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STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 16, 2010 10:51 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2117
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 30

VI
HMS Destiny, 54
Off Hennet Head,
Gulf of Mathyas

Someone from the planet humanity had once called Earth might have described it as "Force Six" from the old Beaufort scale. Ensign Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk, the Duke of Darcos, had never heard of the Beaufort scale, but he had been at sea for almost five of his fourteen years. Well, thirteen years and nine months, since his birthday was next month. And to his experienced eye, the eleven-foot waves, with their white foamy crests, and the high humming sound whining through the stays were the product of what a seaman would have called either a strong breeze or a stiff topsail breeze, which still had another four or five miles per hour to go before it officially became a near gale.

Hektor suspected that most landsmen would have found the ship's motion, the way she leaned to her canvas and the flying spray bursting up around her cutwater as she drove hard, rising in showers of diamonds when the early morning sun caught it, alarming. In fact, there'd been a time -- though he couldn't really remember it now -- when he would have found it distinctly so. Now, though, he found it exhilarating (especially with his stomach so freshly wrapped around a breakfast of toasted biscuit and well-sweetened, raisin-laced oatmeal), despite the sharp, icy teeth of the wind, and he clapped his gloved hands together and beamed hugely as he looked up at the reefed topsails and topgallants, then turned to the senior of the two men on the wheel.

"How does she feel, Chief?" he asked.

"Well enough, Sir."

Chief Petty Officer Fhranklyn Waigan was closing in on three times the youthful ensign's age, and Hektor was about as junior as an officer got. Once upon a time, all of three or four months ago, he would have been referred to not as an "ensign," but as a "passed midshipman" -- a midshipman who had successfully sat his lieutenant's examination but not yet received his commission -- since he legally couldn't be granted a full lieutenant's commission until he was at least sixteen years old. The new "ensign" rank had been introduced as part of the Navy's enormous expansion, and the fleet was still in the process of getting used to it. But if Waigan felt any exasperation at being interrogated by an officer of Ensign Aplyn-Ahrmahk's tender years and lack of seniority he showed no sign of it.

"She's takin' a bit more weather helm nor I'd like," Waigan added, "but not s' much as all that."

Hektor nodded. Any sailing vessel carried at least a little weather helm when she came close to the wind, and at the moment Destiny was close-reaching to the east-northeast on the starboard tack under single reefed topgallants and topsails with the wind out of the south-southeast, just over three points abaft the beam. That was very close to close-hauled for HMS Destiny; Hektor doubted they could have edged more than another point or so closer to the wind, and damned few other square-riggers could have come this close.

Of course, it made for a lively ride, but that was part of the exhilaration, and even with her reduced sail, the ship had to be making good close to seven knots -- well, over six and a half, at least. That was an excellent turn of speed, although she could probably have carried more sail and shown a little more speed if Captain Yairley had decided to shake out the topgallant reefs and press her.

Not that he's likely to do anything of the sort without a damned good reason, Hektor thought with a small, inner smile. It would never suit his fussy worrier's image!

The truth was that Hektor recognized just how fortunate he'd been to be assigned to Yairley's command in the first place. And not just because of the captain's abilities as a mentor in tactics and seamanship, either. Hektor doubted there could have been a better teacher in the entire fleet for either of those skills, yet as appreciative as he was of that training, he was even more grateful for the time Yairley had taken to teach one Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk certain other, equally essential skills.

Despite his present exalted patent of nobility, Hektor Aplyn had most definitely not been born to the aristocracy. His was a family of sturdy, hard working merchant seamen, and young Hektor's appointment as a midshipman in the Royal Charisian Navy had represented a significant step upward for the Aplyns. He'd hoped to make a decent career for himself -- the Charisian Navy was really the only one on Safehold where a commoner had an excellent chance of rising to even the highest ranks, and more than one man as commonly born as he had ended up with a knighthood and an admiral's streamer, when all was said. He could think of at least a half-dozen who'd earned baronetcies, and a least one who'd died an earl, for that matter. But he'd never dreamed for a moment that he might end up a duke!

Then again -- his amusement dimmed -- he'd never expected to have his king die in his arms, or to live with the knowledge that his monarch had received his fatal wound fighting to protect him. Never anticipated that he would be one of only thirty-six survivors of the entire crew of King Haarahld VII's flagship. In fact, three of those survivors had eventually died of their wounds in the end, after all, despite all the healers could do, and of the thirty-three who hadn't, eleven had been so badly wounded they would never go to sea again. The odds that he might simply have survived that level of carnage, far less remained on active duty after it, would have struck him as tiny enough on their own. The possibility of his being adopted into the House of Ahrmahk, of becoming legally the son of Emperor Cayleb himself, would never have occurred to him in the wildest delirium. And, if anyone had ever suggested the possibility to him, he would have run screaming in terror from the prospect. What could he, the son of a merchant galleon's first officer, possibly have in common with the royal family? The very idea was absurd!

Unfortunately, it had happened. Probably, in the fullness of time, Hektor was going to come to consider that a good thing. He was perfectly prepared to admit the possibility -- he wasn't stupid, after all -- but his immediate reaction had been one of abject panic. Which was why he was so grateful he'd wound up in Destiny. Sir Dunkyn Yairley was scarcely from the rarefied heights of the nobility himself, but he was at least related, albeit it distantly, to three barons and an earl. More to the point, he'd taken pains from the outset to personally instruct young Midshipmen Aplyn-Ahrmahk in the etiquette which went with his towering new aristocratic rank.

Starting with which fork to use, Hektor reflected, grinning again as he remembered how the captain had rapped him sharply across the knuckles with his own fork when he reached for the wrong one. I thought sure he'd broken them! But I suppose --

"Sail ho!" the hail came down from the lookout perched in the
mainmast crosstrees, a hundred and ten feet above the deck. From there, the horizon was almost eleven and a half miles further away than it was from deck level, and on a clear day like today, he could undoubtedly see that far.

"Two sail, five points to larboard!" the lookout amplified a moment later.

"Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk!" a closer, deeper voice said, and Hektor turned to find himself facing Lieutenant Rhobair Lathyk, Destiny's first lieutenant, who had the watch.

"Aye, Sir?" Hektor touched his chest with his right fist in salute. Lathyk was a tall man -- tall enough he had to mind his head constantly under the ship's deck beams -- and he had a short way with slackers. He insisted on proper military courtesy at all times, especially out of extremely junior officers. But he was also a fine seaman, and he didn't (usually) go out of his way to find fault.

"Get aloft, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk," Lathyk said now, handing him the watch spyglass. "See what you can tell us about these fellows."

"Aye, aye, Sir!"

Hektor seized the telescope, slung its carrying strap over his shoulder, and leapt nimbly for the ratlines. Lathyk could easily have sent one of the galleon's midshipmen, but Hektor was glad he hadn't. One of the things he missed, thanks to his recent promotion and appointment as Destiny's acting fifth lieutenant, was that no lieutenant -- not even one who was really a lowly ensign -- was allowed to race his fellows up and down the rigging the way mere midshipmen could. Unlike many of his fellows, Hektor had been born with an excellent head for heights. He'd loved spending time in the tops, and laying out along the yard, even in the roughest weather, had never truly bothered him. Scared him sometimes, yes, but always with that edge of exhilaration to keep the terror company, and now he went scampering up the humming weather shrouds like a monkey-lizard.

He ignored the lubber's hole when he reached the maintop, hanging from his fingers and toes as he climbed the futtock shrouds around the top instead, then swarmed on up the topmast shrouds. Wind whistled chill around his ears and burned cold in his lungs, and his eyes were bright with pleasure as the shrill whistle of one of the sea wyverns following the ship, perpetually hopeful of snapping up some tasty tidbit of garbage, floated to him.

"Where away, Zhaksyn?" he asked the lookout as he reached the sailor's dizzying roost. The lookout was perched on the crosstrees, one leg dangling nonchalantly between the weather hounds, one arm wrapped around the foot of the topgallant mast, and he grinned as his eyes met Hektor's.

It was colder up here, and the wind always grew fresher as one climbed higher above the deck. (That much was a known fact, although Hektor had no idea why it should be so.) Despite the exertion of his climb, he was grateful for his thick watch coat, heavy gloves, and the soft, knitted muffler Princess Zhanayt had given him last Midwinter Day. The main topmast head was almost a foot and a half in diameter where its upper end passed through the cap above the crosstrees, which helped support the topgallant mast, and it shivered against his spine as he leaned back against it, vibrating like a living thing with the force of wind and wave. When he looked straight down, he saw not Destiny's deck but the gray-green and white water creaming away from her leeward side as she leaned to the press of her canvas. If he fell from his present position, he'd hit water, not planking. Not that it would make much difference. As cold as that water was, his chances of surviving long enough for anyone aboard ship to do anything to save him would be effectively nonexistent.

Fortunately, he had no intention of doing anything of the sort.

"There, Sir," the lookout said, and pointed.

Hektor followed the pointing finger, nodded, and hooked one knee securely around the topmast head as he used both gloved hands to raise the heavy telescope and peered through it.

Steadying something the size of a powerful telescope, especially while one swept through a dizzying arc with the ship's motion, was not a task to be lightly undertaken. The fact that Hektor would never be a large, powerfully built man like Lathyk didn't make it any easier, either. On the other hand, his slender boy's frame was filling out steadily into a well-muscled wiriness, and he'd had lots of practice. He supported the tube on his left forearm, swinging it through a compensating arc, and captured the pale flaw of the distant ships' topsails with a steadiness a landsman would have found difficult to credit.

Even from here, the ships to whom those sails belonged remained hull-down. He could see only their topsails fully, although the tops of their main courses came into sight when both they and Destiny happened to rise simultaneously. Assuming their masts were the same length as Destiny's, which would put their main yards about fifty feet above the water, that made them about fourteen and a half miles distant.

He studied them carefully, patiently, evaluating their course and trying to get some feel for their speed. His eye ached as he stared through the spyglass, but he neither blinked nor lowered the glass until he was satisfied. Then he sighed in relief, let the glass come back to hang from its shoulder strap once more, and rubbed his eye.

"What d'you make of 'em, Sir?" the seaman asked.

Hektor turned his head to arch one eyebrow at him, and the sailor grinned. It was unlikely, to say the least, that he would have been forward enough to pose the same question to Lieutenant Lathyk, and Hektor knew some of his fellow officers -- Lieutenant Garaith Symkee, Destiny's second lieutenant, came rather forcibly to mind -- would have been quick to depress the man's "pretension." For that matter, he supposed a mere ensign had even more reason than most to be sure he guarded his authority against over familiarity from the men he commanded. Captain Yairley, on the other hand, who never seemed to have any particular difficulty maintaining his authority, would simply have answered the question, and if it was good enough for the Captain . . .

"Well," Hektor said, "it's still a bit far away to be making out details, even with the glass, but unless I'm mistaken, at least the nearer of them is flying a Church pennant."

"You don't say, Sir!" Zhaksyn's grin grew considerably broader. He actually rubbed his hands together in anticipation, since the presence of the Church pennant automatically made the ship flying it a legitimate prize, waiting to be taken, and Hektor grinned back at him. Then the ensign allowed his smile to fade into a more serious expression.

"You did well to spot them, Zhaksyn," he said, patting the older man (although, to be fair, Zhaksyn was only in his late twenties; topmen were generally chosen from the youngest and fittest members of a ship's company) on the shoulder.

"Thank'ee, Sir!" Zhaksyn was positively beaming now, and Hektor nodded to him, then reached for the shrouds once more. He was strongly tempted to slide down the backstay, but the youthful exuberance of his midshipman's days was behind him now -- Lieutenant Lathyk had made that point rather firmly just last five-day -- and so he descended in a more leisurely fashion.

"Well, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk?" the first lieutenant inquired as he reached the ship's rail, hopped down onto the deck, and made his way aft once more.

"There are definitely two of them, Sir -- that we can see so far, at any rate. Galleons, ship-rigged, but not as lofty as we are, I think. They aren't carrying royal masts, anyway. I make the range about fourteen or fifteen miles, and they're sailing on the wind, almost exactly northwest-by-north. They're showing their courses and topsails, but not their topgallants, and I think the closer of the two is flying a Church pennant."

"Is she, now?" Lathyk mused.

"Yes, Sir. And as she lifted, I could just catch a glimpse of her mizzen. I couldn't see her headsails, so I can't say for sure that she's got the new jibs, but she's definitely got a gaff spanker. She's wearing new canvas, too -- it's hardly weathered at all -- and I think she's big, Sir. I'd be surprised if she were a lot smaller than we are."

Lathyk's eyes narrowed, and Hektor could almost feel him following the same logic chain Hektor had already explored. Then the first lieutenant nodded, ever so slightly, and turned to one of the midshipmen hovering nearby.

"My respects to the Captain, Master Zhones, and inform him that we have sighted two galleons, bearing almost due north, distance about fourteen miles, running northwest by north, and Master Aplyn Ahrmahk" -- the first lieutenant smiled slightly at Hektor -- "is firmly of the opinion that at least one of them is a large, newly rigged galleon in the service of the Church."

"Aye, aye, Sir!" young Zhones squeaked. He couldn't have been more than twelve years old, which struck Hektor as absurdly young . . . despite the fact that he himself had been at sea for three years by the time he'd been that age.

The midshipman started for the hatch at a semi-run, then froze as Lathyk cleared his throat loudly enough to be heard even over the sounds of wind and wave. The boy peered at him for a second, huge-eyed, then hastily straightened and came to attention.

"Beg pardon, Sir!" he said, and then repeated Lathyk's message word for word.

"Very good, Master Zhones," Lathyk confirmed with a nod when he'd finished, and the midshipman darted away again. Hektor watched him go and remembered a time when he'd garbled a message, and not to any mere master-after-God captain, either. He'd been positive he was going to die of humiliation right on the spot. And, assuming he'd survived that, he'd known Captain Tryvythyn would give him The Look, which would be considerably worse, when he heard about the transgression.

I suppose it was just as well, the ensign reminded himself, managing not to smile as Zhones disappeared down the main hatch, that His Majesty forgave me after all.

* * * * * * * * * *

"So, Ruhsail, what do you make of her?" Commodore Wailahr inquired as he stepped out from under the break of the poop deck, and Captain Ruhsail Ahbaht, commanding officer of the Imperial Desnarian Navy galleon Archangel Chihiro, turned quickly to face him.

"Beg your pardon, Sir Hairahm." The captain saluted. "I didn't realize you'd come on deck."

"Well, I hadn't, until this very minute," Wailahr said just a bit testily. The commodore was a solidly built man, his dark hair starting to silver at the temples. There were a few strands of white in his neatly trimmed beard, as well, but his dark eyes were sharp and alert.

He was accompanied by Father Awbrai Lairays, his chaplain, in the purple, flame-badged cassock of the Order of Schueler.

"Yes, Sir. Of course you hadn't," Ahbaht replied quickly, but his voice still held that same edge of half-apprehensive apology, and he looked so much as if he were planning to salute yet again that Wailahr found it difficult not to grimace. He knew he was lucky to have a flag captain of Ahbaht's experience, but he did wish that, after more than three thousand miles and three and a half five five-days at sea, the captain would forget he was related -- distantly, and only by marriage -- to the Earl of Hankey.

"No reason you should have realized I was here, until I spoke." The commodore tried (mostly successfully) to keep any exaggerated patience out of his tone and glanced rather pointedly up at the lookout whose report had summoned him to the deck.

"It sounds like it's probably a Charisian galleon, Sir," Ahbaht said in response to the hint. "The lookout ought to have sighted her sooner, but she's still a good eleven or twelve miles clear. Still, she's close enough for us to get a good look at her canvas, and she's obviously got the new rig. She's also carrying a lot of sail for these weather conditions, and she's making straight for us." He shrugged very slightly. "Given that almost all the armed ships cruising these waters have been Charisian for the better part of a year, I doubt anyone but a Charisian would be making sail to overhaul anyone she hadn't definitely identified as a friend."
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:14 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2117
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 31


Wailahr nodded slowly as he considered Ahbaht's analysis of the other galleon captain's thinking. It made sense, he decided, and after twenty-six years in the Crown's service, he had more than enough experience as an officer himself to appreciate what his flag captain had offered about the probable Charisian's thought processes. Unfortunately, he was far less well qualified to evaluate some of the other factors involved in the developing situation, since almost all of his own experience had been ashore, most of it as a cavalry commander in the Imperial Army. As in the majority of Safeholdian realms, traditional Desnairian practice had always been to assign army commanders to its warships (of which it had possessed precious few), each with an experienced seaman to translate his decisions and commands into action. It was a warship commander's job to fight, after all, and a professional military man had more important things to worry about than the technical details of making the boat go where it was supposed to go.

