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Princes of the Universe, Part II

Discussion in 'Civ4 - Stories & Tales' started by Sisiutil, Jan 23, 2009.

  1. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

    Joined:
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    6,899
    Location:
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    Princes of the Universe, Part II

    At the request of the underpaid and overworked heroes who moderate this board, I've started this thread to continue and conclude my Princes of the Universe stories. (It seems that threads often run into stability issues with the board software and/or database when they get longer than 1000 posts.) The old thread with most of the stories can still be accessed HERE.

    Table of Contents

    Chapter 16: Scipio's Sabre, Part 1
    Chapter 16: Scipio's Sabre, Part 2
    Chapter 16: Scipio's Sabre, Part 3
    Chapter 16: Scipio's Sabre, Part 4
    Chapter 16: Scipio's Sabre, Part 5
    Chapter 16: Scipio's Sabre, Part 6 - Conclusion
    Chapter 17: Scipio's Victory, Part 1
    Chapter 17: Scipio's Victory, Part 2
    Chapter 17: Scipio's Victory, Part 3
    Chapter 17: Scipio's Victory, Part 4
     
  2. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Chapter 16 – Scipio's Sabre

    Marcus Scipio and the Battle of New Serai, 1770 AD

    Part 1

    The heavy rain pelted down on the marching Roman column like a subtle form of artillery, whose intent was not to maim and kill but to sicken and demoralize. It drummed upon the tops of their shakos, dripped down their necks, ran down their backs, and had by now soaked them to the skin. The deluge did nothing to help the mood of the men, whose spirits were already low.

    By rights, the Roman army should have been elated. They had now captured two Mongolian cities, Mycenian and Ning-Hsia, and were marching on a third, some place called New Serai. Taking it would cut off the Mongolians from the Mycenian peninsula and would completely secure the Roman beachhead in this land, ensuring the Romans of relatively easy and secure resupply and reinforcement from their home continent.

    News from elsewhere, however, had significantly dampened their spirits. Rather than rushing home to defend Mongolia’s main territory, as everyone had expected him to do, Genghis Khan had instead continued pushing his forces against England, Rome’s ally. He’d travelling unimpeded through supposedly-neutral Greece, and just after the Roman triumph at Ning-Hsia, word had come from the north that Khan’s forces had captured the English capital, London itself. Queen Elizabeth had barely escaped—the sole consolation from the debacle.



    The dispiriting news had turned the taste of victory to ashes in the Romans’ mouths. The whole point of the Mongolian campaign had been to relieve pressure on Rome’s traditional ally, England. It obviously wasn’t working, which was shocking. How could Khan simply ignore the loss of two of his cities, and the approaching loss of a third? What was he thinking and planning? Was he simply stubborn, or did he have something more up his sleeve? The unanswered question which bothered the troops most of all was nearly unthinkable: could it be that Genghis Khan was a better strategist than the immortal Caesar?

    None of these doubts helped boost the morale of the Roman troops as they marched towards New Serai. Nor did the weather. Nor did the state of their footwear.

    “Bloody hell!” Lieutenant Marcus Scipio cursed as he paused to shake another stone out of his boot.

    The front part of the sole had separated from the boot a few days prior; that and the holes worn in them ensured that Scipio’s feet were soaked with cold rainwater and mud, and that every few paces a small stone could find its way inside his footwear to torment his aching feet even more. The boots of the rest of his Legion, the 14th, weren’t in much better shape.

    “We would have to do all of this bloody marching during Mongolia’s rainy season, wouldn’t we, sir?” Sergeant Necalli muttered from beside him. The hulking Aztec rifleman was stumbling through the mud like his officer, his feet similarly soaked and sore.

    “The bloody supply ship was supposed to be here weeks ago!” Scipio snarled.

    “Word is there was a storm off the coast of Antium…” Necalli replied.

    “Bollocks!” Scipio growled his opinion of that official excuse. “Stupid bloody useless navy pansies won’t leave port if there’s so much as a stiff breeze to lift their skirts.”

    Despite their discomfort, Necalli smiled. There was something about seeing his commanding officer in a foul mood that inexplicably cheered him up. Maybe it was some small form of revenge for Rome having conquered the Aztec empire centuries before.

    “If you say so, sir,” was all he said, and managed to make the grin disappear from his face before Scipio turned to glare at him. Necalli’s gaze wandered upwards, towards the top of the hill on the right hand side of the road. “Think the rain’s bothering the Mongos as much as us, sir?” he said, nodding with his head.

    Scipio turned to look where Necalli was indicating. He could barely see anything through the rain, but the Aztec had sharp eyes. Scipio blinked some water out of his eyes, then squinted. Yes, there, at the top of the hill, he could just see them—a group of men on horseback. Cavalry, about a dozen of them. Though they were little more than silhouettes, Scipio knew they were the enemy; Roman troops wouldn’t be watching their own column from a distance with such interest.

    “Scouts?” Necalli said.

    “Let’s hope that’s all they are,” Scipio replied.

    Despite how rain-soaked they were, the hairs on the back of Scipio’s neck were standing up. It was hard to count the shadowy figures through the heavy rain, to tell if the group of Mongolian cavalry were merely a small force or a harbinger of something much larger. They’d be insane to attack the entire Roman column. But they had the rain for cover, the Roman army was on the move and out of its usual protective fortifications, and if they knew how low the troops’ spirits were…

    In a heartbeat, Scipio was on the move, running. Through the rain, a few paces ahead of him, thankfully conspicuous because he was on horseback, rode Colonel Gracchus, commander of the 14th Legion.

