Friday, November 13, 2015

An Unlikely Ally

A few days after crossing the Formaggian border to offer his services to his old friend the Count of Calvacasa, Captain Pierre d'Arson of Armagnac has been captured in a cavalry skirmish and carried off to The Rock, a small fort in the River Orlo estuary.

Filippo Scolari, the famed pirate of the Glambrian Sea, has decided he would free d'Arson. The pirates have an extensive network of informators, so they knew where to find the Captain.

The river is the natural border between QF and Böhnstadt. A strong central fortification, Forte Prada defends the only bridge armies can cross, and many smaller ones surround this central one. The Rock is one of these, built to prevent enemy ships sailing up the river. Its garrison is currently understrength, with only two 48-pounder cannon and crew, a platoon of fourteen marines, an NCO and an officer. An armed cutter sails from Forte Prada monthly to bring supplies, or the inhabitants can light a pyre to signal for reinforcements.
The Rock actually consist of multiple islands: a sand bank, two lower islands and a granite hill. The Old Fort is atop this hill. Buildings of wood and stone were raised around this natural core: the redoubts can withstand a good deal of cannonade and a barbette tower protrudes from the main fortifications - the guns are held here.
The fortress itself has three floors, connected by two ramps. The first is sea level, with the docks, a storage area and the tower. The second is the quarters of the Marines with a low wall, and the third and highest is the Old Fort, serving mostly as a point of observation for the artillery.

Scolari concocted a plan that was simple to execute yet daring enough to be unexpected by the defenders. First of all, he sailed on a foggy night and approached with his cutter Helena as close as he could without being noticed. He prepared a storming party which consisted of him and a group of trusted pirates. Quartermaster Ferruggio held command on the ship, with four gunners and three sailors remaining on deck.
Scolari's storming party consisted of him and four others. They were all expert fighters and the Formaggian marines knew his name too well, so he expected a short resistance despite being outnumbered at least three to one.
The party prepared a small boat and took up their arms at dawn. Scolari alone had no firearm on him: he trusted his long rapier more - an unwieldy weapon on a ship's deck, but on ground his mastery was uncontested. He's also had a good length of rope across his chest. The marksman Palestrina had a long rifle: he was to remain behind and take out the enemy from long range. Sergio di Campa, a former palace guard and sergeant of the regulars, wielded a halberd with a short shaft tailored to his needs: even Scolari would not dare come to blows with him. The Glambrian Jean-Baptiste Guzain used a sword and a short cutlass, and the fifth, Luigi di Trattore prepared two blunderbusses loaded with birdshot, ground glass and other delicate things to blast his way through anything that puts up a resistance. 

The fort's defenders were still sleepy. The marines' sergeant mustered some men at the roll call. Others guarded the piers and the bastion. The small boat skidded along the big seafaring boat anchored nearby; hoping that the fog would muffle the sound, one pirate had shot down the single guard, the first victim of their bloody work on the island.

The pirates moved with determination; a second guard was soon disposed of. The loyalist commander of the fort, however, had a parrot that started screeching as soon as the first pirate put his foot on the pier. He knew something was up.

The marksman ran to the aft of the longboat, looking for cover. The fog was lifting and a guard from the old fort noticed him. He managed to duck in time to avoid the bullet.

The commander failed to notify the sergeant and his men of the danger. The prisoner was rather excited as well. 'Who are these men? Are they coming for me?', he asked the Formaggian leader.

The third guard on the pier was alert, and he hid behind the wares kept on the wooden structure forming the largest part of the docks. He shot at the Glambrian pirate, knocking him off his feet, but not wounding him. He's gained some time to yell for help, though.

The sergeant and a detail was already starting out to relieve the guards. The commander's and the guard' voice reached them at the same time.

Scolari and di Trattore, the two madmen, used the longboat and the sand bank to cross the island. Luckily the marines on the rock had their attention directed elsewhere.

One being shot down by the marksman Palestrina.

'Everybody, move! We're under attack!', the sergeant yelled. Resistance began to form against the pirates, which was just the way Scolari wanted. The pirates took the marines under musket fire and shot one down.

The marines were ordered to form two ranks and fire a volley at the pirates. It was very ineffective, but one target had to lay down for cover.

'What is going on out here?'
'Nothing sir, just get back into the bastion.'

The Helena's crew now was in full sight of The Rock, but out of the cannon's effective range. They circled slowly around the island to give Scolari plenty of time to execute his plan.

The marksman found a load of grapeshot for the swivel gun on the boat. He began loading it.

