Monday, February 28, 2011

From bad to worse

Lleida, 2nd September 1713

At his office in the fortress overlooking the city of Lleida, the commander of the Spanish forces in Catalonia Duke of Popoli could barely give credit to the reports he had been delivered throughout the day: first, the news about the unbelievable escape of Imperial prisoners, after a large guerrilla stormed the castle were they were imprisoned, then a cavalry battle where one of the best Cavalry regiments of the Kingdom had been close to be totally destroyed ... and, on the rebel city of Balaguer still offering resistance, despite the intense artillery fire they were being delivered...

To make matters worse, the suspension of French operations by the Duke of Berwick had led to increasingly intense rumors about a possible French defection. As a result, relations between French and Spanish officers under his command had deteriorated so much that had even been transmitted to their respective troops. The danger of riots had become so high that General Bracamonte had no other choice than splitting his Army Group North into two columns apart, divided by nationality... At Center and South columns, things had not gone so far, but Generals Vallejo and Areizaga stated to be considering the adoption of similar provisions...

Exasperated, the Duke of Popoli halted reading reports, stood up from his chair and began looking through the window into the fertile valley of Segre river. He had more than obvious reasons to be worried: it had been assumed that the occupation of this damned Principality would be a fairly simple procedure, a routine operation without any issue beyond the relief of troops in fortresses... However, but the insolence of this unruly Nation had gone beyond all expectations. At the current rate, his reputation would soon fade and Madrid Court would start to seriously thinking about his replacement. He needed a quick effect, an action that dramatically cuts the smoke in these pedantic Catalans. But ... which one? Perhaps the arrival of three fresh brigades recently evacuated from Sicily, in fulfillment of the treaty of Utrecht, might be useful in such hazardous circumstances...

-Your permission, Sire? -someone asked.

-Yes? -the Duke sharply answered.

-This has come from Madrid, Sire -the man delivered to him two letters.

The first one was a quite laconic note written by the Princesse des Ursins secretary, signed by King Philip Himself. It ordered him to comply the requests in the second, attached letter. Frowning intensely, the Duke of Popoli opened the second letter: It had been written by the Duke of Berwick. Although written with an exquisite politeness, the letter acknowledged him that, according to King Louis desire, all French troops borrowed to His grandson had ceased to be in Spanish service; and that, from that very moment, he Duke of Berwick had been commissioned to take command on them, as well as to organize their progressive evacuation back home. Understanding the temporary upheaval such provision could cause, he had designed a staggered withdrawal plan in order to minimize consequences to their Spanish friends. During the evacuation development, the Duke of Popoli was formally requested not to commit still staying French troops in any war action.

He mumbled a sound curse. So rumors were true. France was abandoning them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bitter victory

Piera, 30th August 1713

As reported some days ago, a couple of gamers of Lleida city have volunteered for proxy gaming battles of our campaign. They agreed to be given a first chance by playing a small cavalry battle of this turn in the right wing of Spanish Army Group Centre. It was quite a difficult scenario to play, due to the small and rather unusual OOB of both forces: on the Spanish side, one single Line Cavalry regiment had to face a similar Catalan unit supported by a Dragoons regiment, lead by a most experienced Catalan Cavalry General. In spite of such difficulties, these guys gladly assumed the challenge; so that they can now offer to us the results of their very first "real" experience in this campaign.

Their battle has been fought using Close Fire & European Order (CF&EO), scaling up the units involved so that each regiment was splitted into 3 squadrons of 3 stands each. This way, regimental commanders could be scaled up too, in order to perform as if CF&EO Brigadiers.

Starting setup had to consist in that the Spanish unit was about to be encircled around a masia known as Can Coltell, close to Piera town -so that their target was breaking the encirclement by leaving the table through the road in the Catalan deployment area. Of course, Catalan target was preventing the Spaniards to do this. With the aim to re-balance a little bit their fairly unbalanced OOBs, one of the Spanish squadrons was allowed to perform as if Dragoons they were. This is the gamers report on their battle:

The Spanish commander chose to hid their dismounted squadron in the small woods close to the farm, while their other two units started a diverging manoeuvre with the aim to induce confusion on the Catalan side about the location and instant of their breakout attempt. At an agreed moment, both units would converge against the Catalan center and force their way towards the road.

