ship had been given a coloured flag to fly below the banner of the King, this colour would be used for signalling from the Trireme, in Paulek’s case it was a red flag, if the red flag of the Trireme was flown he would have to move forward and take station to the port side if the flag was on that side of the main mast, if all colours were flown at the same time from the third mast, it was the signal to load their guns and follow the Trireme into battle.

The signal system had been thought out by Captain Stanislaw, each set and position on a mast meant something different, the crews had worked hard so everyone knew what a signal meant, if it came time for a battle they would not have time to waste, for now the seven small ships lined up behind the Trireme and followed along in line as the first stars poked out of the dark sky, the hiss of their hulls through the water seemed to add to the excitement they all felt.

While in port awaiting refit, Captain Stanislaw had sent out a message for any young drinkers that wanted to sail with them in this time of need, their main job would be to keep lookout during the night hours, they would also be used in the fighting when boarding other vessels, the Captain had made sure to tell everyone that they would at all times try to use the darkness when attacking, it gave them a distinct advantage and they intended to make use of it.

On the third night out of their southerly course, the lookout up in the main mast called down to say he could see massed ships out to starboard, Captain Stanislaw directed all ships to follow him closer to shore, there they would be almost invisible against the darker shoreline while the ships would stand out starkly against the horizon.

Over the next few hours they kept track of the fleet, it appeared to number over twenty ships, fourteen of which were heavily laden and slow cargo carriers, they were only protected by six armed ships, Captain Stanislaw set his trap, the enemy ships were spread out so they would not run into each other in the dark, they also had a small light mounted up their mast so they could be seen by their fellow sailors, unfortunately it also told the Captain where each ship was.

The armed ships were spread around the cargo boats, in their present form they would not be able to help each other in time, with the extra manouverablitly of his ship they would probably be able to disable most of them before going after the cargo ships Stanislaw called his own ships in so they could talk and set their plans, they would all attack in the early hours of the morning while the enemy sailors were tired and feeling safe so close to their own lines.

It was after midnight before the Captain called for the ships to close up, they were now close enough to the enemy convoy to make a fast attack, the moonlight had waned and the sea around them was darkening quickly, coming from the landward side they were almost invisible to the enemy ships, their black paint helping to keep them from being seen.

The enemy ships were still armed in the old way with catapults and archers, with the new carronades, Stanislaw’s small fleet could out run and out manoeuvre them easily as well as having the more superior armaments. Stanislaw’s tactics were simple, he would take the larger trireme down one side of the guard ships at a range that their catapults would not be effective, once the catapults had been fired they would take time to reload, it would be his chance to close and fire off the top row of carronade as close as he could get, for the three defenders he would have one deck of guns each.

His small ships would run down the opposite side in line astern so the three enemy ships would be attacked simultaneously from both sides and would not be able to defend against both, once the ships were disabled or sunk, they would start to take the merchantmen with the Trireme going after the other three guard ships.

Stanislaw was sure that once the enemy merchants saw what they could do with their new weapons, they would strike their sails, especially as they would see how fast the smaller ships were and the added incentive of looking down the barrels of a line of six carronade while they were defenceless.

The last moon light disappeared and the sea around the small fleet grew dark, for the normal humans there was just the darkness before their eyes, for the drinkers it was almost like daylight, their superior vision made it easy for them to get close in on the enemy ships before they were noticed, the first roar of ten carronades along with the bright flash, lit up the sea around the trireme, a thick heavy cloud of smoke rose over the dark sea as the seven smaller ships ran down the other side of the first bireme and fired, the first enemy ship never knew what had hit it, their were loud cries and screams as the ship caught fire and slowed to a standstill only to be hit again by the second ship in line.

It was quickly apparent to all that the first ship was done, it had not been able to fire off a single catapult but the next two would be different, they were now warned of what was coming towards them, as the top deck of the trireme was reloading, the second deck was lining up for its turn on the next guard ship, two loud splashes close to the trireme told them the enemy had fired its two catapults and missed, soon the second deck of carronade fired with the other smaller ships again running down the other side to fire twice into the guardian, it too was left wallowing in the dark waters as they all moved on, hardly slowing from their first two conquests.

