The Savior – Snippet 28
One year later
473 Post Tercium
The stockade stank of sweat tinged with the iron tang of blood. The Cascade Scouts looked fearful in their guise as Blaskoye. Some of the Firsts were still convinced that they were the captives of Redlanders. The more perceptive knew this was a lie, but, Abel hoped, had not yet discerned what it was he and the Scouts intended to do with them.
Good. They’ll be more pliable that way.
It was night, but Abel knew the real Blaskoye were gathering to the west. To the east, in uneasy alliance with the Redlanders, the Cascade militia was camped. All told he figured he faced a thousand warriors, including the women and children the Blaskoye sometimes brought to war as auxiliaries, and sometimes as fighters when needed.
The Cascade Regulars were nowhere to be found. They would stand back until the matter was decided one way or another. Abel might curse them for their fickleness — they were supposed to be under his command, after all — but he was glad not to be facing their numbers, all the same. He assumed they’d taken themselves across the River until the fighting was over. Abel swore that after this was over, he would make it his solemn mission to turn them into a real fighting force. At present they were little more than a lackadaisical police force or worse — an armed gang of protection racketeers.
So he had his Cascade Scouts, about three hundred of them, against the district militia — rabble bought and paid for by the oligarchs — and against a thousand Blaskoye. Even though the militia was better armed than the Redlanders, he was much more worried about the Blaskoye.
Deal with them, and the militia will scatter like flitterdaks.
The attack came near dawn. It was far from concerted. The Blaskoye attacked in their customary waves. The militia marched up in tattered columns and fired uselessly into the stockade woodwork. Did they hope to clatter him to death with banging miniÃ© balls? What was more, except for a few units, they had fired en masse. Now they were all simultaneously reloading.
Abel sent his fifty or so mounted Scouts charging out at them. This worked exactly as he expected. A general panic spread down the militia lines. Behind his cavalry, he sent out a handpicked one hundred in lines twelve abreast and three deep.
They attacked in a spreading arc. At least a hundred militia men fell dead or wounded before the first of Abel’s Scouts took a bullet. Within a quarter watch, the Cascade militia, at least five hundred of them, were in headlong retreat toward the River.
Let the carnadons take them. He had other worries.
To the east, the fighting was more intense and even-sided. After the Blaskoye first wave was repulsed, not without Scout loss of life, they drove in behind their own dead donts and used them for cover to dismount and proceed forward on foot. They were not exactly in a battle line, but they did fire in salvos divided by clan, with others firing while those with spent rifles reloaded.
The stockade — really only an ammunition dump on the outskirts of Bruneberg — was not built to withstand a siege. They could hold out for a while, but already the musket shots were chipping away at the thick wooden planks that protected those within.
But it wasn’t only himself and the Scouts pinned down in the stockade. Unbeknownst to their attackers, some of the best men of Bruneberg were in this sty.
First Family oligarchs. Their chief retainers. A handful of gang leaders who didn’t claim aristocratic blood, and some who did.
He’d had his Scouts snatch them from their homes, their places of business, their whorehouse stalls, the day before, when he’d gotten word of the impending attack. It was a grand kidnapping. And if this gamble didn’t pay off, they would see to it that he died slowly and horribly in payment for it.
Eisenach, the leader of the First Families of Bruneberg, was a man with whom Abel had dealt before. He ran the Bruneberg Powderworks like a merchant prince. Although gunpowder was considered sacred, and deliverable to the priestsmiths and the armorers of Lindron at no cost, House Eisenach set the market price for all others — and, having a monopoly — set it at what they wanted. When Abel took over, one of his first acts was to remove Eisenach from his temporary military appointment as commandant of the powderworks. Eisenach had responded as if Abel were joking. He hadn’t gone anywhere, and had kept his base of operations in the powderwork offices as always.
From that action to the situation in which he found himself at the moment there was a direct line of causation. Fuck with House Eisenach’s cash flow and a horde of inhabitants of the Redlands would descend on you with massacre on their minds.
For much of the morning, it seemed as if that was exactly what was about to happen. Massacre. Eisenach, though tied to a post by hand and foot, was exultant.
“You’re going to scream, Dashian,” he called out. “They’ll ram a stake up your ass and out your throat, strip your skin, and put you out for the carrion eaters. They know how to make the stake miss all of your organs. Keep you alive so you can die slowly. And I’ll be there the whole time, laughing in your fucking ear.”
Abel shook his head. “Seems unlikely, Eliot.”
“You’d better keep me alive,” he called out. “You’ll beg me to call them off soon.”
The man is not a coward, Abel thought.
He may or may not be in truth. This talk is pure nonsense, calculated to rattle you.
He believes he has your number. Does he?
We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?
Perversely, the more Blaskoye they shot, the closer the remaining warriors crept, using the bodies of their fallen comrades for cover. The corral itself had a low stone wall surrounding it. When they reached that, they could set up behind it and take potshots at the Scouts to their hearts’ content.
In the distance, there was the rattle of gunfire. Concentrated. Precisely timed. Definitely not Blaskoye.
The Treville Regulars were coming — Abel’s father’s force. They’d infiltrated Cascade District as merchants and traders. Distrusting both Road and River traffic — the Firsts were in total control of area transport — Abel had communicated with his father by flitterdak scroll and requested the reinforcements. Since the exchange of messages had been, of necessity, hit-and-miss, he hadn’t known for sure he would receive support today.
Treville was a very different place, politically, than Cascade. The district military commander and the chief prelate worked in concert. The Firsts, men like Benjamin Jacobson, were powerful there, but they kept to their place. Those that didn’t were apt to receive a lesson from Joab Dashian. Unlike the oligarchs of Bruneberg, those of Hestinga and Garangipore usually got the message and backed off.