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Before there could be any attempt to be rid of Samosa, Thomas had plans to make. For the next two hours he formed his plans and hoped for the best. If Maketja lost the trial that Samosa insisted on then there would be more at risk than just a small amount of loot that he had taken by force.
Thomas watched as Carmelo and Perrin went to do their part of the plan. Estaban smiled as he also went to find his Company to get ready for the hopeful good ending to the trial. Thomas had both Carlito and Maketja come to his shelter for a final talk and to make sure both knew the plan off by heart, they could not take any chances with a man like Samosa.
It was fully dark and everyone had eaten and talked in subdued tones as the time of the face to face trial grew closer. Apart from a few men left to guard the other canyon with the wagons and guns in it, the main camp was now the focus of everyone else. There had been four large fires set alight and they covered a large area which was now surrounded by just about every man, woman and youth of both camps. The tall strong figure of Samosa stood at the centre and a wide smile formed his lips into an almost sneer as he waited for his challenger.
Maketja had waited well out of sight until the last minute before entering the circle of firelight and the hushed mass of the small army of the Patron El Toro. There were a few coarse comments that came from Samosa's men but no one else said a word or made a sound as the small young figure of Maketja appeared at the edge of the circle of light.
Even Thomas was surprised when he saw Maketja, the boy was now dressed like he had never been before. Thomas could not understand where his new young friend had found the clothes he was wearing. Maketja was dressed in loose fitting trousers that came to just below his knees but fitted into the tops of his long black boots. His shirt was plain white cotton with billowing sleeves and he wore a small tight fitting black waist coat.
Around his waist was a green and brown sash that was narrower than the ones the others wore, and on Maketja's head was a green scarf that was tied tightly at the back so it fitted much like a skull cap. For the first time that Thomas could remember, he saw that Maketja was wearing a thick gold ring in his left ear lobe. Thomas was not even aware that Maketja owned such a ring nor that he had his ear pierced to fit the heavy piece.
When Samosa saw his intended victim he could not believe his eyes. His smile widened as his right hand whipped behind his back and drew out one of his sharp knives before calling out loudly to all those watching the two protagonists, but more especially Thomas.
"This English, this is your proof? What do you think you have here English, a man of honour? This is gypsy trash and you accuse me on the word of such vermin? Perhaps I had you marked wrong English, if you take the word of gypsy's over that of good honest Spaniards. What is this? You expect me to fight this low life vermin who has no idea of honour. English, I should walk away right now than have to fight vermin to prove my words."
Thomas had watched Maketja as Samosa argued his own case. Maketja had taken a strange stance only a few yards from the large yelling man near the centre of the firelight. Thomas looked at Maketja and wondered what the young teen was up to. Maketja stood still but ever watchful of the man in front of him. His left leg was a little forward of the right and both were bent slightly at the knee. His right hand was behind his back and the left was bent at the elbow with the palm open as though balancing himself while his torso was leaning slightly forward and his flashing dark eyes were fixed on the man by the central fire.
Maketja had now been with Thomas and the others long enough to now be able to speak Spanish although with a distinctive French Basque accent and, when excited would stumble over some of the words. Among a hundred people all taking at once, Maketja's accent could always be picked out. It was now his turn to reply to the man Samosa and he did so by accentuating his strange accent.
"Perhaps the thief would rather run from a gypsy than fight him like a man?"
There was hardly a person present that did not hear the jibe loudly or miss seeing the momentary flash of hatred come over the face of Samosa when he heard the accent of the gypsy boy in front of him.
"What's this then English? You claim to fight for Spain and yet you have not only gypsy's in your army but French gypsy's. They are even lower than vermin. The world will be well rid of this one English when I slice him into strips for your supper. What do you say English? How thin should the strips be so that they slip down your throat without choking you?"
It was Maketja that answered as Thomas stood silently watching the pair in the firelight.
"Perhaps thief, you should use more than one knife, or do you want to bring in those old women you call a gang to help you?"
From the surrounding crowd came the massed yell from Samosa's men as they got ready to surge forward and end the life of the gypsy vermin. The only thing that stopped them from taking actions was the clear sharp sound of hammers being taken to full cock behind them. When the thirty men turned their heads it was to see sixty double barrelled pistols aimed right at their heads.
In the heat of the moment they had not noticed that they had been quietly surrounded by a full Company of the Patron's men. The smiling faces of Perrin and Estaban were plain to see at the forefront of the sixty pistol wielding men and teens. Estaban was the one to speak to them as the large figure of Samosa stood in the centre of the firelight watching his men being treated like criminals. Estaban's voice was clear and concise.
"All of you will take your weapons out and throw them on the ground, when they have been collected you will all kneel with your hands on your heads. If my men or I see you take them down we will put a ball in your head before you can stand."
All around there was total silence as the rest of the gathering watched the outnumbered men begin to throw their pistols and knives on the ground where they were quickly scooped up by a number of Perrin's Company. It took only a few minutes before all thirty were on their knees with two hands on their heads and behind each of them stood a pair of armed men, their pistols only inches away from the back of the kneeling men's heads.
Estaban turned back to the circle where the two protagonists stood watching. With a half smile on his face, Estaban said loudly for all to hear. "Brother Maketja! Are you going to be much longer? These old women seem to find it difficult to kneel for long lengths of time?"
The look of rage had not left Samosa's face as he saw his men now under the cocked and ready pistols of the young Englishman. His fury now turned onto the gypsy boy standing in the firelight and smiling at him. With a speed that may have surprised some for the large size of the man, Samosa whipped his left hand back and now stood only paces away from the smaller figure of Maketja with both hands filled with a long sharp blade. As yet Maketja still stood empty handed as he faced off against the larger man.
