Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 24

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 24

* * * * * * * * * *

Zhan Fyrmahn watched the force he’d sent ahead make its cautious way up the trail.

He didn’t much like Lieutenant Zhak Tailyr. The man had all of a typical Lowlander’s contempt for someone like Fyrmahn and his fellow clansmen, and his finicky Border States accent grated on a man’s nerves. Fyrmahn was a loyal son of Mother Church, and he hated the heretical bastards who’d sold themselves to Shan-wei even more than the next man, but whenever he heard that accent, it was hard to forget the generations of mutual antagonism between Siddarmark and the Border States.

Despite that, Fyrmahn had been glad to see him when he arrived. Not because of any fondness he felt for Tailyr himself, but because the lieutenant was part of the three hundred-man force of volunteers who’d struggled forward from Westmarch to join Father Failyx. It would have been nice if they’d brought more food with them instead of becoming yet more hungry mouths who had to be fed somehow, but they’d complained much less about their short rations than he would have expected of soft, citified Lowlanders, and Tailyr was an experienced officer of the Temple Guard. The sort of drill-field tactics the Guard trained for had little place in the fluid, small-scale warfare of these rugged, heavily forested mountains, but they’d been a visible sign of Mother Church’s support. And they’d offered him a core of disciplined, well-armed infantry.

He’d brought fifty of them along just in case he needed them to break the resistance he’d anticipated at Brahdwyn’s Folly. Now he’d found another use for them, and they moved steadily upward along the trail behind the advanced patrol of twenty more of his clansmen.

Ghadwyn had taken point again, fifty yards in front of his companions. That was close enough they could provide covering fire with their arbalests but far enough ahead to trip any traps before they could close on the entire patrol, and the rest of his men. He didn’t like sending them ahead that way, but his mountaineers were obviously better than Tailyr’s Lowlanders at this sort of thing. Someone had to do it, and even if he’d —


Samyl Ghadwyn never heard the sound that went racketing and echoing about the valley, startling birds and wyverns into the sky with cries of alarm. The big, soft-nosed .48 caliber bullet was a bit smaller than the standard Charisian rifle round, but it slammed into the back of his neck with sufficient energy to half-decapitate him. It struck like a mushrooming hammer, from behind and above, hurling his corpse forward to land with one arm dangling over the dizzy drop to the frozen river below.

Fyrmahn jerked at the sharp, ear-splitting blast of sound. He’d been watching Ghadwyn, seen the way his cousin went down, recognized instant death when he saw it, even from this far away, and his head whipped up, eyes wide as they darted about, seeking the shot’s origin. None of his own men were armed with matchlocks, and he’d never fired one of the lowland weapons himself, but he recognized the sound of a shot when he heard one. Yet how could anyone have gotten close enough to score a kill-shot like that?! Fyrmahn might never actually have fired one, but he knew the things were notoriously inaccurate. He’d never heard of anyone hitting a man-sized target with one of them at more than a hundred yards or so, especially with that sort of pinpoint accuracy, and no one could have gotten that close to the trail without being spotted, could they? It was ridic —


He swore savagely as the man who’d fired stood up, sky lining himself without a qualm as he began reloading his weapon. He was at least four hundred yards higher up the mountainside above Ghadwyn’s corpse, and he moved unhurriedly, with the arrogant contempt of someone who knew he was far beyond any range at which his enemies could have returned fire.

Fyrmahn was too far away to make out any details, but the other man’s musket seemed too slender — and too long — for any matchlock. Yet it couldn’t be anything else, could it? He’d heard rumors, tall tales, stories about the heretics’ new, long-ranged muskets — “rifles,” they called them — and Father Failyx and Tailyr had admitted there might be some truth to those rumors. But the Schuelerite had promised all of them the heretics couldn’t have many of the new weapons, and any they might possess must all be back in Siddar City! That apostate traitor Stohnar would never have sent any of them off to the backwoods of Glacierheart when he knew he’d need every weapon he could lay hands on come the spring. And even if he’d been willing to send them, surely they couldn’t have gotten here this quickly through the iron heart of winter!

