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General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 20 May 2014 19:29 EDT (US)         
I know I've mentioned it a couple times before, but I think it's about time that I put up some of my writing (other than for Sepia jousts). Therefore, if anyone's interested, I'm going to start posting the first book I wrote on here in something of an episodic format. Hopefully it'll provide the impetus for me to finish editing it. There are large number of characters in this book, so I've included a list of the characters so far below (I'll expand it as I go).



The King’s Own



The Trap

14th of Grakuary, 599
Village of Tumbri, north of Menzobaria

Iron shod hoofs clattered on the cobblestone street, and the horses’ breath made plumes of white steam. Mail and weapons clanked, and the king’s flag snapped in the cold wind. Snow drifted down from pewter clouds, and gathered on the thatched roofs. When the company reached the town square, Captain Vladimir Kapov signaled a halt. Before them was a statue of Arbatros’s first king, William the Great, the top dusted with snow. All around them, the town was quiet, the only noise the snorts of their horses and the clack of hooves as the horses shifted their feet.

Vladimir looked over at his scout platoon commander. “Lieutenant Thompson, I want you to send your scouts through the village and see if you can flush any enemy out. Victoria, go with them; I’ll keep Octavia for support.”

“Yes sir,” the two women replied.

“Yes sir,” Lieutenant Thompson echoed. Then he turned to his sergeants, “Send out your troops in teams of five.”

“Yes sir,” his squad commanders replied, quickly divided the soldiers into teams, and moved out of the square.

Vladimir motioned for one of his squads to dismount, and swung off his own horse. “I want to set up a command post and possible wounded collection point in this tavern here.” Drawing his sword, the well-worn wire-wrapped leather handle fitting comfortably into his hand, he approached the door of the building cautiously. With his shield hand, he grasped the door handle, then glanced back at his troops. The indicated squad had dismounted and drawn swords, maces, and battle axes, and was waiting, ready. Vladimir listened closely, but all he could hear was the snapping of their cloaks and the flag in the bitterly cold wind that whistled through the narrow streets, the snorting of the horses, hooves pawing the ground, and the soldiers shifting on their horses, mail clinking. Vladimir looked at Octavia, and asked, “Anything?”

She squinted in concentration and replied, “Not anything active, but I’m picking up a few traces.”

“How old?”

“I’m not sure.” She drew a wand and muttered a few words. Then she said, “Either it was something pretty strong a while ago, or something weaker more recently, but definitely nothing active.”

“Good,” he nodded to his soldiers, “Ready?”

“Yes sir.”

Vladimir grasped the door handle more firmly, turned it, and opened the door. He heard a soft noise in the back of the common room, which was dimly illuminated by the weak light coming through the small windows. Vladimir brought his shield up, and braced himself for an attack. He heard the twang of a crossbow, then another, and he dived down, throwing his shield above him. The first bolt went wide, cracking into the doorframe above his head. The second skipped off his metal-coated shield with a clang. Vladimir was up and moving forward before the second bolt hit the ground.

Three men charged him, two with battleaxes, the third had a sword; all were wearing chain mail armor. Swinging his sword across, he caught the first axe-man in the stomach, opening up his belly. Blood spurted out, splattering Vladimir’s armored forearm, blemishing the bright steel of his vambrace. He could smell the iron tang of the blood, which steamed in the bitter cold. The man staggered and fell, dropping his weapon as he attempted to keep his entrails from spilling out onto the floor. The axe made a dull thump as it hit the rush covered wooden floor. Vladimir swung his shield across to the left to knock aside the swordsman’s swing. As he blocked the second axe-man’s strike with his sword, he could hear the crank of a crossbow being reloaded, the wood of the bow creaking as it took the tension.

Vladimir stabbed forward, the tip of his blade punching through his opponent’s armor and piercing his chest. Blood gushed out from the wound as he withdrew his sword and swung it across to parry another attack from the swordsman. Their swords met with a clang, sparks flying in the chill winter air. Their breath formed cloud of steam in front of them, and their boots scuffed the rushes on the floor. Hearing the thrum of a crossbow, he twirled away, and the bolt missed. Vladimir whipped his blade, now covered in bright scarlet blood, across and decapitated the swordsman. Blood jetted out of the man’s neck, painting the ceiling of the room crimson. Behind him, his troops charged into the room.

* * *

Private James Black gripped the leather handle of his short bow more tightly, and drew the arrow lying across it back a little more as he scanned the windows of the surrounding buildings. This was his first deployment, and he wanted to prove himself. He shivered a little as the cold wind stirred his cloak and cut through his scale mail and surcoat.

“You alright, Black?” The lieutenant called from across the street.

“Yes sir, I am.”

“See any movement?”

“No sir, all quiet.”

Lieutenant Jason Thompson turned to Victoria, “Any magic?”

“I’m picking up something, but I haven’t figured out exactly what it is,” the slender mage replied.

“Where’s it coming from?”

“That building up there, the Boar’s Head.”

Jason motioned for two of his men to check out the building. It was a two-story structure, stone for the first, the second’s white paint peeling off. A wooden sign with a painted boar’s head creaked in the wind where it hung from a metal bar protruding from the building. The lieutenant signaled for James and one of the other men to cover the building’s windows with their bows. James brought his bow up, drawing back the arrow. It’ll be just like practicing at the range, he told himself as he took aim at one of the windows, but this time the targets are for real. Two of the scouts approached the door. The first one tried it, but it was locked.

“Get ready,” the scout called, then stepped back and kicked the door, his heavy boot connecting solidly. The door flew open, and five crossbows twanged. Before he could move, four bolts hit the scout, throwing him back into the street, blood spraying out of his wounds. Windows banged open, and crossbowmen appeared.

A man emerged in the window James was covering, and he released the arrow on his bow. The missile flew straight out, and he watched his target fly backward. From another window, a fiery pea shot out towards the street. Victoria’s hands blurred, words poured from her lips, and the pea vanished. James heard his companions loose their arrows, and more crossbowmen dropped.

Then the crossbowmen opened fire. Quarrels sped out, a deadly steel tipped swarm that reached out to slash into horse and man, skip off the cobbles, and punch through the scale mail armor the scouts wore as if it were nothing. At a shout from Victoria, a bolt of crackling blue lightning shot out and blasted two crossbowmen back, leaving them lying scorched and charred on the ground.

Ionized air hissed around the bolt’s path, and the smell of burnt flesh permeated the air. All around, horses neighed and whinnied in pain and fear, and men lay on the ground, their lifeblood draining out onto the street as they gasped for their last breaths, which steamed in the air. Quarrels thumped into buildings, struck sparks off the cobbles, and dug into flesh.

Seeing the enemy slaughtering his troops, Jason yelled, “Ride! Ride! We need to break out of the ambush!” Then he drew his sword, put his heels to his horse’s flanks, and charged towards the Zhuravi infantry moving to encircle his command.

He galloped down the narrow cobble street, his horse’s hooves pounding on the stones. The stone and wood buildings leaned low over the street, the sky a pale grey in the space between them. Startled by his quick reaction, the infantry on the street turned, looks of surprise on their faces. His first blow cut one of the men open from shoulder to hip, and sent him whirling away.

James heard the lieutenant’s shout, and, dropping his bow into its sheath, he drew his sword and followed. Looking down, he saw a dead Zhuravi soldier, probably his own age, lying on the ground. There was a look of surprise and shock on the boy’s face, and blood still steamed as it seeped out of a stab wound in his chest. Fighting the urge to vomit, tasting bitter bile in his mouth, James looked around, trying to find the lieutenant. After a moment of searching, he saw the lieutenant, surrounded by enemies, with a pile of corpses scattered around his horse’s feet.

Putting his heels to his horse’s flanks, James charged towards the lieutenant, just as one of the soldiers hit the lieutenant’s elbow with a sword. The lieutenant’s shield arm went limp, but, twisting his whole body, he swung his shield back to smash the metal boss at the center of his shield into his attacker’s face, sending him flying. Around him, James could hear the sound of battle, swords clanging off shields, armor, and other weapons.

As James neared the lieutenant, one of the soldiers, hearing his horse’s hoof beats, turned to face him. Once again, he was startled to see that his enemy was little older than he was. He hesitated, then slashed down, cracking his enemy’s skull open, bone splintering under the hard steel of his longsword. The young Zhuravi soldier fell away, and James continued his charge, blood running down the fuller on his sword. Another of the Zhuravi soldiers around the lieutenant turned, thrusting a spear at James’s horse. It reared, almost throwing him off. Then his horse’s hooves lashed out, one catching his attacker in the chest, smashing ribs and throwing the man backwards. His horse came back down with a clatter of hooves as the lieutenant finished off the last of his opponents.

A lance of ice struck James in the shoulder, almost throwing him off his horse; he teetered for a moment before the lieutenant pushed him back upright. Even that simple movement sent pain shooting through him from where the crossbow bolt was embedded in his left shoulder. He could feel hot blood running down his back and soaking into his clothes.

The wind picked up again, carrying with it the stench of death- the smell of freshly spilled blood and the bitter reek of bowels voided in death- and working icy fingers through James’s clothes. The screams of the dying echoed off the town’s close-set buildings.

Jason called for what remained of the patrol to follow. Then he urged his horse forward, watching James to make sure he didn’t fall. His elbow throbbed, and his sword arm was covered in blood, now cooling and hardening in the biting cold.

* * *

As they approached the square, there came a shout, “Stop and identify yourselves.”

“Lieutenant Thompson and his patrol, returning from scouting.”

“Very good, you may pass.”

The survivors galloped into the square around the same time the rest of Jason’s unit was returning. He looked back to see who had made it. Victoria, James, and about a dozen others, most wounded, followed him. The captain walked out of the large tavern that faced out onto the square, his plate and mail clinking. He could tell that the captain had been fighting; blood splattered his cloak, discoloring the black fabric. Awkwardly, Jason swung down out of the saddle, trying to protect his injured arm.

“What happened?” The captain asked.

“We were ambushed sir. There were about eighty enemies; a whole mess of crossbowmen, some infantry, and a wizard,” Jason replied.

James was surprised that the lieutenant had been able to get a count on the enemy at all. He had been too busy trying to stay alive to even think about counting. Then he winced as the crossbow bolt in his back sent another throb of pain through him.

“Alright. Get your men into the tavern to see the medic. Try to get back out as soon as possible, though. I’m going to need all the soldiers I can get to hold the square. Victoria, I need you back with me,” the captain ordered.

The golden-haired mage nodded and walked over to him.

“Of course sir,” Jason replied. He directed two of his soldiers to gently lift James out of the saddle. Despite their caution, James let out several gasps of pain as they helped him down. Then Jason led his troops into the tavern.

Opening the door, a wall of warm air met them. A bright fire crackled and popped in the fireplace, casting a flickering glow over the dark wood tables and chairs, the light reflecting off the time-polished surfaces. Heat suffused the room, forcing some of the chill out of their bones. The rushes on the floor had been cleared away, and the oak floorboards had several dark splotches marring the otherwise neat and tidy appearance of the tavern. A man and a woman with white armbands sat in chairs by the fire. Several scrolls lay on the table near them, next to some bandages and numerous potion bottles. The more senior of the two motioned for Jason and the men helping James to come over to him, and directed the rest to the other medic.

“Let me have a look at that elbow.” The senior medic took it gently in his hands, pulled a cross out from under his surcoat, and muttered a string of words and moved the cross in a complex pattern over Jason’s wound. Immediately after the medic finished, Jason could feel warmth spreading through his arm. The cut closed over and disappeared, forming a thin scar where it had been.

“Could you give me a hand getting this young man up onto that table, then help me take out the bolt, sir?”

Jason grabbed James’s legs and helped the two other scouts swing him up onto the table, facedown. He could see James grit his teeth as the quarrel shifted in his shoulder. Jason held James’s hand as the medic reached for the shaft of the quarrel. “You did good son, now we’re going to fix you up. Just a little more pain, then you’ll be good as new,” Jason said, trying to talk him through it. “You were really brave, and probably saved my life today.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, if I’d been attacked by all of them at once, I’d likely be dead right now."

“Ready?” the medic asked, tightening his hold on the bolt with one hand and putting his other against James’s back.

“Yes,” James managed to get out between clenched teeth as he braced himself against the pain, tightening his grip on the lieutenant’s hand. The lieutenant returned some of the pressure.

The medic pulled on the quarrel, hard, and it came out of his back, tearing flesh. Blood spurted up, adding to the blood that already spattered his back. He slumped on the table, gritting his teeth against the pain. The medic moved over to a bowl of water, rinsed his hands, dried them on a cloth, and grabbed a scroll off the table. The thick parchment crackled as he unrolled it, and the dark ink reflected the light from the fire. He walked over to James, put one hand on the still-bleeding wound then began to chant, reading off the scroll, making gestures with his hand on James’s back. When he finished, the wound closed and formed a small white dot here the bolt had stuck.

In the silence that followed, they could hear shouts and the sound of battle- the clash of sword on sword and the blast of a fireball- coming from outside. A moment later, the captain’s cry of “Charge!” followed by the thunder of hooves and further clashes of steel reached their ears.

The junior medic was bandaging some of the soldiers and giving a few potions on her side of the room. A short while later, everybody was ready to go. The scouts were preparing themselves to go back outside into the cold and the fighting when the door opened and several soldiers stumbled in, all wounded. Following them was a cold draft of air and the sound of combat close to the tavern. Jason looked at his troops, checking to see if they were ready. Receiving nods and eager looks, he motioned for them to follow him, and strode out the door into the biting cold. Once outside, he stopped, trying to assess the battle.

Snow was falling more heavily now, big white flakes coming down from heavy clouds. The sky was growing dark, making it difficult to see. Even so, he could make out the battle well enough, as it unfolded right in front of him.

All across the square, Zhuravi soldiers and the captain’s men fought, and bodies covered the ground. The company was holding its own, making the enemy fight for every foot they advanced across the plaza. The majority of their contingent was now on foot, most having lost their horses in the initial charge or in the subsequent hand-to-hand combat. Seeing his scouts’ horses still tied up near the tavern, he called for his men to mount up. Leather creaked and metal clinked as they climbed onto their horses. Grabbing their spears and bows, they formed up behind him.

Jason looked around the square, trying to gauge where the fighting was the heaviest. He spotted the captain right in the thick of it, sword darting left and right, parrying, blocking, and cutting down his opponents.

“To the captain!” Jason yelled, then put his heels to his horse’s sides and charged, sword held high. Across the square they charged, hooves thundering on the cobbles, pennants flapping in the chill wind. Upon seeing them, a number of the enemy broke and ran. As they neared the line, some of his men began to fire their bows, heralding their approach with steel tipped death. His little wedge formation crashed into the enemy line like a sledgehammer.

Opposing soldiers were thrown backwards, skewered on spear points, slashed by swords, or simply knocked down by the horses and then trampled. Jason’s sword slashed back and forth, hacking at enemy as fast as they appeared. The wind whistled in his ears, blew through his hair, and made his cloak fly out behind him. Those enemies around him cried out and fell away, blood spraying up with each blow of his sword.

By the time Jason reached the captain, over a third of the remaining enemy had taken flight, running back into the surrounding streets and buildings. Several structures had been set on fire, probably by a stray fireball or other spell. Close behind the captain stood Victoria, holding a bloody sword in one hand and a wand in the other. She had only suffered a few small cuts and wounds, but the dark circles under her eyes showed the strain casting numerous spells had had on her. The captain cut down the three enemies closest to him then turned to Jason. Flickering flames from the burning buildings illuminated half of his face, casting the other half in shadow. Dark blood ran down his sword, covered his gauntleted hand, and splattered him from head to toe. All around him, the corpses were piled several men deep.

“Privates,” he motioned to two of Jason’s scouts. “Give Victoria and me your horses,” he ordered.

“Yes sir,” the privates chorused, and swung off their horses. The captain and Victoria mounted up.

Vladimir winced as he swung up onto the horse, a cut on his leg opening up again and his tired arms complaining as he forced them to keep working. He looked back at Victoria, and saw that she was in little better shape than he was. She had watched his back, kept him alive, and paid a heavy price for it.

“Alright, let’s chase these bastards back to where they belong,” he said. Then he touched his heels to the horse’s flanks and charged towards the nearest clump of enemy soldiers. He cursed to himself for having led his men into a trap like this, but vowed to get them out of it.

* * *

Several hours later, with night fully upon them, the survivors of Vladimir’s company gathered in the common room of the tavern. The medics worked on the wounded as he gathered his surviving platoon commanders to figure out how many of his troops had survived.

“Alright, how many of us are still combat-ready?”

“Sir, we’ve down to about ten from first platoon, sixteen from second, a dozen from third, and eight from my scout platoon. We’ve lost Denko and Iron Staff, and Octavia is wounded pretty badly, sir,” Lieutenant Thompson replied.

“We lost Lieutenants Atwell and Nekan as well,” Lieutenant Kallov added.

“Well, it’s a good thing that we seem to have killed most of them and run off the rest.” He paused, “I had Victoria send a message to headquarters. They said that they should have reinforcements out here by tomorrow morning.”

“That’s good. Are they sending more medics, sir?”

“Yes they are; we shouldn’t have to worry about losing anyone else.” He stood, “I’m going to do a walk around, see what our perimeter looks like.”

Vladimir limped out, tightening his cloak around him to keep out the frigid night air. Outside, the snow had stopped, and the moon and stars shone down from the heavens, shedding a pale light over the bodies in the square, now covered by a thin layer of snow. He walked over to where a soldier was keeping watch from a nearby building’s doorway, bow in hand. As he approached, he could tell that it was James, one of the new soldiers from Jason’s platoon. Gone was the uncertainty and nervousness of the morning; before him stood a quieter, more confident young man.

“How are you, lad?”

“Alright, I guess, sir.” James hesitated, then asked, “Are we going to see more action soon?”

“Yes, I expect we will,” the captain replied, clapping the young man on the shoulder. “And I’m sure you’ll be ready for it.”

Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012


List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

First Company, First Regiment
Captain Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25

First Platoon
Lieutenant Vincent Nekan-Age 27

Second Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26
Platoon Sergeant Brian Jennings-Age 29

Third Platoon
Lieutenant Wilson Atwell-Age 24

Scout Platoon
Lieutenant Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
AuthorReplies:
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 24 May 2014 07:31 EDT (US)     1 / 54       
Well, it is a very interesting beginning, right into action. I especially liked the mini-descriptions here and there and I'm looking forward to more information on the background of the story in your next installments...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 27 May 2014 12:43 EDT (US)     2 / 54       
Finally got the time to settle down and enjoy this properly.

Exceptional.

I like the way the magic is worked into the tale, with the various 'classes' contributing their bit. I am not too enthused about the rank and file being named as privates- that gave me the impression of a post-apocalyptic world until the second mage stated no traces of magic. Warriors or soldiers are good enough, if this is to be a medieval-type setting.

But by the gods you pen a good tale! Out-frikking-standing!

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 27 May 2014 15:23 EDT (US)     3 / 54       
Thank you both

It's definitely a medieval world, and one based primarily off the D&D system of classes and magic. However, Arbatros has a much more structured military than medieval Europe did, which is reflected in its more rigid rank structure.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own

[This message has been edited by General Sajaru (edited 05-27-2014 @ 03:24 PM).]

General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 09 June 2014 12:01 EDT (US)     4 / 54       
And here's chapter 2 (sorry for the delay):

Crimson Ice

15th of Grakuary, 599
Village of Tumbri, north of Menzobaria

The reinforcements arrived in the early hours of the morning, while it was still dark. Their heavy boots trod down the snow that covered road and muffled their footsteps. They moved out of the darkness like ghosts in armor plate, black banners fluttering in the light breeze and cloaks rustling. Cavalry rode on the flanks, horses snorting, shadows in the darkness.

A colonel rode at the head of the column. He was a hard man with scarred arms and hands, the brown leather-wrapped hilt of the sword on his belt worn and stained, discolored by sweat and blood. He swung down off his horse with the ease of long practice. His plate-mail clinked when he hit the ground lightly, sword swinging free and at the ready.

Jason watched as the colonel approached the captain, and the company gathered around them. The two officers clasped forearms, steel vambraces clacking. Then the captain pulled the colonel close, clapping him on the back. “Stephen! What are you doing out here?” He asked.

“Looks like I’m saving your sorry behind. What are you doing out here, Vlad? I’d heard you were dead.”

“Not yet, my friend, although the Zhuravi seem determined to try,” the captain replied, gesturing with his hand toward the village.

Snow blanketed the low houses and shops of the village, and covered the bodies in the square. Periodically, the wind would pick up, sending snowflakes swirling.

“Well, I’ve got orders to relieve your company.” He glanced around, “Or at least what’s left of it. You’re supposed to get back to the camp, rest up, and get reinforced back to full strength.” He paused for a moment, “I brought extra horses to replacement any losses.”

“Sounds good. Did you happen to bring me any extra scouts?”

“’Course I did. I remembered you like them, so I grabbed Sergeant Davis and his squad.”

“Thanks. How soon can we get out of this place?”

“Once I get set up here, you’re free to leave. You might want to wait until dawn, though,” the older man said.

Vladimir thought for a moment, “Yeah, I’ll do that; no use chancing a lamed horse in the dark.”

The colonel nodded in agreement. “Well then, you got any breakfast?”

“Of course.” The captain motioned for Jason and Lieutenant Kallov to follow him, and the colonel waved his officers along. Talking lightly, the two led their officers into the warmth of the tavern headquarters, the aroma of cooking bacon and sausages greeting them.

Outside, the dead lay on the square, a thin layer of snow covering them. The few of Vladimir’s soldiers on guard duty clearly showed their exhaustion. They leaned against walls, window frames, and each other.

* * *


Several hours later, Vladimir moved his troops out. They had had to wait for some time. Dark clouds covered the sun, keeping the land in shadow. And even when they moved out, only a dull grey light that seemed to come from the whole sky brightened the world.

The group that rode out was much smaller than the one that had gone into the town. Vladimir led the column, perhaps sixty soldiers; he had ridden in with over a hundred forty.

* * *


The column plodded down the road, horse and soldier still tired from the previous night’s battle. To the north stretched a pure white plain, flat as far as the eye could see. To the east, the white flatness, dotted here and there with small hills, stretched far into the distance, eventually seeming to meet the sky. In the west, tall snow-covered pines and bare oaks swayed in a distant wind, snow-capped mountains towering beyond them. And behind them, to the south, was the village. A pillar of black smoke hung above it, only now dispersing in the cold north wind.

Soon, it began to snow again, soft white flakes falling from the sky, softening, blurring the landscape. A short while later, a horn sounded in the distance. Vladimir called for the column to halt, and Lieutenant Thompson galloped up beside him.

“Whose horn do you think that is, Jason?” Vladimir asked.

“I’m not sure, but they don’t sound much like any of ours. Besides, how many of us would be blowing a bloody horn in the middle of the plain? We’re still quite a ways from where even the furthest of the patrols should be.” He looked around, but the snow falling obscured everything more than a hundred feet away. “Unless one of the patrols got lost in this snow. Hmmm.”

“But the only reason a patrol would be blowing its horn would be if it were under attack,” Vladimir said, think out loud.

“And how could you attack across this. With the snow, you could attack now, but before, I mean, the land is as flat as a pancake. Even we would have seen them,” Jason replied.

“Ah, but they might have ‘ported in.” He looked around quickly, his hand unconsciously going to the hilt of his sword.

“In that case, our guys, if they are our guys, could be in trouble.”

“Yes,” Vladimir looked around, then back at his battered and diminished company. “Alright, we’ll try to find them. Form the column on me and bring the scouts in closer. Let’s move.”

“Yes sir,” Jason replied, then galloped back down the column, shouting orders and directing soldiers.

Vladimir heard the crunch of hooves, and Victoria joined him at the head of the cavalcade, “What’s going on? I heard the horn.”

“We think one of the patrols from the base has been attacked. The enemy probably teleported in.”

“Any idea what we’re facing?” She looked back over the column. “If there are too many we might just add to the number of dead rather than help.”

“I know, but we have to do something. I can’t just let them be slaughtered, if they’re out there. Could you cast a spell to give us a better idea of what is going on?”

“Sure.” Victoria though for a moment, then began to chant. Her right hand waved through the air in a complex pattern, while she swept her left slowly across.

Behind him, Vladimir could hear the sounds of his soldiers moving into position; the muffled footsteps of the horses and mutters from the troops. All around them, white flakes tumbled down, the wind gusting and spinning them into intricate swirls.

A few moments later, Victoria turned to him, her green eyes worried. “The Zhuravi have indeed attacked one of our patrols. They’ve got dozens of men, several spell casters, and three summoned demons. What do you want to do?”

“I think we should attack. Bleeding out in the snow alone is a hard way to die,” he replied wryly.

“That it is.” She began to cast several more spells, her hands flashing and twisting, her lips moving rapidly.

They put their heels to their horses’ flanks, and the column surged forward. For a few minutes, the only sounds were the clink of mail, the rattle of swords, the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves on frozen ground, and the ever-present whistling of the wind. The falling snow muffled and softened all sounds. Then, faintly, ahead, they could hear other noises. The clash of steel on steel and the crunch of armor and bone shattering reached their ears. Victoria winced when she heard the screams of the dying, calling for their mothers, for mercy, for God.

Vladimir turned back and ordered, “Form line, prepare to charge.”

The soldiers urged their horses forward, lining up to either side of him, two deep. The cavalry lowered lances, drew swords, readied arrows, and drew bowstrings taut. Lieutenant Thompson rode at one end, Lieutenant Kallov at the other. The two indicated their sides of the line were ready. Vladimir nodded, then looked ahead, trying to pick out the enemy through the falling snow.

