Copyright © 2016
The kitchen was a large open building, the rear wall was made of stone and had four chimneys along its length which were sending smoke and steam up into the cold winter air. There were four large wooden benches set out for the preparation of the food and they sat in front of the ovens and large cast iron plates used for cooking meats. Large pots and pans were spread all over the area with a wood fire underneath and about thirty boys and very young teens worked hard to get the next meal ready for when the troops returned.
The cooks were dressed in black trousers with long black shiny boots, the obvious horn handle of a large knife could be plainly seen tucked into the right hand boot top. The big apron around their fronts hid most of their clothes and they all had the sleeves of their white shirts rolled up above their elbows to keep them clean. Nearly every cook had his back to the six watchers and so they were not seen.
Out in front of the large benches were two long rows of trestle tables where the troops would sit once they had their food. It was all covered by the framework of rough branches and then large squares of thick canvas spread over the top to keep the weather at bay.
At the end of the wall nearest where the six were approaching; Craven could just make out what appeared to be a long rack with a large number of double barrel muskets standing upright; above the muskets were some wooden pegs and on these hung various items that Craven recognised. A strange leather belting with a double barrelled pistol in it, the familiar black hat, a red and gold sash and the also familiar black jacket
Thomas pulled Craven to the side and silently indicated the man and his five boys should take a hiding place behind the rear wall so they could watch what was to come but not be seen. When the new arrivals were suitably hidden as Thomas wanted; he stood just outside the kitchen building and called out loudly, "ALARM... ALARM... ALARM."
Craven watched as he saw Thomas apparently counting to himself as, from inside the kitchen there came the loud crashing of pots and pans then the sound of running boots on flagstone floors. Craven watched and waited as Thomas counted out until the first of the cooks came running through the exit of the kitchen. The first ten boys were still wearing their white aprons but they had thrown on their red and gold sash over it and the leather harness with the pistol was tied tightly over their shoulders. In their hands was the double barrelled musket. There was no hat on their heads.
The first ten ran out and kneeled down to form a half circle facing out towards the valley entrance with their muskets at the ready and searching for the enemy. Moments later and the rest of the cook boys were being cajoled by a familiar voice to Craven and there were quickly two more ranks standing behind the first with their muskets pointing outward.
"Very good Corporal, I counted to 97 this time, much better. Now then you had better send your men back inside before our dinner is burnt but I would like you to stay behind for a minute." Thomas's voice was more gentle than usual and it was easy to pick up the hint of a smile behind his words.
Snot told his boys to return to the kitchen and continue with preparations for dinner. Once done he turned back to Thomas and waited for his commander to speak first.
"Tell me Corporal, when was the last time you wrote home to your Da?"
"Oh...ah...uhm well Sir I sort of forgot what with all the stuff going on."
"You forgot to write to your Da? How do you think that makes him feel Corporal?"
Snot lowered his head and looked to be thoroughly embarrassed by it all as Thomas waited for an answer that never came.
"Well Corporal, I have someone here who is a little upset you have ignored your Da. Lieutenant, if you please?"
Thomas watched as Craven appeared with his five boys from behind the wall. It was hard for Thomas to keep a straight face as he watched the look on Snot's face as he saw his brother appear from hiding.
"Cray, Cray; what are you..." Snot did not get a chance to finish what he was going to say as Craven stalked towards him. Craven did not say a word but walked up in front of Snot and gave him a hefty clout on the back of the head before saying, "That's from Da. Tonight you little toe rag, you be writing to him or there be more of the same till you do." Craven now looked at his little brother and his features softened as he saw Snot's face redden as he tried to keep his feet from the force of the sudden clout to the back of his head.
"Right then Corporal, I want you to prepare something for these new arrivals to eat and drink. They've had a long journey from Lisbon and must be hungry and thirsty. Do you have something they can have right now?"
"Yes Sir, there's food ready and won't be a minute to make a hot drink Sir."
"Good, then you better get about it. Once that's done you can spend some time with your brother and catch up on the news from home. Lieutenant Morgan?"
"I would be checking your mug before you drink, we have a certain Corporal in the kitchens that has been known to salt a man's drink for the fun of it."
"Aye Captain, I'll be keeping an eye on a certain Corporal Captain." Thomas smiled at the reply. It looked like he would once again have to answer to the old Navy habit of using "Aye" instead of "Yes".
"When you have finished Lieutenant I would like to see you and your friends at my office."
"Aye Captain, quick as we can Sir."
"There's no hurry Mister Morgan, we have all day so enjoy your meal and visit."
"Thank you Captain."
Thomas left them to enjoy their time and his wide smile helped to make it a good day after all as he went back to his house and to the never ending task of reports and other business.
It was just over an hour before Craven appeared at his door and then entered with his five youngsters. After being directed to some of the hard backed chairs, Thomas began asking questions and listening to Cravens report.
It was a further half hour before the preliminaries were out of the way and the five newcomers had signed articles with the 1st Battalion; Thomas then asked them what they wanted to do in his little army.
"Mister Craven I know you would like to help with the guns so I will get Mister Croxley to take you in hand; he needs the extra help as he is the only Officer I have that is familiar with the guns. Now then what about these five?"
"This is Smithson, Captain. He was a midshipman with our Mister Scully. Good with the navigation and fair at the charts he is. Next is the three powder monkeys, Reeve, Monty and Sable, I think they may want to keep with the guns as well Captain. It's what they knows best. This here is Fairley, was cabin boy to Mister Scully. Don't rightly know much else does ye Fairley?"
Thomas watched as the young teen lowered his head to hide the blush and gave a small nod in agreement to Craven's words. Thomas watched the four boys silently as he tried to work out what to do with them. After a few minutes of silence he looked up and made his decision but told them about a few things they would have to learn before much longer.
