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HFQ Snippet 27[?]

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by runsforcelery   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 2:36 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

I am way, way behind on this for a lot of Real Life Issues. A lot of them have to do with production on HFQ, others are family related, then there was the week in Chattanooga for Liberty Con, and still others have to do with the fact that I've started work on the sequel to Shadow of Freedom. All of that is eating up time and, unfortunately that's not going to get a lot better anytime soon. However, I hope to make some amends by providing an even bigger snippet this time. In fact, it's long enough it's going to have to come in two installments to fit the character limit for posts.

Hope you enjoy it.

_____________________________________________________

* * * * * * * * * *

“. . . about the size of it, Sir,” Major Hahl concluded his report. Somehow, the major managed to look remarkably spruce and clean-shaven, despite his chapped face and hunger-sharpened cheekbones.

“Thank you, Lawrync,” Colonel Bahstyk Sahndyrs said, acknowledging yet another clearly and concisely delivered report on the state of his 4th Infantry Regiment. It was scarcely Hahl’s fault the report was so unpalatable, but that hadn’t made it any more palatable.

The colonel turned away from the map tacked to his wall and gazed out the window at the snow-covered, slovenly streets of Esthyr’s Abbey. The office in which he stood had been the dining room of one of the town’s more affluent farmers, and its windows looked past the glistening icicles, some thick as Sahndyrs’ wrist, which fringed the overhanging roof and across the aptly named Snow Dragon Square. Once upon a time, before the Sword, Snow Dragon had been one of Esthyr’s Abbey’s neatly maintained residential squares. Now its houses had been taken over to shelter Mother Church’s infantry, and those half-frozen soldiers had more pressing worries than keeping things neat and tidy.

The only good thing about Major Hahl’s report, Sahndyrs reflected, was that bad as things were, they were better than they had been. Only a drooling idiot could have argued the situation was good, yet the improvement was marked. He knew supplying Esthyr’s Abbey used up far more of Bishop Militant Bahrnabai precious snow lizards than the bishop militant would have preferred, and he sympathized with the Army of the Sylmahn’s commander. But that didn’t keep him from being grateful that at least nearly adequate supplies of food were finally reaching the town, and even more grateful for the fact that they’d received almost six hundred of the new St. Kylmahn rifles four five-days earlier than predicted. Of course, the rifles had been divided between St. Fraidyr and Bishop Zhaksyn’s Port Harbor Division, but there were some advantages to being the division’s senior colonel, and Bishop Qwentyn had seen fit to assign all of St. Fraidyr’s share to Sahndyrs’ regiment. The good news was that that had been enough to completely reequip Sahndyrs’ 4th Infantry; the bad news was that the only reason it had was that the regiment was at barely sixty percent strength.

From where he stood, looking across the square, the colonel could see the Church’s green and gold banner flying from the roof of the house which had been appropriated for Bishop Qwentyn’s quarters. Smoke plumed from both of the house’s chimneys, and as he watched, the door opened, and Father Vyncyt Zhakyby — St. Fraidyr Division’s intendant — stepped out of it. The Schuelerite upper-priest stood for a moment, clapping his gloved hands together against the day’s cold while he exchanged a few words with the shivering sentry on a steamy spurt of breath.

Sahndyrs had come to know the divisional intendant fairly well, and, to be honest, he didn’t much like him, because Father Vyncyt had a tendency to meddle in the management of the division’s regiments. Still, the Schuelerite possessed both a powerful faith and enormous energy, and however much he might interfere in purely military decisions, he was also prepared to share any privation the troops under his care had to endure. He’d restricted himself to the same austere diet and the same cobbled together grab bag of winter clothing, yet he’d sustained the pace of his visits, inspections, exhortations, and sermons at a level a peacetime priest would have found difficult to match. And unlike too many intendants and chaplains Sahndyrs could have named, he took time to actually talk to the men, to listen to their questions and concerns and explain things to them, not simply lecture them. Sahndyrs was prepared to overlook quite a lot of meddling as long as that was true.

He turned back from the window, and smiled at his executive officer.

“Yet another exciting day in Esthyr’s Abbey,” he said dryly, crossing to his desk and relishing the fire’s heat against his back as he seated himself. “Should I assume that with your customary efficiency you have that report about the men’s boots?”

