This was a different sort of campaign compared to my current Tilean one. There were no campaign players, instead it is a story of my own devising which was modified by the results of battles – the story led to battles, the results of which led to more story, round and round about. I got volunteers to play the armies, nearly all of which are my own figures. When a friend was playing against me, I always let them decide which army they wanted to be. Sometimes two friends played against each other, so that I could GM the game.
Warning – This is an unfinished project. I will complete it one day, but I need to find a player with a certain army to provide the final foe. I foolishly never told the player I had in mind that I was relying on his army for a final conflict, and he sold it.
Note: My Tilean campaign is still going strong … in fact there are a bout of stories coming soon, one later this week, but as it is so slow I thought I would start putting up some earlier stuff.
The campaign was originally called ‘All that Glistens’, but I changed that title for reasons to obscure to trouble you with to All That Glitters.
The Bent Cutlass Inn
Map of Tabriz Town
Part 1: An Awakening
Port of Tabriz Pirates’ Commonwealth, Bubaqua Isle off the western coast of the southern Southlands
“Ho, Grijalva!” shouted Captain Bartholomeus Pasterkamp across the smoke-filled room. He could not see where the innkeeper was, or even if he was there at all, so he made the shout as loud as possible. It woke several of the drunken denizens snoring nearby and startled the remainder, easily done considering there had been no sound other than muttering for the last quarter of an hour.
“What?” answered Grijalva, himself one of those woken by the cry. “What?” he repeated, this time more angrily as annoyance replaced his initial surprise. “Who is that shouting?”
“Here! It’s me!” said Captain Bartholomeus almost as loudly as before. Several rum addled men scowled at him, including (he noticed) some of his own. “You know me. It ain’t as if we ain’t sailed together. You gone deaf or are ya just riddled with wax?”
“Neither, Captain,” came the answer as the smoke, a mixture arising from tobacco pipes, the ashes of the fire and the blackened remains of a wild pig upon the spit, parted like threadbare stage curtains through which the innkeeper emerged. He had upon his head the woollen hat he always wore, a garment entirely out of keeping with the close heat of Bubaqua. His beer belly stretched tight the linen of what was intended to be a baggy shirt, as well as ensuring his leather waistcoat’s buttons had not seen service for years. Little, round eyeglasses sat upon the top of his nose. He only used these when reading or writing yet never removed in between, thus the rest of the time he peered over the top of them.
“Now you tell me, old friend, what ails thee? And if it’s thirst, why not call for a wench?”
“I’m always thirsty,” answered Bartholomeus with a distant look in his eye, “ever since the sun got to me that time, burning right into me and turning a portion of my brain into brawn. Cooked I was, and not rare but well done. Braised by the bright rays and the jungle steam, boiled in my own sweat …”
“Bart!” interrupted the innkeeper. “I’ve heard it all before and have no wish to hear it all again. I know you didn’t call me over here simply to wax lyrical about old injuries, so I’ll ask again: what ails thee?”
Captain Bartholomeus pretended to be hurt by the innkeeper’s words. He pulled himself up straight and tugged at his long, blond wig to make it sit a little more squarely upon his head. He had always been a proud man when it came to dress, often claiming that one could surely tell a proper gentleman by his attire. He himself took the lesson to heart. His long red coat of finely patterned damask was trimmed with golden braid and bound at his waist by a silken yellow scarf and at his neck he sported an almost clean cambric cloth, a whiteness rarely seen in Tabriz and only spoiled by a line or two of yellowish stains from the sweat. He reached out so that his hand emerged from the large cuff upon his coat sleeve, uncurled a finger to point at the table immediately next to his, then he corrected his aim to direct Grijalva’s gaze specifically at the man sprawled across it.
“Your question, my kind if impatient host, is misdirected. It isn’t myself who is troubled, but that fellow there. If I am not mistaken, he’s dead.”
Grijalva peered at the recumbent patron in question, making no move as yet towards him, and attempted to ascertain if the fellow was indeed breathing or not. The Captain, meanwhile, went on.
“Mind you, unless he was one of the accursed undead, you wouldn’t be getting much of an answer out of him would you? Even if he were such an unholy thing, then any words his rotten tongue might try to deliver would be, no doubt, completely indecipher … incomprehend-idabible… in … un … What’s the word I’m after?”
“Don’t know,” said Grijalva. “I can’t tell what you’re saying.”
“I didn’t ask for a definition,” complained the Captain.
The innkeeper was no longer really listening to the Captain, being considerably distracted by the appearance of a corpse in his inn. Then it dawned on him who it was – Webbe Nijman – because that was where he always sat and that was the lousy shirt he always wore. This realisation settled him considerably, and he gave a snorting laugh laced with relief.
“If he’s anything, then it’s dead drunk, not plain dead,” he said more to himself than the captain.
“Let me take a look.”
Now feeling much more confident he strode over, grabbed the man by his matted hair and yanked his head up to take a look at his face. It was Webbe alright, and from the look of him he was still, just, on the right side of the seam separating the quick and the dead.
“He’s alive. Drunker than I’ve ever seen him, granted, but alive. He can sleep it off here and not in the doss house, after all it’s me he owes for the punch he’s had and I don’t want him slipping away all quiet and forgetful.”
Grijalva was just about to lower Webbe’s head back onto the table to let it lie there in a puddle of said punch, when he stopped. There was something around Webbe’s neck – a coin by the looks of it, like a lucky gold piece touched by some king and now hanging on a cord.
“What have we got here?” the innkeeper asked. “Webbe Nijman, you rogue, you owe me for a fortnight’s drink and promised me you’d pay in silver when your share came in. And yet here, dangling from your own neck, there’s gold.” Turning to Captain Bartholomeus, he pulled the coin out to show him. “You’re witness. He owes me and I’m taking this for payment. When he sobers up you can vouch for me. This ain’t theft, but the collection of monies owed.”
