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Wargames

This is for queen_bellatrix, because she asked.

This is a piece of the second book in the Wars of Revolution series, The Emperor's Companion. Elza is in Montreuil Sur Mer, on the Channel Coast, in the summer of 1805. That's the location of the new School of War, where Napoleon's officers learn tactics by refighting the greatest battles in history in simulation. Elza has been invited by a young cavalryman named Honore-Charles Reille to watch a game, Ptolemy vs Perdiccas before the walls of Memphis, one of the first major battles in the wars of Alexander the Great's successors.

But it's more than a game. Elza is not the only one of the players who was there for the real battle, though she does not remember. And what is the purpose of deliberately restaging it?

I'd love to hear what you guys who are reading the Numinous World think! This is a longer piece than I usually post, and I hope you'll enjoy it!


The table was covered in what appeared to be a very elaborate chart, depicting in beautiful colored detail the banks of the Nile. At the far left was laid out the city of Memphis, her white walls coming down almost to the river, while on the right bank of the Nile were trees and fields colored green to indicate growing crops. In the middle of the Nile a little upstream from Memphis was an island.

I frowned. "Why are the fields green?"

"I think the battle was fought in June. Why?" Honoré asked. "Shouldn't they be?"

"I don't know," I said, but it bothered me. It did not seem right that the battle was fought with crops in the field. The fields should lie fallow.

"The chart is based on Diodorus," he said, "And on Denon's sketches of Egypt when he was there. He did a few charts for us himself, for us to use as reference."

"Do you mark up that lovely thing?" I asked. The playing surface looked almost like a work of art itself.

"No, we use toys." Honoré grinned. "I'll show you." He fetched a box from the side table and opened it. It looked like a set of little wooden toy soldiers, each with his armor painted golden and a tiny red plume on his helmet, each clutching a tiny sarissa. "Each one counts as twenty men. We can arrange them and move them about, because the chart is made to scale. That way we can visualize the entire battle and we never mark up the chart. You can see the current positions of all units." He handed me another box.

"Those are lovely," I said, picking out one of the perfect miniature elephants, its caparisons painted gold and scarlet, an archer on its back with bow drawn.

"Each elephant counts as two," Honoré said. "They take up more room. Here are my favorites."

He opened a third box. Against the black batiste lining were a dozen horse archers, each one painted in exquisite detail, dark beards and dark eyes. One horse tossed her head, while another archer was arrested in the motion of reaching over his shoulder for fresh arrow. "Persian horse archers. I've used these a bunch of times now." He gave them a friendly pat. "They always come through for me."

"Do you have any today?" I asked.

"I'll have five of them," Honoré said. "To be Ptolemy's fifty horse archers with the cavalry."

"Don't you think fifty is too many?" I blurted.

Honoré winked. "I do, but I'm not complaining about having a few extra! After all, Diodorus doesn’t say exactly how many Ptolemy had left at this point, and Jomini has decided it's five facings, not three." He dropped his voice. "So don't tell him he's wrong!"

"I wouldn't dream of it," I assured him. I had no idea why Honoré and I should both think there ought to be thirty. It was somewhat disturbing.

I looked up and straight into Michel's eyes. He did not look away, but just nodded at me as though I were a friendly acquaintance. Which was, in its own way, worse.

"Ptolemy's men, over here!" Subervie had come in and was calling out. "Everybody who's one of Ptolemy's men, come here!" He waved a hand with a cup of coffee in it. "Conference time, my brothers!"

"Excuse me," Honoré said, "I need to go." He handed me the box of archers.

"Of course." He and four or five others joined Subervie in the corner, heads together, no doubt plotting mayhem. I wished I could join them.

I didn't have to look around to know that Michel had come to stand beside me. "You're not one of Ptolemy's men?"

"No," he said. "I'm afraid not. I'm Perdiccas today."

"And who's Ptolemy?"

"Subervie." Michel cleared his throat. "Lannes is tied up with the Emperor arriving tomorrow."

I turned and met his eyes, so very blue and so grave. "Perdiccas dies," I said.

"Only because he loses," Michel said. "Murdered by his own men for losing. If he'd won, he'd have prevailed."

