Welcome to the first chapter of my story!
Quick summary: Before Jack was the Spirit of Winter, he was a boy, a son and a brother. When the Red Coats take the children of Burgess to be their slaves, what will Jack have to do in order to save his sister from a fate worse than death?
Disclaimer: I don't own Rise of the Guardians… I am merely their humble fan.
Note: I should probably note that I, in NO way, hate the British. You all are actually extremely nice people and I have many English friends. When I write about the 'evil Red Coats', I'm writing from the point of view of someone from the American side of the Revolutionary War… these are NOT my personal feelings!
Note #2: The timeline for RotG is a little bit contradictory to the apparent timeline of Burgess. According to the Wiki page, Burgess was founded in the late 1790's, but if we are assuming that RotG took place in 2012, the timeline is a little wonky. I took this opportunity to mess with it even more, so this particular story takes place around 1774-76; right during the heat of the Revolutionary War.
Jack was awakened rudely as the wagon he was sitting in hit a bump on the crude road. How long he had been in his restless sleep, he didn't know. He looked at his surroundings—or what he could see of them in the light provided by the moon. The wagon he was in was filled with children—boys—from his little settlement called Burgess. The drivers, however, were not his parents. Nor were they the parents of any of the children accompanying him in the dingy carriage drawn by a team of oxen.
The girls had been sent to a different wagon, bound for a different location. All of the girls, but one. Peering to his side, Jack saw his little sister, Mary, who was resting her small head on his chest, un-awakened by the same jolt of the wagon. She stirred gently, but Jack didn't want her to wake up, so he reached a hand up to her short, shaggy hair and ran his fingers through it in the way his mother did for her, and used to do for him when he was her age. Like a charm, it sent her back into a more comfortable doze.
Jack sighed. It wasn't but a few hours before when her hair had been a beautiful sheen that reached past her shoulders. She had been wearing her favorite blue dress that their parents gifted to her on her birthday. She had also worn a smile.
It was amazing how quickly things could change, Jack mused. He thought back to the events of earlier that day.
The settlement of Burgess was one of the smaller in their territory, and also one of the more remote ones. Swallowed up by a city of trees and forest, the only way in or out of town was the small dirt path that had been carved into the ground by the wagon train that made the initial move to that location. When the settlement was first founded, the only people who lived there were the kinds of people that were needed to make a prosperous society: the doctor, the mayor, the lumbermen, the farmers and the store owner. However, in recent years, the town had been devoid of all men who had gone off to war to fight the British. It was a momentous war, and one worth fighting, but one that Burgess felt in the loss of half of their community.
Left behind were the wives, children, elderly, and previously injured who did their best to get by. With everyone pulling together to keep the system going, life was relatively comfortable. Sometimes there was less food on the table due to much of their crop numbers being sent to the war front to nourish the men, but everyone in town generally lived life as cheerfully as they could.
The farmer's wife, Kessandra Overland was in a particularly difficult position. She was the wife of the farmer of the largest crop farm in the settlement and it was difficult for her to manage it by herself. When it got close to harvesting time, both of her children, strapping, sixteen-year-old Jackson and adorable, ten-year-old Mary, didn't go to school because they had to help at the farm. It was difficult work, but it was a lifestyle that they were used to and even took comfort in because it kept them busy.
In the time that she didn't spend farming, or tending to their barn animals, Kessandra spent cooking sparse meals for her children. Though they didn't live in the lap of luxury, they were better off than many of the people in Burgess because many of the commodities that their animals produced would be spoiled if they had to travel to the front lines. These delicacies, such as fresh milk, eggs and various meats were what made up the majority of their meals. However, the Overland family was known for their kindness and generosity, so much of their food was given to others who were unable to obtain what they could at the over-priced General Store.
Kessandra was cutting the final bits of meat from the bone of a pig that were meant for the smoke house when she heard gunshots nearby. At first, she thought that it was some of the other civilians hunting, so she looked over at Jack and Mary, who were sitting in the corner, where Jack was helping Mary to improve her handwriting, then back down at her own work. When she heard the shots getting closer and a faint screaming, she knew something was wrong. She quietly set down her knife and wiped her hands on her apron.
Jack looked up from the paper he was holding for Mary, "What is it?"
"I don't know," Kessandra said quietly, listening intently. When the screaming grew louder, she could also hear the sound of many horses approaching. With a grimace, she walked to the door, looked to her children and said, "Stay inside," and then opened the door and charged outside.
Jack and Mary sat together for a few more moments when Jack stood up.
"Mama just told you to stay inside!" Mary protested.
"It's okay," he reassured her, "I'm not going outside—I just want to listen at the window."