Yet even as he told himself that, he heard another thunderous crack from the snow and boulder fields above the Trace. Smoke spurted from the hidden rifleman’s position, twenty or thirty yards from the first shooter, and the rearmost of Fyrmahn’s clansmen stumbled forward, dropping his arbalest, as the heavy bullet smashed into his shoulder blades. He went down, writhing in the suddenly bloody snow, and then more rifles opened fire. Dozens of them, the sound of their thunder like fists through the thin air, even at this distance. He watched helplessly, teeth grinding in rage, as his entire patrol was massacred. Four of his kinsmen lived long enough to run, but they were easy targets on that narrow, icy trail. One of them got as much as thirty yards back down the path before a bullet found him, as well. None of the others got more than twenty feet.

Fyrmahn swore savagely, his fists clenched at his sides, watching the merely wounded twist in anguish or turn and begin crawling brokenly towards safety. He couldn’t hear the screams from here, and he was glad, but he didn’t have to hear them. He could see their agony . . . and the bullets those unseen rifles continued to fire, seeking them out one by one until all of them lay as still as Ghadwyn himself.

Tailyr’s detachment had frozen when the rifles opened fire. It was clear they’d been as stunned as Fyrmahn, but they reacted quickly, and they were wise enough to know pikemen and arbalesteers had no business charging riflemen along a narrow, slippery ribbon of ice and snow. They turned, instead, moving swiftly back down the trail, and Fyrmahn drew a deep, bitter breath of relief as they turned a bend, putting a solid shoulder of earth and stone between themselves and those accursed rifles.

At least they weren’t going to lose any more of their men, and he made himself a burning, hate-filled promise to repay Makhom and his Shan-wei worshiping bastards with interest for this day’s bloody work. They couldn’t have enough damned rifles to stand off the forces of God for long, and when the time finally came, Zhan Fyrmahn would take the time to teach them the cost of apostasy properly. Until then, though —

The end of the world cut him off in mid-thought.

He stumbled backward, flinging himself to the ground in shocked terror, as the ear-shattering explosion roared. No, not the explosion — it was an entire series of explosions, a chain of them roaring high up on the mountainside above the Trace, and he heard the high, distant screams of Tailyr’s men as they looked up into the maw of destruction.

It was a trap, Fyrmahn thought numbly, watching the entire side of a mountain erupt in red-and-black flowers of flying rock and snow. A long, cacophonous line of them, fifteen hundred yards and more in length. None of the charges were all that large individually, but there were a great many of them and they’d been placed very, very carefully. The sharp, echoing explosions folded together into a single, rolling clap of thunder . . . and then even the thunder disappeared into a far more terrifying sound as uncountable tons of snow and rock hammered down like Langhorne’s own Rakurai.

The avalanche devoured over a mile of mountain trail . . . and forty-eight more of Zhan Fyrmahn’s clansmen. Neither they, nor Lieutenant Zhak Tailyr, nor the body of a single one of his volunteers was ever found.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Think they got the message, Sir?” Trahskhat asked, watching the long, dark pall of windblown snow, rock, and dirt rising like a curtain above the Trace.

“Oh, I think they may have, Sailys,” Byrk Raimahn said softly. “I think they may have.”


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25 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 24

  1. SCC says:

    I’m guessing the way things where set up the TL’s where on a different mountain

  2. Mike says:

    As expected.

  3. ET1swaw says:

    An L ambush and an avalanche and they still might not have gotten the main bad guy!


    • JeffM says:

      Perhaps you weren’t reading the same snippet as I was. Right now, back at home, an ashen faced Radar O’Reilly is reading the dispatch. ..the plane spiraled into the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors.”

  4. Aaron says:

    big boom…… very nice.

  5. Nimitz13 says:

    Wheeeee! Rampant violence for the first time, and a bunch of bad guys died! The balance just tilted from the Hatfields to the McCoys. Bleek!

    Now… this ambush was either badly bungled or it accomplished exactly what it was designed to…

    If it was bungled, the riflemen opened fire WAY too soon. They might have been able to allow the enemy to advance until Frymahn himself followed, and they could have killed him and the rest of his troops with the avalanche. They left survivors, and they let out the secret that they have rifles, and the RANGE at which those rifles can kill.

    If the purpose was to kill a bunch of Temple Loyalists and leave survivors to spread the terrifying story of the reformist’s Shan-wei weapons, then their mission was accomplished. I still think they gave too much away, and they could have killed more bad guys, including Frymahn, who REALLY, REALLY needs killin’. For the next month or two, the TLs are going to be VERY reluctant to poke their noses into Glacierheart – at least using the Trace, and since the path may no longer exist, that may not be possible for quite a while.

