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Once his prisoners were well settled in the small cell, Thomas set about checking his other Companies readiness to return to Sabugal ahead of his own. Thomas was going to escort his prisoners along the way where he would then see to their fate. The other Companies were to go ahead and then wait for his return at Sabugal and they would then decide what was to happen before any thought of returning to Vimeiro.
With the other three companies sent off, Thomas returned to what was needed for the rest of their short stay. Thomas went to check on his guards and then returned to one of the small houses where they had set up to stay the night. Sergio and Carlito were already busy preparing their evening meal when he walked into the small house. After removing his jacket he settled down to talk over what was to happen the next day with Carmelo.
The evening went by without any problems except for a message from the captured Officers asking for food. Thomas said no, they had not thought about Carmelo and him when they were captives so Thomas now repaid their thoughtlessness.
The sun had been in the sky for more than an hour when Thomas called for the prisoners to be brought out and have their hands tied behind their backs. When Major Coultard saw what was about to happen he asked Thomas with a voice of concern and distrust.
"What is this Captain, you said we could go free after we surrendered?"
"I said your men could go free, you and your Officers have committed murder against the people of this village and shall pay for that."
"This is preposterous! You cannot hold us responsible for any acts, such as you seem to think occurred here, it is war Captain and things like that happen. It is a part of securing your position."
"It was murder Major, regardless of what you like to call it. Now enough said, you will be escorted back to the plains. Any trouble from you or your Officers will result in immediate execution for those involved. Is that clear Major?"
"You will pay for this Captain! I will see to it personally."
"That may be Major, but for now you will do as I ask or I will leave you here for the people of the village to take care of when they return."
The Major did not look happy but he also did not want to be tied up and defenseless if the villagers returned to their homes. He finally stayed silent as Thomas got his boys ready to leave. The Prisoners were placed in the centre of the column as Thomas led his men westward and down along the goat track that led from the small village.
By the middle of the afternoon, Thomas's column and his prisoners were within sight of the plains below, far off in the distance they could just make out a fine tendril of rising dust. The French army was still on the move, but fortunately they were not going in the direction Thomas meant to take.
Once down on the plain, Thomas set his line of march for the area around Aldea de Ponte. He wanted to be within sight before dark so he had time to find a hiding place for the night. Thomas kept his prisoners thirsty and hungry, it was an easy and effective way of controlling them as they pushed harder forward.
Thomas found his camping place for the night and set his guards. After checking the bonds of the prisoners he allowed them to have a small dry meal and some water before making sure they could not escape during the night. Thomas discussed the plans for the next day and then went to find a good place to sleep. It had been a long and stressful few days and he was ready for it to end, but not before he did one last thing that he felt was important not only to himself and his friends but to further disrupt the French.
The morning dawned as though it was signalling what sort of day it would be. There was a heavy overcast sky with the threat of rain in the mountains behind them and a cold wind was beginning to ruffle the few trees where the camp had been set up.
Once the Company had eaten their first meal of the day, Thomas told his sergeant to take the rest of the men towards the meeting place at Sabugal while he and a small force would turn towards the north with the prisoners. Thomas felt that the smaller the force going north, the less chance there was for them to get into trouble with the French they had seen moving west.
With the rest of his Company on their way to Sabugal, Thomas turned north with the prisoners and a small force. They travelled faster than the Major and his Officers liked but it was keep up or be left to the mercy of the local people; the Officers did their best to keep up.
When Thomas and his small force got to a place he guessed was in a triangle between the three towns of Fuentes d' Onoro, El Bodon and Ciudad Rodrigo, he stopped them and nodded to six of the boys who were carrying ropes over their shoulders. It did not take long to find the trees they wanted and the six ropes were very quickly thrown over high branches.
With the setting of the ropes the Major gasped, surely the boy was not thinking of doing what the Officer thought he was. It was not to be their lucky day. With little emotion showing in his voice or attitude, Thomas looked at the six Officers and said, "Major Coultard, you and your Officers committed murder of innocent villagers. As an Officer of Spain and England I sentence all of you to death by hanging."
While the Officers all started to yell and growl Thomas nodded to his men and the Officers were hustled into place below the tree where the ropes hung. The five Officers were placed under the tree and each had a rope fastened around their necks, Thomas made the Major stand back and watch what his decisions had brought on his men. Behind each Officer was one of Thomas's men with a pistol pressed against the heads of all five.
With a nod from Thomas, the rest of his small party took up the first rope and pulled the man up until he was a good two feet off the ground, they then tied the rope off around the tree trunk and went to the next one. The sound of the first Officer's gurgles were still loud as they worked on hoisting the second to hang beside the first. There was quickly a smell of urine in the morning air as one after another the five Junior Officers were hung for their crimes.
Thomas waited until all five of the Junior Officers stopped struggling and then turned to the Major.
"There's one rope left Major, it's a pity you did not think to show mercy on the villagers instead of using them to draw me to you. Had you done so, you and your Officers would even now be returning to your lines. I am not doing this for my own satisfaction but to leave a warning for any other French that we will not tolerate the murder of innocent civilians."
Thomas nodded at his men and they forced the Major under the tree and fixed the rope. The Major was trying to put up a struggle but was easily overpowered by the number of young men that wanted to see justice prevail. Seconds later and he was dangling beside his young Officers as he fought his last battle, one that he lost quickly. With the last breath leaving the Major's throat, Thomas turned to his men in a sombre mood and led the way back south to Sabugal.
