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At the first sound of the massed drums from the forecourt of the Residence, Thomas and his friends straightened up and looked towards the large doors. The band stopped playing and every one lined both sides of the dance floor in anticipation of greeting their guest of honour.
The six friends suddenly recognized the drum music, although it was not quite the same as they had played it, the similarity was obvious. As the drums drew to a close, those in the ballroom heard the unmistakeable sound of a number of boots marching in step towards the doors.
The Junior Officer that had stood guard at the door now stepped into the opening and came to attention.
"My Lords, Ladies and Officers of His Majesties Services, our guest of honour! Generalissimo Pedro De Alacantara Tellez-Giron Y Alfonso-Pimentel, His Highness the Prince of Anglona."
Thomas and his friends watched as the small group of six officers accompanied the Prince into the ballroom. Thomas noted that General Cuesta was one of the officers. As the Prince began to walk towards where Viscount Wellington stood at the far end of the room, his eyes surveyed the large crowd of officers and Ladies. When he spied Thomas and his friends he veered towards them with a wide smile on his face and completely ignoring anyone else around him.
Thomas and his friends snapped to attention when the Prince stopped before them and extended his hand to Thomas.
"Don Thomasino, I'm so glad you could make it. The evening promised to be rather dull without you and your friends to liven things up."
The conversation of course was held in Spanish so that only those concerned would know what was said. General Cuesta smiled at Thomas and said, "Don Thomasino, did I not tell you that in our army you would be a General? It is richly deserved and I hope after your duty to England you will come back here to take up your post with us. There are many in Spain who would like to know the Patron of the orphans, the homeless and defender of the people."
Thomas could only blush redder as the General snapped to attention and saluted the young group, he was quickly followed by the other Spanish Officers before the Prince spoke once again.
"Well Don Thomasino, I have my duty to perform. I hope to have your company once the formalities are out of the way. These English can be such a bore at these functions. Until later Don Thomasino and once again, my thanks for what you are doing for Spain and our allies."
The Prince stood erect and snapped his heels together as he gave Thomas and his friends a small bow and then turned back towards where the Viscount was now impatiently waiting for him.
The ballroom had been hushed as they watched their guest of honour stop to talk to a young officer that was not much more than a boy. Only a few of the older hands really knew who the boy was and it did not take long for the soft whispers to begin to make the rounds. There were some strange looks from some of the people in attendance not least of which was a predominance of disbelief.
Just when Thomas thought things were now going to be peaceful and he would no longer be on everyone's mind, a well known voice interrupted his thoughts. The words were in Spanish and said far more than what they did when they changed back to English.
"Well Thomasino you certainly know how to put the cat among the pigeons. There is game afoot so let's stay with Spanish for now as these other young men need a little comeuppance in their lives."
Thomas turned to look at Mister Percy as he stood with a number of young officers who looked as though they would much rather be somewhere else. Mister Percy put on a Stellar performance as he introduced the new arrivals and made quite a thing about Thomas's lack of English. With a very formal bow to Thomas, Mister Percy began the introductions.
"Gentlemen may I introduce you to General Don Thomasino, Colonel Don Estaban and Colonel Don Carmelo, these other gentlemen are the General's Junior Officers whom I am sure you will get to know some time in the future. Don Thomasino is also known as the Patron El Toro, the scourge of the French."
Thomas felt only embarrassment at the titles given by Mister Percy but could not resist the temptation of a little bit of fun at the expense of these young, newly arrived officers. He was well aware that Mister Percy would have something up his sleeve if he went to all this trouble to bring the young officers to meet him.
The young officers could only stare at the young boy they saw before them. They were not quite sure if the portly Colonel was making fun of them or not. They hoped not as they were in no position to refute a Superior Officer. The young officers followed protocol even though they could not believe any of what the Colonel had said but it was always better to play it safe.
As one they all snapped to attention and saluted the group of younger officers standing before them, even though they were foreigners. Again it was always better to play safe and they had seen the guest of honour stop and speak to them as though they were old friends.
Mister Percy spoke in Spanish again so that Thomas and the others would now what he was about. It was time to set the game and he turned back to the young officers after he had given Thomas the broad outline of his plan and invited him to make other suggestions so that the young officers would think there was more going on than they were ever told.
"Well Gentlemen, it appears that Don Thomasino is taken with your respect and dedication to duty. He would like to invite you all to part take in a little competition once the winter months have set in and the army is in bivouac until next spring. What do you say, are you game for a little sport with these foreign gentlemen? It should not be too much to ask for such fine young officers? Mister Braithwaite, perhaps you can speak for your friends?"
"Well...yes Sir...I...Uhm think we could arrange something, in a friendly way of course Sir."
"Good, jolly good, I will tell the Viscount and let you know what we can come up with. The winter bivouac is such a tiresome time for the soldiers, a little entertainment will lift their spirits for the campaign ahead, don't you think?"
"Uhm...yes Sir but will the...uhm...General be permitted to do such a thing? After all Sir, he is foreign and not English. Perhaps he does not understand about English honour Sir?"
"Oh have no worries there Mister Braithwaite, Don Thomasino is very well aware of English honour. After all, he has been fighting by our side for a number of years. Perhaps you know of some of his exploits? Rolica for example. Well thank you gentlemen, I will let you know what is organised by the Viscount. Thank you for your attendance and I will let you get back to more important things."
The young officers knew they had been dismissed and turned away as the portly Colonel turned back to the six Spanish Officers to continue their talks, none of them caught the faint hint of laughter in Mister Percy's voice as they strode away to find more interesting things to do.
