Karl Wollherz had ridden with the Prinzengarde before, and enjoyed it, even though neither Andreas nor Wilchin were with him this time to share his happiness.His contentment was not so much with the adult company, but for the happy communion it involved with Brunhild and her people.Whatever the soldiers thought their regiment was and how it worked, Karl knew better.Underlying it was a rich equine society of companionship, affection and competition.
He had long found horses to be rather nicer than people, and when their queen Brunhild came among them the innocent devotion they gave to her, and through her to him, was overwhelming.He shared in their joy in the scents of the air, the physical elation of powerful bodies in motion and their restless alertness to everything about them.So he happily trotted along without too much attention to what the lords Serge and Mehmed were discussing up ahead of him.
This changed when they came down from the hills and into the Alauthendaal.Brunhild’s ears pricked as she conveyed to him that many more horses were ahead, something the state of the road also began to indicate to Karl.She began feeling out the familiar traces amongst them and concluded that there were three regiments, though to her they were more like herd communities, and provinces of her empire.Then she snorted and twitched her ears, a sign to Karl that she was both puzzled and curious.Before he could probe deeper into her mind, a challenge came from up ahead out of the dusk.The Prinzengarde had reached the camp of the cavalry brigade.
The Prinzengarde were ordered to fall in along the road while Lords Serge and Mehmed went forward, taking with them a file of cuirassiers.Karl didn’t need to nudge Brunhild onward, for there was something ahead that she wanted to investigate, and so she tagged along after Erebus and Acheron without any say-so.
Lord Serge reached a pavilion and dismounted, while Mehmed and Karl and the troopers stayed in the saddle.Two men emerged whom Karl recognised very well, General Dudley and Colonel Barkozy.He quite liked the colonel and approved of the way he had brought on Boro, but there was something about the general that had always made him cautious, and not just because he had picked up Lord Serge’s ambivalence towards the man.Whatever it was seemed to be present in full force that day.Not only that, but he sensed that Brunhild shared his feeling.This was odd, because although Karl had what Jonas had called the ‘clear sight’, Brunhild didn’t as far as he knew, so her disquiet arose from a different source, the one Karl named to himself as ‘herd danger’.
Karl leaned forward in his saddle as the exchange began between his master and the general.
‘It took a while to catch up with you, Dudley,’ Serge began, ‘almost as if you didn’t want to be caught.’
‘Speed is important, my lord, if I’m to be of use to the prince tomorrow.’
‘And how is that, sir?You are about as far away from the action as it’s possible to get in one day!’
Dudley frowned. ‘I think I’m a better judge of that, young man.Why are you here?Not that reinforcements aren’t welcome.I assume you have been sent to further strengthen my brigade.’
‘Quite the contrary.Robert Dudley Bard, I am here in the name of King Rudolf to arrest you for high treason to the realm of Ruritania and conspiracy to assassinate the Crown Prince.’
Dudley stared, and then laughed. ‘This is nonsense!My God, you’re serious!Barkozy, look at this child presuming to come between me and my duty!’
Lorenz Barkozy was looking increasingly uncomfortable. ‘There’s some mistake here, Sergius,’ he asserted weakly. ‘How can the general possibly be a traitor?He’s been a good servant to the king and the prince.’
‘Nonetheless, I have a warrant for his arrest.You men, seize the general.Don’t interfere, colonel.You are already in peril for departing your post without leave of your prince.’
A number of things happened at that point.Karl noticed a swift shift in Dudley’s expression, from amusement to annoyance and then to something quite different, as if with some relief he were shedding a weight.Brunhild stirred under Karl and gave a shake of her head and a whinny which was more like a growl.The other horses however screamed as if a leopard had jumped in among them; they reared and backed away.The troopers fell under their flailing hooves and, struggling to master Acheron, Mehmed was borne away into the dark, cursing, Erebus following his stablemate Acheron.That left Serge alone and unsupported with Barkozy’s sword at his throat.
‘You are an interfering fool, Sergius.We have a little time now. Lorenz, go and get mounted up.You know where you have to go.Get to it.’Dudley turned back to Serge. He had a pistol in his hand, the twin of the one Anton von Gerlitz had used in his attempt on Prince Henry’s life.
