The sleek Freeborn vessel was listing badly to port, and below decks half the crew were desperately baling in the hope of keeping him afloat long enough to... well just long enough would do. Daria i Souza i Guerra, captain of the Star of the Deeps, fought the wheel, turning her stricken vessel in a brave attempt to try and put some distance between him and the Grendel ship ahead. From the stern, she heard Rafael shouting that the ship behind was catching up. There was not a lot she could do about that - she couldn't summon more wind out of nothing.
The Sarcophan vessel on the port side kept pace with the Brass Coast ship, maintaining a safe distance. She cursed the captain again, a fluent stream of invective during which she neither hesitated nor repeated herself once. Rafael was suddenly cut off - she risked a glance behind just in time to see him take two paces and collapse, a stubby crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest.
"Help us!" she shouted, impotently, towards die Antwoord. There was little chance anyone aboard the other ship could hear her, and less chance they would actually do anything. The orcs would leave them be as long as they did not get too close or try to interfere.
Tianno was suddenly beside her, grabbing her shoulder, jerking her round to look west toward the Sarcophan vessel.
"Look!" he shouted. "They've dropped ropes!"
Daria looked, and saw a number of sailors along the railings of the other ship, frantically gesturing. One of them had a crossbow, and for a moment she thought he was the one who had shot poor Rafael, but then she saw he was shooting into the water, taking pot-shots at the slim, dark, vicious shapes that slid through the water like greased knives.
"They're offering sanctuary!" said Tianno.. "The Grendel won't board them! Not just to get us, not if we leave them the ship!"
Daria i Souza i Guerra shook him off. "Go if you want!" she bellowed. "Anyone who wants, go! Save yourselves if you can!"
Her nephew dithered, looking back and forth between her and the Sarcophan ship and the dark shapes in the water.
"Go," she said quietly. "The sharks might not get you but if you stay here the orcs definitely will."
He kissed her lightly on the cheek then, fast, and ran across the deck shedding his jacket and his shoes as he did so, and leapt over the side, arrowing through the air like a thrown dagger. She did not see what happened to him. He was not the only one. The Sarcophan sailors - damn them to the depths of the Labyrinth for an eternity - were shouting encouragement. The crossbowman was desperately firing and reloading, trying to keep the sharks distracted.Daria whispered a heretical little prayer to Zemress, asking her to watch over them, and roared as she turned the wheel to starboard with all her strength.
With the Grendel in more-or-less complete control of the Bay of Catazar - at least from a military point of view - the Empire faces many challenges. A significant amount of foreign trade requires Imperial captains to pass through the Bay on their way to foreign ports, especially that of the League, the Brass Coast, Urizen, and Highguard. The pirates of the Broken Shore have already made one effort to cripple the Empire - striking against the fishing fleet in Summer - but were seen off by the efforts of Imperial captains. With their armada dominating the seas, it seems only a matter of time before they strike against the trading fleet as well.
- During the coming season all fleets from Tassato, Sarvos, the Brass Coast, Highguard, or Urizen will suffer a 1 rank penalty to production if they engage in trade.
The Grendel are reasonably cocky, and with good reason perhaps. They effectively control the Bay of Catazar, and their pirates have been "let off the leash". Worse, the growing influence of the eternal Siakha among the more barbarous ship captains greatly contributes to their thirst for blood and Imperial wealth. The corsairs of the Brass Coast in particular have dedicated themselves to protecting Imperial ships from Grendel depredations - but the corsairs have problems of their own with the Grendel invasion of Madruga. The strident defence of the fishing fleet before the Autumn Equinox has left the Grendel pirate fleet with little organisation - but the blood-thirst encouraged by Siakha presents a problem all of its own.
For the last season the level of piracy has been no worse than usual. There are signs, however, that this situation is not going to continue. In the weeks leading to the Winter Solstice the number of attacks on traders passing through the Bay have slowly been increasing - and many of the ships making these attacks are clearly supported by vicious shark-like creatures most likely heralds of the Mother-of-Wrecks.
If the situation does not change, every fleet based in Tassato, Sarvos, the Brass Coast, Highguard, or Urizen will suffer a 1 rank penalty to its production if it engages in trade in the coming season representing the need to employ more marines, and losses to probing pirate raids.
Not all ships are in equal danger however. Trading vessels from the Asavean Archipelago, the Sarcophan Delves, and Principalities of Jarm are given a wide berth by Grendel vessels - even those seeking Siakha's favour. Something that surely frustrates the Grendel pirate-idolators, but with plenty of Imperial ships to prey on there is no shortage of potential blood in the water for the Devouring Shark.
