Drawn through a hole in time and space, twentieth-century American Bass Foster finds himself hailed as a noble warrior and chosen to command--first on land and then at sea--the armies fighting to preserve King Arthur III and his realm against the Church-led forces determined to place Arthur's nephew on the throne of England.
But Bass is not the only traveler in time. And though the mysterious force which has exiled him to this land of knights in shining armor has brought other unexpected comrades-in-arms, it has also opened a gateway to a far future time and place.
And suddenly Bass, Arthur and their allies must face the menace of an unknown but deadly enemy seeking not only to overthrow Arthur's kingdom but to conquer and enslave their whole world.
Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.
His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.
He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).
Whyffler Hall, it had once been called, the stark, rectangular tower built of big blocks of gray native stone, in centuries long past—motte, stronghold, residence of the generations who had held this stretch of the blood-soaked Scottish Marches for king after king of England and Wales. But when first Bass Foster saw that tower, it had become only a rear wing of the enlarged Whyffler Hall, a rambling, gracious Renaissance residence, its wide windows glazed with diamond-shaped panes set in lead, its inner bailey transformed into a formal garden.
From the first moment he set eyes upon it, Bass Foster had felt a strange compulsion to approach, to enter that ancient tower, that brooding stone edifice, but it was not until some years later that he was made privy to the knowledge that the very instrument which had drawn him and all the other people and objects from twentieth-century North America to England of the seventeenth century (though an England of a much-altered history from his own world of that period) was immured within the dank cellar of the tower.
It was a savage, primitive world of war and death and seemingly senseless brutalities into which Bass and the nine other moderns were plunged, but he and most of the others were able to adapt. A woman died, one man was killed, another went mad, and a third was maimed in battle, but the other six men and women managed to carve new lives and careers for themselves out of this very strange world into which they had been inextricably cast.
The arcane device spawned of far-future technology still squatted in the cellar of that ancient tower, its greenish glow providing the only light that had penetrated the chamber for the two and more generations since its single entry had been finally walled up and sealed by the authority of the then-reigning king.
Only a bare handful of living men and a single woman knew the truth of what lay beyond those mortared stones impressed with the royal seal of the House of Tudor... they, and uncountable generations of scuttling vermin to which the cellar had been home.
Although they welcomed the dim light cast by the chunky, rectangular, silver-gray device in what otherwise would have been utter, stygian darkness, the vermin otherwise tended to avoid it, for it often emitted sounds which hurt their sensitive ears.
But of a day, a wild stoat came from out the park and over the wall surrounding the outer bailey of Whyffler Hall. The slender, supple, gray-brown beast had no slightest trouble in moving unseen by man up through the formal gardens to the environs of the Hall itself, for he was a hunter, an ambusher, a born killer, and had ingested the arts of stealth with his mother’s milk.
Near to the Hall, his keen nose detected the scent of rat, and he doggedly followed that scent a roundabout course to a burrow entry dug hard against a mossy, cyclopean stone. In a fraction of an eyeblink, the furry, snaky body had plunged into the earth in pursuit of his chosen prey.
After exploring numerous chambers—-all, alas, empty of rodents—and equally numerous intersecting tunnels, the stoat found that the larger, older, most heavily traveled main burrow, which had descended to some depth, began to incline upward once more, and was soon filled with the strong scent of many rodents ahead and a wan, strange light.
The questing head the big hob stoat thrust out of the burrow hole in the packed-earth floor of the tower cellar chanced to come nose to quivering nose with a rat that had been on the very point of entering that hole. The rat leaped a full body length backward and shrilled a terrified scream. That scream and the sudden stench of the stoat’s musk initiated a few chaotic moments of rodent pandemonium, with rats of all sizes and ages and of both sexes streaking in all directions and shrieking a chorus of terror.
But fast as were the rats, the stoat hob was faster, and he had emerged into the midst of the panic and slain several smaller ones before most of the rest had found and fled down other holes. Now the only full-grown rats left in all the huge, open cellar were three which had taken sanctuary atop the glowing device, crouching and panting amongst the dust-coated knobs and levers and calibrated dial faces.
No stoat ever had really good eyesight, but their other keen senses more than compensated for this lack, so this particular mustelid knew just where those rats were, how many they numbered, their sizes, ages, sex, and degree of terror. He also knew, after a hurried circuit of the base of their glowing aerie, that there was no way he could get to and at them whilst they remained up there. Four feet straight up was simply beyond his somewhat limited jumping abilities, and the unrelievedly smooth, hard surfaces would prevent him from climbing up to his prey.
