Ok, first thing you should know: this is a crossover with the movie "The Patriot" Though, if you haven't seen The Patriot, you'll be fine. Use your imagination :) No major spoilers for the movie, I promise. Oh, and other than the American Revolution setting, it really has nothing to do with AC3. Haven't played it.
I wrote this as an attempt to cure my writers block a while back and I'm just now deciding to post it. It should be no more than five chapters. Anyway, I'm not sure if this is more Assassin's Creed fanfic or more on the Patriot side, but I'm going with AC. With the new game coming out soon, it seemed fitting. Plus, the Patriot had one of the single most evil villains in film history, perfect for an AC story. Jason Isaacs as Col. Tavington was just an evil, evil dude. And for those of you who don't know, I'm from the South Carolina lowcountry, born and raised, and lived for a while in the Holy City in question so its always fun to write about places you've experienced yourself. I had a grand old time with this first chapter. Good ol' Charles Towne, how I sometimes loathe thee.
Anyway, I'm not used to writing in first person or present tense and I tend to like neither. However, that doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to do it. So this is sort of practice for me. I think I caught most of the mistakes where I switched tenses but there might be a few left. I only wiki-ed the history and went off of memory from the movie and game since I have neither available at the moment. So try not to get your panties in a bunch if something isn't historically accurate.
This first chapter just gets the ball rolling. "Romance" and I use that term VERY loosely ensues later. I don't think Tavington would know romance if it bit him square on the ass. He kills romance. Literally. But he's super frickin' delicious for an evil dude, so, meh.
I do not care for this city. Or the people – be they loyalists, rebels, or those that remain undecided. I do not care for the salt on the wind, carried from the brackish water of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. I do not care for the heat in the air that causes my red hair to curl in an unsightly way, nor do I care for the humidity that brings a damp sweat to the small of my back and brow. I do not care for the ships in the port, transporting their goods and ammunition. Well, save for one, the one that will carry me back home to London when my task is complete and my Creed satisfied.
Charles Towne is a crowded place as I walk its streets near the port. Men are bustling around, waving their pamphlets and proclaiming their politics to the heavens above. Women stand on the balconies of their multistoried homes, giggling to one another as they watch the hustle and bustle that is unfolding before them. Their city has not fallen prey to the war that is brewing, the war that has already gained a grisly hold on their northern neighbors.
The man by my side is not a stranger to me; we have traveled together for some time now. His name is Clemens, just Clemens, for he will not tell me the rest. Clemens, an American, joined me in Boston when my ship from London arrived two months ago, having bore me over the entirety of the Atlantic. At the time I was half delirious from weeks of constant sea-sickness, pale and hungry, and fit to converse only through a language of garbled moans and gagging sounds. Clemens had taken good care of me in that time as we made our careful way south. Though a man of few words, we had come to an understanding. I was to be his student and he my mentor for the duration of my task in the southernmost state of the Carolinas. He was older than me by far, though not so old as to be taken with the downfalls of the elderly. He was still able and I felt comfortable to have such an accomplished assassin at my side.
Clemens, and I had only heard this through my teachers back in England, is one of the most reliable liaisons our order has in North America. He has the blood of several military minds and dangerous political and philosophical leaders on his blade. Templars who could have changed the tide in the Americas had fallen short of their ultimate goals, thanks to old Clemens. At least, that is what I had heard.
Walking along now, making our way to the home of a contact, I see the way the locals cast their gazes at two of us. They look down at their boots and back at us, trying their able best to appear polite and respectable. Despite Clemens' imposing build and the hard set of his eyes, I know they are not just watching him. We look quite the pair, I am sure. I am young and he is slightly too old to be a likely husband but too young to be my father. We do not walk arm in arm, nor do we stand the proper distance apart. We walk quickly and I struggle in my heavy skirts to keep up with Clemens as he presses through the throng of people.
The city streets, most of which are uncobbled and lined with dirt, lie parallel to one another from one end to the opposite. Shorter, narrower lanes run across those in a way that was likely planned to be more organized than it was in the end. It matters not to either of us. Clemens knows the way and I am content to follow.
