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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Five

       Last updated: Monday, October 29, 2007 19:54 EDT



HMS Destroyer
Eraystor Bay
Princedom of Emerald

    "Admiral Nylz is here, Sir. Captain Shain is with him."

    Admiral Sir Domynyk Staynair, the newly created Baron of Rock Point, looked up from his examination of the double-barreled flintlock pistol as his flag lieutenant, poked his head respectfully through the flag cabin door aboard HMS Destroyer.

    "Thank you, Styvyn," he said. "Ask them to join me, please."

    "Of course, Sir."

    Lieutenant Styvyn Erayksyn bowed very slightly before he withdrew, and Admiral Rock Point smiled. Young Erayksyn was connected to at least two thirds of the aristocrats of the Kingdom of Charis. Indeed, he was far better born than his admiral, despite the recent creation of Rock Point's own title, although that sort of thing was less uncommon in Charis than in most other Safeholdian kingdoms. And, Rock Point supposed, the fact that he himself was the younger brother of the Archbishop of Charis would normally have been more than enough to offset Erayksyn's bluer blood. Of course, in this case, given the . . . irregularities of Maikel's elevation to his archbishopric, that was a bit more problematical than usual.

    If Erayksyn was remotely aware of the superiority of his birth he gave absolutely no sign of it. It did, however, grant the efficient, intelligent lieutenant a certain undeniable comfort level when it came to dealing with superior officers in general.

    The admiral set the pistol aside rather regretfully, settling it back into its fitted velvet nest beside its mate in the hand-rubbed wooden case on his desk as the door closed behind the flag lieutenant. That brace of pistols was one of the latest brainstorms from Baron Seamount's fertile imagination, and Rock Point had always appreciated the baron's ever-active approach to life and to his duties. It was an attitude which would have served him poorly in many navies, but not in the Royal Charisian Navy — or, at least, not in the current Royal Charisian Navy — and the new weapon was typical of Seamount's efforts.

    Before the introduction of the flintlock, firearms like the pistol Rock Point had just been examining would have been impractical, at best. Now, they were completely practical . . . aside from the diversion of manufacturing capability they represented, at least. Rock Point suspected that it had been difficult for Seamount to sit on the artisan who'd built the matched set of pistols in their box on the desk. Traditionally, presentation weapons were seen as opportunities to show off the maker's artistic talents, as well as his practical ability. Under those rules, the pistols ought to have been finely engraved, and — undoubtedly — inlaid with gold and plaques of ivory. This time, the only decoration lay in the small golden medallions set into the pistols' butts, bearing the crossed cannons and kraken of the coat of arms his monarch had awarded to him with his title.

    I guess Ahlfryd knows me better than most, Rock Point told himself with a fond smile. He knows how little use I have for wasted finery.

    Even more than that, the admiral thought as he closed the box and latched it, Seamount knew how much he treasured functionality and practicality, and the sleek, beautifully blued pistols had both of those in abundance. They cocked with a glassy-smooth, satisfying "click, the triggers broke cleanly and crisply, and the rich scent of gun oil clung to the pistol case like subtle perfume. With rifled, side-by-side fifty caliber barrels, an admiral who no longer possessed two working legs would still hold four men's lives in his hands, even if his footwork was no longer up to the highest standards of swordsmanship.

    "Admiral Nylz and Captain Shain, Sir," Erayksyn murmured as the cabin door opened once more and he ushered the visitors into Rock Point's flag cabin.

    "Thank you, Styvyn," Rock Point said, then smiled at his two subordinates as the flag lieutenant disappeared once more.

    "Kohdy, Captain Shain," he said then. "Please, sit down." He waved one hand at the chairs waiting for them. "I'm sorry I wasn't on deck to greet you."

    "No apologies are necessary, My Lord," Admiral Kohdy Nylz replied for both of them as they sat down, and Rock Point smiled again, this time a bit more crookedly, as he glanced down to where the calf of his right leg used to be.

    "How is your leg, Sir?" Nylz asked, following the direction of his superior's eyes.

