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View Full Version : An Agent of the King - an exerpt from a new napoleonic thriller



sportourer1
December 1st, 2010, 04:16 PM
Contains adult scenes.

As daylight came he opened the rear shutters and explored the humble but clean house. Behind it lay a small courtyard, which to his relief nothing overlooked. Sitting at a small roughly hewn table, he ate some of the food he had carried with him and began to rack his brains for a way to see El-Koraim.

Dexter's reverie was shattered by the rumble of distant cannon fire. Heart racing he leapt to his feet, grabbing everything he needed before he left the sanctuary of the house, he headed towards the sounds of a fresh volley of cannon fire. Muffled as it was by distance, Dexter could still tell that it was fire emanating from the city, rather than rounds coming in. Citizens were running in all directions, amid much shrieking and hollering. There was yet another shot, this time from a lone cannon and Dexter tried to home in on that sound.

In the distance he could see the city wall, lined with not only soldiers but also men women and children who all seemed to be waving at something and putting up a fearful noise. Away to his left rose a majestic granite column, a relic from the days of Imperial Rome. Dexter pondered whether it could be climbed, as it would make an ideal vantage point but instead, he continued to head toward the sound of the guns.

Reaching the city wall, Dexter found his way up a crumbling stairway and stood awestruck at the sight before him. Under the morning sun, just out of musket range, were what appeared to be thousands of French infantrymen. Risking drawing attention towards himself, Dexter took his spyglass and scanned the massed ranks of soldiers.

Relieved to a degree, he saw no cannon, nor cavalry. Standing in a cluster were a group of officers and there, the centre of attention, Dexter saw so clearly that he felt his heart miss several beats, was Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France! As he watched, the group dispersed and as somewhere along the city wall a cannon fired once more, he knew the attack was coming. Astounded, Dexter saw the single cannon ball bowl over a rank of soldiers, nearly half of whom lay writhing or still and broken on the ground as the dust cleared.

Suddenly the clean bright air was cut by an array of bugle calls. The army pulled itself together and separated out into a number of columns, all heading for the meagre defences of Alexandria. Drums beat their insistent tattoo and the infantry came on and on, amidst a steadily rising cloud of swirling dust.
The cannon fired once more, felling a few more of the leading soldiers but a few desultory musket shots from the defenders appeared to hit no one. Several columns headed for where the western harbour’s fort, lying in a semi ruined state, stood mute guard. Another column marched through the dust and town rubbish heaps toward the Rosetta Gate, a once proud entrance now held fast by sun tormented wooden gates, barely supporting their own weight. Still more columns marched on toward the wall right where Dexter stood watching.

It was time to get to safety, so he pushed his way through the crowds lining the wall and made his way to the ground. Quickly he darted into an alleyway and made his way into the labyrinthine streets and their momentary illusion of safety. Gunfire suddenly erupted, echoing all around him down the once quiet streets. Screams and shouts competed with the cacophony of small arms fire and the crash of what would be the final cannon shot ringing out. Dexter confused and mortally afraid made his way along the largely deserted streets and was soon completely lost.

Finding himself by the harbour once more, he looked back towards the town, only to see French infantry streaming out into the open from the tight maze of streets, driving ahead of them a handful of local militia who soon fell to the ruthlessly skilled French skirmishers. Dexter followed the crowd, who were now panicking and running in and out of the tiny streets that fringed the water. The French were regrouping, so Dexter was soon out of their sight but still trapped within a seething crowd of humanity. The noise was deafening, the babble of human panic, the screams of terror as children became separated from parents, the bellowing of helpless and hapless adults. The noise, Dexter realised, it was always the noise that came back to him in the night, the noise of battle, the noise of fear and the noise of pain and death.

By the time he reached the eastern harbour, the crowds had thinned somewhat but a burst of firing drew his eyes to the narrow strip of land leading to Pharos Island. Dexter was truly astonished by what he saw next. A group of maybe twenty dismounted Marmelukes were falling back in considerable order, pumping sporadic fire from ancient looking firearms into a tight column of French infantry, felling half a dozen in the process. French fire dropped several Marmelukes before the diminishing group reached the fort. To Dexter's utter astonishment, he now saw that the band was lead by El-Koraim no less and after taking two more casualties, the little group reached the sanctuary of the fort.

The French advanced in skirmish order but no fire came from the fort's walls. Not until the French were less than thirty yards away, taking what cover they could behind the detritus of the quay-side, did a row of weapons appear along the wall. At first there was a flash and a then a cloud of white smoke which hung in the still air, followed by the crash of the volley which killed at least six Frenchmen and wounded several others. The French wisely pulled back out of range and were joined by ever increasing numbers of reinforcements.

Dexter decided it was time to return to his sanctuary until the situation calmed down. He headed into the city now seemingly overrun by French soldiers, who to a man appeared determined to ignore the civilians, who mostly hurried out of their way, darting into any available doorway.

Working his way down a narrow street, into the hostile tangle of alleys that formed perhaps the most rundown section of town, he wandered round a corner and came face to face with three French soldiers, who seemed startled but not hostile toward him. Before anyone had chance to speak, the small, dark faced Sergeant staggered backwards with a surprised look on his face, glancing down at the open gory mess of his chest, before crashing to the ground. Dexter flung himself left into an alleyway, the soldiers moved to their left too, crashing through a doorway and into a house. As Dexter cowered, he heard screams and cries from within, followed by a single shot and then more shouting and finally one last shot.

A few moments quiet was followed by screaming and shouting from somewhere within the house. Dexter was stunned to see a young man plummet head first from the roof onto the road below, to lie still, a twisted grotesque rag doll, bleeding profusely into the dirt. More shouts from above preceded another even younger man slamming into the road and then a young woman crashed down onto the body. Groaning hoarsely, she writhed in pain for a short while, blood pouring from puncture wounds all over her body, before stiffening and moving no more.

Before Dexter could react, the French soldiers burst out of the door, back into the street, the first casually spearing the girl once more with his bayonet. Dexter moved without thought, without questioning, the familiar rage building fast within him, the fire burning in his head, a scream trying to force its way past his lips. He drew his pistols and unseen in the shadows, opened fire. The first shot took the bayonet wielding soldier in the side of the head, killing him instantly. Firing left handed his aim was untrue and the next shot buried itself in the second soldier's shoulder. He charged straight at Dexter, screaming in vilest French. Dexter easily parried the wild charge and kneed the soldier in the side, whilst trying to get his dagger free from under his robes. As the soldier slammed the butt of his weapon into Dexter's ribs, he at last got his dagger free. The first slash went wide but the second caused the soldier to drop his weapon in pain and Dexter reacting on instinct, buried the dagger into the man's chest, snapping the blade clean off. The soldier fell against him in a perverse embrace, twisting and turning for a few moments, before lying still.

Dexter forced his way out from under the body and tried to stand. The shock was kicking in, his heart was racing and then his stomach heaved and he collapsed, retching into the sandy drifts against the wall. Reeling from the violence of the last few minutes he collected himself, picked up his fallen pistols and after a last glance at the ripped and broken young bodies, staggered down the road. After a few turns, he forced himself to calm down and take stock. Breathing deeply and slowly, he hurriedly rearranged his robes to cover the huge blood stain on his front.

