煤 ま み れ の 騎 士
Chapter 3 – Part 3
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Mareschal Tiselius, hero-dame of our kingdom, looked all through the forgathered leaderships of both the 1st and 5th Orders. Her lips then parted once more to address them.
“Our sovereign has deemed control of the Erbelde river basin to be a national interest of utmost imperative,” she began. “The Des Ailes Greatbridge attests to our capture of this region forty-five winters ago, but our dominion lasted not twenty-five before it fell back into Nafilim hands. The situation remains unchanged to this very moment, yet Londosius ill-abides the shame any longer. The basin must needs be retaken. Failure is not an option.”
The leadership lent their ears with grave sincerity. Emilie and Felicia, for their part, were tense of visage, sitting with their backs both straight and taut as they paid their fullest attention.
“The Greatbridge measures seventeen passūs wide and spans eighty-one long,” the 1st’s mareschal continued. “Generous, true, but deeply wanting if we intend to field the numbers needed to force our way through. My men assay to push into the enemy’s shores as we speak, but I fear our efforts have long overspent their momentum.” She then paused for but a moment, giving a glance to our side. “Thankfully, the 5th has come to our aid; with them, we plan to breach the shores yonder by fording the river itself.”
Given both spotlight and revelation, the 5th was roused to a whirlwind of whispers and worries. It wasn’t long before one of our brigadiers raised both hand and inquiry.
“Fording the river… madame? How might we achieve this feat?”
“Of that, Under-Mareschal Behrmann will explain,” answered Tiselius, before turning to the side. “Francis, if you shall.”
On cue, there rose the so-named gentleman, white-maned and seeming of five decades in age. With a firm and purposed timbre, he addressed us all. “The 1st Order proposes to ford the drifts of Erbelde by foot, and thereby directly penetrate the enemy banks.”
“Afoot? Sir, the Erbelde is tremendous; is such a manoeuvre even possible?” the brigadier pressed further.
“Quite it is, good soldier. A lingering drought has sapped this region’s waters by no small degree. We estimate the Erbelde to now measure no more than ten to fourteen palmī at her deepest. She flows gently meanwhile; you need not worry of being whisked away by her wiles.”
“And pray tell, from where exactly might we ford from, Sir Behrmann?” another question, this time from Sheila.
“Direct your eyes to this map, if you may. The fording points are four in number. Teams at each will embark in tandem. From here… and here. On the other side, two more, as marked.”
The under-mareschal was earnest in his explanation, but as his finger pointed to each of the red-marked fording points, his words were met with only further commotion from the 5th. Gerd’s voice sailed above the noise, his face now sallowed with doubt.
“S-sir! Those points, they stray not seventy passūs from the bridge itself! The enemy will have clear eyes on the forders—the drifts will be a killing field! You don’t suppose we make easy pickings out of our own men for the Nafilim artillery?”
“Your worries are warranted, but I’m afraid our choices face a drought of their own,” answered Behrmann. “Acceptable fording points number few and precious. To begin with, the entirety of the basin ever bristles with Nafilim patrols, each overeager to capture our men, should they stray too far and thin from the main battlefield. Our best option, then, is for our bridge-stationed forces to provide the forders with cover as they brave the waters.”
“But sir… that’s…” At a loss for words, Gerd shifted his gaze elsewhere. “Emilie, what think you?”
“Me? Well, let’s see, then…” Emilie blinked. “We reinforcements now give the 1st an even greater advantage in numbers. The better course of action, then, is to make full use of our resources and commit to a focused attack, rather than scattering our forces away from the bridge to far-off fields.”
Exactly that, just as the both of us discussed prior.
“To be more precise, we execute an unrelenting offence via the bridge, forcing the enemy to answer in kind,” Emilie went on. “Meanwhile, our fording teams make their way to the opposite bank, where they will all simultaneously tear holes in the enemy defensive line. They will then press their offence till the enemy response can no longer keep up… is what I’ve gathered of the whole plan.”
To me did Emilie turn, and I returned the gesture with a subtle, silent nod.
“And you gather it well!” praised Behrmann. “I’ve gleaned nary an error in your explanation, good miss.”
“Under-Mareschal,” spoke our commander. “With our resources being precious as they are, am I correct to assume that the boats will be tasked to more pressing purposes, and our men left to cross the river unassisted?”
“You would be correct, yes, Mareschal Tallien. Though the skiffs may be employed to transport the wounded of the forders back to our banks.”
“Hmm…” Tallien ruminated. “And what of command?”
“At this point, we invite only trouble by tinkering with the chain of command, I’m afraid. The 1st, thusly, will continue to oversee operations upon the bridge, as well as comprise one of the fording columns. Charges for the other three, we shall leave in the 5th’s hands.”
Our leadership responded with looks and turns at each other. In the seeming anxiety, Felicia raised her hand.
“May I ask, sir, what are your designs for the defence of the forders?”
“Water-borne as they are, the forders will, before their departure, be bestowed with succouring magicks as a bulwark against lightning attacks. Furthermore, a sorcerer will be placed at every three passūs along each line, his charge it is to sustain the paling over others less protected. In addition, the vanguards will be outfitted with greatshields to bear the brunt of the enemy’s aggression.”