"As you all saw, everyone in this Battalion prepares for a fight and we go armed at all times. As you may have seen even the cooks are ready to fight and are just as capable as any other man in the Battalion. You will all have to take part in training as well. Next there is the language. As you may have noticed we all use Spanish as our common language. It makes it easier for those that have no English and saves a lot of time. I'll have someone help you with that part. Mister Morgan as I have already said, you will help as Second Officer to Mister Croxley. I see no reason for you not to take Reeve, Monty and Sable with you. Mister Smithson, I would like you to consider taking a place here. I need someone who can make a good map of our locations and can get us from one place to the other without delay. In the army we don't have an equivalent rank such as Midshipman so the best I can do for you is give you the rank of Subaltern. Does this meet with your approval Mister Smithson?"
"Yes Sir, thank you Sir. I shall endeavour to do my best for the Battalion Sir."
"Thank you Mister Smithson. Now then Mister Morgan, there is little for you to do until Mister Croxley returns later in the day. I will call for Mister Jones, my Adjutant and he will see that you get outfitted as best we can until I have you measured for your uniforms; the Widows of Vimeiro make them all for us. We are soon to go back to Lisbon for the Viscounts special Tattoo so I hope we can get you all settled before then. Now lastly Fairley, I would like you to take over as my batman. My other servants are now so busy with other things I find it is not fair for me to keep calling on them for other things as well. Would you like the position? I will have Sergio and Carlito help you until you are well settled and they will help you with the language as well?"
Fairley replied with a voice so soft that Thomas could barely hear him, "Thank you Sir."
Thomas called for Jones who appeared in seconds as he had been just out of sight and waiting as he did often. With a smile he was introduced to the newcomers and took them away to the gunner's barracks where they could be settled in. Fairley stayed behind and before Thomas could call for one of his boys, Sergio appeared from the back of the house and stood beside him.
In Spanish, Thomas told Sergio who Fairley was and why he wanted him to take over the work the two boys had been doing for him. Sergio looked at Fairley and nodded his head as Thomas explained it all to him. When Thomas had finished his explanation, Sergio stepped in front of Fairley and looked him up and down before reaching out and feeling the boy's arms and chest. With a nod of his head he signalled for Fairley to follow him and the new boy's training began immediately. Even though there was a language barrier that Sergio seemed to completely ignore as he prattled on with instructions. Fairley's young face showed his incomprehension but he followed along and tried to make the best of it.
The next morning Thomas sat outside with his hot cafe as the first rays of a warming sun rose over the ridge top. There was a definite hint of spring in the air as the warmth hit him and warmed his bones.
Looking around the stirring camp, Thomas suddenly realised he did not really know what was going on any more. He had been so bogged down with the reports and paper work of the Battalion that he had lost the close contact he had once had with the men. Thomas resolved that it was time for a change. He had been kept apart from the day to day events of his Battalion for far too long. Things had to change and now was the time to do it.
When the breakfast bell was rung, Thomas put on his jacket which Fairley had cleaned and pressed for him during the night. He then made his way to the large mess area attached to the kitchen. Much to everyone's surprise, Thomas took his place in line with the men and moved along to get his breakfast. It was much the same everyday and consisted of a thick hot porridge and a tin mug of hot, thick soup.
Thomas looked around after he had his meal in hand and saw that all his Officers were sitting at a single table, instead of joining them he went to find a place amongst the gunners. After squeezing into a place at the top of the table, Thomas looked at the men and smiled as he scooped up a spoon full of porridge. It was then he saw that the men were pouring a thick golden coloured syrup over theirs.
After swallowing his mouth full of porridge, Thomas looked at the closest young man and asked, "What's that?"
"Sugar syrup Captain. Mister Croxley has it sent in with the supplies once a month. Don't rightly know where it comes from but right nice it is. Would you like some Captain?"
"Yes Thank you ahh...?"
"Bentley Sir, Gunner's Mate on number three gun Sir."
"Thank you Bentley, I would like to try that for myself."
"Here you go Sir." Bentley gave the earthen jug to Thomas and watched as his Captain spread the thick syrup over his steaming porridge. Bentley smiled as he took the jug back and watched the expression on his Captains face as the young Officer took the first mouthful.
"What do you think, Captain?"
"Damn that's good Bentley. I'll have to ask Mister Croxley about it."
It seemed to be the ice breaker as the rest of the table began to talk as they ate. Thomas sat back and listened only adding a few words when directly asked. From behind where Thomas sat he could hear movement and chatter, glancing over his shoulder he saw that his Officers had left their table and done the same as he had done, and joined the men at their tables.
There was one thing Thomas noticed that he wanted to correct. They now had so many extra bodies in the Battalion that the mess tables were crowded and each man sat with elbows touching and packed together like fish in a barrel. He would have to have the mess extended and give his men some space to eat in comfort. Had he not decided to come and join them today he would never have known about this small difficulty. He wanted his men to be treated as best as he could make it for them. If they were happy then they would fight harder.
Try as he might, Thomas could not get any information about the goings on when the men had left the camp for the day. It appeared they had been told to keep their mouths shut about what they were doing for the upcoming Tattoo. Thomas was now left in the dark and his friends and Officers were of little help either.
It was the 19th of January and they were now assembling for their move en-mass to Lisbon for the great Tattoo. The wagons had been packed, supplies put in and weapons checked. The men would march in their usual style but this time they were spaced six to a rank. They would be followed by the supply wagons, at the rear would be the sixteen guns in ranks of two.
The sun had risen only an hour earlier when Thomas looked at his battalion all ready to depart. It was now he truly saw how big his small army had become. Instead of the original four Company's there were now seven, which also included the gunners which made up their own Company and Estaban had now formed his own Company into a Cavalry unit but with muskets instead of lances. Lieutenant Lorenco also now had a full Platoon of Sharpshooters under his command. Things really had got the better of him, Thomas thought as he looked at the changes.
