Melodramatic ass, Grey thought – and yet could not deny that the recitation was oddly moving. Wolfe made no show of it. It was as though he were simply talking to himself, and a shiver went over Grey as he reached the last verse.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Awaits alike the inexorable hour.

‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave,’ Wolfe ended, so low-voiced that only the three or four men closest heard him. Grey was close enough to hear him clear his throat with a small ‘hem’ noise, and saw his shoulders lift.

‘Gentlemen,’ Wolfe said, lifting his voice as well, ‘I should rather have written those lines than have taken Quebec.’

There was a faint stir, and a breath of laughter among the men.

So would I, Grey thought. The poet who wrote them is likely sitting by his cosy fire in Cambridge eating buttered crumpets, not preparing to fall from a great height or get his arse shot off.

He didn’t know whether this was simply more of Wolfe’s characteristic drama. Possibly – possibly not, he thought. He’d met Colonel Walsing by the latrines that morning, and Walsing had mentioned that Wolfe had given him a pendant the night before, with instructions to deliver it to Miss Landringham, to whom Wolfe was engaged.

But then, it was nothing out of the ordinary for men to put their personal valuables into the care of a friend before a hot battle. Were you killed or badly injured, your body might be looted before your comrades managed to retrieve you, and not everyone had a trustworthy servant with whom to leave such items. He himself had often carried snuffboxes, pocket-watches or rings into battle for friends – he’d had a reputation for luck, prior to Crefeld. No one had asked him to carry anything tonight.

He shifted his weight by instinct, feeling the current change, and Simon Fraser, next to him, swayed in the opposite direction, bumping him.

‘Pardon,’ Fraser murmured. Wolfe had made them all recite poetry in French round the dinner table the night before, and it was agreed that Fraser had the most authentic accent, he having fought with the French in Holland some years prior. Should they be hailed by a sentry, it would be his job to reply. Doubtless, Grey thought, Fraser was now thinking frantically in French, trying to saturate his mind with the language, lest any stray bit of English escape in panic.

‘Ce n’est rien,’ Grey murmured back, and Fraser chuckled, deep in his throat.

It was cloudy, the sky streaked with the shredded remnants of retreating rain-clouds. That was good; the surface of the river was broken, patched with faint light, fractured by stones and drifting tree-branches. Though even so, a decent sentry could scarcely fail to spot a train of boats.

Cold numbed his face, but his palms were sweating. He touched the dagger at his belt again; he was aware that he touched it every few minutes, as if needing to verify its presence, but couldn’t help it, and didn’t worry about it. He was straining his eyes, looking for anything – the glow of a careless fire, the shifting of a rock that was not a rock . . . nothing.

How far? he wondered. Two miles, three? He’d not yet seen the cliffs himself, was not sure how far below Gareon they lay.

The rush of water and the easy movement of the boat began to make him sleepy, tension notwithstanding, and he shook his head, yawning exaggeratedly to throw it off.

‘Quel est ce bateau?’ What boat is that? The shout from the shore seemed anticlimactic when it came, barely more remarkable than a night bird’s call. But the next instant, Simon Fraser’s hand crushed his, grinding the bones together as Fraser gulped air and shouted ‘Celui de la Reine!’

Grey clenched his teeth, not to let any blasphemous response escape. If the sentry demanded a password, he’d likely be crippled for life, he thought. An instant later, though, the sentry shouted, ‘Passez!’ and Fraser’s death-grip relaxed. Simon was breathing like a bellows, but nudged him and whispered ‘Pardon,’ again.

‘Ce n’est fucking rien,’ he muttered, rubbing his hand and tenderly flexing the fingers.

They were getting close. Men were shifting to and fro in anticipation, more than Grey checking their weapons, straightening coats, coughing, spitting over the side, readying themselves. Still, it was a nerve-racking quarter-hour more before they began to swing toward shore – and another sentry called from the dark.

Grey’s heart squeezed like a fist, and he nearly gasped with the twinge of pain from his old wounds.

‘Qui êtes-vous? Quels sont ces bateaux?’ a French voice demanded suspiciously. Who are you? What boats are those?