In truth, I know that the steps I take now are drawing my time of respite to a close. The moment we reach the contact's house, my task will begin and I will take the lead, Clemens guiding me only in the shadows. I have killed only twice before, once the summer of my eighteenth year - a man of Parliament, and again the Christmas after that - the merchant that had supplied the man of Parliament with his secrets. The death of both men had been enough to impress my teachers and, given the shortage of female assassins in the Americas, they quickly decided that my skills would be best put to use on the opposite side of the Atlantic. I had not argued, though I had wondered why, with men like Clemens already in place, I had to be the one uprooted from my home and shipped away. "Such is the life of an assassin," they told me, "'Tis a lesson you would do well to learn." Those words echo in my mind even now.
I know little of the contract that lies ahead, only that someone will die and I will be the one to end his life. An assassin and Templar - one cannot thrive while the other hounds him. And hound him I shall, until one of us lies dead. I have not come so far as to fail, no matter the cost.
The change in Clemens' pace draws my attention and I slow to accommodate him. When we stop I am surprised to find him looking down at me in that peculiar way of his that I have come to recognize as concern, if only just.
"Something troubles you?" he asks, his voice rough only because he knows no other way of speaking.
"Not at all, sir, though I'd very much like to continue on our way. The heat in this city is unforgiving."
Clemens frowns and I know immediately that my half-truth has not deterred him. "You've not been in this trade long enough to fool me, girl. If you have second thoughts, you have waited far too late to voice them."
I wave my hand at him dismissively, placing it on his elbow in hopes to urge him along. As I do, I say, "There are no second thoughts or doubts in my mind, Clemens. I am simply wondering why I am here in the first place."
The frown deepens, stretching the corners of Clemens' broad lips low to the crease of his chin. "I do not know. Our order does not have the presence in America that we possess in Europe. New blood and fresh skills are needed here."
"You mean to tell me there is not a single assassin in America who is young and pretty enough slip past a Templar's defenses to slit his throat?" I cannot resist the unladylike scoff that escapes me at the thought.
When Clemens does not answer me I know that my point has been made and, as a result, he quickly moves to draw me along, resuming our path to our destination.
The walk is not much further, though it seems longer as we twist through back streets, lengthening the distance between us and the port. The house Clemens pauses in front of is small and inconspicuous, looking more like that of a pauper's family than that of the contact we are here to see. It is a thin, tall clapboard building, squeezed in between two others. I tilt my head to the side to study it for a moment and only then realize that the little house seems to lean precariously on one side, relying on the neighboring home for support. It does not inspire much confidence.
"Come along," I hear Clemens rumble and he tramps up the short walk to the door where he raps his knuckles against the wood.
The door opens and the woman standing at the threshold strikes an immediate contrast against the dingy surroundings. Her gown surely costs more than the house itself and her hair likely took at least two maids to help pin all the curls in place. She is truly lovely and her age is only hinted at as she smiles at us from behind the door, her eyes crinkling near her temples.
"It's good to see you again, Jacob," she says and opens her home to us.
Jacob? Jacob Clemens. Yes, I can see it now, he looks like a Jacob. For a moment, I could almost swear that Clemens blushes beneath that black tricorn hat of his but he turns and steps inside before I can swear to it. I follow shortly and find my hands immediately swept up by the woman. She bumps the door closed with her foot, never taking her black eyes from my grey ones as she does so.
"My name is Alice, child. I have helped conduct our Order's business here in Charles Towne for the past twenty years." As she speaks, I take a moment to study her face, to watch the way her lips move as they form the syllables of her words. She is beautiful and there can be no question of it. There is a the faintest hint of something exotic, perhaps distant blood from the Caribbean, around her eyes and nose and in the spiraling curls of her hair. She has lost much of the Queen's English from time spent in the colonies; however, some of her syllables mark a childhood that must have been exposed one way or another.
I answer her in kind, my hands still wrapped in hers. "My name is Esther, ma'am. Esther Crowley of London. You're home is…er -" My voice trails off as I try and think of a word to describe the hovel that will not offend the lady in front of me.
Fortunately, she laughs before I can embarrass myself further. Her hand pats mind sympathetically and she tells me, "Don't worry, child. This is not my home, heaven's no! This is simply the building where I conduct business."
Clemens clears his throat nearby and I turn to see that he has moved further down the hall. From his obvious comfort, he seems to know the place well, an observation that only piques my curiosity further. His tone is admonishing and Alice arches a graceful eyebrow at him when he says, "We should take this conversation away from the front door, ladies."