The return to Sabugal was made as fast as they could move but it was still a day and a half later before they saw the encampment of his other men. Thomas was not surprised to also see a mass of English and Portuguese troops bivouacked nearby. It appeared the threat of the French to the north had gotten a response from the Viscount.
It did not take long for Thomas and his small patrol to find his other men, they were all waiting for his return and welcomed them all home. There were questions about the fate of the French Officers that were answered quietly. Those listening treated the affair with silent nods and continued to stay in a sombre mood, none of them felt like celebrating such an outcome but all saw that it had been needed.
Thomas noted that Sergeant Major Croxley was waiting to one side for him to finish. When Thomas sent the late comers off to rest and eat, he signalled for Croxley to come over and give his report. Thomas noted the man had the hint of a smile on his lips as he saluted Thomas and then relaxed.
"What have you got for me Sergeant Major?"
"Well Captain, all the guns are back safe and sound and the lads have a small gift for you. Thought you might like a change as it were."
"A gift Sergeant Major? Why would I need a gift just for another patrol?"
"This one may take your fancy Captain. Shall I ask the men to bring it forward now Sir?"
"Uhm... very well Sergeant Major but I still don't see the need."
Croxley called loudly over to where some of his gunners were standing around a wagon. What Thomas saw next almost brought a smile to his lips. From the rear of the covered wagon a dishevelled figure tumbled down onto the ground. When the figure lifted his head, Thomas saw the bruised face of the onetime Captain Selwynn.
"Where did you find him Sergeant Major?"
"Walked right in on us he did Mister Marking, just as we was hitching up the guns to leave. Had a mule with him and two small crates aboard, they're padlocked but by the sound of it all they got a lot of coin inside."
"We'll look into those later Sergeant Major, for now let's see what our old friend has to say about his treachery."
Selwynn was manhandled none too gently over to where Thomas stood waiting for him. At the sight of his nemesis Selwynn tried to sneer as he was pushed in front of Thomas.
"Well Mister Selwynn, it looks as though your escape came undone."
"You can't hold me boy, I'm a civilian and you have no right to hold me."
"Perhaps not Mister Selwynn but I'm going to give it a good try. The army are not the only one's who hate traitors, I'm sure any friends you have left in England will also want to know how far you have fallen. The problem I have now is what to do with you. There are other tasks I have so I cannot waste too much time over your prediction. Tell me Mister Selwynn, what should I do with you?"
"You can damn well release me boy, you have no right doing this."
"So you have already told me Mister Selwynn and yet here you are. Sergeant Major Croxley?"
"Take our Mister Selwynn back to the wagon and have him well secured for the night. I have other things to do right now and need time to think this over."
"Very good Sir. Oh Sir!"
"Yes Sergeant Major?"
"A rider brought this in about an hour ago before you arrived back."
Croxley handed a large envelope to Thomas before turning back to Selwynn and giving the man a hard shove towards the wagon. Selwynn would stay bound until the morning when his final fate would be decided.
Thomas broke the large wax seal and opened the message. It was from the Viscount and asked Thomas to meet with him as soon as he returned from the north. Thomas now knew he would not be getting to bed early tonight. After searching around the camp, Thomas saw Carmelo and Estaban sitting near a fire and talking. Going over, he told them what had to be done and that now they had to go and find the Viscounts tent among all the other soldiers camped near them.
When Thomas and the other two finally found the Viscounts tent, Thomas felt tired and dirty from the long patrol to Batuecas and back. His uniform was smudged and a little sweat stained and was certainly not in the condition to meet with the Viscount but the Message had said for him to report as soon as he returned. He would have to take his chances with the stern man who ruled over all the forces in Portugal.
Thomas and the boys were greeted with the smiling face of the ever present Colonel Lewis. Thomas often wondered if the Colonel ever slept or went to other places other than standing within ear shot of the Viscount all the time.
"Well Thomas, it looks as though you have once again been through the mill. Did you have a successful patrol?"
"Hello Colonel Lewis, yes I think it was very successful. The French are out of Batuecas and we have left a message for any of them who want to kill civilians in the future."
"Good, now the Viscount is waiting for you all, follow me."
Colonel Lewis led the three young Officers directly into the tent where Viscount Wellingtons sat behind his large desk and was once again working on a large pile of papers. Looking up the Viscount saw whom his visitors were and set aside his quill as he looked down his nose at his secret weapon as he liked to think of the young Captain.
"Well Captain, it seems I have managed to catch you out of uniform once again. Any reason why you are hatless Captain?"
Suddenly blushing, Thomas automatically lifted his hand to his bare head, his mind had been on other things and he had completely forgotten to don his black hat.
"Sorry Sir, I completely forgot. It won't happen again My Lord."
"Well Captain, I suppose it is better to leave ones hat behind rather than ones head. Now how did you go with that problem of our ally the Prince?"
"All solved My Lord and we have left a message for any French in the future."
"Good, now then Captain I have another task for you. As you can see I am taking the army to meet the French. That damnedable Massena is pushing through Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida in an attempt to cut our lines and retake Portugal. I'm not going to let him. I have planned to meet him on the ridge at Busaco and with winter soon upon us I hope to hold him back until we all go into winter bivouac. I should have large reinforcements in the spring so we only need to hold out until then. Now then Captain, my problem is that Marshal Soult is also amassing an army down at Barrosa in Andalucia. I assume he has plans for the spring also. I want you to use the winter months to harass Marshal Soult's army and supply columns as much as you can without getting yourself killed. I need to keep him confined until I have Massena dealt with. I will be sending General Graham's army down there to stop him from coming north but he will not be there before late February or early March. Do you think you can cause enough trouble for Marshal Soult until then Captain?"
