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NaNoWriMo: Success!

I dood it!

I got the 50,000 word challenge for National Novel Writing Month! I was up late last night trying to get it done, but it is done and I am content. Technically, now, it was a continuation of my previous work on my existing novel-in-progress, First Empress, just a later part of the story that I hadn’t gotten to yet. The important thing is that it is that it was all new material to help me continue my tale.

One of the more interesting experiments was getting to deal more closely with Queen Viarraluca’s detractors, her political enemies. Though her majesty has overthrown and executed the Tetrarchy that previously ruled the Hegemony of Andivel and gotten the people and the army on her side, there still exists a Council of nobles that have a lot of political power, and who see this new tyrant queen as a threat to that power. And, to be fair, she is a threat as she refuses to play by their rules and steps around them in everything she does. So it was kind of fun to get a look into their minds and understand what motivates them, as well as their assumptions about Queen Viarra’s motivations.

Here’s an excerpt from an early scene where they meet to conspire against her majesty. At this point in the story, there has already been an assassination attempt on Queen Viarra, and the seven noblemen who financed the assassin have been tracked down and crucified. This scene takes place the evening after a Council meeting where Queen Viarra verbally bitch-slaps a group of her detractors, followed by a speech from General Etan voicing his support for her majesty and his derision for the council.

***

The twenty-six conspirators met at Councilman Evral’s country vineyard estate, the night lit by the near-full moon. Peron followed his father, Lord Amrel, through the gateway and into the main courtyard. It wasn’t enough that this fucking islander queen had hanged the tetrarchs and driven out their families—Peron’s fiancée, Iress, fleeing with them—the she-tyrant had crucified the father of two of the young nobleman’s closest friends and driven them from the city as well.

It was a classic take-over, the young nobleman reflected. New monarch gets the military and the people on her side, then tears down the previous ruling class to ensure her place as sole despot. She’d started by bribing the soldiers with money she’d stolen from the late tetrarchs—and possibly by sleeping with a general or two. Then she’d seduced the people by lowering taxes and spending coin generously among the craftsmen and merchants. It was no wonder the people loved their new queen: the bitch knew how to appeal to the greed of the soldiers and the nearsightedness of the commoners. Her methods were so… cliché that the council and nobles should have seen this coming.

This was why the people of Andivel had formed the tetrarchy in the first place, to maintain a balance of power and prevent such tyrants from taking root and exploiting the populace. Clearly the soldiers and lower classes had forgotten this.

“Of course we blamed them for incompetence,” Lord Unor was saying as Peron followed his father into the main sitting room. “How competent can they be: they got beaten to a standstill by a bunch of hairy, slobbering barbarian thugs who still think iron smelting is a radical invention? One decent hoplite ought to be worth any ten shirtless Gan.”

“Not that it makes a difference now,” another councilman pointed out. “General Etan’s little diatribe made clear that the arrogant bitch has most, if not all, of the army on her side now. How long do you think we have before she has the rest of us on the council hanged or crucified?”

“Or quartered or stoned or impaled or beheaded or torn apart by dogs?” Councilman Ordis added gloomily.

“Or what’s that quaint tradition among some of the eastern Tollesian colonies?” Lord Evral asked. “The one where they lock you in a box with just your head sticking out and give you plenty to eat until you rot to death in your own excrement?”

“That strikes me as unlikely,” Councilman Berol shook his head. “It’s kind of an inefficient way to kill someone, and this queen strikes me as nothing if not efficient.”

“After Etan’s little speech, Lord Onris told me that he’s leaving the city,” Peron’s father spoke up. “He said that he’s not going to wait for the bitch’s attack dogs to come after him, so he’s leaving to be with his wife’s family in Mertal.”

“That’s desperation,” Berol snorted. “Onris fucking hates his wife’s family.”

“Is that our only solution?” Peron found himself asking. “Leave Andival before the crazy bitch trumps up excuses to have the rest of us executed?”

“Well, she’s got the military and the idiot rabble on her side, so we can’t exactly raise a coup or a popular uprising,” Lord Evral pointed out. “And after that failed assassination attempt, she’ll probably be on alert for another knife in her window.”

“And it’s not like we can erode her authority with the council,” Lord Amrel added. “We are the fucking council, but she doesn’t seem to feel under any obligation to play by our rules. How do you attack someone who’s unassailable?”

“There’s a cute trick among the Venarri kingdoms in the west, as well as a few of the Gannic kingdoms, and even some of the western mainland and island Tollesian city-states,” Councilman Haret spoke up for the first time thus far. “When an enemy city seems too fortified and fully prepared for a siege, instead of surmounting the walls or sieging the city, they undermine the walls’ foundation. They have sappers dig under the walls, using gravity to cause the fortifications to crash in on themselves. For all intents and purposes, they attack the very foundation supporting their unmovable enemy, making him collapse under his own weight.”

