The Savior – Snippet 02
Which meant that there was a need for such large units standing watch here in Ingres, the less populated district that lay between the districts of Lindron and Treville. Redlander barbarians who wouldn’t set foot in Treville, at least in the past eight years after their total defeat at the Battle of the Canal, had shifted their raiding to Ingres.
“Of course, anybody who’d take on an army of Goldies would have to be crazy in any district,” another of the sergeants put in. Goldies was the familiar term for the Guardian Corps, whose colors were gold and tan.
“Or desperate,” Abel said. He took another sip of the cider and discovered that it had cooled enough to drink. He tipped the cup back and drained it. It was a bit burnt from sitting over the fire too long, but had a familiar and welcome taste from his days as a Treville Scout.
One of the other sergeants looked up and held a dipper full of cider from the pot that was boiling over the fire. “Refill, Major?” he asked.
A movement that was not wind through the barley. It came from somewhere off to the side of them.
Silverstein grunted in pain, and dropped the ladle, the cider hissing as it hit the fire.
A crossbow bolt protruded from his neck.
Crackle of barley. Someone out there in the darkness. More than one.
Multiple hostiles at thirty paces north-northeast, reported Center.
Get down, lad! Raj shouted in Abel’s mind.
The instincts of his dozen years as a Scout kicked in, and Abel dove for the ground. He immediately went into a roll to pull his musket around to the front, and ended the movement lying prone, his face staring into the darkness beyond the fire ring. He could see nothing, nothing at all.
Dust take it, I’ve been staring into the thrice-damned fire and lost my night vision.
He might not be able to see, but he knew that sound. Arrowflight.
The unmistakable thunk of more arrows hitting human flesh.
No, not normal arrows. Too high-pitched.
You were correct before in your assessment, said Center. They are crossbow bolts.
Cries of pain from two other men at the campfire. Abel glanced back over his shoulder, again compromising his night vision. Silverstein was down, grasping at his neck. One of the other sergeants rose up and pawed at his face for a moment, then his arms went limp and he pitched forward into the fire. The other hopped around clutching at his leg. It was too dark to see exactly what was going on, but Abel figured there was a bolt lodged there in his thigh.
With a cry of anger, Silverstein yanked the bolt from his neck.
“Bloody hell!” he cried, and ran for the nearest stack of rifles. Before he could get there, three more bolts caught him in the chest and legs. Silverstein collapsed in front of the musket stand, his legs twitching.
Where are they? Abel thought-spoke. Give me a direction!
As stated, to the north-northeast, Center replied calmly.
Thrice-damn it, Abel thought. How am I supposed to know which way is east in this black field?
Churchill’s to your rear, man, and she’s in the west, said Raj’s deep voice. You’re facing east. Angle to your left.
The others of the platoon had heard the sergeant’s cry. Several started up from their bedrolls and stood — and a couple got crossbow bolts in the back for their trouble. There was moaning and cursing all around.
The fallen sergeant had rolled out of the fire, and it cast its light once again.
“Sentries!” Abel called out to the edge of the darkness. “Keep your back to the flames!”
He wondered if there was anyone out there to hear him. The ambushers may have taken the sentries out first. Or they may not have known about them. Abel found one of the wider paths leading away from the fire and crawled down it as fast as he could. After reaching the edge of camp, he turned to the platoon and called back. “Stay down and get your rifles.”
He crawled several more paces into the waving barley. It was only then that he stood up, looked around quickly for any sight of the company sentries, and ducked back down. He crawled another few paces, then popped up again.
There! The silhouette of a man not ten paces away. Could be an ambusher. Abel made his way toward the form as silently as possible. As he approached, he saw the man was facing out and staring into the darkness, moonlight silvering his shoulders. One of the armed sentries, then. Abel let out a low whistle, and the man turned.
“Goldie approaching!” Abel called out in a low but clear voice.
“W-who is it?”
“Dashian,” Abel answered. The last thing he wanted to do was announce his rank to the darkness. He crawled closer.
