Yorkshire's Rifles

The Monastery, Part 8: Homecoming
Yorkshire's Rifles find one last obstacle between themselves and Corunna: the army of Marshal Soult.

(Alas, this was the final session of our Duty & Honour mini-campaign. Young Mr. Giles’ player missed the game this time but we had everyone else.)

The Redcoats’ cheers didn’t last long. The ad-hoc battalion that had been built around Yorkshire’s rifle company saw Yorkshire and his squad ride into view and immediately shuffled to a halt on the mountain road. They had been walking through the snow and rain all day after the battle with the Spaniards and most of the following night, and most of them assumed that the captain’s return was the signal to halt, collapse, and get a few hours’ sleep.

But their officers knew all too well the risks that they ran with every delay. January 14 was about to dawn; it was entirely possible that the British army at Corunna would sail to England with the sunrise. Yorkshire, Smithwick, Richter and Flagstaff knew that they could only hope that some disaster or miracle would keep Moore’s army in Spain for a day or two more. Otherwise the Rifles and Redcoats would face imprisonment or an even harder march south to Portugal ahead of French pursuers.

So Yorkshire allowed a few minutes to rejoin with the column, take quick reports from Richter and Flagstaff, and then make sure the sergeants and his chosen men knew that they must get the men and women moving again.

(The new military mission: Traverse the last mountain range, keep to the best roads, and cover the last few miles in 24 hours or less. Four challenges with a deadline of four failures; if it failed, they would be lost or bogged down in bad terrain for days. They had actually already completed the first challenge, facing the brigands led by Iago Cervino, and then spun a side mission off from it. So now they were getting back to it with one failure behind them. This was the second group challenge, boosting the health and morale of the column so it could survive the grueling final stage of the march.)

Sergeant Cole was able to walk and tried to stay alert despite the pain in his shoulder. When Yorkshire had led the others off, Cole oversaw the work of the private who passed for a surgeon and saw to it that the musket ball was taken out of his shoulder and the wound bandaged up reasonably well. He was a little woozy and feverish but he could march.

(Since he got Maimed, I had him draw a card for the optional Maimed results in the book. He got infection that set in and weakened him, reducing the deadline of one of his missions, his personal mission in this case, by one.)

Cole tried to keep an eye on the men and followers to try to spot which ones were in the worst shape and find ways to help them, but his shoulder and the cold conspired to keep him dull.

(A failed Awareness test.)

Private O’Toole took charge of the loot that the men had brought from Cervino’s hideout and set out to equip the men properly, making sure the worst off received boots and cloaks.

(A Quartermaster test; Critical Success.)

Smithwick did his best to change the dressings on his leg and stretch it, but to no avail. It was a mess and he soon lost heart.

(A First Aid test by him to deal with his Maiming; failure.)

Yorkshire moved down the column and made sure the men were appointed as correctly as could be under the circumstances. Traditions are everything in the British Army, you know. More often than not, the men straightened up and tried to pull their ragged uniforms together, and with a command they began to march at last.

(A Soldiering test: Perfect Success.)

As the column started to move, Private Jones began an old, traditional Welsh marching song. A few men joined in, then others, as hearts lifted and were stirred despite the cold and dark.

(A Music test: Two Perfect Successes. That qualified for one of the challenges of his personal mission, too.)

Southgate wasn’t worried about lifting spirits. He limped among the men watching for the malcontents who looked like they might cause trouble after all, and gave ugly looks and quiet threats to keep them in line.

(An Intimidation test. Success.)

Above the singing, Yorkshire looked over the column from its head and called out that the men must have heart; after all their work they were very nearly there. If the pressed on another few hours they would be at Corunna, in the arms of the British Army and on the ships of the British Navy, and then home. Seeing one of the worst-off men shuffle near, ready to collapse, Yorkshire dismounted, made the man sit on his French horse, and walked at the head of the column himself. The singing rose up again and the Redcoats and Riflemen marched on into the mountains.

(The final overall Command test for Yorkshire was a Critical Success.)

To the Sea

The sun rose over the mountains to see the column still marching, a bit more haggard now and with no voices raised in song, but still moving. A few men had fallen in the darkest, coldest part of night, their legs and spirits both giving out, leaving them dead in the ice. The column left them behind.

Captain Yorkshire stayed busy at the head of the column, talking to the men, keeping up their spirits as best he could, making sure that they saw him ready to share their hardships.

(Once again I gave them a chance to handle personal missions and healing. This was a Diplomacy test to repair Yorkshire’s injured Reputation with the Regiment. A Perfect Success.)

O’Toole had a few men approach him looking for things they hadn’t been able to get; the right pair of shoes for one of the women with the column, a cloak to replace a long-lost greatcoat, the most basic things. He talked with other men, threw a bit of his own meager wealth on the line, and struck deals to make sure they had what they needed.

(O’Toole wanted to repair one of his Reputations with the regiment, but he wanted to use something other than Diplomacy because he has none. I decided I’d let him use up to three cards from another skill if he could think of a good description for it applying. My reasoning was that characters can assist each other in skill tests with up to three cards, so that seemed a fair compromise here. He scored a Critical Success with three cards from Haggling.)

Southgate and Cole worked to keep the most badly hurt men walking, calling on their basic knowledge of leechcraft and Southgate’s vicious reputation to encourage the men to either heal or at least quit complaining. They certainly managed to bring Smithwick’s leg under control, giving it a decent dressing and binding so that he could get about without too much pain.

(Southgate attempted First Aid with an assist by Cole and bonus cards from his “Hard Man of the Regiment” Reputation. I had the Hand of Fate throw a pretty challenging five cards, since they were doing it on the move and in the open, but Cole’s bonus card made it just barely a Success.)

Smithwick, his leg feeling much better, sought out Maria and her brother, shivering on exhausted horses. He asked if they’d like some music to go with the march. He produced his violin, tuned it, and then played from horseback with surprising charm.

(He wanted a Music test to charm Maria as part of his personal mission. Adding cards for his current Reputation with her and his various Traits — Heartbreaker, Perfect Pitch, etc. — he got a Success.)

Private Jones felt the stirrings of responsibility for the men around him, who had responded well to Yorkshire but were prone to losing hope at any moment. He passed around the bottle of liquor that he always had on his person, straightened his uniform and then fished out the silver medal that the officers had made for him after his heroics at Viermo. He pinned it to the outside of his greatcoat and marched on with head high and proud.

(A challenge from Jones’ personal mission, leading by example and improving the men around him. Perfect Success.)

Midway through the day, coming around the side of a mountain the men spotted thin columns of smoke rising not far ahead. A little village lay near the road in a pass between two mountains.

The Rifles could at once hear the muttering and grumbling begin. The men were exhausted, hungry, freezing, beyond all motivation. They wanted to stop. They wanted a roof and a wall. Even if it meant inevitably being captured and being consigned to a French prison hulk, that was far into the hazy future. It would be worthwhile if they could get just a little warmer now. The mood quickly became ugly.

(Next group challenge in the military mission: Prevent mutiny!)

Yorkshire called out for quiet and reminded the men of the need for discipline; Jones moved among them and said he was ready to keep going no matter what. Southgate simply glared and growled at them to quit whining.

(Jones made a Soldiering test with an assist by Yorkshire; Perfect Success. Also a Succcess for Intimidation by Southgate.)

Smithwick sternly told the men to button up, and catching Uxia Maria’s eye he manhandled one or two of the surliest. But it only caused the grumbling to grow, and she looked away in disgust.

(Smithwick attempted a Command test boosted by his already Injured Reputation with her. The attempt failed, which left that Reputation Maimed once more. Theirs is a rocky romance.)

O’Toole asked Yorkshire if he could have permission to take a bit of silver to the town and buy food and supplies. Yorkshire sent Cole and Southgate with him, and told the men that they’d get whatever they could from the village but could not afford to stop.

The three soldiers went to town and O’Toole bargained for coats and shoes, and he hired a few men and women to set up some massive soup pots outside town; Southgate suggested doing it a mile or two away, so the column could file past them and fill their cups with hot food as they went, but without being as able to stop and ransack the village itself.

(Haggling by O’Toole with an assist by Cole; just barely successful.)

As they were setting that up, Southgate made his way apart from Cole and O’Toole and found a hut with a smith. Through signs and gestures and evil looks he made the man understand what he wanted: Take the silver pieces that he’d hidden in his gear, melt them down, and forge them into musket balls. Then he could keep them in an ammunition pouch without raising eyebrows—as long as he remembered not to let anyone shoot them.

(I had Southgate attempt Skulduggery to even get a chance at this, but bolstered by his reputation for being called on by the quartermaster — to explain his going off by himself — he got a Perfect Success. Then his Intimidation check to convince the Spaniard to do what he wanted and now was another Perfect Success. That meant completion of Southgate’s personal mission, and the reward was his Wealth score increased by +1.)

The column slowly filed by the soup stand that O’Toole had set up, and he personally ladled stew into the men’s tin cups. There was a little grumbling, but under all the weight of Yorkshire’s and Jones’ moral authority and O’Toole’s efforts to keep them warm, the grumbling subsided. Southgate rejoined a bit late, and the men marched on and left the village behind.

(Yorkshire’s final Command test for the group challenge: Another whopper with 17 cards. Perfect Success. That meant success already in his personal mission, which boosted his Soldiering by +2.)

(The next military challenge began.)

Yorkshire made sure his uniform was correct, and he made sure the men kept theirs correct, too; a man who keeps his uniform tidy and clean has the discipline necessary for a hard march.

(Soldiering; Perfect Success.)

The marched on into the night of January 14. The path grew icy cold again. Another handful of men died, one and then another a couple of hours later, then another.

Jones and Cole echoed Yorkshire and kept the men moving and paying attention. The British Army drilled its men in endless marches just for this sort of reason, after all.

(Soldiering by Jones with an assist by Cole; Critical Success.)

Smithwick decided to take his turn improving the men’s morale. From horseback he sang and played his violin and even moved a few of them to join in as they walked.

(A Music test for Smithwick; Success.)

O’Toole and Southgate walked ahead of the column with the Spaniards, keeping their eyes on the trail and its condition and making sure the column didn’t take a wrong turn.

(Awareness by O’Toole with an assist by Southgate and bonus Discipline cards from Yorkshire; Perfect Success.)

Yorkshire kept up his pace, even as the cold and exhaustion crept through his body, knowing he could not give in yet. The men stayed with him.

(The group challenge’s final Command test by him. With all those earlier successes and his “loved by the Regiment” Reputation on the line, he topped his earlier efforts to draw a ridiculous 19 cards. Two Perfect Successes versus zero for the Hand of Fate.)

A few hours before dawn on January 15, the column came quite suddenly around a last bend in the hill trail and saw the deeper blackness of the ocean before them, a few miles away. They could smell the sea, and burned powder from recent fighting, and the distant stench of dead men and animals.

Between them and it lay hilly country with a number of steep heights, copses of woods and little villages. On the coast, the scarce lights of a city in deep night flickered on a hook-shaped peninsula that stretched a mile or so into the sea. At the far end of the peninsula, well apart from the city, stood a squat square lighthouse nearly two hundred feet tall.

In the bay of the peninsula and beyond it flickered the binnacles of hundreds and hundreds of ships.

They had reached Corunna, and somehow the Navy was still there.

Blades in the Night

The Rifles and Redcoats shuffled to a weary halt as Yorkshire and Smithwick trained their spyglasses on the land before them.

Their road had approached from the south. Atop and around the heights in front and to their right stood the torches of a vast army, stretching in a thick crescent nearly four miles wide. Through their telescopes Yorkshire and Smithwick could see the eagles and emblems of Marshal Soult’s regiments.

Between the French and the city, among the villages that lay nearer to Corunna, camped the much smaller British army. The flags of General Fraser’s division, the one to which Yorkshire’s company had been attached, stood in the rear, serving as the reserves, closest to the long, ancient wall that separated the peninsula from the mainland.

To the far northwest — just west of Fraser’s camp — was a gap between the far flanks of Soult’s army and the shore. Soult clearly had no fear of the British either attempting to escape or having any substantial forces join them, and he had enough men to maneuver against any attempt by the British to flank him, so the gap was of no concern to the French. But Yorkshire and Smithwick thought it might be wide enough for their makeshift battalion to creep through and rejoin the British lines.

They set off again. The French were a mile away, no more. The ad-hoc battalion followed little trails between the woods and hills in a broad circuit to the west and slowly north, meaning to avoid all French patrols and outposts.

(The next group challenge: Get through the French lines. Failure would mean discovery and an unavoidable encounter with French soldiers, which in turn would mean a battle that might result in the entire group being captured.)

Yorkshire dressed the column and reminded them of their drills and training. He told the Redcoats to take their cues from the Rifles, who were experts at this kind of maneuvering.

(A Soldiering test for Yorkshire; Perfect success.)

Smithwick warned sharply against any noise and above all any light. There was no pretension in his demeanor this time, no apparent desire to impress a woman, just the natural authority of his rank and Yorkshire’s support and the clear need of the battalion.

(Command for Smithwick, with +4 Discipline cards from Yorkshire; two Perfect successes. Only one of them counted, but it’s fun to see more than one come up at a time.)

