Thursday, 28 May 2009

Over here.

By the Lord Harry, I made it! My thanks to all who wished me good luck; your kind words did the trick. The transatlantic flight was trouble-free, although we flew around the edge of a storm halfway between Detroit and St. Louis, which made things a tad bumpy for a while. My beloved was waiting at the gate with an ecstatic welcome, and now, this following day, I'm not even jet lagged worth noticing. All in all, a good result. =)

My paints and brushes made it through without harm and I was reunited with my Hetzenberg army. At the moment their deadly rivals of Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl are still the other side of the Pond, but they'll be heading this way too before long.
Some time in the next year I hope to complete the two armies with some strategic purchases from Dayton Painting Consortium. For the moment, I have a couple of late World War One British and German 15mm figure packs to paint up. These nice little castings were bought from Peter Pig at the Newark show last Sunday by way of dipping my toe into gaming the era.

And for those who follow the story, once I've rested up and settled in I'll resume the adventures of Mary Amadeus and Ursula, et al. And here's hoping I get to meet my fellow Imagineers in person some day!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Partizan 2009

I'll be at Partizan in Newark tomorrow, the last wargames convention I'll attend on British soil probably for some time. The urge to buy will be rigourously controlled - I do not need to pack more stuff! ;)

Wargamers' Sixth Sense - "I see lead people"

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Radio Hetzenberg off the air - for a while.

It's official - I leave for the USA next Wednesday! I'm going to be kind of busy for the next few days, so bear with me. It takes a lot of thought and effort to pack up a life and ship it 4,500 miles. See you on the other side...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Weddings and Fireworks.

Horatio was as cool as they come on the deck of a vessel in action. He thought he wouldn’t be nervous now, but as he sat and fidgeted in the vestry of the Cathedral of St. Rupert der Barr, he listened to the choir singing and wished it was the sound of gunfire instead. Captain Creighton paced slowly up and down, sipping the while from a hip flask filled with rum. “These things never get easier, sonny,” he said.

“I don’t intend to do this more than once in my life, sir,” Horatio muttered, adjusting his stock.

“Nor did I,” came the gnomic reply.

Before Horatio could respond there was a knock and the Dean of the Cathedral popped his head around the door. “Would you come this way, Commander, Captain. The bride approaches.”

Horatio stood up and tugged his fine new dress uniform coat into place. Creighton stowed away the hip flask and eyed him critically. He reached out and tugged the Sword of Honor to a better hang, and nodded. “Very presentable. You’ll not disgrace the flotilla, Horatio.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Thank you for selecting me as your best man,” Creighton said, his voice gruff.

Horatio smiled. “My pleasure, sir.”

They followed the Dean into the body of the great cathedral. The magnificent Gothic architecture soared above, a paean in golden limestone. Great church candles burned and the air was heavy with their scent. The Dean led Horatio and Creighton to the front of the leftmost row of pews. He saw the Ducal party and their guests in the private box, over near the lady chapel. Archbishop Wolfram was missing. He would be down by the door, ready to greet his daughter and escort her up the nave. Horatio resisted the urge to fidget with his neck stock. Warfare is ninety percent boredom and ten percent action, he thought. With Ursula, it tends to be the other way around
“We should drive around the cathedral again,” Mary Amadeus said from the phaeton seat beside Ursula, fighting to be heard over the cheers of the crowd. They were rattling over the cobblestones of the Great Square, bound for the steps to the cathedral where the troopers of the Archbishop’s Horse stood as honor guard, each a black-clad statue bearing bright silver swords.

“Why?” Ursula asked, waving to the crowd.

“It’s traditional.”

“Bugger that! I haven’t got time to waste.” Ursula leaned forward and tapped the driver’s shoulder. “Straight to the steps, please!”

Mary rolled her eyes but held her peace. It’s nothing short of a miracle to get Ursula this far. To expect her to behave completely would be beyond even the Lord’s abilities to control.