“I get it,” Ordis smirked. “Instead of sending thugs or assassins after Queen Viarra, send them after her supporters. She can’t watch over all of her friends at once.”

“Exactly,” Haret nodded gravely. “Murder army officers who’ve pledged their allegiance, councilmen who’ve voiced support for her, merchants with whom she does frequent business, even her servants if we can catch them at the right moment. Collapse her foundations by killing her supports and making others afraid to keep holding her up.”

National Novel Writing Month: Take 3

Synopsis for my entry for National Novel Writing Month (a continuation of my previous NaNoWriMo work):

Having secured her place as sole hegemon of the Northern Vestic Sea, Queen Viarraluca turns her attention to reestablishing and securing her realm’s northern borders. Once a wary understanding existed between the Tollesian city-states and the barbarian Gannic tribes of the lowlands and mountains to the north. But as the strength and stability of the hegemonic political structure waned, the barbarians have become increasingly violent and bold in their raids against their Tollesian neighbors. With a new and strong ruler at the head, the city-states finally have hope of bringing new peace and security to their beleaguered subjects.

The situation comes to a head, however, when the rulers of a former allied city come to Queen Viarra, pleading for her help in liberating their people from a coalition of Gannic tribes led by the brutal and ruthless King Vedon. Victory over the barbarian horde means the elimination of a major threat to Tollesian prosperity, solidification of the northern borders, and a foothold in future campaigns against hostile tribes.

Defeat means the loss of nearly half of Queen Viarra’s forces, resurgence in raids against Tollesian farms and trade routes, and perhaps even the death of the queen herself.

Queen Viarra Commission, by Adelruna

ViarraFor a while now, I’ve given various consideration to commissioning a portrait of Queen Viarraluca, title character from my novel-in-progress, First Empress. About a week and a half ago, I emailed the amazing and talented Adelruna to discuss the possibility. I’m very definitely pleased with the end results. As well as being an intelligent and powerful ruler, the young queen is trained as a heavy infantrywoman, preferring to fight on the front lines beside the hoplites, gaining her soldiers’ loyalty by sharing in their danger and hardship. I feel like Adelruna has portrayed her strength and courage elegantly in this portrait.

I make no apologies for the fact that Queen Viarra is a tyrant. While she loves her friends and works toward the benefit of her subjects, she’s ruthless and sometimes brutal toward those who cross her. (And damn, she’s fun to write.) I don’t see her as being opposed to others’ individual freedoms, but she places more value on the security and stability of her hegemony. Twice she executes nobles for daring to conspire against her and even has her own uncle hanged for assassinating her brothers. The following excerpt is from Chapter 8 when Viarra confronts one of the nobles involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the young queen.

***

Walking beside Captain Alden, Bevren followed her majesty to the gates of Lord Halben’s townhouse, more than fifty hoplites in tow.

“Stand aside,” Queen Viarra ordered as Halben’s gate guards approached. Startled, the guards leapt out of the way, her majesty striding between them. She stormed through the open gates and across the courtyard, her soldiers nearly jogging to keep up.

“Your majesty, this is entirely out of line,” a self-important house slave objected, stepping between the queen and the front door. “If you’ll come back in the morning when—” he cut off as Viarra grabbed him by the hair and turned him forcibly around. The movement caused the sweating bastard to fall to one knee.

“Tell them to open the fucking door,” the queen demanded coldly, keeping ahold of the slave’s hair.

“For Andiva’s sake, open the door!” the man bleated. The doors swung open a moment later, revealing a pair of terrified doormen. Queen Viarra tossed the slave aside and strode through the entryway, likely looking like an archangel of death to the terrified occupants. Bevren followed with the rest of the soldiers, taking note of the servants and family members cowering in doorways and behind furniture.

Lord Halben and Lady Lyria stepped from their bedchamber as the queen approached with her soldiers. “Queen Viarra, what is the meaning of this?” he demanded. “Storming my home in the middle of the night and—” he cut off, turning white and pissing down his leg as Captain Alden held up the assassination contract with the conspirators’ names signed to it.

“Majesty, I can explain—” the traitor began.

He cut off as Viarra grabbed him by the tunic and threw him through a nearby table.

“No, you can’t explain,” Viarra told him cold-bloodedly as she stepped over and jerked him to his knees. “Every lying word you speak in useless explanation is another second you get to spend alive. You don’t get that right.” She turned and threw him to the stone floor in front of her soldiers, bloodying his nose and splitting his lip. “Take him to Fort Lynra and crucify him with the others,” she ordered.

