Chapter Three

“I tell her and I tell her,” Heuradys said sotto voce as the Royal party walked towards the gangway at the side of the ship and the barge waiting below; the Hawaiians and Japanese had their own. “But does she listen? Nooooo….”

“Enough, Herry,” Órlaith said amiably but firmly; her knight was doing her job, after all. “The Powers gave House Artos a Sword to carry, not a notepad for writing orders or a megaphone for shouting them. We don’t just command, we lead.”

The knight nodded with a chuckle—probably at the thought of a supernaturally powerful order-pad or speaking trumpet—but she did silently push forward with her shield up to lead the way down the gangway, which was an arrangement like a long hinged staircase down to the water level. It wasn’t even really paranoia; there had been more than one attempt at assassination lately, and from people none of them would have suspected.

Alan, Órlaith thought, and pushed aside the pain for a man who might not have really existed at all, though she’d felt his touch.

She’d thought it was more than diversion and sport. If they’d had more time together…

And one of the reasons enemies try that sort of thing is to kill your trust if they can’t kill you, because nothing can be done without trust. Suspicion can be a prophecy too… a self-fulfilling one.

The boat at the bottom of the gangway was Hawaiian, with a crew that King Kalākaua had furnished, as he had for Empress Reiko. The Hawaiian monarch was proud but shrewd, and carefully courteous to both his new allies, looking ahead to a time after the war, when Hawaiʻi would be the entrepôt where the trade of continents met, to the benefit of his subjects and his realm, holding the balance between many and so being safer among larger, more populous realms.

So a King must think, if the job is to be done properly.

Montivallans wouldn’t have been working stripped to the waist and the waists cinched with only a breechclout, but apart from that no single individual among the oarsmen would have looked out of place at home among a band of tall well-muscled young men, though as a group they ran more to brown skins and black hair than most parts of the High Kingdom. Heuradys made a slight ooooh sound of appreciation at the massed male hotness and one of them caught her eye and grinned and winked and gripped his oar so that the long muscles flexed on his arms and shoulders beneath smooth sweat-slicked skin. Órlaith was feeling too serious for that sort of byplay.

She nodded to their captain, an elegant youngster with a red flower tucked behind one ear and a wicked-looking long knife in his belt. From what little she’d seen of the ordinary folk here since her fleet arrived, Hawaiians tended to the casual and happy-go-lucky even by Mackenzie standards, but when they needed to they could work in a unison even a Boisean would approve of, and very hard indeed… and they went spear-hunting for shark here, for the sport of it. His face was grave with responsibility.

The boat captain waited by the tiller until the last of her party—the dozen boisterous tattooed McClintock caterans in their Great Kilts who followed Diarmuid Tennart McClintock their sub-chiefly tacksman—were shoved out of the way. The McClintocks were mountaineers from the southern uplands beyond the ruins of Eugene, without even the slight experience in boats a Mackenzie might get on the rivers of the Willamette low country. Their streams were rushing torrents good mainly for trout, salmon in season and turning the wheel of a gristmill, but they were agile as goats and adjusted quickly.

Two of them, a huge redhead with a beard down his plaid like a burst mattress stuffed with ginger moss and a black-haired comrade nearly as big, were taking turns carrying and guarding her personal banner, the same Crowned Mountain and Sword as Montival’s flag with the baton of her status as Heir across it, flying from a ten-foot pole of polished mountain ashwood with a good practical spearhead atop it.

They looked fit to burst with pride, and their leatherwork and metal-sewn leather vests and the hilts of the great two-handed claidheamh-mòr slung over their backs had been lovingly polished to do the task justice; they’d probably boast about it the rest of their lives, if they made it back home to their native glens. She hadn’t had the heart to tell them she’d picked them for the honor because they were both, though immensely strong and very brave, also “thick as three short planks set together” as Diarmuid put it.

This way they wouldn’t be expected to think quickly under unfamiliar stress.

The Hawaiian officer called out sharply:

Fend off!

