The mass of Siceliot warriors was three hundred yards away, coming at a dead run. Sunlight blinked off their metal, rippling and sparkling; for most of them that was only a spearhead or a knife. A few had helmets, or bronze-studded leather jerkins. The sound of their feet and screaming warcries drummed in his ears. Four chariots came ahead of the pack, with chieftains dressed in armor much like the Mycenaeans.
"Speaking of which," Walker murmured to himself. Most of the Achaean host was still down by the ships; he glanced back over his shoulder and made a small tsk sound.
Getting their precious gee-gees and dog-carts out, he thought.
Odikweos was beside him, leaning on an old-fashioned figure-eight cowhide shield nearly as tall as he was, with his Ithakans behind him. The tall horsehair plume of his helmet bobbed over his head; the protection was rows of bone sawn from boar's tusks, sewn onto a thick boiled-leather backing. He was wearing a chain-mail shirt below that, though, not the cumbersome affair of bronze plates that was the native equivalent. The Greek hawked dust from his throat, squinted, and spat.
"I hope your savior God inspires you," he said calmly. His armsmen were shifting in place, sweating and wiping their palms on their tunics for a better grip on their spearshafts. "There are about four thousand of them... and only six hundred here ready to fight."
"Let me show you," Walker said. Bright boy, this one. Steady nerves, too.
He turned to his own men, four hundred of them, spaced in blocks two ranks deep between the six field guns. Officered by his old followers, a few Americans, more men from Alba.
"Ready," he said, his voice clear but carrying.
The front rank knelt. The second levelled their muskets and thumbed back the hammers, a ripple of motion like the spines of a hedgehog bristling.
"Aim. Gunners, ready."
The gun-captains were straddling the trails of their weapons, peering along the barrels.
"Fire on the word of command."
The gunners skipped aside, holding the lanyards of their weapons. He
judged the distance to the charging locals. Two hundred yards, over
ground as near flat as no matter
The steel flashed downward. The noise that followed was stunning, a blow felt through the gut and thudding into the chest as much as through the ears. The cannon leapt backwards, their trails plowing furrows in the dusty earth. The crash of four hundred rifle-muskets was almost as loud. A huge cloud of dirty-white smoke billowed out, smelling of burnt sulfur. It drifted away rapidly, and there was a murmur and shifting among his men as they saw the results. His own eyebrows went up a little. The guns had cut wedges through the native war-host, as neat as if God had stamped them out with cookie-cutters. Within the cleared spaces lay body parts and ground that looked as if it had been splashed with red goo. Further away, the broader parts of the wedge were carpeted with shapes that twitched and moaned. A horse screamed high and shrill, dragging itself along by its forelimbs, then collapsed.
The half-inch minne balls of the muskets had done a fair bit of damage as well, leaving bodies scattered back a hundred yards or more through the loose clumps of the Sicileots.
Walker smiled like a wolf as he lowered his binoculars. "Steady, there," he called out. "Keep it going."
The gun teams were jumping in with swabber and rammer. Hot bronze
hissed as the wet sponges were run down, twirled, and pulled free.
Loaders came forward with cartridges of caseshot, and the rammers pushed
them down. Gunners stepped close and ran long steel pins down the
toucheholes to pierce the thin linen that held the gunpowder, then
filled the pans with fine-ground priming powder from their horns. Six
men ran each gun back to its original position, and the cycle was ready
to begin again. The musketeers were going through their own drill
The rest came to the 'ready' with no more than a tense grin or wiping of hands on tunics. The enemy were dribbling to a halt, stunned and bewildered. They'll need a minute or so to get the idea, he told himself. And it probably wouldn't be this easy again.
"Ready," he said. "Take aim. Fire."
Point-blank range, less than a hundred yards, against a target ten men deep in its thinnest point. Thousands of lead projectiles slammed into the Sicilians, all of them travelling at over a thousand feet per second. Dust spurted up as cannister balls and rifle bullets sparked off stone or hard-packed earth. Smoke drifted away. When it did, the enemy were running for the hills, or hobbling or crawling; hundreds of them lay in the dirt, and the sound of their terror was like a huge sounder of pigs squealing.
Walker laughed. "Reload, fix bayonets, prepare to advance. One round of cannister in the guns and limber up to follow."