She tsks and soon I am swept up at her side as I find myself being led by hand to a room that must function as a parlor. Papers and maps litter the floor. Books are piled high, most of which are philosophical or political in nature – it is topics like those, sometimes dotted with science, that make up the body of an assassins' literary repertoire. Philosophy bores me to my wits' end so I cast my eyes away from the writings of Balfour, Ames, and Machiavelli that are piled in one corner lest I be reminded of the mentors who forced me to the read them. I do spot a care worn copy of a manuscript only circulated amongst our order. The Auditore writings are dense, though by the state of the book on Alice's desk, they have been well read.
"Do you know why you were sent here, Esther?" Alice's soft voice catches me off guard though I do my best not to show it.
"I do not, though I suspect I am going to have kill someone."
Alice smiles and I even see the corners Clemens' mouth twitch. "Eventually perhaps," the woman concedes, "You are aware that you have an uncle fighting in this war, correct?"
My expression quickly shifts into a scowl. My uncle, a man whom I had never met or hardly even thought about, had only crossed my mind as a reason for my selection. It had seemed far-fetched at best, however.
My mother, God rest her soul, had a father who was more interested in procreation than family, despite what society deemed proper. When my grandmother died of Consumption, my grandfather, a man named Lucas Wilkins, had quickly found a new bride and left London with her to build a new life in the colonies. Mother, eleven at the time, an age deemed too burdensome by her loving progenitor, had been sent to live with relatives near Bath and had only ever communicated with her father by letter after the day he left her. What those letters eventually told my young mother was that she had been blessed with the birth of a younger half-brother somewhere in near the coasts of a colony that she never would visit. My uncle's name, I believe – I could quite possibly be mistaken – is Kenneth Wilkins.
I inquire, "What does my estranged uncle have to do with my being here? Is he an assassin as well?" If he was, I would just throw my hands up at the coincidence because it would simply be too much to swallow.
"No, no, dear. He is only a captain, fighting against the Continental Army." The look I give her is one of dwindling patience and she continues, "He is, however, serving under a man who serves under a Templar."
Clemens finally speaks up, "That is a bit of a leap, if you don't mind me saying, Alice." Those are exactly my thoughts. I exchange a skeptical look with old Clemens as we wait on Alice to clarify the situation.
"Captain Wilkins is in the regiment as a certain Colonel William Tavington –"
"Tavington?" Clemens steps forward, pushing himself away from the armoire he had been leaning on. "The man's a lunatic. A bloody butcher. Last I heard he was in North Carolina, tearing through our infantry there."
'Our' infantry? Perhaps Clemens has taken sides after all. When it came to wars, assassins were content to remain neutral most of the time, fighting our own private battle against the Templars in secret. Despite this newest bit of information, I continued to remain quiet, listening to Clemens tirade against this Tavington fellow.
"Tavington is not the issue," Alice replies pointedly, "Cornwallis, however, is."
At that, I join Clemens in his surprise. My brows shoot straight to my hairline and my eyes go wide at the news. "Cornwallis?" I ask, aghast. "Charles Cornwallis is a Templar?" I have heard of General Lord Cornwallis. All of England has heard of the man.
Alice nods her head in the affirmative. It is a quick, decisive gesture, one meant to usher the conversation along.
I will not be so easily put off from my state of shock, however. "And you want me to assassinate…him?"
"You or Clemens, yes."
That was clearly news to Clemens, who threw his hands clear into the air and turned on his boot heel to storm out the room, leaving Alice and I alone. All I could hear as he left was, "Madness, utter madness."
I only watch after him for a moment before I hurry to speak up. "Alice, I –"
"You will do what we all must," she says, covering the distance between us until she is near enough to place her hand on my arm, "what is necessary." Her voice is soft and, though I do not know this woman, in it I almost, almost find the reassurance I need.
Unfortunately for us both, that reassurance does not come and I narrow my eyes at her and do my able best to neutralize my emotions once more. "And what is that?"
"Tell me first our Creed." It is a command cloaked as a request.
I answer her without hesitation, unsure to where this stranger is leading me. "Nothing is true," I whisper, "Everything is permitted."
"You will learn to put that to the test before this is over with, child." The sympathy I had heard in her voice earlier returns once more and her gaze softens once again. She glances to the doorway that Clemens left through a few moments earlier and then looks back to me. I cannot read the expression on her face and find myself forced to wait for her to carry on.
"Come," she tells me and takes my hand, "sit with me."
