Lady in Waiting Part 4
Impulsive as ever Charlotte now goes in search of the English Army to plead with them to rescue Anna not knowing what path this will lead her.
In this and future episode’s of Book 2 I have borrowed very heavily from the excellent ‘Sharpe’ series of books by Bernard Cornwell which describe the times and the country perfectly.
I have avoided using any names in those novels but in a few places I have used Major Sharpe as an incidental character.
After changing into a pale green silk dress I felt better as I looked at my reflection I saw an attractive girl of 21 looking really attractive as my gown really brought out my colour by now my breasts were fully developed and were the size of a grapefruit.
Now that I had fully developed a female shape I no longer needed to take Mother Boville’s potion as these changes were permanent as the source of my maleness had been removed all those years ago.
As I gazed I thought that this would be the last time for some weeks I would actually dress as a woman apart from my soft underclothes I would be wearing male garb. A niggling feeling crept over me and for a moment I wondered if I was doing the right thing.
I thought of Anna and how she had willingly taken my place and how useless she would be once the Frenchman had seen that his bundling minions had seized the wrong girl. I HAD to find her and somehow rescue her – though how I simply did not know.
My plan was very sketchy I would follow the rivers north first the Tagus all the way up past where it joined the Rio Tejo I would as soon as possible cross the Tagus onto the north side then follow it until it became the Rio Zezere then follow this river to close by its source in the Sierra da Estrelaa then I would continue north to the Rio Duro.
Crossing this river I would be close by Vimioso and Braganca where the British Army were camped then I would have to plead my case. I naively assumed that something as large as an army would be easy to find.
In the short time I had planning my route I made a conscious decision to avoid all roads as the rivers would give me access to water it also avoids a lot of towns and although it is shorter it is harder so I thought that I would get there before Anna and her captors as I assumed that they would take the longer road route.
Also as I had heard bad things about the partisan groups I decided to do my best to avoid these as well concentrating of finding the Army.
Supper was a quiet affair Edward assumed that I was still in shock after the morning’s events so soon as it was possible I retired to my room where I wrote Edward a letter telling him I was going to look for Anna and begging his forgiveness for not telling him and also for ‘borrowing’ his pistols.
I had the bedroll that I had used on the Hydra so I made sure that this was tied ready to go with me. Then I made ready my disguise finally settling down to sleep.
I slept very fitfully listening for the signs that my brother had left for the delegation. Finally I heard the carriage leave and knew this was it!
I had to go now to give myself the best head start as I knew as soon as it was discovered there would be a search party looking for me.
This was another reason I was following the river, as this was the last direction they would expect me to travel in.
I quickly ran downstairs and retrieved the pistols from their chest along with a powder horn and shot bag.
Then it was upstairs to don my disguise as I dressed I thought how rough men’s clothing was. Even though I wore my normal underclothes minus corset where the rough fabric touched my sensitive skin was uncomfortable.
I gathered my hair and with some difficulty confined it all under my cap then gathering up the meagre few items I was allowing myself to take I crept out of the house and headed for the stables I loaded up my mule with my supplies and with the good wished of the old woman I left.
By the roads the distance to the Braganca region I had calculated as about 300 miles. The route I was travelling was 100 miles shorter at 10 miles a day this should take about 3 weeks!
I crossed the River Tagus at Vila Franca de Xira then I continued onwards avoiding roads and keep to trails always with the river on my right hand side.
My goal of about 10 miles a day was quite easy to achieve and I kept to this gentle pace as I didn’t want to ruin my horse and mule. At times we would have to hide to avoid people as I certainly did not want to be seen.
Generally I skirted villages but at one curiosity got the better of me as it looked deserted which it was as it was destroyed.
The place stank of death and my horse and mule were skittish I looked around and discovered some old hay which I fed to my animals after a suspicious smell they ate with gusto.
I searched and discovered three old sacks which I stuffed full of the hay then going to the village well I started to draw water when a voice startled me causing me to emit a small scream.
I turned and there was an old woman as I could speak passable Portuguese I asked her why I should not drink.
She told me that the French had poisoned the well when the burnt the village.
I asked her how she had survived she shrugged and told me that it was gods will she turned and started to walk away so I gathered up my mule and horse and followed her to a wooded glade about half a mile from the river.
As we had done our ten miles I asked if I could stay the night with her she shrugged telling me that she had little food and existed through snaring rabbits and birds also fishing in the river.
I shared my food with her and for the first time in 10 days actually spoke to someone it was a pleasant night.
Before I left in the morning I took the mule and filled up her water skins from the river then leaving her some of my food I left her and headed up river.
