Sevastopol, Crimea

It was cold, the ground crunching under their boots as they went about their duties. The fog hung low over the ground as he finally decided to brave the cold, unwrapping himself from the blankets he had slept in. His body was stiff as he attempted to stretch out, he managed to make it to his feet after a few moments and began stomping his feet as he moved back and forth. The warmth slowly came back to most of his body. He slowly bent down and folded his blankets, placing them in his pack, otherwise someone else would steal them.

He inhaled deeply and blew down the barrel of his rifle musket which was coated in frost. He took a piece of old cloth he’d found and wrapped it about the end of the ramrod. He slowly and deliberately worked it down the barrel, twisting gently so as not to leave the cloth behind. As he did so he noticed a small group of English Artillerymen with maps, binoculars and other instruments trying to peer thru the fog.

He watched half interestedly as they tried to go about their work. He slowly withdrew the ramrod and cloth. His mind wandered to that golden place that was only across the vast sea. Home for him was in Virginia, on one of the many peninsulas along the Chesapeake Bay. He could  remember the summer breeze coming off the water as he fished in the Bay. The memories made that place seem so close to him now, the sun burning his skin, the sweet smell of the sea, the boyish longing for the adventure of exploring what lay just over the horizon.

He twisted a corner of the cloth and gently fed it thru the nipple and worked it about, drying the moisture out. Then he quietly made a small show of folding the cloth as if he were a magician folding the never-ending handkerchief. The enlisted amongst the English Artillerymen noticed and watched his little dramatic show. He smiled and made it all the more dramatic by spinning the cloth about by two corners held one above the other. He finished his production and placed it in a small pouch where he kept his cleaning cloth and other cleaning tools.

 “‘Ey, Frenchie, whatcha doin’?” Asked one of the enlisted men, a private if he wasn’t mistaken about the insignia. “Frost in the barrel, thaw it, clean the moisture out, then the powder stays dry, and when you pull the trigger it does more than fizzle.” The Artillery Sergeant smiled, he’d begun his career in the Infantry and knew well the tricks of keeping your weapon in working order. “Well, now what you gonna do?” Asked the private. He opened a cartridge box and withdrew a paper cartridge. “Loading.” He said, voice betraying how senseless the man sounded to him. He brought the cartridge to his mouth and tore it open, spitting the torn off piece out of his mouth. He poured the powder down the barrel, holding the ball just out of the muzzle. He jammed it down with his thumb atop the powder, removing his ramrod and sliding it into position just over the ball. He pushed down, seating the ball home atop the powder. He then replaced the ramrod under the barrel and brought his musket up and held it across his lap. “Now what you doin’?” Asked the private again. “Won’t fire without a percussion cap to set it off.” He said, removing one from another pouch on his belt, as he placed it in the nipple of the lock mechanism he looked at the private seriously. “Thought you Artillery blokes were supposed to be smart.” He said, fighting words any other time, but not with this one. The Sergeant could tell by looking at him, this one was a killer. “Right, enough mucking about with the Frogs, eyes front!” The Sergeant commanded, waiting until the other men obeyed, then turning slightly and saluting. He returned the salute and began to sharpen his bayonet. “Sergeant McCann, Royal Army Artillery Corps.” The Englishman said. “Corporal Francois Dubois, French Foreign Legion Eighth Infantry Regiment.”

As McCann went back to trying to peer through the fog a gap appeared and he saw the Russian fortifications on a hill, a hill that Dubois and his comrades would have to take. “Thru the early morning fog I see, visions of things to be.” McCann muttered to himself. Apparently one man had heard him. “Pains that are withheld from me, I realize and I can see.” Dubois sighed, he’d overheard the Colonel at the officer’s meeting last night, the attack would be launched around noon today. If the fog cleared enough there would be an hour’s worth of preparatory artillery bombardment, regardless the attack would occur. McCann met his eyes, yes, Dubois was a killer, but the greatest killers were those with the gold lace and epaulettes. He shivered, many a good boy would die before the end of the day. McCann vowed to himself to make sure that at least some artillery was in support of them.

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