At his word the boatswain in the bows released the towrope, and the longboat peeled away from the moving flank of the frigate that loomed above it like a cliff topped with sails and masts fading upward to what looked like infinity. The starboard oarsmen planted the tips of their long tools against the metal-shod planks and shoved. In smooth unison they slid them back into the oarlocks and poised as he turned the tiller and the bow pointed towards the burning shore.

Everything rose and fell as they crested the long smooth curves of the waves, land only continuously in view from where the water turned green as the sand beneath shelved shallower. This close to the water you felt the sea’s power more, the surge beneath them like the muscles of a blooded horse, the strong scent and the salt taste of spray on the lips.

The smoldering palm trees and thick-scattered bodies seemed oddly incongruous against the broad white beach, though it matched the harsh scents the breeze was carrying and the cries of the gathering gulls attracted by the bounty. That wind carried the blurred din of onset too, the dull clatter of blades on shields and armor, the ting and crash of steel on steel, and roaring voices muted with distance cut through with the occasional shrill shrieking. The fight was farther back from the water by now, long bowshot, though still visible as a line of black that glittered with edged metal now and then, and the bagpipers and drummers and horns-men were strutting forward to follow it.

Scores of boats and barges were turning shoreward now, the refilled ones of the first wave and more besides, up to the big specially-built types that had been carried knocked down in the holds of the ships from Montival and reassembled on Hilo to carry horses and field artillery. Cheers rose from all as her craft passed, weapons shaken in the air and her name on a thousand lips, along with nearly as many war cries and several languages. The feeling was heady… and heavy, as well.

It’s not the first time I’ve gone into a fight. But it is the first time I’ve gone into one with so many depending on me.

As if sensing her thought, Heuradys added with another chuckle:

“I’d rather have my job than yours any day of the week and twice on Sunday, Orrey. Zeus father of Gods and men, why do people contend for thrones?”

The folk here in Hawaiʻi mostly used English with one another, though often in ways a Montivallan found strange. They remembered the older tongue of the canoe-folk who’d first settled these lands, though, preserving it for speaking to their Gods and for occasions of ceremony… and for things like this. Now they took up a chant in a call-and-response pattern with the helmsman, a deep musical chorus that helped with the hard skilled effort of swinging the oars.

The Sword of the Lady had given her their speech, as it did any tongue she needed:

Ia wa’a nui
That large canoe—

Ia wa’a kioloa
That long canoe—

Ia wa’a peleleu
That broad canoe—

A lele mamala
Let chips fly—

A manu a uka
The bird of the mountain—

A manu a kai
The bird of the sea—

‘I’iwi polena
The red Honeycreeper—

A kau ka hoku
The stars hang above—

A kau i ka malama
The daylight arrives—

A pae i kula
Bring the canoe ashore!

‘Amama, ua noa
The taboo is lifted!

The last was a triumphant shout as the keel rutched on the sand. The oarsmen vaulted over the rails and ran the bow up higher and stood in the water to steady it; Órlaith ran to the bow herself and leapt down. She landed carefully with bent knees on the sand just beyond the highest riffle from the low waves and a slight grunt, but doing acrobatics in armor was one of the tests of knighthood and she could have done the same in a regular steel suit twenty pounds heavier than this. Her followers followed in a rush, shaking out behind her—or in Heuradys’ case, to the right and nearly level—and standing alert.

Karl and Mathun and the other Mackenzies took their weapons out of the waxed-linen bags, tucked those away in their sporrans, strung the longbows in a practiced flex with the lower tip against the left boot and the thigh over the grip, and put arrows on the nock, their eyes scanning ceaselessly for threats.

One of her followers was Susan Mika, still in the leathers of the Crown Courier Corps, slight and wiry and dark, with her black hair in feathered braids and a band of white-edged black painted across her eyes. She gave a high shrill whoop and called out down the beach in Lakota:

Wayáčhi yačhíŋ he?

