"Whystlyr, you goddamned idiot!" Allayn Dekyn bellowed. "I told you no shooting, damn it!"


            "But the heretic bitch was going to –" the trooper began to protest.


            "I don't give a fuck what she was going to do! We're not out here to kill goddamned women who're only  –"


* * * * * * * * * *


            Greyghor reached his mother. Life aboard a square-rigged sailing ship was seldom easy, and never truly safe. Greyghor had seen men killed in accidents and in falls from aloft, seen at least one man lost overboard and drowned. And, as he looked at his mother, lying in the spreading pool of blood with the terrible wound in her chest, he knew death when he saw it once more.


            He didn't call her again. Didn't shout for his father. He didn't even think. He only leapt to the rail where his father had ordered the swivel-mounted wolf loaded after the galleon Diamond's crewmen had been beaten in on of Ferayd's alleys.


            The light guns Charisians called "wolves" came in several bores and weights of shot. The one mounted on the swivel on Wave's bulwark had an inch-and-a-half bore and threw a round shot that weighed just under half a pound. At the moment, however, it had been loaded with an entire bag of musket balls, instead, and Greyghor Walkyr's eyes blazed as he yanked it around, trained it on the men starting up the gangway, and snatched up the slowmatch whose glow had been hidden from dockside by the bulwark.


            He touched that glowing match to the wolf's priming, and a lightning-bolt muzzle flash shredded the night.


* * * * * * * * * *


            Allayn Dekyn never really registered the muzzle flash. There was no time before the charge of musket balls, like buckshot from an enormous shotgun, streaked straight down the gangway and ripped him, the trooper who'd fired the fatal shot, and three more of his platoon into bloody rags.


            The inquisitor who'd attached himself to the sergeant's platoon bellowed in shock as Dekyn's blood splashed over him in a hot, salty wave. For an instant, he couldn't move, could hardly even breathe. But then the poisonous power of his own panic touched his hatred for the "heretics" of Charis, and he whipped his head around to glare at the platoon's surviving twenty men.


            "What are you waiting for!?" he shrieked in a voice sharp-edged with terror-born fury. "Kill the heretics! Holy Langhorne and no quarter!"


* * * * * * * * * *


            "Damn it!" Tohmys Kairmyn swore savagely as the flash of Wave's wolf lit the entire waterfront like the rakurai of Langhorne. "What the hell –?"


            He chopped himself off abruptly, remembering the upper-priest standing at his side, but the question continued furiously through his brain. So much for Sir Vyk's orders to do this quietly!


            "It had to be the heretics," Father Styvyn grated. Kairmyn looked at him, and the Intendant shrugged angrily. "That was no arbalest, Captain! I may not be a soldier, but even I know that much. And that means it came from the accursed heretics. Of course their very first response is to resort to the cowardly murder of men serving God's will! What else should you expect from Shan-wei's murderous get?"


            Kairmyn couldn't fault the Schuelerite's analysis of who'd fired that shot, although he might have quibbled with the last couple of sentences. Which, unfortunately, did nothing to stop what was about to happen out there in the darkness.


* * * * * * * * * *


            All along the harbor's piers, Delfarahkan soldiers and sailors who'd been quietly approaching their assigned objectives heard and saw the wolf's discharge. So did the harbor watches aboard the Charisian ships they'd come to seize, and the Delfarahkans heard shouts from aboard those vessels, heard ships' bells clanging the alarm, heard bare feet beginning to run across deck planking as the the rest of the galleons' crewmen responded to the duty watch's shouts.


            For a moment, the boarding parties hesitated. But only for a moment. Then the orders of their own sergeants, the passionate shouts of the inquisitors who'd attached themselves to the boarders, sent them charging forward, rushing the gangways in an effort to get aboard before more resistance could be organized.


            Startled merchant seamen, still running towards the rails of their own ships while they tried to figure out what was happening, found themselves face-to-face with armed soldiers, charging up the gangways to their ships. Quite a few of those seamen turned and ran, but Charisian sailors weren't noted for their timidity. Storm, shipwreck, and pirates tended to weed out the weaklings ruthlessly, and like Lyzbet Walkyr, defiance and a fierce defense were their natural response to any threat to their ships.


            Men snatched up belaying pins and marlinespikes. Others, whose captains, like Edymynd Walkyr, had felt the tension building, grabbed the cutlasses which had been quietly broken out, instead, and and here and there along the waterfront, other loaded wolves flashed and thundered.


* * * * * * * * * *


            "Langhorne!" Kevyn Edwyrds exclaimed.


            He and Harys Fyshyr found themselves side by side at Kraken's after rail, staring towards the dockside. Kraken hadn't been able to find room alongside one of the piers when she arrived, and she was anchored a good fifteen hundred yards out into the harbor. Which was close enough to see and hear even light artillery being fired in the middle of the night.


            "Those bastards!" Fyshyr snapped an instant later. "They're trying to seize our ships!"


            "You're right about that, Sir. And look there!"


            Fyshyr followed Edwyrds's pointing finger, and his lips drew back in a snarl as he saw the pair of launches pulling towards Kraken. The rowers had clearly been surprised by the sudden tumult from the port. Even as he watched, their stroke redoubled, but they obviously hadn't expected the alarm to be raised this soon, and they were still at least ten minutes away from Kraken.


            And ten minutes will be more than long enough, he thought viciously.


            "All hands!" he bellowed. "All hands, repel boarders!"