    “Sir! Sir!” Scipio called out as he approached his commanding officer.

    Gracchus looked down at Scipio with no small measure of distaste. He came from a long line of Roman patricians, and found the idea of a plebeian like Scipio—let alone one so obviously low-born—holding an officer’s rank to be anathema. Scipio was used to the attitude and did his best to ignore it—most of the time. At the moment, he had no time or concern for the Colonel’s elitist sensibilities.

    “Mongolian Cavalry, sir!” Scipio said, pointing up the hill.

    Colonel Gracchus squinted up through the rain as Scipio had done only a moment before.

    “Cavalry? Hardly, Scipio,” Gracchus said dismissively. “Looks like no more than a motley group of scouts. Or a few of the locals out for a ride.”

    “In this weather, sir?” Scipio asked pointedly.

    Gracchus glared down at the junior officer, his dark eyes glaring beneath heavy black brows that were just beginning to be grizzled with silver.

    “Scouts, then,” he said sharply, then waved his hand and turned away.

    Scipio ground his teeth and looked back up the hill, squinting through the driving rain. “There’s more of them than there were a moment ago, sir,” he said.

    “What if there are, Scipio?” Gracchus replied impatiently, turning in his saddle to glare at his subordinate.

    “There’s a lot more of them,” Necalli, silent and unnoticed until now, despite his size, said ominously from beside Scipio.
    Scipio and Gracchus both looked up at the top of the hill, and both quietly gasped. Even through the heavy rain, they could now see the silhouettes of at least a hundred horsemen there, where before only a dozen or so silhouettes had been visible.

    “Lieutenant...” Colonel Gracchus managed to choke out, but Scipio was already in motion.

    “FORM SQUARE!” Scipio shouted, Sergeant Necalli on his heels, as he ran back towards the riflemen of the 14th, who were still marching in column. “FORM SQUARE, YOU BASTARDS!”

    The riflemen were in a tired, dazed stupor from the long march and the rain, but the order was second nature to them. After the briefest of confused hesitations, they began a quick but orderly move into several adjacent defensive formations.

    At that very moment, the Roman riflemen heard a shout from above and to their right, then a sound like thunder as the cavalry began their charge downhill. The hundred horsemen in front began to rapidly descend the hill, a hundred more behind them, and a hundred more after that. Their steeds were charging at a gallop almost as soon as they began their descent down the slope.

    Fortunately, it wasn’t the first time the Roman infantry had faced off against cavalry, and they knew exactly how to do it. Each square was two ranks deep on each side, the front rank kneeling, the rear rank standing. The faced outwards; each man quickly attached his two-foot long, wickedly sharp bayonet to the end of his rifle and pointed it outwards at a raised angle, the butt of the rifle braced against the ground. It didn’t matter that cavalry horses were highly trained beasts of war; they were still animals with an innate sense of self-preservation, and would not charge into such an array of deadly sharp spikes.

    Provided, of course, the horses could stop themselves in time. And could actually see the bayonets.

    A cold, ugly feeling stirred in Scipio’s belly as he watched the Mongolian cavalry rushing down the hill towards him. Even though they were only a few dozen yards away, the heavy rain prevented him from seeing much more than huge, dark shadows in motion, the pull of gravity speeding their charge and making them look onstoppable. Despite the torrential downpour, Scipio’s throat suddenly felt dry.

    “RIFLES!” he shouted. “PREPARE TO FIRE!”

    Again, the Romans hesitated for the briefest of moments, but only for a moment. It was unusual to fire out of a square, but an order was an order, especially from their hard-featured lieutenant. The men in the two ranks facing the hill raised their weapons to their shoulders and took aim at the charging horses.

    “FIRST RANK! FIRE!” Scipio yelled.

    The loud, sharp crackle of rifle fire rang out in the rain, almost instantly followed by the horrific sounds of screaming horses and men. Mongolian horses fell, tumbling down the hillside, taking their riders with them, tripping other horses behind them. Some of the more skilled riders managed to jump their mounts over the new obstacles.

    Without even pausing to think about it, the first rank began to reload, popping the spent cartridge from their weapons’ breaches, pulling another from their belts and sliding it home. They did so without even flinching as the second rank, on Scipio’s shouted order, fired over their heads. More horses and riders fell.

    “It won’t stop them, sir!” Sergeant Necalli shouted.

    Scipio knew it was true. The cavalry were relentlessly continuing their charge, only a few yards away now, so he could see them clearly through the rain; he could smell the wet loam being raised by their pounding hooves, he could see the foam forming at the corners of the horses’ mouths. The Romans lowered the butts of their rifles again, expecting the horses to shear away at the last moment like they always did.

    But they did not. Blinded by the rain, unable to stop because of their downward momentum, the horses continued their charge straight towards the sides of the squares facing the hill. Only at the last moment did the horses see the forest of spikes in front of them; only then did they scream in fear and try to stop, but it was too late. They were practically on top of the hapless riflemen, who screamed and threw themselves to the wet ground as the huge, suddenly panicked horses lunged over them.

