[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE Copyright © 2020 by Diana Gabaldon.]
“That’ll be Colonel Marion, Reverend,” his escort said, and pointed. “When you’ve done your business with him, one of his men’ll bring you back to General Lincoln’s tent.” The man turned to go, but then turned back to add a caution. “Don’t you be a-wandering about by yourself, Reverend. ‘Tisn’t safe. And don’t try to leave the camp, either. Pickets got orders to shoot any man as tries to leaves without a pass from General Lincoln.”
“No,” Roger said. “I won’t.” But the corporal hadn’t waited for an answer; he was hurrying back into the main body of the camp, boots crunching on white oyster shell.
It was close—a lot closer than he’d thought. He could feel the whole camp humming, a sense of nervous energy, men making ready. But surely it was too early for…
Then he walked through the high stone gate of the cemetery, its lintel decorated with the Star of David, and saw at once what must be Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Marion, hat in hand and a blue and buff uniform coat thrown loose over his shoulders, deep in conversation with three or four other officers.
The unfortunate word that popped into Roger’s mind was “marionette.” Francis Marion was what Jamie would call a wee man, standing no more than five foot four, by Roger’s estimation, scrawny and spindle-shanked, with a very prominent French nose.
His appearance was made more arresting by a novel tonsorial arrangement, featuring thin strands of hair combed into a careful puff atop a balding pate and two rather larger puffs on either side of his head, like ear-muffs. Roger was consumed by curiosity as to what the man’s ears must look like, to require this sort of disguise, but he dismissed this with an effort of will, and waited patiently for the lieutenant-colonel to finish his business.
Chasseurs, the corporal had said. French troops, then, and they looked it, very tidy in blue and green coats and white small-clothes, with jaunty yellow feather cockades sticking up from the fronts of their cocked hats like Fourth-of-July sparklers. They were also undeniably speaking French, lots of them at once.
On the other hand… they were black, which he hadn’t expected at all.
Marion raised a hand and most of them stopped speaking, though there was a good deal of shifting from foot to foot and a general air of impatience. He leaned forward, speaking up into the face of an officer who topped him by a good six inches, and the others stopped fidgeting and craned to listen.
Roger couldn’t hear what was being said, but he was strongly aware of the electric current running through the group—it was the same current he’d sensed running through the camp, but stronger.
Jesus Christ almighty, they’re getting ready to fight. Now.
He’d never been on a live battlefield, but had walked a few with his father. The Reverend Wakefield had been a keen war historian, and a good story-teller; he’d been able to evoke the sense of a muddled, panicked fight from the open ground at Sheriffmuir, and the sense of doom and slaughter from the haunted earth of Culloden.
Roger was getting much the same feeling, rising up from the quiet earth of the cemetery through his body, and he curled his fists, urgently wanting the feel of a weapon in his hand.
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Many thanks to Mikaela Granstrom for the magnificent bee photo!
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