Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 4 - The Legacy

Jim and I were standing the last watch before dawn. I had no trouble staying awake after the story the housekeeper had told. I could scarcely credit her tale but I had no other explanation for what I had seen with my own eyes. With the first false dawn Margarate approached me. Her tone was less imperious and more friendly than it had been earlier. She offered up some small talk which I found tedious at this time of day, and at last I asked her plainly what was on her mind.  She bridled, but adopted a more business-like tone. She described how her husband had kept a fortune in silver coins in a small chest in his study. When the situation began to deteriorate, he secretly hid the chest in the warehouse by the dock. She hinted that her father would not be pleased if we left the island without recovering the chest. I explained to her that our departure was likely to be a desperate business and it wasn’t likely we would have an opportunity to search for the chest. At that moment a picture of that horrid pagan altar we had seen in the warehouse when we landed was in my mind. Margarate started to argue the matter, but at that moment the maid, Martha interrupted. With tears in her eyes she said she had gone to check Seth’s wound and had found him dead. Doctor Menting and Hector soon joined us. The doctor expressed his surprise at the death, as the wound had not been a mortal one. While Menting went to examine Seth the housekeeper entered the room and told us the slaves were gathering about 100 yards from the front of the house. She showed no surprise at the news of our man’s death, but said he must not fall into the witch doctor’s hands or he would become like those things outside.
                                          ....the slaves were gathering...


All of us were now together. The light was increasing and there were a dozen or a few more of the slaves forming a ragged line across our route to the dock. A few others could be seen in the distance moving slowly in our direction. We had to decide quickly what we would do. We couldn’t bring Seth’s body with us and we couldn’t leave him behind. At this juncture, Hector spoke up. He asked the housekeeper what might be done to prevent Seth’s transformation. She responded that the body must be burnt or the head removed. Without hesitation Hector directed Menting to remove the head and rejoin the group ready to move out.  He spoke to us in an even tone but he wore the habit of command plainly and I think our spirits were lifted by his steadiness. We were going to stay in a tight group with the four men in front and the three women close behind. The line of slaves blocking our path was broken up by scattered patches of dense undergrowth. We would exit the house and move quickly toward a gap in the undergrowth to our right front. Three slaves stood in that gap. About halfway to that gap Hector would give the command Halt! Fire! We would drop those three slaves and bolt through the gap. As we had observed the previous day, the slaves were slow and clumsy. Our speed would be our salvation. Hector warned us that no one must stop to reload, and any man that fell behind must be left to his fate, Speed was everything.

                                              I was being left behind!

We broke from the front door, formed quickly as instructed, and began to jog toward the gap. The slaves were in motion toward us all along the line. About halfway Hector gave the command to halt and fire. Our four muskets banged out a ragged volley. We were blinded for the moment by the smoke but Hector shouted “Move!” and we began jogging forward again. I was relieved to see all three of the slaves on the ground, but two others were now near enough to dispute our passage. My crewman Joe moved the women through the gap and to the right, away from the closest slaves while Menting and Hector struck the two slaves with their musket butts. I moved to follow Joe and the women when I felt a pair of claw-like hands clutching my leg. One of the slaves I thought we had dispatched was dragging at me and snarling like an animal. I think I am as steady a hand as most men, but at that moment terror overtook me. I saw Menting and Hector running to catch Joe and the women. I was being left behind! Several slaves were approaching me, attracted by the sound of my struggle with the thing clawing at my leg. I felt despair and surrender rising in me, the horror of becoming one of them, and then I found a last reserve of strength. I struck savagely with my musket butt on the head of my assailant and twisted out of his grip. I slipped on the blood and went down on one knee. As the monsters closed on me, I sprang to my feet and ran. I felt fingers clutching at my coat but I focused all on just running as fast as I could. My musket fell from my hand and was left behind. The path the others had taken was now blocked, so I swerved farther to my right and found another path.

                                              I sprang to my feet and ran

 I had left my pursuers behind but I didn’t slacken my pace until I reached the shore. I saw the others gathered at the dock, but instead of boarding the sloop there was some sort of argument underway. Doctor Menting had Margarate by the arm, Hector was loading his musket and looking back at the slowly advancing slaves. Joe was helping the men left behind to prepare to cast off. I ran down the beach to the group just as Margarate broke away from Menting.  She ran to the warehouse intending,  I suppose, to search for her husband’s chest of silver. Just as Menting caught up with her, she pulled the door open and recoiled in horror. There in the shed, seated above that awful pagan shrine was a slave with elaborate symbols painted on his body and her husband and the overseer! I reached the dock and could see the slave stand up, laughing maniacally. The two white men were dead, but awake like the other slaves. The painted man must have been the witch doctor. I ran down the dock and boarded the Hermione. Hector stood at the end of the dock, eyes fixed on the advancing slaves and called out “To me, Doctor!”.  Menting slapped the struggling Margarate hard and half dragged, half carried her to the ship.  We were able to push away from the dock just as the slave things emerged from the path onto the beach.  


