The Plain of Mars, before Constantinople

[ Oh boy... the big smackola at the end... I didn't want to stint anyone the full measure of slaughter, but still - it was too long. This first section went between "...hurling bolt after bolt into the enemy." and "Shahr-Baraz rode swiftly..." ]

            Vladimir pressed his face into the ground, feeling the air around him shake. A thunderous boom had rocked the field only grains before, followed by a burst of light in the air over the Persian lines. Now something like ash was raining down out of a clear sky. At the same time, the enemy advancing between the two ditches – just to Vladimir’s right – had raised a huge howl and charged into the mass of Eastern legionaries that were deployed across the devastated field. A storm of arrows accompanied their frenzied attack, lofting from a mass of mounted men a hundred feet behind the mob of spear and swordsmen.

            Black-fletched arrows plunged into the ground around the two Faithful guards and the Walach. One shaft struck the ground a foot from Dwyrin’s body, which lay on the packed earth of the walkway along the top of the rampart. The wooden shaft fell over, then burst suddenly into flame. Vladimir raised his head and flinched, seeing a virulent orange glow slowly spreading through the air towards him. Frozen in horror, he watched as the glow spilled out of the boy like heavy almost liquid smoke. Strange letters and glyphs appeared in the air, then disappeared again. More arrows rained down, one striking Vladimir’s shield and springing back. The enemy was loosing at extreme range, but the Walach swung the shield between himself and the Avars.

            Just below him, the screaming, blue-painted horde of men – barely armored, most only with riveted iron caps and woolen tunics – smashed into the Eastern troops. Within a grain, the ground below the earthworks was filled with knots of struggling men. Arrows continued to rain down, killing Roman and Slav alike. The weight of the Slav rush bore the Romans back, but more legionaries rushed up from the rear and then the shield-wall locked. Spears and swords flashed and a great growling clashing sound filled the air. Vladimir groped for his axe, seeing the Slavs scrambling up the side of the earthworks, trying to flank the Roman line.

            The two Faithful were already in motion, darting forward along the walkway, long swords bare in their hands. Vladimir shouted in outrage. “Come back!” But they were already trading swordstrokes with the first of the Slavic warriors. One of the Slavs pitched back, his head half cloven from his neck. The Faithful were powerful men, with arms like tree-trunks and in heavy armor. Against them, the lightly armored Slavs were terribly outmatched.

            Much the same carnage was occurring below, where the well-protected legionaries were wreaking a bloody slaughter with their heavy stabbing swords upon the Slavic spearmen. The Roman shield wall had reformed, now in two steady ranks, and was beginning to advance. More and more Slavs poured in, though, now sprinkled with Avar nobles in full armor. Arrows continued to rain down as well, spiking darkly from the earth or pinning men, screaming, into the bloody ground.

            A Slav rushed up the slope of rampart at Vladimir, his eyes wild, his beard matted with sweat and mud. The Walach rose up, swinging his heavy laminated shield around. The man stabbed with a crude spear which ground across the painted linen face of his scutum, then Vladimir struck with his axe. The tempered iron head plowed through the man’s flimsy pine shield, splintering it, and sunk deep into his chest. The Slav staggered, falling to his knees. Blood flooded from his mouth. Vladimir kicked him away with a boot, wrenching the axe from his chest.

            Pity Nicholas isn’t here, he thought, crouching down again, one eye on Dwyrin. That lich-sword of his would drink deep today. The roar of battle below him continued to mount as more Romans, Slavs and Avars poured into the melee.

[ This went between "...thundering across the field." and "Shining figures stormed..." ]

            Khadames angled his sword forward, aiming at the enemy. On his left arm, a small round shield jogged as the horse picked up speed. A great cry suddenly sprang from the lips of the clibanarii. “Persia! Persia! Persia!” Then the diquans plowed into the Sarmatians with a ringing clang and everything dissolved into a furious swirling melee of men hacking and stabbing at one another. Khadames forced his horse forward, then jerked aside. The twelve-inch steel tip of a Sarmatian kontos cracked against his shield. Khadames hacked overhand, the weighted tip of his sword biting into the hard wooden shaft of the lance. The Sarmatian whipped it back, his horse ramming into the side of Khadames’ mount. The Persian ducked and thrust, the tip of his sword ringing off the barbarian’s scaled corselet.

            Shouting, the Sarmatian discarded the broken lance. Grunting, Khadames forced his horse wither to wither with the barbarians’, hacking viciously at the man’s head. Twice the Sarmatian’s shield blocked the strokes, splintering, then Khadames powered through his guard. The sword bit into the man’s neck, shearing through his gorget of boiled leather and then the man was falling away, blood sluicing from the blade in a thin stream.

            The melee got bigger, spreading out from the impact of the charge as more Persians piled in, grinding the Sarmatians back. Khadames looked around for his banner-men, then caught sight of them a hundred feet away, swept away from him by the eddies and currents in the fight. He spurred his horse that way, fending off the spear-thrust of a Roman on foot. Everything was mixed up now. The general passed a single Persian soldier, his face bleeding from a cut, standing alone by his horse. No one was attacking the man, who was binding a length of cloth over his forehead, trying to keep the blood out of his eyes.

            Khadames wheezed, exhausted. He wondered briefly if all of the time spent in the smoke and fumes of Damawand had stolen his breath.

[ end ]