The bridal phaeton drew up and footmen sprang down to assist the not-really-blushing bride and her Maid of Honor. Ursula had fought off all attempts by Grand Duchess Irma’s ladies in waiting to impose panniers, bustles, hoops, or any other kind of impedimenta upon her. “I might want to cut and run, and all that stuff will only slow me down,” she’d told Mary.

I think she was joking… Mary thought, wondering if there was a fast horse hidden somewhere close by as Ursula stepped down in a deep blue dress with very modest skirts, no train and a lacy shawl.

Archbishop Wolfram appeared at the top of the cathedral steps, looking magnificent in his vestments. His guard crashed to attention, contriving to look even more stiff and formal. Wolfram watched and waited, a slight smile on his face as Ursula ascended the steps, Mary by her side. “It’s good of you to come, daughter,” he murmured, leaning close to peck her on the cheek.

“Did you doubt me?” she asked, shooting him a glance.

“A little. I was only going on past experience.” He looked her all over and his habitually hard expression softened. “You look beautiful! Are you nervous?” he asked, taking her right hand and placing it in the crook of his elbow.

“No more than you are, father.”

“Then let’s go in.”

The great organ struck up Zinnical’s Wedding March in A sharp as Ursula began the stately walk up the nave, her father by her side. The congregation rose and turned to smile upon her as she passed by, but her eyes were fixed on the tall, slim figure of her groom, standing there at the head of the nave, his handsome face aglow with delight and pride. I may just be able to do this! She thought.

Her father formally gave her hand to Horatio with a slight bow before taking his place before them. He cleared his throat as they took their places in front of him. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”
* * *
When the happy couple emerged from the cathedral the cheer that rose hit them like a physical wall of sound. Ursula grinned and waved, her heart beating hard with excitement. “I’m an honest woman at last!”

Horatio forbore to comment, leading her instead down to where the phaeton waited. Only…

“What’s this?” he laughed.

Where the horses should be was the entire company of Acheron, dressed in their finest blues with white hats, all holding man ropes attached to the vehicle and grinning up at his surprise with open delight. Midshipman Steiner stepped forward and saluted. “The men thought it’d be more appropriate for them to tow you both through the town to the feast, sir.”

Horatio laughed and clapped him on the arm. “A wonderful idea! Thank you, men!” he called.

Ursula pecked Steiner on the cheek, raising a blush there. “It was a very thoughtful and lovely gesture.”

“You’re very welcome, ma’am – Excellency.”

“Ursula. Thank you all!” she called to the men and they cheered.

The bride and groom mounted the phaeton and at the bosun’s call the men took up the slack on the man ropes. “Let go all! Full ahead!”

With the thunder of feet and the rattle of wheels, the phaeton surged away from the cathedral steps and through the lane kept open by the local militia. As the cheers resounded and flower petals flew, Ursula and Horatio set off for their first meal as a married couple.
* * *
After the bridal feast, in which the toast was proposed by Reich Duke Wilhelm, the party traveled by carriages to the Great Park, where they took their places on a dais bedecked with bunting in the colors of Hetzenberg, the Reich Duchy and Principality of Morea.

When all was ready the orchestra struck up Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. As the music soared into the warm night air the grand firework display began with a fountain of silvery-white light from an array of Roman candles, interspersed with the noble crimson of Bengal fires. Everyone Ooh’d and Aah’d at the sight, then Ooh’d again as a battery of rockets soared into the dark heavens to burst in great sprays of red, white and blue. Grand Duke Karl and his guests watched entranced from the VIP dais. Reich Duke Wilhelm murmured “Magnificent!” King Basil of the Romans stared entranced as the long labors of the fireworkers bore fruit. Graf Philip stood quietly by, his hands behind his back, enjoying the favorable reactions from the guests as much as he did the display he’d helped shape.

Fires and sprays in every hue and shade burst and flickered, rendering the warm, still evening a riot of light and sound. Ursula cuddled up close to Horatio and enjoyed the show. But after a while she became aware someone was missing. She looked around. “Where’s Mary A?”

Horatio swept the park with his gaze, perhaps more accustomed than Ursula at spotting things in the dark. He pointed. “She’s over there with her father, on top of that pavilion!”

