This is something I started working on about a year ago and recently picked back up again. I won’t lie and say the idea for the story didn’t come from re-watching The Patriot. IT DID. I found myself wondering, What if Martin’s daughter had been older? What if the bad guy hadn’t been SUCH a bastard? What if’s abounded in my brain and the basic premise was formed–daughter of ‘good’ guy gets taken hostage by sexy ‘bad’ guy.
Since I obviously wanted to write a book and not fanfiction (which I love by the way), I researched the Revolutionary War to find if this premise for a novel would even be believable on an accurate, historical level and found that it did. Next came narrowing down a specific time period that would work for all the characters involved and found the perfect setting in the Battle of Camden in North Carolina, August of 1780. Everything I had decided to incorporate fit right in there and I even added another character from my research who I felt was given a bad rap. But, he’ll be a secret for now. 🙂
I admit that during the course of this story I have shamelessly taken the side of the British, but really, there are SO many novels out there set during the Revolutionary War that are from the Colonists POV, and I love playing the Devil’s advocate.
Of course, the characters took on a life of their own as I began writing, making for a harsh, stoic, yet very appealing antagonist, who eventually becomes the hero of the story, James Stafford, and a strong, beautiful, able-to-fire-a-pistol-and-hit-her-man heroine, Elizabeth Harrison.
Keep in mind this is a rough draft and unedited. Enjoy!
The morning air was heavy with fog, surrounding the Harrison family estate and plantation house, and making it impossible to see visitors approaching up the long road flanked on either side by carefully placed oak trees from generations before. The drumming of hooves, however, told the slave woman, Elsie, who was standing on the veranda, that whoever was coming to pay them a visit seemed to be in a hurry. In wartime, that never seemed to bode well.
She turned without waiting to see who emerged from the haze and hurried up the stairs with an urgency that she was rarely forced to display in her day to day routine. She knew one thing for certain; it was not the master that came up the road. He always fired a warning shot into the air well before he arrived to let his children know it was he and not a redcoat.
She paused on the stairwell for just a second and heard the drumming of hooves growing louder. There were many riders coming and only two women, a child, and a few slaves to defend the plantation and themselves.
The slamming of her bedroom door against the wall was what awakened Elizabeth, who shot up from her pillow as if a bullet had whizzed past her ear. Eyes were barely focused when she noticed Elsie grabbing a pair of stays and a dressing gown from of her dresser. “Elsie? What’s happening?” Her sleep-slurred voice was hard to understand, but Elsie didn’t seem as though she were even paying attention.
“We have to get you dressed, Miss Betsy. Riders approachin’. A lot of ‘em by the sound of it.” Elsie had already pulled Elizabeth from bed and had the stays already over her head and situated down over her breasts and waist. They always left the cord in place and just loosened it for easy dressing and undressing. Or if they were in a hurry like this morning.
The sudden jolt of fear at Elsie’s explanation was enough to snap the sleepiness out of her and she was wide awake now. “Who is it?”
“Don’t know, miss. Couldn’t see with the fog, but it’s best not to be caught unawares.” Elsie jerked the cord quickly, tightening it all the way down and then tied it off. “There. I’ll get Miss Charlotte.”
Elizabeth nodded and waved her away to see to her sister. She grabbed the robe Elsie had tossed on her bed and threw it on, racing down the stairs and through the foyer to throw open the front door. She was greeted by a sight that made her stomach clench and her mouth go dry.
A dozen or so redcoats were sitting astride their horses. One man was in the middle of giving some orders, but she broke in, clutching the front of her dressing gown tighter to her chest. “What is the meaning of this?” She looked between the man who seemed to be in charge and the others that were riding off around the house.
The man stopped speaking and turned his head to look at her. Elizabeth swallowed hard when she saw how cold his blue eyes were, especially when they were cast in her direction. His horse maneuvered closer to the steps leading up to the veranda, and though she was looking down at him it did not make her feel better at all.
“This property and everything on it is now confiscated on behalf of His Majesty, the King of England. Anything valuable found on its premises which might be useful in aiding the Crown during this time of war will be taken. Any traitors in uniform found on the property will be shot on sight or taken to face a court marshall.”
She was almost dizzy with confusion and shook her head. “There aren’t any traitors here. You can’t just take our things,” she protested, when soldiers pushed past her to enter the house. Eyes blazing, she turned back to the arrogant ass who had been addressing her. “If you take everything, we will have nothing come winter.”
