Disclaimer: I do not own The Patriot or anything associated with it. I make no money from the writing of this fiction.
Rated M for safety. This chapter is definitely not M-rating worthy, but future chapters most likely will.
The King's Proud Dragoon
Alexandria Plantation, SC. 1779
The sun was just reaching the tree line when I first saw them. The sound of hooves thundering up the dirt road that led to the house reached us well before they were in sight. I remember the fear I felt, wondering if they were Loyalists or Patriots, and the mix of awe, relief, and disdain when I saw that they were British. Awe at the spectacular view they made galloping toward us; relief that they were British and therefore our family and lands were most likely safe – my father was a Loyalist supporter, thus making us a target for any rebel forces that may come our way. My disdain was also because they were British; for as much as I wanted to be a good daughter and make my father proud, I found myself agreeing more with the Patriots' views than anyone in my family thought good for me.
"Margaret, wait inside with the others."
The horses stopped just outside of the house. Already my father was on the porch, a wide smile on his face to greet the British soldiers. I stood at the doorway, blatantly ignoring his instructions to stay out of sight.
"Gentlemen," he began, "Welcome to Alexandria."
Yes, welcome indeed, my mind replied with a sneer. It was no secret in our house that I had a tendency to agree with the Patriotic ideals that prompted this war that was happening. My father had all but given up on trying to make me 'see reason' as he put it. I allowed my eyes to flit over the men. They were cavalry, Dragoons by the look of their uniforms. Several had already seen me and were leering. I coolly swept my gaze past them as if they did not exist. One, who was obviously the man in charge, alighted from his horse and began to speak.
"My men and I require rest and food." He said.
His voice, a deep, rich timbre, sent a small shiver through me. There was something very dangerous about him. I found myself unable to look away even as he removed his hat and looked up, catching sight of me. I blinked and took a step back, tearing my gaze from his.
"Yes, of course, Colonel. It would be an honor..." My father gestured toward the house. "Ah. My daughter, Margaret." His dismay at my presence was audible as I raised my eyes to look at him. I stole another glance at the Colonel, who was watching me intently. "Go tell the servants to start tending the horses."
I hesitated. I did not want these soldiers here, they were not welcome. Especially not him.
"Margaret..." It wasn't a question. It was a warning.
"Yes, father." I nodded.
After alerting the servants to their orders, I came back in through the kitchen. Molly, our cook, was already bustling around the kitchen.
"Nasty bunch o' men, these." Her mouth was set in a disapproving frown. "You be careful, Miss Margaret. Don't let any of 'em get too close. They claim to be gentlemen, but I don't trust 'em farther than I could throw one of 'em."
"Believe me, Molly, I have no intention of it." I plucked a small piece of meat from the platter.
Molly clucked her tongue and shook her head, but otherwise did not protest. I grabbed another, more substantial piece and grinned, skipping out of the room.
The Colonel was seated across the table and to my left at supper. I couldn't bring myself to look up from my plate save to glance once at my mother while we were served. She was watching my father and the Colonel talking, seemingly quite interested. I pushed at my food with my fork, not at all hungry.
"Margaret, is the grouse not to your liking?"
I stilled my fork and lowered my hand to my lap. "The grouse is cooked perfectly, father." I replied, uncomfortably aware of the sudden silence that hung thick in the room. My eyes were fixed on an invisible spot on the tablecloth.
"Is it the potatoes then?"
I raised my eyes, being careful to not look at the Colonel, though I could see that he was watching me. "No, father."
My father held my gaze for a moment.
"Are you not feeling well, dear?" My mother asked. I continued to look at my father, choosing to remain silent.
"Perhaps the girl is simply not not hungry." The Colonel offered politely.
I could not help it. My eyes jumped to him. I hoped to burn him with the hatred in my stare.
"Perhaps. You may be excused from the table if you wish." My father said. I knew it was as much to take away any opportunity for me to insult his honored guest as it was to allow me a way out of this uncomfortable situation.
