North Ayvartan Sea — Regia Marina, Flagship Imperatrix
“When you said a thousand planes I thought it mere bluster. And yet, somehow–”
“Hah! I told you, I had found a thousand, and it is a thousand I sent flying.”
Marshal Adolfo Garzoni gazed out from the tower of the N.d.M. Imperatrix at a sky thick with planes. Within the operations room of the largest elven Battleship ever built, he could see the troops and sailors of the invasion fleet rushing out into the open, packing the decks of cruisers and aircraft carriers and frigates sailing all around the flagship. His men and women gazed overhead with an awe that was palpable even from this far up.
Flying over the fleet were a thousand planes headed for the Ayvartan coast.
Garzoni felt no similar awe to his troops, for awe was reserved for the bystander; he felt the elation of a craftsman. He smiled to himself, and he lit his ceremonial cigar, confident that it would not be smoked for naught. He would make history, with the largest aerial attack ever conducted by a modern industrial power. One thousand planes; one thousand.
“What a fine send-off to our Higwean lease, wouldn’t you say?” He said.
“Perhaps. I still believe those thousand planes must land to succeed. Though you did not bluster in your logistics, this Operation Millennium of yours is bluster to me in other ways.”
“Oh, truly? Why don’t we put it up to a bet, my lady?”
“Gambling is beneath me; and gambling with the lives of my troops is disgraceful.”
She sneered at him; that Knight wench always sneered at him.
At his side, watching with what was certainly awe, no matter how much she tried to conceal it with her outward cynicism, stood a tall, bright-skinned, emerald eyed knight. She was Lady Anna Marlborough of the Royal Knights XX Corps. She was, as far as Garzoni was concerned, a pest. But one that had to be put up with. She was stunningly beautiful, with long golden hair and a delicate face, and looked slender and perfectly fit in her ceremonial armor, a breastplate, gauntlets and fauld around a blue uniform.
She was also a Knight, and Knights ever competed for attention with the Regulars, such as he, of the Elven army. Despite his status as a marshal, her status as Knight Commandant made her an equal, even while her troops were nominally under his command. Knightly officers were also royalty of a sort; a Regular like him was only a highly skilled laborer. Anna Marlborough had lands and servants and noblesse oblige. She was a Lady of war.
And yet, it had been him who did the impossible and found the Queen a foot into Ayvarta within weeks instead of months. While Lady Marlborough and her ilk drank their wine and fucked their squires, Garzoni had pored over every possibility. It was clear to everyone in GHQ that an invasion unsupported by air power would have been impossible, and that the Kingdom’s spare biplane carriers would not be enough to support a landing. Their Air Force was, frankly, inferior even to the shambolic communist air defenders. Even with all their obsolete planes, the Regia Aeronautica could not have easily deployed anyway. No air bases existed for the Kingdom that could reach any suitable invasion coast. Except one.
Garzoni had made the discovery. They had a lease on Higwean lands that was meant for a bomber force that was all but forgotten in the mid-2020s. It could be quickly, sloppily but usefully rehabilitated. He devoted all of his intellect and power to gathering a thousand of whatever planes could be found, refurbished or sparingly shipping to the Higwe. He exhausted every avenue, employed every favor and every trick that he could muster.
A thousand planes took off from the Higwe. Even with this feat accomplished, the operation was dubious. It was not a traditional bombing run. It simply could not be. Under normal circumstances the old Whitford and Cheshire bombers of the Higwean air fields could not have made it to Ayvarta with a full bomb load, not even from the Higwe. It was even more dubious that they could have made it with their current cargo. No; his attack was different.
Hundreds of heavy twin-engine bombers led the flock, lightly armed and carrying little but extra fuel, crammed everywhere that it could be safely stored. No bombs; instead they dragged behind themselves by steel tow rope a number of engine-less gliding transports. Every transport was filled with troops; some even had tanks and gemini armored cars and light artillery inside them. It would be their task to capture Ayvarta’s shining port of Rangda to give Lubon its foothold. Not even Nocht would know what hit Ayvarta today.
Garzoni’s improvisational genius flew on wings half a decade old. But he was confident.
“Have a little more faith in me.” Garzoni said, in place of saying anything offensive.
Lady Marlborough crossed her arms over her chest, staring up at the sky.
“I entrusted you some of my soldiers. That is an uncharacteristic display of my faith.”
Garzoni kept himself from snorting. “Ayvarta’s military position is precarious. Their forces are weak. Within a few hours, your Gryphon Riders Regiment, and the Royal Highlander Rifles, will land in their midst and the confusion will be enough for a rout.”
“Can those gliders land in an urban setting like Rangda?” Lady Marlborough asked.
“Every glider has a pilot to control the descent. They have been highly trained.”
“Have they ever practiced urban landings? I ask because my Gryphon Riders have not. We have only been authorized practice landings in the countryside.” She said.
Garzoni gave her no answer. Because she was right; it was too dangerous to practice glider landing in an urban setting. But the principals were the same for landing any aircraft. You found a clean strip of land and you landed. You reduced speed, nose up, all of those things; air men knew them. They had to. Garzoni was not an air man; he was strictly infantry. But he had air men assigned to this task and he trusted air men to do the job. They knew how.
Lady Marlborough turned suddenly from the window, and spoke with her back turned.
“Garzoni, the moment we touch land, we are telling Nocht about this operation and we are linking up with them. This is their war, and you will never take it from their grasp.”
“That’s out of your hands. Just watch me, milady.” Garzoni said, grinning to himself.
He said the last word in the slimiest tone that he could muster, and she clearly felt it.
Lady Marlborough stormed off the Imperatrix’s tower with a flourish of her cape and a flash of her golden hair, and Garzoni could muster no strong emotion in return against her. She was now beneath him and beneath his glory and he was glad that she was gone. Watching the planes headed for Ayvarta in long, seemingly invincible ranks, he thought– no, he knew he saw the beggining of the Elven Empire’s climb back to global conquest.
All he needed was Rangda, the Shining Port, just a place to land. And then the 9th, 10th and 11th Armies of the Kingdom of Lubon, armed to the teeth with tanks, machine guns, and artillery, backed by the elite Knights and the vicious Blackshirt Legion and supported by over a third of the ships of the world’s most experienced and storied Navy, would march to Solstice and claim it for the elven monarch, as their ancestors had twice tried and failed to. This time, their natural defenses would not spare the Ayvartans Elven wrath.
And Lubon’s wonderful ally, Nocht, would unknowingly pave the way to this glory.