The Ones Left Behind by Elizabeth Johns

Prologue

Vitoria, Spain, June 1813

The Allied Encampment

The grief was so thick in their throats none could speak. They had been together for only two years, yet the bonds of the battle were forged stronger than any created by blood. It was not something that could be explained, only experienced.

When they had set sail from England for the Peninsula, each had felt invincible, ready to conquer evil and save England. Now, it was hard to remember why they needed to be brave anymore.

James shivered. There was a chill in the air as they all sat huddled around the fire. The silence the night before a battle was eerie, but after, it was deafening. Watching the flames perform their blue, gold and orange dance, it did not seem real that one of them was gone. They had survived Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, and Salamanca, yet Peter had fallen before their eyes today. His sabre had been raised and his eyes fierce, ready to charge when a shot had seared through him. He was on his horse one moment and gone the next. The scene replayed over and over in their minds in slow-motion. Memory was a cruel, cruel master. The same battle had left Luke wounded when a shell exploded near him. He insisted on joining them, eschewing the orders of the sawbones and hobbling out of the medic tent on the arm of his batman, Tobin.

Now, there were six of them left, if Peter’s widow was included, and all wondered was this to be their fate?

Someone had to speak and break the chain of their morbid, damning thoughts.

“Peter would not want this.” Five pairs of morose eyes looked up at Matthias. “We all knew this was likely when we signed up to fight Napoleon.”

“How would you want us to feel if it were you?” James asked.

“I would want you to keep going forward and give my life meaning.”

“Precisely. We mourn this night and move forward tomorrow. His death shall not be in vain.” James said with quiet conviction.

“What about Kitty?” Peter’s wife that followed the drum and felt like one of them.

“We see what she wishes to do. I expect she will wish to return home,” Matthias answered. He had known her and Peter from the cradle, and was most devastated by the loss.

“The French are worn down, this cannot go on much longer,” Luke said, though he would be sent home. No one else dared voice such hope.

“We are worn down,” James muttered.

Philip, the quiet, thoughtful one, spoke. “If anything happens to me, will someone see to my sister? She has no one else.”

“I swear it,” Colin said, leading the others to do the same.

Pietas et honos.”

Philip nodded, too choked up to speak.

“Loyalty and honour,” another swore the oath in English.

They returned to silence, each brooding over what had happened and what was yet to come.