A DW fic that never went anywhere... it's still a story I think about fairly regularly..
Major George Johnston surveyed the ranks - if they could be called that. The ragged figures were stretched unevenly over the hillock, clutching to the dubious chunk of high ground as if it would give them strength. But the Major had seen these sorties before, against his tussles with the weaker French colonial forces, and knew how such a force would fight when the redcoats marched in. That wasn't his problem, though, and for a moment his lined face took on a grimace as he thought about the carnage he would soon need to unleash.
At the moment, however, he was exposed. He glanced over his soldier, to the hill behind, but it was still naked - naught but the dry, dusty and dead earth that this awful land seemed to breed. At the edge of hearing he thought he could detect the beat of the drums - but this told him nothing. The crack of musketry had eaten away at his hearing and now he couldn't even judge how far artillery was. He guessed the men were some five minutes away...
"They'll be here soon, sir." Trooper Tufnell said, sensing his anxiety. Tufnell was well spoken, polite, and honest - a nice man but a terrible soldier. Without his letters he could never make an officer but he could handle a horse, so he rode alongside Johnston and often ahead as a scout, and now held the white flag aloft on a hefty pike, which still had it's rusty iron head nailed to its tip.
"I'm sure they'll make good pace, Tufnell... but I'm worried for us." Johnston's eyes scanned the hill again. A little over two hundred men. He had twenty-eight men he knew would fight well marching behind.. and fifty-one militiamen behind them, who probably wouldn't. It wasn't a force that would impress the rebels at all, especially now that the dust kicked up over their harried night march smeared their redcoats - they looked barely more impressive than the damned rebels. And with a weak-looking force at his backs, the rebels would feel strong... and they could well do something stupid.
"It ain't drawing them, sir..." said Tufnell pointedly, nodding towards the flag. And he was right. The rebels had turned and looked to start marching again. And if they reached the Hawkesbury there was nothing that could be done. Now Major Johnston needed to be a bastard...
"If Mohammed won't go to the mountain..."
"Are we attacking?" The lad sounded horrified and scared, but spurred his horse forward regardless.
"Of course not!" The rebuke had a strangely hollow sound to it "We're under a flag of truce, ain't we?"
Tufnell nervously looked across and saw the Major stealthily slip his flintlock out of his belt, but opted to say nothing as they rode to the rebel lines. A halt was called in an Irish brogue, and all ranks turned quickly - so quickly that one man in the rear ranks pulled his trigger by mistake and one of the apparent leaders had to roar like a bear for them to hold fire. Tufnell's heart was in his throat, as rebels seemed a pin-drop away from a full volley at the pair of them, and with two hundred musket balls in the air, surely one would need to hit them...
"Parley!" shouted Johnston "Parley!"
Glances were exchanged, but none of the rebels moved forward. Tufnell and Johnston, however, will still riding forward. Soon they'd be in pistol shot, a voice cried in the youth's mind...
"How long would you say till our boys come 'round the hill, Trooper?" asked Johnston with a calmness he couldn't possibly feel. Tufnell's mind reeled at the interruption, and he realised that Johnston had slowed to a very slow trot.
"Erm... I'd guess a minute now, sir." He could hear the drums very clearly now.
"That's good, Tufnell. You're a good guess-maker. You're going to need to be good at something else."
"Think you can swing that pikestaff?" Tufnell's eyes widened in shock at what he was being asked to do, but Johnston held up a hand placatingly, a sympathetic look shining through his blue eyes "No, I don't want you to kill anyone. Not here. Just.. teach them a lesson."
Tufnell saw that Johnstone was just as uncomfortable as he himself was with the situation and so nodded. If it wasn't killing under a flag of truce, than he guessed that would be okay...
The Major called a halt. They were now only eight or so yards away from the rebel line. Tufnell could count the stains on their trousers, he could smell the sweat and the saltpetre now...
"Gentlemen, I call a parley," said Johnston, in a clear, ringing, and above all innocent voice. "Is there any of you with authority? Come forward, I beg of you!"
The drums were close now, but still not over the ridge...
Two of the rebels came forward to the horses, they walked slowly but, as a sign of faith, slung their muskets over their shoulders. It was a cold morning but they had little to wear, thin, cheap coats over ragged moth-bitten flannel shirts and grimy canvas trousers. Their faces were indeterminant, hidden by ragged beards and layers of grime. One of the men had no boots, Tufnell saw, and for a moment felt sad for his enemy, as he knew that The Major had crushed the French in his day and these convict rebels would go the same way in a matter of minutes now.
"What do ya want?" was the curt demand of the apparent rebel leader, speaking with a thick Irish accent.
"Your immediate and unconditional surrender. I am not without influence with Governor King, so there may be leniency, and we need men so your fellows shall be safe. It is in neither of our interests to fight here today."
"We're here to get rid of people like you!" The man shouted, and his spittle flecked over the Major's fine red jacket. Johnston was unflinching.
"You don't have much time left for that surrender. Over that hill there, any second now, shall come 80 armed men who have marched through the night for a battle," Johnston's eyes shone with passion and Tufnell saw he truly did not want to fight "They are men who would march through Hades for a chance to kill an Irishmen and by God once this battle begins I don't know if I have the power to stop it. Give me your surrender now!"
Whether he could have our would have was uncertain, as at that moment the New South Wales Corps. finally rounded the hill. As the Major had ordered, the redcoats all marched in a direct line ahead of the militiamen, in two ranks of fourteen, to give the impression of a mighty column rather than a tiny warband. The rebel's face either hardened or grimaced at the sight, but Tufnell could not be sure as his heavy face surrendered little insight. What he did see, though, were the rebel ranks, as one, raising their guns to aim at the approaching column, even though they were well out of range. And, at that moment, he felt a terrible dread. He knew exactly what the Major had planned.
"Mr Tufnell," Johnston said softly "If you will oblige me..."
I remember at the time liking the atmosphere I'd set up...