Your present is one of my rare battle scenes. Although, given my notes, I think we’re going to see several more of them unfold in the near future. As confusing as a battle is by itself, I have made a concerted effort to not “head-hop,” that is, change who’s story this is. Used to be a very bad habit of mine when young as a writer and I am much better at catching it when it crops up. If I missed any, please let me know.
Below the fold, things go *pew*pew* and *boom*boom*.
Their cavalry screen held and their scouts said the enemy had only double back two and half hours ago, putting them a dozen miles away from the fort that First and Fourth Legions were throwing together as fast as they could. Second was off into the wooded low hills to the east-northeast. Completely typical for their little general, she had once again divided her army in the face of another. And then did it again.
Gibson had been livid at the staff meeting at 0100 this morning! But I told him that if we don’t have a meeting engagement, that allows for Owens and his men to scout the land and get into position for the both of them. Once I release First into the field, Second reforms onto themselves and Gibson and his step into prepared positions. All on the Tupelo’s army right flank. Ten thousand men against their fifteen.
And all the while I’ve here with Fourth, holding them by the nose and pouring indirect artillery down into their unentrenched ranks.
Rather than making a bother of herself in the construction, she rode her horse ahead on old Highway 85. The asphalt and concrete were more than three-quarters broken and there were grass and weeds pushing through everywhere. At the crest of a slight rise, she pointed at her right-most aide.
“Speaker up; Seeker up,” she commanded with a smile. The man spoke quickly into a small radio. From the bed of a wooden cart a thousand feet behind her, two small, quad-rotor drones lifted into the air. The first, Speaker, would be a mile up and just a little ahead of wherever Faustina found herself. Seeker would continue on, looking for the enemy and sending signal back to the first, which would send it right into her lines. Her immediate aides watched her grow still as she…
“Crap,” she muttered. “Send to legate First: enemy advance guard two point four miles out, just past point K. Join legate Second now.”
No way to know what comm gear the other side might have after all this time, discretion was still called for.
“We’re falling back, now,” Faustina explained while turning her mount around. At a calm trot back to the fort, her eyes took in the snipers and forward observers, who would back up her drones, as they crept through the trees and bushes in the opposite direction. Just ahead, the general saw the fort was nearly complete and that per orders, Samson was drawing up his half his legion across what had once been the clearing of a major east-west road.
Except for those three centuries to hold the fort, who, she thought with a smile, were already calling themselves “Princess Ryland’s Own,” the remaining three cohorts were scattered as a screen to the southeast. And as a possible pursuit force if things really went her way.
Just back from the crest, she stood in her stirrups and waved. Samson and his four cohorts marched forward, passing around her in complete silence and in perfect order. Just as they got to the crest where the enemy could see them, they allowed their ranks to break: both for safety and to look confused and scared. Per their orders from their legate, some began to entrench.
“Arty drones one and two up, please,” Faustina said, for those two which would allow her indirect fire. From Seeker she told her staff to radio Samson that the Tupelo vanguard would be in his sight in ten minutes.
Seeing a few legionaries look back at her, she dropped her reins and stretched her arms over her head. I must look supremely calm and in control for what is coming. Via Seeker, Faustina was getting a better and better idea of the enemy’s formation. Slipshod, was her thought. What happened to the South’s martial tradition?
Coming down the last low hill to the east, she “watched” as the bulk of the Tupelo forces divided into two great wings with the old highway in their center. About a mile back was another group of several thousand. Seeker’s optics couldn’t see that that far and Faustina didn’t want to divert the drone. Probably their slave force, she thought, keeping the snarl off her face and the pleasant smile there for her boys…
A smattering of rifle fire. All legionaries were immediately prone to the ground but no one returned fire. More shots became a torrent as those two wings moved forward as a walk. At just over half a mile, Faustina issued orders.
“A-tubes, covering smoke,” she said clearly. Her radioman passed that on. In seconds her ears picked up the cough of the 81mm mortars just before the fort, behind them. Between the two armies, a curtain of smoke began to form. Her boys furthest forward began to slither back. Once just protected by the slope of the hill, they rose to a crouch and hustled back while the men with some concealment in the trees provided covering fire. Third cohort was nearly past her position as she watched Samson give orders to dress his lines a bit. His center, along the road, was now quite hollow.
Except for a small mounted team.
“Empress?” her aide, Poul, asked in concern. “They’ll be here in moments.”
“I’m aware.” Literally. Seeker was low enough to see faces: some angry at the smoke, some grinning that the scared invaders were likely retreating. Their walk became a trot. Oh.
“Launch Seeker Two,” she said. One of the rotors of Seeker One was shot out. The general took in the artillery drones’ data and did the calculations with a corner of her mind. “And send to Cannon Leader the following coordinates…”
Feeling the anxiety of the men about her and behind her going up fast, she turned her horse and cantered back to their dug-in line just five hundred feet before the eastern gate of their temporary home. Rather than crossing the three-foot path left for the mounted team, she turned back to face the enemy.
