Copyright © 2016
The Situation at Abrantes
It took two full days for Thomas to get his new recruits to the meeting place in Guarda. The slowness of the extra wagons made it a tougher trip than he first thought it would be.
The new recruits were just starting to get used to the quick mode of moving although they all suffered a little at the pace set by those who were used to it.
Thomas always sent the wagons on ahead before he started with the recruits. Even so, they still caught the slow moving wagons well before midday.
It was late on the second day when they finally saw the temporary camp that had been set up on the outer edge of Guarda. Even as they moved through the town to the camp, Thomas could feel the sense of relief from the local people. There were red and gold flags on most homes and on the white washed walls of the town was the now familiar painted black bulls head.
In Abrantes the last troops of the French still on Portuguese soil tried to look confident in the face of growing rebellion by the people. Marchant Reynaud knew that his days in the town were limited but he did not want to give up all hope of capturing the boy known as 'The Patron El Toro'.
Reynaud's plan was to force the boy to come to him. To that end he began a series of captures of the civilian population in an attempt to make the boy put himself in a position to be captured.
Reynaud was not opposed to torture or death in his pursuit of El Toro, his one desire was to break the belief in the boy's invincibility.
Reynaud had already hung four men of Abrantes and left them on the gallows for two days so the message would get out. His next plan was to round up a number of children and threaten them with the same end if El Toro did not give himself up to the French and more especially to Reynaud himself. When he captured the boy Reynaud had no intentions of making his life easy or his public death even easier.
Reynaud had asked for a special guillotine to be brought to Abrantes and set up in the middle of the town. At first his superiors had blanched at the idea but with a determination, and the use of his special orders from Napoleon himself, Reynaud got his way.
It took Reynaud three days to round up twenty young boys and girls in the surrounding country side. The anger of the locals was now a solid tension that could be felt in the very air of the town but Reynaud ignored their dark looks and quiet mumblings.
Among the captives was one boy, that had Reynaud known who he was, he would have jumped for joy... if he was capable of such an act.
The boy he selected for the first of what he thought would be many interrogations was a Spaniard; not really unusual in these days of the war. The boy said he was from Pampeluna in the district of Navarre in the north of Spain. What really surprised Reynaud was that the boy had a basic understanding of the French language.
After a few threats of harm to the boy, Reynaud got all his answers without having to actually lay a hand on the frightened boy. From what he was told, the boy was the son of a smuggler and had picked up his small amount of French from his now dead father. Reynaud had plans for the boy if only he could get him on side.
It took little for Reynaud to convince the boy to work for him as an interpreter when questioning the others he now had in his small jail. Once Reynaud had the boy's name, given as Alberto Escobar, Reynaud dispatched a rider to the French Commander in Navarre for verification. Reynaud did not want to get caught like his now dead companion at the hands of an imposter.
Reynaud now began to think he should really have thought about the language difficulty before taking on this assignment, but it was too late now. He would have to do the best he could with what he had.
The boy proved to be amenable to his needs although the boy always seemed to be wary when around Reynaud, and with good reason. Reynaud had not made it to the top of the spy network by being an easily deceived man. The last time he had not taken care, he had been fooled by a young boy that almost cost him his life.
Over the next few days; Reynaud used the boy when he interrogated the others. His young captives seemed to be more forthcoming when speaking to one of their own age group. Although Reynaud did not get the information he had wanted it still went to fill in a few gaps he had been trying to fill.
With the little knowledge he now had, Reynaud made a plan to let some of the young ones escape in the hope they would get the story out about the others still under Reynaud's control. With luck the story would reach the ears of the boy, El Toro and bring him into his grasp.
Reynaud knew he had little time left in Portugal. With the new invasion of the English army he was almost cut off from his main army and any help he could hope to get.
Thomas took his now large army of drummers into the Estrella. After two days they found a small valley they would make their home while they trained the newcomers.
Once the camp was set up, Thomas began the training after having a parade to tell everyone about the new promotions and what they would now do and had been asked to do for the new Commander of the English and allied army.
Clement had now been promoted to Company Sergeant Major. Perrin was to be one of the troop commanders and was promoted to Sergeant along with the new teen Trent, who would take over the second troop which made up the newly formed company of the Drummers Auxiliary. Cadet Lorenco was given charge of the Sharpshooters and Estaban had been given the honorary rank of Sergeant of the Spanish horsemen. Midshipman Scully was given charge of all the naval gunners as well as the extra two small cannon.
The new recruits were broken up and spread among the boys who were now known as the Originals. With each of the two troops now containing both old and new boys, the training was made easier. For Thomas there seemed to be one thing missing. It was the second day in their new camp when it struck him just as he was getting ready for bed. He had not seen Carmelo since he had joined up with Clement and the others.
The last few days had been so busy with reorganisation he had not realised his friend was not in the camp. At this realisation, Thomas half dressed as he was, ran out into the evening chill and called for Clement. When asked, the newly promoted Sergeant Major could only look in shock at his new Commander.
