Nathaniel looked at the assembled group, surveying them with a slightly raised eyebrow. “Is this it?” he asks, looking at Kustav.
Kustav shrugged. “You asked for everybody in the town who has any nautical experience. This is it, plus Marek and Ivor who fancied having a go.”
Nathaniel surveyed his team. Kustav and a few more of the guards, several villagers, two of whose nautical experience he suspected was limited to the rowing boat they used to go fishing, and two gawky lads who seemed mostly to spend their time picking fruit by climbing trees, which skill might come in useful.
“OK, well, this should be enough provided we don’t do anything too complicated.”
He led the way down to the pier. “This is my ship, which I have renamed The Bold Admiral, after the ship that brought me here… or, at least, to where I was before I came here.” He walked down the pier and positioned himself halfway down the length of the ship. “OK, the basics. The pointy end is the front, otherwise known as the bow, direction-wise, that is fore. The blunt end is the back, otherwise known as the stern, and that direction is aft. If you are facing the front, your left side is known as port, the right side is known as starboard. Don’t complain that left and right or front and back are just as good, that’s just the way things are. The big stick in the middle is the mast, and those cloth things are the sails…” He stopped when he noticed the looks he was getting. “OK, maybe we don’t need to be that basic, except, maybe, for Marek and Ivor. For them, this is a big wooden box that floats. We call it a ship.” The two lads rolled their eyes while the others laughed. “Seriously, though, come aboard and let’s get familiar with the ship.”
A couple of hours later, everybody was familiar with the layout of the ship and its various parts, even to the extent of knowing the different between yards and masts, stays and shrouds, halyards and buntlines etc, and even Marek and Ivor could tell their port from starboard. “Amazing,” remarked Kustav, during a break for cigarettes and coffee. “Before, they barely knew their left from right, now they know their port from starboard.” There was much laughter and general good-natured ribbing of the two, who had, nevertheless proved able pupils. Nathaniel finished his coffee and tipped the dregs over the side. “OK, lads, now for some basic procedures,” he said, “raising and lowering the anchor, furling sails, manning the pumps etc. Now, when we are under sail, different people will have different duties, but I want all of you to learn all of these, so that we can operate the ship whatever the circumstances. Now, I will be the one giving the orders. When I give you an order, you will respond ‘aye aye, sir’ to indicate that you have heard and understood the order and are going to carry it out forthwith. If you wish to agree with something I have said, you just say, ‘aye, sir’. Have you got that?” There was a chorus of “Aye, sir” and one or two “Aye Aye, sir”. Nathaniel sighed. “Ok, most of you got it. The rest can pick it up as we go along. Right, let’s go learn about the anchor.”
The next few days continued in a similar vein, as the trainee crew came to learn just how the ship operated and could carry out all the actions that Nathaniel could have wished with ease and without having to have it explained. The day came a week later, when he felt they were ready to take her out on the water. Nathaniel stood by the wheel and surveyed the crew with satisfaction, feeling that he could now call them a crew. “Are we ready, lads?” There was a loud chorus of “Aye, sir” and a cheer. “Right then, stand by to cast off.” He looked around one last time and gave the orders required. The wind started to fill the sail and pull the ship forward. Soon they were clear of the pier and nosing out into the bay. “Hard a-port,” he cried, turning the wheel and laughing for the sheer joy of being afloat once more.
Kustav stopped leaning on the bulwarks and came over, looking at Nathaniel with a quizzical expression.
“What is it?” asked Nathaniel with a broad smile. He took a great draught of the sea air. “Isn’t it a grand thing to be sailing around the bay?”
“So, it would seem,” said Kustav, returning the smile. “If you don’t mind me saying so, I haven’t seen you looking this relaxed and happy since… well, since your marriage to Her Majesty.”
Nathaniel laughed. “Probably not. Life hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs since then. But this… this is something I know how to do, something I can control. I was with the Haskins Shipping Company for many years before… before I was changed…” He took another lungful of the sea air. “I just hadn’t realised just how much I missed being at sea.” He turned suddenly, “Watch out those for’ard sails!” He nodded with satisfaction as the crew sprang into action and turned back to Kustav. “The sea was my home for many years. How could I not be happy?”
Kustav smiled, “Why indeed. It is good to see you so. If you don’t mind me saying so, you have seemed somewhat melancholy of late.”
Nathaniel nodded. “Indeed, I have. I miss Maric. I miss Queen Valene. I miss Wren and the rest of my children, and of course I miss my wife. She, at least does occasionally come back.” He looked up at Kustav. “Sometimes, I even miss the days when I didn’t have responsibility for a whole town.” He runs his hand over the wheel. “Whereas, this is freedom…” H e sighed, and sobered slightly. “Well, sort of. As Master of this vessel, I am bound to her just as much as I am bound to Mysthaven.”
Kustav nodded. “I understand. There is a bond between a captain and his vessel. A different bond from that which binds me to you, or to the town, but, perhaps, not so different. It’s a bond for which we would both die.”
Nathaniel reached across and clapped Kustav on the shoulder. “Exactly, my friend, exactly.” He stepped forward and called down to the crew. “Let go the mainsail. Let’s see what this vessel can do.”
A few hours later, Nathaniel and his crew had successfully manoeuvred the Bold Admiral around the bay a few times, and then circumnavigated the island before bringing her deftly back to the pier. Once the ship was safely moored, Nathaniel invited the crew up on the deck with him. “Well done lads, you have more than proved your worth. Soon, we’ll be ready for a real voyage. Well done again. The drinks are on me back up at the tavern tonight. But first…” He disappeared into the cabin and emerged a short while later with a tray, a jug and an array of flagons. “But first, some grog.” He filled each of the flagons and passed them around. He raised his own flagon. “To the Bold Admiral, and her gallant crew.”
“The Bold Admiral,” they echoed back, and quaffed their grog.