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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Back on board the Calypso, Ramage called Aitken and Southwick to his cabin, and as soon as they were in their accustomed places -Aitken on the settee, Southwick in the armchair - he told them of the Admiral's orders.

"So we get a frigate and a couple of sloops," Southwick chortled. "If we go on like this you'll get a commodore's pendant!"

Ramage grinned at the old man's enthusiasm. "More important are the three hundred soldiers," he said. "It was a damn' close-run thing at Licata because we had so few men, and we'd have been overwhelmed but for the carronades. Even now we'll be heavily outnumbered."

"Oh, it won't be so bad as that, sir," Southwick said.

"You're an optimist. It's really a job for those two 74s, with the two frigates, and a thousand troops. I'd have told the Admiral that but I realized that if the 74s are involved one of the two captains would be the senior officer."

"So you're not going to give up command, even if we are outnumbered three to one!"

Ramage laughed and said: "Very well, old chap, who would you prefer to serve under at Sidi Rezegh, me or the captain of one of the 74s?"

Southwick shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "The devil and the deep blue sea, sir. No, on balance, I suppose I'd choose you because you have more experience fighting these heathens."

"Thank you for that commendation," Ramage said lightly "I'm surprised that you bargain away your skin so lightly."

"Habit," Southwick said succinctly. "One gets into the habit of serving under the same person. It'll probably be the death of me one day, but I live in hope."

"Right, now let's get down to details. Provisions and water for three months. That's so that we have enough food and water for the people we rescue. Arrange to berth a hundred and fifty troops -which means drawing more hammocks from the stores. That'll be a hundred and fifty men for us, and a hundred and fifty for the other frigate. We'll have to carry the major commanding the troops, so someone is going to have to give up his cabin."

"That'll be me, I suppose," Aitken said. "Oh well, everyone is going to have to move down one."

"And powder and shot," Ramage said. "Check with that fool of a gunner that we have a full outfit for the 12-pounders and the carronades. And muskets and pistols too: this might end up as a desperate business with a lot of fighting in the streets."

"I'll see to that, sir," Aitken said. "Will we have any chance of giving the soldiers some training in boat work before we arrive at Sidi Rezegh? Some of them can get seasick after a hundred yards in an open boat, and they're always so clumsy."

Ramage explained how they were going to call at Empedocle, Sciacca, Mazara and Marsala. "We'll practise landing from boats at all of them. We'll have Rennick's Marines going green with envy!"

Aitken laughed and then Ramage said: "The soldiers will need more training in embarking in the boats from the Calypso than landing on beaches. It'll be up to our boats' crews to get the boats in the right place for the soldiers."

"I agree," said Aitken. "Anyway, we don't know yet whether the men will be landing on the beach or on a quay, stepping ashore like gentlemen out for an afternoon's stroll."

"Whether it's on a beach or at a quay, one thing is certain," Ramage said grimly. "The reception committee will not be holding bunches of flowers."

"What are we going to do about a chart of this place, Sidi Rezegh?" Southwick asked.

"I just mentioned that we are going to call in at Empedocle, Sciacca, Mazara and Marsala. The whole point of that is to question the men we freed from the galleys. They rowed out of the place, and I presume they were housed in some sort of barracks, and they should know where the women are held. From the scraps they tell us, we should be able to draw some son of chart. Enough to get into the place and know where we have to go."

Southwick sniffed disparagingly. "Men hauling at those great oars won't be paying too much attention to where the galley is going," he said.

"No, but if they have to make any turns they'll have had to back water or row faster to turn the galley, and they might remember that. And it's almost as important to know where the buildings are: we don't want to have to go round the town knocking on doors."

"Is the place going to be big enough to get in a couple of frigates and the sloops?"

"I've no idea," Ramage admitted. "Beyond the fact that it was once a Roman port, I know nothing about it."

"Who commands the other frigate - do you know him?" Southwick asked suspiciously.

"He's a man called Herbert Roper, the Admiral says. I've never met or heard of him. The commanders of the sloops are Jason King and William Payne. Never heard of them, either."

