Written with passion and authenticity, the second installment of Stockwin's internationally bestselling naval adventure series captures the triumph, tragedy, and gritty reality of life at sea on a Napoleonic-era frigate.
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Julian Stockwin is the internationally bestselling author of Kydd, Artemis, Seaflower, and Mutiny, the first four novels in the Kydd adventure series. Having joined the Royal Navy at age fifteen, he retired from the Royal Naval Reserve as a lieutenant commander and was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE). He and his wife live in Devon, England. Visit the author's website at www.julianstockwin.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Thomas Kydd stood awkwardly on the deck of the frigate with his few possessions at his feet. A bare hour ago he had been an ordinary seaman in the old line-of-battle ship Duke William. Now, somewhere off the enemy coast of Revolutionary France, he was gazing back at her from a crack frigate as an able seaman, a replacement for prize crew.
A hand lifted in farewell in the boat pulling back to the big ship-of-the-line. It was Whaley, and with a lump in his throat Kydd realized that he would probably never see his broad smile again or share a grog with his other old shipmates. It had started hard -- as a young perruquier from Guildford, Kydd had been seized by the press-gang six months before, but despite all he had suffered, he had come to admire the skill and courage of the seamen. And now, as a sailor himself, he was parting from the ship that had been his home for so long.
He waved in return and forced his attention back inboard.
Men were waiting on deck -- a weatherbeaten older man in plain black and a much worn tricorne, a hard-looking lieutenant in serviceable seagoing blues, a childlike midshipman without a hat, and the man at the wheel, stolidly chewing tobacco. Next to Kydd, Renzi gave a conspiratorial grimace. They had been through much together, he and his friend. The others in the little party looked equally bemused: Stirk, the tough gun captain; Doud, the devil-may-care topman; Doggo, a ferally ugly able seaman; Pinto, a neat and deadly Iberian; and Wong, the inscrutable circus strongman. But there would be no complaint; service in a fast frigate ranging the oceans for prey and prize money was infinitely preferable to the boredom of a big ship on blockade duty.
"Brace around that foresail -- run away with it, you damn sluggards!" The hard bellow from behind startled Kydd. "Away aloft, you dawdling old women -- lay out and loose!" The officer was dressed in austere sea rig, only faded lace indicating that here was the most powerful man aboard, a post captain in the Royal Navy and commander of the frigate.
The men leaped to obey. Kydd saw that they moved with enthusiasm and speed, quite unlike the heavy, deliberate movements he'd been used to in the battleship. Some made a race of it, sprinting along the top of the swaying yard before dropping to the footrope in a daring display of skill.
Artemis responded immediately, the chuckle of water under her forefoot feathering rapidly, the creaking of cordage and sheaves as more sails were sheeted home soon rewarded with an eager swoop across the broad Atlantic swell. Kydd felt the lively response with a lifting of the heart. To windward, in the Duke William, the ponderous spars were still coming around, but the frigate was already stretching over the sparkling sea, impatient to be away.
Turning to them, the Captain roared, "Lay aft, you men!" He stood abaft the wheel: with no poop in a frigate the spar deck swept unbroken from the beakhead forward in a sweet curve right aft to the taffrail.
Kydd and the others moved quickly. This was Black Jack Powlett, the famous frigate captain who already had five prizes to his name safe in English ports. There was no mistaking the quality of the man, the hard, penetrating stare and pugnacious forward lean of his body.
He looked at them speculatively, hands clasped behind his back. "So you're all able seamen?" His eyes flicked over to the fast receding bulk of the three-decker astern. "Goddamn it -- I'll not believe Caldwell has only prime hands to spare." His voice was cool, but there was a restlessness in his manner, a coiled energy that seemed to radiate out to those around him. His hand stroked his close-shaven blue-black jaw as he tried to make sense of the gift. "You, sir!" he snapped at Doud. "Pray be so good as to touch the sheave of the flying jibboom."
Doud gaped, then turned and darted forward. He was being asked to touch the very tip of the bowsprit eighty feet out over the sea.
Powlett drew out a silver watch. "And you, sir," he rounded on Renzi, "both stuns'l boom irons of the fore t'gallant yard."
The restless eyes settled on Kydd, who tensed. "To touch the main truck, if you please." The main truck -- the very highest point in the vessel. Kydd knew that his standing as seaman rested on his actions of the next few minutes.
He swung nimbly into the main shrouds, heaving himself up the ratlines and around the futtock shrouds. On and up the main topmast shrouds he swarmed, conserving his strength for the last lap. At the main topmast top the ratlines stopped. He stepped out onto the cross trees and looked down. Already at a height of one hundred and thirty feet, he was as far aloft as he had ever been before. But still above was the royal yard -- and beyond that the truck.