Two pirates ran to cover while Jean-Baptiste had to make a huge leap to avoid the next volley. 'You three, prod them out of there!', the sergeant ordered. 'You two over there, keep the bastion secured!'

But the two guards, sleep-deprived and ready to battle, did not listen. One of them charged in and was gutted by the pirate's halberd.

This was Sergio di Campa's moment of glory: he charged the other guard and swung the halberd across the barrels he's been hiding behind. The marine managed to parry with his musket butt and di Campa had to retreat to avoid his lunge. His enemy left a hole in his defense, and di Campa left a hole in him.

'You want to fight, you basterds?', a pirate screamed, jumping right in front of the marines and blasting the first one in the face with his pistol. 

The other two attackers had no time to react as Palestrina lighted the fuse on the swivel gun, lay flat on the boat's deck and hoped for the best. The shot went wild, the wind of it bringing one marine to the end of his nerves. He lay down and pretended to be dead, and his sarge was too busy to notice. 

What was Scolari's plan then? Simple as a rock. He brought rope: from the crow's nest on Helena, he noticed the old fortress tower atop The Rock had an entrance from the direction of the southward bluff. He would climb up there, secure the rope and bring the captive down to escape while his mates held the marines at bay.

The quartermaster in command of Helena now saw his captain reaching his destination and ordered the ship to make a turn and fire a broadside. The marines near the barracks scattered, but no further harm was done.

The gunners inside the bastion were debating whether to make a sortie to help the marines or stay and bar the door. Now the cutter gave them something to work on. 'I say, only one cannon has the angle to shoot at'er', their Lieutenant finally proclaimed, 'three men will man the gun and the other three will attack with me.'

'Sergeant, bring your men atop The Rock!', the master of the fortress shouted.

One more marine was taken down by the sea wolves; the sergeant was too happy to oblige.

The sortie halted just a few yards short of the first pirate they had in sight. 'Are you sure we want to do this, boss?', one gunner asked.

Filippo Scolari chose this dramatic moment to complete scaling the ledge and appear inside the old tower. The sergeant and his troopers had already reached the top. 'Oh, have you come to save me?', the prisoner inquired. 

Di Campa shot a gunner down and then struck the marine. The two remaining attackers fell back.

The musketry from above pinned the other two pirates down on the ramp leading to the barracks.

'Stand back, I will deal with him', the officer told his men. He and Scolari drew swords, but after a few passes it became clear that the pirate had much greater skill. 'I will cut ya!', the commander's parrot came to his aid. It was just enough to save his skin; Scolari's steel pierced the wing of his coat. 

The lieutenant of the gunners, forced back to the bastion, directed the heavy cannon himself. The shot, however, missed: the barrel was too cold.

'You two, take the marksman out, don't just stand there!', the commander wheezed, parrying another vicious strike from Scolari. 'I'll have a word about that!', shouted Luigi di Trattore, entering the scene. He climbed the rope as he couldn't wait for his boss any longer. Two explosions ruptured everyone's ear drums within fifty yards as di Trattore raised his blunderbusses and fired them at the closest marine. He couldn't miss from such a distance, and the marine fell down dead. 

Scolari was the first to regain his senses, but he allowed his opponent to stand up and regain his senses again. The pirate even bowed a little, and then with a deadly slash cut the commander's throat. The remaining marines saw this and fled. 

'Well, this means we don't have to use the rope, Luigi', the pirate captain declared, and they descended the ramp, keeping an eye on the marines huddled up near the furthest barracks. 'Sir, we would like to surrender', the sergeant, miraculously still alive, told Scolari. 'That's very sensitive, but I don't have enough space on my ship to transport you to my den', the pirate smiled. 'Besides, I can only hold The Rock until the next supply ship arrives and brings at least a company of you merry fellows.'

Just when Scolari finished his speech, the guns from the bastion sounded a second time, and this time they scored a hit on the Helena, disabling a gun and killing two men. But these unfortunate two were the only casualties of the pirates; most marines on the island were lightly wounded but out of action for their reluctance to fight. 

'Well, we can't get off without a prize after all', the pirates contemplated and raised anchor on the longboat that served Palestrina so well during the fight. 

'So, will you hold me for ransom or what?', Pierre d'Arson asked the pirates. 'No, actually, I have something much more prosperous in mind', Scolari answered. They sailed south along the coast. The highway ran close to the sea at this point. They made land in the longboat near a grove hidden from the road, where a group of pirates waited them with horses. 'I will escort you north, to Calvacasa. We will talk about the rest there.'