How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 37

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 37


King’s Harbor,

Helen Island,

Kingdom of Old Charis


          Seagulls screamed and wyverns whistled shrilly, swooping and stooping above the broad expanse of King’s Harbor. The winged inhabitants of Helen Island could hardly believe the largess a generous nature had bestowed upon them. With so many ships cluttering up the waters, the supply of flotsam and plain old drifting garbage exceeded their most beatific dreams of greed, and they pounced upon it with gleeful abandon.

          Oared barges, water hoys, sheer hulks, and a dozen other types of service craft made their ways in and around and through the press of anchored warships beneath that storm of wings. Newly mustered — and still mustering — ships’ companies fell in on decks, raced up and down masts, panted under the unrelenting demands of their officers, and cursed their leather-lunged, hectoring petty officers with all the time-honored, tradition-sanctified fervency of new recruits the universe over, yet that represented barely a fraction of the human energy being expended throughout that broad harbor. Carpenters and shipfitters labored to repair lingering battle damage. Dockyard inspectors argued vociferously with working party supervisors. Pursers and clerks counted casks, barrels, crates, and bags of supplies and swore with weary creativity each time the numbers came up wrong and they had to start all over again. Sailmakers and chandlers, gunners and quartermasters, captains and midshipmen, chaplains and clerks, flag lieutenants and messengers were everywhere, all of them totally focused on the tasks at hand and utterly oblivious to all the clangor and rush going on about them. The sheer level of activity was staggering, even for the Imperial Charisian Navy, and the squeal of sheaves as heavy weights were lifted, the bellow of shouted orders, the thud of hammers and the clang of metal resounded across the water. Any casual observer might have been excused for assuming the scene was one of utter chaos and confusion, but he would have been wrong.

          Amidst that much bustling traffic, one more admiral’s barge was scarcely noticeable, Domynyk Staynair thought dryly, easing the peg which had replaced his lower right leg. It had been skillfully fitted, but there were still times the stump bothered him, especially when he’d been on his feet — well, foot and peg, he supposed — longer than he ought to have been. And “longer than he ought to have been” was a pretty good description of most of his working days since stepping into Bryahn Lock Island’s shoes.

          Shoe, I suppose I mean, he reflected mordantly, continuing his earlier thought, then looked up as the barge slid under the overhanging stern of one of the anchored galleons. Her original name — Sword of God — was still visible on her transom, although the decision had already been taken to rename her when she was commissioned into Charisian service. Of course, exactly what that new name would be was one of the myriad details which hadn’t been decided upon just yet, wasn’t it?

          “In oars!” his coxswain shouted, and the oarsmen brought their long sweeps smartly inboard in a perfectly choreographed maneuver as he swung the tiller, sending them curving gracefully into Sword of God‘s dense shadow and laying the barge alongside the larger ship.

“Chains!” the coxswain shouted, and the seaman perched in the bow reached out with his long boat hook and snagged the galleon’s main chains with neat, practiced efficiency.

          “Smartly done, Byrt,” the admiral said.

          “Thank’ee, My Lord,” Byrtrym Veldamahn replied in a gratified tone. Rock Point wasn’t known for bestowing empty compliments, but he was known for honest praise when a duty or an evolution was smartly performed.

          The barge’s other passengers remained seated as Rock Point heaved himself upright. Tradition made the senior officer the last to board a small boat and the first to debark, and as a junior officer, Rock Point had subscribed to the theory that the tradition existed so that a tipsy captain or flag officer’s dutiful subordinates could catch him when he tumbled back into the boat in a drunken heap. He’d changed his mind as he grew older and wiser (and more senior himself), but there might just be something to the catching notion in his own case, he reflected now. He’d actually learned to dance again, after a fashion at least, since losing his leg, but even a boat the size of his barge was lively underfoot, and he balanced carefully as he reached out for the battens affixed to the galleon’s side.

          If I had any sense, I’d stay right here on a thwart while they rigged a bo’sun’s chair for me, he told himself dryly. But I don’t, so I’m not going to. If I fall and break my fool neck, it’ll be no more than I deserve, but I’ll be damned if they’re going to hoist me aboard like one more piece of cargo!

          He reached up, caught one of the battens, balanced on his artificial leg while he got his left foot ready, then pushed himself upward. He could feel his subordinates watching him, no doubt poised to rescue him when his foolishness reaped the reward it so amply deserved. At least King’s Harbor’s water was relatively warm year-round, so if he missed the boat entirely he wasn’t going to freeze . . . and as long as he didn’t manage to get crushed between the barge and the galleon or pushed down under the turn of the bilge, he wouldn’t drown, either. Not that he had any intention of allowing his illustrious naval career to be terminated quite that humiliatingly.

