Elf Boy's Friends - VII
The first action by the Amazons in the eastern campaign, as the mages now called it, was an all-out bombardment of the troll base camp on the shore of the sea of reeds, the location from which the enemy hoped to dig their own access canal. The air corps of autogyros, now numbering fourteen and piloted by Amazon fetchers, dropped incendiaries refined from local rock oil to set the entire installation on fire. Warehouses, barracks, armories, storehouses, stables, and granaries burned furiously. The smoke rose as from a funeral pyre to mark the beginning of the end of troll ambitions in Amazonia.
The Amazons' new air corps had given a good account of themselves against a stationary target. The next time they flew into battle it would be against a army formed for battle. The bombings also took the attention of the trolls away from the movements of the Amazon ground forces. Thus the Amazons managed to bring their entire field army unmolested through the sea of reeds and deployed them in preparation for receiving the attack on the oncoming horde of trolls.
The Amazon army had crossed the sea of reeds under the watchful eye of Queen Seerah and the army commander General Marlina. The general commanded the army. The queen was really there to show the flag and to share the discomforts of the campaign and the fate of her army and with it that of her people, for if their Army were swept aside, the Amazon state would fall.
Councilor Vannsetta presided over the government back at the capital. In theory, the council could appoint a new queen if anything happened to Seerah, but realistically the new queen would not occupy her throne for long, not after the genocidal trolls ravaged the land.
Though all the fighters in the army were women, there were plenty of young males serving with them in supporting roles as riggers, laborers, cooks, and litter bearers. Unarmed except for camp knives, unarmored, and unclothed, they were all volunteers. Their motivation was more than just the greater privileges and comforts the had been promised once the war was over. They knew the trolls would kill them too. Besides, anyone could see that under the new dispensation, males were getting a better deal than they had in the past. That better future was something worth saving.
No plan long survives first contact with the main strength of the enemy, and that rule certainly applied in this campaign. Instead of the Amazons attacking the trolls while they were already engaged with the brontotheres, it was going to be the other way around.
The deployment of the Amazon army had drawn the attention of the oncoming horde of trolls. There was nothing else for it, but for the women to give battle first. Once the attention of the trolls was on them, the brontotheres would attack.
Now the Amazon army was not alone in this fight. In direct support they had the twins, Count Klarendes, Aodh, and Corwin who would wield powerful magic against the common foe. Karel stood with the left wing, Jemsen took his post in the center, while the three members of the Klarendes clan were on the right. With them were liaison officers and messengers to keep them apprised of the general's intentions and wishes.
Forty thousand trolls formed a shield wall facing half as many Amazons. They jeered at mere women who had the effrontery to challenge troll males on the field of battle. Some stepped forward and clutched themselves down there and thrust their hips lewdly, making very clear the fate which would befall any Amazons taken alive.
Realistically the trolls did not think there would be very many left for their army to rape, certainly not enough to go around. But once the army of women army was brushed aside, the trolls could rape their way through their entire population, males as well as females.
The trolls had long preferred to "forage" for females and young males from all races who would be raped before they were killed. And the conquest of the land of the Amazons would be doubly satisfactory. First it would give the trolls the chance to put an entire race of uppity females in their place. Afterwards the trolls could turn their attentions to the ineffectual and reputedly effeminate males the Amazons had long dominated.
The orgy of rape and rapine was no more than the soldiers in the troll army were entitled to. After all troll armies on campaign never dragged along a gaggle of camp followers to slake the lusts of their males. It was deemed better to accept a little bad morale than the encumbrance of a bunch of females and hangers-on and look to the lands they conquered to provide outlets for the sexual urges of the soldiers.
The troll infantry advanced on the Amazons, their cavalry spread out on their flanks ready to exploit the imminent breakthrough. The troll infantry brandished their long-hafted axes and shouted war cries and threats. When their archers got close enough they loosed an arrow storm which fell on the Amazons. Companies of troll archers advanced leapfrog fashion after every few shots. The Amazons took many casualties, poorly protected as they were by light wicker shields. That was the price they paid to lure the trolls who used long bows into crossbow range.
That was when Jemsen levitated via gravitational repulsion for a final look-see then set himself down in front of the Amazons shield wall and invoked his earth magic, digging a deep trench and piling the dirt he had excavated into a berm behind which the Amazons could take cover as they wielded their crossbows.
Now it was the turn of the trolls to experience an arrow storm with no way to reply. Oh, their archers had long bows which could loft arrows over the berm, but firing blindly was very much hit and miss and mostly miss. Most important, such high angle fire could not hit the Amazons on the firing line but only those farther back who were more spread out. The contest between crossbow and long bow was now very uneven.
The trolls were also under attack by the Amazon air corps which shuttled autogyros over the troll positions and dropped incendiaries. Kegs of combustible oils hit the ground and burst open, splashing the trolls and catching fire from red hot steel or lead balls dropped with the kegs.
The troll general saw that those in his front ranks were taking heavy losses with nothing to show for it. He tried to disengage, but Jemsen created another trench which trapped half his infantry, splitting it from the rest of the army which could no longer maneuver in support of the forward elements. He gave the order for his cavalry to move out to beyond the deep gash in the earth and charge the Amazons, hoping to roll up their line.
That was when the twins traded places. Karel would now hold the center while Jemsen invoked earth magic again, this time against cavalry attacking the left flank. Karel's air wizardry was being held in reserve.
