September 20th, 1655
Kirthar range, Persia
“March, march, march your men, through the drifts of snow, onemorestep, onemorestep, onemorestep, onemorestep, at least I don’t have to row.”
There were no drifts of snow in these passes; not in late summer. But the chant had gone with the men through Siberia, from the Oxus to the Chosin and back. And on the way it had changed, had grown endless new verses and discarded them, until in the depths of winter someone sang ‘onemorestep’ instead of ‘merrily’ and the whole army took it up; and the chant of onemorestep had carried them from Lake Bajkal and into spring. They would not change it now even for the promise of ships to carry them home to Italy; it belonged to them, to the men who had twice carried their pikes across Asia. Now they were carrying them east, again, for the war was not over after all even though the Uzbek Khanate was out; the English were in, and the Japanese, and for Venetians to fight on the Oxus was no longer a senseless sacrifice.
They were lean and sinewy now, this endless dusty column of men who had once had the stocky muscle of fishermen; who had handled oars and sails, and sung “row, row, row your boat” when they needed a mindless rhyming chant for an endless rhythmic task. They bore their pikes comfortably on the deep calluses on their right shoulders, with hands almost smooth again for lack of saltwater oars to make them rough; and they marched with the easy assurance of men who had done it for a thousand miles, and another thousand, and another. They were veterans, in some sense; each man had stood by his comrades through storm and snow, had joked around fires and shared the last bit of mare’s milk mixed with blood when it was uncertain that the Uzbek tribes would send them another herd. Any fights were long since fought out or smoothed over; if any regiments in the world had ever been knit together by shared hardships, surely these were the ones. And yet Eliezer was uneasy in his heart.
In two years of war they had yet to fight a battle.
There had been blood shed, certainly, on the long march through Siberia; but it had been skirmish, razzia, and raid. Defending the Khanate – and the Venetian supply lines – against marauding Indian cavalry, or subduing tribes nominally subject to the Khagan but susceptible to Indian gold. There had been shots fired and men killed. But they had never set their heels in the dirt to stand against ten thousand men coming to make them move; had never heard the cannon firing three rounds per minute, to conserve barrels and break regiments; had never pushed the pike on a front of a mile to make an army run or die.
But now Peshawar marched across the Kirthar, a hundred thousand strong; and Persia and Venice went to meet them, to throw them back into the valley of the Indus and roll back the border that had crept slowly westward for a hundred years. So the Senate had decreed, and the Doge had called, and men from all over Italy had sailed across the wine-dark waters to fight against angry strangers. Eliezer could lay out the chain of reasoning, in his mind; Persia was an ally, the Indians were rivals for control of the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, the balance of power was shifting in a way unfavourable to Venice’s interests… but in truth, it seemed strange that ten thousand Italians should die for a quarrel on the distant Indus.
He felt a small pressure at the back of his neck, as always when his mind wandered down such a path; with a practiced effort of half-conscious unwill, he flinched away from trying to analyse why they were here and what the Senate hoped to gain. If he didn’t, the tiny warning pressure would grow into a headache, then a migraine that would make every sun-reflecting piece of metal in the army into a dagger stabbing his eyes. Instead he turned to considering whether to offer the Indians battle in a favourable location and hope they accepted, or push the attack himself. Defense rarely won decisions, but the kshatriya were said to be very good… the pressure receded as he juggled the supply line, the dangers of being overawed by reputation, his confidence in his own well-drilled veterans and lack of confidence in his allies. There would be a battle, if not tomorrow, then within the week. That was what mattered; not metaphysical questions about the sanity of the Senate and the Doge.
And besides – if the Senate was mad, what was he going to do about it? There was a war to fight.
Victorious battles of the Indus Delta War. Note the immense casualties on the Veneto-Persian side.
The combined Venetian-Persian army won the battle of Kalat, but at an immense price in blood. Eliezer Aiello never returned to Venice, where he might have overcome his migraines and thought more deeply about the sanity of the Senate. The Indus Delta War ended in defeat, though without the loss of any Venetian territory. Its ultimate purpose remains unclear.
As prophesied in my previous AAR, my armies did drive the raiding Indians back from Siberia; too late, unfortunately, to save Uzbek, which was driven out of the war with loss of territory. I then made the acquaintance of the exiled-army rules; thinking that I needed to get to allied and belligerent land, I marched to Korea to help out Mark, who was facing a full-dress Indian invasion – and then back again to Venetia-oltre-il-Mare when I learned that no, you actually need to be on your own land to un-exile armies. So I marched across Asia twice, and then back to the Indus to help Persia against the impending attack. (England and Japan, meanwhile, were faffing about in the south of India, doing… something. I’m sure they were doing something because they repeatedly said they were. Obviously they would not tell me they were invading southern India and then not, in fact, invade southern India. The mere fact that they never occupied anything beyond Ceylon cannot controvert this incontrovertible logic.) This is, of course, ridiculous both in terms of what these armies think they are doing, and logistics; EU4’s war model really falls down here. You cannot march a hundred thousand men through Siberia; they’ll starve. But that’s the nature of wargame models, sometimes they give silly results in the service of getting something fun to play most of the time.
For a change, I and the Persian player were able to coordinate tactically, concentrate force to achieve local superiority, and win battles. For a brief, shining moment it looked as though we would enforce a victorious peace; but then Peshawar took heart (and pointed out that the offered terms did not actually settle any of the issues at stake, and we would just have to fight all over again once the truce ran out, which was probably true), and rallied his armies. This enraged my Persian ally to the point where he began to make bad decisions, including slinging insults in chat, which distracted him from tactical maneuvering. Between that, and the Indians optimising very strongly for combat, we won all the battles but lost the war of attrition: We would defeat their armies, force them to withdraw behind their fortresses, and face the same army again six months later with thirty thousand manpower lost. Three rounds of that and we were looking for mountain provinces where we could make stands and slow down the retreat enough for England to pull us out of it. And then the awesome Persian general died and I lost even defending a mountain, and there was nothing to do but exit the war with a massive loss of Persian provinces. I have to say I admire the Indian players’ skill; they fought all their neighbours, plus England and Venice, to a standstill and got out with a gain.
While all this was going on, I was able to achieve the Thalassocracy by judiciously juggling my trade fleets in the Med; yea, even unto Genoa was I briefly the dominant trading power. Which actually lowered my income, of course, since I don’t collect there; but I only needed it for a couple of days to enact the decision. I now possess a humongous trading fleet and a fighting navy that, while nowhere near England’s, is at least within striking distance of the second-tier naval powers’.
Eurasia, 1669. Peshawar expands into Persia, Byzantium takes some Egyptian provinces and makes a start on recreating the old province of Africa, and Venice subdues the Algerian coastline.