He grasped the single-rope topgallant mast shrouds firmly. At this height the pitch and roll were fierce and he was jerked through a vertiginous seventy-foot arc. His feet pinioning the tarred rope, and hands pulling upward, he made his way to the light royal yard and past that to the seizings of the main royal backstay. The truck was only a matter of a few feet farther, a round cap at the very tip of the mast -- but now there was nothing but the bare mast.
The motion was alarming, a soaring through the airy firmament before a whipping stop and surge the other way. The pole mast was only a few inches thick and he locked his legs around it securely before transferring his grip and hauling himself upward. Not daring to look down he watched the truck come closer -- nearer, and then it was within his reach. Something rattled on the far side of the mast. He followed it up and saw that it was a stout chain clamped to the round of the truck. A newfangled lightning conductor. On a crazy impulse he transferred his hands to the chain and drew himself up to the truck itself. A strong copper rod continued in the thin air beyond the truck.
It was the work of moments to heave himself up and past the cap -- and then he was standing erect on the bird-slimed truck, trembling with fatigue and exhilaration and holding the lightning rod in a death grip. He flung up an arm to indicate his position, but before starting his descent he snatched a look at the panorama. Every part of the vessel was now at a level below him, decks, masts, sails. Not a single thing intruded to spoil the totality of his three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view.
Carefully lowering himself back down the mast, he slid the few feet to the royal backstay. Transferring his grip from mast to stay he soared hand over hand down the backstay to the deck again.
"I do confess I am at a stand. It's no parcel of lubberly landmen we have here, Mr. Spershott," Powlett said to the lean officer next to him.
It took a moment or two for Kydd to realize why the mess deck was so different. There were the same mess tables and ship's side racks for cutlery and mess traps, but here there were no massive cannon regularly spaced along the sides. Aboard the battleship Kydd was used to having his living space between a pair of massive thirty-two-pounder long guns, sharing his domestics with the smoke and blast of broadsides, but here there was only a single function.
It was noon and the berth deck was alive with gossip and laughter after the issue of grog. A ship's boy had shown them to their new mess, half the party to a starboard mess, the other to larboard. They stood awkwardly.
"Hear tell they's promising ter send us some real man-o'-war hands," said a thin-looking older man at the ship's side. Kydd knew enough about unwritten mess etiquette to realize that this was the senior hand of the mess. Like the others, he deliberately chose not to notice the newcomers.
A handsome, well-groomed sailor replied, "As long as they're not ship-of-the-line jacks is all I asks. Them big-ship ways -- no room fer marching up an' down in this little barky."
The older man snorted. "Nor all that there flags an' buntin' all th' time. An' yer've gotta be slow in th' wits to be big ships, else yer intellects rot, waitin' while the ship wants ter tack about."
"Has t' be a big ship," came back the other, "all them pressed men -- why, they has to batten 'em down when they makes port, else they'll think to ramble off home, like."
The older man started, as though seeing the arrivals for the first time. "Well, look who it ain't. A parcel o' Royal Billys! Sit yerselves down then -- grog's up."
Self-consciously Kydd edged over and sat next to a neat, slightly built sailor who held out his hand with a pleasant smile. "Guess we have t' take ye aboard, we being grievous shorthanded 'n' all!" he said. "Adam -- Nathan Adam."
"Kydd, Tom Kydd." He flushed with pleasure, quite unconscious of the striking figure of a seaman he now made. His dark, strong features were well set off by the short blue jacket, white duck trousers, and a red kerchief knotted carelessly over a blue-striped waistcoat. His ebony hair gleamed in a tight clubbed pigtail, his tanned, open face bore a broad white smile.
Sliding in easily next to Kydd, Renzi sat opposite. Curious looks met his from around the table, for he was most definitely at variance with the usual man-o'-war's man with his careful, intelligent dark eyes and a face with incised lines of character suggesting dangerous mystery. Renzi's black hair, short to the point of monasticism, also hinted at an inner discipline quite unlike the carefree sailor's.
He was next to a well-muscled black man, who turned to greet him. "Never bin in a ship-o'-the-line, meself," he said. "Guess there's plenty more room in them big ships."
"Know where I'd rather be," Kydd said.
The senior hand interrupted. "Got yer traps?" Kydd fished around in his ditty bag and drew out his tankard, an old brass-strapped wooden one that had once belonged to a close shipmate, now dead.
"Me apologies about the blackstrap," the man said, upending a bottle into the tankard. "Cap'n thinks to give us this'n instead o' the right sort." He shrugged. "Took a thousan' off a Frenchy last week."
