It was September 1850, and the Spanish farmers were in the middle of harvesting the grapes in the many vineyards, eager to start wine production. It was in Berga, between Andorra and Barcelona.
On a terrace, I was enjoying some proper British tea. I always made sure to bring enough tea to last the duration of my visit. But at that moment, my supply wouldn’t last much longer. This was unfortunate, as the townsfolk were spanning garlands over the streets in preparation for the wine-tasting festivals to celebrate the harvest. And it was a special harvest indeed, as the recent Carlist War had ravaged Catalonia.
While I was considering how to ration my tea to last me through the festival, an officer, wearing a red tailcoat and blue trousers, rode past on horseback. I paid him no head as he tied his horse to a hitching post, but then he approached my table.
“Buenos días, Senôr,” he said, taking off his bicorne hat. “Would you happen to be Sir Pendleton?”
“Depends who's asking…” I looked at his markings. “Ayudante.”
“I am Josef de Lecubarrez. Adjudant to Colonel Bruno Cristino Tina Maria del Tono y Vázquez. Rumor has it you are a big game hunter from South Africa.”
“Used to be. I’m a journalist now, reporting one of my great passions. Wine. In particular, the hairy Grenache variety. A fine change after all that sweetness of the African Cinsaut. Although, when blended with a proper Grenache, Cinsaut gives the wine a pleasing softness and bouquet.”
“You won’t find a shortage of those here,” the officer commented. “However, we are in dire need of a man with your talents and experience, Senôr Pendleton.”
“And why would that be, my good man?”
“I’ll have to tell you when we arrive in camp. It’s an extraordinary matter, you see?”
I rubbed the ear of my teacup. I wasn’t the young man I used to be, although I resented myself for accepting it. Hunting the finer things in life only had so much allure. What convinced me, however, was the way he looked at me. He was smiling, but his eyes irradiated desperation. My first thought was a man-eater, a predator with a taste for human flesh. I knocked back the last of my tea. “Very well.”
And so I retrieved my mount and other belongings from the hotel, and off we went.
When we left the boundaries of Berga behind us, the officer observed the gun hanging from my saddle with great interest. “That is quite a weapon.”
“A 4-gauge double barrel breech-loading gun,” I said proudly. “The hunting rifles of the future. I downed a bush elephant at 60 yards with her. They also call this one the Express Train.”
“What will they come up with next,” said Lecubarrez. “Does it really need two barrels?”
“You do when the first shot fails to kill the elephant.”
“I dread how far ballistics have come since the Wars of Coalitions. It would appear we just can’t escape the tyrant’s legacy.”
“How do you mean?”
“Have you heard of the Battle of Adrall, Sênor?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“It happened two years ago, South of Andorra. Not that far from here, as a matter of fact. The royal army used explosive shells for the first time. I had seen men get maimed by canon balls before. But this...” His smile faded as his eyes peered at the horizon as if he could see those men again. “The explosions were so intense that it was like the fields had come alive. Men, packed together in firing lines, were swallowed by the ground, which then spat out their limbs. After that, I saw the survivors fleeing the field covered in gore.”
I cleared my throat. “Oh, dear,” I said, unsure how to respond to that ghastly statement. I looked around the vineyard and the beautiful mountain on the horizon. All there was to hear was the chirping of crickets. “A foreshadowing of the wars to come.”
“Two years,” Lecubarrez repeated. “Fortunately, those bullets have been spent. They were old relics of the French occupation, intended to stop Blake’s advance. ”
I dug inside my memory. “That was, what? 1809?”
“You’d be amazed to learn what artifact has been discovered among the French stockpiles.”
“Please, do tell.”
“I can’t disclose such things to a journalist.”
“Now, that’s a shame.”
Around that moment, we passed a column of a few dozen royal blue soldiers wearing white shakos with an angled top, called a ros, marching toward the city.
“Why are those soldiers here?” I asked.
“Purely as a precaution,” Lecubarrez assured me. “They are here to reinforce the Civil Guard.”
“You just happen to remove a foreign journalist from the city,” I said in jest.
“I assure you. If words get out of what we are about to show you, you will understand”
As we continued our journey across the dusty roads, my surroundings appeared to be trapped in time. Among its many vineyards stood square buildings made of uncut stone. Round towers with mud roofs with grass growing out of them. If it wasn’t for the remains of canon carriages, broken spoke wheels, and littered canon balls, one could believe the Romans had only just left.
Deeper into the mountains, we finally reached a summit overlooking a fork in the river valley. There, in the shadow of a Roman church, Colonel Vázquez had set up his camp.
After dismounting, I felt like I was intruding on a funeral. Horses grazed freely while the soldiers sat in the grass with their backs against the ancient walls, bored if anything else. But this wasn’t poor morale or ill discipline as none of them were gambling as one would expect. In their indifferent gaze, I read the same desperation I saw in that of the Adjutant. Not hopelessness, but that of futility.
Halfway to the command tent, I paused when I heard a loud thud in the distance, followed by the felling of a tree. “What was that?” I asked.
The soldiers looked at me like beaten dogs.
“Please, Senôr. The Colonel expects us.” Lecubarrez insisted.
As I shoved the canvas aside upon entering, there he was. Colonel Bruno Cristino Tina Maria del Tono y Vázquez was built like a closet and a head taller than myself with a personality to match.
“You are Pendleton?” he said with a boisterous voice of an opera singer. “I expected you to be bigger,” he said, looking down. He then pulled up a chair. “Very well, Senôr Pendleton. What do you suggest we do about our visitor?”
“Excuse me? I-”
The colonel’s voice was loud enough that I couldn’t hear my own thoughts. “You didn’t tell him?”
Lecubarrez hastily shook his head. “I thought it would be better-”
“Oh, very well,” the colonel said and gestured for me to come along. “I’ll show you the biggest game you’ll ever see.”
I followed him. “You’d be surprised by the size of some of the elephants I shot in my day.”
He looked at me as if I was a child. “An elephant!?” he bellowed. “You think we made you come here for an elephant!?” He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me along until we reached the end of the church. “Those elephants better have been damn impressive,” he said as my jaw was about to drop between my feet. “I’m talking about that bugger over there giving that mountain a haircut!”
Now that Kickstarter is done and Anwin! is being proofread, I want to attempt to write serials again to expand to the world and provide you with content. Meanwhile, I am working on the Coffin Girls. But my health ain't too great, stifling my creativity.
Your pledges have been processed, and I expect the money in my account this week. Did you fill in your surveys yet? Production is planned for the second part of May. Please share our blogs, and to support our projects and involved artists, please check out the support us section of the site. For just 2 dollars a month, you would help immensely and get some awesome content. By the way. We recommend Subscribestar because Patreon is becoming less reliable as time goes on.
Want to meet other Steampunks, History- and fellow Indy-Writers enthusiasts? Join our Discord.