"He said he was going to look over the French positions in Abrantes for you. Carmelo said he would be away for about seven days. I'm Sorry Lieutenant, I thought you knew?"
"Why would he do that; he knows what that bastard Reynaud could do to him if he got caught. Damn it! Tomorrow we make plans for that town. We'll use the Originals this time. We don't have time to train the new recruits yet for this sort of attack. Ask Mister Scully to come and see me, we have to plan this right or their will be losses for sure."
Clement ran out of the tent to look for the midshipman. It looked as though they were going into Abrantes well before the new recruits were ready to fight.
It was a late night for Thomas as he worked on planning to go into Abrantes. He would have preferred to have his full company with him but there was just not enough time. Thomas knew there was a good sized French presence in Abrantes but not the full numbers; it was going to have to be a bit of a guess if he was to get his friend out of there.
The next morning, just as Thomas was about to call the originals to form up for their march on Abrantes as he looked around, he was surprised to see one of Estaban's boys, Sergio, come riding hard into the camp.
With a large smile on his face, the young Rider jumped from his white horse before it had completely come to a halt and ran over to Thomas.
"Patron!; A message from your brother Carmelo."
"What is it Pablo?"
"Your brother says to wait for his message before attacking Abrantes. The French have set a trap for you but he is working on slowing them down. Your brother asks that you wait for ten more days before going down there."
"How did you get this message Pablo?"
"Patron, your brother set this up while you were away. We have a message system set up and he will feed you information as the days pass so you can be ready when the time comes."
Thomas thought over what had been told to him. Ten days may just give him enough time to train up the new recruits so they could also join in the fight with a little more confidence. Thomas made his decision, he had to show his confidence in Carmelo and wait for his friend to tell him when to attack.
Thomas called his newly promoted boys to a meeting. There were new plans to make and hard training to get underway, the new recruits had to be ready in ten days.
It was as he sat at his table for the usual morning cafe that Thomas noted the absence of Marcelo. It was another mystery he would have to look into when he had a little more time, for now there was the needed training of the new recruits. It was going to be a very long ten days.
At the edge of Abrantes, the early morning picket guards watched the young boy in the donkey cart approach their lines. The boy was a regular each morning. His small cart was loaded with a pile of bundled faggots for the town's fires. On other mornings the boy would carry piles of dry straw for the sleeping palliases of the town's folk or for the floor of the tavern and stables.
He was a thin boy with tattered rags for clothes and was often seen half asleep on the back of the small donkey. The boy was one of only a few people in the town that had a pass from Reynaud to come and go relatively freely. Without the boy there would be no fires to cook food or heat the homes of the town and barracks of the soldiers.
The guards looked on as the boy trotted his small donkey past them. They did not even bother to stop and check his load, it had all been done before and they did not want to leave their breakfast for another useless search. The young boy barely waved his dirty hand at them as he passed.
Reynaud stretched as he watched the donkey boy enter the town. His thoughts were on his escapade last night and he smiled at the thought of his subjugation of his young interpreter. Especially the grunts and whimpers as he entered the boy's rear forcefully, ignoring the boys sounds of pain. It was one of the small perks he saved for himself in this land of subversives and terrorists.
Reynaud looked more closely at the young boy on the donkey. Had the boy been cleaner he would have 'detained' him for closer questioning. The boy was more of an age that Reynaud preferred whereas his interpreter was almost too old for him at around fifteen years. The donkey boy looked to be about eleven or twelve, much more to his liking had the boy been clean and better presented.
Reynaud's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. He turned and called for the person to enter as he buttoned up his coat. The chill of early morning was still in the air.
His visitor was a messenger. After taking the folded message and dismissing the young rider, Reynaud opened the letter and read the contents. A smile spread over his face as he read the contents. It was a report on his interpreter's background, the boy had been telling the truth. Reynaud let out a small breath and the tension that had been building over the last few days began to ease.
The boy was who he said he was. The Escobar's had been major smugglers in Navarre, often going over the mountains and into France and back with their illegal goods. There had been the old man and seven sons, five of which were now dead. But the other two had disappeared when the locals had taken the law into their own hands when it was known that the family had been informants for their enemies the French.
Reynaud could now relax, the boy was who he said he was. Reynaud could now concentrate on the present problem of capturing the rebel El Toro.
Thomas was no longer surprised to get a new message each morning about the conditions in Abrantes. How Carmelo managed to get the information was still a mystery to him. The one thing that surprised Thomas the most were the small hand drawn maps of the French lines and the layout of their defences.
Each paper was small and held only a small part of the overall defences but once all of the pieces were put together, he had a map of the town and the usual positions of the French pickets.
For the next eight days Thomas planned and met with his young friends to work out what they could do about the town. His one overriding desire was to rid the country of Reynaud. The man was a danger to anyone who spoke up against the French or showed any signs of rebellion.
