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The Colonel's Wife

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She does not feel, she does not know, that she is preparing a poison which will destroy us both; and I drink deeply of the draught which is to prove my destruction. — The Sorrows of Young Werther

OOOO

The Colonel sits his horse in a clearing and glasses along the coast. His arms and legs covered in a green cloak and his hat tucked into a bag on the cantle. Thick green wool scarfing covering all but his eyes. A new proofed Brown Bess hangs from the saddle scabbard and knocks against his heel from the strong wind off the sea. A pistol in the front holster and one under his coat tucked into his waistband. The sun up less than an hour and the clouds of an approaching storm and the cathedral of the forest encompassing everything in a grey twilight. No shadows to be seen. And somewhere upon that land, the invisible shadow of Colonel John Graves Simcoe himself.

High rock bluffs drop sheer to beachhead below, no way to get down here. He lowers his spy glass and surveys the land. The edge of the forest flush plum above the rocky coast. A gently flooded outlet forging a chine joins the land along the coast ahead with a small beach around the edge of a granite outcropping. To the east lays Horseneck through thick pine and oak scrub and then Huntingdon and then beyond to the end of the New World. To the west the same endless pinewood into Oyster Bay. The bluffs would have been no obstacle approaching from the west out of there. He raises his glass again and centers in on the dying slip of smoke from a night fire he had been following as it dissipates into the nothing from the sheer drop below. As sure as he thought, she is sticking to the coastline.

Ten men behind him. All cavalry. They’re draped in dark cloaks over their usual white pants, their hats replaced with the same wool scarfing the Colonel is wearing to protect them from the biting frost. They’re upon good horses that have their own long faces sheathed in white cloaks. The men have pistols in their belt holders and muskets slung by buckled leather harnesses off the saddle. He takes a small two man detachment with him east and sends the rest under the direction of Captain Ross who will rejoin the Colonel and circle back after sending out two patrols west.

They navigate through the chary dawn up the bench of land that forms the parallel of the bay. The dead space between the trees drift in dead pine needles and slush ice. Cold and getting colder. The wind brutal and relentlessly cutting between the sheltering trees.

When they come to a clearing at the crest of the ridge he finally smells what the horse had been smelling. The stench of putrefaction wafting up on a rising vector of the morning salt breeze. He sits the horse and turns in the saddle and tries to find the source of the scent but loses it. He turns the horse and sits back facing the chine and then puts the horse forward down the narrow sandy slope. The horse soft steps its way, its velvet ears pricking up when a group of birds burst into the sky from the sharp sea scrub around them. The Colonel pats its neck and urges it on down.

About thirty feet or so down on the steep downslope he smells it again and he halts the horse and it stands waiting for him.

“What do you think, girl.”

He tests the air again, but still nothing. He moves the horse on and they ride down the entirety of the steep slope. He halts the horse and looks down and sees a small tidal river rushing out of the chine and towards the sea and likewise the sea counter surging up into the outlet where two planks of wood had been laid across in a makeshift footbridge.

He moves the horse on and they ride down the entire of the steep gravel, onto grainy sand of the backshore. Something catches his eye and he halts the horse and looks down towards the broad flood basin of the outlet. He dismounts and walks to the impermanent shore and looks down at the source of the smell he’d been following. A flyblown corpse that had been dragged out into the open beachhead. A deep relief when he notices it is a young Negro boy. Upon closer inspection he recognizes him. The boy from the tavern. Dead not long. He walks over to a mound of disturbed gravely earth where the body had been apparently stolen from a shallow sepulcher. He shields his eyes from the glare with the back of his hand and looks around to the grey sea and back towards the forest. Drag marks are still somewhat visible on the opposite side of the flow-through. Dog paw tracks in the sand. Viscera scattered about. He places his hand on the hilt of his pistol and scans for any scavengers still lingering.

He goes back and picks up the reigns and mounts and rides out across the outlet, it not more than a foot or two deep and ten across. The sheet-ice crushes under the horse’s hooves as it walks quickly over the painfully freezing water. Two dragoons follow, the rest wait upon the slope of the chine having a good vantage of the country above and below. All keeping their distance as he instructed them to. He would have preferred to come alone the entire way but that is suicidal in this area and he has no intentions of becoming some pirate’s or rebel’s prize.

It takes him some twenty minutes to ride to the end of the beach until he hits a rock slide absconding his path. Crumbled white and brown monolithic quarry spilling into the sea and another sure sign he was on the right path: an abandoned makeshift shelter at its base sits closest to the vertical cliff, made of drift wood and beach scavenge so shabbily that he almost missed it. A pair of long branches arranged in what seems an unnatural and odd placement the only thing calling attention to it. All of it too high for the horse to pass. He has the dragoons wait and he dismounts and ties the horse to a nearby bleached drift log.

He climbs up and sits in the rocks and pulls out his spy glass and scans ahead. A long curve of snowy beach. The cliff lined with birch trees that stand bone pale against the dark of the evergreens beyond. The shoreline a disarray of twisted stumps, gray and weathered, the beaching of trees adrift from a hurricane years past. A singular figure, walking ahead maybe a few hundred feet away. A woman dressed in men’s clothing, oversized and cumbersome on her small frame. Looking like a filthy mad street dweller that wanders and begs for coin. Walking slowly and with great effort. A large bag clutched under her left arm. A gray wool blanket covers her head, but keeps getting caught in the relentless wind and blowing off, revealing country ravaged apple red frosted skin, black hair, long streaming wind tussled and loose. A slight pain creeps behind his breastbone in the exact spot she had wept against him, laying her crown of those wind frayed silks level with his heart, and he knows he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

He watches her for a while. Considers the logistics from there. Short sighted fool he is, he had not made any real plan of what he would do upon finding her, if he could find her even, and had sent himself out like a mindless hunting dog being given the encourage to chase by nothing other than his own unhinged desire. Acting under the pressure of an obligation that some demon had imposed on him for what seems to be for eternity. Should he take her by force? By rational plea? Upon bended knee and beg? He sees her moving further up the beach towards the drift woods and tumble rocks of the landslip and all of it blocking her sight for his approach. He scans the area before he moves up the beach, she not even looking behind her, perhaps naively confident she’s hidden. That she’s manage to elude all that would harm her. So reckless is his dearest.

The Colonel waits until she goes to sit upon some large boulder to make his move. He approaches her from behind, making long strong strides across the rocky sand, silently and quickly grasps one hand over her mouth and the other around her waist and yanks her thin body against his, dragging out her feet from under her in one harsh yank. His other hand grabs her hand and he pulls it swiftly across her waist to pin her to him. Her free hand shoots up and latches fingernails into to the forearm holding a suffocating hand to her mouth. Bloodcurdling screams from behind his glove. He holds her tightly, nearly breaking her delicate wrist he pulls upon as she struggles and twists herself this way and that trying to break herself free at an opportune moment. He says against her ear to shush, to calm down, that he’s not going to hurt her. To stop it. Not to call attention. Or we’ll both be at risk, understand? He squeezes on her tender wrist to emphasize his words. She stiffens with recognition at the voice and her eyes flash white as she tries to see her captor. She shakes her head in agreement.

He takes his hand off her mouth and she springs forth from his arms falling forwards, gasping and coughing, crying out, tripping onto the sand pushing herself up to her knees while looking back up at him. He reaches out to help her regain her footing but she jerks her body out of his reach.

He pulls the scarfing from around his mouth down to catch his breath. “Surprised to see me?”

It doesn’t register what he says and she simply stares at him in disbelief with terrified eyes.

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

She looks back to the rock slide and then up at him. Breathless and choking on her own words she yells, “Why–what the hell is the matter with you?”

“Calm down, Mrs. Strong.”

“I won’t go back.”

He takes a few strides forward and crouches down resting on his heels and offers her a hand. “Back?”

Her face is very red. Still on the ground, she coughs and tries to catch her breath. She tells him not to touch her, her body shivering whether it was from the cold or from fear he can’t quite tell. He rescinds his hand.

“You mean to Setauket? Heaven’s no, unless you wish to be hanged?”

“–what?”

“I think we need to have a little talk.”

“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say, Captain.”

“It’s Colonel now. And I think you’ll most definitely want to hear what I have to say.”

“The words of a liar mean nothing to me.”

“Even if it has to do with your precious farmer?”

She spits a vicious insult at him that instead of offending him, he finds rather amusing at her even knowing such a vulgar epithet. Being in close contact with soldiers has its effects.

He smiles. “Come now, Mrs. Strong. As someone who has been lying to everyone around them, myself included; truth and yourself seem quite unfamiliar with each other, would you not agree?”

She looks back to the rock slide.

“Nothing to say?”

As he somewhat expected her to, she hastily gathers her blankets, bag and oversized pantaloons in quick jerk and runs like a gypsy child on the make. Scrambles over the rock slide he spotted her from and climbed over earlier. The sand and wind slow her while the snow unsteadies her, and she has to pick herself up twice already. He calls her name but she doesn’t turn to see if he’s pursuing her or not for they both know as long as they both live he always will be.

Four dragoons sit on the beach on the opposite side of the slide, waiting for their commander. All looking at her. She stops in her tracks. Looks back to the Colonel and then again to the dragoons and every which way around them, a suffocating enclave of sea or rock or soldiers. Trapped like an animal, she drops to her hands and knees and a scream of unendurable despair rips through his poor dear’s throat.

He quickly runs and slides on his knees behind her and puts his hand over her mouth and holds her like a an exorcist holding a possessed mad woman until she exhausts herself and runs out of breath and falls slack against him. He slowly lowers his hand from her mouth and she begins gasping harshly but to his pleasant surprise she does not recoil from him but stays slumped in his grasp, limp. Sobbing uncontrollably.

He holds her in the midst of her sad scene, malleable and soft, clutching his broken love to his chest. Slush ice soaks into his pants at the knees while he gently rocks her and he takes stolen moments of the invisible gestures permitted from her proximity as he pulls her cradled head to his chest, her hot cheek brushing his, her hair bristling his lips as he rests his head against hers. He listens to her small white teeth chatter in between her weeping and squeezes her shivering body tightly.

“Would you like to get off this beach, Anna?”

She nods and he picks her up like a sleepy child and carries her towards his horse and helps her step up into the saddle. He pulls the leather strappings of his saddlebags and unstraps his powder bags and begins moving everything to the front. He looks up at her. She is looking out at nothing, staring blankly. Lost. Her tear stained face dirty and red and hauntingly vacant. He takes his riding blanket and wraps it around her and says, “Tell me what happened to the boy.”

He immediately regrets it as she starts to shakes her head then breaks down and begins to cry. He fell, she tells him. Fell and hit his head, can you believe it? She almost starts laughing through her tears. It was over in a second. A blink. Gone. There one minute talking happily and he trips and then dead and gone like he never existed at all. The obscene mundaneness of death. She tells him he wanted to come with her and being the fool she was she let him.

He thinks for a minute and asks, “You were going to Philadelphia? To his mother?”

Wiping her eyes with the back of her hands she says, “No, I wasn’t going anywhere.”

“You weren’t going anywhere.”

“Just away.”

“Just away,” he says walking to the other side of the horse and pulling a powder pouch strap through the brass ring on the front side of the saddle. “If I believed a word you said, I would have to say that’s a very poorly thought out plan.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I found you then, isn’t it? You would be dead in a few days of the wilderness. If one of your rebel compatriots that constant these shores didn’t have a bit of rape with you first.”

He hitches the last belt on and says, “I must confess, I am most anxious for you to tell me, what did Hewlett say to justify sending a woman to die in the wilderness? Something about his sacred duty to law and order?”

She doesn’t answer.

The Colonel smiles. “That’s alright, perhaps some other time.”

“What are you going to do with me, John.”

He pulls out his canteen and takes off the cap and hands it to her and tells her to drink. He watches her do so. She lowers the canteen and catches her breath. He tells her to drink more and she does. He takes it from her when he’s satisfied and takes two large sips and then screws the cap back on and straps it back to the saddle. He looks at her and says, “Protect you, of course.”

He takes the reigns and walks the horse with her upon it over to meet up with the dragoons, seven are now down onto the beach standing and waiting, staring. He sits the horse about twenty feet away and then continues over to the men. He tells them carefully that she has critical information about the enemy and is to be held under their protection. The details of which he could not proffer. They all look at her at once and then back to the Colonel. He inverts the truth into an almost identical lie with no effort at all. He tells one to pick up her bag and secure it. Keep an eye on her. Not to let anyone he doesn’t approve of interact with her. They understand.

They trudge on through the entire morning and into the day without stopping. His prisoner silent the entire way. Dark clouds bank in a high wall to the north and thin and soundless wires of lightning flash there and quiver and vanish again. The only sounds those of the march and the relentless wind against their clothes.

He had sat her in his saddle and had himself riding from behind the cantle padded with a folded blanket he took from another man’s ruck. His leg and his back aching and he could not care less. His arms around both sides of her on the reigns with a wool blanket wrapped around both of them. Lithe slip of his shivering darling cradled against him. Her head resting against his chest. He breathes her in. Silence between them the entire way. Everything at once as it should be if only in that moment.

Later in the day she begs him to stop and they find a place to encamp for the night despite his desire to ride through. He tells her they can’t start any fires and she says that’s fine. She can’t ride any longer. He wonders if it’s a sham to attempt a run for it but he notices the sickly look to her, even worse than when he found her on the beach. The tips of her ears a blazing, cheeks rash red, sunken dark eyes. He takes off a glove and places the back of his fingers to her indignant neck. Hot to the touch.

They stop and make a temporary camp in a small clearing. He rigs a makeshift bed for her out of a couple of blankets while she spends the entire time heaving her already empty stomach out at the base of a nearby tree. He helps her into the little cocoon he made and she slowly turns onto her side and before he can grab a canteen and open it for her she is already passed out. He studies her for a moment. Gently smoothes her hair back from her burning face and tucks in the open gaps of the blanket.

He summons a nearby man and orders him to keep watch over her, “don’t take your eyes off her for a second,” while he tries to get a few hours of sleep. He lays a few feet away from where she is, wrapping himself in a blanket and placing his pistol in his hand. He curls into a tight ball and rests his head on his rucksack and closes his eyes.

He already knows sleep will be a long time coming. The ground hopelessly and unavoidably wet and the darkness had made the temperature drop even lower. He can’t stop shivering. The knees of his pants still wet. He can hear wild dogs or wolves running far below them in the distance. Their cries trail off down the side of the sea bluffs and granite crops and sound again more faintly and then fade away where they course out along some rocky draw in the wooded dark.

He attempts to will himself to sleep but he finds his mind preoccupied and racked by the events of that morning when he had found her upon the beach, which is now surging still more poignantly within his heart, as now, only a few feet away from his icy grasp lies his ever elusive Lesbia. His. After everything, it is hardly believable and he dare not utter or even think of forming the words of the claim or making a declaration of victory as not to bring this fortune to Fate’s vengeful attention. To make that arrogant mistake and have it realize what it has done and pull her cruelly out of his grip and life yet again. For he knows better than most that the very things one desires more than anything else are often stolen from us while those things we would to erase altogether seem often by that very wish to become graced with powers of immortality.

But sleep and rational caution refuses to overpower the anxiety, excitement and mad desire racing through him. He opens his eyes and a dark sea-wave swells under his heart when he looks over to her. An arm’s length away she is in flesh and form. In his possession, under guard, gun and God and for the foreseeable future she is in fact for all intents and purposes: his.

He closes his eyes again and random thoughts of those that attack upon an insomniac who is purposefully trying to avoid a thought and thus courts it endlessly: letters he needs to answer, drills to go over, his socks need to be replaced, his back aches and perhaps he should have paid for that treatment in New York, until finally they run quieter and full circle and fanciful visions of what is to come sneak past his mental caution and he allows a slight indulgence in the incredible feeling of release upon that silent claim that exists in cosmic suggestion only, as if a chain that had been wrapped far too tightly around his heart and neck had been shattered free and slowly he falls into a cold dreamless sleep.

When he wakes there is a light snow falling on the leaves of the forest. The cold moves him to pull his blankets tighter and he sits up feeling as if he had been sleeping upon an ice flow. He checks the time. Almost one. He looks at his slumbering prisoner who appears has not moved an inch. He orders the man who had watched as they slept to get some sleep himself and stretching his legs and spine he slowly stands up and finds his lantern and lights the candle inside. He brings it with him to check on her. He places his hand under his armpit to warm it up a little before removing a glove and lightly placing the back of his hand to her warm but not urgently hot cheek. He quickly withdraws it when it causes her to stir and mutter something about bread in her sleep. She bunches the blanket under her chin and flips onto her side facing him. He fixes her nest of wool, gently smoothes her hair back and walks over to his horse and unbuckles a saddlebag and brings it back to the blanket and sits down.

He leans against a tree trunk with his leg outstretched with his rolled rucksack under his knee. On the blanket between them lies a short stack of papers and two bound books he had taken out of the saddlebag. The small box of his ink and nib. He opens his yellow bound journal in which he has the names and information of every single person under his command and employ from officers to refugees to laundry washers. Written in his obsessively compact script in a shorthand only he understands; where they are from, where they have lived, what languages they speak, everything. Also, and most importantly for his current task at hand, when and where they joined. That yellow book had been worth its weight in the precious metal it bore the color of on more than one occasion. The Colonel is proud of his system, in talking to Colonel Tarleton one day about its usefulness he was so impressed about it that he started one of his own.

At least a small handful of his men know who Anna Strong is, and this fact weighs most heavily upon his mind, more than anything else. The men he brought with him along to find her are ones he knows for certain had never seen her before, men from out of the area or who had joined after his last visit to Setauket. Before embarking upon this noble endeavor he hadn’t really thought about the long term logistics and complicated delicate ethical quandaries that are now becoming apparent. The confidence and drive of passion found in young men and the insane combined with his Salome’s enchantment making sure that his thinking is at all times funneled away from his rational mind and violently forced through the passion dye wools of a certain sharp tongued American girl with coal lashed eyes who happens to be lying unconscious two feet away.

He takes out a blank sheet and starts writing the names he knows for sure know her, followed by those he can make a rough guess on. Then he cross references in his yellow book. And repeats. If he can at least neutralize that aspect of possible threat, then a major stumbling block can be removed. But there’s still no way to identify them all. It had become impossible, for the Queen’s Rangers had gone from less than a hundred in those first days into a healthy and growing two hundred and sixty soldiers along with fifty ancillaries with more to come during the wintering.

Plus, there’s always the one person whom no one ever accounts for when making a tricky plot, but the Clever Colonel planned on being so overly deviously detailed that no stone of depravity or deceit would be unturned. No mistakes could be made.

Often times, the one no one accounts for, is always that one simple unassuming idiot who, perhaps while on a trip of some kind, or while visiting some distant relation just so happens to see and be able a hundred years later to identify the stranger to whatever authority prods them for such information or when the miracle of guineas and pounds revives their memory to its crystalline quality, suddenly, a shady head scratch and look of empty senses roars back to life and then it’s: oh yes I know so-and-so, I assure you, my reward can be paid in gold please?

A hundred pound reward was nothing to scoff at. He would give little doubt some of his men would do it for eight pence or less.

From the unmoving pile of blankets a soft cracked voice says, “What are you doing?”

“Catching up on some things.”

“What things.”

He looks up from his writing and at her. “Accounting, if you must know.”

Silence. Then she flatly presses, “Why.”

“It’s my responsibility as the commander of this corps.”

She slowly and weakly sits up and curls the blanket up over her head. He hands her a canteen and watches her drink. “Feeling better?”

She glares at him over the silver bottle edge and lightly shrugs.

“Understandable.”

She screws the cap back on the canteen and places it down. She watches him for a long time not saying anything. He continues working on his list not looking at her.

After a while, a cloying voice says, “Colonel Simcoe.”

“Yes?”

“What you said earlier,” she says and then stops and looks around before crawling upon her knees and sitting closer to him. Leaning a little too close to his ear so that her breath bristles along his neck she says, “—please, tell me what’s going on.”

He closes his list in the book and places it down on his lap. He sits up and adjusts himself away from her whisper and lips. Grabbing the upper hand back he says, “Let’s start with you telling me some things first, shall we?”

She sits back upon her heels and sinks down. “Like what.”

“Start with the basics.”

“Such as?”

In mock indignation he asks her: “Are you a rebel spy, Mrs. Strong?”

She slits her sarcastic tired eyes and shakes her head. “No, most certainly not.”

“No?”

“I just told you, no.”

He leans forward and grabs a handful of papers. He shuffles through until he finds the one he’s looking for and hands it to her. “So what’s this then?”

He points to the ad in the newspaper, the very one he read just the day before:

100₤ REWARD
ESCAPED from the guards the January 12th last, one Anna Strong, a woman of Setauket, who was prov’d to be a notorious spy and was confined therefore.
Whoever will seize said Strong, and return her to the commanding officer at Jamaica, shall be entitled to the above reward.
Every loyal servant of the Crown is hereby requested to take her dead or alive.

She tentatively looks and then takes the folded newspaper into her hand and looks at him and he nods his head and raises his eyebrows in encouragement. Her eyes glance down and across the page and he watches the reactions, the micro-expressions of her delicate features as she reads the ad. From what he sees this is the first she has seen. Her pallor grays slightly and shaking her head, she daintily refolds the newspaper and hands it back to him.

“Why would the commander of Jamaica have an arrest out for you, of all people?”

“I don’t—don’t know,” she says holding a hand to her forehead. Closing her eyes while in thought she then comes to a nodded conclusion and says, “It’s his father. Has to be.”

“Sorry?”

“Justice Richard Woodhull? You remember him surely.”

“Ah. You mean Hewlett’s soul mate.”

“Yes, that’s right, you were around them all the time, then you’ll understand.” She tells him her captivating Shakespearean tale of a prince’s death, the king’s grief and his brotherly love with his general gone afoul due to a siren of a wench. A late night post had come in for the Justice informing him of the execution of his son and quite a scene soon broke out. Mad with grief and rage, he began screaming at the Major, demanding to know why he didn’t do more. As it escalated, her name started to become the focus and the Justice was accusing her of being a spy and he wasn’t going to let the Major protect her any longer. This offended the Major and set off a series of events and words exchanged that led to soldiers coming indoors at the sound of the commotion to remove the Justice from his own home.

He presses her to explain how the Major was protecting her and she explains that the only reason she was living at Whitehall was because of the Major and this caused a sharp rift in their friendship. The beginning fracture of the complete split of their sickening comradery.

“So he knew you were spying?”

“No—I was never spying.”

“So, protecting you from what exactly, then?”

“Well,” she says looking down and then continues quite matter-of-factly, “To be perfectly honest, from you.”

“Me?”

“You’re honestly surprised?”

He’s more surprised at the fact Hewlett would do something so underhanded and cad like but nonetheless, hearing it from her in her cold business-like manner only makes his jealousy, a jealousy that had been fierce enough to make him foolishly tell himself he had renounced his love the last time he had seen them in the tavern, burn and sour in his spiteful chest and threaten to ruin everything. “It’s only ever been my desire to see you safe from harm, whether it be from those around you or yourself. You need not use some imaginary threat from me as moral justification to live with a lover, Mrs. Strong.”

She rolls her eyes and pensively shakes her head and looks away.

“Continue on, please.”

And like he’d said nothing, she picks up where she left off and tells him that the Justice did not like her one bit, didn’t he know? He did not but he pretended like he did and she goes on. Well, shortly after that distasteful scene the Major ran up the stairs to her and her story becomes a little short on detail conveniently but he patiently allows her to finish. According to Mrs. Strong, the Major had her pack a bag and leave quickly as he did not know what was going to happen but knew it was no longer safe for her there. And that was her story.

The Colonel takes what she said in silence. He thinks for a moment. He asks her, “Did he ask you if the accusations were true?”

“No.”

“No? Why wouldn’t he?”

“I don’t know, he didn’t believe it because he knows I’m not.”

“Oh now that is interesting,” he softly laughs. He can only imagine Hewlett’s reservedly crushed countenance upon discovering he was chasing the skirt of a disobedient little rebel that he was bound to end up sending to the gallows. And if she is telling the truth, it turns out he could not even bring himself to ask her if her betrayal was true. Tragic tale indeed. A single stoic tear surely flowed from the Major that day.

The Colonel’s day so far, on the other hand, continues on to throb with the ecstatic joy of docking fully at the shores of Eden.

“So that’s why he sent you out into the wild to die, so he didn’t have to kill you himself. How truly touching of our dear Major.”

“Not at all,” she snaps and pulls her blanket tighter around her shoulders.

He raises a hand. “My apologies. In any case, whatever his intentions, you’re alive and safe now. Thanks partially to him, I suppose.”

“He saved me.”

The Colonel cocks his head. “How.”

“He let me go.”

“He just let you go.”

“Yes.”

He slits his eyes and pulls his mouth flat and nods. “Alright,” he says, not pushing it any further.

After a long pause she says, “He is dead, isn’t he.”

“Hewlett?” He surely could not be that blessed. Only if this were the happiest day of life a man could ever be permitted on the terrestrial earth.

“Abe Woodhull.”

“Ah.” He pauses in disappointment, letting the automatic ire that uncontrollably combusts in his very soul upon the sound of that name flare brightly and then sputter out. “You’re interested in what I have to say now then I take it?”

She nods.

“I made some inquiries and from what I have found out, it seems Mr. Woodhull’s rebel friends came to break him out of a sugar house. Naturally, he did not get very far.”

He goes on to explain that it would have been better for all involved, saving countless amounts of paperwork and time, if he would have just confessed to begin with. Having the enemy as your savior does not tend to look favorably upon one’s claims of innocence.

She rests her face in her hands. Her voice cracks as she asks, “How do I know you’re not lying to me.”

“Is it so hard to believe? Or simply you don’t want to?”

“I don’t understand. How did this happen? Why would they do something so reckless?”

“As I can tell you from personal experience, the Continental Army has not one shred of professionalism or humanity to it. Not hard to believe they led their own to slaughter, just as they abandoned you to the same fate.”

She looks at him with hurt eyes and then back between the lantern and then to the woods. Perhaps she had not until that point realized the strange irony that if it were not for the maddening, damning love she conjured in two enemy officers she would have no one to protect her from the enemy itself.

“No one abandoned me.”

“No, of course not.”

Avoiding her unnerving gaze he tells her to get ready they were soon to leave and he reopens his book and finishes writing the names he could remember and then closes the book and places it on top of the others. He folds up the list and places it in his coat pocket. He also makes a mental note to actually attend to the financial papers his regimental agent sent to him for his approval weeks ago as his lie had just reminded him of it. He stands up and he groans at the stiffness in his leg and spine and begins to pack up their temporary rest stop. The other men follow his lead.

She takes a deep breath and sighs. She looks up to him and their eyes touch. “What are you going to do with me, tell me, please.”

Rolling a blanket he says, “I already told you. I will protect you.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Then what are you asking.”

She sighs. “Am I your prisoner? Or—”

He had not really thought of what label this arrangement would be named. But he knows that the delicate balance of this venture depends on her full participation in the deceit by being kept in utter terror and submission at the consequences of disobeying him. She will have to be both prisoner and fugitive, as he will have to be some coordinated mixture of captor and well-meaning traitor.

What could be perceived as possible treason on the outside was anything but, and surely when all settles, vindication will be made through his honorable treachery. Since the days of the great Empires, a victorious commander and his men, after surviving through insurmountable odds and through indescribable horrors, would take his enemy’s cities with steel and flame, the people made slaves, the gold and riches plundered, and then the blood fueled battalions forced and thrusted their way through their feminine captives. This was considered righteous warfare from the spear tipped glory of Rome to the population erasing Mongols. An earned reward, this unleashed hedonistic indulgence and cruel show of power had been. The Mohammedans even have it written in their holy war book, divine commands that give measure and rule of how the warriors are to split their share of plunder. Even details on how to take pleasure in one’s conquest of women, girls and tender bodied boys, so thoughtful was their god.

So in such a hemisphere of civilization and era of gentlemanly war, surely the use of one’s authority over the safety of one woman, held not like a captive for the rape queue but like a princess caught in an usurper’s scam and being hidden from all those who seek to defile and subjugate her shivering pale body before their lecherous conspirators, be seen as being a noble use of office? How could any sane man argue for the ill-use and destruction of a lady, whose only crime was to be abused by so many, tricked into wicked men’s deceits and plots which they thus then abandoned her for? To risk one’s own position and life to defend the life and honor of a maiden was the noblest of deeds dating back to his fine ancestors’ chivalrous and virtue burdened knights of yore. The self-sacrificial role of defying the rules of man to defend the virtues of woman.

Virtue debases in justifying itself, even to oneself justifying his own.

“Yes.”

“But you’ll hide me? From your own side?”

“Who better to do so?”

She thinks for a moment. “So, you don’t care that I am your enemy? You, who burns and murders rebels as sport?”

“Sport? Don’t be so dramatic. And I thought you weren’t a rebel?”

“You don’t believe me when I tell you I’m not.”

“Of course not.”

“So then? You truly do not care?”

He stops and looks straight out and studies the shapeless darkness. Needing not more than a fraction of any amount of time, a second, a nanosecond, a miniscule register on any scale, to know with the utmost certainty that even if he awoke to her straddled across his chest and with her entire strength thrusting a steel blade down into his heart, he would look upon her with mirthless adoration and spend his last breaths knowing it (love, his love, his desire, his need, all of it) was always hopeless, but still not help but notice the way her delicate lips tremble with despair and anger and the charming way her small hands squeeze the grip as she uses her weight to sink it deeper into his ventricles. (Hard and quick, my love.)

“No,” he says. He turns around and looks down at her. “Does that surprise you?”

“But, wait,” she says not answering, her features working over what to say, “won’t you get in trouble?”

“I’m committing quite a damning crime of treason, aren’t I,” he says softly laughing while shoving his books and papers messily into the leather saddlebag and snapping it shut. “I may join you in the gallows, my dearest madam, if this does not pan out.”

“Why are you doing this.”

He faintly smiles and shakes his head. Under his breath he sighs, “Do you truly not know.”

Chapter Text

OOOO

The first whorehouse he stops at has nothing he is looking for, not even anywhere close. The chubby old woman with a broad flat nose and tiny eyes sitting deep in her skull who operates it tells him in half Dutch and half what she believes is English that no, all her whores but one are over twenty and perfectly healthy. All the soldiers here have been quite satisfied with them, she promises as if the one thing a man wants to hear is the whore he is about to bang just had his entire barracks leave their pump-and-joy of approval in her beforehand. She misunderstands. He tries to explain again but his Dutch lacking and her English Dutching they reach an awkward impasse. “Spreek je Francois, dearest mademoiselle?” he asks desperately, covering all three bases, but only to be met with nothing but a stricken look and long pause before an irritatingly genuine, “Wat?” and repeat of her previous nonsense. He looks behind her to see a small gathering of not possibly over sixteen years of age, tired and so-so looking faces eagerly waiting to beat out their competition to be chosen as his prize mount.

Not what he is looking for at all.

The next stop is more of the same. An unpleasant proprietor trying to sell what he doesn’t want and being anything but helpful. A full command of the English language fortunately, yet this does not clear up the confusion of his rather specific and strange inquiries. The greying spinster points in the general direction of her stock and simply says, “Sir, just pick one or go.” He surveys the room and notices that the large open parlor is decorated with some prettier whorelets than the last place. Two days prior he may have been tempted to risk some appalling disease for much needed violent stress relief but they stir as much desire in him as a herd of buffalo.

He has two other whorehouses he planned on checking out but as he realizes that his approach in this manner is not as fruitful as he had hoped and they are incredibly far away as it is, he decides to change his tactics. As he’s leaving, he asks one of the whores standing by the doorway in a low but gentle voice, (a pretty young bannister pole of a nymphet with her bony protrusions tenting up a pink robe, staring disinterestedly out the window while dying of boredom and rolling her eyes, which he finds incredibly endearing,) if she knows any girls suffering consumption. She says Ruth there has it, and she points to the redhead across the room with rather nice breasts but an unfortunate vigor and healthful appearance to her. He tells her no, he’s looking for someone more—consumed. She looks at him. Thinks a moment. She says she can’t really think of anything like that, so he gently slips a halfpence in her hand while placing a light kiss upon its knobby flat top, avoiding the notice of the watchful pimp. “Please think harder, madam.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a go? I’m very good.”

“I have no doubt you are,” he says and committing fully to his play acting and feigning the shame one should at the very least have being afflicted with such a perverse malady, he looks about and lowers his eyes and continues, “but I couldn’t possibly.”

She slits her eyes at him. “Why do you want girls with consumption.”

“Please don’t judge me too harshly, but I confess I have a terrible and shameful need for the plagued and grotesque.”

“What, like dead?”

“No, no. Nothing that extreme.”

“Well,” she exhales rolling her head to the side. “It’s not the strangest thing I’ve heard,” the young waif nonchalantly replies as she looks over her shoulder in thought for a moment. She sighs and looks at him when she resigns to help the gentle yet disturbed man out. “There’s a house that Mistress Raines and some old pastor has that takes in dying girls, I suppose some poor thing might want to earn a little money to leave behind.”

“Sounds delightful, now tell me where it is my dear, and I shall be on my merry way.”

“Are you sure? You’re already here.” She trails her fingers along his coat buttons. “I would gladly just lay there and act sickly for you. Cough. Moan in pain.”

“You’re too kind, but yes I am sure.”

Shrugging, she says, “Maybe for another kiss or two then, good sir.”

He smiles. “Of course.”

He slips another halfpence into her hand and with directions memorized he makes his leave. Nothing disarms and charms a woman like a soft voice and a whore like a handful of coin. His propensity for on the fly deceit would give him quite the advantage in becoming a play actor if he didn’t have the utmost disdain for the vulgar art.

It isn’t very far as it turns out and he only rides for about fifteen minutes through the empty and quickly darkening town before he sees the marker for the private road to the house. He dismounts and leads the horse onto the road out of the view of the main crossing and walks it down the road until the tall clapboard house comes into view.

A single candle light illumes one of the front windows and he settles down for what he hopes isn’t too long into the night. An hour passes before the house goes completely dark and he waits another plus some. He thinks maybe to camo his face but decides against it. He grabs the repacked bag he took from Anna on the beach and leaves the horse tied behind a roadside hedge and he crosses the frozen clearing of the yard and climbs an old set of limestone steps and walks down the porch of the house shading his eyes and peering in the windows. Dark and asleep inside. He lets himself in through the kitchen. A sleeping lemon colored housecat curled on the tile floor opens its eyes and looks up at him unimpressed. The place is a mess. Bottles of herbs and apothecary vials and jars litter the counter and table tops. Jugs and foodstuffs scattered about. He goes down the hallway and stands in the door to the parlor. There’s an antique divan in the corner. A fat woman snoring loudly from a chair across from it. Piles of linen and clothes shoved into a corner. The nostalgic odor of his childhood of medicine and death fills his nose and he silently thanks his bored whorelet for leading him true.

He climbs the stairs and looks through the bedrooms. The first he looks into has two occupied beds. A young girl, much too young, and the next one he can see it is a blonde. The next two bedrooms have between three to four people a piece and he silently closes the doors and moves on. He goes to the last upstairs bedroom and finds it’s only got one rasping tenant. The smell of the room is overpowering. Closing the door behind him he walks in and inspects the occupant more closely. Dark hair. Perhaps not dark enough but it would do. Petite but not childish. Terrible grey purple skin. A wasted and hallowed look about her.

He sets the bag on the floor near the light of the window and walks back over to the bedside. He studies her for what feels like a long time. There is an odd lack of urgency about him. Each breath a struggle. The wet crackle and hiss of her lungs. A stubborn cruel string of her still clinging to life. He does pity her, the poor thing, and there is a flash of something, a doubt maybe, but unfortunately (although he believes perhaps mercifully) for the living corpse it is too late for that now and before he can hesitate or change his mind he swiftly places his hands around her throat and squeezes with his entire strength pressing his thumbs to her stringy jugular and windpipe. Ghastly eyes shoot open and their liquid whites flash desperately in the pitiful light at him. Her weak arms fly wildly about and hands grip and claw their last fight against his crushing grip. Her terrible skeleton fingers take a swipe at his face but he turns his head up and aside and she only manages to slightly graze his neck. The most godawful sounds leak from her gaping mouth and struggling airway. He kneels up onto the bed placing his weight behind him over her bowed body. Trembling under him and taut as a drum. He can feel the tremor of her like the hum of a current running through her bones. He shushes her gently and he pushes down with his weight until he suddenly feels something give under his hand. The snapping of brittle cartilage and delicate bone. Seconds pass. The spams of death slow and her body slacks beneath him. Her tear streaked face smoothes and relaxes. He stands there as a stone kneeling on the bed with her neck in his unloosened grip. The ease and quickness of it taking him a bit by surprise. But then he never killed a dying woman before. Or a woman, period. He quickly releases her and stands up. He listens carefully through the pounding blood in his ears for any sounds from any other occupants but it seems her passing went as unnoticed as the night itself.

He wastes no time unpacking his bag. He unrolls the blankets and lays them alongside the bed. The ropes he unrolls next and pulling his knife out of his boot he cuts two short lengths of it. He sheathes his knife and quickly strips the rank bedding off the body and ties her hands together and then her legs at the knees. He takes the blankets and wraps her as tightly as he can manage and then winds the rope around and ties it snug enough to make even his Navy admiral godfather proud.

He slips the strap of his bag across his chest and hauls the corpse over his shoulder before deciding it would be safer to carry her out of the house cradled in both arms as he fears knocking something over or ramming into the wall with his poor girl’s feet or head in the unfamiliar surroundings.

They make their way out the room and down the stairs, passing the still snoring woman and the continually unalarmed cat now washing itself. Outside he shifts the dead weight of the body up onto his shoulder and up curved arm and he makes a quick jog across the porch and small clearing to where he left the horse that is still standing waiting for him.

He sets out through the dark woods for the long journey. There is a moon somewhere beyond the scattered overcast sky and he can just make out the trees beyond the grudging reach of his lantern. Corpse slung across his lap, he rides back towards the coast and Oyster Bay, carefully staying off the roads. Before the shapeless grey light of the early dawn comes, he pulls around and makes a half mile circuit and comes back looking for signs but other than his own faint tracks through the snow and slush but he sees nothing. The air shifts through the pine and beyond his sight is the white and drab icy beach with the dull combers rolling and falling leaden and the distant sounds of it.

An hour later he is sitting on the edge of the wood before the open dunes and tidal flats glassing the country. A large sloop is sailing far off into the sound. Too far and too dark to be identified. Its black shape whispered by tendrils of lightning strikes on the horizon. He’s ten miles away from where he found her and there is the double edged sword of a road not too far away which piques his anxiety as he is quickly losing the night.

If Hewlett had her go along the coastline there had to be a specific reason for it. He may be a weak, blind, halfling of a man, but he isn’t entirely stupid. Was it simply for lack of her ability to navigate the woods? He could have sent her to another town. He could have hid her in a basement for that matter. But then again, perhaps he simply did not know what to do in the face of the woman he pined for being a traitor and enemy combatant. Those little surprise discoveries of our beloveds.

His loss.

Whatever the case, there is no evidence of that here and now, no trace of any rendezvous or guide or enemy or friendly assistance. Whether it ever existed or not he will most likely never know for certain as he knows she will never tell him the truth. Nothing but the cold, wind and sea and the wildness of it all and the gruesome end of his unpleasant task lay ahead.

He moves the horse on towards the road, approaching it from a high flanking ridge and stays behind the crest of it, out of sight of anyone who might be traveling the road that morning. He pushes the corpse letting it fall onto the ground in a slumped pile and dismounts. Kneeling next to the body he takes his knife out of his boot and cuts the rope off and opens up the wrapping of blankets for the unsightly package inside. Deep dye pool bursts of violet and black across the throat. Half lidded eyes staring at nothing.

He flips the grip of his knife in his palm while studying her. The view of a silent corpse laid out before him, a sudden déjà vu washes over and a particular memory flashes in his mind of a bungalow up in palm leaved hills above the pestilent forests in the early morning. It already hot. Two large tables lined with linen with uniformly laid out steel blades and saws and other tools upon them that he had little idea of what they were for only that he was drawn to their fascinatingly cruel shapes. Jars and clay jugs and buckets and boxes filled up almost all empty space. Books and papers scattered about. Curious birds watched and screeched from the rafters above as they traveled in and out of the open vents and windows. The pungent smell of the place never fully masked by, only comingled with the sweet blue curling smoke of incense always burning in the corner. At the center of it all a naked young woman, not more than fourteen laid out like a sacrificial offering on a slatted table over a metal tub. He was sitting upon an old hogshead cask with his short bony legs dangling and swinging off the side as he looked down upon the body cloven in horrible wax skin. With an anxious thrill he pressed a small finger to her dead unblinking eye. The exact sound of his father’s voice next to him lecturing to a much younger tinier Colonel, “Stop that. Now, identify the following surface anatomical landmarks of the face: glabella, external nose.”

Holding up a hand he counted each listed item with the touch of a finger (middle, index, ring to pinky; always in that order) to his thumb, as was his peculiar way, he’d continue, “This includes the root, apex, septum, ala, and nostril. Oh, and don’t forget the philtrum.” (Pulling his mouth into a line and pointing above his upper lip to clue the child.) “Then, determine the location of any major superficial veins or nerves. Repeat what I just said while pointing them out, please.”

Then his father’s only surviving fourth of five offspring (the fifth still baking in the oven of mummy at that point in time) and apprentice would parrot the imparted lesson and while he did the old man would do the same tapping of his fingers to his thumb to each key answer and then point to the boy and nod when he got it right or the hand would drop and an impatient shaking of the head would let him know he made an error. The little Colonel was so sure then he was to be a great doctor. Another life ago. How much life changes.

