Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fighting For Love: Chapter 4

At War and At Peace: June 25 - December, 1862

Music: It's My Life, Bon Jovi (Jimmy)
Wildflower, Bon Jovi, (Thatch)
A Little Less Talk and A Lot More Action, Toby Keith (Jimmy)
Alive, Meatloaf (Lou & Kid)
All For Love, Rod Stewart (Buck)
Birthday, Crüxshadows (Cody)
Crash! Boom! Bang!, Roxette (Teaspoon)

Lou and Kid
Lou looked at the men, most barely more than boys, sprawled around the merrily dancing flames of the campfire. They hadn’t had many nights like this in the last few months, with time to just sit back and relax. It seemed like they’d been on the move constantly. But, the last couple weeks they’d been allowed to rest a bit and had set up a more permanent camp, complete with tents, just outside of Richmond. The Peninsular Campaign, as Kid had told her the Union was calling it, had almost been defeated last month at the Battle of Seven Pines. If only the Union reinforcements hadn’t arrived just when they did. Now, Company G was camped along the Richmond defensive works, near the extreme southern end of the 30 mile long defensive line at Chaffin’s Bluff.

Tonight, they were celebrating. For the first time in weeks, they had real meat. The cavalry had been subsisting on salt pork and hardtack, as their maneuvers often took them out of reach of their supply lines. By the end of the last stretch, Lou had barely been able to force herself to eat the last of the hardtack. The flour and salt biscuits had been more mealworms than meal. Lou looked down at the warm, fresh baking powder biscuit in her hand. She’d already downed three. This one though, she was savoring, for now just enjoying the feeling of its warmth in her hand and the smell that teased her nose.

While a few were savoring the last remnants of the night’s filling meal, others were settling in for the evening’s relaxation. Several of the men were writing letters home to parents, wives, sweethearts. Leaning against a tree across the way, Virgil was writing a letter for one of the newer recruits, who couldn’t read or write. Others were busy repairing equipment in preparation for the next ride.

Lou was considering going back to their tent to get paper and pencil to write a letter to Emma or Rachel when, on the other side of the campfire, Ewell piped up, “Hey, Louie, how ‘bout some tunes?”

Young Louie had joined the cavalry as its bugler the month before, after the previous bugle boy had been shot down by an enemy sniper. As a rider, he often struggled to just stay on his horse, but as a musician there was none his better and Company G wouldn’t give him up for anything. He nodded and ran to his tent to get his mandolin. Lou smiled. That mandolin. Louie wouldn’t give that up for anything. On their arduous ride around the Union troops a couple weeks ago, the men had been jettisoning anything they could to lighten their loads. But Louie had refused to part with that mandolin, cradling it in front of him on his saddle like a baby. And, oddly enough, no one in the Company got upset about it.

Soon, Louie was seated back at the fire, softly strumming the four stringed relative of the guitar, with a teardrop shaped body, humming to himself as he tuned the instrument. Then he looked up and asked, “What shall I play, boys?”

Numerous suggestions rang out from the emotionally deprived men. The favorites included “Dixie’s Land”, “Virginia, Virginia, Land of the Free”, “God Save the South” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag”. But Louie finally began strumming the opening bars to what had become the Company’s unofficial anthem, “Riding a Raid.” A cheer went up around the fire as the men realized which song Louie was playing. Kid looked at Lou and smiled, then reached into his back pocket and pulled out his harmonica to join in on the melody. He really had improved with that thing, Lou thought.

Just as Emmett Caldwell, one of the older men in the unit at 30 with a wife and four kids at home, broke into the first lines of the song, Ewell let out a screeching, ululating shout. The others smiled in appreciation of the Rebel Yell that had spooked so many Union soldiers so far this war. Caldwell just started over again.

“’Tis old Stonewall, the Rebel, that leans on his sword,
And while we are mounting, prays low to the Lord;
Now each Cavalier that loves honor and right,
Let him follow the feather of Stuart tonight.”

As the first verse wound down, the entire Company joined in heartily on the chorus.

“Come tighten your girth and slacken your rein;
Come buckle your blanket and holster again;
Try the click of your trigger and balance your blade,
For he must ride sure that goes Riding a Raid.”

“Now gallop, now gallop, to swim or to ford!
Old Stonewall, still watching, prays low to the Lord:
Good-bye dear old Rebel! The river’s not wide,
And Maryland’s lights in her window to guide.”

Lou smiled as Caldwell continued with the next verse. It was nights like these that she felt most at home. If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine herself back at the bunkhouse with the rest of the riders. There was the poet, Ike, the protector, Buck, the braggart, Cody, the hair trigger temper, Jimmy, the fighter and idealist, Noah, and her best friend and partner, Kid, by her side as always. But, she didn’t let herself go down that road very often. It was too hard on her when she opened her eyes again and Kid was the only one there. Kid smiled at her gently over his harmonica, well aware of where her thoughts had wandered. The song ended with Caldwell singing one last verse, then a rousing round of the chorus from all the men.

“There’s a man in a white house with blood on his mouth!
If there’s Knaves in the North, there are braves in the South.
We are three thousand horses, and not one afraid;
We are three thousand sabres and not a dull blade.”

“Then gallop, then gallop, by ravines and rocks!
Who would bar us the way take his toll in hard knocks;
For with these points of steel, on the line of Penn,
We have made some fine strokes-and we’ll make ‘em again.”

“It’s time to call it a night, men,” Captain Irving said. “Reveille will sound early in the morning.”

“One more song to send us to bed,” one of the men begged. Captain Irving nodded his assent and suggested, “How about ‘God Save the South’?”

Louie nodded and transitioned his strumming into the slow hymn now sung throughout the Confederacy, sure that God was on their side in this epic battle. Lou and Kid slowly walked back to their tent, the furthest from the fire they could get. What they gave up in warmth, they made up for in privacy, something far more precious to the couple. Kid followed Lou into the tent, letting down the door flap behind him and latching it tight. It didn’t take them long to bed down, simply stripping to their longjohns and laying down on their bedrolls, not even bothering with their wool blankets. It was already too warm for that. It wouldn’t be long before they’d be forced to give up what little privacy they had by opening the tent flaps at night to catch the odd breeze. But for now, once the camp lights were extinguished, they felt safe enough to fall asleep holding hands, if not in each others arms.

“I love you, Lou,” Kid whispered in her ear as they listened quietly to Louie’s sweet music and someone in the camp singing the song of protection.

“God save the South, God save the South,
Her altars and firesides, God save the South!
Now that the war is nigh, now that we arm to die,
Chanting our battle cry, Freedom or death!
Chanting our battle cry, Freedom or death!

God be our shield, at home or afield,
Stretch Thine arm over us, strengthen and save.
What tho’ they’re three to one, forward each sire and son,
Strike till the war is won, strike to the grave!
Strike till the war is won, strike to the grave!

God made the right stronger then might,
Millions would trample us down in their pride.
Lay Thou their legions low, roll back the ruthless foe,
Let the proud spoiler know God’s on our side.
Let the proud spoiler know God’s on our side.”

Buck opened his eyes to watch the shadows of the firelight dancing on the wall of the tipi overhead. He wondered where he was. He’d brought no tipi with him, and even if he had he’d never had a chance to erect it. A humming on his right caught his attention and he slowly, carefully, turned his head in the direction of the sound. A beautiful young woman, about his age, was squatted next to the fire in the center of the tipi, stirring something in a pot. He wondered who she was and what she was doing here. He could slowly feel his mind settling back into his body, although the fit did not feel as comfortable, as normal, as it had before the Sun Dance.

A shaft of bright light suddenly broke the gloom of the interior of the tipi, causing Buck to wince and press his eyes closed.

“Ah, I see you’re awake,” he heard. Upon opening his eyes again, Buck saw the old medicine man who’d been his protector and guide during the Sun Dance staring down at him. “How are you feeling, son?”

“I’m not sure,” Buck replied carefully. “How should I be feeling?”

He heard a soft giggle from the woman by the fireplace, but kept his eyes on the elder looking almost searchingly at him. The old man grinned and shook his head. Then, turning to the young woman by the fire said something in Cheyenne Buck couldn’t understand. She nodded and stood, brushing off her hands, then exited the tipi. Buck looked questioningly at the elder by his side.

“You’re the last of the Dancers to awake, son. She’s going to tell the others to prepare for the giveaway tomorrow night.”

Buck nodded in understanding.

“Do you think you can sit up?” the old shaman asked.

“Yes,” Buck grunted as he started to try sitting up on his own. The elder quickly put an arm behind Buck’s back to help him. Once he was fully seated upright, leaning against a brightly decorated woven willow backrest hanging from a tripod at the head of the bed of furs, Buck looked at the old man at his side and asked, “What should I call you? I cannot continue to call you The Old Medicine Man as I have in my thoughts.”

“No, I suppose you cannot,” the old man laughed outright. “My people call me Hoo'kôhevenehe, Rain in the Face. You may call me Rain. Speaking of which,” Rain continued, moving away from Buck toward a leather drinking pouch and pouring a cup of water, “You need to break your fast. Start with this water.”

Buck gulped down the cool water quickly before handing the cup back, indicating he’d like some more. About that time the young woman returned to the tipi, entering quietly and moving around the fire to the left, as protocol required of women. She did not speak, but moved to the fire and scooped some stew out of the pot into a wooden bowl and brought it to Rain, who took the bowl and handed it to Buck.

