1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 35

More shooting. This time he saw the little flashes, nothing like the great long spout of flame and sparks you got with a wheel-lock, and certainly no flash from the priming. He broke into a dead run at where he’d seen the flashes.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’m hit!” O’Halloran again. Couldn’t be serious, not at this distance. Wouldn’t feel like that to him, though. Finnegan grinned.

“Toole! See to O’Halloran!” he yelled, vaulting over where the man was on the ground clutching at his belly. No time to see if he’d been really unlucky and had a ball go through his coat. Unlikely, but it happened.


Darryl pumped his arms and legs for all they were worth. He’d fired once, a fast group of three. Hopefully he’d aimed high enough to miss everyone that was chasing them. He wanted a bit more of a gap before he slowed down enough to turn and fire again. He passed Cromwell, who was crouched ready.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

There was a scream. Cromwell hadn’t aimed high enough. It was a common beginner’s mistake for guys used to the old muzzle-loading pistols. They expected the things to buck right up on firing so they aimed low to compensate. Took a fair bit of practise to drill them right on the new firearms. Cromwell hadn’t had it.

Darryl pumped out a dead sprint for another hundred yards and turned in the shade of a low willow tree, not much taller than he was. He spat to clear the leaves out of his mouth. The bad guys were still coming on, hampered by heavy coats and armor. They’d only fired the two shots, and someone over there had definitely yelled something that sounded like “prisoner” — if that was what passed for an Irish accent down-time, it was going to take some getting used to after the brogues Darryl had heard on TV. He brought his pistol up as he spotted Cromwell coming, haring past him with a grin on his face. Turned out the big guy was faster over this rough country than Darryl. Not a big deal, but he could see he was going to come in for some ribbing over it later.

He realised he was in a proper shooter’s stance and thought no, damn it, always wanted to do this. He flipped the pistol on its side and fired one handed, using the kick of the weapon to fan half a dozen shots in the general direction of the air over the bad guys’ heads. A couple of them, gratifyingly, went headlong into the dirt as the rounds cracked over their heads.

As he turned to run again, he grinned to himself. Sure, you can’t hit shit that way, but if you don’t want to, it surely is fun. More yells from behind. None in pain, more in outrage. More shots — real shots, not wheel-lock nonsense, getting hit at this distance with one of those meant you probably shouldn’t have got out of bed that morning — and the attention of the bad guys was on someone else for the moment.

He could concentrate on running, then, and this kind of ground needed it. What wasn’t tussocks was hummocks, and what wasn’t either was flat-out squishy. It was quite comfy underfoot, right up to the point where it took your ankle over or face planted you. Cromwell had made them spend a couple of hours earlier practising running over the stuff. Man believed in preparing properly for things, and that was to the good. What wasn’t was that he regarded a whole lot of prayer as part of proper preparation. Bearable, though.

There he was again, he’d picked a clump of something thorny this time. Darryl pounded past him, slacking off the pace enough to rummage in a back pocket for a spare mag. Clutch between teeth, check. Old mag out, check. Into back pocket, check. Fresh mag, check.

Fortunately the headlong fall was right into a nice, soft tussock of something with lovely little whitish flowers. By daylight, a sort of pinkish-white. About the same color as the stars that flashed across his vision.

He grunted. By some miracle he still had gun and mag in his hands, and applied one to the other as he rolled over onto his back. Cromwell came pounding over. “Up, lad,” he grunted, stopping to extend a hand down to Darryl.

“Thanks,” he gasped back, coming to his feet to see a helmeted, breastplated guy with a big stick in his hand pounding up.

Aim for the head he’s got armor, something in the back of Darryl’s mind shrieked and then centre of mass! No time! Three quick shots, the first snatched, headed off to Lincolnshire somewhere, the second close enough to make the guy wince and the third producing a satisfying tonk as it hit metal and the guy spun over and went down in flail of limbs, roaring something foul-sounding. There was a flurry of sparks and then a dull, rupturing thud as the man’s pistol discharged, but by then Darryl and Cromwell were already turning to run.

