The Queen of the Citadels: The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.
October 1793: The French border.
Dunkirk was a disaster for the Duke of York’s army. The French, sensing victory before the winter, launch attacks along the length of the border. Menen is captured and the French now hold the whip hand. Nieuport and Ostend are threatened, and Sebastian Krombach finds himself involved in a desperate plan to stop the Black Lions as they spearhead the French advance. Werner Brandt and the men of 2nd Battalion race to Menen to counterattack and rescue Erich von Bomm and the Grenadiers, whilst von Bomm struggles to save himself from his infatuation with a mysterious French vivandière.
Meanwhile, dark and brooding, the citadel of Lille dominates the border. The Queen of the Citadels has never been captured by force. The allies must now keep Menen, which guards Flanders, and seize Lille to open the road to Paris. All of this must be done under the watchful eyes of a spy in the Austrian camp. Juliette of Marboré is fighting her own secret war to free Julian Beauvais, languishing in the Conciergerie prison, and waiting for his appointment with the guillotine, as the Terror rages in Paris.
Ostend: 27th October 1793
The broken axle saved Krombach from the prospects of another beating, or worse, not that he was aware of the chaos ahead of him.
The last hour had been an unsteady walk, carried out in a state of near exhaustion. Hands remained bound and attached to a longer length of rope, tied to the frame of Hobbs’ saddle, the dragoon in whose mind Krombach’s guilt and fate were already decided. The redcoat’s knees were cut and bloodied, the horseman barely halting with each new stumble.
A column of Hessians had marched past, and there was no sympathy in their eyes. Fixed gazes looked ahead along the road to Nieuport, not at the returning cavalry patrol and its prisoner, who took to the margins of the road, so as not to hinder the progress of the relief column. Only when they reached the cart, did matters change.
The shattered axle had spilled part of the regimental baggage, and infantrymen in dark blue uniforms toiled to make repairs. An officer, bored with the delay, watched the arrival of the returning patrol while his sergeants bawled out instruction and chastisement with equal gusto.
Not that Krombach cared.
His head ached, thirst and hunger drove at him. In the back of his mind were the days of being with the esel soldaten, on those long marches to Flanders. He would have exchanged a hundred of those thankless tasks to be relieved from his present agony. The enforced halt had at least allowed him to draw breath. Cupping his hands, Krombach ran his fingers over the swollen eye, wiping away sweat that irritated his vision. As he did, the redcoat became aware of the approach of a horse.
The Hessian officer had come to inspect the British light dragoons and their sorry prize.
“My apologies, Sergeant, the way will be cleared shortly. You have been busy, I see. Good hunting, as I believe you like to say?”
“Thank you, sir and yes, good huntin’ indeed. Takes a lot to get one over on the Queen’s Own, sir.”
“I don’t doubt that for a moment, Sergeant. We are all indebted to your good King for inviting us to this war. My men would only be spending their meagre peace time pay in houses of disrepute. Now at least, we can see the fine sights of Flanders. Shooting at Frenchman is an added bonus. This one of theirs’?”
The officer waved a finger in Krombach’s direction.
“We don’t know, sir. Say’s he’s ‘anoverian or some such nonsense, but ‘is unit is way to the south. We reckon a deserter more like!”
“Hmm, that’s interesting, don’t you think?”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Well, if he was Hanoverian, heaven forbid, even an English deserter, though I’m sure such an incident would never occur, he would know the penalty for desertion is hanging. Yet if he was French, the worst that could happen is life on a penal ship somewhere.”
“It’s been a mystery to me, sir but I think he’s just a bit slow. Made to tell us that he was some messenger from Nieuport. Load of cock and bull if you ask me! Beggin’ your pardon, sir.”
The Hessian turned and looked at the working party. They were a few minutes from finishing the task and perhaps it was this that decided the officer to indulge his curiosity at the conundrum a little further.
“Sergeant, do you mind if I talk to the prisoner? We are headed to Nieuport and any information, however small, may be vital.”