"I'm not sure Seleucus would have suffered him long," I said. "Or Roxane." It was hardly fair that our minds worked the same, that we could slide through the centuries like this, in perfect accord.

"Perdiccas and Roxane got on well enough," Michel said easily. "But he wasn't much of a general. He was adequate, but that was an age of giants."

"So is this," I said.

He nodded, then gave me a sideways smile. "But I'm still better than Perdiccas ever was!" He raised his voice and his arm. "Perdiccas' men! Over here! Come over here if you're with Perdiccas!"

I stepped back and let him confer, thinking it would not be fair to hear what he said. After all, I was quite certain I wanted Ptolemy to win.

A few minutes later the room was called to order by a weedy looking young officer with glasses and a sheaf of papers over his arm. "Everybody? Attention?" From this I assumed he must be Jomini, the young Swiss that Michel had decided was a tactical genius. The room quieted, the two camps about their respective leaders, while he explained the technical parts of the exercise in great detail. Each turn would be five minutes of battle time, and there would be ecological changes as the battle progressed, mirroring the changes in currents of the Nile on the real day. Each team would receive such warning of those changes as a man at the scene might find observable, but no more. The exercise would begin at battle noon, to compensate for the time that Perdiccas had spent moving his men to the island in the morning. Each team could place their initial pieces in order of battle, Perdiccas' men on the island, and Ptolemy's on the left bank in any location.

I watched each side set up. Michel's set up was rather crowded and predictable. It was more a matter of fitting all his units onto the small island than anything else. Subervie chose a rather conservative order of battle, taking the infantry himself in the center with a man I did not know, with more infantry on his left and Honoré with the cavalry and horse archers on the right. There were three young sub commanders, one of whom asked Jomini if the commanders' deaths were possible.

"If the unit to which a commander is attached suffers more than 50% casualties, you may assume that the commander is incapacitated," Jomini said quickly. "Commanders, you should designate a subordinate in that event. You will have to step back along the wall for the remainder of the action if that occurs. And you must be quiet. You can't give orders when you're dead."

"Where are you attached?" Subervie asked Honoré, leaning over his shoulder. I stood behind Honoré, my foot tapping.

"Here," he said, tapping a Companion Cavalry piece on a white horse. "That's me."

"Ready?" Jomini asked. "Marshal Ney, you have the first move."

Michel nodded quietly from across the table. "Renaud?"

One of the young subordinates took up a pool cue and with it reached across the map, gently scooting the first units forward from the island into the Nile, a wedge of five elephants. Behind them, the other elephant units waited, with infantry to the side, moving up to prepare to cross.

"That's not right," I whispered. "It's supposed to be Silver Shields infantry." A chill ran down my back, coldness down my arms. I could imagine it too clearly, the stillness on the riverbank in the heat of the day, the bright sun glancing off their helmets as they waded forward into the water, sarissas leveled. I could see the water flashing reflections of the sun like fire, while far above a falcon turned on the wind.

Honoré leaned in, no doubt assuming I'd read Diodorus the night before too. "He doesn’t have to play it the way it actually happened. That's the point. Gervais has set up with Ptolemy's actual order of battle, but it seems like the Marshal has other ideas. We'll just have to take it as it comes."

"No move," Subervie said steadily. "We're holding position."

Michel moved the elephants forward to midstream, the other elephants following. Behind, the Silver Shields locked into position in the rear of all twenty of Perdiccas' elephants. "Silver Shields, prepare to form the tortoise," he said in the same tone he would have taken in the field, as though it were all real. As though black arrows would rain down upon them when they began to come ashore.

Honoré nodded to his young subordinate. "Horse archers, down behind our infantry. "Get in range to fire on the elephants."

So few. My hands clenched together around my reticule, as though this were a real battle, as though I were seeing as the gods might. We have so few horse archers, even with the extra two facings Honoré conned Jomini out of. There are too many elephants.

And then I saw what Michel was doing. He was using the elephants like cavalry. What was lumbering through the water toward us was a flying wedge, a sword with a two-ton point, ready to drive into the phalanxes waiting, snapping sarissas and sending men flying. When the elephants hit shallow water they would increase speed, charging down like a lightening bolt.

I put my hand to my mouth. Surely Subervie could see it! Surely he would! But what was the counter to it, with no elephants of our own?