This time, he was ready, and seized Fraser’s hand himself. Simon held on and leaning out toward the shore, called hoarsely, ‘Des bateaux de ravitaillement! Taisez-vous – les anglais sont proches! Provision boats! Be quiet – the British are nearby! Grey felt an insane urge to laugh, but didn’t. In fact, the Sutherland was nearby, lurking out of cannon shot downstream, and doubtless the frogs knew it. In any case, the guard called, more quietly, ‘Passez!’, and the train of boats slid smoothly past and round the final bend.

The bottom of the boat grated on sand, and half the men were over at once, tugging it further up. Wolfe half-leapt, half-fell over the side in eagerness, all trace of sombreness gone. They’d come aground on a small sandbar, just off-shore, and the other boats were beaching now, a swarm of black figures gathering like ants.

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Melodramatic ass, Grey thought – and yet could not deny that the recitation was oddly moving. Wolfe made no show of it. It was as though he were simply talking to himself, and a shiver went over Grey as he reached the last verse.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Awaits alike the inexorable hour.

‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave,’ Wolfe ended, so low-voiced that only the three or four men closest heard him. Grey was close enough to hear him clear his throat with a small ‘hem’ noise, and saw his shoulders lift.

‘Gentlemen,’ Wolfe said, lifting his voice as well, ‘I should rather have written those lines than have taken Quebec.’

There was a faint stir, and a breath of laughter among the men.

So would I, Grey thought. The poet who wrote them is likely sitting by his cosy fire in Cambridge eating buttered crumpets, not preparing to fall from a great height or get his arse shot off.

He didn’t know whether this was simply more of Wolfe’s characteristic drama. Possibly – possibly not, he thought. He’d met Colonel Walsing by the latrines that morning, and Walsing had mentioned that Wolfe had given him a pendant the night before, with instructions to deliver it to Miss Landringham, to whom Wolfe was engaged.

But then, it was nothing out of the ordinary for men to put their personal valuables into the care of a friend before a hot battle. Were you killed or badly injured, your body might be looted before your comrades managed to retrieve you, and not everyone had a trustworthy servant with whom to leave such items. He himself had often carried snuffboxes, pocket-watches or rings into battle for friends – he’d had a reputation for luck, prior to Crefeld. No one had asked him to carry anything tonight.

He shifted his weight by instinct, feeling the current change, and Simon Fraser, next to him, swayed in the opposite direction, bumping him.

‘Pardon,’ Fraser murmured. Wolfe had made them all recite poetry in French round the dinner table the night before, and it was agreed that Fraser had the most authentic accent, he having fought with the French in Holland some years prior. Should they be hailed by a sentry, it would be his job to reply. Doubtless, Grey thought, Fraser was now thinking frantically in French, trying to saturate his mind with the language, lest any stray bit of English escape in panic.

‘Ce n’est rien,’ Grey murmured back, and Fraser chuckled, deep in his throat.

It was cloudy, the sky streaked with the shredded remnants of retreating rain-clouds. That was good; the surface of the river was broken, patched with faint light, fractured by stones and drifting tree-branches. Though even so, a decent sentry could scarcely fail to spot a train of boats.

Cold numbed his face, but his palms were sweating. He touched the dagger at his belt again; he was aware that he touched it every few minutes, as if needing to verify its presence, but couldn’t help it, and didn’t worry about it. He was straining his eyes, looking for anything – the glow of a careless fire, the shifting of a rock that was not a rock . . . nothing.

How far? he wondered. Two miles, three? He’d not yet seen the cliffs himself, was not sure how far below Gareon they lay.

The rush of water and the easy movement of the boat began to make him sleepy, tension notwithstanding, and he shook his head, yawning exaggeratedly to throw it off.

‘Quel est ce bateau?’ What boat is that? The shout from the shore seemed anticlimactic when it came, barely more remarkable than a night bird’s call. But the next instant, Simon Fraser’s hand crushed his, grinding the bones together as Fraser gulped air and shouted ‘Celui de la Reine!’

Grey clenched his teeth, not to let any blasphemous response escape. If the sentry demanded a password, he’d likely be crippled for life, he thought. An instant later, though, the sentry shouted, ‘Passez!’ and Fraser’s death-grip relaxed. Simon was breathing like a bellows, but nudged him and whispered ‘Pardon,’ again.

‘Ce n’est fucking rien,’ he muttered, rubbing his hand and tenderly flexing the fingers.

