A Battle Report, Part 1
Just south of the city of Campogrotta
The first of the ratto uomo to arrive within sight of the river were the gunners of one of the jezzail companies. They hefted their burdensome barrels and pavaises to the top of a little hill from where they could see the bridge, the toll keeper’s cottage and the body of mercenary crossbowmen guarding the place.
The enemy had obviously been forewarned of their approach, as they were formed up in an orderly manner, and sheltered behind their own pavaises, some of which were painted with their company’s emblem, also visible on the little ensign fluttering in the breeze above them.
Lord Urlak had sent the jezzails with exactly such a target in mind. His orders were clear – they were to kill any enemies who might threaten the annihilation bombard with missiles, and do so as quickly as possible. Of all the forces available to him, Lord Urlak must have thought them best able to do so due to the range of their long pieces and the potency of their warpstone bullets. Annoyingly, however, the two companies of jezzails had been ordered to advance separately, to cover a wider area. This first company, five in number, saw immediately that the enemy crossbowmen were numerous enough that it would take considerable time to drive them off, time in which they could possibly shoot their own weapons at the engine.
Their concerns were not that different from those of the other jezzailers, far to the right of them, who had similarly crested a hill. From there they descried a body of horsemen.
The riders were one of the several companies of light horse that had been continuously circumnavigating the city of Campogrotta, presumably because the enemy commander suspected an attack was imminent. Of practical necessity, the horsemen carried lighter crossbows than their foot counterparts, but their mobility meant they could move quicker and closer to bring them to bear. So it was that the leader of the second company of jezzailers was also cursing the decision to divide the two.
Nevertheless, knowing what else was approaching to guard the engine, the jezzailers had to admit that the situation was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. They faced only thirty or so light troops, nothing like an army. Campogrotta possessed considerable forces, of both men and dwarfs, and if even half its strength was brought to bear here, the annihilation bombard could not possibly get close enough to launch its deadly burden.
Perhaps Lord Urlak’s plan to draw the enemy’s attention northwards to Buldio had worked? Despite the recent death of the underworld emissary he had lodged in Campogrotta, the remaining ratto uomo’s spies and assassins (who had assisted the emissary) still had considerable influence on the criminal fraternities of Campogrotta, most importantly debts they could call in to command the menthings to commit arson and stir up riots in Buldio. Once the town was burning, then whether the enemy mistakenly believed Urlak’s assault had begun there or recognised the truth that violent unrest and fiery rebellion had broken out mattered not, as either way they would surely be distracted, and forced to take their eyes off the southern approach. Considering Lord Urlak’s army was last known to have captured Ravola in the north, then it was doubtful that many eyes were looking south in the first place.
Below the first company of jezzailers the horde of slaves now marched towards the bridge.
Just like the rest of the army, the slaves had marched ahead of the engine throughout the long journey here. If the engine had moved in the vanguard through the underpass, then its poisonous passage in such an enclosed space would so have corrupted the tunnel that it was unlikely even one warrior would have emerged. Here, however, even above ground, there was more to the slaves’ advance positioning – their sheer weight of numbers was expected to block and hold off any enemy attempting to reach the engine.
Lord Urlak had given considerable thought to the matter of who exactly to send ahead with the engine. No-one had been surprised when he included the slaves in the escort. This was exactly the sort of task such despised, disposable and desperate troops were best suited for. As they approached the river the chains had been removed from their wrist shackles and blades had been distributed liberally amongst them. They were told the enemy was weak and easy to kill, unworthy of the attention of the rest of the army, and that once defeated they would be freely permitted to feast on the enemies’ flesh as a reward. The half-starved slaves now moved with an alacrity never before witnessed, chattering and salivating in equal measure, and in so large a mob that it was difficult to imagine anything could get through them.
On the right of the line, although not as far out as the second jezzail company, the remnant of the once large plague monk regiment advanced between two clumps of trees, the sun behind them. Despite having been badly mauled when taking the walls at Ravola, rather than perturbing them, the experience seemed only to make them more keen for battle.
