Clare Coleman, a beautiful indentured servant becomes the prize in a poker game. And two powerful men begin a war for honor, love and revenge.
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Recklessly James ducked low hanging limbs and cursed at the sting of branches slapping exposed skin. Bo ripped through the foliage threatening to lose him to the clinging and grasping arms of brush and branch if a bullet failed in the back failed to claim him sooner. Then he saw an opening and urged Bo forward. With a whinnying cry Bo leapt over a log and into the clearing. The clearing took them straight into hell and more bullets buzzed and whipped by from both sides.
They were caught in a crossfire and right in the middle of a fight.
As battles went it was a small but furious engagement. Men were scattered to the left and right, some dismounted and others on steeds firing and shouting orders. The clearing was littered here and there with bodies both blue and gray. Most lay still but even through the din and chaos James saw some writhed with the last gasps of life calling out to God and mothers, comfort and water.
It was a parched place in heaven or hell, for the dying always seemed thirsty.
Having survived countless battles already with his rider Bo leapt and turned bringing his rider to face his rear as if to offer James the chance for vengeance on his attackers before they died. James leaned forward as Bo reared high and he leveled his pistol firing. With the crystal clarity of senses sharpened in battle James saw his pursuers were Confederate. He could not say which detail told the truth of it first but it did not matter. They were coming, and trying to kill him.
James’s pistol roared twice and two men pitched back as if yanked from their horses by the strings of a murderous marionette. James fired again and a third man slumped forward in his saddle. To James’s right, and what had been his original left as he’d come into the clearing he saw more Confederates and to his now left he saw Federals.
In a tragic twisting comedy of dark errors the Confederates were firing at him while the Federals seemed on his side.
Men in blue shouted and pointed as if fixed with spirited excitement and began rallying on his position. More bullets buzzed by like angry wasps and James noted more seemed to come from the Confederate side. In the tumult it was difficult to tell exactly how many were engaged with ferocity of fire but it seemed it could be no more than fifty to a side. A trifling, daily skirmish by the count of a war who’s appetite devoured men by the thousands.
But it was more than enough to add James McPhereson to it’s butchers bill, by friend or by foe.
For whatever remaining minutes he had left alive he could not say why each side thought as they did but in the moment it was a certainty that the Confederates wanted him dead, and the Yankee’s were fighting to protect him.
In the chaos he’d forgotten the color of the great coat he wore.
Bo whirled and cantered in a circle helping his master to bring to bear his guns and James fired again and again. In his mind the number of shot’s he’d fired ticked by like the hands on a clock until his gun was out. He’d fired five times and five times his shots rang true and five fellow Confederates were dead or wounded. He had four left plus one shotgun shell before he’d have to pull another and the break in fire could cost him dearly, and still the men of both sides moved forward. James watched as one brave Confederate grew close enough to see the fury in his eyes but he didn’t hesitate. His sixth shot rang out and the man stumbled, and fell never to rise again.
And James turned.
“C’mon Billy lets move!”
Shouted a voice from behind him and James turned nearly leveling his pistol on a Federal.
Instantly James saw the man was a captain and gripped with emergency reached for Bo as if to grab the reins and hurry them to safety. James yanked the reins and turned with the Captain who paused leveling his pistol to cover James’s retreat. The man sent two more Confederates to the ground and James was nearly passed him, his arm reaching out to snatch the man up on saddle behind him and carry them free.
Then he was shot.
He staggered and went dead weight beneath James’s grasping hand threatening to pull James from his horse. Then a yell erupted from the Rebel line and the Confederate battle flag surged forward.
“Let me go, leave me, get out of here.”
The Captain said clutching his wound feebly trying to push James away.
“The hell you say cap, I ain’t leaving you here alone.”
With a grunting heave James tetched Bo forward and the momentum pulled the Captain up behind him and Bo tore off toward the retreating Federal line. Directly in front stood a battered and dilapidated farmhouse torn by gunfire and James could see the Federals attempting to rally and hold their position. It was there James sped with the surging Confederates behind him. Cannon shot roared behind him and he watched several Federals fall to Rebel bullets as all lit for the farmhouse. He was nearly there when a stray shell burst with a deafening explosion and the earth erupted alongside. Bo twisted and tried to rear. With whinnying cry Bo went down pitching James and the Captain to the ground. James hit hard and for a moment everything went black.