"Yes My Lord, Colonel Colosio is from that region and I am sure he has friends there who will also help."
"Good Man. Now Captain, is there anything you need before you inform your men of the winter plans?"
"Only one thing My Lord."
"And what is that Captain?'
"I have captured a man from the patrol to Batuecas, what should I do with him My Lord, he is an Englishman and was helping the French?"
"Hang him Captain, only thing for traitors."
"My Lord he was once an English Officer, should we not have a courts martial first?"
"Be damned we will Captain! If he was once an Officer then make sure he is flogged before you hang him and place him somewhere the whole army can see him. Make sure you put notice on him so they can all see he was a traitor."
"Yes My Lord."
"Yes My Lord?"
"What was his name this traitor of yours?"
"Lieutenant Selwynn My Lord."
"Ah I see. Well captain, bad blood will out as I am sure you will soon see. Captain make sure you set a good example of him."
"Yes My Lord."
Thomas was not happy about the flogging part but Selwynn did deserve to be hung for his crimes. As Thomas left the Viscount to his papers and he stepped outside the tent with Colonel Lewis. Thomas asked his old friend, "Colonel his Lordship was not really serious about the flogging was he?"
"Oh yes Thomas, very serious. You have a number of old Naval hands in your little army don't you?"
"Yes Colonel, most of my gunners are ex Navy, why do you ask?"
"Good men to have if you need to do a flogging. I suggest you talk it over with them and see what comes of it."
"Yes Colonel but I'm still not happy with it."
"No one would be Thomas, but the Viscount has said he wants it done and who are we to argue with him?"
"I guess you're right Colonel. Well I still don't like it but I guess it has to be."
"Good man. Now Thomas, are you going to be able to carry out the plans for Marshal Soult's army down south?"
"We will do our best Colonel. Estaban is from there and has many friends he says will help, I only hope the winter is not too severe this year."
"So do I. One more thing Thomas, do you think you can get back to Lisbon about late January? The Viscount has set up a small competition around the 20th and Colonel Cruikshank would like to see you there. He said something about a good plan coming together. When I asked him he said you would know all about it but to pass on the information."
"Thank you Colonel. Yes, I know what he is about and we will be there on time."
"Good, well Thomas I must get back before he thinks I have deserted. Good luck with your new venture, and Thomas?"
"Don't let the thought of the flogging get to you. It's not the first time the Viscount has ordered one and it won't be the last time."
Thomas nodded and then waved a casual goodbye as he and the other two turned towards their camping site. For Thomas it just seemed that the longer he stayed in this war, the worse it got for his sense of decency. It left him wondering if he would ever leave this place before he turned into just another animal in the jungle of war.
For the next twenty four hours, Thomas anguished over what the Viscount had asked him to do concerning the one time Captain Selwynn. It was with a heavy heart that Thomas went in search of Sergeant Major Croxley. His decision was made for better or worse, he could not disobey a lawful command from the viscount.
The Sergeant Major listened carefully as Thomas relayed the orders from on high. Sergeant Major Croxley could see what it was doing to the young Captain. It was time for an older head to step in and take over.
"Mister Marking, leave this to me and the lads. There's no need for you to be involved in something like this. Me and the lads will take care of it and then it is over. We've all seen it before and it would not be the first time I have been called upon to do a flogging. If there was a man deserved it, then this one does. Now you go and look to your business, I will take it from here Sir."
"No Sergeant Major, it is my responsibility and I won't ask another to do what I can't. I know I will have to let you do the flogging but I have to be there as will all the others. Tomorrow at dawn we will carry out the orders of the viscount and then leave this damned place for cleaner air. Even the French have some decency, as little as it may be."
"Very good Sir. I will make the arrangements."
Thomas could only nod and walk away. There were things in this man's army that he could still not reconcile in his head and this was one of them. The hanging of a traitor was the right price for the man to pay but the flogging was something else entirely, and there was little he could do about it.
The next morning was already hot and the humidity was high when Thomas finally saw the beaten figure of Selwynn hoisted under a tree. Around the man's neck was a sign that told others of the man's crimes and the reason for his punishment. When the last breath of Selwynn sighed almost silently from his now dead body, Thomas called his men to form up ready to depart. He had had enough of this place and wanted to be as far away as he could before it affected him too much.
The planned march would take Thomas and his men more than six days. He sent a rider off to Vimeiro to organise supply wagons which were to meet them at Alvite west of the River Guardiana. From there they would turn south east and march around the lower end of the Estremadura mountains. It would be a long march through the barren plains of lower Andalucia and they could only hope and pray that they could avoid any French patrols that may be watching.
After crossing the vast plains, they would have to skirt south of Seville, cross the River Guadalouivir and make for the small town of Cabezas de San Juan. Estaban had sent another rider ahead to find his friends and tell them when his army would arrive in their area. Once they had met up with Estaban's friends, they would be led into the mountains to find a hiding place.
Once they had a place to hide from the French, then patrols would be sent out to see how much trouble they could cause and in what form it would take. From the moment they reached and crossed the River Guadiana, the army went back to travelling only at night. At times it was hard on the gunners as they had to watch over the horses as well as their guns and mistakes could prove deadly if anyone had an accident with one of the heavy guns.
Once they were out onto the plains of Andalucia and west of Seville, the difficulty in finding hiding places during the day reared its ugly head. The vastness of the large plains made it difficult to not be seen and the night marches became even more important to their safety.
After fifteen days and nights of travel, Thomas's little army was only a day away from Cabezas de San Juan. It was almost daybreak when they stopped to rest for the daylight hours. As they sat around eating their small dry rations, one of the outer guards called back that there were three riders approaching and all three were dressed like all Spaniards.