The third guard ship tried to make an escape, its two decks of rowers were working hard to turn the ship, the sails were slack in the night breeze as the bireme turned into the wind in its attempt to flee, the loud crashing roar of the trireme’s carronade filled the night air, as it was the lower deck guns, it hit the bireme close to the water line, not only taking out many rowers but allowing large quantities of sea water to begin to flood the hull, with the last three small ships firing close in, the bireme stood no chance and was sinking quickly, its soldiers and crew completely forgetting their own weapons in an attempt to escape the death trap they were now on.

Captain Stanislaw called for his ships to go after the merchantmen and begin to round them up; on the decks of the small fleet were all the drinkers in the fleet, many had been picked up from around the port to man the ships if they needed a boarding party for just this type of occasion, only one of the remaining three defenders decided to make a fight of it, it quickly fell to the carronades of the Trireme.

For the next two hours the eight ships worked in pairs to round up the merchantmen, their slower and heavily laden biremes stood no chance against the more nimble attackers, with one hour to sunrise the fleet of Captain Stanislaw had gathered most of the merchantmen which numbered sixteen which included two of the defending ships that had decided to surrender instead of being sunk. All ships were pushed in close together until they could all be watched by the surrounding eight ships, their captains well knowing they had little chance to escape from the faster guards, slowly they were turned towards home port, the Trireme led from the front with Paulek’s ship bringing up the rear, the other six ships were lined along the sides of the convoy to keep it hemmed in close.

It would take a good four days to make the port but they had little trouble as the merchantmen could plainly see the lines of carronade facing them from left and right as well as the large Trireme at the van and the final small ship at the rear, there was little chance to make any attempt at escape, the biremes had to use their oarsmen often to keep up with the faster war ships so they had little left to try any escape, the wind favoured the ships with the new form of sail and the difference was easily seen as they seemed to skip over the water to keep a close eye on their prizes.

An hour before dusk on the fourth day, the Trireme made the run for the bar, the merchant ships were harried in close behind it, there would be no second chances for any of them, they would sail the bar or founder in the broken water, as biremes they had a shallower draft than the larger Trireme but with the experience of Captain Stanislaw and only a few scraping sounds on the bar, the Trireme made it through to be followed quickly by the hard working biremes with the aid of their rowers and sail open fully.

Ship after ship entered the port, quickly the bay was filling with the captured ships as the wharves were filled with armed troops and Marshals to take care of the enemy crews, the slave rowers were freed from there shackles and taken to a large warehouse where they were asked if they wanted to join the Kings forces, those who agreed were taken away to be clothed and fed, of the few who did not wish to join due to age or oncoming infirmities, the Marshals took care of.

The merchant crews were sent to an empty warehouse where they were guarded until a final decision could be made about their future, the merchant ships proved to be a gold mine, not only were they filled with much needed food they were also carrying large numbers of new carronades along with the powder and shot they would need, it looked as though the enemy was close to also gaining the new technology of the East.

Pavlik was watching the first of the unloading as Paulek came through the bar and anchored in a position to stop any merchantmen from trying to escape, the bay was now full of ships and the wharves were filling with the townspeople as they came to watch the first victory of the Kings navy, there were loud cheers as the first merchantman was unloaded, Pavlik had sent one of the drinkers off with a message for the capital, it would be a few days before he heard any reply even though the boy could move faster than any other.

Over the next few days, four ships at a time were unloaded of all their cargo, the warehouses filled rapidly with their wares, as each ship was emptied it was taken to the north end of the bay and anchored well out of the way of other ships, a decision on their fate would be made when everything was in storage and had been accounted for.

The first sign of the Kings wishes came in the form of a never ending line of heavy wagons, Pavlik received a message directly from the King telling him to load the carronade and all their powder and shot so they could be taken to the pass of Severn to bolster their defences and, hopefully, allow them to take the fight to the enemy, it was a well known fact that the attack would not stop once they had pushed back the enemy, this was not going to be a short war even with the aid of the new carronades.

In the Kings castle, preparations were already underway for the time when they could counter attack, the general opinion was that they would have to push right to the gates of the enemy capital before they would be safe, there was also the unspoken agreement that any land taken would be kept by the Kings men and the enemy would lose everything unless they won.


TBC.

Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz

 

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