“It is only meat broth, young Running Buck. It is best to break your fast slowly. Eat this and in a bit Standing Woman will bring you something more substantial to chew on. You must regain your strength for tomorrow night.”

Buck did not respond immediately as he was too busy slurping down the broth. Afterward he felt drowsy and, as Rain and Standing Woman both left the tipi, soon fell into a healing slumber.

That night, as he was eating his first solid food in nearly a week, Buck looked at his hosts. Custom demanded that as a guest he wait for Rain, his elder, to initiate any conversation. Standing Woman had to wait for either Rain or Buck to speak to her before she could join the conversation. So far, no one had spoken, so all had concentrated on eating. Finally, Rain set his empty bowl to the side and looked at Buck.

“So, my son, what did you see during your Dance that had you sleeping so long? You were the last to break free of the Tree of Life and the last to awake. Ma’heo’o, the Creator, must have had a great deal to share with you.”

Buck nodded slowly, swallowing the last of his stew. “To be honest, I do not understand all I saw and what I can comprehend scares me. Tell me, were there Eagles flying overhead during the Dance?”

“No,” Rain responded, not surprised by the question. “Did you see Eagles?”

“Yes, I saw many birds during my Dance. They seemed to be Dancing with me. But the Eagles appeared to be directing their dance. First, came the Eagles. They circled overhead, in the direction of the Sun, seven times. As they continued to Dance, a small flock of Red-tailed Hawks joined them, Dancing also in the direction of the Sun. Then, a flock of White Pelicans joined the Dance. There were so many I could not see the end of them. They did not follow the same pattern, but seemed to fly every which way, often getting in each other’s path and fighting. The Eagles, with the help of the Red-tailed Hawks, kept trying to show the White Pelicans how to fly together, so as to live peacefully. This went on a long time.”

“That is a very interesting Dream, young Running Buck. You must meditate on it much to discern the true meaning, though we can both guess some of it.”

“May I ask you a question, father,” Buck asked hesitantly.

“Of course.”

“Why did you choose to be my Dance Guide? It was a great honor. But, I do not understand why you would choose a half-breed outsider over a respected member of your own tribe.”

Rain smiled at Buck before answering. “The first time I met you, when you entered camp ignoring all distractions, when you asked me to watch over your possessions, I could tell you had been deeply touched by the Spirits already and as such needed my Guidance more than any other man at this year’s Dance.”

Rain paused before continuing, “And my son, I don’t know how it is with the Kiowa, but among the Cheyenne we do not see everything in terms of The People versus the Wasicu, the pale faces. You are a member of The People based on your actions. Those of mixed blood show us where and how they wish to live and we accept their decisions. Even those of so-called ‘pure’ blood sometimes choose to live another life, and that is their choice. I think perhaps your experiences with your own tribe are not quite exactly as you remember them. You might wish to meditate on that also. Perhaps my daughter, Standing Woman, will sometime tell you of her choice,” he ended, smiling at the young woman. “Her mother was a Wasicu who chose to live as one of The People.”

Buck looked at Standing Woman more closely in surprise. In the dim light of the tipi he had earlier missed the reddish highlights in her hair and the lighter hue of her dusky skin, marking her as much a half-breed as he. She looked up as he studied her and their eyes met. That’s when he noticed she had the most startling grey eyes, eyes that could have been Ike’s. Buck sucked in a surprised breath, then let it out slowly, smiling in growing joy at this young woman.

“Buffalo Bill” Cody swatted irritably at a mosquito buzzing near his ear. He so did not like Mississippi! It was hot, humid and full of bugs. But, that’s where Army life had taken him and the rest of the 7th Cavalry. He looked at the kid next to him and felt bad. Unlike Cody, Thatch couldn’t strip off extra layers and she looked to be almost completely wilted. And in this wet heat he couldn’t exactly dump a bucket of water over her head as he’d used to do for Lou occasionally. It wouldn’t do any good. Not that Lou’d ever thanked him for it, he thought with a grin.

The 7th Kansas Cavalry had been ordered to Mississippi earlier in the month, to provide armed escort for work parties of the Mobile & Ohio railroad. Both the U.S. and Confederate Armies had quickly realized how useful railroads were in the movement of men and were working feverishly to not only improve their own track system but to destroy their enemy’s tracks and engines.

Cody glanced at the work crew riding in the back of the freight wagon. They’d been tasked to repair a section of the railroad near Corinth that rebels had pulled up the day before. The Mobile & Ohio railroad ran from Mobile, Alabama, to Columbus, Kentucky, and had just barely been completed when the first shots of the war had been fired. Now, both sides wanted to use the line and were constantly fighting over it. The U.S. Army had control, for the moment, and that meant rebel units were spending their time destroying the track so the Union couldn’t use it. Meanwhile, the Union was continually repairing the track so it could be used. The entire situation could be reversed next week, depending on the fortunes of war.

A nervous scan of the surrounding countryside showed nothing suspicious, as the horses plodded on. But, that didn’t mean anything, Cody thought. In this country raiders could be hiding around every corner and just over the top of every hill. There were a lot of corners and hills here. Mississippi might not have the cold winters of the northern plains but, so far as Cody was concerned, they could keep their sweltering summers and crowded landscape. Give him wide open spaces where he could see for miles, and dream even farther, any day.

After delivering the workers to the area of ripped up track, it was up to Cody, Thatch and the other members of the 7th Kansas Cavalry to ensure no one interrupted the work. Cody and Thatch, a recognized team by now, had found a hiding spot in the branches of a tree on a hill overlooking the worksite. Seated with their backs to each other they could watch all available approaches from several directions. It also allowed them to talk, something they both enjoyed doing.

“I want to work in a circus someday,” Thatch said. “I saw one when I was little. I think I fell in love with the idea of performing when I saw the clowns making everyone laugh.”

“Did I ever tell you about the time I joined an acting troupe?” Cody asked.

“Yep. And about the time you helped entertain all those rich ol’ geezers from back East. I think you’ve told me just about every story there is to tell about your life. Why don’t you tell me some more stories about the other Riders,” Thatch begged.

“Lemme guess, ya wanna hear about Lou? Or maybe it’s Buck?” Cody teased.

“Come on, ‘Buffalo Bill’, tell me another story about Jimmy.”

“Well, I gotta think a minute here. Jimmy’s such a quiet fella, there ain’t much to tell.”

Thatch slammed her elbow into Cody’s ribs for that comment.

“All right, all right. Did I ever tell ya ‘bout the time Jimmy took Lou out dancin’?”

Thatch almost turned around in shock at that comment, but Cody felt the movement and pushed her back into position. “What?!?” she almost screeched.

“Not that kind of dancin’,” he hastily corrected. He’d long since clued her in on the Rider’s code word for intimate relations. “Just, regular dancin’.”


“Well, see Kid and Lou were on the outs. They did that a lot. To say their courtship was rocky would be a gross understatement. The type of exaggeration I am incapable of! And, Jimmy’s best friends with both of them. At least, he was before this danged war broke out. Anyway, Teaspoon decided to get Lou out of the bunkhouse before she drove the lot of us plumb loco, so he sent her and Jimmy on an extended run. Well, when they got there, turns out the return pouch wasn’t ready. Wouldn’t be ‘til the next day. So, Jimmy got Lou to buy a dress and took her out on the town. Had dinner at a fancy restaurant, went to see a magic show, took her dancing in the middle of the street. To this day, Jimmy swears he was just tryin’ ta cheer her up. I don’t know though, there’s something gets in his eyes when he talks about that trip. Personally, I think he fell in love with Lou.”

“Aw, Cody, why’d ya have to go and tell me that story,” Thatch whined.

Cody grinned. He knew Thatch was half in love with Jimmy from all the stories he’d told her, even if she’d never met the volatile rider. That’s precisely why he’d told her the story.

“Just consider it a friendly warnin’. Jimmy, he loved Lou, almost as much as Kid did. But, he never fought for her. Think about it. Why would he just let her go without fightin’ for her?”

The sound of the work whistle signaling the end of the day interrupted their talk. They both shimmied out of the tree and headed over to hitch up the horses to their wagon. It was time to ferry the railroad workers back to camp for the night.

Kid and Lou
“Wakey, wakey, sleepyhead,” Kid whispered quietly into Lou’s ear. Lou was a sound sleeper and always had trouble waking up. Luckily, Kid had always been an early riser and enjoyed waking her up. He’d had to do it on a daily basis for nearly two years now, since even before he’d known Lou’s secret. Teaspoon had assigned all the bunkmates to act as each other’s alarm clocks their first week at the Express, after Lou had overslept and missed morning chores. Lou hadn’t appreciated it, but had needed the help more than the others.

Kid grinned as she snuggled closer into his arms. He enjoyed these few moments every morning, but would have to bid them adieu in a few days. As the summer heated up, they’d have to give up closing the tent flaps at night for privacy. Already, they were the last tent to do so and had taken some teasing over their ‘prissy sensibilities.’ But, when they started sleeping with the flaps open and the sides of the tent rolled up, they’d have to start sleeping head to head like they did when camping under the stars instead of side by side as they’d been doing in their tent. For some reason, no matter how far apart they were when they fell asleep, Kid always seemed to wake up with Lou in his arms.

Noticing his gentle attempts to wake her weren’t working, Kid started flexing his fingers along her sides. Soon she was squirming away from him.

“Alright, already. I’m up, I’m up!” Lou grumped.

“Reveille will be in a few minutes, Lou. Better hurry if you want some privacy at the necessary.” The two quickly exited their tent, ready to start this day, the 25th of June.