“Thank you, Under-Mareschal,” Felicia responded, before turning to Tallien. “Sir, I request that minor adjustments be made to the 5th’s fording columns. How wide a paling can be unfurled is a factor that varies between each of our individual sorcerers. It is my intent to account for such margins of safety and optimise our compositions accordingly.”
A most reasonable proposal from Felicia. In response, Tallien turned to the hero-dame.
“Mareschal Tiselius. You shall not mind this, I take it?”
“I shall not, of course.”
“Lieutenant Buckmann,” Tallien called, looking back to my sister. “We leave this matter in your hands.”
“As you will, Mareschals both,” Felicia bowed.
Further questions and elaborations followed, at the end of which the operation’s details were reviewed. To such, our mareschal confirmed there to be no remaining objections, and seeing this, his counterpart from the 1st gave one last glance through the gathered personnel.
“‘Tis settled. We execute as planned on the morrow’s noontide. Officers of the 5th, I bid you all take ample rest in the meantime,” announced Tiselius. “The war council is adjourned. Dismissed!”
With that, the seated leadership rose and went about their ways back to their respective tents, including those from the 5th, whose canopies were by then erected in full. In the middle of that clamorous dispersal, Tiselius approached our commander.
“Mareschal Tallien,” she called. “I must thank you once again for your aid.”
“You are most welcome, madame. Rest assured, we shall spare naught to see this battle through to its rightful end.”
“Your men seem more in need of rest than I, lord Mareschal. To arrive so soon from the winding woodpaths of Sewell—I can scarcely imagine what an arduous march it must have been,” she observed. “Pray take a well-earned respite for the night.”
“Ah… yes, the march,” Tallien hesitated. “‘Twas not woodpaths we crossed, but flats—those of Belithas, that is.”
“Belithas, you say?” came Tiselius’ surprise. “A feat, to be sure. And not a single soul lost, no less!”
“B-but of course. I’ve the fates to thank; they saw fit to have us fare unscathed.”
“They did, indeed!” The 1st’s mareschal’s voice was tinged deep with amazement, from the sound of it. And while watching their exchange, I was soon to be engaged in one myself as Emilie came up from behind.
“Rolf. Are you busy still?” she asked.
“Not at present, my Lady.”
“You must be sore all over, having been afoot these past seven days. Why not rest for the night?”
“Nay, it would appear I cannot just yet.”
She gave me a look. “Wh—”
“Emilie!” our commander interrupted. “Have your swain tidy up this place, will you?”
“Oh y-yes, right away, Mareschal!” Emilie’s eyes gleamed with guilt as she turned back to me.
Time to get back to work, it looked like. Besides, it certainly wouldn’t do to leave all the menial drudgery to the 1st.
“My Lady. It seems a bit of housekeeping is in order,” I said. “I shouldn’t keep the 1st’s swains waiting.”
“Yeah… Sorry, Rolf.”
‘By your leave’ had scarcely left my throat before another interruption beset us.
“The Lady Emilie Mernesse. May I have the pleasure?”
“Why, Lieutenant Lindell,” answered Emilie, turning about. “Yes, of course. The pleasure is mine as well.”
“Pray be at ease. And do call me Erik, if it pleases you.”
“Sir Erik it is, then. Likewise, just Emilie will do.”
“But of course, Miss Emilie,” Lindell smiled.
Emilie had garnered no short supply of attention from the members of the 1st ever since we entered their garrison. This Lindell fellow seemed to be the boldest amongst them, meeting her face-to-face as he did.
“Much ado have I heard about the ‘Aureola’ of the 5th, but now I see the vaunted title speaks more of her brilliant beauty before aught else,” Lindell sang. “What’s more, ‘twas a sparkling display of acumen you have shown us here at the war council. Yes, most illustrious indeed!”
“Ah… ahaha…” Emilie smiled back tensely.
The young woman he so lauded was very much taken by a pending engagement, but Lindell seemed not the type to be unwise to this. I would even go so far as to say, he was not the man to be constrained by such “inconveniences”.
Pondering such, I took my leave of the two and got to clearing up the meeting space, working hand-in-hand with the 1st’s swains to put away the tables and chairs. We siblings of menial toil soon indulged in a bit of chatter, where I learned they had all not been swains for more than half a year. ‘Really now?’ was their response as I told them of my two-and-a-half year tenure. No further words were exchanged between us thereafter.
I found Felicia looking on from a ways back as I silently continued to clear away the furnishings.
Till now, she had witnessed my bruised and battered state after training, witnessed me veritably steeping myself in soot as I swept the hearth, witnessed me attain to no more than servitude under Emilie… and at this moment, witnessed me busied with dull chores as a pivotal battle loomed on the morrow—her dear brother’s shameful lot had stolen the hopeful shine from her eyes, a loss hardly lost to me.
I suppose disappointing her was preferable to disheartening her, at least.
Such pathetic thoughts chafed about in my mind as I finished up my charges.
──── Notes ────
(plural: palmī) A unit of measure used by the ancient Romans, taken from the length of the palm. 1 centimetre is equal to 0.1351 of a palmus. A palmus, therefore, can be roughly equated to 7 and a half centimetres.
(plural: passūs) A unit of measure used by the ancient Romans, taken from the length of a pace (2 steps). 1 metre is equal to 0.6757 of a passus. A passus, therefore, can be roughly equated to 1 and a half metres.
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