BY HERESIES DISTRESSED – snippet 36:
Privateer Brig Loyal Son,
Desnarian Merchant Galleon Wind Hoof,
Steel-gray water heaved under a slate-gray sky like a vast bowl of ice-burnished wind. That same wind hummed and whined through the rigging as the brig Loyal Son made her way across the vast wasteland of the Markovian Sea. Symyn Fytzhyw, Loyal Son’s owner and captain, stood on the brig’s tiny quarterdeck, his legs spread wide against the ship’s motion, and shivered, despite his thick, warm coat.
Fytzhyw was just under thirty Safeholdian years old, and he had no children of his own. His older brother, on the other hand, had five already, including not one, but two sets of twins. The eldest was only seven, and none of them had ever been outside the city of Tellesberg . . . or its climate. They’d found Uncle Symyn’s thick winter coat hilarious when they’d “helped him pack,” but Fytzhyw didn’t find its thickness the least bit humorous at this particular moment. In fact, he wished fervently that it was even thicker and heavier.
Spring was a month off yet, and winter in the Markovian could be as cold and bitter as anything south of the Icewind Sea itself, as the current weather seemed bent upon proving. At least, he thought gratefully, there was no longer anything falling out of the sky. Yesterday’s rain had turned into freezing sleet, and the standing rigging was coated in the ice, like tree branches in a winter-struck forest. The temperature hadn’t climbed enough to melt it yet (assuming it ever intended to climb that high again), but chunks of it rattled and banged on deck from time to time. The carronades gleamed under their own thin coating of glassy ice, and more ice came slithering to the deck in crystal shards from the running rigging whenever the sails were trimmed.
I wonder why this seemed like a good idea before we left port? Fytzhyw asked himself rhetorically as he looked up at the northern sky.
Actually, he knew the answer perfectly well. The waters south of the Markovian had been thoroughly fished out by other privateers. The Gulf of Tarot, the Tarot Channel, the Tranjyr Passage, and the Sea of Justice had been thoroughly swept, and if there were still twenty merchantmen in the world flying the Tarotisian flag, Fytzhyw would have been astonished. The waters off Delferahk, still further south, had been even more thoroughly hunted out over the past several months as Charisian ships swarmed over the Delferahkan coast and went through the Kingdom’s coastal waters like feeding doomwhales in the wake of the Ferayd Massacre, and the Empire of Charis wasn’t at war (yet) with the Desnairian Empire. Effectively, that left only the Harthian Sea and the Gulf of Harchong, far to the west, and that was really too far for a vessel the size of Loyal Son.
Besides, Symyn Fytzhyw hadn’t become a privateer just for the money. Not that he had any objection to piling up a satisfying heap of marks, of course, but what he really wanted to do was to hurt those bastards in Zion any way he could.
And that was the real reason he was where he was this frigid, blustery, thoroughly miserable day. He couldn’t match the size of many another privateer vessel, and he couldn’t match the wealth of many another shipowner, but he still had his father’s network of contacts, including several in the independent Duchy of Fallos.
The island of Fallos measured almost nine hundred miles from its extreme northern tip to its extreme southern tip, but its total population was less than that of the city of Tellesberg, alone. By and large, no one paid much attention to Fallos, but the duchy did have one extraordinarily valuable natural resource: trees. Lots and lots of trees. Trees which produced some of the finest shipbuilding timbers in the world. Most Fallosians — those who weren’t farmers or fishermen — were woodsmen, and they showed a respectable profit selling timber to various mainland realms. Charis wasn’t usually one of Fallos’ markets, given that the forests which still covered much of Charis and almost all of the huge island of Silver had even more (and arguably better) timber to offer far closer to home. But far more of the mainland had been logged off, and second-growth forest couldn’t match the magnificent timbers for masts and spars which came out of Fallos’ virgin forests. Turpentine was another major Fallosian product, and so was pitch.
Under normal circumstances, Fallos made a reasonably comfortable living off of its forestry products, but the duchy was scarcely in danger of becoming wealthy. Circumstances, however, had been anything but “normal” since the Battle of Darcos Sound. The Group of Four’s decision to build its enormous new navy had produced a demand for timbers and every sort of naval store such as the world had never before seen. Suddenly, Fallosians were making money at a rate even a Charisian could envy . . . and the waters between Fallos and the mainland swarmed with freighters.
Given the growth demands of the Charisian Navy and the brawling Charisian privateer fleet, a merchantman loaded with already-cut ship timbers could bring a reasonable return, even in timber-rich Charis. It wouldn’t be a particularly handsome profit, which was the reason most privateers tended to hunt elsewhere, but it would certainly cover Fytzhyw’s operating expenses, and taking those same timbers away from the Church held a certain appeal all its own. That wasn’t the real reason he and his grumbling ship’s company were out here just now, however. He was perfectly willing to snap up any timber-hauler which crossed his path (in fact, he’d already taken two of them), but that was a task better suited to regular Navy cruisers, who didn’t have to present profit and loss statements to shareholders or business partners. All they had to worry about was hurting the enemy’s actual capabilities; a privateer had to worry about paying the bills, as well. Which was why what Fytzhyw was really looking for was the ship his Fallosian informant assured him was even then on her way to the duchy . . . and carrying several thousand marks of cold, hard cash destined to pay for all of those felled trees.
The only problem was that his target should have been along at least two days ago. There were many possible explanations for its tardiness, including the storm which had worked its way across the Markovian the previous five-day and left Loyal Son in her glittering icy cocoon in its wake. Despite that, Fytzhyw was beginning to feel considerably less cheerful than he had when he set out.
Face it, he told himself brutally, the real reason you’re beginning to feel less cheerful is that the most likely “explanation” for the reason you haven’t seen it is that it sailed right past you in the dark. Or it chose a passage further north or further south. Or —
“Sail ho!” The wind-thrashed shout came down from the mainmast lookout. “Sail on the larboard bow!”
Fytzhyw twitched, then strode rapidly to the larboard bulwark, peering down to leeward. For several minutes he saw nothing at all from his much lower vantage point, but then something pricked the horizon. He pounded gently on the bulwark rail with gloved hands, waiting impatiently. It seemed to take forever, and the masthead which had broken the hard line of the horizon was far clearer and sharper from deck level before the lookout peering through his spyglass finally announced —
“Deck, there! She’s flying a Church pennant!”
“Yes!” Symyn Fytzhyw hissed jubilantly. Then he wheeled from the bulwark and sucked in a burning lungful of frigid air.
“Hands to quarters!” he bellowed. “Hands to quarters!”