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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Friday, June 12, 2009 01:07 EDT



Privateer Brig Loyal Son,
Desnarian Merchant Galleon Wind Hoof,
Markovian Sea

    Steel-gray water heaved under a slate-gray sky like a vast bowl of ice-burnished wind. That same wind hummed and whined through the rigging as the brig Loyal Son made her way across the vast wasteland of the Markovian Sea. Symyn Fytzhyw, Loyal Son’s owner and captain, stood on the brig’s tiny quarterdeck, his legs spread wide against the ship’s motion, and shivered, despite his thick, warm coat.

    Fytzhyw was just under thirty Safeholdian years old, and he had no children of his own. His older brother, on the other hand, had five already, including not one, but two sets of twins. The eldest was only seven, and none of them had ever been outside the city of Tellesberg . . . or its climate. They’d found Uncle Symyn’s thick winter coat hilarious when they’d “helped him pack,” but Fytzhyw didn’t find its thickness the least bit humorous at this particular moment. In fact, he wished fervently that it was even thicker and heavier.

    Spring was a month off yet, and winter in the Markovian could be as cold and bitter as anything south of the Icewind Sea itself, as the current weather seemed bent upon proving. At least, he thought gratefully, there was no longer anything falling out of the sky. Yesterday’s rain had turned into freezing sleet, and the standing rigging was coated in the ice, like tree branches in a winter-struck forest. The temperature hadn’t climbed enough to melt it yet (assuming it ever intended to climb that high again), but chunks of it rattled and banged on deck from time to time. The carronades gleamed under their own thin coating of glassy ice, and more ice came slithering to the deck in crystal shards from the running rigging whenever the sails were trimmed.

    I wonder why this seemed like a good idea before we left port? Fytzhyw asked himself rhetorically as he looked up at the northern sky.

    Actually, he knew the answer perfectly well. The waters south of the Markovian had been thoroughly fished out by other privateers. The Gulf of Tarot, the Tarot Channel, the Tranjyr Passage, and the Sea of Justice had been thoroughly swept, and if there were still twenty merchantmen in the world flying the Tarotisian flag, Fytzhyw would have been astonished. The waters off Delferahk, still further south, had been even more thoroughly hunted out over the past several months as Charisian ships swarmed over the Delferahkan coast and went through the Kingdom’s coastal waters like feeding doomwhales in the wake of the Ferayd Massacre, and the Empire of Charis wasn’t at war (yet) with the Desnairian Empire. Effectively, that left only the Harthian Sea and the Gulf of Harchong, far to the west, and that was really too far for a vessel the size of Loyal Son.

    Besides, Symyn Fytzhyw hadn’t become a privateer just for the money. Not that he had any objection to piling up a satisfying heap of marks, of course, but what he really wanted to do was to hurt those bastards in Zion any way he could.

    And that was the real reason he was where he was this frigid, blustery, thoroughly miserable day. He couldn’t match the size of many another privateer vessel, and he couldn’t match the wealth of many another shipowner, but he still had his father’s network of contacts, including several in the independent Duchy of Fallos.

    The island of Fallos measured almost nine hundred miles from its extreme northern tip to its extreme southern tip, but its total population was less than that of the city of Tellesberg, alone. By and large, no one paid much attention to Fallos, but the duchy did have one extraordinarily valuable natural resource: trees. Lots and lots of trees. Trees which produced some of the finest shipbuilding timbers in the world. Most Fallosians — those who weren’t farmers or fishermen — were woodsmen, and they showed a respectable profit selling timber to various mainland realms. Charis wasn’t usually one of Fallos’ markets, given that the forests which still covered much of Charis and almost all of the huge island of Silver had even more (and arguably better) timber to offer far closer to home. But far more of the mainland had been logged off, and second-growth forest couldn’t match the magnificent timbers for masts and spars which came out of Fallos’ virgin forests. Turpentine was another major Fallosian product, and so was pitch.

