#1 Posted by Switch (4527 posts) - - Show Bio

Thirteen Stars for Freedom

Prologue- Apprehension

The dust rose from the worn road, thick, billowing clouds rising from the parched earth with every step. The land was rejecting the soldiers. Men who had fought and suffered for this moment, the moment that they would return to the land of their birth, trudged along, feet barely clearing the ground. Their throats parched and their spirits broken. Their own country achieving that which thousands of union soldiers and four years of death had failed to do. It had crushed them.

Ten miles from Dawsonville Captain Rees halted the column. With barely a sound the dishevelled men clambered over the low fence at the edge of the field, their weariness making their movements slow and awkward. They bivouacked down for the night, the organised rows of tents and cooking fire of two years ago less than a memory. Now men found a convenient place out of the wind and pitched a ramshackle tent with their friends. The only thing that identified them as soldiers were the tattered uniforms on their backs, gone was the discipline and the professionalism. They had been eroded by four long years of defeat and attrition.

Rees worked hard in the failing light, sweat soaking the old uniform that he wore. The Lieutenant that he rested with was out in the darkness, doing the rounds. The tent went up slowly, but he didn’t stop. When Mulcahy returned he fell in without a word and helped. It took ten minutes but then it was done. Once the breathless minute of contemplation that followed the labour had passed, Mulcahy spoke.

“We need wood for fires.”

Rees stood, unmoving for a while before answering.

“I’ll take some men out with axes.”

With that he walked away, calling for a detail from every tent. The night closed in on the workers as they swung and hacked. A tree fell, then another. Each covered in instants by a horde of slow moving lumberjacks. They group returned to the camp, each man laden with logs and branches. As the fires blazed and the cooking pots wafted their enticing aromas over the tents, men packed kits away. They would have no use of their dress uniforms, this was no triumphant return, and so they went to the bottom of the pack. As the food was eaten silence reigned over the camp, each man falling asleep in his own private world.

Captain Rees looked at his boys, men who he had lived and fought with for four years seemed now to be strangers. The promise of home, drawing ever closer was breaking the bond that they had forged in the heat of battle. It was a sobering thought. The war had achieved nothing, they had been forced back into the union and even the men that had fought together for their confederacy would not retain a bond of fellowship. With a barely perceptible sigh Rees stood and walked to his tent. He lifted the flap and went inside.

Part 1- Homecoming

The day was breaking, bleak and miserable as the soldiers broke camp. The fence was no longer an obstacle and they walked with fierce determination. Home was ahead. They could feel it in their bones, the wind whispered it to them. This was the land of their birth. Rees marched at the head of his men, his sabre and 44. hanging at his waist and the heavy Henry rifle on his back sapping his strength. He’d won that rifle; there was no way that it was being left behind. He’d won it at Pea Ridge.

“You got that look on your face, which one you thinking about?”

Rees turned. It was Lieutenant Ball with what was left of his company.

“Come on Malcolm, you can tell me.”

Ball had always been a straightforward man. He’d never messed with his words and thought that tact was something that you stuck things up with. But then they had known each other for years, going back before the war.

“Pea Ridge, we should have won.”

“You always say that, never could just accept that you got beat.” said Joseph despairingly.

Malcolm smiled bitterly.

“It was a hard loss though, a forced march through the night only to see those Yankee boys between us and McCulloch and the stand at Elkhorn Tavern. I’m surprised that we survived.”

“We survived worse. That was the first time I killed anybody, just shot a man in the chest as we went up the ridge. He looked so surprised. Would have liked to stop and think about it, maybe try to come to terms with taking a life, but there was no time.” said Ball.

“I killed that scout the night before, took his rifle and I’m still carrying it. I swore then that I would never kill again. Course the next day I broke my oath and lost all my delusions about the nobility of war. Along with every man on the field.” replied Malcolm.

