Book Excerpt from The Ganthoran Gambit

March 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

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After showing you the excerpts from the first three books in the First Admiral series, I’m now sharing an excerpt from the fourth book, The Ganthoran Gambit. Enjoy!

Book Excerpt

Discipline averts disasters, Billy Caudwell, or, rather, the part of his mind that was the long-dead Garmaurian First Admiral; Teg Skarral Portan, knew.

The south wall was on the point of collapse, and Billy knew that if it fell, the Zulus could roll up the entire British position. What had been a stalwart defensive position would become a rat trap, with the British and Native soldiers being hunted down and butchered like fugitives.

“Major Pulleine!” Billy called for his second-in-command.

“Sir!” Pulleine fired his pistol into the body of a Zulu, who had just broken through the barricade.

“Hold on here! When you hear the bugle play a long note, withdraw everyone twenty yards, then get the riflemen into two ranks!” Billy ordered.

“Sir!” Pulleine leapt back into the battle at the south wall.

“Bugler, with me!” Billy ordered the tall, skinny, dark-haired boy who was no older than he was.

Running back to the lines where the Natal Infantry stood in reserve, Billy could see that the soldiers, on all four walls, were heavily engaged in the hand-to-hand. The tactic of setting rifles next to spear men was paying off. The Natal Infantry were fighting like demons. Their long spears and shields were holding the Zulus at bay for the riflemen to load and fire, or to add weight with their bayonets. But, already, the area behind the fighting line was littered with dead and injured. The north wall was holding as were the upper parts of the eastern and western walls. With the south wall in dire threat, the lower parts of the eastern and western walls were also coming under increasing pressure.

“Bring your men forward, into a horse-shoe line,” Billy indicated to the officers of the two waiting Spear Companies.

This was the last throw. The three hundred men he had not yet committed to the battle. All around him: rifles banged, metal clanged against metal, and men screamed in pain or shouted in defiance as they struggled hand-to-hand in the life or death battle. The reserve of Natal Infantry was brought forward and shaken into a rough semblance of a line. Stepping forward, Billy took the dark brown shield from one Infantryman and buried the butt into the ground.

This was it.

There would be no retreat from this point. If it came to the worst, then they could form a final, last stand, rally square around this shield.

“Thirty men, reinforce and hold those corners, and the wall!” Billy ordered the Spear Company commanders, “Hold those corners at all costs!”

“Yes, sir,” an officer said.

“Major Pulleine!” Billy called, trying to make his voice heard above the clang of metal the crash of shots and the screams of the wounded.

“Sir!” emerging from the press of struggling and fighting bodies, Major Pulleine trotted over to Billy’s position.

“We need to get this lot sorted out quickly!” Billy said.

“Yes sir!”

“Get thirty good bayonet men together, when we go in, you and me are going to cut a path through to that breach in the wall!”

“Yes sir!”

Watching the battle at the south wall, Billy could see that the redcoats and the Natal Infantry were holding doggedly on to their ground. It was a bitter, brutal fight, with no love lost between the Natal Infantry and the Zulu warriors. The Natal Infantrymen were pushing their spear points forward, into the press of Zulus just beyond the barricade wall. Again and again, they thrust their spears forward and found targets amongst the bodies of the attackers. But, many of them had already fallen to the spears and clubs of the Zulus. As he watched, a Natal Infantryman, with a red bandana around his forehead, reeled backwards from the barricade with a spear pushed all the way through his body. He staggered back a couple of steps, and then fell over onto his side.

A few feet to the right of the fallen Natal Infantryman, a British corporal was pulling a dead rifleman back from the barricade. The corporal, dragging the body backwards by the webbing, grabbed the Martini-Henry rifle from the fallen man’s lifeless hand and, with the speed and skill of a professional pickpocket, cleared out the dead man’s ammunition pouches. Casting the body aside, the corporal handed out the bullets to three other riflemen, before handing the rifle, and more bullets, to a Natal cavalryman.

With the thirty Natal Infantrymen now sent to each corner of the new line, and engaging with the Zulus at the barricade wall, it was almost time for Billy to play his gamble.

“Sir!” Major Pulleine called out, “I’ve got thirty bayonet men!”

“Well done, Major!” Billy praised his second-in-command, as the group of thirty redcoats formed a rough semi-circle in front of Billy.

The bayonet party was the worst looking bunch of miscreants and rogues Billy had ever seen. Most of them were wounded, but as he looked into the eyes of many of them, Billy could see that they would relish a fight. Many of them were men that enjoyed killing simply for the sake of it, and, for a moment, Billy shuddered. But, then again, this was what he needed. This was going to be a nasty close-quarter fight; a fight that these men would revel in.

“Right lads! We’re going to blast a path open to that breach, and then we’re going to seal it!” Billy began, “When we charge, you ignore everything else and you follow me and Major Pulleine! We go for that breach!” Billy’s voice was filled with anticipation, “Any way you can, you get to that breach in the south wall! There’s no room for Marquis of Queensberry rules here!”