    Under normal circumstances, Fallos made a reasonably comfortable living off of its forestry products, but the duchy was scarcely in danger of becoming wealthy. Circumstances, however, had been anything but “normal” since the Battle of Darcos Sound. The Group of Four’s decision to build its enormous new navy had produced a demand for timbers and every sort of naval store such as the world had never before seen. Suddenly, Fallosians were making money at a rate even a Charisian could envy . . . and the waters between Fallos and the mainland swarmed with freighters.

    Given the growth demands of the Charisian Navy and the brawling Charisian privateer fleet, a merchantman loaded with already-cut ship timbers could bring a reasonable return, even in timber-rich Charis. It wouldn’t be a particularly handsome profit, which was the reason most privateers tended to hunt elsewhere, but it would certainly cover Fytzhyw’s operating expenses, and taking those same timbers away from the Church held a certain appeal all its own. That wasn’t the real reason he and his grumbling ship’s company were out here just now, however. He was perfectly willing to snap up any timber-hauler which crossed his path (in fact, he’d already taken two of them), but that was a task better suited to regular Navy cruisers, who didn’t have to present profit and loss statements to shareholders or business partners. All they had to worry about was hurting the enemy’s actual capabilities; a privateer had to worry about paying the bills, as well. Which was why what Fytzhyw was really looking for was the ship his Fallosian informant assured him was even then on her way to the duchy . . . and carrying several thousand marks of cold, hard cash destined to pay for all of those felled trees.

    The only problem was that his target should have been along at least two days ago. There were many possible explanations for its tardiness, including the storm which had worked its way across the Markovian the previous five-day and left Loyal Son in her glittering icy cocoon in its wake. Despite that, Fytzhyw was beginning to feel considerably less cheerful than he had when he set out.

    Face it, he told himself brutally, the real reason you’re beginning to feel less cheerful is that the most likely “explanation” for the reason you haven’t seen it is that it sailed right past you in the dark. Or it chose a passage further north or further south. Or –

    “Sail ho!” The wind-thrashed shout came down from the mainmast lookout. “Sail on the larboard bow!”

    Fytzhyw twitched, then strode rapidly to the larboard bulwark, peering down to leeward. For several minutes he saw nothing at all from his much lower vantage point, but then something pricked the horizon. He pounded gently on the bulwark rail with gloved hands, waiting impatiently. It seemed to take forever, and the masthead which had broken the hard line of the horizon was far clearer and sharper from deck level before the lookout peering through his spyglass finally announced –

    “Deck, there! She’s flying a Church pennant!”

    “Yes!” Symyn Fytzhyw hissed jubilantly. Then he wheeled from the bulwark and sucked in a burning lungful of frigid air.

    “Hands to quarters!” he bellowed. “Hands to quarters!”




    Alyk Lizardherd, Captain of the galleon Wind Hoof swore inventively as his lookout finally got around to reporting the ship headed purposefully to meet him.

    “Very well, Master Hairaym,” he said in a disgusted tone when he’d finally exhausted his supply of profanity. “Thanks to that blind idiot at the masthead, it’s too late to try to run for it. Go ahead and clear away the guns.”

    Such as they are, and what there are of them, he did not add out loud.

    “Yes, Sir.” Gorjah Hairaym, Wind Hoof’s first lieutenant, was a good twelve years older than his skipper, who was no spring hedge lizard, himself. In the cold, gray light of the wind-whipped afternoon, the older man’s unshaven face looked wrinkled and old as he acknowledged the order. From the look in his eyes, he knew as well as Lizardherd just how pointless the instruction was if that other vessel was what both of them were confident it was. However –

    “And I suppose you’d better tell Lieutenant Aivyrs, too,” Fytzhyw said heavily.

    “Yes, Sir,” Hairaym acknowledged, then turned away and began bawling orders to man the galleon’s pop gun broadside of catamounts. They were heavier than the wolves most merchant galleons carried in swivel mounts on their bulwarks, yet the shot they threw still weighed little more than three pounds. They might have been enough to discourage most converted merchantmen which turned into privateers (or turned outright pirate), but they were scarcely likely to dissuade a Charisian privateer.

    And that’s what that bastard is, just as sure as Hell’s a mantrap, Lizardherd thought grimly. Its sure as Hell not another merchant ship, that’s for certain! Not heading towards us with all the craziness going on in the world just now. Besides, that idiot at the masthead may not have noticed her coming for a day or two, but he’s sure she’s Charisian-rigged.