"It's not going to be easy," Southwick said gloomily. "All these ports along a sandy shore are shallow. Low land, shallow water; high land, deep water."

"Yes," Ramage agreed, "all these ports along the desert coast must be shallow, but we only need to get our bows in. We can put the men ashore in boats, if we can't get alongside a quay."

"There'll be hordes of screaming bashibazouks," Southwick said gloomily. "All shouting about Allah and waving scimitars. And popping away with muskets, too, I've no doubt."

"What's got into you?" demanded Ramage. "Grumble, grumble, grumble. Why were you so enthusiastic about Licata, then?"

"At least we knew where we were. We knew there were no sandbanks - and we got those carronades ashore in commanding positions."

"We still didn't know it was going to work," Ramage pointed out. "It's all very well looking back on it and saying how wonderfully we planned it, but at the time we weren't sure. In fact, it was touch and go; they outnumbered us two to one, and if you hadn't arrived with the Calypso it might have been a different story."

"Well, we got away with it," Southwick said, slightly mollified. "This time we should have enough men and guns. As long as we can bring the guns to bear and land the men!"

Aitken stood up. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I'd better see to the watering and provisioning. It's a pity we can't send out a wooding party: the cook's grumbling that he's getting short of firewood." "How long will watering and provisioning take?" "We should be completed by this time tomorrow, sir." "Good. I'll get the other captains over this evening and plan to sail at noon tomorrow."

Captain Herbert Roper, commanding the frigate Amalie, was a tall and thin man with a narrow face and protruding teeth. His face was pale, as though he was never on deck exposed to wind and sun.

Roper settled down in the armchair and Ramage considered the older of the two sloop commanders, Jason King of the Betty. The captains of the two sloops were known as "masters and commanders", the rank that went with command of a sloop, and although they were in fact the captains of their ships, they were known as commanders.

King was a man of fifty; someone who had obviously failed to make the vital jump to the Post List, and who would end his days as a commander. He was stocky with a startlingly short neck; in fact his head seemed to fit directly on to his shoulders. He was red-faced, but that was due rather to a tendency towards apoplexy than exposure to the sun and wind. Ramage was not sure if he was not something of a drinker. Not a drunkard, but a man who liked his tipple. He was a north countryman with a broad accent of Yorkshire or Lancashire, and he seemed to be cheerful.

William Payne, commander of the Rose, was an open-faced young man who, Ramage guessed, had a chance of making the Post List on/merit, assuming that merit ever got a man on to the List in preference to having "interest" with an admiral. Payne obviously had a clear brain and needed only a little luck to get command of a frigate in a few years' time, allowing him to call himself "captain", instead of "commander". And, incidentally, increasing his half-pay, should he end up on the beach between commands.

Payne was as much a southerner as King was a northerner and Ramage guessed that he came from Hampshire or Sussex. His voice was low and even, yet he spoke like a man who considered what he was saying, in contrast to the outspoken manner of King, who gave the impression of speaking freely without considering what he was saying.

"Well, gentlemen," Ramage said, "you have all received orders from the Admiral to put yourselves under my command. I don't know if the Admiral has told you anything about this operation. If he has not, you must be puzzled."

Both King and Payne nodded their heads, but Roper shook his, clearly the only one who had any inkling of what they had to do.

"So that you understand better what it's all about, I'd best describe the operation I have just completed."

Ramage went on to detail how the Saracens had raided Marsala and the other ports, and an appeal from the King of the Two Sicilies to the British Minister in Naples had resulted in the Calypso being sent out. He concluded with the fight at Licata and the rescue of many prisoners from the galleys.

"After hearing about this, the King has asked that we make an attempt to rescue the men and women taken to Sidi Rezegh, and that is what we are about to attempt. We are to get three hundred soldiers to help us - they will embark this evening, a hundred and fifty on board the Calypso, and a hundred and fifty for the Amalie. "Now, you know what soldiers are like in boats: they are not used to them. I don't know if we'll be landing on a beach or at a quay, but we have to exercise the troops in the boats as frequently as we get an opportunity. It's probably more important to train them to embark from the ships."

