Arcanum 1780: A New World
Cyrus 'Cy' MacLeod
Retired Royal Ranger
Of King and Country:
The morning air was cold, drawing life from the earth and plants, even as the sun fought to break through the clouds to breathe life back into the earth. Cyrus’s own breath clouded the path laid in front of him, even as the sharp crunch of the grass off to his left drew his attention. He had volunteered this morning, to run to town to pick up a bundle of fruit for the pie his mother had promised him for his birthday. Second son or no, she did love him dearly. He had set off promptly as soon as the sun lifted heavily past the horizon, bundled only lightly against the fall chill, leaving his coin purse behind. The miles had fallen away beneath his feet until he stood at the crossroads that would lead him into the center of Medford. It had been a longer journey to get here than to just head into Stoneham, but the journey alone had been worth it, taking him past the beautiful, rime covered Spot Pond. But it was here, at Medford, that his journey was complete. He turned away from the road leading him into town and moved closer to the tent set up by the side of the road. From beyond, he could hear the sound of uniformed feet breaking the unblemished hoarfrost of the field near the crossroads. He stepped into the tent, though not out of any need of privacy. He was far away from those who knew him back in Stoneham – from anyone who might question his actions. They wouldn’t understand why he was here, or even why he had travelled out to Medford. He smiled as his eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the tent. The clerk who sat behind the desk looked up from his papers in surprise.
Before he could say a word, Cyrus snapped to attention and spoke, “Cyrus MacLeod of Stoneham, here to enlist on my Seventeenth Birthday, sir.” He stood as straight as he could, hoping that the clerk would mistake the vibrations racking his body for unbridled enthusiasm, rather than his nervousness
The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “Stoneham? You do realize this is the Medford recruitment center, yes? You’ve come an awful long way – you might have saved yourself the hassle if you were wanting to enlist.”
Cyrus’ eyes twinkled in the light of the candles. “No hassle at all sir. I couldn’t go to the Stoneham center – the rangers were recruiting out of Medford, sir.”
This drew a smile from the clerk. “Think you’re good enough to join the rangers, then do you? To take the King’s shilling, to fight and die for him and his country?”
Cyrus could do no more than to throw up the best salute he knew and answer in the affirmative.
Later in the day, when the sun had warmed the grass and made it almost pleasant enough to walk on, Cyrus walked back towards Stoneham, his chest filled with pride, and his pack filled with a shilling’s worth of fruit. It would be a long walk back to his family, and longer walks ahead, but that no longer mattered – he was a man now, and would make his own fortune from this point onward.
Of Sand and Sun:
The afternoon sun was relentless as it burned it’s way through the sole cloud in the sky. The sand was boiling as Cyrus and his squad hunkered down behind the crest of the hill, crowded together in the lone pool of shade provided by a nearby palm tree. Cyrus, leaning against the trunk , sighed carefully, reluctant to let the dry air steal any more water from him. His eyes were locked on his commanding officer, Corporal Reuben van Etten, who perched delicately at the edge of the hill, peering over the crest like a militant meerkat. Time dragged on as the sun slowly forced them to reposition. As it slowly stole away their shade, their silent grumbling was punctuated only by Reuben’s counting. Eventually, Reuben came back down to the base of the tree, where Cyrus presented him with a skin of mostly-warm water.
Taking a shallow swig and a moment, Reuben spit out a muddy mixture onto the ground, which he proceeded to cover with some fresh sand, following the action up with a deep draw from the skin. “What I wouldn’t give for a proper drink, eh Private?”
Cyrus, trying to move as little as possible, barely managed a nod. “How many are we looking at, sir?”
Reuben stopped mid drink to burble out, “At least five score and ten. We’ll be reporting back at least ten score.” At Cyrus’ raised eyebrow, he stopped drinking again. “A few reasons, Private. In Military Intelligence, you need to think a little bit differently. We’re here on behalf of the Empire, but presently we’re reporting to a rather wealthy shire governor who is desperate to keep the Spanish away from his little paradise. The larger the enemy force, the more money is going to find it’s way back into the Empire. He’ll be over-prepared, and if you ask me? In these parts, we’re doing him a favor. ”
Cyrus nodded, smiling as the understanding dawned on him. Leaving the Corporal to the water and shade, he crept forward to the peak of the hill, carefully resting his rifle on the sand before raising his eyes above the brow of the dune. His quick count matched Reuben’s more measured estimation – a Spanish encampment, logging away in a secluded bay. It had been sheer luck that they stumbled upon the camp – they had been tracking the shores, keeping eyes out for Spanish brigs on the water.
