The boys had now been in the hidden meadow for ten days. The camp was well established and they received a lot of help from the people of Vimeiro as far as food, clothing and fire wood went.
Each and every transaction Thomas insisted was to be paid for; even if just a few coins if that was what the town's people wanted.
It was with surprise that Thomas worked out the date was 27th of January; today he was twelve years old; his young face may have said that but his mind felt far older. So much had happened to him in such a short time that at times he felt as though years had passed and not just months.
Thomas did not know how the word got out around camp; he had kept his birthday date to himself but somehow, someone had known or picked up on something Thomas had done or said.
The day became a rush for the others to set up a special celebration for Thomas. To keep it a secret; it was decided to send him in the small donkey cart with Marcelo to the town for fire wood. Thomas was kept oblivious of the plans and willingly went with the cart.
The trip to the town on the rise took four hours; it was plenty of time to arrange something special for their young Patron.
Estaban was the first to reveal some of the surprises still hidden in the wagons. From under the seat of the wagon he always drove, came two large chests. They had not been seen before nor had they ever been in use; by the looks on the faces of his three cousins, they well knew what was in those chests.
As the camp became busy with the preparations; Estaban opened the first chest to reveal a number of leather rolls and blue velvet cloth bags; some small and others longer and thinner. The chest had been carried close to the large table under the awning near Thomas's tent; Estaban got busy un-wrapping the rolls and opening the bags.
Those who had little to do could only stand and watch with awe as the leather rolls revealed fine silver cutlery; the bags had also fine silver goblets and the long sack like bags held four single candle sticks. The next chest was even more full but at first appearances it was just straw. From the depths of the straw, Estaban began to take fine porcelain dishes and lay them out on the table. Each piece was wiped clean and then placed before the twelve seats around the table; it was quickly followed by all the silverware.
The four candle sticks were placed evenly along the table and new candles pushed into them ready for use. When finished, the table looked as though it belonged in a great manor house; the rough and ready boys of the Drum Corps could only stand and gape at the expensive settings; they had never seen anything like it.
Thomas and Marcelo were on the edge of the town when Thomas noticed something on the side of a whitewashed wall. Thomas pointed it out to Marcelo and the boy just smiled before saying.
"It is for you Patron; the people of Vimeiro have used it to tell others that they are under the protection of the Patron El Toro. I am told you will see it many times in small villages. I am also told it has already created discontent amongst the French whores.
Thomas looked again at the black painting on the wall. It was an out of shape oval; the top was larger than the bottom and through the top was a long curved line that made the rough drawing look a little like a hat; Thomas could not quite work out what it was or meant; Marcelo came to his rescue.
"It is the great bull; the sign of El Toro. When you see this in the future Patron; you will know the people are with you."
Thomas noted the proud sound in Marcelo's voice. There was little doubt that Marcelo thought it all a good idea; whether the French felt the same was to be proven sooner than anyone would think.
With the small cart loaded with firewood; Thomas and Marcelo began their journey back to the camp. Thomas never thought anything of it as Marcelo suggested they stop for lunch under a shady tree along the road; an hour was wasted before they continued to their meadow.
When they got to the entrance to the gorge; one of the four boys set that day to guard their meadow stepped out from the rocks to make sure they were who they should be. It had become standard practice to have four boys each day on guard at the entrance; at dusk they were changed with another four for the night.
Slowly the cart made its way through the narrow gorge; just as they were about to enter the meadow; Thomas heard the massed drums start; it was no surprise that they were playing the Della Guerra. The drums echoed around the large green meadow as the cart rolled into the centre.
Thomas saw all his drummers dressed in their best Spanish clothes; the same ones they had worn at the last battle. Usually they now wore Spanish peasant clothes of white cotton trousers and brown leather sandals with their shirts being more of a smock then a shirt; their heads were then covered only by a headscarf.
Now the boys were all dressed in their best; their boots shining like new in the late afternoon sunlight. Thomas also noticed that all the Spanish boys were also well dressed in clothes he had never seen before; every single one of them looked a little roguish but the wide smiles told another story.
For Thomas it finally clicked as he saw the immaculately laid table with fine silverware and very fancy plates; the four candle sticks did not go unnoticed either. The linen on the table looked to be of the finest in Portugal and there was a smell of great cooking in the air.
As Thomas got down from the cart the drums stopped and a great cheer went up around the camp. Thomas suddenly felt the need to sniff as a tear fell down his cheek and the memories of home and parents came rushing back to him. This was the first time in six years he had been able to celebrate his birthday and he did not want to miss a second of it.
The biggest surprises for Thomas were the two roughly dressed men sitting at the table. There was a murmur of recognition in his head but he was not sure. The men's heads were covered with large floppy hats; fortunately for Thomas O'Rourke could not disguise his brogue as he looked up from under the wide brimmed hat; Mister Grey was close behind him.
"Well Mister Grey would you look at that now; I thought the lad would be full of spit and vinegar and here he is just a wood collector. Oh how the mighty have fallen; do ye think we should stay here with such a poor lad?"
"Well O'Rourke they do have good grog here; this French brandy is still as good as ever and the food smells good. We can always leave in the morning if the lad has lost his bottle and does not want anything to do with the French."
"Aye that's the right of it Mister Grey; good brandy and a fast get away; works for me it does."
Thomas could only stand and stare at the two men; he was completely nonplussed at their appearance in his camp. How they even knew he was there was a mystery to him; he then saw the innocent look on Carmelo's face, nothing more had to be said.
