That left my personal aide and head of intelligence and communications. I didn’t need to hear it. “Enough,” I said. “Ash, give the order. Break out the boats. We’re going tonight. We eat and sleep aboard ship.”
They did not complain because it was the right decision. Also, I had selected for that trait. Later, the ranks did grumble, though. I took this as evidence that they were happy.
We were out in three days. After all that, three weeks of dredging and training and warring with the apes, we left the swamps of Redmarak in good order and precisely when I chose. Casualties were light in Redmarak. We lost one boat to leviathan attack, and five of its crew. But then, my command had been blessed from the beginning here. Deaths to the apes numbered less than one hundred. Leviathans took two dozen. Bloodfish had claimed an even ten, with three of those being cases of blackbrain to which the victims had succumbed. There were five cases of various other illnesses, none fatal. Two men had gotten lost in the swamps and likely drowned. That was it, in three weeks of swampy slog. Damned fortunate.
When you leave the sunken forests of Redmarak, at least if you do so afloat, you simply follow one of the Profuse River’s currents until it rejoins the rest. You go through a canyon much like the Eye of the Faith, only the walls are neither so high nor so steep. The trees fall away, and you sail out into the open, with only river bluffs on either side. The grasses stretch away forever, green and golden and brown, all the way to either coast. Like many plains, Nogilia is not so even as it appears. The grasses conceal gullies and rises until you stumble upon them. And the whole affair cants slightly toward the southern ocean, though of course you cannot see it. The only significant interruption appears to be the vast Profuse River that cuts it way south right through the middle of them.
I did not plan to remain so obvious.
“So what can we expect here?” I asked Ash, who stood beside me one evening. We had climbed a river bluff to look out over the adjacent fields. “Lions crossed with wolves? Mechanical vultures? Grass that devours men?” I was in a good mood. Coming up together had been my idea, and thoroughly unnecessary. My scouts reported well, and often.
Ash looked at me strangely. The unceasing wind whipped both our hair, vast distances yawning all around. “No, our Guardian, nothing. These are the tamed lands, worked and occupied for centuries. There will be rodents, perhaps a few hawks. Nothing else is permitted. Our danger now is....”
“The Augers themselves.” I nodded. The plain before us was not entirely natural. Black clouds formed silently on the far-away horizon. It was the first nightwind we’d seen since Ariel. I looked southwest, where my scouts had indicated a particularly fearsome smear.
“That’s it,” I said, seeing what they saw. “Leave the boats. We walk from here.”
Wise Ash, he went without comment. But we needed weaponry, and I wanted our movements unpredictable. Bound to the river, we would certainly reach the sea, but have nothing to show for it when we arrived except perhaps hordes of pursuers. Jerem Cozak had conveyed, without exactly saying so, that he wanted more. So did I. If the legends held, this would be the land of the valkyries, which we on Earth call magsleds, those riding machines that float above the ground. The weapons that had broken the siege around Cibola would certainly be useful now, and the plains of Nogilia made an excellent field of implementation.
“What do we do with the boats?” Ki asked, when I returned to the herd.
I frowned, thinking. “Leave them on the docks.” The whole part of the Profuse River that passes through Nogilia had once been festooned with ports of call, for barges to load and unload. Their long piers stretched for hundreds of meters out into the water. We had just reached the first of them, near a likely military target: an Auger city, and the Profusionist cache we knew it covered.