The ground steepened and soon we were climbing up the foothills of the Sierra da Estrela I didn’t want to go too high so I re-crossed the River Lezeree (the Tagus was well behind me) and continued on my northern route.
Finally it was time to cross the country to reach the River Douro this was three days away from any water. So I filled my water skin and set off.
The going was easy to start with scrubland and small outcrops of trees it was on this part of the journey that I killed my first man!
It was late afternoon and I was heading for a copse of trees I could see ahead when a rough looking man jumped out of the high grass and grabbed the reigns of my horse.
He had an evil looking knife and he was ready to possible kill me or rob me. When he was joined by a second equally villainous individual I knew I was in trouble.
I pleaded and begged but to no avail so feigning surrender I begged them not to kill me and reached to give them my meagre pack and animals. My hand rested on the butt of one of my pistols and I knew what I had to do. Praying that the priming powder was still under the frizzen cap I pulled cocked and without thinking shot the one nearest to me.
There was a stunned silence as he dropped half his face shot away. I was out to survive so I dropped the now useless pistol and pulled the other one out of my pack.
The second man started backing away. I knew that I could not let him live, as he would follow me and finish me off as I rested for the night.
He realised this and with a cry ran towards me his brandishing his knife. It was like a calm had descended over me – I took aim and ended his life! I had hit him in the stomach and he was screaming - the noise was from hell – and I was the cause of it!
Then I vomited retching to void my stomach’s reaction to what I had just done I was appalled I had just killed 2 men!
I was shaking like a leaf, I tumbled from my horse sank down onto my knees sobbing retching and trembling.
“First time you’ve killed?” I screamed as this English voice had really caught me off guard and unarmed I made a dive for the knife my dead assailant had dropped when another English voice quietly said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you girl!” then a third man stood up I was surrounded - but by English men.
“Stand up girl” the one who seemed to be in charge said to me.
Miserably I stood up and glared at my new captors then I looked at what they were wearing “Please don’t kill me” I begged then as I looked I realised that they wear wearing the remains of a uniform very similar to William’s and carried the Baker rifle where as they men were filthy their rifles were spotless and well looked after.
“Are you the 95th?” I asked still sobbing then I added, “And I’m not a Girl!” The leader approached me I shrank back as her reached out and grabbed my hat allowing my hair to tumble down my back.
He grinned evilly at me saying, “The only time men scream is a gut shot – they screams like a wounded rabbit then.” He looked at the man on the floor screaming and writhing then glancing over his shoulder barked. “John finish him off.”
I screamed “No for god’s sake!”
He looked at me with some pity telling me. “Girl you shot him; he’s dying with a ball in his gut and we can’t take him with us.’’
I was looking at the leader when the screaming suddenly stopped swinging around I saw the man called John casually wiping the blade the knife that was destined for me on the dead mans jacket.
He looked at my dirty face tear stained and carried on, “Now girl what are you doing here?”
Before I could answer I heard a sound, “Tis the recall - come lass we’ll go and see the capt’n he’ll know what to do.” They told me to get on my horse then leading it took me further north.
They moved at some pace and soon we entered an encampment where there were about a dozen men clad in the same uniform which once had been dark green but now could have been any colour.
“Stay here wench – Tommo look after her.” Resignedly I got off my horse and sat on the floor feeling wretched I think I have found the Army but not like I had expected.
A young man approached me he had a mane of red hair and looked about 20
His most obvious physical characteristic was a vey deep scar right across his forehead his eyes were the most startling green I have ever seen.
His uniform was in a similar state to his men’s but you could see brevets marking him as an officer though he carried the same rifle as his men and an evil looking sword hung from his waist.
“Well Lass what are you doing here?” looking sharply at me he continued, “And how’dya know who we are?” he spoke with a northern accent which was comforting to me.
I sat there deliberating what to tell him then for some reason I decided on the truth.
As I recounted my tale to him he stopped me asking, “The Frenchman – what was his name?” I answered “A Monsieur Ducos – why?”
“That bastard” he growled “D’you know where he is?” he snapped. I looked at him telling him that Vimioso was the place they were taking Anna.
Then all my pent up emotions spilled out, “Oh please help me find Anna once the Frenchman sees her she will be in danger – please, please help me or let me go to carry on –please.” I begged.
“Why are you worried about a servant – you a lady n’all that?” He asked with a trace of distain in his voice.
I then stood straight and looking him straight in the eyes told him, “She is more than a servant she is my friend you hear? My friend and I would never let a friend down!”