He shrugged and smiled coldly. “That is not my concern. You colonial’s should have thought of that before you decided to rebel.” He spoke in a smooth, elegant, accented voice which sounded both lovely and awful at the same time. How could someone who sounded like him be so unfeeling?
Before Elizabeth could form an answer, a horrible, sickening thought occurred to her. Her father’s papers, the ones that held important troop movements of the colonial militia, as well as maps documenting strategic military bases, were inside the house. They were stored in a secret compartment in the floor which ordinarily wouldn’t attract attention, but it was hollow, and with all these boots walking about. . .
She tried to mask her features into a neutral expression and slowly turned to walk back inside the house. Elsie had Charlotte by the staircase with both hands on the little girl’s shoulders. They just stared at her in fright. Charlotte’s lower lip quivered.
“Betsy? What’s happening? Why are they here?”
Elizabeth gave her sister a quick hug. “They are just here to get some supplies for their men; then they will be gone.”
Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes as a soldier stomped past her on his way to her where her father’s room was located. Elizabeth’s eyes followed him. “Where’s father? I want father.”
Elizabeth quickly stood up and shushed her. The last thing they needed was for the redcoats to find out who their father was. Even now, Alexander Harrison was somewhere with Captain Daniel Morgan, the most hated of the colonial leaders. He was a brilliant military strategist, as was Harrison, and had spent most of the war thwarting the British at every turn. Her father had warned her to confide in no one, only Elsie and their aunt Jane who lived in a large house about nearby. But, Charlotte was only eight and did not understand the situation.
“Elsie, why don’t you take Charlotte to the kitchen and give her something to eat?” She forced a smile down at the little girl. “Then, when everything has settled down, we’ll take a nice long walk outside and pick some wildflowers. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
Her soft voice comforted Charlotte as it always did and the girl nodded, looking up at Elsie. Elizabeth patted her head as they were turning to leave, but a voice behind her caused her to freeze.
“The little girl misses her father. Tell me, what is his name? Perhaps we have met.”
She turned and stood in front of her sister protectively and also so that she wouldn’t say something that could get them into trouble. “Smith,” she lied, knowing that the name was as common in America as it was in England.
His eyes flickered almost imperceptibly, but he answered her in a cordial tone. “Smith?” His line of sight strayed to the parlor which could be seen from the foyer as the double doors were wide open. On the visible wall, mounted tomahawks and old muskets were displayed above the mantel of the fireplace.
She didn’t know why him seeing those made her uneasy, but it was as if they gave away too much of their family history. “Yes, that is right. Smith.”
He turned his attention back to her for a moment, all the while moving about in the room in slow deliberate turns. “What is his first name? Smith is very common. I’m quite sure I put a musket ball through the heart of a Smith only days ago. It would be a shame if he were a relation of yours.” His smile was nice, but his eyes were still like pieces of chipped ice.
Elizabeth raised her chin, haughty and proud. “And I am quite sure that my father would never bare himself to the enemy in such a way. He shields himself well.” She really should not have spoken so outright, but he had made her angry with his talk of killing her father in front of her sister.
Now he was looking into the parlor with a curiosity that made her worried. He’d said that they were here for supplies. Why then weren’t they leaving?
“Your father must be quite a man to have lived this long through the war. He’s an officer?” One elegant brow arched in question, though he looked as though he’d already answered it himself.
She didn’t know what to say. Why was he asking her this? A bad feeling worked its way down to her stomach. She had to distract him somehow. He was too interested in her father and he couldn’t find out the truth. Alexander Harrison had told them that the redcoats would take all of their food, supplies, and valuables before setting fire to the house if they ever knew this was his property.
“Sir,” she said, making her way across the foyer. She added warmth to her voice that had not previously been present. “It would be very un-Christian of me to not offer refreshment to you and your men. You could not have had a proper breakfast as of yet.” She smiled as any good hostess would do and reached a hand to tentatively touch his bright red coat.
He stared down at her. “I’m not here for breakfast. You never answered my question. What is your father’s first name?”
Without looking away or missing a beat, she answered, “William, sir. William Smith.”
“And what side does this William Smith fight for? King and country or treacherous rabble?” His gaze pinned her to the floor and left her throat dry.
“I haven’t seen my father in three years, sir. But, I’m sure he fights for the right side.” She emphasized ‘right’ and saw his eyes flicker again.
