Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa (3 page)

“Glaucon and Tamara, my personal spatharii from the Titan Poseidon will stand for me.”

A growl of anger and irritation rumbled through the group as they watched Tamara, the teenage soldier lift her hands to the sky.

Cyrus looked to his niece and raised a hand for silence.

“My niece, you choose this woman, even knowing the insult it causes our warriors?”

She reached for her belt and pulled out a wicked looking blade almost the length of her arm and pointed it at the crowd.

“Their rudeness insults me and any other warrior that volunteers for combat. If they truly want to test their mettle, they can fight me!”

Cyrus raised an eyebrow at her words and then saw Ariaeus translating into his own tongue for the majority of those stood watching.

“Ariaeus!” he roared. “Enough! If Lady Artemas wishes it, then so be it.”

Glaucon and Tamara moved from their position around Artemas, walking through the group of Medes soldiers to reach the prepared arena space. They made it halfway when Glaucon grunted and tipped forward onto one knee. Tamara grabbed him and caught his fall. A few drops of blood fell from a small wound in his side. She spun around and spotted one of the watching soldiers tucking a small curved blade back into his belt. Though his helmet covered much of his face, his smirk was obvious to her. Ignoring all attempts at protocol, she jumped at him, yanking the blade from his belt before he could react. Once in her hand, she stabbed repeatedly at the exposed skin on his body, first to his hands and then his chest.

Ariaeus shouted out to the men, but nothing seemed to control them. Instead, they separated so that the warrior and Tamara were given room to fight. He had staggered back, clutching at a dozen small wounds. One of his comrades reached down and pulled out a kopis type blade and threw it over to him. He lifted it high to strike, but Tamara stood her ground, with nothing but the small knife to protect her. The Medes initiated his attack but instead, his head tore from his body and dropped to the floor like a rock.

“Enough!” roared Lord Cyrus as he held the still blood soaked blessed Makhaira blade.

The mood in the great room changed in an instant as the three factions sensed trouble. One of Cyrus’ own guards had just broken ranks and assaulted a Terran warrior. It was unforgivable, and even worse; it had taken place in this sacred place for the Emperor of the Median Empire. Cyrus glanced at each of the leaders of the ten man units in the company.

“Who is the commander of this man?” he snapped, his voice burning with rage.

Ariaeus translated the words, but it didn’t matter. A short man with a badly scarred face took a step forward. He dropped to both knees and spoke in hushed tones to his lord and master. After a short explanation he stopped, and Cyrus looked to the rest of the company.

“The other eight of this man’s unit, stand with him.”

They shuffled forward, each of them torn between doing as they were ordered and also knowing what fate awaited them. Cyrus lifted his blade and pointed to one of the other unit commanders in the
Anusiyan
bodyguard. He said just a few brief words, but it sent a chill through the others. Ten men stepped out from the group and drew their weapons, each carrying a slightly different blade to the rest. They formed up with their commander to face the disgraced nine. Cyrus looked to Clearchus.

“Strategos, my bodyguard has failed me and failed you. There is no room for mistakes in the Anusiyan bodyguard.”

He then lowered his sword, still dripping blood, and called out a single word. As one unit, the ten warriors swung their blades and decapitated each of the nine survivors of the disgraced unit. More guards rushed in and dragged the body parts away, leaving trails of blood behind them. Cyrus indicated for the ten to reassemble for the demonstration. Two of Cyrus’s guards stepped forward to assist Glaucon, but he pushed them away and instead, Roxana and Xenophon helped him to the side of the room. Roxana checked his wounds as Clearchus watched on in amazement. It was clear the wounds to Glaucon weren’t serious but even so, he was still surprised and simply shook his head at the brutality and lack of discipline in the Medes military. He spoke quietly to his
topoteretes
.

“And this is what our ancestors feared centuries ago. They are barbarians, nothing more.”

“All they have is numbers, my Lord,” explained Kleandridas.

Lady Artemas walked over to the fallen Glaucon and checked his wounds herself. Much to the horror of the Medes warriors present, she touched his body and the blood that still dripped from him. She called out to the Medes guards, of whom one left the room, quickly to return with two Terran officers. They checked Glaucon over before speaking quietly with Clearchus. In the meantime, she tapped Xenophon on the shoulder and pulled him away from his friend.

“Glaucon will be fine. The wound is painful but not life threatening. I will need another fighter for the demonstration though.”

Xenophon looked into her face, still astounded by her silk smooth skin and glowing eyes. He’d heard much of the Medes noble woman but had dismissed almost all of it as being no more than common men’s fantasies. He stood up straight and walked over to Tamara.

“I will fight alongside my friend and comrade. If any one of you touches my people again, I’ll execute you myself!” he shouted, to the pleasure of Clearchus and the dismay of the Medes soldiers.

Cyrus clapped his hands, and it was as if the interruption had never actually happened. The six fighters separated into their three teams and waited as the two Medes walked about the group with the four metre long wooden box containing the training weapons. Three of them selected brutal looking curved single hand swords and one selected a heavy looking mace. When it came to Tamara, she reached in and took the two lightest and smallest of the wooden swords. Xenophon examined everything inside. There were maces, swords, knives, axes and even long wooden sticks. To everybody’s surprise, even Clearchus, he pulled out the long wooden stick that was easily three metres long; therefore reaching a greater length than Xenophon was tall. A small number of the soldiers chuckled at his folly but most kept quiet, partially out of fear for their own lives, and also because their good moods had been changed by the earlier violence against their kin.

