I sit now around a fire with a few men from our division, all tired and sore... all disappointed. We've seen battle today, some of us, and we have seen defeat. It isn't a big loss but is one all the same and any defeat is enough to sully the pride of any hungry man. Me, the coward that I am, am just thankful I was not in the fight. It was more of a chase really though. An advance guard of Marshal Soult's army was spotted and the order was given to capture them but we were not fast enough. They escaped, just barely, and our men returned disappointed and chastised.
No one was happy we've just marched so bloody far just to miss our chance of surprise but at least we are now told what the plan is... well some of us. I'm sitting now with Gaspard, Captain Eduardo Valdaz, Captain Alberto Langan and Lieutenant Rafael Trijbits. My Spanish gentlemen. During our march across the country Gaspard found them brought them to our fire one night, with the claim he had found more men to help watch our backs, and ever since we have all come to be good friends. They are all quite fun despite their stern appearances. Some of which I'm sure I could twist around my finger if I get the chance to dress as a girl again but... sigh... I cannot, so I must satisfy myself with being the young witty English lad. Oh well, I can wait.
"So we marched all this way just to catch the guard?" I ask, pulling my skewered chunk of meat out of the fire and examining it. I barely look across as I ask, to the other men but they do the same. This is how we spend our evenings now.
"No. We marched all this way because Lord Wellesley ordered us to." Alberto says to that.
"Yes but..." I'm not convinced. "... there's got to be some plan."
"The plan was surprise." Eduardo explains slowly. "That is why the army was driven so far so fast. The chance was taken but the pieces ending in victory did not fall where the great Lord expected them to. We have lost the element of surprise. That is not an easy thing to recover from. We will now have to recover with strength."
Eduardo is the oldest and wisest among us. It sounds shallow coming from the youngest but it's true. Gaspard's told me he is only three years Alberto's senior but he makes that small gap widen by his experience. I haven't learned much about him yet, not as much as the other men, but he screams of the old sort of man. The real gentleman type. The kind of man who is ruled by loyalty, who's duelled more times than I've sung a song, and who knows how to do almost anything he'd be asked to do. He's a quiet man but that just adds to the ora. An ora I happen to love. What girl doesn't love a mystery?
"Marshal Soult will know we are coming, he will strengthen his army." Rafael adds, poking at the fire. "We will have to do the same."
"But all the men we have are here." I retort.
Alberto smiles lightly. "That is what you think young English."
"Then what about the rumours of defectors?"
"Every army has rumours." Alberto replies. "Do not to listen to idle talk. If one has time to create lies, one is not worth the risk of taking into your company."
I nod and don't press the subject any further. I hate spies enough already. I especially hate false spies, double agents, working both sides of the fence. It makes me sick. Just then, as I'm about to dig into my roasted meat, young Thomas comes bounding up all out of breath and panting hard.
"Lieutenant Read sir, Captain Bowen wants to see you right away. He's in his tent sir. It's by the new planning tent, next to Lord Wellesley's tent... sir." Thomas pants.
I stand, brush myself off and hand my skewer to Thomas.
"Thank you Mr. Cox. Help yourself." I say and he smiles from ear to ear which warms my heart. Enjoy my meat lad. "Then to your tent young sir. It will be a long day tomorrow."
"Yes sir. Thank you sir."
I give his hair a bit of a ruffle, which never causes any complaints, and give the men a nod. I'll be back. They remain where they are and as I walk away I hear a low muffle of voices as they fall into conversation again. About war? I don't know. Captain Bowen calls and little Jacky must answer.
"We advance to Oporto." Captain Bowen nearly exclaims as he thrusts a letter into my hand. "You're orders."
I unsure of what this means, I look from Captain Bowen to the letter in my hand and frown but he doesn't notice so I tear open the letter right here and now without another moment. I'm anxious. I'm scared to be truthful but anxious all the same too. I scan the page and there, plain as day, is the order. It's short and very clear. Shouldn't it be? I re-fold the letter and snap off a salute.
"I will be ready sir."
Captain Bowen nods, not saying another word, and waves me off. I go. I'm happy to. I want nothing more to go back to the fireside with my mates. For tomorrow I surely will die.
