There was a quiet crunch as Will's black boot took a cautious step into the foot of fallen snow. He paused for a moment, his eyes scanning the trees ahead of him, none of which had avoided being heavily weighted down with the white powder. He held his rifle tightly with both hands, prepared to shoot at any sign of danger.
The war had officially begun last year, when a declaration had been penned and signed by a group of highly esteemed men. It was now early in the December of 1777. Two years had passed since Will had broken his apprenticeship with a man by the name of Samuel T. Wellington to join the army.
A twig snapped a few yards in front of Will and he froze for only a moment before taking a quick step back, like an alerted fox, and throwing his arm out to his side to stop the five men behind him. But he was careful to keep silent just to be sure it was not an animal. The distinct click of a hammer being pulled sent up red flags in Will's mind and he didn't waste another minute. "Take cover!" he screamed, just as the boom of a rifle shook the forest. Will dropped to his chest instantly in the cold snow and the tree beside him received the ball. Splinters of wood went flying everywhere, raining down on Will's back and head. Then there was total silence. Will stayed where he was for a moment, then grabbed up his rifle and dived behind the nearest tree. Behind him, his fellow soldiers did the same.
Will carefully peaked out at the area the shot had come from and saw a flash of scarlet. He quickly took aim and fired. The rifle shot backwards into his shoulder, like always. The first time he had shot a rifle, its reaction had surprised him and he hadn't been prepared for the large bruise and pain he received. A cry of pain rang out through the trees and the British soldier collapsed to the ground in pain. Jack Normandy, one of Will's comrades, fired another shot in the trees and hit a black British boot. The man swore angrily and shot back. Luckily, the British soldier's vision had been blurred with pain and he had missed the desired target.
How many Brits were in there, Will wondered? Another streak of red flashed to his right and then another to his left. They were being surrounded! "Open fire!" Will cried, aiming his rifle at the man at his right and missing him. All around him men were shooting. One ball whistled past his face, barely missing his ear. He dropped to the snow and rolled behind a log, propping the slender barrel of his gun on the decaying wood and firing at every scarlet coat he saw. There must have been at least ten of the British soldiers, that was twice the number of men Will had with him.
"Johnny," Will yelled over the noise of gun fire to the kid beside him. The blue-eyed sixteen-year-old looked up. "Tell Charley to take down that lobster that's trying to come up behind us!" Johnny Law nodded and began crawling towards a man about Will's age with thick, black hair.
Will didn't stop to watch. He continued shooting, and Charley must have done his job, because the redcoat never fired from behind.
All at once, the shooting stopped and the forest became quiet. As soon as the smoke cleared and Will saw that all of the lobsters were down, he slowly stood and began walking around. He went onto one knee and felt one of The British men's necks for a pulse. The man was dead. Two of Will's own men had also died; Fred Williams and Jared Cox. Luke Campbell had received a bullet in his thigh and whimpered in pain as Charley lifted him into his arms. "We'll fix him up back at camp," Will said.
Will took one last look through the trees and saw one of the enemy soldiers stirring. He picked up his gun and crept closer to him. The Brit could hardly be called a man. He could not have been any older then sixteen. "Don't hurt me!" he begged, throwing his arms over his face as Will approached him. His shin was torn up pretty bad.
"Let's go, Will," Charley said, his face contorted with the strain of holding Luke in his arms.
"We can't just leave him here," Will said, indicating the boy at his feet.
"Well, shoot him!"
Will shook his head and lowered himself onto one knee. "What's your name, boy?" he asked.
"N-Nathan," the brunet replied, his eyes shining with fright, "Nathan Wigsbey."
"How old are you, Nathan?"
Will gave a sad smile. "You don't have to lie to me, Nathan. I'm not your Commanding Officer. How old are you?"
Nathan's eyes lowered, "sixteen," he answered miserably.
Will nodded. It was not uncommon for a boy to lie about his age to be accepted into the army. "Think you can walk?"
Nathan shook his head. Will slipped his arm around the boy's torso, just under the armpits, and helped him up to his good leg.
"How about now?"
Nathan winced in pain and beads of sweat appeared on his brow, despite the cold, winter air around him. Will broke off a thick stick from the brunch above his head and put it in Nathan's mouth.
"Here," he said, "if you bite hard on this it'll take your mind off the pain."
Charley looked at Will in disbelief. "What are you doing?!" he demanded.
