He was waiting with the others to attack the British and Royalist forces who had fortified themselves on high ground just outside the city of Toulons. He could see the flag staff on the hill with the Union Jack fluttering gently in the breeze. It was suicide to attack there, they all knew this, but the general in charge would not listen to reason.

The young artillery officer that he’d seen had argued for hours with the general to cancel the attack. Now they were lined up and waiting for the general, who sat upon his horse, a prime target for any decent shot, to give the order that would send them to their deaths. He could actually see the British artillerymen as they gauged the distance and adjusted the elevation and direction of their cannon.

 He dared not look around for fear that others may see the hopelessness upon his face. That and he didn’t want to see the looks on the faces of the others, for fear it may keep him from being able to move. The general rode out in front of the line of men and drew his sword, holding it high over his head as if he were Caesar leading his legions into battle. “For France!” He shouted, spurring his horse and moving forward. Caesar would have laughed himself to death at this fool. For even he, without knowing the first thing about cannon would never have ordered his men to attack in such a useless manner. Unfortunately they didn’t have Caesar, they had what they had, and that wasn’t much.

 As he began to move forward, one of the first in his section of the line to do so, he noticed that his hands were sweaty and his mouth was dry. He forced himself to line his bayonet up with the top of the English earthworks, figuring that if he just followed his bayonet point he may, by some damn fool miracle, make it. He heard the other men around him, all moving forward, yet he fealt as if he were making the charge alone, just him and the general in front of them.

He cringed as he saw a British artilleryman bring his arm down to the back of one of the cannon. He knew that on that arm was a hand, and in that hand was a piece of slowmatch smouldering. The match was touched to the touch hole on the rear of the cannon and he actually saw the smoke from that, a lazy looking smoke ring as if from a giant’s cigar. Then the muzzle of the cannon disappeared behind a sheet of flame and a billowing cloud of smoke. He kept moving, trying to keep the image of a solid shot ball going thru his body out of his mind. He saw the ball hit and bounce up off the ground, a cloud of dirt flying into the air as it did so. He looked to his right just in time to see a man three away from him disappear as the ball hit him, a cloud of red and little bits of flesh and an arm all that marked where the man had been. The men next to the poor unfortunate went down, screaming. The man to his left shouted a question of what had happened. He didn’t bother answering, he knew all too well.

The man who’d caught the ball had literally exploded as his body absorbed the impact of it, some of his bones had flown out with such force that they had actually pierced the bodies of those unfortunate enough to be around him. The line closed around the hole, the men who could forcing themselves to keep moving. Suddenly the whole British position disappeared in smoke. He heard the whiz and zip of musket balls as they passed close to him. He also heard the sickening smack when they found a human body to reside in. The man immediately to his right turned and shouted, “my God!” Then the his head exploded as a musketball impacted. He kept going, had to keep moving, his legs began to move faster, first into a jog, then into a run. If he could get there before they reloaded to fire another volley he’d be able to get at them.

He suddenly slipped and fell, cursing as he skinned his knees and caught a mouthfull of dirt. But that fall had just saved his life, he heard an English officer’s voice shouting the orders: “Make ready! Present! Fire!” He stayed down and listened as the largest swarm of angry bees he’d ever heard went over his head. He looked back and saw the line waver as the balls struck home, whole swaths of blue and red clad infantrymen fell or disappeared as the English fire tore into them. He tried to get up, but was knocked back to the earth by a blast of air from above him. As his mind managed to refocus he realized that he’d just barely avoided having his head taken off by a solid shot from an English cannon. Damn unfriendly neighborhood here, a voice in his head said whimsically.

He stayed down, trying to inch his way back towards his own lines. The ground around him was ripped as musket balls hit all about. Apparently the English wanted him to stay where he was, so, like any good soldier, he stayed where the hell he was. He tried to make himself as small a target as he could, whilst also asking God or whatever supreme being there was to make him invisible. Now, there’s a funny thing about God apparently, he decided at that moment, he doesn’t hear too well, nor does he grant wishes for those who get cut off from their own lines far too close to British lines, strange thing.

He covered the priming pan of his musket with his hand, trying to keep the powder in and the debris being thrown about in the air out. He counted as the British poured volley upon volley of fire into his comrades. There was sporadic musket fire from the French troops, discipline not being abundant in the French Army of the Republic, it was more like water in the desert. He managed to glance back over his shoulder and saw the red and blue uniforms of France falling back, many remained on the ground, some writhing in agony, others still. He cursed the general who had ordered them to attack, then the British for trying to kill him, then himself for volunteering for this insanity.

He lay there for awhile as the British stopped shooting, dozing off from exhaustion and his adrenaline coming down. When he awoke it was dark, the light of cannonfire from the English ships in the harbour flashing like lightning, the reports sounding like thunder. That was when he decided that he didn’t like thunderstorms anymore. He slowly turned himself around and began to crawl back towards his own lines. As he did so he crawled through the bodies of the men who’d never be going back again. He tried to gingerly pick his way through the maze of corpses, occasionally sticking his hand in something foul smelling that he hoped like hell wasn’t what he knew it was.

He was about twenty feet from the French lines when a hand grabbed his cartridge belt. He almost yelled as he fealt the tug on it. Then came a voice, babbling on in nonsense and getting louder and louder as it spoke. He hissed at the poor wretch to be quiet, or they’d both be killed, the man wouldn’t listen. He was beyond rational thought at this point, his wounds too painful to bear anymore. The man sat up and in a flash of cannon fire from the ships he saw that the man’s lower jaw had been blown away by a musketball, leaving a horrible spectacle in it’s wake. He tried to grab the poor man’s coat and pull him back down, but the man twisted away from him, shouting as best he could. Then there was the pop of a single musket, the terrifying zip as it passed over his head, then the sickening smack as it hit the man right in the heart. He grunted and fell backward, arms limply out to his sides as he went.

The shot had come from the English lines, he crawled faster and found himself just below the parapet of the French artillery position. He whispered over who he was so he wouldn’t get shot, and was grateful when they helped pull him over the low wall protecting the cannon. They gave him some wine and a little to eat, he was surprised he could still eat after all he’d seen that day, only wishing to wash off his hands so he didn’t think about what might get on the food.

After he’d eaten and told them what had happened a sergeant took him back to what had once been someone’s farm house. He stepped inside, his musket slung over his shoulder, and saw the young artillery officer sitting at a table looking at an artist’s renditions of the men in the artillery battery he commanded. “This is very good. Now, go on out so I may speak with this soldier.” He said, his accent obvious to anyone who had learned their French in France. He stood up and came around the table, holding out his hand. “You are a brave man, soldier.” He said, waiting for him to grasp his hand and shake it firmly. “Coporal Francois Couvrettes, sir. I got stuck out there during the attack and couldn’t make my way back here until night fell.” Francois said, not sure what to expect next. “Yes, damn fool attack too.” The young officer mused as if to himself. “Oh, pardon me, I am Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte, from Corsica.” He said. Francois nodded his head, that’s where he knew the accent from. “Were I in charge we would not have wasted those men so foolishly, alas, I am not.” Bonaparte said, anger filling his voice at the loss of men in the attack. “Well, sir, I’d follow you, and I’m sure others would too. You’d be better than the damn fool we have.” Francois replied, instantly liking this officer even more than he had before for arguing with the general. He seemed to have a good head for tactics, and he seemed to genuinely care about the enlisted men in this army. Both were areas the commanding general, who was constantly surrounded by Bureau of Public Safety men when he was behind the lines, lacked. Yes, he thought to himself as Bonaparte and he spoke for three hours, men would follow this man. If only he could be made a general somehow.

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