New Trilogy by Anne Herries
The Spanish Peninsular: 1812.
Three men lay slumped on the earth, which had been baked hard by the fierce Spanish sun. Harry Pendleton had his back against a rock. Of the three he was in the best shape. Max Coleridge was lying with his eyes closed, his blood-soaked shirt stuck to his chest in this damned awful heat. Gerard Ravenshead was fanning Max with a large leaf, trying to keep the flies from settling on his wound. A neck-cloth was wound around a deep cut at the side of Gerard's head.
'I thought we were done for,' Harry said. He was speaking his thoughts aloud, saying what they all felt. 'What a mess!'
'You can't blame yourself for it, Harry,' Gerard said and looked at him. 'They knew we were coming. Someone must have warned them.'
'Ten killed, and the three of us only got out by the skin of our teeth.' Harry stood up and walked over to take a look at Max. 'Somehow they must have got wind that we planned a surprise raid to take prisoners…'
'One of the servants,' Gerard replied and shrugged. 'In this damned war I'm never sure whether we are fighting the French with the Spanish or the Spanish and the French.'
'I wouldn't trust their generals as far as I could throw them,' Harry growled. He looked at the blood trickling down Gerard's face. They had wrapped a kerchief round his head, but it wasn't doing much good. 'Your wound is still bleeding. Do you want me to take another look at it?'
'You saved my life once today,' Gerard said and grinned at him. 'You don't have to nursemaid me, Harry. I'll manage. We have to get Max back to the village, and by the looks of him that means carrying him between us.'
Harry pulled a wry face. 'The way you've been behaving out here I've sometimes felt as if you meant to throw your life away…' Gerard had gained a reputation as something of a dare devil.
'There were moments when I didn't much care if I died,' Gerard admitted. He took a swipe at a fly buzzing about his face. 'But when you're facing death things come into perspective. I intend to live and return home and one day…'
Gerard left the sentence unfinished. Harry nodded. He knew something had been eating at his friend. He suspected it was to do with a young woman Gerard had been courting – and the tiny scar at his temple that he'd noticed when they first met in Spain after a year of not seeing one another. Gerard often rubbed at it when he was thoughtful, and the look in his eyes told Harry he was remembering something that made him angry.
'I know what you mean,' Harry said. 'Soldiering is blood, sweat and tears – and that is the easy part.' It was listening to the screams of dying men and knowing you couldn't save them that hurt the worst. 'Come on then. Help me get Max on my back and I'll carry him.'
'I can walk…' Max mumbled. 'Just give me a hand up…'
'Don't be a damned fool,' Harry replied. 'You'll be carried as far as we can make it. When we get near the village Gerard will fetch help.'
'I could walk with help.' Max's face set stubbornly as he attempted to rise. 'Damn you, Harry. I'm not a baby…'
'But I'm the superior officer here so you will do as you're told,' Harry muttered. He grinned at Gerard. 'There's one thing, we're bound for life by this day's experience. It's something none of us will forget – and if any one of us can help the other in future we will…'
Max grunted as they hauled him to his feet, and Harry took him over his shoulder. Gerard nodded, his eyes hard but appreciative of his friend's stubborn determination to take on the burden. He wasn't sure he could have done it himself, though he would have tried.
'Comrades in war and peace,' he said. 'Let's get back. My head is fit to burst and Max needs attention…'