Or that's the theory, at any rate, Wailahr told himself sourly. And I suppose if I'm going to be fair, it's always worked well enough against other people who do the same thing. Unfortunately -- there was that word again -- Charis doesn't. And it hasn't, not for a long time.

As a loyal subject of Mahrys IV and an obedient son of Mother Church, Sir Hairahm Wailahr was determined to make a success of his present assignment, but he had few illusions about his own knowledge of things naval. He was out of his depth (he grimaced mentally at his own choice of phrase) as the commander of one of the Navy's new galleons, much less an entire squadron, which was the reason he was so grateful for Ahbaht's experience.

Even if he did want to kick the captain in the arse from time to time.

"You say he's making for us, Captain," Wailahr said after a moment. "Do you mean he's pursuing us?"

"Most likely, Sir." Ahbaht swept one arm in a half-circle in the general direction of the other ship, still invisible from Archangel Chihiro's deck. "There's a lot of ocean out there, Sir Hairahm, and not much shipping on it since the damned Charisians started privateering. It wouldn't be unreasonable for a merchant galleon to be making for Terrence Bay, just as we are. But, as I say, without positively knowing we were friendly, I'd expect any merchant skipper to keep his distance. He'd certainly have reduced sail to maintain our current separation, I'd think, even if he's headed for Silk Town or for Khairman Keep, like we are. And even though the lookout isn't positive, he thinks this fellow has made more sail."

"He isn't positive about something like that?" Wailahr raised one eyebrow.

"He says he isn't, Sir. I can get him down here to speak to you personally, of course." The flag captain gave another of those small shrugs. "I had Lieutenant Chaimbyrs speak with him already, though. It's the Lieutenant's opinion that what really caught the lookout's eye in the first place was this other ship's setting additional canvas."

"I see."

Ahbaht's response had just neatly encapsulated both his greatest strength and, in Wailahr's opinion, his greatest weakness as a flag captain. Or as any sort of military commander, for that matter. From his tone and his body language he was completely prepared to summon the lookout to the deck so that Wailahr could personally browbeat the man, yet he'd also had Lieutenant Zhustyn Chaimbyrs, Archangel Chihiro's second lieutenant, interrogate the sailor first. Chaimbyrs was himself an excellent young officer -- one Wailahr already had an eye on for promotion -- and he would have gotten the lookout's very best estimate out of him without intimidating him. It was just like Ahbaht to have made exactly the right choice about how to get the most accurate information possible, on the one hand, and yet to be willing to allow a possibly irritated superior to vent his spleen on the seaman who'd provided it, on the other. Especially if that superior had the sort of court influence which might benefit his own career.

Be fair, Hairahm, the commodore reminded himself for perhaps the thousandth time. Unlike you, Ahbaht has no connections at all, and the man's already -- what? Forty-three? Whatever. Old enough at any rate to expect he's not going to climb much higher without someone to give him a boost. Although I'd think the fact that they picked him to command one of the very first galleons ought to go at least a little way towards reassuring him.

On the other hand, the Navy had never been exactly glamorous in Desnarian eyes. Quite a few of the career naval officers Wailahr had met over the last several months seemed to find it a bit difficult to grasp just how much that was about to change.

"All right, Ruhsail," he said out loud after several seconds' thought. "What do you recommend?"

"Recommend, Sir?" Ahbaht's eyes flitted sideways for a moment, towards Lairays.

"Do we let him catch us, or do we make more sail of our own?" Wailahr expanded in a slightly dangerous tone.

Ahbaht's eyes came back to the commodore's face, and Wailahr managed not to sigh in exasperation. As far as he could tell, there was nothing at all wrong with Ahbaht's physical courage, but it was obvious he had no more intention of putting his foot wrong in front of Lairays than he did of offending Wailahr himself.

Which, Wailahr was forced to concede upon more mature consideration, was probably wise of him, in many ways, after all. Lairays hadn't been the commodore's own choice as chaplain. He'd been assigned to Wailahr by Bishop Executor Mhartyn Raislair, and his presence was a clear statement of exactly who Archangel Chihiro actually belonged to. She might fly Desnair's black horse on a yellow field, but there was a reason Mother Church's pennant flew above the national colors. For the moment, no one was talking a great deal about that reason -- not openly, at any rate. But only a complete moron (which, despite his obsequiousness, Ahbaht clearly wasn't) could have failed to realize that all the rumors about the imminence of Holy War had a very sound basis, indeed.

It was fortunate, in Wailahr's opinion, that there seemed to be little of the fanatic about Father Awbrai. Zealotry, yes, which was only to be expected in the priest the bishop executor had chosen as his personal eyes and ears on Wailahr's staff, but not fanaticism. He was unlikely to hold Ahbaht's honest opinion against the flag captain, whatever it was, but Wailahr supposed he shouldn't really blame Ahbaht for being cautious in front of him.

"I suppose, Sir, that that depends on what it is we want to accomplish," the flag captain said finally. "If our sole concern is to collect the bullion from Khairman Keep, then I would advise against accepting action." His eyes tried to flick to Lairays again, but he kept his voice commendably firm as he continued. "While there are two of us and only one of him, it's entirely possible -- even probable -- that we'd suffer at least some damage even against one of their privateers. If this is one of their war galleons, the chance of that goes up considerably. And any damage we might suffer would have to be put right again before we could sail with the bullion, which would undoubtedly delay its delivery."

A reasonable answer, Wailahr reflected. And a well taken point, for that matter.

He didn't know the precise value of the gold shipment awaiting his two ships, but he knew it was large. In fact, it was a substantial portion of Desnair's annual tithe to Mother Church, actually. Which, considering the incredible outlays the Temple had been making to pay for the new warships building all over Hauwerd and Haven, lent a certain urgency to getting that gold safely delivered to the Temple's coffers in Zion. Vicar Rhobair's Treasury needed all the cash it could get, and given typical winter road conditions, it made sense to send it by sea for as much of its journey as possible. Or it would have, at least, if not for the omnipresent Charisian privateers, and if the ships building in the Gulf of Jahras, conveniently close to Khairman Keep, had been near enough to ready for sea to take it. As it happened, however, those Charisian privateers did, indeed, seem to be just about everywhere, and none of the new construction at Iythria or Mahrosa had been far enough advanced for the task. Which explained why he and the first two fully operational ships of his squadron had been dispatched all the way from the imperial capital at Desnair the City (so called to distinguish it from the rest of the empire) to fetch it.

We're already behind schedule, too, and Bishop Executor Mhartyn won't thank me if I'm even later, he thought. There are two of us, though, and sooner or later we have to cross swords with them. Langhorne knows the sheer terror of the Charisians' reputation is one of their most effective weapons! Deservedly so, I suppose. But they're only mortals, when all's said, and we need to start chipping away at that reputation . . .

He glanced at "his" chaplain.

"Father, I'm inclined to let this fine gentleman overhaul us, if that's his intention. Or to let him get at least a bit closer, at any rate. Close enough for us to see who he really is. If he's only a privateer, I imagine he'll sheer off once he realizes he's been chasing a pair of war galleons, and, to be honest, I'd like to get him close enough we'd have a chance to catch him if he runs."

"And if he's a war galleon himself, Commodore?" Lairays deep voice sounded even deeper coming from someone as youthful looking as the under-priest, and the brown cockade of his priest's cap fluttered in the stiff breeze whipping across Archangel Chihiro's quarterdeck.

"If he's a war galleon, then I suppose it's possible he'll keep right on coming," Wailahr replied. "If he does, as the Captain's just pointed out, there are two of us, which should give us a considerable advantage if we can entice him into engagement range. Do you think His Eminence would be willing to put up with a little delay while we repair any battle damage in return for taking or sinking one of Cayleb's warships?"

* * * * * * * * * *

"Deck, there! The nearer chase is shortening sail!"

Captain Sir Dunkyn Yairley looked up at the mizzen crosstrees and frowned slightly as the announcement came down from above.

"She's takin' in her topgallants, Sir!" the lookout continued. "Both of 'em are!" he added a minute or so later, and Yairley's frown deepened.

It was merely a thoughtful frown, however, Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk observed, and set his own mind to following the captain's thoughts.

It could be that the other ship had simply decided she was carrying too much sail for safety. The other two galleons had come to a more northerly heading, about north-northwest, and set their topgallants once they realized Destiny was pursuing them, but that didn't mean their commander had been happy about his own decision. His ships' rigs might be considerably more powerful than they would have been two or three years ago, but very few vessels in the world had sail plans as powerful -- and well-balanced -- as those of the present Charisian navy.

Destiny's masts were taller, proportionately, and included the lofty royal masts her quarry lacked, yet it wasn't simply a matter of more mast height, either. If she'd set every scrap of canvas she had, including all her fore-and-aft staysails and all three jibs, she would have shown twenty-five sails. Not only that, the new water-powered Charisian looms meant her sails had a much tighter weave, which let them capture more of the wind's power, and they were cut to the new, flat pattern Sir Dustyn Olyvyr had introduced. The ships she was pursuing didn't carry royals or staysails; they would have shown only ten under the same circumstances. Those sails were still cut to the old "bag sail" pattern, acting like rounded sacks to catch the wind, rather than the flatter, more perpendicular -- and hence more efficient -- surface of Destiny's. Hektor had to admit that the bag sails looked as if they should have been more powerful, but the superiority of Olyvyr's new patterns had been conclusively demonstrated in competitive sailing tests in Howell Bay.

The proportions of the other ships' sails were significantly different, as well, for Destiny's topsails had both a greater hoist and a broader head, which gave each of them significantly more area and made them more powerful. In fact, her topsails were actually her principal sails, whereas the courses set below them remained the primary sails for the ships she was pursuing.

Of course, there was a vast difference between the total canvas a ship could set under optimum conditions and the amount it was safe to carry in any given sea state. In some respects, in fact, Destiny and her sisters were actually over-sparred. It would have been easy to set too much sail, drive her too hard -- even dangerously too hard -- under the wrong circumstances. Besides, there was a point at which crowding on more sail actually slowed a ship, by driving her head too deeply into the sea or heeling her so sharply it distorted the water flow around her hull, even if it didn't actually endanger her. So, in most respects, how many sails a ship had mattered less than the total sail area she could show under the current strength of wind and wave.

But it did matter how that area was distributed, because of how it affected the ship's motion. At the moment, for example, one reason Captain Yairley had set the fore course was that unlike the ship's other square sails, the fore course actually tended to lift the bow slightly, easing the vessel's motion, rather than driving the bow down deeper and harder. A captain had to think about the blanketing effect of his sails, as well, and, generally speaking, the higher a sail, the greater its heeling effect. So in heavy weather, the standard order of reducing sail would be to take in first the royals (assuming the ship carried them in the first place), then the topgallants, the courses, and finally the topsails. (The courses came off before the higher topsails because of their greater size and the difficulty in handling them, despite the greater heeling effect of the topsails.)

Hektor's own initial estimate that the other galleons were as large as Destiny appeared to have been in error, too. The other ships were at least a little smaller than he'd thought, although not greatly so, which meant Destiny could safely carry more canvas than they could under these conditions. Captain Yairley had been doing just that, having shaken out his reefs and set the fore course (the main course was brailed up to keep it from blanketing the foremast, with the wind dead aft on her new course), and even without her own royals, Destiny's speed had risen to almost eight knots. She'd been steadily overhauling the other vessels for the past five hours now, despite the fact that they'd both put on extra sail of their own once they finally noticed they were being pursued, so it was certainly possible -- likely, in fact -- the chases had decided they couldn't outrun Destiny after all. And if that was the case, there was no point in their risking damage to sails or rigging by carrying too much canvas. Particularly not since it was always possible something would carry away aloft in Destiny, in which case they might be able to out-sail her yet.

On the other hand, the topgallants would have been the first sails to be furled if a captain decided to shorten for any reason, not simply because of weather concerns. So it was also possible the other ships had simply decided to allow Destiny to overtake them. Which would require either a very stupid merchant skipper, given the depredations of Charisian privateers and naval cruisers, or else a --

"I believe we'll clear the ship for action in about another . . . three hours, I think, Master Lathyk," Yairley said calmly. "We'll be coming up on lunch shortly, I believe, so there's no point rushing things. But see to it all hands get something hot to eat, and plenty of it, if you please."

"Aye, Sir," the first lieutenant acknowledged. He beckoned to one of the midshipmen and started giving the lad crisp instructions, and Yairley glanced at Hektor.

"You don't think they're merchantmen after all, do you, Sir?" Hektor asked quietly. Some captains would have bitten the head off of any officer, be he ever so well connected to the aristocracy, for having the impertinence to ask him such a question uninvited. Hektor wasn't concerned about that, though, and not because of his own noble title.

"No, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk, I don't," Yairley replied. He nodded ahead to where the other ships' sails were visible now from the deck as Destiny rose with the waves. "Both those fellows are inviting us to catch up with them, and no merchant skipper would do that, even if they haven't seen our colors by now. Which they well may not have."

He glanced up to where the Empire's banner streamed out, stiff and hard-looking, from the mizzen yard. On Destiny's new course, running almost directly before the wind as she charged after the other ships, it was entirely possible that her colors were hidden from her quarry by the canvas on her foremast and mainmast.

"They may not realize we're a king's ship -- I mean, an emperor's ship --" Yairley grimaced as he made the self-correction, "but they have to assume we're at least a privateer. Under the circumstances, merchant vessels would go right on running for all they were worth in hopes of staying away from us until dark. Mind you, I don't think they'd succeed, but they might, and no one ever knows what the wind's going to do."

He paused, one eyebrow raised, and Hektor recognized the cue.

"So if they aren't running as hard as they can -- if they've decided they want us to catch up with them while we'll both have daylight still in hand -- you think they're war galleons, too, Sir," he said.

"I think that's very likely, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk." Yairley nodded slightly, with the satisfaction of a teacher whose student had drawn the proper conclusion. "I'd thought for a moment, before they both shortened, that it might be a merchant with an escort dropping astern of the ship under his protection. But no escort would be foolish enough to keep his charge in close company if he'd decided to drop back to engage us, so it seems to me we have to assume they're both warships. According to Baron Wave Thunder's latest estimates, Desnair should have at least a dozen of their converted galleons about ready for sea. There's no way to be positive yet, but I'll be quite surprised if these aren't two of them. The only question in my mind," the captain continued, his voice becoming a bit dreamy as his eyes unfocused in thought, "is what two of them would be doing out here by themselves."

"They might simply be working up, Sir," Hektor suggested diffidently, and Yairley nodded.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:17 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 32


"Indeed they might, but not this far out to sea, I'm thinking." He indicated the brisk wind, the motion of the hard-driven ship, with a twitch of his head. "These conditions are a bit lively for a lubberly lot like the Desnairian Navy, wouldn't you say, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk? I'd expect them to stay closer to home if all they're after is sail drill, especially if there are only two of them. We're a good six hundred and fifty leagues from their shipyards at Geyra -- and over a hundred leagues off Hennet Head, for that matter. It's possible they're from the ships building in the Gulf of Jahras instead of the Geyra yards. God knows they're building a lot more of their total navy in the Gulf than they are at Geyra. But even that would be an awful long way to come just to drill their crews, and I'd think Baron Jahras would be a tad nervous about having just two of his meet a squadron or two of our galleons when they decided to venture out into deeper water. He's certainly been . . . cautious enough about things like that so far, at least. So I wonder . . . ."

The captain stood thinking for several more moments, then nodded again, this time obviously to himself, before he glanced once more at the youthful ensign standing beside him.

"I can think of one good reason for them to be here, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk," he said with a slight smile. "And if I'm right, the men are going to be just a bit unhappy that we sighted them when we did, instead of a few days later."

"Sir?" Hektor suppressed an urge to scratch his head in puzzlement, and Yairley's smile broadened.

"Now then, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk! A captain has to maintain at least a few little secrets, don't you think?"

* * * * * * * * * *

"Excuse me, Sir."

Captain Ahbaht turned, raising one eyebrow, to face Lieutenant Laizair Mahrtynsyn, Archangel Chihiro's first lieutenant.

