At the Bluffs of Sinjin Trell
by Michael F. Flynn
“I long to journey endlessly, always in search of something new.”
- Enrique Vila-Matas
A strategic bluff
TEODORQ SUNNA NAGARAJAN THE IRONHAND sat astride his horse in the fore of his regiment and studied on the situation that confronted him.
The Roy’s Own Savage Archers were arrayed on the extreme left of the Royal and Imperial Army of Cuffland, well-placed for a sweep around the enemy’s flank. But that worked best where there were flanks around which to sweep; not so well when facing the Bluffs of Sinjin Trell, which shouldered over against a salt-water bay and blocked the direct route to the enemy capital.
Most of the Field Army was concentrated west of the Bluffs where the land flattened out and provided a more open, if more roundabout, route to the objective. Unfortunately, all the bridges across the River Sane had been blown down and the Prawn Home Army was entrenched opposite Dolorous Ford.
That would have been a fine location for his regiment, with scope for its special weapons and tactics. Which raised the fascinating question of why the general had posted him here, where his troopers were practically useless.
He had positioned his regiment along and behind a low ridge, facing the Bluffs across a scrubby flatland which the Prawns had thoughtfully cleared of any obstacles and festooned with distance markers for the artillery that crowned the heights. It was good land for a cavalry charge and would have been even better had it not been a killing field for artillery.
Teo studied the obstacle carefully through his look-glass.
“It doesn’t go all the way through, does it?” he asked his assistant colonel, Lar Rigo della Hepplewhite. “That there canyon. It looks like it might, but I don’t think it does.”
The Lar shook his head. “The ‘Prawns were never much for sharing maps with us. Probably thought we would use them to invade their country one day.”
Teo grunted. “Do we at least know its name?”
“They call it Belay dla Morth, ‘The Valley of Death’.”
Teo lowered his glass and looked at his Number One. Then he glanced toward his chief of scouts, Sammi o’ th’ Eagles. “That can’t be good.”
Sammi and he hailed from the western continent; but the hillman was pale where Teo was bronze and his eyes appeared slanted where Teo’s were round. In contrast, Lar Rigo – and indeed, most of the regiment –were native to the eastern continent and their skin was green and grew leafy “ruffs” round their necks. The ancient wizards of the long ago had altered the bodies of men to sundry ends, and the greenies had been enabled to supplement their diets by “drinking” sunlight.
The ‘Prawns in the opposing army were likewise green. Indeed, the Cuffs descended from refugees who had fled north into the peninsula after the Fall of Old Iabran. The Roy of Cuffland had as his stated purpose the reunification of the green race, but no one supposed that his ambitions ended with that, and several others of the Great States were now watching developments closely.
The ancient wizards had undoubtedly altered Teo’s ancestors as well, but to what end – other than splendid good looks and martial prowess – he did not hazard a guess.
Teo gestured to Sammi. “Why don’t yuh skulk it out over there on the left and see if there’s a way around them Bluffs. I’m somewhat mindful of charging down that there canyon with all them guns up on top. It’s like the cleavage between two breasts. It’s invitin’ as all get out; but…”
“…But might be trap,” the hillman answered. “You think general order you there?”
“He wouldn’t dare,” said Lar Rigo. “It’s near treason to throw away a regiment like that.”
“Yah, and it sorta makes me wishful of being around for the court-martial.”