Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gold and Glory -- An Excerpt

Here are the first six pages of Gold and Glory, Vol. II in my MERCENARIES series. The print-on-demand production process is going well; I hope the book is available by early June, or perhaps earlier.

(If anyone knows how to get Blogspot to indent, please let me know. Since I can't, I have had to insert blank lines between each paragraph to make things more readable.)

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1. THE JEKLAR CAMPAIGN: IRONROCK

In the hills and valleys
Trumpets loudly blaring,
Mercenaries march, all
Bold, brave, handsome, daring.
Rat-a-tat-tat the drums are beating
Rat-a-tat-tat the drums are beating
Tantarara go the trumpets
Tantarara, one, two, three.

“What’s this one, Loreg? I haven’t heard it before.”

“Just a silly song, commander. But it keeps us marching at a good clip.”

All our officers are
Riding steeds so dashing:
Proudly step their horses,
Sun from helmets flashing.
Rat-a-tat-tat, etc.

Andiriel patted Brownie’s neck. “Do you feel dashing today, steed? Poor girl. At least you survived the winter. You’re tougher than you look.”

Though we’ve left behind us
Girls who can’t forget us,
‘Bout nine months from now they
May perhaps regret us.
Rat-a-tat-tat, etc.

“Give them a ‘tantarara,’ Artus,” Andiriel told her trumpeter. “Two days out and already I feel happier. It’s spring! It’s so nice to see grass, and trees with leaves.”

“We all feel better, commander. Morale’s high. All we need now is a job.”

What on earth is finer
Than with comrades trusty
To march forth to battle
Though the roads be dusty?
Rat-a-tat-tat, etc.

“Three days to Jeklar, right? Just hope that Emdan really is at war with Fanrix.”

It was early afternoon of April 2. Having gone around the hills and mines west of Ironport, the Pelicans were now on a dirt road, entering farm country. The cits, depending on their previous experiences with mercenaries, either stood and waved or ran away and hid.

About an hour later, as the regiment got underway after a ten-minute halt, two riders approached from the west: L/Cpl Gerlon and a stranger.

“Ah, visitors,” said Andiriel, trotting ahead to meet them. “In a hurry, too.” She gestured to Loreg, who joined her from his position further back.

Gerlon saluted. “Commander, this is Captain Kassis nar Voros, staff-officer to General Demantius. He’s been looking for us. Sir, our colonel, Anashla.”

The captain was about thirty, wearing very good mail and boots; his stallion made Brownie look feeble. He saluted, and said, a little breathlessly, “At last we found you. I can guide you to the general’s camp, colonel. It’s two days’ march to the northwest.”

“Northwest? Not at Jeklar?”

“Jeklar is under siege by the Count of Fanrix. The general is organizing a counterattack.”

Andiriel and Loreg stared at him.

“Yes. The Count moved fast and surprised us. He crossed the border a few days back and disrupted all our plans. The general left a garrison in the city and retreated north. We’re trying to raise everyone we can as quickly as possible. Jeklar can hold out for three weeks at least.”

Andiriel nodded to L/Cpl Gerlon, who returned to his scouting duties. She rode with the two men next to 1st Company, whose men had fallen silent, trying to overhear the news.

“So Emdan does want to hire us, captain?” she asked.

“We certainly do. We’re offering G1,100 for one month, supplied, with options for two more months. I have a contract with me. We heard the Red Rats were in the southeast.”

She winked at Loreg. “Captain, do you suppose the Count of Fanrix also needs troops?”

Voros frowned. “Oh, colonel, surely, after wintering in the Duke of Emdan’s lands, you would not....”

“Well, I don’t know, captain. We’re mercenaries, after all. You did say G1,200?”

He hesitated, gave a close-lipped smile, and said, “Yes, that’s right, colonel.”

“Then you’ve got us: the Pelicans, not the Red Rats. We’ll bivouac in an hour or so. Could you brief my officers then? Good.” She nodded towards the column of troops. “Please ride around and see what you’ve bought. Major Jevlis, you and Carlin inspect the contract.”

