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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Eighteen

       Last updated: Monday, January 14, 2008 07:26 EST



North Bay,
Princedom of Emerald

    "Quietly, damn your eyes!" Sir Dunkyn Yairley hissed. "You're seamen, not drunk whores at a wedding!"

    Someone laughed softly, secure from identification in the darkness. Yairley couldn't be certain, but he rather suspected the sound had come from Stywyrt Mahlyk, his personal coxswain. It had certainly come from aft, and Mahlyk had the tiller as the launch moved steadily and, for the most part — despite Yairley's injunction to its crew — quietly through the water.

    The chuckle certainly hadn't come from the seaman whose incautiously moving foot had elicited Yairley's gentle remonstrance when it knocked over one of the cutlasses piled in the launch's floorboards with a loud clang. On the other hand, that worthy, having been methodically kicked by two of his crewmates for his clumsiness, was ulikely to be making any more noise anytime soon, and Yairley knew it. Besides, these were all handpicked men, chosen for their experience. They knew what they were about.

    So did Yairley, although it felt . . . peculiar to be personally leading what amounted to a glorified cutting-out expedition. As the captain of one of the Royal Charisian Navy's more powerful galleons, he'd thought this sort of nonsense was behind him. Unfortunately, this particular "cutting-out expedition" consisted of well over three hundred Marines and the next best thing to four hundred seamen, and that was a captain's command, wherever the men in question had come from.

    He peered astern from his place in the launch's bow, trying to see the other boats. The overcast night was darker than the inside of Shan-wei's boot, and he could barely make out the two closest ones. All the others were completely invisible, and he told himself that was a good thing. If he couldn't see them, it was extremely unlikely that the defenders of North Bay could see them, either. Which, after all, was the entire point of launching the raid after moonset. Not that knowing all of that made him feel any happier about his own blindness.

    Stop fretting, Dunkyn! he scolded himself. You've got more than enough men for this business. You just don't like being out here.

    Well, no, if he was going to be honest, he didn't like being out here. That wasn't something an officer in the Royal Charisian Navy was supposed to admit, even to himself, however. They were all supposed to be brave, daring, and perpetually eager to close with the foe. Sir Dunkyn Yairley understood his duty, and he was prepared to do it unflinchingly, yet deep inside, he'd always questioned his own courage. He didn't really know about anyone else, but he'd never seen the signs of his own sweaty palms and knotted stomach muscles in his fellow officers.

    That's just because they're better at hiding it than you are, he told himself. Which was all very well, and probably even true, but didn't make him feel one bit better at the moment. Of course –

    "There, Sir!"

    The whispered half-exclamation interrupted his thought, and he turned his head as the young midshipman crouched in the bows beside him tapped his shoulder and pointed. Yairley peered in the indicated direction, straining his older, less acute eyes, then nodded sharply.

    "Good lad, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk," he said quietly, then looked aft to where he couldn't quite see Mahlyk in the stern sheets. "Come two points to starboard," he said. "And show the others a light."

    He he thought about the youngster beside him while he listened to the whispered repetition running aft, relayed from one rower to another until it reached Mahlyk. Bringing a royal duke — however he'd gotten to be one — along on a mission like this might not be the best way for a man's career to prosper. The Charisian tradition had always been that members of the royal house served their time in the Navy and took their chances just like anyone else, yet Yairley couldn't quite rid himself of the suspicion that a man who got the member of the royal house in question killed on his watch might find himself under just a little bit of a cloud. Still, keeping the lad wrapped up in cotton-silk wouldn't be doing him — or anyone else — any favors, either. And the captain had gone far enough to assign young Aplyn-Ahrmahk as his personal aide, which should keep him out of at least some potential trouble. And –

    He thoughts broke off as he saw the faintest of glows when the seaman beside Mahlyk opened the shutter of the closed lantern for the benefit of the boats following astern of them while using his own body to shield it from anyone ashore.

    A moment later, the launch altered course, the men pulling more strongly as Mahlyk steered for the dim points of light the alert midshipman had pointed out to Yairley.



    Major Bahrkly Harmyn tipped back in his chair, stretched, and yawned mightily. It was almost Langhorne's Watch, that period between midnight and the first true hour of the day. In theory, Harmyn should be spending that time meditating on all of God's gifts and his duty to the Archangles and to God. In fact, he was spending it trying to stay awake.