Thomas knew he would need the added weight of his gunners if they were to win at Abrantes. The need to transport them faster than with the wagons led to an innovation thought up by Estaban.
The small carronades were easy to break down into three parts, the barrel and then the two parts that made up the stand. The two small cannons were another matter entirely. They were far heavier than the smaller Carronades and the need for their heavy trucks to make them stable for firing was a problem.
Estaban started to experiment with the young Midshipman on how to break them down for transport. The final result was the many mules they now had access to. It was only a matter of breaking them down with the two barrels being carried one each side of a mule. The trucks were broken down into four pieces and carried on two of the other mules. When they reached the place outside Abrantes, they could very quickly be put together ready for use.
The carronades were carried much the same way. Being smaller and lighter, they could be carried two at a time on a single mule. The extra mules needed to carry the powder and shot would be added to the number needed. In all there would be twelve mules and they could be relied on to carry their cargos much faster and over harder terrain than if it had been in the large wagons.
Every day was from dawn to dusk and even then the new recruits were kept from their beds to learn Spanish. No one got much sleep as the continual training went on late into the night. But the new recruits were now becoming fit and hard and were working well with the help of the originals.
It would have been noticeable for any visitor to the camp that there was not a single sign of an English uniform. Even the colour guard was now wearing local clothing and the new clothes for the recruits had taken most of the coin the others had in the camp.
Drum practice was kept to the tops of tables. There was no need to advertise the camp with the echoing sound of one hundred and twenty drums every day.
It was on the morning of the eight day, just before they were to get ready to leave for Abrantes that Thomas received a strange visit. At first he was astounded that the reputation of his little army had spread so far.
Thomas had been checking over his personal weapons when he was interrupted by Estaban calling him to come outside. When Thomas walked from his tent, he saw about twenty young teens and boys dressed in the usual Spanish clothes although most looked a little worn and a few of the teens even had nothing more than rags, but all carried a small bundle on their shoulders as they stood patiently waiting for him.
"Who are these Estaban?"
"They, Patron, are volunteers from Spain. They wish to join us and fight the French. All have lost family and want for revenge. They also can all play the flute! It will make the sound of the Della Guerra fearsome to the ears of the French Puta."
"That's a good thought Estaban but they cannot fight without weapons and we only have a few extra but not enough to arm them all?"
"I do not think they are ready to fight yet, but if we take Abrantes there will be plenty of arms for them all. For now they are happy to play their flutes with the drums and then train for muskets after we win. They have little left to lose and look to you to help them. Your reputation has spread through Portugal and Spain. They all see you as their Patron, their protector."
Thomas looked at the underfed teens and their worn clothing. Watching them he could see himself standing on the streets of Limehouse. Was he any different? Thomas knew he could not turn the teens away, he would just have to do the best he could.
"Ask around and see if we can get some extra food and some better clothes for them. We have a long way to go today and they will need the help."
Thomas looked at the expectant faces of his new allies. With a smile he spoke to them all.
"Welcome to the army of El Toro. We will find food and clothes for you. Are there any of you that do not know the Della Guerra?"
All the boys smiled at their new Patron, they all knew the Della Guerra and could easily play it on their flutes. It was almost a basic piece of music for all the boys to learn. It could be seen by anyone watching that the new teens had realised they had found a home at last. The years of being under the French yoke had come to an end. They now had something to fight for to free their land.
Estaban led the new teens away to find clothes and food. The rest of the camp was working hard to get ready for their move towards Abrantes, they had only two days and nights to make the distance and prepare for the attack to free the town of the French.
The movement of an army the size that Thomas now had was not an easy thing to keep from the eyes of the French. Thomas split up the boys into smaller groups of ten or twelve, he then had one of his senior or in most cases, a junior NCO to take charge of each group.
The mules were sent off before the others. They would all travel together but overland and avoid all roads or tracks. The convoy of animals carrying their heavy guns and extra supplies would have a harder trip than the boys who were the basis of his small army.
Thomas called the boys to parade. As he inspected them he checked they were all carrying everything they would need for the journey and the fight at the end. All the boys were dressed in a similar fashion although it was only the originals that wore the first form of dress they had adopted at the beginning of their guerrilla campaign.
Thomas looked them all over and nodded that they were ready. This was going to be the biggest attempt against the French he had ever planned or attempted. The Originals and his small army of 'servants' were dressed in black trousers with a wide red and gold sash. Their shirts were a crisp clean white and they wore their sleeveless black bolero jacket with a familiarity that their old uniforms would never have given them.
On their backs were the black leather packs holding all they would need. Their drums were strapped to the pack and they now wore two crossed bandoliers; one for their drum and the other with the new leather box at the centre for their ammunition.