"Yes, Laizair? What is it?" Ahbaht's tone was a bit brusque. He and Mahrtynsyn normally got along quite well, but at the moment, as the pursuing vessel's lower masts began to loom above the horizon, even from deck level, the captain had a few things on his mind. The distance to the other ship was down to little more than seven miles, and given their present speeds, she would be up to Archangel Chihiro in no more than two or two and a half hours. For that matter, she'd be into extreme gunshot in little more than ninety minutes.

"Master Chaimbyrs" -- Mahrtynsyn twitched his head slightly in the direction of the mizzen top, where Lieutenant Chaimbyrs was ensconced watching the other ship -- "reports that he's just seen her colors, Sir. She's flying the Charisian banner . . . and a commission streamer."

Ahbaht's expression tightened ever so slightly. Only someone who knew the captain well would have noticed, but Mahrtynsyn did know him well. And he also knew exactly what Ahbaht was thinking. The fact that Chaimbyrs had finally seen the colors which had been masked by her canvas only confirmed the captain's previous near-certainty that she had to be Charisian. But the commission streamer . . . that was something else entirely. No privateer would have been flying that. Only ships of the Royal Charisian Navy -- or, rather, the Imperial Charisian Navy, these days -- flew those.

"I see," Ahbaht said, after a moment. "And has he had an opportunity to estimate her force?"

"We've not seen her ports yet, Sir, but she's carrying at least ten or twelve of their short guns on her weather deck. Probably more. And," Mahrtynsyn added almost apologetically, "Master Chaimbyrs says she doesn't look merchant-built to him."

The tightening around the captain's eyes was more noticeable this time. If Chaimbyrs' estimates were correct -- and the second lieutenant was quite a competent officer -- then their pursuer wasn't simply an imperial warship, but one of the Charisian Navy's new, purpose-built galleons, whereas both of Wailahr's ships were converted merchant vessels.

"I see," Ahbaht repeated, nodding to his first officer. "Thank you, Master Mahrtynsyn."

Mahrtynsyn touched his chest in salute, then withdrew to the larboard side of the quarterdeck while Ahbaht clasped his hands behind his back and turned to the rail, gazing out across the crested waves in obvious thought.

The lieutenant didn't envy his captain at the moment. On the other hand, he didn't feel an enormous amount of sympathy, either. For the most part, he respected Ahbaht as a seaman, although for all his years of naval service, the captain had precious little experience with galleons. Virtually all of his previous time had been served aboard the Desnairian Navy's limited number of galleys, and his ship handling skills, while adequate, weren't as good as Mahrtynsyn's own. In fact, that was one reason Mahrtynsyn had been assigned as his first lieutenant.

In terms of military experience, though, Ahbaht was far more qualified to command than Mahrtynsyn was, and the lieutenant knew it. Of course, no one in Desnairian service had any experience at all in broadside gunnery tactics, but at least Ahbaht had smelled powder smoke in actual combat, which was more than Mahrtynsyn had. Given that experience, Ahbaht had to be (or damned well ought to be, at any rate) even better aware of the looming confrontation's balance of combat power than Mahrtynsyn was.

Not to mention the minor fact that he should, perhaps, have been just a bit more careful about, spent a little more time thinking over, what he had recommended to Commodore Wailahr.

At first glance, Wailahr's two ships ought to have had the advantage. There were two of them, after all. But that wasn't all that was involved here -- not by a long shot.

One of the Charisian Navy's new galleons would mount at least fifty guns (and probably more) to Archangel Chihiro's forty. Worse, they'd be heavier guns. Archangel Chihiro, like her consort, Blessed Warrior, carried twenty-six lizards on her gundeck, and fourteen falcons on her upper deck. That might seem to give her eighty percent of the Charisian's broadside, and all of their guns not only had the new trunnions and carriages but used the new bagged powder charges the Charisians had introduced, so they ought to be able to match the other ship's rate of fire, as well. So far, all well and good, Mahrtynsyn thought dryly. But the lizards' round shot weighed only a bit over twenty pounds each, and the falcons' weighed less than nine, while if the reports about the Charisians were correct, the other ship would mount long thirty-pounders on her gundeck and short thirty-pounders -- what the Charisians called "carronades" -- on her upper deck.

Which would give her over twice Archangel Chihiro's weight of metal. In fact, she'd carry a heavier weight of broadside than both the Desnarian ships combined . . . in a much more heavily framed and planked hull. And that changed Ahbaht's earlier calculations significantly. Not only would each hit be far more destructive than he almost certainly had been expecting, but her heavier hull would take substantially less damage from each hit she received in return.

Of course, two lighter ships, if well handled, ought to be able to outmaneuver a single opponent, and it was extremely unlikely the Charisian carried a big enough crew to fully man both broadsides -- especially if she had to reserve hands to manage her own sails. If they could get to grips with her from both sides simultaneously, they ought to be able to overpower her in fairly short order. But while the sail-handling skills of Archangel Chihiro's crew had improved hugely since they'd left Desnair the City, Mahrtynsyn very strongly doubted they could even come close to an experienced Charisian crew's level of competence.

He felt fairly confident that, since the other ship had been cruising alone, with no one else in company with her, Ahbaht had assumed she was most likely a privateer, not a regular man-of-war. It would have been a reasonable enough assumption, in many ways, and had it proved accurate, she would have been far more lightly gunned, while the quality of her ship's company would have been much more problematical, as well. Besides, privateers weren't in the business of taking hard knocks if they could avoid it. If a privateer's skipper had realized he was pursuing two Desnarian warships, rather than a pair of fat merchant prizes, he would almost certainly have decided his time could be more profitably spent elsewhere. A Charisian Navy captain was likely to feel a bit differently about that.

But just how does the Captain break the news to the Commodore? Mahrtynsyn wondered a bit sardonically. "Excuse me, Commodore, but it turns out that's a war galleon back there, instead. And I'm just a bit less confident about beating her than I was about beating a privateer." The lieutenant snorted mentally. Sure, I can just hear him saying that!

No. Ahbaht wasn't going to risk pissing Wailahr off by turning cautious at this point. And since Wailahr lacked the seagoing experience to realize exactly how weight of metal and -- especially -- relative ship handling skills really factored into a sea battle, it was unlikely he was going to recognize just how dicey this entire situation could turn. He certainly wasn't going to decide to try avoiding action at this point. Not without Ahbaht suggesting it, at any rate.

Which meant things were going to get just a bit lively in the next two hours or so.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sir Dunkyn Yairley gazed ahead at the towering canvas of the Desnairian ships and scratched his chin thoughtfully. As always, the prospect of battle created a hollow, unsettled feeling in his belly. None of his officers and men appeared to share his apprehension, and it was, of course, unthinkable for him to reveal it to them. He often wondered if he was truly fundamentally different from them in that regard, or if they were simply better at hiding their emotions than he was.

Not that it mattered at the moment.

"Well," he remarked out loud, permitting neither his voice nor his expression to hint at any internal trepidation, "at least they seem to have figured out we're not just some deaf, dumb, and blind merchant ship!"

The men manning the quarterdeck carronades heard him, as he'd intended, and grinned. Some of them nudged each other in amusement, and a couple actually chuckled. No sign they felt anything but confident anticipation!

Cheerful idiots, aren't they? Yairley thought, but there was as much affectionate amusement of his own as exasperation in the reflection.

He pushed the thought aside as he reconsidered his position.

He was confident he had an accurate appraisal of the other ships' armament, now, and he rather wished he'd been up against a few less guns. His own were heavier, and he had no doubt his gun crews were far more experienced, and almost certainly better drilled, into the bargain. But eighty guns were still eighty guns, and he had only fifty-four.

I wonder if that's a galley commander over there? he mused.

It could well make a difference, given the habits of thought involved. Galley captains thought in terms of head-on approaches -- since their chase armament, which always mounted the heaviest guns, fired only directly ahead -- and boarding tactics. And a galley captain would almost certainly be less skilled when it came to maneuvering a fundamentally clumsy thing like a square-rigged galleon. Besides, galleys had oars. Captains accustomed to being able to row directly into the wind tended to have a less lively appreciation for the value of the weather gauge.

Yairley stopped scratching his chin and clasped his hands behind him, his expression distant as he contemplated the narrowing stretch of water between Destiny and her adversaries. The Desnairians weren't quite in line. The wind had backed about five points -- from south-southeast to east-southeast -- during the long hours since the chase had begun, and the rearmost of the two ships was a good two hundred yards to leeward and astern of her consort as they sailed along on the starboard tack. Yairley wondered if that was intentional or simply sloppy station keeping. Or, for that matter, if it simply represented lack of experience on his opponents' part. The Desnairian Empire did still follow the tradition of putting army officers in charge of warships, after all.

Let's not get too overconfident in that respect, Dunkyn, he reminded himself. Still, we can hope, can't we?

Two hundred yards might not sound like an enormous distance to a landsman, but Yairley was no landsman. To an artillerist accustomed to thinking in terms of land battles fought on nice, motionless pieces of dirt, two hundred yards would equate to easy canister range, where it would be difficult for any semi-competent gun crew to miss a target fifty-plus yards long, six or seven yards high, and the next best thing to ten yards wide. For a seaman, accustomed to the fact that his gun platform was likely to be moving in at least three different directions simultaneously, completely irrespective of his target's motion, a two hundred-yard range was something else entirely.

Like a perfectly good range to completely waste powder and shot at, the captain thought dryly. Which means those two fellows over there are out of effective support range of one another. Unless I'm obliging enough to sail directly between them, at any rate!

He glanced up at his own sails, and decided.

"Master Lathyk."

"Yes, Sir?"

"Let's get the t'gallants off her, if you please."

"Aye, aye, Sir!" The first lieutenant touched his chest in salute, then raised his leather speaking trumpet. "Hands to reduce sail!" he bellowed through it, and feet thundered across the deck planking in response.

* * * * * * * * * *

Laizair Mahrtynsyn watched the Charisian through narrow eyes from his station on Archangel Chihiro's quarterdeck. She was sweeping steadily closer, with her starboard battery run out while she angled towards Archangel Chihiro's larboard quarter, which didn't surprise Mahrtynsyn a great deal. It didn't please him, but it didn't surprise him, either. The one thing of which he was completely confident was that Cayleb Ahrmahk wasn't in the habit of assigning his most powerful warships to people who didn't know what to do with them, and that Charisian captain over there obviously recognized the huge maneuver advantage his possession of the weather gauge bestowed upon him. Because of his position to windward, the choice of when and how to initiate action lay completely in his hands, and he clearly understood exactly what to do with that advantage.

Mahrtynsyn only wished he was more confident that Captain Ahbaht understood the same thing.

Whether Ahbaht understood that or not, it was already painfully evident to Mahrtynsyn that the Charisian galleon was being far more ably handled than his own ship. Archangel Chihiro's sail drill had improved immeasurably during her lengthy voyage from Desnair. Despite that, however, the precision of the other ship's drill as she reduced canvas only underscored how far Archangel Chihiro's own company still had to go. The Charisian's fore course was brailed up and her topgallants disappeared with mechanical precision, as if whisked away by the wave of a single wizard's magic wand. Two of her jibs disappeared, as well, as she reduced to fighting sail, yet even with her sail area drastically reduced, she continued to forge steadily closer.

Her speed had dropped with the reduction of sail, but that didn't make Mahrtynsyn a lot happier. Archangel Chihiro and Blessed Warrior had taken in their own courses in preparation for battle, and that had cost them even more speed than the Charisian had given up. She still had an advantage of close to two knots, and she was only eight hundred yards astern. In fifteen minutes, give or take, she'd be right alongside, and it was evident what her captain had in mind. He intended to keep to leeward of Archangel Chihiro, engaging her larboard broadside with his own starboard guns. With the shift in the wind, both ships were heeling harder now, so his shots might tend to go high, but it would allow him to engage the flagship in isolation, where Blessed Warrior would be unable to engage him closely. In a straight broadside duel, the heavier Charisian galleon would almost certainly overpower Archangel Chihiro in relatively short order.

Still, if the Captain and the Commodore's plans work out, it won't be a straight broadside duel, now will it?

No, it wouldn't. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Mahrtynsyn suspected that that Charisian captain over there might just have a few plans of his own.

* * * * * * * * * *

"All right, Master Lathyk," Sir Dunkyn Yairley said, "I think it's about time."

"Aye, Sir," the first lieutenant responded gravely, and beckoned to Hektor.

"Stand ready, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk," he said, and Hektor nodded -- under the rather special circumstances obtaining at the moment, he'd been specifically instructed not to salute in acknowledgment where anyone on the enemy ship might see it -- and moved idly a bit closer to the hatch gratings at the center of Destiny's spar deck. He glanced down through the latticework at the gundeck below. The long thirty-pounders were run out and waiting to starboard, and he smiled as he noted the gun crews' distribution.

It was not a particularly pleasant expression.

"Man tacks and braces!" he heard Lathyk shout behind him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Commodore Wailahr stood on Archangel Chihiro's poop deck, gazing at the steadily approaching Charisian ship.

It was evident to him that Captain Ahbaht had been less than delighted to discover just how powerful their adversary actually was. Well, Wailahr hadn't been tempted to turn any celebratory cartwheels himself. And although all of the commodore's previous combat experience might have been solely on land, his ships had conducted enough gunnery drills for him to suspect their accuracy was going to prove dismal. To some extent, though, that should be true for both sides, and the fact that he had almost twice as many total guns ought to mean he'd score more total hits, as well.

Assuming he could bring all of them into action.

So far, he's doing what Ahbaht predicted, Hairahm, he reminded himself. Now if he just goes on doing it . . . .

At least before they'd separated to their present distance from one another, Archangel Chihiro and Blessed Warrior had been able to come close enough together for Wailahr and Ahbaht to confer with Captain Tohmys Mahntain, Blessed Warrior's commanding officer, through their speaking trumpets. Mahntain was a good man -- junior to Ahbaht, and a little younger, but also the more aggressive of the two. And he'd understood exactly what Ahbaht and Wailahr had in mind. The commodore was confident of that, and also that he could rely on Mahntain to carry through on his instructions.

More than that, it was evident Ahbaht's prediction that the enemy would attempt to engage just one of Wailahr's ships if the opportunity were offered had been accurate. By deliberately opening a gap between the two Desnarian galleons, he and Wailahr had offered up Archangel Chihiro as what had to be a tempting target. If the Charisian kept to larboard, closing in on Archangel Chihiro's downwind side, she could range up alongside Wailahr's flagship and pound her with her superior number and weight of guns when none of Blessed Warrior's guns could be brought to bear in the flagship's support.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:26 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 33


But when the enemy ship took the offered advantage, Mahntain would execute the instructions he'd been given earlier. Blessed Warrior would immediately alter course, swinging from her heading of north-northwest to one of west-by-north or even west-southwest, taking the wind almost dead abeam. That course would carry her directly across the Charisian ship's bow, giving her the opportunity to rake the larger, heavier galleon from a position in which none of the Charisian's guns could bear upon her in reply.

As soon as he'd crossed the Charisian's course, Mahntain would come back onto his original heading . . . by which time (if all had gone according to plan) the Charisian and Archangel Chihiro would have overtaken Blessed Warrior. The bigger galleon would be trapped between Wailahr's two lighter vessels, where their superior number of guns ought to prove decisive.

Of course, it's unlikely things will go exactly "according to plan," Wailahr reminded himself. On the other hand, even if we don't pull it off exactly, we should still end up with the tactical advantage.

The Charisian wouldn't be able to turn away to prevent Blessed Warrior from raking her from ahead without exposing her equally vulnerable -- and even more fragile -- stern to Archangel Chihiro's broadside. She wouldn't have much choice but to remain broadside-to-broadside with the flagship. So unless Archangel Chihiro took crippling damage to her rigging in the opening broadsides, or unless someone collided with someone else, the advantage should still go to the Desnairians.

And a collision will work to our advantage, too, Wailahr thought grimly. Good as the Imperial Charisian Marines were, Wailahr's crews would outnumber the Charisians by two-to-one. A collision that let him board the larger ship and settle things with cold steel wouldn't exactly be the worst outcome he could imagine.

* * * * * * * * * *

Captain Yairley watched the tip of Destiny's jibboom edging steadily closer to the Desnarian galleon. He could read the other ship's name off her counter now -- Archangel Chihiro, which didn't leave much doubt about who she'd actually been built to serve -- and even without his spyglass, he could make out individual officers and men quite clearly.

