Thomas called Estaban for a horse as he had decided to go alone to meet with the Viscount. On arrival he did not have to wait long before Colonel Lewis found him and escorted him into the presence of Viscount Wellington. Once he had saluted the Viscount, Thomas stood and waited for the man to speak.
"Ah Captain Marking; well done at the Tattoo, your men acquitted themselves well and I believe there are a large number of my troops who will have to wait until they are paid to have a few coins in their pockets. Now then Captain, I wish you to leave for your assignment behind Massena's lines as soon as possible. Once you have caused as much trouble as you can I want you to leave for Albuera. You will report to Marshal Beresford; he will inform you of the position he wants you to take once you and your men are there. You will be under his direct orders Captain, so I hope you will take note of his demands. Can you have your men ready to leave immediately? I know I said originally that you may have a week but there have been some new developments and I need for you to make your attacks on Massena's lines as soon as possible."
"Almost immediately My Lord; tomorrow morning if you wish."
"Good then I expect not to see you until Beresford's report after the battle of Albuera. You will have to leave the area of Fuentes de Onoro on or about the middle of April to make Albuera in time. That's all I have for you Captain; good luck to you and I hope all goes well for you and your battalion."
"Thank you My lord."
Thomas saluted and left the Viscount to his mass of papers; he had work to do and a lot of preparations to try to keep his men safe from the French in the upcoming months. On his return to their camp; Thomas called for his Officers and, for the next two hours they all discussed the new orders and what it could mean for the Battalion; some of it was not good and Thomas's biggest worry was being under the orders of a man he did not know.
Just before dawn the next day, Thomas led his Battalion out of Lisbon for the long march to start his harassment of Massena's forces around Fuentes de Onoro. Almost all of his stores from Vimeiro were now on wagons and trailing the massed Companies as they turned north for their next meeting with the French. The plan was to march to Guarda and then break up into smaller groups and make for a campsite in the hills half way between Almeida and Fuentes de Onoro; from there they would start their attacks in their usual fashion.
Thomas hoped that by finding a camp still within reach of the English lines it would deter the French from trying to find them; there would still be the problems of their safety when going behind French lines but they were now used to watching their backs in hostile lands. Thomas had little doubt that they would not be able to stay in the area as long as the Viscount wanted but that was something he kept to himself for the present; if luck was on their side they would be able to cause enough disruption to the supply and reinforcement lines to satisfy the Viscounts demands.
Thomas's plan was to be near Albuera well before he was expected; everything would depend on the report from the boys who were even now well on their way to the area for their mapping and their report would result in the final plans with Marshal Beresford. Thomas had determined that he would leave his gunners at Guarda where they could rest and it would also give his more mobile companies less chance of capture if they were able to move without the slower guns.
Once in Guarda, Thomas asked Lieutenant Croxley to work on making eight batteries out of his sixteen guns and for the gunners to train for individual actions without the need for orders from Croxley. Thomas told Croxley to promote one man to Sergeant who would be in charge of each of the batteries. Lieutenant Croxley said nothing about the new plan; he knew by now that the young Captain always had his reasons for any changes he made.
The week it had taken to make Guarda brought them into February and the full force of the spring rains were now making themselves felt. The roads had become quagmires for the most part and any movements of heavy equipment took twice as long as normal; the foot soldiers had it only marginally easier and the Cavalry were mostly restricted to the roadways.
The spring elements worked to Thomas's favour; his more mobile and better trained men and boys did not see it as an inconvenience but as a means to keep the French to their camps or on the slightly better roads for ease of travel.
Thomas set up his main camp just at the very end of the mountains and close to the river Coa. It was an ideal place to make raids into French held Spain between the town of Almeida and the junction of the rivers Agueda and Douro and would give them more open access to the plains behind Fuentes de Onoro and Ciudad Rodrigo where he thought most of Massena's supplies and reinforcements would be coming from.
Once the camp was set up and their guard lines set; Thomas called for his Officers to make plans for their immediate future. After two hours the meeting was ready to break up. It had been decided that Estaban would take his well armed cavalry right into the rear of the French lines and use his normal form of attack to disrupt troop reinforcements well behind the lines; they were to report back to the camp every ten days or so unless there was an emergency where they needed to get help from the six Companies that stayed behind.
Thomas gave command of two Companies to Carmelo, two to Perrin and took command of the other two himself. Their plan was to make independent attacks in widely separate areas to help confuse the French to their exact location; if the opportunity arose to make a larger and more devastating attack then they would combine their forces for the occasion.
The heavy rain of spring helped their efforts as they worked through February and March in disrupting the French supply lines and reinforcements. With the French Supply lines restricted mainly to the muddy roads the efforts of Thomas's men were made easier and the effects of their well timed raids began to take a toll on the French army as well as the nerves of the night pickets and patrols.
Thomas's tactics were simple and direct; set an ambush and leave as much damage and death behind as could be made. His plan had two benefits; one was the need for the French to tie up many more troops as column guards, the other was to unnerve those already in camp by late night attacks so they were always having to watch over their shoulders for the rebels.
Towards the end of March; Thomas and his men were becoming tired; the continual strain of fighting their guerrilla style war, the discomfort of the late spring weather and the need to stay safely hidden when not in action began to take its toll; it was time to call a halt before he started to make mistakes that would cost his men their lives.
Thomas gave orders for the men to begin to break camp; Estaban was expected back in the next two days and they would then move out for safer places and to meet up with Croxley and his gunners at Guarda. As Thomas waited for Estaban to arrive; he sat with Jones and went over their reports; as yet he had not sent anything to the Viscount as he did not want one of his men lost or captured just for the sake of a written report.
