Vox Populi Forum
His Eminence, Wischard Percy, Archbishop of Marseilles,
Monsignor, I worry the English have somehow heard word of our designs for France and are actively attempting to impede our schemes. As our chartered galley rowed west across the Straits of Strasbourg, our lookout, Hector Szelbano, spotted a war galleon, obviously set to intercept our vessel. We were in known Pyrate Waters, so interception wasn't a totally unexpected occurrence, if one better to avoid. The surprise was the vessel was the Skullagjari, under the command of Admiral Humphries of England. Humphries and I had crossed paths before - ironically on a voyage to deliver the missing Ben Jonson and late Alexander Pope to Burma. My foreknowledge of Humphries' tactics could only serve to help our band.
Mal de Merd-a-din was serving as Captain of our galley, and, when made aware of the identity of our attacker, Merd-a-din immediately ordered gun crews to battle stations. Our initial salvos fell short of Skullagjari, but her return volley - a single cannon - proved the English had superior arms. The ball impacted with the water mere yards from our hull. Our ship was rocked and Szelbano fell with a yelp from the crow’s nest. Fortunately for the man he missed the deck and plunged into the sea, instead. Szelbano proved a strong swimmer and was able to reach the lines thrown him.
Szelbano had barely climbed, dripping, to the deck when Merd-a-din cried out for the rowers to “put your backs and bottoms into your oars.” I believe at first, Merd-a-Din thought the order went unheard over the noise of sea and shot. The order was repeated. The rowers failed to row. As Skullagjari drew alongside and began to throw grapples, it was clear at much of our crew had turned traitor. Merd-a-din, Louis Brighteyes, Nemo McMoridin, and I exchanged glances. Brighteyes indicated Szelbano and Thomas Guy with a tilt of his head. Merd-a-din nodded and, ordered most of us to different areas of the rails to repel and for the sailors and men-at-arms to form up behind we who were now officers. McMoridin was sent below to subdue the oarsmen.
Brighteyes seized a drum and began pounding a disorienting battle rhythm as the first of the English reached our decks. From there the battle erupted across our entire starboard side. To the men under my command I offered a few words of encouragement. “I’ve faced and beaten this foe before,” and directed them to where I felt Humphries would be most likely to direct his attacks. I could see Merd-a-din and Szelbano. Both were barely able to hold their sections. Brighteyes was out of my sight, but I could hear his exhortations to his troops to fight for glory against the traitors, and the approving roars of those who fought with him. Thomas Guy, unfortunately, drew an unlucky company - for those assigned to him were allied to the traitorous faction. He was surrounded and held at knife point.
Merd-a-din saw Guy’s situation and acted to cover the weakened zone of defense. The action was rash. A keg of powder was pulled from alongside it’s cannon, a rag stuffed in the bung and set ablaze, and the keg rolled forward. The detonation blew a score of English overboard, but also served to stun many of our own, including Szelbano, who fell, senseless, to the deck.
Merd-a-din failed to notice, for he had managed to balance a second barrel of powder on two grappling lines mere feet apart, and rolled the impromptu bomb across to Skullagjari. When the explosion rocked the English vessel Humphries proved to have little stomach for a true fight. The order to fall back was given.
As the English began to retreat, Brighteyes leapt upon the rail and ran aft, cutting lines as he went (slowing the English retreat and forcing them into a narrower pattern). He reached and cut down the English who had grabbed the unconscious Szelbano and who were trying to pass him across to Skullagjari. Brighteyes slapped the man back into the waking world.
My section of deck had been cleared of enemy soldiers, and I was trying to work aft to prevent the English from carrying off Thomas Guy. Humphries goal seemed to be to take an “officer” prisoner, rather than to sink or secure the entire ship. I was impeded by barrages of musket fire. Snipers aboard Skullagjari were firing to force our loyalists to keep down or dodge back. Skullagjari remained tethered to our galley by a mere three lines; one amidships, closest to the English who were trying to manhandle Guy, two farther aft, where Merd-a-din, was preparing a third keg of powder to send across to Skulligjari deck.
Szelbano’s men had stopped the English from carrying Guy away. My men had just arrived to help, and had cut through the nearest line. With Skullagjari now attached to our vessel only near their respective sterns, the two ships were starting to angle away from each other. McMoridin must have restored order below-decks, for a few of our oars rose from the waters and began to lever Skullagjari away.
There was a crackle of musket fire and an explosion. The English snipers had turned their muskets towards Merd-a-din's section of deck. Balls impacted on and splintered the keg Merd-a-din was just balancing on the lines. The wood was punctured. Powder puffed out under the impact. Granules must have floated into the flaming rag Merd-a-din had set as fuse. The fireball rose into the skies. Merd-a-din flew the entire width of the galley to impact on the port railing, wreathed in fire and debris. The final lines mooring the vessels together burned and snapped. Humphries must have been satisfied with the thought he had killed our Captain, for Skullagjari turned her sails into the wind and set forth, leaving on our deck a few scattered English soldiers and the traitors aboard.
