Safe

May. 13th, 2015 02:55 pm
barefoot_bard: (Hearts of Oak)
[personal profile] barefoot_bard
Title: Safe
Rating: M (Suitable for ages 16 and above)
Disclaimers: The character Paol Kerjean belongs to outis. Jérémie Blanchard is mine. No profit is being made from this story.
Story summary: Show the Colours; After being wounded in the midst of the fighting at Talavera, a French soldier tries to get back to his lines. Talavera, July 1809.
Author's Note: Any factual or historical errors that occur within are my own and I duly apologise for them.



His first suspicion that something was wrong began to form when he realised with a start that he could not move either his left arm or leg. He was lying partially on his face, his right arm bent awkwardly beneath him and the unyielding outline of his musket, clenched still in his right hand, pressed hard into his ribs. How he'd come to be here and why the whole left side of his body was heavy with something thick and damp defied his memory. More concerning, however, was the stabbing wildfire that seemed to be scorching through his bones. He mustered his strength and lifted his left arm, only to be rewarded by a savage tearing pain in his shoulder. Abandoning that effort was the only answer but it was enough to convince Jérémie Blanchard that his situation was not a good one.

Above him, a hundred different sounds clashed deafeningly with one another. The rattle of drums, shouting voices, the regular popping crackle of musketry, the booms and shrieks of artillery... and the earth-rumbling tramp of hundreds of feet. The division was not far ahead, pressing forward in regimental columns and intent on smashing through the thin British line. Part of him wanted to see their advance. Except that he did not quite want to endure a second time the bomb burst of agony that had come when he'd tried to simply lift his arm. What in the hell had happened? One second he had been in the leftmost file, firing as best he could while on the march, and then suddenly here he was, sprawled facedown and apparently wounded.

Jérémie willed his eyes open, blinking to clear the mist from his vision, and was greeted with the sight of the motionless body of Gigot, ever recognisable for his wild tangle of hair. But for the mess his throat had been turned into, he might have thought the former vintner was merely unconscious. Not, as he actually was, stone dead. Christ. Gigot. How unlike him, Jérémie thought absurdly. He'd never known the man to be anything less than irrepressibly lively. Yet there he lay, a surprised expression fixed on his face, one hand clutching at the terrible wound in his throat. Jérémie blinked again, then flinched instinctively when a round shot buried itself into the earth dangerously close by, casting up a great mess of dirt, grass, and body parts that came raining nastily down. It had to be that damnable British artillery. Were they firing at the wounded, like the devils they were? Probably. The bastards.

The ground beneath him seemed to tremble more noticeably, which meant the columns were still close. He listened to the drums and felt a flicker of confidence that, if he could even signal his presence, help would come. Then he heard a high, ringing voice bellow out an English command that he knew all too well, and the crash of a volley cut across the encouraging drum beat. Another followed almost immediately. Those damned British. The very air seemed to quiver with noise but with his face pressed into the flattened, sticky grass, it was impossible to guess the location of the division. He would have to look up, which meant levering himself up on his right elbow and trying hard not to move his left arm. Not too far, since he didn't want to make himself a target, but enough that he was able to see.

He wished at once that he had not made the attempt. All that met his eye was death and ruin. The column was shuddering under the weight of British volleys, men falling steadily along the outermost files, but for the moment they were pressing on. Jérémie dropped his gaze to his nearer surroundings and felt sick. All around him were dead and wounded men. The British line had clearly executed a vicious butchery upon the column he'd been in. Just as it was still doing. What they needed was reinforcements. Reinforcements. He lifted his head a little more and craned his neck to look back toward the French positions. In that direction lay safety. In that direction were his friends. Friends. Belatedly, he realised that other than Gigot, he could see no one here whom he knew. Was this a good thing? Please God let it be a good thing.

"Paol!" His throat felt rough and his mouth dry, which made his voice not as loud as he wanted. Surely, though, if his friend was here nearby, he would hear. "Foucheaux!"

Of course, it would have been a miracle for any man to hear him over the cacophony of battle. He did not see anyone else he knew though and chose to take comfort from that, or at least as much comfort as one could reasonably take from not seeing a dear comrade lying in a tattered heap an arm's reach away. Where were they, though, if not here? That question was, strangely, pressing enough to overpower even the awful, tearing, burning pain in his whole left side. None of them had been ahead of him in the column. He remembered that much. That gave him hope until he recalled that the column had continued its advance into the teeth of those British muskets. His hope withered with startling speed but he refused to believe that any of his mates had been wounded.

Speaking of wounds. The thick, seeping warmth in his shirt and trousers told him that his were bleeding heavily. If he did not get back to the line, he was done for. Gritting his teeth, Jérémie drew his right arm up, keeping a grip on his musket, and forced himself to scrape his screaming body around on his stomach. Getting to his feet was entirely out of the question but he thought he could manage to crawl. If he fought against the pain, he might just make it off this field of death and agony. He closed his eyes briefly, drew in a ragged breath, and shifted his musket to his left hand. Closing his fingers around the firelock brought a whole new wave of pain crashing in but he had no other choice. He could not be without the means to defend himself. Even if he could scarcely load and fire the piece.