They had been very lucky with this little campaign; there had been no losses although there were wounded and they had to be taken care of or sent back to Vimeiro which was too far away for safety. As Thomas stood outside the small four man tent he had used for this campaign, he looked around at the men of his command.
After the efforts of the last two months they were really beginning to look like a rag-tag army. While their arms and equipment for fighting were kept in top order, the men's uniforms and boots had suffered. They would have to replace boots and clothing before going to Albuera which now gave him a legitimate reason to leave the problems of Massena's army behind.
It was almost dusk on the second day after Thomas had decided to leave for safety when Estaban arrived; his friends men looked little better than the ones who had stayed back. Estaban had lost three men in the last raid when they had almost been cornered by a large patrol of Chasseurs and had just managed to escape because of their riding abilities and having two barrels instead of one on their muskets.
Thomas also noticed as the Company rode into the mostly broken down camp that Pablo was sporting a very bloody bandage on his left thigh; he was sent immediately into the hands of Jervis for help; the other four wounded were mainly just light flesh wounds but the amount of blood on Pablo called for immediate attention.
Thomas wanted Estaban and his riders to have as much time to rest as possible before the long march south. He had told his men to move out one Company at a time, the first was to leave the next morning with the second leaving later in the day. They were to head for Villavelha and wait for the rest to join them there.
With the first Company to leave he sent Jones along with his reports which he was to take through to Sabugal for the Viscount and then continue on for the meeting with the others. Thomas told Jones to tell Lieutenant Croxley and his gunners to move out with the first Company for Villavelha where Thomas would meet them. Thomas was going to leave with the last Company along with Estaban and his boys; they would make it one continuous trek to meet the others and would not stop along the way. Thomas was to find that even the best laid plans could come undone.
It was dawn on the third day when Thomas, along with Estaban were ready to leave their small camp site and head towards Villavelha; there was much to do before they would be ready to meet with Beresford and he wanted time with his little gang of map makers before going any further towards trouble in Albuera.
Pablo swore he could travel even though his leg was stiff and he walked with a heavy limp but he was not going to entrust his mount to someone else and would not travel on one of the wagons. Thomas had sent off the last of the wagons with the last Company to leave the previous night; there was now only his own single Company and that of Estaban and his riders to go; they would travel light and fast. Lorenco had insisted in staying behind to act as skirmishers for the last Company; he would not take no for an answer, the safety of his Patron was far more important than any orders Thomas could give him.
Lorenco and his men left an hour ahead of Thomas and Estaban; they would set up a roaming vanguard ahead of the others to keep them all safe. Thomas watched as Pablo mounted his horse; he could see the grimace on the youngsters face as he settled into his saddle but thought better not to say anything to the proud young man; he would just have to keep an eye on him so his wound did not open up and bleed once again.
On the evening of the second day they made Guarda and; after taking a break just outside of the town; he led his men through in the dark and took the road for Sabugal where he planned to spend the next night in readiness for the longer trek to Villavelha. Unknown to Thomas he was not going to leave Sabugal in the manner he expected although his men would continue on their way.
It was almost dusk when Thomas and his men first saw the edge of Sabugal only a mile or so away. They had kept up their usual pace and were now tired and ready for a short break before making the longer journey to Villavelha. Should anyone be watching the approaching men they would have seen a well drilled group. At the head and out in front were a platoon of skirmishers who were making the same fast pace as those behind.
Lorenco had pulled his men in closer to the main column as they drew closer to their objective. Thomas and his company were in three files at the centre and moving at Battle Pace with Estaban and half his riders taking guard to each side with the balance of his men riding as rear guard behind.
The tired men had just reached the edge of the town when Thomas saw a black coach sitting on the side of the roadway; had it not been for the four in hand set up to pull the coach he may well have ignored it but it was too unusual for such a light weight coach that he looked closer as he slowed the column to marching pace.
As the tired men neared the coach Thomas saw why it was standing alone as though waiting for something or someone. As Thomas drew abreast of the coach, the small door opened and a familiar portly short figure emerged with a smile and signalled for Thomas to stop and talk.
Thomas stopped beside the smiling figure of Mister Percy and tried to ease his aching muscles. While the troop were used to moving at a fast pace, the distance they had travelled and the lack of rest had the tired column ready for a good bed and some hot food.
Percy looked at the youngsters as his favourite drummer stopped beside him while the rest of the men marched past. Percy noted that Thomas looked beat; his usually smart black uniform was dusty and sweat stained under the armpits. There was a small tear at the seam of the right shoulder and his normally smart shiny boots had seen better days; they were obviously due for replacement.
Estaban stopped beside Thomas and Percy as the last of the riders walked their horses past the small tableau to find a place to spend the night.
"Hello Mister Percy, what are you doing here?" Thomas asked his friend.
"I've come to collect you. Why don't you ask the Colonel to watch over your men and take them on to Villavelha; I'm sure he is well capable of doing that for you."
"But why would he do that. I have to get to my men before we take the trip to meet Beresford."
"Oh you'll be there in time for that but for now you have to take a small trip with me. You will be away for a week or so and then you can return and join your men later."
"What's all this about Mister Percy?"
"You'll see all in good time Thomas but for now I have to ask you to follow my wishes and relay the orders to Colonel Colosio, we have little time and must get on the road immediately if we are to make our meeting in time."
"I need to clean up if I have a meeting somewhere."
"You are good as you are Thomas, you can sleep in the coach while we travel and the condition of your clothes will be of little import where we are going."