‘Now sir, I am tied to your family by some blood debts so I shall not at this point remove your life, but I can’t have you interfering in my plans.Look sir, into my eyes.You will experience no pain, though I fear your intellects may not survive intact.Perhaps just as well, you’re too damned clever by half.’
Unwilling, Serge’s eyes were drawn to the man, who was making some passes with his left hand in front of his face and muttering swift words.Serge shook his head and then his face went blank.
Karl, disregarded by Dudley, became aware of something unpleasantly familiar in the air, as Brunhild continued to growl under him, resisting the force that the man had deployed to send the others of her people fleeing.There was the taint of power in the earthly air belonging to an elemental of the World Beyond, and not just any elemental.It was the same aura which the Guardian of the Well had given off.Karl realised something needed to be done, and Brunhild was just as aware of the source of the man’s power as he was.She flashed into his mind a vision of Andreas, defiant as he stood before the advancing elemental in Fäerie.
A surge of quiet power built up in Karl as he summoned the strength that had been placed inside him by the Lady Fenice.The time had come to see what it was he was capable of.He remembered that Jonas had told him that unlike others he did not need to use words and spells to summon power from outside, but that it was inside him ready to be used should he so will it.
The boy bent forward in his saddle and, just like Andreas as he bravely advanced on that hideous power he had made to quail before his pure courage, so now Karl silently hurled himself into mental combat with the force which he could feel crushing his friend and lord’s being.He effortlessly undid its grip and cast it howling into the void. Serge collapsed to the ground.Then Karl turned his own native power on the man who had summoned the elemental.
‘What in the name of all the hells!’ Too late, Dudley shifted his gaze to the boy staring at him with eyes that all unknown to Karl glowed with the light of Fäerie.
‘You!It was you we sensed.The servant boy from Engelngasse?What are you?How could you banish Mammon the Insatiable, Lord of Passions, chiefest of spirits?’
Karl grinned down at the man as Brunhild settled beneath him.‘Ain’t the chiefest of spirits, mister.There’re bigger and better ones.We sent that one running before, so it’s twice the Conduit has beat his arse. You’d ‘ave thought he’d learned by now.’
‘What are you talking of?Do not dare to come between me and my prey.I was taught my art by Askarius Magnus, the greatest mage of the West in this age of the world.’
Karl suddenly felt the laughter of Jonas Niemand bubbling up inside him, and understood something of its source at last, for it was the fearlessness of one who has no need to fear anything or anyone.He chuckled to himself. ‘It’s just words, mister.But it’s in the heart where real power lies, and you got none.You sold it for gold, like the old Graf, and look how that turned out.’
Dudley reeled back, aghast. ‘Then you can only be Him, He whose name is not to be spoken!The Eternal Shining Child of the Dawn.The Accuser.The Horned One.’
The man in panic fired his pistol blindly up at Karl, who whatever his courage unfortunately was made of all too mortal flesh.He fell from the saddle as the bullet struck him, Brunhild rearing up in fury then coming pawing down to crush Dudley, but the general had taken to his heels and ran into the dark as shouts and yells filled the camp.
Prince Henry looked up once again from the captured despatches Andreas Wittig had brought him.‘So Antonovic, it appears that General Gumpp was made aware by Munich of traitors in our camp and that an attempt would be made on my life.Not that it would have done Dudley much good had it succeeded.Max of Bavaria seems not to have intended to meet his price.I quote: “The bastard Dudley is to be apprehended and confined as soon as is convenient to you.He is to be tried immediately for conspiring to murder a prince of blood royal, and convicted by the proofs this letter contains.No consideration is to prevent his immediate execution, his guilt being proven by his own hand.’
‘Put not your trust in princes, nor in any son of man, in whom there is no help,’ the general observed.
‘What’s that, Antonovic?Some quotation there.Would that Lord Sergius were here.’
‘He would tell you that it’s from the second and third verses of Psalm 145, sire.’
‘We were as sadly taken in by the man Dudley as he was by Elector Max, royal highness,’ the general agreed.
‘Oh yes, and it’s not just Dudley who’s been fooling us.Here is a list of the nobles of Mittenheim who have had conversations with Count Landsberg in the past six months and who have signified that they would not be unhappy to see the duchy in Bavarian hands.Gumpp is urged to take care their lands are not pillaged if it is at all avoidable.