From where he was standing, Billy could see the wicked smiles crossing the smeared and dirty faces of the chosen redcoats. This was what they wanted to hear. For many, the Army had been rules and regulations, drills and marching, even the fighting had been done in ranks and files, volleys and routines. Now they were about to be let loose in a no-holds-barred brawl.

“Any way you can,” Billy repeated, “do you understand me!?”

“Sir,” came a few muttered responses.

“I said, do you understand me!?” Billy shouted.

“YES, SIR!!” The bayonet men chorused happily.

“Very good, now make sure the rifles are loaded!”

“Right then, wait for the command, and, good luck everyone!” Billy said.

With the Natal Infantry and the Bayonet Group in place, Billy was now ready.

“Bugler, one long note, now!” Billy ordered.

The bugler, with regimentally correct flourish, set the instrument to his lips and began to blow.

“COME ON, LADS, FALL BACK!!” An officer’s voice yelled, as the soldiers started to dash back to Billy’s new position.

“MOVE YOURSELVES!!” the NCO bellowed as the redcoats and Native troops scampered back.

It took no more than four seconds for the first of the soldiers to reach Billy’s new line.

“Right!” yelled Billy, “Two ranks of rifles, front rank kneel!…Two ranks of rifles, front rank kneel!….Make sure you’re loaded!…Two ranks of rifles, front rank kneel!..,” Billy began the orders which were quickly taken up by the other officers and NCOs, who quickly began to shake a new position from the confusion.

Men with rifles were sorted and barged into two new firing lines, whilst the spear carrying Natal Infantrymen were pushed and shoved into the spear line behind the rifles. The Zulus, stunned by the disappearance of the defenders in front of them, took a few seconds to realise that part of the barricade was now un-manned. With a choice of clambering over the barricade to get at the defenders, or trying to tear it down; which would allow others access to the interior, the Zulus attempted both at the same time. Some started to climb over the collection of wagons, boxes, furniture, sacks, and equipment, whilst some tried to drag the materials down. In the press of bodies close to the barricade, and encumbered with shields, spears and clubs, the Zulus took no more than a few seconds to get the first man onto the barricade.

When the first man clambered up onto the east wall, a young redcoat lieutenant, who was moving back; the last man to leave the barricade, shot the invader down with his pistol. The Zulu, dropping his shield and weapons, clutched his chest and fell backwards into the press of bodies behind him. And, as the lieutenant sprinted for the new line, Billy saw several wounded men trying to crawl back to the new position. But, it was already too late for them.

That is the price of command, Billy thought to himself as one injured Natal Infantryman stretched out his hand to his comrades.

The scampering soldiers had no time to lift the wounded. That was just the way it was. The lines had to be formed quickly, or the Zulus would overwhelm the whole position. The two lines of riflemen stretched in an outward curve from the east to the west wall of the barricade. The horse-shoe shape that Billy had ordered for the Natal Infantrymen was being mirrored by the line of riflemen. Billy knew that he could not use a straight line, because he needed to scour Zulus from the lower parts of the abandoned east and west walls. A straight line would have had the tendency to fire straight ahead; ignoring the flanks. Glancing at the riflemen in the firing lines, Billy could see quite a mixed bag of units.

There were redcoats and various mounted volunteer units, some of Durnford’s Natal cavalry, with tan uniforms, who had acquired Martini-Henry rifles. Some of the cavalrymen still had their rifled carbines in their hands, with a few precious cartridges still left in their ammunition pouches. As Billy glanced, a redcoat with a blond moustache was passing a handful of cartridges to a Natal Infantryman with a Martini-Henry.

Every bullet is going to count here, Billy thought as he turned back to the barricade.

All of the riflemen were filthy. The smoke and powder residue had laid down a carpet of soot and grime onto their face and hands. The sweat from the constant exertions of fighting had carved channels through the dirt, and more than one forehead was smeared from the rubbing of stinging eyes. Some of them were injured. More than one uniform was torn or ripped. Bandages adorned faces, heads, arms hands, and, in some cases, legs. One man in the front rank was unable to stand or kneel, owing to a wound to his leg, yet he was still able to fire his rifle from the seated position.

The Native troops had fared no better, with an equally impressive collection of injuries and battle scars.

One of the Natal Infantryman was leaning heavily against his spear, whilst a comrade wound a dressing around his chest that was already starting to soak through with blood. The Infantryman winced with the pain, but refused to leave his post. If he was going to die, then he would die standing up with his comrades.

Looking at the barricade, the Zulus were starting to scramble onto the south and east walls, whilst some of their comrades were already starting to pull or push material down to allow passage.

“Front rank!…Aim!” Billy ordered and watched as the rifles were raised to their shoulders, “FIRE!” Billy bellowed.

In a great plume of rifle smoke, the front rank disappeared.