As the island faded in the distance we fugitives were still sitting on the deck, in silence. Hector was in conversation with the mate, who was steering a course for Saint Martins. I feared that if I stood and walked over to join them my legs might fail me. Hector walked over, sat next to me and offered me his flask. He smiled (for the first time since we met) and said “You did well, Captain”. That, and the strong drink in the flask steadied me and I was soon able to assume command of my Hermione. The voyage back to Saint Martins was uneventful. The man Hector took his leave a few days after we landed as, he said he had business in Havana. Doctor Menting spent a good deal of time in the company of the widow Margarate. They were married a few months later. I wish him joy of it but I think a good man like him could have done better. Still, her father was a very wealthy man. For my part, I got to know her maid, Martha on the voyage home. She was a sweet girl who I thought had conducted herself with credit on the island. We talked for hours when I took my turn at the helm, and by the time we reached Saint Martins, she had agreed to be my wife. Over the years of our long and happy marriage we had rarely spoken of Turtle Island, until the night of the Governor’s reception, and if God grants it we will think of it no more.  


Note: This was originally a game that I played with Mike (who styles himself King of St Maurice) using The Dead Walk zombie rules with some basic card draw stuff to generate zombies and random events. After the game Mike began riffing on all that we might do with the card deck to flesh out the characters and generate actions they might take consistent with their personalities. I’m retired now, so I did a solo rerun of the original later in the week using the additional ‘chrome’. The story above is that game. Mike and I will continue to refine the thing for use in other heroic adventure type games set in various periods.        

Monday, November 16, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 3 - A long night

For a while we stood to arms, expecting another attack but none came. Dusk was coming on and we agreed it wouldn’t be prudent to try to get back to the ship in the growing darkness. I feared for the safety of the few crewmen I had left on board, but we heard no firing from that direction and my first mate, a wise and experienced man was in charge there. We posted Jim and Seth to watch the front and back of the house from second floor windows. The maid, a young lass named Martha, tended to Seth’s wound and the housekeeper prepared a meal for us while Menting, Hector and I talked with Margarate about what had just happened. It seemed things had been even worse than she had hinted to her father in her letters. Her husband’s drinking and brutality disgusted her. He and his overseer worked the slaves without mercy, and at last a sickness took hold in the slave quarters. One of the slaves had been an important man in their land, a witch doctor of some sort. He undertook the care of the sick men but, despite his best efforts the slaves began to die, two or three a day at first and then ten or a dozen. The fool Colbert tried to bully the native, who soon grew cold and defiant. One night as he sat over his dinner the overseer insisted on speaking to him immediately. He reported that there were no fresh burials in the scrub land that had been set aside for the purpose. When he confronted the witch doctor the man smiled wickedly and assured him no graves were required.


The residents in the manor house were used to the sound of joyless singing coming from the slave quarters in the evening. When the sickness came the sound changed to something akin to a primitive worship service. The singing faded away over the next two days. The overseer, who alone could communicate with the slaves, feared to approach their quarters, and the next morning when the overseer failed to report for instructions, Colbert took his gun and stormed over to the man’s cabin in a rage. When he returned Margarate found him pale and shaken. He mumbled something about blood on the floor and the man being gone. Colbert lingered indoors for the rest of the day, drank himself into a stupor and fell asleep in the drawing room on the ground floor. Margarate retired and heard nothing during the night. When she awoke in the morning, he was gone. Later that same day our ship had arrived. She knew not whether he was dead or alive and she didn’t care.