Thomas sighed as he stretched to ease his sore muscles; he knew better than to try to get anything out of Mister Percy if the man did not want him to know what was going on. Turning to Estaban he related what Mister Percy had said; much to his surprise, Estaban just nodded his head and went after the men who had already entered the town looking for a place to rest and eat.
Percy turned to the coach and went back aboard with a gesture for Thomas to follow. Once Thomas was seated in the plush soft seat inside the coach, he felt it lurch forward and then turn to go back through Sabugal; Mister Percy was sitting opposite him on the backward facing seat and watching Thomas's expression as the boy tried to get comfortable. Percy did not feel like telling his favourite young soldier that he would be in the coach for almost two full days.
Thomas felt the pace of the coach increase as they left the town of Sabugal and turned to what Thomas thought was the west and north; where they were headed was anyone's guess. It did not take long for Thomas's tiredness to catch up with him as the coach now sped over the road at an incredible speed; Thomas now saw why there were four horses instead of the usual two.
The jostling of the coach had little effect on Thomas as the long hard march caught up with him; it was not long before his head was nodding and his eyes grew heavy; even the sound and movement of the coach could not stop his eyes from closing tightly as he slid to the side and was soon stretched out on the narrow seat. Percy looked at the boy as he lay on the seat lightly snoring from sheer exhaustion.
Percy reach across and removed the boys weapons so he was a little more comfortable; the journey they were now embarked on would require the boy to be as rested as possible; he only hoped that everyone he had called would be at the meeting place on time.
It was well after midnight when the coach pulled into a small inn far from any town; it was one of those anomalies that happened in Portugal where an Inn or tavern would open seemingly in a place of no business yet seemed to thrive somehow. Percy shook Thomas awake and helped him from the coach; he noticed the first thing Thomas did was to look for his weapons. A shudder went through Percy; this war had turned the innocent young drummer into a man well before his time; not only that but a man who looked to his weapons before looking to himself and his own needs.
Percy forced Thomas to eat as they sat and waited for the horses to rest enough to continue their journey. After two hours and the pair now well fed and the horses rested, the journey began again at the same fast pace they had left Sabugal; the young coach driver seemed unaffected by the long hours of travel as he sat up on his drivers box in the cold night air all alone.
The coach rattled on into the early morning hours and the miles swept by under the large wheels. With the four in hand pulling the light coach the distance was eaten up quickly as they travelled further north and west. At dawn the coach rolled into the small town of Vizeu and well on the way to their eventual stop in Oporto.
As the coach pulled into the only tavern in the small town, Percy looked at the sleeping boy on the other seat; he did not want to disturb the boy so he called for Kevin to find a blanket to cover Thomas and then see to the horses; they would stop for four hours and change the horses over for the last leg of their journey to Oporto; with luck they would make it by nightfall. It was the 14th of April and he would need the extra day to make sure everything was in order for the 16th .
Thomas did not stir as the coach stopped; his body was worn out and he needed rest; the fact he was curled up on an uncomfortable coach seat made little difference to his condition and his need for rest.
Four hours later and with Thomas still passed out on the seat; the coach started its journey once again at the usual break neck speed that the four fresh horses could muster; the tireless Kevin sitting tall on the driver's seat with both hands holding tight to the long reins as the steel shod wheels rattled on the rough roadway. The country side was drying rapidly from the heavy spring rains and the going was far easier as they neared the better roads of the coastal area.
They had crossed the River Douro and were almost at Gramido in the late afternoon; there was now just a short fast run to Oporto and the journey was done; it had been a long, fast and hard run to make the port in the time they had left.
Thomas had awoken around midday when the coach had stopped for a quick lunch and another change of horses. Once they were back in the coach, exhaustion took over once again and he slept through most of the afternoon run until they were crossing the River Douro and turning west.
Thomas stretched once again as his aching muscles complained about his idea of sleeping arrangements in the bouncing coach. When they finally reached their destination at Oporto, Thomas was only too glad to get out of the confines of the coach and have a good stretch and stamp his worn boots on solid ground once again.
Percy had already made arrangements for their stay in the small port city and he had Kevin take the coach to the tavern he had selected for their stay. As Thomas stepped from the coach in the courtyard of the tavern, he saw the large figure of Benson waiting for them; Thomas could now see more clearly that Kevin was related to the larger man.
Mister Percy called to Benson.
"Is everything prepared for the 16th ?"
"Yes Sir Colonel, all will be present and your rooms are ready; I'll have Kevin take the horses while we talk about our friend here and get him ready for his trial."
"Thank you Benson, can you show our Mister Marking to his room and perhaps find some hot water for him. If you can also find a seamstress to repair his clothes while he bathes and rests."
"Yes Colonel. Mister Marking if you will follow me Sir."
Thomas looked up at the towering man and just followed along behind as Mister Percy went off in another direction; the shorter man seemed to never get tired and Thomas could not ever remember seeing him anything else but fresh and energetic at all times; he wished he could be the same but the long journey and his march from the French had him wanting a hot bath and soft bed far more.
In one of the rooms in the tavern, the young pot boy was hard at work; his father, the tavern owner; had said there were very important English visitors and the pot boy had been given the task of readying a bath for one of them. He had worked hard carrying the buckets of hot and cold water up the stairs and filling the wooden bath in readiness and, at last he was finished.
As the boy was about to leave the small room he heard the sound of heavy footsteps approaching the room; as he turned when the door opened he saw a huge man accompanied by a younger teen. The boy's next surprise was when the young teen talked to him in fluent Portuguese; it took him a little by surprise as he had been told the men were English.
