The Time I defeated the Spanish Armada

Submitted into Contest #80 in response to: Start your story with a major news event breaking — one that will change the world forever.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction Funny

It was early in the morning and we were wondering what to do with the Drunken Sailor, or Lieutenant or whatever he said he was. He had turned up at the Tavern last night telling us that the Armada had been spotted and all able-bodied men and boys were to make their way to the docks to join ships and fight the good fight for the Queen and for England.

Naturally, as able-bodied men we were less than enthused by the idea. It’s not like we were not used to the sea, many of us were fishermen, but killing fish is a lot easier than killing the Spanish and rumour had it that we were outnumbered. The Spanish ships were bigger and stronger than ours, although we were faster and more manoeuvrable, or so the Lieutenant had told us.

We had sat him down on the premise of wanting more information and got him drunk. Very Drunk. Now we had a dilemma, did we stick him in a corner and wait for everything to be over, or did we try and get him back on board his ship. We had placed him in one of the Inn’s bedrooms and were hoping he would just sleep it off. Hopefully, he would be in such a rush to get back to his ship he would forget all about us.

What we didn’t bargain for was the search party of sailors that came looking for him, banging down the doors and threatening to kill anyone who may have harmed him, or was hiding him. They intended to search every room until they found him or were satisfied that he was not present.

We took action, and before long, I found myself on the deck of The Golden Hind dressed as a Lieutenant stood next to Francis Drake, about to sail in to battle against the Armada. Apparently, when drunk fishermen panic, we impersonate an officer. Being about his size and with a similar colour I had been volunteered to put his uniform on get rid of the sailors, and then sober up the Lieutenant and get him to his ship.

We were lucky that none of the sailors knew the man, or that no one on board seemed to recognise him. Turns out he had only arrived in Plymouth yesterday and had not yet been on board the ship. Although, in hindsight, lucky probably wasn’t the right term for it.

Turns out the ship was sailing shortly, and they would not leave without him. I spent the entire walk to the dock, trying to remember everything he had said about himself. Problem is, I don’t think he even mentioned his name, let alone a guide to his role on board a Naval Vessel. I prayed to my protestant God, at least I think we are currently protestant, to get me through this, with my head attached to my shoulders. Then just in case we are Catholic again, I prayed to the Catholic God too. Well, any port in a storm and this was certainly a storm.

We spent the day chasing the Armada through the channel. We were faster and more manoeuvrable than the Spanish, but they were bigger and more powerful.  They were designed for close combat; we were laden with long range cannons. As it was day 1 of the big sea battle wasn’t so bad. We were so far away from each other that there were no ships sunk on day 1, well not by us anyway. Two Spanish Ships crashed into each other and had to be abandoned. Drake ordered us to raid the vessels and not only did we get prisoners, but there was a lot of gold and ammunition on board. This would dent the Spanish Effort, or so Drake told us over dinner that evening.

Drake was known for his exploits at sea, his raids on the Spanish ships, his round the world voyage and all-round heroism, although if you were Spanish he was more Pirate than Hero. However, right now he was sulking. He was not in charge of this defence, that role had gone to Lord Charles Howard, who happened to be the Queens cousin. He was not a Seaman, but he was still an able leader. Apparently, Drake thought he should be top dog and he spent the evening telling us that.

For the next few days, we chased the Spaniards up the channel, I barked orders at people and tried to avoid doing anything that would expose me as an imposter. Had I been a fresh-faced midshipman I could have got away with not knowing what I was doing, but Lieutenants had at least 6 years’ experience.

I knew about being a sea, I was a fisherman, I spent my life at sea. Just not on Galleons, and not going into war with one of the most feared fleets in the world. What if the fate of England depended on my actions? Who was I kidding? I’d be on board long-range fighting and doing my best to keep a low profile.

 I watched other Lieutenants and followed what they were doing. Luckily, I did have my uses. My reading of the tides and the weather proved useful, and somehow, I was able to blend in. By July 27th, we had chased the Spanish up the channel, preventing them from taking refuge in the Solent and had forced them to France, The Spanish fleet anchored in Calais, but they were expecting reinforcements.

Word reached us from The Revenge, Lord Howard’s ship, that we were to make ourselves a bit lighter, so we took 8 of our warships that had been damaged some a little and moved various broken pieces of wood, damaged sails, and some of the gunpowder to the ships. The aim was that they would sit in the channel whilst we engaged in battle. There would be nothing slowing us down. Our long-range cannons were making it so much harder for the Spanish. The faster we could move the better.

