The story continues from A Hero’s Curse. Having survived another potential catastrophe, which resulted in a slight wound, Lord Charles Wormwood must concentrate on his duties as Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Dangerfield. This is no easy task when he is daily traduced and insulted by the man’s wife. Not that her husband is immune: he too must suffer abuse and, being slow to respond, is usually on the receiving end of a second affront before he’s had time to deal with the first.
Wormwood doesn’t yet know whose side Dangerfield will come down on and it’s essential the man choose: no point in serving under such a superior if there is to be no gain, which for a favoured Flag Lieutenant is usually an independent command – a ship of his own, albeit a small one. The resources and deep pockets of Wormwood’s father, the Earl of Moidart, must be employed to seduce the man.
A top chef is brought down to Chatham from London, adding to the provision of food and wine of the kind the indebted admiral cannot afford. Some carefully timed reflections of Wormwood’s own, aimed the character of the man’s wife, pose the question. Forced to choose who to trust, will Dangerfield put his belly before matrimonial loyalty?
The day comes when they are finally off to war, so Mrs Dangerfield must depart the ship, leaving Wormwood a clear field. The fleet weighs for the Mediterranean, with the admiral, in his first independent command, full of swagger. He’s determined to meet and thump the enemy, thus earning the undying gratitude of the nation. Not if Charles Wormwood can help it.
Battle means danger and that, at all costs, should be avoided. It is thus necessary to work on his superior to ensure, if fighting cannot be avoided, someone else should undertake it, as long as his admiral gets the credit. Slowly but surely he must wean his man off his dangerous intentions, which would be a lot easier if the fleet did not include Horatio Nelson as a senior captain.
A battleground of ailments if not in action, Nelson constantly badgers Admiral Dangerfield to attack something and he’s not alone. This requires Wormwood to intervene and cut off access. Soon, no one can get to see Dangerfield who has not had permission from Charles Wormwood. This turns a fine fleet in to one more concerned with internal battles than meeting the French. But meet the enemy they do and, thanks to the Wormwood stoked fears of failure, it turns, for Dangerfield, into a career damning fiasco. The man is down, all fighting spirit gone. Worse the admiral has become so accustomed to his Flag Lieutenant’s largesse, he’s forgotten from where it’s coming and who’s paying. Added to which, instead of battle, the task of the fleet becomes the taking of prizes, each one of which will line Dangerfield’s pocket. And who is the most successful at this? None other than Horatio Nelson
Wormwood has lost control and is no longer Dangerfield’s trusted adviser. Matters comes to a head in Genoa, leading to an argument and a complete break, which sees Wormwood decanted in to tiny HMS Petra, a sloop commanded by a drunkard called Trelawney. Worse the perennial pest Pettigrew is aboard, a spotty boy who can, without any seeming effort, get Wormwood into endless situations of great danger. Needless to say, it happens again!
The last thing Charles Wormwood wants is to put his being at risk. Trouble is, he’s supposed to be a fearless hero, so he must!