His next surprise was the way the young teen was dressed. He was dressed more like a Spaniard than an Englishman and the pot boy now became even more confused. Perhaps his father had been mistaken but, when the teen turned to the older man and said something in a language he recognised as English; the boy could only stare in disbelief. There were so many strange things happening in his country now that they were at war with the French; the boy prepared to leave the room to the two strangers but was stopped by the younger one.
The pot boy stopped as the young Teen reached into an inside pocket and produced two silver coins; giving them to the overawed pot boy he turned back to the welcome sight of the hot bath tub; behind him he did not see the look of gratitude from the pot boy as the lad grasped the valued silver coins in his small hand as he left the two customers to their room.
Benson saw that Thomas was happy and left the room so the boy Captain could bath and rest; he would return later in the evening when supper was ready. When Benson returned to get Thomas, he found the boy snuggled up in the warm bed and snoring softly; instead of waking him he went back down the stairs and ordered food to be set aside for when the boy awoke later; it was not to be until the next morning.
Thomas awoke an hour before even the birds were awake; it was the first time in two months he had been able to sleep in a soft bed; the fact he was almost starving made his stomach rumble with need; he was not even sure what day it was but the fact he had seemed to be sleeping for days only went to confuse him further.
Thomas slid from the warm bed and looked around for his clothes; he had fallen asleep naked after his hot bath and did not even know where his clothes were; he could vaguely remember dropping them on the floor in the same place he had dropped all his many weapons but they were not there anymore. Before he could panic; Thomas saw all his weapons resting on a small side table next to the bed; with another look around the dimly lit room, he could just make out his clothes folded neatly on a small dresser set against the far wall.
Thomas went to the dresser and began to don his clothes; they had been roughly cleaned and the torn shoulder stitching had been repaired as best as possible. Thomas's boots stood at the end of the bed and an attempt had been made to clean them but only the purchase of a new pair would see them bright and shiny once again.
By the time Thomas was dressed he could hear the first sounds of the city coming awake; his stomach rumbled even louder and it was time to find food to ease the pain of hunger. The dark smudges under his eyes had faded a little and his body no longer screamed for rest, all things considered Thomas felt he was almost back to his normal self; it was time to see what Mister Percy had made all the fuss for.
Thomas found his way down the stairs and into the main room of the tavern; he half expected to see Mister Percy waiting for him and was not disappointed. The short portly man was smiling as Thomas made his way towards where he sat waiting. When Thomas was seated, Mister Percy called for the pot boy and ordered breakfast in a quantity that would feed ten men and then sat back to look at his favourite person.
"Well young Thomas; you look much better."
"Yes Mister Percy, I didn't realise I was that tired."
"You will have to take better care of yourself if you want to return to England in one piece after this damn war is over."
"I try to but things just seem to happen; every time I think we can all get some rest, the Viscount wants us to go out again."
"Yes well you know my thoughts on that subject; now then get as much food into you as you can handle, we have work to do before tomorrow night and then we can see about getting you back to your men. Have you made any plans for Albuera and Beresford?"
"Some but until I meet the man I won't know what to fully expect."
"Well young Thomas, my advice is to expect the worst; Beresford is at times a buffoon and considers anyone below him to be not much more than cannon fodder so take care when dealing with him."
"Thank you Mister Percy, I shall keep it in mind."
"Good for you Thomas, now here is our food; get stuck in you never know where your next meal will come from is what I have learned over the years."
Thomas did not need to be told twice as he took up a knife and spoon and began to devour or try to devour everything on the table with a little help from Percy. Percy was not surprised by the amount of food the thin boy in front of him put away; it was as though Thomas had not eaten properly for weeks; which could possibly be true after dodging the French for so long.
With the meal finally done, Mister Percy waited for Thomas to sit back and; as all young teens would do, belch loudly as his swollen stomach tried to hold the huge quantity of food that had been almost shovelled into it. Thomas sat back with a blissful look on his face; he had not eaten so well for more than two months and the fact he had almost slept for two days also helped his present demeanour.
After a short time that let the food settle, Percy looked at his young friend; he was even more sure now that he had been correct in his estimation of the boy; it was time to let him into the reason for the hurried trip.
"Tomorrow night Thomas, I will be taking you to meet some friends but there are a few things you will need to know before that happens. How good is your memory?"
"Uhm...I think it is alright Mister Percy, why do you ask?"
"I'm going to tell you a few things that you will have to remember word for word; we have the rest of the day for you to practice so do not worry too much. Now then the first thing we are going to do is this."
For the next hour Thomas listened to the older man; what he was hearing left him almost speechless; surely these men he was going to meet did not really think he was capable of what they were asking of him. The last three years had been hard enough but now he was being taken in a direction he did not understand or even know if he could carry it all out.
At the end of the hour Thomas was even more confused; everything he had heard so far was beyond the realms of possibility and for the life of him he could not think why they wanted him involved but Mister Percy seemed to think otherwise. Thomas had little option but to go along with the older man's request and try his best to fulfil what was expected of him.
That night it was more relaxed in the tavern as many of the locals filled the bar and drank late into the night; Thomas took note that there were very few English in the tavern which; had he known, was the reason Percy had selected the tavern in the first place. With an early night, Thomas was soon back in his room and settling into the well padded bed; he would enjoy this break for as long as he could but; in the back of his mind was the worry for his men who would by now be in Villavelha waiting for him.
