“A plan of war is the inevitable victim of circumstance; methods of war are superior, for they are the mother of many a plan.”Extract from the ‘Ars Tactica’, famed military treatise of Dread Emperor Terribilis the First
Seventeen fantassins from three different companies hung from nooses, the wind making them swing slightly as the sun rose. Bloody fools, I thought at the sight of them, not a single speck of sympathy emerging even at this late hour. The lot of them had been from three middling companies, not one of them numbering a thousand men and each of them with several cases of corruption on their record. It’d not been difficult to track them with what the Concocter had told us, not once Adjutant put his army of helpful hands to the task. Names were obtained within the first bell, though I had to send in armed companies to make the arrests as the mercenaries were reluctant to give up their own.
Interrogations had been brisk, and hadn’t even required much coercion. The idiots hadn’t known they were trying to rob shipments earmarked for a Named, they’d thought they were just skimming Arsenal equipment. The part that’d infuriated me was when I’d realized that guards had been bribed for the fantassins to get access, and some of those had been mine. Two Callowan legionaries were being flogged as we spoke for trading shifts without officer permission, and the Third Army had lost a sergeant when it turned out she’d been in on it from the start. I’d let her captain handle the discipline, but I did not need to look to know she’d be hanging from our own gallows about now.
The regulations were crystal clear.
“I do not question the justice of this, Your Majesty,” Princess Beatrice said, “but it will not help relations with the companies.”
The Princess of Hainaut was a better rider than me, though given Zombie’s undead placidity an outside observer would have found it hard to tell when we weren’t moving. I’d not expected that when I first met her, as Beatrice Volignac was also very much overweight. My people did tend to look down on those wasteful enough to grow fat, but I’d since revised that first opinion of her: while I didn’t share Prince Klaus’ high opinion of her as a general, it couldn’t be denied she was a fine lance and probably the finest cavalry commander in Hainaut. She was also my intermediary with Proceran mercenary companies, at the moment, so I’d best not ignore her warning.
“They had to hang,” I bluntly said. “They broke into sealed crates, if they didn’t hang the effects on discipline would be disastrous.”
“I’ll not argue this,” the Princess of Hainaut agreeably replied, “but it plays into common fears that you intend to treat the fantassins as you would legionaries, subject to the same rules. It is a highly unpopular prospect and there has been grumbling of contract breaches.”
My brow rose. If they tried to pull that it’d not go over well, since the Highest Assembly had decreed that abandoning mercenary contracts during this war would be legally considered the same as desertion, but I knew better than to ride unwilling soldiers too hard. Pressure on soldiers with good spirits got results, but it broke those who were already demoralized.
“I have limited concessions to offer them,” I admitted. “I’ll not compromise in ways that weaken us ahead of hard battles. Can their appointed representative in my councils not address their troubles?”
The Princess of Hainaut only smiled politely, which I took to mean she’d tried to lead me to a conclusion and I’d failed to get there on my own.
“If I might make a suggestion, Your Majesty?” Princess Beatrice asked.
Yup, I amusedly thought. Definitely missed a hint there. On the other hand it meant she was treating me much like she would Proceran royalty, which was good even if I was missing subtext that royalty would grasp. It spoke to a degree of respect, which was a good sign coming from a woman in whose hands I’d placed a lot of influence.
“Please do,” I said.
“An appointed representative is a Callowan manner of approaching this,” she delicately said. “Orderly and efficient, but relying on trust that is absent. Expanding the fantassin seats in your war council to two and allowing the companies to elect those who will fill them would do much to assuage fears of… overstep.”
I squinted at her a moment. They could have a dozen seats and it’d give them no more influence in the decisions, we both knew, since this was very much to be my campaign. On the other hand, it would be a gesture and it’d give them a degree of power over their own situation – which the Princess of Hainaut had gently been trying to explain to me they were afraid I’d summarily strip away from them.
“Agreed,” I sighed. “Though make it understood I’ll not suffer foolishness even if it is elected foolishness. I expect either skill or silence.”
“A reasonable request,” Princess Beatrice said, inclining her head. “And if I may ask about why the corpses will not be returned to the companies?”
The Concocter had lost several ingredients through the actions of greedy idiots, which had caused her to run late on some brews. For that inconvenience I’d given her leave to harvest what she wanted from the hanged mercenaries before their corpses were burned.