    Bungled or not, they scared Frymahn badly, and killed 68 of his men and 50 TL volunteers. Not a bad day’s work. But they could have done more…

    Did we REALLY think Frymahn was going to die in the first scene where he’s introduced as the most evil SOB in Glacierheart? Of course not – the MWW never spends that much time developing a character only to kill him immediately. We’ll see this son of Shan-Wei again – probably better armed, with fanatical revenge burning even stronger in his heart, and an inquisitor fanning the flames.

    Looks like they both need killin’! Bleeeeeeek!

  6. RichardK says:

    I don’t look at it as an avalanche. I see the work of miners, used to working with gunpowder, creating a landslide (note the flying rocks). There just happened to be snow on the mountain side too.

  7. Nimitz13 says:

    One other observation – if THIS is what we can expect in the way of armaments for the Border States, the AoG is absolute TOAST as soon as they encounter the ICA, the ICM, or even the RSA who’ve been given hand-me-down flintlocks by the EoC. The MWW doesn’t write “military porn,” so the bad guys will clearly find ways to hurt the good guys, but at what cost?

    In a war of logistics, unless the CoGA and Magwair get some rifles and field artillery to the front soon, they won’t have many survivors to issue them to. Pikes and arbalests – and matchlocks just aren’t going to work when your opponent can kill you from far beyond your own range. The RSA wasn’t armed any better before the SoS, so the TL militia (which is how the MWW refers to the RSA troops who defected to the CoGA) will have similar arms. Corisande was better armed three years ago!

    Unless they come in million-man charges hoping the adage “quantity has a quality all its own,” this is going to be a very one-sided war when they meet modern EoC weapons.

    I just hope the ICA doesn’t run out of bullets before they run out of bad guys… Bleek!

    • ET1swaw says:

      Actually IMO the mismatch isn’t quite that bad.

      The bad guys quickly figured out the big weakness in a limited number of gunpowder weapons (especially muzzle-loading rifles – it takes TIME and a standing position IIRC to reload.
      If the pre-planned avalanche/rockslide had not wiped them out, their rapid response to the rifle fire might have inflicted heavy casualties (even carried the day) due to the manning mismatch.
      They of course have not yet been introduced to that rifleman’s friend, Mr. Ring Bayonet!!! Their only comparison completely blocks the firearm’s muzzle when seated. Even a ring bayonet does slow reloading a muzzzleloader though.
      The introduction of the Minie Ball was a greater change to the rate of fire than the lock differences (matchlock, flintlock, caplock)!!! And rifling may have extended range but still slowed reloading of muzzleloaders.

      And even the EoC has not produced an abundance of breechloaders yet!!! And IMO the chemical production of fuzes and primers is not truly yet in full-swing either. (I am curious if they go for a Sharps or a Henry basemodelor even something wierdtech like the AK4.7 in the 163x-verse)

      And the CoGA DOES have copies of EoC designs and sometimes even in production “quantity has a quality all its own”. And they do probably have more production capabilty than the EoC even with the EXTREME individual productivity mismatchs.


      • Cobbler says:

        Rate of fire matters.

        I’ve never understood why they didn’t mount bayonets with plenty of finger room while using a ramrod. Surely the extra metal involved in a deeper mount is trivial compared to the cost of a battle lost.

        • Doug Lampert says:

          The further you offset the bayonette the weaker the mounting is. That’s part of why plug bayonettes remained standard for a couple of hundred years. The idea of mounting it so it doesn’t interfere with the gun is fairly obvious, and there are several ways to rig it, but they’re all weaker than a plug bayonette, which if you actually expect to NEED a junior grade pike is important.

          If anyone on the field is wearing armor (and armor hasn’t gone out on Safehold yet) then a strong mounting is very important. A bayonette that will PREDICTABLY bend back when it strikes the armor of a charging man or horse fails at the basic purpose of a bayonette.

          The ring bayonette was never intended to be mounted on a muzzel loader while you reloaded at all, the ring gave you one last shot at point blank range.