"No move," Subervie said. "Steady."

Honoré walked over and leaned on his shoulder and they whispered together.

"Forward," Michel said. The elephants moved forward another space. Behind the wedge the Silver Shields stepped into the water in battle order.

Pull the cavalry out of line, I thought. Pull them back. They're going to have to countercharge the side of the wedge after it breaks through. And it will break through. The elephants will go through our line like fire.

"Can we do that in one move?" Subervie said in a low voice.

"I don't know," Honore replied, "But we'd better try, don't you think?"

Subervie nodded sharply.

"Your move?" Jomini asked. He was standing on a chair where he could see the board from above.

"Reille, pull the cavalry back. Out of line and toward the center. Infantry, divide in two and prepare to change facing," Subervie said.

"Objection," Michel said mildly. "They have leveled sarissas. They can't divide and change facing in one move. If they do it, there's a chance they'll foul each other."

"Crack troops," Honoré said. "These men are veterans of Alexander the Great's army. They can walk and scratch their ass at the same time."

A ripple of laughter ran around the room. Meanwhile, one of the subcommanders was pulling Ptolemy's Companion Cavalry back, just on the line I would have chosen. They would be in position on the right flank of the wedge when it came through. But I seriously doubted the infantry could divide in time.

"On a five or six," Jomini said, and tossed something to Gervais Subervie.

He caught it with a flick of the wrist and sent it spinning across the table, a black and white die. It came to rest with five pips showing.

Honoré whooped. "Now we're back in business," he said to Michel.

"Divide in two and change facing to the middle," Gervais said. "Couch sarissas and stand to receive!"

Stand to receive! Echoes woke in my head, spiraling away like distant horns. The riverbank and bright sun…stand to receive….

"Your move, Marshal?" Jomini asked.

"Turn the wedge 45 degrees right," Michel said coolly. "We're going into their left rather than center. And there should be contact on this turn."

"Oh shit," I whispered, forgetting I should be quiet, forgetting I was a lady at all. I could see how it would be, the phalanx in the middle of changing facing, the elephants changing their line of approach toward our left, where our cavalry could do no good with the main body of our infantry in between, the elephants charging straight toward the units to which Subervie was attached, driving straight for Ptolemy's white plume…. There was no way we could get over in time.

The lines moved together, the first elephants occupying the same space as the infantry. Only now the infantry were facing in the wrong direction.

"40% bonus for the flank, 20% bonus for elephants on infantry, 20% bonus for the charge," Jomini said. "That's 80-20 in Perdiccas' favor. Colonel Subervie, you can consider those front units 80% incapacitated."

"Shit shit shit," I whispered, clasping my hands to still them.

"Horse archers to the fore," Honoré said, white lipped. "We're barely in range."

"You're still in the penalty zone," Jomini said. "30% dropoff for extreme range."

"We'll take the shot anyway," Honoré said.

There was an exchange of fire, some damage. The cavalry was working their way around, but could not engage on this turn.

"Change the facing back," Subervie said.

"Not while engaged on the flank," Michel said tranquilly.

Jomini nodded. "I uphold Marshal Ney?"

Subervie snorted. "This is going to be shorter than Cunaxa," he said under his breath.

"Forward elephants," Michel said. "Press the charge straight into the rank behind. Silver Shields, form the tortoise against horse archer's fire." The Silver Shields were nearly on dry land.

"Now would be a really good time for some crocodiles," I muttered.

"We have 60% damage on your attached unit," Jomini said to Subervie. "You must consider yourself incapacitated, sir."

"Fuck!" Subervie swore and stepped back to the wall, Ptolemy down under the feet of the elephants.

"The command is yours, General Reille," Jomini said. "He had designated the Hipparch of Companion Cavalry in this instance."

I gulped. "The river…." I whispered.

Jomini had heard me. "Does not rise for four more turns, Madame."

"By which point I'll be out of the water," Michel said smugly.

I clenched my fists.

A sub-lieutenant hurried in, dashing up to Michel, who bent so that he could whisper in his ear.