    To be fair to his lookout — which, at that particular moment, was remarkably low on Lizardherd’s list of priorities — he knew the man was cold, two-thirds frozen, and no doubt exhausted as he awaited the end of his stint in the crow’s-nest. He was, however, an experienced seaman, which meant his identification of the oncoming vessel as Charisian was almost certainly accurate. Relatively few ships outside Charis had yet adopted the new sail plans Charis had introduced, after all. Wind Hoof had been scheduled to be re-rigged on the new plan almost three months ago. She would have been, too, if Lizardherd’s contact in Resmair hadn’t quietly passed the word that the Church’s shipping factors were being chary about awarding charters to ship masters who seemed too eager to adopt the heretics’ innovations.

    I should’ve told him to piss up a rope, Lizardherd thought now, grumpily. Sure, it’s a fat charter. Actually, he knew, there was enough graft going on that his charter fee — which he was already charging at better than half again his normal rate — was probably no more than two-thirds (if that much) of what the Church factors were reporting to Zion when they sent in their accounts. But no charter’s fat enough to get killed over!

    He looked up at the set of his own canvas — his inefficient canvas, compared to the hunter sweeping down upon him on the wind — and grimaced. As he’d already told Hairaym, there was absolutely no point trying to outrun the other ship. And there was no point hauling down his Church pennant at this point, either, since the oncoming brig had to have already seen it. Not to mention the fact that Lieutenant Lewk Aivyrs, the Temple Guard officer whose detachment had been sent along to keep an eye on the money chests, would probably have a little to say about any such outbreak of prudence.

    I guess I’m just going to have to hope that fellow over there doesn’t want to start a war with Desnair on top of everything else, he thought morosely. And fat fucking chance of that!



    “She’s Desnairian-flagged, Sir,” Fytzhyw’s first officer pointed out as the range fell to a thousand yards.

    “Yes, Tobys, she is,” Fytzhyw agreed.

    “I just thought I’d point it out,” Tobys Chermyn said mildly. “We’re not at war with Desnair, at the moment, you know.”

    “I am aware of the fact,” Fytzhyw acknowledged, turning to raise one eyebrow at his shorter lieutenant.

    “Well, I was just thinking, it’s sort of nice to have someone we’re not at war with. Yet, at least.” Chermyn grinned at him. “Do you think we’re about to change that?”

    “I don’t know. And, to be totally honest about it, I don’t really care, either,” Fytzhyw told him, swinging back to look at the high-sided, wallowing Desnairian galleon. “First, Desnair hasn’t got a navy. Second, Desnair is already busy building a navy for those sanctimonious pricks in Zion, so we might as well already be at war with them. And, third, Tobys, if they don’t want to get themselves taken, then they shouldn’t be flying that fucking pennant.”

    Chermyn nodded without speaking. The practice of flying a Church pennant whenever a vessel was in the service of the Church went back almost to the Creation itself. Traditionally, there were very good reasons for that, including the fact that only the heartiest — or most insane — pirate was going to trifle with a Church galleon. Those traditional reasons had been . . . somewhat undermined of late, however. It seemed to be taking a while for the rest of the world to figure out that flying that pennant these days had much in common with waving a red flag at a great dragon, at least where Charis was concerned, but Chermyn supposed old habits were hard to break.

    And to be fair, not even every Charisian’s as pissed off by the sight of it as the Old Man, he reflected.

    In point of fact, Chermyn was at least a few years older than Fytzhyw, but it never crossed his mind to use another label for Loyal Son’s master. Symyn Fytzhyw struck most people as older than his years. Partly that was his size, no doubt — he stood a head taller than most other Charisians — but more of it stemmed from his indisputable solidness. And not just the solidness of his undeniably brawny muscle and bone, either. For all his youth, Fytzhyw was a purposeful, disciplined man, which helped to explain how someone his age not only captained but owned his own galleon.

