1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 02
“I didn’t know you knew so much about ships, Richard,” Leebrick remarked.
“Well, I grew up in the busiest port in England, so I picked up a thing or two. Enough to know I was never going to sea for a living. Did enough rowing as a lad to be sick of the sight of water.”
“’bout quarter-hour, for me,” Darryl said, which provoked a round of chuckles.
“We need some forward motion, or we’re just going to drift on the current,” Gayle called. “Stephen, if you call a slow stroke or something, you boys can save your sweat for going up the Lea.”
“Suits,” Hamilton said, “although we’ll get there slower, I suppose it’s as well to get there with some wind left for trouble. Watch me for a slow stroke, lads, and …”
That made things a little easier, Darryl found. With all six rowers pulling, even not making any great effort, the boat felt like it was travelling along at a good pace. After maybe an hour, and the Thames making no less than three near-hairpin turns, Gayle swung the boat hard left — or was it port? Darryl had no idea and cared less — and called out “River Lea, upstream from here, boys!”
“Not so hard, though,” Hamilton answered. “The Lea’s a marsh river, very slow. We’re not going far, just another mile or so. Less, as the crow flies, but there’s nowhere to tie up the boat this far down.”
Darryl bit down on a groan. And then, on a stream of riper observations. The unit of rowing distance wasn’t the backache, that had settled down once he got warmed up. It was the blister. And he couldn’t say a damn thing. Boat full of hardasses. Even one of the chicks was a hardass, nobody ever said Julie Mackay was soft. Come right to it, Gayle was made of pretty strong stuff and if Vicky was a little less steely, it was only by comparison with the two lady shooters. If Darryl was going to hold up the West Virginia hillbilly end of hardassdom in this boat, he’d have to keep his mouth shut. Even leaving out of account that there were women present, no matter how salty.
“Things are closing in somewhat, too,” Alex Mackay called back from where he was spotting for his wife. “Sharp eyes all round, if you please, we’re in range of even muskets now.”
Made sense, Darryl thought. The banks of the Lea might consist of low green growth that wouldn’t hide a man with a musket, unless he was willing to dig right in, but they were maybe twenty, thirty yards away each side. A musketeer willing to wade — and somehow armored against a boat full of hardasses with up-time weapons, granted — could probably get to ten yards’ range without getting his nuts wet.
“If one of you could stand?” Hamilton suggested. “We’re in flatter water now, it should be less tiring. And it makes sense we should be watching for river-rats and the like. An alert watch will deter them, if there are any about.”
“More a winter thing,” Towson said, easing into the faster, stronger stroke Hamilton had started setting. “This time of year they’re taking laboring work in the fields. Easier than robbing passing boats.”
“Easier’n rowing them, too,” Darryl added. “You know, this is the first time I ever rowed a boat? Paddled a canoe a couple times, but never rowed.” Apart from the sore hands, it was actually getting easier. And he was definitely better warmed up now. It helped that he had Hamilton ahead of him, who seemed to know what he was doing, and he was picking up little tricks as he went along.
“You’re doing fine for a first-timer, then,” Towson said. “The basics are easy enough. Most of the rest is working at it enough to be able to do it all day and every day without killing yourself, such as the watermen do.”
As he spoke, Gayle was putting the tiller hard over to the right, which nearly had Darryl clashing oars with Hamilton — on the inside of the turn, Hamilton was instinctively shortening his stroke and he’d nearly missed the change in rhythm.
“Of course there are some little things to pick up still,” Towson chuckled, “which is why you’re on this side between me and Stephen, and Master Cromwell is by you between Patrick and Anthony. Our two worst rowers where they can take stroke first and have a better rower behind them to pick up their mistakes.”
“Aye,” Cromwell added, “it was rowing that convinced me to stay a farmer. Did I run away to sea, I might have to do this more often. For all of me, I think rowing ought be a punishment for a blaspheming tongue.”
“All right, I got the message,” Darryl said, quite amused despite himself at the quiet and dry wit.
“Hard left coming up,” Gayle called.
“That means you take a longer stroke,” Towson said. “Watch Stephen for the right length and pressure.”
Darryl just grunted. All this effort and blisters and he had to think about what he was doing? Yeah, the guys who’d decided to stay on land were as right as right could be. Not a whit of argument from him, no sir.
“Just leave the boat,” said Anthony Leebrick. “But make sure you tie it up properly, Richard. Adrift, it’s likely to draw attention.”
Towson gave him a look that was not filled with admiration. “Indeed. And what other sage advice do you have, O my captain? Make sure that I don’t drive the wagon stark naked, shouting in every village we pass through that we’re the ones who just carried out the biggest escape from the Tower of London in English history?”
Leebrick gave him a grin that was somewhat sheepish. “Well . . . point taken.”
Gayle Mason, meanwhile, had been giving the wagon that Patrick Welch had brought out of the nearby village’s stable a look that was even less admiring. “I thought Harry’s coffers were the envy of Midas. He couldn’t afford anything better than this?”
“Which is exactly why I’m riding one of the horses,” Julie said. “No way I’m trusting my spine to that thing.”
“Swell.” Gayle gave the horses in question an equally sceptical examination. “But as I believe you know, ‘Gayle Mason’ and ‘horseback’ go together about as well as ham and―and―and―whatever. Not eggs. Maybe tofu. Or rutabagas.”