Part 2, The Fighting Begins
Being the nimblest body upon the field, it was the enemy’s horsemen who first came up, unsurprisingly making directly for the engine, a motion which revealed that they must surely possess more than an inkling of the engine’s terrible potential.
(Game note: I forgot to vanguard move them. Doh! If I had they probably could have shot this first turn.)
The trees, however, still concealed the engine from the riders and so it was only the foot-crossbowmen by the bridge who let loose their quarrels. These reached the engine, but with no noticeable effect, other than to clatter off this and that part, and to stud the ground around with fletched shafts. Not one had struck an attendant. The engineer on the rear platform, whose job in directing the engine in battle had become incrementally more important as the driver’s miserable condition further deteriorated, was much encouraged by this turn of events, and now wondered whether his engine might simply roll straight up to the bridge, where the paved surface would provide a reassuringly firm footing for its firing.
Glancing left he saw the slaves and his mind was made up. Despite their many deficiencies, their numbers alone would surely make them capable of thwarting any aggressive moves by the crossbowmen. And so, he ensured the engine maintained its current bearing, which was achieved so neatly that it remained perfectly in line with the rest of the advancing army.
Due to the trees, the engineer knew nothing of the enemy horse galloping obliquely across the field, but Golchramik could see them plainly.
It was obvious they were making for the engine, and he knew that could not be allowed. Even if they were unable to reach it, or harm it with their shots, simply forcing it to change course, or merely to jolt or shudder, could have catastrophic results. Hefting his rocket launcher, he knew this was his moment. He had one chance, and he would not let it slip by. As a single rider fell to what was presumably a shot from the second company of jezzails, Golchramik turned to aim at a spot just ahead of the horsemen’s current path, while his clawed fingers curled tightly around the release lever. Raising the muzzle to what felt like the correct height, he yanked hard and whoosh!
As the rocket arced away at a most satisfactory angle, Golchramik noticed several horsemen look upwards in fear, pulling hard on their reins. They were too late, however, for the rocket thumped into the ground almost in their midst and exploded in a great ball of fire.
The three surviving riders could do little more but cling to their panicked horses as they fled towards, then over, the river. One was swept away by the waters so that only two gained the far side, from where both raced away towards the city.
As they departed several other enemies arrived. Both of the other light horse companies had received word of the force approaching the river and had galloped post-haste to the bridge. The second company of mounted Compagnia crossbowmen were already upon the southern side of the river, and so came from the ratmen’s left …
… while Perette and her Brabanzon riders arrived along the road leading from the city directly to the bridge.
Another, considerably slower, component of the Campogrottan forces also arrived upon the northern bank of the river, being one of the two dwarven artillery pieces. The dwarven crew had already been making their way to the bridge, ordered to assist in the guarding of that approach, and would have arrived at that moment anyway.
The fiery wizard, enchanted staff in hand, boldly led her riders onto the bridge, intending to waste not one moment of time in assaulting the engine, howsoever she could. The clattering of horses’ hooves off the stone was louder even than the grinding clunk, clunk of the engine.
The Compagnia’s riders were somewhat more cautious, arriving as they had closer to the enemy, and came up looking for some way to shoot past the slaves at the engine.
Despite the slaves’ presence, the hulking engine was clearly visible to them and so they slowed to span their light crossbows and load their quarrels.
The dwarfen cannon crew cursed as they could not see the engine to target it. All the riders, however, were closing as best they could upon it.
As those at the front of the Brabanzon pulled arrows from the quivers attached to their saddles, Perette could sense the arcane power of the engine, perceiving how the winds of magic were perturbed by it, coiling chaotically in contrary eddies. She also knew what the huge barrel, its muzzle steeply elevated, must mean. This was some sort of mortar, and whatever it fired would surely be much more deadly than any ordinary grenado.
And so, she hastily conjured a fireball to hurl at it. Then, as she watched its strength wane to wash ineffectually over the foe, she discovered the cost of her impetuousness. A small part of the magic she had summoned had slipped from her control, and now rushed back, burning, at her. She gasped as the pain seared into her, and might well have fallen from her mount had not one of her companions reached out to steady her, asking, “My lady, what ails thee?”
Still, the Compagnia’s riders loosed their quarrels at the engine …
… as the frontmost of the Brabanzon did likewise with their arrows.
All to no effect.
The foot crossbow, however, had been taking their time, now that the engine was closer and they had a better measure of it. When they shot again, half the engine’s attendants fell, pierced deep with steel tipped bolts, while several quarrels tore into the machine there to be crunched apart by the spin of its workings.
The engineer at the rear felt one quarrel speed within a hair’s breadth of his ear, then another clang from his filter tank. This, the dead attendants, and the sudden arrival of several more enemy companies, one of which was thundering across the bridge straight at him, quickly changed his mind about his present course. Screeching so loud that the even the dismally distracted driver would hear, he pulled as hard as he could on the rudder wheel’s auxillary whipstaff, so that the engine turned sharply to the right and began moving beside the trees. The turn was so sharp that rather like a ship changing tack which missed its stays its speed was reduced almost to nought, so that it only barely managed to gain the concealment of the trees.
The engineer still intended to reach the river, but would now aim for the grassy ground further along bereft of enemies to hinder his mechanical ward’s progress. It would take longer, but he had no real choice in the matter. To continue his previous tack would have meant another heavy shower of arrows and bolts, which he knew that would be the certain end of the engine.
Golchramik, meanwhile, was also screeching and signalling with his now rocketless tube, ordering the guard regiment towards the bridge. If the machine was to reach the river’s edge, then the riders could not be allowed to reach it.
The slaves also moved on, surging like a tide towards the crossbowmen.
Golchramik cursed, for their continued advance had left a way through behind them for the mounted crossbowmen. Glancing at the jezzails on the hill he doubted they could deliver sufficient punishment to stop the riders, and so he spun around to shout towards the plague monks. They would have to turn and head this way, the better to block the enemy horse if they did get around the slaves. Reforming as quickly as they could, they now moved as he commanded.
Satisfied, Golchramik took a breath, and tasted the acrid smoke still curling from the muzzle of his rocket tube. Then something caught his eye, something shiny, over by the cottage. Squinting as his eyes adjusted from looking into the sun, he could see an armoured manthing had stepped out of the building’s rear doorway, with a great sword in his hands.
“No, no!” he hissed, as he realised this was a new threat to the engine, then stepped forwards through the trees knowing that only he was left to thwart this particular enemy. Not for the first time he cursed the fact that despite asking for two rockets, he had been given but one.
Distracted and angry as he was, he did not know that the jezzails on the right of the line had simply moved down from the hill, being no longer able to see any enemies, whilst the jezzails on the left had missed the crossbow horsemen completely.
(End of Turn 2)