* * *


James urged his horse forward with a gentle tap of his heels to his horse’s flanks. He pulled up beside the lieutenant, and looked over at him. The lieutenant glanced over, and smiled grimly, “You going to watch my back again, Black?”

“I will if you’ll let me.”

“There’s no other man I’d rather have.”

James smiled at the praise. Then he tightened his grip on his bow, thinking about what he would need to do to hit in the wind that cut through his cloak and armor and made him shiver a little. He looked up and down the line, seeing the rest of the cavalry ready themselves.

The call came through the wind, “Charge!”

Armor clinking, hooves thundering along, kicking up puffs of snow, they charged across the field. The snowfall slowed down for a moment, revealing a scene of death. Horses and men writhed in agony in the snow, painting it red; others lay still, some with blood still steaming around them. Many more simply lay in the middle of frozen scarlet pools. Those still standing fought with tired arms and blood drenched swords.

Fifteen feet of solid muscle, the three demons towered over all of the soldiers. Their canine snouts and wickedly curved pincers dripped with gore, and they roared with glee as they killed with abandon.

Towards this the company charged, arrows and spells flying out before them. James drew a bead on a man whose sword was rising for a strike, and let fly. The black fletched shaft sped out, cutting through the wind, to bury itself in the soft flesh of the man’s throat. The tip burst out the back of his neck, scarlet spraying out of the wound and coating the steel arrowhead.

James reached back for another arrow. With one smooth motion, he drew it from his quiver and nocked it to the string. All the while, his eyes searched for another target. He saw two black-robed men waving their arms and chanting. James drew back the arrow, his ash bow groaning under the tension, his leather gloves creaking as the gut string cut into them. James sighted along the arrow, his body moving up and down with the motion of the horse, keeping the arrow steady and on target. He released, and with a hiss, the arrow sped from the string, striking the man squarely in the eye. Blood squirted out of the wound, drenching his companion, who turned. His eyes widened as he took in the charging cavalry line. Then he flew back, the expression of shock still on his face, as a lightning bolt lanced out from one of the company’s wizard’s hands and hit him in the chest, the air crackling with the energy of its passage.

* * *


The cavalry line hit the Zhuravi with a crash. Lances and swords threw enemy soldiers back onto the snow-covered ground, horses trampled men down into the slush, and steaming blood sprayed into the air.

Vladimir struck down with his sword, slashing a man from shoulder to hip, sending him tumbling away in a spray of blood. Ahead of him, one of the demons turned, its canine maw dripping crimson. It had an Arbatrosian soldier in one of its two pincer-hands, while it used a clawed hand to rip away sections of the woman’s plate already crushed by the grip of the pincer. Vladimir urged Jeremy, his horse, forward, chanting to his sword as he rode. The demon, a glabrezu, bellowed a word, its breath steaming in the cold, that made the very air crawl, but Vladimir gritted his teeth and kept riding. The glabrezu threw the soldier away and advanced on Vladimir. The woman fell to the grown with a crash.

Vladimir galloped toward the demon, Jeremy’s hooves striking the bloody slush, sending up splashes of red water. At the last moment, he swerved around the reaching arms of the glabrezu and slashed out. His sword cut deep into the beast’s side, drawing black blood that smoked in the wintry air. The fiend let out a roar of pain and anger and turned with uncanny speed, a heavy pincer flying out to catch him in the back.

* * *


The monster’s shout caused James to look away from his opponent. He saw the demon hit the captain in the back, but the captain’s horse was moving fast enough that the pincer barely tapped the captain. James looked back at his opponent, a young Zhuravi man. He was little more than a boy, wearing a mail shirt that was too big for him, and grasping his sword and shield inexpertly. He had also been distracted by the noise and did not refocus as fast as James did, providing the opening James was looking for. He knocked the boy’s sword aside, and thrust his sword through the boy’s chest. The fine tip of his sword punched through the mail and traveling on in to the boy’s body. Blood gushed out of the wound, soaking his glove and splattering his shield and armor. James quickly pulled the sword back, letting his opponent fall to the ground. The boy grasped at the wound, letting his weapon fall, trying to stop the flow of his lifeblood onto the snow. James did not even glance back at him, though he grimaced as he moved forward. He was trying to keep up with the lieutenant, but an enemy had killed his horse while the lieutenant was still mounted.

The swirling snow made it impossible to see more than a little ways in any direction until a gust blew some of the snow aside, and he caught a glimpse of the lieutenant. Jason was on foot now, his horse nowhere to be seen. Four men circled him, closing in with swords and axes at the ready, giving him no opening. James moved faster, his boots kicking up puffs of light snow and crunching through the frozen snow beneath. In the din of battle, the Zhuravi couldn’t hear his approach, and he came up behind the one nearest him. The man, unaware of his presence, continued to threaten the lieutenant with his weapon. James ran him through, his sword point bursting through the man’s armor, sending links flying. It continued through the man’s spinal cord and out his chest in a spray of blood. The man’s companions turned, startled by the stranger in their midst. James tugged at his blade; it had become stuck in the dying man’s body. Using the temporary distraction, the lieutenant swung across, knocking aside another man’s last-minute parry, and shearing off his head. A gout of blood sprayed up into the chill air, and the decapitated corpse fell to the ground. The severed head fell next to it with a thump, face up, still wearing a look of surprise.

One of the two remaining men turned his attention back to the lieutenant. The other advanced on James, who continued to wrestle with his sword. Seeing that it would not easily come free, James let go of his weapon and drew his short sword. The blade rasped against its locket as it slid out of its scabbard. He moved into a fighting crouch, sliding sideways, his boots making tracks in the snow.

Jason squared up against the remaining swordsman. He feinted to the right, then the left, then delivered his attack, a thrust down the center. Jason’s opponent tried to follow his quick movements, but the Zhuravi soldier’s sword was still traveling right when Jason lunged forward, blade slipping past his enemy’s and tearing into the soft flesh of the man’s throat. He retracted, and the man fell, hand moving up to clutch at the fatal wound.

* * *


Vladimir wheeled Jeremy around and charged back around the demon. His enchanted longsword reached out to slash the muscles in the back of the glabrezu’s arm, causing it to flop limply to its side instead of swinging around to hit him as the fiend had intended. A bolt of sound blasted by above his head to smash into the demon, sending it reeling. Then the bolt leapt to a nearby soldier, who exploded in a red mist, then to another and another, each strike yielding similar results as the first. The air steamed with the flying blood droplets and the horrified screams of their companions sounded out of the swirling snow.

Seeing the demon clearly in pain, Vladimir charged it, calling out to Heironeous, and, rising in his stirrups, swung his sword at the creature’s neck. The enspelled blade sheared the fiend’s head off, dropping it onto the ground. The rest of its body following, but it changed into black smoke before it hit the ground. Vladimir looked around, and, as the snow slackened again, he could see piles of bodies lying in the snow. His men were scattered, fighting in little clumps, some back to back, others advancing confidently on the Zhuravi. Farther away, he saw two black robed men in the throes of spell casting, and beside them, another of the demons.

Victoria rode up next to him, her slender fingers weaving another spell, her pale lips forming words of power. Finishing, she released her spell, a fiery pea that soared from her hand towards the enemy wizards. One of them looked in her direction, gaped, then screamed in fear and tried to run. Before he had taken more than a step, the fireball hit. The ensuing conflagration, flames leaping into the air and curling back on themselves, left both the enemy wizards lying charred on the ground in a lake of fast-freezing water. The demon let out a bellow of pain and charged towards them. Its clawed feet splashed through the water, then crunched through the snow as it moved out of the blast radius, long strides quickly lessening the distance between them.

Victoria looked over at him and shouted, “Look out!”

Vladimir spun in the saddle, then ducked low as a heavy pincer slashed through the air where his head had been a moment before. He felt the wind of its passage make his cloak ripple. The jet-black pincer swung back for another attack, and he seized his chance, slashing at the glabrezu’s other arm. His blade bit in, and the demon let out an agonized howl. Behind him, he heard Victoria chanting. There was a sudden crack, and the glabrezu disappeared. Air rushed into the spot it had just vacated with a whoosh.

He glanced back at the young mage, “Show off.”

She just gave him a confident grin and turned to the last glabrezu. Its long steps ate up the ground between them, and saliva dripped from its canine maw as it neared, eager for the kill.

* * *


Jason paused to catch his breath, and James pulled up beside him. The seasoned veteran glanced over at the young man, “How’re you doing, James?”

“I’m alright, but that last fight was pretty close.” His breaths came in short gasps.

“Darn right it was, but that’s what happens when you get tired,” he replied, wearily punching the younger man on the shoulder.

The snow had begun to slacken again, this time with a real promise of stopping. However, the flakes were still drifting down to sit on their shoulders and darken their cloaks. The decreased snowfall allowed them to see more of the battlefield, and what they saw make them stop for a moment and stare. Bodies lay everywhere, as far as they could see, horses and men, some piled two and three deep, in pools of their own blood. Here and there, Zhuravi soldiers still fought back, but for the most part, it seemed as if they had won.

Then a roar made them spin. James’s eyes widened when he saw the demon charging towards the captain and Victoria. Both men immediately drew the bows out of their quivers on their backs, nocked arrows, and took aim at the beast. Both let fly at the same time; James’ arrow struck the fiend in the shoulder, and Jason’s hit it in the eye. The glabrezu stopped its charge and turned to regard the two men, its remaining red eye blazing. At that moment, Victoria finished her spell, and gestured at the demon. With a crack and a whoosh of air, it disappeared as well.

* * *


Thinking the distracted mage an easy target, one of the few surviving enemy soldiers slashed out at her. Victoria swung her left forearm down in a block, the blade ringing off her Mithral vambraces. With her other hand, she drew her sword and cut off the man’s head with a single blow. The expression of amazement and surprise was still on his face when his head hit the ground. His body fell beside it with a crash.

Vladimir moved up beside her, “Glad to know you’ve still got it.”

“I’m not old enough to have lost it yet,” she protested.

“Yes, I know that, lass,” he said with a chuckle. Turning away, Vladimir looked around the battlefield. The snow had finally stopped, and the sun shone down, its pale light causing the snow to sparkle. From the little hillock he was on, he could see much of the carnage. Dead horses and men lay scattered on the churned up snow. He patted Jeremy’s neck absently as he looked around, trying to assess the number of survivors. From the east, a group of Arbatrosians, one of them dressed in the garments of a wizard, another with the white armband of a medic, approached, their boots crunching through snow and frozen puddles of blood. Blood and gore spattered all of them, and they held their swords with weary arms. As they neared, Vladimir and Victoria swung down from their horses to greet them.

Victoria could tell that the man in front was clearly the leader; he had the single star of a lieutenant engraved on his pauldron. He had lost his helmet, and she could see that he was a younger man, hair thick and black with no scars yet marring his face. He walked up to the captain and saluted crisply, “Lieutenant Garen, commander of first platoon, ninth company, fifth regiment, King’s Own Legion, sir.”

The captain returned the salute, equally crisp, “Captain Kapov, commander of the first company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. I am in command of the force that just came to your aid.”

“Thanks for the help sir. Shall we ride back to HQ together once we’ve cleaned up here?”

“Sounds good. We need to get the wounded on horses and finish off any surviving Zhuravi before we head back.”

“Yes sir.”

They spread out, looking for wounded from either side. The sun sparkled off the frozen blood, casting crimson lights upon bodies and the icy ground.

Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own

[This message has been edited by General Sajaru (edited 06-26-2014 @ 01:19 PM).]

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 09 June 2014 12:52 EDT (US)     5 / 54       
Awesome chapter!



One nit:
"You’re supposed to can get back to the camp"

The word 'can' does not fit there. Maybe "be able to" or maybe it was an edit that was not completed?

It did not detract from my otherwise total enjoyment of this episode. Well done!

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 09 June 2014 13:11 EDT (US)     6 / 54       
Oops. Extra 'can' in there. Fixed

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 19 June 2014 10:55 EDT (US)     7 / 54       
New chapter

The General

15th of Grakuary, 599
King’s Own base, north of Menzobaria

Even from afar, the main camp was impressive. Behind an earth and log palisade were row upon row of tents, lines of horses, dozens of temporary forges and smithies, and great pens of livestock. Smoke rose from thousands of campfires, and the company could smell roasting meat and baking bread. Vladimir rode at the head of the column, Victoria beside him. Behind and to the sides were the scouts, under the command of Lieutenant Thompson. The scouts rejoined the column as the group approached the dozen-foot high palisade wall that the Legion’s engineers had created around the base. The horses’ hooves crunched in the snow, tack jingled, and armor clanked as the soldiers reined in before the gate.

An officer hailed them from the wall walk above the gate, “Who goes there?”

“Captain Vladimir Kapov, commander first company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. I have survivors of a patrol with me,” Vladimir called up.

“Very well,” the man turned, “Open the gates.”

The massive steel-studded oak gates swung open and they rode inside, the gates closing behind them with a boom. An officer with crossed swords over a sunburst, the symbol of the King’s Own Legion, engraved on his breastplate, made his way over to the company’s officers. Vladimir swung down off Jeremy, his boots crunching on the trampled down snow of the yard in front of the gate.

“You made it back, Vladimir, you rascal,” the officer, a captain, called as he approached Vladimir.

“That I did John, but I had my best team with me. They’re the ones who got me out in one piece.”

“Stop being modest Vladimir,” Victoria said, joining the conversation. “He killed nigh on half of them himself.”

Vladimir looked a little embarrassed, shuffling his feet and looking away from the other captain.

Smiling at Vladimir, she asked the other man, “How’re things going here?”

“Well enough. Most of the other patrols are back by now.” The other captain looked Vladimir’s men over. “Looks like you got hammered.”

“Yeah, we did. And a little less than half of them aren’t even my own. Colonel Therik gave me a squad to take back, and we found a patrol under attack while we were trying to get back here. I’m down to about forty soldiers.”

“How did they manage to ambush a patrol across the plain?”

“The enemy ‘ported in about a company and some summoned demons.” The other captain had begun to lead Vladimir and Victoria away from the remainder of the company.

Vladimir stopped, “I need to take care of my troops.”

“General Voln and Colonel Sekir want your report first.” Vladimir started to turn, but John caught his arm, “The colonel wouldn’t ask for a report before you could see to your troops if it wasn’t important that you report now. You know that.”

“Alright, I’m coming. But it better be good.” He turned back and followed the other captain.

* * *


The three made their way through the sprawling encampment. They passed soldiers sitting in front of their tents honing weapons, whetstones scraping against steel and soldiers lined up at the cooking tents waiting to eat lunch on their way to a black pavilion with crossed swords and sunburst embroidered on the side in gold.

As they approached, the wind picked up, making their cloaks flutter and the black pennants outside the tent snap. One of the sentries outside the pavilion ducked her head inside the flap, and upon reappearing told them, “You may enter; the General is expecting you.” Then she held the flap for them to enter the tent.

Cloth walls separated the large tent into two sections: the main planning area and a bedroom. Lightly embroidered black rugs covered the floor of the sparsely furnished planning room. It had a low table off to the side covered with maps and charts and a larger table in the middle, behind which several officers sat. A floating ball of light near the ceiling lit the inside of the tent well.

The general, Alexa Voln sat in the center. She was a woman in her late twenties, with long dark brown hair braided behind her head, a gold ring at the end, and vivid violet eyes. She wore a light mail shirt made of Mithral, a longsword with a worn black leather hilt and blood red ruby in the pommel on one hip, and a slender short sword on the other. When the three entered, she was deep in conversation with the person to her right, the legion’s archmage, Allasra Winters. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin, wore simple black clothes and had no armor except for the intricately engraved Mithral vambraces that encased her forearms. A longsword and dagger hung on her belt. Also at the table sat four men, one younger, the others middle aged. Two, Colonel Roland Sekir, Vladimir’s commanding officer, and Colonel Uriel Seref, commander of second regiment, were clad in plate and carried swords. One of the other two, Colonel Seref’s mage Crimson Cloak, sported long red robes. The last, the younger man, Zarez, Colonel Sekir’s regimental mage, wore a plain shirt and trousers.

The two women looked up as they entered the tent, and the general stood, the rest of the officers following suit, and walked out from behind the heavy oak table that was cluttered with maps, dispatches, and glasses. She held out her hand to Vladimir.

He shook it, noting once again her firm grasp, calloused hands, and plain Mithral vambraces on her forearms. “Good afternoon General Voln,” he greeted her. Looking around at the other officers, he remarked to Colonel Sekir dryly, “Nice to see you again Roland. I see you decided to bring a few friends to this debriefing.”

His superior smiled, “I figured they might want to know what was going on. Besides, I’d just have to tell General Voln later anyway.”

The general moved back to her seat, clapping Colonel Sekir on the shoulder as she passed. She smiled, “Don’t blame him. I didn’t give him much choice in the matter.” She resumed her place behind the table and motioned for Vladimir and Victoria to sit. “Captain Carter, make sure all of Captain Kapov’s men and horses are taken care of,” she said to the other captain.

“Yes ma’am.” He saluted and exited the tent.

“Now to business. I’d like to hear your full report later, but why don’t you give me the highlights now so I can try to finish my assessment of the Zhuravi force placements.” She leaned back expectantly.

“Yes ma’am.” Vladimir leaned forward and began. “As you may know, my company was reinforced with an extra platoon of cavalry and sent out to secure the village of Tumbri…”

* * *


James groaned as he stretched stiff muscles, reaching his arms up above his head. He looked around at the hustle and bustle of the camp, and noticed that it had begun to snow again. Soft, fat flakes drifted down from the sky, dark clouds moving in from the plains to the East. The sun was setting in the West, behind the mountains, and darkness was falling. He saw the lieutenant making his way over to the company’s small encampment, and waved. The lieutenant waved back, and walked over to James’s tent.

“How’re you doing now?” Jason asked.

“A little better; I took a short nap and got some grub.”

“Good. That eating idea sounds pretty good right now. Then I think I’ll get some real sleep.”

“I think someone’s going to cook dinner in a little while,” James said.

The lieutenant nodded, and turned to look at the troops. Their camp consisted of twenty tents near the edge of the neat rows of tents for the rest of the men of first regiment, King’s Own. Their tents circled a fire pit, in which some of the company had begun to build a fire for the night. Other soldiers sat in front of their tents, cleaning gear, sharpening weapons, and talking. Their horses quietly stood off to one side, and a couple of the troops were grooming and feeding them.

James stretched some more, groaning as his joints popped.

“You sound like an old man,” Jason said, “If anyone should be complaining, it should be me. I’m what, ten, twelve years older than you?”

“I don’t know; I’ll be eighteen in about a month,” James replied.

“I’m thirty-two now.”

“Thirty-two! You are an old geezer,” James feigned astonishment.

“Yeah? This old geezer is going to beat you in a second if you don’t show proper respect for your elders,” Jason said with a grin, and clapped James on the shoulder.

* * *


“So, ladies and gentlemen, that about sums up our position,” General Voln finished. “Now, are there any questions?” She glanced around at the gathered officers and mages from the two legions under her command.

The officers whose troops were heading out the next day looked a little unhappy, but mostly confident. Those who were staying in camp gave them sympathetic looks. A general response of “No ma’am” came from the gathered officers.

“Very well then, I’ll let all of you see to your troops. Colonel Poniton, Colonel Chirstov, remember that I want your men ready to move before noon tomorrow. Everyone dismissed.”

The assorted officers and mages, including Vladimir and Victoria, filed out of the command tent and dispersed to various areas of the camp.

Vladimir and Victoria walked along in companionable silence, passing by row upon row of tents, soldiers gathered at the cook fires getting dinner, and lines of horses tethered together. From somewhere to their left, they heard the sound of a smith at work, hammer plinking on metal.

Ahead, they could see their camp, and, as they approached, one of the soldiers shouted, “There’s the captain.” Suddenly, all of the troops stopped what they were doing, and came over to the fire. The two of them walked up to the flames, and Vladimir looked around. His company had been reduced to about forty soldiers, but they were his best. They had survived the rescue mission on the plain, the ambush in the village, several earlier skirmishes, and many of them had been in several campaigns with him before that. The firelight illuminated the faces of his troops; skin turned leathery from exposure to the sun and the elements. Mostly the men had short hair, while the women wore theirs in long braids. Despite the recent battles and the limited time since they had made camp, all of their equipment was clean and in good condition. The flickering light from the fire glinted off polished mail and well-oiled leather.

Across the bonfire, he could see Lieutenant Thompson and Private Black. They stood next to each other, and, like all his troops, stared at him attentively. The familiar twinge of worry that he might not be the best man to lead them and keep them alive rippled through his thoughts. His recent losses made the thought more puissant than usual.

“Alright folks, here’s the situation. Colonel Sekir has given us a week off to rest and train with the reinforcements he’s going to send over here sometime tomorrow. That means I want everyone up by 8 o’clock tomorrow, and ready by 9.”

He paused, the only sounds in their campsite the crackle of flames and the slight sounds as his troops shifted their weight. Darkness had come, but snow continued to fall.

Suddenly, a horn sounded, startling everyone. They turned, trying to see through the darkness and the snow. A couple of soldiers cursed; just their luck; an alarm when they were about to get some leisure time. Another blast of the horn rang out through the night. All of his troops started grabbing their weapons, saddling the horses, slinging on armor, and strapping on shields.

From the palisade, they could hear the sound of steel ringing off steel, people shouting, and the screams of the wounded already echoing into the night.

Turning to Victoria, Vladimir asked urgently, “What the heck is going on?”

“I don’t know, give me a second,” she snapped. Quickly, Victoria cast a spell, making two short, precise gestures and speaking a few words. She focused for a moment, then cursed and turned to Vladimir. “That attack’s just a diversion. They’ve used some sort of flying spell to land at least a company next to the general’s tent.”

“Crap.” Vladimir turned and yelled, “Alright folks, mount up and follow me! They’re trying to attack the HQ tent.”

* * *


“You hear that, sir?” James asked, turning to the lieutenant.

“Yeah, I heard. You ready?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s move out then.”

They touched heels to their horses’ flanks, and galloped after the captain and Victoria. The crunch of their horses’ hooves was lost to the sounds of soldiers rushing about and the fighting at the wall.

* * *


Vladimir urged Jeremy to go faster, and drew his sword as he approached the general’s tent. A bolt of lightning loosed by Archmage Winters illuminated the area, revealing the advancing Zhuravi as it arced out, bouncing from man to man. Dozens fell, bodies scorched and charred by the electricity. Right in front of her tent, Colonel Sekir, General Voln, and her bodyguard engaged the attacking enemy. From the rear of the enemy formation a fiery pea, arced out towards the general.

Victoria shouted a word, and the pea vanished. “Vladimir, we need to take out their wizards. I can’t hold them off forever.”

Their horses’ hooves crunched on the snow, and sword clashed against sword as the general’s guards cut down Zhuravi.

“Alright.” Vladimir yelled down the line, “Jason, take a couple soldiers and kill those spell-casters.”

“Yes sir,” Jason shouted back. “James, with me, let’s kill some wizards.”

“Yes sir,” the younger man replied with a grin.

They wheeled their horses and charged between two tents, circling the area in front of the general’s tent to get at the Zhuravi wizards from behind. Their weapons and tack jingled and clinked as they galloped along. They could hear the sound of fighting to their left, but a row of tents blocked their view.

Suddenly, a ball of light flew up into the sky and hung there, shedding a blue-violet glow over the entire area.

They rounded another set of tents, and there, ahead of them, were three men in dark robes, illuminated by the light in the sky. One of them was waving his arms rapidly and chanting in a foreign tongue. The other two had wands drawn and were looking for targets. James and Jason readied their swords as they reached the wizards. As he passed one man, James slashed back, gashing the casting wizard from hip to shoulder. Blood sprayed up into the air, and the man fell back onto the snow. Jason swung his blade across, nearly decapitating the man on his right, then brought his horse around to attack the wizard on his left. The man tried to run, but Jason easily caught up to him, and swung down. His blow caught the man on the shoulder, and sunk in a good eight inches. Jason wrenched his sword out, splattering blood all over the place.

* * *


16th of Grakuary, 599
King’s Own base, north of Menzobaria

Vladimir’s company slammed into the flank of the Zhuravi formation. Hooves thundered, lances impaled enemy soldiers, swords slashed through plate and mail, and bowstrings twanged. Vladimir slashed a man across the chest, shattering the man’s breastplate, popping chain mail rings, and cutting to the bone. He withdrew the blade, and the man collapsed, clutching at the wound.

Even as the Zhuravi turned to confront the new threat, the general shouted a battle cry and charged into the melee, her guards following. Her sword flashed left and right, Zhuravi soldiers falling like grain before her scything blade. Archmage Winters was right next to her, sword in one hand, wand in the other.

The enemy retreated, and Vladimir pressed the attack, sword hacking and slashing. Victoria rode beside him, watching his flanks. He heard a cry of pain and saw an enemy officer and three men stabbing Colonel Sekir repeatedly. “Follow me,” he called to Victoria and urged Jeremy forward.

The Zhuravi turned at the sound of hooves, but by then he was upon them. Blood flew from his sword as it whistled through the air. His blow sliced through the enemy officer from shoulder to stomach, where it hit bone. He tugged at the blade, but it was stuck in the corpse. The three Zhuravi infantrymen closed on him.

Suddenly, one of them flew away, blood spurting from his chest, as Victoria arrived. She hacked back to the other side, and another man dropped, his throat slashed open. Vladimir reared Jeremy up, and one of the horse’s hooves caught the last soldier in the chest, blasting through his plate and mail and smashing bones in his chest. Vladimir used Jeremy’s motion to jerk his sword free of the body, more blood spraying out.

