One of the new Charisian innovations had been the introduction of the heliograph, using reflected sunlight to transmit messages in what another world in another time would have called “Morse code.” Another had been the construction of specifically designed landing craft. They came in two sizes, with the larger capable of landing field artillery or up to a hundred men at a time, while the smaller (and faster) version could land only forty, Although both designs were capable — theoretically, at least — of making extended independent passages under sail, the shallow draft and flat bottoms designed to make over-the-beach landings possible also made them less than ideal blue-water vessels at the best of times. Sir Dustyn Olyvyr had improved things at least a bit by providing them with retractable leeboards, but the smaller ones (almost half the total) had made the voyage from Charis as deck cargo, and the captains responsible for getting them to Corisande had not been delighted by their assignment.

At the moment, Cayleb’s sympathy for their unhappiness was limited, to say the least. The deck cargo landing craft had been swayed out the day before to join their bigger, rather more weather worn sisters who’d made the passage the hard way, and while Dairos’ defenders’ attention was glued to the galleons systematically reducing the harbor’s seaward defenses to wreckage, Clareyk and Haimyn had busied themselves putting their two Marine brigades ashore just out of sight of the town’s fortifications. They had only four batteries of field guns, and no siege artillery at all, to support them, but four thousand rifle-armed Marines wouldn’t need a lot of artillery support.

“Someone ask Father Clyfyrd to join us. I think it’s time to send another note ashore.” The emperor showed his teeth in a tight smile. “I realize Baron Dairwyn wasn’t especially impressed by his brother-in-law’s letters. Frankly, I wouldn’t have been impressed by anything from Grand Duke Zebediah, either. But the beating his batteries have taken ought to be enough to incline him to see reason even without having Clareyk and Haimyn ashore behind him.”

“It seems likely, at any rate, Your Majesty,” Captain Gyrard agreed.

“It better,” Cayleb said in a harder, somehow darker voice. “If we have to storm his town, it’s going to get ugly. I realize our men are better disciplined than most, but even Siddarmarkian pikemen’s discipline can slip if they take heavy casualties. Especially if they take them storming a position everyone on both side knows couldn’t hold out against them in the end. Besides, even if our people behave themselves perfectly, there are civilians — lots of them, including women and children — in Dairos.”

“Were you thinking of making that point to the Baron in your note, Your Majesty?” Merlin asked, and Cayleb barked a laugh at his bodyguard’s painstakingly neutral tone.

“As a matter of fact, yes. But tactfully, Merlin — tactfully. I wasn’t thinking of handling this the same way I handled Earl Thirsk, if that’s the point you were delicately raising. Observe.”

Father Clyfyrd had arrived, portable writing desk in hand, while Cayleb was speaking. The emperor watched his secretary setting up the desk and pulling out a pad of notepaper. The brisk breeze blowing across the deck caught at the edges of the pad’s sheets, ruffling them exuberantly, and Cayleb quirked an eyebrow at Laimhyn as the priest grabbed the pad, set it on the desk, and jabbed a pair of pushpins through the bottom corners of the top sheet to tame its gyrations.

“Would it be easier on you if we went below, Clyfyrd?” the emperor asked then with grave courtesy . . . and careful timing.

“No, thank you, Your Majesty.” Laimhyn’s deadpan expression would have done credit to any trained stage actor, and he shook his head courteously. “By the strangest turn of fate I appear to have just this instant finished tacking down the notepaper. A peculiar coincidence of timing, I’m certain.”

“Goodness,” Cayleb said demurely. “That is astonishing, isn’t it?”

A sniff, barely audible over the sound of wind humming through Empress of Charis’ rigging, might have escaped from Laimhyn. Then again, it might have been only the onlookers’ imagination.

“Truly,” Cayleb said, his expression much more serious, “are you ready, Clyfyrd?”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Laimhyn replied, his tone equally serious, and dipped his pen in the desk’s inkwell.

“Make sure it’s properly addressed,” Cayleb told him. “Use some of that correspondence of Zebediah’s to be sure we get the details straight. And I’ll rely on you to choose a properly polite salutation.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Very well.”

The emperor cleared his throat, then began.

“My Lord, your men have fought with a gallantry and determination which deserves only praise and honor, but their position is now hopeless. Your defensive batteries are destroyed or too badly damaged to effectively defend themselves any longer, and my infantry is now ashore in strength and will shortly be prepared to assault your landward defenses. Men who have shown such bravery in action deserve better than to be killed when their position has become obviously untenable, and Dairos is a city, not a fortress citadel. I am confident that neither of us desires to find civilians — especially women and children — caught in battle in the middle of their own town, amid their own homes, churches, and shops. In order to avoid additional and ultimately profitless loss of life, both military and civilian, I once again urge you to surrender your position. I will guarantee civil order, the safety of your civilian population, and the preservation of private property in so far as the exigencies of war allow, and men who have fought as valiantly and steadfastly as your men have this day deserve, and will receive, honorable and correct treatment under the laws of warfare.”

He paused, as if considering adding something else, then shrugged.

“Read that back, please, Clyfyrd.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” The priest read the entire brief message aloud, and Cayleb nodded.

“I think that should just about do it. Make a clean copy for my signature. And let’s be certain it’s properly sealed, as well as addressed. I don’t want the Baron thinking we dashed it off hastily, now do I?”

“No, Your Majesty.”

Laimhyn bowed to the emperor, and this time he did retire to the shelter of Cayleb’s day cabin to produce the formal note on Cayleb’s personal stationery, complete with the properly correct and ornate calligraphy.

“There,” Cayleb told Merlin. “You see? No crude threats. Just one reasonable man sending a note to another reasonable man.”

“Much smoother than your conversation with Thirsk, Your Majesty,” Merlin agreed respectfully. “I especially liked the bit at the end when you didn’t say ‘or else.'”

“Yes, I thought that was well done myself,” Cayleb said with a smile.