The Heretic – Snippet 41
With a shout, the Blaskoye emerged en masse from the buildings and ran across the small fence that demarcated the village boundary. Most were on dontback. They charged into the open field and, at shouted order, a group of perhaps fifty riders wheeled to guard their rear.
I’ve never seen Blaskoye so disciplined, Abel thought. Who are those guys?
The remainder made for the hill, seemingly zeroing in on the knoll as a rallying point.
They were in for a surprise.
“Hold,” he shouted down the line. “Hold for the girls!”
And they did hold, this time. Even Hornburg. The Militia waited, grim-faced, as the Blaskoye drew nearer and nearer.
Into musket range. Past it.
Was she going to fire? Abel whirled, trying to pick out Mahaut the mass of women on the hillside, but could not. They all had weapons at ready, however, at least all of them who were armed with muskets.
Another second, another.
Yes, he thought. That is my range, not theirs. She does right to wait.
And then the muskets behind him crackled to life and Abel whirled to look upon the damage. Blaskoye fell from saddles, donts screamed and whirled. The charge reached the first of the upslope. Slowed.
Some raised carbines or even bows, and fired at Abel’s lines.
The arrows fell short. The minié balls did not. Several men on Abel’s line crumpled, fell. First blood. Will they break for cover or hold firm?
And could Mahaut get another round into the Redlanders? Had she drilled her women that well?
He got his answer with another crackle of fire, this time more ragged, not as loud —
— but adequate to fell several more riders.
It’s time, lad.
He raised an arm. “Fire!” he shouted, and brought it down.
The massed line responded. Not quickly, not half as smoothly as the well-drilled women’s auxiliary had, but adequately. A plume of smoke traveled down the line as the order to fire seemed to be communicated as if by word of mouth.
Sergeants shouted their order to reload, but this was hardly necessary, as the men quickly began to do so as soon as they were able.
Still the Blaskoye came on, their donts raise on their hind feet now, huffing up the hill toward the line, and now not twenty paces away.
Some spooked and raised their muskets with ramrod still in the end. Fired ball and rod both to no effect.
Some broke and ran.
Most completed the reload, brought rifles back to bear —
When a cloud of arrows rained down on the advancing Blaskoye.
The women had changed weaponry.
This was too much. The charge faltered, broke. The donts turned around in general retreat down the hillside.
But there was Blaskoye shouts of muster. They were not in retreat, but had merely pulled back to regroup, have another go.
Abel couldn’t make out what they were doing exactly, could only see a whirlwind of donts and men within a cloud of spent powder and kicked-up dust. But he could see beyond the Blaskoye, to the village itself.
And that was when he saw Joab’s Regulars burst forth from the village and attack the Blaskoye rear.
The rearguard of the Blaskoye that had been left behind fired and fought wildly, but many times their number streamed past and overran them.
The Blaskoye whirled blindly amid more dust, chuffed barley, and powder clouds.
Abel unconsciously and from long practice raised the scarf around his neck to cover his mouth and nose. He then reached backward, all without taking his eyes from what was happening below, and slid his carbine from its holster. He raised the gun into the air.
“Charge!” Abel shouted. He lowered the carbine and kicked his mount to action, downward, toward the cloud of screaming, bellowing donts and men.
Down the hillside they went, with Abel and the other dont riders far in the vanguard. In fact, too much. He slowed his mount, allowing the foot soldiers to catch up behind him — not for support, but so that they could take full advantage of any opening he made in the Blaskoye.
Then he entered the dust-and-powder cloud and into mayhem. Pieces of the enemy. An arm there, the dull glint of a musket there. The white and terrified eye of a dont, a snot-streaming muzzle.
He struggled to find a target that would hold still long enough. Then the cloud parted for a moment, and a large Blaskoye warrior was suddenly revealed. Black robes, red sash around the waist. Legs gripping the flanks of the dont tightly, expertly, for the Blaskoye, unlike the people of the Land, did not use stirrups on their saddles.
The Redlander seemed almost. . .vulnerable, so revealed. But then he started to raise his weapon, a wicked looking bow, already nocked with arrow.
Abel fired the carbine.
The man flinched, caught in the chest. He bow fired — directly into the neck of his mount. Purple-brown blood erupted. The beast, enraged by the arrow, reared, spun — then charged off into the dust. Had he made a kill? There was no way to know.
He drew his blunderbuss pistol.
A shot streaked nearby, whistling death.
The one you hear —
But Abel couldn’t complete the thought. A scream, and behind him a Blaskoye with a raised scimitar charging toward him. It was all Abel could do to get the dragon aimed and fire. The other fell backward in the saddle as if he’d been pushed on the chest, then slid off the rear of his beast as if he’d merely fallen asleep.
Now a roar from behind, which it took Abel a moment to realize was the sound of his own charging men. They swarmed around him. After a moment, he pushed his beast forward, toward the village. Back through the front of his lines again and —
Out of the swirling dust and smoke.
The remainder of the Blaskoye were caught in the pincer of the Regulars and the Militia. They rode about in confusion, terror, rage.
And entirely in vain.
Another reload and he was ready, but then the shouting, manic voice of Joab screamed an order. The order taken up by his officers, passed along.
Abel realized that Joab’s men had been about to shoot directly into his, Abel’s, advancing line.
“Bayonets!” he heard his father shout. “Forward!”
The Regulars, drilled daily on such orders, obeyed without hesitation, moving at an inexorable slow trot.
His own men were still running pell-mell. But it didn’t matter now. The Blaskoye were caught, surrounded. Hornburg and his dont riders struck, along with Joab’s cavalry. Then the foot soldiers closed in.
It was bloody. It was hard-fought.
And within half an hour, it was over. All the Blaskoye were either dead or unhorsed and captured.