Chapter 247 - Constantine's Stand

The successful killing of Bran was a thing worthy of celebration, but any jubilation Leon or Trajan felt in the vampire’s death was quickly quashed when they heard Constantine’s horn.

Trajan wasted no time; he turned to one of the administrative Legates he’d brought with—about half of the Legates he’d brought to the ambush weren’t experienced combat veterans, but they still had sixth-tier strength and that’s what Trajan had wanted—and ordered, “You’re in command here, deal with this mess!”

The Legate looked a little flabbergasted, but before he could even say an affirmation, Trajan leaped onto the roof of one of the closest buildings and began running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop toward the keep, with Leon and the rest of the Legates in tow.  The Legate left behind could only stare at the archers, Bran’s corpse, and the broken street and sigh before getting to work.  The vampire’s corpse had to be secured and the square cleaned up.

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Owain had wanted to assault the Bull’s Horns the night after the brief peace negotiation, but there had been siege equipment that needed to be assembled and a hundred thousand peasant levies to organize.  As a result, it was a couple days before the assault could begin.

During this time, Bran’s absence was noted by the entire command staff of the Talfar Prince’s army.  The vampiric Marshal had infiltrated the Horns at Owain’s order, but in truth, the Prince didn’t expect him to return.  After finding the vampire draining half a dozen medics and experienced commanders dry, Owain wanted the vampire dead.  It was a huge loss to the army, but Owain didn’t want Bran to destroy the entire upper-command structure of the army, which would be an even greater loss.

Of course, he didn’t tell anyone about his decision, leaving them only to guess at the reasons for Bran’s disappearance.  Fortunately, Arthwyn had experience fighting alongside Bran, enough that the vampire had agreed to assemble his battalions and accompany Owain’s campaign at Arthwyn’s request, so Arthwyn knew that Bran himself wasn’t a particularly reliable comrade.  And with his disappearance, Bran had essentially ceded command of his battalions to Owain and Arthwyn.

So, while the loss of a seventh-tier mage cut deeply into their war potential, neither Arthwyn nor Owain were too upset by it.

“So, it’s decided,” Arthwyn stated.  “The cavalry will surround the fortifications in front of the gates, the infantry will take those towers and the fort in the center, and the levies will move the siege equipment further toward the walls of the fortress,” the Marshal summarized squeezing several hours of long debate as to their tactical options into a single sentence.  He was obviously leaving out the specific details, but each of his subordinate Warrior-Chiefs knew what to do.

Just in case, though, Owain asked, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t know their role in this fight?”  When all that answered him was silence, the Prince said, “Good.  Then let’s get this show on the road.”

Arthwyn was a little upset that Owain was taking a more active role in military matters, but he couldn’t publicly defy the Prince, so he bowed to Owain and then dismissed the war council.  His Warrior-Chiefs promptly left to organize their battalions for the upcoming assault.

They were ready by midnight.  The camp was left with a token force to guard it, while the levies began their work to maneuver the siege towers and trebuchets forward.  Bran’s battalions had done likewise in Florentia, leaving a small token force to guard the city while most of the soldiers joined the main army in their march west.

Such a large movement of people couldn’t be hidden for long, and as soon as the Legion watchtowers saw the Talfar army forming up, they sounded the alarm.  Less than a minute later, Constantine was blowing his enchanted horn, letting the entire city know that his unit was about to come under attack.

And then, the knights in the area east of the walls waited.  There was little else they could do except meet the charge when it came.

Owain and Arthwyn were at the head of the Talfar army.  They weren’t going to lead the charge personally, but it was crucial that they at least appear there at the start of the battle.  To their right and left were thousands of the prized chariots of the Talfar military, while behind them were their heavily armored cataphracts, and the infantry bringing up the rear.  Normally, such a formation would be ill-advised, but in the narrow, fortified vale to the east of the Bull’s Horns, there wasn’t an abundance of room to spread out into the kind of long battle line that most set-piece battles required.

“Marshal Arthwyn,” Owain said from his chariot, “signal the charge.”

Arthwyn fought back a grimace at the Prince giving him orders, but he could see the lights in the small mostly-wooden fort and towers in the vale and knew that every moment delayed was a moment they gave the Bull’s Legions to prepare.

“Sound the charge,” Arthwyn ordered one of the soldiers in his chariot, and the soldier broke out a long, thin horn and gave it one long blast, the signal for ‘charge’.

The Warrior-Chiefs that led the chariot battalions began to charge, filling the air with the sound of beating hooves and turning wheels.  The cataphracts charged next, shaking the earth and kicking up such a racket that Owain wouldn’t have been all that surprised if it could be heard all the way back in Pretani.

Once past the narrow strip of land between the Border Mountains and the Tyrrhenian River, the cavalry spread out.  There were dozens of square miles within the vale, and they intended to fill them with horses and Talfar soldiers, to keep the Legion from deploying outside their walls or coming to the aid of their comrades in the fort and towers.

As the cavalry spread out throughout the vale, Arthwyn could see bright lights shining from the walls of the towers and fort, illuminating the entire vale so that even the weakest of Legion soldiers could see in the darkness of midnight.  He could also see dozens of tiny pinpricks of light, the light reflected off steel arrowheads as they were fired from the towers and fort.

The Marshal also saw those same arrows pierce horses and the soldiers riding them, he could see chariots overturn as their horses and drivers were killed, but these were in the vast minority compared to the entire cavalry force.  And then, he saw bright flashes of light as the cavalry unit leaders responded to the arrow fire with their own arrows and blasts of magic.

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“Get down!” Constantine shouted.  Those who heard him ducked behind the wooden battlements as blades of wind sliced chunks of wood from the fort, as earth and ice spikes filled the walls with holes, and as blasts of fire washed over the central tower.  The wooden fort had been magically reinforced, but it still shuddered with every impact.  Fortunately, it survived the first responding salvo from the Talfar cavalry, but many of its defenders and companion towers did not.

Taking a quick look around, Constantine saw five towers that were heavily damaged enough that they weren’t particularly useful anymore, and three more towers that had been completely destroyed, either blasted or cut to pieces by Talfar magics.

“ACTIVATE THE TRAPS!” Constantine roared from the central tower of his fort.  The Talfar cavalry were close enough in that there wasn’t any more point to waiting to break out their heavier weapons, as five hundred knights and men-at-arms armed with bows weren’t going to do much against a force a hundred times their size.

Around him were four large control panels covered in glowing runes.  Stationed at each was two soldiers, and at his command, they began to press certain runes and activate various glyphs and runic circles.

Instantly, the battlefield was lit up by great fiery explosions, massive spikes of earth and ice erupted from the ground in the center of Talfar formations, and great pits opened up to swallow squads of chariots and cataphracts whole, which then sealed themselves up and filled with water.

In that moment, hundreds of the finest Talfar cavalry soldiers vanished from the mortal coil.

“Keep it up,” Constantine smiled as he watched the hellish scene outside.  The traps that had been placed throughout the vale were operated from the central tower in Constantine’s fort, as that was where the knight could see everything.  The traps could also be used from the walls of the Bull’s Horns, but Trajan generally left it to Constantine’s knights to use them, as it was only they who had the entire picture of the battlefield, including what was happening within the fort.

But a few traps weren’t enough to halt the Talfar advance.  Constantine could see that, despite the damage that the traps were doing, there weren’t many dents being created in the Talfar hordes.  His archers kept up the pressure, and the cavalry couldn’t storm the walls and take the fort, but in the distance, he could see the Talfar infantry advancing, as well as the cavalry officers preparing another salvo of magic.

“BRACE YOURSELVES!” the knight roared as the next Talfar wave of magic hit the fort.  Even above the explosions and sounds of splintering wood, Constantine could hear the screams of his knights and soldiers falling in the barrage.  In the distance, he could see two more towers fall, as well.

