Monday, January 7, 2013

Grand Battery of the Upper Hall 'Stone Rain'

 A few hundred yards down the slopes, on the rolling meadows under the shivering yellow Aspen trees, they were massing.  Even at this distance the wind carried to his ears the hideous croaking, gibbering and yammering of their voices.  The sound grew louder and higher and more obnoxious the more excited the Goblins got.  They were working themselves up for the attack, the rush through the Aspen groves and the tumbling streams and up the grassy slopes toward the Dwarven positions.  Scant yards below Captain Lonni's battery, the Thunder Mountain infantry companies stood behind walls of hastily felled logs and awaited the Goblin assault.  Lonni's job was to hollow out the Goblin ranks and break up their formations to the greatest possible extent before they reached the Dwarven breastworks.

"Come and get it, boys!" came a shout from behind him.  Lonni turned.  A little behind him, back near the wagon laager, a plump blonde figure  turned the handle of a roasting spit and waved eagerly to them all.

"Sergeant Axalson!  Fall the lads out and let them eat!"  Lanni said.

The big Sergeant turned away from his stone thrower and regarded his officer with cool blue eyes.

"Goblins coming, Sir." he observed, in a calm and measured tone.

"They won't come for a few minutes, yet. said Lonni.  They're still working up their nerve, and  the boys need to eat.  Have them go up to Cookie double quick and take plates.  They can fall back in and eat at their posts!"

"No need, Sir!  No need!"  cried Cookie.  I can bring the food down to the lads if time's pressing!

Captain Lonni smiled to himself as he watched the corpulent cook come hopping down the hillside, balancing platters of roast goat meat and buttered mushrooms  in his arms.  Cookie was no warrior.  He looked about as awkward in helm and mail-coat as would a troll trying to learn to play a harp, but he'd run through a den of dragons to bring chow to his mates, and the boys knew it, and loved him for it.  Lonni squirmed on his seat and tried to stretch his lower back muscles a little.  His perch was lumpy, shifting and uncomfortable. If they had had a little more time, he would have asked somebody to saw him off a tree-stump for a chair, but the situation being what it was, he had to make do with what he had at hand, a heap of severed Goblin-heads pared from the scouting party they had caught that morning, all roped and netted together into a loose package.  It wasn't a King's cushion by any means, but these days Lonni's back tended to pain him considerably if he was on his feet for too long.

The Dwarves had marched all night, and felled trees and dug all morning, and they were hungry.  They eagerly seized what Cookie brought them and ate it with their fingers.  It was good Dwarven fare,  simple and fortifying.  It scalded their lips and tounges but they didn't much care.  They felt their weary limbs awaken, thier eyes sharpen, and their spirits rise as they filled their bellies.  Sated, they wiped grease from their whiskers and watched the valley floor.  The Goblins were sorting themselves out. Their voices grew louder and more and more shrill as the mass of greenskins began to organize itself into storming columns...

 Squiggy Squirrel Chewer could feel that the moment had come.  His boys had got a case of the nerves when they saw the lines of Dwarves dug in way up there on the slopes.  Here and there behind an earth and log breastwork, a helmeted head could be seen watching them, the cruel edge of a cold blade caught the sun and winked a warning at them.  It would be a long hard charge up the bare slopes to where the Dwarves' axes waited for them behind the barricades, and the Gobbos had needed time to work themselves up to it.  So they had gathered under the trees, squealing and squeaking and squabbling.  The bosses had gone amoung them, yelling and kicking, and killing somebody every so often just for extra dramatic effect, and the sight and smell of blood had emboldened the Goblins, as the bosses knew it would.  Skins of mushroom liquor were fought over and quaffed with abandon, and all the while the Gobbo voices got higher and wilder and more shrill, until the boys were ready.  They were in their storming columns now, chittering and fighting and ready to go, and the bosses led them out onto the meadows, under the bright sun...
"Here they come, Sir..."  called Sargeant Axalson, the very picture of calm reserve.  Lonni set down his plate on top of a pointed Goblin skull, wiped his hands on his trousers and raised his spyglass to his eye, marking the distance to the advancing enemy through the reticle.  Even at this distance the spyglass showed him their long, wicked faces and bright yellow eyes wild with hatred.  Seeing them so close, Lonni could almost smell the sour, stomach turning stink of them.  "Third Column from their right flank, Sargeant Axalson!  he called out.  Prepare your engines and loose as they pass the first marker!"
The Gobbos came on, splashed through the net of silver streams and rolled forward in many companies, all packed densely together to help maintain their stupid bravado. They slowed a little as they hit the slope, but they came on, their gruesome standards waving, their drums rattling, their crude trumpets making macabre squealing and farting noises.  
Lonni counted how many seconds it took them to pass between marks on his reticle, his lips moving, shaping the numbers silently. As they passed the twisted, forked tree which Lonni had picked that morning to mark the extreme range of the stone throwers, the old captain, still squinting through his spyglass, shouted in a bold voice"Number 1!  Range 46!  Loose!  Number 2!  Range 44!  Loose!  Number 3!  Range 42!  Loose!"  As he shouted, the Dwarves of each crew echoed him at the tops of their lungs, ensuring that everyone in the battery heard what was ordered.  The great wooden arms swept up, struck their crossbeams, and three great black stones were lifted into the air, flying as if they had a life of their own.  Sergeant Axalson watched them go.  He felt his heart rise with them.  He loved that part.  He loved it even more than the killing that was to follow.
 Squiggy Squirrel Chewer heard the Dwarves shouting on the mountain side and saw the black rocks jump up suddenly into the blue sky.  It was hard to judge where they were going to land, at first, but pretty soon, he could see where they we going to come down, all right...  "Heads up, Lads!"  he bellowed, and then the big rocks were landing all around them.  One flew over their heads and landed some distance behind them, another landed just in front of them, another, some good distance to their front.  "WHY ME?" was Squiggy's only thought.  Around him, his boys were cackling and gurgling happily, jeering at what seemed to them to be poor Dwarven marksmanship.  But Squiggy had been in a few fights with the Stunties and he knew better.  "They're markin' us, lads!  he cried.  Leggit!  Or we're meat!!!!"