The troop kept moving, drizzle came on and went. But they kept going. At around four o’clock the column approached the town. Half a mile from the boundary they were stopped by some cavalry. Rees elbowed his way to the front, noting the grim looks of the men he passed. A tall officer was sitting on his horse, talking heatedly with one of Rees’s sergeants.

“You will hand over your weapons to my men.”

“I didn’t survive three years of war to give my gun to some snot nosed brat straight out of school at the edge of my town.”

Rees smiled, the officer looked hurt and opened his mouth to reply. Rees stepped in quickly.

“That’s enough Sergeant.”

The man turned and walked back to the ranks, Rees caught his eye and nodded.

“Are you the ranking officer in this rabble?” The mounted man asked.

“That I am, I hear that you want our guns.”

“I am under orders to gather all rebel military material and return it to the arsenal at the fort.”

Rees looked up at the young man. He was clean shaven, without a speck of dirt on his uniform, although his boots were dusty from the road. This man hadn’t seen battle, he hadn’t held his place in the line and killed men, he didn’t carry himself like someone who had.

“Very well, we can move on then.”

“But I said that…”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me. You want to collect up all property of the Confederate government. My men are equipped with their own weapons, these guns are private property. If you wish to debate this issue we can do so at the fort you mentioned. Now we have to be getting home.”

The man tried to speak but Rees stepped in close and said firmly.

“These men have fought to come home for four years, they have seen their friends and relations killed by men like you, wearing the same uniform. Believe me when I say that if I gave the order, they would have no trouble, mentally or physically, killin you and your trooper boys.”

The officer fumed, but a glance at the soldier’s faces cooled his temper. They marched into town. The buildings that they had known for so long, and dreamt of returning to were almost unrecognisable. The column passed through the outskirts unnoticed but as they turned onto Main Street heads turned in the street. Faces broke into smiles as they caught sight of a loved one. Rees halted the column and spoke to the men. They had survived a war, fought as brothers in arms and now they were parting.

“You are not soldiers anymore. Go and become husbands, fathers, sons and farmers again. We tried to win our freedom, we tried for fight for what was right, but we failed. Do not fail your family by dwelling on what has happened.”

All semblance of order broke down and the street was filled with happy laughter. Rees scanned the crowd for his wife and son but couldn’t find them. Wherever he looked the town was different. Shops were missing, there were signs of a fire and the town hall appeared to be a barracks of some sort. The war had touched everything.

The sun was low in the sky when Malcolm turned onto the short lane that led to his home. The quiet fields surrounded him, low shoots poking up through the soil. A bird, startled by the sound of his equipment jingling, darted out of away towards his home. But all was not well. The garden was not full of flowers, as it had been on the day of his departure. The paint on the house front looked old and uncared for. He knocked at the door, feeling a sense of apprehension settle in the pit of his stomach. He had survived. Four years and he was back home. A maid that he didn’t recognise answered the door.

“Yes.”

She looked him up and down and was obviously not pleased with what she saw.

“This is my home; my wife lives here.”

“Oh, you had better come in then.” She stepped back and allowed the door to swing inwards. Malcolm stepped across the threshold slowly, savouring the moment.

“I shall get the master of the house.” The maid said before clicking away across the wooden planks.

Malcolm was left to himself and stood awkwardly in in his military paraphernalia.

“Malcolm Rees, I presume. Or should I say father” Said a cold voice.

Malcolm turned. Standing in the study doorway was a young man. He was at least sixteen. Tall and skinny but starting to put on bulk. Not yet a man, but getting there.

“You are the man who fought for enslavement. Who rebelled over an injustice being corrected. You are the man who killed mother for a lost cause. But I lose myself, you are just in time to say goodbye to Mother.”

Malcolm stared. This was his boy Thomas. The last time he had seen him he was twelve years old and crying his eyes out because daddy was going away. Now he was cold and aloof.

“Where is she?”

Thomas regarded him like something he had found under a rock.

“She died a few days ago. Tuberculosis. But I suppose you were to busy fighting to keep the Negros enslaved to get her letters. Anyway, she’s in here, the guests are just arriving.”

