"Aye, boy, get over here."
I looked around but could see no one. I kept on until I eyed a big man on the ramp to a large ship with many masts. I stared at him. His face, though rugged, showed a lot of integrity, and his blue eyes instantly shone honesty to me.
His arms were the size of large branches, with massive biceps and muscles seemingly coming from other muscles. His chest was broad and sturdy, and while he looked to be only 30 or so years old, I could also see that age was starting to take its toll on him, as he was losing the battle with gravity.
"Aye, boy," he hollered again. "I said get over here." I went to him.
"Grab that box and take it inside to the captain's quarters." I did as I was told, not knowing who the captain was or where
to go. One of the men on board saw me and showed me where to take the box as he yelled down to the big man, "A little young and scrawny, eh, Bart?"
"At least he's working, ya' old salt!"
I grunted and moaned, hauling boxes all day. They were quite heavy, and while I'd done considerable manual labor in my young life, it hadn’t been close to this hard. Later, I started rolling large round barrels filled with salted meats. While I and another eight or nine men were bringing in supplies, an equal number were polishing the brass fittings on the ship. And I watched a halfdozen men doing wood repairs or sewing what I came to know as mainsayles.
At the end of the day, I was told to sit for dinner. While we were waiting for the food, the man named Bart came over to me, laid a paper on the table in front of me, and said, "Sign," as he shoved a quill in my hand.
I did as I was told, and wrote my name "Walter Crofter." He shook my hand as he read my signature and said, "Congratulations, Walter Crofter, ye are now a member of the Royal Marine Merchant Navy. Tomorrow, I take ye to get clothes, and ye real education begins."
It wasn’t difficult to sleep that night. But I was roused at an ungodly early hour.
"Get a move on!" came the command from a man I learned was named Coon and called a midshipman. He was yelling and shaking me at the same time. I rose slowly, but dressed quickly and followed him to the galley. We ate a breakfast of hardtack and grog.
Putting the quill down, this memory made me shudder. Grog is a term I will forever use for it, since it was basically everything wet thrown together, and most often it was disgusting. It often contained raw eggs with lemon or orange juice and was spiked with spices. I tasted cinnamon when we were in the Caribbean, and olive juice or oyl in the Mediterranean. I'm pretty sure that the cook spent most of his previous evening gathering all the leftover dinner juices and trying to figure out what else he could put with them to properly torture the stomachs and taste buds of the crew the following morning. Yet, as revolting as it generally was to eat, somehow we all managed to survive it.
Picking the quill up, I dipped it once more into the inkwell.
After the breakfast of hardtack and grog, Bart took me on deck. The skies were gray and overcast, and the breeze was heavy at times, making it seem much colder than it really was. He told me about the ship. Our vessel had three main masts, one in the fore, one in the mid, and one in the aft. Each of them had the riggings for at least five sayles, and they would be large sayles, too. I didn't see the sayles hoisted while I was with him this morning, but I found them later being cleaned and sewed. Coon told me that was one of the things we'd do when we came to port, we would fix the sayles. The sun started to peek out, and it was strangely warm and beautiful. Blue skies were something I had such little experience with, I appreciated it every chance I saw them.
Bart taught me a number of knots and how to tye the various sayles down. He also showed me, with the help of a pair of ensigns named Frog and Cat, how to climb to the crow's nest, and how to walk along the mast branches to tye sayles and let them out properly without falling. Since even the captain on this ship, who I hadn’t met yet, didn't want anybody falling, the men rigged a few extra lines as clip supports. A good thing it was, too, since I needed them in the early days. But truth be told, as time passed, sometimes I slipped just for the sheer joy of swinging down on that line.
Bart got me to a shoppe and I was fitted with the right clothes to work in, and before my first full week was over I could walk the mast and get up to the crow's nest with ease. The knots for the sayles were no challenge to tye. Holding one end of the string or rope, the other gets looped once or twice, pushed through the eye either over or under, and cinched. Big deal. Three-year-olds could tye these knots, and would do it without learning what the names were, either.
Walter Crofter was born into Elizabethan England.
In a country and a time where favor and politics were both deadly, can an honest boy stay true to himself?
Especially given his family background?
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Genre - Historical Fiction/Romance
Rating – G
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