They were getting close. Men were shifting to and fro in anticipation, more than Grey checking their weapons, straightening coats, coughing, spitting over the side, readying themselves. Still, it was a nerve-racking quarter-hour more before they began to swing toward shore – and another sentry called from the dark.

Grey’s heart squeezed like a fist, and he nearly gasped with the twinge of pain from his old wounds.

‘Qui êtes-vous? Quels sont ces bateaux?’ a French voice demanded suspiciously. Who are you? What boats are those?

This time, he was ready, and seized Fraser’s hand himself. Simon held on and leaning out toward the shore, called hoarsely, ‘Des bateaux de ravitaillement! Taisez-vous – les anglais sont proches! Provision boats! Be quiet – the British are nearby! Grey felt an insane urge to laugh, but didn’t. In fact, the Sutherland was nearby, lurking out of cannon shot downstream, and doubtless the frogs knew it. In any case, the guard called, more quietly, ‘Passez!’, and the train of boats slid smoothly past and round the final bend.

The bottom of the boat grated on sand, and half the men were over at once, tugging it further up. Wolfe half-leapt, half-fell over the side in eagerness, all trace of sombreness gone. They’d come aground on a small sandbar, just off-shore, and the other boats were beaching now, a swarm of black figures gathering like ants.

Twenty-four of the Highlanders were meant to try the ascent first, finding – and insofar as possible, clearing, for the cliff was defended not only by its steepness but by abatis, nests of sharpened logs – a trail for the rest. Simon’s bulky form faded into the dark, his French accent changing at once into the sibilant Gaelic as he hissed the men into position. Grey rather missed his presence.

He was not sure whether Wolfe had chosen the Highlanders for their skill at climbing, or because he preferred to risk them rather than his other troops. The latter, he thought. Like most English officers, Wolfe regarded the Highlanders with distrust and a certain contempt. Those officers, at least, who’d never fought with them – or against them.

From his spot at the foot of the cliff, he couldn’t see them, but he could hear them; the scuffle of feet, now and then a wild scrabble and a clatter of falling small stones, loud grunts of effort and what he recognised as Gaelic invocations of God, His mother, and assorted saints. One man near him pulled a string of beads from the neck of his shirt and kissed the tiny cross attached to it, then tucked it back, and seizing a small sapling that grew out of the rock-face, leapt upward, kilt swinging, broadsword swaying from his belt in brief silhouette, before the darkness took him. Grey touched his dagger’s hilt again, his own talisman against evil.

It was a long wait in the darkness; to some extent, he envied the Highlanders, who, whatever else they might be encountering – and the scrabbling noises and half-strangled whoops as a foot slipped and a comrade grabbed a hand or arm suggested that the climb was just as impossible as it seemed – were not dealing with boredom.

A sudden rumble and crashing came from above, and the shore-party scattered in panic as several sharpened logs plunged out of the dark above, dislodged from an abatis. One of them had struck point down no more than six feet from Grey, and stood quivering in the sand. With no discussion, the shore-party retreated to the sandbar.

The scrabblings and gruntings grew fainter, and suddenly ceased. Wolfe, who had been sitting on a boulder, stood up suddenly, straining his eyes upward.

‘They’ve made it,’ he whispered, and his fists curled in an excitement that Grey shared. ‘God, they’ve made it!’

Well enough, and the men at the foot of the cliff held their breaths; there was a guard post at the top of the cliff. Silence, bar the everlasting noise of tree and river. And then a shot.

Just one. The men below shifted, touching their weapons, ready, not knowing for what.

Were there sounds above? He could not tell, and out of sheer nervousness, turned aside to urinate against the side of the cliff. He was fastening his flies when he heard Simon Fraser’s voice above.

‘Got ’em, by God!’ he said. ‘Come on, lads – the night’s not long enough!’

The next few hours passed in a blur of the most arduous endeavour Grey had seen since he’d crossed the Scottish Highlands with his brother’s regiment, bringing cannon to General Cope. No, actually, he thought, as he stood in darkness, one leg wedged between a tree and the rock-face, thirty feet of invisible space below him, and rope burning through his palms with an unseen deadweight of two hundred pounds or so on the end, this was worse.

