The Shadow Without a Name
8th September 1362
It was late in the evening when they reached Hvar,
The oars were used to manoeuvre the ship into a small cove which was ringed with a white sand beach interrupted with occasional rocky outcrops. Behind the beach the land was covered with low shrubs and trees. To the south it rose rapidly to a range of low hills and behind them the ever-present mountains.
For the first time since leaving Venice, The Emir emerged from his cabin. he leaned on the side rail and gazed at the view. ‘Delightful, We should go ashore’
Having dropped anchor, two members of the crew swam ashore trailing fine twine behind then and then pulled two anchor ropes to the beaches on opposite sides of the cove.
The anchors were dug into the sand and the ropes pulled tight. The crew members then pulled themselves back to the ship, tying pottery floats every two metres so that the rope was held close to the surface.
By the time their task was complete the light had gone and thousands of stars sparkled in an ultramarine sky.
John approached Alexan. ‘The ropes are not to give us improved anchorage. Many of our passengers may like to bathe. The ladies may not want to be watched. I could ask you to take the guards below but I would judge that to be unfair on such a beautiful night. Could they confine themselves to the offshore part of the deck. Perhaps you could busy yourselves by catching some fish?’
‘Of course, thank you for your consideration. We can swim later?’.
‘Of Course.’John and Alexan watched as the ships boat was winched over the side. A ladder was roped into position, by which time their was a queue of the emirs wives and servants waiting to climb aboard.
John took a deep breath.
‘Alexan, can I have a word. Aquila and I are having an identity crisis and eventually it will affect you and your men. I do not want to loose their confidence at a critical point in our adventure so I would like to discuss it with you now in the hope we can devise a solution which is acceptable.’
Alexan smiled ‘Identity crisis Prince Nadir?’
‘Err, yes.’John wondered how to introduce his dilemma.
You mean that neither you nor Aquila is who they seem to be…Sir John?’
‘Oh! you know!’
‘Yes we know. We all know. There was lots of time to talk in the palazzo. We also know that Aquila is the same person as the one who pretends to be the Emir’s wife, but we don’t know her origins. We have heard that she owns a fleet of ships like this one, so she must be rich. However she is very well muscled. It is said that she can handle a variety of weapons.
After the last couple of days we can all see that she is also a sailor. She is an enigma.’ Alexan hesitated. ‘However one of us was killed in Venice and their was chatter afterwards that it was because of her. That the attack was aimed at her. If she is so dangerous then perhaps we ought to know why. It would help us to foresee future attacks and protect her…both of you, better.’
John again took a deep breath. As before, Alexan had quickly penetrated to the heart of the matter. ‘Aquila is indeed wealthy, but that is not why she was attacked in Venice. She has been declared an enemy of the state by the Franks which means that any French person can kill her with impunity. Further than that, a thug called du Guesclin has been given specific instructions to seek her out and kill her. Du Guesclin is an evil genius, cruel, ruthless but also resourceful, determined and persistant.
‘And her real name?’
‘You do not need to know… just yet. when you do need to know I will tell you.’ John regarded Alexan critically. ‘Do you really not know her real name, you knew about me, you have just told me there was much talk in the palazzo.’
‘No, really I do not know. In the palazzo she was known simply as La Francaise, the Frenchwoman.’
‘But you do know who I am?’
‘Yes, you are the reason we are travelling with you to Al Andaluz. You are Sir John Stanley, English tournament champion of Europe and considered to be an expert in military strategy. It is said that you are very close to the Black Prince, the heir to the crown of England and that you are a captain in his personal bodyguard. You are very well known and your arrival in Venice was preceded by a lot of excitement’
‘And why do I now call myself Prince Nadir?’
‘Well, partly, I think it was invented by the Emir to explain your presence during the visit to the Arsenale but more likely because we are going to Grenada and an Islamic identity would be helpful to get acceptance from the rulers.’
‘Good that is exactly the purpose, so how do you feel about that?’
‘I am glad we have had this conversation, it removes any possibility of misconceptions and suspicions.’ he glanced sideways at John. ‘and is Aquila actually your wife?’
‘No but we are very close. She is also keen to visit Al Andaluz where she will pursue some interests of he own. So that she can ride unhindered she will pretend to be a man.
‘Oh! How exciting. Will you always be with her?’
‘Not necessarily, no probably not. why?’
‘If you separate then my guards must split into two groups to guard you successfully. It makes the provision of your security a little more difficult. I may clarify the guards duties before we reach Castile.’