‘It’s well that His Highness only sent his most devoted knights and retainers out here,’ Constantine thought, ‘else I fear we’d have already lost this land to desertion…’

They served a purpose out there, he knew.  They were obstacles in the path of the Talfar army as it moved toward the walls of Ariminium, and much like with the city of Florentia, Arthwyn’s hordes couldn’t advance without first taking the towers and Constantine’s fort, or else the Legions could continue to hit them from both sides.

So, Constantine and his knights held their ground.  Even as the last of the towers fell and the fort was hit with a third wave of Talfar magic, they continued to fire their arrows.  Even when the Talfar infantry closed in on their walls, their arrows continued to fly and those knights that could use magic did so with abandon.

And it wasn’t like they weren’t having any effect; rather, it was that the Talfar army was simply so numerous that they could simply eat the casualties Constantine’s forces were giving them if it meant they could take the fort.

Fifteen minutes after the battle truly began, the traps in the vale ceased to work.  The Talfar officers weren’t stupid, and they went around destroying the stones and metal plates that the trap enchantments had been placed upon.

“Sir, what do we do now?” asked one of the knights as the last of the runic consoles controlling the traps dimmed.  All of the traps had been destroyed.

“Now, we take to the walls ourselves!” Constantine vigorously shouted.  “It’s our duty to defend our Kingdom from all that threaten it!  We will not abandon our duty!”  As he shouted, he drew an enormous two-handed sword from his soul realm to complement his scale armor dyed Legion crimson.  To accompany his shiny red ensemble, he summoned a helmet from his soul realm with an armored war-mask depicting the face of an Old God of death that had been worshiped in the Southern Territories before the Bull Kingdom had been unified and Ancestor worship imposed.

The other knights were all fifth-tier, and they roared their agreement, summoning their own weapons from their soul realms.  They all jumped out of the observation windows of the tower and landed in various parts of the outer walls’ ramparts just in time to meet the Talfar infantry.

The Talfar army had brought forth ladders so that their warriors could climb the walls.  The walls weren’t tall enough to prevent the higher-tiered warriors from jumping over them, but they had been enchanted to prevent just such a thing from occurring.  A determined enough Talfar mage could get through that enchantment, but doing so would leave them vulnerable, so they all waited in formation for the ladders be placed.

Constantine landed in front of one of the Warrior-Captains leading the Talfar battalions in their assault, a fifth-tier man equipped in a similar manner to the rest of the Talfar infantry, with a one-handed spear, a small shield, and a sword barely bigger than a dagger at his hip.  He was lightly armored, with little more leather covering his forearms and shins, mail for his torso, gambeson underneath, and a steel helmet.

‘That gear doesn’t even look enchanted,’ Constantine thought with some grim amusement.  It seemed to him that most of the budget for gear went to the cavalry, leaving the infantry little to equip themselves with.  Those warriors who couldn’t personally afford better gear were stuck with what this man before Constantine was wearing.

And yet, that didn’t stop the Warrior-Captain from killing five of Constantine’s men-at-arms and one of his knights once he reached the ramparts.

“You’re the commander here?” the Warrior-Captain confidently asked after Constantine landed on the walls.  The knight could almost feel the Talfar warrior’s eyes sizing him up, and maybe even appraising his armor; if he lost this fight, Constantine had little doubt that this warrior could be looting his corpse for the gear the Talfar army had failed to provide him with.

“I am,” Constantine said with a smile concealed by his masks’ indifferent visage.  He raised his sword and took an aggressive stance; the knight could understand the other man’s desire for his gear, but he wasn’t going to get it without one hell of a fight.

“Why don’t you just surrender right now?” the warrior asked.  “You’ve already lost this, no sense in losing your life as well.  Besides, your comrades have turtled up behind their walls, there’s no one coming to save you.”

As if on cue, the portcullis in the central tower of the Horn’s outer wall creaked open and several thousand Legion cavalrymen came pouring out.

Despite surrounded by the bodies of his knights and men-at-arms, Constantine gave the warrior a cocky laugh, said, “You were saying?” and charged before the warrior could wipe the look of stunned disbelief off his face.

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Chapter 248 - Trajan's Response

Chapter 246 - Stalking a Lion