The Highlanders had surprised the guard, shot their fleeing captain in the heel, and made all of them prisoner. That was the easy part. The next thing was for the rest of the landing party to ascend to the cliff top, now that the trail – if there was such a thing – had been cleared, where they would make preparations to raise not only the rest of the troops now coming down the river aboard the transports, but also seventeen battering cannon, twelve howitzers, three mortars, and all of the necessary encumbrances in terms of shell, powder, planks and limbers necessary to make this artillery effective. At least, Grey reflected, by the time they were done, the vertical trail up the cliffside would likely have been trampled into a simple cowpath.

As the sky lightened, Grey looked up for a moment from his spot at the top of the cliff, where he was now overseeing the last of the artillery as it was heaved over the edge, and saw the bateaux coming down again like a flock of swallows, they having crossed the river to collect an additional 1,200 troops that Wolfe had directed to march to Levi on the opposite shore, there to lie hidden in the woods until the Highlanders’ expedient should have been proved.

A head, cursing freely, surged up over the edge of the cliff. Its attendant body lunged into view, tripped, and sprawled at Grey’s feet.

‘Sergeant Cutter!’ Grey said, grinning as he bent to yank the little sergeant to his feet. ‘Come to join the party, have you?’

‘Jesus Fuck,’ replied the sergeant, belligerently brushing dirt from his coat. ‘We’d best win, that’s all I can say.’ And without waiting for reply, turned round to bellow down the cliff, ‘Come ON, you bloody rascals! ’Ave you all eaten lead for breakfast, then? Shit it out and step lively! CLIMB, God damn your eyes!’

The net result of this monstrous effort being that as dawn spread its golden glow across the Plains of Abraham, the French sentries on the walls of the Citadel of Quebec gaped in disbelief at the sight of more than four thousand British troops, drawn up in battle array before them.

Through his telescope, Grey could see the sentries. The distance was too great to make out their facial expressions, but their attitudes of alarm and consternation were easy to read, and he grinned, seeing one French officer clutch his head briefly, then wave his arms like one dispelling a flock of chickens, sending his subordinates rushing off in all directions.

Wolfe was standing on a small hillock, long nose lifted as though to sniff the morning air. Grey thought he probably considered his pose noble and commanding; he reminded Grey of a dachshund scenting a badger; the air of alert eagerness was the same.

Wolfe wasn’t the only one. Despite the labours of the night, skinned hands, battered shins, twisted knees and ankles, and a lack of food and sleep, a gleeful excitement ran through the troops like wine. Grey thought they were all giddy with fatigue.

The sound of drums came faintly to him on the wind; the French, beating hastily to quarters. Within minutes, he saw horsemen streaking away from the fortress, and smiled grimly. They were going to rally whatever troops Montcalm had within summoning distance, and he felt a tightening of the belly at the sight.

The matter hadn’t really been in doubt; it was September, and winter was coming on. The town and fortress had been unable to provision themselves for a long siege, owing to Wolfe’s scorched-earth policies. The French were there, the English before them – and the simple fact, apparent to both sides, was that the French would starve long before the English did. Montcalm would fight; he had no choice.

Many of the men had brought canteens of water, some a little food. They were allowed to relax sufficiently to eat, to ease their muscles – though none of them ever took their attention from the gathering French, massing before the fortress. Employing his telescope further, Grey could see that while the mass of milling men was growing, they were by no means all trained troops; Montcalm had called his militias from the countryside – farmers, fishermen, and coureurs du bois, by the look of them – and his Indians. Grey eyed the painted faces and oiled topknots warily, but his acquaintance with Manoke had deprived the Indians of much of their terrifying aspect – and they would not be nearly so effective on open ground, against cannon, as they were sneaking through the forest.

It took surprisingly little time for Montcalm to ready his troops, impromptu as they might be. The sun was no more than halfway up the sky when the French lines began their advance.

‘HOLD your fucking fire, you villains! Fire before you’re ordered, and I’ll give your fuckin’ heads to the artillery to use for cannonballs!’ He heard the unmistakable voice of Sergeant Aloysius Cutter, some distance back, but clearly audible. The same order was being echoed, if less picturesquely, through the British lines, and if every officer on the field had one eye firmly on the French, the other was fixed on General Wolfe, standing on his hillock, aflame with anticipation.

Grey felt his blood twitch, and moved restlessly from foot to foot, trying to ease a cramp in one leg. The advancing French line stopped, knelt, and fired a volley. Another from the line standing behind them. Too far, much too far to have any effect. A deep rumble came from the British troops – something visceral and hungry.

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