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]

1 comment:

  1. "What could go wrong"? . . . uh, a certain force called "Murphy" has a way of upsetting things.

    -- Jeff