Tyrennian deserters were advised to look elsewhere
- “Who the devil are these bastards then?” - demanded the Komes of the 49th Bandon of the 9th Infantry Tagma in his usual sharp and clipped tones of authoritative exasperation.
“Tyrennians, Kyrios.” Replied the Sentry with deferential tones, as he kept his rifle level and pointed at the band of six ostensible deserters who advanced towards the defensive perimeter with their hands raised.
“Damn it! Don't they know this is a besieged town? They'll be trapped in here with the rest of us. Tell them to go try their luck down by the river. Join the other bastards skulking in the reed beds. I fancy their odds better than I do ours.” He muttered the last part sourly and under his breath.
“How, Kyrios? They don't speak our language and I don't understand theirs.”
“Don't be dense Stefanos. You have a bayonet there. They'll understand that! Go on. Off with them.”
Irritably, the Komes returned to his dugout. It was absurd, whoever heard of deserters trying to break into a siege. The Jingdaoese had lashed all manner of nations and ethnicities into their Imperial Army, and some were more enthusiastic than others – the Tyrennians were perhaps amongst the least enthusiastic. Their officers, strutting peacocks from Apollonian merchant city, the men gaunt and clad in uniforms of bleached jute. Slaves, an army of slaves, an empire of slaves, why should anyone be surprised that some would seek to flee the lash, even to gain momentary respite, even when death was the inevitable consequence. But then, perhaps death was the only release that could be sought or allowed under such a system as theirs.
The Komes sat back down at his desk, the sheaves of reports and sketch maps illuminated by a single arc lamp. His eyes glanced towards the gas mask sat beside the papers, the light dancing on the perspex lenses of the eye pieces. Had it really come to this?
- An ultimatum had been received from Grand Marshall Xi that set out the dilemma facing the town in the starkest of terms. To surrender was to risk slave or death, and who now could forget the infamous fate of those who had been taken prisoner only to be strapped to armoured vehicles in an attempt to deter resistance? The alternative was the promise of death and the destruction of the town. The Eparch and the Navarchosa had argued long and hard over the appropriate course of action. After two hours of discussion they had taken a break and agreed to reconvene in forty-five minutes at the Town Hall.
Isaakios Doukas, the Urban Prefect, whose spirit had already been broken by the massacre of refugees that had taken place on the preceding day, could not bear the prospect of so many fine buildings being destroyed, nor that the bejewelled and resplendent icon of Saint Agatha might be lost to the flames of an inevitable holocaust. The Navarchosa had tartly replied asking whether he would prefer the icon to become the plunder of barbarians instead, to be smashed or defiled, the jewels ripped out and the silver frame melted down? The Eparch would not hear of it. A work of art of such beauty would move even the most savage heart. Surely if the Jingdaoese were shown the icon, it would work its miracle and the town and its marvels, its many fine jewels, the rival even of Klassiya, would be spared. Eudokia regarded the man with new eyes and realised that the town had been run and prospered in spite of its elected administrator rather than because of him. Wearying of the conversation she reminded him that he, along with all other adults residents of Portus Felix, had been enrolled into the militia and that he was accordingly subject to military discipline. Then she told him he was under arrest for expressing defeatist sentiments. She had done so in such a matter of fact way that it took him a moment or two to register what had occurred. Barely had he had the time to squawk his indignation before a four man detachment of Home Guardsmen, whom she had ordered to wait in an adjacent office for this moment, had entered the room to lead Isaakios away. The former Eparch was led down to the courtyard of the Town Hall, where the firing squad had already been assembled. It was no time for faint hearts to be indulged. She took a cigarette out of her ivory holder and, after lighting it, went and sat down in the Eparch's plush leather chair. Within forty-eight hours it would be reduced to ash, along with everything else in the building, one way or another. Eudokia had known that the old man had been crushed in spirit by the horrors of the battle, but his arguments had made her gorge rise. How could any man care so much about jewels?
