Thursday, 10 October 2013

Hardship on the Road - Leopardkill

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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Book Description

19 Sep 2013
A 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 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.

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