Empire at War

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Chapter Two: Era of Heroes - Galeno's Downfall

Galeno’s return to his southern fiefdom of Rhamnus took him on a route along the border between Herolus and Myrmekion. Myrrine Nouus of Stagirus had taken her troops back to Edessa, where her fleet awaited. She would sail around the continent on sea, rather than travel by land, and arrive back in her fiefdom about a months later, but without risking any enemy encounters. There were no sea-faring fiefdoms along the way, except for Zenter, which was now in the hands of northerners who easily became seasick and would not dare to face her. Nobody would challenge her on the return trip.

Iason of Herolus had clearly shown that he was not very fond of Galeno, and Hieronymos Vindino, the governor of Myrmekion, had repeatedly clashed with the governor of Rhamnus on border disputes in the past. Galeno’s march on the capital a year prior had taken him through Myrmekion, and only an illness had prevented Hieronymos from calling up his armies to stand against him.

This time, Galeno knew that Iason was still in Zenter, so he ordered his troops to move along Herolus’ side of the border, making sure not to give the garrisons stationed there any cause to attack them. It took his army about two weeks to complete the first stage of their journey home. A messenger had gone ahead and called for a transport fleet from Rhamnus to pick up the army and bring them back to their capital. It would take them nearly a month from there, as they had to sail and row upstream the Pamisos river, the second longest river on the continent.

For Galeno, however, it was still a dangerous path, as the river marked the border between Herolus and Myrmekion, as well as between Rhamnus and Myrmekion, and a grand army sailing on it could be seen as an act of war. Galeno’s troops were weakened after the campaign and tired from the long journey, while Hieronymos’ had not taken part in the Anti-Hesper Alliance. His soldiers were well-rested and could come down the river and attack them at any time.

However, Galeno’s army reached Rhamnus’ waters on the 20th of the fifth month in 354, without meeting any enemies. It was this complacency and feeling of security that Heron of Cumae had been waiting for. On the 21st, two days from where Galeno had aimed to disembark and finish the journey on land, Heron’s ironclad legion sailed around a river bend and rammed into the front of the Rhamnus fleet. The famous armored ships were slow and easy targets for ranged fire attacks, but possessed unparalleled power in close quarters; once they were railing to railing, fire could no longer be used in fear of it jumping over to the user. The entire width of the river was blocked off by the ironclads and Galeno’s advance had been stopped dead in its tracks - it was an ambush.

“How dare he challenge the our mighty fleet to a battle on our home waters!” Galeno’s angry voice thundered across the command bridge. Historically, Rhamnus had always possessed the strongest navy in all of Zenter; the majority of its borders was defined by deep and wide rivers, thus warranting a well-trained fleet rather than a land-based army. Cumae and Myrmekion were the only direct contenders, as both shared a river-bound border with Rhamnus. Herolus’ fleet had deteriorated over the past few generations, especially under Iason, who saw no use in having a fleet and preferred to pursue his personal interest of having a grand cavalry, despite the fact that his holdings were not as suitable for horse-breeding as the fiefdoms to the north.

“My lord, our fleet is being locked down by the ironclads. If they have troops on land and shoot at us from the riverbanks, we will be sitting ducks!” Basilo Precaris of Messene reported, as he returned from the front lines. The two armies were fighting a ranged battle, as the ironclads had not yet opened their gates and used their arrowslits to keep the Rhamnus soldiers at bay. They were clearly buying time.

“The ships in the back are useless in this situation. Let the troops disembark and secure the riverbanks,” Galeno said and turned his attention to Elpeo Ralega of Gangra, a young general who had proven herself especially capable at commanding troops on land - a talent not many in Rhamnus possessed. “Take three thousand troops and get to it.” Elpeo bowed wordlessly and left to fulfill her orders. “Nikandros, go to the front and see what you can do to break through.” The general with the large build bowed at the command and departed swiftly.

“Father, let me fight!” Drakon voiced his wish to join the fray. Seeing his son’s eagerness to prove his prowess, especially after the battle against Hesper’s forces had yielded no achievements for him, Galeno could not help but smile. “Patience, my son. You will get your chance. For now, we will observe the situation and take all precautions.” Turning to Basilo, he proceeded. “Take twenty ships and sail downstream to the mouth of the Kumas. Make sure Myrmekion does not make a move in this situation.”

