Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 16

Cayleb grunted unhappily. The instinctive understanding of the huge logistical advantages conferred by oceanic transport was bred into the blood and bone of any Charisian monarch. The notion of sending an army or large amounts of freight overland instead of by sea was as foreign and unnatural to them as trying to breathe water, and all of those Ahrmahk instincts were insisting that it had to make far more sense to send any expeditionary force from Chisholm to Siddarmark aboard ship. They were persistent and clamorous, those instincts, and usually they would have been right. Unfortunately, the situation wasn’t exactly “usual.”

A well conditioned infantry army could make perhaps forty miles a day marching overland, assuming it didn’t have to stop for niggling little details like, oh, foraging for food or allowing its draft animals to graze. Of course, grazing in Chisholm or Raven’s Land in winter wouldn’t have been very practical, even if it wouldn’t have subtracted several hours a day from the army’s marching time. Since grazing wouldn’t be practical, an army with an overland supply route could count on adding its draft animals’ starvation to all of the other minor inconveniences it confronted. A transport galleon, on the other hand, under average conditions, could make between two hundred and three hundred miles a day, up to seven times the distance that army could cover on its own feet, and without losing the dragons and horses and mules its transport would depend upon once it reached its objective to starvation and sickness.

But Eastshare had very few transports available in Chisholm. In fact, he couldn’t have squeezed more than a very few thousand men aboard the ships he had, and he couldn’t put even that many of them aboard ship until he collected those ships in one spot. And that spot would have to be on the east coast of Chisholm, so even after he put the troops aboard, he’d still be over twelve thousand miles — and forty-seven days — from Siddar City.

He could probably commandeer a few more transports from Corisande, but not very many. Certainly not enough to make any real difference. The only place he could get the amounts of troop lift he required would be to request it from Old Charis, and even with the most favorable winds imaginable, it would take a dispatch vessel over a month to reach Tellesberg from Maikelberg. Even after it did, it would take Cayleb and Sharleyan several five-days just to divert ships from the Siddarmarkian relief efforts and get them gathered together. Given how dire conditions in the Republic were, they couldn’t possibly justify pulling galleons out of the relief convoys until they’d been officially asked for, since there was no way even monarchs with their reputation for foresight could know Eastshare was going to need them. And, on top of all that, it would take at least a month and a half — more probably two months — for those galleons to reach Chisholm once they’d been collected and ordered to sail.

Those unpalatable facts had left Eastshare and Green Valley with very few options for moving troops rapidly into Siddarmark, and it was the duke, not the baron, who’d come up with the most radical solution. Green Valley had been prepared to suggest it if necessary, but that hadn’t been necessary, which said some truly remarkable things about Eastshare’s mental flexibility.

He didn’t have the troop lift to move a worthwhile number of men, but he did have enough sealift to move quite a lot of supplies, especially food and fodder, and those two commodities were the Achilles heel of pre-industrial armies. An army which had to forage for food — and fodder — as it went (even assuming the season and agricultural productivity made that possible) did well to make ten miles a day, and it wreaked havoc on any civilian population in its path simply because it stripped the land bare as it went. But without that requirement, and with the ability to feed draft animals on grain and prepared fodder rather than requiring them to graze on grass, an army was limited only by the hours of daylight it had in which to march and the quality of the roads before it.

So Eastshare had sent off his dispatches to Tellesberg and begun concentrating the garrisons stationed throughout western Chisholm on Ahlysberg, the military city which had been built to support The Fence, the fortified frontier between the Western Crown Demesne and Raven’s Land. It was the westernmost of Chisholm’s true seaports, and its magazines and storehouses were well stocked with food, boots, winter clothing, and food. The galleons he’d been able to lay hands on in Cherayth and Port Royal were already loading additional food and supplies in Chisholm’s eastern ports; within no more than another five-day or so, they’d be setting sail for Ahlys Bay. And from there, theoretically, at least, they would be available to leapfrog along the southern coast of Raven’s Land, supplying a fast-moving army as it marched west overland.

The Chisholmian Royal Army had always emphasized physical conditioning and training in every sort of weather. It wasn’t unusual for an Army battalion to find itself ordered, with no previous warning , to fall in with full field packs and two days’ iron rations for a sixty mile march through February snows — or, conversely, June heat — and the Imperial Charisian Army hadn’t changed in that respect. Assuming the Raven Lords were as amenable as usual to subsidies (it would never do to call them “bribes”), and that Bishop Trahvys Shulmyn couldn’t convince them otherwise, Eastshare and Green Valley could theoretically have marched clear to Iron Cape, probably making good their forty miles per day, despite the narrow, snowy roads. Of course, it would have taken them several months, given the distances involved, but it was only forty days’ march from The Fence to the city of Marisahl (the nearest thing the Raven Lords had to a capital), on Ramsgate Bay, while another twenty days’ march would take them to Malphyra Bay, eight hundred miles farther west. That was still a long way from the Republic, but the voyage time from Tellesberg to Marisahl was less than half that of the time from Tellesberg to Maikelberg, and from Marisahl to Rollings Province by sea was only fifteen days. From Malphyra to Rollings was under ten days.

So if Eastshare was truly prepared to put his troops into motion as soon as possible, without direct orders from Sharleyan and Cayleb, and when he had no way to be certain his request for transports to be dispatched to Raven’s Land despite winter storms and ice floes, would be honored by the monarchs with whom he hadn’t even discussed moving troops to invade a sovereign realm in the middle of winter, he could cut a minimum of two months from the transit loop. He’d have enough shipping to keep his men supplied as they marched along the coastal roads, but he wouldn’t have enough troop lift to move them across the Passage of Storms. On the other hand, by reducing the total length of the sea passage by how far west his men could come on their own feet, he’d effectively reduce the number of transports needed for the voyage simply because they could make the round trip with half his men, then return for the other half, far more quickly than they could make the voyage clear from Chisholm.

If Eastshare was willing to take that gamble, the Imperial Charisian Army could have upwards of sixty thousand men — possibly as many as seventy-five thousand — in Siddarmark long before Clyntahn or Maigwair would have believed was possible. Perhaps not soon enough to stymie the general assault everyone knew was coming, but certainly earlier than anyone on the other side could have anticipated.

“Ruhsyl will do it,” Sharleyan said almost serenely, her eyes as confident as Cayleb’s had been when he was analyzing Rahnyld of Dohlar’s motives and actions.

“Are you sure?” Cayleb’s tone wasn’t a challenge, only a question. “I know he’s sent his message to Mairisahl and he’s already got the first divisions on the march, but he hasn’t said a word to any of his generals about moving anywhere beyond Ahlysberg. I’d say it’s pretty clear he’s still thinking at least as much in terms of making the entire trip by sea.”