Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My own homage to Bernard Cornwell; a preview

Hi all!

Okay, don't laugh, but on vacation this summer I did a little intellectual writing exercise, just for fun... I wanted to see if I could create a sort of ultimate homage to Cornwell's "Sharpe" series... so I thought I'd share the first bit with folks... I didn't even go back and revise it at ALL yet, but I have a story basically fleshed out (although you only get the opening bit here.). My objective was to make sort of the ultimate "comfortable" Sharpe experience.  If you wouldn't mind giving it a read, I'd appreciate any thoughts!



An excerpt from "Sharpe's Wine"

….Note: This story is meant to take place roughly in the midst of Sharpe’s Eagle, some time after the loss of the South Essex’s colors at the battle at the Bridge of Valdelacasa.

Captain Sharpe cuffed the sweat from his eyes and leaned in to peer through his glass again.  The Spanish countryside shimmered in the heat, the tall grasses and small collection of houses at the bottom of the valley seeming to move like water.
“Anything, Sir?” asked Sergeant Harper from beside him.
Sharpe didn’t answer.  He slowly swung the spyglass from left to right, trying to figure out where the enemy had gone.
The two men lay in the long, dry grass, propped up on their elbows, atop a low hill at the edge of a valley in the Castilla region of Spain.  Behind them, low and hidden beneath the crest of the hill, were another dozen or so men, half in red coats, half in green jackets, waiting for their dour commander to give them an order.   They sat in the tall grass, talking softly or trying to get a few minutes of sleep while they could.
Sergeant Harper coughed politely, as if to avoid asking the question again, and Sharpe growled.  “Nothing, Sergeant.  I’ll let you know when I see something.”  He reached the end of the valley, and swung his glass back to check it over again, wondering if he had somehow missed something in the swells of dusty grassland.
“Maybe they kept moving, Sir?” suggested Harper.
Sharpe didn’t answer, but continued to sweep his glass slowly along the valley.  He knew the enemy had to be somewhere, and his orders didn’t leave much room for interpretation.
Finally he lowered the glass. It was a beautiful piece, made in London and given to him by none other than Sir Arthur Wellsley himself after the battle of Assaye.  It was even inscribed; “In gratitude. AW. September 23, 1803.”  But staring through the lenses for too long strained his eyes, and so Sharpe looked down at the valley without it. 
He reached down to his half-empty canteen, his eyes still searching.  A quick sip of tepid water helped wash some of the dust out of his mouth.
“I don’t know,” Sharpe finally admitted.  “The hoof prints died out, and I’m not seeing anything showing they left this valley.  They’ve got to be here.”
“Maybe the houses?” asked the big sergeant, looking expectantly at his Captain
“Must be,” said Sharpe, sounding frustrated.  There was no better place to hide in the silent valley, and there was no way that any horsemen could have been moving fast enough to have gotten clean away and not left any trail. 
Sharpe looked again down at the houses, without the magnification of his telescope. It wasn’t even enough to be called a village; maybe seven or eight farm houses, low, that familiar white-ish color that was so common in this part of the world, the largest at the far edge of them.  Red terracotta tiles covered the roofs of the houses.  There were a few large fields, and some fenced in meadows for grazing… Sharpe’s eyes narrowed.
Harper nodded.  “No livestock.” 
The two men slid back down the hill, out of sight of anyone who might be in the village.   
“They’re there,” said Sharpe.  “There should have been someone, a villager… if no people, at least a pig.”
“So if they are there… now what?” asked the massive Irishman.
The tall Captain frowned, his eyes narrowing, and thought.

Nobody had ever told Sharpe why this priest was so important, but he had gotten the order to find him, at all costs, from his Colonel, Sir Henry Simmerson.
Simmerson had called Sharpe to his tent urgently, sending Ensign Denny along to pass on the message.
“Pardon me… sir?” asked Denny nervously from the entrance to Sharpe’s tent.
Sharpe grunted uninvitingly, his eyes never leaving the hanging mirror as he did his best to run an old razor over his chin. 
“Sir, the Colonel would like to see you.  Now.  In his tent, if you would?”
Sharpe scrapped a bit of stubble off the side of his jaw.  “The Colonel?”
“Yessir.  Colonel Simmerson?”
“I know who our Colonel is, Ensign.  What does he want?” said Sharpe.
“Oh yes!  Of course, sir!” said Denny, gulping.  “I don’t know, sir.  What he wants, I mean.  He didn’t tell me.”
Sharpe had sighed, and dropped the razor into a mug of dirty water.  He stood up, grabbing a scrap of cloth to dry his face.  “Whatever the Colonel wishes, Ensign Denny,” Sharpe said, sharking his head.  Nothing good could come from this.

