That was not a few ships he saw approaching the harbour It was an armada almost as large as the first raider fleet that had arrived to sink any vessel they caught. Armada or not, any ship sailing too close to the harbour would receive a fiery greeting.
Mintosa had always paid her taxes to Keen in a timely fashion, and General Markand had been kind enough to leave a double eight of trebuchets on the piers after the ambush on the raiders.
He turned to his runner. "Tirbus can start his boilers now."
"Yes my lord."
A moment later he saw the boy take the stairs in a headlong dash only the very young would dare. What a day to inherit his father. Count Mintosa fumed within, but as he was basically an honest man he admitted there had been little love lost between him and the man who had sired him. That, of course, had been no reason at all not to string up the swine from Chach when they were caught. Assassins! The insult!
"Should we make the ballistae ready as well?"
Count Mintosa frowned before answering his brother. "You think they know about them?"
"Certain," came the reply from a pockmarked face he'd come to trust rather than a father always too absent.
"Then, Urses, do as you prefer."
Urses grinned back. "As you well knew I would anyway. Only my good manners made me ask you first. Oh, that should end with a my lord, I assume, or would you prefer Count Hephasteus Mintosa?"
"Go, just go away and spare me!" Count Mintosa threw his hands up to a cloudless sky. "Why gift me with useless younger brothers when I could have had sisters to marry off?"
Urses ruffled Hephasteus' hair in a clear indication of how much he cared for dramatic prayers. "If they looked like me you'd have to pay for the marriages," he laughed.
They hugged briefly, like men too close to breaking do sometimes, and Urses was on his way. Hephasteus turned serious again. There really had been little reason for mirth.
He stared out at sea again. Those were papal ships, and he gave up all hopes that it was nothing more than a Midland warlord overreaching. They would have to fight for survival this time, and he had all but promised General Markand to keep the barges safe.
Urses shouted in disbelief as most of the ships made anchor well out of reach for Tirbus' artillery. They had disabled a couple of ships coming too close. One still burned like a funeral pyre. The other had gone down taking her crew and soldiers with her.
"What are they doing?"
"You ask me?" Urses said to his captain. "I can't see what they could possibly..."
Urses stared. They were bringing horses out on the decks, and mounting them. "They can't... Gods!" he repeated as rider after rider in armour jumped his horse out into the sea. None sank. Three full ranks of heavy cavalry came charging across the waves singing hymns. Whatever magic they worked he knew only one thing mattered -- Mintosa was doomed.
"Take down as many as you can. Get the people out the north gate and try, at least try to defend it from the outside!"
"Abandon Mintosa? That's treason!"
Urses glared at his captain, once. "Mintosa is a death trap. I'll tell my brother as much. After that he'll die heroically defending the city while you obey my direct orders and get the people to safety. Is that understood?"
It was, and he did, and by nightfall the new count of Mintosa grieved his brother and best friend on his way north. More would die south of him, just so he could bring warning to Keen.
Hephasteus had been right. It was an awful way to inherit.