“What on earth are they doing up there?” Ursula shaded her eyes from a burst of yellow fire. “And what on earth is that she has in front of her?”

Horatio frowned. “It looks like an astrolabe mounted on a tripod.”

“Why would she want that?”

“You’re asking the wrong person, my love. But knowing Mary, she’ll have some scientific purpose in mind.”

With Mary Amadeus’ whereabouts settled, even if her purpose was still hidden, they returned their attention to the great display. It was nearing its climax.

Philip wandered away from the Ducal party and made for an avenue shaded by hedges. It led him around to the rear of the display where his select team of fireworkers was busy. Their foreman saw him and saluted. “All ready, Excellency!” he beamed.

“Wonderful!” Philip listened to the music. After a few minutes he nodded. “There’s the cue! Drop the screens and clear the area.”

“Yes, sir!”

The foreman hastened to his task and Philip hurried back to the dais. I do not want to miss this!


Up on the flat balustraded roof of the pavilion Mary Amadeus listened to the music. Her father consulted his fob watch and nodded. “Now’s the moment, daughter dear.”

Mary looked over to the display. Behind the racks of Roman candles and other fireworks stood a row of wooden screens faced with polished tin sheeting. She knew most folks who saw the screens assumed them to be a clever means of protecting delicate parkland shrubs from the fires whilst also reflecting the light to better effect. Now, as she watched, the music rose to a climax and the screens dropped.


The reaction of surprise among noble and commoner alike was the same. She grinned as her pride and joy was revealed to the world. Three huge rockets stood there on ironclad gantries, each missile taller than a man and separated from the other by fifty yards. Much like a beer bottle, their lower two-thirds were broader than the upper third. Their tips were pointed and seemed to menace the very heavens.

A flickering light showed briefly around the gantries. “That’ll be the quick-match,” her father said, peering closely. “Timing now.” Mary nodded, and stooped to adjust the astrolabe.

Fire flared around the base of each mighty rocket. An immense roar drowned out the orchestra and they squeaked and groaned to an amazed stop. The ground began to tremble and as one the Ducal party stepped back, prepared to run. A good three hundred yards separated them from the display but everyone had the feeling it wouldn’t be far enough should something go wrong with the rockets. Philip stood his ground, hands behind his back, watching with a peaceful smile.

The three rockets rose slowly, borne aloft on great yellow-white pillars of flame. They rose slowly, it’s true, but each gave off an aura of immense power. “T-minus three seconds,” Mary’s father shouted over the roar.

“They’re clearing the treetops,” she replied, adjusting the screw on the instrument.

“T-minus five seconds!”

“They’ve cleared the height of the cathedral spire.”

Everyone watched open-mouthed as the great missiles rose higher and higher, flooding the city and the surrounding countryside for miles around with light and sound.

Mary followed the line of flight. “Tracking eastward, still accelerating.”

As the rockets rose the sound decreased. “The wind must be a little stronger up there,” her father said in a conversational voice. “T-minus twenty seconds.”

“First stage separation in five, four, three, two, one – “

Three puffs of yellow fire appeared around the necks of the rapidly disappearing rockets. The big first stages tumbled, glowing, to earth, traveling faster and faster as gravity claimed them. Mary was unworried. “They’ll fall to earth in the marshes beyond the river. I have some men out there watching for them.”

The second stages shot higher and higher, challenging the rind of the new moon. Mary tracked them. “Detonation in five, four, three, two, one…”

Three immense clouds of colored fire filled the sky with purple, blue and green, the national colors of Hetzenberg. The heavens resounded with the triple explosions and faint echoes reverberated off the mountains. Citizens for miles around who were out that evening looked, listened and cheered.

“In hoc signo, vincit,” Philip murmured, staring upward with a beatific smile.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A Grand State Visit.

The City of Hetzenberg was en-fete when Ursula and Horatio arrived in the carriage. Banners and bunting in the colors of the Reich Duchy of Beerstein and Principality of Morea hung from every major public building and festooned the streets, filling the late spring air with color and motion. The people of the Duchy thronged the streets and parks, making it difficult sometimes for their carriage to progress, but Ursula didn’t mind.