“Father Sebastian disappeared at the same time that a small group of Frenchmen passed through Trujillo, Captain.  For reasons I cannot get into, reasons that are a bit above the pay grade of a Captain, Headquarters demands that he must be found before it is too late!”
Sharpe kept his eyes straight and level while Simmerson barked at him.  It was a trick he had learned as a private, dealing with officers; he stared just above their heads, never moving, responding to everything with a crisp “Yes, sir!” or “No, sir!”  It was often the best way to deal with officers, and Simmerson was no exception.
             “And so, Sharpe,” growled Simmerson, his voice starting lower but rising as he went, “I am tasking you to find him.  Take no more than fifteen men.  You may draw supplies from the quartermaster, and I want you back here in no more than five days with the priest!  Do I make myself perfectly clear?!”
             Sharpe nodded.  “Yes, sir.”
             He could feel the irritation radiating from Simmerson’s small black eyes, and he had to hold back a smirk. 
“What, no questions, Captain?” demanded Simmerson, sure that the know-it-all former private would challenge him in some way.
“The Light Company, sir?” asked Sharpe.
Simmerson sneered.  “Lieutenant Gibbons will take command of the Light Company,” he said.  “We will all somehow manage despite your absence, I assure you, Captain!”
“Yes, Sir,” said Sharpe, his eyes glued to the canvas of the tent.
Simmerson dismissed Sharpe with an impatient wave.  
Waiting just outside the tent flap was Patrick Harper, and he fell into step with his Captain as he walked past.
“So, where are we off to this time, Captain?” asked the cheerful Irishman, who had been carefully listening to the entire conversation.
Sharpe shook his head, his boots raising dust as he stalked back to the relative peace and quiet of the Light Company.  “We are supposed to find some idiot priest who managed to get himself captured by some Frogs and bring him back here, for ‘reasons a bit above the paygrade of a Captain,’” said Sharpe, investing the last part with a particular venom.
Harper laughed.  “Ah, just when a South Essex lad starts to get comfortable, sir… you can always count on the good Colonel to come up with something!”
Richard Sharpe didn’t answer.  Everyone knew that when Colonel Simmerson got bored, Colonel Simmerson was dangerous.  The man, who was fabulously wealthy and had patrons at Whitehall, had raised the regiment himself, and now he was determined to make himself famous.  After the disaster of the Battalion losing it’s colors, Simmerson was trying to make up ground.  The Battalion had been in camp for several weeks, without any word of the enemy, so Simmerson was sure to jump on this mention of the French.  But Sharpe would be damned if he would get anyone killed for it. 
He turned to Harper.  “We need twelve men.   Food for four days.  And pick some bastards, Patrick.”
Sergeant Harper nodded.  “I think I know just the boys!” he said, a broad smile on his friendly face.  “Rescuing a priest…  I can’t think of a better way to spend a few summer days!”

