I watched with bated breath when the next boat found a man. He was just as Nogilian had said, beside a vent that sent warmer water to the surface. My staff had to nearly submerge themselves before they reached him. They pulled him halfway out and hesitated. When they looked to me, I returned indifference. They knew what to do.
So they did. They kissed him. When he woke he seemed not as alert as Nogilian had been. He coughed and sputtered like he drowned. Only then did he accomplish what Nogilian had done immediately: groped around in the water until he found his quicksword. But he went in a boat all the same. It finally occurred to me that we were probably going to do this several more thousand times. No one had told me, ever, how large my army needed to be or could in fact become.
Not that I needed that answer. You take as many as you can. You split them if you need to.
Men pulled more men out of the swamp. They weren’t hard to find, once you knew what to look for. And the reviving wasn’t hard to do, once you accepted it was possible and stopped asking yourself so many damned questions. I directed full boats back to the large dry islands on the border of the swamp. Soon I’d go back and start managing encampment. Right now, Ki was supposed to be there talking to people. I wanted them to trust her, too. And not everyone we brought up wore silver armor. There was black stuff there, too, the enemy’s signal color when this world had been invaded.
It was afternoon when the first leviathan struck. Simply overturned a boat, I assume with a lazy flick of its tail. I was not there to see it. But reports indicated the creatures were enormous. Not much was visible in Redmarak’s murky water. There were glimpses of brown reptilian hide, huge head, teeth as long as human forearms. The deep, slow ripples that indicate a large creature submerged. It ate only four of the men probably because it was not hungry after that. The six remaining climbed up a tree that lacked visible handholds of any kind. They were still there when I came to investigate. I had to do my best persuading to get them to come down.
Turns out, they weren’t only terrified of the leviathans, which consume their prey whole largely to avoid the swamp’s other menace. After a short while it came in form of swarms of vampiric fish, drawn to the small quantities of blood released by four men being eaten. These ripples were not slow or deep. For a while, I thought it was raining – not a wild assumption, as it would turn out. But that was just the horde trying to nab birds along the way. Back up in the tree, the men swore and made religious gestures. In the boat, my men grabbed the sides and ducked, and I understood Renly’s insistence on thick wooden hulls instead of my proposed leather.
I dove too late. I was standing up and shouting, making sure the other boats knew about the fish. One cut me. Then another. Ash leaped and dragged me down as just about a dozen of the things whizzed by overhead. Ever my right hand, he tore off a corner of his shirt and pressed it firmly where the little nippers slashed.
“I’m okay,” I said.
He shook his head. “They are very, very good at smelling blood.”
I got it. I wondered how many fish it would have taken to knock me overboard. I did not have to wonder what would have happened to me if they had. Clearly, the idea was that the leapers found prey and slashed it, communicating its wherabouts to the swarm beneath. Then up would come as many as it took to knock the offending creature in the water where it could be devoured. I shivered. I would prefer death by leviathan.
But afterward, they passed us by like we were a floating log. They could not reach the men in the tree. When Ash nodded, everyone in my boat stood up, visibly relieved.
“What about the reptile?” I asked. “They get it, too?”
Ash shook his head. “Leviathan armor is very tough.” He nodded at the gunwale, which now bore significant chinks and dents. Nothing leaking, though.