Hello everyone! Welcome back! I hope your holiday season is off to a smashing start, I know mine is! To break up my monotony and get my brain working on different angles for Steel Praetorian, I decided to catch up on my short story – The Border – so here is part 7 for your enjoyment. If you forgot everything that was going on, here’s a link to Part 1 to enjoy the story from the beginning.
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Perula clung to his horse, blood oozing down his injured arm. He could feel it mixing with the dampness of the rain. This is turning into a real disaster, he thought, as he urged his mount onward. He had to reach his men and rally them before they left the Easterners in the lurch.
The horse galloped faster now, racing east as he attempted to get around the ends of the line. Finally, a last knot of lancerii holding the flank waved to him as he turned and moved northwards. If his sub-commanders were still alive, he’d flay them for fleeing at such a critical moment. We must show our allies that we are reliable. Or we’ll never be able to request support from them again! Never mind getting them to trust us again.
Fields and barns flew by. He had to stop several times to get his bearings and blink rain water from his eyes. He had lost his helmet somewhere back, and now he was simply a disheveled looking cavalryman. His scale armor seemed heavier now, his eyelids drooping frequently. He forced himself awake again, forced himself forward.
In the distance, he could hear the trumpet call of his cavalry squadrons. Sounds like they’ve rallied, by God’s good grace he thought, a small amount of shock worming its way into his brain. Roman cavalry was notorious for its poor morale and the ease with which it broke and ran during combat.
“Damn horsemen.” He said, his voice dry. Thought I had trained you all better.
He rode over a small hill and found himself surrounded by a knot of about three score equites. They cried out in surprise at the sight of their leader. Men quickly dismounted to help him off his horse.
“We must go back. Now.” He ordered, straining to make his voice heard. “Locate the rest of the men. Immediately!” The sudden arrival of their praefecti had infused some confidence back into his men. The file leader came up, leaning on his spear.
“We saw you go down, sir. It looked like the infantry were breaking.”
“The infantry are not breaking. They’re dying back there for us, semissalis.” The man hung his head slightly, looking ashamed. “We have no time for that, soldier. Gather who you can. We must return. We cannot leave the Easterners to the fate we pulled them into.” A medico appeared from the ranks and began to tend to Perula while his messengers gathered his men. He quickly produced needle and thread, and began stitching the wound on his arm together.
“This will hurt, sir.” He warned. Perula gritted his teeth.
“Better hurt than dead, Olionios” The man’s mouth gave a twitch that might have been considered a grin eight hours ago, but now was just resignation. “How long to bring in the men?” He asked the junior officer, the semissalis. The man climbed onto his horse and craned his head around.
“It looks like Verdain has found some of our men to the east. Maybe a score or so. I can’t see Gaius from here. Can we counter-attack with only eighty men, sir? The Quadi will outnumber us the instant we strike.”
Perula winced for a moment as the needle bit deep. Fresh blood oozed down his arm, the medico dabbing at his arm with a grimy rag. “We have no choice. The infantry will be massacred without support from us. We will break them on the charge.” He gritted his teeth, voice coming out in a grunt. “Besides, we were outnumbered in the first place.” The junior officer nodded sharply, before saluting.
“I apologize for not rallying the men sooner, Praefecti Perula. I will submit myself to whatever punishment you deem fit. I have failed Rome.”
“You have failed no one yet. You kept these men together, and now we will use them to strike back.” At that moment the foretold arrival of the additional score of equites rode in.
“My lord!” Several cried out, at seeing the doctor work on him. He waved them away. “Prepare yourselves for battle. We will not leave the easterners to die alone.” The doctor stepped back, wiping his grimy hands on a blood-stained apron.
“You’re as ready as you can be now, sir.” The man said. “Be careful not to tear those stitches.”
He turned to the junior officer. “Do you have any spare equipment? I seemed to have lost my spear and shield earlier.” The semissalis motioned to another equites, who disappeared for a moment, returning with a helmet, a shield, and a spear.
“Tornax was with us, until he took a bad fall from his horse. He met a tree on the way down.” His voice carried no emotion. It was simply a part of being an equites, a cavalryman.
“Very well.” Perula took a moment to strap the helmet onto his head. He climbed up onto his horse. Turning his horse south, towards the sound of battle, Perula raised his spear. “Are you ready to make amends, men of Rome?” He shouted to his men. They cheered, banging their spears against their shields. Horses whinnied and pawed at the ground.
Perhaps we have a chance.