“You don’t really want to know the answer to that question, Your Grace,” I calmly said. “Actions have consequences, let’s leave it at that.”
It was a grim note to start the day on, but no less true for it.
It would have been a lie to say that particular reunion wasn’t one I’d been looking forward to.
“Ivah,” I smiled, offering my arm to clasp. “It’s been too long.”
My Lord of Silent Steps’s fingers lightly touched my forearm as I returned the gesture affectionately, and only then did it retreat a step to offer a respectful bow. Ivah had not changed a whit since I’d last seen it, still tall and slender with an ageless youth to its face under the silver and purple paint of the Losara sigil. Its soft leather shoes had not made a sound when it stepped back, and never would: the title it had gained during my days of warring against the Everdark had left its mark, which would never entirely fade.
“I am glad to return at your side, Losara Queen,” it replied. “It has been too long since I warred besides you.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt we have plenty of that ahead of us,” I drily said.
I then flicked a glance at the other drow in the tent, who returned the gesture with silver-blue eyes and a cocked hairless eyebrow.
“I see you’ve yet to get yourself killed,” General Rumena said. “Odd, given your fondness for the opposite practice.”
Rumena the Tomb-maker was still a striking sight, in these sense that it was one of the only Mighty I’d ever met who actually looked old. Standing stooped in his ringmail of obsidian, the old drow was a deep well of Night as well as one if the finest tacticians of its kind. It was also kind of a prick, and one I’d yet to get the better of through words.
“One of these days I’m going to make you into a vest,” I told the bastard. “Crows know you already look like you’re made of leather.”
It respectfully bowed.
“It will change nothing, First Under the Night,” the Tomb-maker replied. “As you have never needed an opponent to lose.”
In the back of my mind, I heard Komena let out a snort of laughter. Godsdamned goddesses, I thought. They shouldn’t play favourites unless that favourite was me.
“It’s beneath my station to argue with a subordinate,” I airily replied.
“Your skill in retreat remains unrivaled,” the old drow praised.
That fucker. I flipped it off, which only got a cackle out of it.
“Enough pleasantries,” I said afterwards. “I did have a reason to call on you two.”
The old drow nodded.
“Sve Noc has told me of your pact with the Papenheim,” General Rumena said. “The sigils are to be split between your armies when we sally out.”
“I don’t intend to meddle in the details of assigning the sigils,” I said, “but you’ll be personally leading the third that goes east with the Iron Prince.”
It didn’t look surprised.
“Some of the fighting to the east will be done underground, I understand,” the Tomb-maker said.
“Once you get to Malmedit, yes,” I agreed. “Ideally you’d collapse the tunnels the Dead King is using to keep funnelling in troops, but the decision will be left to the Prince Klaus’ discretion.”
I couldn’t think of a decent reason why we’d not want those tunnels shut as quickly as possible, but it didn’t pay to tie the hands of your commanders before they even set out. The Prince of Hannoven knew his business and had been making war on Keter since before I was born, there was no need to breathe down his neck.
“That is pleasing to hear,” General Rumena said. “It has been too long since we have fought beneath the Burning Lands. Do you intend a particular Mighty for command in my absence?”
“If you don’t have a recommendation, I was considering Jindrich,” I said.
It shook its head.
“I would take Mighty Jindrich with me,” Rumena replied. “It is a skillful vanguard, and less likely to grow… unruly than it would away from my gaze.”
“I could see that,” I finally said. “You have a commander for me, then?”
“Several,” the old drow replied.
“It is so,” Rumena agreed. “Shall we discuss them?”
I bit my lip. I wasn’t unaware that one of the reasons Sve Noc had been on board with the Firstborn serving in Cleves instead of Hainaut was that it’d let the drow grow into themselves on the surface without my meddling too much in the process. The Sisters could still call on me when there was trouble, as they had when the Langevins had been caught scheming, but it’d always been pretty clear that I was to be a herald and an advisor and not Queen of the Firstborn. Much like with Callow, part of my use would be bringing about my own uselessness.
“Let them choose their own commander,” I finally said. “As they now choose their own sigil-holders.”
The grey-skinned general studied me a long moment.
“You have grown, I think,” the Tomb-maker thoughtfully said. “This war has done more than simply scar you.”
“Don’t get sentimental on me now,” I teased.
It snorted, dismissing me.
“It will be as you say, Losara Queen,” Rumena said.
