next ladderway, muscles alive with discomfort, emerging into darkness. The night had already fallen.

Overhead, past the hulking shadows of the boats on their skids above him, he saw the paleness of huge sails in regular towers, each at the same angle and each taut and trim. Nearby, but invisible, he could hear the regular plash and sibilance of the sea, and as he stood he became aware of a background of sounds meshing together. It was a continuous and oddly comforting interplay of creaks, dings, slattings and all manner of unfamiliar mutterings.

Out into the starless night on either hand the darkness was broken only occasionally by the flash of a white wave. He felt rather than saw that they were traveling steadily through the water, a hypnotizing, unchanging sliding which gave no impression of headlong speed, and he marveled once again.

He was still comfortably warm from the rum, and ambled along, won dering at the vast mystery of the ship with all its unfathomable shapes, sounds and implied dangers. The sights above disappeared abruptly as he passed under a deck, the unmistakable outline of a bell in its belfry silhouetted briefly against the pallid fore course.

Loath to return between decks, he noticed a short ladder leading upward. He mounted, and found himself directly under the sails, the downdraft from them buffeting him with a deluge of cold air. He looked about quickly. Forward there was nothing but darkness, but aft he could make out men standing together, eerily illuminated by lights coming up from a low angle.

He moved toward them along the gangway next to the boats.

“Where you off to, matey?” A sailor had him by the arm. It was too dark even to make out his face.

“Lay aft, that man!” Garrett’s high-pitched voice came from among the cluster around the lights.

There was no point in hiding, he had done nothing wrong.

“At the run!” Garrett screamed. Tortured muscles burned as Kydd staggered over to the group. They were around the ship’s wheel and the light from the binnacle was shining up into their faces.

Garrett stalked up to Kydd and peered into his face. “When I say move, you fly! Stand at attention, you scurvy rogue. Who the devil do you think you are that you can just stroll about my quarterdeck under cover of night?” Garrett leaned forward, jutting his face at Kydd, who flinched. A stale smell of brandy hung about the officer.

Kydd stood rigid, all traces of the rum falling away. He had no idea what offense, if any, he had committed.

“Nothing to say?” Garrett asked dangerously. “Nothing to say? You know you’re caught out, and you know I’m going to punish you.” Garrett swayed forward, looking closely at Kydd’s shore clothing. His head jerked up. “Ah. So you must be one of that sorry-looking crew the press brought aboard today.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then you’ll have to learn that common seamen don’t just wander about on the quarterdeck when it suits them. It is reserved for officers only – for your betters.” He rocked on his heels and cocked his head skyward as if looking for inspiration.

“I’ve a mind to give you a spell in the bilboes to help you remember.” His gaze snapped back to Kydd. A vicious look, and then a saintly smile spread. “But I’m too soft. I’ll let it go – just this once. But if it happens again” – the voice rose to a biting crescendo – “by Harry, I’ll make you rue the day you ever set foot in this vessel!”

Somewhere high above a sail started a fretful slapping. The man at the wheel eased a spoke or two and the noise stopped.

“Get below – now!”

Kydd turned wordlessly and made his escape. He hadn’t asked to be part of this. He was a wig maker of Guildford and belonged there, not in this alien company.

He plunged down the ladders. He was friendless and unknown here, cut off from normal life as completely as it was possible to be. Not a soul aboard cared if he lived or died; even Phelps must regard him as a form of street beggar deserving of charity.

At the end of the last dog-watch, hammocks were piped down and Kydd was tersely advised to be elsewhere. Once hammocks were slung, every conceivable space was occupied. “Get the softest plank you can find and kip out on that,” was the best advice he was offered. These men would be relieving the watch on deck at midnight and had little sympathy for a lost soul overlooked by the system.

Worn out by the trials and challenges of the day, he was driven by some instinct to seek surcease in the deepest part of the ship. He found himself in the lowest deck of all, stumbling along a narrow dark passage past the foul-smelling anchor cable, laid out in massive elongated coils.

Kydd felt desperately tired. A lump rose in his throat and raw emotion stung his eyes. Despair clamped in. He staggered around a corner, and just at that moment the lights of a cabin spilled out as a door opened. It was the boatswain, who looked at him in surprise. “Got yourself lost, then?” he said.

“Nowhere t’ sleep,” mumbled Kydd, fighting the waves of exhaustion. “Jus’ came on the ship today,” he said. He swayed, but did not care.

The boatswain looked at him narrowly. “That’s right – saw you at the jeer capstan. Well, lad, don’t worry, First Luff has a lot on his plate right now, sure he’ll see you in the morning.” He considered for a moment. “Come with me.” He pulled at some keys on a lanyard and used them to open a door in the center of the ship.

“We keeps sails in here. Get your swede down there till morning, but don’t tell anyone.” He turned on his heel and thumped away up the ladder.

Kydd felt his way into the room. It stank richly of linseed oil, tar and sea-smelling canvas, but blessedly he could feel the big bolsters of sails that would serve as his bed, and he crumpled into them.

He lay on his back, staring up into the darkness at the one or two lanthorns in the distance outside that still glowed a fitful yellow. Then he jerked alert. He knew that he was not alone and he sat up, straining to hear.

Without warning, a shape launched itself straight at him. He opened his mouth to scream, but with a low “miaow” a large cat was on his lap, circling contentedly. Kydd stroked it gently and the animal purred in ecstasy, then stretched out comfortably and settled down. Kydd crushed the animal to him. First one tear, then another fell onto its fur.

CHAPTER 2

It was the cruelest journey, from the womb-like escape of sleep and a gentle dream of home – the musty little shop, his mother watching him as he stitched dutifully at a periwig, the sun splashing in through the thick windows – back to this waking nightmare.

Then came a vigorous shaking. “Rouse yourself – you’re wanted on deck!” The boatswain’s distinctive voice brought Kydd to his senses. “On deck. First Lieutenant means to muster all pressed men.” The light from the lanthorn he carried deepened the lines in his face and sent a glow into the far corners of the sail room. “You’ll get the number of your mess then. And your watch ’n’ station.”

Kydd struggled to his feet. “Thank ’ee, sir, I’m -”

“Get going – ask y’r way to the quarterdeck, abaft the mainmast.”

In the cold gray of dawn, the pathetic line of pressed men shuffled miserably.

Kydd recognized the homespun and weatherworn old felt coat of a peddler, the patterned stockings, soft bonnet and greatcoat of a sedanchair man, the leather knee breeches and smock of an agricultural laborer. They looked out of place here.

The wind off the sea was raw and blustery. Kydd’s plain broadcloth coat gave little protection and he shivered.

The sea dominated in every direction, winter-hard, blue-gray, its vastness amazing to someone whose only experience of great waters had been the Thames at Weybridge. A slight breeze flurried the surface, but Kydd’s eyes kept returning to the metallic line of the horizon. The ship slipped through the sea in a continuous, unvarying motion. Day and night they would be moving like this, much faster than he could run, eating up the countless miles without ever stopping. And over the line of horizon was the outer world – that plane of existence containing the dangers and fables that were part of the folklore of his society. Where previously it could be marveled at or ignored, now it was advancing to meet him, both threatening and beguiling.

The man at the wheel stood braced impassively, occasionally looking up at the weather leech of the main course, easing a spoke or two if it appeared to be on the point of shivering in the useful quartering breeze. Nearby,

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