Efra dabbed his lips with a cloth and treated his youngest daughter to a cool gaze.
"What have I told you about running and shouting in the house, young lady?" he asked, mock serious. Setanza jumped from foot too foot, to excited to be capable of staying still.
"That I should only do it if it is really important!" she replied quickly; without pausing she continued, breathless. "You must come and see! Ships father, many ships, so many ships! Is it the new navy father? From Madruga?"
Her father put his cloth down and stood up. He felt a coldness in the pit of his stomach. The new navy would not be completed for at least another six months.
"Stay in the house," he snapped. Setnaza looked uncertain, sensing her father's concern. She did not argue - but she leaned out of the window watching as he hurried down the street.
Madame Lupita, the naga parador mistress, caught his arm as he passed. "Have you heard? There was a corsair, straight from the sea. Ships coming. Hundreds of them. Is it an invasion?"
Efra had no answer. The naga ran a slim hand over her scaled forehead and called back into her establishment "Luis! You are in charge! I am going to the seafront with Master Efra."
The pair made their way east, where a crowd was gathering at the docks. A captain neither recognised stood on a crate, trying to answer questions. Easily a hundred Grendel vessels coming from the south, perhaps more. Word had been sent to Shantarim, and the northern isles. Everyone should be prepared for the worst. There were dazed questions.
"Where are the corsairs!" shouted someone in the crowd, inspiring a chorus of angry mutters. The captain gave a mirthless laugh.
"Against what is coming, we would need all the Freeborn ships there are and perhaps more. It is a war fleet of the Grendel, not a few raiders! We may have to fight, and ..."
He was cut off by a shout from further along the docks. Everyone turned. The horizon was dark, as if a great wave was coming - although the sky was clear. Ahead of the dark presence was a single fast-moving vessel of unfamiliar design. A slim, pale vessel that reminded Efra of nothing so much as a shark. The main sail was golden, and bore the design of a coiling sea-beast. Yet the smaller sail was white, and pale flags fluttered from the mast, and along the rigging. Parley flags. Truce flags.
Some members of the crowd ran to get weapons. Others watched as the ship deployed a bank of oars and slid gently toward the quayside. Behind it, the first war vessels could be dimly made out. The trireme was crewed by half-naked orc sailors, straining against the oars.
A gangplank was lowered. A finely-attired orc stepped carefully down onto the quayside and looked without alarm at the Freeborn crowd gathered on the docks.
A stout orc man, bedecked in gold and silver jewelry and wrapped in fine purple silks. Behind him, a dozen grim-faced warriors took up positions.
His face was blank for a moment, then broke into a wide smile.
"Citizens of the Brass Coast," he said, his tone friendly. His voice seemed unnaturally loud in the sudden silence. "We are here by the command of the Salt Lord Suriad, and at the invitation of the Freeborn people of the Brass Coast. We are here, in fact, to negotiate with the Empire on behalf of the Grendel and the people of the Broken Shore."
He paused and gestured south towards the approaching war ships.
"Our ships will be remaining here, to ensure our safe return and escort us securely back to Dubhtraig. The Bay of Catazar is not safe, as I'm sure you can appreciate."
He chuckled, then pulled a small purse from his pocket and weighed it thoughtfully while casting a speculative eye over the Freeborn crowd."So then ... Is there is someone here who can escort us to Anvil?"
A Grendel navy - the Golden Winds - has arrived in southern Feroz. It is making no hostile move against the Freeborn at this time but it is a significant military force; large enough to be impervious to attacks by individual fleets. The ships and troops it represents could inflict significant damage, and would threaten all of Feroz if they attack.
It appears to have served as the extremely extravagant escort to a single sleek weirwood trading vessel carrying a Grendel diplomat and a small honour guard. This ostentatious display of nautical might has greatly upset the Freeborn of Feroz, but for now the orcs are content to remain at anchor south of Shantarim and the Isle of Osseni.
The Grendel diplomat himself, and his entourage, are the soul of civility. He has made little secret, however, of the fact that the Grendel are furious with the Empire - which may well be why they have sent such a pointed display of naval force to escort their diplomats.
They have tolerated Imperial raiding of the waters around Dubhtraig for years but they had hoped that with the growing threat of the Jotun on their border the Empire might finally be persuaded to see sense and come to a profitable accord.
Despite agreeing to a cessation of hostilities, however, the Empire has continued to raid Grendel ships in the Bay of Catazar and now they must pay a price for this foolishness.
Still, the diplomat is confident this situation can be sorted out without the need for any lasting unpleasantness along the western bay.
As with so many others, he is travelling to Anvil. His route takes him via Sarvos, with an escort of Freeborn vessels. His ship is known to have reached League waters safely and he is expected to arrive at Anvil to speak to the Senate at some time during the Summer Solstice.
As with other diplomatic delegations, the Grendel are protected by the law of delegation protection, regardless of how many ships they may have along the coast of Feroz.
While there has not been time for the civil service in Feroz to do more than a cursory examination of the Grendel navy through a spyglass, it is likely that this navy represents a fighting force roughly equivalent to an Imperial army. It is not clear how many land troops it has available to - whether it is transporting a land-based force or not. Ritual scrying should be able to determine this information.
If it came to a fight, then an Imperial army should be able to hold the navy off. Without an Imperial navy to support, however, even the corsair vessels of the Brass Coast are of limited effectiveness against this significant maritime threat.
The Grendel ambassador Cartok and his entourage was received at Anvil, where a peace treaty was discussed. They returned to Feroz without incident ,and the barbarian fleet then sailed south.