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religion, and Arman had long dismissed them as unfit for an intelligent person
to pay any attention too. So, apparently, did the Darshianese, who had readily
adopted the religion of their masters as self-evidently superior. Arman was
only concerned if these myths were to affect morale in any way, but it seemed
his soldiers common sense was overruling the fanciful, which was
encouraging.
However, he knew something they did not. The blocking of Kurlik Pass had
not been a simple rockfall. The pass had been mined with powerful explosives
and when the Prij had invaded and taken over Urshek, the mines had been
triggered by the retreating northerners, sending thousands of tons of rock into
the narrow pass, effectively cutting northern Darshian off from contact with the
south, save by sea, which traffic the Prij dominated with ease.
The loss of the land route had been a blow, but the temporary setback had
proved in the end most beneficial to the Prij in closing and defending the
border. Nonetheless, it had irritated Her Serenity s father, then sovereign, that
the Darshianese had a weapon the Prij did not. He had ordered, as had his
daughter after his death, that all efforts be made to discover the nature of the
mysterious explosive, one far more powerful than the uko powder the Prij
used in small bombs and their ship cannons, but in the twenty years since the
pass was blocked, the Prijian armourers had not been able to recreate it. It
was thought to be the same explosive which powered the huge cannons
which overlooked Darshek s harbour and which, together with the natural
mountain barriers to the sides and behind Darshek, made the northern capital
impregnable while at the same time allowing it to dominate the trade to the
north, especially with Andon.
At least until now, Arman thought grimly as he walked back to his tent,
keeping to the shadows. The discovery of a previously uncharted route
through the southern range had suddenly made Her Serenity s long-held
ambitions possible, and a plan had been drawn up by the Lord Commander to
choke off Darshek s supply routes from the south and from the sea. Arman s
forces were the first phase of the attack, to secure control of the main inland
trade route and the seven large villages along it which acted as trading
centres for the surrounding farming lands. Rare mineral ores were mined at
Albon, Darbin and Vinri which were of apparent importance to Darshek. By
controlling these villages and the access through the Kislik range to Darshek
plain, the Prij would control both grain and mineral trade, as well as
communications between north and south. Once these had been taken into
Prijian hands, the supplies diverted south to Urshek and beyond that, to
Kuplik, a siege would commence seawards, with the Prij navy creating a
blockade outside the range of the mighty cannons, preventing goods and
boats from Andon and other ocean trade routes entering the territory.
It was a long-term strategy, but a sound one so far as it went, and Arman s
qualms were for after the success of the siege and Darshek s capitulation,
rather than the possibility of that capitulation. He had his orders and he would
obey them. They were to sweep forward through the trade route to Kislik, the
last village before the pass through the northern mountain range some
hundred miles from Darshek, where a defence fort would be established
under Jozo s command as a northern barrier against incursions from Darshek
itself. Troops would be left at the villages between there and the southern
border, and thus communications and supply lines would be crucial as they
would be stretched over thirteen hundred miles. They had a thousand men to
command and to control initially. Once defence posts were set up, more
would follow, and yet more would sweep across the continent to bring the law
of Kuprij, once Darshek fell.
Even the first thousand soldiers needed a lot of lem flour, equipment, and
pack animals, all of which had to be squeezed through this new pass through
the mountains. Arman wondered if it would not have been better to put that
manpower to clearing Kurlik pass, even if their engineers were unable to
divine a method of doing so at this moment in time, but the army were
committed now to the present course of action. Time and the will of the gods
would tell if Her Serenity s judgement was correct.
He pulled back the hood of his cloak before approaching his tent and got a
perfectly ordinary salute from his watch. Inside, all was orderly and quiet, his
pallet tidily made and ready for occupancy, his papers stacked neatly on a
travelling desk, Loke waiting patiently for him in welcome. He had to admit
that despite his misgivings, having his page with him was a wonderful luxury.
He felt much more at home in this rough army tent than he ever would in a
house run by Mayl, and here he had warm eyes and a welcoming smile to
greet him. Here he knew he was wanted for himself.
Supper was waiting for him too. Loke took his cloak from him, and gave him
a cloth to wipe his hands and face before he sat down to a meat stew, fresh
bread and a mug of the local honey beer, which smelled inviting and tasted
even better. He noted that Loke, serving himself and sitting cross-legged on
the rug to eat, had colour in his cheeks and was falling on the food with a
good appetite too, apparently none the worse for the long day on the boat,
and his seasickness. At least they would all eat well for the next few days,
until the fresh meat and vegetables were replaced by hard rations for however
long it took to obtain new supplies from the villages and farms on the other
side of the mountains.  So, are the men ready for the march?
 They seem in good heart. Some fanciful notions about the Darshianese,
which you might expect. Tell me, Loke, if I said I d seen a man throwing fire,
would you believe me?
Loke grinned and put his chin on his hand to look at him.  No, Arman, but I [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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