John’s eyes gleamed. ‘ Exactly what I would have done myself. One more thing. When we reach Sevilla we will revert to our true identities to make it possible to gain access to the Alcazar and meet King Pedro. You may or may not then discover Aquila’s real name.
‘She has a special relation to the King of Castle? Something from her previous life.’
John smiled ‘Yes. Something like that’
‘It is enough for me. I …we will be proud to serve you both and we look forward to increasing our military skills whilst providing that service.’
Later in the evening a whole line of braziers were positioned on the deck as fish were cooked in a variety of ways.
They all drank beer and waited for the fish to cook.
Ximene chuckled. ‘I am really looking forward to Brindisi. People say there are the most wonderful clothes, shoes, jewellery and cosmetics. Just can’t wait to get there.
She laughed ‘ Truth is I do not know that. In terms of trade Brindisi used to be a hub but is now is off the main routes. I do want to see for myself. But perhaps more important when we get to Brindisi, the emir and his household will leave us. We will have more space and more privacy. Perhaps we should delay Yvette’s progression and Transition until then. ’
John shook his head and smiled. ‘I am sure she will enjoy that and as I am the only man available I am sure I will too.’
Ximene spanked him, hard. ‘You know better than that. You are simply needed to help Yvette. The fact that we will be teaching her to give and receive pleasure means that your presence is required.
In this case you are, in fact, donating any pleasure you might feel to a good cause.’
John grinned again ‘Yes Ma’m”
Next morning they again rose early. Travino checked that the ships boat was properly stowed and that the shore lines were stowed away. The anchor was raised and the oars used to move the ship out of the cove.
The sails were unfurled and the ship was underway. as the wind was behind them the sails were positioned to catch the breeze both port and starboard. At first the wind felt strong but slowly dropped away.
Ximene busied herself watching what was happening and occasionally talking to Trevino.
Eventually she joined John on the quarterdeck
Ximene glanced at the sails and at the sky. ‘Good we have caught the wind. You will see that the sails are full and yet the wind seems to have dropped. That is an illusion. It is simply that we are travelling close to the speed of the wind.
The ship hovered on the crest of a wave and then skidded down the far side.
John shouted his appreciation ‘Wow That was exciting’
Ximene frowned. Yes but potentially dangerous. As we slipped over the crest of the wave the rudder can be lifted out of the water. It can cause the ship to turn sideways directly across the wave. It can be very unsafe, sometimes leading to a ship being overturned.
She turned and had words with the helmsman. She returned to John’s side. ‘At the moment it is fine, he can ‘feel’ wether he has control or not but the wind is rising we will have to keep an eye on it.’ However we are making good progress. In an hour we will be past the islands scattered across the Adriatic. I did not sleep well last Night. I will go to the stern balcony, wrap myself in a rug and get some sleep.
I know you want to learn more about sailing so I will ask Trevino to speak to you again.’
John nodded, leaned over and kissed her gently. “ Thank you, not for the first time, I discover that I love sailing.’
Taviano walked towards the helmsman beconing John to follow him. ‘We do not see Aquila very often but on first impressions you are so much alike, both keen to learn about anything and everything. I like having her on board. She discusses everything with me, and presumably with every other captain she sails with. Initially she was always accompanied by Don Fernandino, but more recently she travels alone. She is now very knowledgeable, but also shows great respect. She has never countermanded any command I have given, but often questions my logic after the event.
John pursed his lips. He had no doubt he was being advised about shipboard etiquette. ‘Please assume I know nothing, but I would be pleased to spend some time with you to understand how you choose a course and sett the sails to get maximum speed.’
‘Very good. I now need to change course. you will see that the sails are trimmed to have equal amounts of sail on both sides of the boat; babord and triboard.
‘First we must furl the rear two sails and tighten the forward sail.
He shouted ‘babord”
John watched as the order was executed. He admired the way the crew co-ordinated to obey the command. They must have done it many times before but even so the interaction between them was impressive.
The helmsman changed tack only when the sails had been repositioned.
The sails were then rapidly re-adjusted so that they were both on the tribord side and the sheets were tightened. Taviano waited until he was satisfied with the sail settings. As the wind caught the sails the ship listed to tribord. Momentarily John struggled to find his feet.
‘ We changed coarse for two reasons,” Taviano explained, ‘to find the passage between Susac and Lastovo but also to bring the wind onto our beam. We can now make nearly fifteen knots. When we were running with the wind on our stern the best we can achieve is ten knots. Aquila wants us to be in Brindisi before dark, it is quite a challenge. ’
‘But the mainsail is now partly wrapped around the mast, is that usual?’
