(This was a heck of a session! As you can tell from the length, an awful lot happened, and it was all fun. The guys stumbled into quagmire after quagmire and the suspense in trying to find their way out was as exciting as any fight scene we’ve played. It was great. The only downside was that I again didn’t quite handle the formal Mission structures well, but rather followed the flow of things, so I’ll need to sort of retroactively fit the rewards for a successful mission so the player characters don’t go without.)
Morning of January 9th, 1809.
There was chaos in the monastery as two hundred liberated Redcoats and camp followers swarmed drunkenly out of the cellar and Yorkshire’s 70 riflemen herded forty captive French dragoons, their helmets gleaming less brightly after surrending, into the dormitories for safe keeping.
As the wounds of the hurt were being tended—Pvt. Southgate helped tend wounds for Lt. Smithwick, Pvt. Jones and the other injured men—Capt. Yorkshire commanded the men and women, most of them dead drunk, to be brought into some semblance of order and to have all possible supplies collected. He had Sgt. Cole and Mr. Giles retrieve all the pouches of British Army silver from the French dragoons and secure them, and he sent Pvt. O’Toole with one pouch of the King’s silver to the village to buy whatever supplies he could find. Private Jones, his wounded shoulder bound up, set about his duties for a while, and then sought out a cluttered pantry, with a little space behind some crates, to get some sleep.
Yorkshire consulted with his officers—the romantic cad Lt. Smithwick and Ensign Richter, a dull, businesslike German (an NPC)—and sergeants on how best to proceed in light of the news that more French cavalry and horse artillery were on the way and already near.
They debated back and forth. It became clear that they had little hope of catching up with the British army now by the main road; it had a half-day’s lead already and it had the French on its heels. They could not hope to defend the monastery against even the light cannons of horse artillery. They could not fight both cavalry and artillery in the open.
There were shepherds’ trails leading into the hills and mountains a few miles to the west, but of course none of their own men knew the trails at all, and going into them blind in the snow would be suicide.
They had the Spanish guerilleros with them for the time being, but already the Spaniards were arguing amongst themselves, most of them wanting to ride out to their hideouts in the hills before the French arrived in force.
They had no ready answers.
After the sergeants and corporals of the Rifles had been gathering up and inspecting the liberated Redcoats for a while, one of them sought out Captain Yorkshire. The drunk Redcoats—stragglers from any number of regiments, most of them barefoot and with feet still bloody from the march, many without greatcoats as theirs had fallen apart in the snow, nearly all having abandoned muskets long since—were becoming truculent, saying they were too ill to march; their feet were hurt and they didn’t have proper shoes or coats; capture by the French was better than starving and freezing in the mountains. And anyway, they couldn’t leave the women here to be raped. Yorkshire’s sergeants needed to know how far they could go to assert discipline. He went with them to investigate.
Sergeant Cole meanwhile overheard one of the Redcoat sergeants, a big, hard man called Sgt. Dane, speaking with the two officers of the stragglers, the overwhelmed and terrified 16-year-old Ensign Flagstaff and the badly wounded Major Higgins, who was coming in and out of consciousness and delirium. Dane clearly didn’t care for the Rifles taking over, for whatever reason. “Men from one of them foreign regiments, filled with deserters, sir,” Cole heard him muttering to Higgins. “Likely deserters themselves.”
Higgins was awake enough to become indignant as Yorkshire approached. He demanded an explanation. Yorkshire explained. Higgins became confused. He blearily ordered Sgt. Dane to take the Riflemen into custody as deserters and see the King’s justice done. Dane said, “Aye, sir,” and looked to his nearby cronies, who started gathering around. Unlike most of the Redcoats here, they still had their muskets and bayonets.
Yorkshire said he was assuming command because the major was incapacitated. Dane, all empty apologies, denied it and said he had his orders, that Higgins wanted the Riflemen arrested as deserters. Ensign Flagstaff heard it, didn’t he? Flagstaff went shaky and red, intimidated by Dane, and mumbled something incoherent.
Yorkshire told Sgt. Cole to arrest Sgt. Dane for sedition. Cole called Giles, Southgate and a few other Riflemen over, and others formed up, ready to defend their captain as the Redcoats gathered.
(This was a Command challenge for Yorkshire. If he succeeded, his men took Dane into custody and defused the matter. If he’d failed, it would have disintegrated into a brawl as the Redcoats’ already shaky discipline turned into a riot. Yorkshire added his Reputation [Beloved by the Rank and File] to his already mighty Command skill and drew a staggering 13 cards against the Challenging opposition of five cards. Yorkshire won in a big way.)
With Yorkshire so clearly in control and asserting all the discipline and moral authority of British Army tradition, backed up by Riflemen ready to fight and die on his behalf, the grumbling died down and Dane’s cronies shuffled away. Cole and the men took Dane in irons without a fight.
About then, some of the Spaniards who had been searching for the monks found them, stabbed to death and piled roughly into a closet. Word passed swiftly as Spanish voices rose up in outrage. Uxia Raimundez stormed out of the charnel closet and Lt. Smithwick was the first British officer she saw. She stalked up to him with fire in her eyes, and switched to French, the language they shared. “They are dead! The French murdered them all, every one of the poor monks. Now we must have vengeance! You swore you would see justice done!”