On the barricade, many of the Zulus that had managed to climb onto the wall were scythed down. The handful that had survived the first volley were jumping down onto the British side, when Billy let loose the volley from the second rank. The Zulus on the British side of the barricade were cut down mercilessly, as were many of their comrades who had just climbed onto the walls. But regardless of their losses, the Zulu warriors were clambering up onto the barricade.

“Rear rank!…Aim!…FIRE!!” Billy shouted as the volley roared again, “Pulleine, take over!”

“Sir!”

“Front rank!…Aim!…FIRE!!” Major Pulleine bellowed as another volley hurtled downrange to smash into the Zulu ranks.

“Rear rank!…Aim!…FIRE!!” Pulleine continued the litany of death; the relentless volleys that were chopping the Zulu intruders to ruins.

Billy waited, watching the situation closely, the inside part of the wall was now littered with dead and injured Zulus.  Feverishly, he strapped a Zulu shield with a broken shaft to his left arm. Zulu bodies were strewn over the top of the barricade. On one wagon, a dead Zulu lay, his head and left arm hanging down beside the wheel. A wounded Zulu was trying to clamber back over the barricade to safety, away from the relentless hail of lead and destruction. Crawling slowly over the top of the barricade, he was hit by another bullet, which flung him back onto the British side of the wall. With a great roar, a section of the south wall, about two metres wide, collapsed outwards.

This is it, Billy thought to himself, and lifted up a short-stabbing assegai from a dead Zulu just behind him.

“Both ranks!” Billy took over from Pulleine’s litany, “Aim!” Billy called as the Zulus started to swarm into the position, “FIRE !” he bellowed one last time.

The final volley shattered through the sound of fighting that was going on at the walls still held by the British. The “zulu-zulu-zulu-zulu” chant was drowned out by the massive volley, which chopped down almost every Zulu within the position.

“CHARGE!!” Billy screamed, raised the stabbing assegai above his head and started running towards the south wall.

Behind him, he heard the screams and war cries of the Natal Infantry; who, fleeter of foot than the red-coats and other Europeans, surged forward behind their red-haired colonel.

The Zulus who had survived the volley, and were already shocked and stunned from the ferocity of the rifle fire, suddenly found themselves faced with almost four hundred screaming and charging Natal Infantrymen, followed by the riflemen and their viciously sharp bayonets. For some of the Zulu survivors, it was too much to ask of them to stand and fight this onslaught, and they began to turn and run. For some, the great swarm that had just broken into the position, their fighting spirit was still intact.

For Billy Caudwell, the battle was now focussed on the metre of Zulu front line that was taking shape before him. Nothing else mattered except for the two warriors who were standing in his way. Both were carrying black shields and wearing black loin cloths, although one was considerably taller than the other. They both carried the short-stabbing assegai, and had a strange crown-like circular hair style, that Billy had first thought was a forage cap of some kind. Seeing the European officer hurtling towards them, the taller of the Zulus was starting to go into a half crouch, projecting his shield in front of him to receive the shock of the expected attack. With his face set in grim determination, the taller Zulu was ready to make a fight of it. The shorter of the two warriors appeared less confident and more anxious. He too set himself in the half crouch, but shuffled nervously from one foot to the other.

He could see from his peripheral vision that more Zulus were flooding in through the gap in the collapsed wall. However, the Zulus were in no kind of formation to receive the British charge. The Zulus were still clustered around the entrance. Also in his line of sight was a ragged formation of screaming and shouting Natal Infantrymen; shields before them, and spears ready to plunge into Zulu flesh. Major Pulleine was about three metres to Billy’s left, and half a pace behind. With a pistol in his left hand, and a straight-bladed sabre in his right, Pulleine was racing towards the Zulu line as it began to spread out from the entrance to the position.

With his blood, and heartbeat, banging in his ears, and his breath coming in gasps, Billy Caudwell hurtled towards the enemy. Looking back at the moment after it had occurred he would scarcely be able to believe that he had led a charge straight into the teeth of a force of armed Zulus. But, the part of his mind that was Teg Skarral Portan, knew that this was the time for him to be seen leading the charge. If Billy Caudwell went forward screaming like a demented banshee, then the rest of his soldiers would follow him.

And, Billy Caudwell had timed it just right.

With a contingent of Zulus crammed into the single entrance way, and smaller groups having just clambered over other parts of the barricade, Billy Caudwell would have the numerical advantage. Billy Caudwell also had the advantage of momentum. When the two bodies of warriors met, it would be the British who would be moving forward, and the Zulus who would be standing still.

With five more powerful strides, and one last great roar of defiance, Billy Caudwell crashed into the two Zulus he had set as his targets.

He was heavier than the Zulus; more muscular, more compact, and slightly more mobile. Billy barged into the taller of the two Zulus with a huge clatter. The shock of the impact registered in his shoulder from the shield strapped to his arm. Swinging the assegai back-handed, Billy felt the satisfying jolt in his arm as the blade of the stabbing spear smashed into the skull of the smaller, more timid warrior; opening the side of his head and shattering the bones beneath. Silently, the smaller warrior’s legs seemed to fold up beneath him as he fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. The larger warrior, however, was still very much alive and fighting. Having been barged over, the Zulu had tumbled onto his backside under the momentum of Billy’s charge. And, just about to rise to his feet, the taller Zulu had been pinioned by a spear from one of the Natal Infantrymen behind Billy.