"Thank you, father." I replied through clenched teeth. I rose and gave the man across from me one more withering look. "Excuse me."
Later, as I prepared for bed, my sisters Hariotte and Juliette knelt to say their prayers. I joined them, sighing heavily as I rose to climb in under the blankets of my bed.
"Aren't they handsome?" Harriotte had barely been able to keep her wits about her with so many men about.
"Handsome?" Juliette giggled.
I realized that Harriotte's question had been directed toward me. "I don't think so."
"Not even the Colonel?" Harriotte's voice lilted up into a teasing tone.
"Especially not him." I flopped over onto my stomach.
"He seemed quite interested in you."
I rolled my eyes. "They're soldiers. They haven't seen a proper lady in months, maybe years even." I let disdain saturate my tone. "I'll be much happier when they are out of this house and far away."
"I hope you can last until then."
My head shot up off of my pillow. "What do you mean?"
"Father told them to stay as long as they like. It sounds as though they might be here through tomorrow and tomorrow night as well."
"Has father gone daft?" I realized I was yelling but didn't care.
"Meg, please!" Harriotte's eyes were wide with fright. "Keep your voice down!"
I threw the blankets off of me and stormed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Juliette sat up.
"To talk to father. He can't let them stay here. He needs to tell them to go away!" I tore open the door and stepped straight into Tavington. Behind me, Harriotte and Juliette squeaked in fright and pulled their covers up to their chins. Heart pounding erratically from the start I'd received, I glared at him. "Don't you know it isn't proper to sneak around your host's house at night eavesdropping?"
"I was merely checking to be sure the house was safe for myself and my men. Any doubt of your family's loyalty to the Crown would have to be taken in the utmost seriousness." There was a dare in his eyes.
I raised my chin. "My father is a known supporter of England's claim to the Colonies."
I felt my resolve slip a notch but held my ground. "My thoughts are my own. This is my father's house."
"Good." He inclined his head slightly and took a step away from me. "I will return to my inspection. Goodnight, Miss Garden. It was a pleasure speaking with you." His gaze dipped to my nightgown briefly before he turned and moved down the hall to the staircase.
Outraged, I slammed the bedroom door shut and returned to my bed. "How dare he! Who does he think he is?"
"An officer in the army that you ought to be supporting."
I groaned in exasperation and climbed back into bed.
"I thought you were going to speak to father." Juliette's voice piped up.
"I will in the morning." I was not going to be caught out in the hallways in my nightgown by any other strange men. "Go to sleep."
The morning dawned so clear and bright that I thought I must have dreamed the previous day's unpleasantness until I heard the multitude of voices coming in through the window and floating up from downstairs. Damn! Glancing over at my sisters' beds, I saw that they had already dressed and gone to breakfast. Then I heard father calling me from the foot of the stairs.
Let him yell. I tried to sink further down into the pillows. I shall refuse to come out until the soldiers leave!
Footsteps clamored up the stairs and down the hall until Juliette burst into the room. "Meg, wake up! Everyone's waiting!"
"Go back and tell them I still don't feel well and won't be coming to breakfast." I muttered.
"Do you not feel well?"
"No. I'm alright. Just tell them I'm not."
"That would be a lie. Mother says lies are wicked." Wide brown eyes peered at me fretfully. "I don't want to be wicked."
Such are the thoughts of a ten year old. I gazed at her for a moment, my guilt overtaking me. "Don't worry. I was only kidding." I pushed the blankets off of my legs and stood. "Here, help me get dressed. It will go much faster with two of us."
We arrived in the dining room to my father, very red-faced, sitting at the head of the table and my mother beside him with a vaguely sympathetic expression for me.
"Did you not hear me calling you?"
"No father, not until just before Juliette came to get me." I walked to my designated place, refusing to look at anyone but my father and mother.
"Are you feeling better today, dear?" My mother changed the subject swiftly. Her eyes said she knew I had not been ill but her tone was all concern.
"Yes, thank you." I lied. Okay, so I was wicked.
