22

Apr

by thefourpartland

3500 words today, perhaps my best day writing for this story. Another day like this, and the story will probably be over. The goal is to finish it this weekend, once that is done, it means the end of Unfolding a New Continent, which I can then begin to edit. That will be a rather fun experience, working on my second book and getting it ready for publication. Of course, I need to do more of that on my first as well, I appear to like writing a lot more than I do the other work that goes with being an author. Enough of me wittering on, here’s 3500 words of Breaking an Empire.

The next morning saw the squad taking their place as part of the vanguard of the army, leading the march south, towards their foes in Niam Liad. Rhyfelwyr fell into the steady pace of the march, giving his mind leave to wander. He had spent many a day in such a state, and today he wondered at his own state. He was, charitably, heading towards late middle age, and had been fighting for a great many years, but he had nothing when he went home. He had no house, no family, and his only friends were those with whom he had been fighting for so many years, the squad. At this point, they were his only connection beyond himself, and, he reflected, he was probably theirs. The squad had been through so many years together, resisting all attempts of the officers to promote them or break them apart, but all they knew was the camaraderie and chaos of the battlefield. Rhy pondered what it would be like to have a family, to find someone who loved him, to have a child he could play with, to know peace. He sighed and shook his head. That dream should have died long ago. He had made his choice, enrolling over and over again, well past the required years of service. At the end of each campaign, he was offered retirement, and each time he turned it down, instead walking back out into the field, sword and shield in hand. Perhaps he was too afraid of civilian life, or of what would happen to him, but, whatever the reason, he turned away from peace, and back to war.

Rhyfelwyr’s thoughts continued on in that vein for many hours, and his face was still pensive when the tents went up that evening. Locsyn and Taflen saw the expression and exchanged glances, knowing full well what it meant. Everyone in the squad had had that look at times, even Llof, although with him it was hard to tell what it had meant. The two of them grabbed Gwyth and went to find a fire to drink at, leaving the sergeant to his thoughts. Llof, as usual, was nowhere to be found.

From then on, the days passed in thick profusion, until Glanhaol Fflamboethi stood but a few days outside the walls of Niam Liad. Now, close to their enemy’s citadel, the officers tripled the patrols, sending them out in profusion and in strength, less patrols than they were raiding parties. With the information from Llofruddiwr, some of those patrols went north, looking for the army that came along behind the Veryan forces, seeking to trap them. Reports came back from all of the scouts, confirming what Llofruddiwr had guessed: Niam Liad was occupied by archers and airmages, and to the north lay the great mass of the Lianese troops. The army settled down and dug a small fortress out of the rock and earth, building fortifications around atop a hill while the officers sat in conference and debated strategy and tactics. The debate lasted many hours, and it was early in the morning of the next day when Rhocas arrived, bearing orders for Rhyfelwyr and his squad.

“Come back to us at last, have you?”

Rhocas shook his head. “Other way around. Your squad and a few more have been assigned to me to keep me and some of the other mages safe during the upcoming battle. Mostly from archers and Lianese mages, or as a last reserve. We head for Niam Liad today.”

Rhy nodded. He’d known they would go for the city first. That was the mistake that the Lianese had made, thinking they could get to the Veryan soldiers before the city fell or was destroyed. The Lianese army might destroy Glanhaol Fflamboethi afterwards, but Niam Liad would be a ruin too. “Burning?”

“To the ground.” Rhocas turned and departed, to gather up the other squads that would join with him. Rhyfelwyr looked at the other soldiers in the squad, and they began packing their belongings, readying themselves for today’s march. Tomorrow would be quite a day.

The next morning saw the whole army on the march. Today, the scouts were pulled in tight, well within shouting distance of the main body of the army. There was no point in losing soldiers, not now. The firemages were spread out amongst the army, little knots here and there, spaced well apart so that the airmages of Niam Liad could not strike them down all at once. Rhyfelwyr knew that he and his men were supposed to do all in their power to keep the mages alive, even including sacrificing themselves to stop incoming weapons. They were the only hope the army had of making it back up the peninsula alive.