“Sorry love, nothing personal,” he quips as he takes her left ear and a handful of chestnut hair in a single rough hacking cut, then he removes the right much the same and he tosses them on the blanket by her head. He slides the blade down the hard bone of her nose and makes a sharp cut down below the identified root into gritty cartilage. He places a knee on the side of her skull for leverage as he saws the knife back and forth down behind the small slope of her tough ala and shearing the entire anatomical region off as he pulls and peels the sinewy fascia and tiny yellow fatty globes of her petite cupid’s bowed philtrum off in one glistening black red chunk.

The cheeks are so sunken and lacking in fat that his knife slips right through her from her ear down through into her soft mucosa and he just pulls the knife down and out with a great rip tearing the mouth open, shredding the muscles from their processes and then he takes his knee off the nearly unrecognizable and bloodied skull and repeats the savagery to the other side. In quick big slices down from punctured red black nacreous liquefied eyes and deep into the face and mouth scraping it along the bone lifting the blade he pulls it out roughly down against the length of the lower jaw. He leans back and takes a look at his handy work. Ivory shows out against ribbons of coagulate striped flesh. Skeletal teeth smile on their bony plates. To make it look more convincing he decides to slice up her gown and exposes a flat marble breast making a cut across it and down her ribs and a last minute quick gash across the throat.

He wipes his knife down on the blanket and puts it back in its sheathe in his boot and wipes his gloved hands as well. In the bag is one of Anna’s lace hair bonnets and her cloak and brass cloak pin which he takes out and tucks under the body and places the bag on top of it and grabs an edge of the blanket and drags the corpse to the edge of the ridge. The grey light of dawn getting lighter. He takes out his spy-glass and glasses the area carefully. He walks down the ridge a little ways paralleling the road and glasses the area from a different angle. He listens for several minutes. Nothing. He walks back to the body and with hard pull and helpful shove of one of his feet, he slides the blanket with the body and all down the ridge and lets it fall in an unceremonious heap onto the side of the road below and turns around and walks back to the horse and mounts and sets out back to the winter quarters.

OOOO

Chapter Text

From the out start, the winter proved to be a far more challenging time than he had planned on. He had orders to winter in Elizabethville in Staten Island and upon arriving after a fatiguing trip of murder, he was utterly appalled at the conditions of the encampment of nearly one thousand when he finally inspected it. In between the nonsensically placed redoubts were crude dilapidated mud huts soldiers were living in, the same soldiers who happened to be sickly and in poor shape, to no surprise. The thought of this being of any use to defend anything seemed like a cruel ironic joke put on him. Immediately he ordered the men to bathe daily and for the sickliest groups he ordered the dwellings and all it contained burned before his entire corps was wiped out not by the enemy, but by rampant disease. He ordered the slummy huts to be torn down with log cabins built in their place in his hope to link together a solid defensible line between the scattered and stupidly placed redoubts, which were essentially useless to each other as they were now. No kitchens had been made, and those had to be done as well. He also ordered the fouling latrines to be burned and buried and redone completely and he had the entire encampment shifted into a more defensible position and with more hygienic conditions and left his surgeons to handle the nightmare waiting to infect his entire regiment.

While the construction went on, two barns were torn down and the entire town's fencing had to be repurposed for this effect, which led to a non-stop complaint reel from one insane woman clutching a small rat like dog in particular who seemed to be able to spot him out a hundred miles away amongst three hundred other green coat wearing red heads. The woman who, even after he calmly explained that he was in fact doing all these "barbarous messings" in order to protect her precious home and very life, would not see reason if it slapped her boney long face (which he so wanted to do!). He finally wound up threatening to arrest her for treason and the seizure of her house if she did not leave him alone. He tried to quarter one officer in her home to keep an eye on her but he begged with such a sentimental and heart wrenching plea to let him sleep in the freezing outdoor dysentery infested barracks instead, he hadn't the heart to force him and instead put an officer he wanted to unofficially but subtly punish.

Settling into his new situation with Anna was equally frustrating, draining and frightening as the post he had been left with to defend. He had found quarters in a tall stately brick home of one Richard F. Card, Esq. and his lovely family of six, who did not mind and were in fact anxious to help him with good Christian charity the feverish, dirty, mad woman he brought with him. Her fever had returned and she was in general a miserly sickly mess. They set up a room for her immediately and the Colonel had the corps' surgeon look at her who prescribed a series of cold baths (which in practice were snow brought in buckets and packed around her) and bleeding. Her sobbing and moans of pain through the wall to his adjoining room were his reward.

From there, it only got worse. Less than two weeks after arriving, an enemy detachment of over three thousand marched over the ice into Staten Island. Normally he would have been excited for a winter campaign to escape the misery of the house and the bureaucratic hell of the camp and get out to kill something, but it was a period of great anxiety and there was the expectation that there was a real chance for an enemy victory. Provisions were cut in half in preparation. Things looked quite dire. It was clear if the General could hold out at the front then Elizabethville would be safe and a tortuous waiting game depending on fate began. He devised that if it came to it, and he received no orders, to have his men brought by sledges carrying one hundred a piece and more on the way capable of carrying the entire regiment to escape into the backwood, have them disperse and depend on the support of the numerous loyal residents for help as they would attempt to regroup with other British ranks, and he went so far as to make plans in effect to do so. He and his officers agreed to never under any circumstances unless directly ordered to surrender to the enemy when escape was possible and to make every possible attempt to do so since they possessed a total defect of private and public principles of honor. His true fear for his men was, and would remain so throughout the war, if they were to be captured, a vast many being deserters (desertion being a huge problem for Washington's armies) would be executed and that fact weighed heavily upon him. On a deeper level as well, his own personal experiences left him with a silent paralyzing terror he did not discuss nor acknowledge (futilely) even to himself.

A fatal mistake or breakdown in logic had occurred on the enemy's side though, as their front lines had stopped to wait for the rear to approach and in doing so, the hours passed in which the temperature plummeted to such a heart stopping degree, they were no longer able to advance or do much of anything at all being exposed to the elements and many lost their limbs and lives in the night.

The General upon hearing the first alarm of the invasion had embarked troops to support the British redoubts which were then beginning to arrive and the enemy in the dark of evening saw these vessels approaching (which were ordered to ply back and forth if a landing not possible to maintain illusion), but they were determined to retreat immediately and did not wait to see if the reinforcements could even reach the island, which in fact the drifting ice prevented them from doing so. Upon hearing of their retreat the Colonel immediately pursued with the flank companies and his Hussars, but they reached the Jersey Shore before he could reach them.

Happily and what led to great celebrations, many British soldiers who had enlisted with the enemy to free themselves from imprisonment, took advantage of being in a country they were familiar with and deserted and returned to their old companions along with many colonists who defected as well. The Queen's Rangers itself obtained over fifty recruits; and it was remarkable and inspiring that neither his corps, or the Volunteers of Ireland had a single man who deserted from them, while there were such opportunities and ample reasons to do so. Despite the threat of defeat and the misery of the fatal cold, the morale was incredibly high.

It was feared by the General that the enemy would come back and make another attempt during the next night, in greater numbers, and fortifications were made with the help of the townspeople in great haste and determination and it was during this time he came the closest to seeing that deep black death in his own skin as he had ever come. His heart sank as he took off his boots and socks after not doing so all day and saw his big and middle toes were deep red at the joints and pale at the tips. An unsettling and paranoid feeling crept over him as if it was some strange by-proxy revenge by a curse on Hewlett's behalf and it was after that he made it an obsessive habit to stop every few hours to straighten out his thick socks from bunching and thoroughly warm his both aching and numb feet.

As a break in luck would have it, several deserters from the rebel armies gave intelligence which proved to be reliable in that the enemy surprisingly did not feel it worth the risk to try again as they believed the resistance was superior and in general had piss poor commanders who would botch such an opportunity so completely.

As such, threat vanquished, he returned to his quarters, where he had left his poor, sickly, battle weary Anna under their care. As irony would have it, having her so close and unarguably accessible, he had hardly seen her at all. Not only from his own frequent absences but because ever since the beach, according to Mr. Card's own physician which he called in especially for her while the Colonel was out in the snow awaiting either death, imprisonment with complimentary torture or embarking upon a rather shaky escape scheme, she was suffering a stubborn and acute case of 'melancholic hysteria' which left her to bed and out of his sight most days. Various treatments had been tried he was told, of which left her even more resentful of him of all people for some reason (and him uncomfortably in a considerable debt to the overpriced and rather unsettlingly described, "skilled as a French is a libertine" physician) and a terrible new cycle of persecution had already been established, without his even having been there.

They spoke sparsely and tensely. Always at her bedside. Once she was sitting in a rocking chair by the window staring blankly out while he spoke. She mostly listened, glaring or ignoring. Oh, they agreed on many things. She agreed not use her last name anymore. She agreed not to speak of Setauket. Not to leave without permission. Do you understand? Yes, she always understood. It's for your own good. Yes, yes of course.

She was not informed of her tragic rape and murder, however.

All went by relatively peacefully until her first revolt. A guard (for he had one stationed to her at all times) caught that she had tried to sneak a letter (an oddly worded sham of a code) into the mail to a 'distant relative' whom she just wanted to 'let know she was okay' and he revoked her privilege to leave the room. He always had the option of turning her in at any time, which he may have subtly intimated. Who would believe her over him?

That was a nasty affair he'd rather forget. Would the gentleman do that to his lady? As much as he was tempted at times, no, of course not, never could he ever hurt a precious hair upon that ungrateful crown, but her being convinced he was the Devil himself already and being eighty miles from the only home she'd ever known, she was quite easy to deceive in those early days, and in doing all this he terrorized his coconspirator into a still shaky, but manageable submission.

In this combination of cold acceptance with a passive aggressive resentment, crass antagonism and polite detachment, his oyster maiden could be an insufferable bitch. He found himself ill prepared for dealing with her moodiness, apathy, melancholic fits and anorexic fasts which she seemed to come under the spell of with no warnings, no doubt partially if not entirely for his benefit.

She resorted to hurting the only thing left she had any control over, and coincidentally what he loved most, and that was so blasted clever on her part he had no way to even calculate such a thing.

She must have lost at least ten pounds that first month if not more. His concern turned to fear, which turned to annoyance, which turned to rage. Almost three days had passed once without her eating and he lost all patience, and he came storming into her room, making her start as he slammed a plate of rice down on the table beside her bed.

"You will eat," he ordered her. "Right now."

"I'm not hungry."

"No, you're starving."

She didn't respond and remained curled on her side, and he leaned over her placing his clenched fists on the mattress around her and with fledgling restraint said into her ear, "If you do not stop being a petulant child I will have it forced into you."

She responded with nothing but turning her face further away from him.

"Why are you doing this? Have you gone completely mad now? Should I just hang you myself and save you the pain of a slow suicide?"

"Do whatever you want, John."

He sighed and twisted his head to the side slowly trying to maintain control and shouted for a footman outside her door who came reluctantly inside. He told him to call for the farrier to bring a few strong men and his smallest tubes they use to force water into the horses.

"—Sir?"

"The lady cannot feed, and needs our help so she does not die."

The man looked to her and then back to him and nervously nodded and quickly exited.

"Now," he said softly, standing back up. "Would you like to reconsider? Or shall we wait and do this the hard way."

With weak plodding hands she pulled herself up slightly and grabbed the plate and picked up a small bit with her fingers eerily more in a manner of a native from back home than here and placed a small blob of rice on her tongue and slowly chewed while her dark eyes glared at him. He watched her eat the whole plate and even made the farrier and his assistants wait in the hall with their confused and uncomfortable faces until she was done, just to make sure she knew he was not bluffing, even though upon seeing the size of the tubes himself in relation to her, he knew that threat was now rather weak. But he also knew that she believed him capable of anything, even when it came to her, which was a thorn in his heart but at the same time it made keeping his mad little rebel's disobedient fits under heel a much simpler task.

When she finished it with a resentful last swallow, he went to try to console her, "It pains me to see you—" but the plate hit him in the forearm as his reflex blocked his face and it crashed to the floor with a circular waning thud and he quickly exited her room with her shout behind him, and skipped down the flagstone stairs of the house and walked as far as his rage fueled him and even slept in the camp for the next three nights to avoid doing something he'd never forgive himself for.

But if he succeeded in keeping their shared guilt and secrecy terrorized into her, he was failing on keeping her from collapsing in on herself. Gentle Mrs. Card suggested that he take her to a dance or concert to try to lift her spirits but all he could honestly picture those resulting in was a beautiful and elegantly gowned Anna, her face in a tight scowl standing defiantly in the corner of some assembly while he fiercely whispered threats and pleads for her cooperation into her ear, or a long night of music ruined and made depressing with her constant sing along of annoyed sighs and aggressive seat adjusting to make sure her displeasure of life in general was known to him.

Cultural and societal pleasantries were not her passion or primary interests that much he could tell and being dragged to one in her state was bound for disaster. While he had some illusions of his darling that his love had made him entirely irrationally blind to, including the most obvious things anyone else not afflicted could easily notice, he surprisingly did not have many. Which perhaps explained why he could still manage to trod on, the noble soldier, pulling her arrows out as she shot them, knowing only more were to come while both craving and fearing their violent delights.

His dearest was certainly a lady, but certainly not the most genteel mademoiselle. Not the fragile flower of the most feminine tales and aristocratic tropes who exist in their draining, exasperating yet endearing ways. Nor their mirror opposite, such as a categorically thick-calved unwashed frontierswoman with wild messily pinned hair, a hunched back and ten dead children and thrice widowed (Indians, starvation, falling tree, an unfortunate incident with a bear, etc) by twenty, who could probably take him in a fight.

One unforgettable miserable foggy morning walking back from a brisk (he had no idea water could be that cold) morning toilette in the creek by Strong Manor (before it was so cruelly taken from her no thanks to her idiot husband), he had seen some activity in the doorway of the barn and upon closer inspection he found it was Anna, dressed in nothing but a quilted waistcoat and shift, her unkempt hair piled upon her crown in a bushy knot, her tiny body firmly straddled over the lucky back of a particularly vicious and ridiculously overgrown goose while holding its neck to a chop block. The evil thing had even managed to bite her right on the hand in its last defenses when she went to angle the axe, making her cry out and curse in a quite unladylike manner over the squawks and great flutter and struggle of the determined animal. Her admirer found it was comical in nature between the size of the bird and the petite frame of the axe wielding mad woman, but in the end she prevailed in a blood soaked hacking victory, and she picked up the jerking hemorrhaging corpse of the bird by its feet and quickly shoved it into a large waiting bucket neck first and held it as its last violent death throes waned and finally stopped. When he asked her why she didn't ask him to help her, she, catching her breath and looking confused and wiping a thin red trail off her dirty jaw said in reply, "No need to trouble you, Captain."

As opposed to another morning in their brief cohabitation in those innocent and early days, which would be often recalled for the remaining few decades of his life. He had woken quite early and he came downstairs to the sound of her softly humming some unidentifiable tune, and found her sitting in profile to him but her head angled away and down, exposing the long ivory chord of her neck to him at the long black wood table in the dining room, constructing a flower or some kind of botanical subject upon a hoop-stretched section of a dress or jacket, he could not tell. A thin sunbeam crossed through from the large window and glowed off the oiled top of the table, the tin sewing box and into the mirror that sat her opposite reflecting the light down upon the room—all the while he watched how her brow raised and the way she would roll and bite her lips in concentration as little pulls and flicks of her delicate boned wrist made out some spindly tendril or budding rose, and as the sun climbed and reached out brightly about her it seemed as if she in turn put the finest oil scenes by some great names of courtly white necked ladies and ancient goddess nymphs with romantic downcast eyes to tasteless mediocre shame. He was completely carried away by the beauty of her.

The scoop-cut bodice of her simple ochre dress was so deeply plunged that whenever she tilted her head back or took a deep breath, her breasts proffered obscenely out cutting into the fabric and then would ease back into their soft forms upon her exhale or the straightening of her spine—the then Captain had moved as close as he dared behind her, that he could just make out that crenulated imprinted groove upon her tender pink flesh and he had an almost uncontrollable need to kiss it. Her hair was down and loose about her shoulders and slender partings of her white neck shone through a curtain of brown silks. His heart pounding and his hand fiddling awkwardly with a loose thread on his shirt sleeve he bent over her as she leaned over her work. Very lightly he let his cheek and lips brush against, and ever so slightly over, her warm hair, inhaling her lovely girl odor mingled with that of the early morning scent of white soap and fresh skin. It was the sweetest, the strongest, the most profound sensation that he had ever experienced; nothing in his past venery could duplicate that downy tenderness, that despair that took hold. A halt in breath and a pause and then slowed movements of her hands were the only signs of her feeling his closeness and ghostly caress before she slowly sat back up straight and continued her stitching.

"Something I can do for you, Captain," she asked softly while poking a needle tip up through the fabric. "Breakfast won't be ready for an hour yet."

"No," he said, clearing his throat and placing his hands on the back of the chair before taking a step back. "No. I was only admiring your work, excuse me."

In the end he slunk back to his room, locked the door and grabbed a towel and with the image still beheld he had just left behind, his senses still steeped in her scent and the ticklish wisps of her hair, he vigorously got rid of a brimming pressure in a hurried shame. After which, drained, shaky legged and with a dull ache in his loins, he returned to the dining room to find her gone but a tea tray had been set on the table.

It is this two-fold nature of her that confounds him the most, the strange mixture of a delicate arched cheekbone and soft primrose femininity with trace tones of the embers of a fire-willed unbreakable tomboy charm.

One afternoon in the mid-wintering days in the Card home, an opportunity came that he decided to take a gamble on testing his theory that she would appreciate a distraction in something of a less couth manner, entirely inappropriate for any woman to see and with no pressures of prying eyes judging her performance as the doppelganger of herself. It would also be something they could do alone together with no interference from outside meddlers to interrupt any fantasized hoped for fondlings or more reality based longing in blistering, maddening neglect.

The setting was more than excellent, and his mind raced with all the delightful possibilities his active imagination could create and ones he could put away for later, perhaps poor pet would trip on some helpful rock or divinely placed root twisting her small ankle requiring the dashing Dr. Simcoe's swift and skillful attention, the treatment being an immediate administration to the patient's bare exposed legs being clad in kisses from her sore little twitching white bone on the side of her foot, past a tender scraped red knee, and up the hollow of a thigh to Petticoat Lane and such other fancies that reality could never match.

It was not lurid relief he was seeking after all, if the relief he desired was his only concern, then he wouldn't have really cared about the intensity or impropriety of his emotions that he seemingly finds himself struggling to maintain mastery over; in other words if love were not involved, he would have simply accepted with much zeal that night she disgracefully threw herself at him. Or perhaps, he may have just brutally taken her against that wall during their first bristle beforehand, the antagonizing little devil she was and continued to be. Always trying to break his control, to twist his intentions, in her own insufferable female ways of trying to gain control; and being the zealous puppet master of his torment brought her a demented victor's joy.

But alas, the Colonel loved that sharp nymph, with her cruel soft little petal pink tongue, her blackbrown glare and angry red mousey ears; that relief could not be an end in itself, for it would end everything if unshared or worst yet, exchanged. There would be no possibility of that unspoken goal.

Every time she twisted her knife into him, every time he inexplicably lost all control of his ability to speak to her in a manner he did not want to stick his pistol to his head afterwards sent him reeling into an abyss of despair and general misanthropy as he felt her slipping away each time, his loathing of her tipped the scale over his love for her. But then it only took the soothing effects of the passage of time and distance, a random thought or dream of her, hearing her laugh, if he caught her eyes with his, or a draft of her wenchy smell to invade his senses, for it all to be dissolved in his need and all forgiven and put away, and to be revitalized with a new determination and drive.

Anna was sitting in the warm embrace of a blue wingback by the hearth in the parlor, her small hands swiftly pulling and looping a long grey needled-thread while sewing a stocking or some other garment which she obediently put down into the gathered skirt of her lap as he approached her.

Ineptly, he proposed the surprise ordeal: "There is something I wish to show you. It's not exactly proper, but I believe it is something you would enjoy. Care to join me?"

"Rather cryptic," she replied looking up at him after a thoughtful pause. "And perhaps vulgar?"

"It's precisely how your mind arrived at that wonderfully twisted yet wrong conclusion that makes me quite confident of your enjoyment."

She eyed him suspiciously and before she could refuse, he said, "You have my word it will be mostly harmless and we shall return with both our honors intact."

"Mostly?"

"Mostly."

She reluctantly agreed and told him to give her a moment to get ready. As he waited for moody Anna, he stood on the porch while he smoked a cheroot and kicked at a loose piece of wood in the small rather rickety bannister until something cracked and he thought it best not to mess with it anymore. On his horse that was grazing lazily the little bits of green starting to peak out in between drifts of the lawn, he had a sling-bag with a tightly folded blanket and some heavily buttered bread and cheese he planned on forcing her to eat along with a canteen of mulled wine and rum Mrs. Card had made, which he had enjoyed earlier and as such was feeling quite a lovely hum and warmth strum through him. He thought of what would be the best course of actions to take to get the most out of this small baby step victory (she did agree after all and no threat was even needed for once) and hopefully shift the unpleasant tension between them away. He knew that she was terribly sad, terribly angry and in a great need of something terribly mischievous for his rough edged lady. For as he knew, melancholia becomes quite tiring and terribly boring.

Although he had experienced less than a virginal prudish retreat from her—as she was hardly the virginal type he hated to admit—she remained incredibly absent and cold, disinterested, aloof, unpleasant, miserable. He determined he would keep his distance in all amorous manners no matter how opportune the situation may become (exempted of course in the, albeit fictional, cases of her throwing herself onto him in urgent need) and to create a much needed set of circumstances for them not based on mutual distrust and manipulation.

The door opened alongside him and out stepped a ready Anna, in a payne's grey quilted petticoat with an indigo silk caraco jacket wrapped over a strikingly tight black stay that was lined with a white ruffling further drawing the eye to her décolletage, and it complimented his own coal grey waist and tail coats and black cravat nicely. She had her hair swept up simply and pinned down with small combs letting wispy silks dance upon her nape and collarbones.

"Is this alright?" she asked, angling herself so he could get a side view as she pulled a black cloak over her shoulders. "Since you have yet to tell me where we are going."

"All in due time," he said. He gingerly took one of her warming hands out of the fox fur muff she had shoved her icy paws into and he placed a light kiss on top of it. "You look quite lovely."

"It's Mrs. Card's," she commented and shrugged. "She's been kind enough to lend me her clothes."

A chord was stuck in his chest as he felt the emptiness in her tone. The one thing out of everything she had lost he could actually replace for her he stupidly, for even stupider reasons, did not.

"That's not acceptable. Write for me a list, of whatever you need. I know a good clothier in Flushing," he told her, and instead of responding with tiring false modesty or childish refusal, she nodded her head and said she would and thanked him. He told her it was the least he could do and not to think anything about it, although he secretly wanted her to think a lot about it, fondly and with great passion, as with who had bought it for her.

He helped her mount the chestnut mare he had been favoring and led the horse by the reigns on foot behind the house and through the wide set trees. Old snow laid in shifts all through the shaded parts of the woods, along the limbs and cupped in the leaves. "The snow is starting to melt," she pointed out. "Does that mean you'll be leaving soon?"

"More than likely."

They hiked up for a while longer just before a break in the trees and he halted the horse and walked up to view the clearing. Below was the waterline to a half frozen small lake with a moored dock and already there upon a rocky cold shore about seventy yards away he could see activity and he looked around for a perfect vantage point and found a narrow clearing in the reeds and brush that they could sit and still see out. He ran back and retrieved her and his bag, and dropped the reigns to the ground and let the horse lazily graze.

"What is this really, tell me now," she demanded as he kicked away loose branch and rocks and put the blanket on the ground.

He knelt down and looked out ahead and smiled. "Yes, perfect, look. Come here," he said and motioned for her to come beside him and she sighed walking over and falling upon her knees in a slow drop, did.

He placed a supporting hand upon her upper back and leaned in to direct her where to focus pointing out to the scene ahead. "Now I will explain," he said and went on to first give her the necessary backstory of how this sordid weirdness came to be.

How he came to hear of it was Captain Ross was quartered with a lovely family of a Mr. DeCamp Esq., a successful but modest business man with workings in law and insurance who found himself receiving a distressing letter one day. His nephew and heir, an honest but astoundingly stuffy clothier in New Jersey with a large family and a small trade had written him to inform him of a most desperate situation of finding himself nearly broke and in debt to some unscrupulous lenders, and upon further investigation and inquiry weeks later it was discovered that he was not cheated out of the guineas, about the apparent squandering of which he had been consulting spiritual mystics during the last four years or so. A Mr. Talbot who was a dear friend of the family, who had been in close contact with the nephew had known this, but promising the lad he would keep his secret, he never told DeCamp. It was taken as a great insult of dishonorable and ungentlemanly conduct and DeCamp requested a duel, but you see, he told her laughing, Talbot is nearly blind as night! It not being an honorable or sporting competition, this replacement was designed by their no doubt inebriated, cruel, winter bored colleagues that had a strong fancy for gambling and they, for reasons unknown, agreed to it.

The gossip of the situation had her hooked and she urged him to go on. Gesturing with his hand while he explained the event, he continued, "So the idea is, you see, each man will carry another man on his back and race to the water, where, they will strip down as far as their decency allows and swim across the icy pond, the victor whoever gets the furthest before drowning or freezing I imagine."

An incredulous stare settled over her face as he told her this. Then she pushed him in the upper arm and cried, "You liar!"

He laughed and pointed back out to the lake. "I swear it, look!"

"Too bawdy for words," she said but eagerly watched with peering eyes in curiosity as a crowd had gathered on the beach of at least twenty men and the sound of them getting louder. "This is what you bring me to, really John, of all things."

"Are you offended, madam? Shall we leave?"

She looked at him and an odd, dull, mischievous look passed over her face. She pulled her bottom lip behind her front teeth in a teasing bite and released it in a sudden smile and looking back out to the water said, "No."

While she eagerly kept watch for the start of the event he placed some of the bread he had brought with them in her hand and she absently accepted it without looking and took a small bite, and his plan was to slowly and silently place small pieces of the bread into her hand at various intervals like feeding a delicate and unsure bird, and wordlessly, as words only ruin everything. He helped himself to a large sip of that mulled rum and thought he better not get too carried away and placed it strategically against her knee as a subtle suggestion.

Suddenly in a hurry she patted his arm blindly while pointing and said, "Oh my God—is that fat man in the grey waistcoat going to be one of the competitors, truly?"

"Yes, that's Mr. DeCamp."

"No wonder he backed out on a duel, even a blind man could surely hit him."

"Very observant of you, my dear. Now let us watch him drown instead."

"You're terrible, but I think you're right. Oh look, it's starting, I think."

The two competitors were standing side by side with the crowd flanked around them. One man was writing on a note pad taking wagers. Others were preparing large boulders placed in canvas slings and he realized either his information was wrong or a plan change had occurred. Both DeCamp and Talbot barefooted, in breeches and their waistcoats and shirts got into position to what it appeared to be to drag the boulders behind them in a short footrace, they stood poised with the strappings gripped tightly over one shoulder, both leaning for the start. Suddenly a man came out in front and pulled out his pistol and held it above his head in the air, said a few lines and fired it and with a roar of cheers and shouts from the already drunk crowd; the entire debacle unfolded before them.

The footrace portion went relatively quickly and without much trouble, with DeCamp surprisingly a few steps ahead of Talbot, years of carrying around an extra hundred pounds had made his back and thighs incredibly strong it would seem and he was the first to begin stripping at the shore of the lake and while he stood with his flabby pasty belly and disturbingly perky breasts, which all shook with tremendous force from his haste, he began to unbutton his breeches and the Colonel couldn't contain his laughter when he heard Anna so seriously whisper, "Oh please no."

The disgustingly nude men entered the icy water and the real entertainment began as they swam out. Talbot was the first to show trouble and began to turn around, then circled back before it became clear he was probably going to drown. DeCamp was already half way across the water when three men began to push a small wooden boat into the water and frantically paddled to the aid of Mr. Talbot to the boos and laughs from the rum soaked spectators.

After pulling a shivering, vomiting Talbot from the water they paddled over to DeCamp whose incredible fat layer had undoubtedly given him an unfair advantage at first, but its benefit had begun to give out and he waved and shouted to the boatmen, but upon their distress found he was too big for them to pull up without tipping the craft over. A rope was tossed overboard and they pulled him alongside the boat as the great whaling vessels do with their enormous catches or as the native fisherman do with the massive delta rays to keep them alive on the trip back to shore. As the boat came up to the gathering of men, both men crawled upon the rocky beach with painfully red skin to waiting blankets and taunts and slaps on the back, and the entire thing ended rather anticlimactically without one significant injury or death.

"So, who won?" she asked looking at him confused.

"I'd say Monsieur Grand, wouldn't you?"

"So he was smart not to duel, do you think he planned it that way all along?"

"I somehow doubt it."

They sat for some time afterwards, the waning sounds of the crowd in the distance getting fainter. He laid out the bread for her and in the bottom of the bag found he had his copy of Anabasis crammed in there which caught her eye. He handed it to her and she thumbed through it then asked him what it was about. He told her it was a military commander's holy book, a historical record of the greatest adventure of all time from the ancient world. Her interest piqued, she raised her eyebrows and opened the book and began reading in earnest.

By then it was high noon and the sky had cleared completely and he laid back on clasped hands and balanced a foot upon a bent up knee and watched the brilliant speckled glow of the warm sun through his closed eyes. Every so often he peered through one hazed eye to look to see her reading quietly, thoughtfully chewing on a piece of bread and white cheese.

"Does it interest you?" he asked her after a while.

"I'm curious as to what happens to Cyrus. He sounds quite formidable."

"Doesn't he? Well, I'll let you hold onto the book and find out then."

With a forearm sloped over his eyes, he let himself fall into a light snooze before he heard her laugh and say, "Clearchus is a smart one isn't he?"

Taking a moment to think of what she was referring he smiled, "You understand why it's an important book?"

"I'm beginning to. Have you ever had your men defy you in such a way?"

"Yes, actually."

"Oh?" she laughed.

"You find it amusing?"

"Maybe a little. What did you do? The same?"

"Not exactly the same situation. But your Clearchus you mock did what all good officers and fathers do. Instilled fear and inspired love."

"Ah. Well, it seems to have worked I must say. You have quite your own little army now, don't you."

"Leadership and hard work, madam."

She made an amused sigh and went back to reading when he asked her if maybe she would like to return, perhaps being outdoors for so long after such a long battle with her hysteria, or passive aggressive torture of him or whatever she happened to be suffering from, was too much. The question seemed to almost offend her. She said she'd rather not go back if that was alright with him. What then, he asked her, would mademoiselle like to do?

"Let us go for a ride, perhaps?"

"As the lady wishes."

Her back upon the horse, him leading, they walked around the pond and she laughed behind her hands when he waved in a large friendly obnoxious full arm wave to the inebriated but fewer in number grouping still present that somewhat startled upon their presence out of the curtain of brush ("Good show, boys!" he shouted), they went back to the house for him to get his own mount and they rode through the bends of the glens and gullies along the towering shade of the chilly wooded country, back through the trees and up a hill to the charred ruins of some unfortunate soul's home, the curtains oddly untouched and still eerily flapping in the shattered window frames. They went into the village and absently watched an attractive strapping blond cooper skillfully drawing his knife up and down a curved piece of lumber shaping a stave before having tea and a late lunch in a small butchery and eating house aptly named, The Happy Bower. He had a beefsteak and she had turtle soup which he (elatedly but wordlessly) noticed she ate all of.

"He really was fat wasn't he," she said randomly during their silent meal while ripping a piece of bread with her hands and then looking at him.

"And revoltingly nude," he reminded her. They both laughed.

When the house came into view on the trip back home she asked if there was somewhere else they could go. He halted the horses and looked over to her. "Where would the lady care for her humble servant to take her?"

She did not care, she said, but she made it very clear she did not want to return.

"We have to return eventually."

"I know, but not yet."

He took them up a hill that overlooked the encampment and they sat side by side under a large towering pine on the blanket and silently watched the activity of the evening, him ever so often making comments on a random annoyance of something he noticed out of place, not being done or just being done wrong. He pointed out his disappointment of the redoubts to her, explaining the flaws and she nodded and whether she was listening or just being polite he could not tell until she asked why not move them and their first real conversation that did not involve cunning games or cruelty wound up being a very odd, rambling and in depth one over redoubt placement and construction.

They fell silent again and he watched out over the camp and the country beyond and saw the approaching clouds and the white wires of lightening licking the rim of the sky over the sound. He was sipping slowly and dutifully the canteen of mulled rum that she'd hardly touched to take off the chill forming in the air and the long deafening silence their conversation had dropped off into.

"Are you unhappy at the Card house? Do you wish me to find new quarters?"

She said she didn't, but she did not elaborate. He asked her if that doctor tried anything queer with her and to his surprise she laughed. But then assured him that no, he didn't, but that he seemed overly fond of clysters and had terribly sour smelling powdered hair and the thought made the Colonel turn his head and spit in disgust. And what, she asked him, what would lead him to think of that of all things?

"Never mind," he said.

Even though he had determined not to look at her for too long, he found it impossible not to gaze down and take notice of her elegant hand (ignoring the unkempt ragged fingernails) that lay resting upon her lap next to him just a faint touch away. Its stark rose dappled whiteness against the dark fabric of her dress, those tiny graceful bird bones of her fingers that commanded a patricianly touch, that brought forth the stinging of tears and waves of endless adoration.

He not so much forgot his resolve to not touch her, but no longer cared as he watched with an absent will to retreat his own light fingertips as he stroked the little dip of her delicate wrist, over the downy softness of her arm daring just slightly under her sleeve cuff, and down to trace the knobby whites of her knuckles before taking her small fingers into his and placing light kisses to them. He held the soft cool flat of her hand against his cheek and lips and closed his eyes and breathed her in.

He felt her arm tense up and heard her start, "Colonel—"

"Forgive me," he murmured, as his heart ached, "just please, indulge me your lovely cold hand."

She said nothing and he felt her tension slack and he could have sworn he felt the soft blind pads of her fingers squeeze against his warmly but that could have been as real as an involuntary contraction on her behalf or the rum deceiving his senses. And he might have kept his parched lips to that soft skin forever if not for being interrupted by a voice calling, "Colonel!" while being approached by quickening footsteps through the damp forest floor.

If he had succeeded in one aspect he seemed to invariably fail in another. Nothing seemed changed but in another sense everything was lost. It was so infuriatingly difficult to navigate through the vague modesty and polite prudishness that plagued all female and male interactions along with her confusing or contrived signals. To have any kind of normalcy he would have killed for, but he knew that was impossible, and every attempt at it would be nothing more than a pathetic parody of it in their abnormal world. Nonetheless, later that evening a simple but perfect letter had been slipped under his door which upon reading it, made his heart soar like a dove.

Poor Cyrus!
AS

Before he left the house the next morning he replied on the back of her note and then slid under the door:

Mademoiselle Anna,
Please forgive my hasty departure, the enemy requires my attention.
What I require, however, is for you to write me once a week and keep me informed on your health and spirits.
Mourn for Cyrus and be a good Cilician Queen. Continue reading, and keep dear Clearchus in your thoughts as he finds himself in hostile land.
Your most obedient humble servant,
YC (Your Clearchus)

The day was a cloudy and miserable one and he felt himself falling ill and all he longed for was another chance to see his little reader and perhaps near a warm fire discuss the finer points of the times of the Greeks, but there was not much time for any further literary puns however, as he received orders before dawn to harass a nearby enemy post and destroy several supply houses. The timing of which he couldn't help but be convinced she brought upon a curse with her question the day before, why did that wretched woman have to bring up such a thing at all?

Chapter Text

It is a muggy summer, July now, and he’s been marching with the 80th and 76th regiments for what feels like a year but has only really been a few weeks, under General Arnold to the Chester River, where a number of the enemy's shipping is stationed. He’s sitting in his friend Israel Wicklow’s armory yard in a rather uncomfortable wooden folding chair in the shade of a mossy tree listening to his elven faced ginger boy reading back all he’s told him, while the Colonel begrudgingly (juvenilely purposefully slow) catches up on the drudgery of paperwork.

“Muskets, priming wires, wad-hooks, tampions, rammers, um, spikes, vent-covers—“

“Oh Colonel, I have some rifles, you interested?” The middle aged hollow-cheeked, long jawed man with a biggish nose and small chin interrupts from across the yard with his booming voice from across the yard. Before he can answer, the man shouts at the child, “Joseph! Get the colonel the rifles!”

“How many?” he shouts back.

“As many as he wants, idiot!”

Before the kid can speak, the Colonel tells him to bring one for him to look at first. The boy totters off to start gathering his supplies and the armory master walks back across the yard to sit at the huge desk the Colonel is sitting next to that Lord Israel has placed outside to conduct his business from so he can sit under the shade of a large sagging tree and intimidate the peasants and plebs that dare trot over his sovereign soil and watch with the calculating stare of a gypsy, as any good ruler does over his personal kingdom.

How they became friends was a mystery as they were seemingly not in the least bit compatible not even in conversation. The Colonel was serving his time under the wrist-slapping punishment Major Andre had mercifully bestowed upon him and Israel was there upon profession, as he had been afflicted from an unfortunate kick to his head as a young man (milking cow, thunder storm) with terrible epileptic fits from time to time and had found a comfortable career in armory management and bureaucratic weaseling. Which, also, a friend with such skills and the subsequent connections is never one any ambitious person should pass up.

That as an unforeseen favor in his affections aside, Israel seemingly choosing him as someone he could feel at ease with in their shared hatred of the horse’s ass captain they were both stuck under. They drank together. Heavily. Traded dirty jabs about both their respective continent’s Indian girls. Israel went to punch him once at a stinging joke he made over his hometown’s women (something about sodomy and tomahawks or a Papal staff; he was quite drunk at the time) but Israel was so drunk and weak he missed, tripped, and fell into a cheap painting of someone’s ugly forbearer that made the tavern owner livid beyond words, and they both ended up laughing at his reaction and from that point forward were considered by the unspoken agreement of the state itself, friends.

“Still no orders yet, Colonel? Are you now so useless you must perform the duties of your subalterns now by lowering yourself to see lowly ole me.”

“You should be grateful for such a bestowment. They don’t know what continent they are on half the time,” he says, stretching out in the hard wooden seat, crossing his feet and putting his arms behind his head as he looks out over the yard. “While I sit here, there are—hey, boy!” he yells into the courtyard at the child pulling his list who freezes in place with a musket in his hand at the Colonel’s voice. “I said shortened barrels, how do you expect someone to fire that bloody thing from a horse?”

“Give the poor lad a break, he’s barely twelve.”

“When I was twelve I could recite the Iliad, he can’t remember what I told him less than fifteen minutes ago? I guess he does take after his father.”

The armory master waves his hand in a dismissing way while yelling to the child to look behind some shelf in some back corner. He thinks for a moment and then looks to the Colonel. “We might not have seventy of those by the way, give me a week, alright? I’ll order them. Hell, I’ll order you marked ones, how’s that?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s the point of running this place if I can’t play favorites now and then like a true tyrant. Plus it will mightily piss off a certain sergeant, whose order might get pushed behind yours because he’s a miserly Kraut and I loathe him.”

The Colonel nods and sits in the chair next to the man and rubs his hands over his face. “In that case, order me,” he thinks for a moment, “one hundred marked full barrel as well.”

“You got it, sir.”

“So add on the necessary wadding, powder—what else.”

“—Rounds?” Lord Israel says, getting up out of his now flat cushioned throne before following after his idiot son.

“Rounds.”

He looks down at his pile of papers flapping in the breeze from under a white mottled grey rock and groans. The Clever Colonel had figured that their last victory was a sign that this grueling colonial temper tantrum was to fall finally under Tory heel soon, that a transfer to another theater would not only be beneficial to the Crown by using his talents somewhere more pressing but also career wise, and perhaps even more importantly, (but not that he would ever consciously acknowledge such a thing, a woman no less, as driving his decisions regarding his own command thanks to the remarkable compartmentalization that affects the brain upon being exposed to female trickery) the quite underhanded way of securing his prisoner for a voyage so far, physically, culturally and spiritually, from anything she'd ever known that the very uprooting itself was a guarantee of the status quo.

Upon reading his mail that morning, he discovered that while he was granted his provincial rank to be made as one in the Army as perhaps a pity offer, a welcome one nonetheless, his dreams were subsequently crushed, as that misguided poof Clinton denied his transfer. And all hope on his much desired West Indies front disintegrated in an instant to fine ash and blew mockingly away in an effeminate swirl.

But while he’d been driven to insanity, he remains about himself all the cunningness of the insane, and with the American War with no end in sight, he now has to contemplate further schemes and stretches of authority and propriety upon the wild continent of his Lesbia’s native homeland.

It is fine, though. Perfectly fine. Better than fine. Why would he want to leave? To go back to the sweltering moldy hell that is the Indies? In fact, he has no desire to leave and is reluctant to admit he rather prefers his new home. Seasons! Four of them! What a glorious concept he had only heard about from heat stroked melancholy Brits nostalgic for home, the occasional traveler with great tales and informative books until he set sail across the world to confirm such phenomenon for himself. The crisp clean air, brilliant bloods and oranges of autumn and the sun drenched greens and yellows of summer! Along the jagged salty coasts and cascading ridges the plains of pines, poplars, birches and whatever other seemingly endless varieties of forest and botany abounded the raw wild country. Flat swamps with towering willows and moss tinseled cypresses reaching straight out of stagnant water, to yellow oat fields at the base of snow summited granite monoliths, hidden gully waterfalls cascading down flagstone steps in deep shaded bowers; forests so vast, dark, enchanting, haunted, imposing—it was a humbling work of creation to behold.

Leave? He found those rather mild summers to be invigorating and comforting and the winters were beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful, cruel and brutal the same, with everyone bundled in layers of wool, warm fires glowing on every hearth and corner, giving those adorable lusty frost nipped rosy cheeks to babes and ladies alike. The snow falling and blanketing life in a stark cover of white, huge furious swells of grey and white crashing into jagged ice crystals upon the crumbled beaches and tall blue sea walls of slate, and a cold that put the fear and awe of God in you in the dark of night, a cold to crack stone, a cold to take your life.

