Yorkshire’s Company, a rifle company of the 5th Battalion, 60th Regiment of Foot, was assigned to the flanks of the British Army’s vast, unruly retreat across northern Spain. The other companies of the 60th Regiment were scattered, each assigned to the flank of a different regiment of regular infantry — Yorkshire is attached to the 9th Regiment of Foot — and as formations fell apart so did any hope of communication with command. It leaves Captain Yorkshire largely on his own to do his duty: to see that the French don’t surprise the retreating British, to bring British stragglers back into the fold, to find supplies wherever he can, and to make it to Corunna before the army sails for England.
Captain Yorkshire, Lt. Smithwick and their 70-odd men were marching as quick as their tired, cold feet allowed along a broad valley trail that led off the main road. They had heard rumors of villages a few miles away and aimed to investigate, either to retrieve wayward soldiers or to find food for the march — perhaps both.
Sergeant Cole sounded the alert. His sharp eyes had spotted something up ahead, through the drifting snow: A pair of horsemen waiting on a narrow bridge.
(This was a basic Alertness test. I had Cole make it because he had the best skill. If he’d failed, the company would have blundered on a bit and come off looking less professional to their observers, and Cole’s reputation with the Regiment would have suffered. With a success proved himself sharp once again and helped the men make a satisfactory first impression.)
Yorkshire had a few of the men, including Private Southgate and Mr. Giles, a gentleman volunteer who knew Spanish, go on to see what was what, while the rest of the company loaded rifles and then followed.
The two riders moved forward off the bridge, so it would be clear they were awaiting the riflemen without trying to block their path.
When they came closer, the advance party stopped and Giles greeted the riders in Spanish with a disarming smile and a colloquial witticism about the weather.
(A Courtesy test. I wouldn’t have called for a test here ordinarily, but the player clearly wanted to put his character out there and show away with his charm and dash! We decided that if he succeeded, he’d definitely get off on the right foot and gain a temporary +1 Reputation bonus when dealing with these NPCs. If he failed, he’d offend them or look foolish and suffer a -1 penalty with them in future tests. He succeeded.)
Giles’ charm seemed to work. The face of one of the riders remained covered by hood and scarf, but the other, a young man of high breeding and proud carriage, smiled in surprise at hearing his own tongue spoken so well. He greeted them civilly and asked if he could speak with their captain. Seeing no sign of trouble, one of the men jogged back to report.
Yorkshire and Smithwick came at the head of their company, stopped a short distance away, and walked forward to speak to the visitors.
The young Spaniard said that his name was Luis Alejandro de Lopez Raimundez, and his family were masters of this region. He said that he had hoped to find British soldiers, since there were no Spanish soldiers nearby. He had a problem that concerned them.
There was a monastery, San Millan de la Montana, a few miles further on. A band of lost British soldiers had stumbled across it and taken refuge, and then had been joined by others following the same trail. Sadly, a French cavalry troop arrived not long after and took the place over, apparently locking the British away until reinforcements could come take them as prisoners.
Raimundez said that none of the monks of San Millan have been seen since the British and the French arrived. The villagers are afraid.
He said that if the riflemen would liberate the monastery, he would guide them to it and back again.
As they spoke, the wind knocked the scarf away from his silent companion. To Smithwick’s delight it proved to be a young Spanish woman, shockingly beautiful and very like Luis Raimundez, clearly his sister. She regarded Smithwick with plainly hostile eyes, colder than the snow and far more lovely.