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He monitored the men as in groups of four they started moving back. Not crawling on their hands and knees. Not walking. To do that would make them sitting targets. As he had done moments before, they crawled on their bellies keeping their weapons just above their heads.
His band of sixty men had been reduced to just over forty three days ago when they’d been ambushed. Juan still wondered how any of them had come out of that skirmish alive. Now he watched the survivors make for the small incline in the distance. How many men would survive long enough to welcome the end of the day?
The whistle and crump of another shell reduced the number by another six. They had to reach and cross the bridge before his brother’s men shelled it. He crawled to the dead, passed the rifles and ammunition to the living and moved on. Two of the injured were taken up by their colleagues. More like dragged along by their colleagues, Juan thought.
Inch by inch he advanced towards the knoll. Mud clung to his jacket and britches, his boots felt like lead weights holding him down, holding him back.
And the rain!
It took several minutes for him to realise the pounding of shells had stopped.
“Do you think they’ve had enough?”
The croak beside him came from his second in command, Jim. Dismissed, through injury, from the English army, Jimmy Smith had insisted in returning to Spain with him. Now wracked with a cough that had steadily worsened over the last week, he could hardly breathe let alone talk.
“Not them.” Juan spat out a wad of mud he’d almost swallowed. “Let’s make the most of our reprieve.” He grabbed Jim by the arm and half pulled and half carried him to the rear of their sparse covering.
While those who’d made it recovered, Juan assessed the distance left to reach the bridge. Dare he risk more men in trying to get there in daylight? What option did he have? The fact his brother’s men had ceased their asault may mean they were even now manoeuvring to better attack his men if they attempted to cross the river.
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