The Amber Arrow – Snippet 30

This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

The Amber Arrow – Snippet 30

In the north, in the Kalte kingdoms, the gentry learned how to fight in small groups, and battles were usually hardly anything more than a bunch of small bands of men loyal to a certain leader coming together without a lot of coordination between them. It wasn’t a perfect system. They could make a savage attack, but they could also get distracted. Each band of warriors had its own separate goals which might or might not be the same as the others.

Wulf had learned how to fight a different way while taking back his own city of Raukenrose from invading Sandhaveners. It was the way his father and his right-hand man, Earl Keiler, had discovered worked best when they fought Vall l’Obac during the Little War. The great thing that the Mark of Shenandoah had going for it was that its troops were a mixture of humans, Tier, and other-folk. In the case of Jager’s company, they were a mixture of every warrior type from buffalo men with their war pikes to bear men with longbows. These were longbows that most human archers, no matter how muscled, couldn’t draw. And there were centaurs and quick human soldiers who were deadly at swordplay.

Jager was an instinctive tactician. He knew how to use them together. He’d proved that during the bloody Battle of Raukenrose Meadow.

Wulf had killed his first man in battle there. He had almost been gutted himself. Sometimes he saw the dying man’s surprised eyes in his dreams–always just the eyes–and woke up tense and shaking.

Wulf and Jager arranged their one hundred men not to win against the Romans, but to slow them down long enough for the villagers, the supply wagons, and, most of all, for Saeunn and Ravenelle, to get away.

Ravenelle carried the crown. She’d wrapped it in linen and put it carefully into one of the saddlebags of her horse.

Then the company would fall back and try to slip away itself. They hoped to sting the Romans badly enough to throw off pursuit. The Romans might then burn the town down in frustration. But the people would live and could rebuild.

Wulf didn’t like that the plan included retreat.

It helped that Rainer, who was always practical when it came to fighting, completely approved. “Every other way of doing this will get us all killed,” Rainer said. Wulf hadn’t had to say anything for Rainer to read his mood and his doubt.

“You’re not going to like this decision I’ve made,” Wulf said. He paused for a moment, took a breath, then blurted out, “I want you to go with the girls.”

Rainer shook his head strong enough to rattle his chainmail hood. “Blood and bones! Don’t ask me to do that. I want to fight Romans!”

“You know I’m asking you because you’re the best.”

Rainer didn’t bother denying it. “Curse it to cold hell,” he grumbled.

“Will you?”

“Yes, all right,” Rainer finally said. “Makes sense.”

The Imperials came.

The cavalry attacked first, trying to sweep into the town from the southeast. Scouts reported they were arriving from down a road that led to the central valley. Jager sent his best archers to meet them. The Romans on horses met a line of bear men longbows in the woods. They also encountered trees felled on the one-cart roadway to block their way. Two bear men with axes could take down a good-sized tree in moments.

When the cavalry showed up, the archers knew to aim for the horses and then fight the cavaliers on the ground. The horses were armored in front, but less so behind. So the archers let them pass by and then shot the horses in their sides.

There were over a hundred Roman cavalry troops versus twenty bear men, though. The Romans on horses had almost broken through.

It had taken killing ten horses and twenty or thirty Roman soldiers to stop the cavalry raid. Finally the cavalry rode away, bloody and full of arrows. A bear longbowman’s pull could penetrate an oak plank at twenty paces. Most of the dead and wounded Romans had gone down thinking to the last moment that they were safe behind their shields–only to get a rude and deadly surprise when an iron-tipped arrow burst through and sunk into an eye or throat.

But the eastern cavalry attack was just an opening stunt. The Romans marched in along the main road from the south to Tjark.

The real fight was about to begin.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Invasion

“Those blood-eaters have to come soon,” said Captain Jager. He stared down the road and waited for the approach of the Romans.

But it took a while for the blood-eaters to show up. Wulf could hear them long before he could see them. Their scale armor clanked. Their coronets, the battle horns used by the legions, blared. Then the eagle standard appeared down the road. The first one hundred square was marching toward them.

The Imperials carried a bronze eagle on a pole with the legion’s name and number. Wulf couldn’t make it out from this far away. When they grew closer though, he saw it was the IX Legion. A big one.

Which meant there could be up to five thousand soldiers descending upon them.

The town people were streaming out to the north as quickly as they could. Many of the human elderly and children rode on the backs of centaurs. Normally this was absolutely forbidden, but the centaurs made a sensible decision to let themselves be used as transport in this instance. So the Romans were descending on a mostly vacated town.

The Roman army at a quick march could soon overtake anyone on foot. And their cavalry could range far ahead and attack whoever they came across. They had to be held here if the town people were going to make an escape.

“Would you look at that!” Jaeger said. “See that flag hung from the crossbar on that pole, m’lord?” He climbed nimbly on to the back of one of his master sergeants who was a buffalo man. Jager pointed. “There, about two ranks back?”

“No. . . . Oh yes, I see it now,” Wulf replied. It was a blood-red streamer hanging from a short stick nailed to a poll held upright. The bottom of the banner had jagged edges cut into it. “It’s a flame gonfalon.”

“Does it mean what I think it means?” Jager asked.

Wulf continued to watch a bit longer, then his mouth felt dry and he swallowed. He looked at Jager. “It means ‘give no quarter,'” he said. “They plan to either kill us or make us slaves. No prisoners of war.”

“That makes things pretty clear,” Jager growled. He turned to face Ahorn, who was nearby. “Are they ready with the water ram?”

Ahorn nodded. “Yes, Captain.”

“All right, Lord Ahorn, bring on the flood,” Jager said. There was something wild and menacing in his catlike smile.

Ahorn saluted with a bump to his chest. He charged off, carrying Jager’s orders.

Wulf waited. The Roman boots pounded like distant thunder. The dust cloud they kicked up grew closer and closer.

In front of the dust cloud raised by the approaching Romans, water came pouring out. It poured from either side of the forest. Two big torrents of water. It covered the Montserrat Road. It ran in streams down the wagon tracks. It flowed from the road and filled the ditches and grassy shoulders lining the road.

It turned the ground to muck.

 

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