Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 6

The Petrel

"Hello the ship!" the dark haired youth called from the dock.

A well-set up lad with a fine healthy body, the youth was just under medium height and on the slender side but with wide shoulders and muscled arms. With dark hair trimmed short per naval regulations and with fine-boned features accented by a light sprinkling of freckles his was one of those honest faces seemingly without guile. Strangely his eyes were of different colors, the left one blue and the right brown.

Liam wondered why no one was about. Surely a naval vessel of the Commonwealth like the CS Petrel would not be deserted even while docked, especially at a great naval base like Alster, the home port of the High Seas Fleet.

A voice shouted back from the rigging.

"Hello the dock! Who the devil would you be?"

"My name is Liam. I am reporting for duty. I am your new war wizard."

The boy watched as a spry old salt slid down a rope (a line he reminded himself to call it) to land lightly on deck. Grizzled but obviously hale and hearty the man was barefoot and wore only trews held up by a rope around his waist. There was no indication of the man's rank but he carried himself with authority.

"New and wet behind the ears, by the look of you, not to mention much too pretty for your own good. Can you really be a war wizard?"

"I am afraid so, sir. It may be only eighteen, but I am a journeyman wizard. Look."

Liam pointed to a barrel of salt beef waiting to be loaded aboard and Lifted it from the dock and dropped it on deck with only a slight thump.

Liam noted that the sailor had not used an honorific in addressing him even though Liam was in uniform with his rank insignia on his collar. That lead him to conclude that the man must be more than a simple sailor and likely outranked a junior wizard like himself so it was safer to address him as sir.

"Yes, close up I can see you have wizard's eyes."

"Something you can't see here in bright daylight is that in dimmer light my eyes shine with what we wizards call our moon-glow. It lets us see in the dark or rather in dim light like a cat."

"More power to you,then. So your name is Liam is it? My name is Crawley. I am the sailing master on the Petrel."

"Sailing masters are warrant officers first class and not commissioned officers like the Captain and his line officers. We have never had a journeyman wizard assigned to the Petrel but I do know that they rank one step lower in the naval hierarchy, which is why you wear the insignia of a warrant officer second class."

"So they told me, sir."

"Well I am glad we cleared that up. Now things are pretty informal right now while we are in port and with the crew on leave, but when we sail, you should address me a Chief Crawley or Mister Crawley, or Sir. I will call you Mister Liam or just use your name. Is that understood?"

"Aye aye sir."

"No, no, no. When you answer a question in the affirmative you simply say Yes, Sir. 'Aye, aye, Sir' is for when you express your understanding of an order and your intention to comply with it."

"Sorry sir. I am still very new to this naval lingo. I had just three weeks of orientation in naval terminology, ranks, and customs and courtesies. It still seems very strange to me that a rope is sometimes called a sheet. To a landlubber like me, a sheet is a rectangle of fabric not a type of rope, I mean a line."

"Perfectly understandable, son. Sometimes the ways of the Navy seem strange to landsmen like yourself, but there is usually a good reason for them like keeping our terminology consistent with the merchant marine. Now let's get you settled aboard."

"Where is everybody?"

"On shore leave during our refit. The crew are busy chasing women or boys. The officers are engaged in what they like to think are more gentlemanly pursuits. I and a few of the hands were just inspecting the replacement for the gaff on the mainsail and finishing some other work. On our last patrol we got caught in a blow." he explained.

"Everyone will report back for duty early tomorrow. Except for those we have to send a shore patrol out for and drag back hungover from the stews. Since you are new to all this Liam I need to ask whether you get seasick."

"I don't know, sir I have never been to sea. I did take a riverboat from the capital. Does that count?"

"No. Sailing on a river won't make anyone seasick. It the constant motion from swells at sea that makes landlubbers sick. Some folks never get used to it."

"I have been on horseback all my life. Constant motion there." Liam offered.

The sailing master shook his head. "If your experience had been on camels maybe, horses no."

They went aboard and the sailing master showed Liam where he could stow his gear.

"Things are crowded aboard a ship. You'll have this bottom bunk. You will share this cabin with me and the other two warrant officers aboard, our purser and our surgeon. "

"A surgeon. Why not a Healer?"

"Mister Durban actually is a magical Healer though in him the gift is not particularly strong. On the other hand he is well-trained and experienced in natural medicine. His potions and poultices can fix most of what ails you, and he sets bones. Above all he is a skilled surgeon."

