R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 2 of 3

Greta made sure Thissle stayed invisible, because she half expected to find the hall full of men eating and arguing about what to do.  It turned out that they had some food, a veritable feast for the locals, though it looked meager compared to the work of Mrs. Kettleblack.  But the only men she found were Marcus, Darius, Gaius, Hersecles, and Gunwort, a Dacian from Ravenshold, and they were worrying over a makeshift map.  Greta listened for a few minutes to catch the drift of the arguments before she entered the room.  She carried the statue with her, but set it on a table before she came fully into their presence.  The men were polite enough to pause in their argument as she came close, and she took advantage of the silence.

Reaching out, she first called to her armor.  It came to replace her dress and it fit her perfectly.  She had Salvation over her shoulder and Defender across the small of her back.  She wore the cloak of Athena over all, but she left her helmet on Usgard.  The men all jumped, except Hersecles who had seen this trick in Boarshag.

Greta quickly took in the map and spoke.  “The Quadi have camped to the north of the city and have slowly worked their way around to the east and south, leaving only the road and the big open field west of the city as unoccupied.”  The men nodded.  She checked her facts.  Between the outpost on the forest’s edge and the city wall sat a long, flat field. The Temple Mount, the Kogaionon or Holy Mountain rose up out of that field beyond the northwest corner of the city. That seemed one of the reasons the Temple Mount appeared so impressive, rising out of the flatlands as it did.

“We must stop them here.”  Marcus pressed his knife into the table where the west field showed on the map.  “We need to protect the road in the southwest for the arrival of the Legion and General Pontius.”

The others started to object, but Greta yelled.  “Quiet!”  And they all quieted.  “I have heard the arguments,” Greta said.  “Lord Gunwort wants to withdraw to the city, behind the walls, and wait for the legion. I know he wants to protect his city and his people, and that is laudable and reasonable, but it might make matters worse if the Legion has to fight its’ way through to link up with us.  Caesar, that is Julius and I once discussed the notion of divide and conquer.  Right now, we are the divided ones.  We need to minimize that division, not cast it in stone.  Two small mouthfuls are easier for the Quadi to swallow than one big lump.”

“Here, here!” Darius supported what she said.

“My beloved Darius wishes to strike the main camp of the Quadi in the north.  He believes a strong sortie will scatter them sufficiently so that by the time they pull themselves together, the Legion will have arrived.  Unfortunately, he has failed to sufficiently consider the enemy.  This is no sedentary, standing army such as you might face in Gaul, Iberia, Africa or the East.  These are migratory people, mobile people, and for the most part they are on horseback.  They are used to moving from place to place, and sudden enemy raids, and setting up camp quickly, and breaking camp just as quickly.  You can sortie all you want and within an hour they will be right back where they started and entrenched against you besides.”

“At some personal risk, I say, here, here!”  Marcus grinned.

“Lord Marcus,” she said.

“I knew it!” He snapped his fingers and grimaced before she even began.

“I am sorry, but yours is the worst idea.  That is exactly what they want and unfortunately there may be no choice.  As I have said, this is no standing army. They have no catapults and siege engines, and won’t build any unless they have to.  They are not trying to encircle the city.”

“But then why have they moved into the fields east and south of the city?”  Gunwort asked as if to suggest that she was wrong, so she explained.

“Look at the land there.  It is all small farm fields punctuated by bits of woods, rocky outcroppings, springs and bogs.  It is small hills and ridges.  It is land where a foot soldier might stand a fighting chance against horsemen.  They have taken that option away.  The only option left is Marcus’ wide, flat open meadow in the west.  They don’t care how many legionnaires you bring up, or how well trained they are. On that flat terrain, they know their overwhelming number of horsemen have the total advantage.”

“So if all ideas are bad.”  Marcus no longer grinned.  “What then can we do?”

“Gaius?” She did not hesitate to call on the old soldier.  He was the only one who had said nothing thus far.

Gaius stepped up and looked at the map, but Greta knew he already had something in mind. “I would double fortify the road,” he said.  “Give them the field and don’t even man the fortification on that side of the road, only build it tall enough to keep their horses from jumping it.  That should blunt any cavalry advantage.  They will have to dismount and tear down the first fortification to get at us while we rain arrows down on them from the second line of defense.  Have a group of locals who know the terrain harass the Quadi in the south which are not many but would otherwise be at our backs while we are building.  Also, a couple of quick sorties to the north, not to break them as Lord Darius suggested, but just to keep them off balance and prevent a serious attack until we are ready.  Then, when the Legion arrives, send a thousand into the forest along the edge between the road and the outpost.  Hopefully, they will be unseen.  When the Quadi finally attack, we will have them outflanked, not only by the city wall, but with a thousand bows in the trees as well.”

“Mostly good,” Marcus said.

“But the field is wide.”  Darius spoke before Marcus could frame his objection.  “What if they charge down the middle out of bowshot from both sides? They could overwhelm the road by sheer numbers and we would still be divided and maybe even easier to conquer.”