Two hoplites yanked him to his feet and dragged him down the hall, screaming his traitorous head off.

Bevren turned back to where Lady Lyria stood, covering her mouth. She sobbed and shook her head in disbelief as she read the contract for Queen Viarra’s assassination.

“I apologize, Lady Lyria,” the Queen said with unexpected tenderness as she stepped over and took the noblewoman’s hand. The lady looked up at the queen in surprise. “I apologize that I must deprive you of your husband. I want you to know that I harbor no ill will to you or your children. If you choose to stay in the city, I am willing to offer you your husband’s seat on the council, as well as my protection from any reprisals that may come because of his part in the plot against me. However, if you no longer feel safe here in Andivel, I have a ship standing by to take you and your children to be with your family in Ovec at first light.”

“I… thank you for your mercy, your majesty,” Lady Lyria replied, trembling and clutching the queen’s hand. “I will take my children and return to Ovec. But… perhaps in a few years, when my son is older, we can return and he may serve on the council as his father did.” She looked hopefully up at the tall queen.

“I will see to it,” her majesty nodded. “I’ll make sure your home is maintained for your return.”

Wit and Wisdom of Queen Viarra

A few pieces of wisdom from Queen Viarraluca, title character from my novel-in-progress, First Empress:

“You aren’t going to weasel your way out of this. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you’re denser than I thought—and trust me that I believe you quite dense. Tell your tetrarchs and council that the terms of this alliance are completely unacceptable. It is an arrogant attempt at bald-faced extortion and my people will not be harassed in this manner.”

“You’ve tried this line of reasoning already. When you start repeating your arguments it means you’ve run out of them.”

“When fighting with short swords, it’s important to remember that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

“Mother had an edge like obsidian. Chip it and it just gets sharper.”

“Adopting a pacifistic stance is only ever viewed as a sign of weakness—as an unwillingness to fight for your people. It disheartens allies and encourages enemies. You have to bring these ideas to the people, show them what can be gained by working beside and cooperating with someone they’ve been enemies with for three hundred years.”

“In Captain Vola’s culture both men and women learn to ride in combat. In fact, they’re required to kill an enemy in battle and present the severed head as proof as part of their passage to adulthood. Barbaric? Perhaps. But requiring women to ride more than doubles the size of their armies.”

“Every culture adapts to whatever suits its people, their environment, and their place within the world’s framework. History teaches us that cultures who cannot adapt die out to make way for those who can. Our culture is not as stable as we like to pretend; I want to make sure we learn to adapt before it’s too late.”

“No, you can’t explain. Every lying word you speak in useless explanation is another second you get to spend alive. You don’t get that right.”

“I apologize that I must deprive you of your husband. I want you to know that I harbor no ill will to you or your children. If you choose to stay in the city, I am willing to offer you your husband’s seat on the council, as well as my protection from any reprisals that may come because of his part in the plot against me. However, if you no longer feel safe, I have a ship standing by to take you and your children to be with your family at first light.”

“I gave consideration to reconciling with the traitors only long enough to weigh its disadvantages. I don’t know how things work in your part of the world, but in my part of the world, mercy is only ever seen as a sign of cowardice. Yes, I could have publicly forgiven the conspirators, but they would not have understood why—nor would my people. They would see it as weakness on my part, assuming that I lack the stomach to right the wrongs against me or defend myself from an obvious threat.”

“There are people who want me dead for no other reason than they’d rather be in charge themselves. Every decision I make, no matter how fair and just, will result in someone I’ve never met praying nightly to the gods for my death simply because I did not decide in their favor. If any of these people believed they could destroy me, they would not hesitate to do so. There is an aphorism in warfare that ‘true safety lies not in counting on your enemy not to attack, but in making your position unassailable.’ This applies in politics as well as combat. By destroying the men behind the attempt on my life, it discourages others who may want me dead from making similar attempts.”

“The saying that ‘history is written by the winners,’ is a load of shit popularized by rabble-rousers angry that someone they disagree with had their own version, but who are too lazy to do their own research, or by envious political opponents of a popular monarch. The truth is, dear Zahnia, that there exist many excellent accounts by historians who fought on the losing side of a war or whose people were subjugated by a hostile invader. But I find that the most reliable histories are the ones written by the bystanders—by people watching a battle from the sidelines or traveling through a country on business: observers with no personal stake it what is going on.”

“Decorum has its place, but anywhere else it goes, it’s more of a hindrance than anything.”

“I can’t claim all of the credit, though everyone insists on giving it to me.”

“I’m not getting in the ‘last word’—I’m getting in the next word. It’s not my fault you lack the wit to get in one after that.”

