Thomas groaned loudly as he lifted his sleep filled head from the table. As he looked through red rimmed bleary eyes at the blurry papers in front of him; Thomas saw the small patch of drool he had left on the neat and tidy report. With another groan he straightened his aching back as the first chill of the late night air caught him, he had fallen asleep at the desk before he could read more than a page of Perrin's report.
Thomas tried to clear his gummed up eyes but they seemed to be glued shut as he looked around the vague dimness of the room. It was only seconds later he felt the two pairs of warm hands trying to help him to stand. Looking to both sides he saw Sergio and Carlito in their under clothes trying to help him to his bedroom; he did not try to resist their help.
Another tired groan came from Thomas as the two younger boys stripped off his dirty clothes and helped him to lay down on the bed. Thomas's eyes were closed and a soft snoring was coming from his partially open mouth as the two boys pulled the thick covers over his sleeping form.
Thomas awoke to the full heat of the day; his eyes still felt glued to his lids and he had that feeling of being in bed for far too long. Thomas once again groaned as he sat upright and swung his legs over the side of the warm bed. As his feet hit the floor, his door opened and in marched Sergio with a large bowl of hot water, a wash cloth and soap; placing the items on the floor at Thomas's feet, Sergio smiled and then left his Patron alone to bath.
After stripping off his underclothes and getting naked, Thomas stood over the large bowl to do a full body wash; it had been a long time since the last one and he was not surprised at the grey scummy water that was left in the bowl when he started to dry off on a clean cloth. Once dry, Thomas looked around and saw that there were clean under clothes ready for him and a crisp clean shirt, his uniform was also now clean and his boots had been polished to a bright shine.
After dressing but without his jacket, Thomas automatically began to place his weapons where they belonged. First his shoulder harness followed quickly by his pair of Purdy and Richards pistols once he had checked they were both loaded and ready. Next he slipped his forearms into the arm sheaths for his two knives and tightened the two small buckles.
With that all done he donned and then buttoned the high waisted trousers before tying on his worn sash of red and gold. Next Thomas pulled on his shiny boots and checked his two knives would slip free if needed. After stamping twice to check his boots were properly fitted he looked at his jacket and decided not to wear it yet; his pair of Manton's would also stay in his room for now.
Finally finished, Thomas began to wonder what the time was; it had to be late in the day as the heat was heavy in the air. As he was about to leave his bedroom, Thomas heard three voices in the outer room; two he recognized immediately but the third he was not sure of but it had to be one of the Englishmen as the accent was atrocious even though the words were correct.
Thomas took a deep breath, opened the door and walked into the main room where he did most of his office work as well as using it for meals. Sitting at the table were both Sergio and Carlito; across from them was Corporal Jervis. As Thomas stepped into the room, he caught sight of himself in the small wall mirror; he could not quite believe what he was seeing.
Thomas could not take in the face that was staring back at him; his eyes were sunken and had black rings around them. His cheeks were drawn in and showed his narrow cheek bones underneath; Thomas's face was also pale even though there was a good tan colour but it looked a little off somehow. Thomas gulped as he turned to look at the three that were watching him from the table.
"What are you lot looking at and why are you here Corporal?"
"I'm here to do what you won't Mister Marking."
"And pray what is that Corporal Jervis?"
"To tell you to stop and rest; if not then I will take other actions."
"Are you threatening me? I am a Captain you know Corporal."
"Yes but in your present condition you are a danger to yourself and every man in the camp."
"What the hell are you talking about Corporal; I'm not sick and never will be."
"That's right mister Marking; you're not sick but; you are exhausted and that can get your men killed if you make the wrong decision because you can't think straight."
"You can't give me orders Corporal; I'm alright and can do my duty whatever it may be."
"You are wrong on both counts Mister Marking. As the Senior Surgeon in the camp it is my duty to make sure all personnel are fit for duty. You Mister Marking are not. Now that being said there are two ways I can handle this but I will let you make the decision; as you said, you are the Captain."
"And what are they Corporal Jervis?"
"One, you can sit here and rest until I see you again tomorrow or." Jervis reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, brown glass square bottle.
"I can get these two boys to hold you down and I will force feed half this bottle down your neck and put you to sleep for two days; your choice?"
"You are an evil, evil man Corporal; I should demote you back to private."
"Thank you Mister Marking that would suit me fine and someone else can worry about all the wounds and surgery for a change."
"Like I just said Corporal, you are an evil man and for that thought of yours I hereby promote you to Sergeant; now you can have even more problems. How do you like them apples Sergeant Jervis?"
"And you have the temerity to call me an evil sod. Right what will it be? A days rest or half a bottle of Laudanum?"
"Ok, Ok Sergeant, you bloody win, I'll be a good boy and stay here and sit for the day. What is the rest of the camp going to do now?"
"None of your damn business Mister Marking; from this moment you are on leave until I say otherwise. You have good Officers and NCO's to look after the camp, they don't need you to interfere right now."
"For a bloody new Sergeant you are awfully cheeky just because you think you have me tied down."
The newly promoted Sergeant got to his feet smiling as he wriggled the brown bottle in his fingers.
"Don't forget I have a damn good supply of these so you just mind your manners Mister Marking; I'm not finished with you yet until I see you in the morning."