Thomas moved from the doorway and allowed Malcolm to see inside. Anne was lying peacefully in an open coffin. Several rows of seats had been arranged and were partially filled with faces, all staring with shock at him. Malcolm recoiled violently and staggered backwards. He looked around, as if seeking a way out of the nightmare he had found himself in. But there was no release. With a whimper he slid down the hallway wall and landed softly on the floor.

“She’s dead?” he asked hollowly.

“Yes.”

For a moment it seemed that Thomas would show compassion, then the hate returned,

“She left the house to me. You had been killed in action at that point so I became the master of the household. Looks like you couldn’t even die properly.”

Thomas walked over to his father and crouched down on his haunches.

“She could have lived. She was on the mend, and then the letter arrived. You had been wounded, badly. Do you remember? Or has the war hero taken so many wounds in the line of duty that he does not remember any single incident?” Malcolm stared, taken aback by the open hatred. “She lost the will to fight. Strange really. You never stopped fighting, it mattered more to you than your family.”

Malcolm looked up at the young man who was his son and felt his anger. The boy really hated him. Malcolm pushed himself to his feet and stumbled towards the door. Thomas called at his back,

“Running away again huh? Well I suppose you got some experience at that during the war.”

Malcolm stopped. Rage swelled up inside his chest, overwhelming the shock of his loss.

“What.”

Malcolm turned to face his son, his face grave. Thomas smirked.

“Stones River, Franklin and Nashville taught you their lessons didn’t they. Run from your problems, just like you ran from the Yankees.”

Malcolm stepped in close and smashed his fist into his son’s face. Thomas fell, dark blood splashing down onto his shirt. Malcolm grabbed his collar and lifted him close to his face.

“Yes we ran, we ran when our ammunition was gone, our friends were dead and 7,000 Blue Coats were advancing up the hill with cannon support and murder in their eyes. But I was at Chickamauga, with Longstreet, when we rushed the gap. Their were brave men there, and timid too, but every man took his place in the lines and advanced. You think us cowards yet you have never stood face to face with another man, the screams of the wounded in your ears and shot him down. You’ve never had your childhood friend’s blood splattered over your face as he is hit by round shot.”

The anger had faded, to be replaced with a deep sadness. A sadness that sprung from the loss of Anne and tapped the reservoir of pain left by the war. Anne was just one more death in the last four years but she broke the dam that he had constructed in his mind. Depression crashed down upon him and he let his terrified son fall to the ground, before staggering off into the growing dusk.
Post Edited:2007-06-20 19:49:24

#2 Posted by Switch (4527 posts) - - Show Bio

Part 2- The man at the Bar

Lieutenant Joseph Ball was having a fine day. He was a civilian again, he’d survived a war and his wife hadn’t been messing around with another man. Even better was the fact that he was drunk. Less than six hours out of uniform and he could barely walk. Bliss. He lurched into another bar and shouted for whiskey, the barman looked him up and down,

“I think you’ve had enough.” he said.

Joseph glared at him and turned to leave. Then he noticed that Malcolm was sitting in the corner, his head on the table. Joseph made his way over to him and sat down heavily.

“What’s the matter Malcolm? Your home and you’re a free man. It’s what you’ve wanted for four years.”

Malcolm sat up and looked at his friend.

“Everything’s changed. Anne’s dead and I’m a stranger in my own home. I’ve lost everything that I fought for.”

“I’m sorry about Anne Malcolm, I heard through Fanny. When did she pass away?”

“I don’t know, a week ago. It was tuberculosis though; I know that, and a broken heart. She thought that I was dead and hadn’t loved her Joseph.”

Joseph looked at his friend and frantically tried to sober up. It was in vain. He made a desperate attempt to cheer Malcolm up.

“At least you’ve still got your boy. Many’s the night on campaign you said that you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want Thomas to grow up in a free world.”

