"GOD SAVE THE KING!"-- HOW THOMAS MARTIN FOUND HIS DESTINY
This story is alternative history. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of writers like Harry Turtledove, alternative history finds a turning point, and develops the "what ifs" of human events. The film The Patriot implies that its hero, Ben Martin, pretty much won the Revolutionary War for the Patriots. But what if he never joined the militia? I sought out a critical moment, and changed an event. Everything flows from there!
I also used some characters from my other long Tavington fic, Et In Arcadia Ego. Those of you who haven't read that one should still be able to follow the story just fine. Those who have may enjoy the alternate timeline and experiences I devise for my creations.
1. Dreaming of Destiny
The trunk in their father's room was the supreme mystery in the Martin children's lives. Gabriel, who had once explored it completely while Father was visiting a neighboring plantation, tantalized his younger brothers and sisters with whispers about 'Father's Uniform,' 'Father's Weapons,' and 'Father's Meritorious Service in the War.' Gabriel was the eldest, and in the opinion of Thomas, the second child, entirely too full of himself.
A new war was coming, and Gabriel, quoting Colonel Burwell's views as if they were his own, told them that South Carolinians must stand for freedom, that taxation without representation was tyranny, and that it was time for the New World to cast off the shackles of the Old.
Abigail, their housekeeper, who had been a slave, actually worn shackles, and been bought from a tyrant of a master and later freed, smiled gently and shook her head at Gabriel's passionate new politics. The younger children simply accepted his words for deepest wisdom.
Thomas heard only the word "War." He had always wanted to be a soldier; and not even because of Father. From his first memories, he had loved toy soldiers—even tried to swallow them a few times, said Gabriel---but that was when he was very young. Now Gabriel was talking about being a soldier, and it made Thomas sick with jealousy.
He had tried to tell Gabriel how he felt, up in their room one night. The house was quiet but for the crickets, and the distant hooting of an owl. "I always thought I would be the soldier," he said. "You're the eldest—you're Father's heir, and you'll inherit Freshwater someday. You should be the one to stay home with Father, and learn all you can about tobacco and corn, and when to breed the horses. It's not fair."
"Fair has nothing to do with it, Thomas,' Gabriel said impatiently, distracted from reading Mr Paine's pamphlet. "I'm not fighting because I want to be a soldier. I'm fighting because I believe in the just cause of independence. It's my duty to support it. It's not like I'm choosing a new career. When the war is over, I will come home, and I will learn from Father. I just have to do this first." He saw Thomas was still resentful, and tried to smooth things over with a smirk. "The war may last longer than anyone thinks. You might find yourself taking orders from me yet. "
Thomas fumed silently, promising himself, he would never, ever address his brother as 'Sir.' A better vision flashed before him--
Thomas, in scarlet regimentals, glowed with the fire of a martyr; and cried, "For England and Saint George!" The soldiers all roared out, "God Save the King!" The old recruiting sergeant had tears in eyes. "Bless you, laddie! His Majesty will never find a better, braver young officer" He wiped his honest eyes, and the other soldiers stood by, marveling at the scene.
Then Gabriel laughed, which brought Thomas back to reality with a disagreeable thump. "You're only a child. Maybe you'll decide you'd rather go into the law or the Church. Maybe you'll want to go into trade with Mr Howard. He's always looking for a likely young clerk."
"Clerk yourself," muttered Thomas. "I thought you wanted to be Mr Howard's partner. No, wait-- that's his daughter Anne, the one with all the teeth---that's the one you want to partner!"
Gabriel reached out quickly and clouted him over the ear—just hard enough to hurt. "Mind how you talk about Miss Howard."
"Oooh, Gabriel!" cooed Thomas in a squeaky falsetto, showing all his teeth. Gabriel got up, furious, and Thomas prudently ducked toward the door.
"I'll talk to Father about the Army," he declared.
"Go ahead," Gabriel answered indifferently, sitting down again at their table. "He won't be any help. I've never been able to get him to talk about his service in the war, and neither will you." He returned to reading, ignoring Thomas until the next day.
