Leaving Luccini, Again!
Captain Anssem Van Baas had made his way up to the roof of the building where he, his sea artists and officers were lodged, to watch the rest of the Sartosan army as it marched from the city. His bosun, Moukib Brahimi, having just returned from the ship after overseeing repairs to the rigging, and his master gunner, Harrie Otmann, joined him at the roof’s railed edge.
The Captain had been tasked with guarding both the city and the captured king, as well as perhaps most importantly the enharboured fleet, which was being repaired after the battering it had taken during the recent storm. To minimise the damage, several crews had even had to cut their mainmasts to the board to prevent them being ripped from the ships by the wind! The storm had forced them to return, much against their wishes, to the city they had only just picked clean of every scrap of profitable plunder. While the work of mending was hard, the royal hostage they had gained upon their unexpected return was a welcome gift and potential recompense for their tempestuous troubles.
The three of them were wordless for a little while, as they watched the pirates assembling along the street at their lodging’s front. Anssem’s raggedy, black hat joined with his copious beard to frame the weather-worn and pockmarked flesh of his face. A scarf of yellow silk encircled his waist, wrapped around his long, grey coat. His companions flanked him: his master gunner, wearing a patch to hide the mess that a shiver of the ship’s hull had made of his eye during a firefight seven years ago, and the bosun, a burly Southlander clutching a belaying pin that was more a club than a tool.
“Ha!” laughed Moukib as he looked at the first pirates in the column. “Garique’s handgunners are at the head! No wonder it takes them all so long to leave!”
The captain grinned, for he too had noticed Garique’s men, specifically his mate Goerdt, at the fore. Garique’s Bretonnians called Geordt ‘Jambe de Bois’, while the Estalians called him ‘Pie de Palo’, for obvious reasons. Everyone else in the fleet called him Jambalo, although most knew not why. Anssem pondered what mischievous notion had possessed Admiral Volker to order a one-legged man to the fore? Perhaps there was genius in the decision, for it gave that little bit more time for the wine-addled or sore headed sailors to get in line?
“I still don’t see why so many agreed to go,” said Harrie. “The whole enterprise is a waste o’ time and effort, if you ask me.”
“They were ordered to go, and you have the captain to thank for the fact that we do not go too,” said Moukib.
Anssem was absently scratching at his bearded chin with the iron hook that served as his left hand, a habit which often drew blood, creating the scabs that would, in turn, generate a new itch.
“’Tweren’t my decision to stay,” he said, “despite it being my desire. The admiral wants us here. We’re the strongest crew and the one he can trust. He wants to keep his eye on the rest of ‘em.”
“If those lads come back mauled and bloody,” said Harrie, pointing dramatically at the men below, “then they’ll bear a mighty grudge against Volker. The best he can hope for is that they scare the Luccinans off easily and complain only of the time it took to do so. If they suffer unnecessarily then for certain it’ll be the end of his admiralcy.”
“Volker only fights when he needs to,” argued Moukib.
“But he don’t need to fight this time,” said Harrie. “The Luccinans haven’t even attacked! They’re too weak to do so. We have their baby king yet still they squat in the hills too afraid to do anything about it. They’re not going to attack us, so why pick a fight with them? I say why trouble ourselves over anything that ain’t pursuit o’ gold, silver or anything else worth having?”
“Our army marches to protect the gold we already have,” said Moukib. “The enemy might be weak, but they have waited some time now, while we cannot leave until the fleet is made fit to sail. You have to ask what they are waiting for? If they cannot beat us, then why do they not leave? They must be waiting for help. The admiral intends to scatter them before that help arrives.”
Anssem was nodding. “We are not the only ones to have banded together. This is a time of grand alliances, with city joining city to defend against the vampires and ogres.”
“Don’t sound like a good time for us to start a-raiding then,” suggested Harrie.
“No, it is the best time,” said Moukib. “Because their grand alliances have failed so far. Now they are allied out of desperation and even when marching together they are weak. Besides, when they leave to fight in the north, no-one is left behind to defend their homes.”
“Except there is an army out there in the hills, however small it might be, and men will die fighting them. I still say it’s a waste. There’s no-one coming to help them. No-one cares. We have their king and they cannot do anything about it. But honour means they cannot leave either.”
“They can do something! They can pay us for their king,” suggested Moukib.
“That they cannot do, Mouk” said Harrie. “I doubt there’s a Luccinan left with even a copper token to offer up for a ransom.”
The Sartosans had ransacked the city and the surrounding realm more expertly and thoroughly than even brutes or greenskins could have done.
“The soldiers could find the gold,” said Moukib.
“I doubt that,” said the captain. “They’re not returning from a war of conquest, laden with plunder. They’re returning from an already ruined land, after fighting the living dead. They’ve nothing to give us. Harrie is right, Mouk, they cannot pay and they cannot retake their city. We should just let them be. Would you ram a wounded sea serpent just because it swam close to your ship?”
Moukib chortled dismissively. “If the army is a wounded sea serpent, then it is an infant. They have little more than two regiments, one gun and the king’s doddering uncle to command them.”