"Go away you evil man and leave me to wilt away in peace."
Thomas watched as the smiling Jervis walked out the open door and into the sunlight where he quickly disappeared back to his little surgery; Thomas turned on the two boys who were trying hard to look overly innocent.
"Right which one of you started all that?"
"Patron, I cannot tell you a lie; it was I." Carlito spoke up. "When we saw you last night we were worried you may die; we could not allow that to happen to our Patron so called the Medicante."
"Well you two worry too much, so what happens now then?"
"Now we will bring your cafe and then a small lunch as it is now past the midday. Come Patron, we have a table outside under the shade where you can sit and rest."
Carlito led Thomas out to the side of the house where it was shaded from the midday sun. Looking around Thomas could not see a single one of the more than one hundred and fifty men in the camp at that time; there was little doubt that Jervis had warned them all away from his house.
Thomas sat on the comfortable chair put out for him as Sergio arrived with his morning cafe; the fact it smelt more of brandy than cafe did not really surprise him. After placing the very large mug on the table, both Sergio and Carlito went back into the house to finish preparing his lunch; it was on the table only minutes later along with a glass of wine as was normal.
Lunch was a large platter of fresh tomatoes, goat's cheese, olives and green leaf liberally sprinkled with fresh olive oil; there was enough on the plate for ten people. Thomas sighed as he saw the mountain of food they had made for him but his interest was piqued when he saw a number of thin sticks of what may have been bread but he had never seen the likes before.
"Yes Patron?" The boy had run back outside as though worried about Thomas.
"What are these?" Thomas held up the strange item for the boy to see.
"A new bread Patron; the French brothers made them; they are very cleaver and their father I am told was a very good baker."
Not needing an invitation, Carlito who was joined by Sergio only minutes later; Plonked himself on another chair across from Thomas and picked up one of the long thin breads. Biting off the very tip, Carlito then reached over and dipped it into a small bowl of olive oil mixed with red wine vinegar; placing it in his mouth he chewed contentedly as he smiled at the look on Thomas's face.
"The young baker told me they are good for eating at lunch times. Try one Patron, you will like it I know."
Thomas followed Carlito's example and; after chewing the fresh sticks of bread had to agree with his young friend; the crispy sticks were much better than thick wedges of bread for lunch. The three friends sat and ate slowly as they watched the middle of the valley heat up under the midday sun; there were few birds around at this time and little was moving anywhere else. It was the Spanish time of siesta.
"Carlito, how were you able to talk with the French boys, do you speak French after all?"
"No Patron; it is a long story but I will tell you as we have more time and you can rest while I talk."
"Just get on with it Carlito, you are becoming more like Carmelo every day."
"Would that be such a bad thing Patron?"
"For you, yes; now get on with it."
Carlito gave a small chuckle as he chewed on a small tomato, not that he was all that hungry but it was good to make the Patron wait and relax a little more.
"You see Patron, the boy who plays the ah...horn?"
"You mean the bugle?"
"Yes Patron, the bugle, well he is not really French; well he is French but not French."
"Yes Patron?" Carlito let a small giggle escape his lips before continuing.
"Well his name is Jean Pierre, but it is not his name, it is his French name but not his real name."
"Carlito would you please just tell me what you are trying to say?"
"Patron, that is what I am doing but even one who is as great as you must wait for all the details to be told."
"Yes Patron, well as I was telling you; Jean Pierre is not really a French boy. His people come from the Basque area and do not consider themselves as Frenchmen but for Jean Pierre it is even more so. Jean Pierre is also called Maketja, it is his Romani name; like myself Maketja is what you mistakenly call a Gypsy although to us that is a bad name. The French took him after they told his parents they would be killed if he did not go with them; the same for the two brothers. They were taken from their father's bakery to make bread for the army and their father was not even paid for their work. When you chose to take them away from the French they were very happy; now they know that one day you will let them return to him."
"This does not tell me how you can understand them Carlito."
"I am coming to that Patron. Now Maketja who; as I said is also Romani, speaks more than one language. He has the French, the Basque and also, like me; we have our own language of the Romani. It is not an easy language for outsiders to learn as it must be learnt when very young and watching the adults. The language of the Romani is made up not only of words but gestures and complex signals; much like the secret language you use with the Mister Percy. This is the language I speak with Maketja and so could ask him the things my Patron must know."
"So they will not try to escape if we give them more freedom?"
"No Patron. Maketja has made his promise he will stay as long as you wish; he is very impressed that one so young is the Patron of such a large and fearful army. He will not break his word now Patron and the two brothers have nothing else to do as they are so far away from their home in Paris. They will stay and work for you if you will give them protection from the French army and perhaps a few sou for their hard work."
"Agreed, you can tell them that as long as they follow our rules they will be paid like our soldiers and will be safe from the French army. Now then I have one more thing to ask."
"Do you think that Maketja will spend time to teach me the French language?"
"I see no reason he would not Patron; but I would ask why you would want to speak the language of those animals; it is nothing but grunts and squeals like a pig with a large spear in its stomach; most times they talk with their noses; it is an affront to the ears of speakers of the good languages like Spanish and Romani."