A look of astonishment on his face, the Zulu looked down at the spear shaft protruding from below his ribcage, and then up at Billy Caudwell who swiftly used the assegai blade to smash down onto the crown of his head.

With an incoherent scream, the Natal Infantryman twisted the spear shaft in his hand and drew the blade free from the Zulu’s intestines. With a wide-eyed gasp, the Zulu arched his back and fell backwards.

The Natal Infantryman was in the process of spitting upon and cursing his dead enemy, when a red-coated rifleman barged past them and plunged into the fray. The sheer momentum and violence of the attack had caught the Zulus by surprise, but many were still offering frantic and desperate resistance. From the feeling of invincibility and victory at having breached the British barricade, the Zulus now found themselves fighting for their lives. However, many of the Zulu warriors had been bypassed by the charge, and found themselves isolated from their comrades.

To his left, Billy saw the red-coated rifleman; with a blond moustache, as he used his bayonet to pierce a Zulu who was trying to strike him with a longer throwing spear. Having been stabbed in the chest, the Zulu screamed as his legs gave way beneath him, and the blond soldier pushed him down with the bayonet. The blond soldier, however, failed to see the Zulu behind him with the war club, and was struck on the back of the head by the new assailant. Wearing his helmet had saved the blond soldier’s life, but he fell to the ground, on his knees, dazed by the blow. With the British soldier’s helmet having been knocked off in the attack, the Zulu assailant was about to finish the blond soldier with the weighted club, when a bayonet plunged into his ribs from the right. With a scream the Zulu dropped his shield and curled over to the right where the bayonet had pierced him. With a grim face, the Natal Infantryman who had bayoneted him twisted the rifle and withdrew the blade.

The blond soldier, still dazed, grabbed his own fallen rifle as another two Zulus appeared from the press of bodies. Standing over the fallen red coat, the Natal Infantryman; who Billy recognised as the one the blond soldier had given ammunition to previously, jabbed at one Zulu with the bayonet and threatened the other, who was standing behind him, with his rifle butt. For a few tense moments, the two Zulus feigned attacks trying to distract the Natal Infantryman; who, standing side on to both of the Zulus, tried to protect the blond red coat. The Zulu to his left was equipped with a zebra hide shield and a short-stabbing assegai, whilst the one to his right carried a white shield and a war club,

It was the blond soldier who broke the stand-off. Rather than the Zulus trying to confuse and distract the Infantryman, the Infantryman had drawn the attention of the two Zulus away from the blond soldier. Having retrieved his rifle, and still on his knees, he still had sufficient mental faculties to recognise an enemy. With a half-hearted and confused lunge; holding his bayonet-tipped rifle in his right hand, he managed to pierce the upper thigh of one of the Zulus.

The Zulu, taken completely by surprise, toppled over clutching his leg. The Zulu with the war club, seeing his comrade injured, took his eyes from the Infantryman for the fraction of a second that the man with the red bandana needed. With the Zulu distracted, the Infantryman moved quicker than a striking rattle-snake and plunged the bayonet straight into the Zulu’s heart. The Zulu, who was killed instantly, collapsed onto the bayonet and almost dragged it from the Infantryman’s hands. However, with a deft twist of the blade, the Natal Infantryman drew the bayonet free.

Meanwhile, the Zulu with the bayonet wound to his thigh was struggling to rise to his feet to finish off the blond soldier. Withdrawing the bayonet from the first Zulu, the Infantryman continued the backward stroke and smashed the rifle butt into the injured Zulu’s face. The Zulu, having just risen, was catapulted backwards onto his back, his ruined nose and mouth spurting blood, teeth and gore.

And, before he could react, the Infantryman had reversed his rifle and thrust the bayonet deep into the Zulu’s throat. With the three enemies dispatched, the Infantryman calmly and gently started to help the blond soldier, unsteadily, to his feet.

Making a mental note of the Infantryman’s courage, Billy returned to the battle which had sent the Zulus reeling back towards the barricade. Dropping the short-stabbing assegai, Billy drew the heavy Pryce pistol from his holster. The riflemen and the Natal Infantry were working well together. The Infantrymen with the longer spears could hold the enemy at bay whilst the riflemen could load and reload their weapons. However, this was a hand-to-hand fight, and the discipline and training of the rifleman with a bayonet was putting the redcoats roughly on a par with the Zulu warrior and his short-stabbing assegai.

The Natal Infantrymen, still hyped-up by their success in defending the wall and pushing the Zulus back, were fighting like demons. Their lifelong fear of the Zulu warrior had been shattered by the repetitive volleys of the British riflemen. They had watched the Zulus retreat; many of them for the first time in their lives, and they wanted to kill the men who had spread terror and destruction through their tribes for generations. The seemingly almighty and invincible Zulu Impis could be humbled, and the Natal Infantrymen wanted their share of the blood and glory.