    Scipio, standing behind the two hillside ranks, watched in horror as they horses crashed through the Roman line. Less than a heartbeat later, he instinctively threw himself aside as one horse charged towards him, the whites of its eyes visible in its sudden terror. The huge, heavy flank of the animal struck his shoulder, sending him spinning; Scipio narrowly avoided having his legs trampled beneath the beast’s rear hooves. Fortunately, the horse’s rider was preoccupied trying to control his panicked mount, otherwise Scipio might have been mercilessly chopped down by a cavalry sabre.

    When Scipio managed to shakily push himself up from the cold, wet earth where he’d fallen, the scene around him had already descended into chaos. One side of each Roman infantry square was shattered. The first few horses had trampled the ranks of riflemen beneath their hooves, but had received mortal wounds from the raised bayonets in the process; the animals had gone mad in their pain and death throes and were thrashing about wildly, doing as much damage to their own riders and neighbouring beasts as they were to the few Romans who were still standing. Behind them, uninjured horses were riding into the middle of the square, their riders still in control and looking down from their saddles for enemy to kill.

    Scipio cursed, then pushed himself to his feet. He could run, but he knew he’d only be cut down from behind by a Mongolian cavalryman. There was nothing for it but to join the carnage.

    “RIFLES!” he shouted over the din of battle and the pounding rain. “TO ME! TO ME!”

    Some of the men in the remaining three sides of the square, turning to see the formation hopelessly broken, obeyed their first instinct, which was to run. Many more, however, either heard Scipio’s order or heeded their own anger and launched themselves towards the invading cavalry.

    Scipio looked about quickly and spotted a rider sporting epaulettes and sash. An officer; even now, the man was waving his sword and shouting orders to his men. He remembered that he’d loaded but had not fired his weapon. He raised the rifle to his shoulder, took aim, and pulled the trigger, then watched with satisfaction as the Mongolian officer fell from his horse, his brownish-grey deal suddenly sprouting a dark blossom of blood.

    “KILL THEM!” Scipio shouted as he threw the leather strap of his rifle over his shoulder so the weapon hung over his back. He drew his sword and screamed incoherently as he ran forward. Other riflemen ran alongside him, shouting as well.

    Private Lallena, the Spaniard, ran by him and plunged the blade of his bayonet into the side of a horse. The animal screamed in pain and reared up just as Lallena yanked the blade free. He ducked out from under the animal’s slashing hooves, then jabbed his bayonet upwards again, this time into the gut of the horse’s rider, who yelled and fell from the saddle.

    Sergeant Necalli, a few yards to Scipio’s right, waited, poised on the balls of his feet as one cavalryman charged towards him. The huge Aztec deftly side-stepped the horse at the last moment, lashing out and striking the animal on its sensitive nose with a large, heavy fist as it passed by him. The beast screamed in pain, and Necalli took advantage of the rider’s loss of control to reach up and yank the man out of the saddle. He struck the Mongolian once, then stamped upon his face with his boot and turned to face his next challenge.

    Rifles still crackled around Scipio. A few paces behind him, Corporal Ancus Silo was hunkered down on one knee, the old poacher calmly loading cartridge after cartridge into his weapon, taking careful aim, and dispatching horses and riders with deadly ease.

    Despite their valiant efforts, however, the Roman infantry were being overwhelmed. Their square was broken, and the Mongolian cavalry were wading through them, the heavy beasts knocking the puny men aside while their riders used carbines and swords to finish them off.

    Scipio was suddenly jostled and turned to see Private Li standing beside him, his usually-narrow eyes opened wide, unblinking. The young Chinese private stared at the carnage around him in barely-controlled terror; but he hadn’t run, Scipio briefly reflected. Li had held his own in a handful of battles now, and this one would be no different.

    “Come on, Wei!” he said to the young private, flashing a feral grin at him. “Let’s you and me kill some of these Mongo bastards!” Li nodded, drawing encouragement from his commanding officer’s bravery and savagery.

    Together, they rose and charged the nearest horse; the rider and his mount, confused by the two targets presented to them, each took a moment too long to decide which one to attack first. Scipio suffered from no such moment of indecision. He slashed the blade of his sword at the horse’s mouth, sending the animal rearing back out of control; he picked his moment carefully, ducked beneath the slashing hooves, and plunged his bayonet into the rider’s ribs. With a groan, the Mongolian fell to the ground, the horse reared and ran away, and Scipio gave Li an encouraging smile and nod, grateful for the distraction the young private had provided.

    Yet even as Scipio watched the horse he and Li had attacked run off, he heard more hoof beats behind him, approaching rapidly. Scipio didn’t even pause to think, he just reacted, judging the approach of the horse from the sound. He threw himself to one side and felt his tall shako torn from his head as a heavy cavalry sabre struck it, barely missing striking his skull. Wet mud sprayed by the animal’s huge, heavy hooves soaked his uniform, informing him just how closely death had just passed him by.

    He quickly pushed himself up from the mud, his sword held ready as the Mongolian quickly turned his mount. Scipio’s new opponent was a tall, sturdily-built man wearing the silver epaulettes of a Mongolian colonel and a black patch over one eye. That one eye was as black as midnight, as was the formidable war horse the man rode. His lips were curled into a contemptuous sneer as he eyed the Roman infantryman standing before him. He spurred his horse forward, renewing his attack.

    Scipio waited as long as he dared, then lashed out with his sword, not at the rider, but once again at the sensitive mouth of his mount. The rider anticipated this tactic, however, and yanked on the reins to not only pull his horse’s head away from the attack, but to present his sword arm towards his opponent.

