Authors: Michael G. Thomas
A Terran might have been impressed at this news, but Cyrus looked nonplussed at the entire thing. Artemas moved closer to him and spoke quietly.
“What is wrong?”
“Clearchus, he had to divert the Laconians to the Northern flank. He is heavily engaged and cannot assist us, not yet. That means we will have to wait here while Artaxerxes prepares for our final attack. I fear if I wait much longer, I will lose my chance.”
The Terran commanders approached him to discuss the battle, and she was forced to move aside. They spoke of the various options, but Cyrus was clearly not interested in her input. As she walked away, she noted that Cyrus had a haunted look to his eyes, like that of a man that had dropped or broken something irreplaceable.
“Artemas!” Xenophon called over to her.
She looked amongst the dozens of Terran soldiers and watched Xenophon walking to the doorway. She left Cyrus and the others and moved towards Xenophon. Artemas looked out of the door and to the base of the nearest wall. More and more soldiers arrived and brought rubble, crates and debris with them to create additional cover along the inner side of the wall.
The entire Eastern wall of the Citadel of Cunaxa was now
under the control of Cyrus and his forces.
According to the reports coming in on the Black Legion frequency, over t
wo thousand automatons now lined the battlements. Twice that number waited behind the thick walls for the order to move through the killing ground on the other side and towards the Citadel itself. The battle had calmed, even if just for a few minutes as Artaxerxes troops either surrendered or fell back to the secondary defences. At the same time, Cyrus brought in more troops to ensure his foothold was maintained. Roxana and Artemas
stepped outside and moved in low behind the rubble. The Citadel was nearly four hundred metres away and bristling with turrets, weapons and spires. Artemas pointed at the shapes in the distance.
“Look at them, what are they doing?”
Roxana looked in the direction she was pointing in. Legion after legion of Medes soldiers were moving out from the Citadel itself. The gunfire had all but stopped from both sides, and it looked as if something significant was about to happen.
“Lord Cyrus!” Roxana called over to the commanders.
He turned, as well as Meno and
. They looked equally irritated by her interruption.
“The Medes, they are deploying outside of the Citadel.”
Cyrus stormed out from the safety of the tower and through the doorway into the open. A number of his elite guards took up position in front of him and at his flanks, in case a stray round or projectile struck near their commander. A number of the spatharii from Meno’s unit also moved near, so they could place a shield generator in front of the group. He watched in confusion as thousands upon thousands of soldiers assembled as if on parade. A subtle glimmer refracted from in front of them, the only way of detecting the immense energy shield that extended out from the spires for almost fifty metres around the base.
“Interesting, it looks to me like an invitation,” Proxenus said in a clipped accent.
He was one of the most experienced commanders amongst the Terrans. He was known to work hard to acquire the affection of his men, a virtue that some had taken advantage of in the early stages of the formation of the Legion. At only thirty years of age, he was one of the youngest commanders in the entire force. Meno looked at him suspiciously and then to the enemy.
“An invitation to what, though?”
Cyrus seemed more interested in just one part of the enemy formation.
“Look,” he said, extending his hand.
In the centre of the military formation was a slightly different coloured unit. A number of tall vertical standards flew in the brisk wind.
“My brother,” Cyrus whispered. There was a hint of reverence in his voice.
Proxenus watched the Medes with a mixture surprise and contempt. Everything he’d seen so far suggested they were far too interested in power, and they were happy to let their emotions run rampant over their lives. So many people had been recruits or forced to fight on behalf of Cyrus, yet he wondered which of the two would actually help the Empire.
Would the Medes even care?
He tapped a button his armour and focused on the amplified image shown on his right eye. The optical stabiliser on his helmet was impressive, and he was able to make out the expressions on the faces of the enemy, even at that distance.
“Yes, it’s him,” he confirmed, having seen the golden armour of the Emperor himself, and over three hundred of his elite bodyguard. What really caught his eye though, was that there were dozens of different races in his army; the most significant being an entire unit of Terran foot soldiers who were spreading out like a skirmish line in front of the Royal bodyguard.
s!” he muttered under his breath.
More reports flashed into the overlay inside his ancient Corinthian styled helm; everything from casualties to the arrival of more troops came straight to his helmet. Unlike traditional communications traffic, it was quick to analyse, and he could issue basic orders without even speaking. Most of the Terran reinforcements had made it to within a kilometre of the city walls, and it looked like Clearchus was doing his job. He connected directly to the Strategos.
“Proxenus, what is it?” barked the Laconian commander with difficulty. He was involved in some heavy exertions, probably some kind of hand-to-hand combat, if he knew anything about the Strategos.
“We’ve taken the Eastern wall. I’m bringing up more troops for the final battle.”
The next words were almost impossible to make out. Clearchus was shouting to his men at the same time. The last words were clear enough, though.
“Dig in and wait!”
Proxenus nodded, not that Clearchus would be able to see him. He looked to the direction of Cyrus and the other commanders. Xenophon and his comrades still sheltered behind the cover, but not a single shot seemed to be coming in their direction anymore. The air seemed calm for the time being, and if he closed his eyes, he could have been back home on his own world. He shook his head, walking over to Cyrus. He was now speaking with the newly arrived Ariaeus. Cyrus spotted him and nodded as a common courtesy.