From somewhere not too far away, a high drawn-out scream stabbed through the air, managing for an instant to drown out even the booming artillery. The sound was one of a man in untold suffering. Jérémie strove to shut his mind to that and every other noise that came from the wounded all around. His only task was to get back to the French lines. The act of crawling hurt immeasurably but through a supreme concentration of will, he kept inching along, dragging himself and his musket over bodies and equipment. It was anything but easy going, yet it was not until his left leg caught up around the socket of a sheathed bayonet that he was halted. He could not quite suppress a cry and had to blink hard against both tears and the grey haze drifting down over his field of vision. A single attempt to drag his leg clear sent a great spike of agony through him and the grey haze became blackness.

The heat of the West Indies was awful. Under normal conditions, it was a burden. Now, though... Jérémie stood rooted to the spot, his musket still at the Shoulder, and stared at the hellish scene before him. The company had come to a halt of its own accord, struck into immobility by what it had stumbled upon. On either side of the rutted road were bodies, left where they'd fallen to bloat and rot in the unrelenting sun. In the heat, the stench of putrefaction was overpowering. Flies buzzed in swarms everywhere and a couple wild, bony dogs were gnawing hungrily on one corpse. There were hundreds of them, of every size, shape, sex, and age. Not even small children had been spared. An uneven line of youngsters, lying nearly atop each other, held his horrified gaze the longest. The poor souls had been shot as they tried to run away and some cold bastard had bayoneted each of them as well, likely to be sure they were dead.

His stomach gurgled, then clenched mightily. Jérémie vomited onto the legs of the man in front of him, not even able to drop to his knees in time to spew his guts into the dirt. Who but Toussaint's rebels could be capable of such carnage? Further back in the file somebody else was being similarly sick. Another man, Lussier by the sound of it, was swearing fluently. A hand came heavily to rest on Jérémie's shoulder as he retched and spat into the dirt, having happily managed to sink down to his knees before he vomited again. The bile tasted harsh and sour in the back of his throat, and no amount of spitting seemed capable of lessening it. A canteen was shoved under his nose and he fumbled for it with a shaking hand. The water was not cold and tasted faintly of powder, but Jérémie swirled that first mouthful around and spat it out, then drank deep. The canteen was Paol's, he discovered when at last he looked up. Judging by the expression on the big Breton's face, he was not far off from depositing his own meagre breakfast onto the road, but he at least was fighting that impulse.

"Jesus." Jérémie drew in an unsteady breath and gripped the canteen tightly. No other words to adequately describe his feelings came to his tongue. Not that they were necessary. He glanced at the canteen, then offered it back. "Thanks."

"Are you - " Paol began, but was interrupted by the sudden bang of a musket firing. Both of them turned sharply toward the sound, with Jérémie belatedly realising he had dropped his own weapon in his rush to get off his feet. Something very like a white-hot knife thrust in his leg made him flinch and he jerked instinctively away from it, flopping gracelessly onto his back with a howl of surprised distress -


His eyes flew back open and he realised he was on his back, somehow having rolled away from whatever had knocked so hard into his damaged leg. Men were running toward the rear, some dropping their muskets and packs as they went. One of these must have struck him as he went past. Good Lord. What was going on? Were the British making one of their bayonet charges? If they were... Jérémie flopped over onto his stomach, ignoring the pain, and with a thrill thought he saw a familiar figure making his way toward the line. The man was not too far off and, filled with sudden hope, Jérémie called out, "Paol!"

It was to no avail. He was unheard against the broader clamour of fleeing men and cheering British, who were no doubt in pursuit. Still, he tried again and when there was again no response, set his jaw to resume the arduous work of crawling slowly over the ground. Frustration and pain made his eyes dampen, but he could muster no resentment. In the circumstances, he thought it would be a miracle for Paol to have heard him. There was no doubt he'd have come back at once, else. This inching progress on his stomach was nothing against a healthy pair of legs moving at a run, though, and Jérémie did have to admit it hurt a little to see an old and reliable comrade reach the safety of the army without him close behind.

Making it there under his own power was an increasingly unlikely prospect. Loss of blood was taking its toll. The firmest determination cannot hold out against badly-bleeding wounds and before he gone a dozen more yards, Jérémie felt himself flagging severely. He just could go no farther. With a final spurt of strength, he pushed his weight forward one more foot. Then, white-faced, sweating, and trembling, he sank down onto the dry and crushed grass. That grey haze was back and he fought it, terrified of reliving the gruesome discovery and sights of Les Verrettes. He was slipping away to sleep despite his best efforts, however, but in his exhaustion, he decided dazedly that dying here was preferable to being a prisoner.

Perversely, it was the breaking of the column that saved him. His pathetic progress was spotted by one of the men from his company and with a startled, "Rosy's there!", brought aid to his side at once. Jérémie was only distantly aware of hands grabbing at him, lifting him up, bearing him away. No doubt it was those damned redcoats. He had neither the will or the strength to resist. The bastards could at least have the decency to not jostle him so, though, surely? The rough handling went on for hours, it seemed to him, though as he drifted in and out of bleary, passive wakefulness, it was impossible to know for sure.

His one clearest memory before he finally eased away into the darkness was of brisk voices, one sounding almost like Madame Benveniste giving curt orders, and of a young, concerned face looming close above him. Mathilde. That meant he was safe. How and why? Did it even matter? Safe. What a marvellous thing to be. A small hand had gripped his and he was mostly sure he'd returned the grasp, but then his eyelids drooped and, at last, there was no pain.

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