The night of August 20-21, south the village of Vimeiro, Portugal
A gust of wind blew softly from the sea, bringing with it the scent of ozone and fish. It ran through the trees in a whispering wave. The night had cooled down the day’s heat, but it still lingered like dust on the uniforms of the six Englishmen sitting still among the trees.
There were four men of the 50th Foot Regiment along with their corporal and the sergeant, spread out in a line across the length of the copse. They had been sitting still for no more than half an hour, and already Sgt Armstrong could detect the occasional sigh and shift. If three months in Portuguese heat chasing and dodging the French had not taught the men discipline, by God, their sergeant would, as soon as they made it back to camp.
Like any stalk, this hunt could turn out to be uneventful and inglorious. That was no excuse for lagging vigilance. If the enemy were to send a scout from the south, he would come through here. The more visible patrols in the open fields were something of an obvious feint, but between the certainty of discovery and the likelihood of it, Armstrong himself would have chosen the trees.
The rustling of the foliage had passed, but there was still a sound, though faint, at their flank. Armstrong’s ears pricked up and he shifted slowly to his feet, flexing a leg that had fallen asleep while he crouched. For a big man, he could move quietly when needed. He motioned for the corporal, who turned his head. He could see the man’s shadow nod slowly.
Clouds moved aside and moonlight dappled the forest floor. Armstrong saw the corporal twitch, and then he heard the bang. The enemy had seen the motion too.
Armstrong cursed under his breath, blew a quick loud whistle and ducked behind a tree. There was a series of clicks and rustles as British rifles were readied and leveled in the direction of the shot. Pray it be only one man–he would be dead soon.