The creaking of deck hid the groans and moans of the wounded as the main turret broke loose and fell from its mount. It skidded slowly towards the railing pulling the mechanism for loading it along with it from the hole it had been. Marcate started to curse until he could not think anything more to say. The main cannon had been the key to the fleets superiority but went overboard while tearing a large part of the ammo transfer system along with it. He snatched the rangefinder and started to scan around for the enemy. The thick fog made it impossible to see anything clearly. The ships he saw were only visible as those were burning and of those almost all were his.
“Damage report Lieutenant!”
The young lieutenant stood in shock still staring at the place where the cannon had been. He was trying to shake off the shock but could not. Marcate turned to the left.
“Damage report Master Gunner!”
“Sir, five minutes for a detailed list but rough damage list would be, main gun lost, side batteries down to one fire solution and rudder is unresponsive, sir.”
“Thank you. Provide me with the full list as soon as possible.”
Marcate dismissed the Master Gunner.
Master gunner slid down the stairs and ran towards the hole on the deck. He quickly vanished down the hole. Marcate turned back to the lieutenant who had managed to snap out of the shock but was still fumbling around without a direction. Marcate stepped closer and slapped him.
“Get a grip! Damage report!”
The lieutenant was stuttering and shaking.
“Sir, sorry sir, sir I do not know!”
Marcate was about to slap him again but decided against it. The lieutenant was not guilty of the situation. Marcate felt that the blame rested fully on his shoulders. He knew who was coming after him but had not taken him seriously.
“Find out, you have five minutes.”
The man started to walk towards the stairs sluggishly and to shake his head. Marcate sighed at the sight. The lieutenant had shown promise but seemed to have broken down in the face of adversity.
“Helmsman, how bad it looks?”
“Rudder is blown away. We are not going to turn fast, but the smaller paddle wheels on the sides are still operational, so we have directional control. With the main wheel problems, those are also our main propulsion.”
Marcate rubbed his temple to alleviate the throbbing that was growing in his head. Everything seemed to have gone wrong ever since the Fleets had met.
“Any chance for a repair for the rudder?”
“No sir. It needs a drydock repair. We do not have a spare on board for that extensive damages.”
The helmsman was shaking his head all the time as he told what was wrong. It irritated Marcate, and he turned to look to bow again.
“Blasted that man. He knows where to strike better than I could.”
Marcate hit the railing with his fist and stood there thinking what to do. He could not follow the enemy and the visibility was minimal. All he could do was to gather the remaining ships for a defensive formation and see what the damages were for the whole fleet.
“Captain Marcate. The loading system is out, no chance to repair, but the cannon tore the channels clear so we can use wheelbarrows along that for reloading purposes. It is slow, but we can get about a salvo every ten minutes from the side batteries. Gunnery crew is down to half strength so they need to alternate handle both sides so it will take some time for them to man the other end if the need arises.”
It would be a gamble to man just one side in the fog, so Marcate said.
“Just divide the crew to both sides. We need to prepare for an attack from any direction. I rather have half strength salvo than no salvo. Just tell them to keep all cannons loaded so they can switch to fresh one after firing.”
Master Gunner’s eyes brightened suddenly, and he exclaimed.
“Sir, that gave me an idea. I think I can create a rotation for loading the cannons. We can shoot more often that way but no full broadsides.”
“Do that. We still have the largest cannons in the battle even if we lost the main one.”
Master Gunner saluted, and Marcate replied to it. The man vanished back into the insides of the ship. The lieutenant was climbing back to the bridge and had managed to gain some colour along the way.
“Sir! We are down to five cruisers and seven support ships. The rest of the ships are being abandoned, and crew redistributed to allow those vessels that remain to work.”
Marcate resisted the idea of manning the flagship wholly at the expense of the other ships. He would need the other ships as shields.
“What is the ammo situation?”
“Enough for two engagements after that we are dry.”
It was a bleaker situation than Marcate had expected, but it also solidified a plan in his mind.
“That should be sufficient. We have caused considerable damage to the enemy too. It will be close, but I think we still have the upper hand with the weaponry.”
“But, sir. We cannot catch them.”
Marcate smiled and waved the concerns of Lieutenant off.
“That makes no difference anymore. We are close enough for a push towards Vallentor. The Rose Throne fleet cannot stop us from breaking through and reducing the castle to rubble. This fog gives the cover to get close enough before they can react to us.”
With large eyes and shaking lips the lieutenant said.
“But what about the Admiral?”
Marcate put his hand on the shoulder of the lieutenant to assure him. It seemed to help a little.
“He cannot stop us either. We will end this war with the Rose Throne today! Signal all ships to converge on us. We will sail at full speed in half an hour and before down comes the Empire has defeated King Xavier and the Rose Throne will fall under our might.”
The short speech lit a fire in the eyes of the lieutenant. The battle had smothered the fire, but now it flamed once more as it did when they embarked on the mission.
“Yes, sir! I will signal the ships right away, sir.”
Lieutenant ran off and left Marcate alone on the bridge. He took hold of the pommel of his sword and looked deep into the fog. He would end it today. It had been a long road from the Ballyhook to this moment, but the killer of his mother would pay today. He had wanted to hang the man but bombarding him to a pulp with cannons would do. Xavier would die even if it were the