Our loyal men were too intimidated by the inferno to rush aft, and it fell to me to dodge debris and damage to pull our Captain to safety while Brighteyes and Szelbano organized teams to put out the fire and secure the cowed traitors.
Merd-a-din was somewhat lucky. While badly burned (now bald), he was lucky enough to avoid impalement, and organ injuries. The broken ribs were not life threatening, but Merd-a-din certainly was in no fit state to lead. Nemo McMoridin strongly carries the look of the Moridin family, and his accented French would go unnoticed by the Moorish crew. Amongst the Valliant, along with Szelbano and Guy (both of whom Brighteyes trusted enough to bring into our confidence) we decided that Nemo McMoridin would pose as his cousin and “Captain” the vessel while I, as your agent, Your Eminence, would be true commander of the mission.
I shortly wondered if bringing Szelbano into our confidence was the wisest move. Szelbano became ill, and blamed the vessel’s cook. The two men quarreled, and it seemed matters were to come to blows when Szelbano calmly drew a pistol and shot the cook down. The crew blamed “Captain Merd-a-din” for the incident, both for failing to keep order, and for allowing weapons to be held out of the armory.
Szelbano’s punishment was to take the cook’s duties. “Kill the Cook, Become the Cook,” Guy quipped.
We had rowed further into the Strasbourg Inlet and had passed London, heading for Chelsea when Skullagjari attempted another raid. Humphries had a goal in mind. We decided to prevent him from attaining it. They came for us in the dead of night, out of a clinging fog. Szelbano was acting as Master of Guns, and it was he who directed our barrages. “Captain” McMoridin worked the oarsmen to an inhuman level. While our galley was somehow able, in this engagement, to outmaneuver a galleon under full sail, the crew from that night became more and more unruly.
Brighteyes, oddly enough, proved of worth during the engagement, not for his skill with arms or knowledge of tactics, but for his poor singing voice! As Skullagjari tried to close, Brighteyes played balladeer from the quarterdeck. Brighteyes might have terrible tone, but his bravery is unquestioned. His nasal warbles drew concentrated fire from the English musketeers, yet with all his dodging and juking, not once did his sarcastic songs die upon his lips.
Between the maneuvers of McMoridin and the disciplined fire lead by Szelbano, the English found themselves unable to close the distance. Thomas Guy was the one who aborted the battle. He shoved aside one cannon’s crew, loaded it with grapeshot and set his aim independent of the rest of the crews. His single shot tore right through Skullagjari’s mainsail into her mainmast, and, suddenly, Humphries lost his taste for the fight.
Still, the very next day it was Thomas Guy’s turn to fall prey to illness. Guy blamed our acting cook Szelbano. McMoridin cleaned and refurbished what he could of the ship’s kitchen and galley, yet, as they argued, Szelbano and Guy tossed overboard the food they considered spoilt or rotted. The two went too far in their efforts, as much of what was fed to the sharks was perfectly fine foodstuffs - merely items the two men were unfamiliar with.
The crew had already been Disorderly in the wake of the mutiny, and had become Unruly after striving to follow McMoridin’s impossible demands. Now they were near Starving. Or were they? Szelbano suspected an illness was sweeping through the crew, but was unable to identify the pathogen. Still, I felt he might be correct, and determined that there was a stomach virus working through the crew. Food and chef were not to blame. Limiting the ill sailors to a diet of nothing but fruit for a few days was enough to halt the spreading infection, but rapidly depleted our limited stores, thus we have set ashore in Chelsea to resupply. A new cook was hired as well. An Englishman with the Scots name of McMoridin.
Your Eminence, to answer your repeated query, over this leg of the voyage I have attempted to bond with those in the party who went along with the Lady Maurice. Brighteyes vouches for the loyal nature of Szelbano and Guy, and I, personally, see no signs to indicate they hold loyalty to the Tri-Colors or any foreign power. I see no reason to doubt the truth of Brighteyes earlier story. Alexander Pope did, in fact, die aboard Thor in route to Olso of illness and Olaf Porse consigned his body to the depths. Whatever plans you had formed for Pope must be reformulated. I am glad you agree this mission to determine the truth of Prince Henry’s afflictions is of vital importance to our Royalist cause, and I shall see this mission through to it’s end before I return to Marseilles. I will write you again as we approach Paris. Until then, I remain, as ever, your loyal servant.
Lord Bailey Bayley Baileigh