Thomas glanced down at his peasant clothes; he felt completely undressed when he looked at all the others around him. As if on cue, from behind all the boys came the sound of horses trotting down the meadow; looking up Thomas saw four riders he almost did not recognise.
The rank of three were holding impossibly long lances with a small metal tip; they were dressed in the flat crowed, wide brimmed black hats. Their trousers were skin tight and were also black. The three riders wore tight fitting bolero jackets that were fixed by only two buttons in the front but; instead of the normal button hole there were finely embroidered braids holding them closed.
At the front of the small group rode Estaban; he was dressed like nothing Thomas had ever seen before. His trousers were skin tight and knee length and there were two panels of white and gold and he wore fine knee length pink hose; he did not have boots on but a small pair of black shoes with large silver buckles.
Estaban's jacket was something else; it too was in the short bolero style but was so heavily embroidered that the braid shone in the dying light. On his head was a strange black hat with two corners set on the side and over his shoulder was a double lined cape again of red and gold and held in place by a gold chain.
Estaban wore a sword at his hip and looked completely at home on the spirited Andalucian horse as did the three cousins. When they were close enough; the four boys pulled to a halt and saluted Thomas before dropping to the ground all smiles and greeted him loudly.
Thomas could think of nothing to say or do; he could only stand there and stare at the four boys, it was just one more secret they had kept hidden in their wagons.
The men of the colour guard volunteered to relieve the boys at the head of the gorge so they could also join the party. The men were given an ample supply of hot food and a bottle of wine to help with their guard duties and left to let the guard boys return to join in the celebrations.
Thomas was to learn during dinner that the four boys had decided to honour him by dressing in the clothes of the Picador and Matador to show they were members of the Patron El Toro's army and to honour him in the only way they could think of.
The party was well underway and the wine flowed freely and the food never stopped coming; everyone in camp was enjoying the celebrations and friendships were cemented in their comradery.
It was late when they heard a call from the darkness of the gorge entrance; one of the colour guard was escorting a young boy towards the large table. The boy was not showing any fear but he was obviously worn out and still panting heavily.
Thomas called the boy to come and sit beside him at the table where he offered him some food and drink; before the boy would do either he began to speak almost to rapidly for Thomas to understand him. The others at the table fell silent as the boy tried to tell them what was happening without taking a single breath.
It was Carmelo who finally got the boy to slow down enough where he could be clearly understood; after forcing the boy to drink a little wine, Carmelo got him to explain himself more slowly so everyone could understand him.
The boy turned to Thomas. Everyone in Vimeiro knew who the young Englishman was; he was their Patron, the terrible El Toro, slayer of the French.
"Patron, the French have come to Vimeiro once more but they are not normal troops; they are the Chasseur, the terror of the Cavalry. They have taken everyone to the church and the Officer has threatened to kill everyone in the town tomorrow morning if they do not tell where you are. The Officer says he will start with the men and boys and then the women if they do not give you up to them."
Thomas saw the start of a tear forming in the boy's eyes.
"Then they should give me up; they should not lose their lives over me. We can fight them here and win."
"They will not Patron; their honour would be lost and never would it be able to return, you are the Patron El Toro. The people of Vimeiro would not give up their Patron."
Thomas looked about him and what he saw was only anger and the need to make the French pay for threatening their little town on the ridge. For all of the boys it had become something of a second home; many had even spent days working with some of the townsfolk to help out. There was not going to be any bargaining with the French.
Thomas could make only one decision when he saw everyone looking at him.
"Tomorrow we go and take care of these French parasites. Finish your wine and food and get an early night; tomorrow El Toro comes to Vimeiro. You will be told the order of battle in the morning."
Thomas was not surprised to hear Mister Grey's voice as he finished telling the boys what to do.
"And what about us oldies Lad? You going to leave old friends out of this little dance of yours?"
"Aye lad; do you think we are too old to join you now?" The laughter in O'Rourke's voice was obvious.
"There is something you could help us with; Estaban, would you show Mister Grey and Sergeant O'Rourke what you have in the back of that last wagon; perhaps they can help us with that as none of us know what to do with them?"
Estaban smiled widely as he chattered to Grey and O'Rourke as he took them to the last wagon in the line of four. Grey and O'Rourke took one look inside the back of the covered wagon and smiled widely before calling back to Thomas.
"Now these lad are just what the French need first thing in the morning. We'd be glad to watch over them for you; might even be fun."
O'Rourke just smiled at Mister Grey and then took out his pipe all the while looking at the two small brass cannon sitting in the back of the wagon; their wooden trolleys were stacked beside the shining barrels that had been wrapped in thick canvas.
The cannon were two pounders; not large but in a confined space they were deadly when filled with grape shot; there were also the small solid shot balls as well that were better for more open places.
Thomas called a meeting of all the boys that he used to carry out orders. Mister Grey and Sergeant O'Rourke also joined them along with one of the Colour guard; he would carry El Toro's banner; the other three would stay to protect the gorge entrance.
The plan was finalised a little later and everyone went to their beds; the morning was going to be busy and everyone would be up well before dawn so they could be in position before the sun rose over the town of Vimeiro.
Thomas was awoken by Carmelo with the smell of his early morning cafe. Thomas hurriedly dressed as he sipped; half an hour later and the whole camp was getting ready, there was no time for food so the three young Spanish boys had made a large container of the Cafe for everyone; the added brandy went a long way to waking those whose eyes wanted to stay closed.