I follow her to the loveseat across the room, stepping around books and over papers to get there. As she sits down, she moves to fluff her gown carefully along her sides to prevent wrinkles in the expensive fabric. I do no such thing with my own dress. It is cotton and, while lovely and the only one I have at the moment, its wrinkles do not concern me.
Alice starts to explain, "Fortunately for you, it is Clemens who has the hardest road ahead of him. You must simply stand by his side and play your part. Act if you must but you are there mainly as part of his disguise and to provide aid should the need arise."
"It was my belief that Clemens was merely meant to bring me hear. I thought that I was to be the one to assassinate the target."
Alice smiles at me and pats my hand again. Both were actions that I am beginning to associate with her more and more as each second passes. "You sound almost disappointed, my dear."
"Not at all," I correct her, "Though it seems strange for me to travel so far for such a small part to play."
"As I said, you are the niece of a man who can pass information to another man who can in turn supply it to Cornwallis."
"From Wilkins to Tavington and then to Cornwallis?" I shake my head. "This is more convoluted than I am used to. What sort of information am I supposed to pass to Wilkins?"
Alice grins again and this time it is not one of reassurance. For a moment, she seems absolutely predatory. Like a cat cornering a bird with a broken wing, she knows I have nowhere to go. "Child, you are married to a Templar, didn't you know?"
"No," I frown, "I was not aware that I was married to anyone, much less the enemy."
I do not like where this conversation is heading in the least. Cornwallis is a very high profile man and absolutely critical to the war effort in England. To kill him will likely change the tide of the war entirely if we are successful. Of course, to do such a thing will require a thorough cover, one that has already been carefully thought out and planned by my superiors if I am to trust Alice's words. My stomach churns at the prospect.
"Clemens, my dear," she clarifies, "Clemens will be posing as a Templar bringing information from the North. You will be his wife."
"How exactly is Clemens supposed to convince a man like Cornwallis that he is one of his fellow Templars?"
"Leave that to Clemens, child," another pat on my hand warns me not to inquire further. If I had any good sense at all, I would push myself up from the sofa right now and book passage straight back to England. My worries are not being assuaged in the slightest. They have not been even slightly pacified…just brushed by the wayside with expectations that I should agree to this madness. But I have no choice but to agree and Alice knows this. Such is our Creed.
"How does my uncle figure into this?" I ask, hoping to garner as much information as I can.
"Wilkins has already received word that his dear sister, your mother, has been recently deceased and that his niece is en route to Charles Towne as we speak."
The swirling in my gut strengthens to the point of unease. "My mother died twelve years ago," I tell her, "Wilkins does not know this?"
"They were not exactly close siblings, dear." With a wave of her hand, Alice attempts to dismiss my worries.
"If this is to be my story then why would I come to Charles Towne in the first place?"
"Your American husband has information critical to the Loyalists in the area. Wilkins, a Loyalist himself, has been informed, via 'your' letters, that your dear husband shares much of his political dispositions."
"And are we supposed to just hope that Wilkins will share this information with his superiors?" Even to my own ears, I sound skeptical.
"You and Clemens will both see to it that Wilkins is convinced of the urgency of this information and passes it along to Colonel Tavington accordingly."
"And from there to Cornwallis? What about Clemens' role as a Templar? Do we even know whether Tavington is aware of Cornwallis' position in the Templars?"
Another wave of Alice's hand near my face and I am ready to break the appendage off at her wrist. "So long as Clemens is successful in passing the Loyalist information to Tavington, which Cornwallis will hear of, I assure you, and then he will handle the Templar business from there."
"I suppose he is just going to write Cornwallis a letter?" Incredulity is the only way to describe how I feel and sound at the moment. "I can hear it now, Alice! 'Dear General Lord Charles Cornwallis, I hope that the war finds you well and in good health. You do not know me but I am quite aware of your position within a highly secretive order dating back to the Middle Ages of old –"
My words are cut short by a stern cough and the stomp of a boot. "That is quite enough, Esther. Take your seat."
I look up to see that Clemens has reentered the room, clearly having calmed himself though looking none the better for it. He hides most of his unease well, with only the clenching of his fists left to show his nerves. I do as I'm told and retake my seat once more.
"This does not make you nervous, Clemens?" I ask carefully.
"It does not matter," he replies, "We will both do what we must."