"Carlito, to be a good Patron I must be able to listen to the French so I can make plans. It is something I heard about from Mister O'Rourke, I have to understand my enemy to win."
"Ah Patron, then if it is for you to win and kill the French Puta then I will ask Maketja and he will help you. Is there anything else he can do to make things better for us Patron?"
"I don't know what he can do Carlito; perhaps it would be better to ask him to come and talk with me then we can see what else he can do?"
"I will ask him Patron."
Thomas was almost startled out of his skin when Carlito put his fingers to his lips and whistled loudly before calling out in words he could not understand. It was only seconds later when the dark haired bugler appeared as if from nowhere. Carlito talked rapidly while making strange gestures with his hands eyebrows and even his lips and shoulders; all parts of Carlito's body seemed to be used in the talking as was Maketja's when answering.
"Maketja says he will be happy to teach you the language of the animals but I will have to stay close until you can understand much of it so I can tell you what he says; will that be alright Patron?"
"Yes Carlito and you can tell Maketja that he will be well paid for good work if he can teach me. Now then ask him what other work he can do?"
The strange conversation went on for some time; much of which Thomas guessed had little to do with what he had asked as there were giggles and laughter mixed in with the words and strange gestures. After some time, Carlito turned to Thomas and told him the crux of what had been discussed.
"Patron, my brother says he can watch the sheep and goats if you have any, or he can enter any house you wish especially if it's a French one. He is also capable of climbing to places others would not dare and he is very good at Savat."
"What is this Savat?"
"It is special foot fighting that the Basque are known for; he has trained since very young and he says he could show you but it takes a long time and a lot of practice."
"We will see then, perhaps some time he will show us then I can see if it will be good for our army to learn."
Carlito turned back to another even longer discussion with his new brother. After it was all over, Carlito told Thomas all he had learned before telling Maketja that he could go and find something to do in the mean time. With peace restored, Thomas settled back and let the heat of the day sink into his bones; he had to admit it did feel good to just sit and not have to think about anything for the day.
The following morning Thomas was again restricted to his sedentary life under the shade of a tree as the newly promoted Sergeant Jervis would not let him go to work. As he sat in the shade; Thomas began his first lessons in the French language under the tutelage of the young Basque gypsy.
On the morning of the third day, Thomas was glad he was told he could return to his duties but had to keep in mind that rest was still the best cure he could have. With Jervis's approval, Thomas felt happy to go back to work and was just sitting down to his desk when there was a loud shout outside in the valley. Thomas walked to the door and looked out to see what all the commotion was about; as he saw the reason for the loud yells, A broad smile came over his face; Carmelo was back home and it looked as though he had brought all his men through as well although Thomas could see the odd white bandage on some of them.
When Carmelo finally made it to the small house, Thomas could see that he looked no better than Thomas did when he had arrived back. Carmelo and his Company had pushed hard to make it back from their hideaway inside the French lines and it showed on his young face and the way he walked; each step seemed to be made with extra effort.
After the two old friends had shaken hands and then given each other a rather embarrassed hug; Thomas told Carmelo to get some rest, his report on the activities of his Company could wait for the next day. The four wounded were sent off to see Sergeant Jervis for medical help and the rest were dismissed and sent for rest; Thomas gave orders for all the others in camp to refrain from asking questions until the newcomers had all had a chance to rest.
After Carmelo was sent to rest, Thomas returned to his desk and began to go through the reports; once he had finished with Perrin's he called for Jones and began to relate his own events so Jones could put it all to paper for when it was sent to headquarters for the Viscount to read. Thomas had now only to wait for Estaban to return and he could relax a little, the thought that he still had men out in the field among the French made for some difficult times when he had nothing to do.
It was another five days before Estaban led his men into camp. Thomas was very surprised to see every man mounted on a fine Andalucian horse; most were white but he saw that all the riders looked to be very comfortable with their mounts; he also saw five men with wounds but the count showed no one to be lost, he sighed as he watched the tired mounted Company come towards where he waited for them.
Estaban gave Thomas a tired smile and a half hearted salute as he slid from his horse and handed the reins to Diego while he went to greet Thomas and the now recovered Carmelo. Thomas gave Estaban the same orders as Carmelo had received; the teen was to go and rest until the next day before making out his report. The day after Estaban had returned, Thomas received a messenger from Lisbon.
The messenger gave the letter to Thomas and, after saluting was told to find a place to rest just in case there was to be a reply for the Generals. Thomas called his young Officers to come to the house so they could all find out what the message said; if there was trouble on the horizon he wanted his best people with him to help make any decisions.
Much to their surprise, the message was rather brief and to the point.
Officer Commanding His Majesties Forces
Captain Thomas Marking.
1st Battalion Drums and Axillaries
You will present yourself and all Officers at the residence in Lisbon on the 26th of July being two weeks from this date. All Officers will be required to carry full mess uniform for a ball to be held on the evening of the 27th July. All reports for any and all actions taken by the Battalion until this date are to be discussed on said date, being 26th July
Thomas re-read the message after translating it for those who did not speak English; as always the meeting was held in Spanish. Thomas looked at his friends and did not miss the looks on their faces. Why would all the top Officers want them to go to some high class ball where they would all be the odd ones out; still it was an official order and even as rebellious as these young men could be, they did not want to upset the one person that had always been on their side.