“Understood, my lord!” With this, Basilo left.

Galeno sighed and looked over his fleet. Since inheriting Rhamnus from his father, he had tirelessly trained the navy to solidify his family’s hold on the fiefdom. With the waning influence of the imperial court, especially in the fiefdoms far from the capital, governors had become warlords even before the Mad Emperor’s ascension, and Cumae had been among the first to openly show expansionist tendencies. Heron Berneris of Cumae held the third largest territory in the empire, and his lands were just as fertile as Rhamnus’ and Myrmekion’s. With large plains suitable for horse-breeding, as well as wide rivers and the largest lake in the empire supporting the training of a navy, Heron long held the ambition to expand his territory at the cost of his neighbors. Galeno’s return from the campaign to the east was the perfect opportunity to deliver a decisive first strike.

“My lord, enemies have been sighted on Rhamnus’ side of the riverbanks! They fly the flag of Demosthes of Juktas!” A soldier came to report. “General Elpeo is engaging them.” Demosthes Tallia of Juktas was Heron’s star general, versed in both land and naval warfare. He had been delegated to protect the territories he had helped take from the Fire Jotnar during the Extermination War, but was apparently called to the east for this ambush.

“Heron is going all out on this, it seems. He clearly wants to put an end to our disputes once and for all.” Right then, another soldier rushed in for an emergency report.

“Small assault boats are slipping through the openings between the ironclads and are sailing into our midst. The ironclads have opened their gates and are beginning to board our frontline ships.”

“Nikandros will deal with the ironclads. Let the assault boats taste our arrows. Make sure not to let them into our ranks too deeply. This may yet be an enemy plot,” Galeno responded and sent the messenger away. Just then, the sound of a distant explosion boomed across the river. It clearly came from within his own fleet, compelling him to run to the bow of his vessel and look for the source. Somewhere halfway between his position and the place where the ironclads were locking down the front of his army, one of his ships had caught fire and was in the process of sinking.

“The assault boats are filled with explosives!” He exclaimed and quickly called a messenger to bring his orders to the front lines. “Do not let the small boats come close to our ships. Use stakes to push them away, don’t shoot them with arrows, or you may accidentally cause them to explode.” Hurrying to relay the commands, the messenger left again.

“We need to make some distance between our ships, or fires may spread. Lysiphos, take a contingent of small boats and break through the blockade. I want to know how deep it is.” The general he had addressed was Lysiphos Abbaneio of Lamia, a former river pirate hailing from the lake city in Cumae. In Galeno’s youth, the two had clashed repeatedly, until the he had finally been able to capture Lysiphos. Thinking that executing such an outstanding captain would be a waste, the governor had persuaded him to join his ranks.

“You like to send me into the most dangerous places. Are you maybe thinking that not executing me back then was a mistake after all?” The former pirate grinned and left to follow his orders. If Nikandros or Basilo had been present, they would have protested against Lysiphos’ disrespectful manner of speech towards the lord. For Galeno, their relationship was something special, and he understood that this was what the former pirate’s considered to be friendly banter.

Galeno looked towards the front, to determine how the battle was going. From his vantage point, there was little he could see, although the din of battle was an ever-grating noise filling the background, mixing with the splashing of the water against the anchored ships and transforming into the sounds the governor of Rhamnus had grown to love and hate at the same time.

Nikandros’ arrival at the frontlines was met with a collective cheer, as the Rhamnus army regained their vigor and fought back the boarding parties from the ironclads. Yet, the stream of soldiers from Cumae did not seem to stop, as more and more enemies poured from inside the armored ships. The frontline of these troops were walking fortresses themselves, chosen solely for their stout builds and physical strength, to carry heavy armor and shields with the single purpose of creating and holding a bridgehead. The only weapons they carried were one-handed maces, but they usually wielded their shields with both hands, interlocking them with their neighbors’ to create an advancing wall of steel.

The interiors of the ironclads were three-tiered, with the uppermost reserved entirely for transporting troops, ready for combat. The second tier carried the oarsmen, as the vessels lacked sails, to prevent them from being targeted by fire. The lowermost was used to store weapons and battle rations. This meant that a fleet of ironclad was usually accompanied by a fleet of transport ships used to house troops when not in battle, as well as to carry provisions for long journeys. These armored behemoths were already twice as large as normal galleys, so a deck filled to the brim with soldiers meant that the war potential they carried was immense.