    He finished yawning and let the chair tip forward again. The oil lamps filled his sparsely furnished office with light, although it was scarcely what anyone would have called bright. Somewhere on the other side of the office door, there were two clerks and an orderly, who were undoubtedly also doing their best to stay awake. Of course, they might be finding it a little easier than Harmyn was. They probably hadn't spent most of the night before drinking in one of the waterfront taverns the way Harmyn had.

    The way I wouldn't have, if I'd had any idea I was going to get stuck with the duty tonight, he thought sourly.

    Unfortunately, his superiors hadn't asked him about that when his name came up as the replacement for Major Tyllytsyn. Tyllytsyn wasn't going to be holding down the night watch for a while. Still, he was more fortunate than his horse had been. The beast had put its foot into a lizard hole and, like its rider, broken a leg. But while Tyllytsyn's leg had been set and wrapped up in plaster, the horse had simply been put down. And one Major Harmyn had been informed that he was going to be holding down Tyllytsyn's night duties until the Colonel told him differently.

    At least it's not likely anything's going to happen, he thought.



    Captain Yairley watched and waited impatiently as HMS Torrent's second cutter blended out of the night. He was glad to see it — Lieutenant Symyn, Torrent's first lieutenant, was officially his second-in-command — but at least one launch and the thirty-five men in it had obviously gone astray.

    Not surprisingly. Indeed, if no one had gone astray, that would have been grounds for outright astonishment, not simple surprise. Every officer in the Charisian Navy knew the first law of battle was that anything which could go wrong, would. Besides, actually keeping a couple of dozen launches, cutters, and gigs together while rowing for almost twelve miles through a pitch-black night would have qualified as a miracle in any sea officer's book.

    The problem was that Yairley couldn't see a thing beyond his immediate position, except for occasional dim smears of light. He'd put together the simplest plan he could, then briefed all of the officers involved in tonight's festivities as carefully as possible before they ever embarked. Each of them had had his particular role explained to him at least twice, and each of them had also been given his contingency instructions in case someone else failed to reach his intended destination in time. That didn't necessarily mean the officers in question had actually understood their instructions, however. And even if they had, there was no way of predicting what sort of navigational errors the vagaries of wind and tide might have induced. It was even theoretically possible that only the five boats Yairley could actually see had managed to reach their assigned objective at all.

    Stop that! He shook his head. Of course they're out there . . . somewhere. And every one of them is waiting for your signal.

    Symyn's cutter came alongside Yairley's launch. Hands reached out, easing the two boats together, and Yairley leaned across towards the lieutenant.

    "I think we're in position," he said quietly. "I'm not positive, though. This –" he waved one hand at the wharf in whose shadow the boats bobbed up and down on the swell "– should be the east pier if we are where we're supposed to be."

    Symyn nodded as if he hadn't already known that perfectly well, and Yairley felt his mouth twitch in a tight grin.

    "Whether it's the east pier or not, it's a pier, and it'll just have to do. You take your cutter and Defender's launches and swing around to the far side. I'll take the other boats down this side."

    "Aye, aye, Sir," Symyn acknowledged. Hissed orders were passed, and Symyn and the assigned boats moved steadily away.

    Yairley gave them several minutes to get into position on the far side of the pier. Then his launch led the remaining boats down the nearer side towards shore, keeping to the densest, darkest shadows cast by the galleons moored to it on either side.



    The pair of sentries on the east pier stood gazing glumly out into the darkness. There were very few duties which could possibly match the boredom quotient of watching over the deserted waterfront of a thoroughly blockaded port. Normally, they could at least have looked forward to the possibility of being summoned by the local city watch to help deal with a drunken brawl somewhere. But the seamen whose ships had been caught inside the blockade had run out of money with which to carouse, and the local government had decreed a curfew, if only to get the pestiferous merchant crews off the streets at night. Which meant they had absolutely nothing to do except stand there, looking out to sea as if their single-handed devotion to watchfulness could somehow prevent a Charisian attack.