The land around Niam Liad was rolling plains and moors, grasslands that had once been full of grain and cattle, but were now burned to the ground. The ash crunched underfoot, as not quite burned stalks shattered and broke. Taflen wondered at the significance of marching to war on a bed of ash, and thought that someday he would have to research and write on the matter. Today was not that day, and he gripped his shield tighter, looking over the rim at the sweeping expanse of the city before him. He could feel the strong breath of the wing, and a tang in the air that had to be the salt from the sea, and he wondered at the Lianese love of archery, in such a windy clime. Then again, there was no cover for hunting here, so bow and arrow would be the only way.

Glanhaol Fflamboethi shifted its formation, changing from a column to a line abreast, facing Niam Liad. Atop the ramparts distant, Locsyn could see the dancing pennants and deadly soldiers, each preparing in their own way for the day to come. The numbers of men standing atop the wall was few, but some of those were airmages, and there may well be more down below in the courtyards. Despite the consistent failings of the Lianese soldiers, Loc thought they might still have a trick or two up their sleeves. Looking down towards the city, he could see a series of brown patches cut into the earth, making up a ring about the walls. They were range markers, and when the Veryan soldiers crossed that line, they could expect to be showered with arrows. Further in, there were more marks, and those must designate the javelins. Good thing that the Veryan troops would not close with the city.

The horn sounded once, then twice, and the Veryan soldiers moved forward at a slow march, shields held high and facing to the front. The Lianese watched them come, and upon the battlements they readied their bows, placing quivers against the crenellations and waiting for the order to fire. Glanhaol Fflamboethi strode closer, pride stiffening the posture of all the soldiers within her, until they stopped a hundred yards outside the brown marks. Another horn sounded, and the mages turned inwards, gathering their strength for the first attack on the city. The battle paused for a moment, until the first of the giant fireballs arced upwards, aimed not to strike the walls, but to fly high overhead, and come down within Niam Liad.

The first wave launched, the mages disappeared into the squads surrounding them, taking up sword and shield like normal soldiers as the army shifted itself about, disguising their positions with the movement. As the fireballs closed with the city, great gusts of wind rose from the walls beneath to meet them. The howling gales were able to push back some of the fire, but more crashed within the city, and from their vantage point, the soldiers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi could see buildings catch alight. A cheer went up from the gathered troops, and with it another round of fireballs. These were attacked earlier by the airmages, and less of them made it through to Niam Liad.

A triple blast sounded on the horn, signalling a change in targets for the firemages, and this time, as the first wave of fire arced upwards, a second wave of long sheets of flame sped outwards, aimed to scour the battlements of any who stood there. Treating the fireballs as the primary targets once more, the airmages were able to stop almost all of them, but they turned their attention to the sheets of flame too late, and while they were able to blow holes in a few places, the sheets swept over the wall, catching many of the soldiers who were on guard, and some of the airmages. Others jumped backwards, flinging themselves off the walls and into the courtyards below to avoid the scorching blast. Dead or injured, it mattered not, for they were out of the fight for now. Seizing the moment of distraction in the Lianese ranks, the firemages of Bhreac Veryan expended themselves, launching wave upon wave of fire into the city, spreading it out so that it would catch in all the many quarters and cantons of Niam Liad.

Another cheer rose from the soldiers of BhreacVeryan, for before them burned the capital of their enemy, a golden glow reaching up to touch the sky. The soldiers left on the walls turned inwards, racing down from their positions to grab buckets and try and dampen the fire, that or flee the city on the trading vessels in the harbour. Either way, it mattered not. Glanhaol Fflamboethi had achieved their goal, breaking apart and punishing the rebellious cities of the southern peninsula. Only Horaim was left standing of those who rebelled, and perhaps that would be changed on the way north. It would take decades for Miath Mhor and Niam Liad to reclaim their former prominence, if the inferno continued to rage as it did now.

Once more the horn sounded, this time the call for retreat. Work done, the army turned to the north. There was one more battle they must face this day, and without the firemages, who were too exhausted to offer more than token assistance. Rhyfelwyr had been forced to catch Rhocas after his last blast, for the young man had fainted to the ground, along with all of the other mages about him. Now, they rode back amongst the supply wagons, tended by the cutters, the mages ashen-faced and shivering, their bodies expended. Rhyfelwyr thought that some of them might not make it through the day, their bodies so exhausted that they would fall into the sleep from which they would not wake.

