Yorkshire's Rifles

The Monastery, Part 4: Hard Times

The scattered Riflemen face the pursuing French in the fields of honor and combat.

Cole and Southgate with eight men escorted the silver into the hills a few miles ahead of the column. The men were grumbling and whispering. Cole told them to talk to him out loud. One turned aside, abashed, but the other said, “Well, sergeant, it’s occurred to us that there’s an awful lot of silver in these bags, is all. None of us know much math, but if they said it’s twenty thousand pounds sterling, and there’s the ten of us, well, that’ll go a long way, is the thing.”

“And? Are you saying we should steal it?”

“Oh, I would never make such a mutinous seditious sort of suggestion, sergeant. But, well, what do you think?”

Cole said the silver belonged to the army, and the army needed it to get back home. One of the others piped up, “But didn’t the army leave it behind on purpose, sarge?”

Cole shook his head. “Maybe, but our orders say we keep it safe and take it back.” There was some grumbling. Everyone knew Cole’s wife and boy were with the army and hadn’t been seen in a few days; no way was he going to leave them behind to run off with silver.

“However, boys,” he said, “I don’t suppose there’s anything to stop us from keeping a little of it for our troubles. I certainly won’t see anything if that happens.”

(This called for a Command test for Cole—I would have gone with Intrigue, too, but he didn’t have that skill, so his focus was on being a stand-up leader—backed up by his Reputation for looking out for the rank and file. At stake: Keeping discipline and keeping the men on the job. He succeeded.)

That mollified the men, who smiled and took their “bonuses” out of the Paymaster General’s pouches as they walked the horses along the trail.

Racing for the Hills

Back at the monastery, Mr. Giles rode quickly to rejoin Captain Yorkshire and the other Riflemen, and to start the ride to the distant hills. But even now he saw messengers riding out from the French major to give orders to the squadrons of dragoons that surrounded the monastery.

The Riflemen mounted their captured horses. And as Yorkshire was mounting his, the animal bucked and cast him off. He hit the earth with an audible thump and lay still. The men ran over and found him still breathing; neck not broken; but quite unconscious with a lump growing fast on his head.

(Yorkshire’s player couldn’t make it this time. Bummer for the other players; he was the one with all the Command skill.)

Mr. Giles, not a commissioned officer but as a gentlemen the closest they had in that group, took uneasy charge, rousing them with a loose, not wholly successful adaptation of the St. Crispin’s Day speech.

They tied Yorkshire onto a horse and rode out, hoping against hope to reach the trails and uneven ground of the hills before too many of the dragoons did. For already a squadron of them, nearly a hundred men, was riding hard for the hills. The dragoons’ leader, Major Lejuste, had promised not to attack before nightfall, but clearly he wanted his men in position by then.

It was not much of a race. The Riflemen who had remained with Yorkshire mostly were ones who knew how to ride, but they were no cavalrymen. By the time the sun dipped below the mountains in the west they were not quite to the hills. And the dragoons rode at them.

Allies

Cole and his men stopped as sundown approached and set camp. But as darkness fell, one of the sentries called out that riders were coming. It looked like Spaniards. Cole told the men to keep their rifles close and be ready for anything.

It was Rojas, Luis Raimundez’ second in command and his rival, with a dozen Spaniards acting as scouts. They rode up close enough to talk.

Rojas offered pleasantries at first—how had the hills treated them, that sort of thing—then said he know that they carried silver, a vast sum of silver coins.

“What of it?” Cole asked.

“Well, I must insist that you give it to us.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because, this is Spain! You are going to sail home to England, and we will keep fighting the French. We need the silver to fight.”

Cole shook his head. “My duty is to the king. The silver stays with us.”

“Duty, of course. I have duty, too, duty to my king, and my people. We need that money. And, you see, we do have you at a disadvantage. My men are quick with their swords, you know. Very quick.”

Cole wasn’t having any of it. And in a flash and a boom, Rojas had his sword out and Cole had his musket up. Rojas flopped from the saddle, dead, shot through the heart. The other Spaniards were shocked and confused as the Riflemen loosed a volley that injured another one and then stood fast, ready to fight. Leaderless, the Spanish rode away, empty-handed.

