Sunday, 1 March 2009

Dawn and departures.

The barracks and cantonment outside the town began to hum with activity as news of the invasion spread. Trumpet calls sounded to summon soldiers to the colors. General Rauppen-Schlepper arrived from the palace and had maps brought to the main office. There he briefed the senior military and civil leaders on the situation.
"This is the situation as far as we know it," he said. "By either good luck or design the Rumtopft Dragoons were encamped not far from the river fifteen miles below the town."
He indicated the spot on the map. "Just before dawn they were approached by an early fisherman who warned of activity on the opposite banks. They assembled and moved to the river in time to see the first of the pontoons crossing. By then, however, a number of enemy light troops had already crossed to our shore in rowboats and brought the dragoons under fire. Couriers were sent to notify us of the crossing. Colonel Ludendorf of the dragoons states he will continue to oppose the crossing as long as he can, and if forced to withdraw will do so in our direction.

Rauppen-Schlepper leaned on his knuckles and gazed around at the officers and diplomats. "Gentlemen, the Gravies have stolen a march on us, but they may have bitten off more than they can chew. I have already sent a message to Captain Creighton of the riverine flotilla asking him to sail immediately to intercept the enemy pontoons. His gunboats should disrupt the crossing, stranding those enemy regiments already on our soil. For our part, Regiments Sleibnitz, Wöhl and Brabenachel shall march north within the hour, with the Bishop's Regiment of Horse leading."

"What of my regiment, sir?" Colonel Kranke asked, standing to attention.

Rauppen-Schlepper looked at him kindly. "Colonel, your regiment is still under strength. I appreciate your eagerness to lead it into combat but at the moment I feel it necessary to leave you here to defend the town. There are still Gravy troops just across the border. They may make an attempt upon Kimmelsbrücke if they feel it to be weakly defended. Your presence shall persuade them not to try it."

"Very well, sir." Kranke looked crestfallen but nodded his acceptance.

Rauppen-Schlepper stood straight, his hands behind his back. "Gentlemen, I will tell you an old military adage. The situation is never as bad or as good as first reports will have it. We have an enemy on our soil that is true. But I say again, he has bitten off more than he can chew. With the lines of communication cut, the Margraf's army will have thrust its head into a noose." His grin was almost feral. "And we shall tighten the knot!"
* * *
Midshipman Kurt was waiting anxiously at the palace when the four friends arrived from the park. He ran forward, his face shining with relief. "Sir! Captain Creighton desires all captains to repair aboard their vessels, to make immediate sail to engage the enemy!"

"Slow down, youngster!" Horatio said, laying his hand on the excited boy's shoulder. "Take a deep breath and tell me, what is the situation?"

Kurt did as he was told, drawing a deep breath in almost comical fashion. "The Margraf's army is crossing the river fifteen miles below the town, sir. We're under orders to disrupt their movements."

"Good. Cut along back to Acheron. I shall follow presently."

Kurt sped away, and Horatio turned to the others. "It seems we must part for a while, my friends."

"Of course," Graf Philip said. "I had better go and see what Count Ostenberg has to say about the situation." He turned to Mary Amadeus with a smile. "And you, my dear, have an appointment with a tailor!"

She grinned, always a heartening sight to see on her round face. Ursula smiled at her friend's happiness, even as anxiety began to fill her mind. Philip bowed and headed off, deeper into the palace. Mary kissed Horatio on both cheeks, murmured "Good luck!" and followed.

Ursula clasped his hands. "Horatio, may I come with you to the quayside?"

"Of course," he said tenderly. "But I will not be able to tarry for long."

"A few minutes will be enough." She managed a smile. "Don't worry, I won't insist on coming along to meet the enemy!"

He laughed. "That concern had crossed my mind!"

"I'll see you off to another triumph, then go visit Konrad. I'm worried about him."
"That's quite understandable." He offered her his arm. "Shall we go?"

The quayside was bustling with activity when they arrived. All north-bound river traffic had been halted and the Eisenwasser was beginning to fill with vessels. The area around the four gunboats was kept clear. Their decks were full of purposeful activity.

"Is Acheron fit for battle?" Ursula asked, staring down at her.

"She is. The shot-holes have been plugged, new sweeps set up, and we've restocked on ammunition. I have a new master gunner, recently promoted." He gave a wry smile. "This will be the ideal chance to blood the fellow."

"I hope it won't mean a literal shedding of his blood!" She cupped his face in her hands and gazed at him intently. "You take care of yourself also, Horatio Horngebläse! I expect to see you back here within a couple of days, fresh from another victory."

"I shall certainly do my best. I have much to live for," he added, softly.

They kissed, to the delight of the crew of Acheron, watching from below. Then Horatio slapped his hat on his head and ran down the brow to his command.
The signal to sail was already rising up the halyards aboard Styx. Captain Creighton was standing on the quarterdeck of the pennant ship, peering at Acheron. "When you have quite finished with your romancing, Lieutenant, I would appreciate your getting under way!"

"Aye aye, sir!"

The moorings were cast off, and the flotilla moved out into the stream to the cheers of the watching populace. Ursula watched them go, her heart heavy with anxiety. Horatio was obviously busy about his duties, but he turned and waved his hat to her before the gunboats, in line ahead, disappeared through the arch of the bridge.
Will I ever see him again? She wondered, turning away from the river. This is what it means to love a sailor! As she walked away she looked up at the great bulk of the palace on the hill. Oh well, at least it means father will be too busy to pay attention to me for a while…


Bluebear Jeff said...

Go, gunboats, go!

-- Jeff

David said...

Phew - never any let up, is there?


abdul666 said...

Exciting as always!
Do you endvisage to play (refight, actually) this part of the campaign?
The recent Redoubt ’Quebec’ landing barge appears full of potential...


Capt Bill said...

Nothing better than a brish sea battle!

A J said...

Thanks, gentlemen. =) At the moment I'm of two minds what to do about the upcoming engagements, ashore and afloat. I'm in the peculiar position of having both my imagination's armies on different sides of the Atlantic.

I will probably game the land battle using the Margraf's regiments as-is, and Union ACW regiments for Hetzenberg. Before that happens I have to decide the outcome of what will happen on the river. I may scratch-build gunboats and pontoons from card. We'll see.