The air filled with the buzz and whine of bullets. A man fell dead in front of Captain Pike. He glared at the tower, its sides disappearing in a cloud of greasy yellow gun smoke and shouted to the bugler. "Blow Skirmish order!"
Bates moistened his lips and the call echoed in the valley. Pike followed up with the order "Action left! Fire at will!"
The Men of Barsetshire immediately began to spread out and seek what cover they could, all the while laying a fusillade of rifle fire against the ancient embrasures and firing ports of the old fortification. Up on the hills CSM Harrington and Sergeant Rutledge deployed their remaining men and added fire to the onslaught. Havildar Shukla deployed the screw gun and soon the regular thump of seven-pounder shells impacting the tower sides added to the din.
|The company deploys by the ford in the stream.|
Down in the valley Pike wiped sweat from his brow. The return fire had been hot, other men had fallen. He knew his men, he knew how much they could stick it out in action, but he also knew their tolerance would not hold forever.
At that moment figures appeared on the hill below the tower. Pike stiffened and stared, thinking an assault was forming up. He knew his men excelled in musketry, but close-combat was another matter when going up against the vicious slavers with their swords and spears.
To his immense relief the figures grew into a crowd that streamed away down the track to splash across the river before the town. Fire from the tower slackened then died away to nothing. "Cease fire!" Pike called, and Bates added the bugle call to reinforce the message. For a moment Pike debated with himself whether to pursue the fugitives with fire, but decided against. A beaten man was a beaten man. To shoot him in the back, even a slaver, was simply Not Done.
Meanwhile the survivors from the warband routed by the askaris had found safety within the town walls. Ra'id Hakim drew breath, no easy task given the pain in his ribs, and exhorted his men to stand their ground and recover their courage. "The infidel are few, we are many, and we shall destroy them!" he shouted. The racket of gunfire filled the air. "Listen to how our brothers shoot them down like dogs!" He pointed to where the enigmatic figure of the Wali could be seen gazing down at them from the roof of his house. "Come, my men! To the ramparts! Will you shame yourself before our beneficent leader, peace and blessings be upon him?"
The men looked shamefaced, but with smiles and nods of encouragement Hakim persuaded them to line the ramparts either side of the gate. Hakim glanced up at the Wali, who nodded and raised his hand to him in benediction. Pleased to have gained the notice of the great man, Hakim took his place to the left of the line on the ramparts and looked out at the valley. He fully expected to see the slaughter of the Red Soldiers enacted by his brethren in the tower. Instead he saw the long line of fugitives streaming from that ancient edifice. His heart sank, but he found a residue of resolve. "Courage!" he shouted again. "We will hold them here or die trying!"
Down the valley Captain Pike reordered his men into line and continued the advance. On the right flank Harrington and his men occupied the hilltop overlooking the town.
Over on the left, Sergeant Rutledge responded to a bugle call to advance. A shouted order from the Captain told him to take and occupy the tower. "You've earned the right, lad!" Pike had called.
Pike halted his men adjacent to the height where Harrington stood. The slaver band occupying the ramparts let fly with an ineffective volley. The British responded to greater effect, and the ramparts began to empty. On the hill, Harrington noted the presence of a leader among the enemy ranks. "Marksman Lewis, front-centre!" he ordered.
Lewis trotted up. "Yes, Sarge?"
Harrington pointed. "That lad there, the one in the bloodstained blue robe. Can you get him from here?" Lewis squinted at the distant figure and nodded. Harrington stood back a pace. "Good. In your own time, Jack."
Lewis stood, licked his thumb and smeared the spit on the back-sight of his rifle, then took aim. The section's fire died off as the men watched the marksman at work. Lewis took aim, his finger tightened on the trigger...
Ra'ik Hakim felt a smashing impact in his chest which hurled him to the floor - then everything went black.
As resistance ceased, Captain Pike ordered the advance. On reaching the gate he half-expected they would need to be forced. Instead, they swung wide open at a push. Suspecting a potential ambush, he ordered the men into skirmish order. Two covered the opening as two others observed what lay beyond.
"Nobody there, sir!" one called, relief evident in his voice.
Pike turned to address Harrington. "Sergeant? What can you see from up there?"
"The enemy's retreating through the town, sir. They're heading for a line of dhows drawn up on the waterfront."
"Waterfront?" Pike gazed mystified at the CSM.
"Yes, sir." Amusement and amazement vied in Harrington's reply. "I can see what must be a bloody great lake from up here!"
* * * *
So there we have it, a game fought on-and-off over the course of three days - one of the blessings from having a permanent table! I hope everyone enjoyed it. With the lads from Barsetshire safely ensconced in Jam'aah, I'll write a few thoughts on the turn of events, the Sharp Practice (I) rules and house modifications in a day or so.