HMS Destroyer,


Eraystor Bay,


Princedom of Emerald


            "Admiral Nylz is here, Sir. Captain Shain is with him."


            Admiral Sir Domynyk Staynair, the newly created Baron of Rock Point, looked up from his examination of the double-barreled flintlock pistol as his flag lieutenant, poked his head respectfully through the flag cabin door aboard HMS Destroyer.


            "Thank you, Styvyn," he said. "Ask them to join me, please."


            "Of course, Sir."


            Lieutenant Styvyn Erayksyn bowed very slightly before he withdrew, and Admiral Rock Point smiled. Young Erayksyn was connected to at least two thirds of the aristocrats of the Kingdom of Charis. Indeed, he was far better born than his admiral, despite the recent creation of Rock Point's own title, although that sort of thing was less uncommon in Charis than in most other Safeholdian kingdoms. And, Rock Point supposed, the fact that he himself was the younger brother of the Archbishop of Charis would normally have been more than enough to offset Erayksyn's bluer blood. Of course, in this case, given the . . . irregularities of Maikel's elevation to his archbishopric, that was a bit more problematical than usual.


            If Erayksyn was remotely aware of the superiority of his birth he gave absolutely no sign of it. It did, however, grant the efficient, intelligent lieutenant a certain undeniable comfort level when it came to dealing with superior officers in general.


            The admiral set the pistol aside rather regretfully, settling it back into its fitted velvet nest beside its mate in the hand-rubbed wooden case on his desk as the door closed behind the flag lieutenant. That brace of pistols was one of the latest brainstorms from Baron Seamount's fertile imagination, and Rock Point had always appreciated the baron's ever-active approach to life and to his duties. It was an attitude which would have served him poorly in many navies, but not in the Royal Charisian Navy — or, at least, not in the current Royal Charisian Navy — and the new weapon was typical of Seamount's efforts.


            Before the introduction of the flintlock, firearms like the pistol Rock Point had just been examining would have been impractical, at best. Now, they were completely practical . . . aside from the diversion of manufacturing capability they represented, at least. Rock Point suspected that it had been difficult for Seamount to sit on the artisan who'd built the matched set of pistols in their box on the desk. Traditionally, presentation weapons were seen as opportunities to show off the maker's artistic talents, as well as his practical ability. Under those rules, the pistols ought to have been finely engraved, and — undoubtedly — inlaid with gold and plaques of ivory. This time, the only decoration lay in the small golden medallions set into the pistols' butts, bearing the crossed cannons and kraken of the coat of arms his monarch had awarded to him with his title.


            I guess Ahlfryd knows me better than most, Rock Point told himself with a fond smile. He knows how little use I have for wasted finery.


            Even more than that, the admiral thought as he closed the box and latched it, Seamount knew how much he treasured functionality and practicality, and the sleek, beautifully blued pistols had both of those in abundance. They cocked with a glassy-smooth, satisfying "click, the triggers broke cleanly and crisply, and the rich scent of gun oil clung to the pistol case like subtle perfume. With rifled, side-by-side fifty caliber barrels, an admiral who no longer possessed two working legs would still hold four men's lives in his hands, even if his footwork was no longer up to the highest standards of swordsmanship.


            "Admiral Nylz and Captain Shain, Sir," Erayksyn murmured as the cabin door opened once more and he ushered the visitors into Rock Point's flag cabin.


            "Thank you, Styvyn," Rock Point said, then smiled at his two subordinates as the flag lieutenant disappeared once more.


            "Kohdy, Captain Shain," he said then. "Please, sit down." He waved one hand at the chairs waiting for them. "I'm sorry I wasn't on deck to greet you."


            "No apologies are necessary, My Lord," Admiral Kohdy Nylz replied for both of them as they sat down, and Rock Point smiled again, this time a bit more crookedly, as he glanced down to where the calf of his right leg used to be.


            "How is your leg, Sir?" Nylz asked, following the direction of his superior's eyes.


            "Better." Rock Point looked back up with a small shrug. "They've fitted me with my peg, but they're still tinkering with it. Trying to get the angle right on the doot pad, more than anything else." He raised his truncated leg from the footstool on which it had rested and flexed the knee. "I'm lucky to still have the knee, of course, and the stump is healing well, but I'm getting a lot of irritation from the peg itself. I understand –" he shrugged again, this time ironically "– that Earl Mahndyr is having some of the same difficulties."


            "So I've heard," Nylz acknowledged with a slight smile at his own. Rock Point's shattered lower leg had been amputated after the Battle of Darcos Sound, in which the fire of his flagship had already removed the left leg of Gharth Rahlstahn, the Earl of Mahndyr, who had commanded the Emeraldian Navy at the same battle. Rock Point's flagship in that battle, HMS Gale, had been damaged even more severely than her admiral, and would remain in dockyard hands undergoing repair for at least several more five-days yet.


            "All things considered, I'm happier losing a leg than an arm," Rock Point said. "A sea officer doesn't spend a lot of time running foot races, anyway."


            Nylz and Shain chuckled politely, and Rock Point snorted at their dutiful response to his minor jest. Then his expression sobered.


            "So, what's this about young Hywyt?"


            "I have his written report, Sir," Nylz said, opening the bulky dispatch case he'd brought with him and extracting a thin sheaf of paper. "It contains all the details, but the gist is simple enough. A Church dispatch boat tried to get past him to Eraystor. When it refused to halt, he fired a single shot across its bow, at which point its commander was wise enough to haul down his flag and surrender."


            He makes it sound so simple, Rock Point thought. And, really, I suppose it is. Of course, the consequences aren't going to be.


            "So there were no casualties?" he asked aloud.


            "No, Sir." Nylz replied. "Not this time."


            Rock Point grimaced at the qualifier, but he couldn't object to it. There was going to be a next time, after all, and eventually some stubborn, stiff-necked, intransigent Church courier was going to refuse to strike his flag and there were going to be quite a lot of casualties.


            "Well," he observed, "it sounds like Hywyt did exactly what he was supposed to do. I'm assuming from what you've said, and the way you said it, that you agree with that conclusion?"


            "Completely, Sir," Nylz said firmly.


            "How did his people take it?"


            "Well, overall, Sir." Nylz twitched his shoulders slightly. "Most of them appear to have taken it pretty much in stride. In fact, some of them seemed disappointed that they didn't get to fire into Father Rahss' ship after all. I got the impression when Hywyt delivered his personal report to me that at least one of his officers was . . . less excited, let's say, about the possibility, but if Hywyt had ordered them to fire, they would have."


            "Good," Rock Point said, and wondered as he did whether or not he truly meant it.