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HFQ Official Snippet #17

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by runsforcelery   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:12 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

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Location: South Carolina

Sorry this one is coming in late. Sharon and I were at Marscon in Ohio over the weekend. Things got sort of . . . busy (partly because Katherine Kurtz, who is one of my favorite people in the entire world, was also there). And I picked up a slight case of the con crud which has put a few hitches in my schedule since getting home. Because of that, I'm going to give you a slightly longer snippet this time.

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* * * * * * * * * *

“Headcount?” Lieutenant Klymynt Hahrlys whispered harshly.

“Everybody’s back but Edwyrds, Sir,” Platoon Sergeant Gyffry Tyllytsyn hissed back.

“Damn.” Hahrlys muttered the single word quietly enough no one besides the platoon sergeant could have heard him. Then he inhaled deeply and thumped his senior noncom on the shoulder. “Well done. All the boys did well. Now get your arse back over to the warming tent.”

“All the same to you, Sir, think I’ll bide a bit. Wouldn’t do t’ let Edwyrds think I didn’t care, now would it?”

The platoon sergeant’s casual tone didn’t fool Hahrlys, but he’d felt the icy wetness when he touched the other man’s shoulder. Tyllytsyn hadn’t been assigned as one of the swimmers, but clearly his own adventures hadn’t gone exactly as planned, and Hahrlys heard the chatter of his teeth. He was shivering violently, as well, and the cutting wind wasn’t making that any better.

“Trust me, he knows you care. Now get over there and warm yourself, damn it! Last thing I need is you going down sick on me.”

There was a moment of silence, as if the platoon sergeant was weighing additional stubbornness. Then he drew a deep breath.

“Happen you’re right ’bout that, Sir. I’ll be over yonder if you need me.”

“Fine. Now go get warm!”

Tyllytsyn touched his chest in a half-seen, half-guessed salute, turned, and made his way through the dense, ribbon-like fire willow leaves which screened the warming tent. Hahrlys watched him go, then pounded his gloved fists together and settled his chin deeper into his muffler, shivering as the wind keened across the river. It was out of the east, unusual for this time of year in the South March, and it wasn’y very strong. He was grateful for the way it helped carry sounds away from the Temple Boys on the farther bank; he was not grateful for the effect of even a light wind’s chill factor upon his men, and he felt a fresh stab of guilt. He knew it was irrational — he was the platoon’s commanding officer and he swam like a rock, two very good reasons for him to have stayed right where he was — yet that impeccable logic did precious little to assuage his stubborn conviction that he should have been out there on the river leading his men.

Oh, don’t be any stupider than you have to be, Klymynt! he snapped at himself. All you’d’ve managed would’ve been to drown yourself. Assuming you didn’t give away the entire operation splashing around before you went under. You could always’ve added that to your accomplishments. And wouldn’t the Earl have been just delighted when you did?

He took a quick turn along the bank, a dozen paces either way, elbows brushing the fire willows’ leaves, eyes straining across the black water into the rising mist while he worried about his sergeant. Mahthyw Edwyrds was a good man, one of his best. He’d volunteered for his part of tonight’s mission, and despite his present anxiety, Hahrlys was glad he had. There wasn’t another man in the entire battalion as well qualified for it.

Most of the charges had been placed by four-man teams operating from the Imperial Charisian Army’s folding canvas boats. Placing the charges themselves had been tricky — not to mention cold and dangerous —in the darkness, but their experience clearing the channel at Yairdyn had helped a lot, and the boats had been effectively invisible.

There’d never been any possibility of using a boat — especially one that large — for the charge Edwyrds had volunteered to place, however. The outpost Hahrlys had spotted the day before was within thirty yards of where it had to go, and the pickets were undoubtely alert, since the line of scuttled river barges was critical to Sir Fahstyr Rychtyr’s defensive plans, and Rychtyr wasn’t about to let anyone catch him napping.

Especially now.

He’d demonstrated his ability as one of the Church’s better generals even before Duke Harless marched off to his rendezvous with disaster, and he’d clearly been informed of the arrival of HMS Delthak at Thesmar. That was almost certainly the reason he hadn’t opted to hold Trevyr. The Seridahn was much narrower where it flowed through the town, but it was also deeper, with too strong a current to be blocked easily. It would have split his defensive position, and if Delthak had gotten into his rear it would have been impossible to withdraw his troops from the Seridahn’s eastern bank under fire. Besides, the town’s position at the Seridahn’s confluence with the St. Alyk had lost its strategic importance with the fall of Brahnselyk.

