It was half as expected, half a surprise to Neleh when the Caledorians actually managed to come up with even a feigned casus belli for their actions. On one hand it was very rare for there to be no reason for actions such as this, but on the other hand the Caledorians had already made it clear to everyone that their reason was just for show, so Neleh didn’t think they’d even bother. At court, they had claimed that Neleh’s extended absence made her unfit for rule, and they planned to install a new, more reliable ruler for this duchy that was becoming so important to the elven economy. Never mind that it was the actions and ideas of that “unfit” ruler that had turned the duchy into such a powerhouse in the first place.
However, the other factions didn’t censure the Caledorians for the flimsy excuse, because they were all curious about the result of the impending struggle. If Jao’e’Tinukai managed to hold its own, then all was well and the Caledorians would be rebuffed. The duchy might suffer some damage, but that too would be fine as that would restore the balance a bit. If the duchy was unable to resist, then it would become a fat target to be divvied up by the other greedy factions, and the Caledorians would be the only ones to risk anything.
Nimue might have protested, but Neleh told her not to do it. It would not be good for Nimue politically, and this way Neleh didn’t have to go out seeking for battle to show the strength of her new duchy. If they had not been attacked, then Neleh would’ve been forced into being the aggressor, because it was important for her plans to make a show of strength. She also wanted to test how far the Order had come and the Caledorians had quite graciously volunteered to become test subjects.
Neleh and Estelar had used a doorway to travel to the border fortress that was most likely to become the focal point of the upcoming hostilities. There they met one of the commanders of the Order, the man that would be taking the command on the field of battle as long as Neleh herself didn’t decide to take personal action. As the purpose was to test the abilities of the Order and show off the power of the Jao’e’Tinukai duchy, Neleh wanted to avoid taking part personally. As long as nothing catastrophic happened, the field operations would be commanded by the commanders of the Order, with Estelar providing back-up, and Neleh retaining the overall command of the whole event. She’d assign orders and goals for the armies, but the commanders themselves would be in charge of deciding the best way to achieve those goals.
One of the more difficult parts of building the Order was finding and training people to lead them. It was one thing to take a farmer or a refuge and turn them into an expert warrior and a soldier. It was completely different find and to turn those with the required abilities, personalities and charisma into great generals and strategists. The worst part was that it was better for them to not use those with already existing experience with command. Some of the most useful things Neleh had brought for the Order were advanced forms of training, tactics and strategy. Those more modern tactics would only be hampered if the person being taught was already stuck in the mindset of the old tactics.
That’s why they had to train commanders from the ground-up, and that training was on top of the training they received to become members of the Order in the first place. One of the things Neleh had insisted on was that the commanders had to go through the same training as the normal brothers and sisters, to build bonds and loyalty, as well as understanding of what the normal members had to go through. The members of the Order would only follow people that had gone through the same hell as they had. They wouldn’t be able to trust some random commander who got the position through other means. This resulted in a purely ability and merit based system of promotion, which was both a good thing and a bad thing. Good in the fact that it resulted in a strong bond between the members and the commanders, as well as assuring a basic level of competence. Bad due to the fact that there are some advantages in being trained to lead from the beginning. It took a lot of time and effort to drill some of the most promising people into the position, and the process was still ongoing.
One of the main things this test was about was to evaluate the abilities of the new commanders. Estelar had personally chosen the most promising new commanders to lead the efforts. “Lady Neleh, may I present to you the commander on the scene, Elendil Arnor. Elendil is the most promising of the students in the commander program you devised. As you can see, he is one of the demon refugees whose parents have taken settled in the elven lands.” Estelar presented with a little bit of pride. He had expectations for the young demon.
“Commander.” Neleh said simply giving a soldier’s greeting. She could see the smooth grace with which the demon moved. ‘This one had power and skill.’ She thought silently. She was a little surprised to see a demon commanding in the Order, but not too much. The Order had taken in a lot of people from the other races that made their home on the elven continent, so it wasn’t too odd to see one of them becoming a commander as well. There was little chance of traitors getting into the Order, as the Test of Truth made short work of any such attempts.
“Duchess Neleh.” The demon returned the greeting in a similar fashion, trying to estimate Neleh’s power and ability as much as possible. He had heard the rumors, but those were rarely correct, though at least in respects to the looks of the elven Chosen, those rumors had been an understatement if anything.
Elendil and his whole family had taken elven names as a show of loyalty. The looks of demons varied greatly according to their lineage, and Elendil’s family had a very easy time integrating to the elven society because their looks resembled elves so closely. If he hid his tail and wings, Elendil could in fact pass for a Moon Elf almost exactly. His gentle, almost pretty boy-type looks were belied by the aura of power he radiated effortlessly. It was obvious to everyone that he was the third most powerful being standing on the walls currently, only shadowed by Estelar and Neleh. He had dark, almost black hair reaching to his shoulders, with a side sweeping fringe covering most of his forehead. His sharp features were very favorable. He was of course clad in the standard uniform of the Order, with the exception of leaving his head and face uncovered. Neleh was quite sure the demon was capable of breaking a lot of hearts among the female elven populace.