General Nebot's plan was to deploy Brichfeus Dragoons along the hills at their left, while his own Line Cavalry regiment advanced by the right with the aim to cut off the most likely Spanish break-off area.

The Spanish plan didn't develop that bad at first, but their "bull horns" manoeuvre proved too complicate, so that their left "horn" was soon intercepted by two Brichfeus' Dragoon squadrons. The Catalans were completely unaware of the Spaniards hidden in the woods, whose first musketry volley caught them by surprise. As a result of the intense fire suffered, Colonel Brichfeus himself fell mortally wounded.

Far from aborting the Catalan attack, this sad event encouraged his second in command to push their enemies into a furious charge that broke through their lines. With two Catalan squadrons at their rear and another three at their front, the Spaniards made a last attempt to reach in masse to the road, but their way was intercepted by the third Dragoon squadron. Almost completely sorrounded, the Spanish Horse tried a last stand, with the expectably disastrous result of 2/3 of their force being destroyed after a massive Catalan charge.

We're still to be acknowledged whether the surviving Spanish squadron along with their Colonel and standards were offered any honourable terms, or if they were just summoned to a plain surrender instead. Ironically, the Catalan side suffered a neglectable (*) amount of casualties by comparison to the Spanish one, except for the death of Colonel Brichfeus. As he was also the owner of the Dragoon regiment of his name, this leaves that unit in a quite hard financial situation -unless someone else offers himself to pay for them, this regiment ought to be disbanded in the short time.

The gamers have offered to us these two Photobucket slideshows:
From the Catalan side
From the Spanish view

(*) "Neglectable"? ...This sounds awfully cruel and warlike! ...No casualty in a war is ever neglectable, to my humble opinion. I'm glad our casualties are just miniatures who are simply drawn from the table or a statystics sheet -but who nevertheless keep being safe and eager to "fight" in the next tabletop battle...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eventful return

South of the Principality, 31st August 1713

At their return back to Tarragona city after their brilliantly successful raid on the Spanish held Templar castle of Miravet, the expeditionary squad lead by Lieutenant Barceló found themselves with all possible accesses into the city blocked by the huge Two Crowns' army deployed face to its strong walls. As a number of the released Aragonese Dragoons accompanying them were in quite bad condition due to privations and badly cared wounds, Barceló and the Aragonese officer Lanuza agreed to stop at an isolated masia, not far from Tarragona. There the group would have time to rest and wait while some picked men would discretely seek information by the neighbouring villages and towns. This was a necessary condition for them to take a decision on what to do next -given the impossibility to get inside the city.

A not less dificult return trip way was that one of the Imperial Bagni Infantry Regiment. Their march towards the gathering point of Tarragona had been severely delayed by the military operations of both fighting sides, for thay'd been forced to make their way out of the Principality main roads, through rough terrain. They were marching quite slowly due to the artillery battery they were carrying, as well as their ox drawn supply wagons. Their command team was fully aware they had little chances to be there in time -as a matter of fact, the British fleet that would carry them out of the Peninsula was likely about to arrive in port. Just for case, Count Wallis had delivered to them secret orders to be performed in case they were further delayed or prevented to arrive in time. These consisted in... -well, it should better be explained on another day... ;)

Last but not least, the paths of war were approaching their respective locations, due to the ceaseless Catalan pressure on the Two Crowns' columns -who were performing strange withdrawing and splitting-by-the-nationality manoeuvres, as if some kind of disagreement had suddenly emerged between Spaniards and French...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Rescue (12): Released!!

