The hint of a smile crossed the face of the Warlord as he eased himself back into the campaign chair. He turned to his communications officer and gave his instructions, which were immediately passed to the field. A twinge of pain, reminding the old warrior about his age, shot through him.
Really he was getting too old for this. Maybe after this battle he could resign and let somebody else take over the responsibility of being Warlord. There were plenty who would like the post, like the young Rebel opposite. In a couple of more years and a few more battles he would have enough experience, possibly, to take on the role. The gods knew he had fought enough battles to get to this one.
The flight of Fire Dragons as expected swept forward from the Rebel's line, just as the Warlord had expected. That combination of moves had first been used by the Emperor Tsu Shai some three thousand years ago. Not used often since, for the simple reason it was very rare that a battle went on long enough for a situation to develop where it could be used effectively, but this one had. Twelve great crossbows that the Warlord had ordered forward just for this eventuality spewed forth their bolts, six of the seven Fire Dragons fell from the sky. The seventh would no doubt turn and return to its lines.
With care the Warlord checked the projection of the battle that was before him. It was nearly time. The time was coming, he would use the Immortals. Again he smiled to himself. This had been a good battle, in so much as any battle could be good. Most of those he fought these days were little more than skirmishes. The son of some disgruntled member of the nobility raising a force to challenge the authority of the Empire. They would come to the field having studied all the great books on war and execute some manoeuvre that they had found and thought effective. It was then that they found that nine times out of ten the Warlord had written the definitive description of the manoeuvre. The other one time out of ten he had invented it, which was of course the reason he was the Warlord.
He had not only read the books on war, he had written all of the more up to date ones. He had not learnt his war craft studying in some classroom, he had learnt it on the field, just like the Rebel opposite. The Rebel was different. He did not come to the battle with Tsu Shai's 'The Use of the Ten Thousand' tucked under his arm, in all likelihood he probably had never read it, that is if he could read. The Warlord made a mental note to check after the battle if the Rebel could read. If he could not that could explain why he had been so successful. Not bound by the theories of war that had been laid down over the generations.
That was what had made this battle an interesting challenge. It had not been predictable. The Rebel had not followed any formal plan or strategy laid down in some book or other. Not like the young bucks who would come to the field of battle from time to time. They did not expect to win, they only wanted to be able to boast to those around them that they had fought the Warlord. They came with their advisors and books of reference, ready to look up the details of any change from the proscribed form of the battle as laid down by some author or other. They were not warriors who understood war, but students who appreciated books. Indeed one had come to the field of battle with a copy of 'The Concept of War' by the Warlord himself and sent it over before the battle with a request that the Warlord sign it, very unlike the Rebel.
The Warlord had observed the Rebel when he arrived. There had been no crowd of advisors and strategists round him. Just a communications officer and a servant to pour drinks and arrange refreshments, though from the apparent intimacy between them the Warlord thought the servant might be more than just a pourer of drinks. He had not arrived dressed in finery to impress his staff, just a plain comfortable white robe that would reflect the heat of the midday sun. The Warlord, sweltering in his Imperial robes of office, envied the young man across the field of battle. At least he had been able to dress sensibly for the day’s events.
In many ways the Warlord could appreciate and understand the Rebel. The two of them were so much alike. They both came from the same background, that of the middle class tradesmen. The Rebel like the Warlord had objected against the bullying and inconsideration of the petty nobility. He has stood up against the young bloods with their troops of soldiers and had soon raised enough support amongst the local populace to go up against them in minor skirmishes. Here he had had the advantage, not knowing the rules and etiquette of the procedures of war, he had just gone in to win.
A couple of victories had given the Rebel a greater following and a reputation. Now the younger sons of the minor nobility wanted to try their skill against him. One by one they had fallen to the unconventional tactics of the Rebel and his disregard for established rules of battle.
The Warlord knew just how it was. He had come up the same way from nearly the same start. Indeed the towns from which they both came were in the same province, less than a days march apart. Thirty years ago he had been the Rebel, now he sat in the Warlord's tent supervising the field of battle, that was the way of things. He eased himself around in the chair, leaning over to give a command to his communications officer. A command that would start to amass his forces behind the Imperial Immortals, those highly trained troops that were the invincible force in his battles.
It had not always been the case though. He remembered when he had been the Rebel and had faced the Warlord of the time. Then the Immortals had been on the field as they always were. Everyone knew that the Immortals were invincible, so when they joined the fight the opposing troops just fled. That is everyone but a young Rebel who had never read the classic texts on war. All he had looked at was the reports of the last fifty battles and he had observed one thing. When the Immortals charged they were never challenged. Nobody had seen them fight. This got the that Rebel into thinking, if nobody had seen them fight how did anyone know how good they were. So he had kept part of his force back in reserve and when the Immortals advanced and the cry when up, 'The Immortals are coming', he had launched his reserves into a direct attack on them. His guess had been right, in eighty years of never having to fight, just being display soldiers, they had become soft. That had been the end of the old Warlord and he had taken his place.
This new Rebel would not have such luck. The Warlord had kept his Immortals well trained and made sure he used them to effect in every battle. They were his hammer that he drove hard into the enemy. The battle hardened elite troops that would drive a wedge deep into the ranks of the opposing force. A weapon to use once he had spotted a weakness in the line of the troops who opposed him.
There it was, the weakness that the Warlord was looking for. The heavy infantry on the left flank were having difficulty holding their ground. The Rebel had moved two units of foot from the centre to support the left flank. That left the centre weak. Now was the time for the Immortals. He identified the target and gave the command to his communications officer. Then watched the field of battle before him as the scarlet and gold mass that was the Immortals started to advance down the slight hill towards the opposing centre. Behind them came rank after rank of light infantry to mop up the remains.
It always amazed the Warlord how slow the critical parts of the battle seemed to go. There seemed to be an age during which the Immortals advanced down hill before they made contact with the centre, far longer than he would have expected. Too long in fact. He looked again at the battle lines, the opposing centre was pulling back drawing his Immortals on deep into, into the Horns of the Ox. But for that the Rebel would need light troops on his flanks and he had heavy infantry on the left. The Warlord looked to double check. As he did he saw the left flank infantry drop its heavy armour and charge forward. Light infantry in disguise. Without looking he knew the right flank would also be charging across the face of the hill. Soon they would hit his advancing column. Not the Immortals head on, but the supporting troops at their back, and through them they would come on the Immortals from behind.
The position was lost. It was no use wasting resources in allowing the battle to continue. He indicated to the Adjudger of Battles that he was accepting defeat. The trumpets sounded the end of the battle.
The old man looked up at the young man in the campaign chair across the field of battle. They stared at each other, eye to eye.
"You always used the Immortals when given the chance," the young man commented.
"Yes, I learnt the mistake of not using them from the old Warlord I defeated at this field."
"I hope I've learnt not to use them too much, may I?" he asked indicating the stationary figures on the field of battle. The old man nodded, "Warlords privilege."
The new Warlord leaned over and switched off the projection.
"To think they used to fight battles once with real men."