River Andal, Part 1
Hi folks! Dang, it’s been a while since last I posted here. Definitely need to fix that. I gave up computer games for Lent in effort to force myself to get more writing done, with mixed results. While it’s allowed me to get more work done on the Heroines Blog, I haven’t had the chance to do much with Am I Blogging Now, for which I apologize.
Another project I’ve been working on is a short war story called “Six Miles Up the River Andal.” It takes place in the same world as my First Empress stories, but eighteen hundred years later, with an assumed Napoleonic-Era technology and cultural level. My two immortal characters, Zahnia and Luka (Queen Viarraluca), are still alive and kicking ass, necks deep in war, politics, and intrigue. I’ve decided to post the story to my blog in 8–9 parts to see what kind of response I get from readers. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or criticism. Thanks and take care, folks! (The battle scenes are fairly brutal and I don’t bother to censor the profanity: reader discretion advised.)
The Northern Separatist War essentially amounted to a bunch of near-sighted monarchs declaring war on the Tollesian Empire for the right to declare war on each other. Arrogantly so, considering this was about the only right the Emperor denied them. Being so far from the core provinces, the northern protectorates were kept on a much longer leash than regions closer to the capitol. Had they simply declared independence instead of war, the Empire might have even granted them their desire. Evidently the Separatist leaders didn’t consider that possibility.
—from An Illustrated History of Warfare on the Northern Continents, by Zahnia, the Chronicler
* * *
It was common geographical knowledge that the only way to invade the city of Tor Andal from the south was to sail up the great Andal River. Densely wooded, unnavigable fenlands covered most of the region between Tor Andal and the Tornis Sea. With no roadways through the fens, invading armies had to sail upriver six miles, or march a hundred miles to the west or two hundred miles to the east-by-southeast to circumnavigate the fens. Thankfully, the Andal River was deep and over a quarter-mile across, easily traversable by large sailing ships.
Grenadier Lieutenant Brenal Derron of the XXXII Highland Infantry of the Tollesian Empire adjusted her scarf against the light, misty snowfall as her company crept through the trees along the east bank of the murky river. Nearly eighteen hundred years ago, the war galleys of Empress Viarraluca I, founder of the Tollesian Empire, had sailed up this very river to attack the allied cities of the renegade Gannic warlord, King Antorix. Today Tollesian warships would once again sail the River Andal to deal with another threat to the stability of their empire.
Tor Andal was one of the last bastions of an uprising of sixteen northern kingdoms that had declared independence from and war upon the great Empire of Tollesia six years past. The separatist coalition had announced their defection by murdering the Emperor’s middle son and his entourage during the prince’s visit to the northern protectorates. Before word of the defection had even reached the Imperial capital at Kel Fimmaril, separatist guerillas ambushed and routed the two Tollesian legions and their auxiliaries stationed in their provinces, sending both legions retreating to friendly territory. From there the separatists rounded up and imprisoned every alleged Tollesian sympathizer they could get their hands on and threatened or invaded neighboring kingdoms who stayed loyal to the Empire.
Brenal had graduated from the Legion Officer’s Academy at Gillar barely a month before the war broke out. Trained as a grenadier infantrywoman, she’d been sent north with her company as part of the Thirty-Second Highlanders to aid Legions XIX and XXIV in their opening retaliation against the separatists. For six years they’d waged a brutal, ugly war through the mountains and forests of the northern empire, sacking cities and battling army regulars as well as guerilla fighters. Brenal had fought on the front lines of every battle the Thirty-Second was involved in, holding and storming entrenchments, attacking and defending cities, and skirmishing with enemy combatants in all types of weather. Almost a year previous, Brenal had lost her right eye and part of the hearing in her right ear to an enemy grenade. The damage to her inner ear was only sufficient to occasionally confuse her directional hearing, but the loss of her right eye had forced her to learn to shoot a musket left-handed.
Sergeant Lana, Brenal’s twin sister, had meanwhile been assigned to a dragoon company with Legion XII and sent north a year later in effort to open up a new front against then western-most of the defecting kingdoms. Though the sisters exchanged letters when conditions allowed, they’d not actually seen each other during that entire six years.
As a woman in a grenadier infantry unit, Brenal was something of an anomaly. The Legions of the Tollesian Empire were originally founded by possibly the greatest warrior queen who ever lived and had possessed enough competent women generals and officers over the centuries that not only did women soldiers make up nearly ten percent of the army, there were harsh penalties in place for rape and other mistreatment of that ten percent. Even so, the majority of these women were stationed in cavalry, skirmisher, artillery, and other support units. For Brenal to be on the front lines at all was an amazing feat, let alone lieutenant in a decorated highland grenadier company.
“Scouts returning, Lieutenant,” a sentry reported, jogging up and saluting.
“Thank you, Private,” Brenal saluted in return. “Akins, pass word for Major Kanel,” she ordered one of her grenadiers as she turned and strode quickly to the front of their column.
Their column was a detachment of around six hundred battle-hardened infantry from Legion XIX, including four hundred fusiliers of the line, a hundred and twenty voltiguer elite skirmishers, and Brenal’s company of seventy-two Highland grenadiers. Their mission was to capture or destroy Tor Andel’s first line of defense: a battery of mortars atop a fortified hillock next to the River Andel. The hill was around two miles downstream from the city and since the advent of sinew-powered artillery had been a favorite location for Tor Andel’s defenders to use when harassing incoming ships. While the dozen mortars atop the hillock probably couldn’t destroy the Tollesian fleet, they had potential to cause enough damage to force the Legions to pull off their attack.