Defense of Kel Fimmaril: Aftermath

The defense of Kel Fimmaril ends in a stalemate, but due to Queen Viarra’s clever theft of the attackers’ warships, 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. (See map for additional political breakdown.)

***

Bevren and a handful of hoplites stood before the main gates of Kel Fimmaril while their army continued to search for food or check the battlefield for wounded. As their group waited, Bevren saw a tall woman wearing bloodied officer’s armor step up onto the parapet over the main gate. The woman sat between two of the crenellations, copper hair glinting in the evening sunlight. She crossed her legs and rested her arms atop the crenellations on either side of her—as if perched upon a throne.

“Greetings, gentlemen, and welcome to Kel Fimmaril,” she greeted the group from her place on the wall. “I notice you seem to have found yourselves in a bit of trouble and was wondering if I could offer my people’s assistance. I am Queen Viarraluca.”

“Your grace,” Bevren greeted her, bowing. “I am Captain Bevren of Chyllar, Hoplite Captain of the army of Andivel.”

“Pleased to meet you, Captain,” she said, leaning forward and steepling her fingers. “I fear you are in a predicament. Your fleet now belongs to me and I gave my people specific instructions to bring anything edible inside the walls. You’ll find no crops in our fields nor fruit on our plantations for your foragers to gather. The woods to the north are home to only so much game—none of it large. You can try the fields to the south, but you’ll accomplish little more than helping our farmers deal with their rabbit infestation. There are plenty of fish, but only makeshift tackle and no boats to go get it with. Among four thousand soldiers, you might get a few days’ worth of food. And we both know that you don’t have enough soldiers to take my city by storm.

“I am willing to be merciful,” the copper-haired queen continued. “I give your army seven days to submit—whereupon you will surrender your arms, piling them by the gates. Surrendering soldiers will be fed and returned to your transport ships with enough supplies to make the journey home. While surrender may seem dishonorable on the surface, this will allow your soldiers to see their homes and families again.

“However, if you choose not to surrender within those seven days, I will simply wait for hunger to do its job. The soldiers who have not starved to death will be rounded up by my soldiers and sold into slavery. I will have them loaded aboard your own transports and sold in the south, never to see their homes again.”

Bevren could hear his guards shifting and muttering behind him. “Very well, your majesty,” the hoplite captain replied, “you have me at a clear disadvantage here. I will confer with my remaining officers and come up with acceptable terms for our surrender.”

“Take whatever time you need, captain,” the queen said reassuringly. “I’m glad you were able to see reason. My greatest fear in all of this was the possibility of dealing with some hotheaded officer who would bring more suffering on my people and yours by refusing to parlay and launching some suicidal attack on my walls.”

It occurred to Bevren that General Willot might have done exactly that. “I have a home and family that I’d like to see again as well,” the hoplite captain assured her majesty.

*          *          *

The evening sun burned red on the western horizon as Captains Bevren and Onil walked through the captured village. As all of the tents were aboard the merchant vessels with the rest of the supplies, the Andivelian soldiers had made use of the village and warehouses near the docks. In a way it was a blessing in disguise, as the buildings provided better shelter than tents, and they were fairly defensible if Kel Fimmaril’s army sallied out for a night attack. Not that Onil was really expecting one. Normally on the first night of a siege they’d spread their camps out around the perimeter of the city, just out of bow range, but do to so tonight seemed entirely pointless. The queen and officers of Kel Fimmaril had beaten the soldiers of Andivel before they’d even arrived.

“What’s the casualty count?” Bevren asked as they walked by several soldiers building a fire in the village square.

“Seventy-eight dead, over a hundred wounded,” Onil replied. “And almost half of those wounds are foot injuries from the shit they left on the beach.”

Bevren looked relieved. “Not as bad as I’d expected,” the senior captain nodded. That left them with just under four thousand fighting men. “So we’re still basically intact—which leaves us with an interesting dilemma.”

“Like how do we explain to our tetrarchs that we surrendered an intact force to a backward little city-state with a history of cowardice?” Onil asked drily as Bevren opened the door to the carpenter’s shop he’d selected as his quarters.

“How was our information this bad?” Bevren asked as he sat down on a carpentry bench. “Their ruler was supposed to be a spoiled princess who was probably a puppet monarch, and their general was supposed to be decades past his prime and bordering on senility.”

“Right,” Onil agreed, “this was supposed to be an easy conquest. But you have to admit, even if we’d been told that their monarch was a war goddess and their general a master tactician, we’d still have been caught off guard by that bullshit stunt with the warships.”

“I’m not certain she isn’t a war goddess,” was Bevren’s reply. “You said that she’s the one you saw rallying their left flank, right?”