O’Toole and Southgate set off at the head of the column, well in advance, as scouts. O’Toole deliberately shed his tall black shako and held his rifle low to present less of a silhouette and appear to be a wandering townsman at first glance in the darkness. He lost track of Southgate and had to double back to keep in contact with the column. Southgate crept ahead with uncanny stealth into the night.

(Awareness for O’Toole, augmented by his Reputation for not being a model soldier and +2 Discipline cards from Yorkshire; nevertheless a Failure. Southgate attempted Skulduggery and got two Perfect Successes.)

Jones and Cole walked along the lines and quietly made sure the Redcoats were being quiet, were being alert, and were following orders.

(Soldiering by Jones and an assist by Cole. Perfect success.)

The column shuffled along, with the Spaniards leading their horses and stroking them to keep them quiet, for a very long time. They moved among the little steep hills and woods, and between countless ancient low stone walls. From time to time they would see the lanterns of a village not far away, and in those times they became extra quiet, determined not to give themselves away this close to success.

Southgate, ahead of the group, realized full well that nobody in the company knew where he was. He could disappear forever, marked down as one more missing man among thousands in the chaos of the retreat. He had made his mind up to start walking west, away from Corunna and the Army, when he heard low French voices not far away. He stopped and listened. More voices; a sergeant or lieutenant calling for quiet. He considered how they had been spread out. There must have been at least a company’s worth.

He crept back toward the column, muttering, “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”

(Yorkshire’s final Command test for the group challenge, despite putting down some vast array of cards, came up 4 Successes against 3 Successes and 1 Critical by the Hand of Fate. Failure. They were about to be discovered!)

Yorkshire heard Southgate’s report and told Smithwick to take over the main body of the Redcoats. Yorkshire would lead the Rifles ahead and around to be in position to attack the French flank. Smithwick should continue the march in ten minutes.

“And above all, no firing,” he said. “No powder. Bayonets and swords only.”

Yorkshire and his Rifles moved quietly into the slopes and out of sight. Several tense minutes later they stopped again and crouched; Southgate had found his Frenchmen.

A full troop of French dragoons were arrayed on foot along a long, low wall in a field, barely visible in the occasional moonlight, maybe fifty yards away.

Half the troop, thirty or forty men, were against the wall proper, carbines held ready. The others were scattered a short distance behind them in the trees.

Thanks to Southgate’s stealth as a scout, the Rifles had gotten this far undetected. Yorkshire told the men to fix bayonets. They would not wait for the Redcoats; they would charge the French position at once from the rear and destroy it. There was to be no gunfire; he had Cole and Jones make sure no man had a primed rifle.

Then he drew his saber and led the way.

The Rifles crept half the distance, until they were so near that even with stealth there was no way the occasional rattle of a buckle or pack would not be noticed.

Yorkshire stood, lifted his saber, and cried, “Charge!”

The Rifles sprinted ahead and crashed into the wholly shocked and startled dragoons.

Half the Rifles attacked the rearmost line of dragoons among the trees. There were shouts of rage and defiance, and cries of pain and terror. Amazed cries and questions flew out in French, choked off by a sudden attack by Riflemen appearing out of nowhere.

Some of the dragoons managed to pull their sabers out and fight back; a Rifleman went down near Cole, another near Southgate. Next to Jones a man’s throat was laid open by a sabre before Jones could knock the man down; Jones was feroicious in a bare-knuckle brawl but less so with cold steel. The men around O’Toole watched out for him; they were men he had helped equip. One of them fell in the fighting. Yorkshire, at the front, saw four of his men fall around him. When it was over the Rifles had five hurt and four dead.

But that was nothing to what they did to the enemy.

The dragoons dropped left and right, skewered by sword bayonets, knocked down by rifle butts, cut down by Yorkshire’s sword. In a short minute’s work the Rifles killed or badly wounded 32 dragoons and had the rest pinned against the wall in horror before the French captain cried out for mercy. Not a gunshot had been fired by either side.

(This was a combat skirmish. The French ordinarily would have four cards for attacking with their sabers, but I docked them by one card for surprise and another for being attacked from the read. Since for each player character there were about a dozen men fighting, I used a house rule saying that each success would mean one or more successful attacks: one hit for a black number, two for a red number, four for a royal card or ace.)

(Cole scored 1 Perfect, 1 Critical and 1 Success vs. 1 French Success, for 4 French dead, 4 French Maimed and 2 French Injured; rather than become injured further himself he said a Rifleman was Maimed.)

(Southgate drew 1 Perfect, 2 Critical and 1 Success vs. 1 French Success, for 4 French dead, 8 Maimed and 1 Injured. He too let a friendly NPC be Maimed rather than taking the injury himself.)

(Jones drew 1 Success vs. 1 French Critical Success, so he failed at his test; 1 Frenchman Injured; the Critical would have Maimed Jones would would have killed him since he was already Injured, so he allowed a Rifleman to be killed instead.)

(O’Toole drew 1 Success vs. none for the French; 4 French Injured. This incidentally completed his personal mission to become a more ferocious fighter in close combat, earning him the Hack and Slay trait.)

(Yorkshire drew 2 Critical and 1 Success vs. 1 Critical. He considered taking the injury himself, but that would have left him Maimed and perhaps unable to make the all-important final Command test of the skirmish, so another Rifleman died and three others were Maimed compared to four French maimed and one Injured.)

(The final Command test by Yorkshire against the French commander came up with a Perfect Success by Yorkshire compared to a Success by the enemy. Victory!)

They could hear Smithwick’s column approaching before they could see them, so Yorkshire quickly had the men arrange the prisoners and pick up their wounded, and set off at double time while other French positions not far away called out questions to find out what had happened.

By the time other dragoons discovered the carnage, Yorkshire’s Rifles were gone.

Coming Home

Yorkshire was on his horse again when the lights of Fraser’s camp appeared ahead. He spotted a sentry: a man all in dark green with a black shako, nameless a soldier of the 95th Rifles, the most welcome sight in all the world.

Yorkshire rode straight toward him. The sentry heard the horse and heard the shuffling of many men behind it and called out, “Who’s there?”

“Captain Geoffery Yorkshire. 60th Regiment of Foot.”

The sentry seemed baffled. “What? Come nearer, sir.”

Yorkshire rode close enough for the sentry to see him.

The sentry still looked confused. “But sir, I thought the 60th was all captured.”

“Not us, private. We’ve had a hard time of it, but I’ve come with my men, with a band of Redcoats that we rescued, and with prisoners of war. I need to speak with General Beresford or General Fraser.”

The sentry looked shocked. “Er—of course. This way, sir.”

The 95th were in Paget’s division, camped just north of Fraser. Yorkshire told Cole and the ensigns to lead the column onward to the outskirts of the village where Fraser was camped. He called for Smithwick to join him. Luis and Maria Raimundez, hollow-eyed and exhausted, remained with the men for now.

Yorkshire and Smithwick followed the sentry to an inn that housed Fraser and Beresford. Even at this late hour the generals were fully awake, looking over maps and rosters, making plans for the battle to come.

Fraser was a tall, burly, middle-aged man with wavy gray hair and friendly eyes. He had a reputation for marked kindness and consideration for his men and for being a positive lion in battle.

Beresford was shorter, fatter, a remarkably ugly man with narrow dark eyes and scant hair. When the army left for Britain he had orders to stay behind. He was to return to Portugal and rebuild the Portugese army. But for now he commanded a brigade in Fraser’s division.

Both men looked up, astonished, when the sentry wonderingly announced, “Captain Yorkshire of the 60th, sirs.”

The generals regarded the newcomers in silence for a startled second. Both men were pale and drawn from hunger, cold and exhaustion. Smithwick was grimy and limping, his coat and trousers covered in his own blood from four wounds. Yorkshire was unhurt, had his coat and officer’s sash tied neatly, and even his boots shone from a recent cleaning on the trail.

“Yorkshire,” Fraser exclaimed at last. “Good God! Where on Earth have you been?”

“Well, sir,” Captain Yorkshire said, “we’ve had something of an adventure.”

Aftermath

(And that’s it. I had plans for the band to help dislodge the Afrancescados in Corunna’s high offices and then to fight in the Battle of Corunna proper, not to mention resolving Smithwick’s romance with the lovely Maria, but we ran out of time. One of the players has a RuneQuest game ready to start and I had promised this would be the last session of the campaign. And their terrific triumph in the night over the hated dragoons provided a very nice piece of climactic action, anyway.)

The British army under Sir John Moore had arrived at Corunna on January 11 and the transports of the British Navy were nowhere to be seen. Contrary winds had held them in the south. Moore arrayed his tattered forces to defend Corunna until the ships arrived.

Marshal Soult’s vanguard reached the outskirts of Corunna the next day and took positions in the heights overlooking the bay. His army continued to arrive and to expand over the next couple of days.

Moore systematically destroyed all the huge quanitites of gunpoweder, cannons and muskets that the British had brought to Corunna intending to let the Spanish army take it to help the fight against France. The Spanish were shocked and furious, but Moore knew that the Spanish governor of Corunna would hold out just long enough for the British to escape and then the French would capture Corunna and everything within.

On the morning of January 13, British engineers staked 1,500 barrels of powder inside a warehouse on a broad, empty hillside outside the city, overlooking the harbor. They set fuses and retreated. But they had not thought to search the other, adjacent warehouses. When the barrels exploded, they also detonated fully 5,000 more barrels next door.

It was the most tremendous explosion ever felt in that part of the world. It flattened nearby buildings and send debris tumbling from the sky a mile away. Glass shattered throughout Corunna and the suburbs. The shockwaves caused waves in the harbor that damaged fishing boats.

The noise of it drifted over the miles into the mountains of Spain, even to the men in Yorkshire’s company, who weren’t to learn for three more days what had happened.

On January 14, Soult’s artillery arrived, and so did the Navy transports at last. The British began to slaughter their cavalry’s horses, since the cavalrymen, no use in the rough terrain around Corunna, would be among the first aboard. The slaughter of the horses was itself a disaster, poorly planned and poorly handled. Hundreds of the poor beasts got loose and had to be pursued along the beaches and shot. The stench of horse carcasses choked the air for days. That night the British embarked their cavalrymen, their artillerymen and their sick and hurt.

On January 15, Soult’s forces attacked. They drove the outermost British forces back — that was expected — and set up their heaviest guns, a battery of 12-pounders, on the heights overlooking the village of Elvina, where the British were camped in strength.

That night, Yorkshire and his men returned at last to the British lines, and the British continued to move their people onto the transports.

The morning of January 16, the Battle of Corunna began in earnest. Soult meant to scatter the British forces and capture them before they could embark and sail away. The fighting centered around Elvina, where Moore personally directed the fighting despite musket fire and cannonballs smashing nearby.

The fighting ranged back and forth in Elvina and to the east of it, in the hills where French line infantry and skirmishers clashed with British foot. A French advance drove the British from Elvina; a counterattack led by a Highlands regiment drove the French back again.

French forces moved west to attack Elvina and the British lines from the flank, and Moore sent orders for Paget and Fraser to intercept them. The orders apparently never reached Fraser, but Paget’s Light Brigade attacked the French flank, dismounted dragoons under General Lahoussaye—Yorkshire fought a troop of them the night before—and then attacked French line infantry under Mermet who were maneuvering through the hills. Riflemen of the 95th and the 28th, accompanied by Redcoats of the 52nd, fought Mermet’s infantry for hours and drove them slowly back.

About 4:30 in the afternoon, a cannonball from the heights over Elvina struck Sir John Moore and knocked him from his horse. At first those near him thought he had been hit by a musket ball, and he struggled to rise, but then they saw with horror that his left shoulder had been torn open to strings and sinews. It was clearly a mortal wound.

By all accounts Moore kept his composure, issued orders, and then had men help him away from the front lines. They unfurled his sash — the colorful red silk that British officers wore around their waists, meant for exactly this purpose — and lifted him in it like a hammock. He insisted on holding his sword. As they walked, at one point they stumbled and the hilt of the sword was shoved up into the horrible wound, but Moore again refused to be parted with it. They placed him in a bed in a house outside Corunna’s walls. He died, hours later, having heard with satisfaction reports that the British had fended off Soult’s assault.

Moore’s second in command, Baird, was hit by a cannonball himself not long afterward and taken from the lines to have surgeons remove his arm.

General Hope took command from Baird and oversaw the last of the fighting. The Light Brigade under Paget had fought their way to the base of the hill where the French battery was firing, but by then the day was nearly done, the French were beginning to retire, and Hope called off the attack.

The British embarked the bulk of their army overnight. Before dawn the next morning they buried Moore outside Corunna. Over the 17th the British picquets withdrew behind the rearguard and embarked, some in good order, others singing drunkenly, others falling splashing into the sea.

Soult’s army moved forward and established their guns on the heights directly over the bay, within range of the transports. When they opened fire that evening it shocked many of the British, particularly the transport captains. The guns did little direct damage but in their panic a few transports lost their way and wrecked or foundered, killing hundreds of soldiers and sailors.

Early in the darkest morning of January 18 the British rearguard, the reserves under Fraser, embarked at last. Yorkshire’s Rifles boarded Navy transports. They had been the first ashore when the British army under Welleseley had landed in Portugal the year before. They were the last to depart when the British army under Hope fled back to England.