The food was brought out and this time I ate, ravenous from having skipped the previous night's meal. It was all I could do to not wolf it down and go for seconds. The conversation amongst the adults was of courteous pleasantries, until Colonel Tavington said something that made my blood run cold.
"As we are ahead of schedule, I think I shall take you up on your offer for my men to stay another night. No doubt General Lord Cornwallis will be more than willing to show his gratitude for your loyalty and support."
"Certainly, Colonel, certainly." My father beamed.
I scowled, stabbing at a bit of cold turkey with a bit more force than was proper. My fork squeaked on the plate, drawing everyone's gazes. I kept my eyes averted and mumbled an apology.
"Perhaps you should get some more rest, Margaret." My mother offered.
Tempting as it was, I shook my head. "I had planned to help Molly in the cellar today."
"Nonsense. You have been under the weather. You should rest."
"Perhaps all the girl needs is some fresh air."
My head jerked up and I gaped at Tavington. My father and mother exchanged surprised glances. I opened my mouth before either of them could speak.
"With all due respect, Colonel," I let the irritation drip from my tongue, "I don't think it is any of your concern."
"Margaret!" Father's anger was swift.
"It's alright." Tavington seemed nonplussed. He dabbed at the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "You see, Miss Garden, it actually is my concern. If you are ill, my men could become infected. Then we would be forced to stay here, quarantined, until the sickness ran its course." I balked and he knew he'd won. "On the other hand, if you are not ill, perhaps you are simply overtired due to lack of sunlight from being inside too often. Either way, fresh air will benefit you."
I was about to come back with a snide reply but a stern look from my father silenced me. Instead, I stood, throwing my napkin down. "Then perhaps I shall go out. It is rather stuffy in here."
Barely concealed snickers from my siblings and my mother's audible gasp followed me out of the room. I stomped across the porch to my favorite chair and sat, crossing my arms over my chest and glowered. Time seemed to crawl as the English soldiers went about their ways, occasionally stopping to look over at me. A few had moved nearer but had not dared to come onto the porch.
"Sure is a pretty thing, isn't she?" Once grinned to the others, casting a glance my way.
They chuckled in a way that made the hairs on my arms prickle. The tall one from the bunch caught my eye and winked.
"Ever wonder what it would be like to go for a ride with one of the King's soldiers?"
More laughter from the group and I thought perhaps it wasn't the best idea to have come outside alone. Their expressions changed abruptly as a shadow fell over the wooden planks at my feet.
"If you wish to remain one of the King's men, I suggest you show some respect for our host and his family." Tavington's eyes seemed to be made of steel. "Apologize to the girl."
The four of them bowed slightly and muttered excuses before moving away. Tavington watched them go then looked down at me. "They will not trouble you again."
I didn't acknowledge him. He moved a stool over and sat. When my aggravation finally bubbled over I stood, intending to go back indoors.
"You do not approve of the war." It was a statement, not a question.
"I do not approve of many things."
"Your father sees the necessity in it."
"That is his view."
"But not yours."
I allowed myself a glance at him. "I see no reason why men should not be allowed to live in peace."
"There has to be order. Without England, these Colonies would fall to chaos. This land was claimed for England more than a century ago."
"Then perhaps England should have taken better care of those that came here or were sent here to colonize it."
He arched an eyebrow. "Be careful, Miss Garden. Some might take your words as words of treason against the Crown."
"Take it how you will. Your opinion doesn't concern me!" I started to sweep past him.
He stood and blocked my escape, eyes hard. "My opinion dictates whether you and your family live or not. You ought to concern yourself with that."
"Is that a threat?" I couldn't help it.
"Take it how you will." He used my own words against me, holding me there with his penetrating gaze for another moment until he stepped aside to let me leave.
The Dragoons had been gone not half a day when it happened. Gunshots rang out. Servants shouted. A group of Patriot militia fighters stormed our house. I found my younger siblings and had been trying to hide them when the militia men found us. A man twice my size grabbed me by the arm as I rounded an entryway, pulling me away from the others even as they too were snatched up.