For the next week the camp was busy with training and preparation for the next time they were to go out after the French. Their first forays had been successful but also they had learned lessons that they passed on to those who had gone elsewhere. It was noted the French just did not seem to change their tactics but relied on boosting the number of men on the patrols and supply trains instead of look for new ways to stop the sudden attacks.
On the 22nd of July, Thomas called his Officers to get ready to leave for Lisbon; it would take them two full days to ride there and then find accommodations, the extra few days would allow them to rest before the meetings.
The ride to Lisbon was uneventful and the young Officers were able to arrive relaxed but still alert, even on these roads behind the lines there was still the possibility for random attacks from French sympathisers. After finding accommodations in a small hostel, Thomas sent for a messenger to take the written reports to the Headquarters; it would save time if the Viscount had time to read them before they appeared in his office.
It was 10 of the clock on the 26th when Thomas and his friends arrived at the residence for their meeting. Colonel Lewis was waiting for them and took them along the large hall to where they could sit to wait to be called. It was two hours before Colonel Lewis returned to take them through to the Viscounts office and be shown inside to make their reports verbally and to answer any questions that may have arisen.
Thomas was not surprised to see the Viscount bent over his oversized desk reading a mass of reports. After Thomas and his men had given a smart salute, the Viscount indicated for them to take the hard backed chairs in front of his desk.
"Well Captain, I can see by your reports that you have all been very busy; I would like to go over some of the details if you please."
"Yes My Lord."
"First of all, Lieutenant Perrin; it says in your report that you harried the French lines in the area around Niva?"
"Yes My Lord, I took the men into Spain a couple of times but kept it close to the border so we could get back safely."
"Good thinking young man. Now it says here you have estimated the increase in patrols and supply trains in the Elvas and Abrantes region?"
"Yes My Lord, once we started attacking them, the escorts increased by a large number; I would hazard a guess My Lord that they had to pull men off the front line."
"You may well be correct Lieutenant; a certain lessening in the number of patrols had been noted by my Officers. You noted here that you suffered no casualties; how was this accomplished if you ran continual attacks on the French rear?"
"We stayed to the Captains orders to hit and run once the damage was done and before the French could respond My Lord."
"Very clever I must say. Now Lieutenant Grey; I see by your report that you went right into the devils cauldron and attacked from well into the French rear. You have stated here that you had no losses but returned with a small number of wounded?"
"Yes Don General."
Thomas smiled at Carmelo's form of address; for him the Viscount was the same as a Spanish Don so Thomas did not whisper for him to change it, the Viscount just seemed to ignore the title as though he was accustomed to hearing it.
"You have stated that you can lay claim to having destroyed five supply trains and have a definite count of one hundred and sixty five French troops, with losses like that how did the French react to your incursions?"
"They increased their patrols to more than three times their size Don General; towards the end of the month it was difficult to get close safely but they did have many troops posted and a great increase in their mounted patrols."
"So you pulled a lot of their troops away from the Portuguese border?"
"Yes Don General."
"Good. Now Captain, I believe your Lieutenant Colosio does not have English?"
"Yes My Lord."
"Then perhaps you can answer for him?"
"I will try My Lord."
"Your Lieutenant Colosio has said he formed his men into a mounted troop and attacked from horseback but used your new muskets; can you explain for me how he did this Captain?"
"Lieutenant Colosio led his men on foot into Andalucia where he still has friends; after obtaining mounts for them, he took them on fast raids against supply trains and foot patrols and used the muskets from horseback. Lieutenant Colosio told me that they double charged their muskets so they could fire from a distance the French could not return effective fire from. By using the same hit and run tactics that we all do, he was able to take a large toll on the patrols and trains far behind the lines around Cordova and Granada; his camp was at Jaen so he kept the raids at some distance so the French could not trace him back there."
"His numbers are quite impressive, do you have any doubts about his numbers?"
"None at all My Lord, Lieutenant Colosio has never been one to lie about his exploits or deeds My Lord."
"Then I will accept his numbers and what he was able to achieve. Now Captain to your report. You stated here that you managed to destroy a supply depot near Benavente and that you also recovered another six guns to add to your arsenal. What happed to the rest of the supplies; if the depot was as large as you stated, there must have been a considerable amount left that you could not carry?"
"Yes My Lord, there was a lot left we could not take with us so we set charges and blew everything up. The French survivors we sent back to their lines, we did not have the men to keep them under guard on a long march back to our lines and I felt there had been enough blood spilt in the attack and the Officer had surrendered to us."
"Do you not think that they will be waiting for you when you return?"
"There is nothing to return to up there My Lord. We have closed the ravine and it will take them months to reopen it. I have been told that they will now have to take their supplies the long way through Spain from now on."
"Well that at least is good news; I have a feeling it will not be long before they try to break our lines. Well I must give you all my congratulations Captain, you have far exceeded my best expectations just by closing that supply line as well as the rest. My spies tell me there have been more than five thousand men pulled away from the front line to guard the supply lines in the rear. You have done us all a great service Captain and it will not be forgotten in a hurry. Now then Captain, I will expect to see you and your Officers here for the ball tomorrow evening; official mess dress is expected and we will expect to see you at 8 of the clock for the arrival of the guest of honour."