The old idea of carrying a separate powder flask and ball pouch was now over. Thomas had made all the boys prepare their ammunition in the same form as the sharpshooters were using. The large mass of greased paper he had taken from the armoury was now wrapped into small tubes and tucked into the new pouches all ready for their rifles and muskets. It had made for quick and easy loading and they now had a way to keep their powder dry when it rained or they crossed rivers.
Every boy carried his horn handled knife in their boot top with pride; it had become a mark of the El Toro army. Many hours were spent with the Spanish and Portuguese boys to learn how best to use the knife in combat.
Thomas looked at his little army and smiled. He gave his own weapons a final check and then led the first group out of their bivouac and towards Abrantes. Thomas had only two of his 'servants' with him. While he did not know for sure where Carmelo or Marcelo were, he did have his suspicions. He only hoped they would remain safe.
The order of march had been set for each group to leave ten minutes behind the previous one. They would all make their own way to Abrantes and try to avoid bunching up. The pace was set as it always was when the boys were on the move, the Greys Gavotte.
It was late in the afternoon when Thomas saw a white horse galloping towards where he led his boys along the edge of a cliff face. Thomas told his boys to rest as he waited for the rider to join up with them. It was Pablo.
Pablo smiled as he saw his patron waiting for him. He had had to cover a lot of distance to finally find him. He carried the final message from their spy in the French camp.
Thomas looked over the message. After reading it slowly as was his habit, Thomas nodded to Pablo that he now understood everything that was planned from the other end. He now had confirmation of Carmelo's whereabouts although he was not happy with it.
Pablo left shortly afterwards to go and find his own friends. This was the last message he would have to deliver to his Patron. The game was now set. The boys had no more than two nights and one day to make it to Abrantes. There would be little rest from now until they made their target.
Thomas had told the others where they were to meet each night and was not disappointed to find a number of groups already waiting for him at the rendezvous. They would stay there until all the groups arrived. It would then be a fast meal and then they would move through the night to the next point.
It was a rugged two days and nights. Thomas's groups finally arrived outside Abrantes in the very early hours of the third morning. The small town below was still asleep and even the supposed pickets of the French could sometimes be seen nodding off as the hours of darkness and peaceful quite caught up with them.
Thomas gathered his boys under a ridge that had been detailed for him in the last message. He was surprised to see a small sleeping form next to their donkey cart when they arrived. It did not take long for Carlito to open his eyes and smile widely at the arrival of his Patron.
Thomas immediately noticed the small cart was already loaded with bundles of faggots for the next day's travel into the town. Carlito asked Thomas to follow him to the cart. Once there, Carlito lifted one of the bundles and pointed to the loose straw in the bottom of the cart.
Thomas looked and saw a number of wicker baskets on the floor of the cart, inside were small ceramic balls and what looked like a candle wick coming from the top of each one. Carlito set about explaining what they were for. The balls had been made in secret by some of the local potters. They were filled with gunpowder and small pieces metal from the black smiths off cuts.
It was the first time that Thomas learnt about Carmelo's own little army. His friend had been busy recruiting waif and strays to their cause and planned to use them when Thomas opened his attack.
The French garrison was one of the larger ones and Thomas and his boys had not taken on this many troops in one place before. This time his planning had to be impeccable or he would be looking at the bodies of his friends and troops at the end of tomorrow instead of seeing the last French garrison evicted from Portuguese soil.
While Thomas did want to see the last of the man Reynaud, he was also very aware of his duty to his small army and the need to protect them from the worst of their enemy's anger, and the revenge they would take if his plan failed.
Carlito left at sunrise to take his donkey and cart into Abrantes. There was little chance he would be stopped and searched as his routine had been well established over the last few weeks and the French pickets were used to seeing him.
Thomas kept his boys hidden in the thick trees near the ridge. Their camp was a dry one and there would be no fires for hot food for the rest of the day or the evening. Everything they did now would impact on their safety. Tomorrow morning was the day of the attack so for the rest of the day and the upcoming night, they would remain hidden and as silent as they could be.
Abrantes was set out like many of the small towns of Portugal and Spain. From a central square there was a single street that led through the middle of the town. This one was East to West. There were a number of smaller lanes that led to the houses of the people off the main one. These were the usual haunts of the waifs and strays that any town had.
The town sat on an open plain surrounded by a few tall hills and thick groves of old trees, some of which had been used for firewood or building but most of the area around Abrantes would give good cover for what Thomas had planned.
Marchant Reynaud was almost ready to put his latest plan into operation. His thoughts were no longer on the body of the young boy that had been his interpreter. Reynaud reached over and roughly pushed the naked boy from his bed. The sudden gasp as the boy hit the bare cold floor boards of the man's bedroom were ignored by Reynaud, the boy would go outside and find a place to sleep on his own.
Reynaud ran through his plan for the capture of the rebel. Tomorrow he would send his best men out to capture a number of locals. He would then send warnings out that they would all be executed if the rebel El Toro did not give himself up before the sun sank on the third day from the hostages capture.
