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Dewey Lambdin

King`s Captain

(Lewrie – 09)

This one is for…

Tom C. Armstrong, 'your humble poet' as he calls himself, who, disguised as a mild-mannered writer/producer on Music Row for many years, a sometime songwriter, sometime book reviewer, sometime teacher/mentor to a new generation of writer/dreamers, a veteran of the old Smothers Brothers Show's stable of comedy writers, and a poet… serves the best, bottomless pot of coffee, along with a sympathetic ear for scribblers around Nashville such as myself, and has an abiding faith that talent will be recognized and appreciated. For Tom and his incomparable Beverly, and may God bless your encouragement.

Non unquam tulit documenta fors maiora,

quam fragili loco starent superbi.

Never did Fortune give larger proof,

on how frail ground stand the proud.

– TROADES, 4-6

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

PROLOGUE

Visa rantis saevae defectu laboribus undae,

Quam Theridi longinqua dies Glaucoque repostum

Solibus et canis urebat luna pruinis.

She beheld a ship outworn

with the toils of the savage Sea,

long since offered up to Thetis and Glaucus,

which passing Time had scorched with its suns

and the Moon with her hoarfrosts had worn.

– argonautica, book ii, 285-87 Valerius Flaccus

There was a thunder 'pon the sea.

Crash and bellow, a deep, continual tympany-drumming which went on and on 'til the waters on this slightly foggy, coolish day shivered as if in terror, and the winds, already nothing to boast of from out of South-of-West, were shot nigh to stillness. Winds failing and the long Atlantic rollers beguilingly rippled and fractured like an ocean of shattered glass fragments. But it wasn't the wind that did it-it was that thunder.

They could feel it, a gun-thunder which had quailed the winds and waters, rumbling upwards from the sea itself, as if some drowned volcano had cleared its throat numberless fathoms below; and their ship shook to that thunder, vibrated and trembled, humming in enforced harmony.

A game lass was their little ship, a plunger and a 'goer' most of the time. But she was now worn just about out from too much daring and panache, too many hasty but vital errands and patrols, and nothing like a proper refit despite rare port-calls at Gibraltar, Lisbon, or at Oporto. Coming apart at the seams, she was; those seams weeping weary salt tears which had her hands at the bilge pumps every morning before breakfast; her oaken flesh and bones baked sere and dry as old toast-and not enough paint, tar, or oils left for even a 'lick and a promise' either. Her bottom was foul, and she trailed a verdant jungle of vinelike weed and green slime from her quick-work-slowing her, so that she now lumbered like a dowager with the gout, instead of dancing upon the winds like the light-footed darling she once had been.

Yet her standing and running rigging, her towering masts, still stood in a lean Bristol fashion, her spars and yards were yet sound, and her sails-though much patched-still curved sweetly wind-full. Though her captain had considered frapping her roundabout with lighter kedge or stream-anchor cables, like a truss or corset, to remind her how to hold together for just a bit longer.

But slowed as she was, as frailing, her crew could load and fire three broadsides in less than two minutes, could still cajole her to 'dance' at the peak of their expertise, gained in three years' continuous service together.

So she stood, near the end of the battle-line as it sailed on Sutherly, with the lead ships just starting to tack about Nor'west to double back on the two converging packs of foes they faced-a repeating frigate to pass messages or aid a ship which might be disabled.

HMS Jester-sloop of war, 18-still served.

Though again, to her captain's mind (and a rather chary mind it was at that moment, thankee!) being on the lee-side didn't particularly mean the 'safe' side of the battle-line. Off Jester's lee bow, down to the Sou'east, there were about eight or nine Spanish ships of the line, with accompanying frigates, and coming up slowly to merge with another pack. And that pack, good God! Seventeen, at the least, tall-sided, ugly brutes they were: two-decker 68s, 74s, and 80-gunners; some of them three-deckers, and one monstrous four-decker flying more admiral's flags than sail-canvas it seemed. And so stuffed with guns that every time she lit off a broadside, it looked like a mountain blowing up!

And here they were, curling about into a rough Vee, sandwiched like a forlorn nut between two arms of a nutcracker, fifteen warships of Admiral Sir John Jervis's fleet- formerly the Mediterranean Fleet before they'd been run out of that sea the previous summer-all just about as bad off as Jester in material condition when you got right down to it, yet blithely standing into danger as though they were about as fresh as new-picked daisies. Or as belligerent as a rutting bulldog!

With their artillery crashing and bellowing, making that thunder… sending shock waves through the sea.

'I can make out, sir…' Lieutenant Ralph Knolles attempted to say, as he took off his hat and swiped both forearms of his coat at his hair and brows. A bad sign that; usually, one nervous hand over his blond locks was sufficient sign of worry.

'Aye, Mister Knolles?' Commander Alan Lewrie replied, sounding almost calm in comparison.

'Beyond, sir.' Knolles pointed towards the Spanish Fleet. 'It may not be a convoy. About eight or nine more rather large ships over yonder… to the West-Nor'west. Do they all assemble, sir… well!'

'Two-deckers, d'ye think, sir?' Lewrie frowned, stepping to the starboard side of his quarterdeck, leaning on the bulwarks, and raising his telescope for a look-see. The smoke from all the gunfire was thick, a sulphurous, reeking mist which hazed the day even worse. More than a few British line-of-battle ships stood between him and the ones Knolles had sighted too, their gun-smoke and towering masts and sails obscuring what little he could see. But he could barely make out three-masters yonder, well up to weather and almost hull-down from the Spanish line.

Least an hour or more off, he thought, sailin' large, to come down to join?

He couldn't tell.

As if we need more, he sneered to himself; already got a bloody Armada here anyway! On its way North to join the French Fleet waitin' at Brest, the Dutch Fleet too. Transports, most-like. Carrying troops for an invasion of Ireland. Or England!

And if Admiral Jervis threw away his ships in this action, then what hope did Lord Bridport and the Channel

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