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The Amber Arrow: Chapter Twenty Five

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 6, 2017 21:23 EDT



The Heir

    Ravenelle was amazed and incredibly sad at the same time. This was undoubtedly the royal crown of Vall l’Obac. Her mother’s crown. She didn’t know what this strange creature was that her mother had conjured up. But the fact that the crown was real was enough to make her frightened that something horrible had happened to Queen Valentine.

    They were inside the mead hall by the giant fireplace of the Apfelwein now.

    They sat in rockers. Ravenelle held the Couronne de Huit Tours on her lap.

    It was warm. She was surrounded by her foster-family. Her best friends.

    She felt terrified.

    “I was so worried that I hadn’t heard from Mother for over a year,” Ravenelle said. “But it was so selfish. I didn’t think that it might be because she couldn’t send any message to me.”

    “What did you think?” Saeunn asked.

    Ravenelle looked down, abashed. “I had pretty much convinced myself that she didn’t want me anymore.”

    “We’ve all met your mother,” said Wulf. “She’s a hard woman to like, you know. Always acting superior around us barbarians and all. But there was never any doubt how much she loves you, Ravenelle.”

    Ravenelle felt a blood tear forming in her eye. She wiped it away. “I guess there isn’t. I get so confused because I can’t even remember home. I’ve never even met my real father.”

    “If what that thing said before it disappeared is true,” Wulf said, “then the Romans are right behind it. Rainer should be back pretty soon with Jager’s scouts.”

    As if in answer to a summons, Rainer appeared. He swung his cloak behind him. He warmed himself close to the fire coals for a bit, then sat down in the rocker they’d saved for him.

    “So?” Wulf asked.

    “So, there is a Roman legion out there. About a league south into Vall l’Obac on the Montserrat Road.

    “You crossed the border?”

    “Had to. We saw fires in the woods. Hundreds of them. Got trouble all right.”

    Ravenelle held up the amber crown in her hands. It glowed warmly in the light from the fire. “This is my fault,” she said. “It’s because I’m here that they’re here. I can ride off with this thing and they will follow me. Probably. This is what they’re after.”

    “I don’t think they are going to let any of us go now,” Wulf said. “We’ll have to fight to break out of here. And besides we won’t let you leave us, not now. Rainer would kill me, for one thing.

    Rainer nodded. “Have to get ready soon, m’lord,” he said to Wulf. “I started talking with Jager about what to do. He’s coming up with a plan to present to you.”

    Wulf nodded. “Listen, I want him to talk with the centaurs. Tell Ahorn to get over this silly feud with his cousin. Bring the town leaders in on the plans we make. They can help.” Wulf considered for a moment. “And they will have to evacuate. The whole town. There’s no choice now, if there are as many Romans as you think there are.”

    “Oh, they’re out there, all right,” Rainer replied.

    “Maybe while we fight them, we can get Saeunn out,” Wulf said, almost mumbling to himself. Ravenelle glanced at Rainer. The obsession had returned, if it had ever gone anywhere. There didn’t seem to be anything that could dampen Wulf’s determination to take Saeunn to Eounnbard and . . . what? He wasn’t even sure the Mist Elves had a cure for her condition.

    After all, her condition was death.

    “I won’t abandon my family and my friends,” Saeunn said softly. “You have to see that this is more important than getting me to Eounnbard, Wulf. These people are invading your land. You are sworn to defend it.”

    Wulf shook his head. “No. I’m not going to choose between the land and you. The dragon isn’t making me do that. Why should anyone else?” He stopped rocking and stared into the fire. “What we are going to do is face the Romans. We’re going to fight to allow the town people to get to safety. Saeunn, Ravenelle, and the other women will head west. Then we will rendezvous and keep going south to Eounnbard. There’s no reason why we can’t. Everybody is trying to stop me from doing something that my heart tells me is the right thing to do.”

    Ravenelle set the crown back on her lap and reached over to take Rainer’s hand gently in her own. “Wulf is crazy as a bat flapping around a tower with no windows,” she said, loud enough so Wulf could hear her.

    “Yeah,” Rainer replied after a moment. “He is. But he’s also right.”

    Ravenelle sighed. “Then I guess we have to get ready for the Romans. What am I going to do with this crown?”

    “Get it out of here,” Rainer answered. “Then . . . anything you want. You don’t need a crown to be a queen.” He squeezed her hand and stood to go. “You never did, Princess.”

    Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Flood

    The Roman Imperials lined up at dawn in rough squares of a hundred. Romans attacked in staggered checkerboard rectangles as much as possible. They moved through the woods and the Tjark village outskirts, so there was no real “battlefield” to spread out on. But these were seasoned troops and it didn’t matter. They had fought the Nubian rebels of southern Aegypt. Many of them were veterans of campaigns deep into the Afrique jungles or the deserts of Araby. Their commanders knew how to position themselves for the best effect in all kinds of terrain.

