Any story of big battles will focus on the all-powerful lords and ladies who led the charge, and the elite men and women who fought showy duels by their side. What almost everyone tends to forget is the squadrons of common mage soldiers whose provided crucial support during all of this.
The unit and its place in the army
Mage squadrons on foot are the main military unit in the Empire of the Covenant. Mounted soldiers are almost unheard of in the empire, although they are appreciated by foreigners. For example, the people living in the steppes region of the Haut Plateau that cut the empire in two raise and train snakes and dragons to that effect, while the inhabitants of the Northern Islands mount eagles.
The numbers of soldiers in a squadron varies from Estate to Estate, but it is generally kept low, between 20 to 50 so as to have a more mobile army. Those common soldiers have an "average" power level. Each squadron is led by a captain with a power level that is considered to be the level of a "master crafter"—although there is no requirement for them to actually be masters.
Most lords and ladies will keep a small permanent army to maintain order in their Estate and make a show of force against their neighbours. Only when at war with neighbours will they rise bigger armies through different means, a common one being to order each village to provide a certain number of men and women within certain power ranges. Powerful individuals rarely have a choice and must fight in the service of their lord or lady.
Once many squadrons are gathered together, the chain of command may be complexified so as to effectively order about the whole of the army. Officers will be named on top of the commandant, and while details vary depending on Estate, most often this will be colonels with 10 squadrons under them to form battalion (200-500 men), brigadiers having a brigade made of 10 battalions (2000-5000 men), and generals leading a group of brigadiers.
All of those officers will also have the power level of "master crafter", although in big Estate with a low nobility, nobles might also join the upper ranks of the army. Nevertheless, members of the low and high nobility such as the ruler's direct family are expected to be part of an elite unit fighting directly at the ruler's side to make a more effective use of their power.
Lady Merisse snorted when she caught sight of the enemy armies hundreds of metres directly below her feet. She tilted her spyglass around to make sure no one else was hiding nearby, but no that was all there was to it. Five measly squadrons at most. Not even a full battalion... Camouflage magic?
She frowned as she considered the question. Before she made up her mind, the wind picked up around her and she grimaced at the first drops of water hit her. It was best not to stay flying so high in the air if a storm was coming, especially when so close to the Orage Mountains. A stray bolt of magical lightning was not entirely unheard of...
The prefer weapon of mage squadrons is the battle staff or the sword, although some occasional squadrons are equipped with special weapons such as lances. Most armies will mix mages carrying staff and sword inside the same squadron so as to have a good mixture of short- and middle-range attack capacity and a greater versatility of their squadrons. Almost in every Estate of the empire, everyone that is eligible to serve in the army is required to train with either the staff or sword so as to have a minimum of fluency with it.
Soldiers in mage squadron are expected to handle their weapons with two hands and so do not use hand-shields. Small wooden shield-craft are generally attached to a forearm and can be used as a focus for shielding magic to having the soldiers tiring themselves by making unsustained raw magic shields. Those are, however, rather crude.
Rather than using costly crafts better used to protect the valuable nobility, common soldiers' protection mostly come from their uniform on which basic runes are sewed to muffle or absorb the energy of enemy attacks. Often, multiple layers of such clothing are put on top of each other with little regards for how they interact with each other, potentially leading to a decrease in the overall protection than what should result from the addition of each.
The lords and ladies will provide the weapons and uniforms for the troops, unless the mage-soldiers own some of a better quality, in which case they are expected to use them. The quality of the weapons and uniforms provided reflects highly on the ruler. Many rulers have listened a bit too much to stories of legendary battles and look down on common soldiers, not understanding the necessity of providing them good equipment and seeing this as an opportunity for good savings.
"Are you sure, my lady?" Léopold frowned uncertainly.
Lady Merisse let the insult of her word being questioned go unremarked. "It is of course possible that they are hiding under camouflage magic. But you are the one who has previous experience with them. You tell me which is more unlikely, camouflage magic or that to be so unprepared."
He made an aborted movement and grimaced. "Even if Lord Danièlie had access to camouflage magic, he would not deign 'lower himself so'." She snorted. "What about the weapons, my lady?"
"I have barely seen any battle staff. They will want to get close to us."
Léopold nodded wisely. "Long-range fight is difficult in the mountains, no one would be willing to risk getting caught up at altitude in a storm."
A shame one was starting, or Lady Merisse would have loved nothing more than to shock them all. But no matter what tactic they used, she would triumph as always, and Danièlie would have no choice but to eat his words and beg for her mercy.
The noble Houses of the empire all have access to location pentagrams and so they can appear instantaneously where they wish, provided they have the correct pentagrams at hand. While they can carry a few individuals with them while doing so, each additional person costs a lot of magical power and so transporting a whole army is impossible. This forces mage squadrons to travel slowly by foot to meet each other while their rulers and enemies fully know where they are and where they will be.
While nobles often become impatient with such slow movements and desire little more than re-enacting glorious stories of winning wars just by themselves, those that attempt to go through with this rarely survive unless their enemies are just as stupid.
Indeed, if even someone as powerful as a noble suddenly appears right in the middle of an army, chances are they would get exhausted before they could kill the thousands of men surrounding them. Thus, so long as the enemy nobles stay in the middle of their army, nobles will have no choice but to bring their own army to meet them, so that mage squadrons can get busy together and leave the field free for heroics.
Clever rulers will attempt to lead their enemies into traps so as to prevent them from using their location pentagrams to flee the battlefield when the battle turns around them—a common occurrence, although one that is sure to turn their remaining subjects against them as the squadrons left behind are sure to get massacred.
Even without being able to fight from a distance and take advantage of Danièlie's poor choices, the battle was a massacre. Her mage squadrons easily overwhelmed his, fully showing off the results of the intense training she had imposed on her subjects since she had taken over the Estate.
As for the so-called elites... It was clear that Danièlie's had little experience of unfriendly battles where rules of courtesy did not apply. Lady Merisse's had conquered an Estate with her, they trusted her fully to lead her to victory and would not have turned over and ran even if they had been in bad posture.
In the end, Danièlie was left alone, kneeling on his broken legs, his location pentagrams torn away from his person. Lady Merisse stepped forwards and his eyes rose to meet hers.
"Mercy," he croaked out, his reticence and disgust at his own action clearly visible.
She savoured the moment.
If you want to read more about Lady Merisse's story, you can go here: