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The Darkest Hour

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Colonel William De Lancey is utterly exhausted but the last thing he wants to do is sleep. He rubs his eyes and turns his attention back to the map in front of him, squinting to bring the writing into focus and stop the contours from jumping around on the page. He knows it probably isn’t a good idea to plan routes for the next day’s march when he can barely keep his eyes open but he needs something to occupy his mind. Grant has been gone too long and there has been no news for weeks. He tries not to think about the fates that could befall a man alone in the mountains. He looks out the window and sees dark clouds beginning to cover the moon.


Major Colquhoun Grant is utterly exhausted but the last thing he wants to do is sleep. He’s been riding almost nonstop for three days and nights to catch up with the Army and bring Lord Wellington news of Soult’s latest manoeuvres. Stopping to rest is not an option so he digs his heels into his horse’s flanks and urges her onward through the deepening gloom. He’s been gone too long and he knows battles have been fought in his absence. He tries not to think about the lives that may have been lost. He raises his eyes to the sky and sees dark clouds beginning to cover the moon.


De Lancey closes his eyes for a second but opens them with a start as his mind is assailed by visions of mortality. Treacherous mountain passes made unstable by the recent rain, where a man or horse can easily lose their footing and plummet to a lonely and unmarked death on the rocks far below. Narrow ravines that provide the perfect opportunity for an ambush. Desperate guerrillas turning on a man who insists he’s a friend because a soldier is a soldier after all and who’s to say the British will have any more respect for their land and people than the French bastards who raped their women and burned their homes to the ground.

He shudders and forces himself to remain calm. There’s nothing he can do but wait.


Grant closes his eyes for a second but opens them with a start as he feels his horse stumble on the slippery path. He holds his breath and watches the dislodged stones tumble down into the crevasse by the side of the track. Hopes the noise hasn’t given away his position to any enemy spies who might be nearby. Thinks about the dangers that could lurk around every corner and wonders again what he will find when he reaches the town.

He shudders and forces himself to remain calm. There’s nothing he can do but ride on.


De Lancey picks up a lamp and wanders through the silent house until he comes to the dining room where the remnants of the evening meal have not yet been cleared away. He grabs a cup of cold coffee and begins to make his way back to his quarters. He pauses as he passes the room that he assigned to Grant and knocks on the door out of habit before he pushes it open. He walks over to the bed and smiles to himself as he lifts a neatly folded shirt to his face and breathes in the comforting scent. Closes his eyes and whispers a heartfelt wish.


Grant picks up a lamp and wanders away from the stables until he comes to the row of buildings where the officers have been billeted for the night. He reaches a door with his name chalked on it in a familiar hand and enters the silent house. He pauses when he finds the room that has been assigned to him and frowns as he notices the door is slightly ajar before he pushes it open. He walks over to the bed and smiles to himself as he brushes an errant curl from the forehead of the sleeping figure. Closes his eyes and kisses the parted lips.


De Lancey opens his eyes and reaches out to touch the face that chases all his fears away.


Grant opens his eyes and reaches out to embrace the body that welcomes him home.


They are both utterly exhausted but the last thing they want to do is sleep.