"When shall we get the opportunity?" Roper asked.

"Ah," Ramage said. "You'll soon see. At present we have no chart or map of Sidi Rezegh. Being a port along a sandy coast, it may well be shallow. The only way we can get any information is to question the men we freed from the galleys, since they've been to Sidi Rezegh. So we'll call in at Empedocle, Sciacca, Mazara and Marsala to question them.

"All of these ports have both quays and beaches, so while I am on shore questioning the men, you will hoist out your boats and exercise the troops."

"When shall we get the charts, sir?" asked King.

"Empedocle is the last port. By then my master, South wick, should have a decent chart drawn up, and something of a map of the town showing where the barracks are, and the brothel."

"Supposing some of the galleys are at sea?" asked Payne.

Ramage shrugged his shoulders. "Unless we can capture them, there's nothing we can do. Let's just hope that they're all in port and the slaves are in the barracks. Which reminds me, I hope you are well provisioned and watered - you'll be getting a number of freed prisoners, of course."

All three men assured him they were.

"The troops will be on full rations, of course. Make sure they don't use too much water: prisoners when they are released may need plenty. Fresh water is probably rare in Sidi Rezegh, and you can bet that the slaves will get only enough to keep them alive."

"You don't know yet how you will attack?" asked Roper.

"I've no idea, and until we have a chart drawn up, I'm not even thinking of it. But judging from what happened at Licata, I warn you, don't underestimate these people: they fight bravely and wildly. To them we are infidels, and their religion tells them that to die in battle means they go straight to Paradise. So they have no fear.

"But fortunately for us, they probably don't have many guns or small arms. With them it is spears and scimitars. Our tactics," Ramage said, "are to keep them at a distance and pound them with our guns. And, of course, the Marines and seamen will have muskets and pistols, and the soldiers will add another three hundred muskets."

Roper, thinking aloud, said: "Three hundred soldiers, plus say one hundred and fifty seamen and Marines from each frigate, make six hundred, and fifty from each sloop means seven hundred altogether. That should be enough."

"I very much doubt it," Ramage said. "They had four hundred men at Licata. Now we're attacking the nest; the home of these Saracens. And don't forget that men will fight desperately in defence of their homes. Not only that, they'll know every street and alley. I'm thinking more of fighting a thousand of them."

"That makes formidable odds," observed Roper.

"Indeed it does. But we mustn't fight a pitched battle with them - if we have to do that, I don't think we'll stand a chance. No, we make two concentrated attacks - on the barracks and on the brothel. We are not interested in capturing the town - though we might be able to set fire to it, if it will burn. No, we have limited objectives, which is a big help. And I hope we can get in close with the ships: as many broadsides as possible will mean fewer Saracens for our men to fight. If need be, we can pound 'em for hours before making our attacks on the barracks and the brothel. No one is going to come to the help of the Saracens, thank goodness, so we needn't hurry."

Ramage looked round at the three men. "Are there any more questions?"

All three of them shook their heads.

"Very well, written orders will be in your hands by this evening. They will be brief; final orders will come at Empedocle, when we have the chart. So off you go and get ready to receive the troops."

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Ramage's little flotilla got under way at noon next day, the Calypso leading the way out of Naples Bay, followed by the Amalie and with the two sloops astern of her.

Southwick, standing next to Ramage at the quarterdeck rail, was in bubbling good humour. "Congratulations, sir; this is the biggest flotilla you've ever commanded. It'll be a fleet before long, mark my words."

The remarkable thing about Southwick, Ramage thought, is that the man does not understand the word "flattery". His comment about a fleet was a genuine expression of his feelings, and given that when he had first met him Ramage had been a very junior lieutenant (and since then they had been in action together dozens of times, and Southwick had become quite a wealthy man from prize money) it meant the remark came from the heart.