Cyrus sank back down the hill, rolling on his back to get as much rest as he could from the brief stop before their march back to town. He was shielding his eyes from the sun, and the blinding glare off the water, when his eyes caught a hint of movement. As he slithered further down the dune, he entered into the shade of the palm once more, and his eyes finally adjusted – sails on the horizon. He stammered, grabbing Reuben’s shoulder. “Sails, no colors!”
Reuben wrangled his spyglass into position, then cursed and grabbed his rifle. “Up, boys! Add five score to the count. By the way that ship is moving, she’s headed for that bay, and isn’t looking for trouble. The Spanish have paid for some friends. Let’s go break the bad news to the governor.”
Of Snow and Suffering:
The evening air was hoary and harsh, with frost collecting on anything that remained still for too long. Cyrus’s fingers were tinged blue in the meagre firelight, the one small pleasure his squad had been allowed this evening. Although calling it a “pleasure” wasn’t really accurate, they needed the fire – they were low on ammunition, and Cyrus had been charged with casting bullets. Not because he was the best at it or the fastest, that honor sat with Willem, but because he still could feel his fingers. The icy jaws of winter were biting down on each of them, and a few had lost digits to frostbite already.
In the trees around them, the branches began to snap under the weight of the cold, their brittle branches unable to take the strain of a new layer of frost – it was a harsh winter, far worse than they had expected, and more hellish than they had prepared for. Cyrus stared into the growing puddle of molten lead, mind sluggishly drifting back to his days complaining about the heat in the Caribbean. He had been as much a fool then as now. His hands shook as he began pouring into the molds, spattering liquid metal into the snow, causing it to burrow in a cloud of hissing steam. At his side, Willem leaned into his shoulder, causing him to spill the rest of the lead into the small bundle of wood they were warming by the fire. He shrugged his shoulder, trying to dislodge his comrade, and Willem fell backwards, collapsing into the snow with a soft thud.
Hissing air through his throat to try and warm it up in the hopes of not having his words freeze before they were out of his mouth, Cyrus set the casting tools aside and went to shake his friend. “Will! Will come on, you’re just going to make yourself damp. Get up, you fool!” His whispers caused frost to speed to his beard, and his searching hand found Willem’s – it was cold. Too cold for having been around the meager fire. Searching fingers found Willem’s lips – like cleft ice. Cursing under his breath, he held his hand out, praying for the collection of frost on his hand that indicated his friend was still breathing, but it never came.
A creeping dread swept through his already icy veins, shocking his sluggish thoughts into a moment of clarity. His boot struck out and toppled some of the meager stockpile of wood they had collected into the starving fire. In the flickering light, he could just make out the slumping forms of his comrades – heads drooping, drifting towards the long, cold sleep. He spit on the ground in disgust – their officer had sent them out here to die, to have them establish a low-visibility picket to provide early warning against the warring tribes that he claimed were in the area. Cyrus burned inside with indignation, but it did nothing to stave off winter’s chill . He had two options – do nothing and slip into the cold, or disobey his superiors and keep his friends alive.
An easy choice.
He grabbed the shoulder of the nearest man who was still awake, using his free hand to pile the rest of the wood onto the growing fire. “Thackery, wake up! Get close to the fire and get as warm as you can – I need you to run out and get some more wood to dry out.” Thackery’s eyes were lidded heavily but he nodded and shimmied closer to the fire. Cyrus picked his way around, shaking his comrades awake and shoving them closer to the growing fire. Two others had joined Willem, and a few more were quite close. They all seemed hungry for the warmth, not once questioning him as they begin warming to life. He clutched his rifle to his chest as he sat facing outwards from the fire, counting out the bullets he had left. Hopefully he wouldn’t need to use any of the five before the night was over.