And the gentle warmth of spring to melt away the harshness of those bone chilling days when the novelty of winter had long worn off and the desire to feel one’s flesh outside of the numbness and biting frost burned brightly. Nature awakened with a bounty in rich colors and pine and wood smoke tinged aromas, of brisk mornings and warm afternoons, open fields of wildflowers, achingly blue skies of puffy looming nimbuses drifting over bursts of yellows and pinks and white butterflies fluttering and dancing over rolling glens of nothing but the purples of plums and grape-blooded monarchs across a green Eden.

It was only natural to him that the most beautiful place he’d seen had been the very land that gave life to the object of his affections. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that his transfer was denied. And there was always the French or Spanish to the south as soon as the rebellion was over, opportunities were endless, so it was not as hopeless as it had seemed, maybe just maybe, Fate stepped in and corrected him.

When Israel returns, plopping back into his seat and adjusting his sleeve cuffs, he says, “So you have not told me, what happened with Emma?”

“Emma?”

“The girl a certain drunk captain never shut his yap about.”

“—Anna.”

“Yes, that’s the darling. So?”

“So, what?”

“Quit being a rascal and tell me.”

He smiles. “I’ll tell you Israel, I do believe I am going to marry her.”

“Really now!” he says excitedly and slaps him the Colonel in the arm. Laughing he says, “Poor gal, she never came to her senses and got away from you, did she?”

“It is all Fate, my friend,” he says. “Strange, wonderful Fate.”

As he had instructed her (and her guards to help remind any slips in compliance), she wrote him a letter once a week and he had saved them all (sans a small bundle that got soaked in horse blood and ripped by shrapnel) as a pilgrim collects and saves sacred medals. They sit folded and tucked away cleverly as bookmarks in his Army issued Bible he’s had since he was seventeen and in his copy of Cyropaedia in the bottom compartment of his portmanteau for him to sneak covert rereads and indulge in nostalgic fits.


When he first had left her he was not quite sure what to expect. Nothing had really changed, or had it? From her cold and distant demeanor in those first days to the sardonic softness and playfulness that radiated from her improved convalesced soul, he kept record of it like a historian collecting evidence and proof of his life’s work.

March 5, 78
Dear Colonel:
At your behest I’m responding to your correspondence. Everything is fine here, nothing for your concern.
Mrs. SS

The first set of letters were much of the same. Rather curt, cold. She signed her married name for a solid month not for any kind of subversion he surmised, but for no reason other than to wound and stab him from afar, but he did not mind or care one bit as he inhaled any trace of her scent from the parchment her delicate hands had worked upon.

Time went on however and perhaps, owing to their separation, something did change. Through the magic of physical distance, plus communication through the written word, where one has to pause, think and physically write out his words, making his mind more conscious of their sound (and still able to change them if there was a terrible error in judgement), his dearest’s demeanor warmed a degree or two, the ice maiden’s winter frost beginning to melt into a welcoming warm spring dew in a most suggestive but apropos metaphor.

In fact, some of their letters could have even been mistaken for those not from captor and captive but from those corresponding like normal people, or at least what your average amorous youths would consider socially unremarkable; picture: a lustful handsome and still young man of good background bound for his sworn duty to protect the Crown, and a woman of beauty who finds herself trapped in the lacking conventions of her class and the social shunning due to her disgraced male benefactor. After meeting in some lush green garden on the white arbor river front or some other clichéd oil painted or romantic watercolored locale, our couple exchange flirtatious and sentimental notions in those intoxicating days of infatuation and bliss of noncommittal indulgence. Shared cynicism and the thrilling delight of a pined for lover despising the same person, idea, place or very existence you do.

Or perhaps that was a merged fantasy of his own making.

No mind.

April 20th, 78
Dear Colonel:
Please do be careful in such treacherous situations. The gayest thing happened here on the homefront and I thought you would like to hear about it as surely they will omit this incident in any report they send to their dearest commander. Your man Taylor got terribly drunk the other night and after getting into a fight with a servant and injuring his hand upon his face, he then fell off his horse and hurt his ankle. He is quite cross with me for laughing at him now, I must confess. He can barely stand and is in great pain. His ability to guard me is impaired and there’s no telling what I’ll do now.
I forgot to mention, I have finished your book. I understand now why you think so highly of it. Although, I think it’s tempting a horrible fate to compare yourself to our poor Clearchus, do you not agree?
AS

Well wishes and her initials! It was only upon this minor victory he giddily noticed her initials would be exactly the same if she took on his name instead of that cuckholding fool’s. His dearest was truly a cruel and delightfully dark one at heart and he smiled and gleefully ignored the rage filled reaction setting off in his mind over what the letter had actually just told him.

April 28th, 78
Dear Colonel:
Your words were very kind, I thank you. I received the extra money but, like I told you, it is not necessary. Food has been abundant despite a foraging raid outside of town recently. Nothing to worry about, there was no danger to us. Everything here is well and satisfactory and I am quite happily assisting the great wash ladies this week. It’s hard work but I enjoy it. You would be amazed at the amount of linen the Cards have, you must be paying them very well indeed to keep me. I may get spoiled and entitled living amongst such a class of people, perhaps you have not thought my arrangements out so well. Taylor has left and his replacement arrived, I was sad to see him leave as his hobbling gait and his anger at any mention of it became quite entertaining in these long days alone.
AS

May 8th, 78
Dear Colonel:
I received the urgent post on the 7th and since you seemed to have great anxiety over the situation, I will give you my impression of him and reassure you that there is nothing for you to worry about. He seems to be a fine young man, very polite and respectful. He was quite aghast at the behavior of his predecessor and told me he will face 500 lashes, maybe more, is this true? While I agree he deserves punishment, please don’t go to extremes on my behalf.
Things are quite happy here despite the horrid heat and you have my sympathies for I know you and your men must be suffering most of all. I hope for your safe return.
AS

Those last words alone were enough to send his soul into fits of agony but the entirety of the last of her letters together was simply overwhelming. Concern, her tender hearted feminine humility, not a word of it dripping in acid or contempt (towards him anyway), it was more than he could have ever asked for. Was it a trick? Tightening Catullus around her cruel little finger? Oh, it mattered not. His heart could have soared forever upon reading that last letter. But time is not the friend of lovers or happiness; only its brutal, cunning, always victorious enemy.

Taylor’s replacement, Ensign Morris, was one he had put much thought and a careful search into posting to her not only because he was a rather eager young ensign who the Colonel was convinced was not only genuinely desperate to prove himself loyal and of service, but entirely and thankfully homosexual. He came to this conclusion not only from the young man’s air, but upon hearing the rumor that in the stall of a dark stable, he had loved a drummer boy a bit more fiercely than his office required him to. He could not think of a better escort to have just feet away from his slumbering, changing or bathing prisoner. And as motivation to not only be a good little soldier himself but to keep the other two boobs there inline, he made sure to impress with the subtle threat of being in the knowledge of his perverse hobbies which were quite punishable by not only severe, possibly fatal flogging, but by cashiering out a young junior officer who did not come by that commission sum easily he found out through a fellow of his. He slept quite soundly on his decision.

After writing something down, Israel says, “Maybe the war is winding down, that’s why you’re just sitting tight.”

“I was ordered to take an enemy’s nearly impossible to defend post, and then afterwards upon giving my report asked how many troops I thought it would take to defend it, in that order. And the answer was met with great surprise. If that does not tell you the state of this war right now, I don’t know what will, my paper pushing friend.”

“I’m perfectly content pushing papers there, John. How’s the leg, by the way? You seem to be a little less of a pathetic cripple than I remember. A little, anyway.”

“Oh you know. As good as new.”

“So it’s alright if I give you a good hit in it?”

“Only one way to find out if you’re so daring.”

“There’s a sutler selling some kind of miracle cure nearby. I heard one of the boys from the 71st used it, healed his arm where the grape tore through. Maybe you should try it.”

The Colonel laughs and puts his hand on the armory master’s shoulder and the other to his chest mimicking relief, “A miracle cure, you say? A leeching merchant who follows all manner of cripples and gimps miraculously has our Lord Himself bottled for easy application? And for a low price I’m sure.”

“You never know, John, it might just be the thing. There’s all sorts of new medicines and elixirs coming in from the west territories. Indian cures too.”

“Nothing more effective than savage magic,” he says dryly. “How about I just get your wife to sit on it, Israel.”

Israel groans and with a chuckle says, “Still an insufferable devil of a man I see.”

Israel offers him an apple which he at first automatically declines but then he accepts with a nod and rubs it absently on his pants before taking a bite. He was not upset of being wounded, in fact, surviving with such an injury was a great pride for any warrior to behold, but it was as if they had stolen the honor of it all. Sullied it. Profaned it. The fact it was from battle was usurped and it violently became their wound, used against him, sadistically played with like some kind of personal torture tool. It wasn’t just the humiliation or just the suffering of pain itself. It was as if they infested themselves that day into his very flesh, as a constant unflinching reminder of not the injury but what followed, one that waylays him at the most unexpected and unwanted times, disturbs his sleep, his thoughts, and he the hatred he feels for them has no description. He knows if he could have killed not just some decrepit uncle, but their entire families right down to the last little chub-cheeked bastard babe he would have, without a second thought, without a single tear. And yet he realizes the depressing reality that it still would not have made one ounce of difference.

“It’s good to see your miserable face anyhow. Where has the war been taking you, my friend? I have not seen you since the good days, all I hear about you is what little bits I get here and there. Tell me some good news at least from out there.”

“Long Island to Virginia and every-bloody-where in between. I’ve asked Major Andre to put me on an inside track to kill some French as soon as possible, does that please you?”

“Greatly. Can you believe these rebel idiots. The French of all insanity. Bayonet a few of those papist bastards for me.”

Oui, bien sûr,” he says.

“You’ll be doing God’s work.”

“The only work I long to do.”

Pointing to a line on a form for him to sign, Israel says, “Still confused why you’re here and not one of your peons.”

“Maybe I came just to see you.”

“Doubtful. And here and here.”

“Have more esteem in yourself, dear Israel,” he implores, signing whatever’s being pointed at, he really didn’t look.

While the boy slowly drags out equipment weighing as much as he does in some cases, he starts piling up his papers to head out.

“Come and stay with us tonight, Colonel. I insist.”

He politely declines, but then after only one round of false social modesty after being insisted upon again, he instantly accepts as not only would he probably enjoy some distraction and company but it would be a great excuse to avoid that traitor General who grates every last nerve in his achy body.

And as he heads out the green steel framed swing gate, he asks a few men along the way if they know where or have heard of a sutler selling a supposedly miraculous cure. The secret shame of every rational, intelligent gimp and plagued soul is their collection of sham potions and remedies they bought in blind defiance of every rational bone in their body all on that .001% chance it “just might be the thing” as Israel so succinctly and miserly phrased it.

And that kid never did bring him that damn rifle.

 

 

OOO

 

When he came to he was leaning in the back of the wagon with his wounded leg extended out in front of him. His sight still seemed blurry and his skull throbbed mercilessly. His nose felt to be broken. A thirst cracked his lips. He lightly touched the blood soaked wrapping around his thigh and tried to lift up a corner of it to see. The flesh swollen and discolored and along his entire leg the breeches sticky. He felt hot and sick and reeked of blood and he carefully closed the dirty bandage and put a tight pressure on his upper thigh to try to stop the radiating pain and carefully pulled himself up and looked over the sides of the wagon. They had parked outside a property a mile off the road somewhere in the muggy, muddy backcountry. He tried to see if there were any clues of where he was but he had no idea. A trio of guards stood a little ways off with their rifles and some of the women and children of the farm stood watching him. One of them was an attractive young blonde girl of about sixteen and when he looked at her she twisted her stance and downcast her eyes. The Captain called out to her if she could get him a drink.

The guards glared at him and told him to be quiet. He made drinking motions to the girl and she turned and walked off and the younger ones stayed staring as they were.

“Ain’t no one bringing you nothing,” one of the guards said.

He smiled and raised his eyebrows to him. “I’d gladly share. Wouldn’t you like a drink?”

“I’m not telling you again to be quiet.”

The guard came and took him by the arm and pulled him off the wagon hard and the Captain’s legs folded beneath him at the pain of it. The guard had to have another help drag him inside the brick barn. As soon as they turned through the door he saw that it wasn’t a barn at all, at least it wasn’t primarily for that purpose anymore. Thick two inch iron square mesh bars floor to ceiling enclosed below the landing of the upstairs bale hold. A foul mattress. Some hay. A bucket.

They pushed him inside and closed and one locked the padlocked cage door with a key that he hung back up on a beam on the opposite side of the barn. One of the guards spit and walked out. The other sat against the wall farthest from the Captain.

“So. What now?”

“We wait for orders from Captain Tallmadge.”

“Ah. Tell me, what do you think of him?”

“Never seen him before today. He’s alright.”

“A fair man?”

“I suppose.”

They heard someone come up to the barn door and saw it was the blonde girl. She held up her hand with a glass bottle in it and the guard waved her on in and she slowly walked up to the cell doors and crouched down letting her long pale skirt to pool around her feet.

“This is all I have,” she said, handing the bottle through a space in the iron grill.

“Thank you, madam,” said the Captain taking it. “You are most kind.”

He pulled the cork out and the smell of rum emanated off it. She rested her elbows upon her knees and her chin upon daintily folded hands as she watched him with a pleased curiosity. Like a Roman noblewoman that made her way down to the dark holds to get a thrill at the sight of the wild captured conquests chained helplessly before her desiring eye. He took a large drink before putting it down to catch his breath and then took another. It was terrible and the most wonderful thing he could remember tasting. It burned his chest and gut like acid and made him nearly instantly dizzy and he thought he better not drink anymore. The girl then handed him a folded piece of newspaper and inside was a corn cake with butter on it. It was the first thing he had eaten since the night before the ambuscade and he ate it in one bite and he must have looked a ravenous madman but he did not care.

“I’ve never met a royal officer before.”

“Captain John Graves Simcoe of the 40th grenadiers, at your service mam.”

“A grenadier even,” she said with a playful smile. She looked him over. “From London?”

“I hail from the exotic and savage lands of India.”

Her face lit up. Sun kissed and blue eyed and beautiful. “Truly?”

He nodded and smiled at her. “Truly.”

“Do you command a large battalion, Captain?”

And with a suggestive connotation he said, “Quite.”

She covered her mouth with her hand and softly laughed but the guard yelled over for her to get out and she quickly stood up and trotted out the door. He watched the sun lit backside of her get smaller and smaller until she turned sharply in the distance and that was the last he saw of his spindly limbed altruistic consort.

The guard sat and tucked his chin to his chest and didn’t say another word. The Captain looked at him for a while. He was an older man. Judging from his rifle and look of him he was a farmer. Or trapper. Anything but a soldier.

He sat. The day passed slowly. No one spoke to him nor he to anyone. From outside the barn he heard the sound of wagons being moved. Dogs barking in the distance. An occasional sound of men dragging and moving things. Soon it was dark and the guard was snoring on and off and the Captain closed his own eyes concentrating on his breathing. The pressure in his leg was incredible. Unlike anything he’d felt before. The musket ball was lodged in quite deep and he knew it was starting to fester and he began to fear he would lose his leg. That was if he survived at all. Oddly enough his thoughts did not immediately dwell on the possibility of death, but to an even more terrifying fate of those like him. The half limbed veterans turned beggars and invalids filling the streets. He’d personally seen two field amputations just months before which remained vividly lucid to his mind, one of some poor lad’s arm shattered by a musket ball and another of a piper’s leg ripped nearly off just above the knee six feet away from him by a fortunate enemy hit with a three pounder. Both screaming and overcome like men possessed, thrashing and having to be held by a small group of men while the blood soaked surgeon hastily hacked away through the tender still living and feeling flesh and through every stringy raw nerve with a blade no better for cutting chewy beef with. Four days later through fever and madness he heard that the unfortunate gimp had died anyway. He never found out what happened to the piper. He wordlessly prayed to God not to spare his life if it meant his leg for he would rather die.

It must have been the rum and fever because he fell into a deep yet unrestful sleep without realizing. A vanished life returned to him. Long dead family appeared out of a nothingness and cast suspicious glances upon him. None spoke. He thought of his life. A long fan of light ran out from the west and the setting sun swelled blood red along the horizon of the great river out before him and he watched from the veranda of the bungalow. Children and wild dogs playing and swimming. Along its banks all that the river has pulled along from the continent and carried with it, straw, huts, drowned tigers, buffaloes, men, dogs; all tangled and caught in great islands of hyacinth that choke the shores. The putrid heat radiated through. No fresh air from the sea ever reaches here. Seasons absent. Rain every day. In the black slime of the great delta surrounding them, lie its stagnant dins of mosquitoes, dead children, everything rotting, decomposing, forgotten.

Night was quickly falling and a caustic darkness covered the land. The glow of fires and the smell of wood-smoke and bloodied steel on the wind foretold of the world to come. There was a woman with long blonde hair and a lace bonnet below calling out to some unseen children, but they heeded her not. Years later he'd stood in the charred ruins of the fort on the river strewn with the corpses of all he held dear. An open air ancestral tomb. Like a marauder’s message left for all who pass to be forewarned. Faceless and grotesque yet each instantly identifiable to his child eyes. A conjuring of long buried rage that threatened to consume him. He walked over near a body and found a ring and picked it up and turned it in his fingers. Fluted gold. He placed it upon the finger of his pale bride of the New World and watched her smile with down cast eyes. Her long russet hair tousled loose over her shoulders. Linen dress flowing behind her. She interlaced her fingers with his and he placed his lips to her downy cheek.

An intense feeling woke him in the early morning. Pale slatted light crossed the dusty stalls of the barn. He was sweating and cold and felt like he was going to vomit and then he did, violently and with more energy than he had to spare. Nothing but bile and his body seized with dry pained heaving into the hay. The sounds of his retching and gasping woke up the guard and he asked him if he was alright. When he didn’t answer the guard got up and walked over to the bars and looked inside.

“Hey, what’s going on in there.”

“You have to help me,” the Captain said. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Please.”

“The fuck would I do that?”

“Because if I die under your watch your captain isn’t going to be too happy now, will he?”

“What do you mean?”

“My leg is festering, I need the ball out before it spreads.”

“There ain’t no surgeon here.”

“Then you, you have a knife, yes?”

“Yeah, I gotta knife.”

“Use your knife on it then.”

“What?”

The Captain almost lost his feigned patience and bit his lower lip before continuing. “Put the knife in a fire until it’s hot.”

“Okay.”

“Then quench it and try to get the ball out with the tip in the wound.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. Quite simple really. Even you could do it, I’m sure.”

The guard thought about it for a moment. He looked at the Captain’s leg and then back to him and his gaunt look must have convinced him. “Alright. I’ll be right back.”

“Get an egg and a clean bandage too,” he called out. “Please.”

The guard looked back and nodded and walked out the barn.

The Captain carefully peeled back the blood stiffened cloth wrapped around his thigh. Half dried clots stuck to the raw open flesh when he moved it and he nearly cried out at the pain when he lifted the cloth up. The skin red and hot to the touch. Fresh blood started to flow. Veins proffered and stretched. He took the cork out of the bottle of rum and took a long slow sip and left the cork out and kept taking long sips, trying not to vomit. His head swam and his body warmed. He prayed silently but with the words this time. Please God do not take my leg if not my life. The guard came back holding a long crude dagger in his hand and in the other a pail of water and a length of linen what appeared to be an old hemp tick-sack and the Captain instantly regretted the entire endeavor upon sight of him.

He opened the padlock with the key and then put everything on the floor next to the filthy mattress the Captain was laying on. The guard unlocked the manacles off of the Captain’s hands and put them aside which he did not request but was grateful for it anyhow. The guard knelt next to him and looked closely at the wound. He sucked in air through his teeth and pushed his hat back on his head.

“This is going to hurt.”

“It already hurts, you idiot.”

“Yeah, but this is gonna be a lot worse.”

The Captain sat breathing harshly through his teeth while the guard performed his debut amateur surgery. Pain like he’d never felt before. He couldn’t stop shaking. Seconds became days and thus became never ending. He put his hands down at either side of him and he stared straight ahead staring at a specific brick that stood out to him lain in the wall ahead. Analyzing its leeched efflorescent patterns. Projecting repetitive images and futile thoughts of distraction upon those patterns. He tried to breathe slowly and with steady control, but that became impossible. At first the guard tried slipping the tip of the knife in and seeing if he could wiggle the ball loose but the flesh had swollen so much that the entry wound was nearly closed. Then he tried to cut the flesh out from around it and the Captain knew he was going to pass out.

“More rum,” he cried out. “Please.”

The guard stopped and handed him the bottle and told him he couldn’t get the ball out with the knife and pulled the knife out and wiped it on his knee and then laid it down. He cracked the egg on a plate and coated the bandaging and started to wrap his throbbing, searing, screaming leg up. The Captain did not argue with him. Every touch the guard made upon his skin, even the dryness of the air brought an unbearable fire upon his nerves and it was all he could do to keep from crying out.

“Let’s drink to that then,” he said, lifting the bottle to his lips and taking a long slow convulsing sip.

At the doorway of the barn he heard Tallmadge and another man walk into the barn and sit down near the entrance. They spoke anxiously about what to do with the Captain. Softly but enough for him to pick up fragmented words and tones. Disagreement. One much more eager than the other. Tallmadge hesitant.

The situation was becoming more apparent by the moment and it was with a detached acceptance he knew he was going to die there.

He slept on and off the rest of the day. His thoughts and mind seeking refuge in the sad and empty manor he had left behind, creeping through its blue toile wallpapered hallways and across the high ceiling parlor towards the haunting siren’s call of the sad and empty woman who inhabited it. The echo of her unfamiliar rondels he had to take a secret pleasure in listening to, for the moment she knew he was close by she would fall quickly silent. The melancholy love-ache that pained through his chest as he listened to her lowborn cantor travel up from the laundry outside his window, the kitchen or an adjacent room as she sang her charming American versions of the same songs he had known. Even then, he could still hear her singing in the most convincing parody of reality there in that hopeless, doomed place.

Even if he wished to, he is unable to free his thoughts from her, and despite this when he tries to envision her exactly he cannot for his desire blinds him whenever she is near. Flashes of her details—the pale, voluptuous, rosy skin of her obscenely graceful décolletage, her hair, her meady sweat tinged odor, the sharp black stare of her round eyes, the rustic nakedness under her dress. And all that he can conjure in his conscious mind are fragmented stills, lithographic studies (fig. 1. detail of a delicate wrist; fig. 2. angular curve of cheekbone) etched deeply upon his heart.

When did this happen? How? Was she even really that beautiful, that enchanting, a wench in a dump of a tavern of all things?

Only once in his life did he even have a whisper of such an affliction. On a humid day when he was a boy of not more than fifteen he was setting fishing lines in the river, while squatting down in the rich peat of the stagnant shallows, a raven crown appeared above tall willow reeds. He stood up and came to see that the crown cascaded black silks that were pulled to one side of apricot shoulders, wet and dripping at the ends onto crossed forearms covering childish breasts. A thin half-caste nymph bathing. She smiled brightly at him and something immediately enchanted him and perhaps it was the vivid colors of the light of the evening sky upon the nascent wetness than clung and slid down her nakedness that presented her in such an impactful way, but he felt his heart might blot him out as it swelled upon the sight of her. There was a frank but endearing childish immodesty about her. A hint of a brown areola peeking out just from above one lazily held limb. The budding crests of the flare of her still square childish hips, the taut skin pulled across the sharp little triangular bones, the perfect pair of them jutting out forming the symmetrical angles above a lightly flossed secret.

"Don't look," she said.

Overcome by the illustrious haze he was in, he only stupidly murmured, "What?"

"You shouldn't look, you rascal."

She dropped her arms away and her round face and dark nymphet eyes studied him with amused detachment. He quickly looked away from her but he had already seen the formless soft swellings sparkling with water droplets like diamonds on honey and continued to in his periphery and for the rest of his life.

And she laughed and splashed her way up onto shore and wrapped her wet nakedness in a bright yellow lap-robe and ran away. Another black haired half naked child nymph that was sitting hidden followed her and their shrieks and laughs scared a group of birds out of the marsh bushes. That was all that had happened. But even the impact of that encounter upon his adolescent self was not as profound as the even more innocent encounter with a girl in a tavern in a country on the other side of the world.

Unlike the warm and lustful feelings the river child had stirred in him, who remained a distant untouchable fantasy, conjured up on an amorous whim and put away just as easily, he realized that there was no love; no agony, no death wish, no mad desire to put his hands to her pale throat, no unyielding impulse to destroy everything that stood between him and her. As not even the most carnal or tender lust can ever be passed for or come close to supplanting love, the sad empty woman in Setauket took a possession like no other with a denuding intensity, taking him victim by a bitter destitution. Emptying his mind of all diversity, a victorious conquest of his imagination by a single image. A single person.

And her perversely unaware of it all.

At noon a guard brought him a plate with fermenting rice and a small piece some kind of fowl on it and he ate it slowly and with great care to keep it down. All of it sour and stringy. He drifted in and out of a twilight sleep somewhere between hunger and fever and throbbing pain. His pale bride visited him upon a painted black horse adorned in faded florals of pastel and the bleached colors of the sun. Her long dark hair swept up in combs of jade and silver. The scent of citron and heliotrope. She held him to her like her child under the yellow and blood red sky of the Ganges. She whispered to him of things that would be in a language forgotten and under the deluge of the monsoon he kissed her. Skin soaked wet her white linen dress clung transparent to her breasts. The taste and smell of the rain all about her but he was pulled all too suddenly from his siren’s dream by the sound of heavy boots walking towards him. A man carrying a small wooden table and chairs slung behind him on his back and he slammed them down in the middle of the barn. He walked out and then returned with a decanter and glasses. He placed them upon the table and then took the key to the padlock off the wall and unlocked the cell door.

“Come on,” he said, and motioned for the Captain to get up.

The Captain pushed himself up on his good leg trying not to bend the bad one but it was impossible to do. He hobbled up against the wall as best he could but not fast enough for the guard who grabbed him by the arm and pushed him across the floor over to the chair. “Sit.”

He was to dine with Tallmadge. Plates of seared beef and potato were placed in front of him and he suppressed the overwhelming reflex to devour it upon sight.

The two officers dined. Tallmadge was awkwardly nervous and became even more so when the Captain was not particularly impressed with him. Nothing will allow you to size up a man quicker than his reaction to being antagonized by one under his own control. It was curious. He reminded the Captain of the gentle schoolboys whose father put them into university in order to secure comfortable careers for various paper pushing bureaucratic positions. Boys that enjoyed theory and law in books. Boys that turned into men such as Hewlett. The all too common confidence of naïveté that consists without foundation. Eager to be noticed but desperate to not make waves.

It didn’t take much to push past the façade that the two were for reasons unclear to him still trying to maintain. They clearly were going to kill him yet kept expecting him to believe they were not. It was frankly insulting to his intelligence. And as had been an innate part of his nature, especially when it came to relieving a passion of anger or disappointment, the Captain had a most unnatural ability to zero in on the insecurities or soft spots of others, cutting directly to the quick with arrogant and cruel utterances that stung like salt being thrown on a lashed back.

He almost didn’t expect it as soon as it happened. Brewster was the opposite of Tallmadge, aggressive and all too raw with emotion. He was openly annoyed with Tallmadge and had not the sense to hide it in front of the Captain. All too anxious to get down to it. So was the Captain.

The room lit up white and he fell back with his hands reaching to his face. He was lying with his face against the splintry wooden floor. He didn’t remember falling. The floor smelled of dust and grain. He tried to push himself up but a heavy kick into his gut made him curl at the blow. He coughed and heaved and spat blood. They watched him. They seemed to have no other plan from that point forward.

Tallmadge lifted him by one arm and Brewster the other and forced him to his feet and one threw a rope up over the center wooden beam of the ceiling and tied the other end around his wrists and pulled it down until the Captain’s arms were strung high above his head and he was balancing his weight on his toes. They tied it off to an iron nail board. His entire weight painfully hung upon the bones of his wrists.

Brewster hit him squarely in the mouth and then again across his left eye socket. He heard something crack and the room went white again. A voice told him not to pass out just yet and then a blow hit him directly on his leg wound. Pain like Greek fire shot through his nerves. The Captain cried out and recoiled back on the tip of his right foot but the ropes buried into his wrist were taught and gave no quarter. Brewster hit him in that fatal spot again and again until he screamed.

It was a dreadful interrogation but an exemplary vengeful beating. They clearly had not done this before. If the victim already knows he’s going to be disposed of, you’ve already thrown out your most powerful card: Hope.

He waved in and out of rippling consciousness to the continual background of their bickering. Neither seemed to know what exactly they were looking for only they needed to find it. Neither able to decide whether just to beat him or inflict humiliating acts of pain upon him. Tallmadge was hinged on the idea the Captain knew something about which he had no actual clue. Brewster was not convinced either way or simply did not care. He wanted to kill him quickly, and since he was not allowed, he settled for exacting his revenge.

A burst of stars in his vision when the butt of a pistol hit his head. Hot fresh blood ran down his neck. He thought he might be blind and then he thought of nothing. No part of his body responded. He wasn’t asleep but he couldn’t wake. Perhaps it was Death already. Her fingers brushed his cheek. She looked down to him. Smiled warmly and took his hand in hers and brought it to her lips and placed a light kiss upon it. She whispered something to him he could not understand and went back to looking out to the river. She seemed oddly unconcerned. They sat upon the high walls of the charred mortar walls and looked out over the black river with his head cradled in her arms against her soft chest as she stroked her fingers through his hair. Fishing boats and the small low huts the natives live in amongst the shore crackled afire the only light in a long dead world. All curiously silent.

She whispered to him softly.

Not to fear.

It only hurts once and then never again.

She went to speak again but a bucket of water to his face and a stinging slap across his face cruelly brought him back to the world of the living.

Tallmadge pleaded, seemingly desperate to possess a reason not to kill the Captain, just yet. Not yet. Wait. Wait. The preposition of time he heard it at least three times he can remember. Delay, delay, enough that made him want to scream out for them to get it over with. Perhaps to try to get a shred of something, anything, to run back to his superiors with, to prove his worth. To make this gory scene justifiable in his morality play book. To infinitely delay the inevitable. Frustration abounded as the Captain’s life dwindled before him yet yielded nothing. His weakness was intolerable yet the Captain found his captor oddly pitiful.

“I have nothing else to tell you,” he cried out. And he didn’t. He’d only been in Setauket a little over a month. Captain for less than two weeks. He even tried to think of some elaborate lie he could tell. Something to satisfy them. But not even they knew what they wanted to hear from him. He was past exhaustion. Everything hummed. His blood coursed hot. Breath was pain. He could not say he didn’t fear death but prayed for it to be soon if it were to be so. Blow and blow again. He told them about his father that was all he could think to say. For no logical reason. The record of his life intruded his thoughts. If somehow that piece of secret knowledge was the key of acquittal.

There was a small comfort in the fact his death would be less cruel than that of his father. He found it ironic he hadn’t thought of him in years and here he was to die almost just the same. His laughter and antagonizing the poor bearded man only enraged his captors further. And he took great satisfaction in their anger. The way a man can be chained and stripped of everything but can still fight back. The way nothing short of removing his tongue or extinguishing his life can make him stop.

They had finally come to the end of their patience. The conclusion meeting its known end and all happening so quickly now. Yes, he was going to die. Feigning the will and determination, Tallmadge unsheathed his sword. This is it. This is the moment. His heart pounded in his chest. He closed his eyes and the image he beheld beneath them her down turned eyes. The linen dress. Pale wet skin. Curse God and die.

Chapter Text

“Right,” he says, “try this one: What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it, you'll die?”

“Oh that’s easy,” she scoffs. “Give me a hard one, at least.”

With his sweltering jacket off and with the buttons of his waistcoat undone, he sits in a sun-faded blue damask wing chair resting his still saddle-sore legs out upon a tufted mahogany foot stool. He lazily flips through How Smart Are Ye Be: Riddles and Flabbergasts to kill time, while a very pleasant mooded Anna is on the other side of the wall in her room working herself into the new golden silk gown she is now a proud owner of. Through their mutually open doors, he quizzes her knowledge.

“You did not answer.”

“It is ‘nothing’, of course.”

“Of course,” he sighs. “Too easy, you’re right. Are you almost done?”

“Yes, yes,” she cries. “Don’t you want to see it all together?”

“Only inquiring,” he says, “not complaining. Take your time, it’s only time.”

He does want to see, impatiently so, as his unconscious foot wiggling indicates. He had been waiting to see her in it since it had been delivered this morning. He peruses through looking for more time and silence filling material, almost reads aloud but then decides against a rather suggestive sounding, ‘You can swallow me, but I can swallow you. What am I?’ that made him giggle like a twelve year old. Half of them were rather annoyingly dumb and making him feel a bit ripped off (Q: Why did the boy throw butter out the window? A: He wanted to see the butterfly. Oh how clever, really, just brilliantly witty.)

“Alright, are you ready?” he hears her say just before he can read out the butter question, and before he can answer her she slowly walks in through the doorway, her face blushed with an adorable shyness as she puts herself on display. He stands up and goes to say something, but he is unsure what to say. She is simply stunning.

She puts a hand up and tells him to sit back down before lightly adjusting her chestnut silks gathered rather high up upon her crown—in a style she certainly did not learn from anyone in Setauket—studded and accented with small glass beads of red and black and minute white blossoms placed at the side of a gentle swell of curls. Cascading long tendrils rest softly upon her shoulders. He tries to smile back but his throat catches and he looks away and sinks back into his seat.

“You don’t like it?”

“Quite the contrary,” he says, and she smiles, gold dusted and sunny, and he opens and starts violently flipping through the pages of Riddles to distract the pain in his chest, quickly interjects, “Oh here we are. Alright try this one: Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?”

“You’re sure? Oh,” she says, stumped. “That is hard. I have no idea. Give me a hint.”

“That’s cheating. It’s not as hard as you think.”

“Please?”

“Guess first! You did not even try.”

“Oh come on, as if you’d know the answer if you weren’t looking at it. Now give me a hint.”

“Alright, alright,” he says, “but I would know the answer.”

Her heeled shoes stomp to him from behind, her arm brushing against his shoulder and for a glittering second he felt the warm inside of her elbow make contact with his cheek, as she calls him a braggart liar and yanks the booklet out of his hand.

“Now,” she cackles, whirling away from his half-hearted reach of which his fingers just miss her, she coughs and laughs and then continues, “Let’s see [flipping through the pages], let me give one to you.”

Rubbing his temple he says, “I’d rather not.”

“Ah ah ah,” she scorns. “It is your turn now, sir.”

“Very well,” he sighs.

“Right, try this one: If you have me, you want to share me—”

“Easy,” he says. “A cuckhold’s wife.”

“If,” she repeats,” you have me, you want to share me. If you share me, you haven't got me. What am I?”

He thinks for a moment and then turns and looks at her. “You’re sure it’s not a cuckhold’s wife?”

“No!”

He looks at her for a long while and then sighs. He knows he should say something to her, he wants to, but instead he simply looks at her for some time. “You really, truly do, look quite beautiful.”

Her face flushes and she smiles and looks away and says, “What do you think of the hair?” Walking to the mirror across from his bed, she critically looks at herself and adds, “It’s too much, isn’t it? Be honest.”

He leans back in the seat and crosses his legs and picks at a loose thread on the seam of his knee. “Not for a ball, for dinner perhaps.”

“Little Lucy did it for me.”

“Ah.”

Lucy, being the Card’s fifteen year old raven haired, high breasted nymph of a daughter, with an obsession for hair and fashion and a genuine, certifiable Francophile. But aside from her unpatriotic preoccupations was her fondness for rather inappropriate, intense, embarrassing flirtations with any virile young or old or in between fellow she came into contact with. Military gentlemen in particular seem to stoke her fires and attentions, and the dear old Colonel was especially high on her target list. He had yet to figure out how she acquired the deceivingly innocent nickname of ‘Little’ (some innocent family affair that surely occurred before her boiling springhood awoken or perhaps in contrast to an unknown counterparted ‘Big Lucy’), but she was anything but the innocent image of a cherub faced enfant it invoked.

She laughs. “I know you dislike her.”

“It’s not that,” he says. “She’s just a tad—“

“Stag mad?” she says, taking out some of the décor pinned to her head. “I do believe she’s criminally in love with you.”

Oh, she was in love with him alright. Or at least in lust with him. He had a chance to perhaps curb her interest in him but he stupidly did not see his chance when he had it. Early in his stay there, Lucy had cornered him in the hallway one evening and asked him if Anna was his wife. He told her she was not. Betrothed? No. Paramour? Not that either. Anything? It was a complicated situation he tried to impress, but all she had heard was that there was no competition and an unattached officer was within in her home at her absolute mercy to browbeat into wanting her.

“If you only knew,” he sighs, and cruel Anna laughs at him. If Little Miss Anna only knew (perhaps she did? What did those two talk about while in the gossipy world of female hair?) the salacious and downright erotically degenerate mind cranking behind those young, dusky grey eyes, under that shiny black mane.

At first it was only glances. Lingering gazes that he felt before he saw. Her first official attack was just before he left in March. The enemy preferred to work in ambush, closing in upon the unsuspecting target and unleashing a volley of attacks that left him trapped, confused and uncomfortably aroused. Made even more frustrating by the fact he could do little about it, for he had found a good place there and to ruin that would be unfortunate. He could not outright reject or insult her, for he was unsure how she would react, but gauging her teenage emotional over sensitivity, he was pretty sure it would be badly. Being curt and rude with her did not work either as it only gave her justified motive to try to win his forgiveness with fawning and favors. And trying to get outside intervention was impossible as well, for how does one tell a man his well-bred daughter has the restraint and propriety of a two penny dockside whore?

But the enemy was aggressive and was constantly advancing her front. Both in tactic and in breast. From his door one day, he heard a completely innocent voice coo, “You’re an educated man, aren’t you, sir?”

He looked over his shoulder to see her leaning against his doorway, sweetly curling her hair in her fingers. “Educated enough,” he replied and turned back to his work.

After a good deal of fidgeting and failed attempts at small talk had not gained her an invitation into his room, she asked him, “Could I terribly impose on you?”

He sighed and said, “What is it you need.”

“I’m having a time with this translation I must do. No one else is home that can help me, would you mind? I’d be in your debt.”

He told her no debt was involved and motioned for her to come in and without a second’s hesitation she rushed to his side and laid a book and the journal she was writing into on top of his own paperwork. He looked down at what she spread out before him and she went on to explain with a pointed finger dancing over the pages. She leaned over, supporting herself on the desk with an outstretched fragrant arm placed just inches from his face, and the side of her breast brushed against his shoulder. He slowly angled himself away from her but she only followed his movements, placing her other hand on the back of his chair. In his periphery, the physics defying glory of her young breasts swayed and bounced with her every move and laugh, all while she cheerily explained how she didn’t understand how to conjugate some Latin verb, or something like that, it was rather insignificant and the tightness of his clothes had increased noticeably.

Out of his distressed embers he heard her ask, “You know French by chance, Colonel?”

And the idiot he was told her he did. He might as well asked her hand in marriage. She squealed in delight and grabbed and squeezed his shoulders in a bold embrace, crushing those breasts against him, she told him all about her love for it, her life’s goal was to go live in la mère patrie, and her biggest joy was the lessons she receives from an old madam from up north (a prostitute past her workable years he figured) who had made her way down the country and found herself a nice living teaching the upper crust her curious dialect of the language of love.

He listened to her go on while he stayed seated at the desk, reading the piece she was working on. It seemed the verb she was having trouble with was in a poem, it was a rather simple one, and he suspected that this was all just a pretext for the ambush he walked right into. Such a cunning enemy! He never looked up at her or even replied to her ramblings, but it did not matter, the damage was done. She sauntered and spun around the room, idly touching and looking at different things, running her hands along the bedframe, the bureau, the window sills as she poured out her silly girlish obsessive delight.

She began to talk about the different books she had been reading and laid the most unsuspecting bait. “But, the last book I read was quite interesting. It has made me think about a lot of things.”

“Really,” he said, taking it.

“Oh yes,” the little vixen replied, yanking in her hook. “It’s called Thérèse Philosophe. Heard of it?”

He stilled and then swallowed and said, “I’m a bit surprised you have.”

Indeed. It would seem her friend Alice’s father had quite the collection of erotica that he thought was securely locked away in his library, everything from Oriental harem scenes to French bawd books and Alice was quite the lock pick. The partners in sexy crime worked out an even exchange: for Miss Lucy’s mediocre but passable translating skills to decipher such forbidden text, Alice lifted the treasured heavily read tome along with a few others they “hadn’t gotten to yet” as both girls “really fancied” this one and hadn’t finished dissecting it yet.

“I’m sure,” he murmured.

She vastly preferred French literature the more she read it, she went on. “No love for good ole Tristram? It even explores the existential effect of coitus interruptus,” he quipped.

So much more enlightened than our British writers (she ignored his snide remark) so much more bold. The way the author makes the point about the health of the body and that the urge of desire is actually a perfectly natural, primal and even required human need for sexual—

“I do not believe,” he said impatiently, “that is an appropriate book to be discussing, Miss Lucy.”

—release and pleasure. Don’t get her wrong (an unruffled Lucy barreled on), it was not for baser reasons her interest (no of course not) although she couldn’t say the same for Alice as she was not as mature and adult like as she, but the philosophy was quite compelling and made one think. Why, she and Alice spent many hours discussing it, his ears perked up as he was sure she was about to stray into some lesbian school-girl’s tale she cared to share but she skimmed over it and went on that it was quite a mistake to dismiss the importance of its message simply because it had graphic depictions of people doing profane things.

“Compelling, yes, very,” he said, writing the correction for her as fast as he could. “It’s a jolly good read for the whole family.”

