A Soldier's Bride:The Duke's Alliance Book Five

By: Fenella J Miller

The Duke’s Alliance Book Five

Part One – Spain

Chapter One

Spain, July 1813

Lord Peregrine Sheldon left the tent of Major Robertson pleased with his orders. He had returned from a successful mission as an intelligence officer, the polite term for a spy, behind the enemy lines last week and had been kicking his heels since then waiting to know what his next task was.

His orderly greeted him with a raised eyebrow. ‘Where to next, my lord?’

‘We’ve to rendezvous with a group of partisans in the mountains and together come up with a plan of attack to coincide with Wellington’s intentions.’

This was somewhat vague but he knew better than to reveal more than he needed to, even though he trusted his man implicitly. O’Reilly might be an Irishman, but he was totally loyal to the cause.

‘When do we leave?’

‘Immediately. I take it our gear is packed?’

O’Reilly nodded. ‘It’s been ready for days, so it has.’

When Perry had bought his colours, he had thought he would be in the cavalry; but because of his ability to speak both Spanish and French fluently he had immediately been transferred to the intelligence service. He had been disappointed to be denied the thrill of a battle but had soon come to love his work. He had more than enough excitement and danger and was answerable to no one whilst he was away from the army.

He would have preferred to wear his uniform and rely on the speed and stamina of his horse to gallop him out of trouble like an exploring officer – but his missions were to blend into the countryside as a wine merchant seeking new supplies and not be recognised as a member of the armed forces.

There was always activity in this large tented city of soldiers. Wellington was a brilliant commander and constantly sending out companies to harry the French who were retreating steadily towards their own country. Perry was confident they would be able to break through the fortresses, entrenchments and fortified villages between here and the French border before the winter took hold.

He left the acres of tents, the thousands of soldiers, behind without a second thought. He was, of course, out of uniform and carried no military identification in case he was captured. However, he carried maps with vineyards marked on the paper in the hope this would prove his credentials.

If a French skirmisher or scout were to see him through a spyglass they should not be alarmed or alerted to his real purpose. He did in fact stop and take note of any wine producers and also placed orders with a couple. That was why he carried so much gold. They camped in a hollow and whilst his companion prepared their food he reviewed his route.

There was no urgency to his mission as the army was still weeks away from being battle-ready. This meant he could meander about the countryside calling in at any vineyards whilst looking out for French companies and any sign of the Spanish partisans he was to liaise with.

The heat was unbearable during the afternoon so they always pitched camp in the shade and close to water if possible. They didn’t carry fodder for the horses so they must always find a place with grass for the beasts to eat.

Sultan, his black gelding, had been selected especially for his ability to thrive on poor commons. O’Reilly’s horse had been purchased in Portugal and, although not especially handsome, he was sturdy and equally at home in the mountains as he was in an army camp.

The next few days were spent in similar fashion and he saw nothing untoward – no French troops at all. He avoided the villages even though they were usually friendly, no point in drawing attention to himself unless he had to.

They were slowly climbing the foothills and must be nearing their destination. It was cooler in the mountains which was a blessing. Ten days after leaving the army O’Reilly, who had been scouting ahead, returned in a rush.

‘Frenchies, a platoon of cavalry, is heading this way. They don’t look none too friendly, sir, battle-hardened and nasty looking lot, so they are.’

‘Then we had better make ourselves scarce. Thank God we have not pitched camp yet. We’ll lead the horses, we can hide up there behind those rocks.’

‘Go on, sir, I’ll remove any sign of our being here and then follow you up, so I will.’

The gelding followed him without hesitation – another thing in the horse’s favour. It was unusual to find a horse so biddable. The loose scree tumbled down behind them making a damnable racket and he hoped it wasn’t loud enough to attract the attention of the French cavalry.

‘Come along, old fellow, almost there.’ He pulled the reins again and the horse obediently heaved his bulk onto the narrow shelf of rock. Perry led the animal behind the rocks and was satisfied they could not be seen from below.