    "Better." Rock Point looked back up with a small shrug. "They've fitted me with my peg, but they're still tinkering with it. Trying to get the angle right on the doot pad, more than anything else." He raised his truncated leg from the footstool on which it had rested and flexed the knee. "I'm lucky to still have the knee, of course, and the stump is healing well, but I'm getting a lot of irritation from the peg itself. I understand –" he shrugged again, this time ironically "– that Earl Mahndyr is having some of the same difficulties."

    "So I've heard," Nylz acknowledged with a slight smile at his own. Rock Point's shattered lower leg had been amputated after the Battle of Darcos Sound, in which the fire of his flagship had already removed the left leg of Gharth Rahlstahn, the Earl of Mahndyr, who had commanded the Emeraldian Navy at the same battle. Rock Point's flagship in that battle, HMS Gale, had been damaged even more severely than her admiral, and would remain in dockyard hands undergoing repair for at least several more five-days yet.

    "All things considered, I'm happier losing a leg than an arm," Rock Point said. "A sea officer doesn't spend a lot of time running foot races, anyway."

    Nylz and Shain chuckled politely, and Rock Point snorted at their dutiful response to his minor jest. Then his expression sobered.

    "So, what's this about young Hywyt?"

    "I have his written report, Sir," Nylz said, opening the bulky dispatch case he'd brought with him and extracting a thin sheaf of paper. "It contains all the details, but the gist is simple enough. A Church dispatch boat tried to get past him to Eraystor. When it refused to halt, he fired a single shot across its bow, at which point its commander was wise enough to haul down his flag and surrender."

    He makes it sound so simple, Rock Point thought. And, really, I suppose it is. Of course, the consequences aren't going to be.

    "So there were no casualties?" he asked aloud.

    "No, Sir." Nylz replied. "Not this time."

    Rock Point grimaced at the qualifier, but he couldn't object to it. There was going to be a next time, after all, and eventually some stubborn, stiff-necked, intransigent Church courier was going to refuse to strike his flag and there were going to be quite a lot of casualties.

    "Well," he observed, "it sounds like Hywyt did exactly what he was supposed to do. I'm assuming from what you've said, and the way you said it, that you agree with that conclusion?"

    "Completely, Sir," Nylz said firmly.

    "How did his people take it?"

    "Well, overall, Sir." Nylz twitched his shoulders slightly. "Most of them appear to have taken it pretty much in stride. In fact, some of them seemed disappointed that they didn't get to fire into Father Rahss' ship after all. I got the impression when Hywyt delivered his personal report to me that at least one of his officers was . . . less excited, let's say, about the possibility, but if Hywyt had ordered them to fire, they would have."

    "Good," Rock Point said, and wondered as he did whether or not he truly meant it.



    He turned his chair slightly, listening to the creak of its swivel, so that he could gaze out the broad expanse of Destroyer's stern windows at the panoramic, sun-dancing blue mirror of Eraystor Bay. From where he sat, he could see the northern end of the tadpole shape of Long Island, and the sheltered water between Long Island, Callie's Island, and South Island had been turned into a Charisian anchorage once the fortifications on those islands had surrendered to the Marines.

    In some ways, Rock Point was still a bit bemused by how readily those batteries and fortresses had surrendered when summoned. Colonel Hauwyrd Jynkyn, Rock Point's senior Marine officer, had never been able to assemble more than two or three battalions' worth of Marines from the fleet's shipboard detachments. Rock Point had been able to reinforce them with drafts of seamen, of course, especially from the surviving galleys, with their manpower-intensive crews. Still, it had been a distinctly motley landing force, even backed up by the heavy artillery ferried ashore from the fleet's galleons.

    It was tempting to feel a degree of contempt for the Emeraldian commanders who'd hauled down their flags when faced by Jynkyn's summons to surrender. On the other hand, most of the fortifications had been badly undermanned themselves, with enough gunners to man the artillery against a naval attack, but insufficient infantry to hold out against a serious assault from the landward side. And with the destruction of the Emeraldian Navy, there'd been no way to prevent Rock Point from finding places he could put his troops and artillery ashore without interference from the defenders.

    Besides which the totality of Emerald's naval defeat had devastated the defenders' morale before the first landing party ever set foot on any of those islands.