“Dammit, Empress! Get to safety!” a man yelled from her right. She refused to look that way but logged his voice for later investigation and reprimand.
The smoke curtain was dissipating just as the enemy came through it. There were whistles in the air and a few bits of dirt kicked up here and there. I bet if I had a body like Henge’s, I could dodge bullets. Someday, I guess.
“Tell Cannon Leader to fire. In the noise I’ll send updated targeting to his tablet,” she ordered.
The ground just in front of the enemy erupted. Faustina smiled as she watched them scramble for cover. She smiled more to see men who looked like NCOs remain standing and yell at them to stand up and advance. I wonder if I can recruit those men?
Although not particularly worried about herself, she did not want to get her boys around her killed. Again. She waved her staff across the little causeway then followed them. Passing their horses off, they dropped into a trench. Faustina was pleased that given the very little live-fire artillery training for the legions, everyone’s morale seemed solid.
The flanks will fall back, they have to bring their mass forward! Seeker One was now at station-keeping at three thousand feet. Seeker Two was darting here and there under her control. She ordered the barrage to lift to allow them closer in.
“Miss!” Poul loudly hissed at her. The familiar was unusual.
“You are bleeding a little from your eyes.”
Oh. Faustina closed them and let her mind go into the Void.
“I’m fine,” she clearly said back to him, resting her head against the freshly cut earth.
So much clearer now! Some of the 37mm shells now fell to the north, to make sure there was premature contact between the enemy and First and Second Legions. Probably unnecessary: it looked as if they were getting ready for a charge right up the road to take the fort in a rush, casualties be-damned. I guess my lies worked. I know my boys will hold!
“At least five hundred cavalry reported in the paths to our south and southeast,” some human said in meatspace. Faustina told the cohort centurion there to bend back his right but stay in place. They tell me when I speak through my lines my voice is very odd. Wonder why?
The wings of the remaining three cohorts had been carefully leap-frogging one another back and were now almost parallel with her dung-in line. A whooshing noise and sudden cries of pain and fear made her lift her head and open her eyes, looking ahead and right.
“Dear God,” she muttered, already sending coordinates to the legionary and cohort mortar teams. “They have flamethrowers!”
The trees and brush on the north side of the old highway were all ablaze. As were, dammit! some of her boys. Shells were already dropping and she had already told Samson to get his men further back, fast while she tried to get a drone in the area to see if her left was holding.
As always, first in former Virginia and later in Savannah, Faustina let her legates have great latitude as to when and where to attack. With both blood and tears in her eyes from the burnt meat smell off her right, she looked again through the drones. Close enough! She ordered Owens and Gibson forward; with Gibson to try to swing to his left if at all possible.
Shaken though they were by the flamethrowers, the men around her gave a cheer to hear the sudden chatter of semi- and full-automatic fire far off to their ten o’clock.
“The veterans are going to kick them in the ass, recruits!” Faustina shouted as loud as she could, through her mouth and the radios. “Are you ladies gonna hold ‘em by the nose while they do or are you gonna let the slavers take our fort?!”
The massive outpouring of fire from next to her was her answer. The 37mm’s coughed up and out again from inside the fort.
Seeker Two was still her main eye on the mass before her. Optics from damaged Seeker One told of the cohort to her immediate left falling away but all else stable with the rain of steel in front of their position. They are green troops and who has even seen flamethrowers in a generation? If I take the enemy commander alive he will have much to answer for!
“Their right edge is shattering,” she spoke to her staff, trying to squeeze the blood and tears from her stinging eyes. “Send to Centurion Filks to prepare to attack.”
Filks was the leader of the seventh cohort of Fourth and in overall command of the three cohorts to her south. In training and wargames, he’d proved himself solid and competent. Faustina was unsure how he’d be on attack, though.
To his credit, her opposite quickly realized the catastrophe enveloping his right and was trying to pull his left back as quickly as possible. Faustina, having none of that, redirected the artillery to now land behind the enemy lines. The results into her mind from Arty One made her smile.
I want to order a general advance from here: to meet my veterans in the midst of the battlefield, but these are green men and could still break. I shall be patient and bide my time.
The broken half-cohort to her left had stabilized about fifty yards back from her center, away from the burning trees and brush. A slight breeze from the west and kept it from spreading in their direction. A look over her shoulder through her hurt eyes told the sun would be down in just less than two hours…
“Tell Filks to attack,” Faustina announced. “We’ve little time.”
She listened to her man pass that on as her eyelids dropped again, looking through all four drones at once, re-wetting her cheeks in the process. Their northern wing of seven thousand was gone and the southern wing was wavering. Through her lines, she radioed Filk’s team to pace themselves and get ready to take on surrendering stragglers. Faustina did not want any more injured on her side.
The first “we surrender!” reached her ears as she saw the backs of Owens legionaries at her far front rather than the faces of the Tupelo enemy. Faustina stood from her trench.
“We go,” she announced.