The Musket and the Sword
Frigid winds whipped needles of snow into Gulliemont's cheeks. He shivered and clutched at his bearskin coat with fingers turned numb from the cold Moscow winter. His breath fogged the air before his eyes and left a trail of frost on his collar. Cold sweat soaked the uniform he'd worn every day since the Grande Armee began the Russian campaign at the start of 1812.
Twelve months passed by, The Russians striked back in revenge. For nature took its toll on the Grandee Armee. Winter had caused the utter devastation of Bonaparte's army. The Legions of the Army werent invincible to nature;such was an unfortunate fate for many of them ; few did survive as they retreated back to France. A fusilier named Jacques standing next to Gulliemont was shivering in the extreme blizzard. The snow particles pinched and stung around his face like a horde of angry bees. His shako had been a bright black back then but now, it was a cold hard white hat as if death had sucked the life out of it.
Even the pom pom situated on it was frozen white. His comrade, Gulliemont, the only senior officer left in the regiment stood by him. He was dressed in a blue suit that stopped to his waist embezzled with gold decorating embroidered on the edges of it. His suit was dark blue, like a widow's heart harsher than the winter. He wore white trousers which were frozen as his bare skin touched the penetrating fabric of the intense cold. A gaiter was above the knee for him. His shoes were of the finest black embroidered with the seal of Napoleon's Symbol, the eagle.
His friend, Jacque had been his best friend since the start of 1805, where they had crossed the straits of Europe and fought on the great plains of the contienent, Gulliemont had been Marιchal d'Empire(Lieutenant General) in the army for many years. He was hated by his supeirors because he had gained fame during the battle of Borodino, he had led the 108th regiment to shatter seven Russian regiments in a master-stroke, which had gained recognition from the Emperor.
So far, his promotion to a major general had been put on halt. Jacque wanted to remain as an infantry solider, and stuck it to it. Despite Gulliemont's nagging, he didn't want any promotions. Gulliemont had suffered much through this campaign. He had hated the cold winter, the Russians, and the fact that they had only fought a cowering enemy, who fought and then retreated.
They were walking through a abandoned town. The doors were half broken hanging from the hinges.The windows broken and full of snow and dirt dripping onto the already wet floors. Snow smothered the rooftops in deep shafts. It covered everywhere they were,on the pavements, everywhere. Even the road they walked on was full of snow. Snow was the blanket for this dusty town. The trees stood in silence, as they had, for thousands of years since the beginning of the earth.
Soon Gulliemont's regiment had been separated from the Grande Armee a week before. A skirmish against Russian soldiers had misled them to be in the punishing cold they were in now.They were stranded in the great plains of the Russian winter. Since then many of the officers, the NCOs and the drummer had died, some soldiers died in the shadows while others had frozen to death without being noticed, the rest had been buried in the snow. They had saluted them as the bodies descended into the darkness. It only caused anger and hatred in his regiment. They had fought a war totally which unsuited them. Only hundred men remained and only Jacque and Gulliemont remained as the seniors and the cook, Choinburnt had managed to surivie with the tale of his life, he nearly had escaped from a dangerous fever he had been suffering from.
Apart from the previously brimming and proud men that had set out with the army to conquer Russia, they were tatters of a once great army. The regiment wasn't enough to fill the ranks of battle. It was destroyed. Other soldiers were in the same condition as Gulliemont and Jacque. Wearing furry coats and deep thermal clothing to keep them warm had done nothing to protect them against the extreme blizzards that flew into them as little fairies that couldn't be seen upon horses of snow firing arrows at the Frenchmen. The Russians were not fools to let this opportunity of weakness to be slipped away from their hands. Nature had come on the side of Mother Russia.
Jacque grumbled as he trudged in the heavy snow. His feet formed big gaps in the deep snow, his breath let out a small fog of air in the gust of the blizzard blowing it away. His leg refused to move, unwilling as the snow itself wouldn't go away, like an icy river. Gulliemont was the last surviving officer of the regiment that had led them through many plains and mountains to get out of Russia and none of them had proved successful. This was the last time he resolved to himself that he was going to attempt a journey to get out of Russia.
He couldnt see anything in front of him. From behind him shadows appeared of his regiment. He stopped and pulled his hands to his eyebrows trying to see anything that from where they could rest. All he could see was snow flying around with the wind's antagonized gust's blowing through them. Blizzards and freezing gusts could be heard. The snow was too much for them to be able to see clearly.