The sergeant from the 7th Dragoons shrugged his indifference to the matter. If an officer made a decision here and now, the patrol report would be a great deal easier. Hobbs could do the necessary, in terms of the hanging, and the man’s meagre possessions would become part of the bounty purse that was currently the sergeant’s other task, on which no filing of reports was needed.
Krombach was drawing in deep mouthfuls of air, hoping that it might clear the fug of dehydration. He was aware of the shadow of the horse and rider and heard the soft thud as the officer dismounted.
“So, what do we have here then?” The officer’s voice was gentle, playful even.
A boot caught him on the left ear. Sharp instructions bellowed out in clipped Prussian.
“The prisoner will stand to attention when addressed by an officer!”
The blow sent Krombach to the floor and it was the Hessian officer who knelt and helped the young soldier to his feet, and in doing so, signalled to the Prussian cavalryman, with the simple wave of a hand, that matters were under control.
“How old are you, boy?”
The question took Krombach by surprise and he struggled to remember.
“I see. Hanoverian, I’m told?”
“Yes sir. Second battalion, Tenth regiment.”
“You came from Nieuport?”
“Yes, sir. I had orders, written orders I mean, from Captain von Schroeder. He told me I was…”
The officer cut across Krombach’s words.
Until now the conversation had been in English, but the officer changed to a strong Hessian dialect that Krombach knew well.
“Von Schroeder, you say? Which unit? Describe him to me!”
Krombach paused, trying to think of how best to detail a man who looked permanently at war with the world and treated disobedience to his seniors as his own personal right.
“Well, he is about your height, always looks unshaven. I saw him lead a company of Chasseurs out to fight the French at Furnes. They were badly outnumbered, but his men followed him as I would have…but…he has the strangest tone with his own officers, sir. It’s as though he doesn’t like any of them.”
“Who is your Colonel? And Your captain. And what is your name?”
“Priv…Corporal Krombach, sir. My colonel is Colonel Neuberg, and my Captain is Werner Brandt. I’ve even been to his house in Celle and…”
The officer held up his hand again.
“That’s enough, Krombach, that’s enough,” then turned his attention to the Prussian scout, “How do you find your English masters?”
“Their horsemanship is appalling, and they are largely useless at all they do.”
“Good. Let’s have some fun. Not a word, if you please?”
The Prussian shrugged his shoulders like the matter was of no consequence to him. The officer returned his gaze.
“Now, Mister Krombach, let’s get you a change of clothes. Would you like to wash? There is a small ditch on the other side of the road, it’s not much but…Do you wish to continue on to Ostend?”
“I was to take a message to the garrison commander sir, to ask for reinforcements and accompany the relief column.”
“We are the relief column, well the first battalion at least. There is a British regiment readying itself. Men in skirts, would you believe? Quite a sight and not for the faint-hearted.”
“I’m not sure that I understand, sir.”
“It doesn’t matter. Now, which will it be? Ostend or a return to Nieuport?”
“Nieuport, sir, if that’s all right with you? On the road this morning I could see clearly where the French have dug in a battery of guns. It’s a small fold in the land. I couldn’t see it too well from Nieuport. I drew a map of the defences for the captain. There is a path across some fields that would outflank the guns but if you follow the main road, you would be caught in their fire before you had a chance to break column.”
“Thank you, Mister Krombach, thank you. I can see why cousin Georg chose you. Oh, forgive my poor manners, I’m von Schrimm, Marcus von Schrimm, of the Landgrave’s own Grenadiers.”
Von Schrimm offered a hand and Krombach accepted awkwardly, his wrists still bound.
The next sentence quite threw Krombach. The strange became utterly surreal as Schrimm returned to speaking in crisp English.
“Oh, good heaven’s Sergeant, have the officer untied at once! This is a dreadful calamity, most dreadful and I feel it will reflect badly on you and your men unless handled carefully!”
Sergeant Hoskins had been a cavalryman for twenty- three years and a sergeant for a dozen of those. He knew the workings of the army and was rarely lost for a word, but von Schrimm had dumbfounded him at a stroke.
“Officer, what officer, sir?”