“Yes, Sir.” The much younger Hahl inhaled deeply and rubbed a forefinger across his mustache. “I don’t think you’re going to like hearing it, though.”

“Lawrync, I haven’t liked hearing most of what I’ve heard since the frigging heretics blew up the canals. From your preface, however, I take it the Bishop Militant’s quartermasters don’t have any boots to send?”

Frostbite had become a deadly serious problem, inflicting more than half the division’s total casualties over the last two months, and it was worst of all for the men’s feet. Only a handful had been issued proper winter boots because there simply weren’t enough of them to go around. Most of the rest had wrapped what boots they did have in straw from the many abandoned barns and stables, bound in place with burlap or anything else they could find. Sahndyrs had been moving heaven and earth to get his freezing men better boots for more five-days than he liked to count, but it was like trying to empty Lake Pei with a bucket.

“They’ve found us a few pairs, Sir.” Hahl opened a folder and looked at the top sheet of notes inside it. “Unfortunately, I think the only reason they had them on hand was probably the fact that they’re too small to fit most of our men. According to Lieutenant Khaldwyl, we’ll be lucky if —”

* * * * * * * * * *

“The heliograph’s just delivered a message from Colonel Hyndryks, Sir,” Lieutenant Saith Zohryla announced.

Brigadier Sutyls and Baron Green Valley both looked up quickly from the map and their quiet discussion of the terrain between Esthyr’s Abbey and St. Zhana, 1st Corps’ next objective.

“The Colonel says Colonel Yarith is in position,” Sutyls’ aide told them, and Sutyls expression lightened. As Green Valley had expected, it had taken Yarith longer to reach his position than the brigadier had estimated, and Sutyls had tried to hide his unhappiness as he felt the precious winter daylight slipping away. “Colonel Yarith also reports he encountered a Temple Boy outpost where there wasn’t supposed to be one,” Zohryla continued. “He believes his men killed or captured the entire picket.”

Sutyls’ lips tightened once more at the word “believes,” but Green Valley only nodded. The SNARCs, had already told him about the collision between Yarith’s men and the “outpost.” In fact, the half-strength AOG platoon had been sent to inventory the contents of half a dozen abandoned barns and silos on the west side of the town which had been earmarked as future firewood. There’d been no way anyone could have predicted it would be dispatched on its mission, even with SNARC reconnaissance, but Yarith’s scouts had spotted it in time and swept up its hapless infantry before any of them could fire a shot or escape to sound a warning.

Brigadier Sutyls wasn’t privy to the information the SNARCs had reported to his superior, and it was obvious he was none too pleased by the encounter’s potential to warn Preskyt’s men there were enemies about. On the other hand, it wasn’t like they weren’t about to find out anyway.

“Very well, Saith,” he said after a moment. “Pass the execute order to Colonel Maiyrs, please.”

“Yes, Sir!”

Lieutenant Zohryla touched his chest in salute and strode purposefully towards the signals party, beckoning for one of the runners. A moment later, the runner departed on his skis, moving fast, and Sutyls turned back to Green Valley.

“I know it’s more efficient this way, My Lord,” he said with a wry smile, “but sometimes I sort of miss the days when I’d’ve been standing on a hilltop with a spyglass and personally organizing this entire attack!”

“If you think it’s bad for a brigadier, you should try it as a corps commander,” Green Valley agreed with feeling. “But it it seems to’ve worked out pretty well so far.”

“Langhorne send it keeps on working that way, Sir.”

“I won’t complain if he does,” Green Valley said with complete sincerity, despite his feelings where Eric Langhorne were concerned. “Not one bit.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“All right.”

Colonel Maiyrs refolded the note from Brigadier Sutyls and shoved it into his parka’s outer pocket, then put his gloves back on with slow deliberation. Once he had them adjusted properly, he turned to his own signal party.

“Fire the signal,” he said.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lieutenant Byrtrym Azkhat was the commanding officer of the recently formed 23rd Heavy Support Platoon, which was currently assigned to the 16th Infantry’s 1st Battalion. Now he looked up at one of his noncoms’ shout and saw the signal rocket soar upward on its trail of smoke. The flash when it burst was pale in the daylight, but it was bright enough, especially when Azkhat had been waiting so impatiently to see it.

Now!” he snapped.

* * * * * * * * * *

The new M97 mortars were big, ugly brutes with a barrel length of over five feet. Their explosive projectiles weighed thirty-three pounds, without propellant charge, and Azkhat’s gunners had cursed them with sweaty sincerity in training. There weren’t many of them, and Lieutenant Azkhat’s feelings had been mixed, to say the least, when his platoon had been ordered to turn in their three-inch mortars and reequip with them.

They had a range of four miles, however, and at the moment they were emplaced just over two miles from the center of Esthyr’s Abbey. There’d been ample time for Azkhat’s men to dismount the weapons from their sleds and prepare solid, properly leveled foundations on the eastern side of a long crest line, and the lieutenant and Sergeant Cahnyr Lynkyn, his senior squadron commander, had positioned the range and bearing stakes with finicky precision.

The crest of their concealing hill boasted a scattering of northern spine trees. The spear-shaped evergreens’ branches were covered with the sharp, unpleasant spines which gave them their name, but they were also sturdy, and Azkhat had sent Corporal Shawyn Portyr up the tallest of them. From there, he had an excellent view of the town and of the actual abbey beyond it, and he’d constructed a perch for himself and the map on which a gridded overlay had been superimposed. He’d long since located their initial targets’ positions from the map, and the rest of Azkhat’s organic artillery support party was prepared to pass his corrections to the mortars. The ASP’s position was also perfect — or nearly so — for receiving and passing on fire requests from other units.

The tubes themselves had been laid in on as close to the correct bearings and elevations as they could come without their own direct lines of sight. Now Sergeant Ymilahno Fahrya, the sergeant in charge of 3rd Squad, nodded sharply in response to Azkhat’s one-word command and chopped one hand at Corporal Mahthyw Khulpepur, the gun captain on 3rd Squad’s number one mortar.

Fire!” Khulpepur barked, and Private Rahdryk Nahkadahn who’d been waiting, eyes locked on Khulpepur, dropped the first bomb down the rifled tube. The M97 dispensed with the side caplock which had been a feature of the original M95. The ICA had discovered that the M95 had an unpleasant habit of “cooking off” when a freshly loaded propellant charge hit an ember left from the previous shot, so the Delthak Works had modified its design to combine loading and firing into a single, rapid motion. Now the priming cap fitted in the simple retaining clip at the end of the rod projecting from the bomb’s base hit the spike at the bottom of the tube. The impact detonated the cap, its flash ignited the powder-filled felt “doughnuts” fitted around the rod, and the mortar spat the bomb heavenward at over eight hundred feet per second.

* * * * * * * * * *

“— so Ustys is checking with the other regiments.” Major Hahl shrugged ever so slightly. “It’s not likely we’re going to find many people with feet that small, but Ustys will probably turn up at least a few.” The major smiled suddenly, although there was more than a hint of grimace in the expression. “I’m sure he’ll drive a hard bargain for them!”

Colonel Sahndyrs chuckled in agreement. Technically, Lieutenant Ustys Khaldwyl was assigned to Rhobair Duchairn’s quartermaster’s corps, but Sahndyrs and Hahl had more or less kidnapped him and put him to work for 4th Regiment the better part of two months ago. He made a far better supply officer than they’d had previously, and while they knew they’d be forced to admit his whereabouts and give him up eventually, he’d been a gift from the archangels in the meantime. Not only did he know how to work the official logistics system, but he was also an inspired scrounger and Sahndyrs’ fellow colonels had begun muttering darkly about his depredations.

“I’m sure the Lieutenant will do us proud,” the colonel said. “And, with that out of the way, I suppose it’s time for lunch. Who are we messing with today?”

“Captain Myrgyn, Sir,” Hahl replied, and Sahndyrs nodded. He made it a point to eat at least one meal a day with each of his company commanders in turn. The practice kept him abreast of their commands’ readiness and morale, as well as the state of their rations.

“In that case, we should probably get started,” he sighed, climbing out of his chair with an air of resignation. It was cold outside, and Captain Ahnthyny Myrgyn’s 3rd Company wasn’t what one might have called conveniently close to his own HQ. “At least —”

* * * * * * * * * *

Approximately three and a half seconds after Private Nahkadahn dropped it down the mortar’s muzzle, the thirty-three pound projectile came sizzling out of the clear winter’s sky with a warbling wail that ended in a clap of thunder.