“It’s really nice to see people enjoying themselves after that long, cold winter,” she said.

Horatio nodded. “Oh yes. This state visit by the Reich Duke and King Basil has galvanized their natural gaiety. The average Hetzenberger is always up for a good party and this one promises to be the best for years.” He paused to smile and exchange salutes with a young boy clad in a sailor suit, who’d seen Horatio’s uniform and had come to attention – after a fashion, all the while clinging to his proud mother’s hand. “There goes a promising future officer,” he said with a chuckle, turning back to Ursula.

“You’ve inspired a whole generation to respect the riverine navy by your efforts, dearest,” Ursula smiled, squeezing his hand.

“I was only doing my job,” he protested mildly.

“And you do it very well too,” she said with a wink.

Horatio grinned, loving Ursula’s talent for double-intendre.

“Are you nervous about marrying in front of a whole crowd of dignitaries?” she asked.

He shrugged. “What’s to be nervous about? You and I have too much fun together to allow pomp and circumstance to overawe us.”

“That’s true.” They swept into the Great Square just at that moment and the magnificent façade of the cathedral of St. Rupert der Barr rose up on their right. Ursula looked at it with jaundiced eyes. “I’m glad you don’t feel nervous. At least one of us won’t be when we walk up those steps tomorrow!”

“It’ll be fine, my love. Your father will ensure all goes well. It’d better – or else!”
* * *
Not far away stood the Ducal Opera House. The opera may have the outward guise of calm Baroque splendor but within the rehearsal rooms and chamber de dance, all was in a state of controlled mayhem. Faint screams and cries came from the ballerinas as Madame de Wouters put them through yet another round of rehearsals for the vital Woodland scene for Der Grüne Ritter. The hard rehearsals for Der Tanz der Blumen had been a piece of celery in comparison.

Out in the auditorium the great composer Herr Wömfondlach stood upon the podium before the orchestra and beat upon the rail with his baton. “No, no, no!” His bald head gleamed in the lamplight as he bent to glare at the errant third violin. “The descant drops to E flat, not E sharp! Pray, did you tune your instrument with a wrench this morning? Did you tune your instrument at all?” The orchestra hid their grins as they watched the third violin’s discomfort as Herr Wömfondlach waxed lyrical. “Did you perhaps leave your instrument at the bottom of the river all night, the better to improve its qualities?”

“No, Herr Wömfondlach,” the man murmured. Rumor had it that rehearsal for the last production headed by the great man in Prague had seen the deaths of two percussionists, one harpist, and a stagehand who’d wandered into the line of fire. It did not pay to cross Herr Wömfondlach.

Wömfondlach sighed and rolled his eyes in despair. “We shall begin again from the top! And this time get it right!

Cowed and broken, the musicians bent to their task yet again, dreaming wistfully of taverns, tobacco, and rich ale.

* * *
In the Great Park Graf Philip von Hetzenberg straightened up from his work with a grin. The array of fireworks gleamed under the bright sunlight. “There we are, my dear! The alignment has been corrected for the expected wind velocity this evening. By my calculations the display should be able to reach a maximum height of five hundred feet!”

Mary Amadeus sat upon a park bench nearby. She was wearing a fine red dress for a change, but had taken her shawl off and draped it over the back of the bench, it being so warm. A drawing slate lay on her lap and she had a piece of chalk in her hand. A mug of small beer and a rather large plate of cheese rolls lay to hand nearby. She was holding the beer bottle and gazing at it in a way that gave Philip a thrill of expectation. “Do you have an idea?” he asked softly, not daring to speak too loud for fear of disturbing her train of thought.

Mary turned gleaming eyes to him. “What if…” she said then stopped and pursed her lips. “What if we were to fit another stage to the main rockets?”

“Another stage?” He cocked his head. “To raise them higher for launch, you mean?”

