Empire at War

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Chapter One: The Anti-Hesper Alliance - Battle at Lato Triada

While the alliance army marched from Edessa, the capital was in an uproar about the approaching battle. Many rich citizens who were not tied down in any official capacity hastily gathered their belongings and fled the city, while some made secret deals with the alliance to help in their advance and eventual sacking of Zenter. Those who were financially constrained and had no means to either of these options could only pray that the invading army would not loot and pillage.

In the meantime, among the court officials, sentiments regarding the impending siege were divided. Some secretly wished for the success of the Anti-Hesper Alliance, while others feared for their livelihood, since they had supported the chancellor in his bid for power. However, of the former, few bore hope in face of the insurmountable odds stacked against the alliance. Chancellor Hesper’s army had larger numbers than the alliance’s, and Baltsar was their commanding general.

Hypatios’ death was a great hit for Hesper’s military might, but his troops escaped with very few losses and regrouped with Loukios and Miltiades’ armies. They retreated back to Lato Triada, the fortified pass leading through the mountains and into the central plains of Kamarina, which extended up to the capital of Zenter. The pass consisted of a massive wall, double the height of the second tallest in all of the empire, and three heavy steel gates side by side, which could allow a large number of people to pass through quickly. Any other pass in the mountain range represented choke points that could cost the alliance army many days to cross and could be easily defended with only few soldiers. Just as Edessa was said to be impregnable, Lato Triada was an immovable fortress if manned with the right number of troops. The heavy steel gates were vertically-closing, and raising a single one required more than a dozen draft animals. In times of peace, all three were kept open at all times, but in a siege, they could prove to be as sturdy as the walls surrounding them.

Lato Triada had been constructed under Alkaios Ohm Zenter, the man who would go on to become the first Eternal Emperor. Historically, it was built as one of many large-scale defensive structures for the borders of the empire, spanning less than an eighth of the continent in its fledgling years. The pass was a site of one great battle, in which an alliance of five kingdoms attempted to wipe Zenter off the map. The gate was held by a hundred thousand soldiers, against a combined army of nearly five hundred thousand. When it did not fall even after a month-long siege, the alliance retreated and dispersed. Historians would argue that this was the watershed moment for Alkaios’ eventual unification of the continent into the Eternal Empire of Zenter.

The alliance leaders were aware of this titanic obstacle and brought siege weapons, such as massive towers and ramp carts, things the alliance of five kingdoms in Alkaios’ time hastily produced on the field, when faced with the overwhelming size of the wall. Alexis of Aegae looked past the obvious solutions, understanding that tall siege towers would present easy targets for burning arrows; due to her fiefdom’s proximity to the central mountains where the Jotnar and Dvergr lived, she was able to recruit some of the latter into her army. Dvergr Smelters would melt down the heavy steel gates so that the army would not have to rely on siege weapons that could be destroyed before even reaching the walls.

However, what none had anticipated was that when the alliance army approached the gates, not only the flags of Loukios and Miltiades, but also those of Baltsar of Naxos were flying on top of the gates. The general hailed as the mightiest human warrior had arrived only hours earlier, and had immediately set himself up outside the still open gates, at the front of a thousand of his own personal elite troops. His intentions were clear: He was challenging the alliance to a duel of champions, just as Hypatios had done at Edessa.

Fear washed over the ranks of the alliance when they beheld Baltsar’s imposing figure, sitting on his horse and holding the halberd that had been specially crafted for his mastery. It was a double-bitted poleaxe with a bladed spear tip, a weapon many polearm masters would call ridiculous due to its unwieldiness. The fact that Baltsar’s name as an invincible warrior had reached even the ears of the common people in the most remote areas of the continent was testament to the fact that none would doubt his proficiency with the arms he wielded. It meant that whatever weapon he chose to bring onto the battlefield would prove to be a deadly instrument of war.