The men had spent two days getting to Trujillo.  While it was nice to be out of camp and out from under the thumb of Simmerson, the summer was brutal, dry and hot.  The sun beat down on Sharpe and his men as they crossed the rocky hills, leaving them to wipe the sweat from their foreheads and curse under their breath.  A mix of redcoats and riflemen, Harper had indeed picked some bastards.  Dan Hagman was the senior rifle, a Chosen Man who was the most accurate of them all, even at forty years old.  The regulars were all from the Light Company, trained by Sharpe and Harper, with the help of Captain Lennox, who at died at Valdelacasa.  While not up to the level of the greenjackets, Sharpe knew they were all reliable men, fighters all.
After marching through the morning of the second day, which started off comfortable but became a furnace by mid-morning, the group had gotten to Trujillo.  Trujillo was a small town up on a low rocky hill, centered on a small plaza with a single story church at one end.  There were olive orchards and fields around the town, and one entire side of the hill was vineyards.
Sharpe dismissed the men once they reached the plaza, where they fell out into the shade and refilled their canteens at a village fountain.  Sharpe knew he could trust the men to stay close and stay sober.  Every man in the Company knew that Sharpe had only three rules; fight well, don’t get drunk without his permission, and not to steal, except from the enemy or if starving.  Each man knew that there may be enemy nearby, so they stayed relatively sober as Sharpe and Harper walked into the darkness of the church.
Harper crossed himself as he entered, but Sharpe just stalked to the front of the church.  Sitting in the front pew was an old man dressed in a priest’s habit, carefully reading a bible.
As Sharpe came to a stop, the priest looked up.  His watery blue eyes peered up at Sharpe, thinning white hair surrounding a bald pate.  “Can I help you, son?” he asked, his Irish accent thick.
Sharpe started just a bit.  While he was used to hearing Irishmen in the army, he hadn’t expected to find one in a small, out-of-the-way Spanish church.  “I’m Captain Sharpe.  I was told that a priest was kidnapped?  From here?”
The old man stared at Sharpe for a second.  Then he nodded.  “Yes!  Yes, yes, please, come with me,” he said, standing and motioning to a door that led to a back room.
Sharpe and Harper followed the priest into a back room.  It was clearly a combination kitchen and dining room, and the priest waved them to sit at a rough wooden table in the middle of the room.  The two men sat on a bench, the Irish priest sitting opposite them.
“My name is Father Erin.   I know, I know…” he said, smiling, “That’s a lass name, but it’s been my family name for ten generations, and we aren’t changing it now!”  His eyes were friendly, looking at Harper and then back to Sharpe.   “People are always surprised to find an Irishman in Spain, but Ireland is doing just fine in God’s eye; it’s the rest of the world that needs help!”
Sharpe nodded impatiently, Harper smiling broadly.  “What can you tell us about your man, the one who is missing?”
“Father Sebastian?  Well, he was taken,” said the old priest, his eyes wide.
Sharpe pushed down the urge to shake the priest.  “I know,” he said, forcing patience.  “What can you tell me about it?”
Father Erin frowned.  “Not a lot, I’m afraid.  A small group of Frenchmen came through a few days ago.  They stole some food and drink and a few horses.  They came through the church, stealing what they could… and they took Father Sebastian, too.”
“Any idea why?”
The Irish priest shrugged.  “Can’t rightfully say.  They seemed to be looking for him, though.  Their commander, a small man with a black moustache, asked specifically for him.  Then they went out to his house on the outskirts of town, and when we arrived, he was gone.”
That was strange; what would a bunch of French soldiers in Spain want with a priest from some village in the middle of nowhere?  “So which way did they go?” 
Father Erin flapped his hand vaguely towards the wall of the church.  “They went east, following the road… a few mounted, the rest marching.”
A few more minutes of talking didn’t reveal much, unless you cared about how Father Erin made it to Spain, and the town’s history of winemaking.  Harper made a fantastic audience, asking several questions and nodding sagely, Sharpe fairly certain the Sergeant was only looking to irritate him.  The priest even gave a cup of wine to Harper to taste, clearly proud of it, which the Sergeant sniffed carefully and then drank down with gusto.
“Is it true, Father, that when you are stomping on the grapes, you don’t even get out of the tub when you have to relieve yourself?” the huge Irishman asked with a grin.
The priest laughed.  “Can’t say that I do that myself, but I don’t presume to speak for everyone.  Not everyone is as civilized as we are, Sergeant!”
“Thanks for the information, Father,” Sharpe interrupted, just as the priest was in the middle of an explanation of what made the grapes in Trujillo so special.  He stood.  “I’m not sure we’ll find your priest, but we’ll do what we can.  Sergeant?” 
Harper followed Sharpe out of the darkened church and into the bright Spanish sunlight.  
The tracks of the French weren’t hard to follow in the dusty road that led out of Trujillo, going past and for a day Sharpe and his men followed them, leaving what passed for civilization and heading out into the empty countryside.  
“Apparently the grapes in Trujillo are unique in the country, sir.  The ground on the hill of is, too, which makes the wine particularly special.  And it was, too… a grand red, if I may say,” said Harper, walking beside Sharpe, who made no sign of listening.  “And to think, the church holds all that land!  It’s almost like God’s wine, don’t you think, sir?”
Sharpe stifled a sarcastic response, instead looking back over his shoulder at his men.  They were good men all, and while the regulars weren’t quite in the marching shape as the riflemen, they kept up.  
“Ah, well, would you look at that!” exclaimed Harper, looking off to the west.  Sharpe turned to see a small bird rise up from some bushes.  “A black-throated diver, I think!  What a beauty!”
Again Sharpe had to hold his tongue, the heat and dust and ridiculous search grating as his nerves as much as the irrepressible good nature of Patrick Harper.  
Soon the party came to a wide valley.  Sharpe ordered the men to rest below the crest of the ridge, and crawled up to look down on the valley with Harper at his side, looking for some missing Frenchmen and a missing priest.
“So, now what?” repeated Harper.
