Friday, January 22, 2010

20. Death in the Jungle: Part 6

[Turn Six Begins]

Lieutenant Frye considered his position.  His troops were in good order, ready and awaiting his commands.  They would be able to carry out a great many orders quite easily, he sensed.

The White Shields to the right front came sneaking through the foliage, trying to get closer to B legionnaires.  To Sergent Coyote's credit, his men ignored the Pygmies with a nearly-palpable disdain.

To make up for their dismal performance so far, Caporal Chien ordered his Tirailleurs forward, advancing towards the Black Shields who had caused so much trouble just before.  His anger at his men was tempered by the knowledge that they could just as easily run away again, so he was gladdened by Sergent Cur leading his A legionnaires in supported line at the same Natives.

Before Lt Frye knew it, things began to happen very fast.  Cpl Chien's Tirailleurs fired at the Black Shields in front of them.  Still some distance off in the brush, they missed, but the plucky Pygmies' response surprised them all:  Chien saw them first attempt to shoot their blowguns before realizing they were out of range.  Then they began to work up their courage, shuffling closer with only some hesitation.

On Frye's right, Sgt Coyote's legionnaires fired a volley at the half-hidden White Shields.  The jungle was good for hiding, but not so good for blocking bullets, as two more l'indigènes dropped.  The White Shields, either by design or luck, did nothing in reply except hide harder at first.  After several moments consideration, though, the Brown Shielded leader convinced his men to reveal themselves long enough to shoot their deadly darts at B squad.  Their aim was just as good as ever, proving that not hiding held no advantages either:  the Swede trooper Karl fell, as did Sgt Coyote, fletched barbs bristling from their faces.  The legionnaires' relentless training paid off, as even leaderless they returned fire, killing(?) one more Pygmy.

L'indigènes jungle-wide seemed to pause, and into the hesitation stepped Lt Frye.  He ordered the Marines to fire at those same White Shields, who were entirely too close and entirely too sure of themselves for comfort.  In retribution for offing Sgt Coyote, the Marines' fire dropped two Natives, including the Brown Shield leader.  The Pygmies were obviously well-trained, too, as they still did not flee.

Fyre's joy was short-lived.  Even leaderless, the White Shields charged B legionnaire squad.  Behind him, Frye heard the piercing war whoops of the Black Shields as they charged into mêlée with the tirailleurs, who were at least supported by a counter-charge from A legionnaires.  Perhaps it was knowing these stalwarts were by their side that kept the tirailleurs steady enough to receive the charge.

Even stalwarts can have enough, and B squad, leaderless without the steady discipline of Sgt Coyote, fell back a considerable distance, shaken.

The fear in his eyes is very evident!

The Black Shields had whipped themselves into a veritable frenzy, and their reaction to a charge in their flank was to accept it and fight both fights at once!

The French forces felt unusually confident going into this fight:  l'indigènes were outnumbered and they were flanked.  However, no one told the Brown Shield leader!  When the conflict began to go against the Pygmies he urged his men to greater efforts, and was nearly successful in turning the tide of battle.  Unfortunately for him, as he turned to urge his men to those greater efforts, he exposed himself to a vicious counter-thrust of a bayonet, and down he went like a small-statured sack of potatoes.  After that, the combined muscle of tirailleur and legionnaire saw the Pygmies off in short order.  The White Shields fled back the way they had come, severely shaken and leaderless. 

Sgt Cur, following up on his win, pivoted his men to face the direction the Natives had retreated.

Lt Frye's head was a whirl of sounds and smells.  The acrid smoke of gunfire mixed with the wet smell of jungle mashed underfoot into paste.  One the one side he had a traumatically weakened flank where B squad had been; on the other, he had victory in force.