She sighed and pressed playfully that his teasing was not very nice for she was not a child, but a young woman in the zeal of learning and in these modern times, the discussion of the sexual nature and motivations of man was common and even encouraged. She made a very enlightened and French argument for her interest in pornography and before she could go any further and make his head explode by asking him his opinion on spanking or female desire, he stood up and hastily grabbed his paperwork out from under her books.

“That’s fine,” the Colonel said cutting her off, passing her quickly by before stopping in the doorway to finish, “and as much as I would love to discuss your expanding mind and et tout le reste, I’m afraid I do not share your love for our enemies.” And he gave her a polite bow and made his escape before she had a chance to beg his forgiveness (which she did so later in an equally awkwardly erotic manner).

There were other incidents, although most were miniscule flirtations that only left him mildly flustered but which led up to her boldest and most recent advance, in what was surely embarrassing for her and ultimately a depressing night for him, ending in several ponies of rum and a session of vigorous self-abuse before blacking out.

It was an ambush in the kitchen the very night before. There he was, sitting in the dark for all but a small oil lamp next to him, simply trying to eat a bowl of cold, congealed, leftover soup and polish off a bottle of wine and think in peace at a late hour when he heard a pair of slippered feet come creaking down the stairs.

“Oh Colonel, I didn’t know you were down here,” she sweetly called, as she floated across the room to the table, trailing a silk gown behind her. Her elbow length hair was loose and she had one black curtain of it tucked smartly behind an ear. She laid her candle down on the table and pulled out a chair opposite of him and sat down. The room lit up in a warm glow, casting high and deep shadows around them. Her sharp angular cheeks and shiny forehead reflected peach and red and her dark eyes shone brightly. Smiling, she said, “Having trouble sleeping as well?”

He nodded and gave her a thin smile and went back to eating.

“Can I get anything for you?” she asked, “—you’re sure? Oh, it’d be no trouble at all! Let me heat that up for you at least, it’s stone cold,” she said, getting out of her seat to take his soup.

“No,” he snipped, and yanked his iron gripped bowl off the table and possessively curled it away out of her reach. “It’s fine.”

“As you wish then,” she said, and sat back down, smoothing her long black hair behind her ears and down her neck before dropping her hands into her lap. “A cool bath helps me sleep sometimes, do you want—”

“No,” he said sternly, then added a bit more gently, “No. Thank you.”

The dauntless girl looked mildly disappointed but she was anything but discouraged. When he did not engage her in conversation or really pay her any mind, she sighed and spread her arms up in languorous stretches and began to croon on about the terrible sticky heat, and didn’t he hate how it made one sweat at night? He did not answer her. She did, terribly, so much so she just quit wearing anything at all during those dark, secret hours. It’s nothing scandalous, she assured, it’s the latest thought in the health for the blood she had read in some book by some pervert fraud. “The night air on skin is much more hygienic,” the well-read child told him while folding her arms under her chest and leaning on the table towards him.

“Is that so,” he asked flatly, and shifted in his seat and immediately regretted doing so for she knew she was having her desired effect upon him, and the evil thing became even more cocksure on her sense of her own power. She brightly smiled and eagerly nodded, all while looking at him directly in the eye before looking down, drawing his eye to follow as she leaned further forward onto her arms, letting the neckline of her nightgown droop down, exposing the shape of those rather perfect breasts to his gaze and with not a blush or flash of shame about her.

After forcing a vivid picture of her young, sweat glistened nudity into his mind, she made sure to let him know when and where he could easily sample it and oh so nonchalantly mentioned she was quite the sound sleeper. “Like a warm corpse,” she unsettling said before smiling with a lip biting tease, and slipping back up the stairs, surely to strip down and jump into bed tingling with anticipation of his coming and that thought left his clothes feeling tight and his fatigue doubled.

He adjusted his clothes and pondered over what the hell had just happened. Had she really just invited him to her bed?

And perhaps equally bothersome, his immediate reaction was not to dismiss it. He could, after all, who would know? She was pretty and something he would very much like to taste and unlike some other dark haired beauties that haunted him, she was practically begging for him to do so. What harm would there be? A gentle yet strenuous writhing against a ‘slumbering’ beauty in the dark, fouling such a snow fresh baby Lilith, burying his face into her fleshy folds, soft lips, and finding relief against, although like a gentleman and the debating characters of French philosophical porn, not through her lovely untraveled valley. All in the safety and unreality of darkness where everything that happens is hidden and unknown and can be utterly denied.

But the temptation was costly, would she be loud and overly talkative, trying to emulate the ladies in her favorite erotic tale and wake her sister? The whole house? Would she tell Anna? Would Anna even care? Probably not. But she would certainly disapprove. But then, why should he care? She did not want him. He had been home for a week and she had avoided him at every turn she could.

But he did care despite himself, and the more he over thought about it, the little proxy’s childish eroticism was pathetic, her lack of restraint and forwardness rather offputting, and any drama or disaster the sex-crazed child would no doubt cause afterword would not be worth it, for it was not Little Lucy’s raven he really wanted to begin with. A melancholy ache to see Anna creeped into his chest and he wondered if she was sleeping, what she was sleeping in, and from there his mind took off on its own accord, into its usual tiring preoccupation, leaving its short lived attempt to replace her with something actually attainable in synaptic dust.

While his lust was still lulling in and out the lewd world of inked nymphs and flushed tavern wenches and the possibilities of such a pair in tandem, another pair of feet slapped down the stairs and the glow of another candle was followed closely by a younger sister, Lucy’s roommate of short brown curls, bulky scarlet boy-robe over pink nightgown and bare feet.

“Miss Mercy,” he said. “Something I can do for you?”

She stood in the entrance of the kitchen for a moment and then walked in, serious and with shoulders back in her twelve year old elegance, and sat in the very seat her sister had. She was a very sweet child and one he found a charming joy in whenever she took an observant curiosity in whatever he was doing. Very bright and curious, but serious to a fault. Currently stuck in the awkward between stage of naïve childishness and adolescence, and cursed with an incredibly sensitive little soul.

She politely bid him a good evening and he to her. She sighed and placed her candle down on the table. Her still round young face was flustered and her breath was filled with girlish annoyance. She was upset and he could only guess this had something to do with her dear sibling’s slutty display. Placing both hands on the table palms down and looking at him like she was about to declare a death sentence, she said to him with the mimicry of someone twice her age, “With all due respect Colonel Simcoe, sir, if you come into our room and do anything with that terrible, awful girl, I will tell Father.”

His guess was correct and his quiet night kept getting better. He put his spoon down and entwined his fingers while resting his elbows on the table and sat up straight, towering his size. Slowly he leaned forward. “Will you now.”

“Yes, yes, sir,” she said, her challenging little face unchanged despite his intimidating air. “And he will tell your commander and you will be punished and—”

“Not if I tell him I’ll marry her,” he said, cutting her off.

“What?” the dismayed child almost shouted. “You want to marry her?”

“Of course not,” he laughed. “But he won’t know that. Why, a senior officer after one of his four daughters, he would be thrilled and surely give me his blessing to your bedroom whenever I please.”

Her face dropped in horror and disgust as her adorable threat did not pan through the way she planned. “But—”

“You can call me Uncle John. Would you like that?”

Despite being a brave and clever child who was surely harboring a soul much older than her years, she was still only twelve, and she became immediately distressed. Slumping her shoulders in the despair of defeat and betrayal she cried, “How could you do that?”

After letting her huff for a few moments and her reddening eyes swell with tears, he laughed and shushed her at her increasing volume and said, “Do not worry, girl. I only tease you.” He gave her a smile and went back to his soup. “Despite whatever depravity she has told you it seems, I have not, nor will I ever touch your poor, confused sister.”

“Oh,” she said quietly. “I knew that.” She straightened in her seat indignantly, tucking her short russet curls behind her ears. “Well, good. That’s good. You’re terribly mean, Colonel, that was not funny at all.”

“Be careful when you go around swinging threats, little one. You should always be prepared for the worst from your enemy,” he said. “But I am sorry, please accept my apology.”

“I forgive you, I guess,” she said in her best wounded pride. “But you are not my enemy, she is. And she is not poor or confused,” she added. “What utter apologetic rot. Really. She is an embarrassment and a harlot.”

“Don’t be so harsh on your own sister, now.”

“It’s true,” she huffed, crossing her arms. She sighed and looked around the kitchen and then to him and then to a blond woven basket filled with yeast rolls in a brown linen towel. She violently yanked one out of the basket and before taking an angry bite out of it said her sister was sure to ruin the family name with some yokel foot-soldier’s bastard if her father did not keep an eye on her. He nodded in silent agreement with the observant girl and they both ate in quiet understanding together.

“I’m glad,” she said, after finishing her roll and briskly swiping her hands together to get the crumbs off, “it’s good to hear you are not interested in that bawdy girl, because if you did something to hurt Miss Anna you’d truly be a brute of a man and I would not like you anymore.”

Refilling his glass and pouring her one of her own, he said, “What does Miss Anna have to do with any of it.”

She picked up the glass in both hands and took a deep drink and then put it down, a pink half-moon shining on her downy lip she licked at with a dark pink tongue and looked at him confused. “She is your wife, isn’t she?”

He laughed and took a long slow sip. “No.”

“You can tell me, I won’t tell anyone. It’s a secret, isn’t it?”

“Why would I keep such a thing secret? Who would care?”

“Look,” the stern child said, putting her hand out to emphasize. “I’m just saying I can be trusted and I know what’s going on. I already figured it out.”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

She leaned forward towards him and he copied her posture and with the knowing and confident eyes of a child she told him that she had been thinking and she was sure that someone was out to hurt Miss Anna, why else would he keep so many men guarding her all the time? He nodded and told her to continue. She licked her lips and continued her conspiracy theory, that it must be a jealous lover (surely she must have many suitors she astutely guessed) or maybe someone (an enemy perhaps) who wants revenge on the Colonel and that is why he keeps his poor wife at a gun’s tip hidden away and that is why she is so sad.

Shaking his head in mock agreement he said, “You’ve been reading too many adventure stories, my dear,” making the child pout and sick her tongue out at him. “And I do not keep her at gun point.”

Cocking her head to the side she said, “There are, I counted them all, six men posted to this house when you’re gone now. And at least one is always following her around all day and night like a creep.”

“It’s for hers, and your family’s, safety. Miss Anna has—how shall I say—made some extremely poor decisions in life.”

“So I was ri—”

“But,” he warned, and continued, “she is not my wife. Even so, it is my job to keep her safe,” (leaning in to whisper), “even from herself.”

She nodded in thought and said, “I see, I see.”

He sighed and ran his hand over his face. “She’s sad, is she.”

Mercy looking very solemn nodded. Not being able to help himself from further involving a twelve year old girl, he topped off her glass and asked, “Does she say why?”

“Is she your secret,” she went to ask, and then leaning in and smiling and whispering, through a giggle managed, “lover?”

He gave her a threatening look and she said, “fine, alright,” and they drank wine and ate rolls and she told him every gossipy detail on the daily life of Miss Anna. And after listening to the girl go on for a while, the picture began to become clear, was basically he had ruined her life and she rather hated him. But then it seemed she hated everyone else too, so there was at least that.

She went on to tell him that Anna had let it slip out she missed her home, her family, her life. She just wanted to go home, but home didn’t exist anymore and the more she went on the more depressed he got.

“She said nothing feels real to her, isn’t that strange?”

He just nodded and she went on about their herb picking and how Anna was teaching her to make ‘as good as it gets’ rose-water because her young skin was starting to show all the signs of the oncoming hell known as puberty.

That was all very well and good, but he urged her to focus on any occurrences mentioning him. There wasn’t much, she told him, Anna didn’t really like to talk about him much and always changed the subject or gave very ‘sketch’ answers (some slang he was unfamiliar with). But she was sure that she enjoyed getting his letters because she saw her smiling to herself once after reading one.

“It’s obvious isn’t it?” she asked.

“It is?”

“Well, yeah,” the little know it all scoffed at him. “She’s lonely.”

“But you have a big family, there’s always people around. And you.”

“It’s not the same.”

He took in what she was saying slowly and then asked aloud, “Then why does she avoid me?”

Mercy shrugged and took a big gulp of her wine. She belched and then covered her mouth and excused herself. “Girls are weird, aren’t they? You don’t think I’ll ever act like that, do you?”

“Your time will come to torture some poor man,” he said to the groaning child as she made faces of disgust and refusal to accept such a fate. “It’s your sex’s curse. But also, your power.”

“Power?”

“Look at the insanity both your sister and Miss Anna cause. Is that not a magnificent, frightening power to behold?”

She nodded and took a thoughtful sip.

“There’s not much I can do about it though, you know. Orders are orders.”

“I know, that’s why I try to keep her company all I can,” the slightly inebriated child beamed. “But you should really come back, you know, here more.”

He took her glass away from her and said, “You do that for me?”

The little angel nodded.

“You’re a good girl, Miss Mercy. Keep up the good work and I shall get you a special gift.” He reached across the table and ruffled her hair and said, “And I shall try harder to decrease my absence.”

The child’s eyes lit up and being one not to miss an opportunity she jumped on his offer. Really? Yes, of course, whatever she would like. Did she fancy a dress or a fine doll perhaps? No, no, she had plenty of those. And she was a little old for dolls, she added, quite offended (even though he had seen at least ten piled up on her bed). What then, could the young girl want? Whatever she wanted? Yes, whatever. Well, if it wasn’t too much trouble, and he really wanted to get her something special, perhaps a war trophy?

He laughed. But then realized she did not.

“You’re serious?”

“Of course.”

“And what prize would you like? A scalp? A necklace of bones?”

She shook her head. “That would be terribly ghoulish and savage-like,” she said in disgust. “An officer’s epaulette and hanger, please,” she requested quite formally. The innocent little thing with a streak of bloodlust added, “But, it has to be from someone you killed, yourself, not anyone else or one you just found.”

“No prisoners?”

“No prisoners.”

“Little Miss Mercy has anything but,” he said, and raised his eyebrows and sucked air through his teeth. “Quite an order. Any particular rank or manner of death you require?”

“Any is fine,” she replied earnestly, his sarcasm lost. “Although a captain and above would be more impressive.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said. “Now head back to bed like a good girl and leave me be.”

“Well,” she said, standing up with a little difficulty out of the chair and slowly pushing it under the table. “I’ve been thinking and I think, you should marry Miss Anna, I think, if she is in fact not your wife. You obviously love her.”

“Good Lord,” he cried and sat back from the table. “Are all the Card ladies so forward and inappropriate in every manner?”

“No,” said patient Mercy, “My eldest sister, well,” she said half-laughing, hanging her head back and putting her hand up realizing there was more backstory she must share, “she’s actually my half-sister, so maybe that explains it, is very quiet and mouse like—”

“Sounds like a peach. She’s my favorite of your lot.”

“You’ve never even met her,” the serious girl pointed out.

“That only makes me like her more. I’ll marry her and escape all you crazy women, how’s that.”

“She’d hardly be interested in you, she’s already married to a very nice business man in Boston named Bernard Eaton, and has two small children,” countered factual Mercy. “And I think Miss Anna would make a good wife, don’t you?”

“If you can convince her of it, sure.”

“Anyway, I’m glad you’re back. Is the war going well? Did you get to kill a lot of bad guys? Was there a lot of blood?”

“It’s good to be back, now quit stalling and leave me alone.”

“Incredibly rude, sir. You didn’t forget your promise, did you?”

No, but he was hoping she did. Observing him cleaning his gun one morning the astute little girl began an interrogation on how the thing worked and he wound up promising to show her how to fire one, but then discovered it also must be kept secret as Mother would, “go flat off” as little Mercy said in her crass, young slang. “No, but if you do not go to bed I will recant it immediately.”

“Tomorrow? Oh, can we do it tomorrow, pretty please?”

“Yes, yes, tomorrow,” he cried. “Now. Go. Away.”

She smiled and saluted him and grabbed her candlestick and ran smack into a snooping Lucy standing at the bottom of the dark stairwell, who had heard the very end of their conversation. Her voice shrieked, “What are you doing with him tomorrow?” And they were off, grappling and running up the stairs, the two girls quarreling and he caught their distancing cries of, ‘what promise’, ‘how dare you’, ‘whore’, ‘he doesn’t want you’, ‘get your own’, ‘I’m telling’, ‘ugly cow’ and other such insults being hurled about, until a loud voice yelled from upstairs (that would be Father) for them to shut the hell up and go to bed did they not even realize what an ungodly hour it was.

He decides in an aimless mental search for something to speak of, and perhaps against better judgment, to tell her a highly edited version of Lucy’s ambuscade the night of the kitchen while she fixes her hair. He is then reminded that after dinner, he has to sneak away with a certain twelve year old for a gunpowder plot.

“You can’t be serious,” she says, turning around and looking at him in amused shock.

“I’m dead serious.”

“What’d you do then?”

He looks at her. “I prayed for her little soul.”

“Oh please. I cannot believe that little harlot,” she says. After a short pause she adds, “And you’ve done nothing to give her wrong ideas?”

“Do not,” an indignant Colonel angrily says, “be absurd.”

“What is wrong with her? You know I caught her hanging all over some coachman I’d never even seen before the other week,” she says, and looks over her shoulder to inspect how her dress falls upon her back.

“I’m hurt. What an unfaithful girl.”

Shaking her head and sighing she adds, “She’s going to get herself raped or pregnant within the week at this rate.”

“She’s an aspiring rapist herself, I say she could accomplish both.”

“Maybe I should have a talk with her.”

“I wish you luck then,” he murmurs, flipping through the booklet. “She cannot take a hint.”

She looks over her shoulder and he misses it, but a flash of amusement sparkles across her eyes before quickly turning back to her own reflection. “Anyhow,” she says solemnly, shifting the conversation back. “You shouldn’t have bought something so fine, it really is too much.”

“Nonsense, look at you,” he says and does, and she’s so beautiful, Her face and air alight and he can’t help but notices it’s the first he’s seen her as what he could describe as happy. That true happiness, like a child in the unspoiled splendor of their own naïve world. Ignorant to all that threatens and all that is to come. Or what already has passed. “It’s perfect.”

She smiles and shakes her head, looking over her shoulder to see the way the bodice frames her delicate flank down to the blossoming cascade pouring over the flare of her hips, pooling to the floor below in one long sweep. She runs her hands over the embroidery of the stomacher, across the folds and intricate pleats and pleatings (pleadings) of the skirting, soft, sloping, supple; the kind you would like to bury your face into.

Taking advantage of her being absorbed in her own image, he searches her beauty for some small fault he can then prop himself upon and relieve his over stimulated senses. A hardened line around the mouth. A small sunspot above her brow. Maybe her forehead is a little too big. A dark shadow under the eyes. But then, she simply turns her head or adjusts her features and instantly she restores her adorable charm and he slips back into his private abyss even further.

“But there was really no need,” she says sadly, and then suddenly like a switch was flipped, something overtakes her. Her features begin to tremble, and she brings a hand up to cover her mouth and turns away from the mirror and him.

“Anna?” he asks and sits up straight, she shakes her head but he can hear her sobbing and he quickly stands up and walks up to her, but before he can open his mouth to ask her if she was alright, she wraps her arms around him and buries her face into his chest. The very touch and wonderful warmth of her knock him out of reality for a brief moment and still reeling with the closeness of her, he somehow still has the word control to ask, “Is it something I said?”

She shakes her head, the poor thing, weeping.

“If you do not like, if it’s the dress, I can get you another,” he says awkwardly, somehow managing to speak as the sensation of her wrapped around him, her hands clutching his back, sends an aching joy throughout him. The touch of her skin and silk the magic of life itself, but why is it always with tears?

She shakes her head again.

“What is it?” he asks, gingerly placing his hands on her shoulders, losing the battle to keep his distance. “You seemed so happy.”

Through her sobs she manages to choke out, “I am.”

Crooking his head down to look at her, he softly laughs and asks, “Then, why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” she cries, and turns her face away from his, sobbing.

“That’s alright,” he says, and wraps his arms around her and rocks her gently. “Everything will be alright. You will see. I know it.”

“How so?”

He shrugs. “I simply do.”

She smells like orange-flowers and the deep rich fragrance of the pomade in her hair, and he tells her again it will be alright. That everything will work out, and oddly, he feels it to be true.

“It’s all so wonderful,” she says. “Really. You must think me incredibly shallow and silly,” she laughs and brings a hand to her face to wipe her cheeks.

“No,” he says, running his hands slowly up and down her back. “Not at all.”

He shakes his head and says, “Whatever you desire, whatever it is that makes you happy, you need just tell me.” He squeezes her in his arms and says into her hair, “A bracelet of jewels, the finest gowns, shoes, ridiculous hats, a fine home in the country with a dozen servants, an entire island in the West Indies,” (she laughs), “whatever it is—I will find a way to get it for you.”

Resting his cheek upon her crown he whispers, “Tell me. Please.”

“Just—stay like this,” she murmurs against him, and he pulls her tightly to him and cradling her neck with one hand, stroking a thumb soothingly across her jaw and damp cheek, and God, what he would not give to lean his head down just that short distance to kiss those salty parted lips, over that tender inflamed complexion, across those swollen, tear matted morbidly alluring eyes. He settles for leaving a feather light kiss to her crown and closes his eyes and gently rocks her as they both console each other from and suffer in their separate private torments, together in silence. He allows himself to revel in her luxurious warmth, the perfumed odor of her hair, at the complete peace and ease her very touch brings him, and he hopes she’ll never let him go but eventually she does.

She softly laughs and apologizes, and taking a step away out of his hold, she does her feminine best to restrain and divert her sobs by transforming them into emotional exclamations. She points out that the gown needs a few alterations and some other things that don’t reach his consciousness, feeling as if a piece of him had been ripped off in a raw pull, he returns to his seat and back to his familiar void.

“Still,” she says cheerily, sniffling her nose and pretending that whole little scene never happened and picking the conversation back up, “I don’t even want to think how much this cost. Are you secretly one of those eccentric wealthy lords perchance?”

“I could not tell you, even if I were,” he says, rather somberly, sinking back into his chair. “Wealthy eccentric lords never give out their secrets,” he points out. “And a correction: there was a need.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I very badly wanted you to have it.”

She softly laughs. “I should refuse such a gift, but since you insist, I suppose I have no choice but to accept.”

“As a delicate lady of class and elegance such as yourself should, in all propriety, of course.”

Bowing, she says, “I have never been anything but, sir.”

She steps over to the bed and looks at her new finery and presents she laid out for his inspection that had been delivered along with the gown. Four ‘every day’ dresses as she calls it, three measures of bolt fabric for more, a pannier, trims and lace, a few extra petticoats for winter (if you buy them now they’re cheaper? Well then, give me four!), six pairs of shoes including a pair of mules, a winter cloak, a couple of different head coverings since he’d surely choose wrong, undergarments, a night dress. A comb of shell. Assorted feminine sundries. Two different toilette kits that he had to take the shop girl’s word for that they were ‘everything a lady needs’. And women needed a lot of things, as it turned out.

To be fair though, her list of what she requested was not unreasonable or excessive, but he could not help himself, he wanted to buy her every pretty and senseless thing he saw, to dress her up, to give her endless beautiful things forever. Just buying her things, the act itself was ridiculously pleasing for reasons unknown and the anticipation of giving it to her was a soaring happiness unfamiliar and every merchant’s female assistant was more than happy to assist and guide him, gleefully plundering his purse through his unhinged manic spree.

And of course the most outrageous and costly purchase was the silk gown, but he saw it in a window and was nearly moved to tears. The price almost made it a no-go, but the shop owner was trusting enough to not require cash after a lengthy and painful conversation of having to listen to the pink pig droll on about his three sons who were fighting in the New Jersey Volunteers, he had him send the bill coded as a uniform expense (those days doing paperwork were worthwhile after all!) to Major André by order of one Major Hewlett, commander of Setauket. The shopkeeper was so thankful to Major Hewlett for his purchase and substantial tip that he added a set of brass closing pins and laces and had it delivered for no charge.

He also picked up an illustrated edition of Pamela in great condition. The Toilet of Flora which had every concoction and decoction for every imaginable personal hygiene issue one may require, including a few he wanted to try himself for sunburn. A stack of cheap parlor books and novels by some sure to fail local hopefuls including Prepare! An Essay On The Apocalypse And Knife Keepery (sounded interesting to him anyway), The Sad Spaniard, Conquering Venus, and the most fated title Thalassa’s Tear. He almost grabbed a rather interesting ladies’ etiquette book but then thought that might be perceived in a wrong light and put it back. Novelty pamphlets and booklets, one a series of Dutch jokes that he bought more for himself, the others were patterns for embroidery and dresses, a few were delightful word games and riddles. He had gone a little overboard. It may or may not have resulted in him writing home for a slight (urgent) need for more liquid funds.

There was one more thing he had bought her that she had not seen yet so he takes a small wooden box in his pocket and offers it out to her. He was planning on saving it for later but as he lingers in the emotional submission of offering her his very liver if she asked for it, he no longer wants to wait. “Here,” he says. “One last thing. I did not trust it to pass from anyone’s hand but mine to yours.”

She takes it and looks at him cautiously and then lifts the lid of the box. A small “Oh,” escapes her lips. A fine silver chain dangles from her finger tips as she lifts the gift out of the small box. Holding it out, she looks at the small pendant, a beveled silver cross inlaid with just a touch of mother of pearl. “For me?”

“Of course,” he laughs and gets out of his chair and stands behind her. “You had one similar, didn’t you? Although it was a little more simple.”

“Yes, it was my mother’s.” Looking confused, she asks, “How did you know that?”

He had seen it when he set about on a shameless quest through her room one day. Not something he is particularly proud of but really, what harm was there? A slithering snake, the sneaky Captain carefully and with the precision and tedious care only possessed by the obsessed and the insane, inserted his gaze, touch or nose into every nook and cranny, leaving not a trace of his violations behind. It was a silent, harmless molestation of her by proxy, concluding with a blissful olfactory overload after flinging of himself into her bed face first.

“I can’t recall,” he says. “Anyhow, I know I can’t replace what was lost to you, but please, consider my effort to hopelessly try.”

He takes the necklace from her fingers and holds it up to her neck, laying the pendant gently to her chest and she reaches behind her bowed head to sweep her dark hair aside to bare her dove soft nape to him. The delicate ivory length of her turned forearm just a breath away from his lips and ticklish wisps of hair playing on his face and drowning his senses. The silver lever finally after a hundred years catches on the tip of his calloused thumb and he places the loop onto the ring and closes it gently and lets the pendant slide down out of his fingers and down upon her chest. Her eyes touch his in the reflection. “See,” he says. “Perfect.”

It finally hits him what this fatigue that drags on him is, this strange sadness that creeps in his chest at the sight of her now—it’s quite simple really, although tragically out of his control: he is worn out with desire for this woman.

It’s almost too much. It’s maddening. Beyond maddening, as she stands right here, before him like it’s nothing, like he’s not even there dying and drowning in his pathetic need and hatred behind her. Is it not noticeable to her? Does she purposefully ignore it? Does she really feel nothing at all for him?

“You are absolutely ravishing,” he whispers. He steals the slightest touch, pretending to adjust the clasp at her nape and lightly running his fingers down the crests of her shoulder blades. Her long muscles straighten and arch slightly in reaction and she puts her hand to her chest and inspects how the necklace lays upon her further in the mirror. She sees him looking her over and she’s saying something, he’s slow to react, a million miles away from whatever it is, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know anything anymore, and she makes a small joke he surmises from her candor, and like a deaf man who can’t hear what his companions say but indulges them, he smiles along with her.

Buttoning his buttons and turning towards the door, somewhat relieved there is an escape to get away from her, he clears his throat and manages to make out the words to say, “Well, let us not dally if you’re as hungry as I am.”

“John.”

Her turns around and faces her, and an increasing tension filling the air as she she silently holds him there for a moment, studying him, and he wonders what is possibly going on behind that piercing gaze when suddenly a hand reaches up and the tips of her fingers touch his cheek and trace along the side of his face, running through his hair above his ear and down his neck. His eyes flutter closed briefly at the flood of sensation as that tender caress emblazons across his skin and swells through his chest, and he swallows hard as he inwardly dies.

He is absolutely, positively, worn out with desire for this woman.

Worn out.

She conjures up incredible fantasies of putting her to death with his own hands. Only to have them play out with her not even caring or just simply looking at him—other than annoyed inconvenience of it all—with an amused stare, denying him even an erotic whimper, gasp or moan.

He captures her wrist in his hand and holds her open palm to his face and lips, and looking into her dark eyes, he places a kiss to the soft roundness below her thumb, moving her hand over his lips to kiss over the soft pads of her fingers, her cold bony knuckles. She watches him, a detached curiosity, and for a moment something else, but then it is gone and she gently pulls her hand away and walks out the door and disappears into her room.

Standing in abandoned shock, his mind in a floating numbness, he bites the tender flesh of his cheek until it bleeds and walks over to the bed and stares blankly down at the gifts left on the bed. Perhaps they should go into a box. Yes. Although, what is a box? What is anything? Did she just touch him and look at him with desire?

Haha. No. No. That would be insane.

Clearly, it was a hallucination brought on by tainted rum and temptresses.

A box. Where would he even get such a thing?

He had not slept much the last week.

Battle fatigue was surely at play.

Yes.

Oh wait. They came in their own luggage. How silly of him.

To think that otherwise she had done such a thing, only to walk away (does this woman’s cruelty know no bounds?) he would surely fling himself out the window and join Werther in his sad corner of hell.

His skin still on fire from her touch, his very pathetic soul was overflowing with happiness, so much so he could argue, that it was in fact to the point of excess, straining the vessel of its limits, tearing it apart in a painful lurch. Nothing making sense, happiness a torment, and pain now exquisite pleasure, he proceeds to slowly and mechanically fold up and pack away all of the gifts on the bed into the luggage they came in and places them in front of her door with an announcing knock, which she naturally ignores. Very well. Floating on automatic pilot, his body somehow makes its way downstairs, past some grim looking Card ancestors (one screwable woman) artfully surrounded by random pictures of whimsical dogs (he loathed dogs) and lazy summer river scenes (missing burning ships and drowned men).

In the bright dining room, Mrs. Card, seven year old Daniel, Lucy, and Mercy were already seated, their chatter already attaining heights usually reached after the wine has been flowing a little longer. They all stand for him while he takes the head seat, Mr. Card and the eldest boy gone, and well, he is a guest of honor. He idly listens to them as their conversation picks back up, he doesn’t quite pay attention to as he dissects every detail of the last fifteen minutes in maddening repetitiveness.

The official man of the house lost in deep thought is interrupted as his not-wife enters the dining room to sit directly opposite him, all while dodging his rather inappropriate stare as he rises for her and then returns slowly to his seat. She had changed her clothes to one of the other dresses he had bought her (a floral calico print with red) and brushed her hair down straight, much to poor Lucy’s dismay.

“You look very lovely,” he says across the table to her.

“Thank you.”

“Everything is—you’re alright, then?”

She opens her mouth to answer and then closes it. She nods and smiles.

“You’re sure?”

She nods. “I’m sure.”

While food is being brought out, a conspiring Mercy side slips out of her chair in the noise and chaos to step over and whisper behind him, “We’re still going, right? But don’t tell Mother.”

He nods and then leaning over his shoulder, she adds, “Can Miss Anna come with us?”

He whispers back that he doesn’t think she’ll much want to go, but she says to leave it to her. He watches the child not entirely obviously walk to the end of the table and begin to work her magic on a distracted looking Anna while her mother was asking Lucy about what some neighbor was wearing. At first, she shakes her head in the negative but after a few small nods of trying to escape the inevitable caving to sweet pleas, the doting little sweet curls snuggling her arm, maybe going a little too far with that sweet kiss on her cheek, but lo—a final big nod and with a glance at him and a grimaced smile of submission is won and it dawns on him that, blessed be the Lord, he has had a tiny agent of Fate on his side this whole time! If this little strange angel desires the freshly cut head of Washington himself as a sacrificial offering for her powers, she shall consider it done and he must resist the urge to scoop her up and kiss her adorable dimples.

It’s only then he also notices Lucy sitting on the other side of her mother, glaring at her sister and then looking to him with the most confused and hurt, bedeviled little eyes. He doubts very much that she has forgotten what she had heard the night before, nor that she is undoubtedly not his biggest fan at the moment.

“Mother,” Lucy says, her voice dripping with venom. “Mercy is constantly harassing the poor Colonel, please make her stop.”

“Oh come now, Lucy,” sighs Mrs. Card as she takes a sip of her wine and places the glass back down. “I seriously doubt it.”

“But it’s true, she’s making him take her somewhere, just ask them.”

“Oh?” Mrs. Card asks looking to Mercy. “And where are you two off to?”

She froze and looked directly at him then to her lap. Never in his life had he before seen a girl’s honey, apricot, or snow pale face blush with such an incriminating hue. And with a rather pathetic ability to lie or at the very least, not look guilty, the silly girl steals a foolish glance at him and starts to say something about not knowing what Lucy was talking about.

“Don’t lie now,” he interrupts harshly. “You very well know you promised to show me a family of those fox bears, as they only come out in the evening.”

Mrs. Card looks at him confused. “Fox bears?”

“Those little grey and black masked fellows,” he explains. “I’m afraid I forget the name of them.”

Thinking for a moment and then laughing she says, “You mean raccoons, yes?”

“Those are the ones.”

“Mercy is a self-made expert on all things nature, she would be a lovely guide I’m sure.”

“I am not,” protests the indignant, embarrassed child looking down into her lap. “I just read a lot about it is all.”

“But Mother,” Lucy fiercely interjects, “You’re not going to let her bother the Colonel with such nonsense are you?”

“I am very much interested in this nonsense,” the Colonel says cheerfully. “In fact, why don’t you come with us?”

“What? No,” she says, (Mercy echoing the same exact words almost at the exact same time, only in betrayed disgust) drily and adjusts in her seat. “I don’t think so.”

“You can walk right in between me and your dear sister as we hike through the woods. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

“Thank you, but I don’t really care for those,” (looking directly at a distressed Mercy), “disgusting, dirty animals.”

“I’m sad to hear that, enjoying nature is quite a—primal and required human need, wouldn’t you say?”

Leaning towards her he says in his smoothest tone, “Prenez soin de la nature, la nature prendra soin de vous.” Then the flirt he is, he smiles devilishly at her and raises his eyebrows and eases back in seat, and not missing a beat, he turns to Mrs. Card and says, “I’ve seen some men eating them. Do they taste good?”

A defeated, floored, embarrassed and very red faced Lucy uncomfortably shakes her head and looks down at the table before her. She begins mindlessly scooping piece after piece of sugar into her tea and watches the way the crystals dissolve and diffuse into the brown liquid, slinking down into her seat, and if she had her way surely out of the room, house and continent altogether. He should probably feel bad, but getting a minor bit of revenge on Mademoiselle de Trollop was immensely satisfying.

“Raccoons? Oh they’re alright,” Mrs. Card begins, and he sneaks a sly wink at a now beaming Mercy while her mother goes on all about how different areas eat them in different ways and they rather taste like lamb with a little mint jelly to her.

Dinner continues on forward in the usual uneventful manner, the women gossip, the boy playing with a toy he has hidden beneath the table when his mother isn’t looking, a bitter Lucy silent the entire time, but it is the best meal the Colonel can recall eating in recent memory. A ragoo of oysters in dark beef broth, crispy celery, forced cucumbers, brandied cherries, mushrooms and corn dumplings. Large decanters of Madeira and ale. Sliced honey candied apples and whipped and everlasting syllabubs for dessert. All of it rich and filling and good. He had watched what she had eaten and it was not enough to his liking and his mind idly begins scheming a way to fatten his darling goose up for the approaching winter.

Fittingly she is the first to excuse herself and says she will wait for their outing upstairs.

A little drunk and mourning the Colonel, a charming and observant Mrs. Card leans over and squeezes his forearm. “She makes you suffer terribly, doesn’t she?”

He uncomfortably smiles and takes a long sip of his wine as he watches her leave the room and says, “Excuse me, mam.”

He gets up and in passing tells Mercy to give him time to get ready, he’ll be right back down and he follows up the stairs after her.

Chapter Text

He ascends the stairs behind her wordlessly, weightlessly, thoughtlessly, without plan or design. Speech or pitch or plea or coercion, not one prepared. Not one! But what does he know, he is nothing but a fool completely and helplessly in love with this woman.

He follows on blind instinct alone, and, she must have known he would follow her as he finds the door left open behind her, she’s at the tall chest of drawers aside her bed, rustling through an open drawer, making busy movements. When he enters the room and closes the door behind him she stills for a moment and then continues, saying she’ll be done in just a moment, if he wants to wait for her downstairs he can, he says he does not.

Standing behind her, he touches his fingers along the graceful curve of her shoulders and she stills. A pause and a heartbeat go by as he waits upon her to lead him, as he always will. A weight lifts off his chest and the warmth of the sun fills it when she curves her neck and leans against him slightly, giving silent permission to his touch. Time slows down to a vivid stillness and it seems his senses are flooded with imbued powers, colors saturated, every little movement or touch warm and full of luxurious beauty and impossible tenderness. The small creature beneath him says something so softly that it does not reach him so he encircles his hands around her arms and brings his head down against hers. What was it? No matter. Everyone is downstairs talking, clinking silverware and glasses, they may as well be a mile away. There is plenty of daylight left before he must leave. A single heavy dust-speckled beam of light pierces across the rather dark room through the thick yellow damask curtains, the only light in the room, this divine illumination, beautiful abstract shape drapes so strikingly, so weightlessly across the warm nape in front of him that he brings his parched lips against as a faithful would to a sacred icon.

A cautious hand slides the fabric of her dress upon her arm down, just an inch, to bare a smooth kissable shoulder. He closes his eyes and breathes her in and recognizes that beneath the strong perfumed scent of her hair, are small hints of those wonderful sharp familiar undertones of her sun warm skin, just like that morning in the manor how he so often imagined her in the recent past. He feels her quiver and slightly recoil from his touch as his chest presses to her back and as his unshaven face brushes against her neck, but he holds her tightly against him and keeps her there, his lips against her, feeling her, the steady pulse, the living flesh and bone beneath soft skin. One of his hands brushes against hers that she’s holding to the flat of her stomach, and he intertwines his fingers in hers.

“I adore you,” he whispers into her hair and kisses her along the warm slope between that flat pale of her nape to the soft spot behind her ear, slowly, taking note of the tiny changes in her breath, the chords and taught tendons flexing nervously across her jugular and please, please dear God, do not let her leave, I love her so terribly.

He feels her fingers move against his, enfolding and squeezing, silently permitting; and that impenetrable veil between them falls at once, inly dying, he turns her around gently and takes her face into his unworthy hands and looks down upon her. She remaining perfectly still. Waiting. Willing. He runs his thumbs across her soft parted lips, over the soft little downy apples of her cheeks, where, with the utmost piety, he places a chaste kiss. Then to the other. On the sharp tip of her nose. Over her sooty lashed lids that are closed, before brushing his lips to hers and kissing her, tenderly and slowly.

Through his great pains of restraint, his mind makes sure to interrupt him (as we have those odd self-conscious moments of noticing an event in order to remember it properly later, somehow knowing its importance in the moment it occurs, the profoundness of what is occurring, as if to say to you with the internal affirmation that, ‘yes, that is what is happening’) with the most damning swell of both pride and lust and heart, that it is she who—and with no resistance to her at all—curls a hand around the nape of his neck and opens her mouth and deepens their kiss, melting, whimpering, and every painful agonizing second of his life since he first laid eyes on her recedes down to a fine tapered point and vanishes forever.

He feels the slope of her breasts, those surely impeccable breasts trapped beneath fifteen minutes of clothing removal and imagining seeing them bare, imagining them smooth and soft and warm under his hands he glides his palms over the pin and corset secured mounds. It would loathe him to say that there was a weakness in his knees while lost in that moment—seconds? minutes?—but the two sway and mold against one another in the seizing and surrendering of intensifying passion before he feels a hand working around his sash and then down, down, blissfully down, to the front of his breeches to slip her slender hand inside and encircle him with cool fingers. He groans into her mouth and in a surge of impatient need he roughly reaches down for a handful of her dress to pull it up, but suddenly a firm hand pushes his chest as she pulls her gasping mouth away from his. “No, wait.”

“No?”

His very life in her grip, looks up at him and says, “Wait.”

He stills and then slowly drops the fabric in his hand and stands back up straight. His blood burns through him as he watches her bite that swollen plump bottom lip that he had just been devouring between her teeth, and he takes her by the arms with strong hands, molding her thin limbs with all his need, excitement, desire harnessed behind deeply kneading fingers. That paralyzing devotion. It isn’t anything that registers, it occurs beyond his control or realization, that as this woman has him—literally—by the bollocks, and he hopes she is liking what she is rousing beneath the cruel confines of cloth, that he is pleasing her; his heart, soul, body, it is pleasure itself to please her. And if she told him to cut off a limb, remove a vital organ, slice off his very member (that her cool fingertips are playing along the aching tip of) if that is what it took, what would he not do? The answer not as clear as one might think as the taste of her mouth is on his lips and her hand is committing his lust to her memory.

He stills himself, transferring a timid fraction of the need he is feeling into his hands grasping her small shoulders, pressing and massaging his fingers into her, running them up her slim neck to hold her precious face in his hands. His kiss more demanding than before and she lets out an incendiary moan that surprises her and inspires him and he deepens their kiss, crushing her body to his, letting his hands glide over her breasts and through her hair. He pulls away, leaving her to catch her breath, her lips red and glossy and he caddishly smiles at her.