* * * * * * * * * *

Colonel Sahndyrs whipped back towards the window as something exploded like Langhorne’s own Rakurai. A column of flame-shot smoke erupted from a roof on the far side of Bishop Qwentyn’s headquarters, and Sahndyrs’ eyes went wide with consternation as he tried to understand what had just happened.

* * * * * * * * * *

Shawyn Portyr peered through his double-glass, waiting . . . waiting . . . .

It was odd how slowly three and a half seconds could seem to drag at a time like this, a corner of his brain reflected, eyes glued to the green and gold flag which made such a handy reference point. The wait really wasn’t all that long, but it seemed far longer. There was always time to wonder if they’d gotten it right, how much it was going to miss by, whether or not —

The thunderbolt landed, and Portyr bared his teeth. The answers seemed to be yes, and not by much.

“Right fifty and down one hundred!” he called, never lowering his glasses, and heard the correction shouted back up in confirmation from his signalmen.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Right fifty and down a hundred,” Sergeant Fahrya shouted, and Corporal Khulpepur’s crew traversed the weapon slightly, using the ranging stakes, while the corporal himself turned the knob which adjusted its elevation.

“Right fifty, down one hundred, and . . . set!” he called back in confirmation, and Fahrya nodded.

“Fire!”

* * * * * * * * * *

Was that a shell? No. That’s ridiculous! How could it be —?

Doors were beginning to open around Snow Dragon Square. Even through the window glass, Colonel Sahndyrs could hear sentries shouting the alarm, and Bishop Qwentyn appeared suddenly on the steps of the house across from Sahndyrs. He must have been about to leave his headquarters for an inspection, Sahndyrs thought, because he already wore his heavy coat and gloves, and there hadn’t been time for him to don them in response to the explosion. But —

A second thunderbolt arrived from on high. It landed on the far side of the small, snow covered circle of ornamental trees and frozen flowerbeds at the center of the square, almost on top of one of the stone benches where the square’s residents were accustomed to sitting in warmer weather . . . and less than fifty feet from Bishop Qwentyn Preskyt.

The dining room window shattered on the wings of the explosion’s shockwave, icicles and diamond-shaped panes blowing in like glass ax blades. One of those blades opened Bahstyk Sahndyrs’ right cheek like a razor, but he hardly noticed. His ears were filled with thunder and Lawrync Hahl’s choked off cry of pain . . . and his mind was filled with the knowledge that he’d just become St. Fraidyr Division’s commanding officer.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Yes!” Corporal Portyr shouted. He couldn’t actually see down into Snow Dragon Square, even from his perch, but he could see well enough to know the second round had landed inside it. He looked down at the private at the foot of his tree. “Perfect. Tell the Lieutenant that was perfect!

Eleven more M97 mortars duplicated Corporal Khulpepur’s sight settings. Confirmations were called out. And then —

Fire!” Lieutenant Azhhat barked.

* * * * * * * * * *

Kynt Clareyk stood with his head cocked, listening to the mortars’ deep-throated coughs. His eyes were half closed, his expression intent, but he wasn’t simply listening to the mortars, whatever his officers might think. No, he was watching through the SNARCs as their bombs came hurtling down all across Esthyr’s Abbey, and unlike Corporal Portyr, he could see down into the town’s squares and alleys.

He’d personally selected Snow Dragon Square as the target for Ahskhat’s heavy support platoon. Officially, he’d chosen it because it was close to the center of town and an easily identifiable target. Both of those reasons were true, but he’d also chosen it because he knew where Preskyt was headquartered. Chaos and confusion in the enemy’s ranks were two of the deadliest weapons in any soldier’s arsenal, and if he could decapitate the entire garrison . . . .

A dozen thirty-three-pound projectiles scorched across the sky, wrapping Snow Dragon Square in explosions, blasting roofs off of houses, setting fires. They were filled only with gunpowder, not the anti-personnel rounds’ flesh-shredding shrapnel charges, but they scourged the town with fire and blast, and the garrison’s troops — totally surprised, with no warning there was an enemy within a hundred miles — reacted with all the confusion he could have asked for.