‘Well, well.I had thought we were making some headway in this duchy, but it seems we Elphbergs are still not to their taste.The Graf von Gerlitz is high on the list, I see.When all is done, there shall be a full reckoning with that house.That fool Anton was not just taken in by Dudley, he had his father urging him on.An expendable younger son, no doubt.’
The general, a Rothenian from Neder Husbrau, shrugged. ‘You might remember, sire, that your grandfather’s decisive way with the Mittenheimer nobility back in ’43 is in part to blame for this.At his order Von Gerlitz’s father and two uncles swung by their necks from the gallows in the market place as a result of the rebellion.He and his fellows will never love the Elphbergs.’
‘And yet grandfather did not deprive the family of their lands.It seems that mercy is not always appreciated.’The prince scowled to himself.
A hard slap across his right cheek brought Serge groping back to consciousness.An impatient Mehmed was frowning into his face. ‘This is no time to be on your back, infidel.All hell’s broken loose ... in the literal sense, perhaps.’
‘Dudley and his creature have escaped into the night, and the camp is in an uproar.Only you can save the day.’
‘But what happened?’
‘What do you remember?’
Serge sat up, finding he had a piercing headache. ‘Not much.I was telling Dudley he was under arrest then ... it was odd.A blackness filled my mind and it was as if my very soul was being crushed.Was it an apoplexy?My head aches!Someone must have struck me.’
‘Yes me, just now.Your servant boy has been shot.I rather think it may have been he who saved you, though I have no idea how.All I do know is that the devil was at large in this place for a moment and the boy mastered it.’
Serge decided he was not going to waste time arguing with the Turk’s superstitions.He struggled to his feet.A knot of soldiers were gathered around Karl, who was sitting on the ground, a surgeon attending to his wound.Brunhild was standing over the boy.Several senior officers were arguing off to one side.First he went to Karl, and found him pale and in some pain.
The surgeon looked up and smiled. ‘The boy’s buff coat took the force of the bullet, which is of a small calibre and lodged there.He’ll have a very nasty bruise and he needs to keep his left arm in a sling, but he’ll live.’
‘Can you get up, Karl?’
‘Yes, my lord.Sorry.But them two got away.Me and Brunhild tried to stop ‘em, but they was too quick.’
‘And you came off the worse.Well done for trying anyway.’
‘So the boy lives,’ Mehmed said tiredly. ‘Now, with your tender conscience about an insignificant servant boy satisfied, can we get on with the main business?Those colonels over there are in a pointless debate over who now commands the brigade.So it would seem that Dudley may get his way about delaying our movements even though he has been thwarted.Get over there, and do something.’
‘Technically, they probably do outrank me, Mehmed.Also I had no orders about what to do with the brigade once I’d apprehended Dudley.’
‘Well, nothing committed to writing anyway.Prince Henry was too rushed to get round to that.’
Mehmed stared up at the emerging stars and let out a string of curses against the stupidity of mankind, which though delivered in Turkish seemed pretty dire to Serge.Wincing from the pain in his head, he made his way to the huddle of colonels.He gathered himself.He would need all his skills to navigate this difficulty.
‘Gentlemen,’ he began, all too aware that he was an eighteen-year-old youth with little military standing before three experienced regimental commanders. ‘I take it you’re aware of what just transpired and why?’
Brassinger, lieutenant-colonel of the Dragoons of Mittenheim, seemed very annoyed. ‘No sir, I am not.We had a day’s hard riding in a move that General Dudley assured us would put us in a position to descend on the Bavarian flank, which he also assured us was the prince’s intent.And now, sir, the man is fled and Colonel Barkozy with him. What am I to make of it, eh? eh?And as senior field officer present, I am being told sir, that I am now to defer to your direction, a youth wet behind his ears, with an unearned rank and some very suspect connections, as I understand.’
Von Friedland, the commander of his own regiment of Ruritanian horse, bridled. ‘Heh, Brassinger! Have a care.You may have more service under your saddle than the rest of us but my regiment is my own.I hold it by no lieutenancy.And sir, I will not hear you impugn the loyalty of a youth of the highest Ruritanian nobility.His father and I are good friends.That so, Sergius?’
