The Iron Triangle
Autumn, 533 AD
Belisarius watched Eusebius and his crew as they carefully slipped the mine off the deck of the
, using a ramp they'd set up in the stern for the purpose. Because of its design, it had been relatively easy to adapt the fireship to the task of becoming a mine-layer. Doing so with the
would have required a major reconstruction of the armored gunship.The sun still hadn't come up, but there was enough light from the approaching dawn for Belisarius to see. Quietly, almost soundlessly, the mine slid below the surface of the water.Eusebius measured off the depth of the mine's placement using the prepared lines, squinting atthe marks nearsightedly.A trio of ducks flew past swiftly, just above the level of the reeds. Their quacking soundedlike the slap of bamboo canes.
You are fortunate to see them
, saidAide, the crystalline being that rested in Belisarius'neck pouch.
Those are pink-headed ducks, very rare here in the Indus Basin. Indeed,they're not common even in Brahmaputra
When we've defeated the Malwa
, Belisarius replied silently to the voice in his mind,
perhaps I'll retire to a monastery and write a treatise on natural history based on my travels. Of course, first we have to defeat the Malwa
, said Aide firmly; and
was not a joke.Aide had come—been sent—to Belisarius from the far future; from one of two alternatefutures, more precisely. Aide's purpose was to prevent the Malwa Empire from conquering theworld as it had already conquered most of the Indian subcontinent.The real horror of a Malwa victory would come tens of tens of thousands of years in thefuture, when the Earth was ruled by the so-called "new gods" that had evolved from men. Inhuman terms, though, what a Malwa victory meant in this 533rd Year of Christ was bad enough.Laying the mine took some time, because the crew had to lower it slowly and carefully.There wasn't really much danger of the charge going off simply due to a rough landing on theriver bottom, especially as muddy as the Indus was. But, understandably, no one wanted to takeany chances.Eventually, the lines grew slack. The heavy stone weight that had dragged the mine below