“Aim at the closed arrowslits, shoot when they open. Spread oil on their boarding ramparts!” Nikandros bellowed orders as he walked along the railing, where a melee had broken out. Wielding a heavy, oar-shaped metal-studded club, he would sometimes join the fray and push back an enemy’s attempt to expand the front line. “Don’t let their heavy infantry dig in on our ships!”

The enemy had slipped small explosive boats through the cracks already, most likely to try and spread apart their fleet and isolate the ones locked in a melee with the ironclads. It seemed to be an effective strategy, as Nikandros saw no way to break through the blockade with raw power. Gnashing his teeth, the weathered veteran could only continue to hold the front, while waiting for a change in the battle situation to arise elsewhere.

Over the railing, he spotted several small rowing boats quietly moving along the spaces between the ships, towards the ironclads, and recognized the man standing at the helm of the one at the very front. It was Lysiphos, whom he butted heads with whenever they met in a formal occasion. The former pirate noticed Nikandros’ gaze and looked up with a grin, then raised a finger to his lips to signal that he should keep quiet about this. Then he disappeared between the ironclads, before the veteran general could react.

“That runt, what is he up to now?” He muttered, but had to return his attention to the enemy putting up a new rampart to try and board his ship.

Elpeo had encountered enemies in the forest covering the banks on Rhamnus side of the river and engaged them. Without knowing how many soldiers from Cumae there were, she took a cautious stance and opted to secure a base on land to fall back on, in case the enemy decided to use a fire attack on the entire fleet. She sent out scouts to determine the enemy positions, before ordering her troops to construct a camp by chopping down trees. Despite calling it fighting with the enemies, there was not much going on at the frontlines, as Demosthes had drawn back upon being discovered.

“Of course, I’m not going to follow you, idiot,” Elpeo muttered, causing her aide to turn to look at her. “Nothing, just talking to myself.” She added and walked to inspect the work on the camps.

Small skirmishes were happening all along the riverbank, but neither side had committed to a full-blown battle. Demosthes was clearly trying to lure her deeper into the forest and away from the ships, which the Rhamnus forces could use as mobile fortresses to retreat to, in case the situation became unfavorable for them. Elpeo would not fall for such cheap tactics and kept her forces in check, even as eager commanders under her wished to pursue the enemies who would quickly feign retreat whenever pressured slightly.

This careful maneuvering continued until Elpeo noticed a pattern in the enemy movement. It became apparent that they were leaving an opening perpendicular to the river, which seemed like an opportunity to attempt a breakthrough. However, having extensively studied Demosthes’ methods, the young general understood that this was a trap. Instead, she opted to use that knowledge against her opponent and break apart the ambush with a counter-ambush.

“Diogeno!” Elpeo turned to the man at her side. He was Diogeno Ralega, her younger brother, and a skilled commander in his own right. Having accompanied his sister on many campaigns, he had learned from her in many ways, although some badmouthed him for seemingly being unable to think for himself and being content with remaining in Elpeo’s shadow. “Take five hundred riders and push through the enemy’s opening.”

“I am sure sisters is aware that this is a trap,” Diogeno responded, his expression not betraying his thoughts about his sister sending him on what seemed like a suicide mission.

“Yes, I am aware, and you should know what to do in that situation,” Elpeo spoke impatiently. She knew that the rumors were spot on and that this little brother always required confirmation from his sister to make a move. However, she also understood his genius, and the fact that he only needed a push at the right time to step out of her shadow and spread his name throughout the empire. “Crush Demosthes’ trap, little brother!”

Diogeno bowed in response to his sister’s firm voice and quickly went to gather the troops under him and begin his mission. When he left, Elpeo turned to her aide and ordered him to gather eight hundred men; she would stealthily follow behind her brother and set up a double-layered counter-attack. The situation on land was entering a decisive showdown.

Basilo had turned twenty ships around and sailed downstream for two liges, to the mouth of the Kumas, where it flowed into the Pamisos. It was hidden behind a river bend, which could hide a fleet due to the dense vegetation on the banks. On a hunch, the general stopped the advance and had a small boat row ahead to scout the area. If the enemy had placed an ambush around the corner, running into it blindly while moving downstream and on a tailwind would spell certain doom.