The boys all dressed as they had at Elvina; their drums were on their hip and their rifles and muskets once again slung over their backs. The cannon had been loaded onto the small cart along with powder and shot; it was to be helped along by Mister Grey, Sergeant O'Rourke and the single colour guard so the donkey could move faster.
The new guerrilla's set out at the pace they were now used to; thirty at marching pace, thirty at double time; the small donkey cart was hard pressed to keep up with them even though it was still dark it did not stop the urgent pace set by Thomas.
The small town of Vimeiro was woken to the sound of loud running boots as the Chasseurs took their places in two ranks facing the single wooden door of the church. They all carried short muskets and wore a heavy sabre on their belt; the Officer was young and wore the same sort of sabre but was armed with a pair of large dragoon pistols.
Not a single face of the French Chasseurs showed any hint of compassion; they were not the sort of soldier that had any, their work was bloody and without feeling for any enemy; they gave and asked no quarter from anyone.
At the sound of the first cock crow the Officer yelled loudly for the town's people to come outside or he would set fire to the church and burn them all alive inside.
Slowly the door opened; the first to come outside was the priest, Father Angelus. He walked boldly forward in front of his parishioners as though to guard them with his own body. The priest was followed by firstly the men, then the women and the children last; again it appeared to be the sole purpose of the adults to protect the children.
The people of Vimeiro stood in a solid group facing the raised muskets of the French; the Officer barely glanced at the Priest as he called in broken Portuguese.
"Where is he; the one you call El Toro?
There was no answer. Father Angelus stepped in front of the Officer, before he could say a word or defuse the situation; the Officer knocked him to the ground with one of his large pistols and then proceeded to kick him viciously in front of the People.
When he was done with the now unconscious Priest he asked again.
"Where is he; the one you call El Toro?"
In the ominous silence there was only the sound of hammers being pulled to full cock. The Officer was obviously becoming impatient for an answer; before he could say or threaten more there came a sound from outside the Town that even the French now understood; it was the sound of massed drums playing the Della Guerra and it was coming closer with each beat.
As the sound of the drums seemed to be just outside the town the drums stopped. The Officer was now ignoring his captives and had turned to face where he thought the drums were coming from. With a single loud shout he had his Chasseurs turn and face outside the town where he could now hear the strange sound of what seemed to be wooden wheels on the cobble stones of the narrow street that led to the square.
A minute later there was again total silence; he turned back to glance at his captives, he got a surprise when he saw none of them standing in the square. In the time he had been watching for the new arrivals the people of the town had disappeared back into the well built and strong church.
Returning his gaze to the roadway from the square he saw a small movement at the far end of the road, it was a single red coated soldier carrying a gold and red flag with the picture of a black bull at the centre. While that in itself did not worry him; the sudden appearance of two small brass cannon did give him pause for thought.
The Officer sent one of his men hurriedly for their horses, if they had to charge the two guns it was better done from their horseback. It was only a minute later when the man returned to report their horses had disappeared.
The anger of the Officer was now beyond control; immediately he called for his men to charge the guns. The gunners would only get off two shots before his men would be on them; it was their best way to get out of the town with their skins intact.
With careless abandon the Chasseurs rose as one and charged the two small brass cannon. When they were well into the narrow road but closing on the guns; the small barrels both blasted out smoke and grape shot and nine men fell instantly and two others cried out from their wounds; the rest charged on.
As they staggered over the bodies of the dead they were surprised to see the two cannon suddenly disappear around the corner only to be replaced by two ranks of riflemen. The front rank knelt with the other standing behind them. The smaller figure of a boy stood to one side and gave the orders.
"Front rank...Fire, reload. Second rank...Fire, reload."
Just before the boy gave the order to fire there came the sound of two muskets hitting the stone roadway behind the Officer. Standing behind him and looking at the sudden carnage were his corporal and Sergeant; they stood petrified on the spot and looking down the barrels of forty rifles and muskets which had now been loaded far faster than they should have been.
The Officer decided it was best to make his getaway while he had the chance; turning about he came face to face with the men of the town. In their hands they all held a long sharp knife.
The Officer and his two survivors never got more than one step before they were covered in stabbing and slashing townsfolk; Thomas looked on and refused to interfere.
When the towns folk stood back up, most covered in the blood of their enemies; Thomas heard a faint groan from the pile of bodies in the middle of the road. Before the townsfolk could find the wounded man Thomas stepped forward and shook his head.
If there was still one left alive he had plans for him; he did not object to the townsfolk having their revenge but he did want to send a message to the French and here was the means to do it.
When they finally found the wounded man he was a little younger than Thomas thought he would be. His left arm was barely hanging on at the elbow; there was only one thing for it.
With the help of O'Rourke; Thomas had the torn flesh of the arm cut away and the stump bandaged to stop the blood loss; the young man was now unconscious but would hopefully survive long enough to make it back to the French lines.
It was Mister Grey that helped Thomas to write the short letter; he then sealed it with wax and waited for the young Chasseur to regain his wits before sending him off back to his lines. The message was short and curt.
Officers of the French armies;
For every soldier that steps foot in any town under my protection; ten will die in his place.
Patron El Toro.
The townsfolk soon gathered in the square to thank the young Patron; very quickly food and wine was produced while others stripped the dead of their weapons. Thomas insisted the men of the town should keep them although the townsfolk insisted he take all the coin or jewellery found on the bodies; he still had a small army to watch over. The bodies would disappear out of sight and never be seen again.