The ball continued into the night. At one time, Thomas was called up to the front by the Viscounts aide Colonel Lewis, the six young officers were watched closely by all those in the ballroom as he went to the Viscount and began to talk to the august body of Senior Officers, the portly figure of Colonel Percy was also noted.
When he arrived in front of the Viscount, Thomas stood to attention and saluted his leader. Around the Viscount stood his Staff Officers and guests as Viscount Wellington began to speak.
"Well Captain Marking, our friend the Prince has told me you have been offered a new commission, are you going to take it up and leave us to fight Napoleon alone?"
"No My Lord, my duty at present is to England and I will serve out my time with the army."
"I'm sure you will Captain, now then the Prince has asked me for a small favour and it concerns you and your rag tag little army of drummer boys. Are you game to put your lives at risk once again Captain?"
"If it is your wish, My Lord."
"Good man, now then the Prince is very concerned about the small village of Batuecas in the mountains west of the River Alagon. It would appear the French have placed a large garrison there and are making the lives of the people rather miserable. There are stories of reprisals and hostages, we would like you to take some of your drummers and see if you can either free them or help in some way. When do you think you can leave and assist our ally?"
"I would think we can leave first thing in the morning, My Lord. As soon as we get back to Vimeiro I will have the men ready to move out, My Lord. I will make sure we will do what we can to free the village Sir."
"Good. Now then, Colonel Cruikshank has made a suggestion about having a small competition when we go into bivouac for the winter. Do you think you would be interested in partaking? I am sure there would be some speculation about your new force and their ability to show their experience on the battle field."
"If it is your wish My Lord, I am sure I can get a few of my men to take part if we are not away doing something else at the time."
"Good show, I will let you know the arrangements once they are finalised. Now then I will let you go and enjoy the ball and entertainment. If you require anything for the Batuecas problem then don't hesitate to contact my office for aid and assistance. Also I would like you to use the opportunity to make as much trouble for the French as you can."
"Yes, My Lord."
Thomas saluted and went back to where his friends were waiting. If at all possible they were going to try to slip out before they became too bored to watch their manners. It was a mystery to all of them why so many seemed to be having fun in what to them was too much noise and too many snide whispers about others at the ball.
The decision had just been made to leave when Thomas saw a young naval Captain coming their way. When the Captain was close he smiled at Thomas and asked.
"Yes?" Replied Thomas.
"I have been asked by his Lordship the Admiral to speak with you on an important matter. Shall we adjourn to the patio above the gardens. It would be much easier there and away from all the noise?"
Thomas nodded and, followed by his six friends went with the Captain to stand outside on the dark patio. Only the faint glimmer of the many lights inside the residence made it possible to see the shrouded gardens below where they all stood.
"Captain Marking I am sorry that I have to be the bearer of bad news but the Admiral insisted you be told as soon as possible. We had not planned on relating these facts until after the ball but we will be away at first tide and no other chance seems to be available."
"What is it you wish Captain?"
"It is about your friend Lieutenant Roger Scully. I am sorry Captain Marking but your friend was lost at sea some two weeks ago. As you were named by him as his only next of kin it is our duty to inform you. There are a few small things that belonged to Lieutenant Scully that are now rightfully yours, these will be delivered to your lodgings first thing in the morning. Are there any questions you would like me to answer?"
Thomas could not believe his ears. One of his closest and dearest friends was now gone. Would there be no end to the losses he had to endure? Scully had been like a breath of fresh air and his skill had been the cause of a number of their wins over the enemy. Thomas had no idea he had tears falling silently down his cheeks as he got the image of the bright smiling face of Scully in his mind.
Around Thomas his six friends stood in stunned silence. If there was one of them that deserved to see this war to the end it was Scully and now they were being told he had been lost, there had to be more to it. Finally Thomas managed to get his head around the words and looked into the older Captains eyes, he saw that there was genuine sorrow there but Thomas had to know what had happened.
"How did it happen Captain?"
"He decided to take on a seventy two gun French Man-O-War. Sorry, that sounded flippant. It was not meant to be."
"Why would Scully take on a French Man-O-War? If memory serves me right his ship was only an eighteen gun sloop. It would be madness to even think of attacking a ship as large and well armed as that."
"Perhaps I should start at the beginning so you can understand how it eventuated. Believe me Captain Marking, what he did was an act of unselfish valour and nothing else. That's why I apologized for my comment that seemed flippant."
"I would like to hear the full story Captain, thank you."
"As you may know, Lieutenant Scully was promoted to First Lieutenant and given command of his ship the Bull Fighter. His orders were to be escort for a supply convoy of ten merchantmen and had another refurbished ship, the H.M.S. Chevron along for added protection. His orders were to get the convoy to Portugal with needed supplies and reinforcements for the war and on the return journey would take back the seriously wounded and sick that needed the care of hospitals in England. Most times he would return over a thousand wounded and sick on each trip."
Thomas stood silently and listened, it was no time for questions yet.
"Now just a little over two weeks ago, he along with the Chevron were escorting the convoy back to England with the Merchantmen filled with the sick when they were seen by the French seventy two gunner. I do not know if you are aware of all the facts about ships but the Merchantmen are slow and could barely make five knots. Lieutenant Scully knew they could not outrun the Frenchman on those terms. Lieutenant Scully sent flag orders to the Chevron to close up the Merchantmen and make a run for English waters while he stayed back in an attempt to delay the pursuit. I really don't think at that stage that Lieutenant Scully fully intended to go up against the French ship in a gun battle."
Thomas nodded his head in agreement, Scully may have been many things but he was not a fool. An eighteen gun sloop would not last long against a seventy two gun behemoth.
