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Chapter Seven

The two-masted sloop entering the bay was clearly meant to be a small but versatile warship.

Built larger than a usual sloop, her deck railings on either side bristled with a row of swivel guns, while nine cannon gun ports marked each of her sides. She was even fortified from behind with two chase guns locked onto her stern.

Lots of artillery for a privateer unless.... William's eyes scanned her sails, noting that she was square rigged with a collection of many smallish sails. His heart pounded.

This one's expecting cannon fire....

His own sea journey on both a Navy sloop as well as a merchant ship had taught him the basics – a square rigged ship made the best use of wind power, but the vast pieces of canvas for the larger sails also proved to be easy targets for an aggressor's cannon shots. Not only could smaller sails be managed by a reduced number of crew, but a shot from a cannonball would likely disable only one or two of the smaller sails at a time. On the other hand, a hole in a larger sail would incapacitate the entire outsized area and would therefore have a greater crippling effect on a ship's' sailing ability. This one had converted her massive mainsails to a set of multiple smaller sails for a reason ....

As if reading his thoughts, Brigs commented, "She's carryin' a lot o' bits of canvas now, ain't she?" He nodded in answer to his own observation. "Still, with that much cloth strung up, she's feelin' there might be a need fer a fast sail, ain't she? Course she is!"

"A fast sail? Coming or going?"

"Maybe both."

The experienced old carpenter's reply confirmed William's fear. She's expecting conflict alright.

His vision followed the ship's lines up through the clutch of sail canvas. A wash of alarm slipped over his shoulders.

Their flag. A Red Duster.

The Red Ensign – the background completely red as its name suggested, with a cross of red, white, and blue stitched in the upper left hand corner – undulated high above on the mizzen mast and identified this floating war machine as a member of the British Navy.

It was a very similar version of the one that William had once been press-ganged for and had been forced to sail upon. He tightened his grip on the flintlock musket he now leveled at the incoming jolly boats laden with sailors, and silently thanked the one legged Brigs who stood beside him.

Two years earlier Brigs had lost his left foot, crushed by a two thousand pound cannon. That had effectively ended the old carpenter's usefulness to an organized sailing crew. But here, on this island, Brigs's diligence and keen curiosity had ensured that William and all who lived and worked at this sugar plantation would have an added element of safety. It would not take the groans out of their nearly empty bellies, but Brigs's new-found interest and skill in making quality gunpowder from the island's bat guano and sulfurous mud pots, ensured that they would never run short of ammunition in time of need should one ever arise.

And that time was now.

William sighted down the length of the barrel and held it steady.

I'll fight to the last breath before I let these buggers take any of us as their crew.

The first of two jolly boats to secure anchor slid to a halt on the sandy shore. A tall figure wearing a blue waist jacket and the coifed wig of a commissioned officer stood at the first boat's bow. William's brain whirred with possible scenarios.

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