    Besides, while they stood out here in the dark, they knew perfectly well that the company of army troops which was supposed to be waiting, poised in instant readiness to respond to any alarm they might raise, was undoubtedly shooting dice in the barracks. It wasn't so much that they begrudged fellow soldiers their entertainment as it was that they resented being excluded from it. Still –

    One of them heard something over the sigh of wind and steady slopping of waves. He didn't know what it was, but he began turning in its direction just as a brawny arm went around his neck from behind. His astonished hands flew up instinctively, prying at that strangling bar of bone and muscle, but then a needle-pointed dirk drove up under his ribs to find his heart, and he abruptly lost all interest in whatever it was he might have heard.

    His companion on the far side of the pier had even less warning than that, and Captain Yairley grunted in approval as he climbed up the ladder from his launch, Aplyn-Ahrmahk at his heels, and observed the two bodies.

    "Good work," he told the much-tattooed senior seaman who had led the removal of the sentries. The grin he got in reply would have done credit to a kraken, and Yairley wondered once again exactly what the man had done before joining the Navy.

    Probably better not to know, he told himself once more, and stood back as the rest of the launch's crew swarmed up onto the pier.

    He counted noses as carefully as he could in the darkness while the seamen and Marines formed up into their prearranged groups. Cutlasses and bayonets glinted dully in the dim lights of the pier's lanterns, and he watched as the Marines carefully primed their muskets. The fact that the newfangled "flintlocks" didn't need a lit length of slow match was a blessing, since it meant they could be carried ready to fire without looking like a lost flock of blink lizards through the darkness. On the other hand, it also increased the possibility of accidental discharges because it deprived a musketeer of that visual cue that his weapon was ready to fire. Which was why Yairley had given specific, bloodthirsty orders about the dreadful fate awaiting anyone who had dared to prime his musket during the long boat trip in.

    Besides, if I'd let them, the spray would damned well have soaked the priming.

    "Ready, Sir," Lieutenant Symyn said quietly, and Yairley turned to find the younger officer at his elbow. Symyn, he observed sourly, was almost beaming in anticipation.

    "Good," he said, instead of what he was actually thinking. "Remember, wait until you hear the grenades."

    "Aye, aye, Sir," Symyn said, as if Yairley hadn't made exactly that same point in the pre-attack briefings at least three times.



    In point of fact, the sentries on the pier had been doing their fellows an injustice. There were no dice games tonight, because their previous evening's entertainment had been interrupted by an unanticipated visit from the company commander, who had been less than amused. After a few pithy observations on their state of discipline, their readiness, and probable ancestry, Major Tyllytsyn had informed them of the unpleasant fate in store for anyone else he found diverting himself during duty hours. Despite his subsequent broken leg (which one or two unworthy souls had suggested might represent divine retribution), they had no doubt he'd passed his observations on to Major Harmyn. Who, unfortunately, had a reputation for being even less understanding than Major Tyllytsyn. Under the circumstances, it had seemed wise to exercise a little discretion for the next five-day or so.

    So, instead of clumping together in the middle of their barracks floors with their dice boxes and cards, they were engaged in dozens of homey little tasks — mending uniforms, polishing brightwork, cleaning gear, or honing the edges of cutlasses, dirks, and swords.

    The sound of breaking glass intruded rudely. Heads turned towards the sound and eyebrows rose in surprise that turned abruptly into something else as the iron spheres with their sputtering fuses thumped down on the floor.

    One trooper, faster than his companions, dove towards the nearest grenade. He snatched it up and whirled to throw it back out the window, but he didn't have quite enough time. He got the throw off, but the grenade had traveled less than four feet when it exploded, killing him almost instantly.

    It wouldn't really have mattered if the fuse on that particular grenade had been a bit longer. It was only one of a dozen, and the barracks' peaceful order disintegrated into chaos, horror, and screams as all of them detonated almost simultaneously.



    "Now!" Lieutenant Hahl Symyn shouted as the grenade explosions echoed from behind him.

    His waiting parties of seamen had already broken down into two-man teams. Now the member of each team with the slow match lit one of his fellow's prepared incendiaries, then stood back while doors were kicked in and windows were smashed. The blazing compounds of pitch, naptha, and a sprinkling of gunpowder sailed through the sudden openings into the dockside warehouses, while other teams charged the galleons and harbor craft tied up alongside the pier.

