The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 35
“Right, General,” Bill said. Then to Sherlock, “Amplify. Pucorl is coming, men. Hold them a little longer and they’re toast.” Bill said it in French, but Sherlock shouted it in Greek.
It seemed like it would work. The defenses stiffened. But they were still being pushed back.
On receiving the new instructions, Pucorl made a sharp right turn and, external speakers blaring “Ride of the Valkyries” at full volume, he charged to the right.
Jennifer’s phone, Silvore, shouted, “Pucorl’s going to Andronikos’ aid. Bill says they’re being pushed hard.”
“Lord Demetrios,” Jennifer shouted in turn, “we need to help Bill.”
Demetrios Palaiologos looked at Jennifer, then at the situation, and proved himself to be more competent than anyone had any real right to expect. He knew that if he didn’t go to Andronikos’ aid and the emperor’s son died, he would be in a lot of trouble, but he also knew that with Pucorl charging off to the left, the center was open if the Turks could recover from their rout.
“No!” he said, “What we need to do is keep the pressure on Murad’s center.” He stood in his stirrups, waved his arms, and shouted, “Follow me!” then rode after the routed Turks in the center. His force was smaller, much smaller than the Turks, but it was fresh and not terrorized.
Jennifer almost abandoned her post, but she knew that she and her six-shooter would be of little use to Bill’s force. She also briefly considered shooting Demetrios in the back, but that wouldn’t do any good either. Instead, cursing a blue streak, she rode along behind him.
Murad I saw his death approaching. Not in the enemy, but in his routed central column. Such a loss right now might shatter his still fragile nation, because it was held together mostly by his reputation. He already had a rebellion in Anatolia and if John Piss-his-pants Palaiologos could stop him here, his reputation was dead and gone. He was already in full armor. After all, he was the commander. He wasn’t in the front because that wasn’t where you commanded from. He mounted and in moments was charging with his personal guards at that routed column, swinging his sword, and bellowing at his troops to stop running and follow him. Surprisingly, some of them did. Not all of them, and he would deal with the cowards later. Right now, he needed to restore his troops to something like organization, and prepare to meet whatever was coming.
That was half his problem. He’d seen some of it, and heard more. Even gotten a good view of the monster as it hared off to flank his left wing. He’d heard the crackling thunder and seen the puffs of smoke from the tops of the buildings. But he didn’t really comprehend what had happened. He only knew it was bad.
By the time he had something that almost looked like order restored to what was left of his center, he saw them coming. A contingent of over a hundred Byzantine knights. Coming straight for him. His forces outnumbered them, but they were fresh and solid. Standing in his stirrups and swinging his sword over his head, he ululated to call everyone’s attention, then charged right at the oncoming Byzantines.
He was almost surprised when what was left of his army followed.
Demetrios saw Murad, lowered his lance, and spurred his horse into a charge. He was going to face Murad I alone on the field of battle and, if he lived, he would be safe from whatever befell Andronikos.
Three ranks back in the Ottoman forces, Omar put an arrow into flight. It flew high and straight. He wasn’t the only one shooting, but it was his arrow that came down on the neck of Demetrios Palaiologos’ mount. The horse stumbled, fell, and rolled on top of his rider. Demetrios’ neck was broken, along with his back, four ribs, one arm, and both legs. He was dead in moments.
Jennifer almost came out of the saddle as her gelding leapt over Demetrios’ horse, and when she came down, she was facing Murad I, with his scimitar looking about fifteen feet long, as he lifted it up in preparation to take her head off.
Not every panic shot misses. Once in a while, pray and spray works.
This was one of those times. Jennifer fired six times, as fast as she could pull the trigger. Two of them hit, one the horse, and the other punched right through Murad I’s breastplate. It didn’t hit anything vital, but that didn’t matter. Between the horse’s stumble and the pain of his wound, Murad came out of his saddle and was trampled under the hooves of Jennifer Fairbank’s gelding.
The men who were following him, not knowing she was out of ammo, scattered in any direction they could find, as long as it was away from the demon on the grey gelding, who threw thunder and lightning like some ancient god.
Meanwhile, back at the right flank, Pucorl charged into the rear of the Turks and the charge that was pushing Andronikos’ forces back faltered, then failed. Bertrand was still holding on the left, and then they heard it from the Ottoman camp. The drums changed their beat to a particular staccato rhythm, and then Wilber called, “It’s retreat.” But they already knew it. As soon as the Turks heard it, they didn’t retreat. They ran.