The archers on the walls launched a dense volley of flaming arrows at the gargoyles overhead, turning them into plummeting pincushions. Those that didn't find purchase in the air became plunging fire into the swarm of Scourge far out on the beach.
Barnaby was exhausted. This was infinitely more exciting than formation marching, but running supplies was boring. Down on the beach, the riflemen launched a shredding volley of round shot to cover the withdrawing footmen. He had always thought of footmen battles as the stoic 'fight to the last man' types. Against Scourge, he'd been told, a fighting withdrawl was a common tactic. Batter them as long as possible to thin their numbers. Once enough damage was done, the footmen would about-turn and march back through the battered waves. Since they were easy enough to kill and never routed, the fighting was long and tiresome, but resulted in few casualties in the end.
He had no part in the good fight. For now, he was running supplies.
Footmen were forming up on the bridge just outside the Keeps main gate while a few were walking or being dragged to the priests that lay inside the walls. Above them on the ramparts, riflemen launched volleys from their flintlock rifles into the crowds and manning the walls were over a dozen 24 pounders hammering away at will. Some duelled the Scourge catapaults and meat wagons whilst others shredded dozens of undead per round with deadly canister shot. Overhead, gargoyles swooped in to rain death down, but were always repelled by the heavier fire of bows and flintlocks.
Barnaby made it back to the quartermaster with Redfield (Jon, he tried to think of him as Recruit Redfield in uniform), Briston and Wilkins, panting in his plate armor. Already there was Marcus and four others.
"--that and that. Got it?!" the quartermaster barked, noticing the four other recruits show up. "You four! Help these five haul this shit up to the north-west tower! MOVE!"
There was a horse-drawn wagon without the horses, carrying over eighty cannonballs and as many wax coated cartridge cases, two barrels and three crates of arrows. They began to divide the work amongst themselves. Four men took the wagon, the massive Briston being one of course while Barnaby took a barrel. The four other recruits took a crate or barrel each and they began to labour to the tower.
"Why can't we have a damn fight?!" Barnaby was complaining. "Let the damn civilians haul this shit!"
"Fuck this." Jon said. "I'm going to get lost on the way back and find myself in a company for the counterattack!"
"Ha! I might just join ya!"
All nine men laughed and nodded in agreement. To hell with running arrows - the fight was out there and they wanted to be part of it. Barnaby rolled his barrel along the dirt, stopping halfway to trade out with one of the wagon crew to give him a rest. Marcus did the same with his barrel, letting Recruit Anthony - a gruff thirty-eight year old workhorse of a man - rest on the barrel.
Reaching the tower was the easy part. The tower itself was over fifty feet of timber and masonry. There was a pulley that some men began unloading the cannonballs onto, but the other items were portable enough to climb the winding internal staircase with. Easier said than done.
Briston took an arrow-crate and dashed up the stairs with the other two, while Barnaby took his barrel back and pushed it up the stairs with the old man. It was painstaking, and the other guys bar Briston who ran ahead bounded back down to get the barrel quickly enough. Every conceivable thought about either killing something, giving up or laying down and dying crossed his mind, but ultimately the stairs stopped eventually and he almost collapsed. Only the sound of a 24 pounder got him back up.
Anthony ran to help Briston on the pulley while Barnaby looked around. There were archers and cannoneers up here.
"Pitch!" he shouted. "Pitch here!"
An incoming stone caused everyone to take cover but the thing fell short, glancing off the stonework a few feet beneath the landing.
"Bring it here!" someone shouted. "We're low!"
Barnaby spied a team archers, a barrel and a torch. They were dipping deep into the barrel to coat their arrowheads, before gliding them over the torch to give it flame. After a few seconds, a smartly-dressed NCO gave the order to loose, and a flaming volley soared up at the gargoyles above. Without thinking, he began rolling the barrel over to the group and with a grunt, lifted it back upright. All that remained was tearing the lid off and for good measure, kicking the old barrel off the edge of the platform far into the water below.
"Excellent!" the same archer - a Private - exclaimed with a smile as he became the first man to dip his arrowhead into the new barrel. "Can't go in proper without this!"
"Enjoy!" Barnaby heard himself reply as he turned and dashed over to Briston and Anthony, grabbing some of the pulley to help. They were almost at the top already, and while they used their might to hold the platform, Barnaby reached out to pull it in. He caught a dizzying sight of the ground as he reached out and let out a dazed laugh as they began moving cartridge and cannonball to the artillery pieces.
As he dropped a half dozen cartridges at one of the cannons, the other barrel emerged on the landing. The haulers - Jon was one of them - looked as wrecked as he from the climb.
"Where to?!" Marcus asked.
"Go unpack that!" Barnaby shouted over a firing cannon, pointing to the Briston, Anthony and the pulley. He took the barrel himself and began rolling it around to another group of archers.
Everyone dived for cover as a catapault missile smashed into one of the thick, wooden columns that held the ceiling up, bounced off the landing and sailed into the town, its momentum largely spent. The column had exploded into a thousand splinters from the force, but no one was injured. Barnaby struggled to get back up, too fatigued to even get to his knees. He could see some of the archers getting back up, a few taking cover as they composed themselves again.
A second shot hit the masonry below them, rocking the tower's inhabitants. Barnaby saw, again, the same Private reaching for his bow at the ledge before it skipped from the second impact and teetered over the ledge into oblivion. He swore and got to his feet.
It was pure chaos. Soldiers was shouting different orders at different groups while some had no idea what to do. The cannoneers were screaming for someone to help maneouvre the cannon to another firing position while the archers demanded arrows and pitch. The recruits on the pulley contented themselves to lowering the pulley out of confusion. Barnaby raced to the cannoneer and began exerting himself on the limber. He pulled, turned, pushed, turned again and pushed again to get the mighty 24 pounder in its new spot.