Frustrated and furious, the stoat chattered briefly to himself, then futilely jumped the less than a foot he could manage, vainly trying to get his stubby claws into the steel sides as he slid back down to thump onto the silvery disk on which the device reposed.
Feeble as had been the attempt, nonetheless, it and the sounds of it had further terrified the three rats, driving them into a frenzy which suddenly erupted into a three-way battle to the death amongst them. The squealing, biting, clawing, furry ball rolled hither and yon amongst the control switches and buttons and levers and knobs thickly scattered over the top of the device. Scaly tails lashed as the three big rats fought on, heedless of what they struck or moved, heedless now, too, of the facts that the ear-hurting noises were become suddenly constant and louder, that the greenish glow was become much brighter.
Below, the hob stoat waited, hoping that in their fury the rats would roll off to fall down within reach of his teeth.
Far and far to the south of Whyffler Hall, within the long-besieged City of London, one of those three sleek rats would have brought a full onza of gold in almost any quarter in which it chanced to be hawked, for the siegelines had been drawn tightly about that city and its starving, frantic, and embattled inhabitants. Nor did there appear to be any hope of succor now, for the last remnants of last year’s Crusading hosts were being relentlessly hunted down, while every attempt by the Papal forces to resupply the beleaguered city had been foiled, all ending in resupplying King Arthur’s army instead.
In the most recent incursion of a Papal supply fleet up the Thames, young Admiral Bigod’s English fleet had lurked out of sight until the leased merchanters and their heavily armed escorts were well up the river. Then, while his line-of-battle ships and armed merchant vessels trailed the foreign ships just out of the range of the long guns, a dozen small, speedy galleys issued from out certain creekmouths and immediately engaged two of the four-masted galleons that composed the van of the fleet.
Each of these galleys was equipped with but a single cannon, but these cannon were all of the superior sort manufactured at York by the redoubtable Master Fairley. The guns were breech-loaded and fired pointed, cylindrical projectiles—both solid and explosive-shell.
The well-drilled crews handled the galleys with aplomb, scooting around the huge, high-sided, cumbersome galleons like so many waterbugs, discharging their breechloaders again and again to fearsome effect into their unmissable targets, while the return fire howled and hummed uselessly high over their heads.
After watching his companion galleon shot almost to splinters, before either a lucky shell or one of the several blazing fires reached her magazine and she first exploded, then sank like a stone, Walid Dahub Pasha saw his own galleon’s rudder blown away by one of the devilish shells. At that point, he ordered most of his men up from the gundecks, to be put to better use in fighting fires, manning the pumps, and tending the many wounded; there was no way of which he knew to fight with a ship you could not steer. He also had a sounding made, and, pale with the thought of less than a full fathom of water beneath his keel, with the flowing tide pushing him farther and farther up the unfamiliar river, he had the fore anchor dropped.
As the anchor chain rattled out into the river, Walid Dahub Pasha saw the dozen galleys back off from his now helpless ship, hold a brief, shouted, council of war, then set off toward the knot of merchanters and the remaining galleons. After that, he and those of his men still hale were all too busy saving their ship and stores and comrades to pay any attention to aught that befell the rest of the Papal fleet.
While he hacked at a tangle of rigging and splintered yards—for Walid prided himself on never forgetting his antecedents nor asking his seamen to do aught that he would not himself do—he reflected that only the worst possible string of ill luck had gotten him and his fine ship involved in this Roman mess to begin. The Bishop of the East at Constantinople had nothing to do with the Roman Crusade, though he had given leave for any of his as had the desire to join in it. Walid certainly had never for a minute entertained any such desire, yet now he would in all likelihood lose his ship if not his life through being caught up in the Roman stupidity. The sultan in Anghara would be in no way pleased, either, when and if Walid returned to report the loss of ship, guns and all. A chill coursed through Walid’s powerful body despite the heat engendered by his exertions, for he had seen strong men live for long hours after being impaled—screaming, pleading, babbling, dying by bare inches, while the remorseless wooden stake tore up through their bodies. He shuddered. That was no way for a decent Tripolitan seaman to die!