“All of Ariaeus’ ground troops are in position. Seven thousand warriors, and every one of them ready for the final attack.”
“How about you, Dukas?” asked Ariaeus.
The arrogant little rat,
“Under a thousand this side of the wall, two thousand more within twenty minutes.”
He then looked directly at Cyrus.
“Clearchus has smashed the frontline of Tissaphernes. If he is lucky, the Laconians will force them to a withdrawal.”
“There is no such thing as luck with Clearchus. His people are obsessed with battle, and they see no boundaries. Do you know what he said to me when I asked what the borders of his people were?”
Proxenus sighed inwardly. Although he recognised the undoubtedly impressive military prowess of the Laconians, he certainly didn’t like having it thrust down his throat all of the time. Compared to the Medes, every single Terran was a god.
“No, Lord Cyrus, I have no idea,” he replied bitterly. In reality, he’d heard this quote so many times, he wondered if any Laconian had ever really said it, or if the words themselves were part of the mythos built up by the Laconians themselves to demonstrate their superiority. Cyrus looked at him, unsure as to whether the Terran really cared.
“All he did was to lift his weapon, point to the star and say, ‘
As far as my reach!’”
Yes, it was the same line he’d heard attributed to a dozen Laconian leaders going back to the ancient times. Even so, he had no doubt that a Laconian army could smash any army it faced, especially one filled with the ranks of the Medes.
They were all were interrupted by the booming cries of the Medes assembled in front of the Citadel. At first, it sounded like a song, but quite quickly it was clear they were calling out a series of rising chants. Proxenus looked closely at each of the units. They appeared to be well equipped and more importantly, in very good spirits. Cyrus seemed agitated and kept glancing back to his own forces lined up and waiting. Two more units of mercenary Taochi had entered the open space behind the walls and lined up as if on parade. Everything that was happening was starting to make Proxenus nervous.
“Lord Cyrus, what is happening? My forces will be here shortly. We need to site heavy guns on the walls and complete the encirclement of the Citadel. This deployment can lead to just one thing.”
Cyrus appeared disinterested though and maintained his stare on his brother. There was movement amongst the enemy lines. The golden banners and armour of the Emperor’s guards moved up a wide set of steps, directly in the centre of the line.
“What is it?” asked Proxenus.
“My brother is sitting upon his great throne. It is where he would expect to sit to receive the heads of conquered enemies.”
From one of the breaches emerged the first troops of the Boeotian contingent. They were all spatharii and armed and armoured in a similar fashion to that of the Laconians. They pushed ahead, taking up station with the thousands of warriors waiting for what had to be the final battle. As they moved, the glimmer from their arms showed the semi-transparent body shields.
“We can finish this. We can end this in minutes!” said Cyrus, his face filled with passion and excitement.
Proxenus tried to intervene, but Ariaeus blocked his path and spoke calmly to his commander. His words were short, but Cyrus nodded, indicating for his second-in-command to move off to speak with the commanders of the allied Median contingents that he’d brought along. That was when Proxenus spotted the movement to the left of the enemy line. One of his junior Komes also saw it and called out.
“Dukas, they are withdrawing back into the Citadel.”
Proxenus watched carefully. He was all too familiar with the feigned withdrawals and devious tactics used by these barbarians. In his short but successful experience in war on the frontiers, he’d learned early on to never make quick assumptions about the Medes in battle. War horns blared like a scene from a battle thousands of years ago, and Proxenus was immediately filled with dread. He pushed up to Cyrus, much to the annoyance of one of his Taochi commanders.
“Lord Cyrus, what is happening? My forces are not at full strength.”
Cyrus looked down to him and smiled.
“Do not worry yourself, Proxenus. My brother has seen our strength and is retreating to his walls. The time is now!”
Proxenus reached out to grab him, but two of his ever-present Anusiyan guards blocked his path.
“No, this is madness. You know your brother. It is a ruse!”
Cyrus looked to the soldiers arrayed on both sides and back to Proxenus.
“Perhaps. Either way, I will not wait. He stands before me, ready for the taking. This battle, this victory shall be mine. Support me with everything you have. We attack in thirty seconds!”
With that, the Medes commander walked away to join the rest of his guards unit that were assembling towards the centre of his own line. It was also where most of the Taochi were now positioned. They each stood like an ancient Minotaur, with their thick armour and heavy close quarter combat weapons. Proxenus shook his head angrily and signalled for the other Dukas to convene with him. They met a short distance away in the remains of a smashed marble temple near the inside of the wall.
“Cyrus is attacking, with or without our help.”
“Is he mad?” replied Kratez, leader of the Achaeans.
The other three Terrans looked at him incredulously.
Sophaenetus the Arcadian
had all brought up their faster moving stratiotes to the Citadel, but their spatharii were still making the journey to the front. Only the five hundred spatharii of Kratez had made it to join up with the ground troops of Meno and Xenias.
Sosis looked even less impressed at the news.
“I am not sending my light infantry into that meat grinder. Clearchus was quite clear. The final attack needs to be done in force, or we lose this fight.”
Proxenus looked back at the waiting legions. Cyrus was already giving an impassioned speech in his native language. The waiting warriors appeared to be fired up, though he was intimately familiar with how the idea of combat quickly changed to fear and panic once the guns started up again. As the other Dukas argued about whether to support the battle, Meno stopped them all.