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River Andal, Part 3

Hi folks! Hey, sorry I’ve been so neglectful of the blog here lately. Part of it is due to a recent freelance editing job I did for a friend of a friend the past several weeks, for which I even had to skip a weekend update for the Heroines Blog. Anyway, I’m back to writing for myself for the time being and can hopefully get more posted to this blog and continue my story of the River Andel.

Here’s part three of the story, continued from parts 1 and 2.


“Six feet high, but has dirt packed against the inside high enough for the fuckers to kneel behind the palisade and bloody pick us off at their leisure,” Brenal informed Major Kanel, drawing a map in the dirt. “I also saw a handful of two- and three-pounders mounted on swivels along the wall and a half-dozen howitzers facing the river. Past that there’re two more lines of defense. The first is a ring of seven sandbagged artillery emplacements, with two to three falconets per battery. Two of those emplacements overlook the entryway facing the forest, easily within grapeshot range—that’s four falconets they can fire one at a time at whomever comes through the gate.”

“Shit,” Kanel grimaced, glaring down at the diagram. “So anyone through the door ends up shredded meat. You said something about one more line of defense?”

“Their encampment is at the top of the hill where all of their tents and all twelve mortars are housed,” she continued. “It’s surrounded by a partial palisade, open on four sides with paths running down to the batteries and main wall.”

“So the only option we’re going to have is a night attack,” the major mused, scratching at his four-day beard and scowling. “Fuck, I hate night attacks—too many factors we can’t control.”

“You estimated three hundred defenders?” a fusilier corporal asked from nearby.

“More than enough to cover all of the cannon in shifts over the course of the night,” Brenal nodded. “They’re alert but not edgy,” she went on. “I suspect they’ve been told to expect an attack, but don’t know that we’re this close.”

“And a night attack should help keep it that way,” Kanel agreed. “Still, I don’t like the idea of sending your grenadiers headlong into four barrels of grape.”

“Scout chief Ina suggested that since the walls are only six feet, it should be easy for our men to boost each other up and over,” Brenal told the major.

“You know, the stupidly obvious solutions have always been my favorite,” Kanel admitted, eliciting a few chuckles among the gathered officers and noncoms. “Alright, here’s what we’ll do,” the major decided. “Captain Bartz and I will take the voltiguers and most of the line infantry and launch a feint against that east entrance to try and draw their attention that way. Lieutenant,” he addressed Brenal, “you take your grenadiers and Sergeant Ashe’s fifty fusiliers and go over that southern wall. Make those two batteries overlooking the gateway your primary targets. Once you’ve taken those out, the rest of us will storm the gates and join you. We’ll take the high ground and capture the camp and mortars as a group. Questions?”

No one had any.

“Good,” he continued. “We’ll let the men rest up for a couple hours, then move on the hill come sundown.”

* * *

“…and clearly he’s the most pompous, dumb-fuck king who ever lived,” Ina was telling a group of soldiers gathered about as Brenal sat down with them, around a half-hour to sundown. “Lady Aress stands there, mud and blood splattered in her copper hair and across her legionary armor—some of that blood from two of the king’s sons and several of his elite guards. Her husband, General Garran, stands before the throne in his officer’s cuirass. And this dimwit king has the gall to tell the general to send the Lady away, that ‘surrender talks are no place for a simple woman.’” The others started laughing, partly at Ina’s imitation of the arrogant king’s earnest-but-stupid voice and facial expressions, but mostly at the thought of someone finding the legendary Lady General Aress to be a simple woman.

Brenal had to admit that Ina was a very talented storyteller. Her facial expressions added as much to her tale as her tone. She adopted a regal and competent expression for Lady Aress, a stern and annoyed expression for General Garran, and an arrogant and obtuse expression for the king.

“So General Garran, being the smooth bastard he was, takes it in stride, aye,” the scout continued. “He looks down at the fat little fuck and says, ‘I agree. It’s a good thing there’s nothing simple about my wife.’ And the king looks completely shocked, like he can’t believe some lowly general would talk down to him.” Her imitation of the king’s shock and indignation sent the group into another uproar. “So the king sputters for a moment, then says, ‘have they no sense of protocol and decency in your nation? I demand that you send the woman away so we can conduct our business like civilized people.’ The general stares the king down for another moment, then says ‘all of your sons are dead and my men have slain or captured every soldier in your army. You have no room to make demands.’ The little king sputters again, then sneers at General Garran. ‘I’m going to lodge a complaint with your senate,’ the little wanker shouts. ‘I refuse to be bullied by some common, barbarian thug.’” Brenal smiled and the others laughed at the little woman’s arm-waggling imitation of the king’s angry tirade.
Ina continued, “‘I agree,’ Lady Aress told the king before General Garran could reply. ‘It’s a good thing there’s nothing common about my husband.’” The lieutenant chuckled and the others burst out laughing at her punchline. “The general somehow manages not to laugh,” Ina ended her story. “He just gives his wife this look as if to say ‘thanks a hell of a lot, dear.’” They continued to laugh through her imitation of the general’s amused/annoyed look.

“Excellent story,” a private applauded. “You almost sound like you were there for the conversation.”

“Don’t be silly, aye,” Ina chided sassily. “I was home, taking care o’ their kids, obviously.” That got a few more chuckles.

A young man in voltiguer uniform stretched as he stood. Brenal thought she remembered his name being Tannis. “I wish we had someone like General Aress fighting beside us tonight,” the infantryman commented.

“Din’ need her, lad,” Grenadier Sergeant Koss told him, grinning between his grizzled mutton-chops. “Ye obviously ain’t seen Lieutenant Brenal inna scrap. She’s better tha’ any half-mystical heroine what’s been dead three-hundred years.”

A chorus of “hear-hears” broke among the grenadiers and some of the veteran infantrymen. Brenal found herself glad she’d outgrown blushing at others’ praise.

“Really?” the skirmisher asked, looking over at the one-eyed, battle-worn, and probably rather unheroic-looking Lieutenant Brenal Derron. The expression on the young man’s face suggested he couldn’t tell if they were putting him on or not.

“Aye!” another Highlander put in. “Storming those bloody entrenchments at Annamore, the lieutenant took a focking grenade to the face, blowing her on her ass, like. To her whoreson pretty face,” he repeated. “And she gets right back up, bleeding out the right side her face—eye, ear, and nostril—just like nothin’s happened. Pulls that bastard sword of hers and leads the Thirty-Second rest of the way up the focking mountain. All the while, our buglers are blowing retreat.”

“Really?” Tannis asked Brenal, looking awed.

“More or less,” Brenal shrugged as she got to her feet. “They exaggerate, of course. I didn’t hear the withdrawal blown because my hearing was blasted all to hell, and these bastards are too dumb not to follow me,” she admitted. A few laughs and a couple cheers followed her comment. “But keep in mind one doesn’t make officer in a Highland infantry regiment by being meek and complacent,” she continued, patting the young man’s shoulder as she passed.

The hero worship in the young man’s eyes was hard to miss.

Thanks for reading, folks! Any comments and feedback are most welcome. Continued in part 4.