Drake had sent back a strongly worded message that this was stupid. We needed all the ammunition where we could use it. There was no reply and we and the other ships followed the orders we were given.

I was minding my own business staring looking over the bow, trying to spot England in the distance, when I heard a word I really did not want to hear “Lieutenant”. I was being called, and not be any old person but by Drake himself. This time, my prayers included any God that would listen.

I turned and smiled, not sure why I smiled, maybe to hide my fear. “Yes sir?”

“We are going to need to get closer to the Spanish at some point. I believe you are an archer; we are planning to use arrows soaked in combustibles to set fire to the Spanish ships sails. I need you to show the crew how to shoot fire arrows.”

“Of course, sir.”

‘Of course!’ who was I kidding, I have never fired an arrow in my life. Let alone a flaming arrow. On the other hand, how hard can it be? Sails are up so just shoot the arrow up and hope for the best. They are also big, so hard to miss.

I stood for a moment, not because I was in awe standing next to one of the most legendary men of our time, but because I had suddenly lost all control of my feet. They just would not move. Drake was staring at me. I was staring back, willing my feet to move. Drake was Glaring at me, and I did the only thing that someone who was suddenly in a blind panic could do, I threw up. On Drake.

A few hours and a flogging later, I stood on the upper gun deck, bow in hand side by side with various sailors about to light an arrow on fire and shoot it into the night. Drake, freshly changed, stood on the half deck, watching my every move.

I grabbed an arrow and some sailor, I think he may have said his name was Harry or Gary, set the end bit of the arrow on fire. I put it towards the bow as everyone watched and attempted to fire. Apparently, a wooden bow is quite flammable. Bows are also a lot harder to use than they look.

One of the sailors gave me another bow. I knew I was in trouble. I had a feeling that before long I would be thrown into the Channel. We were close enough to Calais that I might make shore if I could swim through both the Armada and the British Fleet. I needed to get this shot right.

I took the flaming arrow, this time managing to avoid setting the bow on fire, I shot the arrow into the night air and watched it go up then down into the sea. Success. The sailors followed my lead and before long I had mastered the art of archery. Well, if Archery meant shooting at nothing that is.

I grew in confidence. I was to take one last shot, it was getting late, nearly midnight. I took my flaming arrow and fired. I watched it go up in the air, and down towards, one of the ships we had loaded with combustibles. I watched as the ship caught fire. Oops.

The damaged ships were all grouped together ahead of the fleet. Drake ordered me, to row over to the ship I had just set on fire and let it loose. The tide and the wind would drive them towards Calais and away from our fleet, but we would lose some supplies, and valuable ammunition.

Taking a small number of sailors to help row the boat, I climbed over the edge of the ship and tried to descend into the smaller rowboat. Now I knew what I was doing. Rowboats, I could handle a rowboat. Taking on an air of command, I instructed the sailors to row towards the burning ship.

I climbed on board and ran to the anchor point, with two of the larger men with me. It was getting quite smoky and rather hot. Wasting no time, we weighed anchor and disembarked as soon as we could. The ship started to move, and I watched contented as it floated on the tide towards Calais.

Unfortunately, there was a second of the damaged vessels in its way and a burning sail, chose that moment to break down and float on to the second ship. I cursed my luck, and we made our way to the second vessel and repeated the act of weighing anchor and sending it on its way to Calais.

Two burning ships had to be better than one. The Third and fourth burning ships, were a concern, and then when the other four ships caught fire, well, I knew my execution was well and truly on its way. Even if I somehow, managed to escape death and spent the rest of my life in jail, life for me was over.

We headed back to the Hind, and I prepared to take my place in the brig or die right there on the deck. Instead, Drake was stood on the half deck, watching the ships sail into Calais Harbour. He had a strange look on his face, I think he was smiling.

At this point there were not enough Gods to Pray to. I had just set fire to all our spare supplies.

Before, long the flames from the harbour could be seen for miles. We heard a cry from one of the other vessels, the Spanish were fleeing, and they had cut anchor, to get away from the burning ships and their tight formation was broken. Drake gave the orders to pursue and pursue we did. With the Spanish in disarray, it was easy to get in close. To be fair, I don’t really remember much of what happened over the next few hours.