Archangel Chihiro, despite her shorter, stubbier length, stood higher out of of the water than Destiny which undoubtedly made her crankier and more leewardly. She also had less tumblehome (undoubtedly a legacy of her merchant origins), and her forecastle and aftercastle had both been cut down at least somewhat during her conversion. She'd retained enough height aft, however, for a complete poop deck, and in some ways, Yairley wished Destiny had possessed the same feature. Destiny's helmsmen's quarterdeck position left them completely exposed -- to musketry, as well as cannon fire -- whereas Archangel Chihiro's wheel was located under the poop deck, where it was both concealed and protected.

As if to punctuate Yairley's reflections, muskets began to fire from the other vessel. They were matchlocks, not flintlocks, which gave them an abysmally low rate of fire. They were also smoothbores, which wasn't going to do any great wonders for their accuracy, although pinpoint precision wasn't much of a factor firing from one moving ship at personnel on the deck of another moving ship. Whether or not any particular target was actually hit under those circumstances was largely a matter of chance, although it was just a bit difficult to remember that when a musket ball went humming past one's ear.

As one had just done, a corner of his mind observed.

Marine marksmen in the fore and maintops began returning fire, and if their rifled weapons weren't a lot more accurate under the conditions which obtained, the fact that they were armed with flintlocks, not matchlocks, at least gave them a substantially higher rate of fire. Someone screamed at one of the midship starboard carronades as one of those matchlocks did find a target, and Yairley saw a body pitch over the side of Archangel Chihiro's mizzentop and smash down on the poop deck with bone-pulverizing force as one of his Marines returned the compliment.

I think we're just about close enough, now, he mused, and glanced at Lathyk.

"Now, Master Lathyk!" he said crisply, and the first lieutenant blew his whistle.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sir Hairahm Wailahr didn't even turn his head as the seaman's body crashed onto the poop deck behind him. The man had probably been dead even before he fell; he was almost certainly dead now, and it wouldn't have been the first corpse Wailahr had ever seen. He paid no more attention to it than he did to the splinters suddenly feathering the planking around his feet as three or four Charisian musket balls thudded into the deck. The other ship's marksmen had obviously recognized him as an officer, he noted, even if they didn't realize exactly how rich a prize he would make. Yet it was a distant observation, one which was not allowed to penetrate below the surface of his mind. The commodore was scarcely unaware of his own mortality, but he had other things to worry about as the tip of the Charisian's long, lance-like jibboom started to creep level with Archangel Chihiro's taffrail.

Langhorne, this is going to hurt! he told himself. The Charisian was coming even closer than he'd anticipated. It looked as if the other galleon's captain intended to engage from a range of no more than thirty yards. At that range, not even Wailahr's relatively inexperienced gunners were likely to miss, and he grimaced as he considered the carnage which was about to be inflicted.

But on both of us, my heretical friend, he thought grimly. On both of us.

Another few minutes, and --

* * * * * * * * * *

"Larboard your helm!" Sir Dunkyn Yairley snapped. "Roundly, now!"

"Helm a-lee, aye, Sir!" Chief Waigan acknowledged, and he and his assistant spun the big double-wheel's spokes blurringly to larboard.

The motion of the wheel moved the ship's tiller to larboard, which kicked her rudder in the opposite direction. Which, in turn, caused the ship to turn abruptly to starboard.

* * * * * * * * * *

Wailahr's eyes widened as the Charisian suddenly altered course. It was the last thing he'd expected, especially since it sent her turning away from Archangel Chihiro -- turning up to windward across his flagship's wake, and not ranging alongside to leeward as he'd expected. Her yards tracked around with metronome precision as her heading altered, continuing to drive her, yet she slowed drastically as her new course brought her up closer to the wind, and Wailahr's initial surprise began to turn into a frown of confusion as he found himself looking at the Charisian galleon's larboard gunports.

Her closed larboard gunports, since it was her starboard broadside she'd run out when she cleared for action.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Roundly, lads! Roundly!" Hektor shouted down through the hatch gratings.

The admonition probably wasn't necessary. The officers and men in charge of Destiny's main armament had undoubtedly heard Lieutenant Lathyk's whistle almost as well as the carronade gunners on the spar deck weapons. Captain Yairley wasn't the sort to take chances on something like that, however. It was one of his fundamental principles that a competent officer did everything he could before the battle to minimize the chance of errors or misunderstandings. They were going to happen, anyway, once battle was fairly joined, but a good officer did his best to see to it there were as few as possible . . . and that they didn't happen any earlier than they had to.

And this particular evolution presented plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong.

As the ship rounded up to windward, the seamen who'd been ostentatiously manning the weather carronades (as any wall-eyed idiot on the other ship could plainly see) turned as one and charged, obedient to Lathyk's whistle, to the opposite side of the deck. The short, stubby carronades of the larboard battery, already loaded and primed, were run out quickly, in plenty of time, but the heavier gundeck weapons were both much more massive and far less handy.

The good news was that no one aboard Archangel Chihiro had been able to see Destiny's gundeck. Captain Yairley had been able to send full gun crews to his larboard battery without giving away his intentions. Now the larboard gunports snapped open, gun captains shouted orders, and men grunted with explosive effort as they flung their weight onto side tackles. Gun trucks squealed like angry pigs as they rumbled across planking which had been sanded for better traction, and the long, wicked snouts of the new-model krakens thrust out of the suddenly open ports.

There wasn't much time to aim.

Fortunately, HMS Destiny's gun captains had enjoyed plenty of practice.

* * * * * * * * * *

The world came apart in a deafening bellow of lightning-shot thunder.

Sir Hairahm Wailahr had never imagined anything like it. To be fair, no one who had never experienced it could have accurately imagined it. He stood on the tall, narrow poop deck of his flagship -- a deck little more than forty feet long and barely twenty feet across at its widest point -- and twenty-seven heavy cannon exploded in a long, unending drumroll, spitting fire and blinding, choking smoke as Destiny crossed Archangel Chihiro's stern and her broadside came to bear from a range of perhaps fifty feet. The two ships were so close together that Destiny's jibboom had actually swung across her enemy's poop, barely clearing Archangel Chihiro's mizzen shrouds, as she altered course almost all the way to northeast-by-east, and the concussive force of that many cannon, firing at that short a range, each gun loaded with a charge of grape on top of its round shot, was indescribable. He actually felt the heat of the exploding powder, felt vast, invisible fists of muzzle blast punching his entire body with huge bubbles of overpressure. Felt the fabric of his flagship bucking and jerking -- slamming upward against his feet as if some maniac were pounding the soles of his shoes with a baseball bat -- as the Charisian fire crashed into her. Planking splintered, the glass of Archangel Chihiro's big stern windows simply disappeared, and the screams and high-pitched shrieks of men who'd been taken just as completely by surprise as Wailahr himself ripped at his ears even through the incredible thunder of Destiny's guns.

Cleared for action, Archangel Chihiro's gundeck was one vast cave, stretching from bow to stern. A cavern edged with guns, nosing out through the open ports, waiting for a target to appear before them. But the target wasn't there. It was astern of them, where the gunners crewing those guns couldn't even see it, far less fire back at it, and six-inch iron spheres came howling down that cavern's length like Shan-wei's own demons.

Half a dozen of the galleon's lizards took direct hits, their carriages disintegrating into clouds of additional splinters, the heavy bronze gun tubes leaping upward, then crashing back down to crush and mangle the survivors of their crews. Human beings caught in the path of one of those round shot were torn in half with casual, appalling ease. Splinters of the ship's fabric -- some of them as much as six feet long and three or four inches in diameter -- slammed into fragile flesh and blood like spears hurled by some enraged titan. Men shrieked as they clutched at torn and riven bodies, and other men simply flew backward, heads or chests or shoulders destroyed in explosions of gore as grapeshot -- each almost three inches in diameter -- smashed into them.

That single broadside killed or wounded almost half of Archangel Chihiro's crew.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Bring her back off the wind, Waigan!"

The captain had to raise his voice to be heard, yet it seemed preposterously calm, almost thoughtful, to Chief Waigan.

"Aye, aye, Sir!" the petty officer replied sharply, and the wheel went over in the opposite direction as Destiny's rudder was reversed.

The galleon didn't like it, but she answered like the lady she was. Her hull heaved awkwardly as she swung back to the west, across the waves, but Yairley had timed the maneuver almost perfectly, and the wind helped push her back around.

Destiny came back before the wind, then swept even farther to larboard, taking the wind on her larboard quarter instead of her starboard beam, and her topsail yards swung with machinelike precision as they were trimmed back around.

She'd lost a great deal of her speed through the water, and Archangel Chihiro's motion had continued to carry her away from Yairley's ship, along her earlier course. But there was far too much confusion aboard the Desnairian ship for Captain Ahbaht -- or, rather, Lieutenant Mahrtynsyn, since Ruhsail Ahbaht had encountered one of Destiny's round shot -- to even consider altering heading. Her officers were still fighting to reestablish control after the incredible carnage of that first broadside when Destiny swept across Archangel Chihiro's stern yet again, this time from northeast to southwest, rather than southwest to northeast.

There hadn't been time for her gun crews to reload, but they didn't have to. The starboard guns had been loaded before they were run out, and even with so many hands detailed to man the braces, the starboard battery's officers had been left more than enough crewmen to fire the already loaded weapons. The range was much greater -- well over a hundred yards this time. Closer to a hundred and fifty, actually. But not enough closer to a hundred and fifty.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Clear away that wreckage! Get it over the side -- now!" Sir Hairahm Wailahr shouted.

A commodore had no business allowing himself to be distracted from his responsibilities as a flag officer. Wailahr might not be a sailor, but he knew that much. Unfortunately, there was damn-all else he could do at the moment, and he actually grabbed one end of the broken length of gangway which had fallen across the upper deck guns himself. He heaved, grunting with effort, fighting to clear away the wreckage blocking the guns, then wheeled back around, his head coming up, his eyes darting to the wind-shredded smoke astern of his flagship, as HMS Destiny fired her second broadside.

The next best thing to thirty more heavy round shot came screaming at him. The range was much greater this time, and, unlike the last broadside, many of these shot missed Archangel Chihiro entirely. But some of them didn't, and one of those which didn't crashed into the mizzenmast, cutting it cleanly in two eight feet above the deck. It toppled forward, smashing into the mainmast with all its own weight added to the driving pressure of the wind, and the mainmast went with it. Archangel Chihiro shuddered like a mortally wounded prong lizard, then heaved as a torrent of shattered spars and shredded canvas came crashing down across her decks or plunged into the sea alongside. She surged wildly, rounding to the sudden sea anchor of her own rigging, and fresh screams echoed as still more of her crew were crushed under the falling spars or torn apart by the Charisian fire.

Wailahr staggered clear of the broken mizzen, right hand clutching his left arm. That arm was almost as badly broken as his flagship, a corner of his brain reflected -- not that it mattered a great deal at the moment.

He watched, his eyes bitter with understanding, as the Charisian galleon altered course yet again. She swung back, coming fully back before the wind, her spars once more tracking around as if controlled by a single hand. She leaned to the wind, driving hard as she accelerated once more, and he saw the topgallants blossoming above her topsails. They fell like curtains, then hardened as sheets and tacks were tended, and Destiny came storming past Archangel Chihiro.

Wailahr turned, looking for Blessed Warrior.

He knew Captain Mahntain must have been taken at least as much aback by the Charisians' unexpected maneuvers as Ahbaht and he himself had been. Blessed Warrior had altered course almost automatically when Destiny opened fire, swinging around onto a westerly heading as originally arranged. Unfortunately, that was the only part of Wailahr's original arrangements which had worked as planned. Worse, neither Destiny nor Archangel Chihiro were where he'd expected them to be when he planned his original tactics. Now Blessed Warrior was well to the southwest of her original track . . . and Destiny, edging around to north-by-northwest, was already heading to pass astern of her -- and with the advantage of the weather gauge, as well -- rather than finding herself broadside-to-broadside with both of her opponents at once.

The Charisian galleon's starboard broadside flamed and thundered yet again as she swept past Archangel Chihiro, heading for her second victim. The foremast, already weakened by the loss of the stays which had once led aft to the vanished mainmast, pitched over the side, leaving Archangel Chihiro completely dismasted. The ship rolled madly, drunkenly, corkscrewing indescribably as the sudden loss of all her tophamper destroyed any vestige of stability, only to snub savagely as she brought up short against the wreckage still anchored to her side by the broken shrouds. Lieutenant Mahrtynsyn was still on his feet, somehow, shouting commands, driving parties of his surviving seamen to clear away the wreckage. Axes flashed and thudded, chopping through tangled cordage, fighting to free the ship even while other sailors and Marines dragged sobbing, screaming, or silently writhing wounded out of the debris.

Destiny's passing broadside added still more torn and broken bodies to her cruel toll, but it was obvious Archangel Chihiro had become little more than an afterthought to the Charisian vessel. Wailahr's flagship was a broken ruin, so badly mangled, with so many of her people dead or wounded, that she could be gathered in any time Destiny got around to it. The enemy had more important concerns at the moment, and Hairahm Wailahr's jaw clenched with something far worse than the pain of his broken arm.

He knew Tohmys Mahntain. If there was a single ounce of quitter in Mahntain's entire body, Wailahr had never seen even a hint of it, and Blessed Warrior was already altering course. Her sail drill lacked Destiny's polished precision, and the ship wallowed around to her new heading unhappily, sails flapping and thundering in protest. Her maneuver managed to turn her stern away from her enemy before Destiny could rake her as she had Archangel Chihiro, and her starboard guns ran out defiantly. Yet gallant and determined as Mahntain undoubtedly was, the awkwardness with which his ship came onto her new heading only emphasized how little comparison there was between the skill level of his crew and that of the Charisian galleon slicing towards him. He wasn't simply outgunned and outweighed; he was outclassed, and a part of Sir Hairahm Wailahr wished he still had an intact mast and signal halyards. Wished he could order Mahntain to break off the action and run for it.

Or surrender, he admitted to himself with bleak, terrible honesty as he watched Sir Dunkyn Yairley's ship stoop upon her fresh prey like a hunting wyvern. He can't break off -- can't outrun her or avoid her. And since he can't --

Fresh thunder rolled across the icy afternoon sea as the Charisian galleon, as merciless as the kraken emblem of the Ahrmahks flying from its mizzen yard, opened fire yet again.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Mar 25, 2010 11:05 pm

DrakBibliophile
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 34

VII
Archbishop's Palace,
City of Tairys,
Province of Glacierheart,
Republic of Siddarmark

It was the coldest winter Zhasyn Cahnyr could remember . . . in more than one way.

Cahnyr was a lean man, and God had wasted very little fat when He designed him. As a result, he usually felt the cold more badly than many others did, and he'd always thought his assignment to the Archbishopric of Glacierheart, in the mountains of Siddarmark, was evidence that God and the Archangels had a sense of humor.

Of late, that humor had seemed somewhat harder to find.

He stood gazing out of his office window on the second floor of his palace in the city of Tairys. It wasn't much of a palace as the great lords of Mother Church usually reckoned such things. For that matter, Tairys, despite its unquestioned status as Glacierheart Province's largest city, was actually little more than a largish town by the standards of wealthier, more populous provinces.

The people of Cahnyr's archbishopric tended to be poor, hard-working, and devout. Most of the limited wealth Glacierheart could boast came from the province's mines -- which, unfortunately, produced not gold, silver, sapphires, or rubies, but simply coal. Cahnyr had nothing against coal. In fact, in his opinion, it had far greater intrinsic value than any of those more pricey baubles, and Glacierheart's coal was good, clean-burning anthracite. It was an . . . honest sort of product. The sort which could be set to purposes of which he was fairly confident God approved. One that provided homes with desperately needed warmth in the midst of winter ice and snow. One that at least a few foundry owners here in Siddarmark were beginning to experiment with, turning it into coke in emulation of the current Charisian practice.

Yet there were times when the archbishop could have wished for something a bit gaudier, a bit more in keeping with the vain desires of the world. One that would have provided his hard-working, industrious parishioners with a greater return. And one which did not, despite all the Order of Pasquale could do, send all too many of those parishioners to early graves with black lung.

Cahnyr's mouth twitched at the familiar thought, and he shook his head.

