Since By Heresies Distressed is now out, this is the final snippet. Drak (acting on Eric’s behalf)


“And seduced all their daughters,” Windshare added with a grin. “Besides, we’re supposed to do it my way — you know, charge straight in and smash everybody up instead of trying to get fancy.”

“And hitting them on their side of the river will at least give us a chance of catching their advance guard and cutting it up in isolation,” Gahrvai agreed with a nod. “If Alyk’s scouts are right, they can’t have more than a couple of thousand men — five thousand, at the outside. We’ve brought over twenty thousand with us.”

“And how many of them are still west of the river at the moment?” Doyal countered.

“If everyone’s where they’re supposed to be — and you know as well as I do how likely it is that none of our movement orders managed to go astray for a change — we’ve got roughly fourteen thousand, including seven batteries of your field guns, either east of the river already or close enough to be there by nightfall. That ought to be enough to take care of five thousand Charisians, especially since they seem to have only three or four batteries with them.”

“Unless they speed up a lot, most of their column won’t be here until late tomorrow morning. Maybe not even until early afternoon,” Doyal pointed out. “We could get almost everybody across by then, if we worked at it.”

“No.” Gahrvai shook his head. “There’s no point wearing the men out — not to mention probably getting a lot of them lost — marching around after dark. Besides, fourteen thousand men and thirty-five guns ought to be enough to get the job done. Piling in still more men would only cramp our mobility. And if four or five-to-one odds aren’t enough to get the job done, I don’t want to complicate things if we have to retreat.”

Doyal and Windshare both looked at him as if they weren’t quite certain they’d heard him correctly, and he snorted sourly.

“Let’s do this my way,” he suggested. “We’ll see what happens. If they bring up more strength of their own, then I’ll think seriously about putting still more of our men across the river before we attack. But if they’re as short on cavalry as they seem to be, then their scouting has to be spotty, at best. They probably don’t have a clue how many men we’ve already managed to concentrate in front of them. If we can keep it that way, keep them confident enough that they don’t stop their advance guard where it is until they can reinforce it, I think we can hit them tomorrow morning. With any luck at all, we’ll roll right over them and smash them up quick and dirty.

“To be perfectly honest, that’s what I expect to happen. But let’s not forget that everybody ‘expected’ Duke Black Water to smash up Haarahld’s navy, too. I don’t see any way they could be hiding some sort of ‘secret weapon’ from Alyk’s cavalry, but I’m not going to rush to any potentially unfortunate assumptions, either. This will let us test the water without getting in too deep. If we’re right, we crush their advance guard, and Alyk’s cavalry gets to spend the afternoon riding down and sabering fugitives. If it turns out that they do have some horrible surprise waiting for us, we lose at worst a fifth part of our total force.”

Windshare looked moderately rebellious, but he nodded without further argument. Doyal cocked his head, contemplating the map once more, then shrugged.

“I think you’re probably worrying more about surprises than you need to,” he said. “On the other hand, given your reminder about what happened to Black Water, I can live with a little over-caution. Better that than the reverse, at least! And to be honest, I’d prefer to blood my gunners under the most benign conditions we can arrange. I think they’re ready, but none of them have ever been under fire as a unit before.”

“I think they’ll do just fine, Charlz,” Gahrvai said. “Believe me, my ‘over-caution’ doesn’t have a thing to do with any concern over the quality of our troops. Especially of your gunners.”

“I never thought it did,” Doyal assured him. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t something else to bear in mind, though.”

“I’d like to spend some time this afternoon actually looking at as much of the terrain as possible,” Gahrvai continued, turning back to Windshare. “I’ll need a cavalry escort. You wouldn’t happen to know a good officer to put in command of it, would you, Alyk?”

“As a matter of fact, I would,” Windshare told him with a grin, then glanced at Doyal. “Would you care to come along with us, Charlz?”

Windshare’s tone was more than half-teasing, given Doyal’s well known aversion to any unnecessary physical activity. To his surprise, the older man promptly nodded.

“As a matter of fact, I’d like to check my impressions from the map against the actual terrain. There are a couple of places that look pretty close to ideal for artillery deployment. I’d prefer to make sure they really are good positions before I order my people into them, though.”

“Excellent!” Gahrvai said approvingly. “Charlz, show Alyk the spots you particularly want to see. I’ve got to go draft a couple of dispatches for Father and the Prince before we go wandering off. Alyk, once you and Charlz have discussed where we need to go and what we need to see, make sure we really do have an adequate escort. I’m not feeling especially vain this afternoon, but it occurs to me that if the army loses its senior field commander, his cavalry commander, and the closest thing we have to a genuine expert on field artillery, it wouldn’t be the very best possible beginning to our campaign, would it?”

“If we let that happen,” Doyal said with a smile, “the only good thing I could see about it would be that all three of us would be safely dead, which would at least spare us from your father’s analysis of all the truly stupid things we must have done to bring it about.”

“And what exactly in my record to date convinces you that I’m not fully capable of doing truly stupid things if I put my mind to it?” Gahrvai inquired.