About a mile thataway was the headquarters of the paramount chief of
this district, the closest thing Bronze Age Sicily had to a king
Goddamned low-surplus economy, he thought, remembered frustration
building his pleasure now. I need to build up on the QT, until I'm too
strong even if they do realize I'm undermining the system. Luckily, the
Bronze Age Greeks were... no, not stupider than their Classical
descendants. Just not given to rational, systematic thought
"We'll be first with the plunder," Odikweos said.
Walker nodded. I like these guys, he thought, not for the first time. Straightforward.
"And maybe a few girls worth fucking," he said; that was often fun in an athletic sort of way if they fought. "But the island itself is the real plunder."
Odikweos nodded. "If we can hold it," he said.
Yeah, this one is 'way above average brains-wise. Got to get him on my side.
The Achaean licked the sweat off his lips, looking sideways at the grinning, laughing riflemen and gunners. A drumbeat and the whole mass moved forward in step, bayonet points in a bristling line. "With these, we may be able to."
"If the right man is in charge," Walker said. And I certainly don't have the time for it.
Swindapa daughter of Dhinwarn, of the Star Blood line of Kurlelo, the Kurlelo who had their ancestor-poles and circle-house by the Great Wisdom that the Eagle People called Stonehenge, spun on the ball of her foot and paused. Then she sank slowly back down with both hands raised to the crescent Moon in the last gesture of the Dance. Her long cornsilk hair floated down around her shoulders as she did, sliding over bare skin like the kiss of the Moon.
"ahTOwak hdimm'uHOtna nawakawa!" she cried.
The others in the circle echoed her: Silver starlight make a path for the children of Moon Woman.
Her name meant Deer Dancer in the Old Tongue, and this had always been her favorite part of the rituals.
That was the end of the most sacred part of the ceremony. The circle stood silent for a moment, then gave a soft sigh together and became individuals once more. She stood watching the glimmering trail that stretched out over Nantucket harbor as a singing peace replaced exultation.
Coming to herself, she looked up at the sleek curve of the hull that
stood on the slipways above them, smelling of cut wood and fresh paint.
The English word for such a ship was clipper. It was not a bad name
Marian came forward from the shadows of the slipway. She wasn't a
StarMoon Dancer, of course
"We must sing her a soul down from the stars," Swindapa said.
Marian closed her eyes for a second
"See her bow break free of our Mother's sea
In a sunlit burst of spray.
That stings the cheek while the rigging will speak,
Of sea-miles gone away!
She will range far south, from the harbor's mouth
And rejoice in every wave..."
"What is it, Doc?" Cofflin said, looking up from his desk.
Doctor Henry Coleman looked grave; but then, the head of the island's medical efforts usually did, even on a fine fall day like this. The round-faced youngish man beside him was grave too, although he looked like the type who usually wore a smile.
"Justin Clemens, isn't it?" Cofflin said. Twenty-five, the filing system in his mind said. In the medical apprentice program since the Event. Passed for doctor two years ago. Odd, I haven't seen him around much.
"Been over on the mainland
Clemens made a slight face; Cofflin sympathized. There had been bad problems with uptime diseases in Alba. It was nothing compared to what happened when something got loose among the Archaic-phase Indians. Even Alban diseases were a major problem to the Amerindians. The Islanders been trying to help, but it was debatable whether it did anything more than soothe the Town Meeting's conscience despite the extension officers' devoted work.
"We've got a problem," Coleman said. "Nothing on the mainland. A problem for us."
"Problems, worry and grief are my speciality here," Cofflin said, rising and pouring three cups of cocoa from the pot over the spirit-lamp by the window. "Yours with honey, right?"
"Ah... fine for me too, Chief."
"Now, what's the problem?"
He sat back, stirring his cup. The kids were all in school, Martha
had spent the morning teaching classes at the Floating University
"Well, let them," he muttered.
And he was also going to get a regulation pushed through about crewpeople being paid on shares of the profit from a voyage, the way they'd done on the whaling fleet in New England's glory days.
"We have cowpox," Coleman said, and his long lantern jaw shut with a snap.
Jared sat up straighter, putting aside his cup. "What's cowpox?" he said, cudgeling his memory. Doesn't sound good, whatever it is.
"Justin here spotted it, had some Alban immigrants working on a dairy farm in for their chickenpox shots." They'd worked out a live-virus innoculation that usually worked.
