Magic Apprentice - Chapter 19: Celebration I (4/5)
The emperor today looked significantly different than from the last time Elric saw him. This time, the emperor had a richly-decorated armorpiece on that made him look especially regal.
The golden chariot eventually came to a stop in front of the temple. Alighting from it, the emperor swiftly walked with Kebrilio behind him up the stairs where all his officials awaited him. Servants of civil and martial affairs saluted him as he walked while the women all expressed their most polite greeting and humble curtsy (something Elric found himself forced to do as well).
Elric didn’t want to garner any attention onto himself, especially not from the people he knew. It was an impossible dream given how eye-catching Fantasia was, however. Even Hecaris III faltered in step when he took notice of him, much to Kebrilio’s laughter and Elric’s disheartenment and restlessness. What he didn’t know was that the emperor already knew of Elric’s situation.
Hecaris III averted his gaze away. The horns had all stopped their noise, meaning it was time for the man to speak. All was quiet down in the square, only the gentle swaying of the banners in the wind was audible.
Then he spoke:
“My beloved subjects! Today marks the commemoration of the events undergone by our forefathers. By their hand our nation was founded—may we forever keep their sacrifices in our hearts. Let the glory brought forth by their sacrifices be eternally remembered in the festivities of today. Let us be reminded of our history, of our glory, and of the very principles our Empire was founded upon: Valor, Compassion, and Devotion. Let the Banquet of Triumph begin!”
Roars of happy applause and cheers erupted from the crowd at Hecaris III’s speech. Paladins pounded at their drums and bellowed from their horns with enough intensity to shake even the clouds above. Every soldier or paladin had a horn to blow, and though the notes that erupted from them wasn’t the same, they formed a unique harmony of sound that conveyed the joyous spirit of the military. As the drums provided a rhythm and the horns intensity, an army soon came marching into view from the central road.
The closer the army marched, the more acutely Elric could see the true face and power of the Paladin Order of the Karth Empire. Unlike the paladins that guarded the emperor, the paladins that marched within this army were well and truly elites and the pride of the Empire. Each paladin marched in time with the ones around them through the street and arches. Like the other paladins, their helmets were made of gold and their regimental uniform crimson, but what was different from the others was their armor. Unlike the ceremonial armor meant to impress worn by the paladins already here, the armor the new paladins wore were built for one purpose only: War.
Their plate armor was connected from the front and back in one solid golden piece with the mark of the Winged Lion engraved upon it, the insignia of the Paladin Order. Every single paladin was protected by a golden metal from head to toe on top of their warhorse. A giant and equally golden shield hung on the right side of the horses. The shields were engraved with the same Winged Lion as the chestplates, though the lion was enameled with a material as blue as the sky.
Hanging from the left side of the horse was a golden longsword whose hilt was about the length of two hands lined up together. But the more noticeable weapon was the imperial lance held in their main hand. Brushed with gold, this lance stood at about three meters in height and held a terrifying glint to its edge. Every four paladin branched off to form a squadron of their own with about half a horse-span of space between the squad in front and behind them. In total, over a thousand men stretched across the streets and square to form a golden river of lances ready to strike.
Another group of soldiers stood behind this first battalion, though their cloaks were dark-blue and their armor silver. Rather than wearing heavy chestplates, these soldiers wore silver chainmail built for mobility and lightness. Visage hidden by their silver helmets, these soldiers expertly brought their horses to a slow enough pace to remain distant from the Paladin Order while still maintaining a beat consistent with the war drums and horns. A stark difference could be seen between the paladins and these soldiers when it was their turn to travel underneath the arches. Rather than the imperial lances or the broadswords used by the paladins, a silver trident was at the ready in their right hand and a halberd hanging on the right side of the horse. They had shields for their left hand like the paladins, but these shields were several magnitudes smaller. A shield like this was incapable of weathering the brunt of a sword, but perhaps these shields had a different purpose to them, Elric thought.