(Cole might have attempted to Intimidate the Spaniards to avoid bloodshed, but his Intimidate skill sucks, so he figured it would have to come down to violence. This wasn’t a ranged encounter, since the Spaniards were right there with swords, so I had him use the cards you get for a musket brawl rather than much better cards for firing rifles at close range but gave him a bonus card for having the rifles ready to fire at the outset. The Spaniards drew plenty of cards but they drew poorly—no successes at all. Cole drew a Joker, which is a wild card for players, thus a Perfect Success, which in combat means instant death.)

An Affair of Honor

Lt. Smithwick had the column of about 200 grumbling Redcoats and camp followers, 35 Riflemen and 26 French prisoners marching in good order, or at least not bad order. Ensign Richter and the two other Rifle sergeants were keeping the Redcoats and camp followers in line.

They had divided up the dragoons’ captured weaponry among the Redcoats, fifty each of carbines, pistols and swords, so most of the Redcoats were now armed even if hardly any had muskets and bayonets. The Redcoats grumbled about this, too—not regulation weaponry for honest footsoldiers at all.

The Spaniards rode alongside, while some rode ahead to scout and others rode behind to keep watch. Most of the remaining Riflemen—about two dozen, including Private Jones, a wiry young Welshman with great black sideburns—marched with the prisoners to keep them safe from the Spaniards until the time came to hand them over.

As Smithwick made his way along the column, the leader of the Frenchmen, Lt. Leveque, called to him. Smithwick walked over and said it had better be important. Leveque, already bracing for an argument, bridled further. He spoke loudly in halting English, so the Redcoats and Riflemen could hear.

“I say again, we did not kill the monks, and you treat us dishonorably to turn us over to those savages!” He waved toward Luis Raimundez, nearby.

Smithwick was angry. “I said it had better be important, and this isn’t. Now mind your place or I’ll have you carrying double your share of the supplies, prisoner.”

Leveque went white, furious. Again he shouted in broken English. “You have no honor! You are liar! You take our surrender and then you have us murdered. You are liar!”

It was an insult no gentleman could tolerate.

The men all around had turned to listen and watch. So had the Spaniards, including Luis and his sister, Smithwick’s new lover, Uxia Maria.

Smithwick strode up to Leveque and struck him down with the butt of his pistol. Leveque staggered, then spat out, “You are liar and coward! If you were a man, you would make me not a prisoner and we fight like men.”

(Game note: This triggered a test of SOME kind with Smithwick’s reputations on the line. Basically I said that if he didn’t answer the insult honorably, many of his Reputations would be maimed.)

Smithwick said, “Very well. You are free. Senor Raimundez, will you second me?”

The column had of course come to a shambling halt.

Raimundez raised his eyebrows. “Of course. You wish to settle this now?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. As the challenged, Lieutenant Leveque, you may choose the weapon.”

Leveque chose swords. He said he didn’t care what kind, smallswords (the thin, straight duelling swords worn by officers in society; Smithwick had one and one of the Spaniards had one to loan Leveque) or sabres. Smithwick opted for smallswords.

The Spaniards, always passionate about affairs of honor, formed the borders of their duelling ground, while poor Enisgn Richter did his unhappy best to keep the men in formation, for all the good it did; Redcoats, Riflemen and French dragoons alike were yelling and placing bets. The dragoons could not expect anything substantially good to come of it, of course, but Leveque was ready to die defending their honor and they loved him for it.

Leveque looked clearly quite comfortable with the sword as he and his second, a French ensign, tested the loaned sword’s weight and balance. Raimundez asked, “Lieutenant Leveque, do you wish to retract your words?” He did not.

Raimundez turned to Smithwick. “Lieutenant, do you wish to retract your challenge?” It was a formality; nobody could conceive that the challenge would be withdrawn now.

“Of course not!”

“Very well. Begin.”

Smithwick stepped forward and raised his sword, and Leveque came at him aggressively. The thin swords whipped, clanged and thrusted, and after a moment Smithwick staggered, wounded, blood spreading under the white sleeve of his left arm.

