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The Cross, the Crescent, and the Dragon

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Jianmen, Southeast Yellow Empire

March 13th, Year of Our Lord 1555

 

The spring sun shone brightly as Theobald heard the large explosions of the bombards to his right as he surveyed the troops forming into battle positions on top of a hill.  They had besieged the city of Jianmen several months before. A city and port on the Tes River in the southwest of the Yellow Empire, it was critical for the crusaders to take- not only to defeat the heretics and claim victory for God, but in order to continue the Southern Campaign across the south of the Yellow Empire.  Jianmen, the “Steadfast Gate” as it was translated, held a fitting name.

 

Another volley fired off.  The last month had seen Theobald fully encircle the city and the crusader navy flush out the Tes River and reach the city’s port, fully blockading the city.  Although the crusaders had superior ships compared to the heretics, the river proved to be tight and limited the fighting capacity of the gunpowder ships. Nevertheless, the crusaders would prevail and take the river.  The lords and generals of the Southern Campaign, however, knew that they could not starve out the defenders. The city had food storages that would last for months, the generals had surmised, plenty of time to amass an army to break the siege.  Theobald had then instructed Marcus, Godwin, and Wade to take command of a section of the army and to fully surround the city. Marcus would take his force to the hilly north and serve largely as a diversion, the main attack coming from the flat south led by Theobald himself and the river fleet, where Godwin had snuck his army under cover of darkness.  

 

A third volley from his own bombards fired off shortly before the first volley from the hilly north fired off.  Shortly after that, the artillery pieces from the ships in the river fired off, and the east followed that. The bombardment, another one of many that had occurred in the last few months, strategically targeted sections of the outdated walls, gates, and cannon armaments and towers that dotted the walls.  Several months of cannon fire directed at these targets would finally come to fruition this day as the targets were destroyed. After the artillery had fulfilled that task to the satisfaction of the generals, the gunners turned their fire into the city itself, hoping to cause chaos, destruction, and casualties.  Once the artillery ran out of ammunition, the army finalized preparations before waiting for the final blessing.  

 

The Bishop of Trinity, his cathedral being the site of the calling of the crusade, rode out on a horse in armor.  His left hand held a red square banner with the Virgin Mary and Joseph holding baby Jesus, who held his right hand out, index and middle finger pointed up and thumb going out to the right, ring and pinkie finger tucked into the palm of his hand.  A cross went behind the Holy Family, with the letters “JMJ” above the cross in gold thread. In his right, he carried a crosier made from gold, a symbol of the bishop being a shepherd of his own flock. In a booming voice heard by the entire southern force, he blessed the crusaders, “Men of God, you come to the heretic’s gates to deliver a most worthy victory to the Savior.  Therefore, go forward, and grant God this most holy victory! Deus Vult!” After this, he made a sweeping Sign of the Cross towards the army, the thousands of men cheering and shouting. The formalities over, the men began to march towards the city gates. Theobald, still on top of the hill, already saw in the distance the eastern force engage and messengers begin to hurry towards him with reports.  The battle had begun.

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"Commander Yang, the barbarians have breached the outer gate.They are tens of thousands, and we cannot repel them."

Yang Qiu turned his helmed head to face the sentry. The commander was a Northerner of forty summers, and wore a patchy beard on a round, sincere face. His armor was in the style of the south coast, a coat of mail and small plates worn under a silk jacket and trousers, and his helmet had a boar carved in ivory on the crest.

"I see. Soldier, tell the garrison to prepare to fight to the death. Any man who is wounded will be expected to either fight if he is able or commit suicide if he is unable. In the cellar magazine, there are thirty sealed crates of imperial firebirds; I had kept them here for General Guo, but now I fear he shall never get them. Distribute them among the troops on the interior wall."

"Yes, sir!"

