Authors: R. E. Donnellan
Book One: The Zandar Series
Copyright © 2016 by R.E. Donnellan
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2016
Mystic Dawn Publishing
Table of Contents
“Are the troops in position?” asked Kapetan Costic.
“In another cycle,” said the grizzled Lieutenant. “Third squad is still working around the village. There were farmers on the road; our team needed to wait until they moved through.”
The Kapetan picked this night for a reason. Tonight’s moon was full and there were no clouds in the sky. He did not mind having his Company wait an extra three days for the perfect night to attack, even though his sergeants told him his soldiers were getting bored. He was worried that he may not be able to control them after the attack. The purpose of the attack was to secure a strategic toehold into the Zandarian Empire, not to kill villagers. After all, he hoped to make them citizens of Kastav. They would have the privilege to serve the Crown…
and pay their taxes
“Right Lieutenant, tell First and Second Squads to commence the attack. We need to create a good enough distraction for Third Squad to enter unopposed. Let’s just hope our scouts were right and Old Rau doesn’t have this backwater village heavily garrisoned.”
Nearly fifty soldiers began moving silently towards Bakar. What garrison there was in the village at least knew their business. A kill zone nearly fifty yards beyond the gates posed the most difficult obstacle to the attack. There were no trees and little vegetation around the village.
Not surprising for a border settlement.
These villagers lived in constant fear of a Kastav attack.
The village posed no real strategic value to the Crown. Its port was too small for any sort of major landing. In fact, the little lagoon barely had enough depth for the inshore fishing skiffs. As Costic looked out over the little pier, there were less than a dozen boats moored. If Bakar is an indication of Zandar’s prosperity, then they are doing no better than us he thought.
He knew that his Company would take the village. The villagers were not going to fight off an entire Company. He was more worried about taking losses. Kastav and Zandar had been at war for over ten years. Both sides had almost lost an entire generation of men. Costic knew that for every five soldiers lost, he would only get three replacements… and that on a good day.
A Kastav Company was comprised of one hundred soldiers. He was only able to field seventy-two for the attack. He had six soldiers, including his best sergeant, back at the field hospital in Valpovo. He doubted he would ever see them again. Some Major will pick them up he thought.
This was all because twelve years ago that traitorous Rece Rau, the cousin of the King, revolted. Why would a Governor and no less a member of the Royal Family declare himself Emperor and vow the death of his King? No King was perfect and that certainly applied to King Visijic. Poverty had never been worse but that wasn’t the King’s fault. If it wasn’t for the traitorous Emperor, he might be enjoying a retirement with his family right now.
His mind snapped back into focus with the sound of an alarm bell from the village. Someone had spotted them. “All soldiers attack!” he shouted.
“Attack, attack, attack!” came the shouts from his two lieutenants and sergeants.
“For the King!” shouted the soldiers, as they picked up their halberds and rushed the low berm surrounding the village. Costic knew it was pointless to have his archers fire volleys into the village. Even with the full moon is was impossible to pick out the Zandar soldiers well enough to do any serious harm.
Costic followed First Squad straight down the main entrance to the village. This is the widest entry and is where he figured there would be the heaviest resistance. A private took an arrow to this right thigh and went down in front of Costic.
So much for not worrying about archers
, he thought. He had to jump over the man or else find himself on the ground.
The Zandar defenders poured two well-timed volleys at the soldiers before the hand-to-hand fighting began. The gates of the village were closed, so the defenders met the attack on the dirt walls. The defenders had the advantage as the Kastav troops had to fight up the low hill. The Zandar’s also were using long pikes. That posed a problem for some of his light infantry who only used short swords.
This is getting better and better
Just as First Squad was about to drive back the Zandar troops past to the front gates, reinforcements poured in from nearby barracks. They must have been sleeping, as none of them wore armor and all had only short swords.
“Hold Fast!” shouted the lieutenant in charge of First Squad just as a defender slashed his shoulder. “Sergeant, reinforce first squad with your fire team!” Costic yelled. The sergeant held two fire teams in reserve in order to push through any weak spots in the defenders’ line. Now it looked like five of his troopers will be going in to hold his line.
“Yes, sir! Follow me!” yelled the sergeant as he led his men to the spot of the heaviest fighting. The men quickly joined the fight and concentrated on helping their comrades who were fighting multiple foes. Although the garrison soldiers fought bravely, they couldn’t hold up to the battle-tested Kostav infantry.