In a few short minutes I'm back in sight of the fire and friends I had just left but somehow I doesn't feel the same. As I approach I notice Thomas is gone, probably gone to bed like I told him to, but the others are still here. I am glad, I really am. They'll help me forget my troubles, for tonight at least.
"Everything alright?" Rafael asks before I can even sit back down in my place.
I look up at him and frown. So quick you are. How did you know? Suddenly, without prompting I look across to my right as Gaspard stands. I don't know why but I just do. He too looks concerned. Fine so be it. Reluctantly I pull the letter from my jacket pocket and hold it out to Gaspard. He doesn't move.
"It's alright. It concerns all of us. I'm sure if you were all in earshot of your superiors you would have the same letter." I say for all.
Gaspard comes forward and takes the letter from my hand, carefully unfolds it and tilts it to catch the firelight, scanning the brief contents. When he finishes he re-folds it and hands it back, concern lightly creasing his face.
"We will see battle tomorrow." He says looking straight at me. "Why does this disturb you?"
"You know me, I am a coward." I reply. I am also a girl... a very scared little girl who wants nothing more than to be somewhere safe with the man she loves, not some blood drenched battle field holding the broken body of someone she once called a friend.
Gaspard shakes his head but says nothing. No, it's Eduardo who speaks.
"There is not one man here who feels differently than you do Lieutenant. Everyman feels fear in battle."
Easy for you to say. I shake my head. I appreciate it but...
"You don't look very afraid. None of you do." I say, looking from one face to the next until my gaze returns to Gaspard. He smiles lightly.
"We are not in battle now. Here we are amongst friends." He tells me kindly. "Out there, against the enemy, is when fear drives us. Not here."
My eyes rove from Gaspard's face to the face of each and every man sitting around the fire. My cowardly fear trickles away, for now at least, as I think of how lucky I am. You have friends here girl, friends who are ready to fight along side you for freedom, same as you. You've nothing to fear with your gallant young Spanish men. I have to smile at that as I look back to Gaspard.
"Thank you my friend." I tell him sincerely.
He nods, saying little else and watches as I walk over to my vacated spot and pick up my bottle of wine. We each have one, as officers, and the men all smile as I raise the bottle to the clear night sky.
"To friendship and peace me amigos." I say with a grin, toasting them all.
"To friendship & peace amigos!" They all chorus and knock back their bottles, each and everyone.
After we've toasted and quelled the nerves for tomorrow, for the time being, we fall back into our regular chorusing conversation. It's a jumble of English and Spanish but it's all good fun for all. Teasing soon ensues for Rafael and his recent conquest in one of the nearby villages but he bears it well and dishes all ribbing back in full. I join in merrily, quickly becoming the loudest of them all. We spend much of the night by the fire talking and trading tunes. I play a few songs on my penny whistle but as always I don't sing, in fear I might be discovered to have a very female singing voice. No matter I play well and Alberto teaches me a few Spanish numbers, him being quite the musical. All in all we have a grand times as always.
Who says Jacky Faber has even ruined a good time? Never I say and I am to keep it that way.
Later, after we've drank, talked and sung our fill Eduardo sends us all off to our tents. Tomorrow is to be the biggest day we've seen yet and we need our rest. I walk with Gaspard towards our tents, again struck next to each other, we're tired and don't say much but I know it's there... the anxiety for tomorrow. Gaspard don't strike me as the coward like I am but I can tell he don't like battle. Who does really? Anyway I don't ask and he doesn't tell. We nod a goodnight outside our tents then disappear, each into our tent.
The second I'm inside and along with my own thoughts I can feel the loneliness creep in around me and crouch, ready to spring on me from the shadows on my mind. I sit on my bedroll and shrug off my jacket, wishing I had someone to keep the shadows of my mind at bay. As I set my jacket aside and toe off my boots I recall all the bedmates I've had over the years for that reason alone. Not all of them girls, not all of them safe... some were quite handsome amorous rouges... I can't help but smile for them.
Wherever you are my handsome lads, I pray you are all safe and well. I thank you for all the joy and restful sleep you brought me, you were all the best of friends to this poor unfortunate soul... I hope I live to see you all again.
