This is the 3rd installment of the book.
Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
All Rights Reserved
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher Heartland Indie Publishing LLC. This e-book is licensed only for the personal enjoyment of visitors to this site.
It’s a Freebie 4 u.
Mir and her band travelled slowly due to the spring melt. They were careful to keep to higher ground and keep their feet dry. It was early afternoon when they arrived at their destination. From a nearby hilltop they could see what had once been their home. It appeared to be abandoned and burned. The walls had been torn down.
Mir looked at Mysha. Mysha said, “It is worse than I expected.”
Mir’s response was to nod agreement, “You and I will go scout the village. The others will hide here.”
Mir and Mysha went down into the abandoned village and looked around. They did not speak a word. It was obvious the place had been attacked and burned. The bodies had been left for the carrion eaters. There were human bones scattered everywhere.
Mir looked at Mysha, “Let us leave this place.”
Mir and Mysha joined the others. The group left to return to their own camp. They had gone about a mile when Mir stepped off the trail and motioned to Mysha who came and stood by her.
Mir said, “We are being followed.”
Mir gave orders. Two of the group took the horses further on and the rest of the group set an ambush and waited. It was not long until those following came into view. Mir counted seventeen women. They were haggard and struggling to keep up to Mir’s group.
The leader was surprised when Mir appeared in front of her with sword and shield at the ready. The woman immediately took a knee and those following did the same.
The woman said, “Mir, we place ourselves at your mercy. We rebelled against your authority and have paid the price.”
Mir asked, “Is that you, Doree?”
Doree said, “It is I.”
Mir said, “I hardly recognized you. You are too thin.”
Doree answered, “We fled the village well before the enemy came and it seems it was the right thing to do. We live while the others died. We found a place where there was some game and made a winter camp.”
Mir said, “You may come with us.”
Doree said, “You are merciful.”
Mir said, “Rise and follow us. When we find a place, we will stop and eat.”
Mir motioned and the others in her party came into view. The group set out but Mir slowed the pace. It was not long before they came to a place of large flat rocks where Mir stopped the group. A guard was set and a fire started.
Mir said, “Doree, your people will only be given a little food. It seems they have been on short ration for a long time and too much food will trouble their stomachs.”
Doree nodded, “I will tell them,” and went to do so. She came back and reported, “It is done.”
Mir said, “Sit with me. Tell me what happened.”
Doree sat and took a deep breath, “It started well enough. At first, we all worked together. After a while, the men wanted to just order the women about and not do any work. The men also started to play favorites, you know, for bed favors returned. Resentment started. There was conflict and the men tried to bring all the women into line by the use of force. I saw the trouble coming because there was not enough food being gathered and preserved.”
Doree paused and looked at Mir before continuing, “Those of us who hunted were supporting those who contributed no work and it was obvious there would not be enough food for everyone. The best hunters went with you. We decided we would fare better alone, so we took out one dark night. We found our own place well away from the village. We left before the enemy army came. If we’d left even earlier, we’d have fared better. Even though we got a late start, we all survived but one. She took sick with fever. We returned to the fortress yesterday.”
Mir asked, “Did you find anyone alive?”
Mir said, “We have a safe place. It has much game and is easy to defend. We will have to build up our numbers, but I think the enemy will drive more and more into the forests.”
The captain marched at the front of the column of his hundred. His men were renowned in the army of his emperor. They were well trained and they all wore metal breastplates and helmets. They carried metal shields, good swords, and metal tipped spears. They were the elite of the elite. Still, the captain wished he was in a more civilized place.
In the three years since the battle which was supposed to end in conquest, the army had been bled by encounter after encounter with the local savages. This time these savages would not be facing conscripts but professional and highly experienced troops. His men did not shy from close in fighting; they relished it. The captain was confident that the close quarters in the forest would not hamper their effectiveness in the least.
The trail was just wide enough for two men to march abreast and that was how they were proceeding. When it started, the captain did not have time to give orders. He realized too late that the large log swinging down from the high trees was about to sweep him away. He dove forward but he was not quite quick enough and the large swinging log hit him on the forehead as he threw himself down. The log crushed his skull and broke his neck before it swept away a half dozen men.
The troops were well trained and immediately they turned so they were back to back facing outward, shield to shield, with their spears ready. The attack did not come from the sides but from above.
The savages knew where the weaknesses in the enemy’s armor were. Arrows from above killed a handful and wounded many. Those soldiers were hit by arrows aimed at the back of their legs and other places where they had no armor. Arrows struck their sides and necks. The troops had no way of countering the archery attack from the tree limbs above so they just tried to cover themselves with their shields. Even if they’d had some way to counter attack, they could see nothing. It suddenly become eerily quiet and there was no movement to be seen in the trees.
