An excerpt from the first chapter of my NaNoWriMo project. The scene comes at a point in the story where the fortunes of the Hegemony of Andivel are beginning to turn favorable because of Queen Viarraluca’s just and competent rule. For years they’ve been losing ground to the barbarian tribes who inhabit the Vedrian Mountains that form the northern border of the hegemony. By deploying more and better-trained soldiers to protect the northern trade routes, farms, and townships, they’re able to better deal with the barbarian raiders, retaking much of their former territory and resecuring their northern borders.
The following scene shows a barbarian ambush on a trade caravan along one of the northern roads. It’s one of the clearest earlier looks at the barbarians themselves, the kind of tactics and weapons being used, as well as the barbarian attitudes toward the Tollesian peoples.
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Huntress Bedra and the other bow-warriors of the Benori tribe crouched in the brush on the north side of the Tollesian roadway as the merchant caravan rumbled into view. The caravan was bigger than they’d anticipated, but with the element of surprise, they should still make short work of the merchants and guards. And a bigger convoy meant better loot distribution. This would be a quick, bloody ambush—a massacre, really.
Those idiots in the Averci tribe were still doing small-time raids on small farms and lost caravans, but with the increased presence of Tollesian soldiers on the roads, raiding in thirty- to fifty-man parties was becoming less and less safe. She’d heard that another band of Averci warriors had been driven off just this morning—once again by those fucking cavalry soldiers.
What manner of cowards pranced about on horses in battle, anyway? A true warrior kept her feet firmly on the ground.
No, raiding bigger targets with a larger war party was becoming the smarter and more effective solution—give the Tollesians too many warriors for their patrols to deal with and force them to retreat. Nearly thirty of her fellow bow-warriors and over fifty shield-warriors crouched in the tall grass and brush on either side of the road, waiting for their war leader’s signal to attack. The footmen carried spears to defend against any cavalry that might show up, while the hunters bore longbows with bone- or obsidian-tipped arrows. Bone and obsidian had fairly poor armor penetration, but her tribe preferred to save their bronze and iron arrows for the fucking hoplites.
Bedra had taken on the role of huntress after the death of her husband during the Tollesian’s previous campaign into the lowlands. Considered “tainted” or “jinxed” by her tribesmen, she had found herself unable to remarry because her previous three pregnancies had miscarried. With two surviving children to feed, she had taken to hunting to support her family. After demonstrating her archery prowess, several of the other bow-warriors had invited her on her first raid the previous summer.
The huntress counted about fifty guardsmen as well as a couple dozen merchants, workers, and slaves. Seven wagons in total, all of them covered. The guards carried small shields and spears, short swords, or clubs; maybe a dozen had armor. Bedra spotted a young slave girl who might make a pretty gift for her son. She was sure that the others were sizing the loot up as well.
When the wagons were directly between the two parties of raiders, their war leader stood and blared his hunting horn, signaling the war party to attack. Bedra and her fellow hunters leapt to their feet, letting fly a volley of arrows on the unarmored guards. The guards shouted and retreated back to what little cover the wagons provided, trying to protect their heads with their wussy shields. Bedra grinned as one of her arrows snagged a guardsman in the guts.
With that, the spearmen came charging from the brush, trapping the guardsmen against the wagons. The guards had plenty of brawl in them, but none fought like soldiers and clearly had never fought against true Gannic warriors. The merchants and slaves all took cover amid the wagons, and Bedra was about to notch up another victory over the Tollesian cowards.
Then the whole ambush went straight to hell.
A man in Tollesian officer’s armor stood up from one of the wagons and blasted three notes on a war horn. At the signal, the covers flew off of four of the wagons and soldiers came pouring over the sides. Each wagon carried a dozen of those fucking hoplites and a half-dozen archers. The hoplites leapt into the fray and engaged the spearmen, while the archers crouched in the wagons, exchanging arrows with the Gannic hunters. Even more frustratingly, the archers all wore those linen cuirasses; the hunters wore only wool tunics.
Though still technically outnumbered, the armored hoplites tore mercilessly into the startled spear-warriors. Swords flashed and warriors fell, with but a few injuries among the Tollesians. Bedra could only assume that the same scene was unfolding on the other side of the wagons.
A mere fifteen yards in front of her, the hoplite line hacked through the Benori spearmen, sending the survivors scattering. As the lines broke, the hunters turned to flee as well. Bedra fired a single arrow at the nearest hoplite, but it bounced harmlessly off the bronze scales stamped into his cuirass. The huntress turned with the others and ran toward the trees a quarter mile off. As she ran, however, she saw how futile the effort was. A dozen Tollesian horsemen charged in from the east, cutting off the fleeing hunters.
The horsemen lobbed their javelins into the trapped barbarians, then lay into them with sword and spear. Bedra let fly one arrow into a horse’s flank, causing it to stumble and throwing the rider. Another horse bowled the huntress over before she could react, but thankfully not trampling her. A hoplite put a knee in the middle of her back before she could rise, then forcibly tied her hands behind her. She cried out as the Tollesian jerked her to her feet.
How had they done this? Bedra wept to herself as the bastards led her away. Her tribe had been so successful in their raids the past two years, but the fucking Tollesians had just ambushed their ambushers. What had happened? What had changed?