Now Eudokia assembled the Magistrates of the 17 Wards into the office, where they now stood before her desk, ironic that she was already thinking in possessive terms of something no one would possess very soon. After perfunctorily thanking them for sparing her the time, had they seen the stake the Eparch had been tied to she wondered, she outlined the contents of the ultimatum and its implications for all those currently trapped inside Portus Felix. Then she outlined her proposals. There were no objections.
They had definitely seen the bullet ridden stake in the courtyard and the smear of fresh blood congealing at its base.
For the survival of the nation there can be no pity, and no exceptions. Even for family.
- At 1615 on the 13th of May, a lieutenant of the 31st Motorcycle Bandon of the Reconnaissance Tagma crossed the front lines into the suburban eastern Ward of the Craftsmen, outside of the town walls. Carrying a flag of truce, he was quickly apprehended by a Jingdaoese patrol and blindfolded. In his report the lieutenant recollected being bundled into the back of a motorised vehicle, a jeep of some description and being driven for less than a kilometre before the vehicle stopped and he was thrown out of the vehicle and dragged by unseen hands into a building. When the blindfold was removed, the Lieutenant recognised that he was in the burnt out ruin of a brewery, quite a tolerable one as it happens, that had been subsequently converted into a command post. The lieutenant was interrogated briefly by an officer of non-Jingdaoese appearance. By the description of the uniform provided by the lieutenant, it is believed that his interrogator was a Kapitein of the Batavian Marines.
The lieutenant explained to the Kapitein that he was authorised by the Eparch of Portus Felix to seek further clarifications on the requested surrender. The Jingdaoese officer, and several others within the vicinity, expressed violent indignation in the form of colourful idiomatic phrases that unfortunately do not translate well. When the Kapitein recovered his composure he enquired as to the nature of the clarification that was sought. The lieutenant explained that the Eparch was most anxious to prevent unnecessary suffering amongst the civilian population and asked that the Grand Marshal guarantee that there will be no killing or enslavement of surrendering civilians in the event of a prompt capitulation and that military personnel would be treated in accordance with the customs of the laws of war with regards to prisoners of war. The Kapitein remarked that it is unwise for the Eparch to try the Grand Marshal's good will with foolish requests. However it was agreed that the question would be referred to the commander of the division in this sector, who would relay the Grand Marshal's reply.
The lieutenant was blindfolded once more and returned to our defensive perimeter at 1832 hours.
The lieutenant was reasonably certain of the location of the command post. A targeting solution has therefore been plotted.
- At 1944 hours a coded transmission from a location four kilometres east of Portus Felix was detected. The radio frequency detector vans of the CIS Tagma triangulated the signal to a set of coordinates with a margin of error narrowed to a 500 metre radius. It was considered possible that the enemy signals unit would be kept separate from divisional command staff but the urgency of the moment dictated that the attack proceed regardless.
At 2015 hours the remaining 25-Pounder batteries trained their fire onto a set of grid references that would have the effect of bracketing the suspected signal location with a salvo of high explosive shells. In addition to these, were fired off nine of the improvised chlorine cannister rounds with the intention of achieving a localised saturation effect.
Over the course of the next ten minutes, a further dozen chlorine cannisters alternating with high explosive rounds, were fired off at command posts tentatively identified by signals intelligence as having responsibility for enemy units in the eastern sector.
- Meanwhile in the Ward of the Craftsmen and the adjacent slums, a heavy barrage of mortar and machine gun fire was laid down as the Armoured, Reconnaissance and Scout Tagamata began a concerted attempt at a breakout. The Scorpion reconnaissance tanks led the advance, using their turret mounted 76 mm cannons in an attempt to lay down a suppressing fire against enemy infantry, armoured vehicles and heavy weapons emplacements. Each Scorpion was flanked by two 'technicals', pick-up trucks carrying heavy calibre machine-guns or adapted anti-aircraft weapons, the technicals were to defend the Scorpions against any enemy squads that might attempt to attack from the flanks with rocket-propelled grenades or anti-tank weapons.