As he scanned the scene, reports were relayed to him.  Trooper Hund of A legionnaires was dead, unable to recover from the terrible poison of the blowdarts.  Sgt Coyote and trooper Karl were in a similar situation:  shaking with fever and ague; only time would tell if they would recover.  To Frye's immense relief, though, he saw the senior trooper of B squad, the Italian name Cane, stop his fellows' flight and remind them of themselves.  Frye knew he could count on them immediately.

Of the White Shields who had seen off the broken legionnaires, two bodies were confirmed dead.  The rest, including the brazen Brown Shield leader, stood up again, ready to renew the fight.

And all of the Black Shields, including that brazen Brown Shield leader, rejoined their unit.  But it was not enough to keep them from running further afield.  Their nerve was shot at last.

[Turn Six Ends]

Thursday, January 7, 2010

19. Death in the Jungle: Part 5

[Turn Five Begins]

Lieutenant Frye, swiftly mastering himself in the face of a threatening enemy, rapped out orders as though Capitaine Woolfe was standing at his shoulder.  L'indigènes were still out there, mingling in massed formations, hooting and hollering in fury.  It would surely only be mere moments before they rallied enough to renew their attacks.  If he were to win this fight, he must take it to the foe.

"Sergent Coyote," Frye called to the veteran soldier of B legionnaire squad, "if you would be so kind, have your men shoot those petits bâtards."

"Aye, mon capitai--"  Coyote broke off abruptly.  "Oui, lieutenant," he finished lamely.  To his soldiers he gave the command.  Their shots roared out at the Black Shields off to their right.  Their aim was rewarded at seeing one of the Pygmies drop.  It was further rewarded when the Brown Shield leader was unable to stop their rearward flight.  They had run earlier at the firing of the legionnaires and they were running now.  They disappeared into the jungle as though they had never been.

Frye returned his attention to his front.  The other group of Black Shields had retreated far upfield.  There they sat, leaping obscenely in mock taunting of the French forces.  Frye gauged the distance:  it was far, well outside pistol shot, but worth a try.  He ordered what remained of his Marines to fire.  To his dismay they missed.  In response, though, he could see several of the Pygmies start to bring their blowguns to their lips before realizing they, too, were well out of range.  Their dismay was greater than Frye's as they fell back further.  It was apparent they sorely missed their Brown Shield leader.  Now they had retreated to surround their decrepit shrine, no doubt to bolster their courage and allay their confusion.

With no more immediate targets presenting themselves, Frye let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding.  He ordered his Marines to form a supported firing line, then both his and Coyote's squads advanced a short distance.  He would continue taking the fight to the enemy.

The White Shields' leader was showing signs of regaining control of his men.  It was all he could do, it seemed, to urge them into cover behind some thick jungle plants.

Frye wiped the sweat from his forehead.  It was disconcerting how easily these jungle warriors could practically disappear!  Sometimes all that gave them away was the glint of their eyes.

Frye gestured for Seejee and Sawjaw, the Tirailleurs leading the Native Bearers, to move their men up.  As he turned back around, he saw those leaderless Black Shields, reinvigorated after their dance around their shrine, come creeping out.

They were not yet brave enough to test the White Man's fire sticks again.

Unexpectedly the third and last Black Shield unit came rushing out of the underbrush on the left flank, firing their sinister silent blowguns at squad A of the legionnaires.

Trooper Hund fell heavily against the man next to him, a feathered dart protruding from his chest.

In response, Sergent Cur ordered rifles raised.   The volley shook the trees, causing brightly plumed birds to launch into the air, and felling two l'indigènes.  Following up on his success, Cur had them fire again, only to waste the ammunition.  The Natives did nothing in reply.

These Black Shields were fresh and eager for blood.  With a frenzied roar the Pygmies charged Sgt Cur's legionnaires.  Cur coolly surveyed his men, and was proud to see no fear in their faces; only disgust, and anger at the death of Capitaine Woolfe.  They stood firm to receive the charge, getting off one volley with little effect -- one Pygmy dropped -- before the cannibals were amongst them.