The Captain, however, was frowning, staring at the coin hanging down over Grijalva’s fingers. When the innkeeper noticed Bartholomeus’ strange expression, he too looked more closely at the coin. It was gold, that much was true (and was all he had really bothered to take in before) but it was bigger than any minted in Bretonnia or the Empire, heavier than any from Marienburg, Araby or indeed any port in the entire Old World. Furthermore, there was no monarch’s head impressed upon it, nor coat of arms; no god or even a denomination. Instead there was a blazing sun with stars set about it in a neat circle. He flipped it over to scrutinise the reverse, where he discovered the face of a serpent surrounded by geometric swirls.
A voice suddenly broke the reverie that had ensnared him.
“What is that?” asked the Captain, having got up to walk over to Grijalva’s side.
The innkeeper held the coin up for Captain Bartholomeus to view and even managed to take his eyes off it to see what the fellow made of it. The Captain paused a moment to rub his good eye, then squinted at the coin. A smile manifested upon his face.
“Ahhh! You know what that is, my friend, and where it comes from.”
“Aye, I do,” said the innkeeper.
“Then let’s wake old Webbe up and see about having him explain this to the Pirate Council. If he can show us whence it came, it’ll take a lot more than me and thee to get there and collect the rest. There could be a very mountain of gold, enough to keep every Tabrizian happy for years to come. No small sum, no small sum at all”
“We’ll do that,” said Grijalva loudly. Then much closer to the Captain’s ear he whispered, “And the Six will be interested to. There’ll be more than gold there, maybe even what our master wants.”
Bartholomeus appeared to have sobered up instantly. His face flared with anger at Grijalva’s words, but he kept it turned so that no one else at the inn could see it. Instead, loudly, his voice almost as jovial as before, he said,
“Gold, you say! The council will be interested.”
With that the Captain grabbed a goblet, leaned down (muttering something about not wasting good ale) and used it to scoop out some of the contents of a pot under the table. He then threw the stinking stuff in Webbe’s face.
Webbe woke to see his gold coin dancing before his eyes, and heard someone was saying something about ‘doing some explaining’. Just as he began to wonder whether he had his knife on him, he found himself being lifted and dragged by two of Grijalva’s heavies. Still befuddled by rum he was entirely unable to summon the energy to protest, never mind to fight.
Captain Bartholomeus and Grijalva leading the way to the Council Fort as Webbe is ‘escorted’ behind by Grijalva’s hired thugs Goncalo Po and Alonso de Ovando.
Part 2: Pirates’ Council Fort, Port of Tabriz
“Order, order! Please gentlemen will you hold your tongues?” was Wilfred Mostert’s desperate cry, but it could barely be heard above the din.
Umpteen captains and their closest men argued, laughed, bragged and cursed, and the whole interior of the fort (unusual in Tabriz in that it was mostly made of stone) rebounded with the resulting clamour. Few even knew that Wilfred had spoken, though considering they had only just elected him chairman of this meeting then had they put their minds to it they should have realised that he would probably attempt to address them at some point.
Wilfred once had a reputation as a fearsome captain, believed to have led a very bloody mutiny to capture his ship the Terrible Corsair. Since then, however, he had shown little evidence of his supposed ferocity. Many Tabrizians had begun to question the tales they had heard about him, with some even claiming he must merely have poisoned the crew to capture the ship then cut their bodies to make it look like the act of a dangerous fighter and so his standing had somewhat diminished over the months. The propagation of this particular rumour was fanned by the fact that none of the three fellow mutineers who had somehow sailed the Terrible Corsair into the harbour of Tabriz were currently around to speak against it, all apparently having gone off with other ships’ companies.
The horn had been blown an hour ago to call whichever captains with the honour of being members of the council – or at least those who could be bothered – to gather at the fort, and eight had come, which was sufficient to make the meeting official. There they learned that the gathering had been called by Grijalva of the Bent Cutlass Inn, backed apparently by Captain Bartholomeus. Of course, Grijalva was no council member, nor even one of their trusted crewmen, but considering that the council’s meetings nearly always involved a vote to shift the rest of the business from the fort to his inn and thus he, as their host, heard just about everything they said, no one objected to him calling them. Besides, they would object soon enough if they did not like what he had to say.
Unable to begin the meeting, Wilfred already wanted to move it to the inn, thwarted in his desire by the very reason for his frustration – his inability to get a word in. He stood at the head of the table dressed wholly in black, apart from a green waistcoat, his left hand resting upon the hilt of a peculiarly diminutive cutlass little more than a knife in length. Tucked into his belt was a pistol, the butt of which his other hand currently caressed as an idea flickered into his mind.
He happened to be the only captain there who had come alone – all the others had one or two of their crew with them, often a quartermaster (who in many ways had as much authority as a captain, at least when it came to a ship’s day-to-day affairs, if not in the council) and one or two of their ‘sea artists’ – their gunner, bosun, surgeon or some such. The Tilean Captain Claudio Sagrada was closest to Wilfred, slouched upon an old armchair so rotten and worm eaten it appeared to be fashioned from driftwood, whilst his brown booted feet rested upon the table itself. His huge, black, felt hat overshadowed his face leaving only the chin visible. It happened to be the most clean-shaven of all the chins at the meeting, for Claudio was a vain fellow and still in the prime of his youth, with black locks of thickly curled hair flowing onto a buff leather waistcoat, whilst his shirt was of a copious quantity of white silk so that the generous sleeves hung down almost a foot from his arms. Noticing the chairman’s hand on his pistol he watched Wilfred with amusement, realising even before the idea was fully settled in Wilfred’s own mind what he was about to do.
The thunderous crack of the pistol’s discharge silenced every man in the room. When all eyes turned upon him, Wilfred spoke quickly and loudly,
“As chairman I declare the meeting has begun. I now ask Grijalva what cause he has for calling it.”
Every head swung about to look at the innkeeper, who immediately fished a gold coin out of his pocket and tossed it onto the long oaken table before them. As it clattered to a halt, it became clear to all that it was not a coin but some sort of heavy, circular ornament attached to a leather cord. Then, one by one, they noticed the sun-image it bore.
