Brass on the Iron Road
On the ancient dwarf road between Karak Borgo and Campogrotta, Summer 2403
It had been half an hour since the army came to a halt. The days of marching were long, but not too tiring, as the road coursed (in the main) downhill, and although ancient, being dwarf-built it was in good repair. Yet none of this meant a quick pace. You might presume that the dwarves were to blame, and you would be right. But it was not their short legs that caused the delay. It was the engines of war they were hauling. More accurately, it was one engine in particular – the massive ‘Cannon Imperial’ named Granite Breaker.
Being summer it was still light even this late in the day, and just like the last nine evenings the entire army was now stretched out along the road side for the best part of a mile, preparing to camp for the night. Apart from the mounted Brabanzon mercenaries, the order of the companies never changed. Some nights the riders lit their fires at the head of the army, other nights elsewhere, presumably camping on some convenient height nearby from which they could keep an eye out for torch lights and such like. But every other body kept its allotted place in the line. The dwarven flying engine, which could hardly be called a ‘company’, also rested in a different place each night – wherever its pilot thought safely solid enough to re-acquaint it with the ground. The road would be the obvious choice, but then the sleeping engine would block the way should an alarm be sounded.
Most of the army’s baggage was at the rear of the column. The heavily-laden wagons had spent each hour of travel discovering, with rattling clunks, every bit of damage done by Granite Breaker’s passage. Now they were very quiet, lined up in an orderly fashion typical of dwarfs. The horses and oxen had been unlimbered and led away to rest somewhere amongst the trees.
It was by the wagons that Glammerscale Hamgorn the dwarven wizard had met his equally unlikely counterpart from the company of Brabanzon mercenaries marching with the army of Karak Borgo, the red-haired, ‘fallen’ damsel Perrette L’Amy. Immediately upon laying eyes on him she had smiled, as if they were old friends, and approached him confidently. She wore a long dress of red wool, full sleeved but unadorned with lace or embroidery, hoist up a little to reveal an inner petticoat of purple. Her long, bright hair was loose and wild, and she had in her hand a part-extended fan, which she clutched to her side. Glammerscale assumed it must be some fashionable affectation amongst Bretonnian ladies, although from what he had heard she was no lady.
“A fellow magician!” she said. “It’s good to know I’m not the only one here. I’d heard of you, Master Glammerscale, but couldn’t decide whether to believe what I’d been told.”
“I am indeed a rarity,” he said. “Perhaps now that there are two of us my kin will finally accept me for what I am?”
Perrette’s smile grew wider. “I hope they have not been cruel. I too am something of an outcast, although my problem is that my current companions are often a little too willing to accept me.”
Glammerscale pondered this for a moment. Perrette had not travelled to Tilea with Baron Garoy, but in the company of the Brabanzon mercenaries. He had heard them talk of her two evening’s ago. They did not call her witch or wizard, instead sorceress. Nor did they call her a lady, and as their drinking went on they used much more base terms. The young paladin Baron Garov refused to mention her at all. From the way he winced, it appeared he was even reluctant to hear her name merely mentioned.
“The way of magic is not an easy path,” Glammerscale said diplomatically.
Perrette’s smile seemed more genuine. “And some of us find ways to make it even more difficult for ourselves.”
“No, my lady,” he said. “I would not say we sought the difficulties. They came through no fault of our own. I was born a dwarf, and you were born a peasant.”
“Ah, but was I born such, Master Glammerscale? Or did I ruin my reputation and besmirch my noble blood through dishonour and misdeeds?”
“I meant no insult by what I said,” stuttered Glammerscale. “I merely presumed that …well …”
“Worry not, good master dwarf. Had I been born a lady I would happily have cast aside such a tedious life, such an imprisonment. So, whether you are right or wrong, it does not offend me.”
Glammerscale noted she had not actually said whether she was a noblewoman or peasant born. Perhaps such mystery could only improve her reputation as a spell-weaver? To know too much about a person can make them appear mundane, and that does not do for a practitioner of the magical arts.
“What think you of this army?” Perrette asked. “Is it sufficient to the task ahead?”
“It is no easy thing,” said Glammerscale, “to oust an army of brutes from a well-fortified city. Still, I believe we have the tools required.”
“Are we two of those tools?” asked Perrette, a twinkle in her eye.