River Andal, Part 2

Continued from part 1. This second scene zooms to Lieutenant Brenal’s sister Lana, who is a dragoon sergeant for Legion XII.


“Colonel Vitzroy decided what?” Sergeant Lana Derron nearly shouted, staring at the dispatch rider in disbelief.

“To fucking pull the heavy cavalry,” the dispatcher shrugged helplessly. “With the enemy horse obliterated, he’s pulled out his detachment of cuirassiers and ordered Major Orban’s lancers out as well. He says the heavies are of no use against the infantry column, so he’s not going to risk losing them. Orban’s pissed enough to chew boot leather, but his promotion is on the line, so no way in hell will he go against his commanding officer.”

Lieutenant Oxwell scowled and Captain Yarb slammed his fist against his desk. “That’s bullshit and Vitzroy knows it,” Yarb shouted to no one in particular.

“Vitzy’s a rear-echelon motherfucker,” Lana scoffed, “too fucking poncy to get his uniform muddy. And he’s too afraid of the dark to spend a night without his mistress.”

“This isn’t good,” Yarb muttered, glaring at the maps on his desk. “At this rate they’ll be able to reinforce Tor Andal in two to three days—well ahead of Legion XIX.”

Indeed, this wasn’t good, Lana agreed silently. Though Legion XII had ousted the Separatists from their western holdings, with the infantry tied up occupying the local towns, cities, and fortresses, only their thirteen hundred cavalry were available to harry the column of eleven thousand enemy combatants retreating east toward Tor Andal. Pulling back the cuirassiers and lancers cut the pursuing cavalry to barely eight hundred.

Allowing the column to escape intact would nearly double the number of defenders that Legion XIX would face in their assault on Tor Andal. The thought made Lana grimace in frustration, knowing that her sister and the XXXII Highlanders were currently attached to Legion Nineteen.

“Have Major Orban and his advance force left camp then?” Yarb asked the dispatch rider.

“Yes sir,” the rider answered, “but the main column is still mounting up.”

“Have their supply wagons left as well?”

“They were being loaded last I looked, sir.”

Yarb seemed to consider for a long moment. “Private,” he ordered the dispatcher, “catch up with Major Orban and let him know that I’m commandeering his supplies. Food, fresh horses, spare pistols and ammunition, cuirassier and lancer helmets, even the spare lances and armor: I’m taking all of it.”

“Yes sir.” The rider saluted and hurried from the command tent.

“Lieutenant Oxwell,” the cavalry captain ordered next, “take about two hundred and fifty of our dragoons from this camp and ride to Lieutenant Dorn’s hussar camp and let him know about Vitzy’s change of plan. Ride ahead with Dorn’s company and harass the enemy rearguard as planned, and assure him that I’ll be coming along in his wake with all the spare equipment I can gather, so he’ll have a means to fall back and resupply.”

“Right away, Captain,” Oxwell answered, saluting.

Yarb held up one finger to keep the corporal from leaving just yet. “Sergeant,” the captain said next, turning to Lana, “take a hundred dragoons and try to get ahead of the enemy column. Get up front and harry their advance as best you can. Kill their scouts, ambush foragers and infantry screens, at night sneak close to the camp and snipe their sentries. Try to make as big a fucking nuisance of yourself as possible. Take any supplies you’ll need before you leave, because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to regroup with the wagons.”

“Yes sir,” she saluted grimly. It was a suicide mission, and they both knew it. But they also knew that it had to be done if they had any chance at slowing the enemy column.

“I’ll secure the supplies and have the remaining twenty dragoons escort the wagons, while I catch up with Lieutenant Dorn’s group,” Yarb informed them.

“We’ve got our assignments, dismissed.”

Mustering her dragoons and gathering supplies went quickly and without incident. Lana strapped on her leather brigantine over her dark green dragoon uniform as she checked over her supplies one last time. Over the brigantine she pulled her grey, winter cavalry coat. Over the coat she strapped her sabre and arming belt. Trained to fight both mounted and unmounted, dragoons were primarily skirmisher cavalry, but could flank an enemy formation or hold a fortification if need be. Their arms included a cavalry sabre, carbine, and pistol. Needing to travel light and quickly, Lana had ordered her detachment to pack only their food, ammunition, and bandages, leaving their tents, bedrolls, spare uniforms, and other nonessentials behind.

As she strapped on her black-plumed, black-leather dragoon helmet, Lana thought once again about her twin, Brenal. Colonel Vitzroy’s laziness was about to make Lana’s job a dozen-fold more difficult—and if her dragoons failed their mission, Brenal and Legion XIX’s mission could become nigh impossible.
If anything happens to Brenal, Lana vowed as she mounted her horse, I will personally break Colonel Vitzy’s arms and legs and fuck his mistress to death in front of him.

Continued in part 3.

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.

Battle scenes, part 1.5: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, tying the battle but winning the war

Original ship-of-the-line

My drawing of a Hellenic-era trireme war galley.

As discussed in battle scenes part 1.4, the field battle of the defense of Kel Fimmaril results in a draw. Both sides suffer a similar casualty count and the attackers fall back to the beach while the defenders retreat back into the city. From a strictly military standpoint, sallying from the city at all was an unwise decision as the somewhat less experienced and under-armored soldiers of Kel Fimmaril risked annihilation at the hands of the larger, better-armored, largely-veteran army of Andivel. Queen Viarra makes the decision to offer battle only hours before the enemy army arrives, contrary to their initial plan to wait things out from inside the city. During battles in ancient history, the strategy of a city’s army sallying out to meet a superior force was not unheard of—it was something of a calculated risk, the intent being to offer a quick battle to knock the enemy numbers down enough to prevent them from laying as heavy a siege. A lighter siege offers defenders a few more options, such as sneaking or breaking additional help into the city, sending messengers for help, sneaking key personnel out of the city, or future sallies against weak points in the siege lines. However, because Kel Fimmaril is on an island, there is essentially nowhere to go to escape or find help.

At the battle’s conclusion, however, the attacking army from Andivel discovers that the battle was a ruse—a diversion to distract the attackers and draw them out of position to enact the queen’s clever plan for victory. To achieve this victory, Queen Viarra uses several of the attackers’ standard operating procedures against them. The attacking army from Andivel sails into Kel Fimmaril’s harbor with eleven warships as well as four large troop transports and two merchant barges carrying the bulk of the army’s supplies. The warships and transports land on the beach, unloading hoplite marines to secure the beach and docks against any mischief on the defenders’ parts. Meanwhile, unable to beach like the military ships, the merchant vessels belly-up to the docks, but have orders not to unload until the defending army has been chased back into the city. The reason for this being to prevent the defenders from somehow sabotaging the attackers’ supplies. Viarra takes advantage of these procedures by using her army to draw the attacking force out of position and away from their fleet support.