The explosions shattered roofs and walls, and men who’d been huddled around fireplaces, or mending worn equipment, or asleep in their blankets under heaps of straw stumbled to their feet as the arctic cold swept in on the heels of destruction. Not just in Snow Dragon Square, either. More mortars had been positioned all around the town’s eastern and southern perimeters. Most were M95s, but their lighter bombs were perfectly adequate, and there were a great many more of them. They targeted the outermost houses and barns which had been turned into barracks, directed by the ASPs embedded with the scout snipers and the forward companies of the 8th Brigade. Roofs disintegrated, glass and shutters blew outward as bombs exploded inside houses, stored hay — more precious than gold in the heart of a North Haven winter — caught fire, and cries of shock and screams of pain were everywhere. Men staggered out of the sudden inferno into the bitter cold, many only half-clothed, and a third of the M95s were firing antipersonnel bombs fused for airburst that sent cyclones of shrapnel through their bleeding ranks.

Each support platoon had its predesignated targets, and the mortar crews worked their way inward from the edges of town, methodically shattering its buildings. Despite the carnage, the garrison’s officers and noncoms managed to restore some sort of discipline and order. Leather-lunged sergeants bellowed orders, sending men into their assigned positions in the entrenchments which had been hacked out of the icy ground. Other sergeants and officers — the ones with the quickest minds, the ones who realized that even if they survived the attack they’d still have to face the winter — sent some of their men back to fight fires and rescue whatever of winter clothing and supplies they could snatch from the flames.

On the eastern side, the infantry racing for the forward trenches — most from St. Manthyr’s Division’s 3rd Regiment — came suddenly under accurate, heavy rifle fire. Two of Major Dyasaiyl’s scout sniper companies had infiltrated to within thirty yards of the trenches under cover of the streambed and the eye-blurring effect of their white snow smocks. They’d lain patiently in the snow for hours, waiting without a sound, until the instant the first mortars fired. Then they came to their feet behind a hailstorm of hand grenades, bayonets fixed on their whitewashed M96 rifles.

The entrenchments were more rudimentary than anything the ICA would have tolerated. First, because it had been so difficult to hack them out of the frozen ground, but second — and more damingly — because no one had really expected to need them before spring. There would be plenty of time to deepen the trenches, build the shallow parapets higher, before the heretics could possibly advance this far. More effort had been expended on the dugouts threaded along the trenches, but that was mainly because they also served as snugger, better insulated barracks for the infantry companies assigned to man them. It certainly hadn’t been because anyone anticipated an actual attack, and the startled sentries, minds numbed as much by routine as by cold and hunger, never had a chance. They were swept away in the first rush, before most of them even realized they were under attack, and the infantry platoons sheltering in those dugouts for warmth had only a very little more warning. They were just beginning to pour out of them when the scout snipers arrived among them in a blizzard of bullets and bayonets. Men who normally would have stood their ground in the face of the most furious assault gave way, succumbing to a panic born of surprise, not cowardice. Dozens fell as the scout snipers’ fire swept over them, others went down, screaming, as bayonets drove into them, and even as they died, the dreadful rain of mortar bombs doubled and redoubled in fury behind them.

The defenders fell back. They more than “fell back;” they routed. Many threw away the weapons which might have hindered their flight. Others fled back into the dugouts from which they’d come, only to discover the horrific depth of their error when scout snipers tossed grenades in behind them and turned their protection into charnel houses. And while one platoon in each scout sniper company dealt with that problem, the other three spread out along the captured trenches. They found firing positions among the defenders’ bodies, and most of them removed the outer gloves from their right hands, retaining only the knitted glove liners, to improve their ability to manipulate bolt handles and triggers.

Each man had seventy rounds — one ten-round magazine already locked into his rifle’s magazine well and six additional charged magazines in the ammunition pouches affixed to his web gear — and all along the captured trench line, scout snipers unbuttoned their ammo pouches and made sure those extra magazines were ready to hand. Behind them, the four infantry companies of Major Sethry Ahdyms’ 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, slogged forward to reinforce them. And behind 2nd Battalion, more support squads dashed forward from the stream bank dragging their sled-mounted weapons up to the far side of the entrenchments, where the parapet concealed them from the defenders, to provide the close fire support which was so fundamental a part of Charisian tactics.

