How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 06

          Fortunately, it was the wrong time of year for the most violent form of tropical cyclone . . . which was more commonly called “hurricane.”

          Ensign Applyn-Ahrmahk didn’t need to understand all the mechanics involved in the process to read the weather signs, however. He understood the consequences of what was about to happen quite well, and he wasn’t looking forward to them. The good news was that Captain Yairley’s preparations had been made in ample time and there’d been time to double check and triple check all of them. The bad news was that the weather didn’t seem to have heard that this wasn’t hurricane season.

          Don’t be silly, he told himself firmly. This isn’t going to be a hurricane, Hektor! Things would be getting worse even faster than they are if that were the case. I think.

          “Take a party and double check the lashings on the quarter boats, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk,” Captain Yairley said.

          “Aye, Sir!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk saluted and turned away. “Master Selkyr!”

          “Aye, Sir?” Ahntahn Selkyr, another of Destiny‘s boatswain’s mate’s, replied.

          “Let’s check the lashings on the boats,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk said, and headed purposefully aft while Selkyr mustered half a dozen hands to join him.

          “Giving the lad something to think about, Sir?” Lieutenant Lathyk asked quietly, watching the youthful ensign with a smile.

          “Oh, perhaps a little,” Yairley acknowledged with a faint smile of his own. “At the same time, it won’t hurt anything, and Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s a good officer. He’ll see that it’s done right.”

          “Yes, he will, Sir,” Lathyk agreed, then turned to look back at the looming mass of clouds rising higher and higher in the south. The air seemed thicker and heavier somehow, despite the freshening wind, and there was an odd tint to the light.

          “I thought you were overreacting, to be honest, Sir, when you had the topgallant masts sent down. Now” — he shrugged, his expression unhappy — “I’m not so sure you were.”

          “It’s always such a comfort to me when your judgment agrees with my own, Rhobair,” Yairley said dryly, and Lathyk chuckled. Then the captain sobered. “All the same, I don’t like the feel of this at all. And I don’t like the way the clouds are spreading to the east, as well. Mark my words, Rhobair, this thing is going to back around on us before it’s done.”

          Lathyk nodded somberly. The predominant winds tended to be from the northeast in the Gulf of Mathyas during the winter months, which would normally have lead one to expect any wind changes to veer further to the west, not to the east. Despite which, he had an unhappy suspicion that the captain was right.

          “Do you think we’ll be able to make enough easting to clear Silkiah Bay if it does back on us, Sir?”

          “Now that’s the interesting question, isn’t it?” Yairley smiled again, then turned his back on the dark horizon and watched Aplyn-Ahrmahk and his seamen inspecting the lashings which secured the boats on the quarterdeck’s davits.

“I think we’ll probably clear the mouth of the bay,” he said after a moment. “What I’m not so sure about is that we’ll be able to get into the approaches to Tabard Reach. I suppose” — he showed his teeth — “we’ll just have to find out, won’t we?”

* * * * * * * * * *

          Lightning streaked across the purple-black heavens like Langhorne’s own Rakurai. Thunder exploded like the reply of Shan-wei’s artillery, audible even through the wind-shriek and the pounding, battering fury of waves approaching thirty feet in height, and ice-cold rain hammered a man’s oilskins like a thousand tiny mallets. HMS Destiny staggered through those heavy seas, running before the wind now under no more than a single storm jib, a close-reefed main topsail, and a reefed forecourse, and Sir Dunkyn Yairley stood braced, secured to a quarterdeck lifeline by a turn around his chest, and watched the four men on the wheel fight to control his ship.

          The seas were trying to push her stern around to the east, and he was forced to carry more canvas and more weather helm than he would have preferred to hold her up. It was officially a storm now, with wind speeds hitting better than fifty-five miles per hour, and not a mere gale or even a strong gale, and he suspected it was going to get even nastier before it was over. He didn’t like showing that much of the forecourse, but he needed that lift forward. Despite which he’d have to take in both the topsail and the course and go to storm staysails alone, if the wind got much worse. He needed to get as far east as he could, though, and reducing sail would reduce his speed, as well. Deciding when to make that change — and making it before he endangered his ship — was going to be as much a matter of instinct as anything else, and he wondered why the possibility of being driven under and drowned caused him so much less concern than the possibility of losing legs or arms to enemy round shot.

          The thought made him chuckle, and while none of the helmsmen could have heard him through the shrieking tumult and the waterfall beating of icy rain, they saw his fleeting smile and looked at one another with smiles of their own.

          He didn’t notice as he turned and peered into the murk to the northwest. By his best estimate, they’d made roughly twenty-five miles, possibly thirty, since the visibility closed in. If so, Destiny was now about two hundred miles southeast of Ahna’s Point and four hundred and sixty miles southeast of Silk Town. It also put him only about a hundred and twenty miles south of Garfish Bank, however, and his smile disappeared as he pictured distances and bearings from the chart in his mind. He’d made enough easting to avoid being driven into Silkiah Bay — probably — if the wind did back, but he needed at least another two hundred and fifty miles, preferably more like three hundred — before he’d have Tabard Reach under his lee, and he didn’t like to think about how many ships had come to grief on Garfish Bank or in Scrabble Sound behind it.

          But that’s not going to happen to my ship, he told himself, and tried to ignore the prayerful note in his own thought.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “Hands aloft to reduce sail!”

          The order was barely audible through the howl of wind and the continuous drum roll of thunder, but the grim-faced topmen didn’t have to hear the command. They knew exactly what they faced . . . and exactly what it was going to be like up there on the yards, and they looked at one another with forced smiles.

          “Up you go, lads!”