Contrary to popular modern belief, warships during ancient times were not rowed by slaves, instead being powered by professional oarsmen, trained for endurance and combat maneuvering. As such, these men were rarely military and seldom had political or patriotic ties to the city that hired them. In addition, the crews of the merchant vessels carrying the supplies are equally nonmilitary, having had their ships pressed into service by Andivel’s government and paid a pittance for their efforts. Since sailors and merchants tend to be as mercenary as men in any other profession, the most sensible way to coerce them into betraying their escorting army is to offer them a venue with a higher monetary return.

For step one of the plan, her majesty has her Steward, Ronnius, hide with two hundred light soldiers inside the warehouses along the docks in the harbor. Because the soldiers of Andivel have to engage Kel Fimmaril’s defenders immediately, they don’t get a chance to sweep the warehouses for surprises. Once the battle has moved far enough away from the beach, Ronnius’s soldiers rush from the warehouses and capture the warships, forcing the unarmed crewmen to surrender at sword point. As the attackers haven’t had time to beach the fleet, all eleven warships are still floating in the bay with only their tethers keeping them from drifting away. It’s not difficult, then, for Ronnius and the others to offer the sailors a healthy bribe and a means of escape:

“We’re here to make an offer to you and your crew,” Ronnius informed the trireme’s captain. The steward pulled the queen’s letter from his leather pouch. “What I have here is a Letter of the Marque from Queen Viarraluca. This letter gives you legal permission to sail as privateers for Kel Fimmaril, attacking and sinking, looting, or taking as prizes any merchant, military, and civilian vessels sailing for our enemies, as well as any pirates you should encounter. In addition, you may be called upon in defense of the city or for special missions and assignments. The city will take a twenty percent cut of any spoils you return with, but in return will provide you with hoplite marines to act as boarding parties and offer a safe haven to berth your ship and replenish—”

The dark-haired man swatted the letter from Ronnius’s hand and spat on his chest plate. “Fuck yourself,” the sailor snarled. “If you think—”

Ronnius didn’t let him finish. In one move he drew his xiphos and stabbed the sailor in the chest, then kicked his body over the side of the ship. “You,” he pointed to the nearest sailor, “you’re captain now.” Ronnius bent down and picked up the letter. “This is a Letter of the Marque—” he began.

“From Queen Viarraluca,” the sailor nodded nervously, taking the letter. “We accept.”

Step two of the plan is to deal with the supply ships. As the merchants hauling the supplies were pressed into service, they’re already resentful of the escorting army and only cooperating because the army has sword. All it takes to gain their favor is to offer them a way out, though offering a bribe doesn’t hurt either. To accomplish this, her majesty sends her messenger, Terric, to deliver a letter of pardon to the merchantmen:

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the young messenger greeted the merchant captains. “I am here to deliver a message on behalf of Queen Viarraluca of Kel Fimmaril. As you can see, we have already absconded with your escorting warships, blockading your ships within our harbor. Her majesty is… upset that you have sailed to our island beside a force of hostile invaders with the intent of sacking our city and enslaving our people. However, her majesty is aware that you may likely be here against your will, having your vessels pressed into service by the Andivelian military. She is willing to offer you redemption in the eyes of her people.”

“Oh, this should be good,” the second merchant muttered sarcastically.

“I have here two letters of pardon for your crimes against the people of Kel Fimmaril, each signed by Queen Viarraluca herself. All you have to do in return is sail away.”

“That’s it?” the first merchant asked.

“That’s it,” Terric answered, grinning. “Just sail away and these letters are yours.”

The first merchant gave him a strange look. “So it’s not the pardon she’s offering us so much as a bribe to walk away?”

The second merchant started laughing. “Sail away with the foodstuffs and military hardware already in our hold? Materiel we were barely being paid to haul, but that we can now sell to whomever we choose? Fucking best bribe I’ve ever been offered.”

Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t go off entirely perfectly. One of the attackers’ bireme war galleys realizes what’s going on and attempts to escape before Ronnius’s soldiers can capture it. Thus Doric, one of the defenders’ infantry captains, orders the crew of the trireme he captured to ram and sink the fleeing ship.

Doric braced against the railing as the huge ship-of-the-line neared the fleeing bireme. Even so, he was still nearly thrown to the deck at the impact. The crash of the two warships was unlike anything the skirmisher captain had ever felt. The great ram hit first at about a seventy-degree angle to the smaller ship’s hull. The bronze head smashed through the wooden hull at the water line, snapping oars between the Kestrel’s prow and the Scale’s port side. The trireme’s greater mass bowled the smaller warship over, lifting the larger ship’s prow slightly out of the water, pushing the bireme downward slightly and rolling it partway on its starboard side. The impact spun both ships fifteen degrees to starboard before they floated to a stop in the middle of the harbor.

“Back, back, back!” Doric heard the Kestrel’s captain shout as he and much of the rest of the deck crew picked themselves up from the foredeck. “Pull us out before they sink all the way!”

Again, with practiced skill, the trireme’s rowers eased the huge warship’s ram out of the breach they’d created in the bireme’s hull. Doric looked over the rail as they pulled away, watching the enemy crew abandoning the mortally-wounded bireme. A hundred or so sailors and rowers swam in the direction of the nearest shoreline.

Doric shook his head as he noticed the bodies of three rowers bobbing amongst the flotsam from the dying Scale of Andiva. “Sorry, lads,” was all he could find to say as the Screaming Kestrel turned to join the rest of the captured fleet.

With their fleet and supplies captured, the attacking army from Andivel finds themselves besieged outside of Kel Fimmaril’s walls. They’re essentially left with three options: starve, surrender, or launch a suicidal attack on the city’s walls. Captain Bevren, highest-ranking surviving officer, offers the queen a fourth option—one that creates a new future for not only the tiny island nation of Kel Fimmaril, but for all of the northern Tollesian city-states…

Battle scenes, part 1.4.2: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, play-by-play (part 2)

Continued from part 1.

Key characters:
Kel Fimmaril (defenders)
Queen Viarra
General Derron (infantry commander)
Captain Vola (cavalry commander)
Captain Kellor (archer/skirmisher commander)
Elissa (queen’s handmaid)
Andivel (attackers)
General Varic (first in command, killed in part 1)
General Willot (second in command)
Captain Bevren (hoplite captain, third in command)

Map key:
1) Heavy infantry (hoplites)
2) Archers
3) Skirmishers (javelins, slings)
4) Cavalry (spears and javelins)
V) Denotes Queen Viarra’s position in the army

map5Stage 5: Once the attackers are a good distance from the beach and fully engaged with the queen’s forces, Captain Vola’s cavalry charges from the trees to the north and south of the battlefield, ambushing the enemy skirmishers harassing the defenders’ flanks. In loose formation and unprepared for a cavalry attack, the skirmisher formations crumple and retreat behind the hoplite lines. However, it is important to remember that ancient cavalry was not heavy enough to break a tightly-packed infantry formation, regardless of if the footmen had spears or not. Against a phalanx, the horsemen would quickly lose their momentum, making them easy to dispatch by the heavily armored hoplites. Once the skirmishers scatter, the horsemen retreat back out of range of the archers.

