15

Apr

by thefourpartland

It’s been a few days since I touched Breaking an Empire, but today seems to have broken the ice on the story, and I’ve managed a little over 2,000 words of writing, bringing the total to 24,000. This covers much of the build-up to Niam Liad, and what will happen there. Feels odd to be drawing to a close on this story that I’ve been working on for months. When I finish it, that means I end up back in the editing room, tweaking it and the various other stories that will make up Unfolding a New Continent. In some ways that will be a nice feeling as well, because it’ll mean I’m nearly done with my second book.

I hope you enjoy today’s story.

Two days of sleeping and eating followed, with the squad rarely rising until the sun was directly overhead. It was a pleasant time, a break from the strictures of warfare. The citizens of Horaim, those who remained, came out of their hiding places to stare at the invading army. Some hucksters took advantage of the situation, and sold their wares at inflated prices to the Veryan soldiers.

The third day came, and Glanhaol Fflamboethi formed up, the supply wagons flush with goods, and trundled south once more, moving closer to the siege of Niam Liad. It was to take a little over two weeks for the army to march down the peninsula, barring unforeseen circumstances or constant raiding.

Two days of travel passed, and the soldiers saw evidence of burned fields and ruined landscapes once more. The cursed landscapes brought a dark humour over the soldiers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, and may wry and sarcastic jokes were passed back and forth on the the march. Locsyn delighted in creating new ones, and shared them far and wide. Taflen took part too, as did all the others, eventually, except Llofruddiwr, who disappeared for days at a time, returning at random intervals to gather supplies. Rhyfelwyr thought of approaching Llof to ask his purpose, but knew he would get nothing more than a glance and one word, and so left the man alone.

Rhocas had departed the squad once more, called back to his mage training. Whether he would be reassigned to them or not was uncertain. Rhy was grumpy about that, for he had spent a great deal of time trying to turn the young lad into a good soldier, and just when he had achieved that, command pulled him aside and tried to make Rhocas into a mage. The young man hadn’t had enough time for his teachings to settle in, and being confused or uncertain in battle was a quick way underground.

The black humour lasted until the army was a week down the peninsula. Then the raiding began. The Lianese had held back some of their skirmishers, and, early in the morning or late in the evening, they would charge up on a flank, throw a single volley of javelins and arrows, and retreat at full speed. The Lianese managed this twice before the officers adjusted to the tactic, and the third time the skirmishers came for the Veryan army, they were met with massive balls of fire, each tearing huge chunks out of the onrushing line. With perhaps a third of their number dead or severely wounded, the Lianese turned tail and fled, and did not try that raid again.

Upon seeing their defeat, Locsyn twirled his moustache and grinned. “They’re going to have to come up with something better than that to defeat us.”

Taflen sounded forlorn as he spoke. “They have, Loc. We’re being fed well, but our food supplies won’t last a long siege, and they won’t last the run back up the peninsula, unless we capture and take every ounce in Niam Liad. Even if we win and break their rebellion, our army and this land will be shattered for many years to come. We’re the last guttering of a candle before the wick runs out.”

“Damn it Taflen. I’d been trying to forget that.” Locsyn stared at the ground for a long moment. “You think I want to be reminded that I can survive every arrow shot and sword stroke, and rather than die a hero’s death I’m going to die a thin skeleton in some roadside ditch? Look around. The black humour was the only leg we were standing on as far as morale, and if the Lianese get more inventive with their attacks, we’re going to crumble and fall apart like so much bad masonry.”

While Locsyn was speaking, Rhy had joined the little group standing there. “No, we aren’t going to crumble. You’ve seen this army in action. You really think it can crumble? We’ve battered two Lianese cities, crushed their armies, and we’re still marching, while they flee in front of us.”

Locsyn raised an eyebrow. “Optimism? That’s unlike you, Rhy.”

“Only leg I can stand on, Loc. I suggest you do the same.”

“Right, right. Soldiers always were good at ignoring facts. Guess I can do it one more time.”

Rhy patted Locsyn on the shoulder, and the two friends wandered off to find a quiet area, where they could speak of old times, of youth and of happiness. Taflen sighed, and made his way through the camp, stopping here and there to speak to other soldiers, recording their responses for his history of this campaign. The historian knew it would never see the light of day, but it was his goal and his ambition to finish it, and so he pushed ahead, letting the work carry him forward.

A day passed in peace, as the Lianese gathered themselves once more. That night, as the camp was made, burning casks of pitch and tar arced high into the sky, smashing down upon the tents and the soldiers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi. Shouting and cursing, men readied themselves and turned out towards the night, where they were met by a shower of arrows and javelins from skirmishers who had slipped into position after darkness fell. Backlit by the campfires and the burning casks, the Veryan soldiers made easy targets for the Lianese, and were felled in droves. The horn sounded for the retreat, and the Veryan troops pulled backwards, just in time to see a series of small flares fly over their heads from back within the camp. The skirmishers, revealed in the light, turned to flee away, but they could not outrun the wave of fire that spilled over them, as the firemages of Bhreac Veryan laid their wrath upon the countryside. A few casks flew into the air, aimed at the pack of Veryan mages, but the mages were quick to avoid them, and watched the burning tar splash harmlessly away.

Upon a far hilltop, from whence the casks had come, the soldiers of Bhreac Veryan saw several figures stand and make gestures. Even from this distance, the message was clear: that we are coming for you, and that you shall die. The Veryan soldiers jeered and called out in response, mocking the Lianese airmages, for that is what those men were. They had finally been called into battle, as the Veryan army approached their last city. All had known they would face the airmages at some battle along this campaign, but to see their efforts evened out and repulsed by the firemages was a welcome sight, and restored much of the faith of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, for what had once been an unknown was now a known, and a known that could be overcome and stopped. The Veryan troops went to bed that night mourning their fallen comrades, but secure in the knowledge that this campaign could be, and would be, won.