    Scipio could see the long, heavy blade drawn back, then slashing down towards him. In an almost surreal moment of utter clarity, he could see rivulets of rain water flying from the blade as it descended. He shifted his own sword to parry the blow.

    The impact of the sword hitting his own seemed to reverberate right through him, rattling his teeth and shooting white-hot pain through his arm. His own sword—a cheap weapon that he’d barely been able to afford once he’d earned his commission—shattered noisily. One large portion of the blade was flung over his head, while smaller shards of metal struck his uniform and cut his face and the back of his sword hand. The force of the blow threw Scipio backwards, the mud barely cushioning the blow. His rifle, slung across his back, cracked as its long barrel broke away from the stock. Instinctively, Scipio rolled away from the horse’s slashing hooves, his right arm useless, his eyes glancing about him for a weapon, any weapon at all, knowing that death was only seconds away.

    Suddenly, the great black war horse reared up and screamed in pain. Scipio saw the Mongolian pull harshly on the reins, struggling for control even as he turned to search for the source of the attack on his mount. Through the animal’s powerful legs, Scipio could see the breeches of a Roman rifleman. The beast moved aside and Private Li was revealed, the blade of his bayonet dripping with the animal’s blood.

    But Li had only cut the animal, and not deeply; the Mongolian quickly brought the horse back under his control and turned to face this new threat. Li stood his ground, his eyes open wide, as he looked desperately for another opening.

    “Wei!” Scipio shouted weakly, knowing all too well the peril the young rifleman was now facing, “get out of there!”

    Either Li didn’t hear him or was unwilling to abandon his commanding officer when he was in distress. He scuttled backwards, but kept thrusting his bayonet towards the Mongolian and his mount, attempting to keep them at bay, and apparently succeeding. But from his prone position, Scipio could see the man was toying with Li, awaiting the perfect moment to strike.

    “SILO!” Scipio shouted to the Legion’s best marksman as he pushed himself up with his one good arm. “SILO!” he shouted again and turned to see that he’d caught the attention of the former poacher. “Kill that one-eyed bastard! HURRY!” Scipio yelled.

    Silo sized up the situation in an instant as he saw the danger the young private was in. He quickly loaded his weapon and brought the rifle to his shoulder, one eye closed as he took aim. He squeezed the trigger.

    At that very moment, the Mongolian colonel attacked. He and his horse moved as one, their wordless communication forged by years of training and practice. Horse and rider lunged forward, the tip of horseman’s heavy cavalry sword deftly slipping by Li’s bayonet. Silo’s bullet, aimed so perfectly only a split second before, now flew harmlessly over the head of the lunging Mongolian. The tip of the man’s sword pierced Li’s throat, then emerged with a bloody explosion from the back of his neck. Just as quickly as he’d thrust it forward, the Mongolian twisted his blade and withdrew it.

    “NO!” Scipio shouted, running towards Li even though he now had now weapon and risked dying as well.

    Li’s knees buckled and he dropped to the muddy ground, blood coursing from the wound in his neck, soaking the front of his dark blue uniform, staining it purple. His hands went limp and his rifle fell from his hands. He crumpled like a wad of paper thrown into a fire, and fell over onto his side.

    The Mongolian turned to face Scipio again, his bloodied sword ready to finish him off. Just then, however, the Mongolians’ horses whinnied nervously, and the horsemen glanced nervously around them. Scipio felt the ground begin to shake beneath his feet. At that moment, the rain suddenly petered out, and in the sudden silence, the distant sound of trumpets, shouting men, and galloping horses could be heard.

    The Mongolians had attacked only one portion of a vast, long column. As the battle raged, trumpets were sounding from both sides, summoning aid. Behind him, Scipio could now hear the pounding of thousands of horses’ hooves, and knew it wasn’t Mongolian cavalry approaching. The Mongolian colonel barked some quick orders at his horsemen, and the skilled riders quickly turned their mounts and fled back up the hill from which they’d attacked only moments before.

    Scipio watched them go. He heard Silo fire another shot at the departing horsemen; unusually, it didn’t seem to strike a target. But Scipio wasn’t surprised. He knew why the marksman’s aim was suddenly off.

    Scipio walked over to the crumpled body of Private Li Wei, then awkwardly fell to his knees beside the young man’s corpse. He sensed the large, looming presence of his Sergeant behind his shoulder.

    “Buddha wept,” Necalli murmured, his voice tight.

    “What?” Private Lallena asked as he walked up behind Scipio. “Who...?” Then he spotted Li, his body all too still, the blank stare in the young man’s eyes. “No. Oh no. Madre de Dios, no...”

    Behind them, Silo stood in silence, remonstrating himself for that one missed shot. He knew he’d never had a chance, that by sheer luck the Mongolian’s lunge had been timed too perfectly. But he missed so rarely, and of all the shots to miss...

    Scipio reached down and gently closed Li’s eyes with his fingertips. Several more riflemen were dead of course, their bodies laying on the cold, sodden ground around him. He’d mourn for them too, but Li... Li had been special. He’d been the youngest soldier in the Legion. He was the son of the man who had developed the very same weapon that they all carried. He’d received no end of good-natured ribbing for his youth and for his parentage, but every man in the 14th Legion had no small amount of admiration for him. As the son of a prominent, privileged family, he hadn’t needed to enlist—but he’d chosen to do so, to risk his life alongside the very men who carried his family’s legacy in their hands.