There was a second one almost on them, and Darryl put his head down for another sprint, blowing and heaving to get air back into himself as much as he could. It’d be a bastard to get a stitch right now. He’d never been unfit, track and football all through school followed by mine work, but he’d just spent a whole damned year cooped up in the Tower. Exercise hadn’t been on his list of priorities beyond a regular stroll along the walls and some work on building the steam laundry. They hadn’t been out long enough to get back to peak condition, not hardly at all. Cromwell was just as bad; he’d maybe started out fitter, but he’d been locked in one room for a year.

More shots, more swearing, and a loud thud as whoever was behind them either dove for cover or tripped. Could be either.

Cromwell grunted. “Stitch.”

“Got it,” Darryl grunted back, and stuffed his pistol into its under-arm holster. He had a couple of sore spots from falling over, and he knew those were going to give him trouble tomorrow, but he was damned if he was going to say anything. Besides, they were now in the “getting away with it” phase of operations and the important part here was getting away. He dragged his zippo out of his pocket — a down-time one, the flint was bigger and the case prettier — and stopped.

One, two, three strikes. No flame. With the other hand he was pulling a short lump of dynamite out of his pocket. Three, four, five — and then it caught.

Turned. Close. Fuse lit.

He tossed the fizzing thing at his feet and lit off again. Maybe two or three seconds of fuse and — CRACK!

He staggered and stumbled, ooofing out all his wind momentarily, and with a hasty drag of cool night air dug deep for a faster sprint. He had to hope the others were ready for that as he was. Not likely he’d killed anyone, unless someone was stupid enough to step right on an obviously-burning fuse. No compression, no fragments, and a small charge. Not much more powerful than a Fourth-of-July firecracker — okay, a pretty big one — and you’d have to be right on top of it to get hurt. The flash and bang would have rattled everyone’s teeth and —

CRACK! From the sounds someone else had thought the bad guys were getting a bit close. Good. Stuff needed using up. He’d cleared out his own stock that he had in the Tower and replaced it with a box of Harry’s, but it was getting on to six months old and he’d had to be elaborately careful cutting the sticks down and fitting them with squibs.

He caught up with Cromwell. “Can. Ease. Off.” He puffed out in time with the breaths he was taking.

Cromwell gasped back. “Match.” He had pulled out two lengths of slow-match. “Light. Bombs.”

A moment’s thought, and yes, that ought to work better than stopping to spark his lighter. Could he get it lit on the run?

Cromwell had thought of that, and stopped and took aim behind them. Darryl stopped too. Their pursuers had dropped back some, cautious about the explosions. Cromwell emptying his magazine in their general direction sent three guys Darryl could see dropping for cover, and in the time that bought them he got the matches lit and someone else threw another stub of dynamite.

He handed off one match to Cromwell as they turned to run and both of them got stubs out. He watched Cromwell do his first — hold the fuse to the match, blow on it, drop the stub, run like hell.

He did the same, another sprint away from the blast, and they settled in to a steady lope that would let them open the distance a little, but not too much.

Ten more minutes of running and the sounds of pursuit had faded to their rear. By now, everyone had converged on the same spot and slowed to an easy jog. Cromwell looked like he was getting a second wind. The four professional soldiers looked in better shape, but then they’d not been cooped up for a year with no good exercise.

“This. Is why. I went. For cavalry,” Leebrick panted out. “Horse. Does. The work.”

“Little Downham,” Cromwell panted out, pointing off to their left, where a village was visible on a small rise. “Half way.”

“Ambush. At the road?” Leebrick asked. They’d hoped to have more of a lead at this point. By the time they reached the road with its banks and ditches — from which they could deliver a volley of bullets and bombs before running again — and got dug in and the pursuers caught up, they’d only just have their breath back. Ready for another three miles of running.

“As planned,” Darryl gasped out. Even a short break was better than no break, and they didn’t want the pursuers getting … unenthusiastic.