She shook her head. “No, I mean another, bigger rocket attached to the bottom half of those ones there.” She held up the bottle and pointed to the tapering neck. “Let this represent the current size of rocket.” Her finger dropped to the body of the bottle. “Now, let this represent another, larger rocket attached to the base, with a fuse depending into the head of it from the smaller stage.”

Setting the bottle aside she scribbled calculations on the slate. Philip watched, his mind suddenly flowing with equations and power-to-weight ratios and his soul glowed like the sun with Mary’s reflected inspiration. “My God! That would mean…”

Mary looked up, her face aglow. “Yes! By using a larger booster-stage body, stabilized with fins and filled with Number Two powder we can loft a rocket to a height of five thousand feet!”

“It would be seen for miles!” he whispered, entranced. “The display can be shared by thousands more people!”

“Yes! If we get started right away we can have at least three such rockets ready for tonight.”

He sat down and hugged her. “I love it when you talk theory!”

Shameless plug...

It looks quite likely that I'll be heading to the USA before the end of this month, so it's pedal to the metal time here! My stockpile of material from thirty years of wargaming has been reduced but a few items still remain. I've posted three new sales on eBay, namely issues of Practical Wargamer magazine from the late 80's. They contain all kinds of useful articles, and can be found here.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

No ACW photos.

Unfortunately some of our club members couldn't make the game Friday night so we played a couple of Ancient games - Republican Roman vs. Successor Macedonians, and Anglo-Saxons vs. Norman - using Armati rules. Now I have to say that while I like Armati rules for ECW I don't like them for ancients. Something about them just doesn't gel with me. I played on the Norman side, and lost, which was quite a satisfying result (I really don't like Feudalism in any form and the Normans were the worst exponents of that species of government). I'm just hoping I can escape Stateside before the club's planned mass-Armati games vs. the Mid Anglian Wargamers comes to fruition!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Have visa, will travel.

My visa has arrived! Now the mayhem of planning and packing and all good stuff can begin. My thanks to all who wished me well!

We have a big ACW game on at the club tonight and I have a working camera. If it continues working I'll be able to take some pics to post here in lieu of SYW material. The Chronicles will be appearing in fits and starts for a while but they will appear.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A whole lot o' nuttin' going on...

There's not much going on with me right now, ImagiNation-wise. I'm expecting to get my visa any day and that has been weighing on my mind to the point I really don't feel like writing anything. After so many months I'm bored with waiting! Plus, I've been an eBaying fool, selling a lot of stuff off so I don't have to sell a kidney in order to afford the cost of shipping it to the USA. Some of my 25mm ACW figures are coming up to the end of bidding. Those who're interested can find them here. I have another unit of Union Zouaves on the painting block and they'll find their way to the auction, along with two or three more units. At the moment I'm waiting on a small order from Dixon Miniatures to make up the command elements which were missing from the original batch of figures when I acquired them, way back when.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Hot pursuit.

The steady pursuit of the enemy required the flotilla to drop downriver some ten miles to a position paralleling the current location of the army. Here a dilapidated landing stage for a cattle ferry offered the means to bring the troops aboard. The two companies of Regiment Brabenachel were paraded along the bank as the flotilla drew close. Young Colonel Brabenachel himself was sitting on a bollard, idly throwing stones into the river. He stood up and brushed the seat of his britches as the gunboats drew in their oars and coasted up to the stage.

“What ho the navy!” he cried, saluting Captain Creighton with a beaming smile. “All ready to bring my fellows aboard, sir?”

“Ready, aye, ready Colonel,” Creighton growled, eyeing the foppish fellow with a tolerant eye. “We’ll push out the brows and you can bring your lads aboard when you please. Each boat can take eighty men, Colonel, no more.”

The crews of the three gunboats bent to their tasks as Colonel Brabenachel turned to shout orders to the waiting officers. Trumpets sounded a brief flourish and the first platoons began to file down in an irregular mass, chivvied by their NCO’s. Cries of baaaa! and moooo! filled the air.

“What on earth?” Horatio exclaimed, grinning in surprise.

“Oh, don’t mind them,” Brabenachel called, swishing his marching stick insouciantly. “It’s just high spirits.”