As always, Vola led the cavalry charge. Atten rode behind and to her right, lowering his lance as they approached the enemy skirmishers. He aimed the weapon at a retreating back as he closed on a doomed skirmisher. When the spearhead was just inches from the man’s back, Atten gave it a quick push for extra momentum, piercing the skirmisher’s linen armor and breaking the weapon off as the man collapsed. The cavalryman whipped the spear back around, pointing the bronze spike on the lower end forward.

Ahead of him, he could see that Captain Vola had kept her spear intact, slaying one running soldier and knocking down another. Atten threw his broken spear into another skirmisher, then drew his kopis, swinging it at retreating heads as he crashed deeper into the disintegrating enemy formation. As he was at the front of the cavalry squadron, his horse was more likely to knock men out of the way than to trample them, but this tended to knock them off balance to be run down by other horsemen.

Moments later the horsemen emerged out the other side of the retreating formation. Atten followed his captain as she veered left, circling out and away from the battle. He looked back at the routing skirmishers, estimating that they’d killed or wounded close to half of the sorry bastards.

Once back out of arrow range, he slowed his mustang to a trot as the rest of the cavalry reformed around him and the captain. The cavalry squadron gave their horses a minute or two to rest. “Break’s over,” Vola ordered. “Form up and we’ll go fuck up those chicken-shits with the short bows!”

Atten and the others gave a cheer as they spurred their mounts from a trot to a gallop, then from a gallop to a charge.

map6Stage 6: Seeing the damage done to his skirmisher lines, General Willot orders measures taken to protect the archers and the rear of the phalanx. He has 50 or so hoplites taken from the back of the phalanx form two walls of spears, one on each side of the archer formations.

The defenders’ cavalry pull off their charge, not wanting to risk horsemen against armed hoplites. Instead the cavalry on the right flank ride behind the defenders’ lines and join up with the cavalry on the left flank. The combined cavalry force starts riding in a clockwise circle, throwing javelins into the unshielded right flank of the enemy phalanx.

Meanwhile, the defenders continue their fighting retreat back to the city.

General Willot ran to the back of the formation and grabbed a pair of hoplites. “You,” he ordered one, “take fifty hoplites from the back of the phalanx and form a spear wall to protect the archers. You,” he turned to the other, “run down to the other side and do the same.”

Both hoplites rushed to comply. Willot watched as the horses broke off their second charge at the sudden presence of spearmen between them and the archers. The general grinned a bit as the horsemen retreated back out of arrow range. Moments later, he frowned again when the cavalry from the far side of the battle rode behind the enemy formation to join with the horsemen on Willot’s side. The combined group of nearly one hundred cavalry began riding in a clockwise circle, hurling javelins into the unshielded side of the attacking phalanx.

Willot was starting to fucking hate these people.

map7Stage 7: Exhausted, inexperienced, and under-armored, the hoplites on Kel Fimmaril’s left flank break and rout, fleeing back toward the city. It’s important to note that in ancient warfare as much as 80% of an army’s casualties could come during the retreat if routed. Staying in formation provided soldiers with the greatest amount of safety during combat, once those lines broke, it became every man for himself. Meanwhile, the victorious army had the choice of staying in formation or breaking phalanx to pursue their routing foes. Often, driven wild by adrenaline and stoked at seeing their foes flee, the victors would pursue blindly, ignoring orders to stay in formation. Lost in their battle frenzy, Andivel’s hoplites break phalanx to pursue the routing defenders, despite General Willot’s orders to stay in formation.

It was a truism of phalanx warfare that the worst side of the formation to fight on was the left flank. Since the left arm was the shield arm, the left side of the army was better protected from missile attacks—thus it made sense to position the elite hoplites with the heaviest armor on the right flank, to keep that side better protected from arrows and javelins. And thus the poor bastards on the left flank had to face off against the heavier hoplites from the enemy’s right flank. As battles progressed, the left flanks of phalanxes always tended to press inward, giving battle lines a slight s shape when seen from above.

A first-time hoplite, Arriven had heard this, but had never expected to see it demonstrated so graphically. The lanky weaver’s apprentice stood on the left flank of Kel Fimmaril’s army, facing off against the elites on Andivel’s right flank. All he could hear around him was the clash of arms and the screams of wounded and dying. The soldier at the front of his line died screaming, making Arriven second in his line of soldiers.

“Piss yourself?” a veteran named Feddin asked from next to him.

Arriven just shook his head, trying to ignore the warmth down his legs.

“Don’t worry, it happens,” Feddin told him.

Tonniv, the soldier in front of Arriven, died from a spear thrust to the neck, suddenly placing Arriven at the front of the formation. To his left, Feddin took a spear in the eye, collapsing to the ground thrashing and screaming. With an open-faced helmet and shield as his only protection, Arriven felt naked there at the front of the line. Before him, the heavily-armored Andivelians pressed in.

A spear thrust against the top of his shield slammed the bronze rim up into Arriven’s face, breaking his nose and bloodying his lip. To his right, another hoplite caught a spear in the teeth, gurgling as he screamed and died. Panicking and wanting the fuck out of there, Arriven dropped his spear and turned to try to muscle his way through the remaining two rows of infantry.

His back fatally exposed to the enemy, he felt a spearhead enter through his tunic, just below his ribcage. Arriven fell against the shield of the next hoplite in line, throwing up blood across the man’s leather cuirass. The man screamed, dropping his own spear and turning to retreat.

Arriven was barely aware of the sound of spears being dropped around him. He collapsed to the ground amid a churning forest of legs and feet.

map8Stage 8: Seeing the lines breaking, Queen Viarra orders her archers back into the city while she draws her sword and rushes toward her fleeing soldiers. She ditches her helmet so that her soldiers can see it is her, then charges the enemy line, forcing her retreating hoplites to come to her defense or face the ultimate disgrace of seeing their ruler killed or captured by enemy soldiers. The queen’s gamble works, as nearly the whole left flank rallies about her as do many of the skirmishers, bringing the enemy charge to a halt.

The queen tore her helmet off and used her xiphos to cut the straps to her quivers, letting them fall behind her. Stepping directly into the path of the lead retreater, the queen squared her shoulders and blasted the man in the head with her forearm shield, laying him out cold. The impact of her shield against his helmet rang out down the formation, the noise and sudden act of violence toward one of her own hoplites causing the others to slow their pace in surprise.

Wasting no words, the queen shrieked out one of Captain Vola’s battle cries and continued to run toward the enemy line, shoving past the retreating mob. Elissa ran behind, following the copper mane that she loved so dearly. It took a moment to realize that the soldiers around her were doing the same, turning and drawing their swords.

Once out the other side of the group of defenders, Queen Viarra led the charge against the enemy lines. She grabbed the spear of the first foe she met, pulling him off balance and shoving her sword through his t-visor. Releasing her sword, she tossed the captured spear over to her right hand and faced off against the attackers like a member of General Derron’s elites. Around the queen, her fellow soldiers re-engaged the attacking hoplites, both battle lines out of phalanx.

Elissa watched over the shoulders of her fellow soldiers as the queen lunged forward, dropping to one knee and gut-checking the next enemy with her shield. Though his bronze armor absorbed the blow itself, the impact slammed him back into two of his teammates. Her majesty then stabbed her spear to her right, catching another attacker in the armpit.