“Joseph, I punched my son in the face within five minutes of meeting him. The little shit said that I was a coward, and at the same time that I loved war more than him and Anne. Didn’t know what he was talking about.” Malcolm said softly.

Joseph laughed, he couldn’t stop himself. A loud drunken laugh that caught the attention of people around him.

“He called you a coward, The Malcolm Rees who took the gap at Chickamauga for ol Longstreet. The man who held a position with 148 men for a whole day against an army.”

A man at the bar turned.

“You were at Chickamauga?”

Joseph was to drunk to hear the menace in the mans voice and kept talking in a cheery tone.

“Yes sir, him and me both. My friend here is a genuine war hero. When those Blue bastards left an opening, Malcolm led the unit which cracked the whole line wide open.”

The man at the bar snarled.

“I lost a brother and a cousin at Chickamauga. I’ve been waiting a long time to find a man responsible.”

Another customer tried to stop him but was brushed aside as the man lunged towards Joseph’s table, a knife clutched in

his meaty hand. Malcolm drew in one smooth motion and rested his Remington on the table. No one in the bar was drunk enough to go up against a pistol.

“Good. You have enough sense not to try and dodge a bullet. That bodes well. I did some terrible things in the war, my actions caused the deaths of many and when I die I will pay for them. But I’m not dying tonight. If you want someone responsible for the deaths then you should look no further than Mr Lincoln.”

The man made no reply but watched the barrel intently, as if waiting for a moments weakness. Malcolm didn’t give him an excuse.

“I’m going home now and I would appreciate it if you would wait some time before leaving the establishment, Im not keen on being followed..”

Dragging the semi conscious Joseph with him Malcolm left the bar and after dropping Joseph into the arms of his wife, headed for a hotel on the other side of town. The streets were dark and he was glad of his pistol, taking comfort from its reassuring weight. He purchased a room and fell asleep with the image of his sons leering face fresh in his mind.

“One final rush boys, and the day’ll be ours!” Malcolm shouted at the three hundred men who were crowding the trenches. Waiting, with obvious fear, to take a bullet for the confederacy.

“Those Yankees can’t touch us now!”

With a feeling of suicidal elation, Malcolm climbed out of the trench and stood in full view of the enemy. Bullets whizzed around him and a cannon ball ploughed the earth up twenty meters away from where he stood, beating his shoulders with soil and body parts.

“We’ve got them on the run! Now, for freedom, for your family and for the Confederacy, Charge!”

He set off towards the blue lines of Union troopers at a run, his feet sinking slightly into the dirt. The company rose from their ditch and roared defiance at the enemy. He suddenly became horribly aware of everything around him. The clear blue of the sky, the crisp trees swaying in the stiff breeze, the faces of the men who were shooting at him. He knew that these were his final moments on earth and made peace with his maker. A Union officer opened his mouth and a wave of death hit the charging soldiers. He felt the flesh under his raised arm rip as a bullet hit him, uncaring he ran on, bloodlust and despair sending him hurtling to his doom. Behind him his company were running too. Not as lucky as their commander, dozens fell, their bodies broken by the weapons of war. Farm boys from Tennessee and the Mississippi coated the ground, their screams feeding the god of battle as he gorged on the offering before him.

Malcolm’s heart raced as he ran, not bothering to breathe. He fired his repeater at the enemy line until it clicked, empty, and drew his pistol. His men sent a shattering volley into their Union foes and they broke, falling back in disarray. Yet some still held. The gap had been torn open and now confederate troops flooded into the cracks, widening them. Malcolm screamed, the man gone leaving only the beast in his heart. He knocked a young trooper to the ground and shot him in the face. Another bearded man tried to bayonet him but he kicked him in the groin and shot him twice. His pistol empty, Malcolm drew his sword as all around him men died. Not the deaths of hero’s, no, the deaths of dogs and criminals. Brutal and agonising. Young men killed and died in a ditch no wider than a few feet. Slowly Malcolm returned from a state of berserker rage. The ditch was a charnel house; corpses lay sprawled in a mocking frieze of the horrific combat they had been engaged in. Confederate and Union bodies were intermingled and many were unrecognisable as soldier of either side.