Alice watches our brief exchange with interest, her dark eyes flitting from Clemens to me and back to Clemens, where they remain. "Shall we continue to discuss our plans together this time?" she suggests casually, waving a long fingered hand in the direction of a nearby chair. Clemens does not nod or voice his acquiescence but he does take his seat across from us. His eyes, so dark green that they are nearly as black as Alice's, fall on me for a moment before looking away again. I cannot surmise what his innermost thoughts are and, as the three of us settle into discussion once more, I cannot help but wish that I had never come to this city to begin with.
"It will be fine."
"I'm not worried, Clemens."
"I am not."
For the entire carriage ride from Charles Town and then sixty miles northeast toward the Santee River, our exchanges had sounded like this. Clemens was as nervous as I had ever seen him though I suspect it was due to my inexperience. He had reassured me that he did in fact trust me, he just did not trust skills he had never witnessed for himself. I had responded in kind by telling him that our superiors back in England would not have sent me if they did not believe me fit for the undertaking.
"It's not as if they've never been wrong before," Clemens had muttered before cracking the reins and descending into silence for some time afterward.
"We bicker like a married couple," I observe with a grin that Clemens does not return. With a sigh, I turn back to the pocket sized book in my palm and continue to read.
Every so often, I spare a glance at the man beside me, only to cringe inwardly and turn away. The thought of actually being married to a man like Clemens is enough to cow me from the idea of engagement entirely. I am glad to be an assassin in that moment; we did not have time for such things. It wasn't that Clemens was particularly unattractive or handsome; he was somewhere in the middle. 'Inconspicuous of face' is how I had thought of him the first time I met him. His hair is dark and peppered with fine streaks of grey at the temples and he is scruffy but not to the point of being unkempt. He is as unremarkable a man as I can remember noticing, at least in appearance.
It is his demeanor that bothers me most. He hardly ever smiles and when he does, the mirth does not quite reach his eyes. When he does speak, it is coarse and unrefined. Colonial, I think before scolding myself for such prejudices against a brother in arms. I have come to trust him in the past two months that I have known him but, that being said, I do not particularly like him. We are indifferent to one another and will be hard pressed to overcome that factor when we are under the watchful eyes of the people that await us.
Though I had told him I was not worried, I twist the wedding band on my left hand nervously. Clemens does not have the burden of wearing one himself, as it is not customary. The little piece of jewelry feels foreign and constricting and serves as a constant reminder of the task we have undertaken.
We are close now, Clemens says, to my uncle's home near the Santee. Apparently, in the letters I (really it was Alice and her associates who wrote them) exchanged with the man, he had been so kind as to allow us to stay at with his family until he had leave to great us personally. Alice had shown me the letters and as I read them I had actually had trouble reminding myself that this man was only a means to an end; he had never been my family and never would be, though it was through no fault of his own. He had seemed amiable, friendly and warm even, in his writings and had been excited at the prospect of meeting me. His worries had been clear enough and he feared that my husband and I had come at the most inopportune time possible as the war settled around the colony.
I look to Clemens, who appears lost in his own thoughts as he drives the buggy briskly along the countryside. I ask him, "How long do you think we will have to wait on Wilkins to return home?"
He glances at me and for once does not look annoyed that I have spoken. "I don't know. He is fighting the Continentals somewhere near the North Carolina border, if I'm not mistaken."
"So it could be a while then?"
"Yes." And like that, Clemens fell silent once again.
"Clemens," I try to draw him back to me for a little while longer. My attempt works and he casts his gaze from the horses in front of us and over to me.
"Does it not bother you?" I ask. I hope he already knows of what I am speaking.
Clearly, he does not because he asks for clarification.
"That you will be playing the part of a Loyalist? Selling secrets to further the Order's goals? Forgive me, but it seemed as if you were partial to the rebel cause." I thought back to his words in Alice's house, the ones he had used to describe Tavington's methods with American patriots.
He raises a curious eyebrow and studies me for a moment. "Caught that did you?" he asks. I nod.
"I can only hope that any secrets I have to betray will be mitigated by the end result - Cornwallis' death."
"I see," I reply quietly. Not wishing to push the man at my side too far, I ask no more questions and force my curiosity under control for now.