    But all of that had been no more than the preliminaries. Most of the Charisian Navy and Marines were undoubtedly focused on finishing off their adversaries in Emerald and the League of Corisande, but that was going to take at least a little while, since there was the minor problem of exactly what the kingdom was going to use for an army. Seizing island bases, sealing off major ports with blockading squadrons, and annihilating the merchant fleets of of their enemies was one thing, and Rock Point had no doubt the Navy and Marines had the resources to manage those tasks. Actually invading someplace like Emerald — or, even worse, Corisande — was something else entirely.

    And even if — when — we manage to deal with Nahrmahn and Hektor, it's still only the beginning, he thought grimly. I wonder how many of our people really understand that? Right this minute, they're still so infuriated by what the Group of Four tried to do to us that I don't doubt Hywyt's men were ready to fire into that dispatch boat. But what happens later, when they realize — really realize, deep down inside — that our true enemy, our dangerous enemy, isn't Hektor or Nahrmahn. It's the Church herself.

    No admiral, no general — no kingdom – had ever before faced that reality. Charis did, and a part of Sir Domynyk Staynair felt an icy shiver of dread whenever he thought about the dark, trackless future into which he and his kingdom were voyaging.

    "Did Hywyt happen to capture whatever dispatches they were carrying?" he asked, and his eyebrows rose as Nylz gave a harsh crack of laughter.

    "I asked something amusing?" he inquired, and the other admiral shook his head.

    "Not really, My Lord," he said, although he was still smiling. "It's just that the Church is going to have to rethink some of its standard procedures, I suspect. It seems Father Rahss didn't have a dispatch bag at all, much less a weighted one. All the documents he was charged to deliver were locked into a strongbox in his cabin. A strongbox which was bolted to the deck, as a matter of fact."

    "Bolted to the deck?" Rock Point blinked, and Nylz nodded.

    "Obviously, the Church hasn't given any thought to the possibility that any of her couriers might be intercepted. Their procedures for handling their dispatches have been more concerned with the documents' internal security during transit than they have with keeping them out of anyone else's unauthorized hands. So, instead of carrying them in a weighted bag, they lock them up in the captain's quarters. And," he shook his head, "it takes two keys to unlock the box. The captain has one; the purser has the other."

    Rock Point looked at him for a moment, then shook his own head, wondering how long it would take the Church's thinking to adjust to the new reality and change the way her dispatch boats handled her correspondence.

    "I assume Commander Hywyt managed to secure both keys?" he said mildly.

    "Actually, I believe he said something about prybars, Sir," Captain Shain said, speaking up for the first time and smiling wickedly. "From what he had to say to me while he was waiting to see Admiral Nylz, this Father Rahss at least managed to get his key thrown over the side before Wave's people went aboard. I don't know if he actually thought that was going to stop Hywyt, but apparently he just about died of apoplexy when Hywyt broke the strongbox open. I think he more than half-expected lightning to strike Hywyt dead on the spot."

    "Which, obviously, it didn't," Rock Point said dryly. He supposed he was pleased to see Shain's amusement at the thought, yet he couldn't help wondering if the rest of his officers and men would share the flag captain's reaction.

    "I've brought the captured documents with me, My Lord," Nylz said, reaching down and patting his dispatch case. "I've also had duplicate copies made, just in case. Unfortunately, they appear to be in some sort of cipher."

    "I suppose that's not too surprising," Rock Point said. "Irritating, but not surprising." He shrugged. "We'll just have to send them back to Tellesberg. Perhaps Baron Wave Thunder and his people will be able to decipher them."

    And if they can't, I'm sure Seijin Merlin can, he reflected.

    "Yes, My Lord."

    "Please pass my compliments to Commander Hywyt for a job well done. He and his people seem to have developed a knack for being in the right place at the right time when there's prize money to be won, don't they?"

    "So far, at least," Nylz agreed. "I am getting a few requests to let someone else have crack at Wave's station, though."

    "It's not her station, Sir," Shain snorted. "It's her speed. Well, that and the fact that Hywyt really does have a knack for this sort of work."

    "He'd better enjoy it while he can," Rock Point said. Nylz raised an eyebrow, and Rock Point smiled. "I just received dispatches of my own from Earl Lock Island. Among other things, he's asked me to nominate commanding officers for some of the new galleons, and it sounds to me as if young Hywyt might be the sort of captain we're looking for."

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