“Good,” I sharply nodded. “Ivah can keep me informed and serve as liaison.”
Though my Lord of Silent Steps had remained silent as I spoke with the general, as Firstborn ways… discouraged intervening in the conversations of one’s superiors, it now nodded with visible pleasure.
“It will be good to resume my duties,” Ivah smiled.
I spoke with the White Knight at least once a day as he approached Neustal, bringing with him the last few Named who’d join the campaign as well as the latest goods from the Arsenal. Much of it was enchanted weapons and wardstones, but there were some greater prizes as well: Unravellers, tested successfully and so brought to the front by the crate, as well as a set of five pharos devices. Most of the latter would be going to the Iron Prince’s host and the reserves, since they’d be of greater use there, but my own forces would get one. It was the kind of the trump card that could tip a battle our way, if used well.
Most of the conversation covered how Named should be assigned, and where. Hanno himself would be going with the Iron Prince, but there would be villains with that host as there would be heroes as part of mine. We wanted to be able to field multiple bands of five should the situation on either prong ask for it, but not all Named were field capable so in practice the numbers did not quite align even though in principle there were twenty-eight Named in Hainaut. Haggling ensued, since some of our kind were a lot easier to place in band than others, and though on paper I won by securing sixteen Named in reality I got the bad end of the stick.
I’d gotten most the Named who could not fight and two of three transitionals, not including the one who was actually good in a fight – the Young Slayer, although apparently he might have been trouble with Aquiline so it might be for the best – so my fighting numbers were actually smaller than Hanno’s in reality. Still, when it came to Named it was all about finding a use for talents. At least I’d gotten Roland as part of my lot and got the White Knight to take on the Grey Pilgrim – and so the Mirror Knight, his latest pupil – so it wasn’t all bad.
Archer would be happy I’d secured the Vagrant Spear, too. I’d even managed to leverage a half-hearted effort to claim the Witch of the Woods into keeping all the heroes that’d spent time on the Hainaut front over the last few years, which meant the core of my heroic lineup would be one I was familiar with and on decent terms: the Silver Huntress, the Silent Guardian and the Sage. A shame I’d lost the Barrow Sword, but the logic that Hanno needed someone to lead his villains was hard to argue with – and got Ishaq away from the Blood, which was probably for the best.
By the time the White Knight’s convoy left the Twilight Ways and began its way up the road to the stronghold, I had already begun to plan the best use for my Named. It was not one day too soon, for before long we would all be on the march.
As far as war councils went, I found twelve a reasonable number of people to seat. The great table Indrani was still carving for me – the latest addition being Hakram’s fight with fae at the Arsenal – could handle that many, though given the amount of maps I’d had stretched over the surface of it it’d been necessary to set down smaller side tables for drinks.
That Adjutant would be seated at my side was a given, but occupying the rest of that side of the table were the foremost officers from the Army of Callow that’d hold command in the coming offensive. General Hune of the Second Army, towering above us all with those intelligent eyes set in a brutish face. General Abigail of the Third Army, already into her second cup of wine and her third attempt to let Hune represent the entire Army of Callow contingent. Last but not least Grandmaster Brandon Talbot of the Order of Broken Bells, ever impeccably groomed and currently eyeing the fantassin part of this council with barely-veiled contempt.
For the Dominion stood the rulers of two lines of the Blood, Lord Razin Tanja and Lady Aquiline Osena, in full war paint and armour. Both of them were taking this seriously enough that they’d even ceased flirting, which was nice to see. By them sat the representative for the drow, silver-eyed and calm. My suggestion that the Firstborn elect their own representative – it was only fair, if the fantassins got to as well – had paid unexpected dividends when they’d chosen an old friend: my own Lord of Silent Steps, Ivah of the Losara Sigil. The intricate beauty of the paint on its face was a rival for that of the Dominion pair, to my quiet sastisfaction.
As in most things the Procerans ended up the complicating part, for while Princess Beatrice Volignac of Hainaut held sole speaking rights for her army the fantassins companies had elected two very different people to stand for them. Lady Catalina Ferreiro, a beautiful scarred woman in her thirties, was the Captain-General of the Ligera Bandera. It was the largest of the fantassin companies, numbering two thousand and three hundred. Captain Reinald of the Folies Rouges, on the other hand, was soft-skinned nearly as fat as Princess Beatrice and his company numbered only six hundred foot. The Folies Rouges were an old and respected name, however, and their captain was known for his shrewdness.