The original Drummers had been broken up into smaller units and were represented in each Company. As Thomas looked around he tried to see where he fitted in, there seemed to be no obvious place until all his Officers came up to him smiling widely as they looked behind Thomas at something he could not see.
It was only moments before Thomas heard the sound of horse's hooves walking towards the small group. Thomas turned around and saw Estaban leading a number of white Andalucian horses their way.
"What's this Carmelo? You know we always march with the men."
"Not this time Patron. This time we are going to see the army of England. They must see that you are well mounted and held in high regard by all your men. Patron you are El Toro and must be seen to lead not march with the others. Yes in a time of fighting it is good to be with your men but, for this time it is better you are seen to be in charge. It is only right with your English army that you ride a fine horse at the head of your army. The men understand Patron, they all think it should be so."
Thomas could feel the heat of his blush as he looked at the fine horse standing before him. With a sigh and a shrug of his slim shoulders Thomas mounted and waited while the others also mounted on the other horses waiting for them.
Thomas led the Officers to the head of the long column. The men were waiting patiently and had a Senior NCO at their head. When the Officers were at the head of the column Thomas heard the call for the drums.
In the van of the column rode the three brothers side by side with their muskets in their right hand and the butt resting on their right thigh. They were the van guard even though there was little danger of being attacked. It appeared someone in Thomas's army had made a lot of plans he had no knowledge of. Next came Thomas with Estaban and Carmelo on either side.
Behind them were Perrin, Croxley and Jones. In the third rank were Allen and an uncomfortable looking Carver with Lorenco. Next came the Colour Guard on foot. It appeared that Lieutenant Allen had gathered an extra man to carry the fourth banner as they now paraded the Union Jack, the flag of Portugal, one of Spain and the Battalion's Battle Colours with the black bulls head.
At the sound of the drum roll the long column began their march in good order and all in step. The sound of their shiny black boots on the hard packed ground echoing in the stillness of their home valley.
The long column wound its way down from the valley until it arrived at Vimeiro. There they straightened up and marched in style through the village many now called a second home, much to the delight of the village people as they cheered their soldiers as they passed.
It was an hour before midday before they were down on the wide plain below Vimeiro and Thomas called a halt so the men could eat their lunch before the real march started. From here on, they would be moving at what had come to be known as Battle Pace.
Thomas had just finished eating when he saw Lieutenant Allen call for the Colours to be furled and covered, the drums were strapped to the Drummers packs and the final check was made of the men's equipment. With the Officers once again at the head of the column, Thomas heard the loud voice of Carmelo call out the order of march. His voice while young had far more power than Thomas had ever heard him use before as it echoed over the silent plain and reached even the furtherest soldier at the rear of the long column.
"1st Battalion Drummers and Auxiliaries will march at Battle Pace, Advance."
The horses were kicked into a trot as the men behind them took up the pace at double march. From then on they would slow to standard march and then back to double march as they settled into the well known gavotte. The miles slipped away and by nightfall they were further than expected. Thomas thought there was a good chance they would make Lisbon late the next day and not the morning of the third as had originally been thought. Thomas thought that if they could make it early it would give the men time to rest well before the Tattoo. It was then he realised he did not have a camp for them to go to, he turned to Carmelo and mentioned the oversight.
"Do not worry Patron, it has all been settled. The dispatch rider will meet us outside Lisbon and direct us to our camp, it is all arranged."
Thomas nodded his head as his thoughts turned to the new fact that things were being done without his knowledge. It gave him a funny feeling of isolation and yet he still felt the deep friendship and caring of all those around him. It was a funny feeling to have while still amongst so many old and trusted friends.
The journey to the new camp at the edge of Lisbon was totally peaceful and there had been no problems along the way. Even Lieutenant Carver Morgan had now gotten used to riding his horse and seemed to be moving a little freer than before. The large camp site had been prepared with the round tents for their accommodations although the tents had not been erected and had been left in a pile near the entrance to the large field.
It was late in the day when the Battalion arrived and now they all had to work hard to get their tents erected before the full chill of the night descended down on them. The many other problems also had to be taken into consideration such as the kitchens, holding areas for the horses and wagons, as well as a place to put the guns and caissons under cover.
The Battalion was finally sitting down to their supper in the dark. The final few pieces of setting up camp had taken them into the night but now it was time to eat and sleep. They had made Lisbon with a day to spare and were all looking forward to the days rest before the big Tattoo.
Thomas was awakened the next morning with his usual hot cafe by the new young lad Fairley. The lad also had a message for him as he went about getting Thomas's day to day uniform ready.
"Sir, there is a message from the Viscount Wellington. He requests your presence at eleven of the clock, he would also like your Adjutant to bring his ledgers for audit."
"Thank you Fairley. Does Mister Sharpe know about it?"
"Yes Sir, twas he that told me to tell you."
"Good then ask him to be ready also."
Fairley disappeared once Thomas had got to pulling on his shiny boots and checking that his knives were fully in place. Thomas was now well used to checking his weaponry each morning, although this time he would leave behind his pair of Manton's but not his Purdy and Richards. Thomas reached for his baton and headed out for the temporary kitchen to join his men for breakfast.
It was just before eleven of the clock when the three horses were pulled up outside the large mansion that housed the Viscount and his Senior Officers. Thomas helped Jones down as he was also trying to carry six large ledgers and dismount at the same time. Carmelo was beside him immediately to help. With Jones safely on the ground and struggling to hold onto his ledgers, the three young Officers strode towards the wide steps and their meeting with the Viscount.
The three young Officers had to wait only for a half hour before Colonel Lewis showed them into the large office of the Viscount. The older, stern looking man was again busy with reports and other papers as the three marched in and saluted smartly before being told to sit by the harried looking Viscount.
Viscount Wellington looked at the heavy pile of ledgers being held by Jones. Without another word, the Viscount called out loudly, "Major Chase, will you come and take this young man to your office? I want his ledgers checked and a full report within the hour."