Just before he went to sleep he gave a thought to the ones who had gone out to make the maps; he sincerely hoped they were safe and even now on their way to meet him with their results; Lieutenant Smithson was new to this type of warfare and he hoped he had not made an error by sending him behind French lines on his first sojourn; his only saving grace was the fact Smithson had four of his best boys with him for protection.
The day of the 16th was warm and calm as the first days of summer began and the fighting season opened up new battle problems. Thomas spent much of the day just lazing around close to the tavern and going through the words Mister Percy had taught him so he would be word perfect. The reason for them still confused him but, by now he knew Mister Percy had a good reason for everything he did.
When the first hour of night had finally fallen; Mister Percy arrived with his coach and the young driver Kevin. Taking Thomas out to the coach, the two soldiers got in and the coach moved off towards the docklands of Oporto. The trip was shorter than Thomas expected and they were soon in a relatively quiet part of the docks.
As the coach was pulled at walking pace along a narrow cobblestone street, a man stepped from the side and waved down the coach. Thomas watched as Mister Percy got out and spoke with the man for a few minutes before returning to the coach and looking at Thomas with an apologetic look on his face.
"Thomas, I am sorry but I must leave you here to make your own way to the meeting; something has come up that I have to see to immediately. If you would step down here I can show you where to go; it is not far from here."
Thomas did as asked; he had no reason not to trust his long time friend. Once Thomas was standing beside Mister Percy his eyes were directed forward.
"Just down there where you can see the lantern with red glass is the meeting place; it should not take you more than a few minutes to make the distance. I will rejoin you as soon as possible but those waiting for you will take care of you until then. Now I must make haste; I'm sure you will do just fine."
Thomas felt Mister Percy give him a light pat on the back and then return to the coach. Thomas turned to watch the coach turn around in the narrow street and then the horses broke into a fast trot as they disappeared into the dark. For the first time that night, Thomas saw that the street he was in was quite dark and there was not a single person to be seen; a most unusual event for a dock street in a time of war.
Something came over Thomas as he looked down to where the faint glow of the red lamp hung on a small sign which he could not make out. Thomas had long ago known to take notice of his feelings; especially where his safety was of concern. Thomas now felt as though he was being watched from somewhere down the street.
In preparation for any surprises, Thomas slid his hat off his head so he had a better view of everything around him. First he checked some of the narrow alleys he could see that went off from each side of the street; there was something in the night that just did not feel right and; to this end he unbuttoned his jacket so he could get to his pistols quickly if needed.
Taking a final gulp of fresh air, Thomas began to walk towards the distant red lamp; the sound of his steel shod boots rang with a hollow sound as he kept his eyes moving in all directions. It was an innate awareness built up over the last three years that kept him on the alert and the feeling of danger was one of those feelings that he now had.
Thomas had been walking for some distance and was almost half way to the place where the red lamp hung in the dark narrow street; the sense of danger in the strangely empty street only increased as he drew closer to his objective. When the attack came it was so sudden and even though he was expectant of such an event, he was still taken by surprise; the second of hesitation was his final undoing.
As Thomas walked quickly past another narrow alley there was a sudden movement that was too fast for him to react to. Within only seconds he had been imprisoned with thick strong arms of two men and a black sack was thrown over his head. As he tried to fight off the strong hands he was bodily lifted off the ground and; in only seconds both his hands and feet were tied tightly and the black sack pulled even further down over his shoulders to trap his arms inside; a thick rope was quickly tied around his waist to keep the black sack in place.
The next part was even more embarrassing for Thomas, as the rope around his waist was tied off he was suddenly lifted high and thrown over someone's shoulder like a sack of flour; it was an ignominious position to be placed in and he had not had time to call for help even though there was no one around to render aid.
Thomas quickly found it was useless to try to wriggle out of the position he had been placed in; whoever the kidnappers were, they knew their business. Thomas tried to keep track of where he was being taken but; after a few twists and turns he lost all track, all he could do now was hope for the best; he was so tightly bound and held that he could not get to even the simplest of his weapons; he was defenceless and at the mercy of his kidnappers.
Thomas lost track of time but it seemed like forever as the man carrying him twisted and turned down unknown lanes and alleys. Thomas began to feel uncomfortable in his position and the pressure on his thin stomach began to cause him some little pain as the thick shoulder under him dug into him. Finally they came to a halt; Thomas had no idea where he was or what the kidnappers wanted but it boded ill whichever way it went.
The kidnappers had not said a word during the whole event and Thomas deduced they were well seasoned to this sort of thing; was he being held for ransom or were they French spies who had been tasked with his capture and return to French lines so they could take their revenge for all his bold acts of rebellion.
When they stopped Thomas heard one of the men rap loudly on a thick wooden door with a solid instrument; it was a code of three knocks, a short pause and then two knocks. Thomas felt the warm touch of heated air as a door opened and he was carried inside, the door closing solidly behind them. Next there was the sound of bare feet on wooden boards; it was now easy for Thomas to understand how the men had moved so silently; they were both bare footed; it was the reason he had not heard them coming after him.
Thomas was jostled lightly as they began to walk up a set of stairs to an upper floor; a code of three spaced knocks then ensued and another door was opened; Thomas got the sense that the room they entered was quite large as there was a faint echo to any noise he could hear. Thomas was taken from the kidnappers shoulder; his feet and hands were untied but the black bag remained as he was stood on his own feet. Thomas could hear some soft murmurs in the room but the words were too indistinct for him to make anything out.
