Saturday, February 21, 2009


May 1808

Lieutenant Johan Kuhlin stood at the window and looked down on the big inner harbour of Stockholm. It was crowded with ships and boats of all kinds. Most were smaller merchant vessels waiting to bring supplies to the army who fought for its survival more than defending the Eastern part of the Swedish kingdom - Finland. Only a few weeks before, the big fortress at Svensksund had surrendered to the Russians and the whole Finnish gunboat squadron with it. Now only the little Stockholm squadron stood between the Russian inshore fleet and the Ă…land islands, let alone the Stockholm archipelago and Swedish capital. Sure, the high seas fleet had managed to blockade the bigger Russian ships in Estonia, with some help from the British Royal Navy. But there were enough galleys, sloops and gunboats left to worry about. Especially now with the Finnish squadron added to the enemy's forces. And those were the best and newest boats.

Kuhlin thought about the commander of that fortress - the traitor as he already had been named by quite a few - Carl Olof Cronstedt. Kuhlin had met him once, long nose and quite small mouth. Aristocratic of course. But a coward nonetheless apparently. If he at least had burned the gunboats before surrendering to the Russians. More than 70 galleys and gunboats had fallen into Russian hands which was more than the Stockholm squadron could muster altogether. And that did not even include the original Russian boats.

He turned his head and looked to the right. In the distance he could just see the navy yard where gunboats were built and repaired at this very moment. But the boats were not all. The inshore fleet was formally an army unit. It's primary purpose was to support the army by covering its seaward flank. Thus while the boats were commanded by navy officers like himself the rest of the crew was army. An army officer commanded the guns and the men at the oars were all new army conscripts with very limited seagoing experience. He did have a boatswain, though, who was a real sailor and would no doubt be extremely useful.

Talking about guns, Kuhlin thought. His boat would have two real guns, a 24 pounder in the bow and one in the stern. Then there were four small swivel guns, two in the bows and two aft. Kuhlin actually never had commanded a gunboat before, or any vessel by any means. He had been a second in command on a navy brig at most. The transfer to the inshore fleet really was Charlotte's fault. She wanted him to be near her home at Stockholm and not to be away for so long periods as was customary in the navy. Of course he had wanted it too, newlywed and all in love. But then the war had come and now he wasn't so sure anymore. Maybe blockade duty off Estonia was better than fighting the Russians in what was essentially a big rowboat. There were two masts with lateen sails alright, but the rig was intended to be taken down during battle. And there wasn't even a cabin to sleep in!

Kuhlin heard a faint sound behind him and turned around. Charlotte, his wife was still in bed, awake now however and looking at him. At least the boat was his own command, he thought before moving towards the bed and sitting down on the edge beside his wife.
"Good morning, darling", he said and kissed her softly.
"Won't you come back to bed?", she asked, lifting the sheet to invite him in. Of course this exposed her naked body. Kuhlin tried to resist, although he couldn't avoid looking at her shapely breasts, nipples perkily stiffening in the chilly morning air.
"I don't have time, really", he tried. But Charlotte took his hand and placed it firmly over her left breast.

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