BY HERESIES DISTRESSED – snippet 4:
November, Year of God 892
City of Ferayd,
Kingdom of Delferahk
At least the Charisians were extending full military courtesies to their defeated enemies.
The thought ran through the back of Sir Vyk Lakyr’s mind as he scaled the steep battens on the ship’s high side, then stepped through the entry port onto HMS Destroyer’s deck. The bosun’s pipes which had twittered painfully (and apparently endlessly) as he climbed fell blessedly silent, and the grave-faced young lieutenant waiting to greet him touched his right fist to his left shoulder in formal salute.
“The Admiral extends his respects and asks you to join him in his day cabin, My Lord,” the lieutenant said.
My, how polite, Lakyr thought, acutely conscious of the lack of weight where his sword should have hung by his side. Of course, he hadn’t seen that sword in the last two days. Not since he’d surrendered it to Admiral Rock Point’s senior Marine officer.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” he said aloud, and the lieutenant inclined his head in a slight bow, then turned to lead the way below.
Lakyr tried not to gawk as they descended from the Charisian ship’s upper deck — the “spar deck,” they called it — to its gun deck. HMS Destroyer was huge, easily the largest ship he had ever been aboard, although at least one or two of the consorts anchored off what had once been the waterfront of the city of Ferayd looked larger than it was. What was even more impressive than its sheer size, however, was the number — and weight — of its guns. The short, stubby “carronades” on the spar deck had been bad enough; the monsters crouching on the gun deck were even worse. There had to be at least thirty of them, and he’d already seen the devastation their thirty-eight-pound round shot had wreaked upon the port’s defenses.
Such as they were, and what there was of them, Lakyr thought.
Sunlight streamed in through the open gun ports, illuminating what was almost certainly normally a gloomy cavern. Or perhaps not all that gloomy, he reflected, as he and the lieutenant passed through a brilliantly lit, rectangular pool of light, streaming down through the long, narrow grating of the spar deck main hatch. The smell of burned gun powder hovered faintly about him, despite the meticulously clean deck, scrubbed bulkheads, and canvas windscoops rigged to ventilate the ship. The smell was barely there, hovering at the backs of his nostrils, like something suspected more than actually experienced.
Or perhaps it was the scent of a more mundane smoke, he reflected. After all, there was a large enough cloud of that hovering black and dense above the city he’d been charged to protect. Even though the breeze was blowing towards shore, not away from it, the smell of burning wood had accompanied him aboard Destroyer. Clinging to the folds of his own clothing, no doubt.
They reached a closed door in a light bulkhead which was obviously designed to be taken down when the ship cleared for action. A uniformed Marine stood guard outside it with a bayoneted musket, and the lieutenant reached past him to rap sharply on the door with his knuckles.
“Yes?” a deep voice responded.
“Sir Vyk Lakyr is here, My Lord,” the lieutenant said.
“Then please ask him to come in, Styvyn,” the deep voice replied.
“Of course, My Lord,” the lieutenant replied, then opened the door and stepped courteously aside.
“My Lord,” he murmured, and waved gracefully at the doorway.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Lakyr replied, and stepped past him.
Lakyr had expected to find his “host” waiting directly on the other side of that door, but his expectation was disappointed. The lieutenant followed him through the door, managing somehow — Lakyr was never certain afterword just how the young man accomplished it — to steer the visitor while still following a respectful half-pace behind him.
Thus steered, Lakyr found himself leading the way across the cabin towards a second door. His eyes were busy, absorbing the furnishings about him: a woman’s portrait, smiling at any visitor as he entered; armchairs, a short sofa, a waxed and gleaming dining table with half a dozen chairs; a handsome ivory-faced clock ticking away; a polished wine rack made out of some dark, exotic tropical wood; a glass-fronted cabinet filled with crystal decanters and tulip-shaped glasses. They created a comfortable, welcoming space which only made the intrusion of the massive, carefully secured thirty-eight-pounder crouching with its muzzle touching a closed gun port an even greater contrast.
The lieutenant followed him through the second door, and Lakyr paused just inside it as he caught sight of the ship’s great stern windows. He’d seen them from the boat rowing across the harbor, so he’d already known — intellectually, at least — that they stretched the full width of Destroyer’s stern. That wasn’t quite the same thing as seeing them from the inside, however, he discovered. Glass doors at the center of that vast expanse of windows gave access to a sternwalk which, like the windows themselves, ran the full width of the warship’s stern. Indeed, although he couldn’t see it from where he stood, the sternwalk wrapped around Destroyer’s quarter galleys, as well.
The cabin into which he had just stepped was awash with light, bouncing up and through those windows as it reflected from the harbor’s wind-flurried surface, and the man waiting for him was a black silhouette against that brightness.
“Sir Vyk Lakyr, My Lord,” the lieutenant murmured.
“Thank you, Styvyn,” the dark silhouette said, and stepped forward. There was something awkward about his gait. Lakyr couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, until the other man stepped clear of the windows’ brightness and he saw the wooden peg which had replaced Admiral Rock Point’s lower right leg.
“Sir Vyk,” Rock Point said.
“My Lord.” Lakyr bowed slightly, and what might have been the ghost of a smile flickered across Rock Point’s mouth. Frankly, Lakyr doubted that was what had been. Not given the vigor with which Rock Point had executed the orders he’d been given by Emperor Cayleb were Lakyr’s city was concerned.
“I invited you aboard for a brief conversation before we return to Charis,” Rock Point told him.
“Return, My Lord?” Lakyr asked politely.
“Come now, Sir Vyk.” Rock Point shook his head, and this time his smile was more evident. “We never had any intention of staying, you know. Nor,” his smile disappeared, “is there anything worth staying here to keep, is there?”
“Not any longer, My Lord.” Lakyr couldn’t quite keep the grimness — and the anger — out of his tone, and Rock Point cocked his head to one side.
“I’m not surprised you find the consequences of our little visit less than palatable, Sir Vyk. On the other hand, given what happened here in August, I’d say my Emperor showed considerable restraint, wouldn’t you?”
A hot, angry retort hovered on Lakyr’s tongue, but he swallowed it unspoken. After all, he could hardly disagree.