Yorkshire's Rifles

The Monastery, Part 2: The Dragoons

The riflemen and their Spanish allies attack a French-held monastery.

Previously: Captain Geoffery Yorkshire of the 5th Battalion, 60th Royal American Regiment of Foot, and his company of riflemen encountered a pair of Spanish rebels on a snowy trail a few miles from the marching British army.

Luis Alejandro de Lopez Raimundez, young scion of Spanish aristocracy, asked Captain Yorkshire for his assurance that Yorkshire’s Riflemen would either protect the monks of San Millan de Montana or see justice done if they had been harmed. If Yorkshire would promise that, then Luis would guide Yorkshire to the monastery where some 200 British soldiers and camp followers were held captive by the French.

Yorkshire said he would see to it — that all good Christians are duty-bound to protect men of God in a house of God. Raimundez was very pleased said it made him easier in his soul to extend his trust to Englishmen. Along the way it became clear to Yorkshire that Raimundez had grown up knowing the British as the hereditary enemies of Spain, and expected to spend his life fighting them as his ancestors had before, and he saw the French treachery as extra galling for forcing Spain to ally with its old enemy. And where Raimundez was galled, Uxia was coldly furious; she would clearly not have come to the British for help at all if Luis had left the decision to her.

Raimundez was less happy with the conversation of Lt. Smithwick. Smithwick had no Spanish but he was glad to learn that Raimundez spoke French. He was quick to invite Luis Raimundez and particularly his sister Uxia to the shelter of his tent. Raimundez grew very frosty and said that he must not have good sense of English humor, and that Smithwick must be making a joke. Smithwick took the opportunity to back off a bit, clarifying it as an invitation to dine at his table. But while honor was more or less salvaged, nobody was fooled, and Raimundez didn’t share more than two words with Smithwick the rest of the night. For her part, Uxia remained as silent and stony as ever.

The riflemen followed Luis and Uxia Raimundez to a village where about sundown he met with two guerillas. They confirmed the French were still in the monastery, about 50 cavalry, but a couple of riders had gone back and forth to the east, where the main body of the French army approached, harassing the British army’s flanks and rearguard. Luis said that his men could gather a number of guerilleros to help the British in the fight. Yorkshire asked him to have the Spanish attack the rear gate of the monastery at sunrise, to help draw the dragoons away from the main assault that his men would launch. Luis gave his orders accordingly and the two guerilleros rode off.

Yorkshire had the men set camp outside the village and took a handful of men — Lt. Smithwick, Sgt. Cole, Mr. Giles, and privates Jones and Southgate — to get a first-hand view of the monastery a few miles away. They gathered blankets and cloaks from the village so they could go incognito if necessary. Luis and Uxia led the way again.

They came within sight of the monastery about a quarter of a mile away in the light of a nearly full moon with a bit of wintry cloud, as the trail came around a rocky defile. The monastery was in a rolling plain, broken here and there with brooks, rocks and trees but no thick cover. Through his telescope Yorkshire could see that a few lanterns were lit inside and sentries paced catwalks along the walls, two men to a side.

Giles, a gentleman volunteer who spoke French and Spanish well, concocted a plan to perhaps nab a prisoner from the very gates of the monastery and interrogate him. Smithwick led the group on their mission while Yorkshire remained with Luis and Uxia, observing.

The riflemen left their shakos behind (and in a couple of cases their rifles) and bundled themselves up in their Spanish blankets and cloaks, hoping to pass for pilgrims. Private Jones, usually good at finding his way along trails, led them on a roundabout approach meant to bring them to the road only after they were very close to the walls, so that several of them could hide near the gate and catch silent and unawares any sentry that the others managed to lure out.

Sadly the bright moon on the white snow betrayed them, and they hadn’t yet made the road when a sentry’s voice called down in French, “Who’s there?”

The riflemen stopped. Giles did his best to pose as a Spanish monk leading other travelers hoping for the shelter of the monastery, unaware of the French occupation of it until now. The sentry seemed dubious, and called down for his captain to come. While they waited, Giles and Smithwick had a few heated whispers, deciding how best to proceed.

After a moment the French captain appeared. He said the monks of San Millan de Montana were excellent hosts and they would be glad to take in a few more travelers. Giles called up that he and his companions had grown afraid, and would walk the extra few miles to the village for shelter instead. The Frenchman said there was plenty of room and warm food inside the monastery and he would be happy to let them in, and there was a smile in his voice as he said it. He clearly didn’t believe their story, but what he did believe, they weren’t sure. The Riflemen shambled away down the road, back the way they had come. The French did not pursue or molest them.

