League of Unsavory Gentlemen

The Man with the Spirit of Some Zoo

FS543-04-20

And on the back of his war donkey, weighing in at just over 300 pounds, the Baron of Bashclaws, the Sultan of Braindoom, the Hairy Brown Bomber, the Smelly Smasher, the Illegitimate Thrasher, the Five-eyed Monster, hero and mentor to gnomes with inflated self-worth everywhere, legion commander of his royal know-it-all Justinius’ forces, Admiral General Captain Barnabus voooooooooooooooooooon Bashclaw!

At least, that’s how Bigby felt his squire should have introduced him to his troops, but of course Frank mucked the whole thing up. The skeleton just ran around in his wedding dress screaming and cackling, scaring the horses. Luckily, like all great military geniuses, Bigby knew first and foremost to expect the unexpected. In The Art of War, a famous treatise written in some zoo, of all places, it was said that great generals must be serene and inscrotable. Well, today all three of his scrotes were well-secured, and before the battle he drank enough ale to make any bugbear serene, even if he found himself in a tent full six-titted woman.

Carefully, Admiral General Captain Bashclaw closed the book he had been perusing and stared at the title: Greatest Naval Follies in the History of the Free States. Of course, that’s what it would have said if Bigby could read. It turned out his prescient knowledge of letters in the cave had lasted no longer than his incarceration, for he quickly became illegitimate again once he nursed himself back to health.

Recovering from that ordeal had been difficult, and he still had nightmares on occasion. For weeks following the incident, night terrors prevented him from finding sleep in solitude, so each night would end with him and Frank crawling into Justinius’ bed in their pajamas. Unfortunately, the gnome had a small bed and by morning Justinius had usually moved to the couch because Frank and Bigby took up so much space.

Despite losing his magical reading powers, Bigby still found ways to study military strategy. Carefully tucking the book into his saddlebag, he thought back to the countless hours he’d spent pouring over the pictures and diagrams, memorizing every position and maneuver, reveling in the genius of the strategies. There were nights he did not start drinking until four or five o’clock because he was so engrossed in the details of a particular battle.

Reading was not the same as leading, he reminded himself with a burp, it was time to issue battle orders. Slowly, Admiral General Captain Bashclaw surveyed his forces. With him, Baron Seelu brought a thousand archers, twelve thousand foot, and another eight thousand mounted men, though it did not escape Bigby’s laser-sharp observational skills that the mounted men seemed to have all their feet, so he didn’t see much difference. Of course, these men would all be in the vanguard – a great honor Justinius felt was important to bestow upon the lord.

Behind Seelu’s forces would be the guild’s own troops, mostly Colts, some ten thousand strong. The command Bigby had given to Tim-bo – hand-picked for his stoic demeanor and steadfast resolve. Morale derived largely from the commander, so it was important to pick someone unflappable. Even now, Tim-bo was twitching his head back and forth, scanning the surroundings like a hawk. His hands held the reins of his horse so tightly that his knuckles were white, undoubtedly overwhelmed with courage and a bloodlust for battle.

Nodding approvingly, Bigby turned to fix his gaze on the rear troops: Twenty thousand Thenian mercenaries, the so-called “Walking Squadron” – good foot soldiers, Justinius claimed, and more importantly strangers on the island. Each man bore a green fist on his chest that made them look like Jade Fist mercenaries, and the gnome called them “the other vanguard” for some reason. Still, it had been a wonderful art project when Justinius presented him with a bowl of green paint and a pile of white tunics. Fist painting was his favorite! Unfortunately, it also made a huge mess, and the whore had insisted on getting every last bit of paint out of his fur. He still had bald patches where she had used her trusty peanut butter knife to cut away dried clumps of paint.

Altogether, Bigby had two or three hundred men, most with feet. Removing his looking glass from the saddlebag, he put the large end to his larger eye and assessed his foe. Why DID people use these things? Everything looked so much smaller through the looking glass… By Bigby’s quick count, this Brukesh J Brukesh had brought twelve hundred million orcs, supported by an additional million hundred eight assorted Justinii of other races. SO! Bigby held the advantage in numbers…

Superior numbers would not be enough to win a great battle. Bigby needed to dispense some military geniustry to his men. He started with Seelu’s forces, riding his war donkey up and down their lines, “YOU WITH BOW! GIVE BOW TO MAN WITH SWORD! TAKE SWORD!” The archers were confused at first, but seeing the confidence in their commander’s face emboldened them, and they traded weapons with the foot soldiers. Now Bigby had lightly-armored foot soldiers, capable of moving more quickly, and heavily-armored archers who wouldn’t overshoot their opponents because their armor prevented them from fully drawing their bows. Genius.