Of Grass and Stars:
The night air was alive with the promise of violence, a sharp contrast to the peaceful environment of the camp they were stationed in. Cyrus couldn’t shake the bad feeling in his gut that something was afoot, and hugged his rifle closer to his body. It was as simple a guard detail as it comes – out in Haudenosaunee territory, guard detail was inevitable, mandatory, and uneventful. The officers that had sent them out claimed to have intelligence that the Apache were on the move, raiding settlements throughout the area.
After the string of disasters in Canada, Cyrus doubted they had much intelligence at all. A quick glance back to the fire among the mixed group of native Haud and ranger tents brought back the chilling memory of losing three of his friends to the icy cold. His grip tightened further on the rifle until he could almost feel the wood grain of it’s stock through the cloth of his shirt.
“You hold that rifle like it is your wife, soldier.” The mocking female voice whispered out from the darkness, causing Cyrus’s heart to leap into his throat. His brain raced along like a bounding deer as he translated the Iroquois words, an unbidden smile quirking across his face as he recalled the voice’s inflection as it danced around the word for wife – Rone.
“Just trying to keep you safe.” His own words felt stilted and clumsy, even as he stumbled through the translation. Now that she had come up alongside him, he could almost make out her features in the firelight, framed by the wild brown hair kept in loose bundles and tied away from the soft features of her face. As Cyrus became conscious that he was holding his breath, he forced himself to look away – just in time to see a glint coming towards them from outside the ring of firelight.
As the glint was resolving into the head of a tomahawk in the hand of a silent Apache warrior, Cyrus’s rifle roared to life as it spat hot lead into the belly of the man, dropping him to the ground after a few unsteady steps. The tomahawk skittered forward along the dry grass, drawing his eye briefly, before the sounds of combat began to ring around the camp in earnest. Cyrus handed the rifle to the Haud woman after fixing it with the bayonet from his belt. “You take care of this, my wife. I will be back for you.” He smiles around the word for wife, and notes her smile as well – Rone. A lovely word. At least it served to bring her away from the grim reality of the Apache assault. Cyrus drew his sword and set off in his defense of the camp.
The battle was hard but brief – a few handful of warriors, but not the most fearsome they had seen – young men, full of enthusiasm, but lacking the experience of their elders. They would fight no more after tonight.
Hearing a woman’s yell, Cyrus began sprinting back to near where he had left the Haud woman, only to find her facing off with an Apache. She had the unloaded rifle leveled like a spear at the warrior, making tentative jabs forward at him while he danced around her in a circle, hooting and laughing. The heavy rifle was taking it’s toll on the woman, each lunge causing the tip to drop lower, her fatigue making each retreat more sluggish. Meanwhile, the Apache seemed barely to be breathing heavily – each time he drew his tomahawk back to throw it at her, she lunged forward and he danced aside. The moment the bayonet dropped below the level of her waist, the warrior raised his tomahawk again, batting aside another panicked lunge with his empty hand. The tomahawk gleamed in the firelight as he began to arc it downward toward her head. With a yell, Cyrus dove forward, dropping his sword and snatching at the fallen tomahawk from his first kill. Hurling the tomahawk at the warrior, he continued sprinting forward until he saw the man collapse to the ground. Stopping, he turned to the Haud woman, seeing the bayonet on his rifle glistening with blood in the firelight. She smiled at him, and it was not the demure smile of an Englishwoman, but the proud smile of the Haudenosaunee.
She approached and held the rifle out for Cyrus. “I return to you your wife.” Her smile had a glinting edge to it, and he couldn’t help but smile back.
Of Swamps and Subterfuge:
The morning light filtered through the cyprus trees that littered the bayou, giving Cyrus and his squad ample light to admire their meagre breakfast – little more than some stale bread and a shared hunk of cheese. Even this close to New Orleans, they hadn’t been billeted anywhere with a decent meal for weeks – every day had been constant counter-intrusion patrols through the bayou. Finishing his bread, Cyrus wiped his fingers on some nearby hanging moss before pulling a worn and stained letter from the inside of his waterproof cartridge pouch. He barely had time to re-read his wife Kiona’s recounting of their daughter’s young exploits before a rustling to the right drew both his attention and his pistol. When the now long-familiar sign and countersign was issued, Cyrus let himself relax, returning his pistol to it’s resting place before gently folding and securing the letter among the precious others.