There was silence for all of three seconds – a rarity indeed – as everyone stared at the golden artefact. Then Thodrin Hookhand, the white bearded Dwarfen Pirate spoke in his gruffer than gruff voice, employing as ever very few words,
“Where d’you find that?”
In answer Grijalva ordered his thugs to bring Webbe forward. This they did, with Goncalo Po almost dangling the poor man off the ground by the scruff of his neck. Grijalva pointed at him.
“He had it about his neck. Ask him.”
Webbe grimaced as his eyes darted about the room, attempting to take in all those he had been brought up before. He felt like he was on trial and knew he must choose his words carefully. These men were unlikely to take kindly to the fact that he had been keeping such a secret from them. Claudio Sagrada dragged his boots from the table and leaned forward in his seat,
“Speak man, and keep in mind it will go best for you if you do so both truthfully and immediately.”
“Erm, well you see, your honours, it were a long time ago and what with the passing of years and the drinking of hot liquors the details have become foggy in my mind, not that they were something I was over fond of recollecting in the first place…”
“Blathering fool,” interrupted Captain Erther Madric of the Earnest Trader, while one of his half-orcen crewmen growled throatily behind him and the little brown monkey upon his shoulder snarled to as if attempting to add to the menace. “You were asked where you found it, now get to answering and quick otherwise you shall find out the limit of my patience.”
“It is in the jungle, deep, d-deep in the dark jungle,” stammered Webbe, his words falling over each other. “In the great land to the east, a long way down the river, more swamp than river in places, farther than any northern man had ever gone afore. There was a city, the like o’ which I ain’t never seen since, great stones piled up into steps, making mountainous temples. It was a place of disease and death where men went mad just looking. That’s the place. I found it there.”
“You’ve never talked o’ this before,” said Grijalva. “Who did you serve? Which captain took you there?”
“It weren’t a pirate, no, but an Arabyan lord, brother to a caliph. They had me fettered to an oar upon one of their great baghlas, then took me an’ the other slaves into the jungle to make us carry for them. But I never ‘ad to carry, see, for I dreamt they all died an’ I crawled away on my belly an’ I never looked back to see what monstrous creature killed them. Then I found the gold, lying on the ground, and I thought to take it as recompense an’ for good luck, which it proved to be for I was the only one to escape.”
“If that is true,” asked Wilfred, “then how did you make your way back to coast? You said you were far inland.”
“I dreamt that too,” answered Webbe, inscrutably. “Lying in a boat I was, floating downstream for more nights than I could count. Sometimes I paddled, sometimes despaired, but by and by I came to the sea.” He looked down at the golden disc, now speaking so quietly that all present leaned forward to hear him. “Lucky it is, see? And my escape was proof of it.”
“It is lucky, I’ll grant you that,” said Captain Sagrada. “And now we can share in that luck, eh?”
Webbe blanched, for he knew full well what these men would want to do – it was that certain knowledge that made him keep his precious disc a secret for so long, sealing his lips until now, when his life was threatened.
“I ain’t never going back there, not never – it’s bad enough it’s still in my dreams. I ain’t going down that river again.”
“Is that so?” asked Captain Bartholomeus. “So sad. Then you’ll just have to take us to its mouth. That won’t be so bad, eh?”
Wilfred banged the butt of his pistol on the table to get Webbe’s attention.
“Where’s the river mouth?” he demanded.
“I know where it is, but you won’t like what I have to say, for it’s close by ‘Urry By Island.”
Once again silence fell. Never before had the council had reason to be so quiet so often. None needed to speak to explain their momentary silence, for all knew they were each thinking the same thing. The three-peaked Hurry By Island was rumoured to be the base of the bloodsucking vampire pirate known as Grand Admiral Galdabash, and considering he had an entire fleet of the dead serving him, it was a place very aptly named. Every man in the room lusted for that city of gold, but every one of them now wondered whether the rewards would be worth the risk.
The council had a decision to make!
Part 3: Off the Coast of the Southlands
All hands in the fleet had been awake when they passed to the east of Hurry By Island. All eyes had scrutinised the forested slopes and white beaches, even the sea windward and leeward for signs of danger, yet none had come. By nightfall only a few of the naturally fearful assumed the worst – that any attack from the undead pirates would surely begin after dark. The vast majority were happy to agree that Grand Admiral Galdabash must have moved on from the island, no doubt upon some cruise of his own.
Three days later the Tabrizian ships were anchored in 20 fathoms of water about a quarter of a league out from the mouth of a wide river. Every perspective glass, every lunette d’approche and every eyeball that was not purblind or permanently ruined by years of glaring sun was trained upon the hills flanking the entrance, and with good reason, for it was obvious that there was a settlement of some sort upon the northernmost one. Several ships’ boats approached closer to peruse the hill in question, and when they returned the news spread like wildfire throughout the fleet – there were defensive works upon the hill. Nothing too fancy, just some scattered palisades, banks and stormpoles, but at the very top there was a ramshackle bastion which sported a huge artillery piece, a forty or fifty pounder by the looks of it, perhaps bigger. It was the kind of cannon only the largest of galleons could hope to carry and it was aimed down at the river mouth.
Its purpose was obvious – to fire upon anyone foolish enough to attempt passage from the sea into the river. A shot from that piece could tear a huge ragged hole in any of the fleet’s ships, being as they were the light, fast, clean and weatherly sort of vessels that pirates most desired – sloops, brigantines and caravels. None were made to withstand that kind of heavy shot, they would be shivered and splintered for certain. And if the cannon was loaded with sangranel and swan shot, chain or double head, then it would without doubt tear masts, rigging and men to pieces, and pour horrible destruction down on any boats if the pirates attempted instead to take pinnaces and boats up the river. As for accuracy, it would surely have been carefully sighted and already tested so that it was trained exactly where it needed to be.
