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The Battle At Land’s End Pt 5: One Way Out

As the sun rose a wall of men stretched across the field. They marched and did not run to do battle at Land’s End. Each man’s fear had to time to grow in his belly because they had seen the very earth rise to Lord Taros’ defense.

Daedalus made ready the engines of war. As the lancers first volley rose to the sky he gave the order to release the engines. As the lances fell they did so. As the tops tore off the trees each engineer waited until the engine to his left had shot a boulder at the enemy. As a dozen women and children died the boulders rolled on their grimly fatal mission.

“Keep to your ranks!” shouted Sky Crier. He rode before them, his horse dodging the boulders flying by, “Keep to your ranks!”

His mighty arm held his thick Colchisean steel blade to the sky as if he meant to scald his enemy with the fire of the sun. They kept ranks even as they fell to rocks of the earth.

Mother’s cries split the morning air but the screams of the children chilled their hearts. Only a demon makes war on the innocent, thought Taros. Aeonius nodded in assent.

“Advise,” ordered Taros and Aeonius thought fast.

“He will strike in the direction of the hunt,” said the mind reader.

“Thank you, old friend.”

Then he saw it happen. The Gimric made a feint for a frontal attack but they held their lances to the south. That was the direction of the kill. The south flank was a wide open space. He could hit them anywhere he could find a way through.

“Epimedes!” he shouted, “To south wall! Idas! Feed the cats! Daedalus! Be ready to make a new sort of war!”

He caught sight of Persea crouched low behind the wall and fitting a string to her bow. She looked like Prosus stringing his harp. Then the moment was lost as she rose to her full height, an arrow nocked and the promise of death in her eyes.

Sky Crier saw it and cursed the psychic. Then he spurred his horse to lead them in a charge. No one had heard of a Lapraxus taking the battlefield and Sky Crier did not know he was making war on the Cabeiri.

“Like dogs they come,” muttered Jasius.

Persea heard him. For the first time in her life she heard everything.

“Don’t let it rule you,” she heard Aeonius say though he was nowhere in sight. Calm descended and clarity took root in her mind. As the tawny eyed cats gorged themselves on Idas’ pigs the battle played itself out.

“Isn’t that thoughtful?” mused the Goddess of the Earth.

“Isn’t what thoughtful, my love?” asked the new god who was once called Dalius.

“Aren’t you watching? It’s dreadfully exciting! There they are all hunkered down at the edge of the desert with hardly any food or water, the enemy charging and hearts pounding, and they still take time to feed my darlings. I don’t forget things like that, you know.”

“You realize you’re talking about the Cabeiri,” he told her.

“I am?”

“Quite!”

“Well then,” she decided, “Maybe they’re not so bad after all!”

Down in the real world Aeonius sensed the change.

“I believe our fortunes have risen,” he said, but he would have been hard pressed to tell you why.

Deadalus prepared his projectiles for delivery. To each ball of linen and ash he added yellow rain water, olive oil and enough egg yolk to turn it all into a caustic soap which would be thrown by catapult at the on coming army.

“If you use the Athenian’s methods you are committed to a defensive war,” advised Aeonius, “The very field of battle will rise up to crush us.”

“I am aware of that, my friend,” Taros replied, but Aeonius couldn’t know his captain’s mind.

The Gimric chose the animal pens to make their strike. Sky Crier spurred his horse to get their first. His beard was flecked with mud and blood, the braids flying in the wind, and his mad, blue eyes were lit by the rage of a dark power.

The archers behind the wall loosed a volley as they came, and then another; two score arrows in all and a third score on the way against eight hundred screaming Gimric. For each one that fell two more took their places.

The Gimric army filled the open savanna to the south. There were no feints and no second fronts. Cavalry, lancers and foot soldiers fanned out along the south flank and kept moving, throwing their lances or knives and then running back, turning and returning like a human maelstrom. Some fell to archers and more to rocks and boulders, but too few fell and too slowly to matter.

“This is no way to win a war,” Persea mumbled to herself.

“Ride with me,” she heard Aeonius think. She looked back and he was running for the horses. Grabbing her quivers and dodging knives she met him there seconds later.

“You’ll not ride without me you despicable wretch,” howled Epimedes as he mounted his mottled gray warhorse. They were the preferred partners of the Cabeiri because they became one with the mists. Idas ran from the animal pens leaving Cybele’s darlings to their piggy treats. Jasius loosed a few more arrows as Idas led their horses from the grove and then the other Epimedes showed up.

