Nobody had told the rain to stop, just because the fighting had ceased. A man was trying to pull a glistening leather boot off somebody who would never use it again. The mud beneath the corpse was deep and hungry. Another tug and the man fell backwards as the boot finally came off.
Something soft broke his fall. And groaned.
The man scrambled to his feet and turned to peer through the gloom.
“Please. Help.” A pale man in an officer’s uniform.
“Reckon I will help meself.”
“They’ve already taken my valuables.” The officer winced as the other man tugged at his braided jacket.
“Still got yer teeth, ain’t you?”
“I have plenty of money back in Brussels. I’ll furnish you with twenty guineas if you’ll guard me this night.”
“Twenty?” He whistled. “‘Ow do I know you’ll keep your word?” The man stood up and waved a knife through the air, testing its balance. “Easy to promise things, lying there in the shit, sun going down. I’ve seen what ‘appens after battles. You lot trit-trot back to yer ladies. Forget the rest of us, living off second-hand boots and teeth.”
“I, sir, am an officer of the Royal Dragoons. My word is like the British Army. Unbreakable, sir, unbreakable.”
“We sure gave them Frenchies a taste of what for, didn’t we?”
The officer looked around at the bodies. Once-bright uniforms, washed brown by the blood and the dirt and the setting sun; it was hard to tell the armies of the dead apart. “Damned close thing, I should say.”
The other man’s eyelids squeezed together. “Alright Lieutenant, I’ll keep ya safe. Nuffink will happen to you while ol’ Bert is by your side.”
“I’m grateful to you.” The officer stared at the little man. “Where’s the rest of your troop?”
The man shrugged. “We was holding the centre when Bony’s Himperial Guard themselves pitched in. Right at the end. Hacked most of me mates to pieces. I were lucky to get away.”
“Damned good job the blue Prince turned up when he did.” The officer reached out with his arm and scratched where his knee joined the carved wood.
“What’s yer story then?”
“I’ll remind you to address me as an officer, corporal.”
The man ducked his head slightly. “Apologies, Lieutenant.”
“My story, eh? Yes, it might pass the time. Be a good man and fetch me some brandy first, will you? Deuced cold lying here. And see if you can find something to eat. Breakfast was an awfully long time ago.”
The soldier snapped to his feet. “Right you are, sir. Be as quick as I can.”
The Lieutenant leant back and exhaled. The plan was working. He went over his backstory one more time in his head. Old Bert might have been easy to ensnare, but he was no fool. Any inconsistencies now could ruin the whole thing.
© David Barker 2018