Lonni's thoughts were winged, now.  A mind sharpened by centuries of careful study and hard experience was marking the points where the stones had fallen, was gauging how far the Gobbo column had traveled in the minute or so that had passed while the great wooden spoons were hauled down, cinched into place, and re-armed with new stones.  This was what Lonni was born to do, and he knew it.  It was why he wore the red cap of a Thunder Mountain Bombardier, presented to him with the King's own hand.  
"READY 1!"  
"READY 2"  
"READY 3!"  shouted the individual engine commanders as their machines were made ready.
"Sergeant Axalson!"
"Make the range all engines--36!!"
"All Engines 36!"
"All Engines 36!!!!"  echoed all the crewmen...
In the circle of light through which Lonni marked their advance, the leading edge of the Goblin column touched a certain line of his reticle...line 37...In the time it took the stones to fly, the Gobbos would cross the 36th line...
"ALL LOOSE!!!" shouted Lonni...
 Squiggy heard them yelling up there again, and ground his yellow teeth..."Faster, Lads!  Faster!"  "Here dey come!!"  squealed a gobbo.  Squiggy felt a tremor under his gnarled green feet, and at what seemed like the same instant, three seventy-pound rocks bounded through their ranks.  For just a moment, the world seemed to stop.

When it started again, it seemed like everybody was screaming.  Goblin warriors, splashed with and entangled in the internals of their mates glared and kicked and bit at each other and howled in their confusion and dismay.  "DON'T STOP!! roared Squiggy.  "Ya can't stand still fer it, ya dumb cunts!  They'll chew us to pieces!!  Ya gots ta move!  Run! Run!  No, not that way, UP the hill!  UP THE BLOODY HILL!"

Behind him, he could see Bad Bloody Frumpkin's boys coming up, their eyes wide with horror at the mess they had just seen the Stunties make of his boys.  The look on their faces made Squiggy go almost mad with rage.  He began laying about him, knocking in helmets and slicing off ears in his desperation to salvage some semblance of order... 

"Nicely done!"  Thought Lonni.  The Gobbo column had stopped, chewed and battered and shaken.  Lonni could see the Goblin boss knocking in heads, trying to get them going again. Now was the critical moment.  Time to send them something special.
 "Good work, boys!"  Shouted Lonni, as the crews gave him the ready in loud, exhilarated voices. 
"Number 1, Number 2: Range 36!  Number 3: load Gob-shot!"  Number 3 would be firing much smaller, lighter shot.  They would need to make their range farther..."Number 3, Range: Maximum!"
The crews echoed him in a voice so loud and joyous that it reverberated like a peal of thunder in the valley.

Squiggy had just about got things in order again, he felt, when his boys began to scream and flap about like chickens.  "More's a-comin!!!"  somebody shrieked, and Squiggy turned and looked up, cursing the luck.  Two more great stones had bounded into the air and were arcing toward them, and behind those, something else...some small shot that flew higher and slower...Again the ground shook and again gobbos wailed and groveled and died...or that's what it sounded like anyway. Hard to tell, really, 'cause it was so dark...  Squiggy realized he'd been hiding his eyes in his hands and peeked between his fingers.

There were heads everywhere.

