Friday, October 8, 2010

Return, Part 4

Halfway through the night, Ardeo was awakened by an excited commotion outside his tent. Grumbling, he tried to curl under his blankets. It was night, he was tired, and his hastily assembled bodyguard should be more than capable of keeping any unwanted visitors away from his tent. However, the noise became more insistent, and his sleeping momentum was lost. With a growl, Ardeo shucked off his blankets, and stalked out of his tent.

“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.

The man who had been attempting to get in looked at Ardeo, and from his facial features and skin, it was obvious he was an Aimani. “Duke Nyzdar. Archduke Mircea summons you to a war council.”

“A war council? In the middle of the night?”

“The city gates have opened. Thousands of fighters are pouring out and taking up positions in the no man’s land.”

“Shit!”

With that bit of unexpected news, Ardeo roared for the soldiers to be roused and for his servants. Drums drummed, horns blared, lower-ranked soldiers rushed to officer tents to awaken their superiors, and soon, joined the cacophony of noise with curses that would awaken the dead.

His servants appeared as soon as he reentered his tent. Moving quickly, they helped him into his armor, making sure everything was securely fastened, from cuirass to greaves. Grabbing his red cloak, he rushed toward Odacer’s tent, securely in the middle of the siege camp. His bodyguard hustled after him even as the noise of six legions in frenzied activity clamored through the night.

When Ardeo finally arrived at Odacer’s tent, he found he was not the only man there. All the senior officers of the army were gathered around Odacer, as were the young noblemen like Marcus who would take on some sort of role in the upcoming fight.

“It’s still too dark to see how they’ve drawn themselves up or to see their numbers,” Odacer growled as soon as Ardeo arrived.

Karadord was speaking with Odacer and shrugged. “You’re the legendary Dragon, so I daresay it will go well, even if we can’t see them just yet.”

“We’ll have to wait for the first crack of dawn to actually make feasible plans,” Odacer continued. “In the meantime, hustle out the legions, standard formation. When I can see the enemy, I’ll make a better plan.”

“But how did they know that today would be the day of the attack?” Ardeo asked. “I know their chances are better in pitched battle, but how did they know today was the day?”

Odacer looked at Ardeo and said one word. “Kuso.”

Of course. Where else could the assassin have gone, if not to Taren? “They don’t make Fianna like they used to,” was all Ardeo replied.

When dawn finally arrived two hours later, Odacer’s army was out on the field, past the deadly row of stakes he had elected to remove. He had no intention of losing the battle, nor did he intend to retreat, but if his army was pushed back, he wanted to avoid impaled soldiers. It would be a fight to the death. The siege camp’s walls cut off retreat. When Odacer finally climbed down from his sentry tower, his face was expectant.

“From what’s been counted, they’ve got about forty to fifty thousand out there,” Odacer said to his gathered command chain. “The army’s already out on the field, so I can’t address them. Everything is now dependent on you men, and your obedience and adaptability. We’ve got about eighteen thousand soldiers out there, with fourteen hundred of them cavalry. We don’t have nearly enough cavalry to focus on the wings, so they’ll act as the mobile reserve. The Guardsmen will be on the left, my cohort of horse in the center, and Duke Nyzdar’s on the right. Andrej Palev will command the left, Duke Nyzdar the right, and I will command the center.”

Having settled the top jobs, Odacer moved on to his strategy. “The city gate is in the center of our field of operations. I want you all to use it as the orientation point. I want the army drawn up in a sickle shape. The legions on the tips will be forward of the center, acting as wings. I am placing a cohort in the center of the sickle as a piercing point. I want the wings even with the spike. The goal is simple. I want to split their army in two, and enclose each half within the half-sickles that will form. Once they’ve been split, we’ll punish them severely.”

The various officers murmured their understanding of the plan. Karadord spoke up. “Workable. I’ll go form up my men.”

Odacer nodded. “Remember, they only have fifteen thousand real fighters out there. The rest is little boys and old men. Spread the word to your legions. They’ll discount the civilians and realize that for all intents and purposes, the odds are slightly in our favor.”

No time was wasted. The moment the army had been put into formation, Odacer sounded the advance. Odacer himself would not be able to participate. As general, he had to keep a good vantage point so he could react appropriately to any changes in the line of battle. Marcus was in command of the six hundred cavalry who would be moved to any weakened points. Ardeo and Karadord would be with their own cavalry, keeping an eye on their parts of the army from their own vantage points, and reacting appropriately.

Later on, as the battle progressed, Ardeo stood on his horse, frowning at what he could see of the scene. He turned toward a nearby sentry tower. “Ho, the tower! Is the spike cut off from the rest of the army?”

The sentry peered into the roiling mass of battle, and then shouted down, “Aye, sir. The spike is cut off. But Lord Marcus’ reserve is moving in to reinforce them.”

Ardeo bit his lip. Six hundred horsemen would have trouble penetrating the milling masses of enemy that were focusing all their rage on the cut-off spike. There was a very real danger that Marcus’s cavalry thrust would be dragged down and massacred if it lost cohesion, a very real possibility in that quagmire. Surveying the scene once again, Ardeo watched the gap form between his two legions and the center legions and their penetrating point. There.

Slowly crouching down and then positioning himself to ride his horse, Ardeo fluttered his cloak out behind him. It would serve as a rallying point while they charged and fought, even though it made it obvious he was a high-ranking target. “Advance at a trot! Wedge formation!”

Moving at a light pace unlikely to tire the horses before they got close enough to unleash a devastating charge, Ardeo’s eyes had more than enough time to regard the scene. The battle had been going on for quite some time, and by all indications, the enemy knew it was doomed. Odacer’s basic strategy had worked, and the last rebel army would break before long. Because of that, it seemed they were concentrating their efforts on the penetrating point, to at least destroy that obstinate Imperial cohort before defeat consumed them.

Hefting his shield as his cavalry drew closer and closer to committing to the fray, Ardeo allowed a smile to cross his lips. Irregular infantry without any sort of cohesion simply had little hope against cavalry. One thousand pounds of horseflesh at the hands of a skilled rider was a vicious weapon on the battlefield, especially going at full speed. Any man unlucky enough to be caught in a horse’s path would end with his back broken, at the very least. Should the number of bodies in the way of the horse grow to the point where it could no longer gallop from sheer mass, war horses had plenty of additional tricks available, from biting into shoulders to kicking heads off necks.

His men were Aimani dragoons, skilled on horse and on foot, as were Marcus’s. Looking across the battlefield, he raised his lance, then lowered it, digging his heels into his horse as he galloped at full speed into the fray, six hundred deadly warriors behind him.

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