"The enemy is prepared for today’s assault, General."
General Porter sucked on his pipe and surveyed the city. He’d marched his army here with such speed that it might as well have flown. But still, the enemy had been ready. Yesterday, the General had sent his sappers ahead in the darkness to try to undermine the city walls, but the enemy had sent its best commander, Maximus Sherman, to defend them, and they remained intact. Porter had hoped to undermine the walls and demoralize the enemy, but the ploy had failed. So goes war. Scheme all you want, but it never goes to plan. So today was a frontal assault.
He turned to the Major who had just spoken, Ben Oberon, his second-in-command. Porter said, "Deploy the army, Major. Infantry in assault lines, and keep our cavalry in reserve until we get the gate open. They’ll be useless here until then."
Major Oberon saluted. He had a rough job today – he would be leading the charge personally. Porter had faith, but the truth was, the Major had earned his job by default, not because of any particular merit.
By the time Porter’s men had arranged themselves around the city walls, the bright moons had begun to rise, casting the landscape in a ghostly glow. Movement on the walls atop the gatehouse caught his attention and he spurred his horse forward until he could see better. He knew a well-placed arrow could take him down, but he trusted his guards and their shields. Most likely, the enemy wanted to beg for mercy.
A man appeared on the battlements, his banner flapping behind him, blue and orange, emblazoned with a tiger rampant. General Porter narrowed his eyes when he recognized the man as Baron Ausman, a former comrade-in-arms who had turned traitor earlier that year.
"General!" the Baron called down. "I assume you are here to pay a social visit? If so, I am afraid we have not enough food to feed your friends!"
The General shouted back, "You may have been considered handsome and witty back when you graced the king’s court in Housetown, but now you are no more than a third-rate bureaucrat!"
Ausman smirked. "I warn you, Porter. Take your men and leave my walls. Else you will regret it!"
Porter grunted, knocked the dottle from his pipe, and turned his horse without answering. He knew his back made a tempting target, but Ausman would not stoop to such an underhanded tactic. The man still had some honor, no matter how confused his allegiances. The general returned to his command point, where he could see all the action, and addressed Major Oberon.
"Open fire," Porter quietly commanded.
"Open fire!" shouted Oberon.
Immediately, the recently-retrofitted trebuchets launched their volleys of stone towards the city. Porter had the momentary satisfaction of seeing shocked expressions on the enemy’s faces atop the walls as the boulders sailed well above them to crash against the inner wall. He had instructed his engineers to double the power of the siege engines, and the results were impressive. One tower of the inner wall teetered as two of the stones crashed into its foundation. With a groan, the tower crashed to the ground of the outer bailey. Porter’s army let out a cheer.
"Advance!" Shouted Oberon, and the infantry charged forward, parting around the trundling wheels of massive siege towers. A second volley from the trebuchets caused the defenders to hide behind crenellated battlements and preventing them from throwing spears down on Porter’s men.
Suddenly, barrels of flaming oil came flying from out of the city, likely thrown by catapults. Whoever had aimed the catapults had done it well, for within moments, Porter’s trebuchets roared in flames that lit up the battlefield. In that moment, arrows rained down among the attackers, and Porter’s men began to fall.
For five hours, the battle fell into a rhythm. Porter’s infantry climbed ladders or towers, only to be turned back by the defenders on the city wall. The enemy executed the siege defense perfectly, and Porter’s attackers could do no real damage.
"Who is the enemy commander?" Porter wondered aloud. He knew that Ausman no longer had the edge needed to personally involve himself with the details of this defense.
The general’s personal secretary, Bruce Storm, answered. "Our advance scouts indicate that his name is Robert Rey. He is a young man, but reportedly very skilled. He seems to know exactly where to deploy his firepower, does he not, sir?"
"Indeed," Porter responded. Unfortunately, his own men accumulated casualties at an alarming rate. The enemy archers had been neutralized, for they feared hitting their own men who battled Porter’s atop the walls, but the defenders still held secure positions. By Porter’s best estimate, Oberon had lost four companies of men already. It was clear to Porter that the major was in over his head.
The General knew that this was but the opening days of what would be a very long war, and so he forced himself to be patient with the tools that the king had given him.
Just after the sixth hour of the siege, a runner came up to the General’s position.
"Major Oberon has fallen, General!" the man panted.
Porter cursed. Oberon had eventually done a fair job of adjusting to the early losses, and had even regained a bit of ground about an hour ago – a company of men managed to capture and hold a large section of the battlements. But even now, those men fought a defensive action against enemy soldiers that climbed towards them from inside the city and battered them from both sides of their wall position. It was a precarious situation, but Porters men raced up ladders to reinforce them. Still, the general knew it would not be enough on its own, and now the next officer up, Joseph Ciseron, had to take command of the field, inheriting the situation left by the fallen Oberon.
The fight raged on. Late into the night, through the haze of battle and amidst the screams and shouts, Porter realized that the field was lost. The enemy had recaptured the complete wall, and most of his siege towers were ablaze -- columns of fire reaching towards the smoke-hidden moons.
With an angry curse, the General threw aside his map table, scattering the stones and flags that had depicted the deployment of his forces. With a kick of one spurred boot, he shattered the table. His attendants stepped back in fear, and even his guards eyed him nervously.
He took a deep breath and calmed himself.
"Sound the retreat," he rasped to his herald. "We regroup for tomorrow night’s battle."
General Porter strode in fury from the hill, away from the yet-standing city walls, which his men had not seriously threatened to breach. By his count, he had lost eleven companies of soldiers, and estimated that of the enemy, perhaps four companies had fallen. Even for a siege, in which assaulting casualties mounted far quicker than did for the defenders, this had been a terrible night.
Porter knew he would eventually be blamed for these repeated failures – perhaps not this year, or the next. But eventually. He cursed the fact that he had been saddled with a poorly trained army of green recruits. Just a few months ago, the majority of them had been jousting with straw dummies in a training yard and hacking at each other with wooden swords. It did not matter. His job was to win this war, and thus far, fate had decided to spit in his face.