Now it was the turn of the soldiers of Bhreac Veryan, for they had to fight their way to the north through the bulk of the Lianese army, and that would be a trial the likes of which they had not faced before, for the army that stood across from them was far larger than they, at least in numbers. Somewhere, the Lianese had been able to conjure thousands more troops out of thin air, although Rhy and his squad suspected that the numbers had been inflated with many sailors and farmers brought in from the surrounding lands, and that only a small core of the army was well trained in the arts of war. Still, there was one cause for worry: Llofruddiwr and others had reported the presence of a new type of soldier, Lianese heavy infantry covered from head to foot in armour and carrying large shields, with each holding a flail. There were only a few hundred of them, but they marched at the head and centre of the Lianese forces, and would likely be used as a block, while the great numbers of the Lianese wings swept around and into the flanks of the smaller Veryan forces.

The officers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi had not given up hope of avoiding the battle, or at least choosing the grounds on their own terms, and so the march away from the city was angled towards the eastern coast, in the hopes that they could slip around the end of the more ponderous Lianese forces. Hours passed from that morning’s engagement, until a cry went up from the scouts on the western side of the Veryan army. They had finally been spotted by a scout from Niam Liad. Thus warned, the officers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi began hunting for a location that would let them make a stand, and found one in a small hill that gave a good view of the surrounding countryside. It would offer a little in the way of advantage, and perhaps delay the Lianese assault, which would give the firemages more time to recover, and perhaps even become a factor in the battle, although that was wishful thinking, as far as Rhyfelwyr and Talfen were concerned. Today would be a battle won or lost on the strength of Veryan arms.

Officers spread out amongst the men, positioning the squads in various ways, forming a ring about the crest of the hill, with the wagons and the supplies drawn up at the very peak. The soldiers started digging with a will, forming a shallow trench perhaps five feet in front of their lines, mounding up the extracted dirt into a small wall. It would provide little protection against the arrows and javelins of the Lianese forces, but it should dent the strength of their charges. Likewise, the wagons at the top of the hill were drawn into a circle, where they would be the last fall back should the army need it. If the fighting reached the wagons, though, the battle was lost for Veryan, and the soldiers would likely fight to the last man, for after the campaign so far, no quarter would be given nor asked.

Rhyfelwyr and his squad were placed to face westward, the direction from which the main thrust of Lianese soldiers would come. And come they did, in a wave that spread across the horizon and made the numbers of the Veryan soldiers seem paltry and few by comparison. But that wave also gave the Veryan soldiers hope, for, as Taflen pointed out, the soldiers on the wings carried little in the way of weapons or armour, and some seemed to have nothing more than daggers, clubs or sickles. The morale of those troops would be low, and they would break easily. If only a few firemages were available to cause that break. Locsyn returned from where he had gone to check on Rhocas, and shook his head. None of the mages were awake, and most still had the ashen face and shallow breath of one on death’s doorstep.

Had the Veryan soldiers been given more time, they would have turned the hill into a killing ground, with strong fortifications and a field of caltrops scattered before the trenches, but with the Lianese soldiers coming on, it was all they could do to finish the trench they had laid out before them, and position themselves in the deep shield wall surrounding the summit.

It was late in the afternoon by the time the Lianese soldiers reached the foot of the hill. There, they paused, letting the wings circle round until the base of the hill was engulfed in Lianese troops, although the eastern side of the hill was facing only ill-armed conscripts with a thin screen of skirmishers in front of them. The western side of the hill looked down on the heavy infantry of Niam Liad, each swathed in glistening layers of metal and wood. With just a glance, Gwyth could tell the armour would take many a direct blow, and so he told his comrades around him to go for the joins of the armour, where it would be weakest. Rhyfelwyr and the others nodded; it was likewise with the insectoid Veryan suits. Both armies waited there in silence, until the call sounded from within the Lianese lines. The heavy infantry led the slow march up the hill, for there was no way they could charge.

Rhy thought for a moment, then shouted. “Tip the heavies into the trench! They can’t get up!” Indeed, it looked as if the armour weighed enough that that would be the case, and Rhy sincerely hoped it would be. As the front line of the Lianese soldiers came up the hill, the skirmishers began to release their javelins and arrows. Shooting and throwing uphill robbed the projectiles of some of their strength, and the Veryan soldiers were able to catch most of them on their shields, but some few got through, leaving gaps in the Veryan line that were filled from behind, the wounded dragged back to the cutters. The Lianese forces closed closer, and a horn sounded. The Veryan lines took two steps backwards, contracting. Rhyfelwyr looked to his left and his right, nodding at Gwyth and Locsyn, and each withdrew a glass sphere from the pouches hanging at their belts. Each soldier had been issued two spheres for today, the last from the army’s supplies. The Lianese lines had sped up to a slow job, and had almost reached the shallow trench.

A strident note flew overhead, and the Veryan soldiers threw the spheres. The glass containers crashed into the faces and visors of the Lianese troops, showering them with shards and glass dust, leaving them in milling confusion, breaking the momentum of the charge. Wishing they could take advantage of the mess, the Veryan soldiers hung back, for the glass dust took no notice of friend or foe, and could easily blind Veryan troops if they charged in too soon. The front lines of the Lianese stumbled back down the hill, faces bleeding and barely able to see where they were going, taking with them some of the dangerous heavy infantry. Gathering themselves once more, the Lianese stepped into the trench and over, and as they did so, the Veryan soldiers roared and charged, slamming into the Lianese with all the momentum that the extra two steps up the hill had given them, using their shields as battering rams to knock the Lianese troops backwards and down the hill. Most of the Veryan front rank fell down, launching themselves fully into their foes, but into the chaos stepped the second rank, and their swords played havoc with the scattered and befuddled Lianese soldiers.

On the eastern side of the hill, the skirmishers were unable to stand the force of the Veryan charge, and they broke, leaving the conscripts to face the might of the Veryan veterans on their own. The conscripts wavered, but held for a time, the sheer numbers of them providing a counter to the skill of the Veryan soldiers. A single soldier might kill three or four of the conscripts, but if his sword got caught or his shield fouled, then a Lianese would leap atop him, using weight to bear the Veryan soldier to the ground where he could be overwhelmed. Seeing what was happening when they fought as individuals, the Veryan soldiers on that side of the hill regrouped, falling back into the shield wall. This served them much better, for the Lianese recruits had no training in how to break a wall of this kind, and without shields or armour of their own, they had little chance against the heavily armed and armoured Veryan soldiers.

On the western side of the hill, matters were much more dire. The initial charge had bowled over or killed a great many of the heavy infantry and the supporting troops, but, much to Rhyfelwyr’s dismay, the brutes were standing back upright and marching forwards to rejoin the fray. It appeared their armour was not quite as heavy as it appeared, and that they would have to be killed after all. Pressed back by the numbers of Lianese soldiers, Rhyfelwyr and his squad fell into the shield wall next to the other Veryan soldiers, slipping back into the old rhythm of front ranks defending, second ranks stabbing over and around. Rhyfelwyr felt Locsyn behind him, and grinned, for this was a dance the two men had perfected many years ago, and as Lianese soldier after Lianese soldier came forward, they fell to the trickery and exquisite timing of the two old soldiers. Until before them stood a heavy infantry, his massive shield covering the entire left side of his armoured body. Swords flickering in and out, the two soldiers sought openings in the guard of the Lianese soldier, but none presented itself, and the heavy countered by striking with his flail. Unlike a normal weapon, which he could catch on the edge of his shield, Rhy saw that if he did that here, the flail head would swoop over and continue its motion, striking without impediment. Up and down the line, the heavies were entering the fight on the side of Niam Liad, and the situation was looking grim for the shield wall of the Veryan soldiers.

Comments

  1. Steve Green on 10.18.2010

    And so to battle again, the firemages and airmages are very good characters, and once again the glass spheres are wreaking havok, the way these are used is actually quite horrific.

    A couple more typos. (sorry ) 🙂

    9th paragraph – Strong breath of the wing ( wind ? )

    4th from last paragraph – The Lianese lines had sped up to a slow job ( jog ? )

    Onwards to the final…….

  2. The Four Part Land on 10.19.2010

    This story is a little bit rougher than my usual style of fantasy writing. I try and keep the brutality under certain levels, because I don’t want to push people away. Also, I think other writers have done a lot of that, and certainly long before I have.

    This story was the first time I’d really explored a firemage. I have a short story about airmages, one novel features a watermage, and the other a stonemage, but I had never written about firemages. Was glad they turned out the way they did, and made for an integral part of the army without overwhelming it. I didn’t want a universe where magic could overrule everything else.

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