    And now he lay dead in a foreign land, across a vast ocean from his home. It would be weeks at the earliest before his family knew of his death. But he had another family, the men of Rome’s 14th Legion, and every one of them would mourn his passing first.

    But not Scipio. He ruthlessly set his sorrow over the young man’s death aside and cast an angry glare up the hillside to his right.

    “I’ll find you,” Scipio murmured under his breath. “I’ll find you, you one-eyed bastard, I swear it to Mars himself...”

     
  3. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter 16 – Scipio's Sabre

    Part 2

    Colonel Subotai stood on the parapet of New Serai’s high stone walls and glanced up at the sky. It was still the rainy season, but it was merely overcast today; the heavy grey clouds were only slightly less dark than the steel of the heavy Roman cannon that were just visible in the distance as they slowly rolled into position.



    The city was doomed, that much he knew; the Great Khan had refused to be distracted from his efforts to conquer England to reassign troops to defend the homeland. The Romans would take the city with their usual ruthless efficiency, aided by those horrific, booming cannon they used to such great and deadly effect.

    But he would give them a fight. He’d already blooded them; the Mongolian cavalry commander took some small satisfaction from that. Not much satisfaction though, and not as much as he’d hoped for when he’d led his best cavalry troops out of the city four days before. He’d found a perfect place to ambush the Roman column, where the road from Ning-Hsia to New Serai passed directly beneath a hill with a long, smooth slope, perfect for a cavalry charge. He hadn’t possessed sufficient numbers to smash the column completely, of course, but he’d expected to wipe out at least one Legion, possibly more. By rights, he should have. The ambush had worked perfectly. The Romans had been caught by surprise and unprepared; their usually-formidable infantry squares had been smashed asunder.

    But they’d rallied. Some had fled, but most had stood and fought. They were accomplished soldiers, Subotai had to admit. He particularly remembered that tall, sandy-haired rifleman he should have, by rights, decapitated with a single blow from his sabre. He’d targeted the man because he’d been rallying the Roman troops, and they had, in turn, inflicted an unexpected and surprising number of casualties on his horses and men.

    Subotai grunted in irritation at the memory. It was the first sound he’d made since he’d climbed to the top of the wall. His aides, standing nearby, knew better than to disturb the Colonel, however.

    Infantry were supposed to quail at the very sight of cavalry; if their defensive formations broke apart, they were supposed to run like rabbits. Instead, the Romans had stood their ground, firing their rifles, attacking the horses and riders with their bayonets, even dragging the men out of their saddles!

    Yes, he admired them; no wonder they’d conquered their own continent and now seemed destined to conquer another. But he hated them too. He was, of course, a Mongolian—and a patriot.

    Now they’d come to his city, the city where he’d been born and raised, the city whose streets had been his playground, and whose surrounding fields had been his training ground. To the Romans, it was just another city, just another siege, just another stepping stone on their path to world conquest; to him, it was home. They’d take her, his city, but not without a price. He expected to die in the process, but he’d take many, many Romans to hell with him—that big, sandy-haired, hard-faced rifleman among them. They’d meet again; Subotai knew it in his bones, and this time it would end as it should when cavalry and infantry clash.

    A sound like a single clap of thunder, but lower and sharper, echoed off the walls of the city and the buildings behind them. Subotai watched as a cannonball bounced harmlessly off the grass-covered glacis below the high stone walls.

    “That didn’t take them long,” one of his aides remarked grimly.

    Subotai nodded. “They’ll find the range before too long. For all the good it will do them.”

    His aides laughed softly at that. New Serai’s walls were high and thick and solid, made of solid granite. Though they’d been built centuries before, they were kept in excellent condition; a coastal city on a continent shared with the Greeks and the English couldn’t take chances. It would take the Romans days, maybe even weeks to carve out a breach in the high, thick walls. The city gates were huge, made of solid oak faced with thick sheets of cast iron, and looked out over the lowest-lying terrain around the city, where the cannons would have the hardest time shooting at them. And New Serai’s seaward-facing walls were just as formidable. The Romans would be sitting outside in the cold and wet for some time. They’d shiver on the cold ground or in makeshift tents while the Mongolians were comfortable in their homes, warmed by burning the massive amounts of wood that had been chopped out of the nearest forests in anticipation of this siege.

    Subotai frowned and grunted, reminding himself that it was not wise to underestimate one’s enemy. Would waiting in the rain make the Romans weary and demoralized, or would it make them angry and determined? He couldn’t allow his own men to get soft, especially since they might not have to fight the Romans for weeks.

    “Order an assembly,” he said to one of his aides. “The entire garrison. Infantry, cavalry, artillery—everyone in the square in one hour. Tell the men to be ready for full drills.”

    “Yes, Colonel,” the aide responded sharply, then turned and left. Subotai noticed the subtle grin on the man’s face. He clung to hope, as many in the city did, that the Romans could be stymied, that they’d turn away. Subotai knew better, but if the illusion meant that his men fought harder and killed more Romans, so much the better. Perhaps if the Romans won enough pyrrhic victories, they’d decide that the price of conquering Mongolia was too high, and they’d return home in their frigates and galleons and stay on their own continent where they belonged.

    Yes, the Romans would pay dearly for New Serai, Subotai told himself; they’d curse the name of this place down through the ages. As for the Mongolians, songs would be sung about Colonel Subotai’s last stand. He was certainly doing everything in his power to ensure it. The Great Khan would be proud.

