Act 2, Scenes 1-2

SCENE 1: A house in Ghjat

Napoleon is in his camp bed / Enter Caulaincourt

Your majesty, it is late, are you well

It is early, the day just beginning
See to it that the door is firmly closed,
& come and sit bedside me for a while

Yes sire, this is not your normal habit

But this is not a normal episode
Let us be frank in the discussive purse
Of lips released by two long loyal friends
A pagan pox upon these toxic times
Of how they try sensations on all sides,
Still the army, my beautiful army,
Entertaining cheerful dispositions,
Counters each looming maleficience
With admirable applomb.

Have you not
Seen the extreme disorganization
Such feats of arms cannot indefinite
Continue, there are many miseries
To come caused by the cold severity
We shall mourn the army in its ashes
Remember the report of the reply
Made by the Tsar to your peace proposal,

He said his campaign was just beginning

Yes sire, take his reply literally
With each day fresh of the season’s passing
Fate favours Russia more

But your prophet,
Has been an error-maker more than once
I find your forecast a stray chicken bone
Stuck in the throat of sensible thinking
In one’s week’s time his buckish host shall be
No better of a fettle for battle
Than ours, they too need rest, moiety
Of masses from statehead spreads in motion
When buried in the moment’s gravity
Unexpert anarchs lead for doom their flock
As for the coming cold let me predict
Our troops’ superior intelligence
Shall forge them precautionary safegaurds
Against the frost, & probably improve
On Russian methods.

We are to master
In days where the Russians had centuries

We shall, without doubt

Caulaincourt pauses a moment digesting Napoleon’s high-mindedness

Have you given thought
As to the Winter quarters & the line

When reinforced we will not need to stand
Stock-still on stiffen’d ankles ’til the spring
There shall be motion & mobility

But will we last as long, the rendezvous
With all reinforcing battalions
Must be beyond the Berezinan flow
Which will be gaurded, sire, could the army
Reach as far as there, lamentable chance,
Weapons abandoned, food is running short;
When horses fall exhausted in their tracks
Meat hack’d & carved from bones while mouths still breathe
Horseflesh with mouldy flour paste made normal
Among the wretched men you claim so strong,

They shall survive this trial, we all shall,
& in the spring rhimotacles shall ride
from Anthony to our Augustan fate
It is probable I’ll go to Paris
The moment that the army is secure,
To organize re-energization
Of our ever prosp’rous state – what say you
Upon my thoughts, would it inflict a mean
Impression of me in the minds of men

It is useful what you think of doing
Sire, to offset this retreat’s impression
By personal appearance in Paris,
For as man’s nature the mutable cloud
Our plight seems to me more precarious
Than you see or can believe, the question
Is truly what the devil might attempt
In Europe thro’ your absence, you should leave,
For emperors flogging the fields too long
Return in the dead waste of middle night
To find his power skating on a swamp
Marshier than by Sevres-Niortaise

Agreed, peregrinating pavonine
The French are all female, we must not stay
Away from them long, else schemers surface
From grates & gutters, gremlins filling thoughts
With fateful fancies, faking grave events
With conniving & conversible speech
Estranging faith with a pale-hearted fear
It is certain my presence in Paris
Would end all dreams of treason, melding hearts
To hasten contrudation of forces
Which armies raise in just eleven weeks

Another army & another war?

If we are forced to fight then fight we must
But… do you think the Tsar might acquiesce
To overtures of peace now the army
Evacuates the provinces by day

No more than when we waited at Moscow,
Especially now, they’ll sling exultance
Across the paths to Poland



It does feel late, perhaps I’ll sleep awhile

Napoleon dozes off, exit Caulaincourt

SCENE 2: The Field of Borodino

Enter Bourgogne, Legrand, Boquet, Graingier, Leboude, Foucart, Rossi, Captain Vachain / on a ridge over Borodino the company halts in horror

This is a Stygian sight, hide your eyes
Refrain from gazing on this trampl’d plain
Upon the blood-dyed standards & the drums
That mark the tombs of fifty generals
Thro’ thirty thousand corpses half-devour’d
Death fixes here his empire, let us wait
Until the set of eve before we weave
Passages thro’ melancholic tatters
Of our beloved in forces in their prime

Who could have thought that those heroes who fought
The famous battle of the Moskowa
Would tread again its soil in full retreat

We have pickl’d in such juices before
Remember how we dash’d against the gates
of Asia, back in ninety eight, back then
We presented ourselves as conquerors
Before retreating with bleeding noses

But we triumphed under the Pyramids
Rode horses thro the Kremlin’s corridors
They whom serve not shall never understand
The spirit of a soldier, they who drift
Safe in commodious habitations –
But what are pleasures & advantages
Against the great work, glorious begun,
When thirsty of that fame insatiable
Victory’s intoxicating fever
Impels men forth with powerful instinct
To seek out death & immortality!

