Gray Harbor felt his own eyes narrowing in appreciation of the empress’ analysis. Chisholm had become a significant seapower only during the reign of King Sailys, yet Sharleyan clearly appreciated the way in which the command of the sea, properly applied, could hold even the most massive land power in check. She understood, he thought — understood the mobility advantages, the defensive possibilities, the way in which seapower made the most economic use of available manpower practical.

“Under the circumstances,” the empress continued, “I believe it behooves us to think in terms of encouraging Gorjah to accept the peaceful amalgamation of his kingdom into the Empire. I would hope that the fact that Cayleb saw fit to marry one of his adversaries, and to unite our house by marriage with that of yet another of his adversaries, as well, would already suggest to Gorjah that a resolution which leaves him not simply with his head, but even his crown as our vassal, is within the realm of possibilities. If we can contrive to offer him further motivation to consider such an outcome, I believe we certainly ought to be doing just that. Would you not agree, My Lord Gray Harbor?”
“Most assuredly I would, Your Majesty.” Gray Harbor half-rose from his chair to bow to her across the council table. “It simply hadn’t occurred to me to consider it in quite the terms you’ve just used. Nor, to be frank, would it have occurred to me to consider whether or not what happened in Ferayd would be likely to affect his thinking.”
“Nor to me, I confess, Your Majesty,” Archbishop Maikel said, his expression wry. “Yet, now that you’ve mentioned it, I must admit your point could be very well taken. On the one hand, what Domynyk did to Ferayd must weigh in the thinking of anyone who finds himself opposed to Charis, especially if he has cities in reach of the sea. No one will want the same thing to happen to one of his seaports, after all.
“At the same time, however, there’s the moral dimension to consider, and despite his ready acquiescence in the Group of Four’s plans, King Gorjah has never struck me as being willfully morally blind. The evidence of the Inquisition’s direct and intentional complicity in the Ferayd Massacre, and our much more measured response to it, won’t be lost upon him. Coupled with your own marriage to His Majesty and the generous terms granted to Emerald, it is, in fact, very likely he would believe, on the one hand, that any terms you and His Majesty chose to offer him would be honored, and, on the other hand, that Ferayd proves you are not, in fact, the slavering monsters the Group of Four has sought to portray in its propaganda. And, for that matter, I have no doubt Gorjah will be personally revolted by Graivyr and his fellows’ gloating pride in their part in mass murder. I don’t say he’ll be inspired to spontaneously offer his allegiance to Charis, but I do think it’s entirely possible his mind will be inclined towards accepting Charis’ sovereignty when the time comes.”
“I hope you’re correct about that, Your Eminence,” Sharleyan told him. “And my point is simply that if you are, the time to begin preparing the ground is now.”
“As you say, Your Majesty,” Gray Harbor replied.
“Excellent. Now,” she continued more briskly, “given Admiral Rock Point’s return, we find ourselves with considerably greater naval strength in home waters. It seems to me that it would be an unthrifty use of that strength to let it sit idle. I realize it’s winter, and that Charisians seem to lack a Chisholmian’s taste for winter weather,” she smiled, and this time one or two of the councilors laughed out loud, “yet it occurs to me that we might find employment for some of our cruisers completing the hunt for Delferakhan shipping wherever it may be found. In addition, however, I see no reason not to use some of them to make life as unpleasant as possible for the Group of Four in the Markovian Sea and the northern Gulf of Tarot, as well. I see no need to cast our net for Siddarmarkian merchantmen, or — especially — for those Charisian ships which seem to be flying Siddarmarkian flags these days. Nonetheless, all of our intelligence reports indicate that the Group of Four’s naval building programs are continuing to accelerate. I think it would be an excellent idea to disrupt the flow of strategic materials.”
She turned her head to look at Ahlvyno Pawalsyn, the Baron of Ironhill. Ironhill was the Keeper of the Purse, effectively the treasurer of Charis.
“I see from the report you handed us yesterday, My Lord, that even though Clyntahn’s distrust for Siddarmark is excluding the Republic from their building programs, they seem to be buying a great many of the naval stores they need from Siddarmarkian sources?”
“That’s correct, Your Majesty,” Ironhill said. “And even more from Fallos.”
“Well, in that case, I believe we should do something about that. I don’t imagine any of those naval stores are moving in those Charisian ships flying Siddarmarkian flags?”
“Ah, no, Your Majesty,” Wave Thunder replied with a crooked grin. “I think the ‘owners’ of those particular ships feel it might be . . . impolitic. For that matter, it would appear Clyntahn’s distrust of Siddarmark extends to keeping Siddarmarkians as a group as far removed as possible from their ship building projects. At any rate, Magwair is using almost exclusively non-Siddarmarkian bottoms to move his more critical naval stores. In fact, his quartermasters are avoiding Siddarmark-owned ships even when that policy occasions significant delays in delivery times.”
“How very thoughtful of him,” Sharleyan murmured with a lurking smile. Then she straightened in her chair and glanced at Gray Harbor again.
“My Lord,” she said, “I realize we already have privateers operating in those waters. Nonetheless, I want you to instruct Admiral Rock Point to deploy as many of his cruisers as he deems prudent to those same waters with orders to take, burn, and destroy any shipping employed by Vicar Allayn and his associates on their naval projects.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty.” Gray Harbor’s inclined head indicated as much approval of his instructions as obedience to them, and she smiled fleetingly at him.
“And if we’re going to employ our Navy most profitably, My Lord Ironhill,” she said, turning back to the keeper of the purse, “we’re going to have to come up with ways to pay for it. I’ve reviewed your latest revenue proposals, and I believe most of your points are well taken. However, I’d like you to consider in somewhat greater depth the possible impact on our own carrying trade of the new export duties you’ve sketched out. My concern is that although the rate doesn’t seem excessive, it will nonetheless drive up the prices our manufactories are forced to charge to foreign customers. At the moment, given the Group of Four’s efforts to close all mainland ports against us I’m loath to adopt any measure of our own which might chill our markets. And, to be honest, I think I’d prefer to avoid setting a precedent of export duties any sooner than we have to. Had you, perhaps, considered increasing import duties rather more, instead? I suspect we would be better placed to absorb even a substantial increase in the prices of luxuries, and more moderate increases in the cost of raw materials and foodstuffs, than we would be to absorb a drop in foreign demand for our own goods.”
Ironhill’s eyebrows arched in mingled surprise at her perceptiveness and respect for the point she’d raised, and Gray Harbor leaned back in his own chair with a faint smile. Ahlvyno Pawalsyn was one of his closer friends, and he respected the baron’s mind. At the moment, however, the Keeper of the Purse’s surprise frustrated the first councilor almost as much as it amused him.
Come on, Ahlvyno, he thought sardonically. You’re smarter than that. God knows, you’re ten times as smart as White Church, at any rate! I know she’s young, I know she’s foreign-born, and I know she’s female. But you — and the rest of the Council — better start figuring out that it’s entirely possible she’s even smarter than Cayleb, and at least as forceful. Because, trust me, anyone who doesn’t figure that out is really, really not going to enjoy what she does to him.
The earl propped his elbows on the arms of his comfortable chair, crossed his legs, and watched the young woman seated at the head of the table effortlessly controlling and directing almost twenty men, the youngest of whom was probably at least twice her own age.
Those idiots in Zion haven’t got the least idea of what they turned loose against themselves when they pissed her off, he thought gratefully and perhaps — just perhaps — a tiny bit complacently. They may think they’ve seen bad, already. They’re wrong about that, though. They haven’t even begun to see bad yet . . . but it’s coming.