“You need a flying wedge,” Greta said, and when they stared at her, she had to explain herself again.  “It is an old football term.  Call it an arrowhead with a wide base, pointed at the enemy, using your far fewer horses than a normal cavalry charge

“Not to engage the enemy,” Marcus said, catching on quickly.  “But to push through them, as it were, to divide them and conquer, to force them to the edges of the field and within bowshot.”

“Exactly,” Greta said.  “Like a hot knife through butter.”  Greta did not like using the expression, but there were reasons why some expressions became clichés.

“I like that,” Marcus said.

“I don’t.” Greta spoke honestly.  “But you get the idea.”

“Lady.” Thissle tugged on the skirt of Greta’s armor which hung down just below the knees.

“What?” Greta looked down at her and then looked up when Thissle pointed.  The elf wizard, Sunstone and Yin Mo, lord of the knights of the lance were standing near, patiently waiting.  “Show yourselves,” Greta said.  “What is it? Is there trouble in Usgard?”

Yin Mo and Lord Sunstone appeared as if out of a mist.

“Me, too?” Thissle asked.

Might as well, Greta thought.  “Yes, you, too,” she said, and Thissle appeared, though nobody much noticed except Darius who smiled.  Gaius and Hersecles were busy for the moment keeping Gunwort from fleeing the room.  Marcus, however, appeared fascinated.  It was not clear if he stood fascinated by the fact that they were elves, though they looked quite human, or whether he became fascinated by Yin Mo whose features and dress appeared strikingly Asian.

“My lady.” Yin Mo walked up to Greta and dropped to one knee.  He took her left hand and placed it on his head.  “Goddess.  We come on behalf of the knights of the lance.”

Greta went with her impulse, even if it did not sound quite right to her own ears.  “They are not happy with the new arrangement for the defense of the land?”

“No, lady.” Lord Sunstone spoke quickly.  “They see that as a perfect solution and have organized themselves as a second line of defense which is the perfect work for them given their limited numbers.”

Greta took her hand back.  “Stand up, Lord Yin.  Stand up and tell me plainly what they want.”

Yin Mo stood and looked once at Lord Sunstone, then he craned to look quickly at the map, and then he spoke.  “They want to participate in your battle.”

Greta did not pause.  “No. No way.”  She sounded firm.  “Their vow is to defend Avalon, not fight in a human battle.”

“You are Avalon,” Yin Mo countered.

“But maybe I am supposed to die,” she said.  “Defending me might interfere with what is supposed to happen.  Besides, I have no intention of being in the battle.”

“But you also wish to defend Lord Marcus and Lord Darius,” Lord Sunstone said.

“Not necessarily. I have no knowledge that either is in danger.  The Masters don’t appear to be around, just some old guns.  It is just something I wonder when someone of note crosses my path.”

“Who are the knights of the lance?”  Darius asked.

“Killing machines,” Thissle said, with a bit of a shiver.  Some of the little ones were afraid of the knights.

“You met one,” Greta told Darius.  “In my room.”

“He killed the night creatures,” Thissle said.

Darius’ eyes got wide.  “You mean there is more than one of him, them?”

“Many more.” Yin Mo said.

“Yes!” Darius got excited.  “Two dozen could change the whole complexion of this battle.  Marcus, you have to see them.”  He almost danced a little jig and Greta wondered if he might temporarily be suffering from elf overload.

“Can I see?” Marcus asked.

“Of course,” Lord Sunstone said, and before Greta could speak, the wizard waved his hand and three knights, horse and all, appeared in the hall looking for all the world like late medieval warriors in full plate armor from the top of their plumed helmet to the tips of their stirrup shoes.  Though they were the size and shape of men, there really was no telling what might be inside all of that metal, except that it seemed at least clear that they were marvelous horsemen.  Their horses hardly moved at the sudden, shocking change of scenery. The knights tipped their lances to the ground in salute.  Each lance had a different ribbon, a red dot, orange waves, a blue lion, and it matched the markings on their helmets and shields.  It appeared the only way to tell them apart.  Having saluted, then, they dismounted and dropped to one knee before rising to stand at attention, while Thissle hid behind Greta’s legs.

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 1 of 3

Alesander explained things as they walked.  “Lord Darius said he saw you in a dream and was warned.  I don’t know about that, but when that man betrayed us and took fifty of your people with him, we were prepared.  We sent men secretly behind the ambush on the road.  We surprised them and thus came into Ravenshold.  After that, we got into a terrible, bloody battle in the city, but finally we broke through the siege on the fort.  Then, to our surprise, the enemy retired to the Temple Mount and left the city in our hands.

“Why would they do that?” Greta wondered.

“To avoid an even bloodier fight in the streets.  Apparently, their weapons are in the temple and they knew they would be safe there last night.  I see now, it was all that they needed.  Their Quadi allies began to arrive in the morning and already their tents stretch to the horizon.  They are camped outside the city on the far side of the Mount.”