Dying, Sir John Moore had said he was glad to know he had done his duty and hoped it would be remembered in England. It wouldn’t. When the army reached England, bedraggled and defeated, Moore would be remembered not for the accomplishment of saving the British army from annihilation but for the disgrace of retreat. Sir Arthur Wellesely would soon be reinstated and this time given full command, and he would speak well of Moore’s efforts. Soult himself would erect a monument over Moore’s grave in honor of his defense of Corunna. Tthe Spanish would keep Moore’s gravesite as a memorial and would still honor it 200 years later. But Moore was pilloried in the British press and Parliament, blamed in death for the Army’s initial failure in Spain.

As dawn broke on January 18 the British fleet sailed away home, broken and demoralized. The sight of them would shock England when they stumbled off the ships a few days later. The recriminations would fly. But even then, preparations were being made.

Three months later, in April 1809, the British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley would return to the Peninsular War.

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The Monastery, Part 7: The Captain's Mission
Captain Yorkshire resumes command and sets out to retrieve the King's silver.

(The players for Sgt. Cole, Pvt. O’Toole and Mr. Giles missed the game, but Captain Yorkshire’s player returned to the action at last.)

In early 1809 Captain Geoffery Yorkshire was a 22-year-old gentleman of rarified background, fine breeding and very little wealth. His older twin brother stood to inherit everything; Geoffery had to estabish himself on his own merits, augmented of course by all the useful contacts and opportunities for education that a wealthy family could provide.

Somewhat to his family’s dismay he set himself on the Army early on. Not the clergy, even when his family engaged him to marry a young lady of a respectable family; nor even the far more respectable Navy; but the Army, a career commanding Redcoats, the scum of the British earth. He had grown up fascinated by war and heroism. He read every book on command, tactics and strategy that he could find. He signed on as an ensign when the Peace of Amiens fell apart in 1803, served in a support company in the Holland war, and was a captain by 1806, purchasing command of a new company of the rapidly expanding 5th Battalion of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot.

It was not a plum assignment. Founded by a Polish nobleman displaced by the wars of the French Revolution, the 5th Battalion had been formed from Hessian and Dutch riflemen and augmented over the years with other refugees, mainly French light troops who had surrendered and asked to serve Britain instead of rotting in prison hulks. The 5th/60th fought in Ireland to quell the 1798 rebellion, then spent years wasting away in the disease-ridden West Indies. When it was brought back to England in 1805 for recruiting, it needed 866 men and officers to meet regulation battalion strength of about 1,000 men; it was down to skeletons.

Recruiting for a battalion with that history meant scraping the dregs. Its leaders schemed, cajoled and pleaded for sturdy German light troops, but the administration at Horse Guards refused, claiming all Germans must go to the King’s German Legion. So the 5th/60th took on French prisoners of war and British men who could be trained to aim a rifle but were not much wanted, for whatever reason, elsewhere in the King’s army. The scum of the earth, indeed.

Captain Yorkshire, aided by his own contacts and a military reputation not yet distinguished by heroics but at least not marred by any horrible failings, managed to recruit mainly British soldiers into his own company. That meant he had slightly less fear of wholesale desertion when the Battalion went to war.

That strategy served him well. The 5th/60th was the first unit ashore when the army landed in Portugal in 1808. It saw action immediately. And its French troops immediately began to vanish into the countryside. Where two men might have fallen in a skirmish with the French, two dozen went missing. The battalion as a whole was covering itself in infamy; but Yorkshire’s company kept itself in good order in the battle at Rolica and his men performed heroically at Viermo.

The 5th/60th was soon broken up into detachments, the ultimate ignomy, each company sent to augment the light troops of some other, more reliable regiment. Even then, Yorkshire’s men held together and performed their duty.

When Sir John Moore took command of the army in Portugal and was ordered to march into Spain, he sent most of the companies of 5th/60th to occupy Portugal garrisons. To save face, the battalion commander asked permission to send a few detached companies, the ones with the best records, on with the army. Moore acquiesced. Yorkshire’s company was one of those.

Then Napoleon himself led a massive French army over the Pyrenees into Spain and Moore was forced to begin a horrendous retreat through the frozen mountains to the sea at Corunna. Yorkshire’s company was one of the few that kept itself in good order even then.

So in January 1809, Captain Geoffery Yorkshire had overcome the challenges of taking command in an infamous regiment and of seeing that regiment fall apart around him. He had forged a company that performed with a reasonable degree of honor compared to those that surrounded it.

And, most recently, at the height of a crisis, he had fallen from a captured French horse, knocked himself upon the head, and spend days in and out of unconsciousness and delirium, just this side of an ignomious death.

Distant Thunder

At some point on January 13, none could say exactly when, Yorkshire drifted from unhealthy coma, barely alive, to a stunningly deep, healing sleep. He awakened from it, bleary and weak, not to the sound of hundreds of muskets firing nearby but to Spanish voices shouting, angry and excited, and even nearer. It took him some time to get his bearings.

Yorkshire was in a thick pile of shivering, feverish men and women upon a single wagon, the company’s sick wagon, meant for those too badly hurt or too ill to walk. Another wagon a few yards away carried the company’s meager supplies.

The company itself—now more like an abbreviated battalion in its own right—was scattered. His Riflemen were up ahead in the fog and snow, running among tall rocks and stunted trees on either side of a ravine road, regrouping hurriedly after a fight with cavalry.

Two companies’ worth of British Redcoats, most of them unarmed, were marching up one side of the ravine to the right, advancing into a position of Spanish irregulars who soon scattered before the Redcoats’ uphill charge.

More Spanish irregulars were overhead on the ravine’s left, no longer firing as actively as they had when the Redcoats were at the bottom of the ravine. They withdrew and vanished into the hills.

And the Spanish horsemen who had been fighting the Rifles? Surrounding the wagons, riding in disorder, many of them bloody and breathless, including their captain. They grabbed the horses that drew the supply wagon and pulled them along. The Rifles began to fire upon them, but soon they had drawn the British supply wagon with them around a bend in the ravine road and out of sight.

Over the next hour the British regrouped and tended to their wounded, and Yorkshire ate all the horsemeat stew he could stomach.

The Riflemen rejoiced to see their captain back among the living.

Yorkshire’s company was in rough shape. Two of its three officers were wounded — only Ensign Richter had not yet been hurt — but that wasn’t the heart of it; Smithwick’s injuries from his duel with Lt. Leveque were not as severe as anyone had thought, and Yorkshire was pretty well healed if famished. The real trouble was that of 66 enlisted men and sergeants, 27 were wounded, some of them badly. They had lost seven men killed over the last four days.

The ad hoc half-battalion of Redcoats with them had eight dead and dozens wounded just from the morning’s ambush by the Spaniards. They piled the worst onto the overburdened Sick Wagon and the rest would have to limp along.

Lt. Smithwick had held the men together admirably well so far, much better than Yorkshire had privately expected — the ridiculous duel had been a disastrous error in judgment but here the Rifles and Redcoats were, days later. But Yorkshire knew he had a lot of ground to make up. And he could not allow the King’s silver that his men had fought so hard to carry back to England be spirited away by brigands. Particularly since the brigands were positively in league with the French.

He consulted with Smithwick, Richter and Ensign Flagstaff. A few of the Rifles were near enough to overhear, but that was no concern. Yorkshire heard reports, then laid out his intentions. Richter and Flagstaff must take charge of the battalion for a time in the name of Major Higgins, who against all odds was still alive and improving if not yet steady enough to command. They would take most of the Rifles with them to help keep up the pace and keep the assortment of Redcoats in line. Richter would command as the senior ensign. They would have a number of good sergeants to aid them, including Cole if he recovered from his wound. They would have several of the friendly Spaniards as guides. They must keep marching, day and night, and reach Corunna.

Yorkshire and Smithwick would take a dozen men and a handful of the Spaniards, retrieve the King’s silver and rejoin the battalion on the road.

They gathered the healthiest of the remaining horses. That’s not saying much; the horses had been starving for days. The weakest had been slaughtered for the cook fires each morning and night. Those that were left were unhappy animals. But Yorkshire’s men took the best of them.

As they saddled up, the strangest thing happened. From the west, from the direction of Corunna and the sea, came a distinct low rumbling unlike anything any of them had heard before. Something like thunder but deeper and broader; something like an explosion but more diffuse, as if it came from far away but had the incaclulable force to be heard over so many miles. No one knew what it was.

But the men muttered that it did not bode well for Corunna as they began to march toward it again.

Yorkshire and his chosen men rode east, back the way they had come, in pursuit of Iago Cervino.

In Pursuit

(Yorkshire’s player and I worked out his current personal mission, since he’d been gone when the other players decided on theirs. He wanted to improve Yorkshire’s skill as a soldier; he had plenty of talent as a leader but not as much as he could wish in the regulations, traditions and practicalities of soldiering. So his personal mission was to live up to the men’s expectations of him and prove himself a dependable commander in and out of combat. The reward for success would be +2 Soldiering. The penalty for failure would be having his Institutional Reputation with the Regiment (“Beloved by the Regiment”) Maimed. We didn’t work out his four Challenges in detail in advance, but we decided one of them would likely be reestablishing his bond with the men and another wound be imposing discipline correctly in an unpleasant situation. He wanted the final one to be a combat test using his impressive Command skill.)

(Next I worked out with the players the current military mission, retrieving the silver from Iago Cervino. Because the players had been unfamiliar with the Duty & Honour rules and with the genre, up until now I had been doing most of the work on putting together the military missions myself. But they had enough play under their belts that I wanted to build the next mission by the book, which is to say, to get as much input from the players as possible and create the challenges incorporating the kinds of scenes and action they envisioned. I drew up a list of types of scenes and environments, some from my own ideas and some from the players: hills, woods, a village, mountain hideouts, a ruined fort, scouting, sneaking, a fight, a hurried escape. From that I put together a four-Challenge mission: Scouting through the hills with the aid of the Spaniards and following Cervino’s trail through a village to an old abandoned hill fort; getting into the hideout by stealth; fighting the bandits and seizing the silver; and escaping into the hills. The deadline would be four failed attempts, beyond which Cervino would be long gone. The rewards for success and penalties for failure I would tailor to each player character when the time came.)

Yorkshire’s party included Smithwick, private Southgate, private Jones, a Rifles sergeant, seven other Riflemen, Luis Raimundez, Uxia Maria Raimundez, and four other Spaniards.

The Spaniards said the Cervinos had a number of possible hide-outs in the region, but most of the villages were friendly to the Raimundez faction and wouldn’t give Iago much help. If they could find a village where Iago and his guerilleros had passed through, that might point to whichever hideout they meant to use; Iago was hurt and wouldn’t care to spend days riding back to friendlier regions without tending his wounds first.

Jones, an old hand with tracking and woods work, led the way with the Spaniards as guides.

(I gave each player a chance to attempt one challenge — for a personal mission, for repairing health or a Reputation, whatever — before we attempted the first group Challenge for the mission. Jones wanted to combine his test in the military Challenge to also be one for his personal mission, so I said we’d handle that after the others’ personal stuff.)

As they rode, Yorkshire spent time chatting with Jones and the other Rifles about the past few days, about riding, about scouting, ambushes. In most situations those would be awkward conversations, and perhaps demoralizing if it seemed the officer was so weak that he needed to curry favor from his subordinates. But the men loved Yorkshire and were pleased to see him up and about, and it all seemed perfectly right.

(That was the first Challenge of Yorkshire’s personal mission, a Courtesy test to bond with the men. Success.)

Smithwick spent the afternoon trying to talk to Uxia Maria Raimundez, plying her good will with claims of his dream of settling down, starting a family, and raising his little ones in the Catholic Church like proper Christians. She scoffed and stood him off. Perhaps it didn’t help that the nearest Rifles couldn’t help but stifle laughter at hearing all this from Smithwick, notorious first as a womanizer and only slightly second as an anti-Papist.

(Smithwick attempted again to repair his Reputation with Maria with a Courtesy test. Another failure.)

Southgate disliked horses and disliked riding, but even more he disliked the fact that in the fight with the Spaniards that morning the Rifles around him had been handled very roughly. He had killed a Spaniard with a rifle shot in the opening volley and wounded a few Spaniards with his heavy Indian sword, but he had a reputation to uphold for being the most dangerous man in the company — and one the others could count on in a scrap. They went over the battle and compared stories, and Southgate came out of it looking like the man who had kept the enemy at bay when those around him had to run.

(Southgate attempted a Diplomacy test to repair his Institutional Reputation as “the hard man of the Regiment.” He has nil for Diplomacy, but with luck he succeeded anyway!)

The morning turned to afternoon and the sun soon drifted out of sight over the mountains behind them. Jones and Southgate kept their eyes on the trail left by the Spaniards — not hard to follow at first, but gradually snow melted and new snow fell and the new ruts blended in to older ones.

(A Soldiering test by Jones, assisted by Southgate for bonus cards. Critical Success. That counted as two successes in the first round-robin noncombat “skirmish” challenge of the current military mission, tracking down the Spanish bandits. It also counted as a success in Jones’ personal mission, which is to become a better soldier in spite of himself.)