Of course you wish that, Zhasyn, he scolded himself, although the scold was on the mild side, its hard edges worn down by frequent repetition. Any priest worth his cap and scepter wants his people to live longer, healthier, richer lives! But be grateful God at least gave them coal to mine and a way to get it to market.

That thought drew his eyes to the Tairys Canal, frozen hard now, which connected the city to the Graywater River. The Graywater was navigable -- for barge traffic, at least -- for most of its four hundred-mile length, although there were several spots where locks had been required. It linked Ice Lake, northwest of Tairys, with Glacierborn Lake, two hundred miles to the southwest. From there, the mighty Siddar River ran sixteen hundred miles, snaking through the final mountains of Glacierheart, then through the foothills of Shiloh Province, and into Old Province to the capital city of Siddar, itself. Which meant barges of Glacierheart coal could be floated down the rivers all the way to Siddar, where it could be loaded aboard coasters and blue-water galleons for destinations all over the world.

Most of it was used right here in the Republic, either dropped off at one of the river ports as it passed, or carried clear to Siddar City before it was sold. Of the portion that wasn't disposed of in any of those places, the majority was shipped up the East Haven coast as far as Hsing-wu's Passage, then west, through the passage, to serve the insatiable winter appetite of the city of Zion. The fact that it could be sent by water the entire way made its delivery price competitive with overland sources, even when those sources were much closer to hand and even in far off Zion, and its quality made it highly prized by discerning customers. Most of its purchase price got soaked up by the merchants, shippers, and factors through whose hands it passed, of course. Very little of the final selling price found its way into the hands -- the gnarled, callused, broken-nailed, coal dust-ingrained hands -- which had actually wrested it from the bowels of Glacierheart's mountains. But it was enough, if only barely, and the people of Cahnyr's archbishopric were grateful to get it. They were a provincial people, with only the most imperfect knowledge of the world beyond the craggy, snow-topped palisades of their mountain horizons, yet they knew they were better off than many other people on Safehold.

That was one of the things Cahnyr loved about them. Oh, he loved their piety, as well. Loved the pure joy in God which he heard in their choirs, saw in their faces. But as much as he loved those things, as much as he treasured them, it was their sturdy independence, their stubborn self-reliance, that truly resonated somewhere deep inside him. They had a sense of self-sufficient integrity. Always quick to help a neighbor, always generous even when their own purses were sadly pinched, there was something in them that demanded they stand upon their own two feet. They knew what it meant to earn their own livelihoods by the sweat of their brows, by backbreaking labor in the deep and dangerous mines. They entered the labor force early, and they left it late, and along the way, they learned to value themselves. To recognize that they had given good value and more for those livelihoods. That they had managed to put food on their families' tables. That they had met their obligations, and that they were beholding to no one but themselves.

Clyntahn and Trynair and Rayno have never understood why I love these people so, the archbishop thought now, his eyes sweeping the mist-shrouded, snow-covered mountains. Their ideal is what Rayno gets in Harchong -- serfs, beaten down people who "know their place." Cahnyr's face hardened. They like knowing their "flocks" aren't going to get uppity. Aren't going to argue with their secular and temporal masters. Aren't going to start thinking for themselves, wondering why it is that Mother Church is so incredibly wealthy and powerful while her children starve. Aren't going to start demanding the princes of Mother Church remember that they serve God . . . and not the other way around.

Cahnyr knew the vast majority of his fellow prelate had never understood why he insisted on making two lengthy pastoral visits to his archbishopric every year, instead of the one grudging, flying visit per year most of them made. The fact that he voluntarily spent the winter in Glacierheart, away from the amenities of the Temple, the diversions of Zion, the political maneuvering and alliance building which were so central to the vicarate's existence, had always amused them. Oh, one or two of them realized how he'd come to love the spectacular beauty, the cragginess of towering mountains, snowcaps and dense, evergreen forests. Waterfalls that tumbled for hundreds of feet through lacey banners of spray. The deep, icy cold lakes fed by the high mountain glaciers from which the province took its name. A few others -- mostly men he'd known in seminary, when he'd been far younger -- knew of his long-standing interest in geology, the way he'd always loved studying God's handiwork in the bones of the world, his pleasure in spelunking, and the hushed cathedral stillness he'd found in deep caverns and caves.

Yet even the ones who knew about those sides of his nature, who could dimly grasp what a man like him might see in an archbishopric like his, still found his preference for Glacierheart and his lengthy visits to its uncouth, country bumpkin inhabitants difficult to understand. It was so eccentric. So . . . quaint. They'd never understood the way he drew strength and sustenance from the faith which burned so brightly here in Glacierheart.

Nor had they ever understood that the people of Glacierheart -- nobles (such as they were and what there were of them) and commoners alike -- knew he genuinely cared about them. Those other archbishops, and those vicars, didn't worry about such minor matters. Even the best of them, far too often, considered that they'd done their jobs and more by keeping tithes within survivable bounds, seeing to it that enough other priests were sent to their archbishoprics to keep their churches and their priories filled, making certain their bishop executors weren't skimming too much off their parishioners. They were no longer village priests; God had called them to greater and more important duties in the administration of His Church, and there were plenty of other priests who could supply the pastoral care they no longer had time to give.

Which is precisely how this entire business in Charis managed to take all of them so completely by surprise, Cahnyr thought grimly. He shook his head, eyes hard on the horizon -- harder than the ice and snow upon which they gazed. The idiots. The fools! They sneer at efforts to reform Mother Church because she's working just fine . . . for them. For their families. For their power, and for their purses. And if she's working for them, then, obviously, she must be working for everyone else. Or for everyone else who matters, at least. Because they're right. They aren't priests anymore . . . and they don't even realize what an abomination in God's eyes a bishop or a vicar becomes when he forgets that first, last, and always, he's a pastor, a shepherd, a protector and teacher. When he gives up his priesthood in the name of power.

He made himself step back from the anger. Made himself draw a deep breath, then gave himself a shake, and turned away from the window. He crossed to the fireplace, opened the screen, and used the tongs to position a couple of fresh lumps of coal on the grate. He listened to the sudden, fierce crackling sound as the flame explored the surfaces of the new fuel and stood warming his hands for a few moments. Then he replaced the screen, walked back to his desk, and seated himself behind it.

He knew the real reason his anger against the corrupters of Mother Church turned so easily into a white-hot fury these days, crackling and roaring up like the flames on his grate. And he knew his anger was no longer the simple product of outrage. No, it was rather more pointed and much more . . . personal now.

He closed his eyes, traced the sign of the scepter across his chest, and murmured yet another brief, heartfelt prayer for his friends in Zion. For the other members of the Circle who he'd been forced to leave behind.

He wondered if Samyl Wylsynn had discovered the traitor's identity. Had he uncovered the deadly weakness in the walls of the Circle's fortress? Or was he still guessing? Still forced to keep his knowledge to himself lest Clyntahn realize he knew what was coming and strike even more quickly and more ruthlessly?

I shouldn't say it, Lord, the archbishop thought, but thank You for sparing me Samyl's burden. I ask You to be with him and protect him, and all of my brothers. If they can be saved, then I ask You to save them, because I love them, and because they are such good men and love You so dearly. Yet you are the Master Builder of all this world. You alone know the true plan of Your work. And so, in the end, what I ask most is that You will strengthen me in the days to come and help me to be obedient to whatever plan You have.

He opened his eyes again, and leaned back in his chair. That chair was the one true luxury Cahnyr had permitted himself -- the one extravagance. Although, to be fair, it would have been more accurate to say it was the one true extravagance he had allowed himself to accept. Eight years earlier, when Gharth Gorjah, his longtime personal secretary, had told him the people of the archbishopric wanted to buy him a special Midwinter gift and asked him for suggestions, Cahnyr had commented that he needed a new chair for his office because the old one (which was probably at least a year or two older than Father Gharth) was finally wearing out. Father Gharth had nodded and gone away, and the archbishop hadn't thought very much about it. Not until he arrived for his regular winter pastoral visit -- the long one, when he always spent at least two months here in Glacierheart -- and found the chair waiting for him.

His parishioners had ordered it from Siddar City itself. It had cost -- easily -- the equivalent of a year's income for a family of six, and it had been worth every mark of its exorbitant price. Cahnyr had discovered only later that Fraidmyn Tohmys, his valet, had provided his exact measurements so that the craftsman who had built that chair could fit it exactly to him. It was in many ways an austere design, without the bullion-embroidered upholstery and gem-set carvings others might have demanded, but that suited Cahnyr's personality and tastes perfectly. And if no money had been wasted on ostentatious decoration, it was the most sinfully comfortable chair in which Zhasyn Cahnyr had ever sat.

At the moment, however, its comfort offered precious little comfort.

His lips twitched sourly as he realized what he'd just thought, but that didn't make his current situation any more amusing, and the brief flash of humor faded quickly.

He'd been deeply touched when Wylsynn told him about his suspicions, about his growing certainty that the Circle had been compromised, betrayed to Clyntahn and the Inquisition. The fact that Samyl had trusted him enough to tell him, had known he wasn't the traitor, had filled him with an odd sort of joy even as the terror of that treachery's consequences flooded through him. And Samyl had been as blunt and forthright as ever.

"One reason I'm telling you, Zhasyn," he'd said, "is that unlike any of the rest of us, you have the perfect reason to leave Zion in the middle of winter. Everyone knows about your 'eccentricities,' so no one -- not even Clyntahn -- will think it's out of character for you to return to Glacierheart as usual. I'm going to do what I can to get as many as possible of our other archbishops and bishops out of harm's way, but if we've been as thoroughly betrayed as I think we have, all of us are going to be marked for the Inquisition. That includes you."

Wylsynn had looked into his eyes, then reached out and rested one hand on each of Cahnyr's shoulders.

"You got Erayk Dynnys' final letters out of his cell, Zhasyn. And we got them to his wife -- his widow -- in Charis. This isn't going to be that simple. This time they know about us. But I don't think they're likely to make an open move against us for at least another month or two. So you'll have some time once you get to Glacierheart. Use it, Zhasyn." The hands on his shoulders had shaken him with powerful, gentle emphasis. "Use it. Make your plans, however you can, and then disappear."

Cahnyr had opened his mouth to protest, only to find Wylsynn shaking him again.

"You couldn't accomplish anything here even if you stayed," the vicar had told him. "All you could do would be to die right along with the rest of us. I know you're prepared to do that, Zhasyn, but I think God has more in mind for you yet than martyrdom. Much though I hate to admit it, I've come to the conclusion that the 'Church of Charis' has become our only true hope. Well, not ours, so much, since I don't see much Staynair or Cayleb could do to save the Circle even if they knew about our predicament. But our only hope for what we set out to accomplish in the first place. The rot's gone too deep here in the Temple. Clyntahn and Trynair -- but especially Clyntahn -- are too corrupt. They're actively committed to maintaining the very evils that are turning Mother Church into an abomination, and if we ever truly had any hope of stopping them, we've lost it now. We've run out of time. So the only hope I see is that the Charisians will succeed in challenging them. That the example of Charis from without will force reform from within. What that ultimately means for the universality of Mother Church is more than I can say, yet I've come to the conclusion that it's more important she be God's Church, be she broken into however many pieces, than that she remain one unbroken entity enslaved to the power of the Dark."

Cahnyr had seen the pain in Wylsynn's eyes, recognized the bitterness of that admission. And in that recognition, he'd realized Wylsynn had come to speak for him, as well. His very soul quailed from the thought of schism, the nightmare of the religious strife -- the enormous scope for doctrinal error -- that must sweep over the world if Mother Church dissolved into competing sects. And yet even that was preferable to watching God's Church slide deeper and deeper into corruption, for that was the worst and darkest "doctrinal error" of which Zhasyn Cahnyr could possibly conceive.

Yet even though he'd found himself in unwilling agreement with Wylsynn's analysis, and even though he'd shared every bit of Wylsynn's urgency, he'd had no idea how he might contrive to escape the Inquisition in the end. True, he'd probably have at least a slightly better chance from Glacierheart than he would in the Temple itself, but that wasn't saying a great deal.

He was positive Father Bryahn Teagmahn, the Glacierheart Intendant, was at least generally aware of Clyntahn's suspicions. The Intendant, like all intendants, had been assigned to Glacierheart by the Office of the Inquisition, and, also like all intendants, he was a member of the Order of Schuler. He was also a cold, harsh-minded disciplinarian. Cahnyr had tried to get him replaced several times, and each time his request had been denied. That was unusual, to say the least, and bespoke an interest in keeping Teagmahn here at a very high level within the Inquisition, all of which meant there was no question in Cahnyr's mind where "his" Intendant's loyalties lay. Yet, sad to say, Teagmahn wasn't exactly the most deft agent Clyntahn could possibly have selected. Perhaps the Grand Inquisitor had felt sufficient dedication would substitute for a certain lack of subtleness? Or had he decided that only a moderate degree of competence would be required to keep an eye on an obviously addled "eccentric" like Cahnyr? Whatever the logic, Teagmahn had been doing a very poor job of late of disguising the suspicion with which he regarded his nominal superior. He was ever so much more attentive than he'd normally been, constantly calling upon the archbishop, checking with him, making certain he had no unexpected needs or tasks for his loyal Intendant. As ways of keeping an eye on someone went, it was about as subtle as throwing a cobblestone through a window. Which, unfortunately, made it no less effective.

Worse, that very brute force technique told Cahnyr a great deal. It told him Clyntahn was confident he had the archbishop under his thumb, ready to be snapped up whenever the moment came. Which meant Teagmahn would be alert for any arrangements Cahnyr might make, and Tairys was a small enough city that it wouldn't be difficult for the Intendant and the Inquisition to monitor his actions. He'd had absolutely no idea what he was going to do after he reached his archbishopric, not even the first faint glimmering of a plan.

Which was one reason he'd been astonished when he arrived here and discovered that, apparently, he wasn't the only one who'd been thinking about that.

Now he reached into the inner pocket of his cassock and withdrew the letter once more.

He didn't know who'd sent it, and he didn't recognize the handwriting. He supposed it was entirely possible it had been sent to him on Clyntahn's orders as a means of provoking him into a false move to help justify his own arrest when the time came, but it seemed unlikely. The degree of subtleness such a strategy implied went far beyond anything Clyntahn or the Inquisition had ever before wasted on him.

Besides, there was no need for the Grand Inquisitor to manufacture or provoke some sort of self-incriminating action on Cahnyr's part. He had the authority to order Cahnyr's arrest whenever he chose to, and he could always count upon the skill and energy of his Inquisitors to produce whatever "evidence" he might feel he required. Given that, and given the contempt with which he so obviously regarded Cahnyr, setting some sort of complex, subtle trap would have been totally out of character.

Which left the perplexing question of exactly who else might have sent the letter.

He was positive it wasn't from Wylsynn. First, because the letter had beaten him here. If Wylsynn had wanted to communicate its contents to him, he could simply have spoken to him face-to-face, directly, without the letter's protective obliqueness, before he ever left to Zion. Second, if Wylsynn had actually sent it after Cahnyr left Zion for some reason, he would have sent it in cipher, and he wouldn't have spent so much time speaking in what amounted to riddles.

Now Cahnyr unfolded it, and his eyes narrowed as he re-read the single page yet again.

"I realize you have reason for anxiety at this time, Your Eminence, and I understand from a mutual friend why that is. I realize also that you have no idea who I am, and I wouldn't blame you for simply burning this letter immediately. In fact, burning it might well be your best choice, although I would like to think you'll read it in full first. But our mutual friend has shared his concerns with me. I believe he's been willing to do so because I have never been a member of his inner circle, one might say. Nonetheless, I am aware of your hopes and aspirations . . . and of your current difficulties. It is possible I may be able to be of some assistance with those difficulties.

"I have taken the liberty of suggesting a few alternatives. The degree to which any one of these may be applicable will, of course, depend on many factors which I cannot possibly properly evaluate at this time from so far away. And the fact that I'm unable to give you a return address will make it impossible for you to inform me as to which, if any, of my suggested alternatives strike you as most workable.

"Because of that, I have also taken the liberty of making a few definite arrangements. The critical point, Your Eminence, is that any successful travel plans on your part will require you to be in one of three locations within a specific window of time. If you can contrive to reach one of those locations at the appropriate time, I believe you'll find a friendly face waiting for you. Precisely how things might proceed beyond that point is more than I dare commit to writing at this time. We can only trust in God for that. Some might say that seems a futile trust, given the darkness you -- and we all -- face, I suppose. Yet despite that present Darkness, there is always a far greater Light waiting to receive us. With that in our hearts, how can we not risk a little loss in this world if that should be the price of setting our hands to the work we know God has prepared for us?"