As he made his way along the strangely quiet streets, he once more contemplated the absurdity of life. He detested religion and believed there was no God but if by chance there was then he was far from benign. How else could it be, that on a beautiful, warm sunny day, a devout young girl had in a few short minutes, passed from life to being hurled from a roof and butchered on the tip of a bayonet?

Fortunately he encountered no one else in the last few minutes of his journey to his refuge and soon he was bolting the door securely behind him. As the shock began hitting him again he collapsed sobbing to the floor. Trembling, he tried to rationalise the last few hours, feeling very scared and so alone. What had been a wild adventure until now was suddenly a deadly serious matter. If he was caught now, he would be executed out of hand as a murdering spy. Nelson was weeks away and may not return at all he admitted to himself once more.

‘Pull yourself together man,’ he raged to the empty house. He knew that as so many times before, he had only himself to rely upon and one wrong move would spell disaster.

As shock faded to exhaustion, Dexter slipped into an uneasy but deep sleep where he lay. When he awoke, stiff and bruised on the cold sandstone floor, darkness had fallen. He listened for the sounds of the Alexandria night but silence mocked him. He rose shakily and stood for a while in the court yard looking upwards at the myriad stars. Finding the stash of food, he ate every last morsel, not a clever move he realised too late. He found his pistols, cleaned and reloaded them by the light of a small oil lamp and searched for a replacement for his dagger. In a small cupboard he found a fearsome if slightly rusty curved dagger, almost a small sword! He cleaned it up and put it with his small arsenal then took everything upstairs and collapsed on the small bed and in an instant was sound asleep once more.

*

Dexter woke with a start, leapt from the small cot like bed and stood in the centre of the room, a pistol in each hand. His heart was hammering in his chest, sweat glistened on his skin as the rays of sun squeezed past the ill fitting shutters. Several minutes passed before he relaxed a little and finally remembered where he was and what a series of horrors had befallen him in the last few days.

Taking several deep breaths and stretching so hard his spine audibly cracked, he put down the guns and walked slowly from the house to the small private courtyard and relieved himself in the hole that passed as a toilet. The courtyard was cool and quiet, the sounds of the waking town muffled by high sandstone walls and two tall but scraggy date palms. He was desperately hungry he realised, and returned to the house. A few meagre pieces of fruit already on the turn in the hot dry climate had to suffice.

After washing and dressing in new robes, he tried to keep busy with domestic chores, laundry to be done and floors to be swept. He kept it up for over an hour before he relented and made a plan of action. He concluded that there was no option but to blend in with the populace, live a simple life, spending as much time as possible in the safety of his borrowed home. He had convinced himself that Bonaparte would have little trouble controlling the city and would if the citizens cooperated, just leave them be and move on.

Food was a pressing need, so Dexter took a deep breath to steady his nerves and left his sanctuary behind. On a whim he also left his guns hidden in the bedroom, reasoning that the French may well have set up checkpoints and the discovery of British issue pistols would spell his certain execution as a spy. Once more he wondered if Captain Hardy was riding to the rescue with the Marmeluke hordes in tow. Not a chance Dexter concluded and as each hour passed Bonaparte would grow stronger with each boat load of forces he landed.

The streets were alive and bustling with life once more. Dexter was amazed at the local people’s ability to accept their fate. Little knots of French infantry were on most street corners but seemed strangely relaxed and in the nearest market he saw soldiers paying for fruits rather than looting. The realisation that Bonaparte had clearly decided to pacify the population rather than subdue them, gave his spirits a lift. He purchased what he hoped would be a couple of days worth of fruit and vegetables and ate his fill of a hot spicy stew made of stringy lamb and other things mostly unidentifiable but left the market in good spirits.

Somewhat aimlessly, he walked the streets and more by accident than design found he was approaching the French Consul’s house once more. A significant crowd was in attendance, not exactly held back but certainly kept in place by a triple rank of French Guardsmen, Napoleon's elite fighting force and personal guard. Clearly the French leader had made this his headquarters.

The crowd was made up of a cross section of town’s people from rich merchants and their attendants, to dirty filthy urchins, the smell of whom was only now beginning to seem less than evil to Dexter's sensitive nose. As subtly as he could, he began to work his way through the melee until he found himself standing crushed up against a hunchbacked old man. The man appeared to have two young women with him, both covered head to toe in black, only their eyes, bright and alert pools of darkness revealing their youth and vitality. More unsettling he found himself nose to nose with surely the biggest, ugliest French Imperial Guardsman in Africa! Avoiding eye contact Dexter squinted through the small gaps between the impressive ranks of soldiers.

He was astounded to see a small detachment of dismounted Marmeluke cavalry lounging outside the front doors, with half a dozen scowling Guardsmen in attendance. Dexter had just began contemplating an explanation for this development when the big doors burst open and there he was, Napoleon Bonaparte himself, personally seeing El-Koraim to the door.

The crowd fell silent momentarily, before an intense babble broke out rising in volume, close to hysteria in places. The soldiers grew tense and then with a quick glance, followed by a half wave, half salute, Napoleon was gone. El-Koraim mounted his magnificent horse and with his escort approached the crowd.

‘People of Alexandria, listen to me well. I am still your sherif, we will prosper! No one will steal your goods and no man will take your women or your sons. We will live with Allah's hand to guide us. Go about your business with no fear in your hearts,’ bellowed El-Koraim, with just the slightest hint of doubt in his voice.

Dexter was dumbfounded. How had El-Koraim even survived, let alone been taken into Bonaparte's confidence? Clearly all he had heard of Bonaparte was true. In a single masterstroke he sought to control this city through its own leader. Bonaparte had plans way beyond Alexandria and it seemed he had the good sense not to oppress the place by force. However within the crowds, Dexter had heard talk of executions taking place in town squares as reprisals for pin prick attacks upon the invaders.

After El-Koraim and his escort had left, Dexter was drawn once more to the waterfront and soon he was gazing out over a remarkable vista. The harbour was crammed with ships of every size, from stately warships to barely seaworthy hulks that had carried Napoleon's supplies the length of the Mediterranean. A veritable swarm of small boats ferried supplies from these ships to the shore, whilst those vessels alongside the quay itself, disgorged their cargo directly, some with the help of recently constructed wooden cranes.

Cannons by the dozen were building up on one quay he noted with dismay. Mountains of stores were growing, as locals eager to please and earn money no doubt, helped to carry the chattels of an army away into the town.

Amongst the myriad of small boats weaving around the harbour, Dexter observed a group apparently selling to the French ships. He saw food being eagerly hauled aboard, fish, fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Cloth too was being bought, brightly coloured and exotic to the Western eye. The little ships were watched keenly by the ships officers, still wary in this alien world but they did nothing to intervene. The flotilla moved with a kind of organised chaos amongst the French fleet, seemingly under the direction of one slightly more substantial vessel, which required the strength of eight men to propel it around the harbour’s crowded waters in lieu of its furled sails.

