The cavalry brigade's new commander rode slowly along the line of horsemen drawn up in the town square. Day-dreaming of Elinor Rapton, Lock watched with disinterest as Lord Henry Paget examined each shivering man’s uniform and equipment.
Killen rode to one side and slightly behind his avowed hero. This was the man who wrote back to Lord Halcombe in terms of regret he had no commission to offer his grandson, so why Killen still seemed in awe of the 7th hussars’ regimental colonel Lock had no idea. But Lord Paget recognised the captain’s name immediately they were introduced and seemed to have already taken Killen under his wing as an additional aide-de-camp. As if Paget did not have enough hangers-on already, Lock thought sourly.
Parades were a damned nuisance, especially in a place like this. Lock scrounged blacking for his boots, still spurless after the accident at Rueda, and found a brush in his valise with which he attempted to smarten his dolman. But his overalls were heavy with dirt from the prison cell in Puente del Miedo and Sexton’s thickening winter coat needed a good scrub. He had no brush for that.
And it was damned chilly. Heavily pregnant snowclouds glowered at the horsemen from low over surrounding hills. Officers on parade wore cloaks, of course, shielding them from the worst of the cold, but such niceties were denied rank and file whose outer garments lay strapped in front of their saddles. Lock brushed ineffectually at the stained braid across his chest; what was once startling white now a muddy grey. His repairs still held, but those apart his best coat showed its age.
Sexton fidgeted sideways, feet sucking at the sloppy ground. Even though he knew the horse was simply fed-up of standing in the cold Lock gave the animal a kick with his right heel to counteract the movement. He needed to find spurs somewhere; Sexton was a tough character but mulish, often needing extra encouragement. Lock hated to kick at him, reasoning that over time such constant thumping must deaden a horse’s sides.
“Sergeant Lock, my lord,” Lock straightened in the saddle at Killen’s introduction, “who rode north as my companion.”
Lock flashed a salute. “I see you still use the old carbine, sergeant,” Lord Paget was regarding him keenly. “Never issued a new one, eh?”
Lock remembered his previous colonel once asking the same question. Then, he had made a disparaging remark about the new, shorter weapon. But here was the gun’s proponent, and a general officer to boot. He hesitated.
“Well?” Paget demanded, “Speak up, man.”
“Er...I can’t get on with it sir,” Lock offered lamely. “Not accurate enough.”
Paget did not look pleased. “It would seem the colonel of the 10th shares your view. You’ll mess with us tonight, captain,” he reminded Killen before turning to canter his horse back up the long line.
Killen watched the general leave. “Did you have to say that?”
“You want me to lie?”
“Of course not, but you might have been more tactful.”
“I thought I was,” Lock said. “Embarrass you, did I?”
Killen glanced at the man on Lock’s left. Lock saw it, and though the neighbouring hussar stared straight ahead he had likely heard the exchange. A stupid mistake, carelessly ignoring Killen’s rank for no good reason other than he was still annoyed with his friend.