Estaban called for the three to be allowed to pass and stood up to await their arrival along with Thomas and Carmelo. The three riders walked their horses into the large camp of young soldiers. Their eyes remained firmly to the front as they seemed to be searching for something or someone. When they spied Estaban standing with his friends, they turned in his direction and walked their well ridden horses to the small group.
Once in front of the man he was looking for, the older of the three stepped down and was quickly followed by the two young riders. Bowing low the older man looked up at Estaban and a wide smile lit up his old weather-beaten features.
"Don Estaban, it is good to see you home again. We have done as you asked and kept the French on their toes and now that you have returned we hope we can do more to rid ourselves of the vermin."
"Padre de Toro thank you, these are my Friends I told you about. Don Carmelo and our greatest prize, Don Thomasino the Patron El Toro."
Thomas could not hold back the blush that reddened his face as the old man looked him up and down as though rating him for the bullring. Thomas knew that the title the old man had been given by Estaban was one of honour and that the old man must have been the one in charge of the breeding of Estaban's father's bulls. Thomas could not work out how old the man was but he had seen more than fifty years and yet rode his lively horse as though he was born to it, which was probably true.
"So Padre de Toro, what brings you here? I thought we were to meet in Cabezas de San Juan?"
"It is not safe there any more Don Estaban. There is a large troop of French Chasseurs based there now. We have come to take you into the mountains just north of Arcos, the others are setting up a good camp there for you and your friends."
"Thank you Padre de Toro, we will rest for today and move out as soon as it is dark. Are there any other French movements about?"
"Not here Don Estaban. It appears the French have faith in the Chasseurs in this area but further to the east and south there are great armies on the move. They come through the pass at Loja and then on down to Ronda. Many rest there and then after a few days move through to Medina Sidonia. It would appear they are forming for a battle near Barrosa but the winter is moving in fast, they may just camp for the winter before moving on to Portugal."
"Thank you Padre de Toro, go and find a place to rest, we will move again tonight."
"Yes Don Estaban."
The old man signalled for the two younger ones to follow him. Thomas noted that the two younger ones held a vague similarity to the older, if they were not his sons then they would have to be his nephews at the very least.
The camp was awake and eating their first hot meal of the day as the sun sank in the west. Once the meal was over they would make the last long march to their new camp in the mountains. As they sat around the small fire eating, Thomas and his friends were joined by the old man and his two young assistants. The talk was light and many times jovial as the three newcomers got to know the Officers of the strange army that had come to help rid Spain of the French.
The older man looked across the fire at Thomas. With a glance at Estaban, the old man addressed Thomas.
"Don Thomasino, had I not been told by my Patron Don Estaban, I would not have believed you were the one all Spain knows as El Toro. Most seem to think he is a grown man of great stature. How is it possible for you to be who they say you are?"
"Padre de Toro I do not know the answer to that question. It is not a title that I chose for myself, but if it is so then I feel I must live up to those expectations, even if just slightly."
"I see Don Thomasino, and do you know that the French have a great price on your head? I think they will be very surprised to find you are one that is so young."
The twinkle in the old man's eye and the partial smile on his lips told Thomas the old man was having a small joke at his expense. Thomas decided to return the favour.
"Tell me Padre de Toro, is it true that the bulls of Andalucia are also afraid of El Toro or is that just a tale told by old women to frighten the children?"
Thomas watched as a broader smile lit up the old man's face.
"Ahh...Don Thomasino, it is all lies. The great fighting bulls of Andalucia are afraid of no one and nothing. Even the greatness of El Toro himself will not make them fearful."
Thomas laughed as the old man lifted one eyebrow as though asking if Thomas wanted to refute the fearlessness of the Andalucian bulls.
"Then Padre de Toro, I bow to their superior courage and hope I never have to confront the one who trains them in battle."
"A wise choice Don Thomasino, it would be a shame if the great El Toro had his britches ripped by the very bulls he represents."
The small group broke into laughter as the old man smiled widely at his own joke. Inside the old man's head he had settled his concern for their future and the future of Spain in the hands of this young Englishman who had taken on the fight for his Spanish friends. He could now see that there were those who would make the French pay for all the trouble they had brought to his people.
It was almost full dark when the army began the final march to the new camp site. It would be fraught with danger as the sixteen guns would have to traverse some very narrow and dangerous tracks as they made their way deeper into the mountains to where the camp was being set up.
It was less than an hour to darkness before the long column reached the start of the long valley. There had been no sign of any French and most of the men began to breathe a sigh of relief. Ahead of them was their new home if only they could reach it before full darkness overcame them.
The weather was looking more ominous as a cold northerly blew over the tops of the mountains before them. The dark thunderheads roiling over the crests told only of rain and even more problems to get the guns under cover.
As they entered the start of the wide valley, Thomas saw ahead a group of men carrying what looked like rough torches. He breathed another sigh of relief as he realized they were there to help them find the new camp.
It was fully dark before they came to the first narrow canyon that would be the home of the three supply wagons and the guns and horses. The next canyon was only a few hundred yards away and would be where most of the army would set up camp leaving only a force large enough to watch over their wagons and guns in the first canyon.
Thomas followed the men with torches into the first canyon, what he saw pleased him greatly even though the ground was rough and they had to take great care with their small supply train and guns. Small rocks along with a few larger boulders were strewn over the rough ground but there was a large cleared area near the back of the canyon where their camp was already being worked on.
