– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘The Queen of the Citadels’ blogtour, organized by The Coffee Pot Book Club.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
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.
Book Title: The Queen of the Citadels
Series: The King’s Germans, Book 3
Author: Dominic Fielder
Publication Date: 26th August 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 550 Pages
Genre: Historical Military Fiction
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.
Menen: 22nd October 1793
Across the plain, blue figures swarmed amongst the stubble and low hedgerows. The light of the day was fading fast, and it was hard to tell the enemy from the shadows cast in the dips and hollows of the farmland. All that von Bomm knew for certain was that somewhere out in the darkness, five men of his company lay dead or dying.
“Check the men’s muskets, Sergeant. Seems those French are rather persistent. We shall be in business again soon, I think,” the captain whispered.
He heard the grunt of acknowledgement, and watched as the figure of sergeant Keithen moved, hunched against the low wall that the redcoats had taken as a line of cover. They were safe here for the moment, a raised knoll of rocky ground gave them shelter, bordered by the low wall that had once marked the boundary of a long-forgotten medieval monastery.
In the west, it was hard to tell where the red sky of the dying day ended and the fires of Menen began. That the town was ablaze, there was little doubt. The battle for it had been all too brief but exceedingly bloody. The French had attacked north and south of the Lys. Whether anyone at headquarters had taken heed of von Bomm’s report in the days previous was unknown, but the ferocity with which the French had attacked had been met with ill-prepared resistance.
Second Grenadier battalion had been overwhelmed; The others had escaped but at what cost?
What remained of the brigade was dispersed along the Courtrai road. Von Bomm’s men had been posted as the rear guard. Somewhere in the darkness, hopefully, a company from 3rd Grenadiers would be performing the same task. Whether anything was left of 2nd Grenadier battalion, no-one knew. The four Hessian battalions that made up the balance of the Allied force had fled.
Count Erbach’s brigade had been soundly beaten.
“With all of this practice of retreating, you’d think we would be rather better at it,” von Bomm muttered, to himself rather than anyone in particular, before feeling the flush of embarrassment that he had given his thoughts a public airing. Only Pinsk was near enough to hear the comment, and he clearly knew better than to show much response to it, other than the slightest nod of agreement.
The minutes ticked past and Keithen returned having carried out the inspection of the men. To the right of the knoll, the postal road to Courtrai stretched into the darkness of the fast-approaching night. To the left, the low wall turned sharply away, encasing the hill and the redcoats. Beyond the stone boundary, half a mile distant, reed beds and thin lines of river birch marked the edge of the Lys.
The French were masters of the land and would pluck the redcoats from it, whenever they chose to attack.
Colonel Franke’s orders had been succinct. The skirmish company was to hold the knoll and buy valuable time. Under cover of night the company could withdraw but every minute that it brought would be precious for the survival and reorganisation of the Grenadier brigade.
But the French would not give them the luxury of retreat. The skirmish company had fought a skilful and disciplined withdrawal, and despite the unguarded utterance, von Bomm was proud of his men.
Half an hour earlier, the enemy had been spotted moving along the river-line on their left flank, perhaps with the intention of cutting the company’s line of retreat. There were simply not enough men to blunt the attack that would come against their front, let alone that which might come from any encirclement.
The knoll had once been sacred land and it would soon be the ground where von Bomm’s company fought and died.
For the briefest time the war had stopped; all that could be heard across the landscape was the most beautiful evening chorus of birdsong. Von Bomm felt his grip relax on the hilt of his sword. Any moment, men would kill one another. Tomorrow, there would be another evening song and most of his men would not live to hear it.
A steady drum roll broke the spell and from somewhere behind the knoll, a distant drum beat a rhythmical reply.
Bomm tensed and unsheathed his sword. Across the landscape, the shadows were advancing.
“Sergeant Keithen, return to the left flank and keep an eye on Lieutenant Rausch…and good luck…After the first volley, instruct him to direct the men’s fire as he sees fit.”
Keithen nodded and made his way to the position that von Bomm had surveyed an hour earlier. There was not much of a plan. Keithen and Rausch would hold the left flank with twenty men, von Bomm the front with the balance. If the enemy attacked from the top of the knoll, they would hold out for as long as possible. The rough nature of the ground meant that even an attacker who held the heights would have little advantage. Eventually, the redcoats would be broken. It was merely a matter of time, numbers and persistence.
“Grenadiers, make ready.”
His men were now forged by war. They knew that as skirmishers, much was dependent on their ability to target their fire efficiently: quite an achievement with a musket, but a good soldier gained a feel for the vagaries of the Brown Bess. In massed lines firing by rote, decision making mattered little. To the men of von Bomm’s company, it was all that they had when the odds were stacked against them.