Emerging from the woods covered in sticks and mud, the squad’s scout stumbled towards him, clearly out of breath and filled with a dangerous nervous energy. Dismissing Lorne’s salute, Cyrus beckoned him to sit at his side with the temptation of a full waterskin.
Between mouthfuls, Lorne managed to burble, “Sarge, you know how we got stuck out here, patrolling, while the red rags back in the city get to nob with all the pretty ladies?” Cyrus couldn’t help but roll his eyes as the man took another drink. When Lorne finally caught his breath and slaked his thirst, he continued, “One of the most absurd assignments we’ve had yet, make sure the Spanish don’t slip across the imaginary line into our territory.” Seeing Lorne almost vibrating with the force of the news inside him, Cyrus gave him a shove to shake the important information loose. “There’s a Spanish skyship that’s skirting the treetops a few miles out – can’t tell if they’re just doing the same thing we are, but they’re flying awful low to be doing any meaningful scouting.”
Perking up at the information, Cyrus felt a smile creeping across his face. For weeks now, his boys had been itching for action – they weren’t a bloodthirsty lot, but they were getting frustrated at all of the pointless orders they had been given. The grumbling had reached quite vocal levels, to the point where there had almost been a flogging the last time they were in town after Lorne instigated a bar fight. They were itching for something, and to be honest, Cyrus felt the call to action.
Cyrus and his boys had been through a lot, so as their superior he let a lot slide, more than most thought he should. Camping out in the woods like this, they more closely resembled deserters than proper soldiers – no single matched piece of kit on any of them, save their rifles. In shambles they may have been, but in terms of effectiveness and trust, they had no equal. Cyrus learned a long time ago the lesson no red rag had ever quite cottoned on to – it’s one thing to have the occasional meal with your men, but if you want them to fight for you, it required something more. Cyrus and his whole squad had been present when Thackery got married. They had buried Willem and others in the frozen Canadian wilderness. They had been shot and stabbed together in the Dakotas, suffered together. As their leader, they asked a lot of him, and he happily returned the favor.
Clapping Lorne on the shoulder, Cyrus stood, addressing his men. “Boys, Lorne here just spotted a Spanish ship slinking along the treetops. The way he tells it, I reckon they’re trying to cross the thin red line and get up to some mischief on our side of the bayou. Well we’ve got standing orders to prevent mischief. Thackery, take over for Lorne – get the lay of the land and then go keep an eye on that ship. Dowde, take Rabbit, Short and Skid, go set a few good fires – use a base camp dispersion. I want them to see the smoke and get curious as to what’s going on over here. The rest of you, get ready to follow Thackery – if that ship sets down a squad of guardabosques, we need to be in position to take advantage of that.”
Leaving his men to get themselves ready, Cyrus took a quick look at the crude map he had drawn while he was being briefed on their scouting mission. Were they inside the New Orleans’ free zone, or just outside of it? In the bayou, there were no proper landmarks, but if the Spanish set their rangers this close to the border, they could fade into the woods, not resurfacing until their purpose had long been completed. They weren’t quite as good as Cyrus and his rangers, but they could still cause significant problems for the Kingdom – they had to be stopped.
When Thackery returned, the exchanges were quick and full of energy. “Cy, they’ve taken the bait. They’ve changed course and headed right for the smoke. Wager they’ll stop a way out to set down their eyes.” Cyrus grinned. “Just what I thought. Good job Thackery.” Turning to address the rest of the men, Cyrus let out a shrill whistle to alert Dowde. “Time to move, everyone. Keep it low – if we play our cards right, we take the guarda by surprise. If we do this right, maybe we take ourselves a prize Skyship and send something nice home to our wives and girlfriends.”
