All I saw in wake of the battle were wasted lives. Every man had once possessed ambition and ideas, but war had no regard for human dreams. How I wanted to scream at those that started this war, who surely at that moment sat atop an upholstered chair with shined buttons and boots.
I looked away from the sea of fallen men. A thought crossed my mind that maybe I could escape and start over. As I cursed at myself for thinking as a fool, I turned and bumped into someone. A Colonial. My enemy. I jumped backward. With my heart slamming against my ribcage, I could not hear what he was saying as he fixed the barrel of his long rifle on me.
His icy blue eyes could have caused my blood to freeze had they held any measure of power. His face was caked in mud. Blood soaked his shoulder. He had likely lost a friend or two that day.
Why was I sympathizing with a man who was about to blast a hole through my head?
Weapon-less, all I could do was watch him pull the trigger. Burning agony ripped through my shoulder. Blinded by pain and anger and fear, I threw myself into the American before he could reload. I wrestled him to the ground and squeezed my hands around his neck.
“Terrible aim,” I snarled.
His face twisted as he struggled both to breathe and to get out of my grasp. A man reduced to the state of a caged animal. Tears blurred my vision. I let him go and then reached over to take his weapon. He eyed me in resolute silence.
I pointed in the direction of the field.
“Just get out of here,” I said.
He stumbled to his feet and sprinted away, probably confused as to why I would let him go free. Lucky for him, I was fed up with death. I wanted to think he would repeat the act of mercy on some other poor soul in the future, but it was unlikely.
I broke into a run in the opposite direction, the reality of my desertion and its consequences gnawing at the back of my mind. Worse still, I could come up against another soldier of the new world that might be a much better shot. Bradley flashed across my mind. Had it only been three years ago that we were school boys, playing pranks on the snooty girls in class and jumping in the pond when our chores were done?
My lungs burned as they worked to accommodate my rapid footsteps and violent sobbing.
I froze at the sound of a woman’s voice. Slowly, I turned. Her red hair was the first thing I noticed. It glistened in the sun, rivalling the shimmer of her new musket. Its barrel was pointed at me, but above it, her green eyes flashed like those of a frightened animal.
“Easy now,” I said. “I mean you no harm.”
“Famous last words, redcoat.”
She took a step closer. Those riding boots and tan trousers emphasized her long legs. I shook my head at myself. She could shoot me at any moment, and there I was admiring her form as though it were the only thing of importance.
“You were crying,” she said.
Her eyes went to my bleeding shoulder and then to the dirt. “Are you a deserter?”
I swallowed and looked away. Running around the backwoods in my red uniform was suicide. Had she been a man, I would have been lying breathless on the ground.
As though to mock my survival, my wound`s pain intensified. I winced.
“You could say that,” I muttered.
She peered nervously from left to right before staring at me again. Despite the stern setting of her face, those eyes could not hide her terror.
“Take off that abominable coat and follow me. I will dress your wound and that is all. Understand, kid?”
She was not more than four years my senior. Twenty-two at the most. I bit my tongue to avoid asking her why she was gallivanting through the woods so close to enemy lines with a gun that she could not even hold properly.
“Thank you,” I said instead.
I was careful to follow her at a safe distance. I held my breath, enjoying the soft sounds of wind, birds, and our lively footsteps. I felt as though I had suddenly stepped in Heaven, despite my injury’s throbbing. I was alive.
A small stone house peeked through the brush and the girl picked up her pace. I wondered if there were others in there. Perhaps her red-headed siblings or her angry father that would shoot me without blinking.
“Take off your boots, boy.”
I complied as she did the same.
She exhaled loudly.
“You are very lucky that my husband is away fighting.”
My pulse raced. Husbands were far worse than fathers. She opened the door quickly. Her eyes never left me as I stepped in to the small, but comfortable home.
“Sit down so I can see the damage.”
Her back faced me as I removed my shirt. She took a couple of rags from the cupboard and then brought over a pail of water.
She winced immediately at the sight of my blood-covered torso.
“It’s looks worse than it is,” I said. “I think the bullet went right through me.”
“I’m not very good with blood,” she sighed.
“You are being very brave.”
She soaked one of the rags with the water, avoiding my stare. I braced myself as she brought the drenched cloth to my wound. The moment my eyes closed, Bradley’s screaming face returned to my mind’s eye.
“I’m sorry, but this will only make you better,” she said softly.
I opened my eyes and saw the bottle of brandy in her hands. I yelled out as she poured the amber liquid over my wounds.
“You should have given me some of that to drink,” I said between clenched teeth.
She gave me the bottle with a shaky hand and I drank what was left. I felt ashamed of my cowardice. Greater men had suffered atrocities from fighting, while my case was relatively minor.
She disappeared and then came out with a folded clean white shirt.
“Thank you for your kindness, Miss.”
“If you truly are deserting the army, I commend you.”
“I … I think I have.”
She sat down, gazing at me in amazement.
“What made you leave?”
“My friend fell today.”
She swallowed hard. “I’m sorry.”
Her sincerity struck at the grief that I had been trying to keep locked away. I keeled over, weeping.
Bradley, how am I going to go on without you? My dearest, closest friend!
A warm hand rested on my arm. I couldn’t stop crying. The void that his death had left in my soul was unbearable.
Her soft voice rose above my sobs.
“I will make you some tea.”
I wiped my eyes, grateful for the small distraction, but my insides ached.
“You are very kind.”
“It is the least I can do.”
Here we were. Away from the battlefield, our opposing views mattered little in a time of tragedy. Human generosity still existed in some places. The world was not yet ruined by selfishness and hate.
“What was his name?” she asked.
“Bradley. Bradley Maylard. He was eighteen years old. A couple of months younger than I. He was the kindest heart on that battlefield. He refused to fire one shot. He didn’t even want to fight, but they did not give him a choice back home.”
I looked up at her then. Her hands covered her mouth.
She turned away from me. “He must have been a wonderful person.”
Do you want to read more? You can purchase The Red Coat & The Redhead on Amazon!
This is a beautifully written and emotional piece. The contrast between the brutality of war and the kindness and compassion shown by the redhead is particularly striking.
The Survivalist Prepper
Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
Sara, This is a good way to market your book. I wish you the best.
Aw thank you! 🙂