“Lou! Kid! We’ve got new orders!” Virgil came running up to the couple a few minutes later as they returned to camp. “Straight from the General.”

Although there were a lot of Generals in this man’s war, anytime someone from the 1st Virginia Cavalry referred to ‘the General’ they meant only one man, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Louie walked up and added, “We’re to pack up camp. All the tents and food stuffs are to be loaded on the supply train. We’re riding light!”

“We ride for Camp Ashland at noon,” Thomas Ewell finished.

Kid and Lou glanced at each other apprehensively. The orders to ‘ride light’ meant only one thing, they were about to do some hard riding with little chance to rest.

The next morning, the entirety of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, reinforced with members of the Jeff Davis Legion and the 4th Virginia Cavalry, headed out to provide screening for General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s infantry along its left flank. The only evidence of the enemy they saw that morning as they trotted along Pamunkey River Road outside Richmond, was a Union picket at Taliaferro Mill. But, the picket skedaddled as soon as it saw the Confederate Cavalry.

Later that day, as the 1st Cavalry waited for General Jackson to catch up with them, General Stuart had a special order for Company G. They were to ride ahead and take possession of the bridge at the Totopotomoy.

With Captain Irving in the lead, it wasn’t long before Company G arrived at the creek. “Ok, men,” Irving said, “let’s spread out. Price, you take twenty men and head north, don’t go more’n a mile or so. Ewell, you take another twenty men and head south along the creek. That bridge’s supposed to be somewhere hereabouts. We must protect that bridge at all costs, so Jackson and his men can use it to cross the creek and attack those damned Yankees. I’ll set the rest of the men up here in patrols, making sure no Yankees can get through before the rest of our men get here.”

“Yes, sir!” both Virgil Price and Thomas Ewell responded quickly.

Lou and Kid ended up following Virgil and heading north. Knowing their skills at tracking, Virgil had them ride along the very banks of the creek, looking not only for any sign of the bridge, but also for any sign of the bluecoats. As they trotted around yet another bend in the twisted creek bed, really more of a small river, Kid pulled up short on his reins, causing his mount to almost rear and Lou to complain, “Kid, watch it!”

“Look!” was his simple reply. Upon coming alongside, Lou groaned. As they retreated, Union forces had ripped out the bridge, leaving nothing but debris scattered along the creek’s banks.

“We better head back and let Captain Irving know,” she said. “Good thing we’ve got those engineers riding along. Looks like we’re gonna need ‘em.”

“Yep,” Kid sighed and turned his horse back in the direction they’d come.

Only a couple hours later several members of the Corps of Engineers had arrived at the Totopotomoy creek and begun repairing the bridge. Despite what had looked like complete chaos to Lou and Kid, it took the engineers only half an hour to put things to rights. Now, the members of Company G stood guard along both approaches to the bridge as the main body of General Jackson’s infantry tramped across.

In the break from riding, Lou dug in her haversack and pulled out a bag of goober peas, or peanuts. It was one of the few staples still in plentiful supply in the South and a common trail food amongst the cavalry. Virgil lifted an eyebrow and she showed him what she was munching, offering him a handful. He sighed and accepted with a grimace. As he tossed the goober peas in his mouth one at a time, he began singing a short song in between bites. The infantry marching past quickly picked up the refrain, obviously familiar with the sentiment.

When a horseman passes, the soldiers have a rule
To cry out at their loudest "Mister, here's your mule!"
But still another pleasure enchantinger than these
Is wearing out your grinders, eating goober peas!

Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas!
Eating goober peas!
Goodness, how delicious,
Eating goober peas!

Lou nearly choked on the goober peas she’d been munching as Virgil’s antics made her laugh. Sometimes this job wasn’t too bad. If you could just forget the fact you were preparing to shoot and kill other Americans.

When the last of the infantry finished crossing the bridge, Company G wheeled into formation and followed them down the road toward the crossing of Beaver Dam Creek. Ewell, riding beside Virgil, leaned over and said, “It’s starting to get late. Think we’re going to stop anytime soon?”

“Naw, man. We’re just gonna keep ridin’ ‘til our horses collapse under us.”

“I bet we stop the other side of Beaver Dam Creek,” Louie piped up. He came from the area and knew it probably better than any of the other men in the unit. “There’s a great place to camp, just over the bridge.”

“How long, do ya think?” asked Emmett Caldwell, the eldest in their band of brothers.

“Oh, least another hour or two,” opined Louie.

Young Louie really knew what he was talking about. Almost exactly two hours later the last of the Company G squads rode into the now burgeoning camp near Beaver Dam Creek. Right now, General Jackson’s bivouac was larger than Richmond itself, with some 80,000 men in camp tonight. Kid whistled softly at the sight.

It didn’t take them long to find their supply train, where Ewell’s slave Isaac was busily preparing a supper of beans and mash. The men were too tired from the long day’s ride to set up their tents and simply laid their bedrolls under the stars. Just as they were settling in for a little rest, a courier rode into their camp waving new orders.

“What now?” Kid muttered. Lou shushed him as she stood to find out what was up.

“Ok, men, looks like our work isn’t done for the night,” Captain Irving announced. “We’ve been tasked with providing screening patrols along the camp’s left flank. Seems there’re some 120,000 Federals not 10 miles away and the General wants to make sure the infantry gets a good night’s sleep before attackin’ in the mornin’. Squads one and two, y’all’ll take first watch. Three and four, you’ve got second. Five and six, you’re on third watch. Squads seven thru twelve, consider y’alls’selves on deck for tomorrow night.”

Kid, Lou, Virgil and the other two members of squad four groaned. This meant they’d get some sleep, but it would be interrupted by three hours standing watch and trying to stay awake. Virgil turned to the others and said, “Might as well turn in now, then. Gotta sleep while we can.”

The others nodded in agreement and quickly bedded down.

“Call,” Hickok said, laying his cards down on the table in front of him. “Full house, tens and sevens. Read ‘em and weep, folks.”

The other players disgustedly tossed their cards face down on the table while Jimmy raked in his winnings. He stood up, shoving the money in a pocket. “That does it for me, boys.”

“Aw, come on, at least give us a chance to win our money back,” one soldier complained.

“Sorry, I’ve had enough of cards for the night. Some other time,” he promised, walking away from the table. That was the understatement of the century, Jimmy thought, as he exited the mess tent where he’d been playing poker, again, with several members of his unit. All I ever do is play cards and drive wagons. This is not what I signed on for, he muttered to himself as he walked down the dirt road between large white tents. He kicked at a stone in the road as he headed back to his quarters.

Maybe he’d practice his reading a bit, or even try writing a letter to Emma or Rachel. His thoughts shied away from the other woman he used to share all his thoughts with. She was out of reach. Even if he could bring himself to write her a letter, he had no idea where to send it. He missed having both his best friends around to talk to and fight with, almost as much as he missed the excitement of riding for the Express.

The last action he’d seen had been the Battle of Pea Ridge back in March. Jimmy hated battle but at least it meant something to do other than sitting around and playing cards. And Pea Ridge had been exciting. For once outnumbered by the rebels, the U.S. Army had nevertheless managed to hold off the Confederates, cementing their control of Missouri. Jimmy doubted there would be any more serious rebel activity here, despite the number of slaveholders in the state. But, once again, that had left him with nothing to do but sit on his arse and twiddle his thumbs, not something Jimmy was good at.

As he entered his tent, his hand brushed against one of the pearl handled Colts still strapped to his thighs. Maybe he’d get some target practice in, he thought with a grin. Shooting things always made him feel better.

Lou and Kid
Lou leaned over the creek, using her handkerchief to wipe the sweat off her face and dribble water over the top of her head. Man it was hot around here. July had entered just as sweltering as Kid had warned her it would be. Lou didn’t think she’d ever felt a heat like this. Shade provided no relief, neither did sweat. Anything wet just stayed wet. There was so much water already in the air, sometimes it felt like she was drowning with every breath. It was no wonder Southerners tended to move so slowly, she thought with a grin.

Not that anyone had been moving slowly over the last week. The fighting that had begun seven days ago at Beaver Dam Creek had continued, unabated, the next day at Gaine’s Mill, then at Garnett’s Farm, Golding’s Farm, Allen’s Farm, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp and, yesterday, Glendale. Today, they were headed back from running reconnaissance around someplace called Malvern Hill.

“Hey, Lou,” Virgil yelled. “You ‘bout done over there. I need to get some water, too.”

“Coming,” Lou replied, standing up and putting the cap back on her refilled canteen. She returned to the other members of her squad, guarding several Federal prisoners captured just a ways up the road.

“Thanks, Lou!”

Lou looked over at the prisoners. They looked as miserable as she felt. Kid and the other native Southerners, though sweating, did not appear to be as miserable. Hunh, Lou sniggered to herself, maybe you had to be born here to find this kind of weather comfortable.

After all the members of the squad had gotten a good drink and refilled their canteens, they allowed the captured Union cavalry members to get a drink before chivvying them on down the road.

“Hey, Kid, how many do you think this makes?” the newest member of their five man squad asked. The cavalry took fewer casualties then the infantry, but that didn’t mean they were untouched.

“Don’t know. Lost count a few days ago,” Kid replied laconically. “Virgil, you still countin’?”

“Naw. Don’t care. They keep showin’ their faces in my state, I’ll keep takin’ ‘em prisoner. If I don’t shoot ‘em first.”