"Yes My Lord."
"One more thing Captain."
"Yes My Lord?"
"Weapons will not be required nor needed; do I make myself clear Captain?"
"Yes My Lord."
"Good, then my thanks once again to you and your Officers, I will expect more of the same in the months to come."
Colonel Lewis appeared as if by magic and took the boys outside once again; the Viscount had already gone back to other reports and papers. Thomas led his boys back to the hostel they had taken for their hopefully short stay in Lisbon.
The boys decided to have an early night, the long days of travel as well as the hours spent at Headquarters had tired them and if they were to go to the ball the next night then they would need their rest.
The next day dawned bright and warm as most days were in Portugal at that time of year. Thomas and the others decided to go out and walk around the old town and hopefully find somewhere for a light lunch. Not knowing what a ball was like, the boys thought it would be a good idea to fill their stomachs just in case.
The six young Officers were of course dressed in their Spanish day time uniforms, their mess uniforms were hanging out to be ready for the evening. There was quite a bit of chatter about the upcoming ball as none of the boys knew the first thing about dancing and there was a certain amount of trepidation about being forced to dance with unknown females; too the young teens it could be a fate worse than death.
They eventually found themselves strolling in one of the many large open squares as they looked for a small place to eat; Estaban suddenly nudged Carmelo and pointed to a large black coach with a troop of cavalry leading the way with another eight following closely behind.
The driver of the coach sat looking straight ahead and took little notice of those around him. On the back stood two uniformed footmen and the windows were covered with fine lace curtains. There was no coat of arms on the coach but it had a certain presence that no one could mistake.
It was as though Carmelo, Lorenco and Estaban knew something the others did not as they quickly snapped to attention as the coach drew closer, the other boys never hesitated to follow their friends and all stood stiffly as the coach passed in a rattle of steel shod wheels on the cobble stones of the street.
As the coach passed the stiffly standing boys, Thomas saw the curtain on the window move slightly just at the last moment. After the coach had passed, the boys relaxed and looked after the conveyance just in time to see it halt a little further down the street. As they watched, one of the footmen jumped from the rear and quickly went to the small window. After a few unheard words were said to the person inside the footman looked back at the six boys and then nodded his head and turned towards them.
The footman almost ran back to the boys and looked them over as he stopped in front of them; it took a moment before he looked at the boys and then, in perfect high Catalan he asked.
"Gentlemen, is one of you the Officer they call 'The Patron'?"
Thomas blushed as he replied in the same language.
"Yes Sir, I am known by that name; how may I be of service to you?"
"Sir, my principle has requested your presence and that of your other Officers at the Hacienda Casa de Santiago in one hour, if that is to your liking?"
"I'm sorry Sir, I do not know where that is."
"If you would follow this street to the far end and then turn to your left hand, it is another five hundred metres; you cannot miss it as I am sure you will see. May I then tell my principle that you will appear as requested?"
"Yes Sir, it will be our pleasure to meet with your principle."
The footman bowed and returned quickly back to the coach where he gave a short report then took his place back at the rear and the coach took off. Thomas looked at the others in wonder; he could think of nothing that would have caused an unknown coach to stop and invite them to their home; even his Spanish friends could not tell him what it was all about.
Foregoing their planned early lunch, the boys decided to walk towards the appointment at a leisurely pace and take in the sights around them. The far end of the street was out of sight so they did not know how far it would be or how long it would take them to get to the suggested corner.
While they strolled along the conversation was more speculation as they tried to work out who had asked for them to visit; there was also the reason why the three Spanish boys had decided to stand and salute the coach in the first place; none of them could explain why except that it had just been instinct for them to acknowledge what could only have been an important person with an escort of Spanish cavalry.
The hour was nearly up by the time they found the Hacienda. It was as the footman had said, it was easy to find once they had turned the corner. There was a long whitewashed wall around the large house that could be seen through the strong looking wrought iron gates that had four sentries standing stiffly at attention as the boys walked up.
The guard that looked to be the most senior asked the boys what they wanted when they stopped in front of the gate.
"This is our Patron El Toro, he has been asked to come here for a meeting." Carmelo replied to the request.
The six boys were taken aback when the four sentries suddenly stiffened even further and the senior one snapped out a perfect salute before giving the order to open the gates and let the young teens in to the Hacienda.
After thanking the senior guardsman, Thomas led the way towards the wide steps that led up to a set of double doors. After Estaban knocked on one of the doors they were opened by a man in the full Spanish military uniform of a high ranking Officer. After Carmelo told him who they were, the Officer snapped out a salute and indicated they should follow him into the cool hall of the Hacienda.
The boys were escorted into a large reception room, for Thomas the room took his breath away and he was sure the others felt the same. Lined along both walls were soldiers all standing at attention and at the far end of the room was a man who stood erect and had the look of a man both of action and authority. The man's gaze was stern and steady as he watched the five teens and single older Lieutenant walk the length of the room until they were finally standing at attention before him.
Another man stepped from the side and, in high Catalan told the teens.
"Patron El Toro, I would like to introduce Generalissimo Pedro de Alacantara Tellez-Giron y Alfonso-Pimentel, senior representative of the Cortes and Officer Commanding the Brigade of Cavalry of the Spanish forces."
