Highland Fire

By: Elizabeth Thornton

“There’s more to Scotland than that!”

“Sorry. That was a facetious remark.” Rand sank further into his chair until his neck lolled comfortably on the backrest. “Go on, David. I’m listening. What about Scotland?”

Now that he had Rand’s full attention, David’s confidence ebbed. “Well…you are the chief of Clan Randal. You must understand the problems better than I do.”

“I’m sure I don’t. Those matters relating to my duties as laird and chief are largely in the hands of my solicitors and factor. Besides, the only problem that concerns me at present is the one out there. Napoleon Bonaparte. I’ve given the last four years of my life to trying to solve it. With luck, after tomorrow, I can get back to the real business of living.”

David leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his thighs, cupping his chin in both hands. “After this is over, what are you going to do, Rand?”

Shrugging negligently, Rand replied, “I haven’t given it much thought. And you?”

“Oh, I’m going back to Scotland. I thought…I thought we might go together, and not just for the hunting and fishing.”

Rand’s look was shrewd, but not unkind. “It’s that girl, isn’t it? She’s made a convert of you?”

“No…That is…we correspond.”

“Do you indeed?” The smile on Rand’s face was still in place, but the warmth had gone out of it.

David stared, then made a small sound of impatience. “For the last time, it’s not what you think it is. The girl and I are friends, nothing more.”

“And for the last time, I shall tell you that I could not care less what the girl is to you.”

“Oh? Then I don’t suppose you would be interested in what I was going to propose?”

“What were you going to propose?”

“That if you care to come to Scotland with me, I’d make it a point of introducing you to the girl. Without betraying her trust,” he added for emphasis.

“You’re on,” Rand said at once, and they both laughed.

What they were thinking was that no one could predict who would survive the morrow’s carnage.

At two o’clock of the afternoon, in the thick of battle, General Picton ordered his Scottish infantry forward to a line of holly hedges which concealed them from their advancing French counterparts. It was a tense moment. On his signal, they rose in formation and emptied three thousand muskets into enemy lines at point-blank range. The French were taken completely off guard and wavered. “Charge! Charge!” roared Picton, pressing his advantage. At that precise moment, an enemy bullet found its mark and Picton fell dead from his horse.

Sir William Ponsonby, commanding the union     Brigade, saw at once what was afoot. The order was given and the twelve hundred horse and men of the heavy cavalry began to get into position. Rand looked over his Scots Greys. They were a fearsome spectacle—row upon row of redcoats, with their distinctive bearskin hats with white plumes, and to a man mounted on immense white chargers.

As the shrill bugle call rang out, Rand transferred his saber to the ready position, up and forward over his mount’s neck. The Greys broke into a walk and then a trot. “Don’t fail me, Hotspur, don’t fail me,” he murmured and dug in his spurs as the bugle sounded the charge.

Their horses took the hedges like hunters and at full gallop, gathering momentum, charged down the incline to where the hand-to-hand fighting was going on. As they swept past their own infantry, some of Picton’s kilted Highlanders, maddened by the death of their leader, reached for their stirrup leathers. Hoisting themselves up, they were carried into the thick of the fray as the Greys chased down the enemy.

The air reverberated with the sounds of bagpipes, bugles, cannon fire, and the earth-shattering thunder of a thousand hoofbeats. “Scotland forever!” The cry was taken up and rang out above the tumult. And then, another cry arose from the young Highlander who had attached himself to Rand’s stirrup. “For Randal and for Scotland! For Randal and for Scotland!” A moment later, the French flank retreated in disorder under the crushing impact of the Greys, and the Highlander threw himself after them.

“For Randal and for Scotland!” Saber slashing, Rand roared the exultant battle cry. It stirred something in him, some latent pride in name and race that he had never before experienced, as though in this one moment in time, the honor of all the Randals in every generation resided in him.

By now all was pandemonium. Bonaparte’s infantry was in full flight. Skirmishes and hand-to-hand combat were breaking out all over the field. And still the Greys pushed on, maddened by the French guns and the appalling slaughter they inflicted on their ranks. Like a frenzied mob, they ignored the bugle blast which sounded the recall.

Rand heard the bugle call and recognized the danger. Soon, the Greys would be cut off from their own lines. Officers were attempting to halt the stampede of their dragoons to no avail. One lightning glance over Rand’s shoulder revealed David Randal forcing back his men with the flat of his saber. There was no time to ascertain whether or not David’s ploy was successful. Digging in his spurs, Rand sent his mount flying to the head of the charge.