“What a band of jokers!” Creighton sighed as outraged NCO’s pushed and shoved the men in an attempt to restore discipline. Their efforts were not helped by the fact they were failing to conceal their own grins. “I’d heard Brabenachel was sucking hind tit when it came to recruitment. I can see where the rumors began, now.”

“I dare say they’ll fight hard enough when called on to do so, sir,” Horatio said, smiling. “They did very well at Viehdorf.”

“Indeed.” As the first soldiers clumped aboard Acheron Captain Creighton doffed his hat to them. “Welcome aboard, the Jokers!”
* * *
Mary Amadeus sat on the gun carriage of one of the captured artillery pieces, eating a ham roll and speculating on the virtues of a russet color scheme for the ordinance. The guns were due to be taken to Kimmelsbrücke, there to be paraded through the town as a sign of the recent victory. After that, a new lick of paint will do very well. Then it’ll be on to Randstadt!

“My dear! How are you?”

Mary looked up to see Graf Philip approaching. He wore a broad smile and a fine crimson uniform, and two of his aides stood in the background, watching tolerantly. She knew Philip well enough now to detect an air of suppressed glee about him, which made her mildly suspicious. “I’m well, Philip, dear,” she said, getting up and shyly exchanging kisses on the cheek. “I’ve not seen you for a while. What have you been doing?”

“Oh, I’ve been busy with correspondence. One letter in particular got the most delightful response.”

“Which was?” she asked, wondering.

For answer he turned and made a beckoning gesture. An aide in turn gestured to someone who was standing the other side of a caisson, and that person shambled forward into view.

“Father!” Mary exclaimed. She stared for all of a second before rushing into his arms.

“Oh, my dear Mary!” Irwin Amadeus blinked and snuffled, his little round glasses knocked askew by the impact. “It’s so good to see you, child!”

Mary hugged him then turned to Philip. “You tease! You didn’t tell me you had sent for my father!”

Philip shrugged and smiled. “I wanted it to be a surprise. You were pining for a visit home, which isn’t possible under the circumstances; but there was nothing to stop your father coming here. It’s only a hop, skip and jump from Wohl, after all.”

Irwin Amadeus was blinking from his daughter to the fine young nobleman. “Am I to collect, sir, that you and my daughter are, um, close?” he asked diffidently.

“Your daughter is a fine woman and a first-class expert in explosives, sir,” Philip replied, smiling at Mary. “It’s a pleasure to be acquainted with her.”

“She was an apt pupil,” Irwin said, gazing fondly at Mary’s shining visage even as he missed the emphasis in Philip’s voice.

“And you must have been a most diligent tutor, sir. I look forward to hearing more about her from you over dinner.” He took Mary’s hand. “Your father has agreed to accompany us to Kimmelsbrücke for the parade. We shall have the pleasure of his company for three days, at least.”

“Philip, thank you!” She beamed up at him. “Your kindness is wonderful!”

“You deserve it, my dear. I confess I have another motive also for asking your father to come here.” When she made to speak he placed a fingertip on her lips. “Hush now! I shall tell all later.”
* * *
Acheron, Cocytus and Phlegethon headed downriver. The steady southerly wind of the last few days had changed to a fitful, gusty westerly breeze that required close attention to the big lateen sails. Packed as they were with soldiery the vessels’ crews were pushed to work as efficiently as they would normally. There was many a cry of ‘by your leave, mate,’ as they pushed some hapless soldier out of the way of sheet and halyard.

“Your fellows don’t seem to mind a river trip, sir,” Horatio said to Colonel Brabenachel.

“It’s a first for most of them. They’re nearly all recruited from the towns.” He smiled fondly. “The only contact most of them had with water was splashing through a puddle. Dear Lord, the lengths we had to go through to ensure they followed some basic hygiene!”

“Enemy army in sight!” The cry came from the mast-head. Horatio looked up to see the lookout pointing to the west. Here the river entered the great curve that took it close to the hills, and the two-mile wide gap between river and the first rising slopes was busy with the black coats of the Margraf’s army. The gusty breeze brought with it the occasional popping of musketry, sounding like firecrackers in some distant celebration. But men are fighting and dying over there.