“P-password?” asked the frightened sentry.
Abel had assigned the night’s password himself.
“Carnadon Man,” he said in a rasping whisper. He didn’t want to give the call sign to the ambushers. Then he spoke louder. “Get down. You’re making yourself a target.”
“Where are they?” the sentry said, and looked around wildly.
“They’ll find you if you keep talking!” Abel said more loudly. “Get down, corpsman!”
The sentry came to his senses quickly — he was a Guardian, after all. He sank to a knee beside Abel. And, despite his shakiness, the sentry did not fail to notice the command sash slung over Abel’s shoulder, although he couldn’t count the knots in the darkness.
“What’s the plan, Colonel?”
There’s an experienced soldier. He knows when in doubt to use the highest feasible rank.
“Major,” Abel said. “First of all, don’t look back at the fire. Keep your night eyes. I’ll lead us to those bastards, but we need to get in the other pickets if we can.”
“There’s a rally plan,” said the sentry. “But Staff Sergeant usually gives the order.”
“Staff Sergeant is down,” said Abel. “Call those pickets to us.”
The sentry stood up, put a thumb and forefinger together and placed them both in his mouth. He took a breath and blew hard and long. A piercing whistle erupted from the man, as loud as any sound Abel had heard coming from a human before. The sentry followed the long whistle with two shorter bursts. Then he quickly sank back down into the barley beside Abel.
“They’ll know it’s me and where to look, sir,” he said. “I’m standing east quadrant.”
Within moments, the other sentries were with them. Abel ordered them all down.
A crunching noise coming from camp. Abel turned, trying to shield his eyes from the firelight. He needn’t have bothered. Human silhouettes blocked the light. Several of the men behind had found their weapons and were walking toward them through the barley.
“Stay down, you dickless daks!” Abel shouted back at them. “That’s an order! Stay down until we –“
Another round of crossbow bolts.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Bolts met flesh. Flesh gave way.
Screams in the night. A muffled cry of anguish. Then the rest of the approaching men quickly dropped on their own accord.
They’re down, but they’ll still have itchy trigger fingers, Raj said. Gold on gold fire waiting to happen, and muzzle flash to blind everyone.
“Mind your caps,” Abel shouted to them all. “Hammers down.”
He turned back to the northeast and scouted the terrain ahead.
Sonic spectrum separation complete, Center said. Running steps discernable. The ambushing group is moving away rapidly toward the rise in the direction you are facing.
Abel gazed over the tops of the barley plants. There. A low hill. He’d seen it in the daylight and had briefly pondered why it was so much higher than the surrounding terrain — he’d deliberately kept his thoughts from Center in order not to receive a geology lesson. It was a pile of rocks about a fieldmarch high. He figured the stones had been cleared from this barley land over hundreds of years and piled up in a central midden.
He stood up and spoke to the sentries. “It’s all right now. Get up. That low hill to the right of Levot — that’ll be their fallback point.”
“Yes, sir,” answered the sentry who had whistled. “Do you hear them, sir?”
Abel turned to him. He couldn’t resist. “Don’t you? They might as well be a herd of daks,” said Abel.
Don’t tease the lad, Abel. There is nothing for him to hear.
Abel put a hand to the sentry’s shoulder.
“It’s just my Scout’s ear,” he said, giving the guy a smile to put him at ease. He turned to the other sentries. “We’ll doubletime for that hill. Echelon right, keep your sightlines. No verbal unless necessary.” He turned to one of the other sentries. “You, what’s your name?” He couldn’t see faces in the darkness except for brief flashes of the eyes, but the Guardian was sitting in a relaxed position and seemed less rattled than the others.
“Corporal Messerschmidt, sir,” the sentry replied.
A Cascader. Son of a Bruneberg tanner, if he had the right man.
Correct. He was sent south from the Bruneberg selection program two years ago.
“Messerschmidt, go back and get the platoon in order. You may be the closest thing we have to a working sergeant. Bring them up behind us.”