Then, that starts me thinking of the possibility of another possible bedmate. I wonder how my charming young Spanish translator would fair against all those who've fought my demons before? I turn and look over my shoulder, blankly, wondering about that quite vividly. Mmm. I'll bet he'd be one of the best. Nothing but a bit of harmless snuggling and a kiss here and there... lots of arms and touching of course since it couldn't be helped. I'll bet he's well built beneath that stiff uniform... and tender too, he seems like... no. I shake my head and give myself a pinch for even thinking like that. I've got the best man, my love waiting for me.
I pull my rough blanket back and slip under it as I blow out the lantern. Then as always I close my eyes and offer up my little prayer for all my friends and whatever family I've got left. I don't know how much good these prayers of mine do but it calms my mind so I'll keep doin' it even if it don't always come off like I pray for.
Well I'm off to war Jaimy, and I don't know if you know where I am or not but if I die here without seein' you again I hope that you know that I died lovin' you and that I tried my best to stay true to you my dear one. It weren't always easy, them bein' so many handsome lads about, but you've always been the most pretty of them to me. Honest Jaimy. I hope you're well and are safe wherever you are. I love you Jaimy. Night and I pray I'll get to see you again... I hope I've been good enough to be granted that. Pray for me, I could sure use the help.
I close my eyes them a try to sleep. I know it ain't gonna be easy but I try anyway. I ain't got no one to hold me if the nightmares come. As I knew though the nightmares do come as soon as I drift off and I see 'em all. LeFieve and his noose, Pap Beam and his shovel, Jardineaux and his pistol... they all rush at me from the dark edges of my mind and I can't get away from them. I yell and thrash. They all reach for me but it's Flashby who get's hold of me with his leering grin. He slips his hands around my neck and I scream but then I hear a voice that doesn't belong to my nightmares and I open my eyes. I'm back in my little tent, laying tangled in my blanket with Gaspard kneeling next to me, his hand on my arm and his face barely visible in the darkness but I know it's him.
Breathing heavily I sit up and stare blankly at his dark face. What did I say? Did I give myself away?
"Are you alright Jack?" He asks quietly, sitting back a little further from me.
For the moment I let myself believe I did not give myself away and wipe my face with my hands and groan.
"Just a nightmare. I get them a lot." I reply, my own voice hushed. "I'm sorry if I woke you."
"I wouldn't be surprised if we woke more than myself." It's here I can see the faint flash of his smile. "You have a pair of powerful lungs sir."
I resist the urge to smile at that and instead free my blanket from my tangled legs and drape it over my shoulders.
"Is there anything I might get you to help?" Gaspard asks then.
"No, it's alright. Thank you Gaspard."
Gaspard doesn't move, he just nods but doesn't say anything for a long moment. I look across at him and even in the darkness, I know he has questions, besides I'm not ready to be left alone again so I don't send him off.
"Ever since my first brush with death I have these nightmares from time to time." I tell him quietly, slowly. "Did you hear anything I said?"
"...There was not very much I could make out."
"You're sure? I didn't say anything about a pirate or a Frenchman?" I ask, cocking a brow. I know I did, I remember the nightmare vividly... it's always the same.
Gaspard is quiet a moment then he stands "I did not hear a word of anything sir. I only came in and woke you."
I nod. A little bristled by his reply. "Thank you Lieutenant."
"Don't mention it sir. Good night."
"Yes, you too Cavaliero." I reply and with that he slips out of the tent and his gone.
I am quiet, I listen to him entre his tent and bed down again then I reach over and light my lamp, turn it down low and curl up in a ball on my bedroll. I don't know what happened just now. I don't know if I am safe or not but I do know that if this man wants an arrow in his quiver against me he has it. Because now I know the last face I saw before I awoke, a face that was very familiar, a face I cried out to for help. I cried out to the Emperor of France. Napoleon Bonaparte... the man we are now in war against. Why I did this I don't know, I've never done it before, but I know Gaspard heard me. I know it by his stiff reply 'I did not hear a word of anything'. I look at the thick canvas of my tent in the direction of Gaspard's tent and I hold myself tighter... yes you did. Will you expose me? Will you betray me without knowing the facts?
I honestly don't know much of anything at this moment.