Vignette #7

The air stank of black powder, mud and the fear of men. Euron glanced up the line, toward the reassuring presence of their lightly armoured pikemen. Their long blades glinted as they turned, even in the wan sunlight that managed to penetrate the morning fog.

Euron felt an elbow in his ribs and turned. ‘Got tobacco?’ leered an ugly face, a vicious purple scar slicing through its beard.

‘Don’t be a fucking idiot, Var,’ replied. ‘You’ll blow your bloody hand off.’

Var leered at him again. ‘You can chew the shit, you know,’ he said, conversationally.

Euron looked out across the grasslands ahead, in no mood for conversation. The fog’s getting thicker, he thought to himself.

‘Powder check!’ barked a voice, its soft vowels quite unlike the dialect Euron and Var shared. They both cussed under their breaths as they knelt in the dew-sodden ground, and began the laborious process of checking their weapons for the third time since they had woken two hours earlier, in the glimmerings before sunrise.

‘Oh, fuck’s sake,’ Var said. Euron glanced over and frowned. Var was gently rubbing his fingers around a powder twist. The paper that held the black powder for their muskets moved badly beneath his ministrations, tearing with a wet rip.

‘Sodden,’ said Var, and launched into a low stream of invective as he cast it aside and reached for another twist.

Euron checked his own supplies. His heart sank: even before he pulled the first out he could tell that it, too, was soaked through, rendering the powder useless.

Distantly, but rapidly growing, Euron heard the thudding of hooves that indicated rapidly approaching cavalry. He stood and looked. He couldn’t see far enough ahead to see anything, but as he glanced left and right down the line of gunners he saw men with panicked eyes, men casting aside useless wads of black powder.

‘The fog’s not natural,’ he said. Even to him, his voice sounded weak and thin in the gloom. He shook his head. He could no longer see the pikemen. Where would the cavalry charge connect? What could he do, armed with little more than a useless musket?

‘The fog’s not natural,’ he said once more, and looked forward into the fog, and wondered if he would see death coming.

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