In her grip, at her mercy; with obedient adoration, he watches her as she watches his face for his reaction as she runs her palm up and down the length of him, doleful and wistful in her slow, almost languid movements. Her free hand cradling his neck while she fondles him, his eyes roll closed for a moment and allows the intense pleasure to wash over him as he mindlessly rocks against her, relishing in her touch, the maddening way her delicate fingers possess and then abandon him. The surmounting feeling unreal. The anticipation of what her teasing is promising is utter torment and he looks down at her as he pulls the rest of his buttons undone and wraps his hand over hers and squeezes it tightly, holding it steady, while he roughly thrusts into her grip, pulling her hair tight through his fingers of his other hand to keep her eyes to his, walking her back against the wall, trapping her into the corner between it and the chest of drawers.

Although he’s unsure as to what the rules of this new game of hers is, he knows that there is in fact a game being played (as there always is), he can see it in her dark eyes as they both silently observe each other. She tries to take control back of her hand, but he holds it there firmly, guiding her in lewd, long, slow thrusts as he watches her coolly, making her feel him. Leaning down he captures her lips in a slow, deep kiss, gliding his mouth over hers, running his fingers through her scalp, and down her nape, drawing her to him. He swells with a delicious pleasure as she moans softly into his mouth and he feels all her resistance begin to lax, her hand along his nape now running along his back, stirring nerves alive along his spine, shoulders, his skin becoming alive everywhere her hands touch.

“God, do you even know,” he whispers, bringing his lips to her ear he squeezes down on her hand, “what you do to me?”

He mouths the baby soft lobe of her ear, then gently biting her jaw just beneath it, kissing her neck, inhaling the smell of her as he tastes her flesh. His own excited breathing, panting against her face, her neck, her jaw, drowns out all other sound as he roughly and crudely uses her hand in their perverse little scene. Brimming with excitement bordering on insanity, he presses his forehead to hers and rips her hand away before everything is over too quickly and he sinks onto a knee in front of her—at her delicate insteps in red buttoned shoes—and the look on her face full of uncertainty and desire. He starts to lift her hem and she takes a handful of her gown and very slowly raises it as he takes her shoe in both hands and brings her foot to rest upon his bended knee and carefully slides each button out of its slot with one hand while he strokes and gently caresses her thin ankle with the other. The shoe slides off with a flop and thud to the floor.

He encloses her tiny foot in his hands and rubs his thumbs and fingers over their sore pads and over strained ligaments and bones. Under his glancing fingertips, in a trance of awkward delight, he feels along the silky lengths of her stockings as he runs his hands along her calf, against the warm smooth cleft of the bend of her knee and back down to the half circle of her delicate instep and back and again.

“Better?”

She nods.

“And the other?”

He squeezes her foot and places it back down to the ground and takes the other and treats it the same, taking off the offending shoe, adorning the freed little footlet in loving squeezes and fondles, encouraged by her silent passivity and pleased gaze, going a little further and touching along the back of her thigh and smooth round cheeks with tender caresses and back down again. He leans down and brings the bony side of her ankle to his lips and leaves a lingering kiss to the fleshy indent below the protruding bone, and squeezes her foot gently and places it back upon his knee, holding it there. He slides a hand up her calf, behind her knee and bending it upwards and over his shoulder, and God, the side of her knee brushes against his lips and he can smell the torrid odor of her that sends a surge of urgent desire and makes him groan in want. He presses his mouth to the pale, tender flesh of her inner thigh, just above the lewdly girlish pink ribbons of her stockings. Tasting the soft delicate skin, nipping, sucking upon its baby softness, feeling her flex against the shock and pain, and he eagerly leans forward making her grab onto the edge of the chest for balance as he pulls her to him, burying his mouth into the luxurious heat of her.

His concentration focuses down to a fine point, blocking out the aching sting in his jaw and neck, like a possessed madman, a mad scientist of the most human of subjects, testing and noting and cross referencing every reaction from his subject to his violating instruments and stimulations, he is oblivious to all else. Holding her trembling thighs open and she gives out a little gasping cry as he methodically devours her. Pressing his palms to her inner thighs, he pushes her open a little wider and she starts to whimper and writhe wildly, and a hot surge of blood rages through his lust as he knows he’s catching on to what she likes. Becoming aware of what she was letting occur perhaps or being caught off guard by her own response, she jerks her hips away from him suddenly and says, “wait, wait,” but he yanks her back to him by her haunches and holds her to his feeding, worshipping mouth.

He nearly pushes her up the wall and off of her feet completely as he lifts her leg on his shoulder higher, opening her up even more to him, her body pushing against the wall behind her, as he holds her to him with kneading, caressing, exploring hands; dutiful fingers. She sighs softly, slowly surrendering to the pleasure of his hands and his mouth, seeking him with a need more and more urgent, more desperate, more wanton as her hips start to move rhythmically in little fevered movements. The restrained cries she’s trying not to let out get louder, every exhale a soft whimper, needing release and no longer caring how he’d manipulated her, her inner conflicts, or what she looks like writhing against him like some rutting animal. She arches her body forward and reaches a hand out to brace herself on his shoulder and five evil, wonderful fingers entangle through his hair, tightly gripping and pulling before she falls completely silent holding her breath, and he feels her muscles tighten and ripple around and beneath him as she shudders in a silent scream, and then that wonderful, sudden, desperate gasp for air that follows, those little hushed whimpers as she tries to restrain her sobs of pleasure. He supports her weight as she slacks against him, trembling and shaky, the fingers in his hair easing into a maddening, gentle caress in the ebbs of her response as both panting lovers stay there locked in their twisted, uncomfortable position—lost in the mutual exhilaration of the goddess permitting her mortal the joy of praying at her altar while allowing herself the pleasure of his devotion.

She emits a yelp of joyless laughter when he, the Tall Colonel, scoops her up off the floor in one motion, wrapping his arms around her waist and in two large steps walks her over to the bed and falls onto her. She laughs again and he smiles at her and returns to devour her mouth, shivering with pleasure as those ten wicked fingers entwine through his hair again, sending rivers of sensation down his spine. He nudges his knee in between her legs and presses a strong leg up against her sex, enjoying the little sighs and gasps she makes as she lifts her hips up to him, greedily rubbing herself against his thigh. She lets out a soft sigh against his lips and clutches his shoulders, and one of her legs wraps around his, her foot deliciously dragging up and down the back of his thigh and calf.

Grinding his aching desire against her, he whispers against her lips how beautiful she is, how badly he wants her and she moans into his mouth as they devour and grapple at each other like desperate, burning, long separated lovers. He bunches the fabric of her dress in his fist and starts gently tugging it up, while one of her hands snakes down between his legs, and he sucks in a sharp breath through his teeth at the touch of her, but he grabs her hands away and pins them above her head and holds them there while slowly working the fabric of her dress up her waist, panting, both locked in the terrible anticipation. In a beat of silence, the door suddenly comes alive with a shockingly loud yet familiar knocking pattern, and like a cold bucket of water thrown over them, it slaps her back into hateful reality and it’s over, she’s frantically escaping his crushing weight with sharp elbows and knees, saying, “get up, get off.”

No, no, no! Why? Who would do such a thing?

“A little busy!” he yells the last word as he watches with helpless enraging despair as the throbs of Eden dissolve and curl away, and reveal the return to muggy miserable loud Staten Island and makes hastily gruesome plans for the demise of whoever is behind the door.

“—I’m sorry,” a scared sounding Mercy (agent of Fate betrays!) says on the other side of the door. “Are you ready yet? It’s going to get dark soon and I’ve been waiting a long time.”

A muffled younger voice from behind the door says, “I heard them kissing.”

“Oh yeah,” Mercy loudly says, then shushes her brother with a quiet, but still very audible, “shhhhh,” and then back at full volume finishes, “Danny wants to come too, is that alright?”

“Oh my God,” says Anna, covering her face with her hands before dropping them and cries, “Colonel Simcoe will be down in two minutes, go wait for him outside.”

“Miss Anna, you’re coming too—”

“Yes, just go now, please!”

“Okay!” A clattering of small feet run down the hallway and fade in the distance as they trample down the stairs and after a few silent pauses, the familiar slam of the front door.

“Wait,” he quietly calls after her, and she stops in front of the door. Following her and pulling up and buttoning his breeches back closed over his reluctant, stubborn lust, he says, “Wait. Don’t go.”

Keeping her back to him, hastily adjusting her dress back into proper order, she shakes her head.

“Why?”

“Because,” she exclaims as if it were obvious, and says, “It’s not right.”

“They’re just children—”

“It’s not them,” she says opening the doorway, creating a clever escape route. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Why?”

She doesn’t answer him. Straightening out his clothes he stands behind her. He puts his arms around her and buries his face into her neck and pulls her to him, runs his hands over her round bottom and squeezes it. “Hmmm? Why is it this way between us, Anna?”

“You draw me in, only to push me away,” he says as he leans in to nuzzle her. “Do you enjoy it? Is it a game you’re playing?”

“I’m not playing any games. It’s—”

“Come now, darling,” he laughs. “We both know that’s not true, is it.”

Kissing the round shell of her ear he prays, “Please, stay.”

“Colonel,” she gasps as he kisses and bites lightly on her neck and maybe for a moment all can be salvaged as she leans into him just slightly, but, no of course as her shift to formality is typically a clear indicator of impending doom, it’s too late.

“I said to stop it,” she says turning in his hold, pushing him hard in the chest taking a step back, “just, please, go. They’re waiting for you.”

He looks at her for a moment and bites his lip as a lust souring anger builds behind it becoming nearly impossible to keep to himself. With the final cold nails in the coffin set, he grinds his jaw and walks out into the hallway. That’s fine. Perfect. It’s not like he has any feelings.

So that is perfectly, fucking fine. Yes, let’s go shoot something. Why not.

At least his gun will get off.

“Very well,” he says, turning back around towards her, “Wipe your neck dear, you look quite a sluttish mess.”

He walks the short distance to his own room and flings the door, open making it slam against the wall with a heart jittering bang. He starts throwing things around looking for his gun kit, cursing, then angrily murmuring, “Fine. Just fine. It is all perfectly fine with me.”

After dumping out his luggage and knocking over several boxes of junk, he finally sees the leather bag he had right plainly next to his bed in the first place and picks it up and slings it over his shoulder. He comes out of the room at the same time she comes out of hers, and he cannot even look at her, she goes to say something as he passes her by, but he cuts her off, “Try to keep up if you’re coming along then.”

Slamming down the stairs the pouting Colonel adds, “I hardly want to be watching after three children.”

“I’m hardly the one acting like a child right now, wouldn’t you say?” she says, and he stops in his tracks almost making her slam into his back. He turns his head around and looks up at her and if looks could kill his darling would be quite expired. (If only! Adieu! Adio! Good riddance, you unbearable, horrid, annoying woman.)

He storms out the front door and barrels on down the stairs, starting a patiently waiting Mercy and Daniel standing on the last step playing, who begin to chat him up but he walks on past them and sternly tells them to hurry up. Mercy grabs her little brother’s hand and they run behind him, trying to close the distance he’s already made. He turns into a side galley that opens up past an old cabin and shed grading into a spikey wheat and grass field.

“Wait!” she calls out to a much taller and much quicker Colonel.

“Keep up girl, you want to fire this thing or not?”

“Yes, but,” she starts.

“No yes buts.”

“Yes, but,” she repeats, “Danny can’t walk that fast, sir, please wait.”

He stops and stews, letting the two stumbling short legged children catch up to him. He sweeps the boy up by under his arms and slings him onto his hip, holding him by the crook of his arm. “Can you manage, or must I carry you as well,” he asks to a slowly approaching Anna who walks up and puts her hands on Mercy’s shoulders and says, no, she’s fine. She wouldn’t want to strain a crippled man, after all. He ignores her and Mercy takes Anna’s hand into her own and they follow behind. He moves out of the field and under the lush green canopy of the dry leaf forest floor in consideration for the ladies’ exposed ankles and legs to the prickly growths.

His jaw grinds as he walks and his mind seethes and mulls. ‘It’s not right’ was it? Curious how it is very much right when a lady’s pelvis is married to a gentleman’s face, however, immediately after trembling hot bliss it becomes a horrid mistake. How convenient it works in that order.

What’s not right is her. She does it on purpose, she must. Unless this never ending cycle of tripping over her baggage was to blame. An eternity of time had lapsed since her dismissed life with and that husband, Cecil? Sarah? (In any case, a man whose pride and preposterous display took precedent over the safety and livelihood of his own wife, who the Colonel is nevertheless grateful and forever in debt to this wonderfully stupid man, and will gladly bear the furious rage of the wreckage he left behind, this generous man who within the course of twenty seconds of his attempt at being some brave little David before being duly and rightly crushed by Goliath (all for the dainty and frail honor of King Washington!), thrusted his beautiful and apparently disposable spouse front and center upon the stage of the then Lieutenant Simcoe’s universe). If that were not enough, over six months since that adulterous cowardly Baron de Cabbage was made a successfully achieved corpse, and whatever disgusting nauseating relations she had with that miserable midget were concluded, but their damage was deep and lasting.

But his senses still saturated by her, he foolishly licks his lips.

A small voice breaks him out of his internal ranting and moaning and dying, saying, “Where are we going?”

“What?”

The child looks around and then studies and feels the braids on his shoulder. “Are we going to the army?”

“No, we’re going shooting.”

“When I was little, I wanted to go to the army but Father says no,” he sighs.

“When you were little? As opposed to the old man you are now.”

“Yeah, when I was a little kid,” he reiterates.

“Yes, of course. Well, not many positions for elderly six year olds, I’m afraid.”

“I will be seven in three weeks,” he corrects and shows him in the same count of fingers. After a few moments of thinking, he sweetly asks, “Can I shoot the gun? Please?”

“—If you’re good.”

“Yeah?” He smiles and shakes his hands in excitement. “I can?”

Wrapping his arms around his neck and leaning over his shoulder, painfully scrambling his legs against his transporter’s crotch and kidney to get better traction to prop himself as far out as possible, the boy yells to his sister, “He said I can shoot it too! Not just you!”

Listening to the two girls chatter and laugh behind him, the little toe-head nods and says he doesn’t much like girls. They’re pretty dumb and kind of gross and like silly things.

“You’re a wise little man.”

The day beginning to darken; a soft glimmer of sunlight hanging in a western strip of the cloudy sky, he decides they’ve gone far enough and stops at a small clearing with a sharply sloped grade in the earth ahead they can aimlessly fire into. In his anger, he had just started walking and hadn’t gone towards an old stone fence he had previously decided on simply because in his trance of blind rage the geography of the area became lost to him, not that he lets that on to his entourage. He also realizes that he forgot to bring any kind of targets so it would not have mattered anyway. He slides the dead weight of the boy down to the ground and kneels down onto the forest floor on one bended knee and lays out the items of his gun kit.

“Now,” he says sternly, drawing the children’s obedient attention. He holds out in his palms the heavy barreled .62 caliber pistol before them and the pair lean in in awe and restrained thrill as they get to see the mystifying object up close, until the three of them form what would appear to an outsider a secret conspiracy huddle. “This is not a toy, it is a weapon, and most importantly it is mine, which means you will handle it with utmost respect,” (both little heads nodding eagerly) “and use good sense. As far as you’re concerned, it is always loaded. You do not point it at anyone you do not wish to kill. And like the sun, unless you are simple, you never look into it. Understood?”

They both nod in agreement and he lets them both hold the gun and satisfy their curiosity before he shows them how to load it. Their father, an older gentleman on his second and much younger wife with yet another child on the way (the virile old perv), apparently was not one for firearms and while he did own a small pocket pistol he kept up in a wardrobe which had probably been sitting loaded and corroding since the mid-50s, he had not taught his sons, let alone daughters, how to shoot it. Which was, in the Colonel’s silent opinion pretty shoddy parenting, particularly in the midst of a rather nasty war on their doorstep.

Sitting a few feet behind them leaning against the small thin trunk of a young tree, her legs curled beneath her dress, her cameo profile inclined, Anna is examining a small bunch of flowers she had picked along the way. She slowly begins to pull apart the long, mournful petals of a lemon-yellow bellwort, dropping them indifferently onto the forest floor.

She hates him, she adores him. He is brutal, she is defenseless.

Her disheveled hair sweeps across her face in the breeze, a staggering visual of what they had done so freely and dirtily not even an hour before. He watches her for a moment and a wave of adoration swells in him through the pain disguised as a now quickly collapsing anger, and somewhere at the bottom of that turmoil he feels the curls of desire again, so ravenous is his need, his love, for this miserable woman.

“Ladies first,” he says, turning on his knee towards her.

Raising her chin up but not looking at him, she murmurs, “How trusting of you.”

“You can kill me, if you’d like,” he says, holding the pistol by the muzzle and out to her. “You even have two accomplices to help.”

“We could bury him right there,” adds a helpful Mercy, pointing to a dark, deep, leaf-choked gathering of birches at the end of the slope.

“Or burn him and chop him up like the cannibals and bury pieces of him in all different—”

“Daniel!” Anna scolds. “You three are terribly morbid, don’t you think? And I’m too tired to be dismembering a corpse today.”

Mercy plops down alongside Anna and takes a flower from her and looks at it, and leaning her head on her like the tender little pup she is, asks her why she is so cross.

“I am not cross.”

“You do seem rather cross,” the obnoxious Colonel points out. She gives him a look and he smiles wickedly at her.

“Unless, it is too big for you to handle,” he says, and leans out to nudge the brass plated butt of the pistol against her arm. “Is that the problem, you’re scared of it then.” The dirty thing almost smiles, he sees those little resistant muscles of her mouth tighten and her eyebrows raise, so he pokes her with it again.

“Come on, Miss Anna,” he prods, and then the two accomplices join in with an annoying chant, and she finally smiles and sighs and takes the pistol with a lazy grip, much to their cheers of delight. He stands up with her and guides her to where to aim.

“It’s an impressive size I realize,” he prods as he stands indecently close behind her to correct her stance, reaching his arms around her to put both of her hands on the grip and adjusts the bend of her elbows. “But I have faith in your abilities.”

“You’re painfully crude,” she says. Smiling sweetly, not to be outdone, she adds with the cruder, “And I’ve seen bigger.”

“Now you see,” he barks loudly making her start, addressing the two bystanders which, while too young to understand, are keenly aware of the odd and tense vibe humming between their adult guardians, he puts both of his hands roughly on her waist and he turns her into an man-handable prop, the perfect pretext for openly molesting one for education’s sake. “you want to stand like this, with your legs slightly apart,” (lightly kicking her feet apart, keeping his leg between hers, his thigh in the innocence of the lesson leaning and bumping against her bottom) “keep your back straight and your elbows slightly bent,” (sliding his hands down her arms) “in order to absorb the kick-back.”

“May I fire now,” complains an indignant, flushed Anna.

“Not yet,” he whispers against her hair. “Why are you shaking, dear?”

“It’s heavy.”

“Is it?”

Pointing out ahead he asks her if she thinks she can hit a gnarled root sticking out from the earthen wall. Does she see it? She nods.

“And when you fire, squeeze, don’t pull the trigger.” He leans down to her height, letting his lips brush her ear he whispers, “I can still taste you.”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “I should slap you.”

“But you won’t,” he whispers and then standing back up, yells, “Fire at will, madam.”

After a small pause, the loud bang of the pistol discharging echoes and disappears into the forest, the children erupt in applause. Her poor marksmanship does not hamper her thrill and delight at firing the weapon, and despite a clearly and rightfully so, annoyed Mercy, he reloads and lets her fire again reassuring her she is much better than she is. More practice needed of course, as surely he would now have to arrange times to take his pet into the deep forests and school her properly and privately in handling such a powerful piece. What an attentive mentor he would be, too!

The children get their rightful turns and it actually is a not entirely unpleasant excursion, as the awkwardness of having your head up someone’s skirt to five minutes later be on babysitting duty had waned, Anna smiling, playing her perfect role as the caring and nagging mother of their little faux family. Both young ones remaining on their best behavior and he finds a deep sense of satisfaction at mentoring the eager and excited little things. The boy pretty much just getting to put his hands on the grip as it would surely fly up and crush his fragile young skull, but he let the child believe he was doing the heavy work and he could not have been happier and more convinced to join the army immediately as soon as they got home. Young awkward Mercy he helped much the same but she was quite adamant she was stronger than she appeared to be (and he let her believe it to be so as he tightened his grip over the top). He managed to hit a small brown bird although nothing but a piece of feather fluff remaining as evidence.

After his wrist begins to get sore from the repetitive tapping and his rounds are nearly out, he packs up and tells them much to their groans and whines of disappointment that they need to get back, they don’t want to get caught out in the dark.

She kneels down next to him and helps him pick up the two hundred plus little round waddings that Daniel accidentally knocked and scattered all over the place. “It was nice of you to do this for them. You’re good with children, aren’t you?”

He shrugs. “I had a younger brother.”

“Oh? Where is he now?”

“Dead, last I looked.”

“Oh,” she says mournfully. “I’m sorry.”

Shrugging again, “Was a long time ago.”

An uncomfortable silence hangs between them and he tries to clean and pack everything away quicker when she breaks with, “It’s as if you are two different people at times, you realize.”

Turning his head to smile at her he says, “Maybe you’re the only person I can stand being around.”

“Is that what it is?”

“I believe so. Or perhaps I’m not as bad as you made me out to be in your mind?”

She looks away and clears her throat. He feels the air shift and immediately regrets having said anything. “I want to ask you something.”

“Splendid.”

“But you must swear to me that you will tell me the truth, no matter what it is.”

He turns his body to face her and stills and nods. Taking her hand into his he holds it and looking her directly in the eye with all seriousness and solemnity says, “Of course.”

After a deep breath and a pause, she asks, of all things, “Did you try to kill Hewlett, when I asked you to rescue him?”

The question takes a moment to process as he was not expecting that and to have such a terrible name sprung upon you suddenly like is quite the shock to the system, much like ice water on the neck or a six pound cannonball to the groin.

“I went after him in order to earn your esteem and to bring back someone incredibly important to you. Why would I risk my life, the life of my men, to do something that would only end in more heartbreak for you?”

“But did you?”

“Believe me, my dearest Anna, I did not.”

She shakes her head and sighs.

“Listen, listen now,” he says soothingly, kissing her hand and holding it in his, warming it and choosing his words carefully before he goes on, “is that what he told you?”

He goes on to explain to her she must understand, the Major suffered a quite horrific ordeal being imprisoned by the enemy, he knows better than the unhappy conditions he endured. He was sick with grief and starvation. Left in the cold to be frost bitten. He may very well believe it was the Colonel who tried to kill him in the madness of such a state. It being rather risky explanation, although sound in theory, he’s convinced for a moment she won’t buy it. But with the passage of time and perhaps the stress on the nerves affecting her memory, he has to hope. Thinking it over she nods slowly as if this version was coming into focus bit by bit in her mind and becoming increasingly plausible to her and says that he did seem rather ill and anxious when he returned.

“You see? No one has lied to you. And you must believe me that I everything I have ever done, will ever do, has been only for your happiness.”

She nods and smiles at him, and by great Clearchus’ ghost he is saved.

“Does that put your mind at ease?” almost laughing, annoyed even, he quickly adds, “Is that what was bothering you?”

No, and maybe yes. It’s complicated, you see. It seems that was an unforgiveable sin, whether it is the betrayal of her trust or the actual murder attempt that bothers her the most he isn’t sure.

“If you think that’s the only thing you have done that has bothered me,” she observes, “you’re either blind or incredibly simple.”

“I’ve made mistakes, I know, but” he says softly, “have I not redeemed myself to you?”

“You just never quit do you?”

In complete sincerity he answers, “Never.”

“I never wanted things to get confused between us,” she says. “But, I think it’s too late for that.”

Kissing her palm and inner wrist he murmurs, “Is that so bad?”

“Maybe not. But I want to be able to trust you.”

“What can I do?”

“Tell me you are not lying to me.”

“Very well,” he says, putting her hand down and putting his hand up as if taking an oath. “I never tried to harm the Major. Not once. I swear it to you, on my honor.”

She watches his face for a moment before he says, “Won’t you believe me?”

She pensively nods and puts her hand over his and he sighs and takes both of her cold paws into his hands and kisses them and holds them to his face.

“I could say the same for you, my enchanting little spy. What have you not told me? Are these accusations not completely false? Have I been touched by a traitor enemy?”

“Would that excite you?”

“I think it would.”

“That’s unfortunate, because there’s nothing more to tell. They are completely false.”

“You swear it?”

Looking him in the eye, she says, “I swear.”

He never before felt such a confusing feeling of wanting to slap and kiss her lying mouth at the same time. Throwing his hand up he says, “Then everything is settled, isn’t it?”

She laughs and says, “All our troubles solved. Shall we celebrate?”

He smiles and kisses her. She cradles his face with her hands before tucking herself into his arms and apologizing for earlier and utterly despairing over the state of life. Mercy thinks she’s his wife. Lucy can’t allow herself to think anything at all. And Mrs. Card is convinced they’re lovers already.

“Who cares!” he cries and squeezes her. “It’s all labels on boxes, tombstones and taxes; gossip on the lips, what does any of it truly matter?”

She looks up and considers him for a moment. “Then what do you think?”

“My perfect darling, I have no idea what I believe in this world, but know that—regardless of whether you can love me or not, my heart is yours to do with as you please,” he says, releasing her and standing up. “What you or anyone else calls it, is of no consequence.”

She takes his hand and lets him pull her up, keeping her hand in his, “Why do you say these things to me, John?”

“Does the truth bother you so much?”

“It does,” she confesses. “I have no desire to hurt you.”

“Then you shall not. So tell me then, what would you call our,” he says while pulling her towards him slowly, “special relationship?”

“Well,” she says looking at his chest, picking at lint or dirt real or imagined from his jacket. “For simplicity’s sake, why not just friends?”

“Friends?”

“Don’t be disappointed,” she says as he enfolds his arms around her. “A friend can be many things, don’t you agree?”

He nods and brushes the hair from her face and leans in, kissing her lips lightly, “Oh, many, yes.” He kisses along her jaw and murmurs, “someone for—companionship,” traveling down upon her neck, “comfort.”

“Exact—,” she trails off as his lips find a particular place along that long neck and in the abandon of mindless love, presses her abdomen to his. His hold on her trembling, his breathing rapid and in an urgent moment she is entangled in his arms again, his hands are everywhere as his mouth is to her exposed skin. Feeling her excitement, hearing her sweet little whimper, he sinks hungrily into the other side of her neck, tonguing and licking and sucking and sighing softly in answer to her sighs. When she draws back he pulls her against him, almost roughly, bringing her neck to his lips with one hand and with the other caressing the lovely roundness of her behind, clutching her desperately to him, longing to hear another of her little moans, her shy whimpers. It becoming increasingly clear that he needs to have violent intercourse with her at least four times in a row and immediately; delay itself might impair his power of survival.

The realization of their surroundings coming to her, she sheds herself of his overzealous groping and tells him that they must head back. He kisses her deeply before panting against her cool cheek, “You will come to me later?”

She nods and their rendezvous set they recollect themselves, brush each other’s knees and haunches clean and mutually confirm non-suspicious clothing arrangement and walk back in the children’s wake, them standing hand in hand and then looking back. “We were waiting for you,” smiling twelve year old cluelessness.

Walking into the house and almost as if she were to follow him without any bribery or coercion needed, but a crying Daniel suddenly comes tearing down the hall and flings himself into her skirt, immediately receiving the caresses and a loving embrace from his lady after he apparently knocked his sister’s own personal jar of tooth powder on the floor and in turn was called a terrible word and was shoved into a door or something by a rageful now sobbing Mercy, who knows, oh for the love of Christ who cares! Not impressed with his annoyed hostility to the children’s bickering, Mother Hen Anna scowls and tells him to not worry about it, she would take care of it (these children having parents and a handful of house-girls not being enough apparently) and not to be so short with mere children. Can’t he see little Daniel is upset? Oh yes, poor Daniel, the terrorist martyr. The day clearly reaching its pinnacle of rejection and child related interferences, abandoned for the much more irresistible seductive adorability and pseudo-mothering of a blubbering seven year old, he decides to go to his room.

Immediately he strips down to nothing and fills his wash basin with the proper dilution of a strong citrusy yet with a an undertone of turpentine smelling and skin tingling toilet water he had procured for himself (promised ‘to remove all the unpleasant and stubborn oils and odors of manly labors’) and proceeds with soap in one hand and a cloth in the other to diligently wash himself from brow to toe, twice over as recommended for the so-called ‘triangle of troublesome geography’. He rinses and brushes his hair, shaves, cleans his mouth, powders his groin, puts on fresh nightclothes and uses a metal file to meticulously smooth his nails and fingertips. He is a gentleman, after all.

He writes a letter to pass the time. He notices the black housecat that had lately taken a liking to the upper left corner of his bed and sitting laying back upon the hard headboard, lets it knead and curl itself in the cross of his legs while he reads through some thin poorly made magazine with some big wigged obnoxiously colorful fop on the back posing with a dog selling stationary. His impatient and distracted mind does not notice until he’s read through it twice, but it turns out to be ladies’ inspirational he had stolen from downstairs (why?).

The house falls into its usual patterns of nighttime noises and then into a silence that stirs at once an urgent anticipation, a ruttish ache that leaves him in an absurd agony, for all the times he had wanted her, nearly two years of abject rejection, now, after having a taste of his pet, not even a full day had lapsed before this craving for her cuts deep in his chest with its little demoniac lusty claws and he has never wanted her more.

But she does not come. And after two cheroot cigars he finds himself nodding off, dying of boredom and hatred. Kicking an annoyed and rejected feeling cat off his now numb and aching legs, “Sorry, puss,” and out of his room he prepares his nightly drink plus two, puts out the light and curls beneath his cold blankets.

Normally, a moderately healthy amount of liquor (with varying measures of laudanum stirred in regularly starting in ’78, continuing well into the mid-nineties) is sufficient to keep the insomnia at bay for at least a few hours of blissful unconsciousness, but now, no longer provide any derailments of maddening thoughts and even more intrusive nightmares.

On one side of his mind, he did not ever expect her to come as his usual disposition regarding her (that had been forged through painful rejection and humiliation over the last eighteen months, or so,) is one of expect nothing, celebrate everything. On the other side, a messy void, teeming with longings and regrets, with plans and decrees of revolt and rape. Who does she think she is? He could right now march into her room, he could brutally rip her clothes off, he could as they say, fuck her six ways to Sunday. Could.

Oh yes, there were many erotic things that could happen, things that were unforgivable, inerasable, violating, crossing the line. But also knowing while it is indeed all those things, he also knows he is perfectly in his right to define or redefine those lines. She is his prisoner. His.

There is nothing to stop him from having her. And even if she hates him for it; there is nothing outside himself to stop him from doing it again. And again. However often in whatever way he chooses as a coarse and uncouth master might pluck one of his young slaves in between business calls. He could, right now in complete impunity force her on her knees and take her, use her. Aside from shamefully using such a fantasy towards a quick but much needed lone gratification, he knows that he’s much more a monster in the shadows of his mind than in stark reality where the moment a look of sadness or terror washes across her face, all is lost, the beast is subdued and all its shameful desires are slammed back with it into its cage. Other than perhaps a hairy, smelly, nude man—of which he’d seen more than his fair share of—there is nothing more impotence inspiring in reality than a crying, unyielding, stiff limbed, unlubricated woman. And he dare not do anything to spoil the image so carefully set up of him that she was beginning to adore.

He could be quite wicked and brutal and take by force anything he wished, but he does not. Not only is this morally rewarding but the ego inflating and self-righteousness affirming effects make his benevolent choice of doing good when he could easily not, therefor makes him believe himself a great man, as a surely degenerate philosopher rearranging Biblical quotes to seem wise somewhere once said, “Man can only be good if he is capable of evil, but chooses not to do it.” Something to that effect, anyway. The Colonel was unequivocally and objectively good when it came to his Anna, according to the Christian tenets of restraint and humility and good old John’s ability to make anything about himself never going to waste and ignoring the fact that actually the prideful fool was choosing nothing, despite his frightening lack of restraint and uncontrollable rage when it came to violence, he could not rape anyone if he tried.

He gets out of bed and has another drink and crawls back in feeling a little less conscious than before. But even his dreams, those few precious hours of peace, turn against him. From tender touches and entwining fingers to downright sadomasochistic pornography, his own mind has seemingly joined forces against him with the rest of the universe.

Trapped on his back on some kind of couch/bed contraption that looks quite structurally impossible, impractical at best, looking up at Lucy and Anna hovering over him, smiling with devilish mouths. A slight tune from far away he recognizes in this irrational setting but it somehow makes perfect sense within itself. Faintly martial. Reminiscent of a sea shanty he hated. The sudden feeling of the tug of buttons of his waistcoat coming undone and the pleasurable shiver from four foreign hands sliding up under his shirt, over his skin. They take turns kissing him, then each other, then back on him (in what actually is more innocent and sweet than it sounds). He places one palm on his girl’s bare back (hot ivory) and the other to Lucy’s (downy dampness) and savors and compares the sensations before his hands fall away and he tries to reach out to them, but in the ever shifting rules of the dream world entire his body is totally limp and useless—except where the girls are now taking full advantage of him with twenty ticklish fingers. Lewd Lucy’s eager mouth finds its way to his aching lust, while a distracted Anna lovingly kisses his lips and face, only to abandon him and join her sister in sin below while he watches the two girls’ faces coming close together, chestnut and raven curls tumbling and tickling him as they take turns engulfing the length of him and then kissing each other, teasing and flicking with their tongues over their prized toy in their demented play. But the dream turns more sinister as, suddenly cured of his paralysis, he and a wicked Anna then force a poor defenseless Lucy onto her stomach, and he makes violent love to the grunting child from behind while his cold mistress only turns away, denying him even a touch or a voyeuristic thrill, increasingly sympathetic to the black cat who desperately wants her attention.

He believes himself awake only to find himself now standing alone in some bleak sand swept landscape where the wind blows without abatement, where he is unable to see more than a few feet ahead, and getting down on one knee, in his hands he is trying to screw on a bayonet that won’t fit, but the coupling is too small, his fingers can’t grasp it properly. Something is coming although what he does not know. Three mutilated bodies half buried in the sand. Suddenly materializing out of the storm, a mob of Indians? Yes some, but also with white men dressed as such, their faces and hair painted in black blood and white clay, the metal of their axe blades high over their heads as they approach dripping with a foul red. He tries to run, but they overtake him immediately and with inhuman strength bringing him to the ground, tying him bound and when he turns his head to see where they are dragging him, he sees a glistening black scalped, pale marble skinned Anna laid out upon onto a growing pile of smoking wood. Bound and abandoned by his captors who are surely saving him for a later more prolonged torture, he is forced helpless to watch, listen and smell the foul air filled with death. Much like the previous dream he had wandered from, his body is useless and he is trapped to witness the horror around him which is endless and the hours pass until it turns to night where the screams become even more unbearable, her charred body sends small slips of smoke where the presence of those who had gone before still linger on in the darkness about. Their voices carry back to him, or perhaps the echo of those voices. Unable to sob or move anymore, he lay listening in the dark to Anna gently calling his name.

He starts and grabs onto whatever is touching him (her arm). “I’m up,” he says before forgetting where he was and then whether he had said it or not repeats, “I’m up,” and in the confusion adds, “Ready my horse.”

“No no, don’t get up. You’re having a bad dream,” she whispers. “Go back to sleep.”

A dark figure of Anna hovers above him. “You’re ok?”

“Yes. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“No,” he yells and pulls her by the arm as she goes to walk away. “Where were you, girl?”

She sighs and yanks her arm out of his grasp. “Do you really want to know? Daniel threw up on me. Too much excitement I suppose. Go back to sleep now.”

“Wait, what?”

And he felt her soft warm lips kiss his forehead and before he could gain enough sobriety and consciousness to respond he had completely blacked out.

It is said that you must lose everything in order to gain it, or some other such far eastern nonsense, but as much as he deplored quotes of random foreign questionably translated texts, this one was becoming increasingly true. From that night on, something had in fact changed, everything as it were. An indescribable shift in the atmosphere occurred from that unconsummated day, that small taste of each other ignited something, the fire they rubbed left its brand on the most vulnerable, most vicious and tender points of their respective bodies.

The best months of his life begin with a week of awkward, random encounters that seem to spring up from a silent understanding, a wordless language they instantly both could know from a mere look, a mere proximity to the other. The first morning after their failure to conjoin, like a switch had been flipped when running into each other in the hallway, he simply touched her arm and suddenly she was in his arms and he kissed her, deeply, whimpering at the pleasure of it and they both pawed and writhed upon one another in a frenzied passion, only to slowly come to a natural conclusion and separate and go on without a word. His erotic education went on quickly. Starting that night and for six nights straight she came into his room in the early morning hours. The turning of the doorknob and creaking of steps waking him and in the hazy moonglow of the room he watched her perform a move that tugs a chord in his heart always and forever, lifting her thin gauze nightgown off over her head in one long lovely pull, and tossing it carelessly onto the floor before slipping beneath his blankets and stretching her cool nakedness out alongside him, kissing him, teasing him with lips teeth and tongue, driving him utterly mad, and in the darkness he learned her sacred itineraries by heart. Sometimes she did not go back to her bedroom, but slept with him. Not in his arms, not against him, but there alongside him.

The progression of their love making start slow but intense, making every encounter even more delectable than the last. Their celibacy officially ended the day he followed her for quite some yardage to an old stone building beneath a small grove of bushy trees, a pale purplish grey carriage house with a mossed over pitch roof, full of everything but carriages (although there are parts of one in there) a forgotten cobweb haven with a pile of old leather and oil cloth cushions they would make love on so often later. As he caught up with her and an overwhelming surge of need rushed through him and without a word he took her by the arm and making her trip over her own feet as she stumbled backward, he entwined his fingers into her hair and held her to the cold wall and kissed her until her lips were a plump, glistening red. He slowly lifted her dress to her waist, exposing her out in the daylight. He thought for a second she might try to run away, but still clutching her hair in one fist, he brushed her ear with his lips and while caressing her with his free hand, he began to torment her with a flowing stream of taunts and cruelty. Unable to hide her shameful excitement she yielded to him completely as he humiliated and molested her there in the rustic beauty and dusty shade of the entrance to the old stone structure.

A series of spasms later, dropping wordlessly onto her knees, while he lovingly petted her soft silky hair, his naughty little wench enthusiastically showed him her blessed linguistic skills.

Their secret romps of lips, fingers and tongues, not too unlike two children succumbing in the heat of passion, trying to hide their fatal and premature lust, pawing and feeding upon each other in desperate relief somehow made the entire thing even more unbearably erotic. Making him feel like he is fifteen again, stuck in a permanent semi-excited state and with all the ignorant baseless exhilaration and sweaty unease of being such a tender dumb age. Only unlike when he was fifteen, she is no apathetic whorelet or inexperienced paranoid virgin who ruins everything by constantly warning you not to do what you know you’re not supposed to do but you so want to do anyway, or that flurries into a panic over whether your fumbling finger has now ruined her for marriage. She is more exasperating and rapturous than he could have imagined, exasperating because of the sheer sensitivity of her trembling flesh, the way her body shivers and opens to him at his slightest touch; rapturous because he never experienced such an intense desire for any woman before, never obtained such a bliss or been so utterly enthralled in total submission. He always knew it would be special but never truly realizing, as the merest touch of her finger or mouth following a swollen vein produces not only a more potent but an essentially different bliss than the well-toned pelvis of the most learned young harlot.

And that night her knee is upon the bed when he notices her there. His no longer reluctant Lesbia coming up on the bed upon her knees and throwing one across his lap, straddling him, pressing her chest to his, laying her face against his collarbone.

“Anna,” he breathes and swallows hard, reaching his hands down along her thighs. “Please.”

“I know,” she says, and repeats sweetly, lightly kissing him, caressing his jaw with the cold palm of her little hand and he can make out in the dark the vague outline of her hair and the smiling brilliance of her eyes. “It’s alright.”

He buries his face into her neck and wraps his arms around her, up her curved back and winding one arm tightly around her waist and the other entwined in her hair. Bringing her mouth to his he kisses her, slow, deep, with all the hot and tender feeling in him, loving the taste of her, loving how her lips feel—so soft and full—between his lips.

"Touch me," she sighs, pulling his night shirt up, slowly rising and tilting her hips in little thrusts and exquisite drags against him, both of them moaning when she rubs her sex to his in maddening grinds. He brings his hands over around her back and down her rear and thighs, and with curling fingers, bunches up the fabric of her nightgown until he has two handfuls of it, and yanks it up and out from under her, up and over her head to somewhere on the floor below, and he instantly obeys her command, gliding his palms over her bare breasts while she shamelessly uses him, lost in her own pleasure, her fingers sharply digging into his chest, her eyes screwed shut, mouth panting, moving her soft wet flesh over his hard length as he touches, teases and caresses her. He listens to her panting, filling him with hot need. Each exhale an angelic whimper with her whole body stiff in anticipation until suddenly, in one quick motion that makes her cry out in surprise he rolls over onto her, sliding his hips in between her legs, into the yielding softness of her, connecting them finally.


OOO


He nearly jumps ten feet out of his skin when out of the silence she says, “Why do you smoke like that?”

“No reason,” he says, turning around from the edge of the bed, sitting back up against the headboard with her. “Just the way it’s done where I grew up. Local custom, I suppose. Habit.”

“You said once you were from India, is that right?”

He nods.

“It’s strange.”

“What is?”

“It seems like you know everything about me,” she says. “But I know nothing about you.”

“Not everything. Perhaps I shall keep you guessing.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

“Alright then,” he sighs, “what do you wish to know?”

“Did you ever marry?”

“No. Anything else?”

“Tell me why you joined the military.”

Oh ho, she is a subtle one. “That’s a long involved story,” he points out and immediately shifts the conversation back to his as she called it, “irksome habit”. Which had become more and more of a vice and he blames his hessians entirely as they are the most notorious smokers he has ever met in his life. Even the fat blunt smoking toothless grannies of Calcutta to Burma do not put a candle to these men. Not a moment of breath goes for them without a nauseating tobacco leaf burning in it and long term exposure to these people, sleeplessness that pushes madness and the stress of command lead from a social pipe after dinner, to the now minimum trice daily cheroot he cannot be without and it is no longer an uncommon knowledge amongst his officers to know when to approach him by being able to gauge his mood based on the amount of smoke puffing away over his head.

