Rating: K (Suitable for all ages)
Original pen-date: 11 February 2010
Summary: Soldiers of the 50th Foot rest after a long day's march. June 1813, Spain.
Author's Note: Fun bit of nonsense. Written as a 'cheer-up' fic for a friend who reenacts the 50th Foot.
"It's hot," Tom Williams complained, picking irritably at his shirt.
"Of course it's hot," Bill Tavers snapped. "It's bloody Spain."
Overhead, the late afternoon sun blazed golden as it eased slowly toward the western horizon. It would be a few hours before the day's heat faded into shivering chill. After a long march, sweating under the remorseless sun with packs and firelocks, the army had finally halted for a much hoped-for rest. The men fell out by companies and then by long-established clusters of friends, shedding equipment and clothing as quickly as they could. Cook fires were kindled and several men, slipping away with their muskets, went in search of fresher provisions. Some were successful, some were not, while others were caught by patrolling Provosts or their own picquets.
It was simple good luck that the man sent out from Williams and Harridon's company was able to come back with two rabbits. One had been his own catch. The other had been neatly stolen from another man who'd thrown his prize away in an attempt to escape from a Provost. Both rabbits were now roasting over the small fire, while their skins were stretched out on the ground nearby. The handful of men gathered close around the fire would eat well.
"It weren't like this in Portugal," Williams went on, casting a glare at Tavers
"You was barely in Portugal," Tavers countered. "Hell's teeth. You and harf the company weren't even at Grijó."
"You ain't one to talk, Bill," Michael Oakes grunted, turning the makeshift spit over the fire. It was his skill that had netted them the two rabbits. "You didn't come back up 'til after Tally-vaira."
Tavers flicked a bit of loose tobacco at him. " 'Cos I was wounded on the retreat, weren't I? Same's you, if I remembers right."
"Ain't the same's me," Oakes replied. "I didn't get left behind."
"That's 'cos - "
"Look here, you lads. Quit yer squabblin'." A slightly-scruffy man dropped in amongst the small group at the fire, clutching a canvas sack. "Get the kettle out. I gots a prize of me own for sharin'."
"What're you - "
"Cap'n Grimes sent me off early, 'cause of him havin' a headache or somethin'. So's I came off wi' some of his coffee. He won't know it's gone missin'."
The others grinned, the interrupted argument already forgotten. Oakes turned the spit again, then dug in his pack for his battered iron kettle. It had been awhile since they'd had anything other than tea that tasted more like dirt mixed with water or wine that Tavers had taken from a dead Frenchman's pack. Coffee would be perfect.
"Get it to boiling," Williams said, passing his canteen over.
" 'Bout time you did summat useful, Willie," Tavers remarked with a grin. "Considerin' how we've kept them Frogs from doin' for you all this time."
"I don't need no lookin' after," Willie Smith protested and nearly dropped the sack of coffee.
With a chuckle, Oakes took the sack from him. "Aye, sure. Dunno why the cap'n keeps you on, honest I don't. Clumsy's you are an' all."
Smith shook his head, smirking. "Cap'n knows which lad knows his bi'ness best. S'why he ain't picked none of you lot. Who's makin' that coffee, then?"
There were chuckles as Smith reclaimed the sack of coffee from Oakes. Their little fire, with the smell of roasting rabbit blending with the warmer aroma of fresh coffee, was attracting attention from other soldiers in the company. Some sharp words from Tavers and more than a few glares from Oakes were enough to send most of them off, except for old Jack Farris. There was no turning him away. Every man in the regiment knew that Jack Farris went where he wanted without fear of exclusion. Even the officers knew of him. He had been Captain Coote's batman until Coote had been killed, and his reputation as a stubborn old mule was widely-known. He wasn't a man to cross, either. Rumours abounded about his exploits when the regiment had been in Egypt. There weren't many men left who'd been in Egypt, so Farris enjoyed considerable notoriety amongst the younger men. He was one of the fabled Blind Half-hundred, after all.
"I'll take a cup," the old soldier rumbled, shifting Williams aside without a touch so he could sit near the fire. "Some'a that rabbit, too."
There was a momentary clash of arms as the men scrambled to be the first to get coffee and rabbit for him. Even Oakes, himself an old soldier, was in awe. Men like Farris were almost meant to be worshiped. Silence reigned as Farris gulped the scalding coffee and licked his fingers after devouring his portion of rabbit. No one else dared touch their food until Farris had taken his fill.
"Bit stringy," Farris said at last. " 'Nother cup."
Tavers refilled his tin mug at once. "What... what d'you think'll happen tomorrer, Jack?"
"Nothin' much special," was the reply. "Jes' a little scrap 'fore the Frogs run. They ain't had no fight in 'em fer ages."
"How long's that?" Williams asked without thinking. Tavers elbowed him sharply in the ribs.
Farris blinked slowly, then rubbed at his eyes. "Yer... Tobbin? No. Williams. Hmph. I ain't seen 'em make a decent stand since Foo-entez or whatever that's called. Givin' 'em a rare thumpin' ever' time we meets, we is."
"I s'pose," Farris answered. " 'Cept we din't have coffee there. 'Nother cup." He paused to dampen his throat and looked around the group thoughtfully. The younger men's expressions were all eager, as if they knew he was on the verge of beginning a story. Farris took a swallow of coffee, helped himself to some of the rabbit on Oakes' plate, and nodded. He didn't have to ask for a refill of his mug, for Tavers had the kettle in hand before the old soldier even opened his mouth.
It was funny, Oakes thought as Farris began his tale. All thought of the waning heat of the day, the discomfort of sweat-soaked shirts, and the rising breeze were gone. Simply because of a lucky prize taken by Willie Smith. Oakes scratched at his ear and hid a grin. He didn't care what happened the next day. It was good enough to stretch his legs out by the fire and enjoy two rare treats. Speaking of Willie Smith... he watched was the batman slipped off, no doubt to try his hand at liberating some more of his officer's stock. Captain Grimes was going to be a right grouchy bear in the morning, when he realised that his coffee was missing. With a smirk, Oakes reached for his tin cup. Things like coffee were just meant to be shared.