All six snapped out a very smart salute but could still not work out why they had been invited there. The General looked at the young soldiers and then focused entirely on Thomas.
"You are the one they call the Patron El Toro is this not right Captain?"
"Yes Sir." Thomas replied with a little awe in his young voice.
"And which do you prefer? El Toro or Captain?"
"Captain Sir, I think El Toro is a little above my station in life."
For the first time since entering the great room the General smiled at the group of young Officers.
"Then Captain it shall be. Now then Captain I suppose you are wondering why I have asked you here?"
"Then I shall not waste any more of your time. As my Adjutant has said, I am the representative of the Cortes and as such I was given certain orders concerning your valiant efforts on behalf of the Spanish and Portuguese forces fighting the tyrant Napoleon. I would like to offer their congratulations in causing such damage to the French forces and the Cortes has instructed me to present a few items that they think you richly deserve for your efforts on our behalf in this war."
When the General paused it left Thomas with enough time to wonder what was going on and why they were all here.
"Now I have been able to get the names of your young Officers from the Viscount Wellington although I do not know who is who so I shall just call their names as I have them written here."
Thomas watched as the General was handed a sheet of paper by the Adjutant who was now standing to the side of the General with a small table just behind him on which were a number of strange things.
"Where is Lieutenant Perrin, Lieutenant Allen and Lieutenant Lorenco of the Portuguese Army are those the correct names?"
The three young Officers blushed as they stepped forward. "Yes Sir that is correct." Said Allen as he was the oldest of the three
"Good, I have a little trouble pronouncing English names. Now then gentlemen, by the authority vested in myself by the Cortes of Spain we would like to present you with the honorary rank of Major in the Spanish forces. At the completion of your service to England and Portugal, should you wish to come back to Spain your rank will be recognised if you wished to enlist in our army. Along with the new rank there is also the medallion of a Hero of Spain."
The General took a blue sash from the Adjutant that also had a star burst medallion near the top where a man's chest would be. After laying the blue sash over the shoulders of the three and the General had adjusted one to fit the smaller frame of Perrin. Once he was satisfied he then gave each teen a smart pair of gold braid epaulets, he then stepped back and saluted the blushing teens.
Carmelo blushed as he stepped forward and gave a small bow that at the time seemed very odd to Thomas.
"Lieutenant Grey I am familiar with the work of your Father Colonel Grey; a true thorn in the side of the French and so, for your dedication and devotion to duty under the command of the Patron El Toro and, as you already carry rank in the Spanish army; it is my great pleasure to tender to you your new rank of Colonel. There is also the matter of your Grandfather being Don Carmelo Martinez of Aranda in Castile. To this end I have been instructed to make notice that from this day on Colonel Carmelo Grey will carry the title of Cavalier De España and be known as Don Carmelo as he is the last surviving member of that august family. Further more Colonel you shall also be awarded the medallion of a Hero of Spain."
For the first time he could remember; Thomas saw Carmelo stuck for words as he looked at the Generalissimo with questioning eyes. The Generalissimo smiled as his Adjutant hand over the blue sash with red and gold piping along the edges. Attached to the sash were two large star burst medallions, one for the medallion of a Hero or Spain and the other for the Cavalier De Espania; Carmelo was now of similar status as a Knight of the Realm in England. Added to the sash as a pair of thick gold braided epaulets.
The next one called was Estaban again Thomas watched as his friend gave a small bow to the Generalissimo before standing at attention.
"Lieutenant Colosio, we are familiar with your family and would offer you our sincerest condolences on their loss to the French. That the French would not only destroy your family but also all of the finest fighting bulls in Spain just to fill their tables is a travesty we will endeavour to make right in the war ahead. That being said it is only fitting that we pay homage to not only your family but to your efforts on our behalf in making the French pay a high price for their crimes. Lieutenant Colosio, from this day on you will carry the rank of Colonel in our Spanish armies; further you will receive the medallion of a Hero of Spain. There is little we can do at this time to seek the revenge you are entitled to so the least we can do is also award you the title of Cavalier De España and you shall be henceforth known as Don Estaban Colosio. Spain thanks you for your sacrifices Don Estaban."
The Generalissimo paused for breath before he continued.
"Don Estaban, on the completion of your service to your country and the Patron; the Spanish Cortes will see that all your lands are returned to you in full and that you will be given sufficient restitution to begin to breed your fine bulls once again, again my sincere congratulations."
Estaban and Carmelo were presented with a pair of very thickly gold braided epaulets to wear on their shoulders; they would be able to use them for the ball whereas the others could not as they were still under English martial law and could not wear foreign rank until they were discharged on completion of their seven years of service.
After Estaban had saluted the General and stepped back in line with the others, the General turned to look Thomas up and down; there was the faintest of smiles on his stern face as he said.
"Captain Marking, or should I call you El Toro?"
The underlying current of the Generals smile carried to his voice.
