Chapter 1: The Councilor's Ambition
Kordo-Stri woke suddenly, as if shaken. She could no longer feel her husband lying beside her. She could hear a gong being struck over and over again. The alarm at the shipyard! She sat bolt upright in her bed. By the light of a lamp on a stand, she saw him dressing with haste. "Bashanir! What's going on?"
"I don't know, but I'm going down to the shipyard to find out."
She threw off the sheets. Her bare feet hit the floor. "I'm going with you," she said.
She knew how important the warships were to him. Still under construction, they were based on his own revolutionary design. She dressed quickly, covering her hair with a black chador, and followed him out the bedroom door. They entered the central atrium of the house, open to the sky. The bright yellow moon above them was two days from full. Over the tiled roof of the house, the moonlight illuminated several columns of smoke reaching into the night sky. She smelled burning wood.
"Something's burning!" she cried out. "Could it be the ships?"
"Yes, can't you smell the burning wood?" Bashanir shouted. He ran across the courtyard to the gate, opened it, and ran out without securing it. She ran after him, locking the gate behind her. It annoyed her that her husband wasn't more security-conscious.
The Council of Forty-Two, of which Kordo-Stri was an eminent member, had granted them the privilege of residing where they could watch Bashanir's dream become reality. She turned and looked down the hill toward the shipyard, which was encircled by a stone wall and had only nine ships under construction. This secret installation was specially designed to make new warships of Bashanir's design. Powered by steam turbines, they didn't need hundreds of men to tug the oars. Smaller and more maneuverable than the great galleys which were the capital ships of the Nobalan fleet, they would make all other warships obsolete. They were the key to Nobalos' victory in the war ... and they were on fire.
Over the edge of the shipyard's protective wall, she could see flames eating away at the wooden hulls, climbing their masts, and heating the metal parts until they glowed bright red. By the light of the flames, she could see shield-bearing men throwing their torches in the water and climbing into small boats that began rowing out to Sea. The reek of burning wood grew stronger as she approached. Smoke began to obscure the stars, and was threatening to blot out the moon.
She lowered her gaze, and saw her husband hurrying down the moonlit path from their house to the shipyard. She followed him, walking at fast as she dared without stumbling. Soon the stone wall towered over them both. Security at the shipyard was tight, lest spies for the Hegemony discover the secret of the new ships.
Bashanir stopped at the guardhouse by the gate in the wall. She caught up with him, panting. A frustrating conversation was in progress.
"... Can't let you in, My Lord," the guard was saying. "It's not safe."
"I understand, Lieutenant," Bashanir replied. "But you know who I am. You can trust me. I designed those ships! I must get in."
"Enemy raiders landed from Sea. They are inside the yard, setting ships on fire. They'd gladly kill you, My Lord."
Kordo-Stri was ready to talk. "Lieutenant, from the top of the hill we could see the raiders throwing down their torches and escaping on small boats. My husband needs to inspect the damage. We'll be careful in there."
"My Lady Councilor, I'm not authorized to let anyone inside tonight."
She wanted to know if the raiders were barbarians or from the Hegemony, but he obviously didn't know that either.
Bashanir turned to his wife and muttered angrily, "Nine warships of my new design, burned to ashes. My creations!"
Kordo-Stri took an opportunity to use her mental powers on the young lieutenant. You can trust Lord Bashanir and Councilor Kordo-Stri, she told him in his mind. Let them in. They'll use their influence in your defense if your superiors discipline you.
The Lieutenant glanced away and nervously sucked in his lips, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm not authorized to let anybody in. I'm a soldier. I have to obey orders."
Kordo-Stri admitted defeat. The young lieutenant was a disciplined soldier, and when in doubt he relied on the chain of command. She could plant ideas in people's heads, but she could not compel another person's will.
She turned to Bashanir, reached up, and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, dear. The Council will gladly authorize nine more to replace them."
The ships were just as important to her as they were to him. She was a prominent member of the Council of Forty-Two, whose members would choose a new Grand Vizier when old and infirm Jeikupir died. She hoped to replace him. Her sponsorship of her husband's new warship design was one of the steps on her path to power.
"Think of the time lost!" Bashanir barked.
"How much time have we lost, husband?"