"From the report we got he did his best to harry the French ship without getting too close to the ships gun range and thereby forcing the Frenchman to give up the chase. He was not successful. The French ship kept its course and Lieutenant Scully must have seen no other way but to try to attack the larger ship in the hope of doing sufficient damage to make it turn back to port for repairs. The Bull Fighter was smaller and lighter which gave Lieutenant Scully an advantage with speed and manouverablitly over the larger ship and so he set about trying to use his small advantages to delay the Frenchman."
Thomas waited while the Captain organized his thoughts.
"Our report states that there was quite a sea running that day as they were nearing the entrance to the channel where the sea can become very disturbed with so many tides meeting in one place. Lieutenant Scully manoeuvred his ship until they were both laying side to the sea. While his smaller ship could dance in the troughs, the large Man-O-War tended to roll and pitch a lot more. For Lieutenant Scully it meant the larger ship could not use his lower gun deck for fear of swamping when the gun ports opened. By doing this Lieutenant Scully had cut down the guns he was facing by a third. The lieutenant's next move was almost masterful. With his better speed and the wind in the right quadrant he was able to gain 8 and one ½ knots to the seven knots of the Frenchman."
Thomas tried to see a picture of the battle in his mind as the Captain talked.
"Lieutenant Scully out manoeuvred the larger ship with his speed and managed to get astern and come at him from behind. Now Captain Marking I don't know if you are aware of sea-born tactics, but the one place you do not want any ship in an upcoming battle is on your stern. Lieutenant Scully got his position and then ran close in on the larboard side. This brought his portside guns to bear. Using his better speed to gain quickly on the Frenchman. As he came up on the stern he fired his two six pounder bow chasers and did a little damage to the ships steering, not a lot but enough to give the Frenchman trouble. As he drove his ship along the larboard side he had only the mid-deck guns to worry about as he was close enough under, that the top deck guns could not range his ship. However, they did do damage to his spars and rigging. As he went down the larboard side he fired all his port guns at the tween deck guns and caused considerable damage to that deck but he also had damage to his own ship being as he was so close under the Frenchman."
Thomas tried to follow the picture he was building in his head and nodded that he understood so far.
"After running past the Frenchman's bow he got ahead and then dropped his larboard anchor and spun the wheel hard over. Those who reported it said it was as if the ship had stopped on a penny and spun in its own length. Once fully around he had the anchor cut away and rushed head on at the Frenchman again and this time he used all nine guns on the larboard side to hit the French tween decks in the same place. They did not have time to reload their guns and suffered badly from both ball and grape. Unfortunately Lieutenant Scully's ship received quite a beating from the top deck guns and lost the T'gallants and foremast as well as quite a lot of rigging and spars. As the Lieutenant sailed past the stern of the Frenchman he gave them the last two stern chasers and did more damage to their steering. The Frenchman was now almost impossible to steer although he could call on all his sail power but was directionless."
Thomas nodded as he formed a picture in his head.
"Lieutenant Scully must have looked at what remained of his ship and crew and decided to try to finish the Frenchman or at least force him to turn for port to get repairs. He called his Master Gunner, a man by the name of Craven, and told him to prepare the only longboat left to them. Step the mast and take off his youngest crew members being his Midshipman, a young boy of thirteen years, his cabin boy and the three remaining powder monkeys. The rest of his crew only numbered three uninjured; the helmsman and two of his gunners. Master Gunner Carven was given all of Lieutenant Scully's logs and his nautical instruments and charts. He then gave the bearing for Craven to make for the English coast while he held back the Frenchman. Once the longboat was clear, the Lieutenant then turned what was left of his ship towards the Frenchman and strangest of all, lowered his colours as he got underway as best he could with what remained of his sails."
The Captain paused again to get his thoughts right.
"As he sailed towards the Frenchman they must have thought he had surrendered as his colours were lowered. Our report says they could hear the cheering Frenchmen from where the longboat was escaping. When Lieutenant Scully was within range for his two six pounders on the bow, he raised a red and gold battle flag with a large black bulls head at the centre, tied off the helm and charged right at the Frenchman with all the speed he could muster. The French then realised that Lieutenant Scully meant to ram them and opened fire just as his six pounders using chain shot tore into their sails and rigging. The French guns raked his sloop and it is said there was no one left alive when the sloop rammed the Frenchman just abaft of the middle beam. The damage he caused before the sloop sank with all hands was enough to force the French ship to turn about for a French dock and leave the escaping convoy for another day. Lieutenant Scully was a very brave young man Captain and I hope you will not forget his sacrifice like those poor sick and injured will never forget him for giving them a chance to escape. There is little more I can say Captain. I will have a man bring his personal items to your hostel in the morning. If there is nothing more Captain, I will say good night and wish you well."
The Captain clicked his heels and gave Thomas a small nod of his head as he returned to the ballroom leaving Thomas and his friends with tears in their eyes at the loss of another one of their friends. The only good thing was the knowledge that another friend in the form of Craven had made it away. Thomas lifted his head to look up at the night sky. The question in his mind was to ask why so many good people had to lose their lives for this damnedable war.
The six young officers made their silent way back to their hostel. There was little they could say and the mood was dark and sombre as they climbed the stairs to their rooms. For Thomas it was just one more debt the French would have to pay in the months or years to come.
The next morning, just before they were to leave and return to Vimeiro there was a knock on the door of their hostel room. Carmelo opened the door to see a young Midshipman and a naval rating standing with some items in their hands. Carmelo looked at the two young men and called for Thomas. When Thomas stood in the doorway it was obvious by the look on the young men's faces that they did not expect someone so young to be a Captain.
"Yes gentlemen?" Thomas asked.
"Sir." Said the young Midshipman. "I have been instructed to return to one Captain Thomas Marking the personal effects of First lieutenant Scully. Sir I wish to offer the condolences of their Lordships of the Admiralty for the loss of Lieutenant Scully and hope these last effects will keep his memory alive for you."