“Explain the current situation commander.” Neleh gave the order.
“The Caledorians are still moving their main forces through the neighboring county. They have gathered a sizeable force of a hundred thousand men to test us with. As befit a duchy famous for its knights, a full half of that force is made of heavy cavalry. They have not put all their power into this attack and are still within the limits of what might be called ‘testing the waters’. They don’t expect to break us with that force, simply see how far they can push us with them. They will most likely make a decision on how heavily to go into this struggle depending on the results of this force. They have sent an advance guard of five thousand cavalry ahead to scout the lay of the land, and to ascertain the extent of our forces on the border.” Elendil explained.
“I was hoping they would commit a little harder into this action. If they don’t take the bait properly, then this whole thing will get prolonged. I assume the reason they sent a scouting force this big, is because you have been picking off all their lone scouts, and they don’t want to waste more manpower?” She asked, seeking confirmation to something she already knew.
“I would assume so, yes. Whatever else might be said about the Caledorians, scouting and secrecy aren’t really their thing. Their main force is about a week away from entering our territory with their current speed, while the advance force should be entering our territory right about now. From here, they are only about two hours march away.” Elendil explained.
“We don’t need to let them return. Prepare a suitable sized force to be good bait for them. Let’s run a little test of your abilities while we get rid of the enemy. How many brothers do you feel you’ll need to annihilate them?” Neleh asked with a vicious grin.
“I can make a clean sweep with about thousand men. That will reduce the risk of casualties, and five-to-one odds of heavy cavalry versus infantry should be bait enough for them to commit fully.” Elendil answered immediately. He had expected the question and had the answer ready.
“The fun is all yours then. Please don’t make me come clean after you. It would be embarrassing to fail in our first operation, even if nothing is really at stake.” Neleh said giving a little reverse psychology encouragement.
Elendil gave a wry grin, made a salute and went for the men he had prepared beforehand. He knew what Neleh was doing with that little jab, but the encouragement still worked. It would be shameful beyond belief to fail in the first ever military operation of the Order, and he would never live that shame down even if he survived.
“He shows promise.” Neleh gave a simple evaluation.
“Indeed. He absorbed the new tactics like a sponge. With a little training we might even be able to train him into a Great Silver. His magical abilities are only at the level of ‘good’, but he’s a beast with a weapon. It would be fun to see the two of you fight.” Estelar gave a small thought and revised his words. “Well at least a fight between him and you from before you got strengthened by the spirit you connected with. Now you’re too strong physically for even me to fight equally.”
“Sounds promising. Nurture and train him. We need people like that.” Neleh closed her eyes for a moment and sent a message to Shiori. ‘The Caledorians need a little encouragement. The operation is a go. Create some havoc.’
“You just contacted Shiori didn’t you? What did you have her do anyway?” Estelar asked curious.
“Something called psych ops. If the Caledorians want to make a play at being careful, we need to give them a reason to go all out. The fifth Order will show that we can reach them even if they don’t come at us properly, and that nowhere is safe.” Neleh said with an evil smile.
Estelar sighed. “I feel almost bad that it ended up being the Caledorians as our first enemy.”
“Why?” Neleh asked curious.
“The flower of elven knights cut down on the field of battle. Despite their other flaws, they are the finest heavy cavalry in the elven lands. It’s a little poetic, but I just feel it’s a shame that they will end up as an example.” He said a little nostalgic.
“You’re a hopeless romantic. Even if it wasn’t happening now, the time of knights on the battlefield came to an end when I started making my changes. It’s almost symbolic in a way. The old way of doing things cut down to make room for the new.” Neleh said with a small sigh.
“I know your plans diminish the effectiveness of knights, but are they really that obsolete?” Estelar asked a little apprehensive. Even he was a little enamored by the ideal of a knight making a thundering charge with a lance.
“They will become of marginal use at best. They can be used against enemies without more modern methods, but against us and against some of our future opponents they are pretty much obsolete. The main strengths of knights are the heavy armor and the devastating charge. The mass of the horse and rider, both clad in heavy armor, makes short work of any half-baked defense and has quite a bit of psychological effect.
The problem is that the equipment the Order uses will make the armor of the knights largely ineffective, especially when not heavily enchanted. With some of our tactics, the mass of the riders will become a liability not a source of strength, due to being unable to maneuver effectively and being unable to respond to new developments quickly. In addition, proper drills, discipline and certain formations will dull the strength of the charge. In the future, the main strength of cavalry will be in the mobility, and as such the importance of light cavalry will be heightened. To be honest, I’m almost surprised the mages haven’t already devised ways to make knights redundant before I came along. Come, let’s go and see our new commander in action. He’ll show you what I mean.” Neleh explained.