Much later, he was on the main gundeck, supervising the drawing of the charges from several of his battery of bronze culverins, when Fahrooq al-Ahmar, a captain and the sole remaining officer of Walid’s contingent of fighting men, found him with a message.
Arrived on his quarterdeck, one look through his long-glass was enough to tell the tale. The remainder of the Papal fleet was once more sailing upriver, but no longer under Papal ensigns; each and every one of the ships and galleons now bore the personal banner of Arthur III Tudor, King of England and Wales. The fleet was being shepherded by some English galleons and frigates, while the squadron of galleys seemed to be beating in the general direction of Walid’s crippled galleon. The thought flitted through his mind that perhaps they meant to give him and his no quarter, in which case he had unloaded those culverins too soon.
He turned to a quartermaster. “Haul down that Roman rag and hoist Sultan Omar’s banner in its proper place.” Then, “Fahrooq, send a man down to tell them to get those culverins reloaded immediately, load the swivels, get yourself and your men armed for close combat, open the main arms chests for the seamen, and send a man to my cabin to help me get into my armor. They may kill us all in the end, but this particular batch of Franks will know they’ve come up against real men, by the beard of the Prophet and the tail of Christ’s holy ass!”
As the seamen and soldiers set to their tasks aboard the immobilized galleon, the row galleys crept across the intervening water. Closer they came, ever closer. When they were just beyond the effective range of a long eighteen-pounder culverin shot, they divided, half of them passing across the galleon’s stern quarter to form a line on her port side, the others similarly positioned to menace her starboard side.
Watching the deadly vessels through his fine long-glass, Walid could discern the raised platforms for the single gun that each galley mounted. Absently, he noted that they looked to be nine- or maybe twelve-pounders.
With both his sides menaced properly, eleven of the galleys held their places, using their oars only enough to keep them in those places, while a single galley began to stroke slowly toward the galleon. No gunners stood on the platform; there was but a single man—helmetless, but wearing half-armor, sword, dagger, and pistols and holding the haft of a bladeless boarding pike to which a grayish-white square of cloth had been affixed.
“Looks to be a herald of some kind,” remarked Walid, then he ordered, “No one’s to fire on them until and unless I say to do so. But keep your eyes on the other galleys, most especially on those off the port bow. We can lose nothing by hearing what this Frank bastard has to say to us.”
As the small galley neared, Walid thought to himself that some of the oarmen were easily the most villainous-looking humans he had ever set eyes to in a lifetime spent at sea and in some of the roughest ports in all the wide world. The herald, on the other hand, though his face was well scarred and his nose was canted and a bit crooked and though he might have looked fearsome if viewed alone, seemed to represent an uncommon degree of gentility when compared to the satanic-looking crew whose efforts propelled the galley.
Then the rowcraft turned to starboard and came directly toward the galleon, and all that Walid could see were the backs of the rowers, the supposed herald, the steersman, and another he assumed to be the master on the minuscule steering deck at the stern.
And on that small steering deck, Squire John Stakeley felt far more exposed to imminent death or maiming than ever he had even when spurring on at the very forefront of a cavalry charge. Though he was no true seaman and made no such pretensions, he well knew just how frail was this galley and her crew when one contemplated a hit by even a single ball from an eighteen-pounder culverin, and they were now within perfect range if that Roman bastard elected to pull his broadside or any part thereof.
Of course, if he did that—fired on a herald—the rest of the squadron would proceed to pound the galleon to pieces, before boarding the hulk and butchering every man aboard her. But that would be of no help to Squire John and the noble herald and the gallowglasses who were rowing closer to the anchored warship with every stroke of the long, heavy sweeps.
Hailing from an inland county and being thus conversant with damn-all of ships in general, Squire John failed to recognize the new, gaudy standard that had been run up to replace the even gaudier Papal one. But the herald saw it for what it was, and, as the galley came alongside the galleon, with a brace of brawny Irishmen contriving to keep her there against the tug of the current with boathooks and main strength, the herald shouted up at a swarthy, bearded man who stood by the rail with a glowing length of matchcord in one tar-stained hand and the other grasping the aiming rod of a swivel gun—a three-inch drake, mounted in the rail specifically to repel boarders.
In purest Arabic, he demanded and threatened and insulted so meticulously that Walid and every man of his within the hearing immediately recognized a kindred ethnic spirit.