“You described her as tall with hair like copper, right? Unless there’s another tall, copper-haired beauty on this island, she has to be the woman I saw. She was… formidable.”

“Not that this knowledge helps us with our dilemma in any way,” Bevren said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees and folding his hands in front of his chin.

“What if… what if we don’t go back after we surrender?” Onil said, voicing the half-idea he’d been bouncing around his head the past couple hours. Bevren looked up at him. “What if we defect and become mercenaries or some such? It’s been done before, right? Where a defeated army signs on with the highest bidder instead of going home?”

“I like that line of thinking,” Bevren admitted, smiling a bit. “But I’d also like to see my wife and daughters again.”

“We don’t have to defect forever,” Onil suggested. “We both know that the tetrarchs only had us attack Kel Fimmaril to get spoils to pay back Pellestor, right? So what if we negotiate with this queen to get to keep our weapons and leave peaceably. What if we defect, go mercenary, and bring back all of the gold and spoils we earn to give to the tetrarchs to help pay off that debt?”

“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’,” Bevren pointed out. “But we can run it by the men and officers; what if we defect and don’t go home right away?” Both captains were quiet for several minutes. Onil could see his colleague turning the idea over in his head.

“Or,” Bevren said after a long silence, “what if we defect and do go home right away?”

*          *          *

The siege of Kel Fimmaril came to its official end early the next morning. Hungry, angry, outmaneuvered by their adversaries, and feeling misled by their rulers, the four-thousand soldiers surrendered, piling their weapons before the walls of Kel Fimmaril. Unarmed, they backed off and gathered in a mass outside of bow range.

Captain Bevren strode to the gates, bringing with him only the captured cavalry captain. Leg splinted and leaning on a crutch, the dark-skinned woman grinned smugly the whole time. The sentry atop the wall told him to await her majesty’s arrival. The infantry captain stood at rest, agonizing minutes passing while he waited. Finally the gates opened. Expecting a delegation and honor guard, Bevren was genuinely shocked when a train of ox-drawn wagons rumbled out from the city gate. Bevren stepped out of the way to let them pass. He got another shock realizing that the wagons were full of food. Bread and grain, beef, smoked fish, olives, local fruits and vegetables, one wagon even carried two massive barrels of wine. Though armed hoplites marched as vanguards on either side of the wagon train, it was one of the most welcoming sights he’d ever seen.

For the briefest of moments, the cynic in Bevren worried that the food might be poisoned somehow. But the realist in him knew how unnecessary such a gesture would be. Besides, poisoning a large and lavish meal seemed a stupid waste when they could just as easily poison a couple wagons of bread and dried meat.

“The guards are there just to make sure things get distributed in an orderly fashion, I promise,” he heard to his right. “I also have physicians and surgeons on the way to help see to your wounded.”

Bevren turned to see Queen Viarraluca stride out of the chaos, followed by four handmaidens carrying baskets. For a moment, the dumbstruck infantry captain thought he was seeing a goddess in the flesh. Easily, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. The queen’s shimmering copper hair was curled in elaborate ringlets, some of it framing her face, some draping over her shoulders, some disappearing behind her back. She wore ornate silver earrings and necklace, the silver contrasting with her hair better than gold possibly could have. Her dark-green cloak and wrap-around gown fluttered in the morning breeze.

The hoplite captain suddenly wished he’d cleaned and polished his armor.

The cavalry woman limped forward and embraced her queen before Bevren could reply. “I’ll have the medics look at this leg and then rest up a bit,” the terrifying woman said. “But first I wanted to tell you, you have no idea how fucking proud of you I am right now, girl.”

The queen laughed as she stepped back from the embrace. “General Derron has been telling me the same thing all morning. He’ll be relieved to know you’re safe.”

The cavalry captain nodded and reached over to grab Bevren’s ass as she turned to head toward the gates. She patted one of the queen’s handmaids on the shoulder as she hobbled past.

“Captain Vola didn’t rattle your soldiers too much, I hope?” Queen Viarraluca asked Bevren.

“Pretty much all night long,” Bevren laughed, finally finding his voice. The unusualness of the situation had him completely off guard. “I’m pretty sure she was snoring on purpose just to annoy her guards. At any rate, thank you for your peace offering, your majesty. I’m certain my men appreciate your generosity,” he bowed.

The queen nodded politely. “Have you breakfasted, captain?”

He grimaced. “Two cooked mice and an undercooked hare’s leg,” he admitted.

“I suspect I can provide better fare,” the queen said, smiling invitingly. “Ladies,” she said to her handmaids, “please make the captain and me a place over by those willows.” She pointed to the spot.