“This William Smith must be quite a man.” He entered the parlor and looked around. She followed him, anxiety gnawing at her painfully. “He fought at Fort Duquesne?”
How else could she explain the savage trophies? Elizabeth nodded. He turned away to study a painting of her father and fear seized her heart. What if he recognized him?
“Then your father is very lucky to be alive. He must be only a few years older than me. What year was he born?”
Elizabeth hadn’t though this far. She’d never imagined anyone would actually come here and interrogate her. Of course, she’d never imagined the war would last this long. “He-he never knew the exact year. His parents died when he was very young.”
The man made a sympathetic noise and nodded. “I’m very sorry to hear that. To lose one’s parents at such an age…” He paused for a moment. Then, “But, if you had to guess?”
Something was wrong. She looked nervously over her shoulder and saw more redcoats, but they weren’t carrying any of the supplies he said that they needed. She didn’t want to risk getting caught in a lie and she couldn’t do the math in head right now so she told the truth. “My mama always celebrated his birth on the ninth of September. Three years ago he was five and thirty.”
“So he would be eight and thirty now.”
“As best as we can guess.” Please, Lord, let him go away now. “I’ll just go and see if your men need any help,” she breathed and turned to rush away. She heard heavy boots follow her and walked faster.
She stopped in her tracks and stared to her right. It was Adam Dailey, the boy who lived on the next plantation over and her betrothed. She’d never been so happy to see him. “Adam.” The relief couldn’t be kept from her voice and he rushed over to put his arm around her.
“What the devil is going on? Pa said he saw redcoats coming up this way.”
Before she could warn him, the British officer who’d been interrogating her stepped into view with a chilling smile. He took in every detail, including Adam’s arm wrapped around her shoulders, with rapt attention. He sneered at them. “And who might you be?”
Adam’s male pride kicked in and he stiffened, squaring his shoulders. “Adam Dailey. Who are you?”
The officer smiled thinly and unstrapped his black leather helmet, taking it off and stowing it under one arm. He was handsome, Elizabeth realized. His hair was a very dark brown and tied back neattly at the nape of his neck. Without his helmet to detract from his appearance, his ice blue eyes were even more striking than she’d previously thought.
“Lieutenant-Colonel James Stafford III.” A thin, but pleased smile curved his lips as they both paled. Every local around these parts had heard of Cornwallis’ Hound. He pursued his prey relentlessly and could ride for days without eating or sleeping. No one ever escaped him. “I see my reputation precedes me.” He didn’t bother to extend his hand which was just as well since Elizabeth was not sure if Adam would take it or not. “I have business with this girl that does not concern you.”
Adam’s eyes flashed in anger. “Whatever business you have with Elizabeth does concern me, sir, since we are soon to be wed.”
His declaration did not seem to faze Stafford in the slightest. He merely smiled and inclined his head. “Of course. I just have one question.” He withdrew his pistol so fast that no one even saw what he was doing and aimed straight at Elizabeth’s chest.
She jumped in fear and looked up at Adam who was as white as a sheet.
“I want you answer the first thing that comes to mind and if she says one word I will shoot her. Is that understood?” He still spoke with complete calm and control and looked between the pair in front of him.
Adam nodded, scared, but trying to be brave. “I’ll answer whatever you want me to. Just don’t hurt her.”
James Stafford smiled. “What is her father’s name?”
The silence was loud. With every second that ticked by her heart threatened to beat right out of her chest. As annoying as Adam could be, he was not stupid. He glanced down at Elizabeth and could see that she’d lied to the other man, but there was no way of knowing exactly what she’d told him. Beads of sweat broke out over his brow.
“I’m waiting. Surely if the two of you are so much in love that you plan to wed you should know her father’s name? Unless of course you’ve never met the man and you are lying to me.”
“I’ve met him,” Adam protested. “What do you want with him? He’s not here right now.”
Stafford moved the pistol impatiently. “Yes, boy, I am aware of that. What is his name?”
Adam looked back down at Elizabeth and she could see that he didn’t know what to do. The click of the hammer in the pistol dropping made them both jump. “Harrison,” he croaked out desperately. “Alexander Harrison.”
Elizabeth’s heart sank to the floor as she looked away from Stafford’s triumphant gaze. Maybe there was a chance that he didn’t know about her father. But, his next words told her that was not the case.
“Alexander Harrison. I suspected as much. We were recently in Virginia. Your family used to live there, is that right?”
