Bitter. Cold. Wind. Even the sentry’s breath freezes coating his scarf. He checks the leather wrap over his musket’s firing pan. The powder is still dry. Huddled behind him his comrades cook the last horse over a fire made from their empty supply wagon. The meat smelled divine though the aroma might bring the zombies. Damn them, Pierre swore.
Some Grand Army now, a dozen scarecrows in remnants of proud martial attire--the green of dragoons, the red pelisse of a hussar jacket and the blue of the infantry. “Pierre, come eat,” hollered Louis.
Pierre shouldered his musket, came and sat; he rubbed his hands letting the warmth of the flames melt the ice on his makeshift blanket-gloves. “Louis, merci,” he took the offered meat. For a moment he felt nothing of the hot burning horseflesh, until he bit off a piece. Its warmth spread in his body.
“Viva l’Emperor,” he chuckled. A chorus of sarcastic quips fired back.
“Indeed,” rumbled a large man in the uniform of the Imperial Guard.
His great mustache is white with ice. “I am sure our Emperor is safely in some mistress’ warm bed while we.... we are left here to guard his rear end.” The giant bent over and spit into the fire; his spatial froze mid air and hissed on a log.
“Ah, to see Paris again,” sighed Corporal Louis.
“Paris? You will be lucky to see a warm Russian jail before this night is through.” A wolf…” Those damn wolves are everywhere,” the guardsman said. A wolf howled on their side of the river.
“Quick, back to back,” Louis called. The ragged band turned outward, swords, pistol, muskets and lance at the ready. Their emperor had abandoned them, but they were still not ready to surrender to fate.
“See anything?” Pierre said.
“In this snow storm, no.” Louis answered.
The howls moved on further away.
“I don’t know what is worse, this cold or the wolves.” Pierre tore a chuck of horse with his teeth. “How do the Russians stand this?”
The big guardsman laughed, “You forget, they’re dead. Remember how we crushed them at Borodino. Until their Czar made a pack with his dark necromancers’. They took the Witch Crown of Ivan the Terrible and called up the dead to fight us. They don’t feel anything, my friend. We shot them till we ran out of powder at Moscow and retreated.”
“Let’s blow the bridge and be done,” Pierre said. “No one else is coming across.”
Just then the wind died and the winter landscape was still. A scraping sound from the other side of the river could be heard. It grew with every heartbeat. It sounded like hundreds of feet crunching on snow and ice.
“To the bridge!” Pierre shouted. He snatched up a burning piece of wood. The others followed him, each grabbing a firebrand. Soon a line of torches snaked toward the wooden structure. Except, for sound of hundreds of feet it was as quiet a tomb.
When Pierre set foot on the pontoon bridge he slowed to a walk. He used the light from his makeshift torch and the moon to trace the fuse. It stretched along the planks for about fifty feet then connected to three barrels of black powder. Each barrel contained fifty pounds of black powder, enough to blow the bridge. What had that sapper said? Thirty seconds.
Beside him the guardsman spoke, “Form a line here. Check your prime. Remember, aim at the head. Nothing else will stop them.”
Pierre glanced up. In the moonlight a brown mass headed straight for them. “How long?” Pierre said.
Louis answered. “A minute? Maybe two.” Behind them came a howl, this time closer. “We’re trapped.”
Pierre turned and out from woods came five canines looping toward them. They were trapped, wolves from behind, infantry to the front what a choice. “Which way?” several asked the guardsman.
The big guardsman looked first behind then ahead. “The wolves, they’re closer. Face them. Aim. Fire.” Six shots range out and four wolves tumbled in the snow. Two kept coming. Now each man hurried to reload his weapon. Pierre turned and watched the column. At the front a figure waved a sword over its head. In response the lead company swung out into a line. They’re going to volley?
“Mon dieu. Quick, they’re going to fire,” Pierre warned. His companions turned just as a ripple of musket fire rolled across. The big guardsmen was lifted off his feet to fall into the river, the lancer dropped letting his spear clatter on the wooden planks. Only the dragoon, Louis and Pierre remained. With shaky hands Pierre primed his musket and aimed for the officer.
Then two things happened. A rider came around the column, his black horse covered in lather even though it was freezing. The horseman raised his saber and struck the Russian officer and knocked him to the ground.
With their officer wounded, the zombies tried to catch the rider’s bridle. He flailed with his sword battering them in a desperate attempt to ride on. Then one zombie grenadier gutted his horse. The rider kicked free and leaped to the ground as his trusty mount collapsed. The offering of fresh flesh was so great the front ranks fell upon the dead animal as the rider ran for the bridge.
Behind Pierre, Louis’s musket fired, followed by a yelp. The dragoon aimed and fired striking a zombie shuffling after the rider. The zombie’s head exploded and the creature fell in the snow. The rider sprinted to the bridge and seeing the powder kegs yelled, “Blow the bridge. Blow it!” Shocked back into reality Pierre picked up his torch and lit the fuse.
The rider sprinted toward them followed closely by a wave of zombie grenadiers. It was a race for the bridge, the living versus the dead. To Pierre’s horror the Russian officer jerked up and turned his face, a death mask, toward him his one arm hanging limply by his side. With his good hand he waved his minions forward. To Pierre’s grief many of the zombies wore French blue and the first zombie to step on the bridge was his childhood friend Marcel, Marcel’s undead features a grim mask of his once kind face. His mouth set in a flat expression.