This boat was currently at the stern of the biggest warship in the harbour and Dexter was drawn to the sight of one of the Arabs in animated conversation with an officer who held considerable rank, judging by his uniform braids. Fascinated by this little drama, Dexter followed the boats progress as it weaved its way to the next warship, where the same Arab hailed the ship that now towered majestically above him. An immaculate officer leant over the side and once more a shouted conversation took place. After some time a sailor lowered a rope and a hessian wrapped parcel was hauled aboard with some difficulty, by three men.

Intrigued, Dexter determined to follow the vessel but was disappointed to see it heading for the harbour entrance. He moved as fast as he dared to keep up, actually beating it to the end of the harbour's short protective wall. Finding himself alone, he watched as the crew started to raise small sails in order that they might catch the gentle offshore breeze, which was trying in vain to move the stifling heat of the morning.

The little boat began to pick up speed and as it passed beneath him, the man who was clearly its skipper glanced his way. Sullieman! Was that why he had been drawn to watching the little boat, some kind of subconscious recognition? His heart raced, adrenaline coursed through his body and before he had time to think, as the boat passed by less than four feet from the wall, he felt his body leap and fall through space in a kind of sickening slow motion. Gravity took charge and slammed him into the boat, felling two burly crewmen. In an instant he was pinned and blows rained down on him, daggers were swiftly drawn.

‘Sullieman my friend, my friend,’ he shrieked, ‘it’s me Archie, Archie!’

Dazed by a fist that struck his face with the power of a hammer, he only partially heard the bellowing of commands to unhand him but then everything froze in time as still held by many hands, he looked up into the ridiculously boyish face of Sullieman Al-Ateef, without doubt the best friend Dexter had ever had. Still partly concussed, he was hauled to his feet and embraced in a near life threatening bear hug, kisses raining down on his cheeks as he looked into the tear filled eyes of his saviour.

‘By Allah what is this? My old friend, I thought you English said good morning and shook hands before leaping into any old passing boat,’ he said, barely able to contain his excitement. ‘I know you promised to visit but like this?’

‘It’s a long story my friend but needless to say I am more than grateful to see you,’ Dexter explained, a smile beaming from his face, feeling genuine happiness and some degree of relief at this turn of events. ‘We must talk in private and now’ he added in hushed tones.

‘Come then, now,’ Sullieman said as he guided him towards a small covered area by the stern. The little vessel was now making headway beneath its sail and the crew seemed to have got over the sudden interruption. To a man they were all involved in working the little boat as it headed out into the shimmering haze of the open sea, whilst casting just an occasional wary glance at their surprise guest.
Sullieman fired off some orders and soon they were feasting on dates and peaches, washed down with tar like coffee. Dexter related his adventures as succinctly as he could but Sullieman like all Arabs loved a yarn and demanded more and more detail, becoming highly excited when he heard of Dexter’s encounter with French infantrymen in dark alleys.

‘El-Koraim has done well to make a kind of peace with the French. That will save the city much trouble. Some have tried to fight and paid a terrible price, it is a time to bend with the breeze, for now,’ Sullieman said in measured terms. ‘Of course whilst there is peace, there is money to be made,’ he added with a laugh that shook his entire body.

Sullieman had taken over his father’s business interests after the old man was murdered in a blood feud when the family refused to pay a debt owed. Such things were common place in Egypt, as was the revenge Sullieman had exacted. As the vessel continued along the coast, Sullieman explained in calm and dispassionate terms, how he had systematically removed this other family, whilst absorbing their lands and businesses into his own empire. Dexter was not remotely concerned, this was the local way, as in England not that long ago, where such a dispute would have ended in a duel on Blackheath. The result would have been the same, death and dishonour and to the victor the spoils.

As the diminutive vessel made its way, first out to sea until the coast was just a brown smudge on the horizon and then turned eastwards, Dexter and Sullieman chatted like over excited schoolboys. Only after about an hour of slow progress in the gentle breeze did Dexter broach the subject of their destination.
‘My father lost his house in Alexandria but I now have a wonderful farming estate in Palestine,’ Sullieman explained ‘I still have the family home in Malta too. You remember the weeks we spent there my friend?’

‘Heavens yes I do,’ Dexter assured him with a warm smile, basking in shared memory, ‘Napoleon has taken Malta, so they say!’ he added, his smile fading.

‘No matter,’ Sullieman said with confidence, ‘we’re going to a small island village. I say village, in truth it is little more than an encampment and a tiny harbour where my boats can rest up between trips across the sea. My father lost the grain-stores in the feud he had with Abbas shortly before his death but I make a good living my friend, spices, expensive textiles, anything that is treasured,’ he added somewhat enigmatically.

Dexter felt his euphoria slipping slightly, life had changed for his old friend and for some unquantifiable reason this worried Dexter more than it seemed to be concerning Sullieman.

As the sails finally caught some more air, they began to make steady progress and after a few more hours Dexter noticed land ahead. They were perhaps five miles from the Egyptian coast when they approached the low lying but fertile island. It was at most three miles in length, by two in width, supporting a surprising number of palms. The scrubby land between was essentially sand bound together with coarse grasses and reeds. Looking toward the mainland Dexter could see numerous smaller islands and by the appearance of the horizon it was clear they were now off the delta of a substantial river. The small harbour they were entering was crammed with tiny fishing boats and everywhere was a bustle of activity. On the shoreline, a ragged collection of small stone houses made up a somewhat decrepit village and in the trees beyond Dexter could just make out Bedouin style tents.

They tied up alongside two similar vessels, amid much shouting of greetings and demands for news. The conversation swirled over Dexter as he tried desperately to keep up. Everyone knew that the French had arrived and the overriding concern seemed to be how much gold they might have to spend.
Sullieman led Dexter through the village and a short distance later they came to the tents.
‘It’s no castle for sure but a home nonetheless, for as long as you need it’ Sullieman said quietly, with a genuine smile.

Dexter looked around at the tented village, taking in the industrious scene where men and women laboured over a variety of boxes and vessels, bales of bright coloured silk, textiles from India and barrels of oils and liquors. Beyond them, somewhat bizarrely, outside one large tent several women were packing dozens of small marble statuettes into crates. Here was a veritable treasure trove of goods as would be found on most quaysides in these parts, except they were not in any coastal town, they were hidden away on a small island off the coast. Unusually the stevedores and warehousemen in this operation all carried daggers, swords and even pistols.

Smuggling was almost a family tradition for many in this part of the world, so Dexter was surprised to feel quite so shocked at this revelation. He watched Sullieman go about his business with frequent glances in his direction, clearly spreading the word that here was a friend.

For the remainder of the day, Dexter dozed in the soporific heat but as the evening came he found Sullieman and the two men took off on a tour of the island, sharing reminiscences and if truth be told both avoiding the subject of what next? It was Sullieman that felt the urge too strong to resist in the end.

‘So what next eh Archie, what next?’ he asked, the ever present smile alive and in no way fixed to his boyish face. ‘An officer in His Majesty's Guards creeping around with an Arab smuggler. What would the General think? ‘he added in a stage mocking tone.