Smithwick tried to anticipate possible trails and ambush sites — “think like a bandit,” he told himself, and he consulted with the Spaniards as well. It passed the time but didn’t add much to the job.

(Smithwick’s contribution to the noncombat skirmish challenge, a failed Intrigue test.)

Nevertheless, they soon found themselves staring down a hillside at a tiny village, in the middle of which sat their battered stolen wagon, its pouches of precious silver gone. They rode down to talk to the villagers, who said Cervino and his men had ridden in a few hours before, stolen every scrap of food and liquor, and ridden off again. The villagers pointed to the north.

(Yorkshire made the final test of the skirmish Challenge, a Command test to see if they succeeded, with +2 cards for successes by Southgate and Jones and –1 card for Smithwick’s failure. Success.)

Luis Raimundez nodded on hearing the news. There was an old, old castle up there a few miles away, mostly ruins, which had once overlooked a vital crossroads in the days of war with the Moors but had since fallen into disrepair and uselessness.

They followed a main road most of the way, then took another trail to approach the fort from the side. They halted on the hillside just out of sight of the fort as night began to fall.

Rifles and Horsemen

The fort itself once was tall and proud, a single tower built against the mountainside, surrounded by an outer wall and a little courtyard. But it had collapsed and now only the basement and the first floor were still habitable. The British and the Spaniards could see the light of fires inside and thin columns of smoke rising. A pair of sentries could sometimes be seen on the outer wall.

With no cannons to batter the walls, they had to gain access somehow. Through telescopes they could see one corner of the outer wall was rubble, with enough of a gap that they could climb through if they could get there unseen.

Southgate volunteered to sneak in. Smithwick and Yorkshire agreed, and Smithwick pointed out a couple of good approaches based on the timing of the sentries’ rounds. Southgate left his rifle with Jones, tucked his Indian sword in a bundle and set out.

In the village Southgate had traded for an old peasant cloak and tunic. In fact he had suggested that the whole group of them forego uniforms so they could go about without attracting so much attention, but Yorkshire had categorically refused to allow any of the men to go out of uniform. When Southgate was out of sight of the group, he shifted into his Spanish peasant clothes, figuring that if he was spotted he could pretend to be a lost shepherd and so distract the guards.

One of the sentries on the wall heard Southgate stumble on rocks and spotted him moving around in the darkness. He called down a challenge. Southgate knew no Spanish, so he shouted gibberish and started making his way toward the front gate. He didn’t get too close, but he made a lot of noise and acted angry, playing the part of a peasant whose goats had been stolen for Cervino’s cook fires. The sentries shouted angrily at him. He shouted angrily back.

(This was another noncombat skirmish challenge for the military mission. Southgate attempted Skulduggery to sneak into the fort and open its front gate; Smithwick gave him bonus cards using Intrigue. That gave Southgate a very sturdy 10 cards, and I called it a typically challenging job with only 5 cards in the Hand of Fate — but Southgate drew awful cards and failed.)

Yorkshire had the men set out while Southgate provided his distraction. Luis Raimundez and another Spaniard came along; the rest stayed with the horses and backpacks.

Jones kept a careful watch on the fort and the sentries so they could time their move perfectly.

Yorkshire had a word with Raimundez to make sure his resolve and his confidence in the British stayed strong. Yorkshire reminded him that even though the British were retreating now, they would return soon with an even stronger army to push Napoleon out of Spain, even if it took years. Friendship between their generals and leaders such as Raimundez would be crucial.

(A Perfect Success at Awareness for Jones and a Success at Coutesy for Yorkshire.)

Then they set out, moving as quickly as stealth would allow. They made good time; Yorkshire led the way and set the right pace. From the front of the fort they heard the sentries, now all gathered there, fire a musket shot at Southgate and laugh, then another; thankfully the distance and darkness were too great for them to have much of a chance of hitting. Yorkshire reached the wall, then led the way through the gap into the courtyard, just around the corner from the tower’s front door.

(Yorkshire’s Command test to see if the overall Challenge would succeed, with +2 cards for his success and Jones’ and –2 for Southgate’s failure and Smithwick’s, since Smithwick was assisting Southgate. Yorkshire drew one Critical Success and one Success to beat the Hand of Fate’s two Successes.)

As the men lined up behind Yorkshire they heard a Spaniard come out the front door to yell at the sentries, castigating them for wasting ammunition and making so much noise. Then Southgate began making himself even more obnoxious, taunting the men, waving his big sword like a lunatic. Even the man who had come to impose discipline couldn’t resist. He had the guards open the portcullis and the four of them ran out meaning to fetch the ridiculous peasant and teach him a lesson. Southgate led them on a chase in the dark.

(The next group Challenge began. This was a combat skirmish, but I let Southgate contribute with an Intimidation test rather than fighting. He drew a Perfect Success and three Successes, so with a draw that good I had all the sentries hare off after him.)

This was the best chance Yorkshire and his men would have. They ran around the corner and one of them flipped the lever so the portcullis slammed closed again while the rest swarmed in the tower’s front door.

The tower’s ground floor was one main hall with several little rooms or closets off of it. In the main hall eight Spaniards were lazing around a large fire where a goat and sizzled and a soup-pot bubbled. They sprang up in alarm and went for swords and pistols.

The British fired their rifles and charged in with sword bayonets. It was a short, brutal exchange between the Spaniards and the foremost of the British while the rest of the British rushed in.

Jones wounded a Spaniard with a Rifle shot and then took a sword thrust and went down.

(Jones drew two Successes against the Spaniards’ two Critical Successes and one Success; he lost the exchange and became Maimed.)

Smithwick felled a man with his pistol and then took a deep cut in his leg before other Riflemen pushed his assailants off.

(Smithwick drew a Critical and two Successes versus one Success. He won and Maimed a Spaniard but was Injured himself.)

Yorkshire shot a man down with a rifle—ordinarily he carried a sword and pistol, but today he carried a rifle too—then warded off the Spaniards with it while his men rushed in.

(Yorkshire drew two Successes against none for the Spaniards, so he luckily came through unhurt.)

One other Rifleman was hurt in the affray but not badly; seven of the eight Spaniards were hurt or killed and the last threw up his hands in surrender.

(Yorkshire’s Command test for victory or defeat in the skirmish, with +3 cards for his, Southgate’s and Smithwick’s successes and –1 for Jones’ failure. Since this represented the other dozen or so British I had each card that Yorkshire drew and they drew count as a hit. He drew one Critical and three Successes and they drew one Success; one Spaniard Maimed and three Injured to one British Injured.)

But that was merely the first part of Cervino’s men. Through gunshot-deafened ears the British heard shouts of alarm upstairs as they reloaded, set men on the prisoners, checked the other rooms, and arrayed themselves to watch the staircase.

Southgate appeared in the front door in his peasant garb. His four pursuers rushed in after him and were taken prisoner.

Jones pushed through his agony to keep alert, but he was unsteady on his feet. He kept his rifle trained on the stairs as Yorkshire signaled the others to prepare to advance.

(Jones had to make a Discipline test to keep functioning despite being Maimed. He passed.)

A Spaniard appeared at the head of the stairs, leaning his head into view long enough to see what was happening. Jones fired and his rifle ball grazed the man’s head and sent him stumbling back out of sight with a yell.

(A Success for Jones in the second skirmish. I let this apply toward the skirmish’s success even though Jones wasn’t wading into battle.)

Yorkshire shouted and charged. He was the first up the stairs and onto the upper floor, where Iago Cervino and another eighteen Spaniards were arming themselves in confusion and alarm in a smaller main hall and a number of makeshift bedrooms. Yorkshire fired; a man went down; the other Rifles came screaming up the stairs, firing through the smoke and charging forward.

(Yorkshire again drew two Successes against none for the Spaniards; again he came through intact against the odds.)

Smithwick carried a pistol in each hand. He fired at close range and missed. The Spaniard lunged forward and ran him through the same leg that had taken a sword a few minutes before. Smithwick’s other pistol fired and he and the Spaniard both dropped.

(Three Successes for Smithwick versus two; he took another Injured result which left him Maimed.)

Southgate rushed in and broke up a clump of Spaniards. A pistol ball hit his side and he brought his huge Indian executioner’s sword down in a horrifying smashing blow that split a Spaniard’s head down the middle.

(A Perfect Success for Southgate versus one Success. He killed a Spaniard outright and became Injured.)

Sergeant Ross and another Rifleman were wounded but the Spanish fell back, bewildered by the rush of the British attack, until five more of them had fallen and the rest were pressed against the far walls. Iago cried out for quarter and Yorkshire called the cease-fire.

(The Command test to win the skirmish, Yorkshire against Cervino. Cervino drew a respectable six cards if I remember right. Yorkshire — with his high skill, four successes in the skirmish, one bonus card for his Student of War trait, and +4 for his “Beloved by the Regiement” Reputation — drew a jaw-dropping 18 cards! He drew five Successes to Cervino’s two, and Cervino could count himself lucky to get off that easy.)

The Ride Back

The Riflemen seized all the Spaniards’ precious shoes, boots, hats, cloaks and food to take back to the company.

Luis Raimundez and Iago Cervino had some heated words. Luis accused Iago of being a traitor to Spain. Iago said to love Spain was not to love every corrupt ruler of Spain, and even the puppet King Joseph installed by his brother Napoleon had been more just and effective in a few short months than had past regimes. If Cervino were healthier they might have come to blows then and there.

The Riflemen found the King’s silver upstairs among Cervino’s things.

Southgate helped see to the wounded; he bound up Jones’ side and Jones began to feel much stronger. He did the same for Smithwick’s leg but not as well. (Perhaps no surprise; there was no love lost between Southgate and the former provost officer.)

(First Aid tests by Southgate. He succeeded with Jones but not Smithwick.)

Yorkshire and his men locked the Spaniards in the tower, led their horses away, and closed the portcullis behind them for good measure. They figured Cervino’s men would break free sooner or later but hoped to slow them down. They divided the silver and loot among the horses and prepared to set off. The Spanish horses were much healthier than the French ones that had been starving for days.

(This was about to be the final group Challenge of the military mission: Escaping the rest of the hostile guerilleros and catching up with the company. But first I gave them another opportunity to pursue their own interests over the next couple of hours.)

Before they started riding, Yorkshire’s first point of order was to take Southgate to task for being out of uniform. He knew he had to walk a fine line since he didn’t really care to have Southgate on charges that would get him a flogging but he’d plainly told the men earlier to stay in uniform. He rattled off regulations and tradition. Southgate stared back, wholly unimpressed. Eventually Yorkshire’s tirade lost its momentum. He closed it off with something other than eloquence and finally told the men to ride out.

(Yorkshire was attempting the second Challenge in his personal mission, a Soldiering test to impose discipline. Southgate opposed it with his Intimidation skill. Yorkshire added 4 cards for his “Beloved by the Regiment” Reputation and Southgate added 2 for his “Hard Man of the Regiment” Reputation and 2 more for his bloody Indian executioner’s sword, which boosts his Intimidation. Yorkshire drew 2 Successes; Southgate drew one Success and two Perfect Successes! That left Yorkshire’s Reputation Injured. His Challenge failed.)

During the ride Smithwick could barely keep upright on his Spanish horse. Southgate and Jones tried to keep his wounds bound and keep him from bleeding — Southgate muttered to Smithwick that he’d do a favor now by keeping him alive in return for a favor later from the lieutenant — but he remained nearly incapacitated by pain and loss of blood. He did find enough strength to smile through the pain as Uxia Maria Raimundez came to see how he was. They didn’t talk much, but she became a touch more sympathetic and cheering.

(Southgate attempted First Aid with a bonus card from Jones, but it failed. However, Smithwick’s Courtesy test to repair his Reputation with Maria finally succeeded!)

Jones, Southgate and the Spaniards led the way again, with Jones finding his way by dead reckoning, following the stars when they showed through the winter clouds, and Southgate keeping an eye and ear open for possible ambush spots. Smithwick moaned and struggled to keep his saddle, slowing their progress. Yorkshire struggled to keep the pace as steady and quick as they could manage and consulted with the Spaniards to avoid the most likely hiding spots of the guerilleros who had helped Cervino before.

They rode on through the night, through ravines and trails that they hadn’t followed earlier, but despite the darkness, the cold, wounds, exhaustion and unfamiliar horses, they found themselves back on the road.

(Yorkshire made an initial Command test and succeeded. Jones attempted a Soldiering test assisted by Southgate, with bonus Discipline cards from Yorkshire; two Perfect Successes and three Successes! Smithwick had to attempt a Guts test to even try to contribute to the group challenge. He failed. Yorkshire’s final overall Command test was at +3 cards for the successes and -1 for Smithwick’s failure for a net 12 cards. The Hand of Fate drew nine cards in opposition considering the darkness, their hurry, the weather and the horses. Yorkshire nevertheless drew one Critical Success and three Successes versus a mere three Successes. That meant success at the final Challenge of the mission, which in turn meant success for the mission overall. As rewards, Jones and Yorkshire each gained +2 Soldiering. Smithwick took another +2 with his Personal Reputation with Maria Raimundez, which brings it up to +4 even though it’s presently Injured. Southgate gained +1 to Soldiering and +1 to his Reputation as the hard man of the Regiment.)