It is nearly evening by the time we reach Wilkin's home near Santee. Twilight has settled over the lowcountry and the salt air from the nearby marshes still hangs heavy in the breeze, tainted somewhat by the slightly sulfuric stench that pervades this area of the country. The land around us, however, appears fertile and it is easy to imagine why so many families have settled in this area. I have been told by Clemens that land like this is good for rice and indigo but my own agricultural knowledge is lacking and I cannot identify whatever is growing around me.
The house itself is smaller than many I have seen, just large enough for a small family and few a quests, though still eye catching with its white panels and large glass windows. Its two stories are built much more sturdily than the hovel we left behind us in Charles Towne and I feel that I can rest easy knowing the house will not crash down upon me at any moment. The roof has been shingled with clay tiles, giving it a somewhat red-tinged appearance that's color is only deepened by the warm twilight evening.
"Its…charming." I am being honest and I'm certain that Clemens catches my sigh of relief at the tail end of my observation.
He grunts a reply and I assume this particular one means that he agrees with me. Before I can say anything else, the front door of the home swings open and a pretty but stout little woman steps onto the porch. She calls out to us and waves, hurrying her round body down the front steps to great us. I watch her approach, taken her obvious good nature. She is a soft little thing, perhaps a year or two into her thirties. I see no evidence of children and that makes me curious. A woman like her would be an excellent mother, that much is certain already. Her hair is the color of honey, as are her eyes, and the two work in tandem to add to her sweet appearance.
She greets us both with a congenial smile. "You must be the niece my Kenneth has told me so much about! Let me look at you." She puts her tiny hands on my arms and spins me round, laughing delightedly all the while. She finally stops my dizzying self display and announces, "You're lovely! Oh, but forgive me, my name is Caroline. I'm your aunt, I suppose."
I smile at her and thank her shyly. "I am Esther Turner," I tell her before turning to Clemens who has fittingly placed his hand at my upper back. "And this is my husband, Jacob Turner."
Clemens inclines his politely and does his best to smile at the little woman. The woman, despite being my aunt, is several years younger than Clemens, newly dubbed Jacob Turner. She takes this observation in stride and the smile that had faltered soon returns to her pretty face.
"It's such a pleasure to meet you both! Kenneth was so excited when he received your first letter –" suddenly she stops herself and I puzzle a moment over why. Quickly, she adds, "Of course, he was distraught to learn of his sister's death. He regretted having never met her in person though his father told him about her from time to time. He did not realize he even had a niece until your letter came."
I notice that two servants have appeared from the side of the house to take our trunk and the rest of our baggage from the back of the buggy. Caroline introduces them as Isaiah and Tuck and they each nod politely at us before walking away with what few items we have.
"Won't you please come inside? No point in standing out here all night! The mosquitoes will eat us alive if we do." Caroline ushers us back towards the house and I slip my arm through Clemens' as we trail by her side.
The inside of the Wilkins' home is lovelier than the façade and each panel and railing has been handcrafted in painstaking detail. The furnishings are sparse but not without luxury with candelabras and drapes that I'm positive have been imported from Europe.
"You have a lovely home, Aunt Caroline," I remark as soon as I have stepped over the threshold. Even Clemens seems impressed by the sudden change the house has undergone.
Caroline blushes and shakes her head, sending wisps of honey colored hair from the bun atop her head. "We've done what we good with the place. Kenneth hopes to add onto to it someday, after the war is over, of course."
There is a gleam in the woman's eyes each time she mentions her husband and it does not take a genius to see how deep her love for him runs. I use my free hand, the one that isn't wrapped uncomfortably around Clemens' arm, to reach down and give hers a soft squeeze. I tell her, "He sounds like a wonderful man."
"I can't wait for you both to meet him. His last letter says that he's due back by the month's end."
"That's only a week or so from now," Clemens states, perking up significantly at the information.
My aunt nods her head cheerfully and I can see she is far more excited over the idea than both Clemens and I combined.
"Well," she claps her hands together, "I'm sure you're both tired from your trip. Charles Towne is quite a long ride, I know. Isaiah and Tuck will have put your things in the room I've prepared for you, if you'll follow me. You can both get settled and by then supper will be ready."
We follow her up the stairs as she's asked and through the narrow hallways to our room. When I see it, I suspect it is one of the largest in the house and it's finely decorated at that.
"Thank you," I say and she rolls her shoulders dismissively.