Miravet, night of 28th August 1713

From the gloomy shadows of the room where they were being held prisoners, Major Lanuza and another Aragonese officer heard a confused rumour, an odd cacophony of rubbing, blows and whispering before the door suddenly opened. Then a dimly glowing candle lit up the room -scarce as it was, it nevertheless sufficed to dazzle them. Confused and vaguely afraid, Lanuza had to blink several times before realizing the three figures he had in front, clad in Bourbon Spanish uniforms. Aware of his own miserably dirty, emaciated appearance, with a badly bandaged arm, he proudly straightened though, persuaded his time had come. He then recognized one of the men facing to him. Puzzled, Lanuza stood frozen for an instant, then he threw himself into the newcoming's arms: -Blasco...! Both men briefly embraced to each other.

Some later, while keeping his musket aimed to the sentry box, old Albesa could see five figures going out from the keep to the courtyard. Then, he believed to see the sentinel making a sudden movement to look into the courtyard. It was pretty dark out there, so that he could barely determine whether the soldier was embracing his musket or not. After a brief hesitation moment, he softly grunt and pressed the trigger. "Just for case", he thought. Blinded by his weapon's sudden lighting, he couldn't know if the target had been attained. He then picked up the second musket and ran out of the guard house, seeking a better place to fire upon the keep tower's sentry -who was the only one with a good angle to cover the Aragonese prisoners' location door, where Lieutenant Barceló was just running to. Albesa knelt and raised his musket and breathed deeply, while a lightning from the keep suddenly tore the dark, accompanied by a cracking shot. He could hear a whistle and the impact of a bullet just behind him, and then he fired again. Now he was able to see the target falling down.

This allowed the rescue team to distribute themselves in two different groups: Canals, Lanuza and the second Aragonese officer started struggling to open the dungeon's door, while Lieutenant Barceló and Copons took positions with their weapons ready, face to the refectory door. The Spanish soldiers in that room had already realized they'd been locked inside and started to try forcing their way through the door, using some kind of heavy furniture as an improvised ram. Albesa soon joined his mates and so did Canals too, a little later. Albesa begun preparing a grenade, with the aim to drop it through a window, but then the gate yielded with a crack under the ramming impetus. Barceló, Canals and Copons simultaneously fired their pistols and blunderbusses point blank, which were followed by a pandemonium of moaning and crying while Albesa finally got to lit the grenade fuse and threw it inside, amidst the first Spanish shots. He didn't wait for the explosion and prepared a second grenade, while his three mates fired a second point blank volley with their replacement pistols.

Both grenades detonated simultaneously in a single deafening explosion, that sent a cloud of debris and fragments outward. Taking advantage of the confusion produced, Major Lanuza had already armed some of his Aragonese troopers with the half-dozen ready loaded muskets stored at the guard house and, after a fast raid into the refectory to pick up some weapons else, he took initiative and launched all his men in a charge against the Spanish squad still holding the castle's main gate. Not all the Aragonese prisoners had been completely released yet, for many still showed badly cared wounds from Tivissa battle. As the garrison remnants had started opening a scattered fire from some windows and towers, Barceló chose to slowly group the released men under the corridor shelter, where a number of them devoted some minutes to load as many muskets and pistols as they could -while Lanuza was clearing off the castle main exit. Now the numbers were on their side, so they decided to leave the castle by the main road, to allow them moving the troop in good order and preventing isolated encounters with the town patrol -for the resulting skirmishes in the dark would unavoidably disperse and get lost many of them.

Hidden between two muleta boats, Mireia was distressedly watching the river street and the castle road, when she heard shots, moanings and a explosion. A little later, she could see the Spanish patrol rushing up to the castle. After a further while of distressing silence, she heard again some isolated shots followed by a closed musketry volley by the side of the castle road. Silence again. Slowly, she began distinguishing attenuated voices and rumours, and the shadows of a large group of soldiers emerged from the road amidst the dark, straightly running towards her hidding place. She sighed with relief when recognized Barceló and his fellows leading the troop.