Gabriel was irritatingly right about Father. Thomas chose what he thought would be a favorable moment; when he had done an exemplary job with his chores, and had earned a word of approbation. Walking back to the house, he began to ask (in what he fondly imagined was a subtle way) what war was like. He was rewarded with a tortured glare and a sharp order to exercise Tobias and Piper, their riding horses. So a direct approach was no good.
When the assembly met in Charlestown, just before the war broke out, Thomas tried to talk to Colonel Burwell alone about Father, and about his own ambitions. Colonel Burwell was a good friend of Father's and must know all about Father's service in the War; but the colonel was too busy with politics and organizing troops to do more than give Thomas a kind, dismissive smile, and confirmation that "Captain Martin was a brave soldier, and did his duty." Thomas could tell that Colonel Burwell was disappointed that Father was not joining the Continentals. Thomas himself was disappointed that Father never called himself by his rank of Captain, as a retired captain was entitled. 'Captain Martin' had dash and distinction: 'Mister Martin' had neither.
When they were there in Charlestown, Gabriel stopped talking about it, and actually joined the Continentals. They went back to Freshwater without him, and sure enough, it was Thomas who would stay home, plant the fields, and herd the beasts. It was sickening. Father was worrying about Gabriel. Thomas could see it. It was "Gabriel, Gabriel, Gabriel," just as it always had been, and Gabriel wasn't even there. And it wasn't like the Continentals were a real army. Some of them wore a kind of blue uniform, somewhat like the French, but it just did not have the panache of scarlet. Thomas' toy soldiers were all in scarlet. It was the proper colour for a proper soldier's uniform.
Father was gone one day, and Thomas slipped out of his room, taking a candle from the table beside him. He went into Father's room, ignoring the feeling of dread. A true soldier was daring, and faced danger 'even in the cannon's mouth.' He could surely face sneaking into his father's room.
The trunk was large, and Thomas took a deep breath before opening it. Inside were treasures beyond belief.
Father's uniform was there, still brightly scarlet, and splendid with gold lace. On top of it lay an Indian hatchet, inscribed with Father's name.
Thomas was impressed. He suddenly had a glimpse of Father—not just as Father, the kind and strict man who taught them to read and hunt and fish, who put the little ones to bed at night and soothed their childish troubles—but as a young man who was not yet Father, a bold stranger who had killed men in fierce battle, a stranger in a red coat facing danger, even in the cannon's mouth. Thomas had for the first time imagined his Father as a separate human being, and it frightened and awed him a little.
Still, it would be foolish to have risked coming into the room to go through Father's things and not do the chief thing he had planned. Carefully lifting the uniform coat from the trunk, he slipped it on, fitting his arms into the too-large sleeves. He looked at himself in the mirror.
A stranger in a soldier's scarlet coat looked back. The face was a little too young, and the coat a little too big, but he could see the soldier he would be, all the same.
Thomas Martin, King's Ranger, led his band of Cherokee scouts on their most dangerous mission yet. He had earned his warrior's name of White Eagle in a dozen single combats, and was the most renowned tracker and woodsman in the entire British Army. He paused thoughtfully, his young brow furrowed with wisdom and experience beyond his years---
'What are you doing?" Father's voice startled him. Father was standing in the doorway, looking at him gravely. He walked over to Thomas and said, "Turn around."
All too soon, Thomas shed his borrowed glories, as Father quietly slipped the jacket from his shoulders. Without it, Thomas felt smaller, a boy again, and he braced himself to endure Father's anger.
Father, it seemed, was not angry, but serious. "Not yet, Thomas," he said.
Thomas, not to be put off, asked, "When?"
Father thought a moment, and then suggested, "Seventeen?" It was more a question than a statement, as if Father were trying to make a bargain Thomas could keep.
"That's two years!" Thomas objected. "It's already been two. The war could be over by then!"
"God willing!" Father muttered fervently.