    * * *​

    Nara waited in the shadow of a recessed doorway and silently cursed her own efficiency.

    It hadn’t been that hard to obtain employment in the home of Major Hakuho, Colonel Subotai’s quartermaster. Many people, women in particular, had fled the city when Ning-Hsia fell. Domestics were, therefore, hard to come by. Then she had made herself indispensible to the fat old man, segueing from mopping floors to demonstrating a talent for numbers that meant she was, before long, putting the regimental books in order (probably for the first time ever). Hakuho blessed her and congratulated himself on finding such a jewel, even if he sometimes regretted that his age and girth meant he could no longer take advantage of all the qualities that the attractive young woman had to offer. Nara tolerated the occasional leer or pinch in exchange for ready access to detailed information regarding the city, its supplies, and its defenders. And she had to admit, she had a talent for organization and numbers.

    But maybe if she didn’t, the city wouldn’t now be so well-supplied, and then maybe the sentry strolling down the street wouldn’t be so intolerably fat and slow. She silently urged him to move along, trying to add the power of her own mind to whatever kept the man’s chubby legs moving. She had an appointment to keep, after all.

    Eventually, the rotund guard managed to amble past her and around the corner of a low stone building—without noticing her in the doorway, even though it was still daylight, leaving her both critical of yet thankful for his unsuitability to his assigned task. The narrow, cobble-stoned street was now abandoned, save for Nara. She silently strode across the lane, then past several doors until she came to the one she was after. She eased it open and stepped inside.

    The doorway opened into a stairwell, which she started to climb. The building itself had the desirable features, for her purposes, of being little-used, relatively tall—six storeys in total—and also being right next to New Serai’s wall. Nara reached the stop of the stairs then settled in next to a window to wait.

    She didn’t have to wait long; she heard a bell pealing in the distance at the nearest Hindu shrine, tolling the hour to the faithful. Nara had the small lamp she’d carried in a cloth bundle under her arm lit before the echo died away. The lamp was unusual in that its light could be completely concealed by brass shades; each one could be easily lifted to reveal the light and thereby point it in a particular direction. Hide and reveal the light in a predetermined sequence, and one could use it to communicate. As Nara was now doing.

    If she was caught, of course, she’d be killed as a traitor and a spy. Well, that was what she was, so she had girded herself mentally and emotionally for that possibility. The Khan had taken the life of her mother and father; perhaps it would be appropriate, she thought, if he took hers as well. But not before she hurt him back as much, if not more, than he’d hurt her. Nara took every precaution to avoid capture, yet she was resigned to the likelihood that sooner or later, her luck would run out.

    Or at least she had been. Before Mycenian.

    It had seemed then that her luck had indeed run out early, just after that Mongolian city had fallen to the invading Romans, the first to do so. One of the local resistance cells had discovered and captured her, then had tortured her to discover what information she’d conveyed to the enemy. Day by day, hour by hour, they had sapped what little strength she had left. It was a waiting game, with her merciless captors holding all the cards. Sooner or later she would break and tell them everything. Then she would be disposed of.

    But before that happened, against all sense, reason, and expectation, she’d been rescued.

    As she descended the stairs, her mission for today accomplished, she smiled at the memory, shaking her head as she remembered her unlikely saviour. Lieutenant Marcus Scipio. Sometimes it bothered her, how often she found herself thinking about him. Sometimes she hated him; here she’s been prepared to die, and he’d gone and given her something to live for. Damn him. She didn’t think she could fall for a soldier, and a soldier he was, to the core: simple, tactless, uncouth; reckless and foolhardy to boot. But he had a good heart... and he was all man. What more could a girl want?

    To live to see him again, for one thing, she silently answered her unspoken query.

    So as she opened the door to go back out into the street, she reminded herself to focus on the task at hand. She reflected, as she made her way down the quiet street, that she might have her wish soon. She might have a chance to see Marcus, assuming that he was indeed camped outside the city walls with the other Romans, and sooner than anyone else supposed. Provided the Romans were able to properly use the information that she’d just sent them.

    Because Nara knew there was another way into the city. And now the Romans did as well.

    * * *

    “Thank you, Captain,” Major Scaurus said pleasantly as he was handed the note, which was sealed with wax. He placed it upon his desk as if it was of no great import and waited until the Captain left the tent.

    Once the Captain had gone, Scaurus picked up the letter and tore off the seal. The Captain himself had been the only one to witness and transcribe the message. Even then, it was in a code only the Major understood, because he had created it. No, that wasn’t entirely accurate: one other person understood it, the young Mongolian woman whom Scaurus had taught the cipher.

    “Now then, my dear Nara,” Scaurus muttered to himself as he decoded the message. “What bright news do you bring me on such a dreary day?”

    A moment later, a grin appeared on the Major’s lips, beneath his long moustaches. Shortly after that, the grin broadened into a smile.

    Scaurus lit the sheet of paper in the flame of the lamp that illuminated his desk, then left it to burn on a plate while he sat back, lips pursed as he thought and planned. At last, he rose from his chair and went to see General Rutullus.

    “Sir,” Scaurus said once he was alone in the command tent with his General.

    “Major,” the General said with a curt nod, setting down a supply report to give his chief intelligence officer his full attention. Scaurus noticed that the close-shorn auburn locks appeared shot through with a little more grey of late.