But even with the renewed fervor, Elissa could tell that her majesty’s charge wouldn’t be enough. The handmaid panicked as the enemy line pressed in around her queen.

Then far to the left, Captain Vola’s battle horn sounded once again.

Meanwhile, seeing the attackers breaking phalanx, Captain Vola’s cavalry charges the right flank, hitting the out-of-formation hoplites hard and allowing their fellow defenders the chance to rally and reform their lines. Captain Vola personally rides down and slays General Willot as he attempts to bring the phalanx back into formation.

General Willot gave a cheer of victory as he watched Kel Fimmaril’s left flank turn. The enemy phalanx curved in on itself, hoplites dropping their spears and retreating back to the city gates, forcing the archers, slingers, and skirmishers to run ahead of them. He could hear the victorious shouts among his soldiers. Suck on that, General Derron, Willot thought silently.

His elation turned to dread as he realized that his own soldiers were breaking phalanx to pursue the fleeing defenders. “No, you fucking idiots!” he screamed at them. “Don’t pursue! Don’t pursue! Reform phalanx! Their cavalry is still intact! Reform the phalanx!” He ran along beside them, pointing at the hundred horsemen on their right flank.

Willot’s cries fell flat as the entire formation continued their reckless charge, perhaps only a dozen soldiers slowing to comply. Screaming triumphantly and lost in their excitement, the soldiers of Andivel never heard his orders. With the phalanx in formation, the enemy horse couldn’t even effectively attack the flanks or rear, as they’d quickly lose momentum against the tightly packed, heavily armored hoplites. Without that mobility, they’d be quickly and easily dispatched by the heavy spearmen. But with the phalanx scattered, the cavalry could smash deeper into the formation before having to fight their way out. The battle horn and rumble of hooves behind Willot told the general that the enemy cavalry commander had come to the same conclusion.

He turned around in time to see a cavalry soldier in bronze scales riding down upon him.

Aftermath: Captain Bevren, third in command of the attacking army, manages to get the phalanx back into formation. He orders the phalanx to disengage from the defenders and leads the withdrawal back toward the beach. The defenders gather what wounded they can find and retreat back into the city. While the battle is essentially a stalemate, both sides losing about the same number of soldiers, Captain Bevren and the remaining attackers soon discover that they’ve lost the siege thanks to Queen Viarra’s trickiness…

Battle scenes, part 1.4.1: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, the play-by-play (part 1)

Not very long ago, I went ahead and looked up online articles about writing battle scenes for fiction writers. One piece of advice that I hadn’t considered, but seems painfully obvious now, was to diagram the battle and its various stages. I first sketched out a basic set of diagrams, then drew them up on MS Paint. (P.S. if anyone can recommend a good free software for building maps and battle diagrams, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!)

At any rate, here’s the battle diagrams with the play-by-play discussion. (For previous battle discussion, see here, here, and here.) Blue denotes defending forces, red denotes attacking forces. Distance from beach to city, just over a quarter-mile. Diagrams only sort of to scale. Click on diagrams to see a larger version.

Key characters:
Kel Fimmaril (defenders)
Queen Viarra
General Derron (infantry commander)
Captain Vola (cavalry commander)
Captain Kellor (archer/skirmisher commander)
Elissa (queen’s handmaid)
Andivel (attackers)
General Varic (first in command)
General Willot (second in command)
Captain Bevran (hoplite captain, third in command)

Map key:
1) Heavy infantry (hoplites)
2) Archers
3) Skirmishers (javelins, slings)
4) Cavalry (spears and javelins)
V) Denotes Queen Viarra’s position in the army

map1Stage 1: While the defenders’ initial strategy was to wait out the siege from safely within the walls of their city, while Captain Vola’s cavalry harasses the besiegers from the island’s wooded areas, just hours before the attackers arrive, Queen Viarra suddenly orders the entire army outside the walls into defensive position just up the beach.

Attacking warships arrive in Kel Fimmaril’s harbor, several minutes ahead of the troop transports. Larger ships are trireme war galleys, smaller ships are biremes. Warships contain mainly hoplite marines in heavy armor.

Defenders have their light troops (archers, skirmishers) in position to harass the attackers while they unload from their ships. Queen Viarra commands one of the archer units. Unknown to the attackers, the defenders have “seeded” the beach with broken glass, pottery shards, caltrops, briars, fishhooks, and other manner of sharp debris. Bear in mind, hoplites usually fought barefoot. Also unknown to the attackers, the defenders have around a hundred cavalry hidden in the woods to the north and south of the battlefield.

The warships touched several minutes ahead of the transports, spreading out across the quarter-mile of shoreline stretching south from the docks. Willot felt a chill as the prow and keel scraped sand, slowing the trireme to a halt.

“Everybody on the beach!” he heard Captain Bevren bellow. “Let’s show these sons of bitches how we do things in Andivel!”

A cheer went up among the marines as they started bailing off the sides of the ships into the knee-deep water.

As the hoplites started to touch down, so did the enemy arrows. Willot leapt over the side into the water, crouching amongst his men. He felt an arrow thud against his shield as he stood up. A hoplite next to him went down with an arrow in the throat. Another dropped up ahead, screaming as a bronze-tipped missile shredded his calf muscle. For the most part, though, the arrows seemed to be inflicting minimal casualties against the heavily armored hoplites.

“Out of the water!” he heard Bevren order. “Start setting up shield walls, go!”

map2Stage 2: While the transports with the bulk of the troops are still arriving, the hoplite marines from the warships storm up the beach and start setting up shield walls, staggering their shields high and low to create portable barricades against the defenders’ slings, javelins, and arrows. The sharp debris on the beach causes numerous foot injuries among the attackers and slowing their advance. Unable to retaliate right away, the attacking hoplites hunker behind their shields until the transports arrive with their own archers and skirmishers. General Varic is slain by a defender’s arrow, placing General Willot in charge of the attacking army.

Once out on the beach, hoplites began to cluster together, kneeling and crouching in places where the beach debris was thinner. As they’d been trained, they overlapped their shields, staggering them high and low to create portable barricades for their comrades to crouch behind. Willot ran up and slid to a crouch behind where a dozen or so men had set up their makeshift wall. The man directly behind him fell, screaming, with a javelin in his chest.

Arrows, javelins, and stones continued to hail amongst his troops, some punching through shields and armor, some not. Field medics—hoplites with bandage packs and basic experience in wrapping wounds, staunching bleeding, setting bones, and pulling arrows—began scurrying around behind the shield walls, checking for injuries.

Captain Bevren crouched in next to the general, bleeding heavily from a shoulder wound. “Wrap this!” he ordered a nearby medic. “The transports have finally landed, General,” the captain updated him as the medic dressed his wound. “We should have archer support any time.”

