I step forward with my left foot. Then my right. Five steps. Ten. How many more?
My breath comes trembling and shallow. How many more will I take?
I grip the rough wood pole tighter with sweaty palms.
A gust of wind – warm, smelling of smoke – makes the flag above me snap and wave faster. I glance up at its colors and remember my reasons for being in this horrid place. I lift it higher.
How many steps now? How many breaths? How many cannon balls have roared past? How many men have fallen? How many?
The ground shakes under my worn boots. Men not twenty yards from me yell out in pain as they fly through the air. Smoke stings my eyes and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
We press on.
A loud noise, a jarring impact, then the ground. And pain. I try to stand, then fall, yelping. Men march on around me.
With an effort I raise my arm, hand still clenched around the flag. Soon a musket is set beside me and a strong hand grabs the pole. With a small cry, I release the beautiful emblem. The man's eyes meet mine for a fraction of a second, and in that moment we share out understanding, and our duty. Then he moves on with the others, carrying our flag high, whipping in the wind.
Five steps. Ten.
The flag presses on.