There was no second or third page to the letter. Or, rather, there was no longer any second or third page. Cahnyr had taken his mysterious correspondent's advice to heart in that much, at least. But he'd kept the first page. It was his talisman. More than that, it was the physical avatar of hope. Of hope, that most fragile and most wonderful of commodities. If the author of that letter had written truly -- and despite a conscientious effort to remain skeptical, Cahnyr believed he had -- then there were people in God's world still willing to act as they believed He wanted them to. Still willing to set their hands to that task, even knowing all Clyntahn and the twisted power of the Inquisition might do to them.

That was why he'd kept that single sheet of paper written in an unknown hand, and why he carried it in the pocket of his cassock, close against his heart. Because it reminded him, restored his hope, that Light was mightier than the Dark. And the reason Light was mightier was that it resided in the human heart, and the human soul, and the human willingness to risk everything to do what was right.

And as long as even a flicker of that willingness burns in a single heart, illuminates a single soul, the Dark cannot win, Zhasyn Cahnyr thought as he refolded that single priceless sheet and placed it almost reverently back in the pocket next to his heart once more.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:06 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 35

February, Year of God 894

I
Duke of Kholman's Office,
City of Iythria,
Gulf of Jahras,
Desnairian Empire

"Damnation!"

Daivyn Bairaht, the Duke of Kholman and Emperor Mahrys IV's senior councilor for the Imperial Desnarian Navy, balled the sheet of paper into a crushed wad and hurled it at the trashcan. The improvised projectile's aerodynamic qualities left a great deal to be desired, and it landed on his office carpet, bounced twice, and sailed under a bookcase.

"Shit," the duke muttered in disgust, then slumped back in the chair behind his desk and glowered at the man sitting in the chair facing it.

His guest -- Sir Urwyn Hahltar, Baron Jahras -- was a short, compactly built man, brown hair going salt-and-pepper gray at the temples. A study in physical contrast with the taller, silver-haired Kholman, he had a full beard, rather than the duke's neatly groomed mustache. He was also more than ten years younger, with a much more weathered-looking complexion.

And, not to his particular comfort at the moment, he was Admiral General of the Imperial Desnairian Navy. It was a magnificent sounding title. Unfortunately, it was also an office with which no Desnairian had any previous experience, since there'd never before been any need for it. The Desnairian Navy had never been particularly "Imperial" before the recent unpleasantness between the Kingdom of Charis and the Lords of the Temple Lands. In fact, it had never boasted more than forty ships at its largest. Worse, that somewhat less than towering level of power had been attained almost seventy years before; the navy's strength as of the Battle of Darcos Sound had been only twelve ships, and all of them had been purchased somewhere else, rather than built in any Desnairian shipyard. Despite the magnificent harbors of the Gulf of Jahras, Desnair had never been a maritime power -- especially over the past century and a half of or so of its competition with the equally land-oriented Republic of Siddarmark.

Baron Jahras, however, was something of an oddity for a Desnairian noble. He'd served -- adequately, if not outstandingly -- in the Imperial Army, as any senior aristocrat was expected to do, but his family had been far more active in trade than most wellborn Desnairians. In fact, they'd been even more active than they'd been prepared to admit to most of their noble relatives and peers. Jahras, in fact, had controlled the largest merchant house in the entire Desnairian Empire, and (however disreputable it might have been for a proper nobleman) that merchant house had owned a fleet of no less than thirty-one trading galleons.

Which was how he had come to find himself tapped to command Emperor Mahrys' newborn navy.

Of course, he thought now from behind a carefully expressionless face, it would help if I'd ever commanded a naval warship before I found myself commanding the entire damned Navy! Or, for that matter, if there were a single Desnairian who had a clue how to organize a navy.

"His Majesty isn't going to be happy about this, Urwyn," Kholman said finally, in a calmer tone. And, Jahras reflected, with monumental understatement.

"I know," the baron said out loud. Despite the vast gulf between their titles, Jahras, even though a mere baron, was very nearly as wealthy as Kholman. He was also married to Kholman's first cousin, a combination which, thankfully, made it possible for him to speak frankly, which he now proceeded to do.

"On the other hand," he continued, "I can hardly say I'm surprised." He shrugged. "Wailahr was a good man, but he didn't have any more experience commanding a galleon than any of the rest of our senior officers."

Kholman snorted. He couldn't disagree with that particular statement, although he could have added that none of their senior officers had any particular experience commanding galleys, either. Which, given the apparent differences between galleys and galleons, might not necessarily be a bad thing. He only wished that he, as the imperial councilor directly charged with building and running the emperor's new navy, had some idea of exactly what those differences were.

"That may be true," the duke said now. "But when His Majesty gets his copy of that," he jabbed an index finger in the direction of the vanished ball of paper, "he's going to hit the roof, and you know it. Worse, Bishop Executor Mhartyn's going to do the same thing."

"I do know it," Jahras agreed, "but, frankly, they should have seen this -- or something like it -- coming when they decided to send the tithe by sea." He shrugged unhappily. "I've had enough experience with what happened to my own merchant galleons to know what Charisian privateers and naval cruisers can do."

"But according to that," Kholman's finger stabbed the air again, "one of their galleons just beat the shit out of two of ours. And ours were under the command of what you yourself just described as 'a good man.' In fact, one of our better men."

"It's what I've been trying to explain from the beginning, Daivyn," Jahras said. "Sea battles aren't like land battles, and we just aren't trained for them. By the time a Desnairian nobleman's eighteen, he has at least some notion about how to lead a cavalry charge, and the Army has a well-developed organization with at least some experience in how to supply cavalry and infantry in the field. We know how long it's going to take to get from Point A to Point B, how many miles we can expect an army to advance over what sort of roads and in what kind of weather, how many horseshoes and nails we're going to need, what kind of wagons, how many farriers and black smiths. We can make plans based on all of that. But how many casks of powder does a galleon need? How much spare cordage and canvas and spars? For that matter, how long will it take a galleon to sail from Geyra to Iythria? Well, that depends. It depends on how fast it is, how skilled its captain is, what the weather's like -- all sorts of things none of His Majesty's officers really have any experience at all with."

The baron shrugged again -- not nonchalantly, but with a certain helplessness.

"When we think about taking Charis on at sea, we're talking about fighting someone else's kind of war," he said. "I'd love the chance to face them on land, no matter what kind of ridiculous stories we're hearing out of Corisande. But at sea, there's no way we can match their experience and training any more than they could match ours in a cavalry melee. Until we've had a chance to build up some experience, it's going to stay that way, too."

Kholman managed not to swear again, although it wasn't easy. On the other hand, one of the good things about Jahras (aside from the fact that he was family) was that he was willing to speak his mind plainly, at least to Kholman. And he had a point. To be honest, the duke had never been overly impressed with his cousin-in-law's military prowess, but Jahras had one of the Desnairian Empire's better brains when it came to managing anything which had to do with trade, shipping, or manufactories. Well, one of the better aristocratic brains when it came to dealing with such matters, but that was pretty much the same thing. It was, after all, unthinkable that anyone who wasn't an aristocrat should be given the sort of authority the Admiral General of the Navy required.

It was a testimonial to Kholman's inherent mental flexibility that he was even vaguely aware that there might have been a non-aristocrat somewhere in Desnair with more expertise in those matters than he or Jahras possessed. The very notion would never have occurred to the vast majority of his fellow nobles, and it never occurred even to Kholman that anyone except a nobleman should hold his or Jahras' current offices. The sheer absurdity of such an idea would have been sufficient to keep it from crossing his brain in the first place. And if someone else had suggested it, he would have rejected it immediately, since it would have been impossible for that theoretical common born officer to exercise any effective authority over "subordinates" so much better born than he was.

But the fact that Jahras had what was probably the best brain available when it came to the problems involved in building a navy from scratch didn't necessarily mean he was really up to the task. For that matter, in Kholman's estimation, the Archangel Langhorne might not have been up to this task!

"I don't disagree with anything you've just said, Urwyn," the duke said after a moment. "Langhorne knows we've discussed it often enough, at any rate. And it's not anything we haven't warned His Majesty and the Bishop Executor about, either. But that's still not going to solve our problem when the Emperor and Bishop Executor Mhartyn hear about this."

Jahras nodded. The good news was that Emperor Mahrys and the bishop executor were in Geyer, thirteen hundred miles from Kholman's Iythria office. There were times when that physical distance between Kholman's headquarters and the imperial court worked against them, especially given the nasty infighting which so often marked Desnairian politics. Rivals had much easier and quicker access to the imperial ear, after all. On the other hand, most of those rivals had quickly realized that despite the enormous opportunities for graft inherent in building a navy from scratch, it was likely to prove a thankless task. However optimistically belligerent Emperor Mahrys and -- especially -- Bishop Executor Mhartyn might be, Jahras doubted that any Desnairian aristocrat ever born could possibly look forward to the notion of fighting the Charisian Navy at sea. No one who'd ever done that had enjoyed the experience . . . a point which had been rather emphatically underscored by what the Charisians had recently done to the combined fighting strength of five other navies.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 30, 2010 11:07 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 36


Under the circumstances, while Kholman's enemies would undoubtedly seize upon any opportunity to damage his credibility with the crown with unholy glee, they'd be careful not to do it in a way which might end up with them being chosen to take his place. For that matter, Jahras' position, despite his far less lofty birth, was even more secure. In fact, if he'd been able to think of any way to avoid it himself in the first place, he would have done so in a heartbeat. But at least the sheer distance between them and Geyer gave them a pronounced degree of autonomy, without rivals or court flunkies constantly peering over their shoulders. So the two of them were far enough away from the imperial capital, and well enough insulated against removal, to be reasonably confident of not simply surviving their monarch's anger but retaining their current positions.

Oh joy, he thought ironically.

"Let's be honest, Daivyn," he said out loud. "Nothing is going to make the Emperor or the Bishop Executor any less angry about what's happened to Wailahr. That's a given. In fact, I think we should use this to underscore the fact that -- as you just said -- we've warned everyone we're bound to get hurt, at least initially, going after Charisians in their own element. We're not the only ones who know Wailahr, or who understand his reputation as a good commander's well deserved. All right. Let's make that point to His Majesty -- that one of our better commanders, with two of our best vessels under his command, was defeated by a single Charisian galleon in less than forty-five minutes of close action. Don't blame him for it, either. In fact, let's emphasize the fact that he fought with great gallantry and determination. For that matter, as far as I can tell from this Captain Yairley's message, that's exactly what Wailahr did! Tell the Emperor we're making great progress in building the Navy, but that it's going to take a lot longer to train it."

Kholman frowned thoughtfully. There was a great deal to what Jahras had just said. In fact, the economies of the Gulf of Jahras and Mahrosa Bay had attained an almost Charisian bustle since the Church of God Awaiting had begun pouring money into the creation of shipyards there. Skilled carpenters, smiths, ropemakers and sailmakers, lumberjacks, seamstresses, gunpowder makers, foundry workers, and farmers and fishermen to provide the food to feed all of them, had swarmed into the area. The locals might not think much of the Harchong "advisers" who'd been sent in to (theoretically) help them, but they'd buckled down with a will to the task itself, propelled by an enthusiasm built almost equally out of religious zeal and the opportunity for profit.

For that matter, Kholman and Jahras had increased their own families' fortunes enormously in the process. Of course, that was one of the standard, accepted perquisites of their birth and position, and their own share of the graft had been factored into the navy's original cost estimates. With that in mind, they were actually ahead of schedule and marginally under budget where the actual building programs were involved, and the local metalworking industry was booming. It wasn't precisely mere happenstance that almost all of the expanded foundries -- and every single one of the new foundries -- supplying artillery to the ships building in Iythria, Mahrosa, and Khairman Keep were located in the Duchy of Kholman, but there were actually some valid logistical arguments to support the far more important money-making arguments in favor of that. And production was rising rapidly. The guns coming out of those foundries might cost more than twice as much as the same guns would have cost from Charisian foundries, and they might have been two or three times as likely to burst on firing, but they were still being cast and bored far more quickly than Desnairian artillery had ever before been produced, and they were arriving in numbers almost adequate to arm the new construction as it came out of the yards.

"We can tell them that," the duke said. "And, for that matter, whether His Majesty wants to admit it or not, he'll almost certainly realize that it is going to take time to crew and train this many ships. But he's still going to want some kind of an estimate as to how long it's going to take, and I don't think he's going to settle for generalities much longer. Even if he'd like to, Bishop Executor Mhartyn isn't going to stand for it."

"Probably not," Jahras agreed.

The baron sat gazing at one of the paintings on Kholman's office wall for several seconds, stroking his beard while he thought. Then he shrugged and returned his attention to the other man.

"I think we need to tell the Bishop Executor that, whether it's going to be convenient or not, we're going to have to send the tithe overland to Zion this year. I'll give you an official report and recommendation to that effect. And then, I think, we need to point out that we're actually managing to build and arm the ships faster than the people responsible for providing crews can get the men to us. When I write up my recommendation to send the tithe overland, I'll also point out how what's happened to Wailahr underscores the obvious need for longer and more intensive training even after we get the crews assembled. And as the men come in, let's assign them proportionately to all of the ships ready to commission, rather than fully crewing a smaller number of them."

Kholman's eyes narrowed, and he felt himself beginning to nod slowly. If they announced that they had even a limited number of new galleons fully manned, they would almost inevitably come under pressure to repeat the same disastrous sort of experiment which had just recoiled so emphatically on Wailahr. As long as they could report -- honestly -- that the ships' crews remained seriously understrength, there'd be no pressure (or none that couldn't be resisted, at any rate) to send them to sea in ones and twos where the Charisians could snip them off like frost-killed buds.

And if we spread the men between as many ships as possible, we can do that while still sending in manpower returns that show we're making use of every man they send us. That it's not our fault the supply won't stretch to cover all our requirements, however hard we try . . . .

"All right," he agreed. "That makes sense. And if they press us for a definite schedule, anyway?"

"Our first response should be to say we'll have to see how successful they are in sending us the men we require," Jahras replied promptly. "That's only the truth, by the way. Tell them we're going to need some time -- probably at least a month or two -- to form some kind of realistic estimate of how long it will take to fully man the ships we need at the rate they can provide the crews.

"After that, we'll need time to train them. I imagine that will take at least several more months, and it's already February." The baron shrugged again. "Under the circumstances, I'd say August or September would be the soonest we could possibly expect to really be prepared, and even then -- and I'll mention this, tactfully, of course, in my report to you, as well -- we're going to be inexperienced enough that it would be unrealistic to expect us to win without a significant numerical advantage. Obviously," his lips twitched in a faint smile, "it would be wisest to avoid operations which would permit the Charisians to whittle away at our own strength until we can be reinforced with enough of the ships building elsewhere to provide us with that necessary numerical advantage."

"Of course," Kholman agreed.

August or September, eh? he thought, restraining a smile of his own. Heading into October, really, with the inevitable -- and explainable -- schedule slippage, aren't you, Urwyn? Slippage we can blame, with complete justification, on the people who aren't getting us the manpower we need. More probably even next November . . . which will just happen to be about the time Hsing-wu's Passage freezes solid. At which point none of those ships "building elsewhere" will be able to reinforce us until spring.

It hadn't escaped the duke's thoughts, as he considered what Jahras had just said, that stretching out the schedule would also present the opportunity to funnel still more of the Church's bounty into his own and the baron's purses. In truth, however, that calculation was little more than a spinal reflex, inevitable in any Desnairian noble. What was more important, at least in so far as Kholman's conscious analysis was concerned, was that acting too precipitously -- being the first swimmer to plunge into a sea full of Charisian-manned krakens -- would be an unmitigated disaster for the navy he and Jahras were supposed to be building. Far better to be sure there were at least other targets for those krakens to spread their efforts between.

