The large, square map featuring the eastern half of Atlantea was spread flat on the table in the Hall of Record, its curling corners weighted with an inkpot, a seal of office, and two candlesticks. The Northlands was tinted pale blue. The Norman marches, to the south and west, were lavender. In the upper right corner, not far above the circle of gold paint which symbolized Pendaunzel, was Scandinavian Uinland in green. The Spanish territories bordering the southern edges were yellow. The coastal regions were represented in great detail, with the smallest villages, rivers, and roads clearly labeled, but as the map progressed westward, fewer details were provided. Only the principal rivers and towns of the western marches were given their names. Beyond the Michelne River, so it was said, lay vast, green forests, a grassy desert populated by nomadic pagan tribes, and a range of mountains far greater than the Spirit Mountains which provided the Northlands’ western boundary. Unclaimed and unexplored, these fantastic features did not appear.
“Here.” Mara placed her left hand upon a yellow-tinted cluster of territories in the south-western corner of the map.
“The Apostolistas,” said Ambris. “What do you wish to know of them?”
“They are a mystery to me,” Mara answered. “This map gives their names—Santiuan, Santemarco, Santeluq, Santematteo, Santiago, Santomasso, Santebartolo—but nothing more. I know they are desert lands, but where are the cities, the fortresses? Who governs them? I know nothing of their history. I don’t even have an answer as to why there are only seven of them, and not the twelve which ought properly to be there. Not that I’m not glad of it, else the Spanish would try to make up the other five from our marches.”
Mara didn’t normally visit the Hall of Record. Her presence here alone had excited Ambris’s suspicions. He must guess why she took an interest in these Spanish lands and, caught in the act, she could only explain herself as if she’d meant to seek his counsel from the first.
She had several reasons for avoiding Ambris. First, would he believe her? He’d been skeptical the last time they’d gone to hear Magician Peter’s visions. He would call her mad if she said she’d received one of her own. Mara was glad she’d left the Spanish parchment with Peter; Ambris, no doubt, could read it in an instant and solve her mystery for her, but even faced with that evidence, he would question her belief that she could achieve any victory she desired through the powers of an unimpressive red gemstone. Second, Ambris was her most trusted advisor, but he was also Dafythe’s Chancellor. His duty to the Duke must come first, and Mara would rather not place him in a position where he must choose between them. Third, he would tell Father of her plans, and she wasn’t ready for that.
“What can you tell me about them?” she asked again.
“They are not greatly peopled,” her brother answered. “There is a military presence, but the inland territories aren’t settled, not by very many Spanish citizens at any rate. Wild, aboriginal folk live there. The principal fortress in each is governed by a conde, which is something like a marchion, a military governor who may be of noble birth. The marches along the coast of the Tenochitland Sea are more populous and more valued because of their ports. Tenochitland itself is protected from the north by the Great River—Rio Grande, they call it—as the Northlands’ marches are protected by the width of the Michelne. That land between the two rivers has always been of worry the Spanish, and so they established these marches to guard their principle colonies. Our westward marches are there for the same reason.”
“Yes, I see. Santiago borders the Jamesmarch.” The two marches were separated by the blue line of a smaller, unnamed river which ran southward into the Tenochitland Sea.
“Iago is the Spanish version of James,” Ambris explained.
“Have we a more detailed map of the region?”
“The Apostolistas have never been surveyed by Norman mapmakers, but perhaps there are copies of Spanish maps about. The clerks will look. Mara, what are you planning?”
She smiled at him. “My next campaign.”
Ambris nodded, as if this was no more than he’d expected to hear. “Have you spoken to Father?”
“No, not yet.” Mara paused. “Will you tell him?” she asked in the tone of a young girl caught in some naughtiness.
“He suspects that you intend to march again, though he could never guess the particulars. I am surprised myself at your choice.”
“Will you tell?” she repeated.
Ambris considered, and answered honestly, “No, Mara. You ought to. It will go best for you if you present him with a coherent plan. When do you propose to go?”
“This summer if I can. As soon as possible.”
“Have you thought of how you will reach the Apostolistas? That journey isn’t like the march to the Shieldwall. There’s no paved road to lead you past every town and city capable of supporting thousands of soldiers.”
“There is the Guylliamesburghe Road.”
“Which stops at Guylliamesburghe, hundreds of miles short of your goal. Past that, you’ll find nothing but small towns, farms, and hamlets. The western fortresses are not half the size of Dennefort. Some are simple camps circled by walls of wood. The roads are footpaths and woodland trails. If you travel alone, it is a journey of three or four months. How can you place an army there by the summer?”
