Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society

Awarded the FINS LEGION OF MERIT in December 2010


WAR with Russia in the coldest winter in a hundred years after recent volcanic eruptions had filled the sky with red dust badly affecting the weather. The soldiers of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard had already been worn down by the long march into the country. Now as they retreat from a ruined Moscow, the avenging Russian Cossacks descend upon the struggling remnants of a once mighty Grand Army. Death is everywhere – and few are destined ever to return to France. This is their story…




For two weeks that year Dresden was the centre of the world. Having arrived on 16th May, Napoleon quickly established himself in the palace of his ally the King of Saxony and from there he saw to the final preparations for the invasion of Russia. By his side, fluttering like moths around a flame, gathered the rulers of the states that he had vanquished: the Emperor and Empress of Austria; the King, Queen, and Crown Prince of Prussia; dozens of German princes; and a myriad of minor nobles. In his honour grand receptions were held; gala performances at the theatre; boar hunts; firework displays; illuminations and torchlight processions. At the age of forty-two, the Emperor of France was at the height of his power and the fate of Europe seemed to lie in his hands.
The excitement in the streets of the city was almost tangible. Everywhere soldiers were to be seen, talking, laughing, shouting, keen to draw attention to their colourful uniforms and their air of martial bravado. The squares and thoroughfares seemed to glisten like snow on a crisp winter morning as sunlight was reflected from innumerable highly polished metal surfaces. On a corner a Captain of Chasseurs waved his sword in mock anger at a teasing cluster of rosy-cheeked boys. Leaning against a wall, a dour member of the Old Guard removed an imaginary speck from the brilliantly gleaming bayonet that he idly fixed to his musket. The sparkle of horse furniture was mirrored in a pane of glass as a Polish lancer dismounted and headed for the door of an inn. Then, accompanied by the staccato tattoo of horses’ hooves, another convoy of gun carriages weaved crazily through the bustling traffic, miraculously avoiding the carts, coaches, and squadrons of cavalry that hurried to the side of the road to avoid them. The dull rumble of their passage echoed along the canyons formed by the proud stone buildings of Dresden and, way above, tiny figures leaned out of their windows to get a better view of the passing spectacle.
The Grand Army was over half a million strong and it contained regiments from twenty-three different countries. On its General Staff were a King, a Prince, dukes, counts and barons, and there was even an historian to record its achievements in battle. The confusion caused by its cosmopolitan nature was already becoming evident as men from the Iberian Peninsula and Croatia tried to converse with their German hosts. Before long the soldiers of Spain, Portugal and Italy were making do with gestures and sign language, cheerfully oblivious of the danger the language barrier might present in the future.
Through the noise and the seething masses, a young man dressed in the blue and white uniform of a Fusilier-Grenadier of the Imperial Guard, made his way back to his billet. André Legrand was clutching a letter in his right hand and smiling. He had been hoping to hear from his brother Jean before the Army left Dresden and from the activity he had witnessed over the past few days he knew that departure was imminent. Entering a four-storeyed building near the Amalienstrasse he ran up the stairs taking them in twos and threes. On the landing of the third-storey he paused to catch his breath before opening the door of the Kügelgen household.
“I’m back!” he called in German to the woman working out of sight in the kitchen. There was no reply. Shrugging his shoulders, André removed his shako and ran a hand through his brown hair. Grinning at the familiar spidery writing scrawled across the front of the crumpled letter, he dragged a chair towards the living room table and sat down to read. At that moment the door from the front room burst open and a nine-year-old boy unleashed a torrent of incomprehensible words.
“Herr Legrand…It’s! Now! Here now!...Him!”
“Wait a minute Wilhelm,” André laughed, “I can’t understand you, don’t talk quite so fast. Who is here?”
“The Emperor – Napoleon!”
Smiling at the boy’s accent, André stuffed the letter into the pocket of his breeches and followed him into the kitchen.
“Maman! It is him! Him!” Wilhelm cried gleefully.
Kneading dough on a table, her round face dusted with flour, Frau Kügelgen smiled warmly at her son.
“Who is it Wilhelm?”
The smile slowly ebbed from her lips and she pursed them meditatively.
“Aren’t you coming to see him? Aren’t you coming? Quick…quick maman,” the boy pleaded, taking half a step back towards the door, “We’ll miss him!”