Clemens kneaded his fingers together. "Ah... It's a viral disease in cows, sometimes jumping to humans in close contact. Fever, rash of red spots sometimes leaving very faint pockmarks."
"Sound like anything familiar?" Coleman added grimly.
Cofflin frowned. "Sounds like... Christ, no!"
Coleman nodded. "Smallpox is a very close relative. Best guess was,
back in the twentieth, that it was a mutation of cowpox, probably
started among pastoralists somewhere. Nobody knows where, Europe, Asia,
Africa, Middle East, you name it. When it hit the Mediterranean basin
Cofflin ran a hand over his forehead. Colds and flu were nasty enough
to the more isolated Bronze Agers, particularly adults. Chickenpox had
been ghastly among the local Indians, and it had killed more than a few
Albans here on Nantucket before they'd gotten it under control by tight
quarantine and isolation nursing
"What can we do?" he asked.
"Luckily, there's no evidence at all that smallpox exists here," Coleman said. "What we've got is the possibility of it lurking in some backwater. That's the good news."
"The bad news is that we're poking into a lot of backwaters," Cofflin said. "Ayup. Can't stop, either."
Clemens leaned forward eagerly, balancing his cup and saucer on his knee and gesturing with the free hand. Cofflin had noticed that a lot of the younger generation waved their hands more... probably immigrant influence, he thought.
"We can do something," the young man said. "Vaccination originally
meant simply infecting everyone with cowpox as children, and repeating
the process periodically. I recommend we put it to the Meeting and have
a universal program
Cofflin glanced over to Coleman for confirmation, then nodded decisively, and pulled a pad of paper towards himself. "Right. Let's get going on this... just a second."
He ducked into the next room, where Martha was dictating a letter to her secretary. "Sorry to interrupt, Martha, but could you handle Gerrard next? Doc Coleman and I've got a bit of a crisis."
"Certainly, dear... we'll ask the Council for the new teacher-training school if Lisa can get four hundred signatures?"
"Ayup." They needed more teachers; the population had a little more than doubled but the number of children had gone up by nearly four times, not to mention adult-education classes. "But..."
"... don't let her know exactly how much we support her."
Cofflin nodded; that would keep her on her toes, which would make getting the measure through the Meeting easier.
"But you should see Hillwater after that," Martha said.
He nodded again. Hillwater wanted this new Conservancy Office set up,
to regulate things like whaling and forestry
I'll put Sweet in charge, he thought. Two good reasons for that; one, that he'd do a good job of it, being a conservationist but not crazy, and two, then Sweet would be the lightning-rod for complaints. Let him take the heat from both directions.
Martha smiled at him, the familiar dry quiet curve of the lips. Knows exactly what's going through my mind, he thought. She was smarter than him, for one thing... and for another, they just thought a lot alike. It was a profoundly comforting thing. Doreen and Ian were like that, too. Marian and Swindapa weren't, and he wondered how they stood it.
People are different, he decided; just because it was banal didn't make it any less true.
"Well, you brought that off fairly well," Coleman said, as the two doctors pulled their bicycles out of the rack in front of the Chief's House.
"Thanks, Henry," Clemens said. "I felt a mite nervous, bearding the Chief in his den."
"Jared doesn't bite," Coleman said dryly.
"Yes, but he's the Chief."
"You youngsters needn't put the reverential tone into the word," Coleman said. "He's our Chief Executive, and a good one, not a king. Ayup. You've got a good eye, youngster. Doubt I would have spotted those pocks for what they were."
A shy grin. "I'm starting to feel like a real doctor."
Coleman stopped with one foot on the pedal. "Dammit, don't let me hear you say that again! You've been in the apprentice program since the Year Two; you are a real doctor. Real as I am."
"Sir... Henry, you know I don't have everything a medical school up in the 20th taught."
"You know more than a lot of those overspecialized machine-tenders," Coleman snapped. "You're a damned fine GP and general surgeon, and you know how to improvise. Plus you've got a good grounding in general biology. You can do anything I can do, you know what works and why, and you're qualified to teach it. I'd call that being a real doctor, all right. I'm not immortal, Justin; none of us geezers are. If anyone's going to keep the torch lit, it's going to be you, and the others your age."
