Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“Move it!” she cried, and the three of them pushed past the injured mercenaries and out of the corridor. The main galley wasn’t much better, but at least there were Navy personnel from Thessaly, as well as two Laconian soldiers who watched the mercenaries with amusement. Xenophon stopped at the first and nodded to Artemas.
“This is Lady Artemas, niece of Cyrus. She’s been attacked by some of the mercs on this ship. I need to get to the lower levels where the Arcadian soldiers are present.”
The two men looked at each other and then back to Xenophon.
“I know you. You’re the one who breached the wall at Cilicia, aren’t you?”
Roxana nodded impatiently, keen for them to all stop talking.
“Yes, we were all in the Night Blades. Now we’re under the command of Dekarchos Julius of the 6
The one Laconian raised an eyebrow.
“Promoted to the spatharii, huh?”
A small group of mercs appeared from the direction they had just left, including the man with a gunshot wound to his shoulder. Three more had joined them, each carrying a weapon or object to use in a fight. The first of the two Laconian soldiers looked to Xenophon and grinned.
“Your work? Nice. Follow the walkway and take the third left, then keep moving until you hit the security post. We’ll deal with these guys.”
Xenophon nodded and started to move, but Roxana grabbed the first of them.
“Thank you. Why are you here?”
“Clearchus ordered Laconian security patrols aboard each ship in the Legion. We have other teams here too. Don’t worry, we’ll take it from here.”
He then turned and faced off against the growing group of more than a dozen mercenaries, each of whom seemed intent on causing trouble.
Xenophon wanted to stay and help, but he knew his duty was to protect Artemas. Should she be harmed, it could cause a rift in the fleet; perhaps even cause the disparate factions to turn on each other like they had so many times in the past. They reached the bend and looked back to see the two soldiers, their body shields shimmering and one after another, the mercs were being cast aside.
Damn, those Laconians are good!
Xenophon thought jealously.
Median Battleship ‘Rashnu’, Sippara Jump beacon
The combined fleets of Lord Cyrus, Ariaeus and Strategos Clearchus waited for their final order to jump to the heart of the Cunaxa Nebula and the prize. They had been waiting in the Sippara System for five hours now, and every single soldier was becoming irritable at the delays. Formations of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, transports and torpedo boats were deployed behind their lead vessels. In the centre was Rashnu, the Imperial flagship. Lord Cyrus had elected to take the middle position of the fleet with his Median ships surrounding him like a great cloud. His small forces had been bolstered by making use of the many captured ships at Khorram and enlisting thousands of subjects to fight with the infantry. To the left of this great host were the rest of the Median vessels, under the leadership of his second-in-command, Ariaeus.
Strategos Clearchus watched the array of ships from the windows on board the Medes battleship as he walked along the long corridor to the training facilities
. The walk seemed to take forever, but at least he had the majestic view from the
upper levels of the warship
to occupy him
He couldn’t see the much smaller force of Terran ships. They were on the other side of the Median battleship. He had already argued twice with Cyrus about deploying his Terran forces in with the Medes to boost their strength, but so far
had persuaded him otherwise. It was his intention to not leave the Sippara System until his wishes had been granted. He finally reached the arched entrance, so common with Median architecture. As he approached, a group of Anusiyan soldiers opened them to reveal the vast training areas and shooting sites. He almost laughed at seeing them; fully understanding it was mainly for show and that few, if any of the Medes would be properly trained for the realities of close combat.
How can they come so far and do so little?
Strategos Clearchus marched the length of the drill square near what used to be the Imperial barracks. Great golden statues ran along the sides, and viewing galleries were cut into the walls at a height of nearly twenty metres above the square. Large glowing lights built into the ceiling cast long shadows on the ground, giving the place a moody, sombre feel. His expression betrayed a mixture of impatience and irritation at being forced from his ship at such an hour. Clearchus moved past the assembled soldiers and spotted a variety of ancient weapons against the walls.
Those are no training weapons!
What is going on here?
He instantly recognised the oversized and
heavy axes and swords for what they were, executioner tools.
They had similar things back home, but he’d only ever seen them in museums. The size and weight was partly for intimidation and for effect. A big, heavy weapon made cutting off heads easy, especially when they weren’t fighting back.
He shook his head in irritation and kept moving.
They were a single jump away from their destination, and
he had been in the middle of
revising his plans for a complex series of
strikes at Cunaxa when the message had arrived about the incident aboard Meno’s Titan. It was the news he’d been dreading from the day the Legion was assembled. Although they were all Terrans, they had more to fight about than to agree with. Each of the nations and colonies had been embroiled with wars and arguments for centuries. Even trusted allies were apt to turn at the slightest disagreement. Quite frankly, he was amazed the Terrans had lasted so long when they seemed to be so keen to die.
He spoke quietly but firmly to
who marched at his side.
“The idiot Meno. I need to persuade Cyrus to use my plan, and instead we will waste time on this petty nonsense with a Dukas that should know how to handle his ship. This is nothing to do with Cyrus, it is for the Legion to resolve!”
He pushed on,
followed by a
single ten-man dekas from the epilektoi. These elite warriors consisted of a full company of one hundred picked from the Laconian contingent on board their Titan Valediction. Each one was sworn to protect the Dukas
and would do so, no matter what happened around them
. Marching at the front of the dekas was Komes Artemis, their leader and the most famous
man in the epilektoi
. Apart from being fast and deadly with both firearms and blades, he was mainly known for
his single-handed capture of the Alliance battle standard at Aegospotami.
