Sergeant Peters rescues a wounded officer

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He was a heavy lad, this Royal Marine. Graham Peters wasn't small himself, and his own wounds were on the mend, or he'd never manage to half drag, half carry the injured captain along the narrow mountain path, barely more than a goat track, that led to the village. He'd been living there for three months, recovering his strength, since a skirmish with the French had left him among the dead beside the road that curved far below them in the valley.

Senorita Bucktin had her usual spies out. A ragged boy popped out from behind a rock, flashed Peters a cheeky grin, and scurried away up the slope, ignoring the zigzag of the track in favour of the shorter route.

Peters paused for a rest where the path turned, and looked back down to the valley, where the stark detritus of today's battle was made vague by distance. He'd read the signs as well as he could: the lad here would confirm whether or not he was right.

From the looks of it, a French ambush like the one that nearly killed him; this time of a detachment of invalids under a light guard, being sent back from the battle the senorita's roving band of boys had been talking about for the past week.

Control of a fort on the pass at the head of the valley was changing hands back and forth. The British took the fort, then lost it, then took it again. Perhaps they had lost it once more, or perhaps the French marauders that attacked the captain and his column had been trapped on the wrong side of the battle lines.

Certainly, they were not burdening themselves with prisoners. The captain was fortunate that his head wound had left him as white and still as death, clearly fooling whoever had been charged with ensuring that no one left the valley alive.

"My men?" The captain asked suddenly, as he had a dozen times already. And Peters answered as he had each time, though the captain clearly did not retain the information. "I'm sorry, captain. You were the only one I found." The only one he had found alive, anyway.

This next bit was the steepest. He looked up at it doubtfully, and was delighted to see the two remaining men who lived in the village making their way down towards him. Jose had only one arm, and Pedro was older than Methusulah, but between the three of them, they could keep the captain on his feet, on the path, and on the climb.

Senorita Bucktin was waiting at the top, where the path more or less levelled for the village square, which was more of a rectangle on two levels, with the houses the locals called basseri clinging to the hillside above and below, and the most substantial house of the village at the far end. The senorita's house, and also the village school.

She was some sort of relative of the leader of the band of guerillas that had collected Peters from among the corpses after his own ambush, but had been raised in England, daughter of an English father and Spanish mother. Peters was grateful for that, since he had but a few words of Spanish, and those picked up during the weeks she had nursed him back to health.

"The only survivor?" Senorita Bucktin asked now, but did not wait for an answer. "Bring him this way. I trust you have not strained your shoulder, Sergeant Peters. I will be taking a look at that after I have seen to my new patient. An English soldier, is he?"

"My men?" the captain asked again.

"A British Royal Marine, ma'am. A captain by his rank markings. He is not saying much, ma'am. Fair mazed, he is. Couldn't even tell me his name."

"Captain," Senorita Bucktin said directly to the marine in her clear unaccented English, "we are taking you into the house, and I am going to see to your head. Your rescuer is Sergeant Peters, your helpers are José Garcia and Manuel Ruiz, and I am Senorita Teresa Bucktin."

The captain stopped the determined shuffle that had brought him up from the valley, and for a moment consciousness returned to the one eye showing as he stared at the senorita.

"Teri?" he asked, ducking so he could peer under the hat she wore. Then his eyes rolled up in his head, and he crumpled and would have fallen if Peters hadn't already been half carrying him.

For a moment, Senorita Bucktin froze. She was so white, Peters wondered if she would faint, too. But she shook her head quickly, as if to dislodge something, and began briskly giving orders in both English and Spanish.

Bring the captain inside, Peters understood. Make up a bed. Fetch warm water to bath his wounds, and her medicine chest from her chamber.

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