They pushed out into the traffic, pedalling easily. Doctors rated the cherished pre-Event bicycles, not the heavier solid-tyre model Seahaven's spinoffs made. Gay Street had little afternoon traffic, only a milk-and-groceries delivery wagon drowsing along behind a sleepy pony. Justin Clemens puffed a little as they wove among the heavier traffic on upper Main, dodging past a steam hauler, a few of the well-to-do in two-wheel, one-horse buggies, and a stream of more prosaic wagons and cycles like their own. Doc Coleman nodded and waved to greetings; Clemens felt a rush of pride. He'd apprenticed with the best there was, no doubt about that.
The Cottage Hospital wasn't cottages; it had picked up the name back before it moved into its present gray-shingle quarters on South Prospect Street forty years before the Event. It had grown since the days when serious cases could be helicoptered over to Boston; new covered passages snaked out to neighboring buildings, tying them into the older block. Nineteen beds had grown to a hundred or so, not counting the out-stations at the mainland Bases and in Alba; and this was now the only teaching hospital in the world, and the only center of medical research. The gardens were still lovely with trellised roses, though.
Those were Coleman's hobby, the sweet-scented yellow old-fashioned type, others in crimson, pale red, an almost purple color. Lilac was blooming under the white-painted windows as well, shaggy and bee-murmerous. The head of the Hospital thought the sights and scents were good for convalescents, as well as worthwhile on general principles.
Clemens broke into a beaming grin as he saw Andrew and Kate Nelson
helping their eight-year-old son into a street-tricycle
"Feeling a lot better, sprout?" he asked the boy. Smoothest appendectomy I ever did, he thought.
"Sure am, Doctor," the boy said.
The smile slid away from Justin's face as the parents completed their thanks and another bicycle drew up. The rider was a woman of his own age, a trim figure in green shirt and slacks and bobbed yellow hair, with a satchel over her back.
"'lo, Ellen," he said.
"Justin," she replied. Her eyes went to Coleman, and she patted the knapsack. "Brandt had the poppy extract," she said. "I'm off to get it into the safe."
Coleman nodded. They needed that white ooze; it was the base for morphine. "Production's up?"
"Another quarter acre, and two more next spring, she says."
All three of the doctors shared a silent moment of thanks that opium-poppy seed had been available on the Island after the Event. It had taken years to breed up enough for full-scale growing, but the problem had been licked.
The elder medical man sighed when Ellen Clemens disappeared through the double doors. "I don't suppose there's any chance of keeping you on-Island," he said.
Justin shook his head. "That... wouldn't work," he said bleakly. "Being on-Island is bad enough. Working in the same building... wouldn't work, no."
Coleman nodded with another sigh. A messy divorce was always bad news; in post-Event Nantucket, with nowhere to go, it could get very bad indeed.
"I suppose I could try Alba," Clemens said. "Not as frustrating as the mainland, and they need extension officers."
"Hmmmm," Coleman said. "I think there may be another alternative, if you've the itch for travel."
"Gorgeous damned thing, isn't it?" Marian said quietly.
"She will dance with the waves like Moon Woman's light on a waterfall," Swindapa agreed.
Ian nodded. Well, in the abstract, I agree.
The shipyard had started out as a boat-holding shed, where pleasure craft were stacked three layers high for the winter. The size had made it a natural for building ships, when the Islanders got around to it; the overhead cranes alone were an enormous convenience. Now the huge open-ended metal building was filled almost to its limits by the craft that lay in its cradle within.
"Two hundred and twelve feet long, beam thirty-six feet, depth deck-to-keel twenty-one feet," Alston said, caressing the words. "Forty-six feet of raised quarterdeck. White oak, black oak, beechwood, white pine. Nine hundred twenty-seven net tons."
He could barely hear the murmured terms of endearment under the racket. Well, everyone has their own Grail. His had always been to know. Before he met Doreen or held his son, it had been the strongest thing in his life, and it wasn't the weakest even now, not by many a mile.
Scaffolding covered the sides of the great ship, swarming with workers spiking home her plank sheathing, hammering oakum into her seams, laying on hot pitch. The first of the sheets of arsenical copper were going on near her keel as well, the sheathing that would protect the wood from marine worms; they had to be fastened on with bronze nails, since iron would corrode. Outside the boathouse to either side were new timber sheds almost as large. From them came the sound of blacksmiths working, tink-whang-tink, the screeching moan of a drill-press, the dentist-chair sound of metal-cutting lathes. Over it all was the whining roar of the bandsaws; Leaton had rigged up enormous equivalents of the little machines used to cut keys, ones that would take a small model and rip an equivalent shape out of baulks of seasoned oak. Steam puffed from boilers, and from the big pressure-cooker retorts where timber softened so it could be bent into shape.