One possible solution to the brewing problem of this increase in Grendel piracy would be for the Imperial Senate to make it legal for Imperial ships to fly the colours of Asavean, Sarcophan, or Jarmish trading ships - at least until they leave the Bay of Catazar. This would require a senate motion, but would mean that most ships would benefit from the protection of their assumed foreign status and in the short term negate any penalty to foreign trade due to Grendel piracy.
The Broken Shore pirates would likely work out what was happening within a season or so, but that would cause problems for the Grendel themselves. The bloodthirsty pirates would be just as likely to attack foreign trading vessels as they would be to allow Imperial ships to pass unmolested. Either the Salt Lords would need to take steps to rein in the Siakha-supported pirates, or they would need to deal with the political ramifications of their subjects attacking ships belonging to nations they have lucrative trading relations with.
The only cost to the Empire would be in diplomatic currency - the Asaveans, Sarcophan, and Jarmish would not be amused by this stratagem - but of course the only reason these nations are able to pass through Imperial waters unmolested by pirates is because they have made trade deals with the Empire's enemies. A canny ambassador may be able to hold them to account for this, and force them to consider who offers the greater economic and political opportunity - the Empire, or the barbarians of the Broken Shore.
Map the Bay
There has been discussion for some time about mapping the Bay of Catazar. With the Freeborn Storm gone, the only way to take the war to the Grendel is the long, slow overland movement of armies - but even if the campaign in Spiral were to end tomorrow the Military Council would be badly underprepared for a strike against the Broken Shore. For the most part the Empire's maps of the actual bay itself - and more specifically the territories that lie along its shores - are woefully inadequate. The Empire knows that the Grendel control the eastern and southern shores, and the Iron Confederacy control the south-western coast, but beyond that very little can be said with any great certainty.
Creating a highly detailed map, one that would be of use to magicians, is feasible only inasmuch as the Senate can create a spy network to allow Imperial soldiers to scout a territory. Yet at the moment they do not even know the names and locations of the territories that surround the Bay, or even how many territories they are dealing with.
Some ship captains know more than others of course - corsairs have plied the Bay of Catazar for centuries, engaging in privateering and occasional acts of looting or even piracy. But even their maps are of limited use - scrappy and personalised, and held as family secrets as they are.
The Imperial Senate could pass a motion to call on brave ship captains to engage in a concerted effort to create a map of the Bay of Catazar, one that would be available to all Imperial citizens. The civil service would make cartographers available to any captain prepared to commit to the project, and coordinate their efforts to efficiently create a map of the major features of the Bay and its shoreline. This project would not be free however - the Imperial Senate would need to provide 50 Thrones to provide materials and recruit specialist professionals to aid the ship captains.
The privateering action represents Imperial fleets attacking barbarians who stray into Imperial waters. If the Senate passes and funds this motion, in the coming season, there will be an additional option accessible through the privateering dropdown menu - Map the Bay. This may be taken by any fleet owner, and represents committing a fleet specifically to create an Imperial map of the Bay of Catazar.
Each standard fleet assigned to the "Map the Bay" action effectively adds 100 points toward successful resolution of the opportunity. Each additional rank for an upgraded or enchanted fleet adds another 20 points. Rituals and other effects that increase the ranks of a privateering fleet (such as Blood and Salt) will increase the effective strength for purposes of this special action. In a similar manner to a spy network, the total strength assigned to the opportunity will decide the outcome.
- If at least 1000 points of strength are assigned to the "Map the Bay" action, the project is partially successful. A map showing the rough coastline of the Bay, with indications of roughly which parts of it are controlled by the Grendel, the Iron Confederacy, and the Empire.
- If at least 3000 points of strength are assigned, the coastline map will be more detailed. The map will also show the locations, names, and ownership of each territory along the Bay of Catazar will be provided.
- If at least 5000 points of strength are assigned, the map will be significantly more complete. In addition to the information provided at the previous thresholds, islands and major geographical features visible from the sea will be provided, along with details of major settlements around the shoreline.
There are several Imperial patrons who might pay small amounts to support fleets taking this action, but payment opportunities are limited. Any fleet taking part in this project will receive only half the income they would normally gain for privateering. The Senate could choose to make this option more attractive by providing a one-off payment of Thrones in a manner similar to the guerdon as part of the senate motion required to set the opportunity up. That money would be split among every fleet that takes part in the project, based on their total effective ranks.
The Senate could also choose to instruct the Civil Service to make this an ongoing opportunity, removing 50 Thrones each season from the Imperial budget until the project is completed. It is important to note that, like a spy network, coordinating the various fleets requires that the appropriate effective strength thresholds be reached in a single season - it is not possible to spin this out over a period of time.
There is no requirement that this project be undertaken immediately, but circumstances may make it more difficult as time goes on. If the Grendel cement their military control of the Bay, it will certainly be harder for independent ship captains to take part in a cartography exercise.
The Grendel continue to raid Imperial shipping.