Less than four weeks to go until the March 27 release of Imperial Scandal. I’ve blogged about the challenges of writing battle scenes. Here’s a glimpse of the scene before the battle. Once again I’ll be giving away an ARC to a commenter.
Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them.
“Waste of ammunition,” Davenport said to Charles. “It’s going to be a long day.”
And it had yet to properly begin. A breeze gusted over what would be the battlefield, stirring the corn, cutting through the curtain of mist. Wellington had taken up a position before the small village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Fitzroy had said that the duke would have preferred the position across the field at the inn of La Belle Alliance, which Bonaparte occupied, but the Allied position had its advantages. Wellington had seen the ground when he was in Brussels the previous year. Charles remembered the duke mentioning the slope of the land to the north which would allow him to keep most of his troops out of sight of an enemy across the field.
To the left stood the fortified farm La Haye Sainte, with white-washed walls and a blue-tiled roof that gleamed where the sunlight broke the mist, and still farther to the left the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye. To the right, in a small valley hidden by cornfields, was Hougoumont, a pretty, walled château surrounded by a wood and a hedged orchard. Both had been garrisoned with Allied soldiers.
The ground before them sloped down to a valley, through which the road to Charleroi ran, then rose to the ridge on which stood La Belle Alliance. On this ridge, the French army had begun to deploy. An elegant, masterful pageant. Malcolm lifted his spyglass. Lancers with white-plumed shapkas on their heads, chasseurs with plumes of scarlet and green, hussars, dragoons, cuirassiers, and carabiniers, and the imperial guard in their scarlet-faced blue coats. Gunners adjusted the position of their weapons. Pennants snapped in the breeze and gold eagles caught the sun as it battled the mist.
“Sweet Jesus,” Davenport murmured.
“Bonaparte understands the value of theatre,” Charles said.
“Unless he’s also a master of illusion, there are a bloody lot of them. I hope to God the Prussians get here.”
Charles cast a glance along the Allied lines. “We happy few.”
“Shakespeare was a genius, but he’d never been on a battlefield. Do you know what you’re in for, Fraser?”
“I’ve seen battles before,” Malcolm said, scenes from the Peninsula fresh in his mind. “But I don’t think any of us has seen anything like what’s about to unfold.”
Cheers went up among the French troops as a figure on a gray horse galloped into their midst.
“Boney,” Davenport said. “Odd to think I’ve never seen him before.”
“Nor have I.” Charles handed his spyglass to Davenport. Bonaparte wore the undress uniform of a colonel in the imperial guard and a bicorne hat without cockades. Wellington too wore casual dress for battle, though his buckskins and blue coat were more in the style of a gentleman out for a morning’s ride. He wore four cockades on his own bicorne, for Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.
Even without a spyglass, the cheers of the French troops for Bonaparte were evident. In response Wellington rode among his own troops, at a sedate trot rather than Bonaparte’s gallop. He was greeted with respectful nods but no cheering.
Alexander Gordon pulled up beside Charles and Davenport. “Uxbridge has ordered sherry for his staff so they can toast today’s fox.”
“Fox hunting always struck me as a bloody business,” Davenport said. “And a damned waste. My sympathies go to the fox.”
Gordon shot an amused glance at him and held out a paper. “Well, while you’re feeling sympathetic toward Boney, you can take this to Picton. Wellington’s orders.”
Davenport wheeled his horse round but turned back to Malcolm before he rode off. “I don’t say this often, but it’s been a pleasure working with you, Charles.”
Charles reached between the horses to clasp the other man’s hand. “Likewise, Harry.”