How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 13

          “Here ’tis, Sir,” Garam Mahgail said, and Yairley turned to face the ship’s carpenter. The carpenter was a warrant officer, not a commissioned officer, and he was probably close to half-again Yairley’s age and bald as an egg, but still brawny and callused. At the moment, his bushy eyebrows were raised as he exhibited his craftsmanship for the captain’s approval.

          “Is this what you had in mind, Sir?” he asked, and Yairley nodded.

          “That’s precisely what I had in mind, Master Mahgail!” he assured the warrant officer, and beckoned Symmyns over. The boatswain obeyed the gesture, and the captain pointed at Mahgail’s handiwork.

          “Well, Bo’sun?”

          “Aye, I think it’ll work right well, Sir,” Symmyns said with a slow smile of approval. “Mind you, it’s going to be Shan-wei’s own drag in a light air, Cap’n! Be like towing a couple of sea anchors astern, it will.”

          “Oh, not quite that bad, Bo’sun,” Yairley disagreed with a smile of his own. “More like one sea anchor and a half.”

          “Whatever you say, Sir.” Symmyns’ smile turned into a grin for a moment, and then he turned back to his working party and started barking additional orders.

          At Yairley’s instructions, Mahgail had fitted a pair of gundeck water tubs with bridles on their open ends, and inhauls had been made fast to the bottoms. Now the captain watched as one of the tubs was secured to either end of the spar by a line run to the inhaul. Then the bitter end from the hanging block was secured to the bridle. With the wheel in the “midships” position, the inhauls would tow the tubs through the water a good fifty feet behind the ship with their bottoms up, but when the wheel was turned to larboard, the bridle rope from the tub on that side to the barrel of the wheel would be shortened, pulling the tub around to tow open-end first. The resultant heavy drag on that side of the ship would force the galleon to turn to larboard until the wheel was reversed and the tub went gradually back to its bottom-up position, where it would exert far less drag. And as the wheel continued turning to starboard, the starboard tub would go from the bottom-up to the open-end-forward position, causing the ship to turn to starboard.

          There were drawbacks to the arrangement, of course. As Symmyns had pointed out, the drag penalty would be significant. Water was far denser than air, which explained how something as relatively tiny as a ship’s rudder could steer something a galleon’s size to begin with, and the resistance even with both tubs floating bottom-up would knock back Destiny‘s speed far more than a landsman might expect. And whereas a rudder could be used even when backing a ship, the tubs were all too likely to foul their control lines — or actually be drawn under the ship — in that sort of situation. But Symmyns’ initial diagnosis had been correct. The gudgeons, the hinge-like sockets into which the pintle pins of the rudder mounted, had been completely torn out, and the rudder post itself was badly damaged and leaking. They had a pattern from which to build a complete replacement rudder, but there was nothing left to attach a replacement to, and his improvised arrangement should work once he got the ship underway once more.

          Which isn’t going to happen, of course, until the wind veers, he reflected sourly.

          But at least he had three anchors out, so far they all seemed to be holding, and there was no sign anyone ashore had even noticed their presence. Under the circumstances, he was more than prepared to settle for that for the moment.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “Oh, Pasquale, take me now!” Trahvys Saylkyrk groaned.

He was the oldest of Destiny‘s midshipmen — in fact, he was two years older than Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk — and he didn’t usually have any particular problem with seasickness. The last couple of days had pushed even his stomach over the edge, however, and he looked down at the stew in his bowl with a distinctly queasy expression. The ship’s motion was actually more violent than it had been before she anchored, in some ways, as heavy, confused seas continued to roll in from the southeast. She lay with her head to the wind now, which meant she climbed each steep roller as it came in, then buried her nose and kicked her heels at the sky as it ran aft. And just to complete Saylkyrk’s misery, the galleon threw in her own special little corkscrew with every third or fourth plunge.

Please take me now!” he added as one of those corkscrews ran through the ship’s timbers and his stomach heaved, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk laughed.

          “I doubt he’d have you,” he said. As an ensign, he was neither fish nor wyvern in a lot of ways. Although he was senior to any of the ship’s midshipmen, he still wasn’t a commissioned officer, and wouldn’t be until his sixteenth birthday. As such, he continued to live in the midshipmen’s berth and served as the senior member of the midshipmen’ mess. Now he looked across the swaying mess table at Saylkyrk and grinned. “Archangels have standards, you know. He’d probably take one look at that pasty green complexion and pass.”

          “Fine for you to say,” Saylkyrk with a grimace. “There are times I don’t think you have a stomach, Hektor!”

          “Nonsense! You’re just jealous, Trahvys,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk shot back with a still broader grin. Some midshipmen might have resented being required to take the orders of someone so much younger than he was, but Saylkyrk and Aplyn-Ahrmahk had been friends for years. Now the ensign elevated his nose, turned his head to display his profile, and sniffed dramatically. “Not that I don’t find your petty envy easy enough to understand. It must be difficult living in the shadow of such superhuman beauty as my own.”

          “Beauty!” Saylkyrk snorted and dug a spoon glumly into the stew. “It’s not your ‘beauty’ I envy. Or that I would envy, if you had any! It’s the fact that I’ve never seen you puking into the bilges.”

          “You would’ve if you’d been in my first ship with me,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk told him with a shudder. “Of course, that was a galley — only about two-thirds Destiny‘s size.” He shook his head feelingly. “I was as sick as a . . . as a . . . as sick as Ahrlee over there,” he said, twitching his head at the still-miserable Zhones.

          “Oh, no, you weren’t,” Zhones replied feebly. “You couldn’t’ve been; you’re still alive.”

          The other midshipmen chuckled with the cheerful callousness of their youth, but one of them patted Zhones comfortingly on the back.

          “Don’t worry, Ahrlee. They say once your tonsils come up it gets easier.”

          “Bastard!” Zhones shot back with a somewhat strained grin.

          “Don’t pay any attention to him, Ahrlee!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk commanded. “Besides, it’s not your tonsils; it’s your toenails. After you bring your toenails up it gets easier.”

          Even Zhones laughed at that one, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk smiled as he pushed his own chocolate cup across the table to the younger midshipman.

Hot chocolate was even harder to come by aboard ship than it was ashore, and it was expensive. With his allowance from his adoptive father, Aplyn-Ahrmahk could have afforded to bring along his own private store and enjoy it with every meal. Fortunately, he also had enough common sense to do nothing of the sort. He’d been born to humble enough beginnings to realize how throwing his newfound wealth into his fellows’ faces would have been received, so instead he’d invested in a supply for the entire mess. By this point, they’d been away from port long enough it was running decidedly low, however, and the cook’s mate assigned as the midshipmen’ mess steward was rationing it out in miserly doses. But the Charisian naval tradition was that the ship’s company was kept well fed, with hot food whenever possible, especially after a day and a night like Destiny had just passed. Despite Saylkyrk’s obvious lack of enthusiasm for the stew in his bowl it was actually quite tasty (albeit a bit greasy), and their steward had made enough chocolate for everyone. For that matter, he’d even managed to come up with fresh bread. He’d expended the last of their flour in the process, but the result had been well worth it.