Raimundez began to ask formally if honor were satisfied, but before he could speak Smithwick came at Leveque again and now Leveque yelled and staggered, parrying wildly, his leg bloodied from Smithwick’s thrust.

(In Duty & Honour, combat ordinarily takes place in a single test, a single draw of the cards; that tells you who succeeded in their overall goal and how badly the combatants got hurt in the process. You don’t keep going round by round; it assumes that in a combat the action moves on and separates the fighters. But there are exceptions, and a formal duel is one. In this first exchange, Smithwick drew a success and Leveque drew a critical success. That means Leveque succeeded and Smithwick failed. But in a melee combat, both sides suffer damage and it’s based on the opponent’s highest successful card. Luckily Leveque’s highest success was not his critical success, so rather than being Maimed Smithwick was Injured, as was Leveque. And since Smithwick had drawn on his Reputation with Uxia Maria Raimundez, and failed, that Reputation was Injured, too. Smithwick insisted on continuing the fight.)

Smithwick and Leveque, winded and hurt, came at each other again, Leveque fighting for the honor of his men and Smithwick fighting to overcome the scorn that many of the men held him in. Swords crossed and clashed, a scratch here and there, the crowd shouting; then a cry as Leveque’s sword stabbed into Smithwick’s side, and another as Smithwick’s stabbed into Leveque’s chest. Both men fell to the ground.

(Again both succeeded, but Leveque succeeded better, so he won while both of them suffered further injury, going from Injured to Maimed. Now came a critical moment: When you’re Maimed physically, you must make a Guts test to keep going at all. If you succeed it’s at a horrible penalty, but if you fail you just can’t keep fighting. Guts is Smithwick’s weakest stat. He failed. Leveque, again spurred on by his Reputation, succeeded.)

Leveque pushed himself up to stand, grimacing and bleeding, while Smithwick lay groaning on the ground.

Leveque raised his sword painfully but dramatically and addressed Raimundez. “You see, I am no coward. I tell you the truth. If we had killed those monks, I would say, We killed those monks. We did not kill them.”

Raimundez blinked and thought it over, quietly, while Richter and the sergeants tried to get the men in order. Private Jones brought several of the Riflemen around Smithwick and collected him up, moaning, to keep him safe.

And then they heard bugles calling from the east, where they had expected Yorkshire and his men to come. But they weren’t the bugles of the Riflemen. They were the bugles of the French dragoons, coming to collect their own.

Swords on Every Side

Giles knew that the Riflemen, outnumbered and carrying only their sword bayonets rather than sabres, would be cut to pieces if they tried fighting the cavalry like cavalry. The hills were near, but not near enough, and the dragoons were in sight, waiting.

Once the sun disappeared he ordered a halt and cried out for their little group to fix bayonets and form square. They did; a tiny square indeed; but they loosed a volley when the dragoons came on them, far more dragoons than Riflemen, and braced themselves.

Over the next few minutes it was an ugly fight as the dragoons rode by the square on all sides, slashing and stabbing, occasionally trying to charge into it despite their horses’ sensible fear of sharp bayonet points, but never quite succeeding in breaking the formation apart. Private O’Toole took a sabre thrust, but it wasn’t serious; a Rifleman died and another couple were hurt.

The dragoons’ leader, Captain Boutin, finally called his men back. While they had not completely destroyed the little group of Rifles they had slowed and disorganized them enough that a large number of other dragoons could ride unhindered down the trail ahead. As Boutin formed up his men and night fell, Giles led the Riflemen on a quick sprint into the rocks and trees of the hills, where they were among rough terrain and relatively safe from horsemen.

(This was a skirmish engangement. The cavarly gained a large bonuses for outnumbering the Riflemen and for fighting with swords from horseback, their kind of fighting; but they suffered from fighting against footsoldiers who had formed a square, with bayonets fixed to repel cavalry. In the end the French won, but it wasn’t by much, so they got what they wanted—to slow the Riflemen and get past them—without completely scattering them or capturing them.)

Jones Takes Things In Hand

Confusion in the column. Shouting. Panic. Ensign Richter, a 17-year-old German boy, shouting orders in poor English while his sergeants struggled to enforce them. Arguments among the Spaniards. The Rifles had put Smithwick on the sick wagon and he moaned incoherently.