She nodded miserably. She’d failed her father and her family.
“Right before we burned the house to the ground we discovered a hidden compartment with documents. One of them was a deed to a plantation. This plantation,” he smiled, stowing away his weapon.
One of his men walked up right then and handed him a bundle of papers. Her father’s papers. “No,” she cried and tried to grab them, but Adam wrapped his arm around her waist and held her back. Stafford glanced at her in amusement but turned his attention back to the papers.
“Put these in my bag on my horse. General Cornwallis will want to see them immediately.” Then his attention was back on her. “Where is your father?”
Tears glittered angrily in her eyes. “I told you—.”
He cut her off. His tone was no longer polite. “Lies. Those papers contain recent intelligence,” he snarled, shoving Adam aside hard and grabbing her chin to force her to look at him. “Tell me where he is and I’ll leave this house intact. You and your sister can live in peace. You can marry this boy and squeeze out a nice little traitorous family.” He stared at her impatiently, waiting for her answer.
She flinched at the crudeness of his words. His fingers were bruising her face and she tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but he was strong. “I’m telling the truth. I do not know where he is. The last time he was here was over three months ago.” His grip got harder and she winced. “You’re hurting me.”
“I’ll do more than that if you keep lying to me,” he threatened.
She stayed silent and focused on the brass buttons of his red coat. There was a flash of tan at his throat above his collar. His jaw was cleanshaven. These details seemed absurd to her. They made him seem too human when he wasn’t. He was a monster.
“He was here not that long ago, wasn’t he?” At her continued silence he shook her face a little. “Answer me, girl. Your father and his friends have caused a lot of trouble for me. I won’t tell him it was you who told me.” He slowed down to collect himself and reason with her. “He would want you to tell me, you know. What father would not give himself up to save his offspring? Even if they are girls.”
She trembled at his words, but stubbornly stayed silent. She was so afraid that she was not even sure she could have spoken if she had wanted to. He released her with a sound of disgust, but then they both heard a click behind him. He turned. Adam was holding her father’s rifle that had been mounted on the wall in the parlor and was now aiming it at Stafford.
“Adam, no! They’ll kill you,” she begged, but he didn’t listen. Stupid men, she fumed inside. He was going to get them killed.
Stafford smiled like a big cat that had found its prey and turned around. “Do you think that musket will actually fire? It’s a relic. Put it down and I promise my men will not harm you.” His words dripped with honeyed, aristocratic charm.
“Please, Adam.” She slowly moved away from Stafford just in case the thing actually did fire. She didn’t want to be hit accidentally. “Think about it. You cannot kill them all.” She wished he could but it was impossible.
He was stubborn. “Tell your men to leave the house. Now,” he threatened, motioning with the musket.
Elizabeth saw Stafford wince at the unsteady way Adam was holding the weapon. Her fiance was nervous and it wobbled in his hands. We might be shot even if Adam doesn’t mean to do it, she thought.
Stafford nodded and smiled reassuringly. “Of course. I have what I came for. I’ll just order them to leave the house and then I’ll walk out too. Is that alright with you?”
Adam nodded. “Hurry up.” Though he tried to appear in control, his voice was higher pitched than normal and he was sweating buckets.
The other soldiers had congregated and had their muskets trained on him, but at their commander’s nod, they reluctantly lowered them and began filing out the door. Each man’s eyes were hard and never left Adam’s figure.
“Now get out,” Adam ordered in a shaky voice. He motioned at the door with the musket which made Stafford wince again.
“Wait,” Elizabeth said, thinking quickly. She closed the distance between her and Stafford who watched her with an icy gaze. She swallowed hard and ignored him, reaching for his pistol tucked into its usual place at his waist. Nerves and being in such close proximity to his hips made her hands shake as she lifted the heavy object out of its holster and gripped it tightly.
Stafford sneered at her. “Do you even know how to shoot that?” He was silenced when she leveled it at him using one arm.
“My father taught me to shoot a musket when I was six. A pistol when I was ten. And every time he comes home he makes me practice. For God’s sake, Adam, put the musket down,” she snapped. “Go and check on Charlotte and Elsie. They’re in the kitchen.” With his aim, he would be more likely to kill rather than save them. He swallowed and looked like he was going to protest, but then complied and dashed off down the hall.
Elizabeth leveled her gaze at Stafford who returned it unflinching. In fact, he almost appeared to not even care about his predicament. As soon as she heard Adam’s distant shout she knew why. “Where are they?”
