Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 09
“Wait! Wait!” one of the Santa Josefinan teamsters cried.
Sadly, Marciano didn’t hear him. His finger squeezed the trigger until he was rewarded with a loud boom. The horse stood stock still for a moment, then its knees buckled, letting it sink to the macadamized road.
The driver, on the point of hysterics, ran over and threw himself over the equine corpse, wailing with grief.
Marciano, turned to the remaining two drivers, “Are you willing now to lease us your horses and wagons?” he asked. The Santa Josefinans didn’t need to wait for Haukelid’s translation. Between gestures and familiar-sounding grunts they made it clear: Take them.
Turning his attention to the Hordalander, Marciano ordered, “Pay the first one for the loss of his horse and wagon, but do not give him the twenty percent kicker and subtract the cost of one round of pistol ammunition. Drag the horse off the road and burn the wagon. Give the other two fair rental for a month on theirs. Then load our wounded, as many or the more serious ones as will fit, and get them moving.”
“Yes, sir,” said Haukelid, sounding about as shocked as the Santa Josefinans.
“And next time, captain, do not wait for me to shoot a horse to get their attention.”
“No, sir. I won’t, sir.”
Then, feeling quite ill, Claudio Marciano walked off into the woods to find a place to empty his stomach.
Headquarters (mobile), First Santa Josefinan Infantry Legion
It was an empty title but that was how they were billed, anyway; the “First Santa Josefinan Infantry Legion.” It was about half true, and about half an outrageous lie. The half true part was that, indeed, the bulk of the officers and men of two of the infantry tercios, the Tercio La Negrita, Legate Salas, commanding, and the Tercio la Virgen, Legate Villalobos, commanding, were essentially pure Santa Josefinan. Moreover, those tercios had grown to near divisional strength, themselves, by recruiting among the people of the country.
The part that made it a lie was that the Legion was under the command of a Balboan, Antonio de Legazpi, that all of the cadre and even now still a huge percentage of the rank and file were recruited and trained by Balboa, that all the equipment, less some captures from the Taurans, had been provided by the Balboans, and that the entire crew answered with alacrity to the orders of Balboa’s Dux Bellorum, Patricio Carrera.
That the whole illusion was nothing more than a politically and diplomatically useful fig leaf didn’t change the reality that they were part of Carrera’s army.
And I wish to hell, thought de Legazpi, that Carrera had seen fit to hide about five hundred trucks, a hundred of them full of engineering material, to move my legion forward after the damned Taurans.
What brought Legazpi that particular thought were the twin factors of having to order the newly arriving troops to peel off and hide themselves in the woods to either side of the road, while his engineers figured out what to do, and the image of the bent, spindled, folded, mutilated, twisted, and utterly wrecked bridge that formerly spanned the road and now rested pretty much in the flood of the river. And it was a broad river, without a decent ford within forty kilometers. And no decent road to that.
The engineers hadn’t even bothered to inspect the ruin of the bridge. One look from the bank and their chief, a junior legate, had just said, “Fuck it; we’ll have to start from scratch.”
“How long?” Lagazpi had asked.
“Three days, had been the reply, “and that won’t stand up to heavy traffic.”
“Cars?” he’d asked. “Three or four tons each, loaded?”
The chief of the engineers had looked down into the stream. “You’ll have to unload them on this bank, cross the vehicles, hand carry the supplies across, and then reload them.”
“You said it, sir.”
I suppose, Legazpi thought, that they’ll use some of the delay. Coming to a quick decision he shouted out, “Get me the Ic, the commander of the cohort from Fifth Mountain, plus Villalobos and Salas, plus Macera!
“And I need a message sent to Carrera!”
Amidst the sounds of engineers frantically felling trees, and overlooking the ruined bridge, Lagazpi gave his orders.
“We’ve got a problem, gentlemen. Every day the Taurans run without us pursuing not only gives them more time to dig in wherever they’re going, but also more time to ruin more roads and drop more bridges.
“We’ve got to get something on them to pursue, but I’m badly limited in what I can supply. I sure as shit can’t supply more than a thousand men.”
“The Zhong lodgment still blocks the highway in Balboa, so no trucks are getting to us. I’ve messaged Carrera and he promises me four cargo helicopters, IM-71s. Unfortunately, at this range, two or three of those will have to be used to support one or two, but probably one. I can supply one cohort with one IM-71.
Legazpi pointed down at the river, just to the right of the dropped bridge. “So here’s what we’re going to do; Ignacio Macera, you’re going to cross this fucking river by hook or by crook, and by God pursue those fuckers. Get the engineers to make you a raft or something to get at least your light vehicles across. We’re going to give you a maniple of…”
“Sir,” Macera interrupted, “with recent recruits, my cohort is about two thousand men strong. I need fifteen thousand kilograms of supply a day for that, fifteen tons. And I cannot carry a fraction of it even if I do manage to get my light vehicles across.
“That means I need probably five or, since so much of it will be food, which will cube out the helicopter before it weights out, six or seven lifts a day. Frankly I…”
“Shut up, Tribune. You’ll take what food the countryside has to offer and get by on no more than nine tons, three lifts, a day. Or you’ll go hungry. But you are going across the river and you are going to pursue the Taurans, to keep the pressure on them, so they can’t fuck up the roads and bridges so thoroughly.”
Macera blew air through his lips, tapped his forehead a few times, then put his palm up in an admission of acceptance.
“Now,” Legazpi continued, “as I was saying, you’re going to get a maniple of Cazadores attached to your cohort. Maybe more importantly, though, the classis has broken out of Bruselas; since Santa Josefina’s new, revolutionary government has officially joined the war, the internment is over. What that means is that now you and your cohort are going to have air superiority for the first time. So along with the Cazadores, I’m sending my own forward air controller with you to coordinate and call for air support.”
Macera whistled, the asked, “No shit, huh?”
“No shit, Ignacio.”
“Well, fuck; I’ll try.”
Task Force Jesuit Headquarters (Mobile), Santa Josefina
Marciano didn’t speak a word of any of the languages spoken in Ming Zhong Guo, the New Middle Kingdom. For this he didn’t really need to; the determination of the man on the other end of the radio conversation to stand and fight where he was told to came through loud and clear. Even so, he waited for the translation.
“Captain Liu says it would mean the lives of his wife and children, their children, and just possibly the lives of his parents as well, to abandon the position and mission he has been assigned, General. He says, moreover, that it would go just as hard on his officers and men, such that they would certainly cut his throat and throw him overboard if he ordered them away.”
Marciano shook his head in disgust. Fuck, to live under such a system. I wanted them to buy me some time, yes, but not to throw their lives away without a chance.
“Ask him if there’s anything we can do to help.”
“He says, ‘graciously, no, but thank you for the offer’.”