“How does he do that?” wondered Idas, for it always amazed him.

“What happens if one of him…you know?” asked Jasius.

“It will never happen,” assured Aeonius.

“Hubris, dear friend, hubris,” reminded Jasius.

“Not at all,” answered the first Epimedes.

“I can watch my own back,” finished the other one.

Persea saw her father standing on a battle engine, his sword high and his mouth open, barking orders. As the knives and lances flew in the air he did not flinch.

“He does know about our plans, right?” she asked.

“Little sister, I don’t even know about our plans,” he replied, “Let’s go. Haaah!”

Hippolyta was picking over the trash at the water’s edge. Much wealth was left there when the lion’s attacked, just as she knew it would be. It didn’t feel like hers. Hippolyta was not one to ignore her feelings.

“It’s a trap,” she told her sisters.

Her sisters were not ones to take her warnings lightly.

“Our benefactor has deceived us,” scowled Hippolyta, “There is nothing for us here.”

Wind made by the belching mountain caused devils to turn in the air, lifting leaves and fraying nerves.

“We can’t wait much longer,” warned Penthiselia.

The black sky threatened rain and the day had trouble dawning. The sounds of battle rang on the savanna.

“In this sky we cannot use our balloons,” Hippolyta told her sisters, “We have no horses. We have no dogs. Are we to march to battle with nothing but our swords? Whom do we fight? Why should victory fall to us? No, sisters, there is but one way out of the pickle we find ourselves in.”

Hippolyta had learned the Gimric had fresh horses penned behind their lines because Sky Crier was not fool enough to leave himself no retreat should his army fall to Lord Taros.

“Antiope counted sixty ponies,” said the queen, “We shall take them and ride swiftly across the savanna. We will engage no one and we will not be drawn into battle. With luck we will ride through, unscathed.”

It was a workable plan. Hippolyta had brought twelve battle balloons. Because she had expected to return to Sarmatia with a horde of treasure she had not brought crews of five, but four for the large balloons and three for the smaller. They were eighteen people less than a full complement.

Not all the Amazons were women, a fact which has been lost to the scribes. Hippolyta was in control because she was big, smart and ferocious, not because she was a woman. Their men were big and ferocious too, though maybe not as smart, but only because they didn’t play the game as well as their wives and sisters did.

Creeping stealthily through the grass the sisters each found a target and pounced. Four Gimric sentries fell to Hippolyta, Antiope, Penthisilea and Melanippe. Throwing down the bulky saddles they stole forty-nine horses and ran off the rest before going bareback across the grass, whooping and hollering.

Children in the tree tops were the first to see them and their cries did not go unheeded. Taros saw them from his vantage atop the engine and he saw smoke billowing at their backs. The far south was a rising sea from the eastern sky to the west. The horseman were no danger, he judged, so he left his engine and ran to where Cheiron held his cavalry.

“They want no fight,” said Taros, “so stand your ground. I’m betting they won’t ride through you.”

“Has Aeonius told you this?” asked the Sword Master.

“The Cabeiri have taken my daughter and are preparing to ride into battle,” he replied, “If the riders turn away follow them into the fray! If they do not, part your men at the last possible moment. Do not engage them.”

“You’re absolutely sure about this?” asked Cheiron again.

“No, but I am sure that if your cavalry is wasted here we will not get to Lasithi.”

“Good point,” agreed Cheiron, “Let’s hope they’re not Amazons.”

Hippolyta saw Cheiron’s onager cavalry from a mile out and slowed enough to talk with her sister.

“Are they really going to ride those things?” she shouted to Antiope.

The Gimric ponies were fast and small. The onager were smaller and famously slow; not a dignified mount, by any means, and their riders appeared to be men with horse’s bodies and human torsos.

While scanning the battlefield for another possible exit they saw the Cabeiri charge.

Five riders on great gray horses leaped over the wall all at once with the black haired daughter of Lord Taros at their front. From the distance it was hard to see naught but the form of an archer on horseback loosing arrow after arrow.

The men riding with her were dressed in leather and wore the hard, plumed helmets of the army of the gods.

“Be thankful we did not plunder their wealth,” Antiope shouted back, “They fight with the Cabeiri.”

By that time Penthisilea had ridden up.

“We have to fight,” she shouted, for she had seen Cheiron’s cavalry as well, “I say we start chopping Gimric heads. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of Father Time!”

And then Melanippe joined them.

“The wind is changing!” she cried, “It’s now or never!”

As Melanippe rode by, Hippolyta turned them into the path of war.