Seeing no enemies nearby, he paused to look around. Dead bodies littered the area in front of the command tent, and pools of freezing blood dotted the ground. All the Zhuravi in front of the general’s tent were dead or dying. Vladimir’s hand clenched around the hilt of his sword as he saw a couple of his troops lying unmoving on the ground. General Voln crouched over a body while Archmage Winters and her remaining bodyguards surrounded her in a protective circle. A horse whinnied, and Vladimir looked around. A little ways away, Jason, James, and several of his troops were standing at the ready, looking for more enemies. He let the tip of his sword drop until it pointed down, letting blood flow off the steel. The ball of light overhead lit up snowflakes as they continued to fall. Overall, though, the snow seemed to be slackening off again.

Abruptly, from outside the lighted area they heard hooves crunching on snow and weapons clanking. Everyone immediately readied their weapons and the general jumped to her feet, sword at the ready. However, they relaxed a few seconds later when the rest of Vladimir’s company galloped into the light.

One of his sergeants spotted Vladimir and rode over. “We caught and killed all of the ones we could find, sir,” he reported.

“Good work.” He waved Lieutenant Thompson over, “Jason, I want you to set up a perimeter around the general’s tent.”

“Yes sir.” Jason turned to the sergeant, “Grab third squad and move around the back. I’ll take second and fifth for the front.”

“Yes sir,” the sergeant replied, then turned his horse and started shouting orders.

Confident security was in good hands, Vladimir turned towards General Voln. She was once again crouched over a body, but as he watched, she shook her head and stood up, stretching. He dismounted, motioned for Victoria to follow him, and headed over to the general.

As he walked, he began to come down from the adrenaline rush of battle. He winced when a bruise on his elbow and his wounds from the earlier battle started complaining. Behind him, Victoria cursed and he spun around to see her stumble. He reached out to steady her, “What’s the matter, lass?”

She gritted her teeth, “It’s my leg. It got slashed pretty good.” Her pants’ leg was cut and blood flowed out of a gash on her thigh, darkening the black leather leggings. She grasped his hand to keep her balance as she registered the full extent of the wound.

General Voln walked over to them, “Let me see your leg.” She knelt and took Victoria’s leg in her hands. Her long, slender, bloody fingers probed the wound. Victoria winced and bit her lip and her grip on Vladimir’s hand tightened.

The general placed her hand over the wound, then whispered a few words and made a quick gesture with her other hand. White light filled the gash, and the flesh knit together, leaving a thin white scar on Victoria’s thigh.

The general straightened, “Captain, get any of your men who need medical attention to a medic, then get everybody mounted up.”

Vladimir turned to Jason, “Anybody badly wounded?”

“No sir. We’re ready to go.”

Vladimir looked around at his troops. Most had some minor cuts or wounds, but they sat up straight in their saddles and held their weapons at the ready. Their mail and plate rustled as they shifted, and snow crunched under their horses’ hooves. Despite the battle this morning and the most recent fight, the short rest before had rejuvenated his troops. All of them gave him nods or grinned when he looked at them; they were clearly ready for more fighting. Snow still drifted down from the black sky and dark clouds veiled the moon and stars.

Vladimir turned to the general, “We’re ready, ma’am.”

“Very good, captain. Let’s send these Zhuravi packing. Follow me!” She and her entourage swung onto horses with a creaking of leather and the rustle of chain, then she waved her sword in the air. They all turned their horses toward the gate.

They could see fires leaping over the palisade and outlining the blocky gate towers with flames. The sounds of battle were the loudest there. Screams of pain, war cries, and steel ringing off steel or striking shields with dull thunks echoed into the night.

Their horses’ iron-shod hooves churned up the snow and gravel as they traveled through the camp. As they neared the gateway, they heard the sound of a battering ram striking the gate, its iron-capped head booming on the stout, steel studded oak of the gate. The center of the portal had splintered under the incessant pounding of the ram. As they rounded the final corner, the gates were smashed open. A swarm of Zhuravi charged through before the splinters had even hit the ground.

Above the gate, Arbatrosian mages cast crackling bolts of lightning and searing balls of fire down on the enemy, illuminating the gatehouse with flashes of blue-white and orange light. Bolts of blue and green flashed from wands and unerringly sought targets, dropping Zhuravi soldiers as they rushed through the gateway. Archers bent their bows back, and arrows whistled down, their slender steel tips punching through armor plate to bury themselves in the flesh beneath. Their black fletched shafts quivered, blood spraying up around them to paint the snow and palisade with crimson, like the work of some mad artist.

The general called for a charge, and Vladimir and his troops put their heels to their horses’ sides. Arrows from the scouts and spells from the mages flew out ahead, blasting enemy aside, breaking the wall of spears that had formed to menace the horses.

They crashed into the Zhuravi formation, the heavy horses flinging enemy soldiers aside with ease. Swords, maces, and axes rose and fell, sending blood fountaining into the air. Cold winter air whooshed through the wrecked gate, making the banners on the gatehouse snap and cloaks flutter. Blood steamed as it sprayed from falling men or puddled on the ground.

Their charge carried them through the gate and forced the remaining enemy back outside, past the battering ram, and into the field. Vladimir could feel the wind gusting past him and Jeremy moving beneath him. Suddenly, the night in front of him erupted in flame, the heat of the fire warming his face. The blast illuminated the snow-covered field in front of the gate for hundreds of yards. Abruptly, the night went dark again, but in the few moments of light, he could a carpet of bodies spreading out from the gate, and a figure wearing red armor standing a ways out in the snow, arms pointed at the gate.

“Victoria, they’ve got a wizard!” Vladimir shouted, looking around for the mage. A moment later, he saw her in front of the gate, on foot, surrounded and fighting half a dozen Zhuravi. He urged Jeremy forward, and charged towards them, raising his sword.

* * *


Victoria crouched, sword at the ready, watching the Zhuravi soldiers, waiting for one of them to attack. She heard Vladimir’s call, but had to parry three of her opponents’ swords. Her blade darted in behind one of those attacks, slashing through mail, and opening up a gash on the man’s thigh. He staggered back, leaving himself open, but she had to parry another attack, preventing her from finishing him. Suddenly, Vladimir arrived, and one of her adversaries flew away, blood spraying out of the gash across his back.

Vladimir wheeled Jeremy, who reared, lashing out with his hooves, throwing another enemy back. His companion’s scream as Vladimir gashed the other man’s forearm drowned out the crunch of bones under Jeremy’s massive hooves. Victoria lunged forward, stabbed one of her surviving opponents in the chest. Armor plate and chain mail links parting like cloth, and she pivoted on her back foot, withdrawing her blade. Spinning, she slashed the last man from shoulder to hip.

All of her immediate enemies finished, she surveyed the battleground. A sudden flash of lightning temporarily blinded her as it arced past, hitting an Arbatrosian soldier in the chest. The bolt blasted her backward, torso scorched, leaving a trail of ionized air in its wake. The flash illuminated snow melted by blood and footfalls, and wet dirt underneath turned to mud by hooves and boots. Victoria followed the line of electricity back to its source, and could make out an armored figure standing alone far out in the field.

All of a sudden, the clouds pulled back, and a nearly full moon shone down, casting its silver radiance down upon the field of carnage. The light revealed piles of bodies, some charred, others pierced by arrows or ballista bolts. Pools of cooling blood steamed, while others, frozen by the arctic air, shone in the moonlight. Victoria and Vladimir could see the dwindling number of Zhuravi still fighting the Arbatrosian troops and the figure in red armor across the field waving its arms again.

Vladimir reached down and pulled Victoria up onto his horse behind him, then urged Jeremy towards the figure in the field. Victoria’s snaked her left arm across his chest and her sword hand rested on his shoulder, holding herself close against him. Vladimir slashed his way through the few enemies between them and the red armored mage. Jeremy’s hooves kicked up dirt and snow as they closed the distance between them and the Zhuravi wizard.

* * *


Alexa twisted away from a slash as she beheaded one of the other men attacking her. Her blade sliced through muscle and tendon easily, and the decapitated corpse fell to the ground. She reversed, her sword flicking back, slashing open the throat of her first opponent. Then she reversed its motion again, whipping it across to take off another Zhuravi soldier’s arm at the shoulder. He reeled away, clutching the stump.

Close behind her, she heard a scream that abruptly stopped. She glanced back to check on Allasra. Alexa’s long-time friend and companion had sliced one man open from groin to neck, and gashed another’s stomach. The archmage turned and grinned at her friend, then flicked her fingers at Alexa. Blue-violet missiles streaked out, speeding past Alexa to home-in on the half-dozen men still behind her. They fell to the ground, small charred holes marking their bodies.

Alexa looked around, trying to gauge the battle’s progress. All around her, she could see corpses and wounded lying on the ground, splattered in blood. She smelled the familiar stink of excrement and the metallic tang of blood, and the cries of the wounded echoed in the darkness. Above, the stars and moon shone down, stark and cold.

Five rays of flame reached out and blasted several of her soldiers backward. In the brief flash of light, she saw a figure in red armor out in the field, hands toward the battle. Even as she watched, it cast another spell, this one a green ray that reached out and touched a man. The soldier instantly ceased to exist, gone in the blink of an eye.

“Lasra, we need to kill that guy,” Alexa said, turning to her friend.

The archmage nodded and raised her sword, “Lead the way.”

The two women ran towards the figure, boots making little noise even in the muck and blood that now comprised the battlefield.

* * *


James parried a downward cut, then riposted, the tip of his blade tearing through his opponent’s throat. He withdrew it and slashed across at another man who was trying to circle the lieutenant and attack him from behind. His blade caught the man in the back, below the ribs. The fine edge sliced through plate, mail, and flesh until it emerged from the man’s stomach, coated in blood. The Zhuravi soldier fell to the ground, vainly trying to keep his entrails from spilling out.

All around them, Arbatrosian and Zhuravi soldiers fought, swords ringing off swords, armor, and shields. The screams of the wounded and dying and the crackle of flames atop the palisade added to the din of battle. Moonlight and starlight illuminated the battlefield with a silvery glow, illuminating the scene of carnage. A cold wind still kicked up a few flurries of snow farther out on the plain, but the battleground had turned to an icy mire dotted with puddles of frozen blood.

Jason finished off one of his opponents with a cut that opened up the man from thigh to breastbone. He parried another blow, then stabbed that man through the chest. The tip of Jason’s sword burst out the man’s back, awash in blood. Jason withdrew his blade easily, and looked around for more Zhuravi to kill.

* * *


Victoria let go of Vladimir with her left hand and cast a lightning bolt at the figure in red armor. It waved its hand and barked a word. Her spell dissipated into the wind. The figure slashed its hand down, shouting a few words in a foreign language as it did so. Recognizing the evocation, Victoria released her grip on Vladimir and slipped off the back of his horse. Her boots hit the marshy ground, crunching through the icy coating atop the mire. She took three running steps, but nearly fell anyway.

Silver sparks arced out from the Zhuravi mage and struck Jeremy across the chest. The supernatural horse’s resistance to magic allowed it to ignore the effects of the spell, but Vladimir was hit hard. The power of the magic threw him off Jeremy. He hit the ground with enough force to knock the breath out of him. Cursing, he immediately started to rise from the icy ground, sword in hand.

Victoria lashed out at the figure with one of the more powerful spells she knew. A ray of pure cold lanced out from her palm, striking the red armored figure on the left shoulder. Her spell spun it around and knocked it down. From the other side, Allasra loosed a bolt of fire at the figure. The ray hit it, throwing it back and scorching its armor.

Behind them, the sounds of battle were fading, leaving only the shrieks of the wounded and the snap of flame. The moon, now almost directly above them, shed its silver light over the scene.

Vladimir heard a twang, and a ballista bolt whistled past him, hitting the figure in the hip. The missile threw the Zhuravi mage to the ground. Its six-inch tip protruded out the figure’s back, glistening with blood in the moonlight.

Despite all this, the figure still rose to its feet, right hand raised to cast another spell. Vladimir and Alexa hit it at the same time. His sword hewed its arm off at the shoulder and continued to cut down, cracking ribs and spraying blood. The general’s sword cut through its neck, taking off its head. The decapitated body fell to the ground. They stood there for a moment, panting, swords still pointed at the corpse.

Alexa bent down and used a gloved hand to pull off its helmet, revealing a hideous visage. The creature had a fanged maw, no nose, and was bald, save for a thin strip of white hair running down the center of its black scalp. Its eyes still glowed with a demonic light, and the head tried to snap at her fingers. She jerked her hand back and pointed her sword at it.

Looking around, the four could see perhaps fifty Arbatrosian soldiers still standing, all blood-spattered and covered in gore. By this time, more soldiers were moving out of the gate, finishing off any surviving Zhuravi and helping their wounded. The troops on the gatehouse were still working to extinguish the fire that burned there, and its flickering light illuminated the scene of carnage in front of the gate. Bodies piled three and four deep lay around the gateway, both inside and out. The ram rested on a mound of dead Zhuravi soldiers, shot while trying to break in.

Alexa called to some of the Arbatrosian troops, “Get some wood. We need to burn this guy.”

“Yes ma’am,” Jason replied, then motioned for James and four other soldiers from the company to follow him. They sheathed their swords and jogged back into the fort. Stopping at the first campfire they came to, Jason pointed to a pile of wood. “Grab as much as you can carry. We’ll want quite a bit, so the entire corpse burns.”

Jason motioned them over and started stacking the wood in their arms, the split logs knocking against each other. Once they were loaded up, they moved back out quickly, boots crunching on the frozen ground.

Reaching the four officers, they set down the wood and moved back. Vladimir and Alexa picked up the body and heaved it onto the stacked timber. Allasra flicked a finger, and a ray of fire leapt out, starting the pyre. Alexa gingerly grabbed the still-moving head by its strip of hair and tossed it into the blaze.

They stood around the fire, swords and spells at the ready, until its flesh began sloughing off its bones. Soon, all that remained was a blackened suit of armor and some charred bones.

Some of the Arbatrosian soldiers had cleared the gate of bodies, flinging the enemy dead into piles in preparation for burning en masse. They laid out their own dead more carefully, but readied them for burning as well. Their wounded had already been sent back to the medics. Flames leapt into the night sky as soldiers and mages set the pyres alight.

The cloying smell of burning flesh permeated the air. For a while, the only sounds were prayers said over the dead, goodbyes to comrades, and the crackle of burning wood. Sparks shot up into the heavens.

Near the four officers, Jeremy snorted and pawed at the ground. Vladimir reached back and gently stroked his mane, speaking to him softly. Mail and weapons clinked as more soldiers moved out of the encampment. They formed a perimeter around the burning bodies, spears and shields at the ready.

Eventually, the pyre with the dead mage on it burned down to embers, melting the snow and blood around it.

Alexa and Allasra conversed briefly in whispers, then turned back to the others. “Let’s get everyone back inside the camp and get the gate repaired, while I figure out what to do next.” She turned to Vladimir, “Vladimir, get one of your officers to take care of the gate. I want you and Victoria to meet me in my tent after that.”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied, saluting.

She and Allasra moved back through the gateway and into the encampment.

Vladimir looked around and spotted Jason. “Jason, oversee the repairs to the gate,” he ordered.

“Yes sir, right away.”

“Do you know how many of the company survived?” Vladimir glanced about, trying to pick out the soldiers from his unit, but not seeing many.

“I’ve only seen around twenty of our troops. But I know that at least seven more were wounded badly enough to need to see a medic.”

Vladimir nodded, “I want you to gather up about forty troops, and get that gate repaired.”

Jason saluted, “Yes sir.” He turned, motioned to James to follow him, and started shouting orders to the soldiers standing around.

Vladimir turned to Victoria, “Let’s not keep the general waiting.”

She fell in beside him. As they turned, Vladimir murmured to her, “Second time a little easier, isn’t it lass?” She nodded fervently and followed him back through the ruins of the gateway, where the splintered doors still hanging off their hinges. Their boots crunched on the hardening snow, blood, and muck that now comprised the yard inside the gate.

A light snow began to fall, soft flakes drifting down from the black night sky. The wind blew gently, swirling the snow and making flags ripple and snap throughout the camp.

They trudged back through the camp on weary feet, passing soldiers’ rekindled campfires. Many of the troops recognized them and stood as they passed, saluting them or calling greetings. Conversations died at their passage, leaving only the crackle of flames, the rustle of mail, and the clank of swords as soldiers rose. The two eventually reached the general’s tent. Outside, a platoon of soldiers stood guard, weapons at the ready. Upon seeing the two, one of the guards opened the tent flap, the canvas rustling, and stuck her head inside. She straightened as they neared the tent, and motioned for them to enter, “Go right on in, sir, ma’am. They’re expecting you.” She held the tent flap up for them to go inside.

Vladimir and Victoria entered the tent, pausing to clean some of the mud and blood off their boots on the rough mat in the entryway. The general and Archmage Winters were sitting off to one side, the mage slouching in her chair, feet up on the table, the general still sitting up fairly straight. Both women looked up as they entered, and the general looked the two over.

Smiling slightly, Alexa gestured for them to have a seat in chairs across from the two women. They gratefully collapsed into the seats, Vladimir’s plate clinking.

Still smiling faintly, Alexa began, “As was made pretty obvious tonight, I need more commanders like you. If you and your troops hadn’t shown up, I probably would have been killed. At least twice.”

“Thank you, ma’am. But we were just doing our duty.” Vladimir looked down, a little embarrassed.

“Oh, I know that. But how many other commanders would have had the presence of mind to consult their wizard on the situation, then figure out that the force attacking me was more important? And decide to take their understrength, tired-out unit and come to my aid? Not many, I would think.”

Vladimir started to object, but Alexa waved his protests away. “I’m not complimenting you to make you uncomfortable,” she chuckled a little, “but rather to explain my decision.” The general paused, “I want you and Victoria to form and lead my new personal unit. It’s to be an elite force, for, shall we say, some of the more difficult and delicate missions.”

He glanced up quickly, his eyebrows rising before he brought his face under control. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Victoria shift a little in her chair, her mesh armor rustling.

“As you wish, ma’am. But aren’t there other officers more qualified, more experienced, more worthy of receiving this honor?” His armor creaked as he shifted in his chair.

She sighed, exasperated. “You’ve been in the army for eighteen years. It only took you four years to get into the elite legions, and another six to enter the King’s Own. And, as I just said, you probably saved my life at least twice tonight. It sounds to me as if you more than deserve this honor. Besides, it’s about time I promoted you.” She gave him a hard stare, her bright violet eyes locking with his brown ones.

“But what about my troops?” He protested.

“Didn’t I just say that you got to pick who would be in this force?” She shook her head, braid swinging back and forth, the gold ring securing its end clinking against her armor. “Stop trying to think of reasons why you shouldn’t do this and start thinking of how you are going to do this.”

“I don’t suppose I have a choice in the matter?” He asked, sounding slightly annoyed.

“Nope,” she said, giving him a tired smile.

“Alright, I’ll do it.” He smiled back.

“In that case, I want you two to stick around tonight. I’d better keep my best commander close,” she joked. “I’ve had another tent pitched for you to stay in. You can start picking out more soldiers tomorrow.” She looked over at Allasra “Anything you’d like to add?”

The archmage shook her head.

“May I go see to my unit before I turn in for the night, ma’am?” Vladimir asked.

“Of course.” She dismissed them with a wave. “Victoria, one of my people will show you where the tent is.”

The two of them stood, braced to attention, saluted, and left.

Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012


List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

General Alexa Voln-Age 28
Archmage Allasra Winters-Age 26
Legion Sergeant Major Josephine Herth-Age 27

First Company, First Regiment
Captain Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25

First Platoon
Lieutenant Vincent Nekan-Age 27

Second Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26
Platoon Sergeant Brian Jennings-Age 29

Third Platoon
Lieutenant Wilson Atwell-Age 24

Scout Platoon
Lieutenant Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own

[This message has been edited by General Sajaru (edited 06-26-2014 @ 01:20 PM).]

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 20 June 2014 07:34 EDT (US)     8 / 54       
Love the spell effects and combat scenes- bloody awesome write, dude!

A few nits:
An officer with crossed swords over a sunburst, the symbol of the King’s Own Legion, engraved on his breastplate, made his way over to the company’s officers

An officer with crossed swords over a sunburst engraved on his breastplate- the symbol of the King’s Own Legion- made his way over to the company’s officers
One too many commas here. I know what you are trying to do, but too much in one go can be messy.

The General is in her twenties? Or looks like she is in her late twenties? There is a difference. It might mean something later- its still too early to decide. Some things concerning generalship in thef ield can only be learned through experience, unless one is a genius like Alexander. (Maybe that is something in the name?) IN a land filled with magic, spells can keep a body young while the mind gathers the necessary experiece. Just saying.

Besides, I’d just have to tell General Voln later anyway.”
Besides, I’d just have to tell the general later anyway.”
The General is in the room already, and the only general there. Name not needed.

Another small nit is the time-keeping/month naming. I get the feeling that Grakuary is like January, but could be mistaken. Maybe a seasonal reference in the heading (15th Grakuary 599, Deep in the MidWinter) for us who were not born in Arbatros? I had received the same complaint when I made up a similar alien calender.

But by the gods this is a great tale!

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 20 June 2014 15:42 EDT (US)     9 / 54       
An officer with crossed swords over a sunburst engraved on his breastplate- the symbol of the King’s Own Legion- made his way over to the company’s officers
I seem to recall not wanting to use an "-"s in the book, although I've used them in my writing since and definitely think that using them there is better.
The General is in her twenties? Or looks like she is in her late twenties? There is a difference. It might mean something later- its still too early to decide. Some things concerning generalship in thef ield can only be learned through experience, unless one is a genius like Alexander.
As is noted in the Characters List at the end of the chapter, Alexa is 28 years old. She is something of a tactical genius, and has fought heroically in a couple of battles where only her leadership allowed them to be won. She's also been in the military for 13 years at the time of the book.
Another small nit is the time-keeping/month naming. I get the feeling that Grakuary is like January, but could be mistaken. Maybe a seasonal reference in the heading (15th Grakuary 599, Deep in the MidWinter) for us who were not born in Arbatros? I had received the same complaint when I made up a similar alien calender.
Oops. I have a nice little thing written up for that:

There are 365 days in the Arbatrosian calendar. They are split up into 12 months, each of 3 weeks of 10 days each, 4 seasonal festival days (the Autumnal Equinox, Midwinter, the Vernal Equinox, and Midsummer) and New Year’s Day, which is commemorated on the day of Arbatros’s founding. The New Year starts on the day after the Autumnal Equinox.

The months are as follows (Earth dates in parentheses):

New Year’s Day: None (9/22)
1. Willius: 1/1-1/30 (9/23-10/22)
2. Senbuary: 2/1-2/30 (10/23-11/21)
3. Demuary: 3/1-3/30 (11/22-12/21)
Midwinter: 3/31 (12/22)
4. Gammur: 4/1-4/30 (12/23-1/21)
5. Grakuary: 5/1-5/30(1/22-2/20)
6. Michuary: 6/1-6/30 (2/21-3/22)
Vernal Equinox: 6/31 (3/23)
7. Falmibur: 7/1-7/30 (3/24-4/22)
8. Kristius: 8/1-8/30 (4/23-5/22)
9. Zoticuary: 9/1-9/30 (5/23-6/21)
Midsummer: 9/31 (6/22)
10. Acca: 10/1-10/30 (6/23-7/22)
11. Moduary: 11/1-11/30 (7/23-8/21)
12. Triduary: 12/1-12/30 (8/22-9/20)
Autumnal Equinox: 12/31 (9/21)

The days of the week are as follows:
1, 11, 21: Saraday
2, 12, 22: Jophiday
3, 13, 23: Raziday
4, 14, 24: Cassiday
5, 15, 25: Urieday
6, 16, 26: Raphaday
7, 17, 27: Samaday
8, 18, 28: Gabriday
9, 19, 29: Michaday
10, 20, 30: Azraday
Each month has three of each day. Seasonal festival days and New Year’s Day are not included.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 25 June 2014 09:44 EDT (US)     10 / 54       
I have finally caught up with this wonderful tale and I have to say that it is very interesting. Breathtaking battles, good characterisation, I like it... I'm definitely looking forward to the following adventures of Vladimir and his men...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 26 June 2014 13:39 EDT (US)     11 / 54       
New Troops

16th of Grakuary, 599
King’s Own base, north of Menzobaria

Vladimir walked back through the camp plate clinking lightly. It had been snowing for a little while now, and his boots marred the fresh snow lying on the frozen ground. He passed troops sitting around their campfires, ready to respond to any new alarms. Again, they rose as he passed or called out greetings. However, even more than usual stood or saluted; it seemed that word of the battle at the gate had spread quickly.

He trudged out to the gate, boots crunching on the hardened blood and muck of the yard before the gate. The portal itself had been repaired expertly, the different color of the new wood the only sign it had been fixed. Private Black hailed him, “Is that you, sir?”

Vladimir smiled, “It is. How’re you doing this fine night, James?”

“Oh, I’m alright sir. How are you?”

“I’m okay.” He moved forward and clapped the private on the shoulder, “Where’s Lieutenant Thompson?”

“He was over at the gate a little while ago,” James replied. “I’m not sure where he is now. You might try at the breach, sir.”

“The breach?” Vladimir inquired, eyebrows raised.

“Yes sir. The Zhuravi breached the wall with magic a ways down, during the fight. The lieutenant thinks it was that thing you and the general killed. It’s that way.” He pointed left down the wall.

Vladimir gave the younger man’s shoulder a squeeze, “Thanks, James.”

“Glad to help, sir.”

Vladimir plodded off along the wall. His armor bore down on his shoulders as he walked. He sighed and straightened when he saw torches, magical lights, and bustling soldiers up ahead. He walked up to a group of eight or ten soldiers straining to maneuver a floating log. A wizard had cast a levitation spell on it so they could move it into position in the gap.

The troops were pushing it around, using strength built from years of fighting to move the massive log into its proper place. Despite the cold, many of them had removed their cloaks and armor. Even so, sweat beaded on brows and darkened shirts, and their panting breaths steamed in the frigid air.