Lets build a fire, it is damn near freezing
There is fuel aplenty, we should rest
& burn the butts of rifles, frames of carts

A good plan quartermaster, I’ll collect
Some water while the boys brake the wood

Yes sergeant

Come & help

Yes sir

Exit Bourgogne & Leboude

Captain Vachain
What fight titanic forever inscribed
On history’s memorial pages
The Russian bear fought very brave all day
We laugh’d at the striplings of Austerlitz
But they have come of age upon this field
Manifesting exhaustless persistence
It was a deadly grave for cavalry
When more than half our horsemen ne’er shall mount
The broad backs of their kindred beasts again

When was the battle fought

Fifty-two days
Ago by my account

What ghastly scene
It was & is still

We waded in blood
The earth refused to swallow – heads, arms, legs
Strewn everywhere still

Russians in the main
Ours lain to rest as far as possible
Beneath this sorry turf

Done hastily
As rain uncovers the debris of death
The lowest degree of humanity
Reveal’d, with barely a mortal semblance

Whose is this lance Graingier, well you know
Our foes’ uniforms & insiginia

That weapon was wielded by an Uhlan
This Tartar word light cavalry defines
Look, there’s the square-topp’d hat its owner wore

Enter Bourgogne & Leboude carrying Martin, whose legs are shattered

We found a stream where the water flows rank
Wriggling its course thro’ putrefying flesh
Beside its stench we found this grenadier

I am alive, if this no dream

Methinks it would be us who were adream
How could you have surviv’d this long in hell
With both your legs ablown

I slept beneath
The body of a horse, gutted by shell
Languishing for weeks I gnaw’d its raw flesh
This strange & sepid, pestiforous fare
Kept me abreathe upon this fatal field
You get used to the water in the end
But haunted & tortur’d everywhither
By faradaic phantasm repines
My mind said ‘the wind,’ my soul knew better
Reflecting on the day inside this song
Woven in moonlight to ward away wolves



I have been at the siege of Toulon, gave no quarter
I was caught in the carnage strewn under the Austerlitz sun
In battle I’ve never seen more of a terrible slaughter
Than Borodino by the Russians’ redoubtable guns

Blood, blood, blood
Is the gold of the conqueror
Slay it away (at the altar)
Where a man prays for his day

I was torn from my horse by a Hussar in fury
My sabre slash’d swift, form’d a face flailing ribbons of flesh
This was a trial before death without judge even jury
As every next second I had to face dangers afresh

Blood, blood, blood
Is the goal of the warrior
Slay it away at the altar
Where a man prays for his day
Where a man pleads to his de-ity
Not to reach heaven that day

Then out of the clouds came a cannonball falling
It shatter’d my knees as it sank into inches of mud
I cried out for comrades thro agonies more than apalling
Fair price for a man who partakes in these Ballads of Blood

Blood, blood, blood
Is the gold of the conqueror
Slay it away (at the altar)
Where a man prays for his day
Where a man pleads to his de-ity
Not to reach heaven that day

On the conclusion of the song Bourgogne drifts away once more

There is a convent but two miles away
Where taken to were most of our wounded
When many yet remain, the Emperor
Has order’d their removal west by cart
We’ll take you there

Not just yet, let me stay
Awhile with healthy soldiers, hear your news
Did you go to Moscow, & the Tsar,
Is he defeated, & with it restored
The Continental System,

Have some wine
Let Rossi shall tell all you wish to know,
He is the gossip-merchant of our troupe

Rossi begins to talk to Martin / enter Madame Dubois with Stephanie carrying a cooking pot between them

Here you go boys, don’t drink it all at once

Madame Dubois! What fills your cooking pot

Fresh water from a quarter league away

And who is this

Her name is Stephanie
Made widow at Maloyaroslavets
& she shall struggle lone at brink of term
No more, her babe & she now in my care

Another mouth to feed

her mouth is french

Where is your cart

The axles broke both ends
& all it carried stripp’d in moments mere,
All of our provisions gone; the punch bowl
my beautiful, clear-cut crystal punch bowl
Thefted away by some beak-nosed lombard

All you say

Yes all

This is disastrous

No, not disaster, ’tis the devil’s work

Whether it be Lombard or the Devil
We’ll all be making do & starting now
I scraped a little flour up from the floor
That is all I have left to make supper
Thick soup of fresh horseflesh will have to do
But before we begin the kitchen, boys,
Come take a glug of acqua for canteens
But leave half for the soup, now who has flour
to spare


& you, Leboude

I have some

Madame Dubois alas all mine is spent

so soon

Have some of mine

& you Boquet

I put mine at the same pot with Legrand

{Foucart shakes his head in silence}
Then this will have to do my boys
Come stephanie, let us slice up the meat

Bourgogne returns with a bearskin

It fits me rather well, do you not think

Well look at the lucky fellow’s fortune

Bourgogne, I’ll swap you my mistress in Lille
For that fine coat

I’ve seen her, keep her please

A busy scene – a snowdrop begins to fall – as Bourgogne is rearanging his bearskin, he stretches out his arms – the first snowflake of winter falls in one of his outstretched hands

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