They used all three boats, hazardly overloading them. To their backs, there were still some scattered shots, and they feared some kind of energic last reaction from the enemy. This caused the men to frantically paddle with everything they had at their disposal: oars, butts and hands. But no attempt was made to stop them from the town. King Philip's men had enough for this time. When the first boat went aground on the opposite river bank, it happened a sudden tension release. Men started congratulating to each other, amidst nearly hysterical laughings. While his men vented themselves by uttering insults and mockings to their enemies, Lanuza silently stared at the brightly starry sky, and smiled.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Rescue (11): Into the castle

Miravet, night of 28th August 1713

Mireia watched with a mixture of sadness and relief how the Spanish corporal was quietly reduced by Barceló's men, at the abandoned poultry where the man had naively followed her. The girl was still amazed at how easily she had managed to seduce the poor boy who, so drenched in happiness as he was, had even naively cared to warn his own comrades he'd be off duty for some longer than usual. Inside the small poultry, the young soldier had answered in a trembling voice to each of the questions Barceló, Copons and Canals whispered to him, while old Albesa kept staring at him, while intimidatingly playing with his knife. They had all the answers they would: exact location of Aragonese troopers and officers, internal layout of rooms... Everything, except for the captured standards. Terrorized, the man admitted not knowing anything on that subject -although most obviously he'd gladly agreed to tell them anything they would.

Mireia noticed the discrete negative sign Barceló had addressed to Albesa and relaxed, glad that the young Spanish soldier saved his life for this time -because the boy was making her remind her own dead boyfriend. While Canals was dressing in the soldier's uniform, Barceló told her: -Wait for us on one of these muleta boats. If we're not joining you before dawn ... well ... let's do what you think most appropriate.

Climbing the castle's outer bailey was an easy and quiet job, but the inner wall showed quite a number of hazards instead. The men had to climb it under the deepest silence, taking care not to alarm the sentinel in the nearby. Old Albesa almost lose step and remained for an instant with his feet suspending in air while clinging desperately to the rope, under the alarmed glance of Copons, who was waiting for him at the battlements. When all four men finally had managed to climb on top of the wall, then the guard house door suddenly opened. The soldier had no time to react, that Copons had already crossed his throat with a quick movement. The others had to hold the inert body to avoid it falling down the stairs, and closed the door again.

It was agreed that Canals would cross the door first, clad in his Spanish soldier uniform. While descending the stairs down to the guard house, he managed to control his nerves -not without a huge effort- and entered the room with an adopted naturalness gesture, hoping that anyone noticing would take him for the just silenced soldier. He looked around with an air of indifference and counted five soldiers sleeping. A sixth one was seated at a table, back to him -apparently writing. -¿Mucho viento, ahí afuera? (="much wind, out there?") -he asked to Canals, without even turning to look at him. Such were his last words. Then Canals went back to the staircase, brought his finger to the lips to indicate silence, and with a gesture invited the Catalan squad to join him.

After having silenced forever the sleeping soldiers, they took a key lump and discretely opened the door leading to the corridor communicating the castle courtyard with the stables yard, and took a quick look to the whole. Everything was calm and silent, lighted by only two torches close to the refectory entrance. They could identify the door of the room where the Aragonese prisoners were held, as well as the guard posts around the yard, and then Barceló said: -Let's go first to release Lanuza; we'll need him to put some order among his men. This will be done by Canals, Copons and myself; meanwhile, you Albesa take all the weapons you find at the guard house, load and have all them stored at hand, for giving them to the Aragonese men as soon as they're released.

Wearing his borrowed uniform, Canals resolutely crossed the courtyard toward the refectory where the Spanish troop bedrooms had been enabled, controlling himself not to directly gaze at any of the guard posts. Once in front of its door, he took the key lump and introduced one of the keys in the lock -praying not to mistake it. The key slid smoothly in the lock with just a slight metallic click, and Canals waited for an instant. No reaction from the inside.

