Hanth Town,


Earldom of Hanth,


Kingdom of Charis


            Captain Sir Dunkyn Yairley stood on the quarterdeck of HMS Destiny, hands clasped behind him while he enjoyed Margaret Bay's brisk predawn air. The sky to the east, beyond the shadowy, still all but invisible bulk of Margaret's Land, was turning pale gold and salmon, and the thin banners of clouds were like high, blue smoke against the steadily paler heavens. The moon was still just visible, peeking over the edge of the western horizon, but the stars had all but vanished, and the breeze moved Destiny along at a steady five or six knots, with all sail set to the topgallants.


            Yairley was proud of his command. The fifty-four-gun galleon was one of the most powerful warships in the world, and Yairley had been in command for less than five five-days. His previous command, the galley Queen Zhessyka, had distinguished herself at the Battle of Darcos Sound, and Destiny was his reward. He suspected that the ship would have gone to someone else, despite his performance in battle, if he hadn't spent also two and a half years in command of a merchant galleon. Regular navy officers with experience handling square-riggers, instead of galleys, weren't all that common, after all.


            Serves Allayn right, he thought smugly. His older brother had thought that taking a three-year hiatus to accept a merchant berth would be the kiss of death for his naval career, but he'd been wrong. I told him the merchant service experience would look good to the High Admiral, give me that "well-rounded" look he's always so happy to see. Of course, I have to admit that I didn't expect it to look good for the reasons it actually did. Who'd have thought that galleons would make galleys obsolete?


            His brother certainly hadn't expected it . . . which was why Allayn had gone back to school to learn to handle galleons while Dunkyn got Destiny. He tried not to gloat too hard whenever he ran into his beloved brother. Really he did!


            Sir Dunkyn's lips twitched at the thought, and he sucked in an enormous lungful of air, marveling at how wonderful the world seemed this fine morning.


            The ship's bell chimed, sounding the half-hour, and Sir Dunkyn looked back up at the strengthening dawn. The land to port remained a blue mystery, bulking against the morning sky as the sun began to lift itself over the edge of the world, but it was beginning to become more visible. It wouldn't be long before Yairley could begin making out details, and he felt a twinge of something very like regret. Within the hour, his quiet quarterdeck would be invaded by others, and a few hours after that, Destiny would once again become captive to her anchor and the land.


            And she'd stay that way for up to the next three five-days . . . or even longer, if it turned out Yairley's passenger required his ship's services or those of her Marines.


            Don't be silly, he told himself sternly. She isn't really your ship, you know. King Cayleb is kind enough to lend her to you, and even pay you to commander her, but in return, he expects you to do the occasional odd job for him. Unreasonable of him, perhaps, but there it is.


            He smiled again, then turned to look at the midshipman of the watch, standing by the starboard ratlines to give his captain sole possession of the weather side of his quarterdeck.


            "Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk!" he called.


            "Yes, Sir?"


            The midshipman came trotting across the deck planking, and Yairley suppressed an urge to shake his head in familiar bemusement. Young Hektor Aplyn was the youngest of Destiny's midshipmen, yet all five of the others, including lads as much as six years his senior, deferred to him almost automatically. To his credit, he seemed totally unaware of their attitude. He wasn't, of course, which only made Yairley think better of him for acting as if he were. It couldn't be easy for a boy who had just turned twelve to resist the temptation to make seventeen or eighteen-year-olds dance to his tune, yet that was precisely what Midshipman Aplyn had done.


            Only, of course, it wasn't really "Midshipman Aplyn." These days, the youngster was properly styled "Master Midshipman His Grace the Duke of Darcos, Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk."


            King Cayleb had exercised an ancient, purely Charisian tradition in Aplyn's case. So far as Yairley was aware, no other realm in all of Safehold practiced the adoption of commoners into the royal house in recognition of outstanding service to the Kingdom of Charis and to the House of Ahrmahk. Only commoners could be so adopted (which was how the Earldom of Lock Island had been created generations ago, Yairley reflected), and they became members of the royal house in every sense. The sole restriction was that they and their children stood outside the succession. Aside from that, young Aplyn-Ahrmahk took precedence over every other Charisian noble except for the equally young Duke of Tirian, and any children he might someday produce would also be members of the royal house.


            Personally, Yairley felt quite confident that the youngster was delighted to have been packed off to sea again as quickly as possible. In the Navy, the tradition was that a senior officer never used a junior officer's title if the junior officer in question was a peer of the realm whose title took precedence over that of the senior officer in question. Instead, his naval rank was used, and since young Aplyn-Ahrmahk's title took precedence over that of every senior officer in the King's Navy — including High Admiral Lock Island — he could slot quite handily back into the far more comfortable role of simple "Master Midshipman Aplyn-Ahrmahk," which had to be an enormous relief.


            Of course, on purely social occasions, the rules were different. Which probably meant it was a good thing the crew of a King's ship didn't have a lot of opportunities to socialize ashore. And Yairley intended to see to it that the duke spent as many of those rare social occasions aboard ship as possible.


            Let's spare the boy what we can, at least until he's, oh, fourteen, let's say. The least we can do is give him time to finish learning proper table manners before he has to sit down to dinner with other dukes and princes!


            Which just happened to be one of the things in which Yairley was personally tutoring the youngster.


            Aplyn-Ahrmahk finished crossing the deck and touched his left shoulder in formal salute. Yairley returned it gravely, then twitched his head at the steadily solidifying land to port.


            "Go below, if you would, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk. Present my compliments to the Earl and inform him that we will be entering harbor at Hanth Town as scheduled."


            "Aye, aye, Sir!"


            Aplyn-Ahrmahk saluted again and headed for the after hatch.


            He didn't move like a twelve-year-old, Yairley reflected. Maybe that was part of the reason the older midshipmen found it so easy to accept him as their equal. Aplyn-Ahrmahk was a slightly built youngster, who was never going to be particularly tall or broad, but he seemed unaware of that. There was a confidence, a sense of knowing who he was, despite his quite evident ongoing discomfort with his exalted patent of nobility. Or perhaps it was simply that, unlike those other midshipmen, young Aplyn-Ahrmahk knew he would never again in his life have to face anything worse than had already happened to him aboard HMS Royal Charis.


            I suppose, Yairley thought more grimly, that having your own king die in your arms tends to help you put the rest of the world into perspective.