Dexter looked pained, not really knowing what to say. Smuggling was a crime the world over, smugglers were usually little more than pirates but he loved this man as a brother. Not only that, he needed him as though his life depended on it, which of course it did. As they reached the shoreline once more, they sat upon the upturned hull of a wrecked fishing boat in silence, savouring the slight cooling of the still, heavy air and stared out into an empty, calm sea.

‘So, what next my friend, the French are my enemy too. They have taken my country, though that said they are going to be good customers,’ he added, a faraway look upon his face. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I will make money from them but I want them gone. Tell me this, when will your Navy’s fleet return? We saw them depart, some said for Corfu!’ Sullieman asked, watching Dexter closely.

‘Soon I hope, unless I’ve been abandoned,’ Dexter answered, with what he hoped was an easy air. His heart pounded as he tried to control his expression, whilst desperately thinking as to how far to trust his friend. ‘If he returns, he will not be able to do much anyway,’ he added, ‘he has a squadron at his command, no more’

‘Then join me Archie, we will supply the French pigs with wine, women and hash, make our fortune and watch the Bedouin bleed them in the desert sands. I hear that already they have Frenchmen captive further along the coast.’

‘Don’t ever underestimate Bonaparte because few in France who did, lived to tell of it.’

‘He does not know this land, the land itself will devour him’ Sullieman insisted.

‘Maybe so, maybe so, ‘Dexter pondered, ‘as for me, I shall await Nelson's return and if two months pass, then I will make my own way to Naples. For now though I will accept your hospitality old friend,’ he added with a rather forced smile.

‘Excellent and so you shall. We shall have adventures anew. We have good food here and even better women,’ he said with another belly laugh.

Dexter thought this show of bravado was wearing a little thin. Sullieman's family fortunes had taken a severe knock that much was clear. A fugitive from his own lands, a wealthy merchant once but now little more than a smuggler and almost an outlaw. That said, Dexter could think of nowhere better to be right now and the situation might yet be turned around. As for Bonaparte, if he could not be defeated, he could at least be taught a lesson or two, if only Nelson returned in time.

The next day, Dexter sailed back to Alexandria with Sullieman and his little flotilla of boats. A healthy trade was made with the many French ships still at anchor in the harbour. Whilst sharing in the work of passing supplies up to the larger vessels, Dexter’s keen eye noticed that maybe half or more of the warships were no longer present. He scanned the crowded waters and counted less than six warships riding at anchor, with just one tied up against the somewhat decrepit harbour wall. If his memory served him well then it was the 3rd of July, just two days since Napoleon arrived in Egypt. Dexter wondered if Napoleon felt so safe that he had sent his warships away or whether he was so insecure that he had ordered them to safer waters.

‘Sullieman, where have the warships gone to?’ he asked, once all the fruit and fish had been handed up to the French, in exchange he noted, for local currency.

‘Maybe the eastern harbour, we will look on our return but the waters there are very shallow,’ he replied. He too scanned the array of ships, still numbering in their hundreds, both in the harbour and riding at anchor in the calm Mediterranean waters offshore. ‘They are mostly empty now, ‘he added, ‘see how high they ride!’

A cursory glance was all Dexter needed to see that his friend was quite right in this. Surely, he thought, the warships would remain nearby, but where had they moved too. At last Dexter felt he had a mission, something useful to keep him occupied.

Sullieman wanted to go ashore, so Dexter joined him, taking the opportunity to return to his lair to collect his pistols and a few other possessions. Sullieman met up with two thickset and taciturn men at a run down market, near to the eastern harbour. Sensing his presence was not required Dexter wandered back to the waterfront and confirmed that only a few dozen small French freighters lay at anchor in the eastern harbour. By the time he returned to the market, Sullieman was alone and in high spirits.

‘Good news Archie. The French have issued a decree that has prevented all looting and they have bought currency for gold’

‘Why does this please you so?’ Dexter asked, already half suspecting the answer.

‘Because they will need to purchase more gold than they have and I will sell it to them for whatever they wish to trade,’ Sullieman said with a glint of avarice in his eye and a wry smile of amusement spreading across his handsome features.

Dexter slapped him hard across the back, genuinely enjoying his friend’s company in these dangerous hours. Surrounded by French soldiery, he should have been afraid but nothing of the kind, he felt he was blending in, bearded and sun browned already, no one would take him for an English soldier, thousands of miles from home.

As they made their way back to the boats in the company of locals wheeling handcarts laden with provisions, Dexter's attention was drawn to the French infantrymen, or rather the almost total lack of them. The dusty streets separating the semi-derelict hovels were once more dominated by locals. By the time they reached the waterfront he was convinced that the number of soldiers patrolling the streets had dramatically reduced. Could Bonaparte have already begun his advance into the Egyptian hinterland?

The little group of boats manoeuvred they way through the still crowded waters of the harbour, passing the two armed sloops, now standing guard at the entrance. The French sailors ignored them as they made their way out to sea, yet Sullieman ordered the little group to sail straight ahead, northwards until they were over the horizon, before turning east and beginning the trip back to their island base.

They were back by early evening and made their way through the fishing village and to their tented encampment. As the sun began to slowly sink, the evening promised much as Sullieman was in high spirits and drink was soon flowing including bottles of the finest French brandy. A lavish spread was prepared, the odours of lamb roasting on spits made the waiting almost too much to bare. With fruit and vegetables recently bought in Alexandria, the women of the camp were preparing a fine feast for the camp.

As the moon rose to light the star studded sky, Dexter and Sullieman shared a second bottle of brandy, Sullieman lamenting that they had no hash in the camp but more would be arriving tomorrow he was certain. They had been joined by two voluptuous women from the camp and were soon comfortably cosy by the roaring fire. Dexter was entangled with a woman called Sheriti who was matching the men glass for glass, as the brandy bottle slowly emptied. Sheriti stood a little less than six feet tall, possessed of long powerful legs and a full bosom. Her round, smooth face, framed by thick dark hair, seemed to be permanently lit by a radiant smile.

The night passed into tomorrow and Dexter found himself with a light head, in high spirits, heading unsteadily towards his tent, Sheriti clinging to his side. The moonlight barely penetrated the inner reaches of the tent and it was in a surreal gloom that the two lovers stripped each other naked amongst the cushions and luxurious silken blankets. Both were practiced in the arts of love and yet Dexter was still struck by the sensual power of the woman’s body as he found himself between her large but solid thighs, his fingers and tongue eliciting moans of pure delight as he caressed her damp, heavily downed sex.

Sheriti expertly caressed his towering erection, administering the most exquisite pleasures with her full lips until long before he was ready Archie cried out and arched his body in blinding ecstasy but never once breaking contact with the very core of her womanhood. Driving on and on he worked for her pleasure until finally Sheriti was driven almost beyond reason with orgasmic convulsions, striving to prolong such deep and overwhelming pleasures, almost smothering him with her flesh, giving off the most guttural, almost feral noises he had heard in a long while.