By the time the first counterattacking companies of Colonel Sahndyr’s 4th Regiment emerged from the smoke, dust, and flying snow of the bombardment, the scout snipers were ready. For the first time in Safeholdian history, magazine-fed, bolt action rifles came into action on a field of battle, and the result was horrendous. The first savage volleys went home before the scout snipers’ targets realized what was happening, while they were still moving forward in column formation under their officers’ orders. They took a minute to grasp what was happening — to realize they were being killed by rifle bullets coming from in front of them rather than shrapnel and explosions from above — and they kept surging forward towards the illusory protection of the trenches they didn’t know had been occupied by their enemies.

At least a tenth of them were killed or wounded before they understood what was truly happening. Worse, casualties were disproportionately concentrated among their noncoms and junior officers. Despite that, the majority responded by going prone and spreading out to make themselves poorer targets, not by simply turning around and pelting back the way they’d come in terrified retreat. Many of them did begin working their way back, crawling on their bellies towards the inner of the town’s two lines of entrenchments, but 4th Regiment had been rearmed with St. Kylmahns. Two of its companies found cover in folds in the ground or behind sidewalks, planters, walls, trees — anything they could — and returned fire, trying desperately to cover their companions’ retreat.

Single-shot breech-loading weapons were far from equal to the Charisians’ M96s, but they were also far more effective than muzzleloaders would have been, and the scout snipers began taking casualties of their own, despite their protected positions. Still, they were taking many fewer casualties, even proportionately, and the mortars which had come up so close behind them began raining shrapnel on the defenders.

“Fall back! Fall back!

No one would ever know who first shouted that command, but it was the right order to give. The decimated Church riflemen staggered toward the rear, moving in short dashes between inadequate bits of cover. They’d never been trained in the movement and fire tactics the ICA routinely employed, but sheer, dogged stubbornness prevented their retreat from turning into a rout, despite the confusion, chaos, and casualties. Men stopped to fire back again and again, effectively covering their fellows’ movement even if no one had ever trained them to do so. The loss rate was unambiguously in the scout snipers’ favor, but it was lower than it might have been. Almost half of 4th Regiment’s two hundred riflemen made it back to the second trench line alive.

They flung themselves into position, looking around, realizing how many comrades they’d already lost, hearing the explosions and carnage ripping the town apart around them, and their eyes were wild. There were few cowards among them, but the certainty of eventual defeat had sunk its fangs deep into their bones, and they could see it in one anothers’ faces.

“Reload!” a surviving lieutenant was shouting. “Keep your heads down, reload, and fix bayonets! This time it’ll be their turn to come out in the open!”

The men of the Fourth obeyed; there was nothing else they could do.

Five minutes passed, then ten. Fifteen.

Cold gnawed into inadequately clothed bodies. The moans, whimpers, and sobs of the wounded faded quickly in the icy temperatures. The thunderous mortar bombardment went on – punctuated by a handful of much larger explosions when plunging bombs found the garrison’s ammunition dumps — then tapered off. The crackling roar as flames consumed the shelter which spelled survival was like a dozen blast furnaces, and the shrieks of men trapped inside the inferno were the voices of souls condemned to Shan-wei’s own hell.

Twenty minutes. Thirty . . . then another Charisian signal rocket soared into the heavens and, all the more terrible for the nerve-twisting wait, a hurricane of antipersonnel bombs shrieked down upon them. Billowing smoke and blazing wreckage interfered with the Charisian ASPs vision, but they knew approximately where the second line of entrenchments had been dug, and each bomb was an airburst, fused to disperse its shrapnel over a circle fifty yards in diameter. The only overhead protection was in the dugouts spaced along the trenches at regular intervals, and many of the defenders retreated into them . . . which was exactly what their enemies had wanted.

The Imperial Charisian Army’s signals capability was better than that of any other Safeholdian army, yet it remained almost entirely dependent upon visual signals. Whistles and bugles could be used to augment runners — and the new flare pistols just coming into service — at relatively short range. But audible signals were all too easily drowned out in the background roar of battle and runners could too easily become lost. Although Charisian supporting fire could be coordinated and controlled with a sophistication no one else could match, signals were more likely to go astray than to reach their intended recipients once smoke began to obscure the battlefield. Initial fire missions could be preplanned, but “on call” fire was much more difficult and far more dangerous, given the high possibility of friendly fire incidents.

