He snorted in quiet amusement at the direction of his own thoughts. Then his head snapped up as a thunderous explosion rolled across the smoke-layered waters of White Sail Bay. One of the floating batteries still in action against the Charisian galleons had just disappeared in an enormous fireball, and flaming fragments traced lines of smoke across the sky as they arced outward.

“A spark in a magazine, I believe you said, Merlin,” Cayleb said harshly.

“Probably,” Merlin agreed sadly. “On the other hand, they still haven’t figured out how to produce corned powder. Even with bagged charges, the way their gunpowder tends to separate and throw out dust clouds is dangerous enough under any circumstances. Given what it has to be like aboard those batteries by this time . . . .”

He shook his head, and Cayleb nodded in agreement. Then he looked over his shoulder at Empress of Charis’ captain.

“Make a signal, Andrai. Instruct Admiral Nylz to temporarily disengage. That’s better than half their batteries gone, and even the ones still in action have to be in bad shape. Let’s give them a chance to think about the advantages of surrender before we kill any more of them.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Captain Gyrard said, and bowed to his monarch. Gyrard had been promoted to his present post after being wounded in action while serving as first lieutenant aboard Cayleb’s last flagship. He, too, had only too good an idea of what it must be like aboard those shattered batteries, and his expression made it obvious he agreed wholeheartedly with Cayleb’s decision as he nodded to his signal officer, who’d been standing by, waiting for instructions.

“You heard His Majesty. Make the signal to disengage.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.” The lieutenant touched his shoulder in salute, then began issuing orders of his own.

As the signal flags started to climb the halyards, Cayleb turned back to the still-rising column of smoke where the battery had exploded and grimaced.

“I could wish we’d been wrong about Hektor’s ingenuity,” he said. “If he’s managed to cobble up something like this to defend Dairos, what has he come up with for one of his major ports?”

“Probably more than we’d care to tangle with unless we absolutely have to,” Merlin replied.

“At least his logistics problems have to be more complex than ours, if only because of his ammunition problems, Your Majesty,” Captain Gyrard pointed out, and Cayleb grunted in agreement.

The Royal Charisian Navy had standardized the armament of its galleons long before it had become the Imperial Charisian Navy. Ships like Empress of Charis carried the newest artillery, which was actually a bit lighter than the guns Cayleb had taken to Armageddon Reef and Darcos Sound. Ehdwyrd Howsmyn and Baron Seamount had seen no choice before the previous year’s campaign but to use the existing kraken for their standard artillery piece. It had already been the closest thing to a standard heavy gun the Navy had boasted, so there’d been enough of them to give the fleet a useful initial stock, once Howsmyn had figured out how to add trunnions.

But although it had been the only practical choice, it hadn’t been the one Seamount had really wanted, for several reasons. The biggest one was that the “standard” kraken, unlike the larger and longer “great kraken,” or “royal kraken,” had been intended as a comparatively short-ranged, smashing weapon. Even with the new powder, its relatively short barrel length had reduced the velocity and range of its shot, with a corresponding drop in accuracy at longer ranges. In addition, when Howsmyn had reamed out the bores to standardize them and reduce windage, he’d had to go to a heavier weight of shot than Seamount had wanted. The baron had experimented with several different shot weights, trying to find the best balance between hitting power and the speed with which human muscles could load the weapons. Especially the sustained speed with which they could be loaded. Those experiments had suggested that reducing shot weight even slightly would help substantially, so he and Howsmyn had designed somewhat different models and adopted them once they began producing only newly cast weapons.

The new-model weapons had longer gun tubes, but they also had reduced bores, so they weighed no more than the older guns. The change hadn’t made much difference where the upper-deck carronades were concerned, but it had given the much longer and heavier main-deck guns greater muzzle velocity and striking power, despite the reduction in each shot’s weight by almost eight pounds.

The change had its downsides, of course. The most prominent one was that it had introduced at least some ammunition complications, since the older galleons still mounted their original converted krakens, whose ammunition was not interchangeable with the guns mounted aboard the newer vessels.

Compared to most navies, however, the Charisian Navy’s ammunition arrangements were simplicity itself. Howsmyn and Seamount had settled on a total of four “standard” long guns: the “new-model kraken” with its roughly thirty-pound shot, an eighteen-pounder, a fourteen-pounder (intended specifically for chase armaments, with an especially tight windage to enhance accuracy), and a ten-pounder (for the same role aboard lighter ships). Their carronade “stablemates” were a fifty-seven-pounder, a thirty-pounder, and an eighteen-pounder. That was an enormous improvement over the “old-model” artillery, which had included no less than fifteen “standard” long gun calibers. (Not to mention the fact that guns of nominally the same bore size frequently hadn’t been able to use the same round shot because different foundries’ “inches” had been a different length from one another before King Harahld’s draconian enforcement of the new official standards of measurement.)

They’d sought to further simplify things by decreeing that each individual ship must mount the same caliber of carronades and long guns, at least for broadside armament. They were willing to be a bit more flexible where the chase armament was concerned, but the fact that all of the broadside weapons fired identical projectiles made both the gunners’ and the purser’s lives ever so much easier. For the moment, at least. Personally, Merlin suspected it wasn’t going to be long before the neat “official establishment” began to leak. As more specialized galleon designs evolved and the differentiated frigate/cruiser and ship-of-the-line/battleship emerged, topweight considerations and designed combat roles were going to begin dictating a reversion to mixed armaments.

The Corisandians’ rush to improvise as many as possible of the “new-model” guns had left them in a far less enviable position, however, with no time to waste working out any sort of standardized table of naval ordnance. Their new guns appeared to come in no more than one or two calibers, but the conversions with the welded-on trunnions had pressed as many existing guns as possible into service. One of the floating batteries engaged against them in Dairos’ defense had obviously mounted at least three, and possibly four, different calibers, which must have created nightmares for the man responsible for getting the right size and weight of shot to each gun.

Which, unfortunately, Cayleb reflected, doesn’t keep those guns from being damnably effective when the gunners do get the right shot size.

“Your Majesty, we’ve just received a signal from General Chermyn.” Gyrard’s polite voice interrupted Cayleb’s thoughts, and the emperor turned to the flag captain.

“And what did the General have to say?” he asked.

“Brigadier Clareyk has reported by heliograph, Your Majesty. He has his entire brigade ashore, and the second wave of Brigadier Haimyn’s troops are landing now. Brigadier Clareyk estimates both brigades will be in their assigned positions within the next thirty to forty minutes. An hour at the outside, he says.”

“Good!” Cayleb’s tight expression lightened slightly.