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Rivers are said to be the centre of life and civilisation. So, in my world, there are plenty of rivers and lakes, and there are cities/towns all along those waterways. Also, there are port cities by the sea. There are populations in the forests, and in the mountains as well, and they all have their own water sources.

Now, in my world there is also a rather large desert, making up about 1/4 to 1/3 of the kingdom, and in this desert, there are tribes of 'outcasts' or even what I'm calling the 'desert-people'. They can survive in the desert like the native tribes can survive in the deserts of Africa on Earth. Even without rivers, and being far away from the sea, they have their methods of tapping water, which is a closely-guarded secret. (Also, there will be something like a special school in the desert, for training in harsh environments, not sure if this helps).

It's tradition for the king or, in this case, queen of the kingdom to travel the entire kingdom, visiting most major towns and generally taking stock of any problems in the kingdom (in this case, the king has been dead for some time, and the reigning queen is a good queen). This 'tour' of the kingdom would have to include the desert-people. So the queen and all her train would need to travel through the desert to get to the towns.

To put it into better context:

  • There are 13 powerful magic-users with her: her Council of advisors and protectors but they cannot control the weather and make it rain, nor can they just conjure water out of nowhere
  • In her train, there are a couple of personal servants like her handmaids. And there are also 36 men in the royal guard, plus the horses, and the horses' handlers.
  • Her son, the crown prince is with her. He can use magic, but has been trained more as a warrior. She's teaching him to be a better diplomat, and to be a more responsible heir to the throne.
  • There is one other magic user, who is one of her two personal bodyguards. He's not as strong as the 13 Council members, but he can do things they cannot. Think of it like the difference between someone who has been training for basketball for 10 years, and someone who has been training for basketball, badminton and soccer for only 5 years. He still faces the same limitations as the Council.

So how would this royal entourage of just over 50 people carry out their purpose in the desert?

  • There is the problem of water, and it may be difficult to carry gallons of water with them. But I might just get the spellcasters to drag up any underground water as they go along, so not so bad.
  • The main problem is security. The desert is not flat, and with all the sand, it would be easy to hide assassins (by the way, an assassin recently attempted to kill the queen) and the outcasts, who may also try to cause mischief. How would security be taken care of in the desert? Also, if someone let's say kidnapped the queen/prince (not confirmed yet), is there any way to track kidnappers in the desert? Or how do you escape an ambush in the desert?
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  • $\begingroup$ Can your mages levitate the train up in the air while crossing the desert ? $\endgroup$ – Javert Apr 11 '16 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ It would be helpful if we had some more information about how magic works in this world. For instance, you say that the mages can't control the weather or conjure water "out of nowhere", but could they create tiny portals-- not big enough to fit a person, but big enough to transport a stream of water (ie, placing one end of the portal under a lake, and the other end over a bucket)? $\endgroup$ – Liesmith Apr 11 '16 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ Can the mages detect heat or air patterns? $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Apr 11 '16 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Javert, Liesmith, and Bellerephon, basically the main rule is that you need energy to do whaever you're doing with magic, and it would probably take about the same amount of energy to do it with magic as it would by manual means. Yes, mages can detect heat or air patterns. Yes, mages can levitate the train up in the air, but it would take an enormous amount of energy. Well, portals aren't part of the world yet, but that's a good idea! :) $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 11 '16 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah If they can get sufficient energy, then you can kill two birds with one stone : levitate the train up so no one can reach it and extract water by condensation of humid ambiant air in such altitude. $\endgroup$ – Javert Apr 11 '16 at 15:35
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Security would be handled much the same as in any other type of undulating terrain. Also, bear in mind that a desert isn't just rolling sand dunes, a lot of desert is flat, dry terrain. Dry watercourses, sparse scrub. Dunes are often uninhabited, and, one would imagine, if doing a royal tour the Queen and entourage wouldn't be seeing the whole lot, but more moving from oasis to settlement along the peripheries, hence solving a lot of the water problem.

Anyway, back to the security detail. While the group is moving, there would, I imagine, be the standard scouts and outriders. I would have the 36 guardsmen split into squads of 12. The first 12 ride in front of the Queen, the second 12 behind. The last 12 are your scouts and flankers. 3 front, 3 rear and 3 down each side spread out so that they are far enough from the party to intercept, but close enough to be in regular contact.

The Queen and Crown Prince ride with the advisors/protectors in the middle. If possible, one or two of them would be scrying ahead/around for any danger as they move along (not sure how magic works in your world), and others would be ready to defend the Queen while others focus on eliminating any attackers.

Once camp is struck, similar protocol. The units of Soldiers take shifts with picket/sentry duty, as do the advisors. Tight security measures would insist on random patrol routes and the camp being cold - campfires can be seen a long way away in open terrain, and they kill your night vision like you would not believe.