  8. Nimitz13 says:

    I stand corrected. The ambush wasn’t as badly bungled as I first suspected, given this quote from the prior snippet: “and that other bunch back there isn’t moving at all. I don’t think it’s going to, either — not until Fyrmahn gets word back from the leaders that the coast is clear… I wish we had Fyrmahn farther up the trail, but we never expected to get all of them. Besides, we need someone to take our message back to our good friend Father Failyx, don’t we?”

    I STILL think they should have waited longer to open fire. Note that 48 of Frymahn’s kinsmen who were hanging back with him were killed. He didn’t have to advance much further to be in the kill zone.

    The MWW wants him as a bad guy in the future, which is why we see this result. It appears the good guys got as much as they expected – but they came SO close! Bleek!

  9. Jeff Ehlers says:

    I actually feel a little sorry for the Temple Loyalists here. It’s not their fault that the CoGA is deliberately and intentionally lying to them in order to exploit their faith. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about that.

    • Shade says:

      I occasionally ‘feel bad’ for the TLs that are overall decent people, but just sadly ignorant and brainwashed.

      Fahrman and his clan of murdering bastards however–NOT A CHANCE. He’s just using the jihad as window-dressing to something that he clearly thinks should have happened generations ago (except that it would have taken away from his own pleasure and satisfaction). The religious aspect is just a front for him, and a thin one at that.

  10. robert says:

    I wonder if Raimahn & Co. will stay put or if they will go elsewhere now that the Trace is effectively closed. Seems like they came a long way with much difficulty just to “deliver a message.” Will they attack/go on the offensive even though the Trace is closed?

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      Unless they have another mission in the area to carry out, it doesn’t make sense to stay there. They might go on the offensive, but they have to avoid overtaxing their supply lines.

      • Robert H. Woodman says:

        I meant to say “they might go on the offensive in another location in Glacierheart”. I’m sure there are plenty of TLs who need to be killed or otherwise persuaded to see the error of their ways.

  11. BobG says:

    It was a trap, Fyrmahn thought numbly, watching the entire side of a mountain erupt in red-and-black flowers of flying rock and snow. A long, cacophonous line of them, fifteen hundred yards and more in length. None of the charges were all that large individually, but there were a great many of them and they’d been placed very, very carefully. The sharp, echoing explosions folded together into a single, rolling clap of thunder . . . and then even the thunder disappeared into a far more terrifying sound as uncountable tons of snow and rock hammered down like Langhorne’s own Rakurai.

    I do have a problem with a line of explosives 1500 yards long. Even if that is a 20 lb charge every 100 yards, that is still one and a half tons of explosives. Seems like a lot for a group of troops at the long end of a supply line. OTOH, Frymahn and his people were a very high priority target, and this does, as suggested, send a message.

    Also, according to my brief research, their fuse should burn no faster than 100 yards/second, taking 15 to 45 seconds to detonate all the charges.

    He shrugged again, and Fyrmahn scowled, rubbing his frost-burned cheeks while he stared along the Trace. The trail snaked along its western side, climbing steadily for the next mile or so, and the small Silver Rock River was a solid, gray-green line of merciless ice four hundred feet below his present perch. The river’s ice was no harder than his eyes, though, and no more merciless, as he considered the other man’s report.

    I have to assume that anyone in the trace died. That left only Frymahn and a few others, if any. However, he was close enough to be seen by the riflemen, so it is at least possible he died. If not, he will probably try to lead the remaining 250 men somehow, but it is also possible that without a viable way to reach the Reformists, the “volunteers” may look for a better opportunity and leave him.

    • Robert Westfall says:

      You are over estimating the size of the charges. I have watch 20 pound charges of home made powder fired from half a mile. I felt that I was too close. A couple a pounds each in a shell every 100 yards would work well. Also you are assuming that the quickmatch is shot in line. Instead assume a central firing point fanning out to all the charges. The quickmatch will take more powder than the bursting charges, but will also contribute to the over all blast.


  12. Robert H. Woodman says:

    How do you suppose Father Failyx is going to react to this?

    • Doubting Thomas says:


    • JeffM says:

      That’s pretty simple. The only thing to “react” to is that 118 men don’t return. So he’ll send his other 250 men to check it out–led by whatever of the local yokels are left.

      Umm…while eating his FULL ration of food, and thanking Langhorne that there is now more to go around for the poor starving sinners around him.

      All that we’re really hearing here is that the TL won’t be coming through Glacierheart.

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