It was Glammerscale’s turn to smile. “I would say, my lady, that were we allowed, we could add a better edge to those tools. The walls of Campogrotta will need some considerable chipping to breach. Anyone who can distract the foe whilst the work is done will be welcome.”
“You say ‘Were we allowed’, master dwarf. Why so? Are we not invited to this dance?”
“You might well need your dancing shoes, but I am afraid it is unlikely I shall attend. King Jaldeog has other things in mind for me, and all his thanes are in agreement.”
Perrette frowned. “I did not know this. Whither are you bound?”
“I shall not be far away. I am to be sent to watch for any relief that might approach. It seems my eyes, despite my need for these glasses, are considered more valuable than any magic I might conjure.”
Glammerscale doubted his explanation had convinced the damsel, as anyone who knew anything about dwarfs knew of their distrust of wizards. He would be ordered off with the scouts, yes, but the real reason was superstition. The thanes and their warriors did not want him bringing bad luck to the army on the day of battle. As Thane Narhak had put it, his presence upon the field of battle would be disruptive to the cause.
Perrette watched him for a moment. Then her smile returned. “There is no dishonour in that, for the art of war requires such watchfulness.”
“I did not think those you travelled with cared much for honour,” said Glammerscale.
“The Brabanzon! Oh, they care not a jot for it,” she said with a chuckle. “They came with one thing in mind. Well, lots of things in truth, and most of them shiny in some way or another. And such is their desire for plunder that they will fight as well as any knight seeking renown.”
“What does Baron Garoy make of them?”
“He acts as if he is lord over them, though all know he is not. I saw him only half an hour ago inspecting the brigand archers in the van.”
“Lord or not, does he not command them in the field?” asked Glammerscale. “That was the agreement.”
“Oh, they play their part well enough. The archers I saw had already put up their huts and lit their fires before he arrived, yet still they formed into a body before him.
He made a comment or two to the sergeants there, to which they mumbled some sort of answer. I’m sure each and every Brabanzon once served some knight or another. They understand what is expected of them.
“By their agreed contract they are to obey his orders in battle, and by Bretonnian custom they are required to bow to him. But they are mercenaries, and as such consider their contract more binding than custom.”
“He is not their paymaster,” said Glammerscale.
“He is not,” agreed Perrette. “He who pays is the true authority. Until the payment is completed.”
“Or perhaps another party offers better payment?”
Perrette laughed. “Normally so, but here and now, in these mountains, who else is there to pay them?”
“Well, they do expect more, by way of plunder. They told me so themselves.”
“Aye,” said the damsel. “And as I said, that expectation will ensure they fight. Not as well as dwarfs, I’m sure.”
Glammerscale decided he liked this woman. He enjoyed her honesty, and the fact that when she did flatter she made it so obviously a game.
“And what do you think of the baron?” he asked.
“Would you have me slander a knight?”
“The truth would serve me better now, whether good or ill.”
“He had his companion with him when I saw him this eve, a standard-bearer carrying his emblem. The tête de cerf blanc – the white stag’s head – upon a field of red and white. He has the standard with him always.”
“The white stag,” mused Glammerscale, “that can never be captured.”
“The forever chase! You know the stories!” said Perrette, surprised.
“I have read Berthelot’s tales. Book learning is like breathing to me,” said Glammerscale. He was hardly ever without a book about his person. He now knew that Perrette had to be of noble birth, for how could a peasant know of such things? “A strange emblem for a paladin pursuing the rule of Ravola, for then his chase does end.”
“Are we to presume the baron chose wisely?” asked the damsel.
“The baron is young, as are all his companions.”
“And wisdom comes with age?”
“To some degree,” laughed Glammerscale. “I wonder what the baron thinks of the Brabanzon?”
“You are kind not to ask what he thinks of me,” she said. “He cannot be happy with the army he has been given. But it is what it is, and beggars can’t be choosers. As long as they prove useful to his ambitions he will tolerate them. I think he has some diplomacy in him, for he feigned not to notice the brigand archers who declined to assemble before him, instead remaining by the fire to drink.”
“Perhaps the cooking of supper required their attentions?”
“You have some diplomacy in you too, Master Glammerscale. And I thought dwarfs were plain-spoken to a fault.”
Glammerscale laughed again. “I have many faults, ask any dwarf. Being a wizard overshadows all the rest, so most are barely noticed.”
Perette fell silent and studied him for a moment or two, which made him a little uncomfortable.