Standing still, her knuckles pressed into the dough, she shook her head.
“I have little inclination to see the man who is in the process of crushing a poor nation which has done him no harm.”
“But maman…” Wilhelm remarked in a tone of bewilderment.
His own smile having vanished in response to the feelings of his host, André put an arm around the boy’s shoulder and turned him towards the door.
“Your mother is busy Wilhelm…Shall we go and see?”
Glancing at her, André smiled palely then, shrugging his shoulders, he escorted Wilhelm back into the front room.
From the window they had a clear view of a regiment of Grenadiers of the Old Guard approaching to the sound of strident martial music. First came the Drum-Major, a giant of a man marching proudly with his head held impossibly high. Every third step he punched the air with his mace in time with the rhythm of the music. His gaudy uniform was festooned with gold lace that adorned his collar and cuffs and the seams of his coat and breeches.
Smiling broadly, André turned to look at his small companion. Wilhelm looked stunned, his eyes wide with astonishment.
“That’s Senot, Drum-Major of the Grenadiers. His uniform cost 30,000 francs.”
Then, as the sound of drums thundered along the street making the windows rattle, the drummers themselves came into view, clad in their blue dress uniforms with crimson facings. The familiar musicians were accompanied by several black cymbalists in mock-Turkish costume wearing crimson plumed turbans and crimson breeches decorated with gold lace. Even their boots had a flourish of ceremonial gold. The shrill crash of their instruments made Wilhelm jump. Laughing wildly, he bounced up and down at the windowsill.
“Careful Wilhelm - don’t lean over too far,” André gasped, taking hold of the boy to steady him down.
“Africans! Africans! I’ve never seen Africans Zsarsjunt!” he cried, trying to pronounce André’s rank the French way.
“The Emperor has soldiers from all over the world,” André chuckled.
“Look at those men!”
A squadron of pioneers followed the regimental band, huge men with the long beards traditional in their branch of the service. With their tall bearskins and flapping white aprons they drifted by like expressionless ghosts. Each pioneer carried an axe a metre long as well as his sword and carbine.
When it was the turn of the Grenadiers themselves to pass, Wilhelm once more began jumping up and down. The regimental eagle seemed to hover over a sea of nodding black bearskins as if looking for its next victim. Every man of the Old Guard sported a bristling moustache and a queue, as well as a pair of gold earrings. The brass cap plates at the front of their bonnets splintered the light into a thousand scintillating rays and the tramp of their feet reverberated from the walls at either side drowning out the sound of the music.
Bubbling over with pleasure, Wilhelm glanced up at André.
“It’s him! Him! I recognized his coat ten minutes ago when he was still at the end of the street!”
Slipping his arm around the boy’s shoulder, André shook him gently. A slight shiver ran down his back and his face betrayed an inner uncertainty lost on his young companion.
“That is the man we shall follow – to who knows where.”
“But you’re going to Russia Zsarsjunt, everyone knows that. I was born at Saint Petersburg. I wish I was going back with you.”
Their attention was suddenly caught by the sound of dozens of voices calling out from the windows on either side of the street.
“Vive l’Empereur! Vive l’Empereur!”
Napoleon approached on horseback, his classical features impassive, unperturbed by the clamour of adulation and an excited crowd that pressed forward against a burly line of Grenadiers in an effort to get nearer to him. He was dressed in his favourite uniform, that of the Chasseurs of the Guard, and over it he wore his famous grey redingcote. With calm dignity he raised his hat in mute acknowledgement of the cheers. But his eyes remained on the road ahead - his thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.
André and Wilhelm had become silent as they stared at the impressive figure below. They could see the Emperor’s aquiline profile and the line of his mouth that seemed like a sword-cut on marble, and then he passed them by.
“Le Tondu…” André’s voice was blank.
“What Zsarsjunt?” cried Wilhelm, suddenly finding his tongue once again.
“Le Tondu…The er…The Shorn One – in German Wilhelm…That is what we in the Guard call him.”
“Look at those Grenadiers. Can you see? At the back of their heads they wear a queue like me, a small ponytail. It is old-fashioned but it is a custom amongst us…The Emperor always has his hair cut short.”
“Le Tondu,” Wilhelm giggled in his high-pitched voice. “I shall go and tell maman I’ve seen Le Tondu!”