Thomas watched as a large Major with a very bulbous red nose from too much spirits appeared from somewhere and marched up to where Jones sat.
"Yes My Lord, will you be wanting it all in writing My Lord?"
"Not at this time Major, a verbal report will suffice for now."
"Yes My Lord. Come on Lieutenant, this way."
Jones stood up with his heavy load and followed the older Officer from the room while Thomas and Carmelo sat and waited for the Viscount to turn his attention on them.
"Well Captain, it's good to see you once again, how are the preparations going for my Tattoo?"
"Uhm...I'm not really sure My Lord, My Officers have taken over that part and have not as yet informed me of what they have done."
"I see, and is it usual for you not to be kept up to date with the affairs of your Battalion, Captain?"
"I must admit My Lord, that there are occasions when it is better I do not know what they are up to but for the Tattoo I felt they would know more than enough to get the men ready to perform their duties."
"Well at least you have confidence in your Officers and men, mores the pity I cannot always do the same. Now then Captain, our congratulations on the efforts to the South. It would appear that you have forced Marshal Soult to delay his advance northward. With luck General Graham's men will catch him unprepared at Barrosa in the spring. Is there anything that you need for your Battalion Captain?"
"No My Lord, we are well catered for in all aspects and the French have seen fit to keep us supplied with powder and shot as well as a few extras."
"Good for you Captain. Everything we can keep from the French the better it will be for our futures. Now then Captain, I would like a rundown of your forces and what you may think you are capable of in the field. I have a fear that sometime in the future I will have to throw you into a battle that is not to your liking."
"At present My Lord, I have seven Companies made up of one Company of Guns, sixteen in all with six Swivel guns extra. There is now one full Company of musket Cavalry along with a full Platoon of Sharpshooters. The other five Companies are made up of my Original Drummers, Spanish and Portuguese Auxiliaries and a large number of Irregulars that have joined our fight along the way."
"And how many in total do you have to call on Captain?"
"Including all Officers, nine hundred and sixty four My Lord."
"That's quite a number Captain, in fact almost a Regiment; what about your camp followers; your cooks and such?"
"All are included My Lord. Their camp duties do not hold them back from the firing lines. My Lord, in our Battalion everyone must be ready to fight. Our style of fighting does not allow for anyone not to be prepared at all times."
"Excellent Captain, your results speak for themselves. What is your situation for Officers and such?"
"I am sure we are now up to a full complement of Officers My Lord. There are more than enough for all the duties."
"Good man Captain. Now then the real reason I have asked you here is for the balance of the winter and the early spring. As I have already said, Graham will attack at Barrosa in the spring and I plan to advance on Fuentes de Onoro in May to push Massena out of Portugal once and for all. I need you and your men to work behind Massena's lines and harass him as much as you can. Your tactics so far have caused the French to pull more than five thousand men off the front lines to protect their rear. I need you to do it again behind Massena."
"Yes My Lord, when do you wish us to move on Massena My Lord?"
"Have your men rested for one week after the Tattoo then take them right from here to Massena's rear. Colonel Sharpe is further to your north east and will be trying to disrupt the French supply and reinforcement lines. I will expect to hear of your success before I present my own attack on his lines in the beginning of May."
"Yes My Lord."
"Good now then where is that damn Major and his report. Colonel Lewis will you kindly find the Major and tell him I am awaiting his report?"
"Yes My Lord."
A few minutes later and the Major arrived with Jones once again carrying the pile of heavy ledgers. There was a tired look on Jones face that also conveyed a little worry to Thomas. Thomas could not understand why Jones would look worried, he was certain that the young man would never do anything wrong. Thomas sat back and waited for the Major to do his report.
"Well Major, are the Battalions ledgers in good order?"
"Yes and no My Lord."
"Explain yourself Major."
"My Lord, while the bookkeeping is of an excellent nature and every coin is accounted for, there does seem to be a rather large anomaly that should be explained by the Captain."
"Well get on with it Major, I don't have all day."
"Well My Lord, it's the pay rates that concern me most. It would appear the rank and file are being paid twice that of your own soldiers and I do not know where the extra money is coming from. The army's payroll money is correct to the penny and yet there is more wages that are not accounted for."
"Captain Marking, would you like to explain this anomaly in your pay ledgers?"
"Yes My Lord, the extra comes from donations My Lord and as we saw it the men should have the benefit of such donations."
"Donations Captain? What sort of donations?"
Thomas blushed as he realised what he had just gotten himself into. To admit they had been stripping the French or that they had accumulated a large amount of coin from the French, could almost be seen as looting by the powers that be and that could carry severe consequences if he admitted to it. It could also mean the breaking up of his little army of friends.
"Ahm...well My Lord, there have been occasions that the French have seen fit to place a price on my head. As it transpired the price has been collected by us and so we have kept it in our stores for times when the men may have need of extra assistance."
"Let me get this straight Captain. You and your men have been keeping the bounty on your own head that was set by the French. Is this a true fact Captain?"
"Uhm...yes My Lord."
"Good for you Captain. Well Major there does not seem to be much more we can do. If all the ledgers meet your approval then the good Captain and his Officers can be on their way. One more thing Captain?"
"Yes My Lord?"
"Just how much have the French...uhm...donated to your battalion?"
"Oh not much My Lord, a few thousand at best." Thomas tried hard not to blush at the blatant lie but he did not want his men to suffer a cut in their pay because they lost their little store of coins to the army.
"Well that sounds fine by me Captain, Now then Major I will ask you to sign off on Captain Markings battalion and they can be on their way, they have far more important things to do than chat about a few extra coins from the French."
"Yes My Lord, I will sign off the ledgers immediately now that it has all been explained fully."
Thomas and the others stood up and Saluted the Viscount before following the Major from the office. Once the six ledgers had been signed they all hurriedly left the residence before someone found out more about their Battalion that they did not want known.
Once back at their new camp, Thomas turned to Jones and asked.
