Topic Actions

Topic Search

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

TFT snippet #6

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
TFT snippet #6
Post by runsforcelery   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 5:27 pm

First Space Lord

Posts: 2418
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

I thought I'd already posted this, but I don't see it anywhere, so I'm posting it again.


Corporal Hangdau Yungdan cantered briskly along the high road. At twenty-eight, he considered himself fortunate to have avoided assignment to the Mighty Host. He’d been only twenty when the first wave of the Mighty Host was hastily conscripted, and the Emperor’s Spears had been forced to give up almost a third of their total manpower. The Spears hadn’t liked that, and they’d opted to keep their more senior and experienced personnel close to home. That meant most of the troopers Yungdan’s age had wound up in the Republic of Siddarmark, and precious few of them had come home again.

At the moment, his good fortune in that respect was rather secondary to his thinking, because he’d come to the conclusion Sergeant Pau had been right. At first, he’d been able to tell himself the sergeant was imagining things, although he couldn’t remember the last time Sergeant Pau had allowed his imagination to run away with him. Still, he hadn’t smelled any smoke. Not at first.

But as he’d moved ahead of the column, he’d begun to catch whiffs of something that certainly could be smoke, and now there was a fine haze of it drifting eastward, right into his face on a slowly but steadily strengthening wind. His horse knew it, too. It was snorting and tossing its head, obviously uneasy, and Yungdan reached down to pat it reassuringly on the shoulder.

He’d have felt better if someone had been reassuring him.

And then he rounded the bend and drew his mount to an abrupt halt.

He sat for a moment, staring into the abruptly denser, thicker wall of smoke, and fear was a sudden, icy boulder in his belly. He looked at that arc of flame, still distant enough that he saw it like the bowels of hell through the pickets of green treetops and branches, and swallowed hard. It stretched as far as he could see on either side of the high road . . . and it was coming for him.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Sweet Langhorne.”

Earl Winter Glory stared at the hastily scrawled note the rider on the sweat-lathered horse had just handed him. Then he lowered it, passed it across to Lord of Foot Chyang, and turned in his saddle, staring up and down as much of the column as he could see. There were fifteen thousand troopers in that column. Along with its transport elements, it was over six miles long.

Chyang finished reading the dispatch and looked up, his face ashen.

“Get a courier off to Captain of Horse Tugpang!” Winter Glory snapped. “He’s to stop, turn around, and immediately begin moving east at his best possible speed. He’s authorized to abandon any of his baggage train if it slows him down, as long as he keeps the roadbed clear when he does. Then I want additional couriers to every regimental commander in the column. They’re to halt in place immediately and turn back east as soon as the formation to their east stops and begins moving that direction!”

“Yes, My Lord! Immediately!” Chyang replied and began snapping orders of his own.

Winter Glory left him to it. He nodded to his immediate bodyguard and started cantering east himself. He needed to get closer to what was about to become the head of his column if he was going to control it.

At least a little of his initial panic—and that was what it had been, he acknowledged—began to ease as he considered his situation. There was no time to waste, that was certain, and the flames might very well overtake what had been his vanguard. That would be ugly. Winter Glory himself had grown up on the high northern plains of Maddox. He’d never actually seen a forest fire, but he’d seen plenty of bonfires. He knew how quickly seasoned cone wood and oil tree took fire, and he strongly doubted that green cone wood, with all of its waxy, resinous needles still attached, caught fire any more slowly . . . or burned with any less ferocity. For that matter, the oil trees’ pods were ripe and swollen with their fiercely combustible oil.

There’s time, he told himself firmly. There has to be time. Maybe you’re going to lose some of the men, and a lot’s going to depend on how well the horses hold up to this when we really start to run for it. Probably have to abandon the draft dragons, for that matter. But if you can get them moving, surely you can save most of them!

The courier to Tugpang went past him at a dead gallop, thundering along the verge of the high road, and the earl sprigged his own mount to a brisker pace.