    Neither man flinched as a nearby cannon went off, followed by a distant, muffled thud as its payload impacted—rather ineffectually—against the thick city walls. After the sound faded, however, the General sighed heavily.

    “We’ll be here until doomsday at the rate my esteemed engineers and artillery commanders are proceeding,” General Rutullus said gloomily. “If you’ve come to tell me how low morale is, save your breath. I’ve been told as much several times over.”

    “Well, speaking for myself, sir, my own morale is excellent—markedly improved, in fact,” Scaurus said as his General cocked one sardonic brow in response. “You see, sir, I just received the most interesting little message from a young lady-friend of mine.”

    “Why would I be interested in your peccadilloes, Major?” the General asked gruffly.

    “Because you’re acquainted with the young lady as well, sir,” Scaurus replied good-naturedly. “You may recall being formally introduced to her at Mycenian?”

    Rutullus blinked. “Nara?”

    “None other, sir,”

    Rutullus’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “You have something, Major. Tell me what it is.”

    Scaurus told him.

    The General propped his elbow upon his table and rested his chin in his hand. “It’s risky,” he said.

    “My father, God rest his soul, sir, always said, if war wasn’t risky, we’d let the women and children fight it, wouldn’t we?”

    “You’ll need the right man to run such an operation,” Rutullus said. “Someone who’s… what’s the word… hungry. And, dare I say it, reckless. Not to mention…”

    “…expendable?” Scaurus prompted him. Rutullus eyed him sharply; Scaurus pretended not to notice. “I think I have just the man, sir.”

    “Very well,” the General said. “I leave it in your capable hands, Major.”

    “I’m honoured by your faith and trust, sir,” Scaurus said.

    “Don’t get used to it,” Rutullus muttered as Scaurus turned and left, well aware that the Major had heard him.

    * * *

    As the light of day—such as it was under the gloomy skies—faded, Scipio and his men watched desultorily as the last few cannonballs fired that day bounced harmlessly off of New Serai’s thick stone walls.

    “Bloody hell,” Silo remarked, unknowingly echoing his own General’s sentiments not long before, “we’ll all be in our graves of old age before they get us in there!”

    “I thought that last shot caused a little damage,” Corporal Lallena said brightly.

    “Aye, to the cannonball,” Sergeant Necalli remarked with a grin.

    Scipio and the others laughed quietly at the remark. The hard-featured Lieutenant reflected that it was good to hear a little laughter from the men, even if it was subdued. After the news of the fall of London, the long, soggy march to New Serai, the loss of several of their comrades in the cavalry attack—Private Li especially—and now what appeared would be a long, drawn out siege of New Serai, the spirit of his unit was lower than he’d ever seen it.

    There were rumblings among the men, as they wondered just what they hell they were doing on Mongolia anyway. The Mongolians certainly didn’t want them there, and it didn’t appear they were doing the English any good, so what was the point? It wasn’t much more than the usual grumbling soldiers indulge in—yet. But standing around watching their cannon ineffectually attempting to open a breach in the city’s formidable walls wasn’t exactly helping.

    “Well, well, now here’s a fine sight,” a cultured voice said from behind them. “Some of Rome’s finest, enjoying the night air and the local scenery.”

    The riflemen turned around and, upon seeing the silk sash of a senior officer and the silver epaulettes of a major, brought themselves to attention.

    “At ease, lads,” Major Scaurus said with a good-natured wave of his hand. “Marcus, my boy,” he said, smiling as he glanced at Scipio, “A word, if you please?”

    Scipio did not return the Major’s smile, nor echo his friendly manner in any way. He cast a wary glance at Necalli, then followed Scaurus away from his men.

    “Uh-oh,” Silo remarked under his breath.

    “This means trouble, doesn’t it?” Lallena said.

    “Count on it,” Necalli replied.

    “What do you want?” Scipio asked insolently once they were out of earshot of the men. “Sir,” he added when Scaurus cast him a warning glance.

    “That’s one of many things I like about you, Marcus—you’re all business,” Scaurus remarked. He nodded towards the city walls. “What do you think of our progress thus far?”

    Scipio barked a laugh. “What progress? Slapping the walls with a wet noodle would have as much effect!”

    Scaurus frowned. “The cannon will open a breach, Lieutenant. Eventually. The thing is, the General, see, he shares the sentiment of his men.”

    “What sentiment is that, sir?” Scipio asked.

    “He’s impatient,” Scaurus said. “He doesn’t relish the prospect of standing it out here in the rain for weeks, waiting for the artillery to eventually do their job, anymore than the rest of you do.” Scaurus smiled wolfishly. “Fortunately, thanks in no small part to his utterly brilliant, if I do say so myself, chief of intelligence, the General has a plan to crack this particular nut open much, much sooner.”

    Scipio caught the drift of the conversation immediately. He laughed ruefully.

    “Why do I get the feeling this will involve me and my men doing something foolhardy and dangerous?” he said.

    “Now, don’t be petulant, Marcus,” Scaurus mildly remonstrated him. “Last time you did something foolhardy and dangerous, it was your own idea.”

    “A woman’s life was at stake,” Scipio replied quietly, his gaze cast down at the ground.

    “So it was. And so it is again.” Scipio looked up suddenly, directly at Scaurus. “She’s there, Marcus. In New Serai.”

    “Nara?” Scipio asked. Scaurus nodded, and Scipio looked over his shoulder at the city, as if he could see her there, or sense her somehow.