"Well you French scum, here I am come and see how easy it is to be sliced into small pieces, although for you with no knife, it will be too easy. Come vermin, come and make your play or tell the Englishman you lied like the gypsy scum you are."
"I am right here thief. Are you afraid of an unarmed boy that you do not advance? Perhaps your men are not the only ones who are women?"
The final insult was enough for Samos to lose his calm. With a bellow that filled the canyon from wall to wall, he charged at the seemingly unarmed youth, both knives ready to cut a swath through the small figure before him. As Samosa slashed both high and low with is two knives, Maketja seemed to do things that Thomas could only think of as almost impossible.
It was all in a flash of movement that took Thomas a few seconds and an explanation from Carlito to understand. In the mean time Maketja was now in the ready position once more but behind Samosa as the bigger man stumbled back from the sudden attack. His left forearm spilling blood from the deep gash that ran from the elbow to the wrist with the bone showing below. His left hand knife lay in the dirt where he had been standing.
As the two combatants readied themselves for another attack, Thomas had time to put the pieces together and make sense of what he had just seen and the whispered words from Carlito helped him understand what had happened.
"That Patron, is Savat and the knife is the specialty of the Romani. Watch and you will see more if the thief can find the cajones to continue."
Thomas let the split second of action run through his mind as the two protagonists faced each other. Samosa was trying to tie a dirty scarf around his injured forearm to stop the blood loss. Had Maketja wished to he could have moved in and finished the man then and there, but instead he stood his ground and just watched the larger man struggle to bandage the open wound.
Thomas let the picture of the first attack fill his head as he watched the two in the circle. Samosa had gone after Maketja with both knives, the right hand knife was a feint and the left hand was the real danger, but as he swiped with the left hand knife, Maketja had whipped his right hand into view holding a long, thin, curved blade of his own. Where it had come from was anybody's guess. As Maketja's right hand whipped to the front he used its momentum to turn his body into a spin on his left leg which at the same time pushed downward and launched the small frame of the boy into the air and above the slashing left hand knife of Samosa.
As Maketja launched himself over the knife thrust, his spinning body brought his right leg crashing into the side of Samosa's head while the long thin knife slashed downward and opened up Samosa's forearm with the ease of a hot knife through soft butter. It was all over in a split second and Thomas was still not sure he had really seen it as the two in the circle got ready for another attack.
With his left arm now useless, Samosa was filled with such rage that he was blinded to his own danger as he stalked forward to attack the boy once more. This time he would not be taken so easily as he now knew how the boy fought. He would watch for the jump and slash upward before the boy could use his booted feet again.
Samosa circled Maketja but the boy stood his ground and slowly turned so as to keep facing the larger man. Only the light shuffle of his front leg and the hidden right hand that was again behind his back kept Samosa at arm's reach. The circling took a few minutes as each looked for an opening. Occasionally Samosa would make a feint towards one side of Maketja or the other but the boy never blinked or moved from his set path and ready position.
Samosa held his right hand knife out in front with the dangerous point aimed at Maketja's heart, while his injured arm gave him balance. Although there were still drops of blood being lost but not as badly as when the first cut had been made. That Samosa was a tough opponent there was no doubt and the matchup between two so different people should have been in his favour but the smaller figure of Maketja just did not seem worried by the man's large size.
After some feeling out, Samosa made his move. It was fast and dangerous as he sliced upward and then brought the blade across in a swift slashing diagonal that should have cleaved Maketja from shoulder to waist, but the boy was not there and Samosa was far too late and slow to stop what happened next.
Once again Maketja had taken to a high jump but this time he went into a tumble that rolled his smaller body into a ball as it went over the slashing knife of Samosa. At the top of the tumble, Maketja straightened his body, the long thin knife was again seen as it slashed back and forth with a speed that almost defied the eye to follow. As Maketja went over the shoulder of Samosa his booted feet lashed out once more. This time the right foot caught Samosa solidly on the back of the head while the left crashed into the larger man's shoulder with a sickening crack that told of a broken bone. It also served to propel Maketja out of the reach of Samosa and he landed completely at the ready behind Samosa once again.
Samosa struggled to his feet as the stars in his eyes cleared from the heavy kick he had taken to the back of the head. His left side was now totally useless as his arm hung down with an obvious broken shoulder. Samosa's problems did not end there, his right hand was now knifeless as across his knuckles and the first joint of his right fingers were two deep gashes, both showing the bone as the blood dripped from them.
Samosa was now defenceless and he knew it as he tried to clear his vision to see where the damn gypsy was. It took a few seconds for him to realise the gypsy was once again behind him and Samosa was now at his mercy. Even if he could reach the hidden pistol in his sash he doubted he could fire it before the gypsy was on him now that the condition of his right hand made it useless to try.
The crowd was totally silent as they watched the small slim figure of Maketja slowly walk towards where Samosa now knelt on the ground. Taking a position behind the man, Maketja grabbed a hand full of the long curly black hair and wrenched the man's head to one side, baring the hollow between the shoulder and the neck. With a light touch he placed the thin point of his long, curved blade against the hollow and looked up at Thomas as though asking permission.
It was Estaban that called out loudly for all too hear, "Hold Brother, you have shed enough of his blood. Let me return him to his Castilian friends so they can see what happens when they come south to play in the lands of the Andalucian."
Maketja looked down into the defeated eyes of the onetime bandit. With little warning his thin bladed knife moved with fantastic speed and accuracy, as Maketja pushed the man's head forward roughly he walked off to join his waiting friends. On the bare skin of the shoulder was a small X cut into the skin. When Maketja reached his friends he turned and called out to the still kneeling Samosa, "Next time my knife will find that mark and not stop until it is in your heart. Be warned thief."