It was later in the afternoon when the young Chasseur regained consciousness; giving him the last of the horses, as the rest had been taken back to the gorge by Estaban and his cousins. Thomas sent the young man on his way with the message; he did not know if the young man would make it or not. It did not really matter one way or the other he had done what he thought was right just as O'Rourke had told him to do.
Unknown to Thomas; the young Chasseur would not make his camp. His wounds got the better of him and he fell from his horse dead and rolled under a clump of bushes. It was to be four days before he was found by a passing patrol and another two days before Thomas's message made it into the hands of an Officer.
For the next week, Estaban and his three cousins worked to teach Thomas and his Drummers how to ride the horses of the French. While at times it was painful for some of the boys; there were also moments of hilarity. Slowly most of the drummers learned to ride.
During the time the drummers spent their days learning to ride Carmelo had the three younger friends go out into the Spanish countryside. They went one at a time and would return with wide smiles two or three days later. When one arrived back; another would take off so that there were always at least two of the boys in the camp to take care of the Patron and camp kitchen.
The day after the attack on the Chasseur's, Mister Grey and Sergeant O'Rourke left on their own course of action. Before they left, Thomas asked why they had come to the meadow as it seemed rather a coincidence that they had arrived on his birthday.
Captain Grey then told Thomas why the two men had come.
"Well lad; we came to bring you a message from Percy. Both of us have our own war to win so you will not be seeing much of us for a while. Now then; Percy would like you to carry out attacks on any French patrols or supply trains that you think you can do safely. After watching your efforts with the Chasseurs I'm sure you can do it. Make sure you do your planning; you don't have many fighters and all are young. It may be a good idea to send out boys to watch what the French are doing and always remember to have a way out of a situation. There are plans afoot to bring in more troops in time to send the French packing but at this stage it will be some time before that happens. Now O'Rourke and I have to go; we will try to come back at times to see if you're OK. Keep your powder dry and don't forget to check everything twice before taking action. There are a lot of French out there and not many of you. Be careful lad; we'll see you again."
With that said the two men shouldered their rifles and disappeared into the Portuguese landscape. It gave Thomas a lot to think on while he watched them walk away; he was now the master of his own destiny and that of his little gang of drummers.
14th march 1809 Abrantes Portugal
A week after the dead Chasseur was found; Major Derville looked up as a civilian was shown into his office in Abrantes. He was tired of the state of his small force that had been told to hold Portugal and to track down the fast rising rebellion by some man called Patron El Toro.
The Sergeant introduced the newcomer to the Major.
"Major Derville; this is Monsieur Reynaud, he says he has come directly from Emperor Bonaparte."
"Thank you Sergeant. Monsieur Reynaud what can I do for you? I have a situation here and very little time for civilian matters."
"Major, I am here on the direct orders of the Emperor and it is little to do with civilian matters. My position is that of an agent as it is for my men; here are my bonafides and your orders."
Reynaud gave the Major a sealed message. After opening it and seeing the seal that was attached he could only sit back and stare at the strange man in front of him.
"The Emperor says I am to offer you all assistance in whatever you may need to capture this rebel El Toro; so what do you have in mind?"
"I have seen that you offered a reward of five hundred Ducats for his capture; it will not work. The peasantry of Portugal will not give him up for such a paltry amount. I want you to issue new posters for a reward of five thousand Ducats dead or alive. Next I have seen you have no description of the man; we need to correct that matter with the utmost haste. Have you had any indication of his whereabouts?"
Major Derville opened his desk and took out the rough letter that had been found on the dead Chasseur. After describing that they had lost a full troop of Chasseurs and how the letter had been found; Derville handed the letter to Reynaud.
Reynaud read the letter and then raised an eyebrow.
"This is written in English; why did you show me this?"
"We think that this El Toro is an Englishman; perhaps one of their soldiers left behind after our victory at La Coruna. At this stage we have a few conflicting stories. Some say he is a large man of considerable height and width; what you may call, being built like a great bull. Others have said he is an ordinary man but of Spanish descent but works for the English. One that we all find preposterous; is that he is a child. Of course we discounted that immediately; no child could accomplish what he has already done. I think the man we are looking for is a Senior Officer of the English with long years of tactical planning and has stayed behind to cause us trouble. There are reports from other parts of the country that seem to be almost of the same ilk. That is all we can tell you Monsieur Reynaud."
"Thank you Major; it is more than we had before. I tend to agree with you; the boy story can be discounted. Of the others we will have to wait and see. I will need a barracks for my men; they are especially trained for this type of problem and I will need an office for my own use."
"Very good Monsieur Reynaud; I will have my men find something to your liking. Is there anything else you will need?"
"Not for the moment Major; but I may have to call on your troops at some stage in the future. For now I need to get information about this rebel."
Reynaud left the Major to his business; he had other things to do the least of which was to get a more detailed description of this rebel El Toro.
For the next month, Reynaud sent his men all over Portugal looking for information on the rebel. It did not look good for his campaign to hear of further attacks by the man. What made it difficult for him was that the attacks could be from one end of the country to the other. It seemed the rebel could move at will.
Slowly Reynaud built his case. From various descriptions he finally came up with a picture of his man. He was a man of Spanish origins; tall for a Spaniard and well built. He had a following of over five hundred rebels; all well armed and mobile.
