|Previous Page||Next Page|
|Home Page||Index Page|
How Firm a Foundation: Chapter Six
Last updated: Monday, July 18, 2011 22:05 EDT
HMS Royal Charis, 58,
West Isle Channel,
Kingdom of Chisholm
The cabin lamps swung wildly, sending their light skittering across the richly woven carpets and the gleaming wood of the polished table. Glass decanters sang a mad song of vibration, planking and stout hull timbers groaned in complaint, wind howled, rain beat with icy fists on the skylight, and the steady cannon-shot impacts as HMS Royal Charis‘ bow slammed into one tall, gray wave after another echoed through the plunging ship’s bones.
A landsman would have found all of that dreadfully alarming, assuming seasickness would have allowed him to stop vomiting long enough to appreciate it. Cayleb Ahrmahk, on the other hand, had never suffered from seasickness, and he’d seen heavy weather bad enough to make the current unpleasantness seem relatively mild.
Well, maybe a bit more than relatively mild, if we’re going to be honest, he admitted to himself.
It was only late afternoon, yet as he gazed out through the stern windows at the raging sea in Royal Charis‘ wake it could have been night. True, by the standards of his own homeland, night came early in these relatively northern latitudes in mid-winter, but this was early even for the West Isle Channel. Solid cloud cover tended to do that, and if this weather was merely . . . exceptionally lively, there was worse coming soon enough. The front rolling in across the Zebediah Sea to meet him was going to make this seem like a walk in the park.
“Lovely weather you’ve chosen for a voyage,” a female voice no one else aboard Royal Charis could hear remarked in his ear.
“I didn’t exactly choose it,” he pointed out in reply. He had to speak rather loudly for the com concealed in his jeweled pectoral scepter to pick up his voice amid all the background noise, but no one was likely to overhear him in this sort of weather. “And your sympathy underwhelms me, dear.”
“Nonsense. I know you, Cayleb. You’re having the time of your life,” Empress Sharleyan replied tartly from the study across the hall from their suite in the Imperial Palace. She sat in a comfortable armchair parked near the cast-iron stove filling the library with welcome warmth, and their infant daughter slept blessedly peacefully on her shoulder.
“He does rather look forward to these exhilarating moments, doesn’t he?” another, deeper voice observed over the same com net.
“Ganging up on me, Merlin?” Cayleb inquired.
“Simply stating the truth as I see it, Your Grace. The painfully obvious truth, I might add.”
Normally, Merlin would have been aboard Royal Charis with Cayleb as the emperor’s personal armsman and bodyguard. Circumstances weren’t normal, however, and Cayleb and Sharleyan had agreed it was more important for the immediate future that he keep an eye on the empress. There wasn’t much for a bodyguard to do aboard a ship battling her way against winter headwinds across nine thousand-odd miles of salt water from Cherayth to Tellesberg. And not even a seijin who was also a fusion-powered PICA could do much about winter weather . . . except, of course, to see it coming through the SNARCs deployed around the planet. Cayleb could monitor that information as well as Merlin could, however, and he was just as capable of receiving OWL’s weather predictions from the computer’s hiding place under the far distant Mountains of Light.
Not that he could share that information with anyone in Royal Charis’ crew. On the other hand, the Imperial Charisian Navy had a near idolatrous faith in Cayleb Ahrmahk’s sea sense. It he told Captain Gyrard he smelled a storm coming, no one was going to argue with him.
“He may not mind weather like this,” a considerably more sour voice inserted. “Some of the rest of us lack the sort of stomachs that seem to be issued to Charisian monarchs.”
“It’ll do you good, Nahrmahn,” Cayleb replied with a chuckle. “Ohlyvya’s been after you to lose weight, anyway. And if you can’t keep anything down, then by the time we reach Tellesberg you’re probably going to waste away to no more than, oh, half the man you are today.”
“Very funny,” Nahrmahn half-growled.
Unlike Cayleb, who was gazing out into the dark the better to appreciate the weather, the rotund little Prince of Emerald was curled as close as he could fold himself into a miserable knot in his swaying cot. He wasn’t quite as seasick as Cayleb’s rather callous remark suggested, but he was quite seasick enough to be going on with.
His wife, Princess Ohlyvya, on the other hand, was as resistant to motion sickness as Cayleb himself. Nahrmahn found that a particularly unjust dispensation of divine capriciousness, since she’d said very much the same thing the emperor just had to him that very morning. At the moment, she was sitting in a chair securely lashed to the deck, knitting, and he heard her soft chuckle over the com.
“I suppose it really isn’t all that funny, dear,” she said now. “Still, we all know you’ll get over it in another five-day or so. You’ll be just fine.” She waited half a beat. “Assuming the ship doesn’t sink, of course.”
“At the moment, that would be something of a relief,” Nahrmahn informed her.
“Oh, stop complaining and think about all the scheming and planning and skullduggery you’ll have to keep you occupied once we get home again!”