He afterwards went back to the guard house, where Barceló and Copons were dressing themselves with Spanish uniforms too. The three men slipped again in the courtyard towards the keep, where they presumed to find the officers' rooms. Behind, Albesa was covering them from the guard house lintel, with a couple of loaded muskets close to him. However, the Catalans had not raised any alarm so far, so that they arrived in place with no setback. He slipped the musket barrel through the door ajar, aiming at the sole sentinel he had in sight, looked askance at the second musket he had by his side, ready to fire -and waited for a while he judged to be an eternity.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Rescue (10): In Lion's Den

Miravet, 28th August 1713

Vicenç Canals smiled slightly when he re-started his way through the streets of Miravet town, alongisde with young Mireia. His explanations had apparently persuaded the Spanish soldiers he actually was the inoffensive priest he was disguised as, so that they had been finally allowed to cross the checkpoint. He mentally took note of the soldiers' furtive lascivious gazes at Mireia -such attractive might be a powerful resource in their favour, if wisely exploited... He smiled again to himself. They followed the main street, which runs along the Ebro river bank. Most of the town lied just above their heads, plastered dry stone houses sitting tightly close to each other against the rocky crags of a steep hill crowned by the imposing Templar castle. Canals noticed three muleta boats arranged close to a short ramp descending to water from the street itself, thus serving as a pier. "Ideal for a fast escape!" -he thought.

Mireia and Canals agreed time and place for a later meeting, before separating each on his own way. Mireia went to meet a candle maker she knew, while Canals got into the church with the aim to repeat his disguised actuation close to the local priest. He was pretty successful again and soon gained empathy of Mossèn (=priest) Sebastià, who invited him for a dinner and bed. During the lively conversation started after dinner, Canals performed skillfully and obtained from the naive priest a good amount of useful information on the castle garrison, through apparently casual questions amidst an unconsequential conversation. However, he wasn't satisfied enough yet. At midnight, after veryfing the priest was soundly asleep, he stealthily left the vicarage building and walked through the silent, dark streets up to the castle's external enclosure wall. That section was quite damaged and in poor condition, so he had little trouble to climb it up silently.

Just before dawn, Canals was in bed again. Some time later in the morning, he met Mireia as agreed and swiftly left the town for their comrades' hidding place, satisfied with the amount of information they had gathered.

Later in the morning, Lieutenant Barceló nodded thoughtfully while listening to the reports offered by Canals and Mireia: four soldiers at the cable ferry hut, another four at a road checkpoint, ten soldiers else patrolling the town... That meant there would be not less than thirty or forty soldiers inside the castle itself. The account was far from any flattering... However, he knew the numbers were not all that important, if everything was adequately taken into account. Thanks to the valuable informations gathered by Mireia and Canals, they now had a quite good idea on the castle internal layout, the location of the Aragonese prisoners and the Spanish troop bedrooms, as well as the distribution of guard posts all around the enclosure. However, there were some still unresolved important questions, such as the place where the Aragonese officers were held, or the location of the Spanish officers private rooms.

He stood apart for a while, in an effort to develop a plan. According to Canals assertions, the most secure path to the inside was through climbing up the outer bailey by its lower side -that one closer to the town itself. Afterwards, Canals would have to climb the inner bailey up to the guard post and throw a rope for the rest of the group... provided the sentinels in the guard post could be conveniently reduced to silence before. And then? Would the three muleta boats in town suffice for them to escape? Would they go to Tarragona? He forced himself to remember each of the the factors in their favor. A resolute and experienced squad, a surprised garrison, the logical confusion once alarm was raised, the grenades borrowed from the Tarragona armory... He knew that things might cease going as expected, sooner or later. If only things started getting worse after the Aragonese were already freed...

