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Chapter 16


The Fortress of Octavius

Kronus chooses his commanders – Expectations of the Emperor – Kronus arrives at the Fortress of Octavius and prepares for battle – Chen soldiers are haunted and harassed – Generals of the Chen gather: dimming hopes of glory – Ahgi Wynnaki brings bad news – “Will they send but a boy to fight us?” – The Chen remain to fight till the end – A cunning trap is laid for the Chen – Lake Tiberius claims forty thousand Chen soldiers – The Chen retreat in despair

 

1  So Kronus Maximillius, Imperial Tribune to the Emperor, took command of some five thousand men; and he placed over them, the man Manegus Acquilla to be as their commander.

2  Which thing caused that Manegus Acquilla should stand beside Kronus as chief advisor; and there was also chosen to command: Linus Medora, Taurus Mahroo, Victor Germanicus, Cassius Polinus and Julius Kasari; and unto each was there given one thousand men to lead into battle.

3  And gathering up the whole of his command into one, in the city of Hadriattica, Kronus did fit them for war and winter battle; and after two weeks of swift preparation, he flew the whole of his command unto the Fortress of Octavius, on the banks of the Denali.

4  For it was expected by the Emperor and the Supreme Commander also, that Kronus should hold at bay the armies of the Chen for some thirty days, wherein they might prepare the armies of the empire to fight in the northernmost province.

5  Now when Kronus and his five thousand were come unto the Fortress of Octavius, having been dropped from the air into the fortress compound; there came out to meet him, the Post Commander whose name was Borah Graccus.

6  And Kronus, upon seeing him, gave him a most respectful salute; and handing him the Emperor’s decree, he spoke, saying: “In the name of the Emperor, I now take full command of all this garrison. Tell me therefore, my good and noble Graccus, unto what place have the armies of the Chen gathered; and how stand your forces to meet them?”

7  And Graccus answered, saying: “My Lord, the Chen have fought little, choosing instead to fortify themselves some 200 miles hence, beneath the shadows of Mount Pompeus; being in force some 100,000 men.

8  Yet have we ourselves but little contact, choosing instead to scout among them and to gather such intelligence as we might need to fight them.

9  For it is certain that today they will not battle while yet their forces are not fully gathered; but on the day of their choosing, when all is made sure and ready, then will they march against us, being fierce and fully armed.

10  For we know already that it is Ahgi Wynnaki which commands them, even the Butcher of Malay; for both Manegus and I, myself, did fight against him in years past; and he is a fierce and cunning man of war, being himself the greatest general of the Chen.”

11  But Kronus, on hearing these things, stood himself most strangely calm; and turning unto Manegus, he spoke, saying: “Settle the men of our command and feed them, for I would prepare them for battle.

12  And when you are completed, bring to me the council of war, for on the morrow shall we move against the armies of the Chen, to strike hard and fierce against them.”

13  And immediately did Manegus go forth to obey, and Kronus turned to go into the private quarters of Borah Graccus, to see for himself such intelligence as was already gathered against the Chen.

14  Now when it was near the noon hour, there gathered in the office of the Post Commander, Kronus and his council of war; and they did discuss most thoroughly the reports of Borah Graccus; and when they were completed, Kronus stood forth to decide the things which they should do.

15  For he thought it best to leave the fortress in command of Graccus, giving to further support him in its defense, the command of Julius Kasari; while still Kronus would keep the greater portion to go with him to fight the Chen.

16  And Kronus spoke to the council, saying: “By the orders of the Emperor am I commanded to defend the Fortress of Octavius against the encroachments of the Chen, lest they seize it by force and thereby rob the empire of its northern resources.

17  Let us, therefore, go out to meet them and strike hard and fast against all their several parts; for why should we wait till they should be at the very walls of the fortress, when yet we can hold them between the Mountain of Pompeus and the Straits of Enjenare?”

18  For it is indeed the winter season, and the snows are deep and the winds most bitter cold. Let us, therefore, brace ourselves as warriors brave and true, and use such elements as the ally that we seek;

19  That within the folds of its harsh and cold embrace we might both hide against our enemies, while yet we strike and lash out against them with fury and dispatch.

20  For such fierce and hostile elements will hide securely, the size and force of all our numbers; causing the Chen to fortify themselves against us; being worried and most anxious themselves in defending their positions.”

