City of Manchyr,


Princedom of Corisande


            The afternoon sunlight was not quite unpleasantly warm on Hektor Daykyn's shoulders. The jingle and squeak of armor, weapons harnesses, and saddle leather surrounded him along with his guardsmen, and his mind was busy as he rode through the streets of Manchyr.


            The day had started out better than he'd expected. The army's field maneuvers this morning had gone well, and he'd been pleased by the apparent cheerfulness of the troops. Of course, none of them were going to stand around looking despondent where he could see them, but there was a difference between men who were simply obeying orders, and men whose hearts were in their work.


            Hektor rather doubted that his soldiers — most of whom, after all, were fairly bluff, unimaginative sorts — suspected how much they and their maneuvers had done to enhearten their prince. Or, for that matter, quite how much he needed enheartening these days. It was hard to work up much in the way of exuberance when he contemplated the sledgehammer Cayleb Ahrmahk must be busily assembling to drop on his princedom. The fact that it hadn't landed yet was at least some comfort, however, and suggested he might have at least a couple of more months before it did. And, as his troops' attitude had just reminded him, every single day he could find for himself was one more day in which he could make Cayleb's task more difficult.


            Which is probably only going to be enough to give me a rather dubious — and posthumous — moral satisfaction, he admitted to himself. Still, that's better than nothing. And it's always possible — remotely, at least — that I can put myself in a position to make enough trouble for him that it would be worth his time to at least consider negotiating.


            He snorted at his own thoughts as he considered how he would have reacted — had planned on reacting, in fact — if the Group of Four's invasion plans had succeeded and their positions had been reversed. The old cliché about the drowning man and the straw came rather forcibly to mind, under the circumstances.


            At least it gives me something to do while I'm waiting!


            He glanced back over his left shoulder at the sturdy, rather stout gray-haired man riding half a horse length behind him. Sir Rysel Gahrvai, the Earl of Anvil Rock, was one of his distant cousins and his senior army commander, the land-going counterpart of Earl Tartarian. Traditionally, the army had far less prestige in Corisande than the navy. In that much, at least, Corisande and Charis were much alike — probably inevitably, given the fact that they were both essentially just very large islands. But unlike Charis, Corisande had at least possessed a standing army composed of regular, professional troops at the beginning of the current unpleasantness. Mostly, Hector was forced to admit, that was because he was rather less beloved by certain of his subjects (and several of his nobles), especially in Zebediah, than Haarahld of Charis had been by his. The existence of a standing army whose loyalty was to the prince who paid it and not to its own individual feudal lords had constituted a pointed suggestion to those unloving souls that they would be well advised to keep their unflattering opinions of Prince Hektor to themselves.


            On the other hand, no one — least of all Hektor — had ever truly anticipated that Anvil Rock's troops might find themselves faced with repelling someone else's invasion of Corisande. The assumption had always been that if they were going to be involved in any invasions, it would have been them invading someone else.


            But at least Anvil Rock didn't seem too downcast. In fact, his general attitude was as robust as Tartarian's, although Hector suspected it was for slightly different reasons. Sir Rysel had abruptly found himself one of the most important men in the entire League of Corisande after decades of playing second fiddle to the Navy, and despite the gravity of the situation, he found the unusual situation rather exhilarating. Hektor might not share his cousin's exhilaration, but he was perfectly content with Anvil Rock's attitude as long as the man kept pushing his own preparations as persistently and powerfully as he had up to this point.


            The prince caught the earl's eye and twitched his head, summoning Anvil Rock up beside him. The earl touched his horse with his heels, trotting a bit faster until he reached Hektor's side. Then he slowed again, riding stirrup-to-stirrup with him.


            "Yes, My Prince?"


            "I thought the maneuvers went well," Hector said. "Please pass my compliments on to the field commanders."


            "Of course, My Prince!" Anvil Rock's broad smile of appreciation was clearly genuine, and Hector reached out to touch him lightly on the shoulder.


            "I appreciate all your efforts, Rysel," he said. "And I realize you don't have a lot of time to make preparations. Is there anything else I can do to help you along?"


             Anvil Rock considered for a few seconds, puffing his bushy mustache, then shrugged.


            "Since you've asked, My Prince, there might be one thing."


            "Such as?"


            "I was over at the Royal Arsenal yesterday," Anvil Rock said just a bit obliquely. "Sir Taryl had invited me to watch the proof firing of the second lot of the new guns."


            "Really?" Hektor cocked his head to one side. "What did you think of them?"


            "I think they're very impressive. And I can certainly understand what happened to Black Water if all the Charisian ships, or even just their galleons, carried guns like them. Under the circumstances, I see why Tartarian wants as many of them as he can get, too."


            Anvil Rock finished speaking, and Hektor's eyebrow rose higher.




            "I beg your pardon, My Prince?"


            "I heard a 'but' rattling around in there somewhere, Rysel. Would you care to tell me why I did?"


            "I suppose you did," Anvil Rock admitted. "As to why . . . ."


            He gazed ahead down the broad avenue leading towards Hektor's palace for several thoughtful breaths, then shrugged again.


            "My Prince, I understand why the Navy needs the new guns. And I understand that we've got to rebuild the fleet as quickly as we can. But to be honest, I don't think there's any way we're going to be able to manage all of that rebuilding before Cayleb and the Royal Charisian Navy come calling. That means they're going to be able to land troops almost anywhere they want, with no real significant resistance from our own Navy. I'm not blaming Taryl — Earl Tartarian — for that. It's not his fault. In fact, it's not anyone's fault, but it still means it's going to be up to the Army — and me — to defeat any invasions, since the Navy can't stop them from happening in the first place."


            He paused, looking steadily at his prince, and Hektor nodded.


            "I think you're exactly correct about that," he agreed. "And?"


            "And under those circumstances, I think it might be a wiser use of our resources and the time available to us to produce cannon for the Army's use, not the Navy's. Or, at least, not exclusively for the Navy."




            Hektor frowned thoughtfully, considering what Anvil Rock had just said. And, as he did, he realized the earl had a point. A very good one, in fact.


            No one on Safehold had ever heard of "field artillery." Not in the sense in which the term had once been used on a planet called Earth, at any rate. Safeholdian guns had been too big, too massive, too slow-firing. On their clumsy, wheelless"carriages," they were virtually immobile. Once emplaced, moving them again wasn't something to be considered, especially in the presence of the enemy.


            But given the lightness and handiness of the new Charisian guns, that might not be true any longer. The sort of naval carriage the Charisians had developed — and which Tartarian's artisans and foundry workers had duplicated from Captain Myrgyn's sketches — wouldn't be very practical for field use, but surely something else could be worked out.