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Dewey Lambdin

A King`s Trade

(Lewrie – 13)

Quem res plus nimio delectavere secundae,

mutatae quatient.

One whom Fortune's smiles have delighted

overmuch, will reel under the shock of change.

Horace, Epistles I, x, 30-31

PROLOGUE

'Vir bonus,' omne forum quem spectat et omne tribunal… 'Iane, pater!' clare, clare cum dixit 'Apollo'; labra movet metuens audiri: 'Pulchra Laverna, da mihi fallere, da iusto sanctoque videri! Noctem peccatis et fraudibus obice nubem!'

This 'good man,' for forum and tribunal, the cynosure of every eye…cries with loud voice, 'Father Janus!,' with loud voice, 'Apollo!,' then moves his lips, fearing to be heard; 'Fair Laverna, grant me to escape detection, grant me to pass as just and upright, shroud my sins in night, my lies in clouds!'

Horace, Epistles I, xvi, 57-62

'Laverna, the ancient goddess of thieves

CHAPTER ONE

Bleakness… bleakness on every hand. The North Atlantic was as vast, and grey, and desolate as it was the morning before the Lord said, 'Let there be land.' A slow, chill rain sullenly fell, pattering as light as cat-feet on the fresh-scrubbed decks, a rain so light that it could be mistaken for heavy dew shaken off the masts and sails, and the miles of rope rigging by a listless West-Sou'west wind, a wind that had a definite late autumn nip to it.

The seas had moderated from a half-gale past midnight, and were now only slowly heaving, the wave-sets between crests now nearly twice the overall length of the frigate that lay fetched-to into that wind, her bows aimed at Halifax, from which she had departed three weeks before.

The sun was up there in the overcast… somewhere, smothered by a drab pall that hung like an oxided pewter bowl above the frigate, stretching from one horizon to the other, with darker banks of clouds to the East, where last night's gale had gone. There were, here and there, promising thinner, lighter patches to North and South, definitely to the Westward. Perhaps by the next sunrise, there would be clear weather. It had been a week since they had seen a clear sky for the noonday reckoning by sextant. Their position had been guessed by the miles run from noon to noon, the compass course steered, with an educated guess of the magnetic deviation rate, the farther they had sailed East'rd, perhaps even a dabble in the arcane arts.

For all Capt. Alan Lewrie, RN, knew, his Sailing Master, Mr. Winwood, that humourlessly dour prim and ponderously long suffering fellow had been taking the auspicious auguries of seagull guts down in the dark of the orlop. However he did it, Winwood had lifted his nose just after sunrise, and had requested that the ship be fetched-to for trial casts of the deep-sea lead line.

After the insistent icy fury of the half gale they'd suffered, fetching-to to relative stillness had sounded like a fine idea, and an opportunity to dry things out below, relight the galley fires, and cook a hot breakfast for the weary, banged-about, and chilblained crew for the first time in days. And brew coffee… most especially coffee!

Mr. Winwood now stood on the starboard gangway amidships, with two of his Quartermasters, Motte and Austen, amid a horde of curious, expectant sailors who had no duties to perform while HMS Proteus was cocked up to windward and only making a slight half-knot sternway; men of the duty watch, off- duty men wakened by the sudden stillness and the sounds and slack motion of an idling hull, found cause to gather round below in the waist and watch, or help with the hoisting winch; on-duty men on the gangway itself casually joshed and japed in soft tones with those poor fellows selected to go overside to tend the deep-sea plumb, who had to wear the chest-deep harsh canvas hawse-breeches and leggings with the cork-soled feet on them, and work on the main-chains platform just feet from the curling, chilly sea, tend the safety lines that kept their mates from being plucked away or drenched by an errant roll or a rogue wave.

Even so, the men overside had to be changed every quarter-hour, or they'd be frozen stiff, and be hauled back in-board drenched to the skin, their hands numb and fish-belly white from guiding the lead-line and counting the knots as it was retrieved from the icy waters.

Think I can hear their teeth chatterin 'from here, Lewrie told himself as he took off his cocked hat, his battered second-best, with the gilt lace gone mouldy green, and tucked it under his left arm. He gave his scalp a good fingernail scrubbing, ran spread fingers through his thick, slightly curling mid-brown hair as a 'Welsh comb,' and took another look about.

Long-practiced, long-trained eyes swept over the sails, weather braces, and rigging, finding nothing amiss. The wind on his cheeks as he cocked his head left and right… steady, and the ship's head was in no danger of falling off to leeward of a sudden, for the two hands tending the large double-wheel helm were studiously alert, oblivious to anything outside their duties. Grey-blue eyes swept aloft, again; the commissioning pendant pointed aft and nearly East'rd, curling lazy, sinuous snake-crawls; the lookouts posted at the cross-trees of upper masts were keeping their eyes out-board on the horizon; on their feet, not slouching and would sing out if they had anything to report. But they didn't of course. This patch of the North Atlantic -and just which part of it they still had to discover-was yawningly empty of anything. Not a rock, not a wave-breaking shoal, not even a lone seabird that might have presaged their awaited landfall. Surprisingly, given the longitude they estimated their frigate had attained, there wasn't even a hint of another vessel's sail, either. As close as they supposed they'd come to the British Isles, there should have been dozens of merchantmen, fishing boats, by now. Unless, Capt. Alan Lewrie cynically imagined, they'd missed it altogether, and were somewhere to the West of Scandinavia, South of the Shetlands or Orkneys! For it was certainly cold enough for those climes.

Closer-to, Lewrie was pleased to note the steel-greyness of the sea, the milk-white curlings of the wavetops. The sea was scending no more than five or six feet, now, was no longer green with disturbance, and didn't smell like fresh fish any longer. Craning over the ship's larboard, windward, bulwarks near the shrouds of the mizen-mast, Lewrie took a moment to be satisfied, even a bit pleased, as the longish-set waves' troughs sank beneath his frigate's waterline and bared a bright glint of spanking-new coppering on her quickwork. The Halifax yard had done them proud, with so many naval stores warehoused, and too few of His Majesty's ships now based at Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in need of them. The North American Station's labourers only got seasonal work these days, when the two-deckers from the Caribbean fled north to avoid hurricane season, and had seemed happy to have work. There was no drydock at Halifax, but there had been strong tides and good beaches on which to careen Proteus high-and-dry, then fire and scrape the weed and marine growths off her bottom, replace rotten or sea-wormed outerplanking that even the Bosun or the Ship's Carpenter, Mr. Garroway, had not suspected, then paper, felt, linseed, paint, and copper her, afresh.

Flight from the threat of prosecution, it seemed, could have its beneficial moments!

'Top up yer coffee, sir?' Lewrie's cabin-servant, Aspinall, intruded from his inboard side. The tow-headed fellow

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