In the first rush of mêlée Cur felt he had it won at once; yet in the moment of near-victory the Pgymy Brown Shielded leader rapped out some pre-planned orders and Cur's confidence evaporated.  By good luck, the Brown Shield narrowly saved his own neck.  Cur's men were whittling the Pygmies' numbers down one and two at a time, when the Brown Shield tried another surprise tactic that almost spelled squad B's end.  Cur, though, his blood running hot in the middle of the action, snapped out his own orders and encouragment, and caught the Brown Shield leader on the head with the butt of his rifle.  Without his inspiring presence, the Black Shields quickly fell beneath the bayonets and boots of the legionnaires.

The sparse remnants of the Black Shields retreated in disorder.

Cur caught his breath, then shouted a report to Lt Frye.  As Frye listened, the fourth downed Marine stood up, weak-kneed but hale.  Legionnaire Hund, however, remained semi-conscious.  His body trembled with fever as he tried to fight off the poison in his system.

As Cur stomped through the tall grass he counted six dead Pygmies, but -- curse it all -- the Brown Shield leader was not among them.  Squinting against the sweat and glare, Cur could just make out four Black Shields half-carrying their leader back to his unit.

To Fyre's immense relief, the Tirailleurs Sénégalais finally rallied their courage and regrouped.  Apparently only the undaunted bravery of the legionnaires was enough to finally restore the yellow-backed unit.  Frye swore lustily in three languages at their cowardice.

Returning his attention to his right flank, Frye could see that the cover of the jungle had similarly restored the spine of the White Shields there.

Yet overall, Lt Frye was pleased.  The enemy, while not on the run, had been dealt enough of a bloody nose to give him pause.  The French would have to make the most of this short breathing space.

[Turn Five Ends]

Sunday, January 3, 2010

18, Death in the Jungle: Part 4

[Turn Four Begins]

While Capitaine Woolfe's practiced mind was running through the necessary orders, the Pygmies came on again!  Too soon, he thought.  Before he could give those orders the White Shields to his front approached and fired their blowguns.  One of his Marines went down, a feathered dart in his throat.  Woolfe restrained his men from wasting a shot in reply; they would simply snap it off and miss, if he let them.

The same White Shields shot their blowguns again at the Frenchmen, causing two more casualties.  Were the darts poison-coated?  It was too soon to tell if any of his men would rise, or lie forever where they fell.  Woolfe felt a curious personal dislike for these tricky l'indigènes and their pagan beliefs.  This time he ordered his men to return fire, bringing down two of les monstre miniatures.  His own and Frye's shots, however, missed.

While he was preoccupied with the White Shields, Woolfe didn't notice the Black Shields to his right approaching until they were almost upon him.  They seemed to materialize right out of the jungle.  Feeling the pressure, Woolfe again ordered his men to fire, this time at the Black Shields, causing two to fall.  His own pistol shot accounted for a third.

Unfortunately, these Black Shields were a fierce enemy.  Their response to their comrades' deaths was to blow a hail of deadly darts at the Marines.  Yet another Frenchman sank into the tall jungle grass.  And to add insult to injury, they fired again!  Their aim was perfect, as two more Marines dropped.

Le capitaine could tell his Marines would be unresponsive now; they were feeling the pressure, too.  He could get nothing more out of those who remained, but he at least prevented them from being more scared than they already were.

With his hands full controlling his Marines, Woolfe could only hope his earlier orders were being carried out by his other patrols.

At the back of the French formation, caporal Chien advanced his Tirailleurs ahead in open formation, but he could urge them no further.  They remained far too shaken at the savagery they had witnessed from the Pygmies to voluntarily come any closer.

Sergent Coyote of legionnaire squad B, meanwhile, formed his men into a supported firing line adjacent to the remnant of Capitaine Woolfe's Marines.  Woolfe was glad to have the seasoned soldier with him; Coyote knew what needed to be done as well as anyone.  He could see, as well as Woolfe, that the Pygmies were working themselves up for an imminent charge.