Emblazoned on both the armor and shields of these new soldiers was a crest different than the one of the Paladin Order. This one had the design of two opposing eagle wings outstretched; a crest belonging to one of the four greatest cavalries, the Zephyr Order! And the commander of this order was actually the one presently tugging at Elric’s arm, Duke Hughesin.
The knights of the Zephyr Order had a more compact marching formation than their paladin counterparts due to the difference in amount of armor they had to wear. As such, the thousand knights looked tinier than the group in front while still having plenty of space for the horses to move in.
A third group followed the Zephyr Order, though Elric saw nothing resembling a crest on their armor or their circular shields. They traveled on foot unlike the previous two regiments and had four thousand to their numbers. They appeared to be a legion of swordsmen, given their medium-sized armor and sheathed bastard swords.
From what Elric knew of their military structure, they had to be the armsmen of the Empire, the veterans who rose from the conscripted soldiers to be organized into an elite force. The bastard sword wasn’t the only weapon they were known to have mastered. Knowing every weapon used by the common soldier was considered basic for these elites. Armsmen were capable of fighting with any weapon on any terrain and were originally used for combat on mountains and hills. Eventually, their adaptability and swiftness earned them a reputation as being ‘horseless knights’. It was also rumored that there was no terrain these men couldn’t reach.
Following the armsmen were another group of elite soldiers separated into nine segments, the billmen. Four thousand of them marched onward with their billhooks held aloft and their iron boots clanking on the pavement. Billmen were often the spearhead of the army and focused their efforts on the offense. Like the other nations, the billmen had the common iron armor to cover the majority of their body, but they had no shield equipped. As the usual soldiers to besiege a point, the billmen enjoyed using any pole-arm best fight depending on the circumstances. It was often said that a billmen could best any heavily-armored soldier with their ability.
Fifth to march through the square and arches were the most heavily-armored of the soldiers, the guardians. Karthian guardians were of special renown. For a time, heavily armored soldiers were often called the most useless of soldiers. Having reinforced armor made them slow and only capable for defensive actions rather than offensive. And in the age of maguscraft, guardians were just human targets, essentially. It wasn’t until three centuries ago when the most powerful magus in Karth at the time, Padius, introduced the concept of reinforcing the guardians with geomagi. Having geomagi lead the guardians created a formation capable of pushing the defensive line forward.
Padius’ thinking led to the armies of the other nations to imitate Karth. Today, guardians are commonly seen on the battlefield with a geomagus or two holding the frontline to defend and claim land. When maguscraft met warfare, it made sense to pair the magi who practiced the most defensive-based magic to the most heavily-armored soldiers to create the ultimate shield. Guardians advanced slowly, but they were capable of warding off any attacker given enough of them.
Having a competent guardian and geomagi force became a standard of power for the nations. Most notably an example was a century ago in the Battle of Rheidyn Peninsula. The peninsula’s hegemon at the time, the Todur Kingdom made heavy use of the guardians to conquer most of the land. They were ultimately defeated at the hands of a wastrel prince of the tiny Carnalio Duchy who used aeromagi and heavily-armored horsemen to circumvent and critically defeat the unprotected units behind. The Battle of the Rheidyn Peninsula eventually led to the crushing defeat of the Todur Kingdom and their subsequent annexation.
This in turn led to even more paradigm shifts in military tactics. While guardians were still important, a nation couldn’t possibly put all their focus in one type of tactic and force anymore. And being the nation responsible for guardians making a resurgence, Karth was making the most of them out of any other and their armor was proof of their value. The entirety of a guardian was protected from their head to their toe in thick and reinforced plating and cotton padding. Karthian guardians even had helmets iconic to them—the entire face was protected with armor barring a thin slit for the eyes to see and multiple layers of metallic scales extending down it to protect the neck.
A guardian used only a tower shield and an even longer version of the imperial lance, one known as the bane of horsemen. Considering their actual length, the guardians here at the march today used a replacement lance half the length. Slowly, but consistently, the guardians moved as a pack together under the arches. With their golden lances pointed upward, it seemed as though there was a golden forest up above and a metal boulder moving through them below.