Mary nodded and relinquished his sleeve to him. Jack crept to the door and then to the window next to it. He put his head close to the closed shutters so the muffled voices from outside became clearer.
"…do you want?" Jack recognized the voice of the old mayor who had been spared a call from the army.
"I want you to gather all of your people here now. We are here to collect your children."
Jack's blood ran cold. That voice definitely had a lilting, British accent to it. What did the enemy want with the children? It didn't even occur to Jack at the time that, at sixteen, he was one of the children that they wanted to round up; he was more worried about his sister. He was usually one to act impulsively, but this time he sensed the importance of listening to a little more of the conversation.
"Why our children?" he heard his own mother shout at the man.
"Our camps are growing larger and we require workers to keep it in order for us," the officer said.
"Are your soldiers so lazy that they are unable to wash their filthy socks on their own? You are all no men at all if you insist on having children do your disgusting work for you." Jack's mother retorted. He had always been proud to be the son of a woman who could speak so bravely against her enemy, but he hoped that her sharp tongue wouldn't get her hurt. Their father was off to war—she was all they had.
"Do not misunderstand, woman," the officer continued, "the work we have in mind will be much more… grueling. I would not wish to tire my own men on such difficult tasks. Now, don't make a fuss, ladies. Kindly retrieve your children. Boys in the wagon on the left, girls in the wagon on the right, if you please."
"Why are they being separated?" Jack heard their mayor ask angrily. He could hear the low timbre of the man's every word quaking with fury. But they were grossly outnumbered; Jack could hear a hundred horses outside. There was no way they could all fight and win.
"The boys will be sent to labor camps and the girls will be sent to the front lines to improve the morale of our men—"
"Whoring." Kessandra said, her voice shuddering with indignation and anger, "You mean to send our children… our children… to become your slaves and whores? What men are you that you would reduce yourself to such a disgusting level?"
A gunshot rang out and Jack quickly lifted the shutters to check for his mother, his heart beating fast, terrified at what he might see. She was alright—the shot had merely been a warning.
"Let this be the last warning," the officer said, his voice also raising, "We will check every house before we leave. If you insist on hiding your children, we will shoot them on sight."
"This can't just be for the children," Jack heard the mayor murmur to the elderly baker nearby, "They want to lower our own morale."
Jack had heard enough. He pulled his ear away from the door, his eyes darting back and forth as he did some quick thinking. He couldn't care less about being forced into labor—it couldn't be worse than the level of work he had to pull at his own family farm. But his sister… his innocent, ten-year-old sister… he had to do something.
He cast his eyes wildly around the cabin, vaguely aware that Mary was watching him curiously. His eyes rested on the sharp knife his mother had been using to butcher the pig just a few moments earlier. Without a second thought, only reacting on his building adrenaline, he grabbed the knife and rushed to his sister. She looked up at him, eyes wide, and ducked her head instinctively. Jack grabbed a fistful of her chestnut hair and sliced through it in one motion, leaving a large clump of free hair in his hand, and the remaining hair on her scalp much shorter than before.
Mary's hand shot back to the large patch in the back of her hand and felt where the hair was no longer attached.
"What did you do?!" she fumed, standing up indignantly. Jack shushed her quickly and hacked more of her hair off. Mary, over the original shock at what her brother had done, noticed Jack's serious tone. Jack was never serious, so she knew that it was important that she stay still and let him continue his work. She closed her teary eyes as he continued to mercilessly slice her beautiful hair off, creating an uneven look. It would have to do.
Jack set the knife down and grabbed the hem of her blue dress, pulling it over her head, along with her underdress. She covered herself, but it was more from the cold—there was no place for shyness in a one-room cabin. Jacked rushed to the family bureau and opened his own drawer. He grabbed the essential clothes; a shirt, pants, long socks and underwear.
After he walked back to his sister and deposited the heap of clothes onto the abandoned chair, he took the underwear and held it out for his sister to step into.
"That's your underwear. I'm not wearing your underwear."
"Do it." Jack hissed. Mary was taken aback—Jack was always about being fun. It wasn't like him to order her to do something so hurriedly… or rudely, for that matter. Mary began sensing that there was more to her brother's madness than she initially thought, so she quickly grabbed his underwear and slid her legs into it, pulling it up to her waist. Jack held out the pants next. They continued to dress her in his clothes, all the while listening to the voices which were growing steadily louder outside.
Finally, Jack stood back and viewed his work. Dressed in his clothes and with short, yet choppy hair, Mary could easily pass for a young boy. In this time of war, it was common for same-gender siblings to share clothes, which meant the ill-fitting clothes on Mary wouldn't be out of place. It was a godsend that she appeared to be an age when boys were still expected to be able to sing soprano. This could work. They just had to be smart and think fast.