Vladimir drew near and slowly climbed the closest ladder.

Jason stood on the wall walk, shouting orders to the soldiers below. “Swing your end around. More. More. Alright stop. Now down on the end, down, down. Bring your end up more, Jane. Slowly now, get that end in the ditch. Good, now up some more, and…we’re in.” The soldiers had finally positioned the log over its hole. “George, you can get rid of the spell on that one now.” The wizard dismissed the levitation spell and the log fell with a thump that shook the ground slightly. Jason turned, noticed Vladimir walking towards him, came to attention, and saluted.

“At ease Jason.” Vladimir surveyed the bustling around, working on repairing the palisade. “Looks like you’ve got everything going pretty well.”

“We’ve been working non-stop since you left, sir. I’ve had to call in more troops to provide the manpower we need.”

“Good work. What did you do with the rest of the company?” Vladimir scanned the work parties, but didn’t see any of them.

“Some of them are on guard. But I sent most of them back to the camp to get some rest. I figured they needed it.” He gave the captain an inquisitive look, “Why do you ask?”

“The general wants us to become her personal elite commando unit. I’m going to have the company form the core units. How many of us are left?”

“Twenty-six. Bruno succumbed to his wounds.”

Vladimir looked away for a moment. When he turned back to Jason, his expression seemed normal. “Alright. Victoria and I are staying near the general tonight.” In response to Jason’s look, he shrugged, “She said she wanted us to stick close. I need to form the new company soon. We’ll pick out some more men around noon.”

“Sounds good, sir. I’ll see you in the morning.” He started to turn back to the breach, but Vladimir caught his arm.

“Don’t stay up too long,” Vladimir ordered, wagging his finger at the lieutenant. “I don’t want you falling asleep on me tomorrow.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir. You should try to get some sleep too.”

Vladimir smiled, “I’ll try.”

* * *


Vladimir returned to the general’s tent, where the sentry informed him that she wanted to talk to him. Reentering her tent, he scraped off his boots again and came to attention in front of the table. She sat in one of the high-backed chairs again, her armored forearms resting on the heavy wood table, reading a report. She looked up when he entered and favored him with a tired smile. “Did you find your troops, Vladimir?”

“Yes ma’am, I did. At least some of them. Most of them are sleeping at the camp, but a few were on guard duty at the gate and breach. Lieutenant Thompson is still overseeing the work.”

“Good.” She looked back down at the paper, “I think he might make a good captain. Would you agree?” She glanced up at him again, this time her gaze boring into him.

“Yes ma’am, I would. And I know he definitely deserves it, but I’d hate to lose him. Frankly, he’s one of the better officers I’ve had in quite some time, and without a doubt one of the finest scout commanders I’ve ever know.”

“I’m glad you think so highly of him.” She made a mark on the paper, her quill scratching the parchment. Deep in thought, her gaze lingered on the paper for several seconds before she looked up. “Oh, and you won’t lose him completely. He’s going to command one of the legion scout companies, which means you’ll be able to pull his unit, major.” She grinned at him.

“Major?” His dark eyebrows shot up.

“Yes. Major. Your position as the commander of my personal elite unit means that you’ll be one of my staff officers. And since most staff officers are majors, I’m promoting you. Additionally, I want you to take mostly more senior troops for the elite force, so the extra rank will be helpful. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, ma’am. How big do you anticipate this unit being? I need to know so I can figure out how many soldiers I’ll need to get tomorrow. Or later today, depending upon how you look at it.”

Alexa grinned again, “I guess it would be later today. Regardless, I’d say about four or five platoons. You’ll probably want at least five platoon leaders and a good company sergeant major. You’ll be the commander, with Victoria as your mage.” She reached back to the small desk, retrieved a piece of parchment, and handed it to him. “This is the order for my colonels to give you any soldier you ask for. That said, I’d rather not get too many complaints, so try to either pick by squad, take from under-strength units, or have a good reason for me why you need a specific soldier.”

“Yes ma’am.” Vladimir took to paper, mail rustling as he leaned forward to get it. “Speaking of Victoria, where is she? I didn’t see her outside.”

“I made her get some sleep. She’s in the tent to the right.” The general looked at him, “You should get some rest too. I’ll need you to be awake and aware this morning.”

“Yes ma’am.” Vladimir braced to attention, saluted, turned on his heel, and exited the tent.

Allasra came out of the bedroom section of the tent, wearing only a silk nightgown and her vambraces. “He’s a good choice.”

Alexa turned to look at her friend. “I know,” she smiled, “I just hope he thinks so as well; he didn’t look very happy about leading my elite unit.”

“You mean your assassination squad?”

Alexa feigned offense, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Both women giggled. Then she turned serious, “He was trained as a paladin, you know.”

“I know. That just means it might be a little distasteful for him at times, but he’ll do fine anyway. Speaking of getting sleep, you look like you need some as well.”

“I’ll sleep once I finish this report.” Allasra gave her a sharp look, but Alexa held up her hand to quiet her, “I promise.”

“Okay, if you say so.” Allasra rolled her eyes, grinned, and went back into the bedroom area.

* * *


Vladimir paused at the tent flap, and called softly, “Victoria?” Receiving no response, he opened the tent flap slowly, revealing the darkened interior of the tent. As his eyes slowly adjusted from the moonlit yard, he saw Victoria curled up on one of the two cots in a nightgown, her breathing regular, sleeping peacefully. He silently moved into the tent and began to remove his weapons and armor.

His mail and plate clanked as he took them off, but he tried to be quiet. Vladimir gingerly climbed into bed in only a shirt and trousers, his sword cradled against his chest. He closed his eyes, and was soon asleep.

* * *


A gentle touch on his shoulder awakened Vladimir. He half drew his sword, and his eyes flew open to see Victoria standing above him, fully dressed. She looked refreshed by the night’s sleep as well as a bath; her long golden hair was damp. Upon seeing her, he relaxed, sheathing his sword. He started to rise slowly, but suddenly shot up when he noticed the light suffusing the tent. “What time is it?”

“About three hours after sunrise,” she replied with a grin.

“Three hours! Why didn’t you wake me earlier?” He scowled at her.

“I figured you needed the rest; besides, the general only got up about half an hour ago, and she told me not to wake you any sooner than now.”

“Well then, if she said so.” He continued to frown at her.

“She did.” Victoria straightened, still smiling, turned, and started to exit the tent, but turned back at the entryway. “There are some clean clothes on the chest; I got one of the soldiers to bring them over. The general says she won’t need you for at least another hour, so you should have plenty of time to take a bath.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She smiled again and ducked through the tent’s flap.

Vladimir swung his feet onto the ground and, looked down at himself. I do need a bath, he thought; his clothes were stained with dried blood, both his own and that of his enemies. He stood up and stretched with a groan muscles protesting, and joints popping. Grabbing the clean clothes and his sword, he slid his feet into his boots and exited the tent, heading for the bathhouses.

The sun was already halfway up a clear blue sky, unmarred by any clouds. His breath formed little clouds of mist in the clean, crisp, somewhat chilly air. All around him, soldiers and support personnel bustled back and forth, carrying water, weapons, and building materials. He could smell cooking bacon and the smoke from the cook fires. His stomach rumbled, and he realized that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous morning. I need to get in the habit of eating more often, he thought, laughing to himself, but then again, I can never eat before battle, so I guess nothing is new.

* * *


Twenty minutes later, feeling quite refreshed, Vladimir returned to the tent. He noticed immediately that someone had cleaned his armor. The plate and mail gleamed in the brief ray of sunlight that pierced the shadows of the tent as he entered. He donned his armor with quick, precise motions and went back outside.

Vladimir walked quickly through the camp toward one of the mess tents. Soldiers and officers called out greetings as he entered the line. His armor clanked and rustled slightly with every movement; the sound of his life since entering the army.

The server, an older woman, gave him a plate with a rasher of bacon, still dripping with grease, a small round loaf of bread hot from the ovens, steaming in the cold air, and a scoop of scrambled eggs. He grabbed a glass of fresh milk from the end of the mess line and looked for somewhere to sit.

Vladimir took his food and walked over to one of the trestle tables, empty save for a grizzled old sergeant, face wrinkled by the sun, hands scarred by practice and war. The older man nodded to Vladimir as he sat down, but continued eating his own breakfast. Vladimir returned the greeting and started in on his food.

A couple minutes later, his plate empty, Vladimir started to rise. The sergeant looked over, “Looks like you were pretty hungry, captain.” Vladimir grinned and shrugged. “I’m sure no one would begrudge you seconds, sir. After all that work last night, you probably need them.” The older man smiled ever so slightly.

Vladimir turned, and saw that the server had another full plate waiting for him. “Captain, your food,” she nodded to him with a smile.

Vladimir rose and accepted the food from the woman, then resumed his seat. The sergeant’s smiled broadened as Vladimir wolfed down his food. “Take your time, sir. It’s not going to run away from you.”

Vladimir slowed a little and looked up. “What’s your name and unit, sergeant?” He asked, a bit sharply.

The older man braced to attention on the bench. “Sergeant William Morell, company sergeant major for second company, second regiment, King’s Own Legion, sir.”

Vladimir softened his tone and gaze a little when he addressed the man again. “How long have you been in the army, sergeant major?”

“Forty years, sir.” William relaxed a little, now that it was clear that Vladimir was not too angry with him.

Vladimir fought to keep his admiration out his voice and expression. “And how long in your current unit?”

“I was just transferred in a couple of months ago, sir.”

“What unit was you in before that?” Vladimir stopped eating and rested his fork on his plate, the metal clinking on the ceramic dish.

“I started my career with the Standard Legions, in the Forty-Second. After about five years, I made sergeant, and five years later, they transferred me to the Elite Legions. I served with the Onyx Legion for ten years, and the Steel Legion for another fourteen. I’ve been in the King’s Own for six years now, most of them as the company sergeant major for third company, first regiment.” Vladimir thought the sergeant seemed a little wistful about his past; he had set his mug down, and his eyes weren’t seeing the tent pole at which he was staring. He came back to the present with a shake of his head.

“We should talk to Captain Wendell. The general wants me to form a new commando unit for her, and you sound like the man I need for my company sergeant major. How does that sound?” Vladimir looked expectantly at the older man.

“I don’t know, sir. Why would you want an old guy like me for some hotshot new unit?”

“I’ll need someone with experience to keep the young guy I’ll probably have to eventually put in charge in line, show him how it’s done.” Vladimir grinned, “Besides, you look like the sort of man I can count on when it all turns to crap.”

The sergeant raised his eyebrows, “Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Well, captain, you’ve got this old geezer, if you want him.”

Vladimir extended his hand, “Welcome to the team, sergeant.” They shook hands. Vladimir could feel the calluses on the sergeant’s hand from many years of using sword and spear rasp against the ones on his own.

Shortly thereafter, just after Vladimir had finished his breakfast, Victoria entered the mess tent. Looking around, she spotted him and walked briskly over to him. Nodding curtly to William, she turned to Vladimir, “General Voln sent me to get you. She said she wants to talk to you before you start picking out troops for the unit.”

Vladimir smiled, “Too late for that. Victoria, I’ve finally found a new sergeant major for the company; meet Sergeant Major William Morell. William, this is Victoria, my mage.”

Victoria extended her pale, slender hand and shook the sergeant’s. The firmness of her grip and the sword calluses on her palm and fingers seemed to startle the older man. However, when he looked up into her bright green eyes and saw the resolve there, he no longer seemed as surprised. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sergeant,” she said with a slight smile.

“Nice to meet you too, ma’am.”

She turned back to Vladimir, “The general said it was somewhat urgent.”

“Well, let’s go, then.” Vladimir rose from the bench, “William, I want you to come with us.”

“Yes sir,” he stood as well, easily swinging his legs over the bench.

They left the mess tent, walking out into the muddy graveled lanes of the camp. Soldiers rushed back and forth, leading horses, carrying supplies, and marching by in formation. “What’s going on?” Vladimir asked Victoria.

“I don’t know. The general didn’t tell me anything.” Victoria shrugged.

“Best not be late; let’s hurry.” He took off at a jog, and the other two followed, the clank of armor and weapons lost under the clamor around them.

* * *


When they arrived at the general’s tent a few minutes later, the sentry held the flap open for them. They stopped just inside to clean off their boots and surveying the gathered officers. General Voln and Archmage Winters were in their customary places behind the table. General Azrielle Lessando, commander of the Steel Legion sat to her left, wearing Mithral chain mail. Her mage and twin sister, Kasey Lessando, was seated to her left and another woman stood behind them. Continuing around the table, Colonel Seref was next with Crimson Cloak standing behind him. Vladimir recognized the man two seats to the right of the general as Colonel Averes, the commander of the legion’s cavalry unit. His mage, Shapeshifter, stood behind his chair. To his right was the temporary commander of the first regiment, Major Murray, and his temporary mage, Yaziria.

All of the other colonels who commanded the regiments stationed at the pass from both the King’s Own Legion and the Steel Legion sat at the table with their regimental mages standing behind them. Along with the lieutenant generals, they filled all of the chairs but the one immediately to the right of General Voln. Vladimir even saw the colonels that commanded the artillery and support units at the table.

The general gestured for him to take the last chair. Colonel Seref, Colonel Averes, and several other officers and mages nodding greetings to him as Vladimir made his way around the heavy wood table. As he sat in the high-backed oak chair at the general’s right hand, he realized how important this new unit must be.

Alexa smiled at him as he took his place. “Now that we’re all assembled, we can begin.” She scanned the gathered officers and mages, her eyes coming to rest on Vladimir last. “As most of you already know, the main reason we’re here is to stop the Zhuravi incursions on our territory and protect the outlying farms and villages. Due to the presence of this fort in the only major clear pass at this time of year, we have been fairly successful. However, a message from the capital just arrived, with the latest intelligence report. It seems that a group of Zhuravi soldiers is attempting to infiltrate through the Barrier Range by way of the underground passageways.” Several of the officers looked surprised; the tunnels under the Barrier Range were said to contain some unknown evil that killed all who entered.

“At the same time, scrying has revealed that the Zhuravi are also launching a major frontal assault through the pass. I’ve sent out orders for all forward units to skirmish with the enemy before falling back. Colonel Tirse, Colonel Buckley, and Colonel Averes, you will form an outer perimeter and slow the Zhuravi advance long enough for the forward units to fall back to the fort. At that point, you will withdraw your own units back here as well.” Glancing at one of the identical dark-haired women to her left, “General Lessando, I’d like you to send Colonel Shepard and Colonel Kolenko with them.” The one in mail nodded her assent.

Alexa turned to Vladimir, “Major Kapov, I want you to command the force I’m sending to stop the underground incursion. Your force will consist of a company of infantry, a company of cavalry, a company of archers, and a company of scouts; you can draw those from Colonel Hasan’s troops. I want you headed out no later than three hours after midday today. You can shake down your units on the march.” Returning her attention to rest of them, she asked, “Now, are there any questions, ladies and gentlemen?”

One of the colonels asked a question about the enemy force composition. Vladimir leaned back in his chair, the wood creaking a little with the movement, and crossed his arms over his chest. Victoria leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Sounds like we’re going to be in the thick of the fighting, after all.”

He turned a little towards her, “That, it does.”

The magic lights suspended near the ceiling of the tent cast a blue-violet glow upon the officers, making plate and mail glint, rings flash, and weapons flash. It gleamed off one of the colonel’s bald scalp and Victoria and Allasra’s golden hair shone.

* * *


A little while later, the general dismissed them, but asked Vladimir, Colonel Hasan, Colonel Averes, and Major Murray to stay.

Alexa looked at Vladimir first, “Do you have anyone you specifically want from first regiment?”

“Just the soldiers that remain from my company, ma’am.”

Her gaze moved to Major Murray, “Do you have any issues with giving them up, and providing a company each of infantry and archers too? I’ve several companies of reinforcements coming in later this week. Your regiment will be one of the first to be assigned some of them.”

“No problem, ma’am.”

“Good; dismissed, major.”

Major Murray saluted, turned smartly on his heel, and left.

Next to the general, Archmage Winters leaned back in her chair, crossing her armored forearms across her chest. She glanced over at Victoria and William standing patiently behind Vladimir and smiled at the mage as she shifted her weight to her other foot.

The general turned to the next officer before her. “Colonel Averes, I want you to give Major Kapov enough soldiers to bring his company up to full strength; all heavy cavalry though. The scouts will come from one of the legion scout companies.” She turned to Vladimir, “Would you like Captain Thompson’s new company?”

Vladimir nodded. “Yes ma’am, I would.”

The two cavalry colonels turned to Vladimir. Colonel Averes asked, “Where do you want your troops assembled, major?”

“Have them gather at my company camp in an hour with full traveling gear.”

Colonel Averes nodded, “I will, major.” Colonel Hasan echoed him. They turned to the general, saluted, and departed.

Alexa leaned back in her chair, mail rustling, and her eyes seemed to lose focus. Next to her, the archmage gestured for the three of them sit.

The rasp of chair legs on the carpeted floor broke the general’s reverie, and she glanced over at them with an apologetic grin. “Sorry, just thinking about troop deployments. Vladimir, I didn’t give the group specifics on something you need to know. Part of the intelligence report was an updated summary of the Zhuravi command structure. As I’m sure you know, the Zhuravi emperor has thirteen commanders called the Uplifted. All of them are powerful magic users, potent fighters, and cunning generals.

“That thing we killed last night was one of them. He was called the Destroyer. As you witnessed and may recall, they’re extremely hard to kill, requiring that they be beheaded and burnt immediately. According to the Intel report, another of these guys commands the group trying to infiltrate through the mountains. Apparently, they call him the Creator. Allasra will tell you more about his powers in a moment, as she has a better understanding of them than I do, but I wanted you to know why this mission is so critical. Now, before she briefs you on him, is there anything else you have questions about, or need me to get for you?” She looked at him expectantly.

Vladimir paused for a moment, thinking. “Perhaps a few light artillery pieces, easily portable by horse, if you could spare them?” He asked, “Oh, and Sergeant Major Morell, also.”

“I know I’ve got a number of light ballistae lying around somewhere, so you can definitely have those.” Alexa looked over at the grizzled sergeant, “As for the sergeant major, what unit are you in?”

He straightened in his chair, “Second company, second regiment, ma’am.”

Alexa turned in her chair, grabbed a sheaf of parchment off the small desk behind her, and began thumbing through them. Finding the one she wanted, she pulled it out and looked it over.

She murmured to herself, “Ten years standard legions…ten more Onyx Legion…fourteen Steel Legion…six years King’s Own.” Alexa looked up, “That’s an impressive resume, William. I don’t see why you shouldn’t serve with Vladimir. You’ll get a promotion to Regimental Sergeant Major too. That’s how big I want this unit to be eventually, so might as well take care of that now.”

William saluted, “Thank you ma’am.”

She smiled at him, “Don’t thank me now; this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Now, Allasra, why don’t you tell the Major about the Uplifted he’s going to face.”

Allasra smiled at her friend. “We don’t know as much about the Creator as he’s a newer one, but this we do know about him. His main power is that of summoning creatures to fight for him; he’s a conjurer of substantial power.”

Victoria interrupted, “If he’s such a powerful conjurer, why didn’t he just teleport the entire force over the Barrier Range?”

“We’re not sure, but Intelligence thinks that’s not his specialty. On the other hand, his orders might have been to march them through the mountains, since Archmage Placer has warded the borders against teleportation. Even and Uplifted isn’t going to force that barrier lightly. Besides, this way we didn’t find out about this until just now. Forcing the wards would have alerted us immediately.” Allasra shrugged, “In any event, the main thing to watch out with him is that he apparently likes to think of himself as a great tactician. He’s used his creatures to try to outflank and outmaneuver our units in the past. Other than that, he’s just as nasty as the guy we took out last night.” She shrugged, “That’s about all we know. Any other questions?”

“No ma’am.”

“Very well then. Major, you should see to your troops. You are dismissed,” Alexa said.

They stood, saluted her, and left the tent, boots whispering across the soft carpets.

* * *


A few minutes later, as the three neared the camp, they could hear the sound of soldiers readying gear for travel. Mail clinked as soldiers tested it, horses stamped their feet as they were saddled, and sergeants barked orders over the controlled chaos.

As the command group entered the camp, most of the activity halted. Lieutenant Kallov walked up to Vladimir and saluted. “Sir, we’re preparing to move out, as per the general’s orders. She sent a runner a little while ago.”

Vladimir nodded, “Very good, Demetri. I want you to work with Sergeant Major Morell to direct the new troops to their units. They should start arriving pretty soon.”

“Yes sir.” The lieutenant turned to the greying Sergeant Major, “Perhaps we can discuss which units we want them in, Sergeant Major?”

“Of course, sir.” William glanced at Vladimir, “With your leave, sir?”

Vladimir nodded, “Carry on, William. Victoria, we need to talk about our route.” He walked over to his tent, boots crunching through snow and mud already churned up by many hooves and boots.

Vladimir held the tent flap for Victoria. She entered and sat on one of the low camp chairs, the canvas and wood creaking under her slight frame. He took the seat opposite her and grabbed a weathered metal bound oak map case from under his cot. Withdrawing a rolled up piece of parchment, he laid it on the folding maple table, drawing the dagger from his belt to weigh down his side of the map.

Victoria pulled one of the matched pair of diamond-studded daggers she wore in boot sheaths to hold down her edge. The sword calluses on her delicate hand rasped across the rough, yellowed parchment of the map as she traced a line west from the fort across the Barrier Range to the capital city of the province of Menzobaria: Ereth Chul.

“That’s about eighty miles, as the dragon flies.” She pointed to the forests and foothills, “and that doesn’t take the terrain into account. It’ll be closer to a hundred twenty on foot, going through the main pass.”

Vladimir nodded, “At least four days march, unless we try to go under the mountains too. Although we risk getting lost, or worse, meeting something in there that doesn’t like us. It’s only a day or two to the railhead, but that’ll eliminate any possibility of heading them off before they reach the city.”

Victoria ran her finger along the mountain range, “Another option is to go through one of the upper passes. Go over the mountains while the enemy crawls under.”

“That might work if all of the passes aren’t blocked.” He leaned back in his chair with a rustle of mail and stared at the map.

The mage thought for a moment. “We could scry ahead to make sure the pass we chose is clear of snow. It could cut over twenty-five miles off, and maybe save us half a day or more.”

Vladimir nodded, but the tent flap opened as he started to reply.

William stuck his head in. “Captain Thompson is here with his troops, sir.”

“Thank you William. Tell him I’ll be out in a moment.”

“Yes sir.” He withdrew, the tent flap waving in the breeze for a moment before falling back.

“So the mountain passes are the way to go?” Vladimir looked at Victoria.

She nodded, “Sounds like it. I’ll scry them on the way, to figure out which route we should take.”

“Good. Let’s not keep Jason waiting.” Grabbing his dagger, Vladimir rose with a clink of plate and went outside, the mage on his heels.

Outside the tent, the noontime sun shone down, glinting off armor and sparkling on the few pieces of jewelry the soldiers wore. They found even more soldiers gathered in the middle of camp when they arrived. Long spears thrust up into the bright blue sky, the sun gleaming off the steel tips and the ash wood shafts. Jason saw Vladimir and Victoria leave the major’s tent together and make their way over to him.

Jason and Vladimir clasped forearms, their metal vambraces clanking together.

“How are you doing today, Jason?”

“Pretty good, sir, and yourself?”

“Alright, I guess.” He paused, looking around at the gathered scout company, “I assume your troops are all ready to go?”

“Yes sir.”

“I expect no less from you,” the major clapped him on the shoulder. “I want them lined up over there.” He gestured with a gauntleted hand toward an area near the palisade.

Jason nodded and started shouting to his sergeants. Mail clanked and horses snorted, sending plumes of mist out into the cold winter air as they moved across the camp.

Vladimir turned at the sound of more hooves clip-clopping on the frozen mud and the tramp of boots on the dirt. It was a company of infantry, longspears and segmented plate gleaming in the sun, large rectangular shields slung across their backs over their backpacks, and short swords hanging at their hips. After them marched a company of archers, longswords at one hip, a quiver of arrows at the other, and bows strapped next to their packs. Behind them rode several platoons of cavalry, somber pennants snapping in the chill breeze.

Vladimir started to turn to Victoria when he noticed another unit of soldiers behind the cavalry. His eyebrows rose as he took in their equipment and uniforms. The unit was about thirty strong and marched in neat ranks. Slung longbows hung from carrying straps below the quivers on their backs over their long mottled cloaks. At their sides were long and short swords hanging from belts fastened around forest green shirts and dark brown trousers. A young woman walked at the head of the column, long dark hair worn lose swirling around her face and blowing across a small scar that marred her pale cheek.

Soldiers poured into the camp, forming up into neat, orderly rows. The infantry and archers took the center, with the cavalry and rangers on the wings. Vladimir called out, “Captains, front and center.”

A middle-aged man on a seemingly unremarkable brown horse rode out from the front of the cavalry unit. Its hooves kicked up little divots of dirt from the churned up central area of the camp. He dismounted in front of Vladimir and saluted. The young woman from the rangers walked up beside him, as did another a young woman from the archers. The commander of the infantry, a middle-aged man, probably in his early forties, joined them. All four of them came to attention in front of Vladimir and saluted. They exchanged brief glances, then the infantry officer stepped forward a little. “Captain Benjamin Halest, first regiment, seventh company, reporting, sir.” His brown hair, cut short, had a fair amount of grey in it, and his face was lined by many years spent in the elements.

Vladimir nodded to him.

The cavalry officer went next. “Captain Justin Pierce, regimental cavalry, fourth company, reporting, sir.” He was tall and slender with light brown hair, and moved gracefully.

He too received a nod from Vladimir.