“What of the legion?” Greta asked.

“Still three days out,” Alesander responded.

“Our numbers?” She asked to clarify her picture.

“We had three hundred Legionnaires and about an equal number of your people and auxiliaries when we left Boarshag.  Now, with the fort garrison and the city we have about six hundred Legionnaires, a thousand auxiliaries and maybe fifteen hundred Dacians.  I believe there are some who might have joined the rebellion but have come to our side to fight the Quadi.”

“Yes, I see,” Greta said.  “In many ways that was a wrong move on the part of the rebels.  Tell me about the weapons.”

“Well, as I said, they seem to be located in the Temple, but they are not the force I expected. There don’t seem to be very many of them, and they don’t use them much except to protect the Temple Mount.  So far, they have not really impacted the battle.”

“They are old.” Greta thought out loud.  “They were not well weather protected.  Most of the powder is bad and many of the guns are rusted.  They are probably a real disappointment to the rebels.”

“Maybe so,” Alesander said.  “But with the Quadi, they have ten to one numbers now, and even when the legion arrives, they will still have us better than two to one.”

“I figure you would think that was fair odds for you Romans.”  Greta smiled.

Alesander relaxed a little and that felt good.  She had to hit him with the important question.  “Lord Marcus send any captured weapons to Rome yet?”

“Yes.” Alesander got frank.  “Just this morning he sent two by courier, why?”

Greta stopped in the gate and almost closed her eyes before she realized Hobknot stood right beside her.

“Don’t worry.” Hobknot spoke in his invisible voice which only she could hear.  Bogus got them both, but he said it was more like twenty and a whole troop of guards.”

Greta heard Bogus in her own mind.  “And how come Hobknot’s getting paid?”

“Because he hasn’t jerked me around yet.”  Greta thought back, and Hobknot, who caught the thought, suddenly excused himself to attend to his duties.

“Are you all right?” Alesander asked.

Greta had a hand to her head and a sudden whopper headache.  “Yes, fine,” she said.  “Tell me about Darius.”  It really felt like the first thing she wanted to ask, but she thought she could slip it into the normal conversation so it would not appear too important.

Alesander did not get fooled.  “He has been beside himself all morning with worry.”  He said, and Greta felt her heart thump.  “He has been pacing around and driving everyone crazy, and as soon as the sun hit midday he wanted to take a troop into the forest to find you, but Marcus would not let him.”  Greta felt thrilled by what she heard, but she tried not to let on, even to herself. “All the same,” Alesander winked at her. “I am sure that would be how I would feel if my betrothed got lost in the Demon Woods, but if you tell him I told you all this, I will deny I said anything.”

“You stinker,” she said to him.  “You’re almost as bad as Marcus.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.  Now let’s see to those allies of yours.”

It did not take long to get everyone housed and settled into the tent camp at the outpost. Alesander said they should all stay in the city, behind the walls, but Fae and her people thought it best to stay as near the woods as possible, and Greta chose to stay with them.  She said that they were her particular responsibility, but in truth, the outpost was the forward position nearest the Temple Mount. That was where she had to be, though figuring out how she would get up the Mount, locate the guns and destroy them remained a problem.

Alesander gave up his command tent for the women.  He claimed he did not have much commanding to do at the outpost, anyway. The auxiliary tent next door was given to the three Celts.  They were appreciative, and Vilam most of all.  He had been on the hard end of several bargains with the Romans and he did not imagine they had a generous side.

Greta explained everything, more or less, to Alesander, only leaving out Hobknot, Danna and the little ones in general.  She told him all about Chobar including the assumption that he gave up the chase. She also assumed that the Celts would eventually send a body of men to the edge of the forest, but whether they would wait until the Romans, Dacians and Quadi devastated each other in order to take advantage of the aftermath, or whether they would come as allies, she could not say.

Then, Darius rode up, outpacing Marcus, Hersecles and a dozen others.  Greta stood in the doorway of the tent feeling the need for a bath.  She wanted to wash her hair, and maybe spruce herself up a bit.

“You look just fine,” Fae said from her bed in the corner.  She spoke as if she read Greta’s mind.

Darius jumped down and ran over.  He hugged her, hard, and held her as if not wanting to let her go.  Their lips touched, but then Greta found herself pulling back.

“I’m okay,” she said, and she turned away a little so he would not kiss her again.  “No need to make a fuss.  It’s not like we are already married.”

Darius took a half step back.  “I know,” he said, a bit too loud.  “I’m just glad you’re safe, that’s all.  Can’t I be glad you’re safe?”

“Of course.” Greta found her own voice rising. “And I’m glad you haven’t gotten yourself killed.  It wouldn’t be much of a wedding without you.”

“Or without you,” he said.

“So, fine,” she said.

“Fine.”

Greta felt in danger of turning color from frustration, anger, embarrassment, or who knew what.  She stomped her foot, spun around and walked back into the tent.