Tallish and dark-haired, Brenal tightened her layered, woolen coat against the chill as she made her way through the winter-dead brush. Her coat was standard-issue slate grey and damned-near bulletproof. Beneath she wore her lieutenant’s cuirass, slightly more ornate than the standard heavy infantryman’s, but made from the same high-grade Tollesian steel. Beneath the armor she wore her Highland infantry uniform: navy-blue coat with red-and-blue tartan kilt. Her head kept safe from the cold by a plain wool scarf and dark blue tam. While the other members of the Thirty-Second were clad nearly identically, the infantrymen from Legion XIX differed in that they wore wool pants and a tri-corner hat instead of kilt and tam, and the voltiguers usually wore a hard-leather jerkin or quilted jack rather than steel cuirass.
Though armament differed, all of the infantry carried similar kit and equipment: rations, bedroll, tent, canteen, mess tin, knife, hatchet, flint and steel, and sapping/entrenching spade. The grenadiers’ standard armament included a pistol, frontline musket and bayonet, and two short-fuse grenades, though some carried a hanger or other small sword for close combat. Fusiliers also carried musket and bayonet, but might opt for a pistol or hanger for their sidearm. As the voltiguers were primarily skirmishers, they carried a long-range rifle without bayonet.
Infantry officers usually carried a sword as well. Sabres were standard issue, but many officers carried rapiers, basket-hilt broadswords, or even long-swords. Brenal outdid these by carrying the bastard sword given to her by her mentor and benefactress, Lady Ellona.
“All of the trees?” a fusilier sergeant was asking as Brenal arrived.
“Aye, eighty to ninety yards in any direction from the base of the hill,” Ina, their scouting chief confirmed. Ina was a tiny woman, easily mistaken for a child, but from Brenal’s observations, she made up for her lack of stature in intelligence, insight, and all-around wiliness.
“You’re saying that there’s no cover then?” Brenal asked, crouching near the tiny, dark-haired woman.
“Virtually none, Lieutenant,” one of the other scouts informed her. “They cut down every bloody tree to build a palisade around the base of the hill. There’s one entrance facing the river and one facing the forest. Looks like they blasted the stumps out as best they could, too.”
Meaning their infantry would be exposed to cannon fire well before they could get into musket range.
“In a way I’m surprised someone didn’t think of it sooner,” Brenal commented. “The palisade gives them additional defensive cover, while minimizing the entrances funnels us into concentrated musket and cannon fire.” She rubbed her eyes briefly. “It’s amazing how much bloody harder this gets when they follow a few smart defensive precautions. How high is their palisade?”
“Six, less than six and a half feet, Lt,” Ina answered.
“Show me,” Brenal ordered the tiny scout.
“Aye, Lieutenant,” Ina nodded. Brenal stood and followed her into the fens, once again amazed at how quickly the tiny woman moved through the brambly foliage. Dressed in a long—for her—coat, Ina had a quick, confident walk that barely made a noise or left a track across the partially-frozen, squishy fenland. As well as her kit, she carried a spyglass, two pistols, and a short sword.
“So I think I’ve figured out why you were so familiar when we first met a week back,” Ina commented as they crept through the fens. “You’re one of Lady Ellona’s wards, aye?”
“I am,” the young lieutenant nodded, stepping over a deadfall, “along with my twin sister and younger brother.” Lady Ellona was the slightly infamous head of the First Empress Merchant Company—the largest merchant company in the Tollesian Empire—and was an advisor to the Emperor himself. “Her ladyship hired mother as an attendant and chambermaid after our noble father squandered his inheritance on cards, ale, and prostitutes and subsequently died from the clap. Our lady adopted us as her wards when mother died saving her from an assassin’s bullet. How do you know Lady Ellona?”
“She’s me oldest living friend, aye,” Ina informed her. “I’ve been abroad the past twelve years, but I correspond with her ladyship regular-like. She insists she’s not much of a teacher, but I’ve yet to meet one of her ‘students’ who doesn’t have the same confident stride and air of competence what you have. That, and ya didn’t have that sword when we met first. He was a bit hard to miss. You know his history?”
Brenal drew the bastard sword from her shoulder scabbard. “I know it’s almost three hundred years old,” she confirmed. “According to my lady’s family’s tradition, it belonged to Ryla, the folk heroine who saved the kingdom of Pren.”
“Aye, he did indeed,” Ina confirmed. “May I see the bugger?” she asked, holding her hands out. Brenal shrugged and set the heirloom sword in the scout’s hands. “There you are, ya wily bastard,” Ina laughed, looking the sword over, the blade alone being as tall as she was. “Come out of retirement to fight beside another smart colleen, aye? Good on you; you always did have an eye for the ladies.” She turned and handed the sword back up to Brenal. “Thanks, Lieutenant, seeing the old bugger’s in action again does me more good than you know. He’s a good lad—take care of him, aye?”
Putting the blade away, Brenal thought she caught a nostalgic tear in the tiny Ina’s eye. “I promise,” was all she could think to say.
Ina nodded and patted the lieutenant’s elbow. “Let’s take a look at that hill,” she motioned, leading the way.
Continued in part 2.