Saturday, March 27, 2010

23. Death in the Jungle: Part 9

[Turn Nine Begins]

Caporal Chien, leading his Tirailleurs Sénégalais, did not like what he saw.  Even after the pounding his men had given this new Pygmy squad, they had faced him with determination and even a little fatalism.  Now these fantômes, these ghosts, forestalled his own reaction by lifting their blow pipes and shooting a hail of poisoned darts at his men.

Fortunately there were no hits.  In reply, almost as if by unanimous assent and without any need for orders, Chien's tirailleurs returned fire with their rifles.  Contemptuously they watched as they caused three cannibals to fall.
The tirailleurs were congratulating themselves on their good shooting, fully expecting the beleaguered Natives to run away, when they were rudely shot at again by blow guns!  This time their aim was better and two of Chien's men -- Samsung and Sanyo -- clutched convulsively at the feathers protruding from their faces.

Chien saw the fear well up in the other mens' eyes, and knew he would be unable to stop their retreat, just as he had been unable a few hours prior.  The tall Blacks were inherently frightened of their shorted, more vicious, cousins.  They fell back, carrying their wounded, totally unready for further fighting.
Meanwhile Sergent Cur, leading squad 'A' of la légion étrangère next to the original position of the tirailleurs, was now aware of the new threat.  Having dealt with the Natives near the shrine to his satisfaction, he pivoted his men to face les fantômes.
Peering carefully through the thick underbrush, he gave the order to shoot.  The brightly plumed jungle birds flapped away in terror at the smoke and the noise, but Cur thought he saw one man drop.

The Natives' reaction surprised the veteran soldier.  It appeared as if the Pygmies wanted to fire their blow guns at Cur and his men before they realized they were out of range.  Grudgingly they fell back, in good order, but only a short distance.

Cur decided l'indigènes were still in his range, and had his men fire accordingly.  The intervening jungle foliage did not prevent him from seeing another body fall.
If the grizzled soldier was surprised before, he was doubly so this time.  Apparently having taken fire twice and been unable to reply was too much for these strange warriors.  It was obvious they wished desperately to shoot their blow pipes yet were too far they advanced directly at Cur's squad!

Cur's troopers were so shocked and unsettled at this brazen turn of events that their own shooing was ineffectual.  The Pygmies simply hunkered down in the thicker parts of the jungle, completely unaffected by the White Man's boom sticks.

Several dozen yards away, through the sound-deadening jungle, Lieutenant Frye, leading squad 'B' of la légion étrangère was overwhelming confident the battle was almost over.  After his disastrous first outing a few weeks previously -- when he had received the nom de guerre of Frightened Frye -- and the way this mission had begun with the death of the beloved Capitaine Woolfe, Frye had begun to think that only death in battle would restore his honor.  But if he could win through in spite of all the setbacks it would surely do much in the eyes of the men.  Perhaps he would be known as Famous Frye instead!

The only enemy between the French and their objective was a single, worn-down squad of Natives, skulking in the cover around their ludicrous shrine, and another squad threatening his right flank.  True, there was gunfire to his left, but no doubt Cur and Chien -- leading two full squads of hardened soldiers -- could handle the situation.

To protect his right flank, Frye ordered his legionnaires to fire upon the Natives attempting to hide there.  Their shots missed, but had the desired effect of frightening them off; they vanished into the far jungle, unable to move any more.

Satisfied with that result, Frye formed his men into an open formation and advanced towards the religious totem.  After a suitable distance he re-formed them into a supported firing line.
Calling over his shoulder, he had the Infanterie des Marines perform the same actions, advancing and standing shoulder to shoulder with their tougher (and braver) cousins.
With another shout and a wave, he brought up the Native Bearers as fast as they could go.
Turning back to his front, Lt Frye was surprised to see l'indigènes who had been frightened and hiding at their shrine, come menacingly towards him!  Their sudden appearance unnerved him, and his lack of composure affected his troops:  the Marines' morale broke down completely, with caporal Cabot doing his best to keep them in control; the legionnaires of 'B' shifted their feet uneasily but were otherwise unfazed.
Slightly behind the firing line, Seejee and Sawjaw -- the two tirailleurs leading the Native Bearers -- used their own initiative to shoot at those menacing Natives to the front.  Taking careful aim, the tirailleurs earned their name as riflemen by both shooting down the Brown Shield leader!  The Native warriors hugged the cover more closely than ever.

For the moment, it seemed to Lt Frye, the battle was still and the jungle was quiet.  No indigènes moved anywhere that he could see or hear.  Knowing he would not be able to get good shooting from the shaken marines, and not wanting to waste valuable ammunition, and furthermore being very impressed by Seejee and Sawjaw's shooting, Frye called to them to fire again.

Twice more they took careful aim, but their targets had made themselves even smaller than normal and they scored no hits.  The Natives simply hid and shivered in fear.

Back on the left flank, Cpl Chien was tending to his wounded men.  After gently removing the barbed darts and cleaning the wounds, he was saddened when only Samsung recovered.  Glaring downrange at the enemy squad who had caused Sanyo's agonizing death, he thought he could make out three of the monstres fantomatiques rejoining their brothers!  What did it take to kill these bâtards?

His anger likewise affected his men, and their fear was replaced with a strong desire to squash their shorter cousins!  "La mort aux miniatures!"

The constant barrage of shots from Seejee and Sawjaw not only kept the heads of the Natives down, it also tremendously buoyed the spirits of the marines; they began to think that perhaps they would not all die here in the God forsaken jungle after all.

If the marines were lifted up, then the other Natives to the front and on the right flank were even further demoralized.  Both retreated away from the taunting Frenchmen:  the ones to the fore, leaderless, retreating back toward their shrine;
the ones to the right melting into the depths of the jungle, finally and completely routed!
While Sgt Cur and Cpl Chien warily eyed their foe, Lt Frye all but shouted for joy as his path ahead was cleared.  Famous Frye was not out of the question after all!