The young woman from the archers saluted him again. “Captain Annabelle Diego, first regiment, eighth company, reporting, sir.” Her long light-brown hair was tightly braided and fell halfway down her back. A few stray strands blew into her pale face and bright blue eyes.

Vladimir nodded to her as well.

The commander of the rangers braced to attention. “Captain Kristine Douglas, first ranger company, first platoon, reporting, sir.”

Vladimir nodded to her as well, then addressed all of them. “I’m Major Vladimir Kapov, your commanding officer. I’ve heard things about all of you, most of them good, so I’m expecting that you’ll live up to your reputations as competent officers. We need to organize the unit on the march, and we don’t have a lot of time to do so. Captain Pierce, I want you to talk to Lieutenant Kallov and get your troops into units with his. Captain Halest, Captain Diego, Captain Douglas, form your units up next to Captain Thompson’s company. I want everybody to be ready to move out within the next half hour. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012

List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

General Alexa Voln-Age 28
Archmage Allasra Winters-Age 26
Legion Sergeant Major Josephine Herth-Age 27

First Company, First Regiment
Captain Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25
Sergeant Major William Morell-Age 56

First Platoon
Lieutenant Vincent Nekan-Age 27

Second Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26
Platoon Sergeant Brian Jennings-Age 29

Third Platoon
Lieutenant Wilson Atwell-Age 24

Scout Platoon
Lieutenant Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16


Seventh Company, First Regiment
Captain Benjamin Halest-Age 43

Eight Company, First Regiment
Captain Annabelle Diego-Age 22

Fourth Company, Regimental Cavalry
Captain Justin Pierce-Age 29

First Platoon, First Ranger Company
Captain Kristine Douglas-Age 23


"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own

[This message has been edited by General Sajaru (edited 06-30-2014 @ 01:18 PM).]

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 28 June 2014 07:03 EDT (US)     12 / 54       
Excellent. You are setting quite a high standard for yourself- I hope this can continue! Simply outstanding, in both plot, detail, and development.

The nits:
“Captain, you food,” she nodded to him with a smile.

“Captain, your food,” she nodded to him with a smile.
Unless she has a Southern accent...

And somewhere I noticed the word "and" where it should have read "an", but now I cannot find it any more. Methinks you found it and rectified it yourself.

I did notice a definite split in the ages of your officers. Most of the men are older- say 32-40 while the female officers are far younger- 22-30 range. Is this with a purpose, or simply a demonstration of Arbatrosian sexism and reverse favoratism? Not that it distracts from the story, but it does pique one's interest as to why the females seem to be getting promoted fast than the males? Some deeper plot twist of which we are not yet aware?

Also, all soldiers seem to join the military at 16. They start rather young there, eh?

Overall, a very well-told and engaging tale. I am looking forward to more of this.

EDIT: This I forgot to mention- in most modern armies, the top sergeant of a company is the First Sergeant (or equivalent). Sergeants Major are the top sergeants in battalions and above. FYI.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 06-30-2014 @ 10:49 AM).]

General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 30 June 2014 11:40 EDT (US)     13 / 54       
EDIT: This I forgot to mention- in most modern armies, the top sergeant of a company is the First Sergeant (or equivalent). Sergeants Major are the top sergeants in battalions and above. FYI.
Ah yes, the one nit anybody who knows real military ranks will quickly discover. When I wrote this book, I made the decision to utilize a slightly different ranking system among the enlisted personnel:

Private
Corporal
Sergeant
Platoon Sergeant
Company Sergeant Major
Regimental Sergeant Major
Legion Sergeant Major

Instead of the typical E1-9 system the U.S. military uses. It's consistent throughout the book and hopefully won't produce too much confusion amongst those reading it who are familiar with the U.S. system.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 30 June 2014 13:17 EDT (US)     14 / 54       
I did notice a definite split in the ages of your officers. Most of the men are older- say 32-40 while the female officers are far younger- 22-30 range. Is this with a purpose, or simply a demonstration of Arbatrosian sexism and reverse favoratism? Not that it distracts from the story, but it does pique one's interest as to why the females seem to be getting promoted fast than the males? Some deeper plot twist of which we are not yet aware?
I'm not sure where I saw this, but I once read that in an organization with more men than women, especially one as based upon physical prowess as a military one, the female members will tend to be, on average, better (more skillful, talented, etc.) than the average of their male counterparts simply because only exceptional women will be able to meet the requirements. That made sense to me, and the ranks and ages of my characters reflect that line of thought.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 07 July 2014 14:42 EDT (US)     15 / 54       
Sorry for the slow update; got caught up doing 4th stuff. Also, the first four chapters were reviewed and edited by my creative writing teacher in high school; from here on out, this is all work I've done on my own since going to college. Hopefully, it'll pass muster.



Into the Woods

16th of Grakuary, 599
Foothills of the Barrier Mountains

A chill wind swept across the snow-covered plain, the brilliant noontime sun glaring down from a cloudless sky. Ahead, white-peaked mountains towered, their lower slopes covered with trees that joined the forest to the west. The plain extended for miles in every direction, ending in more mountains to the north and continuing out of sight to the east. The horses’ hooves and soldiers’ boots pushed through the fresh snow as the column plodded along.

Sometime later, as night approached, the sun setting behind the mountains to the west, momentarily painting their snowy slopes gold, the column entered the forests at the foot of the mountains. The snow-laden pine boughs and skeletal oak trees swayed and creaked in a biting wind that had changed, once again coming from the north, bringing clouds heavy with snow rolling across the darkened sky.

* * *

The horsemen moved along the snow-dusted forest path, hooves treading down the loamy soil. All around them were the bare trunks of oaks and snow-covered pines. The thin, skeletal branches of the undergrowth that flanked the path rattled in a light chill breeze. Small animals scurried along in the brush and an owl hooted softly overhead.

James pulled on his horse’s reins, squinting through the darkening forest, trying to make out shapes in the gloom. He raised a gloved fist to halt the other men of his team; Lieutenant Thompson, no Captain Thompson now, he thought, had put him in charge of leading a scout team, and he was very conscious of the four soldiers who were following him and relying on him to lead them. One of the more senior men, Grigori Kulikov, rode up beside him, his horse’s hooves crunching dead leaves below a thin layer of snow.

“Sir, what do you see?” He asked, voice a whisper.

“I’m not sure if I’m even seeing anything. Take Tanya and circle around to the left,” James ordered. It felt weird giving commands, particularly to these soldiers, whom he had just met this morning.

The two soldiers put their heels to the flanks of their horses and moved off into the darkness. James motioned the other two soldiers to follow him, then urged his horse forward. Its tack jingled and his weapons clanked with the motion the animal, making him wince inside. Seeing some sort of movement ahead, he tightened his grip on his bow and drew the arrow on the string back a little more, muscles tensing.

* * *

Vladimir turned at the sound of rapid hoof beats behind him, and saw Victoria cantering up the column towards him. He smiled at the mage as she came up beside him. Noting that her pale cheeks had a little more color in them, “Glad to see you’re feeling better now, lass.”

“I just needed some rest. I’m fine now,” Victoria waved off his comment. “Everything looks good at the back of the column.”

“Excellent. The forward scouts should be reporting back shortly.” The two rode along in companionable silence for a few moments, the only sounds the wind in the trees around them, the tramp of the soldiers’ iron studded boots, and the crunch of snow beneath the horses’ hooves.

Suddenly, shouts and the sound of steel ringing against steel erupted ahead of them. They could hear the sound of air cloven by arrows and crossbow bolts and a shout of, “Ambush! Ride, ride!”

The two exchanged a quick glance, then Vladimir began barking orders. “Captain Douglas, move forward, right now. Captain Halest, Captain Diego, form up your companies and start advancing. Captain Pierce, give me your first two platoons. Have Lieutenant Kallov collect your third cavalry platoon and provide flank support for the infantry. Let’s go!”

He touched his heels to Jeremy and cantered forward, the two platoons of cavalry behind him, the clanking of their gear and armor loud in his ears.

* * *

Vladimir cantered along, maneuvering between trees, ducking under branches that sprang out of the darkness, and jumping with Jeremy over fallen logs and undergrowth. Luckily, the magical warhorse had better night vision than he did. Behind him, he could hear the two platoons of cavalry thundering through the brush. Victoria galloped along beside him save for the times when they had to split to go around a tree or clump of underbrush.

Hearing the clash of steel on steel grow louder, the two drew swords and urged their horses to go faster. Jeremy sped up, but Vladimir could feel his unease. Up ahead, they could see a flickering orange light that silhouetted the underbrush and cast the trees’ long shadows on the scattered snow in front of them. All of a sudden, they burst onto a small clearing that had become a field of carnage. Charred and burning bodies were strewn in a circle on the forest floor, while other enemy soldiers lay scattered around, sprawled in pools of blood. A few of his scouts and Zhuravi soldiers were still fighting, their breath steaming in the frigid night air and their swords raising a clangor when they met.

Victoria pointed her hand at the combatants, fingers splayed. Red-orange darts shot out and unerringly struck the enemy soldiers, punching smoking holes in their armor and flesh and leaving them dead on the ground.

Hearing more fighting before them, the two urged their horses onwards, the flames throwing long shadows before them.

* * *

With a curse, James dodged another attack from one of the spearmen that surrounded him, and jerked back on his horse’s reins. Neighing, it reared up, its hooves flailing through the air near one of the spearmen. Waving his spear, he took an involuntary step back and James seized the opportunity. Lashed out with his sword, James caught one of the other spearmen in the face, bone cracking under the blow and blood spraying out of the wound.

A short black-fletched arrow whistled past James from behind and buried itself in another spearman’s chest. Blood spurted out his back and bubbled out of his mouth. It steamed in the chill air as he hit the ground, a haze in the darkness. The last spearman, witnessing the demise of his compatriots, turned and ran.

James urged his horse after him, hooves thundering across the forest floor. Drawing even with the spearman, he swung his sword down, cutting the man from shoulder to hip. Pulling up, he sat for a moment, catching his breath. Fat snowflakes drifted down from black clouds, dusting his hair and shoulders. He shook it off irritably, not wanting it to gather. The icy north wind spun the snow into swirls and patterns as it fell.

A crossbow bolt whirred past James’s head, uncomfortably close. Another struck his horse in the chest. It whinnied in agony and fell, snorting blood from its mouth and nostrils in great streams of red. James kicked his feet free of the stirrups and leapt away from his horse as it hit the ground. He stumbled forward a few steps to recover. Then he was turning his stumble into a dive as an axe swept towards him. He heard the blade whistle through the air above his head as he hit the muddy ground.

James rolled onto his back just as the enemy soldier raised his axe for a killing blow. Hooves thundered behind the soldier and a bright blade swung down out of the gloom, decapitating the man. The axe thumped down next to his severed head before the corpse hit the ground.

James pushed himself onto his elbows to see Captain Thompson grinning down at him. “Good to see you, James. What’re you doing down on the ground there? Aren’t you supposed to be in command here?” He extended his hand to James.

Grabbing the captain’s forearm, James pulled himself to his feet. All around them, scouts and enemy soldiers clashed. However, James heard a shuffling, tramping sound coming from the south. Peering through the shifting shadows cast by the fires behind him, he could just make out a mass of troops marching through the woods, red banners snapping in the wind.

“Um. Captain, I think we’ve got a problem,” James said, voice higher than normal, pointing at the approaching enemy troops.

Jason looked in that direction, “Yep, I’d have to say we do.” His tone, in contrast, was rather calm. Glancing around at the many small skirmishes swirling around them, he shouted, “Men, form up! To James, “Sergeant, with me; we’ve got to get our men together before they get here.”

Suddenly from behind them, they heard the clatter of hooves. The major and Victoria appeared out of the darkness leading two platoons of cavalry. They drew up and surveyed the battling soldiers.

The major turned to Jason, grinning, “Looks like you’re in a spot of trouble, Captain.”

“Yes sir, it looks like we might be.” Turning serious, Jason went on, “I’d say there are at least five hundred of them over there.”

“Well, we’ll just have to do something about that, won’t we?” Turning to Victoria with a grin, Vladimir inquired, “Lass, are you just going to sit there, or are you actually going to do something about them?”

Returning his grin, Victoria glanced around. “You might want to cover your eyes,” she warned, then let loose with a bolt of fire from each hand. The cold air sizzled with the energy of the spells’ passage. Driven by the wind, the smell of scorched hair and burn flesh was nearly overwhelming when they lowered their arms from their faces. A couple of the junior scouts were gagging on the stench.

The sight that greeted them was welcome, however; most of the Zhuravi in the center company, including the captain, were lying on the ground, bodies charred beyond recognition. Nonetheless, the remaining men in the company formed back up and continued to march forward.

“They’re still coming, sir,” Jason said, slightly alarmed now.

“Well, then it’s probably a good thing that we have a few surprises in store for them,” the major remarked, grinning.

“That fast?” Jason inquired, eyebrows raised.

“We had to use some teleportation spells, but we got it done,” Victoria commented. “Now we’ll see if it worked.”

Behind them, the rest of the unit marched into position, boots tramping on the leaf and snow covered forest floor. They could hear Sargent Morell’s bellow, “Form up and present spears! Archers stand ready.” The infantry spread out and formed a four deep line, shields held at the ready and spears braced. The archers moved into ranks behind them and stood prepared to fire. Captain Diego’s clear soprano cut through the din, “Archers! Draw…aim…loose!”

The enemy soldiers advanced through the trees, their formations losing cohesion as they went around various obstacles. At the command of ‘loose’, the archer company released their arrows to go whistling through the air, arcing up through the darkness to fall among the enemy in a deadly rain of wood and steel.

Shouting erupted from the enemy formation as the arrow storm fell among them, the black-fletched yard-long arrows slamming into heavy shields and punching through chainmail and flesh with impunity. Roughly a quarter of the men in the target company slumped to the ground, dead or wounded. The screams of the injured pierced the chill air, but the enemy continued their advance.

James looked around for the men from his team and spotted two of them, Grigori and Tanya, making their way towards him, the more senior man supporting the woman, helping her limp along. James hurried over to them and helped support the injured soldier. “We need to get her to a medic; she’s hurt.” The woman had a gash down her leg nine inches long and quite deep. Blood flowed freely out of the wound, soaking her pant leg and filling her boot. “Captain, we need a medic,” James shouted at Jason.

“The medical team is over there,” Jason yelled back, pointing towards a cluster of trees to one side.

James acknowledged the reply, and the three of them headed for the grove, boots slipping and sliding through the mud.

* * *

The archers loosed three more volleys as the Zhuravi advanced to within twenty feet. At that point, the enemy stopped, lowered their spears, and raised their red painted shields with a shout. The one company the archers had been focused on was mostly strewn in piles across the forest floor, sable-fletched arrows protruding from the dead and wounded. The light snow drifting down from the heavens had already begun to cover them, living and dead alike.

At the shout, Jason thought he saw movement behind the enemy, off to the right. He started to speak, but stopped when he realized that the figures rising out of the underbrush were the ranger platoon.

Jason turned to Victoria, “I suppose Captain Douglas’s platoon is one of your surprises?”

Victoria grinned, “Yes. But just one of them.” With that, she pulled a small stone out of a belt pouch. It glowed with a red pulsating light, and when she whispered a word to it, the stone shot out of her hand. Flying up into the air, it let out a dazzling shower of red sparks before returning to her hand.

From his left, Jason heard a deep tung, and half a dozen ballista bolts shot through the forest, their steel tips glinting in the flickering fires that backlit them. The four-foot missiles slashed into the enemy formation, killing several men each, skewering them like meat for shish kebabs.

The rangers bent their bows and fired as rapidly as possible, many of them letting fly an arrow every other second or even faster. Their shots cut a swath into the back of the enemy formation, striking men in the back, blasting through their armor without stopping, unhindered by shields. Confused, the enemy soldiers began to turn, trying to present their shields to the new threat. Their officers were shouting conflicting orders, and the enemy formation began to break up into chaos.

Vladimir grinned at Victoria and ordered, “Cavalry! Charge!”

The company of heavy cavalry urged their horses into motion. The started at a walk, but quickly moved up to a trot, then a canter, and, by the time they were upon the enemy formation, a full gallop. The heavily armored horses and riders hit the enemy infantry like a sledgehammer, shattering their formation. Men were thrown aside as the massive steal barded steeds blasted through the enemy lines. Lances threw up sprays of blood when they broke armor and pierced flesh.

Vladimir hacked and slashed at the Zhuravi infantry as he rode through them, and Jeremy’s iron-shod hooves trampled others into the ground. Blood spurted up around him, covering his arm and steaming in the chill air. Vladimir swung his sword down, shattering a man’s shield, cleaving through the arm beneath, and continuing on, through his mail and into his chest, splashing blood onto the forest floor. Jeremy’s forward motion wrenched the blade out of the man, sending more blood flying.

Breaking through the enemy, the cavalry slowed and wheeled around to face the enemy. Jason could hear the rasp of metal upon metal as they drew swords, maces, and axes to replace their broken lances. Captain Halest bellowed the command for the infantry to advance and they began moving forward, boots churning up the muddy ground as they marched in near perfect time over the uneven ground, keeping a tight formation even as they marched around the trees and through undergrowth.

The black banner at the center of the line unfurled, twisting and snapping in the snow-filled air. Its silver stars, bronze daggers, and gold coins sparkled in the light of the fires. The ballistae fired again, bolts wreaking havoc in the enemy formation, hewing men down in rows.

Bewildered, outnumbered, and outmaneuvered, the Zhuravi began to flee, abandoning all semblance of formation and scattering into the darkness. In their panic and confusion, some even ran towards the waiting Arbatrosian shield-wall, where they were quickly cut down, leaving a pile of bodies in front of the infantry line.

Vladimir signaled the cavalry, motioning for them to pursue the fleeing enemy. Beside him, Victoria gestured sharply and a bolt of fire shot out, incinerating one man, then jumping to another and another, leaving a string of charred corpses in its wake.

“Split up into teams of five. I don’t want anyone escaping,” Jason called to his remaining scouts. Gathering his troops, he urged his horse forward after a clump of running men. Drawing his sword, Jason swept it across, cleanly decapitating one of them. Blood gouted up into the chill air, almost black in the darkness. He reversed his blade, catching another man in the back, chainmail links popping and shattering beneath his sword before it bit into the flesh beneath.

Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012

List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

Special Detachment, First Regiment
Major Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25
Sergeant Major William Morell-Age 56

Seventh Company, First Regiment
Captain Benjamin Halest-Age 43

Eight Company, First Regiment
Captain Annabelle Diego-Age 22

Fourth Company, Regimental Cavalry
Captain Justin Pierce-Age 29

First Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26

Regimental Scout Company
Captain Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16

First Platoon, First Ranger Company
Captain Kristine Douglas-Age 23

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own

[This message has been edited by General Sajaru (edited 07-08-2014 @ 10:22 AM).]

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08 July 2014 06:30 EDT (US)     16 / 54       
Nice battle!

I thoroughly enjoyed this installment. It meets the same high standards you set in the previous ones, and takes the fighting to the combined arms level. Well done!

Only one nit, and that might not even be a nit- Jason Thompson is still listed as a lieutenant in the character list below. Either he was given command as a lieutenant while awaiting the official recognition, or he is filling in for some captain to take over, or the update had not reached that far down yet.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 08 July 2014 10:23 EDT (US)     17 / 54       
Oops. I just copy/pasted and missed changing that.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 16 July 2014 15:33 EDT (US)     18 / 54       
New chapter:

More Troops

16th of Grakuary, 599
Foothills of the Barrier Mountains

The fire in the middle of the circle of officers snapped and popped, keeping the biting night air at bay, and the sweet smelling pine drifted through the air. Sitting on a log, Vladimir looked around at the gathered officers. To his left was William, his grey eyes reflecting the firelight as he sat, stroking his mustache and sipping a mug of mulled cider. Next to him were Kristine Douglas and her platoon sergeant, a dark-haired, dusky-skinned young woman named Catherine Ross. The two were talking softly and Kristine was honing the edge of a dagger.

To their left sat Justin Pierce, mending a piece of tack, next to his mage, Jenny Gilbert, a tall brunette in loose black robes with a heavily jeweled gold bracelet on her left wrist. Next to them sat Benjamin, polishing his plate armor, with Ivo, his mage, a tall gaunt man, sitting beside him considering a scroll by a small witchlight, which illuminated his long face.

Annabelle Diego and her mage, Arkana, a slight young woman with a pale face surrounded by short blonde hair, walked up and sat to Benjamin’s left. Annabelle greeting him quietly then pulled several arrows out of her quiver and started fixing the fletching on one of them. She and Arkana conversed in quiet voices as she worked.

For the first time that evening, the sky above them was clear and cloudless, and a nearly full moon shone down through the branches, shedding a silvery light that merged with the rosy glow from the fire that pushed back the darkness.

On the log to Vladimir’s right sat Jason and Octavia. Jason sat staring into the fire, a pewter mug of mulled cider in his hands, still mostly full and still steaming slightly in the cold night air. The blonde mage was playing with a small silver trinket, twirling it around between her slender fingers.

Tree branches heavy with snow creaked and swayed in the chill north wind. All around them were the sounds of the soldiers talking, eating, cleaning armor and weapons, and getting ready for bed. The unit flag in the center of the camp snapped in the breeze.

Victoria walked up to the circle of officers, sat down next to Vladimir on the log, her light mesh torso armor rustling softly, and gave him a smile. Returning her smile, he turned to the assembled officers, “Now that we’re all here, let’s begin. William, what’s our casualty situation?”

“We lost six men from the scouts and two from the cavalry. At least two dozen scouts are in the medics’ care, as are nine from the cavalry, three from the infantry and one from the rangers. They should all recover and be well enough to ride tomorrow morning.” He paused, “We also lost almost forty horses. We’ve got the replacements, but that’s almost half of the reserve herd.”

“Good. We’ll be out of the forest by midday tomorrow and to the approach to the pass by nightfall. We should be over the pass by the night after, and, if all goes well, in the capital the night after that.” He looked around, “Jason, Kristine, keep your men out, and keep them alert; I don’t want to walk into any traps. Your men did well tonight,” broadening his gaze, “all your men did well; make sure they know that.”

Beside him, Victoria chimed in, “And the women too.”

He grinned, “And the women too. We shouldn’t forget them,” he said, nudging her gently. Around the fire, the other female officers returned his smile.

* * *

Cassandra Roseti tucked a lock of auburn hair behind her ear and peered through the darkness, trying to tell if there was any movement in the woods. A chill wind cut through her cloak and leather-wrapped scale, made the trees creak and groan, and the bushes rustle. Deciding to take a closer look, she moved forward towards through the brush, her soft-soled boots make in little sound, even on the snow and leaf-covered forest floor.

Slipping around a tree and crawling through the wet undergrowth, she heard the soft tramp of boots, patter of hooves, and creak of wagons on a forest trail up that intersected the one she and her partner were assigned to watch. Ever so slowly, she raised her head above the level of the bush she hid behind, and stifled a gasp as she saw row upon row of enemy troops marching past. In the darkness, she was unable to make out any emblems or insignia, and heavy cloaks obscured their armor from view.

Hearing a slight noise to her left, she ducked down and began to slink backwards, carefully watching each movement, making sure not to touch any of the bushes and shrubs around her. The noise of the wind mostly covered the slight sounds of her movement; the clink of the buckles on her belt, the clack of arrows in her quiver, and the clunk of her greaves and bracers on rocks.

Feeling she had moved far enough away that the enemy scouts would not spot her, Cassandra rose to a crouch and began moving more rapidly through the brush. Glancing back, she thought she saw a movement in the forest behind her. Increasing her pace, she ducked under branches and past bushes, the cold night air whipping her hair up around her face.

Impatiently brushing her long locks out of her eyes, she rose from her crouch and, hearing an arrow whistle past her head and hit a nearby tree, she took off at a sprint. Only instinct and all her training allowed her to avoid the snow-laden tree branches that loomed out of the night and threatened to leave her lying stunned on the ground.

* * *

Sitting around the fire, the officers suddenly heard the crackle of brush and the crunch of snow underfoot, sending all their hands to sword hilts or into casting positions. They relaxed a little as one of the sentries, a youthful chestnut-haired ranger, ran up to their gathering, panting. She snapped to attention, saluted, and then tried to catch her breath.

“Cassandra, what’s the matter?” Kristine asked, a look of concern passing over her face.

The young woman took three panting breaths and said, “There’s a large column of troops coming through the forest; heavy infantry and heavy cavalry. I was unable to estimate force strength; I couldn’t get too close; their scouts were really good, ma’am.”

The wind whistled through the trees, rattling bare, snow-heavy branches and rustling needles on the evergreens. Old tree trunks swayed with the gusts, creaking in the night.

Vladimir and Victoria exchanged glances and he asked, “Did you get a good look at their banners?”

“No sir; they weren’t flying any, and it was too dark to see any heraldry.” Cassandra looked slightly confused, “Why would any of our troops be moving without banners?”

All the leaders exchanged tight grins and sergeant Morell muttered, “Smart lass.”

“If they weren’t sure who prevailed in our battle here or thought there might be more of the enemy out there, not flying banners might give them a few moments to prepare for combat,” Vladimir replied.

“Oh, I didn’t think about that, sir,” was all she said.

“That’s why we’re the officers and you’re still just a private; we’ve been doing this a little longer than you have.” Victoria softened the remark with a smile.

Vladimir brought the group back to the topic at hand, “We should move out to meet them; the Zhuravi don’t usually use very many heavy cavalry, but we should be on our guard anyway. William, get the men ready. Kristine, Catherine, get your men–and women–pulled in close. Jason, Justin, I want you both to have a platoon standing by their horses. Benjamin, Annabelle, same for you.”

