The life of Commander Cassia Manlius. The only female soldier in the army of Trajan, a city of mercenary families, she found a place to belong... And hide from her true home and name.
I was sitting in my tent, watching my breath as it rose in front of my face. It was freezing up here in the mountains, and although and don't mind the cold, this was ridiculous. I'd spent the entire morning looking over maps and making sure my cavalry was prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Such was the life of a mercenary. And not only was it hard to be a commander of this band of 'brigands' as we were called, but to be the only FEMALE soldier in the ENTIRE army was worse. Luckily, I was comfortable around my men, which were some of the best horsemen in all of Italy, and they held respect for their smaller female officer. And luckily, if ever I needed, I had a strong captain always at my side, to 'protect me'. Yeah, like I ever need to be protected. 'Just put her on a horse, and boom! You got yer self one heck of a soldier!' At least that's what my men say.
At the moment, the most interesting thing in my entire life was the breath rising in front of my face. I finally decided to pick up my green feathered helm. I looked at it closely. It had just been repaired from the last battle I had been in, one for a 'customer' of the Julii faction, that we were now returning from. Let me just say that our pockets were now quite heavy. I was so preoccupied that I didn't quite notice the commotion outside of my tent. I finally heard a horse's hooves crack onto some solid stone, then the plop of man dismounting. The tent flap suddenly drew open.
"Cassia," my right-hand man and strong captain, Brutis, began. "The scout has returned, and he has interesting news."
I stood up and placed the helm onto the chair I had been sitting. My armour was freezing cold and my sword dangled at my side. I hoped this 'news' didn't involve me leaving the tent.
"Send him in," I told Brutis, trying to hide the chatter of my teeth. Brutis nodded his head and motioned to what I knew was the scout from outside of my tent.
"Commander Manlius," the scout began with s small bow. Even now, my men never called me Commander Cassia like they were suppose to. But I guess they were used to it now. When I became a captain, my men always called me by my last name. This was probably they didn't want a female better. Go figure. "I have spotted an odd party of men cornered in the canyon nearby."
"Cornered by what?" I asked, also wondering who the party was.
"By a band of Gauls, my lady." He replied.
I grinded my teeth. I disliked the Gauls very much at this current time. It was the entire reason we had to leave our small city on the north western coast of Bruttium and head far north, to Lugdunum, a newly occupied city of the Julii that had been raided by the Gauls. I disliked the march, but anything to strengthen what bond we had with 'pure' Roman blood. If this party was Roman, I would help them.
"And what of this party?" I asked "Who are they?"
"They fly the banner of Julii," the scout replied. He then described the size of the Gaul marauders. Not a very large group, but he also told be there were signs of a battle. He also told me that the Julii party was outnumbered, badly. Plus, they were being backed up in the mountain side.
I hmphed. 'Great,' I thought. 'Just great.'
"Good work," I told the scout. He nodded his head in agreement and left the tent. I turned to Brutis. "Get me my squadron of archers, Brutis. And my personal cavalry, if you will." Brutis nodded his head in agreement.
We walked outside the tent and stood at the opening. As the cold wind hit me, I prayed for spring. And for the comfort of being in the walls of the small city I now called home. Trajan. Brutis turned to me, knowing I would say something else.
"And you're coming with me. Leave Livianus in charge. Tell him to pack up the tents and be ready to leave when we return." Brutis nodded his head in agreement, and then headed off to his duties. The slightly older man had been my only friend when I showed up, pretending to be a man, signing up to become a mercenary. He stayed my close friend even after my identity was revealed and followed me up the rank ladder.