One of the junior officers gave orders and the troop reorganized and moved back the way they had come. Many of the wounded had to be helped by their comrades as they limped along with arrows still protruding from their legs. The company moved sidestepping keeping the shield walls relatively intact. They had gone several hundred yards when several large trees came crashing onto the trail and crushing some of the troops but more importantly, separating them from their comrades.
In the confusion that resulted, the savages attacked. Less than seventy of the elite troops remained to face the savages and though they were good fighters, they were overwhelmed by the ferocity and surprise of the attack by several hundred savages.
The young officer in charge tried to fend off the attack of the tribe’s leader. He realized as the warrior struck him down that he had been defeated by a woman.
Two days later, a survivor was found wondering at the edge of the field where the emperor’s army had built its fortress. He was brought to the general.
Lord General Azar was aghast at the man’s appearance. His arm was broken and would not likely heal right. His eyes had been gouged out and his upper body was naked and bore the stripes of a whipping. His sword hand thumb had been cut off.
The general asked, “Your name and unit?”
Though the man could hardly stand, he slowly came to attention. It was obvious it took all his effort to stay on his feet. The man gave his name and rank.
The general asked, “What of your hundred?”
The man said in a hoarse voice, “Sir, they are all dead. We stood and fought to the last man. I was knocked unconscious and kept alive to bring a message.”
The general said, “Who sends this message and what is it?”
The soldier paused then said, “Sir, it is insulting.”
“Nonetheless, tell me.”
The soldier took a deep breath and said, “The Battle Queen of the Forests sends this message to the general of the invaders. You blindly kill the innocent, so we will blind your troops. You whip the innocent at the least provocation, so we will whip your troops. You take away the peoples means of livelihood, so we will take away your soldier’s ability to wage war. You take no prisoners after battle, but we will send yours back to you. In the future, we will not kill all your men but send many back as we send this man. Leave or it will be your fate, too.”
The soldier stood hanging his head and said, “Sir, we fought bravely. I ask that you have mercy and give me death for I no longer have a use since I have delivered the message.”
Lord General Azar realized the man was broken in spirit. He nodded to his second, Gyn, and the man was taken away by other soldiers to be granted his desire.
Gyn said, “He is the first to survive a sortie into the forests. All the others were lost without a trace. Over two thousand good men have gone into the forests never to be seen again.”
The general said, “This war bleeds us dry and this land has little value and yields little of use. How long will we spend so much blood and treasure without hope of profit?”
Gyn sighed and said, “Until the emperor tells us to leave.”
“Until I receive further orders, we will not send men into the forests. We will keep to the open plains.”
Gyn just nodded.
As Lord General Azar had been meeting with the survivor, Mir met with the tribal chiefs. She sat in the great gathering place deep in the forests. She was surrounded by the nine major chiefs. Mir had been her tribe’s savior and the chiefs had been forced to give way to her because of the number of people, men and women, who had flocked to her. Her people were the best fed, best trained, and thanks to arms taken from the enemy, the best armed.
Two chiefs who had challenged her had learned a hard lesson, one that ended on a funeral pyre. Like it or not, the chiefs had to include Mir.
It was Wald who said what everyone else was thinking, “We have grown stronger while the enemy has grown weaker. It is time to attack in strength before the summer allows the enemy to bring fresh troops by ship.”
Mir listened to the men argue how best to take advantage of their strength. Mir listened for some time without saying a word. When it was apparent the men could not come to an agreement and there was a pause in the talk, Mir leaned forward on the log on which she was seated. The men looked at her.
Mir said, “If we attacked the enemy in force, we would no doubt prevail but our losses would be great. The enemy would not suffer as they deserve. I would have them suffer for the misery and death they have caused. Instead of a direct attack, we should cause them to starve. Attack and burn the two ports where they have their ships and warehouses. We would not suffer as a great a number of casualties to do it. At the same time, order all the farms to be abandoned and the people on them to come to the woods. Crops will not be planted in the fields for we can now feed the farmers and their families until the enemy is defeated. Burn everything that would be of use to the enemy.”
Lex said, “It is a good plan. They will have to forage or retreat to the seaports. If they forage we take them in small groups as we have in the past.”
Mir said, “And there will be much loot to be had in the ports.” Mir knew the thought of plunder would be attractive to the men.
Cormard looked at Mir and said, “We will have to split our forces.”
Mir nodded agreement and said, “Yes. It would be best if we attack both ports at the same time before one can be reinforced.”
It was Wald who stated the obvious, “Mir has almost as many warriors as the rest of us put together. Who would place himself under her command?”
