"Napoleon and Rapp on the Eve of the Borodino Battle" by Tris
Rapp comes to a moving yet troubling conclusion as he and his sick Emperor bide the hours before battle with the Russians. T for language and depressing thoughts. Based on page 898 of WAP.
This story is a retelling/expanding of Page 898 of War and Peace. War and Peace is written by Leo Tolstoy and I use the Constance Garnett translation. Napoleon, Rapp, Beausset, Fabvier and Bagration are not mine; some of them actually belong to themselves 'cause they were real people. I made up Lesade, and gave a name to—but did not create—the foolish boot-tender, Chiot ('puppy'). Napoleon's valet actually does give him a massage in the book! Not kidding! Part ten, chapter 26. /DISCLAIMER
Although I did not intend it, this story resembles another story of mine, concerning Markus and Sidney. I took that story down because its lack of reviews was intensely embarrassing, but no matter what—I hope—I won't take this one down, cause I like it! I had come to the same conclusion as Rapp, and it seemed…I had to explain in a story!
Confession—normally I'm all for the Russians, you know, go Nikolay! But well…at the moment I think Napoleon is super cool. Heh heh…yeah.
I love War and Peace but haven't finished it yet, so please nobody spoil it for me k?? Thanks! Before we begin…
A few definitions:
2. Bagration's Flèches--a four-part Russian-made earthworks that was a hot site of battle
3. Mal a la gorge--sore throat
Napoleon sighed as he rolled over in bed for the thousandth time. It was a bed any soldier would have killed to sleep on—goosefeather mattress and pillows, linen sheets from Egypt and warm, soft blankets. None of this mattered. The Emperor of France could not get comfortable. He rolled over yet again and gazed into the blackness of his "bedroom," the section he'd claimed as his own within the huge military tent. He could only breathe through his mouth because his nose was stuffed up from a cold; his body ached vaguely and he was thirsty.
Finally with a sigh he rolled out of bed, and dressed in his ermine bedrobe he pushed a flap of canvas aside, stepping into the main portion of the tent. It was brightly lit by several lanterns on a round table; Fabvier was lighting yet another so he could better see a note-scribbled map spread before him.
"Your majesty!" He bowed low, but not so low a bow as Beausset had made previously.
Frowning in dissatisfaction, Napoleon stood blinking in the sudden light. "Fabvier—have the Russians retreated?"
"No, sire, on the contrary—their camp fires glow in the exact same spot. We'll slaughter them like poultry tomorrow."
Napoleon nodded with a smile of grim anticipation. "Very good. I see you are making last-minute preparations; let me not disturb you. Who is the adjutant on duty—Rapp?"
"Indeed. He's outside oiling his saber, shall I tell him you call?"
"You shall. Thanks, Fabvier."
"My honor." Fabvier fawned backwards out of the tent, and soon Rapp was coming in, bright-eyed despite the hour and smelling of flaxseed oil.
Rapp was young, but old enough to be wise more often than foolish. His face was just beginning to show a few lines that both enhanced his appearance and commanded respect; however he had retained the childish habit of leaving the back of his brown locks uncombed. The adjutant slid his gleaming blade into its sheath as he approached. "I come at my master's bidding," he said solemnly, but with a cheerful twinkle in his hazel eyes that made Napoleon glad.
"I knew you would, Rapp. Sit, sit there on that crate and I'll take the munitions box. Well, do you think we'll have a good run today?"
"Definitely, Sire. No doubts—those Russians will be crying like children!"
Napoleon gazed at him steadily, head at a slight angle. "Are you so certain, Rapp?"
Rapp shifted on his crate a moment, then spoke his mind honestly. "Your Excellency, I believe chance and luck can undo the greatest plans we may make, so I can't say just what will happen. I know one thing, though. Come what may, we must fight the Russians. However the battle will fall, so it must be. Fate cannot be undone and we may as well go to our graves cheerful and in high spirits. Your Excellency told me yourself; at Smolensk, do you remember, you said: 'the wine is drawn, it must be drunk.' I've never forgotten that, they're among the truest words a man can hold on to."
"The wine is drawn, it must be drunk," repeated Napoleon thoughtfully, and sneezed. "Damn this cold…" he felt about fruitlessly in his robe pockets, all the while sniffing distressfully.
Rapp fished in his own flapped trouser pocket and pulled out a clean folded handkerchief. "If your Excellency would…"
"Ah, thank you, Rapp." Napoleon accepted the kerchief.
"I did have a word with Chiot," Rapp ventured. "I showed him the proper way to dry out boots and I'm sure he won't forget. He's very sorry, you know…he's afraid he's swung the battle in favor of the Russians!" Rapp's hand flew to his mouth too late.
"Eh? So the men think I'll muddle the battle because of a cold? Well, they'll see. Aren't all the orders given, Rapp, and the men sure of their position? And haven't the Russians made naught but pitiful progress on their redoubts? And those flèches do not concern me, Rapp, I know how we shall take them. Chiot left my boots damp, but all that changes is—" Napoleon coughed painfully into his fist and fumbled for something in his pocket. He took out a lozenge, unwrapped it, and popped the red drop into his mouth. Sucking on it miserably, he shot a glance at his watch.