"There remains only yourself and this I find myself to be in full agreement with the Cortes. Captain Marking, this is the first time a non Spanish member of the armed forces has ever received these honours but it gives me the greatest of pleasure to follow their instructions. Captain Marking, by the authority vested in me by the Cortes of Spain, I hereby present you with the rank of General in the Spanish forces, As you can see, our General Cuesta had it right. The conditions of your advancement being the same as for your friends should you wish to return to Spain after you complete your service to England. Next we would like to present you with the medallion of a Hero of Spain along with the title of Cavalier De España and that you are now entitled to carry the title of Don Thomasino. As it would be unseemly for a Don of Spain to be landless, the Cortes has set aside 5000 acres in Andalucia for your use on the completion of the war with France. Don Thomasino my heartiest congratulations and the Cortes sincerely thanks you for your service to free Spain and our allies in Portugal."
Thomas could only stare in shock as his face grew redder when the General stepped back after presenting him with the sash that had three large many pointed medallions attached and a set heavy gold braided epaulets and gave Thomas a smart salute. Thomas could only stand there with his mouth open and wonder what had just happened as the tall stern looking General stepped back.
"Don Thomasino I presume you shall be at the Viscount's ball this evening?"
"Good then we will meet again, I was going to reserve this little presentation until after the ball but the opportunity presented itself earlier than I thought. I shall see you tonight Don Thomasino, perhaps then we can talk more deeply about your exploits behind the French lines?"
"Good, now Gentlemen I think your friend needs some time to digest all this. Thank you all once again for your service to us, and gentlemen I shall see you all later tonight."
The boys somehow managed to give the General a smart salute before the Adjutant could lead them back outside. As they walked away from the large Hacienda their heads were still somewhere high up in the cloudless sky; it would last until they were almost at the ball later that evening.
There was a noticeable silence among the friends as they found their way back to the hostel; the events of the afternoon only caused them to wonder what had happened and even more puzzling, why it had happened, none of them could find any answer and so they all just walked along in total disbelief and silence.
Back at the hostel the six friends could only sit and look at the items they had been given, that the sashes would be worn was not even discussed; they would not dishonour the gift by hiding their new honours, the two new Colonels had little to say, they were after all official Spanish Officers so they would wear their new rank with pride.
The time to depart for the ball was only an hour away when they got a soft knock on the door of the room they were staying in. On opening the door they were all happy to see a familiar face smiling back at them. Thomas smiled widely as he jumped to his feet and called out with happiness.
"Mister Percy, what are you doing here?"
"Hello Generalissimo; how does it feel to out rank most Officers in His Majesties Army and a Knight no less; I suppose I will have to bend a knee to you now."
The wide smile on Mister Percy's face told Thomas he was only partially joking.
"I don't think it is all real Mister Percy; it's all more like some sort of joke and I don't think anyone will be bending any knees my way."
"Well the Spanish Cortes seem to think differently. Now then I know you are soon off to the Viscount's ball so I thought I would drop by and perhaps walk along with you. I really do find these things rather a bore but one must show ones face at a time like this. Are you looking forward to it?"
"Not really Mister Percy, I've never been to a ball before and, as for dancing! Well Mister Percy, I don't think that's going to happen."
"You never know young Thomas some young filly may just take a fancy to your glory."
The underlying chuckle in Mister Percy's voice told Thomas the older man may just not be joking. As the seven friends left the hostel for the Residence of the Viscount, the late evening sun was almost below the horizon. It was close to the hour of 8 of the clock but Mister Percy had said it may be a good idea to show a little early and then watch the rest arrive; it would also give them a chance to be ahead on the drinks count.
While Mister Percy was for the first time that Thomas could remember; dressed in the uniform of a full Colonel of the Household Guards, Thomas and his friends wore their Spanish dress uniform, they were also sporting their blue sashes which Mister Percy insisted they put on; Carmelo and Estaban of course were now wearing their new rank and the bright gold epaulets seemed strange on their young shoulders.
All of the younger ones found it a little disconcerting with wearing the wide blue sashes; they had often stirred up enough controversy with their fellow Officers without adding more for them to target. Thomas whispered to the others that; as there was a good likely-hood of other young Officers wanting to make trouble for them, that they should all speak only Spanish unless with the more senior English Officers.
Much to Thomas surprise, Mister Percy seemed to think it a great idea; it would enable Estaban and Lorenco to be included in their conversations without bringing undue notice of others to the fact the pair did not speak English.
It was only a walk of about twenty minutes to the gates of the Residence, when they arrived and looked inside it was plain to see it was going to be a big night. They could already hear music coming from inside the large building and the number of coaches lined along the drive was quite heavy. Taking a deep breath, much to Mister Percy's amusement; the six boys got ready for their next battle, as they thought of it.
At the open double doors of the entrance, the boys had to leave their swords and hats; none of them had carried their pistols on the advice of Mister Percy. Once divested they entered the large foyer under the watchful and seemingly hostile glances of the very young Junior Officers who were on guard to receive the guests.
After walking halfway down the entrance hall where they had been before, Mister Percy directed them to the left and into the main ballroom. All six boys had to stop and stare at the sight before them. The ballroom was huge and must have taken up nearly half the residence. The small military band was on a mezzanine floor and playing the latest music of the day.
On the dance floor were a large number of Junior Officers dancing with what the boys assumed were the daughters or wards of the Senior Officers; the young ladies mothers were watching them all closely. Thomas guessed at a rough count there had to be more than two hundred Officers and ladies in the large room.