With their shields and spears, they pushed and stabbed at the Zulus, forcing them into a smaller and smaller space within the confines of the British position. On the north wall and upper east and west walls the “zulu-zulu-zulu-zulu” chant was still trying to drown out the sound of battle.

The walls were holding, and on the lower parts of the east and west walls, the redcoats and Natal Infantry were rapidly pushing the Zulus back over to their own side of the barricade. The crucial point was now the gap in the south wall. In one fluid movement, Billy shoved his pistol between two struggling Natal Infantrymen, and began firing.

Draw back the hammer, squeeze the trigger and feel the recoil, draw back hammer, squeeze trigger, recoil, draw back hammer, squeeze trigger, recoil.

Billy began to empty the pistol at point blank range into the horde of Zulus.

Beside him, Major Pulleine was doing the same thing. On the third shot, Billy barged the two exhausted Infantrymen out from in front of him, and fired the fourth bullet directly into the face of a Zulu with a white ostrich feather head-dress. The Zulu warrior’s head exploded like a ripe watermelon; spraying blood, brains and gore onto everyone within a few feet of him. The fifth and final shot went into the throat of another Zulu, who had a leopard-skin headband. Having killed the leopard-skin warrior, the bullet then passed through to the warrior behind him, lodging in his chest. Both warriors fell backwards, creating a gap in the Zulu line for Billy to exploit.

“GET THEM!!” Billy turned to the bayonet men who were following him.

The men following Billy needed no second invitation. With bayonet points to the fore, they plunged into the gap that the pistol fire had created. A gap of about two metres wide by one metre deep had been carved in the Zulu lines by the two pistols.  This gap gave the bayonet men room to manoeuvre with blade and rifle butt. The hard, tough, experienced bayonet fighters went in hard and started driving the Zulus back further. Billy now plunged into the fray and found a large Zulu with a black shield in front of him. Reacting instinctively, Billy lifted his right leg and kicked the Zulu, who had raised his war club, squarely in the groin.

The Zulu doubled over instantly, allowing Billy to smash the pistol barrel onto the back of the Zulu’s head. With the warrior falling forward, Billy shoved the Zulu backwards with his right hand into the path of another warrior.

“Nice one, sir!” The corporal behind him exclaimed in admiration, as Billy pushed his bayonet into the stomach of another warrior.

The warrior collapsed over the bayonet blade, forcing the corporal to kick the body free with a loud curse. With the blade free, he swung the rifle butt at another Zulu, catching him on the lower jaw. Meanwhile, Billy had stepped over the fallen Zulu and was challenging the next warrior. The warrior moving forward, with a brown shield, raised the assegai to deliver a downwards strike to Billy’s head and shoulders. Thankfully, the move was clumsy and easily read by the part of his mind that was Teg Portan. Raising his left arm; with the shield strapped to it, Billy easily blocked the downward blow and swung backhand with the pistol he was carrying in his right hand. The cold metal of the gun barrel connected with the Zulu’s jaw, shattering it and sending him sprawling backwards into the path of more warriors.

Beside him, Billy saw Major Pulleine swinging his sabre towards a Zulu. A warrior with a long spear had tried to skewer the Major with an upward thrust from behind the shield. The Major had parried the blow with his blade, and had then smashed the sabre’s hand guard into the Zulu’s face. With the Zulu reeling, Pulleine had raised the sabre and brought the blade down through the top of the warrior’s head. The blow had finished up with the blade roughly between the Zulu’s eyes. Pulleine had then kicked the Zulu over to retrieve his blade, before moving onwards.

Dropping the pistol; which was held round his neck by a lanyard, Billy grabbed a fallen assegai. And, armed with a bladed-weapon once more, he stomped onwards through the carnage. Another warrior stood up to him; a big man with a top knot hair style, lots of strange necklaces, and a black shield. His shield came forward first; trying to knock Billy over. But, Billy was the one moving forward, and the Zulu was stationery.

With the momentum behind him, Billy shoved back at the Zulu who tried to stab him in the midriff with his stabbing assegai. Once again, Teg Portan had read the blow, and Billy parried it with the assegai in his right hand. And, before the warrior could use his vastly superior upper body strength to push Billy’s assegai aside, the red-haired teenager drew back his head and head-butted the Zulu squarely on the bridge of the nose. With a spray of blood and mucus, the Zulu lurched backwards; his eyes beginning to tear over and obstruct his vision. The Zulu then felt Billy’s assegai plunge painfully into his abdomen. With a grunt, the Zulu double over, dropping his shield. And, at that moment, Billy twisted the blade and drew the weapon upwards; ripping open the Zulu’s body cavity.

“I’ll bet your mother didn’t teach you that one!” Billy cursed the dying Zulu and moved on.