    But he was also a man of iron convictions. No one could accuse him of being narrowminded, or of refusing to look before he leapt, yet once his convictions were engaged, there was no shaking him. Chermyn knew Fytzhyw had entertained his doubts initially about the wisdom of the schism between the Church of Charis and the Temple loyalists. Those doubts had weakened with King Haarahld’s death, and they’d vanished completely as he’d seen Archbishop Maikel and Emperor Cayleb turning their words into reality. The attempt to assassinate the archbishop in his own cathedral, what had happened to Archbishop Erayk, the lies coming out of Zion, and the Ferayd Massacre had replaced those initial doubts with fiery commitment.

    And the Old Man doesn’t do anything by halves, Chermyn told himself. Which suits me right down to the ground, when you come to it. He bared his teeth at the Desnarian galleon. I wonder if that fellow over there’s smart enough to realize just how quickly he’d better get that pennant down?





    Alyk Lizardherd said the single word with quiet intensity as the Charisian brig — and they were close enough now to see the national banner which confirmed that she was Charisian — sliced through the water in surging bursts of white foam. He had to admire the other captain’s ship handling, but that was just a bit difficult to remember when he saw the seven opened gunports grinning in his direction. He’d never — yet — had the opportunity to examine one of the new Charisian guns, but he knew what he was seeing as the squat, short-barreled weapons were trundled forward. His catamounts threw three-pound shot; if those were what he was certain they were, they’d be throwing at least eighteen-pound shot. Wind Hoof was considerably larger than the Charisian brig, but not enough bigger to be able to survive that sort of imbalance in firepower!

    “Sir?” Hairaym said tautly, and Lizardherd looked at him.

    “I don’t think they look particularly concerned about firing on a Desnarian ship, do you, Gorjah?”

    “No, Sir, I don’t,” Hairaym said after a moment, yet even as he spoke, his eyes shifted forward to where Lieutenant Aivyrs and his ten Temple Guardsmen stood waiting on the main deck.

    “Yes, that is a problem,” Lizardherd agreed very softly. Hairaym’s eyes darted back to him, and the captain smiled thinly. “If we don’t strike our colors and heave to, those guns over there are going to turn us all into kraken bait, and pretty damned quickly. Or, for that matter, I’m sure they’ve got enough manpower over there to take us by boarding, assuming they somehow know enough about the cargo we’re carrying to worry about sinking us with a careless cannon shot. But Lieutenant Aivyrs is going to insist that we not strike our colors and heave to, and I’m sure his men will follow his lead if — and when — he cuts down the first man to lay a finger on a flag halyard. Not to mention the fact that if we were so careless as to lose the Church’s money by surrendering to a heretical Charisian ‘pirate,’ his report would undoubtedly have . . . unfortunate consequences. ”

    “Yes, Sir,” Hairaym acknowledged in an even quieter voice.

    “Trapped between the dragon and the deep blue sea,” Lizardherd murmured. No one could possibly have heard him through the noise of a sailing ship at sea, but Hairaym had been with him for a long time. He knew what his skipper was thinking, and he looked acutely unhappy.

    Well, he can look as unhappy as he likes, Lizardherd thought waspishly. He’s going to look pretty frigging unhappy when we go to the bottom of the Markovian, too!

    “Tell the Bosun I need to speak to him,” he said out loud, holding Hairaym’s eyes with his own. “I believe he’s up forward handing out the muskets.”

    For just a moment, Hairaym appeared not even to breathe. Then he inhaled deeply, squared his shoulders, and nodded.

    “Yes, Sir. I’ll see to it.”



    Well, I don’t see any signs of sanity breaking out over there yet, Fytzhyw thought. Unless of course it’s just that they’re all stone blind and don’t even realize we’re here!

    He grimaced and raised his speaking trumpet.

    “Master Chermyn!”

    “Aye, Sir?” Tobys Chermyn shouted back from the foredeck.

    “Clear away the pivot gun! It seems we need to attract these people’s attention!”

    “Aye, aye, Sir!”



    Lizardherd stood by the aftercastle rail, gazing steadily — one might almost have said fixedly — at the Charisian brig. He’d discussed his plans for defending the ship with the Bosun, who’d been with him considerably longer even than Hairaym, and the Bosun had moved all twelve of Wind Hoof’s matchlock-armed seamen into the waist of the ship, more conveniently located to Lieutenant Aivyrs.