* * * * * * * * * *

“’Bout time, I guess,” Tangwyn Syngpu said, snapping shut the pocket watch Captain of Foot Giaupan had given him when he’d realized he couldn’t keep his regiment’s sergeant major from going home despite the emperor’s ban. Syngpu knew Giaupan had been torn, that a part of him had wanted to go with the sergeant with whom he’d shared so much. But the captain of foot had sworn to abide by the ban . . . which hadn’t kept him from giving Syngpu a lot of very sound advice. Including the need to coordinate things carefully . . . and keep even complicated operations as brutally simple as possible.

Now the ex-sergeant stood in the welcome cool of the forest’s dense shade. The sky immediately above the high road was a brilliant blue canopy, dusted with distant white clouds, and there’d been no rain in five-days. The trees were dry as tinder, he thought, and shivered somewhere deep inside at his own choice of simile.

He couldn’t smell any smoke yet, but he knew what had happened twelve miles to the west, where the only other watch they had showed the same time his did. And now it was his turn.

“Light ’em up,” he said harshly, and Zhouhan Husan struck one of the Shan-wei’s candles on his belt buckle and lit the torch. Twenty yards away, another serf did the same thing. And twenty yards beyond him, another—and another. The chain of blazing torches spread out, racing away from the high road in either direction, and then Husan thrust his into the cone wood to the north of the high road while Syngpu did the same to the south.

Within less than ten minutes, a wall of fire four miles long blazed directly across the high road. The wind pushed it to the east, but not strongly enough to prevent it from creeping west, as well, and the vengeful serfs who’d ignited that holocaust took to their heels, racing to the horses they’d captured from Captain of Horse Nyangzhi.

The Shokan River was too shallow over most of its length to be navigable for anything much larger than canoes or rowboats, but it was broad, especially where it cut across the high road in the middle of the Mai-sun. It should provide an ample firebreak, once they got across it, Syngpu thought.

And unlike Earl Winter Glory’s column, there would be no fire blazing across their path when they tried to

Zhynkau–Ti-Shan High Road,
Boisseau Province,
North Harchong.

Kanzheng Gwanzhi’s right hand flew up in a sudden, imperative gesture.

Baron Star Rising had been riding lost in his thoughts, but the movement of his senior armsman’s hand snatched him out of his reverie. He stiffened in the saddle, more aware than usual of his missing left hand as he drew rein. Fortunately, his mount was well-trained. When he released the reins and let them fall on the horse’s neck, it stopped instantly and its ears pricked as it waited for him to guide it by the pressure of knees and heels alone.

Most Harchongese warhorses had received similar training, but there was a reason South Wind had been particularly well schooled. It left the baron’s remaining hand free for the double-barreled pistols in his saddle holsters.

Gwanzhi glanced at the much younger man riding to Star Rising’s right, who looked a great deal like the armsman. Now Gwanzhi flicked a gesture that sent his son, Kanzheng, still farther to the right and twenty yards behind Star Rising. The third member of the baron’s personal guard dropped back and to the left, and Gwanzhi touched a heel to his own horse and moved to Star Rising’s side.

“What?” the baron asked quietly.

“Not sure, My Lord,” Gwanzhi replied without a flicker of expression. The armsman took particular pride in his unflappable demeanor. That didn’t mean there was anything slow about his mental processes, as Star Rising knew better than most. “But I heard something from behind,” he added.

Star Rising’s eyebrows began to rise, but then they lowered as he, too, heard the beat of galloping hooves. A moment later, a single rider thundered around the bend behind them, head down and riding hard.

The baron and his retainers were well to one side of the broad roadway, and the rider was on the broad swath of turf that paralleled the high road, reserved for imperial post-riders. Star Rising felt himself relax—a little—as he recognized the horseman’s distinctive uniform, but then the rider looked up, saw him, and brought his mount to a slithering, sweating stop.

“My Lord Star Rising!” he gasped. “Thank Langhorne I’ve found you!”