“We’ll take them from behind,” she yelled, “Break to the left! Don’t jump the wall!”

Aeonius heard them in his mind before he saw them and he told the Cabeiri in the way they knew to listen. Without a word they all saw them coming, and Persea as well, and they all knew to let them be the hammer to their anvil.

As the riders broke off and rode to war Cheiron and his men rode behind, far enough back to be no threat to the newcomers.

Trembling swordsmen, most of them civilians, quaked at their posts on the wall. The rumor going down the line was that the Amazons had come to finish them off.

“Hear me!” shouted Lord Taros, and through the din of war most them did, “The Amazon Queen rides against the Gimric. See how the Sword Master rides behind! See the archers at the wall! They do not flinch! That is why Cybele will grant us victory this day!”

When the Amazon charge hit the Gimric line it was no longer hard to believe. Even so their cheers were half-hearted. Fires in the east were burning their way, fanned by a wind that couldn’t decide which way to blow. It changed direction three times in less than a day and each time it changed so did the fortunes of war.

Sky Crier heard the hammer hit behind him. One hundred yards away and coming on swift hooves, his own swift hooves, was the feared Sarmatian Queen with all of her sisters too.

“Damn you!” he cried, the blood in his heart rising to redden his eyes.

He spurred his horse at them.

With Sky Crier’s cry his horsemen saw the cavalry coming.

The Amazons hit as the Gimric turned to face them. The hunters on horseback were the best of Sky Crier’s men. The ducked and parried and fell to the Amazons, but only a few, and the rest rode a circle behind their war chief.

By doing so he deflected the hammer. The Amazons didn’t get close to the wall. He saw them recover and break to the left as Cheiron’s cavalry came straight at the backs of the Gimric. Minutes later the onager were dead or dying and the Sword Master was in a melee.

“Nets!” shouted Sky Crier, “Drag the nets!”

Cheiron looked around him. The Gimric were parting, even running away. Then he saw why. The nets were coming, dragging across the ground at the speed of the tribe’s fastest riders. There were two horses to a net, and two lancers sprinting, and as they passed their retreating kin the Gimric army took up positions behind.

“Antallean dogs!” yelled Sky Crier as his cavalry parked themselves between Cheiron and the agents of Father Time.

“Break off,” thought Aeonius.

He would not waste himself in an attempt to save Cheiron.

“They’ll be cut to pieces!” shouted Persea, not caring who heard.

“The Cabeiri live to fight again,” he silently told his new sister, “Father Time wills it.”

Hippolyta turned around. She could have gone straight for the pass north of Land’s End, as was her intention, but she saw the lions. They were pacing at the edge of the grass, gorged on pig and waiting for the war to decide their next meal.

“Lions!” she cried and Penthisilea saw them too. She looked into the sky. A blue hole had worked it’s way through and a shaft of light shot it’s rays to the earth.

“Is Cybele watching?” shouted her sister.

“What do you think?” Hippolyta shouted back.

Gesturing her intentions she turned her retreating army around.

“We’ll have to kill that bastard to get out!” she shouted, before riding to war on her enemy’s own horse.

When the Amazons returned a huge cry arose from the swordsmen at the wall. They were fathers and brothers, husbands and sons, and their families were all they had left.

Daedalus was as nervous as a cat. His preparations were drying in the sun. He didn’t know what would happen if they dried out, and re-soaking them in the sulfur water was not an option. Knowing they would be useless in a melee he packed them onto a cart and parked it in the pig pen which was empty and bereft of pigs. It was the only place he thought they might be safe enough should his worst case scenario come to pass. Many saw him do it and no one asked why.

Cheiron looked frantically this way and that. He had seen nets before. The technique began with the hunt, but it was quickly turned to war as well. It was a weapon to which there was one defense: avoid getting caught in the nets.

Then good fortune blessed the Sword Master. Sky Crier halted the charge. Nets and horses don’t mix in a melee.

As the Gimric charge changed to defense Cheiron knew why. He heard the thundering hooves behind him.

“Run for the wall!” he shouted, and thirty formerly mounted men bolted for the safety of the grove. Sky Crier let them run. He’d have to fight the plumed men to stop them and he still hadn’t figured out who they were.

“You must be a great hero not to run from the Cabeiri,” said Far Talker.

Then Sky Crier knew the truth and his stomach fell to his feet. No Lapraxus traveled with Lord Taros. He had the protection of Father Time. There was no way out.

If he was dead already, he thought to himself, he might as well die in battle.

“Scriiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee,” he cried, and he rode straight at the oncoming army.

Sky Crier rode for Hippolyta, his sword held before him, ready to strike. Hippolyta saw the death in his eyes and the choice he had made.

“Why do they all pick me?” she shouted in anger.

“So that in Tir’na nog he can say he was slain by the Amazon Queen,” her sister shouted back.

“Let’s make it true!”

She rode to war crouched behind her pony’s neck, her curved Sarmatian blade held out at her side, in defense of those she had come to rob.

Aeonius and the Cabeiri were quick to leave the field.

“Shouldn’t we be riding with them?” asked Persea.

“Everything in it’s time,” cautioned Aeonius.

“They’re outnumbered ten to one,” Persea replied, “It’s not even their fight.”

“Then they shouldn’t be here,” he answered, “If you are going to ride with the Cabeiri you must see the big picture.”

They looked at Aeonius as if he had five heads and a spare in his pocket. Never had a woman been invited into the Cabeiri.

The Amazons were outnumbered ten to one, but they evenly matched the riders.

“Engage their horse and break south!” shouted the queen, “Away from the lances.”

Sky Crier saw it happen and yelled his orders.

“Keep ranks! Do not pursue! Damn you, do not…” but the pursuit had already begun.

Taros jumped down from his engine.

“See how she plays with her kill,” said Cheiron, “The Amazon is an artist at war.”

“You say that now that she has saved you from certain death,” answered Taros.

“Certain death?” repeated the Sword Master, “My lord!”

Do we wait here, thought Persea, or do we join the fight?

“Patience, little sister,” she heard Aeonius say, “The fight will come to us.”

A mile to the south a battle raged. Sky Crier cut and parried and eventually his enemy fell, but there were too many of them and his horses had tired. With his mount seething and flecks of it clinging to his beard he rode headlong at Hippolyta.

“Come on you little man,” she shouted as he came, “How dare you ruin my party?”

As Sky Crier raised his arm she jumped from her pony and sliced it off in mid air. As it fell to the ground he shot blood from his elbow and his face said it couldn’t be true.

Hippolyta rose from the dirt and she grabbed his boot, tossing Sky Crier to the ground. His face at first showed no fear, and then she cut him across the chest. She toyed with cutting him limb from limb, but fire and water was fast approaching.

“It’s your lucky day,” said the Amazon Queen, “On your face.”

Sky Crier didn’t move.

“Roll over or I’ll cut out your eyes!” she screamed.

The war chief rolled over but the expected blow didn’t come. Instead, a searing pain slashed through his left leg.

“You biiiiiitch!” he wailed as he realized she’d cut his hamstring.

“Maybe you can limp away,” she laughed, and then she picked up his sword and threw at him. She left his right arm lying in the dirt.

“I’ll get you for this!” he shouted, but she didn’t turn around as she mounted his horse and rode back into the fray.

The Gimric turned tail and ran. They might have run in all directions but the Amazons were expert horsemen and drove their enemy straight at the waiting Antallean Guard.

“Lions!” shouted Hippolyta.

The Amazons broke off their attack as Cybele’s darlings found the Gimric and started to feed. By sunset the savanna was alive with the cries and snarls of the wild.

The water was rising and there was no time to wait. The wind had died just enough to keep the smoke out of their eyes. The Amazons rode on without saying goodbye, straight up the rocky path that climbed out of Land’s End.

“What of their war chief?” asked Lord Taros.

“He does not fare well,” Aeonius replied.

The sun fell to Sky Crier’s back. His arm was tied above the elbow but he’d lost a lot of blood. He’d dragged his sword a hundred yards to a solitary tree and he did not see the figure that loomed over him.

“You are filthy,” said the priest.

“Help me,” croaked the dying war chief.

“You have dishonored your tribe,” answered Helios, “Noble blood is on your hands. The Amazon Queen chose the manner of your death. Tell me why it should not be so.”

“I will serve you to the end of my days,” answered Sky Crier.

“Bind your wounds,” ordered the priest, “I may have a need of a one armed cripple.”

Helios found a stick of the right height. It was knobby and dense so he gave it to Sky Crier.

“On your feet,” he commanded.

The defeated war chief rose to nearly his full height.

“My sword,” he said.

“Leave it,” ordered Helios, “You have no more need of it.”

As his helpless warriors died on the savanna, Sky Crier tried to keep up with the priest from Egypt.

If he lived so be it.

© 2008 Mikkel McDow