Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Rescue (3): Departure

Tarragona, 25th August 1713

Old Ramon Albesa hadn't opened mouth long after the group had gathered at the canteen. He emptied his mug while Pere J. Barceló explained the situation. "Good chap, this Barceló", he thought. The young man had spontaneously taken the expedition reigns. To his own respect, the matter was as plain as a pikestaff, so he hadn't hesitated for even a second before accepting Barceló's proposal to take part in the mission, due to the news from Tivissa had put some old internal fury in fire. He had been involved in several other wars time ago, quite more confusing than this one. This time, Spaniards and French were at the very same side, and it wasn't his own one. Far better, he detested ambiguities. Albesa ceremoniously lit his pipe and smiled to himself while studying Canals' face. Someone had considered that popinjay would be necessary to the group. Subtlety, ability, languages ease and so, he hed been told. "Collonades!" (="Bullshit!"). He soundly spat on the ground.

The Aragonese cavalryman Blasco Copons had left a few things clear as a result of his interview with Colonel de Córdova: there would be no official Imperial support to the mission, neither men or supplies. It solely depended on themselves getting information, leaving out of Tarragona and freeing the prisoners. They wouldn't perform under Imperial command, so their actions would fall outside the guarantees offered by the truce terms with the Two Crowns, so that their chances of being respected their lives if captured were nearly zero. However, Barceló had pointed this otherwise meant complete freedom to plan and execute actions. No rules or conventions, they would make war their way. "What a novelty!", smiled the old, carious teethed Miquelet. Such an amount of obvious stuff had turned him thirsty, so he asked for a second mug, while the group continued planning.

Some of the Tivissa refugees had found accommodation in houses of relatives, friends or charitable citizens. The rest was distribuded among different improvised tent camps along the Rambla dels Jesuïtes (=Jesuits Avenue). Barceló and Albesa had agreed to seek information among them, so they first went to Santa Clara Convent & Hospital, where many of those most disabled or wounded were being attended. There they met a pretty young girl who was taking care for the wounded, and Barceló identified her as Mireia Perelló. The girl behaved as a living source of serenity amidst the tragedy, calmly walking from patient to patient with a bundle crossed the chest and a jug of water, occasionally kneeling and whispering reassuring words; a number of attendee would thereafter remind of her as an angel. However, when she realized Barceló's presence, all her strength seemed to abandon her. She had crossed occasional words only with the Miquelet before, but now Barceló became her only living link to her beloved Albert. A sudden remorse reappeared in her mind, the absurd idea that, if she had not fleed from Tivissa, maybe her Albert would still be alive. Half fainted, she embraced the Miquelet and asked: -Albert is dead, isn't he?. Barceló could not guess whether it was a question or a statement.

Mireia helped them to ask for information among the refugees. The only relevant information they obtained was that some survivors had certainly escaped, but did not arrive in Tarragona instead. After the quest, the girl said: -You're going to Tivissa, then. -she evidently expected no response, as well as no authorization to her later statement: -I'm coming with you. The girl firmly held the gaze of Barceló. She would not bother to the group, she said: she had a knowledge on roads, mountains and neighbors, she could walk for hours without showing signs of fatigue, she knew how to sew a wound and how to clean it and take care for it... She needed to find her Albert's body for a last time and give him a decent burial. Barceló finally agreed, despite old Albesa's ruminations.

In the meanwhile, Blasco Copons had no trouble in accessing Saint John's Gate Bastion, thanks to his condition of Imperial officer. Once there, he held some talk with the sentinels, carefully asking them for the Two Crowns forces outside. Afterwards, he sought a viewpoint behind a battlement and verified their informations with the help of a long range monocle. Thus, Copons located the encampment of a Spanish battalion, close to the road to Reus, and carefully identified each of their guard posts, patrol itineraries and eventual entrenched detachments.

On his side, Vicenç Canals had gone to meet Colonel von Leipzig again. Although he had told the group they shouldn't expect any help from the Austrians, Barceló insisted in that visit, so that Canals practised his best diplomacy until acknowledged on the next midnight change of guard at Jesus and Sea Bastions, as well as the detachment officer's name. Better this than nothing. Von Leipzig indifferently dismissed him, showing a genuine lack of interest in knowing why such information was needed.

The group's last initiative was to obtain some weapons and ammunition. Canals and Copons persuaded the arsenal's officer to be granted access -with the valuable help of some falsified credentials-, as well as to be delivered 120 musket cartridges, 120 pistol rounds, a bag of lead pellets, a small gunpowder barrel and a box of eight metal grenades.

Close to midnight, the group finally met at the foot of Jesus Bastion. An Austrian officer lead them up to the battlements looking directly towards Sea Bastion, and Canals crossed a few words with him in a whisper: it was due to wait until the Spanish round was away, and then to perform swiftly and in complete silence. Barceló picked up a rope and started his descent to a complete, waiting for the rest of the group under shelter of the shadows. Mireia was surprised by her own ease down the rope. Once all the group was outside the wall, she had to suppress a feeling of euphoria. She found herself suddenly full of energy. Her senses had become tuned and adjusted to the darkness, she could feel the smell of sea, the light nightly breeze. Free from encircling walls, she found to have recovered something she had been anxiously missing. Something wild, old and new simultaneously.

The group swiftly walked westwards and melted into the darkness.

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