“Commander, I think we shall draw closer to the bank and see what we can do with our guns,” Captain Creighton said. “The land is level for the most part here.”

“Your guns can reach, sir?” Colonel Brabenachel inquired.

“Most easily, sir.” Creighton smiled. “Our twenty-four pounders can send a shot clear across to those hills. A few rounds from them will serve to dissuade the Gravies from making a stand in this narrow gap.”

Horatio barked orders, thankful that the big mortar had been struck down into the hold to allow more space for the soldiers. Had it remained in place it would’ve been nearly impossible to work the main gun.

With shouted orders and signals the three gunboats swept into line abreast, their bows pointing at the distant enemy. Horatio studied them through his spyglass. “It seems we’re attracting some attention, sir.”

“They have no artillery to bother us, Commander.” Creighton grinned. “Your young female friend saw to that.” He glanced through his telescope and pointed. “Our target is that regiment of red-coated infantry.”

Horatio followed his line of sight and saw the mercenary regiment of Babbington’s Legion drawn up at the edge of a field some nine hundred yards away. They appeared to be ready to contest passage of a narrow country lane that led to the main highway a half mile distant. Some distance away from the mercenaries he could also see the colors of Infantry Regiment Sleibnitz waving above a hedgerow as they approached the position.

“Clear to fire, sir!” Midshipman Steiner called from his place by the gun. Creighton glanced up and down the short line of his command and saw the pennants rising to indicate the other boats were ready. “Oars up! Fire!”

The great guns belched flame. All the assembled soldiers swayed and laughed as the deck recoiled under their feet. A great gust of dun-colored smoke filled the air, temporarily forming a dense obscuring cloud before being blown back over the deck by the breeze. Horatio coughed and brought his spyglass up to his eye. He was in time to see great gouts of earth spring up around and in front of the redcoats, to no visible effect.

Steiner saw to the gun. Out of habit Horatio drew his fob watch and timed the exercise, nodding when Steiner raised his hand to indicate readiness to fire. “Another salvo, I think,” Creighton said. “It’ll be a more concentrated shock that way.”

“Aye aye, sir.”


The guns belched again, and Horatio saw a fleeting glimpse of a black streak leaving the barrel before the smoke rolled over the deck. When he raised his glass this time he saw the effect the mass of metal had on the target. Bodies – and bits of body -- hurled into the air, once, twice, thrice as a great ball bounded through the closed ranks of the mercenaries. The regiment shuddered. “Hit ‘em again and they’ll break,” Creighton growled.

“I think so too, sir,” Horatio replied, feeling sickened.

But Babbington’s Legion was made up of old soldiers with experienced commanders. They began to withdraw before the great guns were ready to inflict their murderous fire upon them again. “Fire!” Creighton shouted. The guns roared and a few seconds later the earth flew again, but the enemy had withdrawn into the cover of a sunken lane and the execution was minimal.

“Oh well, there goes that fatuous ass Sleibnitz,” Creighton said, examining the scene. “He's moving to take that ground. I fancy we saved him a peck of casualties this day.”

“It appears the Gravies are in no mood to make a stand, sir.” Horatio pointed. “I had hoped to turn our attentions upon that other regiment alongside the road, but that too is withdrawing.”

“I think we’ve done enough for now. They know if they stand we’ll destroy them.” Creighton looked up and around. “There’s a squall coming down from the hills. I think we’ll make our way down to Wentwitz when it hits. The rain should obscure our movements.”

Acheron, Cocytus and Phlegethon swung their bows to point downriver and got under way as the first drops of rain fell. Soon it sheeted down, hiding all movement beyond a hundred yards. Horatio pulled the collar of his boat cloak up around his neck and glanced around. Another few days and our operation will be finished. Then it’s me for the heady delights of Kimmelsbrücke and marriage to Ursula! He rested his hands upon the rail and looked back upriver, thinking of the night he’d spent in her arms. How did I get to be so lucky?