Mary looked down to examine herself, tears in her eyes.
"I look like a boy!" she wailed quietly.
"Good," Jack said. He walked to her and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. Then he lowered himself into a crouched position, looking up at his sister and arranging his face so she would understand the severity of their situation, "Listen to me. The Red Coats are going to take us from Mama. But you can't let them know that you're a girl."
"Why?" Mary asked. Jack almost considered telling her, but decided against it. She was ten years old and he didn't want her to be introduced to that awful reality just yet, if he could help it.
"They're separating the boys and the girls and I don't want them to take you away from me," Jack replied. He was telling the truth… most of it, anyway. Mary nodded, understanding. Jack thanked God silently that she didn't ask for more details.
There was another gunshot from outside and a loud shout, "Everyone outside, now! If you hide, so help me, you will be sleeping with the worms tonight!"
Jack raised himself from his crouch and hugged his sister, "We'll be alright. I promise." He took her hand in his and the two of them walked outside. Children in the other cabins were also coming out and Jack knew from many of their faces that he hadn't been the only one to listen to the conversation from inside. The settlement was lined with countless redcoats and their horses
The first person Jack looked for was Kessandra. He noticed her wide eyes when she saw Mary's shocking new appearance, but she was a smart woman; she quickly rearranged her face to merely look sad. She ran to the both of them and dropped to her knees to hug Mary first.
"My boys, my boys!" she shouted, sobbing into Mary's shoulder a little louder than she probably would have normally. She pulled back from Mary and adjusted her over-sized collar, "You mind your brother, do you understand?"
Mary nodded. Their mother gave her one last quick hug before she stood up and hugged Jack. Jack wrapped his arms around his mother and felt the tears in his eyes. He wasn't normally one to cry, but as he stood hugging his mother, he couldn't help but wonder if this would be the last time they would see each other.
"Thank you," she whispered in his ear and Jack nodded, understanding. When she pulled away from him, she smoothed the fabric at his shoulders affectionately and said, "I love you. Never forget that."
"I won't," he said. She hesitated a moment and then reached up to the heart-shaped locket hanging at her neck. It was the last valuable item that their family owned. Jack's father had given it to his mother on the day of their wedding.
Jack, sensing her intentions, grabbed her hand that was holding the locket and said, "No, keep it. They'll take it away from me."
"I know," she responded, "But I want it to keep you safe… while it can."
Jack paused for a moment and then nodded, taking the locket and sliding it into his pocket. Having finished their farewells, they looked at the other families taking the opportunity to say their farewells.
"We will find you," their mother said, looking from Mary to Jack, "This won't be forever, I swear it."
"Alright, time's up," one of the lesser officers said, shooting his musket into the air, "Boys, to the wagon on the left, girls to the one on the right. No fusses, unless you want to become acquainted with my musket."
Jack steeled himself, squaring his shoulders and led his sister to the boy's wagon. Mary, either out of fear of discovery or feeling the same desire to show the Red Coats that she couldn't be pushed around, followed suit. When they reached the boy's wagon, an older officer with many badges and a pair of pincer glasses held up a scroll and a quill.
"Name?" he asked Jack without looking up.
"Are you the eldest of the lot?"
Jack looked behind him at the group of scared, wide-eyed younger boys behind him. He looked back at the officer, shrugged and said, "I guess I am."
"Very well. Proceed inside."
Jack took one moment to look back at his mother, whose hands were clasped together and tears running down her face before he turned back and climbed into the covered wagon. Then in a moment, he felt as though his heart had stopped. He hadn't thought of a name for Mary. He listened intently to the man outside the wagon.
Without missing a beat, she answered bravely, "Matthew Overland." Relief washed over Jack as he felt sincere gratitude that his sister had been gifted with Kessandra's ability to think on her feet.
Jack was joined by his sister and they sat in silence, Jack with his arm around Mary's shoulder as she cried into his shirt. They were soon joined by the other boys of the settlement. There were far too many—the wagon was so crowded that they were practically sitting on each other's laps.
Finally, after all the boys had been loaded into the wagon, the opening in the back swung shut with a loud, un-oiled creak. Jack could hear mothers sobbing openly in the background and knew that if they tried to do anything, they were looking at a one on twenty fight. Not even Jack's brave mother could beat them all back with naught but her shovel.
"Now yern boys'n better kip quiet er there'll be some tanned hides before we reach camp, understand?" said one particularly crude-looking officer. He didn't wait for an answer from them and instead kicked the back of the wagon loudly and the oxen at the helm grunted into a start, leading the boys away from home.