“I’ve seen soldiers now and then smoking that way only recently,” she says sitting up, leaning on an elbow, twisting her head to examine him, “I guess they’re from your neck of the woods, hm?”

“Perhaps. It’s much more convenient than a pipe. Would you like to try it?”

She scowls and retracts her head back, “I don’t know.”

“Come now,” he laughs as he hands it to her. “Women smoke back home, the natives you know.”

“The women do?”

“Only those of noble standing, and all the ladies—of what I suppose you could call court.”

“Harems you mean?” She asks and smiles coyly, and her own question further stoking her building curiosity she continues, “So, are the stories true? Have you seen them? What are they like?”

“Kept several, it’s required for all males. I tried to refuse, naturally, but when in Rome.”

“Oh? And you gave it all up to come here? How noble.”

“Hardly. It’s quite tiring you know, the constant demands, the dehydrating physical exertion. A man can hardly do little else.”

“Are you done having a good laugh at me?” she laughs and sighs. She takes the thinly rolled cigar in her fingers and inspects it before bringing it cautiously to her lips and taking a small drag.

“Never,” he smiles. “Well, what do you think?”

“I don’t really care for it to be honest,” she says, taking one more pull for confirmation and frowning and shaking her head. “And you shouldn’t smoke so much, it’s obnoxious, really. It’s all anyone can smell down the hallway anymore.”

“Yes, mam,” he sighs, taking it back from her and placing it on a small tin plate. “Perhaps we shall stay away from pagan love making as well then.”

“John,” she says, her tone shifting to serious, “are you really from India?”

“Conceived in even.”

“Will you tell me about it? I’ve never met anyone who has been so far away.”

Is she kidding? It’s a good thing his pet was never very good at her (alleged) dabbles in espionage as he would tell her anything she wants laying against him in the dark with the soft glow across her white breast and small pale (pink!) nipples peeking just above the sheet, oh, anything at all.

“Well,” he says, clearing his throat and putting on an air as if he were to tell her a tale from a long time ago in a place far away, pulling her into his arms, “it’s quite far. Quite hot.”

“And there are elephants?” she interrupts his bumpy narration.

“—Yes. Oh yes.”

Turns out ever since Anna was a beaming, soft faced red gingham frock wearing sunshine dappled Annabellette (as he envisions her), when her father gave her the picture book, The Fantastic and Definitive Bestiary of Asia with highly deformed illustrations of feature warped leopards and out of scale crocodiles, and that other than the comical monkeys (“vile beasts,” he interjects angrily, “I knew a boy who kept one as a pet, and it did nothing masturbate and steal,” much to her disappointment and pause in mute disgusted fascination before she went on), no other animal captivated her the way the elephants had and she was never quite sure if such a grand and strange animal could be real. The Arabian Nights, and all their localized variations, were her favorite stories as a child, and haunted lamps, elephant riding sultans, lavish moon palaces, orgy occupied harems, camel caravans and flying textiles were of obvious specialness to her. He never saw magic carpets, sandy deserts, or much of anything she thought was in his geography, but who is he to ruin her childhood delight (and the complete success of channeling that through him)? What would you like, my downy pet, wish granting pagan spirits in the gilded mosques built upon the sandy white beaches of Africa? Treacherous viziers with bad foresight? Monkey gods and man eating tigers of the deepest jungles? Turkish slave armies raping, plundering and laying waste through fire and blood? Adultery indicating mirrors and syphilitic caliphs? I have seen them all!

He settles on telling her of the pleasure addicted shameless imperials and nobility he did see on occasion and know of as everyone did as of the harems of thousands of beauties plucked from across the lands, girl-children nymphets, thin hipped boys and full sumptuous harlots for the taking, a world unlike he could accurately describe. She easily believes him when he tells her several British men adopted the culture with open arms, encouraged others to follow suite which was met with varying results, taking their own Indian wives and harems.

“Naturally,” she sighs.

He like the many was not the son of any high ranking official or was ever living in any silk lined incense infused palaces full of degenerate sex and opium, and can only tell her the eye witness anecdote she is so hungry for of a world he himself only saw the smallest glimpses of, really only once, when a magnificent procession of some young important fop to meet with the Company commanders and big-wigs (literally, the size of men’s wigs in his father’s day were at peak practicality and thank God on the way out) near the fort came close by the small bungalow they were living in and his father scooped him up so he could see above the crowd of onlookers and beggars that plagued every royal every mile of every journey they made. He remembers clearly smelling through the stench of the crowd that telltale animal odor before he saw them, and the anxious anticipation of his father bouncing him slightly and pointing down the road as they came into view the long line of the most elegant and fine elephants and horses and camels he would ever see, all painted and draped in the colors of earth and sky, the accompanying soldiers and slaves and other court followers dressed in shimmering waves of white silk and everything in metals of silver and gold, flags and cloths waving and snapping on the dusty wind the march created, the gleam of rich jeweled daggers and swords, the gilded frames of the coaches reflecting the sunlight in his eyes.

A small coach atop a pink mottled young elephant draped in a red and yellow contained two beautiful black painted eyes belonging to one veiled girl who peered out and waved a heavy gold encumbered hand at the people, tossing some coins to the street nearly causing a fight (in all fifteen people had been killed he found out later from various altercations and tragic mishaps along the route near their little village, as nothing happens [in India] without [at least one] death was the saying but so brashly accurate it was more of a statement of fact than humorous idiom) in a swarming group of pole limbed potbellied children and incredibly strong grannies in filthy scarves before hiding back beneath her ostrich feather shades held by the most foreign and strange looking men he’d ever seen. Slave eunuchs, gifts, his father explained to him later, from the Turkish Empire and the fat bearded sultans of Africa. The great procession of wealth went on for at least a mile and still in his father’s arms they followed along to the fort and watched the lines of familiar red coats welcome and receive them behind a great stone wall until he complained he was getting rather hungry, and his father put him back down and hand in hand they walked back home telling great tales of the gilded dynasties of the Oriental empires, their blood soaked conquests and little enclaves of pretty young rarely clothed slave girls guarded by castrated exotics.

It is not an unpleasant memory of his childhood, quite a special one even he realizes that he had not brought forward in some time and that slight twinge in his chest reminds him of why, and this must have shown through as he catches her gazing at him with that tragic pleasure women find in orphans and cripples and weepy men.

“You loved him very much didn’t you?”

He stubs out what is left of his cigar and smiles while enfolding her into his arms and pulling her back down beneath the covers, burying his face into her hair. Was she really here? Had she always smelled so good? He could tell her of some stories she had not heard of Mughal lovers and morally conflicted tigers, the monkey goddess of the jungle and snake charmers of Hindustan? She listens intently. It’s adorable, really, as they end back at the elephants and something an everyday sight to him was to her like he was describing alien life forms from another planet. He inly adores her and tells her he saw them just as right as he was seeing her now. They are everywhere in that country. Big beasts, he tells her, grey and pink fleshed with horrible thick leathered skin and sad yarn lashed eyes, decorated in the brightest colors and intricate designs were used by the richest and in the most pomp circumstances. Others were used as beasts of burden. For moving lumber, for hauling, for war. The life blood of the tropics is on the backs of elephants, they’re everywhere, nothing special really, please lift your leg higher my dear.

“How?” she asks.

He kisses her shoulder and tells her they train them. Domesticate them, break them. Trembling now as just the soft length of her thigh slides against him as she slips herself beneath him.

“It sounds like another world.”

“It’s an actual hell,” he says flatly, resting on his elbows and entwining fingers through her hair. “Trust me, it’s much happier here.”

After being the subject of his gaze she asks, “What is it?”

“I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Me neither,” she smiles.

“I don’t know whether this is real or if I should hurry before I wake up.”

She kisses him and says, “Don’t go too fast.”

 

Chapter Text

PART II

 

By mid-October autumn hangs heavily in the air. Every now and again a small yellowing leaf falls from a tree; the vast harvested fields, have a bright emptiness. Along the forest’s edge, where an expanse of tall grass spared by the haymakers shows its sheen to the wind, fat black bumblebees sleep on the yellow ruffles of flowers. The faint blue of the sky, still not warmed up after the night, a single small cloud starts to turn pink with an unearthly grace about its long, thin outline. The air is crisp on the lung, the sun is still struggling to make it past the horizon and the smell of woodsmoke hangs heavily on the morning’s mist.

From the black branches of some trees, a flock of sparrows flutters away with an airy rustle and settle on the swaying tops of a row of drooping sunflowers as he moves his horse on. When he reaches a crest overlooking an amber glade, he can make out a small hamlet below that sits nestled innocently amongst the picturesque agrarian backdrop, already filled with men and women hunched over in the green fields full of white flowering tobacco, twisted teepees of sun crisped corn stalks dotting across their empty field, lines of wagons loaded high with red gourds and yellow squashes that criss-cut through the greenery and grainery. The Colonel sits slouched in his saddle, sipping at his cold weak coffee he made out of three-week-old grounds and revolting water he strained out of a muddy surely disease festering ditch, observing, waiting; listening to a cow moo somewhere almost dreamily in a far off field. As the sun rises higher and higher and the hamlet grows ever lighter, in step with it, the entire area coming to life, losing its strange shadowy charm.

He shakes out the dregs of his cup and puts it away. He pulls out a small journal and piece of graphite and makes a rough sketch of the buildings and their surroundings, making notes of the distances and any obstacles and he moves on down a narrow private round that leads around the settlement that he hopes will give him a better vantage point.

Not far down the road he hears the unmistakable shrieking and laughter of children. Veering off the into the brush he sets his horse beneath some dense trees and dismounts and walks on foot up until the source of the racket was in view: a half burnt two story farm house turned into a makeshift play area for a handful of young children.

The children had looted several horse blankets, feather beds, furniture cushions, bags of laundry and whatever else they could find that was soft scattered amongst the destruction and piled them up outside the second story window. One climbs onto the other’s shoulders, hoisting themselves up onto the scorched landing of brick that still holds up the partially exposed second story. After disappearing inside for a moment, they reappear at the window, then wildly jump with shrieking screams of excitement onto the gathered cushioning twenty feet below to the great encouragement and warnings of danger from the audience of children. A little girl with white-blonde hair and a bulky canvas dress plummets from the window and lands and bounces off the pile and almost immediately starts to cry. A boy goes to her and looks at her hand and inspects it and shrugs his shoulders. He helps her up and goes back to joining his cohorts to the thrill ride of the window.

The sobbing girl cradles her hand to her chest she walks away from the mob of youngsters and sits down on a ripped and filthy wingback chair towards the back of the shambled property into the uncut wood that backs it. She cries to herself for a bit before looking around and inexplicably she notices the Colonel. She looks down at her lap nervously and away and then back to see if he’s still looking at her. He thinks to move but before he can turn she’s already started walking across the clearing that flanks the house towards him.

Slowly at first, cautious and halting, she looks back to the house before gaining confidence and she soon skips to him in that way little fae children do, so magically and fluttering and weightless on their impossibly frail legs.

“Are you hurt?” he asks her when she stops about ten feet in front of him just past the cover of the brush.

“I fell.”

“I saw.”

She looks him over. Looks back to the house then again to him.

“Did you break anything?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s take a look, shall we?”

She just stares at him. Closer up he can see she’s a child of complete destitution. Wearing no shoes and her feet and knees blackened. Her too big for her canvas dress greyed and blotched black. Her sunken bright eyes peer from her skull from behind streaks of ash on ivory. Thin and gaunt. A strange beauty.

He crouches down with his elbows upon his knees and rests his weight back on his heels. “It’s alright. I won’t hurt you.”

She approaches him slowly with her left arm extended straight out and points to her wrist and forearm. “There.”

“Right there?” She nods and he gingerly takes her ash streaked arm in his hand and he looks at her tiny twin knobbed wrist. A small puncture wound followed by a trail of spotted coagulating rubies runs just above the delicate bones, a slight swelling in the fingers. He pushes his fingertips into the joints of her arm and then tells her to bend her wrist back and forth and she does. “Does it hurt to move?” Her face in deep contemplation, then: “I don’t know.” He tells her to move it in circles and shows her with his own how to turn it around and around and she copies him in great seriousness. He suddenly wiggles his fingers which creates a most delightful laughter from her. He smiles and tells her he thinks she’ll live.

He thinks for a moment he might have something on him for her and he stands up and goes to his horse and unbuckles a saddle pouch and pulls out a leftover piece of hard dumpling from the night before and hands it out to her. “Are you hungry?”

She shakes her head and trots up to him and goes to snatch it out of his hand but then looks up to him, unsure.

“Go ahead,” he urges.

With cautious fingers she grabs the starchy ball and takes a huge bite out of it with her tiny white teeth. She looks him over and stares at his pistol and then to his horse and back to him. Swallows. Blue eyes touch his own. Her mouth still full of half chewed boiled dough she asks, “You be here to get the bad men out, sir?”

He nods and crouches back down to her level and leans on one knee and looks at her. “That’s right, dear lady. I’m on a very important, very secret mission.”

“For honest?”

“Do you think you can you help me?”

The girl nods slowly with wide tear stained blushed eyes. She eagerly wipes her face and nods with more vigor, her face brightening. “I want to help. I can help.”

“What’s your name, love.”

“Sarah. Sarah Marie Kettleman.”

“It’s a pleasure, Miss Sarah,” he says, handing her his last dumpling. “My name is John.”

She looks back towards the house and around as if to make sure their conspiring remain secret from spying ears. Softly she says to him, “There were bad men here.”

“I know,” he whispers back. He looks around and to the children still playing at the burnt out house in the distance. “Are these your brothers and sisters?”

She shakes her head they aren’t. They are a group of children she only knows from the neighboring farm and two are ‘quite rude’ and one a ‘right out scoundrel’. “He pushed me when I tried to jump, you saw it?”

“Your parents?”

“Dead, sir.”

“Listen Sarah, I’m searching for a house owned by a man named Ole, do you know of him?”

She nods.

“Can you show me where it is?”

She smiles and nods again. Helpful Sarah points off past the burnt house towards the river, telling him of the shingled house that has a big red trough for the horses that was in fact recently moved by the men who made quick ash to the house turned child’s playground, to the opposite side of the bridge it had been placed on. She continues on how two barns were ripped down to make new fencing. When he inquires why they had done this he finds out a most extraordinary bit of information, one that completely contradicts his own. He was under the information they had all left, but apparently for whatever reason, according to Sarah Kettleman, an inexact number were still present and doing something at the river. As it turns out, this little angel was sent to protect him after all.

“That’s a good girl.” He smiles and gently squeezes her upper arm and pushes back the hair from her face. “You best get back to the others.”

He stands up and rifles through his food rations and gives her his last little sack of parched corn, mounts his horse and looks down at the little girl. Skinny and bruised and dirty and without shoes she stands staring at him. Stark blond like his brother was. He’d be sixteen now. No, seventeen. He wonders if he would have stayed that blond. He leans forward in the saddle with his fingers crossed on the horn and sighs. The children at the house have begun to move on, their voices faint and distant. He looks at the burnt house across the small floodplain this filthy fairy skipped across to him and the pinewoods and the brightening sweep of the morning sky beyond, then back down to her, her deep blue eyes still upon him, staring intently.

This discarded stray.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he declares, and dismounts. “Would you like to come with me?”

“If I’m late to my chores, I be whipped bloody, sir.”

“Do you like it there?”

She shakes her head. “I miss living with my mama.”

“What if I told you, you don’t have to go back there ever again?”

“What’d you mean?”

He crouches back down to her level and using all his persuasive skill and charm, and with conspiratory undertones, he puts a hand on her arm and holds it as he says, “Look here dear, it may not look like much, but this is a most treasured item of mine.” He leans back and reaches into his waistband and takes out a brass handled dagger in a worn leather sheath that is roughly the size of her spindly forearm and hands it to her. “Within it, lies blessed protective powers. Whoever wields it, becomes invincible.”

She turns it over in her delicate hands and looks at it and then him and then back in disbelief. “Wow. For true?”

“What you hold is the dagger of a monstrous man onboard a Turkish slave ship. The brute must have been seven feet tall and with a great black beard, his ugly face all scarred up and with one eye missing, a dreadful fright of a creature, who came at me with a huge sword,” (imitating a looming swinging motion at the fascinated child), “and I prayed to Christ Almighty because I knew for sure I was soon to be extinguished most brutally by this devilish man. But impossibly, against all odds, I managed to overtake and kill the villain, by taking this dagger off his waistband and shoving it deeply into his flank,” (the gruesomeness and his exaggerated gesturing and narrating tones delighting her). “So you see, it’s very special to me. He was the first man I killed with my own hands. And it has protected me ever since.”

“It’s lovely,” she says, her bemused eyes looking over the nicked blade, the small spiral of scrollwork at the tip of the hilt, the thick round finger guard that curls under itself at the base of the blade.

“And since you’re officially a member of the royal provincial forces now, providing me with such invaluable intelligence,” he says, taking it from her hands and pulling the blade from its sheath, holding it out to show it to her, waving and turning it in between them. “That puts you under my command and care. And as such, no one will whip you ever again.”

“Really?”

He nods. “But you see, I worry about losing my treasure. Back in the times of old, there was a very special person who would be entrusted to care for and carry their master’s most special and sacred swords and weaponry. So, would you like to be my sword bearer? It’s a very important job, though, I’m unsure such a small girl can handle it.”

“No, I can” she says quickly and solemnly shaking her head she says, “I can do it. I’ll do it.”

“You’re sure? It’s a big responsibility.”

“Aye, sir. I promise.”

“Now, if anyone at all ever tries to harm you, you have my permission to use it without delay. But only then.”

“Can you show me how?”

He smiles. “I will teach you anything you would like to know, my dearest child.”

He angles the blade and mimics a quick stabbing motion. “Just like that. In the face. The gut. The cock. Wherever you can. And then you run for your life. Understand?” The girl nods her head and he places the blade back in its leather sheathing and places it back in her hand. “We’ll have a better lesson later, hmm?”

“Okay.”

Standing up and brushing the leaves and dust off his knees he says, “Let’s get a move on.”

“Where are we going?”

“Wherever the king needs us.”

“Like knights?”

He picks her up under the arms and swings her up onto the saddle. “Like soldiers.”

He mounts and sits behind her and moves the horse on. She happily chatters in between shoveling corn into her mouth, as they make their way back up round through the wood, down the road and out towards the meet up point with his other patrols. As she goes on, she tells him all sorts of activities and interpersonal gossip out of the mouth of babes taking place at her rebel assisting hamlet tucked upon the river and while she does, a plan is quickly forming in his mind on how to best approach this new situation.

But his unease and anxiety is being caused not by some chance there could be any worrisome opposition waiting for them, but his mind dwelling on his biggest worry: dark and sad, a little over five feet in height, soft and sun kissed, surprisingly strong legged, the fire of his life and he, the perpetual disappointment in hers.

They had parted on circumstances that left him in great anxiety and everyday he spends out in the field away, it only increases exponentially. The events of the summer now seeming like some fantastical dream.

It all came about innocuously, and how all temptation of our downfalls present, in our most happiest of joys and pleasures. Sometime around mid-summer when the weather became an unbearable and constant misery, it had turned out an irrigation trench and thorny bower he and a fellow officer sat in for eight hours while watching a road, keeping themselves concealed from the enemy was not only a source of keeping his feet soaking wet, but even worse, a log he was leaning against was the home of a raving nest of unhappy fire ants that left his legs, hands and back covered in painfully itchy red welts the size of saucers. After departing from this unhappy mission of which he spent a blistering week in the sun, he had returned late in the evening upon his utmost pain with a headache that refused to cease, and his utmost joy to find his dearest just as her bewitching German literary sister, still the same bright, beautiful creature whose presence softens pain, and sheds happiness around whichever way she turns.

Watching her through the open half of the Dutch door of the kitchen, she sat at the table writing something, a letter perhaps (to him?), lost in rapturous concentration that caused the tip of her tongue to curl at the corner of her mouth, and as he looked on, the sweet girl sighed dreamily and flipped her page over. Her loose pale yellow frock happened to be so deeply cut out behind that whenever she moved her back while tilting her head, he could make out the sharp hourglass slopes of her prominent shoulder blades, hints of her silky ensellure, that salty long snake of vertebrae he loved kissing so much peeking out beneath the bunched fabric.

Head throbbing, but heart longing, he opened the door and took her into his arms and tried to kiss her, only for her to jerk her head away and look over him in shock and horror and welcomed him with, “Dear God in Heaven, what happened to you?”

“Just a few too many days in the sun, and in—some very angry large red ants,” he cajoled looking at his red puffy hands, and tried to playfully joke it off but apparently he looked quite the fright and she led him by the arm to his room as if he were a confused invalid wandering the hallways at a late hour.

And his heart might have ruptured into a million pieces at her worry and concern over his condition as she, with the assistance of one of the nicer house-girls named Phoebe, (a chubby cute little fille de joie which he gave a crate of goslings to that he had seized and has ever since left his bed well aired and fluffed, double sheeted and always greets him with a flirtatious jab and an update on how “his geese” are), attended to him immediately. Rushed a long in a daze, she had him sit down and he wondered if he were in a dream, and perhaps it was the feverish haze he was in from his sun touched skull, for she knelt down before him and in what would look to any unknowing outsider to be a typical domestic scene of a dutiful wife removing her husband’s boots and socks, to inspect and mourn with delicate fingertips over his blistered raw feet and the swollen red bumps where nasty insects had feasted. And wouldn’t you know, she had an array of waters and ointments his thoughtful girls had made while he was gone for him knowing he’d been suffering terrible sunburn and all the ravages of the wilds of the country made from the recipes in the very book he had gotten her. How could one tolerate it all?

While Phoebe filled up the copper tub with buckets of water, Anna loaded his arms with clean towels and clothes and ordered him to take a cold bath, much to his disappointment alone, handing him a jar with a finely milled powder (“What is it?” he asked to which she replied smiling, “Grainies and thingies, as my mother called it.”) to add to the water that would help soothe his skin and cool his blood down. It smelled not unpleasant and so he dumped the entire amount of it into the water, making it milky and smooth to the touch. The cereal smell brought him right back to when he and his brother were regularly doused together in the very same kind of water during a childhood battle with an itchy pox that left them both with a series of deep holes in their little faces and bodies, and over the years as rambunctious and careless boyhood encounters with the unforgiving tropical sun, local vermin and irritating plant life happened. He sank with an achy groan and a sigh of pleasured relief when the cold water hit his hot skin. Leaning his head back on the fat metal lip of the tub he closed his eyes, hoping the pounding throb in his skull would subside, and letting the gleeish delight of her attention bring a stupid grin to his stupid sunburned face.

When he was thoroughly shriveled and soaked and feeling a bit chilled, he exited the tub, carefully dried himself and put on the pair of baggy trousers she so thoughtfully had given him. He walked barefoot and sans-shirt back to his room on the table next to his bed was a glass filled with a steaming liquid. He picked it up and smelled it and nearly wretched. Bitter roots, willow bark, vinegar, brandy and something he could not identify. Fermenting goat’s milk?

From the doorway she came in and he heard her say, “Drink all of that, now. Every drop.”

“But—”

“No arguing now,” his nursemaid reprimanded. “Drink it all and sit yourself down. Consider your luck that it’s not going in the other route.”

He did not argue. He drank the swill down and chased it with a glass of warm water that did not help much and sat down on the edge of the bed. She placed a towel soaked in a pleasant smelling water upon his neck and ears and the top of his head and gave him another to hold to his hot burning face.

On her knees behind him, with careful fingers she parted his hair exposing the painful burned areas of his scalp and ears and gasped. “Heaven’s be John, a person could go mad from the sun like this, I’ve heard terrible stories.”

“Yes, yes,” he murmured, wincing while she gingerly applied a thick rich smelling ointment to the blisters and raw skin he had scratched bloody. He listened as she went on about the horror story of some poor child who was left baking in a field only to grow up simple in every way except he could without fail accurately predict the weather, like some yokel oracle and he became quite an important person in the village, but he died suddenly and horribly, and it was somewhere around there his attention to what she was saying was drowned out by how his heart slammed in his chest at her simple touch, the proximity of her! Even still! He could not help but be moved by all this, and how in her presence he so easily allowed himself feel the sweet joy and sense of wholeness that can only come from being weak before another, and being safe to do so, letting his mind and soul fill with the peace that somehow this simple girl possesses all control over. He wondered if she even realized what agonies her little familiarities inflicted upon him, as her knees and the warmth of her thighs bumped and leant against him, her hand brushing through his hair, her warm breath on his nape, fingertips dabbing at his weepy disgusting wounds, smiling, laughing, stabbing his soul, stirring his desire.

Suddenly her story and lecturing and his reverie was interrupted and in synchronous motion they both turn their heads towards the door as a spying Lucy who had witnessed the scandalous scene of Anna kneeling behind a hardly dressed Colonel on his bed, shamelessly attending to his exposed skin, had stepped on a creaking board and given her position away completely. She did not say anything and quickly slunk away, surely to go weep into her Frankish embroidered pillow.

“You left the door open?”

“Aye, I suppose I did.”

“You are quite devious, madam. You continue to both impress and enchant me.”

“I think from now on, she won’t be liking either one of us very much. I’d say you are in my debt, eh?”

“So there was an ulterior motive afoot?”

“I’m simply sick of her skulking and tiresome pining to be honest,” she laughed softly and paused for a moment. “But,” she started and smiled and bit her lip and then looked back down to inspect his hands. “Now that you mention it, there is one thing I wanted to ask of you, Colonel. But we can speak of it later.”

She hopped off the bed and placed a piece of oilcloth on his pillow and then covered it with a wet towel for him to lay and soak his sun stroked scalp upon. There in the bed, he laid upon his back with his eyes closed and she placed a soothing cool towel across his face and told him to leave it there. She drew the curtains shut to darken the room and he felt the mattress sink when she sat down alongside him. He soon felt the skin tingling cold wetness of a foul smelling vinegar she began applying to his bite wounds, lifting and rolling up his pant legs, her cool fingers played delectably across his skin while she applied her loving treatment to his body and busying herself with changing the towels on his pillow and face with fresh water as his sweltering skin burned through them almost instantaneously.

After fifteen minutes or so of her loving dark room treatment, he noticed the throbbing pain in his skull had been reduced to a light ache and he only felt like ripping his skin off every ten breaths instead of two. Raising the towel off his face she softly asked, “Better?”

“A little.”

She smiled at him. “What would you do without someone to take care of you? How did you ever manage to get this far?”

He smiled at her. “You should join me in the field, assisting Mr. McKernon.”

“And who is Mr. McKernon,” she inquired taking the folded towel laying across his closed eyes and forehead and rinsing it in the basin.

“Our surgeon, of course. You would make an excellent nurse.”

She laughed and shook her head and curled up her nose. “Me? On a battlefield?”

“I think you possess more strength than half the men there. You’re certainly smarter than most, God in Heaven, you should hear these mindless misfits I’m surrounded by constantly,” he cried, taking her cold tonic scented (milk, oranges, lemons, sugar candy) fingers into his hands and inhaling, lovingly kissing their soft pads before lying his head back on his stiff but soothingly cool wet pillow. “How I have missed you—your angelic voice, your bright face; my perfect, luminescent darling. The terrors of war and the banalities of vulgar peasantry, you are the only relief I have from such sufferings. You are my only friend.”

“You flatter me, as usual, Colonel,” she smiled, and brought a cool towel across his eyes, “but I also think you’re still a bit touched from the sun, hmm?”

“Perhaps,” he said, lifting up the cloth off his eyes and reaching a hand out to her face, teasing her pink lips with his thumb, running the backs of his fingers along her jaw and down her chest and gently caressed her through her dress. “I’ve missed you, unbearably so, that is no lie or sun induced madness.”

“You’ve been missed here as well.”

“Have I?”

Standing up slowly, she turned herself away from him and went to the door and closed it, turning the lock behind her.

She came and stood back alongside the bed and turned her back to him and he realized she was working the complicated series of pins of her dress undone, placing each one with a plink down into a tin tray on the bedside table. Soon each layer fell away until she was down to her stay. With his eager help, it came quickly unlaced and was thrown to the floor as he pulled her to his side into the bed, lifting her shift up over her head and taking her soft full breasts into his hands, devouring her, kissing the long pink crenulations the cruel garment left imprinted upon his love’s tender flesh.

But before he could get too carried away she stopped him and reminded him to keep his wet head on his pillow of which he was not convinced and replied with a growling, “Make me,” into her chest and made her laugh to which she slapped his bright red neck cruelly. “Stay put. You are not allowed to move,” she said, ripping herself from his grip and sitting up alongside him.

“And if I don’t? Will you give me a good spanking like a naughty schoolboy?”

“I have a feeling you would enjoy that.”

“One never knows unless they try.”

“Now quit being vulgar and lie back,” she groaned pushing him down.

“Yes, mam,” he sighed heavily, flopping back on the bed, half annoyed half dying of need.

The fingers of a hand trailed playfully down the hair of his chest and belly and stopped just above the Major’s Revenge before very lightly petting the copper hairs over it.

“That’s because of you, you know,” he said, taking her hand and bringing it to a lower latitude that was in much more urgent need of her touch. “I nearly died.”

“Did you,” she said flatly, with that inscrutable way of hers that leaves one to guess whether it is sarcasm or sincere concern or some mock imitation of the two, while caressing him with mysterious, impure eyes. A shiver flooded through his veins he sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth when she leant down to press her lips to the jagged translucent skin of the scar.

“Did it hurt terribly?”

“You have no idea.”

“Poor darling,” she sighed, rising upon one knee and swinging the other over his waist, settling her warmth down across his hips, hot inviting Venus nestled just above a longing Mars, her little curling toes digging into his bite ravaged thighs. She sat upright upon her bended knees letting him gaze upon her, bent forward and kissed his chapped lips and then cryptically, very quietly, said, “I wonder, would you do it again?”

He traced with his fingertips her breasts with one hand, then let his hand fall away. She repositioned herself, using his shoulders as foundations for her spread palms holding her straight arms up, her eyes watching his face. “I said something wrong?”

He sighed and sunk his fingers into her hair and brought her mouth to his. He tenderly kissed her and against her lips he said, “No, nothing wrong.”

She smiled darkly at him in a way that both sent a thrill and deep unease through him as she put the flat palm of her hand on his chest while connecting them with the other, and then, there was just the feel and taste of her and everything was washed away, flooded in the force of desire.

And it was after the final throbs of this reunion and during its glowing aftermaths of soft kisses and whispers the conversation ended up in a place where before he knew it, she managed to get him to agree, while he was home at least, to allow her out under his omnipresent thumb. She made a very compelling case to his sex sated self that he could see no logical reason to object to: They had been there for nearly a year, she had not tried to leave or break their heavily one sided agreement in some time (to his knowledge). Everything flowed from her lips in soft and sweet tones, her balmy breath on his lips and cheek, fingers lazily in his hair; she could have asked him to resign his commission and become a crab fisherman and he would have agreed it sounded just brilliant. It would not be often, she pointed out eagerly before he could make his counter argument which never came, it was only to a neighbor’s for “normal” activities and socialization, there was a lovely group of ladies who she got on with and it would all be just fine and merry and roses. Listening to her go on begging for such small humane freedoms made an ashen sense of awfulness creep over him, as what kind of monster would he be to deny her? And as she pointed out, wouldn’t it seem stranger and more suspicious that she never is allowed to visit others? He agreed that it was. And wouldn’t it be nice for her to be able have prayer and tea with others? Dear God, yes! Yes! Why not just stab him in the eye?

It was when he was under these spells of confused bliss in which she took advantage of his weakened state. Whether it was intentional or not he still does not know. Although he’d be fool to say that she did not leave slivers of doubt in his mind whether real or imagined, and perhaps, because he was a fool, even still, he did not feel himself deceived. When he looked at her dark smiling eyes he could see, could feel her sincere warmth, and dare he even say, dare he even believe his own heart that screams to him ceaselessly, she loves me, she loves me…

So he agreed to her desires, every last one of them, and she beamed and squealed with such radiant joy, kissing him with no restraint or hint of platonic notion, crushing her soft chest to his chest, slowly reawakening the spent spire, telling him how happy he had made her and then showing her gratitude in acts and airs that sent a rutting heat through his veins, that he felt a complete self-satisfied ease with his obvious and pathetic capitulation.

How strange it is when we know for a fact that a decision made is destined and we know will only bring us sorrow and destruction later, and despite this knowledge, this ability of logic and high intelligence granted to us from God making us supposedly greater than the beasts of the earth, that we willingly ignore it! We ignore it for those irresistible immediate gratifications, promises of hopes we know that will never come true, just to experience those overflowing emotions, to ease the pain for those brief moments, regardless of the cost, it seeming so far off and like a vague possibility rather than a foreboding inevitability. He could not help himself. Like the barren woman who knows she simply cannot bear to hold another’s precious bundle, knowing it will increase her suffering and lead to the darkest of despair, only to be the first to volunteer when the opportunity arises. And it all seemingly occurring without our control.

He hadn’t yet realized it just yet, but something deep inside him had morphed into some insidiously jealous, dark and paranoid devil that ceaselessly whispered conspiracies and threats of both the probable and improbable to him, with his ability to distinguish the difference fading by the day. And it was when he allowed his grip to slacken on her, to let that control slip, he found himself unprepared at the incredible fierceness his selfish obsession with possessing her, realizing the limits of such, had developed into an obsessive fear of losing her.

Thinking that the mere possession of her would be enough to quell his heart; he found it nonetheless confused, desperate. There was still an aching emptiness that could not be filled, a distance between them impossible to close. She was his, but he was no fool. She was not. Even while inside her, feeling her hot grip on him, the lengths of their bodies pressed close he still felt a painful longing, a need to give her more, to possess her completely. It was only in dreams, mere madman’s demented fantasies that he could fully shed himself of this torment, to turn her delicate insides out and give as much attention and know so intimately her sacred insides as he did to the every pore of her external self—along the tight strings of her heart, to adore and explore with his lips the silent pulsing blood vines of her precious iliac crests, the sunny fat globules over her flittering kidney, the glorious reds and blacks and pinks and whites of her fiery matrix itself; to be one with her, to slake his desire in an unending pool of her rich blood.

But even so, despite these pitfalls and disillusionments of reality, it was not that he was unhappy. On the contrary, he had never known such joy or been a more cheerfully annoying person in his three decades on this planet. Colors became brighter and richer. The wonderful feeling of the warmth of the sun saturating his soul and the songs of birds a simple delight. Things that would have seemed so important a year ago, became trivial. Things that disrupted his soaring heart and tempted to bring the draining pain of rage, seemed less able to rouse it. She to him was a sacred being in which all passion, all life resided.

One is lead to believe that familiarity breeds contempt, and perhaps this is true, but for him it only seemed to fill his heart with a deep peace that carried with him throughout his absences and sustained his heart, making him smile and find the most pleasurable indulgences in the most childish or simple of things. His days home were spent waking up alongside her, seeing that small shape beneath the covers, with her dark silks spread unceremoniously across his pillows filled him with such a deep gratitude and sense of peace that he would lay silent and watch her sleep, to watch the slow rise and fall with her every breath, her unguarded innocence making her even more charming, more precious.

For every morning to wake her with soft kisses to her bed-warm nape, the feeling of the naked aura of her warmth against his bare skin, the times she sat alongside him and shared the waning sunset and he slipped his hand into hers and she did not recoil, she did not sigh, she did not stiffen in response but instead with every bit of tender gentle intent, entwined her fingers through his. Neither spoke a word but he feared his chest might rupture from the reverberations of his heart’s song as her simple tender gestures spoke to him what she never would not or perhaps could not say with words. When all seemed hopeless he would hear her voice echo from a distant room or at times sing her enchanting melodies and all was dispersed, like a heavenly air sweeping through him, lifting the madness and despair, letting him breathe freely once more.

Happiness or what we think of when we hear the word, that abused over saturated meaningless word, in comparison seemed so superficial. Happiness is what you felt when you overindulged in candies or you received a letter from an old friend. What he felt, was not as childish and fleeting as happiness. It was sanctity. He kept a small folded bundle of her letters on his person tied in a ribbon steeped in her perfume and like a superstitious peasant or papist, he held the firm belief they provided him with some kind of protection, a piece of his peace in physical form, a relic of her grace with him into the hazards of war. For after all, she had saved him from death once before and he knew with all the faith he was capable of, that she was his gift from God. He had never felt more invincible, nothing seemed impossible, the world was a beautiful, a serenely beautiful and brutal place.

He was more in love with her than ever. He was drunk upon her, selfishly loving her as much as possible, gorging himself upon her, becoming an expert in all things Anna until her essence hung ceaselessly on his senses, while he can, before she disappears, before he leaves to never return; to whatever end. And so in his desperation to make his object of desire happy he made a bad decision. Followed by several more. But alas, she was evil, he was in thrall, and in manipulating him with both her hold over his happiness and certain carnal, unworldly pleasures that he could not live more than a few days without, all rational reasoning went out the window.

At first, he was proud of his decision. He had shown her a huge leap of faith, showing her he trusted her and wanted her happiness, he wanted her to be free, which he truly deep in his heart did. For what essentially was normalcy, or as close as it would be possible for them, was all he ever truly wanted. And she was never happier with him. They must have found themselves entwined at least twice a day those following weeks and he was convinced that it was a simple beeline to happily ever after. How did this love thing ever seem so difficult before?

However, as all things go, especially when it comes to love, something always comes along to piss on our happiness and joy. And in this case it was about a hundred and fifty pounds, with curly raven glossy black hair and teeth whiter than nature would ever permit. While out speaking to one of his officers about acquiring new horses, upon her return one afternoon he made out in the distance Anna exiting a carriage followed by a man in a dreadful tan and mauve coat with powder blue breeches. His name, as he would find out later, Samuel Barret, a begrudgingly to admit dashing man. They crossed a ways from the carriage which they walked through the small garden of late blooming coneflowers towards the house. He overtook her finally and they stopped and spoke. She twisted her body side to side and would look down and back up again like she did when she was nervous. She was wearing a dress she had made out of the fabric he had bought, soft pink and green, her intolerably pale and graceful nape was turned towards him as he watched this handsome man whose name he doesn’t know yet is Samuel Barret take her hand and kiss it. He kissed the top of her hand. That was okay, that was French. She smiled and put her other hand playfully to her face, covering her mouth as she laughed at something he said. He smiled and shrugged and then said something again and held onto her hand while he went on about whatever surely idiotic banter he was spewing, and then audacity over the limit leaned down and kissed her wrist. That was simply not done, that was intolerable, that was considered improper to the respectable peoples of both East and West.

An outwardly calm but inwardly enraged Colonel, like a predator closing his distance between himself and his prey, approached them and cheerfully introduced himself, inserting himself in between the two towering over the much shorter gentleman. A little taken by surprise, the man returned the introduction and he learned his victim’s name finally. He then took his hand and shook it firmly and continued, “I wanted to make sure to thank you personally,” (not releasing the man’s hand before finishing his words), “for seeing my beloved fiancé home safely, despite the fact I specifically have a carriage arranged to retrieve her. I do hope she wasn’t much trouble?”

“Oh yes,” he replied quickly, “I mean, no, not at all of course. My mother, you see, wasn’t feeling well and their little get together cancelled early I’m afraid and I thought it best to escort your—fiancé is it! home. She is a lovely woman, my sister and mother enjoy her company very much. You are quite fortunate.”

“Yes, I know. How about you sir, when can I meet your lovely wife?”

He laughed joylessly. He was not married. Of course he was not. No intended? Not one of those either. What a shock! Turns out he was a very single young stallion, currently on the prowl for some poor filly to stud (not his words exactly, but an astute Colonel can read in between the smarmy lines) while he made his living as a secretary for his father’s shipping company. Barret’s hands worked nervously at his cuff and he looked back to his carriage as if hoping it would receive him magically on nothing but his sheer discomfort alone.

“Not a very safe profession these days, is it? With privateers murdering entire crews even. I’ve even heard of some rebels attacking the offices and people that work for the lines in retaliation for what they consider traitors to their ill-conceived cause.”

Taken back a little, the humor dropped out of Barret’s face, “Oh? No, I had not heard that.”

“Dreadful business, I’m afraid. Pray, what kind of shipping does your company do, Mr. Barret?”

“These days, well sir, we mostly are transporting grain, salt and tar.”

“For the army?”

“—Yes.”

“Yes,” he repeated smiling and nodding. “Well I do thank you on behalf of the war effort for what you and your father are doing, supplying our men despite the substantial risk to your own lives and safety. It’s quite brave for a civilian, don’t you think so, dear?”

He looked back over his shoulder where Anna stood with her arms crossed, staring off in the distance looking painfully bored. “Aye,” she nodded and gave a fake half-smile. “It certainly is.”

“But surely, Mr. Barret knows from his father that the heart of the shipping business is about taking calculated risks with other people’s property, isn’t it?”

The man paused and studied his face for a moment for his mouth half opened and then closed. He nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said slowly, and it would seem the young hopeful was not as dumb as his good looks would suggest. He started to take corrective steps back, as he had realized his fatal error of having stepped into enemy territory and the drumbeat of the native warriors began to sound closer to the intruder, the enemy circling, they’re a circling...

“Although, I’m merely a secretary,” he remarked and squared his hat nervously. “I should be going. It was a pleasure meeting you, Colonel Simcoe.”

“And you as well, Mr. Barret,” he loudly replied to his shrinking presence. “Travel safe.”

The man bowed in the hurried fashion of men of nervous withdrawal and quickly turned towards back towards his carriage. Without looking at her while keeping his eyes on the diminishing figure in the distance he flatly said, “I don’t want him near you ever again.”

She slapped the back of his arm. “Why would you tell him that?”

Keeping his eyes on the retreating figure, he replied, “Because he fancies you, isn’t that obvious?”

