Saturday, July 23, 2011

A few vacation days

Just a lightning note for eventual readers: I'll be on holidays for 8 days, from July 25th to August 1st. No more than a week, but... what a so-long-desired and expected-in-advance week! My lovely wife and I are going to enjoy it at a lost valley in Pyrenees range.

I'm likely taking some advantage of this circumstance to calmly think about my future plans, after having been finally fired from the job I've been working in for the last 25 years...

Don't worry even a bit my friends, I do already have great plans ;)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Troubled journey (2): the monks

Provence-Dauphiné border, 24th August 1713

The unidentified horse riders stopped along Marquis de Vilana's carriage and the eldest among them warmly greeted the driver Llinàs and offered their help. Without waiting for any reply, tha man dismounted and inspected the vehicle while Llinàs struggled with his primary French to mutter some words of gratitude. Then Marquis de Vilana came out of the carriage in help of Llinàs and greeted the riders in turn, starting thereafter a short conversation with the leading old man -a necessarily short one, due to the rain.

Llinàs took advantage of Vilana's initiative to go discretely apart for a moment and carefully examine the newcomers. He noticed that the one talking with Vilana wore some kind of religious habit or vest under his raincloak. The youngest rider had also dismounted and stayed behind the old man with soliciting attitude. The third voyager had apparently no intention to dismount, but had taken the other two horses by the reigns, while in the process he had in turn started examining Vilana's group. When his glance finally met Llinàs' one, they stared at each other with circumspection. Llinàs was unable to decide if these men carried any weapons -although he'd bid for the third one.

After a short while, Vilana closed to Llinàs and told him: -They say there is a hostel in an hour's drive, close to Pierrelatte town. It seems to be a frequent stopping point for traders and couriers, so most probably we'll be able to find tools for repairing our coach.

According to the old man's explanations, he was Brother Vincent of the Cistercian Order, who along with two companions were travelling to Pontigny Abbey, at some point between Dijon and Paris, so that coincidentally both groups might share trip, as the man had suggested.

Brother Vincent was invited into the stagecoach, where he examined and cared for young Josep's arm with undeniable mastership, and afterwards the joint group re-started journey. Then the monk started a conversation with Marquis de Vilana and Claire Baizanville, who performed once again their small representation about the trip: The future Mrs. Gilbert -no other than Claire herself- had just arrived in Toulon from the Antilles and was expected to move in Paris for marrying Mr. Pierre Gilbert, a leading businessman who had sent his efficient right-hand Monsieur Villars -Lord Vilana himself, of course- to attend his fiancée in her journey.

Claire and Vilana had intensely developed such storyboard before during their trip, so that both felt widely confident in their arranged roles. But Claire soon bserved something wasn't running as provided: while she expected polite questions and banal comments by the monk, pointed by some occasional glances to her (even clad in religious habits, a man is always a man, she believed). However, that Brother Vincent attention seemed to be totally focused on Lord Vilana. She was missing something, but what?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Schönbrunn

Vienna, 1st October 1713

Absorbed recalling the ordeal suffered a few days ago, when their retinue was ambushed, Lady Elisenda had lost her way, so that the girl randomly steps had led her pretty far from Schönbrunn's main building, into some remote part of the immense French style garden sorrounding the Imperial palace. "Fiona would have disliked this garden. She always said that French gardens were too... Cartesian" -she bitterly thought. Her faithful friend Fiona McGregor had been cowardly murdered by the attackers -who probably confused the girl with Elisenda herself-, and a few days later she was quietly resting at one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe, waiting for a courtly staging, as if nothing had happened. This made her feel even more sad, if such was possible.

Elisenda had started to grasp the purposes of Archduke Charles but, far from feeling happy or proud, she could only perceive the huge weight of responsibility the Emperor was just about to lay on her. During the trip, Count d'Erill had been unable to tell her anything about the matter; old and tired as he was, the old Valencian aristocrat's only desire was to attend a hearing at the magnificent Imperial palace, where he had never been before. No, Count d'Erill hadn't been any helpful to her.

In contrast, Marquis de Rubí had certainly shown a greater knowledge about Archduke Charles' intentions, but he had kept all the time a discreet silence on it. "Trust on us, my dear" were his only words when she tried to corner him with questions. Marquis de Rubí was a significant member of the Acadèmia dels Desconfiats (=Academy of the Distrustful) just as Marquis de Vilana was, both of whom had been the architects of her admission into that cultivated and semi-secret society, where no woman had ever been accepted before. "Trust on us", he said, so that she respectfully trusted and ceased insisting. But the evidences collected so far made her anything but happy.

Lady Elisenda steps finally led her close to the Neptune Well, where she remained for a long time watching in rapt silence the Danube plain while a slight breeze caressed her hair. A long while later, someone went to meet her. It was her Valencian uncle (1) Antonio Folc de Cardona, Archbishop of Valencia, who had gone in exile in Vienna little after Almansa battle. He told her: -Dear niece, Their Imperial Majesties would love to meet you now. We should not have them waiting for too long.

Elisenda sighed heavily and nodded: -Let's go, then.