‘Gentlemen, please listen,’ Serge rejoined. ‘Colonel Brassinger is perfectly correct about the wetness behind my ears.But sirs, I ask you to believe what I am convinced of: with men of your experience and courage around to advise me, I won’t put a foot wrong. But we must execute His Royal Highness’s orders to round upon the Bavarians and that with all speed.The prince is outnumbered and has placed himself between the enemy and the city of Mittenheim.Even with our help his situation will be a bad one tomorrow.It is regrettable that a youth of my limited experience has to lead this brigade, but I am Lord High Marshal of Mittenheim, and if it is my right to command that troubles you, none here may gainsay that rank.’
‘What sir?’ Brassinger bristled. ‘But that was the middle ages when the Lord High Marshal led the armed host of Mittenheim.’
‘But he’s right, Brassinger,’ pronounced the third colonel, Von Paull of the Dragoons of Ebersfeld. ‘The boy’s uncle’s Marshal of Ruritania, and he sits of the Army Board at the top of the table, or he would do if he hadn’t sold the marshalcy for a term of ten years to old General Witzec.Now Witzec calls himself Field Marshal Lieutenant of Ruritania, has invented a uniform for himself more gold lace than cloth and rides round with a blue and gold baton, the old fool.He declares he ranks with the Field Marshals of the Austrians.So there you have it, if you have to play games with status.’
‘Preposterous!’ snarled Brassinger, though whether the comment was directed at Serge or at Witzec was unclear. Serge chose to be charitable.
‘Gentlemen.I appreciate that the column must rest, and dawn is in six hours.We must be on the road before first light.I assume we are agreed as to that?’
The colonels didn’t seem to want to dispute that point.
‘Then sirs, I will suggest that the best way we can assist our prince is not to retrace our route, nor is it to carry on up this valley, for its walls grow more steep and climbing out of it will be too much labour.’
‘What do you suggest then?’ asked Von Paull.
‘We must climb over to the next valley to the west and ride up to its head.It leads gently on up past the Vahnensee and into the wolds of the Eberstenwald, which I understand is good cavalry country.Though the way is hilly and roads are few, we can take an arc directly west and so come down into the valley of the Ebrendt in a position in which we may be useful to our friends.Colonels Brassinger and Von Paull know this land.Is that route practicable, or is there a better?’
After several harrumphs but no ideas from Brassinger and some support from Von Paull, the route was agreed.Troopers on the freshest horses that could be found were sent to retrace their route through the night and bear news to Mittenheim, but there was no chance they could reach the prince before battle was joined above the city.
‘Of course,’ said Mehmed as the pair went to see to their mounts and find somewhere to sleep, ‘were this my army, I would have had the old fool of a colonel decapitated, and that would have been the end of the argument.’
‘Hardly merciful,’ Serge sniffed. ‘I thought you were claiming your Ottoman ways were less barbaric.’
‘I was talking in general terms.In the bad situation we are in, I would tolerate no imbecile disputing my authority before my face.’
‘Yes, well.We differ there.We officers are all gentleman in our king’s service and our views must be shown consideration.’
‘What a waste of time.You were however deft in manipulating them, I give you credit for that. Your Hövescheit, as you call it, is a skilful weapon, even if it is essentially dishonesty with a smiling face.’
‘You and Willi share something.He says much the same, though with more tolerance.’
‘So all is agreed. Excellent. And now I must sleep.Since we have only a short night ahead of us and that boy of yours is injured, perhaps you might deal with my horse.’
‘I could have you decapitated for that suggestion,’ Serge retorted, and Mehmed went off into the dark snorting with laughter.
Somehow Willi von Strelsau couldn’t shake the mysterious Wilchin off that evening, and he wasn’t sure he necessarily wanted to.The imp knew so much and although Willi suspected he was only hearing a small amount of what the boy could tell him, what little he did let slip was fascinating.
‘What if I did offer you a post as a groom in my as-yet-nonexistent household?I suppose I need one.’
Wilchin was perched on one of the armchairs of Willi’s bedchamber in the Residenz.Candles were lit now, and it was dark outside.
‘You’re serious?’ the boy was clearly surprised. ‘I was only joking earlier, yer knows.’
‘So what if I am?’
Wilchin frowned. ‘Well ... there’s a problem.I’m sorta already employed by Jonas, as his local agent, if yer knows what I mean.’
‘No I don’t.How much does he pay you?’
‘In money?Not a pfennig.But money ain’t the issue wiv Jonas.He’s me biggest ever mate.I owes him so much.’
