Authors: Joel Shepherd
Published 2010 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
Tracato: A Trial of Blood and Steel
. Copyright © 2010 by Joel Shepherd. Map copyright © Kinart. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a Web site without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover illustration © David Palumbo.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Shepherd, Joel, 1974–
Tracato / by Joel Shepherd.
p. cm.—(A trial of blood and steel ; bk. 3)
Originally published: Sydney : Orbit, 2009.
ISBN 978–1–61614–244–5 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN 978–1–61614–294–0 (e-book)
Printed in the United States on acid-free paper
DON’T LIKE THE LOOK OF THIS,
” said Sasha, leaning on the
’s railing. Behind them, she could see three ships, triangular foresails billowing, masts rolling in the swell. “How far away, do you think?”
“Five leagues,” said Errollyn. “They’re no faster than us, I doubt they’ll catch us.”
Sasha turned to look across the deck, the wind whipping at her short hair, tossing the tri-braid across her cheek. Huge canvas sheets thudded and strained against their ropes as sailors ran on the deck, or crouched, and kept a wary eye to their knots and loops lest something abruptly break. Waves rolled across their path. The
surged as the swell lifted behind, white foam spraying as her bow rushed through the water. Then slowed, riding high atop the wave, mast tilting back to the left as she slid down the rear side, losing half her speed.
Port side, Sasha reminded herself. Port was left, starboard right. It was her seventh day at sea, and she’d not been as sick as she’d feared, despite the weather. Half a year in Petrodor and much experience fishing, rowing and sailing on small boats had granted her enough sea legs that she wasn’t green and hanging over the side, like some others she could name.
“I’m not real keen on learning naval warfare right now,” she said, scanning the horizon for other sails. She saw none besides the three, but the haze and rolling seas could conspire to hide things even from eyes as sharp as Errollyn’s. The three pursuers were almost certainly Algrassien, though it was too far to see the colours. They were past Algrasse now, and it was the Larosa coast that occasionally showed its dim shadow through the distant mist to starboard.
Soon, the captain hoped, they would meet a Rhodaani or a Saalshen patrol, and the pursuers would flee. They were little more than pirates, in the face of serrin naval power. Blockade they had threatened, should Elisse be attacked, and now, blockade they attempted…three vessels at a time, preying on freighters alone or in small groups, never daring to face warships bow to bow. There was too much traffic in the Elissian Sea for all freighters
to be guarded all the time, and a few had been lost. Sasha only hoped that this particular Rhodaani freighter was as fleet on the downwind run as her captain claimed.
She wondered if they shouldn’t be hugging closer to the Elissian coast. Elisse was no more friendly to her cause than Larosa or Algrasse, but it had been under attack for weeks. If the latest tales were true, the Rhodaani Steel had bypassed the port city of Algen and were laying siege to Vethenel further north. Given what Sasha had heard of the Rhodaani Steel, she had little doubt that, if true, Vethenel would have fallen by now.
But the Elissian coastline was rugged in parts, its waters treacherous, and its navy had not been entirely smashed, or so the
’s captain feared. More likely its surviving remnants were in hiding, he claimed, in hidden bays known only to local sailors. He chose for his ships a more westerly course, down the centre of the Elissian Sea. The great Rhodaani port city of Tracato lay barely a day and a half ahead, so long as the wind held to this direction.
Off to starboard,
heaved and foamed, keeping pace measure for measure. To port,
appeared to be struggling a little. Sasha saw men about her foresail ropes, adjusting tensions, with much gesticulating and pointing. Three against three.
“You’re the master tactician,” Errollyn told her. His bow was unstrung in his hand as he leaned on the rail. “What would you do?”
“Hope they don’t have artillery,” said Sasha.
“Doesn’t seem likely. There’s no room to fire past those foresails.”
“They won’t be carrying cargo either,” Sasha countered. “We’re heavier.”
“But better built.”
“Enough to make a difference when we’re so much lower in the water? They’re bound to be a bit faster, at least, and they probably will have artillery somewhere amidships, though they’d have to draw alongside to use it.”
“We might have to start throwing things overboard,” Errollyn suggested. He stood up from the rail, took a firing stance, and practised drawing an imaginary bowstring. Testing his balance, as the ship slowly heaved back and across to port.
“Fine,” said Sasha. “I’ll start with Alythia.”
Errollyn just looked at her, half amused, half wary. The wind blew ragged, dark-grey hair about his face, framing brilliant, deep-green eyes. “Maybe you’re getting enough practice at naval warfare already,” he suggested.
Sasha snorted. She turned and made her way past the captain’s wheel, down a short flight of steps to midships. Her balance was fine now, even with
the ship rolling so heavily…but then, balance was always her strong point. She’d been sick the second day after leaving Petrodor, but pretty good since then. Cool wind, sea spray and a view of the horizon all helped—she was much better above decks than below. Also, it was a relief to be finally free of Petrodor. Half a year in the primary port city of Torovan was her absolute limit, and while the ocean was nothing like the Lenay mountains and forests that she craved, its far, open horizons calmed her nerves and unknotted a winter’s worth of accumulated tension from her muscles.
Kessligh sat with Dhael upon the raised decking about the main mast, talking. Sasha sat beside Kessligh, and gazed up at the pair of heaving, triangular foresails. Their conversation was about sails, boats and winds. Sasha found more interest in Kessligh’s left leg as he sat with his it stretched out before him, the knee nearly straight. He seemed to find it more comfortable that way. The crossbow bolt had gone straight through the meat of his thigh five months before. The wound had healed well and the stiffening had not affected his movement as much as Kessligh had feared. But it was bad enough, and the limp was now permanent. A long, smooth staff rested at Kessligh’s side, his constant companion.
Dhael was Rhodaani, of an age with Kessligh, but considerably taller. He had long, greying hair, but a handsome, lean face, as little weathered by middle age as was Kessligh’s. He wore a black cloak against the spring chill, and seemed unbothered by the ship’s motion—unsurprising, for a merchant. Dhael Maran, however, was far more than just a Rhodaani merchant—he was a Tracato councilman, an elected leader of Rhodaan. Strange concept
was. Such concepts the serrin had introduced to the three Bacosh provinces of Rhodaan, Enora and Ilduur, after the fall of Leyvaan the Fool two hundred years ago. Normally the serrin had not the force of arms to invade their neighbours, but following the demise of Leyvaan’s armies, those three provinces in particular had been left with little to defend themselves. The armies of Saalshen had invaded, and met with many friendly peasants only too happy to be free of their feudal overlords.