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“Indian Scout”

Ian hastily opened his eyes again, in time to see several powder-blackened Continental soldiers, stripped to their shirts, some bare to the waist, dragging a cannon down the slope. They were followed in short order by more men and more cannon, all staggering with the heat and white-eyed with exhaustion. He recognized Colonel Owen, stumping along among them, sooty face set in unhappy desperation.

Some sense of stirring drew his wandering eye away toward a group of men, and he realized with a faint sense of interest that it was a very large group of men, with a standard hanging limp as an unstuffed haggis against its pole.

That in turn stirred recognition. Sure enough, there was General Lee, long-nosed and frowning, but looking very keen, riding out of the mass toward Owen.

He was too far away and there was too much noise to hear a word, but the trouble was obvious from Owen’s gestures and pointings. Two of his cannon were broken, burst probably, from the heat of firing, and another had broken free of its limber and was being dragged with ropes, its metal scraping on the rocks as it juddered along.

Lee’s brows drew in and his lips thinned, but he kept his composure. He had bent down from his saddle to listen to Owen; now he nodded, spoke a few words and straightened up. Owen wiped a sleeve across his face and waved to his men. They picked up their ropes and leaned into the weight, disconsolate, and Ian saw that three or four were wounded, cloths wrapped round heads or hands, one half-hopping with a bloody leg, a hand on one of the still-mounted cannon for support.

Ian’s wame had begun to settle now, and he was desperately thirsty. He’d taken no notice where he was going, but seeing Owen’s cannon come down the road, knew he must be near the bridge over the Middle Branch, though it was out of sight. He crawled out of his hiding place and managed to stand up, holding on to the log for a moment while his vision went black and white and black again.

It took several tries, but he got water at last from an infantryman who had two canteens hanging round his neck.

“What happened to you, chum?” the infantryman asked, eyeing him with interest.

“Had a fight with a British scout,” Ian replied, and reluctantly handed back the canteen.

“Hope you won it, then,” the man replied, and waved without waiting for an answer, moving off with his company.

This excerpt is from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. It was posted on September 12, 2013.