His sixth sense had been right, as the ferryman on the boat hastily steered his boat around and gestured wildly while shouting something that was drowned out by the wind and the sound of the river. In the next moment, a hail of arrows struck him and his lifeless body fell into the water, disappearing into its depths.

“Enemy ambush! To your stations!” Basilo boomed across his vessel, his order echoed by his first mate, picked up by the neighboring ships and transmitted throughout his fleet. Anxiety at the unseen enemy spread, as the sailors and soldiers braced themselves for their appearance.

Around the river bend came a galley unlike any they had seen before, its size more than thrice that of the Rhamnus flagship under Galeno’s personal command. The black lacquered deck towered far above the water line, easily looking down onto Basilo’s fleet. The crest of Myrmekion was painted on the ocher sail, clearly denoting its affiliation with Rhamnus’ greatest contender in naval warfare. It appeared to be the flagship of the enemy, as several smaller galleys came into sight, following it while avoiding its massive wake.

“They’re downstream and we have tailwind. It’s just a big target. Light it up!” Basilo snapped out of the initial astonishment at the giant galley’s sight and gave his orders. Fires were prepared to light the arrowheads that would soon be raining down on the enemy ship. Just when Basilo was sure that the leviathan’s size would spell its downfall, the galley next to his was shattered by an impact. “What...?”

Looking at the enemy, Basilo was able to spot the throwing arm of a trebuchet on the deck of the massive ship, as it was being drawn back down again. However, it did not end there, as suddenly two more arms snapped upwards and released their deadly payloads of massive rocks. “Brace yourselves!” He shouted as he watched the projectiles reach the zenith of their arcs and begin their gravity-aided descent towards his fleet. If the enemy’s aim was as true as the first shot, it would cost him another two ships and almost three hundred men in one fell swoop.

Lysiphos was stealthily moving at the head of a small force of a hundred men, steering boats through the blockade to try and find a point of weakness. He had been given the task to gauge the enemy’s concentration, but he intended to do more. If he spotted the commander’s vessel, he would order his handpicked elites, who were all former pirate comrades without exceptions, to board it and cut off the enemy’s head.

It did not take his contingent long to pass by the ironclads unnoticed, but Lysiphos signaled the oarsmen to stop and hide in the shadows of the large ships. A distance away, after a stretch of open space beyond the blockade, awaited a fleet of traditional galleys, with the largest flying the banner of Heron Berneris of Cumae himself. Grinding his teeth in impotence, the former pirate could only stare at the flagship with a hateful expression. They were too far away and there was no cover for at least fifty paces between their position and the enemies’. If it was solid ground, a group of cavalry or even swift-footed men could charge in before the victims could react in time. However, they were on a flowing river, and had to move against the current.

“Let’s go back, there’s nothing we can do here.” Only reluctantly did Lysiphos order a retreat, back through the blockade. Once again, they remained undetected and quickly returned to the Rhamnus flagship.

“My lord, the enemy has another fleet waiting behind the ironclad legion. We won’t be getting through there, no matter how hard Nikandros tries. We are at a numerical disadvantage, and our position here is not very secure,” The former pirate reported back to Galeno, who listened with a serious expression.

“Basilo sent a messenger. The Myrmekion fleet has appeared at our rear, with a new invention - a massive ship with three trebuchets on board. He is engaging the enemy in close range but is taking heavy casualties. Elpeo has informed me that she set up a fortified camp at the southern riverbank and is attempting to break apart Demosthes’ ambush.” It was an update to let Lysiphos know about their grave circumstances. “Take ten ships and reinforce our rear, I will personally begin the landing of our main forces at the secured riverbank once Elpeo informs me of her success.” That she would succeed was a matter of fact for Galeno, who put his complete trust in the young general.

“I can make do with one. I’ll be taking Rhamnus’ Fist,” Lysiphos declared with an aloof grin. Rhamnus’ Fist was a cousin ship of the one Galeno commanded, a smaller and compacter version of the flagship, using the same design save for two decisive differences; it was smaller but used the same number of oars to achieve superior speed, and it was equipped with a hidden pointed ram, located right below the waterline, to puncture and sink enemy vessels.

“Very well. But keep an eye out for the signal to retreat and regroup on the riverbank,” Galeno agreed to the former pirate’s demand. “Show Myrmekion the might of Rhamnus, and make them never forget it.”