He shrugged a shoulder and she almost could picture him sitting in some lord’s parlor sipping brandy from a crystal tumbler. He hadn’t even broken a sweat at the prospect of getting shot. “I instructed my men to take them some time ago. The slave and your sister are being held at gunpoint even as we speak.”
Adam returned breathing heavy. “They are outside.”
Elizabeth’s heart lurched and she gave him a hateful look as she crossed the room to look outside. The pistol was trained on him the entire time. Charlotte and Elsie were standing in front of the house and two soldiers had muskets trained on the back of their heads. What am I supposed to do? She knew what her father would do. Her head swung back around to stare at him.
“Let my sister and Elsie back into the house and you can go.”
He smiled as if her idea was absurd. “A trade? Are we negotiating a hostage release? I think not. My men have their orders. I would rather die right here than release your sister. Do you think that Harrison would not cease his activities and come running back home when he hears of his youngest daughter’s capture? Perhaps he would even manage to dissuade Daniel Morgan from attacking my men like a lunatic.”
“You’re one to talk,” she spat. “Was it not you who burned an entire town to the ground for spite?”
His blue-eyed steady gaze flickered in recognition of what she was talking about, but he shrugged it off. “Orders,” he said, simply.
“Some say it was your idea.”
“And some people say that this war is for freedom, but you do not really believe that do you?”
“What are you talking about? Of course it is.” Beads of sweat were forming on her chest and neck. She shrugged off her dressing gown and kicked it across the floor. His eyes followed every one of her movements with predatory grace. She was sure that nothing escaped his attention and that if there were a way out of this situation he would find it. It would be to her detriment.
He laughed at her naiveté. “Oh my dear, you’re so young and innocent. This war is no different than any war. Money is what drives the human race, not idealism and dreams.”
Her hand wavered and she tried to shut out his words. “Release my sister and Elsie or I’ll shoot you.”
“Shoot me and your sister and slave die.”
Anger was boiling inside her threatening to overflow. “I don’t know where my father is.” She could tell that he believed her by the look in his eyes. “Last I heard, Captain Morgan was over the border in South Carolina. The swamps.” Her father would die before he gave up a comrade to the enemy, but she would die before letting anything happen to her sister. And she knew her father would too.
Before either could do or say anything, the thundering of hooves and whooping calls drew her attention and she flew to the window. Was it more redcoats? Her relief was almost tangible when she realized it was the local militia, or at least a bunch of men with guns. They started shooting and her relief quickly turned to fear as she realized that the British might kill her family as a result. A flash of movement caught her attention and she turned aiming the pistol at Stafford’s head. He’d almost managed to overpower her, but she stopped him in time and put a few feet of distance between them.
Belatedly, she realized that Adam was nowhere in sight. Damn it, she fumed. He’d run away and called up his father and his friends. Now Charlotte and Elsie could be killed in crossfire. The door banged open and Elsie ran inside carrying Charlotte in her arms.
“We have to get outta here, Miss Betsy,” Elsie said, breathing heavy in panic. Charlotte was crying and trying to break free of her grasp.
She kept her eyes on Stafford knowing that if he escaped then they would all die. “Run to Aunt Jane’s, Elsie. Take a horse if you can find one, but either way get to her and tell her to take you somewhere safe. Don’t tell me where,” she said quickly.
Elsie looked at her as if to say ‘But how will you find us?’, but then a sad, quiet understanding passed over her face and she nodded after a moment. “Goodbye, Miss.”
Elizabeth held herself together and didn’t even look at Charlotte. She didn’t want to cry. “Leave through the back. There should be a horse if they didn’t already steal it.” There were gunshots outside being fired back and forth and she knew that all the men would be too preoccupied with trying to survive to care about a slave and a little girl. Elsie ran away and Charlotte’s screams died on Elizabeth’s ears. It was just Stafford and her now.
It was silent for a few moments while the sounds of screaming and gunfire filled the background. She ignored it as best she could. Stafford spoke first. “It seems we are at an impasse. Though since your sister escaped it’s hardly fair that I still have a pistol aimed at me.” Bitterness crept into his voice at the last few words.
She couldn’t believe his audacity. “You broke into my house and tried to force me to betray my father. Then you threatened my family. Why shouldn’t I shoot you right here?” She’d never shot another human being but surely one as vile as he was reputed to be would not be all that difficult?
