The Savior – Snippet 32
A courier charged up from the front of the marching line and reported to von Hoff.
“The First has fought their way onto some harder ground,” he reported. He had to speak loudly to be heard over the huffing and chuffing of his dont, which was breathing hard through its blowhole and expelling acidic snot. “General’s forming a line.”
“What the cold hell are we facing?” von Hoff shouted at the man, his agitation showing.
“Progar riffraff, sir,” replied the man. His shoulder sash marked him as a captain on the corps command staff. “But lots of them. Looks like the whole province has turned out to greet us.”
“Why in Law and the Land didn’t the cavalry make first contact and hold them off while we formed up?” von Hoff said. “That’s what they’re for.”
The courier captain shrugged and nodded toward the fighting on the mountain. “You saw it, sir. The general sent them up to take out that position.”
“Saxe sent them, by cold hell? I thought this was Kanagawa’s doing,” von Hoff said, shaking his head. “General Saxe sent up the entire mounted regiment –”
“Yes, sir, he did. And then the reinforcements Colonel Kanagawa had held back.”
Von Hoff shook his head, as if to clear it. He looked at the captain. “On with you, then, and back. Tell Colonel Muir and the Second that we’re moving out and to be ready to follow us.”
The Second Brigade was behind them in the order of march today. “Yes, sir,” said the courier captain. He yanked his dont around with the reins and charged away south, cutting down the extreme side of the road, since the middle of the road itself was filled with stalled men who wanted to fight but couldn’t get up to the front to do so.
Groelsh turned the regiment again to the north, and von Hoff ordered the march. The company commanders knew what to do from here on out. When they reached the fighting, they would deploy to either side, spreading out in four-abreast company lines, shoring up the men already engaged wherever they found themselves. After that was accomplished, and if he received orders, von Hoff would see about positioning them offensively.
As they grew near, there was far too much smoke in the air for Abel to do anything more than catch a glimpse of the enemy ahead. All he saw was the flash of teeth and the glint of gun here and there.
Center, I want to understand what’s happening.
Interpolating. Interpolation complete. Observe:
Abel was flying. He was standing on the impulse flyer he’d flown once before in his vision — the vision where he’d first met Center and Raj. Up and over the fighting he soared. A turn here, a twist there — he found he could change his position minutely — and the overview was perfect. Inertial dampers and force fields kept him steady, even though he was standing on what amounted to a small ledge many hundreds of feet in the air.
Of course none of it was happening. Or rather, all of it was happening within his mind. He understood that. But he didn’t feel it. He felt like he was flying. And it was great!
With a twist of his hips and a shift of his weight forward, Abel rolled the flyer to the side into a banking curve, the wind of his passage screaming in his ears.
Please settle down and remember the purpose of this projection, Abel.
All right, all right.
He righted himself, slowed.
He looked down.
The valley floor in front of the Guardians was filled with Progar militia. The Guardians were fighting only the front edge of this mass. The militia stretched far up the valley, thousand upon thousand of them.
And yet Abel couldn’t see much organization to them. In fact, it looked far more like a huge rabble or mob than an army.
Yet there were so many of them.
The fort on Sentinel Mountain is the first of three such installations on the western flanks of those two sister mountains to Sentinel’s east-northeast, the other two being Tamarak and Meyer.
On the western sides of the mountains lies the River Valley which is, in this region, a series of marshlands, as you have experienced. These wetlands continue for several leagues up the Road.
Great, thought Abel. More pushing through hip-deep mud if we get off the Road.
The high ground upon which General Saxe is taking on the Progar militia is not a large enough piece of land to accommodate the whole Corps. This was intentional. At most, your brigade will be able to deploy to join with the First. The Second Brigade, behind you today, must remain there in a logjam of too many men on too little ground.
So that gives us ten thousand troops. We should be able to deal with the Progar militia with that.
Yes, but at great cost. That is the idea. They don’t expect to win here. They want to bleed you. These other forts on the mountains possess not merely volley guns, but rock-throwing ballistas and, in all probability, crude cannons. The mountain forts will keep Saxe from maneuvering along the hillside to flank the Progar militia. The marshland will bog him down as he goes up the center of the Valley. And, of course, the River itself cuts him off to the west.
What a pretty little trap your general has marched right into, said Raj. He’s even done the Progarmen the favor of pulling back his mounted regiment and sending them up the mountain, so his men could stumble on the enemy entirely unaware and unprepared.
Well, what can we do, then? What can I do?
Fight it out, man. Fight it out. Seek an opening or some leverage. We’ll help.
Abel took another look at the forces massed below him.
What’s on the other side of those mountains? he asked.
A narrow valley lies between them and the eastern Rim, Center replied. It widens into the Manahatet Valley farther north past the Three Sisters. At the northern end, where the Manahatet and the River Valley converge, lies Orash, the capital city of Progar District.
So what if we turn around, take the ferry road east, and go up the other valley instead?
You observed the wagon track. It is too narrow to concentrate a Corps-sized force until you reach the plains below the city of Orash. Also, the Sentinel fort, and the forts on the two peaks to the north of Sentinel, are manned on the eastern sides of those mountains as well as the west. They command the valley from above.
Take me across the River, Abel said.
He turned the flyer and leaned forward to put on speed. Soon he reached the River’s edge and zoomed across. Below was a different landscape than on the eastern side. Here was rolling hills and plain, with some belts of trees, but mostly grasslands. Enormous herds of daks were scattered everywhere grazing.
Why not come up the western side? Abel asked.
Difficult. The River makes a great turn and constricts this plain up against the western Escarpment several leagues to the north. There lies the settlement of Tomes. It would be a near impossible pass to fight through, and could be bottled up.
Duisberg’s Thermopylae, said Raj.
It could be held with a small force almost indefinitely.
Then the east it is, I suppose, said Abel. It was time to leave the vision, but he didn’t want to. Instead, he angled the impulse flyer upward and climbed higher, higher. A wispy cloud lay ahead, and he passed right through it. It left a cool condensation on his arms and face. He looked back down.
Very high now. The whole of Progar stretched out below him. The mighty Schnee Mountains to the extreme north. At the base of one of the tallest of the Schnee was a huge lake. This collected the snow from the melting glaciers of the Schnee and from that lake flowed the several streams that made up the headwaters of the River. The body of water was Lake Orash, and on its southern end lay the city it was named for.
Orash. Capital of Progar.
So many rocks, mountains, hills in this land. And wet. Water everywhere. So different from anywhere else he’d been.
We are coming here to destroy it. Wipe the population and their heresy away as if they never existed.
Take me back to the battle, Abel said.
Instantly the vision fled and he was in the real world of dust, guns, and blood.