Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa (11 page)

There was a short pause in Cyrus’ speech, short enough for Clearchus to turn his attention back to the Medes leader and pretender to the throne of the Median Empire. He watched carefully.
Ariaeus
stood nearby, but this time he translated his leader’s words from the Terran tongue to his own. It was a clear nod to the primary military force to be used in whatever battle was to take place. A battle that he knew was coming soon enough, especially if what his scouts had reported was true. He’d already spent the last hour arguing with Cyrus to send small contingents out to check the route and the intelligence. Cyrus was adamant though and would not be turned from his own course of action. All that was required was to hear the spin Cyrus put on it before they readied for war.

“Hours ago my defenceless niece was physically attacked by agents left behind by Artaxerxes and his dogs. They assaulted her with their hands, weapons and machines. Only the bravery of the Legion stood between her and ignominy.”

He looked to Artemas and nodded. She bent down, removed the small sphere from inside her clothing and placed it on the ground. With a gentle tap, it activated and projected the series of maps outlining the enemy dispositions. Clearchus watched for a reaction but showed little interest in the actual data. His own scouts had already confirmed that the information was at least partially correct. No doubt a plant to encourage Cyrus to either withdraw or to attack him at his apparently lightly defended base.

“Lady Artemas managed to recover important information on the enemy’s dispositions. As we wait in this sector, the enemy grows stronger. He sits safely by while his primary fleet, the very one that we crushed here, is being rebuilt at the Cunaxa Nebula, one of the richest and most powerful sectors in the Empire. His fleet already outnumbers us three to one, yet he is building two more even larger fleets. When they are ready, he intends to advance on Khorram and defeat us with overwhelming force.”

He paused, waiting for those words to sink in.

“We have retrieved critical intelligence that reliably informs us that Artaxerxes himself has withdrawn to the safety of the Imperial Stronghold on Cunaxa Secundus, the capital planet of the Cunaxa sector and second only to Babylon Prime, the capital of the Empire. The Satrap Tissaphernes has already arrived at Cunaxa and has requested I meet him there for peace talks.”

With that, he nodded to Clearchus and waited patiently. The Terran commander paused, unwilling to direct his forces into action against an enemy with unknown dispositions or even location. But he was a commander, and he’d been paid to do a job.
Ariaeus
had supposedly already sent twenty small ships to scout the surrounding systems for signs of the enemy. He stepped forward and shook the hand of the man paying his soldiers. Cyrus looked at him intently, probably looking for any sign that Clearchus would stray from their agreement.

“Men and women of the Legion. Today we set course for Cunaxa. We will blockade the main planet and force the false emperor to kneel before Cyrus.”

Every Terran present lifted their arms up and shouted with approval. The news of war meant two things to each of them. First, the long wait was over and second, perhaps more importantly; the sooner the war ended, the sooner they received their full and substantial payment. Clearchus motioned with his hand to show a map of the Core Worlds, specifically Khorram, Cunaxa and a hundred other worlds in between.

“Cunaxa is almost one hundred and seventy parsecs from our present location. This would normally require fourteen jumps and multiple refuelling stops for us to make it. That could take us up to two weeks for the journey.”

Cyrus shook his head violently.

“That will be much too slow. In two weeks, this fleet could double in size. Remember, there is more at stake here than money. If we lose, then you can look forward to torture, death or slavery. As for commanders such as myself and Clearchus, there will be nothing but ignominious death at the hands of my bastard half-brother.”

Clearchus waited, annoyed at the interruption and the obvious and somewhat self-serving comments about their own deaths. He knew that his own people were well motivated. All they needed to know was where the enemy was and who to attack.

“By using the ships we have captured here at Khorram, we can use relays of vessels to refuel us on the go. We have already worked out the logistics, and it will require dozens of the largest ships to do the entire trip in less than five days.”

That was the only bit they seemed particularly interested in, the time.

“That’s right. In five days time, we will arrive at Cunaxa, and I shall unleash the Legion!”

Now he received the cheers and shouting that he expected from Terran warriors. Even the Laconians, usually the most stoic of all the Terrans, lifted their arms to the air in joy. Unlike the other Terrans, he knew that this joy was simply due to the chance of fighting an enemy unlike any they had seen before. He altered the display to show the hordes of ships in Khorram.

“We have over eight Terran ships, including three Titans. We also have over a hundred ships under the command of
Ariaeus
. I want every ship’s commander and soldiers to know that we will be leaving in six hours. After that, it is a one-way trip to the greatest battle the Legion has ever seen and greater rewards than any of your ancestors ever dreamed of.”

Cyrus nodded slowly and walked in front of the assembled officers. He looked to Clearchus and raised his hand as if to touch him.

“Strategos Clearchus is a great general, a fine leader of warriors, and the man who will lead our combined forces to victory!”

He turned to those watching.

“Cunaxa is the price, the richest world any of you will have ever seen. It is said there is more gold on Cunaxa than seen in the entire history of the Terrans. You are the Black Legion, the greatest force of mercenaries ever assembled. I have decided to melt down the entire treasury of Cunaxa and divide it amongst the victors of the Legion. You will each become as wealthy as a Medes Satrap and with more power than any of your own people back home!”

Clearchus watched with satisfaction as the Terrans waved their arms, shouted and spoke among themselves. Even the Dukas, the most disciplined and experience of them all appeared to lose themselves to the moment. Clearchus was well used to this moment before battle, the final elation of knowing that the waiting was over.

They will sober up when we reach Cunaxa. A fleet of Elamites tends to have that effect.