Hiding in sand is also problematic for any would be assassins/ambushers. Sand dunes are notoriously unstable, and more than likely to bury any would be assailant. It's the reason why you don't dig into sand dunes at the beach - they collapse. If they do manage to successfully hide themselves, then they would need extricate themselves quickly enough to maintain surprise. And they'd have to hide themselves along the main travel routes, possibly for days, places where, most likely, the vigilance of the guard would pay off.

Horses could also prove problematic for any hidden assailants, as they spook easily and would balk at stepping anywhere where someone is hiding.

Turning it around, if I was going to attack the Queen and her retinue, I'd do it like this: Attack the camp in the middle of the night, halfway between mid-night and dawn, with a primarily mounted group. There are two main objectives: 1) Scatter the horses 2) Burn and destroy as much of the camp as possible Infiltrators on foot cut the picket lines for the horses, a large group of mounted warriors ride through the sentries and camp, scattering the defenders, killing what they can and setting fire to the tents and stores before moving through and scattering the horses. In the confusion, kidnap the primary target, then leave quickly. Strike fast and withdraw. This leaves the defenders scattered and demoralised, with no reliable transport and low on supplies.

As far as tracking them in the desert, if it's a large group, then they have to stay close to water. Having someone knowledgeable about the terrain, landmarks and available water would help immensely. Work our where the nearest water is that can accommodate such a group and head there. The more stable the terrain, the more likely there are to be tracks.

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  • $\begingroup$ Probably the best answer so far... Thanks @Thorno! $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 11 '16 at 15:31
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I do not think I understand the question.

When a reigning monarch tours the kingdom it is up to the local rulers to provide hospitality such as water, food, accommodation, navigation, and protection. If they are unable to do so credibly or refuse, there is no real point in the monarch visiting them in person. Just send an expendable envoy bearing gifts or an army bearing weapons depending on the circumstances.

Obviously you shouldn't be naive or trusting about the hospitality of the locals, so some provisions and precautions need to be made (for assassins if nothing else), but fundamentally if you can't rely on the locals that much, you can't go without it being unacceptably risky.

So the desert people, who know how to survive in the desert and have local resources ready would have been making preparations and would be waiting ready to escort the queen at the border of their region. Or where ever the handover from the guides from the previous stop would have been agreed. It is a classic cliche to have some issue at handover.

Also if she is visiting towns, then towns exist for trade. Which means trade routes and at the very minimum safe camping sites with water access.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yupyup, the locals would definitely provide all that's needed once the queen reaches the town, but I'd need to deal with what happens on the way. If it was a normal, more friendly environment, the queen's train could just hunt for food and collect water on the way to the town, but not in the desert... $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 11 '16 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Ahhh, I see what you mean by the last 2 paras... So local guides, along the trade routes? $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 11 '16 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah Local arrangements, period. Only invading armies make their own arrangements. Everyone else, whether it is touring monarchs, modern tourists or visiting heads of state calls up ahead of time for the locals to make all the arrangements. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 11 '16 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah The locals would decide the route, most likely that would be the same as what they consider good for traders to use (least work as much would be readily available), but they might allow a royal retinue to use a route traders are not welcome to use. There might also be something that they want the queen to visit en route. An important person or village. A religious shrine or monastery. My advice would be to think of the trade route as default and then think if there is anything the hosts would want the queen to visit not on the trade route. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 11 '16 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ In addition, finding water in the desert is not exactly rocket science: if there is water near the surface, there will be plants growing and animals or birds eating them. IRL, it take trial and error to find oases. In your setting, maybe they can use magic vision to find greenery nearby. And finally, do you have camels in your world? camels can carry more water than they need, at least for week-long trek to next oasis. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Mar 7 '18 at 2:20
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You described your magic system as one where magic requires magic and it takes the same amount of energy to do with magic as it would to do it physically. And that characters are not capable of creating the water from scratch or summon rain. Luckily for you, this is remarkably similar to the magic of Eragon, which also has a giant desert the characters must go through. In Eragon you can do literally anything with magic but that requires both the energy and knowledge on how its done(as in understand the physics and chemistry of what you're trying to do.) so they could summon rain or create water, but the energy required would almost definitely kill you.

How they find water: Early on during their trip through the desert Eragon tries to create water to drink. He quickly has to cancel the spell because the energy requirements for creating water(especially since he doesn't know the chemical composition of water) would kill him. Instead, he figures out that there is water underground, so what he does is just dig a small pit and use magic to draw underground water to fill this pit. Bada-bing bada-boom, supply of water at low energy cost.

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