“After all a little discussion with you might make the judges go a bit lenient on the sentence, cut off a hundred death sentences or so.”
The Arsenal, Cleadgate, Beltian Republic.
Admiral of the fleet Thomas Harper stood at the window and looked out at the rather amazing sight in dock one. Terrible, as Paeris Zylvyre’s flagship, was parked on a barge and moored next to the park at the old battery in Chatsrey as a trophy. There was some talk of repairing the damage and making Terrible a permanent monument to Paeris Zylvyre’s many victims. In any case, the other four ships of the squadron were what concerned him now. One of Richard’s favorite stories had been of the orc army who had made a giant horse to fool some dwarfs into letting them into their city and the heroics and cleverness of all the people in the story that ended with the orc prince and dwarf princess getting married and ending the war. In any case, the admiral’s planners were using Paeris Zylvyre’s squadron to create a Trogian horse for the hidden city. The naval architects had built four steel boxes that were being inserted carefully into the hulks of the Ravathyra ships. Then the decks, the masts and the rigging were going to be restored. The resulting ships would look like Ravathyra vessels but be something else entirely, including being able to move under power.
The planners had come up with this as a way to get marines into the harbor and as close to the places where the Ravathyra had their slaves without raising alarm or having transports ground in the shallow harbor waters. The general wanted a battalion of his assault troops in the harbor moving inland when the fight started. Having the Ravathyra squadron would make that possible if things went right.
The admiral turned from watching the activity to the work at hand, juggling the mission of the fleet with the bottoms he had. His biggest strength was his battle line, both squadrons. First squadron had the newest ships, the four Fearless class which were a radical design with all big guns and the four Krakens which were armed with main batteries of four twelve inch guns and eight eight inch guns in sponsons on either broadside. The problem was that the recent short war with the Kingdom had shown that the eight inch guns were just extra weight as the action had happened at the extremes of their range and it was impossible to accurately determine which shots were landing. Captain Scott Percy had come up with a solution and the Fearless class was equipped with the new gun directors but that wasn’t possible for the Krakens as they were and he couldn’t pull them for refit right now, land the eight inch batteries and equip the twelve inch batteries with directors.
The Second battle squadron was eight ships, all of which had been built in pairs over the last thirty years and various gun technologies in a constantly changing environment. The wizards were still trying to make the new propellants work in the old guns without the guns self destructing. The admiral had come to the conclusion that the guns should just be landed and the ships all reengineered as much as possible to mount the twelve inch guns of the new type. He had the construction board working up a proposal for the rebuilding. Considering the extent of the proposed rebuilding, Congress would be better off buying eight more Fearlesses, but the admiral’s brother had told him that as far as a large part of Conress was concerned, scrapping ships that “weren’t that old” was out of the question and a third battle squadron was as well.
Then there were the twenty eight cruisers that were the workhorses of his fleet. Ten of them were new, the Cleadgate Class, with eight inch guns and turbines, eight ships, the Victory class that still had masts and sails were on station at the island keeping an eye for a potential Ravathyra raid or here at the arsenal refitting. The last ten were equipped with a mixed battery of eight and six inch guns, triple expansion engines and a decent turn of speed. The problem was that those cruisers, the second squadron and half of his destroyers were still fueled by coal and that wasn’t likely to change. They also did not have the bunkerage or the range to reach the empire. In fact none of his ships did, yet. Two huge shapes were visible at the fitting out dock, with cranes hovering over them as the yard worked feverisly to bring both ships to completion.
The fleet was the work of his predecessor, Admiral Wesley Fielding, who had spent the forty years of his career fighting for better ships to fight the scourge of the Ravathyra and beat them back. The new ships that the admiral had were the result of that fight and Fielding backing every crazy inventor and crazy thing to get the things that could beat the Ravathyra and their mages. Wesley had died of a stroke after winning one last budget fight and left Thomas Harper with the beginnings of a fleet that could beat the Ravathyra at last. The new submarines had been the result of that last budget fight and the pictures on Harper’s desk, the pictures that were going to go up underneath Admiral Fielding’s picture in the memorial hall were Wesley’s final victory.
The door knocked and his adjudant said, “Admiral, your brother is here.”
“Send him in!”
Bob walked in with a bit of a morose face. “Hi Tom.”
“What brings you here?”
“Going back and forth with Ironaxe about his client. He wants to make it clear that since a bunch of the people that he wanted sent back aren’t coming back since they apparently don’t want to, I can’t bring them up as evidence.”
“You don’t need it.”
“I know. But a little drama in the courtroom keeps things from being too dull and one of the people not coming back is Richard.”
“That will not make mother happy. She wanted him back. At least you can blame Richard for that.”
“I know and one reason that I was talking to Kulgha was to get the method to communicate with the empire and Richard so that mother can tell Richard in no uncertain terms that he better get home as soon as he can or he’s going to be in trouble. I may also have to arrange passage to the empire for mother so that she and dad can give Richard trouble.”
“She’s been exiled.”
“She doesn’t care, you know that. She’ll just wave you and me for clout and dad for his days in Congress and make that go away. She also knows the new ambassador from when they were girls together in the empire.”
“What if Richard has a wife and kids?”
“Then she’s going, no doubt about it. She will be expecting you to provide protection against Ehlark Zylvyre. First battle squadron should do nicely.”
“I thought I had heard that. My head has been tied up with getting his son strung up. How did it happen?”
“One of my submarines was doing reconnaissance at the Ravathyra’s hidden city and Ehlark Zylvyre and his squadron sailed right into a perfect shot. Commander, that is, Captain Pinch took the shot. I have pictures here on the desk.”
The admiral handed his brother the pictures. His brother looked at them and said, “How did you get the pictures from the land?”
“I can’t say very much, but apparently the Ravathyra’s idea of security is rather pathetic and just about everybody, including us, has spies in the city. Our problem was that we had no way to talk to the spies once they were there. The commander’s shot made a lot of friends and opened communication. The pictures were a gift.”
Bob handed the pictures back. “Make sure that you bring these to mother’s birthday in two five days. It will be at my place this year. Elfroda is expecting you.”
“I will be there unless Rolin Zylvyre launches something major.”
“Do you think that he will?”
“I don’t know. Ehlark would have sent ever more of his ships in penny packets, like he did that squadron there, which would have made things messy for the coastal communities and Ehlark’s ships. Rolin has been more cautious so far. Of course getting ships blown up right outside your secret harbor tends to breed caution. I have boats stationed now at the hidden city, where Rolin has no ships at the moment, and Eryding where he has about sixty ships, but they aren’t moving. The problem is that Eryding is at the extremes of the boats’ patrol range and it’s difficult to keep a constant watch and still have boats for the other tasks I need them for. Why don’t I take you to lunch and you can update me on your case. Unfortunately for the navy, Paeris’s dad or somebody beat keeping your mouth shut while in trouble into him and Kulgha won’t let me have some marine sergeants discuss things with him.”
“I can’t understand why. After all a little discussion with you might make the judges go a bit lenient on the sentence, cut off a hundred death sentences or so.”