March to the sea im 2, p.27

March To The Sea im-2, page 27

 part  #2 of  Imperial March Series

 

March To The Sea im-2
 



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  "And so we bring iron, purchased from Nashtor by the guarantee of Diaspra's temple, and we ask only that its purchase be repaid after the war. However, I also come with two thousand infantry which must be kept and maintained, and we brought no great sums of treasure beside the iron. If, after the war is over, you have supported our 'Expeditionary Force' with food and goods sufficient to pay for the iron, then the account will be considered balanced by Diaspra.

  "Thus we bring you your much-needed iron and a force to aid you, and effectively ask only for maintenance.

  "Personally, I think Gratar is insane to be so generous in such a time of peril for us all. But then, I'm not as nice as he is."

  "You sure are blunt, Rus From," Turl Kam said, rubbing his hands in worry.

  "I'm a priest, not a politician," the cleric responded. "Worse, I'm an artisan, and you know what they're like."

  "Indeed," Wes Til grunted in a laugh shared by the citizens behind the priest. "But where are these wonder weapons of the 'humans'? And what of the humans themselves? They have yet to speak."

  "Yes," Kam agreed. "Who's gonna speak for the humans?"

  * * *

  Roger recognized his cue and stepped forward with a gracious nod to From as the priest relinquished the floor to him.

  "Members of the Council," the prince said, half-bowing to that group, "and citizens of K'Vaern's Cove," he added, turning to give the crowd of spectators the same bow, "I speak for the humans."

  "Why are you humans here?" Kam asked bluntly. The Council had already been informed of the humans' plans, in general terms, at least, but only informally.

  "We aren't from around here, and we want to go home," Roger said. "That may sound fatuous, but it's important to understanding our needs and objectives. In order for us to return home, it's necessary for us to reach a city in a land which lies beyond the Western Ocean, and our time, frankly, is running out. Because of that, it's our intention to purchase passage—or ships, if necessary—and depart for that distant land as soon as possible. Our ship expert is of two minds about how best to proceed. He's of the opinion that the local ships aren't well designed for blue-water sailing, despite their excellent construction, and he's uncertain whether or not we could convert them to our needs. If he decides that we can't, and I believe he's inclining in that direction, then it will be necessary for us to build ships from the keel up."

  "That will take time," Til said. "Time you said you don't have. And the cost will be substantial, especially in time of war."

  "We have funds," Roger said, and managed—with difficulty—not to glare at Armand Pahner, who'd finally gotten around that very morning to revealing the true fruits of Ran Tai to him. "I'm sure," the prince went on, "that we can afford the construction or modification."

  "Maybe you can, and maybe you can't," Kam said. "There's a shortage of building materials, and our navy had a short and nasty fight with the Boman out on the Bay after D'Sley fell. The stupid bastards seemed to think they could get through from D'Sley using rafts and canoes. We taught 'em better, but however dumb they may be once you get them on the water, they don't have a lot of give up in their nature. We took some pretty heavy damage of our own, and most all our timber, especially for masts, comes down the Tam. There aren't masts to be had for love or money, and there won't be none until we retake the lands where the cutting is done."

  "We'll manage," Roger said with determined confidence despite a severe sinking sensation. "We've crossed half this world. We've fought our way across rivers in the face of an army of atul-grak. We've destroyed tribes almost as numerous as the Boman without support. We've crossed unscalable mountains. We've driven paths through the burning deserts. One stinking little ocean isn't going to stop us."

  "The sea's a lady, but that lady's a bitch," Kam told him reflectively. "I turned my back on that bitch just once and lost a leg to her."

  "You turned your back more than once, you old drunk!" one of the crowd shouted.

  "I ought to have you ejected for that, Pa Kathor," Kam said with a grunt of laughter. "But it's almost true. I wasn't drunk—I was hung over. But the point is that the sea is a bitch, and a mean one when the mood strikes her, and the ocean's worse. Lots worse. You might want to bear that in mind, Prince Roger."