No one was better aware of that than Kynt Clareyk, who’d spent months developing the ICA’s artillery doctrine. He’d stressed the need for concentration of fire, for exercising the tightest possible control yet recognizing that truly “tight” control would be impossible, and the artillerists had come up with several approaches to the problem. As much as possible, they released the mortars to specific rifle companies or even platoons, ready to put fire where it was requested by the units they were tasked to support but never firing in anyone else’s support. That might mean they spent a lot of time standing idle, but it also decreased the chance of dropping rounds on friendly troops they hadn’t known were there.

They’d also allowed for fire support at the battalion or regimental level, however, and devised standardized fire missions, like the one Major Sethry Ahdyms’ 2nd Battalion had just called for. And for those sorts of missions, all of the units’ mortars could be concentrated, with control temporarily reverting from the forward companies to higher authority. It could be difficult to get the word out when such a mission was required, and it relied more heavily on signal rockets than on runners, semaphores, and mirrors. It was also accepted that some of the support platoons who hadn’t gotten the word would be unable to contribute to the mission, but it could be done.

Fire hammered down on the defenders, designed not simply to kill them but to pin them, drive them to earth — or down into the dugouts — in self-preservation. And as the mortars flailed them, the companies detailed to lead the Charisian assault moved out of the original trench line. They stayed low, close to the ground, easing forward while the supporting fire kept the defenders’ down.

It was a timed fire concentration. There was too much chance a ceasefire signal from the assault troops might be missed by some or all of the gunners supporting them, so the mortars fired steadily for fifteen minutes. It was the infantry’s responsibility to be in position, waiting and ready when the fire mission ended as abruptly as a slammed door exactly fifteen minutes after it had begun.

The way 2nd Battalon was.

The handful of dazed, all too often wounded Church riflemen in the threshed and shattered trenches didn’t understand why the fire had stopped. They didn’t even realize for a second or two that it had.

But then a bugle blared, and suddenly white-smocked infantrymen were on their feet, erupting from the fogbanks of smoke like Shan-wei’s own demons behind a thicket of bayonets and the high, piercing howl the ICA had adopted from the Royal Charisian Marines.


.XI.
St. Kylmahn’s Foundry,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands.


“Thank you, Brother Lynkyn,” Rhobair Duchairn said, cupping the heavy mug of hot tea gratefully between his chilled palms.

It was early afternoon, but the gloomy winter day was already sliding into dark and it was snowing outside Lynkyn Fultyn’s office windows . . . again. A nasty wind gathered strength as it moaned about the eaves, too. It was entirely possible, the Church’s treasurer thought, that he might end up spending the night in one of St. Kylmahn’s guest chambers. It wouldn’t be the first time, and while they were a far cry from his sumptuous Temple suite, at least they were weather tight and warm. That mattered in Zion in March. In fact, given the weather, Major Phandys, the recently promoted commander of his personal bodyguard (and the Inquisition spy Zhaspahr Clyntahn had personally assigned to report his comings and goings), had probably made provisional arrangements to quarter his Guardsmen for the night already.

“You’re most welcome, Your Grace.” The bearded Chihirite lay brother set the teapot on the small spirit burner beside his desk, picked up his own tea mug, and sat back. “Forgive me,” he continued, “but I was under the impression Vicar Allayn would be joining us, as well.”

“As far as I know, he will be.” Duchairn sipped the hot tea, liberally sweetened with honey, appreciatively. “That was his intent this morning, at least. Considering what the weather seems intent on doing to us, however, I think we should probably accept that he may not make it after all.”

Fultyn nodded. Winters in Zion were like winters nowhere else in the civilized world. Oh, winters in northern Harchong were even worse, but North Harchong scarcely qualified as “the civilized world,” did it? It wasn’t at all uncommon for snow, ice, and wind to disrupt meeting schedules in Zion this time of year. What was uncommon was for a member of the vicarate to stray beyond the Temple’s mystically heated precincts to attend those meetings rather than summoning more lowly beings to the Temple. One could hardly expect such senior servants of God to expose themselves to the bitter cold, snow, and ice when they had so many more important and pressing matters to attend to.

Of course, the lay brother reflected, there were vicars, and then there were vicars. It was barely past midday, yet he knew St. Kylmahn’s Foundry was Vicar Rhobair’s second stop of the day, not the first. No, his first meeting, with Father Zytan Kwill, who administered the holy city’s homeless shelters, had begun half way across the city and no more than an hour past what passed for dawn in Zion, at Father Zytan’s lakefront office, where the wind was even icier than here. And knowing Vicar Rhobair, it had probably ended no more than an hour or so ago.

