This short short could be called an “excerpt” from a novel I hope to one day write. Said novel would be the second part of the Armello Civil War. If you did not read the first part no worries, as the events described here are not really justified there. I wanted to leave enough of a hint as to why the Rabbit Clan is fighting the Bear Clan, without giving away too much of what the novel will be about.
Now, we are never told Barnaby or Hargrave’s actual ages, but in this tale I imagine Barnaby to be an apprentice-level engineer. So, somebody who is still young, in training, while Hargrave is already in his middle age, but before losing his leg. Like always with my fan-fiction and depiction of war… it’s a grim one.
But, I hope you will enjoy it regardless!
The sun began to set. Barnaby’s arrival was rather unceremonious. Many grim faces of soldiers and officers alike going about their duties. Tents were being setup, men drilled, torches lit. The smell of the camp’s kitchen tickled Barnaby’s nose, but now was not the time.
The commander wished to see him.
He moved through the camp quickly, wrapped in his guild’s cloak, wearing a thick coat to stave off the cold of the night. As he just left the camp’s perimeter he found the artillery position. Mortars and cannons, all directed at the vast expanse of the Bear Clan’s forest. So dense and vast, it was impossible to see deeper than just a few meters. Besieging a forest, such a droll idea when one pondered on it.
Barnaby noticed the crates he arrived with being hauled closer to the artillery, specifically the mortars. He did not know exactly what was within them, other than it was new experimental ammunition. Being a junior engineer he was given the opportunity to see the performance of the guild’s new creations. Take notes and criticism, possible changes and improvements.
This was a bit different to what Barnaby was used to however. He never had to oversee the use of any actual weapons, but he was given this task and he was bound to see it through.
At a table situated at the highest point of the hill, lit by multiple torches stood Earl Hargrave, the commander. He was looking over the forest through a telescope.
“Make it three hundred to three-fifty. Should be deep enough.” spoke the Earl to one of his officers. “How’s the wind looking?”
“Naught but the gentlest breeze.”said another.
“Good, as soon as the Engineer arrives we will begin.”
“I am here.” spoke Barnaby, and Hargrave pulled away from his telescope.
“Ah! Perfect timing too. Though I expected somebody… older.”
Hargrave was dressed as one would expect from a noble. Snow-white tunic, gold embroidered cloak, ornate breastplate. What caught Barnaby’s attention was that unlike most nobles Hargrave did not have a sword by his side. Instead there was a number of measuring tools, used specifically by artillery crew, and a pistol. Barnaby heard of the Earl’s fascination with artillery, and it seemed that the man was living up to his reputation.
“Junior Engineer Barnaby. It is an honor to meet you Sir.”
“The pleasure is all mine, for without the guild of Engineers and Alchemists we would had never achieved this.” and Hargrave motions to the mortars and cannons around them. “A new age of warfare.”
A call came down from one of the artillery positions.
“You might want to cover your ears.” said Hargrave, as he looked back to the forest. Barnaby, trying to be no worse than his superior, did not do that. Then came the loud thunder of exploding gunpowder, a crack which could be heard for miles, briefly silencing all around them. A puff of smoke from which the lone cannonball was cast forth. Hargrave looked up, trailing the projectile, until it fell, almost harmlessly, into the forest, the sound of a single cracking tree came as a response.
“Good! The range is correct. Load the live bomb!” is what Barnaby would had heard Hargrave say, if he were not stunned briefly by the mortar’s fire. The Earl looked with no little concern at the young engineer.
“Are you fine?” he asked, and Barnaby finally shaking off the initial shock nodded.
“Yes, it was just… louder than I expected.”
“It is part of the charm of your guild’s invention. The shock and awe, the thunderous explosion, and its destructive capabilities. A castle’s wall would fall to but one cannon, given enough ammunition.”
“But, we are not facing a castle here. There is no wall to knockdown, and we can hardly surround a whole forest.”