Running to the door, Wilhelm was just about to open it when André called him back.
“Wait!...There’s something I heard this morning.”
Wilhelm, looking a bit puzzled and not knowing what to make of André’s tone, moved slowly towards him.
“I have to rejoin my regiment this afternoon…I’m going to tell your mother now…”
“We will miss your Herr Legrand,” Wilhelm replied ingenuously.
Grinning, André tousled his hair.
“We’ll be back.”
“I hope so Zsarsjunt…” There was concern in Wilhelm’s voice.
“You’ve just seen the Grand Army Wilhelm. Who could stand against us?”
“But it is a very, very long way…Maman says the snow will stop your army…She says it is foolish – that she fears for you.”
Blushing, Wilhelm squirmed awkwardly and glanced down at his feet.
André could feel the blood rushing to his face.
“Heh…er…We’ll be back in no time. We’ll bring the Tsar to terms like we did at Friedland.”
Wilhelm appeared not to be listening.
“Maman will be sad to see you go…”
Running to the door, he opened it.
“So will I!” he blurted before he vanished.
Feeling uncomfortable, André picked up his shako from the living room and the rest of his gear from his bedroom and went to the kitchen.
When she saw him Frau Kügelgen pretended to be particularly busy and, with a sigh of exasperation, she turned to Wilhelm who was sat on a stool watching her.
“Go out and play for ten minutes Wilhelm.”
“But maman I want to be with Herr Legrand.”
He turned from his mother to André and back again. Both of them were looking at him imploringly. Dimly at first, understanding crept into his face, then lit up his eyes and, with a laugh, he ran out of the room singing and shouting:
“Le Tondu, Le Tondu, I’ve seen Le Tondu!" 
Frau Kügelgen relaxed and smiled when he had gone, lifting her hands up to show André.
“I’m still messed up I’m afraid.”
She tried to laugh, but her voice caught and she swallowed self-consciously.
André moved towards her and propped his musket against the stove.
“You’ve been very kind to me Frau Kügelgen.”
“You’ve been no trouble…no trouble at all.”
She wiped her hands on her apron at the hip, glancing into his eyes before turning away abruptly.
“Three soldiers billeted upon you must have been inconvenient.”
“I didn’t like the other two,” she said meditatively then, looking him full in the face, she remarked: “But I’m glad you stayed with us. Wilhelm has enjoyed your company…Since his father died there’s been no one apart from me to take an interest in him.”
André took a step closer to her as she lowered her glance and her fair hair tumbled over her eyes. Putting a hand gently beneath her chin, he raised her head. A few tears had made tracks through the flour on her cheeks. More were glistening in the corners of her eyes. Bending forward, he kissed her tenderly on the lips. Frau Kügelgen, about to put her arms around him, suddenly remembered that her hands were dusted with flour, so she held them high away from him as if in token of surrender. As he stepped back, André noticed her ungainly stance out of the corners of his eyes. A smile, half in satisfaction, half in sadness, creased his lips.
“If only I could stay…” he sighed.
Her frightened, timid eyes flittered from side to side as she tried to follow every nuance of expression on his young handsome face. The light burning behind his clear hazel eyes seemed to draw her glance like a magnet. Her beseeching look was too much for André and he turned away, pretending nonchalance as he straightened the heavy knapsack on his back and took hold of his musket. Taking two long strides towards the kitchen door, André looked back over his shoulder for the very last time. As their eyes drank each other in greedily, a meaningful and secret conversation seemed to pass between them, though neither spoke a word. André was torn between a desire to remain with his ready-made family of the last fortnight and the need to rejoin his regiment. He felt a slight but painful constriction in his chest. Then, faintly through the open window of the front room, echoed the cries he had heard so often before.
“Vive l’Empereur! Vive l’Empereur!”
André strode purposefully through the doorway across the living room and towards the stairs. Behind him Frau Kügelgen, stunned and disbelieving, uttered his name forlornly and then burst into tears.
As soon as he was outside, André began to feel easier within himself and, remembering the letter, a smile came to his lips as he headed towards his favourite café near the Brühl Terrace. There was time enough to read the letter before the 3 o’clock rendezvous with his comrades.
The streets through which he passed were unbearably crowded and the stench of horse dung, leather, and sweat hung in the dust filled air. Determined to leave this pestilential fug behind, André turned towards the River Elbe, where the grey waters crept along lugubriously between muddy, but less frequented banks.