Another barge was bringing the party’s mounts ashore, shuttled over from Hilo where they’d been enjoying a chance to get away from the cramped stalls of the transports that had brought them the long sea road from Astoria. Sir Droyn de Molalla was in charge of that, a dark handsome young man she’d knighted herself, and the third son of the Count of Molalla. He waved, and held up his shield. At this distance it was easier to recognize the arms, in his case an assegai and lion quartered with hers, than a face.

A quarter horse with a white-and-brown speckled rump threw its head up at Susan’s cry, decided it liked the invitation to dance from its rider, and pulled its reins out of a groom’s hand with a speed that left her yelping and wringing a burnt palm. By the time it reached the Royal party it was galloping with the jackrabbit acceleration of its breed, head plunging and braided mane flying.

Susan Mika—Susan Clever Raccoon—was running too, a stride that ended up with her grabbing the horn of her saddle, bounding into it, down on the other side, hitting the ground with both feet, doing a handstand in the saddle and flipping to stand on it and then dropping into it as her feet found the stirrups effortlessly as she circled back in spouts of wet sand.

Hurry up and wait, Órlaith thought, suppressing an impulse to snap at Susan for the display of brio. They couldn’t move off the beach until those who’d be riding had gotten their horses.

War is full of urgency and then getting stalled.

“Show-off,” Heuradys called as the Courier cantered up to them. “Is this a fight we’re heading for, or a tinerant circus?”

Susan halted without needing to touch the reins, grinning as she slung her shete—the broad-pointed horse-fighter’s chopper of the eastern plains—in its beaded sheath to the saddle, checked her bowcase and quiver, settled the two long knives she wore on her belt and the tomahawk through the loop at the small of her back, and reached forward to scratch the beast between the ears. The buffalo-hide shield slung over the bowcase was small and round, with a spread-winged Thunderbird symbol painted on it, and a small medicine bag and tuft of feathers.

“Hey, is it my fault if you wašícu have no natural talent for horses?” Susan said to the Associate. “Go get a bicycle, knight-girl, or one of those lumbering short-nosed elephants you manor-and-castle types try to pass off as horses.”

“Is that the noble chivalric destrier you’re slandering in your savage nomadic ignorance?”


Susan glanced up at the sky as if in deep thought and put a finger on her chin before saying in measured tones:

“So noble is how Richard the Lionheart wannabes say fat and slow? Y’know, that explains a lot, it really does.”

“Destriers are elegantly powerful and quick enough in the charge.”

“So are elephants. Or destriers, as if there’s a difference between a destrier and an elephant. Or maybe they’re really just very skinny hippos?”

Then they pointed at each other and yelled:


In unison, and laughed.

Faramir Kovalevsky and his cousin Morfind Vogeler called to their horses as well, and swung up with equal skill to the backs of the dappled Arabs, if with a little less deliberate panache, reining in by Susan’s side. They were both in the loose mottled light clothing and mail-lined hippo-hide jerkins that the Dúnedain of Stath Eryn Muir—the southernmost outpost of their scattered people, in what the old world had called Muir Woods—wore in the field, so that the crowned Tree and seven Stars were hard to see on their breasts. All three uncased their four-foot recurved horse-bows of horn and sinew and reached for arrows, guiding their mounts effortlessly with weight and knees, leaving the reins knotted on the saddlebow.

“Besides,” Heuradys said, nodding to them. “Your tree-house-dwelling wašícu squeezes there are just as good at show-off trick-riding as you are.”

“The three of us are melethril to each other,” Morfind said loftily. “Squeeze is Common Speech, and just… so common, for one of noble blood, Lady Heuradys. And Faramir lived in a flet at Eryn Muir, but I was raised in my parents’ perfectly nice stone hall east of there in the Valley of the Moon. Besides, we’re not wašícu.”

Her eyes were blue, though her hair was as black as Susan’s; Faramir’s were gray, and he had a mop of blond curls that peaked out a little from around the rim of the light helm he donned.

“You’re not?” Heuradys said. “That’s new.”

“No, it isn’t. You know perfectly well we’re elf-friends,” the young man named Kovalevsky clarified with sardonic helpfulness. “Folk of the West. Númenóreans, though our blood is sadly mingled with Common Men here in the Fifth Age.”