          He heaved, and he’d always been powerfully muscled. Since the loss of his leg, his arms and shoulders had become even more powerful and they lifted him clear of the curtsying barge. He got the toe of his remaining foot onto another batten, clear of the barge’s gunwale, then drew his peg up and wedged it carefully beside his foot before he reached upward once more. Climbing the side of a galleon had never been an easy task even for someone with the designed number of feet, and he felt himself panting heavily as he clambered up the battens.

          This really isn’t worth the effort, he thought, baring his teeth in a fierce, grin, but I’m too stubborn — and too stupid — to admit that to anyone. Besides, the day I stop doing this will be the day I stop being able to do it.

          He made it to the entry port and bo’sun’s pipes squealed in salute as he hauled himself through it onto the deck of what had once been Bishop Kornylys Harpahr’s flagship. If the truth be known, the identity of its previous owner was one of the reasons he’d selected it to become one of the first prizes to be commissioned into Charisian service.

That possibly ignoble (but profoundly satisfying) thought passed through his mind as the side boys came to attention and a short, compact officer in the uniform of a captain saluted.

          “High Admiral, arriving!” the quartermaster of the watch announced, which still sounded a bit unnatural to Rock Point when someone applied the title to him.

          “Welcome aboard, Sir,” the captain said, extending his hand.

          “Thank you, Captain Pruait.” Rock Point clasped forearms with the captain, then stepped aside and turned to watch as three more officers climbed through the entry port in descending order of seniority.

The bo’sun’s pipes shrilled again as another captain, this one on the tall side, stepped aboard, followed by Commander Mahndrayn and Lieutenant Styvyn Erayksyn, Rock Point’s flag lieutenant. Erayksyn was about due for promotion to lieutenant commander, although Rock Point hadn’t told him that yet. The promotion was going to bring a sea command with it, of course. That was inevitable, given the Imperial Charisian Navy’s abrupt, unanticipated expansion. Even without that, Erayksyn amply deserved the reward of which every sea officer worth his salt dreamed, and Rock Point was pleased for young Styvyn. Of course, it was going to be a pain in the ass finding and breaking in a replacement who’d suit the high admiral half as well.

Pruait greeted the other newcomers in turn, then stepped back, sweeping both arms to indicate the broad, busy deck of the ship. It looked oddly unfinished to any Charisian officer’s eyes, given the bulwarks’ empty rows of gun ports. There should have been a solid row of carronades crouching squatly in those ports, but this galleon had never carried them. In fact, that had quite a bit to do with Rock Point’s current visit.

The most notable aspect of the ship’s upper works, however, were the bustling work parties. Her original masts had been retained, but they were being fitted with entirely new yards on the Charisian pattern, and brand new sails had already been sent up the foremast, and more new canvas was ascending the mainmast as Rock Point watched. Her new headsails had already been rigged, as well, and painting parties on scaffolding slung over her side were busy converting her original gaudy paint scheme into the utilitarian black-and-white of the Imperial Charisian Navy.

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35 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 37

  1. tootall says:

    Where’s Merlin?? I want some Merlin!!

  2. Aenea says:

    “Sail plans: EXPANDED!”
    “Guns: ADDED!”
    “Crews: TRAINED!”

    King’s Harbor Conversion Center: We take Your Boats and make them SHIPS!

  3. Nimitz13 says:

    And we’ll take your flagship and make it OUR flagship – after major improvements of course!


  4. 4th Dimension says:

    Actually it’s more likely, we’ll take your ‘flagship’, and if we are verry lucky it will be able to serve as a barge.

  5. Peter says:

    It sounds like Charis will get some good mileage out of those NoG ships they captured. I wonder how much they can effectively expand their navy? And for the ships that they cannot absorb, I wonder how many they’ll sell into private use? It would be amusing to have former NoG galleons refitted as merchant ships sail into Siddarmark harbors under lease to Siddarmarkian merchant houses that were denied business by the Church during the building of those same ships. Delicious irony.

  6. jgarland says:


    Thanks for the snippet. That said, you’ve got to admit this one is mostly filler! Hopefully now that the intro stuff is out of the way there will be at least some small bit meat in the next one late Sunday night!

  7. Drak Bibliophile says:

    “Mostly filler” (including the next two snippets), yes.

    However, some of it is “prologue” to events later in the book. [Wink]

  8. jgarland says:

    @7…Next TWO??? Now THAT’s a snerk I did NOT want to hear. :-(

  9. RandomThoughts says:

    I wonder if the Charisians have discovered any mods to the churches ships that are improvements over their own designs. The church didn’t have exact details of Charis’ navy and it would be surprising if they solved every problem in exactly the same way. They may have come up with some innovations of their own – and this is precisely what Merlin wants to happen!