Bevren found it difficult not to stare at the queen as the two of them made their way to where the handmaids were setting up breakfast. The hoplite captain was above medium height, but the elegant queen stood at least a half-head taller than he was. Her gown was not particularly revealing, but the way she wore it suggested a statuesque figure underneath. She managed to convey charm, grace, power, authority, and allure in every aspect of her speech, stride, expression, and body language. Part of the hoplite captain wanted desperately to sleep with her. But the larger, wiser part knew that she was far out of his league in more ways than he could begin to count.

Breakfast was delicious, consisting of bread, grapes, lobster, and wine. The queen was pleasant and charming the entire meal, asking him about both Andivel and his home city. It took Bevren a while, but he eventually realized that her majesty was learning a great deal about him, his home city, and about his culture, people, and rulers. Simply by being friendly and disarming, she’d charmed information from him in a matter of minutes that would have taken the best interrogators days to torture out. The hoplite captain decided he liked her method better.

“…and in all honestly, we owe your soldiers a certain amount of gratitude for every rabbit they rounded up south of the city,” the queen was saying as they finished their meal.

Bevren laughed and sipped wine from a blue-glassed goblet. “I must ask, your majesty, how was it you were able to commandeer our ships out from behind us?”

“It wasn’t difficult,” her majesty shrugged as if it were a little task. “Sailors and merchants can be so predictably mercenary. I needed only offer them a venture with a higher monetary return than their current job.”

Somehow, Bevren had no difficulty believing it had been her idea. “So, I’ve considered the offer you made yesterday, your majesty” he told her. “While I am willing to surrender my forces, I hoped I might suggest another option that you might find satisfactory.”

“Oh, indeed?” Her majesty raised an eyebrow. “You have my attention, Captain.”

“I had an extended conversation with my soldiers last night, and rather than surrender, I was hoping we might instead defect to your army—with conditions, of course.”

Bevren was surprised to note that the queen didn’t look surprised. “I certainly appreciate your candor on the matter, Captain,” she assured him, “but I should like to hear your reasons and conditions before I agree to your proposal.” The captain straightened as he realized that the whole feast and show of mercy had probably been intended to woo surrendering soldiers over to her army.

“We wish to defect because there is more going on than you are aware of, your majesty,” he told the queen. “The decision of the Tetrarchy of Andivel to extort and then assault Kel Fimmaril was driven by desperation, rather than malice or greed. You see, our tetrarchs owe a great deal of money to the city of Pellastor—money borrowed to fund a pair of campaigns that resulted in stalemates.”

The queen swirled the wine in her goblet as she listened, studying him. “So you’re defecting in order to give me a means to retaliate for Andivel’s attack,” she said, smiling a bit and nodding. Bevren felt his eyes widen at her insight. “You’re hoping I’ll take the city and unseat your tetrarchs, whereby that debt to Pellastor is dissolved with your previous government. A military coup where my troops merely assist won’t accomplish this because the change is still internal. The government changes, but the terms of the debt do not—much like a son inheriting his father’s debts. An outside aggressor, ironically enough, functions as a neutral third party in this case. I become ruler of Andivel’s hegemony, and Pellastor has no grounds to collect on this debt—in the same way that a creditor can’t force payment from the man who murdered his debtor. I like the way you think, Captain Bevren.”

Bevren could only gape.

“This works conveniently for you on a personal and professional level as well,” the queen went on. “Instead of returning home a failure—a fool who was duped by subterfuge and a coward who surrendered his nearly intact army to a smaller force—you return as part of a liberating army. You free your people from their debt and from their incompetent rulers at the same time.” Her jade eyes seemed to sparkle. “Am I correct?”

The infantry captain just sat feeling stupefied. Behind the queen, a skinny handmaiden covered her mouth and trembled as if trying not to burst out laughing.

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…

First Empress: Map of the Vestic Sea

vestic

(Click map for a more detailed view)

This is a map I drew up of the northwest corner of Vestic Sea, the region where most of the story takes place in my novel-in-progress, First Empress. As the story is based heavily on my studies of Ancient Greek history, I very deliberately gave the Vestic Sea a Mediterranean climate and gave the land masses a mountainous, Grecian topography. While there are only a few dozen islands visible on the map, much of the sea is dotted with islets of various sizes and shapes, making cracking down on piracy a virtual impossibility given the story’s Iron-Age technology. There are thousands of villages, towns, and cities spread across the island and mainland; the cities displayed on the map are just ones I have plans for in the story so far.