(Smithwick hadn’t seen the bodies. Private Southgate had, and he knew the difference between sabre wounds and bayonet wounds. The monks had been bayonetted. But Southgate had kept that to himself.)
Lt. Smithwick and Uxia talked for a long while. Smithwick said that by taking the French soldiers’ surrender, he and Yorkshire were bound them by honor to treat them fairly. Uxia became more agitated, but she softened as he assured her that justice would be done, but there were too many things to do, with the rest of the French bearing down on them, to handle it honorably right away.
They were fighting the same war, the British and the Spanish, he said, bleeding for the same cause. He plied all his romantic notions heavily, not to mention the bullet wound that he’d taken for Spain that morning.
And amazingly, it worked. They found themselves walking in a quiet corner of the monastery, alone, the energy and excitement of the fighting finding a new outlet. They found themselves kissing, and then more. Much, much more.
(A Romance test, boosted by Smithwick’s Heartbreaker trait. When we were setting the stakes for this I made it clear that if he wanted to seduce her completely and immediately, that would call for a Heroic Effort — very, very unlikely to succeed — and the consequences for failure would be disastrous; he’d likely be called out by her brother with swords or pistols. The player wanted to go for it anyway. Between his high Romance skill and his Heartbreaker trait he drew eight cards; I opposed it with nine cards for the Heroic Effort difficulty; and he won! Luckily I had already given some thought to what her motivations would likely be if Smithwick succeeded in seducing her, so that might make things interesting later.)
Smithwick didn’t know exactly what brought the hot-headed Spanish girl around so very quickly to his way of thinking but he assumed it was his unflagging charm. The lovers retired to a little pantry for privacy.
A few feet away, behind a crate, the noise of their lovemaking woke Pvt. Jones from his nap. He knew better than to give himself away, so he kept quiet and waited it out. They never realized he was there.
(I even allowed Smithwick an Awareness test to make sure. Nope.)
Meanwhile Luis Raimundez and his followers found Captain Yorkshire and demanded revenge for the slain monks. Yorkshire was stuck. If he refused them, they would almost certainly leave the British to their fate and would be enemies later. If he turned the French over, he would be breaking his bond as their captor.
Finally he offered an unhappy compromise: He would give the Spanish two French dragoons for every monk that was murdered, but his men would escort the rest back to the French forces and release them under flag of truce. Luis accepted the offer—not without some grumbling among his followers—and agreed to guide the British safely into the hills.
(If I recall right, this was a Courtesy test for Yorkshire or maybe Diplomacy. If he’d failed, the Spaniards would have rejected the compromise and the British and things would have gotten uglier. He succeeded.)
With that settled, Yorkshire told Sgt. Cole and Pvt. Southgate to ride out, leading a couple of horses loaded with the King’s silver, and head into the hills ahead of the troops.
The French Lieutenant
Lt. Smithwick and Uxia Raimundez soon realized they had to show themselves or arouse suspicion. She warned him to keep their tryst a secret for now—it would take some time for Luis to accept Smithwick as a proper suitor, after all. As they walked down a hallway, making themselves presentable, a sergeant of the Rifles came jogging up. He looked from one to the other, very quickly seemed to take in the essentials and then promptly discarded them. “The French officer wants to speak to you or the Captain, sir,” he said. “Says it’s urgent.”
Smithwick and Uxia followed the sergeant to the dormitories where the French were being held. The French leader, a young lieutenant named Michel Leveque, was agitated. “We have heard that you plan to turn us over to the Spaniards,” he said accusingly. “Is this true?”
Smithwick hedged; he said it wasn’t in his hands but in Captain Yorkshire’s. Leveque wasn’t having any of it. “You are a gentleman, an officer, are you not? Can a man not recognize his own morality? We offered an honorable surrender. You promised your protection.” Smithwick still said it was the captain’s decision, so Leveque demanded to speak to Yorkshire.
Smithwick brought Leveque out and walked him to the Yorkshire outside, where the Redcoats were in some swaying sort of formation under the eyes of the Riflemen and many of the Spaniards.
Leveque harangued Yorkshire next. Yorkshire had accepted the dragoons’ surrender; honor demanded that he see to their safety. Yorkshire said it was a complex situation. Leveque disagreed. “It is very simple. Either you will honor your promise to keep my men safe, or you will not.”
Uxia angrily accused the dragoons of slaughtering the monks. Leveque appeared genuinely baffled and indignant. He said they killed no one; they found only the British here when they arrived, and they met no one, monks or otherwise, until the Riflemen attempted their ludicrous infiltration last night. Uxia and the Spaniards were not convinced; Yorkshire believed Leveque was telling the truth.
Finally Mr. Giles approached Leveque and spoke to him quietly. The British and the Spaniards were marching out, he said. They could not take the French prisoners marching with them into the mountains and snow. And if they left the dragoons here, the Spaniards would stay and kill them all before the French reinforcements could arrive. Turning 26 of his men over to the Spaniards, to march with them and the British until the Spaniards disposed of them, was the price of letting the 12 others go free.
