"Never underestimate your enemy. No tactic, however brilliant, will work if you cannot predict the enemy's response.



The waves roiled non-stop from all around. Lorist stood tall on the deck of his whaling boat, copper telescope in hand. He gazed at the shapes on the horizon. His lips crept into a smile.

"They still haven't had enough of Senbaud's beating. As expected of Invincible. I thought they would attack at night to avoid being shot at by the cannons. I didn't think they would actually come out to fight in the middle of the day. I don't know if they're brave or desperate. I shouldn't complain though; I like enemies better this way."

It was the 7th of the 6th. Dawn was fading, and the sun shone brightly -- a perfect day for barbeque. If only he hadn't stood watch the whole night. He fell asleep just before dawn and missed the most beautiful time of the day. Jinolio woke him shortly after it passed, informing him that the enemy had just come into sight.

He couldn't understand why they didn't attack at night. His cannons wouldn't be nearly as accurate then. They hadn't moved an inch the whole night and now they were charging with the sun to just above the horizon to the east.

"I doubt this is just a probe..." said he.

Wasn't the enemy commander being too foolish? They were charging right into what they had to know was a killzone. This wasn't bravery, it was suicide. The sea forced captains to be offensive, but one could be smart.

The 16 whaling ships lined up port broadside to the enemy. The wind blew along the line and tried to force them out of formation, so they had to drop anchor to stay in position. This also meant they couldn't run if things somehow went badly. It was do or die. This battle would decide everything. Lorist was confident though.

Ten windows opened on the first deck below on each ship. Each ship had ten to a side. It was nothing to smirk at, but it was just barely over half the complement of each Blitz, which had 18 to a side.

Sid had been busy the whole winter. He toiled day and night to retrofit the fleet. All in all the fleet was now 320 cannons stronger than before the retrofit. Half sat on these 16 whaling ships. The rest were put on Daws. Each ship only got four, so Lorist put the artillery regiment on them to make up for the shortfall. It added ten cannons to each ship on the top deck. They weren't limited to being 5 to a side though. The artillery regiment's cannons, being designed for land-based use, were wheeled, so they could be moved from one side to the other, making them far more powerful than their numbers suggested. The 40 surplus cannons were fitted on Saws; each got one on its nose with which to chase down fleeing enemies and take on the enemy's rammers.

Josk and Jinolio stood by Lorist's side. Reidy and Shuss were assigned to the two whaling ships at the end of the line. The three contingents could quickly respond to any enemy blademasters that attack anywhere on the line. Josk and Ovidis were the only men he'd brought with him from the legions.

Josk had disobeyed orders and should be in Wild Husbandry as punishment, but he was one of Lorist's most trusted subordinates and friends. It was tough on Freiyar to exercize authority over the man so close to his lord and who was the legion's father, so Lorist took this opportunity to give him a break. He could also use Josk's power and accuracy to incapacitate enemy ships as he had done all those years ago.

Ovidis was there to do what he did best -- fire catapults. Despite having ten cannons a piece, the whaling ships still felt under-armed, so Lorist fitted them with twenty catapults each. He could probably fit more carroballistae, but they weren't effective against big hulking masses of wood. And it never hurt to have more weaponry to take care of ships that got too close.

A horn echoed from above their heads; the lookout.

"Enemies spotted. 60 Daws in the front, those behind unknown. At least four hundred in total. Four Sabnims in their midst as well. 500 marks and closing!"

A kilometer. It wouldn't take long for them to arrive. The enemy had the one thing in their advantage that counted most for their tactic -- the wind. It had shifted in the last couple of minutes and now blew at their backs, giving them the maximum speed they could get.

"Tell Senbaud to flank them with the Blitzes. Keep them from going around the line. Push them into our killzone! Do they really think they can run us over with shear numbers?!"

Jinolio sent the order up to the crow's nest. The lookout blared a series of short, sharp horn blasts and started waving his signal flags. Soon the signals fluttered down the line to the two fringes where Senbaud's contingents sat, waiting. A few minutes later the flags fluttered his acknowledgment back and a number of black dots began pulling away from the formation, heading towards the enemy in a wide arc. Cannonfire soon followed.

