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?