He smirked as if he knew her inner dilemma. “Have you ever killed anyone before?” He stepped close and she tightened her grip on the pistol and thrust it harder at him. He stopped. “It isn’t as easy as it appears.”
“That’s where you and I differ,” she snapped. “To me, killing does not appear easy at all. But people like you—”
“And your father,” he cut in.
She glared at him and looked around noticing that there weren’t as many gunshots anymore. Time was running out. “My father is a soldier.”
“Technically, he’s a traitor.”
She gave a small laugh. “He’s only a traitor until we win. Then he will go down in history as a liberator of the oppressed.”
“Yes, history is made through the winners. The losers get it shoved down their throats. But, do you really think a group of poorly trained and commanded men can bring down the British Empire?” The very idea of it seemed to make him want to laugh. He shook his head. “I think not.”
“I do not want to bring down the British Empire,” she snapped. “I wanted to wake up at a leisure pace and eat breakfast in my bed. But, instead I get rudely awakened by you and your boorish soldiers tromping through my house. You would have shot me,” she protested. “Tell me why I shouldn’t do the same?”
“Because, I promise you, you would not make it as far as your sister did. My men would run you down in the field and kill you. Or use you for their own pleasure and then kill you,” he added, a gleam in his eye as if he thought she would deserve it.
“And if I let you go?” She held her breath in wait of an answer that might let her live another day. Please, just let him walk out the door and never come back, she begged God silently. The chances of that happening were unrealistic though. She’d taken him hostage with own pistol. There was not a man alive worth his own spit who would let that slight go unpunished.
“I will walk out that door and you will remain unharmed.”
“And the rest of my family?”
“Excepting your father, I will order my men not to pursue them. That sounds fair, don’t you agree?”
How could she let him go after her father? He interrupted her thoughts as if he knew what she was thinking. “Your father chose his own path and I’ve chosen mine. But, you don’t have to travel down it.”
This was madness. “I want to hear you say it,” she said, her voice. “Tell your men that if I let you go they aren’t to hurt me.”
One eyebrow arched ever so slightly in surprise. “What makes you think I’ll keep my word?”
Her nerves were wearing thin. “I—I don’t know. Won’t you?”
He smiled. “Of course. Now put down the pistol.” He moved closer to her and this time she did not protest. There was really no other option. At most, she’d be able to get off a few shots before soldiers put her down like a dog.
Something grabbed her shoulder and in surprise she fired off a shot. Stafford didn’t scream but he clutched his side and sharply inhaled with a hiss. The pistol was wrenched from her hand and a large arm closed tightly around her midsection.
“Sorry, sir, are you hurt?” an accented voice asked from behind her. She tried to elbow the soldier in the gut and succeeded but it didn’t hurt him through all the layers of his uniform. He jerked her harder against him and closed his other hand around her upper arm.
Stafford was less than happy with his subordinate. “You imbecile,” he seethed, straightening up with another hiss. He withdrew his hand from inside his coat and a red color smeared his fingertips. Elizabeth felt faint. “Could you not have waited for her to hand me the pistol before you get me shot?” He ripped the weapon away from the private and holstered it, glaring at Elizabeth.
She couldn’t tell his expression, but from the sound of his voice, the private was scared. “I am so sorry, Colonel Stafford. I was afraid she was going to shoot you. The boy got away with his father and we cannot find the girl.”
Stafford’s composure was extremely dented. A lock of his hair had fallen out of place. He smoothed it back with a deep inhale through his nose and turned angry gaze on her. “It does not matter. We have this one. Tie her hands and leash her to a horse.”
“But, I was going to give you your pistol back,” she protested, struggling against her captor as he tried to corral her through the front door. “It’s not my fault your men are stupid. You said you’d let me go.”
He snorted and began unbuttoning his red coat. “I was lying. Even if you hadn’t shot me,” he grimaced, “you would still be my prisoner. Now get her out of here,” he ordered the man holding her. “Beat her if you have to.”
That threat did nothing to dissuade Elizabeth from thrashing around and trying to bite the man’s hands. He growled and lifted her up off the floor to get a better hold, but she used the wall to kick off causing him to lose his balance. They crashed to floor in a heap and she scrambled around trying to get at the small knife she had tucked into her boot. Her hand closed around the hilt and she withdrew it.
Then the sound of a flintlock falling and the feel of cold metal against the back of her head caused her to cease her movements.
“Drop it,” Stafford ordered coldly.