“So what! Now he’s going to tell his sister and mother! This will change everything, what were you thinking?”

Oh, would it? That possibility hadn’t crossed his mind. The consequence that now every horny goat and hopeful lad in their circle will know not to make unwanted advances towards her without having to deal with him brought a hint of a warm glow to his bittering soured insides. Turning his head towards her but keeping his eye fixed, he asked, “I’m curious why this upsets you so. Do you fancy him?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what is the issue?”

She looked at him, dumbfounded her mouth open but the words not coming out fast enough. “What do you mean what is the issue? We are not engaged!”

Her opposition to his brilliant maneuver and discharging of her escort grating along his nerves and pride, he said, “Am I not enough for you? Do you want everyone to think you are unattached and free to slut around with, is that it?”

“John,” she said, shocked. Her brow furrowed and face wracked as his words tore through her. “Why are you being so hateful to me?”

Taking her arm in his hand he snapped, “Why are you letting yourself be touched in public by a secretary in sequined breeches?”

She tried to tear herself away but he kept his firm hold on her upper arm. “Ah ah ah,” he admonished, pulling her under his arm in a possessive embrace and placed a kiss upon her head making sure the monsieur saw it as he stepped into his carriage and sat looking back at the couple. “It would be rude not to see your friend off.”

As soon as the whip hit the horse’s haunches and the carriage leapt into motion, she jerked herself free of his grip and stormed off into the house. He did not follow. He watched the carriage leave until all he could see was its dust dissipating in the breeze. He had made her cry and he knew it and even though that was his intent by striking at such a raw nerve truth be told, he instantly hated himself for doing it and did not understand why he had. As most little tiffs and rows went, they were allowed to cool and then pass away, unspoken of and thankfully put behind them. But this one left a dangerous little seed of discontent that grew, sending sharp barbed tendrils into his mind and heart and he only made it worse by partaking in a few too many glasses of wine that evening, and came into her room past an appropriate hour.

“No, no,” he said when she started to protest, pulling the thin covers open and sliding against her. “Quiet now.”

He shushed her gently putting his fingers to her lips. “I want you to listen to me.”

Pushing his knee between her thighs he settled over her, pressing his body onto hers, leaning up on one arm while stroking her dark hair with the other. Sighing, he watched her for a moment, the whisper of her image in the darkness, the gentle gradation of brown hair at the temple into her light skin.

“Are you drunk?”

“I know,” he said softly. “You must forgive my words earlier. I should have never said such a terrible thing to you.”

She sighed and tried to turn away from him but he held her still. “You think that’s the only reason I’m upset? Why are you behaving this way? Go back to your own bed, and sleep it off,” she told him firmly and tried to push his hulking mass off but he was like an inebriated stone and shook his head and told her that didn’t matter, that he would prove it to her (what exactly, he didn’t say) and that he would die for her and for the very reason he tries in general not to overindulge when overtly emotional, continued to make a complete and utter fool of himself.

It was at this point that he broke down before her and confessed her absence became beyond unbearable to him. Said that the thought of finding her gone or with another was sheer torture. Every time he leaves on orders it’s all he thinks about, to come home to find her gone. She had no such feeling and was surprised by his words.

“Why should I leave?”

He settled upon her like a hundred eighty pound child, resting his cheek upon her chest, curling himself around her. He apologized profusely. But there's nothing he can do about the feeling it inflicts upon him, it's still there. Even now there is a hollow ache for her.

“What do you want me to do, John,” she sighed.

“Tell me you don’t fancy him,” he murmured into her chest.

“I do not fancy him.”

“You swear it?”

“Yes.”

“To God?”

“Yes, I swear it to God.”

“Will you stop going there?”

She paused. “His sister is my friend. I don’t wish to quit seeing her or their family. You’ve met them, they’re fine people.” She paused again before asking, “Will you stop me?”

He sighed heavily, painfully and answered, “I want to protect you, but you make my task so difficult.”

“Do you not trust me to go on social calls without ending up in a man’s bed simply because he shows any favor to me? You think I will betray you so easily? To put everyone here in danger? That I have no honor to even pretend to hold onto, is that what you think? You say you love me, but you think so little of me, John. You’re no better than Richard Woodhull.”

She stabbed him right in the soul. Oh, what had he done? “No, no,” he shook his head, raising his head and looking at her. He swallowed before continuing, his words slurring and rambling as his heart broke in his heavy nauseous drunk chest, “No, I’ve never thought that of you, not once I swear it, I—only have the utmost and complete respect of you, Anna, your virtuous soul—I do love you—”

“Then just stop,” she cried, exasperated. She half laughed and put her hand up in the helplessness she felt. “All of this. Can you understand? Stop.”

She sighed and placed her hand over his head and brought it back to her chest and began slowly stroking her fingers through his hair. “Let us not speak of this anymore. It’s late.”

“Can you ever forgive me?”

He felt a small laugh in her chest. “Of all the things I have forgiven you for, I suppose I can for this.”

“May I stay?”

“If you wish,” she said after a while, sounding neither happy nor sad.

He placed a kiss upon her collarbone and rolled his weight off her, keeping her in his embrace. His eyes and closed and he listened to the rhythmic beats of her heart. “I love only you.”

“I know,” she breathed and leaned her cheek down upon his crown, holding him to her. “I know. Just—go to sleep now.”

Now, it all would have been fine if she had stopped going like he so pathetically begged her to. But did she?

His Anna? The one who does nothing she’s told? The devious one who, purposefully will walk in front of her guardsmen in her nightclothes because she knows it makes them uncomfortable until eventually they moved so far away from where they should be, they were merely there in title? The same one who tells him to his face he’s a despicable cretin? Of course not.

It is not as if he could ever be one hundred percent sure she never betrayed him, no matter what he did, there was no possible way despite his rather intricate and invasive methodology of keeping her every move under supervision, there always being gaps in unaccounted for time. Even if he kept her chained to the bed, still, there could be no way to know if she allowed herself to be pawed up by some random footman or care taker coming to roll her over for the night.

Looking back now he can see his suspicions were simply misdirected, as she was hardly interested in him let alone any other man and she not even told him as such but reinforced it in action when his presence to her was unbearable or his touch rejected with no apology. He never witnessed her ever show any affection or pity for any man unlike her tendency to do so in the past, quite the opposite, she now seemingly possessing a rather apathetic or even sadistic air towards any victim of his he may mention, and even as such as the two of them were, she rarely and typically only in dark unguarded moments of either tearful consolation (long heaving sessions that left his shirt soaked and his heart torn) or the after hours of tearful unbearable pleasure, tended to show any even for him. And perhaps it was that, perhaps it was their strange situation, their vague ambiguous status she liked to throw in his face whenever she wanted to wound or deject him, or perhaps it was he had never been so close to a woman his entire life outside his mother and felt like a blind man left in a field with nothing to help him navigate this strange, confusing landscape. Whatever it was or is, it made him behave in a manner that he ardently regrets.

On his next visit home, an unpleasant tension between them strung like a tight wire. It was present the moment he returned and he could not pinpoint what it was that he had done or what had happened to make this uncomfortable feeling between them. She would not talk to him. Anna became distant and cold, she wanted little to do with him and avoided him at every turn possible. She wept inconsolably. She hid away, sad, and slept most of the time when she could. It reminded him of the old days and it sent a panic through him he could have never imagined possible upon realizing the familiar feeling of helplessness.

And so it took the smallest provocation of her being almost two hours late to return one evening from that house, his madness overtook him and he tore through her room, scrutinizing and investigating every scrap of paper, flipping and shaking out every book and magazine and newspaper, trying to find hidden letters, notes or money or something he wasn’t even sure she had but he knew she was hiding something. He looked under the bed, looked and fondled about in the bureau for any strange clothes or foreign objects that did not belong, the crunch of paper amongst cloth or a jingle of coin, but found nothing.

His attention turned to a wardrobe and in the back upon a hook found an old coat far in the back that tellingly made a tinkling sound when he disturbed its rest. Devastation ravaged through his heart in those seconds as he hastily scooped and shook out its pockets onto a small desktop, hoping it was just some thimbles or other notions and not to have his paranoid fears confirmed but behold, before his eyes: two shillings, some coppers and four guineas. Four! What exactly was his darling doing in order to acquire such a sum? He had given her, at times, small amounts in case of shortage or some unforeseen need in his absence but the total was nowhere nearing even a single guinea in wealth. Of much less interest, but that his mind scanned and catalogued with great heightened detail in the throes of his increasingly enraged state: A pink dog-eared prayer card (And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee). A coarse bristled hairbrush covered in fuzz and frazzled dark hair. Pins. A blue button. Disgusting ancient crumbs of some kind. A frayed yellow ribbon.

He roughly shoved the money into his pocket and hung the coat back up and turned to leave the room, but suddenly a surge possessed him so terribly that he turned around and in a berserk fury, flipped her mattress off of the bed and shoved the entire bedframe across the floor as far as it would go and when that did not fully relieve him, he ran it up onto its side against the wall until it fell back with the loud sound of wood cracking as it slammed down upon itself. The weight of it so great that he instantly knew he pulled something although he could not feel it yet, his blood too fired. The exertion utterly drained him physically, purging him, and then left sad and weak, he collapsed on a nearby chair and rested his head in his hand when he noticed a half hidden Mercy standing at the doorway frozen in curious terror.

A mouse, he told her.

He removed the money and put everything back the way it was (approximately) but when her Highness finally decided to grace the home with her presence, his clever girl immediately noticed her belongings had been violated. From the opposite side of the wall of his room, he could hear the telltale signs of female distress beginning, the thumping and stomping grew in volume and force, the tone of exasperated anger and incoming doom vibrated through to his room and he calmly tried to prepare himself for the very uncalm storm that had by then become a full force squall when she discovered a huge uncomfortable dip in her bed, due to the fact that in his fit he had broken a supporting slat under the mattress and did not think to check and fix it before her return, as it looked to be, upon his superficial glance, perfectly fine.

And oh, how he paid for that oversight. The princess noticed the pea (or rather the 6 inch gap) and forgoing any kind of formality or manner, came wildly into his room demanding to know what the devil he did. He claimed complete innocence and ignorance at first, even offering to take a look to perhaps fix it for her? Backfiring spectacularly, with insult now added to injury, her dark eyes slanted at him and her mouth curled in disgust and she stomped down the hall approximately twenty steps, rapping upon a door, the traitor known as Mercy nervously told her everything. She did not buy the mouse story.

Quickly he followed her into her room and before he could try to diffuse the situation, setting off a chain of events in the blink of an eye, she sharply slapped him very hard across the face. The unexpected sting of it took him by surprise and he reflexively grabbed her by the arms, a little too roughly, a little too angrily. He shoved his weight against her in response and through clenched teeth, he darkly warned her, “Don’t you ever strike me, again.” His hold on her was so tight and on the last word that she let out a little yelp of pain that sobered him a few degrees out of his rage.

“I will do whatever I like as you have done to me,” she bitterly spat at him and she did not stop there. She went on, viciously so. That he disgusted her. Her features began to tremble and her voice started to shake as she said she was so tired, so tired of hearing his condescending voice, his lies and how dare he violate what little privacy she had, how dare he think he owned her.

“My lies?” He fished out the guineas in his pocket and presented them on his palm right up to her face, expecting to catch her in an ah ha! moment, but to his disarmed irritation she had a flawless reaction of being completely clueless.

“Where would I possibly get four guineas? Are you mad?”

He wasn’t buying it. “You got it from that secretary didn’t you? What have you told him?”

She laughed humorlessly and informed him that since his not so subtle threat to poor Mr. Barret, a nice man who had been nothing but kind she said, the man has been terrified to even make eye contact with her, let alone lure her into confessing to him why she really was with this crazed lunatic on top of her. The thought of the disturbingly handsome man in the ugly coat casting his gaze away in terror from her brought him a much needed schadenfreuden relief in that tense moment and the corner of his mind creating and fantasizing over every gruesome detail of killing this fop slowed significantly. She didn’t know where the money came from, had never seen it before, she swore. The desperate plea in her wavering voice made him want to believe her but because of the stubbornness of pride and jealousy he kept on her, demanding, demanding, and suddenly she snapped. She screamed for him to get away so loudly he brought one of his hands to her mouth and covered it, pushing her against the wall, making her struggle against him so hard he thought she might hurt herself. His intent to try to calm and contain her had the opposite effect and it made his chest twinge as he saw the stubborn willful pride blaze in her wide unforgettable eyes, where anger and tears clashed as she thrashed wildly about in his grip, trying to turn her head out of his grip on her jaw, twisting her arms trying to find a promising angle to wrench herself free before kicking him painfully in the shin.

His hands loosened their death grip and she yelled her frustrations and hatred and slapped angrily at him with her open hands before slipping out under his arm escaping him. Weeping, she stormed out the door.

He followed just a minute behind, after realizing she had not gone off to cry in another part of the house, but had just slammed the front door. When he reached the place where she had entered the woods he stopped. Over the sound of his own hard breathing he could hear the leaves bursting apart under her feet, the twigs snapping in her path. Following the sound, he quickly caught sight of her. Within seconds he snagged her by the arm, spun her around and held her up against a tree. She gasped but said nothing, trembling, her defiant eyes holding his stare.

Mustering his last semblances of calm, he slowly said, “Get back to the house. Now.”

“I will not—”

“Just shut up!” he shouted over her, making her eyes close and face recoil in fear, her body shrinking beneath him, those little handles on control slipping away at the sound of her argumentative tone. “I have had it with your lies. Why can’t you ever just do what you are told?”

“Because you are insane!” she shouted back, sobbing, enraged. “I’m not lying, I have no money and I wouldn’t leave you if I did! Now piss off!”

Her breath hitched in her enraged chest as she tried to hold back her tears. The delicate skin around her eyes were morbidly alluring, swollen and red with her wet shiny black matted eyelashes. Her breath became noticeably hot on his lips. With his heart pounding in his chest he took her face into his hands and crushed his mouth to hers, mad with desire for her tears, her anger. Her arms pushing against him at the force of his attack, but suddenly, she sobbed a stirring groan into his mouth, and then her arms were around him pulling him to her.

Her pulse throbbed under his palm as he pressed a hand to her delicate neck while he greedily devoured her mouth, jaw, the flat salty skin along her décolletage, the little dips of her collarbones. He pulled her to the ground, plunging them into a dense undergrowth where they grappled at one another until he used his unfair advantage of size and strength and rolled her onto her stomach, straddling her legs, pinning her beneath him.

He took her arms by the wrists and pinned them above her head, bringing his chest down upon her back, crushing her beneath him. She gave a last valiant, but ultimately futile attempt to twist her body, but groaned with exhaustion and defeat and finally went limp beneath him. Both of them panting on the forest floor, he brought his lips to kiss her cheek, her temple, her hot burning face. “You can’t leave.”

He whispered, “You are mine.”

With a bolt of urgency he sat up upon his knees, and in a frenzied hurry he struggled with their respective clothing for tortured seconds and finally, finally, freed his desire and relished her little sounds and pleas as he slid deliciously and threateningly against her defenseless open body beneath him.

“Anna,” he panted against her ear, his stubble chafing her delicate cheek as he pushed himself inside her, “you know I love you.”

It was a brutal yet beautiful tryst where everything was forgotten and forgiven, at least in that divine space of existence between first and last throb. With the ebb of angry lust and the terrible glory of release dissolving, he found himself lying limp and utterly spent, his panting face buried in her neck trying catching his breath. He let go of her wrists, and still inside of her he brought his mouth to hers, and with his kiss asked for her reassurance of what he had just done so brutally. Her lips were cold as he brushed against them with his, giving her time to say no, to push him back, but her mouth was hot when her lips parted and he brushed his tongue over hers and slowly settled into a deep, languorous kiss. He stayed like that for a long time and neither said a word, only their labored and recovering breaths breaking the silence. With a lingering kiss behind her ear, he carefully climbed off of her, pulling her soiled rumpled dress back down with him.

When he looked down he could see she was mourning the front of her dress, which had been damaged by the pokey and rough forest floor, as much had her poor face. He murmured an apology and promise to replace it. He helped her to stand and inspected the series of welted red dents and scratched skin, carefully brushing his fingers over her love abraded skin and placed a kiss upon her cheek and enfolded her in his arms close against him.

“Are you alright?”

She nodded.

“Come back inside with me,” he insisted against her hair. “Please.”

“In a minute. There is something,” she started but then paused a long time before continuing, “There’s something I have to tell you, that I have been hiding from you.”

He leaned back to look at her but she quickly told him to stop, to stay as they are, not to look at her because she won’t be able to tell him if she has to look at him. Expecting the truth of the guineas to come out, he patiently waited to be told he was right all along, but then she was crying. And while that was not unexpected, her sobs became a bit more filled with despair than he felt was appropriate from someone simply hiding money and his heart sunk in his chest as a thousand disaster scenarios of what she was about to say flooded through his mind. “Please, whatever it may be, you can confide to me,” he urged, the situation beginning to frighten him.

She sniffled her nose and took a deep breath of courage and resolve and sighed, and took his hand into hers, and placed it firmly against a small but noticeable swelling across her belly and held it there. She then looked up to him, her face imploring him to silently understand what she was trying to impart upon him and suddenly his entire world shattered into a million shards.

“It’s been almost four months,” she whispered. “—I’m sorry. Please don’t be angry.”

“I—,” is all managed to choke, and his voice cracked as the full force of a sweeping happiness came over him, completely eclipsing the piercing and agonizing ache behind the sobs he could no longer control conjuring from his chest. “Angry?”

Pulling her into his arms closer, he swung her around making her yelp and laugh and he held her tightly and kissed her face and whispered, “Christ, you’ll be the death of me.”

Chapter Text

That night they made up very tenderly. He had the heavy copper bathtub brought into his room and filled with hot water for her and then went into her room to try to fix the bed. He folded up the blankets and sheets and coverlets, the thick feather boxing over the mattress and placed them on the floor. He then removed the heavy mattress onto the floor and then started carefully working up and unboxing the dense straw tack packed into the square of the frame. It was heavy work and when he discovered the broken lumber and the extent of the repair it needed, frustrated, he left the room the way it was shutting the door behind him and pretended it no longer existed. In the hallway, sweaty and at his wits end, a very pregnant yet unperturbed Mrs. Card proceeded to trap him.

“Take a walk with me, Colonel?”

“I cannot apologize enough for the bed,” he said to Mrs. Card, stepping in great waddling strides as she led him down the backsteps and out into the damp night, one of her arms wrapped firmly around his for balance, the other holding and absent mindedly stroking around her robe tented lading. Before he could finish his damage control she cut him off.

“Well as long as it will be repaired,” she said to him with a sarcastic and exasperated mirth that was more of restrained irritation than anything. Leading him down a shell graveled walk way “And then there will be no reason to speak of this nonsense again, will there?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then don’t worry about it.”

“I’m terribly humbled by your graciousness, madam.”

She sighed heavily and patted his arm. “I know we haven’t spoken much to one another, but I’m happy to have you and your men here, Colonel. Despite some of the adjustments—I feel much safer, especially with Mr. Card and his son gone so long. It would be the children, servants and I completely alone this entire summer. And of course I am glad to care for your Anna, the poor dear. I do pray she recovers entirely.”

Mrs. Card was laboring under the delusion that Anna was suffering a bit of memory loss after that bad fever that first night he brought her there. It was not even anything either had suggested, she only assumed and an insulted but ironically quick witted Anna informed him later she simply, ‘went with it’. And from that point thus, out of no effort or conspiring of their own even, the best scape goat for any incongruences, strangeness or contradictions was born.

“As do I. It makes me most happy to know your feelings, though.”

“Of course,” and here it came, “I would appreciate it, Colonel, if you could keep my furniture out of your personal passions. And while I understand this is a difficult time, this—this kind of quarreling between the both of you is simply unacceptable. I don’t know about your background sir, or how it is in the world elsewhere, but here it’s considered terribly provincial and vulgar behavior, you know.”

“Yes mam.”

“This anger of yours,” she continued, “I imagine it serves you well on the battlefield, but at home, I don’t care for it. Not one bit. So I ask that that is where you will leave it from now on. And well, while I have the utmost respect for you sir, I will not tolerate it in front of my children, you understand?”

Grinding his jaw he murmured, “Yes.”

“They look up to you and depend on you to keep them safe, not frighten them.”

A strange sense of self-conscious shame crept through him. “I apologize if I did. Or you.”

She laughed. “You don’t scare me. My father, God rest his soul, would make you look like a mouse. I loved him, but he was a mean, tyrant of a man. So believe me when I say, I find this kind of behavior very upsetting. And in my condition—”

“Please madam,” he nearly cried out, cutting her off. “I am already, quite deeply ashamed and can’t apologize enough. Such transgressions shall never happen again, I promise you.”

“Yes, yes, of course, bygones and all now,” she said, waving her hand, as to be done with her highly skilled guilt trip and making one feel as if they were a schoolboy again about to get a sharp slap of a belt or the crippling crack of the walking stick across their backside. “Now, aside from this ugliness tonight, how are you two getting on? She’s terribly evasive, that one, so I am depending on you to tell me everything now. When is the wedding? A Christmas time one would be quite wonderful I think. What are your thoughts? Don’t walk so fast.”

“We have not discussed it,” said a careful Colonel, smiling and slowing his stride. “But we will, soon.”

“Don’t worry too much, once mother and father are married, no one cares about any, shall we say, incongruities in the calendar. Even God.”

“—Yes.”

When he came back into the room she was already in the tub soaking. Her eyes opened and they looked at one another for a long moment. Breaking the silence she asked him, “Did you fix it?”

“Well,” he said, pausing, then shutting the door behind him. “Turns out I’m a shit carpenter.”

Catching him off guard for a moment she busted out in a laugh, which only made him laugh in turn and a feeling of relief came over him as the tension between them began to slacken. She quickly and politely covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head and apologized. “Forgive me. I don’t know why that was so humorous.”

“Perhaps because it is true,” he sighed. “I’ll have someone with the necessary skills do a proper repair on it tomorrow.”

He quietly grabbed a wooden chair and set it down behind her and sat down. Taking a nearby basin and pitcher, he placed the wide open mouth of the basin on the floor beneath her head. “I just had a long lecturing from Mrs. Card.”

“Oh?”

"Yes, it seems we have been quite naughty."

"I will have to apologize to her tomorrow. She's such a kind woman."

“She knew you are with child,” he stated more than asked, it coming out a more than a little passive aggressively.

“Yes,” she admitted, looking up at him. “Are you upset?”

He sighed and placed her upside-down face into his hands, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. “I must confess, I am rather wounded and confused as to why you thought it necessary to conceal such a thing from me.”

“I didn’t believe it myself for the longest time. It happened so fast,” her voice trailed off and she grew silent. “That was rather foolish of me, I know.”

It becoming more clear to him he said, “She gave you the guineas.”

She looked down at the water and nodded.

He shook his head in confusion. “Then why?”

“Because,” she quickly said, keeping her back to him. She sighed and calmed her voice, continued, “Because it was a lot of money and having it as my own, without you knowing of it, controlling it, it made me feel like—I had a choice. That if I wanted to, I could leave or do whatever I wished—,”

“I understand.”

“—I lied, I know. You were angry, and I was scared. And angry as well,” she shrugged and swirled the surface of the water with her finger. “Believe me or don’t, but it be the truth. I’m sorry for lying to you, John.”

Both were silent. From far away an owl gave a wild, inconsolable scream. The night was warm and humid outside the open curtained windowpanes, which reflected the candles burning in a brightly lit corner of the room. He looked down at her wet nape and brought his fingers to her hair pin, pulling it loose and letting her hair fall down.

“I forgive you,” he said finally. “But it is I who should apologize. This is all new to me,” he explained, and cleared his throat. “I’ve been alone most my life, by choice, I suppose. I’ve been in service for nearly ten years now. Prior to that, I spent three years on the sea.”

“Sounds lonely.”

“At times. Very much so.”

“You prefer solitude though, don’t you?”

He thought for a moment. “That’s a difficult question to answer, I confess.”

He rolled up his sleeves, cradled and coaxed her head in his hands and when she understood what he was doing, she let him coax her back until her tender throat stretched before him, her tresses dangling off the edge of the tub. Taking the porcelain pitcher in one hand and using the other over her forehead to keep the water from spilling into her eyes he, somewhat awkwardly but carefully, poured the hot fragrant water over her brown hair, soaking it black and slick. He ran his fingers through it slowly, caressing her scalp, rinsing it again, repeating the soothing action, watching her face with her eyes closed. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking about: whether it be the fearsome months ahead of impending motherhood, if she felt guilty for lying, or perhaps how her fate was now so inseparable from his own, the realization dawning before her mind’s eye with the same dark clarity as the reflection in the nighttime window; whether it was about his past, or her own; or whether she was thinking glumly that the bathwater was beginning to cool, or how much she would like a glass of wine—God knows. But as the Colonel looked at her dark crown, listened to the intermittent little drips of water tinkling down off her wet hair into the basin below, the vital life pulse quivering just below her white neck stretched out to him like a sacrificial offering, the distorted black and pale flesh mirage of the water that contained all life and happiness submerged within, yet it made him terribly sad to look at her: there was something odd and timid in her whole appearance; she looked away from him more, her face having the look of someone who was just on the verge of tears. He kissed her forehead chastely.

He helped her step out of the tub, and as she dried off he could see the roundish swelling of her belly so entirely obvious now as she stood in her full nakedness, standing in front of him as he remained seated, the only thing between them a small white towel clutched modestly to her breasts, draping down. Very gently, like an unveiling, he pushed the towel up exposing the fetal bump his dear so proudly sported in front of him, now running her hand alongside his own caressing the smooth slopes from hip to hip, and then placing her warm hand to his face, entwining fingers through his hair. He adored his child with a series of kisses and the side of his cheek in an embrace as he wrapped his arms around her legs and held her to him. He listened to the muffled growls and groans of his dearest’s insides as he held her even tighter. He wanted to say so many things, but afraid of saying something womanish, he simply brought his lips to her damp navel and left a lingering kiss.

He craned his head back and reflexively trying to escape the sinking in his chest, the dark preamble to the salty sting of tears that were threatening to ruin him, he mockingly asked, “There’s truly a baby, in there?”

She smiled. “Seems that way.”

“Were we not—careful, though?”

She raised her head sharply and looked off into the distance and sighed. “It had to be that one time,” she said finally, wrapping her long towel over her breasts and around her back, raising her eyebrows as if he’d be able to read her mind, sparing her the shameful and embarrassing task of bringing it up herself. Irritated when he only became lost in deductive thought at her vague clue, she sighed and unhelpfully added, “Remember?”

He hesitated.

“Never mind,” she huffed, flustered, and the awkward conversation ended there as she tapped his shoulders, signaling him to release her.

After a night of very little sleep, his mind ruminated over their countless conjoinings, trying to pinpoint where the failure of the sometimes perhaps bizarre, yet trustworthy techniques refined and sworn by generations of sailors, soldiers, whores and energetic gentlemen of discretion he always adhered to had occurred. Eventually, he had narrowed John Jr.’s coming into existence from two likely encounters. The first, was most likely the one she was thinking of too, especially since it she was just as much to blame as he (if not more so). He felt in his heart it must have been there, entangled upon the flattened old leather cushions and stacks of dusty oil-cloth they had found themselves on many times before where it had to have happened. In that stuffy carriage house loft, twisted in their clothes, their knees dusty and sore. It was an impossible combination of temptation no mortal could ever resist. With an ankle over each of his shoulders, his flushed sweaty love crushed beneath him, gazing up with her pained expression, breathlessly imploring him not to stop, and with all the vigor of a man possessed, he did not. Divine intervention came in assuring that he nearly seamlessly made that one sweaty prolonged exertion technically two, that left his darling both in ego soaring blissful hysterics and afterwards complaining he had hurt her—and most likely impregnated her, something nervously laughed off!

The other option was much less poetic, much more embarrassing, without any blessed abilities, one she does not seem to remember thankfully or is too ashamed to. It was a simple miscalculation on his part, perhaps a bit of sleepy laziness and he cannot be completely held responsible if at all since he was, after all, waylaid like a young maiden by her obsessed and horny master (he did not have the decency to resist, however). As he peacefully slept one night, he awoke to a slightly intoxicated and aggressive Anna on top of his innocent person, going about raping him at her own leisure and not knowing the potency of her own powers, sighed in frustration at his lackluster endurance, hitting his shoulders and chest and cursing in anger, sobbing and rolling off him, crying about how much she hated him before passing out. Only to awaken him again four hours later retching into a chamber pot most violently to which he then, half-asleep and annoyed, held her hair while she continued on, alternating vomiting and crying. Clearly not a life creating event.

Finally, it could have been another more innocent time where he maybe was a half second too slow on the retreat or didn’t give himself enough clearance; it was impossible to know, and looking back at the finale of each of these encounters in a scientific and detached manner was leaving him feeling most uncomfortable and incredibly aroused and in any case, it did not matter. It did not matter at all.

Perhaps he had been naïve or a little arrogant towards nature herself, but he had honestly never considered such a possibility happening. Not now anyway, or so soon, his glorious mad plan for their future included many beautiful puffy cheeked cherubs that shared their combined faces, however this was to be after the ink was dry. Suddenly he became faced with the fact that his time table had moved up considerably and also incredibly inconveniently. Anna Strong, disgraced, shunned, dead, was already well on her way to being in another precarious situation, destroying a reputation for a name she did not even have yet (it turned out forged documents were in prime demand and shockingly expensive in times of war) and this time, it was squarely his fault. A sharp pang of guilt racked through his chest when he thought of her having to endure the looks and harsh treatment of anyone who knew or discovered her unmarried yet very gravid state. He was indiscreet and she would be the one to suffer the consequences. And unlike his predecessors, this bothered him greatly.

He wanted to restore her honor once and for all. She deserved to be whole again, to have a normal life, to be a happy wife and mother, and he had the power to give all of those things to her. Lying in bed restless with the bombardment of events of the last eight hours, everything seemed strange in the semidarkness: the sound of her breathing, the small warm ghost against him, the dark unsettling shape of the bathtub still sitting in his room.

He realized what he had to do.

Early in the morning when the sun was still struggling to make it over the horizon and his few lulls into unconsciousness had ended, he felt some aches in his knees and back and sitting up and leaning his elbow on his pillow, he sighed, startled and amazed with the delight of it as he remembered what had happened that night. He looked to his side to see there in the dusky room the mysterious yet unmistakable shape of Anna. Pregnant Anna! He listened to her soft (but louder than she’d ever believe or admit to) snoring for a moment before gently snuggling up against her. A slight hitch in her snoring soon corrected and she fell back into her usual pattern as he thought carefully on his words.

“Anna, are you awake?”

The snoring grew uneven and then abruptly stopped as a soft voice croaked, “No.”

He wrapped his leg over hers and pulled her tightly against him and kissed her shoulder, pushing her messy hair back with his fingers and the neckline of her nightgown down. With his lips he followed the pale trail of her shoulder down the deep warm slope of her neck, making her whine with sleepy discontentment.

“What about now?”

“No.”

“I’ve been awake all night, and I can no longer wait—"

“Not again,” she cried.

“No, no,” he said. “I must ask you something.”

She rolled in his embrace onto her back, rubbed her hands over her face and looked up at him. “What is it?”

“Anna,” he started, and paused. He had all the words figured out in his mind but he discovered that upon trying to speak them, the passage from mind to mouth was awkward and treacherous. He kissed her head and laid his cheek upon her soft hair and started again, “Anna, do you recall that day on the pond? When you spoke to me of fate?”

“The duel?”

“Yes.”

She nodded silently against his neck.

“May I tell you something first?” he asked her, and she nodded again. He told her was something he had shared with no other before, the kind of thing only eccentrics and revivalists speak of, madmen and scammers. A certainty of experiencing the world beyond, being touched by Fate, or God—a miracle. She wrapped her arms around him and told him to go on, and promised to believe him. As he brought those memories of his captivity forward, as he spoke it, the shame and humiliation of it, the sharp, deep rage resurfaced, choking him, dilating his vessels with a poisonous venom that stung deeply in his chest and burned him throughout. His discomfort must have been apparent to her as in the middle of his story, she took his hand in hers and lovingly stroked her thumb over his anxiously tapping fingers. Her loving touch spread over him and the feeling brought him right back to where he knew for certain beyond all doubt that she had saved him and for a reason, and his thoughts crashed back to that tiny room he spent weeks in recuperating after his mentally and physically damaging time with the gentle kind Captain Tallmadge.

Laying in that room on his parole after a surgeon hastily and not very skillfully finally removed the ball from his leg, leaving a swollen gaping wound that screamed ceaselessly, it was while in and out of the semidelirium of fever and hurt, he thought of nothing but the image of the future he had with this woman he hardly knew, yet whom he knew he belonged with beyond all reason or rationality. All of the details of this room seemed to contribute to this knowledge, confirm it even, this divine will working through her, entangling their fates. The calico bedspread with symmetrical patterns of rosebuds, marigold blossoms and long green leaves, cheery and bright in stark contrast to the white plain room he was confined to, both by his own body and his captors, he would stare at and try to find an image in those patterns as one does to the clouds above, seeking a profile of face or some other hidden image. The small vase of dried purple peonies kept on the right side of his bed on a small squatty table, pale blue with its pain chipped, alongside a black leather Mennonite bible with an age worn gilded side and jug of water with a clear glass. All these little pleasantries in the midst of his despair contributed to the growing image of her looking over her shoulder, waiting for him, the sunny warmth of her smile, the soothing and happy memories of her real and imagined but through it all, he knew without a doubt that this wife of another was meant to be his, and lying next to her now, with a child they made in love together inside her, he felt that never had such a premonition been so completely fulfilled.

He told her of what he endured and much to his pleasant surprise she inquired about it, angered on his behalf of his treatment, genuinely disappointed that he was tortured, as if she truly believed the Continental army was incapable of such crimes. “But you," he explained, "your image, the memory of you, the hope I would see your face again—you—saved me. And each time I knew for sure I was going to die, I closed my eyes and you were there and then, miraculously, I was saved. I thought I might be going mad to believe such a thing, but then, when you spoke of fate—I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you to answer me just yet,” he said softly, and then pulling her tightly against him and swallowing hard he cradled her stomach and rested himself up on his elbow and looked down at her.

Her pensive face watched his mutely, and he tried to read her reaction but he struggled to find an answer in her shining wet eyes and fleeting expressions. When he hesitated she brought a hand to his face, gently touched his brow and her voice shaking asked, “Are you trying to ask me to marry you?”

Very eagerly he took her hand in his and leaned in and the words came out hastily with no control or poise, “Anna, I swear it to you, ever since I first saw you, Anna, I knew my life was no longer my own, but yours. Everything I am is yours, yours alone, you see, I only live now because of you. I promise you, I will be a good father to our child, our children, and a faithful and kind husband to you. I know my sole purpose in this life is to protect you, to provide and care for the both of you, to ensure that you never want for anything and that no one shall ever dare look down upon you again. And so, I want to—it is my deepest desire if you would honor me by being my wife—if you would marry me.”

Her sympathetic eyes fixed upon him, she started to say something, but he stopped her with a firm kiss holding his lips to hers for a moment before resting his forehead to hers. “Please.”

With his chest about to explode he pulled her to him and held her to him for the longest time, barely being able to breathe from the nausea of baring your soul to another, setting your glass heart upon their open palm and waiting for it to either be carefully cradled to their own breast or carelessly tossed to the floor to shatter. He could hear her sniffling, silently weeping, into his shoulder and he could only assume they were tears of joy.

“John—,” she started into his shirt.

“Don’t answer me yet,” he repeated over her before she could start and placed his fingers to her lips. “There’s something I must do first and then, I want your true answer, your choice. From your heart.”

Needing to escape the suffocating anxiety filling his chest he kissed her again and got up out of bed. He pulled off his shift and stepped into the copper tub, the unpleasant coldness making his skin tighten with goose-flesh was a welcome distraction to the burgeoning emotions making him feel as if he were about to cry, scream and laugh all at once. He sat down and poured the still fragrant water over his head and chest and washed the brisk water over his entire body.

She sat up as he was drying himself off and with a shaky voice asked, “Are you leaving soon?”

“In a week. Supplies are running low, we must go forage and then head straight to New Jersey after.”

“Will you be long?”

“Not if I survive,” he said glumly, sitting at the edge of the tub and lathering his beard. “And it is under Arnold and I am feeling most apprehensive about the entire ordeal to be honest with you. So please, give me something to hold on to while I’m out there.”

“Arnold,” she echoed, her eyes darting back and forth, as if recalling some information on the name. “He’s commanding British forces?”

A little surprised at her engagement of speaking of the war which was generally an issue to avoid, he replied, “Yes. He turned a traitor to the Continental army. A while ago.”

“Oh,” she said softly. “That’s, fortunate for you, I suppose.”

“Hardly,” he scoffed while he carefully shaved in the dimly lit room with a small hand held mirror propped up between his knee and the edge of the tub. “A traitor is never an asset. The man is barely competent as it is. It would have been more beneficial to leave him to the enemy instead of crippling us with him.”

When he finished shaving he brushed his teeth and put on fresh clothes and when he picked up his jacket he heard the jingle of the guineas he had swiped the previous day and he reached in and took them out. He walked over to the bedside and put one into one of her hands.

“Keep this somewhere safe,” he said.

She shook her head and tried to give it back but he closed his hands around hers. “Just, take it. Please. Do not argue with me.”

She wanted to argue he could tell, but she smiled and nodded. Kissing her cheek he said, “As a show of my trust in you. And apology.”

“What shall I do with it?”

“Save it, spend it on ribbons and silk, give it to a beggar if you so wish. It’s yours.”

“What if, I gave it to you?”

“To me?”

“Yes, to buy forage so you don’t have to go on a raid, a guinea, plus the three you have should cover quite a bit for one campaign, yes?”

He laughed and gave her a perplexed look. “Why so concerned with our forage?”

“I’ve been hearing,” she started and then paused. “Terrible things, John.”

“Oh? Such as?”

“A massacre?”

“My dear,” he sighed, “you should know better than most that rumors travel and grow exaggerated with every pair of lips they spill from, and spreading false information is a tactic of war.”

“Will you please, just consider using a merciful touch when you’re out there? That is all I ask of you.”

“I am not here to harm everyday people, but protect them from the putrid rot of disease that has seeped into these colonies. A disease which must be ripped out before it kills the body. But you touch my heart,” he smiled at her as he sat down alongside her to slide his boots on. “It’s entirely unnecessary. There is a hamlet of sympathizers we will be dealing with on the way,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “Should acquire everything we need from them. Mercifully and with a gentle touch, of course.”

The Guinea Affair, was just a small part of a larger financial crisis that had been brewing for some time. The other three guineas he pocketed for himself, as it was actually a small blessing to have found them, regardless of their origins. While he thought it quite generous of the lady of the house to bestow such a substantial gift to his wife-to-be, he found it made him incredibly aggravated and felt it a move to sleight him. Consider, he, a field military officer risking his life, living at times in the most horrid of conditions to protect these people against a most treacherous enemy, paying almost a month’s wage every three that passed for the use of their house, while she simply hands over four guineas as a gift! And not even to him, the one who was being bled dry as a nice recompense. And to do so without his permission or knowledge did not sit well upon his mind. But what could he say? She was in fact, not his wife, he had no right over her finances and as far as everyone else was concerned was just your average unmarried woman who would be beyond grateful for such a sum of money and not a, well, (alleged) rebel spy.

In any case, the heavy weight of fatherly and husbandly responsibilities began to press down upon him immediately, but he met them with a queer zeal at the new and exciting fact he had fatherly and husbandly responsibilities to attend to. And so the other fact, that the financial situation had taken a turn for the worse, suddenly became even more urgent and worrisome as his purse grew lighter and Anna’s womb only growing heavier. There was a complex and delicate web of deceit and bribery he was desperately trying to keep the strands of from breaking, and he, the big fat alabaster spider stressing the very edges of his web with his own running back and forth maintaining his own monstrosity, was becoming drained at the mental and physical demands this required. He had not been paid in four months and it was unclear how much longer it would be and even if it were the next day, the monetary vampire he created did not stop feasting upon his purse during this time and subsequently ran him into a fair amount of debt to a frightening Prussian whom he was quite sure could kill him easily and without much effort.

After breakfasting in the dining room alone, it being much too early for the slumbering girls of the household, he sequestered himself in Mr. Card’s office to peacefully prepare himself for what he had to do next. The prospect of writing a letter home, let alone requesting any favor was so repugnant to him he had managed to evade it for his entire adult life. However now, with another Graves Simcoe in the works, he felt it was proper to inform them and also gloomily necessary to request their assistance.

He was in fact running in the red. To keep afloat, he had a judge in a neighboring township he was blackmailing (raiding his home the Colonel found ledgers and letters that lead to the discovery of a mistress with a bastard the good judge was hiding) and blurring the boundaries between seizing and plundering was providing regular income but it was not enough. He could not, and would not, take anymore from the regiment’s dwindling funds. And now he had to consider his little family’s future. And the possibility that he would have to send the most precious things in the world to him to the other side of the world to the very people he got on ships that took him as far as they would go to separate himself from.

Before he left for Miss Sarah Kettleman’s enemy supplying township, he had sat down and prepared to write the letter, dipped the metal nib into the ink and brought it down to the paper but his hand would not make the necessary first stroke and froze in place. A physical and philosophical pain prevented him from continuing.

He was not on the best of terms with his family. Even using the term ‘family’ is not correct as they are not his family so much as his godfather’s, who brought him into his home against his own kin’s wishes. Following the attack on the fort which brought about his father’s untimely and brutal demise, the cohesive strings that one calls life swiftly frayed and fell away as a spiders spent web. After losing three children, then her husband, his mother began to exhibit the beginnings of her own demise which crept over her by degrees, with intervals of manic peace, with skipped areas of lucid sanity, which grew ever rarer and briefer. She was, by anyone’s account, an eccentric and tender hearted woman before tragedy visited them in successive harsh blows. But his mother was too sensitive a soul for this earth, a mistake of creation, her soul to thin, too fragile, too beautiful and full of love to endure the harshness of this world.