"You see, the crew are mostly young and healthy lads. So a ship's surgeon is most often called to set bones broken when men slip on the deck or fall from the rigging or fix them up after fights when ashore on liberty. Combat wounds are often hideous and require amputation. Mister Durban has all the requisite skills."

"His other great virtue is that he purges the ship."

"Purges it, how?"

"With a mental shout that drives all vermin out of hiding and makes them so frantic to escape that they throw themselves into the sea. It is an aspect of his gift. Now the Petrel is a clean ship, and we won't have taken aboard very many unwanted passengers while in port so briefly. But I have seen what happens with a pirate ship and even worse with a slave ship. The decks literally boil with frantic critters on four legs or six scurrying to the sides and falling and jumping overboard. Now I have a strong stomach, but that was really disgusting."

"And the purser?

"That would be Mister Wyckham. The Purser on a ship is responsible for supplies and victuals, and he is also our paymaster."

"It is just a well that you have come aboard early. You can take a tour of the ship without having everything thrown at you at once amid all the hustle and bustle of getting underway."

The sailing master explained that the Petrel was schooner-rigged with fore-and-aft sails on two masts. The gaff he had just checked on enabled a fore and aft sail to be four sided, rather than triangular and be 25 percent larger. With her narrow hull and schooner rig the Petrel was fast and maneuverable and very good at sailing close to the wind.

"You are not afraid of heights, are you Liam?"

"Not that I know of. I really haven't had a chance to find out. Why? Will I be climbing the rigging to set the sails?"

"No. The hands set the sails from the deck. But I would like to use you as a regular lookout and occasionally at night. If your eyes can see in the dark, you can guide us when we have to bring the ship close to shore."

"I'll do my best."

"I am sure you will. As for the rest of your duties, you will work for me to keep me apprised of the weather. With you aboard, I won't have to worry about sudden changes in the weather."

"Except when I am asleep." Liam pointed out.

"Right. Don't use magic to change the weather unless I or the captain or the officer of the deck tells you to. In combat your station is next to me and the captain on the quarterdeck. As our war wizard, you will be expected to make suggestions as to how best to use your powers against the enemy. None of us has ever fought the ship with a wizard aboard."

At Liam's nod Crawley went on to explain that his own duties as sailing master were navigation and setting the sails for the required course and conditions. In port the master was responsible for fitting out the ship and making sure they had all the ship's stores needed for the voyage.

The master also supervised loading the hold to ensure stores were secured and would not come loose and shift in a blow. When directed by the captain, the master gave the hands the order to hoist and lower the anchor and to bring the ship to dock or away from it. The master also helped keep the official log, making the entries on weather and, position.

Crawley reminded Liam that in the Navy, a captaincy was a job title not a rank. Anyone in charge of a ship was its captain, though in rank he might be a lieutenant or a commander. Higher ranks like commodores and admirals were never ship's captains. They commanded squadrons, flotillas, and fleets. The ships that flew their flags were captained by lieutenants or commanders who were referred to in the third person as flag lieutenants or flag commanders and addressed as 'Captain'.

The Petrel carried a crew of sixty plus four officers and four warrants. The officers were always in uniform and conducted themselves with dignity and formality. Among the hands and the warrants, things were more relaxed. Once the ship was out to sea the hands often dispensed with clothing entirely. Uniforms were for when they were in port or readied themselves for battle. No one wore armor since it would drag you to the bottom if you fell in.

The warrant officers were in-between, not so formal as the line officers nor so informal as the hands, hence nearly always in trews and usually shirts as well. Crawley told Liam that when he was up on the crow's perch as a lookout, clothing was optional. On deck Liam should wear trews at least, especially at the beginning of the cruise lest the hands get ideas about him, young, and slender, and pretty as he was. He would not be needing footwear but should go barefoot like everyone except the line officers. Barefoot they were less likely to slip on the smooth deck. The officers used a pumice stone to roughen the soles of their boots for the same reason.

Liam realized that, warrant officer or not, he was just a kid, and quite a comely one at that, not that he was complaining. He might fall a little short of normal masculine standards in height, build, beard, body hair, and voice register, but that was fine by him. He had absolutely no interest in changing his image to look more manly.

Still, with his pretty-boy good looks he had to be careful. Everyone knew what might befall a comely youth on a long sea voyage. So Liam had best establish himself early on as one not to be trifled with, ideally by seizing legitimate opportunities to demonstrate his powers. That would give him credibility and discourage unwanted advances. Not that he couldn't handle things, but an incident would benefit nobody.

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