Monday, July 28, 2014

Washing the Spears

The afternoon had worn on before the intruders made their move. Akhona stood in the shade of the trees and watched the straggling line of blue-clad black men emerge from the savannah. They were led by a white man riding a mule, his blocky figure swaying with the animal's motion, a tall white hat like a beehive atop his head, and a thick greying beard adorning his face. Three other men, all black, walked by his side. One wore blue, the others trade clothing. They seemed to be guides. Akhona could see one other white man, clad in blue with a white hat, amid the black soldiers. A sub leader of some kind?

Dakasa came up alongside Akhona and glanced at him. "When?"

Akhona hefted the old trade musket, the weight solid in his grip, the barrel warm on his skin from the day's heat. "Soon. You know our orders. We fire and retire, draw them onto the war bands."

Dakasa grunted, whether in acceptance or disgust Akhona didn't know nor did he care. The intruders came on, caution in their every movement, the one on the mule dropping back behind the line. Akhona nodded. "Make ready..."
Capitain Willem Potgeiter decided to slip behind the skirmish line, the better to see the terrain ahead in some degree of security. He'd hardly done so before an excited shout went up from the askaris on his right. Dark figures emerged from the shadows beneath a stand of trees ahead. Almost at once the edge of the wood blossomed with mustard-coloured smoke. Bullets whispered past his ears, kicked up small spurts of dusty soil. His askaris yelled with shock, Potgeiter noting with unease even in the midst of his own surprise the note of fear underlying the sound. Has the prospect of entering G'Wundaland unnerved them so? "Steady!" he yelled. In front of him Corporal Smets added his own voice to the command, cuffing his men into order. To Willem's relief no-one appeared injured.

"Return fire, damn you!" Potgeiter braced himself for another volley from the woods but it didn't come. Instead the shadowy figures retreated into the copse. Smet glanced back at him, baffled. "That's it, sir?"

Potgeiter scowled. "For now. I think they're trying to draw us in." He rubbed his beard, the bristles rasping under his fingers. "We don't know what lies in wait within those low hills, so we won't oblige them."

He looked over his shoulder. At that moment Corporal Lemmens emerged from the brush at the head of his section, the men formed in a short column. He'd left the bearers further back as ordered. Potgeiter gestured to him to take station on the left flank. Lemmens saluted and began to deploy his men into line. Potgeiter returned his attention to the front and his heart leaped into his mouth. Whilst he'd been distracted a warband had emerged onto the low rise before them. He could count at least twenty warriors, with the possibility of more trending down the reverse slope and out of his sight. Sunlight glinted off a multitude of spearheads, the tribal colours of the bearers glowing proudly beneath. 

Smets saw them too. He uttered an epithet and redoubled his efforts to steady the askari. With an insouciant air the warband began to advance across the hill toward the left flank, where Lemmens attempted to form his men.

Potgeiter glanced anxiously at the copse, but the musketeers had retired into the depths. He wondered at that. Surely they would take the chance to pepper us, perhaps score some hits this time while that war band attacks our left? But no. He dismissed them, turned his attention to the left, where the warband approached at a trot now, menace in every line.

Movement behind heralded the welcome arrival of Sergeant De Vos and his men. The tough veteran looked ahead, nodded to Potgeiter and immediately formed his section into a two-deep firing line. To Potgeiter's annoyance Lemmens was taking too long to form up. "Move, man!" Potgeiter gestured angrily. "Get those men in line now!"

Lemmens pushed the last man into place and shouted the commands. "Ready! Aim! Fire!" The askaris let fly but their shooting was poor. Potgeiter saw one warrior fall on the hill. The others shuddered under the blow then gathered themselves together...

Chulumacha, war-leader of the G'Wunda tribe, waved his spear above his head. "The weapons of the blue warriors sting but little!" He pointed at the fallen warrior then at the gathering enemy. "Only Combela falls, but we shall avenge him! On, my friends! Drive this scum from our lands! Onward! Onward!"