"I'm glad I made charts of Licata and the rest of those ports," Southwick said. "Admittedly, I never thought I'd be using them again so soon."

"If only we'd made notes from what the prisoners said after we freed them from the galleys," Ramage said. "Still, I must admit I never thought we'd need a chart of Sidi Rezegh."

"Let's hope this decent weather lasts: I don't fancy trying to get in there with a scirocco blowing."

"We can wait for good weather," Ramage said. "For once we're not in a hurry. We can wait for the weather, and we can stand off and pound them for a couple of days, if necessary."

Southwick gave one of his doubting sniffs. "We'll probably find that the town lies a couple of miles back from the beach, out of range of our guns."

Ramage shook his head. "Perhaps, but I doubt it: that wasn't the way the Romans built ports. Very practical people, the Romans; they'd decide there's no point in carrying supplies a couple of miles from ships . . . they'd build warehouses right next to the quays."

"That was then," growled Southwick. "The Saracens could have spread out since then."

"I doubt if they have any more wish to carry supplies unnecessarily."

"We'll soon know, once we start questioning our former galley slaves," Southwick said. "That's one thing they'll know about, even if they aren't sure about depths in the harbour."

For the rest of the day it continued to blow a good breeze from the north-west as the little flotilla stretched its way south-west towards the western tip of Sicily, leaving Ischia and Procida to the north and Capri to the south. And it was a simple course: the first land they would sight would be the tooth-shaped volcanic island of Ustica, forty miles north of Sicily and directly on the line to Cape San Vito, where they started turning to larboard to pass Trapani and then Marsala, Mazara, Sciacca and Empedocle.

Would it be necessary to visit every one of the ports, or would they get enough information from the first two? Ramage knew that although there was no great hurry, he did not want to waste too much time sailing up and down the Sicilian coast. Way to the south was the challenge of Sidi Rezegh, at present an unknown quantity. Unknown but not necessarily unwelcome. Not having the faintest idea of what was ahead, the operation had a tinge of mystery.

Supposing, Ramage thought to himself, the Saracens so outnumber us that they capture the two frigates and two sloops: would all the ships' companies and the troops be sent to galleys? The Saracens would probably have too many slaves for the number of galleys they now possessed. Well, Ramage thought harshly, they would have a spare set.

He had thought a lot about the slaves in the galleys. Theirs was a terrible fate. Kept on shore in what were no doubt terrible conditions, they were (according to the prisoners they had released) taken to the galleys as needed and then held in position at the oars by chains round the ankle, so their bodies were free to work at the oars but they could not leave their seats.

They were kept in time as they rowed by one of the Saracens beating a gong (some of the galleys had bells), and to make sure that they rowed with all their strength one or two Saracens walked along the catwalk on the centreline of the galley lashing them with long-tailed leather whips.

They were fed in the morning and at night; there was no midday meal. Water was issued three times a day, half a gourd for each man, and it was handed out so clumsily that often half of the water spilled.

If a man collapsed over his oar - from exhaustion or sickness -the master of the galley, who lived in a small open-sided cabin aft, came and inspected the man. If it was exhaustion he was left an hour to recover and then roused with a flogging, but if the man was ill (fevers were very common) the man was freed from the manacle round his ankle, and then he was thrown over the side. There was no fuss or ceremony; the manacle was unlocked, the man lifted out of his seat, and then he was pushed out through the oar port.

This meant, of course, that there was one man less at the oar: there were usually two, but in the bigger galleys three. If there were only two, the other man was put on another oar as an extra; if there were three, then the remaining two had to carry on rowing alone.

The most common cause of a man collapsing was gangrene: two manacles round the ankles caused hideous sores which turned gangrenous. There was no attempt to treat any of the sick men; they were worked until they collapsed and if there was no chance of them recovering, they were hove over the side. It was brutal, but it was in line with the Arab attitude towards death, with the difference that infidels did not go to Paradise.