(1) The Catalan expression "oncle valencià" is intended to name a distant relative. Coincidentally, Lady Elisenda's "Valencian uncle" -who is a historical character- is Valencian indeed!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Headhunting

Palma of Majorca, 30th September 1713

Little after the arrival of the British fleet carrying back home the last Imperial units in the Peninsula, some of the ships anchored in Palma Bay and disembarked a handful of men and women -civilians most of them, former authorities and other pro-Charles signified people from Tarragona city, along with their respective families. Among them, our intrepid girl Mireia as well as her mother Blanca and grandmother Teresa.

Some time before the fleet's scheduled sailing time, a small boat rushed to the ship carrying Second Lieutenant Blasco Copons and the rest of Cordova's Horse Regiment heroic survivors. A Catalan official swiftly got aboard and asked for Lieutenant Colonel Francesc de Portolà (1) and Major Ramón Lanuza, stating to have an official message for both from the Catalan HQ at Barcelona. When the requested military finally met the courier, they were told that, if agreeing to stay instead of being evacuated, they both would be promoted at the head of a new Hussars Regiment still in formation.

Both men felt tempted enough by the proposal to finally accept: thanks to this, Gaspar de Portolà became Colonel of the new Queen Violant Regiment, while Ramón Lanuza was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of that same unit. About half of its force came from already active independent hussars and volunteer horse companies -currently in service close to Igualada town under General Bellver's command, but the rest of had to be sought yet. Their first option was easily predictable, so that they in turn proposed to the rest of members of their own former unit to get enlisted, with an acceptable degree of success. This way, in a few days Portolà and Lanuza were able to gather in place a fourth company. As for the rest, a conscription table was opened at Palma city.

(1) As for this one Francesc de Portolà, he was an actually existing character: a signified Catalan fighter in the War of Spanish Succession, father to the widerly known Gaspar de Portolà who some decades later would become Governor of California. He's to be born in 1716 (in three years' time according to our campaign's clock, then) and I've thought of this somewhat tricky scene to rescue for our Imagi-Nation's future this historically key character, who otherwise would have been given to birth in Vienna as an Imperial subject -or even worse, in Hispannia after his father's eventual pardon, as historically happened.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Skirmish at Tàrrega

Tàrrega, 29th September 1713

Caught by suprise by the lightning move of Marquis of Poal's forces, a small pro-Bourbon column consisting of a few squadrons of Spanish Dragoons and a battalion of Catalan botifler Mountain Fusiliers was engaged on that day close to Tàrrega town, before they had time enough to leave for Lleida city as they planned.

Severely outnumbered by Marquis of Poal's column, which was formed by 2 Line Infantry regiments supported by 2 Mountain Fusiliers Battalions and 2 Dragoons regiments at their flanks, the smaller force had no possibilities if they tried a stand. As perceived by the Spanish commanders, their only chance was withdrawing and so they tried. However, unbalance of forces worked against them during the retreat, so that the unfortunate botiflers were soon left behind by the Spanish horse and suffered heavy losses at hands of the mounted pro-Charles nationals pursuing them -as a result, not less than 3 companies were lost as casualties, deserters or prisoners. The rest of the Spanish column managed to arrive in Cervera town, were they hurriedly prepared themselves for a last stand.

As for the rest of Two Crowns' moves in this last week of September, the French Army continued their withdrawal under truce flags, thus leaving the Spaniards alone in their recently gained city of Tarragona. Everywhere Duke of Popoli's forces kept frantically improving defences while awaiting the new Commander-in-Chief to come.

[We felt tempted for a while to convert this small battle into a proxy scenario, but we guessed the overwhelming unbalance of forces would make it a quite unpleasant game for the Spanish player, so that in the end we've given up. Next turn, maybe]

Monday, July 04, 2011

Troubled journey (1)

A new proxy RPG adventure set in the Principality

This is our second proxy-gamed RPG adventure, which is still being played. Under the title of "Troubled journey" you'll find from now on the narration of the adventures of Marquis de Vilana and Claire Baizanville, during their long journey from Monte-Cristo to Versailles. The gaming group is using a variant of GURPS ruleset as usual, and consists of 3 players, directed by Marc. This one happens to be a key episode in our Imagi-Nation's birth story, so that I'll try to keep all you properly informed about it on due time -with my poor English, as usual.

Introduction

Still confused and painfully panting, Marquis de Vilana raised himself under the heavy rain to the middle of the road. After resuming his breath, he looked at the stagecoach driver who was struggling to keep the carriage in a precarious balance. The back hooves of both rear horses were kicking outside the path, and all four beasts were blowing nervously while barely endured the heavy vehicle, that had got hanging upon a marked slope. The stagecoach shaft then suddenly crackled, and the Marquis expected in fright the worse to happen. However, a desperate last pull by the exhausted horses drove the carriage into the road again, under the whip and curses of the driver -no other than Llinàs, the most veteran of his two conveniently disguised escort soldiers.