"Taking him back with us," Will replied, helping to support Nathan as he limped over to where Charley stood with Luke and Johnny.
"What for? Just shoot him and get it over with."
Will shook his head no. "I don't kill for convenience. We'll take him in as a prisoner of war."
Charley shook his head, his thick, black hair falling into his face. "I don't believe this!" he cried out in exasperation. "Well hurry up then! Luke's losing a lot of blood."
Will's army was camped about a mile away. They had heard shooting in the woods and General Alan had sent Will with a few others to go check it out.
They emerged from the trees and ran into the bivouac as soon as they saw it. "Hurry!" Charley yelled at the men near enough to hear, "get a medic! Luke's been shot!" Men scurried around Charley and Luke was taken from his arms and lain down on a table as a medic hurried from his tent, putting on his white coat and carrying a little box of medical instruments.
Will swallowed as several eyes caught sight of Nathan and his scarlet coat with the white x across the chest. "What's he doing here?" Jacob Mellone asked Will.
"He's our prisoner," Will replied. "And he's hurt. Get another medic for him."
Jacob shook his head. "He doesn't need no medic."
"Oh yes he does," Medic Oliver spoke up from behind Jacob. He came forward and took Nathan from Will, leading him over to a chair and sitting him down on it.
"How does it look, Oliver?" Will asked after the medic had had a good look at Nathan's calve.
"He's a lucky, kid," Oliver replied, looking over the bloody shin a bit more through his rectangular spectacles before turning to his bag to look for something. "I don't think we'll have to amputate it," he went on, "the bone isn't broken. I think it looks worse then it really is." He pulled another pair of spectacles out and replaced his old ones with them. Then he looked over Nathan's leg a bit more. "After it's cleaned off, I just need to do a bit of stitching up. After that, we'll just have to see what happens. It may get infected, but we'll think about that later. Now, Alexander, fetch me a bucket of water."
Will gave Nathan a reassuring pat on the shoulder before walking away to let Oliver do his work. He headed to the General's tent to report what had happened.
That night, as the man ate their dinner around fires, Will saw Nathan sitting away in the cold, being guarded by four other men. He walked over and sat down beside the British boy.
"So what made you want to join the army?" he asked.
"I didn't," was the simple reply.
"Well you lied to get in, didn't you?"
Nathan looked down at his feet, one now wrapped up in bandages. "All my friends were joining," he said, "they were all off fighting. They kept telling me to join them. So I did."
Will ate his food in silence as he thought about that. Then he realized that Nathan didn't have any food. He wasn't really hungry so he asked, "do you want this, Nathan?"
Nathan's eyes widened. He hadn't eaten in days. Without a single word, and far too hungry for manners, the boy snatched the plate of food from Will's hands and couldn't seem to cram it down his throat fast enough.
Will smiled and looked off at the other men, sitting around their fires. "So," he said, leaning back and crossing one ankle over the other, "have any brothers or sisters at home?"
"Three sisters," Nathan replied with a mouth full of food, "one brother."
"Wow. So, are you the oldest?"
The boy nodded. "Trisha, and Rebecca are twins. Laura's eight, just one year younger then them. Matthew's eleven tomorrow. How about you?"
Will shook his head. "Nah. My mom died when I was two and my dad raised me on a freight ship. When I was seventeen I lived in Boston as an apprentice to a man named Wellington."
Nathan had now finished his food and looked at the naked plate sadly. He set it aside and looked up at Will. "You became an apprentice when you were seventeen?"
Will laughed and nodded. "My apprenticeship only needed to last three years because of it."
"How old are you now?"
Nathan did some quick calculations in his head. "So you just recently got out of your apprenticeship and joined the army?"
Will shook his head. "No. Two years ago I ran away with a friend of mine, Ben Tremain."
"Where is he now?"
"I'm not sure," Will sighed, "I haven't seen him in almost a year now. Every time a soldier from another area joins us, I'll ask if he knows of a Ben Tremain, but so far I haven't had any luck."
Nathan nodded. "My friend, Patrick, died a few weeks back."
"It's alright. I'm learning to accept death."
Will nodded sadly. "That's what you have to do out here to get by."
Both were silent for a while, then Will stood up and yawned. "I think I'll turn in for the night. Who knows when I'll have to get up?"
Nathan gave a small smile. "Good night, Sir."
"Will," Will corrected, "call me Will."