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follow them, we also learned that they were on their way to join a corsair fleet that was collecting at some point on the eastern side of Sardinia, with the intention of sweeping the coast of Italy. It was this, rather than the capture of these three vessels, that induced us to disobey the general instructions we had been given to cruise along the northern coast of Africa, and determined us to push north to give warning along the coast from Naples to Genoa of the danger that threatened, and, if possible, to enable Genoa to fit out her galleys to encounter the corsairs. That duty has still to be fulfilled, though I fear that Genoa will be able to do little, for of late she has been engaged in a long civil struggle between her great families, and has taken but a small part in maritime affairs. However, we can at least warn her, as well as Naples, Pisa, and other towns, and may possibly find some opportunity for ourselves striking another blow against the pirates."
"If so, certainly we shall be glad to accompany you, if you will allow us to serve under you; for nothing would please us so much as the opportunity of paying off a small share of the vengeance we owe them. But of course, if you would rather, we will sail for Rhodes in the prizes."
"I am not thinking of sending them to Rhodes at present," Gervaise said. "It seems to me that we may be able, in some way, to utilise them to advantage. They have their sails, and rowers for the oars. There will be, in each, besides seven knights of the Order, thirty men who, like yourselves, must feel willing to strike a blow at their late oppressors. I need hardly say that I shall be glad indeed to have the company and aid of three such well known knights of the Order, and would, could I do so, gladly resign my command into your experienced hands. But this I cannot do, and, anticipating that you would be willing to join us in this expedition, I have been thinking how I could best utilise your aid. I have thought that, if you would accept the positions, I would appoint one of you to each of the prizes, to act, not as its commander, but as the leader of the band of released captives. Most of them are sailors, of course, and with them you could work the guns and give effective aid to the little party of knights in any actual fight."
The three knights all exclaimed that they would gladly accept the posts he offered them.
"The idea is a capital one, Sir Gervaise; and, as long as it does not come to close fighting, the three ships should be able to render efficient aid to your galley in any encounter. They will be, at any rate, a match for their own number of pirate ships," Caretto said.
As soon as the meal concluded, the Moslem captives were questioned one by one as to the rendezvous at which the pirate fleet was to assemble; all, however, protested that the place was known only to the three commanders, all of whom had fallen in the fight.
CHAPTER XIV THE CORSAIR FLEET
An hour later all was ready for a start. The knights of the langues of France, Germany, and Spain went on board their respective ships, as did the three parties of released captives, with the knights who were to command them, while the rowers took their seats on the benches, shackled with the chains that had recently held the Christians. The wind was from the south, and with sails and oars the prizes were able to keep fairly abreast of the galley. With a few short intervals of rest, the slaves continued their work all night, until, shortly before daybreak, land was seen ahead, and the pilot at once pronounced it to be Cape Carbonara.
"A good landfall, Gervaise," Ralph said. "The pilot has done right well. I suppose you mean to anchor when you get there?"
"Certainly, Ralph. The slaves will have rowed nearly eighteen hours, with only two hours' rest. They must have some hours, at least, of sleep before we go on. As you and I have been up all night, we will turn in also. We will send a boat ashore to try and find out from the natives they may come across whether any vessels, bearing the appearance of Moorish corsairs, have been seen passing up the coast, and also to find out what bays and inlets there are where they would be likely to anchor. Some of the Italian knights had best go with the boat, for though I believe these people speak a different dialect to those of the mainland, they would have more chance of understanding them than any of the others."
The sun had risen when the little fleet came to an anchor close to the cape. A boat was at once prepared to go ashore, and Gervaise begged Fabricius Caretto, the senior of the rescued Italian knights, to endeavour to find out whether a swift sailing craft of some kind could be hired. If so, he was to secure her on any terms, and come off in her at once to the galley.
Gervaise had already talked the matter over with Ralph, and they agreed that a strongly manned craft of this kind would go faster than any of those they had taken, and that, moreover, it would be a pity to weaken their force by sending one of the prizes away. Having seen them off, Gervaise retired to the cabin and threw himself down for a short sleep, leaving the knights who had been off watch during the night, to see that all went well. In two hours he was roused. A native craft had come alongside with Sir Fabricius Caretto.