Canals' voice interrupted his thoughts: -It would be wise having a Spanish soldier at hand, to interrogate him... and having a Spanish uniform wouldn't be that bad, either. I believe there's an easy way to attract a soldier into our hands -and then he stared at Mireia with a disturbingly cunning smile in mouth.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Rescue (9): river crossing

Ebro river, 27th August 1713

The rescue party had to spent the rest of night in a cave in the Tivissa range buttress closer to Ebro river. Following Mireia's recommendations, they kept a bonfire crackling all night through at the cave entrance, in order to keep the dips away -and they actually could enjoy a quiet night. Lieutenant Barceló thoughtfully observed the young girl was showing surprisingly secure lately, after their thrilling encounter with the monsters. Most of the next day was spent in the cave whereabouts too, discussing plans for river crossing and carefully watching the road at their feet, as well as the close town of Ginestar. Better to let things calm after the night before shootings, they thought.

Later in the afternoon, the group left away the cave safety and descended again to the river bank, searching for an unguarded muleta boat. After an intensive research elapsing for several hours -always careful not to meet any Spanish patrol-, they finally managed to find a half sunken raft, which they managed to repair, and used it to cross Ebro river amidst dusk shadows. After setting foot on the opposite river bank, they sought refuge on the hills close to Miravet town -in whose castle the Cordova Regiment prisoners were held.

They had finally managed to cross the river. It was time for the group to take advantage from the disguising and acting abilities of Canals, to make him get in town and obtain the most information possible about the prisoners and the Spanish garrison. Mireia offered herself to accompany Canals, for she stated to have some useful acquaintances there, and the group agreed -not without some concern for the girl.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Clash in the hills

Anoia county, 30th August 1713

While the bulk of Spanish Army Group performed the backwards move they had been ordered, one Cavalry regiment covering their right flank has been taken by surprise, and pinned by, a Catalan Horse column lead by General Nebot himself. Unable to perform a withdrawal due to the enemy Horse superiority (2 to 1 ratio), the Órdenes Line Cavalry Regiment has been forced to seek a favourable terrain to try a desperate stand, while the Catalans swiftly converge upon their position... On the Catalan side, the veteran Nebot's Line Cavalry Regiment confidently advances towards the enemy, supported by Brichfeus' Dragoons.

[I admit this is certainly a bloody hard-to-play scenario, due to -among other reasons- a number of key handicaps for the Spanish player, such as:
  • First of all, a dramatical inferiority in numbers, with just one defending Horse regiment versus two for the attacker.
  • Secondly, their firepower inferiority. According to most rulesets, old style Cavalry is not allowed firefight shooting. Inversely, the Catalan side not only have available a Dragoons Regiment, but their Line Cavalry is also equipped and armed like Dragoons -with a carbine besides of two pistols and a cavalry sword. As a matter of fact, the distiction between WSS Catalan Cuirassiers and Dragoons was merely formal, while their similar equipment strongly suggest a shared fighting tactics.
  • Last but not least: after so many years fighting alongside with a number of British Horse units, Catalan Cavalry was most likely trained according to British new style doctrine, consisting of gallop charging sword in hand -and this is not any neglectable factor.

Nevertheless, there is a fellow gaming group willing to proxy gaming this odd battle, although we have agreed to leave them a wide freedom to alter such a hard starting setup. According to our most recent conversations, they might set a withdrawal scenario, where the Spanish target would consist of achieving the most successful possible retreat, while the Catalan goal would be preventing them to withdraw. The game might be played at a Squadron level, so that the Spanish force would consist of 3 Squadrons -on of which would be allowed to perform as if Dragoons they were-, while the Catalan column would have 6 Squadrons -equally divided into Line Cavalry and Dragoons.

We're still in process of discussing Setup and OOBs. As soon as all is conveniently agreed, we'll let you know.]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Rescue (8): In her mind

Miravet ferry, night of 26th August 1713

At the very same time as the dips started their attack upon Albesa and Canals, young Mireia suddenly felt again that odd conscience insidiously penetrating into her mind. This time however, it was quite worse, for she was unavoidably dragged into the vortex of that nebula of alien sensory impressions, violent emotions and strange thoughts -for the primitive, incomprehensible nature of dips was a so overwhelming power that she could barely resist to it. Some time later, when recalling the incident, Mireia would understand she had unwillingly been in close mental connection with the beasts, who reflected some kind of ancestral thinking -an evil and bestial one, although strangely familiar too.