    Smoke billowed up and lurid flames began to leap, turning the pitch-black night into something very different. More flames erupted as other incendiaries ignited their targets, and scattered voices began to shout in alarm as the town of North Bay abruptly awakened. Muskets cracked as the Marines detailed to Symyn's support attacked the harbor batteries from behind. Only two guns in each battery were actually manned after nightfall, and the handful of sleepy gunners were no match for the Marines storming in amongst them out of the darkness. Still more fires ignited along the harbor front, and a sharp, thunderous explosion echoed as one of the incendiaries found an unexpected store of gunpowder in a harbor barge beside a galleon undergoing conversion into a commerce raider.The explosion set the ship heavily ablaze and hurled flaming fragments into three other vessels and onto at least a half-dozen warehouse and tavern roofs.

    "Look, Sir!" one of Symyn's men shouted, and the lieutenant saw the bright, sudden sparkle of more musketry against the pitch blackness to the west of the city.

    "It's the Marines!" he shot back. "No telling how long Major Zheffyr will be able to slow the bastards up, so hop to it!"

    "Aye, aye, Sir!"



    Major Harmyn lurched to his feet as the explosions and screams erupted. He grabbed up his sword belt and dashed for the office door, swinging the belt around him as he ran. His clerk and orderly were still coming out of their chairs as he erupted into the anteroom.

    "Get your weapons, goddamn it!" Harmyn barked, and charged out the office block's front door onto the parade ground between the two long rectangles of the barracks.

    Flames were already beginning to dance and glare through the barracks windows, and he heard a second wave of explosions as the Charisian seamen threw another dozen grenades into each building. Some of the wounded's shrieks ended abruptly, but other sounds of agony replaced them.

    Harmyn's belly knotted as he realized the attackers had already completely eliminated his borrowed company as a cohesive fighting force. He didn't know how many of "his" men were actually dead or wounded, but even the ones who weren't would be too demoralized and terrified to offer any sort of effective resistance.

    And even if Tyllytsyn might have been able to rally them, I won't be, he thought grimly. They don't even know me, so why in Hell should they listen to me in a mess like this?

    The beginning sputter and crackle of musketry from the west told him no one was likely to arrive to reinforce him, so –

    Major Bahrkly Harmyn hadn't thought about the way he'd just silhouetted himself against the lit window of the orderly room behind him. Nor did he ever . . . just as he never heard the sharp "crack" of the rifled musket which killed him.



    Sir Dunkyn Yairley allowed himself to feel a profound sense of relief as he observed the same musket fire Symyn had seen and Harmyn had heard. Obviously, the Marines had gotten into position to cover the road from the main fortress west of the town. According to their spies' reports, there were at least three thousand men in that fortress' garrison. It was unlikely Major Zheffyr's two hundred Marines could hold them off forever, but surprise and confusion ought to keep them tied up for at least a while. Besides, Zheffyr's rate of fire and ring-mounted bayonets ought to go a fair way towards equalizing the odds between them.

    A cannon boomed from the fortress. Yairley had no idea what the gunners behind it thought they were firing at. God knew the fortress' garrison had to be hopelessly confused by the sudden eruption of explosions and flames from the quietly sleeping town below its lofty headland perch. For all Yairley knew, they actually thought they'd seen Charisian galleons standing in to the attack.

    At least two dozen ships were thoroughly ablaze. More were smoldering, and the stiff breeze was blowing sparks, cinders, and flaming debris from one ship to another. The warehouses which served the harbor were taking fire nicely, as well. Yairley hoped the flames wouldn't spread to the city proper, but he wasn't going to lose any sleep over the possibility.

    He looked out across the black mirror of the harbor, painted crimson with the rising torrents of flame, and saw more of his boats pulling strongly towards the merchant vessels anchored further out. He also saw more than a few boats pulling away from those vessels, as their vastly outnumbered anchor watches of merchant seamen beat hasty retreats.

    They're probably going to hear about things like "deserting their posts" later this morning, Yairley thought. Not that they could have accomplished anything — except getting themselves killed — if they'd stayed.

    "All right, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk," he said to the midshipman at his side. "Let's see to starting a few more fires of our own, and then I think it'll be time to go."

    "Aye, aye, Sir!" Aplyn-Ahrmahk replied with a huge grin, and twitched his head at Stywyrt Mahlyk. "Come along, Cox'in!," he said, and went trotting along the waterfront, blowing on his slow match while Mahlyk hauled out the first incendiary and Yairley tagged along behind.

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