Along the sides of the canyon and uphill a little were new looking shelters made from piled rocks with branches laid over the top and a canvas cover to keep out the rain and wind. It was not luxury but far better than a cold canvas tent. Thomas watched as Sergeant Major Croxley set about organising his men and the wagons. Once he was satisfied he gave a nod to Thomas that showed he had it all under control and Thomas could now leave for the other canyon to see how that was set up and to get some rest for his men at long last.
The next canyon was larger than the first and there had been far more work to get it ready. Down the centre ran a small stream and along both sides. Once again up off the floor of the canyon were more of the half stone shelters with canvas tops. It almost looked inviting to the tired boys of the Drum Battalion.
Thomas was relieved to see large fires burning brightly all around the camp and what appeared to be a large number of women working hard to cook a meal. It was to be a celebration Thomas would not forget in a hurry.
It was not long before the large number of Spanish men and teens began to help the newly arrived allies to find a place to bed down and store their equipment. As Thomas watched his men being settled, he looked around the camp. To his eyes there had to be almost a hundred Spanish men and women in the new camp. The number surprised him as he was not expecting it. As he looked around, Thomas saw the old man, that had been with them during the march, approach Estaban and whisper in his ear before looking in Thomas's direction.
Thomas saw Estaban give what appeared to be a deep sigh and then turn in Thomas's direction. His visage did not look happy as he walked over to where Thomas stood. Once he was close to Thomas, Estaban sighed again and began to speak.
"Patron, we may have some trouble. One of the most notorious brigands is in the camp. He was not invited but that has never stopped him before. If he approaches you, be very careful of him, he is not to be trusted."
"So what do I do Estaban?"
"Patron, you are El Toro, just make sure he does not forget that. If he makes a challenge then we will be with you in whatever you decide to do."
"Thanks for the warning Estaban, how will I know him?"
"He will probably come looking for you. It is his way to stamp his authority, but still many do not like or trust him. This you must remember at all times."
Thomas nodded his understanding of what Estaban had to say and determined to watch this possible new threat to his army. Around where he stood with his small core of Officers, the camp was settling into something resembling order. The cooking fires were busy as the many women worked over their tasks. Thomas was led to a small canopy where rough wooden stools had been set out and a small table was standing in the centre.
Around the canopy stood a number of older men all of whom looked at the young Englishman with interest. Many had heard that El Toro was coming and that he was a young English Officer so it was little surprise to many of them when they saw just how young Thomas was.
Estaban set about introducing the men and told Thomas who they were and why they were there to join his army to fight the French. The introduction had just finished when, out of the dark came a loud voice that made the others turn and look. Thomas could tell immediately the new comer was not welcome by those others around him.
From the darkness around the canopy Thomas watched a large thickset man walk forward into the light of the torches set around the small gathering. The man was large in every way. Wide, strong shoulders showed below a thick neck and the man's arms filled the tight sleeves of the thick jacket he was wearing. His legs looked to be just as large and strong as the rest of him. Thomas had to look up into the heavily bearded face, the eyes were hard and gave the man a dangerous look. This was a man not to be trifled with.
"So what do we have here? Is this a gathering of old men and little boys? Well someone tell me who these English are before I have to find out myself and you all know that will not be nice."
Estaban stepped forward and looked the man up and down before answering.
"I do not remember inviting you Samosa. Why are you here?"
"Aha the little Don Estaban Colosio. I have heard you got your title back. As to why I am here, why to kill French pigs of course. Why are you here?"
"Then we have the same objective if that is really what you are here for but somehow I doubt that. Your reputation runs before you like a mad bull and we all know you have only one concern and that is for your own interests. Now then Samosa, why are you here?"
"Ah such bad words from one so young. Tell me Don Estaban, have you had your first woman yet or are you still playing with donkeys?"
"Your mouth will be your downfall, Samosa."
"But it will not be by your hand Don Estaban. Now then, where is this towering giant they call El Toro? I have heard he is an Englishman but that cannot be true, no Englishman could ever fill the boots of a Spanish Hero."
Thomas opened the buttons on his jacket before turning on his stool and standing upright to face the newcomer. Samosa looked at Thomas with a sneer on his bearded face as Thomas faced him in the flickering light of the many torches.
"What do you want, English?"
"I'm the one you are looking for Senor Samosa."
"You English? You are El Toro? I don't think so little boy, you would not make much of a meal for a real man of Spain. Now enough jokes English, where is El Toro?"
"He's standing before you Senor Samosa. I'm the one they call El Toro and this is no joke even though I do not think I deserve the title, it is what it is."
Thomas was almost surprised at the large man's reaction and speed, as his right hand swept behind his back and produced a long sharp knife. Samos held the knife lightly in his hand as he smiled at Thomas. If he was hoping to scare the boy he had been mistaken. Thomas stood without moving as he looked at the blade in the man's hand, there was little doubt it was time to be very careful.
"You English I should fillet with this very knife. While there is not a lot of you, the meat should be tender just like your age. Now then where is the man I seek?"
"You have your answer Senor Samosa and I would replace your knife if I were you."
The surprised look on the large man's face told Thomas he had caught the man by surprise, it was time to push his advantage.
"Put your knife away Senor Samosa, there is little need for it here. After all, we are all here for the same thing."
"And what would that thing be English?"
"To defeat the French Senor Samosa, we are all after the same thing."
"You do not know what I am after English. As for my knife, perhaps I should make it two and then you will finally reveal the man I seek?"