Night fell on Jianmen quickly, and the fighting continued in the city. Civilians ran screaming from every building, and both man and beast lay dead in all the streets of the town. The crusaders were hacking their way through barricades of carts, barrels, and bodies, thrown up by what remained of the retreating garrison. Yang Qiu watched from the wall.

"Soldiers! Prepare the firebirds!"

The harrowed troops rushed to their positions. Nearly to a man, they were covered in soot and blood; their own and others'. They pulled their last resort from slim wooden crates lined with straw: the firebird rockets of the Xida Imperial Arsenal. They devices were about one and a half meters long, 16 centimeters in diameter, and constructed of a long bamboo tube filled with gunpowder and an outer layer of metal fragments coated in tar, intended to serve as both shrapnel and incendiary. The tube was guided by two large silk wings along the length and a genuine feather tail in the rear; the entire assembly was decorated with motifs of phoenixes and fire. The firebirds were propped up against the parapet, crusader bullets and arrows whistling all around. Yang Qiu raised his sword, silhouetted against the red, smoky sky.

"Prepare!...Fire!"

Three hundred rocket tubes sprang from the inner wall of Jianmen almost without warning, illuminating the area even across the river. Many fell long or short of their mark, starting yet more fires in the doomed town. But most of the rockets, aided by the delay of the crusader troops, were able to strike their mark and send the besiegers formations into disarray, at least temporarily. Horses screamed and bucked their riders, men were crushed under falling masonry, and a whole company of crusading archers raised in Limonaia were blown to smithereens in front of the Fisherman's Gate. After almost a full minute, the thunderous sound and brilliant flashes subsided for a time. Commander Yang turned to his men once more, picking up a shield.

"Jianmen is lost. Each man must do his duty."

 

Elsewhere...

......."Jianmen is lost. Each man must do his duty. "Jianmen is-"

"Lord Guo? My lord, are you awake?"

Guo Wei pried his eyes open, seeing a familiar face. It was Jing Kao, one of his bodyguards from the Duchy of Baiyu. Jing Kao's particular class were aristocratic poets and literati who also trained in the arts of war to serve their clan, and the Dragon Throne; in fact, not very different from many of the barbarian crusaders, whether he knew it or not. Like all his people, he was tall, slim, and very dark of face. He wore armor of steel, covered by lavishly decorated gold, green enamel and ivory, featuring the insect motif of his clan, the Jing, who wore the mayfly on their sigils and helms. He held a drinking gourd in his hand, offering it to Guo Wei, who took it and drank thirstily.

"You did not wake for three days, my lord. I though you would certainly die. A barbarian mace struck you in the temple and dazed you. I had to grab your reins and ride us both away from the battlefield before we were killed."

The Baiyu spoke a devilish dialect of Huang, very foreign to the ear of most nobility, but Guo Wei understood enough.

"Our army is defeated. Jianmen is lost. We are surely defeated in the south."

"Jianmen, my lord? I don't understand; I have heard no news of Jianmen, how can you know this?

"I dreamt it, and I know it to be true. I awoke just now with the taste of sulphur in my mouth, as if I had been there to see the firebirds fly."

There was silence; a stream burbled gently nearby, and the pair's horses grazed next to the men. Guo Wei saw now that he was laying under a tree in his undertunic and trousers, his silk robe folded under his head as a pillow. His head was bandaged, and throbbing. Jing Kao spoke again.

"You must rest awhile somewhere, my lord. I am sure we can slip away into some mountain manor unnoticed. You may hide there until we can escape to the capital, or the province is liberated."

Guo Wei rose, his head lighter than air.

"No, brave Jing, we must continue the fight against the invaders in the south. How many of our men survived the battle?"

"Perhaps two or three hundred. Not many at all, many of them scattered and probably running for home, hoping not to get swept up by the Northern recruiting columns. All but one of your other Baiyu bodyguards are dead, the artillery has been captured, and the regular infantry for the most part slaughtered in the crush and by the barbarian cavalry. That leaves perhaps a few dozen real troops, and a significant number more who only nominally owe you allegiance. They may agree to fight for you, they may not. You may be duty-bound to execute some of them if they have turned to banditry. It is a senseless proposition, my lord; you should retire from the field and save your life with honor. However."