Common, like you, went unspoken.

“I’d forgotten because there aren’t any pointy-eared types around for you Dúnedain to hang with,” Heuradys said. “Assuming they’d have anything to do with you, that is.”

“Elves don’t have pointy ears, or the Histories would say so, Lady,” Morfind said.

The Histories were what Dúnedain Rangers called a series of hero-tales from before the Change that their founder Lady Astrid Larsson had been obsessed with from an implausibly early age. She was a martyred hero of the Prophet’s War now, but her surviving Bearkiller brother Eric still referred to her as Princess Leg-o-lamb now and then, to the scandal of the younger generation and any visiting Rangers. You usually couldn’t tell just how serious the Dúnedain were when they claimed that the stories were gospel true… literallygospel, as in divinely inspired by the Valar. Even with the Sword she couldn’t be entirely sure, though she thought she felt ambiguity—what she often sensed, if irony was involved.

“The pointed ears are just a superstition,” Morfind added, absently rubbing at the ax-scar that seamed her cheek; it still itched a little now and then, having been suffered less than a year ago. “The Edhellen are tall and noble-looking, and graceful as cats and handsome or beautiful, but otherwise outwardly like the race of Men, unless you have eyes to see into the Other Realm. So they look rather like us Folk of the West”—

she pointed a finger at her own chest

—“only even more noble and beautiful and graceful than we are.”

Órlaith smiled at the byplay. There was a certain amount of inherent irony when Dúnedain Rangers and Associate nobles got into a mutual I-can-be-more-haughty-and-sneering-than-thou contest, though it was even more entertaining when they were serious about it rather than this teasing between friends. Growing up in the High King’s family had taken her all over Montival, and exposed her to many different folk and their ways… and their myths about themselves.

It’s good to have a Household of my own generation with me, she thought; Heuradys and Diarmuid were the oldest, and they had only a few years more than her. If I had to be with nobody but my parents’ generation, the Changelings, I’d run melancholy-mad in short order.

Sir Droyn cantered over on a tall courser—the alternative breed for knightly combat, a bit lighter and longer-limbed than destriers proper, what they’d called a Warmblood or Irish Hunter in the ancient world. He led two more for her and Heuradys.

“Here comes Sir Wet Blanket de Propriety a l’outrance,” Heuradys murmured.

Órlaith clucked disapprovingly; Droyn was far more conventional than either of them, but he’d been fiercely loyal and a fine fighter. And he’d sworn allegiance to her—his arms were quartered with hers, like Heuradys’—and come off on their adventure to south Westria with Reiko, when he could have stayed home as the third son of a wealthy Count and spent his days hunting and gambling and dancing at parties and riding in the tournament circuit and basking in the admiration and embraces of the local femininity.

He did look slightly baffled when Susan Mika called out, to a chorus of snickers:

“How’s your olifant doing there, my lord?”

Olifant being elephant in the Old French with which Associate nobles peppered their conversation, particularly the ones more caught up in the mythos, much the way Mackenzies did with Gaelic. She was fairly sure that Droyn’s own grandfather had actually been a leader of some sort of bandit gang before the Change, recruited by Norman Arminger in the early days of the Portland Protective Association. And married off to one of his Society for Creative Anachronism followers to give him a little polish, which had succeeded with his descendants if not with the old rogue himself, who’d at least died bravely leading his men in the Protector’s War.

Nowadays the Counts of Molalla claimed, via well-subsidized troubadours and heralds, to be descended from a long line of African kings, including several Órlaith knew for a fact had never come within six thousand miles or several thousand years of one another—that was a very big continent and as old as anywhere—and from French aristocrats through Droyn’s grandmother. Who’d been something called a dental hygienist when she wasn’t playing at being a noblewoman… though admittedly she’d done the real thing quite well, diving into her Society persona and never coming out again.

Grandmother Juniper says a lot of them did that, Órlaith thought. As a way of going mad and surviving at the same time.