Choinburnt! he called out with a harsh dry voice, with no reply of hope. Choinburnt hurried to Gulliemont.
What news? Where are we? he asked.
I dont know! Were somewhere near the border! Choinburnt replied. He was one of the last surviving cooks of the regiment and Gulliemont had no choice but to depend on him for directions. It had been well known that he was a good director and on many occasions had led regiments back to the army, only the Russian Campaign proved disastrous for him, so far not a single regiment had surivied because of him. This was his last regiment to lead back before he would be posted to Toulouse, where the English were attacking from there.
What did you say? Gulliemont stopped as he heard his reply, a glimmer of hope, maybe they could once and for all escape from this damn blasted Russian winter.
'' Yes, Sir! We're near the border! I know it because we tracked here at the start of the invasion! Look over there! '' He pointed his finger at a small line thinly visible from the naked eye. It was indeed the very way they had first walked into Russia, and were now running back to it. Beyond it was Poland, and then the journey back to France. It would take months now. If they managed to come over this winter.
'' I can't believe it! Ha! Don't worry boys! We've reached the border! We'll be soon back to Poland and then to France! '' He shouted back and a cheer was heard from his men, despite the bitterness of the cold attacking them.
'' But what about the food? '' Gulliemont asked.
'' We don't have much food left, it was stolen by the cossacks at noon. '' Choinburnt replied.
''Damn those cossacks! They always seem to have come at us! Any cossack you see , you will shoot him! They don't deserve to live on this earth, damn them fools. '' He cursed.
'' You sure you trust that cook? '' Jacque asked.
'' He's the only one we have left. ''
'' What? Him, a cook? How would you expect a cook to lead you all the way except cook food when he's supposed too! ''
'' You're calling me a coward? '' Choinburnt asked aggressively.
'' Why yes! Because you just caused the destruction of our legion! '' Jacque replied back.
'' You want to have a fight? ''
'' Of course I do. ''
'' Enough!! '' Gulliemont shouted.
'' I'll have you both quartered and hung naked here and leave your bodies to rot! Right now we have one objective. To get out of this damn place once and for all! '' He pointed to the thin line that was now vanishing from their eyes.
'' Halt! '' he shouted. His men looked at him threateningly. '' We don't want to stop sir! We want to go back to France! '' one of the soldiers replied back.
'' Quiet! Or I'll have you executed! '' he barked back. He raised his hand to stop anymore of his men moving. He blinked for a second,and then turned his head back and fourth. Even if they were that close to the border , there was still the danger of the Russians. And they weren't giving up on this one. The gusts blew through the windows, a shattered piece of wood suddenly landed onto ice and broke into pieces in a second, producing a shattering sound.
He jumped at the call of a trumpet. They had arrived. The Russians had arrived. It was these soldiers they previously fought with. Now they were back and wouldn't miss an opportunity to finish them off. Gulliemont burst out in anger. They had fought the enemy, and they retreated, and now they were the ones retreating.
He quickly gave orders. Form Square! Dont bother with your coats for now, leave them in the square. Now hurry before these damn Russians come in! The soldiers quickly formed and hurried into a square formation.
'' Our coats? '' a reply came from the ranks of the fusiliers.
'' Yes, your coats damn it! '' Gulliemont shouted.
'' Why our coats? We'll freeze without it! ''
'' By the gods! Are you all cowards? I know the weather is freezing but we will die fighting like true soliders for France! Now take of your coats! '' They took of their packs and coats. And then there was the true magnificent sight of the French soldiers.
The Line Fusilier lent in the first line were on the ground with their white trousers forming a complexion with the snow. The white surcoats were already placed into their uniforms. And dark blue coats were waiting to enter action. The red collars were straightened, along with the white lapels and cuffs as they prepared to get ready for the oncoming onslaught. The Second line of fusiliers were standing straight and waiting for new orders.
Load your muskets, you dogs! Gulliemont shouted. The Fusiliers grounded their muskets and started to load the muzzle into the barrel. Once done they fixed the bayonets and pulled back the flintlock.
On my order you will fire! He barked.
What can I do? asked Choinburnt.
Here, take this. Gulliemont said in a hurry as he gave his sword to Choinburnt.