Diogeno had charged right into the opening left by Demosthes, knowing that it was a trap, with the intention to shatter it. He was ordering his troops to ride with all their might, as if he was trying to make a break for safety, acting like he was abandoning the battle. It was meant to throw the enemy into confusion and cause them to wonder whether to let him through or to engage him. Ultimately, the enemy chose the latter, albeit very obviously in a hasty manner, as the war cries rising up from around them were anything but united.

“Do not waver, the enemy is in disarray. We will break through their center and turn around to hit their rear!” Diogeno commanded his troops and quickened the pace. The enemy was closing in on them from both sides, but the path was still not blocked. Due to the ambushers’ initial hesitation, they were too slow to close the gap in time, allowing for the young general to break through completely unchecked.

“Vanguard, spread out two paces! My squadron, spread out one pace! Rear guard, pass through and spread out three paces! After another one hundred paces, turn on your heels and follow my lead!” This resulted in his five hundred horsemen forming a wedge with him at the very tip. Diogeno only dared a cavalry charge because the majority of the horses Galeno had on this campaign were purchases from the north. Southern horses were much weaker and ill suited for direct confrontations, and generally only used for skirmishing tactics. All three hundred under his command were riding these northern mounts, rumored to be scions of the legendary sleipnirs, six-legged horses possessing monstrous strength and endurance, encountered by the first settlers in Yggdra.

His troops turned around and began to ride towards the enemies, who faltered at the sudden counter-attack, unsure of what to do in face of an unfamiliar cavalry charge. Just then, a war cry resounded from behind the enemy lines and from atop his mount, Diogeno could see the flags of Elpeo, approaching from the other side to pincer Demosthes’ troops. He grinned to himself, as he had known that his sister would follow up on his attack. The enemy ambush had been completely turned around and Cumae’s entire battle formation crumbled as their morale broke at the unexpected maneuver.

Almost instantly, over a thousand enemy soldiers lay slain across the battlefield, and the rest were routed, running for the woods after having lost all will to fight. Diogeno and Elpeo met in the middle, both unharmed and counting very few losses.

“Follow me, we will ride on the momentum and charge into their left flank. After this, it will be isolated from their main forces,” Elpeo said to her brother and turned to her troops while waving her sword. “Let us finish them off!” A cheer rose to the skies and the Rhamnus soldiers’ morale was at an all-time high. Sending off a messenger to inform Galeno of the situation and the next step of her plan, Elpeo and Diogeno continued on the high of their success.

“As expected of Elpeo!” Galeno exclaimed in joy and gave the orders for the landing. He informed Nikandros of the plan to retreat onto land, where the ironclads would be entirely useless, and sent the signal for Basilo and Lysiphos to retreat. Drakon was to lead a contingent of one thousand to reinforce the right flank, where half of Elpeo’s troops were holding off the numerically superior Cumae forces.

At the same time, Lysiphos charged Rhamnus’ Fist into the enemy’s trebuchet ship, breaching its hull. His pirate troops used the opportunity to enter it, using their swift hit-and-run skills to keep the enemy from hurling any more rocks at the fleet under Basilo. Their aim was to sabotage the fine machinery of the trebuchets, so that they would be out of commission for long enough for the Rhamnus ships to disengage from close quarters. Lysiphos was fighting entirely with the aim to secure their retreat, knowing that the signal from his lord for moving onto land would come soon.

The former pirate had success in disabling the siege machines by cutting many of its rope systems. For good measure, they spread oil across the deck and lit it on fire, before retreating back onto their own ship. At the same time, a fast messenger boat arrived and shot a signal arrow into the sky - the sign for their retreat. The enemy was thrown into confusion when their flagship was so suddenly attacked by what they perceived to be river pirates rather than Rhamnus troops. They were slow to pursue, as they had to put out the fires and try to repair the trebuchets, all the while dealing with the hole in their side.

Basilo ordered a general retreat and his battered fleet separated from the enemy’s, which they had hugged in order to deter the flagship from shooting and risking to hit their own vessels. Pulling up the sails and rowing as quickly as they could, the Rhamnus galleys quickly moved upstream, while continuing to exchange hails of flaming arrows with their pursuers.