As he stood feeling very alone and vulnerable, Thomas could hear the sound of feet shuffling and the occasional soft cough; on each side of him were the two kidnappers holding him by the shoulder to stop any attempts at escape; Thomas felt very alone and even his knees were beginning to shake a little at his predicament; it was not a good feeling.
Thomas knew he had been in the room only for a few minutes yet it seemed like hours before he heard shuffling feet and what must have been a number of chairs being pulled back on a bare floor; the next thing he heard was a voice that almost had a familiar ring to it. First there was the sound of something hard being placed on a wooden surface and the first words spoken loudly made Thomas relax just a little.
"I be Cap'n Henry Morgan; Proctor of the Black Hand Brotherhood; if there be any challenge then stand afore me with cutlass in hand."
Thomas was now really surprised; the voice of the old weak man he had met in the London tavern now sounded strong and commanding as he gave out his challenge to the others in the room that Thomas could still not see.
Thomas heard the scrape of a heavy chair and something else heavily laid on the wooden surface.
"Being no challenge I take the first chair."
Thomas waited to hear what else was going on and the next voice did not only surprise Thomas but gave him a good feeling of safety.
"I be Cap'n Rat, Law giver of the Black Hand Brotherhood; if there be any challenge then stand afore me with cutlass in hand."
Thomas waited but there was no reply.
"Being no challenge I take the second chair."
Again Thomas heard the scrape of a chair and then a small pause.
"I be Cap'n Peter Morgan, collector of Customs for the Black Hand Brotherhood; if there be any challenge then stand afore me with cutlass in hand."
Again the same words were spoken after a short pause.
"Being no challenge I take the third chair."
Again a chair scraped on the wooden floor boards and then the older voice of Henry Morgan filled the room once again.
"Who takes the fourth chair of the Brotherhood?"
"I, Captain Jean Pierre Baptise take the fourth chair of the Brotherhood."
And so it went as each chair was claimed by men Thomas had never met. There was a strange feeling in the room as Thomas recognised not only English sailors but also French, Spanish, Portuguese and others from places he had never heard of. When the last chair had been taken, Henry Morgan then spoke to the rest of the room.
"Who takes the thirteenth chair of the Black Hand Brotherhood?"
There was no reply and the room stayed silent until a familiar voice spoke up.
"I Cap'n Rat call on those present to give name to those who would take the thirteenth chair of the Brotherhood."
Thomas stood in his blackness and waited while the voices around him talked back and forth; finally it was Henry Morgan that called a halt to the talk.
"Who among you has names to give?"
There was total silence for a minute or more before Percy spoke up again in his guise as Captain Rat.
"I have one name to put before the Brotherhood."
"Who be that Cap'n Rat?"
"It be the one who stands before us in darkness; Cap'n Toro."
"Who be it Cap'n Rat; tis a name not known to the Brotherhood."
Thomas felt the two kidnappers release his shoulders and untie the rope around his waist; seconds later and the black sack was pulled from his head. Thomas had to blink quickly at the sudden rush of light that hit his eyes after being in the dark for so long; what he saw before him came as a real surprise.
Just in front of where he stood, Thomas saw a long wide wooden table. Seated at the far end was the older figure of Henry Morgan and, on his right was Mister Percy and to his left sat Peter Morgan. Along the table were five more chairs on each side with the last one on Thomas's right being empty. The men who sat along the table were a very strange mix; there were men from places he could not name and others who were dressed in a time long gone but all had the look of seamen, albeit rather hard looking no nonsense types who looked as though they would rather cut your throat than smile.
Thomas tried to keep his head up as he was looked over by the strange gathering of rough men; he could now see who his kidnappers had been. One was Mister Percy's driver Benson; the other was a real surprise for Thomas; it was the large built inn keeper George; neither of the two looked at Thomas as they stepped back and then left the room.
"This be your new man Cap'n Rat; he's not much more'n a boy?"
"Aye Cap'n Henry, boy he be but he carries the courage of a full grown man and is right for the thirteenth chair."
As the two were talking, Thomas looked along the table. In front of each man lay the black cane with the silver slave head which sat on the left of a large parchment and to the right of the parchment sat a pistol. The parchment had a roughly drawn hand in black ink with a large spot of brown ink at the centre; at the top of the parchment was a name also written in brown ink.
Most of the parchments looked old and faded with some of them having small tears or folds in them. The brown spot in the middle even had a number of old cuts that looked suspiciously like knife marks that had been stabbed into them. Each of the rough looking Captains stared hard at Thomas as he stood alone; now Thomas understood the lessons Mister Percy had given him.
Henry Morgan continued.
"He be not of the sea Cap'n Rat, how can he be taking the thirteenth chair?"
"While the boy stands under the Colours of the King he has also stood on the main deck and fought for his prize with pistol in hand; I say he takes the thirteenth chair as he is both of the land and the sea. Should he pass his trial of blood I say he sits with the Brotherhood."
"Who stands against Cap'n Toro?"
One of the rough men stood up and looked at Thomas. He was a small man of indeterminate age, his small height led to a strange visage of smooth yellowish skin and thin eyes that were slanted towards the edge of his cheeks; he had a single long black braid of hair that hung down his back and he was dressed in long flowing robes of what looked like fine silk; Thomas found the small man's accent hard to follow.
"The Lascars stand against the boy; let him prove his worth."
Thomas now began to see where the lessons now fitted in. Thomas took the single step to the table and; after reaching down into his left boot, lifted his black baton and placed in on the table for all of them to see; he then said.
"Here is my mark and symbol of right."
Thomas stepped back as those at the table looked closely at the baton; there was no denying it was one of their markers. The same small man then spoke again.
