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Tales from the Front - First Battle of Westrourkeby Rob
Ahh lads, I told you I'd be back - best ale in the city, this tavern, as if I would go anywhere else! I've even brought some of my own coin this time, though of course if any of you fine gentlemen would be so good... No my boy, I was only joking with you. Our last little chat made me think - I don't want you to do anything stupid, raised as you are on all these tales of heroics and knights and princesses and dragons... Its a mean old world out there, let me tell you.
Well, I already told about that first battle of mine, didn't you? Right, well, I told you that the Praefect wasn't particularly eager for us to get involved in the fighting now, too? Well, right after that little encounter with the Alphie cavalry we ended up back at Newkirk for a couple of weeks, where we were assigned to helping out the city garrison. Not a particularly romantic job, it mostly meant helping lug boulders about to build ramparts, running around the place carrying some message from Commander A to Captain B, or helping out on the docks unloading ships, which were coming in faster than ever. What made matters even worse was the sheer bureaucracy of it all, half the jobs we did just seemed pointless, just something to keep us busy. The rumours were flying too, of course - the Praefect seemed happy to leave us in the dark about most things, but we started to see wounded men being brought in to Newkirk from the south - where we were posted previously! - where apparently the fighting had picked up.
The Alphies were supposed to have been making a big push down there towards Redstone - hard to believe they would have made so much progress in just a couple of months! - and there was even some talk of Grand Duke Karameikos pulling out of the war and signing a deal with the enemy! I didn't even know that the Traladarans were in, I never saw any on the Isle of Dawn in my time there. Oh, actually, coming to think of it I did hear about some Traladaran troops in at the early stages before West Portage fell, but I digress...
It looked like this was set to go on for a long time, but then this group of officers from the mainland turned up. Didn't take long for word to get around the city - apparently the Emperor himself was displeased by our efforts, and these officers were here as his advisers, trying to sort this mess out. Before too long we got the order from Cornelius - apparently we were moving out to support the 17th Thematic to the north east, who had been hit pretty hard in the last couple of weeks.
After a briefing by these Imperial dignitaries (a strange mix - there were a couple of elves there, and they were dressed most strangely - out of uniform! Bit much even for officers) we headed off. Our Praefect was going to continue to manage the logistics stuff in Newkirk while we were gone with the 5th Cohort being left at the garrison. We were a bit apprehensive when we left the city and our companions in the 5th behind, but we were eager to do what had to be done to help the 17th.
Yes lad, they probably were adventurers of some sort. Now don't give me that look. I said earlier that its a mean old world, and I meant it. I don't know what that band had been up to in the past, but given the horrors that we humans can inflict upon each other, I wouldn't care to know what the monsters that adventurers tackle with are capable of doing. I met a fellow who was in the Darokinian army not so long ago, he did some service at Fort Nell - never could talk to anyone about what happened while he was there....
As we marched across the rough lanes and trails of Westrourke making our way northeast, it all seemed so normal - the War seemed like such a long way away, and for the first time I started wondering what the whole point of thing was. I hadn't bothered keeping track of affairs outside Thyatis before, and thinking about it, I really didn't know what had the Alphies so riled with us this time. But then, according to my father the Alphies never did need reason, other than whim - he told me tales of the last Alphie assault not so many years ago, which he had fought in himself, in the very streets of Thyatis City.
Before too long we reached the headquarters of the 17th, set back aways from the actual fighting, where we camped for a couple of days. The ground there was a rough mixture of hills and forests, not easy ground for cavalry, which had been selected to be the first line of defence for Westrourke. The Alphies knew this too, of course, and had moved up their own forces early in the War to try and hold the ground for themselves, but here at least the High Command had not let the Empire down.
We were shown around the defences that had been set up by the regulars by one of their lieutenants, a young son of a merchant from Thyatis City. There was a double line of trenches dug for the troops, in which they were cowering. The whole division was spread out in a long line running roughly north/south along the rocky bluffs and crags of the Westrourke borderlands. Apparently there were supposed to thousands of Alphies to the east, far more than we could deal with, so we had to hold on to this ground while more reinforcements were brought up - we were the first of these. So the 17th had been frantically trying to get some sort of defence worked up, but the Alphies knew full well what was going on and had been constantly harassing them to try and stop them digging in. And after a few counterattacks by us, they had started doing the same.
I'm telling you the background, son. I'm getting to what the historians have started calling the First Battle of Westrourke - a bit of an over the top title, it seems to me. It wasn't really a battle as you would imagine it - two armies running towards each other, clashing in the middle, and one the victor. But anyway, if you actually let me talk you would hear about it. Thank you.
Anyway, I told you all about this line of defence running from north to south. If you ever go to Westrourke where these battles were fought, you may wonder how they managed to get a straight line across this and defend it. Well, they didn't. The point where I personally was stationed, with the rest of our cohort, was just behind a rocky bluff, atop which was a small garrison. The bluff stood out above the battlefield in such a way that if the Alphies charged at it, the troops we had either side of the bluff couldn't see them - that garrison would be on its own. And if they took it, they would have a nice view all down our lines, where they could rain all sorts of unpleasant missiles down onto us.