Poor mother, the final blow, to which she suffered a terrible defeat was the death a year later of her youngest son, his little brother. A bad fever was all it took. In less than four days his dear little blond brother with whom he shared a face and blue eyes, the one he remembers who loved digging turtle traps, and who would stand on his big brother’s shoulders to get to the sugar bag hidden on a high shelf was now a rotting corpse buried alongside his father.

Then came troubles with the estate, with his father’s family’s affairs, with colonial and company officials and she couldn’t mentally engage in the process whatsoever, she ignored it, hiding, as if expecting it would go away. But of course it didn’t and then suddenly there was no money. It all landed upon his twelve year old shoulders. She could no longer do anything, as it were, as these series of traumas tore bare the foundations of her very self. Her usual morose yet jovial nature was turned into an irrationally sentimental, suspicious and contrary one. She became an imagined victim of all sorts of oppressions and bizarre occurrences and conspiracies, she only trusted her son except when she didn’t, usually over the most trivial and ridiculous matters one can imagine, such as if he moved her large glass of dried flowers and herbs which had to be left by her bed (specifically on the table top between the stack of poetry books and the opal snuff case that was her father’s) to counteract the miasmas she suspected were making her feel out of sorts. Which he did not, by the way, but after an hour of her harping on him, he finally picked it up and threw it against a wall in a blind rage, which was a not an out of the ordinary sort of exchange between the two on an at least biweekly basis. And every time afterwards, for her only to cry and throw herself at his feet, begging his forgiveness, telling him he was all she had, her only love.

Their relationship became a confused and painful one, and he felt his soul lost and yet hopelessly entangled in hers, he loved his mother more than anything, more than himself, more than life. The thought of losing her too made him feel he’d go mad with fear and anger. It was too much for him to admit to himself what he knew even then as a young boy in the deepest and most impossible to accept truths ignored in the back of his mind, that she was already gone, this woman who had every appearance and smell and sound of his mother was no longer her. And just when he’d think he’d managed to start detaching himself from this horrible stranger who took possession of his mother’s body, the stranger would disappear and she’d wrap her arms around him playfully trying to tickle him and say mocking, “Does the little master want a cheekin? Puleese buy! Buy cheekiiins!” to which he would reply while trying to push her off and laughing, “no, thank you, I don’t want any of your disgusting cheekins,” (a play on an overly eager, madman who tried to push his sickly livestock upon them one day, whose amusing English and bowlegged hobble as he kept running after them begging they buy his half bald cheekins, an event that turned into an inside family joke, the kind that are impossible to explain or for anyone outside the experience to understand as those strange random occurrences do) and his mother was back from the dead, laughing and kissing him, and ultimately only bringing more suffering.

It was no use trying to rationalize with her on any of her imagined or real realities, she would breakdown crying and would go on and say he had turned against her, that he didn’t love her, that he wanted her to suffer. Soon it was just the two of them alone with nothing, eating whatever he could trade for, steal or hunt in the forest; baby crocodiles, cranes, bats. Rubbish, they ate rubbish.

And he at this time was just a boy, a thin gangly boy with a cracking high voice who shot up like a weed, whose body , who naturally attracted the violent attentions of those who preyed upon the clumsy and weak. He was an occasional target for other boys as a child, but once a small gang of them had learned of his father’s demise and his family’s general decline in both standing and finance, he became their favorite subject to torment, to rob, to viciously assault for the sheer sport and fun of it. His measly wages from any work he could find, grinding bone meal for a butchery was the highest paying of the lot, was regularly taken from him as he made his way home, a pair of hooligans or more, waiting along the road, waylaying him from the forest.

Poverty did not last too long, as a year later upon a visit from his namesake, a then General Graves who was a dear friend of his father, saw the unsatisfactory situation the pair were living in and took them into his own home, a romantic manor built far in the hills with an entire small population supporting it. It was a lovely house that blended in quite dreamily with its tropical surroundings, two stories high, newly built of fresh bright red brick and grey-green stone, whose colors and textures seemed to interchange their effects in certain lights. It seemed to him a sanctuary where his mother could rest and be exposed to the good air of the high forest, have the care of good servants and everything would surely improve.

Friction and uncertainty were almost immediate however, as the General’s wife made her feelings on having them quite clear, without any hesitation or pretention of showing her displeasure, her irritation, her disgust. Regardless to their icy welcome, they settled in quickly. Soon enough he was sent to finish his studies before apprenticing with the only physician in the area to continue what he had started with his father, and he was never more eager. But while he was away, his mother’s condition became quite unruly and desperate, at least according to Mrs. Graves, who in his absence had her sent to ‘a most excellent’ hospital in England. He never saw nor would he see her in the flesh ever again.

As it would turn out, everyone died in the fort that night.

What was left of him he felt broke. He was entirely alone in the world. And suddenly, he now had a singular person to focus his boundless hatred on, to blame everything on. It was no longer a vague non-entity that destroyed his life, such as an unaccountable army razing a fort, a faceless bureaucracy raping human dignity, an invisible ailment possessing the mind; there was no subject of responsibility and thus it was everyone who was responsible. Since his father and brother had died, everyone had to die through them.

But now his anger, his hurt all focused upon a singular individual. He came so far as to make his way into her bedroom one night and with cautious and deliberate steps he came alongside her bedside. Not once did the rhythm of her deep heavy breaths change as he towered over her slumbering auburn head with a very blunt, very heavy brass naval object he swiped off a mantle held in his white knuckled grip raised high above his head. He took a deep breath and conjured the burning nerves of every muscle to fire with full intent, but instead of bringing it down in a succession of sharp, hard blows leaving her skull a bloody unrecognizable pulpy mess as he so clearly envisioned, his body stood there frozen in the attack position, his trembling arm held high above them both, not moving. A seizing terror ripped through him and the pain in his heart soon pattered out as he held his weapon in suspension for minutes or maybe hours it had felt like, his arm now burning in extremis, he slowly lowered until it collapsed weakly at his side, losing all tone, the leaden object nearly dropping from his fingers onto her panther skin rug. She continued to sleep soundly with her off-putting innocence, failing even to stir when he choked back a violent sob that racked his chest and stung his eyes with tears at his body’s sudden refusal to obey his will. And she remained as oblivious to her near death as she had been to even his capability or intentions of bringing it, leaving her door foolishly unlocked. He quietly exited her dark room, devastated and empty. After everything, he could not do it.

Since he could not kill her outright, he took great pleasure in tormenting and humiliating her in more subtle and indirect ways. She soon quit acquiring pets as they began disappearing or even turning up in quite shocking conditions. His tongue sharpened, and it being in his observant and empathetic nature (a gift from his dear mad mother no doubt) to be able to cut a human being down to their most tender and vulnerable core, he became a master of delivering the most hurtful cruel insults in the most gentle tones and carefully picked words. He found it pleasurable, as one does in any skill they may naturally possess, to impress themselves with their own ability, to be surprised by it and to push themselves to see just what how far their talents can go. Coldly observing how his words affected others and with the simple ease it took to cause such degrees of reactionary responses brought him a prideful arrogant glow. His favorite issue to work in to gently assault her with and watch her squirm with repressed anger and shame was the well-known fact that her husband’s most recent lap decoration was a budding native nymphet roughly a third of her own age.

It was shortly after this as perhaps another fated meeting, or divine coincidence that sent his life on an unforeseen path, he became acquainted with a half-caste named Gregory, a servant’s son, an older boy of nineteen who was fantastically strong, a strapping young man who was a known fisticuffer. A young John became enthralled by the power and authority he possessed simply through his physical countenance alone, he had never seen anyone like him before. Gregory was adored and feared, girls were always hanging about him or trying to get his attention which made the big oaf blush and look down at his feet and rub the short prickly black hair on the back of his head, and this was something he always found amusing and charming.

He watched him incessantly from the safety of the windows overlooking the courtyard he would be in, swinging his arms and practicing forms, feeling a strange bond with Gregory despite the fact they had hardly spoken twice. He became intensely jealous of Gregory, he had a freedom and respect that a young John had never known. No one would ever dare to plunder or beat or torment Gregory. It was not only his strength and skill that he admired, his face had an air, a feeling of secret superiority as if he knew something that could obliterate the world if he only spoke it, but could not, nay, need not speak it. Something about his face gave you the sense of one who had the iron blood of a warrior coursing through his veins, a raw primal power he possessed, he had a sharp jaw, a hard brow that crested above dark calculating eyes, thin lips and a small wide set nose. Everything about him emanated a kind of beautiful violent perfection, an untamed and uncontrolled soul. Gregory was everything he should have been for one to possess a body such as his; simple and plain in thought and mind, all muscle and brawn. He was not intelligent in the usual sense by anyone’s standards, and this, John thought, was a blessing. Gregory was in fact a perfect human, a being blessed with the primal flesh of gods and uncomplicated and untroubled by the suffering of knowledge.

It was an exciting sight to behold, as he watched one of his matches, standing far away from the rowdy drunken crowd surrounding the two fighters, both with their hands wrapped up in strips of linen stained pink with their opponents blood, bare chested, circling one another. He got a vicarious thrill imagining it was him that was landing those brutal blows, loving the dull thud of Gregory’s fist smacking into the face of his opponent, watching the spit and blood spray, feeling his anger pouring through each one. He admired the skill and mastery over their strength, how they controlled the violence which always remained calm throughout until the very end when the victor got the upper hand and brought his full fury upon his victim.

This distant admiration and observation went on for a month until one day Gregory, noticing his stalker like behavior, asked him if he wanted to learn how to fight. He became paralyzed with timidity in the face of his idol and did not know what to say at first. Gregory smiled at him and shrugged and told him if he wanted to stay a ‘scanty arselet’ that was fine with him. Tripping over his own embarrassment he quickly agreed and that yes, yes he would like that very much. It was then he first became obsessed with what would ultimately serve him more than any book on blood vessels or humors: getting strong.

Unfortunately his adolescent body was not yet ready to pack on the muscles and brawn he desired, and it left him incredibly depressed and discouraged that his progress was so slow. But Gregory assured him that he was actually in the best situation, being in between childhood and manhood, trapped by nature. Men who start out big and strong become cocky and arrogant, he told him, they believe their size is their advantage and forego skill. He told John that he would grow into his body soon enough and then, “That is when you, my arselet friend, will be the scariest fucker they ever face and together we, we will make a bloody fortune!”

In his time with Gregory, he was introduced to a new glorious reality. And from it was born a glorious new John. A confidence surged through him unlike he’d ever experienced before. As time went on, it was no longer he who was under the boots of others, but others who were under his. It was because of this strength that Gregory helped him discover, this being unchained, his adversarial and calculating nature only grew and sharpened, his entire identity was not one of a pathetic victim but of a ruthless and powerful lion that was meant for some purpose he had not realized yet.

However, despite his strength, he found his anger did not dissipate. His need to be the biggest and the best overshadowed everything. As once he had a taste of the sweetness of superiority, the intoxicating ecstasy of power and being feared, his mind was focused on nothing else. The invisible and visible boundaries of society became something that blurred, could be arbitrarily moved or seemed to him completely optional. Cold logic intermarried with wrath and had the occasional intense open-relationship with sadistic amusement. Associating with criminals and what could fit comfortably in the definition of riff-raff became a common occurrence. He wanted to learn everything he could from anyone who could teach it, he observed dark alley and deep forest where natives held brutal and illegal to the death fights using manners of fighting he’d never seen before, to the most well-mannered British prize fights, which even aristocratic gentleman fancied a wager and enjoyed a show of controlled violence. He abandoned his studies more often, his behavior became quite unruly, and for an almost sixteen year old godson of a well-respected General, completely unacceptable.

It all came to a head when one evening while reading in his room, his godfather came home on a rare visit. He can recall being so excited to see him but quickly realizing something was wrong when the old man came bursting into his room and without any warning or word, he walked straight up to him and swung the brass knob of his walking stick directly across his face catching him in the mouth, splitting his lip wide open and slicing his inner cheek on his teeth, hot copper blood spilled all down over his cravat, his shirt, onto the lovely blue and gold rosettes winding through the symmetrical pattern of golden fleurs-de-lis on the Turkish rug. Droplets of rusty brown he would find later dried upon the wall and his books and papers. Graves Sr. took another swing at him, making him fall to the ground, slamming his head painfully to the hard wood, and stood over him and between blows shouting, “What in the devil is wrong with you, boy? You think you can disgrace my name like this?”

Cradling his jaw and trying to shield his head with his forearm from the bone shattering business, John shuffled pathetically across the floor pursued by quick footsteps until his back was up against a wall and he was obliged to passively receive the verbal and physical purging of the old man’s full rage.

Striking him across the head again, he curled upon the ground where between every third or fourth word a sharp buckled shoe met his kidneys and ribs. “I take you into my home, treat you like my own son and this is how you repay my love? You are nothing! You are a wretched hooligan I should have left to starve back in Calcutta, no better than the treacherous savages who murdered your own father and my friend!”

He forced the beaten boy to his feet and pushed him down the hallways, stippling and streaking his Oriental floor coverings, cork floors and teakwood staircase with blood and spit and with a final shove out the door, the General issued an order of banishment and disinheritance. He was done with his godson for good, he said. The boy was a disgraceful shame upon his father as his only living son. A thoroughly beaten but livid beyond compare John screamed back at the old man, but quickly limped away with his broken face, ribs and arm before the enraged General outright killed him, hearing his parting words behind him, “If you loved me or your father you’d be out avenging his death like a man, not being a degenerate little prick!”

As he lay on a dingy cot on the floor of the servant’s quarters for two weeks being cared for by a sympathetic gardener he was on friendly terms with (smile here, wave there) who spoke not one word of English, he nursed his wounds both to his body and upon his pride. Slowly, day by day, he made his way back into the main house, making himself seen by the staff, and even Mrs. Graves (much to her annoyance), finally getting enough gall to show himself directly in front of the General. Sitting in his study behind his monstrosity of a desk framed by salon walls of swords, the decapitated heads of various exotic animals and other naval paraphernalia from his years on the sea, his eyes looked over whatever he was reading at the too thin and too tall boy; the two staring at one another in a pin drop moment. The servant in the corner of the room carefully wiping Tartary to Indo-china clean on the globe floating upon a gigantic wooden sickle stand that sat between an impressive teak bookcase and a wilting banana plant she never watered enough, made two hasty large swipes across the dark continent and quickly exited the room. The general’s dark eyes beamed at his godson, and despite his stoic countenance gave away the deep love which the boy reciprocated, and which typically both vainly tried to hide and cover with habitual distance and mundane pleasantries. He dropped his eyes back down behind the paper he kept held up and said, “Get changed, dinner will be served soon.”

He silently nodded and turned to leave before the General said, “Wait.”

Freezing in step he slowly turned back around and stood waiting.

“The White Rose, commanded by an old friend of mine, Captain Gassler, is protecting merchant ships between Calcutta, Madras and Ceylon. He has agreed to bring you onboard to be his assistant. If you’re willing.”

“Why would I leave my studies?”

“You have already been asked to leave the only school here. And now, one of the tutors I hired for you tells me you have blackmailed him. Not to mention, your associations with unsavory characters. So yes. For a time, yes, you will be leaving your studies. And really, be true with me, what seriousness, John, have you shown towards becoming a surgeon like your father intended you to be?”

“Blackmailed is a little strong,” he said mirthfully. After all, he had only borrowed a stocking of the man’s dear friend and business partner’s wife and pointed out to the gentleman that if he did not stop whipping a young servant girl for the smallest infractions or simply for his own sadistic stress relief, he’d slip it into his wife’s bed. And little insulted, he added, “I have put many years now of hard work into my studies, first with my father and I have assisted Master Havens and completed the entire the obstetric anatomical—”

“Yes,” he bellowed interrupting, “you are a highly intelligent boy, I won’t argue that, and I’m sure you could write a book on the facts and figures of the humors and muscles and could maybe even talk your way onto a hospital board. But pray tell me John, do most surgeons you know get into fights as you do?”

“I wouldn’t know, I am only an apprentice and student.”

“Really,” he replied unamused. “Do they sully the reputations of respectable ladies of society as well? If you think I will pay off your indiscretions—”

He could think of several off hand that did that as a part of their weekly routines, but that was not the reason he could not help but let a small laugh out despite his every effort to hold it in.

“And what is so blasted funny? That Marteen fellow you are friends with told me everything, so don’t you dare deny it.”

Looking at his feet he explained, “I’m certain he did. But there is no lady to sully, either physically or socially, nor a cuckold crying in the wings, I assure you. It’s all a rampant rumor.”

“A rumor? He spoke as if it were fact.”

“Of course. I’ve never bothered to object, because it was I who started it.”

The old man seemed to almost implode in exasperation and his complete inability to handle this child, his mouth was opening and closing, the little gray beard under his lower lip twitching, his long fingers drumming on his desk. Then he sighed and shook his head. “There’s something twisted about you, John.”

The anger of what he was being told started to boil over. Almost shouting, he cut him off, “You truly wish me to be abandon everything I’ve labored for and become a sailor? Why not a peat digger or necessary house emptier? Is that aiming too high?”

“I wish for you to become a man of discipline and honor,” he said, slamming his hands down. “And the only way I know how to instill that upon you is the way it was to me, through service and duty to our King. You have been living as if you have nothing to lose, but you are wrong. So, I will make it a simpler choice for you, if you do not do this, and obey the captain and return here with excellent reports of your behavior, you leave me no choice but to send you on the first passage to England with not a shilling and I will wash my hands of you and your mother. That’s right—you think that hospital is gratis?”

It was as if he had been slammed in the face with a shovel. “—You would do that to her to spite me?”

“Spite has not to do with it. She is your responsibility as her son, not mine nor anyone else’s. I have been caring for her in your adolescence, but that will not continue over to ease your burdens as a grown man if you push me any further.”

“Caring for her? You honestly call what your wife did caring for her?”

“Dear God,” he sighed, “we have been over this a hundred times, have we not? Sending her away was the best thing for her. And you.”

He shook his head and began to pace back and forth. His fist was bound so tight his fingernails were cutting into his palms but he did not even notice. “Yes, it is truly best for a woman who has lost everything to rip her away from her only son without even saying goodbye the second she becomes a slight bit inconvenient, no, you’re right. So then this is an extortion? How can you do this?”

“Calm yourself, boy.” The General narrowed his eyes. Then he looked down at his desk and sighed heavily and said something that completely disarmed the boy. “You are like another son to me, you know.”

After a long pause he gathered himself and replied, “And you a father to me, sir.”

“Then please—,” he started and stopped. “It’s my job in your father’s stead to be making you into an honorable man. But you’re a hellion, out of control. No, let me finish. You are sixteen now, you no longer have the luxury of acting like an emotional child or woman. It is time for you to grow up.”

Sitting to write this letter connected all the chronology of events leading back to those memories long suppressed, deeply buried beneath a calloused but precariously thin layer he’d spent years building up, shielding the delicate surface of his heart, they came ripping through with the ease of a hot knife to butter, like it hadn’t even been there at all. All of it resurrecting with a sadistic vengeance and overwhelming him completely. Suddenly, it was eighteen years ago and he was a boy crying for his mother, as if no time had passed, not a second, the pain no different than it was then, perhaps even worse now since as a boy, he was still blissfully ignorant to their future and his failure to save her from it.

He thought for a moment and re-dipped his nib and continued and simply wrote to his godfather for the first time in 12 years:

I am writing you with a cheerful spirit to inform you of a splendid and happy addition to our family. During my triumphs and trials in America, I have met the most lovely, brave, intelligent lady of beauty and wit who I am now proud to tell you is my wife. Her name is Anna and we are eagerly awaiting our first child which is expected in the spring.

Your loving godson,
Lt. Col. JG Simcoe

He instantly felt a relief wash over him and felt the disgust and turmoil grinding in his gut dissolve away. He folded the letter and sealed it and handed it off to be delivered to Admiral Graves. He would figure it out. No matter the hardships or trials or dangers, he would never put their future in someone else’s hands.

Wherever he would go, she would go. And wherever she went, he would always follow.

 

OOO

 

In New Jersey, an enemy ship is firing upon his position in a wooded bluff overlooking a river harbor, aiming at the lingering cloud of white powder smoke from his nine pounder that hangs in between the tall trees, lingering over his detachment.

“Incoming!” someone yells as another round comes over their heads, knocking and busting everything in its path, showering the entire battery in pine needles, branches and leaves.

The gunship firing with an enormous quickness is keeping them pinned down, each artillery shot a percussive blow to the ears, and each illuminate the bluff with a sudden flash of light that is smothered almost instantly by powder smoke. After a good twenty minutes, a sudden pause in the firing happens and he wastes not a second. They regroup and prepare the cannon for the next shot.

The gun captain spikes the bag and loads the port-fire. “Stand back, lads!”

Then gun jumps back on its wheels, the grapeshot spraying across the water’s surface pelting the side of one of the launches, hitting a blue coated man who fell forward inside the damaged vessel.

“Swab out!” the gun captain shouts, covering the touch-hole with his gloved thumb.

He sees the beginnings of the small boats come towards the shore. “Give that launch a shot of grape,” the Colonel shouts over the noise of the red coats of the 87th below launching artillery rounds to the ship and the fleet of small vessels approaching them and the popping of smaller arms, “then aim at the ship again.”

“We only have enough wadding for one more shot, Colonel.”

“What? Why?”

“The wagon,” the private points behind himself, panting, as he explained one of the chain-shots snapped a giant tree in half that fell square on top of their wagon, crushing one man and the bull it was attached to.

“Jesus bloody Christ!” he shouts, crawling back down the slope and through the sharp bush to see three men frantically pulling broken branches and trying to retrieve their equipment wagon beneath a massive mess of timber and branches, the crying screams of the man stuck beneath it all cutting through the concussive blasts of the guns. He crawls back up and has the sergeant help him detach the drag chains off the cannon piece and brings them down and hooks them onto a branch of the splintered tree and all four of them and a dozen others grab on and heave until a large piece snaps and breaks off, making the entire piece roll back and lift a few feet, just long enough to pull the crushed private out, but its massive weight making it then fall back forward onto the wagon. They reattach it and try again. Another round flies over their heads and lands with a dull thud somewhere in the vegetation.

His lieutenant comes out of the dark and alongside him yells out, "Shall I send word to General Arnold, Colonel?"

"Yes," he shouts, "go, hurry!”

The officer stands and turns and in a blink of an eye an enemy bar-shot hits across his neck, slicing through his black braid, ripping his head from the body before slamming with a whirring crash into the splintering trees making a fresh rain of pine needles and cones dump onto them. The incredible spray of blood from his neck, brilliant and red against the white smoke haze, spindrifts a warm spray across his face and jacket and as if by the nightmare of illusion seemingly lifting the severed head into the air and sending it to land with a thud a foot away and roll down the slope into the darkness. The Colonel raises his hand reflexively to block his face and jerks back as the officer’s body collapses in a shuddering pile near his feet. He curses and ducks as another shot whirs overhead breaking distant branches.

He quickly wipes the blood off of his eyes and brow with the inside of his forearm and looks around and sees the closest man who just witnessed the entire terror is frozen staring at the slowly ceasing death throes of the headless corpse. Crouching he walks over to him and grabs him roughly by the collar and shouts, “Listen to me, you must go—look at me goddammit—you must go send word to the general. Do you understand?”

The man blinks and nods. “Yes. Yes sir!”

“Good man,” he says, and releases his grip on him. Shoving him in the shoulder he screams, “Go, quickly now!”

An enemy chain shot slams into a tree three feet away and the slivers of bark explode and spray everywhere, making everyone drop to the ground. He covers his eyes and face with his arm, being pelted by the bits of ricocheting debris and he knows he should be afraid but yet he is not. His mind quivers under the rush of a primitive excitement, but a commander does not have the luxury to indulge in the private world of his throbbing blood-lust.

“Well what are you waiting for?” he yells over the fire to the men at the canons while trying to tip over the what must be two tons of broken timber. “We’re to take that ship, boys, or have you forgotten? Use fucking turf if you have to!”

A group of voices reply, “Aye sir!"

With their last wadding loaded, the sergeant pierces the powder bag with a spike and his booming voice warns everyone to stay clear as he touches the cherry tipped fuse to the portfire. A hissing and puff of smoke curls from the hole and the gun roars with a deafening blow making the canon leap back against its groundings, its wheels bouncing with a clatter off the hard ground. Billowing white smoke surrounds the entire area as the wind slowly carries it off into the darkening sky.

And in what will become a war story he will tell at least four thousand times to whoever he can force to listen to it until the day he dies, the shot miraculously hits and splinters a spring cable. The taught cord blows apart with a release of its metal windings whipping violently loose, surely killing any unlucky soul nearby and with a loud groan of its lumber the ship begins to swing around, its guns forced to quit firing and exposing the men on its deck to the cannons it drifts in range of the guns below. The entire bluff erupts into cheers and hollers and complete and utter chaos unleashes on the water as the entire battle turns a 180 in the King’s favor.

A rapidly amassing glow lights up the scene as two large ships in the distance are engulfed in a flame so bright and so hot it brings a hot smoky sting to the eyes, to the nose, down into the throat choking everyone. The sharp unrelenting wind brings almost unbearable scorching gusts of it on the wind blowing through the spaces of the trees. A loud cracking and snapping of timber echoes as the ships begin to collapse and crash in upon themselves, the enemy scuttling as many ships as possible, leaving nothing to be claimed. But sharp gusts and unmanned vessels carried by the current collide into each other, spreading the flames across the entire fleet, and unfortunately for the men aboard, engulfing the gun ship’s sails.

Men begin to pour up from the belly of the ship, scattering upon the deck like drowning rats fleeing. How generous the fickleness of fire can be, though, making all the little wet vermin race right to his blade. Several launches come around the now engulfed vessel dragging up as many men as possible, straying into the musket range of the redcoats now moved onto the beach and giving them some excellent marksmanship hits as two shadowy figures fall in that unmistakable slackened fall of death and sink away into the water.

Without any warning suddenly a large explosion booms from deep within the ship, expanding and ripping its timber apart, sending it flying up and out, splintering and impaling men, catching others on fire, causing some of the rescue launches to flip or capsize from the blast. The flash of light in that damp darkness blinds everyone—heads turn, arms raise to shield eyes—and the intense heat blasts across the beachhead and bluffs. The sound of men screaming, of shouts and cries, water splashing frantically, guns firing; the chaos drones into a far off hum in his mind as he watches with excited anticipation over the water intently and decides to move down to flank the beach to engage the men approaching the shore.

They move down the heights to the shore and present a line of muskets pointing at the small approaching boats, materializing out of the misty smoky haze, like specters of death, as they emerge from the smoke-thickened fog from the backdrop of a raging inferno. He attaches his bayonet and with the metallic stinking sticky blood still smeared on his face, the image and sounds of his lieutenant’s head being blown off directly in front of him still blazingly lucid, he waits for them to come while that seducing, addicting rush burns through his chest, deafening his concussed ears with the pounding of his heart, everything narrowing down to a precise fine point, his muscles on the edge of explosion. His mind fixated to kill every single one of them.

“Play a good tune for me, boy,” he yells over the relentless noise, slapping the drummer boy on the shoulder standing alongside him out of his paralyzed fright. “And stay back here with cover or I’ll lash you myself.”

The child starts playing his favorite, The March of the British Grenadiers. Launches come into range and with the order to fire at will, the men release volley after volley, pelting the small boats and water’s surface, the enemy soldiers jumping the boats to hide behind before charging the shore, pistols and swords in hand to meet them. With his loudest throat tearing scream he orders them to charge with their bayonets, and at the sound of that threat alone, more than half of the enemy in ear shot take off in the opposite direction towards the boats and for further shore, and the rest, charge.

As he makes his way down to the beach he aims his musket at one of the rebel soldiers, an officer, who had just shot and killed one of his Rangers. The officer trying to escape the boat as cover but getting bogged down in the heavy water and silty shore, the Colonel takes a shot at him which hits him directly in the face, a spray of blood shines in the flame lit night as he drops into the murky water. Rushing at the launch, he brings his bayonet down into another blue coated chest, but before he can yank his blade out of the man, another large strong soldier coming out from behind the boat manages to grab the Colonel from behind and they fall together into the soft sand of the cold water. In their struggle the soldier getting the superior position on him, his heavy knees sharply pinning him down. He punches the Colonel hard in the face with his fist, then suddenly, his wet skin ripping as the rebel pistol whips him across the face, he hears the sick crunch of bone as the brutal assault upon his skull disrupts his vision and balance. A hand gripping his hair roughly dunks the Colonel’s head under the surface, the rebel bringing the weight of his body forward, holding him under, the shocking pain and panic as his ears and mouth filling with gritty icy water making him lose all orientation. A sense of impending death comes over him, and as his attacker desperately searches about for a knife or anything to kill the Colonel with, the apprehension of death is suddenly set washed away with a flooding exhilaration that courses through his veins in response, that haunting fear that gripped him, quickly giving way to a release of heat through the blood, the inextinguishable fire to live, and he releases his panicked death grip on the arms of his would be murderer and manages to blindly reach up and sink his thumbs hard and sharp into the man’s eyes, making him release the Colonel immediately. In those seconds of freedom, still submerged and his eyes blurred with the river, he reaches into his sash and pulls out his dagger, blindly stabbing it into the rebel’s body again and again until the man’s hands instantly and grab instinctively at the blade shoved into his gut, his mouth dropping open in shock and pain.

Pushing the weight of the man off of him, he rushes his head out of the water, choking and gasping for breath, regaining his sense of reality and realizing he was not going to die after all. He looks at the man holding his dagger embedded into his tender belly, crying out and groaning in agony, and meeting his victim's cries with his own, he grabs the man by his black braid, and quickly pulling the blade out of the man’s gut, he then shoves it into the man’s neck with a brutal thrust and angling the blade to the side, tearing his throat open, blood spraying high, until his wide eyes fix and his twitching body falls slack on top of him, turning what was left white of the Colonel’s waistcoat a diluted filthy pinkish crimson, his green coat soaked black with blood and the river.

The Colonel pushes the heavy body off of him and leaning against the boat and keeping his head down, manages bring himself to his knees. He steadies himself and looks down at the excruciating pain in his arm. The flesh from the thumb down along his long pale inner arm flayed open, blood pouring down into his shredded sleeve and dripping with a disturbing speed off his elbow. His arm and hand feeling cold and wet. His own blood pooling in his sleeve and dripping to the blood soaked battle field. No time for that. Clutching his arm against his side he pulls off the sash belt of one of the slain men and winces in pain as he carefully folds the flap of his skin back and then tightly winds it around his wound. He searches for his musket and sees it still sticking out of the soldier half laying in the break of the water. Next to a dead Ranger, as he gets closer he can see it is his Pvt. Hallohan. The rebel soldier still alive. But not for long. The man’s breath wet and sharp through his teeth. Hushed whimpers of pain and fear. The Colonel puts his boot heavily to the man’s gut for leverage enjoying his yelp of agony and yanks his blade back out of him and the heavy musket slips out of his hand and falls to the ground. He goes to unsheathe his cutlass but it is his right arm that is now useless so he pulls his dagger back out. Standing over him, the gasping man cries out, “no, wait,” as the Colonel brings the dagger down into the man’s neck, yanking out it out and lodging it back into his throat. "The Rangers sends their regards," he spits, putting all his weight on it, twisting it until the horrific sounds he made ceased and the body went still. He wipes the gore off the blade and resheathes it, reclaims his musket bobbing in the frothy, waves laying alongside him. Looking around he sees the man he had shot in the face slowly crawling on hand and knee up the sandy shore one hand held to his bleeding face. The bullet had miraculously only hit his eye and nose.

With his wounded arm tightly held against himself and his musket in his left hand he placed the bayonet edge to the man’s neck. “Move and you die,” he yells out, the man freezing still, nodding. He drops stiffly to his side and then sits up, trying to face the Colonel but obviously blinded and disoriented. He cries out not to kill him, tells the Colonel his name is Captain Ford and he will submit to imprisonment. While he’s rambling, the Colonel stares at the man’s epaulette. The regretful thought flickers in his mind that if only he had died on first shot, he could have fulfilled his promise to Mercy.

With the heat of battle fading, very quickly he starts to feel lightheaded, nauseous; his legs reeling beneath him. The rapidly increasing pain in his arm becoming nearly impossible to ignore. He takes a deep breath in and out slowly a few times and tucks his cold wet arm tighter against himself and scans the hell like scene around him. The battle already moved far down the end of the beach, the popping of musket and pistol fire growing distant and farther apart, the beach scattered in bodies, the injured, debris of the explosion and the scarred of the landscape from the bombardment of the artillery fire. He could see the men from the 78th pulling rebel injured from the water and rescuing those still escaping the fire and water, the eerie sounds of men crying, screaming, yelling, laughing, interspersed with the loud boom of guns on the water.

He rejoins his men to find out of the thirty in his own detachment, two missing, five confirmed dead and eight injured, not including himself. They had won, but the joy of victory remained painfully absent. Attacking from the shore as they did caused unnecessary deaths and everyone knew it. But there is nothing one can do when trapped under poor leadership, but only try to lead themselves.

Returning to the baggage, he has his wound tended to, enduring a series of painful stitches of black thread sewing together his flayed flesh. Distracting his mind on the task ahead of finding a reliable and quality forger to create a new identity for his lady in waiting, he tries to concentrate on the happy thought of how excited she would be to have a new name and identity, to no longer be his prisoner or a shamed woman trapped to a backwater life, how he was going to marry her in front of everyone, to make it a grand and joyful affair. He finds a twisted pleasure in imaging if Hewlett or the dead farmer or that wretched magistrate were there to see her in that insanely expensive gown he gotten her glowing and pregnant and just to see the looks on their faces as they are forced to watched with silent contempt and envy. Oh how he wished to go home.

After the surgeon finishes, he begins to prepare his report to the man responsible for this victorious disaster, an urgent messenger comes into his tent and passes him a letter. From Staten Island. His heart sinks in his chest as he opens it, and reads the matter of fact words that inform him that an unfortunate fire had occurred Card house in which everyone was all alive and well, only for reasons not mentioned, Anna was unaccounted for.

Unaccounted for. He reads it again.

He stands up knocking the chair out behind him shouting, “Unaccounted for?”

Taking a few steps back the messenger replies, “I—I don’t know any more than y’do sir, I only took the message.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Almost two weeks ago, sir.”

He exits the tent to escape the suffocating enclosure of the tent and in his state, absently looks across and sees the officer who killed Pvt. Hallohan sitting with his face bandaged and he looks to the Colonel. “Hey,” he says. “Hey! Simcoe be ye name is it?”

He only look at the man and then back to the letter still clutched in his hand.

“If I would have known, who ye be,” he calls out, “I would have gutted ye m’self, ye British fuck,” he spits. He starts to go on about some captain the Colonel had supposedly killed or something, his words becoming lost as the Colonel’s ears go deaf with a blazing rush of blood. As if possessed by a will outside of his own, as if watching himself from another vantage point, without taking a moment to stop walking towards the man, he does a quick lean-and-grab of a large wooden mallet that is used to sink the three foot cannon spikes into the ground and with a one handed swing, knocks him in the side of the face with a sickening crunch, sending the man backwards to the ground, cradling his head in his arms.

He walks alongside him as the man pushes his body along the ground away from his attacker with scurrying feet, thrashing about. He lets him worm about five feet away from where he fell before he stands over him and lands a swift toed kick into his gut. He looks down at him and yells, “Well, come on and gut me then!”

The man’s hands up in a defensive pleading gesture, his open palms facing out and he’s trying to simultaneously ward off his pursuer and hold the sagging side of his face, but the force of the blow has sapped all his strength and coordination and his movements are slow and retarded and he’s crying, “no, wait, please,” or something like that (it’s always along those lines, regardless of language), since his shattered jaw makes speech near impossible. An awful calm stills his heart as he brings up the mallet with both hands over his head and brings it down with all his strength onto the man’s head. And then again. And again.

The convex of his forehead falls flat, the nose breaks and flattens into the face. The sound of air sucking through what was left of his collapsed, blocked and blood filled airways hurries then slowly abates as the man’s hands jerk and claw about frantically over his own mutilated skull, the ground, the air in desperation as drawing breath becomes impossible. With a throat bloodying scream, he brings it down two more times, in quick succession, then a third and a fourth, until he physically cannot lift the mallet anymore and he tosses it aside, leaving a grotesque scene, the mallet completely erasing any real definition of human facial features of the captain. His flesh torn and twisted, pushed back into contorted positions, the cheeks and mouth into horrible smear of flesh like a portrait someone swirled linseed oil on, the pink tongue half out of the side of the mouth cut nearly off by randomly placed teeth and a piece of splintered jawbone. The body twitching and jerking for seconds, then stillness.

He tosses the mallet aside, flesh and hair sticking to the flat of it, and stands over the jerking body catching his own breath. A disgusting hissing and bubbling sound comes from where his skull is split open through the skin, the internal pressure forcing pink and grey slime through his nostrils, his eye, bloody wounds.

The Colonel’s muscles burn and ache in extremis as his rage burns out, falls empty, and is replaced with a deep arresting fatigue. His legs sway a little under him. Lungs burn. His wound soaked with fresh blood, the pain growing intensely. Slowly, his surroundings become apparent to him. The small circle of spectators frozen in terror. The ground made muddy with blood. He looks down at the sickening scene and a mirthful laugh escapes his lips as he notices the officer’s epaulette shining in the early morning sun. Looks like he can get that trophy for little Miss Mercy the Terrible after all. He bends over and rips the silver braids off the corpse’s jacket and stands up and looks around to the stunned and horrified faces.

“Let’s go home, shall we,” he says.

OOO

 

Returning to the Card home a week later, his clothes blood stained, stiff and filthy, skin and hair disgustingly greasy and gritty, face unshaven, his nerves frayed and numb, running on nothing but sheer anger; he sees the telltale blackened shadows in the brick exterior wall of the house. Scorched shrubs and grass surrounding a large burned out clearing of the ground below becomes visible as he gets closer.

His mind pinpoint focusing on the man he left in charge, the man he was going to kill. No, lash. And salt. Two thousand lashes. In the hot sun. Then kill.

Coming around to the property he sees the man he is looking for and quickly dismounts and approaches him as fast as his sore legs would take him. Before the ensign can say anything, he grabs him the back of his hair and cranes his head back, walking him backwards into a fence. “Well Mr. Morris, it seems you have some explaining to do.”

Swallowing hard the ensign goes on to tell him everything that happened. In the early morning hours a wagon on the side of the house was set on fire. In the midst of the panic and chaos of the situation, Anna simply disappeared. They searched the surrounding forest but found nothing.

“So you’re telling me the house was attacked and the only person you were supposed to protect was taken?”

He shakes his head. “We’re not sure it be an attack, sir.”

“What are you saying?”

“Everything indicates, sir, that she set the fire.”

“—Did you tell anyone this?”

“No, sir, of course not. That is why I did not mention it in my report.”

The shriek of a woman catches both their attentions and looking at the house he see it’s Lucy now rushing forward, her white dress and long black hair flowing behind her as she runs to them, crashing full speed into his side, her tiny claws gripping into his injured arm, pleading and crying for him not to hurt Ensign Morris.

“He doesn’t know but I do, I do,” she yells, trying to push her way in between them, “Colonel, please listen to me!”

Not releasing his hold on his ensign he looks at her frantic face. “You know what happened? You saw?”

“Yes!” she cries out, “Please, don’t hurt him, it’s not his fault!”

Tears streak down the young girl’s pretty white face as she desperately begs him and as he looks into her eyes and holds her gaze, challenging her and the brave thing, stubborn as she is in all things, does not relent. Slowly, he eases his grip on the man’s hair. “Oh, it is very much his fault. Isn’t it, Ensign?”

Ensign Morris closes his eyes and swallows hard and then nods quickly. “Yes, sir, I was in charge, forgive me.”

Pulling on his arm, Lucy pleads with him to release the ensign and talk to her inside. Relenting, he tells the ensign to gather the men and wait for him and puts out his arm to her, in an aggressively annoyed manner, for her to lead the way, and he walks in step behind her, trying to control the urge to grab her by the arm and make her walk faster. In the house she leads him beyond the main foyer into a small corner of the parlor for some informal privacy. The girl, shaking looks up to him and then to his arm and looks at his bandaged hand. “Oh, Colonel, you’re injured?”

“Yes, and it's terribly painful, so therefor I am not in any mood for you to play games with me, girl,” he says through clenched teeth, taking a step forward, looking down at her. “Tell me everything you saw.”

“You can be so revoltingly stupid, you know that? I am not playing games,” she snaps angrily. “I have something to give to you.” In her hand is a folded piece of paper but she does not offer it out, keeping it in her tight little grip she adds, “But I want you to promise me you will not hurt or punish Mr. Morris.”

“Is that a letter from her?”

“Promise me,” she says, standing firm in the face of his intimidating air and terrifying mood.

“—Very well. Ensign Morris will remain in the same position and health he was yesterday. Satisfied?”

She nods and swallowing hard, she looks at the paper nervously and presents it to him. Without hesitation he snatches it from her hand and opens it. But he finds it’s not a letter or even written by Anna’s hand at all, but in an unfamiliar girlish script simply a name written upon it:

Jeremiah Dunson 71st Franklin TS.

“Jeremiah Dunson,” he murmurs, the name sounding vaguely familiar but not enough to be useful. Scowling and confused, he looks to Lucy. “What is this?”

“I was with her in the garden and a man approached us,” she explains. “That was his name and where he said he was going. He said he knew her? And that he knew you. From a place called Sa—,” her words cutting off from her lapse in memory.

The Colonel flatly interjects, “Setauket.”

“Yes, that was it. But Colonel, he said he knew who she was. That her name was Anna—Strong?”