"Go ahead and write your report," the Duke of Kholman told his admiral general. "In fact, I think it would be a good idea to backdate at least some of it. We really have been thinking about this for a while, so let's make that clear to His Majesty." The duke smiled thinly. "It wouldn't do to have him decide we're just trying to cover our arses after what happened to Wailahr, after all."
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Apr 01, 2010 11:06 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 37

II

Ice Ship Hornet,
Lake Pei,
The Temple Lands

The Earl of Coris had never been colder in his entire life. Which, after the last few months of winter travel, was saying quite a lot. At the moment, however, he didn't really care. In fact, at the moment, he wasn't even worrying about the imminence of his arrival in the city of Zion or what was going to happen after he finally got there. He was too busy trying not to whoop in sheer exuberance as the iceboat Hornet went slicing across Lake Pei's endless plain of ice like Langhorne's own razor in a scatter of rainbow-struck ice chips.

He'd never imagined anything like it. Even the descriptions Hahlys Tannyr had shared with him over meals or an occasional tankard of beer on the wearisome overland trip from Fairstock to Lakeview had been inadequate. Not for lack of trying, or because Father Hahlys had lacked either the enthusiasm or the descriptive gift for the task, but simply because Coris' imagination had never been given anything to use for comparison. If anyone had asked him, he would have simply discounted out of hand the possibility that anyone could ever travel faster than, say, fifteen miles an hour. To be honest, even that would have seemed the next best thing to starkly impossible, except possibly in a sprint by specially bred horses. Slash lizards were faster than that when they charged -- he'd heard estimates that put their speed in a dash as high as forty miles an hour -- but no human being had ever ridden a slash lizard . . . except very briefly in certain fables whose entire purpose was to demonstrate the unwisdom of making the attempt.

Now, as showers of ice flew like diamond dust from the ice boat's screaming runners and the incredible vibration hammered into him through his feet and legs, Coris had finally experienced what Tannyr had tried to explain to him, and a corner of the earl's mind went back over the past, wearisome five-days of travel which had brought him to this moment.

* * * * * * * * * *

The sheer, slow, slogging misery of their journey along the Rayworth Valley where it formed the open north-south "V" at the heart of the Wishbone Mountains, had only served to make Tannyr's descriptions of his iceboat's speed even less believable. The only redeeming aspect of the trip, perversely enough, had been the snowy conditions with which they'd been forced to cope. The outsized sleighs Tannyr had procured had made surprisingly good time -- indeed, better time than carriages or even mounted men might have made over those winter-struck roads -- behind the successive teams of six-limbed snow lizards the under-priest had arranged via the Church's semaphore system.

The snow lizards, unlike the sleighs' passengers, hadn't minded the icy temperatures and snow at all. Their multi-ply pelts provided near perfect insulation (not to mention, Coris had discovered at one of the posting houses in which they had overnighted, the most sinfully sensual rugs any man had ever walked barefoot across), and their huge feet, with the webs between their pads, carried them across even the deepest snow. They were considerably smaller than the mountain lizards used for draft purposes in more temperate climes, but they were close to twice the size of a good saddle horse. And while they would have found it difficult to match a horse in a sprint, they had all of lizardkind's endurance, which meant they could maintain almost indefinitely a pace which would have quickly exhausted, or even killed, any horse.

The snow lizards would have been perfectly happy padding along into the very teeth of a Wishbone Mountains blizzard. Assuming the wind had gotten too bad even for them, they would simply have curled up into enormous balls -- two or three of them huddling together, whenever possible -- and allowed the howling wind to cover them in a comfortable blanket of snow. Human beings, unfortunately, were somewhat more poorly insulated, and so, even with the snow lizards' help, Coris and Tannyr had found themselves weather bound on three separate occasions -- once for almost three days. Mostly, they'd used Church posting houses, since most of the inns (which seemed to be considerably larger than those to which Coris was accustomed) appeared to have closed their doors for the winter. Not surprisingly, he'd supposed, given how the weather had undoubtedly inspired all but the hardiest -- or most lunatic -- of travelers to stay home until spring. Even the posting houses had been both larger and rather more luxurious than he would have anticipated, but given the number of high-ranking churchmen who frequently traveled this route, he'd realized he shouldn't have been particularly surprised by that discovery.

The weather delays had been frustrating enough, despite the comfort of the posting houses, but the shortness of the winter days hadn't helped, either, even though the snow lizards had been perfectly happy to keep going even in near total darkness. They'd stretched their travel time each day as far as they could, yet there'd been stretches -- even in the sheltered and (relatively) low-lying Valley -- where the roads had been far too sinuous, steep, and icy for anyone but an idiot to traverse them in darkness. Considering all that, the earl hadn't been particularly surprised to find Tannyr's original estimate of how long the trip would take had actually been a bit optimistic.

Despite that, they'd finally reached Lakeview, once again (inevitably) in the middle of a dense snowfall. Night had already fallen by the time they arrived, and the ancient city's buildings had seemed to huddle together, hunching shoulders and roofs against the weather. Many of the city's windows had been shuttered against the cold, but the glow of lamplight streaming from others had turned the falling snowflakes into a dancing, swirling tapestry woven by invisible sprites. Their traveling sleighs had slowed dramatically once they reached Lakeview's streets, yet the darkness and the weather had already urged most of the city's inhabitants inside, and they'd quickly reached The Archangels' Rest, the harborside inn where rooms had been reserved for them.

It was a huge establishment, a full six stories tall, with palatial sleeping chambers and a full-fledged ground-floor restaurant. In fact, The Archangels' Rest dwarfed anything Coris had ever seen in Corisande or even the largest of the out-sized inns they'd passed en route from Fairstock. For that matter, he was pretty sure it was larger than anything he'd ever seen anywhere, short of a cathedral in some capital city. It hardly seemed proper to describe it as a mere "inn," and he supposed that was why someone had coined the word "hotel" to describe it, instead.

At the moment, however, it was clearly operating with a much reduced staff. He'd mentioned that to Tannyr, and the under-priest had chuckled.

"During the summer, the place is usually packed," he'd explained. "In fact, they usually wish they had even more rooms to let. Didn't you notice how much bigger the inns were along the highroad?" Coris had nodded, and Tannyr had shrugged. "Well, that because when everything's not covered with ice and snow, there are usually thousands of pilgrims using the highroad to make their way to or from the Temple at any given time. All of them need someplace to spend the night, after all, and all the roads to Lake Pei from the south come together here, which makes Lakeview the lakeside terminus for anyone traveling to Zion or the Temple by road, just like Port Harbor is the major landfall for anyone traveling there by way of Hsing-wu's Passage. Trust me, if you were here at midsummer, you'd swear every adult on Safehold was trying to get to the Temple . . . and that every one of them was trying to stay at the Rest. This time of year, the top three floors are completely closed down, though. For that matter, I'd be surprised if more than a third -- or even a quarter -- of the rooms which haven't been closed for the winter are occupied at the moment."

"How in the world do they justify keeping it open at all, if they lose so much of their business during the winter?" Coris had asked.

"Well, the quality of their restaurant helps a lot!" Tannyr had laughed. "Trust me, you'll see that for yourself at supper. So they manage to keep their kitchen staff fully occupied, no matter what time of year it is. As for the rest" -- he'd shrugged -- "Mother Church has a partial ownership in the Rest, and the Temple Treasury helps subsidize expenses over the winter months. In fact, Mother Church has the same arrangement with quite a few of the larger inns and hotels here in Lakeview. And in Port Harbor, for that matter."

Coris had nodded in understanding. For that matter, he'd realized he should have thought of that possibility for himself. Obviously, the Church would have a powerful interest in providing housing for those performing the pilgrimage to the Temple enjoined upon all of the truly faithful by the Holy Writ.

And, he'd thought just a bit more cynically, I'll bet the profit the Treasury turns during the peak pilgrimage months is more than handsome enough to cover the costs of keeping the places open year-round.

However that might have been, he'd been forced to admit The Archangels' Rest had provided the most comfortable and luxurious travel accommodations he'd ever encountered, and the contrast between it and the conditions they'd endured all too frequently elsewhere during their rigorous journey had been profound. He was certain that few of the hotel's other suites were quite as luxurious as the ones to which he and Tannyr had been escorted, and the restaurant had been just as excellent as Tannyr had promised. In fact, Coris had found himself wishing rather wistfully that they could have spent more than a single night as its guests.

Unfortunately, he'd known they couldn't, and he'd tried to project an air of cheerful acceptance as he followed Tannyr down to the docks the next morning. From the under-priest's obvious amusement, it had been clear he'd failed to fool the other man, but despite Tannyr's lively sense of humor (and the ridiculous), he'd managed somehow to refrain from teasing his charge.

Coris had appreciated the under-priest's forbearance and he suspected that his reaction when he finally set eyes on Hornet for the first time had constituted a sort of reward for Tannyr's patience.

He'd actually stopped dead, gazing at the iceboat in astonishment. Despite all the descriptions he'd heard, he hadn't been prepared for the reality when he saw the rakish vessel sitting there on the gleaming steel feet of its huge, skate-like runners. The mere thought of how much each of those runners must have cost was enough to give a man pause, especially if the man in question had first-hand experience in things like foundry costs because he'd recently been involved in an effort to build a galleon-based, cannon-armed navy from scratch. Again, though, he'd realized, he was looking at an example of the Church's enormous financial resources.

Iceboats like Hornet weren't just exorbitantly expensive. They were also highly specialized propositions, and their sole function was to cross Lake Pei after the enormous sheet of water had frozen solid. It was almost four hundred and fifty miles from Lakeview to Zion, and every year, when winter truly set in, the lake became only marginally navigable. Indeed, once it had fully iced over, it was completely closed to normal shipping, and iceboats became the only way in or out of Zion. They couldn't begin to carry the amount of cargo conventional ships could, so a vast fleet would have been required to ship in any significant supply of foodstuffs or fuel, which meant neither Zion nor the Temple could count on importing large amounts of either from their usual southern sources after the lake had begun freezing in earnest. But at least some freight -- mostly luxury goods -- and quite a few passengers still needed to cross, regardless of the season. And Mother Church had a monopoly where iceboat ownership was concerned.

Hornet herself looked a great deal like a Church courier galley on enormous skates. There were some differences, yet her courier ship ancestry had been clearly recognizable. And made some sense, Coris had supposed, given that there were occasions -- especially early in the ice season -- when, as Tannyr had suggested, it wasn't unheard of for one of the iceboats to encounter a still-open lead of unfrozen lake water. Or, for that matter, to rather abruptly discover that a sheet of ice was thinner than it had appeared. The ability to float in an instance like that was undoubtedly a good thing to have.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Apr 04, 2010 11:11 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 38


Coris had never heard of something a native of Old Terra would have called a "hydrofoil," but in many respects, that would have been a reasonable analogue for what he was looking at. Hornet's outriggers extended much further beyond the footprint of her hull, because unlike a hydrofoil, they had to plane across the surface of the ice, rather than relying on hydrodynamics for stability. Aside from that, however, the principle was very much the same, and as he'd looked at the iceboat's lean, rakish grace, he'd realized Hahlys Tannyr was exactly the right sort of man to captain such a vessel. In his case, at least, the Church had slipped a round peg neatly into an equally round hole, and Coris had found himself wondering just how typical of the Lake Pei iceboat captains Tannyr truly was.

The under-priest's pride in his command had been readily apparent, and the earl's obvious admiration -- or awe, at least -- had clearly gratified him. His crew's cheerfulness at seeing him had also been apparent, and they'd gotten Coris, Seablanket, and their baggage moved aboard and settled quickly.

"The wind looks good for a fast passage, My Lord," Tannyr had told him as the two of them stood on Hornet's deck, looking out across the frozen harbor. Despite the snow which had fallen overnight, wind had kept the ice scoured clear, and Coris had been able to see the scars of other iceboats' passages leading across the wide, dark sheet of ice and out through the opening in the Lakeview breakwater. At the moment, there had seemed to be very little breeze stirring at dockside, however, and he'd quirked an eyebrow at the under-priest.

"Oh, I know there's not much wind right here," Tannyr had replied with a grin. "Out beyond the breakwater, though, once we get out of Lakeview's lee . . . Trust me, My Lord -- there's plenty of wind out there!"

"I'm quite prepared to believe it," Coris had replied. "But just how do we get from here to there?"

"Courtesy of those, My Lord." Tannyr had waved a hand, and when Coris turned in the indicated direction, he'd seen a team of at least thirty snow lizards headed for them. "They'll tow us out far enough to catch the breeze," Tannyr had said confidently. "It'll seem like that takes forever, but once we do, I promise, you'll think we're flying."

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, remembering the under-priest's promise, Coris decided Tannyr had been right.

The earl had declined Tannyr's offer to go below to the shelter of Hornet's day cabin. He'd thought he'd seen approval for his decision in the under-priest's eyes, and Tannyr had entrusted him to the charge of a grizzled old seaman -- or was that properly "iceman," Coris had wondered? -- with instructions to find the earl a safe spot from which to experience the journey.

The "tow" away from the docks hadn't been nearly as laborious-seeming an affair as Tannyr's description might have suggested. That could have been because Coris had never before experienced it and so had no backlog of wonder-dulling familiarity to overcome. Unlike Tannyr and his crew, he'd been seeing it for the very first time, and he'd watched in fascination as the snow lizards were jockeyed into position. It had been obvious the lizards had done this many times before. They and their drovers had moved with a combination of smooth experience and patience, and heavy chains and locking pins had clanked musically behind the frothing surface of commands and encouragement as the heavy traces were attached to specialized towing brackets on Hornet's prow. Given the complexity of the task, they'd accomplished it in a remarkably short time, and then -- encouraged by much louder shouts -- the snow lizards had leaned into their collars with the peculiar, hoarse, almost barking whistles of effort with which Coris had become familiar over the last month or so. For a moment, the iceboat had refused to move. Then the runners had broken free of the ice and she'd begun to slide gracefully after the straining snow lizards.

Once they'd had her in motion, she'd moved easily enough, and as they'd eased steadily away from the docks, Coris had felt the first, icy fingers of the freshening breeze which Tannyr had promised waited for them out on the lake. It had taken them the better part of three-quarters of an hour to get far enough out to satisfy Tannyr, but then the snow lizards had been unhooked, the senior drover had waved cheerfully, and the tow team had headed back to Lakeview.

Coris had watched them go, but only until crisp-voiced commands from the cramped quarterdeck had sent Hornet's crew to their stations for making sail. The closer-to-hand fascination of those preparations had drawn his attention away from the departing snow lizards, and he'd watched as the iceboat's lateen sail was loosed. In some ways, his familiarity with conventional ships had only made the process even more bizarre. Despite the fact that his brain knew there were probably hundreds of feet of water underneath them, he hadn't been able to shake the sense of standing on dry land, and there'd been an oddly dreamlike quality to watching sailors scurrying about a ship's deck when the gleaming ice had stretched out as far as the eye could see with rock-steady solidity.

But if he'd felt that way, he'd obviously been the only one on Hornet's deck who did. Or perhaps the others had simply been too busy to worry about such fanciful impressions. And they'd certainly known their business. That much had been clear as the sail was loosed. The canvas had complained, flapping heavily in the stiff breeze whistling across the decks, and Hornet had stirred underfoot, as if the iceboat were shivering with eagerness. Then the sail had been sheeted home, the yard had been trimmed, and she'd begun to move.

Slowly, at first, with a peculiar grating and yet sibilant sound from her runners. The motion underfoot had been strange, vibrating through the deck planking with a strength and a . . . hardness Coris had never experienced aboard any waterborne vessel. That wasn't exactly the right way to describe it, but Coris hadn't been able to think of a better one, and he'd reached out, touching the rail, feeling that same vibration shivering throughout the vessel's entire fabric and dancing gently in his own bones.

The iceboat had gathered way slowly, in the beginning, but as she'd slid steadily farther out of Lakeview's wind shadow, she'd begun to accelerate steadily. More quickly, in fact, than any galley or galleon, and Coris had felt his lips pursing in sudden understanding. He should have thought of it before, he'd realized, when Tannyr first described Hornet's speed to him. On her runners, the iceboat avoided the enormous drag water resistance imposed on a normal ship's submerged hull. Of course she accelerated more rapidly . . . and without that selfsame drag, she'd have to be much faster in any given set of wind conditions.

Which was exactly what she'd proven to be.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Enjoying yourself, My Lord?"

Hahlys Tannyr had to practically bellow in Coris' ear for the question to be heard over the slithering roar of the runners. Coris hadn't noticed him approaching -- he'd been too busy staring ahead, clinging to the rail while his eyes sparkled with delight -- and he turned quickly to meet Hornet's captain's gaze.

