Had Sergeant Dekyn only known it, he was scarcely the only Delfarahkan who cherished reservations about the upcoming operation's timing and his own part in it. Captain Hauwyrd Mahkneel, of the galley Arrowhead, agreed with him completely about that much, at least.


            Mahkneel's ship had been detailed to cover the main shipping channel out of Ferayd Sound. It would have been nice if they'd been able to find another ship to support Arrowhead, especially if they wanted to do this on a moonless night while the tide was going out. The channel between Flying Fish Shoals and Spider Crab Shoal began almost a hundred miles from the waterfront itself, and it was over twelve miles wide. Expecting a single galley to guard that much water against the flight of any of the Charisian merchant ships in the harbor went beyond ridiculous to outright stupid, in his considered opinion.


            Not that anyone had been particularly interested in asking his opinion, of course.


            He stood atop the galley's aftercastle, looking up at the heavens. At least the timing meant that any fleeing galleons wouldn't reach his own position until after dawn, so he ought to have light to spot them. Assuming the weather cooperated. The stars were clear enough . . . for now, but he didn't much like the way that growing bank of clouds was blotting out the starscape to the north as the wind carried the overcast steadily southward.


            And that was another thing, he groused to himself. Not only had the people who'd planned this overlooked the interesting little fact that any fugitives were going to catch the ebb tide at both ends, but the wind wasn't likely to cooperate, either.  The sound was just past high water, which, given the thirteen-and-a-half-hour tidal cycle and the probable speed of any fleeing galleons under the current wind conditions, meant the tide would be ebbing again, setting strongly through the channels to the open sea, by the time any fugitives got this far south. That, along with the fact that the wind was almost straight out of the north-northwest, would favor any galleon making for the main channel or for the East Pass, between East Island and Breakheart Head, as well. And with wind and tide both in its favor, even something as fundamentally clumsy as a  galleon — and Charisian galleons, at least a third of which seemed to have the new sail plans, were far less clumsy than most — might well elude even a well handled galley.


            At which point none of Mahkneel's superiors would particularly care how well handled Arrowhead might have been. Or about the fact that Mahkneel had been required to give up over half his hundred and fifty Marines and a quarter of his three hundred oarsmen for the boarding parties Sir Vyk Lakyr had required. It was tempting to blame Lakyr for that, but Mahkneel knew the garrison commander hadn't had any more choice about his orders than Mahkneel himself did if he was going to scare up the necessary personnel and boats.


            And, when you come right down to it, it's past time someone did something about these damned heretics and their lies, Mahkneel thought grimly. This may not be the smartest possible way to go about it, but at least someone's finally doing something!


            "All hands will be ready to man their stations an hour before first light, Sir," a voice said, and Mahkneel turned away from the rail as Rahnyld Gahrmyn, Arrowhead's first officer, appeared beside him.


            "I notice you didn't say all stations will be fully manned and ready, like a good first lieutenant should, Master Gahrmyn," Mahkneel observed with a tart smile.


            "Well, no, Sir," Gahrmyn admitted. "First lieutenants are supposed to be truthful, after all. And given how thin we're stretched, I thought that probably would have been something of an exaggeration."


            "Oh, you did, did you?" Mahkneel chuckled sourly. "An 'exaggeration, hey?"


            Gahrmyn had been with him for almost two years now. The captain had cherished a few doubts about the lieutenant initially. After all, Mahkneel was a sailor of the old school, and he'd been more than a little leery of an officer who spent his off-duty time reading and even writing poetry. But over the months they'd served together, Gahrmyn had amply demonstrated that however peculiar his taste in off-duty recreation might be, he was as sound and reliable an officer as Mahkneel had ever known.


            "Well, 'exaggeration' sounds better than calling it an outright lie, doesn't it, Sir?"


            "Maybe." Mahkneel's smile faded. "Whatever you call it, though, it's a damned pain in the arse."


            "I don't believe anyone's likely to disagree with you about that, Sir. I'm not, anyway."


            "I wish they'd been able to find at least one other galley to help us cover the channel," Mahkneel complained for what was — by his own count — at least the twentieth time.


            "If they'd given us another few days, they probably could have," Gahrmyn pointed out.


            "I know. I know!" Mahkneel glowered back in the general direction of the city . . . and of the oncoming clouds. "I don't like the smell of the wind, either," he complained. "There's rain behind those clouds, Hauwyrd. You mark my words."


            Gahrmyn only nodded. Mahkneel's feel for weather changes was remarkable.


            "While I'd never want to appear to be criticizing our esteemed superiors, Sir," he said instead, after a moment, "I must say I'm not certain this is the wisest way to go about this."


            "Wallowing around all by ourselves in the dark like a drunk, blind whore at a formal ball?" Mahkneel cracked a hard laugh. "What could be unwise about that?"


            "I wasn't just referring to the timing, Sir," Gahrmyn said.


            "No?" Mahkneel turned back around to look at him in the faint backwash from the port running light. "What do you mean, then?"


            "It's just . . . ." Gahrmyn looked away from his captain, gazing out into the darkness. "It's just that I have to wonder if closing our ports is the best way to deal with the situation, Sir."


            "It's not going to be pleasant for Ferayd, I'll grant you that," Mahkneel replied. "It's going to be even less pleasant for those damned heretics, though!"


            The captain couldn't see Gahrmyn's expression as the lieutenant looked away from him, and perhaps that was as well. Gahrmyn paused for a few seconds, considering his next words carefully, then turned back towards Mahkneel.


            "I'm sure it is going to be painful for Charis, Sir. As you've said,, though, it's also going to be painful for Ferayd. And this isn't the only port where that's going to be true. I'm afraid that ordering the ports closed is going to be a lot easier than keeping them closed once the trade really starts drying up."


            "You may have a point," Mahkneel acknowledged. "But if that happens, it's going to be up to us and the rest of the Navy to see to it that anyone who might be tempted to cooperate with these godless apostates gets shown the error of his ways, too."


            "I just hope we'll have enough ships to do the job, Sir."


            "Mother Church is building enough that we ought to," Mahkneel half-grunted. Something about Gahrmyn's last comment bothered him. The lieutenant had an unfortunately valid point about the difficulties the Navy was likely to face keeping the bottle corked. There'd always be at least some men shortsighted enough to be more concerned with money in their pockets than where and how their souls would spend eternity, after all. And it was going to take a lot of galleys to enforce Vicar Zhaspahr's orders; anyone but an idiot had to see that coming! But Mahkneel had the oddest feeling that Gahrmyn's observation hadn't been what the lieutenant had started out to say.


            "I hope you're right, Sir," Gahrmyn continued, a bit more briskly. "And, with your permission, I'll just go and take one last turn around the ship before I turn in. Given how shorthanded we are, I don't see how it could hurt."


            "Neither do I, Rahnyld," Mahkneel agreed with a smile, and the lieutenant touched his left shoulder with his right fist in salute and disappeared back into the darkness.