Seeing further concessions were unlikely, Thomas said, "All right, seventeen." It was the best deal he could strike with Father, under the circumstances. They shook hands gravely, sealing the agreement. Thomas felt a great burden lifted. He had won his main point. Father now accepted that he would be a soldier. Gabriel had read a poem to them all once, that ended with the line, "They also serve who only stand and wait." Thomas understood it at last.
Father was turning away, and on impulse, Thomas again asked the question always on his mind. "Father—what happened at Fort Wilderness?"
Father's expression, as he stood motionless in the doorway, was unreadable. He only gave a nod toward Thomas, holding the axe.
"Put it away."
Thomas tried to be satisfied with the bargain he had made, but he was not satisfied. He had seen his future in the mirror, and it could not come too soon.
It came sooner than he had hoped. The British, being professionals, had taken Charlestown and were moving up the Santee. One night, Thomas heard thunder, but there was not a cloud in the sky. He knew somehow that he was hearing the sound of distant cannonfire. Soldiers were coming. He had brought a pair of muskets out onto the porch, where the family was standing, watching the distant flashes. Father sharply told him to put the weapons back in the house.
Thomas tried to point out that they might need to defend themselves, but Father would brook no arguments. "Must I tell you again?" he said, in the tone Thomas knew too well to disobey.
Father then said, "Let's all stay close to the house tonight."
It was a long night. Nathan terrified the little ones at supper, promising them horrors. Thomas concentrated on painting some new lead soldiers he had recently added to his collection. He now had enough to make a complete recreation of the Battle of Blenheim.
The slender, elegant, young lieutenant had taken command when all the other officers were killed. Calm and resourceful, his example had inspired the men, and he had maneuvered them effortlessly into line. The enemy ranks were almost upon them—they were overwhelmingly outnumbered, but Lieutenant Thomas Martin knew he would triumph, as he always had. "Make ready!" he shouted, in a deep, manly voice. Attired in a perfectly tailored uniform of almost lethal good taste, he held his sword, unwavering, waiting for the critical moment. He could see the fear in the eyes of his enemies. They were hesitating—and Thomas' sword dropped relentlessly with his clarion command of "Fire!" The thunder of the volley shook the ground; the smoke cleared, and showed the enemy utterly overthrown.
Thomas smiled blissfully, and wished Gabriel were here. He would have appreciated all his work.
It was odd that he happened to think then of Gabriel; for that night, Gabriel came home.
He was hurt. Father put him to bed, just as he had years ago, when Gabriel had had scarlet fever. Thomas shivered at the thought. Gabriel had a new kind of scarlet fever: wounds made by the men in scarlet whom Thomas secretly admired. He loved his brother, even if he envied him, and he certainly did not want him to die.
Father and Abigail were tending to him, and Thomas rushed to his bedside. "Where was the battle? Were you there?"
Gabriel did not answer directly, but asked Father, "Have you seen any of our troops?"
"No, not yet," said Father, more concerned with the extent of Gabriel's wounds.
Abigail was hustling them all away, but Thomas lingered on the stairs. Gabriel's wound was a dark slash across his ribs. Thomas forced himself to look. Soldiers had to bear these things.
Gabriel, almost babbling, was telling Father about the battle: about how the Green Dragoons 'cut them to pieces.' Thomas shivered, wondering what that had looked like.
His brother was carrying dispatches for the Continental Army. Thomas was curious about them. The dispatch box did not look like a box, but was a round leather case, contained rolled-up paper. Plainly this was important. Father shooed him up to bed at last, and Thomas stared blindly into the darkness, unable to guess what the morning would bring.
In the first hazy light, he and Father went out armed to look for the wounded. And thus, the first soldiers Thomas saw did not come marching to the door, but were found in the fields in a bloody tangle of blue and scarlet. Some of the bodies were horribly disfigured from combat, but calm in a fellowship of death. Thomas knew he was seeing what could happen in his chosen profession, and was a little chastened. Lawyers, merchants, and clergymen need not fear this. Soldiers were the most glorious, the most tested of men, because they faced and endured this without flinching. Out of respect, Thomas must not flinch from their poor mangled bodies.
