Empire at War

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Chapter One: The Anti-Hesper Alliance - Birth of a Legend

“I suggest we fortify the middle camps with shields and lances, while drawing in the soldiers of the outside camps. The tents and small wooden palisades should slow the enemy advances, since they are comprised of heavy cavalry,” Kyron suddenly said. Paramonos listened to the suggestion, decided that this course of actions had its merits and nodded in approval.

“Immediately pull back the soldiers from the outer camps. Have the shield bearers and lancers form a defensive line at the middle camps. We will withdraw to the top of the city gate to overlook the battlefield,” He commanded, his tone befitting of a leader. Duke Paramonos had his rare moments of valor, when he had the farsightedness to listen to the advices of his betters.

The gathered warlords immediately sent off their followers to inform their troops, before collectively going towards the city gates. Lahya did not join them and left with Leontis to meet with Alexander to personally command the retreat of her soldiers, who were located in the outer ring of camps, since they had only arrived recently. Kyron tried to persuade her not to put herself in danger, but seeing her conviction, reluctantly let her go.

The war drums were approaching steadily, testament to the fact that Hypatios was not attempting a surprise raid. Despite bringing only cavalry, his main goal was to lock down the alliance army at Edessa, rather than allow it to set out for the capital. His foot soldiers would arrive soon after him, while his vanguard created pressure on the outer camps. He anticipated that rather than come out and face him directly, the alliance would rather dig in; the large plains surrounding Edessa were in favor for the heavy northern cavalry from Naxos. The armies of the North were feared for their fierce charges and horseback skirmishing troops that could even fight the ferocious Formido.

Thus, by the time Hypatios, riding at the front of his troops, climbed the last hill surrounding the city and saw the alliance army’s camp, he had to laugh at the sight. Soldiers from the outer rings were still in the process of withdrawing, while there was a defensive wall built to counter his cavalry charge. His intimidation tactics had succeeded, now all he needed to do was to keep the enemy from setting up a counterattack while he waited for his main forces to arrive.

Riding down the hill swiftly, the Hypatios cavalry approached the abandoned outer camps with flaming arrows and set fire to the tents. This would keep the alliance army in check for even longer; it appeared that the alliance leadership was incompetent and had played right into his hands. With roaring laughter, the general of Naxos watched on as the blaze spread like wildfire.

Kyron’s advice to Paramonos had been in the awareness that Hypatios was planning to pin them in Edessa. While the other leaders panicked at the burning camps, he laughed at the fact that he had seen through the enemy general’s train of thoughts.

“Lord Kyron, what is so funny? Your suggestion has put us in a bad situation. We can’t go out and meet Hypatios, while his army can set up a proper camp and begin a siege of the city,” Paramonos turned to address the former minister.

“Worry not, old friend. In a siege, Hypatios’ cavalry would become useless, meaning his power is cut in half. With a hundred thousand troops he cannot hope to take this city, now defended by over two hundred thousand soldiers,” Kyron responded, laying out the numbers before the gathered leaders. Just then a soldier rushed up the stairs to the pavilion on top of the gate, inside which the headquarters for the Anti-Hesper Alliance had been set up provisionally.

“Report! Our scouts have spotted another army, three days away from here. They number in a hundred and fifty thousand and fly the flags of General Loukios and Miltiades of Naxos!” The messenger announced upon falling onto one knee. A murmur went through the room upon these news, with many eyes falling on Paramonos once again. The enemy had more than equal numbers to the alliance now, and it was known that Loukios and Miltiades had been in the capital with Hesper, meaning more options for supply lines were opened this way. If this turned into a lengthy siege, Edessa would not be able to feed the mouths of all gathered troops for a long time.

“Report! Hypatios is shouting challenges at our troops to bring out our strongest champions to fight him. He-he says he wants to kill some time,” Another messenger arrived and reported, reluctantly stating the entirety of the message, before leaving again.

“This is a chance! If Hypatios is killed, his army will have lost their leader. If we then attack with our troops, they will disperse in chaos,” Iason shouted eagerly.

“Is there a warrior who is willing to ride out and face Hypatios as the champion of the Anti-Hesper Alliance?” Paramonos inquired.

Lahya had returned with Leontis, after she had ascertained herself of the fact that Alexander and her soldiers had retreated behind the line of defense and set up her own measures against an all-out battle. Upon these words, Leontis motioned to volunteer, but was held back by Lahya subtly shaking her head. Without questioning the reason behind it, the giant stopped and remained silent.

“I have a general who will be more than a match for Hypatios!” Phaidros of Delos, the governor of a large town in the fiefdom of Kamarina, announced. He had brought three thousand soldiers and had earned a seat at the table of leaders that way. Phaidros sent his attendant to call the general in question, who soon arrived in full armor, wielding a spear.

“I, Praxion of Delos will claim Hypatios’ head!” He proclaimed.

“You seem a man of valor! A toast to your victory,” Paramonos stated and lifted his cup to Praxion. When the round finished, the general promptly set out to face the enemy general in a duel on horseback. Only moments later, a loud but distant cheer from many throats could be heard and a messenger entered with a report: Praxion had been beheaded on his first bout with Hypatios. Phaidros went pale and shrunk down in his seat; his best general had been slain without as much as putting up a fight.

“Is there anyone else who can stand up to Hypatios?” Paramonos again asked the gathered warlords. Once again, Leontis motioned to step forward, but was stopped by Lahya wordlessly. Kyron noticed it but did not let his knowledge show on his face. He guessed that maybe she feared for one of her few trusted companions and did not want him to die needlessly.