As he walked, his thoughts turned more and more to the future. Once again the excitement he felt in being part of such an audacious campaign sent a thrill through his very being. Dozens of church bells were clamouring for attention against the background rumble of unceasing traffic and the unending gun salutes in honour of visiting dignitaries. André laughed out loud as a surge of contentment and wellbeing pulsed through his veins. He felt glad to be alive. A picture of Frau Kügelgen flashed across his mind’s eye and his lips edged downwards.
“There’ll be others – there always is,” he said aloud, to the surprise of an elderly German couple promenading along the riverbank.
André chuckled even more when they muttered at him and moved on shaking their heads.
He had only been outside the café five minutes when a cup of thick black coffee was placed on the wooden table in front of him. The delicious aroma brought a smile of self-satisfaction to André’s face and when he took out Jean’s letter and began to read he felt that he did not have a care in the world. His younger brother’s irrepressible adoration for the Emperor, evident in almost every line, only served to improve his mood.
“Dear André,
How lucky, how fortunate, how blessed you are, and how jealous I am. To think that you are going to Persia, to India, to the four corners of the earth with Him, and I remain here at the lycée, bored out of my brains.
When the drums wake me in the morning, I think of fighting for the Emperor, when we parade in our uniforms I think of vanquishing his enemies, when we walk to the sound of flutes, cymbals, piccolo and drum, I imagine we are celebrating another of Le Tondu’s victories, yet all the time I’m in the backwoods of Limoges while my big brother finds glory on yet another campaign. It isn’t fair André!
The Emperor is already over 40, and the masters say he can’t go on fighting forever. Austria, Prussia, Spain – at this rate there’ll be no place left for him to conquer. My friends and I feel cheated André. I’ve told mother that 15 is old enough to fight, that the Army had drummer boys much younger than I am, but she will have none of it. She says she needs help in the inn and that the family needs me more than the Emperor. Women don’t understand – I love mother of course, and I wouldn’t want to upset her, but I wish I could fight just once for the Emperor. Just once, that’s all I ask!
None would be braver than I André. I would fear no ugly Cossack, or even the army of Frederick of Prussia that you told me about. Last week the headmaster, Monsieur Payen, complimented me on my fencing and the fencing master says I show great promise. But all I have to fight are straw dummies and fence posts. It isn’t fair André. I suppose by now you are laughing at your brother, but my mathematics teacher also praised me and said I would make a good artillery officer. We both know who started in that branch of the service!
I hope you will bring me back a souvenir. I’ve put that Spanish dagger in pride of place above my bed and all the other boys are envious of me. You’ve been to Austria, Prussia, Poland and Spain, and I’ve only been to Caen, Paris, and Limoges. It just isn’t fair. When I finish here there’ll be no wars left to fight. I might as well go and stay at Les Invalides now! The thought of spending the rest of my life in Caen freezes my soul André. There must be more to life than becoming an innkeeper. Murat was the son of an innkeeper and look at him! The only horses I normally see are on mail coaches or carriages. I’d love to follow Murat into the thick of it. Normandy has produced one Conqueror, why not a second – Jean Legrand! Go ahead and laugh, but here at school and for me, there’s only one party, only one shout, only one voice: “Vive l’Empereur!”
Yesterday Robiquet drew a wonderful picture of Napoleon and Marie-Louise, and above them, in the middle, he put an eagle spreading its wings. He put the motto: “Forever Onward” underneath and got us all to sign it. Naturally we all did, and it’s on our dormitory wall beneath the school portrait of Him. I shall be a Bonapartist till I die. I don’t believe the stories they say about Spain. If the Emperor went in person he’d soon make light of the Spaniards and the English. Wellington would run like Moore before him. Ah well, think of me as you march hand in hand with destiny and glory André. You always were the lucky one. Father is always talking about you to the guests when I go home, particularly to the old soldiers who stay with us, but when I’m in the room, to please mother, he says: “War is a shocking business, yes, a shocking business,” and mother nods her head solemnly and looks at me. It isn’t fair André – I haven’t even been to war!
Mother and father are both well. The inn is still making money so hopefully there’ll be enough for my kit when I’m old enough to serve in the Grand Army. I’m sure I’ll make a good officer. All my friends say so. Do write to me and tell me of all the places you see. I shall close my eyes and pretend that I am with you.
