It was a warm and quiet night. There was a light east wind bringing a salty taste to the air. The only sound heard was the bristling of the wheat as the wind gently caressed the fields of Dobrudzha. The trees swayed dark upon the black-blue sky, lit by a full moon. His silhouette was barely visible on the edge of the field. His footsteps silent in the damp earth. Still moist from yesterday’s rain. This was good for the wheat, the summer was too dry this year.
He could hear the howling of wolves in the distance, yet he wasn’t phased. His only thought was on the task at hand. Fist clenched on the short military shovel. Eyes squinted, looking for something in the expanse of this fertile land.
That was the field. Plain grass. Resting this year. No crops. He started counting. Then a complete right turn, and counting again, straight into the field… 23, 24, 25. The shovel hit the black soil cutting deep into the grass roots. It was not long before the metal hit the large wooden chest. As he opened the lid, the black oiled cloths looked as if darkness itself was in there. He moved the linens and the gold plates glistened in the moonlight. Gold on black. The lamellar armor uniform of the Knyaz’s personal legion. It was time to wear it again.
Later that same night, a few kilometers away in a forest between the fields, a thin plume of smoke was bearly visible, gray upon the sky. A small hovel sat between the trees with tanning racks and sheds all around it. It was teeming with people, dozens of them. No fire, just a few candles lighting the workbenches. The men and women – hard at work, the gold plates in their hands glistening in the candlelight, as they repaired and replaced their armor. Hammers striking metal. Fresh leather crackling. Work talk livening up the air. Some joyful cheers, some nervous remarks, some jokes, some of them dark…
In the hovel, there was barely enough space to move about. The cook was filling the last bowls as the stew was near its end. Most of the people went outside to eat as there was no space in there. However on the table sat several veterans, devouring whatever it was they had laid in front of them. Stew, some good bread, a bit of dried meat, and some baked mushrooms from the forest.
Suddenly the row of men lining up for the stew was broken up by a tall strong figure. Just under two meters high and on the strong side of a hundred kilos. Shaved head and beard. Dressed in a brown tunic and with a huge sack on his back, that did not improve the situation for the people pushed aside. Kaidar Vokil was once a komitopul – a commander of a cadre of nearly two hundred heavy infantry in the III “Foederati” Kohort of the Knyaz’s Legion, and those were some of the core reasons he was allowed to go through the queue. But his interest was not in the stew. He went directly for the single table in the room. His voice boomed loud in the entirely not quiet space:
“Yovo Murin, you filthy goat lover! Why are you not dead? I would think that a pious ass like you would have gotten himself in some impenetrable shit by this point!”
Komita Yovo Murin was once a commander of the IV “Expeditionary” Kohort of that same Legion. Outranking Kaidar by a lot, his reaction was one that the soldiers around anticipated to see. A man of order, and faith in the god of the sun – Solor.
Yovo was famous for discipline. His answer was way more friendly than expected. He just laughed and turned to the other side where a boy sat, huddled in between the men. He was barely 17 years of age. Thin and scrawny, but with deep eyes, consuming every detail about him. Yovo said to him:
“Now, see, this was one of your father’s more despicable friends.”
Kaidar walked around the table and saw the kid.
“Is that?… Is that Sursuvul’s child? Komita Albean Sursuvul of the 11th? What are you doing here? Want to get yourself in some grown-up trouble?”
“No sir. Already am. It’s just hard to find your way when they take everything you have.”
He was a good kid. Just a little bit kicked about. Yovo intervened:
“Come on, Kaidar. Get your ass over here. I was just telling him about our Knyaz’s brutal stand at the Gramatlivi Rid!” He turns to the kid and starts gesturing. “The Knyaz only had two platoons. And the enemy was countless! A couple hundred at least. Knyaz Gattir countercharged, so we could get the Kohort’s HQ and treasury out of the enemy’s reach! It was glorious!”
Kaidar dropped the heavy sack on the floor with a tremendous metallic crunch and sat at the table and turned to the kid:
“You see, our glorious leader forgot to run away! And got himself pinned. My foxy friend here had to get the whole Light Cadre of the 18th Regiment and get our Knyaz’s magnificent ass out of there!” as Kaidar nodded at Komitopul Azan Slav. Clever and fierce mountain commander. No one knew why he was with the Golden Legion and not with his own. Azan just smiled back and uttered:
“The Knyaz actually didn’t look like he wanted to be rescued.”
Yovo just squinted at Kaidar and yelled:
“You ignorant prick! Sit your ass and shut your mouth!”