The regiment was getting better at castramentation. At 4 PM, Capt. Garvis, the Provost Marshal and Billeting Officer, came back from his reconnaissance to tell Andiriel there was a good bivouac site a mile ahead. Once there, the Mounted Scouts patrolled the perimeter while the halberdiers, archers, and civilians unloaded the wagons and put up tents. Then the wagons were chained together and placed along the “most likely threat” route; this was southwest, and seemed less theoretical than in the past. The Provost saw to the setting out of the usual security details after the Sergeant of the Guard for the week reported to Andiriel, who gave him the parole and countersign for the night. Loreg reported the contract to be satisfactory.

At Retreat Andiriel introduced Capt. Voros and announced that the regiment was now working for Duke Kesman of Emdan against Count Tilmand of Fanrix, “and for good pay, twelve hundred, supplied. Sharpen your blades. We’ll be in action soon.”

She was a little surprised by the cheering. Loreg said, “All our training and practice, commander—they want to use it.”

Captain Voros watching with a professional eye, was satisfied. He said so at supper, which he ate with Andiriel, Loreg, and Tomas. The other officers came in afterwards.

“I won’t make excuses,” he told them. “We were surprised and outmaneuvered. The Count of Fanrix is a good soldier. He forestalled Duke Kesman’s invasion by launching his own. Apparently he told his knights during the winter to assemble in early March. He hired four mercenary units and kept them up north; we knew of only one. He called out just his eastern levies, so they assembled and moved quickly. He crossed the border with over 4,000 men when we had barely half that number ready. It’s a short march to Jeklar. The count surrounded it by land while all six of his warships appeared in the harbor and sank two of the five Emdani quadriremes. So Jeklar is cut off, with Duke Kesman inside.”

“Inside!” exclaimed Lt. Galagos.

“Yes. His Majesty is a brave man. He refused to abandon his capital, so my general left the best garrison he could and marched fifteen miles northeast. We’re calling in all the levies we can. The enemy has not pursued. The general intends to relieve Jeklar as soon as you join him.”

“What mercs does Fanrix have?” asked Tomas.

“The Bears: 500 javelins; Carl’s Killers: 400 sword-and-shield men; the Red Company: 100 halberds and 300 bows; and the Sable Shields, 800 spearmen.” He paused. “I think you’re familiar with the last one, colonel? The Duke of Fanrix hired them away from Sir Bend nar Tillag after that battle.... I forget the name....”

“You’ve very polite, captain. Call it the Rats’ Run if you like.” Andiriel turned to her officers. “I’ll sign the contract now. Tell the men we’ll be facing the Sable Shields again and that we’re going to show them the difference between a rat and a pelican.”

“We sure will, commander,” said Lt. Vaklar; his colleagues voiced agreement.

She motioned Loreg and Tomas to stay and sent for Carlin. Capt. Voros changed G1,100 to 1,200 in the contract. She signed both copies and they touched palms.
“And now, captain, tell us frankly what our chances are of beating Fanrix.”

“That will depend mostly on your regiment, colonel. The Emdan levies aren’t wildly enthusiastic. You’re the only professional infantry we’ve got.”

“Don’t worry,” said Loreg. “We’re looking forward to meeting the Sable Shields again.”

Next morning the regiment turned off the road at Capt. Voros’s direction into an area where villages were sparser. A patrol of light cavalry reached them, which Voros sent back to report that he had hired the Pelicans.
That evening, as she sat reading Xenoranthus, she heard, “Not very talkative today, commander? Lots to think about?” and felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see Lana.

She put her hand over Lana’s. “We’ve got our first real battle coming up. I’m worried.”

“You’ll do great, Asha. The men are really ready for a fight, especially after what the Sable Shields did to us last time.”

“I know. That’s not why I’m worried. We’re just part of the army. I hope this Demantius knows his job and that the other troops are brave. We can’t win everything by ourselves.”

Lana knelt beside Andiriel’s chair and took her hands in her own. “We’ve got to win. Otherwise we won’t be able to go shopping in Jeklar, and I really need a new dress.”