Willot nodded, watching hoplites, archers, and skirmishers dislodge from the transports. The light-armored skirmishers and unarmored archers would suffer more from the enemies’ missiles, but would also provide missiles of their own against the defenders.

map3Stage 3: Once the troop transports arrive, the archers, skirmishers, and remaining hoplites begin disembarking to join the marines already on the beach. Once enough troops are in formation, the attacking hoplites band together in a solid phalanx and begin their advance toward the defenders’ phalanx. The attacker’s phalanx contains approximately 3,000 spearmen stacked eight men deep, while the defending phalanx contains around 1,800 spearmen stacked 5–6 deep to match the attackers’ length.

Meanwhile, the attacking archers form up behind the phalanx to offer cover fire, while their skirmishers move to the ends of the army to harass the defenders’ flanks with javelins. The defending archers and skirmishers fall back through their phalanx and reform behind the heavy infantry.

“You heard the general, men—phalanx formation!” Bevren bellowed to the soldiers. “Let’s get out of this fucking sand-trap! Form phalanx!” The hoplite captain could hear other officers passing the order along to form phalanx.

From all along the beach, hoplites converged to form the phalanx, a solid line of heavily armored soldiers, eight men deep. The archers fell back to form a firing line behind the infantry, while the skirmishers broke off to the right and left of the line, intent on harassing the enemy’s flanks. Arrows, stones, and javelins continued to rain down as the front line of hoplites brought their shields up, holding their spears waist high. The second row held their spears overhand sticking between the shoulders of the men in front. The remaining rows of soldiers held their spears straight up, creating a forest of poles above the formation. This spear-forest offered another layer of protection in that enemy missiles lost most of their momentum when they clipped one of the protruding poles.

Once the hoplites were more or less in formation, Captain Bevren used his booming voice to its best advantage once again. “Hoplites, forward, march!” he bellowed down the phalanx. Beginning at a walk but eventually speeding up to a cautious jog, the formation started toward the defenders.

The enemy archers and skirmishers began falling back before their advance.

map4Stage 4: The attacking phalanx moves off the beach to clash with the defenders’ phalanx. The archers and skirmishers on both sides continue to harass each other’s troops with missiles. several minutes into the battle, the defenders’ phalanx backs off in sort of a defensive “bounding overwatch,” where the back line opens up to allow the remaining lines to retreat between them. The phalanx then reforms, making the back line the new front line. The phalanxes reengage once again for several minutes, then once again the defenders’ line retreats. This process continues for about an eighth of a mile.

General Willot fought on the right flank of his own formation as his phalanx slowly drove back the defenders. He was surprised for a moment when a whistle sounded and the enemy ranks suddenly broke formation, quickly giving up ground. Without that pressure against their shields, several attacking hoplites in the front rank stumbled forward. The defenders’ back line turned sideways, holding their shields and spears close, thus opening up their formation to allow the rest of their ranks pass quickly between them. Once the rest of the army was safely behind them, the back line reformed to become the new front line. The ranks then reformed the phalanx, shields and spears ready.

Though difficult to perform, it was a common and effective leap-frog tactic that gave the defenders three advantages. First, it allowed them to give up a good twenty-five feet of ground without sacrificing troops. Second, it forced the attackers to tire themselves slightly, having to close the distance quickly or expose themselves to enemy missile fire. And thirdly, it gave the soldiers in the defenders’ front ranks a chance to rest up from their exertions.

Despite himself, Willot was impressed that even the rookie hoplites with light or no body armor had the discipline to perform this tricky maneuver. They’ve been practicing this, Willot thought to himself. Interesting.

His own hoplites in return jogged forward and reengaged Kel Fimmaril’s soldiers. The clash of arms resumed. Several minutes later, the defenders’ line broke again to reform another twenty-five feet back or so. It was an interesting tactic, but Willot couldn’t see what they gained from it. A smart commander would have just kept the whole army inside the walls, rather than risking losing it to a superior force in the field. The thought troubled Willot: from everything he’d heard General Derron of Kel Fimmaril was a smart commander.

To be continued…

Across the Peloponnese


A while back, mostly for the heck of it, I was browsing just to see what kinds of modifications people had designed for games that I own. One of the best-looking I found was a Peloponnesian War mod for Battle for Middle-Earth II, of all games. I downloaded what they had and was really impressed with what they’d done, but I was disappointed at how little they’d done. Only the Spartans had been completed as a playable team. It was a beautiful mod, but it never made it to Beta because of apparent personnel conflicts with the designers. I remember laughing while reading the comments on the mod and seeing the debates about Sparta versus Athens. The most hilarious part was that the Spartan supporters, on the whole, were clearly the less educated and had the most misspellings and the poorest grammar, while the Athens side, again, on the whole, were clearly the more literate and articulate. While I’m sure it was a case of morons who thought 300 was an awesome movie versus people who actually study history, it was kind of a refreshing metaphor for the two main cities in the conflict itself.

But the fact that the debate was going on at all amused me to no end.

I always root for Athens when I read Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. I mean, I know that [Spoiler Alert] Athens loses in the end, but I dislike everything the Spartans stood for and tend only to root for them when against Darius (much the way I only root for the Jets when they play the Patriots). And I agree with many historians that Athens could likely have prevailed had they not gotten spanked so badly in that ill-advised siege against Syracuse. (F***ing Alcibiades. I hope when the rat-bastard got to Hades, his punishment was an eternity being beaten with a bicycle chain by Pericles. I don’t care that bicycles didn’t exist back then.) I’ve studied the aftermath of the war and know a bit about the Spartan misrule of Greece following the fall of Athens’s empire. Makes it easy to root for Philip of Macedon when he takes over a couple generations later.

Recently, my excitement about the upcoming release of Total War: Rome II has been tempered somewhat by the announcement that they’re releasing Sparta as a playable faction in one of the DLC. My trouble is that since, historically speaking, Sparta hadn’t been a power-player for over 200 years leading up to the rise of the SPQR, releasing Sparta as a faction is a bald-faced attempt to pander to the masses of wankers who think they know everything about Ancient Greece just because they watched 300 once for every Spartan.

As I discussed in a previous post, when studying Ancient Greece, it’s important to keep in mind that the Greeks didn’t have a concept of “good versus evil”—at least not as we think of it. Our concept of “good and evil” is a modern evolution of the Judeo-Christian concepts of moral correctness. It continues to surprise me how many people don’t get that these concepts are newer and less universal than they realize. During Ancient Greek times, Christianity didn’t exist and Judaism was only practiced by this little, backwater kingdom bordering on Ancient Phoenicia. (I’m always amazed at how many people ignore the time frame on this.)

The closest the Greeks had to a concept of “good versus evil” was actually much closer to “order versus chaos.” Orderliness, civilization, intellectualism—Greek-ness (Hellenism)—were all valued as “good” by the Greeks, while disorderliness, brutishness, emotionalism—barbarism—were all considered “bad” (not necessarily “evil”). What intrigues me is that one of the key cultural conflicts between the Spartans and Athenians was their respective definitions of the concept of “order.” The Spartans saw order as being achieved through military might and physical prowess. To them, the Athenians were of the foppish persuasion, pursuing frivolous intellectual activities. Meanwhile, the Athenians saw order as being achieved through intellectual pursuits, such as law and philosophy. To them, the Spartans were brutes and thugs—the jocks of the ancient world, really—a city of meat-heads with a lot of muscle and a certain predatory cunning, but no real ability to rationalize.