Much later they were woken by first distant rumbles and then sonorous crashes of violent thunder that shook the ground, as great bolts of lightning blazed through the tent’s thin walls, serving to illuminate their next bout of love making with a white hot stark majesty. Dexter was in raptures as they were briefly illuminated then plunged into darkness once more, what a sight to behold he thought, joy singing in his heart.

He caught tantalising brief glimpses of Sheriti crouched on all fours, her pendulous breasts swinging free, her voluptuous backside, round and firm, spread wide as he thrust the full length of his thick erection time after time, deep into her wet sex, the feeling of raw elemental power transmitting itself through the storm’s energy to his swollen organ. He laughed out loud, roaring with pure delight as he spurted his seed into Sheriti’s beautiful body.

Exhausted, they lay in each other’s arms, dreamily listening to the rhythmic tattoo of the torrential downpour on the tent. For the first time in days Archie forgot that he was alone, surrounded by Napoleon’s army and facing death with the first wrong turn. Soon the warmth of Sheriti’s body lulled Dexter into a deep untroubled sleep.

He woke to find he was alone in the tent, the early morning sun shone brightly enough through the canvas to blind him, as hammers drummed against the rear of his eyeballs. As he stood, his balance nearly failed him and his stomach fought with his will power but he made it outside to find the camp largely still asleep. Roughly wrapped in his robes, he staggered through the sparse palms and long grass to the shoreline where he stripped naked and ran into the water. Swimming out around one hundred yards in an easy but powerful stroke, he then floated for what seemed an eternity trying to make the pain go away, before swimming slowly back to the low beach.

He lay naked in the sand, warmed by the sun and slowly the pounding in his head relented. For a dark haired man, his lithe and well muscled body was largely hairless and had always been a source of fascination and attraction to his lovers over the years.

Memories of the previous night began to surface and a wry smile spread across his face. He flexed his aching back in the sand and allowed himself a mighty yawn. He allowed an image of Sheriti to form in his mind and adrenaline seeped back into his blood stream once more.

‘Archie, I have news!’ he heard Sullieman call. It was all Dexter could do to raise his head to watch his friend walk down the beach, careless of his nudity, but finally noticing that a small group of men was approaching, he reluctantly wrapped his robes around his now blissfully warm but sandy body. Somewhat embarrassed, he hopped about trying to remove some of the coating, which was already itching maddeningly.

‘The French warships,’ Sullieman shouted eagerly, ‘they’re in Aboukir Bay!
This got Dexter’s full attention and he ran toward Sullieman and his ever present lieutenants.

‘Aboukir Bay, where is that? Dexter asked.

‘Not far at all, forty minutes with a fair wind,’ Sullieman answered, as eager as Dexter to go and see.

‘If you remember, I said we must go to Palestine, I have business in Jaffa and father’s house is there. We can sail close to the bay and see what the French are up to. If you’re right then your Nelson will not return for many weeks, so all we can do is watch and wait eh?’

‘When we return from Palestine they may be gone but if not I must get a closer look. Nelson will need to know as much detail as I can give him. He cannot save Egypt from Napoleon but he can still deal him a heavy blow!’ Dexter said, barely able to contain his rising excitement.

‘I am told that the French are nearly prepared to leave for Cairo, maybe even today,’ Sullieman said.

‘It seems this Bonaparte is an impatient man’

‘Don't worry my friend, it is not Egypt he wants, his prize is India,’ Dexter assured him.

‘He will not have it all his own way if the Beys react to the danger in time,’ Dexter added, ‘and if Nelson returns whilst Napoleon's fleet is exposed, well who knows then.’

Together they returned to the camp and after hastily packing, set off with around twenty other men to the little harbour and the boats that waited there. Soon they were at sea, four boats and the largest no match for a Royal Navy sloop in size.

As they worked their way along the coast running against a feeble breeze, Dexter scanned the shoreline with a beautifully made telescope lent to him by Sullieman. Minutes stretched into hours and on the smaller boats, oars were brought out to supplement to failing wind.

Eventually he was just able to make out a small fort on a prominent headland. Already the heat was making the air shimmer and the view through the telescope was little more than a blur. Fortunately the gentle movement of the boat on the sea did not make the matter worse. As they cleared the headland, Dexter could make out masts, how many it was impossible to say but from what he could see he was prepared to accept that the bay contained a substantial part of the French warship fleet. Whether any of the freighters were still in attendance he could not say, but he thought it unlikely.

As they continued along their way, the view into the bay was obscured by a low lying island. In places it was little more that a shoal and Dexter could clearly make out the white water of breaking waves. However, to the landward side and the western end, vegetation seemed to have taken a foothold, including a number of somewhat decrepit looking date palms. From this distance Dexter found it hard to estimate its size but it was some minutes before his view of the bay returned. This time he could count four masts, two of which had sails unfurled.

All too soon the views of the bay fell behind them and Dexter was left to sit back against the ship's rail and enjoy the trip. Though he knew there was nothing he could do and should Nelson return then he would surely find the French on his own, Dexter nevertheless felt he was neglecting his duty. He comforted himself with the thought that Captain Hardy had assured him that Nelson would not return for at least a month. If Dexter recalled correctly, then his adventure in Egypt had only lasted four days so far.

As things turned out, Dexter's stay in Palestine was to last far longer than he or Sullieman had intend that it should. By the end of what turned into a stay lasting nearly three whole weeks, Dexter was set fair to burst with frustration. This was despite experiencing a wonderful new land, as Sullieman tended to his business interests.

They feasted well with Turkish traders through many long nights. Several of these business meetings degenerated into wild bacchanalian orgies with spectacular amounts of potent drink being consumed. This was usually followed by prodigious, and in Dexter’s case, successful gambling sessions on the outcome of sports ranging from cock fighting to somewhat risqué Turkish wrestling bouts, several of which Dexter took part in, successfully betting against himself to lose and surprising his hosts with his strength and skills.

It was with some sadness and a fair measure of trepidation that Dexter said his farewells and boarded the small boat, now laden down with every kind of saleable item it was possible to imagine. All the boats rode perilously low in the water as they made their way back along the coast. The land and towns of Palestine seemed so much finer than the widespread poverty and squalor of Alexandria. It was not only the prospect of what lay ahead as they sailed back towards Napoleon and his invading army, that accounted for Dexter’s reluctance to be sailing away.

As the hours passed, he had a sometimes heated conversation with Sullieman about what was the best course of action. However he finally won a grudging acceptance that if the chance arose then they should assist Nelson to engage the French fleet. Sullieman was all for doing his bit to help Napoleon spend his gold reserves, whilst waiting for the Marmelukes and the desert sands to defeat the French army. Dexter eventually persuaded him that his life would be made much easier if the French warships were resting on the sea bed.

To this end, as the little flotilla approached Aboukir Bay, they passed much closer to the barrier island. Dexter scanned the barren strip of land with the spy glass and clearly saw not only movement but what appeared to be fresh earthworks. A brief glint of light caused him to flinch and put the scope down just in case the watchers were themselves being watched. Sullieman needed no telling and began to put distance between them as fast as the stiff offshore breeze allowed.