It might have been the panic, it might have been the surge of energy throughout my body, or it may have been the blow on the head from a Spaniard who was not best pleased at his ship being sunk. It was hardly a surprise, it is not exactly like I had ever been trained in the art of hand-to-hand combat, use of a sword, warfare or anything that didn’t involve fish or alcohol.

I tried my best, when the enemy tried to attack, I would order the men to fire, if we had to board a ship, I pulled out my sword and swung wildly, hoping not to die. I got pretty lucky but one particularly large Spaniard managed to get in a lucky blow to my head and I fell to the deck.

I was saved by one of my crew and taken back to the Hind to carry on the next attack. It’s at this point things became hazy.

We chased the Spanish through the night and into the next day. It was clear, or so I heard, that the risk to England was over and everyone was hailing Drake for his order to send in the Fireships. I wanted to protest, but then I also quite liked the idea of remaining alive, so I had to sit and join in the praise for Drake.

We chased the Spanish to the North Sea but knowing that the weather and the seas would more than likely, do the rest of the job, we headed back to port. It was a great victory. The mighty Spanish Armada defeated, by my actions. I would be hailed a hero. May be get a title and lands.

We returned home each of us expecting a share of treasure and riches. Drake was embarrassed that one of his crew had accidentally, set the fire that led to victory and claimed he had given the order to do so. Howard, was annoyed that Drake had gone against his plans, so stated that it had been discussed by both and he had agreed to the plan.

They got the plaudits, I got, arrested. As we docked the Lieutenant, who it turns out was called Henry, pointed me out as the fisherman that had stolen his uniform. Luckily, Lord Howard, who felt sorry for the sailors returning with nothing, managed to get me out of jail, and when he heard that I was the one who had set the ships of fire, he offered me a place on his crew. As a seaman. Apparently, I was not officer material.

I politely declined. I wanted to give the sea a miss for a while. Not easy for a fisherman but even a couple of days would be good.

People, asked me about Drake, and the Hind. No one remembers the name John Saynsbury but I was the man who really defeated the Spanish Armada

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February 06, 2021 17:22

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10 comments

05:20 Feb 19, 2021

This is a beautifully crafted short story (using 'jargon of English phrases & words') revolving around a fisherman turned sea-warrior fighting for England against Spaniards. Good Presentation. My Suggestion - expand this short story into a long-version Novel or Fiction Book. Kudos.

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Siobhan Mulalley
08:38 Feb 19, 2021

Thanks for the lovely comment.

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14:20 Feb 23, 2021

"What a strange thing to ask me. If for some reason you have an issue with Reedsy, perhaps you should take it up with them instead of spending time writing passive-aggressive comments in an incredibly weak attempt to belittle the winner of one of their stories. I would also suggest that perhaps the reason that you are unable to judge good writing from bad might be somewhat linked to your inability to master the art of caps lock." This Comment Of "Natascha Graham" Really Deserves The Prize Money Worth "Fifty US Dollars". Best Wishes To You Fo...

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Siobhan Mulalley
14:57 Feb 23, 2021

Hi, I am not sure what you are saying. I don’t recall writing anything passive-aggressively, nor belittling the winner. Have you posted this in the correct place. If I have done something, it is not something I am aware of and I certainly did not intend offence.

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Siobhan Mulalley
23:19 Feb 14, 2021

Thanks. First submission, so all feedback appreciated.

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Daniel R. Hayes
21:57 Feb 14, 2021

I really enjoyed reading this story. I found it very entertaining, and it held my attention from beginning to end. You did a fantastic job writing it. I look forward to more stories from you. Keep up the good work :)

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AntMan 🐜
23:06 Feb 23, 2021

Great detail! I loved the beginning and John's adaptations to the world around him! He (for the most part) knew what to do, as he spent most of his life on the sea. Also, I don't know about you, but I think it's ironic that both of our first submissions were set on the rolling seas XD

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Siobhan Mulalley
23:08 Feb 23, 2021

Funnily enough, the week before this I entered another competition which wound up being a historical piece set on a Ship. The sea seems to be in my life at the moment. Thanks for the nice comments. I appreciate it.

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Siobhan Mulalley
23:08 Feb 23, 2021

Funnily enough, the week before this I entered another competition which wound up being a historical piece set on a Ship. The sea seems to be in my life at the moment. Thanks for the nice comments. I appreciate it.

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AntMan 🐜
23:29 Feb 23, 2021

Yeah 😅 I try to be positive, but give good feedback at the same time. It's kind of hard 😊

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