Miserably chilled air swept past us as we rode on through the darkness. That night would not be as forgiving to us as the last. Snapping twigs and whispers made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. A group of armed men quickly surrounded us.
“We are only passing through, gentlemen,” said Jill.
“And who is that with ye?” challenged one of them.
“I am Jon, a patriot,” I lied, hoping that my accent did not break through.
The men were not in uniform, but I knew that they were part of the militia by the way that they carried themselves. They ambushed my regiment on the road once.
“Excellent,” said the broadest man good-naturedly. “Come join us for some supper.”
We followed the small band of patriots through a maze of trees, listening to them speak of Bunker Hill and of the good men that they lost. I wished that more people would question the act of battle itself as opposed to its aftermath.
When we reached the small encampment, my stomach grumbled at the smell of roasting meat. I did not care what it was – meat was something I had gone without for too long.
“Have a seat,” said a tall man while sharpening his knife. “It’s your lucky day. We have rabbit on the menu.”
I tried in vain not to imagine what else that knife had been used for. All of the men eyed Jill, but I sensed no immediate danger from them. I feared the regular army much more than those men. Jill ate the simple meal without a word. Her unwillingness to speak worried me. I swallowed the last piece of meat and then rested my hand on her shoulder.
“Jill, you have been quiet.”
She gave me a small smile. “I’m just afraid. Things always sound so easy until you do them.”
“You have nothing to fear. These are your people and they have been kind. I will keep you safe.”
She swallowed hard and leaned against me. I wrapped my arm around her. The chill I felt earlier vanished.
“Can this adventure last forever?” she whispered.
“No matter where we end up, being with you will always be an adventure.”
Her smile affirmed that she agreed. I could no longer think of a life without her.
“Where should we go after this?” she asked.
I watched the spirited fire crackle in front of us as I thought of the many places we could travel to. It was so impetuous, our plan, but no other idea had ever made me look so forward to living. Bradley would have been happy with my decision to break away from practicality for once. I smiled at the memory of his easy laugh and wild ideas. I longed to live some of his plans out with Jill.
“The Lobsterbacks are here!” someone shouted.
Jill shot up with a cry. I made her look at me by gripping both her shoulders.
“You must hide!”
She shook her head. “I can shoot well.”
Bullets drowned out the yells of the men around us. There was no time for her to hide. The British had already infiltrated the camp. I grabbed a musket and began to load it. Jill knelt next to me and took a rifle with trembling hands. I stood in front of her and aimed at an oncoming Englishman, but I couldn’t move my finger. He stopped a few feet in front of me, still holding his weapon, but my hesitation to react must have startled him. His eyes seeped out desperation and exhaustion through their tears. Would we share a laugh and walk down the path together had we met at university? I had to think of Jill. Her life depended on us defeating the British. Killing my own people.
Pain ripped through me and I fell to my knees. The other lad stumbled backward, gawking at the wound in my side, before retreating to the woods. Merciful numbness followed the terrible stinging and I looked around for Jill. All I could see were men hacking and shooting at one another. My peripheral vision told me to look to my left. A man stood over me, about to run me through with his bayonet. The only word I could describe him with at that moment was vacancy. Face void of emotion, he drew his hand back, ready to impale me as though I were nothing more than the dirt under his feet.
As quickly as I could brace myself to meet death’s grip, the soldier cried out and fell to his knees. In his wake stood Jill, surrounded by smoke wafting from her stolen Brown Bess. Madness widened her eyes. She screamed and drove her musket’s bayonet into another charging man.
Panting, she stared at me for a moment. Then, I took her by the hand and we ran together, past the sea of fighting men. Bullets and battle noise chased us as we ran not nearly fast enough through the trees. A horrific scream sounded just behind me. I tried not to focus on the blood that soaked through Jill’s pants. She stared at the growing red with blank eyes.
I kissed her forehead and lifted her into my arms. I willed my panic-weakened legs to move quickly before another round of bullets came. Retreating colonials raced past us. The redcoats had overpowered the small force of farmers and trappers once again. The war was so far from ending, but I could not think of that. I had to get Jill to the nearest camp. I had to…
Agony tore into my back.
I tried to hold on to Jill, but my strength left me. I dropped her, falling at her side. Her still body sent chills over me. I could barely move from the pain. I felt so weak, but I had to protect her.
I crawled to her and covered her. I rested a hand on her breast. Her heart was still beating. She would live. She had to live. My vision darkened as I slipped into unconsciousness.