A scant few hours later the Riflemen and Redcoats of their makeshift column cheered to see them return.

Now they faced the last range of Galician mountains between them and the sea, miles away. The sun would rise soon. With it, January 14 would begin — the date that Sir John had set for the British army’s embarkation from Spain.

The Spaniards said Yorkshire’s march still had days to go.

View
The Monastery, Part 6: Allies and Enemies
The British and the Spanish come to blows under a familiar, watchful eye.

The column marched all through the day and deep into the night of January 11, 1809, and again January 12.

About 250 men marched four abreast along the uneven, snowy, icy mountain trails of Galicia, northwestern Spain. About 70 Riflemen of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot led the way and about 180 Redcoats of various units marched behind, kept in some semblance of order by a handful of sergeants and three officers. Alongside rode about a dozen Spaniards, guerilleros led by the hidalgo Luis Raimundez and his sister, Uxia Maria Raimundez.

The men were followed by a wagon carrying about a half a dozen of those too sick or hurt to march and four soldiers’ wives, all stacked like unhealthy firewood. Another wagon carried their meager, scraped-together supplies and — far more important to the officers — a stack of heavy pouches filled with silver belonging to the army’s paymaster general and abandoned during the great retreat.

A small herd of horses straggled behind, growing thinner in every sense every day; the animals themselves were starving, and before each morning’s march the men slaughtered a portion of them for rations. The horses had been 50 the night of January 10 and were 40 by the morning of January 11.

If not for the fresh horsemeat each morning, the march would have been as unhappy and disastrous as the greater march that Sir John Moore led to Corunna, from which all these men had fallen away and which their officers were desperate to rejoin. Each day began hours before sunrise, as usual for the British army, so the column could be well on its way by sunrise. Yet they did not stop to make camp at noon or the early afternoon as in any ordinary march; they kept walking, hour after numbing hour.

The wagon wheels rattled dangerously on the uneven trails, usually frequented by shepherds and sometimes dangerously steep. Many of those few men who had shoes—an invaluable find of Pvt. O’Toole of the Rifles before the column had set out—found the leather falling apart already. Others hadn’t had shoes in weeks and spent hours walking barefoot and bloody through the ice and snow, hoping only that frostbite would merely take a toe or three and not result in gangrene to take a whole foot, or leg, or life. The Rifles still had their gray greatcoats worn over green jackets, but many of the Redcoats had only their battered uniform jackets, their greatcoats having fallen apart long since, or in a very few cases blankets stolen from the monastery days before.

Sir John Moore had meant to arrive at the great port of Corunna on January 11 and embark on hundreds of Navy transports on January 12. As January 11 gave way to the 12th and then the 13th, with still days to go, the Redcoats and Riflemen of the ragged column could only hope that something kept Moore from setting sail on time. Every hour that passed made it less and less likely that these men would ever see their homes in Britain again.

During that long march, Private Davey Jones of the Rifles found himself pitying the ill-equipped Redcoats that marched behind him. They were a miserable lot, feet frozen and bloody, often not even a blanket to keep off the snow and rain. Jones took perverse pride in sticking by himself and staying out of both trouble and work whenever he could, but some things were too much to ignore. At night, when the men were collapsing in exhaustion, he volunteered for foraging duty. And the night of January 12 he found in the hills near camp a cluster of little stone shepherd’s huts. They weren’t much, but they had cloaks, blankets, pots and pans, even a couple pair of old spare shoes, all of it good as gold. He turned them over to the men. Some of them were still lively enough to thank him.

(We started the session by defining a Personal Mission for Jones, whose player had missed last game. He said that he wanted Jones to become a better soldier in spite of himself. We set the reward for success as +1 to his Discipline measure and +1 to his Soldiering skill; the penalty for failure would be -1 to Discipline and -1 to Soldiering as he gave in to his lazier inclinations. His four challenges: (1) Performing bravely in combat. (2) Helping some of his fellow soldiers. (3) Building esprit de corps by bringing them together with storytelling or song. (4) Taking responsibility in action and thriving on it. I didn’t frame these quite as tightly on specific skills this time. Imagining which skills he might want to bring into play helped provide some direction but the way the Challenges play out could vary by the cirumstances. Here he made a successful Scavenging test to help his fellow soldiers. One Challenge done.)

Private Southgate had his stolen cache of the King’s silver to attend. During the march he watched for opportunities to keep near the supply wagon; like O’Toole he was friendly with the battalion quartermaster, and while of course the battalion quartermaster was not around the Rifles didn’t think it strange for Southgate to be counting supplies. And even the more suspicious officers, such as former provost officer Smithwick, were too busy and too exhausted to remain watchful. Over two days Southgate managed to stash his coins in a number of the worst canteens in the supply wagon, the broken things at the bottom of the wagon that would be the last anyone would pick up. He had only to leave the silver there until he had a chance to disguise it properly.

(This was the third challenge of Southgate’s personal mission, a Quartermastering test to us his knowledge of how the company’s equipment is handled to hide his loot. He added cards for his Reputation as being relied upon by the battalion quartermaster, figuring that if he failed then word that he was meddling with the supplies might get back to the quartermaster and sour that trust. He succeeded. One more Challenge to go.)

Sergeant Cole kept his attention on the sick wagon and on keeping the men marching. He was relieved to see Capt. Yorkshire stir from his coma, although he was somewhat delirious and too weak to even speak more than a word or two. Lieutenant Smithwick’s wounds were coming along nicely, but other men who had been hurt, such as O’Toole and Jones, were still in rough shape.

(A First Aid challenge by Cole; since he was doing that in lieu of pursuing a personal mission I allowed him to make one First Aid test on each wounded player character. He succeeded with Smithwick, adding a Reputation for taking care of the men, but didn’t risk that Reputation on Jones and failed the test there. Smithwick’s Injured state returned to healthy. Jones is still Injured. O’Toole’s player had to work so he wasn’t there to be healed. Yorkshire’s player missed again, too.)

Lieutenant Smithwick set out to keep his relations with the Spaniards cordial or even better than cordial. Ordinarily he regarded the ladies with whom he became intimate as rather disposable, but Uxia Maria was an engaging challenge—unpredictable and fiery in her own right, and of course guarded by a brother who would have already killed Smithwick if he knew the true nature of their relationship. Smithwick and she had been distant the last couple of days since their encounter in the monastery and since his unhappy duel with the French dragoon, Lt. Leveque.

He had his opportunities to make things warmer with her and her brother at camp each evening, as senior active officer playing host at what passed for the officer’s mess: himself, Ensign Richter, Ensign Flagstaff, Mr. Giles, Luis and Maria shivering around a fire with a few of the more presentable men and wives as servants, and of course Major Higgins and Captain Yorkshire moaning and incoherent nearby. He engaged them in conversation about music, the arts, culture, Spain and its language, and he leaned on his subordinates, the ensigns, for support; but things remained awkward however hard he tried, and his efforts made things more awkard still with his fellow officers. Perhaps it was the cold air.

(Smithwick wanted a Courtesy challenge to repair his Injured Reputation with Uxia Maria. He called on his Reputation with the Officer’s Mess for bonus cards—the ensigns are somewhat terrified of him—but the test failed, which meant not only was his Reputation with her still Injured but now so was his Reputation with the officers.)

During their conversations, though, some interesting facts emerged about Iago Cervino, the guerillero leader who had parted ways acrimoniously with Luis and the British a few days before. Iago’s brother Rojas had attempted to steal the King’s silver and Sergeant Cole had shot him dead; Iago was furious at that, but moreso he was utterly contemptuous of the British and their flight from Spain, and he made a point of saying how the French behaved with more honor as enemies than the British did as friends.

Luis and Maria said the Cervinos were old, bitter rivals with the Raimundez faction in Galicia. They gave themselves airs of nobility, as so many would-be hidalgos did, but they were no better than bandits. And they were not the most passionate opponents of the crowning of Napoleon’s brother Joseph as king of Spain, orchestrated by Spanish nobles in league with the French after the old Spanish king was deposed and a cousin took his place, and then the upstart was carried off to France a prisoner in the chaos.

That Rojas would get himself killed trying to rob the British was no surprise. But Iago’s vehemence worried Luis and Maria. They feared the Cervinos might have turned Afrancescado, allies of France.

Over these few days young Mr. Giles, meanwhile, still had it in mind to make himself a better leader, suitable for a combat officer should he succeed in gaining an ensigncy, so he tried to be as diligent and responsible as Smithwick was nonchalant. He did everything possible to keep himself alert, to make sure he knew when some disaster might be in the offing.

(He wanted an Awareness challenge to spot some trouble before it happened in pursuit of his personal mission. I already had a situation in mind which would answer for that admirably, so I had him attempt his test last and it provided a neat segue into what came next. He added bonus cards for one of his Reputations with the men and succeeded at the test, the second of four for his personal mission.)

Challenges on the Road

Midmorning on Friday, January 13—an inauspicious day!—the column was moving through a ravine with ice on the ground and rocky, snowy slopes running up and away high on either side. According to Luis Raimundez, his uncle’s village, Puerta del Norte, was a couple of miles ahead; Smithwick already planned to skip it so as not to expose the men to temptation. Giles, at the front of the column, was startled to see something glinting far ahead up on the left slope. It gleamed for a moment and then was gone, but it drew his eye and he saw a manlike shape in some rocks. What’s more, he was the first to spot a rider come into view ahead, around a bend in the ravine, followed by others—Spaniards.

Giles stepped over to Smithwick and warned him not to look too obviously, but Spaniards were ahead and someone was watching with a telescope on the hill.

Voices mumbled as others spotted the riders ahead, more and more coming closer, about 50 in all, Spanish guerilleros swords, pistols and carbines under their cloaks. One near the leader carried his sword raised up with a white rag wrapped around it as a flag of truce.

Luis Raimundez hissed angrily. “It’s Iago,” he said.

Smithwick called the column to halt. Then he ordered the Redcoats to form an infantry square near the wagons, to load their carbines, pistols and handful of muskets and fix their few bayonets, in case the riders attacked, and he set Sgt. Cole to help Flagstaff and his sergeants see it done. He had the Riflemen scatter by twos into the rocks beside the road in skirmish line. He and the Spaniards remained in the road waiting for Iago to arrive.

They let Iago and his men come within about 50 feet before Smithwick called out, “That’s far enough.”

Iago looked immediately angry and indignant. “What do you mean? This is Spain! This is our road! Who are you to tell us to stop?”

“We’re using your road to rejoin our army,” Smithwick said. Tired as he was, his voice was even more laconic than usual.

“To pillage our country, you mean. To steal from the village that is just ahead of you, like you did at Astorga.”

Sergeant Cole shouted angrily from the Redcoats’ square, “Just like you tried to steal our silver!”

Several of the men laughed and shouted in agreement. Ensign Flagstaff, nearby, yelled, “Silence in the ranks!” He gave Cole as furious a look as Cole had seen the young man manage.

Iago Cervino went even whiter with anger. “And what was that?” he asked Smitchwick. “Now you let your men speak for you?”

“I heard nothing,” Smithwick said carelessly.

Iago spat. “You must move your men aside so that we may pass.”

“I will not.”

“This is our road! Move your men off of it, we will ride past, and we will be done.”

“No.”

Iago spurred his horse forward and angrily raised his hand for his men to follow.

Smithwick called out, “Fire!”

Opening Volleys

As the Riflemen took aim at the riders, they and some of the Redcoats shouted the alarm: Men were stirring in the rocks and snow, unseen on the slopes overhead, scores of them, about 50 yards away on either side.

Iago Cervino and his men drew their swords and pistols.

(Here for the first time we used Duty & Honour’s extended skirmish rules. They basically take the regular skirmish rules that we’ve used a few times before and apply them to a larger-scale engagement. In a typical skirmish each player attempts a combat challenge, and then their commander attempts a Command challenge against the enemy commander to see which side wins the skirmish; each success by another player adds to the leader’s Command cards and each failure penalizes it.

In an extended skirmish, that process is repeated three times, and then there’s a final ultimate Command test between the two leaders to get the victor of the engagement as a whole, with bonus cards there for successes winning each phase. In addition, each side issues one Tactical Order for each phase. That determines the formation and overall mode of attack for their side—Form Square, Form Line, Volley Fire, etc.—which can give bonuses or penalties depending on the formation and mode of attack chosen by the enemy.

Here I complicated things by breaking the action into two companies on each side: On the British side, the Redcoats, more numerous than a single company but much more poorly armed, so I figured it evened out; and the Rifles. On the Spanish side, the musketmen on the slopes, again more numerous than a typical company but also not as well trained, so again it evened out, and the horsemen.

Smithwick commanded the Rifles, who began in Skirmish Line formation. Cole commanded the Redcoats, who began in Infantry Square formation. Smithwick’s Tactical Orders: (1) Volley fire on the horsemen, (2) Sustained volley fire on the horsemen, (3) Sustained volley fire on the horsemen. Cole’s orders: (1) Volley fire on the musketmen, (2) Advance up the slope, (3) Bayonet charge against the musketmen. Iago Cervino led the horsemen and his cousin Brieito led the musketmen. Cervino’s orders for the horsemen: (1) Sabre fighting against the Rifles, (2) Sabre fighting against the Rifles, (3) Sabre fighting against the Rifles. Brieito’s orders for the musketmen: (1) Volley against the Redcoats, (2) Sustained Volley against the Redcoats, (3) Sustained volley against the Redcoats.)

