Ferayd Harbor and


Main Shipping Channel,


Ferayd Sound,


Kingdom of Delfarahk


            Sir Vyk Lakyr swore violently as another broadside lit the night. At least his harbor batteries were finally beginning to shoot back, but that was remarkably little comfort under the circumstances.


            He stood in an open freight door on the second floor of one of the dockside warehouses, under the gaunt, looming arm of the gantry used to raise crates and casks to it. He'd chosen his lofty perch as an improvised command post when the bedlam, shouts, shots, and screams had made it painfully obvious his effort to accomplish his orders with a minimum of violence and bloodshed had come to nothing. He had no idea what had initially precipitated the violence, but even the fragmentary reports he'd already received made it abundantly clear that what had been supposed to be a quiet, orderly property seizure had turned instead into something with all the earmarks of a massacre.


            Not that it had all been one-sided, he thought grimly. None of the Charisian merchant ship's company's were large enough to hold off his troops and borrowed naval seamen more than briefly, but some of them, at least, had clearly cherished at least some suspicion about what was coming. Many of them had had weapons ready to hand, and they'd managed to fight back hard — hard enough to inflict more than enough casualties to infuriate his men. And the even more infuriated, consecrated voices of the inquisitors who'd attached themselves to his boarding parties without Father Styvyn's having happened to mention their intention to Sir Vyk had helped turn that completely natural anger and fear into outright bloodlust.


            Even as he watched, another of the Charisian galleons caught fire, joining the two already blazing at dockside. At least it didn't appear that the flames were going to communicate themselves to any of the warehouses, but they provided a suitably hellish illumination, and he could see at least one galleon which was still holding off every attempt to get aboard. It looked as if the crews of two or three other Charisians must have managed to get aboard her — probably by swimming when their own ships were taken — and even as he watched, another wolf fired from the ship's high bulwarks. There were even matchlocks firing down from her, and someone was throwing lit hand grenades down onto wharf, as well.


            That, he was grimly certain, was only going to make the attackers even more savage when they finally overpowered the defenders, although it was unlikely anything could have made them less savage after what had already happened.


            And the fact that I'm technically the one in command of this rat-fuck means I'm the one who's going to be blamed for it by the Charisians, he thought even more grimly.


            He didn't much care for that, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that no man wanted to be remembered as a bloody murderer, especially when he'd done his very best to avoid getting anyone killed. At the moment, however, he had other things to occupy his worry, and his teeth clenched as yet another broadside thundered out of the dark, sweeping the embrasures of one of his waterfront batteries with a storm of grapeshot.


            Obviously, at least one of the galleons anchored out there had been a disguised privateer. The good news was that the number of guns which could be concealed behind disguised gunports was limited. The bad news was that the guns in question — much heavier, from the sound of things, than he would have thought could have been successfully concealed —  were clearly some of those new, quick-firing Charisian pieces he'd heard about . . . and the gun crews behind them manifestly knew what they were doing with them.


            The galleon swept steadily, majestically, across the waterfront under topsails and jibs alone, firing savagely at the harbor batteries. Here and there, one of the slower-firing defending guns got off a shot in reply, but even though Lakyr couldn't make out many details through the smoke, darkness, and glare, it didn't look to him as if his gunners were scoring very many hits. And they obviously weren't coming even close to matching the Charisian's rate of fire.


* * * * * * * * * *


            Screams from forward told Captain Fyshyr Kraken had just taken another hit. That was the fourth, and whatever her other qualities might have been, Fyshyr's ship had never been designed and built as a true warship. In some ways, her thinner scantlings actually worked in her favor, since they tended to produce fewer and smaller splinters than the heavier sides of a warship. On the other hand, they also offered negligible resistance to the round shot slamming into her, and he'd already had at least seven men killed and twice that many wounded.


            Which is less than we've cost the bastards! he thought with savage satisfaction.


            Kraken's broadside and bulwark-mounted wolves had caught the pair of Delfarahkan launches headed for her completely by surprise. The wolves alone probably would have been enough to slaughter the launch crews, but the twelve thirty-pounder carronades in her port  broadside, sweeping the water with double charges of grapeshot, had reduced the launches themselves to splintered driftwood. There'd been no survivors from either of them.


            Nor had Kraken been idle since. She was the only Charisian ship in the entire harbor which could truly be considered armed, and she could only be in one place at a time, but she'd intercepted –and slaughtered — boarding parties headed for two other anchored galleons, and her own boarding parties had retaken three more. Fyshyr had too few men to divert to still more boarding parties without depleting his gun crews or dangerously weakening Kraken's own ability to stand off boarding attempts. But in addition to the five ships her direct intervention had saved, three more had managed to join up with her. All of them had at least a few wolves — enough to discourage any more boat crews from trying to get alongside them, now that their crews knew what was happening, at any rate — and Fyshyr had taken his own ship in as close to the waterfront batteries as he dared, scourging their embrasures with grapeshot in an effort to suppress their fire while other Charisian ships tried to fight their way out of the chaos closer in.


            It didn't look as if very many of them were going to make it.


            A third galleon caught fire, and Fyshyr's teeth ached from the pressure of his jaw muscles. He had no idea who'd set the flames aboard any of those ships, but unlike the seamen of most other nations, who had a tendency to sink like stones in deep water, Charisian seamen, by and large, swam like fish.  Kraken had already recovered at least a dozen swimmers from the harbor water, and their gasped out, fragmentary accounts — plus the number of bodies Fyshyr himself had seen floating in the flame-mirrored harbor — made it horrifyingly clear what was going on aboard the beleaguered merchantmen. Even if they hadn't, he'd been close enough to see one of the galleons himself, silhouetted against the flames beyond her, as Delfarahkan boarders dragged struggling Charisians to the side of their ship. Blades had flashed in the fuming glare, and then the suddenly limp, no longer struggling bodies had splashed into the water like so much refuse.


            "That's it, Sir!" Kevyn Edwyrds shouted almost in his ear. Fyshyr looked at him, and Kraken's first officer grimaced. "No one else is getting out of that, Sir!" Edwyrds said, waving one arm at the chaos, violence, and flames roaring along the wharves. "It's time to go!"


            Fyshyr wanted to argue, to reject Edwyrds' evaluation, but he couldn't. There were too many Delfarahkan troops swarming over the galleons tied up at dockside. For that matter, most of the anchored Charisian merchantmen had already been taken by boated boarders, as well. Kraken and the eight ships following in her wake were the only escapees he could see, and the others weren't going to make it to sea without Kraken's continued protection.


            "You're right," he admitted. "Shape a course for Spider Crab Shoal; we'll take the main channel."