Of course, it was a steep bluff, which meant it was hard going to get up it at all, but the Alphies obviously thought it a prize worth having, so they had a go at it quite a lot.
Me n the rest of the boys were stationed on our side of the bluff, and we were supposed to rush up to the top if it looked like the regulars needed some assistance. Well, it wasn't long before they had problems.
One night I was woken up by a bright flash and roar from up on the hill, and I remember looking up to see flames rise up for an instant as tall as a house from the top of the hill, before fading away. We could hear the screams of burning men up on the hill as we ran up the slope - we had no idea what had happened, but the band of twenty men posted up there had been hit by some sort of magic while they were dozing that night, and hit hard. A magical blast of fire had charred six men to a crisp, while another three had been fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to be just caught by the edge, and were still alive. It was them that had been making all the caterwauling when we were running up the hill.
Looking down the hill towards the Alphies, we saw no sign of a wizard or whatever did it, but we did see a whole mass of Alphie footsoldiers - must have been over fifty at least - marching up the slope towards us. Well, our captain was screaming orders at us, and at the 17th boys who were already here, and the padre was mumbling some prayer under his breath, and to make it worse, arrows and sling stones started to fall around us. Well, I jumped down into the hole the 17th had dug here and started sending arrows down into the crowd of Alphies coming up towards us. And I tell you, all the time I was waiting for the next blast of fire that would strike me dead just as it had struck down the poor lads who were here only seconds before.
I never was the best archer in the world, but you couldn't miss these Alphies, there were just so many of them. It was like something out of a dream - the place was lit up only by the bright moonlight from Patera overhead, but everything seemed so clear and real, in the grey and black shades of the night. The air was filled with sound - the sound of arrows whistling through the air, shouts from our captain (I tell you, that man had a pair of lungs), and the chanting of the padre at the back. The Alphies were certainly brave, I'll give them that, as they battled up that slope towards us. They got about half way before they faltered, hiding behind what little cover they could find, and they took the opportunity to snipe back at us with crossbows and slingstones.
Lucky for us, because we were running out of arrows ourselves up there. And there wasn't going to be any help from anyone else, because looking around the battlefield similar things were going on. We were the reserve, after all. The only reserve.
It went on like that for several hours, taking pot-shots at each other. Its a nasty way to fight, lad. Crouching down in the mud with your friends, getting cramp, unable to move in case you inadvertently put something in view of an Alphie and got it shot off. Nasty weapon, a crossbow - and that banded mail we wore wasn't much help against one of those. Not to mention the magic, we all had a hearty fear of that I can tell you. Having a crisped body next to you does help spur the imagination.
Eventually the Alphies got organised and charged up the last stretch towards us. Those who still could volleyed more arrows into them, but it wasn't long before they made it right to the top and we ended up drawing swords. I can't remember much of the melee, to be honest, so I'm afraid I'm going to let you all down a bit there. The Alphies had had enough by then, when they saw us all waiting for them at the top, so it didn't take much to send them off. And I have to admit, I wasn't eager to get too involved at that point myself. I remember one of the Alphies got gashed in the leg by a gladius by someone, and he fell down into our digs. We only realised he was still there a couple of minutes after his friends had run off, he was lying their shivering and gabbling in Alphatian, but none of us could understand him.
He was the same age as us, and looked as fresh to it all as we were at the time. Turned out afterwards, when we sent him down to Cornelius, who spoke a bit of Alphatian himself, that the people who charged us where part of the Imperial Alphatian Force of Frisland, and were in fact all recently enlisted over in Greater Alphatia. The Alphatians had been drafting massive numbers of troops, just like we were starting to do - in a way, I suppose he was my opposite number.
Next morning the Alphies came out again waving a flag of truce, and we let them carry all the wounded who were still lying on that slope back to their camps. And also, of course, those that no Some runners brought up a fresh stock of arrows, our own dead and wounded were carried back the headquarters, and then we sat and waited for the next day.
And that's how it went on, for weeks. The Alphies were at it most nights, and they often did quite well, but we somehow managed to patch up our line or force them back again where they took something. The fighting seesawed around the place, but in early 1006 they had had enough and the attacks came less frequently. And that was it. That was "the First Battle of Westrourke". No one can really be said to have won, though I suppose the Thyatians managed to hold off the Alphies, at least for a while. The Emperor evidently removed us from his blacklist, and our temporary commanders were recalled (though rumours persisted that they went on into Alphatian held territory on some further Imperial business).
Our old Praefect returned as our direct commander, and we were left there to garrison East Westrourke. The major battles at that point had turned elsewhere. Our cavalry had managed to turn back the Alphies in the southern plains, and the whole place was a veritable fortress now that the Thyatian reserves had moved in. Instead, the Alphies looked further north to attempt to get around behind us, and avoid those hills.
And the war went on. But I won't go on, my throats as dry as an Ylari summer day, and I fear that I have kept you all for too long already, with my stories about what is now ancient history.
And with that, once again, the old veteran gets to his feet, and after bidding his listeners a good night, and disappears once more back into the Biazzan night...