  10. robert says:

    What some call “filler” others call “setting up.”

  11. Sigh says:

    Just because others call it “setting up” doesn’t mean that some can’t call it “filler.”

  12. tootall says:

    Absense of Carronades- Perhaps these ships will have “new” armament -Shell firing guns? Long range guns?

    Eight more snippets- (sigh) Do we see Merlin again? A contest?

  13. Damon says:

    I wonder where the ICN is going to get enough people to actually crew all these new vessels. Maybe a combination of Charis, Emerald, Corisand, Tarot and Chisolm citizens?
    It’s going to be a logistical nightmare to get that many crews trained and organized.
    It is amazing that Charis has no press gangs.

  14. Doug Lampert says:

    @2, Of course adding sail and adding guns on the upper deck both make the ship much more topheavy than it was previously.

    And that in turn substantially reduces seaworthiness, which is a point that DW is unlikely to miss. If you add ballast to compensate that’s a lot of weight, which also hurts seaworthiness (in a different way).

    So, the question is, did the NoG grossly overengineer their ship’s seaworthiness (they might have to compensate for inferior officers and crews and an inability to take in sail quickly enough), or are the Charisians simply accepting a higher risk of ships capsizing and going down, or did the NoG undergun even their flagships due to a shortage of ordinance?

    I doubt that the ICN is accepting any substantial loss in seaworthiness, the NoG needs to win one big naval battle, the ICN needs to be able to maintain year round patrols and blockades. The NoG is willing to accept heavy losses, the ICN can’t afford to replace all that much crew. Thus ICN ships need seaworthiness more than NoG ships, so the ICN can’t afford to add all that much weight in sails or in upper deck guns.

    If nothing else I suspect that Charisian rigs are so superior that they’re actually cutting BACK a bit on sail weight rather than adding canvas. Similarly they may actually be reducing the number and weight of guns to allow for better carriages and a higher RoF and the effect of shells.

  15. PeterZ says:

    I suspect that the NoG ships will be used primarily for defense. Retask the crews from their existing galleys for the first few and begin recruiting non-Old Charisian crews for the rest. I suspect that even Corisandians may be attracted to defending their own nation against would be cut-throats and rapists.

    That allows more of the ICN built ships as the true force projectors. The defense fleet becomes the training grounds for landlubbers and potential new additions to the Empire.

  16. ET1swaw says:

    @14 Doug Lampert: It might even be simpler than that. NoG ships may still have been squareriggers or have minimal fore and aft rig. Charis starter with topsail schooners and may have graduated to baltimore clipper rigs by now. Early 1800s french designed the fastest hulls and americans the fastest sail plans. Merlin introduced fore and aft rigging in OAR, everyone else is still playing catch-up. As for guns, IIRC NoG cannon were mostly krakens with trunnions beltwelded on. I would pull them and use them for metal and replace them with well designed and TESTED models. IMO that is about all they are worth!

  17. KimS says:

    If you want to be really nasty, do this. Take some of these ships and refurbish them as they are. Fly the church flags or from where they were built then sail into small ports and wreak havoc. Off load troops. Destroy gun emplacements. etc.. Great ‘church’ PR.

  18. JeffM says:

    Where to find sailors? Well, at last glance, there were still Chisholmian galleys in service. Galley’s crew what–two for one to a galleon? Haarald had enough sailors for 130 galleys. Then there are Emeraldian sailors, (shortly), Tarotisian, and Corisandians should at least fill out merchant rosters to allow others to fill warship slots. Hey, they have to eat too!

    Who was it, White Ford who is the Tarotisian admiral? Won’t he just enjoy working for Cayleb? ;)

    Hmmm–at least he has some rapport with Thirsk, should the two meet…

  19. OwenB says:

    Why not make some of the spares into troop transports to cary the Imperial army to the mainland.

  20. PeterZ says:

    Tarot is dirt poor and Corisande is unsettled enough to spook potential investors away from there. Where o where will the poor Jhoe Blhows make a living in those two nations?

    Join the Navy and see the world! Join the Army, meet new people and kill them!

    Not the most dazzling choice perhaps but it will pay the bills. Tarrot must have oodles of boderline starving people there and Corisande not as bad off but not in great shape either.

  21. WP says:

    The NoG ships will allow resources to be shifted from shipbuilding to other things – rifled cannons, for example. Not the same people in all cases, but still useful. Also shipyard space can go to other things. I imagine the Chisholmian ship build industry is not thrilled because that is business they otherwise would have gotten. Perhaps they can develop dedicated troop transports.

