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Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

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Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Tue Jun 15, 2010 8:54 am

It was strange, Sam Mayden thought, to have their situations so suddenly reversed. Only the day before, they had been hard on the heels of the fleeing French army. Now, they were the ones pursued. The previous day's battle had begun well, but it was hard to tell when things had begun going wrong. Not that it really mattered anymore. What mattered was the army was being pushed back over this horrid road, back toward Oporto.

Mayden spat out some dirt from his mouth and slumped against his pack, too weary to even try shrugging it off. A surreal mood of disbelief still hung over the column, as though it was nothing more than a broad, collective bad dream. The next morning would show them it wasn't. If not sooner, for the unfortunate Riflemen. Now, instead of being in their usual place at the front of the army, they formed the rearguard, protecting the trailing end of the column from French attack.

Somebody prodded the sputtering, newly-lit fire with a sword-bayonet. A kettle was already filled and ready for boiling, even though they had hardly been halted fifteen minutes. Stifling a yawn, Mayden swept his shako off and sat up enough to look around. The redcoat light company that had been in the skirmish line with them was also relegated to the rearguard, for reasons that he didn't understand. But there was some use in it, he thought. If things got really bad, they could send the redcoats in first.

"Kettle's boiled," Cresacre called out, and was almost immediately swarmed by thirsty Riflemen. Mayden didn't move. It was easier, he'd learned quickly, to wait until that first rush had subsided. It wasn't like there was a dearth of water to replenish the kettle, after all. He set his shako aside and let a yawn escape. Then, shifting his rifle partially aside, he sat up to ease his arms out of his pack. There was soon to be stew as well, by the smell of it. One could always count on the Chosen Men to find some meat for stew!
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Allhands on Wed Jun 16, 2010 9:23 pm

The night wasn't quiet at all. Though birds may have found it wiser to depart, or had sensed the danger and hid away, some of the smaller animals came to see why the smell of blood and gore and of meat, bodies shot and torn, hung in the air. There were faint groans that came from where the surgeon worked, tired and distressed. Had they not just a short time ago been the ones that prosecuted the enemy? And now the twist of fate has made them be the pray. The ones who ran, retreated. The question rose in the mind of many men. How could it have happened?

It did. And the next morning they would wake to find it the same. It wasn't a bad dream that any could wake up from, though many would probably have wished that. A collective dream, which rather was the nightmare of reality. Perkins lay asleep, his head perched against his knapsack. A hand still lay across the rifle, but the leather strap was no longer clutched. His fingers lay at it, in a more relaxed state, only the forefinger curled so that it lay hooked over the belt. His coat had been in a sorry state, but he couldn't be bothered to get up to do something about it. The voices from the camp lulled him to slip and there he would stay till food and tea was made.

The men that left to locate the meat had returned a short while ago. Those that weren't engaged in the preparing of the stew or tea, lay about, almost where they had dropped. Sat or leaned, and were silent for the most part. Some murmured very softly to each other. An artist might've described the scene as forlorn, that of mourning.

The relative silence was disturbed by a scream. It had happened twice before, suggesting the presence of another force. It made the French uneasy in their victory. Perkins jerked awake. The scream must have been of a man. It reminded a bit of the sound that a live animal might have made, should it have been gutted, while still feeling. Perkins turned to look at Mayden.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:31 am

The scream gave every man a moment's pause, but the pause did not last long. It was not the first time such things had been heard. A couple of men forced laughter to show their nonchalance, while most others simply carried on their various tasks with lowered eyes.

Mayden glanced up briefly, instinctively startled, but he relaxed again quickly. A little too quickly for the movement to be natural. The high-pitched shriek unnerved him. The Portuguese were going about their grisly work, or so the others had told him earlier. He shuddered at the thought of what that could mean.

