“Cohort! Advance!” came the call from the centurion. Thasus felt himself stiffen at the sound of the first word, and his feet were moving before the order had finished. The only sound of acknowledgement came from the sandaled feet and the creak of leather.
From his position in the second rank, Thasus caught glimpses of the enemy as the man in front’s helmet gently swayed with his step. Irregular infantry, lightly armoured in robes of flowing white. The sun glared off them, too. Beneath simple helmets dark faces peered across the distance between, flanked by dunes on either side.
They didn’t move, and didn’t flinch. Though he couldn’t see them for the press of bodies around him, he knew another cohort advanced on either side of his. Thasus had never seen an enemy regiment stand like this, passive and almost disinterested. Usually the barbarians hooted and hollered, or maneouvered to prepare for the coming charge. A niggle of worry tugged at Thasus’ resolve. A subtle shift in the manner of the cohort told him his brothers grew uneasy as well.
A buzzing sound came from behind the enemy. Thasus felt a warm wind in his face moments before the cohort flinched as one. Sand pelted at them as the buzzing increased. Their advance was momentarily checked.
As the gust died down, the centurion rallied. “Forward!” the order sounded, but this time Thasus didn’t hear the cohort either side. They advanced once more in step.
Again the buzzing sounded. The centurion ordered a halt and the cohort braced. Again the sand bit at their naked legs and against their closed eyes. Again the wind died down and the cohort advanced.
Close in within charging distance now, the buzzing sounded again. Once more the cohort braced, but this time the sand did not come. Over the top of the dune to their right, the cavalry charge swept down on them.
Before the centurion could react, the horsemen had slammed into the unprotected flank, torn through the centre and were back up the dune on the other side. As they came through and Thasus recovered, the man in front pushed back into him. On instinct, Thasus pushed him back into formation with his tower shield, but the man fell forward instead. The enemy had charged in complete silence.
Surprised, Thasus knew the man was already too close for his spear. The flash of his scimitar came arcing toward his spear arm, but Thasus’ instincts shifted the shield to meet the blow. Already he’d let the spear go, and his right arm was vertical, flat against the inside of the shield as the scimitar struck it.
Immediately, Thasus shoved forward and caught his adversary with the lip of the shield under his jaw. He lifted the shield slightly, forcing the man’s head back, and saw him grimace. He was confident this contest had already been won as he pulled his gladius from its sheath.
He pulled the large shield back towards him, getting it out from under the man’s jaw, then immediately slammed it into him again in an arc, planting it on the ground on his left side. The gladius immediately followed and took the man in his side, upwards into his torso.
The shield was what saved him. The cavalry came through again, and the moment that Thasus pulled the gladius back out of the falling corpse the horseman slammed into him.
He was knocked to the ground, his shield on top of him. Though he was dazed, he saw the horses charging through his cohort, and felt their hooves beat the ground through his back. His left arm hurt, but the pain was dulled by the adrenaline and the acute awareness that unless he got to his feet he’d be on his back permanently.
Pulling his arm from the shield, he scrambled to his feet. He realised he’d lost his gladius, but as he pulled his dagger he saw that he wouldn’t need it. His cohort had been decimated; only a couple of his brothers were standing, though a large number of wounded were moaning or screaming on the ground.
Thasus watched the enemy infantry retreat as the buzzing faded. A feeble wind gently cooled Thasus’ sweat-sheened arms and legs.