18

Nov

by thefourpartland

After not writing NaNo for four days, I’ve managed to cudgel my brains back into working, so here’s another excerpt. Brief context: The human heroes and their allies from Æbb are planning the attack on Telgian with the leaders of Hálsiend

It was strange, not to see the sun, and in the dim light of the torches, the remaining humans fell asleep, as did the Áðexe. The next morning they were summoned for breakfast with the matriarch, and introduced to the Láttéow, the leaders of the Hálsiend army. Little was said as the food was consumed, but then the discussion commenced, with the generals pressing the humans and the Æbban Áðexe for all that they knew about the disposition of enemy forces.

With the high concentration around Telgian, and their knowledge of the fortresses that protected the inlet, there was little thought of a direct attack against the city. The matriarch was soon to remind Á?ðan that he had had a plan in mind the night before, but not until she cooed at him. The spy was rigid in his seat, and begged if he could leave the conference to explore the city. His request was summarily rejected, and the Láttéow leaned forward in interest, waiting to hear what he had to say.

“The old bint over there told you what I said last night? Good. That’ll make this easier.” He winked in the direction of the matriarch. She glared at him for the insult. “Wait. Bring a map.” A servant was sent scurrying, and returned presently with a large map that was laid upon the table. “Right, so, we’re here in Hálsiend, so we’re fairly close to the exit from Telgian. It’s why the Þracians chose that as the port to attack from. It gives you the least warning, because you can’t look past the fortresses, and it means you can’t raid them. So Telgian is out. But B?ran, round the coast, is much better. There’s no natural defences, and it’s almost the size of Telgian, but we know their army isn’t there. Is the architecture different there?”

One of the Láttéow nodded. “There’s some of the tunnels, but with less wind, more of the structures are above-ground, and there’s a lot that have wooden sides that can be raised. So we won’t have to do the brutal tunnel warfare, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Exactly what I had in mind, and that makes life even better. So, we swoop down there in the winter, before they expect an attack, and we crush the small force that’s guarding the city. I don’t think they have metal weapons there, because I think those are all either in Þracian or Telgian, but I’m not sure. If there are, we’ll work out some way of dealing with it. Anyway, as soon as the fleet drops the troops off there, it zips back round to sit off the Telgian channel. We can’t go in there, but it’s a damn hard place to get out of as well. And we’ll leave a couple vessels in B?ran to act as messengers to the main fleet. I think we’ll need them.”

“And if the army moves from Telgian to B?ran?”

“Well, here I’m guessing. There’s too many variables. But how good are your troops as skirmishers compared to the Þracians?”

“As skirmishers? On those plains, the best of us can cover twice the distance of any miserable Þracian.”

“Are any of them airmages?”

“We have a few who are warriors. Most sail with the ships.”

“Good enough. Because here’s how I think we might have some fun. We don’t really want to capture B?ran to keep it. Sieges are horrible things. But if we get the Telgian army to move, I think we pull most of our forces out of the city via the fleet, and leave a skirmisher detachment there to harass the Þracians without ever engaging in battle. Keep them annoyed.” Á?ðan grinned. “I like annoying Þracians. And then we send the rest of the fleet to Telgian, racing past the sentinels at night, and we hit the harbour and sack everything we can, destroying or stealing all of the ships and supplies they’ve built up for their campaign. They can’t attack you without those ships, so all we need is one successful raid and you’re safe.”

The Láttéow sat back in their chairs, their faces pensive. “You’re assuming that they pull their entire army out of Telgian. Why would they be that stupid? All their supplies are there, and the boats for the invasion. I can’t see them leaving those undefended.”

Á?ðan shrugged. “Those vessels have to be sunk for Hálsiend to stay alive. You tell me how to do it.”

“That’s probably the best way to go about it, but we’ll not just be raiding, we’ll have to fight to hold part of the port and then flee back up the channel, and through the fortresses. And they’ll cut us to shreds.”

“You don’t think you could stay and hold the city?”

“Not against the whole army, which would come back as soon as they heard we had landed, skirmishers be damned. And then we’d be caught, the army on the one side and the fortresses on the other.”

Tarranau leaned forward. “These fortresses, how many men do each of them hold?”

“Unless the Þracians changed them, they held about five hundred Áðexe each. But they’re high on promontories that overlook the channel, and the only approach is a single track of road up a narrow hill to the cliff. It’s wide enough you could assault with twenty or thirty abreast and a siege engine or two, but there are catapults on the landward side, and you would get cut to pieces by them.”

