Episode 15: The Siege of Hague – Part One

The Multiverse Chronicles

SEASON ONE: EPISODE FIFTEEN

“The Siege of Hague – Part One”

* * *

The Multiverse Chronicles - Buford War Map

* * *

General Buford laid a map of Prussia on the table before him. Several of his executive officers gathered around. They stared, eyes locked on the map, their bodies tense.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Buford started, his face expressionless. “We have our orders from the Dragon Queen herself to set up a landing point for a larger invasion fleet at the city of Hague. I’ve spoken with a representative for the Franks, and they have decided to stay neutral in this conflict. They would rather spend their resources expanding overseas than get in the middle of our bloody feud.” He paused. “Can’t say I blame them.”

“Where does that put us?” Sergeant Cornwell raised an eyebrow and tapped his scone on the edge of his plate. “They won’t be able to stay neutral and allow us to remain at our base here.”

“Her Majesty has ordered that we honor Francia’s decision and set up a new base of operations on Prussian soil,” Buford said. “The Franks have colonies that neighbor our own and she does not want this to turn into a global conflict.”

Cornwell took a bite of his scone. “If we’re invading, I take it we’ll be searching for the prince ourselves?”

Buford sighed. “That has yet to be determined.”

Colonel Pearson raised his hand. “General, if I may…”

With a nod, Buford gave the colonel permission to speak. Pearson crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall of the cabin. “I doubt the Prussians are going to hand over a chunk of their land so we can build an invasion force, and launching an attack over Francia’s border will no doubt break the neutrality of the Franks. How exactly do you propose we make our move?”

“Astute observation, Colonel.” Buford smiled grimly, though the wrinkles around his eyes betrayed his concern. “When we leave, we will travel by sea and set course for Hague. We’ll mount an attack on the coast from the sea,  and thus not from Frankish soil.” He clenched and unclenched his hands on the edge of the table. He hoped this war would end quickly. Even a small battle could cost countless lives.

Sergeant Cornwell cleared his throat. “No offense, Harry, but we have distinct lack of landing craft capable of a beach invasion, and docking with an enemy port before we control it is suicidal, if not impossible.”

Buford shot the taskmaster an impatient glare. Suicidal indeed. But they weren’t without tools. They had good men and good beasts, and innovation. They could make this invasion work. “I am well aware that we do not have the usual landing craft involved in textbook landings. But we do have pterosaur riders who can clear the coast from the air. And if we can get our wolves close enough to shore, they won’t need landing craft. They can take the beach and move in on enemy foot soldiers. Once that stage is complete, we can then unload our human troops and start a ‘proper’ invasion of the city from there, with as few casualties as possible.”

Colonel Pearson’s muscles tensed, and Buford could guess what he was thinking. They had all known and accepted that they and their companions were training for military combat, but still, most of their experiences involved skirmishes with bandits and pirates. There was something unsettling about being the first to go into battle.

“Sir,” Colonel Foley interrupted. She tucked back a few wavy strands of dark hair that hung free from the bun at the base of her neck, but her eyes never left his face. As the coordinator of canine operations, it was her wolves he planned to send first. “I assume the Spaniards will be assisting us. Could we not use their landing craft?” She pursed her lips, her eyes dark.

Buford gave a slight nod. “The Spaniards have offered to send supplies, but they are unable to send transport at this time. Their conflict with the Mexica Empire and the Cherokee Confederation in the Caribbean has recently resumed. As for landing craft,  I am sure we could relocate to España until we acquire the proper craft, and then take Hague, but that would take some time, and by the time we got back to Hague, the Prussians will have reinforced their defenses.”

He paused. Now came the worst part. His old friend and Phalanx partner, General Eberhart, was the last person he wanted to fight. Yet she was the one who would be in Hague. He knew her tactics well, just as she knew his. Their familiarity could lend them both a benefit in the coming battle, and if there was even a chance he could protect some of his men because of it, he would.

He tapped the coast of the city on the map. “When we strike at Hague, General Eberhart is the general we will most likely face. As soon as she knows this is coming, she will secure enough troops in the area to mount a decent defense, and she will likely redirect more in the coming weeks. The longer we wait, the larger this battle will grow until we can no longer handle it on our own, and both sides suffer even more casualties.”

His officers nodded and ceased their questions.

“Okay, General,” Cornwell said quietly, “let’s see this plan laid out.”

Buford retrieved a set of pewter figures from a metal case, and placed them on the map. “We start with our riders.”

* * *

The walls of General Eberhart’s office were devoid of  trappings. Her filing cabinet was a simple hand-me-down she’d requisitioned from an abandoned camp, and her desk was metal and lacked the ornate designs that many of the officers favored. In fact, the only thing of any elaboration was her chalkboard, with a frame of fine, polished wood. Not that it mattered. Chalk dust covered the entirety of the board, right down to a list of troop deployments: notes as to how many troops were available, how long it would take them to reach Hague, and a tiny reminder to pick up cheese and sausage on her way home.

