The City of Ravola, Early Spring 2304
Perette had yet to see the newly constructed engine, what with myriad responsibilities distracting her (however self-imposed). Now she had been asked to come quickly – the gunners apparently wanted her blessing, for themselves and their ward.
When Osmont delivered the request, Perette had laughed, saying, “Surely the gunners would prefer a wielder of magical fire to keep a distance from their black powder? If they are averse to anyone so much as smoking a pipe nearby, or just carrying a candle too close, how much more should they be afraid of someone who can conjure sheets of fire from her fingertips?”
Osmont pondered a moment, then asked, “I have been wanting to ask. How do you do that?”
Perette smiled. “I shape my anger in an arcane manner and then let the etheric wind flow through me.”
“Oh,” said Osmont. “Well, that explains it, my lady! As for the engine, the gunners seem to consider it your sibling, for it was born in battle and is more like you than anyone or anything else in Ravola.”
“Why do they not think of me as its mother?”
Osmont laughed. “If Gruddic Greyfury was the gun’s father, of which there is no doubt, and you were its mother, then that means …”
Perette feigned disgust, then, as if she were warming to the idea, she said, “Well, he is very distinguished looking, for a dwarf!”
As the two of them left the chamber, Perette asked, “Why did they not ask me until now?”
“They want your blessing her before she is used in anger.”
The ratmen were indeed approaching but would not arrive until the morrow. By the time the Bretonnians had learned of their presence across the river in Codropio, they had already secured the bridge, thus ensuring it could not be held against them. This gave them time to muster their force, emerging from the ground like streams from springs to gather in strength like a river. Albeit a filthy river!
“Oh,” continued Osmont. “And they want you to name her too.”
“I thought they’d already named it,” said Perette. “Bloody Barrels, wasn’t it?”
The engine was made of several many barrels fixed together, which the previous owners had occasionally used as clubs, as evinced by the dried blood upon them.
“They want her to have a real name, and a lucky one. Who better to choose than her famous sister?”
It was possible the engine would play a vital part in the city’s defence, so Perette did not want the gunners feeling dispirited, or unlucky. The ratmen would swarm like their smaller cousins – the defenders of Ravola needed weapons that could pour destruction upon them.
Upon arriving, the first thing the engine’s attendants asked was what she thought of it.
“It’s an ugly child,” she said, looking it up and down. “But war is rarely pretty. It might seem obvious, but tell me anyway – what can she do?”
“We can fire the barrels three at a time,” said the fellow standing closest to it. “And if that doesn’t prove as thoroughly discouragin’ as we want, we can fire the other three straight after.”
The dwarf Greyfury and his gunners had cobbled the engine together hastily, which explained its complete lack of decoration. The engineer commanded the brigade of dwarfs sent from Camprogotta to assist Baron Garoy’s knights and Perette’s Brabanzon in the taking of Ravola, which had proved to be a not at all troublesome task. The brutes remaining to garrison the city had not fancied their chances and so, after agreeing terms – which included leaving their leadbelchers behind – they surrendered and marched away. Greyfury had inspected the discarded barrels, discovering that some were of dwarf or Tilean make and still in good condition. He declared it would be a shame to waste them, and so, before marching back to Campogotta, he tarried just long enough to build a double wheeled carriage from what he could find in the city, upon which he mounted the barrels craftily and, it was to be hoped, securely. He claimed that although the brutes had gone, his engine would work just as effectively as they themselves in battle, blasting the foe with an exactly similar amount of hot lead, if not being quite as mobile.
Perette could see the part about mobility was an under exaggeration. The engine looked as easy to move as a boulder on a sled! She had no doubt it would happily descend a slope, but that getting it up the steps to the battlements was going to take some doing.
“Is there still sufficient time to mount it?” she asked, suddenly concerned.
“Yes, my lady,” said the engine’s attendant. “We have everything prepared. Greyfury showed us how to dismantle and replace the barrels – even had us practice. That way there’s only the carriage to haul with ropes and pulleys.”
“I’m impressed,” said Perette as she walked over to the engine to inspect it more closely. She had seen such barrels used in anger – indeed she had tasted the fear they could induce. The ogres at Campogrotta had had many of them. Indeed, the first assault (Note *1) had faltered because of them. She herself had witnessed a veritable regiment of their gaping, black muzzles.
No-one, thankfully, chose to approach any closer. Had the mighty bombard Granite Breaker not grown too hot from her work, then no doubt she could have toppled walls and towers onto the leadbelchers, and the assault would have continued. But without the venerable bombard’s aid the attackers had chosen to withdraw. They would just have to try again another day, having let the night’s air cool Granite Breaker. This they did, four days later, although not without further costly losses, and regrettably giving a relief force of ogres time to arrive. (Note 2)
“I take it, then,” said Osmont, in a cheerful tone, “all of you will be putting your money on this engine and not the trebuchet?”
Perette had heard there was to be a competition between the two, concerning which would cause the foe the most harm. The trebuchet had been found intact upon the main tower of the southern wall, having been used three years earlier by Lord Giacomo’s defenders when the ogres had first captured the city. (Note *3) It had fallen into some disrepair, having only been used since by the ogres to launch prisoners from the city in a form of entertaining punishment for whatever crimes the brutes sought fit to accuse them of. No dwarf was needed, however, either to guide or assist in its repair, as several of the Brabanzon had plenty of experience of such machines, and they had got it back to full working order two days before Greyfury’s engine was completed.
“The trebuchet will no doubt flatten a good few from afar,” said the attendant, “if it’s aim proves true enough. But this thing will do its work closer up, when the trebuchet cannot work at all. And this thing can’t miss, as long as we point it at them! My money’s on this.”
“I cannot decide,” said Osmont. “Besides, surely our lady Perette ought to be included in the competition?” He turned to look at her, “If so, then my money is on you, my lady.”
“Is that how you see me?” laughed Perette. “Nothing more than an engine of war?”
“And truly glorious with it!” said Osmont.
“Hush now,” ordered Perette. “We ought not talk in such a manner before the child. I would not want to upset her.”
She walked around the engine, caressed one of the barrels and giving a wink to the attendant. “I think she should be named Mathilde, for she will be our strength in battle.”
(Note 1) See ‘The Assault on Campogrotta’ in Tilea Campaign Part 19.2
(Note 2) See ‘The Second Assault on Campogrotta’ in Tilea Campaign Part 20
(Note 3) See ‘Brute Strength’ in Tilea Campaign Part 2