Hargrave roared out in laughter. “Yes! That is what I thought at first. The idea could not be any less serious if I tried.” and as quickly as it came the Earl’s humor faded, “Yet, we are not here to conquer, we are not here to rule over the bears. We are here to destroy them.”
The crates were opened, within numerous bombs, all carefully isolated from one another, fuses kept dry, safe. The crew of one of the mortars loaded their engine of war.
“The moment these bastards brought their paw against us, against our Queen, against the princess, against all of us…”
“Wasn’t it Nubine that killed the Queen?” asked Barnaby.
“Perhaps, but if the Bears have dared capture our princess, if they send an envoy to spit in our faces and insult us then it is only right that we make an example of them.”
“Mortar Loaded Sir!” came a call.
“Light, and fire!” came Hargrave’s response.
Another thunderous explosion. This time Barnaby was better prepared, and he could even trail the path of the bomb. It flew up, into the sky before starting its rapid descent, landing, like the previous cannonball, in the midst of trees. A few moments of silence passed, and then fire, from the midst of trees. The trees shook as the bomb exploded, and, for a brief moment, one could peer within the forest’s gloom. As quickly as the fire lit up it soon faded away, unable to take hold.
Barnaby looked to Hargrave, who appeared to be counting on his fingers, mumbling to himself. The Earl left without a word to one of the mortar positions and began speaking with the crew.
Being left alone for a few moments the young engineer tried to look past the trees of the forest, to see if he would spot anything, or anybody. He hoped nobody would be foolish enough to linger anywhere close to where the cannons were firing. That the loud explosions and fire would scare off any would-be adventurers. They were at war, but Barnaby, like so many others, hoped that a show of force would be enough to pacify the Bears.
Hargrave soon returned.
“Right, now the fun starts.” he said.
Fun? Barnaby did not see anything fun in any of this.
The mortars were loaded, and the artillery crews stood to attention. Hargrave moved to stand by Barnaby’s side.
“You should give the order, my friend.”
“Excuse me?” asked the engineer.
“It would be only fair. Your guild made the weapons, supplied the ammunition, it is only reasonable that one of you lights the fuse. I may be the guiding hand of all this firepower.” and Hargrave gestured, once more, to all the war machines around them, “But without you they would not even exist. Consider it my request.”
“And if I refuse?” asked Barnaby, unsure.
“Then, it’s an order.”
Given no other choice Barnaby sighed and looked around, the artillery crews looking at his expectantly.
Finally he called out, “Light and Fire!”
A few moments of silence. The earth shook, as if it were about to part beneath them. He was deafened once again by the thunderstorm of mortars, his vision obscured by the clouds of smoke that soon engulfed them. He could see the bombs fly, like a flock of birds up into the sky and begin their descent.
Silence once again, Barnaby can barely hear the orders of the men around him to reload the mortars. Then the sky turns red. Above the forest the bombs explode, fire pours down upon the trees like an ungodly rain of destruction. First the tips of the trees are caught, then their branches, finally the ground. Another deafening barrage, the mortars are fired again, and more fire roars down upon the helpless forest.
Hagrave speaks but Barnaby does not hear him, he cannot hear him over the firestorm, over the screams and writhing of smoldering trees. Past the dust and smoke he can see their burning skeletons collapsing to the ground. The flame toys with Barnaby, casting shadows of those caught in the flame, unable to escape. He is screaming for them to stop, but the thunder and fire is too loud.
Frozen in fear and shock Barnaby cannot cast his gaze away, not until the mortars fall silent and the forest before him, as far as he can see, is aflame. Hargrave is clapping.
He says something but Barnaby does not understand it. Is he congratulating him? The Guild? Like through a fever daze Barnaby walks back to the camp, the smell of burning wood following his every step. Even though the moon was above the horizon the new sun, born of war, lit his path, brighter than any torch.
He stops suddenly and unclasps his cloak, letting it fall to the ground, and walks away.