Private Jones walked over to Lt. Leveque, swaying and pale among the French prisoners. “Listen, boyo,” he said, “if you want out of here, now’s the time. Your friends are right over there, so maybe you can put in a good word for us that we turned you loose after all.”

Leveque said, “That is all well and good, but will you keep those men from shooting us in the back? Or those Spanish from riding us down? I will not have my men murdered!”

Jones said he would keep the Redcoats from doing them any harm, and he yelled at the nearest Rifles to fix bayonets and keep an eye on the British.

Luis was still nearby, and he got the gist of the exchange. He nodded soberly. “I believe that you did not kill the monks. We will not pursue you. But,” he added, turning to Jones, “if they did not kill the monks, then some of your people did. We will demand justice!”

Jones scoffed. “It’s all the same to me, you bloody dago, I only want to keep my own boys safe. If some of that lot did it, you can have ’em.”

Leveque and his dragoons began walking warily toward the sound of French bugles. Some of the Redcoats noticed, the prisoner Sergeant Dane the loudest among them. “The French are escaping! The Rifles are letting them go! Treason and betrayal!”

Jones walked up to Dane—a big, violent man, far larger than Jones—and told him to that the French would do them more good walking out on their own feet than staying as hostages. “What do you want, anyway?”

(I wish I could remember exactly what Jones’ player had to say here because it was a thing of enormously fun roleplaying. But it’s slipped away completely, alas.)

Dane said he was a sergeant in His Majesty’s army, and they ought to take off his chains and let him lead his men. When Jones said he wouldn’t, Dane went for him, swinging the chain around his wrists like a club. He ought to have overwhelmed Jones and beat him to death, but Jones was fast and tough, and it became a real fight. After a couple of minutes Jones and Dane were both battered and bloody, but Jones was standing and Dane was out cold.

(The challenge here was for who would be able to assert some kind of order on the confusion of the Redcoats. Dane had plenty of bonus cards for being physically huge and also a skilled brawler, but Jones was an even better brawler. In the end they both wound up Injured but Jones won.)

Jones yelled out for the Redcoats to form square and for the Rifles to form a skirmish line in the cover of the rocks and trees. That snapped Ensign Richter out of his funk and he echoed the orders and made them official. His sergeants brought the Redcoats in line and pushed them into square, those with sabres in front and those with pistols and carbines behind. Not an ideal square, at all, but better than nothing.

They waited. They heard the French in the distance as night darkened.

The French chose not to attack.

Into the Night

Giles, O’Toole and the others of Captain Yorkshire’s detachment moved through the darkness, keeping near the trail but not on it, with Giles in the lead. At one point they could smell the horses of many French cavalrymen on the trail ahead, but the Riflemen, trained as scouts, gave them a wide berth and passed them safely by. After a while Thomas nearly stumbled into a sentry—but it was a Redcoat sentry. They had made it to the column.

They saw to their various hurts as best they could, which was not very well.

(First Aid tests with lousy results.)

Jones and his party rejoined the column. Luis and Uxia Raimundez came to speak to Smithwick or Yorkshire, but found Smithwick still doing poorly—fever had already set in—and Yorkshire still groggy.

Giles, aiming to recover his Reputation with the rank and file, quietly blamed Yorkshire for putting all their trust in being able to outride cavalry. Some of them nodded in glum agreement. Blame for the dead man and those hurt in the retreat from the monastery didn’t rest with Giles.

(This called for an Influence roll by Giles to heal his Reputation, which had been Injured when he failed at the Command test earlier fighting Captain Boutin’s men.)

The Riflemen, exhausted and freezing, caught a few rough hours of sleep, here and there, keeping careful watch on the trail against the French and on the discontented Redcoats.

Snow began to fall as the hours of darkness crept on.

(Final note: This session was an extended military mission with the aim of getting the column far into the trails where they would not have to face an attack by the cavalry and guns at all. The overall mission failed. They brought their scattered detachments back together but did not move the column very far. We’ll have to see what happens when the sun rises again.)

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