Sharpe looked at the dozen men who had gathered around him.  “They’ve got to be there.” He motioned to two of the men, one a large redcoat, the other a rifleman.  “Peters, Horrell, I want you two to circle around to the other end of the valley, keep an eye on the road leading in.  Stay low, and stay out of sight. Let me know if anyone comes.”  He looked at Harper.  “Sergeant, I want two men posted watching those houses at all time.  The rest can rest.  Tonight, I’ll go take a look.”
Harper nodded, and the men looked at each other, glad to get orders from their Captain, glad to finally have something to do.  
        The day eventually began to cool as the sun set, the valley still silent.  Nobody and nothing moved among the houses, and nothing entered or left the valley, and Sharpe’s men lounged, waiting.  
Finally night fell, Sharpe not allowing a fire to be lit.  It took some time before it was dark enough.  Sharpe was on the ridgeline again, looking down at the houses.
“There’s definitely someone there, sir… they’ve lit a fire,” said Harper, pointing towards the largest house, which, although the doors and windows were firmly closed, still had some smoke rising from the chimney. 
“I guess they don’t expect anyone to be around,” said Sharpe.  
        Harper looked at him.  “So, how’d you propose taking a peek?”
        Sharpe shrugged as he pulled his canteen off.  “Just sneak down and give it a look,” he replied.  There wasn’t a lot of cover between the ridge and the houses, and it might take an hour to get there moving slowly, but the grasses were tall enough, and there wasn’t much moon.  
        “No sentry?”
        Sharpe looked down at the houses for the hundredth time.  “I’m not seeing anything at all down there.  Maybe they’re asleep.”
        Sharp slid his cartridge box and haversack off his shoulders.  He didn’t anticipate a gunfight, and would run back to the ridge at the first sign of trouble.  He still kept his sword.  His men, minus Peters, Horrell, and led by Harper, would watch carefully for any trouble.
“Alright then.  I’ll be back.  Keep quiet,” he said, and Patrick clapped him on the shoulder.  He slipped over the ridge and started down the hill.
It took a little less than an hour, and Sharpe was careful the whole way.  He stayed low in the grass, slowly moving from bush to bush, clump of grass to clump of grass.  Occasionally he looked over the tall grass, the houses getting closer, the night silent.  Looking back at the ridge behind him, all he saw was blackness below the night sky.  There was no way anyone could see anything.
Eventually Sharpe found himself in a row of bushes near the closest small house.  Still everything was quiet.  Silently he crept through the shadows and up to the wall of the house.  The shutters of the house were closed, but Sharpe was able to peer through a crack in one.  Nothing but blackness inside; there wasn’t anyone home.  He edged through the night to the next building.  Again, nobody home.  He peeked around the edge of the house, looking across a small empty space at the largest house.  Like the others, the shutters and door were closed, but a trickle of smoke could still be seen against the sky, a greyish smudge against the black-blue night.  
And then suddenly the door banged open, startling Sharpe so badly that he nearly jumped backwards.
Out stormed a girl.  She was small, and clearly young… maybe ten or so.  She was wearing a dirty white shift dress, and no shoes.  Black hair tumbled down across her back as she stalked out of the building and into the darkness.  
Then, immediately behind her, came two French soldiers.  
One stopped at the door, the other nearly having to run to keep up, calling after the girl in French, Sharpe unable to understand what he said.  But the girl turned on him fiercely, and snapped back in French.  Whatever she said seemed to have the desired effect, as the pursing French soldier stopped in his tracks, and the other burst into laughter, oddly loud after so many hours of silence.  The girl spun back around and disappeared in the bushes. 
Sharpe carefully watched around the corner of the farmhouse, invisible in the inky black of the night.  The two French soldiers both wore the uniforms of voltigeurs, the yellow and green epaulets visible even in the dark.  The one by the door continued to chuckle as his mate stood, looking a bit lost, in the middle of the empty yard.
A minute later the girl came back out of the bushes, adjusting her shift, and walked right back past the soldiers with a quick comment in French.  Both soldiers followed her back inside, the one still chuckling, closing the door behind them.  
        Sharpe exhaled, not even realizing he had been holding his breath.  
        “There’s a girl,” said Sharpe.
        Even Patrick Harper’s voice nearly rolled it’s eyes.  “Oh, Jesus wept!  There’s always a girl!” he said.
        Sharpe ignored the outburst.  “About ten French soldiers, all in the largest house.”  The French were clearly feeling rather confident; Sharpe had made it all the way up to the windows of the building without making a sound, and had managed to peek in through the slats of the shutters and make get a rough count of Frenchmen.  
        “Are we going to go down now?” asked Rifleman Jenkins, who had been with Sharpe since the retreat to Corunna.  “Catch them sleeping?”
        Sharpe shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “There is a sentry.”
        Harper looked at him sharply.  “A sentry, sir?” he asked, the disbelief obvious in his voice.
        Sharpe nodded.  Somehow they had missed the him; they had all missed him.  As Sharpe had started back from the houses, he used some haystacks as cover.  Just as he came up behind one, he was startled by a cough, a cough that was so close that Sharpe expected a hand on his shoulder.  He had frozen in place, eyes wide, ears listening.  After a moment he realized where the cough had come from.
        “In a haystack,” said Sharpe.  “Near the westmost house.  Maybe two of them.”  It was a fantastic position, one which had escaped the notice of all of the British, and it was only sheer luck that Sharpe’s careful trip down to the houses had been along a path that was difficult to see from there.  
        “Sneak down, cut their throats?” asked Hagman.
        “No, Dan… would take too long to do it right.  They’d see us, and we’d have the sun blinding us too, when it came up.”
        “So what’s the plan, sir?” asked Harper.
        Sharpe paused a moment.  He knew they could just turn around and head home now, just tell Simmerson they had no luck finding the damn priest, let the damn French go, making sure nobody got killed on this ridiculous fool’s errand.  But his ego wouldn’t let that happen.  He was given an order, and he’d carry it out, even if it was a stupid order.
        “So they can’t stay.  I looked through the houses I could, and in the

