Greetings! Here’s Part Eight of the Border. If you’ve missed the first seven parts, I’ve compiled them into one hand post here. To summarize, this short story follows the attempts of two men, one Eastern Roman, one Western Roman, to work together to defeat a barbarian raiding party with a scant amount of men and materials. Things get interesting from there. Enjoy!
Odiscus laughed as the barbarians ran before him. His men cheered as they fled back down the street. A few slipped and were trampled by their comrades in the haste to get away from the advancing Romans. With his units spread thin, Odiscus didn’t dare release his men to chase them, trusting to the cavalry and archers to wipe out what they could get. Can’t believe I’m saying to trust the cavalry, but there we go. The pounding sounds of hooves and baying yells of their riders reached his ears, along with other, more desperate cries.
It had been touch and go for a few moments when the front line of warriors had surprised his men, coming out from behind the blacksmith’s shop. Only when their champion was gutted did the rest of the men flee in panic.
“Send messengers to both subunits – advance and herd the Quadi forward into the fields.” Injured messengers raced away. No more healthy men could be spared for such an errand. His own reserves had long since been dispersed into his ranks, and he estimated he had just two thirds of his original force ready for battle.
But it didn’t matter if they could decimate these raiders. Once broken, they wouldn’t be able to reform, making easy pickings for their cavalry allies. If the praefecti is still alive, I owe that man a drink. His smile quickly turned into a frown as the cavalry galloped back across the blacksmith’s yard.
“They’re counterattacking!” one of the riders yelled at him as he passed. Odiscus turned to his men to shout orders when a wave of arrows flew overhead.
“Yes!” Tribune Lumari’s archers had finally rejoined the fight. Arrows rained down in the wake of the horsemen’s retreat covering them and sloughing down scores of Quadi. “Shieldwall!” Odiscus managed to order, his men forming a thin line across the yard. But it didn’t matter as the Quadi broke again. Odiscus handed his spear to his draconis and took the banner, waving it left and right furiously in the direction of the archers. The arrow fire soon stopped. Thank God they recognized my signal.
“No one wants to die by their own side’s arrow, sir.” one of the men said, smiling. Odiscus nodded in return, his normally bluff exterior broken for a moment. The battle seemed to have shifted elsewhere, but they still had work to do.
“We’ll advance to that out building. The entire situation is a mess, we’ll see if we can link up with the rest of our units.” The half mile to the out building seemed to take an eternity to cross, as his men stepped over the dead and dying. Occasionally one of his limitanei would reach down to spear an injured Quadi. Every man knew that none of them would be offered any mercy by the barbarians, so no mercy was offered to them. Odiscus felt torn for a second, as his faith dictated care for the injured or hurt.
But none for the heathen. And these were not his heathens.
His men finally reached the wall.
“Spread out along here.” He gestured with his own spear. Cheers rang out along the line as more of his own men appeared on the flanks, Subtribune Corsis waving a greeting as he lead his men to rejoin the line. More than I hoped for. Perhaps this battle wouldn’t cost them as much as he thought.
More horns blew out across the field. Rally. Odiscus thought. He could see the entire north end of the valley now, as knots of Roman cavalry chased down fleeing groups of barbarians. He leaned his spear against the wall, taking a knee. Thank you father, for your protection and shield, for your guidance and support in this victory here. He prayed. Several men around him echoed his gestures. As he stood back up, he observed the cavalry reforming, the small knots coming together until ranks were reestablished.
They had taken a beating. More than half of them were gone or missing, but Odiscus was pleased to see the draconis banner still waving from the center. The group moved towards them with purpose, but slowly. A few Quadi still ran behind them, their minute forms disappearing into the forests to the north. For some reason, he had a sinking feeling there would be more returning.
Perula’s men finally arrived. The limitanei had not been idle, locating and caring for their wounded and collecting loose weapons from all over the field. The extra spears would be most useful, a great tool to equip any new recruits. Especially considering they seemed to have been looted from a Roman arsenal in the first place.
“Praefecti.” Odiscus saluted the western leader. The man looked positively horrible, his skin flush and armor covered with blood. His horse whinnied, no doubt exhausted.
“Tribune. I am most heartened to see you’re alive. Mind if my men take a break behind yours? I’ve sent for our wagon train. The Quadi will not be back today. We’ve run them off.” He dismounted, pain evident on his face. “May I offer my sincerest thanks to you and your men? It was only with there help that we could have even attempted this.” Odiscus smiled, the compliment unexpected but not unappreciated. He nearly forgot his dislike of the stuffy westerner.
“It was an honor.” The two men clasped arms, the moment of understanding raising spirits all around.