Jing Kao lifted a painted wooden mask to his face, and fastened it into the hooks of his helmet. It was a man's face, but with a long cranefly's nose and articulated golden eyebrows. The wooden jaw, another piece, was square and narrow, and clacked with every word, a pointed false beard articulating Jing Kao's already sharp features.

"I have sent the other survivor, my cousin Jing Fei, to the home valleys. If he arrives in time, he will bring reinforcements. If he arrives too late, he will bring a funeral shroud. Your horse is ready, Lord Guo. Let us make haste."

 

Edited by Fulgistan
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Co-authored by @Fulgistan

Central Yellow Empire
March 2nd, Year of our Lord 1555 

 

The sun rose red over the town of Chamiao. Geese and ducks called loudly in the streets as the townsfolk went about their morning errands, dust scattering from the wheels of ox-carts, the straw sandals of litter-bearers, and the galloping hooves of a lone horse. The young man rode west, the rising sun at his back as he leapt from the saddle, rushing through the bronze-studded gate of the county yamen.

“A report for Baron Qi, from Captain Wang of the White Company!”

The courtyard within already had a few soldiers milling about, including the Baron himself, who had risen some hours before. Qi Hu was an experienced commander, a veteran of many local feuds and a formidable soldier in his own right. Although one of his hands had been replaced by a silver prosthetic, his command of martial arts was reportedly fearsome. The Baron wore plated armor of the capital fashion, steel plates covered with paint, enamel and gems depicting Buddhist demons and monsters. From his seat at a table in the center of the courtyard, he motioned to an orderly, who accepted the messenger’s scroll with a deferential bow.

“Take your ease, soldier.”

The courier kowtowed gratefully and left to find some refreshment as the orderly opened and read the scroll aloud, his off-beat cadence piercing the morning air.

“Captain Wang of the White Company reports to Baron Qi of Wei: The barbarian army is encamped in the hills at Zhuyang Commandery near the Luo Family Village. They bring twenty big guns and a number of musketeers. The bridges at Horse Square and Li Family Village have been destroyed according to your orders, but the enemy will certainly ford the river nearby.”

Qi considered for a moment. The forces he had gathered in Chamiao would be insufficient to defeat the crusading army in the field; he was waiting on reinforcements from Bogd Gioro, and they were at least a week away. He had to foil the plans of the invaders before they could crack Chamiao and move into the rest of the northeast.

“We’ll have to attack them when they’re on the move. No time to unpack the artillery train; it’s our only hope against such a force.”

A sergeant of the infantry stepped forward from the eaves of the yamen courtyard and saluted.

“Sir! I’m from Zhuyang Commandery. There’s only one place to ford the river there, and since the bridges have been built it is accessible only through a disused road, not suitable for a baggage train. We could lay an ambush near the ford and defeat their divided forces.”

Baron Qi rapped his silver hand on the table with a thunk, rising quickly from his chair.

“Very well! We’ll move immediately to intercept the barbarian column; prepare my horse!”

As the dawn progressed to a bright, clear morning, a narrow column of men and horses set off from the red gates of Chamiao, moving with all haste for Zhuyang Commandery and the unsuspecting foe.

 

*                    *                   *

 

The cries of both man and beast swirled with the chaotic din that was the pitched battle as cracks of gunpowder weapons and crossbows sounded out.  While the actual ambush had only targeted the middle section of the marching column, both the front and back secured the flanks, fearing another ambushing force.  With no such attack forthcoming, more men were sent to aid the ambushed crusaders.  