At the sound of fighting, Barceló rushed outside to help their fellows and Copons watched Mireia in distress, while the girl fell down to ground out of control, swept by blue funk, terrified by the beasts' violent emotions: hate, anger, anxiety... Mireia could hardly distinguish her own perceptions from those of the beasts: shooting, roars, snapping jaws... Amidst her confusion, she dimly heard -from where?- the distant voice of Barceló shouting: -Go back! Back into the hut!

At some point however, Mireia willingly managed to overcome the intrusion, so that her perceptions gradually lost intensity, and then recovered conscience and inhaled deeply. She found herself nestled against a corner, with her legs drawn under the body. Second lieutenant Copons was kneeling before her, turned towards the door, delivering a violent lunge to some huge shadow facing him. A black, pink-eyed dip fell mortally wounded, its long fangs wide open for the last breath. The beast stared at Mireia and died.

Then her own conscience understood and learnt. She then acknowledged the dips' eyes -developed among perpetual shadows- were painfully wounded by the firearms' lighting flashes. She learnt the monsters were pressed by their own bloodthirst beyond any other needing; so overhelming was their dependency that it caused in them a perpetual anxiety for quenching that unnatural thirst. She understood they couldn't bear with the smell of their own species corpses; and even she knew such intolerance had spared her fellows' lives, for a second pack had stopped and withdrawn at the smell of their dead comrades. She could remember their odd locomotion was the result of a disproportion between front and back legs -just as that of hares-, that forced them to move by powerful jumps... Mireia felt comforted by such a deep knowledge, so painfully acquired, and reassured on her own.

Lieutenant Barceló broke sharply inside the hut, dragging Albesa with him. The old Miquelet was bleeding through a horrible wound. After a quick inspection, the girl immediately began bandaging Albesa's injured arm. A gasping Canals also got inside a short while afterwards, and then a few musket shots abruptly tore off the silence of night. This time, it was someone else who had shot, from the opposite river bank: Spaniards. Barceló turned towards Mireia and sharply ordered: -We have no time. Just take a fast cure, you'll have time later to properly complete it. We must leave this hut.

Short orders, shorter answers. They rushed into the dark, taking backwards the path followed a while before. Another musket shot. They had to find a safe hiding place and decide, before the area became plentiful of Spanish soldiers.

Monday, February 07, 2011

At Alghero town

Alghero (Sardinia), 29th August 1713

Lady Elisenda could not prevent the rapid feint of her opponent and suddenly saw herself immobilized, with a sharp dagger pressing her throat. Surprised, the young lady dropped her rapier with a scare.

-You should watch better your adversary's left hand -Fiona McGregor sharply said. She then smoothened voice to humbly add: -My apologies, Your Highness.

-No need to apologize, Fiona. -Lady Elisenda replied with a sigh. -I believed to be a good fencer, but you've umpteenth time proved to me I'm definitely unable at this.

-By no means, Milady -Fiona answered in a smile. -You are quite good at sword and foil indeed, but your fencing is too... how to say? ...sportive. You'd have a number of winning chances at any fair competition, believe me. However, hand to hand fighting at war is a dirty and unfair business Milady, where no rules or chivalry should be expected from your enemy. Your elegant, masterly fencing would be almost useless at a life-or-death dogfight. If unwatched, your adversary's left hand might deliver death to you, as you've just learnt. Have it always in mind, please.

Then a group of men irrupted in the gym room. It was the elder of them who spoke, after a short hawking: -Beg your pardon for this interruption, miladies. But we shouldn't have our ship waiting for us much longer.

-It's we who should apologize, dear Count of Erill. -Lady Elisenda answered, charmly smiling to the men. -Please allow us a few minutes for a fast tidying up.