[Turn Nine Ends]

Saturday, March 6, 2010

22. Death in the Jungle: Part 8

[Turn Eight Begins]

The Black Shields to Lieutenant Frye's left moved to face off against the Tirailleurs Sénégalais under the command of caporal Chien.  Before they could do more than turn, the tirailleurs had fired into them, causing at least one casualty.  In disarray the Black Shields retreated to the relative safety of the shrine area, obviously shaken.  They shook their shields and fists in anger at their taller Black cousins. 
Seeing their success, Lieutenant Frye ordered the 'B' legionnaire squad on his right to shoot at the White Shields hiding in the underbrush ahead of them.  The senior trooper, Cane, gave the command, and smoke poured out of the rifle barrels as the volley crashed into the Pygmies.  Through the hanging vines Frye thought he saw two Natives drop.  Like their Black Shield brothers, this squad retreated in disorder, shaken and unable to function as a unit any further.
Fully expecting l'indigènes to reform and attack, Frye was amazed when...nothing happened.  Almost laughing at the ease with which the vicious Natives were finally being beaten, he ordered his Infanterie des Marines to shoot at the Black Shields.  He would decimate them in front of their own foul totem, before he destroyed the totem itself!  Their fire caused a cannibal to fall, despite their having been partially hidden in the thick jungle.  Yet the Pygmies' confusion was so great that they could do nothing in reply.
Cane of 'B' squad fired again at his target, felling two.  They hooted and hollered in fear and anger, but could do nothing other than hide or die.

With a dismissive gesture and a jaunty wave of his arm, Lt Frye sent the tirailleurs advancing to flank the Black Shields and the shrine area.

He smiled quietly to himself.  The battle was all but won, le Capitaine would be avenged, and he himself would no longer be the butt of every joke!

It was at that moment that Chien and his tirailleurs stepped into a figurative snake pit.

Somehow, directly ahead of them, a unit of highly disciplined Pygmies appeared, materializing out of the jungle like phantoms:  silent, almost unmoving.  Chien squinted through the sweat dripping from his brow.  These indigènes were not hooting like wild beasts, like the other Shields squads; no, it almost seemed like they had been waiting for le Français to arrive.
Chien called his men to a halt, while he cautiously watched this new arrival.  Slowly the Pygmies approached the tirailleurs.  They carried White Shields and their leader carried a Brown Shield like all the other Natives, but there the similarity ended.  The carriage of this leader, his bearing, struck Chien as one who was accustomed to command:  this was a Brown Shield to be reckoned with!
Finally Cpl Chien decided the Natives had come close enough.  Addressing his men with a calm voice, he ordered them to fire.
When the smoke cleared he thought he saw two fewer White Shields than before.  It was difficult to be certain since the Natives had retreated some distance away.  Perhaps he was wrong about this one, Chien thought; perhaps they were no different after all.  Then again, they did not appear very disorganized at all; the retreat was carried out almost purposefully, although it had to be admitted they did appear somewhat shaken.

Behind him he could hear 'A' legionnaire squad marching to match his position.
Sergent Cur was single-minded; not knowing of this new White Shield threat, he arranged his men to best dispatch the Black Shields near the shrine.  Forming into a supported firing line, 'A' squad fired to a great showing:  three Pygmies dropped!  Still disordered and confused, the Black Shields could do nothing in reply.
Chien's attention was dragged back to the new White Shields.  Their Brown Shield leader had reordered his men and they were advancing on Chien's tirailleurs once again.  No war cries, no wild shouting, just a deadly certainty in their actions.  Reaching the limit of Chien's comfort level, he had his men ready their weapons but hold their fire.  It seemed as if the new White Shields were studying them; what would they do next?  Chien decided to wait and see.

Blissfully unaware of the exact state of his left flank, Lt Frye ordered Seejee and Sawjaw -- leading the Native Bearers -- to catch up with he and his marines.
He had heard some sporadic shooting from the tirailleurs and the legionnaires, but so far there was nothing about which he needed to be concerned.  What he needed to do was get those Native Bearers to the repulsive religious shrine so they could begin dismantling it, but it was all he could do just to get the nervous natives to advance at all.

Over the jungle birds' calls and the insects' buzzing noises, Frye heard Chien bark out another order to fire.  He was expecting to see the results appear in the Black Shields ahead of him but nothing happened in that direction.

Frye didn't know it but the tirailleurs' fire had felled two more of the new White Shields.  In spite of their mounting casualties, they did not run away.  Instead they continued surveying the trespassers.

Feeling like he had a moment to spare, Lt Frye decided to transfer his command from les marines to 'B' legionnaires.  He reasoned that les marines had caporal Cabot to lead them, whereas the legionnaires only had a senior trooper, Cane.  Frye's authority would be better spent with the legionnaires.
Taking up his position he rapped out an order, which was instantly obeyed.  They fired a volley at the Black Shields to the right, unfortunately missing.

As he watched for the effects of their firing, Frye thought he saw two Black Shields stand up from their hiding places in the long grass, although he was sure more than two did not.  Nevertheless this seemed to be enough to restore their bravery.

And in spite of three of their number returning, the White Shields near the shrine area lost what remained of their nerve and fled back through the shrine to hide on the far side.
Of the new White Shields, Cpl Chien watched as two reappeared as if by magic (two, of course, did not).  They silently took their places in the ranks alongside their kin, and collectively shook off any debilitating effects of their losses.

Cpl Chien had a very bad feeling about this squad.

Lt Frye felt the battle was going very well.  What could go wrong now?

[Turn Eight Ends]