“I sense an etheric heat about you,” he said, partly to alleviate the discomfort, but moreso out of curiosity. “Will you be conjuring fire in the assault?”
“Aye, I like to play with fire. We’ll come to know the smell of burning ogre before the fight is over. I can’t imagine it’ll be pleasant.”
“I should think the brimstone stench of the powder will overwhelm all other smells. The scouts have said that every stretch of wall and every tower teems with cannon muzzles, and Granite Breaker will burn tons of the stuff.”
“I shall take great care to throw my fires at the foe, and not to allow even a spark to stray amongst our engines,” Perrette declared. “In truth, having seen the great gun I wonder whether anything I will do will even be noticed by any upon either side!”
“She is indeed a beast!” said Glammerscale with a grin. “Her roar will surely be louder than that of any dragon, and her hunger for powder will make that which feeds an entire battery of ordinary guns seem like a mere appetiser.”
Perrette seemed confused. “You have never seen the gun fire?”
“No. She is very ancient. So old I think there are barely any even amongst dwarfs who have seen her give fire. Do not let her age make you doubt her efficaciousness, however. Cannons are simple constructions, and it is the quality of the cast that counts. She was made of the best brass, by the best gunsmiths, and will be fed a diet of gourmet powder. She is inscribed with powerful, protective runes. I doubt their will be much left of Campogrotta when she finally gets so hot as to risk shivering.”
He had had a chance to inspect the cannon imperial closely two evenings ago, in the company of no less than the army’s general, Narhak, Thane of Dravaz. She had been heavily guarded, as were the wagons of budge barrels that would provide her sustenance. The thane had waxed lyrical about her, telling of a great uncle who swore he had seen her take the top of a mountain off.
She was cast in the form of a dragon and mounted on a carriage so heavy that it alone, if rolled down a hill against a castle wall, could possibly bring it down. The brass had long since tarnished to make her blueish in hue. None had thought to polish her, however, for in the old stories of her destructions she had been blue and proud of it, and no-one wanted to offend her.
She required a regiment of draught animals to haul her, several of which were still nearby as she rested, being the last to have been unhitched.
The animals were needed fore and aft of her on the road, in differing proportions according to the chief engineer’s judgement. When going down hill more were needed behind than in front. When the animals were changed, she was held in place by huge wedges, the four of which needed a wagon to themselves. Most of her powder was carried with that of the other guns, but at least one wagon was usually nearby too.
Thane Narhak had said a powder wagon was kept close to reassure her. Considering he had just claimed she had once beheaded a mountain, Glammerscale had the measure of the thane’s flights of fancy. After half an hour in her close company, the wizard had decided that his absence from the battle would be of very little consequence with the likes of her blasting at the foe. A field gun was to an ogre as a handgun was to a dwarf, but Granite Breaker was to an ogre as a sledge hammer was to a mouse.
Her Imperial Majesty was not going to Campogrotta to knock down ogres, however. She had to bring down the walls. Glammerscale had seen those walls himself, and to his knowledge only the mighty walls of Remas were bigger. He had passed the city in the evening, far enough away to avoid being spotted. The gate had ragged banners atop, bearing an image of red mountains – presumably one of Razger’s emblems and not that of the Wizard Lord Niccolo.
It had been under a darkening sky, which combined with Glammerscale’s purblind eyes, meant that although he could make out what must be brutes patrolling the battlements …
… he had not discerned what exactly were the weapons they were carrying. It was Thane Narhak who had told him what the scouts had seen – cannon barrels carried like handguns.. Not that there was a smattering of such weapons, but that every ogre upon the walls had one.
Glammerscale did not doubt Granite Breaker would fell Campogrotta’s fortifications. It would take time, however, and he wondered what the serried ranks of cannon barrels might do to those who assaulted the walls or clambered over the rubble during that delay.
“I am sure you are right, master dwarf” said Perrette. “The gun will prove our greatest friend. And I am glad you will be watching the road, for it would be a sad thing indeed for Razger Boulderguts to disturb her while she is so busy.”
Previous stories featuring Glammerscale include “A Weakening of the Faith” in Part 1 of the campaign (https://bigsmallworlds.com/2017/07/03/first-blog-post/) and “A Blessed Army” in Part 5 (https://bigsmallworlds.com/2017/07/15/tilea-campaign-part-5/)