John Pearce comes back from Corsica demanding that Captain Barclay of HMS Brilliant, the man who originally pressed him and his fellow Pelicans into the Navy, be tried at home by a civilian court. Against the background of the ongoing siege of Toulon and with the Revolutionary Army massing to attack, no-one in authority sees this as a good time to accede to his requests. Barclay's patron Admiral Hotham contrives a way out of the dilemma. He staffs the ship Pearce captured in Corsica with members of the Revolutionary Navy refusing to serve under the Bourbon flag and gives it to Henry Digby, with Pearce and his Pelicans under him, so that they may transport the renegade French sailors to an Atlantic port and set them free.Whilst Pearce is gone Hotham fixes a court martial where Barclay is found innocent for lack of evidence, a ruse that leads to an open breach with his wife Emily. Pearce eventually returns to the siege having survived conflict on both land and water only to find Barclay acquitted and exempt from further trial under the law of double jeopardy.
Despite clear warnings not to do so he begins a romance with Emily Barclay, but mayhem surrounds the evacuation of Toulon and the revolutionary forces, including Napoleon Bonaparte, are closing in to retake the port.