One solution was to attack the bastion and spike the gun, which considering the strength of the fleet might not be thought too difficult. The trouble was, however, that the scouts’ reports had not ended there. After a silent prayer to whichever god they thought might listen, they had revealed that the hill was occupied by what must surely be part of Galdabash’s forces. His ensign, a death’s head flanked by a dagger and a heart, above a single bone, had been spotted flying upon the summit near the cannon, and the breeze had carried the sickly-sweet stench of death from the shore. Little had been seen of the garrison, but their shambling gait and the accompanying clouds of fat flies were considered sufficient proof that they were undead.
If the decision made to embark upon this venture had been difficult, they now faced a much more difficult one: who would go ashore to attack the gun? The captains gathered aboard the flagship, the Ocean Blight, for it was Captain Bartholomeus who had been elected admiral of the fleet. There the options were argued over: whether to draw straws or to use dice; whether to have each crew send half of its men, each to decide on the method of choosing. In the end a much more agreeable system was chosen. The captains would volunteer for the job (with their crews’ voted consent, as was always necessary for a change in agreed strategy), and every man who saw the job through to the end would receive a whole extra share when the booty from the city was divided.
This was enough to encourage several crews to volunteer. Captain Bartholomeus and his men were first to put themselves forwards, being able to vote before the other captains had even returned to their ships. Much to his consternation, Wilfred Mostert discovered his double vote ([i]as captain, of course, his own vote counted as two[/i]) could not save him, and his crew, including the Arabyan swordsmen regiment sent by the Tabrizian agha Zazarri Marwan, voted to join the attack. The others included Thodrin Hookhand’s slayer dwarfs, the ‘other Bart’, Bartolomeo del Portes, and finally Captain Claudio Sagrada who volunteered to provide artillery pieces and their crews to support the attack. There was some grumbling that artillerymen could surely not expect a full share, but most accepted that just landing on the shore and arraying for battle against such a foe was deserving sufficient to earn the reward.
As the boats with the attacking force set off towards the shore, upon the bastion there was silence. The dead rarely speak. Four rotting men stood perfectly still ready to fire at their master’s command, while a fifth clung with one gangrenous hand to the palisade, his legs so mangled that he was barely able to stand.
(Erm, yes … it is a pencil sharpener. Waste not want not. If my pirate zombies are a bit ‘comedy’ then their cannon royal can be too!)
Part 4: Battle of the Dunes
Army lists for the upcoming battle report ….
The Pirates of Tabriz Fleet Vanguard Force
(Legal Composition, WFB #7) Empire Roster, 1999 Pts
LORD: Admiral Bartholomeus Pasterkamp
General; Pistol; Sword of Power; Jade Amulet
HERO: Captain Wilfred Mostert
Pistol; Sword of Battle; Talisman of Protection
HERO: Captain Bartolomeo del Portes
Hand Weapon; Sword of Striking; The White Cloak
HERO: Engineer/Captain Claudio Sagrada
Hand Weapon; Repeater Pistol
CORE: Pasterkamp’s Crew, 25 Free Company, FC, Extra Hand Weapon
CORE: Mostert’s Crew Crew, 25 Free Company, FC, Extra Hand Weapon
CORE: Zazarri Marwan’s Regiment, 25 Swordsmen, FC + Det of 10 Crossbow
CORE: 10 Pasterkamp’s Handgunners
CORE: 10 Mostert’s Handgunners
CORE: 10 Bartolomeo’s Handgunners
SPECIAL: Artillery, 3 Great Cannons & 1 Mortar
RARE: Hookhand’s Slayers (as DoW Long Drong’s), 21 Slayer Pirates + Thodrin
RARE: 10 Bartolomeo’s Duellists (as DoW Duellists); Musician; Champion
Galdabash’s Zombie Pirates
Old White Dwarf Luthor Harkon Zombie Pirates Roster, 1877 pts
LORD: Grand Admiral Galdabash (c/a Luthor Harkon)
HERO: Vampire Fleet Captain – Brace of Pistols; Moonshine
HERO: Vampire Fleet Captain – Brace of Pistols; Bloody Norah!
HERO: Vampire Fleet Captain – Battle Standard; Dead Man’s Chest
CORE: 25 Zombie Pirates Deck Hands Mob; Mus
CORE: 25 Zombie Pirates Deck Hands Mob; Mus; Standard
CORE: 25 Zombie Pirates Deck Hands Mob; Mus; Standard
CORE: 10 Zombie Pirates Gunnery Mob
CORE: 2 Bloated Corpses
CORE: 14 Scurvy Dogs
SPECIAL: 5 Animated Hulks (undead ogres)
SPECIAL: 2 Carronades (small cannons)
RARE & SPECIAL: Queen Bess (250 points!)
The Tabrizian Pirates are to try to disable/destroy the Queen Bess (a giant cannon) so that the fleet can pass by the river mouth.
The undead pirates want to stop them, so that they can deny access to the river (Galdabash has more forces up-river searching for a certain legendary city).
The Zombies have some defences – sharpened stakes called stormpoles and some palisades, and so have slightly less points. There is also the fact that the 250 pt Queen Bess might easily blow up if fired (it requires two artillery dice to be rolled and is thus twice as likely as a normal cannon to blow up) and as that would be default win for the Tabrizians it could only be fired in desperation. Thus 250 points are tied up with a practically unuseable gun, which again balances the fact that the Zombies have terrain that much favours them.
The battle to last 7 turns (like a 6th ed WFB siege scenario).
A Fearful Day
First Part of the Battle of the Dunes
Nigh upon twenty boats of various sizes, all packed solid with passengers, made their way towards the shore, the smaller ones riding the choppy waters and almost tossing their occupants overboard as they got close. Only the Arabyan swordsmen wore armour and they were in one of the larger boats, so none were in too much danger. Besides, considering what faced them, high waves were the least of their concerns.
As the force waded through the surf the umpteen handgunners amongst them tried to keep their pieces high above the water. Being salty-sea dogs of some considerable experience all had of course waxed their pans for protection and several were carrying glass jars with coils of slow-match inside so that it too would remain dry. Once upon the dry sand, while the handgunners poked the wax out of their pans, broke open the jars and fiddled with flints and steels to light their matchcords, the captains and mates immediately began ordering everyone into fighting bodies ready to advance up and over the scattered dunes. Ahead was the rising ground where, just before the thick tangle of the jungle, rose the fortified hill upon which the ghastly undead had placed the massive ‘Queen Bess’. Unexpectedly, the huge cannon was still aimed at the river, and stayed so while the undead mustered their own companies on the slopes in a grisly parody of the Tabrizian pirates’ deployment.
