“Your Excellency, please forgive the intrusion but a messenger has arrived with urgent news.” Lord Florentine, treasurer for the army and richly dressed, glowered at the interruption to his speech but held himself in check.
The Emperor, resplendent in silver armour, turned towards the tent opening, his cape, emblazoned with the Trojan heraldry, was tugged violently behind him like flowing blood. The cuirass had been created with vanity in mind by the Emperor’s late father, the carved abdominal muscles and generous pectorals serving to do little more than mold the elder’s fat. However, Laurence Troy, a martial man and talented commander, filled the carved muscular structure almost perfectly.
“What is it?” Asked Emperor Troy, he spoke with calm, deliberate tones that mirrored his tactical approach to the battlefield. The manservant bowed low and with his arm motioned for the messenger to be let into the command tent.
The man, harried and bedraggled, hurried into the tent his body quivering with nervous terror. He was lightly clad in the unmarked tunic and trousers of a messenger. His footfalls thudded loudly on the wooden planks of the dais as he made his way to the Emperor flanked on either side by two rows of generals, advisors and faction leaders taking part in the war council. He bowed low and his exhaustion caught up with him on rising, he staggered and was caught and steadied by Sir Wilfred Nemean, General of the Third Division.
“I beg forgiveness of your highness for I bring bad news.” The messenger’s voice was hoarse from crying out as he had run, or simply from crying as seen by the telling rivulets that ran down his face, carving a path through the mud encrusted on his skin. “The entirety of the company led by General Occasus has fallen.”
“What?” Said Emperor Troy with the severity of capital punishment in his tone.
“We were ambushed. As we made our way through the Gaullileax Foothills. The enemy was hidden behind every mound, they fell upon us and cut us down like cattle.”
“How could Occasus not have forseen this?”
“Forgive me your Highness. The general saw smoke rising from the flatlands south of our position, he believed the enemy lay in wait there and had avoided the rugged terrain of the foothills. He ordered us to march through Gaullileax in order to avoid a premature battle.”
“And he paid for that success with his life I take it.” The messenger nodded meekly. “Survivors?” A shake of the head followed this.
“The enemy had planned for our arrival well. We retreated, as the General commanded, but at every turn the enemy waited. We fell into ambush after ambush. We were reduced to just ten men by the last. General Occasus and his squires cut a path through the enemy ranks and gave their lives so that I could bring this news to you, your Highness.”
“Occasus always did fashion himself a martyr.” Emperor Troy turned to the wall-sized map mounted at the back of the tent. There was a lengthy silence until the Emperor raised his hand. The Emperor’s manservant escorted the messenger out of the tent.
“You all heard the situation,” The Emperor turned to face his war council. “What should our next move be?”
“Your Highness,” an advisor stepped forward immediately, his formal attire betraying his administerial position. He bowed low before beginning, “A great battle looms ahead of us. Our numbers are mighty and victory is assured. We need not press further on these minor skirmishes. They waste our resources on gains that will not change our most certain conquest.”
A murmur of derision came from the other side of the council. “With respect your Highness,” an officer, Sir Pro’eo, gave a nod of acknowledgement to the Emperor before continuing, “Lord Clark talks utter twoddle. It is a fundamental tenet of war to seize every advantage we can. Whether victorious or not we must do our best to minimize the lost lives among our soldiers.”
“And what advantage was gained with the annihilation of General Occasus and his five hundred strong unit?” Retorted Clark. “In addition to our own great forces we have recently acquired the services of two of the enemy generals, Lords Hippos and Ophis. Their defection proves that the morale of our opposition is weak. In addition they have provided us with an intimate knowledge of the Coalition’s deployment.” Sir Pro’eo remained silent but Sir Wilfred stepped forward, his rich blue cape flowed down the sides of his armour and the heraldic lion of the Nemean house was emblazoned on his chestplate, proud and strong.
“We cannot remain complacent in war. Risk is a fact of life for a soldier. We must remain vigilant and take any and all measures to ensure we don’t fall into an enemy ploy.” Sir Wilfred spoke with the gruff voice of a veteran.
Emperor Troy watched as the debate continued among the council. The majority of the advisors, thinkers, plotters and schemers alike, moved generally towards caution suggesting that the Emperor should maintain his position and focus on his numbers advantage. The generals, feudal lords and landowner knights favoured scouting, advance positioning and ambush laying, anything to press the advantage of the army.
Among the generals Laurence Troy had noted Sir Uther had yet to say anything. The knight had been paying close attention to the debate and on more than one occasion had moved to say something but rescinded almost immediately. The Emperor prided himself on his belief that he promoted talent and ability over fatuous sycophants. With such thought in mind he cut into the debate and inquired Uther’s opinion.
The knight, a recent addition to the chivalrous core of the Trojan forces, was still finding his feet and knew that he trod on fragile ground amongst the more longstanding members of the Emperor’s forces. As such he spoke with uncertainty.
“Uh-well, Your Highness. Your Highness’s advisors speak with wisdom and confidence, a-and, Your Highness’s generals speak with experience and knowledge. I have a meager mind from which I cannot possibly offer any advice in tactics, only on the leadership of my men. Er…however…”
“Go on Sir Uther, you may speak freely here.” Encouraged the Emperor.
“H-however. Recently my squires have been receiving tutelage under a wise man. I was at first sceptical of him as he is a hermit, a sage with no lineage to prove his worth. Nevertheless he has proved himself on more than one occasion to be wiser than any of us on my estate.”