If I get to go home tonight, Eberhart thought to herself. The Britannian’s message had made it clear they intended to take the city by whatever means necessary.

Her orders were also clear. Put up a fight. Surrender wasn’t an option, and this was her town.

The Prussians couldn’t let that blasted dragon queen trample their country the way she had manipulated España into an alliance.

“General?” A young man knocked on her office door and saluted.

“Lieutenant—at ease.” She turned away from the chalkboard. If luck smiled on them, then perhaps the Britannians were only bluffing with their threats to take Hague. “What is the news?”

“Scouts have spotted a small Britannian fleet headed our way. They have pterosaurs. It seems they are preparing to launch an air strike against the coast.” His eyes darted from the general to the chalkboard.

She sighed. If there were pterosaurs, then it was a safe bet that Buford was launching this attack.

Which meant they weren’t bluffing. She had hoped she would have more time to prepare her defenses. Maybe even reason with the man. After all, they had no proof the prince was involved in the princess’s murder.

But orders were orders, and they also had no proof to suggest the prince wasn’t involved.

The lieutenant bit his lip. “Should I prep a shuttle to your airship, sir?”

Eberhart shook her head. “No. I need to coordinate an expedited arrival of reinforcements.” She paused. “Please inform Captain Jansink that I entrust the defense of Hague to him for the time being.”

“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant saluted.

“Dismissed.” She turned back to her chalkboard and frowned. She wouldn’t be making it home tonight. “Oh… lieutenant?”

“Yes… sir?”

“If you could bring me a block of cheese and crackers from the mess hall, I would appreciate it.” She forced a smile, and the lieutenant saluted yet again before hurrying out the door.

She sighed. Might as well have him bring her dinner.

* * *

The Multiverse Chronicles - Eberhart's Chalkboard

* * *

Several steam-powered transport ships cruised toward Hague, water lapping softly against their hulls. The afternoon sun shone overhead, bleak, nary a cloud in sight. For now, the only thing on the horizon was sea and sky.

On deck, riders prepared their pterosaurs for the battle. They fed and watered the creatures, then let them fly circles overhead to stretch their wings. Once their chores were complete, the riders checked the straps of their pterosaur’s harnesses and equipped the instruments of war.

Trish rubbed her arms fiercely. Never mind the hot sun, the uniform under her flight jacket felt itchy and damp. She eyed the crate next to her pterosaur. Shivers ran down her spine, and from the feeling her drake returned, her pterosaur wasn’t terribly happy about its contents either. Inside the wooden crate, nested in a pile of straw and sawdust, sat three spherical bombs with capped fuses, four revolver cylinders, and a revolver with a hefty noise-reducing barrel.

Trish fidgeted, remembering her first, ill-fated lesson as a rider. So much for “a pterosaur’s primary offensive is its elongated jaw and hook-like teeth.”

The pterosaur butted her head against Trish’s shoulder. She turned a reptilian eye toward the crate and let out a low rumble of concurrence.

No, nothing about the crate was pleasant.

“Private Ivers?”

Trish turned away from the crate to find Colonel Pearson behind her. He was dressed the same as her, in a brown leather flight jacket over the red uniform of the Britannian army. The flight patch of his rider’s unit was embroidered on his sleeve. He had a gun in the holster at his side, and his black boots were polished.

She glanced up to his face. Concern showed in his eyes, reflecting the gray-blue of the ocean. She swallowed hard. She had only completed her flight assessment yesterday.

Pearson tipped his fingers to his forehead. “I want to run over a few basics with you before we take flight. I realize this is a bit soon.”

Trish nodded quickly, a lump in her throat. Sure, she wanted to be a rider. She would protect her team. But…

Was this really necessary? So what if a prince had run off with his bodyguard? Did anyone actually like Princess Cassandra? She probably didn’t deserve to die, but did that mean everyone else had to risk their lives for something that had already happened?

“Thanks, sir,” she whispered. Hesitantly, she added, “I’m sorry. I don’t have any idea how to use these.” She gestured to the crate. “Are you sure I should be carrying them?”

“The bombs are simple enough. If you’re instructed to use one, pull the cap on the fuse. Doing so will ignite it, and—this is important—toss the blasted thing. Don’t hold onto it if you wish to continue serving your queen.”

A tiny, nervous giggle escaped from Trish’s lips. “If I’m instructed? Does that mean we’ll be able to communicate?”

Person dug into a different pouch on his belt. He removed a brass ear cuff with an enchanted blue apatite stone. “Place this around your ear, then direct your thoughts to your intended receiver. Pretty straightforward artifact. Won’t make you as strong as a true telepath, nor will it give you the ability to control another human like an amulet of command, but it’ll allow you to communicate with your fellow riders, so long as they’re within eyesight.”