Kaidar went back to Yovo:
“Oh, and you just sound bitter because you ran north and couldn’t blow the cliffs of a mountain pass over your head, like the real heroes – the heavy infantry of the IV Kohort!”
Yovo jumped up with a death stare in his eye. Kaidar seemed to get up and step back, slightly at attention as a result. Maybe some old muscle memory of military order surfaced in his mind, remembering that he is a komitopul, throwing jabs at a komita. Yovo tilted his head in a murderous manner and started speaking in a quiet and vicious voice:
“Komitopul Kaidar Vokil. You shall watch your tongue in front of a Commander of a Legion – temat Sagara Ugir with whom you dare share a table!”
“Down… The both of you.”
A stern female voice came at them with a calm and firm tone. Temat Sagara Ugir was sitting at the head of the table. A woman of average height with a muscular build. She was already wearing the gold armor of the legion with a row upon a row of medals on the left side of the chest. Grey of hair, but vitality screamed from her posture.
“Kaidar, don’t be envious of your comrades. Your unit was scattered while the others had the privilege of guarding the passes. Yovo, get that cane out of your ass. Sit, eat, and tell the young lad about how his father charged six thousand Tenebrans with a single incomplete regiment…”
The first rays of the sun penetrated the thick forest, as the men and women, ready and dressed for battle started to line up, their armor glistening gold in the first rays of the sun. Temat Sagara Ugir was leaning on a bench with a few other commanders and discussed the final details of the plan over a map. There was to be a full day of march and then a late-night attack. The sharp and quick sound of a whistle came through the forest. It was the watch guard. Signaling that a friendly was incoming.
A young boy, barefoot with rugged clothes and a stick in his hand, legs trembling, went straight to the commanders.
“Ma’am. They are ready. “The Good Boys” are on their way. “The Reapers” are about to depart any minute now. No word from “The Easy Ones” though.”
A short silence followed. If they were captured or discovered this could jeopardize the whole operation. Then Sagara replied:
“Good. They’ll be on their way soon enough.”
Komita Yovo Murin approached the congregation:
“The weather is good and the skies are clear! A good omen. Our Solor is to be with us today!”
Somewhere from the back, Kaidar yelled with a tremendously sarcastic tone:
“The sun god sends us sun! We are to be lucky!”
Sagara laughed and shook her head.
“It is time then… LINE UP!”
Everyone formed a jagged line between the trees and benches and tents. Some places in two rows, some in three or four. They stood proud as the gold armor lit up the forest in a worm glow. Glorious! Almost as glorious, as the times they marched through the lands of the Knyazdom and were celebrated as the keepers of peace, order, and unity. The protectors of the people. The glorious legion. That time was past though. But another time was soon to come.
Sagara stood in front and faced them. By her side the komita Yovo Murin. She nodded at him. He put his hand on his stomach, raised his chin, and started yelling. The soldiers shouted back every line right back at him. With every bit of rage, love, and hate that you can imagine. It was a prayer. A battle prayer. Not to a god, but to some deep primordial force. And they prayed and screamed away their hopes and fears. Hundreds of voices together, following the commander:
Dobrudzha! My mother!
Knyazdom! My father!
From the deep blue of the Black Sea!
To the rich hills of the Ludogorie!
From the living waters of the Danube River!
To the black mountain peaks of the Balkan!
For the rights of the people!
For the freedom of the land!
In the face of any storm!
Give me the discipline to hold the line forever!
In the face of an unbreakable enemy!
Give me the strength to cut through to the end!
And if I live!
Let me enjoy peace and prosperity!
And let the life of the people be my prize!
For I am here to serve and protect!
And if I fall!
Let me enjoy the glory and honor!
And let the halls of eternal heroes be my prize!
For I am here to die for the people if I must!”
Let no man put shackles on my people!
Let no ill befall my land!
Let the Knyazdom be forever!
Temat Sagara Ugir, The Knyaz’s Legion – The Lion
Komita Yovo Murin, IV “Expeditionary” Kohort, Тhe Knyaz’s Legion – The Wolf
Komitopul Kaidar Vokil, Heavy Cadre, III “Federati” Kohort, The Knyaz’s Legion – The Bear
Komitopul Azan Slav, Light Cadre, 18th “Mountaineers” Regiment, Mountain Legion – The Fox
Komita Albean Sursuvul – 11th “The Cliffs” Regiment, Mountain Legion – The Fox
Vahin Sursuvul – The young lad.