“Throw me down a ladder at once, you sorry by-blow outcome of a diseased sow and a spavined camel’s perversions, else I’ll see you given that swivel gun and all within it as the hottest clyster that your foul fundament ever has known!”
At Walid’s curt nod of approval, the gunner laid aside his slow-match and, grinning his own appreciation of the herald’s admirably couched words, heaved down a rope ladder from the galleon’s waist rail to the bobbing galley below.
Leaving the white flag leaning against the gun carriage, the herald stepped onto the gunwale of the galley and ascended the swaying, jerking ladder as nimbly as any barefoot seaman, despite his heavy boots, armor, long-skirted buff coat, and dangling weapons.
As Fahrooq ushered the newcomer up onto the quarterdeck, Walid noted that the herald moved with a pantherish grace and so was most likely an exceeding deadly swordsman. Otherwise, he looked to be much akin to Walid himself.
Both were of average height—some five and one-half feet from soles to pate—with black hair and eyes, swart skin, and fine, prominent noses, heads, hands, and feet a bit on the small side, fingers long and slender. Both men were possessed of slim waists and thick shoulders, but the herald also showed the flat thighs of a horseman and considerable facial scarring, more than Walid had managed to collect in his own lifetime.
“Sahlahmoo aleikoom, Òhbtáhn. I am Sir Ali ibn Hussain.”
“Aleikoomah sahlahm.” Walid intoned the ritual greeting, but then demanded, “By the flames of Gehenna, now, how is it that an Arabian knight is serving an excommunicated Frankish king who is making war—rather successful war, but still war—upon the Holy Apostolic Church? Man, you risk your soul in the hereafter, not to contemplate what will be done to your body if you find yourself taken and brought before an ecclesiastical court.”
“Oh, I serve not King Arthur,” was the reply. “At least, not directly. No, I have the great honor to be the herald of his grace, Sir Sebastian, Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Rutland, Markgraf von Velegrad, Baron of Strathtyne, Knight of the Garter of the Kingdom of England and Wales, Noble Fellow of the Order of the Red Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and Lord Commander of Horse in the Armies of Arthur III Tudor, King of England and Wales.”
Walid shook his head. “How do you manage to remember all of that Frankish gibberish in its proper order, Sir Ali? Never mind, here’s the kahvay—let’s have a cup so we can at least trust each other here, on board my ship.”
When one seaman had set up the elaborately chased silver tray-table on its carven ebony legs, when another had set it with a a trio of tiny gold-washed and bejeweled silver cups, then a brass brazier full of glowing coals was passed up from the firebox in the waist and a hideously scarred and pockmarked man of late middle years set about the preparation of the ceremonial food and drink.
In the center of the table was set a smaller silver tray on which rested a few soaked and softened ship’s biscuits and a bowl of coarse, brownish salt. First Walid, then Fahrooq took up a bit of biscuit between the fore and middle fingers of their right hands, dipped them in the salt, and proffered them to Sir Ali. The herald, for his part, accepted and slowly ate the offerings, then did the same to Walid and Fahrooq, in turn.
Meantime, the man at the brazier had dropped a generous handful of dried coffee beans into a small, preheated iron skillet, wherein he had thoroughly roasted them, then dumped the almost scorched beans into a marble mortar and rapidly reduced them to coarse powder. The powder he had poured into a brass pot with a long wooden handle, adding some pint or so of water and a piece of a sugarloaf. When he had nestled the pot into an iron trivet above the bed of coals, he began to alternately blow upon the coals and carefully watch the contents of the pot.
As the coffee came to its initial boil, the man adroitly took it from the heat, added three cardamom pods, then replaced it over the coals. As the mixture boiled up the second time, he again took it up and this time spooned a generous measure of the rich brown froth into each of the three waiting silver cups.
On the third boiling, the man removed the pot from the heat, dashed into it a large spoonful of unheated water, then filled the three cups with the fragrantly steaming, thick, syrupy, stygian-black brew.
“It is many years since I have savored áhwah in the Turkic style,” the herald commented politely, still speaking Arabic.
Walid shrugged. “Thank you for the compliment, Sir Ali, but I understand, believe me, I more than understand. You will have noticed that I did not dignify it by calling it áhwah. I shipped this sorry Turk aboard in Izmir, after my own cook was killed in a dockside brawl. And áhwah or even a simple kuskus simply baffles him.