Iago and his horsemen rode directly at the Riflemen. Ordinarily cavalry would have field day riding among skirmishers, but the rocks and slope worked against the horsemen and reduced their mobility and hence their advantage. Smithwick shouted at the Riflemen to wait; then shouted “Fire!” as the horsemen drew close to the rocks on either side of the road. More than a dozen Spaniards flopped out of their saddles as the rest crashed through the smoke, pistols firing and swords swinging and stabbing down.

Jones’ first shot killed a Spaniard, as did Southgate’s, and then they were fighting up close. Southgate drew his heavy, exotic, bejewelled ceremonial executioner’s falchion, a priceless souvenir of his time in India, and laid about him at the riders that came and went among the rocks. Jones fended off swords with his rifle and simply leapt at the nearest rider, dragging the man from horseback and beating him senseless. Two Riflemen fell in the melee nearby.

Giles drew his pistol as the riders came hear and took aim deliberately at Iago Cervino himself. Cervino saw it and accepted the challenge, riding hard straight for Giles. Giles was a deadly shot. He pulled the trigger sure of his man, but the bullet only grazed Cervino’s scalp. Cervino flinched and yelled, then another Riflemen staggered between them and Iago’s sword darted down, stabbing poor Private Fairfax through the throat.

Smithwick fended off horsemen with his sabre, maiming one with a dangerous thrust, and kept the Riflemen fighting with their unwieldy sword bayonets fixed to their short Baker rifles. The Spaniards’ attack faltered a bit but did not fail altogether.

(Jones, Southgate and Giles all won their tests with Perfect Successes and a few other Successes to spare; that gave Smithwick three bonus cards, and he added Reputation cards for a vast spread of cards for the final Command test to see which side won the Phase overall. Smithwick won handily. That meant company morale was Injured for the losing side, the Spanish horsemen. Since there were about a dozen NPC Riflemen for each player character, I had each Success drawn count as a hit on the Rifles and each one I drew for the Spaniards counta as a hit against them. In a big skirmish, hits by the enemy either affect the PC against whom they are drawn or an allied NPC at one wound category worse, at the player’s choice. The hits would have left Giles and Jones maimed, and Southgate doesn’t want to be injured at all, so they all passed them on to NPCs.)

(Oh, and Gile’s Perfect Success should have rendered Iago instantly dead, but Iago has the Cheat Death! trait like poor old Dane did. Each instance of Cheat Death! lets you conveniently not take one injury that should have killed you.)

Meanwhile Sergeant Cole, Ensign Flagstaff and the Redcoats in their square exchanged fire with the Spanish musketmen on the slopes overhead on either side. Cole carried a Baker rifle and is an astonishingly good shot, but the Redcoats had only a few muskets and an assortment of even less accurate cavalry carbines and pistols. Cole dropped two Spaniards over the first long couple of minutes of firing; the 110 or so armed Redcoats between them dropped maybe two more. Eight Redcoats fell in their ranks. Cole could sense the fluttering edges of panic begin to set in among the men.

(I kind of flubbed Cole’s action with the Redcoats by allowing him to be the only PC in that company yet also serving as its commander. I really should have had everybody in the one company battle and just handwaved the Redcoats, but I really prefer playing important stuff out over handwaving. I had him draw cards for the NPCs’ attack, and then draw for his Command skill versus Brieito’s Command to see who won the phase. An ordinary man with a carbine at that range would draw only a single card, but I let Cole add three cards in an Assist because he’s so very accurate with his rifle—it would have I think three at that range plus three more for his mighty Crack Shot trait. The Spaniards drew I think two cards for their muskets plus two cards for being at a tactical advantage; they won the exchange. Then Brieito beat Cole in the Command test, Injuring the Redcoats’ morale. Because a single draw of cards represented more than a hundred men on either side, I amplified the resulting casualties, with each Success drawn by the NPCs representing several hits—specifically, a number of hits equal to the size of the card pool. Based on statistics from a few Napoleonic battles, 1/5 to 1/4 are kills. The Spaniards had four cards and drew two Successes, so that’s four hits.)

Into the Fire

The Riflemen and the Spanish riders brawled bloodily on. The Spaniards ride around rocks and bushes where the Rifles took cover; but they were too quick and too numerous to allow the Riflemen to pause long enough to laboriously load their Baker rifles.

For Jones it was very much a brawl. He didn’t favor the clumsy sword bayonet, and nearby Private Lathbury fell with blood streaming from his arm when a Spaniard’s sword was quicker; but Jones was fast, aggressive and wirily strong, and a Spaniard who came at him and didn’t ride by quickly enough found himself hauled or knocked from his saddle and beaten savagely before he could get up again.

Southgate, too, fought brutally, chopping through a Spanish rider’s defense with his heavier executioner’s sword, not a duelling weapon but a hacking cleaver. The rider yelled and spurred off reflexively, clutching his arm, his sword forgotten. But two more Riflemen were hurt and others scattered, forcing Southgate to back away with them, as other riders came at them hard.

Iago Cervino rode straight at Mr. Giles again, his sword held out before him. Giles drew his own sabre—as a gentleman volunteer he’s allowed to carry an officer’s sword but not wear an officer’s sash—and stood his ground. Cervino reared up over him and their swords clashed. Each was a skillful swordsman, but Cervino had the advantage of being mounted on a dangerous horse. They rushed each other again and each of them came away bloody with a sword wound. Cervino swayed in his saddle; and glancing around he three more of his men fall and others stepping their horses away, uncertain, ready to break.

(Jones succeeded; Southgate failed; Giles succeeded; Smithwick’s Command test succeeded to win the second phase. That left Cervino’s group’s morale Maimed.)

Sergeant Cole and Ensign Flagstaff shouted for the Redcoats to turn and advance up the right-hand slope to dislodge the Spaniards there. Cole moved among the men, shouting encouragement, trying to keep their spirits up, but it did little good; they were still strange to him and to each other, and worst of all they were so poorly armed, with only nine or ten bayonets among them and a third of them carrying unfamiliar swords.

Still, they followed him up the slope, the front rank loading and aiming their pistols and carbines as the rank behind them walked, overtook them and moved ahead; then the new front rank paused on the command and began loading and the rear rank fired and advanced.

As they slowly closed the distance a handful of Spaniards in the rocks fell; so did fully nineteen Redcoats, one after another, as Spanish muskets fired from behind cover overhead.

Then Cole himself dropped to the ground like a mule had kicked him down. His left arm wouldn’t respond properly, but his right hand found blood flowing from his left shoulder where a musket ball had struck. It was not a pleasant wound. But Cole gritted his teeth and struggle up, shouting raggedly for the men to keep on.

Rifleman Cole and his Redcoats marched on, inexorably, up the broken slope into enemy fire. And they could see the Spaniards in their smoke beginning to falter and look to each other for the sign to retreat.

(Cole attempted a Discipline test to repair the Redcoats’ morale but failed. Then in resolving the attacks, he succeeded with a Perfect success while the Spaniards scored a Critical. Rather than pass the Critical along to an NPC, Cole accepted being Maimed himself. When your health is Maimed, you must make a Discipline test to function at all, and then anything you do is at -3 cards; but Cole has a fair Discipline and the Hard as Nails trait, which gives him bonus Discipline cards when trying to function despite being maimed. Thus he succeeded at his effort to get up and keep going. And his Command test beat Brieito’s, leaving the Spaniards’ morale Injured this time.)

Victories

When the Redcoats came up the slope to within ten yards or so of the Spaniards, already beginning to pick up and flee over the crest, Cole called out in a hoarse croak, “Infantry! Charge!”

The Redcoats surged forward, those with sabres and the few with bayonets in front, others firing one last volley at point blank range. The sterner Spaniards stayed and returned fire in one last volley, seven more Redcoats fell hurt or dead, and then the British were among them. A sharp clash of Spanish knives and British sabres, then the last of the Spanish musketmen were over the slope and away, running into the snow, leaving their dead and maimed behind.

(Cole’s attack for the Redcoats succeeded, then his Command test succeeded, maiming Spanish morale. Then the final Command test between Cole and Brieito, at +2 cards for Cole’s two victories and +1 to Brieito for his one. Cole succeeded, which gave him the victory for the engagement. If he’d failed, it would have meant the British fell apart in the hand fighting—but thankfully succeeded and the Spanish broke instead.)

In the ravine, Iago Cervino drew away from Giles and his shouts brought his men back into some order while the fighting went on. The Rifles around Pvt. Southgate fell back with two more men hurt by Spanish swords even as Southgate himself slashed a passing Spaniard’s leg. Those around Cole wavered as Cole knocked another horseman off his horse and fell on him biting, butting his head, kicking; Private Shepherd nearby fell with steel in his chest and soon died. Giles picked his rifle up again, still unfired, and shot a horseman dead.

The Spanish riders were falling back and on the verge of collapsing again. Finally Cervino shouted commands to them in Spanish and spurred forward, toward the British wagons and horses. Those nearest him followed right away. Others noticed and broke away from their fight. The Spaniards made a ragged, straggling ride away from the Riflemen.

Smithwick called for the Rifles to stop and reload, but the Spanish were already at the wagons. They grabbed the horses pulling the supply wagon and shouted to get them moving, pulled them away, and as the Rifles began firing at a distance they road on, dragging the wagon with them.

The Spaniards were soon around the next bend in the ravine and out of sight, taking the King’s silver with them.

(Iago succeeded at repairing his men’s Maimed morale to Injured. Jones failed; Southgate failed; Giles succeeded; Smithwick succeeded at the third phase’s Command test. But then, crucially, came the final Command test for victory in the battle overall. For succeeding at all three phases of the battle Smithwick gained +3 cards and he added +1 by calling on his Injured reputation with Maria, for 9 cards. Cervino drew 5 for his Command, with -1 card for his company’s morale being Injured and -3 for losing all three phases of the battle, and +2 for his own Reputation with Maria, for only three cards total. Yet Cervino drew three Successes—and Smithwick drew only two! As the saying goes, in Duty & Honour it’s entirely possible to win every battle and still lose the war. The Riflemen handled the Spanish horsemen roughly indeed, but in the end Cervino got what he wanted—the silver!)

The Butcher’s Bill

As the smoke slowly began to clear the men looked around them and took stock. The Redcoats wounded came limping back down the slope; the Spaniards on the other side of the ravine had retreated.

For all the violence, only two Riflemen were killed. Sixteen were wounded, some of them badly, including Sergeant Cole.

Eight Redcoats died and 34 were wounded.

The Spanish left behind them 11 dead—three killed fighting the Rifles and eight killed by the Redcoats—and a handful too wounded to flee.

Giles brought out his telescope and looked up the hill to where he had spotted their watcher earlier. As Giles brought the lenses into focus he spotted the man, now packing up his own telescope in the distance and standing up. Giles cried out in recognition.

“It’s that Frenchman! The major who was with the dragoons. Major Lejuste!”

And as Cole had the Redcoats collecting fallen muskets on the slopes, he reported an unhappy fact. Their muskets weren’t the broken old things most often found among Spanish farmers. They were French muskets in good repair.

Luis Raimundez swore in Spanish. Then in French he told Smithwick, “It is as I feared. The Cervinos must have fallen in with the French. We must get to your friends. Iago’s cousin Somoza heads the city guard in Corunna. God only knows what mischief they’ll work!”

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The Monastery, Part 5: Trial By Fire
The Redcoats and Riflemen enter the mountains of Spain, and their Spanish friends demand British justice.

Before we get into the action I need to talk about Personal Missions in Duty & Honour.

I’ve said before that I was having a hard time wrapping my head around how to structure missions, which are the heart of play in Duty & Honour. And I hadn’t yet messed with players’ personal missions, which are key to exploring what makes each character tick and to making sure that the leader—the one who makes the all-important Command roll to win or lose a battle—doesn’t get too much of the limelight. In last night’s game I think I finally got the hang of all that, or at least I feel that I have settled into a rhythm that really works for me.

We kicked things off by building personal missions. I left it until now because most of the players were still new to the way the rules worked and even to the nontraditional, story-game aspects of the way D&H works. By last night the players have had enough practice with the rules now that I figured they could contribute to building the personal missions without feeling lost.

Considering what they add to the game, I really think personal missions are absolutely key to D&H play. Not only because they give each individual character time to shine, but also because they provide side stories, “B” plots, that progress alongside the main military missions. The fact that they’re “B” stories doesn’t mean they’re less important; they give context and counterpoint to Army life (or Navy life in Beat to Quarters). And they help establish that rhythm of play that I mentioned.

The rulebook says it’s safe to take the approach I took, not setting them up right away, but I would recommend digging into them as quickly as you can. Play through a really quick opening military mission, something with only two challenges rather than the usual four-challenge job, give the characters’ rewards or penalties for success or failure, and then talk them through setting up personal missions which will each have their own rewards and penalties. I found it was easiest to ask the player first what he wanted to improve on his character sheet, what reward he wanted, and then we put together the challenges that it would take based on the current storyline and on which skills the player wanted to use. I asked them to not use the same skill for more than one challenge in a personal mission in order to keep things interesting.