So a man captured and sent to the galleys was, in effect, sentenced to row until he was no longer fit to pull on the oar, then he drowned. How long did a man last? Was it weeks, months or years? Obviously not long; the Saracens were always looking for slaves; presumably they were the replacements.

They reached Marsala the following afternoon and the Calypso anchored. A cutter was hoisted out and Ramage and Southwick were rowed ashore, the master equipped with pencil and paper. The mayor was delighted at seeing Ramage again but at first was nervous, afraid that Ramage's sudden arrival off the port meant that another Saracen raid was expected.

As soon as Ramage explained the reason for his visit the mayor sent several small boys off through the town to collect up the former prisoners and bring them in for Ramage to question.

When the men arrived they too were excited at seeing Ramage again, anxious to shake his hand and assure him that they had recovered from their ordeal in the galleys. When he explained the reason for his visit he met with an excited chorus. He then divided his questions into sections, starting off with the general shape of the harbour and town of Sidi Rezegh. All the men agreed on that and they drew a large diagram in the dust outside the mayor's house, each of them adding to it as he remembered something.

Finally Southwick said to Ramage: "Ask them about the channel in and see if they know any depths."

To Ramage's surprise, several of the men not only remembered how the channel ran, but could give reasonably accurate estimates of depths. These men were the fishermen among the former prisoners, and although they did not remember all the facts immediately, they soon scratched in details in the dust as Ramage questioned them and they recalled details which they did not realize they knew.

The greatest difficulty was in agreeing to a scale: the men had varying ideas about distance. Finally it was agreed when they worked out how many paces they walked from their barracks to the galleys. They all agreed on the size of the barracks and the brothel and were able to describe where the doors were. They also agreed that the population of Sidi Rezegh was about six thousand, a figure they could visualize because they compared it with Marsala.

There was a small fort on the seaward end of the quay and the men argued whether there were three or four guns on the top. Certainly no more: they were all agreed on that.

Muskets? Their guards at the barracks had a couple of muskets. Very old and elaborate, and engraved with complex designs. They estimated that there might be half a dozen muskets in the town. And no, they had never heard the cannon on the little fort fire. Nor, for that matter, had they ever noticed any men up there; they could not remember seeing any lookouts.

The one thing that they all remembered vividly was the frequency with which the men prayed. Several times a day - one man said five - they flung themselves to the ground and prayed, the signal being given by a horn blown from the mosque at the back of the town.

Finally, with no more details to be added to the diagram drawn in the dust, Southwick made a copy of it, carefully scaling it off. After he had completed the drawings, they were shown round for the men to inspect. Southwick had done two, one of a chart of the harbour, with as many depths as the men could remember, and a map of the town, showing the important buildings. Most of the men had never seen a chart or a map before, and none could add any more details.

Ramage thanked them for their help and said goodbye to the mayor who, Ramage realized, was so proud of the diagram drawn in the dust outside his front door that he would have liked to have it framed.

Back on board the Calypso the two men went down to Ramage's cabin and examined the chart and map more carefully, and Southwick drew in a compass rose. "I wonder how much more detail we're going to get from the other places," he said.

"Not much, I fear," Ramage said. "These men remembered the obvious things, and I don't think anyone else will be able to add much."

"Well, at a pinch we have enough already. We know what the place looks like now, and we know how to get in. And we know where our objectives are. We're lucky that both the barracks and the brothel are near the quay."

"We're lucky that there is a quay," Ramage commented. "I was afraid we might have to land on a beach some distance from the town and storm the place."

"I wouldn't give much for our chances if we did: we couldn't do it without Braising the alarm, and a couple of thousand of those Saracens ready to drive us off doesn't sound like the recipe for victory."

The Calypso weighed and they sailed along to Mazara, at the mouth of the torrente Mazara. The frigate anchored off the silted up harbour and once again Ramage and Southwick went ash ire in the cutter, Southwick holding his chart and map. The master gestured up at the clear sky and commented: "I don't think we shall be bothered by II Marrobbio. They say it only occurs when it's hot and humid."