21  And turning to Borah Graccus, Kronus commanded him, saying: “Only three things Graccus must you do to aid us:

22  First would I have you send through open channels, a message unto the Fortress of Caligula, saying that there has come to your rescue, some two hundred thousand men of war; being themselves the warriors of the Praetorium; this message will the Chen most likely hear.

23  Second is it needful that you provide us with such supplies as we will need against the enemy from time to time; and last would I command you to hold the fortress in constant readiness; for there will soon come to aid us, the armies of Drakonia.”

24  Such were the orders of Kronus, and even all commanders stood in firm agreement, and going out unto their troops, they did prepare them in all things of necessary importance.

25  And on the morrow, before the rising of the sun, the men of Kronus did fly themselves swiftly and in silence unto the regions of Mount Pompeus; and drawing near unto the place, they did gather themselves in four separate commands, whereby they might encompass the Chen on all their borders;

26  To strike with sudden fury in the midst of such storms as did arise most frightfully, causing the Chen to believe that there was arrayed against them a force greater than themselves.

27  For the men of Drakonia, under the command of Kronus, did harass and harry the armies of the Chen without relent; causing that the supplies of the Chen should be greatly disrupted; inflicting through their fearsome zeal, a great many shortages of food and fuel.

28  And not this only, for it was the custom of all warriors, that in the midst of battle would they fill the air with ferocious screams and shouts whereby they might frighten their enemies with the savagery of their fearsome roaring.

29  Yet did Kronus forbid the making of any noise whatsoever, whether in or out of battle, but bound his men to silence only; for he knew that in the shouting of his men would the Chen discern for themselves, the smallness of his force.

30  Thus did Kronus make as one the silence of the north and the silence of his men; and the Chen began to fear the stillness and quietness of the frozen waste, being haunted and most anxious because of it.

31  Causing that the soldiers of the Chen should see in cold mist and blowing snow, the shadows of some lurking doom which would but reach out suddenly to destroy them in their place.

32  For this cause did the Chen fortify their positions whereby they might defend themselves against the terror which did move and prowl about them; and the days did pass into weeks, and the Chen grew desperate of their plight.

33  And on a certain day there gathered into the command post of Ahgi Wynnaki, the generals and commanders of the Chen; and there spoke unto Ahgi Wynnaki, the eldest and most senior of the generals, saying:

34  “My Lord, we must leave this place, for our men are cold and hungry, and fear and terror have pressed hard against the fiercest of men; causing that they should tremble and shake in constant terror of this frozen land.

35  For we have lost already some ten thousand men in just five weeks only, being ourselves outnumbered and surrounded by the warriors of Drakonia; for we are lacking in men and supplies, and cannot take the Fortress of Octavius ourselves.

36  For we are alone and cut off in this strange and hostile land, seeing that the greater part of all our forces are still across the Straits of Ming Gai, being unable to cross over to aid us.

37  Let us therefore abandon this campaign and return to our own lands; for if we stay, then shall even everyone of us die also, and the standards of our Emperor shall fall in shame and dishonor, to lie buried beneath the snow and bitter wind.”

38  Now when Ahgi Wynnaki heard these things, he reached forth and laid upon the table a secret report which all others knew not of; and he spoke unto his generals with a heavy sigh, saying:

39  “We are all but dead already. For our forces are unable to cross the waters unto us, not because of such foul and bitter weather as you do see, but because the navies of Drakonia have fought against us upon the seas, a great and fearsome battle.

40  And even now do all our forces lie swallowed up in cold and watery graves, and we are alone, having for ourselves no further aid with which to gain the victory.

41  For it is now certain that we were lured by Drakonia unto this dreadful place; being seduced ourselves into believing that in this region were the Drakonians weak and falsely secure; causing that we should seek for ourselves some advantage.

42  Thus did we invade them with hopes of glory and of plunder; gathering in our commands some five hundred thousand men of war and valor; and we ourselves did rush into the vanguard, being hopeful of some greater fame and honor.

43  But now are our hopes banished and crushed before us, and the sweetness of our dreams made sour and filled with bitterness;

44  For when we had landed upon the shores of this frozen waste, both us and our hundred thousand; then did the navies of Drakonia slip in behind us upon the seas, to cut us off from the greater portion of our command; and even now are we made to dangle as some pale and useless thing.