One of the privates had taken over his job of hauling the second barrel. Only when he dropped it amongst his comrades and shouted "Make it count!" did he realize it was the same one that lost his bow, trying to make himself useful.
"Gate cannons are unmanned!" he shouted at the cannoneers. An artillery sergeant ran to his side and peered down at the gate. There was a sea of Scourge all the way to the gate, but there were no bodies. The gunners had broken and fled and the footmen clearly had no more reason to hold the bridge.
"Fuck!" the sergeant roared and turned to his cannoneers. "You're in charge! Solid shot at the enemy artillery! You, you and two of you!" he pointed to the private, Barnaby and his four fellow recruits up on the landing. "Come with me!"
The others didn't hear it, so Barnaby raced over to grab them.
"Oi!" he barked. "You two come with me! Briston and Morrison, keep working the pulley here!"
"What the fuck?" Morrison started with his whiny, almost-goblin-accented voice. "Since when do we--"
"THAT'S AN ORDER!" the sergeant boomed behind them. The archer was speaking to his NCO who in turn directed a Private to help man the cannon the sergeant had departed from. Barnaby, Briston, Jon, the archer and the artillery sergeant all bounded down the stairs. Outside they heard another rock smack and glance off the tower and some light crumbling in its wake. The recruits were exhausted and struggled to keep up with the other two. They crossed over the ship, hung a right and came up behind a rag-tag rank of troops.
The rank covered end-to-end to keep the Scourge at bay, a mix of Recruits and full Privates hacking and slashing at the ghouls. Up at the front was a gleaming, yet blood-splattered Knight-Captain slashing from atop a warhorse. They gradually advanced through sheer attrition, the occasional soldier emerging from the rear rank with some kind of injury to be seen to. The five of them slowly followed for a minute, stepping over heaped piles of undead. A single private with his throat ripped out added to the dead as they walked.
"Hurry up!" the sergeant shouted. He was clearly pissed off. Barnaby looked around.
The soldiers above the gate were still firing unopposed. If he could...
Barnaby dashed up towards the keep and passed a few cannons to get to the ramparts, distantly aware the sergeant was shouting for him to come back and the other three simply watched him, confused. He had to clamber a little, but eventually made it to the humans and dwarves directly above the gate.
"Oi!" he shouted at a dwarven rifleman and pointed at the pitch. "I need that!"
"Talk ter him!" he pointed to a corporal who was in the middle of aiming a volley at the gargoyles. Barnaby promptly chided himself for bothering a rifleman for something that belonged to the archers.
"Oi!" he shouted at the archer corporal. "I need your pitch!"
"What for?!" he demanded.
"To make our counterattack go faster!"
The corporal was too busy readying another volley to notice he was being addressed by a Recruit and besides, there was a barrel to spare. "Whatever, just don't waste it!"
Barnaby muscled a barrel to the edge of the ramparts, dipped an arrow in it, lit it on a nearby torch and fed it into the barrel. The whole barrel ignited with a whoosh and with what power he could muster, he kicked it off the ramparts into the bottlenecked ghouls. The soldiers all saw this and began laughing. Cheers of amusement and shouts of encouragement echoed as Barnaby began to climb back down. At least two score of the huddled undead had caught fire and some spread the fire around as they kept trying to mindlessly cram forward to the melee.
By the time he reached the group again, the Company had covered the new vacuum and pushed back onto the bridge, tearing off each others cloaks and stamping or kicking aside roasting Scourge to avoid burning themselves. The artillery sergeant just kept moving without a word of approval nor reprisal. When they reached the cannons, they took the leftmost one and checked if it was loaded. It wasn't.
"Solid shot!" he shouted. "Load!"
Barnaby had no idea how to load a cannon, but the sergeant gave him good enough directions. Anthony rammed the bore brush in and twisted it out to clean some gunk out. Barnaby followed this by placing the cartridge inside.
"NOT THAT WAY!" the sergeant boomed. "SEAMS TO THE SIDE!"
Barnaby complied and the archer followed this with a solid 24 pound cannonball. Jon stood at a crank and the sergeant was standing on top of a pile of stone blocks with a spyglass.
"Oi! Recruit!" he shouted. "Go three degrees up!"
Jon turned the crank while the sergeant directed the others to steer the cannon a fraction to the left. The sergeant did a final quick check of everything and without warning, struck the fuse with the flat of his sword. The cannon launched back over ten feet on its limber while the cannonball sailed out over the beach but came up short, caused a distant necromancer to vanish in a plume of blood mist and bounced high over their target - an enemy meat wagon.
The footmen were now formed up at the mouth of the bridge in five ranks of about fifteen led by the battered Knight-Captain while another Company marched over the bridge to join them. The gargoyles were being driven off by gyrocopters now, a gift from an airstrip somewhere to the north. Too little, too late, Barnaby thought. A trio of injured footmen limped past them back to the priests.
They adjusted and fired another shot, missed again, and only halfway through reloading the next round did the original cannoneers sheepishly reappear. The sergeant exploded at them and summarily dismissed Barnaby and the others.
"Let's go! There's a fight to be had!" their archer friend insisted with a fierce grin.
They looked out on the beach, but the hundred and sixty-ish footmen, a handful of cavalry and strafing gyrocopters had already broken the Scourge attack.
"Ah, the fight's done." Anthony growled. "Don't bother."
Barnaby looked down at his sword with disappointment, dusty but unwetted by blood.
"Fuck. Next time, I guess." he said to himself.