“But now, I am a blunt seaman, Sir Ali, so let us get down to business, eh? For what purpose did this Bey Sebastian send you to me? This galleon is his for the taking, already; even a landsman could see that she cannot be steered. The bread of slavery is bitter at best, but forced to it, I imagine that the most of my crew would prefer becoming slaves to becoming corpses, today. As for me, after the loss of this vessel and the guns, I’d as lief remain as far as possible from Sultan Omar’s domains... for reasons of bodily health, you understand.”
Sir Ali grinned briefly. “Yes, I’ve heard that he’s possessed of a foul temper, though exceeding generous to those who can please him. But tell me this—how is it that one of Sultan Omar’s fine war galleons is escorting ships sent by the Pope of the West? Is all the Church allied against England, then?”
Walid snorted scornfully. “Not hardly, Sir Ali! Our Pope’s last word on the matter was that anyone simpleminded enough to go west and risk his fortune and/or neck to try to help put a bastard-spawn usurper onto the throne of England at the behest of old Pope Abdul would probably have been killed by his own stupidity sooner or later anyhow, wherever he chanced to be.
“No, bad luck and illegal coercion brought me and mine here to this sorry pass. Nor have that Moorish dog who styles himself Pope of the West and his criminal Roman cohorts heard the end of the coercion business, either, not if I ever get the ship back to Turkey, they haven’t.
“The Turkish ambassador to the court of King Giovanni, in Napoli, having died—he and all his family, of a summer pestilence—I had conveyed the new ambassador and his household to Napoli and was asea enroute to the Port of Marsala to take aboard certain cargo consigned to Sultan Omar’s chamberlain when, of a late, dark night, a freak, unseasonal tempest all but swamped the galleon, killed or injured several of my crewmen, and seriously damaged my rigging. When all was done, I found my position to be far nor’-nor’west of where I’d been at the start, and somehow I managed to get the vessel into the Port of Gaeta, a small port on the mainland... and squarely into the claws of Pope Abdul, the blackhearted bastard sibling of those noisome canine creatures that subsist on thrice-vomited camels’ dung.
“Now understand, Sir Ali, all that I required was a few score fathoms of decent rope, some small items of hardware, some good, seasoned hardwood lumber, and a few pinewood spars, for all of which I was prepared to pay fair value in new, undipped golden omars. And for all of my first day in that port it seemed that I would soon be accommodated at a better than good price; indeed, I was received and feted in the manner of some visiting bey. But one ‘unavoidable’ delay followed on the heels of another for more than a week. Finally, I was informed that materials of the quality and in the quantity I required simply were not available anywhere in the environs of Gaeta-port.
“At that juncture, I offered to hire a few of the larger coasters and crews to tow my galleon south to Napoli, which port I knew was well enough stocked to effect my repairs and which lay less than sixty sea miles distant. But, Sir Ali, not one coaster captain or fishing-boat master would look at my gold, though I offered enough to all but buy their wallowing little tubs outright.
“Then, when I was making ready to sail out under a jury-rig and follow the coastline down to Napoli as best I could, the damned two-faced Dago harbormaster, claiming most piously to be in fear for the safety of me, my crew, and the sultan’s ship, sealed my moorings with armed guards on the dock, and most sadly informed me that if I should try to leave the port without his say-so, the fort gunners had orders to hull me with their demicannoni Can you credit it?”
“It sounds not like a friendly act,” Sir Ali commented dryly. “So, what happened then?”
With a strong tinge of sarcasm, Walid said, “Lo and behold, two days later, a Roman Papal galleon—that same one that your galleys blew up and sank earlier today, for which may God always love you all!—came bowling into Gaeta-port and I was shortly given to understand that the only way I would get out of that overgrown fishing hamlet with my ship and crew intact and before we all grew long, white beards was to allow the Roman to take us under tow and convey us thus to the Port of Livorno, some days’ sailing to the north.”
The Arabian knight nodded, brusquely. “And you agreed.”
“What else could I do?” Walid shrugged and shook his head. “On the way north, I must admit, I toyed with the thought of possibly contriving a broken tow cable, then maneuvering my ‘benefactor’ into position to hull him with my main-deck battery. Then I could cripple his rigging and sweep his decks with my nines and swivels, and possibly serve him up a few red-hot shot for good measure, before I tried to make it down to Napoli alone. But then, the second day out of Gaeta, a brace of big galleases beat down from the north and I realized that at these new odds, resistance would be suicidal.”