Last of all, for the heroes, the Silver Huntress had come. Alexis had been the natural pick, even the White Knight had agreed. We’d worked together in Hainaut for more than a year without any real trouble between us, I’d entrusted her with independent commands out of my sight several times and my force’s path into Hainaut would be encountering more hardened defences than the Iron Prince’s – which would make her skill with a bow even more valuable. The Huntress was rather plain-faced, a tall redhead with blue eyes who kept her hair in a bun and whose nose had visibly been broke several times. She had a startlingly girlish voice, high and sweet.
Archer would be coming with me and the two of them couldn’t stand each other, so I’d have to be careful to keep them apart, but aside from that little complication I was rather looking forward to having the Silver Huntress along.
The first half hour of the council was spent in idle talk, which I tacitly allowed. The Procerans lived and died by this stuff, so it’d help bring them into the fold, but there was a little more to it than that. The officers in my tent would be side by side in the field for months, and in a coalition force like mine I’d learned the hard way that if a degree of trust and amicability wasn’t maintained between the leading commanders it led to blunders. I took the moment to study the officers myself, noting the ties and attitudes. Both my Dominion ducklings got along strangely well with Hune, and had for some time now, so they gravitated towards her. To my lasting amusement the two of them were also subtly intimidated by Genera Abigail’s reputation, and usually avoided her. Princess Beatrice was trying to engage the woman in question in conversation, which had my fellow Callowan regularly shooting me anguished looks as if to assure me that she was not committing treason by plotting with foreign royalty.
Captain-General Ferreiro had worked with the Silver Huntress before, which I vaguely remembered hearing about, but I was surprised to hear that the heroine was also acquainted with Ivah. A few warbands out raiding under the Losara apparently pulled the Huntress’ team out of bad spot when she’d gone out to Suifat to have a closer look at enemy landings – an early run-in with the Stitcher, by the sound of it – and they’d left on good terms. The other fantassin leader, Captain Reinald, approached Brandon Talbot to my surprise. The Folies Rouges, I overheard, had apparently fought at the Battle of the Camps.
The Grandmaster of the Order admitted to recognizing the banner, and visibly warmed to the conversation when the mercenary good-naturedly admitted having been whipped by Nauk’s soldiers on the right flank – to his luck, he claimed, as he’d pulled out just before the Hellhound’s water trap and goblinfire ate up the company that’d advanced in his stead. Reinald then adroitly manoeuvred the conversation to the respective merits of the Liessen charger and the Aisne destrier as a fighting horse, correctly betting on Callowan nobility’s endless appetite for speaking of horses, and my brow rose. That man bore watching.
Hakram’s wheelchair was not great in such small spaces, despite Masego’s best efforts, so he was limited in speaking to the Army officers and the Blood. I put my trust in his eyes to catch anything I’d missed and went around. I traded an anecdote about shortly fighting the Stygian Spears at First Liesse with the Silver Huntress and Captain-General Ferreiro, since it turned out the Ligera Bandera had fought against Stygia when the League invaded in the run-up to the Graveyard. I commiserated about College war games with Hune to the amusement of the Blood.
Apparently Hune’s tenure at the head of Tiger Company had been a mixed bag, as an early winning streak had seen her consistently targeted by rivals afterwards.
Eventually Adjutant caught my eye and I heard the unspoken signal that we’d tarried long enough, moving back to my seat at the carved table. The most socially aware among the gathering – which included all three Procerans, to my mixed amusement and exasperation – followed suit, which was enough to begin a chain of the same. Within moments most everyone was standing before their seats without my having had to say a word.
“I’ll spare us a meandering speech,” I said. “We all know why we’re here. Not all of you will be aware, however, that we’re to set out early next week.”
I flicked a glance across the lot of them, finding mostly practiced calm and the occasional sprouts of eagerness.
“I will be holding the command for our section of the Grand Alliance forces,” I said. “And so it is my responsibility to brief you as to the nature of this offensive.”
I waited a beat, then pulled my chair to sit and gesture for all others – save one – to do the same.
“I can’t and won’t claim to be the mind behind our campaign plan,” I told them. “It was crafted through the labour of many of our strategists, foremost among them Marshal Juniper of Callow and Prince Klaus Papenheim.”