Lex said, “My tribe has the smallest number of warriors. I will go with Mir.”
Mir felt a sense of relief. Of all the tribal chiefs, Lex was the smartest and most reasonable. He and his men were also among the best warriors. Lex would not let the fact Mir led, keep him from profit. Mir knew that he had already calculated that his chances of incurring minimum casualties and the greatest profit would be to go with her.
Cormard said, “It makes sense for Mir and Lex to take the port nearest to them.”
Mir could tell Cormard expected her to object. The port was the largest and thus had the largest garrison. What Mir knew from her spies, was that the garrison there was complacent and the commander lazy. It was rumored the commander was a political appointee and not a professional soldier. As a result, the men he led were undisciplined. The other chiefs would face greater resistance, though lesser numbers, at the other port. The commander there was a professional soldier and made sure his troops remained alert and battle ready.
Mir said, “Agreed.”
Lex looked at her but said nothing. He had reasoned if Mir had agreed so readily, there was a reason. The other chiefs disdain for a woman warrior led them to think Mir had been manipulated into accepting the more dangerous mission. When she suffered the greater casualties her position and power would be lessened.
Wald asked, “Are all in agreement?”
The response was unanimous and so it was agreed. The timing of the attacks was then agreed to.
After the meeting ended, Lex caught up to Mir outside, “I take it you know something they don’t.”
Mir said, “My scouts have already been in both ports. We will have the better chance and greater profit.”
Lex said, “We need a plan.”
Mir said, “We will discuss it over the evening meal.”
A week later, the huntress Doree entered the port town. Doree wore no armor nor carried any weapons. She wore a country dress and had done all she could to make herself as unattractive as possible. No one paid any attention to her as she entered the town.
About the same time, the huntress Camry entered the town from a different direction driving a farm wagon pulled by a single horse. The wagon seemed to be filled with farm produce and entered the town without challenge or inspection. Soldiers were nearby, but they paid little attention to Camry. She was, after all, just a woman.
Several dozen women entered the town that day. The town was not fortified. It was an open port town and though the invader’s barracks at the edge of town had some walls, the rest of the port was easy to enter.
The women who had slipped into town went into hiding until it was dark. The women then came from all over the town and gathered in a storage barn near the docks. There the three wagons that had been smuggled into town were unloaded. The produce on top was piled in a corner and the weapons and armor underneath were distributed.
On the edge of town, Mir could see the two sentries from where she hid. She watched as two women approached the men then engaged them in talk. It was obvious the women were flirting with the men. The sentries were undisciplined and the women easily tempted them away from their posts with promises of pleasure.
Bel was one of the women and she led soldier by the hand into a dark alley and they embraced. The soldier started to lift Bel’s dress as they kissed. Bel did it with such finesse that the soldier did not realize what was happening until it was too late.
Bel had her left hand behind the man’s head. He was so overpowered with lust that he did not pay attention as Bel’s right hand moved. Her knife suddenly slit his throat as they were still kissing. The man staggered backward and tried to cry out but couldn’t. Bel finished him.
Bel went to aid the other woman who was not faring so well. The man she had led off had overpowered her. He was about to have his way when Bel came up behind him and slid her knife across his throat.
Mir watched Bel come out of the shadow and signal. Mir and her people calmly and quietly walked from hiding and into the town. Two of Mir’s warriors handed armor and weapons to Bel and her companion. They slipped into the alley and put the armor on and ran after Mir and her warriors.
Mir’s warriors converged on the enemy barracks from all directions while staying in the shadows. They reached the poorly fortified barracks which consisted of a former trader’s house, warehouse, and several outbuildings. The buildings were surrounded by a high wall that had been designed to keep thieves out rather than to be defended.
There were two sentries outside the wall on each side of the improvised barracks. They were all taken by arrows. Only one sentry had managed to make any appreciable noise before dying. It had not been enough to raise an alarm.
Mir led her group quietly through one of the open gates and into the buildings where soldiers were sleeping. She encountered a man in the hall and killed him but not before he shouted the alarm.
Mir’s warriors swarmed into the buildings and spread out. Most of the enemy died in their barracks trying to dress or get to their weapons that were on racks near the doors. Whether armed or unarmed, the enemy soldiers were cut down. It was a massacre. A few managed to flee outside where they were met by arrows.
The sounds of screams and battle cries could be heard throughout the town. The noise was a signal.
At the docks, there were about a dozen sentries who were now nervous because of the noise from the barracks. The sounds were the signal for Mysha, who led the women who had gathered near the docks. She and her warriors charged from the surrounding streets.