"You're quite welcome. It's nice to have visitors. I'll let you know as soon as supper is ready." With that, she slips from the room, leaving me to stand with Clemens alone. He wastes no time heading over to the trunk that has most of our belongings packed in it. Clothes and weapons mostly, though the weapons have been skillfully hidden away from any eyes that might take it upon themselves to pry.
"Your aunt is very kind," Clemens remarks, "for a traitor's wife."
I scowl, my brows tugging low over my eyes. "Neutrality, Jacob, neutrality."
It is his turn to pull a face, which he quickly does at the use of his given name. "Are you quite finished, Mrs. Turner?" he snaps.
"And are you, Mr. Turner, going to play nice once all the other children arrive?"
He unlocks the trunk and throws open the lid almost petulantly. "I shall endeavor to restrain myself unless Cornwallis himself happens to come waltzing through the door."
That statement alone contains more humor than I have heard from Clemens since our first meeting. It is enough to satisfy me and I spend the rest of my time until dinner tending to my belongings.
The week at the Wilkins' home had passed surprisingly quickly. Clemens spent his days helping Isaiah and Tuck in the yard, despite Caroline's pleas for him to relax.
"You're husband is impossible!" she fumed once, her temper getting the best of her. "My dear mother would roll over in her grave if she knew I had a guest working in the yard!"
I did what I could to calm her by saying simply, "He likes to stay busy."
"Kenneth is the same way, honestly. Can never sit still, that man. That's why he was so quick to defend the King's honor, I suppose."
I frown. It had been my understanding that Captain Wilkins had only joined the King's men later after the initial fighting broke out. My next question slipped from my lips without thought. "I thought he rode with the Continentals initially?"
Caroline turns to face me from her place at the window overlooking the yard. "Where did you hear that, dear?" Her eyes are not accusing, merely curious. Regardless, my breath hitches in my chest. I had spoken without thinking.
"You said something about it the other night at dinner," I respond as naturally as I can. I suspect I could have remained silent and the woman would have been just as appeased.
"Oh! I must have!" she exclaims with a laugh. "But, yes, you're quite right. He was sympathetic to the rebels at first."
I am about to speak again when I glance up at the window to see that Clemens had ceased from his labor to stare down the road. Both Isaiah and Tuck have done the same and are pointing towards a gathering of dust in the distance.
"What is he looking at?" I remark aloud, more to myself than Caroline.
I leave the other woman who is squinting out the window and instead hurry out onto the porch.
"Jacob," I call, "What do you see?"
Clemens turns to face me, his face unreadable. "Someone is coming this way. We saw horses in the distance on the other side of the marsh."
Caroline has appeared behind me. "Horses, you say? More than one?"
"Four or more," Clemens replies.
I look to my aunt and ask, "Would your husband bring people with him?"
She shakes her head. "I would not think so."
Clemens comes to stand beside me on the porch, wiping his dirty hands across his britches. "We'll just have to wait and see," he says solemnly, his eyes never moving from the end of the road.
It does not take long for the group of riders to appear again in our line of sight and it is obvious that they are making their way towards us fast as they can push their horses. Their coats are red and from their dress I know that they are not simple dispatch riders. They are dragoons. The realization does nothing to settle the nerves that have begun to creep up my spine. Caroline quickly steps forward as the riders draw nearer. "There, the man in front," she says, "That's my husband."
I see the man she is speaking of and I am struck by his shear size. Even from this distance, two hundred yards away, I can see that he is quite a large man, bigger in stature than any of his fellow riders.
It is only then that I notice one of the horses, a dark brown gelding, has lost his rider. Clemens seems to notice this at the same time I do and he points. "He's there, in the saddle with the rider on the left."
Sure enough, two men ride together, one leaning heavily on the other for support. I suspect he may be wounded, since one of the infamous English dragoons would not be so easily parted from his horse.
A few seconds more and the riders reach the house, slowing their horses to a halt with a chorus of whinnies and flying lather. My uncle dismounts first and Caroline runs to greet him, flinging her arms around his neck with a cry.
"What is going on, Kenneth?" she asks.
He kisses her quickly and responds, "We need water and bandages, dear, and fast. The colonel has been wounded."
I glance at Clemens who has frozen at my side as we both assess the situation. I lean close to whisper, "You don't think -"
He answers my question before I can finish asking it. "It's Tavington," he says, his breath gone from his voice.