He looked steadily at me and then chuckled his mocking expression disappeared; with a smile he said, “William always told me his lady was strong willed!”
I gasped, “William - you know my William?” Then everything fell into place, “You are Lieutenant Miles his friend who was taught to shoot by Captain Sharpe in fact he taught the both of you everything?” I gasped not believing my good luck.
Then before he could speak I gasped, “Is William here? Can I see Him? How did you recognize me?”
“Patrick take her ladyship’s animals.” Then looking at me he continued, “I assume that you are Lady Charlotte?” I nodded then asked, “Please just call me Charlotte.”
He smiled which made his face look about 16 he gave another chuckle shaking his head commented; “I think that William will have his hands full with you.”
This reminded me I had to ask, “William is he with you?” He shook his head then continued, “Not at the moment but he may be later.” This cheered me up a little.
“And I recognize you because I have seen the picture William carries many times as before every battle he looks at it.” He told me
“Now – what are we going to do with you?” He mused. Instantly I told him in no uncertain words, “Lieutenant Miles I am not leaving without Anna –send me back and I will escape again I want Anna to be safe!”
“Captain” he murmured, “Pardon” I asked as he had diverted me. “Apparently I’m a Captain now not that it makes much difference.” He was deep in thought so with a parting shot I pleaded, “Please I beg you Captain Miles please help me rescue Anna.” Then I lapsed into silence.
“Gilroy” this brought me out of my reverie it would assume a decision had been made.
“Sorr” this was from the man who had found me I found out he was the second in command.
“Send a man you can trust to find Captain Ffinch’s platoon – have him ready to leave in ten minutes. Oh and make sure he can ride as he’s taking her ladyships horse!”
With a “Yes Sorr” Gilroy left. The Captain looked at me and said I hope you can walk as you are coming with us – we don’t have the men to send you back and we don’t have the time to wait for you if you can’t keep up.
I beamed a smile at him and quietly assured him, “I’ll keep up William used to take me walking – oh and thank you.”
He smiled grimly at me saying, “See if you still want to thank me we have 4 days hard marching to do.”
Sergeant Gilroy reappeared with the messenger the captain looked and grunted his agreement at the choice.
“Orders for Lieutenant Ffinch tell him to please meet me at the old mission 5 miles south of Vimioso four days hence we may have a chance to catch Monsieur Ducos for Major Sharpe – usual signals apply!” He looked at the messenger and made him repeat the message. Then added, “Tell captain Ffinch we may get Ducos this time and if he arrives before me I have a gift for him!” As he said this he glanced at me.
The messenger left on my faithful horse and I was left with these men. Food was made and we ate I shared what was left of my supplies but these soldiers were expert at trapping animals and foraging as we dined on fresh hare stew.
Then we settled down to sleep as the sentries were set Captain Miles spoke to the men telling them, “If anyone touches as much as a hair on her ladyships head they will have me to answer to – understood?”
The assembled soldiers murmured, “Yes sorr”. Miles looked at me saying, “You’ll be safe they won’t go near you.”
With that I lay my bedroll close to the small fire and settled down to sleep for the first time in weeks I slept like a baby knowing I was safe.
Historical Note: The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) was an infantry regiment of rifles of the British Army. Formed in January 1800 as the "Experimental Corps of Riflemen" to provide sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers, they were soon renamed the "Rifle Corps". In January 1803 they became an established regular regiment and were titled the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). In 1816, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, they were again renamed, this time as the "Rifle Brigade".
The unit was distinguished by its use of green uniforms as standard in place of the traditional redcoat, as well as being armed with the first British-made rifle accepted by the British Army, in place of smooth-bore muskets — the first regular infantry corps in the British Army to be so.
Coming upon the 95th is not as far fetched as it may at first glance seem as this regiment was the eyes and ears of the main army and used for scouting purposes and special work they were really the forerunner of the Special Forces.
They ranged far and wide helping to secure supply lines. In this case they were looking for the French Spy who is responsible for the kidnap of Anna so it was fortuitous that Charlotte met up with them, as it would help their cause.
Guerrilla warfare in the Peninsular War refers to the armed actions carried out by non-regular troops against Napoleon's Grand Armée in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War. These armed men were constant source of harassment to the French army, as described by a Prussian officer fighting for the French: "Wherever we arrived, they disappeared, whenever we left, they arrived — they were everywhere and nowhere, they had no tangible centre which could be attacked.
As well as these organised bands there were also groups of deserters (from both sides) smugglers and bandits roaming the country these groups were allied to no one except themselves and anyone captured by these would be lucky to escape with their life.
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