Nikandros heard the order for the retreat and understood that by moving onto land, they were effectively abandoning their entire fleet. However, survival was more important, and in a situation where they were surrounded, saving expendable war machines was not the top priority. Thus, he commanded his troops in an orderly retreat from the frontline ships, while preparing their scuttling using kindling. If this fleet was to go down, it would only do so by taking the enemy down with it.

“It doesn’t matter anymore now, so set the ramparts on fire! Let them burn!” The general ordered and had his troops abandon the front line and retreat to the second layer of ships. They soon left behind more than ten of their vessels, but set them on fire before separating from them. Moving downstream and rejoining the main fleet that was in the process of landing on shore, Nikandros had successfully retreated.

The main fleet was soon rejoined by Basilo and Lysiphos, while Drakon successfully repelled the enemies on the right flank on land. Galeno led the main force of four thousand through the opening created by the Ralega siblings, aiming for a quick march to the fortress city of Alaia, which was about twenty liges south from their position. Elpeo and Diogeno secured the left flank, where the majority of the enemy forces had been routed in their heroic charge following the counter-attack against Demosthes’ trap. Basilo and Nikandros joined Drakon on the right flank, where heavy enemy movement was still being reported. Lysiphos was to oversee the scuttling of the Rhamnus fleet, before following as the rearguard and placing ambushes along the way.

Demosthes’ flags had not been spotted for a while and only nameless generals were leading the forces on the right flank. He may have retreated after his initial loss or was setting up his next course of actions. In either case, it was an opportunity too good to pass up for Rhamnus to break through and escape the enemy encirclement. The sun was disappearing behind the horizon and momentum alone could sustain a tired army only for that long. They had to make decisive progress towards survival before the morale dropped and turned the situation into something worse than it was already.

Personally leading the main army, Galeno moved in the most direct line towards Alaia, which they would be able to reach by dawn if they kept their pace up. The soldiers were hungry and exhausted, but watching their commander tirelessly riding at their front raised their spirits and let them endure the march.

Around midnight, Elpeo and Diogeno at the left flank reported pursuers from Myrmekion following them on land, in the dark estimating the troops at around eight thousand. On the right flank, Drakon, Nikandros and Basilo reported that the enemy was showing uncharacteristically conservative movements, only following and not engaging. However, their numbers had increased from the initial three thousand to nearly ten thousand. Lysiphos had successfully scuttled the Rhamnus fleet and created a burning blockade along the riverbank to stall the enemy naval forces from landing their troops. Yet, even he counted over three thousand pursuers to their rear. All in all, the enemy forces were estimated to be over twenty thousand strong, more than twice the amount of the remaining Rhamnus troops.

Yet, there was hope in such dire circumstances, as Galeno encountered no enemies at the head of the main army. The periodic reports from scouts sent ahead to watch signs of ambushes turned up negative, compelling the governor to delegate reinforcements to the other positions. Knowing Lysiphos, he could make do with the one thousand already under his command, but the enemy numbers on the right flank were alarming. If they decided to strike, the three thousand under his eldest son’s command would not be able to hold out for long. He trusted that the Ralega siblings were more than capable of keeping the Myrmekion pursuit force at bay with the two thousand under their command. He sent about three thousand of his troops to reinforce the right flank, his second son Agathon taking command for the transition between his and Drakon’s.

Therefore, Galeno had effectively turned his contingent into the vanguard of the Rhamnus army and was riding at the head of only one thousand troops, when Demosthes suddenly returned to the battlefield. He commanded over two thousand fresh troops, who appeared on top of the hills and inside the woods on both sides. Before the governor could react, the first wave of arrows had claimed many victims even among his personal guards, and had fatally struck his horse. Falling off his mount and tumbling across the ground, Galeno was completely taken by surprise. His mind was filled with questions; the scouts had reported no enemy movement, so how could Demosthes have hidden such a large force? How could he have so suddenly appeared without making a sound right up to the attack?

An arrow struck Galeno’s shoulder and it was at that moment that he knew his end had come. His one thousand soldiers had already been routed, only few of his guards were standing, trying to shield him from harm with their very bodies, and the enemy had them surrounded. The flanks and rear of the Rhamnus army would not make it in time to save him now. In fact, he hoped from the depth of his heart that his sons and generals would be prudent enough to not charge in blindly to avenge his death. Then, the next wave of arrows came down on his troops and many struck Galeno Solaris of Rhamnus, claiming his life. He was only forty-four years of age.

