Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa (4 page)

Stay calm and use your numbers.

“Close up!”

Tamara was fast, and the two quickly moved into position alongside each other. Some of those watching laughed at the manoeuvring. The majority believed that splitting up and attacking from different sides was always the best strategy. Xenophon knew better, however. By staying together, they massively increased their combat power. One could strike while the other defended. It was simple but also highly effective, and one of the key methods of close quarter combat used by the Laconians in combat.

“Terran animal!” complained the soldier as he continued hacking.

He covered a small amount of ground, ducking down to retrieve the sword from his fallen comrade who still lay on the floor, groaning in pain. He barely glanced at the fallen man, his mind now focused entirely on attacking and defeating the two humans. He extended both weapons to them and shouted.

“Die!”

He twirled the blades, demonstrating evident skill with the weapons. Xenophon also noted the man’s taut body and thickly muscled arms. Even the words from the man reminded him that this fight had moved on from a simple demonstration. If he wasn’t careful, it could very painful for both of them. Xenophon glanced about, but the only weapon he could see was the now partially broken mace. He ducked down and rolled to it, but the fear of leaving an opening sent a chill down his spine.

I have to be fast! If he gets close enough, he’ll tear us apart!

The warrior moved closer and lunged with a quick stab. Tamara parried it with her left blade and countered with a quick riposte from her right. It wasn’t fast enough, and he easily moved aside from the attack. He didn’t step back bit took a diagonal step forward, maintaining the pressure on the young woman. Tamara might have been fast, but she had neither the military experience nor the strength of this experienced Medes warrior. Xenophon jumped to his feet and looked up to the two of them locked in bloody combat.

“Formation!” he barked.

He was in position and noted with satisfaction that Tamara instantly gave ground. Most soldiers, especially younger ones would have carried on and ignored his words. She performed very differently and responded well under pressure. He made a mental note while rushing to her. The timing was barely adequate, and he managed to make it to her left side just as the next attack from the great man came in. It was a series of vertical strikes, each one coming in from alternate arms. Tamara parried them, yet each one pushed closer and closer to the two of them.

Now!

Xenophon waited for the next attack. Instead of helping Tamara to parry, he ducked to the left and struck at the man’s left arm. The mace struck with surprising power and hit the forearm with a sickening cracking sound. His arm went limp, yet he refused to grunt or groan and continued the attack with his remaining sword. The Medes now put even more power into his cuts, and each time it took great effort from both of them to stop the attack. Like a well-oiled machine, Tamara and Xenophon took turns parrying and striking so that with every attack from the Medes, they struck him back. He took many stabs and hacks, but it was a mace blow into his ribs that finally forced him down to his knees. A trickle of blood ran down his face from a broken nose, but his face was still defiant. Xenophon nodded to Tamara, and they both stopped. He lifted his mace and looked around at those watching. Instead of clapping, he was greeted with a deathly silence.

“Xeno...” Tamara called out, but Xenophon was too busy looking for the end of the fight. By the time he had moved back, the Medes warrior had struck her hard in the chest with a savage left hook. She staggered and then fell over backwards. Xenophon rushed forward, swinging the mace hard at the man’s head. It was hard, too hard for an exhibition type fight. The impact struck like a rock to his face and propelled him backwards and to the floor. A pool of blood appeared around the man’s jaw, and it was clear it had been badly broken.

“Enough!” shouted Clearchus, his powerful voice booming throughout the Chamber.

Xenophon instantly stepped back, bending down to examine Tamara. She was still finding it hard to breathe, but she seemed largely unhurt. He helped adjust her clothes and then lifted her to her feet. The fabric had torn even more, and he wondered for just a second if it might look better to just rip the entire thing off. She pulled the side over and managed to cover up most of her exposed skin so that her chest and thigh were fully covered. With great effort, she lifted her right arm. Xenophon reached up and did the same.

“An impressive match-up!” called out the Terran commander.

A ripple of clapping followed his words. It was half-hearted, but when Cyrus joined in, the volume and tempo increased considerably. Clearchus stepped away from his position at the side of the circle and moved towards the two Terrans. The rest continued their clapping and shouting, so he was forced to lean in close to speak.

“Good work, somebody needs to show these people who is in charge around here.”

He then looked to the fallen Medes lying around them and back to Tamara.

“They won’t look kindly on having lost to you. It is bad enough for a Terran but to a woman, especially one so young.” He looked at her torn clothing. “And pleasing on the eye.”

He smiled and lifted his hand to join theirs in the air.

“Silence!” he growled, and to the amusement of Cyrus the room quietened again.

Clearchus turned his attention to Cyrus, bowing his head slightly. It was a clear signal for the Medes leader to end the display. Cyrus could see the looks of dismay and disappointment amongst his own warriors and felt a pang of jealousy that a pair of lowly spatharii had bested his crack troops. The only positive spin he could possibly have felt was that they were on his side, and if they could beat his troops, then they could do equal damage to the troops of Artaxerxes. Just thinking about his hated half-brother sent fire through his veins. He beckoned for Ariaeus to translate for the Terrans.

“A fine match between powerful and worthy foes. As I have already stated, each of you shall receive an award for your service from the sale of the relics taken from this ship. This particular Makhaira, however, will go our two victors. Please step forward and announce yourselves.”