Honestly, I agree with the Athenians.

If one takes the time to pick apart the battle of Thermopylae, it’s not hard to realize that Sparta’s presence in the fight was fairly unnecessary. Firstly, there were more than just Leonidas’s three hundred Spartans present. According to Herodotus, there were well over 5,000 Greeks present at the battle (though other sources suggest a higher number. And even on the third day when they discovered they’d been outflanked and most of the army retreated, around 1,100 soldiers from Thespiae and Thebes stayed to defend the pass to the death.

Secondly, a smaller army using a bottleneck to stop a larger army was hardly a new and original tactic even in Leonidas’s day. The Greeks had been clogging their mountain passes with spearmen for centuries, and I rather doubt they were the first to try it. Additionally, I doubt that Persia had never encountered such a tactic before. I don’t have the extensive research that other historians have, but I suspect that the true problem lay in the fact that the Persians were used to unclogging bottlenecks by raining curtains of arrow fire upon the defenders. Against eastern spearmen, this would have worked perfectly, as they generally had no armor and only weak shields. Because the Greek hoplites had heavy shields and as good of armor as existed at the time, the arrows were thus rendered useless. I posit that any group of hoplites could have held that pass against the Persian army.

I think it’s also important to realize that the entire defense could have come crashing down much sooner had it not been for the intervention of Themistocles and the Athenian navy. Had the Persians managed to move their navy behind the Greek lines to disembark troops, they could have surrounded the defenders and overwhelmed them on the first day. Had Themistocles (who was far more BAMF in his way than Leonidas could have hoped to be) and his fleet not held the Persians off for those three days, there would have been no Athens, no Sparta, and no Greece. Democracy would have suffered sudden-infant-death syndrome and the foundation of western culture and history would never have come to be.

So anyway, rant over. Go Athens.


Further reading:
The Histories, by Herodotus
The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill

Battle scenes, part 1.3: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, siege warfare


In writing First Empress, I have to constantly remind myself that not all of my readers will have studied military history with the depth that I have—and of those who have, not all have studied Ancient Greek warfare as extensively. While I have a good understanding of the differences between a xiphos (short sword mainly for stabbing) and a kopis (short sword mainly for slashing), I can’t assume that all of my readers will have the same knowledge. Thankfully, there’s an old literary device where an author explains potentially unfamiliar information to readers by having an experienced character explain it to an unexperienced character (historical novelist Patrick O’Brien was a master of this technique).

As the technology level of the story is similar to Ancient Greece during the Persian and Peloponnesian War eras, sinew-powered artillery such as ballistae and catapults have not been invented just yet. Because of this, the only ways past an enemy’s walls were to climb over with ropes and ladders or to undermine them with sappers. To illustrate this, I included a short conversation about siege warfare in the first scene from chapter 2. We find Queen Viarraluca and her top officers as well as Ronnius, her steward, discussing plans for the upcoming invasion by the city of Andivel.

“Sixteen days, minimum,” Viarra gave the total. “We have at least until then to prepare for an invasion. General Derron, is there any possibility that they’ll use any strategy other than a protracted siege?”

“As in, could they bring in enough soldiers to storm the walls and sack the city?” Derron shook his head. “No, not really. Even if they could spare that many troops without leaving their city basically undefended, it would be a costly victory, and just not cost-effective logistically.”

“Good, I agree,” the queen nodded. “We’ll make preparations for a siege, then.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to explain this to me,” Captain Vola shook her head. “My people are mostly nomadic and know little of siege warfare.”

“Heavy walls like ours present a fairly formidable obstacle for even a large invading army,” Ronnius explained to the cavalry captain. “Walls and cities are an entirely different environment from open field where often all you need is a bigger army to win. There are two basic methods for capturing a walled city, you can either storm it or starve it.”

“The rule of thumb for storming a city is to have at least twice the number of soldiers as your enemy,” General Derron added. “Even once you get past the walls—either by using ladders or sappers—you still have to deal with the urban fighting.”

“Sapping is where you dig under someone’s wall to undermine its foundation and make it collapse,” Ronnius added for Vola’s benefit.

“And once inside the walls, a determined citizenry can put up a brutal and bloody resistance,” Derron continued. “Not only will you have to deal with hoplites using streets, doorways, and alleys as chokepoints and ambuscades, you also end up with women and children on top of buildings, throwing bricks, stones, and roof tiles on your head. This tends to require a massive number of soldiers to pull off.”

“And the collateral damage is ghastly,” Viarra agreed. “The other option is to starve the city. You surround the city with too strong an army for them to best in the field, then wait for them to exhaust their food stores. You essentially force them to surrender because they’ve gotten too hungry to fight.”

“And if the city relies on an external water source, you can dam it up and divert it from the city, which tends to make people surrender faster,” Ronnius put in. “The downside to a siege is that it can take weeks, months, or even over a year for a prepared city to use up their food stores. Meanwhile, it keeps your army in one place and gives the enemy time for reinforcements or other outside help to arrive. And you have to have a way to keep your own soldiers fed.”

Vola shook her head. “This is why people should live in tents,” she commented drily.

For further discussion, see my previous posts discussing the politics and soldiers involved in the battle.

Battle scenes, part 1.2: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, the soldiers

Dress up that line.

Hoplites standing at rest. One of the troubles with using computer game screen captures is that all of the hoplites look identical.

When writing the battle for Kel Fimmaril, I used Ancient Greek technology and tactics similar to those used during the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. As with armies of the time, the infantry makes up the largest percentage—often as much as 80% of the army. These infantry are generally supported by cavalry and lighter, ranged soldiers. For this battle, Queen Viarraluca’s army has around 2,500 soldiers: 1,800 hoplites, less than 200 archers, 400 skirmishers and slingers, and less than 100 assorted cavalry. The attacking army comes from the city-state of Andivel and its client cities. The invaders have over 4,000 soldiers total, but have a similar breakdown of light versus heavy troops—albeit sans cavalry.

As in most Ancient Greek warfare, both sides in my conflict use hoplites for their mainline infantry. A hoplite was a heavy foot-soldier who fought using a large, round shield known as an aspis or  hoplon and a 7′–9′ spear called the dory. They also carried a short sword as a backup weapon: generally a xiphos (a short, stabbing sword) or kopis (a curved, slashing sword similar to the Spanish falcata). Contrary to what we see in movies like 300, hoplites of the time period did not fight bare-chested, but wore leather, linen, or bronze armor. (I mean helmets, capes, and leather briefs? How the hell will that protect from enough Persian arrows to blot out the sun?) Other than some of the poorer, yeomen hoplites, it was rare for them not to have at least a simple set of leather armor. (Trust me that Leonidas and his company were not poor, yeoman hoplites.) Both sides fight in a phalanx, the attackers stacking their formation eight men deep, while the defenders have to stack 5–6 men deep to match the enemy’s length.