"The Lascars say he is proved."
The man sat down and another rose from the table. To Thomas the man looked like an old style pirate, long hair hung down past his shoulders and his garb was at least fifty years old but the man could not have been much past thirty years, his accent was immediately recognised by Thomas as French.
"I Jean Pierre Baptise of the Floridians say he is yet to prove his worth by blood; who stands against such trial?"
Thomas waited as the silence continued until Henry Morgan spoke up.
"Cap'n Toro you have the proven mark but do ye have the blood; if it be so then prove to the Brotherhood it is so."
A fresh sheet of parchment seemingly appeared from nowhere and was placed on the table in front of Thomas; he could see the black outline of the hand at the centre and now knew what he had to do as a new quill was placed beside the parchment.
Thomas picked up his baton, twisted the top and drew out the small dagger; moving as quickly as he could before he lost his nerve, Thomas sliced his left hand on the palm and held it over the middle of the parchment. Thomas watched with a strange detachment as the drops of blood fell on the middle of the black ink hand; when he thought there was enough, he took up the quill and began to use the blood for ink as he wrote his new name Captain Toro, at the top of the parchment.
When he had finished and with fresh blood still dripping from his hand which he had moved to his side off the table; he quickly stabbed his dagger into the centre of the parchment so it stuck in the table top. With everything done as he had been told by Mister Percy, Thomas stepped back from the table as the rough looking men watched him. Henry Morgan was the first to speak as he also twisted the top of his cane and produced another dagger. With a fast and sure movement Henry Morgan stabbed his own dagger into the parchment in front of him.
"I Cap'n Henry Morgan say Aye."
He was quickly followed by the others with the same actions and words.
"I Cap'n Rat say Aye."
"I Cap'n Peter Morgan say Aye."
"I Jean Pierre Baptise say Aye."
"I Captain Chou say Aye."
"I Captain Achmed Zou say Aye."
"I Captain Pradesh Singh say Aye."
"I Capitan Mendoza say Aye."
"I Cap'n Blood say Aye."
And so it went around the table until all of the men present had agreed; Thomas was now a member of one of the most secretive societies on any ocean. The blood rushed to his face as he blushed but also as he still felt the light trickle of his own blood fall on the bare wooden floor at his feet; it did not last for long as the small man that had called himself Captain Chou came to his side with a fine silk handkerchief and bound up the cut for him as Henry spoke again.
"Brothers we welcome Cap'n Toro to our ranks. Cap'n Toro we ask you to take the thirteenth chair and join as a brother of the Black Hand."
Thomas took his chair at the end of the table while Chou pushed the new parchment in front of him after pulling out the dagger and giving it to Thomas. As he sat down Thomas pulled one of his Manton's from behind his back and lay it on the table to his right just like the others had done; his dagger was replaced in his baton and it was laid on his left just as Henry called out loudly.
"Master of Arms, pour the grog and call for the food; tonight we celebrate our new brother."
Thomas heard the door behind him open and then saw George and Benson walk in with large wooden trays on which were thirteen silver mugs; the heady smell of rum wafted ahead of the pair as they began to set a mug in front of each of the men seated around the long table; it was not long before a number of young men arrived with large platters of freshly cooked food and the celebrations got under way.
After the first two large gulps of the raw rum, Thomas could not remember much about the rest of the evening. When he awoke the next morning he was in his soft bed at the tavern with his head pounding and his throat as dry as a bone. The pounding behind his temple made it difficult for him to open his eyes to a new day; the problem was soon compounded by a sharp knock on his door and the cheery voice of Mister Percy calling him.
"Come on young Thomas, time to get moving if you want to meet you friends at Villavelha; it's almost midday and no time for sleeping like the dead."
Thomas groaned and once again swore he would give up the hard drink that always seemed to get the better of him; with unsteady steps he got from the bed and looked for his clothes, it was going to be a long day and he did not feel at all well.
The trip to Villavelha was made in three days; three days in which Thomas spent most of the time trying to clear his foggy brain. The rum had been that used only by the Navy and anyone not used to its potency usually had the misfortune to spend more than a single day to get over it.
On arrival at Villavelha Thomas was soon back with his waiting men; he was even more happy to see his little group of map makers waiting for his arrival. When Thomas stepped from the coach he was very quickly welcomed back by those who had not known of his detour to Oporto. As Thomas greeted his many friends; he noted that Mister Percy spent a little time with Lieutenant Croxley; he also saw Mister Percy give Lieutenant Croxley an envelope of some sort then pat the man on the shoulder before waving to Thomas and re-entering his coach to be quickly drive out of sight.
Thomas was glad to be back among his friends and was ready to get back to work on beating the French. The next campaign was not really to his liking but he was thankful he had a good two weeks before he had to report to Marshal Beresford; he wanted to have his own plans ready well before that meeting.
Thomas did not waste time getting back to why he was there; within less than a half hour he had his map group in his tent and they were pouring over the many finely drawn maps that Smithson had worked so hard over. Thomas could not believe the detail in the work Smithson had done; it was almost as though he was looking at coloured pictures of the large area around Albuera.
Smithson had gone beyond just drawing simple maps; with infinite patience and a natural ability he had produced what Thomas thought were almost works of art; the details on each paper were so fine that Thomas and his men would have little trouble in setting what he hoped would be good defensive strategies.
Thomas and his mapping group spent hours going over the fine maps; Smithson had written in distances and angles as well as working out the heights of ridges and small knolls that abounded in the flatter areas of the plains approaching Albuera. Thomas could only pray he would be allowed to put his plans into effect when he came under the orders of Marshal Beresford; if not he and his men could be in for serious problems.