"So how much coin did you bring with us?"
"None Sir, all of it is still locked up back at Vimeiro. The men are carrying a little coin for their own needs but that is all."
"Good, then you will have to send off a few men to bring at least one chest for wages as we are not returning to Vimeiro immediately after the Tattoo. We have another campaign right away."
"I'm sure that will not be necessary Sir, the men will understand and we can hold a full pay parade on our return home."
"As long as you are confident the men will understand Mister Jones; we could be away for two months this time."
"I'm sure there will be no problems Sir."
"Right then let's get ready for tomorrow. I want this damn Tattoo over and done with even if it is good for the armies moral it plays havoc with our men's training."
Thomas went back to his tent while the others joined the men in relaxing before the big day. Thomas was still kept in the dark about what the Battalion would do the next day and he could get nothing from his friends or the men of his command. There was a code of silence about it all and Thomas's frustration at being kept in the dark was working on his mind as he settled down for another night's sleep.
The morning dawned surprisingly warm with a clear blue sky and very little breeze. Thomas awoke at first light and hurriedly dressed in his best uniform, even donning his blue sash for the exercise. Fairley arrived quickly with his mug of morning cafe and then set about tidying the bed before disappearing to do other duties. Carmelo was the first to join Thomas in front of the tent and the sounds of the men preparing for the new day could be heard in the early morning stillness.
The two friends said little as they both knew each other so well there was little need for spoken words at this early hour. The bell for breakfast was soon heard and the men of the battalion began to form a line for their food. Thomas had not noticed the absence of most of his officers until that moment, turning to Carmelo he asked his friend where everyone was.
"Ah Patron, they are very busy with the small things for the big parade. They will join us soon I am sure."
Thomas had no reason not to trust his friend's word and so turned back to his steaming bowl of porridge, there would be plenty of time to discover what his men had been up to later in the day. As the talk of the men around him filled the mess area with laughter and whispers, Thomas soon forgot all about the no show of his Officers and was swept up in the preparations for leaving the bivouac for the parade grounds outside Lisbon.
It was nine of the clock before Thomas and Carmelo made it to the parade grounds that had been set up by the army engineers. It was a very large field that had small barricades set up to keep back the watchers. At one end of the long wide field sat a newly built pavilion with more open stands for the Junior Officers below it. Thomas and Carmelo were met by Colonel Lewis and taken up to the pavilion much to the ire of some of the Junior Officers in the lower stands.
Once in the pavilion and under cover from the brightening sun, Thomas saw that he was the only Officer there under the rank of Major. Carmelo having worn his uniform of a Colonel of the Spanish army, it did not go unnoticed by the more Senior Officers grouped around the pavilion.
As they walked into the midst of the Officers, Thomas saw he was being led to where the Viscount stood in a small group of other Officers. The most notable of which was the rotund figure of Mister Percy. On seeing Thomas the Viscount smiled thinly before saying, "Ah, Captain Marking, I'm glad you could make it. I see you are somewhat short of Officers apart from Colonel Sharpe, is there a reason for this?"
Thomas found himself tongue tied as he had no answer for his missing Officers. It was Carmelo that once again came to his rescue and as he began to explain to the Viscount the reason for the missing Officers, Thomas looked at Mister Percy and raised his eyes to the heavens. It was very apparent that Carmelo was going to make one of his little stories for those watching. Mister Percy smiled and winked as Carmelo began his explanation.
"Don General, the Patron is sorry he could not bring all his Officers to meet with such a fine gathering of the English Officers but they have other duties to perform for this great gathering of the mighty army. The Patron feels that the Officers of his mall army are not fully worthy of being present at such a fine gathering and offers his most gracious apologies for not having them here at your command."
Thomas could see the look on the Viscount's face and it said he did not believe a word that Carmelo had said but was prepared to not make anything more of it. As the Viscount thought to himself that Carmelo was very much like his father and that could only bode badly for the French.
"So Captain, what have your men got organised for my Tattoo? Something good I hope, as they will have much competition from the regular forces chosen to parade their talents here today."
"Again My Lord, I do not know what they have done. They have kept it secret from me at this stage but I am sure they will do their best not to shame the Battalion."
"Well said Captain. Now then, there is food and drink at the back of the pavilion should you wish to make use of it. I will leave you in the capable hands of Colonel Lewis until the end of the day. At the end of the Tattoo tomorrow I wish to discuss other business with you for the future of the Battalion."
"Thank you My Lord, I shall look forward to it."
"I'm sure you shall Captain. Now then, let's watch what these scoundrels that call themselves soldiers can do."
Thomas turned back to the area set aside as a parade ground. It was a huge field with the pavilion at one end and looking down the length of the wide cleared field. It appeared to be at least three hundred yards long and a good one hundred yards wide. On both sides there were low barricades set up to keep those who were watching from encroaching onto the field during the parades.
The massive crowd had to be over ten thousand soldiers and Thomas wondered if there were any soldiers left on the defence lines to the north. In the pavilion Thomas guessed there were a good fifty very Senior Officers and about another three hundred stood or sat in the stand below where he stood alone with Carmelo and Colonel Lewis
As the huge crowd waited for the Tattoo to begin, Thomas noticed that the other officers present in the pavilion made little or no effort to welcome him and Carmelo. There were those who wore the sashes of the nobility and they seemed to stay in their own little social group. While those without titles still seemed to exude the aura of being far too good to mix with the young ranker and could still not understand why the Viscount had invited the boy into their august presence. Thomas and Carmelo were ignored from most of the talk and comradery of the Officers corps.
A nudge on Thomas's elbow caused him to turn his head and see the smiling face of his only real friend in the pavilion. Mister Percy lifted his eyes skyward as he looked over at the other Officers. It was easily apparent what he thought of the gentlemen that called themselves Officers as he said to Thomas.
"Take no mind of them young Thomas, there are things afoot they know nothing of. Now I would like to speak with you once this farce is over but we shall wait until we have a more private time."
