Thickening snowdrifts threatened to block the narrow mountain pass. With scarf pulled up to cover nose and mouth, eyes slitted against the blizzard, Tirenne watched the leading horseman turn back again. The dragoon leaned his face so close to Michelot’s the lieutenant could not hear what he yelled in his colonel’s ear.
For the third time that hour horses refused to go forward in the face of a horizontal ice-storm. Tirenne had never experienced such ferocity. The weather battered everything in its path with flesh-scoring venom.
Michelot beckoned Tirenne forward. The lieutenant kicked hard at his mount’s sides simply to get the reluctant animal to crab sideways. He tugged down his scarf and gale-whipped snow stung his cheeks like a thousand needles, the air cold enough to freeze the breath in his lungs
“Go to the Emperor!” Michelot tried to shout the wind down, “Tell him we must halt!”
Tirenne's horse was more comfortable with its backside to the storm but the sting only encouraged the animal to hurry, not something he relished on so treacherous a road. He reached and passed the leading infantry companies, a mass of greatcoats and tall shakos powdered white. Hunched forward into the wind as they struggled uphill, only with great reluctance did men move to let him pass, buffeting and baulking the horse as Tirenne threaded slowly through the throng.
Bonaparte was barely recognisable under a frosted cloak and unimpressed at Tirenne's request. “There will be time to rest when we are across the mountains. Follow me, lieutenant.”
The Emperor hustled his horse towards the head of the column, drawing grumbles and curses from men forced aside. He must know the difficulties infantry faced in such weather, Tirenne thought, but Bonaparte showed no sympathy for their plight. Only when he reached the front ranks did the Emperor rein in his horse to dismount, and only then because the leading files were halted in their tracks by the storm’s violence.
“You there,” Bonaparte pointed at the man most exposed to the elements on the extreme right of the line, “what is your name?”
“Lefebvre, your majesty.”
“Lefebvre, you will take my horse, and the lieutenant’s, to the rear. And do not lose them.”
Tirenne dismounted, handing his reins to the shivering infantryman who looked delighted with his good fortune. The Emperor walked stiffly along the line of tall, haggard-faced grenadiers, hands clasped behind his back, now and again staring into a face as if searching for inspiration. Reaching the last man he turned and began to walk back then stopped. Bonaparte pushed through the first two ranks until he stood in front of a sergeant in the third. “Sergeant Lamartin, is it not?”
The sergeant stood ramrod-straight, “Yes, your majesty.”
“You were with me at Austerlitz.”
“I...I was, your majesty.” Lamartin sounded as if he could not quite believe the Emperor had singled him out.
Bonaparte nodded sagely, “A hard won victory: we lost many friends, that day. I call upon you again, sergeant,” he confided. “We must march swiftly if we are to catch the English. These roads are the worst I have ever seen, worse even than when we crossed the Alps. I cannot lead alone.” The Emperor looked deep into the sergeant’s eyes, “Will you help me?”
To Tirenne it seemed as if Lamartin grew several inches in height. Icicles clinging to the sergeant’s moustache cracked as he beamed with pleasure, “Until I draw my last breath, your majesty.”
The Emperor nodded. He had expected no less, Tirenne realised.
“With me, sergeant.” Bonaparte pushed his way back to the front of the column. “Lieutenant,” he commanded Tirenne, “take my right arm: Sergeant Lamartin - my left.” He twisted awkwardly to address men in the front rank. “The rest of you, join us,” he ordered, “link arms!”
They shuffled awkwardly through the snow until twelve men stood across the width of the road. “Now we will make a path for the whole army,” Bonaparte ordered. “En avant...forward - march!”
Taking small steps the line strode forward defiantly, each man lifting his knees high to stamp down the snow with boots almost worn through from marching. Those behind followed suit, rank after rank of tired men struggling under the weight of packs and weapons. But their Emperor was leading and they would follow him to the very gates of hell.
from "Leopardkill" by Jonathan Hopkins
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Product DescriptionA thrilling war novel set against the dramatic backdrop of the Peninsular War that saw a small British force pitched against Napoleon’s Grande Armee.
It is Autumn 1808. The French army is gone from Portugal...except for one man. And what he has stolen is deadly secret.
Sergeant Joshua Lock and Captain the Honourable John Killen pursue the spy deep into Spain ahead of Sir John Moore’s British army - a force now ordered to fight the French alongside native troops. But instead of helping their new allies, the Spaniards seem to have turned against them.
Their quarry still free, Killen’s discovery of Lock’s affair with a fellow officer’s wife drives the childhood friends apart as savage winter storms grip the Galician mountains. With discipline breaking down, and Spain’s armies in disarray, every man must decide for himself - who is friend and who is foe? Should the outnumbered, starving British stand and fight, or run for the sea, and home?
Whilst unbeknown to the bickering allies, Bonaparte himself is storming through Spain with but a single purpose...to destroy every ‘mangy English leopard.’
Meticulously researched to be historically and militarily accurate, this dashing novel of cavalrymen at war is written by an expert horseman.
About the Author
Jonathan Hopkins has worked in occupations as diverse as bulk tanker loader and kitchen designer, but since 2001 has fitted and repaired saddles professionally.
A lifelong horse-keeper and long term chair of an affiliated riding club close to his home in South Wales, his interest in the cavalrymen who served under the Duke of Wellington originally grew out of research into saddlery worn by troop horses, for which there are no surviving patterns.
Leopardkill is his second published novel.