I was called before the governor. He told me that he had received intelligence that this army lodged within some ancient seat of pagan empire, in the jungles of X----- province. He’d sent covert observers who returned with sketches of a high-walled town encircled with a density of jungle, sunk into nature like a bullet set in flesh. Nobody left or entered. They tried to scale the walls, but they were smooth. There were no windows and no doors, but sometimes they’d climb to the highest points of trees and see smoke rising from some ignition in the stronghold’s belly. They’d hear chanting in the night. The rumours said an army of two thousand men, armoured for their king and god were barracked within. The stranger rumours claimed they only fought with the weapons of their ancestors, no guns. They valued the honour of battle’s lethal conversations. This valour was a weakness to be exploited. The governor explained that such private armies could not be allowed or acknowledged. It was to be smashed; cracked like a damned egg, is what he said. I was selected to lead a force of chosen men, men of stamina, cunning and, when Albion demanded, that kind of noble barbarism that has so often been the secret tinder, fuel for our Godsent imperial adventure. I say Godsent, but wonder which God sent us here, and which repelled us. For now I know that if there’s any god at all, there’s more than one. Where once I saw only Christ his harrowing, now I can reasonably entertain an infinite disorder of chicken-headed devils. My thoughts are wiry, distract.

I was assigned three hundred men. With no room in the jungle for open battle, it was assumed that detonations and artillery would clear the way and we could scatter and destabilise so remote and eccentric an adversary. It took us three sour weeks of hewing stubborn boughs and breathing air peppered with mosquitoes before a scout returned to say he’d seen the city wall. It was seventy feet high. By that time we had already discovered the broken sealant on the powder barrels and the wretched, ashen soup within. A messenger was dispatched for new supplies. I calmed the men and altered our scheme to one of containment, of encircling this citadel until fresh powder came. I sat up nights with my lieutenant, a Scotsman, Magowan. We’d plan the ways three hundred could besiege two thousand. Each soldier still possessed his private ration of gunpowder. If used only in certainty, this could be a powerful deterrent to any who might break from the compound and seek outside for aid. We’d wait for powder, our silent cannon sleeping.