As one they surged down the slope, dust kicking up at their heels. Chulumacha  ran with his men, his blood singing at the prospect of combat. The blue-clad interlopers stood their ground but fear came off them in waves. He could see they fumbled with their weapons but it was too late. Chulumacha had teased Akhona about it when they'd discussed the merits of musketry. "The musket is a fool - only the spear is wise!" He giggled now at the memory - then raised his shield and slammed into the enemy ranks.

The fight proved one-sided. The blue-clad warriors fought hard with their clumsy blade-tipped muskets but he and all but two of his comrades deftly avoided their puny blows. Within minutes the surviving enemy broke and ran, their white leader first to flee.

Chulumacha turned his attention to the next target, a similar line forming up on the left. As the last of their blue-clad friends won clear of the melee, fire and smoke spurted from the line. Chulumacha flinched and warriors fell - but too few to count. He laughed aloud, exulting in living another minute and in the enemy's ineptness. His men looked around, recovered from the shock of the volley, and shared his laughter. From the expressions on the faces of the blue-clad warriors, the sound was the last they wanted to hear. Chulumacha grinned and pointed his spear at them. "Onward!"
A stirring in the copse presaged another advance from native warriors. Potgeiter's heart sank when he saw a second warband emerge, prowling from the shadows with deadly intent. His men had settled down, Smets forcing them into firing line. As the warband drew near Potgeiter drew a deep breath. "Fire!"

The volley roared, to little effect. As the smoke drifted away on the easterly breeze the warband came on, impacting all along the line with a triumphant scream and a crash of arms. Potgeiter drew his pistol and shot into the hacking stabbing mass, uncaring if his own soldiers got in the way. Five of his men fell, but only three tribal warriors. The askaris' morale wavered and they fell back, Smets roaring at them to stand their ground. 

"No!" Smets looked up as Potgeiter shouted, the corporal's face red with fury and fear. Potgeiter waved to the left. "Form up on De Vos!"

The askaris had other ideas. They fell back farther than Potgeiter wished, leaving De Vos' flank open to attack.

A glance that way showed Potgeiter such concerns were no longer necessary. The first warband had smashed into De Vos with furious speed. 

The fight took longer than Potgeiter expected, the askaris fighting with a ferocity born of desperation. Eventually De Vos and his handful of survivors fell back, leaving almost as many G'Wunda warriors dead as they themselves had suffered before the askaris morale wavered.

The end came soon after, the second warband charging home and combining with the first to extinguish any hope Potgeiter had of holding the ground. Turning the mule with main force, he and the pitiful remnant of his command joined the flight back into the bush.
As the land fell silent Akhona wandered out of the copse, crossing the bloodstained ground at the head of his musketeers to gaze with curiosity upon the fallen enemy. He noted the tribal scars on the cheeks of the fallen, wondered what tribe would so submit to such weak, pale-skinned leaders. He stooped and rested his musket on the ground, picking up a fallen weapon from a dead blue-clad warrior. The man's eyes stared sightless at the vault of the sky, his life spent. A vicious slash had cleft the red fez he wore in two, the cut continuing into his brain.

Akhona turned the weapon over in his hands, noting the breech-loading mechanism with a stirring of excitement. Dakasa picked up another rifle. He grunted. "They could have done so much better."

"It's good for us they didn't." Akhona sighted along the barrel. "Have the men pick up all fallen weapons, ammunition. We can use these."

Chulumacha walked up, his oiled chest still heaving from the exertion of combat. "We saw them off! They run like antelope back to their lands, and won't return. We'll harass them as far as we can before night, maybe pick up some more booty." He grinned and pointed at the rifle. "Do you still insist that's the best weapon, after witnessing what my warriors did with spears alone this day?"

Akhona smiled. "You did indeed do well, my friend." He slung the rifle over his shoulder by the strap. "One day I'll show you what my friends and I can do."
* * * *
The game, a one-sided affair, was fought to Sharp Practice rules with my own modifications for Colonial warfare. A few thoughts on the game, with the implications for the campaign in general, will follow soon.

1 comment:

Fitz-Badger said...

Mon Dieu! That didn't go so well for the Belgians. (good report though)


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