    The brig had a single longer gun forward. It looked as if it were mounted on some sort of turntable. Although Lizardherd had never heard of anything like it, he could see the advantages of such a mounting, and he concentrated on it rather than risk glancing towards the Guardsmen. Any time now . . . .




    Loyal Son’s pivot-mounted fourteen-pounder crashed, spitting its round shot across the gray-green waves. It landed well clear of the Desnarian galleon, exactly as warning shots were supposed to do, but its message was crystal clear, and Fytzhyw watched the other ship intensely. If that ship’s master had an ounce of sense, that Church pennant would be coming down any instant. Unfortunately, Fytzhyw had already spotted at least a handful of Temple Guardsmen on the galleon’s deck. They weren’t going to take kindly to the notion of surrender. On the other hand, their presence suggested that this was, indeed, the ship for which he’d been waiting. And whether they were likely to surrender or not, he still had the responsibility to at least give them the opportunity. Personally, he’d just as soon have handed each of those Guardsmen a round shot and kicked him over the side, but rules were rules. And, he conceded almost unwillingly, following the rules was one way a man could keep himself from waking up and discovering he’d become someone he didn’t very much like. On the other hand –

    He stiffened suddenly. Loyal Son was upwind of the Desnarian, but the popping sound of what was unmistakably musket fire reached him anyway, and his eyes narrowed. Exactly what did that idiot over there think he was going to do with muskets — especially matchlock muskets — at this sort of range? It was the stupidest thing he could have –

    Symyn Fytzhyw’s thoughts broke off again as the Church pennant came fluttering down from the other ship’s masthead.



    “Heave to,” Alyk Lizardherd commanded, and turned away once more as Hairaym passed the order.

    One problem solved, he thought with a sort of lunatic detachment. Of course, it does leave me with a few others.

    He glanced — briefly — at the eleven bodies sprawled across Wind Hoof’s deck. He regretted that. Lieutenant Aivyrs had seemed a nice enough young man, if a trifle overly earnest, but he hadn’t been picked for his present assignment because of any weakness of faith. Even though he must have realized as clearly as Lizardherd did that nothing they might do could possibly affect the ultimate outcome of the Charisians’ attack, he would have insisted on fighting. And when he did that, a lot of Lizardherd’s crewmen — all of whom had been with him one hell of a lot longer than Aivyrs had — would have gotten themselves killed uselessly. So might one Alyk Lizardherd, although, to his own surprise, that possibility had played a relatively minor role in his final decision.

    Somehow, I don’t think the Inquisition is going to accept the theory that the Charisian marksmen concentrated on shooting down just the Guardsman, he reflected sardonically. Especially not when all of the bullets seem to have miraculously struck them from behind. And when you add that to all the money we’ve got onboard, they’re bound to consider the possibility that it was an inside job. Maybe even that we never met up with any Charisian thieves at all.

    It irritated him that, in fact, it wasn’t an inside job. If he was going to be suspected of making off with the Church’s money, then he would have preferred at least to actually be guilty!

    Well, he’d just have to see. Fortunately, he himself had no immediate family waiting for his return, and most of his seamen were unmarried. So was Hairaym, for that matter. He could always ask if the Charisians would be interested in acquiring one slightly used Desnarian galleon. They might even be willing to part with enough of Wind Hoof’s cargo to allow the crew of the galleon in question to begin new lives under new names somewhere far, far away from the Desnarian Empire.

    Or, we might be able to get them to agree to let us take to the boats long enough for them to put a couple of broadsides — hopefully nonfatal broadsides — into the ship. Then anyone who wanted to go home could sail her back, while those of us more interested in seeing the world shipped along with the Charisians. That should provide enough other “buried at sea” fatalities to keep anyone from commenting on the fluke of Charisian accuracy that hit only Guardsmen.

    He shrugged. There was only one way to find out what sort of arrangement might be possible, and he raised his leather speaking trumpet.

    “Ahoy, there!” he bellowed across the tumbled waste of water. “We’re ready to receive a boat!”

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