As previously agreed, Perrin and Estaban's men went into action and soon had the thirty men of the gang tied with their hands behind their backs. Samosa was given a quick bandaging and his broken shoulder was tied tightly by Sergeant Jervis to stop all movement before he too was forced to join his men under guard. Estaban had volunteered to escort the gang back to their own lands in Castile. It was not an easy or safe trip as they would be moving through the heart of the French held lands but it was the only way that Thomas could make his camps safe from the man.
While Estaban took control of their prisoners and led them out of the camp the next morning, Thomas and his young Officers set about finding another French target to harry. After both looking at the reports from before and once again asking questions of the boys who had been sent out to spy, the young Officers found their new target.
It had been noticed by many of the local people that the French had one small convoy of three wagons arrive and depart every sixty days. The next one would be in fifteen days. It had been noted that the French never changed the time and it was always on time and well guarded. There was only one conclusion for the group to make. It must be the pay wagon for the army. It would be a very good way to cause problems for the French if their army could not be paid on time. The plans were started on and as soon as Estaban had returned from his journey to Castile without his prisoners, they could look at the French paymaster and his small convoy.
It was fully ten days before Estaban returned to the two canyons. There was not a single word said about his prisoners or their eventual demise or how it might have come about. It was to be months before Thomas heard vague rumours that a certain bandit and his gang had been found one day all hanging by the neck outside a small town in Castile called Ocana. There had been a notice around each of the gang's necks that said simply "Thief" nothing more was mentioned about it in the small army of El Toro.
With Estaban's return it was time to look at the new plan. The road taken by the pay wagon had been the same for months and there seemed to be no thought that it might change. There was one place that had been selected as the most likely place for an ambush. The road ran through a wide valley that stretched for more than a mile through the lightly forested and low ridge.
The road was in the centre of the valley and had clear ground for some fifty yards on either side which then ran into the thicker trees of the woods. In theory it should have been a safe place as the guards would have a good view of anyone trying to attack them, unless of course the attackers had the habit of double charging their muskets and rifles. If there were such people then the same safe valley could become a killing ground with little or no escape.
It was now only two days before the expected small wagon train was due at the shallow valley near the town of Alcolea. It was time for Thomas and his little army to move off so they were there well before the wagons arrived. It would give them one more chance to check the area and make sure they had a good safe escape route out of it.
It was not known if all three wagons carried coin or if it was just one with the other two being either decoys or carrying something else that was valuable. They would have to wait until they were able to look under the canvas covers.
The guards on the wagons were always the same. Ten Lancers rode at the front of the first wagon which had a driver and six Infantry guards riding on top, there was then another six Lancers and the second wagon was set with the same guards and driver. The last wagon was also the same with another six Lancers leading the way and another ten Lancers riding as rear guard.
Thomas took his own Company along with Estaban as he knew more of the local people and many also knew of him or his family. It was just another safety factor they had to use if needed. The two Companies left behind along with the gunners were given a separate target, and if the plan worked right, the French would be more worried about their attack and not find out about the smaller wagon train until far too late.
Carmelo and Perrin would lead their Companies along with the sixteen guns of Sergeant Major Croxley's artillery to the area east of Baylen in Cordova. Once there they would set up another ambush of the long supply trains coming across the plains and through the pass from Almanza. It was the secondary supply route to the army at Barrosa.
Carmelo and Perrin had left a day ahead of Thomas and Estaban as they had further to travel and far more chance of running into French trouble. All their travel would once again be at night, as most of it was now done being as they were so close to the French lines.
The information they had gathered about the three wagon convoy meant they had to make sure their attacks were on the same day. The distraction of two main attacks coming so far apart, they hoped would confuse the French long enough for all of them to make their escape back to the canyon at Cabezas de San Juan.
While the paymaster wagons looked to be well protected, Thomas though he had a distinct advantage with the two Companies. As each man carried the new muskets they actually had the equivalent of nearly five hundred muskets, more than enough to take care of the thirty two Lancers and eighteen Infantry guards. Thomas gave strict order that the horses were not to be harmed or they would never be able to move the wagons.
What had been most noticeable by the watchers of the wagons was the fact the wagons were drawn by six horses and not the usual four like normal supply wagons were. It was a giveaway that this was not a normal supply train.
The morning of the expected arrival of the wagons was now upon Thomas and his men. They had stayed well away from the bottom of the valley as there was a fresh dew on the ground. They did not want to leave any signs that there had been people moving in the valley before the wagons arrived. They had all spent the cold night curled up in their cloak inside the Forrest. At least the thick trees had been able to guard them a little from the sharper chill that was out in the open valley.
There was a faint mist rising from the open valley as the first rays of the new days sun began to warm the cold ground. If Thomas's calculation had been right they could expect to hear or even see the wagons approaching in an hour or two at the most.
Thomas did a final check to make sure all his men had cocked both barrels and were loaded with double charges. With that ascertained he lifted his head and whistled towards the other side of the valley. Although he could not see them, when he heard the answering whistle he knew that Estaban was also ready. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the wagons to appear and the trap could be sprung.
Far to the north in the narrow pass that led to Baylen, Carmelo, Perrin and Croxley had set up their own ambush at the ford that crossed the small tributary that ran down to join with the River Guadalquivir south of Baylen. It was the only way for the supply trains to get through the pass and head south to Barrosa.
Croxley had all sixteen guns trained on the ford and would use solid shot for the first barrage and then follow up with canister. It was hoped he would be able to block the only ford across and cause maximum damage so the muskets could then take their own toll, while the wagons and escort were confused and distracted. It was planned that they would not stay to fight but withdraw as soon as they had caused the blockage of the ford.
The only concern was the accuracy of the guns. Carmelo and Perrin's men would be within forty yards of the crossing and any gun that fired short would kill many of them. To this end Sergeant Major Croxley checked and double checked each guns sighting before he was entirely happy.