Neleh created a small platform of solidified air above the battlefield where they could monitor the battle. Elendil had deployed his troops in a wide skirmish formation, to travel quickly and to give the enemy knights an enticing target to charge at. The Caledorians were all too happy to oblige, and had deployed on a wide front to ride down the numerically disadvantaged enemy.
“Here we go.” Neleh said simply, as the Caledorian cavalry started picking up speed and momentum for their charge.
“Oh come now, the enemy leader should realize something is wrong with the situation being this obviously favorable to them.” Estelar huffed.
“We never give enough credit to our enemies and always think ourselves as superior to the reality. Even the most modest people make this mistake on their first times on the battlefield. Normal generals keep making that mistake until proven wrong. The Caledorians simply see their long awaited ideal situation. Their training teaches them to take advantage of a situation like this, and they are letting their training take over from their better judgement.” Neleh laughed.
As the momentum of the charge became too much to stop, the Order members suddenly stepped forward and threw something on the ground in several waves, the objects falling on the path of the advancing cavalry. Afterwards the Order members stepped backwards and assumed three diamond shaped formations open in the center with the sides being several ranks deep. This movement was done as if controlled by a single mind, with no wasted time or jostling for position.
The Caledorians realized that things were going wrong fast, but it was too late to stop. In addition to whatever the Order members threw on their path, they were now approaching on a much too wide of a front, with most of the Order members being focused on very narrow fronts as if forming narrow spearheads. Most of the cavalry would pass far from their intended target, but they were unable to clump up without obstructing each other. Then the real problems started.
The front ranks of the cavalry suddenly collapsed as the horses went down in pain. The problem was that just because the first rank suddenly collapsed, that didn’t mean those coming from behind could suddenly stop, as the press of more knights behind them pushed them forward, riding right into their collapsed front ranks. The second and third ranks were unable to do anything as their horses stumbled, broke their legs and fell due to the press of their momentum, riding and collapsing right on top of the first rank that had already went down before them. Their whole charge was in shambles, as the last ranks were stopped from moving simply due to the amount of armor, dead bodies and horseflesh in front of them. And then the rain of death started. Every member of the Order was belting them with arrows that penetrated their armor easily, as they stood still just taking the arrow storm.
“What did they throw?” Estelar asked in a shocked and subdued voice. Neleh hadn’t mentioned anything about this.
“Caltrops designed to be used against horses.” Neleh replied with an evil smile. “It’s almost too bad it worked so well. They didn’t really get to test the formations properly.”
“Oh, we might get a small show still.” Estelar pointed out.
About a third of the enemy forces still managed to move, and they charged at the Order forces in a fit of rage. They assumed that they were still able to win with superior numbers, even if they couldn’t charge properly anymore. They maneuvered around their fallen comrades and the caltrops, and attacked the three formations.
“Not a proper test, but it’ll do.” Neleh sighed.
Once the Caledorians got closer, they were shocked to see the weapons of the Order changing shape. The tip of the diamond and the two first rows on the sides changed their weapons into heavy pikes, while those behind them shifted their weapons into crossbows that could shoot the Caledorians directed to the sides by the tip of the diamond formation. The crossbows shot bolts of the soldiers Ki enhanced by the weapons, so there was no need for ammunition. The bows they had used earlier had actual arrows, with each brother and sister carrying two quivers that replenished themselves with magic. As a bonus, the arrows had been poisoned, so that even if the arrow itself had not been deadly the poison would finish the job. The bolts of Ki were designed with armor penetration in mind, and the magical crossbows were easy and quick to reload, removing the biggest weakness of standard crossbows.
To make things even worse, the center of the formation was holding a group of members from the third Order. The priests would use their power to protect the tip of the formation, while the mages would use their power to blunt the attack of those trying to charge the formation. Normally the mages would be focused on protecting their formation from magical attacks and arrows. The result was an obvious one sided massacre, with the Caledorians being wholly unable to even approach the Order properly.
“I have to say, those weapons are monstrous. If my own weapon wasn’t specifically designed to cater to my style and strengths, I’d get one of those for myself. The ability to change the form of the weapon according to need, with each shape enchanted separately is cheating!” Estelar was secretly proud of the achievements of the craftsmen, but still felt it to be a little unfair.
“I told you, just because the equipment is standardized, it doesn’t need to be bad. I’ve said this several times, but I want only the best equipment for the Order. I spent several days with Elluin designing those things.” She gave small chuckle. “You didn’t even get to see the armor in proper action. Come, let’s return. This battle is done.”
Below them, the battle was truly decided. Now all that remained was the gruesome work of killing the remaining enemies and putting the injured horses out of their misery. This was also something the Order was trained in. Don’t leave behind enemies, and take no prisoners unless they surrender without a fight. If you take your chances with a battle, then you made your choice.