PART 3(a)Rembrandt's First Battle
The scouts came rushing back, frantic, and begged an audience with Rembrandt. What they had to say would not please him, but they had to report it immediately as otherwise the whole enterprise could be ruined before it had even begun.
“I beg your leave, captain sir, but you must hear us, and now” shouted the foremost man. “There’s enemies approaching - monstrous, unholy creatures.”
Rembrandt burst out of the pavilion (so recently erected it was still incomplete).
“What say you?” he demanded.
“Demons, sir captain, demons of chaos all bloodied and foul,” the man answered, pointing over his shoulder at the dunes. “Just beyond that ridge, and coming this way. An army of them, moving deathly quiet and terrifying to behold. If I hadn’t seen ‘em with me own eyes then I wouldn’t have believed …”
Rembrandt had stopped listening and begun shouting for his officers.
Blood and thunder, he thought, but here is a test indeed. Only half of his force had disembarked, and here the war was coming to him right now. There were no horses either, for the fluyts carrying them were lost at sea and yet to rejoin the fleet.
“To arms,” he cried, “all you you. And make haste. Ready every man upon the shore, and send signals for the rest to disembark as soon as the boats get back to the ships.”
He turned to the famous Tilean officer by his side,
“Master Ricco, let us see how fast your men can earn their gold. Muster them immediately, array them for war." He now addressed the other officers rushing up to him, "And the rest of you, all of you, put your companies into order with all haste.”
As the officers turned to leave, his old friend Roderick, the ancient soldier who had served his father and his grandfather, finally came. As field marshall, it was his job to array the army into a battle line. Rembrandt looked at him stoically, and spoke more quietly,
“Roderick, make a line of them as quick as you can. Nothing fancy, mind, there’s no time for that. I shall go see where and what we are to fight.”
With that Rembrandt, silently cursing the masters of the lost ships with the war horses, ran through the sand. Adding to his list of complaints he now cursed the weight of his armour and the softness of the ground underfoot.
Upon cresting the nearest dune, he saw open ground between him and the enemy. Sand and more sand, as if the beach had refused to yield to firmer ground, broken only by a copse of greenery around a pool of water and what looked like some ruins.
Beyond this he espied the foe – they were so close he needed no perspective glass. The scouting seamen were right, it was an army of monsters plucked from a nightmare and thrown into the mortal world. The bright sun and clear blue sky lit them up with terrible clarity.
In their midst was a monstrous giant demon, a huge bloated mass of rotting flesh. Upon his right there were two huge regiments of ferocious, blood coloured devils, and to his left two further companies of hideously pink succubi. Lurking behind were some other foul creatures that Rembrandt could not bring himself to scrutinise.
Besides, he hadn’t time. He turned to see his bodyguards rushing up from behind, every one of their faces angry at his dash forward. But he knew they would not mention it.
“Right then, fellows, it’s back we go!” he commanded them, sounding almost cheerful.
Let them think I am not afraid, he thought. Let them see me as keen, busy, brave – but not scared.
As he ran on they spun and chased after him once more.
Already old Roderick had begun to ready a line for battle. Luckily, the artillery had been dragged forward to the dunes over an hour ago, so that it only had to be rolled down a little way on the other side, allowing the regiments marching from the beach to join them as one line in time to present a unified front to the enemy.
Two cannons made up the far left wing, with a company of marine sharp shooters utilising swivel guns between them (‘murderers’ the sailors liked to call them). The two wizards, but apprentices truthfully, stood near the guns, each clutching several rolls of scrolls. In the centre were the four main regiments – 30 swordsmen, 25 of Ricco’s pikemen, the halberdiers and the free company of seamen. Two detachments of handgunners stood ahead of this mass of foot soldiers. No doubt Roderick thought that a hail or two of lead might soften even demons up!
To the right of the centre was the helblaster. Rembrandt almost laughed at the thought this provoked: let it blast them back to whatever hell they came from.
The far right, where Roderick would surely have preferred to put several bodies of horse soldiers, stood only two companies of marines. First the ‘Blades’, then finally the Rangers. It wasn’t much, but if anyone could hold their own against a monstrous foe, Rembrandt believed the leather skinned hard-men in the company of Rangers could do it.
Rembrandt ran to join the halberdiers, who cheered him heartily as he arrived. They were in good spirits, and well they might be, pondered the young captain, for they had yet to see clearly what they were about to fight.
The two wizards, sensing that the enemies magic was not utterly overwhelming, decided as one that they would not merely nurse their scrolls and try to deflect the power of the demons’ magic, but that they would employ some offensive magic of their own. They were nimble eyed enough to see also that then enemy had no missile weapons. Thus they moved ahead of the line in order that their fire spells might reach the foe.
Suddenly, as if to announce that the battle had truly begun, the two cannons opened up at the mighty, green demon in the midst of the horde. Both balls hit, but one seemed to pass right through the demon. (5 wounds from the unsaved one!)
Visibly and audibly shocked by the sight of the enemy, the whole rear line moved backwards a few paces – all four regiments. Rembrandt thought it best not to chide them, but instead to encourage them with the pretence that he had ordered it.
“Aye,” he cried. “That’s better – like one body. Watch your dressings, stand straight in your ranks and files. Steady … steady.”
Magical force began to emanate from the hellish legion, as every creature amongst them advanced as fast as they could. All moved quicker than men could do, and all the men in the front lines noticed that fact. Throats tightened, and nervous hands clutched tighter at the hafts of their weapons.
When the artillery fired a second time their easy skill from years of experience was clear. Once again the huge demon’s flesh swallowed two more cannon balls. But this time, as the monster had adjusted to their nature, both passed through him – the damage they did only visible for a brief moment before the beast’s flesh knitted itself back together and left nought but another scar to add to the thousands already there. Even the Helblaster, adding a further dozen 1 lb shots to the ‘damage’, seemed to do no extra harm. Every artillery man in the line shuddered, and they glanced as if to say “Can this enemy even be killed?”
On the far right wing, the Rangers fired bravely at the two fiends of Slaanesh, slaying one. But the survivor, a twisted beast bearing horns, claws, talons and a stinging tail, came on and smashed into them. Rembrandt’s confidence in the Rangers proved well founded. They would fight on for some time, holding this beast in place. They would wound it, but the beast refused to yield it’s grip on the mortal realm. Two by two it slayed them, slowly grinding them down.
In the centre, unobscured by a small dune as were the foul daemonettes of Slaanesh advancing to their left, the two regiments of Khornate demons (Bloodletters to give them the name a scholarly demonologist would accord them) advanced straight at the Empire’s centre.
More magic came from the demons, and once more the two wizards used their prepared scrolls to disperse the arcane winds that carried it. One force the wizards could not hope to stop, however, was the sheer terror the sight of such monstrosities caused in men. As the great Demon of Nurgle approached ever closer, the free-company of seamen lost their nerve. Once one broke and ran, the others tumbled after him. Roderick’s line now had a hole in it, towards which shambled the giant demon, cackling and gurgling horrendously as it moved.
Suddenly some demonic magic broke through – a strange lilting melody was heard, otherworldly, alluring, fascinating. One of the handgunner detachments, unable to get the sound out of their heads, suddenly gave up re-loading their pieces and charged insanely at the source of the sound.
Rembrandt could not believe what he saw! They were surely doomed, and they would have contributed much more effectively had they had the sense to fire instead of running at the foe. Hoping to put things right, he led his Halberdiers into the gap, ready to tackle the demons as they surely broke through the thin line of handgunners.