The Crimson Campaign(The Powder Mage Trilogy)(3)
Author:Brian McClellan


    “He said himself, he doesn’t know anything else.” Adamat felt his stomach turn and he looked back at Roja’s kicking legs. The mental image of Roja forcing himself on Faye almost stopped Adamat, and then he said to Oldrich, “Pull him out before he dies. Then ship him to the deepest coal mine you can find on the Mountainwatch.”

    Adamat swore to do worse to Vetas when he caught him.





    CHAPTER




    2




    Field Marshal Tamas stood above Budwiel’s southern gate and surveyed the Kez army. This wall marked the southernmost point of Adro. If he tossed a stone in front of him, it would land on Kez soil, perhaps rolling down the slope of the Great Northern Road until it reached the Kez pickets on the edge of their army.

    The Gates of Wasal, a pair of five-hundred-foot-tall cliffs, rose to either side of him, divided by thousands of years of flowing water coming out of the Adsea, cutting through Surkov’s Alley, and feeding the grain fields of the Amber Expanse in northern Kez.

    The Kez army had left the smoldering ruins of South Pike Mountain only three weeks ago. Official reports estimated the number of men in the army that had besieged Shouldercrown as two hundred thousand soldiers, accompanied by camp followers that swelled that number to almost three-quarters of a million.

    His scouts told him that the total number was over a million now.

    A small part of Tamas cowered at such a number. The world had not seen an army of that size since the wars of the Bleakening over fourteen hundred years ago. And here it was at his doorstep, trying to take his country from him.

    Tamas could recognize a new soldier on the walls by how loud they gasped upon seeing the Kez army. He could smell the fear of his own men. The anticipation. The dread. This was not Shouldercrown, a fortress easily held by a few companies of soldiers. This was Budwiel, a trading city of some hundred thousand people. The walls were in disrepair, the gates too numerous and too wide.

    Tamas did not let that fear show on his own face. He didn’t dare. He buried his tactical concerns; the terror he felt that his only son lay in Adopest deep in a coma; the pain that still ached in his leg despite the healing powers of a god. Nothing showed on his countenance but contempt for the audacity of the Kez commanders.

    Steady footfalls sounded on the stone stairs behind him, and Tamas was joined by General Hilanska, the commander of Budwiel’s artillery and the Second Brigade.

    Hilanska was an extremely portly man of about forty years old, a widower of ten years, and a veteran of the Gurlish Campaigns. He was missing his left arm at the shoulder, taken clean off by a cannonball thirty years ago when Hilanska was not yet a captain. He had never let his arm nor his weight affect his performance on a battlefield, and for that alone he had Tamas’s respect. Never mind that his gun crews could knock the head off a charging cavalryman at eight hundred yards.

    Among Tamas’s General Staff, most of whom had been chosen for their skill and not their personalities, Hilanska was the closest thing Tamas had to a friend.

    “Been watching them gather there for weeks and it still doesn’t cease to impress me,” Hilanska said.

    “Their numbers?” Tamas asked.

    Hilanska leaned over the edge of the wall and spit. “Their discipline.” He removed his looking glass from his belt and slid it open with a well-practiced jerk of his one hand, then held it up to his eye. “All those damned paper-white tents lined up as far as the eye can see. Looks like a model.”

    “Lining up a half-million tents doesn’t make an army disciplined,” Tamas said. “I’ve worked with Kez commanders before. In Gurla. They keep their men in line with fear. It makes for a clean and pretty camp, but when armies clash, there’s no steel in their spine. They break by the third volley.” Not like my men, he thought. Not like the Adran brigades.

    “Hope you’re right,” Hilanska said.

    Tamas watched the Kez sentries make their rounds a half mile away, well in range of Hilanska’s guns, but not worth the ammunition. The main army camped almost two whole miles back; their officers feared Tamas’s powder mages more than they did Hilanska’s guns.

    Tamas gripped the lip of the stone wall and opened his third eye. A wave of dizziness passed over him before he could see clearly into the Else. The world took on a pastel glow. In the distance there were lights, glimmering like the fires of an enemy patrol at night – the glow of Kez Privileged and Wardens. He closed his third eye and rubbed at his temple.

    “You’re still thinking about it, aren’t you?” Hilanska asked.

    “What?”

    “Invading.”

    “Invade?” Tamas scoffed. “I’d have to be mad to launch an attack against an army ten times our size.”

    “You’ve got that look to you, Tamas,” Hilanska said. “Like a dog pulling at its chain. I’ve known you too long. You’ve made no secret that you intend to invade Kez given the opportunity.”

    Tamas eyed those pickets. The Kez army was set so far back it would be almost impossible to catch them unawares. The terrain gave no good cover for a night attack.

    “If I could get the Seventh and Ninth in there with the element of surprise, I could carve through the heart of their army and be back in Budwiel before they knew what hit them,” Tamas said quietly. His heart quickened at the thought. The Kez were not to be underestimated. They had the numbers. They still had a few Privileged, even after the Battle of Shouldercrown.

    But Tamas knew what his best brigades were capable of. He knew Kez strategies, and he knew their weaknesses. Kez soldiers were levies from their immense peasant population. Their officers were nobles who’d bought their commissions. Not like his men: patriots, men of steel and iron.

    “A few of my boys did some exploring,” Hilanska said.

    “They did?” Tamas quelled the annoyance of having his thoughts interrupted.

    “You know about Budwiel’s catacombs?”

    Tamas grunted in acknowledgment. The catacombs stretched under the West Pillar, one of the two mountains that made up the Gates of Wasal. They were a mixture of natural and man-made caverns used to house Budwiel’s dead.

    “They’re off limits to soldiers,” Tamas said, unable to keep the reproach from his voice.

    “I’ll deal with my boys, but you might want to hear what they have to say before we have them flogged.”

    “Unless they discovered a Kez spy ring, I doubt it’s relevant.”

    “Better,” Hilanska said. “They found a way for you to get your men into Kez.”

    Tamas felt his heart jump at the possibility. “Take me to them.”





    CHAPTER




    3




    Taniel stared at the ceiling only a foot above him, counting each time he swung, side to side, in the hemp-rope hammock, listening to the Gurlish pipes that filled the room with a soft, whistling music.

    He hated that music. It seemed to echo in his ears, all at once too soft to hear well but loud enough to make him grind his molars together. He lost count of the hammock swings somewhere around ten and exhaled. Warm smoke curled out from between his lips and against the crumbling mortar in the ceiling. He watched the smoke escape the roof of his niche and swirl into the middle of the mala den.

    There were a dozen such niches in the room. Two were occupied. In the two weeks he’d been there, Taniel had yet to see the occupants get up to piss or eat or do anything other than suck on the long-stemmed mala pipes and flag the den’s owner over for a refill.

Most Read
Top Books