It occurred to many of the living seamen that if the great gun hadn’t shifted position then it might not be used against them in this battle. Perhaps Galdabash was keener to ensure no boats used the battle as a diversion so that they might attempt to slip by? Mostly, it was another, less tactical thought that was at the forefront of many a Tabrizian’s mind: it was entirely possible that amongst the undead foe stood some of their old accomplices and crewmates. This sent a shudder through all those who thought it, followed by a second shudder when they wondered whether by nightfall they might also have joined the undead ranks.
The field of battle was horribly empty of any form of cover. Between the dunes and the foot of the hill there stretched an open space, flanked on the right by the river mouth. On the expansive lower slopes of the hill were two thin lines of sharpened stakes, with a dangerously inviting gap in the middle that must surely have been left so that some form of counterattack could be launched. Unless, perhaps, Galdabash’s unliving slaves had simply not yet had time to complete their defences?
As the main battle line arrayed itself, the Estalian captain Bartolomeo del Portes led his skirmishing company of duellists up on the far-right flank, across the rough ground along the bank of the river mouth. He had it in mind to steal the glory and sneak up to the Queen Bess while the rest of the army entertained the foe with their deaths. To his left Claudio Sagrada, acting as engineer, emplaced a brace of cannons upon a dune, close enough together to allow him to lend skilled help to whichever one took his fancy. Below him, towards the centre of the Tabrizian line, was the reluctant Captain Wilfred Mostert and his crew, standing sullenly while Mostert tried desperately to look as if he was in a fighting mood that day.
The real centre of the Tabrizian line was made up of the three companies of handgunners, provided by each of the captains present, as well as Captain Pasterkamp’s fighting crew and the slayer dwarfs of Thodrin Hookhand. All in all, it was a solid enough looking centre. Out to the left was a mortar, occupying the same dune as an Arabyan detachment of crossbowmen. Beyond them marched the black-clad Arabyan swordsmen, and finally out on the very left, a single cannon (the crew of which were fervently praying that they would seem insignificant to the foe and thus not draw their attention).
Grand Admiral Galdabash himself was present at the hill-fort, having returned from the interior partly to ensure his river mouth defences were still intact and partly upon some dark business that only he knew. Now that the Tabrizian fleet had arrived he was glad he was present, so that he could command his forces to fight rather more intelligently than they otherwise would have done. His shattered mind, however, was still unstable, and he knew that there might (as ever) be extended periods of the fight in which he barely knew what was happening himself. Not that he cared, being so filled with rage and hatred (and greed, always greed) that any other thoughts faded into insignificance.
While his mind was in balance, he acted quickly and ordered his force for battle. His handgunners he emplaced in the stockade at the hill’s summit, there to provide something in the way of gunfire but more importantly to act as a last defence should anything get close to the stockade and Queen Bess. A little further down the slope he placed his two small cannons, or ‘carronades’, where they might fire over the heads of the rest of his force arrayed downhill. That lower battle line, included three massed bodies of regimented zombies behind the storm-poles, with two bloated corpses shambling in their rear. His three captains were amongst them, though a pair of them shared command of one of the regiments (one carrying the army battle standard) thus leaving the rightmost regiment of undead pirates without an officer of any kind. He himself stood to the left of the centre, leading his company of zombified Ogres; while out on the far left moved his large pack of scurvy dogs, ready to be unleashed upon his command to move at speed against the foe.
The crews of the two carronades stood like statues, what remnants were left of their minds being entirely empty. Only the firing of their pieces could snap them out of their catatonic state, for then they would reload just as they had done in life so many times, going through the sequence of motions with barely any need for thought.
In the massed ranks and file of Zombies, however, there were at least the echoes of thought. Each individual could hardly be said to have had much ‘on their mind’ but as a body, they somehow became more than the sum of their parts, from which was born a brooding anger ready to spur them on to hack, slash and kill for their master.
Galdabash himself glanced to his left, then raised his huge curved blade in the air ready to signal his dogs. The two cannons paired upon the enemy’s right had caught his eye, and he now knew exactly what he wanted his dogs to do.
Claudio Sagrada, meanwhile, had no idea just how fast those dogs could run. If he had known he would surely not have stood there quite as pleased with himself, idly imagining that the two cannons he commanded were like a pair of monstrous pistols that he could wield as if he were a giant. He even had a smile on his face as he entertained himself with his musings! It was to be a short-lived smile.
Second Part of the Battle of the Dunes
Captain Bart, admiral of the fleet and commander of the landing force, stood with his own crewmen. His first mate Lisbeth Boone, one of a number of very tough women amongst the fighting pirates of Tabriz, stood to one side of him pointing out which enemy regiment she reckoned was the strongest; while one of the ship’s younkers, the youngest of the foremast men, blew rather annoyingly upon a horn to the other side. The captain’s standard was carried by an old hand in the front rank, with ostrich feathers added to denote that his was the first company, the general’s regiment, for that was his effective rank was now that he had landed and begun to lead an army upon dry land.
Suddenly an eerie sound, like growling and gurgling combined, lolled across the field from the direction of the foe. It sent a chill down the spine of every living man arrayed there, then turning into a shiver by the sight of movement from the foe. As one, Galdabash’s magically animated force of walking corpses had begun their advance. The fastest were the scurvy dogs who fair-leapt across the field in a very convincing mockery of living hounds. It was obvious they would reach Claudio Sagrada’s dune-top battery, and that only Wilfred Mostert’s company were close enough to attempt to get in their way. Mostert himself desperately glanced about to see if there was anything else he could do, or anyone else who might be able to step in and do what was needed. When he saw the hideous form of the vampire Lord Galdabash himself, leading his fearful undead Ogres, was heading in his direction also, it suddenly did not seem such a bad thing that he and his men might have to fight the snarling dogs. They had to be an easier opponent than a band of towering monsters led by a vampire infamous throughout the southern hemisphere.
