Episode 1 | Episode 2
|Credit: Roy Lathwell|
A few weeks had passed since the unfruitful trip to Ak’koyr. Phylok was now in Isenbund, but they devoted a ketch to carry information and essentials between Isenbund and the Reach. Jira and Phylok had urged Anlayt to do the same for Ak’koyr, but the Captain insisted that all their resources were needed for rebuilding.
“Notable.” Striker—no, Hundred Perin now, she had promoted him to command the cohort that remained—stood at the door to her chambers. “The watchtowers are signaling an alarm.”
“Is a drill scheduled?” Jira could not remember a time when the watchtowers had ever signaled more than a drill.
“The flares are yellow,” he said. During a drill, the watchers would add copper salts to the fire, to turn the flames blue or green.
“I assume you have placed the outpost on alert?”
Jira rose. “I will lend my aid, if needed. Ready a runner. If there is an incident, we should let Ak’koyr know.”
“Whether they deserve it or not,” said Perin.
• • •
A runner from Point Watch met them at the outpost. “Eight fastboats, from the East,” she panted. “No banners. Four of them turned south toward the Straits. The others are heading around the Point.”
“Perhaps they are trying to establish trade routes?” Perin suggested.
“Given Captain Phylok’s reception, when he made his survey,” said Jira, “I will assume them hostile until I see otherwise.”
Perin nodded and gave orders. On either side of the harbor mouth, banners were raised: red, with a white horizontal stripe. No entry, was the message.
Another thing I have seen only in drills, Jira thought. She reviewed what she knew: a fastboat could carry two or three strikes. If these were indeed raiders, four fastboats could carry an entire cohort, equal in strength to this outpost. Whether they had a mage with them or not, Jira expected to take part in any skirmish. As a Protector, she knew combat magic, but had not specialized in it.
Well offshore, the fastboats struck their sails, deployed oars, and arrayed themselves. “Flying Diamond formation,” Perin spat, pointing to the approaching ships. “Fools. They’ve given away their intent.”
“If they land in the harbor, we could have trouble,” said Jira. “We need to repel them before they reach the breakwater. Let us reposition ourselves.”
Standing in a sheltered nook on the breakwater, Perin gave orders to the Strikers: “Keep the harbor clear. I don’t want a single one of them setting foot ashore, unless they’re surrendering. We’ve drilled in defending the outpost, you and yours know what to do. For the glory of Camac—” Perin swallowed past a lump in his throat— “the glory of Camac That Was!”
“For Camac!” the Strikers shouted as one, then hurried to their posts. Two strikes, one on either side of the breakwater, operated the concealed ballistas. These were fearsome weapons, like gigantic crossbows; a well-placed shot could breach a ship at the waterline or pin together half the rowers on one side of a fastboat. On shore, the catapults were ready. Jira held her breath as the attacking force drew ever closer.
The offshore mooring posts had a second use; they marked the effective range of the outpost’s larger weaponry. As the lead fastboat rowed through at full speed, the Strikers gave orders. Two ballistas loosed their bolts, aiming for the waterline. From the shore, the first catapult launched its own missile. Rowers in the lead fastboat, the focus of the defenders’ first response, broke rhythm as their ship took the onslaught. One ballista fell short of the mark, the bolt plunging into the water and slowing harmlessly. The second went high, wounding several rowers. But the catapult shot was true, sending a heavy bronze ball smashing through the hull.
Lightning crackled from the fastboat closest to Jira as it passed the mooring posts, slamming into one of the ballista emplacements. Jira stood and sent her own lightning in return, aiming to shear the oars along one side. The second ballista on Jira’s side of the breakwater returned fire, aiming toward the source of the lightning. A volley of arrows came Jira’s way, but she had already raised a fender and ignored them. She called the water, her primary element, and sent a mighty wave at their broadside, nearly capsizing two fastboats and swamping them both.
The battle had been joined only a minute, and already three of the fastboats were disabled or sinking outright. The fourth backed oars, trying to stay out of range of the outpost’s weapons, ignoring the shouts of their fellows and the taunts of Camac’s last cohort. Archers on the breakwater continued to shower the other three with arrows, confounding the crews who were trying to return fire or simply bail out enough water to keep their ships afloat. At last, Perin gave the order and the arrows ceased. A soldier struck the No entry banner on one side of the breakwater, and raised a banner of blue and yellow. This signal offered honorable surrender to any who reached shore unarmed. The attackers gave no response, but those who could on the lead fastboat abandoned ship. A few swam to shore to surrender, but most swam to join their fellows at one of the other ships.
Jira nodded, as Perin rejoined her in the sheltered place. “Do you notice something odd about yon raiders?” he asked.
“Besides their bent to war, when every living soul is more precious than ever?”
“Send your vision across the water, noted Protector. Tell me what you see.”
Jira closed her eyes. “One of the fastboats I swamped—there is no bailing out that one.” She sounded satisfied. “A man with a red sash floats dead in the water—your ballista crew aimed true, Hundred. Men scurrying about or swimming… hoy.” She opened her eyes and turned to Perin. “Not a single woman among them?”
“But why? The women in our cohort would make three, maybe four strikes.”
“And women or men, they fought bravely.” Perin grew grim. “But perhaps they…” He paused. “A dead woman cannot carry the next generation forward.”
Fastboat: a long, narrow ship with both sail and oars. Favored by raiders and navies for their maneuverability.
Strike: 10-12 soldiers, commanded by a Striker.
Cohort: 10-12 strikes, commanded by a Hundred.