The Legions of Dalaria

This is the beginning of a battle scene I am writing. Any suggestions on tension build up and grammatical mistakes would be welcome.

Searing heat rose up from the desert, its intensity seemed to suck the air from the lungs of the Dalarian legions, as they formed up on the edge of the Cteph Mountains. Lucien Mostopholous, First Legate of the Empire, tried to shield his eyes from the blinding sun as he stared into the glimmering distance. Yes, there was definitely a dust cloud out there. Five stades, maybe and moving quickly. Plenty of cavalry, thought the general, and he cursed his scouts again for not getting close enough to the barbarians to make out their numbers and formations.

The general stood on a slight rise on the barren plain giving him a perfect view of what would be the battlefield or slaughter ground. There was not much doubt in the mind of Lucien Mostopholous as to what the outcome would be. He had been warring with these desert dwellers for all his life and had never known defeat. Of course the empire had long lost the provinces of Fornakia before he had risen to his present position and for him had lain the task of defending the rich goldmines of Cteph. But as First Legate, his work had multiplied in the previous ten years. The Federation of Nations had begun to put pressure on Dalaria’s southern provinces drawing the emperor’s eyes and armies there.

That is where he needed to be, shoring up the defenses on the Haran Straits, not here in this furnace battling uncouth tribesmen undeserving of his greatness. But the Emperor had sent him.

“Urgent,” he had said, “my most ablest of generals is needed. The faith of the empire depends on your success.”

The words had sounded so genuine coming from the mouth of a master liar and Lucien had believed them. A mask had slipped from the emperor’s face during the audience and Lucien witnessed the raw fear in the eyes of a man he had dreaded his whole life. No stranger to palace intrigue, the Legate set his agents to work to find out what terror lay behind the emperor’s fears. Because if the emperor feared anything then that would indeed be a terror. To sit the Ascillian Throne for forty years bred a certain kind courage. Assassination attempts and constant rebellions were the only certainty of the Dalarian rulers reign and the Emperor Sallistas had long put paid to such traditions.

His rule was iron fisted with the Families, but surprisingly lenient with the great unwashed, a word the Legate used to describe the common people of Dalaria. It made Sallistas popular amongst the people and feared by the Families. But his agents could report nothing out of the ordinary and Mostopholous had put his suspicions down to an overly paranoid mind.
The Legate had taken the tenth and twelfth legions north across the Bline mountains into Cteph, where he had raised two further auxiliary legions from the locals. Four legions, two regular and two auxiliaries, was all Lucien believed he would need to put a stop to the Fornakian incursion. He had learned his bloody trade in these desolate wild lands whilst a junior officer in the legions. Now here he was at the height of his powers, back facing the cowled tribesmen of the dessert once again. But this time he was in a position to obliterate the barbarians and annihilate them he would. Mercy was not a word that came to mind when men spoke of Lucien Mostopholous.

His subordinates had finished forming his legions into their battle lines and he was pleased with what he saw. Iron helmed, sporting the famed white ostrich plume, the Dalarian legionnaire was the most proficient killing machine in the world and Lucien felt a thrill of pride to be commanding such a force. War was his love and he embraced battle with a fierce joy.

‘Range the artillery!’ he barked.

His order was relayed to the crews of the ballistae and onagers. Winching back the pulleys until they were taught with tension, the ballistae crew released their bolts. A lone legionnaire raced forward to place a white flag on the spot where the farthest bolt had landed. A moment later the crew of the giant catapult, known as the onager, let fly their deadly load and Lucien watched with satisfaction as the rock landed some hundreds of feet in the distance. Again a white flag was placed to mark the spot. As soon as the Fornakians reached those flags the artillery would commence their bombardment upon them.

The dust cloud was now closer and the waiting Dalarians could hear the loud keening battle cries of the Fornakians. There was a slight stir in the Dalarian line as the moment of battle approached. They are coming right at us, thought Lucien, knowing that as soon as battle was joined he would not be able to see a thing as the sand kicked up by the boots of tens of thousands of men would create a huge suffocating dust cloud. That was where the iron discipline of his men would win through. The wind was blowing stinging particles of sand towards the Dalarians as if some force was driving it. Tremors began to rise from the ground as the Fornakian army drew closer, still enveloped in the swirling sandstorm.

Lucian caught a glint of light in the murky maelstrom. Sun shining of steel, he thought. Glancing over his shoulder down the low bluff he appraised his waiting cavalry. They would be the hammer to the anvil of his infantry, for they would envelope the Fornakians when they were fixed on the static line of his legions. Drawn from the now lost province of Scalabria, the lancers were renowned horsemen and fearsome warriors. Even though the province had fallen to the Federation of Nations, the tribesmen still made their way to Dalaria to enlist in the emperor’s service. Mercenaries in all but name, they had proved their worth to the emperor on countless battlefields.

‘By the gods will you look at that!’ one of the officers called out.

His attention brought back in focus, Lucien found it hard to credit what he was witnessing. Racing out of the sandstorm with the sun shining off them, the structures appeared to resemble ships of some sort. They seemed translucent with high decks and three masts along the centre of there elongated shapes. Masts which sported sails that seemed to propel the ships forward. Ships of glass, thought Mostopholous, I can hardly credit it.

‘Sorcery!’ the cry went up.

The Dalarian line began to tremble as the apparitions hurdled their way towards them.

‘Hold the line!’ roared the First Legate, his order taken up by lesser officers in the army ranks.

‘ARTIILARY LOOSE ON THE MARK!’ he bellowed.

A swirling wind blew across the arid plain driving sand and the glass ships before it.A ragged roar came up from the Dalarians as they raised their shields and beat the hafts of their spears against them.

‘That’s more like it,’ muttered Lucien Mostopholous.

Bolts from the ballistae and rocks from the onagers winged their way towards the onrushing glass ships, but the barrage did little to slow the attack. The noise was deafening as the Fornakians closed with the Dalarians crashing in to the serried ranks of legions with a tremendous roar. Lucian could not believe his eyes when the glass ships tore through the Dalarian ranks crushing men by the dozen beneath there translucent keels. And then his army broke, not from a lack of courage, but from the sheer disbelief at what they were facing. Men in their thousands streamed up the ridge only to be cut down by the pursuing Fornakians.

The Legions of Dalaria

Svalbard

Cork, Ireland

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