“Your humility does your honour, Your Majesty,” Princess Beatrice said, “but the Iron Prince has claimed your hand to have been as much as work here as his own.”
My brow rose in genuine surprise. The old flatterer. I’d helped tinker with this some, but I’d not consider this plan to be my baby. Mostly I’d served as a bridge between him and Juniper.
“Far be it from me to contradict Old Klaus, then,” I drily said. “Especially if he was in a pleasant mood.”
That got some laughter, though most of it polite, and at least one muttered saying in Tolesian about ‘something Lycaonese tooth iron something’? My Tolesian was, well, to be honest it mostly wasn’t.
“The forces represented by the people in this room will number around seventy thousand souls,” I said, “but we are to be only a single prong of the offensive. The other will be commanded by the Prince of Hannoven, while a third force will remain behind as a strategic reserve under General Pallas of Helike.”
Under was a bit of an exaggeration, since no one had really wanted to give her command over their own countrymen, but I’d left the Fourth behind with orders for General Bagram to support her within reason.
“Apologies, Your Majesty,” Captain-General Ferreiro said, “but I was under the impression that the sum total of soldiery in Neustal numbered one hundred and fifty thousand?”
“One hundred and sixty,” I corrected, “but yes, you’ve put your finger on the pulse of this. Our will be the largest force of the two setting out by a fair margin, because we’re expected to be hitting the harder targets.”
Also because seventy-five thousand was the apex of what we believed to be capable of feeding through our supply lines. And that was an estimate, so when the Princess of Hainaut had come to me with slightly fewer fantassins than expected – none of the smaller forces were worth the effort, in her opinion – I’d not argued against it. Best to have too many supplies than too few.
“None of you are fools,” I said. “So you know what that means: we’ll be going up Julienne’s Highway.”
There was a rippling murmur. Not of surprise, for it’d not been empty flattery when I’d gauged that a room of hardened veterans would be able to guess our path upwards, but of… consideration. Everyone was aware there would be rough battles ahead.
“Prince Klaus’ force is to serve as a distraction?” General Hune asked.
I nodded at the towering ogre.
“That’s part of it,” I acknowledged. “He’ll be taking fifty-four thousand up the old mining roads to the east, and taking his time in doing so. The reason for that is the latest scouting report form the Silver Huntress, who once more deserves our thanks.”
The redhead looked awkward when all eyes turned on her, jerkily nodding back.
“I took the Sage and a war party of Osena slayers,” she said, slowing her words so her voice would sound less high-pitched, “to have a closer look at the fortress-town of Juvelun. The withdrawal of the dead towards the north was an opportunity to venture further than usual.”
I offered her a sharp nod.
“The Huntress confirmed what we’ve been suspecting for some time: Keter has amassed a large force in Juvelun, at least a hundred thousand with several Revenants to lead them,” I elaborated.
Idly I wondered where I’d put the markers we used for enemy armies, but when I turned to look Hakram was leaning over in his chair and handing me the black iron blocks. I smiled in thanks as I took, plopping one down on Juvelun. By now everyone was starting to put it together. Neustal, the stronghold where we currently stood, was more or less in the centre of the Hainaut lowlands and sat astride Julienne’s Highway – which would go all the way to the capital, up north. Meanwhile our other army would go up the eastern path of the mining road, further along our defensive line, and begin a quick march up into northeastern Hainaut.
The Iron Prince’s target was the small city of Malmedit, since the Dead King was using it to funnel troops into our eastern flank through old tunnels, but the road would take his army past a branch that led to the fortress-town of Juvelun slightly to the west. We were hoping that would draw the undead army there into a battle, since losing Malmedit would be a major setback for Keter. If the dead gave battle, and we expected they would, then the force there would not be able to reinforce the closest strategic location: the city of Hainaut itself, the capital that was the ultimate objective for my own push.
“We’ve identified four other large Keteran forces,” I continued. “One is holed up out west, in Luciennerie, where it sits defensively on the blue road. We believe it’s between one hundred and one hundred fifty thousand. It’s also getting steady reinforcements, and we’re not sure from where exactly. “
I’d simplified a bit there, I reflected as I set down the corresponding block of iron. While that army was strategically defensive, it was also the force that kept flooding the western side of our defensive line with raiders and small attacks. The only reason the Dead King hadn’t pushed further was that if he did there was a risk the armies under Malanza would sally out from the town of Coudrent, to its west, and try to anchor our flanks together. It’d take a lot of pressure out of the both of us, which was why Juniper had originally wanted to split our forces in three and take a swing a Luciennerie as well.