Willi pondered. ‘Well, suppose for the sake of argument that the elf was a relation of yours for whom you did odd jobs for the sake of affection, but got nothing back other than the occasional meal.Would that stop you taking up regular employment with a salary, and just doing him the odd favour now and then?’
Wilchin frowned. ‘S’pose not,’ he finally concluded, ‘but yer gotta let me go when Jonas calls, yer knows that, right?And I can end it wivout a term of notice.’
‘So that’s a yes?’
‘Good.In that case, get off my upholstery.Servants ask permission before sitting in their employer’s presence.Now.I suppose we need to fit you out properly.Fortunately that’s easy enough here.’
Willi poked his head out the door and called for a house steward.When the man arrived he was instructed to take Wilchin and fit him out properly in the Elphberg green livery as a groom of the household.
The man looked down his nose at a grinning Wilchin. ‘With silver or gold lace, your excellency?’
‘I think we’ll go for silver.He’s to be of my privy household, but can’t claim to be noble unless something very strange is in his background.What’s your proper name, child?’
‘Willem Antonin, my lord.’
‘Well there.Have him entered on the books of the royal household for the time being, with table privileges.I want him fully fitted out by morning; three sets of livery and assign him a mare from the stables.I take it you ride, boy?’
‘Yes me lord.Quite good at it.Karlo’s Brunhild gave me lessons.’
‘The damned horse!There’s another story I’ve yet to hear. When you’re properly fitted and we’ve both had some very necessary sleep, your first job tomorrow is to get us both packed and ready to leave on a moment’s notice.One way or other all of us will be on the move tomorrow.’
Captain the Freiherr Andreas Wittig von Bernenstein was the commander of the only detachment of the Prinzengarde to be with the army above Mittenheim, so he presumed to make dispositions for the Crown Prince’s security and detailed his half company to mount guard on the prince’s pavilion through the night.So when the time came for Prince Henry’s lever as the dawn sky began to lighten the sky to the east and the birds began their chatter, he himself took the basin of hot water that was brought across by his sergeant, and went into the pavilion to find the prince stirring in his camp bed.
‘Your royal highness,’ he said softly. ‘The stars are fading and the day is begun.’
The prince sat up, and Andreas put his previous skills as a domestic page to work. He found the prince rather more alert first thing than Boromeo von Tarlenheim, his previous charge, ever had been, and easier to dress.
‘Quite a day ahead of us, my lord,’ the prince said as Andreas carefully fitted his lace fall and settled his baldric. ‘And where’s my damned coffee?’
‘I believe on its way, sire, despite the difficulties.’
‘We need to be fit and ready this morning.I have a feeling that we’ll have had our fill of sword play by nightfall, those of us who live to see it.’ The prince’s eyes gleamed. ‘We’ve not yet exercised together, have we captain?’
‘Er ... no, sire.’
‘Well then.Leave off my hat.We’ll use the lawn outside.’
So Andreas followed the prince out into the grey dawn, where the camp was stirring.A red arc of the sun peeped over the distant horizon.Grey smoke was spiralling up from the Bavarian camp below them and a mist filled the hollows of the woods and fields of the landscape the dawn was revealing.
The prince drew his rapier and then stared. ‘You are not seriously going to use that ancient infantry sabre for fencing?’
‘It’s what I’m used to, sire.Lord Mehmed didn’t complain on the field of Basovizza.’
‘Impudent youth,’ the prince grinned, and checked his pocket watch. ‘I hope you may amuse me for longer than the two minutes I usually get from my opponents.En garde then.’
Swords clashed and flickered, as a small crowd of servants and soldiers gathered to watch the prince’s skill and applaud.The two young men lunged and parried and it soon became clear to the interested onlookers that though the prince had the advantage in balance and technique, and could keep Andreas’s blade at a distance, whenever he was in a position to launch a prise au fer, his favoured method which on occasion might end in his depriving an opponent of his blade, somehow Andreas’s sabre was always unexpectedly in his way, and with a startling quickness, following which the prince had to disengage.
After five minutes of this, the prince called ‘Arrêt!’He dropped his blade and contemplated the youth who had fended him off for more than twice as long as most of his opponents managed to do.‘Well done, captain,’ he said, ‘though forgive me for saying, I was left wondering precisely who I was fighting.’
‘I got the distinction impression that it was the sword doing the fighting, not the man holding it.’