Renzi's eyes widened. He picked up the bottle eagerly and stared at the label. "My God!" he said. "Haut Brion, premier cru, the seventy-nine no less!" His beautifully modulated patrician tones took them aback quite as much as his words, but in the age-old custom of the sea, no obvious notice was taken of a character quirk.
"Hey, now, yer mate likes our grog, then," the black man said happily.
The senior hand banged on the table with his grog can, a little of the rich dark wine spilling. Mature and lined, with an oddly soft voice, he announced, "We has new chums, mates." The others paid attention. "Name's Petit, Elias Petit, 'n' yer already knows Nathan. Yon hulkin' blackamoor -- we call 'im Quashee, 'n' if yer wants ter raise a right decent sea-pie, he's yer man."
Kydd nodded. "Tom Kydd, an' Nicholas Renzi," he said, gesturing toward Renzi. He noticed the curiosity that Renzi's manner had evoked, but continued, "and Pinto, er -- "
"Fernando da Mesouta Pinto, at your service," the wall-faced Iberian added smoothly.
"Pinto is a Portugee," Kydd said, "and Nicholas is my particular friend," he concluded firmly.
A thatch-haired lad brought up two kids of food and thumped them on the table.
"Thank 'ee, Luke," Petit said. The lad upended a wooden tub to sit on and looked at the newcomers with the frankness of youth. Petit lifted the lid of one wooden container. "'Tis poor stuff only," he announced defensively, and began doling out the food.
Kydd could hardly believe his eyes. Real china plates instead of squares of dark wood, a pewter spoon and even a fork. And the food! The oatmeal was not only seasoned with herbs but the meat was pig's trotters with collops of real meat -- this was a feast.
Petit looked at Kydd curiously. "So yer likes our scran too," he said.
Kydd thought of the single galley in the ship-of-the-line serving eight hundred men. You could have anything so long as it could be boiled in the vast coppers. "Yessir!" he answered. "We has a saying in Royal Billy which we hear before we begins our salt beef." He assumed an air of reverence.
Old horse, old horse, what brought you here?
You've carried me gear for many a year!
An' now wore out with sore abuse
They salt you down for sailor's use!
They gaze on you with sad surprise
They roll ye over and bugger y'r eyes
They eat y'r meat and pick your bones
And send the rest t' Davey Jones!
Laughing, they fell upon the food. Kydd glanced across the width of the deck to the mess opposite. Doggo, Wong and the others were clearly enjoying their change of fortune also, and a slow wink broke Stirk's oaken face.
"Hear tell as how y'r Black Jack is a tartar," mumbled Kydd, his mouth full.
"Not as who would say," Petit replied. "The cat ain't seen th' daylight this five weeks or more -- Cap'n, he knows it's us what fights the ship for 'im, 'n' so he treats us a-right, does he."
"What about the first luff?" Kydd asked, absentmindedly tapping a piece of hardtack on the table. To his surprise no black-headed weevils squirmed out.
"Spershott? Don't say much. Keeps station on the Cap'n always, he does," said Petit dismissively. "It's Parry yer wants ter watch. Second luff. Thinks he's goin' to make his mark b' comin' down on Rowley, the third -- it's Devil-bait agin Harry Flashers all bloody day long."
"An' Neville," prompted Quashee.
"An' Neville," agreed Petit. "Kinda fourth luff, but supernumer'y -- wished on us b' the Admiral who wants to put him in the way of a mort o' prize money, my guess." He grunted and added, "But a square sort, I'll grant yer."
Kydd took another pull at his tankard. The wine was rich and smooth. Adam seemed not to relish it. "Not to y'r taste, Nathan?" Kydd asked amiably.
The courteous expression did not change. "Christ abstained."
"Blue light sailor," said Petit, wiping his mouth. "But he dursn't top it the preacher wi' us."
Kydd nodded, and looking at Adam continued with a smile, "Aye, but Christ made damn sure the wedding wasn't dry, though, didn't he!"
Adam looked at him steadily and sipped his drink.
"Where are we headed, do you believe?" Renzi asked.
"Where there's a Frenchy what swims." Quashee chuckled. He aped a prize agent reluctantly doling out the guineas -- so ludicrous was the sight of his bulk going through the motions that the mess fell about helpless.
Petit clapped him on the back. "True enough, yer black bastard. That is ter say that we're raidin' commerce, which is ter say that ev'rything what is under sail has ter loose tops'ls to us, 'n' we has first pickin's."
At the fore-hatchway the squeal of a boatswain's calls cut through the sociability. Reluctantly the sailors rose.
Evening quarters was exercised every day at sea in Artemis. At four bells in the last dog-watch, the entire ship's company closed up for action to the stirring sound ...
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Book Description Scribner, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0743214609
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Book Description Scribner, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1st Scribner ed. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0743214609
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