"You were saying, Allayn?" Duchairn invited.


            "I was saying that according to Fern's report, the Dohlaran merchant fleet has taken extremely heavy losses. Apparently, these damned 'privateers' are operating virtually at will, despite the fact that they're thousands of miles from any Charisian port. They seem to be everywhere in the Gulf, including Hankey Sound and apparently Shwei Bay, as well. Losses are so heavy insurance rates have gone skyhigh. And even with insurance, many owners are refusing to allow their vessels to put to sea at all. From what the Duke has to say, the kingdom's maritime commerce has effectively come to a halt."


            "So?" Clyntahn's voice was at least moderately courteous this time, Duchairn noted, and the Inquisitor shrugged heavy shoulders. "With all due respect, Allayn, and fully admitting that the impact for Dohlar may be significant, I fail to see what's so immediately threatening about the situation. We always knew that once these damnable heretics started raiding, the consequences were going to be severe for everyone else's merchant fleets."


            "The point, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said, "is that the damage is being far worse than we'd originally anticipated. Despite what I just said, Allayn is quite right that many of these 'privateers' appear to be purpose-built vessels, armed with the best Charisian artillery. Artillery, I remind you, we still haven't managed to duplicate for our own vessels. I'm Mother Church's Treasurer General. I know how expensive our rearming program is being, which means I also have at least a feel for the sort of investment the Charisians must be making to produce the quantities of artillery their own fleet requires. Yet despite his navy's own obvious requirement for more and more guns, Cayleb is permitting privateers access to them. That indicates just how high a priority he and his advisers must place on those privateers' operations. And, again, speaking as Mother Church's Treasurer General, I may have a better grasp of some of the . . . indirect consequences than you do."


            "So enlighten us," Clyntahn invited in a half-growl.


            "Allayn is probably in a better position than I am to address the consequences for our building programs," Duchairn said, "but I already know Charisian attacks have been more than a minor irritation where they're concerned. Many of the items required for the construction of our new galleys are normally transported by sea, Zhaspahr. Spars, masts, timbers, artillery, anchors — anything that's heavy, or massive, or simply big and can't be supplied in the immediate vicinity of the shipyards themselves has to be freighted in, and attempting to haul loads like that overland, even when an overland route is available, is a nightmare. If they can't be shipped by sea, costs are going to rise sky-high, and construction times are going to become far longer.


            "But there's another, more direct consequence. If the Charisians succeed in effectively destroying the merchant fleets of their enemies — and producing a situation in which the surviving merchantmen cower in port rather than daring to put to sea will have the same effect capturing or sinking all of them would produce — the economies of those realms are going to take severe damage. Even our coffers are ultimately limited in terms of the subsidies and loans we can make to offset that sort of damage. And as their economies suffer, the tithes due to the treasury will also decline, with ultimately serious consequences to our own fiscal position.


            "At the same time, the carnage the Charisians are wreaking isn't something realms who aren't actively at war with them are likely to fail to notice. We've all had our concerns about the ultimate reliability of Siddarmark. Well, if they see the Charisians' enemies suffering this sort of devastation, it's going to make them even less inclined to add themselves to the list of those enemies . . . and to the privateers' target list. Besides, I rather doubt that someone like Greyghor Stohnar is going to be exactly heartbroken over watching the commerce of rival rulers being hammered. After all, as their merchant fleets decline, his can expand to fill some of the void."


            Even Clyntahn was listening attentively now, and Zahmsyn Trynair sat back in his own chair. There were times when he found the apparent rebirth of Duchairn's personal piety more than a little wearing. The Treasurer's newfound willingness to "trust in God" and to punctuate discussions of policy and planning with quotations from the Writ and The Commentaries might produce serenity for him, but it didn't do a great deal for all of the red-hot coals Trynair was required to juggle every day. On the other hand, his ability to convince even the increasingly belligerent Grand Inquisitor to stop and actually listen was impressive. So impressive that Trynair himself had actually considered spending some time with the Writ.


            "But even the impact on the thinking of his potential enemies is secondary to what Cayleb is really after," Duchairn continued now. "He's systematically eliminating the carrying capacity of other realms. Effectively, he's doing exactly what we accused his father of — deliberately setting out to secure complete control of the entire world's merchant shipping. And the reason he's doing that, Zhaspahr, is that if all the other merchant carriers are eliminated, the only ones left will fly the Charisian flag. Which means the mainland realms' need for shipping to transport the cargoes essential to their own economies will drive them into using Charisian bottoms. And, in effect, that means they'll be subsidizing Cayleb's military expenses. He'll be driving the kingdoms of Haven and Howard into literally paying for his war against Mother Church."


            "Then stop them from doing that," Clyntahn growled.


            "That's far easier to say than to do," Duchairn countered. "The trading houses need that shipping just to survive, and the rulers of those countries require the taxes and import duties levied on those trading houses to support their economies . . . and to pay their tithes to Mother Church. The entire edifice is far more fragile than it might appear from the outside, and the imperatives of economic survival are going to drive even godly men into the Charisians' arms if that's the only way for them to survive."


            "And that's not the only worry," Maigwair put in. He'd clearly been willing to allow Duchairn to carry the major burden of the explanation, but now he leaned forward, his own expression a combination of anxiety and anger. "It's not just a matter of harming their enemies and bolstering their own economy. There's also the corrupting effect."


            "Corrupting effect?" Clyntahn sat abruptly straighter in his chair as Maigwair captured his full attention at last. "What sort of 'corrupting effect'?" he demanded.


            "There's an enormous amount of money being made by these 'privateers,'" Maigwair said. "Whatever else they may be, they're still Charisians when it comes to finding ways to squeeze marks out of any situation. And they've been spreading some of those marks around. I have confirmed reports that they're managing to dispose of their prizes in mainland ports. That means they don't have to put prize crews aboard them and sail them all the way back to Charis. They only need to crew them long enough to reach one of the ports which are open to them, at which point their prize crews can immediately return to them. And that  means they can take a lot more ships before shortage of manpower forces them to go home and recruit new crews. Even worse, in some ways, it also means they're building cozy relationships with the authorities in those ports. They couldn't be selling captured ships there, or disposing of cargoes from their prizes, without the knowledge and consent of those authorities."