The Noble Gases Chapter 17
It’s odd, Oggie thought, every time I leave a city it’s on a different mission. First I was escorting the mercenaries to meet the king, then to rescue the prince, and now to harass the invaders. I’d kind of like my own mission without them. He stopped thinking suddenly and looked around. Did he really want to tempt Fate? There was nothing on the horizon, no one was riding up behind them to give him new orders. Marie, riding next to him, was sending rather than receiving. Everything was going as planned.
They would ride out to Upswitch and hope that the Saxmen had not taken it yet. There they would attack and disperse the invasion force.
“Ah don’t like it one bit.” Warlord Ewell was talking to Xenon about the enemy plans. “It has allus bin one of the truisms of wah. ‘You do not divide yoah foaces in the presence of the enemy.’ And that is what they have done. Ah think it a trick.”
“As do I, as do I, but what is the trick? They have shown no sign of a Foolamancer, and the Angles were sighted heading south. They do not have the move to double back and catch us in a pincer. Their Rhyme-o-mancer might give them a little move, but not enough to do anything strategic. They’re going due south, so it will take them another turn to get to one of your other cities. As unpleasant as it may seem, we have to assume that our enemies are idiots until they prove otherwise.”
“Scriptah says, ‘Nevah trust the foolishness of yoah foes.’”
“True, but what else can we do for now?”
“Indeed, suh, indeed.”
Most of the lancers had been sent out with the Noble Gases to harry the Saxes on their way toward Upswitch. Gwalchmai and Artha had stayed back at Caer Lundein, and was relaying scouting reports from there. So far, the enemy had not wavered, but they were moving slower than expected for some reason and had come up one hex short of the city, giving the lancers a chance to catch them in the open field.
As they rode in chase, it became obvious why the enemy had not made it all the way to the city—they were stopping for destructive foraging. Gwalchmai had been flying his ‘hawks high enough that they could not be targets, but they also couldn’t see the land well. Where once there were farms and fields there was now burnt waste and ruined buildings. It would be many turns before this land would yield crops again. The lancers changed their song to something much grimmer.
“Well,” Cooper said to Oggie, “This is what we’re here to prevent. At least we get to fight them in the field.”
“What do you mean, we did well enough in the city.” Oggie protested.
“We got good Luckamancy. We surprised them, and we hit them with a perfectly timed charge. If they had rallied we would all be croaked. Prince Artha spread them out too much for a good rally though.”
“So, what do we do when we catch them?”
“We circle them. We attack the edges. And we keep circling them. Never let your stack stop moving; if they stop they’re croaked—and so are you. We’re going up against heavies and stabbers without our own stabbers to keep them in place. Don’t try for the croak, don’t try for the crit, just hit. Let the next unit croak him. You croak the unit that the fellow in front of you hit—or the fellow in front of him. And KEEP MOVING!”
Oggie was taken aback at the sudden shout at the end of Cooper’s speech, “Thank you for your teaching. I’ll try to put it to good use.”
Cooper clapped him on the shoulder, “I’m sure you will, lad, I’m sure you will. Now why don’t you think about what you’re going to tell your stack. We may have croaked a few stabbers in a city, but you’re not a real lancer until your first real field battle.” Cooper reined his mount up suddenly and dropped back to a different station in line, leaving Oggie alone with his thoughts and his stack.
“You are a Titan-disbanded idiot.” John Cool Train had pulled out his sax-knife and was sharpening it noisily. It didn’t help, any damage he did to it one turn would disappear the next. It was just how he was.
“I order you to speak to me more respectfully. I am your chief warlord.” Charlie Partner was walking in a tight circle, trying to think of what to do next.
“Alright, you’re an idiot, sir.” John looked up from his sword sharpening, “What? You just said, ‘more respectfully’, not ‘respectfully’—sir.”
“You Know What I Meant.” Charlie said with his teeth gritted. “And why, pray tell, do you think I’m an idiot?”
“You really don’t know, sir?” John put down his whetstone, his mouth agape. “That destructive foraging, sir. If you hadn’t ordered that then we would have an extra two move, sir. That would have gotten us into the city over there that our scouts found, sir. With the heavies, we’ve got with siege-style weapons we could have taken that piddly little level 3 without slowing down, sir. The army following us is mounted; they’ve got no siege, sir. Spending the turn in the field is an invitation to croak us, sir. Look at this terrain type, sir.” He waved his arms around. They were in a plains hex with a valley that formed a gently sloping bowl. “Plus, you agreed to that prince’s idea of a capital strike when we didn’t even know if it was a capital site, sir.”
“I don’t have to make excuses to you, but I will.” Charlie stopped pacing in a circle, and started pacing in a line. “It was the only level 5 we saw. It has the Signamancy of a capital site. And I had orders from President Bill to modify the battle plans as I saw fit, but not completely change them. When the prince said attack Caer Lundein, my orders from my ruler were to make it work. And I did. He tried that goofy archery attack and failed, even with the rhyme-o-mancer. I ordered our Thegns to rush the door with axes and hammers and *boom*, the doors come a tumblin’ down. If we had done that a turn earlier they wouldn’t have had a cavalry to ride to the rescue—they’d still be a turn away.” Charlie stopped pacing and folded his arms.
“And the destructive foraging that’s going to get us all croaked this turn, sir?”
“Might get some of us croaked. Why’d I do it? Have you looked at the treasury lately? And you can stop calling me sir every time you open your mouth.”
John Cool-Train stared into the sky and then looked with horror at his chief warlord. “What happened? I thought we were doing fine.”