    Scaurus looked at Scipio with an appraising eye, then frowned. “What happened to your sword, Lieutenant?”

    “Huh?” Scipio said, tearing his thoughts away from the comely Mongolian spy he’d rescued in Mycenian. “Oh. That. Cheap bloody thing. Broke in that cavalry ambush.”

    “Hmmm. Can’t afford another?” Scaurus asked shrewdly.

    Scipio’s lips pressed together and he glared at the Major. No, of course he couldn’t afford another sword, he’d barely been able to afford the cheap weapon he’d purchased when he’d been unexpectedly promoted to the officers’ ranks.

    If he’d been pressed, Scipio would have admitted that the Roman army had its priorities straight: it provided its riflemen with their guns and ammunition, the artillery with their gunpowder and shot, the cavalry with their horses. Officers, however, were expected to purchase their own swords. Some bureaucrat back home had classified them as a fashion accessory, a relic of a bygone age; and yet, any officer worth his salt was expected to carry a sword. (They were also expected not to wield firearms—though Scipio did, another thing that set him apart from his fellow officers and earned their disdain.) Most officers came from Rome’s wealthy patrician class—a fact of which Scipio was constantly reminded—and could easily afford to buy a decent sword. But Scipio had risen from the ranks based upon merit, and without a sestertius to his name.

    “You know,” Scaurus said matter-of-factly, ignoring Scipio’s resentful glare, “a Captaincy carries with it a substantial pay raise.”

    Scipio laughed derisively. “Is that what you’re offering me if I do whatever this thing is and succeed? You’ll make me a Captain?” In response, Scaurus nodded. “And what if I fail?” Scipio asked.

    Scaurus smiled. “Ah, Marcus,” he said smoothly, “if you fail, you’ll be beyond all such worldly concerns.” He put a fatherly hand on the dubious rifleman's shoulder and began walking toward the outskirts of the Roman camp, just as the first of the evening’s cooking fires were lit. “Let me tell you about this little hole in the Mongolians’ armour that your young lady friend has discovered and shared with us…”

     
  4. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Sorry, no new chapter just yet. :blush: I'm working on it! :D
     
  5. insydr

    insydr Chieftain

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    I spent the better part of the last month reading the entire saga from the beginning, and I have to say that I am totally blown away. The quality if your writing is stupendous! It's easy to lose hours getting immersed in this world you've created, and that's no easy feat considering I also have the option of actually PLAYING the game. :D

    I'm especially amazed at the way you evoke such powerful emotions and come away with such inspiring stories based on relatively simple source material. It's all very impressive, and I hope you do more than just write on this forum - don't let that talent go to waste!

    That said, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out last week that this story is still being written! Count me in as one of your legions of fans breathlessly awaiting the next update (pun fully intended :)).
     
  6. Civfan333

    Civfan333 full metal alchemist

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    phew! I was looking at my subscriptions and PotU was locked.............I was like ohhhhhhh crap, sis closed it? WHAT?!??!?!

    great part!
     
  7. tthf

    tthf Chieftain

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    subscribed!

    been following this story since April 07, see page 6 of Part 1.

    just brilliant.
     
  8. r_rolo1

    r_rolo1 King of myself

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    :whipped: Work faster :whipped:

    Let's if this time our hero of the day doesn't get to the sewer :p
     
  9. Izipo

    Izipo Hardcore casual gamer

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    Thanks for those nice updates Sis.
    I know we should keep the chit-chat to a minimum, but I couldn't resist thanking you again for the umpteenth time.

    Does this look like a subscription post to you ? It certainly isn't. ;)
     
  10. CCRunner

    CCRunner Chieftain

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    Certainly not! Great minds such as ourselves would never as transparent as to make an obvious subscription post!

    :lol: This thread has 250 views in a day. Pretty impressive for an area of CFC like this that most people don't hang out in.
     
  11. BakingTheArt

    BakingTheArt His Evening Coat

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    I was just reading through the first part, and I have to ask - is there any relation between this Scipio and the Scipio of the First Legion in Chapter 5-ish?
     
  12. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter 6, actually. Possibly, but not something I'll get into. There were, in ancient Rome, as in most societies today, a certain number of fairly common names. When Rome was small enough, everyone with that name was probably related, but over time, as in any society, that became less true.
     
  13. BakingTheArt

    BakingTheArt His Evening Coat

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    Okay, okay. But I'm guessing you made that excuse up on the spot?
     
  14. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    More or less. Simple version: I reused a name and forgot about it. :p
     
  15. Ambler

    Ambler Chieftain

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    It's so great to see you return and provide another cool, sweet shot of PotU goodness. You haven't lost your touch; I'm still on the edge of my seat after all this time! :)
     
  16. Civfan333

    Civfan333 full metal alchemist

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    great job!


    update!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  17. grandad1982

    grandad1982 Chieftain

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    You don't happen to like Sharpe do you? Just that a certain rifleman reminds me of him a little bit....
     
  18. oynaz

    oynaz Chieftain

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    :bowdown:

    Sisiutil, impressive foresight of you naming the first part of your story Part One, 2,5 years ago!
     
  19. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    I am a HUGE Bernard Cornwell fan, duh. ;)
    Funny how that worked out, isn't it?
     
  20. r_rolo1

    r_rolo1 King of myself

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    Technically this is the second Sharpe clone in this story :p
     

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