Sergeant Major Croxley had sighted his guns into the centre of the river crossing with six of them ranged just to the far side so they could cause panic for those trying to cross, then charge the muskets of those closer to them. On either side of the shallow ford the water was too deep even for a single rider to cross. Carmelo had said the crossing was actually hand made some hundreds of years ago by the Moors when they had invaded Spain and so the need for a wider crossing had never been thought about.
It had been a trial to get the guns set up in the dark of the night. They could not afford to wait for daylight as the supply trains only stopped for the night and then started early each morning. They had to be ready before the first wagons showed up at the ford. The plan was for Sergeant Major Croxley to fire off one full barrage of shot then canister and then hook up his guns and make a run for it. All his men wore the uniforms of the French Artillery so they had a good chance of escaping before they could be caught.
Their escape route was to the east of Baylen on the open plains, it was hoped the uniforms would fool any French they saw along the way. For Carmelo and Perrin it would be a matter of a few fast volleys then run for the surrounding ridge tops and disappear into the wild mountains above them. They would then make their way back to their hidden camp on foot during the dark of the following nights.
Although the ford was handmade with large square blocks of stone and was only about six inches deep, to either side it dropped suddenly to about six feet in depth. It was wide enough that a wagon could cross with a good three feet either side for safety. At each end there were markers to show where the sides were. Carmelo had told the others that there had been a great loss of life among the slaves used to build the ford and it had stood for more than a few centuries.
As the dawn began to break the ambushers got ready to fight. If all went well they would be on their way back to camp in only a few hours. At full light the waiting ambushers heard the rattle of wagons in the distance. Sergeant Major Croxley could suddenly be heard calling his gunners to stand too. It was time for the French to pay another price for their invasion of Spain.
At the same time and far to the south of the ambush site, Thomas heard the sound of approaching wagons. Their steel shod wheels rumbling on the hard surface of the roadway and the louder jingle of the harness could also be heard clearly in the still morning air. Thomas and Estaban's men lay under the trees and scrub at the edge of the Forrest as the small wagon train drew closer. It was almost time to see what the French thought was so valuable that they would make up a special train for so few wagons but such a heavy guard.
The first volley was to be fired from the prone position. For the second volley, should it still be needed, the men would rise to one knee and fire from there. They would then quickly reload and advance on what remained of the guards if there were any. Thomas would have his men fire the first volley and Estaban would follow with his first volley right after. With luck they would have taken care of the guards without having to fire a second volley.
The small wagon train and its guards drew level with Thomas's position, with a loud order he called for the volley. The loud crash of the muskets filled the valley with their noise. It seemed that from every tree around them birds took to the air in a flurry of feathers and loud screeches that almost drowned out the second volley from Estaban.
As the smoke cleared from both sides of the valley the only thing that could be heard were the sounds of a few wounded Frenchmen as they lay strewn along the roadway or hanging over the side of a wagon. None of the wagon horses had been hit but a few of the Lancers mounts were down on the road and struggling to rise. Thomas gave the order for all of them to advance to the now driverless wagons.
Once at the roadside scene of the massacre, Thomas and Estaban sent the others to make sure no Frenchman lived. The odd sound of a single pistol shot told of how few had survived the initial onslaught. The wounded horses were quickly put out of their misery and the drivers for the wagons were selected. Ten minutes after the first volley had been fired and the three wagons were on their way through the narrow pass and would turn to the west and make a hard driven run for their camp. Each wagon carried at least ten of the men while those others that stayed alongside rode their own horses and led others that were now riderless. Only a few of the cavalry horses had bolted and could not be caught.
As the wagons made a hurried escape to the west and the safety of the camp at Cabezas de San Juan, Carmelo and his band were just about to play their own game. Sergeant Major Croxley waited until there were three wagons crossing the ford before he gave the order to fire. The sound of sixteen guns in the early morning stillness caused many heads to raise and backs to stiffen. The French drivers and guard details knew the sound, but had been taken completely by surprise as their heads were still a little foggy from the early morning start to their day.
The Frenchmen's surprise was raised when ten solid shot landed with unerring accuracy in the centre of the ford. The three crossing wagons seemed to just disappear into the concentrated eruption that was once a ford. Large gouts of water were thrown high into the air as bits and pieces of broken wagons began to fall into the river on both sides. To make matters worse there were also six round of canister that blew on the far side of the ford and cut down riders, drivers and guards before they even knew what had hit them.
Carmelo looked at the horrific damage done by the guns behind them. In all reality there was no need for another barrage but Sergeant Major Croxley had already reloaded his guns and was not going to waste the powder. The second barrage just added to the carnage. What none of the attackers knew at the time was that the second barrage had done enough damage to the stone base of the old ford that it would become impassable and the French would once again have to find another but longer route to the front.
Carmelo and Perrin had little to do, although they stayed back long enough to keep any would-be helpers from clearing the ford or approaching to see if they could cross, while Sergeant Major Croxley looked to his guns and rode them out of the area. On his ride for the camp his French uniforms twice saved them having to fight their way out of trouble. For Carmelo and Perrin it turned out to be an easy run home under cover of the night, and they made it back to the camp only hours after Thomas and his two Companies had got back. It was now time to see what the French had been hiding.
Thomas had had the three wagons driven into the main camp but had left them covered until all his men were back safe. He wanted everyone there so they could all see at the same time what all the effort had been about. With the arrival of Carmelo and Perrin with all of their men intact, Thomas sighed with relief. Both ambushes had been successful without a single man lost or wounded. It was a good day to celebrate and now they only had to find out what the French thought was so valuable.
The three wagons stood side by side and separated only by a few yards. All around the three objects of everyone's desire stood the whole population of the two canyons; both soldiers and civilians as Thomas gave Estaban a nod to uncover the first wagon. All three were high sided supply wagons with thick canvas covers tied tightly on top.