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A castle for my 6mm Baccus samurai!

Hey all!

Well, I decided to start doing some terrain for my 6mm samurai... and what says "Japanese samurai terrain" better than a big old castle!

So, finding an actual good castle isn't so easy, if you stay within the miniatures world... there just isn't a great one out there. 

But who knew... there is an entire world of models from the model community that fits the bill! 

This one is from the company Doyusha, and is the 1/350 scale model of Osaka castle.  While it isn't quite 6mm (it is a tiny bit small) it works PERFECTLY, especially since we all know that scenery often works best when it is slightly smaller in scale than the figures.  This difference in this one is so slight that you don't even notice.

The model took only a short while to glue together, and I only messed up once or twice... first model I've ever done, so what can you expect?  Overall I think it turned out very nice.  I went with white and gold, and did the roof in black instead of the greenish look... I thought it would look a bit better, and I think I was right.  I added the cherry tree to give it a bit of color when I painted it, and put it where there was supposed to be a cannon.  I didn't add some of the little roof tidbits, as I figure they would just knocked over... this thing has to be functional.

But maybe my favorite part of this whole thing is that the samurai bases I made can fit right inside of it!  In fact, see the unit above? It was inside the castle in all the photos I took for this blog post!  I just had to add a little plastic floor and voila; they fit PERFECTLY.

So... thats it!  A friend recommended maybe grassing some of the courtyard, but looking at the stairs, and where the paths would logically be, I struggled a bit at figuring out where they would go.

Next up?  A pair of torii gates from Gamecraft Miniatures... and then, fingers crossed, my order from Mura Miniatures should arrive. 

Thanks, all, for stopping by for a look!