Also like in Ancient Greece, the political climate between various cities and hegemonies amounts to a veritable viper pit. Often a city will declare war on another for no other reason than a perceived weakness on the other city’s part. Alliances are fluid and borders fluctuate constantly. The colors on the map depict the political boundaries of the three main alliances at the start of the story. These borders will change as the story progresses. The Tollesian cities (based on the Greeks) are largely on the coast and flatter regions where trade and agriculture are easier to conduct. The mountains are largely inhabited by tribes of the Gan (based heavily on the ancient Celts). When not at war with each other, the Gannic peoples will often raid Tollesian farms, trade caravans, and settlements. It is not unheard of for several tribes to gang up on and sack Tollesian city-states.

Kel Fimmaril, the home city-state of the title character Queen Viarraluca, is a fairly small island (<5 mi at low tide), and not particularly significant geographically or politically. Though once a marginally important trade hub, the island’s economy has been fairly hamstrung over the past decade by increased pirate incursions on the local sea lanes.

Andivel is the hegemonic power closest to Kel Fimmaril, and a distant third, strength-wise, on this part of the Vestic Sea. Though it’s alliances once stretched as far north as Gillespar and Illis and as far west as Ryllar, Andivel’s strength has waned over the past decade. The most devastating blow came three years previous, after the hegemony borrowed massive amounts of gold from the city of Pellastor in order to fund a pair of campaigns against the Gannic tribes from the Vedrian Mountains. Unfortunately, these campaigns resulted in stalemates, and no spoils come from tying the battle. Thus a crippling amount of Andivel’s income goes to repaying those debts. Andivel’s once-glorious armies are now employed in the bullying, extortion, and invasion of weaker city-states in effort to repay the hegemony’s debts. Meanwhile, the Vedrian tribes have discovered that the Tollesian cities are not as strong as they once were, and have become increasingly bold in their raids—though not strong enough to best the Tollesian armies in the field… yet. With Andivel’s military spending crippled by debt payment, however, many of their citizens and remaining allies worry about the future stability of the hegemony.

Pellastor is the predominant imperial power on the northern Vestic Sea, with a strong military tradition backed by a powerful maritime economy. Their armies and navies are the largest and best-trained to be found in this part of the world. Their capital city is a wonder to behold, with grand temples, theaters, universities, and agoras to delight the eye of the bemused visitor. The hegemony is made up largely of coastal and island city-states upon whom they rely to provide trade and taxes as well as ships and soldiers during times of war. Yet their excellent general staff is able to effectively keep together and deploy these armies from diverse and often rival city-states.

Like Pellastor, Illarra is structured around a maritime economy. This economy is supplemented, however, by the funding of corsairs and privateers to raid and pillage the sea lanes and coastal settlements of rival city-states. This piratical harassment has earned the ire of many of Illarra’s neighbors and has frequently led to open war with the city-state of Pellastor and her allies. While Pellastor’s armies and navies are significantly larger and more powerful than Illarra’s, the Illaran Confederation has a history of devious rulers and wily generals. Many an army from Pellastor has found itself pinned in unfavorable terrain by harassment tactics and the cutting of supply routes. Though Pellastor’s commanders are typically able to get their armies out more or less in tact, in recent decades neither city has ever won a deciding victory.

(PS: If anyone can recommend a good, free map-making software, I’d be most appreciative. Thanks and stay awesome!)

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…

Romance in First Empress

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One of the troubles I’m finding with writing romance is that there is very little that can be said or done that hasn’t been said or done before. I have thus come to the conclusion that I’m simply not experienced enough a fiction writer to adequately and believably portray romantic drama. While there will be romances between various characters in First Empress, I have no intent of making any of these vital to the central conflicts.

In fact, I think in general, I’m not going to go out of my way to create much in the way of romantic drama—sexual tension, absolutely, but romantic drama, not really. Drama and arguments between couples always feel very cliche to me, and I don’t know how to make them not cliche. And as such tension and conflict are not necessary to advance the story, I see no reason to bother with it. Likely there will be assorted love scenes over the course of the story—how explicit those will be I haven’t decided yet.

By way of examples, Ronnius—the queen’s steward—and his wife, Tanna, marry only a few chapters into the story, and were sneaking around behind their families’ backs to be together well before the story even begins, and thus there’s no real need for extra drama. Similarly, I opted to have Captain Vola‘s marriage to General Derron, the queen’s military adviser, be a healthy marriage. Pella, the four-armed girl and Zahnia‘s best friend, eventually marries a very talented Deaf sculptor. I like the idea of him being Deaf because the image of a four-armed woman using a sign language delights me to no end. One of the tragedies of Zahnia’s character is that because she doesn’t age, she essentially is stuck in the body of a nine-year-old until she dies. Because of this, romance is a pleasure denied to her. She’ll never develop the hormones necessary for sexual enjoyment. And while sex is by no means necessary for a healthy romantic relationship, I think Zahnia is justified in her discomfort with the idea of kissing and cuddling with someone who is comfortable kissing and cuddling a nine-year-old.

