I’m about half way through the first draft of An Untrustworthy Army which is book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga and thought I’d share this excerpt of the army arriving in Salamanca after the French abandoned the city in June 1812. The battle is yet to come…
Around them the people of Salamanca thronged the ancient streets. The buildings were graceful, in a variety of ochre and pink stone, soaring arches and towers giving way sometimes to a crumbled heap of stone where Napoleon’s troops had destroyed some historic foundation to use as building stone for the makeshift fortresses which had held the town.
“It’s lovely. Such a shame about the destruction,” Anne said, fanning herself. Paul surveyed the fan with some amusement. His wife, who had little interest in fashion, regarded fans as purely functional objects and he was sure he had never seen the elaborately painted article before.
“It is. A lot of these buildings would have been part of the university, but it’s basically been closed down by the French. They’ve destroyed some of the buildings and used others as barracks which will mean they’re wrecked inside. The place we’re billeted in was one of the old colleges, I’ve got some of the lads clearing it out now. It’s big and very elegant but they’d left it like a pigsty.”
“Probably left in a hurry,” Anne said, looking around her. “I wonder what happened to the students?”
“Probably most of them ended up either in the French army or the guerrillas,” Paul said.
“Or dead,” his wife said quietly.
“Yes, poor bastards. It’s funny, this place reminds me of my student days in Oxford. Hard to imagine Magdalen and Balliol ripped apart by French infantrymen. Puts it in perspective somehow.”
Anne glanced at him. “Which college were you?”
“Balliol. Have you visited Oxford?”
“No, love, I’m a Yorkshire lass, never been anywhere until I married Robert, apart from York, Harrogate and a trip to London when I was fifteen.”
Paul laughed aloud and reached for her gloved hand, raising it to his lips with great formality. “And now you speak five languages, bully the local merchants in two countries and have an Earl languishing at your feet.”
“Lord Wellington does not languish, he is far too busy,” his wife said repressively. Their byplay had been noticed by a section of the crowd. The population were cheering wildly, some of the girls running to hand flowers and fruit to the officers and men. At the head of the parade Lord Wellington’s horse was already garlanded and its bridle and saddle decorated with offerings. As Paul and Anne rode past a woman detached herself from the crowd. She was holding the hand of a boy of about six, a beautiful child with large dark eyes, dressed in Sunday best for the parade. She pushed him forward, a posy of flowers in his hand, but as he ran, one of the horses started up and the child stumbled in fright and fell hard onto the cobbles.
Anne looked over at Jenson. “Hold her,” she said, and slid from Bella’s back, tossing him the reins. Paul reined in, waving to Major Swanson. “Carry on, Carl, we’ll catch up.”
The boy was on his knees, both of them grazed and bloodied, trying hard not to cry so publicly when Anne reached him. She knelt, apparently indifferent to her riding dress in the dust.
“Are you hurt?” she asked quickly in Spanish.
His mother had reached him at the same time. The boy looked up into Anne’s face and he looked startled as he took in her beauty. Anne lifted him gently to his feet, pulled out her handkerchief and dabbed blood from his knees.
“You have battle wounds of your own, Señor,” she said gravely, and he looked down at his legs and then up into her face and laughed. His mother put her hand on his shoulder.
“You speak Spanish, Señora?”
“I do, my friend is Spanish, she taught me. You have a very handsome son, Senora, what is his name?”
“Diego,” the woman said. “He is five.”
“He is tall for five. And very brave – hardly a tear. Were these for the soldiers?”
She picked up the posy of white flowers and gently blew the dust from them. The child studied her.
“They were for you, Señora. Because you are so beautiful.”
“Diego, thank you.” Anne raised the posy to her face to smell. “So lovely. But if we are friends there should be an exchange of gifts.”
She reached up and detached one of the silk flowers from her hat, twisting the securing wire into a buttonhole which she carefully placed in the child’s dark jacket. Diego looked down at it, astonished, and then up at Anne, his face transformed. Anne laughed and handed him the soiled handkerchief. “Keep this also for your war wounds. Thank you for these, they are beautiful.”
She turned to find that Jenson had dismounted and was waiting to lift her up. He was grinning. Behind her the woman said:
“Thank you, Señora. You have children?”
“Back in England. I miss them.”
“May you see them soon, Señora.” The dark eyes shifted to Paul. “Your husband is an officer?”
“A colonel. Who is going to be in trouble if we don’t catch up with the rest of his brigade before we reach the square,” Anne said, laughing. “Enjoy the day, Señora. Adios, Diego.”
She turned back to Paul and found him laughing, and heard for the first time an enormous swell of cheering around her as the crowd acknowledged the small drama. Slightly pink cheeked, she allowed Jenson to lift her into the saddle and looked at her husband.
