An hour of fruitless searching convinced him the redcoat on the road into Lugo was misinformed. If there were food supplies he found no sign. As he picked his way back through narrow, crowded alleys, distant gunfire turned mens’ heads, though once he got back to the trough Stubbs was asleep, undisturbed by the noise. Killen shook him by the shoulder, “Jack, we’re going.” Even if the rearguard did manage to stop the enemy, the sheer number of men at Bonaparte’s disposal meant but one eventual outcome. They must reach Corunna, and the sooner the better.
More than an hour later Lock inserted his last stitch, biting through the thread so close to the greenjacket’s face the smell of sweat and pus almost made him gag. The wind had risen again, driving sleety knives at exposed skin.
Tucking the tiny needle carefully back in his pouch, Lock got to his feet. He pulled his cloak closer as he strode back to the scattered bodies. Boots; he craved boots. The ox-skin slippers served well enough but had never kept his feet warm. A jacket would help, to replace the dolman he left behind. Even torn and bloodied, scavenged from a corpse. But none of the dead were anywhere near his size. One shirt would do for bandages, though, and he peeled back a red coat to cut strips from the grubby cotton garment beneath.
Framed in white the greenjacket’s swollen face looked a little more human, Lock thought as he surveyed his handiwork. The sergeant obviously felt better: grunted protests greeted Lock’s suggestion he get on the mule. He determined to march, but was so weak he at last saw sense. Lock legged him aboard before taking the mule’s leadrope.
They stopped at nightfall. With the prospect of enemy cavalry close by Lock would have preferred to keep going in darkness, but his companion regularly lolled sideways and there was little point risking the greenjacket further injury if he should fall off. Lock found a sheltered spot and all three huddled together, mule tethered to one side as a makeshift windbreak. The bread would not go far between two men and Lock’s mouth was too parched to think of trying it. Crawling away from the bivouac he came across a puddle, frozen solid in a rock crevice. He chipped it out with his knife, chewing chunks to slush before spitting the result into the stolen canteen. If he kept the bottle under his cloak, ice should be water by morning. At least he had wet his lips.
The greenjacket refused food until Lock realised he would be unable to swallow bread dry. He put a chunk in his own mouth, chewing it to paste before offering it again. This time his mute companion accepted, poking the soggy lump into the undamaged corner of his mouth with a forefinger. Lock watched the sergeant swallow. He chewed another pinch to mush and spat it into his hand.
from Leopardkill by Jonathan Hopkins
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