Andiriel laughed. “At least if we win we’ll have something to shop with. I guess we’ll do all right. The enemy haven’t got a lucky fox, do they?” She looked out the tent flap, to see Sandi catching beetles.

Capt. Voros brought a report from the light cavalry that the Count of Fanrix was moving north. “He’s left enough troops to maintain the siege and the rest are on the march towards us. General Demantius is moving southwest. We should join him tomorrow afternoon and give battle the next day.”

(2)

The Pelicans met General Demantius sooner than expected: together with a dozen aides and guards he rode into the field while the regiment was having dinner. He urgently sought out Andiriel, who was disappointed by her new superior’s appearance. She had imagined an august, commanding figure (like Sir Branlor), but in fact Demantius was a small, sallow Islander of fifty or so riding a horse that seemed slightly too big for him. His sparse black hair was greasy, his beard untrimmed, his breastplate and cuisses needed polishing; his robust escorts diminished him still further. Andiriel felt that she was equally unprepossessing to him: his brown eyes seemed very skeptical as he studied her when she came to attention.

“Count Tilmand has halted a mile south, near Mud Brook,” Demantius said as he dismounted. “The rest of the army will be here before nightfall. Could I see you alone, colonel?” His voice was cultured, but he spoke abruptly.

They walked to a small grove. Dagget followed, to offer the general some wine, but he waved it aside and dismissed the young man.

Again Demantius fixed her with doubting eyes. “This regiment was the Red Rats?”

“Yes, general. It was.”

“Why is it any better now than at Thrale’s Disaster or Brakar’s Dike?”

“Better training, discipline, morale, and.... and leadership, general. We even won a battle last fall. A big skirmish, at least.”

“Tell me about that.”

She did (omitting her deception of the baron). He listened carefully, nodded, and said, “How long have you been a mercenary?”

“Since I was nineteen, sir.”

“And how old are you now?”

“Nineteen, sir.”

He chuckled before he spoke. “Anashla, you are the only woman I know to command a regiment, except for Ela nal Tindal. She took over the Claws of Gartos when her husband was killed, but turned them over to her brother-in-law a few months later. Listen. I’ve got about 2,200 men: 50 Emdan knights, my 150 light cavalry, 1,400 levies, and 600 Pelicans. Fanrix will field more: 125 knights, 1,700 good mercenary infantry, and about 1,000 levies who certainly aren’t any worse than ours. We have the initiative because they have no light horse, and we’ve got a few more bows, about 400 to 300. The point is, young woman, your regiment will almost certainly either win or lose this thing. I can’t count on the levies to do more than defend, and not even that for very long. It will be all my cavalry can do to distract theirs. I certainly can’t hope to defeat all their knights. Do you honestly think your Pelicans can handle the Sable Shields?”

“Yes, general.”

He waited; she said no more; he raised his shaggy eyebrows.

“The only other thing I could say is ‘no,’ general, and that’s not a good answer, is it?”

Now he laughed, and put a hand on her arm. “Maybe we’ll win this after all, colonel. Maybe we will. Make camp here. I’ll talk to the officers once the rest of our troops arrive.”

They duly arrived. The Emdan knights looked good, accompanied by a lot of people from their estates who pitched the tents and looked after the spare horses. But the militia who wandered into the area over a period of an hour or so made the Pelicans look like the Imperial Guard: a throng of peasants in leather gambesons or no armor, some with helmets and many without, armed with a collection of random weapons and farm tools, supervised (a bit) by older men, most of whom wore mail. They had few tents, and they mobbed the supply wagons to get their bread and meat.

“Will these yokels be of any use at all?” Andiriel asked Loreg.

He studied the milling throng and replied, much to her surprise, “They’re sturdy fellows, commander. Levies aren’t always bad, but they’re unpredictable. I’ve seen militia run at the first volley of arrows, and I’ve also seen them fight like mad. Of course, sometimes that’s because they don’t know enough to retreat. But these lads should give a good account of themselves. They’re healthy, and after a dull winter they’ll welcome some excitement.”

“They’ll certainly get lots of it tomorrow.”

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