‘You could be right, Gunda. I’d say that it’s too bad that the pretty-lady’s husband didn’t go a step or two further than just a punch in the mouth. A sword in the belly or an axe right between the eyes would have solved this problem before it even started, wouldn’t you say?’
‘I met him - briefly. He’s one of those people who just ooze decency out of every pore. Evidently, a punch in the mouth was about as far as he felt he should go.’
‘Decent people can be so inconvenient at times,’ Andar complained.
As Andar had predicted, the church fleet began to leave the harbor of Castano two days later, and Gunda put his uniform aside, dressed himself in some scruffy clothes, laid some rolled-up fishnet across the bow of the Albatross, and sailed out of the harbor in a generally northern direction. He easily outdistanced the wallowing church ships, and reached the floating ice-zone not long after noon the following day. He put out his nets about a half-mile from the southern end of Veltan’s channel, and then he waited.
It was almost dark when the first of the red-sailed church ships reached the mouth of the channel and dropped their anchors. ‘What took them so long?’ Gunda murmured to the Albatross.
As he’d been almost positive they would, the church ships hauled anchor as the sun rose and sailed on into the channel. ‘Well,’ Gunda muttered to the Albatross, ‘that answers that question, doesn’t it, baby?’
She didn’t exactly answer him, but she did bob slightly in what seemed to him to be a sign of her agreement.
‘It’s time to go on back to Castano, baby. We’d better let Andar know what the church people are up to.’
Andar bent several rules as he loaded the soldiers of Narasan’s army on board the ships he’d hired. There were a few shrill protests when he announced that there would be no separate quarters for the officers, and, since the weather was pleasant, there was no real reason for everybody in the army to have a roof over his head. The ships that sailed from the harbor were extremely crowded, but the entire army was going north, despite the fact that there weren’t really enough ships to carry them all. Practicality was often necessary, but sometimes Andar carried it to extremes.
Gunda had attached a long rope to the bow of the Albatross and tied the other end to the stern of the lead-ship, the Triumph, and when the Triumph approached the channel through the ice-zone, he went to the cramped cabin that served as Andar’s headquarters. ‘I think we might want to be just a bit careful when we go out of the north end of the channel,’ he suggested. ‘It might be best if you stayed out of sight of the southern coast. If our count was right, there are probably five church armies camped along the southern shore, and it might be better if they don’t know that we’re here. I’ll take the Albatross in a bit closer and see what the churchies are up to.’
‘Don’t take any chances, Gunda,’ Andar cautioned. ‘Narasan’s likely to have me for lunch if I let you get killed.’
‘I’ll be careful, Andar. All I really need to know is whether the church ships are anchored along the coast. I’m almost positive that they are, but let’s make certain. We don’t want to have to go looking for them.’
A couple of sailors helped Gunda pull the Albatross up close behind the Triumph, and then Gunda slid down the rope and untied it from the bow of his little sloop. He quickly raised her sail, swooped on around the Triumph, and sailed on toward the north end of the channel.
It was almost dusk when the Albatross came out into open sea again, and Gunda sailed north toward the coast of the Land of Dhrall in fading light. The moon was still in her last quarter, and Gunda knew that he’d have plenty of light once she rose, so he anchored the Albatross some distance to the north of the ice-zone to wait for her.
It was quite probably almost midnight when the moon rose, and Gunda raised the anchor of the Albatross and rowed her on toward the coast, reasoning that if he left her sail down, she’d be almost invisible as he went along the south shore.
The villages along the coast were easy to locate because of the lantern-light coming from the crude houses, and Gunda rowed the Albatross slowly past each village he came to. There were several church ships anchored just out from each village. Gunda couldn’t make out too many details, but it seemed that there were some kind of enclosures in the vicinity of each village, and they appeared to be well-guarded by red-uniformed church soldiers.
‘It looks to me like we were right, baby,’ he muttered to the Albatross. ‘I think we’ve seen enough. Let’s go back and talk with Andar.’
The Triumph and the following fleet reached the eastern-most peninsula jutting out from the south coast of Veltan’s Domain three days later, and Gunda was startled to see what appeared to be the whole fleet of Maag longships moving swiftly down from the north. Things were just a bit tense until Gunda managed to get Sorgan’s attention. For some reason, the Maags seemed to be in a belligerent frame of mind. Gunda climbed down a rope ladder to the Albatross and rowed on over to the Seagull. ‘What’s afoot?’ he called up to the burly Ox.
‘It seems that we’ve got us another war on our hands,’ Ox shouted back.
‘How did you find out about it?’ Gunda demanded. ‘I thought we were the only ones who knew.’
‘We were up in the mountains and Veltan came popping out of nowhere and told us that a whole fleet of Trogite ships had landed down here in the south. The cap’n told him that we’d take care of it for him.’
‘That makes sense,’ Gunda replied, pulling the Albatross in beside the Seagull. ‘I think I’d better have a talk with Sorgan. I believe I’ve managed to come up with the answers to a few questions he might have.’
‘Come on board, then.’ Ox pushed a rope ladder over the rail, and Gunda climbed on up even as Sorgan came forward from the stern of the Seagull.
‘What’s going on down here, Gunda?’ he demanded.
‘I’ve got the rest of Commander Narasan’s army on those ships over there, Sorgan,’ Gunda replied. ‘We’re bound for the mouth of the River Vash, like the commander told me to back in Veltan’s castle. Anyway, when I got back to Castano, the church had appropriated every pier and wharf in the entire harbor, and they were busy loading five church armies onto church ships. When that was all done, they sailed north. I followed them in that little fishing yawl of mine, and, sure enough, they sailed right into the mouth of the channel through the ice-zone. Isn’t it peculiar that not too long after Jalkan had escaped and stole Veltan’s sloop, a whole fleet of church ships loaded up five armies and came sailing up through that channel in the ice?’