"Will you please come to bed?" Lyzbet Walkyr demanded.


            "What?" Edymynd Walkyr turned back from the rail as his wife appeared behind him. She looked at him for a moment, then folded her arms and shook her head.


            "I said that it's time you came to bed," she told him severely.


            "Yes, I know. I'm just . . . getting a little fresh air."


            "Standing up here trying to gather the courage to tell me you plan on leaving me home next time, you mean."


            Edymynd winced slightly at the directness of her acerbic challenge, but then he shrugged.


            "That's part of it, I guess," he admitted. "I'm sorry. I know it's going to make you unhappy — which probably means I'll be lucky to get back to sea myself without getting my head split open with a cookpot! But, there it is. I'm not going to have something happen to you, Lyz. I'm sorry, but I just can't do that."


            He couldn't see her face very well on the darkened  poop deck, but he recognized the softening in her body language. He didn't speak all that often of the depth of his love for her, although he knew she knew how deep it truly was. She stood there for another moment, then crossed to his side and put her arms about him.


            "Don't you dare cheat that way," she said softly, laying her cheek against his chest. "And don't think you can turn me up all soft and obedient with a little sweet talk!"


            "Oh, believe me, I'd never think that," Edymynd told her, hugging her back.


            "Good." She stood back, holding him by his upper arms as she gazed up into his face in the dim backwash of the anchor lights. "I wouldn't want you thinking I'm going soft in my old age. But –" she leaned closer and kissed him "– if that's the way you're going to be about it, I suppose I'm going to have to put up with it. This time, anyway."


            Edymynd was wise enough not to breathe any prayers of gratitude where she might hear them.


            "In that case," he said, instead, "let me make one more swing around the deck, and then I'll be happy to come below and turn in."


            "Good," she repeated, in an entirely different tone, and he grinned as he heard the challenge — and promise — in her voice.


            He gave her another quick kiss, patted her on her still remarkably firm and shapely posterior, and started forward.


* * * * * * * * * *


            "All right, let's go!" Sergeant Dekyn whispered harshly, and his platoon started moving silently — or as close to silently as twenty-five cow-footed infantry troopers were ever likely to move — down the length of the dimly illuminated pier.


            He glanced over his shoulder at the under-priest who'd attached himself to the platoon. Dekyn didn't much care for the priest's fervent manner. And he cared even less for the feeling that the platoon had two sergeants now. Or for the fact that the second one was senior to Dekyn himself.


            Enough room for things to go straight to hell already without having the troops looking to someone else for orders at the same time, he thought grumpily. Why, oh why, can't officers and priests just stay the Shan-wei out of the way and let the sergeants get on with handling the details?


            He returned his attention to the task at hand as he and his men neared the first vessel on their list. They were just coming even with the lantern at the foot of the ship's gangway when there was a sudden shout from further up the pier.


            "You, there! Stand aside! We're coming aboard!"


            "Shan-wei!" Dekyn swore as he recognized the voice.


            He'd never thought a great deal of Sergeant Zohzef Stywyrt, who ran the company's second platoon. In his considered opinion, Stywyrt was stupid enough to make a perfectly serviceable officer, but they'd both been present when Captain Kairmyn gave them their orders. Which meant even Stywyrt should have gotten his men aboard the very first ship on his list before he started shouting challenges from pierside!


            "Okay, let's pick it up!" he barked at his own men as shouts from the Charisian galleon's harbor watch responded to Stywyrt. The Charisians didn't sound very happy — or cooperative — and Stywyrt shouted something louder and considerably more obscene.


            "Idiot!" Dekyn muttered under his breath. "What the fuck does he –?"


            The sergeant's question chopped off as the shouts were abruptly punctuated by the unmistakable "chunnnng" sound of an arbalest's steel bow and a throat-tearing scream.


            "Goddamn it!" Dekyn snarled.


            Less than a minute into what's supposed to be a quick, quiet job, and that stupid son-of-a-bitch's already letting his men shoot civilians!


* * * * * * * * * *


            Greyghor Walkyr was fourteen Safeholdian years old. He'd spent almost a third of his life at sea on one of the family's two galleons, but this was the first voyage when he'd been allowed to actually begin discharging some of the duties of a real officer, rather than being stuck as a glorified cabin boy. It had been a heady experience, but even that hadn't been enough to blind him to the tension gripping his parents, especially since their arrival here in Ferayd. He didn't fully understand all the issues involved — in fact, he didn't fully understand any of the issues involved — in Charis' confrontation with the Church. He'd been too focused on his own suddenly expanding professional horizons to worry a great deal about that.


            Still, he'd felt the anxiety, and — like his mother (and, for that matter, every other member of the crew, as well) — he knew exactly where his father went to worry about things aboard Wave. He wasn't about to intrude upon his parents. His ears would have rung for five-days from the clout his mother would have fetched him if he'd dared to do anything of the kind! On the other hand, a junior officer, even one in the early stages of his training and career, had certain responsibilities. Which was why Greyghor had taken to making his own quiet rounds of the ship before turning in at night.


            He'd been careful not to get too close to his father and mother as he waited for them to go below so he could be about his self-assigned additional duties without the undoubtedly sarcastic comments they would have made if they'd realized what he was up to. But he was close enough to see his mother's head snap up as voices shouted somewhere further along the pier. Greyghor was still trying to figure out exactly which direction the shouting had come from when it was interrupted by the most horrible scream he'd ever heard in his life.


            He jerked to his feet from where he'd been seated on a coil of rope and started across the deck towards his mother just as she crossed to the pierside bulwark with three or four quick strides. She grasped the rail, looking down towards the pier.


            "Who are you?!" she shouted suddenly. "What d'you think you're doing?!"


            The shout from dockside was too indistinct for Greyghor to understand. Something about "Mother Church's name," he thought, even as he heard his father shouting something urgent at his mother from further forward.


            "Stand off!" his mother barked. She charged down the steep poop deck ladder to the main deck and towards the head of the gangplank. "Stand off, I tell you!"


            "We're coming aboard!"


            This time, Greyghor understood the shout from the pier, despite the Delfarahkan accent of the shouter.


            "The Shan-wei you are!" his mother shouted back, and snatched a belaying pin from the pinrail beside the entry port. "This is my husband's ship, and you bastards aren't –"


            The meaty, ripping "thud" the arbalest quarrel made as it tore through his mother's body in a spray of blood was the most horrible sound Greyghor Walkyr had ever heard.


            The impact threw her aside, without even crying out.


            "Mother!" Greyghor shrieked. He thundered across the deck towards her even while he heard fresh shouts — angry, conflicting shouts — coming from the pier.