Star Rising stiffened and glanced quickly at Gwanzhi. The armsman looked back with his usual lack of expression, but the sudden darkness in his eyes belied his calm. He shrugged his chain mail-armored shoulders ever so slightly, and the baron turned back to the post-rider.

“Why?” he asked.

“I have dispatches for you,” the man said, and for the first time Star Rising truly realized how exhausted he was. He couldn’t have been much older than Star Rising’s own older son, Laiouzhyn, but the strain and fatigue in his face made him look far closer to Gwanzhi’s forty-plus years as he unbuckled his dispatch case.

He extracted three envelopes and handed them across, and Star Rising glanced at them. The biggest—and least smudged—was addressed to him from Captain of Horse Hauzhwo Zhanma, the commander of the Zhynkau city guard. A second was simply addressed to him, with no sender noted, but bore the wax seal of an imperial dispatch. The third bore only his hastily scrawled name above an all but illegible signature that looked elusively familiar. It took him several seconds to realize it was Baron Blue River’s.

He looked down at all three of them for a long moment, and then—moved by an impulse he couldn’t have explained even to himself—handed the other two to Gwanzhi while he opened the one from Blue River with his remaining hand.

It was a very short note.

“I owe you my family’s lives.”

That was all it said, but an icy chill went through Star Rising as those words sank home. Then he looked up at the exhausted post-rider.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of information in your dispatches, Captain of Bows, and I’ll read them all,” he said. “But I’m also sure Captain of Horse Zhanma told you why he wanted you to ride your horse half to death catching up with me. So now tell me why he did.”

“My Lord, the dispatches—”

“I said tell me,” Star Rising said flatly, and the younger man swallowed hard.

“My Lord, I’m not sure about the imperial dispatch. From what Captain of Horse Zhanma said, though, I expect it’s an order to proceed home and begin arming and organizing Ti-Shan’s garrison.”

Something in his tone tightened Star Rising’s stomach.

“Why?” he asked, and the young officer swallowed again.

“My Lord,” he said, like a man who’d just heard his arm had to be amputated, “the serfs . . . the serfs have stormed Shang-mi. Most of the city was in flames when the galley that carried word to Zhynkau left.”

The baron heard the unflappable Gwanzhi inhale suddenly, almost explosively. He was surprised that he himself felt so little surprise. Perhaps it was simply the anesthesia of shock.

“How?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, My Lord. The dispatch may tell you more. All the crew of the galley could tell us was that somehow a group of rifle-armed serfs stormed West Gate. They got inside—no one knows exactly how—and the streetfighting began. The galley captain says he thinks the guard might have contained the attack if the dockside labor gangs hadn’t rioted. From there, it spread. It sounds like . . . it sounds like a lot of the other labor gangs joined in, and then the street rabble started burning and looting.”

Star Rising’s expression tightened. The labor gangs were serfs—in some cases, outright slaves—whose owners rented them to businesses and individuals in Shang-mi who needed cheap labor. In most cases, they were “troublemakers” whose owners were relieved to pack them off, get them away from the estates where they might contribute to unrest. That meant they didn’t really want them back, so they weren’t going to complain very loudly about anything their renters might do with them.

And it also means far too many of the most bitter, hopeless “troublemakers” in the entire Empire are concentrated in one place, he thought grimly. No wonder they rioted as soon as they had the chance!

As for the captain of bows’ “street rabble,” that probably described better than half of Shang-mi’s total population. The wretched, poverty-stricken inhabitants of the capital’s tenement stews, hidden away in all their squalor behind the magnificent façades of aristocratic palaces and mansions that fronted the city’s broad avenues. The people who never knew if they’d survive the next winter, how they’d clothe their children. Who worked their fingers to the bone for whatever wretched pittance they could earn because it was that or starve.

And who all too often starved, anyway.

“The captain couldn’t tell us who actually started the fires, My Lord,” the post-rider continued. “He thinks they started in the warehouses around the southern docks, but he’s not sure. What he is sure of—” he braced himself visibly “—is that they spread rapidly. And that the Palace was heavily afire before his galley left the harbor.”