There was a short pause while the translation continued and then nothing but silence. Cyrus beckoned for them to approach him and turn to face the group of assembled soldiers. He moved to their side and pushed the jewelled weapon towards them, immediately unsure as to which of the two would take it. Tamara looked to Xenophon who smiled and nodded at the weapon.

“It’s yours,” he said quietly.

She reached out and grasped the blade. As she took the weight in her right hand, she gasped at the weight. It was lighter than any similar sized blade she’d ever seen. She held it out for Xenophon to see, but he looked up and tried to show her with his eyes what she needed to do next. It took a second before she understood and quickly thrust the weapon up high.

“I am Tamara!” she called out loudly. “Spatharii, under the command of Xenias, the Arcadian.”

Cyrus lifted an eyebrow in question to Xenophon who placed his own hand on the hilt of the weapon.

“My name is Xenophon, son of Gryllus, and I am a dekarchos of the spatharii, under Dukas Xenias.”

Now Strategos Clearchus cheered loudly, matched in volume only by the booming voices of Kleandridas and Pleistoanax. The Terran commander approached the two of them.

“Excellent,” he announced, throwing a quick glance to Cyrus who did his best to hide his feelings from the Terrans.

“I understand that my niece Artemas of Caria, daughter of Satrap Lygdamis, intends on taking a well earned rest on one of the planets below. I assume that you will be visiting the jewel of this region, the planet of Kashan and the Spire?”

Artemas looked surprised at his questions, and Xenophon could see she appeared so. None of this made sense because Lord Cyrus was implying she had already made these decisions.

Schemes and tricks!

Lady Artemas pulled her head back slightly and was about to speak, but Cyrus threw her a look that told her to say nothing. Only Xenophon was in a position to see both of their faces, and he knew immediately that the Medes commander was up to something. Cyrus turned his gaze to her four protectors.

“As the escorts to Lady Artemas, it will be your job to accompany her to the surface. I am, of course, relying upon all four of you to protect her at any costs. She is not just my niece; she is also a member of the Royal Court and in the line of succession. If anything were to happen to her, I would hold both you and the Legion to account. Do you understand?”

Xenophon and Tamara both bowed but only a short distance, nothing like the extravagant servitude suggested by the Medes when lowering themselves to the Emperor. Cyrus then leaned in closer to Xenophon so that only he could hear his next words.

“This victory could be a problem for the rest of the Legion. You will travel with the other Terran soldiers on their military leave to Kashan. In a few days, this will have calmed down. Keep Artemas out of trouble. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the world, but it is a pleasure planet; one designed to cater for any possible desire. Understood?”

He pulled himself back and waited for Xenophon to nod back discreetly.

“Very good,” announced Lord Cyrus.

He then reverted to his native tongue and launched into a long and heated speech that Xenophon could only assume was captivating to the audience. It was either that or fear of being executed that kept them in thrall to his words. They both looked at the beautiful sword now held in the small, pale hands of Tamara.

“Very nice,” said Xenophon, doing his best to hide his envy of the weapon.

Tamara looked at him with a questioning look on her young face.

“He said a pleasure world, didn’t he?”

Xenophon nodded.

“Well,” she continued in a coy voice, “what exactly does that mean?”

* * *

Kashan Spaceport, Khorram Shipyards

The armoured dromon circled over the massive domed structure, along with another dozen craft. For the last five days, a constant stream of vessels had been sent down to the single oasis in the massively industrial sector known as Khorram. All the planets and moons of the system had been turned over to industry, manufacturing and shipyards to provide for the thousands of ships in the Imperial Fleet. Though it was not necessarily the best equipped Navy in the known universe, it was by far the most numerous. By the best Terran estimates, its numbers were over ten times larger than all Terran fleets combined. Of course, the Empire was so vast it needed large numbers of ships even just to provide security against pirates and marauders.

As they dropped down through the atmosphere, Xenophon checked the dromon’s onboard computer for basic information on the world. He knew of the shipyards from his reading in the past, but he’d never heard of this pleasure world. He had often wondered if these places were one of the many fantasies created by Terran
s
for their barbarians cousins in the Empire.

It would appear this time, they were telling the truth.

The information on the world itself was hardly inspiring. By all account
s,
the planet was desolate with
nothing but
a warm atmosphere and slightly toxic air
to show for it. No human or living inhabitant of the Median Empire could survive here without substantial protection from the environment.

Apart from the robotic domains, I suppose. Is there anywhere they couldn’t thrive?

The poisonous air
swirled around the three large islands that pushed up through the methane rich oceans
into a world that couldn’t have looked any more alien to them
. None of this really mattered to the visitors
,
as the world was covered in beautifully designed orbs and domes, covering all three islands
like great coloured flowers pushing up out of a bland field of grass.

“Lady Artemas, have you been here before?” Roxana asked politely.

Roxana
was slightly older than Xenophon and had served as a Navy officer before joining the many out of work military personnel on Attica
. Many of them had left upon hearing the news of the mercenary legion being created to conduct operations on behalf of the Medes along the border to fight pirates and renegades.
Times were not easy for those in the profession of war, and people like her could earn exceptional rewards fighting with a mercenary force such as theirs.
She shook her head in reply.

“No, pleasure worlds are not usually visited by the women of our family.”

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