“This is my courser Roland, Lady Susan,” he replied gravely, giving her credit in north-realm terms for being the daughter of a prominent Lakota chief. “He’s in fine fettle and ready for deeds of honor!”

A sixteen-hand roan with a blond mane whickered as he caught Órlaith’s scent, and Droyn grinned as he looped its reins to the high pommel and released the animal. It trotted over and paused, and Órlaith took a hopping skip, put her hand on the leather, sprang into the high-cantled saddle men-at-arms used and braced her feet in the long forward-canted knight’s stirrups.

“Back to work again, eh, Wardancer?” she said, and slapped its neck; coursers were less specialized than destriers, but about as big. “You must be deadly bored.”

Vaulting onto your mount in full armor and shield was another of the tests of knighthood; Heuradys did it moments later with her tall black mare. Sometimes Órlaith sympathized with men meeting that particular challenge; getting it just right was even more important for them, and doing it wrong was apparently very painful indeed, and a source of much merriment to the other squires when a bunch of candidates were practicing, along with expressions of false sympathy and offers of ice packs.

The three horse-archers spread out before them, and those on foot formed to either side and behind her and her two full-armored companions. The Mackenzies and McClintocks paced along effortlessly with the slow trot of their mounted companions. Not even clan warriors could keep up with a galloping horse… but a horse couldn’t gallop for very long, and they could maintain a swinging lope like this from dawn to dusk. A light-riding Crown Courier like Susan with a string of four or five remounts on a leading-rein or changes at substations and nothing but open grassland to cross could leave them behind for a good long time, but not a rider on a single burdened horse, not for long. That was why infantry could run cavalry to death, over a week or two, and why armies usually left a trail of horses foundered or dead in their wake.

Besides moving faster, a warhorse gave you a better view. She could see troops landing now up and down a mile of the beach, rallying, and heading off where couriers and officers directed.

Just north a regiment of foot from the Theo-Democratic Republic of New Deseret was forming up, men in three-quarter armor fitting their knock-down pikes together and raising them in blocks to their full sixteen-foot height, and light troops in half-armor in thinner formations between with crossbows. The banner borne before them was of golden bees on black, and a beehive shone on every breastplate. A battery of horse-drawn field-catapults, twelve-pounders, wheeled up and trotted along behind them as they double-timed forward with feet hitting the ground in earthquake unison, the glittering foot-long heads of the pikes rising and falling rhythmically.

They raised a cheer and a shout of:

Princess Órlaith! Long live Princess Órlaith!

House Artos had saved Deseret in the Prophet’s War, led them to victory over those who’d laid their land waste, and brought much-needed aid in its aftermath, food and cloth to feed and warm the hungry and seed-grain and stock and tools to rebuild ruined farms and towns. The folk there remembered it still, being a breed much given to solid virtues like hard work, gratitude and keeping their oaths. Órlaith admired and liked them on the whole, but found them even duller than other Christians.

She saluted with gauntleted fist to breastplate at the loyal cry, and they burst into an earth-shaking chorus:

The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day—
The dawning of a brighter day—
Majestic rises on the world!”

A field hospital was in the process of setting up on the beach with gear and staff from the expeditionary force’s hospital ships and was already treating a steady flow of wounded brought in by stretcher-bearers and the first field ambulances. A difference of minutes in treatment could mean the difference between life and death, or saving and losing a limb. One of her less agreeable duties later would be to tour it and talk to the hurt. Her parents had both sworn that it genuinely helped them.

The headquarters table was just inland beyond that, with a canvas windbreak already up, ranks of mounted messengers, and a skeletal launch rack for lofting observation gliders half-assembled and growing fast; Boiseans were very good at things like that, with the folk from the city-state of Corvallis their only real rivals for the title of best field engineers in the High Kingdom. In the interim, a heliograph snapped out Morse to the ships offshore and took it in return, getting the viewpoint from their kite-borne lookouts.

