This one is actually complete, and is another of my little Peninsula War inspired pieces.
“Pass the water.” Private Samuel Jones reached back to the man behind him on the wall.
“We’re out.” Corporal Jock McIntire tipped the bottle up. A slow dribble slipped out, splashing into the dusty bricks on the top of the wall.
“Water!” The shout rang out up and down the line.
A drummer boy ran across the yard from the farmhouse carrying two bottles.
“That’s the last of them Corporal. Captain Walker says to get more.” The Captain was in the farmhouse, cutting limbs off wounded soldiers and doing his best to patch everyone up. He needed the water as badly as the men out on the walls.
“How can it be the last?”
The boy shrugged, “There’s none left in the stores and the well is dry.”
Samuel nudged the Corporal, “What about the stream corp?”
A brook ran around the farmhouse, a hundred yards away across open ground. Beyond the stream a screen of stunted shrubs hid the enemy snipers. Every once in a while one would pop up and fire off a round before disappearing.
The boy looked over the wall, judging the ground. It would be dangerous.
“It’s too far.”
“A small lad like you won’t be noticed, besides, I wasn’t thinking of trying here.” Samuel smacked the boy on the shoulder.
“You can use the back gate. If we don’t get water soon it won’t just be the Surgeon struggling.”
The drummer boy looked around the walls. The men were exhausted, hiding from the sun in whatever shade they could find. Sweat soaked their red woollen coats, staining it a darker, blood red shade. Their faces were covered in dust and powder burns.
He nodded. He’d go.
Jock let the boy out of the back gate, a bucket in each hand. Behind them, the sound of muskets firing hid his exit. Jock stood by the gate and watched as the drummer boy, ducked and ran across the open ground.
The banks of the stream were steeper than he’d expected. The drummer boy threw the buckets on to the stream bed. The buckets clanged against each other. The boy looked around, hoping he hadn’t attracted any attention, and slid down the banks to join them. The water was shallow, a muddy trickle. He lay the first bucket on it’s side; the stream barely covered the lip.
The boy sat on his heels holding the bucket in place as it slowly filled. When it was half full he tipped the collected water into the second bucket. The first went back to it’s position on the stream bed. The sun glinted on the little stream of water and the boy started to doze in the warmth.
Water escaping from the bucket and flowing over his shoes woke him when the water found a hole. The bucket held as much as it could; he tipped some into the second bucket and set the first up again.
Water spilt over his foot as he tipped it, but the stream started to fill it again.
“Almost there.” The drummer boy sighed to himself. A noise on the enemy bank distracted him.
He scrambled up the bank until he could look over the lip, eyes hidden by the long grass.
The enemy! A whole company of them!
He slid back down, couching in the stream with his buckets of water. He looked upstream. The banks became higher and steeper. He looked downstream. The banks lowered but the streamed turned and flowed past the enemy snipers. He looked up. The bank loomed over him, seeming a vertical cliff.
A head appeared.
“Come on boy. No time for playing in the water.”
Jock reached forward.
“Pass me the buckets, then I’ll get you up.”
The drummer boy inched forward, carefully lifting the buckets, one at a time up to the corporal. Jock’s head disappeared. The drummer boy looked up, Jock had stood up. He grabbed the buckets and sprinted for the gate.
The drummer boy heard the gate clang shut.
He stood, paralysed, leaning against the earth of the river bank.
The corporal had left him.
He sat down by the stream, back against the earth. He pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around his legs and resting his head on his knees. If he made himself small, if he hid, the enemy might not find him here.
“Psst. Boy. Come on.”
The drummer boy looked up, twisting his neck around. The corporal was back. He heaved a sigh of relief and stood, reaching up to Jock.
“Grab hold and I’ll lift you.”
They linked hands. Jock tried to wriggle back, lifting the boy as he went. The boy’s hands slipped through Jocks. He fell back into the stream.
“You need to climb, I can’t lift you like this.”
The drummer boy nodded and looked round for a hand hold. A tree root protruded from the bank, about half way up. It wasn’t very big but it would give him something to grab on to.
The drummer boy grabbed the root and pulled, scrabbling for purchase with his feet.
“Come on. Come on.” Jock muttered as he watched the boy struggle up the bank. Eventually he got a purchase with his feet and pushed. Jock grabbed the boy under the armpits as he appeared over the edge of the bank.
The drummer boy gripped Jock’s shoulders and pushed on the root with his feet, propelling himself over the stream bank and on top of the corporal.
As they rolled upright the first shots fired behind them.
Jock pushed the boy to his feet and followed quickly. Shots pocked the ground around them kicking up dirt in little fountains. As they got closer to the gate, more shots were fired and slithers of flint and fountains of brick dust erupted around the gate. Samuel waited, door half open. From a window above the door two men returned fire.
The boy slid in through the door Corporal Mcintire just behind. Samuel slammed the gate shut and barred it. He waved them out of the way as a dresser was shoved against the door.
The buckets of water stood by the back door into the farmhouse. Samuel walked over,
“Have a cup of water, you earnt it.”