  "We're aware of the difficulties and dangers, Turl Kam," Roger replied. "And we don't underestimate her. But whatever her mood, we must cross her, and we have many things going for us. For one thing, we have a technology, a simple rigging innovation, which permits us to sail far closer to the wind than your own ships can."

  "What?" Wes Til asked in the suddenly silent room. "How?"

  "It isn't difficult," Roger told him, "although it would be easier to demonstrate than to explain. But it permits a ship to sail within thirty or forty degrees into the wind."

  "How?" Turl Kam took up Til's question. "That's impossible. No one can sail closer than fifty degrees to the wind!"

  "No, it isn't, but as I say, it's something better demonstrated than explained, and we will demonstrate it. We'll teach your sailors and your shipwrights how it's done while we prepare for our own voyage, but that's only one of our advantages. Another is that we have much better navigational arts than you, and we know where we're going. We know approximately where we are on a map, we know where our destination lies, and we know how to keep track of our position while we sail towards it, so when we set out, we'll be heading for a specific destination on a course we can plot reliably, rather than making a blind voyage of discovery."

  "And this destination lies across the ocean, does it?" Til mused aloud.

  "Yes. It's a large island or small continent, a piece of land the size of the lands between the mountains and the sea."

  "So you'll be building a ship . . . ?"

  "Or ships," Roger corrected. "Precisely how many will depend on their sizes and the quantity of supplies or pack animals we must take with us."

  "Or ships," the Council member accepted the correction. "But you're going to build them, then sail across the ocean to this other continent. And once you get there, you'll find a port waiting for you. And then what?"

  "We'll probably sell the ships. Our eventual tar—destination is in the interior."

  "Ah," Til said. "So you won't need the ships on the far side. So if someone were to participate in building the ships, perhaps pay for it entirely, and then give you passage for a nominal fee . . . ?"

  "Someone wouldn't be thinking about getting a lock on a new market, would someone?" Kam asked through the scattered laughter.

  "I'm sure that something could be worked out with someone," Roger said with a closed-lipped, Mardukan smile. "Which is an example of what I meant by not letting things get in our way. We have much to offer, but we also have priorities which, however much we might like to vary our plans, call for us to proceed on our way without delays."

  "But you could stay and fight?" Til persisted.

  "If we did, it would change several equations," Roger replied cautiously. "A delay to fight here would mean we would have to make a faster passage, which would require different ships. And we wouldn't be fighting directly, because there are too few of us to matter against a foe as numerous and geographically dispersed as the Boman. What we could do would be to act as trainers and leaders for your own forces, as we did in Diaspra. And although we're too few in numbers ourselves to fight the war for you, perhaps we could act as shock troops in one or two critical battles, again, as we did in Diaspra.

  "But that isn't our intention. If K'Vaern's Cove throws its weight into the battle against the Boman, you should win, even in an open field battle, without us. And if you don't throw your full weight into the fight, it would hardly be in our interest to support a half-hearted war."

  "But with your aid, would our casualties be lighter?" Til pressed.

  Roger opened his mouth to reply, and stopped. He thought for a moment and almost turned to look at Pahner for an answer, but he already knew what the answer was.

  "If we
threw our full effort into it, your casualties would be lighter. We've described the new weapons to Rus From, but their construction is complicated, and we weren't able to tell him exactly how to solve all of the problems he would face in building them. Not because we deliberately chose to conceal or withhold information, but because we're simply not fully familiar with your manufacturing capabilities. Our own land has many technologies and machines which yours doesn't, and we don't know the best and most efficient way to adapt your own capabilities to solving the problems.

  "To be honest, we didn't worry about that aspect. Rus From's reputation is well known, even here in K'Vaern's Cove, and from our own observation in Diaspra, that reputation is well-deserved. We were confident that he would be able to overcome any difficulties in time, and, unlike us, time is something which he—and you—possess. Not as much as we thought before we learned the true state of your supplies, perhaps, but still longer than we have if we're to reach our destination alive. Even without us, Rus From—and your own artisans, of course—would almost certainly be able to produce sufficient of the new weapons to defeat the Boman before lack of supplies defeats you.