“Run,” the rider said. “You’ve done everything you can here. I’m the last one.” The rider fired his pistol. Another zombie dropped.
Pierre tore a cartridge, poured powder in his musket and spit the ball into the barrel. He reached for his ramrod. Louis grabbed his arm. “The fuse, it went out.” Panic filled Pierre who jumped to pick up his torch and re-ignite the fuse. It started just as he felt something grab him. It was the dead lancer, his lifeless eyes locked on him. Pierre tapped his musket twice, raised it and fired into the face of his recent companion. The lancers head disappeared and the body fell into the river.
Before Pierre could tear the next cartridge the zombies were on him. The undead Marcel thrust his bayonet at Pierre who had just enough time to block it. The power of the blow was unbelievable. In life Marcel had been strong, but in death he was superhuman. Pierre found he was barely able to knock the bayonet aside. Beside him Louis and the dragoon fought the zombies. The dragoon flailed away with his sword. Pierre heard a growl behind him.
Making a quick glance Pierre saw a wolf behind him. Wolf…Zombie?
His momentary distraction resulted in a sharp pain in his shoulder as Zombie Marcel drove his bayonet into Pierre’s shoulder. With a rush of strength propelled by his fear Pierre used his musket for a club and bashed the zombie in the head, knocking it into the icy river as the wolf leaped. Louis saved Pierre’s life. He discharged his musket a pointblank into the wolf.
Before he could thank him a bayonet pierced Louis’s back. He fell. In horror Pierre glanced at his friend. Gone. I’m done for, Pierre considered following the rider and just running. With the wolves out of the picture he could outrun the zombies. He gripped his musket like a club and swatted at them. The zombies pressed him, their bayonets lowered.
To Pierre’s horror Louis’s body began to animate. My God, is that my fate. Then a shock waved passed over him as the powder charge exploded. He felt himself flying--bits and pieces of the bridge next to him. It is done. I blew the bridge, and then he smacked hard on the frozen river. Pierre’s flight cracked the ice and frigid water soaked his limbs. In seconds Pierre no longer could feel his legs. I’m dying. Don’t quit, a voice said. Pierre tried rolling back and forth and with a great effort sat up.
“Rise, rise and join us. Walk my child,” a strange voice said.
Walk? A part of his brain said, impossible. I’m dead. Walk. Pierre stood. Slowly, he marched out of the ice-covered water to the snow covered river bank. Around him others bodies moved. Some carried muskets, others swords, and others nothing. They all seemed drawn to a man dressed in the green tunic of the Russian guards. Pierre saw Louis and made to shout his name, but his mouth felt thick, heavy. Halt.
The man was tall, aristocratic. His pale skin was white as the snow. Gathered around him in a protective circle were four large wolves. The figure was hatless. The shambling group of zombie soldiers behind the figure shuffled into two lines. Pierre moved to one end.
The figure began to walk the line as if on parade. When the officer stopped next to him he smiled and revealed fangs--a vampire? Pierre made to strike him, but his arm would not obey. Pierre’s struggle amused the officer.
Looking at a wolf beside him he said, “You will have to watch this one, Sasha. He still has a little spark left in him. Never mind. The Czar commands and we obey. Now grip your weapon and march.”
Unbidden Pierre felt his legs began to move, each step a jerk. At his feet lay a musket. With difficulty he bent over and lifted it up. But a persistant glimmer of thoughts screamed don’t yield. Stop. His limbs moved.
Once the firearm was in his hand he reached for his cartridge box, tore a paper, filled it and dribbled spit the ball in the muzzle. Slowly, he lifted the ramrod and pushed the ball home, his mind struggling trying to succumb to the darkness. Simply give up. No…I…must…shoot this officer. Loaded, Pierre marched back to the line, but he did not stop. He continued on toward the bre-headed man.
“What is this?” the officer said. “Attack.”
The wolf at his feet launched itself and hit Pierre, but he didn’t fall. Though the wolf tore at his side, there was no pain. With a deliberate patience Pierre raised the gun and fired. The big soft lead ball tore off the vampire’s jaw and exited through his neck cutting the head off--dead.
With the necromancer’s death, his powerful influence was gone all of the zombie soldiers but Pierre, crumpled.
Pierre looked down. He should be screaming with a wolf tearing flesh from his side, but he didn’t feel anything. With one downward bash of the musket’s butt, the wolf died. Pierre was alone.
The snow buried friend and foe beneath a while shroud.
Pierre, musket shouldered, braced into the blizzard and slouched away from the battlefield.
I wonder how far Paris is?
During the Battle of Borodino 1812 Czar Alexander First agrees to the raising of the dead to defeat the Emperor Napoleon Grand Army. His necromancers with the aid of the Witch Crown of Ivan the Terrible begin to reanimate the fallen soldiers. Hordes of dead answered the call and attack. Surprised and desperate the French Grande Army fought for its life. The dead were pitted against the living with the undead gaining which each battle.
Unconfirmed reports indicate a Dr. Jones has been seconded to a special “eye only” section of the Pentagon to led a search for the ancient Witch Crown.