“Ohlyvya’s right, Nahrmahn,” Sharleyan said, and her voice was rather more serious than it had been. “Cayleb’s going to need you to help sort out the mess. Since I can’t be there to help out myself, I’m just as happy you can be.”
“I appreciate the compliment, Your Majesty,” Nahrmahn said. “All the same, I can’t help thinking how much more comfortable it would have been to provide all that assistance from a nice, motionless bedroom in Cherayth.”
“Coms are all well and good,” Sharleyan replied, “but he’s going to need someone to obviously confer with instead of just listening to voices out of thin air. And having another warm body he can send out to do things isn’t going to hurt one bit, either.”
“I have to agree with that,” Cayleb said. “Although trying to picture any Charisian’s reaction to the notion of using Prince Nahrmahn of Emerald as an official representative and emissary a couple of years ago boggles the mind.”
“I’m sure it boggles your mind less than mine,” Nahrmahn replied tartly, and it was Cayleb’s turn to chuckle. “On the other hand, it’s worked out better — and a lot more satisfyingly — than several alternatives I could think of right off hand,” the Emeraldian continued a bit more seriously.
“I’d have to agree with that, too,” Cayleb acknowledged. “Although I wish to hell you and I didn’t have to go home and assist each other with this mess.”
“I wish you didn’t have to either,” Sharleyan agreed somberly, “but this mess is a lot less ugly than the one we could’ve had.”
Cayleb nodded, his expression sober, at the accuracy of her remark.
The Navy of God had outnumbered the Imperial Charisian Navy by a terrifying margin when they met in the Gulf of Tarot barely two months ago. Of the twenty-five Charisian galleons who’d engaged, one had been completely destroyed, eleven had been reduced to near-wrecks, five more had lost masts and spars, and only eight had emerged more or less intact. Charis had suffered more than three thousand casualties, more than half of them fatal . . . including Cayleb’s cousin, High Admiral Bryahn Lock Island. Yet hideously expensive as the victory had been, it had also been overwhelming. Forty-nine of the Navy of God’s galleons had been captured. Fourteen had been destroyed in action, another seventeen had been scuttled after their capture as too damaged to be worth keeping, and only nine had actually managed to escape. Forty-one Harchongese galleons had been captured, as well, and the blow to the Church’s naval power had been devastating.
Cayleb Ahrmahk had never felt so useless as he had watching that titanic engagement through Merlin’s SNARCs. He’d seen every moment of it, including his cousin’s death, but he’d been the better part of eight thousand miles away, unable to do anything but watch the death and destruction. Almost worse, there’d been no acceptable way for him and Sharleyan even to know the battle had been fought. They’d had to pretend they knew nothing about it, had no idea how desperate it had been or how many men had died obeying their orders. Even when Admiral Kohdy Nylz had arrived with the reinforcements dispatched to Chisholm when they’d anticipated the Church was sending its ships west to join Admiral Thirsk in Dohlar instead of east to the Desnarian Empire, they’d been unable to discuss it with him in any way.
It had taken another full two and a half five-days for a weather-battered schooner to arrive with Admiral Rock Point’s official dispatches, and the only good thing was that their inner circle had had plenty of time by then to confer and make plans over their coms. Which was why Cayleb was already on his way back to Tellesberg, despite the fact that he and Sharleyan had been scheduled to remain in Cherayth for another month and a half. And it was also the reason Sharleyan wasn’t headed back to Tellesberg with him.
One of them had to return. In theory, they could have used their coms to coordinate responses with Rock Point, Archbishop Maikel Staynair, Baron Wave Thunder, and the inner circles’ other members in Tellesberg from Cherayth. In fact, that’s what they’d been doing, in many ways. But there were limits to what their subordinates could do on their own authority, which meant either Cayleb or Sharleyan had to be there in person. For that matter, the entire world would be expecting one or both of them to return to Old Charis after such a cataclysmic shift in naval power. They couldn’t afford the sort of questions not returning might arouse, and the truth was that Cayleb wanted to be there. Not that he was going to get there in any kind of hurry. This time of year, they’d be lucky if Royal Charis could make the crossing in less than two months, although Cayleb expected they’d be able to shave at least a five-day or so off of the time anyone else might have managed.
Unfortunately, Sharleyan couldn’t come with him. He was just as glad to spare Alahnah the roughness and potential hazards of this particular winter voyage, but that wasn’t the main reason she and her mother had remained in Cherayth. Nor was it the reason Merlin had remained with them. Sharleyan would be making a voyage of her own soon enough, and Cayleb didn’t envy the task she was going to face at the end of it.
Well, no one ever told you it was going to be easy . . . or pleasant, he reminded himself. So stop thinking about how much you envy Nahrmahn and Ohlyvya for at least being together and concentrate on getting your job done. Sharley will handle her part of it just fine, and the sooner she does, the sooner she will be joining you.
“I agree things could be a lot worse,” he said in a deliberately more cheerful tone, then smiled wickedly. “For example, I could be just as bad a sailor as Nahrmahn!”
|Home Page||Index Page|
Comments from the Peanut Gallery:
|Previous Page||Next Page|