CSM Harrington stood atop Tyler Knoll, his hands resting on his rifle as he gazed down at the men preparing camp below. He noted with approval the sentries were out and alert as their comrades pitched tents and took care of the native wounded. There were a good many of the poor devils thanks to the musketry from the British line during the day's action, but the rudimentary care they received at the hands of their Barsetshire foe-men was better than nothing. Shadows lengthened across the ground as the sun sank in the west; the sudden African dusk would descend soon and then, just as quickly, it would be night. The air atop the height, already cooler than the plain, would grow chilly within the hour. I'll see that the sentry up here has a coat, he thought.
Captain Pike climbed the slope, binoculars bobbing on his chest, to stand beside him. He took his pith helmet off to wipe his brow and nodded to Harrington. "All well, Albert?"
"Well enough, Fred." Up here away from the men and the needs of discipline they could call each other by their first names with all the respect comrades have for each other after many a shared trial of combat.
"Good, but we have a bit of a problem." Pike unfolded a sheet of paper. "The last heliograph signal from Fahtah says the daughter of Mustapha ibn Daud, the Al-qadi, is still missing. Her name's Fatima, Fatima bint Daud."
"Are we to look for her?"
"That's the idea. Aside from being the right thing to do, it'll go a long way towards making friends with the locals." He folded the paper away and turned to face north. "Tomorrow, I'd like you to take one of the men and two guides north for half a day. The guides say the slavers who took the lass went that way." He pointed toward a pale streak filling the northern horizon. "There, toward those hills. Here, borrow these..."
He passed Harrington the binoculars. Harrington adjusted the focus and peered through them. Dun-coloured crags leaped into being, the heights shimmering in the heat haze, and he sucked his teeth. "Those broken hills, sir? What do we know of them?"
"Not much. The guides reckon there's some kind of settlement up there, but how big or who lives there they can't say. It's on the edge of what they know. The place might make a good staging post for the slavers. If so, Miss Daud might be there."
Might? Two mights too many! Harrington passed the binoculars back but didn't voice his opinion. Even after attaining his present rank, years in the army had conditioned him not to complain about doubts and uncertainties. "What am I to do if she should be there, sir?"
"Bring her away, Fred - if it's possible to do so. You might keep an eye out for Reverend Tyler, too." He gestured down the slope to where the missionary's simple mud-walled house stood next to the millet field. "The poor devil's certainly not at home. If you should find the slavers in too great a strength, assess their numbers and report back. I'll follow up with the lads during the day, leaving about an hour after you, so you'll have us to fall back upon if the need arises."
"Yes, sir. When should we leave?"
Pike rubbed his jaw. "Early, at dawn, I think. Tell the man you choose to accompany you, and I'll notify the guides. Do you have someone in mind?"
"Lewis, sir. He's a crack-shot, and sensible."
Pike chuckled. "In that order? Very well, he's yours. Now, go down and eat then turn in. You'll have a busy day tomorrow..."
* * * *Their trek through the brush and scrub went about as well as Harrington expected. The local native tribe had suffered a serious defeat the previous day and had vanished to lick their wounds, leaving the savanna to the abundant African wildlife. Even the slavers had made themselves scarce, although his two guides found traces of them here and there.
As the little party progressed through the day, so the hills ahead grew higher. Harrington looked at them from time to time with professional appraisal, and he concluded they looked like a nasty place to fight in. God help us if the slavers have taken the prisoners into that little lot...
As noon passed at last they came to a stream, which the guides swore ran by the settlement. Harrington stood atop a small rise and scanned the area ahead. Some rough scrub, the stream, a large pool, and beyond some ruins, a millet field, and what appears to be a steam engine alongside those mud houses. A mechanical thresher or mill, out here? Interesting! Something to tell Fred about when he comes up.
Harrington thought over the options then made up his mind and turned to the others. "All right, lads, here's what we're going to do..."
And so here's the set-up for the next game, for which I'll use Pulp Alley rules. The white poker chips are the locations for plot points. The entire length of the stream, the pool, the millet field, the ruins and the hills are perilous areas. A game report will follow tomorrow.