The fog of war lies thick in front of Hector and his men. The Russians were beaten at Mogilev, but nobody knows if they are hurrying towards Smolensk or if they are preparing a defensive line, or even worse an ambush. With clear orders to plunder as much supplies as possible, the French forces quickly fan out, each with a mission of their own:
Unfortunately, the French officers take a while to get started, arguing back and forth before settling with this plan. So it's well after noon when the forces start to move, and already the supplies causes a bit of alarm, as we use one sack of supplies, leaving the supply wagon with a measly single sack of garlic and bread.
As the sun sets, the dragoons completely fail to maraud a single cow along the road. Not a good start for the campaign. Not a good start at all. But at least the spy manages to find a spot were a small sand bank might allow my troops to cross the river. As night approaches, the detachment of light cavalry scouts the terrain in front of the army. Dire news: the river crossing is not just guarded, but the Russians seem to be busy forming up an actual defensive line there! If they manage to build up their forces around Rudnja, it could become a hard nut to crack.
July 27, Morning
The French infantrymen wake up at dawn surrounded by crops and a few spread out farmsteads. The supply wagons are almost empty, so the orders for the morning are clear: take everything that's not nailed down!
And then, take those nails, and take whatever they were attached to as well!
The cavalry screen is sent further down the river to look for a third potential crossing, but fail to find one. Meanwhile, our spy works his way across the river crossing he found yesterday, and is sent in a wide arch to approach Rudnja from behind, to see if reinforcements are arriving.
Evidently a night's sleep did wonders, because all three forces manage to loot their areas, and fill their wagons with food for several days of marching. This will be very helpful, but Bidet's orders are to gather as much supplies as possible, not just feed himself.
Then something strange happens. A Russian serf, dressed in rags and carrying a broken pitchfork, comes strolling a stone's throw next to the road. Apparently he is completely unfazed by the French invasion. One of the French line infantry officers, Captain Dijk van den Bockenklockentocken, becomes suspicious due to the Russian's behaviour. The towering, vile, giant of a Dutchman was raised in the streets of Rotterdam before joining the French army, and has never let his guard down since then. His suspicion doubles when the serf stops for a second, looks in both directions, and quickly shuffles his hands under his tattered cloak.
Dijk sends out a pair of voltigeurs to catch the Russian, and after a quick dash they catch their prey. The serf has great troubles to explain why he carries a bunch of papers, and even harder to explain why they include cruedly drawn notes about the composition of the French forces!
Hector Bidet thanks Dijk for his awareness, and rewards him with a bottle of his finest cognac. The nefarious spy refuses to talk, and is tied to the supply wagons. Maybe a few days of marching in the dust of the suppy train will make him more eager to dispense of any information about his Russian masters?
July 27, Evening
The spy Percule arrives at the front of the French columns at noon, and reports that there are swarms of Russians all around Rudnja. If the town is not taken immediately, there are at least two forces ready to bolster the defenses!
Hector's plan was initially to carefully capture all available food on this side of the river, and maybe even sneak in a flanking force across the river. But with these news reported in, can he afford to wait? No, the Colonel would have him stripped from command if the advance on Smolensk is slowed down by a bunch or Russian recruits in a small countryside village.
Hector sends out a flurry of orders:
With the orders sent and the troops marching, there's nothing to do but to sharpen our bayonets and prepare to push our way across the river at Rudjna.
Au plus dru!