"Three o'clock in the morning, Rapp, and not a thing to do…wait a bit, have the men got their biscuits and rice? You know an army marches on its stomach," he said sternly, swallowing with a wince.
"Yes sire, the soldiers have received the supplies-"
"The rice, the biscuits, or both? Be more clear, Rapp!"
"Both, both to be sure your Excellency. Both biscuits and rice," Rapp said hastily.
Napoleon's frown let up. "Good. Let us have some punch, then. You like punch, don't you Rapp. Lesade! Hey, Lesade!" He shouted hoarsely. "Bring two cups of punch—vite! Voyons!
Lesade hurried in, spilling a little of the sweet liquid. He handed each of the men a mug filled with a drink that was one part mashed, strained strawberries and one part French champagne. Rapp sipped eagerly at the rare treat—heaven knew the last time the average French hussar had tasted fruit or fine liquor. He drank as fast as could be considered polite.
Napoleon tucked the lozenge he had been sucking into the side of his mouth as he accepted a mug. He took a sip, frowned and sipped again. "It's no use," he grumbled, as Rapp looked inquiringly at him. "I can't smell or taste anything with this blasted cold." He sniffed at the rosy drink and shook his head. "Not a thing! And these lozenges aren't doing a bit of good, though Corvisart swore they would cure the worst mal a la gorge in the world…what use is medicine, really, if doctors can't even cure a cold?"
"Oh, surely the lozenges will do you some good, sire," Rapp soothed, leaving his default setting and becoming more informal as he sat with Napoleon in the relaxed atmosphere.
"Well…perhaps," Napoleon grudged, cracking the medicinal candy between his teeth and sucking morosely on the sweet shards. "Perhaps. Anyhow, it doesn't matter much. Like you said, Rapp, we must fight the Russians and since I'm not going to let this head cold get in the way, I may as well forget it! Damn, I wish the sun would rise. I am not tired at all…" Setting down his cup of punch, the monarch put his head in his hand and crunched the last bits of lozenge. A discouraged sigh escaped him.
Rapp furrowed his brow and looked down. Though he laughed off his position as the "Emperor's Favorite Adjutant," joking that Napoleon likely had a different favorite for every day of the week, he was deeply devoted to his leader and it distressed him to see the great man suffering both physically and mentally. He thought intently as he drained the punch and leaned over to set his cup on the lamp-cluttered table. A bold idea came to his mind. He had only ever heard of Napoleon's valet doing this…surely he would be called insolent for even suggesting…
"Sire," he began, unusually timid, as he ran his thumb around and around the rim of one of his brass uniform buttons. "I was wondering…"
"Well, what is it?" Napoleon asked wearily, sure Rapp was going to ask for some trivial court favor; at the moment, he was feeling too ill to appreciate overt fawning.
"Isn't it…isn't it true that your Majesty often has your valet give you a rubdown?"
"Yes, so it is, every morning. A day isn't right without it…but what's your point?"
Rapp was flushing with embarrassment. "I only thought—he, your valet, isn't here at the moment, and since…I know it always puts you in better spirits, that's why, you see…" he trailed off and looked imploringly with his light brown eyes.
Napoleon turned the last splinters of lozenge over with his tongue and let them melt away their thin brittle lives. He swallowed the juice and at last turned his piercing gaze to the adjutant. "Are you offering to rubdown the Emperor of France, soon to be ruler of Imperial Russia and in fact the entire civilized world?"
Not sure what direction this was going, Rapp nodded.
Napoleon appeared suspicious for a moment, then shrugged and nodded with an amused and incredulous smile. "Well, come on then," his smile said, so Rapp stood and walked over slowly and diffidently.
Without giving himself time to change his mind, Rapp took a quick breath, stepped behind the Emperor (who was still sitting on the munitions box), and began rubbing the great man's shoulders and back through the robe. It was legendary how hard the Emperor liked to be massaged and Rapp kept this firmly in mind, also reminding himself the location of points on the neck and shoulders which seem to become the most painful under stress. Napoleon hadn't seemed to be concerned or stressed about the approaching battle's outcome, but just in case…
Meanwhile, Napoleon was making a pleased sound in his throat. "Rapp, you must have studied under the best masseur in France…" He rolled his shoulders, dropped his head forward, and started up a continual, quite un-self conscious hum of satisfaction.
Rapp kept up the same firm, fluid pressure as he marveled to himself. "I see it like never before, he is a man just like me! Just like every Frenchman, in fact. Smarter, to be certain, more experienced and skilled, but we are the same! We are just the same!
"And who knows? The Tsar's gentlemen-in-waiting may be giving his Lord a rubdown at this moment; or perhaps making tea for dyspepsia. How can I never have imagined? We are all the same, Tsar, Emperor, soldier, peasant—we all love and hate, all bleed when cut, and weep when hurt or shocked. Everyone is the same, even Russians and French! Yet we kill each other, we will slaughter each other in a handful of hours! And why? Simply because a line is scratched in ink on a map, and because I am on one side and so-and-so is on the other, we feel proud--incumbent to disagree, take sides and murder. It's all so terrible, when we might have been friends! And I was gleeful at the thought of wiping them out today!"
Rapp could no longer control his bitter tears; they were spilling unchecked down his face. He stammered an apology and fled into the blackness of night.