There were rumours of him having a secret base high in the mountains of Estrella near the River Mondego. There were also reports he had protection over many of the small villages from one end of Portugal to the other; if he wanted to stop this man he would have to take direct action against anyone trying to protect him.
Reynaud sent out his men; many of them had worked for Reynaud for a long time and knew just what he wanted. They all carried written orders for any French or Spanish Irregular troops to lend assistance on demand. The first signs of El Toro did not take long in coming right into Reynaud's life.
Bertrand had worked for Reynaud for over ten years. He was a ruthless man and; some said he could think like Reynaud and knew what his boss always wanted and how to get it.
He had been sent to the town of Almoster where he called on the troop of French infantry that was based there to protect Frances interests. It did not take long for Bertrand to make himself known; within two days he had managed to torture five men to death and was now in the process of taking some women and children into his net.
Bertrand looked at his latest captures; of them all one stood out more than the others. It did not take him long to pin point the first one he wanted to talk to in his own special way.
The boy was obviously not from Almoster as the others seemed to try to keep their distance from him. He was only a child; at most ten or eleven years old yet he did not look afraid at being caught in Bertrand's net; if anything the boy seemed to have little fear of anyone. Perhaps it was his gypsy nature that turned the others away from him.
Bertrand had the ten captives placed in the rough room he was using as a jail cell; the first to be taken out was the strange boy. He looked small for his age and would take little effort to make him talk.
Bertrand was not an ugly man but he exuded a very ugly nature; one look at the man and you knew you could be in big trouble. Bertrand had one small problem with his current assignment; he could not speak Spanish or Portuguese. The problem of getting information was only compounded by his lack of language skills; now he had to do everything through an interpreter, not the best of ways to get clear information.
Bertrand called for the strange boy to be brought into his interrogation room. It was in the centre of the barracks and had no windows and only one narrow door, once inside there was no way out unless Bertrand let you go.
Bertrand watched as the small boy was roughly brought into the room by one of the soldiers under his command; considering the boys situation, he showed little fear of his captors.
Bertrand looked the small boy over. He was dressed in the typical peasant clothes but had on what looked like a good pair of boots; even though they were dusty and a little scuffed. Bertrand thought they were probably the result of a theft somewhere.
Bertrand decided to start as he always did; with this in mind he walked up to the boy and slapped him as hard as he could. The boy yelped as he was thrown back by the force of the blow and fell onto the floor as he tried to shake the stars out of his vision.
Through the interpreter; Bertrand asked.
"What is your name; tell me what you know about the rebel El Toro?"
The boy was roughly helped to his feet by one of the troops. Bertrand was surprised to see the boy still had a look on his face of supreme confidence although his face was now bright red from the heavy slap. The boy answered the interpreter in Spanish; his young voice verifying his youthfulness.
"My Name is Carlito. I came here to get the reward for El Toro; I know where he will soon be."
Bertrand was very amazed when he heard what the boy had said; there was a faint feeling of sorrow for his early actions. Had he ruined his chances of finding the notorious El Toro? Taking a more gentle voice he asked the boy for more information.
"What do you mean; you know where he will be?"
"Where is my reward?"
"You will be paid your reward when we have killed El Toro and not before."
Bertrand watched the conflicting thoughts go through the young boy's face. The boy was not happy about what he had just heard but there was little the boy could do about it. Of course there was the edict of his superior Monsieur Reynard that the reward would go into their own pockets and the traitor would meet his end after El Toro was dead.
"Then perhaps just a little so I know you are an honest man and would not refuse to pay when I show you where he is?"
"You can tell me and we will kill him; then you will get your reward."
"Well Senor that is a little difficult; the place he will be does not have a name. It is a place he hides when he does not want to be found. It would be better for me to take you there and show you. Perhaps just a few Ducats to help my memory, Senor?"
"How far is this place?"
"Two days and two nights Senor; he is not there right now but will arrive on the third day."
Bertrand, had he not been under pressure from Reynaud; may have thought about how lucky he was. As it was right now he was just happy to be the one that would take the head of El Toro' there would be more of the reward for him than the others.
Bertrand spoke to one of the soldiers telling him to release the other prisoners; he had what he wanted from the boy. To make sure the boy would do as he said; Bertrand told the other soldier to place Carlito into a cell but give him ten Ducats to keep him interested in helping them.
Dawn had just broken when Bertrand collected the young boy Carlito. With a troop of twenty armed Infantry he left the small town of Almoster with his little informant; they had a long way to go according to the boy and he wanted to make an early start.
The first days travel was almost pleasant; the people ignored them and the road they travelled was in good condition. There was little to bar their triumphant way as they grew closer to the place the boy had told them about.
Finally, on the second night nearly an hour after the sun had sunk into the west; the boy told them they were in the right place. It was difficult for Bertrand to see much in the dark but he got the impression they were in a small valley. There were faint images of trees around them but the glade they were in was calm and quiet.
Bertrand told his men to set up camp and put six men out on picket duty; they would set their ambush first thing in the morning before El Toro arrived.
Bertrand awoke to a feeling of danger; his senses had been honed over years of experience as one of Reynaud's spies. The early morning was still dark and he had the feeling that there would be no sun rise for some little time yet but his instincts were screaming at him that something was not right.
Bertrand called for one of the guards; when the man had arrived a little bleary eyed, he asked about the prisoner and if everything was in order; the answer he got still did not calm his growing fears.