He received nods and yes sirs, and the officers dispersed at a jog, boots crunching in the snow and dead leaves on the forest floor. Cassandra started to leave, but Victoria motioned for her to stay.

Vladimir pulled out a curious-looking map of the forest and set it on a rock, weighing one end down with a dagger. Victoria drew one of hers to hold down the other side of the heavy parchment map with lines snaking across it.

“What kind of map it that?” Cassandra asked.

“It’s a topographical map; it shows the elevation of the terrain above a fixed point. For all maps in the kingdom, that point is the King’s Rock. We’re here,” he pointed to the map, the callouses on his finger rasping on the parchment, “Which path are they coming up?”

Cassandra studied the map for a moment, trying to recall her hurried turnings on the way back to camp. Unconsciously, she tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, “I was assigned to watch this trail,” she said, tracing a course through one of the valleys with a slender finger, “but my partner and I moved up to this point,” her finger described a route up the valley, “and we were watching this trail,” she pointed to another valley perpendicular to the first.

“That’s when I heard them, so I moved up to take a closer look. Their scouts spotted me; one of them almost killed me with an arrow when I started back to tell you about them.” She shuddered slightly, recalling unpleasant whistle of cloven air as the arrow had flown past her head.

“What sort of arrow was it?” Victoria asked, leaning forward and studying the map meditatively, running a hand through her streaked golden hair.

Cassandra thought back and recalled that she had not heard the telltale click of a crossbow, “I think it was a longbow or short bow, but I can’t be sure.”

Vladimir glanced over at Victoria, “The Zhuravi only use crossbows, so it was probably some of ours.”

Victoria grinned at him, “I’ll bet whoever did that’ll be a tad bit embarrassed when they find out who it was they were shooting at.”

“I’ll bet,” he returned the grin, “Okay, it sounds like everybody’s ready. Cassandra, come with us.”

* * *

Trees shifted overhead and some snow drifted down off the branches, settling into Captain Natalie Sanchez’s long dark hair and onto the shoulders of her fur lined black cloak. Fabric rustling, she glanced back down the column, one of her rings allowing her to see well even in the pale moonlight that shone through the skeletal branches above. The soldiers were moving slowly, the dim light barely enough to allow them to move along the uneven trail without tripping over any roots. This night marching is crazy, Natalie thought, most of the men can barely see their hand in front of their face, let alone the trail.

Rose walked close beside Natalie, her soft boots and form-fitting leather and chain armor making little sound. The worn black leather hilt of her bastard sword stuck up over her shoulder, and a pair of wands were stuck through her belt. Her long dark-brown hair was in a warrior braid down her back, and a ring set with a large ruby glinted on her pale finger. Her dark clothing seemed to absorb light, as did her blued-steel vambraces.

Natalie glanced over at Rose, “Are you picking up anything from up ahead?”

“I’m sensing a major magic source from down the trail one of our scouts thought they saw a sentry on, Nat. I’d have to say it’s either an Uplifted or Victoria. If it’s her, though, she’s way more powerful than I would have thought; if my spell is working properly, they say she’d be almost as good as Archmage Winters.” Rose whispered a few more words to refine the spell and inhaled sharply.

Natalie looked over at her sharply. Concerned, she asked, “What is it Rosie?”

“It must be them; I just checked to see if there’s any good over there, and I must have picked up Major Kapov; his aura is as powerful as that of a minor angel.” She shook her head, “I didn’t know he was that formidable.”

“Well, there is a reason he’s in command of this mission,” she grumbled.

Rose elbowed her playfully, “Still upset you didn’t get the command? You know he has quite a bit more seniority than you do.”

“I know, but he sounds like a stick in the mud,” she grinned at Rose, “You know I don’t like it when people crimp my style.”

“And yet you’re still in the army, Nat. I’ve always wondered at that decision.”

All around them, a chill wind rustled the bushes and trees, causing more snow to float down onto the trail. Natalie was acutely aware of the noise the cavalry was making, with the heavy warhorses snorting and pawing as their riders led them along, the clink of tack and barding adding to the clanking of the soldiers’ plate armor. Even louder were the supply wagons near the center of the column; even with cloth wrapped around their wheels, they still creaked and groaned as they moved over the uneven trail.

Natalie’s reply was interrupted by the arrival of her second in command, Emma Athney, and Emma’s mage, Rachel Hawk. Emma wore the mail and segmented plate of the infantry, but the blued steel pauldrons and adamantine vambraces inlayed with delicate gold patterns and pair of longswords strapped diagonally across her back set her apart from the rest of the infantry, as did her delicate features, large hazel eyes, and long light brown hair she wore loosely tied back.

Her mage and best friend, Rachel, wore tight leather leggings, a low-cut dark green blouse heavily embroidered with gold and black thread, and black leather bracers set with adamantine rings. Her brown highlighted blonde hair was up in a knot secured with a small crystal wand that sparkled slightly in the moonlight. Long and short swords hung on the silver studded black leather belt around her slim waist.

“Ma’am, there’s somebody on the trail up ahead. I halted the forward units as I came back,” Emma reported in a whisper.

“Good thinking. Rose, who is it?” She looked over at her mage.

Rose refocused on her spells, biting her lip as she concentrated. “It’s definitely the major and Victoria,” she said, “and some of their other officers.”

“Let’s not keep the major waiting, then,” Natalie said.

* * *

Vladimir stood at the edge of the small clearing on the trail, his helmet under his arm, hidden in the shadows cast by the silver moon high in the sky above. Beside him, Victoria whispered a quick incantation and made a short motion with her hand.

He glanced over at her, and then past her to Cassandra, who stood, bow at the ready, unconsciously stroking the fletching of the arrow on laid across its string. To the other side, he was aware of William, standing in his plate, longspear and shield at the ready.

“They just stopped a ways back; someone with enhanced vision must’ve spotted us,” she whispered to him. She cast another spell and reported, “Their officers are making their way to the front; they’ve probably figured out it’s us.”

A few moments later, four women walked out into the clearing. The one in front had dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and an olive complexion. She wore split-skirt knee-length adamantine leaf-mail, blued-steel vambraces, pauldrons, and greaves, a pair of slightly curved swords with tasseled hilts hanging off her belt, and a long black cloak lined with silver laced black fur.

Vladimir stepped out of the shadows, the rest of his people following, Cassandra replacing her arrow in its quiver.

* * *

Natalie saw a man step out into the clearing, followed by another man and two women. The first man was fairly tall, broad-shouldered, and clean-shaven with short black hair and pale blue eyes. He wore the standard full plate of the cavalry, but his breastplate had the emblem of the King’s Own engraved on the left side of his chest and a cross with a sword below it, on the right. The longsword that swung from his left hip had silver wire wrapped over the black leather of the hilt, as did the matching dagger that hung at his other.

The woman next to him caught Natalie’s eye as she advanced; she had long blonde hair gathered into a loose ponytail, striking green eyes, and a narrow, pale face. She wore light mesh body armor encased in black leather over a form-fitting blood red silk shirt and tight black leather pants, with soft black leather boots, and steel vambraces inlaid with diamonds and silver filigree. A plain-looking longsword with a dark gem set in its pommel hung from her belt, and a pair of daggers stuck out of the tops of her boots, the diamonds in their hilts sparkling in the moonlight.

The other man wore standard infantry armor, had mostly grey hair, and held the heavy shield and spear of an infantryman with the ease of long practice. The woman who stood next to him was quite young. She wore the green and brown of a ranger and held a longbow loosely in her hand.

* * *

The two groups moved across the clearing, boots crunching slightly on the snow-covered forest floor. Vladimir and Natalie stepped out in front of their respective groups and looked each other over. She came to attention and gave him a crisp salute, “Captain Natalie Sanchez, first company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion, bringing reinforcements and dispatches from General Voln, Major Kapov.”

He returned her salute. “May I see the dispatches, Captain?”

She nodded, pulled a sealed envelope out of a pocket in her cloak, and handed it to him.

He took it, thanked her, examined the seal, whispered a few words, and brought it to his lips. The seal broke open without a sound. He pulled out a few pieces of parchment. He motioned to Victoria, who immediately conjured a light. She peered over his shoulder as he read. The two exchanged glances and he turned back to Natalie.

Behind him, all of his soldiers had formed up in neat rows, watching the officers talk.

“Captain Sanchez, I want you to bring the rest of your commanders up so I can meet them and look over their men. Then I want them to get settled in the camp with the rest of my men,” Vladimir ordered.

“Yes sir,” she replied then turned to her mage, “Rosie, could you relay the message to the others?”

She nodded her reply and whispered a few words.

“May I see your hands?” He asked Natalie.

“Yes sir,” slightly surprised, she stepped up to him, extending her hands, palm up.

He took them, moving closer to her, and ran his fingers across the many sword-callouses on her palms. Then he turned them over and noted the intricate ring made of silver wire twisted together and the small scars from years of sword and dagger practice. She gave him a slightly surprised look, and asked him lightly, “Do you inspect the hands of all your potential officers?”

“No, just those I think I’m going to be working with for a long time.” He replied somewhat absently. She arched one delicate eyebrow, but he didn’t notice.

Continuing his study, he noted a larger scar that marred her olive skin with white scar tissue; it started near the middle of the back of her hand and ran up her arm, disappearing under her vambraces. Turning her hand, he noticed a second scar on the skin below her thumb in the shape of a cross. Looking up, he studied her face more closely and noticed another slender scar running along her cheekbone. His gaze continuing to move up, he met her dark brown eyes.

Releasing her hands, he stepped back and said, “Nice to meet you, Captain Sanchez. Now, let me introduce some of my officers.” He gestured to his mage, “This is my company mage,” he stopped himself, “no, now regimental mage, Victoria.”

Natalie could hear the surprise in his voice, and said, “Congratulations on the promotion, sir, ma’am. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

The two women shook hands, taking each other’s measure. Natalie noticed the callouses on the other woman’s slender hands, and reconsidered her initial opinion of the slender blonde mage’s fighting ability.

Victoria grinned, “You can just call me Victoria, Captain Sanchez.”

Natalie returned the smile, “Then you’ll have to call me Natalie.”

Jason and Octavia walked up, leading the rest of his officers. Vladimir continued, “This is Sergeant Major Morell, my regimental sergeant major.” He proceeded to present the rest of his officers.

After finishing, he turned to Cassandra, “And this is Cassandra Roseti, of the first ranger company, first platoon, second squad, who also happens to almost have been killed while scouting your column.”

Natalie grinned at the young woman, “Ah, so that’s who Jenna almost shot; she almost never misses, so she was most unhappy that she didn’t kill you.”

By that time, all of Natalie’s troops had reached the area around the clearing, and her officers moved forward.

She gestured to Rose, “This is Rose, my company mage.”

Emma stepped forward and saluted him, “Captain Emma Athney, second company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. This is my company mage, Rachel Hawk.” She pointed to Rachel.

A tall slender man with short light brown hair and full plate stepped forward, “Captain Victor Marsters, third company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. My mage, Ginerva Marks.” She was a small woman with short, spiky hair, and wore a plain shirt and trousers, with a pair of maces strapped across her back.

The next officer was a taller young woman with medium brown hair, in full plate as well, “Captain Hannah Rockwell, seventh company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. Verity, my mage,” was small young woman with orange hair, a Mithral shirt, and a plain longsword.

Next to step forward was a slender dark-haired young woman in studded leather armor with a longbow strapped to her back, “Captain Jenna Miskovitz, thirteenth company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. My mage, Evelyn Graham,” was an average height young woman with wavy black hair in black leather armor with large jeweled silver bracelets.

Resting her hand on Cassandra’s shoulder Victoria said, “So you’re the one who almost shot Cassandra,” to the young captain.

Jenna blushed, looked down, and said, “Yes ma’am,” softly.

Vladimir and William started chuckling, and Victoria smiled and said to Natalie, “Your captains are so meek; I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Natalie returned the grin, “They’re being properly respectful when dealing with their commanding officers.”

“Do I have that fearsome a reputation?” Victoria asked, feigning surprise.

“You’re only the most powerful mage in the Legion except for Archmage Winters, and most people have heard the stories about how you and the Colonel together slaughter most of the Zhuravi soldiers you’ve fought during this campaign,” she replied in a mock-serious tone.

Seeing the young captain’s continued embarrassment, Victoria turned to smile at Jenna, “Don’t worry Captain Miskovitz, we’re just giving you a hard time.”

The younger woman looked up and shyly returned her smile.

The last officer was another young woman, but she wore a curious type of armor; it was made of small Mithral plates sewn onto a leather vest. A thin-bladed sword with a basket hilt hung from her belt. “Captain Glenvara Lake, eighteenth company, first regiment, King’s Own Legion. My mage, Daphne.” She was a young woman with medium brown hair tied back in a tight bun, and wore similar armor over a short robe and trousers. She also had a similar sword on her belt.

Vladimir looked the officers and their troops over, his vision enhanced by one of Victoria’s spells. Despite the night march, they still formed up into well-disciplined rows at their sergeants’ commands.

“They look like they’re in good condition, considering circumstances,” he commented to Natalie.

She nodded, “Not to boast, sir, but the general sent you some of the Legion’s best.”

“It seems like that’s the case. Get your men to set up camp with the rest of them, then bring Emma and both your mages and meet me in my tent,” Vladimir ordered.

“Yes sir,” she said, saluted, and moved back to her troops, shouting orders as she did so.

* * *

“What did you think of Natalie?” Victoria asked as the two made their way back to his tent.

“I doubt the two of you will have any problem getting along,” he replied with a grin.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She gave him a look.

“Just that when the two of you were teasing Captain Miskovitz, it was as if you were already old friends. Besides, you’re the rebellious one, and I’m the conservative one.”

She put on an air of mock-indignation, “Me, the rebel?” Then she started laughing.

“You know what I mean,” he said, hitting her lightly on the arm, “Besides, you’re not her direct superior, I am.”

“I know, but you shouldn’t worry; she seems like she knows what she’s doing.”

They walked the rest of the way back to his tent in silence, but as they entered, she asked, “By the way, what did her hands tell you?”

“She’s been a fighter all her life; she had the distinctive marks of extensive sword practice. She also had some other scars, old ones, probably fifteen years or more,” he said, frowning thoughtfully.

“But she’s my age; that would mean that she got them when she was a child.” Victoria looked slightly puzzled.

“I guess her childhood wasn’t all light and laughter then,” he replied with a grim smile.

* * *

Natalie hurried through the camp toward the colonel’s pavilion, Rose, Emma, and Rachel following her. The chill night wind tugged at her cloak and blew a stray strand of hair around her face. Reaching the plain black tent with the sunburst of the King’s Own embroidered on the side, she pushed open the flap and entered.

Vladimir, Victoria, and William were seated on camp chairs behind a folding maple table, upon which there was a pitcher that steamed slightly in addition to several pewter glasses. A ball of light floating near the ceiling lit the tent with a gentle glow. Motioning for them to be seated, Vladimir gestured to the cups, “Cider anyone?” Receiving nods, he poured them each a glass and pushed them across the table.

Natalie held the cup in both hands, grateful for its warmth, and, while she was waiting for the colonel to start speaking, surreptitiously glanced around the tent. Everything in it spoke of a disciplined lifestyle, from the simple camp cot with the blankets carefully folded to the saddlebags neatly arranged on the floor. Studying the colonel, she saw that same discipline, from the way he sat up straight in his chair to the cut of his hair and clean-shaven face.

“Captain Sanchez, Captain Athney, as you know, the two of you were given the command of the first two companies of this regiment, which means two things. First, after Victoria and William, the two of you are my most important officers, so we’ll be seeing each other a lot in the near future,” he grinned. “Second, the general must think you and your men must be some of the Legion’s best; from your performance in getting here, it seems that she’s right. Now, what regiments did the general pull you from?”

Natalie replied, “My unit was first company, second regiment, and Emma’s was second from third regiment.”

William leaned forward, studying her closely, “Have I met you before, Captain?”

“Maybe,” she thought for a moment, “wait a second, weren’t you that CSM that transferred into second company a few months ago?”

“Yes, that would be me,” William answered then laughed as her jaw dropped and stared at him, speechless for a moment.

Finding her voice, she said, “Whoa, aren’t you the guy who totally destroyed Monique during training?”

“Yes, once again, that would be me; she’s a pretty good fighter, but not as good as you are,” William responded, still smiling.

Natalie gave him a sharp look, surprised that the old man knew her, “You’ve been watching me?”

“Of course; everyone who’s in the practice field watches you when you and Emma train. The two of you are some of the best fighters in the Legion,” he paused. “Probably almost as good as I am, though,” he said with a smile.

“Why thank you,” she said with an impish grin.

Vladimir commented, “Nice to see everybody getting along, but if we could move on to what I wanted to talk about…”

“Sorry sir,” William and Natalie muttered in unison.

“Here’s the plan; we move out tomorrow around nine and make our way to the foothills before the pass. We set up camp there, and get ready to move through the pass the next day. It’s only one of three passes open right now. The main one is where the Legions are and the other is a very small pass even higher up in the mountains that’s only passable to a few people,” he paused, “this means that the one we’re taking is the best one for a moderately sized force to use, which is why we think there’s a chance that bandits or the mountain tribes will be waiting to ambush travelers. I want everybody well rested and alert when we cross; even with a force our size, there’s still a risk that we’ll be attacked. Additionally, we’ll have to use levitation spells on the wagons; otherwise, they’ll sink into the snow.”

“How well do you think the horses will do in the snow?” Rose asked. “I’m not as used to snow as the rest of you seem to be.”

Vladimir looked at Victoria, “How much snow is there in the pass?”

“Not much, but it might give everyone some trouble.”

“It’ll definitely impair the scouts’ mobility and limit our ability to respond quickly to an attack,” Vladimir said, “Basically, we’ll need our mages rested and ready and the troops as well, so make sure to have everybody train a little tomorrow evening and then get to bed early.”

“Yes sir,” Natalie replied.

The four younger officers stood, saluted, and left the tent.

* * *

“What do you think of him now?” Rose asked Natalie as the two women began taking off their armor in their tent.

“About the same I thought earlier, but I respect him more now; he knows how to handle his officers and keep them focused on the mission at hand,” she grinned, “Perhaps too focused, but I can live with that.”

“Sounds as if you like him; I haven’t heard you give any other officer we’ve had as good a review as that,” Rose gave her an answering grin.

“Well,” she admitted, placing her swords on the ground, in easy reach, “I have heard good things about him.”

“If he’s so good, why hasn’t he been promoted yet?” The slender mage asked.

“I hear it’s because he didn’t go to one of the Officer Training Schools, so the some of the other officers don’t think he’s as good as they are,” she shrugged, “but he’s apparently a very good officer and tactician, and the general really likes him.”

“Yeah, you’re right; did you hear the way she mentioned his name?” She laid her bastard sword next to Natalie’s weapons.

“I know,” Natalie rolled her eyes, “Do you think she likes him?”

“I’m not sure,” Rose frowned, “Do you think so?”

“I don’t know; you’re the one who knows about this sort of thing.” She shrugged, “Let’s go to bed.”

Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012

List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

First Regiment
Colonel Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25
Regimental Sergeant Major William Morell-Age 56

First Company
Captain Natalie Sanchez-Age 26
Rose-Age 23

Second Company
Captain Emma Athney-Age 20
Rachel Hawk-Age 19

Third Company
Captain Victor Marsters-Age 45
Ginerva Marks-Age 33

Fourth Company
Captain Justin Pierce-Age 29
Jenny Gilbert-Age 26

First Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26

Seventh Company
Captain Hannah Rockwell-Age 23
Verity-Age 21

Eighth Company
Captain Benjamin Halest-Age 43
Ivo-Age 39

Ninth Company
Captain Annabelle Diego-Age 22
Arkana-Age 21

Eighteenth Company
Captain Glenvara Lake-Age 24
Daphne-Age 20

Regimental Scout Company
Captain Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16

First Platoon, First Ranger Company
Captain Kristine Douglas-Age 23

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 18 July 2014 06:39 EDT (US)     19 / 54       
Very nice!

Some good background that clarifies some things while lluding to others not yet revealed, some action in grim detail, and a thickening plot.

And, to round out the well-deserved praise:
No nits!

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 25 July 2014 14:57 EDT (US)     20 / 54       
Through the Woods

17th of Grakuary, 599
Foothills of the Barrier Mountains

Vladimir rolled out of his bed, his feet hitting the plain rugs on the floor of his tent. Stretching, he stood and began to pull his armor on. Finished, he buckled his weapons, swung his cloak onto his shoulders, and stepped outside.

The morning was crisp and clear, the sky cloudless, and the bright morning sun shone down through the trees, sparkling off the snowdrifts scattered around the camp and the gold and silver thread in the royal flag. A more mild Easterly wind stirred the branches of the pines and made the flags flutter.

Moving toward the campfire in front of his tent, he grabbed a log off the stack and threw it onto the embers that still lingered from the previous night. Before he could bend down to revive the fire, a spark shot past him, igniting the log with a crackle of burning resin.

Turning he saw Victoria standing in front of her tent, one hand extended toward the fire, the other holding her partly braided hair.

“Good morning, lass; do you want breakfast?” He asked as he walked over towards one of the wagons.

“Definitely; I’m famished,” she replied with a grin.

* * *

A stream of bright morning sunlight through the open flap of his tent awoke James. Groaning, he sat up to find an attractive young woman with braided chestnut hair hanging over her shoulder, the gear of a ranger, and an uncertain expression holding open the his tent’s flap. Seeing him wake up, she said, “Corporal Black?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“The colonel wants to see you.”

She had turned to go when he said, “What’s your name?”

Pausing, she said, “Cassandra Roseti.”

“Weren’t you the one standing with the colonel last night?”

She nodded, “I was.”

“Why?”

Looking down, she replied, “I was the one who found the reinforcement column, and Captain Miskovitz almost shot me when I was going back to report.” She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and glanced up, “I need to go.”

“Of course, sorry I kept you,” he replied.

She gave him a small smile and left the tent. He swung his feet onto the ground and got up. As he pulled on his boots and armor, he wondered why the colonel wanted him.

* * *

Vladimir was just taking the frying pan off the fire when Natalie and Rose walked up, boots crunching in the snow.

“Good morning, Captain Sanchez, Rose,” he greeted them, “Would you like some breakfast?”

“Yes sir, we’d love to have some,” Natalie replied. She smiled at Victoria, “Good morning, Victoria.”

“Good morning, Natalie, care to join me?” She was sitting at a folding camp table drinking some cider. As the slender dark-haired captain sat, she asked, “How’re your men?”

“They’re doing well; everybody’s recovered from last night’s march, and we’re ready to move,” Natalie replied, leaning back in her chair.

The smells of cooking bacon, wood smoke, and horse joined with the crisp scent of the pine trees and snow. Off to the side, Victoria’s horse pawed the dirt and snorted, breath steaming in the wintry air.

Rose walked over to where Vladimir was preparing four plates and asked, “Would you like some help?”

“Sure,” he said with a smile, passing her a knife, a freshly baked loaf of bread, and a small bowl of butter.

She raised her eyebrows, “This is nice. How do you keep the food fresh?”

He grinned, “Victoria has an extra-dimensional magical chest that keeps food completely fresh.”

“That’s quite an item; I wouldn’t want to try to make something like it.”

“Well, we got ours during one of our rare breaks; she wanted to visit Mez, and we ran into a lich. After we killed it, we found the chest on it in an extra-dimensional pocket in his cloak, along with some other items,” the colonel said, “I’ve heard that the general has a similar item and I think the cooks for the King’s Own have some that keep food cold.”

“You’re right, but it isn’t an easy item to make, especially since it’s an extra-dimensional space and you can put it in an extra-dimensional space. Most extra-dimensional items will make a dimensional rift if you put them in another item.” She spread butter onto the still-warm bread, “This definitely beats having to eat biscuits and dried-beef.”

“It does, but I feel bad that we can get better food than the rest of the men,” he said with a slight frown. He thought for a moment, “Although it wasn’t that bad back when I was in the enlisted ranks.”

She gave him a slightly surprised look, although Vladimir figured she might have known something, a thought that was confirmed by her next statement, “I had heard you didn’t go to an officer training school, but I didn’t know why.”

“My father was a knight, and I was knighted by the current Lord Voln’s brother when I was sixteen,” he replied.

“Why didn’t you stay as a knight?” She asked, finishing up with the bread.

Picking up two of the plates and motioning for her to get the other two, they walked over to Natalie and Victoria. “I wanted to protect more than just the people in the town where my father had his castle, so I enlisted when I was eighteen. They made me a sergeant because of my knight training, and I made lieutenant by the end of my second year because the captain of my unit liked me.”

“Who was the captain?”

“Stephen Therik. He’s a colonel in the Steel Legion now,” Vladimir replied as they sat down.

Victoria glanced over at him, “Wasn’t he the one who relieved us in Tumbri?”

“Yes, he was. I also served under him for a few years after he transferred to the Steel Legion.” Glancing around, he noticed Natalie and Rose had not started to eat yet, “You didn’t have to wait for me; dig in.”

The four started eating, and for a few moments, the only sounds were the clink of forks on plates, the crackle of the fire behind them, and the wind in the trees.

Natalie looked up from her food, “This is really good, sir. If, someday, you decide the army’s not for you, you could be the cook for someone important,” she grinned.

“Thanks, but it was nothing,” he replied with an easy smile.

Victoria grinned, “Glad to see all that paladin training didn’t go to waste.”

* * *

Cassandra walked up to the colonel’s tent to find the four officers sitting at a table laughing at a joke Captain Sanchez was telling.

Barely able to speak, she was laughing so hard, Natalie finished “And then the troll says to the ogre, ‘I’d have run away from home too, if my mother was as ugly as yours is,’” and they laughed even harder.

The young ranger cleared her throat nervously, “Excuse me, sir.”

Immediately restraining himself, the colonel turned to her with a neutral expression, “Yes, Cassandra, what is it?”

“I just talked to Corporal Black, sir,” she said, looking straight ahead and attempting to ignore the three female officers, who were still giggling, “He should be here shortly.”

“Thank you. Stick around for a while,” he said, gesturing to another chair. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes sir, a little.”

Grabbing another plate, he filled it and handed it to the young woman, “Here you go.”

At that moment, William walked up to the group, a bowl and spoon in his hand. “Good morning, sir, ma’am, Captain Sanchez, Mage Rose.” Taking a spoonful, he commented, “Mmmmm. The cook makes good oatmeal.”

“Good morning, William, glad to see you enjoying your breakfast,” Victoria said with a smile, “Do you want some bacon? We’ve got extra.”

“Sure, I’d love some.”

Next to Natalie, Cassandra was wolfing down her food. Turning to the younger woman, Natalie put her hand on Cassandra’s shoulder and said, “Slow down, lass, or you’ll be sick; the food isn’t going anywhere.”

She gave a jerky nod and paused to chew the bite she had just taken.

Natalie gave her a mildly concerned look, hand still on the young woman’s shoulder, “What’s the matter, Cassandra?”

“I need to report back to Lieutenant Michelli soon, ma’am,” she replied.

“Don’t worry about that; we need to talk to you, so we’ll sort out any problems later,” she gave the younger woman a smile, and at Cassandra’s worried look said, “We want to talk about a new organizational method for the scouts. Why are you so nervous?”

Cassandra blushed, glanced down, and said in a quiet voice, barely more than a whisper, “I was afraid I might have done something wrong last night.”

“Lass, if you had done something wrong we probably wouldn’t be talking to you; it’d be Sergeant Major Morell who’d be chewing you out. Only if your mistake were big enough would you be seeing the colonel or me. Besides, you’d know if you were in trouble; we don’t like to keep our troops in the dark about things like that,” she said with a smile.

Giving Cassandra’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, Natalie stood up and walked over to greet the officers who were arriving at the colonel’s tent.

“Good morning Kristine, Catherine, Jason, Octavia, good to see you,” the colonel greeted the officers, “Have a seat while we wait for Corporal Black.”

A few moments later, James walked up to the gathered officers. When they all stopped talking as he approached, he paused, “Am I late, sir?” He directed his question to Captain Thompson.

“No James, we’re all early,” the captain said, but his grin showed he was just joking.

“Have a seat, James,” the colonel said, gesturing to one of the abundant folding camp chairs. Once James was seated, the colonel began, “We have decided to test a new method of scouting that combines the mounted scouts with the infantry rangers. Captain Douglas and Captain Thompson have agreed to support out little test, and are the ones you’ll want to talk to with any problems you have going forward. However, Victoria is the one who initially came up with the idea, so she’ll explain it.”

“Last night, we got ambushed; at least the scouts did, and I think that part of the reason that happened is that the scouts are all mounted; therefore, for our test, we are going to combine a squad of scouts under James’ command and a squad of rangers under Cassandra’s command. This means that both of you’ll get a promotion up to sergeant. For troops, Cassandra, you’ll take second squad, and James, you’ll command first squad, third platoon,” Victoria told them.

“I want the two of you to review you troops, talk with Captain Douglas and Captain Thompson a little about tactics, and then your unit will be the lead scouts today. We’re not expecting trouble, which will allow you two to shake down the unit, but I still want you to be on alert; there might be more Zhuravi around.” She paused, “Any questions?”

“No ma’am,” the two replied.

“Additionally, if you need anyone else to talk to, you can ask Captain Miskovitz and Sergeant Major Campbell; they were in the rangers and the Sergeant Major was in the scouts as well, or you can talk to Sergeant Major Roy, who knows a little something about scouting,” the colonel added, and then dismissed them, “Go see to your troops then.”

The two rose, saluted, and moved away.

Vladimir said, “Kristine, Jason, you should see to your troops and get Cassandra and James their units. I want scout and ranger coverage out before the main column moves.”

The two captains nodded, and Kristine, Catherine, Jason, and Octavia stood, saluted, and walked off towards their troops.

Suddenly remembering something, the colonel called after Jason, “Jason, Octavia, hold up a moment, I have someone I want you to meet.”

The two turned back and came to attention in front of him and his officers. Jason looked around, “Where is this person, sir?”

Vladimir motioned for them to be at ease, “She should be here in a moment,” he said, and then, seeing someone behind them, “Ah, there she is.” He pointed behind them.

A woman in her late twenties rode towards them on a dappled grey Arabian, her long light brown hair tightly braided down her back. She wore the light armor common among the scouts and sat on her horse as if she had been born there.

Victoria looked over at Vladimir in surprise, “Wait a minute…”

He just grinned at her as the woman pulled up before them, swung down off her horse, came to attention, and saluted the colonel, “Sergeant Major Christine Mede reporting, sir.”

“Glad to see you could make it, Sergeant Major,” he replied, “At ease.”

Relaxing, she noticed Victoria for the first time, and her jaw dropped open, “Victoria? Holy crap, I didn’t know you were here!”

The young mage sprang to her feet and swept the other woman into a tight embrace, “My God, it’s good to see you, Chris.”

Jason and Octavia looked at the two then at the colonel.

Victoria turned to them, “Chris and I served together for a while in the Silver Legion and she was the platoon sergeant for the colonel’s scout platoon for a couple of years before you became its lieutenant,” she glanced over at Vladimir, “And I assume she’s here to fill the empty Company Sergeant Major spot in you scout company.”

Vladimir grinned at Victoria, “You would assume correctly,” turning to Jason, “I noticed you needed a CSM, so I pulled her for the spot.”

Jason nodded then turned to Christine, “Nice to meet you, Sergeant Major Mede. I’m Jason Thompson and this is Octavia.” The two women smiled at each other. “If you’ll come with us, I need to get some troops sorted out for independent command.”

“Of course, sir. Nice to see you, Victoria,” she said with a smile to her friend.

Emma and Rachel passed the three and walked up to the colonel. They greeted Natalie and Rose warmly, and Vladimir had a change to examine the two young women more closely. In the morning light, he could tell that Emma and Rachel were very young, no more than twenty, but Emma had the numerous scars on her hands typical of a seasoned fighter, as did Rachel, if to a lesser extent.

William gave the four a look, and asked the two captains, “Who’s seeing to your men?”

“I left Fran and Monique in charge of mine,” Natalie replied and looked over at Emma.

“Yeah, Nastia’s got mine,” Emma said.

Vladimir grinned over at William, “See; we officers leave all the hard work to you noncommissioned types.”

“You’ve got that right, sir,” he replied in his deep gravelly voice.

* * *

James and Cassandra were walking through the camp, feet crunching on the snowy ground, the sounds of the soldiers preparing to march surrounding them, when they heard a woman’s voice call his name, “James, get over here!”

They turned to find a slight blonde-haired young woman in tight black leather pants and a loose deep green shirt laced up the front. A plain longsword set with emeralds hung at her hip. Cassandra remembered her as the mage from their archer unit, from the night before.

James started, “Arkana? What are you doing here?”

She glared at him as the two made their way over to her, “You know I’d been transferred to the unit, and you don’t find me?”

He started to protest, “I didn’t know–”

She cut him off, “You knew Annabelle was the captain of the archer company and I’m her mage.”

Cassandra stood next to him, confused as to who this woman was.

“You’d think, even with your own duties, you’d have come to at least say hello, little brother.”

“Hold on; you’re his sister?” Cassandra blurted out, surprised.

James gave a tight smile, “Cassandra, meet Arkana Black, my elder sister and only daughter of Lord Black of the Valley of Death.”

The slender mage extended her hand, “It’s nice to meet you, Cassandra.”

Shaking the other woman’s hand, she noted her sword-callouses and firm grip. Suddenly, her gaze snapped over to James, “Hold on, that means you’re a noble too?”

“Yes, I am, but right now I’m just a lowly sergeant, and your partner, for the moment,” he said, looking slightly irritated. He gave his sister an annoyed look, as if to say see why I didn’t want to find you.

Moving back beside him, Cassandra said, “It was nice meeting you, but James and I need to get to our new men, ma’am.”

“Of course, sorry I held you up,” she smiled at Cassandra, but her gaze hardened a little as she turned to James, “You’d better come see me sometime soon, or I’ll come see you.”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied with a salute, but his tone was slightly sarcastic.

She gave him a look of mixed exasperation and affection, but let them go with a wave.

As they walked toward the scouts’ camp, he turned to her, “Cassandra, sorry you had to meet my sister like that; she’s usually a very nice person, but she told me last year when I went into the army that if I was even in the same unit as her I had to at least say hello every so often.”

“That’s alright; she seemed pretty nice to me,” she glanced down, “And if we’re going to be working together, you can call me Sandra.”

They finished their walk in comfortable silence.

* * *

James rode through the trees, the least experienced member of his squad, a young man named Daniel, beside him. He held his short bow loosely, an arrow across the string and scanned the bushes for movement. The sun shone down through the leafless branches from a cloudless bright blue sky. A chill northern wind was at their backs, cutting through his cloak and scale and making him shiver a little.

He heard a whistle from up above that sounded like a robin, and Cassandra dropped down from the tree ahead of them, landing lightly in a crouch. Beside him, Daniel started, half-raising his bow before realizing whom it was.

Rising easily, Cassandra walked over to them, and James dismounted to talk to her. He pulled a map out of one of his saddlebags and greeted her, “Hey Sandra. What’s up ahead?”

“The trail we’re on passes through a valley, here,” she traced their route on the map, “which opens out onto a clearer area before the foothills really start. I put half my squad, under Fiona, on the promontory to the left for over-watch and the rest of them are spread along the other ridge. Why don’t you put half your squad here, at the base of the valley, and take the rest down middle of the valley?”

“Sounds good, let me gather my men and then I’ll move them down the trial. Have you seen anything?”

She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, “I think I saw some footprints, down by the stream next to the path, but they didn’t look recent; they were hard to make out.”

“We should still be careful.”

She nodded and moved off, her light steps making almost no sound even on the snowy forest floor.

* * *

A few moments later, James’ horse trotted down the path. James had his spear in hand, five of his men riding behind him. As they neared the mouth of the valley, he glanced around, trying to see through the snow-covered bushes.

The bushes just before the trees rustled, whipping his head around, and two dozen men burst through the bushes onto the path. They carried spears and light wooden shields and wore cured leather and bone armor. The first man thrust at James’ horse with a spear, making it rear up, away from the point. James attacked with his spear, using the momentum of his horse coming back down to add to the force of his attack. His spear punched through the man’s shield, armor, and chest, coming out his back in a spray of blood.

Leaving his spear in the body, James drew his sword and slashed down at another enemy with one motion. The man attempted to block with his shield, but James’ sword smashed through the man’s shield and cut off his arm at the elbow. The man dropped his spear and grabbed the bleeding stump, allowing James to catch him across the chest with his back swing. The man flew backwards, fountaining blood.

Half a dozen arrows flew down from the trees, and four of the tribesmen dropped, blood steaming in the frigid air. Grabbing the bugle hanging from his saddle, James blew two short blasts, then dropped it and whipped his sword across to knock aside another attacker’s spear. Behind him, he could hear the rest of his squad, led by Grigori, thundering down the path.

* * *

Cassandra loosed her third arrow and reached for a fourth, but a slight movement she saw out of the corner of her eye made her throw herself sideways. A crudely made axe whistled through the air where her head had been a moment before, and she dropped her bow and drew her short sword in her off-hand, slashing across as she fell toward the ground. Her blow barely grazed the man’s leather, but only because he jumped backwards and thrust his chest back.

Landing hard on her right hand, she bent her arm and, using muscles built by many years using sword and bow, she propelled herself back to her feet. Switching her sword to her right hand, she lunged forward, easily slipping past her attacker’s off-balance parry to bury her blade in his throat. Blood sprayed out, coating her blade and sword-hand.

Recovering, she swept her blade across to parry the axe blow of another attacker. The impact jarred her hand, but she forced it aside and switched her short sword back to her off-hand. She drew her longsword, the wire-wrapped leather hilt secure in her blood-covered hand. Her assailant swung again, and she blocked the blow with crossed swords then disengaged with the short sword and swept it across, gashing him across the chest. As he staggered back, she advanced and hit him with her longsword, opening him up from shoulder to mid-chest, shattering his collarbone and half his ribs. Blood arced out, splattering across her armor.

All around her, the rest of her troops were similarly engaged; over thirty of the tribesmen had charged their position. Beside her, Fiona, her second, cut down her opponent and turned to glance over at Sandra.

Eyes widening, Fiona yelled, “Duck!” and Sandra threw herself down as fast as she could. She was not fast enough to avoid the sword that whistled through the air, catching her across the back as she fell, slashing through her cloak and scale. The force of the blow picked her up and threw her sideways into a tree, knocking the breath out of her. Lying on the ground, feeling blood flowing out of her wound, Sandra looked up to see a large man in bone-coated leather armor charging towards her, a two-handed sword raised over his head for a killing blow, bellowing wildly.

Trying to push herself to her feet, Sandra realized she had lost her short sword, but struggled to rise anyway. Her attacker’s cry cut off abruptly as an arrow burst out the front of his throat in a spray of crimson. She rolled to the side, her back screaming at the movement, and, seeing her short sword lying on the ground, grabbed it as she narrowly avoided the falling man. Looking up, she saw Captain Miskovitz running towards her, reaching over her shoulder for another arrow.

More arrows whistled through the trees, striking down a number of the tribesmen, and another young woman in studded leather came running through the trees after Jenna, firing on the run as well. Jenna’s mage, Evelyn, trailed her, casting a lightning bolt that blasted through a half-dozen opponents.

Dashing up to her, Jenna reached down and pulled Sandra to her feet. The younger woman cursed as the motion pulled at her wound, causing pain to lance through her. She could feel warm blood oozing out of the wound down her back, soaking her shirt and armor, and running down into her pants. She staggered, and only the captain’s firm grasp on her forearm kept her on her feet.

“Thanks,” Sandra managed to gasp.

“No problem, lass,” Jenna replied.

* * *

James blocked an axe-blow with his shield then smashed down with it. His shield connected with the man’s face, breaking his nose and sending him flying. He grunted as a sword slammed into his back, but his armor held against the crudely made blade. Turning, James slashed back with his sword, catching the man under the ribs; the blow shattering the man’s lower ribs and threw him backwards, where he lay on the ground, screaming.

Glancing around, James didn’t see any surviving enemy, but heard fighting on the ridge to the left. Putting his heels to his horse’s flanks, he galloped up the hill, jumping the low bushes in front of the tree line.

Slowing a little to navigate the denser trees, James reached the top of the ridge and came upon Sandra’s troops. Jenna was supporting Sandra as a medic made her way towards them. Quickly dismounting, he made his way over to her and grabbed her other arm, “What happened?”

“Didn’t duck fast enough,” she replied through gritted teeth.

Laying her down on her stomach under a pine where the medic, a very young woman with long braided blonde hair and vivid violet eyes, had set up, Jenna started to unlace Sandra’s armor, her slender fingers flying. In a matter of moments, she gently pulled her scale shirt off, revealing the wound to its full extent. It was a long and deep gash across her back, running from her right side up to her left shoulder.

“How bad is it?” Sandra asked Jenna in a small voice.

“You’ll have a heck of a scar,” the captain said with a small smile, squeezing her hand gently.

The medic gently probed the wound with slender fingers, causing Sandra to gasp in pain and squeeze Jenna’s hand quite tightly. “Sorry, but I need to check to see what I’m dealing with,” the young woman said.

Jenna looked at her more closely, noticing that she wore full plate with Mithral vambraces set with gold filigree and diamonds and carried a longsword with a two-handed grip and a diamond pommel stone strapped across her back. The captain also noted that the medic was very young, perhaps a half dozen years younger than Jenna’s own twenty years, but wore a number of bejeweled rings in addition to her jeweled vambraces. “Who are you? I haven’t seen you around before,” the young captain asked.

“I’m First Lieutenant Cassielle Archalus, second in command of the regimental medical unit,” the girl replied as she tenderly explored the full extent of Sandra’s wound.

Jenna’s eyebrows rose, “Would you be Lord Archalus’s daughter, by any chance?”

The younger woman colored slightly, blood rising in her pale cheeks, “I’m his elder daughter.”

“I didn’t know you were old enough to be in the army,” was all she said.

Blushing even more, she replied, “I’m fifteen; besides, I’ve been in the army for two years, and Nastia’s been in for three,” she glanced up from her work and, noticing James standing there, continued, “James here has only been in for a year.”

The young man started from where he had been staring at Sandra, “Do I know you?”

She grinned wryly and pushed back a stray strand of hair with a bloody finger, “We’re only next-door neighbors with fathers who are best friends.”

Embarrassed, he apologized, “Sorry; I didn’t recognize you; I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in armor.”

“That’s alright.” Turning to her patient, she patted Sandra’s good shoulder, and said, “I don’t think any of your bones are broken, so I’ll heal you up now.” Reaching into herself, the slender young woman pressed her hands to the wound. Golden light spread out under her fingers and into the wound, knitting the flesh together, leaving a long white scar as wide as her finger.

Jenna helped the Sandra back to her feet, and gave the younger woman’s hand a last squeeze before she let go.

Turning to Fiona, Sandra asked, “Does anyone else need medical attention?”

“No ma’am, at least not any magic,” she paused, “We captured one of the tribesmen. He’s over here.”

The group made their way over to where two of the rangers had one of their enemies kneeling on the ground, his hands tied, and their swords at his throat. The sweat of fear that ran down his face and sides amplified the stink of his unwashed body, causing some of them to wrinkle their noses in disgust. Upon seeing them, he spat what seemed to be a curse in another language.

Jenna grinned, “It would seem that he’s not very happy with us.” Walking up to him, she drew a dagger and ran it along the line of his jaw and down his neck then asked him a question in the other language.

Receiving an apparently unsatisfactory response, she increased the pressure on her dagger, cutting through his shirt and drawing blood as she ran it down his chest. Letting out a grunt of pain, he said something quickly to which she nodded and withdrew the dagger.

Turning to the rest of them, she said, “He says the rest of their tribe is coming through the foothills sometime tomorrow in preparation for our trip through the pass.” Turning back to him, she asked another question, to which he responded in a surly tone. “He says there’re several hundred of them, mostly infantry with a few cavalry and chariots.”

She turned to Fiona, “Corporal, take one soldier, run back to the colonel, and tell him what this man said.” Fiona saluted, motioned to one of the other rangers and the two took off at a full-out run.

Looking over at the other woman who had come with her, she said, “Bring up the rest of the company; tell first platoon to double-time it up here, but march the rest up in good order.”

The other woman nodded and moved off at a swift jog.

Jenna gestured to the prisoner, “Make sure he’s secure, and gag him too.”

“Yes ma’am,” they rangers replied.

* * *

A few minutes later, the colonel and Victoria, along with a squad of cavalry, galloped up along the path, their horses’ hooves throwing up snow and dirt as they thundered down the trail. Vladimir urged Jeremy up the hill to the top, where Captain Miskovitz and the rest of them waited. Dismounting, he walked over to them and surveyed the carnage, “Nice work, captain.”

“Thank you sir,” Jenna replied, “but Sandra and James did most of the work.”

Victoria walked up to them, “Timid, and modest too,” she said to the young captain with a grin.” When Jenna blushed, the mage clapped her on the shoulder, “Sorry lass, but we just enjoy ribbing you because we get such a good reaction out of you.”

Vladimir smiled at the young captain then walked over to the prisoner.

Jenna remarked as she followed him, “He only speaks Geltur; do you need me to translate?”

“Translate? Lass, I’ve probably been speaking Geltur for longer than you’ve been alive; I grew up not that far from here and my father traded with some of the peaceful tribes,” Vladimir said with a wry smile. He looked around, and, spotting Cassielle, called her over, “Lieutenant Archalus, could you cast a truth spell for me?”

She walked over to him with a smile, “Of course sir.”

“Shall we proceed?” He walked over to the prisoner, followed by Cassielle. She pulled a cross out from under her plate and chanted quietly, making a few short gestures with the cross. Pulling off the gag, he asked a series of rapid-fire questions in Geltur. Under the colonel’s stern gaze, the man gave a several short, sullen answers. Vladimir gave Cassielle a questioning glance, and she nodded in reply.

He turned to the rest of them, “It’s confirmed; the rest of them are going to be coming up the valley sometime tomorrow; he’s not sure when because they don’t move in a very orderly fashion.”

William jogged up, breathing lightly, and saluted him.

Turning to William and Victoria, Vladimir said, “We move into the foothills, set up camp and fortify it, train for a little, and rest. Tomorrow, we fight.”


Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012


List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

First Regiment
Colonel Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25
Regimental Sergeant Major William Morell-Age 56

First Company
Captain Natalie Sanchez-Age 26
Rose-Age 23
Company Sergeant Major Franchesca Rivers-Age 24

Lieutenant Monique Oleron-Age 21

Second Company
Captain Emma Athney-Age 20
Rachel Hawk-Age 19
Company Sergeant Major Anastasia Romanof-Age 16

Third Company
Captain Victor Marsters-Age 45
Ginerva Marks-Age 33

Fourth Company
Captain Justin Pierce-Age 29
Jenny Gilbert-Age 26

First Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26

Seventh Company
Captain Hannah Rockwell-Age 23
Verity-Age 21

Eighth Company
Captain Benjamin Halest-Age 43
Ivo-Age 39

Ninth Company
Captain Annabelle Diego-Age 22
Arkana-Age 21

Eighteenth Company
Captain Glenvara Lake-Age 24
Daphne-Age 20

Regimental Scout Company
Captain Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29
Company Sergeant Major Christine Mede-Age 27

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16

First Platoon, First Ranger Company
Captain Kristine Douglas-Age 23

Regimental Medical Unit
First Lieutenant Cassielle Archalus-Age 15

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01 August 2014 12:52 EDT (US)     21 / 54       
Very nice!

Nit:
And I assume she’s here to fill the empty Company Sergeant Major spot in you scout company
And I assume she’s here to fill the empty Company Sergeant Major spot in your scout company

Excellent! Am enjoying the hell out of this.

Hey- have you ever heard of recon by fire? A nice trick.

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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 08-01-2014 @ 12:59 PM).]

General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 01 August 2014 17:28 EDT (US)     22 / 54       
Hey- have you ever heard of recon by fire? A nice trick.
I have. Although it's not quite as easy to pull of when you don't have automatic weapons or explosive shells.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 02 August 2014 06:59 EDT (US)     23 / 54       
A few arrows into a suspicious bush would have the same effect, I would imagine. It is all in the mind- if you think you are being fired upon, you think you are discovered, and thus act- which itself reveals yourself.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
General Sajaru
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 08 August 2014 13:34 EDT (US)     24 / 54       
Good point. Although modern soldiers probably carry more bullets than medieval soldiers carried arrows.

Swordplay

17th of Grakuary, 599
Foothills of the Barrier Mountains

The sun was a ways above mountains, its rays making the snow sparkle a glowing white, when they stopped in the foothills to camp. Vladimir rode through the camp, stopping every so often to speak to some of the soldiers.

The chill air made his breath puff out in white clouds and the wind rustled the trees and blew his cloak over Jeremy’s hindquarters. His horse’s hooves crunched in the snow as he made his way through the camp.

He saw three young women in the center of the infantry section of the camp yelling orders and directing soldiers as they set up camp. Riding up to them, one of them drew his gaze; she was short, a little over five feet, and slender, but in a wiry way, with long red hair braided down her back, a plain scale shirt with adamantine pauldrons, vambraces, and greaves and an unusual sword at her hip. It had a two-handed hilt but a blade only as long as a typical longsword with a worn black leather hilt.

As he pulled up, he examined the other two. One was in the normal armor of the infantry, but carried a longsword and had a cavalry style shield hanging over her shoulder. She was taller and slender, with tightly braided brown hair. The other young woman was roughly the same height and build, had light brown hair loosely tied back, and wore a leaf mail shirt and carried a long-handled sword as well.

The first young woman noticed him as he swung down off Jeremy, his boots hitting the ground with a dull thump. She saluted and asked, “Do you need anything, sir?”

“Not really; I’m just trying to meet some of my new soldiers. What’s your name, lass?”

“I’m Company Sergeant Major Anastasia Romanof, but most people just call me Nastia.” The other two had turned to him, and Nastia introduced them, “This is Lieutenant Monique Oleron,” the one with the kite shield, “and Company Sergeant Major Franchesca Rivers,” the other one with the long-handled sword.

“Ah, so you’re the three my two most senior captains trust to keep track of their troops while they’re eating breakfast,” he said with a grin, “I was sort of hoping I’d find you; I want you three to be in charge of leading the training exercises this afternoon.”

“What did you have in mind, sir?” Nastia asked.

“I was thinking you could focus on individual combat skills; this terrain isn’t the best for formation fighting,” he replied, “Also, most fighting on walls tends to be individual.”

“Sounds good, sir,” she responded, “We’ll see to it.”

He nodded and swung back into the saddle with a clink of plate and creaking of leather.

* * *

Perhaps half an hour later Vladimir walked out of his tent in to the chill afternoon air, and was pleased to see that the three young women had carried out his command quite well; most of the partially formed regiment was in the middle of the camp practicing. He nodded to himself when he saw how they had organized the training; two pairs of men from each squad were sparring under the direction of their sergeant while the rest of the squad watched. He saw Nastia and Franchesca in the midst of it all, moving from squad to squad, giving pointers and demonstrating attacks and parries.

“It looks like they know how to train soldiers, sir.”

Vladimir turned to find that William had walked up beside him. “They sure seem to, but Nastia’s so young, even if she is a lord’s daughter,” he shook his head, “I swear, they get younger every year.”

