All That Glitters, 6

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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