Upon the hill, the three large bodies of zombies also moved forwards, shambling through the protective screen of sharpened stakes. Not one of them cared what bullets or balls might plough through their ranks, nor even if a grenado from the foe’s ‘murdering piece’ would tear them apart. When you cannot even recall your own name, it is hard to care about what happens to you.
Although the zombie rank and file might not have been thinking about enemy’s shot, the firing of their own artillery pieces – the two carronades on the slope above the regiments of zombies – had a rather mixed effect. While one tore through Captain Thodrin’s Slayer Dwarfs to kill three of them in one moment, the other blew itself up. Apparently, gun maintenance in Galdabash’s rotting army was not a priority. The gun in question scattered hot, rusty shards of iron from its barrel for many yards around the remains of its now smoking, worm eaten carriage.
Captain Mostert had no real choice. He could not stand and watch while the cannons were destroyed – not when the battle in many ways depended on the effectiveness of those same cannons. With this in mind, he and his men charged at the festering dogs, just managing to intercept them at the foot of the dune.
As Mostert reluctantly led his desperate charge, the rest of the Tabrizian army made its opening moves. On the far left flank the Arabyan swordsmen marched around the stony ground before them, while in the centre Thodrin’s dwarfs took a more direct route towards the hill. Captain del Portes and his own men, experts in swordplay all, picked their way along the bank of the river slipping on the wet stones.
Four booming blasts burst over the battlefield as the pirates three light cannons (Note: c/a DoW or Dwarf cannons) and mortar opened fire. A dramatic moment indeed, ruined only by the fact that not one of them hit their targets – doing little more than scattering dirt up into the air. Sadly, the handgunners (aiming like the cannons at the hulking undead ogres) failed also to do any damage. As a result Galdabash had no idea that the enemy had just targeted his unit. Besides, his attention, like the pirate gunners’ aim, was elsewhere.
Mostert and his lads did not do so badly against the scurvy dogs, hacking enough of them down to weaken the magic binding them together in undeath sufficiently that another two, otherwise untouched by sword or axe, succumbed to the forces of nature and became (simply) dead once more. Mostert even started to think perhaps this day would not be so bad. He was wrong, about as wrong as a man could get, because the very moment he began to enjoy the hack and slash, Galdabash decided he and his ogres would smash into Mostert’s flank.
Annoyingly for Galdabash, due to the sheer size of the monstrous zombies he was leading, he found himself stranded out beyond the main battle. Still, he reckoned he would have plenty of opportunity to kill before the day was out. Out in the centre of the field his three regiments of Zombies seemed to share his enthusiasm to get to grips with the foe, and they raced downhill.
(Game Note: we forgot in turn two that none of these zombies could march, as per the rules of undeath, but by turn three when we realised it was too late to go back. Ah well, honest mistake! If you like, you can assume we had a clever house rule about zombies being quicker when moving downhill.)
Of course, poor Mostert and his crew did not stand a chance against such vicious and powerful foes in their flank. As they began to fall in droves, those still alive thought better of waiting their turn. Within moments the entire regiment, Mostert amongst them, turned and fled pell-mell towards the river. This was an unfortunate choice of direction for they poured through Bartolomeo’s duellists, who were so overwhelmed by the sense of panic that they too joined in the flight. Galdabash himself ran forwards in pursuit and suddenly encountered one of Claudio’s cannons. The Tilean and his gunners, watching the streaming flight of men at the bottom of the dune and then faced with the horrendous visage of the Vampire Lord bearing down upon them, also chose to take to their heels – along with Claudio! No-one knows why, but the second crew chose instead to stand and fight. Perhaps they saw the first of the duellists and Mostert’s crew splashing into the waters of the tidal river mouth and decided they would rather perish to Galdabash’s blade than drown slowly?
Thus it was that the Tabrizian right flank was utterly destroyed and dispersed. The sight of it would surely be thought to make all the rest despair, but instead it made them desperate to achieve what they came here for before the blue-skinned vampire could turn his attention upon them. The entire line surged forwards as fast as they could march, aiming for the hill where Queen Bess sat. The zombies were in their way, but the pirates thought ‘Damn them’ (ironic when one considers the zombies were indeed damned) and rushed on regardless. As they outnumbered the foe in regiments and companies, many reckoned that even if some Tabrizians were stopped by the foe, the rest might still break through.
Third part of the Battle of the Dunes
As the Tabrizian seamen began their desperate dash, their mortar launched another grenade, aiming for the huge cannon in the hill-top stockade. The crew hoped that by knocking out said beast early they could hastily leave this gods-forsaken beach and return to the safety of the fleet. This time their aim was good, and although the grenado failed to harm the Queen Bess it did tear apart four of her five crew. Another shot like that and Galdabash could find himself without servants able to crew it (though there were still three zombies on the little carronade who might have skill enough left over from their past life to load and fire her). The last ‘surviving’ zombie gunner did not even flinch, instead merely leaning down to pick up the smouldering matchcord clutched in a dismembered hand at his feet. The Queen Bess was still loaded, and the only thought he had in the fragment of a mind left to him was to fire her should a vessel appear upon the river-mouth ahead.
The Zombie regiments in the centre were now close enough to launch their charges and all three of them did just that. The effect was overwhelming for the Tabrizian forces, for the undead had weight of numbers on their side as well as their terrible appearance. The mere sight of them shambling onwards (and so close) frightened two of the pirate companies so much that first they stumbled backwards and then they ran away. Captain Bart’s crew and his handgunners both streamed off towards the surf, leaving Thodrin’s dwarfs and Mostert’s handgunners in the centre, the Arabyan swordsmen to the left and the Estalian handgunners on the right bravely attempting to make a stand fighting off a regiment of undead outnumbering them more than two to one.