The seaman padded over on his bare, dirty feet and refilled the tiny cups with more of the strong Turkish kahvay, while another man removed the ceremonial tray of bread and salt to replace it with another small tray of black, wrinkled, sun-dried olives, dried Izmir figs, raisins, and similar oddments.
Walid sipped delicately at the boiling-hot liquid, then went on with his tale. “The harbor basin at Livorno was packed with vessels like stockfish in a cask, Sir Ali. There Was at least one vessel moored at every slip, with others moored to the starboard of those, where there was room. Every type and size of vessel in all the Middle Sea was there to be seen—cogs, caravels, carracks, galleys and galleases, coasters of every conceivable shape and rig, all engaged in lading, preparing, arming, victualing, and manning yonder fleet your arms have just captured. They—”
“Pardon,” interjected the herald, his eyebrows raised quizzically, “how many principalities would you say were there represented in the preparation of that fleet? Which ones were they, do you recall?”
Ticking off his fingers, Walid answered slowly, jogging his memory. “Well, let’s see, Sir Ali. The Papal State, of course, and Genoa—Livorno’s owned by Genoa, though it’s been on long-term lease to the Roman See for as long as I can recall—both the North and the South Franks had ships there, as did the Spanish, the Aragonese, the Emirate of Granada, the Sultan of Morocco, the Hafsid caliph, the Grand Duchy of Sardinia, the King of Sicily, the Prince of Serbia, the Archcount of Corfu, and the King of Hungary. I was told, but did not myself see, that supplies had arrived from Iskanderia; if true, they must have been private merchants, though, for I cannot imagine Sultan Mehemet getting any of his fleet involved in a clearly Roman dispute, not with the bulk of his army away down south fighting the Aethiops and their allies.”
“No Portugees?” probed the herald. “No Germans, Venetians, or Neapolitans? No Greeks or Levantines?”
“No!” Walid attested emphatically. “Not one Portugee there, nor when this fleet called at Lisboa on the voyage northward would the Portugee king contribute anything save a few score pipes of wine, rather a poor vintage, too, I was later told. While there were a few German ships in Livorno, they took pains to keep a distance from the Papal fleet and its suppliers. As for Greeks, Levantines, and Venetians, though there had been more than a few of them all in the harbor at Napoli, not a one was to be seen in the basin of Livorno.
“There was, however, a coaster flying the Neapolitan ensign. Fahrooq here was able to get to her captain and entrust to him a message to be delivered to Sultan Omar’s ambassador at the court of King Giovanni, at Napoli, telling of the virtual armed impressment of my ship and crew by the minions of Pope Abdul.”
“So, it was either sail in company with the fleet or die, eh?” asked Sir Ali, with a note of sympathy.
But Walid shook his head slowly. “Not exactly, my friend, not exactly. You think like the warrior you are, with all things in pure black or pure white, but statesmen and, especially, churchmen never deal in such purities, trafficking rather in innumerable shadings of gray. So did they deal with me.
“Upon arrival in Livorno, my vessel was anchored in the basin until a slip could be cleared in the navy yard, then we were warped in and moored fast. Immediately we were fast, an arrogant Roman officer and his well-armed escort boarded my ship and I was ordered to collect my ship’s papers and accompany him to his superiors. I did. I could just then do no other, like it or not. With my damages, the oldest and most ill-kept cog could have sailed rings around me, not to even think of what the full cannon mounted by that fortress at Livorno could have done to me.
“But we had not proceeded far through the navy yard when an older man, most distinguished of appearance, with the walk of a seaman and the honorable scars of a veteran warrior—neither of which had been evidenced by the supercilious, peacock-pretty, Roman puppy!—confronted us and announced that as senior captain of the navy yard, he had first claim on my person and time. The Roman first spluttered, then argued, then made to bluster, laying hand to hilt and calling up his pikemen. But when the older man whistled once and a double squad of matchlock-armed marines, the matches smoking-ready in the cocks, came trotting into view, the Roman backed off with the whinings of a kicked cur, whilst his own pikemen laughed behind their hands at his cowardice and discomfiture.
“And so it was that on that auspicious day, I made the acquaintance first of the renowned Conde Evaldo di Monteorso.”