"Thank you Mister Percy, I shall keep it in mind."
"You do that young Thomas, now then what have your boys got in mind for this little party?"
"Frankly Mister Percy, I don't have a clue. They've kept it secret from me so it will be as much a surprise for me as it is for you."
It was the sound of drums that caused everyone to look to the side of the pavilion where the entrance of the parades were to be made. Each Regiment had been limited to three companies for their display of their prowess in marching and other talents of the military. It was going to be a long day.
The first Company's made their entrance to the sound of the drums and began to march back and forth and show off their abilities at marching in formations. As each troop appeared one after the other, those soldiers belonging to that Regiment would raise a loud cheer and calls of support as they watched the goings on while the three companies did their drills to the sound of the drummers standing in front of the pavilion.
The next to last troop were the Highlanders. These men really impressed Thomas the most. The men were all big and their shiny, black bear skin Busby's made them look even larger. The skirl of the bagpipes could not be mistaken for anything else as the Highlanders marched in shoulder to shoulder, their bright tartans swirling around their bare knees and their white spats above the black boots could be heard far and wide as they marched like a tidal wave to the loud blaring of the pipes.
Even Thomas felt a shiver run down his spine as he watched the tall men parade and the sound of the pipes seemed to get right into his blood. It was a feeling he had only ever had when he and his friends played the Della Guerra.
When the last Highlander had marched out of sight behind the pavilion, there came a short pause as the spectators talked over the perfection of the Highlanders and their blood cooled after the uplift of the pipes had made their hearts pump with excitement. Thomas heard the voice of the Viscount call to him from a short distance away.
"Well Captain Marking, it would appear your boys would have a lot to live up to after such a stirring sight. What do you say Captain?"
"I can only hope they will do their best My Lord."
"Well they will have to be outstanding to better that parade Captain. Where are they Captain? They should have put in an appearance by now."
Before Thomas could find an answer, Carmelo stepped forward and drew to attention. Thomas looked at Mister Percy and once again lifted his eyes to the heavens, Carmelo was once again going to raise the stakes.
"Don General, the Patron must admit that there is little chance that his small army of boys could compete with such perfection as shown by the great soldiers of the English King. It is with great disappointment that the Patron must decline to take part with such perfect soldiers as his armies humble efforts would not do justice to such fine men. Don General, the Patron has asked me to request that instead of trying to live up to such high standards as required by the great soldiers of England, that you would allow him to instead give a small tableau in recognition of the honour the English have shown to his small efforts on the field of battle."
There was total silence in the pavilion as the most Senior Officers of the English, Spanish and Portuguese armies listened to the young Colonel. For Thomas it was a matter of trying to work out what Carmelo was up to. That there was something going on that he did not understand went without saying.
"Well Colonel, it is most unusual but I can understand why your...ahem...Patron would have such misgivings, therefore I will agree to his request. What do you have in mind Colonel Sharpe?"
Much to everyone's concern, Carmelo reached inside his jacket and withdrew his pistol. With a smile he said to the Viscount, "Don General, with your permission?"
The Viscount had a strange look on his face as he reluctantly nodded to Carmelo. With the agreement of the Viscount, Carmelo stepped to the front of the pavilion and raised his pistol. A second later the single shot echoed out over the empty parade ground which brought a sudden silence to the noise of the crowd that had been waiting for the last troop to perform.
There was silence as everyone watched as a large group of boys appeared from one side of the pavilion pushing hand carts loaded with what looked like soil. The carts were pushed to the centre of the parade ground as those watching stood silently and watched the strange goings on of the young men and boys.
The large group pushed their hand carts to the centre and then began to empty them until they had a mound about six feet in diameter and two feet high which they stamped down until it was firm. Next one of the older boys took a steel bar and forced a small hole in the centre of the mound before they all turned swiftly and left the parade ground.
Once again Carmelo stepped to the front of the open pavilion and raised his pistol then fired into the air. The result was almost immediate, as at the far end of the field a number of barrels that had been set up without anyone taking notice were suddenly set alight. From the barrels came a thick white smoke as from the side of the pavilion came the five figures of the Colour Guard, they were carrying the single Union Jack and were marching smartly towards the newly made mound.
Once at the mound the Colour Guard set the staff of the flag into the hole made earlier and then took up a position of guard around the flag as they would have in the time of battle. At the far end of the field the billowing white smoke hid everything from sight but it was less than a minute later when the sound of a small cannon was heard from the cover of the smoke.
From that first shot all hell seemed to break loose as volley's of musket fire were heard, interspersed with more cannon. Soon there were loud yells and screams from behind the smoke as the firing increased and the sounds of a real battle could be heard but not seen. For Thomas it seemed surreal as the whole field stayed silent as they listened to the battle being waged behind the cover of the smoke.
In the furore of the hidden battle there came the sound of a larger cannon and around the flag there was suddenly another large burst of smoke but, when it cleared everyone could see the five bodies of the Colour guard lying on the ground as though dead and the flag was leaning to one side and looked about to fall.
From somewhere in the crowd of onlookers came a surprised voice as it called out loudly.
As the lone voice was heard over the gunfire, from behind the smoke came about eight soldiers dressed in French uniforms that seemed intent on gaining the Colours. From the crowd watching came a sudden babble of loud voices as they saw what was about to happen and it was not long before the cry went up.
"Frenchies, They're after the Colours."
The loud roar of the crowd soon had some of them trying to break the barricade and get to the leaning flag in the centre and save it from the approaching French soldiers. As the uproar grew there was suddenly a cry from someone down below the pavilion. As everyone's eyes turned to the pavilion they spotted a small figure running out onto the field.
Thomas could not believe his eyes as he saw the small figure but he got just a glimpse and recognised the young features of Sergio dressed in his old drummer uniform. Now Thomas knew what his army had got up to. Sergio was dressed in his red jacket and white trousers, his black Busby was on the boy's head and Sergio was carrying two pistols in his hands as he ran for the flag.