So let’s look at Yorkshire’s Rifles. These are all four-challenge personal missions.

Lt. Halter Smithwick thinks it would be just the thing to make himself the subject of jealous scandal back in England to bring home a beautiful Spanish girl. He’s already established a Reputation with Uxia Maria Raimundez, so now he aims to deepen that relationship and persuade her to leave Spain behind and follow him. His reward for success will be +2 to his Reputation with her, bringing it up to +4. His penalty for failure will be that his existing Reputation with her is Maimed. His four Challenges: (1) A Courtesy test to convince her older brother, Luis Raimundez, to form a better opinion of him. (2) An Intrigue test to find out from the Spaniards what Uxia Maria wants most so he can make himself more persuasive. (3) A Music test to charm and sway her. (4) A Romance test to seal the deal.

Mr. Thomas Raif Giles, the 19-year-old gentleman volunteer, had his first taste of combat leadership yesterday and found it daunting and terrifying. The Rifles already like him, but he means to be more diligent in setting an example for the men and he wants to earn and keep their respect. His player wants to boost Giles’ Command skill, so +2 Command is the reward if he succeeds. Failure means one of his institutional Reputations (regarded as a hero by the rank and file) will be Maimed. His four Challenges: (1) Maintain order and discipline among the ranks (Soldiering). (2) Spot some danger or threat in time to warn the other officers and make sure the men respond accordingly (Awareness). (3) Gain the honor and respect of the men (not sure what skill; we’ll see when it comes up). (4) Impress the higher-ups enough to be entrusted with an important command (again, we’ll see what skill applies when we get there).

(A quick aside: One of the things that I love about Duty & Honour is that characters have sound reason in the game mechanics to pursue objectives that aren’t the wisest or most sound from an in-character perspective. Where Giles is out to make himself a better leader, Smithwick is out to get laid and impress his friends back home. But if Smithwick succeeds, his Reputation with Maria goes up to +4, which means he can use that to gain +4 bonus cards in any test later when he decides that some facet of his relationship with her is involved or serves as a motivation. +4 cards is a huge advantage, so it not only fits his character perfectly to pay attention to a lady rather than being a good leader, but it will pay off in the game as well.)

Sergeant Sebastian Cole had as part of his background that he’s a family man and his wife and young son are on the rolls accompanying the regiment, but he doesn’t have an actual Reputation representing them and we established in the game that they were separated from him and the company during the retreat to Corunna. So his personal mission is to find his wife and child. His reward for success will be gaining a new personality Reputation with his wife at +2. The penalty for failure will be losing 1 point each from Soldiering and Discipline as the grief and frustration drives him to distraction. His four Challenges: (1) Speak to the Redcoats and see if he can find some sign or rumor of his family. (2) Do something important for some of the Redcoats so they owe him a favor and will go out of their way to help him in his search. (3) We didn’t settle on a third Challenge so we’ll come up with it later. (4) Once he’s back with the army or has some way of communicating with it, actually finding his wife and son (we’ll see which skill applies when we get there).

Private Garland O’Toole, a lazy soul who’s always gotten along by finding things that other men need and letting them watch out for him, has had a couple of close brushes with death in close combat in the last couple of days. He wants to become a more ferocious fighter with his bayonet. His reward for success will be gaining the Hack and Slay +1 trait (which I personally apply to the fixed bayonet as well as halberds and axes). His penalty for failure will be getting his physical health Maimed by diving into a fight before he’s ready; we clarified up front that that will be in addition to any physical damage he might take if it happens in a battle, which could be disastrous. But O’Toole is lucky and tough (he’s got all kinds of traits to avoid getting killed) so he’ll chance it. His Challenges: (1) A Haggling test to replace his rusty, dingy old sword bayonet with one that’s been kept in better repair by a more diligent Rifleman. (2) A Quartermaster test to make sure some of the tougher men in the Rifles get the best equipment so they’ll help him out. (3) A Soldiering test to get some good practice in with the men who really know what they’re doing. (4) A combat test to bravely put his bayonet to use against the enemy.

Private William Southgate has as his secret life’s ambition to make himself rich enough to eventually desert the Army and set himself up in style, but only if he can do it without getting caught. First he needs to see to the riches. He means to abscond with even more of the King’s silver that the Rifles are trying to bring back to the Army. His reward for succeeding at his personal mission will be +1 to his Wealth rating. The penalty for failure will be having his Reputation (distinguished in the Regiment for his bravery) Maimed. His Challenges: (1) A Scavenging test to come up with whatever he needs to convince a guard or sergeant to look the other way when the time is right. (2) A Skulduggery test to pilfer a bag or two of silver. (3) A Quartermaster test to stash it away someplace where it’s not likely to be discovered too soon. (4) An Intimidate test to persuade one of the other men to help him forge the silver into musket balls—with enough dirt and time silver looks a lot like lead—that he can store with his own pack so they don’t draw attention.

The players for Captain Yorkshire and Private Jones were away last night—Yorkshire’s player moved into a new house a few weeks back and has been remodeling in every spare minute; Jones’ player was ill—so we’ll work out their personal missions later.

A note about the military mission: Last night the players accomplished two group challenges for their military mission and two challenges for side missions. I had originally conceived the current military mission—March to Corunna—to be one long mission; but that would mean waiting until the very end of it to see whether they succeed or fail and to hand out rewards or penalties. So instead I retroactively made this first stage its own two-Challenge mission to escape into the mountains and keep the Spaniards as guides, and since they succeeded they gained the benefits of succeeding at a two-Challenge mission. A lot happened in the session, so that was more satisfying for them than waiting.

Now, where were we?

A Moment’s Peace

It was a deep, frozen night with drizzling snow, icy mud and muck all around. Two hundred or so Redcoats and a handful of miserable women sat in a great clump across a sheep trail that led from hills toward a steep mountain path to the west. About nightfall they had formed into an infantry square to fend off an expected attack by sabre-wielding French cavalry, but it was square in principle only. A few desultory campfires sputtered in the crowded center.

About 60 British riflemen were scattered in pairs in the woods alongside the trail. The riflemen of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot wore green coats and blue trousers—once blue, anyway, now mostly faded to a drab gray—rather than the red coats and white breeches of the regular infantry, but their tattered gray greatcaoats and bulky, heavy packs looked much the same as the Redcoats’. So did their shakoes, tall, black cylindrical hats distinguished by a green pom that sprouted from the top, marking them as skirmishers rather than line infantry. They carried the Baker rifle, much shorter than the usual musket, and wore old-fashioned horns at their sides to hold their best powder.

In the woods near the great square of Redcoats rested three mismatched wagons. One of them was the Sick Wagon, holding men who were too badly hurt to walk. The others carried the meager supplies that the soldiers had liberated the day before from the monastery of San Millan de Montana.

Near the wagons a small herd of horses shivered and waited under guard. They were captured French cavalry horses, and they had been brought along mainly to serve as fodder for the troops in the difficult mountainside march to come. Private O’Toole, the Rifleman who acted as company quartermaster estimated that slaughtering nine or ten cavalry horses would feed their 270 men and followers well for a day.

(I said that the few hours of nighttime were open for the players to each attempt one challenge to follow their own pursuits—healing their physical health, repairing a Reputation or attempting a challenge for a personal mission.)

Once the sentries were posted, Sergeant Cole and Private Southgate saw to the Sick Wagon. Southgate was no expert when it came to medicine or even folk remedies, but in India years before he had learned how to put together some odd ingredients for a strange salve, smelly but useful for warding off infection; and he had a supply of stout silk bandages that he used and reused on bad wounds, occasionally washing them out when the stink got too severe.

(Cole attempted a First Aid test with an assist from Southgate; rather than following their own pursuits they wanted to get Smithwick back in the action. With the bonus cards from Southgate, Cole succeeded. That brought Smithwick’s “Maimed” health to merely “Injured, which meant he could function but at a -1 card penalty.)

Cole and Southgate saw to the worst injuries, and they managed to bring Smithwick around, binding up tightly the wounds he’d sustained in his impromptu duel with Lt. Leveque and restoring him with soup. His burgeoning fever receded.

Unfortunately Captain Yorkshire remained unconscious, even comatose, from his fall from a froward horse at the monastery.

Mr. Giles went to inspect the Redcoats and the Riflemen assigned to keep watch on them. The Redcoats were a difficult bunch; the British army was strong on tradition and savage on discipline, but these were men from a scattering of regiments, men who had fallen off the march, wandered far astray, and settled into the first shelter they could find to drink themselves into a stupor and await capture by the enemy. Giles, not an officer but well liked by the Riflemen and clearly a gentleman, set out to dress their square, see that what equipment they possessed was in order, and in general remind them that they were soldiers of His Majesty’s army, Redcoats, not ragamuffins. With the Riflemen at his side backing up his attempts at authority, he brought many of the men around and brought their rough camp into some kind of order.

(This was a Soldiering test, the first challenge in Giles’ personal mission. Thanks to bonus cards from his Reputation with the rank and file, he succeeded.)

Private O’Toole settled in to rest near one of the fires alongside another Rifleman, a credulous fellow who kept up his gear well but could be talked into anything. O’Toole convinced him to swap bayonets, offering a few extra belongings he had stashed away to sweeten the deal.

(A Haggling test, the first in O’Toole’s personal mission. Success.)

Lt. Smithwick awoke after a few hours’ sleep, still hurt but feeling human again with his wounds bound up and his fever fading. He consulted with Ensign Richter, Ensign Flagstaff, and the much more useful Sergeant Cole, and decided to strike camp at the usual very early time, hours before dawn, so they could be marching for the safety of the high, intimidating mountain paths before light.

Luis Raimundez came to consult with him. Luis said he was glad to see Smithwick still among the living. He didn’t seem to be much worried that Smithwick had lost the duel; what mattered more was that he had fought it as long as he was able.

Luis said about half the Spaniards had departed. They were followers of Rojas Cervino, who had tried to rob Cole and his men of the King’s silver and whom Cole had shot dead in the attempt. Rojas’ brother, Iago, took his followers off into the hills on their own after a fierce argument with Raimundez over whether to abandon the British to their fates.

As they talked Smithwick steered the conversation to much more important but more dangerous ground: Luis’ sister. Smithwick told Luis that coming so near to death had made him realize that he was in love with Uxia Maria, that he adored her, he wanted to convince her to marry him.

(This called for a Courtesy test, the first Challenge in Smithwick’s personal mission. Failure would mean offending Raimundez pretty severely. But Smithwick succeeded.)

Raimundez laughed it off. Uxia was beautiful and always had men declaring their love for her. He told Smithwick they would discuss all this later, when it was more appropriate. Then they could discuss Smithwick’s station, his prospects, his status with the Church, and so on. (This got a great laugh out of the players at the table, since Smithwick was established early on as being notoriously anti-Catholic.) Raimundez left in good humor, not much preturbed. But as far as Smithwick was concerned the groundwork had been laid.

Rolling Out the Guns

Well before dawn, before it was time for the sergeants to wake up the camp and start the column moving, a sentry came running down the trail. He ran up to Smithwick and Cole and reported breathlessly that they had heard wagon wheels approaching.

“How many?” Smithwick asked. “Did you see them?”

“No, sir, it’s still nighttime,” the sentry said, all earnest guilelessness. “But I think three or four of them. Heavy loaded, sir. I think it’s cannons.”

Time for rest was gone. The Riflemen spread out, rousing the Redcoats and preparing to march as fast as they could over the icy trail and up the mountain.

(This was a skirmish challenge, where each player could attempt one challenge to contribute, and then their commander, Smithwick, would make a final Command test to see if it succeeded. The challenge: Getting the Redcoats and Rifles onto the mountain path where the cavalry and cannons could not follow. If it failed, the formation would fall apart and they would escape with only the Riflemen themselves. I told the players that they could each opt to either attempt a noncombat challenge—which if it failed would extend the amount of bombardment the column would suffer come daylight—or a combat challenge fighting off the pursuing dragoons. I also told them that they could always opt to forego their assigned test and attempt a challenge from a personal mission instead; that would count as automatically failing at the skirmish test but might advance their personal missions.)

Smithwick sent Southgate to spy on the approaching French, to confirm how many guns and horsemen and how fast they were coming along. Southgate moved fast and quietly, and soon saw the French had managed to bring three light cannons into the hills, followed by wagons for their ammunition and powder, and a squadron of dragoons, about a hundred riders led by the captain who had attacked Giles’ detachment yesterday.

(A Soldiering test for Southgate, but I let him apply his Thief in the Night trait to it since he was being all stealthy. He succeeded.)

Sgt. Cole helped Ensign Richter and Ensign Flagstaff lead the column of Redcoats, shouting and pushing to keep them in order and to keep discipline intact as they marched at double time through the ice uphill along the ever-narrowing trail.

(A Soldiering test for Cole; he succeeded, only barely but that was enough.)

Giles took charge of the horses and the Redcoats who had been assigned to act as their grooms, so the animals would not bolt in all the noise and hurry and terror. He spaced them out perfectly, and set just the right tone to keep them calm.

(A Riding test for Giles; a Critical Success.)