“Better get a move on, Colonel, before he starts yelling.”
“He won’t mind today. You should have married royalty, Nan, you’re very good at this.”
“Any more remarks like that and I’ll slap you,” Anne said succinctly, kicking Bella into a trot to move back up the parade to the head of the 110th. “Although it was a good thing you made me wear this ghastly hat, turned out to have its uses.”
“I am so glad,” Paul said politely. “Jenson, that fan does not suit your particular style of beauty.”
“I thought it was my colour, sir. You dropped this, ma’am.”
Anne reached over and took the fan. “Thank you, Jenson. I will undoubtedly lose it before the end of today anyway, but it’s been surprisingly useful in this heat.”
“Where did you get it from?” Paul asked.
“It was a gift from Don Julian,” Anne said demurely, and her husband made a rude noise.
“And what in God’s name is Julian Sanchez doing sending my wife gifts?”
“I was seated next to him at dinner one evening, in Lord Wellington’s tent. I think I’ve received some form of gift every day since, it’s embarrassing. He said that he wishes to see me in a mantilla and will find me the best lace he can in Salamanca. Although he was struggling to decide if he thought black or white would suit me better.”
“If he has the audacity to send you a mantilla of any colour, girl of my heart, I am going to punch him!” Paul said forcefully. “Don’t you already have a rather attractive one that I bought you in Lisbon?”
“I do. It is black. I did tell Don Julian that. He was quite poetic about the contrast of black lace against…”
“In a minute I am going to throw you off that horse!” Paul said explosively. Around him his officers were laughing hard. The parade was clattering into the Plaza Mayor and Anne looked around her at the glorious array of Romanesque churches and associated buildings.
“This is so lovely,” she said. “Paul, it is barely noon and you have already threatened me with violence twice, is it necessary? As for poor Don Julian…”
He had dismounted and moved forward to lift her from her horse. Across the square the Earl of Wellington was standing on the Cathedral steps, surrounded by his staff and an adoring plethora of Spanish, including half a dozen women who seemed to be vying to be close to him. Don Julian Sanchez, the leader of the Spanish guerrillas, was with him, a dark man in his thirties in a fur trimmed pelisse which must have been sweltering in the heat. Paul saw Wellington look over and Don Julian follow his gaze. He grinned and lifted Anne from her horse. As her feet touched the ground he pulled her close against him and kissed her with considerable enjoyment in a manner totally unsuitable in such a public place and in full view of the commander-in-chief.
“Colonel van Daan.”
The precise German tones of the commander of the light division made him raise his head. Von Alten was standing before him, his eyebrows raised. Paul laughed and released Anne.
“Sorry, sir. Just making a point to Don Julian Sanchez about his exact position in relation to my wife. Shall we go in?”
“By all means,” Von Alten said, smiling at Anne and offering her his arm. “If I offer to escort her, are you likely to hit me?”
“No, sir, I trust you with her.”
“I am not at all sure if that is a compliment or not,” the Hanoverian said and Paul burst into laughter. They moved towards the steps of the Cathedral. Paul paused by his men who were lined up neatly outside.
“You can stand them down. After this we go back to our billet to change and then I have to endure around five hours of bad food, long speeches and Don Julian bloody Sanchez trying to put his hand on my wife’s leg under the table.”
“Make a change from Lord Wellington doing it, sir.”
“That is not helpful. Get them back to camp, fed and watered. Half of them get town leave tonight, the other half tomorrow. Make up your mind when you go, I don’t mind.”
“Not that bothered, sir. I’ll stay up tonight and keep an eye on things. Maybe you could spare me a few hours during the day tomorrow. I’ve promised to take Teresa shopping and she’s dying to show me around, we’re close to her childhood home here so she knew the city as a girl. Thought we could have dinner in one of the taverns, take some time…”
“Take the whole day. Enjoy yourself, Danny, you’ve both earned it.”
“Thank you, sir. Hammond is going into town tonight but he’ll be back up and sober tomorrow, he can stand in for me.”
“Good lad. Oh Jesus Christ, can I not trust Charles to do anything? He’s let Wellington get hold of my wife!”
Paul marched up the steps to where Lord Wellington was placing Anne’s hand onto his arm. His expression made it difficult for Paul to keep a straight face. “Did you enjoy the parade, sir?”
“No,” his commander-in-chief said briefly. “Any more than you did. And I am sorry, Colonel, but I am borrowing your wife for a while to protect me from these blasted women!”
Paul began to laugh. “There’s a fee. I want a couple of days off with her, need to take her shopping.” He glanced at Sanchez, whose dark eyes were fixed on Anne’s lovely face. “I thought I might buy her a mantilla in white, since she already has a black one. And perhaps a new fan.”