Soon, Brutis had done what I'd told him, and we were riding towards the canyon, guided by the scout. I had my personal guard of armed cavalry and another squadron at my back, Brutis rode beside me. The two squadrons of archers rode behind them scattered lines. I would have to say we were the most organized band of mercenaries in the mountains. Except we were the ONLY band of mercenaries in the mountains. As came closer to the canyon, we saw the definite signs of the battle. The snow was stained red, and the bodies of horses and men littered the ground. Weapons were scattered all over the field, and I could even see the bodies of dogs, starved and ravaging beasts brought to kill by the Gauls. The sight made my stomach lurch, something that even after my years of fighting I could not control. My large black warhorse, Agro pulled at the reins as we looked at the battle field. I turned at the scout.
"They were in that canyon there." The scout pointed to a large pathway in the side of the mountain. "I rode up along side the canyon, looking down and following the hoof and foot prints. They'll probably be nearly to the dead end of the canyon there." One of the advantages of having a scout who knew his way around was this.
"Alright," I said, beginning my plan in my head. "Archers!" I turned Agro and rode in front of my two squadrons of mounted archers. With low armour, they could move swiftly and quietly. "You," I pointed to the squadron on my right. "Go up the canyon on the right side. And you," I pointed to the other squadron. "Go up the other side. When you reach the canyon's end, or the Gauls, surround them around the canyon top and draw your bows. We (meaning the cavalry), will block any escape route. Do not fire unless I say so. Go quickly, we have not much time."
Soon the archers were off, and we began to gallop forward. After a few minutes of marching, I could hear the whooping screeches of Gauls. They were wild-men in battle. It sounded if they were taunting their captives, which I believed they were. I raised a hand, telling my men to slow down. Then I heard a sharp whistle, knowing it was my archers telling me they were in position. I looked to Brutis, and then to the flag bearer at my side. Our flag, green with a large black dragon, blew in the breeze. Preparing myself, I ushered my men forward. After seeing the Gauls right around the corner, I knew it was time.
"Do not attack them," I told my men. "Block any escape route. Now charge!" I kicked Agro forward, and we galloped around the corner. I could hear my men behind me, and see the faces of the shocked Gauls in front of me. I halted, allowing my men to fill the gap between the mountains, blocking the way out. The Gauls were panicking. I brought my fingers to my lips and whistled shrilly, a skill I had picked up in training, telling my archers to move. Suddenly, bows surrounded the top of the canyon, and any escape route was gone.
"Gauls!" Brutis began. His voice was stronger then mine, so, usually he would make the first impression on our enemy. "Drop your weapons, you are surrounded!" Now, the Gauls may be barbarians, but they are brave men, and when surrounded, will fight to the death. I rode up to the front, so I was beside Brutis. From the helm I was wearing, and the helm Brutis was wearing, it was obvious I was higher ranking.
"Drop your weapons!" I called. I heard faint laughter in the enemy party. It was something I was used to. The Gauls began to part, and a large man on a huge grey warhorse rode forward. Blankly, their leader. As the Gauls parted for their leader, I caught a glimpse at the Julii party behind them. They were backed into the wall, bloodied and bruised. But I would have to deal with that later. Their leader came forward, an obvious smirk on his painted blue face.
"Do you have a young boy command you? Or is it a woman!" The enemy Gauls burst out laughing. I heard Brutis mumble something under his breath and heard my guard groan. They disliked it when this happened, which, pretty much was every battle. "Why don't you mercenaries run along and play now, or will we just fill your greedy pockets with some coins so you'll leave MEN to their business." Okay, that was it. You can insult ME buddy, but don't EVER, EVER insult my people.
"We may be mercenaries, I began, but we have honour, unlike you." I said in my clearest voice. I saw Brutis smack his saddle with a grin out of the corner of my eye.
"So you ARE lead by a woman!" The Gaul leader laughed. Alright, enough was enough.
"One last chance, barbarian!" I yelled. "Drop your weapons and give up, or my archers will make a target out of you."
"Yield to a woman? Never!" The leader kicked his horse forward with a yell, and his men followed. I looked up to my archers with a raised hand and brought it down facing the charging Gauls. In less then a moment any possible threat to us was dead.