“Excuse me, Your Grace,” he said as that thought struck him, “but have you had lunch?”

“Lunch?” Duchairn looked up and arched his eyebrows. “Why, no, I haven’t.” He shrugged wryly. “My meeting with Father Zytan ran over, and I’m afraid we couldn’t stop along the way if I meant to get here on time.”

“I’d gladly have waited long enough for you to eat, Your Grace!” Fultyn gave the vicar a stern glance, then shook his head, reached up, and tugged the cord hanging from the ceiling. A bell jangled on the far side of his office door and, a moment later, that door popped open to admit his secretary, another Chihirite lay brother. The newcomer bent his head in a respectful bow to Duchairn, then looked at Fultyn.

“Yes, Brother Lynkyn?”

“His Grace hasn’t eaten since breakfast, Zhoel.What’s today’s lunch menu?”

“I’m afraid it’s only clam chowder,” Brother Zhoel replied apologetically (and possibly a little anxiously), with a sideways glance at Duchairn.

“Clam chowder would be perfect on a day like this one, Brother,” the vicar said, and smiled. “Especially if I could get a really big bowl of it.”

“I’m sure we could manage that, Your Grace!” Brother Zhoel assured him.

“And some fresh bread?” Duchairn injected an edge of wistful longing into his tone, and the secretrary smiled.

“They just finished baking, Your Grace. In fact, if you’d like, I could bring it to you in a bread bowl?”

“That would be marvelous, Brother. And if you could add a stein of Brother Lynkyn’s excellent beer to it, I’d be forever in your debt.”

“Of course, Your Grace!” Brother Zhoel bowed to him again, then looked at his own superior. “And for you, Brother?”

“Vicar Rhobair’s menu sounds just fine to me, too, Zhoel.”

“Very good.”

The secretary dipped his head to Fultyn, then disappeared, and Duchairn turned back to the foundry director.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by Steelpoodle   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:25 pm

Steelpoodle
Ensign

Posts: 10
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2014 5:45 pm

Thank you very much
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by SHV   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:27 pm

SHV
Lieutenant (Senior Grade)

Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:32 pm

All worries laid to rest!!! A new snippet!!! Thanks!!

Steve
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by Chev   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:40 pm

Chev
Lieutenant (Senior Grade)

Posts: 50
Joined: Sun Jul 03, 2011 2:10 pm
Location: CA, USA

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

I hope things are well with you & your family.
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by Keith_w   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:28 pm

Keith_w
Commodore

Posts: 964
Joined: Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:10 am
Location: Ontario, Canada

Thank you for the super-snippet. I am sure we are all very glad to hear that the delay was in a good cause, and not a personal health related issue.
--
A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by isaac_newton   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:35 pm

isaac_newton
Rear Admiral

Posts: 1095
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 5:37 am
Location: Brighton, UK

Chev wrote:Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

I hope things are well with you & your family.



Not yet read the snippets, but really glad to see that you are ok!! :-)
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by ksandgren   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:46 pm

ksandgren
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 342
Joined: Tue Jun 14, 2011 5:54 pm
Location: Los Angeles, California

Thanks for the snippet, rfc!

I was getting over the withdrawel symptoms, but will gladly go through that again if there is indeed another snippet at the end.
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by lyonheart   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:50 pm

lyonheart
Fleet Admiral

Posts: 4838
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:27 pm

Hello RFC!

Wow!

Thanks for every snippet!


I hope things are well with you & your family.[/quote] Ditto!

L
Any snippet or post from RFC is good if not great!
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by Hooked   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 5:48 pm

Hooked
Ensign

Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2014 12:57 pm

Thank you very much for the excellent snippet.
Like others, I was concerned that health issues with you and your family were a problem. So glad to hear that you are well and about.
I add my hope to others - continuing wellness for you & your family. :)
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Re: HFQ Snippet 27[?]
Post by RHWoodman   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 5:55 pm

RHWoodman
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 386
Joined: Tue Mar 30, 2010 10:06 am
Location: Columbus, Ohio USA

Thanks for this excellent snippet, RFC. :D
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