Lou grimaced. They’d spent all day collecting prisoners and abandoned weapons and shuttling them back to the main forces. It was exhausting work, but at least nowhere near so bloody as the battle royale the day before at Malvern Hill. The cavalry’s arrival in the last hour of the battle, sounding like a much larger force than they’d actually been, had scared the Union forces into thinking they were a major reinforcement, leading to the rout that had ended the slaughter. But the field… Lou shuddered at the memory. It had looked like the floor of a slaughterhouse. You couldn’t walk three steps without slipping and sliding in the pooled blood from all the dead. The smell of the dead bodies had been the foulest odor she’d ever scented.

As the squad handed off their prisoners to another unit, Louie came bouncing over on his old plowhorse. “Captain says to come join the rest of us. The General’s sending Company G on a special mission,” he enthused.

“What are we doing?” Lou asked.

“We’re supposed to escort a unit of Captain Pelham’s men. They’re taking a howitzer down to Westover, so’s we can shell any of those Yankee divils who try to make an escape down the river road tonight.”

“Well, we’d better be about it, then,” Kid said. And the squad wheeled back into motion.

Buck sat before the fire in front of Rain’s tipi, wondering what he was going to do now. The night before he’d given away his every last earthly possession, with the exception of the clothes on his back, the hunting knife in his boot and the medicine pouch around his neck. His generosity had brought great honor to himself, his host Rain and his tribe, the Kiowa.

But now, he once again had no idea what to do next. The healing wounds on his chest itched mercilessly, but he steadfastly ignored them, determined not to show any discomfort in front of others. A soft hand rested gently on his shoulder and he looked up into those precious grey eyes. The more he got to know Standing Woman, the more she reminded him of Ike.

“What are you thinking?” she asked softly in English. It was the only language, besides Indian sign, they shared. It also allowed them to speak to each other almost completely privately even in the midst of a great crowd.

“Right now, I’m wondering if there’s any truth to a story Teaspoon read us once.” She nodded in understanding. He’d already told her all about his Pony Express family. “It came from a place called India. He said we’re called Indians ‘cause some white man got lost and thought he’d landed in this India. Anyway, they have a religion there that believes when you die, you’re just born again in a new body.”


“Yeah,” Buck sighed.

“I hope I remind you of him in a good way,” she said.

“Oh yeah, the best.”

“So, what are your plans now? With the giveaway over all the bands are breaking up and heading out to do their summer hunting.”

“I just don’t know.”

“Why don’t you pass the summer with us?” Rain suggested, appearing suddenly at the entrance to the tipi. “You’ll need the help to reprovision after the giveaway and, I think, it would do you some good to spend more time learning about the Spirit world. I get the feeling you didn’t contemplate it much during your childhood.”

“No,” Buck agreed, grinning. “I was much too interested in hunting and riding to sit at the feet of the Taime priests listening to old stories. And I left the Kiowa before I grew up enough to change my mind.”

“Then stay with us, recover, replenish and learn.”

“Please,” Standing Woman added her own soft request.

After looking back and forth between his two hosts for a long, silent moment, Buck finally nodded his assent. He would stay with this band of Northern Cheyenne, for now.

The next morning, Buck was up early, helping Rain and Standing Woman dismantle their tipi and pack everything up. The day was bittersweet for him. He had a place that accepted him and where he was welcome for the foreseeable future. But, after this, he would no longer be staying with Rain and Standing Woman. All tipis and their accoutrements belonged to the women of the tribe. And, as an unrelated bachelor who was now nominally healthy, it was no longer proper for him to stay in Standing Woman’s tipi. On the trail, he would sleep by the fire, and the next time the band made camp, he would join other young men who were not living at home in a tipi belonging to one of the warrior societies. Several had already issued invitations as well as offered to help him go hunting for a new horse. He would have to capture and train one from scratch to replace the horse he’d given the band’s chief. For now, he would be walking with the women.

“Humility is good for the soul, my son,” Rain said, as if he had read Buck’s thoughts on his face. “Even better then generosity.”

“Yes, my father.”

“Why don’t you take the opportunity to walk with Standing Woman. I’m sure she would appreciate the company,” the old man suggested mischievously. Buck grinned back in happy agreement. Standing Woman, who’d been walking around the nearby tipi grinned even more widely, before ducking her head to hide her expression.

Seeing her walking toward the travois with arms full of baskets containing all her family’s possessions, Buck quickly leapt to her side. “Can I help you with that?” he asked solemnly.

“Yes,” she breathed with a growing grin.

Kid and Lou
Kid sighed in pure sybaritic enjoyment as he sank back down into the tub. The water was lukewarm, in concession to the late August heat. But it didn’t matter. It just felt so good to be clean again. He could barely remember the last time he’d had a good bath. A banging on the door reminded him there were a dozen other men waiting to use the tub. With a sigh, this one of the reluctant variety, Kid sat back up and quickly finished scrubbing himself clean.

Soon, he was out of the tub, leaving it to Virgil, and headed back to camp to finish getting ready for the night’s festivities. Ever since the end of the Seven Days Battle and its successful defense of Richmond from Yankee aggression, anyone wearing the grey uniform of a cavalry officer was in high demand at social events. Tonight, Company G had been ordered to put in an appearance at the latest ball at the White House of the South, as Jefferson Davis’ residence in Richmond had come to be called.

“Here,” Lou said, handing him his shaving kit. She’d already pretended to shave and was almost ready. “But hurry, you need to cut my hair again. It’s gettin’ too long.”

While the rest of the cavalrymen, including Kid, had simply allowed their hair and beards to grow out, Lou had kept hers scrupulously short. Despite some teasing on that front, she’d been more afraid longer hair might give her gender away. She didn’t have to worry today. Today, everyone was clean shaven and freshly shorn. They had the pride of the company to maintain.

“Lou,” Louie called out, “who you gonna ask to dance first? I’m gonna find the prettiest lady at the ball and ask her to dance.”

“Lou don’t dance,” Kid interjected, trying to hide his sudden fear.

“Well, we can’t have that,” Virgil said, walking up and shaking his still wet hair all over Kid, Lou and Louie. “Our orders aren’t just to look pretty, but to make sure all the pretty ladies have a good time. That means dancing with ‘em. We’re gonna have to give you a crash course!”

“Virgil, let him be,” Kid started to object.

“Hey, Virgil, that’s a great idea,” Louie said excitedly at almost the same time.

“I guess, if I ain’t got no choice,” Lou said quietly.

A short time later found Lou and Louie hanging on Virgil’s every word as he tried to explain to them how to lead out in the most popular dances of the day. Unfortunately, he was making a hash of his explanation. In exasperation he finally yelled to Emmett Caldwell, who was unlucky enough to have been passing too closely to the group, “Emmett, lend us a hand here. We need someone to be the ‘lady’, so’s I can show these two how to lead properly.”

Emmett glanced around, then put one hand on his hip and walked toward the group in a move that could only have been called a flounce. “Well, I do declare,” he let out in a falsetto voice, “I don’t know which of y’all fine gentlemen to dance with first.”

He clutched the edges of an imaginary skirt and swooped into an exaggerated curtsey before holding out one hand in a languid gesture to Virgil.

“That’s more like it,” Virgil laughed in approval. “Now boys, you take her hand, like this and then…”

Kid couldn’t stop laughing over Virgil and Emmett’s antics throughout the entire ride to the Davis’ residence. That is until he caught a glimpse of Lou’s fuming expression out of the corner of his eye.

Company G trotted up the broad lane in front of the White House of the South in perfect unison, as if they’d done nothing for the last several months but drill. The sidewalks were crowded with spectators, there to see who would be visiting tonight. There were several cheers and not a few Rebel Yells as Company G trotted past.

When the men rode up the driveway there was an army of servants in matching uniforms, slaves Lou thought disgustedly, waiting to take their horses. The Company dismounted in unison, handed their horses off to the waiting black men and walked up the broad steps to the front door where President Davis and his wife, Varina, stood greeting the guests.

“Thank you so much for coming,” Davis said to each of the cavalrymen as he shook hands with them. “Your country is very grateful for and proud of your service in her defense.”

“You’re welcome,” Lou murmured uncomfortably. She felt even more odd greeting Varina Davis, bowing over her hand and kissing it as the other cavalrymen had. She made a quick escape, following her comrades through the mansion’s front door.

Seated at the long white-clothed table covered with sparkling crystal glasses, beautiful porcelain plates and real silverware, polished to a high sheen, Kid was the one now feeling uncomfortable. There were delicate, two handled soup bowls placed precisely in the center of each plate and surrounded by fresh flowers. And there were two forks. Two. One on each side of the plate. How was he supposed to use two forks?

He glanced at Louie, seated across from him and noticed a similar tension in his face and shoulders. Lou, however, seemed much more relaxed, smiling at something her dinner companion was saying. That reminded Kid, he was supposed to keep his dinner companion, a beautiful young redhead, entertained throughout the meal.

“Uh, so where are you from?” he asked nervously.

“Oh, ah’m from Georgia,” she answered shyly. “But my father is in the legislature and insisted I come to Richmond to get a little polish.”

“And, what do you like to do?” Kid fumbled, trying desperately to think of things to say.

“Mostly I embroider handkerchiefs for our valiant boys in grey,” she answered, a little pride showing through her shyness this time.

Oh man, Kid thought to himself, this is gonna be a long night.

After dinner, the ladies excused themselves from the room while the gentlemen enjoyed, or at least pretended to enjoy, an alcoholic beverage and a smoke, for those who chose. But none lingered long. It had been too long since most had spent more than a few minutes around a woman. Soon, they were scrambling, in a dignified manner, into the ballroom. Each man looking for the lady of his choice while the band warmed up for the night.