With these lateen sails, yes it is. It is called an “ugly” configuration but it works fine.
Taviano spoke to the helmsman, ‘Let the prince take the wheel. The helmsman stepped sideways and allowed John to take the wheel, cautiously, one hand at a time.’
Taviano watched intently. ‘Good. Now try to change tack to tribord. Can you feel the resistance?’
‘Yes I can. It would take real effort to go there.’
‘Good, because with the new sail configuration we really do not want to go there. If we wanted to move to tribord we would have to reverse the setting of the sails. Keep pressure on the wheel so that we maintain a steady course.’
‘John watched as the crew continued to adjust the sails and when the adjustments seemed to be complete he turned to watch the coast line slip past to the babord side. Soon land appeared on the triboard side.
‘Susac a small island’ Taviano told John, ’hold your course and we will search out the passage between Susac and the other island, Lastovo.
John nodded to babord.
‘It is difficult to tell the mainland from islands’‘True, but every thing we have seen in the near distance since leaving Havar has been islands.
We have by-passed both Split and Dubrovnick which do lie on the mainland.
Taviano took a deep breath ‘Many people see the Adriatic as simply part of the Mediterranean. In fact it is really two very different seas.
To the south of Susac, there is another island, Palagruza and beyond that Pianosa, Tremiti, San Nicola and Capraria. A chain of islands separating the north and south of the Adriatic. Historically they present a favoured route to cross the Adriatic. They make navigation easier and provide some shelter from storms. ‘ He hesitated ‘ are you interested in navigation?’
‘Yes, yes, I am.’
‘Good, I will then explain. In the northern Adriatic there is a circulating current. On the eastern side there a relatively broad slow stream flows towards Trieste. This then returns as a relatively fast current flowing narrow current south past Venice and Ravenna.
‘Up to now we have been sailing against the lighter currents on the east coast but we are now about to gain some benefit.
‘And we did not use those fast flowing currents because of the direction of the winds when we left Venice’
Taviano’s eyes widened.’Aquila told you that?’
‘It is true, We have to take into account wind as well as current. There was a southerly blowing as we left Venice. It helped us make good speed to Pula, but to sail south against it would have been very slow, despite any help from the current.
‘And the benefit?’
‘The southern Adriatic also has circulating currents, again northwards on the eastern coast and southwards on the western coast.
Along the line of the chain of islands the two circulations interfere with each other, cancel each other out. We are about to sail straight through that still water and then pick up the strong southern currents which will take us direct to Brindisi. This time we expect a northerly. If we stay offshore there is an excellent chance the wind will still blow from the north on our babord beam so we will get maximum ship speed and the speed of the current. It is possible that in those circumstances we could reach seventeen or eighteen knots. Remarkably, we could be in Brindisi in less than eight hours. early afternoon’
John enjoyed being at the helm. Both Taviano and the helmsman left him to it and busied themselves with other tasks. For John it was not so much a matter of steering the ship as it was of resisting any tendency of the ship to move from the chosen path due to the forces exerted by the wind and the waves. He was still at the helm as they passed and cleared the island of Susac.
Suddenly there was a burst of activity. One of the crewmen was pointing at the mountains still visible above the horizon. Both Taviano and the helmsman reappeared as if by magic. The helmsman gently but firmly took the helm away from John and Taviano grabbed his arm. Please find Aquila and bring her here quickly.
John hesitated, wondering what he should tell Ximene. Comprehension flooded over Taviano’s face. ‘Oh! yes! it is the Bora. Look at the clouds on top of the mountains. They have flattened . It is sure sign the Bora is coming. There are two possibilities; turn and head for Dubrovnic. or run south as far as we can before it hits us. The further south we get the more likely we are to get outside of the corridor of really strong winds. I think Aquila would like us to run south as she wants to get to Brindisi today, but I need to talk to her.’
John dashed down the steps to the stern balcony, roused Ximene and returned with her to the quarterdeck. It had only taken a couple of minutes but the deck was now a hive of activity with everything movable being tied down.
Taviano sensed rather than saw their approach. ‘Aquila, good, look over there. The Bora is coming. A few minutes ago I thought there was a choice was between running for Dubrovnic or running south, but the wind is rising already. I do not think sailing against the wind to Dubrovnic will work. We could run south to Durachi but may not make it.
