Thune Runner XI

Centurion Maximus Aelianus worked beside his men in the dim moonlight, moving more by feel than anything else. He took another break to listen. He could hear horses in the distance. “QUIET!” he hollered. The sounds of chopping, digging, and armor halted. Silence fell about the draw they labored in. The rapid beat came clearly to everyone’s ears. “TIME! To the hill!”

All along the little triangular valley, his men dropped what they were doing and started jogging for their nearby hill-top positions. The men of the archery unit scrambled up the steep sides to the bluff above, scrambling between the myriad sharpened stake points they’d been planting, hoping they’d soon reap a red and brutal harvest.

Three men with lanterns ran toward horsemen to lead the returning cavalry through the mass of pickets they’d spent the night placing within the confines of the valley.

Within the Thune encampment the chaos continued. Horses ran loose, yurts fell, partially cut girths suddenly gave way on saddle and rider, fires and torches flared up, corrals broke, minor stampedes started and disappeared, and missing weapons led to a very confused time for warriors and family alike. The fighting men had ridden out as they were ready, a disorganized mass with their blood up and weapons out. But finally, the last able-bodied man was gone, and the women, the elderly, and the children were left to clean up amid scattered fires lighting the still-black predawn gloom with much cursing, wailing, and anger at the night assault.

Centurion Vergilius Gaius and his Argentain companions were not noticed until they were nearly inside the outer line of yurts, coming in from nearly the opposite side as the raiders had charged out from. The first person to see them screamed, but her shrill curses were cut short as she was cut down, and it was lost in the noise and confusion anyway. The armored line of infantry advanced. Each yurt was checked, and all inside were killed, then the door flap cut down and kicked inside to mark it as cleared. Sick, children, elderly, injured, women, anyone who could not get away from the line of steel men with swords and spears doing their thirsty work died on the spot. It wasn’t glorious work, they knew, but very useful: killing a Thune warrior was one dead soldier, but a cutting down young woman was a dozen future Thune they’d not have to deal with. A child today was a mother or raider tomorrow. A dead elder was a storehouse of knowledge and learning being burned to the ground. The sick would heal. Inglorious work here today meant fewer dead Argentain men and women elsewhere later. It was easy, and good training for Gaius’s relatively inexperienced troops.

Besides, they had all seen the dead and mutilated in the villages the Thune slavers had raided seeking captives, and the trail of bodies they’d left behind to rot and feed the scavengers of war. Payback would be worth every bit of effort they could muster.

The unyielding calculus of war ground upon all who did not heed it into dust sooner or later.

Soon, the screaming from the fleeing and dying were noticed, and then a panic rose not over the cleanup and anger over the attackers who fled, but the infiltrators within the camp right now. Some attempted to stand and fight. Some leaped astride a pony and galloped into the concealing darkness. Some crouched and prayed to their pagan gods. Some elders killed their daughters before they could be raped, then killed themselves. Some ran for the river, seeking refuge in its icy water and the far shore, rightly believing the heavily-armored Algentain soldiers would not dare enter the inky liquid for fear of drowning; many would die, themselves drowning. All who did not flee died where they were found, cold steel warming as the blood flowed.

By the cluster of slaves, Jispin was busy cutting cords and fighting off Thune who came to kill the slaves rather than let them be recovered. Several women, an old man, and three boys much younger than Jispin came with knives to slit throats. Jispin used a the spear he’d picked up to dispatch them one at a time with it’s superior range. When the elder who’d been guarding Jispin on grave duty, the one who fed him, approached with a sword, Jipsin warned him off.

“You fed me. Flee and live.”

The old man was slower than he’d been as a youth, and he didn’t have his bow. The saber he carried didn’t let him get close enough to slash to any effect, and Jispin’s quick reflexes and feet kept each blow made landing on the steel spear point.

“Go, old man. Go now!” Jispin warned again.

But hate was in the man’s eyes, and he would not give. He blocked well, and he circled toward the slaves. Nearing them, he slashed blindly behind himself at them, killing whomever he could, while keeping his eyes on Jispin. The young man thrust halfheartedly, and the old man beat back the attack, then lashed out behind at the slaves again. Predicting that move, Jispin counter-attacked fiercely, planting the iron point into the man’s arm. Two slaves had died in those two swings, and another injured severely by the Thune’s razor-sharp blade. He pulled back is weapon, injured arm held close, snarled, turned, and ran.

“Look out!” cried the man who’d helped Jispin dig graves. “Behind you!”

Jispin whirled, nearly missing the block, but losing the haft of his spear to the inexpertly wielded axe. Using the severed front half of the spear as long point-only sword, and the back half to block the next blow with, he stuck his opponent – a nearly naked middle-aged woman with long braids and much blood on her exposed skin – with the spear point, taking out her eye as he dodged and blocked.

She kept attacking.

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