Have you seen Alexandre yet? I miss his laugh and his jokes! All the girls in Caen were sad when he left after his stay with us last year. Less competition for me though. I’d like a mistress to come home to – like the Old Guard have theirs at the Barrière du Roule in Paris. But don’t tell mother I said so!
I look forward to seeing you when the campaign is over.
You’ll probably be an Adjudant then. En avant!
Chuckling to himself, André was just about to re-read the letter when there was a commotion at another table. Draining his cup, he put the letter down momentarily and looked over to see what was causing the disturbance. At a table by the roadside sat a colossal figure with a huge black beard. The man was wearing the uniform of a pioneer of the Old Guard. The expression on his face, and his behaviour, indicated that he was the worse for drink.
“I said another one!” he bellowed at a diminutive waiter.
“Ja, Ja,” the anxious man replied, confused and uncertain as to what was being asked of him.
“Don’t speak to me in that babble. French! French!”
André looked with disdain at the scene and made as if to get up, but the pioneer, seeing his intention of becoming involved, lurched unsteadily to his feet and glared at him malevolently. Only then did André appreciate just how big his potential adversary was. The pioneer was at least two metres tall, and even then he did not appear to be standing up straight.
Sitting back down slowly and deliberately, André snapped his fingers and gestured to the trembling waiter to approach, then he spoke to him in German.
“Coffee, I think he wants another coffee – I suggest you be quick about it,” he smiled grimly.
“Thank you, thank you,” the waiter replied, glad at last to know what was required of him.
The pioneer glared at André, the whites of his eyes rolling blearily against the background of his beard, black hair and ruddy complexion.
When the coffee appeared he tossed it back scalding hot without flinching and then, realizing that André had been of service to him, he nodded and snarled gruffly. Standing up, he sent the table and bench flying as he turned round and set off, lumbering up the street.
“Bravo André. Bravo,” a familiar voice called out from behind.
André swivelled around with surprise.
“I was told I might find you here.”
André clasped his friend’s arm warmly.
“How long have you been there?”
“I saw the whole thing my man. An exemplary performance, I certainly wouldn’t have wished to poleaxe that ox unaided.”
“You mean you were there all the time?”
“Having been billeted on a gruel-serving Prussian, far be it from me to help another one of ’em out.”
Laughing, André slapped him on the shoulder and gestured for him to sit down.
“Merci mon brave.”
“Ah enough of that. You would have done the same.”
“Not me André – my German isn’t good enough. I only know the words for wine, brandy and women.”
Shaking his head, and smiling broadly at his friend whose infectious grin had already banished the tension of the past few minutes, André picked up the letter.
“It’s from Jean – he misses you…So do the women of Caen.”
“And why not?” Alexandre retorted, twirling his thick brown moustache ostentatiously.
André put his hand absent-mindedly to his own moustache, rubbing a finger meditatively against his lips.
“That was before we went to Spain…”
“Yes, it seems years ago my man.”
“My man… Do you remember when you said that to Old Man Roguet?”
“Well, I was drunk at the time.”
“I thought he was going to have you shot.”
André noticed the familiar mad twinkle in Alexandre’s eyes and he waited expectantly for his friend’s rejoinder.
“Aha, he was…But him being so humane, he wanted it done by the best marksman in our regiment…”
“And we both know who’s the best marksman in our regiment!” they chorused.
“Nah, he’d never have done it,” Alexandre continued, “I’m one of his favourites and as long as I win the shooting competitions I’ll remain so.”
“Well no one can shoot these damned muskets like you.”
André glanced at his own which he had put on the bench behind him.
“The velite pattern. I wish the Emperor would do something about them. The one I had at Wagram misfired every other shot.”
“Ah, you don’t treat them right André. They have to be caressed like a woman and have soothing words said over them.”
“Oh I said some soothing words over it all right!”
Laughing, they turned to the timid waiter who appeared with their coffee and laughed all the more when they saw his bemused expression. The man walked away, repeatedly glancing over his shoulder.
“He probably thinks all our Army is mad,” André continued, “First the oaf, and now you, grinning like an imbecile.”
“Well I hope the army of Saxony consists of better specimens than him, otherwise they won’t be of much use to us.”
“Saxons?” André responded. “There’s Dutch, Germans, Italians, Portuguese, even Spaniards.”