After dancing with first his dinner companion, then two other young ladies, Kid finally spotted Lou holding up a wall near an open window, chatting happily with Young Louie. Kid grabbed a glass of punch and sipped carefully as he plotted a course around the edge of the ballroom, making his way over to his friends.

“Man, wasn’t that the best meal you’ve had in ages,” Louie gushed.

“Oh, I could’ve kept eating forever,” Lou responded. “Especially that fruit cake. It was made with real sugar.” She could’ve used it, Kid thought, looking closely at her. She’d always been slender, but the rough riding they’d been doing recently with little in the way of food had worn her down. Her cheek bones had gotten so sharp they looked like they would break through her skin at any moment.

“What about the coffee? None of that chicory pretend stuff we’ve been drinking, not for Mr. Davis and his family. Nuh unh.”

“Well, they’ve gotta keep up appearances,” Kid interjected, “if we’re ever going to get help from France or Britain. But I will admit I wouldn’t’ve minded more of that steak. Haven’t had anythin’ that good since we left Rock Creek.”

“Hey, whatta ya say we sneak down to the kitchens and see if there’re any leftovers,” Louie suggested impishly. Kid and Lou grinned at each other before nodding to Louie. The three slipped out of the room, abandoning the frenetic frivolity there in search of more food. None of them noticed Thomas Ewell glaring after them.

Virgil walked up behind Thomas and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Let ‘em be, Thomas,” he quietly warned.

Thomas shrugged his hand away angrily.

“They’re supposed to stay out here and entertain the ladies,” he half-growled.

“Thomas, you yourself said we gotta give ‘em a little slack. They’re not used to our ways and we need their skills.”

Thomas turned to stomp back into the ballroom, mumbling as he went. “Don’t mean they gotta spend so much time with the nigras!”

Late that night, as the unit was slowly returning to their camp, most of the men were reliving their favorite moments of the ball.

“Didya see that beauty in the pink silk gown? I swear, I died and went to heaven when we danced!”

“And the food! I ain’t et that good since the war started!”

Thomas listened with only half an ear, inching his horse forward to slowly cut Louie off from the rest of the unit. When he realized what Thomas was doing, Louie looked at him questioningly.

“Didya want somethin’, Thomas?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Thomas hissed. “Ya need ta stop spendin’ so much time with them white trash McCloud boys!”

“What’s wrong with Kid and Lou?” Louie asked. “I think they’re swell. So does Virgil.”

“They ain’t got no sense of the proper order of things,” Thomas gritted out through clenched teeth. Louie looked at Thomas strangely. For a moment, he thought Thomas was ready to hit him.

“Louie! Come on,” Kid yelled back. “Lou’s challengin’ us to a race back to camp. “
Without a second glance to the angry trooper at his side, Louie spurred his horse into action, eager to try to steal Lou’s crown as the fastest rider in the company.

“Mr. Hunter, Ah don’t know how ah’ll ever be able to thank you for all you’ve done for us,” Savannah Herrington drawled. The pair stood on her front porch, watching as the rest of the misfits who now worked her farm brought in the last of the fall’s harvest. “Thanks to your help and trainin’, we’ve got enough supplies to last the winter.”

“Ah, but my dear, now the real work begins.” Savannah turned a questioning look on him and he continued. “Growing and harvesting the crops you need to survive the winter is only the first step. Now, you’ve gotta process the food so it’ll keep. Not to mention protectin’ it from predators.”

“But, Mr. Hunter, Ah’ve always bought our supplies from the store in town. I don’t know the first thing about turning all this,” she waved helplessly toward the barn where the old men, women and early teens were stacking the last of the harvest, “into something we can use. I just assumed we’d take it into town and sell it.”

“And just who did you think was going to buy it? Ain’t nobody got any money worth anythin’ right now. Even if you could sell it, what would you buy? The store shelves have been emptier than a nun’s bedroll for the last six months. No, we’re gonna have to use what we’ve got.”

Savannah looked at Teaspoon helplessly and he felt an instant need to reassure her.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure some of the women who’ve come know how to store the fruits and vegetables for the winter. And the men and I certainly know how to take care of the grain, though y’all may have to do it the ol’ fashioned way.”

The next day proved just how right Teaspoon was. The ragtag group that had coalesced at Savannah Herrington’s ranch-cum-farm had split into two groups. Half the group was out looking for rocks suitable to use for grinding the grain. They’d never find a millstone, so they were searching for smaller stones that could be used as hand grinders. Some were even improvising, using coffee grinders to try to mill the first of the wheat. This as the older men and boys were showing some of the women how to separate the wheat kernels from the straw. They’d keep that to help feed the stock through the coming winter. The second half of the group, including Teaspoon, was in the kitchen to start canning the garden produce.

Teaspoon looked down at the pink frilly apron someone had slipped over his head and wondered how he’d ever gotten himself into this situation. Then he sighed and dipped the long handled spoon in his hand back into the bubbling pot of fruit he was learning how to turn into jam. He sure liked jam, especially on hot biscuits on a cold winter morning. With that thought, he became a bit more enthusiastic about his assignment. If he could handle his boys, and girl, certainly he could handle learning to make jam.

A couple hours later, sweaty and exhausted, Teaspoon wasn’t so sure of his earlier optimism. He gazed at the mess surrounding him. He’d turned out to be so inept at jam making, the women had exiled him to the porch, with the dirty dishes. He looked at the piles of pots and pans surrounding him and sighed, before plunging his hands back into the hot water and scrubbing away. The things a man did for his country, he thought in exasperation. Well, at least he’d get some jam out of all this work, he grinned to himself.

This wasn’t doing anything to help his country, Hickok thought in angered exasperation. He tossed the remnants of the burned family Bible in his hands back onto the pile of debris that was all that was left of the small Missouri farmhouse. How was he going to get himself out of this jam? he thought with a frustrated grimace.

For the last couple months, despite his title of wagonmaster, Hickok had been acting as a scout for military units trying to hunt down both Quantrill’s Raiders, rebel sympathizers, and the Red Legs, union supporters, tearing Missouri apart one farmstead at a time. But, despite all their efforts, they always seemed to be ten steps behind the bushwhackers. Once again they’d arrived too late to do any good. This time, the Red Legs had killed every member of a family of six, for supposedly supporting the South. As far as Jimmy could tell, the family had been doing well just to survive.

He stood in disgust and walked back to the unit’s commander. “I’m sorry, Sir. They scattered the stock, so there’s no way to track them. They’re gone. Again.”

“You’ve done the best you could, son. Better than any scout we had before you,” the Lieutenant tried to comfort him, putting a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. Jimmy shrugged the hand off, almost violently, and stalked back to his horse. There was nothing left for him to do here. He mounted up and trotted back to the Lieutenant. “There’s nothing more I can do here, Sir. I’ll head back to camp and report this to the Colonel.”

The Lieutenant nodded unhappily, then watched Jimmy gallop off as if the hounds of hell were after him. That young man was not handling the frustrations of serving in this war torn border state very well. He needed a change in assignment.

The next morning, Jimmy winced as he exited the dim interior of his tent for the bright sunshine of early morning. He straightened the two Colts strapped to his legs then turned down the dirt path toward the camp commander’s headquarters.

“You wanted to see me, Sir?” Jimmy asked almost as soon as he entered the commander’s office, a commandeered Sheriff’s office.

The man before Jimmy winced at his lack of formality, then relaxed, smiling as this only confirmed the man’s decision. “Yes, Corporal. In light of your, ah, unique shall we say?, skill set, I’ve got a special mission for you.”

Jimmy perked up at this. Anything to get out of the mental torture his life had become, constantly showing up too late to do anything to help people. Whatever this mission was, it had to be better than what he’d been doing.

“The first thing you’ll have to do is take a discharge from the Army.”

Kid and Lou
“Hurry up, Louie,” Lou panted as she shoved provisions into her haversack, “Get as much as you can!”

Company G was busily engaged in ransacking the larder of Yankee General John Pope’s headquarters at Catlett Station. They were among 1,500 daring troopers on the raid well behind enemy lines. Lou didn’t much hold with stealing, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Hey, Lou,” Louie called holding up something in his left hand, “look at this, real coffee!” He was almost dancing in his excitement.

“Great, pack it up. We’ve gotta keep movin’!”

“Aw, come on, Lou,” Emmett intervened, “the kid’s just excited. Let him have some fun!”

“Ain’t nothin’ fun ‘bout cheatin’ death,” Lou muttered to herself.

Kid ran into the room lit only by the occasional flashes of lightning. “Hurry up, everyone! They need us to go over and help set fire to the bridge.”

The destruction of the railroad bridge was the main goal of this raid behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, the ongoing thunderstorm had put a hitch in their plans to just burn the wooden trestle bridge down. And, they hadn’t brought any dynamite with them to blow it up. Although that probably wouldn’t have worked either, in this storm, Lou thought. After all, you’d still have to light the fuse.

Company G mounted up with their spoils tucked into haversacks, pillowcases and anything else they could carry and headed across the battle torn Union camp for the bridge.

“Anyone got any Lucifers?” someone yelled out, as Company G galloped up.

“Nope,” Kid answered grimly. “Used those up months ago. Has anyone tried just pulling the danged thing down?”

“Yeah, but we ain’t got enough axes to do much good and this thing’s too solid built to pull apart with hands or ropes.”