In the wake of this spear-point followed the surviving 4,809 men of the Infantry Tagamata advancing in skirmish lines together with the 2,000 or so cadets of the Scholai and flanked by the 1,158 snipers and marksmen of the Scout Tagamata. These men had donned their gas masks and NBC suits. If they could punch their way out of the suburbs there could at least be the hope that some remnant of the professional army could break out into the scrubland and wilderness beyond, and there, if any survived long enough, make contact with the columns of the Home Guard advancing down from the north and across the desert from the nast.
Last came the 9,000 chosen men from the Home Guard, selected to join the attack, moving in squads of a dozen men and women each, with a hundred yards gap between each squad. The reserves of gas masks had been exhausted, so the guardsmen had damp rags tied around their mouths and noses in an attempt to keep out the chlorine that was probably more a testimony to optimism than efficaciousness.
Together then, they advanced and moved off into the maelstrom of shot and shell and the thick swirling clouds of gas
- The civilians enrolled into the militia had been given the opportunity to join the breakout attempt. The consensus however had been that, since there was no hope, they would rather die defending their own homes. The intention had been to stage a last stand at the Town Hall and the General Post Office, but the threat to level the town with thermobaric weapons had rendered that a somewhat quaint consideration. Instead the basements, the cellars and the sewers were the chosen location for where the last desperate struggle would be waged, a true rats war, against the vermin swarming beyond the walls.
Those mothers who could not bear the thought of the suffering of their children had to resort to a number of desperate measures, some resorted to poison, others to suffocation with a pillow, still others led their young boys and girls down to the river where they drowned the crying, bawling and terrified toddlers in the filthy river waters. It was a horrible act and a horrible fate, but a course of action justified in order to cheat the slavers and torturers of the Jingdaoese Emperor.
- The Navarchosa, however, had retired to the northern perimeter, where she watched as the final gas cannisters and high explosive rounds were being fired off in support of the eastwards Banzai charge. As each gun fell silent one of the artillerymen would dart forward and drop a grenade down the barrel of the gun, spiking the guns and rendering them useless to the conquerors for anything save scrap. The Artillerymen, their purpose now at an end, picked up whatever weapons they could find and moved off to join the remaining Home Guard in the perimeter defences.
- As night fell, the first Constancian air activity of the day began. Uncoordinated with the main breakout, an AgustaWestland AW139 made an appearance over the battlefield. Flying at a height of one thousand metres, the helicopter achieved a first in the military history of Micras by dropping the first and then the second barrel bomb ever recorded onto a Jingdaoese armoured trawler out in the Sandy River. It didn't get the chance to drop the third as the anti-air armaments of every battleship, frigate and corvette anchored out in the main channel of the river opened. The sky was lit up with tracer fire and the arcing of salvo fired surface to air missiles. The survival chances of the helicopter from the Gamma Squadron diminished accordingly.
- Eudokia sighed as she watched the last of the all too brief spectacle over the river die away. As firework displays went, it had been one of the better ones. Futile of course, even if they had managed to hit the trawler. Carrying her gas mask and an MP-40 submachine gun, she turned her back to the river and walked about half a kilometre eastwards until she reached the dugout of the Komes of the 49th Bandon of the 9th Infantry Tagma. The Komes and his officers, bathed in the warm electric glow of the arc lamp, were sat around the desk, sharing the contents of a bottle of ouzo. Hanging the submachine gun by its strap off a rusty nail hammered into a beam, she pulled down the corrugated iron shutter of the dugout and joined the men around the table. The Komes passed across a chipped shot glass to her and, whilst another officer began to decant the filthy spirit into it, Eudokia Karbonopsina-Doukas removed her last cigarette from her ivory case and reflected on how she had at last realised her father's dream and served the city as Eparch as he had done before her, even if it was only for a day.