(This called for an Intrigue test for Giles, and a Heroic one at that; Leveque was not going to agree to this easily. If it failed, Leveque would raise enough of an argument to make the Spaniards question whether the French indeed killed the monks, which would throw the whole delicate arrangement into turmoil just when time was running out. Giles succeeded.)
Lt. Leveque, ashen-faced, said that if he was turning so many of his men over to their deaths, he must be one of them. He would send the rest out. He said he could not expect the British officers to honor any conditions to which they agreed—he had learned that was too much to hope for— but he expected that the British take the men under flag of truce to the French. He turned and stalked in fury back to the dormitories.
Quest for Shoes
Much earlier, Private O’Toole, who was the battalion quartermaster’s unofficial assistant and source of goods of dubious provenance, and a master at haggling, had taken a cart and horse to the village a few miles to the north with a pouch of silver to buy all the shoes and supplies he could find. He wasn’t a good driver or rider but he did his best in the slush and snow.
The village was a ramshackle affair. Its people and the nearby farmers were dirt poor. But with silver in hand they enthusiastically dragged together everything that might pass for a shoe or be tied into a vaguely shoelike shape, and he talked them into throwing in two more carts and sending men to walk them to the monastery.
(A Scavenging test to talk to the right people to get supplies, and a Haggling test to get carts out of them too. He passed both.)
O’Toole set off for the monastery again with the two Spanish farmers pulling the extra carts. They made it most of the way. Then something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye: A rider came over a crest to the east, not far off. Then another, and another. Their profile, with their peculiar crested helmets, was perfectly distinctive: Dragoons of the same sort he had fought that morning. The outriders of the approaching French force.
The farmers dropped their carts and sprinted into the brush and hills and away.
O’Toole snapped the traces—he remembered seeing coachmen do something like that—and tried to drive the cart swiftly to the monastery, still half a mile away. He heard a too-familiar bugle call—the signal to attack—and the dragoons galloped after him. Six of them hounded him, sabres flashing as each rode by in turn, as he snapped his traces and warded off their blows. Sabres chopped into his backpack, knocked his shako off his head, slashed the sleeve of his greatcoat, cut his face and arm, but then they were only a few hundred yards from the monastery walls, inside range of the Baker rifles. The dragoons wheeled away and O’Toole made it inside.
(This was very cool. I first asked for a Riding test from O’Toole, opposed by a Riding test for the dragoons using their average skill. Success would mean he got within range of the monastery before the dragoons could attack him; failure would mean they could attack him and with a bonus attack card for every success by which they beat him. We agreed on that—as a player he thought the terms were fair and as a character his alternative was to surrender—then drew the cards. He failed; they drew four successes. On top of the usual four cards for a sabre attack that gave them a devastating eight-card attack. However, O’Toole is the most resilient man in the company, and they were not lucky. Their eight cards yielded a single ordinary success, that’s all. That should have left O’Toole Injured—but he has the trait “Is But a Scratch, Sir!” which allows one extra “layer” of health before you’re injured, so he came through with but a scratch—or two or three—instead.)
Facing the Guns
As O’Toole drove into the monastery the Riflemen distributed the shoes that he’d found and boots taken from the French dragoons among the Redcoats, and then they set off. Lt. Smithwick and Ensign Richter led about half the Riflemen and all the Redcoats and camp followers toward the hills, along with 26 now-condemned French prisoners, following the Spanish guerilleros.
Captain Yorkshire, Mr. Giles, Pvt. O’Toole and Pvt. Jones remained in the monastery with the other 30 riflemen and the 12 French prisoners to be released, and 30 captured cavalry horses, planning to delay the French as much as they could before riding out to join their column.
The squadrons of dragoons—several hundred strong—surrounded the monastery and the light cannons of the French horse artillery unlimbered on the road a third of a mile away.
Mr. Giles rode out, leading the twelve Frenchmen on foot, with a white flag of truce. The major leading the French force met him. It didn’t go well at first. Giles told him that these were the last of the dragoons, that the others had been killed; the prisoners promptly objected that the others had been handed over to the Spaniards and taken away to be slaughtered. Giles acknowledged it and gave the same explanation he had given Leveque.
Giles said that he and the riflemen were in the monastery still, and he proposed that the French allow them an orderly withdrawal in peace; the French could have the monastery unopposed.
(This was a Courtesy test for Giles, and another Heroic Effort one because the French badly wanted British prisoners to perhaps exchange for the dragoons that had been taken away, and revenge for the handling of the prisoners, and did not want to let the enemy reach the rough ground of the hills where the cannons would not easily go. We decided that if Giles failed, the French would attack immediately. If he succeeded, they would grant the Riflemen a little time to withdraw. Giles succeeded. I decided how much time that bought them based on the number of successes he drew.)
The French major argued with Giles but finally chuckled and said he admired a young man with a sense of rhetoric. He would not attack before sundown. That gave them about two hours.
Giles rode back and reported, and Yorkshire’s Rifles mounted their captured horses and hoped to reach the mountains before sundown. They had a race ahead of them.