Reynaud turned over in the warm bed, a sense of accomplishment filled him as his eyes closed on another day. He was well aware his time in Portugal was coming to a fast end. The advances of the English coalition were now coming closer than he would have liked and he did not want to be trapped here longer than needed.
It was just before dawn and the first faint greyness had not yet started when Reynaud was awoken from his sleep by a strange sound far off from the town. It was only moments later when he heard the sound of running footsteps on the wooden floor outside his room.
Reynaud tried to clear his head as furious rapping on his door made him search for his clothing. In the distance outside he could now make out what sounded like a single drum far off from the town. A sudden shudder went through Reynaud as the implications of what he was hearing broke through his sleep filled brain. There was only one person that was notorious for sounding the drum.
El Toro had caught him with his pants down. Reynaud was already yelling commands as he struggled with his shirt and coat. The trooper outside was trying to listen to everything and keep one ear on the sound of the drum and what it boded for the soldiers encamped in the small town.
As Reynaud ran from his room, he was certain he could hear a second drum start up from the other side of the town. He dearly hoped he was wrong. The implication was that his men were surrounded on all sides, not something he wanted to contemplate.
As the first dim greyness of the dawn light began to colour the sky; Reynaud and his men began to hear other drums slowly join the long rata-tat-tat of the first one until the town seemed to be surrounded by the loud sound of drums.
Reynaud ran out into the small yard of the house he had taken over for his own use. As he did so, the massed drums that now definitely surrounded the town, grew silent. The sudden cessation of sound stopped everyone in their tracks. There were nervous looks as the troops stopped the headlong rushing and tried to peer into the dim light of dawn. There was little for them to see.
Just when they thought it was all over, the massed hidden drums began again, but this time it was the tune they hoped dearly would not begin. The drums were soon joined by the new sound of flutes and the notes of the Della Guerra soon filled the air around the small town.
Reynaud saw the look of fear on the soldiers faces, everyone knew what that particular tune meant. They had all heard the stories of the fearless rebel El Toro and now, here they were facing the terror of Portugal for themselves. It was not a pleasant feeling to know they would soon be under his many guns.
The troops numbered over one hundred and fifty. Most were veterans of many battles but the reputation of the man they now faced was more than they had met in their murky past. Confined to the town, the last thirty Chasseurs would be hindered by the narrow lanes and their tactics which were normally used in open battle fields were almost useless. They would now be no more than foot soldiers and that began to play on their minds.
Reynaud could almost feel the loss of belief from his troops as the drums and flutes seemed to grow in sound. It was as though they were working their way closer to the town. Reynaud began to worry as he called out orders for his men to barricade the town.
Reynaud's loud yelling voice seemed to break through the fear of the soldiers and they began to make preparations to defend themselves. There was little time to fortify their position and so they began to break up the stones from the street to make small barricades and block off the lanes with overturned carts of stalls, whatever was handy for them to use.
The first strong rays of the rising sun showed the land around the town to be empty although the drums and flutes continued with the loud dirge of the Della Guerra. It was becoming unsettling for the defenders and yet, they had still not seen a single enemy out in the open.
It did not take Reynaud long to realise that the conventional form of fighting wasn't going to do them any good. They were now subject to the whims of El Toro and how the rebel would play out this insult to French superiority. Reynaud wished he had had the chance to shoot the boy he was now sure was El Toro although it was still hard to believe the boy he had seen and known to be an English drummer boy was the feared rebel El Toro.
As Reynaud looked at the hasty preparations, he suddenly became aware that there were no towns people about even though the massed drums and flutes could have awakened the dead. A shudder ran through his body as he realised they must have known this was coming, he and his men were on their own.
Thomas looked down on the deserted town as Carlito joined him and his two friends Sergio and Marcelo at the side of their Patron. Carmelo was still down in the town along with his waifs that were going to help El Toro. The rest of the population of Abrantes had left in the middle of the night as silently as ghosts and right under the nose of the French pickets. The people of the town were now hidden well away from the place they knew would become a battle ground in the not too distant future.
Thomas watched and waited for the first strong rays of the rising sun to break above the horizon and show itself to the East end of the town before he gave the signal for the drums and flutes to cease. The sudden silence in the still morning air was unsettling for the defenders down in the town.
Thomas signalled Estaban to take the next step in his plan. He only hoped he was not putting his friend in too much danger with this part of the plan.
Estaban lifted the pole with the white flag and urged his white stallion towards the town. His pace was kept to a walk so there could be no doubt as to his intent. Estaban carried a message for Marchant Reynaud and Estaban could only hope the French would honour a flag of truce, if not then he was dead before the battle even started.
Reynaud heard the call from the East end of the town. He had stationed thirty men at each end to block off the only road in and out of the town. The rest of the men were holding stations and the open ends of the small lanes and other were held in reserve in case they had to reinforce any part of their defences.