Their ships were very close to the enemy formation, probably just 200 meters, making maximum use of their power. The ships left white snakes in their wakes which the wind carried over to the line of whaling ships. Their fire seemed to have no effect though. Two more volleys only made two Daws slow slightly, the rest continued on as if nothing was happening.

"200 marks and closing," the lookout reported.

Lorist focused on one of the struck ships and noticed white powder leaking out of the holes in its hull. When he checked the deck, he saw sacks stacked all along the outside of the deck.

"Smart little bastards..."

No wonder they'd yet to sink a single ship. If the enemy thought this was enough to turn the tide, they were sorely mistaken. Lorist would teach the entire continent what it meant to charge his fleet today.

"Fire the first volley when they're 300 meters away and switch to chain shot. Hit their masts and sails!"

The flags waved again, all the way down the line.

There was no point in switching to chain shot now. It would take them longer to reload than to fire and then load again. They could not afford to waste any firing time.

"Hundred and fifty marks and closing!"

The lookout's voice was drowned out by cannonfire. Every ship up and down the line shuddered as they spewed fire and smoke. It blinded everyone for a few dozen seconds, but the steady breeze pushed it over the decks and out of the way, revealing the enemy.

The largest barrage in history had just been fired, but to little effect. He could see the ripples of several hundred shots in the water -- two hundred had fallen short. Only the closest two Daws shook as dozens of holes popped into existence in their hulls. They lost direction, sliding to one side and slowly started to list.

Can't be helped, I suppose, Lorist sighed, The boys only have a few months of experience. How unlucky.

Five hundred cannonballs sank just two ships. Very disappointing.

"Fire!" Howard roared on his ship.

Everyone covered their ears, but they were still momentarily deafened but the roar. The ship shuddered. Their hearing recovered just in time to hear the last echoes of the low whistle as the cannonballs disappeared towards the enemy formation.

The 60 closest enemy ships lost their masts instantly. And started slowing down. The ships behind swerved violently to avoid running into them, some didn't make it and crashed into those in front. The enemy formation came to a halt just 200 meters from the line.

A copper whistle pierced the chaos. Dozens echoed down the line. The order to hold fire. Lorist didn't want to waste cannon ammunition. This was why he'd brought the catapults, after all.

"Fire!" cried Ovidis.

Wood and rope creaked up and down the line as hundreds of boulders arced through the sky. These boulders were different from those used on land. Those used on land were round so they could bounce better, but here they only hit or missed, they could not bounce off the water's surface. So they were as jagged as they could be found to cause as much damage as possible, even with glancing blows.

The first volley was very inaccurate, but that was to be expected; they were, after all, mostly range finding shots. A few quick adjustments later, the second volley was unleashed. This time the boulders were covered in a flax net, soaked in animal fat, oil, or tar, and set alight. The mixture was a nightmare to put out. Pouring water on it only made it spread faster.

The nearest several dozen Daws caught fire immediately. Every now and again one or two people would jump off, some covered in flames. The fire quickly spread to the ships that had crashed into their rear, hoping over using the fallen masts, or through sparks jumping to the sails. Those not on fire yet, though many were mastless, continued to drift towards the line on their own momentum.

A series of booms echoed from the flanks and small explosions of splinters racked the ships to the side, most of the rest losing their masts as well. The enemy was now completely caught. They couldn't sail forward since that way was blocked by burning and sinking ships, they couldn't sail sideways since they were constantly being peppered by Senbaud's ships, and their formation was too tight to turn around easily. Even if they did, the wind would be blowing against them. They could make a slow dash for the horizon, but no one expected them to make it.

An easy win. Lorist smiled.

Smoke rose into the skies and obscured the rest of the fleet, but the enemy could not use it. Senbaud would not let them.

"Enemies, 70 marks!" roared the lookout.

"What?" Lorist gasped.

"They're pushing the burning wrecks!"

"Ovidis! Switch fire to just behind the wrecks! Keep the rocks flying!"

A mistake, a big mistake. He never thought the enemy would use their own casualties against him.

"Danger!" cried Jinolio as he leapt over.

 


 

Lorist looked into the sky and saw thousands of glints descending on the ships.

This week's quiz question is: "Who saved Balor during his childhood confrontation with the necromancer?"

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