A sword? What am I going to do with a sword!! he shouted.
Oh shut up Choinburnt! We've had enough of you for one day! replied one of the fusiliers in the back.
Then a loud and blasting sound was heard that stopped all conversation in the French side. They came in the mists. Hundreds of green uniformed Russians walking with bayonets. Their leaders shouting words of encouragement on their horses. Many of the Russian Cavarly were seated on horses armed with swords and wearing breastplates with tiny helmets with white stallions decorated onto them.
Russian Soldiers armed with muskets wore green uniforms and white belts strapped on to them. The shakos were tightly placed on them. They shouted curses as they walked towards the advancing square. A sea of bayonets advanced to the French Square. These Russians held their muskets straight at the French. There were many of them, infantry and cavalry. What hope could a tiny square of one hundred men could do against such a large force?
However, the will of the Frenchman had always been to fight on and they weren't the ones going to go down without a fight. It had always been in their ancestors blood.
I came here. I will stay here. muttered Gulliemont.
On my order, you will fire at them! he ordered. The Russian Cavalry advanced in hordes coming so close Gulliemont thought he would have fainted. The Russian infantry did not have any regimental banners or drummers. They had come in their hundreds. Gulliemont suddenly noticed that they were not walking in formation. They were coming separately, one at a time.
Right men! These Russians are not coming in any formation! Hold out and brace yourselves for the cavalry lads! This is going to be a real ride! He shouted quickly.
The Russians got closer and closer. Hurling themselves up, The Russians mouths were agape as they shouted their warcries, their officers urging them on with their swords high in the sky.
Ready Muskets on the first line! Gulliemont ordered. The order was repeated among the first line as they grounded their muskets into the heavy snow and began biting the ends of the fresh cartridges before spitting the balls and ramming it down onto the barrel of the musket. The second line had already loaded their guns previously.
'' So freezing.... '' Jacque shivered as he bit of his second cartridge spitting the chewed paper into the snow.
'' Silence in the ranks! '' Gulliemont shouted.
When the foremost of the Russian infantry came at about thirty paces. Gulliemont bellowed.
A loud thunderous volley was released from the Frenchmens muskets. It shattered the oncoming Russians, throwing them into a cloud of smoke, of which neither could they see. Cries and groans of pain and dying came from their ranks in reply.
Second Line, ready! On my order,First line to the back! The First line went into where the second line had previously been adjusted. The Second lines of Infantry were now standing up readying for the oncoming impact that was about to engulf them.
Second Line, Load!!! First line will fire!
The Russians had advanced among their fallen comrades laying down on the snow and were now ten paces away, much closer and were about to bring the destruction of the tiny square. Fire! was repeated on both sides. A ragged volley was produced by both lines, causing casualties. Losses were imminent.
But that did not shatter the morale of the already advancing Russians oncoming. They did not care now. The Grande Armee was no longer invincible to them.
All Lines will load and fire! Gulliemont bellowed. He was suddenly enjoying this. Despite his promotion being held to a halt, his superiors had always tried to put him down. When he got back to France and told the Emperor of this, they wouldn't do anything. Today was his chance to prove his might and make his fame. If he won this battle by extraordinary measures. Otherwise the battle was strikingly in favour of the Russians.
Fire!! Gulliemont shouted again.
A devasting volley was released from the muskets and crushed the Russians in front of them, falling in heaps and piles. By now, the Russians were not in many numbers, but more came, replacing their fallen comrades.
One of the Russian Officers cursed out loud in French as he led a group of soldiers armed with muskets and grenades. He waved the flag he was holding and drew his sword to attack. They were much closer to the square by now.
Prepare for double impact! When they come, we fire! And then we will engage! Do not move out of your square. Keep the formation. Do not move at all!
The little square reeled suddenly under the heavy impact of the Russians, causing a collision.
Fire ! Gulliemont ordered and a ragged volley was produced by his men. Engage! the order was repeated among the French lines, who went to grips to arms with the Russians. They fought like ferocious beasts despite the firm resistance of the French square; it was the usual bayonet-to-bayonet attacks as the French were gradually being separated away by the Russians. Muskets were used as clubs as they were swung by their masters.
A Russian soldier was hit in the shin as the French fusilier wacked him with his musket. French fusiliers stabbed their bayonets into the Russians waistlines. This became the order of the melee fight.
