Dawn came too early to the dispirited British army. Men groaned as Sergeants roughly kicked them away, sore from yesterday's long march and dreading the one to come. More disturbing then this was the men who made no sound when kicked. They lay there; eyes closed and faces already turning a sickly blue. The soldiers averted their eyes from the newly dead; it was a common sight by now. The cold claimed a few every night.
As the men awoke groggily and prepared themselves for another grueling day, the senior officers were already awake and gathered in General Moore's tent. Many nursed cups of coffee as they stared down gloomily at the map lay before them. They needed to cover another 100 miles, and on top of that outrace the oncoming French General Soult and his horde of vengeful Frenchmen. It was a thought that nobody relished, especially as they were being harried by the French dragoons. That was why they were gathered here, the rear guard had to be selected. Moore was bent over the table, looking blankly at the map as one of his aids whispered into his year. Moore was vaguely aware that the man was telling him how many horsemen were trailing them, and he had to try to force himself to refocus. It was hard, gloomy thoughts filled his head. He felt like they were on a road to hell, not Corunna, and the political implications of what he was doing weren't lost on him either. Moore was outnumbered hugely by fresh, well armed French, but in England newspapers would print "General Moore loses British Field Army." Members of parliament would call for his immediate dismissal and disgrace, calling him a coward for attempting to save his men. It just wasn't right, despite his many victories, his many accomplishments; Moore knew history would define him by how he handled this one impossible task. How he led his men during this trail of death.
Snapping out of his dark thoughts, Moore waved the pestering man away from him. He already knew how many men were chasing them after all; the numbers hadn't changed. He had heard the same report from the same boring man for more mornings then he cared to think about. Moore clasped his hands behind his back and stood up straight, immediately silencing the room. "Gentlemen" Moore began, with a slight nod to the assembled officers, "The rear guard today will be composed of the pickets, Colonel Rutherman will have command. That is all; we will leave within the hour." The officers, used to his brief and dismissive morning reports, left the tent quickly to spread the orders.
The pickets were a small piece of every battalion that formed together to make a mixed group, usually used to scout the armies advance, but alternatively used for many tasks such as this. The majors rode off to other meetings, this time with their junior officers. Each major was responsible for picking a company from their battalion. These unlucky companies would be sent to the rear to fend off the vicious horsemen following. It meant an even more exhausting day then those who simply had to march, but someone had to do it.
When Major Eddings reached the tent he found his lieutenants and captains already waiting for him. Captain Smithers held his aching head in his hands, and Eddings frowned disapprovingly. All of the officers greeted him politely expect for Smithers, but they also took care to avoid his eyes. They were like students afraid to be called on by the professor, hoping to avoid the dreaded rear guard. Eddings looked around the room speculatively and his eyes fell upon the pathetic form of Smitehrs, obviously experiencing rather painful hangover. A smile touched Eddings' mouth but didn't extend to his eyes. "Smithers" he said, unnecessarily loud, "Your company will be going to the pickets. Look for Colonel Rutherman, he's leading today." Smithers jumped at the loud sound, and stood up sharply, staring into Eddings' eyes with his own bloodshot, tired ones. "Yes sir. Thank you sir" the insufferable man said in a tone bordering on outright contempt. Eddings frowned and waved a hand dismissively. "That will be all gentlemen" Eddings concluded, "We march within the hour."
The officers left the tent, Smithers still sulking from this unwelcome duty and Lawford following timidly. Smithers was mad, but Lawford was petrified. This would be his first battle; the thought caused him to start sweating, even in the biting cold. Smithers didn't talk during their walk back, or bother giving orders when they returned to their company. Lawford gave the necessary commands and the men packed up and left for Colonel Rutherman to join the rear guard. They were in for a long day.