45  Now do I perceive more deeply the cunning of Drakonia; for they did intend from the very beginning to invade the land of the Chen.

46  Yet did they seek first to rid the Chen of their greatest generals beforehand, whereby they might seize more easily the treasures of our home.

47  Look you, therefore, among yourselves; for here in this very room are there gathered the greatest generals of the Chen; and here do we wait the gathering doom; for I know already that the man which harries us night and day is Kronus Maximillius.”

48  And when they heard this, the generals were dismayed and insulted altogether, and one of them spoke hotly, saying: “Will they send a boy to fight us? Would they give to this youth, some two hundred thousand men of war?”

49  But Ahgi Wynnaki answered him, saying: “We, ourselves, were once but boys made brave and fearless; and yet in the days of our youth did we gain both fame and honor in the arts of war, even as this Kronus now does.”

50  Then did the eldest of the generals speak again unto his commander, saying: “What then shall we do, my lord? If all be hopeless and we are doomed, what shall we do? For we have no means to get ourselves home again.”

51  And Ahgi Wynnaki answered him, saying: “To die in battle is better than to perish from cold and hunger. Let us, therefore, hold on to this frozen place; for as long as we are here alive, then shall Drakonia be unable to invade the land of the Chen.

52  Go now to your several commands, and comb out from among our ranks, those which are weak and dead already, and give their bodies as meat unto our troops; for the wind is cold and the sum of all our commands grow weaker and weaker before us.”

53  Such were the words of Ahgi Wynnaki, and all which heard did even as he commanded; and the Chen did remain in their fortifications for yet another week, but on a certain morning the weather broke, and the wind ceased its roaring, and the snows of winter fell no longer.

54  And there rushed into the command post of Kronus, a scout which did most quickly salute his commander, being himself anxious and filled with excitement; and he spoke unto Kronus, saying: “My Lord, the Chen are on the move. And they are going to the Fortress of Octavius.”

55  When Kronus heard these words, he dismissed the scout again to his post, and turning to his signal man, he spoke, saying: “Call to me all commanders and bring them to me, for the Chen are moving.”

56  Thus did there gather unto Kronus, even all his commanders; and he spoke unto them, saying: “The Chen are moving swiftly unto the Fortress of Octavius; yet do I know that they are most desperate men filled with dread.

57  Which thing will cause that they should take the shortest and most direct route unto the fortress, causing that they must cross the frozen waters of Lake Tiberius.”

58  And hearing this, Manegus Acquilla laughed aloud, and all other commanders did smile and shake their heads in amazement; for they knew that they would soon win against the Chen a great victory.

59  For when first they had come to fight against the Chen, Kronus had mined the surface of the lake; burying within the ice a great many explosive charges, perchance to catch the Chen in some great trap.

60  Now Kronus ordered that the flanks of the Chen be harassed continually, and that there be placed before the Chen, a force which would stand and withdraw, and then stand and withdraw again and again, fighting with furious zeal in trying to prevent the Chen from crossing the frozen waters of the lake.

61  Thus would Kronus guide the Chen into the most cunning trap of all. And eagerly did the men of Kronus follow the order of their commander; and for six days did they harass and confront the Chen with deadly fury.

62  But on the seventh day did the Chen seem to sweep away from before them the forces of Drakonia, to stand themselves unopposed upon the shores of Lake Tiberius.

63  And there began to cross upon the surface of the lake, the forces of the Chen; and when there was upon the frozen ice a great many of the Chen, then did Kronus give command; and there suddenly exploded all the charges within the ice, and there perished that day some forty thousand of the Chen; being drowned in the waters beneath the ice.

64  And there stood to watch at the rear of all his forces, Ahgi Wynnaki; for both he and his generals did stand upon the shores, having yet to cross over themselves.

65  And seeing the death of so many, Ahgi Wynnaki did shake his head in deep despair; and with a sullen word, he commanded that they should go again unto their fortifications beneath the shadows of Mount Pompeus, and there await their certain doom.

66  Yet did the Drakonians follow hard upon them; striking here, hitting there; even until there should fall of the Chen another five thousand.

67  And there began to blow the fearsome winds of the north, shrieking and howling against the land; and there returned upon the winds, the fury of the falling snow.

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