She shared with us stories her mother had told her.
While we were talking, the black housekeeper brought food. She lingered around the room fussing with one thing or another until at last her mistress lost patience and told her to get out. Hector intervened and asked her what she had to say. I can scarcely credit what she told us even now. Haltingly at first, and then with more confidence as she found she was not being mocked, she shared with us stories that her mother had told her. Her mother had been brought from Africa as a slave and among the stories she told were tales of witch doctors who had the power to raise the dead and control them. She believed that our’s was such a man. Doctor Menting spoke then about the slave he had examined briefly during our fight that day. The man’s body gave every indication of having been dead for several days, and yet he had attacked our party. Hector then proposed that we take turns standing watch and be prepared to strike out for the ship at dawn.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 2 - The Pact

I had sailed in the Hermione before, but this was my first time in command and everything seemed new and exciting. We enjoyed fair weather all the way to Saint Martins. My mission was to meet with the head of the Van Hendriks House, a respected Dutch trading firm, and secure an agreement regarding commerce between our Houses. I arrived in port and that same evening I dined with Abraham Van Hendriks. After dinner we retired to his library to discuss business. I presented my proposal and was surprised by his response. Instead of a negotiation, he said he would accept my terms as stated if I would assist him in a personal matter. A year earlier he had arranged what he thought was a fine marriage for his only daughter, Margarate, to a wealthy planter. This man, Colbert, had come to the islands five years before and had established his plantation on a small, uninhabited island. He named his new home Turtle Island, and spent lavishly on a fine home and 100 slaves to clear the land for growing sugar cane.  


At first all seemed well with Margarate. Van Hendriks ships that brought supplies to the island and returned with cargoes of sugar always brought a letter from her full of little details about her household. More recently, the letters hinted at her husband’s drunkenness and cruelty. He and his overseer worked the slaves brutally. She had only the company of her maid, Martha and the housekeeper, a black freewoman named Mary for consolation. Margarate knew not where her husband might turn his rage next, and feared for her safety. Van Hendrik wanted to bring his daughter home, but to send one of his own ships would attract attention and turn the matter into a public scandal. The favor he asked of me was to transport his trusted friend Doctor Menting to Turtle Island to quietly bring his daughter home. This all seemed a simple enough task to secure a very favorable agreement with Hendriks, so I agreed and Hendriks promised to have his people, Menting and Hector at the dock in time to sail with the morning tide two days hence.


At the appointed time Hendriks people arrived. Doctor Menting was a young man, tall and thin with an easy smile and a look of a university student about him. His companion, the German Hector, was an odd duck. He was not a young man, but looked to be a man of action. I was a bit unsettled to see both men had included a musket among their gear. And so we set off for Turtle Island. Our destination was but two days easy sailing to the North West, which gave me time to get acquainted with my passengers. Menting was a fine fellow with a great store of interesting tales. Hector was quiet but, despite his well worn clothes, a gentleman and very widely travelled.


 In due course we arrived off Turtle Island. As we coasted around to the dockside we had a view of the cane fields. We could see a few of the slaves moving about but no one was working the fields. I hadn’t thought much about it until I saw Hector leaning on the rail and watching. While I didn’t see anything worth observing he was taking in every detail. We tied up at the dock and disembarked. I decided to accompany Menting and Hector. For insurance I brought two of my most steady men and we armed ourselves with muskets as Menting and Hector were. Just to the right of the docks was a small warehouse with the double doors half open. I would have passed it by but Hector suggested we look inside. As we swung the doors back the smell was overpowering. Blood had been spilled here and there was a grotesque primitive religious display of some kind that included human remains. We backed out of the shed, checked the priming on our muskets and moved inland. Hector and I were in the lead and the others close behind. We could see the house a few hundred yards off through gaps in the undergrowth. As we made our way along the path Hector tapped my forearm lightly and pointed off to our left. A single slave was approaching us. He seemed listless but clearly he had seen us and was moving our way. I called out a question to the man but he ignored me and kept shuffling toward us.

                                              "The man is sick..."

“The man is sick” said Doctor Menting. Hector leveled his musket at ten yards and put a bullet through the slave’s heart. The wretch dropped to the ground and we all looked at the German with shock and surprise. Before we could speak Hector said “He was a threat, look”. He pointed off to our right front and there were two more slaves in the same disoriented state moving toward us through the undergrowth. “Take them” he said coolly as he started to reload, and Menting and my two men stepped forward and leveled their muskets. Before they could fire the slaves lunged forward snarling like animals. My man Jim and the doctor beat one of the slaves down with their musket butts while the other slave seized my other crewman, Seth, by the hair and bit him where the neck meets the shoulder. Seth staggered back in horror as I advanced and cracked his assailants head open with my musket butt.

                                              "Take them!"

