Given a half-decent road, the armies of Galt could travel faster than any in the world. It was the steam wagons, Balasar reflected, that made the difference. As long as there was wood or coal to burn and water for the boilers, the carts could keep their pace at a fast walk. In addition to the supplies they carried - food, armor, weapons that the men were then spared - a tenth of the infantry could climb aboard the rough slats, rest themselves, and eat. Rotated properly, his men could spend a full day at fast march, make camp, and be rested enough by morning to do the whole thing again. Balasar sat astride his horse - a nameless mare Eustin had procured for him - and looked back over the valley; the sun dropping at their back stretched their shadows to the east. Hundreds of plumes of dark smoke and pale steam rose from the green silk banners rippling above and beside them. The plain behind him was a single, ordered ma.s.s of the army stretching back, it seemed, to the horizon. Boots crushed the gra.s.ses, steam wagons consumed the trees, horses tramped the ground to mud. Their pa.s.sing alone would scar these fields and meadows for a generation.
And the whole of it was his. Balasar's will had gathered it and would direct it, and despite all his late-night sufferings, in this moment he could not imagine failure. Eustin cleared his throat.
'If they had found some andat to do this,' Balasar said, 'do you know what would have happened?'
'Sir?' Eustin said.
'If the andat had done this - Wagon-That-Pulls-Itself or Horse-Doesn't-Tire, something like that - no one would ever have designed a steam wagon. The merchants would have paid some price to the Khai, the poet would have been set to it, and it would have worked until the poet fell down stairs or failed to pa.s.s the andat on.'
'Or until we came around,' Eustin said, but Balasar wasn't ready to leave his chain of thought for self-congratulations yet.
'And if someone had made the thing, had seen a way that any decent smith could do what the Khai charged good silver for, he'd either keep it quiet or find himself facedown in the river,' Balasar said and then spat. 'It's no way to run a culture.'
Eustin's mount whickered and s.h.i.+fted. Balasar sighed and s.h.i.+fted his gaze forward to the rolling hills and gra.s.slands where the first and farthest-flung of Nantani's low towns dotted the landscape. Another day, perhaps two, and he would be there. He was more than half tempted to press on; night marches weren't unheard-of and the antic.i.p.ation of what lay before them sang to him, the hours pressing at him. But the summer was hardly begun. Better not to suffer surprises too early in the campaign. He moved a practiced gaze over the road ahead, considered the distance between the reddening orb of the sun and the horizon, and made his decision.
'When the first wagon reaches that stand of trees, call the halt,' he said. 'That will still give the men half a hand to f
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