‘He’s probably still in Veltan’s castle - in the map-room, most likely.’ Padan paused. ‘I don’t suppose I could persuade you to keep what I just told you to yourself, could I?’

‘That wouldn’t be at all proper, Padan,’ Gunda replied, ‘and I’ve always been big on propriety.’

Commander Narasan was seriously discontented when Gunda told him that Jalkan had escaped. ‘Why didn’t Padan post guards on that slimy little rascal?’ he demanded.

‘You’ll have to ask Padan about that, Narasan,’ Gunda replied. ‘Right now, I need to know just exactly where we want Andar to put the army on shore. They’ve probably left Castano by now, so it’s likely that I’ll meet him somewhere in the channel that comes up through the ice-zone.’

‘Let’s go to Veltan’s map-room,’ Narasan suggested. ‘There’s a sizeable river mouth a few days to the north of here, and we’ll want the army to come ashore quite a ways up that river.’ He paused. ‘How did you manage to get so far ahead of the main fleet, Gunda?’ he asked.

Gunda shrugged. ‘I picked up a nice little fishing yawl down in Castano,’ he replied. ‘Her name’s the Albatross, and she can go almost twice as fast as any other Trogite ship I’ve ever seen.’

Narasan winced. ‘How much did you pay for her?’

‘Couldn’t really say, old boy,’ Gunda replied in an offensively lofty tone. ‘Andar’s got the key to the army treasury, so I left all the haggling to him, while I went down to the harbor to persuade the Albatross that she was supposed to sail along in the water and not try to get up and fly.’

‘Very funny, Gunda.’

‘I’m glad you liked it, old friend.’

‘You’ve got a bit of a problem, cousin,’ Pantal said the next morning when Gunda rowed out to the Victory.


‘I hope you weren’t planning to leave here this morning.’

‘That’s sort of what I had in mind,’ Gunda replied.

‘Right now, about the only thing that’s keeping your yawl off the bottom of the harbor is that rope you tied to the Victory’s anchor chain.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Come and look for yourself,’ Pantal said, pushing a rope ladder over the side of his ship.

Gunda climbed up the ladder and followed his cousin over to the other side of the Victory.

He stopped and stared in utter disbelief at the Victory’s anchor-chain. As Pantal had said, the rope from the bow of the Albatross was tautly hanging straight down, and Gunda could see the hazy outline of his yawl under the water.

‘What happened to her?’ he exclaimed.

‘I think the word most people use is “sank”,’ Pantal replied.

‘Did some rascal sneak out here and chop a hole in her bottom?’

Pantal shook his head. ‘I had men on watch last night. Nobody came near the Victory. Who sold that tub to you?’

‘An old fisherman in Castano.’

‘Let me guess. He was more than a bit crippled, and even more drunk.’

‘You know him?’

‘Not by name, but there are a lot of people like him in Castano. He was getting along in years, and he had all those aches and pains that old men are always complaining about. Have you ever heard the word “caulk”, Gunda?’

‘Not that I remember. What does it mean?’

‘Quite a bit of unpleasant work, cousin. Ships of any size are built out of boards. Have you noticed that?’

‘Don’t try to be funny, Pantal.’

‘No matter how tight the shipbuilders jam the boards that form the hull of a ship together, water will start to seep through after a while. Sailors deal with that problem with a hammer, a chisel, and several bales of hemp. You ram the hemp between the boards and then poke and hammer it until it’s well seated. The water will still try to seep in, but you want it to. When the hemp gets wet, it swells, and that’s what seals up the hull. After you’ve caulked her hull, the Albatross will float like a well-sealed jug.’

‘How often will I have to do that?’

‘Every year, usually. If you happen to hit rough water fairly often, you might have to do it twice a year. Now you probably understand just why that old fisherman was willing to sell you his yawl. Just the thought of caulking her again probably gave him nightmares.’

‘Cousin, I haven’t got the faintest idea of how to go about doing something like that,’ Gunda confessed.

‘I didn’t really think you would, cousin. I’ll have my men take care of it for you - but it’s going to cost you.’

‘Somehow I knew that was coming,’ Gunda said sourly.

‘Nothing in the whole world comes free, cousin,’ Pantal said. ‘Why don’t we go back to my cabin and talk about the price, shall we?’

Pantal’s men raised the Albatross to the surface of the harbor, bailed her out and then hauled her on into the beach. Then they began the long, slow process of caulking up her hull.

‘You’re really quite lucky, Gunda,’ Pantal said. ‘Did you have to bail her out very many times when you were coming up here?’

Gunda shrugged. ‘Two or three times, if I remember correctly. The old fisherman told me that she was sort of leaky, and that I should keep an eye on that. What was it that made her finally fill up with water and sink like she did?’

Pantal shrugged. ‘It could have been any one of quite a few things - colder water, a large wave slapping into her on one side or the other, or a sizeable length of caulking giving away all at once. It’s hard to say for sure. You could very well have drowned out there, you know.’

‘When I get back to Castano, I think I’ll look that old fisherman up and have a few words with him,’ Gunda growled. ‘How long’s this likely to take?’

‘Several days, anyway.’

‘Couldn’t you put more men to work on it? It’s sort of important right now for the Albatross to be seaworthy again.’

‘They’d just be getting in each other’s way, Gunda. She’s not all that big, so there isn’t really enough room in her hull for two dozen men or more.’

The days seemed to drag on as Pantal’s men re-caulked the Albatross, and Gunda spent most of his time in Veltan’s map-room studying the region where the war here would most probably take place.