  "If, on the other hand, we remained in K'Vaern's Cove, our own artisans would be available to help with that production. We'd be able to learn what we don't currently know about your capabilities, and with that knowledge we could probably save a great deal of time in putting those weapons into your warriors' true-hands. Also, at the risk of sounding conceited, our Marines would be far better trainers than the Diasprans. We have an institutional memory to draw on, and a degree of personal experience which they lack. As an analogy, the Diasprans would be apprentices teaching unskilled people to be apprentices, while our Marines would be master craftsmen teaching others to be journeymen."

  "How would you go about the actual fighting?" Til asked. "Would you go to some point and dare the Boman to attack you? Or would you try to draw them forward against our own defenses? Would you attack Sindi?"

  "I can't answer those questions," Roger said, "because we haven't discussed the matter among ourselves. As I've repeatedly stressed, we aren't here to fight the Boman. We need to cross the ocean. Having said that, if we did take the field against them, we would probably begin by recapturing D'Sley to use as a base of supply. Trying to supply around the Bay would open you up to interdiction."

  "Uh," Turl Kam said. "What was that last word?"

  "Sorry." Roger realized he'd used the Standard English word and pulled up the translation software on his toot, then grimaced when he discovered that there was no translation. "You don't seem to have a word for it, so I was forced to use our own. Let's just say that packing stuff all the way around the Bay opens you up to having your supply line cut. Interior lines of supply are always better."

  "So you'd want to retake D'Sley as a start," Til said, rubbing his horns. "What then?"

  "Any moves after that would depend on what intelligence we'd gathered."

  "What . . . thinking you'd brought together?" Kam said carefully. "Are you saying it would depend on what you decided as a group?"

  "No," the prince said. "Look, this is getting complicated. What I meant was that when we knew where the Boman were and how they were moving, or if they were moving, then we could think about what strategy to use. But we're not going to be doing any of those things because—"

  "Because you have to cross the ocean," Kam said. "Right. We got that. So what we've got is some soldiers of dubious worth and some half smelted iron from Diaspra. We're supposedly going to get some new toys—but not the best toys—from you humans by way of the Diasprans. And with these gifts, we're supposed to go out and beat up on the Boman. Because if we don't, Rus From tells us, the Cove is going to die on the vine."

  "Don't know when I've ever heard it put more clearly," Wes Til said. "Krin knows, we've clearly died on the vine in every other war we've been involved in! So I guess that just about sums it up."

  "Yes, it does," Roger said, grinning widely and this time letting a mouthful of pearly teeth show. "Now, as I was saying. Since from what you just said you guys are clearly having no problems with the Boman, perhaps you can tell me where I could buy a dozen masts?"

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  "Okay, Poertena, what've you got?" Roger asked.

  The council meeting had adjourned without reaching any decisions, so the humans were continuing with their plan to modify or build a ship and the Diasprans were in limbo. If the K'Vaernians decided that fighting the Boman wasn't worth what it would cost, the Diasprans' trip would have been in vain, but Roger had a gut feeling that that wasn't what would happen.

  "I went down tee harbor wit' Tratan, Sir. Just nosin' aroun'," the Pinopan said, and pulled out his pad. "We gots problems."

  "There's a materials shortage," Pahner said. "We got that much at the council meeting. How bad is it?"

  "Say t'at t'ere ain't no materials, an' you closer, Cap'n," the sergeant replied. " 'Specially masts and spars. I see t'ree, four shipyards—t'ey shut down: no wood. Tee two I see working, t'ey workin' slow, just killin' time."

  "Worse than I thought," O'Casey muttered. "The city didn't look all that depressed on the way in."

