Lock Island turned to the short, almost pudgy looking officer standing on his other side. Baron Seamount had lost the first two fingers of his left hand to an accidental explosion years before, but the mishap hadn't dimmed his passion for loud explosions one bit. Nor had it affected his sharp, incisive intelligence. Some people had been fooled by Seamount's relatively unprepossessing appearance, but Lock Island knew exactly how capable the brain behind that . . . unimpressive façade really was. And how valuable.


             Although Seamount had been promoted from captain to commodore, Lock Island still felt vaguely guilty. By rights, Seamount should have had his own admiral's command streamer by now, given all he'd done for Charis. And he would have had that streamer, too . . . except for one minor problem. Despite his undeniable brilliance, despite the fact that it was his brain which had devised the basis for the new naval tactics and, with Brigadier Clareyk's able assistance, the new infantry and artillery tactics, as well, Seamount hadn't been to sea in a command capacity in almost twenty years. He'd have been hopelessly out of place actually commanding a fleet, or even a squadron. Besides, he was far too valuable where he was for Lock Island to even consider exposing him to enemy fire.


            Fortunately, Seamount — who claimed he could get seasick taking a bath — appeared quite content. He got to play with fascinating new toys, especially over the past couple of years, and he was too busy stretching his brain to worry about whether his sleeve bore the single embroidered kraken of a commodore or the two gold krakens of an admiral.


            "I take it that you're thinking in terms of expansion because we're running out of room here on Helen," the high admiral said now, and Seamount nodded.


            "Yes, Sir. The real problem is that we don't have a great deal of flat room here on Helen. In some ways, that's good. As the Brigadier here pointed out to me months ago, we can't count on having nice, flat, spacious terrain when we actually have to fight, so it's not going to hurt us a bit to figure out how to fight in cramped terrain. And the security aspect here is very good. Nobody's going to see anything we don't want them to see. But the truth is, with the larger formations, it's hard to find the space to let them practice tactical evolutions. Too much of this island is vertical, Sir."


            "That, believe me, is a point of which I'm well — one might almost say painfully well — aware," Lock Island said dryly. "Keelhaul, here," he gave the huge dog's massive head an affectionately gentle cuff, "actually likes coming up here. I suppose he doesn't have sufficient opportunity for exercise at sea."


            Baron Seamount managed not to roll his eyes, although Lock Island suspected that the commodore was sorely tempted to do just that. The high admiral's dog's tendency to race madly up and down the decks of his flagship was legendary. Fortunately, Keelhaul — despite the dubious humor of his name — was as affectionate as he was . . .  energetic. Not a minor consideration in a dog which weighed the better part of a hundred and forty pounds. Lock Island put Keelhaul's boisterousness down to his Labrador retriever grandmother; certain less charitably inclined souls put it down to the high admiral's influence. Wherever it came from, though, Keelhaul actually looked forward to their trips up the mountain. And he was calmer and less worried by the sounds of gunfire than most humans. Certainly it bothered him far less than it did the artillery's draft dragons. Which shouldn't really have been so surprising, Lock Island thought, given the amount of gunnery practice he got to listen to whenever they were at sea.


            However Keelhaul felt about it, however, the high admiral's feelings were far more mixed. Fascinating as he always found Seamount's demonstrations, he and horses had not been intimate companions since he first went to sea far too many years ago. Unfortunately, his posterior had made the reacquaintance of both saddles and saddle sores as he trundled up and down the steep, winding road from King's Harbor to the Marines' training ground.


            "The Commodore has a point, My Lord," Clareyk put in respectfully. "About the biggest formation we can really work with here is a battalion. We can squeeze two of them into the available space if we push a little, but we're really cramped when we do that. There's no way we could put both my regiments into the field as a single force given the space constraints here."


            Lock Island nodded. Each of the new regiments consisted of two battalions, and each brigade was made up of two regiments, so Clareyk's total command had a total strength of just over twelve hundred men, counting officers, corpsmen, buglers, and runners. His actual strength on active operations would have been even higher than that, once other attached specialists were added in, and Clareyk and Seamount were right about the space limitations. That had never been a problem before, since about the largest Marine formation in pre-Merlin days had been a single battalion. Now, though, they weren't simply training Marine detachments for the Navy's ships; they were building an honest-to-God army. The first true army in Charis' history.


            For the moment, that army still belonged to Lock Island, but he had no doubt a time was coming, probably in the not-too-distant future, when a Royal Army would have to be split off from the traditional Marines. There were simply aspects of what armies had to do that sea officers like himself had never been trained to do.


            Maybe so, he thought with just an edge of grimness. But the job's still mine for now, so I suppose I'd better get off my saddle sore, horse-bitten arse — figuratively speaking, of course — and figure out how to do this right.


            "I believe you, Brigadier. I believe you both. And General Chermyn and I have already been giving some thought to the problem. For right now, though, I'm still more concerned about the security aspects. As you say, we can keep things under wraps out here on Helen a lot better than we could anywhere else. Once we've actually committed the troops to action, when 'the cat's out of the bag,' as Merlin put it the other day — and, no, I don't know where he got the expression from — that's not going to be such a concern."


            "We understand, Sir," Seamount said. Then the roundish little commodore grinned suddenly. "Of course, we're still going to have a few things we want to maintain security about, even then."


            "Ahlfryd," Lock Island said severely, turning a speculative gaze upon his subordinate, "are you up to something . . . again?"


            "Well . . . ."


            "You are up to something." Lock Island cocked his head and folded his arms. "I suppose you'd better go ahead and tell me about it now. And how much I'm going to have to tell Baron Ironhill this idea's going to cost."


            "Actually, I don't know that it's going to be all that expensive, Sir." Seamount's tone was almost wheedling, but his eyes gleamed.


            "Of course you don't. You don't have to talk to Ironhll about these little matters," Lock Island said severely. "So try to look a little less like a boy caught with his hand in his mother's cookie jar and just go ahead and tell me."


            "Yes, Sir."


            Seamount rubbed his chin with his mangled left hand. Lock Island was thoroughly familiar with that "sorting out my thoughts" gesture, and he waited patiently. Then the commodore cleared his throat.


            "The thing is, Sir," he began, "that I had this . . . conversation with Seijin Merlin the last time he and the King were out here watching an exercise."


            "What sort of conversation?" Lock Island asked just a tad warily. "Conversations" with Merlin Athrawes had a distinct tendency, he'd discovered, to go off in some very peculiar directions.


            "Well, we were watching some of the twelve-pounder crews training, and it occurred to me that with the new rifles, even the twelve-pounders don't really have a significant range advantage over infantry."


            "They don't?" Lock Island blinked in surprise. "I thought you told me they had a maximum range of almost sixteen hundred yards!"


            "Yes, Sir, they do — with round shot, which is the least effective round against an infantry target. Canister range is substantially shorter than that, though. And, Sir, with all due respect, finding clear ranges sixteen hundred yards long is going to be more problematic in a land battle than it is at sea. At sea, we don't really have to worry about things like ridgelines, trees, and ravines."


            "I see." Lock Island nodded again, this time more slowly as he remembered his own thought of only minutes before. Another one of those things sea officers don't know about from personal experience, I see.