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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Monday, March 24, 2008 07:23 EDT



August, Year of God 892

Schooner Blade and galleon Guardian,
off Lizard Island,
Hankey Sound

    "All right, Mr. Nethaul! Stand by the forward gun!"

    "Aye, aye, Sir!"

    Hairym Nethaul waved acknowledgment from his post on the schooner Blade's foredeck as the fleet, flush-decked privateer swept down upon its intended prey. Captain Ekohls Raynair, Blade's master and half-owner, stood by the wheel, brown eyes narrowly intent as he simultaneously watched the wind, the set of his sails, and the Dohlaran galleon upon which he had set his sights.

    "Let her fall off a quarter-point," he growled, and the helmsman nodded.

    "Aye, Cap'n," he replied, shifting his well-masticated wad of chewleaf to the other side of his mouth, and Raynair chuckled. It would have been hard to imagine anything less navy-style than the discipline aboard Blade, but it got the job done. He and his schooner were seven thousand miles from Charis as the wyvern flew, and better than three times that far as they'd actually sailed. That was a long, long way, but Raynair didn't care. It had taken almost three months to make the trip, even for a fast ship like Blade and her three consorts, and he didn't care about that, either.

    No, what Ekohls Raynair cared about was that he and his consortium partners had been right all along. It seemed abundantly clear that no one in Dohlar had entertained the least suspicion that Charisian privateers would operate so far afield. The four schooners — Blade, Ax, Cutlass, and Dirk – had cut a swath through the totally unwary Dohlaran merchant marine for almost a month now, and the expedition's books were looking very, very good.

    How nice of King Rahnyld to invest all that time and effort in making us rich, Raynair thought as his ship went slicing through the water like the very blade for which she was named. Of course, this wasn't exactly what he had in mind. But if you're stupid enough to go swimming with krakens, then you're lucky if all that happens is you get back a bloody stump.

    Rahnyld IV's ambitions to build a merchant marine from scratch were no doubt laudable, from a Dohlaran viewpoint. Raynair didn't see it that way. His father and one of his uncles had been the master and first mate (and joint owners) of a Charisian merchant ship which had come calling in the Gulf of Dohlar twelve years before and run afoul of a Dohlaran war galley in the approaches to Silkiah Bay. They hadn't even been headed for a Dohlaran port — their cargo had been bound for a spice merchant in the Grand Duchy of Silkiah — but that hadn't mattered.

    King Rahnyld had decided that the Gulf of Dohlar, Hankey Sound, and Silkiah Bay ought to be closed waters. He'd started out by levying tolls on anyone passing east of the Dohlar Bank and its cluster of islands. Then he'd started pushing his area of operations further west. Eventually, he'd extended his "protected area" as far as Whale Island, over a thousand miles from his own coastline. Claiming to exert some sort of police power over a stretch of saltwater that vast was not only unheard of, it was ridiculous. Charis, for example, like virtually every other maritime power on the planet, hewed to the older rule which held that a nation could claim sovereignty only over waters in which it could — and did — exercise an effective control. That didn't mean just extorting money out of passing merchant ships, either. It meant dealing with pirates, preventing acts of war by other naval powers, buoying and marking navigational hazards, updating charts, and generally making the children behave. Which, in turn, meant, for all practical purposes, that territorial waters were those which lay within long cannon shot of its coastline, which was generally agreed to be about three miles. Actually, even the three-mile limit was being overly generous, as everyone understood perfectly, well. And it was worth noting that somehow ships of the Harchong Empire had ended up exempt from King Rahnyld's "passage fees."

    Ahbnair and Wyllym Raynair hadn't seen any reason why they should pour their hard-earned golden marks into Rahnyld's pockets, either. Especially since it was obvious the entire "passage fee" demand was intended solely to bar non-Dohlaran merchant ships from the waters Rahnyld IV regarded as "his."

    No one in Charis knew exactly what had happened that afternoon in the waters between Hankey Sound and Silkiah Bay. The one thing they did know was that the galleon Raynair's Pride had been fired into, boarded, and then sunk by the Dohlaran Navy. Neither Ekohls' father, nor his uncle, had survived the experience, and only two of their crewmen had ever made it home again.

    There was a reason Ekohls Raynair had been less surprised than most when Rahnyld allied himself so eagerly with Hektor of Corisande, despite the fact that Dohlar and Corisande were damned nearly on opposite sides of the world from one another. And, the truth be told, it wasn't just the profit which had attracted Blade and her consorts to Dohlaran waters, either.