Talks with other strategists and fresh information had since made us revise that first plan she’d suggested, but the bare bones of it were still essentially the same.
“Another large force is north of the previous and beyond the highlands, in Suifat,” I continued, placing the black iron. “Though it was previously around seventy thousand, they’ve had a flood of reinforcements and we now believe them a match for the Luciennerie force in numbers. Thankfully for us, that army is now on the move and marching to try and retake Trifelin.”
It was the Dead King’s armies that would be in for a rough time there, for once. Malanza has suffered a stinging defeat there early in the war for Cleves, so when she’d finally taken back the town she’d fortified every nook and cranny of the region. Gods smile on whoever tried Rozala Malanza on those grounds, because she ready and she was angry.
“We’ve all been aware of the army waiting between the Hollow and the Sister for some time,” I said, easily plopping down a block there. “We still believe it to be a little under a hundred thousand, and it has been keeping a purely defensive stance.”
It would be our first opponent, one way or another.
“The last known force, and we believe it to be the largest, is somewhere north of the capital,” I continued. “Two hundred thousand, some of the finest troops in the service of the Dead King. We last saw them around the Prisoner’s Mercy, but we’re not sure where they might have march since – save for one detail, we are certain they’re not in the capital.”
We had the Augur, the Wise Astrologer and the Enigmatic Prophet in agreement on that, aside from our own risky Named scouting through the Twilight Ways.
“The offensive’s basic shape is as follows,” I said. “To the west, allied forces based in Coudrent will go raiding down the blue road to pin down the army in Luciennerie, while a significant slice of the Grand Alliances forces of Cleves concentrates in Trifelin to hold it.”
It’d be tight, given that Malanza had lost some forces to us, but so long as there wasn’t a major offensive through the lakes – and we’d not seen the build-up for one, not for lack of looking – then she would be able to succeed at both those tasks.
“Out east, Prince Klaus will march up the mining roads and attempt to bait out the army in Juvelun,” I said. “If it refuses to give battle he’ll move against Malmedit itself, which will at the very least force pursuit by the Juvelun army.”
Ideally he’d take the old mining city quickly and then hold it against the pursuing dead, but I doubted it’d end up that clean.
“Meanwhile, at the heart of it all, we’ll be marching on Lauzon’s Hollow,” I continued. “We’ll be doing so at the quickest pace we can manage, to threaten to take the Hollow before Keter can move its nearby army to hold it.”
“That stratagem worked last year,” Lady Aquiline said. “Which means the Hidden Horror will expect it now.”
“That’s our intent,” I bluntly said. “Once that force moves to defend the Hollow, it will leave the Cigelin Sisters vulnerable. Our reserve of twenty-eight thousand will then strike out from the Twilight Ways and seize it.”
“If they split their forces?” Hune asked.
“Then we force the Hollow,” I shrugged. “They won’t be able to bleed us with so few.”
General Abigail looked at the map and frowned.
“What happens if the undead in Luciennerie ignore the raids and attack our defensive line instead?” she asked.
“The reserve defends,” I said. “It only needs to hold for some time, as we have reinforcements from Callow and southern principalities already on the way. Then Keter loses Luciennerie and we pincer the attacking force between Cleven reinforcements and our own defenders.”
It’d mean a very different campaign, but it was also one we were capable of fighting.
“It would still mean no reinforcements for the battle at the Hollow,” Captain Reinald pointed out.
“In that situation,” I replied, “we would reassess and consider if Prince Klaus’ army using the Ways to attack the Sisters instead would be feasible. If it is not, our objective would change to securing the east and Juvelun in particular.”
It’d give us a shot at the capital, and from there we’d be able to muster a truly brutal offensive against the Hidden Horror on three sides. A siege of Hainaut would become inevitable, it was true, but while we’d wanted to avoid that we couldn’t always get what we wanted. Would that war were so polite. My gaze swept the table and found a great many questions, but no one outright disbelieving that this could be done. Good, I thought as I cracked my neck.
“All right,” I said, “if you have inquiries, now is the time. We can move on to the marching order afterwards.”
It was going to be a long night, but better to talk now than to bleed later.