"Oh, I certainly am, Father!" the earl shouted back. "I'm afraid I didn't really believe you when you told me how fast she was! She must be doing -- what? Forty miles an hour?"

"Not in this wind, My Lord." Tannyr shook his head. "She's fast, but it would take at least a full gale to move her that quickly! We might be making thirty, though."

Coris had no choice but to take the under-priest's word for it. And, he admitted, he himself had no experience at judging speeds this great.

"I'm surprised it doesn't feel even colder than it does!" he commented, and Tannyr had smiled.

"We're sailing with the wind, My Lord. That reduces the apparent wind speed across the deck a lot. Trust me, if we were beating up to windward, you'd feel it then!"

"No doubt I would." The earl shook his head. "And I'll take your word for our speed. But I never imagined that anything could move this quickly -- especially across a solid surface like this!"

"It helps that the ice is as smooth as it is out here," Tannyr replied.

He waved one arm, indicating the ice around them, then pointed at yet another of the flagstaffs, all set upright in the lake's frozen surface and supporting flags of one color or another, which Horent had been passing at regular intervals since leaving Lakeside.

"See that?" he asked, and the earl nodded. This particular staff boasted a green flag, and Tannyr grinned. "Green indicates smooth ice ahead, My Lord," he said. "Only a fool trusts the flags completely -- that's why we keep a good lookout." He twitched his head at a distinctly frozen-looking man perched in Hornet's crow's-nest. "Still, the survey crews do a good job of keeping the flags updated. We should see yellow warning flags well before we come up on ridge-ice, and the ridges themselves will be red-flagged. And the flags also provide our piloting marks -- like harbor buoys -- for the crossing."

"How in Langhorne's name do they get the flags planted in the first place?" Coris half-shouted the question through the exuberant roar of their passage, and Tannyr's grin grew even broader.

"Not too hard, really, once the ice sets up nice and hard, My Lord! They just chop a hole, stand the staff in it, then let it re-freeze!"

"But how do they keep the staff from just keeping going right down into the water?"

"It sits in a hollow bracket with crossbars," Tannyr replied, waving his hands as if to illustrate what he was saying. "The brackets are iron, about three feet tall, with two pairs of crossbars, set at right angles about half way along their length. They bars are a lot longer than the width of the hole, and they sit on top of the ice, holding the bracket in position while the hole freezes back over. Then they just step the flagstaff in the bracket. When we get closer to spring, they'll buoy each bracket to keep it from sinking when the ice melts, so they can recover them and use them again next winter."

Coris nodded in understanding, and the two of them stood side by side for several minutes, watching the ice blur past as Hornet slashed onward. Then Tannyr stirred.

"Assuming my speed estimate's accurate -- and I modestly admit that I'm actually very good at estimating that sort of thing, My Lord -- we're still a good eleven or twelve hours out from Zion," he said. "Normally, I'd be guessing even longer than that, but the weather's clear, and we'll have a full moon tonight, so we're not going to have to reduce speed as much when we lose the daylight. But while I'm glad you're enjoying yourself up here, you might want to think about going below and getting something hot to drink. To be honest, I'd really like to get you delivered unfrozen, and we'll be coming up on lunch in another couple of hours, as well, for that matter."

"I'd prefer arriving unfrozen myself, I think," Coris replied. "But I'd really hate to miss any of this!"

He waved both arms, indicating the sunlight, the deck around them, the mast with its straining sail braced sharply, and the glittering ice chips showering away from the steadily grating runners as they tore through the bright (although undeniably icy) morning.

"I know. And I'm not trying to order you below, My Lord!" Tannyr laughed out loud. "To be honest, I'd be a bit hypocritical if I did, given how much I enjoy it up here on deck! But you might want to be thinking ahead. And don't forget, you've got a full day of this to look forward to. Believe me, if you think it's exhilarating right now, wait till you see it by moonlight!"
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Apr 06, 2010 11:06 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 39

III

The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

Silent snowflakes battered against the floor-to-ceiling windows like lost ghosts. The brilliant, mystic lighting which always illuminated the outside of the Temple turned the swirling flakes into glittering gems until the wind caught them and swept them to their rendezvous with the window. Hauwerd Wylsynn watched them changing from gorgeous jewels into feathery ghosts and felt a coldness, far deeper than that of the night beyond the windows, whispering, whispering in the marrow of his bones.

He looked away from the transmuting snowflakes at the luxurious suite assigned to his brother. Every vicar had personal apartments in the enormous, majestic sweep of the Temple, and as apartments went, Samyl Wylsynn's were not particularly huge. They weren't tiny, either, yet they were substantially more modest than a vicar of Samyl's seniority might have demanded.

They were more plainly and simply furnished, too, without the sumptuous luxury other vicars required. Zhaspahr Clyntahn, the current Grand Inquisitor, was a case in point. It was rumored (almost certainly correctly) that the art treasures in his chambers, alone, were probably worth the total annual income of most baronies. And that didn't even consider the fact that Clyntahn had demanded and received one of the coveted corner apartments, with windows looking both east and north, allowing him to survey the roofs, towers, and buildings of the city of Zion through one set and the magnificent dome and colonnade of the main Temple through the other.

Hauwerd supposed that one could make the argument -- as Clyntahn obviously did -- that such quarters were merely in keeping with the office of the man responsible for overseeing the state of Mother Church's soul. More than once, he'd heard Clyntahn piously declaiming about the need to properly support the authority and prestige of the Grand Inquisitor. Of the need to emphasize the necessary -- always necessary -- extent of that official's authority over all of Mother Church's children in ways which even the most worldly soul might recognize. To reach out to those too easily impressed by the trappings and power of this world in ways which even they could not ignore. It was never about his own gluttonous, greedy, debauched, power-mongering personal lifestyle or desires. Oh, Langhorne, no!

Hauwerd felt his lips tightening, and acid churned in his stomach as he compared his brother's chosen simplicity -- the absence of statuary, the dearth of priceless carpets, the lack of stupendous oil paintings by the greatest masters Safehold had ever produced -- with Clyntahn's. There were paintings on Samyl's walls, but they were portraits of both his first and his current wife, his three sons, his two daughters, his son-in-law, and his first grandchild. The furniture was comfortable, and certainly not cheap, yet it was only furniture, selected because it was comfortable and not to emphasize the importance of its owner. And the artworks which adorned his bookshelves and prayer desk were modest and understated, almost all exquisitely wrought, but most of them by lesser known artists he had chosen to support with his patronage because something about the pieces had touched his own heart, his own soul and faith.

If Samyl had only won the election, Hauwerd thought bitterly. He came so close. In fact, I'm still not convinced Clyntahn really won. That lickspittle Rayno, was in charge of the vote count, after all, and look where he wound up!

Of course, if Samyl had won, if he'd become the new Grand Inquisitor instead of Clyntahn, the vast gulf between the fashion in which he would have furnished his apartments in the Temple and the fashion in which Clyntahn had done the same thing would have been the least of Mother Church's differences.

For one thing, this damned schism would never have happened. Samyl would never have signed off on Clyntahn's casual proposal to completely destroy an entire kingdom just because it had pissed him off. For that matter, Clyntahn wouldn't have been in any position to be tossing off suggestions like that, in the first place! Of course, Hauwerd admitted grimly, it's probably at least as likely that if he'd won he would have been assassinated by now. It's happened to more than one of our ancestors, after all. So at least we were spared that much.

Not that it's going to make any difference in the end.

He drew a deep breath, and his hard eyes softened as he glanced at his brother. He and Samyl had always been close, despite the almost twelve years between their ages. He'd always admired Samyl, always known Samyl was fated to do great things for God and Mother Church.

He knew his mother had been dismayed when Samyl chose the Schuelerites. She'd might not have been a Wylsynn by birth, but she'd scarcely been blind to the way in which the heritage of the family into which she had married had pitted so many of its members against Church corruption over the last three or four centuries. She'd understood what had drawn Samyl into the Order of Schueler, recognized his burning desire to do something to fight the evils he saw gathering about the Temple . . . and she'd remembered what had happened to his great grandfather, just over a hundred years ago, now. Saint Evyrahard's grand vicarate had been the shortest in history, and whatever the official histories might say, no one ever doubted that his "accidental fall" had been the direct result of his efforts to reform the vicarate. And the grand vicarate of Grand Vicar Tairhel, Samyl and Hauwerd's grand uncle, had been almost as short. There were no rumors to suggest Tairhel's death had been arranged, but he'd been old and in ill-health when he'd been raised to Langhorne's Throne, without the vigor and energy which had characterized Evyrahard. His fellow vicars may have felt they could simply wait for natural causes to put an end to his reform efforts. Of course, it was also always possible the "natural causes" which had finally killed him had been nudged along just a bit despite, what anyone might have thought.

Well, Mother, Hauwerd thought now. You were right to worry. I'm just glad you and Father won't be here to see what happens. I'm sure you'll know anyway, but the Writ says that from God's side, all things make sense. I hope that's true, because from where I sit right this minute, there's neither sense nor sanity in what's about to happen. And there sure as Shan-wei isn't a trace of justice in it!

"What did you think of the wine?" Samyl asked calmly, and Hauwerd snorted.

"I thought it was excellent. Saint Hyndryk's, wasn't it? The '64?" Samyl nodded serenely, and Hauwerd snorted again, louder. "Well, at least that's one thing Clyntahn won't get his pig-hands on!"

"Not exactly the reason I chose to serve it tonight, but a thought worth remembering, I suppose," Samyl agreed so serenely a corner of Hauwerd's innermost soul wanted to scream at him in frustration. That serenity, that total, always grounded faith, was one of the things Hauwerd had always most admired in his brother. At the moment, however, it rasped on his nerves almost as much as it comforted him. And the real reason it did, however little he might want to examine the truth, was that Samyl's serenity -- his acceptance of God's will -- actually made Hauwerd question his own faith.

He'd fought that doubt with all his strength, yet he'd never been able to completely vanquish it. Surely, a truly just God, archangels who truly served the Light, would never have abandoned a man as good as his brother, one who longed only to serve God and love his fellow man. Not simply abandon him, but deliver him into the hands of a vile, corrupt, evil man like Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Into the hands of a man prepared to slaughter an entire kingdom. The hands of a man who was armed with every terrible punishment of The Book of Schueler . . . and perfectly willing, eager, to inflict every single one of them upon blameless children of God whose only crime had been to resist his own corruption.

Hauwerd Wylsynn knew his own weaknesses, his own shortcomings. He couldn't really honestly say he thought any of them were so terrible as to justify the fate Clyntahn had in mind for him, either, yet he was prepared to admit that he, too, had been prey to the sin of ambition. That, on occasion, he had allowed the seductive power of his birth and his office to lead him into taking the easy course, accepting the shortcut, using God instead of using himself in God's service. But he also knew Samyl hadn't done that. That Samyl truly had been the spiritual heir of Saint Evyrahard, and not just his descendent. What could God possibly be thinking to let the man who should have been His champion, the man who would willingly have embraced his own death to redeem His Church, come to an end like this one?

That wasn't the sort of question anyone, far less someone consecrated to the orange, was supposed to ask of God. And a vicar of the Church of God Awaiting wasn't supposed to rail at God, indict Him for abandoning even the most blameless of His servants. That was what faith was supposed to be for. To help a man accept what he could not understand.

He started to say just that. To take his doubt, his anger, to Samyl as he'd done so often before, knowing his brother would listen without condemnation, then offer the quiet words of comfort (or the gently stern words of admonition) he needed to hear. But this time, no words could comfort the questions burning deep inside Hauwerd Wylsynn, just as no words of admonition could banish them. And this time, he would not -- could not -- add the burden of his own doubt to the weight already crushing down upon his brother.

At least we got as many of the junior members of the Circle as we could out of Zion before the snows really set in, he reminded himself. And along the way, I think, some of the other vicars must have realized what Samyl was doing. I hope some of them did, anyway. That they were able to come up with plans which might give them at least a tiny hope of escaping when the Inquisitors come for us all. That's the only reason I can think of for so many of their families to have "disappeared," at least.

His eyes went back to the portraits of his brother's family. They had vanished, as well, although he didn't think Samyl had arranged it. In fact, he'd been there when his brother received the letter from his wife, Lysbet, informing him that she would be coming to the Temple this winter after all . . . in spite of his specific instructions that she stay away. He'd seen the way Samyl's facial muscles had sagged, despite his best effort to hide his reaction, and he'd understood exactly why his brother had just aged five years in front of him. But then, still three days' journey short of Zion, Lyzbet and the children had disappeared one night.

There'd been evidence of a struggle, but no sign of who the struggle might have been with, and Lysbet, her two boys, and her daughter had simply vanished. At first, Samyl had looked even older and more . . . defeated than before, but then gradually, he'd realized that whatever else had happened, his family had not been quietly taken into custody by the Inquisition, after all. No one seemed to have the least idea what had happened to them, and there'd been at least some expressions of sympathy, but it was Zhaspahr Clyntahn's barely hidden fury which had convinced Hauwerd the Inquisition truly hadn't had a thing to do with Samyl's family's "abduction."

Obviously, the kidnapping of a vicar's family had sparked one of the most intense manhunts in the history of Mother Church, yet not one single sign of the culprits had been discovered. Over the five-days which had followed, Samyl had born up nobly under the strain as day after day passed with no ransom demand, no threat, no word at all. Hauwerd was quite certain the Inquisition was still watching his brother like king wyverns waiting to pounce, hoping for some break, some communication, which would lead it to Lysbet. After so long, though, even Clyntahn's agents seemed to be giving up hope of that.

And it was probably Lyszbet's disappearance which had inspired some of the Circle's other members to make arrangements for their own families. Hauwerd hoped those arrangements had been in time and that they were going to prove effective.

And I hope -- pray -- the others understand why we couldn't warn them directly.

In his own mind, Hauwerd had narrowed the suspects to no more than half a dozen. The problem was that he didn't know which of those half-dozen might have turned informant, betrayed them all to Clyntahn, revealed the existence -- and membership -- of the organization of reformists. For that matter, he might have been wrong. The traitor might not be one of the people he was convinced it had to be. And they could warn none of the Circle's members without warning all of them . . . including the traitor.

Had they done that, Clyntahn would have struck with instant, vicious power rather than waiting until what he judged to be the perfect moment. Waiting, Hauwerd was certain, so that he could savor the sweet bouquet of his coming triumph over the men who had dared to challenge his authority.

And so they'd said nothing, using the time while Clyntahn waited to do what little they could to mitigate the blow when he finally pounced. Getting all of the junior bishops and archbishops they could out of Zion where they might be safe. Alerting their network of correspondents and agents outside the innermost circle to quietly prepare the deepest boltholes they could contrive.

Thank God I never married, Hauwerd thought. Maybe that was another way I had less faith than Samyl, because I was never willing to trust God enough to give up those hostages to someone like Clyntahn.

"I understand Coris arrived this evening," he said out loud, and Samyl smiled faintly at his younger brother's obvious effort to find something "safe" to talk about.

"Yes, so I heard," he replied, and shook his head. "That must have been a nightmare of a journey this time of year."

"I'm sure it was, but I doubt the thought particularly bothered Clyntahn or Trynair," Hauwerd said sourly. "I suppose we should be grateful they didn't insist he drag the boy along with him!"

"I'm sure they saw no need to." Samyl shrugged. "He's only a little boy, Hauwerd. For at least the next several years, Daivyn's going to do what he's told by his elders simply because that's what he's accustomed to doing. I imagine Clyntahn figures there's plenty of time to . . . impress him with the realities of his position, let's say, before he gets old enough to turn into a headstrong young prince."

"Assuming he and Trynair are willing to let the boy grow up at all." Hauwerd's tone was harsh, bitter, yet it was less bitter than his eyes.

"Assuming that, yes," Samyl was forced to concede. "I've prayed about it. Of course, I'd feel more optimistic if it didn't seem so evident God has decided to let things work their own way out."

Hauwerd's jaw muscles tightened again as he fought down yet another stab of anger. Still, as Samyl had pointed out more than once, God wouldn't have given man free will if He hadn't expected him to use it. And that meant those who chose to do evil could do evil. Which automatically implied that other men -- and even little boys -- could and would suffer the consequences of those evil actions. No doubt it truly was all part of God's great plan, but there were times -- like now -- when it seemed unnecessarily hard on the victims.
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