Following words with actions, Samosa swept his left hand back and produced a second sharp knife and turned back to Thomas. The look on his face was not only one of surprise but now also one of uncertainty as his eyes looked into the four black barrels of two pistols now only inches from his face and the serious looking English boy holding them in a steady grip.
"Please return your knives to their place Senor Samosa or you will not be walking away this night."
"And what if I cut off your fingers before you could fire English?"
From behind Samosa came the sound of another pistol being cocked. With great care Samosa turned his head only to see another pistol with twin barrels inches from the back of his head. It was held in the steady hand of Carmelo. Turning his head back to Thomas, the large man smiled widely as he slowly and very carefully returned his knives to the sheaths behind his back.
"You are not an honourable man English. Here I am willing to fight with knives and you bring your pistols. Perhaps you really are the one they call El Toro, but it is most unfair."
"Unfair or not Senor Samosa, it has kept me alive this long. Now then do you wish to tell us why you are here? If it is to help defeat the French then you are welcome. If not then it is better you walk away and never mention where we are to anyone."
"Ah... English, I have come to fight so perhaps I will join your little army and when the French are no more then we can dance together and see who is really the better man."
"I don't know how to dance Senor Samosa but I will gladly meet you alone when the French have been beaten if that is your wish."
"I like you English, you have cajones larger than most here. Perhaps it is true and you really are El Toro, we will have to wait and see about that. Now then English, how can we beat the French Puta and chase them from our lands?"
"I would first ask you how many men you have with you Senor Samosa and what plans you have for them?"
"I have thirty good men, they are eager to see French blood and they will do as I ask."
Thomas had returned to his stool and Samosa found another as he sat among the suspicious faces of the others at the table. There was little doubt that none of the others trusted the man but for now there was calm in the camp and they all wanted to hear what Samosa had to say for himself before having an opinion.
"Senor Samosa, we only have room for one commander. The plans we have will take a lot of timing and sticking to the rules we settle on. There is little place for anyone to make their own rules or there will be lives lost for no reason. Do you agree?"
"So far you are talking sense English, but who is that Commander to be?"
"Those here have agreed to let me and my Officers make the plans. I would ask for your help in the planning but you must understand the final decisions will be mine. If you agree to those terms then we can fight the French together."
"You drive a very hard bargain English, but if it means my men and I can return blood for blood to those vermin French then I shall agree. But if the plans endanger my men without reason then I may have something to say about it. Agreed?"
"Agreed Senor Samosa. I will not put your men in any more danger than my own. There is much you can help us with if you are willing. I am told you roam all over Spain and would know the land better than anyone. If this is true then we do need your help but once again Senor Samosa, I will brook no trouble from your men or yourself in the camp. We are here to beat the French not each other."
"Agreed English. Now then, when do we eat? My men have gone hungry all day to make it here in time to meet with you."
The rest of the night passed peacefully as the camp settled into place. The women now did most of the cooking which left the usual cooking duties of the younger boys with little to do. They soon found places among the four Companies. Thomas had trained every man and boy to be able to fight and now it was the turn of the younger ones to prove their mettle.
The first few days in the camp were restful as everyone got to know each other. There was still a lot of suspicion over allowing Samosa to join them, but they all knew that sometimes you had to shake hands with the devil to get certain things done. It did not alleviate the suspicion but there was less tension around the camp.
Samosa kept his men a little apart but not too far as to make heads turn or mouths talk. It was a subtle game of cat and mouse. The first planning session proved that Samosa did indeed know his way around the Spanish countryside. Whatever problem came up Samosa saw another way around it.
Thomas's first plan was to once again attack the supply trains of the French army. The roadways they had to travel led among many mountain passes and along narrow winding roads and through valleys where an ambush could be easily laid.
Their camp was positioned almost on the border with Granada; it gave them access through the mountains to many of the supply lines being used by the French. This, Thomas hoped, was where Samosa should be able to help them.
With Marshal Soult's army forming around Barossa, and as the numbers increased, there was a greater and greater need for regular supplies from the east. Under normal circumstances, Marshal Soult could have used the French Navy to supply him except there was now a large blockade of English ships close to his ports at Cadiz, Carraca and Trocadero.
With Barrosa being close to Cape Trafalgar it was thought he may try to land supplies on the beaches but the ever present English Navy soon dissuaded him of trying that option. With his sea lanes under threat, Marshal Soult had only one other option and that was overland and through the mountains and passes of Granada, which also meant more troops to guard them.
Thomas and his advisors finally settled on a fast raid at Loja. They would go in with all Companies and cause as much trouble as they could before retiring back to the camp to plan the next raid. As Samosa knew the lay of the land far better than any others, he was given the task of taking his men further north of Loja and coming in from an unexpected direction.
The mountainous terrain meant extra time would be needed and so Thomas sent Samosa off a full day ahead of his own men. The bulk of the Spanish volunteers in the camp were to cut through a hidden pass and come onto Loja from the south east, while Thomas took all of his four Companies directly in from the west.
The going would be tough as there was little flat ground for them to make haste on. It was a matter of climbing one mountain after the other and hoping for the best. The arrival of early rains did not make it any easier as the men and boys struggled from one mountain to the next. But their fitness and continual training gave them just enough extra that saw them through.
On the third day after leaving the camp, Thomas and his four Companies stood above Loja and looked down on the large area the French had made into a supply compound. It was not as large or well built as the one they had attacked so long ago at Benavente, but it was still of considerable size. Thomas had left his guns behind at the camp as the terrain would have slowed them far too much to make the rendezvous on time.
Loja sat in a small cleft between two ridges and on the banks of the River Genil. While it was an ideal place to defend it was also an ideal place to be trapped in if the force chose the high ground that overlooked the town.
