Wednesday, June 17, 2009
"The Land Went up in Fire and Curdled Smoke"
Shea lay prone in the Kunai grass, as still as he could be, with the burlap wrapped spyglass propped up on a rotting log to steady it. All along the ridge, his small command were steadying their rifles to make their shots count. Pan Bao Long, the best shot in the Army of the Progressives, lay next to him, a long rifle with brass scope mounted on top trained down the slope. Both Long and Shea were interested in one thing at the moment, and that was a young Mongolian officer in Fusang green, leading a vanguard of the Fusang Field Force. The officer sat easy in the saddle, as only a natural horseman can, laughing and joking with a taller native Fusang captain and his subordinate bannermen. Shea spoke quietly.. "Huo."
Long's gun barked, and a second later the Mongolian officer's epaulette flew off his shoulder. The officer stared, thunderstruck for a moment..
Shea quickly said "Dao, pinyin" and Long corrected aim down and to the left. "Huo" and he fired again.
A small red carnation blossomed in the officer's chest as he fell backwards, amidst general consternation among the troops. Shea raised up on his elbows and shouted "HUO!"
The small brick red of the Progressive force unleashed a ragged volley from concealment. Down the slope on the dirt road, the Fusang force recoiled in fear, horses running hither and yon as cavalrymen fell right and left. The greenclad troops were having a hard time of it, but they weren't panicking. Once again, Shea shouted "HUO!!" and the ragged volley crash into the horse patrol, sending it scattering and then back into a formless mass.
Shea turned to the bannerman, standing expectantly. He gestured... "Qi!!". At that the Brick Red colored banner of the Army of Progressive Peace unfurled in the air over Shea's position. The Mongolians appeared puzzled by this development, but the native Fusang captain was decisive. She (whose Mandarin was problematic at the best of times) could not make out the orders but could see that the flag was recognized.
Very Good. Now if they only would take the rest of it, Shea thought.
Sure enough, the native Fusang officer had assessed the situation correctly and was ordering his men into a line abreast. Exactly as we planned, thought Shea excitedly.
Further down the reverse slope, he gazed at the specially rigged PomPom gun. The traces were still on the gun, and it was propped up to fire in a short arc (hopefully) and land on the advancing column. This was the theory, in any event. Pompoms were not designed to be abused like this. Nearby, a Progressive soldier stood by with the mule team for a quick on-the-fly hookup. Shea raised his sword so the team could see him, then he dropped it. "Calling all Angels..." he thought to himself.
"HUO!" The shell arced over the hill, flip flopped in mid air and landed just to the right of the hastily forming cavalry formation. A Pom Pom round isn't even much of a door knocker (as was being discovered at that moment, miles away in Fusang Castle, but that is another story). However, pom pom rounds CAN make a very satisfying bang, and was routinely used in India to spook horses in an enemy cavalry charge. Shea scoped in on the Fusang formation. The Pom had done an adequate, not optimal, job of disruption. The cavalry formation had dispersed into panicky semi circle, arcing away from the explosion, but it was still under control. The Mongolians were good horsemen, which is why the Lord of Fusang bought their services in such vast numbers. These troops, at least, had been under fire before.
Shea made the see-saw Reload motion with his sword. Then he waved the sword in a broad circle, which meant, "choose your targets, fire at will up and down the line".
At the next "HUO!", the entire thinly dispersed line spat out rifle fire on the nose and flank of the Fusang vanguard. To their credit, they acted like soldiers, immediately breaking ranks and searching out cover. As the soldiers in the Fusang line anxiously scanned the ridge line for targets, Shea looked back at them and marveled, recalling General Feng's words from the saddle only hours before. "And thus, the small force pins down the larger force, allowing the army a chance to fight on ground of its own choosing." So it was proving to be. Another Pom Pom round tumbled end over end, landing with a crash about twenty feet from the Fusang positions-- harming nobody, but raising the excitement level a few notches. Shea wanted the Fusang army to stop in its tracks, and it had done so. Soon, orders would be flying down the Fusang column..
"What is the meaning of the delay? Report at once!" and
"Enemy column (which would be magnified in the telling, of course) sighted. Deploying to counterattack".
The chain of commands, orders, verifications and counter verifications would significantly slow things up while the main Progressive force won valuable time ahead to set up defensive positions. Shea nodded at Pan Bao Long.
"Time to go, I think. We've gained ourselves a half hour here. Let's get the men to the next ambush position."
Long signaled the ambush force by bugle. Silently, the men cleared their positions and sneaked down the reverse side of the hill where the horses were being held. The Pom Pom gun was already saddled up to the mule team. Shea waved his sword in the onward pose, and they were off again.
Title from "Dies Irae" by Willoughby Weaving, 1917