The cries were not long in coming as the watchers saw the boy appear and race for the mound where the flag still flew. The cries of support were soon filling the parade ground as they all tried to egg the racing boy onward.
"The flag boy, save the flag."
"Hurry lad, get the Colours"
"Run Lad Run."
The French soldiers were closing on the leaning flag as Sergio ran for his life. With his narrow chest heaving Sergio made it to the flag just a short time before the French soldiers got there. Sergio raised his pistols and began to fire and great cheers went up as two of the French soldiers fell to the ground. The sounds of the battle were still heard from behind the thick pall of smoke as Sergio reloaded his pistols and fired again with two more soldiers falling to the ground.
It was now too late to reload and the watchers were now yelling as loud as they could as they told Sergio about a soldier behind him. The fight that ensued with the remaining French soldiers and the small boy on the mound was so realistic that even Thomas was drawn into the fray.
After a little time there were only two French Soldiers left and Sergio was standing with a pistol reversed in one hand and his other grasping the flag staff as he faced down the last two soldiers. It was at this time that Thomas suddenly became aware that the five dead Colour guard had somehow disappeared during the fighting. From the right of the pavilion suddenly came the sound of musket fire and the two remaining French soldiers turned and ran back into the smoke behind them.
The crowd erupted into a roar of approval as the two French soldiers disappeared. The Colours had been saved. As the two survivors disappeared there was a sudden silence from the smoke screen. It appeared the battle was over and around the field it was the same as a sudden silence enveloped everyone there. It was as though they were all waiting for something intangible to happen.
The moment was broken by the appearance of the Colour Guard carrying the other three flags along with what looked to be Thomas's old drum carried in the hands of Lieutenant Allen. He also carried what looked like a leather roll used in delivering messages to far flung places.
There was silence as the huge crowd of onlookers watched the Colour Guard march to the mound at the centre of the parade ground. Once there they took up a position below the mound with the Union Jack still in place and the other three flags lined up along the front. Sergio held his place on the mound.
There was a feeling of bewilderment around the large grounds as the Colour Guard stood to attention and appeared to be waiting for something. It did not take long for that something to happen.
Thomas did not know if he was the only one to notice that all the "dead" French soldiers suddenly rose and ran for the thinning smoke screen as from both sides of the pavilion came the sound of many horses, the jingle of traces and the loud rumbling of wheels while, from behind the smoke screen came the sound of massed drums as they began the long drum roll of the Della Guerra.
It was difficult to watch all that was happening as, from the sides of the pavilion appeared the sixteen guns in two ranks, one led by Lieutenant Croxley and the other by Lieutenant Morgan. From the now very thin smoke screen appeared Estaban and his three cousins at the head of the Company of his mounted musket men.
The riders spread from one side of the wide field to the other with Estaban at the front and the three cousin's just behind. The sound of the massed drums filled the air as the spectators now saw the first of the Battalion appear through the smoke in straight ranks and march towards the mound at the centre.
Lieutenant Croxley sent his men down both sides of the field until there were eight guns on each side and evenly spaced. One of the guns would stop and the gunners set about getting their gun ready to fire while a single rider turned the horses and ran them back behind the pavilion.
The gunners turned the guns to face the centre of the field from both sides and then stood at attention until the last gun was in place at the far end of the field. In the mean time the full battalion had marched right up to the mound where the solitary figure of Sergio still stood with his hand on the flag staff and then stopped and stood at attention while they waited for the next orders.
Thomas turned to ask Carmelo what was happening and was surprised to find himself alone apart from Mister Percy. Carmelo had somehow slipped away without being seen as the spectators stood in silence and watched the strange performance. When the drums sounded the last notes of the Della Guerra, Lieutenant Allen drew himself up to his full height and started to march forward until he was below the pavilion where he came to attention and saluted the Officers watching him.
"My Lord Viscount, the men of His Majesties 1st Battalion of Drums and Auxiliaries request permission to call the roll of the fallen and also respectfully request the presence of their Commander, The Patron to take station with his men."
Everywhere around the large parade ground there was total silence. The Viscount looked to where Thomas was standing as though looking for an answer to what had just happened. There was little Thomas could tell him as he had been kept in the dark as much as everyone else. Thomas felt the blush fill his cheeks under the sharp gaze of the Commander in Chief.
"Captain, it would seem you are wanted, you may proceed to join your men. Lieutenant you have our permission to call the roll of the fallen."
At this unusual statement the rest of the Officers looked at Thomas in strange ways. This sort of thing had never happened before and they could not reconcile why the Viscount would concede to such a request. Thomas snapped to attention and saluted the Viscount before turning and leaving the pavilion, he only wished he knew what the hell was going on.
Once down on the field beside Allen, the two smartly saluted once again and then turned and marched back to the middle of the parade ground. When Thomas was back at the mound, Lieutenant Allen pointed to the old drum and then said with something of a smile in his voice.
"Well Patron, time for you to pay the piper. If you would play the funeral march the men will stay silent, I will call the roll and Lieutenant Croxley will do what he does best."
"You know you lot are going to pay for this little game Mister Allen?"
"I'm sure we will Mister Marking but, in the mean time we have an army to wake up so they realise what the losses to your boys have been so they will no longer treat us in the manner they have been."
"Who set all this up Mister Allen?"
"Oh... everyone Mister Marking."
Thomas could only give the older man a grunt as he hefted his old drum back onto his hip and took up the offered drum sticks, the same ones he had used all that time ago. As Thomas settled the drum on his hip he could hear Lieutenant Croxley giving orders to his gunners.
"All guns will elevate two degrees to the point."
When the sixteen replies came back as being set, Lieutenant Croxley then called out the next command.
"All guns load quarter pound dry powder cartridge and prepare to fire."