“We were. Then we sent an army overseas. Then something happened last turn, but I don’t know what. I ordered that destructive foraging to keep us alive. Some of us are going to croak before the sun sets today, but I’ll bet all of us would have depopped when the sun rose tomorrow. That destructive foraging, along with however many troops are going to croak today will keep the rest of us alive.” He stopped talking to poke a finger in John’s chest. “That’s my job, keep the President’s army in the best shape I can. We fight these guys. If we survive then next turn we take that city.”
“Wouldn’t taking and razing get us more shmuckers?”
“What is the president going to do with those shmuckers? We need to live long enough to get home and find out. We can raze that city next turn. Or keep it. Or sell it to the Angles. I wish we had a Hat. Then I’d know what the President wants us to do with these locals, instead of just guessing.”
“Well there they are, sir. Only one thing to do.” John tossed his whetstone into his belt pouch and jumped up as he felt the Prytani army cross the hex boundary.
“Form up!” Chief Warlord Charlie Partner yelled out his order. “Formation Hedgehog! Prepare for cavalry charge!” The Saxmen rushed to their positions to meet the oncoming army.
“Wayull,” Warlord James Ewell drawled out, “If the Titans haven’t seen fit to give us the most puhfect terrain type, then I don’t know what. And it even looks like ouah foe is set to receive a di-rect cavalry chahge. Moah’s the pity foah them.”
“Where will you want us?” Duke Argon asked.
Reserves. Ah unduhstand you do not wish to be the tip of the lance, and that is unduhstandable foah mehcenaries, having nothing to fight foah but shmuckahs.” His contempt was fairly clear. “We will begin riding a slow, lahge circle around them and then the circle will close and we will begin croaking them. Ah want you to ride in a circle in the othah direction. If you see weakness, then fill in wheah you will be most useful. Ah trust yoah technical expahtise quite thoroughly on that mattah. We will not need yoah ‘special abilities’ until the time comes to mop up, though.”
“It might be easier if we started with a stun song.”
“We want them to react. We want them to react foolishly. They will react too slowly to save themselves. If they do not react until we staht croaking them then they will react differently and moah of my troops will croak. This is something ah devoutly wish to avoid.”
“And the dance fighting?”
“Y’all will be quite useful in the mop up when they ah reacting erratically.”
“As you say, suh, as you say.” He turned to the massed troops. “Lancers! Last tuhn we removed the enemy from Caeh Lundein. This tuhn we shall remove them from Erf itself. Foam up and staht the Circle of Croak.” He raised his lance straight up and made a small circle with the tip and then brought down sideways across his saddle.
As he began to ride out the line fell in behind him, each warlord copying his position and directing their stacks to do the same. The enemy remained stationary, watching the lancers go around them in a large circle. When the circle was complete, the last few lancers filled in the gaps where some were riding slightly farther apart. Then the Noble Gases started their circle in the other direction. Marie stayed out of it completely, writing down what she saw and sending it back to Prince Artha in Caer Lundein.
The lancers’ tactic worked perfectly at first. The outside rank of pikers was turning to follow the lancers circling them instead of just facing in the direction the lancers were coming and waiting. After several circles the pikers were all pointing in the wrong direction. When they tried to turn back they ran into each other. To his credit, Chief Warlord Cool-Train saw this and gave the order for all of them to turn at once. Now all the pikers were pointed with their spears toward the oncoming lancers.
This was where the lancers’ tactic shone, as one, the entire circle turned in and around, so they were pointing in the opposite direction of the pikers. At this point the butchery began. As each lancer moved in, the made a quick jab at the enemy line. None of the pikers croaked on the first strike, or even on the second, but on the third they began croaking like flies. A few of them, here and there, began to strike back, but before they could mount an organized attack, the lancer they had engaged was gone.
The stabbers that were filling in for them had both better luck and worse. With their shorter weapons, they could turn to meet the oncoming lancers more effectively, but they couldn’t reach them before they were speared. They started croaking more slowly, but they kept croaking.
What James Ewell did not notice was that his opposite number had been turning in a circle, following him with his eyes. Eventually, he gave an order to a heavy standing near him, who, if Ewell had been looking, he would have noticed had the ability (Ranged(special)). This Heavy picked up a swordsman next to him and hurled it out into the circle of lancers, connecting directly with James Ewell himself. The stabber was killed almost immediately, but Warlord Ewell was unsteady in his seat. When the heavy picked up another stabber and threw it, he went falling to the ground, incapacitated with a broken neck.
The lancers’ circle began to falter as they rode erratically around their fallen warlord. At this, all the Saxmen stabbers charged as one, and while many of them croaked immediately, the Circle was broken completely. Now it was the Lancers who were croaking like flies, their rhythm irreparably shattered.
Back in Caer Lundein, Prince Artha, reading the reports of the sudden failure, gave orders for the Noble Gases to take command, and for Warlord Cooper to sound retreat. The once proud lancers’ battalion was chased to the hex’s edge and kept riding until they reached the gates of Upswitch. While they had killed half the enemy host they met that turn, and killed more than they lost, they had lost half of their own force. When reckoned unit to unit, they had come out for the worse for this battle.
President Bill Come-on got his title after his king was assassinated from presiding over the council of warlords assigned to meme out justice for the assassination. The were all in the capital when the king was assassinated, and one by one they swore allegiance to him. when the last one swore, he was able to claim the capital for his own. He never changed the title though, his Turnamancer, Jim Cartown, said it would be bad for Loyalty.