The romance most central to the overall story is that of the Queen Viarraluca and her handmaid Elissa. When first setting out to write First Empress, I knew going in that one of the tragedies of “immortal” mortals is that everyone they care about must eventually die while they go on alone. From the very start I’d intended for Viarra to have a true love who she must inevitably watch die. I had two or three potential characters in mind, initially considering giving her sort of a “Prince Albert” figure—someone who not only functions as a lover, but as a teacher and mentor. I eventually abandoned this idea, however, because the situation of Viarra suddenly assuming the throne, then having to fight a war two chapters later required a greater amount of independence in her character than what made sense if she was dependent on some mentor to help her make these decisions.

It was when I was fleshing out Elissa’s character that I discovered the handmaid’s private lust for her queen. While it was unintended, a lot of things clicked into place for me at that point. Granted, in my later stories Viarra marries and has children with various men over the centuries, but there’s absolutely no reason why her first love couldn’t be a woman. More than anything, I want readers to view the Queen and handmaid’s relationship as sweet and beautiful. I don’t want their love to be seen as lewd or salacious. I hope that readers will admire them, cheer for them as they stay strong through difficult times, and mourn with them as Elissa ultimately passes on and Viarra must go on without her.

The background that I’ve set up for my leading couple is that Elissa was a slave taken from the north as a girl and given at seven years old to the five-year-old Princess Viarraluca. As the little princess has only brothers, Elissa almost immediately becomes the closest she has to a sister. The intelligent and precocious Viarra even secretly teaches Elissa how to read and write. While I haven’t fully decided on all of the circumstances surrounding their mutual attraction, I did decide a while back that it works better for them to have acted upon and established their feelings for each other prior to the beginning of the story. Though I don’t reveal it right away, Viarra and Elissa are already lovers when the prologue starts. I simply decided that even if I am capable of writing a convincing “coming out” scene between them, it wouldn’t add anything new to either character and would most likely distract from the rest of the story.

I establish early on that Elissa is not pretty. She’s skinny and plain—about as humble a human being as can exist without her being self-deprecating. I don’t think Elissa completely understands why Queen Viarra returns her affection, but the handmaid dutifully and modestly serves her beloved majesty in all things—lovemaking included. And while her modesty occasionally affects her judgment, I see Elissa as being reasonably intelligent. I think I kind of want readers to view the handmaid as being basically average in all things save humility—here she is clearly above average in all ways. I also want it to say a lot about Viarra’s character that she’ll reserve her deepest affection for this humble, skinny, plain slave woman, when the queen could have almost any man or woman in the kingdom.

The following scene is part of a conversation between the Queen and two of her other handmaids. While I have a tender, pillow-talk scene between Viarra and Elissa that I could have excerpted for the blog, I felt this chat did a better job of illustrating the Queen’s feelings for the handmaid, despite that Elissa is not present. In the scene, Viarra puts Gwynnet, one of the other handmaids, in her place for copping a superior attitude on learning of Elissa and the Queen’s liaisons.

Gods dammit, little fiend,” her majesty swore as Corsair leapt, claws out, from her lap to her shoulder, once again seeking her shiny earring. “Gwynnet, would you take this little monster from me for a while?” She held Corsair out to her at arm’s length. “Last time I wear earrings around you,” she told the troublesome kitten.

Corsair squirmed irritably and squeaked in protest as Gwynnet took him from her majesty’s hands. “I suppose I was just surprised to learn that you and Elissa were lovers,” Gwynnet ventured as she sat down, attempting to calm the annoyed kitten. “It’s just that she’s not…” she hesitated, trying to find the right words.

“Beautiful?” her majesty suggested. “Vivacious? My intellectual equal?”

“That wasn’t what I was going to suggest,” Gwynnet said, half in protest, half in embarrassment.

“No, but I could tell you were thinking it,” the queen replied. “And you’re not incorrect. But I’ve never met anyone like Elissa. On top of being the most loyal human being I’ve known, she’s the most humble and self-sacrificing. She serves me unquestioningly for no other reason than that she loves me. She asks no reward for her services, and in fact gets embarrassed and uncomfortable with any reward I offer. And she genuinely believes I can do anything I put my mind to. Her devotion is gratifying, yet humbling at the same time. Elissa drives me to prove to myself that I’m worthy of that devotion—without even realizing she’s doing it. I can’t imagine a better friend, lover, and confidante.”

Gwynnet stared down at the kitten on her lap, feeling humbled by the queen’s words.

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