A grey and cloudy dawn saw the Barsetshire company on the march toward the hill country to the north. The native drums had beat steadily all through the night. Every man in the column knew the natives watched their steady progress into the tribal lands. Occasionally warriors could be seen in the distance when the growing heat haze allowed. Every man wondered when the hammer would fall.
They soon found out.
A shallow valley dotted with scrub and stands of elephant grass opened before them. Movement in the scrub and on the distant hill suggested the Gwunda tribe was about to make its move.
Lance Corporal Hudson glared at the new recruit. "Mind your business lad! You're not on the fookin' parade ground now!"
Hardly had he spoken than the distant women raised bows and fired a volley of arrows. The deadly missiles hissed through the air and found their mark - two men fell pierced through the heart and Hudson grunted as an arrow buried itself in his left arm.
The Queen's colour flies defiantly above the tents as the company draws into the protection of the zariba for the night.
As the medics do their work, DC Carstairs and Dr. Beckenbaur discuss the day's events, and ponder on what to do next.
* * * *
Carstairs looked sadly at the blanket-covered forms of the fallen. Something of his Scottish mother's Celtic romanticism came through, for he began to recite quietly.
Oh, mother-mair, mak' up ma bed,
For ma heart is sair wi' sorrow.
Adoon the glen lie seven men dead,
In dowie dens o' yarrow...
* * * *The end of the day sees a British tactical victory in that they hold the field, having inflicted severe casualties on the Gwunda tribe. Strategically, however, Captain Pike and his men are in a pretty predicament. Seven men lie dead, as many are seriously wounded - almost half the company are hors de combat. His conscience prickles him over the wrong deployment which contributed to the mess, but he pushes the thought aside. A more urgent matter confronts him - what to do now? Should he continue with the mission, or withdraw?