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Tales from the Front - the Eve of the War

by Rob

So, curious about the War are you? Well, for the price of a pint of that excellent mustard ale... Ahh, excellent my young man. I do so hate to talk with a dry throat these days... Anyway, where to begin? Old Diogenes has seen quite a lot in his own youth, I can tell you...

Well, when the war broke out at the start of 1005 I was but a humble worker in a textile mill in Port Lucinius. They always needed strong cloth for the sails, you see, so there was a lot of call for people there who could weave. Well, making sails might be good for some people, but when the call to arms came out and the Emperor asked every able bodied man in the Empire to do his part, I went straight over to one of the barracks and enlisted.

Before too long I was part of the 3rd Reserve, and they set us to work training. I never was much of a rider, so after the first test I ended up in the sixth cohort - heavy infantry. So happened, with the naval base nearby, I didn't even get to travel, they had us at it in the fields just outside the town. It was even worse than the mill, I tell you - I mean, I didn't mind all the exercise, but the constant drilling - close order drill was the worst, to this day I never knew why that was a part of... What's that? Ahh, the impatience of youth, you want to hear about the fighting parts, eh?

Well, alright then. Well, as you know, West Portage fell within a couple of weeks, to the shock of everyone in Port Lucinius. That was bad for the Empire of course, but it did mean that they moved us out from Lucinius straight over to the Isle of Dawn, which meant no more of this "officer" with the gold braid shouting in my ear all the time. Well, anyway, apparently the high ups were convinced the Alphatians weren't going to pause at West Portage, so to cut a long story short we ended up in some little wood south of Newkirk, just at the foot of a few low hills. Well, our Commander, man named Cornelius who had been in the infantry probably since the days of Zendrolion (well, he looked like it anyway), wasn't too happy about that and had to go to Newkirk where our great Praefect was based to get us moved somewhere else. A bit of firebrand, was Cornelius, he wanted us to hit the Alphatians while they were regrouping at West Portage, but the High Command wasn't having it. Pity what happened to him, if we had more like him the War would have been different, I reckon.

Anyway, seems he didn't try hard enough, because we were sitting in that forest for nigh on two months. We heard some pretty dismal stories from troops coming past us from further east, skirmishers, but we hadn't even seen one Alphatian foot soldier at that point. Well, one day me n Olwen, young man they brought up from the Hinterlands just a few weeks before, were up in the observation tent up on that hill, when we saw a dust cloud off to the east. It was early in the day, and the cursed sun stopped us from seeing exactly what it was. So I left Olwen up there while I went back to the cohort down in the woods so I could report, where, seemingly by coincidence, the Commander was back. Said he felt that something was up, and at his age he had learned to rely on his instincts. Well, he moved the entire cohort just behind the top of the hill, and we lay in wait there, for whatever it was.

Well, it was cavalry of course, Alphatian. Never did know exactly what division they were from, but they were some sort of scout unit. Cornelius sent a runner off to the north, to find the Fourth, who were supposed to be covering our flank, but the cavalry were moving a lot faster than we thought and they were almost upon us by nightfall. Not having much choice, having been ordered by the praefect to mind these woods, we ambushed them in this little cut off on one side of the hill, where they tried to ride up. We sent a volley of javelins into them, which certainly gave them a shock, I can tell you. We thought we were pretty well concealed in the trees and in the boulders, but they seemed to see us anyway, and before too long I was standing there, Olwen at my side, with what looked like about fifty cavalry lances aimed at me.

Anyway, where was I? Hmm, this mugs getting a mite empty again, I don't suppose... Hmm, seems they pay you a lot more than the legions ever payed me... *chuckle*

Well, of course, I'm still here, so I didn't end up skewered by some cavalryman's lance point. There were a lot less than I thought at the time, you see, by the time they got to the tree line our archers had thinned them out quite a lot. A couple of lancers got into the trees, one of them just a couple yards over to my right. Course, being green and all, I forgot everything that I was supposed to learnt back at Lucinius and Olwen and I left our place and we went over to try and stop him. The Alphie was looking in the wrong direction, luckily for us, he had just given another of our fellows - by the Immortals, I can't remember his name now - a poke with his lance. Anyway, I took a stab at him with my spear, but it glanced off the mans chainmail leggings without much effect. Olwen didn't do much better, as the Alphie dropped his lance and pulled out a sabre. He turned and looked at me, and I got a good look his face - he was lot older than me, and more rough looking, certainly not what I expected from one of these "soft Alphatians" we kept hearing about back in Lucinius. I thought "we're for it now!" and suddenly I wanted to be back in that textile mill I was telling you about earlier, when a horn sounded from the distance, and the Alphie suddenly turned his horse and galloped full tilt back where he came from.

One look at the poor man he lanced told me he was in a bad way, I was just about to search for the chaplain when suddenly there's a shout from "Archers!" so i scrambled to get this lad out the way quick, just as a hail of arrows rained down around us. Aside from scaring us a bit, they didn't do a whole lot, but by the time we got the line reformed the Alphie cavalry was long gone.

Cornelius was a bit disappointed by the outcome, but it was only just a skirmish really. We lost a couple of men, including the lad standing to next to me, but the Alphies didn't come out of it unscathed either. Looked to us like they were regulars, and when the praefect heard that, well, that was it. Seemed that he was a senator no less, and apparently he was in the legions for some obscure reason back home - well, whatever reason it was, it wasn't to do the right thing, which is why I was there. Our good praefect valued his command more than he valued his honour, anyway, and he pulled a few strings to have us pulled back to Newkirk. A (trustworthy) friend of mine who was posted to his command staff tells me he was worried that he might lose his position if we got hammered to badly by the Alphies at any point, and that he was eager to wait for some other Exercitii to take a beating before us.

Course, he didn't always have a choice - even a Praefect is not an Immortal on Mystara after all. That's another story though.

What's that? You wanted something a bit more than this? Well, luckily for us the Alphies didn't have any dragons on their side so I can't resort to that old cliché (well, not that I ever met anyway). Yes, I've got a few more stories too, but that's enough for tonight I think. You've had your eight silvers worth, lad... There'll be time enough for more talk later.


And with that, the old legionary gets to his feet, and shuffles out of the pub onto the darkened streets of Biazzan, leaving the small crowd of interested youths who had gathered behind him.

But Diogenes Akritios will return!