“I believe I have a warrior who can best Hypatios!” Simonides of Elateia stood up from his seat. He was a noble who brought two thousand troops from the city of Elateia located in the fiefdom of Pella, southwest of Thronion. Once again, the general in question was called in front of the gathering to introduce himself. “Arcad of Elateia, at your service. I will cut down the traitorous general.”

Paramonos spoke a toast to the warrior heading out to battle, this time looking less confident about the man’s victory. And as expected, soon after, another distant crowd cheered and a messenger arrived to inform everyone that Arcad had been slain on his second bout with Hypatios. Everyone looked at Simonides in pity, who went silent and did not try to defend his fallen champion; he knew that any words he uttered now would only serve to deepen his embarrassment. Leontis saw Lahya’s expression and once again did not speak up about wishing to volunteer. He trusted her judgment enough to put it before his own wishes to help the alliance and make a name for himself.

“My general will not fail like those before him and end Hypatios once and for all!” Artemon of Helike, the governor of the city of Helike in the fiefdom of Gortyn, southwest of the capital of Zenter, declared. He had brought a little over three thousand troops, and he was known to many as a man who gathered talented people under him. Paramonos’ face showed hope when Artemon spoke up, and when he saw the general that entered, he was delighted. “I am Dionis of Helike. I will take Hypatios’ head for sure!”

Dionis of Helike was a well-built man wielding a large glaive. His presence exuded confidence and his every motion looked cultivated like those of a martial arts master. It instilled awe in the people present, who bore hope that against the third champion, Hypatios would finally fall. The general from Helike set out after a toast, asking for the drums on the gates to sound for his victory.

When the battle began, so did the drumming, but after only ten beats they went silent, followed by the third time the enemy army cheered. Everyone understood immediately that Dionis, too, had fallen to Hypatios’ halberd. When the messenger came to report, he was sent away by Paramonos before he could speak up. Artemon dropped his cup and fell into a daze; he had not only lost his most valuable general but also his face.

“How can it be that our alliance cannot produce one man of valor that can stand up to this vile traitor? If only I had brought Evaristos, he would have been able to easily defeat Hypatios,” Paramonos lamented, as he leant back on his seat with a deep sigh. Everyone present had heard of Evaristos of Rhegion, a general of exceptional combat prowess, with some rumors claiming him to be close to Baltsar in skills. However, they also wondered why Paramonos had left his most capable commander in the capital of his fiefdom.

“There is one who can defeat Hypatios,” A voice cut through the murmurs filling the room. It belonged to Lahya, who had spoken in a clear and firm tone, as if stating a fact rather than proclaiming an intent. “Leontis, it is time,” She added, quieter, for only the giant behind her to hear. Kyron, who sat beside her, witnessed the connection between the two and smiled to himself; he knew the trust they shared and understood that Leontis would succeed without a doubt.

“What is your name?” Paramonos inquired, when the golden man stepped forward.

“I am Leontis of Dion, general under Lahya Eventyr,” He introduced himself with a nod of his head. His gestures suggested that he did not wish to slight his stature by bowing or falling to one knee. “Toast to my victory on my return.” He preempted Paramonos’ attempt at lifting his cup to the valorous warrior heading out to his death match.

Everyone in the room was fascinated by the extraordinary presence of Leontis, but they did not hold much hope for his victory after the display of the previous three. When the warrior left, some sighed and others looked at Lahya in pity, expecting her champion to fail. Kyron got up from his seat and walked out of the room and up to the ramparts to watch the battle below; nobody cared to stop him, as they waited with little expectation.

Only moments later, Kyron returned. Everybody present was expecting him to bring the bad news, that Hypatios had claimed his fourth victim. However, rather than filled with disappointment, the former minister’s face showed content, as if he had witnessed something great. At the same time, a loud cheer resounded from just below the gates, coming from the alliance troops. Wordlessly, Kyron sat down on his own seat again and turned to look at Lahya. Seeing her expression, his smile faded away, as a wave of fear washed over him; he suppressed the emotion so that it would not show on his face. Making a mental note of the half-Alf, he made sure to remember her as a formidable person.

Heavy footsteps announced somebody’s approach, and when Leontis turned the corner, everybody’s mouth fell open in disbelief. The imposing man was carrying a bloody bundle in one hand, which he tossed before Paramonos’ feet. It opened up to reveal the head of Hypatios, cleanly severed in a single stroke. The atmosphere in the room exploded and the gathered men and women celebrated the victory. Kyron saw the same expression as Lahya’s on Leontis’ face and understood in that moment, that he had just witnessed the beginning of a legend.

They were showing neither pride nor complacency, but were expressing that what had happened was a matter of fact, just as the sun would rise in the East and set in the West every day without fail.

In the wake of Hypatios’ death, his troops sounded a hasty retreat; the fact that only the cavalry had been present was the only reason his army was not routed by the pursuit parties. Scouts reported that they regrouped with the foot soldiers who had been following behind, and were moving quickly to meet with Loukios and Miltiades’ armies.

Riding on the momentum, Paramonos ordered the alliance to set out and march on the capital; morale was high after Leontis’ glorious display, which had been witnessed by thousands of soldiers. The rumors that a man of unparalleled might, as strong as Baltsar, if not stronger, was on their side, spread like wildfire among the common rank and file. These news also spread to Loukios and Miltiades, who sent out messengers to the capital, to ask for Baltsar’s aid.

Little did everybody involved in the war know at that time, that things had been set into motion in the capital that nobody could have foreseen.

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