BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 109:
Captain Mahkneel paced slowly, steadily back and forth along the aftercastle rail, hands clasped behind him as he wondered how things were working out in Ferayd. If everything had gone according to schedule — and as planned — then every Charisian ship in the harbor had been taken hours ago. Of course, things very seldom did do according to schedule — and as planned — did they?
He grimaced at the thought, then glanced up at the steadily lightening sky to the east. It was only a distinct, featureless gray, for the clouds he'd observed the night before had thickened and spread, until only a thin band of clear, starry sky remained visible along the southern horizon. The wind had picked up, as well, raising whitecaps as it came rolling across Ferayd Sound, and swung a little further around to the north. Arrowhead's motion was markedly rougher than it had been, with a hard, bouncing pitch as she plowed into the wind, and the first drops of rain had pattered down across the galley's upper decks almost two hours ago. At least it wasn't still raining at this particular moment, but visibility wasn't going to be very good, even after the sun came up, and he grunted unhappily as he admitted that to himself.
If any of the bastards did get away, we'll probably be seeing them sometime in the next few hours, he thought. Although exactly what we're supposed to do if there's more than one or two of them at a time eludes me.
He snorted in unwilling, ironic amusement, then gave himself a shake. At least there ought to be time to get the men fed before anything exciting happened.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Any sign of anyone else, Kevyn?" Harys Fyshyr asked as he made his way back on deck, brushing biscuit crumbs from his tunic.
"Only the one ship, Sir," Edwyrds replied. The first officer's face looked drawn and weary, as well it might after a night like the one just past, Fyshyr thought. There'd been little sleep for anyone, and despite the steadily freshening wind, the top speed of Kraken's little convoy was little more than eight or nine knots. Even to get that much speed had required them to carry more sail than most merchant skippers were willing to risk at night, when their lookouts were unlikely to see squall lines sweeping towards them in time to reduce sail for safety. Given the possibility that the galleys he'd seen leaving harbor the morning before might be lurking about to pounce on any fugitives, however, none of the other skippers had raised any protest when Fyshyr insisted on making all possible speed.
"Only the one ship," Fyshyr repeated, and heard the harshness in his own voice. There'd been twenty-seven Charisian merchant ships, in addition to Kraken, in Ferayd. Of that total of twenty-eight, only ten, barely more than a third, had managed to win free . . . so far, at least.
And I don't think any of the others would have made it without us, he thought bitterly. So what's happened other places?
It was not a question whose answer he expected to like when he finally found out. Unless King Zhames of Delfarahk had run mad all on his own, this had to be the work of Clyntahn and the Group of Four. The accounts he'd already heard from the survivors Kraken had plucked from the harbor waters all emphasized their attackers' shouts about killing "heretics." And they'd also made it abundantly clear that the Delfarahkans hadn't differentiated between men, women, and children. He could scarcely imagine how the Kingdom of Charis was going to react when it learned of this, but he already knew that anything he could imagine was going to come far short of the reality.
More to the point at this particular moment, the only reason anyone had managed to escape from Ferayd was the fact that no one in Delfarahk had realized Kraken had been fitted out as a privateer. Which meant the chances of anyone escaping from any of the other ports where similar scenes were undoubtedly being enacted had to be poor.
And if I'd been the one planning this . . . .
"They'll have a picket off the channel mouth," he said out loud.
"Yes, Sir," Edwyrds agreed. "Either there, or further south, inside the channel itself."
"Maybe both." Fyshyr leaned both hands on the bulwark, fingers drumming while he gazed back at the other galleons, visible in the steadily strengthening predawn grayness, following along astern.
"It's what I'd do," Edwyrds said with a nod. "On the other hand, Sir, they didn't have very many galleys in port when this whole thing started. How many pickets can they have?"
It was Fyshyr's turn to nod. Edwyrds' question was well taken; there hadn't been many galleys available at Ferayd. For that matter, the entire Delfarahkan Navy probably had less than thirty galleys all told. And unless the local authorities had been given more warning of what was expected of them than Fyshyr suspected was the case, there wouldn't have been time for the three or four galleys already at Ferayd to have been reinforced.
For that matter, if they'd had more galleys available, they'd probably have used them for the boarding actions. They'd have been a lot more efficient than boat attacks, at any rate.
"Well," he said, turning back to Edwyrds, "if they've been sitting out here, guarding the channel all this time, then they don't know what happened back at Ferayd. How it worked out, I mean. And they don't know about us any more than those other bastards did."
"No, Sir, they don't," Edwyrds agreed slowly, his eyes narrowing.
"Let's get the ports closed again," Fyshyr said briskly. "I think we can leave half the wolves mounted — they'll expect any galleon to have at least a few of those aboard, and they'd be surprised if they didn't see any sign of them. But for the rest of it . . . ."
He let his voice trail off, and the smiles he and his first officer exchanged would have done credit to their ship's namesake.