A group of the Russian grenadiers along with the officer were about to charge at Gulliemont when Choinburnt shot the officer with his pistol. The Grenadiers suddenly stopped as they witnessed the downfall of their officer, groaning as his bicorn hat fell off and his legs crumpled like paper as his men heard the cracking of his bones. Their officer lay flat into the snow, blood pouring out of his skull and legs, it didn't make a good image.
How the... Gulliemont stammered.
Seems like I learnt something, finally. Choinburnt could not suppress a smile.
The Grenadiers suddenly retreated, having lost the will to fight at the sight of their fallen commander.
'' Where the heck did you abandon my sword?? '' Gulliemont shouted
'' I left it in the square, found this thing of beauty in the town! '' He replied.
'' The town? ''
'' Yes, the town! They had a small abandoned musket manufuactory! ''
'' A musket manufuactory? Hey! Get out of there!!! '' he shouted back in alarm as Choinburnt was suddenly shoved by a Russian cavalryman.
'' Here! I was only joking! Take the sword! '' Choinburnt quickly shouted as he threw the sword from his back. Gulliemont catched it, but with his hands bleeding.
Hey! Thats cheating, you Russian dogs! shouted one of the French soldiers as he saw the Greaniders retreating.
Gulliemont drawed his sword out and charged as another Russian was about to kill one of his soldiers. The Russian withdrew back suddenly and turned to face the rising threat. Die, you Russian dog! Gulliemont shouted as he attempted a charge of the sword.
This Russian, however knew what was he was doing. As he blocked Gulliemonts sword. Gulliemont was thrown off his balance and fell hard to the ground. The Russian was about to plunge his musket when Gulliemont moved his legs and tripped the Russian, the Russian could not resist the force of his balance as Gulliemonts sword went straight through his stomach coming out of the green uniform.He shoved the dead Russian of his blood stained uniform.
One of their officers, dressed in a dark green uniform with golden medals glittering like diamonds and wearing a bicorn hat walked to Gulliemont. His face wasn't war torn, but it resembled those of the newly promoted officers, with the great ginger sideburns and a ginger moustache and beard placed on to their faces.
He took his hat off and bowed in front of Gulliemont, who stood there, one leg bent and his left arm holding a sword stained with the blood of which he had slain. His facial expressions only received to the Russian as outraged and angry, war torn and with no life left in him , spare for a few left.
'' May I say, it is an honour to meet the enemy commander myself. I am General Vladsimov. '' He replied in fluent French.
'' I too, I am the last surviving officer of the 108th regiment of the Grande Armee. I am Lieut-ant General Gulliemont.'' Gulliemont replied in fluent Russian.
'' Ah.. yes.... Borodino. I was there. I saw you there. I did. Your Russian is perfect.'' He nodded.
'' I thank you, shall we converse in French? ''
'' I think so. ''
'' Then let us duel! ''
'' The Three Musketeers? Eh? ''
'' Yes. '' He grinned.
Gulliemont struck the first blow, forcing Vladsimov to retreat back as he tried to prevent the aggressive attacks from his opponent. Vladsimov was thrown to the snow. He scratched his chin and lept from the snow to grab Gulliemont's throat. Except he punched him in the gut and again threw Vladsimov into the snow. He shook his head in anger and it became a fight of dances, both these two were masters of the sword. They fought everywhere. To the leg from the heart. Gulliemont nearly succeeded in dashing Vladsimov's heart.
But the Russian pushed him back, he was tired of being beaten by this peasant Frenchman. He striked back and attacked, not giving a moment of advantage to Gulliemont. He blocked the attacks from the Russian and kept on doing it for hours. The fight was becoming inconclusive now. Gulliemont was even more exhausted than the Russian. But all the Russian had was his anger to keep him alive.
'' You destroyed my country! '' He shouted as again he struck Gulliemont's sword.
'' You ravaged my country! ''
'' You invaded it! Now die!!! ''
A grin leapt on to Gulliemont's face.
'' Gladly. '' he replied
Vladsimov charged into him and the next thing he knew he was in the snow, with Gulliemont standing on top of him.
'' Go on, then kill me! '' Vladismov replied bitterly.
Gulliemont stabbed him in the gut, Vladsimov groaned in pain and tried to resist the blackness enveloping him, finally he gave in and Gulliemont pulled the sword out of his stomach.