The story had been told so many times now that few knew the facts.
Talk and politics, we have a battle to fight!
Clearchus thought angrily.
Along both sides of the square were representatives from each of the units in the contingent as well as their respective Dukas. At the far end stood Lord Cyrus and his entire personal bodyguard. As Clearchus approached, he noticed that Ariaeus was absent. He stopped in front of the Median Lord and knelt down on one knee.
“My Lord, how is your niece?”
Cyrus looked at him, his face impassive before looking back to the arched entrance and the still open doors. Low voices and murmurs spread quickly through the drill square, and he turned to watch the late arrival of Lady Artemas, resplendent in a dark blue dress that ran down past her feet and trailed behind her. At each of her sides stood Dekarchos Roxana Devereux and Dekarchos Xenophon, her two most loyal and trusted escorts. Though most of those present were making noise at her arrival, it was the approach of
with his own twenty warriors plus Dukas Meno the Thessalian who marched silently behind them. Unlike every other senior commander present, he lacked an escort of any kind. Lady Artemas moved with speed and grace, stopping alongside Strategos Clearchus to bow.
Clearchus noted that all conversation was taking place in his own language, and in his experience this was usually not a good thing. It meant Cyrus wanted to ensure the Terrans appreciated the significance of what he was about to say, without having to worry about misinterpretation. It also meant that whatever he did say was aimed directly at the Terran contingent. Based on the news he’d just heard about Meno, he was convinced it would be something very unfortunate for the Dukas and his men.
stopped and also bowed before turning to Meno.
“My Lord Cyrus. I have brought this wretch for your judgement and retribution as required my Medes law.”
“What?” snapped Clearchus, realising instantly that one of his Dukas was in danger. He had no love for the renegade Meno, but he did recognise the man’s military skill, and the fact that he had brought so many experienced warriors to the aid of the Legion.
“Silence!” roared Cyrus, in a voice even Clearchus hadn’t heard before.
He signalled to his bodyguard, and a dozen of them moved out from their position and surrounded the implicated Dukas. Each of them drew their swords and lifted them above their heads to strike. The drill square turned to uproar as the Terran commanders watched in horror at the threat to one of their own. Three Komes pulled blades from their sheaths and rushed into the foray, only to be met by three of the Medes guards who engaged them in battle.
“Stop this!” roared Clearchus.
Cyrus shook his head angrily and pointed to all of the soldiers assembled.
“One signal from me, and the Dukas will lose his head! If one of you raises a weapon again towards my personal guard, I will have every one of you killed on this very spot.”
He then focused his gaze upon the miserable looking Meno, deliberately avoiding the look of surprise and anger on the face of the Strategos.
“Meno, Dukas of the Poseidon. Your ship is a disgrace to you, your people and the Legion. You Terrans pride yourselves on your wisdom and logic, yet you see no crime in turning on foreign civilians that offer you assistance.”
He then pointed to Artemas who waited patiently in her glowing dress, with Roxana and Xenophon stood at her side.
“My royal niece, the beautiful lady Artemas, was stationed aboard your ship, along with Dukas Xenias and his forces. She was seconded to your staff to provide you with valuable local intelligence to assist in performing the role of scout and vanguard for the fleet. You repaid my trust in her and me with attempted murder and rape!”
Meno refused to kneel, and instead spat on the ground near the Medes noble. The words from Cyrus struck the assembled Dukas with horror, however. Although few had much sympathy with Meno, the thought of one of their own forcing himself on such a beauty was abhorrent.
“I did no such thing!” replied Meno in a bitter tone. “The men responsible for this have already been dealt with by the Clearchus’ own security units. Only one lives, and I have already had him punished.”
He then pointed directly at Cyrus. “As you well know!”
Cyrus turned his back on the man and looked instead to Lady Artemas and then on to Clearchus. Unlike the many times in the past, it was clear that Cyrus was genuinely angered at this betrayal of trust. Everything about him, from his posture and body language right down to his tone, implied the Lord was on the limit of his patience and ready to explode in a violent rage. Clearchus was also beginning to understand the stories back home of the rage of the Medes. There were tales of Satraps losing their entire treasuries conducting wars, based on nothing but spite or argument.
“Strategos. We are about to face my bastard brother in open battle, and yet I find commanders of the Legion turning on my own family. As we stand here with this dog, there are four cruisers scouting our enemy’s defences. The first reports are due within the hour, and still I am forced from planning the last, bloody stages because of you!”
He pointed to Meno.
“I cannot prosecute a campaign if I have any doubts about the warriors at my side. This man, this Terran has let down the entire Legion and every single one of you assembled here today. The Dukas of a Titan takes responsibility for his crew, and yet you reply with nothing more than bile and spit,” he said more calmly before redirecting his comments to Clearchus.
“Do you not agree?”
“Of course,” he replied.
“So an attempt on the life of my family is a betrayal by the entire Titan. Meno must be punished, and his unit decimated as a punishment for his crime. I would expect the same for any of my own people.”
The possibility of the punishment of a Terran Dukas was one thing, but the chance of the ancient and terrible punishment of decimation sent uproars through the crowd. Dukas Xenias shouted above them to be heard.