Chest heaving and heart pounding, she knew it was over. It would be useless to let herself be killed. She had to somehow make it back to Charlotte. The knife clanked to the floor. Her arm was scratched and bleeding, but at least the other man looked worse. His lip was bleeding, face was scratched, and there was a bruise forming over his cheekbone. She realized that she was straddling him also which caused her to move suddenly to rise.
She sighed and complied, turning as she did so.
“I suggest you relieve of your person of all weapons now before we take leave. If you don’t and I find something later it will be much worse for you,” Stafford added. Sweat was beading his brow and throat. He loosed the buttons of his coat at his collar.
The wound was paining him, she realized with triumph. Good, I hope he gets an infection.
“Private Moore, go find all the medical supplies you can. Girl, get outside. Now. Try and escape again and I will not hesitate to knock you unconscious or drug you.” He voice was tightly controlled and she decided to obey. She didn’t have much of a choice.
The fog had dissipated by now and the sun was shining brightly. “Tie her up,” she heard Stafford order and three men descended on her, jerking her over to a horse. A rope was tied to the saddle and then around her wrists. The soldier handling the rope glared down at her in apparent displeasure at being ambushed by a bunch of American ‘rabble’, as Stafford was so fond of calling them. It wasn’t her fault. The last thing she’d wanted was people to get killed.
Even now, her eyes strayed to a still red-clad body. He was young, probably around her age. His eyes were unseeing and blank. He’d been shot in the chest, right where his heart was. A few feet away, the body of a colonial lay too. She thought he was dead, but all of a sudden his body spasmed and there was an audible moan.
“Please, let me help him,” she begged to the man tying her up. He ignored her. “He’s still alive.” She couldn’t tell who he was but it didn’t matter. He was groaning and dying right in front of her and she was helpless. “If it was one of your men wouldn’t you want someone to help him?”
“But, it’s not one of my men. It’s colonial scum,” he sneered. “One who very recently tried to put a round through my skull. I’m gonna stitch him up just to have another go in a month or two?” His laugh was one of disbelief.
Angry tears glistened in her eyes. “Where’s your sense of honor?”
A harsh laugh sounded behind her and she jerked her head over to see Lt. Col. Stafford walking out of her house. His coat was wide open and she could see that he’d bandaged his wound as best he could. To her horror, the private who grabbed her earlier was holding an armful of her unmentionables as well as a dress. He shoved them into a sack tied to a horse and then walked away to speak to someone. Her attention was diverted back to Stafford as he approached her.
“There is no honor in war. Only the victors and the losers. But, if this peasant’s dying bothers you so much, I’ll hasten him to the end.” He pulled out his pistol again and walked over to the man, rolling him over with a boot.
“No!” she shrieked, struggling against her bonds to no avail.
“He has a mortal wound. Would you rather I left him to suffer in agony for hours until he finally drowns in his own blood?” He waited for her answer as if it mattered.
He probably wanted her to tell him to shoot the poor man, she thought, struggling against her tears and the ropes that were digging into the delicate skin of her wrists. It was Adam’s uncle, she could see now. She stayed silent, unable to take her eyes off of Stafford. She didn’t want the man to suffer, but she didn’t want him to die either.
“You don’t know that he’ll die,” she whispered stubbornly.
“Yes, I do. I’ve seen men die, more than you I’d wager.” He gave her a sly smile and then raised the pistol as if to move away and let the man die at some later hour. Adam’s uncle, Samuel Alden, groaned again and there was a gurgling sound as he tried to breath past the fluid that was coming out of his throat.
“Please,” he croaked out to his enemy standing above him, “please. Sh—sh—oot me.”
Stafford only moved his head look at Elizabeth with a smirk. He wasn’t going to move until she told him one way or another. It was her punishment for defying him. Elizabeth couldn’t stand it anymore. Sam was choking on his own blood. “Fine. Put him out of his misery.” She turned her face aside and buried it against the sweat-soaked flank of the horse she was tied to. A loud gunshot went off almost immediately afterwards and she jumped, shoulders shaking.
Someone mounted the horse and started off, jerking the rope and her along with it. A breeze blew her light-blonde hair away from her tearstained face as she turned to look back at Sam’s dead body. There was no groaning, no gurgled sounds of breathing anymore. A tear slipped down her face and her only consolation was that Charlotte and Elsie got away. At least Stafford was keeping his word about that.
At least she hoped he would.