(We built this hilarious turn of events as a noncombat skirmish mission, which meant each PC could describe and attempt one challenge, and their success or failure would increase or decrease the odds of the all-important final challenge to be attempted by the mission leader. First, Jones attempted a Soldiering skill check to lead them on the approach; this was rather a skulking kind of approach but I decided Soldiering was the best fit since they were skirmishers; had they been regular Redcoats it might not have worked that way. I made it a Challenging task, so the odds were not bad. Had Jones succeeded, he would have gotten them close enough for a few of the men to hide while the others hailed the walls. He failed, so they were spotted before they could hide. Next, Giles attempted an Intrigue skill check to convince the guard that they were harmless travelers. I ruled that a Damned Hard! challenge, so the odds were pretty long against it; had Jones hidden several of their party away, without getting them spotted walking through the brush rather than using the road like honest pilgrims, it would have been easier. Giles failed, too. At this point the players decided to break off the mission altogether and take their lumps — for while succeeding at a mission means good things for all concerned, failing means stiff penalties — rather than risk getting their whole party captured by a now alert French force. Once they had gotten away, the players all took various losses to skills and reputations and described them; the common theme was demoralization and lapsing confidence.)

Yorkshire was thoroughly displeased with the whole affair, and the Raimundez siblings thought it perfectly ludicrous. Jones apologized and blamed the fickle moonlight for the failure; Smithwick blamed Giles. The party was discontented as they hiked back to the village.

Yet it was not a total loss. They saw the French up close, close enough to recognize their helmets and uniforms. They were dragoons, or light cavalry, and if there were only fifty then they were very unlikely to have horse artillery with them; they would have carbines and sabres but no heavy guns, and without being able to bring their horsemanship to bear they would be far weaker than in the field.

After a very brief rest, Yorkshire had Sgt. Cole muster the men at 3:30 in the morning and they set off for the monastery again. They reached the bend in the road again, where the company could remain unseen. Just before sunrise, Yorkshire had Cole take a squad of men to go forward, reach the walls as quietly and quickly as they could, and get the gate open. Once they made the walls, the rest of the company would march quick across the field, enter the main gate, attack the monastery in sections, and liberate the prisoners.

(This was my first full game of Duty & Honour so I had a bit of trouble gauging how to structure missions. I built the approach to the walls as a mission of its own requiring three challenges — approach the walls, open the gate, and hold the gate — but in hindsight I wondered if I should have simply made that part of the overall “Attack the Monastery” mission. In any event, the riflemen did much better this time around.)

Cole and his hand-picked men jogged quick and quiet across the quarter mile of field and rocks, and thanks to his careful timing and alertness they reached the wall undetected, while the sentries were near the corners in conversation. As the last rifleman reached the wall and they carefully tried to hide the steam of their breath in the air, they could hear a sentry walking by on the catwalk above, whistling, unaware. (A Soldiering success by Cole, even with it being a Damned Hard! challenge due to the moon and the French soldiers’ alertness after the earlier encounter.)

As the sentry passed well away again, Jones gave Southgate a leg up the wall, and Southgate made it up and over with the agility and quiet of a cat — or a practiced thief. He hopped from the catwalk to the ground undetected, spat on the gate’s latch, and hoisted it. Only when he pulled the gate open did it make enough noise to draw attention, and by then the other men with him were ready. (A Skulduggery success by Southgate, with an assist by Jones for a bonus card. In fact, a Perfect success.)

The nearest sentry ran toward the gate to investigate and Jones took aim. Before the sentry could cry out, Jones fired his rifle. The noise was like thunder in the quiet and the flare of fire from the barrel dazzled the men. The bullet knocked the dragoon off the catwalk and out of sight. (A critical success for Jones’ rifle attack.)

Finally Yorkshire came with the rest of the company, telling them to follow him and run for the gate. They made it across the field quickly, and began spilling into the monastery while the French inside were still rousing themselves in confusion. (A critical success for Yorkshire’s Command skill, which had been bolstered with three extra cards by the three successes of the other players.)

Inside the monastery, Yorkshire led Giles and about 30 men into the nave, the main church hall, while he sent Smithwick and Jones with another 30 to secure the horses, and Cole and Southgate with eight men to the little door that led into the kitchen, where they expected to find stairs leading to the cellar and the British prisoners.

(This was a proper combat skirmish mission, with a combat action for each character. Actually I had Yorkshire act more than once, but again it was due to my not being completely comfortable with how to properly play out missions.)

Yorkshire and his men ran into the nave where they saw a handful of dragoons half-undresses, seizing up carbines and swords. Several of the riflemen fired on them. One dragoon fell, dead, and the others fled into the passageway that led to the dormitories. Yorkshire led his men out into the garden and into the same passage by a quicker route, heading to the dormitories where he expected to find the bulk of the dragoons. (An attack by Yorkshire; the French weren’t attacking back this time but trying to get away.)

Cole, Southgate and their smaller body of men ran at the kitchen door. The door opened and a dragoon leaned out with carbine ready, looking around. Cole stopped and fired, and the dragoon fell dead with a rifle ball between the eyes and his brains crashing out behind him. Cole stopped at the wall beside the kitchen door, began to reload, and shouted his men onward. The ten riflemen found themselves in a pitched battle with ten dragoons posted as guards in the kitchens. The dragoons were only half-prepared but they fought ferociously. The kitchen quickly filled with gun smoke and the screams of combat: rifles and carbines firing, sabres hacking, knives and sword-bayonets stabbing. After a couple of minutes four dragoons were wounded but the riflemen had been pushed out of the kitchen with one rifleman dead and another badly hurt.