At the small but well-protected harbour of Alghero town, the Maltese frigate was patiently waiting for her distinguished passengers to embark. Standing on top of Magdalena Bastion, General Prado was absently watching the scene while immersed in musings of his own. Much of the Nation's hopes would be travelling along with the personalities the frigate was about to host: Viceroy of Majorca Marquis de Rubí, Viceroy of Sardinia Count d'Erill and, for a still intriguing reason, that enygmatic young countess -Lady Elisenda Folc de Cardona. All them had been urgently summoned to Vienna by His Royal and Imperial Majesty -nobody knew why apart from them, perhaps. Perhaps.

While the reasons of that outstanding travel were still kept in secret, the rest of the Nation was expected to faithfully fulfill their duties, to keep resisting every onslaught they were delivered by the Two Crowns... It was a hard duty but, as far as he was concerned, he would perform at his best on his own duties. And these consisted in raising the highest possible number of battalions all around those territories of the Crown of Aragon still unoccupied by Philip V. At his own arrival, Prado had found an almost complete regiment already raised by the Alghero Municipality and guilds, under the wise surveillance of Colonel Llorach, who was in charge of Sardinia's defence. That was an really promising start, but he was still quite uncertain about the actual manpower capacity of the island. He then remembered he was expected to hold a meeting with that Colonel Llorach, whom he had been told highly -so he was anxious to know that seemingly courageous man, who had managed to organize a decent defence system of that depopulated island. He decided to still wait a few minutes else, until the personalities embarkment operation was completed, before attending the meeting.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Duke of Popoli's answer

Tarragona, 29th August 1713

At his personal office in Balsells Palace of Tarragona city, Count of Wallis was looking once again, with astonished expression, at the response letter he had been delivered from the Duke of Popoli, commander in Chief of Philip V's armies in Catalonia. All around him, all Imperial field officers and staff in town were waiting with anticipation his words. He finally told them: -In plain words, Duke of Popoli is telling us that if French troops cannot be evacuated from the Principality it is our fault, because it's we who are blocking the port of Tarragona and therefore preventing them from embarking back home.

-What an insolence! -Colonel Hamilton impetuously exclaimed.

-He's not only criticizing our accusations, but in turn he's accusing us -Colonel Von Leipzig then sighed-. I'm afraid we're in an unpleasant situation right now, Your Highness.

Count of Wallis also sighed, nodding, and then asked: -Is there any news about the Two Crowns' Army?

-Nothing yet, Your Highness -von Leipzig spoke again. -They've camped all around the city, but have started no entrenchments or emplaced siege artillery, nor have taken any other threatening action. They've set up checkpoints at all city exits, but transit of goods is still allowed.

-How many are they?

-Our spotters have identified up to 8 Infantry Battalions -Hamilton answered-, 3 of which are French: Burgos, Toledo (2 battalions), Carmona, Guipúzcoa, Anjou (2 battalions) and Charolais. Besides, they have 2 Dragoons Regiments and 3 artillery batteries -one of which, a siege one. And there is another French battalion a few miles South, belonging to Orléans Regiment.

-...and they've come back to Tarragona, instead of attacking Vilafranca... What other moves have the Two Crowns made? -then asked Count of Wallis, intrigued.

-A little surprising ones. Their Army Group Center has retreated to a hilly area between Cervera and Igualada, called La Panadella. And their Army Group North has been split into two: all the French regiments (Beauvoisis, Sanzay, Blaisois and Castellas) are still staying at Ponts, while the Spanish ones have retreated to Balaguer. Oh, and at their rear there is another odd move too: A Spanish regiment has replaced the French garrison of Lleida -the regiment of Auvergne.

-Hum -Wallis reflected. -Thus, despite all the Duke of Popoli's haughtiness, it seems that our complaints may indeed have had some effect... Any news about the British fleet?

-Nothing yet, Your Highness -an aide-de-camp answered.