The large crowd waited with anticipation as the first wagon was finally stripped of its heavy canvas cover. The mass of people leant forward a little to try to see into the depths so they could determine what was there.
Thomas heard a soft voice beside him as the supplies were revealed. From front to back and stacked as high as the sides would allow were crate upon crate packed so tightly there was little space left. Thomas looked around to see Maketja standing there with a broad smile on his face as he said.
"Patron, you have the Officer's Vin...err, how you say...wine. The wagon is full with the French wine. There is plenty for us to drink. A great party we should have...yes?"
Thomas smiled at Maketja and slowly shook his head, there was so much wine here that he doubted he wanted his men to start drinking at this time of the night. Thomas now had the problem of what to do with all the crates he saw before him. The problem was solved by Carmelo suggesting it all be placed in the barn they used for the armoury. There it would be safe until they worked out what to do with it all.
Thomas agreed with Carmelo and gave the order for the whole wagon to be driven into the large armoury barn while the second wagon was looked at. The second wagon proved to be filled with all sorts of food stuffs, not the type that was fed to ordinary soldiers but the more refined foods reserved for Officers. It appeared they had captured the Officers supply train.
The third wagon was to prove to be the same as the second except for one small change. Sitting at the rear of the wagon and held with a thick metal strap bolted to the bed of the wagon were four metal chests. It did not take a great brain to know what they held. Thomas's smile widened as he realised they had not only captured the Officers supplies but it appeared they had also taken the French armies pay.
Thomas was beginning to think his little army of misfits might yet become a very rich group of soldiers. There was also the many free Spanish and Portuguese that were now in the camp that would also benefit from this new windfall. If the chests were full as he hoped they were, there were going to be a lot of happy people within a day or two. It was almost dusk by the time the wagons were finally looked over. With little ceremony, many of the women in the camp set about going through the French supplies, tonight there would be a huge feast and the French were going to supply the means.
The next morning the camp looked as though it had been hit with artillery as the remains of the party could be seen strewn over the ground. Which also included a large number of snoring men and boys as they slept off the night's excesses. It was closer to midday than many thought before the camp was moving around. Thomas was sitting outside his rough house with a hot cafe and his eyes looking blearily out on the scene of the party from last night, his head was reminding him not to drink so much in future.
In the distance Thomas heard the sound of a fast galloping horse, within a minute he saw the single rider coming towards where he sat. It was the dispatch rider that carried messages back and forth from Thomas to Lisbon. It had become a twice monthly event but Thomas had lost track of the days and had forgotten the rider was due.
The young teen looked tired and worn as he pulled his horse to a halt just where Thomas sat. With a weary and sloppy salute of one who was worn out, the rider handed Thomas his leather dispatch case and waited for instructions. Thomas, even through the haze of his hangover could see the young man had need rest and sent him off to find somewhere to get his head down. For Thomas the dispatch case could wait until his head stopped revolving around his eyeballs.
By the time Thomas had finished his cafe, his head was feeling better and his brain was starting to work. Around the camp site the older and more experienced men were getting things back into shape. The younger ones being worked hard to clear their heads from the previous night's party.
Thomas stretched a few kinks out of his ever changing body and opened the dispatch case just as Carmelo sat down beside him and appeared to be in perfect health. Thomas still did not know how his friend could do it after such a raucous night.
Inside the case were a number of letters which proved to be orders or requests for details of their many attacks on the French rear. Thomas was surprised when he saw the dates on the letters. It was nearly the end of October, they had been out in the field for over two months. He could not work out how the time had got away from him, it was time to make the long trek back to Vimeiro. They had done significant damage to the French lines and his men needed a break from the rigors of the constant attacks and need to stay safe at every turn.
The final letter was from the Viscount himself. It was to remind Thomas about the event the Viscount had organised for January. He was calling it a Military Tattoo and would be made up of contests between the different Regiments and was to be held on the fields outside Lisbon in late January for all those not on the defensive lines at Torres Vedras.
There was also a detailed report about the battles with the French General Massena on the 27th of September. Although Massena could not break the Viscount's lines at Busaco, he did force the Viscount to retreat back to the pre-prepared lines of defence at Torres Vedras. It was going to be a long hard winter for all of them as long as the Viscount's defences held strong. It was thought that General Massena did not have the forces to break the defensive line at that time as so many French soldiers were now held back to combat the rebel attacks in their rear.
With both Christmas and the middle of winter now close, Thomas called for his Officers to give the orders for his men to make ready to move back to Vimeiro. From there they would continue to raid the French but not be as isolated as they were at the present. The move back to Vimeiro would not take place for two weeks as Thomas wanted to get some of his supplies of muskets and powder brought up for the people of the country that were staying behind. He would supply them with as many arms as they needed to keep their fight going until they could be rid of the French once and for all.
For the next two weeks Thomas still sent out small raiding parties which contained large numbers of the civilians amongst his own men. It would give those staying behind a chance to see how to work safely from ambush and keep the French on their toes when Thomas's little army had gone back home.
When the time arrived for Thomas and his men to leave the hidden camp, the farewell party was subdued and many tears were shed as newly made friends said their goodbyes. The civilians had worked well with Thomas's men and many were very sorry to see them go back to Vimeiro. They promised they would fight on in the same manner as Thomas had done and keep the French guessing where El Toro actually was.
The long road back to Vimeiro was both difficult and yet far easier and safer than Thomas thought it would be. Winter had moved in with a vengeance and the roads were muddy and hard to move through but there was one thing that made it all worthwhile. The foul weather had kept most of the French patrols at bay and his long column was able to move rather freely and without interference even when they changed to marching during the day light hours once well inside Portugal.