Cyrus let Thackery do the leading through the damp bayou while he designed plans and ran scenarios in his head, trying to plan for the unknowable future. Eventually Thackery called them all to a halt by a nearby clearing. “They’ll pass over this on the way to the camp – only decent place to set men down for a few miles.” Nodding, Cyrus relayed his orders – to silently stalk and wait for the signal before springing a quiet ambush. His men nodded assent and melted into the woods – Cyrus nestled himself into the roots of a tupelo tree, content to wait to watch the sky darken with the approach of the Spanish ship.
It wasn’t long before the first rope fell from above, followed by soldiers, ropes and chains – Cyrus watched in silent admiration as they set about anchoring the ship to the clearing before settling into a loose column and making their way towards the decoy camp. After a half mile of stalking the guardabosques, Cyrus’s legs began to cramp – they had to act now, before they were discovered or they lost too much stamina from remaining silent in the difficult undergrowth.
The signal whistle was shrill, and the first tomahawk was thrown true – the surprise was near total, and the violence was brief and intense. After the men had been returned to the mud from whence they were born, they had taken only two casualties, both relatively minor. The guarda had acquitted themselves well, but hadn’t stood a chance under ambush from men wired for action. Rooting around in one of the soldier’s pouches for information, Cyrus found himself struck by inspiration. He looked to his disheveled squad, taking a well deserved rest and smiled. “Oi, you raggedy lot – get up off your arses and scrub the blood out of these Spanish uniforms. We’ll use ‘em to get up the ropes to the Skyship and lend us the element of surprise. Now who of you louts speaks Spanish?”
Convincing his comrades of the assault plan took less time than trying to find a uniform that fit – Cyrus eventually had to settle for a jacket that was drastically shorter than was professional. Poor Short was going to have to stand guard over the equipment they were leaving behind, because they couldn’t find a jacket that would close over the man’s barrel of a belly. A few others were forced behind when some of the uniforms proved a bit too bloody to be good disguises. They only had to last until they got up the ropes, but a lot could happen when you’re defenseless and suspended above the ground.
Fortunately, despite a few harrowing gusts of wind that tore at the roots of the trees down below, the ascent was uneventful – even Lucas’s horrible Spanish didn’t tip the crew off to cut the lines and run. Once the first four Rangers were aboard, the fight was all but over – the crew had no fight in them once they realized the squad of guardabosques had been killed. Once the rest of the squad was brought up with their equipment, Cyrus loosened his jacket. “Looks like it’s time to report back to the red rags, lads. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces…”
*Of Honor and Glory: *
There was more fear in Cyrus’s heart now than he had felt his entire last tour, now that he found himself standing outside Lieutenant-General Bixford’s temporary office. Thackery was standing next to him, slightly less upright and significantly more hung-over, more out of moral support than out of obligation. Ever since the capture of their prize Skyship, his squad had been riding high on the promise of good times in the future. Unfortunately for Cyrus, the unease in his gut had led to fear, and if the shouting from within was any indication, he had a right to be afraid.
The heavy accent of the spanish diplomat battered through the door, each word dripping with venom. “This is an act of war! Terrorism! I demand satisfaction! Your thugs murdered and hijacked a trading envoy bound for New Orleans! I demand the immediate return of the ship, all goods aboard her, and each and every member of the military responsible for this to be turned over to my government! There will be justice!”
The seconds burned into Cyrus’s stomach as the Lieutenant-General weighed his careful response. “My dear ambassador, we have the confessions of each and every crewman on that ship that they were under strict orders to fly a very well defined path, taking them along the border of the Kingdom of New England. One of them even alleged that there may have been a gust of wind that pushed them into our sovereign territory, which might be considered an invasion by someone with a less generous nature.”
After a brief pause, the ambassador unleashed a flurry of thick spanish, unintelligible to Cyrus but obviously full of displeasure and disparaging terms. “This will not stand, Bixford, and you know it. Your threats are baseless – there were no confessions, and our ship was not on your side of the border. I will see those soldiers answer for what they have done!”