The boy had been checked on just after the midnight watch changed; he had been sleeping under guard near the fire. There had been no activity from the six pickets all night and they were due to be changed just before dawn in about one hour.
For some reason Bertrand still did not feel comfortable; he told the guard to go and check on everyone again before picket change. It took less than two minutes for the problems to start. The guard had returned at the run to report the boy was missing and the guard was dead at the fire but made to look as though he was sleeping.
The guard was also to report that the six pickets had also been slain in the night and yet not a sound had been heard. It was all enough for Bertrand; with a loud yell he called all troops to 'stand too' as he armed himself and tried to dress at the same time. His worst fears were about to come true as finally; the first faint hint of dawn showed in the east above the dense tree line.
It all started from deep inside the tree line; the long drum-roll sounded much like thunder as it echoed in the still dawn air. As yet there was no sign of anyone except the sound of the drums. Bertrand tried to organise his troops but they had little desire to listen to a civilian and so stood around looking at the trees as they tried to find their enemy.
It was an NCO that brought order to the troops and began to form lines back to back to watch both tree lines in the narrow valley. The drums grew louder as the unseen players closed in on the troops; Bertrand was now at a loss on how to get out of this unsavoury situation. That the boy had led him right into a trap there was little doubt; how he himself could have fallen for it was another matter entirely. He had to admit the boy had played a convincing hand.
From the trees; and a lot closer than he thought they would be; came a young voice. There was still no sign of anyone there except for the slowly playing drums; he had got his first taste of what was now known in the French army as the "Dreaded Della Guerra".
The voice called out in English which surprised Bertrand even more as it appeared to confirm that these rebels were English spies left behind by the British army when they retreated from La Coruna. Bertrand could understand the words of English even though it was not his strong suit but the voice sounded far younger than an English soldier should have.
"Lay down your arms and surrender, if you do you will be taken prisoner and treated well; if not! Then it is up to you."
Bertrand held his voice as he turned to the NCO as though to ask about the situation; his reply was immediate and final. With a loud voice; the NCO called for his men to fire a volley into both sides of the valley forest. As the sound of the muskets in the early morning light died and the smoke from the powder drifted aimlessly upward; the young voice called out again.
Bertrand saw what appeared to be shadows suddenly stand up and form three ranks; with the very limited time he had he thought they all looked a little young. The three carefully aimed volleys that cut his own troops to pieces almost belied the youth of the enemy as well as trying to see anything from a prone position on the ground.
The moment he saw the three orderly ranks of muskets he had dived for the ground unlike his small number of troops who had been frantically trying to reload; they were far too slow and too late.
Bertrand finally found the courage to look around himself; of the sixteen remaining troops there were now only two who could still breath. The three volleys from the thirty boys had decimated them; he did not see the other thirty armed boys appear behind him from the other side.
Of his troops there were only two left alive. An NCO who had been hit high in the shoulder as well as in the left hand side of the stomach; there would be doubt for him to survive. The other soldier was hit in the thigh and was using his musket to keep himself standing.
Bertrand dusted off his trousers as he stood up; the appearance of a young boy through the trees was an even bigger surprise. The boy was followed by thirty others; some where older and well into their teens but others were almost as young as the boy who was doing the talking. They were all armed and looked ready for any treachery.
"Monsieur Bertrand; I am Sergeant Major Marking, you will lay down your arms and surrender; if you refuse then it will all end here. Your choice Monsieur?"
Bertrand was not a fool; he was well out numbered and beaten and he knew it. With as much care to appear as agreeable as possible; Bertrand removed his pair of pistols from under his coat and dropped them on the ground; next he lifted out his sword and let it follow the pistols.
"Sergeant Marking I find it hard to think you are the infamous rebel El Toro; where is he and how do you know my name?"
"El Toro is watching us Monsieur Bertrand; as for knowing your name! El Toro has people all over Portugal and Spain he knows all about you and the other spies."
"But why does he send a little boy to do his dirty work; you should be home with your mother not out here with the other soldier boys."
Bertrand was searching for information; if he could break away from this situation he would know far more about the legend El Toro and could fill in a better report to Reynaud; he had to keep the boy talking if he wanted to get the young lad to reveal things he shouldn't.
There was no answer from the young boy; instead he made a signal behind himself. Bertrand watched as two boys; one in his later teens and the other face he already knew; it was the boy Carlito but instead of being dressed like a peasant Carlito was now dressed like all the other boys, even up to the flat crowned black hat and shiny boots.
Bertrand was surprised when the young Sergeant Major started to speak rapidly in Spanish to the two boys; it seemed the young boy was more than he seemed. Bertrand was hoping to at least get a look at El Toro so they could fill in the description of him.
Thomas told Carlito and Estaban to tie the prisoner and bandage the wound on the injured soldier; there was little they could do for the one with the stomach wound; they were nearly always fatal. It would be more merciful to put him out of his misery and pain. Carmelo was only too glad to do so; it would be one less pig to fight.
Bertrand did not make any attempts to fight the two boys as they tied his hands behind his back; he could tell by the feel of the rope, the boys knew what they were doing.
While all this had been going on Bertrand now saw that the rest of the many boys were stripping the dead of all clothing except under clothing; weapons and any valuables were also taken. From the forest came a line of four Mules with pack saddles on their backs; attached to the pack saddles were large wicker panniers.