    He looked back across at the lumbering Dohlaran galleon. He could see why it was operating in the Gulf. One look at real blue water would probably have frightened the clumsy, high-sided, lubberly joke's crew to death. Fortunately, whatever the Church — or, for that matter, Rahnyld of Dohlar — might think about Charis, the imperial governor of Shwei Province appeared to understand that Charisian marks spent just as well as anyone else's. At the moment, he was doing quite well for himself, in a quiet sort of way, by allowing Raynair and his partners to dispose of prize ships and seized cargoes to Harchongese merchants at Yu-Shai, on Shwei Bay. How long that would last was anyone's guess, but for the moment at least, Raynair didn't have to worry about getting his captures all the way home to Charis.

    This particular galleon seemed more stubborn than most, Raynair reflected. Her master was continuing mulishly on his course rather than accepting the inevitable. He'd clapped on all the sail he had — which wasn't all that impressive to someone who'd seen the sail plans of Charisian galleons — and he was plodding along as if he actually thought he could evade the sleek, low-slung schooner.

    Well, he's about to find out better, Raynair thought.



    "Keep that damned fool's head below the bulwarks!" Captain Graygair Maigee snarled.

    The offending soldier ducked hastily back into concealment, and Maigee grunted in irate satisfaction. Then he turned his attention back to the Charisian vessel bearing down upon Guardian.

    Funny, he thought. This all seemed like a much better idea when they were explaining it to me back in Gorath Bay. Now I'm wondering what idiot thought it up. Of course, if anybody in the damned Navy actually knew his arse from his elbow, we wouldn't have landed in this mess in the first place!

    "Do you think he'll fire into us, or put a shot across our bows, Sir?" Airah Synklyr, his first officer, asked quietly.

    "How the hell do I know?" Maigee responded grumpily. It was a good question, though, he had to admit. "We'll find out when we find out, I suppose," he added.

    Which, unless I miss my guess, is going to happen very soon now.




    "All right, Mr. Nethaul — put a shot across his bow!"

    The forward gun thudded almost before Raynair had finished speaking, and he watched the plume of white water rise far beyond the galleon.

    Blade and her sisters had come from the Shumair Yard in Charis. They were basically duplicates of Sir Dustyn Olyvyr's design for the Royal Navy, but with a few minor changes to suit them for their private enterprise role. Their naval counterparts carried fourteen thirty-pounder carronades apiece, but Blade carried only ten carronades plus the long fourteen-pounder forward on one of the new "pivot mounts." Raynair didn't know who'd thought up the "pivot mount," and he didn't really much care.

    It consisted of an almost standard gun carriage that was mounted on a platform made of two heavy timbers, or skids, which were joined by four massive, evenly spaced blocks. The carriage had no wheels, however; instead, it slid along grooves cut into the skids when it recoiled. The skids themselves were secured to the deck by a pivot pin through the rearmost connecting block. The pin passed through the deck, and its lower end was secured to a two-foot-square timber. The point at which it passed through the deck was strengthened by a massive cast iron socket that extended half-way through the below-decks timber, and its upper end was heavily bushed where it joined to the skids, since it took the majority of the recoil forces when the gun fired. Castor wheels under the skids' front end rode a circular iron rail set into the deck, and by moving the front end along the rail and pivoting on the rear end, the entire mount could be trained around through a theoretical arc of three hundred and sixty degrees, although the ship's bowsprit and rigging blocked certain angles of fire. Rumor gave Baron Seamount credit for it, but all that Raynair really cared about was that the centerline mount permitted Blade's single long gun to be brought to bear anywhere in either broadside.

    There were limits to the size of gun the mount could take, and the long fourteen fired a much lighter shot than the carronades, but its range was longer, and it didn't really take the heaviest gun afloat to convince any reasonably sane merchant skipper that it was time to surrender his ship.



    "How the hell did they do that?" Synklyr demanded.

    "D'you think I know?" Maigee snarled back.

    In fairness, he knew it had been a rhetorical question. In fact, he wasn't certain Synklyr even realized he'd spoken aloud. None of which made him feel any happier at the fresh evidence of yet another of the apparently unending, devilish Charisian innovations.

    In fact, this was the closest Maigee had yet come to the new Charisian artillery, which he more than half-suspected was the real reason for most of his irritable tension. Virtually everyone in the Dohlaran Navy, from the Duke of Thorast down, was busy trying to downplay the effectiveness of the Charisian guns. Maigee supposed that was inevitable — obviously, he thought sardonically, pretending the Charisian guns don't work is much simpler than figuring out what what to do about them if it turns out they do work , after all — but it did damn-all for the poor bastard who found himself face-to-face with them.

    He longed to pull out his spyglass and take a good, long look at the schooner's armament, but spyglasses were rare aboard merchant ships at the best of times, and especially for one as deliberately down-at-the-heels as Guardian.

    "Stand ready, Mr. Synklyr," he said instead, then looked at his second officer. "It's time, Mr. Jynks," he said.



