Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa (14 page)

“Strategos! If this happens, the Legion will tear itself apart!”

Another Dukas, unseen due to the groups of agitated soldiers, joined in.

“I will turn my ship’s guns onto any Medes vessel that threatens our people!”

Clearchus understood the mood and also the feelings those Terran commanders had, at the implication they conducted orders on behalf of the hated Medes. It was one thing to be in their pay and to fight common enemies. It was quite another to be forced into doing something, especially to watch and not act when your own race was threatened with death. They all operated under the illusion that Clearchus was their leader and that Cyrus merely paid for the unit’s services, not the individuals. This disagreement was starting to show them the reality, and not one of them liked what they saw. To make matter worse, the threat of decimation terrified them. It was a savage punishment, and one that hadn’t been conducted in the Terran territories for a very long time. It was simple but effective. A military unit that failed in some way would have one in ten of their personnel executed at the same time. It was a unit punishment, and the next thing up from the unit being destroyed.

If Cyrus forces decimation on Meno’s unit, then this is all over.

The thought of the Legion turning on itself was abhorrent to him, not least for the deaths that would occur, but because they were now so far into Median space. There was little chance the Legion would make it back in its current shape. In fact, he doubted any of them would make it if they resorted to infighting. One soldier had already struck a Komes and was being restrained. Something had to be done, and fast.

There is only one thing!

He stepped up so that he was beside Lord Cyrus and faced the angry crowd. His bodyguards spread out around him, each waiting for trouble and their orders from the Strategos. He then lifted both hands high to the air and shouted out with a booming voice.

“You are all correct. We do not take discipline and orders from the Medes. Yes, they pay our wages, but they do not control us. Terrans are an independent people and long may that remain!”

The shouting lessened, and a few cheered in agreement. Most were intelligent enough to realise that something was going to have to happen. Discipline was critical in any military, perhaps more so for this polyglot force. Clearchus spoke to Komes Artemis, and the man quickly revealed a coiled weapon of some kind. Those closest could see it, and Xenophon had a perfect view from his position next to Lady Artemas. It was an old, heavily worn leather hide whip. It wasn’t Terran. The designs of the patterns along its length were Taochi in origin. Clearchus snapped his right arm, and the length of the whip uncoiled to a loud cracking sound. The room fell silent.

“I, on the other hand, am the duly elected leader of this Legion. We operate under my rules and my discipline. Any Dukas that lets his ship fall into such disarray can expect the same punishment.”

Dukas Meno snorted in derision.

“Watch your tone, Meno!” growled Clearchus. “The public ritual of thirty lashes is reserved for those who fail their leaders in wartime. Be thankful that this didn’t happen in battle, or the sentence would be death.”

Meno straightened his body and rolled his shoulders, clicking them as he prepared himself. Every soldier in the room knew that Meno would be unlikely to accept punishment from Clearchus; a man he had little real respect for.

“The men have been punished, and the Medes bitch was unharmed!” cried out Meno in disgust.

Clearchus said nothing. He simply stood still and coiled the whip back into his hand. The whipping of failed commanders was a major punishment, but few would rather face the wrath of their own crews if they forced decimation of the lower ranks, instead of taking the blame themselves. Clearchus expected him to understand this, instead the response he received shocked him.

“Clearchus, you soft Laconian whore. I invoke the right to challenge you for leadership of the Legion! You have failed us by forcing two battles; countless casualties and still we have not reached our objective. I will renegotiate our deal with the Medes. One that rewards us, not them!”

Clearchus stopped in his tracks, surprised at both the answer and the gall of his foe. He had known for some time that Meno had issues with his command, but not for one moment did he think the man would turn on him in this way. He looked at the other Terrans, but all he could see was a sea of confused looking soldiers. The insults from Meno meant little to him personally. He was, after all, a decorated and respected Laconian commander at the pinnacle of his strength and power. The challenge did show disrespect of his position in the Legion and more concerning to him, a complete and utter lack of respect for Laconian military prowess if he thought had had even a micron of a chance.

“You challenge me for leadership when we are but hours away from reaching our objective? We need consistent and reliable leadership. The kind that only a Laconian can truly offer.”

Meno spat on the floor once more and started to unbuckle his armour. Clearchus watched as the man stripped off to the waist and approached the middle of the drill square. His body was muscled and scarred from a dozen battles. None of it impressed Clearchus. He nodded to Komes Artemis who then sent two of the
epilektoi
to assist in removing his armour.

Xenophon watched as each piece of the beautifully detailed, expensive and sophisticated armour was removed. Unlike the equipment of Meno, each piece was carefully laid to the ground. Meno’s gear lay in a heap upon the floor. There were many that considered the Laconian to be old fashioned and eternally looking back to their glory days. The reality was very different, however. They utilised the latest shielding, armour and weapons. It was rare for a Laconian unit to find itself in battle with another foe that could match its ferocity and technological superiority. It didn’t take long for them to remove his cloak, helmet, breastplate, greaves and other adornments until he, like Meno was stripped to the waist. His physical form was very different to the muscled and scarred form of Meno. While the Thessalian was undoubtedly massively strong and bore the wounds of many battles, Clearchus had the body of an ancient athlete. He was muscled but not overly so, and his injuries from battle were far less pronounced.

“This is insanity,” whispered Xenophon into the ear of Artemas. She nodded in reply, but there was little any of them could now do other than watch and hope it ended quickly, and with the minimal amount of damage to the Legion. Clearchus stepped out into the drill square and faced off against his foe.

