The Valley Floor Trading Approach

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Translation of “valley floor” in Russian

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Kearney Paul

Книга “Ships from the West”

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But this woman below, she mattered. She mattered to the world, of course – it was important that she survive. But most of all she mattered to him. And he dared not delve deeper into that knowledge, for fear his middle age might come laughing back at him. It was enough that she was here.

For a while Richard Hawkwood, standing there on the quarterdeck of another man’s ship with doom approaching out of the west, watched the sailors ready his vessel for sea, and knew that she was below, and was inexplicably happy.

A commotion down on the wharves. Two riders had galloped through the gate and come to a rearing halt before the xebec, scattering mariners and panicking the gulls. A man and a woman dismounted, tawny with dust, and without ceremony or introduction they ran up the gangplank hand in hand, leaving their foam-streaked and blowing mounts stand­ing. Hawkwood, jolted out of his reverie, shouted for the master-at-arms and met them at the rail.

‘What the hell is this? This is a king’s ship. You can’t—’

The woman threw back her richly embroidered hood and smiled at him. ‘Hello, Richard. It has been a long time’

But I’ve said goodbye to Galahad, And am no more the Knight of dreams and show: For lust and senseless hatred make me glad, And my killed friends are with me where I go . . .

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Gaderion had begun life as a timber-built blockhouse on a stream-girt spur of the Thurian mountains. The Fimbrians had stationed troops there to police the passage of the Torrin Gap and levy tolls on the caravans that passed through from west to east, or east to west. When their empire fell apart the station was abandoned, and the only relic left of their presence was the fine road which they had constructed to speed the passage of their armies.

The Torunnans had built a series of staging posts in the gap, and around these had grown up a straggling network of taverns and livery stables which catered for travellers. But these had withered away over the years, first of all in the retrenchment which had followed the crisis of the Merduk Wars, and then in the years after the Schism, when trade between Torunna and Almark had all but died out.

More recently, a Merduk army had begun work on a fortress in the gap, before suffering defeat in the Battle of Berrona. King Corfe, in the years following Armagedir, had had the entire region surveyed, and at the point where the road was pinched in a narrow valley between the buttresses of the two mountain chains, he had had a hilltop spur levelled, and on its summit had constructed a large fortress complex which in size at least would come to rival long-lost Ormann Dyke. In the subsequent years the defences had been extended for almost half a league, to command the entire pass, and Gaderion now consisted of three separate fortifications, all connected by massive curtain walls.

To the south-east was the donjon on its steep spur of black rock. This was a squat citadel with walls fully fifty feet thick to withstand siege guns. There was a spring within its perimeter, and below it bomb proofs had been hewn out of the living gutiock to house a fair-sized army, and enough supplies to sustain them for at least a year. Here also were the adminis­trative offices of the garrison, and the living quarters of the commanding officer. In the midst of these was a taller feature, a blunt spike of rock which at one time in the youth of the world had been a plug of molten lava within the walls of a volcano. The walls had worn away, leaving this ominous fist of basalt standing alone. There had been a pagan altar on its summit when Corfe’s engineers had first surveyed it. Now it had been partially hollowed out with immense, costly, dan­gerous labour, and provided a last-ditch refuge within the donjon itself, and a lofty look-out which gave a bird’s-eye view of the entire Torrin river valley and the mountains on either side. Light guns had been sited in embrasures in its impregnable sides, and they commanded every approach. Men called this ominous-looking tower of stone the Spike.

The donjon and the Spike loomed over this flat-floored valley, which was perhaps three quarters of a mile wide. The soil here was fertile and dark, watered by the chill stream which hundreds of miles to the south and east grew into the Torrin river, and the soldiers of the garrison tended plots of land in the shadow of the fortress despite the mountain-swift growing season and the killer frosts of the winter. There were currently twenty-eight thousand men stationed at Gaderion. Many of them had wives who lived nearby, and a scattering of stone and log houses dotted the valley east of the walls. Officially, this was frowned upon, but in fact it was discreetly tolerated, else the separation between the men and their families would have been well-nigh unsupportable.