Drakon was keeping the right flank busy when he heard a report of the death of his father. “Are you certain?” He asked the soldier impatiently, his countenance one of anger and worry.

“I was at the rear of the lord’s troops and saw him get struck by many arrows!” The soldier hastily explained. He had an arrow stuck in his right shoulder and was bleeding profusely from the wound, his arm hanging down uselessly while still firmly grasping his sword.

“Young lord, we have to avenge Lord Galeno’s death!” Nikandros boomed, wrath distorting his firm features. “We cannot let Demosthes get away with this!” Basilo was in agreement, despite his more prudent nature. Their personal feelings were clouding their judgment, but Drakon was not known for his patience, either. Just as he was about to give his order, Agathon spoke up.

“We must not!” The younger brother served as the voice of reason. “Our father would have wanted us to regroup and continue with our escape to Alaia. We cannot throw our lives away for revenge right now. If we die, Rhamnus will soon fall to Cumae and Myrmekion!” His expression was filled with strength, but everyone present could see that he was suppressing his sadness and anger. None could argue against him upon noticing that he was close to tears, and soon calmed down from the fury at these disastrous news.

“I understand, brother. Send a messenger to the left flank and our rear guard. Have them rejoin us and push through to Alaia without rest!” Drakon ordered. All power rested in his young hands now, as the eldest son of Galeno’s, and he immediately felt the weight of the responsibility. This was the moment where he had to prove his mettle and bring the remaining eight thousand Rhamnus troops to safety.

Elpeo and Diogeno doubled their efforts of pushing back the pursuit forces from Myrmekion upon hearing about the death of their lord. With all their rage, they turned around and charged straight into the enemies, taking them by complete surprise. Routing their vanguard and thus creating some breathing space, the Ralega siblings beat a hasty retreat to rejoin the main forces.

Lysiphos had just ambushed the Cumae troops that had attempted to sneakily circle around from the right flank to attack their rear, when the inauspicious news reached his ears. Pulling away from the enemy in a manner that caused them to wonder if it was a trick, he effectively fooled them into a more cautious pursuit, which would allow him to widen his distance from them. He too, regrouped with the main army soon after.

The right flank, led by Nikandros and Basilo turned their troops away from the main forces of the Cumae pursuers, feigning a mindless retreat in a gambit to coax them into committing to an attack. The news of Galeno’s death should have made their way to Heron by now, so it was unsurprising that the enemy interpreted the maneuver as confusion assaulting the now headless Rhamnus army. Charging in despite having no capable commander to lead them, they were taken by surprise upon Nikandros’ fervent counterattack, whose anger at his lord’s death boiled over. His roars echoed across the battlefield and instilled fear in all enemies that could hear it. The strategy paid off and the Cumae army was like a burned kitten, fearing to approach the flame again.

Finally, the Rhamnus forces left the half-encirclement behind as they passed by the site where Galeno had reportedly fallen in battle. His corpse was nowhere to be found, but the signs were clear; his personal guards lay around a small open space, doubtlessly where the governor of Rhamnus had died. The enemy had taken his body as proof of his death and as a trophy for their victory. There was no sign of Demosthes, who had prudently left after completing his objective.

By the time the Rhamnus army arrived at the city of Alaia, its numbers had dwindled to fewer than three thousand, owing to a continued pursuit by the Cumae and Myrmekion forces, who had joined together and were led by the reappeared Demosthes. The devastating consequences of Galeno’s death were finally taking effect, and many who had been keeping on their feet by his virtues alone were falling behind and became easy pickings for the enemy.

Even though they had broken through the enemy ambush, their immense losses had far-reaching implications for the future of Rhamnus. The forces of the fiefdom had already been spread thin in the wake of the rebellion against the throne and the defeat at Hesper’s hands the previous year, and the ten thousand Galeno had brought along to the Anti-Hesper Alliance had been the core of his army, with Myrrine commanding the auxiliary. Cumae and Myrmekion had successfully rid themselves of the largest thorn in their side and would not hesitate to extend their hands and attempt to claim all of Rhamnus’ territories now.

Filled with anger and regret, Drakon led his troops back to Messene, knowing that this was only the beginning of the hardships that his house would face. He swore bitter revenge against those responsible for his father’s death, as he bid his time and moved to consolidate Rhamnus’ defenses against the impending full-blown invasion.

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