That efficiency was appropriate, because the land commander of the expeditionary force was General-President Frederick Thurston, a tall handsome middle-aged man with a light-brown complexion and loosely-curled black hair worn short in the way his folk favored. His staff—which included two of his children of about Órlaith’s age, Alice, in light-cavalry leather and mail shirt, and Lawrence in the same heavy-infantry armor as his father—and a clutch of other contingent-commanders were grouped around him and messengers came and went. Reiko and Kalākaua arrived just as she did, though they were on foot.

Captain Edain of the High King’s—

High Queen’s, she reminded herself; her father’s enormous absence still caught her now and then, like a root tripping you in a darkened forest.

—Archers was there, giving her a salute followed by a bow and smile and dryly amused look; her father’s old right-hand man and Guard-Captain had spent several months earlier this year trying to chase her down in the wilds of Westria—what had once been California—and express the High Queen’s extreme displeasure that she’d gone haring off with Reiko to find the Grasscutter.

Despite the fact that she did pretty much the same on the Quest of the Sunrise Lands when she was younger than I, and Grandmother Sandra raged about it spectacularly. I was right and she was wrong and I get to sing the “I was right” song. Though I won’t… not aloud, at least. And maybe I’ll rage likewise, when I’m her age.

Heuradys’ brother Lord Diomede d’Ath, heir to Barony Ath and Captain-General of the Associate men-at-arms for the expeditionary force was there too; he had black hair and pale blue eyes like their birth-mother Lady Delia, the theoretical Countess de Stafford and actual Châtelaine of Ath, a serious-looking man in his late thirties. He nodded and gave her a grave fist-to-chest, one knight to another.

Certain things had to be said, and said publicly, for reasons both personal and political—if there was any difference, in the world her birth had handed her. Órlaith returned Fred Thurston’s salute.

“General Thurston”—

rather than Mr. President, since he was here in a military capacity, in the service of the High Kingdom

—“please let me console you on the death of your nephew, Captain Alan Thurston. We know the enemy in this war, as it was in the Prophet’s War, can twist men’s minds. Your nephew fought valiantly against that infection, and killed himself rather than let himself be forced to harm me. That was truly death in battle, fighting a brave and lonely fight for the High Kingdom against overwhelming odds. Surely he feasts among the einherjar in Odhinn’s hall tonight.”

That had the benefit of being substantially and generally true, though the reality was complex enough it would have taken hours to cover it all; for instance, it wasn’t at all clear if the enemy who’d crept into Alan’s mind was the same one who’d been behind the Prophet in their own country a generation ago and was the same to the Kim dynasty in Korea now. There were hints it was some new Power, equally malign.

She didn’t make any reference to Alan briefly being her lover either, though of course Fred Thurston had known about it, and wouldn’t have been human if he hadn’t hoped something on the order of a marriage alliance might come of that between the Thurstons and House Artos. The more so because he’d been a Quest-companion and longtime friend of her father, a comrade and valued commander in the Prophet’s War.

He probably wasn’t too deeply or directly grieved for Alan’s personal sake; the young man was the posthumous son of his usurping parricide of an elder brother, and had been raised deep in the country. Alan’s mother had been given a good ranch after the war in a very remote area, and then strongly advised to stay there for the rest of her life. He’d visited to show he didn’t bear the children a grudge—his sister-in-law had switched sides in a public, spectacular and very helpful way, albeit for her own reasons—but not enough for a personal bond. The wounds of civil war healed slowly, even with the best will in the world.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” the elder Thurston said.

He sighed. “Though at times I think it might be better for the family if Jokin’ Joe had won the last election and we could retire to our ranch.”

Most of those present smiled, though a few of the foreigners or Montivallans who hadn’t been much outside their own member-realms before this war looked puzzled. The United States of Boise was rather old-fashioned, and had free and fair democratic elections for President every seven years, though nobody not named Thurston had ever won one.

In the latest the main challenger to Fred Thurston had been a young man who’d officially changed his name to Jokin’ Joe the Jokey Jokester, and campaigned as head and sole member of the Gibbering Lunatic Party, wearing a large red nose, floppy shoes, and a fright wig, along with a fake carnation in his lapel that shot water into the faces of the unwary.