William grinned wryly, “I’d say it’s just us getting older, but with this unit I feel like you’re right,” it was his turn to shake his head, “Most of the officers are under the age of twenty-five, and a number aren’t even twenty.”

Vladimir nodded, “And a lot of them are young women; I know somewhere around one in five officers are women, but it seems like this unit has a ratio substantially greater than that,” he ticked them off on his fingers, “Natalie, Emma, Hannah, Annabelle, Jenna, Glenvara, and Kristine.” He paused, “Oh, also Justine Morrow; she’s in charge of the medical unit. Against that, we only have Victor, Justin, Benjamin, and Jason.”

“And most of their command teams are all women; everybody but Benjamin has a female mage and Jason just got a female Sergeant Major,” William added. “Do you think this has anything to do with the general being a woman or do you think it’s because you’ve worked so well with Victoria all these years?”

“Probably a little of both; none of these young women are anything less than extremely competent and I think the general might think I would be a good example to them,” he frowned in thought, “Plus I have a reputation for more flexible thinking than most of the existing colonels.” When William gave him an inquisitive glance, he continued, “It seems to me that some of these young women are more free-spirited than most officers like, especially Natalie and Rose, so the general thought I’d be able to handle them better.”

William thought about it for a moment, unconsciously stroking his moustache, “Sounds like as good a theory as any.”

The arrival of Victoria, Natalie, Rose, Emma, and Rachel forestalled any further discussion on the topic. Vladimir asked William, “Shall we show these young whippersnappers how it’s done?”

“I’d love to, sir.”

“Why don’t you spar with Natalie?” Vladimir suggested with a slightly wicked grin.

“Yes sir,” he replied, pulled his helmet off his belt, grabbed his shield, slid his longsword out of its sheath, and moved a little ways away from the colonel’s tent.

Rose shot Natalie a slightly worried look as the captain drew her twin blades and moved to face him. Her soft boots scuffed the snow and dirt as she assessed her footing before they started circling. All around them soldiers stopped sparring as the two took a few light swings to feel out the other’s defenses.

Within a few moments, most of the unit’s younger officers had joined those already assembled in front of Vladimir’s tent. He watched with a practiced eye as the two circled, measured their movements, and could tell William was about to move before the older man began his swing.

William swept his blade across in a deceptively high strike, but he was unsurprised to find one of Natalie’s blades already in place for the parry even as the other slashed for his foot. Bringing his shield down, he stepped into the block even as he stabbed forward at her chest.

Her right-hand blade clanged off his shield and she brought it back and over, slashing down even as she moved her left-hand sword across her body and swept her arm down, knocking his blade aside with her forearm, the edge sparking off her blued-steel vambrace.

He swung his shield up to block her high strike, providing her with her desired opening; using her wrist, she flicked her left-hand sword forward, slashing at his torso. However, his move with the shield was merely a feint, and he swung it down, the lower rim headed for her face. Realizing the ploy at the last moment, she flung herself backward, arching her back and accepting the blow across her chest and on her shoulder.

The force of his hit knocked her onto the ground, hair flying around her face, where she brought her blades up in a cross over her face even as he struck hard with his sword in a powerful downward arc. Sparks flew when the blades connected, and Natalie could feel the weight of the blow jolt up her arms. She kicked out at his legs, but his shield was already in place to block her blow. His own foot shot out with blurring speed and slammed into her side. She attempted to roll with the hit, but it still knocked the wind out of her; she knew she’d have bruises the next day, even with her leaf-mail and padding.

Before she could complete her roll, she felt the cold steel of a sword point against the back of her neck. She stopped, “I yield,” she said. He removed his sword and extended his hand to help her to her feet. Leaving her right-hand blade on the ground, she grabbed his forearm, their vambraces clacking together, and pulled herself upright. Turning, she flipped her sword into her hand with a flick of her toe then sheathed both before facing the older man.

“You’re good, you’re very good,” she admitted with a rueful shake of her head and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

William smiled and clapped her on the shoulder, “I did have the advantage of having seen you fight before, but thanks anyway.”

She suddenly became aware of the gathered soldiers clapping, banging swords on shields, and cheering for both of them.

The two walked back over to the assembled officers. Vladimir greeted them, “Well done both of you,” he punched William lightly on the shoulder, “Not as fast as you used to be, eh?”

The grizzled sergeant major shook his head, “I’m getting slow and weak in my old age, but don’t rub it in,” he grinned over at Natalie, “Twenty years ago a kick like that probably would’ve broken some ribs.”

She massaged her side with a wince, “Good thing you didn’t, but I’ll still be feeling it tomorrow.”

Victoria grinned, looked around, and asked, “Who’s next?”

William gave Vladimir a look, “I’ve heard you’re quite the swordsman; why don’t you give us a demonstration?”

Vladimir frowned, “I don’t think it’d be fair for me to take on any one person; we’d need at least two to start evening the odds, and probably three for a truly fair fight.”

Emma glanced over at Nastia then stepped forward, “Nast and I’ll fight you; does anyone else want to join us?”

Cassielle joined them, “I’ll fight with you.”

Vladimir shrugged, grabbed his helm and shield, drew his sword, and stepped out into the field.

Emma drew her swords with a flourish, and Nastia and Cassielle flanked her. They spread out, Nastia to his left and Cassielle to the right, with Emma in the center. Keeping track of the two younger women with his peripheral vision, he charged Emma, sword flashing in a series of complex strikes that had the younger woman on her heels, both hands working furiously to fend off his attacks.

Nastia closed quickly, but he swept aside her attack with his shield and punched out with his shield, hitting her in the chest with enough force to knock her back. Throwing herself backward, she turned the blow into a back handspring. Cassielle pressed him from the other side, but he continued his attack on Emma, dodging several of Cassielle’s attacks and accepting a glancing blow on his pauldron. Sensing Nastia behind him, he crouched down, using his shield to block both Emma and Cassielle’s attacks, and slashed across at ankle level. Nastia jumped over his sword, but his real attack came when he sprang up from his crouch, his armored shoulder smashing into her stomach.

The force of the blow threw her slender frame to the ground, and he tapped her gorget with his sword even as he reversed, barreling into the other two young women. Cassielle spun aside, taking a two-handed slash at Vladimir’s head as Emma retreated. He kicked out, connecting solidly with the back of her knee even as he caught her in the middle of the back with the edge of his shield. She flew forward and he slammed her pauldron with his sword as she fell. Squaring off with Emma, they ended up with his sword against her neck in a few seconds.

Stepping back, he complimented Emma, “Nice job, lass,” sheathed his sword, and turned to help Cassielle to her feet. Hearing the soldiers cheer his name, he motioned for them to be quiet and asked, “Why aren’t you practicing? Get back to work,” he commanded, but a smile conflicted with the stern tone of the order.

He walked over to Nastia, “Are you alright, lass?” He asked as he pulled her to her feet.

Brushing off the back of her mail, she nodded then shook her head in admiration, “You’re probably the fastest person I’ve ever sparred with, and, considering I usually work with Natalie and Emma, that’s saying a lot.”

He shook his head, “I’m not as fast as either one, but I’m fast for my size, which I used to my advantage,” it was his turn to be admiring, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do a handspring in scale.”

She looked down, “I’ve always been good at tumbling and the like; it’s just a matter of strength to do it in armor.”

They made their way back the rest of the officers, where Cassielle had remove her pauldron and was examining the bright line scored across it by his blade. “Sorry lass, but I needed to get my sword back in front to fight Emma, and I figured you didn’t want me to go for the decapitation I normally would’ve used.”

“No, it’s alright,” she said with a shrug then winced, “But the bruise beneath is annoying.”

He pressed his hand to her shoulder, and a little light spread from his fingertips. He winked at her, “From one paladin to another.”

Victoria shot him a look, but only shook her head in reply to his inquisitive glance. Vladimir moved over to William while the rest of his officers gathered together, the young women talking animatedly about the two practice bouts.

“Who’s in charge of the defenses?” He asked William.

“I put Captain Miskovitz and her team in command of the wall and the scouts,” he paused, “I liked how she took charge so well earlier today when the scouts ran into the ambush.”

“So did I; she’s not entirely the most confident, but knows what’s she’s doing and is willing to make snap decisions when the need arises.”

“Plus she’s got nerves of steel,” William added, “Did you see how she tortured that prisoner?”

Vladimir frowned in distaste, “I did; I don’t necessarily approve of her methods, but they proved effective in this case.”

William shook his head, “I don’t entirely like it either, but not everybody has the resources you paladins have; she had to work with what she had at the time; she’s probably used to operating without much magical support, so she didn’t think to ask.”

Vladimir nodded thoughtfully, “You’re right; I’m not going to reprimand her for it, but I may mention to her that she might want to ask around for a truth spell before she starts cutting prisoners up. Speaking of such, I think I’ll review the defenses right now. Care to join me?”

“I’d be happy to, sir.”

The two older men started walking towards the newly raised earthworks that surrounded the camp; the regiment had worked for several hours to dig a ditch around the camp and construct the earthen wall behind it. There was a short parapet with a tamped down wall-walk, a wood and earth tower at each corner and one on either side of the gate, with light ballistae in them.

Fires were evenly spaced along the wall for the soldiers on watch to warm themselves by and to hold back the gathering darkness. As they walked along, boots crunching on the snowy ground, Vladimir surveyed the neatly arrayed tents and inhaled the scent of canvas and horse typical of a military camp. Hearing footsteps, he turned to find Natalie jogging up behind him.

Despite her rapid movement, her armor made almost no noise, and he raised his eyebrows as she approached, “Nice set of armor you’ve got there.”

She nodded, “Rosie’s father had it made for me a couple years ago; he enchanted it with silence and shadow.”

“You and Rose seem pretty close,” William commented.

“We’ve been together for three years and through some pretty difficult fights,” she replied.

Allowing Natalie to join them, they reached the gate a few moments later, and, climbing the ladders to the wall-walk, found a couple of archers on watch. The two promptly saluted him. Returning their salute, Vladimir looked around, but did not see Jenna or any officers, so he turned to the soldiers, “Where’s your captain?”

“She’s out scouting the perimeter with some of the rangers, sir.”

Vladimir nodded, “Thank you.” Turning to William and Natalie, “Go figure; you put her in charge and she runs off into the woods. She needs to learn that captains are supposed to command more than fight.”

Natalie snorted as the three moved off the wall and through the gate, “Is that why you’re often the first one into combat?” He shot her a look, but she pressed on, “In fact, Victoria was telling me that in your most recent battle, you grabbed two platoons of cavalry and led them in a charge against the enemy. And in Tumbri, you were right in the thick of the fighting. And before that-”

“Alright,” he huffed, “I’m setting a bad example for my captains.”

“A bad example according to whom?” She asked, arching a delicate eyebrow.

“You ask too many questions lass; hasn’t anyone ever told you to be quiet when in the presence of your elders,” he reprimanded, but his tone was light.

“I think they told me that around the same time they told me that proper ladies don’t carry swords, run around in the woods, or wear anything but dresses,” she shuddered, “God, I hate dresses.”

William chuckled, “I bet fighting in a dress would be difficult.”

“You have no idea.”

The three of them moved into the foothills to the south of the camp.

* * *

Jenna belly crawled forward, trying to ignore the rocks pressing into her stomach and the chill from the ground cutting through her armor, instead trying to focus on keeping her movements smooth and quiet. Beside her, Evelyn, her mage, muttered a low curse as she banged her knee on a rock, “Remind me, why are we the ones out here scouting these guys?” She asked in a murmur.

“Because we’re better at this than anyone else, Evie,” she whispered back. They continued on in silence for a few more moments until Jenna spotted a couple of sentries. She motioned for Evelyn to take the one on the left, and the slender mage slid a long knife out of its sheath on her back, skulked forward, and, rising up from a crouch, slit the sentry’s throat from behind. Blood sprayed out, and she covered his mouth to silence his dying gurgle. Jenna killed the other sentry with her short sword, stabbing the man through the back of the neck and catching him as he fell.

The two lay their kills down and continued forward, still crouching, into the enemy camp. Edging around a poorly made hide tent, they paused to count the enemy tents. Jenna counted over two hundred before she lost track, and beside her, Evelyn murmured, “There must be a thousand of them,” her breath warm on Jenna’s ear.

Swiftly, Jenna pushed her friend back further into the shadows as two tribesmen strode past them to another tent. Laughing raucously, they entered the tent. Grabbing the slender mage’s hand, the two young women sprinted through the enemy camp back toward the tree line. As they darted between tents and past campfires, Jenna caught snatches of conversation and the smells of unwashed bodies, cooking meat, and horse. Breaking out of the encampment, they slowed their pace, moving across the barren land at the edge of the camp at a trot, crouching low to the ground.

Another sentry pair loomed up out of the darkness in front of Jenna. She pushed Evelyn down into a depression in the ground and flattened herself on top of the other young woman. Lying on her friend, she could smell the oil Evelyn used on her armor and sword. She breathed in the clean smell of the other woman’s hair and the scent of the pine trees less than thirty feet away.

The guards stopped right in front of their hiding place; so close that the stench of their filthy bodies and the blood dried and rotting on their weapons was overpowering. Both young women fought down the urge to gag and tried to still their breathing as much as possible. Jenna slid her hand up Evelyn’s back, gently gripped one of the mage’s long knives, and wiggled it a little to free it from its sheath. Suddenly, the bushes off to their right rustled, and the sentries moved off to investigate.

Springing to their feet, Jenna and Evelyn scurried across the remaining distance, and made the tree line. They flashed each other grins, but Jenna was already scanning the forest for movement. Motioning for Evelyn to get down, she slid her bow out of its carry straps and drew an arrow. Sliding through the underbrush with almost no sound, she spotted two figures crouched behind a bush. Drawing her bow back slowly, the wood only creaking a little, but she paused; the figures seemed familiar, so she rose, fully drawing her bow, and called out softly, “Who goes there?”

“It’s the colonel and sergeant major Morell,” the figure on the left called back. The two stood and made their way towards her.

She relaxed her bow arm, but kept looking around. When they were close, she asked, “Is there anyone else with you?”

“Just Natalie, she’s over there,” he pointed to her right, “She made the noise to distract the guards.”

She nodded continuing her scan of the trees. The wind shifted a little, she spun to the left and fired three arrows in quick succession, gave a call that sounded very much like and owl, and, drawing her sword, slipped into the brush without a sound.

Natalie slid out of the bushes to the other side shortly thereafter, “What did I miss?” She asked in a low whisper.

“Jenna just showed up,” Vladimir replied in similar tones.

“Then where is she?” Natalie asked just as Jenna stuck her head around a tree.

“I’m right here; I just shot that pair of sentries, if you want to take a look,” she replied, and ducked back into the brush.

Vladimir shrugged and pushed through the undergrowth to find Jenna and Evelyn standing over the two men. The first had an arrow protruding from his eye and the second had taken one through the throat and another in the chest.

William and Natalie followed him; the sergeant major muttered, “Impressive; is you aim that good, or did they jump in front of your arrows?”

Jenna didn’t deign to reply; instead, she set about getting her arrows out of the corpses. She pulled the arrow out of the man’s eye, and blood spurted up, black in the darkness. Grimacing in distaste, she wiped its head off on the man’s cloak, making sure to clean it thoroughly. Checking the fletching, she put them back into her quiver. Rising, she motioned for them to follow her back toward the encampment.

After some time, Vladimir thought they were probably halfway back to camp; Jenna called a halt in the middle of a cluster of bushes. The five crouched in a circle, and Jenna glanced around then announced, “I think we’re far enough away for a decent conversation.” Once she had made her proclamation, she fell silent and looked around a little nervously.

Vladimir and William exchanged glances and burst out laughing. Seeing Jenna blush and look down, Natalie joined in the laughter. Noticing Jenna’s stricken expression, Vladimir quickly stopped laughing, “Lass, when we’re in the middle of a battle or in danger of losing out lives, you’re snapping orders and slaughtering enemies, but now, when we’re safe and don’t have much to worry about, you’re timid and self-conscious.” He shook his head, “I just don’t understand it.” Reaching out, he took one of her hands in his own, “If there’s something troubling you, you can tell us,” at her pause, he said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of; you’re in the company of friends, even if we haven’t know each other for that long.”

Evelyn put her arm around her friend, and Jenna began, “My father is Lord Gregor Miskovitz, one of the most powerful lords in Slovenia, probably second only to Lord Romanof, Nastia’s dad. I’m an only child, because my mother died when I was six,” she paused, “When I was growing up, I used to train with my father’s guards and run and hunt in the forest a lot; part of the reason I went into the rangers as soon as I could after serving in the Steel Legion for a little while. Part of the reason I did it was to give my father the son he never had, but mostly it was because I was very shy; I guess I still am, and I don’t do very well in social situations. My father let me be a tomboy, so I never took the time to learn to interact with others with same ease other noble children learn.”

Her voice dropped, “Also, the swordmaster, he…” She stopped talking and Evelyn hugged her tightly. Jenna buried her head against the mage’s shoulder. “He beat me and tried to rape me,” she said, her voice soft and somewhat indistinct. “I stabbed him.” Even softer, “He died.”

Vladimir squeezed her hand, “I’m sorry, lass.”

Turning back to them, she smiled at Evelyn. “I was so happy when Evie became my mage, because we got along so well; she’s probably my first real friend,” she looked down, “Plus, you and Victoria and William have a pretty intimidating reputation.” She glanced over at Natalie, “And now that I’ve seen what you can do with a sword, I’m a little afraid of you too.”

The olive-skinned captain leaned forward, taking Jenna’s other hand in hers, “I might be a little scary with a sword, but what you can do with a bow is downright terrifying,” she shook her head in amazement, “Three arrows into two men, all in vital locations, through some bushes, in the dark. That’s scary.”

William chimed in, “And the way you move through the brush; it’s like you a ghost, you’re so quiet.”

Vladimir said, “All in all, we may be pretty good, but so are you. We just have different areas of specialization.”

She bit her lip, “I guess…”

Vladimir gave her hand a squeeze, “I sure as heck wouldn’t have been able to sneak into the enemy camp like you and Evelyn did tonight. Besides, you’re part of our command team now. Our rule is, as long as you remember who the boss is then you can act just about as informally as you want to most of the time.”

When she gave him a look, he continued, “Just treat us like you would Evelyn or Lydia; there’s nothing for you to be afraid of when you’re amongst friends,” Vladimir paused, “Speaking of Lydia, I assume you left your sergeant major in charge of your company while you went haring off on this scouting expedition by yourself?”

“Yes sir, I did. Evelyn suggested that someone should scout out the enemy position,” she said, blushing a little.

Evelyn gave her a look, “I said someone; someone did not necessarily mean us. Although, as you pointed out, we are the best at this sort of thing.”

Jenna gave her friend a smile, and suddenly became aware of the tears that had made their way down her cheeks, while she had been talking, to gather on her chin. Evelyn reached over and helped her dry them off.

Turning away from them, Vladimir noticed that Natalie was watching the two with a tender expression, and smiled slightly. Glancing around, he listened to the chill night wind stir the tree branches above them and make the bushes around them rustle slightly. Looking up through the trees, he could see the mostly full moon surrounded by a spray of stars shining down brightly.

Seeing that Jenna had composed herself, he said, “We should probably get back to the camp; the troops will wonder where their colonel is. Besides, we’ve got a big battle to fight tomorrow, so we should be well rested for it.”

Jenna looked up, “Oh, by the way, we counted around a thousand of them, and there might be more.”

“Good to know all this actually accomplished something,” William muttered.

Vladimir elbowed him in the ribs, his couter clinking on the older man’s breastplate.

The five stood and moved off quickly through the darkness.

* * *

Cassandra leaned back against the trunk of the tree in which she was keeping watch and pulled her cloak tighter around herself. Beside her, Fiona shifted a little on her branch, which creaked only a little under her slight fame. Beneath their position, they suddenly saw five figures step out into a cleared area. Sandra’s first arrow was already in the air before she realized who it was.

On the ground, Jenna swayed a little to the side, and the arrow sped past her head, the wind of its passage whipping a few stray strands of hair into her face.

Dropping down from her perch, the young woman rushed over to Jenna, “Are you alright, ma’am?”

Tucking the stray locks of hair behind her ear, she grinned at a horrified Sandra, “Yes, I’m fine; it’s alright; I almost shot you, after all.”

Landing lightly beside her, Fiona turned to Vladimir, “Did anyone follow your group, sir?”

“I don’t think so, but Jenna would know more about that than I would,” he glanced over at the young captain.

“We didn’t have any unwanted company that I spotted,” she glanced over at Evelyn, “Did you see anyone?”

“Nope. Let's get back to camp; Jenna and I need to see to our company, and I’m sure the colonel needs to make sure everything’s alright with the regiment,” the brunette mage said.

* * *

The five parted ways at the gate, with William going to talk with the other non-commissioned officers, Jenna and Evelyn to their company, Natalie to hers, and Vladimir back to his tent to meet with Victoria.

Vladimir walked through the camp, his armor clinking lightly and the night wind making his cloak rustle. He came up to the fire in front of their tents to find Victoria sitting on a log, reading a scroll by witchlight. Putting his hand on her shoulder he greeted her, “Hey, lass.”

She started, hand halfway to her sword, before she rose and turned to him, “Vladimir, you’re back. Where did you guys go?”

Sitting on the log next to where she had been, he replied, “I wanted to find Jenna to see what the situation was with the guards, but she had decided to scout the enemy encampment with Evelyn. We got there just as the two of them were trying to get out.”

She raised an eyebrow, “They went into the enemy camp? They’re either very brave or very stupid.”

“A little of both, I would suspect,” he replied with a smile, “They counted at least a thousand tribesmen; that puts their numbers at around the same level as ours, so I don’t think we should have any trouble with them tomorrow; however, we need to plan anyway in case more of them show up.”

“Of course,” she set down her scroll and slid a map out of the container beside her, “I was looking at the topo map, and I thought we should put the artillery on the rise here with the infantry arrayed in front of them…”

The two put their heads together over the map, drawing out troop placement on the map with their fingers while the fire crackled behind them, shooting sparks into the night sky.

* * *

As Jenna and Evelyn walked back to their tent, Jenna took her friend’s hand and they made their way through the camp holding hands. Entering their tent together, they quickly shed their armor and weapons then Jenna sat down on her bed and started to unbraid her hair.

Evelyn sat down next to her and started combing out Jenna’s hair with her fingers. Once her hair spread out down her back in a silken fan, Evelyn began lightly massaging Jenna’s shoulders, her long slender fingers kneading the tight muscles in the archer’s shoulders. Jenna sighed and leaned back into the other young woman’s hands.

After a few moments, Evelyn gently turned Jenna back to face her, and leaned towards her. She hesitated, but Jenna slid her arm around the slender mage’s back, pulling her towards her. Evelyn kissed Jenna softly on the lips then more passionately, sliding her hand up into Jenna’s hair. Their tongues intertwined and the mage pushed Jenna back onto the bed.


Copyright © Scott Schaper, 2012


List of Characters

The King’s Own Legion

First Regiment
Colonel Vladimir Kapov-Age 36
Victoria-Age 25
Regimental Sergeant Major William Morell-Age 56

First Company
Captain Natalie Sanchez-Age 26
Rose-Age 23
Company Sergeant Major Franchesca Rivers-Age 24

Lieutenant Monique Oleron-Age 21

Second Company
Captain Emma Athney-Age 20
Rachel Hawk-Age 19
Company Sergeant Major Anastasia Romanof-Age 16

Third Company
Captain Victor Marsters-Age 45
Ginerva Marks-Age 33

Fourth Company
Captain Justin Pierce-Age 29
Jenny Gilbert-Age 26

First Platoon
Lieutenant Demetri Kallov-Age 26

Seventh Company
Captain Hannah Rockwell-Age 23
Verity-Age 21

Eighth Company
Captain Benjamin Halest-Age 43
Ivo-Age 39

Ninth Company
Captain Annabelle Diego-Age 22
Arkana-Age 21

Thirteenth Company
Captain Jenna Miskovitz-Age 20
Evelyn Graham-Age 20

Eighteenth Company
Captain Glenvara Lake-Age 24
Daphne-Age 20

Regimental Scout Company
Captain Jason Thompson-Age 32
Octavia-Age 29
Company Sergeant Major Christine Mede-Age 27

Sergeant James Black-Age 17
Corporal Grigori Kulikov-Age 23
Private Daniel Fitzpatrick-Age 16

First Platoon, First Ranger Company
Captain Kristine Douglas-Age 23

Regimental Medical Unit
First Lieutenant Cassielle Archalus-Age 15

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." - Ronald Reagan
"Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper
"I like my enemies like James Bond likes his martinis- shaken, not stirred."
My first book, The King's Own

[This message has been edited by General Sajaru (edited 08-12-2014 @ 02:14 PM).]

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 12 August 2014 08:52 EDT (US)     25 / 54       
Very nice!

I like the team-building/sparring training scene. Always a boost to morale when the troops can see their commanders can kick their ass. Caius Dillius Vocula beat every man in his legion as well as shared their misery- and although the legion defected later, they did so only once Vocula was dead- and not a man of that legion dared raise his hand against him.

Nits:

Captain Jenna Miskovitz is not listed in your end-of-tale summary.

This line took a few minutes to understand. I could not figure why her belly was moving and not the rest of her. Then I realized it was missing a dash:
Jenna belly crawled forward
Jenna belly-crawled forward

"She pulled the arrow out of the man’s eye, and blood spurted up, black in the darkness"
Since when do dead men bleed? More to the point, letting their blood spurt upwards?

As to recon by fire and the comment about modern soldiers carrying more bullets than medieval archers- very true! But a medieval archer can recover arrows and use them again and again. A modern bullet is fired once and only once.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 08-12-2014 @ 08:56 AM).]

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