"Gotten any tea yet?" Mayden asked of Perkins, the light note in his voice sounding flat and brittle to his own ears.
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Ben Perkins on Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:50 am

Perkins didn't respond for a moment. A slight jerk of his head announced that he registered the words and with his eyes downcast he shook his head. He didn't say anything, but the cloth that he had been rubbing along the wood of his rifle, just run in circles, automatic, jerky and forced. The boy was tense and expected a scream to be heard any given moment again. An infernal cry that suggested all the worst images to plague his mind.

"..Didn..." He mumbled and stayed his hand on the spot. It clutched to the fabric tightly. "...We'll ...stay?" He allowed the question to be understood in any of the ways Sam Mayden chose to. He wasn't good at hiding his own feeling about the present situation, just as it was obvious that he was tired.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Guest on Fri Jun 18, 2010 4:33 am

tired and mad at the recent loss of battle, he didn't think any had expected the sudden turn of war that the ones they so recently had hunted had becomed the hunters with a bit of hope they wouldn't follow them all the way to oporto still getting used to the thought of there is defeat in war.

he walked over towards the riflemen by the fire but abit away from the fire he stopped and looked at them wondering if he should try to give them a speech of comfort or so although he expected the captain to already have done so.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Sun Jun 20, 2010 3:11 am

"I think so," Mayden answered, privately unhappy with this prospect. He wouldn't object to being on the move, even if it was in retreat, if movement took them away from the awful screams from the day's battlefield.

"Best get some tea now - officer," he added and sat up. "Evenin' sir. D'you know what's goin' on, sir?"
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Ben Perkins on Sun Jun 20, 2010 7:13 pm

Ben jumped slightly when another, even worse cry was sounded and cut abruptly short. He made himself busy with a quick tug of his hand, lifting up his mug which, nearly slipped his fingers. He regained its grip, pulled it close, was about to lift it to his lips, till he realised it was empty. He lowered it again and straightened a bit, rather grateful for an officer to bring in the distraction. The man who had been screaming was probably dead now. It was for the best of it. He could have only suffered more, and to die was a blessing.

Perhaps it was clear what was going on, but waiting for a question was almost as hoping it wasn't that clear at all.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:48 am

There was no response from the officer. Perhaps he knew no more than the Riflemen did. Mayden lowered his gaze back to his mug of tea. Hopefully they had heard the last of that infernal -

A high, tearing shriek rent the air, startling him with its unexpectedness. A couple other men likewise twitched, some moving their hands closer to their rifles out of instinct.

"Hell," Mayden muttered and drew his own rifle closer to him.
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:09 am

Sharpe's grip tightened a little on his own rifle. The guerilla was not a way of fighting that he liked or understood, in any but the broadest terms, and to know that the Portuguese had found stragglers was not comforting in the least.

It wasn't easy to ignore it, either, though there was nothing he could do about it. He far preferred the clean battles between armies when you knew who your enemies were and when soldiers tended the wounded after the fighting.

"Hell's just about right," he said, overhearing Mayden, and raised his voice a little. "Mayden! You got any tea left there?"

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:26 am

"Eh?" Mayden was instantly embarrassed that he started upon being addressed. "Sir. Tea. Yes, sir." He shifted his rifle aside a little and offered his own mug. He could do with being a little less jittery. Right?
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:31 am

"You look nervous as all hell," Sharpe said. "Hardly surprisin' with that screamin' goin' on, o' course." He exchanged his empty mug for Mayden's full one. There was no point in depriving the Rifleman of the chance of having his own tea, after all. He sat down, trying to relax while he had the chance.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:36 am

Somehow, he managed a short chuckle. "It's them Portugee, ain't it, sir? Givin' us their sorta lullabies."

It was a transparent attempt at levity. Mayden reached for his officer's mug and stared at it for a moment before Cresacre took it from him so it could be filled.

"That their way of showin' the Frogs who's really master 'round here, sir?"
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:24 am

"Reckon so, lad. Wish they'd find a damn sight quieter way of doin' it, though." He had a mouthful of Mayden's tea. The usual smouch - though out here, he would be surprised if it wasn't. "I don't seem to remember it bein' as bad as that over the winter, though. Mebbe they stayed tucked up in bed like we all should have bin."