“Yes, only a few months ago we were killing Spaniards…It’s a strange world.”
André became thoughtful for a moment and pursed his lips. Noticing that Alexandre was regarding him intently, he smiled.
“I was just thinking about the campaign…Russia again…after Eylau and Friedland.”
“Yes, it won’t be as easy as some of the new recruits think. But we do have an advantage.”
André raised his eyebrows.
“The Emperor.”
“Yes, I can’t see him being beaten with an army this size.”
“Well, I personally wouldn’t give much for our allies. The Prussians will desert us as soon as they can and the Austrians are waiting behind our backs to pounce the moment they see any sign of weakness.”
A sober look came over Alexandre’s face, the light in his eyes seemed to dim, and he frowned.
“That’s the one thing in life that is certain André. No matter how many times we defeat the Austrians, they’ll keep coming back at us. Without the Emperor they’d all join together, the Prussians, the Austrians and the Russians, to crush us like they tried to do during the Revolution.”
Sitting back and emptying his cup, André stared at his left hand momentarily as he touched each of his fingers with his thumb.
“I’ve never heard you sound so…well – thoughtful – before a campaign.”
“I’ve been listening to some of the Old Guard.”
“Oh let me have a look,” André grinned.
“At your queue. How’s it coming along?”
Alexandre laughed as he turned the back of his head towards his friend.
“Very fine!” André enthused as he studied the small ponytail, dressed, powdered and ribboned, and pinned with a silver grenade.
“You look like a real grognard. All you need is some grey in your moustache and hair.”
“I know,” began Alexandre, pulling a face, “Some of the Old ’uns think it a cheek that we’re allowed to have them, despite having permission.”
“Hah, don’t let that bother you. To some of them you’re no good unless you took blood at the breast and cut your teeth on bullets.”
“They tell some damn good stories though,” Alexandre grinned, the fire blazing anew at the back of his eyes.
André sat back and folded his arms.
“How do you keep your queue so neat? Doesn’t it take ages to comb and powder it?”
“Yes, that’s true. First I have to brush my hair out in front like pigeon’s wings and powder the queue carefully, then I tie it up with black worsted ribbon leaving five centimetre ends. I had hoped to get a tattoo here in Dresden as well, but there’s too many others with the same idea.”
“What would you have done?”
“I want a grenade on either arm and an eagle on my chest.”
“Alex…They’ll still never accept you as one of them.”
Irritated, Alexandre shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the table, but glancing into André’s kindly, indulgent eyes, he soon regained his spirits.
“Sometimes I wish I was born ten years earlier.”
“Me too…Toulon and the Italian Campaign.”
“Yes - Egypt.”
“Then again André, we did fight at Austerlitz.”
“And Jena...”
“Eylau and Friedland. And now we’re back where we started.”
“If Le Tondu does for Russia this time, there’ll only be the English.”
“True, but their navy makes them invincible at sea,” André reminded him.
“Hmm…but if the Guard were re-trained as sailors?”
André laughed and clasped Alexandre by the shoulder.
“We shall see. But I, for one, would not relish life in a hulk. Those damned barges at Boulogne were enough for me.”
“Yes…pity we didn’t get the chance to fight the English on their own soil…”
“Had we have done, we probably wouldn’t be here in Saxony…And that reminds me Alex, we’re due with the Regiment soon.”
Replacing the letter in his pocket, André tossed a few coins onto the table.
“I can now tell Jean I have seen you – when I get the chance to write.”
Chapter two
At headquarters that same day on May 28th a rather squat man with a rounded, homely face paced nervously outside Napoleon’s room. His most Serene Highness Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Marshal of France, Vice-Constable, Master of the Hounds, Prince of Wagram, Duke of Valengin, Sovereign Prince of Neuchâtel, was known more simply to the common soldier as The Emperor’s Wife.
Berthier had been Napoleon’s Chief of Staff for sixteen years and from him he had received a large income, a mansion in Paris, an estate outside the city, and a pretty young Bavarian princess as a wife. Nevertheless, he was secretly bitter. Always on campaign as the Emperor’s indispensable right hand man, the 59 year old lamented the fact that he seldom saw either his estates or his wife and family. On more than one occasion he had divulged the nature of his unhappy state of mind to the ADC who was standing respectfully behind him.