Doctor Menting moved quickly to assist Seth. He examined his wound and found it superficial. He poured water on the wound to clean it and encouraged us to move directly to the house so we could treat it properly. Hector meanwhile was crouching next to the man he had shot. He called over to Menting “Doctor, take a look at this man”. “Too late for him, I’m afraid” said Menting as he walked over and kneeled next to the corpse. “Is he dead?” I said, but Menting waved me off as he examined the man with a puzzled look on his face. At last, he looked over at Hector and said “This man has been dead for the best part of a week”. I was trying to make sense of that statement when Jim called out “They’re coming!” and we looked around to see three more slaves approaching from our right, through the undergrowth. Others could be seen in the distance between us and the house. We hesitated, none of this was expected, nothing made sense and then Hector barked “To the house! Run!” and we ran. Our assailants were slow and we were able to avoid them as we approached the house. The door swung open and a woman called to us “Come in, quickly!” We tumbled in and she slammed the door and locked it.

                                              "To the house!  Run!"

We were in the central hall of the house, where a broad stairway led to the second floor. Doorways to the left and right led to the two main rooms on the ground floor. Margarate, the maid and the cook stood in the hall staring at us. Menting approached Margarate who, of course, knew him but Hector interrupted. “You and you to the window in that room and start shooting, Menting follow me, you (this to the wounded Seth) escort the ladies upstairs and stay with them”. He had the habit of command and we all responded by moving to our assigned posts briskly. Soon muskets were firing from both front windows and two of the slaves fell in the front yard. After that initial volley, the slaves turned as if on command and shuffled away toward the undergrowth.  “Cease fire!” called Hector, I suppose to preserve our limited powder and shot, and soon our assailants were nowhere to be seen.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 1 - An Unwelcome Memory

It was a beautiful  autumn evening in Charleston.  The new Governor was having a reception and, as one of our towns most prominent citizens, I and my dear wife of 40 years were invited. I’ve never been much of a dancer, nor have I the skill of idle chatter. My wife was on the other side of the room with her friends and I found myself discussing ships with the Governor, a man who had spent considerable time at sea in his youth. When he offered to show me the collection of curiosities he had acquired on his voyages, I accepted with pleasure. The first few items were the usual clutter that the locals in far flung places will sell to gullible white men, but I made a credible show of being interested. He had, he assured me, saved the best for last. He led me to a cabinet about the height of my chest and the width of my outstretched arms. He opened the doors, I saw it and the years fell away. The breath was taken from my body and my heart was frozen with fear. It was a primitive ritual display of bones and feathers of sacrificed small animals interspersed with clay fire pots against a backdrop of magic symbols painted on a tanned human skin. The centerpiece was a human skull also painted with ritual symbols. I had seen one exactly like it during my first voyage as Master, when I landed on Turtle Island in the Caribbean.  When I regained consciousness the guests were gathered around me and my wife was holding my hand.


As our carriage made its way through the empty streets toward home my thoughts drifted back to the  circumstances of my childhood. I was born William Fletcher. My parents were indentured to one of the great plantations upriver of Charleston. My memories of that time are mostly of working alongside of them in the fields. The year that I turned 10 a coughing sickness swept through the area and took both my parents. I stayed long enough to see their Christian burial by the plantation folk and then set off for the city, having no desire to serve out the rest of their contract.


My first impression of Charleston was of a place of unimagined wonder. I was amazed by the size of the place, and so many people, and most of all the ships. I’d never seen a ship and as I wandered along the docks looking at one after another my heart stirred and the sadness I felt for the loss of my parents was in some way lessened. The little food I had brought with me was gone and, as I walked along the docks I tried to think on what I might do to get by. There were men carrying burdens up a gangplank onto one of the great ships and I wondered if I might help out and thereby earn a meal. A young man in a fine brown coat stood to one side eating an apple and watching their progress. He looked like he was in charge so I approached him but was taken by shyness and couldn’t find words. The man looked down at me, smiled and said “Good day to you, shipmate!” His face was so kind and his voice so warm that everything that had happened in the last few days overwhelmed me and I started to cry. He soon had my story out of me and in no time I was eating a fine meal in a window seat of one of the taverns that lined the docks.  In response to his questions I revealed my circumstances. I had no kin, no place to go and I feared that I would be caught and forced to serve out the remainder of my parents’ indenture contract on the plantation. The man, John, was Master of the ship that was loading, and the son of the house that owned several such ships. He was sailing that evening and expected to be gone for about a month. He offered me a berth as cabin boy and I accepted joyfully.