Thomas could not stop the tears that fell from his eyes as he took the few items from the two young men and handed them to the waiting Carmelo.
"Thank you gentlemen, please convey our thanks to your superiors and for the return of Mister Scully's personal effects. If there is nothing else we would like to have some time to ourselves?"
"There is one thing Sir. The log books have been copied for the Admiralty's records but they are intact. Again our condolences Sir."
The young Midshipman stood to attention and saluted Thomas before leading the rating away. Thomas turned to go back in the room with the wrapped parcels, at this stage he did not want to have to look through them and the need to return to Vimeiro was more pressing. When he got back to their home away from home he would look at the last memories of his friend Scully.
The travel back to their home in Vimeiro was sombre and there was little interplay among the small group of friends. It was almost with relief that they rode into the busy valley. While they had been away there had been no stopping in training or the need for their strange little army to become better in all things they undertook. After a loud welcome to the sound of the drums, Thomas retired to his little house to look at Scully's property and remember the larger than life young man that had done so much to help form their fighting force.
Thomas unwrapped the small parcels and laid them out on his table. There were three log books, a gimble compass, a sextant and a small set of instruments for measuring on a chart. The only thing left was a larger volume of charts, many with small pencil lines going from one place to another and carefully written numbers along the lines. The only thing that stood out from the normal looking pieces used by a sailor at sea was the Officer's Sword wrapped in a separate length of red cloth.
For Thomas it was the one piece that symbolised his friend Scully. Why Scully had passed on his sword for Craven to bring back for Thomas would remain a mystery, but it told of Scully's belief he was not going to live through the battle with the French seventy two gunner and wanted Thomas to have it. Thomas looked at the sword and, with slightly damp eyes, removed his smaller Portuguese sword and replaced it with Scully's. He determined to wear it until the war was won or his life became forfeit like Scully's had been.
That evening after their dinner, Thomas called a meeting of all officers and senior NCO's; it was time to make plans for the small town of Batuecas and the problems the French had created in that small mountain village.
It took until some late hour of the night before they had all agreed on a plan to investigate the goings on in the village. If the report he had got was correct, then they could be in for an interesting time. With the village being so far out of the way and tucked into the mountains, it would be harder to get his men there without being seen. It was time for the French uniforms to be worn once again.
The plan was to travel to Sabugal dressed in their usual uniforms then change and move into the French held lands of Spain via Aldea de Ponte. From there they would go up into the mountains along small tracks and come upon Batuecas from the west. For some unknown reason, Thomas decided they should all go and they set up the departing times for each Company so they did not raise too many questions by anyone that saw them move.
The move would begin the next night and there would be an hour between each Company so they did not form too large a mass of troops. Sergeant Major Croxley had the hardest part as he would have his sixteen guns to get to Sabugal and then up into the mountains without causing too much alarm from any French spies who would be around to watch for just such an event. It was decided that the Sergeant Major could travel only at night and would have to find a good hiding place for the day time.
Thomas sent out six of the younger ones to watch ahead and try to make their way as close to Sabugal as they could do in safety. As it would take six nights of travel to get to Sabugal the boys would have plenty of time to gather information and then report back to Thomas at Aldea de Ponte.
The Companies left on time the next night, they would stay off all roads or main tracks and keep to the woods or small goat tracks then go to ground for the daylight. They all knew there were very few Portuguese that would give them away but still preferred to keep their travel as private as they could.
On the night of the sixth day they all met in Sabugal. From here on they would wear French uniforms so they could also be attacked by English troops as well as French. It was now time to be extra careful and they would once again move in the late afternoon and night until they were well into French territory between Aldea de Ponte and El Bodon, where they would turn off to the east and into the mountains for Batuecas.
Thomas found his six young boys waiting not at Sabugal but at Aldea de Ponte. It had been worrying him for some time when they did not show at Sabugal but he had to have confidence they would have a good reason. When he finally found the boys he soon understood the reason for the change in their meeting place.
When the boys had gone in the direction of Batuecas they had seen a vast number of troops forming up and moving towards Ciudad Rodrigo. It was not just a small detachment changing locations, but they reported it was a massive army on the move. The date was the 10th September. Thomas wasted no time in having a letter written out by Jones and a rider sent off to warn the Viscount of the movements. If the French were moving in such great numbers there had to be a very good reason.
The town of Aldea de Ponte was sleeping deeply when the army of young men left stealthily during the night. Even the sixteen guns were wrapped and tied so as not to make too much noise in the night. It was just as the first hint of dawn rose in the east when Thomas found the markers of a small strip of yellow cloth that the six boys had set out for them and marked the turn off onto the goat track that would take them to their final destination.
Thomas's Company was the last to turn onto the narrow goat path. The sun was rising and he wanted them all under cover before anyone was moving around, although where they were was well out of the way of normal travelled roads. It took only a short time for them to find a narrow gully to hide and pass the day away. When the darkness of night came they would move onto the last stopping place the six boys had found for them and was well within reach of Batuecas.
Now that they were out of sight of any French troops, Thomas had his men change back into their normal dress. If they were going into Batuecas then they wanted to be as the army of El Toro and not as false Frenchmen. Thomas went through the last of the plans as they all sat in the little gully. He could not afford any mistakes this far behind the French lines and he had no desire to lose more of his friends to his own mistakes.
The report from his six boys had been a terrible revelation for Thomas. It appeared that the French had placed a rather larger troop than would normally have been in such a small place. There was also the terror they had instilled in what now remained of the small populace. As far as his six boys could tell, there had been a large number of reprisal deaths in the town but for what seemed no apparent reason.