"You're not going anywhere, girl." The man leered. "Your family has some answering to do."
I felt my skin crawl as I struggled to pull away from him. "Answer for what? We have done nothing!"
"Nothing?" He laughed cruelly. "We know that you housed British soldiers for the two days."
My blood boiled. "In case you forgot, there's a war going on. Had it been Patriot soldiers, they would have received the same treatment."
"Is that right?"
I nodded, hoping he couldn't see my doubt. I had no idea if my father would have offered aid or turned them away.
The darkness turned to gray. I heard voices outside of the wagon. Then light, sudden and blinding, flooded the interior. I groaned against the new pain it caused and heard a sharp intake of breath.
"Colonel, you'd better come see this!"
Had I not endured enough already?
"What is it, Lieutenant?" A new shadow appeared in the bright white outside of the wagon. There was a muttered curse, then, "Get her out of there."
Panic forced a new sound from my parched throat. It sounded as a cross between a whimper and a groan. I didn't want him or his men to touch me. For all I cared at the moment, they could leave me to rot and I'd be perfectly happy.
The wagon shifted as two soldiers entered. A surge of energy tore through me and I began flailing, kicking at them and pulling on the ropes that bound my hands and kept me tied to the wagon wall. I ignored the pain I was causing myself, instead focusing entirely on keeping them away. My foot connected with a leg and the one soldier stumbled, rolling out of the wagon with a grunt.
"Sir?" The other soldier queried uncertainly, managing to keep himself out of my way.
"She is only a girl." Tavington sounded almost bored.
"Yes, sir." The soldier moved closer and I thrashed about even more.
My foot connected again and the man lurched down, trying to pin my legs. Another few tries and I caught him between the legs. A strangled sound came from him and then the world exploded into bursts of stars. I cried out as fresh pain sent my head spinning and tasted blood.
The soldier was gone a moment later after a sound of something being dragged. A gun's hammer clicked into place.
"I did not give the order to to assault her." Tavington's voice was full of malice.
"But, sir, she-"
"Do you think I did not see for myself?"
There was a pulse of silence.
"The next time you do anything other than my command there will be no warning before you find a bullet hole in your chest. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir." The soldier replied.
The gun clicked again.
"Lieutenant, escort Miss Garden from the wagon."
"Y-yes sir." The wagon creaked as he climbed in. "Miss, I am not here to harm you." He said gently, coming slowly toward me. "Just hold still a moment and I'll cut the ropes."
I managed to look up at him. "Leave me."
He hesitated, his pale blue eyes wide and uncomprehending. "You don't know what you're saying. I can't imagine what they've done to you, but if you stay here like this you will die."
"Better that than any alternative." I muttered as I tried to stop the tears from filling my eyes. Who was this man to speak so softly to me? He was a British soldier, one of the Dragoons, whose brutality was already becoming well known before they reached us. I couldn't help it. My gaze found his and the pity I saw in his eyes unleashed the river waiting behind my own.
"Don't make any sudden moves. I'll have this off in no time." He reached over my head to the place where the rope was tied.
It was like daggers in my arms as they were released and the blood began to flow properly again. I closed my eyes against it. I felt him slide an arm under my back.
"Now we'll move toward the back." He coaxed, guiding me.
I slid forward, wincing as each movement sent pinpricks of hurt through me. I didn't care that my skirts were slowly inching up my thighs. As I neared the edge, I looked up. Tavington was watching silently. I looked away again, not wanting or able to discern the expression in his eyes.
"Are you well enough to ride?" The Lieutenant asked me dubiously.
The thought in itself was unpleasant. "I think so." The lie was through my teeth before anyone could object.
Tavington maneuvered his horse closer to us. "I will take her."
My eyes were on the Colonel again. He silenced the Lieutenant's question with a hard look, then returned his gaze to me.
"Miss Garden, if you please."
I hesitated before taking his hand and letting the two of them help me onto the horse. Sitting gingerly, I was grateful for the soft cushion his rolled blanket provided.
"Hook your leg over the back of it."