"I think she is just the craft for us," the knight said, as Gervaise came on deck. "She belongs to a large fishing village just round the point to the left. There were several boats there, but the villagers all said that this was the speediest vessel anywhere along the coast. She belongs to two brothers, who, with four men, constitute her regular crew; but I have arranged for twelve others to go in her, in order that they may row her along at a good pace if the wind falls light."
"Are your companions come off yet?"
"No; but we can hoist a flag for their recall."
"Do so. I shall be greatly obliged if you will undertake this mission to the seaports. It needs one of name and rank to speak with the nobles and officials authoritatively."
"I will gladly do so, Sir Gervaise. Give me your instructions, and you can rely upon my carrying them out."
"I thank you greatly, Sir Fabricius, and shall be glad if you will take with you any two of the knights you may select. I have to write letters for you to deliver to the authorities at Naples, Pisa, and Genoa. I shall write but briefly, and leave you to explain matters more fully. I shall merely say that I have intelligence of the arrival here of a fleet of Moorish corsairs, of whose strength I am ignorant, but that assuredly their intention is to make a raid on the commerce of the coast, and perhaps to land at unprotected places. At Ostia, after warning the authorities to send orders along the coast for the inhabitants to be on their guard, pray them to carry word at once to Rome, and request his Holiness the Pope to order some armed galleys to put to sea as soon as possible. Beg them at Naples and Pisa to do the same thing. But of course it is from Genoa that we must hope for the most assistance.
"In each place you will, if possible, see the syndic himself, and such of his council as can be got quickly together. The moment you have done all you can at Genoa sail for the Island of Madalena, which lies off the northeastern point of the island. There you will either find us, or a boat with a message where to direct your course. I think perhaps it will be best to omit Naples -- it will save you fully a day, if not two, to do so. Pray them at Ostia to send off news down the coast, or to request the papal authorities to despatch mounted messengers. 'Tis likely that, at first, at any rate, the corsairs will try the narrower waters to the north. From here to Ostia is nigh two hundred miles, and if the wind is brisk you may arrive there tomorrow afternoon, and start again at night, arriving at Pisa before noon on the following day; while, allowing for four or five hours to ascend the river there, you may be at Genoa next morning.
"Three hours should suffice to gather from the authorities what force they can despatch, and as soon as you have learned this, embark again and sail south. You may reach Madalena in two days. Thus, at the earliest, it must be from six to seven days before you can bring us the news there; if you meet with calms or foul winds you may be well nigh double that time. If at Ostia you can get a faster craft than this, hire it, or take a relay of fresh rowers. I will furnish you with means when I give you the letters."
In less than half an hour Gervaise was on deck again. The boat had returned with the other Italian knights. An ample store of provisions had been placed on board the Sperondra, both for the crew and for the three knights, and, without a minute's delay, these took their places on board, the great sails were hoisted, and the craft glided rapidly away.
"The villagers spoke truly as to her speed," Ralph said, as they looked after her. "Even with this light wind, she is running fully six miles an hour, and as, by the look of the sky, there will be more of it soon, she will make the run to Ostia well within the time we calculated."
Gervaise now questioned the other Italian knights as to what information they had gained.
They said the peasants had told them that several strange craft, using both oars and sails, had been noticed passing northwards, and that so strong was the opinion that these were either Algerines or Tunisians that, for the last three or four days, none of the fishing craft had ventured to put to sea. They were able to tell but little as to the bays along the coastline, which they described as very rugged and precipitous. Five or six little streams ran, they knew, down from the mountains. They thought the most likely places for corsairs to rendezvous would be in a deep indentation north of Cape Bellavista, or behind Cape Comino. If not at these places, they might meet in the great bay at whose entrance stands Tavolara Island, and that beyond, there were several deep inlets on the northeastern coast of the Island. Gervaise had a consultation with Ralph.
"The first thing is to find out where these corsairs have their meeting place, Ralph; and this must be done without their catching sight of the galley or of the prizes, which some of them would be sure to recognise."
"It is a difficult question, Gervaise. Of course, if we had a
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