'The southern legions are ready, sir,' Eustin said. 'Eight thousand for Shosheyn-Tan, Lachi, and Saraykeht. My legion's two thousand strong. Should be enough for Pathai and that school out on the plains. That'll leave you a full half of the forces for the river cities. Udun and Utani and Tan-Sadar.'
Balasar struggled with the impulse to send more of the men with Eustin. It was the illusion he always suffered when tactics required that he split his forces. He would make do with less in order to keep his best men safe. Pathai was only half the size of Nantani, but Eustin was taking only a tenth of the men. It was unlikely that word had traveled fast enough for the Khai Pathai to hire some fleet-footed mercenary company out of the Westlands, but unlikely wasn't impossible. Two thousand more men might make the difference if something went wrong.
But he had the longest journey ahead of him - Nantani to Udun, and some of it over plains where there were no good roads and the steam wagons would have to be pulled. On rough ground, the boilers were too likely to explode. The journey would take time, and so Udun and Utani and Tan-Sadar would have the longest time to prepare. They would be the hardest to capture or destroy. It was why he had chosen them for himself. Except, of course, for what he had tasked to Coal. Five thousand men to take six cities. Five cities, now. Four and a half.
'We'll get there in time to help him if he needs us, sir,' Eustin said, reading his face. 'And keep in mind, there's not a fighting force anywhere in the Khaiem. Coal's in more danger of tripping on his spear than of facing an enemy worth sneezing at.'
Balasar laughed. Two armsmen busy folding a tent looked up, saw him and Eustin, and grinned.
'It's like me, isn't it?' Balasar said. 'Here we have just made the greatest sack of a city in living history, captured enough gold to keep us both fed the best food and housed in the best brothels for the rest of our lives, and I can't bring myself to enjoy a minute of it.'
'You do tend to worry most when things are going well, sir.'
They reached a place where the mud path split, one way to the west, the other to the north. Balasar put out his hand, and Eustin took it. For a moment, they weren't general and captain. They were friends and conspirators in the plot to save the world. Balasar found his anxiety ebbing, felt the grin on his face and saw it mirrored in his man's.
'Meet me in Tan-Sadar before the leaves turn,' Balasar said. 'We'll see then whether Coal has use for us or if it's time to go home.'
'I'll be there, sir,' Eustin said. 'Rely on it. And as a favor to me? Keep an eye on Ajutani.'
'Both, when I can spare them,' Balasar promised. And then they parted. Balasar walked through the thin mud and low gra.s.s to the camp at the head of the first legion. His groom stood waiting, a fresh horse munching contentedly at the roadside weeds. A second hors
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