'' That's our revenge, not yours. '' He muttered, and suddenly his arms felt exhausted. He was gripped by some uncontrollable pain. He clutched his hand to his heart.
To me men! Too me!! Gulliemont shouted as struggled to rise up. His men quickly collected around him, just when the Russians were going to destroy them. By now, there werent many of the them left by now, But they were still large in numbers to destroy the square.The square had decreased, only ninety were left standing in the shivering cold. The blue uniformed soldiers loaded their guns and bought it up to level. The Russians suddenly realised that they had been tricked. The French had escaped from their clutches.
One of their officers like Vladsimov was dressed in a dark green uniform with golden medals glittering like diamonds and wearing a bicorn hat hooked his sword high up and shouted in French.
And the Russian infantry ran like cowards escaping the battle before it had even started.
Ah! All right you dogs! On my word! Fire! Gulliemont shouted and then sighed in relief. A bang came from the wooden muskets of the French, the bullet gliding through the enormous force of gravity pushing it and puffing out from the bayonet to hit the cowardly Russian to see him succumbing to his downfall.
It splattered of what was left of the retreating Russians. They lay there, in a heap, fallen bodies colliding into each other as the bullets struck their spines and did not move an inch. They had fallen into the jaws of death.
Thats over for now, get- Gulliemont was cut off just as he heard the sound of the cavalry call. They had distracted them. He looked up and could see the Russian Cavalry with their swordsmen with bronze and silver armour waving their swords threateningly. Gulliemont suddenly realized the situation, his men weren't in the formation. They'd be killed by then.
FORM SQUARE!!! He shouted in alarm. The 108th regiment got into action for what they were famed for in the army, resisting the cavalry charge.
Ready Muskets on all sides. Gulliemont ordered. The order was repeated among everybody and they rammed their muskets to the ground and began ramming their stills into the barrel. The Russians had bought their best cavalry to finish of this insignificant French battalion.
Wait... wait.... Gulliemont muttered waiting for the right moment.
He looked around for Choinburnt but he was nowhere to be seen. The Russian Cavarly were very close now to the tiny square. When they were in just in range of the French Muskets, Gulliemont bellowed. Now, you scraggy men! Fire!! A tremendous cloud of fire and smoke was shot from the tiny square. The Beasts fell in their mists. Their Russian Masters could not control them falling as they were stabbed by the French Infantry.
Engage! Keep formation intact! Gulliemont quickly ordered. And the fight began. The Russian Cavalrymen were surrounded and taken off their horses. Despite their brave resistance, Unfortaunely they were not the best of fighters. Some fought bravely, while others were swamped and stabbed in the stomachs, splintering their armour in half. It went on for hours, until none of the enemy was left. The French square had fallen even smaller, only eighty remained now.
Where are the Russians? asked Gulliemont looking around the square. He saw defiant brave faces of his men holding their muskets. All bloodied by the battle they waited for his orders. His blue uniform was blood stained with the horrors of war and his gold cockades frozen in the wilderness. Dont know, sir, they seem to have disappeared, at least we drove the Russians away. I had enough of them for one day at least. replied one of the soliders.
Choinburnts here! I found him! Jacque called.
'' Jacque? Where were you the whole time??? '' Gulliemont shouted
'' Where the heck do you think I am? Under a horse! ''
Gulliemont lept from the square and ran to the fellow that was waving his hand. He stopped in his tracks as he found Choinburnt lay under the horse lying down in the snow. Apparently he had killed the Russian Cavalrymen, but his horse had crushed his body too late for him to escape.
Choinburnt, you crazy fool, you always were like this. Gulliemont reflected sadly as his hands ran down the horse and touched his uniform. Choinburnt's face was frozen in white. His moustache blew in the gust. His eyes were closed and his shakov was still strapped on to his head. He rose and turned to look at his shattered regiment, his men had died fighting for France, their uniforms were stained with blood and it ran deep into their coats. It was shown in their faces, war torn and strained.
What do we now sir? asked one of them.
What do we now? I say we get out of this damn country once and for all! Gulliemont shouted. And the regiment after cleaning up marched down into the blizzard. Gulliemont said nothing, except remembering a phrase he had once read.
War is delightful to those, who has never had experience of it.