On the periphery, mounted knights began to push back the light cavalry, while demi-lancers harassed the Huang missile infantry that hid behind the infantry.  In the center of the fight, however, chaos ruled. Iverican musketeers and pikemen, stuck in close-quarters combat, drew their swords to fend off the Huang infantry as unhorsed Salvian men-at-arms and knights came to their aid.  Some musketeers were able to get away, load their guns, and fire into the Huang mass-- others weren’t as lucky. While the heavier Salvian infantry fared better against the more medium-armoured Huang, the repeating crossbows that fired off behind the medium infantry scored dozens of kills a volley.

After waiting for an attack from the north, Flavio brought his bodyguard detachment of heavily armored knights into the fray, but by then, most of the ambushing force was in retreat.  The Iverican musketeers, now reforming, began to fire volley after volley onto the retreating Huang-- the deadly Huang crossbowmen did the same. Any chance for the Salvian cavalry to run down the Huang or kill the crossbowmen were cut short by more volleys from the Huang crossbowmen, although the musketeers and the newly arrived Bergarmian crossbowmen certainly punished any Huang sticking around.  The ambushing force began an organized retreat in full, and the crusading force set camp and began to lick their wounds.


__________________
 

General Cassius approached Flavio, who stood atop the hill the Huang had just ambushed from.  It had been several hours since the attack and dusk was beginning to settle in. The two shared a drink of water as they watched the camp bustle.  The river, relatively calm with the lack of rain recently, was heard to the pair’s left as they gazed south. The two sat in silence for some moments.

The long silence was broken by Flavio.  “How is Lord Otto faring?”

“As well as he can be.  Thank the Lord, however, that the bolt struck at an odd angle- he has a couple broken ribs and a nasty gash, but a scar will probably be all that's left, come a couple years.”  Flavio simply nodded at the news. “And the rest of the lords have their men organized? How is Leo treating the Iverican company?” Cassius swallowed another mouthful of water before continuing, “Randall and Leo have their companies organized for the night.  The engineers are also at work on transports to carry the artillery over, but they say the river is indeed fordable.” He swallowed another mouthful before giving the canteen back to Flavio. “The Ivericans took a beating, that they did, but they will be quite alright I believe.  They really took the brunt of the ambush. Leo is treating them well for their service, I have no doubt.”

Flavio nodded once more.  “Good. Their loyalty to us is essential- they proved their worth in that ambush.”  He looked at Cassius for the first time since he had climbed up the hill. His right arm was bandaged, but otherwise looked fine.  He supposed a veteran like Cassius would be less fazed by combat than others- many of the men appeared beat and sore, while Cassius stood with the same calm energy he always possessed.  A man in his early fifties, Cassius had seen combat in a variety of theaters, although Flavio doubted he had fought in the deserts and plains of Alharu before this crusade. The pair had in fact met before the crusade was called, during a war in the northern territory back in Salvia.  While Flavio considered Cassius a good friend, the two were both equally reserved and talked little. Looking east at the river,which glistened in the sunset light, Flavio realized for the first time that he did not even know much about Cassius. The pair were not close due to familiarity with each other, but rather due to circumstance, as brothers in arms.  

 

“Cassius, could I ask you a question?”

“Fire away.”

“Why are you here?”

Cassius was slightly taken aback by the question.  “Why, I suppose the same reason you are here, friend.”  Flavio turned back to look at Cassius, “Is that really it?  You could’ve retired to a nice estate in the south, with your own workers and with family close by.  Yet you decided to travel across the Adlantic to fight some vague evil that we were both told was wrong.”

Cassius met Flavio’s eyes while raising a brow.  “Careful what you say, figliocho*.  Those are dangerous words to say while doing the Popes’ work.  But… you are not incorrect.” Cassius looked back towards the camp and drew a deep breath in through his nostrils before continuing, “Retirement is not for me quite yet, I’d like to believe.  One more conquest, something more foreign than Salvia’s backyard, would be a fitting end for a successful general’s career. How about you, Flavio?”

Flavio simply shrugged.  “Something larger than that, I hope.”


 

* Salvian word for friend, particularly someone younger than you or who you have authority over

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