It was the 28th of November when Thomas, with his tired and hungry army marched into the valley at Vimeiro. The horses had been pushed hard as had the men, and uniforms and boots were a mud spattered mess that would take days to clean and repair before they could go out again. For Thomas there was to be no rest. As the tired column marched into the valley to the waiting hot food and drink prepared by those who had stayed behind, Thomas saw another dispatch rider waiting at his house with Lieutenant Allen by his side.
Thomas plodded wearily into his long empty house with Lieutenant Allen and the dispatch rider close on his heels. When Thomas had rid himself of his mud spattered cloak and boots, he sat at the small table and held out his hand for the message from the rider.
Once he had given over his message, the rider saluted and then left the house to find accommodation for the night. Thomas broke the wax seal and began to slowly read the message from Lisbon. His ability with letters had not improved much since he had been in Portugal and every letter was a long slow process. He often left it to Sergeant Jones to read them and then pass on to Thomas what the message was all about.
Thomas slowly worked his way through the message and then sat back and sighed the sigh of the weary. Thomas dropped the long message onto the table and looked up at Lieutenant Allen. Just as he was about to speak, Carmelo and Estaban knocked and then walked into the room.
"Just in time, the Viscount wants us to stay here for the winter and prepare for his Military Tattoo. He would like us all to take part and wants the whole Battalion present. Mister Allen, could you go and find Mister Perrin and our gunnery Sergeant Major, also see if you can find Lieutenant Lorenco we will need his help.
Without a word Lieutenant Allen left to find the others. Thomas sat back wearily and tried to raise a tired smile for his two closest friends while they waited for the others. As he sat thinking, Thomas finally decided there were those who deserved to be recognised for all their hard work over the last few months. With a devious smile on his face he asked Carmelo to find Sergeant Jervis and ask him to join them at once.
Carmelo left just as the others were walking up to the door. A few minutes later Carmelo returned with Sergeant Jervis by his side. It was time to start the meeting.
"Well my friends, first things first. I have decided on two more promotions. Sergeant Jervis you are promoted to Second Lieutenant. I would like you to find a few extra helpers for your surgeon's tent so that you can train them as best you can. There may come a day when they are needed and you also need to take some time for yourself. Sergeant Major Croxley, you also are promoted to Second Lieutenant. I will leave it up to you as to who should be promoted to fill any gaps in your gunners. Now the next thing we have to contend with is this damn Tattoo thing the Viscount wants us to take part in. I know nothing about this sort of thing so any suggestions?"
Thomas watched as Carmelo looked at Estaban, and Estaban then looked at Perrin, Allen, Lorenco and the two newly promoted Officers. As if by silent agreement, Carmelo spoke for the others.
"Patron, this is of no real import. Perhaps you could be so generous and leave it all to us. There is many other things that need your hand, this little thing we can do for you without trouble, Yes?"
"Yes Carmelo, thank god for that. I was starting to worry about doing this but if you all want to do it then good enough. There are other things I can concentrate on. One last thing, Mister Perrin will you go and find Sergeant Jones? Tell him to put on the stripes of a Sergeant Major and report here as soon as he has done that."
"Yes Sir, I'll go look for him now."
"Alright you lot, the Tattoo is all yours. You will have to have the men ready by mid January and the Viscount wants us in Lisbon by the 22nd so you all have just a little more than two months to do something."
As the others were filing out of the room, the newly promoted Sergeant Major Jones arrived with his pens, papers and ledgers. They were both going to be busy for the rest of the day just catching up on or writing reports for the Viscount.
It was two days before Christmas when Thomas was wandering through the barn used as an armoury that he saw something he knew nothing about. At the far end of the armoury there had been built two small extra rooms, one on each side of the large structure. The two rooms were built of solid looking stones and had a small door with a tiny barred window set high in it. Both doors were locked with large heavy padlocks.
Thomas looked around the large barn but could see no-one in sight. He tried looking through the barred windows but there was a lack of good light to make out much detail. Thomas stepped back and thought for a minute, he was supposed to know everything that went on in his own camp and yet here were two rooms he had been oblivious to. Thomas set his mind to finding out why they were there.
As Thomas meandered his solitary way back to his house, he suddenly noticed that the valley seemed unusually quiet and empty. Except for the few Colour Guard that were down by the valley entrance where they often spent most of their time as guards for the Battalion campsite.
Thomas finally arrived back at his house where the newly promoted Jones was bent over the desk working on more reports. Thomas coughed as he entered and Jones looked up with tired eyes, as he had been bent over his papers for a number of hours. The arrival of Thomas now gave him an excuse to stop for a rest.
"Jones, what are those extra rooms in the armoury for?"
"Extra rooms Mister Marking? What extra rooms Sir?"
"The two small rooms at the rear of the barn. I don't remember seeing them before?"
"Oh yes those rooms. Well Mister Marking, Mister Grey had those constructed some time ago. He said they were for storage and only he and Mister Colosio have the key to the padlocks. I'm sorry Mister Marking you will have to ask them."
"Damn it all, now my damned friends are hiding things from me! What'll it be next?"
"I don't think they are hiding anything from you Mister Marking, I think it is more that they don't want you to worry about the small things. Perhaps after you talk to them it will all become clearer."
"Thank you Jones, yes I'll ask them when I can find them. Any ideas where they might be today?"
"No Sir but they did lead the whole army out of camp very early this morning. They have been doing that for some time now. I never mentioned it as I thought you would already know what they were up to."
"I don't have a damn clue. All this report stuff has taken up all my time and this is the first chance I've had to look around in any depth. If you see either of them before I do, kindly ask them to come and see me."
"Now do we have anything more to do with those damn papers?"
"No Sir, this is the last of it. I only have the pay ledgers to bring up to date and then we both have nothing else to do until the next time."