“I shall send them through the ports of the Eduardesmarch and the Redlands,” Mara answered after some thought. “I can commission ships to transport them to here–” She tapped the blue line some hundred miles north of where the Michelne flowed into the Tenochitland Sea. “As you say, there are small towns and fortresses along the great river. No more than one or two companies will burden each. From there, `tis a short journey across the Jamesmarch. Those who travel from the north with me will ride along the Guylliamesburghe Road `til we meet the River Myame. Barges will convey us down. That cannot take more than two months.”
“Where will you get the barges?”
“If none are available, I shall have them made,” Mara answered promptly.
“And how will you feed so great a number?” Ambris continued the catechism.
“Supplies can be shipped along with the troops, and after the armies are in place, convoys can carry them from the river ports.”
“You will do all this by the summer?”
“I must go as soon as I can. I promise you, Ambris, one good strike, and you and I will see no trouble from Spain for the rest of our lives.”
Ambris smiled at her enthusiasm. “If you conquer all the world before you are Duke, Mara, what will you do afterwards?”
“I shall have other duties to attend to then. A Duke can’t go riding off to make war in the borderlands every year. What better way to begin my reign than with those borders safe?”
“You are very certain of victory.”
Ambris was right. On all points, his advice had been sound. Mara blushed now when she thought of all the practical matters she hadn’t considered, but had leapt impulsively from the promise of her vision to the first likely target. Sure of her eventual success, she had thought only of the place. True, given the Sonnedragon’s elusive but awesome powers, Santiago might suffer an earthquake and slide into the sea before she ever approached it, but she couldn’t rely upon so miraculous a conquest.
Victory required planning: strategy, supply, weaponry, deployment of troops. It also required an extensive knowledge of the territory in question. Mara was ashamed at her ignorance of the lands which bordered her own dukedom. She knew their names, but little else. When she had not looked upon them as potential targets for invasion, she hadn’t cared. What were marches hundreds of miles away? But Ambris had been so well-informed. As Prince and future Duke, she ought to possess this same information. There was so much she needed to know about Santiago and its neighbors before she could lead an army there. Rely on magic to carry her victory? She knew better than that!
She simply would not be able to prepare an army for war this summer. The time wasn’t right. Most of her important officers were in the Redlands, but they were there because the Emperor continued to wrestle with Juan Maria’s rebellion in Naufarre and had no time to appoint his own governor or garrison imperial troops. She couldn’t remove her own troops until Kharles provided replacements. In addition, her personal staff was in disarray. Of her Shieldmaid companions, Bel alone was in Pendaunzel. Sataumie remained in command of Spainfort and Alyx aided Lieutenant Uismarde with the provisional government at Cuidadela de Tolo Invencible. Kat was still at Dennefort; her child wouldn’t be born for another month. Mara didn’t even have a squire: after their return to Pendaunzel, her nephew Arthur had entered the city’s chapter house of the Order of the Holy Knights of Saint John—the Hospitalers—to prepare for his knighting. She hadn’t yet chosen another. Once he turned sixteen, Bertrande would leave his place as Dafythe’s herald to become squire to his brother Eadrik. Ambris’s next children, Marcius and Mathilde, were at school at the Abbey of St. Samandra and were not old enough to be presented at court. She didn’t know any of the unclaimed Pendaunzel children well enough to bestow this particular honor upon one of them.
Mara considered Ren. She had consulted the girl’s mother at Storm Port and received permission for Ren to continue in her service. Alekeeper Adyna was delighted at the request, preferring to have her daughter in the protection of the Prince at Pendaunzel rather than in the Marches, even though Ren had been no nearer the battle than Dennefort. Mara didn’t know why the girl was necessary to her future, but Peter had seen her and the Prince trusted this vision. Ren was a respectable gentyl-maid and she might as well stay on, but Mara was bound by her promise not to receive the girl as her squire. Though she gave the girl lessons in the battle-arts from time to time, Ren would not bear her shield or sword.
So, her quest must be postponed for a time. A disappointment, but one she could endure. She would reach Santiago eventually—it was inevitable—and even though she would not march this summer, her months of waiting wouldn’t be wasted. This delay gave her time to plan. She would learn all she could of the Apostolistas, and discover exactly where the fortress of her vision lay waiting for her. She had time to contract barges for her river journey, commission ships, gather supplies. She also had time to think of effective arguments to convince her father to let her go.
Ambris had been right about Father too. She ought to speak to him.