His speeches had consisted mostly of things like reading the Boisean constitution backward ostensibly as a prayer for electoral aid from Satan, a proposal to substitute royalties from the Big Rock Candy Mountain mines for all other taxes, and promises to decree that all the railroads in the Republic run downhill both ways to reduce the cost of horse-feed.

Punctuated by fist-waving screams of: I’m the most serious alternative you’ve got! and We need honest government—elect someone who admits that he’s an absolute clown!

She reflected that you couldn’t say Boiseans had absolutely no sense of humor; he’d gotten fully ten percent of the vote, after all.

Then Thurston cleared his throat and spoke with flat sincerity:

“Thank you also for the timely information about the enemy counterattack. That let us contain it much more quickly, and it saved lives.”

Órlaith nodded and touched the hilt of the Sword of the Lady to show where the credit was due. Thurston had already glanced that way; he’d been one of her father’s commanders at the Horse Heaven Hills and the long march to the Church Universal and Triumphant’s capital of Corwin, and he knew what the Sword meant from firsthand experience, as much as anyone not of House Artos could.

She swung down from the saddle and examined the map, with Heuradys at her side and Diarmuid taking a keen interest too, though both were silent.

Órlaith looked at the commander’s map carefully; she’d been taught to read the like from an early age. And then she blinked. For her, suddenly the symbols on it were alive, they were moving… and she could see them as if she were in truth in the sky above, as if in a glider or balloon. Knowledge slid through her mind, the summation of what all her folk facing the enemy knew.

Lord and Lady, but that feels strange, like empty rooms in my head suddenly furnished! And no wonder Da had a reputation as a tricky demon of a commander! Though to be sure, many of those he fought were actual demons.

“What are their numbers?” she asked, more for time to think than information.

“About like ours when all three armies are deployed, we think, or a bit more—say twenty thousand. Archers, spearmen and swordsmen. Very little in the way of cavalry, though, just mounts for some officers, and no field catapults to speak of since the Navy very efficiently sank them all.”

Kalākaua hissed in dismay. “I’d have trouble matching that with a month to mobilize!” he said. “And that would be everyone in the islands who could carry a spear or draw a bow, from the big kids who think they’re grown to the graybeards who babble about TV and airplanes and computers!”

Reiko nodded politely. “It is very fortunate that the bakachon—”

Chon was a very impolite word for Koreans, but older and not quite as packed with murderous loathing as jinnikukaburiBaka meant something like imbecile or moron. There was no precise equivalent in modern Montivallan English for the compound, but a whisper at the back of her mind translated it as dumb gooks.

“—did not come this far before you had powerful allies, Your Majesty.”

Kalākaua nodded agreement, but he still wasn’t happy about it. His people had suffered from Korean piracy when they sailed abroad anywhere near northeast Asia, but not from longshore raids or direct confrontations before this… and pirates were, after all, fairly common everywhere and were never very nice people to their victims.

“Or perhaps they have come this far because of the arrival of… allied… forces,” he said dryly.

Reiko’s Imperial Guard commander, Egawa Noboru, was one-handed and scar-faced from a lifetime fighting the same enemy, and he stirred slightly and scowled, his armor clattering. His sovereign made a very small gesture with her folded tessen, the steel war-fan she carried and used for verbal emphasis… and sometimes for slitting throats… and he bowed.

“My apologies for my humiliating lack of manners, Heika,” he said in a voice like a bucketful of gravel being stirred with a spear-butt. “I will try to be more self-controlled.”

“You owe the apology to our honored ally, King Kalākaua, my bushi,” she said with iron in her voice, and he made a bow to the Hawaiian.

“Very sorry,” he said.

Then she continued in slow careful English, a language Egawa understood reasonably well but couldn’t speak beyond curses and mangled clichés.