To their left, a shredded tree was still steaming. A lightning. A damned lightning! For a moment he felt immensely angry, frustrated by the bad luck ceaseless accompanying them all long the journey, about to gaving in to discouragement. Just for a moment. Once it passed, the experimented diplomat in him prevailed, along with his pragmatism. The Marquis then closed to Llinàs, who reported to him: -Shaft is broken, Sire; but it can be repaired at the next town. Only that we'll have to follow with greater care than usual. I might ride one of the leading horses while Josep (the other soldier) sits on the driver's seat.

Then they realized Josep was no longer with them. Concerned, Claire Baizanville and the Marquis shouted his name through the heavy rain. Had he suffered any injury in the accident? After a long while, their callings obtained a weak response at last. The young man climbed up the slope with evident difficulty. His right arm had got severely injured -maybe broken. Claire and Vilana introduced the young man into the stagecoach to examine his arm, while Llinàs remained outside, still inspecting the vehicle in search for eventual further damages.

Suddenly, the veteran soldier perceived by the corner of the eye some movement on the road: The figures of three riders wrapped in their cloaks gradually outlined amidst the persistent downpour, as they slowly approached to them. Keeping them permanently in sight, Llinàs knocked at the stagecoach door and afterwards hurried to align the vehicle with the road, freeing the passage. Nevertheless, he didn't stop looking for any hint of threat from those riders even for a moment.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The New Supreme Commander

Fraga (Aragon), 28th September 1713

Lead by a gallant general of severely aristocratic appearance, the long column of soldiers came in sight of the town of Fraga, the last one of the old Kingdom of Aragon before the Principality of Catalonia's border. Thoughtfully, the general guided his horse aside of the road, with the aim of observing with pride and some concern his troops in motion -all their flags defiantly flying against the wind like a waving sea of Burgundian crosses on white, or golden lilies-and-castle on purple.

Lord Guillem Ramon de Montcada, Marquis of Aitona, had no reasons for missing pride. Despite his partially Catalan descent -that one of the old and powerful House of Montcada, rivals to the Cardona-, King Philip V had granted to him the greatest honor and highest confidence, at putting him in command of His finest troops: two battalions of the Guardias Españolas Household Infantry and the whole Reales Guardias de Corps Horse Regiment. Fully empowered by the King Himself, on the way he had been able to gather to his column the McAuliffe Irish Regiment, who were at garrison duties in Saragossa. Not too far behind, two full batteries of field artillery followed the column. His mission had been clearly stated some weeks ago in Madrid: it consisted of replacing Duke of Popoli as supreme commander of His Majesty's Army in Catalonia, and leading it to returning to proper obedience that rebel Principality -at any cost, and whatever the means.

"Whatever the means..." Those words of His Majesty, even though might seem clear as water by themselves, implicitly contained hidden meanings that had been keeping him perpetually troubled since his departure. What did such words actually mean? Was he expected to set the whole Principality in blood and fire? Everyone at Madrid Court knew the Gallows Tithe policy performed at first by Duke of Popoli had proved plainly harmful and counterproductive, so that Lord Montcada's uncertainty at this respect had ceaseless grown since. Was perhaps His Majesty finally assuming a radical change of strategy, in the line the Marquis himself had been fruitlessly arguing for in the last years?

After the 1706 failed siege of Barcelona, when King Philip had to lead the dramatic withdrawal of His Majesty's Army pityful remnants northwards to France, Marquis of Aitona had amazed his Castilian and French colleagues at asking for a parley with the Catalan Colonel Bac de Roda who was pursuing them -and obtaining it! Thanks to his negotiation efforts, the Spanish Army was able to cross undisturbed to the French border side. When General Tessé and His Majesty demanded an explanation of his feat, he fervorously had argued that "it was far more likely to achieve a goal from the Catalans through civility and respectfulness, than through any abusive treatment and harsh voices", because "they hate dominance and absolute authority [implicit in the use] of force, for they were born free, and in freedom they live". Marquis of Aitona naively thought that episode would influence His Majesty's future attitude towards the Principality ... but he was wrong.

Sadly, he had to admit such hypothesis to be plainly unlikely, for King Philip's attitude towards the Catalans was inflexible since their treacherous aligment to the Allies. To Him, they were no more than an untrustworthy and quarrelsome Nation, whose ungodliness no pity ought to be deserved. No, Lord Montcada had no room for alternate interpretations of King Philip's words... if these were actually due to His Majesty Himself.

To his surprise, Lord Montcada then realized that it had been the Princesse des Ursins who had actually uttered that phrase to him, attributing it to His Majesty instead. Lady Anne-Marie de la Trémoille, Princesse des Ursins, had lately shown an increasingly ambiguous attitude towards the continuation of war; she, who had been the toughest defender of Spanish integrity so far... The Marquis wasn't that naive, he could easily guess the hidden intentions of that ambitious woman, who in fact controlled all levers of power in Madrid and had been recently tempted by Eugene of Savoy's proposal of a principality in Flanders for her, in exchange for the Catalan Liberties... and then he started to understand what the Princess was actually expecting from him.

But, how to perform it? -and besides, how to exploit it in his own favour?