I saw his face change as they exchanged a few words and then Michel turned. "My apologies, gentlemen. I'm afraid we must call this exercise to a close. I have just been informed that the Emperor is five kilometers from Boulogne, and is arriving a day early. Subervie, Marshal Lannes would like you back in Boulogne directly. Everyone with VI Corps, please prepare to turn out for review this afternoon instead of tomorrow. Reille, I want a Guard Cavalry honor guard in Boulogne in an hour!"

Everyone started running madly about, with the controlled chaos of a military unit about to be unexpectedly reviewed by a head of state. I didn’t even see Subervie leave, so fast was it.

I was standing by Honoré's coat as he came over to get it, still talking to Michel. "Well done, considering," Michel said to Honoré. "You were in a bind."

"If you'd been the Regent for Alexander's son, Ptolemy wouldn't have won," Honoré said.

Michel looked at him, a rueful expression on his face. "If I'd been the Regent, Ptolemy would have never had to take up arms."


So what do you think, guys?

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
kassrachel
Dec. 16th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
Ooooh! This gives me shivers.
jo_graham
Dec. 16th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
Oh good!

And that is why Hephaistion was a better general than Perdiccas! :)
aishabintjamil
Dec. 16th, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
That's a lovely, subtle way to weave in her old memories, and make her wonder what's going on in her own head.
jo_graham
Dec. 16th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

She knows. She knows what should happen and how, and not because she read Diodorus the night before! It does make her wonder what's going on in her head.
cypherindigo
Dec. 16th, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
Shivers here too.

Just to keep my head straight
Michael "knows", Eliza is "Figuring it out" and where does Honore fit?

I just want the book to read.....
jo_graham
Dec. 16th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
Oh good! I aim for shivers! :)

Yes, Michel knows. Elza is figuring it out. So is Honore, who used to be Artashir. Which is why he knows there ought to be thirty horse archers, not fifty!
cypherindigo
Dec. 16th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
I swear that I am going to make a chart of who is whom within each book.
jo_graham
Dec. 17th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC)
Heh!

Honore was Emrys was Artashir was Xandros.

Michel was Izabela was Agrippa was Hephaistion was Neas.

Elza was Georg was Charmian was Lydias was Gull.

Corbineau and Subervie, who both have small parts in this scene have both been here before. Corbineau was Trcka in The Ravens of Falkenau, and Subervie was Sigismund in Hand of Isis.
cypherindigo
Dec. 17th, 2011 01:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :-)
_illumina_
Dec. 20th, 2011 01:15 pm (UTC)
Also thank you! I _did_ create a chart, but it got lost when our laptop died!
queen_bellatrix
Dec. 16th, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
My Gods, this is good!

I'd seen games similar to the one described in books before, but I'd never quite understood how they were played until now. Your exposition and dialogue here was so simple and concise. I've rarely seen something this complicated described so succinctly.

It's interesting, because it seems that Elza and Michel are having some sort of relationship trouble here, and yet the connection is so fierce and strong, even when they're denying the fact. I adore banter; as a blind person, because I can't visualize much of the interaction in terms of looks/nonverbal communication, dialogue is what makes or breaks a relationship for me. And so I love how Michel and Elza yaw between utter seriousness, when she says that the general Michel's standing in for, as it were, died, to her complimenting his own generalship, and that awesome crooked smile of his, which I could visualize quite well, with his excellent character description at the beginning of the book!

And it'd be incredibly interesting to see an exercise wherein Elza and Michel were pitted against one another, because they're incredibly equally matched in terms of command ability.

And there again, I love the respect between them, that he does agree with certain of her historical conclusions, but isn't frightened to disagree iether.

Like so many others, I loved the way you interwove her memories with the current exercise. And Napoleon's clever, isn't he, letting them play the battles out differently, both to become more comfortable with using nontraditional strategies, and more comfortable in their own skin as commanders.

One final thing I wanted to mention. I've very, very rarely had such a clear mental picture of anything as I did the game pieces; thank you so very much for such beautiful, detailed descriptions. I know a baroque writing style isn't as popular in today's publishing industry, but thorough word pictures of setting and scenery and character are absolutely treasured for me as a blind reader.

Thanks so very much for sharing this!
jo_graham
Dec. 17th, 2011 12:31 pm (UTC)
I'd seen games similar to the one described in books before, but I'd never quite understood how they were played until now. Your exposition and dialogue here was so simple and concise. I've rarely seen something this complicated described so succinctly.

