The Tower Besieged
A wraithlike army is pouring out of the deciduous woods that border the castle grounds. White cats in brass goggles are forming up to surround the tower, their white leather greatcoats conspicuous in the flickering firelight of the ravished airship. They are carrying scaling ladders and grappling hooks, and as the sun goes down Les Chats Souterrains are pushing their dark goggles up onto their pickelhaubs or down to hang round their neck. There are Moss Troopers in the ranks as well, large, fierce tabbies in dented tin-hats, a motley assortment of mismatched armour, basket hilted broadswords and targes. And there are a few mercenaries from the continental wars too, distinguishable by their flamboyant wide brimmed hats with ostrich feathers, slashed jackets and vicious Tua handit swerdis. (That’s the local name for two-handed swords.)
“That’s the Overmighty Black Douglas down there,” growls The Gilnockie, “treacherous dog.” Black Douglas glances up and they wave to each other. I can make out the uniforms of Le Régiment Étranger over by the ornamental carp pond where cats are checking the magazines on their PPSh-41 Machineguns. A sea of frowning white faces with beady pink eyes stare up at us.
The Gilnockie’s ghillie-weetfit rushes onto the battlements with his master’s brace of Purdy shot guns. “We’ve shuttered the windows and barricaded the door. Have you seen that mob down below, sir? They don’t look very friendly.” Several ghillies appear with arms full of pikes, halberds and scimitars that had, until minutes ago, decorated the walls of the dining hall, and others have brought the contents of the gun cabinet. Catriona is the last up with a bundle of tweed country jackets to keep out the chill.
I am just starting to feel a bit better about our chances when another bunch of ruffians emerge to form up behind Les Chats. These are huge ginger haired highlanders in kilts and Borderers in scraps of ancient, ill-fitting armour, cuirasses and plackarts, mail, greaves and vambraces. Mostly they are carrying old Sten Guns and assault rifles, Czech Sa vz 58Ps, Enfield Bullpups, Sturmgewehr 44s, Cristobal carbines and stuff I can only guess at; trophies from countless raids and conflicts, passed down from father to son.
“Those were my boys,” says The Gilnockie, “Looks like they’ve sided with the opposition. Sorry. We could be out on a bit of a limb, here.”
But the newcomers aren’t exactly mingling or being welcomed. Les Chats are starting to look uncomfortable and mumbling amongst themselves. And now the cavalry has arrived, in olive green fatigues and balaclavas, hefting AK-47s. I can see a tall white horse ridden by a slim chap in a flamboyant hussar uniform with his face hidden behind a ski mask under his shiny black shako.
That’s, Subcomandante Everyman,” I shout. And Boz looks quizzically at Slasher McGoogs:
“I thought you were Subcommandante Everyman.”
“Not this time old chap,” he replies. Because it is the Snake Pass Zapatistas and there is their black banner with a scull and crossbones, and Snowdrop canters out of the woods on her tachanka with Strawberry manning the Maxim Model 1910.
Les Chats Soutarrains have split into small groups, with their hands in their pockets, staring at their feet or whistling innocently. The scaling ladders have been abandoned on the lawn and are being avoided by their erstwhile owners. The white menace is melting away with the cats of Le Régiment Étranger covering their retreat whilst trying hard to look as if they are not, and the Zapatistas strike up a merry La Cucaracha to encourage the departure.
We are all rushing down stairs and wrenching away the heavy timbers that brace the outside door and are dashing out to meet the Zapatistas. Les Chats Souterrains are all gone, Black Douglass and his Moss Troopers have disappeared and the mercenaries are trying to negotiate a change of paymaster, without much success. Subcomandate Everyman springs down from his charger. He strides over towards us, removing his shako and ski mask. And it is Aunty Stella!
Byline: Phoebles (mostly)
Somewhere north of The Wall