A moment later the two foulest, most noisome undead creatures upon the field of battle, walking corpses bloated almost to the point of bursting by foetid gases and held in one piece only by rotting bandage-shrouds, moved up to stand right on front of the swordsmen and the dwarfs. Although the living pirates were wholly aware of the awful stench given off by these horrors, they had no idea just how dangerous it could be to stab at them and thus release the rest of the stinking vapours contained within.
Out on the undead left flank, having seen off both Captains Sagrada’s and del Portes’ cannon crews, as well as the pirates and the duellists, Grand Admiral Galdabash now succumbed to one of his fits of madness, his mind becoming so confused that it was all he could do to stagger forwards. His hulking zombified ogres simply matched his step, entirely unaware that their master had lost his wits. Behind him the zombies fighting the Estalian handgunners inflicted terrible losses, their fleet captain alone lashing with a magically imbued cat o’nine tails to lay five Tabrizians low. Such a mauling, delivered by such a frightening enemy, was too much for the seamen who ran screaming away, chasing after those who had already fled. The zombies poured after them, dragging several of the fleers to the ground, screaming. Now they were approaching very close to Captain Bart and his fleeing crew.
Having not much choice in the matter, what with the bloated corpses standing immediately in their path, the Arabyan swordsmen and Dwarfen slayers both charged.
Maybe their spirit of defiance was contagious, for somehow Captain Bart rallied his men and turned them to face the zombies to his right. Or was it that he had glimpsed Galdabash disappearing over the dune away from the battle, and so thought perhaps he and his men could destroy the cannon and live after all?
The pirates’ mortar and cannon between them failed to harm anyone, and the handgunners caused more noise than real hindrance for the enemy, but the Arabyan crossbowmen at least felled one of the last carronade’s crewmen. In the more up close and personal fights, the two bloated corpses had no chance at all against the massed ranks of those facing them and they were quickly slain, the resulting explosive cloud of caustic vapours fatally choking two swordsmen and a dwarf. Yet the swordsmen, a little nimbler on their feet than the dwarfs, turned this minor loss into good fortune, and leapt over the steaming remains of the walking corpse to begin their run for the hill top. Between them and their objective, the Queen Bess, there stood a single carronade, then only a palisade defended by a handful of zombies with handguns. Unless something came over from the far side of the field to catch them in time, they knew they had a real chance of reaching and spiking the Queen Bess.
When one of the zombie regiments chose to charge at Pasterkamp’s handgunners, the mate leading them ordered them to flee. Not so Captain Pasterkamp’s main regiment, however, for although they had only just rallied, they made a nervous stand against the charge that came against them.
Now that they were locked in combat they could not see that Galdabash had come out of his stupor and had turned his regimented hulks around to begin a march back to the battle, nor that nearby the Scurvy Dogs had extricated themselves from the stony ground on the river bank. Instead of bolting off towards the nearest foe, the dogs began a long dash across the foot of the hill in an attempt to intercept the black swordsmen making for the great gun.
The Zombie handgunners stationed on the hill tried their own kind of resistance and fired a volley at the swordsmen, bringing down two – a success that might have surprised them if they had been capable of much in the way of conscious thought.
Captain Bart Pasterkamp’s belated attempt to stand against the foe proved rather short-lived. He himself was wounded by the vicious magical whip wielded by the zombie captain, while elsewhere in the fighting ranks very little harm was done: the men too frightened to get quite close enough to deliver fatal blows; the zombies too slow witted to get past the fighting seamens’ parries. But with their captain bleeding and the very denizens of hell crowding forwards the Tabrizians could not hold on to their courage and once more turned tail and fled (Game note: Undead US outnumbered theirs by 1, after a loss by 1!) into the sea. The recently elected admiral of the Tabrizian fleet now found himself splashing and scrabbling about, along with his panicked men, trying desperately to climb into one of the boats and push away from this land of death. His wig floated away with a wave, and though for the tiniest moment he almost turned to retrieve it, he remembered he had a spare in his sea chest and decided it would be foolish to risk his life for vanity. One wig would just have to do!
Off to the side his handgunners were also in the surf, scrambling over one beached boat in an attempt to find one a little further out, as that would put them to sea a lot quicker than one that needed hauling out.
The Dwarf Slayers had a rather different attitude to the fight compared to their human allies. They simply did not see the foe as something to fear, but as something to be killed, a challenge to be overcome so that they could boast of it and drink to victory afterwards as they always did. Having waded through the sticky mess that was the remains of the massively bloated corpse, they had overrun into the flank of the central regiment of zombies and now began the bloody business of slaughter they had landed on this shore to do. Of the zombies’ two captains only one could fight, but against the torrent of blows that the pistol festooned slayers could rain upon them, the zombies did not really stand much of a chance. Six zombies fell to bullet and blade, then ten more collapsed simply because the magic binding them in un-life weakened as the dwarfs pushed on into them.
Fourth (and final) part of the Battle of the Dunes
The Arabyan crossbowmen had not the courage to charge the zombies crossing in front of them, and so allowed the enemy to approach dangerously close to the mortar. The Agha’s sworsdmen, however, proved less timorous than their crossbow armed detachment, and continued their advance on the hilltop directly in the face of a cannon muzzle and its undead crew.
Perhaps a little unnerved by what was surely about to happen, the mortar crew failed to hit the Queen Bess a second time, and instead landed their grenado on the tower upon the other side of the stockade. Thodrin and his dwarf slayers could not believe how simple it was to hack the Grand Admiral Galdabash’s servants down, and before they had really begun to break a sweat the last of the zombies before them succumbed to their blades and pistols, as well as the ever-weakening magic holding them together in undeath. Just as the dwarfs were thinking how easy the fighting was, the brave crew of the mortar found themselves facing a threat that they could surely not withstand – the three of them, one a boy armed with only a bucket and another a crippled man with a crutch in his left hand, were now charged by an entire regiment of shambling zombies. Other much larger bodies of men had fled from just such a foe, and yet here these three found the courage to stand and fight! (I could not tell you why.)