Ramage, who had no wish to experience the small tidal wave for which the port was famous, nodded his head. "Certainly, it doesn't seem the weather for it."

Once they had landed on the quay, Ramage led the way up towards the domed cathedral and the bishop's palace, sending a man on ahead to warn the mayor that they were coming. The man, recognizing Ramage, was only too anxious to carry the message after being reassured that Ramage's arrival was not a warning that the Saraceni were coming.

The mayor, like his counterpart at Marsala, was pleased to see Ramage after being reassured that the Saraceni were not coming, and once Ramage explained the reason for his call, he sent off a crowd of small boys to collect up the former prisoners.

"We still miss our four tartanes that those Saraceni stole," he said. "And as for the men who did not return - well, we say a Mass for them every Sunday, but losing so many men - not to mention the women - is a grievous loss. Not," he added hastily, "that we aren't grateful for the return of those of our men the Commandante rescued at Licata."

The first of the former prisoners soon arrived and greeted Ramage like a long-lost father, their attitude being a mixture of awe and respect.

As they gathered round him outside the mayor's house, Ramage explained what he wanted. He had given a lot of thought to his approach and knowing that the majority of the men would not be able to read a chart or map, decided to repeat the method he had used at Marsala - scratching a diagram in the dust.

But at first he asked the men how many people they thought lived at Sidi Rezegh, and they were unanimous in saying about the same number as lived in Mazara.

Ramage looked at the mayor for help. "More than five thousand live here," he said. "I don't know the exact number - I can only give you the number on the tax roll and guess how many women and children there are. But not less than five thousand, I assure you of that."

Then the men started giving details of the harbour. Three men -again fishermen - remembered more depths, judged from the draught of the galleys and the courses they steered to get out of the harbour. But two of the men could give accurate figures concerning the depths in other parts of the harbour - they had noticed how much rope had been paid out when they had anchored. There was a section of the harbour near the entrance where there were depths of twenty-five to thirty feet - more than enough for the frigates. Two more of the men knew the whereabouts of a shoal in the centre of the harbour, and this was drawn in the dust.

They were all agreed that there were four cannon on top of the fort and that they never saw lookouts or guards up there. Several of them commented on the number of times that the Saraceni prayed during the day.

"They would keep our bishop busy," one of the men commented. "He would not have time to grow that great paunch of his."

Ramage noticed that one of the men was silently weeping, and he quietly asked the mayor the reason. "The poor man's wife was one of the women taken away," the mayor said. "He knows he will never see her again."

"There's a hope," Ramage said, "but perhaps no more than that, so it is better not to mention it."

The Mazara men were better at gauging distances than those at Marsala and their estimates were added to the diagram. When they all agreed they could remember no more, Southwick added the extra details to his diagrams and explained them to the men, who looked at them closely without being able to give any more information.

"Now," Ramage said, "I want you to remember how many galleys there were, including the two you were in."

They thought a few moments and then one of them said definitely: "Eight. Five of them were big ones and we were in the three smaller ones."

"Were all the Mazara men put in the same galleys?"

"No," the man said. "We were split up. It was a matter of chance which galley you went to: we were all mixed up in the barracks. This last time I was chained up in the galley next to a man from Sciacca: it was just the way we were marched out of the barracks. That's why so many men from Mazara are still at Sidi Rezegh: they were not marched out to man the other galleys. Ah, mamma mia, how were we to know which of us was to be lucky?"

"How many men do you think there are left in the barracks now?" Ramage asked the man, who seemed to be of above average intelligence.

The man shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "I don't know. Perhaps five hundred. Only a very few of us were marched out to the three galleys: we left behind a lot of men. Oh, the poor fellows: they thought they were lucky, avoiding a few days' rowing."

"And what about the women - how many do you think?"

The man thought for some time. "Not two hundred - probably about a hundred and fifty. Most of them were young girls: the Saraceni did not take many adult women. They think the young girls last longer," he added bitterly.

Ramage looked at Southwick. "Have you any questions?"