That was why he’d pulled his main force another twenty miles upriver, to a point where the Seridahn broadened to the next best thing to a half mile. The current was slower, the water was shallower, and the navigable channels were constricted. All of that had made it easier to sink blocking barges where he needed them, and the river narrowed once more as it passed between steep bluffs immediately upstream. He’d erected a massive twenty-four-gun battery atop the western bluffs, protected by a curved earthwork and positioned to cover the barricade with fire. Its height gave it good command, and the narrower river meant its guns could engage anything that got by the barge line at ranges of as little as a hundred yards.

It would be difficult to miss anything the size of an ironclad at that range.

Earl Hanth, however, had no intention of letting Rychtyr lock down the river, which was why Klymynt Hahrlys and his engineers were out here. It was also why Mahthyw Edwyrds had undertaken the riskiest part of the entire mission, because unlike any other member of Hahrlys’ platoon, he was an experienced salvage diver. Not only that, he was an experienced Chisholmian salvage diver, and the water around Chisholm was at least as cold as the Seridahn River in March. Edwyrds had been instructed to bring his equipment with him when he deployed to the Republic, no doubt for moments just like this one, and he’d seemed confident he could handle tonight’s mission.

Of course he did, Hahrlys thought bitterly. If he wasn’t confident, he’d never have admitted it. Besides, he knew as well as you did that he was the best man for the job. Just like he knew you were counting on him to be stupid enough to step up and volunteer.

That was how it always was with the good ones. They stepped up, took the chances, and too damned many of them got killed doing it.

The lieutenant made himself stop pacing and raised one hand, shading his eyes as if that could help him see through the darkness.

Edwyrds had gone about his preparations calmly. In addition to his training as a diver, he was a skilled kayaker, like many Chisholmians, and he’d borrowed one of the light one-man craft from Major Mahklymorh’s scout snipers for the mission. The scout snipers’ kayaks were designed for stealthy incursions, made of black canvas which would be all but invisible in the darkness. After that, he’d enlisted two members of his squad to smear thick, insulating sea dragon grease over his tight-fitting canvas diver’s coverall with its lining of Corisandian rubber, double and triple-checked the seal of his diving glasses, and stood patiently while his assistants greased his face, as well. Then he’d strapped the air bladder of heat-treated rubber to his back, checked the mouthpiece — the “regulator,” he’d called it — and adjusted his weight belt and canvas and rubber gloves, climbed into his kayak, and paddled away into the night.

He couldn’t take the kayak all the way across without being spotted by the Dohlaran sentries, so the plan had been for him to moor it in the shadow of one of the half-awash hulks farther from the bank, go over the side, and swim the rest of the way. That should at least get him close enough to reduce the total swim and the risk of hypothermia. But something must have gone wrong. He should have been back twenty minutes ago, and —

Hahrlys froze as something splashed. He strained his eyes, peering into the dark, and it splashed again. He stood a moment longer, then went tearing down the bank, wading out into the icy water. It was more than waist-deep, and he felt himself half-floating and half-wading, felt the dangerous pull of the current, but he refused to stop. Another step. Just one more, and then —

A gloved hand rose feebly from the water, and he grabbed hard with both his own hands. His right hand slipped on a thick layer of sea dragon grease, but his left hand caught the other man’s glove and he heaved backward. Silt shifted treacherously underfoot and the current plucked at Edwyrds’ body, prying, levering, trying to drag both of them out into the river’s grasp. It was far stronger than Hahrlys was, and he felt himself being sucked deeper and deeper. The water was shoulder-deep now, slopping at his chin, but this was one of his men. If the river took one of them, then it took —


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by SHV   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:16 pm

SHV
Lieutenant (Senior Grade)

Posts: 50
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Thank G-d...My clicking finger was getting fatigued (and I was getting a bit worried)

Steve
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by Hooked   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:22 pm

Hooked
Ensign

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Thank you. :D
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by Keith_w   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:23 pm

Keith_w
Commodore

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Location: Ontario, Canada

Thank you for the snippet. It sounds as though you enjoyed yourself thoroughly. I hope you get over the con crud soon.
--
A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by pokermind   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:28 pm

pokermind
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Thanks for the snippet, another cliff hanger. Hmm the plot thickens clearing the river for the ironclads it appears.

Poker
CPO Poker Mind Image and, Mangy Fur the Smart Alick Spacecat.

"Better to be hung for a hexapuma than a housecat," Com. Pang Yau-pau, ART.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by ksandgren   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:06 pm

ksandgren
Captain (Junior Grade)

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Thanks for the snippet, RFC!
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:19 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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Thank You!! :) :) :) :)
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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: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by BarryKirk   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:22 pm

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Yes!!!! Snippet!!! Thank you RFC!!!!
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by BarryKirk   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:29 pm

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Well we know they both made it from the previous tiny snippet.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #17
Post by 6L6   » Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:38 pm

6L6
Commander

Posts: 165
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Thank you for the snippett and the heads up about Katherine Kurtz, I have never heard of her.
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