"Good. When you get finished, go and find somewhere to hide for a few days. You need the rest as much as I do. If anyone is looking for me I will be out the back with the boys having cafe and lunch."
It was late in the afternoon and Thomas was sitting under what was now his favourite tree with a small brandy in his hand, when he heard the heavy sound of marching feet followed closely by the sound of gun carriages. Looking up at the far end of the valley, he was just in time to see his troops returning from God knew where. They all looked tired and dirty but they marched in perfect order as they were led towards him by his Junior Officers.
Thomas sat and watched as the small army was finally formed up at attention not far from where he sat under the tree. After a short time the loud voice of Carmelo was heard telling the troops to dismiss. There was a loud stamping of boots and then a lot of laughter and yelling as the troops split up and went their own way to clean up and wait for their dinner.
Thomas watched and waited as he saw his Officers take note that he was resting under the tree. Without further delay they all joined together and made for his resting place. The last of the sunlight was fading and the first of the chill night time breeze could be felt on his bare skin as the friends neared.
When all his Officers and friends finally arrived, Thomas looked up at them with an enquiring look, as usual Carmelo was the first to speak.
"Yes Patron. What is it you wish?"
"Where have you lot been and what are you up to?"
"Ah Patron, we are doing as you wanted. Making the army ready for the games of the Viscount General. Is it not what you desired?"
The innocent look that Carmelo was trying to pull off did not fool Thomas for a minute but he had to admire his friends attempt at innocence.
"Carmelo Grey, I damn well know you are up to something. It might be a good idea to come clean now and save me some worrying later."
"Come clean Patron? Why would we have to come clean? Do we not bathe regularly and our uniforms always they look good for inspections?"
"What's going on?"
"Only what you have asked us to do, prepare for the Viscount Generals games, Patron."
"And I suppose the two small extra rooms in the armoury had nothing to do with it?"
"Extra rooms Patron?"
"Yes Carmelo Grey, the two extra rooms...what are they for?"
"Oh those extra rooms Patron! Well Patron, they are for storing things."
"Storing what things Carmelo?"
"Some things for the Officers and some things for the men Patron, nothing of real importance."
"If it is not important then why the large padlocks on the doors?"
"Ahh...those padlocks...well Patron...ahh well some things need to be safe from prying eyes Patron."
"Lieutenant Carmelo Grey, if you do not start giving me some straight answers I will banish you to Paris and you can sleep with the French. Now what the hell is going on in my camp?"
Thomas watched as Carmelo looked at the others for support. They all knew this time would come, but had really hoped they would be able to keep Thomas mind off it until the war was over. They had all felt he already had far too much to worry about and wanted him to not worry about their little deception on his behalf. But now it was time for it all to come out. They had been caught fair and square and there was little they could now do about it.
With a nod from all the others present, Carmelo took a deep breath before offering his explanation.
"Patron we did not want to worry you with the small things of your army. The rooms are where we store the coins from your many raids. The room on the right is for the Officers and the one on the left for the men. As the men have very little chance to spend their pay they asked us to store it for safe keeping the same as your Officers. Mister Jones has every detail in his books and each man and Officer has his own bag stored in the rooms with is name on it. If a soldier dies his monies, and a small collection taken by the men, is sent to their family."
"I see and this is the only reason you have kept it from me?"
"Yes Patron...well apart from one small thing Patron."
"And what is that small thing Carmelo Grey?"
"You're share Patron, it is also kept there."
"My share? What share is that Carmelo?"
"Why the Patron's share. Mister Jones has it all worked out for us just like in your Navy. The Patron gets a share then the Officers get another share and then the men also get a share depending on their rank in the army. It is all fair and the men have agreed to it as well. We had a big meeting and everyone said it was a good thing."
"A meeting? And why was I not at this meeting?"
"You are the Patron. There was no need for you to be there as no one would talk against their Patron."
"And when was this meeting, I do not remember your all holding one?"
"Oh it was long ago Patron, maybe last year or earlier."
"Last year or earlier... perhaps even the year before?"
"Perhaps Patron the year before is closer."
"So you have kept this from me for more than two years. It leaves me to wonder just how much loot you have stored in those two rooms Mister Grey."
"Not a lot Patron... perhaps a few chests."
"How many is a few Mister Grey?"
By this time all of his Officers were blushing and trying to keep their faces hidden as Thomas pulled the information word by word from Carmelo who was also now blushing brightly.
"Perhaps ten or twelve Patron."
"Perhaps ten or twelve. So which is it Mister Grey? Ten or twelve?"
"Uhm... perhaps fifteen Patron."
"Fifteen now... and the men's share?"
"Perhaps another two chests Patron but it is all in small bags with their names so it is hard to tell for sure."
Thomas let Carmelo off the hook for a little while as he now stared at Lieutenant Jones.
"Mister Jones, I well know your records are exact and never wrong. I want to know to the last coin how much has been secreted in those rooms for the Officers and men."
"Well Mister Marking, it's like this Sir, with the numbers we now have there is about one hundred and sixty thousand in gold and a further seventy one thousand in silver in the Officers room and in the men's room there is fifteen thousand in gold and twenty two thousand in silver coins Sir."
"Where the hell did all that come from?"
"From all the raids and battles Sir. From the start the men wanted to put all their gains together and when this war is over they will split if evenly amongst themselves. As you know Sir the men do a little bit of shopping after a battle then there is also what we have taken from the French in terms of loot from their chests."
"That can't be right Mister Jones, there is no way we have taken that much from them."
"It's been over four years now Sir, it all adds up in time."
"But they must have spent most of their pay by now?"
"On what Sir, they go into Vimeiro but most times they end up helping the people with small chores around the town or farms and so are not asked for payment when the time comes. Although Sir, two of the chests do belong to His Majesty's Army Pay Corps, the other thirteen are from the French."