  "Oh, tee parts we come t'rough, t'ey busy. It's tee docks t'at's idle. You go down tee docks, you gots lots o' people jus' hangin' around. Lots of tee porters, normally unload tee ships, t'ey just hangin' around. Lots of tee guys work in tee warehouses. And tee sailors. Hell, even tee taverns is shut down—no business."

  "And the docks have got to be the linchpin of this economy," O'Casey said. "It's not like they produce much."

  "I don't know about that," Julian said. "I was nosing around, too, and there's a large industrial sector beyond the first set of hills. The entire peninsula is short on ground water—that's why they've got all those catcher cisterns—but they've got some pretty good powered equipment running over there. A lot of it's wind-powered, but they use some water-driven machinery that draws on really big cisterns. Hell, I even saw one shop that uses tidal catcher basins to drive wheels with the outflow—they've got two moons, and that makes for some hellacious tides even on an inland sea like the K'Vaernian. But for all the equipment they've got, things seemed slow," he admitted. "Lots of people around, and all the foundries were active, but . . . slow. I think the city's probably a 'value added' economy. They get raw materials, work them into goods, and sell the goods. But there aren't any materials to rework right now, and more than half their markets are gone."

  "Can we buy a ship and cross the ocean?" Pahner asked.

  "No, Sir," the Pinopan answered promptly. "We can buy a ship, no problem. But we no can cross tee ocean in one of t'ese tubs. We might make it, an' we might not. You wanna take a maybe-maybe not chance with tee Prince?"

  "No," Pahner said with a grimace. "So what's the alternative?"

  "We can buy a ship, strip it to tee keel, an' use tee timbers to build a new one," the Pinopan told him. "T'at sound like a good idea, but it make it nearly twice as long to build t'an if we starts fresh, an' we ain't got an infinite supply of supplements."

  "Is it just the masts that are in short supply?" Julian asked.

  "No. Oh, tee masts're tee worst part, but ever't'ing's short. You build ships out o' wood, you needs seasoned timber. You can use green, but t'ey ain't gonna last very long. T'at's maybe not a problem for us, but t'ere ain't no timber in tee city—not where anyone gonna sell it to us, anyways."

  "And there won't be any from their internal resources, either," O'Casey said grimly. "It's a classic problem for any seapower based on wooden hulls. Once you cut down all of the usable timber in your immediate vicinity, you become dependent on an overseas supply for your shipyards. And the overseas suppliers K'Vaern's Cove has depended on just got hammered under by the Boman."

  "T'at's right," Poertena agreed. "Oh, I t'ink we can maybe pry loose 'nough timber for one ship, but no more."

  "Well, can't the platoon fit on just one?" Julian asked, wincing as he used the term for
the surviving Marines. Mostly because "platoon" was exactly what Bravo Company had become.

  "Yeah," the Pinopan answered with a sideways glance at the captain. "But is t'at all we taking?"

  "Captain Pahner?" Roger glanced at the CO. "Is there something I should know?"

  "I've been talking with Rastar," Pahner said quietly. "The Boman didn't just sack Therdan and Sheffan—they razed them to the ground, and the surviving League forces are generally uninterested in returning to rebuild. There's nothing there to rebuild, and I think there's also an aspect of not wanting to see their dead in it. If they don't see them, don't see the ruins with their own eyes, they can remain in denial deep down inside. And the civan unit has also bonded well to us and, to an extent, to your person as a leadership figure. In addition, Bogess has mentioned that some of his forces aren't interested in returning to Diaspra. Again, for some of them it's that they've developed an interest in learning and seeing new things, and for others it's a basic change of allegiance."

  "You're thinking of taking some of the Northern and Diaspran forces with us?" The prince chuckled. "Her Majesty's Own Mardukan Sepoys?"

  "I cannot secure your person with thirty-six Marines, Your Highness," the captain said in a much more formal tone than usual, meeting the prince's gaze levelly. "Certainly not in this environment. I could barely manage with a full company . . . and I don't have a company anymore. As Sergeant Julian just said, I have a platoon. That simply isn't enough, and that means I have to do it through some other means."

 

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