Mysha let out a chilling war cry as she attacked the first sentry. The man seemed paralyzed with fear and Mysha pierced him with her spear. She encountered the second man who stood ready to fight with his shield raised and a sword in his hand. He expected Mysha to stab with her spear but instead she ran into him using her shield as a weapon. She knocked him off the dock into the water. She kept going. A man on one of the boats was trying to cast off and Mysha threw her spear and it pierced the man. He fell dead.
Mysha drew her sword and kept going. Her warriors were now boarding the boats and killing the crew members who resisted. Mysha reached the end of the dock just in time to see one ship that had been anchored in the harbor, moving out to sea. She also saw crews swimming away.
The boats at the docks had been captured.
At the barracks, Mir had fought her way to the heart of the enemy compound. The commander and a dozen of his men had organized a defense in the middle of the courtyard, but it was too little too late. They stood in the middle of the courtyard surrounded by Mir’s warriors. Mir looked at her enemy. Some were in loin cloths and others were partially dressed. They had swords and shields but no armor.
Mir pulled up and yelled, “Stand fast.”
Her warriors stood and did not attack. Mir motioned to archers who came forward.
Mir simply said in a low voice, “Kill them with arrows.”
Her command was carried out though the enemy soldiers tried a last desperate charge to escape.
As Mir left the barrack’s courtyard, a runner came and without formality reported, “Lex has taken the warehouses. He is already loading wagons.”
Mir motioned to Bel who came.
Mir gave her orders, “Pick thirty warriors and find wagons and horses to bring the wounded to the edge of the forest. Pack up all the weapons and armor and anything of value.”
Bel said, “It will be done.”
Mir and most of her warriors left for the warehouse area. Mir arrived to find Lex’s men loading wagons.
Lex came to meet Mir and said, “The surprise was total.”
Mir said, “Yes. Your casualties?”
“Light. Fourteen wounded and four dead. You?”
Mir said, “I don’t know yet.”
Lex said, “Some of the warehouses have nothing but food in them. We are sorting through looking for the things of value.”
Mir said, “I will leave people to help you.”
Mir gave orders for some of her people to stay and help Lex and then she headed for the docks. She arrived to find Mysha had commandeered wagons. Mysha saw Mir coming and came to her.
Mir said, “How were your casualties?”
“One dead, three wounded. The crews put up little resistance and there were only a dozen soldiers here. It was over quickly. I could use some extra hands to help offload the valuable cargo. There is a shipment of weapons and armor.”
Mir gave orders.
A runner came and said, “Galt asks that you come quickly with a substantial force. He has found something of great importance.”
Mir knew Galt was a steady and smart man not prone to exaggeration. If he thought it was important, it was.
Mir said, “Lead us,” and motioned for her warriors to follow her.
They marched about four blocks to a plain looking building that was the office for the harbor master. Galt had posted a strong guard. About forty enemy bodies littered the ground around the building. Mir went inside with four of her warriors and left the rest outside.
Galt was pacing when Mir came in. He said to her, “It is good you came quickly.”
He walked away assuming Mir would follow, and she did. He led her to a room where there were several locked chests. The lock had been broken off one. Galt lifted the lid.
Mir looked at the contents and said, “Probably pay for the army and coin for expenses. We need pack animals.”
Galt said, “I have already sent someone to find such.”
Galt added, “We expected the building held something valuable when we saw the size of the guard.”
Mir asked, “What were your casualties.”
Galt said, “Seven dead, eighteen wounded; most are walking wounded. The soldiers here were probably the best of the garrison.”
Mir said, “Probably.”
Galt said, “There is wine here. Would you like a drink?”
It was midday when Mir and Lex left the harbor town with their victorious forces. The column was longer leaving because the victors took every draft animal and pack animal in the city with them. They were packed and loaded with loot. Behind them, the port city was burning but the ships were sailing away manned by some of Mir’s people. They would be taken to a bay where they would be beached in hidden coves. The column of smoke from the port town rose high into the sky.
Mir had scouts out as her force retreated to the forests. They reached the edge of the woods by midafternoon and kept marching. At dusk, they stopped to rest but there would be no fires that evening because they were not deep enough in the forest to be reasonably safe.
Mir was sitting against a tree eating cold food when Lex came with his own plate and cup. He said, “May I sit and talk with you?”
Mir nodded agreement and Lex sat. Mir took a small bite of her food.
Lex said, “You are a natural leader and you govern well.”
Mir smiled and said, “And you are a great warrior.”
Lex finished chewing his mouthful and said, “But I recognize my limitations.”
“What is on your mind?”
“I think about who should lead all the people?”
Mir finished a bite, “And you think you should lead?”
Lex said, “No. I think you should lead.”