Reynaud ran to the eastern end and watched as a single rider approached the town at a walking pace. His pure white horse almost shone in the early morning light.
Reynaud watched the rider coming nearer and told his men to hold their places. Even a man like Reynaud could honour a flag of truce. He also wanted to see what the rebel had in mind. Perhaps there was still a chance to take advantage and capture the man/boy who had become a thorn in his side for far too long.
Estaban stopped his horse only a few paces from the temporary barricade that had been set up across the road into town. Next Estaban held up the message paper for all the soldiers to see. As he spoke no French he stayed silent as the Patron had told him to do.
Reynaud, while being impressed by the white stallion, knew the message was for him. At a barked command, he sent one of the soldiers out to bring it back to his hand. Reynaud saw the rider hand the message to the soldier and then turn his horse and ride off, evidently there was no need for a reply.
When the soldier returned with the message, Reynaud opened it immediately and saw the writing was that of a child although it appeared there had been a considerable amount of time spent over its construction. Reynaud ignored the odd spelling errors as he tried to read it and understand its meaning.
I ask you to surrender the town and its people and leave this place.
Your troops must disarm and leave all weaponry and mounts at the centre of the square.
If these instructions are followed to the letter, we will allow all troops to leave with their lives and retreat to Spain without hindrance.
Should you wish to ignore this message then we will open fire in thirty minutes from you receiving this message.
Reynaud read the message twice before he uttered a curse. The message was obviously written by the boy Marking. Did the little fool really think he could defeat well entrenched veterans? The boy must be crazy to think he could just make a threat and the power of the French army would crumble before him.
Reynaud almost smiled at the rash immaturity of the boy. It was time he was taught a lesson he would never forget, and Reynaud was just the man to teach him.
From his vantage point high in one of the old trees, Thomas watched as the Frenchman screwed up his letter and began to shout orders to his troops. As he watched, Thomas saw about ten more troops reinforce those at each end of the town. There were now about forty soldiers guarding the temporary barricades that blocked access to the town centre.
From his high vantage point, Thomas could easily make out the dark shapes of six people lying spread out on the flat roof tops of some of the taller houses. Of Carmelo there was still no sign but Thomas had little doubt his best friend was somewhere around.
Thomas saw that Reynaud seemed to have little intention of surrendering the town, in fact he was bolstering the defences. It was time to start to take action. Thomas shimmied down the old tree and gathered his immediate NCO group together.
Thomas had to guess when the time was up. When he thought it was about the right time, Thomas nodded to Estaban to begin.
Reynaud was staring into the fast rising sun light, the glare hid most things from him but the sudden loud noise he heard could not be mistaken for anything less than a cannon. Reynaud instinctively ducked as he heard the two loud reports. The faint sound of whistling in the air told him they were now under attack.
The first ball landed just outside the barricade but the second one landed inside and just behind the line of soldiers standing and waiting.
The ball did only minor damage and no one was hit but the intent was clear, they were now in a fight for their lives. The second rounds landed inside the barricade and two men fell screaming loudly from their wounds as chips of stone from the road fountained into the air around them.
Reynaud was now worried, the last thing he had thought the rebels would have was cannon and now he was under attack with them and had nothing to return fire with.
Reynaud lifted his head above the barricade but could see little against the glare of the strong morning sun light. As he pulled his head down at the sound of another blast from the tree line. It was then he heard something else.
The sound was definitely a musket but he was unsure from where it came. The sound of a man falling to the stones told him they now had something else to worry about.
As he thought about this new situation, another shot sounded a lot closer than he thought it should be. That there were sharpshooters about there was no doubt but where could they be. From the corner of his eye, Reynaud suddenly saw the puff of smoke and heard the sound of the third shot. Another soldier at the barricade fell dead as Reynaud saw that the sharpshooters were inside the town and hiding up on the flat roofs of the tallest buildings in the town.
Reynaud began to get the feeling he and his men were tucked tightly into a trap. To stay in town they were under the muskets of sharpshooters, to leave the town they would come under the guns of those hiding in the trees. It was quickly becoming a dangerous situation and his only saving grace or possible way out was to the West.
So far all of the enemy action was to the East of the town, had the boy not thought to cover the other end of the town and left a way out for Reynaud?
The cannon fire was continuous and their accuracy was far too good for Reynaud to ignore. The fact that he also had sharp shooters right inside the town was an added danger. He had to do something about them or he would lose his men before the fight even started.
Reynaud ran back to the centre of the town and called for his reserve troops to start to search out the sharpshooters and to use any means they had to stop them.
Reynaud turned towards the Western end of the town as his reserves formed two man teams to root out the troublesome shooters. He had better things to do and needed to see if he could get his men away so they could trap the rebel at some other time.
