The Game (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by on Jul 17, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

The Game (Part 2 of 2)

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“URAH!” The Russians broke order and charged. Luc fired into the advancing mass, sending a conscript down, but before he could chamber another, they were engaged in melee. A small man, covered in grime, and bearing a wicked sword went for Luc, and he blocked with the barrel of his gun, before bringing the butt up into the fellow’s face. The battle had degenerated into a swirling knot at the bottom of the hill. Luc watched the Prussian officer heroically pick off approaching soldiers with his pistol, before disappearing behind the counter-attacking Russians. “Look out!” a voice shouted in French, and Luc realized that small-swordsman was back again, blood running from his nose. With a roar Luc bayoneted him in fury. Why do I have to die at the bottom of a hill in Eastern Europe? Why do you have to kill me? His rage at the situation, at Beauclerc and the whole sacrément war, leant him an edge of skill and he set to it.

With a suddenness that shocked him, the Russian counterattack melted away, those who survived running back up to the trench, leaving dead and wounded of both sides. Remarkably, the Prussian officer was still alive, although his uniform looked more realistically military this time, and his pickelhaube had come off in the brawl. “Form auf! Form auf!” he yelled, and Prussians ran to form a straggling square at the bottom of the hill. Luc and Pierre followed; it was hard to misunderstand that order. As they packed into the square Luc looked up the rise apprehensively. Forming up may restore their morale and bolster the line, but there was no way in hell they were getting up that hill, even if the Russians had just broken. Withdrawing, even in good order, would only invite Gatling fire. And if they stayed… the Prussian officer was muttering with an NCO. The phrase, “Wie das Schießen Fisch in ein Barrel,” was prominent. If they went up they would die, if they withdrew they would die, and if they stayed here… they would die. “Well that’s an improvement then,” Luc muttered. Instead of the possibility of death, I now have the inevitability of death. The soldiers around him must have made the same deduction. One was earnestly praying, and others were starting to join in. Luc followed suit mentally, matching French to German, and while they prayed they prepared to fight and die.

“Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel,” Notre Père, qui es aux cieux. He slid back the bolt.

“Geheiligt werde dein Name, dein Reich komme,” Que ton nom soit sanctifié, Que ton règne vienne. He chambered a new round.

“Dein Wille geschehe, auf Erden wie im Himmel ist.” Que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel. He grounded the rifle.

“Gib uns heute unser tägliches Brot,” Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour. He re-secured his bayonet
“Und vergib uns unsere Schuld, wie auch wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern uns.” Pardonne-nous nos offences. Comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés. He checked his ammo pouches and grenades.

“Führe uns nicht in Versuchung, sondern erlöse uns von dem Bösen.” Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, mais délivre-nous du mal. And finally he looked up at the Russian flag still flying over the hill. Beside him Pierre had gone through the same motions, standard preparatory drill. Luc wondered whether his comrade had been praying too. Pierre had never shown any religious inclinations… but then he had never really shown anything at all. Luc shook his head. He hadn’t been particularly religious either, come to think of it, but how did that saying go? No atheists to be found in a foxhole, or something like that anyway. He snorted – before he’d joined up he’d always wonder why an atheist would be hunting foxes by going into their dens. Of course you wouldn’t find atheists there would you? Well it meant something now, and if that wasn’t a cruel irony, Luc wanted to live to face one.

The Prussian officer was once again yelling through the radio set. His NCO was yelling at the soldiers in her shrill piping voice, positioning them better and telling them to aim their shots. A Russian poked his head over the parapet and was sent reeling back with two neat bullet holes as her instructions paid off, but it was only a matter of time before the little knot of survivors became a footnote in history. Suddenly, the Prussian officer was straightening up, a small smile on his face. “Funf minuten, kamaraden! Funf minuten!” His eyes swept the surrounding bedraggled remnants of the charge, eyes shining. Finally he saw Luc and Pierre, and with another nod of respect, he once again switched to French. “Five minutes mes amis, we hold here for five minutes.” Luc and Pierre glanced at one another. Five minutes was a long time when at the bottom of a reinforced hill home to the White Army.