The fighting seemed to go on for an hour, although Costic knew that it had only lasted a few minutes. He watched soldier after soldier being cut down. His Company was suffering fewer losses, but that did not make him feel better. Each lost soldier meant a less effective Company for the next battle.
Just then, he heard yelling from behind the enemy’s lines. Third Squad had come in through the back of the village and now attacked from behind. His soldiers started cheering as they began to rally. After a few more minutes, it was all over. Costic ordered one squad to secure the village and another one to pursue the few Zandar troops that fled into the night.
He spent the rest of the night listening to reports from his squad leaders, tallying his losses and writing reports. Like all bureaucratic armies, he had to write his report to Majer Dekov and send a copy to Kastav City. Fifteen of his soldiers killed and thirty-two defenders. He couldn’t figure out why Rau would even have a dozen soldiers guarding Bakar. A two to one kill ratio was acceptable by anyone’s standards. Regardless, the reality was that he was down nearly three squads after the battle. He needed to call in some favors to get replacements or else he may lose his command. There were too many half-pay Kapetan’s strutting around Command in Kastav looking to take over from anyone the High Command deemed as less than perfect.
After he finished the report, he had to figure out the disposition of the prisoners and villagers. Two wounded soldiers would recover. He put them in the infirmary wagon with three of his men and sent them off to Valpovo. If they had any smarts, they would recover and pledge their allegiance to King Kastav’s regime. Otherwise, no one lasted in the work camps for long.
The sergeant in charge of the prisoners reported that there were no men of conscription age found in the village. Well there were a few, but they did not survive the attack. One in particular took down three of his men by himself. He could use men like that in his line. They found one boy who claimed to be fourteen years old. He chuckled.
Even his training sergeant would not conscript a boy that young
. Well, he might have better luck in the next village.
There is always a next village in this war
“Marko Kunich! What did I tell you? Hold your weapon higher. You need room to absorb da’ blow”
“Sorry, Papa. It seems like we’ve been sparring all day. I can hardly hold the baton anymore.”
“Someday you’ll have one of ‘em Kastav dogs at ya like he was chopping wood. You need to spar a lot longer than this to be able to hold your own. Why, when I was close to your age…”
“I know, Papa.” Marko smiled. “You worked at your Papa’s forge all day and then killed Kastav shock troops at night for fun.”
“Ha! You know I did lad. Now put your left leg forward. You need to absorb the blow by having better balance. Arms tire quickly”.
This isn’t going to end soon.
Later that night, Marko lay down after his mother’s usual dinner of riba and potatoes and the prayer of respect to the Emperor. His whole village practically lived off the little fish caught just off the coast of his village. Sometimes he went out with his friend Sako and his father early in the morning. Unlike most of his friends in the village, he liked getting up early in the morning. He also liked being out on the ocean with Sako. When Sako’s father was hauling in the nets, they often went to the other side of the skiff and pretended they were pirates. They eyed their village from the boat and planned their raid with much fanfare. Those were some of the best times he had.
Being the son of the village blacksmith who was a former war hero was hard on the boy. His papa was already fifty summers old and wanted Marko to do more and more at the forge. Marko felt comfortable around the fire but was useless working the forge. He just did not have the raw strength to work the metal with his papa’s hammers.
What was worse were all the expectations his friends and their parents had for his future. He could not help that his papa was not only a decorated soldier in the Emperor’s army, but was credited for the victory at Ulma Pass. That was over twenty years ago during the Centurion Wars. That’s when Papa was in Colonel Rau’s Eagle Regiment. Once a year, Papa went into the cellar and brought up his old sergeant’s uniform, complete with the eagle-crested sash given to him by Rau himself. That was the same crest that Rau used to symbolize his new Empire to the corrupt King Kastav. Papa would don his increasingly tight uniform tunic, open a bottle of red wine, and toast his picture of the Emperor. He usually ended the night by mumbling that the Emperor would some day unify all of Zerik.
That did not bother Marko. Having all of his friends and their parents telling him that he should follow in his father’s footsteps did however. Soldiering seemed boring to Marko. All that marching and drilling…and dying did not seem like fun to the boy. Sailing on the high seas, now that sounded like fun. Marko was just trying to get the courage to tell his Papa, that he wanted to enlist in the Imperial Navy when he turned sixteen. At sixteen he really didn’t need his father’s permission. But, one thing his father taught him was respect.
