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Devon, Lord Malton, tossed in bed, the throbbing pain in his thigh pulling him from the oblivion of drunkenness into a semi-sleep that clung to him like tar.
"No," he moaned. The ghostlike images of old comrades and dead enemies drifted through his mind. Distant cannon fire rolled in the air, growing louder as light began to creep in along the edges of the sharpening visions. "No."
In a flash the world turned bright, the afternoon sun reflecting off the stone walls of Hougoumont Manor's courtyard. Around him, British soldiers and trapped French soldiers fought, the metallic ring of sabers carrying over the shouts of dying men and the screams of frightened horses.
"Cochon anglais!" A French soldier charged at Devon and he swung around to face him. "Je te tuerai."
They locked swords, the Frenchman's wild eyes meeting Devon's across the blade.
"Maintenantau diable!" Devon shoved the Frenchman back. The burly soldier staggered slightly but desperation gave him strength and he hurled himself forward.
Devon was stepping back to parry when his boot rolled on the arm of a dead man and he fell, landing hard in the mud. The Frenchman lunged again. Devon swung his sword, deflecting the blow but the Frenchman's blade slid down the length of Devon's, impaling his thigh.
"Bloody hell." Devon dug the heel of his boot into the man's chest and kicked hard. A searing pain nearly blinded him as the man's blade tore free.
The Frenchman pulled himself to his feet and advanced. Devon rose up on one knee, lifting his sword to defend himself when suddenly the flash of a red coat cut across his vision. Captain Selton stood between them, his sword clanging against the Frenchman's.
"Get back to the safety of the manor," the young officer called, swinging to repel the enemy's blade.
"I'm not going anywhere." Devon stood, gritting his teeth against the pain. He limped forward, determined to fight when the sickening sound of metal slicing flesh drowned out the cannons. Captain Selton wavered a moment then slumped to the ground.
"No!" Devon yelled.
The Frenchman, his sword still lodged in Captain Selton's chest, met Devon's eyes, smug triumph dancing in their watery depths.
"Bastard!" Devon hurled himself at the man, his pain forgotten in a rush of anger. The Frenchman's triumph turned to fear as Devon impaled him, driving him backwards across the courtyard, forcing the sword in deeper and deeper until it drove itself through his body, lodging in a wooden door in the far wall. Devon pulled out the blade and the Frenchman dropped to the ground.
Devon stepped back and his wounded leg buckled. He fell hard against the wall, his palm scraping over the rough stone as he slid down into the mud. When he pressed his hand over the wound, the blood stained his breeches and covered his fingers. Out across the courtyard, heavy clouds of black powder smoke drifted through the fighting men, passing over Captain Selton, who lay with the others, his lifeless eyes watching the sky.
"No," Devon cried in anguish. "No."
"It's all right," a soft female voice carried over the crack of gunfire. "You're safe now."
"I couldn't save him." Devon choked, struggling to breathe through the acrid smoke. "I couldn't help him."
"I know." Gentle hands stroked his hair, his forehead and cheeks, their tenderness easing his tight chest and softening the pain coursing through him. "Sleep now."