While some of the older women were standing in small groups talking, those young Officers not dancing were standing also in small groups around the large room. At their entrance, the boys noticed a subtle silence and many glances their way as they followed Mister Percy to find a place out of the way where they could stand back and watch the goings on.
Once they had found a place out of the way and could observe those around them, Mister Percy began to describe who was who and almost broke into a laugh when told by Thomas that none of the boys had any intention of dancing with anyone.
After a short time, Mister Percy left the boys to their own devices as he walked away into the crowd, he did not tell the boys he had seen a small group of young Officers looking their way and making comments; Mister Percy wanted to find out more as was his nature.
Percy walked slowly around the ballroom occasionally stopping to greet an Officer or lady but always moving in an indirect line towards the young group opposite where his young friends stood slightly isolated from everyone else.
Percy was stopped by the Viscount for a short time but, as soon as his short talk was done he continued on his slow way to his objective. Percy arrived close by his targets and casually lent on a nearby pillar as he listened while looking as though his thoughts were elsewhere; a trick he had perfected over a lot of years, he was not amused by what he heard.
"I'm telling you Curruthers, they are bloody foreigners if you take note of their ridiculous dress it will tell you that.""I'm not sure Woolsley; there is something familiar about some of them."
"Even so old chap, they look foreign to me, why the devil his nibs has asked them to be here is beyond me."
"Well that's his Lordships business although I do agree they could have dressed a little better, don't they know that black is for mourning; not much of a uniform even if they are wearing those damnedable sash things. Anyone know what those medallions are for?"
Percy watched as the others shook their heads in the negative; he was about to make his move when he saw one of the others start to say something.
"Braithwaite; you've done the grand tour, what do you think?"
"Couldn't say old chap; perhaps they are just another one of the Viscounts foibles; you know how he is with these damn foreigners. I can't really understand why he puts up with them myself; we would be far better off without them. Did you see where that Spanish General got his licking from Bonaparte, bloody useless the lot of them in my opinion."
"Well as far as I can see, perhaps they are just a few of those young boys the foreigners like to keep around for other uses, apart from that older one the rest are pretty young; wouldn't surprise me as to what they get up to once the sun has set." The one called Curruthers said in general.
"Yes Curruthers, damn foreigners are known for their liking of a bit of buggery; perhaps that is why they are here? I'm told on good authority that the guest of honour is one of those foreign types as well; perhaps they are his little bed warmers?"
The others chuckled and looked at the small group of young teens on the other side of the room with a certain amount of distain on their faces. Percy now felt it was time to make himself known to the little group of young Officers.
Percy casually walked towards the group with a wide smile on his face; as the young men became aware of his presence, they all stood to attention. Most of the small group wondered who the short tubby Colonel was as he stopped in front of them and leaned casually on his black cane.
"Good evening gentlemen; are you enjoying the ball?"
"Good evening Sir." They all said as one; the one called Braithwaite continued for the rest. "Yes Sir, it is quite a nice change to see some civilisation in this confounded land."
"Yes gentlemen I agree, England is far away and there is a lot of hard fighting yet to be done; I hope you are all up to it?"
"Yes Sir, we can't wait to get amongst the French, sooner the better; Sir."
"Good, good, I'm sure you will conduct yourselves well when you meet them. Are you all settling into your units?"
"Yes Sir, thank you Sir. Sir?"
"Braithwaite Sir; Second Lieutenant Braithwaite."
"Ah yes, well Mister Braithwaite, you have a question?"
"Yes Sir. We were all wondering about those foreigners over there, why would the Viscount invite such as they; after all Sir, they do look a little out of their depth here with so many young English ladies about."
"Whom do you mean Mister Braithwaite?"
"Those over there Sir, the young foreigners dressed in black with those fancy sashes, not really the type of soldier we would expect to be seen at an official ball."
Percy gave what he considered one of his best acting performances as he looked across the ballroom to where his friends were talking amongst themselves.
"Why Mister Braithwaite, I do believe you are correct; they certainly do look like foreigners. Perhaps we should go and introduce ourselves?"
"What Sir? Do you really think we should be seen mixing with their sort?"
"What sort would that be Mister Braithwaite?"
"Well you know Sir, their sort; it's plainly obvious they are not really soldiers so it makes you wonder why they would be here unless it was for the foreign guest that's coming."
"Oh really Mister Braithwaite, so you think they might be some sort of evening entertainment for our foreign guest?"
"It certainly looks that way Sir. Except for the older one, not one of them would be much use on a battle field, just young boys Sir and you know what the foreigners are like with young boys."
"Not really Mister Braithwaite, Perhaps it is more of a reason to go over and introduce ourselves."
"I don't think we want to do that Sir."
"Gentlemen, it was not a suggestion. Shall we go?"
As the six young Officers blushed at their own discomfort and were now forced into a situation they could not break away from; outside the residence came the sound of massed drums.
"It appears gentlemen we will have to wait until after the introduction of our guest of honour; it seems he has arrived. Do not stray too far, I'm sure those young men would like to make your acquaintance as soon as the formalities are over."
Percy took only one step back so he could keep an eye on the young Officers; he felt there was far too much fun to be had this night to let them escape his clutches.
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