Bertrand was amazed at how efficient the large group of boys were. It had been a surprise for him when thirty more riflemen had joined the group from behind Bertrand. As it was his profession; Bertrand kept his eyes open and his mouth closed, he could learn far more by observation than asking questions.
The speed with which the dead were stripped of anything valuable and then how quickly it was all packed away on the four mules told Bertrand that these boys; as young as they were; were not novices. He felt better when he saw the boys lay the dead out respectfully along the side of the valley in two lines. Bertrand did not know how he felt about the small yellow flag with the black bull sketched on it being laid on the chest of one of the dead.
"Monsieur Bertrand, you will come with us; we will release your last man to return to his barracks but I ask you to translate a message for him to carry to your leader Monsieur Reynaud. You are to tell him that we will take you to Thomar. If he comes alone we will release you to him; if he brings troops we will give him your bones. Tell your man to carry that message and we will be on our way. I hope you are fit to run."
Bertrand had little choice; he translated the message to the last soldier whom he saw had been helped with his wound and was now standing with a crude crutch to help him walk. When that had been done the young Sergeant Major spoke to the boy he had known as Carlito; the boy smiled and came to stand before Bertrand.
Carlito said something in Spanish to Bertrand; as he did so the Sergeant Major translated for Bertrand into English.
"Carlito says, this is for the slap and so you will remember him; if you survive the war."
Bertrand looked perplexed until Carlito took a long knife seemingly from the very air itself; with a very fast flick of the wrist Carlito slashed a deep gash in Bertrand's cheek. It ran from his ear lobe to his chin; the pain exploded in Bertrand's face and he could not avoid the loud cry that leapt from his lips.
Thomas had not told Bertrand all the curse words included in Carlito's little speech. The cut was not deep enough to cause any real damage but it would leave a very prominent scar along the jaw line for the rest of Bertrand's life. With Carlito's honour satisfied; Thomas got them under way. Once inside the trees the boys picked up their hidden drums; fixed them to their black leather packs and, with their muskets at the trail escorted their new prisoner away from the small valley.
Bertrand found the pace the boys set was more than just a little taxing; before they had gone more than a half hour he was breathing heavily. He took notice that the boys were not even sweating although they had a load to carry where he did not.
The pace was unusual for Bertrand; they would walk quickly for about thirty paces and then trot for another thirty. Bertrand had no idea how much ground they covered but he guessed it was far more than a normal soldier could do.
The boys seemed to be tireless and Bertrand did his best to keep pace; unfortunately not very well and they gave little thought to him lagging behind or panting heavily; a sudden poke with a bayonet made him find a new lease of life. It was four hours later before the young Sergeant Major called for a halt; none of the boys that Bertrand could see, showed any stress after the long march.
After a short rest for food and water the young Sergeant Major called for the march to continue; for Bertrand it was to be one of the worst and longest days of his life. There seemed to be no let up of the pace as the boys continued to devour the ground at a pace a grown man would soon collapse at. How they did it was beyond the now breathless and pain-wracked Bertrand; they would not let him lag behind and their sharp bayonets kept him on his feet even when they did not want to work for him.
It was mid afternoon when Bertrand came to the campsite; it did not look to be one of permanence but was still well set up. There was an open kitchen in operation and a number of what appeared to be Spanish boys of a very young age and six older boys who were dressed in the fashion of the Portuguese.
While there was a language difference; the two groups seemed to be on good terms as they bustled about the camp making it ready for the new arrivals. There were two large wagons to one side and the four mules were taken there to be unloaded.
Bertrand himself was taken to one of the wagons and was tied to a wheel; he was not in the mood nor did he have the strength to try to escape. He slumped back on the ground just happy to stop the fast pace the boys had set.
Bertrand opened his eyes at the sound of laughter and talking; he did not realise he had slipped into a deep sleep but the night around him told him that he had slept for some time.
The smell of freshly cooked food made his stomach rumble and his dry throat was crying out for water. As he moved and tried to look around he heard a sound close by; it was one of the boys watching him with a childish smirk on his face and a pistol pointed right at his belly.
The young teen called for the young Sergeant Major whom soon appeared with a smile.
"I see you are awake Monsieur Bertrand; I will have some food and water brought to you. I am afraid we will only be able to release one hand for you to eat with; I would suggest you do not try to make things difficult. The Corporal here is very good with that pistol so do not tempt him."
Thomas walked away and called for Carmelo to get a plate of food for their captive along with some water. When Carmelo brought the food and water, the boy who had been deemed to be a Corporal; rested the barrel of the pistol against Bertrand's head while the Spanish boy released one hand then stepped back so the man could reach the tin plate and water flask. The young Corporal stepped back well out of reach to watch the man eat and drink.
Bertrand, while tired; did not give up hope entirely of escaping. When they had released his right hand so he could eat Bertrand felt the bindings on his left loosen just a little; as he ate he worked on his left hand bindings; with luck he could get it free during the night when the boys fell asleep.
When he had finished eating one of the boys came to retie his right hand; it was not as Bertrand thought it would be. As the very young Spanish boy approached he quickly slipped a rope noose over Bertrand's head before the man could react. With a light tug of the rope the boy then tied it back to the spoke on the wheel before refastening his right hand and also tightening the rope on the left.
Bertrand almost showed his frustration until he saw the young Sergeant Major standing in front of him smiling.
"They don't particularly like you Monsieur Bertrand; just think you are lucky it is only your neck that is tied. Tomorrow we will put you on a horse; we have a long way to go and you cannot keep up on foot; it will be better for all of us."
