How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 14

Unfortunately, poor Zhones clearly wasn’t going to be able to keep the stew down. He’d contented himself by devouring his share of the precious bread one slow, savoring mouthful at a time, washing it down with the sweet, strong chocolate. Now he looked up as Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s mug slid in front of him.

“I –” he began, but Aplyn-Ahrmahk shook his head.

“Consider it a trade,” he said cheerfully, snagging Zhones’ untouched stew bowl and pulling it closer. “Like Trahvys says, I’ve got an iron stomach. You don’t. Besides, the sugar’ll do you good.”

Zhones looked at him for a moment, then nodded.

“Thanks,” he said a bit softly.

Aplyn-Ahrmahk waved the gratitude away and scooped up another spoonful of the stew. It really was tasty, and —

“All hands!” The shout echoed down from the deck above. “All hands!”

By the time Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s spoon settled into the stew once more, he was already halfway up the ladder to the upper deck.

* * * * * * * * * *

          It took all the self-discipline Sir Dunkyn Yairley had learned in thirty-five years at sea to not swear out loud as his earlier thoughts about his improvised rudder ran back through his mind.

          I suppose the good news is that we’re still two hundred yards offshore, he told himself. That gives us a little more room to play with . . . and if the spar’s just long enough to keep the tubs out from under her, they may still work, anyway. Of course, they may not, too . . . .

          He watched Destiny‘s company completing his highly unusual preparations with frenzied, disciplined speed, and he hoped there’d be time.

          Of course there’ll be time, Dunkyn. You’ve got a remarkable talent for finding things to worry about, don’t you? He shook his head mentally, keeping himself physically motionless with his hands clasped behind him. Just keep your tunic on!

          “Another six or seven minutes, Sir!” Rhobair Lathyk promised, and Yairley nodded, turning to watch the longboat fighting its way back towards the ship.

          He’d hated sending Mahlyk and Aplyn-Ahrmahk back out, but they were clearly the best team for the job, as they’d just finished demonstrating. Two of the ensign’s seamen had gone over the side while they struggled to get the bitter end of the spring nipped onto the buoyed anchor cable. Unlike most Safeholdian sailors, Charisian seamen by and large swam quite well, but not even the best of swimmers was the equal of waters like these. Fortunately, Aplyn-Ahrmahk had insisted on lifelines for every member of the longboat’s crew, and the involuntary swimmers had been hauled back aboard by their fellows. From the looks of things, one of them had needed artificial respiration, but both of them were sitting up now, huddled in the half-foot of water sloshing around the floorboards as the thirty-foot boat clawed its way back towards the galleon.

          “Lines over the side, Master Lathyk,” Yairley said, looking back at the first lieutenant. “There’s not going to be time to recover the boat. Bring them up on lines and then cast it adrift.” He bared his teeth. “Assuming any of us get out of this alive, we can always find ourselves another longboat, can’t we?”

          “Assuming, Sir,” Lathyk agreed, but he also grinned hugely. It was the same way he grinned when the ship cleared for action, Yairley noted.

          “Cheerful bugger, aren’t you?” he observed mildly, and Lathyk laughed.

          “Can’t say I’m looking forward to it, Sir, but there’s no point fretting, now is there? And at least it ought to be damned interesting! Besides, with all due respect, you’ve never gotten us into a fix yet that you couldn’t get us back out of.”

          “I appreciate the vote of confidence. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing you usually only get one opportunity to do wrong,” Yairley pointed out in a dry tone.

          “True enough, Sir,” Lathyk agreed cheerfully. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go see about losing that longboat for you.”

          He touched his chest in salute and moved off across the pitching, rearing deck, and Yairley shook his head. Lathyk was one of those officers who grew increasingly informal and damnably cheerful as the situation grew more desperate. That wasn’t Sir Dunkyn Yairley’s style, yet, he had to admit Lathyk’s optimism (which might even be genuine) made him feel a little better.

          He turned back to the matter at hand, trying not to worry about the possibility that one or more of the longboat’s crew could still be crushed against Destiny‘s side or fall into the water to be sucked under the turn of the bilge and drowned. It helped that he had plenty of other things to worry about.

          The never-to-be-sufficiently-damned wind had decided to back still further, and it had done so with appalling speed after holding almost steady for over four hours. It was almost as if it had deliberately set out to lull him into a sense of confidence just to make the final ambush more disconcerting. For four hours, Destiny had lain to her anchors, bucking and rolling but holding her ground despite his sailing notes’ warnings about the nature of Scrabble Sound’s bottom. But then, in less than twenty minutes, the wind had backed another five full points — almost sixty degrees — from southeast-by-south to due east, and the galleon had weathervaned, turning to keep her bow pointed into it, which meant her stern was now pointed directly at Ahna’s Point. The speed with which the wind had shifted also meant that the seas continued to roll in from the southeast, not the east, pounding her starboard bow, which had radically shifted the forces and stresses affecting her . . . and her anchors. Now the wind was driving her towards Ahna’s Point; the seas were driving her towards Scrabble Shoal; and her larboard anchor cable had parted completely.

          Must be even rockier than I was afraid of over there, Yairley thought now, looking at the bobbing buoy marking the lost anchor’s position. That was an almost new cable, and it was wormed, parceled, and served, to boot!

          “Worming” was the practice of working oakum into the contlines, the surface depressions between the strands of the cable. “Parceling” wrapped the entire cable in multi-ply strips of canvas, and the boatswain had served the entire “shot” of cable by covering the parceling, in turn, in tightly wrapped coils of one-inch rope. All of that was designed to protect the cable against fraying and chafing . . . and the rough-edged bottom had obviously chewed its way through all precautions anyway.

          Fortunately, the cables to the starboard bower anchor and the sheet anchor Aplyn-Ahrmahk and Mahlyk had laid out hadn’t snapped — yet, at least — but both of them were finally beginning to drag the way he’d been more than half afraid they would from the outset. It was a slow process, but it was also one which was gathering speed. At the present rate, Destiny would go ashore within the next two hours at the outside.

          At least the tide’s nearly full, he reminded himself. It’d be better if we had the ebb to work with, but at least the current’s slowed and we’ve got as much water under the keel as we’re ever likely to have.

          He watched the longboat’s crew struggling one-by-one up and through the bulwark entry port. Aplyn-Ahrmahk, of course, came last, and Yairley felt at least one of his worries ease as the young ensign scrambled aboard.

          “Master Lathyk’s compliments, Sir,” Midshipman Zhones said, sliding to a stop in front of him and saluting, “and the boat crew’s been recovered. And all preparations for getting underway are completed.”