The Campaigners

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It wasn't Fred's most brilliant move, agreeing to allow Lino to tag along with the reconnoitering party, but they had a hundred new French horses and the boy wanted to ride. He couldn't bear to leave him forlorn in that frozen, empty posada in the no-name village outside Sahagún. Besides, they weren't going to engage the French, simply determine where Soult's army lay. They could be due east at Carrión, or northerly at Saldaña. Piquets had been seen in both directions.

Lino had begged to ride on the Sahagún run itself, but his need for sleep and black of night argued against the boy's wishes. "If we retreat, I'll see nothing," he complained, "after all this blasted marching."

"Watch your tongue." But Fred smiled. The boy had taken to the army ways, and its earthy language was part of it. "Stewart's laid up; we'll ask if you can borrow his spare saddle."

The boy's small frame, swaddled in two farrier's uniforms and a cape, still managed to look all eagerness. He was careful with the horse, though, still learning secondary maneuvers. Fred had ordered him to hang back and always keep the true cavalry between him and any French.

Their enemy camped at Carrión, ridiculously easy to find after all these weeks. Fred directed his troop to a stand of trees nearby, and scoured the open fields around them. Snow everywhere, and nothing else. Safe, for now. As his men took positions, he dismounted and waved to Lino to ride up. He lifted the boy off his mount, and they took cover behind a bare tree a quarter-mile from the river. "Look, can you see the blue? And the brown of horses. That's the enemy." The French were all across the river, milling about the village.

Lino shielded his eyes from the persistent drizzle. "I can use the 'scope?" Fred handed it over, and the boy took it eagerly, despite his hands shaking from cold.

"Where are your gloves?"

"Gloves are for girls." He peered through the glass. "Their caps stand better than ours."

"You're right. I picked up one on the field. They're reinforced with metal bands. Ours have cardboard."

"Like your boots." Lino had laughed when Fred tied leather laces around the arches to keep the boots on his feet. Blasted British penny-pinching. A cheap hat was one thing, but cheap boots for an army on campaign? If the infantry had boots like his, half the army would be barefoot in a week.

"Enough. We must return and tell Moore," he said, but a rider was coming up, a stranger. The colonel must have arrived with the new general; his uniform was too fine, his face still young and eager. Paper officer. Fred stood and saluted. "Just as we thought, sir."

"Right," the colonel said. "I'll tell Moore. You stay here."

Fred forgot to speak politely to his betters. "In this ice? Night is falling. The French won't move. Look, they're settled in."

"Exactly. Moore means to move tonight, attack at daybreak." He pivoted his horse to head back to Sahagún, and warmth. The chill cracked into Fred's bones. That would have been nice to know.

"Wait. Take the boy back with you?" Fred didn't wish to be beholden to this new man, but he didn't wish Lino to freeze to death, either.

"You brought him out here." The disgust in his voice, the dismissal, raised Fred's hackles.

"For reconnaissance, not battle."

"These things change in an instant. You know that. Besides, it's too dark. He'll fall at the rate I must travel."

The colonel's new clothes and idiotic attitude spoke volumes. Lino had been on more night marches than this dilettante. He had not been on this horse, true, but the charger was experienced and steady enough. "He can trail you. Just to get his bearings."

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