Some rather crushed and pulpy, but a lot of heads.  Too many heads.  It seemed like Squiggy's whole mob must have been decapitated.  That was the conclusion many of his boys soon came to.  
"'Ey!  Some fella's head's off!"  somebody shouted.  
"An that fella's head's off!"  somebody else squealed.  
"An I don't even know this guy, and his head's off, too!" another Gobbo croaked in horror.  
"Calm down!"  Squiggy shouted, seeing what was happening.
"Ey!  EY!"  I think MY head's off!"  shouted another Gobbo, clutching frantically at his helmet and unable to feel his scalp beneath his fingers...
"MY HEAD'S OFF TOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"  Squealed a tiny Gobbo, not much bigger than a snotling.  Squiggy watched him run about in circles, pulling, panic-stricken, at his long ears, his eyes rolling about in the ecstacy of his terror.
"Everybody's head's off!" roared Rugracsh, Squiggy's champion, now thoroughly caught up in the hysteria.
"Now, stop it!!!"  yelled Squiggy!  None of your heads is off, and you know it!"
It made sense at the time, but later, Squiggy had to admit to himself that it had been the wrong thing to say.  Clearly, heads WERE off, the Gobbos thought, and if their leadership was lying to them about it, then, just as clearly, the situation must be even worse than they feared...

On the ridge far above, the Dwarf Crews watched, fascinated, as the rigid corners of the Goblin company dissolved into a disordered mass, then drifted rapidly away down the mountainside, gaining speed the further they went, their mail and weapons glinting here and there in the sunlight like the scales of a shoal of frightened fish.
"Ey!" Shouted Sergeant Axalson, in a stentorian voice that shook them out of their triumphant observations..."No Idling, Lads!  This is a fight, not a damned stage-play!  Re-load!"

 Bad Bloody Frumpkin's boys saw Squiggy Squirrel-Chewer's mob disintegrate and come rushing back down the slope toward them in an abysmal disorder.  Stopping for nothing, they plowed straight through Frumkin's lads, sprinting away down the mountain for all they were worth.  
One of Frumkin's boys shouted to one of the rear-most Goblins as he passed.
 "Ey!  What's goin' on?"
 "Everybody's head's off!!!" gasped the fleeing Gobbo, his eyes wild with mindless terror, and then he, too, vanished down the slope.

 And as Frumkin's lads stared, startled, at one another, trying to digest this fearsome piece of intelligence, somebody cried out...

"Ey!  'Ere comes sumfin!"

Bad Bloody Frumpkin stopped shouting at his halted formation and glanced skyward.  Arcing toward them were two great, black stones, and, behind them, something else, some small, roundish munition that flew higher, and descended upon them with a sort of sickening slowness...


Okay, I'm actually getting kind of excited, now.  I'm within striking distance of a 2,000 point army.  I still need to paint up 20 crossbowmen, 10 Giant Slayers and a baggage cart with 5 baggage handlers...My hope is I can finish them all by April, which I think I can do.

Strong Artillery is critical for Dwarves, I think. They really need good firepower to cancel out their lack of mobility.  Big guns and stone throwers can do a lot to cut up meddlesome enemy units trying to outflank and envelop your Dwarves.

The Warhammer Armies book says an army can have 3 3-man stone throwers at the most, so I have have 3.

Plus it's been a fun regiment to paint.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Inspiration: Icelandic Folk Music - Íslandsklukkur

This is what I'm listening to as I push on into the final phase of painting my Dwarf artillery regiment.  Truly an amazing and inspiring piece of music.  I hope all my friends enjoy it as much as I do...

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Hobbit read by Nicol Williamson 1974

I know that everybody has been trooping out to see the new Jackson movie, and I'm happy for anybody who can get some enjoyment out of it.  I'm not going to launch into some rant about why it is that I'm avoiding the film like a disease vector.  Let me just recommend, to those old-school Tolkien enthusiasts somewhat disenchanted with the Jacksonian take-over of Middle Earth, or to those of the newer school interested in seeking out and absorbing more Tolkienish approaches to Tolkien, this audio book.

When I was quite young my mother bought me a copy of this reading, recorded a year after my birth and Tolkien's death on an arcane piece of technology called the LP.   For thirty years now I've known large passages of the novel by heart, and I attribute that to my obsessive playing and re-playing of that old LP set.  I loved it that much.

Audiobooks can really be hit-or-miss, depending on the reader's grasp of and appreciation of what he is reading.  Happily, Nicol Williamson was not only a fun actor, (some would say an over-actor, but I like him), he was also a studied and passionate devotee of Tolkien's work.  Obviously intimately familiar with the spirit and with every detail of Tolkien's world, he plays both narrator and the entire cast of characters to perfection or nearly so.  The snatches of mood music are quiet and delicate, played on one or two instruments, as music would be played and heard in Middle Earth, (no thundering orchestras) and they accent Williamson's dramatic and humorous performance splendidly.

The edition is unfortunately abridged, (An unabridged version was thought to have been impractical for the LP format).  This  isn't really a problem except around the Mirkwood chapters where a few important scenes are left out (The white deer, the river of sleep and the elven feasts), but that's the only gripe I have with it.

And because its all audio, with no brain-blasting visual effects or cheese-laden acting performances to distract you, you can sit and let your ears soak it all up while you paint little Dwarves and Orcs, which is what I'm going to be doing for the rest of the day.