Without a moments hesitation Malcolm issued his orders.

“Reload, one minute and we move again.”

He scrambled up over the mass of corpses and out of the ditch to look at the enemy reforming across the field. Off in the distance, seemingly half a world away, cannon fired. The earth seemed to move under Malcolm, throwing him to the ground. He tried to rise but his legs wouldn’t move. It was at this point that he noticed the shard of ragged metal protruding from his midsection. Joseph ran over to him laughing, but his face went pale when he saw Malcolm’s wound. The beast died, the soldier died, the man died, and only the pain remained. Malcolm screamed as surrendered himself to the agony.

Malcolm lived the events for the hundredth time as he slept. The dream that had haunted him since a brisk day in 1863 brought a familiar sweat to his brow. He could see the faces of the dying men in the surgeon’s tent, and could still feel his own fear. The doctor had shaken his head and Malcolm had thought that he would die. But he was lucky. Most who were helped survived, but many died of infections. Malcolm kept his bandages clean and prevented a fever from setting in. He was back in the lines in a month.

The morning light shone softly through the window. Malcolm splashed cold water from a basin by his bed on his face before moving to get dressed. With a touch of sadness he realised that the only clothes that he had were his uniform. He sighed and pulled on his breeches and shirt, leaving his jacket on the bed. He left the remainder of his kit in the room and thumped downstairs.

The bar was empty and he walked across the room without looking up. As he reached for the door it opened and Joseph burst in.

“Jesus Christ Malcolm, why did you kill him?”

Malcolm blinked, not understanding what he was hearing.

“Who?”

Joseph grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the stairs.

“That Yankee at the bar last night. They found him this morning and now the whole town is baying for your blood.”

Malcolm stopped short of the stairs.

“Joseph, I didn’t kill anyone.”

Joseph resumed dragging him up the stairs.

“That’s irrelevant, that bastard officer that you stood up to yesterday has whipped up the whole town. They’ll lynch you if they find you. I’ve got a horse out back for you, now get your stuff.”

Malcolm took the stairs two at a time and ripped the door of his room open. Joseph followed him in and helped him to roll two blankets around his rifle and sword. He slung his ammunition pouch over his shoulder grabbed his jacket and they both headed back down the stairs. and were greeted by a shocked group of Union soldiers.

There was a shocked looking squad of blue coated soldier at the entrance to the hotel. The sergeant raised his rifle and Malcolm’s instincts kicked in. Four years of war drilled certain responses into a man. Cannon fire made him stoop and duck his head and if a man aimed a rifle at you there was only one thing to do. You shot him dead. As the man collapsed his corporal dashed out of the door, closely followed by the rest of the squad. Joseph swore and grabbed up the fallen mans rifle and ammunition.

“Put them down, their not after you.” hissed Malcolm.

“I’m an accessory to murder, I’m not getting hanged.”

“It’s hung actually.”

A storm of bullets ripped into the building and the two men dived to the floor.

“No, you say hanged, now quick out the back.”

Malcolm sprinted to the backdoor and wrenched at the handle. It was locked. Joseph took it at a run, smashing his full weight into the left side. The lock held but the doorframe snapped, spilling him out into the dust. The two horses were nervous and pawing the dust. The dead sergeants unit burst into the hotel with a roar, psyched up by the memory of their earlier run towards the door. Malcolm let off a few shots with his Remington and was rewarded with a scream. Bullets whizzed through the doorway where he had been standing a moment ago.

The two men swung into the saddle and headed down Main Street at a gallop. More soldiers had arrived, fully armed and ready for battle, but the daylight crowds prevented them from firing lest they hit the innocent. Malcolm turned in the saddle and looked back at the soldiers in their blue uniforms. He grinned and raised two fingers.

#3 Posted by Spectrum (4468 posts) - - Show Bio

nice Mal