"Jack," Mary whispered beside him. She had woken up when Jack became too preoccupied by his thoughts to remember to stroke her hair.
"We'll be okay," Jack whispered back quietly, trying to rearrange his face to look at ease.
Suddenly the wagon stopped and a dozen pairs of young eyes could be seen opening in unison. They had reached their destination. The next few minutes were a blur as the boys were whisked out of the wagon and told to stand in a straight line just outside. In the time Jack had to take in his surroundings, he could see that the Red Coat's camp was far into the woods, in a clearing large enough to comfortably house the tents of hundreds of men who were, even at this late hour, bustling around and going on with whatever chores they had been assigned.
Jack made sure to keep a tight hold of Mary's hand so as to not lose her. An old officer in a bright red coat and holding a walking cane began walking down the line and examined the captives, opening their mouths to look at their teeth and looking at their hands to see if there were any signs that they were used to hard labor. He would make remarks to a man behind him, who would record the information on a piece of parchment and then the boys would be dragged off to wherever it was that he had decided to send them. When the officer reached Jack, he gave no warning before he stuck his fingers in Jack's mouth to check his teeth.
"Healthy young man, though a bit on the scrawny side…" the officer said, knocking Jack's knees lightly with his cane. He took Jack's hand and then looked up and down the row of boys, "He's the oldest one here… this boy has seen some hard work. What is your name, lad?"
"Tell me, Jack, what is your father's occupation?"
"Does your family own any barn animals?"
"Do you know how to answer questions properly; in sentences containing multiple words?"
Jack was too angry to feel embarrassed at this quip, "That depends."
"On what, precisely?"
"On whether or not I think you deserve more of my breath." Jack retorted. Several of the closer boys who were listening giggled. Some looked shocked and others downright scared. Next to him, Mary squeezed his hand. He knew she was telling him in her own way to shut up, but he would have none of it if these men didn't at least treat these boys with some ounce of respect.
The old officer knocked Jack's head lightly with his cane before replying in a dangerously steely tone, "Need I remind you that you are no longer in your mother's care, young man? You are here to aid us however we see fit—"
"—as slaves." Jack said angrily, "I may not be an adult yet, but I'm old enough to understand what's going on."
"Then you would also understand the severity of the situation you are currently talking yourself into, yes?" the old man said. He glared at Jack for a moment with sharp eyes and Jack could see that he was thinking of what he would say next, "Since you are new here and I am in a pleasant mood tonight, I will let you off with a warning. However, you would do well to exercise caution—the other men here may not be as forgiving as myself. Any further insubordination will be met with fierce retaliation, am I understood?"
"…Yes." Jack said finally.
"You will refer to every officer here as 'sir'."
"Yes, sir." Jack amended angrily. Mary squeezed his hand again. It was then that he was struck with the rude realization that if he were to get into trouble, he would not be the only one to suffer. These Red Coats were evil, but he could also see that they were clever. They would easily spot his weakness.
Just as this thought entered his head, the old officer moved on to Mary. She opened her mouth before he even reached his fingers towards her face. He nodded approvingly.
"Good teeth. Young. What's your name?"
The old man's eyes moved to see that she and Jack were holding hands.
"Yes, sir. Please don't hurt him. He's stupid, but he's a good worker." It was Jack's turn to squeeze her hand, annoyed.
"If he stays out of trouble, trouble will not come to him. Are you also familiar with farm animals?"
"Yes, sir," Mary answered quickly. Jack knew that it was a downright lie. While Mary often helped to harvest the crops, even through the war, their mother had always refused to let Mary anywhere near the barn, preferring to teach her more lady-like things such as sewing and painting.
"Very good," the old man said, reaching over and taking the scroll from the scribe. He made a quiet remark to the man about the horrible state of his spelling before grabbing the quill and scratching something new next to their names himself, "You both will be working in our barn. Our previous farmhand died a few weeks ago of smallpox, so we are shorthanded on those knowledgeable about the care of farm animals."
"Short by how many… sir?" Jack asked.
"…All of them," the old man checked the scroll, "You two will be solely in charge of their care and comfort. Be warned; this means that you share the blame with no one should any of them die or contract a disease. Off with you. Show them to the barn," he said to a guard behind him and the guard reached out and grabbed Jack and Mary. His hand wrapped completely around their biceps and they were dragged off in the direction of the makeshift barn at the other end of the clearing.
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter! Any reviews or what have you are welcome. Chapter postings will be a bit erratic since I'm essentially writing this in between classes (Yarg, I be a teacher). ;)