Thomas decided that he and Carmelo would go into the village in the early morning and try to look around. They would dress in plain clothes and try to fit into what remained of the people in the town. There were many who were against him going in accompanied only by one other person but Thomas said he had to see for himself what they might be up against and try to find out why the French would think it was needed for such a large troop to be in the small village.
The next hour was spent making plans in case things did not go the way they wanted. It was no time to be careless, they were a long way from home and could not call on any help.
It was early morning when the two boys left their friends to make their way into the small village. Thomas and Carmelo were dressed like many other Spanish boys except for their boots which they had to rub dirt into and scuff with a stone to make them look old and worn. Their trousers were the usual heavy cotton and baggy white cloth with a large oversized smock covering their pistols. Thomas had had to leave his sword behind but he still carried all his knives and all four pistols although they would be difficult to get to in a hurry as the smock hung loosely to their hips.
As the two boys quietly sneaked into the village they were taken with the total silence, there was also no sign of the troops that were there only days ago. The village seemed to be deserted as they moved carefully deeper into it. As the two boys came to the small village square they saw one of the reasons why there were no people about to see them. The sight made them both start and a sense of shock overtook them.
In the square were the limp hanging bodies of ten men and six young teens. They had obviously been like that since the night before. Of the women and girls there were no signs. Thomas grabbed Carmelo by the shoulder before he reached for his two Manton pistols. As his hands gripped the pistol butts a heavily accented voice caused him to pause.
"So finally the great El Toro has walked into my trap. Welcome Captain Marking, or should I call you El Toro? Yes, I can see by your surprise that you did not think we would know about you. Please do not make any sudden moves, my men have been waiting a long time to get their hands on you."
Thomas let go of his pistols and looked firstly at the man and then around the rest of the small square. Everywhere he looked there were French troops with their muskets aimed at the two boys, the wicked glint of sharp bayonets also did not go unnoticed by his quick glance. Keeping his knowledge of French to himself, Thomas looked at the man once again and asked him.
"So who are you? You don't look like an officer."
"And yet I am, although I do not like to dress like one Captain Marking. My name is Major Pierre Coultard and I have been sent here for the express purposes to place you in your present position. Of course I had some help, but he assured me that the tactics we have used would be successful and so they seem to have worked as you are now here just as he said."
"And who is that Major?"
"You will get to meet him all in good time my young Captain. Firstly I would ask you to disarm yourself and your friend. We would not want an accident at this stage. We have plans for you and being shot on the day of your capture is not one of them. I have a much better idea for your future than that. Now Captain, your weapons if you please."
Thomas began to take his Manton's from their hiding place and told Carmelo in Spanish to do the same. He was not really surprised that the Major understood the language, he would test him with Portuguese when he got the chance. Thomas handed his two pistols to a soldier who stood close by. The Major watched closely and, when Thomas looked up at him he said in no uncertain terms, "And the other ones Captain. I also know about the knives you and your friend carry so don't try to delay the inevitable."
Thomas sighed as he reached under his smock and took out his pair of Purdy and Richards. Next he pulled his sleeves back and released his two fore-arm knives before bending to take his boot knives out. After handing over everything to the soldier just as Carmelo had done, and one of the soldiers had patted them down to confirm they were now unarmed. The Major smiled and then said, "Well you certainly do come prepared Captain. I had been told you were a walking armoury. Now then if you will walk ahead to that building over there, we will continue our conversation, and Captain?"
Thomas looked up into the flushed and satisfied face of the Major as though asking a question.
"Do not try to do anything silly will you, my plans for your end would be spoilt and that would be a great shame for all the hard work I have done to get you here."
Thomas and Carmelo had little option but to do as asked, they could almost feel the sharp bayonets only inches from their backs as they walked to the small stone building they had been told to go to. Once inside they saw it must have been some type of store house. Just inside the door was a small room with a desk and single chair, there was a short passage that went into the rear of the building that housed other small rooms.
The Major walked past them with a wide smile on his face and then sat behind the table to look at the young boy that had been the bane of every French soldier for so long. He was now in their grasp and his future would only extend until the next day. The plans laid for midday were the best the Major could think of.
Once the Major was seated he gave a nod to someone behind the boys. Quickly they had their arms pinioned and their wrists were soon tied tightly behind their backs. Before either boy knew what was happening, they were roughly kicked behind the knee and thrown to the floor. It was only seconds before they were tightly bound hand and foot. The Major looked down on his captives with a certain amount of satisfaction on his face.
The Major looked down on the two boys and was obviously happy with his capture. He had managed to do what a number of others had failed to do and now was the time to pay the piper and also let the boys know what was in store for them and their limited future.
Thomas looked up from his prone position on the dirt floor, it was plain the Major was feeling very happy with the way his day had started.
"Well now Captain, I suppose you would like to know how you were caught so easily."
The major turned to a door behind him and said, "You may come in, the good Captain can do you no harm now."
Thomas watched as the door opened, the man who walked into the room made Thomas stare with such hatred that he even surprised himself with the feeling. The Major smiled widely as he watched the look on the boys face. It went to add even more satisfaction to his capture.
"I'm sure you are familiar with the onetime Captain Selwynn. He has been most helpful in devising this trap for you. Captain Selwynn I have your purse here. 10,000 in gold as agreed. Do you wish to stay to watch his end tomorrow, I'm sure it will bring you some satisfaction."
The one time Captain Selwynn sneered at the two boys laying bound on the floor. As he walked past Thomas he could not resist a kick at the boy's thigh and said, "Not so big now Boy, your head will look good in a basket tomorrow."
The Major frowned at Selwynn before saying, "Well Captain, do you not have anything to say to the good Captain Selwynn?"