‘Er ... sire?’
‘Let me take a look at that blade of yours.’
A little reluctantly, Andreas handed his sword over.The prince took it curiously, hefted and spun it.‘Had I the time, I would try this bout again, with the weapons exchanged.However we have more pressing business.’He looked around the fascinated onlookers. ‘Council of war in ten minutes, after coffee.’
The deliberations of the council were brief, General Antonovic summing their position up succinctly. ‘We sit across the road to the city between two artillery forts.We cannot be outflanked and we have the advantage of height.But we are woefully outnumbered from what Captain von Bernenstein had to tell us: three line regiments and assorted companies and militia to their ten, not to mention their horse.Eventually we will be dislodged.The question is how ready the Bavarians are to take the necessary number of casualties, which will be prodigious.I spent the night making sure our front was additionally protected by chevaux de frise and earthworks.Such is our position that our field guns can be positioned behind our lines to fire down over the heads of our men on to advancing infantry.’
‘Then it’s a matter of time,’ the prince said. ‘Any news from my lord Von Tarlenheim, general?’
‘I’m afraid not, sire.But despatches have arrived from your father in Strelsau.I presumed to open them, sire.He is mustering an army in the capital, and has hopes that Glottenburg will answer his plea for help.But there is no chance that he can come to our aid within a week.His Majesty advises, but does not command, that we withdraw within the lines and stand a siege of the city.’
‘Admit it, Antonovic, you agree with my father.’
The general looked uncomfortable. ‘Forgive me, your royal highness, but if we shelter our forces within the city’s fortifications we most likely could stand the Bavarians off for long enough for His Majesty to come to our relief.’
‘Well said, general, and do not think this more cautious strategy has not occurred to me.But assume the worst, that we are defeated here and the cavalry brigade fails to arrive to help.With some luck the remnants of our army can still retreat on the city, where there are enough artillerymen, veterans and pensioners to hold it long enough that we can hope the king will find it still resisting when he arrives.Our horse will still be in the field and can join up with my father’s forces.But in the meantime I am calculating that the losses the Bavarians suffer up here on the ridge will be so horrendous as to cripple their offensive and mean they can do little other than sit outside the city.’
General Antonovic sighed and nodded. ‘Then sire, do your best to avoid getting killed, or the Elector Max will achieve his aim without taking Mittenheim, for he will then be the right heir to the duchy.’
Dawn found Serge’s brigade already climbing the slopes up out of the Alauthendaal.He looked back at the dark ranks of the column behind him as the sun began to light up the slope of the valley.By the time he reached the crest of the slope the sun had cleared the horizon, and the Vahnensee below glinted in the morning light, the myriad waterfowl that made their home there circling in huge flocks above the waters.
‘Time to start making some haste,’ he commented to Mehmed. ‘We’ll take this track down to the lakeside at whatever speed we can and then let the horses take water and rest, but only briefly.’
‘It’s towards those rounded grey hills we’re heading, yes?’ asked the pasha.
‘That’s right.The Eberstenwald.The wolds march directly westward and join the ridge north of the city of Mittenheim.’
The Turk pondered the hills, and grunted meditatively.He had adopted Western uniform other than his chelengk, the bejewelled spray taken from his turban which took the place of the black and white cockade of Ruritania in other hats.It had been returned to him by favour of the prince and permission of Andreas Wittig.
Mehmed had rather taken to the uniform of a Ruritanian general officer, and so had got Serge to have a version of the major general’s made for him to wear around court, though without the insignia.It had amused Prince Henry a lot when he wore it about the palace, though not his generals.When Serge had commented on this, Mehmed had snorted in reply ‘So far as I can work out the equivalences of rank, I’m entitled to the uniform of the full general.They should appreciate my modesty more.’
The great column crested the wolds before mid morning.It was clear weather, with small clouds scudding in the wind from the west, blowing in their faces.Swelling green slopes lay before them.
Karl, riding at the rear of the Prinzengarde with his left arm stiffly bound to his side, asked Brunhild how she and her people liked this land, and received a pleased response approving the springy turf beneath their hoofs and the freedom to gallop under an open sky.As they climbed the first ridge and he looked back down on the Vahnensee, a subdued grumbling roar reached his ear.Karl was by now experienced in military life, and had no difficulty recognising the sound of a cannonade ahead of them in the blue distance.