The fall day was brisk, but the heat of forges and hearths and the steam engines that drove transmission belts and compressors for the pneumatic tools kept it comfortable in the shed. The air was full of the smell of hot metal, the sappy vanilla odor of oak, sharp pine, tar bubbling in vats. Sunlight fogged through floating sawdust.
"Take a look," Swindapa said. "It's like being inside some great beast, a whale."
The Arnsteins scrambled up a long board stair built into the side of the scaffolding, kinking around the massive logs of the cradle that kept the hull upright, splintery wood rough under their hands. It led into the ship through a section not yet planked, and they stood precariously on a piece of temporary decking.
"It is like being inside a whale," Doreen said into Ian's ear. "And it looks a lot bigger than you'd expect."
Ian nodded. This was a cockleshell compared to an aircraft carrier or
oil tanker back up in the twentieth, but close up it felt big. His eyes
followed the long graceful curve of the keelson and the sharp bows, and
the way the ribs flowed up from it. She was right about being like the
inside of a whale, too
"What surprises me," he said to Alston, as she stood with legs braced
and a roll of plans tapping into her palm, "is that this one is taking
so much less time. Lincoln took more than a year
Swindapa said something in her own language, then translated: "We have danced the play of numbers into wood."
Ian blinked. Well, every once in a while you remember she's not an American, he thought. Then she went on:
"I think you would say... learning curve?"
Alston nodded. "Everyone knows what to do. Besides that, we've got
the jigs and such
"That does give us an advantage," Ian said a little smugly. "Twentieth-century concept."
"Not really," Alston said, half-turning, her eyes sardonic. "The Venetian Republic's navy did it with their war-galleys in Renaissance times. They could build and fit one out in a day from pre-made parts... we did apply it more consistently, yes."
"That's taken you down a peg, mate," Doreen whispered in his ear.
"Clapped a stopper over your capers
Marian does do that every now and then. Her readings in history had been much more specialized than his, but they were thorough within their limits.
"You've been reading those damned historical novels she likes again, haven't you?" Ian said, grinning. Actually they're not bad. And they'd helped him understand Alston better.
One of the overhead trolleys that had once shifted sailboats lowered a great oak beam through the open space over their head and into the interior. An ironic cheer went up when it was found to fit exactly into the slot prepared, and a man with an adze stepped ostentatiously back. Figures in overalls and hard-hats moved forward and there was a rythmic slamming of pushbars and sledges as the big deck beam was fastened home, spanning the whole width of the ship where her main deck would be.
"Heavy scantlings so she can bear a gun-deck, but she's not really a
specialist warship," Alston noted. "We can't afford a fleet as yet. Good
deep hold under there... had to modify the design a little, of course,
because the Sark was a composite ship
"Councillor, you're a philistine," she said, with a tilt of eyebrow and quirk of full lips.
"Are either of them around yet?"
"Not the Philistines; they were probably mostly Greeks, with odds and
sods from everywhere, part of the Sea Peoples
"Yahweh probably still has that embarassing female consort they discovered in those early inscriptions," Doreen said. "Good for her."
"Another month," Alston said, looking around the ship again. "Finish
up, launch her, step her masts and rigging, get her guns aboard
"You're going to be commanding personally?" Ian said, relieved.
"As far as the Gulf. I talked Jared into it. I need cadre who're used to these ships, we'll have four at least by the time we run the Straits, and a good long voyage is the way to train them."
Marian looked up at the ship and began to speak softly, under her
breath. Ian recognized the words, from her favorite poet; he wasn't
surprised any more, either
"A ship, an isle, a sickle moon
With few but with how splendid stars
The mirrors of the sea are strewn
Between their silver bars!
An isle beside an isle she lay,
The pale ship anchored in the bay,
While in the young moon's port of gold
--as the mirrors told --
Put forth its great and lonely light
To the unreflecting Ocean, Night.
And still, a ship upon her seas,
The isle and island cypresses
Went sailing on without the gale:
And still there moved the moon so pale,
A crescent ship without a sail!"
Copyright © 1999 by S.M. Stirling <firstname.lastname@example.org>