"No Sir, I do not speak to thieves, deserters and traitors. When I get free I will attend to him personally."
"I think you underestimate your position Captain. At midday tomorrow I will introduce you to Madame Guillotine, I am sure she will silence your tongue and end any hope you may have of reprisal to our friend Selwynn."
The Major changed to French as he called for four soldiers to take the two boys to the small room they had ready for them. He also gave other orders which Thomas listened to, the more he knew the better their chance of escape would be. Thomas and Carmelo were roughly pulled up and as their feet were tied tightly, they were partially carried and partially dragged from the small room as they heard a chuckle come from Selwynn as they were taken to the waiting prison room.
Once they had been thrown into the room still tied hand and foot, Thomas looked at Carmelo and gave a small nod before saying in Portuguese, "Looks like this is a bit more than we thought. I hope the others do not move too soon."
"Yes Patron, but they will know what to do when we do not return as planned."
Just as Carmelo finished, they heard the solid thick wooden door being unlocked. Seconds later and the Major walked in to look down at them.
"I am sorry your accommodations are not the best but they are only for the night as you will find out. I have placed extra guards around the village and this building so it is hopeless for you to try anything. I would have you freed of those ropes but our mutual friend advises against it. I would like to ask you one thing Captain. Why did you come here without your little army of boys, it does not seem like the sort of thing a soldier like you would do?"
Thomas smiled at the Major as he answered, "We are here just for a look, we had heard stories and wanted to look around first. Were we to find something wrong we were going to go back for our men. It seems Major you have ruined that plan for now."
The Major could not quite put it together but the boys seemed to be thinking they would escape and be able to do something about their present situation. He was almost ready to scoff at the idea but instead said, "Well Captain, I will give you your last lesson. It may do you no good but I am feeling magnanimous now that you are in our hands. Life, like in war, is never what it seems Captain. You would have done well to have learnt that long ago. Now you have only the last night of your life to look forward to. A pity really, you are a very talented young man and it's a shame you will never be any more than what you are right now."
Thomas looked at the Major and smiled as he replied, "That was a lesson I learned long ago, especially at Rolica, Major."
Thomas almost smiled again as he saw the faintest of frowns come over the Major's face.
"Well Captain, in that case I will give you something to think about during the rest of the day and the coming night. Tomorrow at midday you will be given to Madame Guillotine. In normal cases the convict is laid face down on the bed and the blade is then released. For you we are going to lay you on your back so you can watch the blade just before it takes your head. Once your head is in the basket it will be sent to the Emperor as proof that we have finished you. Now then Captain, I like those nice pistols of yours, quite unique. I think I will send them along with your head. The Emperor will like them immensely I'm sure."
The Major gave the two trussed up boys a last smile and left their small cell. Thomas looked over at Carmelo and whispered in Portuguese so the two guards outside the door could not hear them talking.
"We will have to wait until dark before we try to escape, it will give the others time to get into position and the guards will be tired. The Major has set only four guards to take turns as he feels we are no longer a threat."
Carmelo nodded his understanding and both boys settled back to doze, the more rest they got now would be better for them during the night to come. It was two hours later when the boys opened their eyes. Thomas's thigh ached a little from the kick but he shook it off as Carmelo shifted beside him.
Thomas stayed with speaking Portuguese as he told Carmelo to start to put their plan into operation. Carmelo wriggled until he could sit upright and began to look closely at the small room. There was only one very small barred window which was far too small for a body to get through. Next he looked at the floor and saw it was made of stone and covered with a fine layer of old straw. Far above them were the open rafters but even if they got on each other's shoulders, they were too far to reach but the clay tiles of the roof would be easy to remove if they could get up there.
While Carmelo looked about, Thomas was wriggling around until he could see the thick door. It had a very small window set with two thick bars and he could just make out the shadows of the two guards. With their inspection done, the two boys lay back and whispered their ideas to each other.
Both boys lay back to wait for darkness, they could see no way to have light in the room and that suited them entirely for what they had planned. When night had fallen they had still not seen anyone, it looked as though everyone had decided they did not need to watch them too closely or to feed them. While the boys did feel hungry and now a little thirsty, they both ignored it as they prepared to make their move to escape.
Thomas could hear the two guards outside the door. As he listened, he heard them change with another pair and walk away. The new guards would be more alert and the opening of the door to inspect their prisoners proved they would be watching. Thomas estimated they would have long guard shifts as the other pair had been at the door since their capture.
Thomas again whispered to Carmelo and his friend replied in the positive so they both settled back to wait. It was later in the evening and the small room had gone mostly dark and the only light they had was from the faint glimmer through the window in the door. The sound of the two guards told Thomas they were bored and their occasional yawns could be plainly heard by the two boys tied up inside.
Thomas moved carefully until his back was to Carmelo and then worked his way down until his head was level with Carmelo's middle back. Carmelo turned around and wriggled back until he could feel Thomas's head with his hands. It took a few minutes for him to work his bound hands into the neck of Thomas's shirt where he could grasp the small handle of the hidden dirk.
It took only seconds for Carmelo to remove the dirk and Thomas moved back up until his hands were close to Carmelo's. He felt happy that he had kept the dirk in good condition and always sharp, as Carmelo went to work on the ropes holding Thomas's hands. It took only a few minutes for Thomas to be able to wriggle out of the cut ropes. He then turned and cut through Carmelo's before setting to work on the ropes binding their legs.
The two boys stifled their groans as they freed their legs and worked the cramps out of their aching arms. Once they felt ready, Carmelo went to work building a small pile of the old straw against the back wall while Thomas pulled up his left pants leg and withdrew his black baton from the top of his boot.