‘I need to get onto that island, tonight’ Dexter stated, with far more confidence than he felt.

‘That’s plain crazy, why would you do that? Sullieman joked, though one look at Dexter's face told him his friend was never going to be dissuaded.

‘Nelson could be here within days and if he can ambush the French at anchor we can turn this defeat into victory. That island guards the entrance to the bay and you must get me onto it tonight’

‘You have caught the sun my friend,’ Sullieman said with a resigned grin.
*
It was gone midnight by the time Dexter jumped lightly from the rowing boat that had carried him to shore. After a bitter argument, he had persuaded Sullieman to let him go ashore alone. Armed with his pistols and a pair of daggers, he moved with stealth through a scrubby, grass capped dune and slipped into the inky blackness of a small stand of palms. It took him nearly an hour to creep across the small island and reach the low lying, seaward side.

For the last half an hour he had been able to see torches burning some way off in the distance and as he crawled through the last few hundred yards of cover, he could clearly hear voices. His heart was drumming loudly in his chest, his stomach churning as adrenaline coursed through his veins. For the hundredth time he cursed his recklessness because capture meant certain death, shot as a spy at the very least! Still he inched forward because he had to be certain as to what threat this small garrison posed to the Royal Navy squadron, when at last it showed itself.

The course grass and scrub was almost at an end but against the phosphorescence of the gently breaking surf, he could make out some kind of unnatural ridge and there beyond, glinting in the flickering torchlight, were a row of tents, four maybe five and by them was the answer to all his questions. He could clearly see dulled metal, glinting in the yellow light of the smoking torches, two enormous mortars, short-barrelled and pointing at a steep angle toward the night sky. These weapons would be formidable opponents to any attacking force passing close by and very difficult to hit, as they lay below the level of any warship's guns. He knew they would have to be neutralised, if and when Nelson made his appearance.

The journey back across the island was as hard as his outward trip. He could not afford to relax just in case the French had patrols out. In the event they had none, clearly feeling secure in their control of this part of Egypt at least. A good few hours of darkness were left when Dexter reached the boat. He was rowed expertly back to the sailing boat and the party made their way out into the inky back night.

The next morning Sullieman was up and gone by dawn. He had much to trade with the citizens and occupiers of Alexandria. Dexter travelled with him but went exploring on his own to the bazaars and markets, absorbing the chatter around him. Napoleon he quickly learned had left weeks before with most of his army, great columns of infantry, some cavalry and many artillery pieces had been seen leaving the city. A General had been left in charge of Alexandria and its garrison, but under El-Koraim the apathetic residents were by and large just getting on with their lives.

Dexter joined the milling crowd in the road by the French Consul’s residence and briefly caught sight of the tall, thin Frenchman once more as he left the house with a small escort of soldiers. He tried to take in more of the man, noting the small scar on his chin, the mole on his cheek and the swagger in his gait. Dexter slid deeper into the curious crowd until the mysterious man was out of sight. He began to realise the risk he was taking and abandoned his plans to sneak into the British Consul’s residence and see his old friend Farouk.

Back at the old harbour, he quietly slipped aboard Sullieman's boat and watched the unloading completed. Mountainous heaps of stores on the quayside were being snapped up by locals but only after a French Quartermaster dripping in gold braid had purchased the lion’s share. Sullieman dealt personally with the rotund little officer before climbing aboard the boat with a bulging satchel of currency.

‘Ready to leave?’ he asked Archie, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Bonaparte has gone to Cairo they say. Word has it El-Koraim has paid the Bedouin to act as the eyes and ears of the French army, but trust me, they will have taken the gold and scarpered’ he added laughing.

‘El-Koraim will profit well from this no doubt,’ Dexter added with a cynical snort.

‘Too true, and I hear the Bedouin have already been buggering Frenchmen out in the desert. They released some prisoners and their tales have terrified the whole French army’ Sullieman said lightly, then more gravely,’ but a frightened soldier will stand and fight for sure.’

‘How can we find out if Nelson is coming?’ Dexter wondered out loud. ‘Do any fishermen work the waters out toward Malta?’

‘It will be hard to get that information before the French do,’ Sullieman concluded as his crew cast off.

‘But you can rest assured that everyone, including Bonaparte, knows the English will come, so the second they do we will know about it and if there is time to help, we will. After all, your Admiral will need food too eh’ Sullieman said with his irrepressible and infectious good humour.

Dexter could not help but laugh himself at the thought that this was truly what life meant for Sullieman, a quick sales drive, never mind the invasion and a clash of navies, just bring forward the customers.

Two more days passed without incident, Dexter having persuaded Sullieman to send out a boat in the morning to head north a while to look for Nelson, but to no avail. Dexter did at least have a plan of sorts now and Sullieman had agreed to give him some men to help. When the time came for a showdown, Dexter knew his friend would be there with him and sadly he thought, would most likely die by his side.

The 1st of August 1798 dawned clear and bright. Everyone went about the camp’s business as usual and as every morning, the little flotilla of boats set off to sell their wares. On this morning they sailed to Rosetta where they rendezvoused with a Moroccan vessel and took delivery of various items of cargo. Dexter thought it best never to enquire exactly what Sullieman traded in. As on every day, two boats went to Alexandria to buy and sell goods, the most important purchase being food.

Dexter had spent another wild night with Sheriti and he had to admit that though she was maybe fifteen years older than him, he was becoming very fond of her and without doubt her passionate ways were truly memorable. There were perhaps twenty women in the camp and village combined, many younger than Sheriti but none had that most rare allure that she possessed.

Having decided to remain in camp, Dexter whiled away some time exploring the small island and as the midday heat became too much to bear he sought Sheriti’s company once more. He made his way down to the little harbour to find her, with a view to retreating to his tent to enjoy her lush body one more time. Sullieman's boat he noticed was fairly racing into the harbour ahead of a stiff breeze, Sullieman standing on the bow like a bizarre figurehead, with his hand shielding his eyes giving the impression of noble salute.

‘Archie...Archie...come on man!’ he bellowed across the water, as soon as he caught sight of his friend

‘They’re here!’ he shouted, in a state of high excitement.

He could only mean one thing, so Dexter rushed down to the waters edge to greet him. As soon as the boat ground onto the shallow beach, Sullieman leapt ashore.

‘We left Alexandria, maybe two hours ago and on the horizon, heading this way were at least a dozen warships. I don't know for sure if they were British though, can we sail to meet them?’

‘We can try but if we missed them we wouldn’t be able to help. No we must go, whilst we are still in time, land on that island and make our way across it so we can attack those French guns as Nelson arrives. If we land at the eastern end then we can remain unobserved.’

‘Okay, as we agreed, two boats and ten men go ashore. We must leave now or it will be too late, your Navy will be there before us,’ Sullieman announced, before firing off a string of orders.

In a remarkably short time, the two boats were being launched once more. Fully crewed and with a fearsome bunch of men armed to the teeth, they hoisted their sails. Dexter had never seen Sullieman's men in action but they had always seemed to him little more than pirates and today they seemed to be spoiling for a fight.