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Sam Mayden on Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:44 am

"Aye. Maybe." Tucked up in bed. Wouldn't that be nice. Mayden gazed sightlessly at the mug in his hands and thought perhaps - not for the first time - that his grumpy old father had a point when he'd tried keeping Mayden away from the King's service. It was hard to acknowledge that the old man might be right about something.
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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:54 am

"Still, there's worse places to be. And at least they ain't fightin' against us." Not that you could call it 'fighting', exactly. He fed another couple of sticks into the small fire.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Ben Perkins on Mon Jul 19, 2010 5:48 pm

"Sir." He had been quiet since Sharpe arrived to offer a piece of his mind to the men. He shifted his mug in the palms of his hands, turning it about twice or three times, before settling on holding it at bay. "How well can they tell 'tween us and the Frogs?" It was known that not many Portuguese spoke English, the worry that there might be a fallen camerade there, a British man misidentified as the enemy, sent a chill down the lad's spine.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Brendan Burke on Sat Aug 07, 2010 1:30 pm

Burke shifted a bit closer at Perkins' question, curious of the answer himself. There were always missing men after a battle, and it turned even his stomach to think that some of those screams might be coming from their own. He took a swift sip of tea, hoping to distract himself, and watched Sharpe, waiting for his answer.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Guest on Sun Aug 08, 2010 3:48 am

One of the newest subalterns had also apparently heard the question. The diminutive figure of Blaise Brandiston paused just inside the circle of firelight, the few strands of hair escaping from under his shako the same color as the fire. The young man's bright blue eyes were shadowed with fatigue, and with what he'd seen today. The set of his shoulders was tense and his mouth grim.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:04 am

There was a stick that hadn't been pushed all the way into the flames of the small fire and was threatening to set the grass alight. Sharpe leaned forward to push it further into the golden flames. As he sat back, he noticed the figure of a young subaltern, lit by the golden glow of the firelight, yet hanging back from the circle of men. He indicated a spot where he could sit, if he wanted to join them.

"Well, Perkins lad, it ain't so easy as all that. You just talk at 'em in English and they'll get the message." His Yorkshire accent was mellow and he accepted the mug of tea someone handed him with a grin. "Though if you stick wi t'Army, there shouldn't be a problem anyroad." Not that it was necessarily easy to stick with the army. "Made it down from Cacabelos wi'out any problems though, didn't we, lads?" he said, looking around the faces of his men.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Guest on Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:09 am

Brandiston came closer to the fire and settled himself on the ground in the spot Sharpe had indicated. "What if a soldier is past talking?" he asked quietly.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:15 am

"Past talkin'?" Sharpe replied, cupping his hands around the battered tin mug. "If he's past talkin' and still livin', well, I don't leave men behind. Though if he's that far gone, chances are that he ain't goin' to make it home." He shrugged. War was brutal; the younger lads would learn that soon enough.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Guest on Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:21 am

Blaise just nodded, accepting his senior officer's assurance for the moment.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:26 am

He looked up at Cresacre. "Here, ain't you got the manners to offer a cup o' tea to the young gen'leman?" he said. Cresacre shrugged but dug out another battered tin mug and poured a second cup of strong black tea.

"Ain't nobbut smouch," he said, adding a hasty "Sir," when he saw Sharpe frown. He offered the mug to Brandiston before settling down again, wiping his hands on his tattered trousers.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Guest on Sun Aug 08, 2010 5:44 am

"I'm not particular. Thanks," said Blaise, accepting the mug with a slight smile. He held it between his two hands, the mere warmth as comforting as the drink itself, before taking a sip. His shoulders did not relax, however, and his eyes remained restless, searching beyond the firelight.

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Re: Riflemen at rest; 31 May, evening

Post  Richard Sharpe on Sun Aug 08, 2010 5:51 am

Sharpe twisted to sprawl on his side, propping himself up on one elbow. He looked up at Brandiston. "It ain't that bad, is it?" he said, unable to keep from noticing the tension in the younger officer.

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