Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa (2 page)

BOOK: Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa
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“They are almost the match of your Anusiyan bodyguards,” he said dryly.

Cyrus looked at them and then to his own troops. Clearchus sensed a moment of confusion, or perhaps doubt about the man. Was he worried about the loyalty of these ten men, or perhaps that they might even best his personally chosen guards? He rested his chin in his right hand before straightening up and turning to face the room. He clapped his hands, and the marching stopped. The open space inside the Royal Chamber was vast, but the large group of nearly two hundred warriors still paled into insignificance next to the columns and finery on display. All eyes were on Cyrus as he continued. He spoke in his own tongue for almost a minute before turning back to the three Terrans. The space turned to a hive of activity as the Anusiyan warriors redeployed themselves into a circular formation that left a large gap in the middle almost fifty metres in diameter.

“Perhaps a demonstration of their skills might interest you?” asked Cyrus.

Clearchus looked to his two
topoteretes
who in turn tried to nod politely, without betraying their amusement at the idea of a martial demonstration by what they considered to be effeminate slavers.

“Of course. Might you be interested in seeing how they fare against Terran soldiers? An honourable trial for the pleasure of the assembled Legion?”

Cyrus nodded, the idea apparently appealing to him greatly. Ariaeus, on the other hand, seemed less than impressed. He started to speak, and Clearchus was certain he recognised a few of the words, specifically those related to Terrans. Cyrus lifted his hands to stop him.

“Lord Ariaeus, in English if you please, in the presence of our esteemed guests.”

Ariaeus scowled at Clearchus and started again.

“My Lord Emperor, this was supposed to be a demonstration of our own people. Is this necessary?”

Cyrus looked to Clearchus.

“Do you have any regulars that could participate in this contest?” he asked.

“Regulars?” he responded with scorn. “All of my warriors are trained and ready for battle whenever it may be demanded of them.”

Ariaeus smiled as he looked about the Royal Chamber.

“Where are these warriors of yours, Strategos?” he asked with the contempt dripping from his mouth.

Kleandridas leaned in and whispered quietly into his commander’s ear. Clearchus listened intently before indicating for him to step back. He then ignored Ariaeus and spoke instead to Cyrus.

“My Lord, I have a small contingent here from the crippled warship Vendetta. You will recall they were the ones that broke through this very chamber and helped secure this vessel.”

Cyrus nodded in recognition.

“Of course, they were under the command of Dukas Xenias, were they not? So the same warriors that have been protecting my niece these last weeks?”

“Yes, my Lord. If you recall, they were made the personal guards of Lady Artemas, under the command of Dekarchos Xenophon of the Spatharii. They are waiting with Lady Artemas outside the Royal Gates.”

Cyrus turned his head and looked to the massive doors once more. Their official name was the Royal Gates, due to the fact that they guarded the entrance to the Royal Chamber but also because they would only open to those of Royal blood. This would include him; Satraps of the Empire and of course his niece.

“Bring forth Lady Artemas,” he called out.

On cue, the great doors opened with barely a sound. Dwarfed by their height, emerged the slender figure of the Medes woman. Her eyes glowed, and her skin seemed even paler than Cyrus’, not that it was actually possible. To the surprise of those in the chamber, she wore a mixture of Terran and Medes clothing, something that was unheard of in the Empire. As expected, she wore a Medes close fitting black corset and tightly fitting trousers. On top of this, she sported an assortment of light Terran armour that had been modified and crafted to her athletic figure. She looked every part a Royal woman but in the garb of a Terran princess. Clearchus gasped at her beauty as she marched into the room, flanked by four spatharii, the generic term given to the Terran heavy infantry. She stopped in front of Cyrus and bowed.

“Uncle.”

He nodded in acknowledgement, noting she hadn’t used the Imperial being used by most of his subjects. Even so, she had bowed down to recognise his sovereignty. He looked to her four comrades. Two were male, one an older woman and the fourth, a girl with flowing blue hair. All four wore the uniforms and armour of the Arcadian military and the markings of Xenias, their Dukas.

“My dear niece. Your choice of clothing is, well, perhaps a little cosmopolitan for this audience.”

She lifted herself back up and returned to her guards.

“Hardly, Uncle. I asked for, and have been given, an official position as scout with the Arcadian contingent that has reinforced the troops aboard Poseidon.”

“What?” growled Ariaeus, now turning his attention to Clearchus.

“A noblewoman of the Medes has no place aboard a Terran warship, not least one of your harbingers of devastation.”

Clearchus raised an eyebrow at his description.

“Harbinger of devastation?” he asked, looking to Kleandridas. “I like that.”

His comments simply infuriated Ariaeus further. It took the intervention of Cyrus once more to calm the situation.

“Enough. My niece has proven on more than one occasion her worth and her independence. As a freewoman in the Empire, it is for her to choose where she will go and with whom she will associate. If Lady Artemas wishes to spend her time with the spatharii of the Terran Titan Poseidon, then that is the way it shall be.”

He turned to the crowd of warriors.

“Now, back to more important affairs. The demonstration.”

Ariaeus turned and approached the circle of soldiers. Each stepped aside as he moved closer so that he could move through and stand at the front. Cyrus walked away to do the same, with Lady Artemas and her escort following, when he spotted Clearchus hadn’t moved.

“We need Terrans for this demonstration also,” he explained, gesturing with his hand. Clearchus nodded politely and indicated for his
topoteretes
to follow him. It didn’t take long for them all to be in position and looking inward at the open space.