Shan-wei,” Gwanzhi muttered at Star Rising’s elbow. The baron doubted he even realized he’d spoken.

“And His Majesty?” he heard someone else ask with his own voice.

“We . . . don’t know,” the captain of bows admitted wretchedly, but something in his tone made Star Rising look at him very sharply. The younger man looked away.

“Tell me,” the baron commanded.

“My Lord,” the captain of bows looked back at him, and his eyes glistened with what might have been unshed tears, “we don’t know. But . . . but the galley captain says he heard that . . . that His Majesty’s carriage and its escort never reached the galleon waiting for him.”

Star Rising felt as if someone had just punched him in the belly.

“What about Earl Winter Glory? Where was he while all this was happening?!”

“My Lord, we don’t know. He never reached Shang-mi.”

What?!” Star Rising stared at him. “He had fifteen thousand men! What do you mean ‘he never reached Shang-mi’?!”

None of his men reached the city, My Lord. We . . . don’t know why.”

It was Star Rising’s turn to suck in a shocked, disbelieving draft of air. He sat staring at the white-faced young rider for several seconds, then shook himself.

“I see why Captain of Horse Zhanma sent you after me,” he said. “What are your instructions now that you’ve found me?”

“My Lord, I’m at your service for the immediate future. I’m to accompany you the rest of the way to Ti-Shan, wait until you’ve read all of your dispatches and consulted with the mayor and the garrison commander, and then take your written response back to Zhynkau. If . . . if there’s still no word of His Majesty, Captain of Horse Zhanma and Mayor Zhengtu will send their own reports to . . . to Yu-kwau.”

Star Rising nodded in acknowledgment of what the captain of bows hadn’t said. Emperor Waisu might still have been in the capital, but Crown Prince Zhyou-Zhwo and the rest of the imperial family had taken that “vacation trip” south after all. And if the worst had happened, he was no longer Crown Prince Zhyou-Zhwo.

“I understand, Captain of Bows,” he said. “In that case, I think you’d better join us. We’ll get you a fresh mount at the next posting station. For that matter,” he looked at Gwanzhi, “we may requisition fresh mounts for all of us.”

The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands.

“How much of this is confirmed?” Grand Vicar Rhobair II asked, looking around the table in the quiet comfort of a council chamber that was rather less luxurious than it once had been.

“Almost all of it, I’m afraid,” Vicar Allayn Maigwair replied heavily. The Captain General of Mother Church was six years younger than the Grand Vicar. He looked older, however. The last thirteen years had been less than kind to him.

“We know what happened to Winter Glory, at any rate,” Maigwair continued with the grim expression of a man who’d seen—and been responsible for—far more carnage than he’d ever wanted to. “It was . . . ugly, Holiness.”

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by Mark Rand   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 6:12 pm

Mark Rand

Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:28 pm

Thank you Sir :D .

Made the mistake of starting the series again when you posted the first snippet. Might have to do them another time closer to the date.

If it helps at all:-
Most Harchongese warhorses had received similar training, but there was a reason South Wind^'s^ had been particularly well schooled.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by ksandgren   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 8:04 pm

Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 342
Joined: Tue Jun 14, 2011 5:54 pm
Location: Los Angeles, California

Thank you for the snippet! 5 months to release is a LONG time.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by SYED   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 10:14 pm

Rear Admiral

Posts: 1345
Joined: Sun Apr 03, 2011 10:03 pm

How big is the spears? If they loss a third to the war effort, and 15 000 to the fire, their numbers might be limited, or at least dispersed in the empire. I wonder how much of the military material of the city survived to be salvaged.

That work gangs sound like perfect recruits for the new army.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by Undercover Fat Kid   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 10:19 pm

Undercover Fat Kid

Posts: 198
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2013 10:20 pm

Me:I need to go to bed, because tomorrow is going to be here early.
Also me: Check the forums just one more time.