He shook it off and heard the ring of deafness in his ears. His first thought was to Bo but felt the wash of relief as he watched his companion roll to his feet and rise with a stumbling effort. James was already hustling himself back to his feet and quickly he felt for the Captain next to him. Thanking God in his heart James saw the man move.
James’s ears were still ringing but knew it was merely temporary and his hearing would return in minutes.
James yelled at Bo and with the familiarity of companionship understood and the horse tore off to the safety of the woods away from the fighting and fire while his master gained the cover of the farmhouse. Stumbling and rising James dragged the injured Captain inside and could already feel his hearing return to a muted normalcy. Several Federals were inside yelling, talking and barking orders as their muskets smashed through windows and they fired attempting to halt the advance. Though they had the cover of the house the numbers had taken their toll and the Confederates were simply too many.
Then a cannon ball ripped through an upstairs wall and dust and debris came raining down from the ceiling.
Men were again calling for retreat and one unlucky young fellow pitched forward laying half out the window, his life cut short by a sharpshooter’s bullet. James wished he’d had his Henry repeating rifle and could have made good work with it but under the impact of the cannon fire he’d lost his sense of things and was left simply with his sidearms. He didn’t bother with the several muskets lying around. It was too late the rebels were upon them.
The Captain lay with his back propped against a kitchen wall where James had left him cocking and preparing a pistol and readying himself.
“helluva day to die isn’t it?”
He said through heavy breaths, sweat and dishevelment.
“We ain’t dead yet Cap and I don’t intend to be. C’mon we got to skin out and get upstairs.”
With a heave James grabbed the wounded man’s shoulder and pulled him up.
“We can’t, they’ll surround us, it’ll be a death trap up there.”
He said protesting.
“They’ve already surrounded us, we got no choice, they’ll take us for sure down here. Least ways we can force them to come at us single file upstairs. Ain’t much but it’s all we got. Lets go.”
The man was attempting to steady himself and still hold his pistol when two doors burst open at the same time. Two Confederates came at them from opposite directions.
James stood his ground and the Jonny who kicked in the kitchen door from whence they came went was blown back out with a shotgun blast from from James’s second LeMat. The farther man went down with a roaring blast from his Colt Walker .44 and pitched back into the hallway.
Then James and the Captain were clawing their way upstairs.
They were just hitting the top landing when another Confederate came into view. He pitched back and tumbled down the stairs courtesy of the Captain’s revolver and James thanked him.
“Much obliged Captain.”
“My pleasure soldier.”
He said smiling darkly. His face was pale and it was clear he was badly injured but still he held on doggedly. Downstairs James could hear the rumble of footsteps and shouting and knew the house was being overrun. They’d have surely died sooner had they stayed below. And James was determined to prolong it as spitefully as he could.
He’d sworn he was never going to make it easy for anyone, no matter which side they were on. Together the two companions lay with their backs against the wall leaning and peering down the stairs.
They could hear the Rebels formulating plans through hasty shouts arguing about what to do and it was clear they weren’t exactly sure how many men were upstairs but knew them to be few.
“Surrender Yanks and you’ll get to live!”
Shouted one. James thrust his head back and called out.
“I ain’t no damned Yankee, I’m a Jonny!”
James said.The Captain looked on in confusion.
“Sorry friend. I know it’s a bad time to tell you this but I ain’t a blue belly. And if’n I’m gonna die I ain’t going to go them thinking I’m one.”
The Captain was still clearly confused. Then they heard a reply.
“Quit lying and give yourselves up. We’ll treat ya decent!”
“I done told ya once I ain’t no Yank and you call me that again and I’ll kill ya.”
James’s blood was hot and he’d had too much and didn’t give a damn who they were, they’d nearly killed him.
Then James heard a commotion and saw a man attempting to take the stairs musket in hand. There was no way the man could adjust in time and James fired knocking the man back down the stairs in a tumble.
“I told ya, ya damn fools.”