“So she be wanting a fight, now?” Sanders called out from the quarterdeck to her crew. “Does she be wanting to face the likes of us in our anger, after what they did to us?” she called as she pointed to the hole ripped in the sail by the French cannonball.
“Then prepare to show them why the name Raging Gale is to be feared in these waters!”
The crew roared as Captain Sanders took the till and heaved the ship to starboard. “On my mark, gunners, with round!” she called out.
Hope saw Master Gunner Collins’ take all of a split second to show subtle surprise before he called to the port gunners, “Round shot, full charge!”
“Trim the main to, then fore, till I say,” Sanders commanded the sailors working the boom. “Let’s run a rig!”
The men pulled the main boom taught to catch a breeze, then let it slack the other way. Hope felt the effect on the deck under her as the ship started to make a sharp turn to broad port.
“Steady her now!” Sanders cried as she lunged the till to bring the ship now to a sharp starboard.
The firm grip on the main boom combined with working the rudder brought her port side to bear with the French ship at an advantageous angle, allowing the Gale a broadside that the merchantman could not immediately return.
“NOW!” cried Sanders, and before she could finish her cry Collins ordered, “FIRE-HOLE!”
The sounds of the one or two cannons Hope heard fired at her were naught compared to the full-on broadside the Gale fired in response. She grasped her cittern closely, the thunderous roar mighty enough to make it feel like her precious instrument was about to be blown over the side.
By the time she opened her eyes, it was too late to see the shots hit their target. The gunwales of the merchantman smoldered, but only one cannon was visible, broken loose from its carriage and lying on the deck. In further parts were the piece’s crew, one poor soul trying to petition Heaven for mercy with only one arm while he bled mightily from the stub of the other.
“Grapeshot starboard!” Captain Sanders called. “Taught on the boom!”
The crew obliged, holding the main sail to catch the wind best it could despite the hole in it while Collins’ gunners loaded pails of small round lead balls mixed with nails into the muzzles of the four pounders to starboard.
The Gale made a hard turn to starboard, crossing the bow of the French vessel, and steadied herself closer in on her prey.
And Hope awaited what was to come. Yes, the Gale had struck the French hard, but she was not easily cowed, and getting this close to an angry ship if done poorly could mean another volley from her, further damage to the ship, another injury.
Another chance to die…