From his vantage point in the sky Jemsen watched till the enemy cavalry got about halfway before pockmarking the ground they charged over with hundreds of gopher holes. Invisible in the two foot high grass, the gopher holes were twice the width of a hoof and more than a foot deep, ensuring a crippling injury to any equine which stepped into one.
With cavalry charging at top speed the holes did what Jemsen wanted them to: trip up, their mounts, break their legs, throw their riders to the ground, and crush both in an unholy tangle of broken bones, tormented horseflesh, and wounded and dying riders, which made easy targets for the crossbows of the Amazons on that flank.
On the right, Count Klarendes waited for the Amazon general's signal then cut loose with white fire scything the riders down by the hundreds, going at it again and again. He had no worries about a psychic backlash from killing large numbers of trolls. It was not like killing eastern barbarians who, after all, were fellow humans. Nor did the slain trolls leave grisly remains behind. Troll, horses, weapons, and equipment all disintegrated and became of a part of the stream of white fire which dispersed into the atmosphere once Taitos cut off the magical energy that created white fire.
Corwin helped out with his new technique of hurling explosive balls of lighting into the midst of the charging cavalry which burst with a flash and an electric crackle electrocuting or tearing apart horse and rider and leaving grisly piles of disjointed limbs, guts, and charred body parts.
"Good work, nephew," Count Klarendes told him with pardonable exaggeration, "Your explosive technique is nearly as effective as my white fire, if rather messier." White fire left no remains behind.
Back on the left flank Jemsen was still levitated over to the left wing trying to see what else he might do to help. Karel himself stood by the berm to provide a missile shield for the Amazon archers, one he could raise and drop at an instant and extend the length of the berm. The archers would fire a dozen arrows from their repeating crossbows, then, while they reloaded, Karel called up a lens of hardened air to block the return fire from troll long bows. Together his shield and the berm Jemsen had thrust up neutralized the arrow storm tactics of the trolls.
On the left a squad of horse archers suddenly broke loose from the confusion and circling past the gopher holes rode up close to the Amazons shooting arrows from their short recurved bows before peeling away. The results were most unfortunate. One of the shafts caught Jemsen in the belly.
"Nooo!" Karel screamed as he saw his airborne brother transfixed by the shaft, then drop and hit the ground heavily. While Amazon crossbows, lightning casters and sparklers gave covering fire, nude male litter bearers ran out onto the field and carried the wounded youth to safety.
Karel ran over at breakneck speed, assisted by a jet of wind at his back. He found Jemsen in terrible pain but still alive. His brother was sorely hurt, but the lady healers would surely save his life. If there was one area of magic in which the Amazons excelled it was Healing.
Much as he wanted to stay at his brother's side Karel knew he would just get in the way of the healers. After thanking the brave litter bearers, Karel's turned his powers to making sure that none of the cavalry on the left would ever again hurt his twin so grievously. Invoking air magic, he created a trio of sun mirrors, which were mirages in the sky made of hardened air. Two flat mirrors reflected the sun into a parabolic mirror focussed on the troll cavalry, creating a beam of intense heat which he swept from side to side.
Neither ordinary combustion nor the subatomic plasma called white fire but simply the reflected heat energy of the sun, Karel's beam was nowhere near so hot as white fire but was ten times hotter than the flames and fireballs of a firecaster.
Visible more as a shimmer in the air than as a beam of light, it scorched the ground and incinerated the hostile force. In that intense heat horse and rider did not simply burn; they flash charred into ashen simulacra of rider and mount, which, lacking cohesion, slumped into formless piles of cinders. Not satisfied there, Karel returned to the center and stood on the berm behind a shield of hardened air, then repositioned his mirrors and directed his beam at the remaining archers on the far side of the berm which Jemsen had thrown up. All nearby threats removed, he broke off to attend to his brother.
The healers had saved Jemsen's life and magically repaired the perforated abdominal wall and the damage to the viscera from the arrow and cleansed the wound of filth and infection. Jemsen had landed on his right side and broken both arm and leg and cracked some ribs, but their magic had knit his bones whole again too. Still he was advised to stay off his feet for a few days while his bones knit fully and his system adjusted to the shock.
Jemsen's ordeal left him weak and put him out of the fight though he would make a full recovery in a few days. Karel slumped with relief, sitting shakily on the next cot.
"We gotta stay close, Jemsen, so we can protect each other. I can't help thinking that if I been at your side, I could have protected you, that is us, with a shield of hardened air which would have deflected that arrow."
"Don't blame yourself, Karel. If it was anyone's fault it was my own for showing off like that, levitating over the battlefield as if I were the monarch of all I surveyed. My silly pride made me a target. But you are right about staying close. From now on we'll do things as we always have — side by side, in war as in peace."
"And in bed too." Karel added with a weak grin. The poor joke was Karel's way of relieving stress.
The brothers smiled and embraced as Taitos, Corwin, and Aodh looked on, eyes glistening. They all knew how terribly close the twins were.
The Amazons did not wait for supply wagons to come up from the rear. Instead they marched around the ends of Jemsen's trench and recovered many of the arrows they had expended. With full quivers they were ready for the next phase of the battle. While they were at it, they used their spears to finish off any wounded trolls. That was the logic of hard war: no quarter and no prisoners.
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