For the first time, Billy felt warm blood on his hands as the Zulu died with his intestines flowing out from his body. This was the kind of fighting where you saw the enemy’s eyes up close, felt the blood as it was spilled, and smelt your enemy’s last breath as he perished. The part of his mind that was Teg Portan had now become dominant as Billy stepped over another Zulu corpse, looking for more blood to spill.

Around him, the clang of metal on metal, the shouting and screaming associated with the fierce battle, was suddenly heightened as the Bayonet Group tore a path through the Zulus and headed for the breach in the south wall. Billy was oblivious to his surroundings; the sounds of battle, the smell of blood, sweat, and fear. Everything was focussed on the few feet of fierce battle in front of him.

Next to him, on his right, a bayonet slammed forward, over his shoulder, catching a Zulu with a white headband just below the collarbone. The Zulu screamed and fell sideways onto a redcoat from Billy’s Bayonet Group. Caught off balance, the redcoat received a blow to his shoulder from a war club from the Zulu in front of him.

By sheer instinct, the redcoat rammed the rifle and bayonet forward; catching the Zulu in the midriff, before losing the rifle in the press of bodies and reeling back, clutching his shattered upper arm. To his left, a rifle banged. The Zulu was hit in the chest at close range, throwing him backwards against two of his comrades.

Seeing the opportunity, Billy barged in, the shield forward, and the assegai held back at his waist. A war club was suddenly swung at him. Instinctively, the left arm was raised, with the impact from the club being absorbed by the toughened animal skin hide. With the Zulu committed to the blow, his midriff was defenceless.  And, once again, Billy thrust his right arm forward, using his legs and shoulders to drive home the thrust and felt the heavy assegai blade slide smoothly through skin and muscle. The Zulu grunted, and fell away from Billy and onto a Natal Infantryman with an assegai buried in his chest.

Again, Billy stamped forward over the fallen bodies. Another Zulu in the press of bodies appeared in front of Billy. He was an older man with one good eye. The injured eye looked glassy and milky beneath the brown head dress. With yellowing teeth, he smiled an evil grin at Billy Caudwell. And, as he smiled, the old Zulu rammed his shield forward, whilst, at the same time swinging the stabbing assegai downwards at Billy’s head. Through sheer animal reflex, Billy barged forward, meeting the blow from the shield with his own shielded left arm. Raising his right arm, Billy met the downward slash of the assegai with his own blade. The two blades clanged heavily, and sparked as they clashed.

The shock from the blow ran up Billy’s arm, but he held firm, pushing the attacking blade away from him. With his arm forced away, the old warrior’s eyes widened with terror as Billy’s assegai blade returned and slashed into the side of his neck. Opening the arteries on the Zulu’s neck, blood splashed in three surging pumps before the old warrior’s eyes flickered, closed, and he fell to the ground.

His right arm sheeted with blood, Billy stamped forward again and was challenged by a massive warrior with a war club. The huge, rotund warrior was in a white loin cloth with a matching shield and headband. Beside him lay two dead Natal Infantryman, and a third was about to join them after sustaining a fatal blow to his skull. Yelling, the massive Zulu swung the war club and clambered over a fallen redcoat to reach Billy. On the attack, Billy stormed forward to meet this giant of a man. The Zulu’s legs were as thick as tree trunks and his chest like a great barrel. Billy raised his shield arm, and caught the blow. To Billy, it felt like his arm had been hit by a moving bus as he was sent sprawling to the ground.

The Zulu having launched the blow was now over-balanced and received a rifle butt to the side of the head from a bare-footed Native cavalryman. The giant Zulu lurched forward, shook his head, and smashed his shield into the cavalryman who was swept off his feet. Billy, well aware that sitting on his backside in a melee was not a safe thing to do, promptly clambered to his feet as the Zulu strode towards him.

Once again, the part of his mind that was Teg Portan came to his rescue. The Zulu steadily approached Billy, his massive body rippling with every step. Billy darted forward to meet the giant, his shield raised. The giant, seeing the young teenager darting towards him raised his war club and struck downwards. Anticipating the blow, Billy had ducked at the last moment and twisted to his left, brushing against the huge white shield carried by the Zulu.

Having gotten past the shield, Billy slashed at the giant’s huge legs with the blade of the assegai. The blade connected with the rear of the giant’s knee; slashing tendons and blood vessels alike.

With a searing pain in his right knee, the giant bellowed like a wounded ox and collapsed to the ground, where an instant later two redcoats plunged their bayonets into his broad, muscular back. For a moment, the huge Zulu lurched and shuddered on the ground, and then fell still and silent.

Turning again, Billy encountered a small wiry Zulu with an assegai. The small, wiry man stabbed at Billy. But, Billy easily caught the blow on his shield and fended it away, whilst jabbing his own assegai upward. The upwards blow caught the wiry Zulu just behind the chin. The viciously sharp blade passed through the skin of the neck, through his tongue, the roof of his mouth and into the base of his brain, killing him instantly.