"Sorry?" I asked, confused. The sunlight was too bright, the air too fresh, and this man whom I had vowed to hate was mere inches away from me.
"The saddle. Place one leg over the back of it. It will help you to stay on."
"Oh." I did as he told me. It was somewhat uncomfortable, especially when I realized that the positioning brought my leg into contact with his backside.
Just as I was settling, he spurred the horse forward, calling commands to his men. My arm wrapped around him, gripping his chest as tightly as I was able in an attempt to stay on the horse. The pain in my lower half stabbed with each bump. It seemed that we rode for hours before it became unbearable. I refused to ask him to stop, biting my lip to keep from making any sound.
I woke with the Lieutenant and Tavington standing nearby in a hushed debate.
"What will General Cornwallis say?" the Lieutenant asked.
"He will agree that it was the proper decision." Came Tavington's reply.
I turned my head away, trying to block them out. I was on a cot inside a tent. Where had they taken me?
"...when it is time." Tavington said.
Time for what? I heard the tent flap close. Someone was still inside with me. I turned to look and caught Tavington watching me from where he stood.
"You're not taking me back home." I said.
"Am I to be your prisoner, then?"
"You will go to Charles town, where you will be safe until such time as your family can come to claim you."
"Charles town has been taken?"
"Not yet. But it will be soon enough." He was certain of it. I could hear it in his voice. I watched as he began to remove his coat. Fear stole through me and I think he sensed it. He looked at me as though debating whether to leave it on, then removed it completely. "I am not those men who took you from your home."
It was a simple statement, yet said so much more. I know what they did to you. You need not fear that of me. I had my doubts. I nodded but did not look away, lest it seem I was letting my guard down. I would never trust this man. He was vile, a monster.
"Why did you not take me back to Alexandria?"
He hung his coat on a peg in the tent post. "I am due to join up with our troops outside of Charles town in two days' time. Your captors had already taken you a full day's journey from Alexandria. I could not afford to waste any time backtracking."
"Well I'm sorry to be such a burden to you and your men." I ground out, indignant. "You might have simply left me there and saved yourself the trouble."
"Yes, I could have." He agreed. With that, he rose and left the tent. I was alone.
The nerve of that man! I swallowed back the curse that wanted to make its way out. I did not ask him to take me from the wagon. I made no request to be dragged farther from my home than I already was. Now I was to be taken to Charles town
I sat up, grimacing as my lower half protested. I thought of taking my chances to try to find some food but then thought better of it. A lone girl didn't stand a chance in a camp full of soldiers. My stomach growled and I stood. It was best to ignore that for the moment and start thinking of ways to escape. It shouldn't be too hard; it wasn't as though I was being kept on a chain.
A shudder ran through me at the memory and I clutched my stomach. The ground seemed to roll and a wave of nausea hit, taking me to my knees. Tears flooded my vision. I was ruined, and for all I knew one of those sick bastards might have gotten me with child. No man would ever want me for a wife now.
Why didn't Tavington just leave me there? Better yet, why didn't he simply kill me when he had the chance? I had made my viewpoints clear enough while he was at Alexandria. It was known that he viewed anyone with Patriotic sympathies as traitors to the crown who deserved nothing less than death. He should have ended my life hours ago.
That was when I saw it. The shine of steel in the corner. Tavington's sword. I rose and picked it up. I could end this now. Avoid the shame and pity I'd be forced to endure once others had found out what had happened to me. It was a pity that I wouldn't be able to thank him for giving me a way out.
The tent was growing dark. Sunset must be coming soon. I thought of how I used to love to sit on the porch and watch the orange and red change hue along the horizon until the deep purple-blue of the night sky finally overtook it. After that, lightning bugs would come out and could be seen flickering and dancing like fairies in the dark.
No more would I see any of it. Nothing would ever be the same if I tried to continue in this world. Nothing could ever be as beautiful as it had once been. I raised the sword, placing the point just below the center of my ribcage. I took a deep breath to steady myself. Another, and I silently said goodbye to my family and friends. One more and I would push the blade home.
"What the devil?!"
Tavington's voice startled me. He grabbed the handle of the sword, preventing me from finishing my task.
"No! Please! You must let me do this!" I heard the desperation in my own voice and it disgusted me.
He took hold of my right wrist with his free hand. "You've already drawn blood. Release the blade before you do more damage to yourself."
I tugged once, but I knew it was futile. He increased the pressure of his fingers around my wrist, causing my own fingers to flex and let go. The sight of the red stain on the blade held me fascinated for a moment. He pulled the sword away, placing it behind him.
"Why didn't you just leave me? Why did you not shoot me there?" The tears came quickly, spilling down my cheeks before I had a chance to hold them in check. Humiliated by my own weakness, I turned my face away from him and sobbed wretchedly.
He was silent for a few moments. I suppose he was asking himself the same questions, annoyed by the fact that he had not done so and was now suffering the consequence – a sniveling girl gone mad. I felt him touch the wrist of my injured hand and I jerked it away. Unperturbed, he reached for it again, this time catching it in a strong, sure grip.
My hand was lifted so that he could examine the wound. "This needs binding, but no stitches, I think." He paused and I found myself looking at him, miserable. "With proper care, it will heal – in time."
He had not looked away from it, but I wasn't sure he was talking only of my hand. Regardless, it gave me little comfort.
"Colonel..." a soldier called from outside of the tent.
Tavington released my hand and stepped away. "Yes, bring it in." The soldier entered with a tray. "Leave it on the table."
The soldier nodded, casting a curious look at me. He placed the tray where indicated, eyes traveling to my bloodied appendage.
"You may leave, Private." Once the man had gone, Tavington took up a napkin and came to me again. "I took the liberty of having some food sent for you."
I barely acknowledged his words. He poured some water from his canteen on the open cut and I hissed as it stung, then watched as he wrapped my hand with the cloth and tied a knot to hold it in place. When he was done, he stepped away again. I stood there dumbly. He sat on the cot I'd been laying on and regarded me with that unfathomable gaze of his. I looked away, examining the food on the tray as though it were a plate full of maggots.
"It's not so horrid if you eat it while it's still warm."
It almost seemed as though he were trying to make a joke. I took him for his word though, and sat on the bench to eat, aware that he was watching me as I did. What game was he playing? Why was he showing me any kindness? I looked up several times as I ate, finding him still gazing at me. When I was full, I felt like I could sleep for days and my spirits had lifted somewhat.
"Thank you for the meal." I could not ignore the gesture of hospitality.
I looked around uncomfortably.
"You should rest. We leave at first light. With any luck, we may even join up with Cornwallis by tomorrow evening."
I was not looking forward to another day on horseback with him. "Will I have my own horse this time?"
He raised an eyebrow. "This is war, Miss Garden, not a leisurely walk through a meadow. You shall ride with me again, though this time I shall have to insist that you ride in front. We can not have a repeat of this afternoon."
"Yes, well, I should have realized that the strain would be too much. I blame myself really," He didn't sound like he felt guilty, "but you did faint, which caused you to fall from the horse. You were very nearly trampled by the men behind me. In a way, you inadvertently chose the spot for our camp."
"How fortunate." I said dryly.
He ignored the comment. "So in order to prevent that from happening again, you shall ride in front of me."
Wonderful. I sighed irritably. "Where am I to sleep?"
He stood and gestured to the cot.
"And where will you be sleeping?"
Blue eyes peered down at me as though I were either very stupid or very naive.
I shook my head vehemently. "It would not be proper for me to sleep in your tent with you."
"Would you prefer to sleep with my men?" He challenged. "Though I have already given orders that none of them are to step out of line, I can not guarantee that they would all ignore their more – primal instincts if I were to turn you loose in the general population."
I slapped him. Hard. Rage burned through me like a wildfire fanned by dry winds. He leveled his steely gaze on me, and I expected a responding blow. It did not come.
"It's your choice, Miss Garden."