"So tell me Mister Jones, if I had not seen those rooms, just when was I going to be told of all this?"
"Ohh that's easy Sir, at the end of the war when it came time to divide it all up and pay everyone their dues."
"And just how many were going to get their dues, Mister Jones?"
"At this time Sir, nine hundred and sixty four men."
"What! Where the hell did that many men come from? Our force was numbered at five hundred and thirty two."
"Yes Sir it was but that was a year ago. We have had a few more arrive and join us since then Sir."
"Just exactly how many do we have and their makeup Mister Jones?"
"Sir, there are four hundred and thirty two Originals and Replacements including Officers, three hundred and sixty one Auxiliary's including Officers and one hundred and seventy one Irregulars Sir."
"Damn that's near a full Regiment. Tell me Mister Jones, are all of them being paid their full wages including the Irregulars?"
"Yes Sir just as you ordered."
"Yes sir, you gave me the order some two years ago. Everything is in the ledgers Sir."
"Damn it all I am really getting out of touch with the men if I don't even know what's going on anymore."
Carmelo cut in this time, "Patron, there are many things for you to do, this is just a small part that we watch over for you. The men understand that you have much to do to keep them safe and fully understand. There are no thoughts against you Patron."
"Right, well I'm going to have to get about more. Is there anything else you have been keeping from me?"
"Not that I can think of Patron. Do not worry we will watch over it all for you while you work to keep us safe just as you have been."
"Frankly Carmelo I don't know if that makes me feel good or I should be more worried now that I know."
"There is nothing to worry over Patron. We have it all made good and now we just have the party for the Viscount General and that is also close to ready. Tomorrow is a rest day as it is the time of Navidad, how you say...Christmas. Tomorrow there will be a great feasting and much music and singing."
"Christmas? Damn I had forgotten all about it again. Where the devil has the time gone?"
The next day started overcast but the party atmosphere did not wane as the camp began its celebrations. They went on into the late hours of the night and the next day there was little movement in the camp until very late in the morning. It was two hours after midday before the camp was once again in an orderly state and even then the men and boys looked as though they should still have been abed.
It was a sorry looking army that went early to their beds that night although the watery sun was still in the sky as they lay their heads down and closed tired eyes. Thomas and his friends fared no better and were all glad to find an early night. Their evening meal was the bare minimum at best but no one complained or even noticed, the cook boys had also partied well into the night.
It was two weeks later when Lieutenant Jones came into the house to see Thomas.
"Yes Mister Jones?"
"There's a jack Tar outside wants to see you Sir, won't give no name Sir."
"Damn it, Ok Mister Jones, send him in. What the hell the Navy wants now beats me, I thought we were done with them for a while."
Jones left and only seconds later Thomas heard the heavy tread of boots as a man walked into his home office. Thomas turned towards the man and then let his jaw drop as he recognised the large figure before him.
"Master Gunner Craven! What the hell are you doing here?"
"Hello Captain Marking. Thought I might pop along to see how you was doin and see if you wanted a hand with them damn Frenchies?"
"But how did you get here and why would the Navy want to let you come?"
"Well Captain, seems that after seeing Mister Scully go down I was a little peeved, a certain old gentleman asked about and the Navy said I could come and watch over my little brother. If the little toe rag is still alive and kicking. Not one word has reached home on how he is doin or if he stopped kicking, so here I am. Have you got space for another gunner Captain?"
"For you Master Gunner I will damn well make space. Can I ask you what happened to the boys you saved?"
"They is waiting outside Captain. None of them wanted to go to another ship if they was separated, the same elderly gentleman organised them as well."
"Well I'm damn glad to see you Master Gunner. Does Snot know you are here yet?"
"Don't think so Captain, didn't see him on the way in so I guess not. Do him right good to get a scare when he see's it's me, might get him to send word home once in a while. Our Da aint half crook on him not writing like."
"Well welcome to the misfit's battalion Master Gunner. As of this minute you are promoted to Second Lieutenant. I'll get you settled with Mister Croxley as soon as they return, he is in command of the guns here."
"Croxley? Maxamillian Croxley? He's here? Damn it my Da will be pleased. Best gunner ever worked under my Da was Max. Da says he had the touch, could hit anything he could see, could Max."
"Yes he has proven that time and again. Well Mister Craven, let me take you down to the kitchens. Your brother is in charge of them and the boys that work there. I want to see the look on his face when he see's you."
"After not writing home it's not his face he should worry about Captain, but lead the way Sir."
Thomas was laughing as he led Craven towards where the main kitchens had been set up. As the two old friends stepped outside the house, Thomas saw five younger boys all wrapped up in thick cloaks and waiting in the cold. It was not difficult for Thomas to know they were the five survivors from Scully's ship. Their wide eyed stare as they tried to look all around this strange camp, gave Thomas a feeling of pity for ones so young and what they had been through in their short lives.
Thomas turned back to look at the large barn like building that had been constructed as a kitchen for all the men under his command. A quick glance at Craven as he signalled for the boys to follow them and Thomas led them on. Inside he had a warm feeling beginning to build.
Finally, there was something to feel good about and the arrival of Craven gave him a new hope that all was not lost at a time when the winter was cold and damp and the future still looked grim for the men encamped on the peninsular as the war moved slowly on. Perhaps there was a chance at a future after all. Thomas had been told in one of the dispatches that this next year would determine the eventual outcome of the war. With the arrival of Craven, it had for some reason given him a new hope for the coming year.
It was as he walked Craven to the kitchens that Thomas suddenly remembered he was almost fourteen. In the back of his mind he also had a sudden thought that he felt so much older than his years. Had the blasted war done this to him?
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