Once Carmelo had his little pile of straw ready, Thomas gave him the dirk while he twisted the top of the baton and pulled out the thin six inch blade that had been hidden inside. Thomas had found the blade by pure accident one day when he was twisting the top of the cane unconsciously as he thought of something. He had been surprised when the top had come off and revealed the long thin blade. It was one of the reasons he never went anywhere without the baton.
Carmelo reached into his trousers and lifted the edge of his waist band. With nimble fingers he removed a small piece of flint and crouched over the pile of straw with the dirk close to the straw. Quickly Thomas piled the cut ropes where they would be seen from the door and took his place close to the wall where he would be behind the door when it opened. Carmelo would take the other side and also be out of sight of the guards unless they came into the room.
Carmelo had left a cleared area around the pile of straw so it would not set it all alight and end up killing them both before they could escape. With only two hard strikes of the dirk he had a good spark and began to blow quickly until he had the first flames beginning. With that done he scurried quickly to the other side of the door and nodded to Thomas.
Both boys watched as the old straw caught and began to send flames and smoke into the room, the small slit window gave just enough breeze to send the smoke towards the door and the waiting guards.
When the first puff of smoke worked its way through the window in the door, Thomas heard the gasp and a shadow filled the window. Next Thomas heard one of the guards exclaim loudly that there was a fire in the room and the rope was on the floor, the prisoners had somehow escaped. Without thinking to call for more guards, one of them unlocked the door and ran inside.
When the guard saw the fire he was well into the room and never had enough time to turn around as Carmelo jumped onto his back and the dirk slid cleanly through his throat. As Carmelo jumped from the falling guard, the second one saw him and came in with his musket at the ready and had full intensions of running the boy through with his bayonet. He never saw the second boy slip from behind the door and drive the six inch thin blade up through his chin and into his brain. He was dead before he even realised it had happened.
Thomas and Carmelo picked up the two muskets and checked they were fully loaded, the next part was to secure their weapons which they hoped were still kept in the front room. They also prayed there were no more guards inside the building.
Thomas peeked around the door to check the passageway. As he did so he heard a faint noise above and turned to look up. What Thomas saw was not only a surprise but a welcome relief as he signalled Carmelo to join him.
Thomas felt the smile form on his lips as he looked up into the smiling faces of Diego, Maketja and Pablo, all three boys had a pistol in one hand while the other was used to keep them from falling from the rafters.
They had carefully snuck into the village after dark and as they had been watching the village they knew which building their friends were held in. Once they were inside the village they had climbed up on the roof and carefully removed just enough tiles to get their slim bodies inside. They had arrived just as Carmelo had lit the fire and so waited to see what the outcome would be.
With the guards disposed of, the three boys joined their Patron on the floor as they began to work silently towards the room the Major had used as his office. While Thomas had no idea what the time was, he guessed it had to be late and the chances of there being anyone about except for the outer guards was slim.
Thomas led the boys to the front room and put his ear to the closed door and listened carefully. When he was sure there was no one inside he tentively eased the door open and peeked inside, there was no one there and he breathed a soft sigh of relief.
Thomas had to rely on what light was coming from outside as he crept close to the small table, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw all their weapons still sitting on the table where the Major had first placed them. Thomas and Carmelo wasted no time rearming themselves and preparing for the next part of the escape plan.
Before they could move outside to make a run for safety, Diego touched Thomas's sleeve and whispered into his ear. When he had finished Thomas looked at him and smiled as he nodded his head in understanding. The boys waited inside the building while Maketja went back the way they had come and jumped back up into the rafters. It was now only a matter of time before they could make their run to safety.
The signal for them to make their escape came in the form of sixteen cannons firing into the other end of the village. The uproar that the cannons made caused the French troops to stumble from their beds in a rabble of half dressed men, some even without their weapons and others trying to pull on their trousers. The loud explosions filled the night stillness as the four boys ran from the door towards the other end of the village and away from the sound of the guns. They were soon joined by Maketja as he jumped from the roof where he had sent the signal from and landed beside them.
They had gone only a few yards when a number of figures began to appear further along the narrow street. The flat crowned hats told the boys they had friends approaching, the first one was Perrin and he was carrying Carmelo and Thomas's muskets.
Thomas led the boys around a corner while he began to outline what he now wanted to do. He finished his orders just as the second volley from the guns rained down again at the other end of the village. The shouting of the French was now louder as the few officers tried to get some order into their men, as already the far end of the village was becoming a pile of rubble and the cries of those caught in the second barrage filled the night air.
Thomas was filled in with the information of what the other Companies were doing and soon decided it was time to move into the town and finish with the French. Diego gave out a very loud whistle into the dark night and was quickly answered by others in return. It was the signal for all four Companies to move in. It was clearly understood that there would be no prisoners unless the rank and file surrendered and the officers, if they survived the onslaught that was coming, were to be held separate from the soldiers.
Thomas's little army moved like dark shadows as they set about hunting any Frenchman in the village. Muskets and pistols were only a last resort as the boys moved quickly and silently from one place to the other. Most times their passing was marked by soft grunts or a sudden intake of breath which was soon followed by a gurgling sound. The cannons had not fired a third time and if the plan was being stuck to they would already be preparing to make their escape. It was now up to the boys inside the village to finish what the guns had started.
It was slow progress as each and every doorway and narrow lane had to be carefully checked as they moved further into the town. The dead and dying French were left behind them. It was a pure fight of both retribution and a desire to make the French pay for what they had done to the original people of the small village.
With all four Company's working their way towards the centre of the village, the French were pushed in one's and two's towards the central square. It was no more than a half hour since the first cannons had sent their deadly shot into the far end of town before Thomas saw that those who remained of the French had built a barricade to one side of the square.