“Your Highness, I fear that Sir Uther, in his naivety, has nothing to offer in terms of strategy.” Cut in Lord Florentine.
The Emperor nodded. “Sir Uther, I invited you to speak council, not to bore us with the questionable manner in which you run your estate by hiring vagrants. I suggest you move quickly to the point.”
“Uh yes, of course Your Highness,” spoke Uther like a twitching jay, flustered all the more. “I speak only of this man as he has spoken to me on occasion of our war effort. He has expressed concern over the conscription of the enemy officers. He believes it to be a ploy, and that they will betray us at an opportune moment.”
“Nonsense,” said Lord Clark, “Each of them was flogged and mistreated by the Coalition, that is why they defected to us and have responded most loyally to our Lord’s magnanimity. This hermit of yours spreads only rumour and gossip.” Emperor Troy’s face maintained its composureas he listened, however those who had been in his service for a long time had learnt to fear this mask as it inevitably covered a fearsome temper.
“Uh, of course, you are right Lord Clark. H-however, further, he has stated that the current positioning of the army is a poor one.” Many of the generals glowered at this statement. “That the wind and the sun will move against us, and that our backs our not secure.”
“And I suppose he says the heavens shall fall upon us too, eh! I suggest you pay more attention to us than the wild visions of some madman you found in the street!” Mocked one of the senior knights. The rest of the council joined in a chorus of laughter.
“Enough.” Said the Emperor, his tone fierce and threatening as a dog’s bark. “I will not stand idly by while you slander my forces and debase the morale of my soldiers. Out! Out!” The Emperor screamed. “Begone Uther before I have your head and the head of this insolent knave you call a wiseman!” Sir Uther, frightened and panicked fled the tent, lucky to have kept his head but aware of the tragic loss of any political aspirations.
The battle was proceeding smoothly, a grinding pot of the Trojan forces and the defensive Panmodun Coalition had met in the middle of the vast plain. The carnage was gruesome and severe, but the Trojan numbers were superior and wave upon wave of soldiers pressed the attack further. To the left and right flanks skirmishes were underway as tactical superiority was sought at the last moment. The Brevisheim mountain range stood stalwart in the distance, an impassive watcher of the raging battlefield fought at its feet.
A cool breeze swept westward across the plain, cleansing Emperor Troy’s sweat matted skin and sweeping through his short-cropped hair. He had led the initial charge during the early hours of the day, after delivering a rallying speech at the battle’s beginning. He had slain no less than fifty men personally, his own unit having struck deep into the enemy forces. As the noon sun rose his advisors bade him to return in order to preserve the Emperor’s dynasty and bloodline, their fears based on the lack of a legitimate male heir.
Laurence Troy sighed, he enjoyed the rush of the battle, the risk and adrenaline of fighting man on man for the ultimate stakes. Stood at the back he felt cold and detached from the pain and the injuries inflicted on his men. Decisions, necessary decisions, were made with the greater good in mind and the field before him felt no different to a chessboard.
A musty scent of cedar swept past his nose, surprisingly pungent in the wake of the sweat, mud and blood of warfare. Screams of pain, louder and closer than those on the plain rang out. The smell turned to a seductive and tantalising scent, like the smokey wisps that drifted from a silenced candle.
The Emperor turned to see an orange glow blooming near the forefront of his encampment. As he watched the flames were caught in the wind and twirled like floating petals only to alight on nearby combustible supplies and tents and unfortunate soldiers.
As he watched, a group of insurgent soldiers spurred towards him. These traitorius men were swiftly surrounded, hopelessly outnumbered most of them fell. A few reached the Emperor’s command platform and one, recognisable now as the recently defected Lord Hippos, bellowed a challenging cry.
“Death to the Emperor!” He charged, his sword held before him and flanked with two of his men. Swiftly the Emperor drew his sword from his scabbard in a large sweeping action, parrying Hippos’s first attack as he did so. He then thrust his ornate blade into the throat of one soldier, withdrew it and backstepped away from the second. With a low feint he brought his blade up to pierce the second soldier’s chest, who collapsed with a gurgling noise. Lord Hippos struck again, more skilful than his men. He and the Emperor exchanged a few blows before a devastating slash across the defector’s abdomen rendered his life over. His movements had been well-practised but text book and predictable.
A frightening heat had encroached on the Emperor whilst he had duelled and a quick survey of his surrounding brought to his attention the shocking speed with which his entire camp had become enflamed. There was no hope of extinguishing this loss now. Panicked men fled hither and thither, ministers and advisors flocking to the Emperor, ostensibly to protect him but doubtless looking for the security of his presence.
Swiftly Emperor Troy rallied as many men as he could to him and sent out orders as best as possible to the forces still engaged in battle, signalling a retreat. His entourage collected, smothered in ash but otherwise able and ready, he departed the plains and pressed forward northwest, seeking the cover of the foothills.
The decision had been poor and not more than one league into the foothills the remnant Trojan forces were set upon by ambush units. Loyal soldiers of Oerlis, one half of the Panmodun Coalition, clammering round them, beating great war drums whilst their archers rained arrows from the heavens.
Bloodied and injured the Emperor was forced to abandon the majority of his men, fleeing with a mere five soldiers and three officers into the forest that bordered the current Trojan Empire. As he made his escape in shame he barked an order to those with him.
“As soon as we return to Avelo Fort I want Sir Uther found and brought before me along with that accursed sage of his.”