“I see you’re as pretty as we’re all led to believe!” laughed Meno.

Clearchus said nothing. He moved his left foot forward and lifted his hands into a fighting stance. Meno kept his body upright and hands down in a show of contempt and arrogance for the Laconian. It was hardly new. Clearchus had seen this attitude in a hundred fights. It didn’t necessarily imply arrogance though, as it could equally be used against reasonably well-trained soldiers to encourage them to think their enemy would fight in a particular way. A man could quickly move from that position into a protected stance or even strike. He had much at stake, and that didn’t just include his life. Meno would be disaster as a leader for the Legion. If he won, the fleet would tear itself apart and more likely than not attack Cyrus and his own ships.

This needs to end fast.

He stepped closer, his hands up and his eyes on the upper body and head of Meno. Even now, Meno continued to insult Clearchus and started to circle around him, pretending to strike but always staying out of distance. The Laconians trained to parade, practice and fight in silence. Their order and discipline were legendary and like any of his men, Clearchus betrayed not a sound as he watched his opponent carefully. As a strike moved in for his face, he simply altered his centre of gravity and took his body backwards to avoid the strike. Meno stumbled, corrected himself and laughed.

“Very nice, oh yes, like a Medes stripper.”

But Clearchus spotted the opening. Meno kept his left arm to protect his face but had a habit of moving it to his outside on the left of his body. Clearchus jabbed and as expected, the arm came out to stop his strike. In that tiny moment, an opening was created between his fists. Clearchus slammed his open hand into the man’s face. The palm struck him firmly in the chin, and it snapped Meno’s head upwards from the impact. Clearchus then stepped in with a long passing step and followed the attack with a powerful uppercut into his opponent’s stomach. With those two hammer blows, Meno stumbled and dropped to one knee. Clearchus took a step back and resumed his balanced stand with his hands low and ready.

“Is that it?” muttered Meno, spitting blood onto the drill square’s floor.

Dukas Xenias stepped out from the assembled Terran warriors and shouted to the two of them.

“That is enough. Clearchus is our Strategos. End this now!”

Meno spat one more mouthful of blood to the floor and then swaggered over to the fully armoured Xenias. He stopped so that his face was no more than a metre from Xenias.

“You Arcadian dog. Stop kissing the ass of the Laconians and be a man!”

Xenias responded with a quick jab to Meno’s face. The impact was heavy and instantly broke the man’s nose. Blood sprayed across his face, yet he retained his posture.

“Meno!” roared Clearchus.

Meno turned to find the Laconian commander in front of him and posed to strike.

“I am in command here. Stand to and yield to my authority, or I will kill you where you stand!” he said calmly but firmly.

Meno shook his head to the annoyance of Clearchus and the consternation of most of the other Dukas. Killing Meno might resolve the immediate problem, but it wouldn’t stop the troops on Poseidon from breaking ranks and leaving the Legion. Instead, it took the battle stations siren to stop them. It was shrill and higher pitched than the system used on Terran ships, but it had the same effect.

“What is happening?” demanded Clearchus.

He looked about and spotted Cyrus speaking with
Ariaeus
. He turned his back on Meno and moved towards them. Meno spotted the opening and lurched forwards to strike the Terran leader in the back. It was a grave mistake, and Clearchus easily evaded the attack with a quick sidestep. As Meno stumbled past, he kicked into the back of the man’s knee, the strike bringing him quickly to the floor. He didn’t wait and moved directly to Cyrus.

“News, Lord Cyrus?” he asked impatiently.

Ariaeus
looked at him but said nothing. Clearchus almost shouted, but luckily Cyrus turned his gaze to his Terran commander.

“Strategos. Reports have arrived from our scouts. They confirm the Emperor’s Royal Fleet is in the System. It appears they have prepared substantial perimeter defences on the primary approaches.”

“The scouts?” he asked with genuine concern.

“They came under immediate attack by defence systems installed on the main approach. I will have all the data sent to your Titan. All four ships have withdrawn to a safe area and are monitoring from a distance.”

Cyrus then looked to the rest of the Terrans, noting their eagerness and interest in whatever the two leaders were discussing. It was clearly important due to the alarms still sounding. It could mean anything from important news at the frontline to the collapse of the ship’s shield generators or even worse, the arrival of an enemy fleet at their doorstep.

“I have wonderful news for you all,” he announced.

The entire area could not have been quieter. Every single Terran watched his face, looking at his expression and trying to understand what was happening. He paused for effect, enjoying the power and control he exuded while they watched.

“The enemy await our presence. Their forces are in full battle array, and they stand with fear in their hearts. Are you ready to join me in a full-scale attack that will end this war?”

To a man they roared their approval, and only Clearchus and Meno stayed silent, each waiting for the other to respond. But Cyrus continued, pretending they weren’t even there.

“Warriors of the Legion. Our scouts confirm the Emperor is hiding with his fleet in the Cunaxa System. You must report to your ships. We march to victory within the hour!”

Clearchus stepped in front of him.

“My Lord. Did you not understand the reports from the scouts? Have they not prepared defences on the primary defences? We need to analyse their defences and plan accordingly. Our numbers are limited. We cannot afford to make mistakes.”

Cyrus shook his head and smiled.

“No, my old friend. We will attack, and we will win, today!”

He stepped down to Meno and looked directly into the man’s eyes.

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