Trying to head off that close attack, Coyote ordered his men to shoot at the Black Shields just in front of them.  The calm, deliberative fire only caused one Native to fall, but the effect of the volley was greater:  these Black Shields, who had so brazenly snubbed their noses at Woolfe, now fled in dissarray.  They would not approach so carelessly again, Coyote gloated.

There were others who would, though.  The White Shields and the other Black Shields (to the left, who had already lost their own leader) with a clangor of stomps and shouts, charged forward to attack the remains of Woolfe's squad and B legionnaires.  Simultaneously, Coyote ordered bayonets fixed.

The White Shields surged into contact with Coyote's men, but with the sure confidence of veteran soldiers the legionnaires stood their ground.  They could only watch as the Black Shields attacked the Marines.  Few though they were, they were one less almost immediately.

In the mêlée with the legionnaires, the advantage changed sides as quickly as the jungle weeds grew.  Just when it seemed Coyote's men were winning, the Native leader would mutter something in his gibberish language and his men would fight even harder, sometimes blocking the kill and stealing their own.  One legionnaire, then another, collapsed under the spears, even as a Pygmy fell too.  Finally Coyote felt he had the fight won, when the cunning indigène tried to stab him in the back.  He missed, and it was too little, too late, for the remaining Pygmies retreated, shaken and bloody.

There were very few Marines left to fight off the White Shields.  The French caporal de l'Infanterie Marine, Cabot, threw himself in front of the onrushing horde, only to be unceremoniously trampled.  Lieutenant Frye, despite an instant's hesitation, boldly interposed himself between the Pygmies and his capitaine.  It was not enough to turn the tide, though, and Capitaine Woolfe, his sword red with blood, took a club to the head and collapsed.  Seeing his leader fall, Frye redoubled his efforts, personally seeing off three Natives.  His bravery won the day; with an overarching effort, and almost single-handedly, the Pgymies turned tail and ran.

They found Doopee, one of the Native Bearers, crying over the body of his friend Loopee, never to bear a load again.

Lt Frye took deep shuddering breaths, and took stock of his situation.  Cpl Cabot was shaking his head as he stood up, as if to clear the cobwebs away, but he appeared otherwise unharmed.  Three Marines likewise were dusting themselves off, only slightly the worse for wear.  Three others, however, were victims of the Pygmies attack; about a fourth it was unclear if he would recover.

But the greatest tragedy was Capitaine Woolfe, dead on the trampled jungle floor.  Frye bit down hard to hold back tears.  Command devolved to him, and at that moment something in him changed.  He felt an anger he had never felt before, and a furious rushing sound filled his head.  He would avenge his fallen mentor, and prove himself worthy of his trust.  "Le capitaine est mort, vivent longtemps le capitaine!" he called, letting the men of le troupe, of his troupe, know what had happened.

Legionnaires Goort and Wood of B squad climbed back to their feet, having had their breath knocked out, nothing more.  They shared a glance, upon hearing the news that Frye was in command.  Things just got a lot more interesting, and a lot more dangerous, they decided.

From what Frye could see, the Natives had not fared well in the engagement.  Only two, perhaps, of the seven Pygmies returned to their units.

Frye turned to survey his command.  He met the eyes of Cpl Chien, shaking his fists in exasperation as his Tirailleurs retreated yet again.  They had seen Capt Woolfe die, and their already fragile nerves were strung tauter than the government's money purse.  He wanted to rail at them, and show them how the leaderless Black Shields had already returned to good order, as well as the Black Shields who did not take part in the mêlée.  Only the White Shields were having difficulty finding themselves again.

Frye set his jaw.  It would take all his command experience, and natural cunning, to complete this mission.  One thing he knew for certain:  he would rather die than return with his tail between his legs again.  The Native shrine must fall!

[Turn Four Ends]