“If… when… they had disposed of us, they would next have come for you, Your Majesty. We have protected the outside world from this evil with my people’s blood and their lives for two generations; not by our choice, but that is what we have done. And they are not an enemy who are merely greedy for land or plunder or dominion. What kingdom, what people, has not tried to seize what they could at some time? Certainly, we Nihonjin have, now and then. But the bakachon, they are wicked and the tools of wickedness, the enemies of all humanity. Ultimately their masters seek not to rule or even to plunder, but to destroy for its own sake.”

Kalākaua looked at the smoke of his devastated land, visibly thought of the reports he’d received of how the invaders had acted, which he hadn’t wanted to believe until the Nihonjin had confirmed them, sighed and nodded.

“We had peace and I wanted more, there’s so much to do,” he said. “But I won’t let the wish father the thought; it takes two to make peace, but only one to make war. You’re right, Your Majesty. This was a fight that was coming anyway, and it could have come in a way that was far worse. We’ll eat you last isn’t a very convincing argument for staying out of it.”

Órlaith looked at the map and listened to the thoughts that were not hers, but flowed into her mind as if they were. Decision firmed.

“They’re swinging back on our right like a door on a pivot”—

her hand traced a line on the map

—“and then they’re going to hit us here when we reinforce success on the other side.”

Her gauntleted finger moved back over to the closer, left-hand side of the line of little metal markers placed on the paper.

Thurston frowned. “That’s not a winning gambit,” he said. “Not if they have any idea of our capacities and not unless I… we… were idiots. If they had more cavalry, maybe, but they can’t pull it off; I’d just refuse the flank and commit some of my reserve… even if you hadn’t told me they were going to do it. I wish we had more cavalry, come to that, but we do have some and it gives us superior tactical mobility.”

“They do not think in such a way, General,” Reiko put in. “We have noticed many times, the jinnikukaburi are… are crev… clever… but in a way that is”—

she appealed to Órlaith, who supplied the words

—“is abstract and alien.”

Órlaith nodded. “And remember, General, that to the enemy’s leaders human beings are vermin, their own troops included. They genuinely don’t care about losses in the way we do.”

Thurston’s mouth twisted wryly. “Yes, I noticed that in the Prophet’s War.”

“They’re trying to bleed us to weaken us for the future, rather than beat us here,” Órlaith said. “If they can, they’ll try and make us kill every one of their soldiers, so they can hurt us as badly as they can in the process.”

“It’s a butcher’s way to operate, but I see your point,” Thurston said.

Órlaith noticed the Nihonjin blinking as they tried to follow the argument; their own tradition was that fighting to the death was the only honorable path for a warrior, and it hadn’t occurred to them that there was anything odd about it. That attitude had probably been heavily reinforced by two generations when their only enemy would simply torture, kill and eat you… not necessarily in that order… if you fell into their hands.

Órlaith looked at the map again. “We’re going to need a bigger army, for the rest of this war. It’s going to take longer and cost more than we thought.”

She thought she caught a virtually subliminal murmur from Heuradys: Astonishing! That’s never happened before!

“Probably, Your Highness, but today we fight with what we have. What do you recommend?”

“I’m not going to second-guess your strictly military judgment, General, but there’s something… else involved here. The enemy’s leaders—”

“The kangshinmu, the sorcerer-lords,” Reiko put in.

“Yes, the kanghsinmu will be concentrated here, where they try to drive in our flank. If we can remove those, the ordinary soldiers may not fight to the death. Though they’ve probably been taught we’d treat them the way they would us if they won.”

Thurston nodded. “What do you suggest, Your Highness?”

Órlaith glanced at Reiko and got a nod. “We have certain assets we need to apply,” she began.

An instant’s ringing silence fell. Everyone knew what she bore, and stories had circulated widely about the Grasscutter, growing in the telling. But stories were one thing, and the living reality another. It made most people profoundly uncomfortable, which was an attitude she sympathized with.

“Her Majesty of Dai-Nippon and I will lead a reinforcement there.”

She tapped her finger on the left end of the allied line.

“Her Imperial Guard, the High King’s… Queen’s Archers and the Protector’s Guard, the Association men-at-arms, and… some light horse as well. I think the Lakota contingent would do nicely.”



Copyright © 2018 by S.M. Stirling