As they moved away, Dexter scanned the little crowd that had gathered but he could not see Sheriti anywhere and with a sickening feeling in his stomach he realised he may never see her again. With an effort of will he turned away and concentrated on matters that were coming to a head, truly this was do or die and to the romantic fool in Dexter’s complex, contradictory character, this was a day to live for.

The little boats made good speed ahead of a freshening breeze and by the sun’s position, Dexter concluded that it was around four o'clock when they made their landing, on the eastern end of the barrier island at Aboukir Bay. If any of the French crews had spotted them no alarm had seemingly been raised. The French warships were riding at anchor, exactly as they had been weeks earlier. Dexter felt for the crews roasting aboard those stinking ships. Sullieman had not been asked to provision them, so Dexter wondered where, if anywhere, they were getting fresh food from.

The heavily armed band made their way stealthily through the most overgrown half of the island. Eventually Dexter called a halt and imploring the men to stay lying down and silent, he and Sullieman crawled forward. As they reached the last little stand of bent palms, Dexter could see all the way to the island's western tip, across open ground, broken only by grass topped dunes.

He gazed at the little French camp, a tranquil scene under the searing afternoon sun. To the two large mortars had been added two field artillery pieces, all set within a sandy revetment that partially hid their presence from the sea. Five small field tents were dotted around the camp, leaving Dexter to wonder exactly how many Frenchmen were present. Most were sheltering from the sun, leaving what appeared to be a watch of just three men.

The two friends lay under the cruel sun for what seemed an eternity, watching a scene of serene inactivity. One of the Frenchmen rose and stretched, yawning expressively. Looking out to sea, he shielded his eyes from the sun then clambered atop the sandbank they had constructed to protect their guns. He jumped down and walked casually to one of the tents, soon to reappear, now carrying a telescope and in the company of a man who was clearly an officer. Both men climbed the sand bank and took turns with the spy glass.

Dexter put his own telescope to his eye, prepared now to risk a dangerous reflection. Sails! On the horizon were sails and mastheads, two of them to be precise. He passed the scope to Sullieman.

‘Three ships coming this way,’ Sullieman whispered,’ why don’t those fools react?’

‘They can't be sure they’re not friendly can they...and nor can we either’

‘I can make out four masts now so it must be the ships we saw this morning, let’s just hope that it’s your Admiral eh?’ Sullieman hissed, giving Dexter an almost playful nudge.

Suddenly the officer in the French camp came to a decision. His shouted orders carried clearly to the two men and Dexter knew that a stand to had just been ordered. Half-dressed men spilled out of the tents, trying to dress and shield their stinging eyes from the glare of the late afternoon sun. With impressive speed though, chaos became order and one of the field pieces was made ready. Within minutes the crew were all in position and after a last look through his spy glass, the officer raised, then dropped his arm. With a ground shaking crunch the gun fired, white smoke enveloping the gun and crew before being carried off in the breeze. With practiced ease the crew reloaded and fired once more. The warning signal given, the rest of the guns were quickly made ready.

‘Go get the men but come back carefully,’ Dexter ordered,’ we must wait until the guns are actually attacking our ships before we make our move’

They had what seemed a dreadfully long wait as the first two warships sailed majestically ever closer. To Dexter's soldiers mind set, everything seemed to move in a curious and frustrating slow motion. An hour or more had passed since the warning shots from the island guns. The two French ships that he could see clearly, had unfurled signal flags and set sails but still rode at anchor. As the two leading warships finally slid past the island, showing commendable professional restraint, the gunners waited until the first ship was almost past before opening fire.

The colossal roar initially stunned the waiting men, followed by a billowing cloud of smoke which momentarily obscured the gun emplacement in its entirety. Dexter and his party moved forward at a running crouch, Dexter praying these two ships would not return fire and catch them in the open. The gunners were hastily reloading their weapons unmolested by return fire. It was impossible to judge if the British ships had received any hits in the opening engagement. By the time the second volley rang out from the French guns, the first British ship was safely past. The smoke was heavy in the air and the gunners were franticly reloading as Dexter and his ragtag army charged into the French encampment, surprise absolute.

Showing discipline that would have done a Guards regiment proud, Sullieman and his men ran with Dexter until they were no more than thirty yards from the French guns. Some knelt, most stood but all had no qualms about opening fire before most of the French gunners even realised the danger from their rear. Dexter knelt and hoisted up the fearfully heavy musket, a locally built copy of the ‘Brown Bess’. He squeezed the trigger and only when the smoke cleared did he see his target, the French officer, squirming on the sandy floor. A ragged fusillade of shots cut the air like a burst of fire crackers, the stench of gun smoke acrid and painful in his nostrils as Dexter watched gunners fall right across the camp.

He ran on, trying to sling his musket at the same time. One of the gunners was trying to prepare his own musket but was felled by a ball which struck him in the leg. Dexter drew one of his pistols and fired, missing a gunner armed with a long straight sword. Scrabbling for his second pistol, Dexter fired just as the man charged at him with the sword held high. Dexter's shot caught him high in the chest and he fell as though poleaxed. The heavy ball fired by the Light Dragoons issue pistol was lethal at less than twenty feet, now armed only with a dagger, he ran on.

‘Stop...stop...now!’ he yelled at Sullieman’s men, as the remaining Frenchmen raised their hands in surrender. One chose flight and was shot at point blank range by one of Sullieman's savage looking sailors but the rest restrained themselves. Within minutes they had captured the half dozen remaining gunners, trussed them up with strips of their own uniforms and then set about looting both the men and their camp.

Dexter left them to it and looked across the water in awe as more of Nelson's warships sailed into view. Suddenly he remembered the orders given to his beach party and looked away to the east. Sure enough three, thick black columns of smoke rose into the air, now all Dexter could hope for was that the signal would be recognised and he would get the chance to rejoin the squadron. First however, Nelson’s ships had to be victorious.

Dexter set off at a slow trot along the water’s edge to find a vantage point and watch the battle unfold. Time was passing and as far as he could tell not one shot had been fired by either Navy. Minutes ticked by as the leading Royal Navy warships slowly closed on the anchored French fleet, while yet more warships silently entered the bay. This encounter was going to be decided right here, that much was obvious.

Eventually, the first two Royal Navy vessels sailed slowly between two of the French ships and with an ear splitting crash, an exchange of fearsome broadsides began. For the first time in a month Dexter was quite delighted to be separated from his companions. There was no romance in cowering in a floating coffin, wondering if the next cannon ball to strike would launch foot long splinters through the air to rip your body to pieces. He had not prayed in years but he began right there on the beach, it certainly could not hurt he thought.

The battle raged for hours and continued as night fell. The roar of cannons was incessant, as was the destruction continuous. As ships were partly, then completely dismasted, they drifted aimlessly but still fired their surviving guns. The dark bay was illuminated by one of the biggest ships, well ablaze. All Dexter could do was to speculate that it was French, purely on account of its size. The normally ebullient Sullieman was unnervingly quiet, his men too, despite having liberated a quantity of brandy from the French camp. To all the men on the beach, that warm summer’s night, this was a new experience, to be witness to slaughter on an epic scale.