As if on cue, the Russians chose that moment to re-ignite the party. A fizzing artillery shell was rolled over the parapet, and came dancing down the hill. “Hauptman!” yelled one of the Prussians, as the officer stood rooted to the spot as the shell continued to roll towards them. Luc and Pierre had already started to run, but as the shell finally bounced to a halt next to the officer’s foot they realised what he already had. The fuse had been cut too long. With an air of nonchalance the officer bent down and extinguished the flame. A small laugh escaped from the survivors as they re-formed again. The Russians still didn’t appear… perhaps awaiting a bang that never came. A few nervous heads popped out to look, and Luc began to wonder whether the man he’d killed with the sword had been one of the few commanding officers up on the hill. Perhaps it was a lack of leaders that paralysed their foes?

Whatever the stereotype though, with another cry of “Uraaaaaah!” the Russians surged onto the parapet and a fierce rifle duel began again. Luc and Pierre dashed behind a piece of wreckage (another Walze, no part of an A6-V – heck what did the Russians have on that hill?) The two chaussers levelled their rifles and began firing. Never before had Luc fired so fast. The rifle bucked in his hand repeatedly, the smell of cordite filled his nostrils and the rattle of the mechanical parts filled his every moment. When he remembered back to that fight in years to come, he could recall things he never realised he had noticed. The way the Prussian soldier to his left had suddenly collapsed and rolled over as if asleep… the shouted insults from the NCO up at the Russians… the look of terror on a White Army conscript as he sighted down the barrel at him…the Prussian officer using a sharpshooter’s rifle, chambering round after round and picking his targets whilst standing in the sacrément  open!

Then he heard the rumbling. A cry went up from a soldier next to him. “PANZER! Gott sei gelobt! Ein Panzer!” Luc turned around and watched wide-eyed as a group of three A6-Vs belched and rattled over the field, smashing aside wreckage as they ploughed onward. Their guns burst with puffs of black smoke, rounds went whistling over Luc’s head and with a rush of pure adrenaline he realised it was over. Above him the Russians were panicking. Heads were disappearing from view and Luc knew the White Army men were vaulting out of the trench and abandoning their posts. The whole picture was then eclipsed by the whine of plane engines. Three brightly coloured Kondor fighter bombers flew overhead and then more, till the air was filled with the things and far above them, airships.

The Prussian officer was waving his men forward and Luc stumbled up to follow. With weary feet and with the metal flanks of the A6-Vs rolling past, the survivors finally crested the ridge. The trenches were full of White Army dead and wounded, reeking of gun smoke. And yet over it still flew the black flag. With a triumphant grin the officer waved the men to pull it down. Then he climbed out the opposite side of the trench. Luc and Pierre did so, and a groan escaped Luc’s lips as he stared over another meadow to an even more fortified hill. Again the black flag hung and as he watched, AA fire stitched up into the air at the oncoming planes. One of the A6-Vs was already immobilised, its tracks thrown by a well placed cannon shot. Looks like we won’t be flanking the besiegers anytime soon. Thank you White Army, for giving me another place to die!

The Prussian officer appeared fully intent on moving forward. Luc began to follow, but Pierre grabbed his arm and pulled him away. Nearby was one of the Gatling guns, and Pierre perched himself on the gunner’s seat and began dealing cards onto a pile of ammo crates marked “Opasnostʹ: fugasnyĭ,Danger: High Explosive. With a shrug that imitated his companion, Luc sat down too. Suddenly, the Prussian officer was standing in front of them. “Coming gentlemen?” he inquired. Pierre shook his head, pointing to the Eastern Brigade badge on his shoulder. The officer raised an eyebrow and looked at Luc. The chausseur nodded towards Pierre. “What he said… well when I say ‘said’…” The Prussian held up a hand. “You need say no more, either of you. Good luck in finding your unit.” He turned to go. Luc called after him gesturing at the table. “Hey, want to join the game?” The officer laughed. “I’m already playing it! Time to see what cards Ivan has! Auf Wiedersehen!” With that he flipped the two Frenchmen a lazy salute, and climbed out of the trench once more.

With a sigh, Luc turned back to the game. He picked up his hand and finally fished out his pipe. It wasn’t often he got to use it, but now looked like a perfect time. With a contented sigh, he turned to the cards.

Then with a start, he looked up at Pierre.

“Hang on! YOU spoke!”