Cyrus stepped into the middle so that all of them might see him and turned to look at each of them in turn. It took almost a full minute before he actually started to speak, but the illusion of speaking to them as individuals instead of a group had been cemented. He started in his own tongue while Ariaeus translated for the Terrans.

“You are all warriors. Some as Terrans, most as Medes, and all have been blooded in battle. You are here because your skills and expertise have raised you up and above the common soldier to be a guardian, a protector of your leaders. The battle of Khorram is long over, and our fleet is ready for the next stage. Today you will demonstrate to me, to Lord Ariaeus and to Strategos Clearchus, that we are united in martial skill. In the next days and weeks, each of you will be called on to fight in the greatest battle in recorded history. Your descendants will speak of you and your actions with pride.”

He paused and looked to Ariaeus and Clearchus.

“Now, we have three groups of warriors. First there are my handpicked
Anusiya
ns, each of you chosen for your bravery and loyalty. Next we have the ten guardians of Ariaeus, each chosen for exactly the same reasons.”

Ariaeus nodded.

“Finally, we have the Terrans and the personal guards of my niece, Lady Artemas.”

Xenophon, Glaucon, Roxana and Tamara all bowed slightly at their mention. Cyrus nodded to a pair of guards near a number of wooden boxes. They moved the one closer to the soldiers and opened it to reveal blunt metal training weapons.

“This will be a simple contest using these training weapons. Two fighters from each group will enter the circle. The last group with a fighter standing will be the victor and win this great prize.”

He turned and pointed at the guards who were busy opening a second wooden unit that contained various valuable spoils taken from the Rashnu. After a short delay, they lifted up a curved blade encrusted with jewels and gleaming stones.

“This is one of the three hundred blessed Makhaira taken from Rashnu’s armoury following her fall. My traitor brother used them as rewards for his Satraps and bribes for foreign dignitaries. I have ordered all but ten to be sold, and the funds distributed to the troops as a reward for their brave struggle.”

The last comment seemed to grab the attention of all present, with the exception of Clearchus who appeared disinterested in the entire affair. Cyrus continued and Ariaeus maintained his translation as best he could.

“My treasurer confirms this will amount to over a year’s pay for every warrior. A worthy payment indeed for your courage and skill.”

The two guards approached with the weapon and handed it to their leader. Cyrus lifted the beautifully crafted blade over his head. At this distance, it was now possible for everyone present to see it in all its magnificence. It was based on a common Makhaira, an ancient bladed weapon shaped like a long knife with a slightly curved blade. The hilt was carved to fit the fingers perfectly, and a blue and green jewelled shell covered where the knuckles would be. The blade was almost silver in colour, and the edge gleamed.

“The blessed Makhaira are the sharpest and most durable weapons ever created in the Median Empire. The metal in the blades were forged over a thousand years ago and still they retain their edge. No craftsman today can replicate the technology used in their construction. It is said the blade can pierce any substance, even the thick plating of the heavy infantry!”

On cue, one of the guards held out a pole with a Terran helmet taken as a spoil at some point in the past, hanging from the end. Ariaeus grinned when he spotted Clearchus examining the find from a distance. It was a classical design, and one that was still used by Terran soldiers in ceremonial units. There was no time for discussion or intervention though as Cyrus swung the ancient weapon and struck the modern armoured helmet along its crest. The blade cut through as if it had been nothing more than tissue paper and was greeted with a roar of approval by the assembled crowds. Little did any of them realise that it was actually the helmet of Menon, the right-hand of the Emperor and the leader of his armies. Menon had made his artificers construct it many years ago in anticipation of his victory over the Terrans whom he intended to rule as regent. Instead, the invasion had failed and the piece of armour donated to the Imperial treasury.

“Now, who will enter the arena?” he shouted.

From the ranks of the
Anusiya
ns stepped two large Medes soldiers; each a mountain of a man with braided hair, tattooed bodies and many scars. As they stepped forward, they pulled off their light tunics, helmets and arm braces so that they were stripped to the waist. Next came the equally impressive looking warriors from the much smaller contingent of Ariaeus. They removed their armour but continued to wear their tunics. Other than that, there was little to choose between them. All eyes now turned on the smallest group of them all, the four protectors of Lady Artemas. She looked at them each in turn before speaking.

“Only two of you can enter. Xenophon, what do you suggest?”

Dekarchos Xenophon was in charge of the small unit and a fond favourite of the Lady Artemas. They’d fought alongside each other on the Vendetta and also on board the great warship Rashnu, during the battle at Khorram. Xenophon wasn’t the strongest or the fastest of the group, but he was the most well read, experienced and wily of them all. He’d come from a well-to-do family on Attica but had been exiled along with many other conservatives, following yet another coup on the homeworld. At his side was the ever-present Glaucon, his friend from Attica and his strong right-hand. Skilled in both martial arts and firearms, Glaucon had become one of the best soldiers in the Legion.

“Glaucon is our best all round fighter. He might lack brains, but he has both speed and strength,” suggested Xenophon.

Glaucon tilted his head slightly and grinned.

“We need another, you?” asked Lady Artemas.

Xenophon was about to speak, but Tamara interrupted them both.

“Choose me. I’m better than any of them. Plus, you know what they think of women with weapons. It will give us an edge.”

Xenophon nodded in agreement.

“True, it could be a handy support for Glaucon.”

Lady Artemas looked back to the group, indicating with her raised hands who her champions would now be.

BOOK: Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa
6.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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