Just then, a wild bugle call signaled the retreat.

“Dang it!” Kid cursed, along with several other men.

“Mount up!” Virgil yelled loudly. “Take whatever you can carry, but don’t get left behind! Let’s ride!”

And Company G, along with the rest of Stuart’s cavalry, headed back for the safety of their own side of the Rappahanock River. Behind them, they left a shattered Union leadership and a camp in tatters, but a railroad bridge undamaged.

Kid smiled as he thought back to that raid just a few nights ago. It had been about the most exciting time he’d had in the last few months. It had certainly struck a devastating blow to the Yankees’ morale, even if they hadn’t achieved their objective of cutting Pope’s supply line by destroying the railroad bridge.

“Didy’all hear?” Ewell asked, as he swaggered up to the fire they were all sitting around. “General Stuart’s holding Pope’s fancy dress uniform coat ransom!”

Everyone laughed at that. The General had been a mite peeved, to put it lightly, when he’d almost been captured by a surprise Union movement just days before the raid at Catlett Station. He’d escaped, but he’d lost his trademark plumed hat in the process. That had really gotten his goat and he’d been itching for a little revenge since then. Apparently, he’d found it in Pope’s splendid, flounced, full-dress uniform coat.

“Wonder if Pope’ll pay up?” Louie pondered.

“What fer?” Virgil asked. “He’s got the General’s hat! I’d never trade any old blue coat for my prized plumed hat!”

At that, the betting began. Few of the men had much in the way of money, so they bet on chores, patrol duties, even prized, though rare, desserts.

Lou leaned back against a stump awaiting its turn in the fire and thought about the last few days. After the raid on Catlett Station, Company G had stuck with old Stonewall and helped his men capture Manassas. The supplies they’d found stockpiled at Manassas Junction had put what they’d found at Catlett Station to shame. They’d all stuffed themselves to bursting before taking whatever they could carry with them. They’d been so full they’d barely been of any help with the fighting the next day.

Veterans who’d been fighting longer than Lou and Kid told them the second battle of Manassas had been much worse than the first. One trooper had described the fighting to Lou as “Men standing at arm's length ... giving and taking, life for life, each resolute and determined, ceasing action only from sheer exhaustion, which was complete upon one side as upon the other.”

Another had recalled, "the affair seemed to us like a mixture of earthquake, volcano, thunder storm and cyclone. Even now we can hear the . . . howls, growls, moans, screeches, screams and explosions. . . . It might have been a tune for demons to dance to."

Lou shuddered. At least now it was over. After two days of hard fighting, the Union General Pope had retreated, rather precipitously, to Bull Run. It was already being called a great victory for the Confederacy. How anything that resulted in nearly 20,000 dead and wounded men could be called a victory, Lou couldn’t figure.

“Did ya find anythin’?” Virgil asked quietly, as he trudged up to her side. Lou nodded her head toward a pile of haversacks, rifles and ammunition near the road. After the fighting was over, they’d been tasked to search the battlefield for any supplies the bluebellies had left behind in their hurried retreat.

“Looks like mostly hardtack and jerkey,” Lou said. “The rifles are new though.”

Virgil walked over to take a look. “Bully! These are those new Spencer repeating rifles we’ve been hearing about,” he said, holding up one of the nearly brand new rifles to inspect it more closely. “Did ya find any ammo for ‘em? These are nice guns, but we can’t use ‘em if ya didn’t find any ammo. They can’t take the same bullets we use in our Enfields.”

“Yep. Several whole boxes worth. I stacked ‘em over there, under the tree,” Lou pointed the pile out.

“Great job, kid.”

Despite the fact he was actually a year younger than Lou, her disguise made her appear much younger than the others and Virgil had taken to treating her like a little brother.

“I’m just glad I pulled this detail and not hospital duty like Kid and Emmett,” Lou grunted.

“Ain’t that the truth!”

Hours later, as the last rays of sunshine were disappearing over the horizon, Kid, Emmett and the others detailed to hospital duty trudged back into camp. Kid didn’t even bother to grab a bite to eat, just plopping down on his bedroll and pulling his plumed cavalry hat down over his face. Lou placed a hand on his shoulder for a moment, just to let him know she was there, then turned in herself. She knew it would be a long night for him. The job was over, but it would be a long time before he got the images of the dead and dying lying amidst the blood and flies that covered the abandoned battlefield. She knew. She’d pulled hospital duty a couple times herself. She still struggled with the nightmares the memories engendered.

“Lou, you awake?” Young Louie whispered to her through the darkness.

“Am now.”

“Can I ask ya a question?”

“Just did, didn’t ya?” Lou responded wryly, grinning at the memory of the man she’d stolen the line from.

“What does it mean if my mouth’s bleedin’? Am I dyin’?” Louie queried worriedly. He knew the Confederate Army was losing two men to disease for every man killed in battle. Lou figured things probably weren’t much better on the Yankee side. They just had more men to start with.

“Lemme see,” she said, sighing as she sat back up and moved closer to the watch fire. Louie followed her, baring his teeth and gums in a reddened grimace. She carefully inspected his mouth. “Naw, ya ain’t dyin’, but you gotta eat more fruits and veggies, Louie.”

“But Lou, we ain’t got none.”

“I know,” she sighed. “Listen, tomorrow, we’ll go berry huntin’. There should be some good blackberry brambles down near the river. Then, I’ll show you how to dry the berries and make pemmican. Looks kinda gross, but it’ll help keep your mouth from bleedin’ like that.”

Louie nodded in happy acceptance, then looked back at Lou again. “What’s pemmican?”

“It’s a mixture of dried berries, dried meat and pork fat. You form it into little cakes. It’s great traveling food and will prevent the problems your havin’ right now. Buck taught me how to make it.”


“Now, get some sleep Louie,” Lou said, crawling back into her bedroll. “It’s been a long day.”

The following afternoon found Lou and Kid searching the riverbanks for berry brambles. Louie hadn’t been able to come after all. But Lou had decided the entire unit could use the fresh fruit anyway and convinced Kid to join her. They’d wandered quite a ways upstream of the rest of the units and were enjoying the private time.

“Kid, I think you’ve eaten more berries than you’ve picked!” Lou scolded with a smile.

“Well, I don’t think you’ve eaten enough. Come here and let me give you a taste,” he grinned back.

“Oh, no you don’t. You’re not staining my only decent clothes with that berry juice all over your mouth!” she squealed, starting to slowly back away from him.

“Wanna bet?” he challenged, taking up the chase. Lou dropped the bucket of berries she’d been picking and ran. She didn’t make it far before Kid’s strong hands circled her small waist and he lifted her off the ground.


“Say ‘Uncle’!” he demanded.

“Kid!” His fingers started flexing along her sides as he dropped her feet back to the ground. “Uncle!”

“And for that, you get a reward,” Kid grinned, leaning in to rub his berry stained lips across hers.

“Ummmm,” Lou moaned in appreciation.


Lou and Kid both stiffened at the sound behind them and stared at each other in abject fear. Kid quickly jumped to his feet, grabbing for the gun at his side to protect Lou. But, just as he was about to pull the gun out of its holster, Lou’s hand on his gunhand stopped him.

“Kid, don’t,” she said quietly. “It’s Isaac.”

Despite her words, her face remained pale as a ghost in fear.

“I’m sorry massa, ma’am,” Isaac said quietly, starting to back away, “I’s didn’t mean to interrupt your privacy.”

Now it was Kid’s turn to pale. But Isaac held up a reassuring hand. “Doan’t worry none, massa. I ain’t a goin’ to tell. Yore missus ain’t the first lady what felt it was safer to not be so ladylike. Lotsa wimmen down at the slave cabins do the same, to avoid catchin’ their massa’s attention.”

Lou walked slowly forward and held out her hand to Isaac, “Thank you. I don’t know what else to say.”

Isaac looked up at her, surprised, before dropping his gaze back to the ground, where it had been since the start of the conversation. He nodded toward the ground. “Yore welcome, ma’am.”

Lou looked at him strangely, then walked up and grabbed his hand in hers to force a handshake. Kid quickly followed and when she dropped Isaac’s hand, Kid grabbed it to shake even more vigorously. This pulled Isaac out of his protective downward gaze and his eyes flew up to meet Kid’s.

“Massa?” he questioned.

“Please, don’t call me that,” Kid said. “I don’t own nobody and don’t hold with owning nobody. There’s many of us fightin’ for the Confederacy who don’t believe in slavery.”

Before Isaac could respond, Lou added, “We had a very good friend who was a free black back in Nebraska Territory. We’d like to think you’d be our friend, too.”

“I’d like that a lot missus,” Isaac said to her. Then he turned his eyes to Kid and added a touch bitterly, “But, massa, if yore fightin’ fer the South, doan’t matter if ya believe in slavery er not. Yer still fightin’ fer it.”

Without giving Kid a chance to respond, Isaac turned and walked away. Kid clenched his fists at his side, unable to come up with a response. Lou simply placed a hand on his shoulder, before turning back to collect her berry bucket.

Buck exited the door of the tipi he was sharing with several other bachelors, all members of the Kit Fox Warrior Society. They’d kindly allowed him to remain as a guest, even though, as a Kiowa, he wasn’t a member of the society. But, they’d respected his sacrifice at the Sun Dance and had wished to honor it.

Buck’s hands slowly stroked the sides of the buffalo robe blanket he’d draped over his shoulder. It had taken him most of the rest of the summer to hunt and kill the buffalo, then properly cure its hide on his own. Curing hides was generally women’s work and he’d damaged two before getting the process right. Finally, he’d had to find someone who could help him decorate it. But, after weeks of work and planning, Buck was ready to go courting.