Death is as a feather,
Duty is as a mountain
This life is a dream
From which we all
Must wake
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by phillies   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 11:06 pm

Vice Admiral

Posts: 1955
Joined: Sat Jun 19, 2010 8:43 am
Location: Worcester, MA

Another fine segment. As always, thank you!

Minor point of confusion in my feeble mind: If the woods were so impenetrable, how did the line of torches work, each to be seen by the next? And how did the folks lighting the second fire make their getaway? If they were right on the river bank, I see the escape, but on two readings it was not clear to me whether they were on the river bank or had to reach it through the impenetrable woods.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by Dilandu   » Sat Aug 04, 2018 11:47 pm


Posts: 2236
Joined: Sat May 07, 2011 12:44 pm
Location: Russia

A question: how much Harchong is a "hydraulic" empire, i.e. how much its agriculture rely on large-scale irrigation projects (like in ancient China)?

Oh well, if shortening the front is what the Germans crave,
Let's shorten it to very end - the lenght of Fuhrer's grave.

(Red Army lyrics from 1945)
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by runsforcelery   » Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:58 am

First Space Lord

Posts: 2418
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Dilandu wrote:A question: how much Harchong is a "hydraulic" empire, i.e. how much its agriculture rely on large-scale irrigation projects (like in ancient China)?

Large scale agricultural irrigation is more a factor in South Harchong than in the North. It is not an enormous part of either portion of the empire, however.

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by runsforcelery   » Sun Aug 05, 2018 6:22 am

First Space Lord

Posts: 2418
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

phillies wrote:Another fine segment. As always, thank you!

Minor point of confusion in my feeble mind: If the woods were so impenetrable, how did the line of torches work, each to be seen by the next? And how did the folks lighting the second fire make their getaway? If they were right on the river bank, I see the escape, but on two readings it was not clear to me whether they were on the river bank or had to reach it through the impenetrable woods.

Timing wasn't all that critical when it came to setting the first fire. By that I mean that it didn't really matter how close to simultaneously each of the individuals involved in setting it accomplished his part of the task. Coordination with the second group was more important, in that both fires were to be set within a specific time window. The degree to which the forest is "very dense" as opposed to truly "impenetrable" needs to be borne in mind as well. This is a northern forest, and it would, in fact, have been possible for the Spears to throw out flank security . . . as long as they'd been willing to travel much more slowly than the high road was intended to make possible when it was built. What makes fire such a deadly weapon in this case is the nature (and flammability) of the tree cover.

I thought it was fairly clear that the second group of incendiaries is right on the river, which provides an opening in the forest cover. These guys are only about 60 feet apart, within 50 yards or so of the river bank (at most), so visibility is not that great a factor for any given pair, and in most cases, several of them are visible to one another. So the ignition sequence wasn't instantaneous but radiated outward from Syngpu quite rapidly.

Don't forget that this is a northern river on a planet whose average temperature is lower than that of The earth's, with a greater axial inclination. That's why seasonal variations are as extreme as they are. It also means that northern rivers routinely experience severe flooding from snowmelt every spring, which means — in turn — that their banks tended to be "swept clean" each year. So the gap torn through the forest cover is going to be broader than one might normally assume.

And the reason they can make their escape after setting the fires is that they are so close to the river. They are "racing for their horses" in part because they aren't all at equally fordable points along the river, so some of them have to go farther before they can escape across it, and because they figure they are going to need those horses on the other side of the river later in the operation.

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: TFT snippet #6
Post by Annachie   » Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:46 am


Posts: 2807
Joined: Fri Jun 17, 2011 6:36 pm

The river being so close wasn't that clear. Actually the opposite was my impression, since there'd be the need for a good fire front to develope before the Spear's horse tries to run it to the river. Especially if they know it's there.
Start the fire too close and it wont. Even with the fire drifting up wind.

Maybe half a mile to a mile.
You are so going to die. :p ~~~~ runsforcelery
still not dead. :)

Return to Safehold