“This officer, man, this officer! Do you really think that the commander of Nieuport would trust an enlisted man to carry such a message? My God, the dishonour! The shame! This man is none other than lieutenant Krombach of the Chasseurs. I knew him the very moment that I set eyes on him. Why do you think I came over? Perhaps his wits are a little dulled from the night’s exertions. Yes, he was told to pose as a Hanoverian soldier, but I fear he has played the role a little too well. Your brilliance in capturing him is undoubted, but heaven’s man, could you not tell he was an officer?”
Von Schrimm tilted Krombach’s face at an angle, suggesting perhaps that his features were of some deep-seated nobility.
“’e looked like a deserter, sir…Are you sure this is…”
“Are you daring to question me?” von Schrimm cut across the dragoon’s words before turning and barking a stream of instructions towards one of his own sergeants.
“The lieutenant will be our guide back to Nieuport and you will free him this instance…and he will need a cape. I am surprised he hasn’t caught a chill. You don’t begrudge offering this young hero a cape, I take it. I shall provide for the rest of his needs.”
“Hobbs, give Mister Krombach here, your cape.”
“Not a private soldier’s cape, Sergeant. How is that fitting? You are a man of many years’ service. As the leader of these men, would your own cape not be more appropriate?”
If the sergeant was feeling annoyance and a degree of scepticism as he slid from his horse to untie his former prisoner, worse was to follow. The cape was merely the first of the reparations.
“Of course, Sergeant, forgive me I did not ask your name.”
“Hoskins, sir. Seventh dragoons.”Krombach rubbed at the chaffing around his wrists and then pulled the cape tight around him, to stave off the chill air and tightness in his chest and shoulders, born from the efforts of the previous night and his treatment in the last few hours.
A backpack was thrown unceremoniously at his feet. A nod from the sergeant had been enough for trooper Hobbs to realise that there would not be any spoils from the morning’s work.
Sergeant Hoskins took hold of his reins and made to remount.
“Forgive me, Sergeant but the rest of the battalion has marched ahead. Lieutenant Krombach and I must ride to catch it and the Lieutenant must have a horse.”
Hoskins stopped and turned slowly to face von Schrimm, barely able to control the anger in his face. He could not help feeling that he was the butt of a joke, yet he knew the army’s workings. Questioning the word of a gentleman, even a foreign one, could cost him his stripes and inflict many more on his own back.
“Yes…sir. And I imagine that a trooper’s horse would not do?”
“Well, sergeant, we can return to Ostend and discuss the matter with your colonel, or I can sign for Mister Krombach’s release, here and now. The return of his possessions; the generous loan of your cape and horse, which will of course be returned at the earliest opportunity; my glowing report of your conduct and the treatment of a Hessian officer will all follow, as night follows day. I shall be guided by your wisdom, Sergeant.”
Hoskins looked at the officer and then hard again at Krombach, as though taking in every detail of the young redcoat: Hanoverian, Hessian or whatever the hell the boy was.
“Hobbs, dismount if you please. You’re walkin’ back to the barracks. There’s a good lad.”
The sergeant offered the reins to Krombach and then touched his hat towards von Schrimm, who was hastily scribbling the note that confirmed that he had taken possession of Krombach and detailing the property of the sergeant of dragoons that had been so generously loaned.
Hoskins took the note and tucked it into his inner breast pocket.
“We had best be on our way sir…”
Von Schrimm nodded.
The sergeant turned, muttering under his breath to the disconsolate looking Hobbs, “…while I still have a bloody shirt on my back!”
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Author Bio (must be in the third person):
Dominic Fielder has had careers in retail and the private education sector and is currently working as a secondary school Maths teacher. He has a First-class honours degree in history and a lifetime’s interest in the hobby of wargaming. The King’s Germans series is a project that grew out of this passion He currently juggles writing and research around a crowded work and family life.
Whilst self-published he is very grateful for an excellent support team. The Black Lions of Flanders (set in 1793) is the first in the King’s Germans’ series, which will follow an array of characters through to the final book in Waterloo. He lives just outside of Tavistock on the edge of Dartmoor. where he enjoys walking on the moors and the occasional horse-riding excursion as both writing inspiration and relaxation.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dominic-Fielder/e/B07HMB9W2Z