Settling himself outside the tipi Standing Woman shared with her father, Buck pulled the courting blanket around his shoulders then placed the flute he’d carved by hand to his lips. The first sweet notes of the courting song he’d composed for Standing Woman floated out into the night air.

As he finished the first song and started a second, the flap of the tipi opened and Standing Woman walked out. She smiled at Buck and sat quietly at his side as he finished playing the second song.

“When did you make all this,” she marveled, softly stroking the edge of the soft buffalo robe. “With all the time you’ve spent training in medicine with Father, I can’t figure out when you had time to even go hunting.”

“When somethin’s important to you, you find the time,” Buck smiled at her. Standing, he held his hand out to her, “Would you come walking with me?”

“Yes,” she nodded, putting her hand in his.

As they walked toward the edge of camp, Buck pulled the courting blanket up over both their heads. The position indicated to all around that they were courting and were to be left alone, except in the direst of emergencies.

They spent hours that night and the nights that followed, heads together underneath the courting blanket. They talked about their childhoods, their families, their hopes and dreams and fears. They learned not only about each other, but about themselves, who they were and who they wanted to be.

One night, as Standing Woman joined Buck while he was playing her song for her, she shyly handed him package. “Here, I made this for you.”

“What is it?”

“Well, open it up and find out.”

Inside the loose hide wrapping, Buck found a beautifully decorated medicine bag. The special parfleche was covered in traditional quillwork, instead of the more modern beading.

“I thought you could use it for all the medicines you’re collecting with Father,” she said quietly.

Buck nodded and grabbed her hand to look more closely at it. Quillwork was done by dying porcupine quills and using them to make designs. The quills remained sharp and were difficult to work with, often cutting the hands of the artist. Which was why most Indian women preferred the beads they got from Wasicu or Gantonto traders. Standing Woman’s hand showed the damage done as she’d decorated his gift. This was the sign he’d been looking for. He knew it was time to take the next step.

“Cody, Thatch, why don’tcha guys give us a show!”

The request was becoming common place as the 7th Cavalry settled into its winter quarters near Memphis, Tennessee. For the last couple months they’d been part of Grant’s push toward Vicksburg, taking part in numerous skirmishes and battles across southern Mississippi. Unfortunately, the rivalry amongst the Union generals, repeated Confederate raids and bad weather had doomed Grant’s campaign. From what he’d learned about the brusque general though, Cody didn’t think he’d given up.

But for now, the troops were settling into their winter camp outside Memphis.

“So, Thatch, which one should we do? The Bear and the Bushwhackers? Or, the Indian Tiger?” Cody asked. In their boredom, the pair had turned many of Cody’s Pony Express adventures into short plays. Now, they were often asked to perform around the campfire for the entertainment of their fellows.

“How ‘bout, Don’t Mess With the Spirits?” Thatch suggested mischievously, knowing this was Cody’s least favorite. Afterall, he didn’t exactly come off as a hero in this one.

“Fine. But next time I’m pickin’.”

After their performance, Cody and Thatch settled down by the fire as a group of musically inclined soldiers warmed up for the next impromptu act. Several members of the Cavalry were of Irish descent and enjoyed playing traditional songs for the others. Tonight, they broke into a tune they called “Garyowen”.

“Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed,
but join with me each jovial blade,
come booze and sing and lend your aid,
to help me with the chorus:

Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale
and pay the reckoning on the nail,
for debt no man shall go to jail
from Garry Owen in glory.”

Cody leaned toward Thatch and said, “I love that song. It’s got a great beat. We should play that when we’re underway. It would really help keep all the horses moving to the same beat.”

“Personally, I like the lyrics best!” Thatch grinned widely.

Running Buck Cross was more nervous than he could ever remember being in his life. He was more nervous than he’d been when he’d left Red Bear’s band of Kiowa to live with the Gantonto, more nervous than when he’d first met Teaspoon and the other Express riders, more nervous even than when he’d faced down Neville in revenge for Ike’s murder. Finally he understood Kid’s wandering around, muttering to himself all those weeks before he’d proposed to Lou, again. And Buck didn’t have to actually even say anything.

Once more he walked through the herd of ten Indian ponies he’d collected during several raids on nearby Crow and Pawnee bands the last couple of months. He checked each to make sure it was well groomed, looking its best with beautiful paintings decorating its haunches. Ten was overkill, he knew that. Two to four ponies was the norm for what he was about to do. But, he wanted make sure she knew how much she was worth to him.

Gathering the leadropes to all ten ponies, Buck began the slow, public walk through the Cheyenne camp to Standing Woman’s tipi. This was the time when all the camp could inspect his offering and have their say as to whether he was worthy of her. Finally, he arrived at his destination. He tied all ten ponies to a single rope which he left attached to one of the tipi’s lodgepoles. Then he walked slowly away, head held up, shoulders thrown back. It was done. Either she would accept or she would not. The choice was hers now.

A sudden gasp from a woman in front of him slowed Buck. She pointed behind him with her chin, indicating he should turn around. He almost didn’t. He was afraid of what he would see. But, taking a deep breath, he turned on one heel to see what was happening.

Standing Woman had already exited her tipi and gathered the leads of the ten ponies together. She was leading them toward the corral where the band’s horses were kept.

Buck let out a slow breath in relief. Then started grinning so wide he thought his face might split in two. Normally a maiden would wait a few hours, if not a day or so, before offering her answer. Standing Woman hadn’t even waited until he was out of sight. With a leap, he shattered the air with a war cry of jubilation. She’d said, “Yes.”

Lou and Kid
Kid looked across the frozen Virginia landscape. The blanket of freshly fallen snow hid the scars of war, making the countryside look as peaceful as it had in his childhood. He took a deep breath, enjoying the crisp feel of the freezing air in his lungs. This was the Virginia he loved enough to fight for. The silver notes of Young Louie’s bugle sang through the air, breaking the peace of the late December morning and calling Kid back into camp for an announcement.

“Good news men, for most of ya,” Captain Irving announced, once all were assembled. “As we’re settled into winter camp and there are no campaigns presently planned, the General has determined that anyone who lives within a week’s ride of Richmond will receive a Christmas furlough.”

Irving waited, smiling, through the cheers of the men. Eventually, they quieted, to get the rest of the details. “If you don’t live that close, you’re free to visit with those who do. Or, you are welcome to stay here in camp. The General’s planning a special Christmas Ball in your honor. Let the staff sergeant know by tomorrow night what your plans are. Whatever your plans, you are expected back in camp no later than January 4th. Anyone not present after that time had better be dead, ‘cause I’ll consider him as being on French leave and treat him as the deserter he is!” the captain sternly warned. Then, with a smile, he finished up, “Merry Christmas, men!”

Kid sighed. Though his family had farmed within the week’s ride prescribed, there was no one left for him to visit. He wished there were. He’d have loved to have been able to take Lou home and introduce her to his family. But that wasn’t to be. He sighed, kicking at a clod of dirt in front of him, hands shoved in his pockets as he started to wander back to his tent.

“Kid!” Virgil ran up, yelling his name. “Thomas and I’ve been talking. We want to invite you and Lou to come home with us. We’re neighbors down south of Richmond. You could celebrate the holidays with my family.”

“That sounds great, Virgil,” Kid said, knowing the invitation really came from Virgil alone. “Let me check with Lou, but we’ll probably take you up on the offer. We’ve no place left to visit around here.”

The next morning, well bundled against the chill in the air, the four cavalrymen and one slave galloped off into the dawn’s early light. By evening, they drew to a stop atop a hill overlooking Berkeley, Thomas Ewell’s ancestral home. With a broad gesture of his left hand, Ewell looked at his comrades in arms, “Welcome to Berkeley. Home, sweet home.”

Smoke curled lazily from the chimneys topping the imposing three story brick mansion. Kid just shook his head in admiration, while Lou let out a silent whistle. This place Ewell called home was at least twice the size of the imposing White House of the South. And this time, they weren’t visiting for an evening, but spending the night. Even as the group of riders pondered the mansion and grounds, the slight figure of a blonde woman exited a side door. Ewell let out a whoop of joy and spurred his horse into action, racing down the hill. “It’s Anabel!”

Kid turned to Virgil in silent query and noticed a strange look pass over the man’s face. Virgil shrugged off the look and said, “His fiancée. The three of us grew up together. I wonder what she’s doing here?”

“If you’re all so close, maybe her family’s visiting for the holidays,” Lou suggested.

“No,” Virgil answered. “Her family headed North when the war started. Her father’s fightin’ for the Yankees. Didn’t rightly expect to ever see her again.”

“Well,” Kid said with a grin, “let’s get down there and find out!”

The three young riders took off at a gallop. Isaac followed just as eagerly. They trotted up the long curving driveway leading to the front door of the Georgian mansion. Kid watched the joyful reunion between Thomas and Anabel, with Thomas grabbing her up in his arms and twirling her around again and again. Anabel threw her head back and let out a laugh full of love and welcome. Kid felt two warm spots in his back and as he swung off his horse he met Lou’s eyes. They both smiled gently, basking in the reflected glow of happiness and remembering similar reunions of their own.

“Boy, take the horses to the barn,” Thomas tossed over his shoulder to the black stablehand twice his age standing along the edge of the driveway. “And make sure to rub them down good. Those horses get sick ‘cause you skimp on your duties and you’ll pay!”