Trish eyed the enchanted piece of jewelry.

“Give it a try,” Pearson encouraged.

She took the ear cuff from his hand and slipped it over the top of her ear. Then, similar to how she communicated with her pterosaur, she sent a thought toward the colonel.

Can you hear me?

Pearson smiled appreciatively. “Good. Technically you should be trained first, but since you’re a beastmaster, you should be able to grasp the concept faster than most.”

Thank you, sir.”

She and the colonel flinched as the message echoed in both thought and speech. He cleared his throat. “You may want to work on selectively messaging your recipient.”

Heat crept to her cheeks, and the pterosaur snorted.

Sorry, sir, she sent. But if Pearson believed she could do this, she would. Like he said, she was a beastmaster. Ear cuffs… no problem. As for the bombs, she’d just have to hope her pterosaur could make a fast getaway.

The pterosaur mentally reminded her that she had beat Owston’s timer.

“Don’t worry about it.” Pearson waved off the notion of her apology. “Get your drake ready, but for now, you’re in the reserves.”

She blinked. “I’m not actually going into battle? But—”

He raised his hand and shook his head. “No buts. Our agreement is that you don’t argue my orders. We’ll have you here in case we need additional troops, but I hope with the queen’s luck that isn’t necessary. You’ve only flown once, and you haven’t trained with us for even a month. I don’t want you dying on me before you have a chance to prove yourself.”

“Yes, sir,” she whispered, deflated. “I understand.”

Her pterosaur sent a protest that they could take on any mangy human, but she shook her head. She wasn’t going to argue with her commanding officer. Not with her drake on the line.

Besides, she really didn’t mind holding off on tossing any bombs without training.

Spoilsport, her pterosaur sent.

Pearson saluted her and turned toward his pterosaur. He paused, then glanced over his shoulder. “By the way, have you named her?”

“I’ve been thinking about that.” She smiled. She had been considering—

A feeling of triumph and victory flooded through her mind and tingled through her body. Her pterosaur raised her chin proudly, same as she’d been doing ever since they passed the test.

I know girl, we were victorious over Captain Owston.

The pterosaur shook her head, exasperated. Victory…

Trish blinked. Her drake wasn’t trying to brag. You want to be called Victory?

Victory! The pterosaur bobbed her head.

Trish cringed. Victory is not a name.

The pterosaur snorted. Of course it was.

How about Victoria? Trish sent skeptically. I mean, that’s a nice name. Or what about a province or something? Like Sean suggested?

In response, she got a distinct feeling that the pterosaur had been asleep for that conversation, and thus had no chance to argue. And besides that, “Trish Ivers” was hard on the ear.

Trish glared at Victoria. “It is not!”

Colonel Pearson watched the two of them, bewildered. “Private?”

“Victoria, sir,” Trish said. “But she insists on Victory.”

“She insists?” Pearson shook his head and chuckled. “You and your familiar bond. Well, Victory is a fine name. I know she’ll live up to it.”

The pterosaur gave Trish a smug look. Victory.

Trish shook her head and rolled her eyes, but she returned to her preparations. Eventually they would test her persistent drake’s name. Maybe not this battle, but someday.

She just hoped the name held true.

Victory raised her beak, smug. They would. They would be victorious.

Too soon, the port of Hague spread into view. Calm waves lapped the coast around the docks, but the Prussian’s artillery—howitzers on treads—lined the city’s sandy shore, already prepared to repel the invaders. Behind the artillery, multiple whirligigs with glass, egg-shaped pods and cone-shaped rudders dotted the grass hills. A Prussian flag fluttered at the edge of port, its white fabric embroidered with the industrial owl—a pickax and wrench in its talons.

A Prussian mortar boomed near General Buford’s flagship.

Trish’s muscles tensed. This was it. Where the fight began. Evidently, the Prussians hadn’t accepted the Britannian’s demand for surrender. Another round exploded close enough for her ears to ring.

A metal ball smashed into her chest. Pain flared through her body, falling, reeling, crashing into the ocean—

Victoria snapped her beak and sent an angry jolt through Trish’s mind.

Focus!

Trish took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t going into battle. The boat rocked as the Britannian’s retaliated with their first round of artillery.

Time to move, Pearson commanded through his ear cuff.

In unison, three dozen pterosaurs and their riders took to the air from their perch on the ship’s railing. Trish stared at the sky, her heart in her throat. The drakes formed nine fingertip formations over the transport fleet. The lead formation was led by the colonel.

Trish rested her hand on Victory’s wing. The pterosaur twitched her muscles, restless.

“Good luck,” she whispered. “Come back to us.”

The war had begun.

* * *

The adventure continues in the next episode…

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