The old man waved his sketches and said cheerfully: "No, sir, we've added a bit more with those depths, and that's my main concern now."

Ramage thanked the mayor and the men, shook hands with all of them and returned to the cutter. It was always surprising how the ground seemed to sway underfoot after a long time at sea, especially if going to windward.

"Now for Sciacca," Ramage said. "We'll see if we can find some more soundings for you."

At Sciacca the routine was the same: the Calypso and the rest of the small flotilla anchored off while Ramage and Southwick went on shore in a cutter of which Jackson was the coxswain. They found the mayor who rounded up the former slaves, several of whom had seen the ships anchoring and watched Ramage come on shore, congregating on the quay to greet him. Ramage gave his usual explanation for the questions that would follow, and this time Southwick started by drawing a sketch in the dust outside the mayor's house, explaining what he was doing for the men unused to charts and maps.

The answers to the first questions hardly varied from those given by the men at Mazara: they thought there were four or five hundred men left behind and about one hundred and fifty women. They agreed there had been eight galleys, including the three they were in, and that the other five were bigger, needing many more men to row them.

Ramage then used the diagram in the dust to question them about distances. They all agreed on the distance from the quay to the barracks, and from the quay to the brothel. There were four cannon and no guard on top of the fort. The big difference came in judging the population of Sidi Rezegh: the men were all agreed it was at least a thousand more than Sciacca which, the mayor said, meant that the Saraceni numbered more than eight thousand.

The men were able to add more depths: several of them had been out in two of the big galleys and had noted how much cable had been let go when they anchored. More important, they confirmed the position of the shoal in the middle of the harbour and one of them was able to give rough bearings from the fort and the barracks.

From what the mayor said, it was obvious to Ramage that there were more men from Sciacca still in Sidi Rezegh than from either Marsala or Mazara and that by chance there had been fewer Sciacca men in the two galleys.

The worst part of the visit came when Ramage and Southwick took their farewells. The men and the mayor sought reassurances that their brothers, friends, wives, daughters and nieces would be rescued: reassurances that Ramage was reluctant to give, knowing the small size of his force.

Back on board the Calypso, with Aitken and Southwick, Ramage spread Southwick's two drawings out on his desk and asked the master: "Do you think we have enough detail to sail into the harbour?"

"I can never have too much," Southwick answered, "but I doubt if we'll get much more that matters from Empedocle. I'll make fair copies of these for the rest of the flotilla and a copy of the map for our gallant major."

Ramage looked up at Aitken. "How are the troops getting on with embarking and disembarking from the boats?"

"Very well, sir. Far better than I expected. We have a lot to thank Hill for: he suggested putting a Marine in charge of every five soldiers, to show them how to do things, and it was so successful that I took the liberty of suggesting it to the first lieutenant of the Amalie. Then Kenton started the boats competing against each other, and that spread to the Amalie. "In fact," Aitken said, "the only question mark now seems to be whether the gunnery in the Amalie and the two sloops is up to the standard we like."

Ramage nodded. Gunnery training was very much up to individual captains. Some made an obsession of it; others scarcely bothered because guns firing scorched paintwork and scored decks. Well, the flotilla could sail south under easy sail for a couple of days and give the guns' crews plenty of exercise.

In the meantime, Ramage thought, he would have to put a lot of thought into how they were going to attack Sidi Rezegh. And that, he realized, was the wrong way of thinking about it: they were not going to attack Sidi Rezegh as such; they were just going to raid the place and free the slaves from the barracks and the women from the brothels: if that could be done without disturbing the Saracens at prayer in the mosque, so be it.

It had been interesting making the charts and the map: it had given shape to somewhere that had hitherto been only a name. Now, if he closed his eyes, he felt he could imagine the look of the place. In fact, once Southwick had completed his first fair copies, he would try and draw an elevation of the place: that would help the flotilla find their way about. Not every sailor, Marine and soldier could read a chart or a map.



CHAPTER TWELVE | Ramage and the Saracens | CHAPTER FIFTEEN



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