On that third night, Thomas and his four Companies made a cold camp. They could not afford for any fires to be seen by those below. As they watched the town below they saw a continual stream of supply wagons arrive and leave. Thomas hoped Samosa was in place for the attack next morning. That the others from the camp would be there Thomas had little doubt. Samosa was still a concern for him and the safety of his own men.
In the early hours of the morning, while it was still dark and a light misty rain made visibility difficult, Thomas sent out small skirmish parties to see the position of the French pickets. If the opportunity arose, they were to silently kill any they could without waking the rest of the troops and cavalry guarding the supply depot.
The attack the next morning was timed for just before dawn when the daylight was in that mode of greyness that made tired sentries eyes not quite see clearly enough. For Thomas there was another stroke of luck that came his way. The previous day had still been very warm and with the fine misty rain during the night, in the early dawn came a thick fog that settled on the ground and made the guard's job of watching out into the surrounding countryside for any possible attack almost useless.
The sentries were also tired from the long hours of guard duty and along with the now heavy fog, any hope of seeing the approaching danger was nullified. The guards totally missed the small wrath like figures that slipped past those who were still alive and disappeared into the centre of the camp. From the silence around the supply depot came only the first twitters of early rising birds. The vague misty looking fires had died down until they were not much more than a glimmer in the morning fog. Many of the French sentries were now feeling the need to sleep as the coldness of the damp early morning got into their bones. For those who had not succumbed to the sharp knives of the skirmishers it was a time to think of warm beds and a long sleep.
The wrath like figures made their way out of the camp without being seen and taking care of a few more sentries on the way. The insurgents made it back to the waiting Companies just as the first explosion rent the cold morning stillness from the supply depot below, where they all waited for the order to fire. Thomas's four companies saw the bright flashes and loud explosions in the fog, the vague outline of buildings and tents of the sleeping troops could just be made out in the bright flashes of the exploding kegs of powder.
It was only seconds before the supply depot was a scene of shouting Officers and running men. Cavalry units tried to get to their horses and saddle them ready to take revenge on the attackers. That is, if they could find them.
Thomas's plan was for Samosa and his men to open fire on the eastern edge of the depot as soon as the first explosion was heard. The extra men from the camp would wait to the west for any French who tried to escape that direction. Thomas and his four Companies would open fire from the high ground to the south of the depot. With luck the French would be totally confused as to which direction the attack was actually coming from and it would make it harder for them to organise any retaliation in one direction.
The role of Samosa was vital as any French that escaped to the east would very quickly make it to Granada and call for extra troops. Which, if Thomas was not mindful, could trap his men above the depot and make it difficult to escape without heavy losses.
With confusion reigning in the early morning fog that covered the depot, Thomas set the men from two of the Company's along the ridge in ranks of three. They were only fifty yards from the edge of the main camp and were in a vulnerable position if caught there. Behind the first lines were the other two companies. They were lined up in two ranks and would cover the lower ranks once they had fired off their two barrels and were retreating back. The French commander must have been a level headed man even under fire and caught out in such a way. As Thomas watched the French were soon becoming organised and looking for an enemy to attack.
There was no sound or sign of Samosa and Thomas had little option but to take the chance to open fire and stop the men below from forming up into dangerous formations. He and his men were facing almost two hundred hardened troops and a further fifty or so cavalry. Thomas could not hesitate any longer, with a loud yell he ordered the men to open fire in volleys.
The men and boys of Thomas's command had been given orders to fire and then pull back behind the Companies that stood behind them. It meant that Thomas had two Companies firing both barrels in volley fire at a time and if they were put under attack by the French below, they could pull back slowly as they leap frogged each other and still retained a good rate of fire.
Thomas stood at the second line and watched as his first two companies cut into the forming ranks of the French with a fusillade of lead. Thomas could only marvel at the dogmatic French Officers and their need to form ranks under fire from above. The French had now been under fire from groups like Thomas's for almost two years and yet they refused to change their tactics to meet the new threat.
The French persistence in forming battle ranks in the old way only made it easier for groups like Thomas's guerrillas to wreck havoc while the army formed its old fashioned ranks before advancing forward to meet the enemy.
The first volley's cut into the forming ranks and left a high death toll before Thomas called for them to retreat behind his own Companies and reform there. In the distance and through the lightening fog, Thomas saw that the cavalry was making headway with getting their mounts ready. He surmised that the further up the ridge he and his men were, the harder it would be for the horsemen to get to them.
As he watched his first two Companies begin to withdraw to higher ground behind his own ranks, Thomas could faintly hear to the west the sound of sporadic gun fire. The irregulars from the camp had joined the battle but there was still no sign of Samosa and his men to the east. Thomas had no option but to continue with his fire and retreat if he did not want to get trapped on the side of the ridge.
The French had at last been able to form a firing line but they were still out of range of Thomas's muskets and had to try to advance into the withering fire from above as their enemy retreated in good order and maintained a steady fire at those below them.
Thomas now saw that the Cavalry were mounted and looking to charge up the ridge where Thomas and his men were sighted. It was time to disappear up and over the ridge before they had to face some very angry Lancers. Thomas called out the order and the ranks began to break up and disappear over the ridge behind them. Thomas stayed back with one Company as a rear guard to make sure his men got away without being hounded by the fast approaching French Lancers.
With a final accurate volley from his remaining Company, Thomas gave the order for his last men to make for the safety of the heights behind them. As they climbed to safety, Thomas heard some wild shots fired in their direction by the Infantry below and it was only the long range that saved all but two of them from death or injury. The two injured were only minor wounds and did not slow them down from reaching the safety above.