O’Toole stayed near Smithwick in the rearguard, watching for the French, watching to see what their range would be when dawn came.

(An Awareness test for O’Toole; a success.)

As the dawn of January 11 broke over the snow and mud of the hills, the Redcoats and their horses were quite near the twisting trail that would carry them around the mountain and out of sight. O’Toole sounded the alert as soon as he spotted the French guns and riders off to the east, beneath the lightening sky. Smithwick called orders out to the ensigns, Richter and the timid Flagstaff; Cole and the sergeants warned the men at the head of the column to dress their line, to keep up the march, to get on that mountain path in good order and above all quickly.

And then the French guns spoke. It wasn’t withering battery fire, there being only three of them, and the guns (not to mention the gunners) were quite cold; and the British thanked God that the range was too great for cannister or grape shot. But every minute like clockwork they sent three six-pound cannonballs flying through smoke at the British column, throwing up dust and rocks and snow and occasionally bodies and parts of bodies.

At least half a dozen men and two horses died to the cannonballs, but the effect on morale was more worrying. The column grew ragged as men and women hurried in panic up the narrower path that led up and around the sheer mountain side, two men or one wagon or horse at a time. The rearguard gathered stumbling and shouting around the stragglers at the path’s foot.

(Cannon bombardment calls for a test of the defenders’ commander’s Discipline measure as well as killing soldiers. Sadly, Smithwick’s Discipline is an absymal 1. I let him take the bonus cards from the other players’ many successes in the skirmish leading up to this, as well as getting those bonuses in the final, critical Command test to come, but even so he failed. Company Morale became Injured, which incurs a penalty of -1 card on future Command and Discipline tests for the company.)

At last—it was maybe ten minutes but it felt like ages, trying to walk away in formation under steady cannon fire—French bugles sounded in the distance. The dragoons charged, taking this one last chance to break the British ranks and gather them up before they could complete their flight. The cannons stopped firing.

Smithwick called for the rearguard to form up and fix bayonets. The Rifles’ bugles and sergeants sounded the command. The Riflemen fixed their bulky sword bayonets on their rifles; and the few Redcoats who still had their muskets fixed their own bayonets; other Redcoats stood with captured French swords in front of men holding captured French carbines and pistols.

The dragoons’ Captain Boutin led the charge again. Rifles, pistols and carbines fired out at them as they came on. The first dragoons crashed into the British square in a bloody melee, swords flashing down and bayonets stabbing up.

The charge failed to break the square apart, so the next ranks of horsemen rode around to attack the sides of the square, where more rifle, pistol and carbine fire erupted and the men stood and fought.

Dragoons fell and died. A handful of British soldiers fell to the dragoons’ deadly swords. Then Boutin himself fell from his horse, shot down by one of the riflemen inside the uneven square. The French attack stumbled as the men rushed to gather up their beloved captain, then broke off entirely as the British fire only intensified.

The dragoons rode back out of range. At once Smithwick ordered the square to move up the steep path. By the time the cannons began to fire again the Redcoats and Riflemen were mostly away, and soon the guns fell silent as the last of British disappeared around the mountainside.

(This was all the final, all-important test of this skirmish challenge, Smithwick’s Command test vs. Boutin’s command test. Smithwick’s Command skill is 4, surprisingly competent considering his predelictions; he was at -1 for being Injured and -1 for Company Morale being Injured, but +4 for all the other players having succeeded in their tests. He called on his Reputation with the Officers’ Mess for another bonus card—the exact Reputation is that he’s disliked as being stern and unpleasant (“dickish” is what the player wrote on his sheet) but that reputation as a taskmaster worked in his favor with the two ensigns both being below him in rank. Finally, when cavalry attack infantry who have formed square it ordinarily grants the infantry +2 cards and incurs a penatly of -4 cards for the cavalry; since the British were haphazardly armed I halved this to +1 and -2. Smithwick drew eight cards against Boutin’s five. Boutin drew a success, but Smithwick drew a Critical Success! Smithwick won, and thus kept the French from scattering the British. I decided Boutin’s success, a four of diamonds, represented four Redcoats injured in the fighting, while Smithwick’s Critical meant a dozen or so French fell and Boutin was Maimed.)

Awkward Conversations

Slowly the fear and adrenaline of the attack faded and the drudgery of marching along the uneven mountain trail settled in. The men had to keep the horses moving, and men and horses had to keep the wagons from getting mired on the steep, muddy path. The day dragged along.

Many of the men were quiet. Others muttered among themselves, not happily. All shivered in the cold. Maybe half wore shoes, thanks to to O’Toole’s efforts in town; once again, as they often did, the Riflemen thanked God for letting them be equipped with the thick cavalry boots that were traditional with the 60th’s mounted forebears. The rest of the redcoats and the handful of women were barefoot in the snow. The day dragged along.

(I told the players this was another opportunity to pursue their own individual interests, one test apiece.)

Mr. Giles did his best to keep up the men’s spirits, knowing that they liked him for his good humor and his education.

(If I recall right, Giles got a Critical Success at a Diplomacy test to repair an Injured Reputation with the rank and file.)

Sgt. Cole kept an eye and more importantly an ear on the Redcoats, listening in on their discussions and trying to join in, hoping to figure out which ones were most likely to have seen and remembered his wife and little boy. But none of the ones he spoke to could help, and many of them plainly resented him.

(A Courtesy test, the first Challenge in his personal mission. It failed. One more failure will mean his personal mission fails altogether!)

Private O’Toole tried to make his way among the men, particularly the Riflemen, seeing how they did, whether they needed anything he could help scrounge up. But the tone was all wrong and there was nothing much he could do for the ones whose spirits were low.

(He too wanted to repair one of his Injured reputations with the rank and file, but his Diplomacy failed. Since O’Toole has no Diplomacy skill this is very unlikely to succeed. I recommended that he convince another player who has good Diplomacy to assist him at some point to get bonus cards. Currently among the player characters only Smithwick has much Diplomacy, so we’ll see how O’Toole goes about it.)

Private Southgate decided on which guard he was going to approach, which one he could convince to look the other way when the time was right to make a grab for more than his fair share of the King’s stolen silver. He made small talk with the man; learned that he had a love for the good kind of wine that the officer’s kept but that the rank and file rarely tasted; and managed to sneak a bottle off one of the wagons.

(A successful Scavenging test, the first challenge in Southgate’s personal mission. I think it was wine, but I may have said something else during play, I don’t remember.)

The Spaniards rode at the head of the column as guides. Luis Raimundez fell back to meet Lt. Smithwick. After they exchanged the usual greetings—how was Smithwick’s wound, how many hurt and killed in the attack, how did the Spaniards fare—Raimundez reminded Smithwick that while the French clearly had not been the ones to murder the monks of San Millan de Montana, that meant some among the Redcoats had done it, and Smithwick had promised to see justice done. Smithwick said they would hold a field court martial in the morning at first light. That satisfied Raimundez.

He also told Smithwick that his cousin, Juan Artur Moura del Porta, lived in a manor over the village Puerta del Norte, and it would not be far off their track if they made good time today and tomorrow. Smithwick thanked him for the information but privately doubted he could risk getting the unrule Redcoats around all the temptations of a Spanish village.

Smithwick turned the conversation to Spain in general and Galicia, Raimundez’ family; but while Smithwick was usually a fair hand at conversation, his motives were a little too transparent. Raimundez grew impatient, irritable and soon offended, and they soon separated again.

(An Intrigue test for the second challenge of Smithwick’s personal mission. He drew two successes but the Hand of Fate—as I have decided to call the opposition in a static contest, which is set by the difficulty of the task rather than by an NPC’s skill—drew two Critical Successes! Failure. Ouch.)

As the day wore on the trail went downhill again. Late that night—hour upon hour of painful marching, exhaustion, sneezing and illness—it leveled out in a little pass and Smithwick called a halt.

A few men set fires. Many dropped where they stood and fell asleep shaking in the wind and snow. A couple dozen men led ten horses out of their little herd, the ones likely to drop from cold and exhaustion anyway, shot them, and set about carving them up for the fires. At least they’d have meat for breakfast.

Court Martial

Smithwick told the other active officers, Richter and Flagstaff, as well as a few trusted men that he meant to hold a trial in the morning for the dead monks. He asked Giles, O’Toole and Southgate to quietly figure out who had done it so they could make a good enough case that the Redcoats would put up with seeing a few of their own strung up to satisfy the Spaniards. And he asked Cole to be ready to keep the Redcoats orderly during the proceedings.

Giles, Southgate and O’Toole made their separate ways among the Redcoats in camp, speaking quietly to one and then another. Well, Giles and O’Toole did, and Southgate made an appearance of doing so; Giles questioned them, and when they ran across a man or woman who seemed to be holding out O’Toole was there to negotiate, to figure out what their witness wanted to share what he or she knew.

(This was an Intrigue test for Giles, and I let O’Toole use his Haggling skill to assist with bonus cards. The Hand of Fate drew zero successes; Giles with his augmented Intrigue hand drew two Successes and one Critical Success.)

They soon narrowed it down. The plain fact was that the infamous Sergeant Dane and his men had been the first Redcoats to arrive at the monastery. When the next band arrived, and all others as they had straggled in after hearing rumors that British had holed up there, no monks were to be found. A couple of Dane’s men claimed that the place had been abandoned when they arrived, which was in flat contrast with Dane’s earlier story that they had locked the monks up safely and they heard them screaming when the French murdered them. That was enough for the court.

Meanwhile Southgate spoke to a few soldiers and followers, but soon he made his way over to the wagons, where the guard was on duty whom he had earlier plied with stolen officer’s wine. The guard turned a diligent eye in another direction. Southgate skimmed silver from several of the bags until he had a heavy bag’s worth of his own, and tied them tied closed again carefully as he went. He was stepping away with an innocent or at least busy look when another guard came around.

(A Skulduggery test for the second Challenge of Southgate’s personal mission. If it had failed he would have been caught mucking about the treasure wagon and likely flogged at the very least. Southgate drew one Success and one Critical Success—and so did the Hand of Fate! But Southgate’s Success was a higher card than the Hand of Fate’s, so he succeeded, barely. Because Southgate pursued his own mission rather than the group’s current Skirmish Challenge, this counted as an automatic failure for the group’s challenge, which would dock a card from the final test by Smithwick.)

The sergeants got everyone up again before dawn after a few scant hours of miserable sleep. But rather than starting the march immediately, Smithwick called the ad hoc battalion to attention for a field court martial. He and Richter and Flagstaff were the only officers fit for duty, so they were the court.

Throughout all this there was grumbling in the ranks but Cole kept a stern eye on the Redcoats and made sure the sergeants did their duty.

(An Intimidate test by Cole, bolstered by one of his Reputations. The Hand of Fate drew one Success. Cole drew one Critical and one Perfect Success! He kept the ranks in order and then some!)

Smithwick called several of the men and women to ascertain when they arrived at the monastery and whether there were any monks when they did. Then he called Dane and his men, one at a time, and questioned them on their various contradictory claims. Smithwick was no lawyer, but the facts were pretty plain to the meanest understanding among the soldiers that watched the proceedings.

The officers of the court conferred, and they very quickly came back with their verdict: Guilty of murder, one man after the other. Sentence to be carried out at once.

Dane’s late, desperate attempt to rile up his fellow soldiers and spark an impromptu mutiny went nowhere under the stern, very just gaze of the officers, sergeants and guards.

(A Command test for Smithwick, with +2 cards for Giles and O’Toole succeeding but -1 card for Southgate secretly failing to do his job. The Hand of Fate drew a Critical Success; Smithwick drew merely a Success; but he called on his Reputation with the officers—stern and dickish, remember—to bully the ensigns into speaking up and looking stern and just, for a bonus card. It was a Critical Success! Victory!)

The pass had a copse of rugged little trees, enough for a collection of nooses. They strung up the murders, drew the ropes taut, and let them dangle for the prescribed time. As the last of them stopped twitching, the sergeants began forming the men up in column to begin the day’s march.

As the column prepared to move, Private Southgate went up to the hanged men. He grasped the legs of the first one and gave them a mighty, sudden pull to break the neck and make sure the poor man was dead. Then the next. Then the next. at last he came to Sergeant Dane, hanging as still as the rest—but when he grasped Dane’s legs they kicked out and Dane shouted, still alive!

Not that it did him any good, hands and feet bound tight as they were. Southgate fought for a good grip, brought his weight down, and Dane’s neck popped like the rest. He twitched and went limp at last.

(Dane had the Cheat Death! trait, so I was silently waiting for the players to leave him behind so he could struggle free of the noose and come back to haunt them later. Alas for thorough players; but what a great character moment it turned out to be!)

Private Southgate of the Rifles, a murderer himself who escaped his own noose by taking life in the Army, joined in the march as the men made their way along the narrow road and onto the next icy Spanish mountain.

View
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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The Monastery, Part 3: The Prisoners
With prisoners in hand and enemy reinforcements coming, Yorkshire's Rifles navigate the treacherous shoals of diplomacy and honor.

(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.

The Redcoats

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.

Foreign Relations

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.

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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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The Monastery, Part 1: The Spaniards
Yorkshire's Company has a surprising encounter on a snowy mountain road.

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.

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