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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.”


Ambushers Ambushed

An excerpt from the first chapter of my NaNoWriMo project. The scene comes at a point in the story where the fortunes of the Hegemony of Andivel are beginning to turn favorable because of Queen Viarraluca’s just and competent rule. For years they’ve been losing ground to the barbarian tribes who inhabit the Vedrian Mountains that form the northern border of the hegemony. By deploying more and better-trained soldiers to protect the northern trade routes, farms, and townships, they’re able to better deal with the barbarian raiders, retaking much of their former territory and resecuring their northern borders.

The following scene shows a barbarian ambush on a trade caravan along one of the northern roads. It’s one of the clearest earlier looks at the barbarians themselves, the kind of tactics and weapons being used, as well as the barbarian attitudes toward the Tollesian peoples.

* * *

Huntress Bedra and the other bow-warriors of the Benori tribe crouched in the brush on the north side of the Tollesian roadway as the merchant caravan rumbled into view. The caravan was bigger than they’d anticipated, but with the element of surprise, they should still make short work of the merchants and guards. And a bigger convoy meant better loot distribution. This would be a quick, bloody ambush—a massacre, really.

Those idiots in the Averci tribe were still doing small-time raids on small farms and lost caravans, but with the increased presence of Tollesian soldiers on the roads, raiding in thirty- to fifty-man parties was becoming less and less safe. She’d heard that another band of Averci warriors had been driven off just this morning—once again by those fucking cavalry soldiers.

What manner of cowards pranced about on horses in battle, anyway? A true warrior kept her feet firmly on the ground.

No, raiding bigger targets with a larger war party was becoming the smarter and more effective solution—give the Tollesians too many warriors for their patrols to deal with and force them to retreat. Nearly thirty of her fellow bow-warriors and over fifty shield-warriors crouched in the tall grass and brush on either side of the road, waiting for their war leader’s signal to attack. The footmen carried spears to defend against any cavalry that might show up, while the hunters bore longbows with bone- or obsidian-tipped arrows. Bone and obsidian had fairly poor armor penetration, but her tribe preferred to save their bronze and iron arrows for the fucking hoplites.

Bedra had taken on the role of huntress after the death of her husband during the Tollesian’s previous campaign into the lowlands. Considered “tainted” or “jinxed” by her tribesmen, she had found herself unable to remarry because her previous three pregnancies had miscarried. With two surviving children to feed, she had taken to hunting to support her family. After demonstrating her archery prowess, several of the other bow-warriors had invited her on her first raid the previous summer.

The huntress counted about fifty guardsmen as well as a couple dozen merchants, workers, and slaves. Seven wagons in total, all of them covered. The guards carried small shields and spears, short swords, or clubs; maybe a dozen had armor. Bedra spotted a young slave girl who might make a pretty gift for her son. She was sure that the others were sizing the loot up as well.

When the wagons were directly between the two parties of raiders, their war leader stood and blared his hunting horn, signaling the war party to attack. Bedra and her fellow hunters leapt to their feet, letting fly a volley of arrows on the unarmored guards. The guards shouted and retreated back to what little cover the wagons provided, trying to protect their heads with their wussy shields. Bedra grinned as one of her arrows snagged a guardsman in the guts.

With that, the spearmen came charging from the brush, trapping the guardsmen against the wagons. The guards had plenty of brawl in them, but none fought like soldiers and clearly had never fought against true Gannic warriors. The merchants and slaves all took cover amid the wagons, and Bedra was about to notch up another victory over the Tollesian cowards.

Then the whole ambush went straight to hell.

A man in Tollesian officer’s armor stood up from one of the wagons and blasted three notes on a war horn. At the signal, the covers flew off of four of the wagons and soldiers came pouring over the sides. Each wagon carried a dozen of those fucking hoplites and a half-dozen archers. The hoplites leapt into the fray and engaged the spearmen, while the archers crouched in the wagons, exchanging arrows with the Gannic hunters. Even more frustratingly, the archers all wore those linen cuirasses; the hunters wore only wool tunics.

Though still technically outnumbered, the armored hoplites tore mercilessly into the startled spear-warriors. Swords flashed and warriors fell, with but a few injuries among the Tollesians. Bedra could only assume that the same scene was unfolding on the other side of the wagons.

A mere fifteen yards in front of her, the hoplite line hacked through the Benori spearmen, sending the survivors scattering. As the lines broke, the hunters turned to flee as well. Bedra fired a single arrow at the nearest hoplite, but it bounced harmlessly off the bronze scales stamped into his cuirass. The huntress turned with the others and ran toward the trees a quarter mile off. As she ran, however, she saw how futile the effort was. A dozen Tollesian horsemen charged in from the east, cutting off the fleeing hunters.

The horsemen lobbed their javelins into the trapped barbarians, then lay into them with sword and spear. Bedra let fly one arrow into a horse’s flank, causing it to stumble and throwing the rider. Another horse bowled the huntress over before she could react, but thankfully not trampling her. A hoplite put a knee in the middle of her back before she could rise, then forcibly tied her hands behind her. She cried out as the Tollesian jerked her to her feet.

How had they done this? Bedra wept to herself as the bastards led her away. Her tribe had been so successful in their raids the past two years, but the fucking Tollesians had just ambushed their ambushers. What had happened? What had changed?

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.”

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.

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…

Writerly Advice for NaNoWriMo

I’m after some writerly advice from my fellow writers out there. I find myself floundering with my NaNoWriMo project. Despite my efforts, I just didn’t have a very solid idea of where I wanted to go with Book II of First Empress. I think part of that is because I’m still deciding on how a lot of stuff will go down in the last few chapters of Book I. I’m seriously debating working on it instead. The problem being that the material all has to be from a different project—as in, Book I can’t count toward the 50,000-word challenge because of the contest guidelines.

I continue to fall behind because of my troubles in reconciling the two books, that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth it to try to stick with NaNoWriMo’s deadlines. Would it be best to keep tapping away at Book II? Or should I go back to work on Book I and deal with Book II after the first book is finished? Thoughts?

National Novel Writing Month: Take 2


Vi“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 by making your position unassailable.’ This applies in politics as well as combat. By destroying the men behind this attempt on my life, it discourages others who may want me dead from making similar attempts. This was never about revenge or justice. It was about prudence.” –Queen Viarra

So, I’m taking another stab at the 50,000-word challenge for National Novel Writing month. Instead of starting a new project like I’d initially intended, I’m going to start ‘Book II’ of First Empress. This isn’t a sequel, so much as the second ‘act’ in the story. My plan all along was to divide the story into three or four sections, each ‘book’ skipping a number of years in Viarra’s rule. This gives me a handy opportunity to get some major work done on the story. Then, after November is over, I’ll go back in and write the missing chapters from Book I. Here’s a handy link to my previous posts about the story.

Here’s the synopsis I posted for my NaNoWriMo entry:

It is three winters since Queen Viarraluca’s conquest of the northern hegemony of Andivel. Her reign has brought stability to the beleaguered northern Tollesian city-states, creating economic and cultural growth throughout the region. With the barbarian tribes beaten back into the highlands, the young queen looks to fortifying her borders against their incursions. In the south, however, the decades-old feud between the empires of Pellastor and Illarra threatens to drag Viarra’s recovering hegemony into their viper pit of back-stabbings and cold-war politics.

Far away, the girls Zahnia and Pella come to discover that the people who’d once saved them from imprisonment do not have their best interests in mind. Fleeing north, they travel with their caretaker, Nimus, to join the Order of Dallorn’s efforts to establish places of arcane learning among the Tollesian-speaking cities. But even as they arrive at this haven of knowledge and understanding, it becomes increasingly apparent that Dallorn’s children’s motives may not be as altruistic as originally perceived.

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