* * *

Imperial Palace, Cunaxa Secundus

Dukas Phalinus, the exiled lord of Zacynthia stood smartly to attention alongside his bandon of three hundred warriors at the side of the parade ground. The Dukas himself watched the soldiers with pride. He’d managed to turn them from a non-martial performing rabble into something resembling an army in a matter of a few weeks. Unlike the Terrans, these warriors were more slaves than freed men, and they lacked strength, skill or discipline. In fact, the only positive feature he’d seen was that they had numbers. Armoured vehicles moved in perfect synchronisation while soldiers from a hundred nations marched back and forth under the command of their regional leaders.

Not bad
for provincials!
He thought wryly.

The only warriors he hadn’t needed to drill were the elite soldiers of the Anusiyans; the ten thousand soldiers that apparently could never be killed. He’d seen them die though and like all men or aliens, they died the same as the next. He looked back a
short distance away
to
the spires and towers of the imperial barracks, the home of the palace

s defensive forces. Even further away were thousands of buildings, each of them more massive and awe-inspiring than anything he’d seen on a Terran world.

Clearchus will not place a foot on this world.

He looked back to his own force of Terran warriors. Almost half were Zacynthians like him, but the rest were a mixture of ex-soldiers, pirates and mercenaries from the furthest edges of the Terran territories. They were the equal of any elite Terran force and had seen action in the Ionian territories before being noticed by Tissaphernes. Since then, they’d fought pirates, Mulacs and a dozen other races before being attached to the Royal military forces at Cunaxa.

His people had sided with the Terran Alliance, commanded by Attica in the War with Laconia. Following their defeat, he and many of his commanders had been imprisoned or exiled. Each of his warriors now wore the uniforms of the Emperor’s elite Anusiyan bodyguard and carried Medes rifles and long
curved swords
.
They were allowed to retain their Terran chest armour and helmets though, a single allowance to their Terran heritage and martial prowess. His men were not
happy with the Medes weapons. The rifles were long-ranged but excessively long in his opinion, and the
swords seemed redundant to him in an age where firepower and numbers were more than a match for armour and close quarter combat skill
.
He recalled the story of the stratiotes defeating a Laconian spatharii heavy infantry unit on the mountain of Pylos. The lighter armed warriors had been able to use speed and range to keep away from the slower but better armoured Laconians.

“My Lord.”
Arkeisios, his trusted battle-brother twisted his head just a few millimetres so that he could whisper to his master.
The man was his second-in-command and had worked with him for many years as a mercenary. There was no other he trusted more highly.


H
e approaches.”

As always, Dukas Phalinus was amazed at the hearing of his friend. As good as his word, the form of Tissaphernes, Satrap of the recently disputed Cilician Gates, approached. He was flanked by just a dozen of his bodyguard. He ignored the soldiers and marched directly to the Dukas before nodding.

“Dukas, what happened at Khorram? Your orders were clear, were they not?”

The Satrap looked at the Terran with bemused satisfaction. The man’s reputation as a warrior might be second to the great commanders in the Black Legion, but it hadn’t stopped his men being equipped with Medes equipment.

“Now, what were your orders?”

He expected the man to cower down before him but instead was met with defiance.

“Lord Tissaphernes. My orders were clear, to force the Legion to succumb to infighting, and to give your Great King time to prepare.”

Tissaphernes raised an eyebrow at his words.

“Well, what happened? Why is the Legion preparing to advance on Cunaxa?”

Dukas Phalinus
smiled at his confusion.

“Because I left intelligence at Kashan that showed the assembly of the Imperial Navy.”

Tissaphernes took a step closer to him, and two of the Dukas’ men moved closer to their commander. Each of them was ready to strike at the Satrap if he dared to raise a hand to the Dukas. Tissaphernes noticed them and stopped, contented that he was close enough to be uncomfortable to the Dukas. Instead, he turned to anger and simple rage.

“You did what? This is treason!” he roared. “By leaving this information and a botched assassination attempt, you have managed to turn them against us. Instead of months, we have just days to prepare.”

Dukas Phalinus
remained perfectly calm.

“Lord Tissaphernes, my orders came directly through the chain of command. The Great King Artaxerxes requested that I encourage his brother to attack before he has time to build up his fleet. It seems he is quite the strategist. Rumour has it that he has been assembling his forces for over a month now. He is quite well prepared for anything Cyrus might throw at him.”

Tissaphernes looked at him, and the
Dukas
was convinced he could spot doubt on the face of the lithe Median noble. One thing he knew by now was that backstabbing and political intrigue were greater weapons in the Empire than any army or weapon. It was the same thing that had happened to him and his friends back home, and he knew full well how quickly the mighty could fall.

With a little help, or course,
he said to himself.

Tissaphernes straightened up and looked to the Terran soldiers. It was clear he wanted to do or say something but with great effort, he controlled himself. He forced a smile, as if he somehow orchestrated the entire situation.

“The Emperor wishes to see all of us in the throne room, inside the Citadel.”

The Dukas looked back at the massive fortified structure and for a second, a rumour of doubt entered his body. He had never seen the Emperor. In fact, after the debacle at Khorram, the Emperor had not moved from the Citadel.

Why does he want to see me?

He turned and looked up at the largest building in the capital, the Citadel of Cunaxa. Built on top of a natural peak in the centre of the capital, it was surrounded by a dozen star-shaped fortresses and joining walls of thirty metres in height. Behind all of this was the Citadel itself, a mighty structure covered in domes and pillars that reached up into the clouds. Landing pads, weapon turrets and shield generators covered the entire site. Tissaphernes watched his gaze and smiled inwardly as his discomfort. He leaned closer to him.

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