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Michael Aye

The Fireship

A Short Story from The Fighting Anthony’s Series

’Hit were like a roaring inferno

The fires ’o ’ell so bright.

Flames leaping upwards

Like fireworks in The night.

’Hit started on the main deck

Quick like it climbed the mast.

The sails be ablaze now

The flame ’as spread so fast.

’Hits set a course for the flagship

Less some ’ow it’s turned.

The only choice Jack tar ’as

Is jump ship or burn.

…Michael Aye

‘Cap’n, Cap’n, wake up Cap’n…God, Cap’n please wake up.’ A very excited and frightened midshipman Lancaster cried. ‘Wake up, Cap’n.’

Hearing the excited midshipman, Lieutenant Gabriel (Gabe) Anthony commanding HMS SeaWolf, a brigantine of eighteen guns, tried to clear his head and focus on the youth who continued in his urgent attempt to awaken him.

After years of continuous service at sea, Gabe was used to being called from a deep sleep at all different hours, for whatever needed the ‘Captain’s’ attention.

However, after being wined and dined aboard the admiral’s flagship until the wee hours was making it much more difficult to rouse himself. Finally Gabe was able to clear the fog of too much drink and too many cigars from his brain and rise up from his bed focusing on the alarmed Lancaster who was almost comical in his exaggerated movements.

Holding up his hand to halt the boy’s blabbering Gabe said, ‘Stop, take a deep breath. Now tell me what’s happening.’

‘Mr. Lavery’s compliments, sir, and could you please come on deck, it’s a fireship.’

‘Fireship!’ Gabe roared.

‘Aye,’ the nervous Lancaster replied, ‘It appears to be headed at the flagship.’

‘Damme,’ Gabe exclaimed, snatching up his breeches and putting them on quickly, then putting his boots on bare feet not wasting time with his stockings. He grabbed a shirt as he left his cabin almost bowling over the marine sentry who stood guard at the door.

He was fastening his shirt as he made his way amidship where Lieutenant Nathan Lavery, SeaWolf’s second lieutenant, stood with a glass in his hand. One of the watch standers seeing the cap’n cleared his throat, his way of letting Lieutenant Lavery know the captain was on deck.

Seeing the captain, Lavery reported without being prompted, ‘Appears to be a single ship, sir. I’ve tried to get a better view through the glass but it still to dark. All I see is the fire.’

Lieutenant Gem Jackson, SeaWolf’s first lieutenant, had made it on deck and overheard the conversation. ‘Is it a fireship or a ship on fire?’

‘Makes no difference, she’s on a course to collide with the flagship.’

The group turned to see Gunnells, the master, who’d also made his way on deck. ‘Winds coming from ashore and blowing cross the harbour; that’s slowing her progress.’

The fire seemed to be getting bigger as the ship approached.

‘Deck ’thar,’ a lookout called, ‘’E’s under full sail, ’e is.’

Shaking his head, Jackson said, ‘Well, if it’s a fireship, he’s showed his hand way too soon.’

‘Aye,’ Gabe agreed with his first lieutenant, but that may be what gives us a chance to intercept the ship.’

‘Us,’ Jackson said surprised at what he was hearing.

‘Is there another ship in position that would have a better chance,’ Gabe asked coldly, more a statement than a question.

‘Are you going to try to sink her then?’ Jackson asked.

‘With SeaWolf’s pop guns? No, we’ll place SeaWolf between the fireship and the flagship. We’ll grapple and tow her if we can; but if we can’t we’ll ram her and try to push her away from the flagship.’

‘It could cost you SeaWolf,’ Jackson said, somewhat awed by his captain’s audacity.

‘Better a brigantine than a seventy-four, don’t you think,’ Gabe said matter-of-factly. ‘Now be so good as to beat to quarters.’

‘Aye, captain.’

Lieutenant Jackson then added, ‘Lavery has already had the crew roused up.’

‘Good,’ Gabe answered, ‘Now prepare to get us underway and have the bosun form a bucket brigade and douse the sails. It’ll not only help us catch a breeze it may also keep the sails from catching on fire from sparks or flying debris.’

SeaWolf had entered the anchorage at English Harbour, Antigua that day, delivering dispatches to Admiral Graves. Due to so many ships in harbour, SeaWolf had been forced into an anchorage apart from the other ships in port. There by making her the only ship in position to have a chance to save Admiral Grave’s flagship.

‘Mr. Gunnells,’ Gabe called to SeaWolf’s master.

‘Aye, sir.’

‘I would like you to steer us a course to intercept yonder fireship.’

‘Aye, aye, captain.’

Gabe called to the first lieutenant once more, ‘The master tells me we’ve a wind coming off the shore. I want two men with axes standing by the anchor cable, and then I want the sails hoisted. With the helm down this should swing us about and when I give the order, cut the cable.’

‘Aye, captain, shall I bouy the cable?’

‘If there’s time, but bouy or not I want the cable cut when I give you the word.’

‘Aye, captain, cut it’ll be,’ Jackson replied.

BOOM…BOOM…BOOM…

‘The flagship is firing at the fireship.’

Gabe turned to find Dagan speaking. Dagan was Gabe’s uncle, his protector and a man of mystery most would say.

‘They’ve shown their hand a bit premature,’ Gabe remarked to Dagan.

‘Aye, but the master says it’s the offshore wind they’re fighting that’s delaying their progress and giving us a chance. Otherwise…’

‘Do you think we have a chance?’ Gabe asked.

‘A chance for what?’ Dagan asked, and then continued on, ‘A chance to save the flagship? Aye, we’ve a chance. To save ourselves, to save SeaWolf, the odds aren’t so good. But with a little luck we should be enjoying a wet and a bowl of tobacco after the sun crosses the yard arm. Might even have Lum play us a tune on his lotz.’

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