I took to the sea naturally and could never learn enough. My duties were light and the crew thought I was lucky and adopted me as a sort of mascot. I spent the free time working alongside various crewmen  and learning what I could of their duties. By the end of my first voyage I was a proper shipmate indeed. When we returned to Charleston John brought me to the family home and introduced me to his parents. His father was impressed by the overly generous account of my seagoing exploits and his mother embraced me almost as a son from the outset. Over the next ten years I was at sea more than on land. My responsibilities increased with my growing skill and experience, and my adopted family even hired a tutor to teach me reading, writing and mathematics whenever I was home. On my twentieth birthday my father, for so I regarded him, made me Master of a small trading sloop bound for the Dutch colony of Saint Martins in the Caribbean. So began the strange voyage that I will tell you of tomorrow. Such things are better told sitting by the fire with plenty of brandy after a good dinner. For now, I’ll just say that I lived happily with my adopted family. When John was lost at sea the tragedy brought me and my  parents closer in our grief. My mother passed away a few years later and my father did his best to keep me running the business on dry land. It was too much for him then and I think he feared losing me too. When that great and good man went to his reward I was surprised to find that there was no other family and that all had been left to me. From that time to this I have continued his honest business practices and the company has prospered greatly.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Late 17th Century Highwaymen

Just before Wargames Factory handed over marketing their figures to Warlord Games they had a big sale. One of the items I acquired was enough War of the Spanish Succession cavalry to build a regiment on the Charles Grant model. I was left with 8 extra horsemen, and painted them up for a skirmish game where the dashing road agent Willie Brennan and his sidekick Mick have to outsmart or outrun Colonel Farrell and his detachment of the local Yeomanry.
Here we see Willie and and Mick galloping across my desk with the Colonel in hot pursuit. The problem now is rules. Something that has the Colonel gathering info on Willie's next move while Our Hero engages carriages full of beutiful rich women, relieves them of their baubles (except those with sentimental value!) and leaves them charmed and with a great story to tell. Does anyone in this community know of such a rule set that they could recommend?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Long Peace is shattered

Philosophers have puzzled over the extended period of 'Not War' along the border between Ardoberg-Holstein and St. Maurice. Some thought that these neighbors had simply learned to settle their differences without cannon fire and others believed they just couldn't remember what the fighting was about. As we now understand, the lull in the fighting had been due to economy measures implemented by their respective French and English paymasters. Several months ago an English envoy arrived at the court of the Elector with a proposal for a force to join a Hanoverian army of observation on the border of San Maurice. When the spring grass was capable of supporting a campaign and the English contract money had arrived, one brigade of foot and one of horse marched to join the Hanoverians.

When the Elector arrived in the theatre of operations he found the St Maurician army had already crossed the river and was encamped near the village of Snitchel. The Allied army formed up with a brigade of two English and two Hanoverian regiments of foot on the left, a brigade of four Electoral regiments of foot in the center and a brigade of five regiments of Electoral cavalry on the right. The St Mauricians, equal to the Allies in numbers, deployed with their foot in the center and horse on both wings.

The English commander, Lord Muggles, considered the Electoral contingent to be under his command as it was an English subsidy that had brought them to the field. As in past joint operations, the Elector ignored Muggles' presumption and regarded the man as the most tedious of his three brigadiers. The Elector's battle plan was for Muggles to adopt a defensive stance on the left while the Electoral infantry in the center pinned the St Mauricians and the cavalry on the right delivered the decisive blow.

St Maurician Hussars take one in the labanza
Things began well enough as a raw Hanoverian regiment of foot repulsed the charge of the elite St Maurician Musketeers regiment of horse and the advancing Electoral cavalry brigade swept aside a single regiment of hussars in their path. Then things started to go terribly wrong. Von Hassenfeiffer commanding the Electoral cavalry was carried away by the majestic sight of his five regiments sweeping down on the enemy left. He was not unaware of the difficulty of breaking fresh lines of infantry with unsupported cavalry, but he knew his boys could do it! He knew they were unstoppable! His riders would shatter the enemy left and roll up their entire line. As the Electoral horse bore down on them the unintimidated St Mauricians poured disciplined volleys into their ranks and the horsemen reeled back in confusion.

The 'unstoppable' Electoral horse are stopped
The Electoral infantry press the center
The English/Hanoverian brigade, stout fighters, indifferent commander
For the rest of the battle the Electoral horsemen could do no more than launch poorly coordinated and ineffective attacks on the enemy left. Von Hassenfeiffer seemed to have lost control over his battered regiments. On the Allied left the English/Hanoverian brigade was under attack and was resisting manfully, although with little direction from Muggles. Slowly they were being whittled down. The only bright spot for the Elector was his infantry brigade in the center. What began as a pinning attack in support of the cavalry inflicted serious damage on the St Maurician center and left. In the end it was not enough and the Elector was forced to withdraw and leave the enemy in posession of the field.
St Maurician infantry taunt the withdrawing Allied army in their incomprehensible language
A pox upon he who styles himself King of St Maurice. Wait until next time!