With their tactics foiled a second time, the Lianese soldiers withdrew from the battlefield, giving the Veryan troops free passage to Niam Liad. This heartened the Veryan soldiers considerably, but for Rhyfelwyr and his squad, it became a source of worry. “Even with the losses we were taking in the midnight raids, I’d rather face those than have the same soldiers standing atop a city wall, firing down at us. Have they forgotten Horaim? We lost a third of our men in that trap, and they may well invite us into Niam Liad for the same purpose.”

“Relax Taflen. If nothing else succeeds, we burn the city to the ground and go home, calling it good. You think they forgot Miath Mhor? We scorched the city to the ground rather than enter it, as we should have done with Horaim. It was only the food that stopped us that time. Now, well… we have more food, and we don’t have to make it to another battle.” Locsyn and Taflen were once more debating the state of the campaign.

“I see. So the predicament the Lianese are in forces them to expend their army attacking us before we get to the city walls. You realize, of course, that this means we will be engaged in more ambushes, and that they haven’t withdrawn all the way to Niam Liad.”

“You once accused me of being the pessimist. I think you’ve well overtaken me.”

Gwyth looked up from his place by the fire. “Stuff it, you old women.”

“Old woman? I have a moustache!” Locsyn twirled both ends for emphasis.

“Stolen from an old rug.”

“Why you!” Locsyn turned bright red, his hand going to his sword. “Withdraw that!”

Gwyth looked Locsyn up and down, then spat at the ground. “Calm down. Can’t be teased any more?”

Locsyn took his hand away and looked shamefaced. “No, no. I guess not. I’ve been wondering if this campaign would do me in, especially ever since Taflen mentioned our food supplies. Been a little touchy since then.”

Snorting, Gwyth turned back to the fire. “Best get yourself sorted. You’re currently no better than Rhocas was when he joined us.”

Locsyn muttered to himself, then disappeared off into the darkness. He needed time to go and think this through, for if he had lost that special core of soldiering, he was useless. Worse, he’d be a liability, and if one of the others got run through trying to protect him… Locsyn knew he couldn’t live with that. They’d sent Gwewyr home for that, only there was no way to be sent home now. Locsyn would have to make it through somehow. Crossing his lap with his sword, he sat and watched until the sun’s first rays heralded the dawn.

Llofruddiwr was back from one of his many expeditions, and was sitting talking to Rhyfelwyr out in the darkness beyond the pickets. This time, the assassin had been gone for several days, returning only when he had completely run out of food and supplies. “What is it, Llof? Something has you troubled.”

“Stalking us, front and back. Back’s the dangerous one. No forces in Niam Liad itself.”

“They’ve got an army behind us? Where the hell did those troops come from. We wiped out the Lianese north of here.”

“Took boats from Niam Liad to Horaim after we left. Been moving down the peninsula after us since then, but far enough away not to bother our scouts. In front is just skirmishers and some airmages. They’ll withdraw into the city a day before us.”

“So they’re putting us between hammer and anvil, and if we wait, we starve.”

“Lianese do as well. Have barely more food than we do. Less now.”

“Less now? What have you been up to, Llof?”

“Burned some of their supply wagons at night. They didn’t have enough pickets up.”

“But where does that leave us? Is that something you could do again?”

“Upped the pickets and patrols, and added an airmage listening. He nearly caught me.” Llofruddiwr lifted his arm to show a puncture wound through the armour beneath his left arm. “Magic-guided arrow. Managed to get out of range before the second one was fired. Only reason I’m still alive, I think.”

“You’ve had that treated, right? The cutters need to look at it and make sure it’s clean.”

“Cleaned it myself, and a few days now. I’ll do fine.”

Rhy glared at Llof. “You damn well better, you’re the best fighter in the whole army. No one can stand up to you, even in sparring.”

“Gwyth can.”

“Okay, sure, he can, but Gwyth doesn’t feel pain, and he heals from wounds in a day. They don’t even scar. He’s the only person I know who takes a hit just to make sure he can finish his enemy off.”

Llofruddiwr shrugged. “Necessity, sometimes.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. You’ve got the answer for everything tonight. You’ve reported all of this to the officers, right?”

“They cursed.”

“And didn’t change our orders. Which means the officers are wondering what they can do to get us out of this mess we’re in. Lovely. You’re a better strategist than most of them, so what do you think they’ll do from here?”

“Burn Niam Liad. Then die trying to fight back to Bhreac Veryan.”

“You’re such an optimist. I should lock you and Taflen in a room. You’d talk one another to death.”

Llofruddiwr shrugged again. “Realist, not optimist.”

“Oh why do I bother.” Rhyfelwyr shook his head and stood up. “C’mon, let’s get you some food and some rest.” The two soldiers departed, heading back into the camp, readying themselves for what tomorrow would bring.

Comments

  1. The Four Part Land on 10.18.2010

    Leaving this comment here to see if I can catch you, Steve 🙂

    All the material you’re reading for Breaking an Empire is first-draft, unedited material, hence the mistakes that are kicking around in it. At some point I’ll get around to editing it, but when I do, I won’t post it here. I save my edited work for publication, or at least try to.

    Glad you’re enjoying the story so far though. I’ll have a few more comments when I’m not packing to head to school. Damn boring thing.

  2. Steve Green on 10.18.2010

    Very atmospheric, I can feel the next battle approaching…..

    Onwards……

  3. The Four Part Land on 10.19.2010

    Re-reading this section reminds me how much I enjoyed writing Llof’s dialogue. He’s such a flat, know it all character it’s funny, except when he’s in combat and turns into a flaming devil.

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