I have no time to reply as Caroline shouts for me to go and fetch the medical supplies she keeps upstairs. I only know where they are because Clemens, in his mighty quest to do yard work, cut his hand on a saw two days into our stay. I rush off as asked and Clemens leaps from the porch to offer his aid. By the time I find the bandages, the group of men has carried the colonel to a small guest room upstairs. I scurry in behind them, elbowing my way through their midst without apology to stand across from Caroline at the edge of the bed. Her husband is standing at her side and I look up to meet his eyes as I hand his wife the supplies. He is younger than I expected, even given the knowledge of his and my mother's age difference, and quite handsome. His face matches the tone of his letters, with kind but tired eyes. If he wasn't so exhausted he might have grinned at me because his eyes flash excitedly with recognition.
"Uncle," I say by way of greeting and offer him small smile.
He says nothing in return as a dragoon jostles him from the bedside. "Can you save him, madam?" the man asks Caroline.
"I will do my best," she replies, "but for now I need your men to leave the room. Kenneth, see to them downstairs, please."
The dragoon looks none too happy to be dismissed by this woman but he does not argue and orders his men from the room. Clemens and my uncle trail after them and I watch from the corner of my eye as they exchange a quiet introduction.
For the first time, I look down at the man on the bed, the butcher I have heard so much about, and I am nearly struck dumb by him. Even wounded and unconscious, he is, without a doubt, one of the most classically handsome men God has ever graced the earth with. He is around Clemens' age, perhaps a few years younger at the most.
"The bullet wound is here in his shoulder," I hear Caroline say as I tear myself away from my appraisal of the dying man.
"Can you get it out?"
She does not reply and moves to unbutton his red coat. Together we struggle to get him out of it, undoing buckles and buttons as we go. Eventually, he is free of it and Caroline orders me to remove the shirt from around his shoulder as she readies the tools she will need to dislodge the bullet from its resting place. I do as she tells me, unaffected by the amount blood that pours from the man's wound.
Leaning over him, I try to tear the fabric free of his shoulder but it does not give easily. With a frustrated growl, I give the fabric a good solid wrench and am rewarded with the satisfying sound of shredding cotton. There is a sharp curse and immediate pressure on my arm and at first I think that Caroline has somehow reached around to grab me. Her back is to me, however, and I am left with only one other candidate. Glancing down, I find a pair of cold, pained blue eyes glaring up at me. The colonel is no longer unconscious it seems. One unforgiving hand has fisted tightly around my wrist and is returning the pain I likely caused him with the shirt's removal in full.
"Let go," I warn, returning his glare with one of my own. Despite my words of caution, the colonel does no such thing.
"Who. Are. You?" Each word is punctuated through the pain, forced out between gritted teeth. Hearing him, Caroline glances over to me and gasps when she sees that our patient has awoken.
I do not take my eyes off the man as I tell her, "Remove the bullet, Aunt Caroline."
"Go ahead," I repeat.
Tavington has not taken his icy gaze off me during the exchange. He still wants his answer. I do not grant it. When Caroline finally moves to dig the bullet from his shoulder, his resolve gives and he shuts his eyes against the new wave of pain. Impressively, he does not cry out as many would have in his position. He winces and grimaces and fidgets though and I have to lean across him to keep him still as Caroline works. Several minutes in, I see her pull the little black ball free as she holds it between the silver pincers in her hand. She drops it into a nearby bowl and then hands me a damp cloth as she wipes her bloody hands on the nearest rag she can find.
Before I can reach over to wipe away some of the blood from the colonel's shoulder, he has me in his grip again.
"Who are you?" He repeats his earlier query but his voice is considerably weaker. Again, I do not answer him. I am able to jerk my arm free from him this time and go on to help Caroline clean and bandage him. By the time we are finished, he has finally lost consciousness once more.
"Tough fellow, isn't he?" Caroline says as she cleans up the medical supplies around her.
I agree, shrugging. "Indeed, though he's bled all over your good sheets."
"I don't think I ought to expect an apology from the likes of him, what do you think?"
I smile in agreement, looking down at my stained hands. "You're probably right, Aunt Caroline. Not from the likes of him."
Yeah, evil guys!
Like I said, this'll be relatively short and not-so-sweet. Five-ish chapters. Maybe. It's a possibility. Kind of.
Just trying to cure writers block. Let me know what you think, especially about the first person/present tense thing because I rarely RARELY write like this. It was an exercise of my patience to keep checking myself. Hope it didn't give ya'll a headache.