It seemed only minutes before the land around Loja was left in silent peace. Littering the ground were a large number of French dead and wounded, as well as some very angry French Officers. They had been caught completely flat footed and paid a heavy price for it. For the cavalry there was also only anger, they had lost their prey even before they could ride up the ridge.
Thomas led his men back through the narrow valley's and over the hills on the way back to their camp. In the back of his mind was the no show of Samosa and his men. What had happened would have to wait until the made it back to camp and got all the reports. Thomas also hoped his other small plan did not turn out as he thought it might with the non appearance of the brigand.
When they finally arrived back at their hidden camp, Thomas saw that the irregulars had suffered more than his own men with five wounded, two seriously and four dead. It would be at the meeting later where he would find out how it had happened.
As the senior men sat down under the canopy to make their reports, Thomas noted that there was still no sign of Samosa. He ignored the missing man for the moment as they all began to give their reports on their first venture against the French in the south.
The Irregulars had done as asked and cut the road to the west. They had come under attack by an unknown troop of Chasseurs and had had to fight their way out, and back into the hills at the cost of the wounded and dead. Thomas congratulated them on holding the Chasseurs off his own men's back and allow them to do significant damage to the supply depot and many of the soldiers guarding it.
The plans for the burial of the dead were put in the hands of the women of the camp who were the wives and mothers of those lost. The next day would be a day of remembrance of those lost to the French muskets. As the camp settled for the night there was still no sign of the man Samosa and Thomas was now beginning to have his doubts as to the veracity of the man.
The funeral service was at an end when Thomas saw the riders entering the canyon that was now their home for the winter. At the head of the riders was Samosa and part way down the column Thomas saw three pack horses fully loaded. Samosa gave Thomas what looked to be a cheery wave and took his men on to their own section of the canyon where they had set up their camp.
Thomas watched the riders dismount and begin to unload their three new pack horses, most of which seemed to go into the small lean-to that Samosa called home. As Thomas tried to work out what was going on, he heard a soft cough by his side. Looking around he saw the grim face of Maketja. The boy looked to have bad news for Thomas.
Thomas took his eyes away from the camp of Samosa and led Maketja back to his own small hut. He would get his report once there. Thomas's French had improved greatly and he could now converse with little difficulty with Maketja although he was told by that same boy that his accent would never pass for French.
Thomas led Maketja inside the small hut where they would have some privacy. There was little doubt in Thomas's mind that the idea to send Maketja to secretly watch over Samosa had been a good one if the look on the boy's face was anything to go by.
Maketja began his report. He had stayed well out of sight while trailing Samosa's band of brigands. Had Maketja ever been seen by Samosa, there was little doubt he would have just disappeared, but the young Romani boy was no fool and knew how to stay out of sight and remain safe.
With Maketja's report done, Thomas sent him for some food and rest. He now had a lot to think on and also work out how he was going to handle the new situation. For Thomas it was obvious he could well do without Samosa but there remained the problem of the man selling the location of their camp to the French if things were not handled right.
The first thing Thomas needed to do was get his own Officers in and talk it over. If bad came to worse, they would need to be ready just in case Samosa had other ideas from their own.
Later in the afternoon as Thomas, Carmelo and Estaban sat in the shade of the towering cliff behind them, they watched as the now rested Samosa casually made his way towards them. All around there was a sudden building of tension among the Drummer boys. It was as though they were expecting all sorts of trouble. If Samosa detected it he did not show it as he smiled at Thomas as he approached.
Samosa stood over the small group of three young men with his hands on his hips, it was a stance of authority and tried to tell the three teens that the older man was in charge. It did not work with these three but Thomas waited silently for the man to speak first.
"So English did your little trap work?"
"Had you been where you were supposed to be Senor Samosa, you would know the answer to that question yourself."
"Ahh yes, well we got delayed a little and by the time it was settled we thought we would be too late to help."
"You agreed to work with us Senor Samosa and you actions caused the deaths of others. If this is to be your way to free Spain then I suggest you leave us and find your own way to do it."
"Ahh English you are far too easily upset. It was nothing, just a small detour because of the French Lancers on the road. Had they moved on instead of stopping to rest, we would have made it to your little fight. There are sometimes more important things than just fighting if you wish to free your country English."
"And what would they be Senor Samosa?"
"Why protecting the property of the land owners. The French have raided openly and destroyed many great homes at will. I saw it as my duty to protect those I can against the French."
"I see Senor Samosa, and does that include the rape of the old gentleman's daughters before you set fire to their home after ransacking the place?"
The startled look on Samosa's face said it all even though his loud bellow tried to hide his guilt.
"Wha... you sent spies to watch me English. Your time in these lands is very limited now English, if you wish to accuse me of such things. Where is your proof? Who is it that would tell you such tales? I would never let my men do such things to the innocents of Spain. They are a liar and trouble maker. Bring them before me and we shall see who is telling the truth."
"If it is proof you want then you shall have it Senor Samosa. I will ask you to go to your camp and bring in everything you took on your raid, once that is done we will settle the other in any manner you wish."
"Done English, after dinner we will have a trial by the light of the fires and I will see that the liar you employ is served up to you on small skewers."
Thomas watched the angry man walk away towards his own small camp area. He did not think he had handled that too well but the dye was now cast and there was little he could do about it. Thomas hoped Maketja was as good as he said he was, the setting up of Samosa had been a delicate operation as he had to allow that perhaps the man had truly changed his ways. The results of the last few days told Thomas that Samosa had not changed.
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