However, as Billy tried to retrieve the blade form the falling Zulu, he felt a sharp, searing pain in his left arm. For a split-second, he saw the blade of a long throwing spear being withdrawn from the tear in his uniform sleeve. Billy yelped and let go of the assegai buried in the wiry Zulu’s head. Beside him, another rifle banged and the spear blade fell away as the holder was flung backward. Grabbing his left arm with his right hand, Billy stumbled clear of the melee; losing his helmet in the process, and lurched forward onto the ground, next to the huge Zulu he had disabled only a few seconds before.

“Go on, lads, into them!” a British voice called and three pairs of booted feet in blue trousers ran past him.

“You all right, sir?” the man with the same voice said, crouching down next to Billy.

Unable to speak, Billy nodded his head and waved away the red-coated figure, who was a Sergeant in the 24th.

“You! Over there! Come ‘ere and give this Officer a hand!” the sergeant yelled.

Rolling over onto his back, Billy could see the bright African sun against the blue sky, and for a moment, it dazzled him. Taking a deep breath, Billy winced as the burning pain shot from his arm across to his shoulder.

“It’s the colonel!” another voice called and helped Billy sit up.

“We’d best tell Major Pulleine,” the sergeant said.

“NO!” Billy shouted, “No sergeant, it’s just a scratch, just let me rest a minute and help me get up,”

“Looks like a bit more than a scratch, can you still move your arm and wiggle your fingers, sir?” the second voice asked.

Focussing on the figure, Billy saw that it was a young private in a red uniform.

“Come on then, sir, upsy-daisy!” the sergeant said as strong arms helped Billy onto his feet.

“Looks like we’ve get them beat, sir,” the NCO said.

For a moment, Billy felt light-headed, and wanted to vomit.

“Take a couple of deep breaths and you’ll be fine, sir, and let me have a quick look at that arm?” the Bandsman asked.

“No! Thank you private,” Billy said gulping down some fresh air, “It’s just a scratch…there are injured men that need your attention more than I do,”

“Very good, sir,” the Bandsman replied and dashed off to find injured men in the battle line.

“You gonna be all right, sir?” the sergeant asked.

“Yes, I’m fine, sergeant. Now carry on with your duties,” Billy replied, still catching his breath and wishing that the sergeant would go away.

“Sir,” the sergeant responded, saluted and dashed off to find his men.

Looking around him for the first time, Billy could see that the sergeant was indeed correct in his evaluation of the military situation.

The north wall was still holding, as were the upper parts of the east and west walls. A few fugitives were being hunted down behind the wall as the redcoats and Natal Infantrymen resumed the battle over the one-metre barricade. The scrimmage for the south wall was still in full swing. Bayonets and spears were tearing into the dwindling Zulu numbers, whilst at the same time, redcoats and Natal Infantrymen were stumbling free from the press of bodies with their injuries. The riflemen not engaged at the front of the battle had resumed shooting down any Zulus who were trying to clamber onto the barricade.

At the breach in the south wall, Billy could see a huge “V” of cleared ground, strewn with dead and injured, that drove through the heart of the Zulu “blister” around the gap. Major Pulleine and the Bayonet Group were hacking, slashing, stabbing, and clubbing their way through anyone that got in their way. Already, he could see Zulus shrinking and cowering away from the savage ferocity of the attack. Rifle butts, bullets, and blades were dividing the Zulu formation next to the breach, whilst riflemen and Natal Infantry supported the Bayonet Group spearhead. Some Zulus were trying to re-cross the wall to escape the savage onslaught, but sharp-eyed riflemen quickly spotted them and shot them down.

On either side of the “V”, the front line of riflemen and Natal Infantry was gradually pushing the Zulus back. The front line was actually three deep in Natal Infantrymen and redcoats who were hacking, slashing, stabbing, and shooting at the mass of Zulus they had pinned against the south wall. However, the Zulu toe-hold on the British side of the barricade was dwindling with every passing second. And, as the Zulu position shrunk, the trampling feet of the riflemen and Natal Infantry passed over the carnage and horror of the hand-to-hand fighting.

The bodies of the dead and injured lay like a carpet on the ground behind the front line as the riflemen and Natal Infantrymen drove forward. Some writhed and shrieked from the wounds to their riven bellies, whilst others moaned in their pain, and many more simply lay still. A few figures were trying to crawl away from the hideous carpet of bodies. The redcoats and Natal Infantry found help from the British bandsmen, whilst the Zulus found that a bayonet or a bullet would end their suffering.

The air rang with the clash of metal, the bang of shots, and the screams and shouts of battle. Still, the fight raged on. Turning to the west wall, Billy could see that it was almost entirely reclaimed by the British forces. At one point, Billy saw a huge dark-haired redcoat corporal lift a dead Zulu from the ground and throw the corpse bodily at three warriors who were attempting to climb back onto the barricade. The three intruders were swept away by the dead flesh and the corporal’s strength. Meanwhile, the corporal’s comrades and the Natal Infantrymen were jabbing, stabbing, and shooting at the Zulus who clung on to the other side of the barricade.