Several more hours passed and the bombardment continued with little signs of abating. After what must by Dexter's estimation, have been nearly four hours of continuous battle, there came across the water, first a vivid orange flash followed by an unearthly crash, that shook the ground and moved the very air the small party breathed. They all stood in dumbstruck astonishment as flaming debris arced through the night sky, landing with a whoosh in the sea or a crump as some unfortunate ships were struck and set alight. In the flickering light of the fires, they could see that the explosion had removed one of the ships and of course it’s crew, from the battle forever.

For a while the cannon fire slackened but over the next few hours it picked up again. By the light of burning timbers, two ships could be seen leaving the bay but the party on the beach could only speculate as to their nationality. As the cannon fire once more began to diminish, Sullieman decided they should leave and ensure the prisoners were secure before they made their return to the landing point. One of Sullieman's men knew the form and successfully spiked the French guns. The survivors of the attack were herded into a tent which was roughly tied shut to ensure they stayed put, for a while at least. Anything of value and all the looted firearms were shared out and the raiding party, unscathed to a man, began the return journey across the island.

Reunited with the boat crews, they made fast the booty and amid much back slapping and sharing of brandy, everyone looked to Sullieman and Dexter for the order to take to the boats. The first fingers of dawns light were just stealing over the horizon and in the grey light Dexter could make out a ship that appeared to be heading in their direction. He had it in his spyglass straight away and urged calm.

‘Get the boats off the beach but no more... I’m sure...yes I think it’s the Leander, the frigate I came from England on,’ Dexter assured the nervous men, with some degree of false confidence.

As the warship approached to within five hundred yards, the beach party watched as an anchor splashed into the clear water and shortly afterwards they saw a rowing boat begin to make its journey to the shore.

‘Archie my dear friend,’ Sullieman said with a shaky voice,’ this looks like goodbye once more. It’s been such a grand adventure let’s hope the Gods have more plans for us eh?’

‘It will be so Sullieman, I feel it in my bones,’ Dexter managed to get out, tears welling in his eyes.

‘There will always be a place for you here and this Napoleon will be gone soon. I will bankrupt him before too long!’ Sullieman joked.

‘Do not underestimate him! The French can be traitorous bastards when riled!’ Dexter warned, holding his friend in a tight grip.

He glanced out to sea and noticed the row boat was now only one hundred yards from the beach. Six sailors toiled over the oars and crammed in amongst them were six Marines.
Dexter gave his friend a last tearful, rib crunching hug and with a sad smile added, ‘Please say goodbye to Sheriti, no make that farewell, until we meet again, she’s a true Egyptian wonder’.

Sullieman slapped him on the back and they giggled together like school boys once more. Dexter looked across at the row boat approaching the beach, a marine now standing on the prow, ready to jump ashore. The man suddenly executed a forward roll over the bow into the water, a bloom of crimson blood smeared on the surface as his body sank.

A ragged volley of shots rang out causing Sullieman's men to fan out with impressive speed, preparing their weapons. Dexter hit the sand as around a dozen French infantrymen emerged from the tree line, struggling to reload their muskets as they closed on the beach, wading through the deep clinging sand of the low dunes.

Sullieman’s men opened fire, getting around six shots off, felling three Frenchmen but still the remainder came on. Then the Marines opened fire with a disciplined volley, which at a range of little more than thirty yards dropped five more of the French infantry. The survivors turned and ran with their still unloaded weapons useless. They had opened fire at too great a range and paid the price of their impetuosity.

Dexter had prepared his musket but had no targets. Then in a heart stopping moment he saw, barely visible amongst the running infantry, the tall, thin civilian who had dogged him ever since his first night in Egypt. He was dressed in light coloured civilian clothes, incongruously set off with an infantryman’s stove pipe hat. Hurriedly Dexter fired from a prone position and as the smoke cleared he saw the man, clearly wounded, being dragged to safety by two of the soldiers.

Dexter found himself surrounded by Marines, franticly reloading their muskets. Sullieman and his men boarded their boats and with no small difficulty manhandled them off the beach. Satisfied the French were not about to launch a second attack, the Marines and Dexter, clambered aboard the rowing boat and as one unit the sailors pulled on the oars to back off the beach.

Dexter risked standing in the boat to give Sullieman a wave, which was heartily returned, before a Marine ordered Dexter to stop rocking the boat. Reluctantly he complied as he saw his friend turn away and the little boat sail away from him. Undoubtedly spurred on by this timely reminder that the French were certainly not defeated in Egypt, the oarsmen rowed hard for Leander. In no time at all, Dexter was back aboard the warship that had brought him to such an adventure and undoubted danger but a miraculous reunion with his childhood friend.

The crew of the Leander worked at a frantic but disciplined pace to prepare her for sail and by the time Dexter had got his bearings, the vessel was slowly making way.

‘Captain Dexter Sir, welcome back aboard and with Captain Thompson's compliments Sir, would you care to use my humble quarters to make yourself presentable and then attend him in his quarters if you please,’ rattled out a proud looking Midshipmen Farthing

‘Good to see you again’ Dexter replied jauntily, following him below.

A little under an hour later, Dexter found himself not standing before but sitting with, Captain Thompson in his private cabin at the ship’s stern. As he gave a cold factual account of his adventures and an assessment of Napoleon's grip on Egypt, he found himself pushed to elaborate by Thompson, a man who was clearly a romantic at heart and who was enjoying such a fantastic tale of derring do.

Dexter was not afraid to praise Sullieman and his men, whilst glossing over their smuggling activities. He felt sure that having a good word from the Royal Navy might one day keep Sullieman from the gallows. The Leander was carrying Nelson's despatches to be returned to London and Thompson insisted that Dexter formulate a written report of his one man campaign against Napoleon.

Over the next few days the Leander sailed on under azure blue skies. Dexter, in the fortunate position of having no role in sailing the vessel, was able to relax and take the opportunity to write a formal report of his adventures since leaving the Leander behind, just over a month ago. As he wrote, he reflected on the astounding good fortune that had seen him not only survive but also play a small part in Nelson's triumph.

Sam
December 1st, 2010, 05:14 PM
Sportourer1, I spaced-out your paragraphs because they were just one block of text and it's very hard for a reader to know which point they're reading when all they can see is text. If you're copy/pasting from Word, you need to be aware that you lose all of your formatting when you paste it here. To counter this, use the "advanced" button beside "post quick reply" to take you to the advanced screen. From here, use "preview" to see precisely what your post looks like. Sometimes it looks fine when you copy and paste, but when you post it, then you notice the problems.

Also, I would suggest to change the font. It's not particularly easy on the eye. Go for Verdana or something similar. Much more eye-friendly.

I'm a fan of thrillers, so I may get back to this when I have a free minute.

sportourer1
December 1st, 2010, 07:02 PM
Thank you so much for that. I hope you find time to have a little read. This exerpt is not the beginning of the book so I hope it is not too confusing

sportourer1
December 17th, 2010, 09:42 PM
Will post another segment soon

sportourer1
February 13th, 2011, 05:46 PM
N