    For while they will have more ships than trained crews. If the NoG ships are more lightly built, then they can rotate entire crews between ships that need repairs to those just out of the yards. I would think that Emerald and Chisholm could contribute shipyard space. It does not have to all be done in Charis.

    Along those lines I would start cutting and seasoning lumber ahead of immediate demand – just not as much now.

  22. Valinor says:

    @21 The thought about lumber makes me wonder if they could scrap some of thos NoG ships and build better ones with the lumber, which we know charis was lacking to the extreme of producing a number of warships using non seasoned lumber.

    Another consideration is what are those NoG built from, as I seriously doubt there was enought seasoned lumber for both the galley and galleon fleets launched by the church allready prepared at ehe start of the books in the entire world.

  23. RandomThoughts says:

    Perhaps, with the current surplus of ships, Charis can devote at least one entire shipyard to developing the next class of ships – those iron or iron and wood ships. If they haven’t already done so, they could also experiment with sails made from steel thistle. The tighter weave might help to offset some of the weight penalty imposed by the iron ships.

    In addition, to any possible advantages Charis might discover from the NoG ships, they should also be able to highlight any significant weaknesses. Knowing weak points in the enemy’s equipment has probably won more than one battle.

  24. Brom says:

    @14. Doug, it may be even simpler than that. Recall CDR Mahndrayn’s studies which revealed that early RCN ships were overgunned for best effectiveness – gun crews getting into each others’ way from lack of space between guns. No way has the Go4 figured that out, so the NoG ships were probably stuffed with as many guns as they could carry. The ICN is recalculating the gunnery plans as well removing/replacing the rigging. With even a 1-in-10 ratio of shell:shot, the “new” ICN will more than hold their own against any Go4 vessels.

  25. Brom says:

    additional text …”even with a reduced number of guns”.

  26. justdave says:

    @19 why?

    Charis is fighting a defensive war at sea, all they have to do to win is survive

    the land war will probably be with Siddarmark vs Go4

  27. Bret Hooper says:

    IIRC John Chandler Simpson had some ironclad ships built based on modifications of Eddie Cantrell’s design, and also some timberclads which proved more seaworthy. Could Charis use one or both of these designs? [wink]

  28. TimC says:

    Perhaps they will find a copy of one of Eric’s books in the library core.

  29. PeterZ says:

    @27 Bret, timberclads are not so good against exploding shells. So a shell doesn’t penetrat beyond the wood “armour”. It lodges in then explodes, ripping huge holes in the hull.

    I wonder about these NoG ships. They are designed to have higher fore and aft castles. If the castles and the weather deck was eliminated, the ship would sit higher in the water than the newest ICN ship. That suggests to me that the NoG ships may actually be easier to retrofit with steel armour than the latest ICN design.

    I think that iron is simply too heavy to use as armour in these retrofits for the required amount of protection. We will likely be treated to an enthralling discussion about the intracacies of finding the best mix of guns vs. armour and of carronades vs. large bore long guns. Furthermore, they will have to reinforce the keel and some of the ribs amidships with steel. There is no way the all wood design can manage to support the extra weight witout support.

    My guess on the mix of guns, is 2-3 carronades and 1 long gun on each broadside mounted amidships firing 8-9 inch smoothbore shells. 1 or 2 long chasers fore and/or aft firing 30 pound (6″)smoothbore shells.

  30. Bret Hooper says:

    @29 PeterZ: My comment was intended as comic relief, not as a serious suggestion. It occurs to me that what might actually work is steel thistle cloth, if they could produce enough of it.

  31. Valinor says:

    @30 I wonder if steel thistle cloth could be used to armor a ship or at least put it on the inside of the timbers to prevent splinters, like we would use kevlar or such…

  32. MTO says:

    @30, 31:
    I didn’t get the impression that steel thistle was actually as strong as steel. It sounds more like bamboo cloth: higher per acre yield than cotton, thinner fibres leading to a more silk like finish… it was certainly stronger than cotton, but I think you’re reading too much into the name. I would love to be proved wrong though!

  33. Valinor says:

    @32 I belive they said steel thistle coats are used by the rich as armor in battles, and I belive it is supposed to stop bullets.
    I supose you would have to use multiple layers to get such effect, but modern fibbers such as kevlar need more than one layer to stop modern bullets.

  34. TimC says:

    I suspect we may see steel thistle cloth used for ballons or dirigibles. Or am I in the wrong alternate universe!

  35. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Well TimC, there was a thought (in an earlier book) that steel thistle cloth would make great sails. [Wink]

    Of course, dirigibles/airships will have to wait until engines are developed on Safehold. [Smile]

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