Yet, there were fools everywhere, and people did not learn from past events, even if they only occurred weeks ago. This time, it was a general under Iason of Herolus himself, who stepped up to the alliance leaders and announced that he would be their champion. The only reason nobody stopped him was because they were awed by the weapon he carried: A spiked steel ball the size of a grown man’s head, mounted on a steel pole. It looked exceedingly heavy and everybody believed that a man who could wield such a weapon was surely a master of combat. Thus, he rode out, accompanied by the cheers of the soldiers and the intensifying war drums in anticipation for his victory.

“I will smash your head in, Baltsar!” He shouted and rode forth, eliciting barely a reaction from his opponent. Just moments before they met, Baltsar swung his weapon with a single arm, beheading the charging horse and severing the warrior’s torso from his lower body. The sheer force sent the severed parts flying, as the horse took a few more steps and collapsed at the same time as the pieces landed on the ground.

In an instant the entire area went deadly silent at the display of Baltsar’s might. The Naxos troops remained quiet, as if saying that this conclusion was a foregone one and not even worth cheering over. The alliance army was in shock, with many shaking in their armor, knowing that it would provide them no protection. After all, Baltsar’s weapon had cut through even a general’s heavy armor as if it was made of silk. Not a single voice among the self-proclaimed mighty generals of the alliance army was heard, and all thoughts of wishing to achieve glory by slaying this legend were replaced with the pure wish to flee and survive.

“Bring out your best, rebel scum!” Baltsar shouted, his voice carrying over the ranks of troops and into the camp of the alliance leaders. Some forgot themselves, others were frozen in terror, while those with more willpower shook their heads in disbelief. How could a human be this powerful?

“Here I am, following your call, traitorous cur!” A mighty shout responded, and from within the ranks of the alliance one man rode forward. It was Leontis, his golden mane radiating hope, his countenance looking ahead with confident sternness. His weapon was as ridiculous as Baltsar’s, and he had made a name for himself in slaying Hypatios in a single stroke with it. Cheers rose from the alliance when they saw that their previous champion came out to face this seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

“Who are you, to call me a traitor and a cur? Name yourself!” Baltsar responded, angered at the insults.

“I have no name to give to a dog who would wag its tail at a pig!” With this, Leontis charged, swinging his halberd over his head with a single hand.

The two weapons met and repelled each other, and what followed was a dance of death that commanded awe and silence from all who watched. Even after two dozen bouts no winner could be determined, but Leontis was the first to wield his weapon with both hands to attack and parry. Suddenly, both horses gave out in an especially heavy exchange, and the two warriors tumbled to the ground. Immediately getting up again, they continued their fight as if nothing had happened.

To Lahya and Alexander, who were watching intently, it became clear that Leontis was slowly losing ground. Baltsar was still wielding his weapon with a single hand, as if with ease, while their comrade found increasing difficulty in making counterattacks and was forced to block more often than he was able to strike.

“I, Alexander, shall bring you down!” The boisterous man suddenly shouted and ran forward. He was not adept at riding yet, as he had never been on the back of a horse before joining Lahya and Leontis. Thus, he preferred to run on foot rather than make a fool of himself by falling off the saddle. Swinging his heavy hammer, he joined the fight and began to put pressure on Baltsar with sheer strength. Now that he was fighting two at the same time, he was forced to use both hands to steady his grip, blocking the halberd while dodging the hammer. Even then, he still did not seem to be pushed into a corner, fighting evenly with two men who were physically more imposing than him.

The battle continued and many dozen bouts passed with neither side gaining the upper hand. Both armies could only watch the awe-inspiring battle raging on, with dust and dirt getting kicked up in a torrent of steel.

“Baltsar, prepare yourself!” Lahya exclaimed and rushed forth, her small figure appearing from within the ranks of the soldiers like a whirlwind. What she lacked in strength and stature, she made up with speed, as she drew two rapiers from within her cloak, to join her comrades in battle. The four performed a beautiful but dangerous waltz in which a single mistake could cost a limb or result in broken bones. Unable to take action, the onlookers remained in their positions, mouths agape at the monumental fight before their eyes.