(This meant attacks on both sides, with Southgate drawing for the players’ side. Since this represented a number of men, not just him, I ruled that each success would count as a hit. Southgate got four successes, but the French got a critical success and a regular success; that meant the French took more hits but they won the exchange and got their objective in that challenge, which was for the Riflemen to fail to capture the kitchen.)

Lt. Smithwick and Pvt. Jones led 30 men around to the little yard where the horses were tied to stakes. They exchanged fire with the wall sentries as the sentries retreated out of sight, killing one of them. Smithwick spread his men out to guard the animals and prevent the French from riding off. For a couple of minutes they listened to ferocious fighting from inside the monastery. Then a band of two dozen dragoons came hurtling around the corner, led by the French captain.

The captain shouted for the front ranks of the dragoons to fire on the riflemen and for the others to close in with sabres. Smithwick, determined to look good in front of the men and Captain Yorkshire, yelled for his men to fire and stand firm.

Jones’ first shot took the French captain in the mouth, killing him instantly. A couple of other Frenchmen fell; the French charge staggered. They returned fire at close range. A carbine bullet hit Jones in the shoulder; another cracked Smithwick’s rib. But both men stood their ground. Other rifles were firing now and the charge fell apart. The dragoons ran back around the corner out of sight.

(This exchange was an attack action by Jones, again representing several men so I let each success count as a hit; followed by a Command test by Smithwick. Smithwick bolstered his roll with his Reputation with the Rank and File — “Despised by the Rank and File as undeserving of command,” reasoning that he was driven to stand firm and earn their respect. He and Jones both succeeded. But in both their challenges the French opposition got a success, too, which meant either an injury for the player character or a more severe injury for an NPC. That had come up in earlier fights and the players opted to spare their PCs; here both Smithwick and Jones chose to live with getting hurt rather than losing a man.)

Inside, Yorkshire, Giles and their 30 men ran into the big corridor that connected the nave to the dormitories, where the bulk of the dragoons were quartered. A furious firefight erupted, with some dragoons firing carbines from the dormitories while others rushed in with sabres trying to scatter the riflemen. Yorkshire fought with sabre in hand alongside some of his men with their rifles and sword bayonets while others fired rifles from behind. A few men fell on both sides. Giles saw a dragoon aiming at Yorkshire and shot the man, then hurled his rifle at another charging in to unbalance him, pulled a pistol from his belt and shot him, too. They drove the dragoons back into the dormitories. (This was a successful attack test by Giles and a final Command test by Yorkshire for all the marbles; if Yorkshire’s final Command test failed, the mission itself would fail and the riflemen would fail to take the monastery. But in this case Yorkshire’s Command was already sky-high, and he was bolstered with extra cards due to the successful challenges by other players, so he succeeded handily.)

Yorkshire had half his men keep the dragoons pinned up while he led the rest around a corner and down a long hall to counterattack the kitchens from the inside while Sgt. Cole regrouped his men to press the attack from the outside. Before long they forced the dragoons in the kitchen to surrender. The ones in the dormitories followed suit when word came that their captain had been killed and their horses seized. The battle was won!

As the fighting died down, they heard musket shots in the distance. It turned out to be their Spanish guerilla allies finally joining in. A handful of French dragoons had escaped on foot and run off east toward the French lines. The Spaniards claimed to have caught and killed them all. The riflemen doubted that.

All told the French lost about a dozen, maybe 15 killed and wounded and the British lost I think three killed and three injured or maimed.

The riflemen secured their prisoners, began searching the place, and opened the cellar. They released vast number of British soldiers and camp followers — about 200, as promised — most of them stinking drunk on monastery wine. They included a major who was badly hurt and unconscious, and a frightened teenage ensign who was wholly out of his depth and had clearly failed to keep order among the prisoners.

The guerillas came into the monastery about the same time, celebrating their victory over the fleeing French and the liberation of the monastery. It was a chaotic but happy scene.

But a few salient things emerged.

First, in searching the dragoons the British found many heavy satchels of thick leather, stamped with the seal of the Paymaster General of the British Army. The pouches held silver coins, Spanish dollars meant to pay the army. It turned out that the Paymaster General had fallen behind in the retreat, and when it was clear that he could not keep up with the army Lord Paget, commanding the rear guard, ordered the wagons of treasure tumbled down a ravine to keep them out of the hands of the French. It was a loss of some 25,000 pounds sterling to the army. These dragoons had gotten their hands on a sizeable portion of the wealth before being ordered back on the road by their own commanders. Yorkshire immediately realized that if could get the silver back to the army it would save the army a great deal of embarrassment and difficulty.

Private Southgate found a few reliquaries and nice golden gewgaws which he squirrelled away. He reasoned that silver coins in a pouch stamped with the army’s seal might not stay with him long, but this loot would.

Southgate also found the monks. They were in a storage room, under furniture and things broken in the fight, every one of them dead from being shot or stabbed.

And in speaking with the dragoons, Smithwick, Giles and Yorkshire learned that they expected reinforcements later that day — more dragoons from their regiment as well as horse artillery. When they arrived, things were likely to get very sticky for Yorkshire’s Rifles.

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