The bells on their standard and born by their musician clanged, interspersed with cymbal crashes as and when the musician thought fit. Lord Urlak had apparently decided that at less than half their original strength they were no longer particularly useful to his main army, and so ordered them to join the dangerously unstable engine’s escort. If they perished, he had been heard to say, then it would be like finishing off an already wounded beast of burden and so no great loss. He simply intended to get some use out of them before they died.
At the centre of the ragged line trundled the annihilation bombard, accompanied as ever by half a dozen mask wearing attendants, scuttling busily around it to ensure its smooth progress.
They were a little less active now, for they were approaching the moment it would finally fire, as well as drawing close to the enemy. Clutching bared blades, they understood that on this last stretch of their journey, defending their ward from attackers should be their priority. And then, when the engine reached the river side – which the engineers had deemed was just close enough to the city to launch the grenado – they would be needed to assist in its firing. The city killing bomb it contained was as unstable as it had ever been, for with every broiling moment that passed it only ever became more so. Indeed, in the dark tunnel and even last night under the light of the moon, the attendants noticed the huge iron barrel enclosing the grenado had begun glow with the etheric heat of its burden. The engine itself looked as new as the day it was built, however, for such was the poison and heat it gave off that neither mould nor rust were able to find a foothold. For a week now the driver, the last of a succession of such, had not left the seat at the heart of the wheel that pushed the bombard. Not only was there no-one left to replace him, or just work a shift, but most of his bones had become almost wholly fused in place. Besides, he had long since realised he was effectively already dead – he just hadn’t quite crossed the seam into the afterlife.
The bright light of the sun seemed to spur the engine on. One of the front-most attendants bore a sharp-edged shovel, which as well as being necessary to smooth the ground, would now, if required, be utilised as a weapon; while the other bore a staff tipped with an ancient, once almost completely sapped, warpstone shard, which in the mysteriously sympathetic manner of magical attraction, was able to draw off some of the stray energies emanating from the engine so that the attendants might survive that little bit longer. And it had apparently worked, for it now glowed brightly like a shard of sky stone fallen fresh from the heavens, brimming with the arcane energy it had leeched over the last months. Its bearer was, in his own increasingly addled way, fascinated to see what it would do if employed as a weapon!
Inevitably, the engine’s guard regiment marched close by, every warrior garbed similarly to the attendants, though bristling with many more blades.
This was their moment, of course, and they had to be here. Thanks to their waxed robes and copper filtration tanks, they alone could march close to the engine without succumbing to its deadly aura – without blood pouring from blinded eyes, without their bones fusing or their muscles withering to nought, without their lungs crumbling into dust or their hearts shrivelling into dry husks.
As they approached the river, their commander, the warlock engineer Golchramik, strode in the front rank, clutching his novel firework and bent under the weight of the massive copper contraption upon his back, part of which powered his experimental weapon while the rest fed cleansed air to his lungs.
He glanced about him: at the engine, at the regiments in the line and at the enemy up ahead. This fight was to be the culmination of all that he had worked for, for many a month, so he wanted to get it right. It now dawned on him, despite the safety any skaven naturally felt when part of a mob, that he was not in the right spot.
He had to be able to move nimbly, to spot, target and launch his rocket at anything that threatened the engine, wherever they came from, whilst directing both the guard and the engine as changing circumstances required. So, he made his way to the regiment’s flank, then stepped out alone. The huge mob of slaves and the deadly jezzails on the hill would surely prove sufficient to guard the engine’s left …
… but here on the right, with woods up ahead where anything could be hidden in the trees, and a cottage which might also harbour some unseen foe, he would have to be ready himself to react quickly.
This was how the engine and its escort approached the river upon the southern outskirts of Campogrotta. If the annihilation bombard successfully reached the river’s edge and launched its burden without mishap, then the entire population of Campogrotta, as well as the army within, would be destroyed.
What a glorious way to defeat the foe!
Battle to follow.