Thank you! I'm a wargamer, and the idea of watching this crowd play is incredible. This is where the wargame was invented, and while it's on the computer now, simulations are still used to train.

It's interesting, because it seems that Elza and Michel are having some sort of relationship trouble here, and yet the connection is so fierce and strong, even when they're denying the fact. I adore banter; as a blind person, because I can't visualize much of the interaction in terms of looks/nonverbal communication, dialogue is what makes or breaks a relationship for me. And so I love how Michel and Elza yaw between utter seriousness, when she says that the general Michel's standing in for, as it were, died, to her complimenting his own generalship, and that awesome crooked smile of his, which I could visualize quite well, with his excellent character description at the beginning of the book!

They are having trouble. They're broken up at this point and determinedly being Just Friends. Which is not working so well! And she's kind of flirting with Honore, which has him in a knot because Honore was Artashir, but also Xandros and Emrys, and he's a real potential rival. So this is the Neas/Gull/Xandros triangle rearing its head again! And if Elza and Michel are broken up, there's no reason she shouldn't be interested in Honore, is there?

And it'd be incredibly interesting to see an exercise wherein Elza and Michel were pitted against one another, because they're incredibly equally matched in terms of command ability.

She thinks he's much better than she is, even when their genders were reversed as Izabela and Georg. She's a good, competent officer. But he has rare brilliance.

The thing I don't expect most readers to get, and it's fine if they don't, is what he's doing with the elephants. That punch through, that run through the lines with infantry behind the two ton behemoths, is called Blitzkrieg, or will be in a century and a bit, when tanks make it practical. That's what he would do with tanks. What he will do with tanks.

And there again, I love the respect between them, that he does agree with certain of her historical conclusions, but isn't frightened to disagree iether.

Yes, that! I hoped that came off!

Like so many others, I loved the way you interwove her memories with the current exercise. And Napoleon's clever, isn't he, letting them play the battles out differently, both to become more comfortable with using nontraditional strategies, and more comfortable in their own skin as commanders.

He's very clever. They're learning a tremendous amount, and it's about to pay off.

I'm also so glad you liked the descriptions of the pieces. I realize that most readers aren't wargamers and have never seen the kind of pieces that are used, or the artistry that goes into making them. So I thought the description had to be really detailed to work. Also, I'm lucky that some of the actual pieces from the School of War still exist! I saw some of them on display in the Museum of the Army in Paris, which was a thrill!
cadenzamuse
Dec. 19th, 2011 02:28 am (UTC)
Wait, so Michel was Izabela was Agrippa was Hephaistion was Neas...will be Hitler? Or will be one of Hitler's generals? That's an interesting choice.
jo_graham
Dec. 19th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
Michel was Izabela was Agrippa was Hephaistion was Neas, but no, absolutely not Hitler! Hitler didn't invent the tank tactics and he was certainly not their most adroit practitioner! Michel will certainly be better than that, one of the best there's ever been, on one side or the other.
chiliarch
Dec. 19th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC)
This is brilliant! I enjoyed every moment of it. The flying wedge, this time with elephants instead of horses, reminds one of Alexander.

Who BTW will Alexander be in times to come?
jo_graham
Dec. 19th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! The flying wedge with elephants will become the flying wedge with tanks....
linneasr
Dec. 29th, 2011 04:15 am (UTC)
Oh, how interesting. These are going to be wonderful books, aren't they, with Elza both living the woman's perspective and with full access to the traditionally male military zone. Heh.

I found this very, very intense. Knowing how pivotal this battle was to Lydias in Stealing Fire (and, in a long-term sense, important to Charmian and Cleopatra's very existence) makes it very difficult to read about a possible Ptolemaic loss outside the walls of Memphis. The resolution provided by Michel's / Hephaistion's statement of loyalty to Alexander's son couldn't be more timely.

Ah, the intensity I felt from the battle(s) sort of over-shadowed my awareness of the Michel / Elza relationship. Not necessarily a bad thing, but within a few paragraphs, I wasn't watching for it. I'd probably notice more on second (and third and fourth) reads.

Looks sooo good! I'm very eager to read the whole thing.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )