The smell. It was one Cora knew well. It was the same smell that lingered on her father days after a battle was done. It was one that hung heavily in the air of the fort as cannons boomed outside and blood was shed on now what was meaningless ground. It was the smell of death, sorrow, fear, gunpowder---everything that a battle emanated it was.
Cora tediously worked on the injured soldier on the table before her as dust from the rattled fort covered her as the cannon fire grew closer. It was hot in the small makeshift sick ward. The maiden took a moment for herself and wiped her face of sweat and dust with her apron. This man was dying; shrapnel from a cannon ball had ravaged his body. Nothing was happy in this place and few things at all inspired Cora to have hope. Her sister was almost catatonic due to the horrible things she had seen in the days before and her father had given her a less than warm welcome at their arrival.
There had been one glimmer of optimism lately. It had come from Nathaniel Poe, known to some as Hawkeye, who had become more and more beautiful to Cora as the days passed by. He had stared at her for only an instant, but oh how that moment seem to last so long. In his eyes was something that Cora had never expected from Mr. Poe: a look of longing. The maiden, however, kept the possibility that Nathaniel might actually have feelings for her in the back of her mind. He had been raised by what she had always been taught were "savages". Savages didn't love, they lusted. Besides, there was a war going on. How could anybody have feelings of love for someone during a brutal conflict?
The man Cora had been working on let out his final breath. She wiped her face again and let out a long sigh. It was late. She should get some sleep, but Cora was restless. She gently closed the old soldier's eyes; Mr. Phelps would deal with his burial. It was her time to venture outside and get some fresh air. Death had filled the room and was choking any feeling of hope and happiness that had been left hanging in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fort, Hawkeye had gathered with fellow Colonials including Jack Winthrop to discuss deserting the fort. He knew that General Munro would be up in arms about the Colonial Troops deserting, but the troops had been flat-out betrayed. General Webb had agreed to the Colonials' terms, but Munro had failed to meet those terms and Heyward, being so blatantly in love with Cora, had lied about what he had seen at the remains of the Cameron House in order to gain her affections. Though Hawkeye's heart yearned for Cora, he had to defy her father's decree in order to help his friends return home to protect their families.
"Their law has no absolute right over us and has turned into nothing but tyranny. I will not live under that yoke, so I will stay here no longer. Anybody caught leaving the fort will be shot for desertion so make your decision now. Any man not leaving meet back here in half an hour." Jack's eyes were full of anger and apprehension.
The men looked to Hawkeye for instruction on how to get out this god-forbidden place without being caught by any British or French Soldiers. He advised them as best as he knew how. Hawkeye's knowledge of the back country was highly valued by most white men he knew on the Frontier; he knew he was the only one that could help them out in this moment of need as well. He told them where to go, how they must be fast in order to not be caught, and wished them luck. Jack seemed shocked that Hawkeye had not elected to desert the fort with the rest of the Colonials.
"Is there a reason why you're staying, Nathaniel?" Jack inquired.
Jack smiled and leaned in close to whisper. "Does that reason wear a striped skirt and work in the infirmary?"
"Yes, and it's a better looking reason than you, Jack Winthrop!" Nathaniel laughed, allowing a bit of humor into a serious situation.
The men then broke apart and headed to their respective posts. Some planned to run, some planned to stay, but none of that really mattered. They were all caught in an ugly fight for idiotic purposes. Nathaniel walked through the camp and found Ongewasgone, the Mohawk Chief, standing near a fire.
"Are you leaving, Ongewasgone?"
"No, we must keep our word to our English Fathers." The Mohawk would stay true to his word, this Hawkeye knew, even if it killed him in the process.
Hawkeye left the Mohawk to his post and continued walking across the fort. He was looking for something in particular, but for what reason he did not know. However, he knew that his soul would finally be at peace once his searching eyes located the striped skirt of Cora Munro.
The early morning air was cool upon Cora's face. It was good to feel something other than the hot, stifling air of the sick ward. Her brown eyes scanned the scene. A fiddler had taken a place near a small fire, playing a continuously rhythmic tune that one or two couples were dancing to. She kept looking around: a woman was stroking a sleeping soldier's face; others were taking cover from the ensuing battle. Then her eyes found something that brought joy and left her speechless: she spotted Nathaniel Poe coming her way.
Hawkeye had walked across the fort, taking in the smells of sulfur, earth, and blood. There was hardly any hope left in this place. Hawkeye knew that it would not be long until Munro would surrender to the French. He looked left and right for Cora. "She has to be around here somewhere," he thought. Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. His turned his head to get the full spectacle. There, in all her beauty, stood a somber-looking Cora, staring back at him.
He said not a word to her and neither did Cora to him. He calmly walked towards her and took her hand. Cora stared at him with eagerness and anxiety. She wanted to be with him as much as he with her. He led her to a secluded part of the fort that served as a temporary open-air storeroom. No was here, and no one would be here except Cora and Hawkeye.
They stood facing one another, Hawkeye's hands lingering on Cora's trembling sides. She stared at him; his face, soft with the fire light, drew near to her own. Their lips interlocked and Cora felt as if her heart was going to explode in her chest. He drew his lips passionately upon his lover's: this had been want Hawkeye had wanted all along. The maiden wrapped her arms tightly around Hawkeye's neck. With him she felt safe, she felt loved, and she felt as if this war wasn't going around her. Cora broke from the kiss and began to cry. She was so happy, and yet, so scared. Hawkeye picked her up in his arms and laid his head upon her chest. She smelled of sweat, of earth, and of a bit of rosewater. She was now his everything.
Soon Hawkeye lowered Cora back down to the ground, but did not let go of her. She now leaned her head against his chest. The scout wrapped his arms around Cora's abdomen and kissed her neck lightly. The sun began to peek over the hills after a long night of battle. The sky turned red upon an indigo blue and gold background. The world was theirs, if only for this moment. They both knew they had hardships ahead, but not to what extent. However, they would keep this perfect split-second of love and peace as long as they could for Cora and Hawkeye belonged together, and no one, not even death or the powers above, could do anything to refute that.