Thomas kept his boys back and just out of musket range as he waited for the rest to gather so the square was completely surrounded. Behind the barricade Thomas estimated there were no more than about twenty soldiers and from what he knew of French ranks, he could also make out at least five officers, although in the dark it was difficult to make out who was who.
Thomas decided to give the last defenders a chance and if they decided to fight on then it would have to be to the last man except for any officers that remained at the end. Thomas called into the dark where the barricade stood, the men behind the barricade were highlighted by a few flickering torches mounted on a wall behind them.
"Major Coultard are you still alive?"
"Yes Captain, you will have to do better than that to kill a French Officer. What is it you wish?"
"I would ask you to surrender and avoid any more killing. I have near five hundred men spread through the village so there is no hope of escape. There is one thing I would ask you if you wished to leave here with your lives."
"What is that Captain?"
"If Selwynn the traitor is still alive, I want him handed over to me, and then you and what remains of your men may leave without further losses."
"And if I do not chose to hand Mister Selwynn over to you and prefer to fight you?"
"Then you will all die right here and right now. It is your choice Major and you have little time left."
"Captain there is one last thing I would like to know."
"What is it Major, you are wasting time and have little of it left."
"How did you know it was a trap we had set for you? It appears you came prepared just in case or you would not have had your men waiting out of sight."
"I will answer all your questions after you have surrendered Major, and you have even less time left so I suggest you decide right now what you will do."
From the deep shadows of the corner he was hiding behind, Thomas watched the faint outline of the man turn to the few soldiers he had left. It was decision time for him or Thomas would give the order to fire.
It took only minutes before he saw the Major stand away from the barricade and hold his hands out to show they were empty before he said in a voice that seemed to carry a little disappointment.
"Very good Captain, you have the best of me. What do you wish us to do?"
"I want all of your men to come out one at a time and place their weapons beside the fountain. They are then to walk to the western end where they will be met by my men and have their hands tied. When all your men are safely captured you will then have your remaining officers do the same. Any attempt to fight will be met with the full force of my muskets."
Thomas watched as the major stayed where he was but turned back to the dark barricade and gave the order for his men to surrender one at a time and what they had to do. Thomas's French was now good enough to follow what the Major was saying, he did not want to get caught out in the open because of a mistake.
It did not take long for Thomas's men to have the few survivors disarmed and tied by their hands. It was then the turn of the remaining officers. It took only a few more minutes to have them all fastened except for the traitor Selwynn. He had disappeared into the night.
Thomas went to where the soldiers were now waiting. In the eyes of some of them, Thomas could see fear. They had all heard about the terror El Toro and what he could do to captives. Major Coultard and his five officers stood just apart from the rank and file. As Thomas came out of the darkness the Major gave him a rather cynical nod of respect.
"Well Captain, I have kept my word, will you now answer the question I posed earlier?"
"All in good time Major, I do not break my word even to an enemy. What happened to the traitor Selwynn?"
"He ran when your guns first fired, I have not seen him since."
"Where are the rest of the people from this village? We saw the reprisals you took but even a Frenchman would not kill every person in a village."
"I do not know Captain, when we disposed of those last rebels the rest disappeared into the hills hereabouts. We have not seen one of them since then."
"Very good Major, there is only one thing left to do and then I will answer your questions."
"And what is that Captain?"
"Tell your men that I will have their hands released one at a time, they are to remove their boots and jackets and then have their hands bound once more. To give them a good chance of returning to your lines, I will have their hands tied in front so they can release themselves when they are clear of the village."
"Captain, your demands are becoming a little tiresome. It would appear you do not trust our surrender?"
"Major, over the last few years I have learned not to trust any Frenchman be he ranker or officer. If you would be so kind as to instruct your men then we can get on with other business."
Thomas waited until the Major had passed on Thomas's last demands, the soldiers were not happy but they were also in no position to refuse. It took less time to have all the rankers stripped as Thomas had demanded, and he soon had one of his Companies escorting them from the village and down the east track where they would make their way to the plains far below.
With only the officers left Thomas looked closely at them all before he said to the Major, "Well now Major, your men are safely on their way, what is it you wish to know?"
The officers relaxed a little as Thomas began to talk in a voice that was non-threatening.
"Firstly Captain, how did you know we were waiting for you?"
"Some of my men saw your skirmishers shadowing us as we came through the pass. From there it was just a wild guess and the fact I was not going to take any chances with my men's lives."
"I see Captain, then you thought it all out well as I have had large losses and it appears you have had little or none. The next question is how did you get your guns within range without us hearing them?"
"That would be my Gunnery Sergeant Major. At a guess and knowing how he works I would say he had the men pull them by hand and kept the horses well to the rear."
"Your men pulled a large number of guns through these mountains and most of your men look to be no more than young teens and boys. How is this so?"
"What you see here Major is only a small part of the army that is here. There is enough of them to move the guns when needed."
"Very ingenious Captain. Now then how did you escape from the cell, I saw one of my men search you thoroughly and yet you were able to not only break out but kill the two guards?"
"All I can say to that Major is that your men did not search closely enough. But I am not going to tell you how it was done. You never know Major, I might have need of it again one day."
"So Captain, what happens now?"
"You and your officers will be taken to the room you kept us in and locked away for the night. In the morning we will have to wait and see what happens."
The Major could only nod his head as some of Thomas's boys surrounded them and ushered them towards the building Thomas and Carmelo had been kept in. There would be four guards on the room until morning so they could not also be taken by surprise although Thomas thought it very unlikely. It was time for Thomas to get the rest of his men settled for what remained of the night. He was sure that Sergeant Major Croxley already had his guns on the way back to their prearranged meeting place at Sabugal.
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