Suddenly, from the south wall, there erupted a great cheer. Turning swiftly, Billy could see that Pulleine and the survivors of the Bayonet Group had reached the breach. They had divided the Zulu contingent and had cut them off from reinforcement. Redcoats were piling forward and forming up at the breach with spear-carrying Natal Infantrymen. And, within seconds, the first ragged volley was reaching out to the Zulus beyond the south wall.

The Natal Infantrymen at the breach were jabbing and stabbing at the Zulus, who were struggling to clamber onto the barricade on either side of the breach.

And, it was these ragged volleys and jabbing spears that finally convinced the Zulus on the south wall that the battle was over.

Finding themselves attacked from their flanks, the Zulus around the breach started to turn and run. And, when one group began to run, it was like the entire Zulu attack peeled away from the front of the barricade.

Seeing the warriors on their flanks running convinced others that this was not the time or place to die needlessly whilst others saved themselves. Within seconds, the entire Zulu contingent facing the south wall was disintegrating as the warriors began to run. Within fifteen seconds, the entire south wall, outside the British position, was clear of Zulus. The eastern and western walls were also starting to see the Zulus disengage and flee back to the river, or back to the dongas. With jeers and rifle shots following them, the Zulus who had come so close to breaking into the position and overwhelming it were now retreating in disarray. To Billy’s amazement and relief, the Zulus on the eastern and western walls were peeling off. A few die-hard Zulus tried to carry on the fight, but were soon silenced by blades and bullets.  With the eastern and western attacks folding up, the Zulus at the north wall soon found themselves without the traditional support on their flanks. Then, they too began to run.

It’s over, Billy thought as he held on to his injured left arm.

The riflemen and Natal Infantrymen on the north wall began to cheer and celebrate, but there was still the problem of several hundred Zulus trapped down by the south wall. It was a problem that solved itself very quickly. Having seen their comrades on the other side of the wall flee, the warriors trapped within the British position either tried to climb back over the barricade, or they began to throw their weapons down.

In the brutal hand-to-hand, it took the British several minutes to realise that the enemy were capitulating, and dozens of surrendering warriors were cut down in the confusion. The officers, realising what was happening, called their men back and allowed the Zulus to throw down their shields, spears and clubs.

Once again, the British position rang to the sounds of cheers and celebrations, as the defeated and captured Zulus sat down, dejectedly, and covered their heads with their hands and arms.

In the deepest shame.

The Ganthoran Gambit

Book IV The Ganthoran GambitBilly Caudwell, the teenage First Admiral of the Universal Alliance Fleet, has successfully completed the Time Warrior Ritual and stands as Emperor-elect of the Ganthoran Empire.

However, he has little time to savour his triumph. Even as Billy emerges from the Time Warrior Arena, the four remaining Frontier Fleets have mutinied against him under the influence of a mysterious and anonymous shadow Emperor. A sociopathic Frontier Fleet General has occupied the Empire’s capital city, wreaking a terrible vengeance upon his enemies and the civilian population.

With the shattered remains of a Frontier Fleet and a weakened Alliance contingent, Billy Caudwell has to take the biggest gamble of his life. With the fate of an empire at stake, Billy has to risk everything to prevent decades of war and bloodshed.

Author Bio

The author, William J.Benning was born in Dumfries (south west Scotland) in 1963. With his 50th birthday fast approaching, Benning has decided to grow old disgracefully. An intensely private individual, Benning recently returned to his home town seeking inspiration for his passion of creative writing. At age 18, Benning left home to take an Honours Degree in Psychology at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. He has some very fond memories, and many nights of vague recollection – which are, on the whole, probably best forgotten (!) – from his student days. After graduating, Benning had a career “false start” moving into the world of Pest Control Management. However, after several unhappy years, he switched tack and took further qualifications in Personnel Management, carving out a successful and enjoyable career in Human Resources as well as Learning & Development. Throughout his career, Benning has worked to support the activities of the British Red Cross.

From his early days as a First Aid Volunteer, he enjoyed working for the organisation which gave him further skills and built his self-confidence. Progressing within British Red Cross, Benning became a First Aid Instructor (Trainer), Assessor and Lecturer plus becoming invoved in training other Trainers and Assessors. Having returned to Dumfries to further his writing career, Benning now lives alone, but has been adopted by four members of the Canine Community. With four dogs in his life – and a newly arrived litter of Tibetan Terrier pups – plus a newly published novel, life is never going to be dull for Benning. William likes his sci-fi, but is also keen on military history and speculative fiction. Among his fiction favourites are Harry Turtledove, the late George MacDonald Fraser, Bernard Cornwell and Clive Cussler. William collects Edinburgh Crystal and has a terrible weakness for malt whisky. He has published his novel First Admiral with Malachite Quills in 2012.

Links

www.clockworkquills.com
http://www.wjbenning.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/FirstAdmiralSeries

Buy your own copy of the First Admiral series here: http://www.clockworkquills.com/the-first-admiral-series.html

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