Pausing for a moment, Berthier sighed and shook his head.
“He’s got General Narbonne in there. You know how he favours him.”
“Yes sir,” the tall ADC replied in a noncommital tone.
Berthier looked him up and down, his piercing eyes scrutinizing every centimetre of his uniform. Colonel Count Armand Lafayette was immaculately presented in black pelisse, white dolman, and scarlet trousers, every item of which was studded with gold lace. Under his arm he carried his white-plumed scarlet shako. Beneath a rather unruly shock of black wavy hair, his eyes looked full of resolve, and his clean-shaven features mirrored this quiet, unassuming confidence.
“Are you ready for this Colonel?”
“I believe so sir.”
“He’s in a bad mood today. The General is repeating what the Tsar told him at his headquarters in Vilna…Just because he’s asked you to become his aide-de-camp and personal courier that doesn’t mean he will spare you.”
Armand, who had been staring fixedly at the door, lowered his eyes to look at the Chief of Staff.
“I am ready to serve in whatever capacity the Emperor sees fit sir.”
Berthier chuckled and the fat under his chin wobbled slightly.
“You always did know the right thing to say Armand – frankly I shall be sorry to let you go.”
Armand’s habitual dour expression was suddenly transformed. He smiled brightly, revealing his white even teeth fleetingly before his face once more resumed its sombre, controlled mien.
“Thank you sir.”
“The work connected with this campaign is unending. It will be the death of me!”
With that remark, Berthier once more resumed his pacing. In his loose-fitting uniform with his thickset, stocky frame and his hands clasped behind his back, he bore an uncanny resemblance to his master. However, his personal reveries were abruptly curtailed.
“Berthier!” the Emperor called from the adjoining room.
The Grand Marshal hurried to the door and opened it.
Napoleon was standing with is back to the door, his hands clasped behind him, toying with a riding switch. Having only recently returned from parade, he was still clad in his grey redingcote and dusty riding boots. He was watching his Chief of Staff’s reflection in a huge mirror over an empty, but massively ornate fireplace.
Berthier stood just inside the room, perspiring nervously. After a full minute, the Emperor turned slowly and regally.
“Where is this man you speak so highly of?” he barked in a staccato, incisive voice.
Glancing over his shoulder, the Grand Marshal nodded at Armand, then turned back towards his master.
“Sire, may I present Colonel Count Armand Lafayette of my staff.”
Armand stepped forward to Berthier’s side, bowed in a dignified manner, and clicked his heels.
“So…” Napoleon said reflectively, “This is the indefatigable worker himself, Berthier’s Berthier heh?”
For a moment the Emperor’s eyes softened and his mouth creased with a gentle smile. Armand stood rigid, looking straight ahead, disconcerted by his reflection in the mirror that made him feel self-conscious.
“What do you think General?” Napoleon enquired of Narbonne who was stood with folded arms by the window.
The 57-year-old member of the high nobility, who was rumoured to have been Louis XV’s bastard son, was caught off-guard.
“The Count - here Narbonne. Do you know each other?”
Narbonne had been very thoughtful ever since he returned from the Tsar’s headquarters and his thoughts, as he gazed out of the window, had been following a train of their own.
Armand coughed slightly.
“Sire, I have had the honour to serve the General several times in the past.”
Napoleon turned from Narbonne to the much younger officer standing so proudly beside the Grand Marshal.
“Indeed…Well Count, I would like your advice.”
Armand was taken completely by surprise. He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple catching on the collar of his uniform. However, within seconds he had regained his composure.
“Narbonne here has been to Alexander at Vilna. I want you to listen to his report. General.”
With his hair dressed and powdered in the old style, Louis Count de Narbonne, onetime Minister of War to Louis XVI and renowned as a man of honour and outstanding wit, went towards a large oak table which was covered almost entirely by a gigantic map.
“If you would gather round gentlemen,” he said courteously to Berthier and Armand.
Waiting a few moments until they and the Emperor had approached, Narbonne continued.
“Observe this map of Russia. The Emperor wishes you to bear it in mind whilst I speak.”
“General – we are short of time,” Napoleon interrupted with barely suppressed irritation.
“Er…yes Sire…When I went to the Tsar he said: ‘What does the Emperor want? Does he want to get me on his side, to compel me to adopt measures which will ruin my people?’”

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