Square in the middle of the valley was a low, circular knoll some fifty feet high, and on this had been built the second of Gaderion’s fortresses. The redoubt was a simple square structure with triangular casemates at each corner to catch any foes who reached the walls in a deadly crossfire. The North Road ran through it under the arches of two heavily defended gates, and before these gates were two redans which each mounted a battery of guns. Within the walls were housed the stables of the Royal couriers who kept Gaderion in touch with the larger world, and it was here also that the main sortie force of the fortress was billeted: some eight thousand men, half of them cavalry.

The last of Gaderion’s fortresses was the Eyrie. This had been tacked on like a swallow’s nest to the steep cliffs of the Candorwir, the mountain whose peak overlooked the valley on its western side. The stone of Candorwir had been hollowed out to accommodate three thousand men and fifty great guns, and the only way they could be reached was by a dizzy single-track mule path which had been blasted out of the very flank of the mountain. The guns of the Eyrie and the donjon formed a perfect crossfire which transformed the floor of the Torrin valley into a veritable killing ground in which each feature had been mapped and ranged. The gunners of Gaderion could, if they wished, shoot accurately at these features in the dark, for each gun had a log board noting the traverse and elevation of specified points on the approach to the walls.

The three fortresses, formidable in themselves, had a weak link which was common to all. This was the curtain wall. Forty feet high and almost as thick, it ranged in strange tortuous zig­zags across the valley floor connecting the donjon to the redoubt and the redoubt to the cliffs at the foot of the Eyrie. Sharp-angled bartizans pocked its length every three hundred yards, and four thousand men were stationed along it, but strong though it seemed, it was the weakest element of the defences. Only a few guns were sited in its casemates, as Corfe had long ago decided that it was the artillery of the three fortresses which would protect the wall, not the wall itself. If it were overrun, then those three would still dominate the valley too thoroughly to allow the passage of troops. To force the passage of the Torrin Gap, an attacker would have to take all of them: the donjon, the redoubt, and the Eyrie. All told, twelve thousand men manned their defences, which left a field army of sixteen thousand to conduct offensive operations and patrols. Once this had seemed more than ample, but General Aras, officer commanding Gaderion, was no longer so sure.

Some six leagues to the north and west of Gaderion the narrow, mountain-girt gap opened out into the wider land of the Torian Plains beyond, and in the tumbled foothills which marked the last heights of the mountains a line of turf and timber structures signalled the beginning of the Thurian Line, the easternmost redoubt of the Second Empire. Here, with the conscripted labour of thousands, the forces of Himerius had reared up a great clay and wood barrier, part defensive wall, part staging post. It meandered over the grassy hills like a monstrous serpent, bristling with stockades and gabions and revetments. There were few heavy guns stationed along it, but huge numbers of men patrolled its unending length, and to the rear they had constructed sod-walled towns and roads of crushed stone. The smoke of their fires could be seen for miles, an oily smudge on the hem of the sky, and their shanty towns were surrounded by muddy quagmires through which columns of troops trudged ceaselessly, and files of cavalry plunged fetlock-deep. Here were garrisoned men of a dozen different countries and kingdoms reaching from Fulk in the far west to Gardiac in the heights of the Jafrar. Knights of Perigraine, looking like chivalric relics on their magnificently caparisoned chargers. Clanking gallowglasses from Finnmark with their greatswords and broadaxes. Almarkan cuirassiers with pistols strapped to their saddles. Knights Militant, as heavily armoured as the Perigrainians, but infinitely more businesslike. And Inceptines, no longer monks in habits, but now tonsured warriors on destriers wielding maces and clad in black-lacquered steel. They led ragged columns of men who wore no armour, wielded no weapons, but who were the most feared of all Himerius’s soldiers: the Hounds of God. When a troop of these trotted down one of the muddy garrison streets, everyone, even the hulking gallowglasses, made room for them. The Torun-nans had yet to meet these things in battle, but they were the secret weapon upon which the Empire based many hopes.

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Valley Floor

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