“So when you left them there were how many Mahid exactly, Minis?” Kallijas asked me. Chevenga smiled as if Kallijas had spoken his thought.
“There were forty two men in the company when we parted company. The women... there were eleven then, but if the camp is captured, they are supposed to kill themselves and any children they've had.”
“So there could be fewer than forty, but not more. Minis, how good warriors are they?”
“Ten of them were elite... the highest quality warriors the Mahid had.” Kaneka was scribbling fast notes. “The others varied from excellent down to eight trainees.”
“And how are they equipped?” That was Niku asking. Even if her major concern was getting us all to the meeting point, she was still a warrior and commander.
“Straight swords. every one of them. Classic Arkan style. Mahid kits the same, which means blow-guns. No real archers or slingers... they aren't usual Mahid weapons... though some learned to use a bow for hunting so that may have changed. Oh everyone will have throwing stars and hand-darts.”
“How about armour?” Kallijas asked.
“The elite will have their full infantry armour. They were mostly city so weren’t primarily cavalry, but enough to teach me. And they have their war horses... killers mostly. The rest are riding horses for the women. Everyone else will have the onxyine chain.”
That had been the first planning session on this raid. Of course I was running over it in my mind. We had been in the air long enough that my wild exhilaration at being so deftly put so high into the air and asking Ronam, my pilot if I might feel the chamir.
We were high soaring and I had a lot of time to think. I recalled when Chevenga had pulled out a big piece of paper and pens from his desk drawer. “Here, Minis. They set up camp the same way all the time right? Can you draw it?”
“Yes, depending on the lay of the land,”I said. “Of course I can draw it in principle. It depends on the water-source, they are camped next to.”
“Right, if they have a lake they use it as a defense,” Chevenga nodded his encouragement.
I began sketching a rough blue-ink shoreline. “They tend to use lakes and rivers as a bulwark or fortification since they don't swim,” I said.
Niku leaned over to look down at the map I was scribbling. “So we can expect they'll be on a shore of some sort? That will cut down our search area if we can find the camp without risking you on the road.”
“Yes. They always find a spot like that.” The ink flowed from my pen tip, delineating the tents where my mother would be. “They back on the lake, so the women's tents are on the left. The elite on the right. The others in a defensive line in front before.” A jagged line. “The horse picket would be here if there is air cover.”
“How do they set up sentries?”
Of course this was what I was thinking of. I adjusted the goggles, scratching under the strap holding them tight to my head. aNiah wear them for long distance, tinted to ease the sun glare, and to protect the eyes from wind and insects.
I wanted to talk all of this over with Kaneka again, once we landed. What had we forgotten? What had changed? Had 2nd Amitzas gotten smarter? Had I underestimated him all along? Was this just a trap for him to eliminate me rather than for me to remove him?
“If there is a road within a tenth march of the camp there will be scouts here, here and here. And then the perimeter is here.”
“The scouts have apprentices or juniors with them... as witness/runners with orders to report. That's typical Mahid practice.”
“They have a specific formula for how far off a main road a camp should be.”
We called Joras in to update all my information as best he could. He would be invaluable for making 2nd Amitzas think I was truly returning, if I returned with Joras at my side.
He was four wings down off our left wingtip, being flown by a Niah by the name of Shashi... a woman. He hadn’t made a sound but I would have to speak to him when we settled, and the aNiah went to see if they could find the Mahid camp from the air, without risking either of us.
Niku had asked, during a planing session. “Do they set up camp not to be seen from the air? Avoid burning during the day? That sort of thing?”
“All of that. Everything is set up in the shadows of trees. They'd prefer a clearing but that was before moyawel. And only one fire at night. That fire is dug into a fire pit so the light is not visible from the ground. A fire pit that they can instantly fill in. They tend to angle a canvas above it, far enough to not smoke or burn, but to shield it from the sky.”
“So, they're very careful,” she said. “More of a challenge.”
“One reason we haven't caught them yet,” Perisalas said. He had been there for that session. An amazing mind.
So we were in the air with ninety mixed Arkans and Yeolis... all elite... all good dark workers. And I had too much time to think of all the things that might go wrong... I am so glad you are safe out of this one, Chevenga.