Reynaud was suddenly brought out of his thoughts by the new sound of an explosion close to where he was standing although a little way behind. Turning suddenly he looked back just in time to see a cloud of smoke swirling out from the entrance to one of the many small lanes. He did not miss the sight of two broken bodies that had been hurled from the lane and the large pools of blood that now covered the street under the two bodies.
Reynaud was now really worried, he had little doubt that it had not been cannon fire. It would have been impossible for a cannon ball to have landed so precisely in such a narrow lane. Another explosion further down the road soon put paid to any chance they were cannon balls.
Reynaud ducked into a doorway as he saw movement up on a second floor window and watched as two of his searchers were making their way down the narrow lane. Before he could warn his men, he saw a small round object thrown from the window by a small thin arm and the shutters close once again, the resulting explosion soon confirmed his suspicions.
Reynaud was not happy to learn that the rebel had got his men into the town during the night and they were now under close attack from unseen enemy. He had to think of something or he would not have a man left to fight when the coward finally showed his face.
Reynaud made it to his house where he had been staying. He urgently needed to look over his maps of the area for a way out of the mess he was now in.
Quickly scouring his few maps, Reynaud saw that if he could get his men out of the town and to the West, there was a very good chance to escape.
It would need them to head west and once through the pass that was just on the other side of the bend about three hundred metres from the town, his men would be free to turn south and then east, cross the river Alagon and into Spain. Once on Spanish soil, Reynaud would then lead his men towards the large French contingent that was bivouacked at Talavera.
It was going to be a long and hard march but he had little alternative if he wanted to live. With his mind made up and a plan set, Reynaud called for one of the junior officers. After quickly telling the young man what he wanted, Reynaud began to hurriedly put together his personal items.
As the last act, Reynaud pushed the pair of dragoon pistols into his waist band; took hold of the small bundle he had made up and dashed for the door.
It did not take long for Reynaud to catch up with the troops as they all hurried to gather at the eastern end of the town for their escape. What was more dangerous was the fact they were still under attack from the sharpshooters and the bombardiers high up in the buildings.
Reynaud estimated they had already lost more than thirty men to the constant bombardment and sharpshooting. He did not want to wait any longer. The chance of escape to the west and the fact the boy had not seen it would have to be taken quickly or they all faced certain annihilation.
Reynaud sent a young soldier to gather the survivors at the east end of town. The young man was surprised to not be shot by the sharpshooters, but arrived back with the survivors. Reynaud was not happy about having to leave the wounded behind but it was the only way the living would escape from the trap they were now in.
Reynaud's other problem was his few remaining Chasseurs. They were not happy about having to leave their mounts to the enemy but the preservation of their lives was now more important.
The officers tried to form the remaining men up in ranks of three but the steady fire coming from above had the men jittery. Once the barricade was open, they all began to break ranks and move as fast as they could without running towards the bend in the road only three hundred or so metres in front of them.
Reynaud took a position about the middle of the retreating men. The normally orderly ranks were now just a jumble of frightened men trying to escape. The cannon fire behind them had ceased but there were still the sharpshooters to harry them as they moved towards the far off safety of the bend and out of sight of the trap they had found themselves in.
The moving mass of soldiers turned the bend in the road and were well into the pass when they saw in front of them something they wished was not there. The sudden slowing of the escapees was noticed by Reynaud as he trotted around the bend in the road.
A sudden cold feeling went though Reynaud as he saw what was in front. The damn boy had not ignored the west. He had instead forced Reynaud to take the only way out and was now waiting for him.
Ahead of the retreating soldiers there was now a solid stone barricade across the width of the narrow pass. Standing behind the barricade was what looked like a number of young English seamen. While it looked to be no more than eighteen or twenty boys, it was what they were standing with that sent a shiver of fear through those in the front ranks.
The young sailors were standing behind six swivel guns. All of them now facing the escaping soldiers only fifty paces away. There was little time for discussion as the first swivel gun opened fire with grape shot. The rest soon followed a second behind each other. It was like seeing a broadside on a war ship.
When the six guns had fired and the boys began to reload, those who thought they would have a chance were suddenly and rudely disappointed. From behind the barricade suddenly stood about thirty musketeers. As soon as their volley had been fired they ducked back down and were replaced by another thirty.
The musketeers fired three volleys before the French really knew what had hit them, by then it was again too late as the six swivel guns opened fire once again.
The men of the French army finally broke out of their daze at the sudden attack and dived for any piece of cover they could find, any thought of escaping was now put aside in the hope of just surviving the ambush.
Their safety behind rocks and tree stumps was soon to be threatened. From the right flank came more firing and once the right had stopped to reload, the left opened up. They were now under attack from both flanks and their front.
Reynaud thought about turning back to Abrantes but was soon disillusioned as he looked back the way they had come.
Just past the outer end of the bend sat a line of horsemen. Most had short muskets but the four riders on the white Andalucian horses held very long lances. All told, there had to be about thirty mounted riders armed and waiting for the French to try to return to Abrantes.
