contradicted by the two lieutenants.

“All the idlers to the bars – that means all you boatswain’s mates, and you, the fiddler!” He tore off his own faded plain black coat and went to the capstan. “Shove along, matey!” he said, to an astonished marine.

“And it’s one, two, six an’ a tigerrrr!” he roared. “Heeeeave!

Men fought the bars as though against a powerful opponent. Kydd threw himself at the capstan bar in a frenzy of effort. Spots of light swam before his eyes and he knew no more than the hard unyielding wood of the bar and the gasps and groans from beside him in the sweaty gloom.

Quite unexpectedly there came a single clank. Then another. Kydd found himself moving forward.

“Walk away with it, lads. Anchor’s a-trip.”

Almost sobbing with relief, Kydd kept up the pressure, desperate to avoid a loss of momentum. The clanks now came so regularly that they were almost musical.

A shout came down the ladder from the relay messenger, acknowledged by Lockwood, who turned quickly and ordered, “’Vast heaving! Pass the stoppers!”

Light-headed with relief, Kydd hung from the bar.

“Well done, lads!” the boatswain said, and retrieved his coat. Garrett was nowhere to be seen.

Kydd gazed muzzily down the length of the ship, then felt the gundeck fall to one side with a stately, deliberate motion, slowly, then faster. He clung dumbfounded to his bar.

An old seaman chuckled. “Don’t worry, mate, she’s casting under topsails, just taken the wind. Now let’s see those shabs topside do a bit o’ work.”

The roll slowed and stopped, then returned, remaining at a small but definite angle. Incredibly, there was no other indication that this massive structure could now be moving through the water. Quickly the capstan and gear were secured, and Kydd fell back with profound relief.

A boatswain’s mate appeared at the top of the ladder and piped, “Haaaands to supper!”

That made Kydd keenly aware that he was fiercely hungry, but in the hubbub nobody seemed to care about the bewildered pressed men who stayed where they were, not knowing what they should do.

Others rushed down the ladders, rudely shoving them out of the way as the mess was rigged for supper. Tables hinged to the ship’s side were lowered into place between each pair of guns. Benches and sea chests became seats, lanthorns shed light over the tables.

Kydd hovered in the darkness at the centerline of the deck, watching friends greet each other, others hurrying past with mess-kettles and kids. Before long the savory smell of the evening meal washed past him. He was left alone. He watched the jolliness and familiarity with a pang, realizing that it reminded him of the fellowship and intimacy of his local tavern, and longed to be part of it.

His stomach contracted violently and he could stand it no longer. Hesitantly he approached the nearest mess, who were listening with appreciative attention to an engrossing yarn from a small, dark-haired sailor clutching a wooden tankard and gesturing grandly.

The story finished with a flourish and helpless laughter, and they returned to their food. Kydd stood awkwardly, wondering what to say. The conversation died away, and they looked up at him curiously. “I’m – I’m new on board, just been pressed,” he began.

They roared with laughter. “Never have guessed it, mate!” a stout, red-faced sailor said, eyeing his country breeches.

“Just wondering, have you anything I can eat?” Kydd said.

“Why, which would be your mess, then?” the stout man replied.

“Only just got on the ship…” Kydd tried to explain.

“Well, Johnny Raw, you’d better go aft ’n’ ask Mr. Tyrell ter give yer one, then, hadn’t you?” A hard-faced man leered and looked around for approval.

“Shut your face and leave him be, Jeb. Shift outa there, younker,” the stout man said, thumbing at a ship’s boy sitting at the end of the table. “Bring your arse to anchor, mate, we’ll see you right.” He added, “Dan Phelps, fo’c’sleman.”

Kydd introduced himself, sat down and looked around respectfully.

The hard-faced man leaned across to him. “So yer new pressed, are yer? Know about the sea, do yer? No?” He didn’t wait for a reply. Jabbing his pot at Kydd, he snarled, “Yer’ll suffer, yer clueless lubber. You’re really gonna hurt.”

The conversations tailed off, and around the table sea-hardened men stared at Kydd.

Phelps’s eyebrows rose. “Give no mind to ’im. We has a sayin’ – ‘Messmate before a shipmate, shipmate before a stranger, stranger before a dog.’ ” He glared around and the talk resumed.

Kydd remained quiet.

Phelps chuckled, then turned to the old man at the ship’s side and called, “Crooky, lend our guest some traps – we can’t have him keelin’ over on his first day.”

Kydd nodded gratefully as a wooden plate landed in front of him filled with a gray oatmeal mix and occasional lumps of meat. Ravenous, he spooned up some of the oatmeal but was instantly revolted. It was rancid, with flecks of black suggestive of darker secrets. The meat was a mass of gristle and definitely on the turn. There was nothing for it: he was famished, so he bolted it down without pause. The gristlebound hunks stayed in the bottom of the bowl.

The repulsive food restored his energy, and Kydd’s spirits rose. He finished his meal and looked up, aware that he had been too hungry to pay attention to his duties as a guest at table. “Er, where are we going, d’ y’ reckon?” he asked. It was still a matter of amazement to him that their busy world was traveling along while they sat down to table.

“Give it no mind, lad, it’s not our job to know the answer t’ that.” Phelps sniffed and leaned over to the grog tub. He waved his pot at the old man. “Light along a can for my frien’ here, Crooky.”

Kydd gingerly took a pull at his tankard. It was small beer, somewhat rank with an elusive herb-like bitterness, but he nearly drained it in one.

“I thought sailors only had rum,” he said, without thinking.

Phelps grinned. “We does, but only when the swipes runs out.” He pursed his lips. “You sayin’ as you want to try some?” he said, in mock innocence.

Kydd looked around, but the others did not seem to notice; they were all comfortably in conversation. “Are you offering?” he said.

“Wait there,” said Phelps, and lurched heavily to his feet. He went forward out of sight and returned with his jacket clutched tight around him as though against the cold. He resumed his seat. “Give us yer pot, mate,” he instructed. Kydd did as he was told and caught the flash of a black bottle under the table. Then his tankard was returned.

He waited casually, then lifted it. It caught him by surprise. In the dull pewter of his tankard was a deep, almost opaque mahogany-brown liquor. Its pungent fumes wafted up with a lazy potency, which dared him to go further.

The buzz of conversation swirled around him. He took a swallow. This was not issue three-water grog, but neat spirit, and its burning progress to his stomach took his breath away. He surfaced with a grin. “A right true drop!”

Phelps’s eyebrows lifted. “You’ll not get that sorta stingo usually, cully, but if yer play your cards right with Dan Phelps” – he tapped the side of his nose – “yer mebbe could see more of it.”

Kydd raised his pot again. This time he was prepared for the spreading fire, and gloried in the flood of satisfaction it released. His whirling anxieties subsided and his natural cheerfulness began to reassert itself. He finished the last of the rum with regret.

The piercing squeal of the boatswain’s call abruptly cut through the din. “Be damned. Starbowlines – that’s us. Fust dog-watch.” Phelps lurched to his feet and disappeared into the throng.

The mess traps were cleared away rapidly and Kydd found himself the only one still seated. “Move yer arse, mate,” he was told, and once more found himself alone in the midst of many.

Instinctively he turned to follow Phelps, who, he remembered, his head swimming, had left with the others up the main hatch ladder. It led to an almost identical gundeck from the one he had left, so he continued on up the

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