One of the bodies looked up at him, and Thomas jumped back, horribly startled. Father had him help carry the wounded man to the house. They spent the early morning helping soldiers of both sides back to the front porch of Freshwater, and gave them what care they could. Even silent little Susan brought water around, and the soldiers smiled and thanked her, or nodded wearily, or simply drank, suffering like dumb animals.
A little after nine o'clock, the British came out of the cornfield. One moment they were not there, and the next they were.
In a flash, Thomas understood their danger. His brother was a rebel, carrying important dispatches. He would be found, and their whole family would suffer. Father would not tell them he had been a Captain in His Majesty's Army. Father would do anything to help Gabriel. Thomas, feeling his new responsibility, knew he must do something to help them all.
Gabriel came out onto the porch. He was not wearing his uniform coat, but anyone could see he was wearing a rebel uniform. Thomas dashed over to him.
"Gabriel! I need to talk to you."
"Not now, Thomas. The British are here."
"Yes, I know, but come on!" Pulling his brother behind him, he was soon inside the shaded coolness of the house.
'Where are the dispatches?"
"What do you know about--?" Gabriel was shocked.
"I just know, that's all—where are they? Won't the British be looking for them?"
"They're here in the kitchen."
Walking toward the kitchen, Thomas had a sudden inspiration. The trap door of the cellar was only feet away. Thomas lifted it, and Gabriel looked puzzled.
Immediately, Thomas rushed at his brother, knocking him down the cellar stairs. Gabriel cursed with pain, and shouted up at him.
'What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?"
"I know what I'm doing. Be quiet! You don't want the British to find you, do you?"
"I'm not ashamed of my service to the---"
"Oh, shut up! Think of somebody beside yourself for once! The British are burning rebel farms! Do you want Father hurt, or the little ones to lose the roof over their heads?"
There was a silence below, and Thomas breathed a sigh of relief. Snatching up the dispatch box from the kitchen table, he ran through the house, out the back door, and into the privy. He dropped the dispatch box with a nasty "plop" into the malodorous muck below.
He had been mentioned in dispatches. Captain Martin's resourcefulness and coolness in the face of the enemy---
Satisfied with his plan so far, he ran back to the front of the house. There was a sudden thunder of galloping hooves, and he wondered if it would be British or rebels, and if there would be a battle right on their doorstep.
They were the Green Dragoons. Thomas had heard of them before—everyone had. Their leader, Colonel Tavington, was known as the Butcher of the Carolinas and the Terror of the Santee. These were names to inspire delight and fear, and Thomas had briefly imagined some such names for himself once. As they rode up, Thomas looked at the man in the lead, and was sure this must be the Terrible Tavington himself.
He was resplendent in his scarlet and green uniform. His plumed helmet was an object of reverence, and Thomas had never wanted anything as much as he wanted to be garbed in such glory. The Dragoons were all wonderful: a splendid, swaggering, soldierly lot, high on their handsome horses. Thomas' former dreams of leading infantry in line of battle and giving the order to fire abruptly evaporated. Replacing them was the vision of –
of Colonel Thomas Martin—aye, they call him the Dark Knight of the South-- mounted on a ferocious charger, huge sabre flashing in the air, riding down on the enemy, shouting "Charge!" The terrified enemy turned tail and fled before his wrath, and the Dark Knight—laughed—laughed--as he smote them down.
Thomas shook his head, trembling with excitement. It was not impossible. The Green Dragoons were part of the British Legion, largely composed of fellow Americans. Loyal to the King, they had been created out of a number of provincial troops, then unified under the famous Tavington. Thomas looked over the faces of the dragoons, and saw many who looked as young as Thomas himself. They did it, so can I.
Father was on the steps, speaking to a British infantry lieutenant, who was thanking him for "his care of His Majesty's soldiers," and Thomas felt a glow of pride.
He took his place by Father, and waited for his destiny to rein up before him.