“There’s no possibility of stealth?”

“If the Áðexe manning the forts are idiots. When we held them, we planted torches along the road, and placed sentinel posts out there. Unless they’ve stopped all of that, there’s no way in but a direct assault. Seaward is completely inaccessible.”

“So once you’ve slid past them in the night, you can’t get your ships back out?”

“We could try a night escape, but with wind and current against us, I doubt we’d get past. Getting in is the easy part. It would be the getting out. And if we lose all of our ships in there, and many of our soldiers, it’s not a victory. It’s delaying the inevitable. So I like your plan, Á?ðan. It has bravado. But until we can escape from Telgian, with our ships, we’re done for.”

The spy thought for a moment. “Overland assault?”

“Þracians would be closer to Telgian, and we’d not get the chance at the ships.”

“Could we strike with half of Hálsiend’s vessels?”

“We could try. But if Þracian has kept a fair chunk of the army there, that would be a suicide mission and they might not burn the fleet. In terms of success, I’d think we need most of the army and navy. Þracian is that much larger than us. But if we can’t get them out again, we’ve given our land to ?gflota or Þracian.”

“So to succeed, we need to draw Þracian away from Telgian, strike, destroy the vessels, and then either defeat the Þracian army in battle or escape with Hálsiend’s forces intact. And you say we can’t escape.”

“I don’t think we can escape or defeat them in battle.”

“Well, escape looks the worse option at the moment.” Sawwaed stepped in. “Why can’t you defeat them? There are more Þracians, but if you split their numbers in half, and manage to harass one group all across the plains, why can’t your entire army defeat half of Þracian’s army in a city you used to control?”

Another of the Láttéow spoke. “Because it is ‘used to’. Þracian has held the city for two years now, and we do not know what they have done with it. And it will be full of hostile soldiers, dug into a series of tunnels that runs throughout Telgian. And your escape by bursting around the Þracian army will have alerted them, and they will rethink the defences. I think Telgian would be the death of Hálsiend.”

“Could you not break through to the plains and use your speed and skill there?”

“Why do you think we no longer hold Telgian now? That does not work against the Þracians, not in large numbers. We would not have the supplies to feed our army, and when we were forced to battle, we would lose as we did before. Our weapons cannot penetrate their metal, except with luck. And they will not pull all of their metal soldiers out of Telgian to recapture B?ran.”

Ceinder spoke, the first time Tarranau could remember her speaking Áðexe. “What would you do then? Sit here and bemoan your fate? The Þracians are too good for you, so you’re going to give up? You’re going to let them have your kingdom? Cowards. Humans will fight to the end. You won’t even start to fight.” She winked at her husband, and spoke in human. “The Áwendennes taught us some, and we’ve been trying to pick up the rest. Seems to work.”

The matriarch had a small smile on her face after Ceinder’s speech, remembering how she had been lectured the day before by Á?ðan. She hoped that this new arrival of fresh passion would spur the Láttéow to life as it had spurred her. And if it didn’t, well, she had an idea or two.

“We will not sink our kingdom when we could still save it by destroying the Þracian as they cross the ocean.”

The stonemage snorted. “Really? You’ll risk all of your ships against all of theirs, and think to come out the victor?” She paused a moment, then chuckled. “You think your airmages will lead you. Do you think the Þracians are unaware of this? They have fought and defeated them before. I think they will win, because they have too many mages of stone for you to counter. You’ll destroy many of their vessels, and lose all of yours, and that will be the end of Hálsiend as a kingdom. You’ll need to do better than that, and the only way is to attack. Á?ðan has told you, Tarranau has told you, Sawwaed has told you, I have told you, your matriarch has told you. And you will not listen. Fools.”

The matriarch broke out laughing. “I think they shall listen.” She waved her hand at the humans and the Áðexe from Æbb. “From now on, these nine are the leaders of the army and the navy. You will take orders from them, and if those orders are not obeyed with the utmost speed, I will gladly find them someone who can follow orders. Now, I suggest that the Láttéow should go and ready the troops to meet their new commanders.”

The humans stared at one another as the Láttéow burst out into furious disagreement. A single slice of the claw silenced them, and the matriarch sent them from the room, before turning back to her new commanders. “Did you not want command?”

Atyniadol spoke first. “I would not, no. I think your kingdom will be a heavy burden to bear.”

“You needn’t worry. I’ll bear the weight. You just make sure it stays on my shoulders.” At that, the humans and their Æbban allies pored over the map before them, cudgelling their brains to see if they could discern a new avenue of attack.

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