He had worked the plan out with Sako, whose older brother enlisted last year. They would enlist together and get assigned to the same ship. With luck they would get assigned to a fast attack ship. Those sailors got rich on their share of the prize money. Sako’s brother got assigned to a new Murat Class attack ship named the
. He heard that the three-masted ship was faster than anything Kastav could put to sea.
His brother had come back on leave and told them the whole story. The Emperor had control over much of the Okean Ocean. Kastav merchant shipping was ripe for the picking for the Imperial Navy. Kastav’s biggest trading partner was Kiev, just west of Zandar. Merchant ships had to navigate within one hundred kilometers of the port at Zandar City. The Imperial Navy was on constant vigilance for heavily laden merchanters and the occasional Kastav navy frigate. When Admiral Bedout joined Rau after he declared himself Emperor, Bedout brought his entire fleet with him. Kastav was trying to build ships to match the Emperor’s fleet ever since.
Just as Marko was about to drift off to sleep thinking about all the things he would buy with his prize money from the Navy, he heard the bell. At first he did not understand what was going on. He only heard that bell once a month or so when the garrison was running drills. Why would they run drills so late at night?
“Get up boy!” he heard his father shout as he threw open his bedroom door. “We’ve to get you down the cellar now!”
Marko knew better than to ask questions when his papa was this upset. He bolted from his bed and quickly ran into the kitchen. Just as he arrived, his mother pulled open the heavy door in the floor. Marko jumped down, not even bothering to use the ladder. He used to jump down there as a game when his mother wanted him to fetch supplies for dinner.
. The door closed over his head. Through the cracks between the floor boards he could hear what was going on and occasionally see shadows as his parents ran back and forth.
Just then there was a pounding at the door. “Boris, there are dogs entering from the east!”
His papa opened the door and he could hear him shouting, “Men, let’s teach these dogs a lesson. We attack now!”
A chorus of cheers rang out along with shouts of “For the Emperor!” as his papa and the men sounded like they were running down the street. All Marko could hear now was his mother weeping somewhere in the kitchen after she bolted the front door.
Minutes seemed like hours as Marko sat huddled in the small cellar. Never once did he hear his mother move above him. He just heard her silent weeping. He wondered how long it would take for his papa and the garrison soldiers to wipe out the men that had the gall to attack his village.
Pound, pound, pound,
came the sound from the front door. “Open up in the name of the King!” shouted a man on the other side of the door. His mother began wailing at the sound of the man’s voice. “Open up or we will burn this shack down with you in it.”
Marko heard the chair creak as his mother finally got up and walked to the door. “Alright, I am opening up now,” she squeaked as he heard her move the heavy barring plank from the door.
He heard the sound of heavy boots enter his house and dark shadows were cast over the cellar door. “Are you alone, woman?” he heard a deep voice command.
“It is just me.” his mother said, “My husband is not here.”
“We know about him,” said the man. “Check the place,” he barked as men began to enter the house and walk around. Marko heard the halt of footsteps right above him and the telltale sound of someone picking up the latch ring to the cellar door.
Suddenly light poured in the cellar as he saw the silhouette of a man look down at him. “Found one!” he heard the man shout.
The first man walked over and looked down too. “Come here now and keep your hands up!” he shouted to me. I cautiously walked up the ladder with my hands over my head, and stopped when I walked onto the kitchen floor.
“He’s only a kid,” said a man behind him. “Figures he would be hiding from us like a coward.”
“He has more brains than his father,” said the leader of the men.
“What happened to Boris?” my mother whispered to the man.
“Well, if Boris is your husband, you are now a widow, woman. He fought like a demon and took out three of my men. You are just lucky I am under strict rules not to punish you, as now you are subjects of the King.”
“Boris? No!” his mother yelled and she ran into her bedroom.
“Leave her be.” the man said, as one of his men began walking after his mother. “How old are you, boy?” the man asked as he looked back to Marko.
“Fourteen, sir,” Marko stammered.
“Well at least you have some manners,” the man judged. “Listen to me boy. Your father is dead and you are too young for me to press you into the King’s army. I see that your father was a blacksmith. You look too young to carry on his business. You better take your mother and stay with family, because the King does not offer handouts to beggars.”
With that he quickly turned around and stamped out of the house with his men. Marko just stood there in shock looking at the open door. He could hear occasional shouts in the village and the clash of steel on steel. He started to cry as he realized his papa would never walk back through that door again.