“Places!” shouted Cyrus.

The three pairs faced off in a large triangle, each of them busy examining the others present. Xenophon looked at the other four and quickly assessed the situation. They were strong, possibly stronger than he was, but they were also arrogant and cocky. He was sure he could rely upon them to attack him without consideration or plan. He was also certain they would fight him before they even considered fighting each other. That would make the start of the fight difficult.

This should prove interesting
, he thought.

Lord Cyrus stepped into the middle of the arena and turned around several times to take in the scene. It was as if he was trying desperately to capture an image for posterity of the great fight that was about to take place, two warriors from each of the Medes factions, and a man and woman from the Terrans. It was as unusual as it was tense. He finally stopped and lifted the sword above his head.

For the honour of your units, for the Legion, and for the Empire; let the display begin!”

He moved quickly from the centre and took up a position near Clearchus and Ariaeus. He looked back to see all six were still exactly where he had left them. It was almost as though he hadn’t told them to start. He started to speak when the four Medes split up and moved to the outside of the arena to encircle the two Terrans.

Xenophon wasn’t in the slightest surprised and simply took four quick steps to reach the middle. He whistled at Tamara and nodded to the ground beside him. She rolled over and landed nearby but kept crouched and low.

“Stay low and wait until they start making mistakes,” he said quickly.

With that, he lifted the staff up to his shoulder and swung it in a vicious circle. To the surprise of the approaching Medes, he kept the weapon moving so that it presented a continuing arc of wood. One of Ariaeus’ men rushed forward and with remarkable skill managed to duck underneath the movement of the staff. As he took a step closer, Tamara slashed at his ribs and legs. He dropped down in pain to see one of the small blades heading for his face. It connected painfully with his temple and knocked him out cold. She leapt back to the protection of Xenophon who maintained the protective arc with the swirling weapon.

One down, three to go!

 

CHAPTER TWO
 

Median Battleship ‘Rashnu’

The fight had been running for almost three minutes now, and so far the remaining Medes soldiers were having a hard time. Every time they approached Xenophon and Tamara, they were forced back by the quick moving staff, and neither showed even the slightest sign that they were beginning to tire. In fact, the opposite seemed to be true with each of them pushing harder and faster in the bout.

“Now!” shouted Xenophon.

The two of them initiated a flurry of fast attacks, but even these failed to strike the intended targets and simply moved them slightly further apart. The Medes spotted this momentary weakness and moved in to exploit it. The wooden blades now came on thick and fast as Xenophon did his best to ignore the individual strikes and instead went for the men. He had both the reach and the power with the staff, but they still outnumbered him. The first unconscious Medes soldier had already been dragged away by helpful hands, and the Royal Chamber was filled with the chants of the warriors in support of their chosen fighter.

“Xenophon!” cried out Tamara, but it was too late for him to react. One of the soldiers threw himself forwards like a sacrificial lamb and took the full power of the staff’s impact. But it was a ruse, and rather than allowing him to claim another victim, the man simply staggered forward with his arms up to protect his face. With the staff now entangled, Xenophon was in danger. The other two men jumped in to strike, hacking wildly with their wooden swords. One struck him on the knee and the other in his ribs, and for the briefest of moments, he thought that would be the end of the fight. His staff fell from his hands, and he spotted one of them kick it away, leaving him defenceless.

“Stay down!” came the high-pitched yell of Tamara.

 
She leapt passed him and hacked at the nearest soldier. Her rain of blows was fast and continuous, a mixture of short stabs and fast slashes that would have severed the soldiers hands had the weapon been made of sharp metal. Tamara had a curious background that consisted mainly of working with smugglers, bandits and criminals. Xenophon and the others had managed to obtain only a fraction of information regarding her life, but what they had learned was that she was a well balanced, fast and highly skilled fighter. The howling from the hurt Medes soldiers was an ample demonstration of this skill.

“Goods work,” said Xenophon. He started to pick himself up but could see the imminent danger.

“To your left!” he called to her.

The second of the Medes soldiers jumped in to grab her, but she easily moved her centre of gravity to evade him. The movement was subtle, elegant even as her entire body moved as though a strong gust of wind had distorted her body shape. Even so, he managed to grab a handful of her tunic and yanked hard, tearing the fabric enough that exposed her flesh from her thigh up to her armpit. The clothing fell open to reveal her black underwear and part of her chest, much to the amusement of the other Medes soldiers. He cried out in pleasure at seeing a woman that dared to fight being dehumanised in this way.

Sad little man,
she laughed inwardly.

Rather than take his bating, she took advantage of the momentary pause and stabbed at the soldier’s groin with her left hand. It was a lightning fast attack and required her to step off line and push for upper body forward. The line from her back first, up through her lower body and eventually to her extended arm, was a perfect line. The wooden sword struck with force, and he fell to the ground, shrieking with pain. Those watching were instantly silenced; almost all of them feeling sympathy for the painful strike their soldier had just taken. He continued to roll on the floor in pain, retched and vomited. She stood up straight so that the Medes soldiers could see her torn clothing and flesh more clearly. She laughed out loud.

“Who’s next?” she roared.

“Easy now,” Xenophon said, pulling himself back to his feet. There was now just one of the Medes remaining, but he was well aware that arrogance led to mistakes, and there was more than just honour at stake in this fight. He dropped low into a fighting stance and thought back to his martial arts and fencing training back on Attica.

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