Kid stiffened at the command and follow-up threat. “That’s ok, Thomas, we’d prefer to take care of our own mounts anyway.”

“Kid, you guys are guests. Now, get over here and meet my fiancée, Anabel.”

“Please, massa,” the slave begged quietly as he grabbed the reins in Kid’s hand, “just lemme do my job. Else Massa Thomas’ have me whipped.”

Kid let the horse go with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Lou glared at Thomas, then turned her deadly gaze on her husband, before turning her back on him and entering the house behind Thomas and Anabel.

As they all sat at the dinner table that evening, just as formally set as had been the Davis’ table at the Presidential Ball months earlier, Thomas stood and tapped his silver fork against his cut crystal glass. “I have an announcement to make, folks. Seein’s how my beloved Anabel has made her way back to me, I don’t aim to let her get away again.”

He paused a moment for effect, meeting the eyes of each person at the table. “She’s agreed to marry me on Christmas Day!”

“Congratulation’s son!” Mrs. Ewell said softly. Her husband stood up and shook Thomas’ hand.

Thomas turned to Virgil, Kid and Lou. “I know y’all had planned to continue on to White Hall in the mornin’, but I’m hopin’ you’ll change your plans and stay for the weddin’. We’ve already sent a rider with an invitation to your parents, Virgil. I’m sure they’ll be comin’.”

“And ah’m hopin’ you’ll agree to give me away,” Anabel added softly. “Seein’ as how my father can’t be here.” She carefully sidestepped the issue of why.

Only Kid seemed to notice the pain in Virgil’s eyes as he nodded his assent. “I’d be proud to stand up with you,” he said to Anabel, speaking as if she were the only other person in the room.

The next morning, the entire plantation was in an uproar as everyone tried to prepare quickly for the surprise wedding. The slaves were running to and fro, unearthing precious, hidden supplies of sugar, eggs and flour for the cake. Others were busy adding beautiful white lilies to the Christmas greenery already in place. There was a general feeling of celebration in the air. All except for one person.

Kid and Lou had been trying to stay out of the way of all the bustle, by wandering the gardens behind the mansion. When they turned a corner into a cozy little section of the garden with a gazebo in the middle, they came to a surprised stop. Virgil was sitting in the gazebo, staring morosely at nothing.

“Kid,” Lou began.

“I know,” he replied. “Why don’t you let me talk to him.”

Lou nodded quietly and turned to walk back toward the house. Kid started moving forward, climbing the steps to the gazebo and taking a seat next to Virgil.

“You don’t seem too excited ‘bout this wedding,” Kid said.

“He’s bad news. He’s goin’ to hurt her and there’s nothin’ I can do to stop it.”

“Looks like he loves her, to me.”

“Oh, I don’t mean he’ll hurt her physically,” Virgil said, finally turning to look at Kid. “But he’ll stifle her soul. She’s always been quiet, but a free spirit. He doesn’t understand that about her. He just sees the perfect southern belle, who’ll sit quietly at home, waiting for him, pretendin’ not to notice when he takes up with the pretty mulatto slave gals.”

Turning back to his examination of the horizon, Virgil continued. “And the hell of it is, she doesn’t see his need to control her. She thinks his protectiveness is love. It’s not. I’ve known him too long. It’s possessiveness. She’ll be his slave, just as much as any nigger on the plantation. That’ll kill her.”

“And you love her?” Kid asked gently.

“And I love her,” Virgil agreed solemnly.

“All I can tell ya, is somethin’ a good friend of mine told me, when me and my gal was having some problems over control and protectiveness. She wanted her freedom. I wanted her safe. Jimmy, he tol’ me, ‘Kid, if ya love her, ya gotta let her go. Give her the freedom to make her own decisions. But be there to catch her if she falls. And let her do the same fer you.’ Don’t know if that helps or not, but it made a difference for us.”

“What happened?” Virgil asked, eagerly hoping for a happy ending.

“Oh, it took us awhile, but she learned to forgive me and learn to trust me to let her go and catch her only if she needed it. We eventually got married,” Kid smiled in fond remembrance of the best day of his life.

“She must be somethin’.”

“She sure is.” Kid got up and slapped Virgil on the back. “I can see ya’ve still got some thinkin’ to do. I’ll let ya alone to do it.”

Kid started to walk away. Just as he was about to leave the clearing around the gazebo he heard Virgil call softly, “Thanks, Kid.” Without turning around, Kid raised his hand to wave in acknowledgement and walked on.

Christmas morning dawned cold and clear. The sunlight sparkled off the ice crystals in the snow. It was a beautiful day for a wedding. That morning, Virgil’s parents arrived to join the celebration set for that evening.

Several of the slaves provided the music as Anabel glided across the middle of the living room floor on Virgil’s arm. With a warning glare to Thomas, Virgil placed Anabel’s hand in his and took a seat next to Kid and Lou on the couch. Thomas’ father stood next to him, while Virgil’s father, the local justice of the peace, was performing the ceremony. Their mothers were standing next to Anabel. Kid, Lou and Virgil were the only others present.

“Dearly beloved….” Mr. Price began the traditional wedding address.

He droned on, extolling the virtues of marriage and grabbing joy while you can in a world filled with sorrows. Kid shifted in his seat, using the movement to cover a quick brush of his fingertips across the back of Lou’s hand. Both were remembering their own wedding over a year ago. So much had changed since then, yet so much still remained unknown.

“You may kiss the bride,” Mr. Price concluded.

Thomas took Anabel’s face between his hands, delivering a sweet kiss on her lips. She blushed up at him, then both turned to face the small group of spectators waiting to congratulate them.

After the wedding dinner that night, Lou slipped away from the house, needing a moment to catch her breath. Dinner had again been just as formal and grueling as when they’d eaten at the Davis’ Presidential Ball. And the wedding had had her dwelling on sweet moments that she couldn’t afford to think too much about. She crept silently into the barn and headed for the horses. Grooming her horse had always been a way for her to relax and think when things got tough.

“How ya doin’ boy,” she murmured to the horse. It snorted and munched contentedly on the oats in its feed trough. “Yeah, life’s good for ya ain’t it. Wish things were as easy for me.”

A pair of strong, belovedly masculine hands circled her waist from behind, startling a surprised gasp from her. “Merry Christmas,” Kid whispered in her ear as she relaxed back into his arms.

“Merry Christmas, to you too!” She turned in his arms, winding her hands up behind his neck and pulling him down for a deep kiss.

Neither noticed the glaring Thomas standing by the barn door watching them.

Buck shifted back and forth, from one foot to the other, impatient for today’s ceremony to get underway. Today he had traded his white man’s clothing for a full set of beautifully tanned buckskins. They’d been so cleverly tanned they were nearly white, and then decorated with traditional quill patterns of a running deer and racing ponies. Standing Woman had made them as a wedding gift. But her presence was the only wedding gift he wanted right now.

Suddenly, he heard the commotion that indicated the procession was nearing his position at the door of the tipi he’d built specially for her. Soon, Rain in the Face appeared around a corner, leading one of the ponies Standing Woman had accepted from Buck. Standing Woman rode tall and proud on its back. Her grin stretched from the Sun to the Moon. Buck was sure his matched.

A couple of the Kit Fox Warriors Buck had been staying with provided a lively tune on flutes to accompany the procession. Rain stopped in front of Buck, handed the reins to the insanely happy young man and turned to help Standing Woman down off the horse’s back. He put Standing Woman’s hand in Buck’s then turned and walked away. Buck led Standing Woman into the tipi and closed the flap behind them. That was the end of the “ceremony” as far as the Cheyenne were concerned. The couple would be expected to remain inside the tipi alone for the next seven days. No one would disturb them except for emergencies.

“Hello, wife,” Buck whispered as he framed her face with his hands, pressing his forehead to hers.

“Hello, husband,” she replied, wrapping her arms around his waist. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Cody yelled as they pulled up to the next door. The horses he was driving had tree branches tied to their heads to make them look like ‘reindeer.’ It had all been Thatch’s idea. As they’d campaigned throughout the region, she’d noticed how poor the residents were. And now, they had even less, thanks to the scavenging of two armies trying to survive. So, she’d suggested taking up a collection for the poor from among the men and delivering it on Christmas Day.

“Ho, ho, ho!” Cody bellowed as he crawled down off the wagon’s seat. The charity drive was a great idea and he was having fun delivering the haul. But, he still wasn’t sure how he’d allowed himself to be talked into dressing up like Saint Nick. He scratched at the fake beard tied to his chin and smiled broadly at the kids that came running out of the house in excitement.

“Santa’s got presents. Come and get ‘em!”

“…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Teaspoon sat back as he finished his traditional reading of the Christmas Story. The kids gathered around him smiled in sleepy appreciation.

“Ok, boys and girls, now, I know Santa’s brought all sorts of gifts and goodies for you. So, dig in!” There was a sudden mad scramble for the assorted gifts piled under the tree.

One little girl escaped her mother’s notice and ran up to Teaspoon, holding her short arms up to him. He bent over, gathering her close and she leaned in to whisper in his ear, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Teaspoon.”

He smiled in appreciation and handed the girl to her mother. He loved the time he’d been able to spend with all these children the last few months. It had been the most rewarding thing about this decision he’d made to stay here and help on the home front. But, there was something missing this Christmas. Seven somethings to be exact. Two would never see another Christmas. Teaspoon just prayed the other five were safe tonight and hoped he’d see them again soon.

Chapter 5

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