BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER — snippet 10

 

BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 10:

 

 

            He turned his chair slightly, listening to the creak of its swivel, so that he could gaze out the broad expanse of Destroyer's stern windows at the panoramic, sun-dancing blue mirror of Eraystor Bay. From where he sat, he could see the northern end of the tadpole shape of Long Island, and the sheltered water between Long Island, Callie's Island, and South Island had been turned into a Charisian anchorage once the fortifications on those islands had surrendered to the Marines.

 

            In some ways, Rock Point was still a bit bemused by how readily those batteries and fortresses had surrendered when summoned. Colonel Hauwyrd Jynkyn, Rock Point's senior Marine officer, had never been able to assemble more than two or three battalions' worth of Marines from the fleet's shipboard detachments. Rock Point had been able to reinforce them with drafts of seamen, of course, especially from the surviving galleys, with their manpower-intensive crews. Still, it had been a distinctly motley landing force, even backed up by the heavy artillery ferried ashore from the fleet's galleons.

 

            It was tempting to feel a degree of contempt for the Emeraldian commanders who'd hauled down their flags when faced by Jynkyn's summons to surrender. On the other hand, most of the fortifications had been badly undermanned themselves, with enough gunners to man the artillery against a naval attack, but insufficient infantry to hold out against a serious assault from the landward side. And with the destruction of the Emeraldian Navy, there'd been no way to prevent Rock Point from finding places he could put his troops and artillery ashore without interference from the defenders.

 

            Besides which the totality of Emerald's naval defeat had devastated the defenders' morale before the first landing party ever set foot on any of those islands.

 

            But all of that had been no more than the preliminaries. Most of the Charisian Navy and Marines were undoubtedly focused on finishing off their adversaries in Emerald and the League of Corisande, but that was going to take at least a little while, since there was the minor problem of exactly what the kingdom was going to use for an army. Seizing island bases, sealing off major ports with blockading squadrons, and annihilating the merchant fleets of of their enemies was one thing, and Rock Point had no doubt the Navy and Marines had the resources to manage those tasks. Actually invading someplace like Emerald — or, even worse, Corisande — was something else entirely.

 

            And even if — when — we manage to deal with Nahrmahn and Hektor, it's still only the beginning, he thought grimly. I wonder how many of our people really understand that? Right this minute, they're still so infuriated by what the Group of Four tried to do to us that I don't doubt Hywyt's men were ready to fire into that dispatch boat. But what happens later, when they realize — really realize, deep down inside — that our true enemy, our dangerous enemy, isn't Hektor or Nahrmahn. It's the Church herself.

 

            No admiral, no general — no kingdom — had ever before faced that reality. Charis did, and a part of Sir Domynyk Staynair felt an icy shiver of dread whenever he thought about the dark, trackless future into which he and his kingdom were voyaging.

 

            "Did Hywyt happen to capture whatever dispatches they were carrying?" he asked, and his eyebrows rose as Nylz gave a harsh crack of laughter.

 

            "I asked something amusing?" he inquired, and the other admiral shook his head.

 

            "Not really, My Lord," he said, although he was still smiling. "It's just that the Church is going to have to rethink some of its standard procedures, I suspect. It seems Father Rahss didn't have a dispatch bag at all, much less a weighted one. All the documents he was charged to deliver were locked into a strongbox in his cabin. A strongbox which was bolted to the deck, as a matter of fact."

 

            "Bolted to the deck?" Rock Point blinked, and Nylz nodded.

 

            "Obviously, the Church hasn't given any thought to the possibility that any of her couriers might be intercepted. Their procedures for handling their dispatches have been more concerned with the documents' internal security during transit than they have with keeping them out of anyone else's unauthorized hands. So, instead of carrying them in a weighted bag, they lock them up in the captain's quarters. And," he shook his head, "it takes two keys to unlock the box. The captain has one; the purser has the other."

 

            Rock Point looked at him for a moment, then shook his own head, wondering how long it would take the Church's thinking to adjust to the new reality and change the way her dispatch boats handled her correspondence.

 

            "I assume Commander Hywyt managed to secure both keys?" he said mildly.

 

            "Actually, I believe he said something about prybars, Sir," Captain Shain said, speaking up for the first time and smiling wickedly. "From what he had to say to me while he was waiting to see Admiral Nylz, this Father Rahss at least managed to get his key thrown over the side before Wave's people went aboard. I don't know if he actually thought that was going to stop Hywyt, but apparently he just about died of apoplexy when Hywyt broke the strongbox open. I think he more than half-expected lightning to strike Hywyt dead on the spot."

 

            "Which, obviously, it didn't," Rock Point said dryly. He supposed he was pleased to see Shain's amusement at the thought, yet he couldn't help wondering if the rest of his officers and men would share the flag captain's reaction.

 

            "I've brought the captured documents with me, My Lord," Nylz said, reaching down and patting his dispatch case. "I've also had duplicate copies made, just in case. Unfortunately, they appear to be in some sort of cipher."

 

            "I suppose that's not too surprising," Rock Point said. "Irritating, but not surprising." He shrugged. "We'll just have to send them back to Tellesberg. Perhaps Baron Wave Thunder and his people will be able to decipher them."

 

            And if they can't, I'm sure Seijin Merlin can, he reflected.

 

            "Yes, My Lord."

 

            "Please pass my compliments to Commander Hywyt for a job well done. He and his people seem to have developed a knack for being in the right place at the right time when there's prize money to be won, don't they?"

 

            "So far, at least," Nylz agreed. "I am getting a few requests to let someone else have crack at Wave's station, though."

 

            "It's not her station, Sir," Shain snorted. "It's her speed. Well, that and the fact that Hywyt really does have a knack for this sort of work."

 

            "He'd better enjoy it while he can," Rock Point said. Nylz raised an eyebrow, and Rock Point smiled. "I just received dispatches of my own from Earl Lock Island. Among other things, he's asked me to nominate commanding officers for some of the new galleons, and it sounds to me as if young Hywyt might be the sort of captain we're looking for."

 

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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