“Don’t be so sure the fight will be easy,” said Harrie. “They’ve dug themselves some fine earthworks at a carefully chosen spot, and they have grown in strength.”
“How so? No other armies have come to their aid.”
“You have been working too hard, Moukib my friend,” said Harrie. “Your thoughts have been all a-tangled in cables and lines. We found out two days ago that they now have a large body of men who fled Luccini when we returned, and even a few of the King’s mounted guards who escaped.”
“Ha! And you had me worried!” laughed Moukib. “Such as they count for nothing. Cowardly peasants who fled without a fight and steel-clad noblemen so noble they forgot to guard their king! Their sort add weakness to an army, not strength.”
“Let’s hope so,” said the captain, “for all these lads’ sakes!”
For whatever reason, down in the street march had faltered a while, but the pirates now began to move again.
“Moukib,” said the captain, pointing down at the boy lugging a bucket alongside the marchers, “you should take a leaf from little Janneken’s book. He don’t look worried.”
“Aye. He’s got other things to worry about,” said Harrie. “I told him last time that when he brings water there ought to be more than a spoonful left in the bucket when he arrives. Woe betide the lad if he spills it all again.”
“You’re too hard on the boy,” said Captain Anssem. He’s a good ‘un. Too small to carry that bucket, mind you, but he’s run through more’n one firefight with charges for the guns, his ear’s a-bleeding last time too.”
The army was beginning to move off properly now, and more and more were turning onto the street.
The van was mostly made up of deck gunners, many armed with handguns. The Sartosans, like the VMC (of whom a good proportion were also from Marienburg) favoured the use of powder in battle, both on land and sea. They had wagons to carry several artillery pieces hauled from their ships, as the gun’s diminutive trucks were incapable of travelling the roads. One small company struggled along with swivel guns. Even those among them without a ranged firearm of some kind, of which there were several large bodies expected to engage the foe in melee, were festooned with pistols, whether they be human, dwarf or even goblin, although the latter had a tendency to cause harm with their pistols not only to the enemy but also to themselves.
They also had a predilection for the more exotic kinds of guns, with an entire company armed with blunderbusses, and several, like Jambalo, carrying multi-barrelled oddities designed to allow the firer to shoot rapidly, for instead of reloading all they had to do was twist the next pre-loaded barrel in place. Needless to say, perhaps, these mechanically extravagant guns were not the most reliable pieces in the pirates’ arsenal.
Before long Admiral Volker’s own crew, who bore the brunt of the fighting during the initial capture of the city, were marching into view, being in the centre of the column. Captain Anssem espied the orc Gudyag, who had proved himself one of the admiral’s most loyal crewmen.
Gudyag, like several other orcs in Volker’s fleet, had been of Scarback’s Greenskin Corsairs, being separated from the orc admiral’s fleet during the storm which drove most vessels onto the rocks along the Caretello coast. Gudyag’s ship had been forced south, running before the wind while the crew cursed the cliffs on the lee shore as if foul language might convince the rocks to shy away! Once the storm subsided, he and his crewmates presumed the rest of the corsairs, Scarback included, must surely have perished when wrecked. Gudyag later discovered that Scarback and a good portion of his corsairs had survived and were in the paid service of Portomaggiore, but like almost every one of his crewmates he now signed a Sartosan commodore’s articles. Choosing to stay with the Sartosans was a decision he was later glad of when he learned of the Greenskin Corsairs’ massacre at the hands of Khurnag’s Waagh! Those who now remained of Gudyag’s original crewmates were scattered throughout Volker’s fleet, serving different captains, partly because they struggled to get on with each other partly because the Sartosans did not want too many burly orcs serving in any one particular crew.
An exception had been made for the goblin boss Bagnam Fark, for although he commanded a large ship and a full greenskin crew, they were almost all goblins, and the Sartosans found it hard to imagine that they could cause anything but minor annoyance to Volker’s fleet should they become troublesome. Fark had an unusual way with words and had haggled his way into serving with the fleet. Admiral Volker seemed to have the notion that having the goblin boss in his fleet would come in useful, although exactly how, whether strategic, tactical, diplomatic or for some other reason, only the admiral knew. Captain Anssem now pondered whether the goblins were included in the fleet for just such a situation as this, for who better to throw against the earthwork defences of a stubborn and desperate foe than goblins? While the Sartosan men, dwarfs and orcs poured lead-shot into the mix, the goblin mob could fight their way into the defences. If they failed, nothing of importance had been lost. If they succeeded, then well and good. And either way, the more casualties they suffered, the better.
As the rag-tag army passed by below, several of the marching pirates glanced up at the three men watching them from the roof.
Anssem did not need to be able to see their faces clearly to know that they wore angry expressions. Most in the fleet were of a like mind with Harrie. Very few were keen on fighting the remnant Luccinan army when there was no loot to be gained. Having to pass by the captain of the one crew ordered to stay in the city was like rubbing salt in their wounds.
“I’ve seen enough,” said the Captain. “Let’s go below.”