Cyrus felt his stomach drop out from under him – he had been so sure about the border, but the bayou didn’t provide convenient landmarks. Sure, they had captured a Spanish Skyship, but was it worth the lives of his friends? For once, Thackery seemed much calmer than Cyrus, and this only served to feed Cyrus’s paranoia, to the point where he wanted to throttle his friend – surely that would drive home the seriousness of the situation.
Lieutenant-General Brixton coughed, politely, clearing his throat before delivering his response. “Unfortunately, Ambassador, it is no longer possible to discipline the officers and soldiers involved – they have served the fullness of their careers in the military and have now entered civilian life. Sorry old chap, but there’s nothing we can do in the matter.”
An animal cry burst forth from the room shortly followed by the Spanish ambassador, face hot with anger. Pausing in front of Cyrus, the man jabbed a hooked finger at his chest before letting out a horrid screech and storming off down the hallway. Almost immediately, Cyrus’s chest began to burn from the inside, sending wells of panic throughout his body. Thackery looked into his eyes before busting out in a grin, which only served to unnerve Cyrus further. With a great swing, Thackery slapped his meaty hand into Cyrus’s back, driving the stale air from his lungs and forcing him to sharply breathe in cool air.
“You’re a damn fool, Cy, I’ll tell you what. One stuffy dandy gets in your face and you forget how to breathe?” Thackery’s laugh was cut short as Lieutenant-General Brixton coughed again from inside his office, less polite than before now that the door was open.
The man’s barking voice caused Cyrus to shrink back against the wall once more. “Cyrus MacLeod, get in here. I need you to officially sign your discharge papers.”
Of Heart and Home:
The morning air was warm and crisp, like a freshly plucked apple. Dew leapt from the tall grass to Cyrus’s boots as he marched along the well worn road, his ordinarily heavy pack sitting high on his back. After years of marching, it wasn’t long before he found himself standing in the middle of the most important crossroads he would ever travel down.
Each of the four directions held something for him – the first road would take him back to the fifteen years he spent in the military. A long time, filled with memories, not all of them pleasant. The second would bring him to a land of innocence and promise – a place he no longer belonged. The third was a longer road, terminating in one of the few cradles of civilization that remain – tempting, but ultimately a distraction from his current aims. The fourth, and last road, led to a relic of the past – a place he had set foot in only once, after his life had been set down a different path.
Cyrus looked down each of the roads in turn before smiling at the new marker that had been erected, destinations blazed in burned wood – Lexington, Stoneham, Boston, Medford. His grin only broadened as he stepped out of the crossroads onto the stone path that led to the tavern where the Ranger’s recruitment tent once stood. The tent had been replaced by a more permanent wooden cabin off to the side – a concession to the intrusion of the tavern on its previous location. As he strode up to the door, he admired the small plaque above the door, adorned with a small wren nesting in a cloud, bringing a broader smile to his face – Cloud’s Nest.
As he pushed through the door, he was greeted by a slight burble of conversation – a few travellers breaking their fast by the small fireplace. Cyrus gave them a friendly nod as he walked through the common room, setting his pack and rifle up against an empty table. He stalked towards the kitchen with a singular purpose, stopping only when his eyes caught sight of the two women slaving away in the kitchen, the smaller the spitting image of the elder. The brave soldier stood in the doorway until the young girl looked up at him with a big toothy grin and darted forward with a cry of, “Daddy!” Only then did Cyrus fall to his knees and cry with relief to finally be home, wrapped in the arms of his wife and daughter.
In the few months since he had been home, Cyrus may have grown happy, but he refused to grow fat. He trained daily with the young recruits that visited the recruitment center, in a purely unofficial capacity, but always managed to seem to convince a number of them to spend the King’s shilling at his tavern that first night.
He was happy, but something ate away at him every night when he lay in bed next to his Kiona. He had his wife, his daughter, his tavern and life, but something felt missing, and it made him miserable. Surely, those things should be enough for any man. The feeling only grew worse when he sat enjoying a pint with soldiers passing through each night, listening to the stories they told. He ached to be a part of their stories, to be among his comrades again, and felt miserable for his wanting. It felt like a betrayal of both his wife and himself, to wish to be home and elsewhere all at once. It was only a matter of time before something within him won the war.