"So we will be in Thomar tomorrow?"
"No, we are not going to Thomar. Your Monsieur Reynaud will meet us in another place. It is just in case he wants to try to trick us; he will find out where when he arrives at Thomar and at what time he will make the meeting. He will not have time to get his troops there."
"A good trick for one so young. So tell me Sergeant Major; where is this great Patron El Toro. Will I get to meet him at some stage?"
"For your sake Monsieur Bertrand; you had better not want things that could cause you problems. If the Patron wants to meet you he will do so; until then it is better you do not think of such things; it makes the Spanish and Portuguese boys nervous."
"But Sergeant Major I am your captive; what harm is there in telling me about him?"
"For me there is no harm, for you it is a death sentence; which do you prefer Monsieur Bertrand?"
Bertrand thought it better to stay quiet; the young Sergeant had a look in his eye that did not inspire confidence and the other boys around him seemed to pick up on his sudden tension. Bertrand felt very vulnerable just at that moment, he closed his mouth and tried to get comfortable; it was going to be a long night.
It was again still dark when the camp stirred. Bertrand was surprised to see most of the camp already broken down and stored in the wagons. He was released from his wheel and taken to where an ex cavalry horse stood waiting.
Bertrand was stripped of his boots and told to mount after his hands were tied in front of him. Once seated his hands were tied to the saddle and his socked feet to the stirrups; there was going to be no way for him to try to escape. To make sure he had little chance; Bertrand saw two Spanish boys who appeared to be brothers. They were mounted on fine white Spanish horses; he had once seen the type in Andalucia, there would be no outrunning his new guards.
Bertrand watched as the last wagon was loaded and then all four set off to the west along with a small donkey cart carrying the kitchen and a few younger boys.
When the wagons were fully underway the Sergeant Major called for his boys to start their own trek. He turned his boys to the east; where they were now going was to be a mystery to Bertrand.
The boys took up the same pace as the day before; the miles seemed to just disappear as they moved so quickly that Bertrand could not keep note of where they were.
At midday they stopped for only a half hour; the boys all carried food and water in their black leather packs; for Bertrand there was only bread, cheese and water. They were in a hurry and did not want to waste time.
All afternoon the boys kept up the fast but steady pace; at a rough guess Bertrand thought they must cover at least fifty miles but he knew that to be impossible; even for fully grown men it would have been a challenge but for boys it would be beyond belief.
As the darkness of the night approached the large group turned off the well worn and narrow road into a ravine; there they set up a basic camp for the night. There was no sign of the wagons and the camp was one that was purely utilitarian; Bertrand's young guards never let their attention wander from him.
The next morning Bertrand noticed that one of the four white Andalucian horses was missing; he had not heard it move out during the night so it was a little bit of a shock not to see it in the dawn light.
A quick and rough breakfast was eaten in haste and the day began again. Once again the pace was fast but steady; the miles ran by and Bertrand could only sit tied to his horse and wonder where they were going. Bertrand knew that they should have arrived at Thomar by now or at least been close; with the north easterly direction they were going they could now be anywhere in Portugal.
Once again it was almost dark when the boys stopped for the night; how many miles they had covered was a mystery to Bertrand but he knew he was now nowhere near Thomar. The camp was again hastily set up and the guards for Bertrand were just as attentive.
The morning was again one of travel but this time they only covered a few miles before stopping in a wooded area. Below them was an open field of short sun dried grass and in the distance could be seen the rough buildings of a town.
Bertrand looked out over the field; it was wide open and anyone coming this way would be well seen before they arrived. He took a guess that they had arrived at the meeting place.
His captors again only set a rough camp; it was more of a stopping place than a regular camp and would be able to be broken down and the boys disappear back into the woods in minutes. Bertrand thought that this rebel, El Toro was one very careful man.
Reynaud had arrived at Thomar as he had been requested to do at midday but there was no sight of the supposed rebel or his man. He had listened to the report from the wounded soldier but had no intention of going anywhere without an escort.
He had arrived in Thomar with thirty Chasseur all of them ready to mete out justice for the ones lost at Vimeiro less than a month ago. Reynaud thought he had brought the right men for the job of destroying the so called Rebel, Patron El Toro; the man would soon be just a foot note in history.
It was late in the afternoon and Reynaud sat at a table alone as a boy brought him a bottle of the local wine on a tray along with a small glass that Reynaud saw could have been cleaner.
The boy placed the tray on the edge of the table and put the wine and glass next to Reynaud's hand; once done, the boy lifted the tray and disappeared inside the small tavern.
Reynaud looked out at the town before reaching for the bottle; as he did so he saw a small piece of paper sitting where the tray had been. Reynaud picked up the paper and opened it; the message was simple.
Villavelha at noon tomorrow.
Leave your escort behind.
A flag will mark the place.
Reynaud jumped to his feet and looked for the boy but there was no sign of him. Reynaud knew that if he wanted to make it to the meeting place on time he would have to ride through the night; he called for the Captain of the Chasseurs.
After some hasty orders Reynaud called for his horse; he only hoped the Captain would keep his distance and be in place when he was called for. The Chasseurs would follow half an hour behind Reynaud; his signal would be a pistol shot into the air when they were needed.
As the sun's rays began to pale into dusk Reynaud kicked his horse into a fast canter; it would be the best pace to cover the distance in time and still hopefully not kill the horse in the process; he would never make Villavelha if he was set afoot in the night.
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