Bigby made similar improvements with the cavalry, suggesting that half the men turn their saddles around backward so they could engage enemies behind them as effectively as those in front. He also gave their lances to the Thenian foot soldiers; horses could close quickly, so there was no need for such a long weapon. As for the guild troops, he needed them to be as serene as possible, so he issued an order that any man consuming fewer than twelve mugs of ale before entering battle would receive a million lashes.

Using terrain to one’s advantage was the hallmark of any great commander, and Admiral General Captain Bashclaw was no exception. The Justinii had marched down from their stronghold in the hills, and Bigby found the perfect point to intercept them at the bottom of a bowl-shaped basin. The south rim of the basin was open, but a small ridge obscured any activity beyond it so his troops would not be distracted by extraneous activities to their rear. Being surrounded by sloping terrain on all sides gave great acoustics, and the tight spaces fostered a sense of togetherness among the troops. Besides, some of their opponents might trip while charging downhill. Genius.

To the north, Bigby heard the sound of a giant belch echoing through the basin. He had taught the men to use signals to communicate troop movement: A light belch meant the enemy was marching slowly, while a deep, throaty one meant they were moving quickly; a watery, drunken belch full of bile and near-vomit meant they were trying to flank. Instinct took over, and Bigby began barking orders, “HORSES TO PORT, ARCHERS TO STARWHORE!” Facing into the sun would give the archers plenty of light to see their targets better. “MEN WITH FEET! AROUND STERN! HEDGELOG FORMATION!” He needed to get them behind the archers so they weren’t in the way.

Time seemed to slow down, and Bigby thought back to the great bugbear generals he studied while working on his BhD (Doctor of Bharbarism). There was Bashbrain the Clawdoom, who both in battle and in bed always took his opponents from the rear. There was Clawbrain the Bashdoom, who always seemed to oversleep and miss the battle because he drank too much the night before. And of course there was the greatest general of them all, Nathan Bashford Forrest. Once famously outnumbered, Bashford instructed all his men to shave their nethers, intimidating the enemy into thinking his army was more sizeable than it actually was. Genius.

Finally, the enemy crested the last hill to the north and came charging down to meet them. Tim-bo immediately galloped to the back of the formation to inspire and lead those troops as well. There would be a promotion in this for him. “ARCHERS! SHOOT AT WALL!” Several seconds later, arrows began flying in short, inconsistent bursts as the former foot soldiers struggled to operate their bows. Facing into the afternoon sun, they fired blindly at the western basin wall, while the cavalry scrambled to avoid falling arrows. This type of feint was a common strategy in bugbear warfare – the opposing war chief would often forget that he had NOT placed any troops in the targeted location, and would be tricked into thinking he had reinforcements coming from the direction the archers were firing. Bugbear war chiefs were notorious for forgetting where their troops were.

This Brukesh J Brukesh was no common war chief. Bigby’s feint did not seem to faze the formidable general; he would have to employ more devious tactics, “ANCHOR FROM STARWHORE BOW, HEAVE-TO THE NIPPED JIBE! LUFF-UP THE LUFF-HER! HARD OVER PORT, BACK WATER BY THE WIND, YAWING TACK ABOUT WASH!” Unfortunately, Bigby’s troops had not received the same degree of training in nautical maneuvers, and he was met with the blankest stares he’d ever seen. Somewhere in the distance someone dropped a sword with a deafening clank that broke the silence. “PINCER MOVE! LIKE BIG VAGINA!” He held up one hand to indicate a U-shape, and soon the men had scrambled into position. It faced toward the rear, of course, allowing a greater perimeter for the enemy troops to engage and be pulled into the trap: Any man who broke through the line would be the victim of a vicious pincher attack! He was most proud of his guild fellows: They were laying face down in the middle of the pincher formation, “pretending” to be asleep. Some had even covered themselves in a pool of vomit to disguise their native scent from attackers. Genius. Now there was nothing to do but wait – the Justinii were charging down the hill at full speed and would reach them at any second.

By: Mike, 08/18/12

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