The Man Who Fell from the Sky
It is 1803, England is at war with France, and Captain Sir Robert Foster’s ship HMS Norfolk is sent to join the squadron commanded by Sir Horatio Nelson blockading the French port of Toulon. Three days out form Portsmouth, a man falls from the rigging and is killed. Foster, required by naval law to investigate and account for the death of any crew member aboard his ship, soon discovers this is no simple accident; no one knows the dean man, nor how he came to be aboard. As the mystery deepens, Foster finds himself having to untangle a conspiracy involving a vast sum of money, blackmail, and embezzlement, which reaches into the royal family itself.
|Title||The Man Who Fell from the Sky|
|Genre||Mystery Historical Adventure|
|Release||March 7, 2017|
|Tags||Murder, mystery, sailing ships, nineteenth century, naval battle, naval life, blackmail, embezzlement, conspiracy|
“We’ll cripple her if we can, Mr. Wicks,” called Foster. “Grapeshot and chain is what we need. No round shot for now, and if there’s one shot into her hull there’ll be no grog for a week, ‘d’you hear me?”
“Very good, sir,” said Wicks with a grin, and relayed the order.
“Ready about,” shouted Ashcroft, and ready was called back from each deck station.
Ashcroft then gave the second order in the invariable sequence of commands for tacking the ship.
The quartermaster put the helm over, and the moment Norfolk began to answer, the third order came.
“Let go and haul.”
The sheets, tacks, and braces on the larboard side were let go while those on the starboard side were hauled rapidly in; both maneuvers timed to allow the yards to swing over neither too slowly, nor too quickly. Norfolk’s ponderous bowsprit traversed the eye of the wind, and the ship settled on her new course–running down towards the French frigate.
“Make fast,” Ashcroft bellowed, and all was done.
“Full-and-by, Captain,” said Ashcroft, with a quick salute, to indicate the ship had gone about, her sails were full, and she was lying as close by the wind as she could.
“Larboard battery,” roared Wicks, “run out.”
The wooden covers on the gun ports banged open on command from the petty officers and gun captains, and the men flung their weight onto the tackle ropes. The eleven two-and-half-ton twenty-four pounders were run up until their wheels crashed into the bulkhead and their black muzzles poked out menacingly down the whole length of the side.
“Quarterdeck and fo’c’stle guns,” Wicks shouted, “stand to.”
“Standing to,” came the response, showing the eight twelve-pounders were prepared to open fire whenever ordered.
Norfolk had now become what she was created to be: a lethal fighting machine. A weapon of war able to hurl a broadside of three-hundred-and-sixty pounds of iron at the enemies of the Crown.
The French ship began to bear away, opening fire as she did so.
“Fire as your guns bear,” shouted Wicks, and a few moments later, Norfolk’s guns began one by one to roar, belching smoke and tongues of orange flame. Foster stood on the quarterdeck beneath the splinter netting, his back as straight as the mainmast, and his head erect. All around him there was noise, grey smoke, the acrid fumes of gunpowder, and the screams of wounded men. French cannon balls smashed into Norfolk’s side, projecting a hail of splinters which tore men’s flesh, leaving it in bloody strips. But her guns, firing steadily, methodically, were wreaking havoc of their own on board the French ship. Whirling chain shot–two balls linked by loops of iron–tore at the enemy’s rigging, while grape shot–hundreds of small iron spheres–swept, scythe-like, through the sailors on her decks, leaving carnage in their wake.
“She’s barely able to maneuver, sir,” reported Wicks, after ten minutes of this thunderous hell. “I think we cut her tiller lines.”
Now, said Foster to himself in fierce glee. Now.
“Lay us alongside, Mr. Ashcroft,” he shouted. “We’ll board her, and carry this action.”
As he spoke, a musket ball hummed past his ear to bury itself in the wood of the mizzen fife rail.
“Sweet Jesus!” he gasped, involuntarily ducking away.
“Marines,” Wicks shouted, through his trumpet, “return fire. They’ve manned the tops.”
As if by the hand of a conjurer, six red-coated marines appeared in the ship’s waist and directed a crackling volley of musketry upwards into the fighting tops of the French ship. Two men tumbled out at once and fell to the deck, the rest took cover and were seen no more.
Norfolk drew alongside the enemy ship, and men stationed in the rigging lashed their yardarms together, preventing the two vessels from drifting apart in the forthcoming assault.
“Boarders, away,” roared Foster, and hundreds of men armed with pistols, knives, and cutlasses leapt from Norfolk into the French ship, howling and shrieking like a hoard of devil-demons. Others, their weapons in their teeth, swung across the intervening space on boarding lines rigged to the ends of the yards. Some were knocked into the water at once, and splashes and screams filled the air. On the deck of the French ship, the fighting surged back and forth, now below the quarterdeck, now against the fo’c’stle. The screaming of wounded men mingled with the ringing clash of steel upon steel and the popping of pistol fire. Foster watched all from his quarterdeck, his fists tightly clenched behind his back.
Come on my lucky lads. Have at them. They’re only Frenchmen, for pity’s sake.
Now there was fierce fighting on the French quarterdeck itself. French sailors, identifiable by their long, red stocking caps, pushed forward, but were repelled by marines and a naval officer who could be seen wielding his sword, cutting, slashing, thrusting, with deadly proficiency. Then, abruptly, the fighting and noise abated as a French voice shouted in desperation, and Foster sew the French captain, his back to the stern rail, with the point of Lieutenant Parkinson’s sword at his throat.