Again the replies came back just as Lieutenant Allen stepped forward and unrolled the scroll he had taken from the leather holder and then held out at arm's length. Next Lieutenant Allen nodded to Thomas to begin the drum roll for the funeral march. As Thomas began to play the slow dirge Lieutenant Allen began to read the names of the fallen. After each name had been called, Lieutenant Croxley called for one of the guns to fire and reload.
"Drummer Warren, age twelve years, Vimeiro."
The thunder of the cannon echoed over the silent field as Thomas continued to play even as his eyes began to feel the first of many tears as he remembered the young drummer lying behind the stone wall.
"Drummer Smith, aged thirteen years, Vimeiro."
The boom of the solitary cannon echoed once again.
"Drummer Ingram, aged sixteen years, Vimeiro."
Again the cannon in the still morning air rang out.
"Drummer Ford, aged seventeen years, Vimeiro."
And so it went on, as each man or boy they had lost was called out for all to hear and the roar of the single cannon filled the afternoon stillness while those watching stood hatless and with bowed heads. None of them even knew that the little Battalion of drummers had lost so many. It was almost at the end of the forty six they had lost when Lieutenant Allen called the last few names that Thomas felt the real effect of all his losses.
"The unknown soldier, age ten years, Abrantes."
The last two were the names that affected Thomas the most even though his face was now covered in fallen tears. The memory of his lost friends who had been by his side since the beginning at Vimeiro. There was also a twist he did not know about or ever see coming and it would take until the end of the parade before he could get to the bottom of it.
"Volunteer Marcelo Marking, aged eleven years, Talavera."
"Sergeant Major Clement, aged seventeen years, Talavera."
The last gun boomed out as every man in the Battalion raised their own muskets and sent a resounding volley high into the afternoon air as their own testament to their friends now lost. Around the large field there was not a sound as far behind the ranks of the Battalion sounded out a solitary bugle. Thomas could only guess that it was Maketja as he was the only one they had that could play the instrument.
As the last long note of the bugle echoed in the stillness of the afternoon there came a shuffling of feet from those who had stood through the roll call. It was as if everyone present sighed at the same time as the long list of youngsters was read out.
Lieutenant Allen, being the oldest Officer present, rolled up the scroll and came to attention as he called out loudly, "The 1st Battalion of His Majesties Drums and Auxiliaries will retire to barracks. Attention! 1st Battalion, in ranks of three, Dismiss."
Slowly the small army of young men marched stiffly from the large field and not a sound was heard from all the thousands of onlookers. None of them present had known of the losses the Battalion had suffered while in the field against some of the best Napoleon had to offer.
As Thomas marched out of the parade ground with all his officers, he turned to Carmelo and asked.
"When did Marcelo ask to change his name, I knew nothing about it?'
"Patron, it was at his request. He asked that should anything happen to him we would respect him by giving him your name. He had no family of his own and so who were we to refuse his request for wanting to belong to the family of his Patron?"
When the Battalion finally made it back to their temporary camp Thomas was not surprised to see Mister Percy waiting for them. The two old friends went into Thomas's tent as the rest fell out and went to their own so they could have time to settle after they had all heard the full cost of being a part of El Toro's army of rebels.
"Well young Thomas, if nothing else your men surprised everyone at the Tattoo. It makes me wonder what they have for tomorrow as the last day of this little charade of the Viscounts?"
"Again Mister Percy, I have no idea except it is meant to be a day for showing the abilities of the army in the field."
"Well I can tell you this much, one part is all about the guns so I guess your Mister Croxley will have something organised. I can't see him missing the opportunity to show off his young gunners."
"Yes I suppose you could be right. Now then Mister Percy, what was it you wanted to tell me? it must be important or you would not have mentioned it."
"And right you are young Thomas. The Viscount and his cronies have drawn up a plan to put you and your men right in the firing line once you have returned from your jaunt behind Massena's lines. I fear young Thomas he is going to use you as bait and is quite prepared to sacrifice all of you so he can get the upper hand on Napoleon."
"No Mister Percy, I can't believe he would do that. He has always watched over us and tried to look after our best interests."
"Well Thomas, this time it's going to be different. If it's a choice between a few boys raised from the ranks and his own kind at the top of the ladder, then it will be those who are not of his circle that he will use."
"I...I can't quite believe he would do that Mister Percy."
"Believe me Thomas, he and his kind would put you in the ground any way they could if it suits their purpose. Now I'm going to tell you a few things that you must keep to yourself. Firstly he will ask you to use your Battalion to slow the advance of the enemy to the north or south of a small village called Albuera around the middle of May. You will be told that you will be under the orders of General Beresford. If I were you I would find someone who can go ahead of your army and map the area so you have an idea of what will be expected. The extra time will also give you a chance to make plans well ahead of his desires. It could be the difference of you and your men walking away or losing it all."
"But Mister Percy..."
"I know Thomas, you trust him to do what is right. The only thing I can say Thomas is, in the world of the Viscount you and your boys don't count for pennies, if nothing else at least always remember that part. Now then he will call you to a meeting after the Tattoo is finished. Listen to every single word he says and then make your own plans. Your life and those of your men may well depend on it."
"Thank you Mister Percy, I will follow your advice but it really is hard to think the Viscount would do that to us."
"Not only him Thomas, any of those upper echelon Officers would do the same thing given the chance. You have to remember that they see you and your boys not only as rankers living above their station but that you are totally expendable. If they were able to see you and your men in the ground, they would make sure to use it to their advantage."
Thomas could only nod in reply to Mister Percy's words; that he and his boys were expendable had hit him hard and he was still having trouble reconciling it with past events. Thomas saw Mister Percy to the doorway of his tent then went back inside just as Fairley arrived with a brandy for him. The afternoon was getting on and it would soon be time for the evening meal and Thomas had some thinking to do before that time arrived.
All comments or criticisms accepted: firstname.lastname@example.org