Finally, Baltsar was pushed back, forced to block and unable to attack in face of the three-pronged assault. His opponents slowly but surely grew tired, but he knew his own limits and understood that the three of them were master warriors in their own rights. Even though he could discern that among them, the half-Alf was the weakest by far, and the stout man would be no match for him in a duel, they covered each other’s openings so perfectly that he noticed himself praising them in his heart.

Jumping backwards he swung his weapon in a wide arc to drive the three of away a few steps. They understood that this was a means to separate them from him and give him some breathing room, but they did not press the attack. They, too, were exhausted and needed to catch their breaths. Even then, none of them appeared to have the intention to back down, as smiles crept onto their faces. Seeing this, Baltsar faced them with a fearless expression, determined to take all three of them on at the same time.

“Now that we have traded blows... I am Leontis of Dion, the one who slew Hypatios of Naxos. Baltsar, you are a man of valor, and in your fighting skills I see no falsehood. It would appear that you are simply misguided,” Leontis finally introduced himself. “A man of your caliber should not be serving under someone like Hesper.”

“I owe my father many things, and I cannot stand idly by when he is insulted,” Baltsar responded and raised his voice, ready to begin the battle anew.

“Baltsar, sooner or later you will learn that when a valorous person follows a villain, nothing good will come from it. A villain may, at any time, repay kindness with atrocity,” Lahya cut in, her face a mask of anguish. “I do not want to see someone like you fall into despair when that time comes.”

“You speak as if you will survive this fight, girl,” He spat out in response. There was nothing more he wanted to say, as he readied his weapon. However, at that moment a momentous rumbling interrupted him; the alliance army had begun to move. Seeing that Baltsar was occupied, Paramonos ordered an all-out charge so that the army may push through the still open gates and take the fortress while avoiding an extended siege that would cost much time and many lives.

“And you fight alongside such cowards. Nothing you say holds value, Alf!” Baltsar cursed and quickly returned to his troops. The three did not give chase and only watched, finally feeling the exhaustion wash over them. Soon, their allies streamed past them in a scramble to make it to the gate.

Even Baltsar, with only one thousand soldiers, could not fight the overwhelming numbers pouring towards him, so he and his elite troops sounded a hasty retreat through the gate. Arrows rained down on the alliance, as they followed in mad pursuit. In the chaos the alliance soldiers pressed over the threshold, swarmed the gatehouse and destroyed the mechanisms to drop the gates, successfully setting up the bridgehead for the following army.

In their momentum, the alliance soon pushed back the defenders from directly behind the gate and the soldiers on top of the wall, isolated from their main army, was routed quickly. Seeing that their position was lost and their troops in disarray, Loukios and Miltiades had their armies retreat. Baltsar and his troops followed, forming the rear guard while holding off the overeager pursuing forces.

Within only two hours after the first engagement, the impregnable fortress of Lato Triada was taken, the result of Lahya, Leontis and Alexander’s fight with Baltsar, and a chain of fortunate events in the chaos following Paramonos’ ingenious order. In reality, Kyron had influenced the alliance leader into this gambit, when he first saw the gates being open. In the ensuing chase, the only reason the Naxos army was not routed was because of Baltsar’s heroic stand at the last choke point of the mountains before they opened to the plains of Kamarina. Personally slaying over a hundred soldiers, his elite soldiers numbering ten thousand strong held back an army of ten times their size for long enough to ensure the escape of his main army. Only when he was sure that the enemy’s momentum had run out did he order a retreat.

Thus, the Battle at Lato Triada was concluded, elevating the three comrades to great prominence. Even then, Baltsar’s name was not slighted in the least, as his stand at the exit of the pass was a violent and relentless one; his presence within the Naxos army was still considered a great obstacle to which no conclusive solution had been found. On that day, the legend of Lahya, Leontis and Alexander was first told and delivered to posterity, but it also served to cement Baltsar of Naxos’ position as the greatest warrior of his era.

Still, morale was high when the Anti-Hesper Alliance poured onto the plains of Kamarina, from where on no more structural or geological impediments would slow their march on the capital.

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