Both sides also have access to ranged infantry such as archers, skirmishers, and slingers. Most archers during Ancient Greece used fairly rudimentary short bows, more effective for hunting than combat. Their range and armor penetration was fairly mediocre, something I try to play upon throughout the battle scene. As it was, arrows were more likely to cause injuries than fatalities even against unarmored opponents. Thus both sides of the conflict tend to prefer skirmishers, or light infantry armed with javelins and either a short spear or sword. Like hoplites, skirmishers came in different weights depending on how much gear they carried. Lighter ones like Kel Fimmaril uses bore just a small shield and maybe a helmet for protection. Heavier ones like those used by the attackers from Andivel might have a larger shield and armor of leather or linen and might be used to reinforce the hoplite formation once they’d expended all their javelins. In addition, the defenders of Kel Fimmaril employ slingers against the soldiers of Andivel. As use of slings was more common among the island city-states of the ancient Mediterranean than of the mainland, it seemed fitting to have Queen Viarra’s army employ slingers in the field. Slings are something of an underrated weapon in historical studies. True, they were a simple weapon that could be difficult to master, but they were often employed to devastating effect against heavy infantry. A skilled slinger could propel a small rock at speeds which man-propelled projectiles would not surpass until the invention of the crossbow. The attackers from the city of Andivel learn this the hard way during the beach storming.

One of the other benefits the defenders of Kel Fimmaril have over the attackers is access to cavalry. As cavalry was particularly difficult to transport over water, most city-states just opted not to bring horses along when attacking an island nation. Bear in mind, however, that cavalry during the time period—especially Greek cavalry—wasn’t especially heavy. A tightly packed formation of heavy infantry was more than sufficient to stop a cavalry charge, even if the charge came against their flanks or rear. Horse was instead used against archers and light infantry in loose formation, or for keeping the opponent’s cavalry off of friendly archers and light infantry. It wasn’t uncommon in ancient battles for the cavalry not to see any action until one side routed the other. If their side won, they’d be employed in running down fleeing enemy soldiers. If their side lost, they’d be employed in covering the retreat by hitting the enemy flanks if they broke ranks to pursue.

The following excerpt is from the defenders’ cavalry charge part way through the battle. Captain Vola, the cavalry commander, divides her horsemen into two units and hides them in the trees on opposite sides of the battlefield. At her signal, each cavalry unit charges from the trees to attack the enemy’s skirmishers.

Cavalryman Atten spurred his horse out from the tree line at Captain Vola’s trumpeted signal. He followed his captain as they and the forty-six other heavy and medium horsemen charged toward the formation of enemy skirmishers. The skirmishers turned and ran as they saw the oncoming horsemen. You’ll just die tired, Atten told his foes silently as his unit thundered toward the battlefield.

As always, Vola led the cavalry charge. Atten rode behind and to her right, lowering his lance as they approached the enemy skirmishers. He aimed the weapon at a retreating back as he closed on a doomed skirmisher. When the spearhead was just inches from the man’s back, Atten gave it a quick push for extra momentum, piercing the skirmisher’s linen armor and breaking the weapon off as the man collapsed. The cavalryman whipped the spear back around, pointing the bronze spike on the lower end forward.

Ahead of him, he could see that Captain Vola had kept her spear intact, slaying one running soldier and knocking down another. Atten threw his broken spear into another skirmisher, then drew his sword, swinging it at retreating heads as he pressed deeper into the disintegrating enemy formation. As he was at the front of the cavalry squadron, his horse was more likely to knock men out of the way than to trample them, but this tended to knock them off balance to be run down by other horsemen.

Moments later the horsemen emerged out the other side of the retreating formation. Atten followed his captain as she veered left, circling out and away from the battle. He looked back at the routing skirmishers, estimating that they’d killed or wounded close to half of the sorry bastards.

Once again, screen captures courtesy Europa Barbarorum, a total-conversion mod for Rome: Total War.

Book Review: Roman Conquests, Macedonia and Greece

Using a Barnes and Noble gift card I got for Christmas, several weeks ago I ordered Philip Matyszak’s Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece, published in 2009. I finished reading Friday afternoon and decided to type up a quick review for the blog and for anyone interested in the history. Doctor Matyszak ranks among my favorite contemporary historians on Ancient Greece and Rome (perhaps second only to Adrian Goldsworthy) and is author of such texts as Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day and Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. I’ve long been curious about the Roman conquest of Greece and Macedonia if for no other reason than that these are so often glossed over in comparison to other Roman conquests like Carthage, Gaul, and Britannia. While I’ve read bits and pieces of these campaigns in Plutarch and Livy, as well as modern historians such as Goldsworthy, this is the first volume I’ve encountered that dealt specifically and solely with the wars against Macedon and the more classical Greek city-states.


Image courtesy Creative Assembly’s Rome: Total War

One trait I genuinely appreciate in Matyszak’s writing, in this book as well as his previous texts I’ve read, is that he has a very effective style of narration. It has the feel of someone telling a story, rather than some formal, academic style. He writes like someone who wants to create interest in his topic, rather than some academic who is writing strictly for an academic audience. The language is relaxed and accessible, making it easy to follow for folks outside the history field. In addition, Doctor Matyszak isn’t afraid to make light of the historical figures, cultures, or fighting styles with occasional pithy comments, observations, and comparisons. More than once he calls out various generals and statesmen on both sides of the conflict for treachery, miscommunications, bad decisions, or plain incompetence. He early on refers to Greek politics as a “snake pit” and gives constant examples throughout the book to reinforce the analogy. Indeed, the deliciously underhanded infighting amongst the many factions involved in this conflict was likely my favorite aspect of the book. Back-biting political f***ery at it’s finest.

In terms of scholarship, I greatly appreciate Doctor Matyszak’s fairly neutral stance on the right and wrong of these Roman conquests. At no point does he attempt to justify the battles, death, and conquest in terms of pro- or anti-imperialist sentiment as so many scholars have done since Edward Gibbon. Nor does Matyszak attempt to impose the framework of modern, Judeo-Christian morality upon a people who existed before Christianity. When he does explain possible reasons for the brutal actions of the Romans or Macedonians, he does so on their terms. Yes, the Romans were a brutal people. But it was a brutal reality in which they existed. Yes, the took slaves. Yes, they murdered surrendering soldiers. Yes, they burned cities and killed innocents. But guess what: so did everyone else for thousands of years before them.

If I have any issue with Macedonia and Greece—and this is entirely a personal preference—I’d have liked to see more maps. The text does include seven maps of the areas of interest within Macedon and Greece at the beginning, as well as a section of full-color visuals in the center. But when reading and researching military campaigns, I prefer to have visuals spread throughout the text, especially maps of the terrain and diagrams of significant battles. Additionally, I’d have liked somewhat more detailed descriptions of some of the battles that Matyszak glossed over in his efforts to focus on the politics and the effects of these battles. But, again, this is more of a preference than an actual objection.

All in all, I found Doctor Matyszak’s book to be well written and well researched. I definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in ancient or military history.

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