‘Then what do you propose’
‘That we run as far as we can on our current tack and then if the winds get too great we turn west and run with the wind. ‘
‘Run rather than heave to?’
‘I think so, especially with this ship’ The shape of the stern the overhanging balcony and the profiled hull beneath the balcony will all help us resist waves flowing past us.’ He pointed to the weather deck. ‘We are preparing drogues right now. It is easier to steady the ship by stripping the sails completely and towing a drogue behind us. However even with sails furled we could end up slipping down a wave and digging our bow into the previous wave.’ He pointed to the drogues.’ All those nets and plates will hold us back when we tend to speed up.
However waves will then come surging past us. The underside of the balcony will catch and control most of those waves but if a monster wave did crash onto the top of the balcony master cabin it could be it could break open the master cabin. Every one must go below until the wind drops.
The wind suddenly increased in strength and the boat heeled to an alarming degree. for a long minute the tribord of the weather deck went under water.
‘It is a question of judgement, my judgement, we have good speed and the further south we get the better. Look on the bright side, it is exhilarating don’t you think?’
John was doubtful as once again the ship heeled. Ximene however grinned broadly. ‘Exhilarating absolutely exhilarating.’In preparation for the anticipated conditions the Emir and his household were guided below followed by Yvette. John and Ximene remained on the Quarter deck. By the end of an hour John was comfortable with the situation and enjoying the reckless charge through the turbulent seas.
Taviano’s decision took them by surprise. ‘The wind is not slackening and the waves are rising. a turn with the wind on our stern is never without risk. I feel we must do it now.’
Ximene nodded. ‘We are in your hands Taviano’
The Helmsman carefully took control from John, one hand at a time.
‘Ready to gybe’ the rear sail was brought to a central position and tightened. ‘hard a lee’ the ship turned and the rear sail was pushed to abord. The wind howled with a new fury. The waves climbed to a new height and began to break. The ship shuddered as the wind pushed the sail against the mast, it climbed a wave and then raced down the far side burying its bow in the preceding wave.
Taviano screamed above the wind. ’it is already too great for us to run before it. Lay the drogues and drop the sails.’
John helped feeding the drogues over the stern rail. The ship slowed almost immediately and waves commenced to overtake the ship. Each wave pushed upward against the stern, but to John’s amazement the droges actually held the stern down minimising the movement.
Taviano was now organising for the sails to be dropped, an event which took very little time. As the crew were tying down the spars he climbed to the quarter deck and tied off the wheel with ropes and clamps, obviously prepared for the purpose. He leaned over the rear of the quarter deck and expressed his satisfaction with deployment of the drogues.‘Get out there’ he screamed’ A big wave could easily come over the stern. But with the sails down if we all go below we will be safe.
John accompanied Ximene to the hatch and made sure that she was safe below. He then went forward to attend to Helios in the stable. Taviano followed him, grumbling all the way.
‘Prince Nadir you must go below ‘
‘No I will stay with my horse, he will be terrified’
‘If you do then for your own safety I must barricade the door from the outside. You will not be able to come out again until the storm abates’
John returned his glare with a steady stare. ‘So be it’
He glanced around. The ship now appeared to be stationary as the seas roared past. The drogues were holding the ship remarkably steady but he could perceive the danger of staying on deck in a sea where the crests of the waves were actually higher than the weather deck. He turned and entered the forecastle. The hatch had been closed. In the gloom he worked his way to comfort Helios, who was wide eyed in apprehension and was locked in a padded stall.
John checked the padding and the strength of the spars of the stall. It was now two days since Helios had laid down to sleep therefore probably needed to do so. The ship was now reasonably steady. Now he was deprived of the vision of the waves it was hard to believe how fierce the storm had become.
There was plenty of straw in the stable, so John spread it out over an area big enough for Helios to lie down and removed the spars from one side of the stall. In order to get some control of Helios sleep patterns, John had trained him to lie down on demand. On this occasion however Helios showed no inclination to do so. John soothed him by telling him how wonderful he was and stroking his neck. Eventually he complied. John heaved a sigh of relief he felt sure that this would be the safest way for Helios to weather the storm. he lay down with his head on the horses neck and waved to Taviano. The door was shut and John heard the sound of it being boarded up on the outside.
He just hoped that the stable was not in fact his coffin.
There was nothing more to do than to wait for the storm to pass. There was no rolling motion just vertical motion as the ship rose and fell with each wave. It ceased to be threatening. Inevitably both horse and man fell asleep.