The rest of Galdabash’s forces attempted to close with the few enemies remaining on the field of battle: the hulks made their way towards the centre of the field; the dogs continued their rush to reach the Arabyan swordsmen (though their pace had now slackened somewhat because Galdabash had moved away from them and his power to urge them on had diminished proportionately). The vampire lord had in fact moved away from his undead ogres to make his own way across the field, so filled with rage he no longer sought the safety of numbers and desired only to close with the enemy quickly and personally, to sate the blood-lust that all his kind shared.
The carronade upon the hill fired directly into the swordsmen advancing straight towards it and brought two down, but the zombie handgunners behind and above them failed in their own attempts so dramatically that one of the misfiring handguns felled the zombie carrying it.
Two of the mortar crew were torn apart by the zombies, and the last (the boy who due to his short stature had been overlooked by the dim witted unliving seamen) fled screaming away from them only to drown moments in the sea. This left only one artillery piece on the field – the cannon on the Tabrizians’ far left, whose crew gave thanks to Manaan that they had been spared so far and now offered the promise of sacrifices and prayers if he would continue his protection.
The Arabyan swordsmen, unwilling to receive another carronade shot, now launched their charge at the little gun and its crew, even though their attack took them uphill and over quite a distance and thus might prove a dangerously long run. Their luck held, however, and they reached the little artillery piece before it could be reloaded.
The two zombies crewing it unsurprisingly proved little challenge for the corsairs’ deadly scimitars and they soon leapt over their now dead (rather than undead) corpses to begin their dash for the hilltop. Once again whatever desert gods they looked to for good fortune smiled upon them and they managed to get right up to the stockade and charge into the zombie handgunners defending it.
Thodrin’s dwarfs turned to face the hulking ogres shambling near them, and one or two looked up to watch the flight of the last cannon’s ball as it curled through air towards the Queen Bess. The crew’s prayers had been very well received, apparently, for Manaan himself must surely have carried the ball to its target. It smashed right into the great cannon, damaging it badly. (Game note: 2 wounds out of 5, the ball being a D3 wounds, light cannonball.) The Arabyan crossbowmen and last unit of handgunners hoped also to make their own contribution count and shot everything they had into the scurvy dogs (Game note: being lower down all their ranks could shoot). It appeared that Manaan had been too busy carrying the cannon ball for not one bullet or bolt pierced a single dog. Nothing could stop the dogs from reaching the swordsmen now.
Galdabash and one of his regiments of zombies now chased away the last of the Tabizian handgunners (which was all they could reach), while the scurvy dogs hurtled up the hill to do what they had been trying to do for some time now – attack the Swordsmen.
The ensuing fight was bloody, scimitar against tooth, claw against musket butt, yet neither side could gain the advantage and the struggle went on. It was late in the day, and if they could not defeat the undead soon, the swordsmen began to fear the dusk which might well bring all sorts of new terrors to the field. Such fear was not helped by the fact that they were already tiring, nor that they were so isolated up there on the summit. Down below Thodrin attempted to lead his dwarfs in a charge against the ogres, perhaps thinking he might at least keep their attention away from the hill, but his little legs proved too … well … little, and the charge failed to reach the foe before it petered out. All he could do was begin to re-order his warriors ready to try again!
The cannon misfired, but the crew boldly set about reloading with the intent of shooting one last time before fleeing for the relative safety of the ships. On the hilltop the fight went on: dogs rolling down the hill as they were hacked apart and zombies falling where they stood when the curved Arabyan blades cut deep enough. Yet the Arabyans were dismayed to find that the foe’s lack of fear, nor care for their own (un)lives, meant that they fought on regardless and relentless.
It was beginning to look like the Tabrizians would not get to the Queen Bess, and that many men had died and were still yet to die pointlessly that day. But then came the cannon’s last ball, an iron roundshot following exactly the same path as the previously successful one, striking the Queen Bess square on. The huge, ancient and rusty warmachine could not withstand another such blow, and was shattered by the impact – it’s very barrel cracking open as the carriage collapsed. After countless years of service, both for the living and the undead, her majesty’s reign had finally come to an end. Her last surviving crewman simply stood as he had before, yet to realise that his ward was destroyed. Strangely, he was joined in his lack of motion by the three Tabrizian crewmen on the dune. Their gormless stance was due not to ignorance but rather genuine surprise at what they had done.
It was almost a full minute before they snapped out of the shock induced by their success, then the gunner turned to his two matrosses and said simply,
“That’ll do for today, eh?”
They nodded in response, then abandoning their piece on the dune they slid hastily down the sand and bolted for the nearest boat. They were not the only ones to make this decision. Thodrin’s dwarfs saw no use in fighting on when the Queen Bess was destroyed and they too made dash for the beach. Theirs was a more orderly affair than the other Tabrizians around them, almost as if daring the foe to try to follow them. The Arabyan swordsmen on the hill also knew that to linger was not only dangerous but utterly futile, and they began their own frantic run all the way to the surf, dropping shields and casting off helmets so they might run a little bit quicker.
Not one undead pirate pursued them, for their master did not will them to do so. He cared not which man or dwarf escaped this beach, for his mind was filled with another concern: If the Queen Bess was destroyed, how could he prevent the Tabrizian fleet from ascending the river? Almost all his own ships had been destroyed in a recent storm, and although this had not troubled him particularly – a mere distraction while his servants searched for the city of gold – it now became a problem. His smaller boats and wherries had been safe upriver during the storm, and so survived, but they were not here either, being much farther upriver engaged upon the search for the city. All of which meant he had nothing here at the river mouth to prevent the Tabrizians’ river ascent.
A shimmer of heat haze obscured his blue-skinned body, yet every man, orc and dwarf aboard the Tabrizian ships somehow knew he was there and that his attention was upon them. The fury in his glare, the intensity of his anger not only stirred up the haze about him but poured out across the water to wash up against the ships – a palpable force of wicked intent which sent a chill up every spine. A thought now crossed every one of their minds: Grand Admiral Galdabash had not finished with them yet.