    It was part of the Roman marching training to learn how to flow around obstacles while not breaking ranks. On either wing of the troops rode the Roman cavalry. They were ready to swoop in and soften up a target before the infantry hit. They could also crash into the ends of an enemy’s lines and attack from the side while the troops fought head on. Most deadly of all was when the cavalry broke into the rear of an enemy and attacked the supplies and reserve forces, or the enemy itself from behind.

    Wulf knew how the Romans fought. He had studied it for years under his old weapons master, Marshal Elgar Koterbaum. And as a scholar, he’d read about it many times in the sagas. A battle of Kaltemen against Romans was described in detail in several of them, especially two called Hlafling’s Folly and Rugga’s Saga. These were part of a group known as the Battle Sagas. Wulf had spent a year working through them with the best and toughest teacher of all, Albrec Tolas. Tolas also happened to be a master scholar at Raukenrose University.

    I still can’t believe Tolas made me memorize sagas by playing mumblety-peg with a real, sharp knife poking between my fingers, Wulf thought. But it sure was effective.

    In most of these stories it was a very bad idea to fight Romans head-to-head. They worked together like swarming ants and overwhelmed even very strong foes. No, the best way to take on the Romans was with raids, surprise attacks, and running battles.

    This was where Kaltemen were at their finest anyway. It was how they had kept the Roman colonies from taking over the north for many centuries.



    In the north, in the Kalte kingdoms, the gentry learned how to fight in small groups, and battles were usually hardly anything more than a bunch of small bands of men loyal to a certain leader coming together without a lot of coordination between them. It wasn’t a perfect system. They could make a savage attack, but they could also get distracted. Each band of warriors had its own separate goals which might or might not be the same as the others.

    Wulf had learned how to fight a different way while taking back his own city of Raukenrose from invading Sandhaveners. It was the way his father and his right-hand man, Earl Keiler, had discovered worked best when they fought Vall l’Obac during the Little War. The great thing that the Mark of Shenandoah had going for it was that its troops were a mixture of humans, Tier, and other-folk. In the case of Jager’s company, they were a mixture of every warrior type from buffalo men with their war pikes to bear men with longbows. These were longbows that most human archers, no matter how muscled, couldn’t draw. And there were centaurs and quick human soldiers who were deadly at swordplay.

    Jager was an instinctive tactician. He knew how to use them together. He’d proved that during the bloody Battle of Raukenrose Meadow.

    Wulf had killed his first man in battle there. He had almost been gutted himself. Sometimes he saw the dying man’s surprised eyes in his dreams–always just the eyes–and woke up tense and shaking.

    Wulf and Jager arranged their one hundred men not to win against the Romans, but to slow them down long enough for the villagers, the supply wagons, and, most of all, for Saeunn and Ravenelle, to get away.

    Ravenelle carried the crown. She’d wrapped it in linen and put it carefully into one of the saddlebags of her horse.

    Then the company would fall back and try to slip away itself. They hoped to sting the Romans badly enough to throw off pursuit. The Romans might then burn the town down in frustration. But the people would live and could rebuild.

    Wulf didn’t like that the plan included retreat.

    It helped that Rainer, who was always practical when it came to fighting, completely approved. “Every other way of doing this will get us all killed,” Rainer said. Wulf hadn’t had to say anything for Rainer to read his mood and his doubt.

    “You’re not going to like this decision I’ve made,” Wulf said. He paused for a moment, took a breath, then blurted out, “I want you to go with the girls.”

    Rainer shook his head strong enough to rattle his chainmail hood. “Blood and bones! Don’t ask me to do that. I want to fight Romans!”

    “You know I’m asking you because you’re the best.”

    Rainer didn’t bother denying it. “Curse it to cold hell,” he grumbled.

    “Will you?”

    “Yes, all right,” Rainer finally said. “Makes sense.”

    The Imperials came.

    The cavalry attacked first, trying to sweep into the town from the southeast. Scouts reported they were arriving from down a road that led to the central valley. Jager sent his best archers to meet them. The Romans on horses met a line of bear men longbows in the woods. They also encountered trees felled on the one-cart roadway to block their way. Two bear men with axes could take down a good-sized tree in moments.

    When the cavalry showed up, the archers knew to aim for the horses and then fight the cavaliers on the ground. The horses were armored in front, but less so behind. So the archers let them pass by and then shot the horses in their sides.

    There were over a hundred Roman cavalry troops versus twenty bear men, though. The Romans on horses had almost broken through.

    It had taken killing ten horses and twenty or thirty Roman soldiers to stop the cavalry raid. Finally the cavalry rode away, bloody and full of arrows. A bear longbowman’s pull could penetrate an oak plank at twenty paces. Most of the dead and wounded Romans had gone down thinking to the last moment that they were safe behind their shields–only to get a rude and deadly surprise when an iron-tipped arrow burst through and sunk into an eye or throat.

    But the eastern cavalry attack was just an opening stunt. The Romans marched in along the main road from the south to Tjark.

    The real fight was about to begin.

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