The firing on three sides continued unabated as Reynaud could only watch his men cut down without mercy. It never occurred to him that not a single shot was fired in his direction as he cowered behind a substantial tree stump. It was as though he led a charmed life while all those around him fell to the musket and swivel gun fire.
Suddenly, as though a secret signal had been given, the firing stopped and the sound of massed drums began to play out the Della Guerra. The sound of the dirge echoed in the narrow pass and drowned out the cries and groans of the many wounded Frenchmen.
Reynaud raised his head to look at his latest failure. Thick gunpowder smoke hung in the air like a blue cloud and the smell of freshly spilt blood was mixed with the dryness of the dust. Only the maddening sound of the drums could now be heard as the French cowered under what little cover they could find.
In the minds of most of the soldiers were the tales they had been told by those few who had survived a battle against this terror of Portugal. They also knew the drums were telling them this could be their last day on this earth.
Suddenly the drums stopped and Reynaud looked up from his hiding place. With a glance behind himself he saw once again one of the white horses showing a flag of truce. The sight of so many dead and wounded made Reynaud thank his lucky stars that he had survived long enough to take advantage of the truce, perhaps there was still a way to get out of this with his skin intact.
Reynaud stood and turned towards the boy carrying the white flag. As he strode back towards the eastern end of the trap, he could not help see how great their losses were. The bodies of the dead lay where they had fallen and the many wounded had just tried to stay out of sight of the devastating fire from both flanks.
Reynaud saw that it was the same boy from the last truce. He sent one of the remaining soldiers out to the boy and then waited for the message to be brought back to him. It turned out to be short and simple.
There is no escape. All troops are to disarm and disrobe to their underclothes.
You will hold yourself in place and surrender to me and your troops will be allowed to leave unharmed. Refusal will mean the death of everyman where they stand.
Reynaud looked over the message twice before he fully comprehended its meaning. The ignominy of surrendering himself and his troops would be one failure too many. He would become the laughing stock of the French army if it were to be found out he had been bested by a boy or more precisely, an English drummer boy.
Reynaud's anger built faster than he thought he was capable of, with a loud yelling of confusing orders he called the remaining soldiers to ready for an attack on the barricade. He would not surrender to a rebel even if it was only a boy.
The French soldiers did their best to form ranks in readiness for the final charge at the offending barricade. At the end of a bloody ten minutes of furious fighting there was only one man still standing to face the enemy, Reynaud.
Not a single shot had been fired in his direction and he stood alone as he watched the line of young horsemen come towards him with their short muskets aimed at him as they sat their mounts. The heavy smell of blood and dust now filled his nostrils as he stood alone and watched the advance. The two dragoon pistols hung heavy in his hands as the youngsters approached at a walking pace.
The smaller boy at the front of the horsemen was easily recognised by Reynaud. It was the damned boy Marking and the stern and fearless look in the boy's eyes held little hope for Reynaud's future.
Thomas pulled his horse to stop just in front of the man Reynaud. Thomas lowered his rifle until the barrel was pointed directly at the man who had been stupid enough to sacrifice his own men just for his own ends. Thomas felt little for the man as he watched the smudged face looking up at him with the faintest of sneers forming on his face.
"Monsieur Reynaud, it was foolish to think I would not carry through with my message. You caused many men to die needlessly. Had you followed my demands they would even now be marching back to Spain, instead they are lying here for no reason."
"Sergeant Major Marking, I suppose you think this is the end. Well young man, it is only the beginning. We will hunt you down for as long as you are on our soil."
"Then Monsieur Reynaud, it is a shame you will not live to see that day."
With little thought or compassion, Thomas pulled the trigger of his rifle and Reynaud was thrown back as the ball entered his chest and he was thrown to the ground dead in his tracks. There was little sign from Thomas as the man fell but for those boys who followed El Toro it was a signal to finish what they had started. Not a single Frenchman would leave the pass alive.
In a dank cellar of a warehouse in Abrantes, the wounded Corporal tried as best he could to stem the blood flow from the deep gash in his arm. It was the result of a blast from a small bomb thrown from a window while he was searching for the sharpshooters. The Corporal felt himself lucky to have escaped with only a flesh wound.
The silence of the town was a little disconcerting but he also felt safe for the first time in days. In the distance he could hear the sound of a battle raging outside the town. If he wanted to escape it would have to be now or he may be too late.
The Corporal gathered his strength, shouldering his musket as best he could. His one thought was to make it back to Spain as fast as he could, he prayed that the sharpshooters were no longer about or all would be lost.
The Corporal's escape from Abrantes went unnoticed and it would be ten days before he would show up in Arzobispo to relate the story of the massacre of Abrantes and the terror of the one known as Patron El Toro. It was to be the only record held by the French of an attack by the rebel they continued to hunt for time and again.
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