“Present!” Von Bomm shouted the order, as much to suggest to the French that what they might receive would be devastatingly powerful, as to his own men in hearing the familiarity of their officer’s voice.
The blue-coats had waited until the red of the sky no longer silhouetted them, but the orange glow of the fiery skyline from Menen was not something that would set with the sun. From a very rough count, von Bomm could see two companies, perhaps three hundred men, advancing on his position.
It was time to make the French bleed for the carnage that they had inflicted at Menen.
A last show of defiance.
The crackle of muskets echoed around him. Less impressive than the punching fire of company salvoes when the battalion fired in line, but effective none the less.
Shadows halted; men cried out in pain; muskets answered back in reply as raised voices ordered that the advance continued.
“Prime and load…”
With that order, the automaton drill movements were abandoned. Speed was the key, and men worked busily in the gloom to be ready for the next command.
“Grenadiers, working in pairs, fire when ready!”
There was no regulation in the drill book for such independent orders but his men knew what to expect from their officer.
The enemy had closed to forty yards from the wall but there was a hesitancy in their approach, perhaps unsure of the redcoats’ position or waiting for the killing blow that would be delivered from the top of the knoll.
On the left flank, muskets had begun to spit out white flames into the darkness: a greater number answered back in reply. The musket of Pinsk erupted into a brilliant white; von Bomm found himself blinded for a moment. When the next musket fired, the flash illuminated faces of Frenchmen which had reached the far side of the wall.
The King’s Germans were out of time.
“Grenadiers, fix bayonets!”
Von Bomm waited.
Still the French did not cross the wall, preferring instead to fire into the darkness of the knoll.
Then it happened.
A hurrah erupted from the top of the hill, greeted in response by a cheer on the far side of the wall.
Dark coated figures swarmed into positions of cover amongst the crevices and thickets that scoured the steep face of the overlooking landscape. Deadly preparations were taking place for a salvo that would weaken the redcoats, before their fickle defence was overwhelmed.
Anxious eyes looked at von Bomm.
“One last go, lads! Let’s show the French what real soldiers are made of…”
His men had survived the inferno of Broken Tail house, and the retreat from Hondschoote. If they were to die on this patch of forgotten holy land, the French would pay a dear price for it.
A hush descended, the prelude to the last tragic act.
A distant voice rang out.
Von Bomm thought that he must be imagining the words.
The hillside erupted with the bright light of a hundred explosions and the air was thick with the whistle of musket balls that found their mark on the far side of the wall.
A dozen blue-coated Frenchmen who had been in the act of scrambling over the wall, now found themselves stranded and alone.
The voice from the hill rang out again.
“York’s Rangers, advance to relieve the Grenadiers!”
On the far side of the wall, curses were heard. Muskets spat an angry, wounded response. Dark shadows clambered over the ancient boundary stone, expecting that weight of numbers would still settle the contest.
Whoever York’s Rangers were, von Bomm knew their arrival would count for nought if the perimeter was not held.
“Grenadiers clear the wall! Charge!!”
Throwing himself forward at the nearest group of Frenchmen, von Bomm lunged, feeling the sword bite into flesh. A yellow flash of musket barked in response and heat and smoke engulfed him. He shrieked in rage and drove his sword in a wild arcing swing that missed its target and jarred his arm as the blade impacted solid stonework.
A face appeared on the far side of the crown of stones that lined the wall, but it was all that von Bomm could do to stab feebly at it, his sword arm felt awkward and numb.
A bayonet lunged out of the dark, but the enemy soldier lost his footing and careered headlong into von Bomm, dropping his musket in the process but delivering a headbutt to the stomach which poleaxed the grenadier officer. Another blue-coat rushed forward intent on finishing off the job but a musket ball tore into the side of the man’s head and sent his dead weight collapsing on top of the pair of bodies that fought a deadly struggle at the base of the wall.
The Frenchman’s breath reeked of wine. Powerful hands were under von Bomm’s chin, thumbs pressing hard, searching for the windpipe to crush the life from him.
Struggling to break his adversary’s grip, von Bomm’s fading peripheral vision saw the blur of a musket being readied to deliver the killing blow.
Whether Pinsk broke the Frenchman’s back or skull was hard to tell but death was instant.
Von Bomm stumbled lightheaded, senseless; aware only of hands that pulled him to safety.
Voices echoed around him, a nightmare in which he was powerless.
Slowly sense returned, each deep lungful of air brought clarity of vision but not understanding.
Blue-coats swarmed around him.
But not those of the enemy.
Friends in blue: York’s Rangers.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds