The stage is set and all the actors are present. The audience breathlessly waits for the curtains to be drawn
Chapter 3: The Stage is Set
It was day sixteen. Before me lay the beach, the water some two hundred paces away. Dozens and dozens of ships crowded the fjord, each packed full of warriors. Blue-green banners flapped gently above furled sails, emblazoned with a white tower castle. Hundreds and hundreds of spearheads glistened in the noonday sun, causing the water to shimmer like the ocean.
The ships held position just out of bow-shot from the beach. Flat-bottomed transports packed with warriors bobbed in ranks. The Arkadians called them “akatus”. They were commonly used to transport cargo but could also be used to ferry enemy troops right onto the beach. Small six- and eight-man canoes darted like minnows between the larger ships. Larger, taller “galeas” herded them like sheepdogs. These warships looked fast and powerful, with a single bank of twenty-five oars per side and a small crew of warriors along the forecastle, quarterdeck, and central fighting plank. Yet deadliest of all was the ram below the waterline, visible only by the extended bow wave at the front of the ship, like a shark just below the surface of the water. At the back of the enemy fleet, two more of these “galeas” flanked a massive behemoth—with twice the number of oars as a galea in two vertical banks of oars per side
Arrayed against them to my rear were two hundred and ten of my warriors. Thirty archers stood on the left flank. To their right, one hundred eighty warriors roared challenges at the enemy. They looked ferocious; faces and bodies painted for war, they looked like savages lusting for battle. Strong arms shook swords, axes, and spears defiantly at the enemy. Curiously though, not a single shield could be seen.
“How many enemy?” I asked Sigurd, who stood on my left.
“I count six galeas, fifteen of the transports, more than fifty canoes, and that double-decked, hundred-oared monster over there. That matches roughly with Baldar’s report,” he replied.
“That’s got to be close to a thousand men,” breathed Gunnar, who stood on my right, “They have a lot more landing craft than we were expecting too.”
“At least they’re landing here like we planned,” I replied, “We stick to the plan.”
A canoe carrying four rowers and four passengers rowed alone towards the shore, carrying a white flag. I marched forward with Sigurd and two guards, picking my way through scattered beach obstacles. I hopped down into the trench that stretched the length of the beach thirty paces in front of my warriors. A man’s height deep and three paces wide, it would significantly slow any enemy charge. I side-stepped through a row of sharpened stakes on the opposite side of the trench and continued down the beach. Smaller groups of trenches, stakes, and berms lay scattered before me leading to the water.
The canoe grounded itself and its four passengers disembarked. Their leader was a portly, greying, middle-age man dressed in fine robes. A woman wearing a white silk thong flanked him, her chin-length, sandy-blonde hair held back by a silver headband. A silvery bra covered her modest breasts. The two were escorted by two male guards in flax tunics. We stopped a few paces from each other. The enemy leader spoke first.
“I am Arch-Commander Thompson Radu, leader of this army on behalf of Duke Mazur, Lord of Falkirk and Protector of the Northern Riverlands of the Arkadian Empire. Who are you to have trespassed into his realm?”
“Where is your Duke?” I asked.
“He does not deal with unworthy thieves and common criminals like yourselves,” replied the Duke, “What have you done with the townsfolk?”
“Check your slave markets,” I said dismissively, “You’ll find a few hundred of them there. I bet your precious Duke’s busy sucking one off even now.”
The Radu smiled thinly. “You dare insult his Lordship? With such a puny force? Did the rest of your men flee like the bilge rats they are?”
“They’re off fucking your wife and children,” I responded coolly. Sigurd, not normally known for his sense of humor, snorted with laughter.
The enemy commander’s face turned bright red. His nose flared and his lips worked soundlessly. The woman beside him stepped in hurriedly to fill the gap.
“Despite your insults, the Duke is generous. He commands that you surrender yourselves and face his justice. If you do, you may yet live. If you do not, you will certainly die.”
I had already goaded Radu into a near-frenzy. What I said next was just for my own amusement.
I addressed the woman and the two bodyguards. “If you fight us here, you will die. However, if you cut off your Arch-Commander’s balls and feed them to him…” I paused for dramatic effect. “I will give you his property, his lands… and his wife.”
Commander Radu turned purple with rage. He stormed off back towards the canoe and his subordinate and the two guards hurried to follow. Meeting concluded, I turned and headed back up the banks.
“Did he buy it?” asked Gunnar, as I joined him on a rise slightly behind the thin line of Clansmen.
“Hook, line, and sinker,” I said. “He thinks we’re nothing but a bunch of vulgar bandits. My performance was flawless. Even Sigurd here was laughing! I’m positive he’ll commit all his forces in a frontal assault.”
“My Lord, I was laughing at how terrible your jokes were,” Sigurd snickered.
“I should cut out your tongue like a real bandit would,” I grumbled, watching as Arch-Commander Radu’s canoe departed the beach.
His canoe was just pulling aside the massive flagship when Emmy came walking down from the town. She wore nothing save a knife scabbard strapped to her left leg and the bandaged around her midriff. In her right hand she held an Arkadian short-spear.
“Damnit, Emmy, I told you to stay away from the fighting!” I scolded angrily as she neared.
She waved off my concerns. “I just want to watch. I’m not concerned about the Arkadian army.”
“It’s not the Arkadian army that I’ll concerned about!” I practically shouted, “I’m more concerned about one of my own soldiers mistaking you for an enemy in the heat of battle.”
“Fine, then I’ll just stay with you here and watch.” She marched two dozen paces back up towards town and then stopped, turning around and planting the butt of her spear in the dirt.
“I don’t have time for this shit,” I sighed in exasperation as I turned back towards the beach.
Gunnar cocked an eyebrow and leaned in close. He did not know the Arkadian trade language, so he couldn’t understand what we were saying. But he had his ideas.
“New plaything?” he whispered.
“If you weren’t my cousin, I’d gut you like a fish.”