When the time arrived for them to make their way to where Marshal Beresford had set his camp; Thomas set out his troops in the same fashion they had always used except for one small alteration that Lieutenant Croxley had insisted on and would not take no for an answer. Thomas had asked Mister Croxley why he had to have the extra men around him; Croxley's answer was simple and to the point.
"We was informed you are now a councillor Mister Marking; we are taking precautions as asked by Cap'n Rat."
Thomas could find to reply and; even though he did not think it was needed he could only shrug his shoulders and hope for the best. When Thomas arrived to lead his men to Albuera he found a number of men well armed and waiting out of ranks; the ten grown men looked as though they had come from the worst places in London town even though Thomas knew them to have been with his little army since the arrival of the gunners so long ago.
The men carried extra weapons; a brace of heavy pistols in their red and gold sash and; instead of the normal sword, they wore what could only have been a ships cutlass, a heavy bladed sword that could cleave a man from shoulder to hip in one blow; the men also carried the normal weapons of the Battalion.
The ten men had not been part of the gunners but they had arrived with Croxley and still showed the rolling gait of seamen, they also looked very tough and determined. The men stood silently as Thomas arrived and glanced in their direction; he still could not believe that Lieutenant Croxley thought he would need an armed escort and he felt a little embarrassed at having the tough looking men watch over him.
When the long column was ready to leave; Thomas could not quite believe he had so many fighters in his Battalion; with all of his supply wagons they would stretch the column out to over two miles but, the only saving grace was that they did not expect to meet any French troops on their journey. With the Battle lines forming to the north and south at Barrosa the way to Albuera should be relatively secure.
The column would travel as fast as they could to Elvas and then it would be a very short march to where Marshal Beresford had his camp just outside Badajoz; it was here that Thomas would receive his orders for meeting Marshal Soult and his troops. With the Battle of Barrosa won by Graham only a few weeks ago there was hope that Marshal Soult would not be prepared for stiff resistance as he tried to move north to help Massena at Fuentes de Onoro.
From what Thomas had been told by the Viscount, he planned to attack Massena well before Soult could come to his aid; it all came down to good timing and the need for Marshal Beresford to hold Soult and his 27,000 men back long enough for Wellington to eject Massena from Portugal once and for all.
Travel to Elvas went far easier than Thomas thought it would; the complete absence of the French meant he could travel openly although Lorenco's Sharpshooters always took station about a mile in front of the long column as a van guard and Estaban insisted on holding the rear with his horsemen. Once on the outskirts of Elvas, Thomas set about giving his men two days to rest and check their equipment; it was not a time to get sloppy. The date was the 25th of April.
Thomas decided not to take his men to Badajoz but instead ride with most of his Officers and report to the Marshal without showing the Marshal his small army; Croxley asked to be left behind as he had something he needed to keep the men training on and Lieutenant Allen also decided to stay to watch over the camp while the Officers were away; he also mentioned he would not be happy to far from the Colours.
Thomas left the bivouac with Carmelo, Smithson, Perrin, Jones, Jervis and Estaban; there was little need for Thomas to worry about his ten man escort as they just moved up beside the Mounted Officers and got ready to move fast; the ten men stood five a side of the small group of Officers as they left their camp site; it was not far to where the Marshal would be awaiting them.
It was not difficult for Thomas to find the Marshal's camp; it was spread out over a large part of the plain outside Badajoz and appeared to be well settled. The pickets let Thomas and his men through although there were many strange looks from the guards as the small party went into the camp; Thomas was by now well used to the differences in his men and those of the English army.
It did not take long for Thomas to find the headquarters of the army; the size of the tents and the extra guards around the large circle of canvas in the middle of the bivouac stood out. When Thomas and his friends arrived at the edge of the circle they were immediately stopped and asked for identification, the guards seemed to not be too sure of these young strangely dressed men.
It was obvious to Thomas that no one had been told of their arrival and when a Senior Officer strode towards them and ask who they were, Thomas told him but the look of disbelief on the Major's face made Thomas pause; were the Officers not aware he was coming to help defeat Soult. Thomas found it hard to believe but he would have to wait until he was finally taken to meet the Marshal. It soon became obvious to Thomas and those with him that the Marshal had little if any consideration for them.
The Major led Thomas and his friends to the largest tent in the circle and asked them to wait while he asked the Marshal if he would see them; it took only minutes before the Major returned and told Thomas he was not expected and would have to wait until the Marshal had time for them. It did not leave a good impression with Thomas but there was little he could do about it; he, like others, had their orders to follow.
It was late in the day before Thomas was told he could meet with the Marshal and by this time Thomas and his friends had been waiting for over six hours; he was not impressed and the attitude he was met with when he finally made it in front of the austere man only confirmed his own thoughts. As he and the others stood at attention and saluted the top of the Marshals head while the Officer was bent over a large map and did not look up to see who his visitors were.
Thomas heard what he thought was a gruff murmur from the bent head and said in his best voice.
"Sir, Captain Thomas Marking and Junior Officers reporting as ordered by Viscount Wellington."
"Hurumph...who...what did you say boy?"
The Major stepped in and spoke for the small group of youngsters; he sounded as though he also was not happy to have Thomas and his men there.
"Sir, the replacements from the Viscount."
"What...damn it man where have they been? I was expecting them sooner and all I get is boys and not even in proper dress. Damn it Major this army is falling apart; no wonder Soult and his ilk are making inroads in our campaign."
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