How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 25

          “Having said that, though, there’s no question that it’s going to be the next best thing to impossible to push the development of the Guard’s military support structure the way we originally planned. For one thing, field artillery’s going to be in direct competition with casting replacement naval artillery for any new construction. A lot of the artisans and craftsmen we’ll need to make rifled muskets and the new style bayonets are also going to be needed by the shipbuilding programs. As Rhobair says, we’ve planned all along on shifting emphasis once we got the shipbuilding program out of the way. In fact, I’d already started placing new orders and reassigning workers. Getting those workers back and shuffling the orders is going to be complicated.”

          “Should we just shelve land armaments in favor of replacing our naval losses?” Trynair asked.

          “I think that’s something we’re all going to have to think about,” Maigwair said. “My own feeling, bearing in mind that we don’t have those definite numbers I mentioned, is that we’ll have to cut back on the muskets and field artillery and shift a lot of emphasis back to the shipyards. I don’t think we’ll want to completely cancel the new programs, though. We need to at least make a start, and we need enough of the new weapons for the Guard to start training with them, learning their capabilities. Striking the balance between meeting that need and rebuilding the Navy is going to be tricky.”

          “That actually makes sense,” Clyntahn said, as if the notion that anything coming out of Maigwair’s mouth might do that astounded him. “On the other hand,” he continued, ignoring the flash of anger in the Captain General’s eyes, “at least it’s not as if Cayleb and Sharleyan are going to be landing any armies on the mainland. Even adding the Chisholmian Army to the Charisians’ Marines and assuming every outrageous report about their new weapons is accurate, they’ve got far too few troops to confront us on our own ground. Especially not when they’ve got to keep such hefty garrisons in Zebediah and Corisande.”

          “There’s something to that,” Maigwair conceded. “Doesn’t mean they won’t try hit-and-run raids, of course. They did that against Hektor in Corisande. And if they’re willing to start that kind of nonsense on the mainland, our problem’s going to be mobility, not manpower. They can simply move raiding parties around faster by ship than we can march them overland, and the sad truth is that it doesn’t really matter how good our weapons are if we can’t catch up with them in the first place. That’s one of the reasons I’m inclined to think we’re going to have to place more emphasis on ships than muskets for the immediate future. We need to have enough of a navy to at least force them to make major detachments from their own fleet to support any operations along our coasts.”

          “And how realistic is that?” Clyntahn’s question was marginally less caustic. “We’re going to have to rebuild — there’s no question of that, if we’re ever going to take the war to them the way God demands — but how likely are we to be able to build enough of a replacement fleet quickly enough to keep them from raiding our coasts whenever they want?”

          Maigwair’s unhappy expression was answer enough, but Duchairn shook his head.

          “I think Allayn may be worrying a bit too much about that, for the moment at least,” he said. The others looked at him, and he shrugged. “They can probably raid the coast of Desnair if they really want to, but unless they go after one of the major ports — which would take more troops than they’re likely to have — simple raids aren’t likely to hurt us very much. The same is true of Delferahk.” Now, at least, he added silently. After all, Ferayd was the only “major port” Delferahk had, and it’s gone now . . . thanks to you and your inquisitors, Zhaspahr. “Dohlar is a long way from Charis and well protected, especially with Thirsk’s fleet still intact to hold the Gulf of Dohlar. And even though I know you’re not going to want to hear this, Zhaspahr, no one’s going to be raiding Siddarmark or Silkiah as long as both of them are trading with Charis.”

          He paused, looking around their faces, then shrugged again.

          “I agree we need to rebuild, but I also think we’ve got some time in hand before we’re really going to need a fleet for anything except offensive operations. Just manning all the ships they’ve got now is going to be a huge drain on their manpower. As you say, Zhaspahr, they aren’t going to be able to build an army large enough for any serious invasion of the mainland, so if their raids can only inconvenience us without really hurting us, I don’t see any need to panic over the situation. Yes, it’s serious, and we’re going to have our work cut out for us to recover from it, but it’s a long way from hopeless.”

          “That’s sound reasoning,” Clyntahn said after a moment, bestowing a rare look of approval on the Treasurer.

          “Agreed.” Trynair looked happier as well, and he nodded firmly. “Panic isn’t going to help us, but clear thinking may.”

          “I agree, too,” Maigwair said. “Of course, one thing we’re going to have to do is figure out how this new weapon of theirs actually works. Until we know that and produce similar weapons of our own, meeting them at sea would be a recipe for disaster. And it’s probably going to have a lot of implications for battles on land, too, for that matter.” He looked at Clyntahn. “Do I have permission to begin work on that, Zhaspahr?”

          “The Inquisition has no objection to your at least putting people to work thinking about it,” the Grand Inquisitor replied, his eyes opaque. “I’ll want to be kept closely informed, of course, and I’ll be assigning one or two of my inquisitors to keep an eye on things. But as I said before, our own artisans have been able to accomplish many of the same things the heretics have done without violating the Proscriptions. I’m not prepared to say they’ve managed it entirely without violations, but we have, and I’m sure we’ll be able to continue to do so.”

          Oh, I’m sure we will, too, Duchairn thought even as he and the other two nodded in grave agreement. Your inquisitors are going to approve anything you tell them to, Zhaspahr, and you’ll tell them to approve whatever Allayn comes up with even if it smashes right through the Proscriptions. After all, who’s a mere Archangel like Jwo-jeng to place any limits on you when it comes to smiting your enemies? In God’s name, of course.

          He wondered once again where all this madness was going to end. And, once again, he told himself the one thing he knew with absolute certainty.

          Wherever it ended, it was going to get far, far worse before it got better.