    "That's odd," Ekohls Raynair murmured to himself as the galleon finally accepted the inevitable and hove-to. He frowned, trying to decide what it was that was jabbing at the corner of his mind as Blade followed suit and Nethaul and a dozen heavily-armed seamen took the first cutter across to take possession of their prize. There was something –

    Then he found out what the "something" was.



    "Now!" Captain Maigee barked, and several things happened at once.

    The waiting soldiers rose to their feet, matchlocks ready, showing themselves over the high bulwark even as other, specially arranged sections of that  bulwark dropped suddenly, exposing the cannon mounted behind them. The guns were only falcons, throwing shot that weighed just under eight pounds. Guardian was only a converted merchant galleon, after all. She hadn't been built with artillery in mind, and each of those guns still weighed just over a ton apiece. It simply hadn't been practical to put any larger, heavier weapons aboard her, and if even a tenth of the tales about the new Charisian guns were true, her broadside was going to be far slower-firing. But the privateer had only five guns in each broadside, and Guardian had eighteen.



    Raynair's heart seemed to stop beating as the Dohlaran "merchant ship" suddenly bared its fangs. His mouth opened, but before he could get out the first order, the afternoon seemed to explode around him.

    There were at least a hundred musketeers aboard that ship. Now they rose from their places of concealment and opened fire on Blade's cutter. At that range, not even matchlocks were likely to miss, and the concentrated fire turned the cutter into a shattered, slowly sinking wreck filled with dead men and blood.

    The fact of Nethaul's death, along with the massacre of all of the rest of his boarding party, barely had time to begin to register before the Dohlaran's broadside thundered. They were only Dohlaran guns, but there were a lot of them, and obviously these gunners had a damned good idea about which end of the gun the round shot came out of. Several of them managed to miss, anyway, despite the ridiculously low range. Most of them did better than that, however, and screams erupted across Blade's deck as the Dohlaran fire ripped through Raynair's crew.

    That was terrible enough, but that same broadside brought down Blade's foremast in an avalanche of shattered spars and canvas. The foremast was actually the primary mast for a twin-masted schooner, and the tangled wreckage crippled Blade.

    "Fire!" Raynair heard someone else shouting with his voice, and four of the five carronades in the schooner's port broadside belched flame.



    "Yes!" Maigee cried as the Charisian ship's mast came thundering down. That was far better than he'd hoped for, and he could see at least a dozen men already down on the schooner's shot-ripped deck.

    But then the privateer disappeared behind a cloud of smoke of its own, and Maigee staggered as the fat, far heavier shot from the schooner's carronades slammed back into his own command.

    Guardian had been designed and built as a merchant vessel. Her timbers were lighter, her planking was thinner, than any naval architect would have demanded. In at least one way, that worked in her favor. Because her planking was so much thinner, the shattering impact of Blade's fire produced fewer and smaller splinters than would have been the case with a "proper warship's" heavier construction. On the other hand, her hull was packed with soldiers and seamen, and her lighter construction meant she was much more fragile than a warship would have been.

    Maigee's ears rang with the shrieks and screams of his own wounded. One of his guns took a direct hit, and the bulky timber of its clumsy, wheelless carriage disintegrated even as still more of the Charisian's heavy shot clawed great bleeding furrows through the ship's company. Guardian's guns outnumbered Blade's by better than three to one, and the Dohlaran had the advantage of surprise. But Blade's guns threw far heavier shot, and they fired much more rapidly.

    "Reload! Reload, damn your eyes!" He heard Synklyr shouting out of the smoke from somewhere forward. The first lieutenant's voice sounded harsh and distorted against the backdrop of screams. The musketeers were blazing away at the Charisian ship as quickly as they could reload, but the range to the schooner was much too great for any sort of accuracy.



    "Hit them — hit the bastards!" Raynair shouted even as the bosun led a rush of seamen with axes and hatchets forward to cut away the wreckage.

    Like most privateers, Blade carried a far larger crew than was actually required to work or fight the ship. The prize crews to take custody of their captures had to come from somewhere, after all. But the Dohlaran's deadly surprise must have killed or wounded at least thirty of Raynair's men. Counting Nethaul and his cutter's crew, the number was closer to sixty than to fifty, a voice somewhere deep inside informed him savagely. That was at least a third of his total ship's company.

    Yet there'd been a reason he'd demanded such relentless, unceasing gun drill and training during the long voyage from Charis. His port gun crews had taken heavy casualties, but replacements from the starboard guns came charging across to replace the dead and wounded. If Blade had been free to maneuver, things would have been very different. Unfortunately, the wreckage forward meant even the clumsy galleon could match her maneuverability.

    No, there was only one thing Ekohls Raynair could do now, and he bared his teeth as Blade's second broadside thundered.

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