BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 90:
"May I assume you've been giving some thought to exactly how you might mount and use artillery in the field?" he asked aloud.
"Actually, Koryn's been thinking about it," Anvil Rock replied, and Hektor nodded. Sir Koryn Gahrvai, Anvil Rock's eldest son and heir, was also one of the earl's senior troop commanders. And despite the nepotism which had inevitably favored his career, he happened to be very good at what he did.
"And what has Koryn come up with?"
"A new carriage, for one thing," Anvil Rock said. "It's more like a two-wheeled cart than anything the Navy would use, but it looks to me as if it'll work. If it's built sturdily enough, at least. And I'm guessing they could be towed by two-horse teams fairly rapidly. Might work better with four horses, rather than two, of course. Or we might try it with draft dragons. They don't much care for the sound of gunfire, though. I think horses would probably be steadier. You'd need a lot more of them per gun, and their endurance would be lower, but they'd also be faster, over shorter distances."
"I see the two of you have been thinking about it," Hektor observed. "And given the circumstances we're probably going to be facing shortly, I think you're probably right about who's going to need artillery worse. Especially if you and Koryn can work out tactics to use it effectively."
"We've been kicking that around, too," Anvil Rock said. "Of course, anything we come up with at this point is going to be purely theoretical, you understand. Can't be any other way until we get some actual pieces to try out our notions, and even then –"
"Look out, Your Highness!"
Hektor's head snapped up as one of his guardsmen suddenly spurred his horse. The beast leapt forward, drawing abruptly even with Hektor's mount, and the guardsman right hand shot out. Hektor's eyes went wide as that hand literally jerked him off of his horse, yanking him up against the guardsman's breastplate even as the bodyguard simultaneously twisted himself around sideways in the saddle. The prince was reaching for his dagger in automatic self-defense when he heard — and felt — the guardsman's sudden, convulsive gasp. The iron-hard grip which had hauled him bodily out of his saddle slackened suddenly, and Hektor found himself falling untidily to the street's cobblestones. He hit hard, sending a bolt of pain through his left forearm as he landed squarely on top of a fresh, moist pile of horse manure, but he scarcely noticed either of those things. He was staring up at the guardsman who had attacked him.
The guardsman who was slumped forward in his saddle with the two arbalest quarrels which would otherwise have struck Hector sticking out of his back. His cuirass' backplate had slowed the missiles, but they must have been fired from very short range, because they'd punched right through it.
As Hektor watched, the guardsman started to slip sideways out of his saddle. The prince hurled himself to his feet, reaching up, grunting with effort and the fresh pain in his left arm as he caught the dead weight of the man who had just saved his life.
He went back to his knees, holding the bodyguard, watching blood bubble from the other man's nostrils.
"Window," the dying young man got out. "Saw them . . . in the window . . . "
"I understand," Hektor said, bending over him. "I understand."
"Good," the guardsman got out, and then his eyes lost focus forever.
* * * * * * * * * *
"No sign of them, whoever they were," the Earl of Coris said harshly. "We're still tearing that whole part of the city apart, but they must have had their escape route planned well in advance."
"Is that all you can say?" Sir Taryl Lektor demanded. The Earl of Tartarian sat beside Anvil Rock at the conference table, as if Hektor's top military advisers were closing ranks against his spymaster. Whether or not that was actually what they were doing, the shared unhappiness of Corisande's navy and army commanders was obvious, and Coris' mouth tightened.
"What would you prefer? That I spin fancy tales to sound more efficient? We don't have a single witness who actually saw them. The only man who did see them is dead, which means we don't even have a description of them, and the arbalests were still in the room they fired from. They simply dropped them and walked away, and the room itself is part of a counting house office suite that's stood empty for months. No one saw them arrive; no one saw them fire the shots; and no one was watching for them when they left. There's no way for us to tie anyone to the weapons even if we'd had any suspects in custody!"
"Calmly, Phylyp," Hektor said, turning back from the window where he'd stood gazing out over the harbor. His left forearm was in a plaster cast, supported by a sling, and despite his words, there was a tightness around his mouth which owed nothing to the pain of the broken arm.
"How do you expect me to be calm about this?" Coris demanded. "They came within inches of killing you today, Hektor. Don't you understand that?"
"Believe me, I understand it only too well." Hektor's voice was suddenly harder, colder. "And I want that guardsman's — Ahndrai's — family taken care of. He not only died to save my life, but, as you just pointed out, he was also the only man in the entire detail who even saw them. There aren't enough men like that to go around. There never are. So you see to it that his family knows I'm grateful. Knows they'll never want for anything."
"Of course I will," Coris said more quietly.
Hektor turned back to the window, then looked up as the chamber door opened and a tall young woman with Hektor's hair and her dead mother's hazel eyes came quickly through it.
"Father!" The newcomer wore riding clothes. Her hair was windblown, and her eyes were dark, intent, in a worried face. "I just got back to the Palace. They just told me! Are you all right?"
"Fine, Irys," he said, reaching out his undamaged right arm. "A broken arm, but aside from that, I'm fine, I promise."
Princess Irys let her father's good arm settle around her shoulders, but she also leaned back against it, gazing up into his face with searching eyes. He didn't know exactly what she was looking for, but, whatever it was, she seemed to see it, and her taut shoulders relaxed at least partially.
"Yes," she said softly. "Yes, you are."
She put her own arms around him then, squeezing tightly, and pressed her face into his shoulder. He felt the tension flowing out of her, and pressed his lips to her hair.
She's grown so tall, he thought. So much like her mother. Where did all the years go?
"Better?" he asked gently after a moment, and she drew a deep breath and nodded.
"Better," she confirmed, and released him and turned to face the other three men in the chamber.
She knew all of them, of course. In fact, she'd spent more than a little time helping them — and her father — ponder the unpalatable situation they faced. At seventeen, Irys Daykyn was not a typical teenager, and her grasp of the problems confronting them was as good as any of Hektor's older councilors could have boasted.
"They said it was arbalests," she said, and Hektor nodded.
"It was. Ahndrai saw them at the last minute." His nostrils flared. "He saved my life, Irys . . . and it cost him his."
"Oh, no," she said softly. Tears brimmed in her eyes for a moment. "He was so nice, Father."
"Yes, he was," Hektor agreed.
"Do we have any idea who it was?" she asked after a moment, with the air of someone who was just as happy to change the subject.
"If you mean who actually fired the quarrels, then, no," her father admitted. "Phylyp's men have recovered the arbalests themselves, but we don't have any idea who the marksmen were." He shrugged. "As far as who might have been responsible for sending them, you're just about in time to help us start speculating."