Chapter Eight

Training did not become easier for Eva, but as she practiced, each part of the drills slowly began to ingrain itself in her mind. She could pivot in an about face as quickly as the others, and she could load her gun in less than a half a minute. She had finally received her own rifle—muskets were too inaccurate for the marksmen in the light company. It was the first sign that she had been accepted into the company, and she appreciated it.

Her uniform was another matter entirely. She did not appreciate the worn, oversized coat, or the long, grayish trousers. She knew they had once been white. The fraying linen shirt smelled faintly of some other person and it had stains of perspiration along the neck and under the sleeves. Complaining would do nothing; they were already short on uniforms and Eva was far smaller than any of the other men. The quartermaster's clerk had promised a better fit if he received one, but he expressed his doubts. In the meantime, he suggested that she attempt to adjust the uniform herself.

Unfortunately, she did not sew. Her mother had found her lack of interest in stitching very trying and had eventually given up. Now, years later, any attempts she made at sewing were lumpy and tended to fall apart quickly. James was probably better at stitching, even with only one hand.

He did not comment on her uniform until after training one day, before the evening meal. They had all been dismissed early to fetch their week's pay from the quartermaster, but neither James nor Eva went. Her wages were still paying off her uniform and supplies, and James's pay had been docked as punishment for insubordination. His conversation with Worthing had already had other consequences as well, most notably a beating the morning after. He was still walking stiffly after his twenty stripes.

"Your uniform is far too large," he murmured as he and Eva meandered through the camp, going in no particular direction.

She sighed. She already knew her uniform was too large. She'd had it for a few weeks already, and James had seen her in it several times. She couldn't believe he was only just noticing. "It was the smallest they had," she grumbled.

James seemed to realize that she was in a bad mood, and he added brightly, "Well, I'm sure you can fix it somehow."

"I don't sew," she said blandly.

He laughed suddenly. "I know. You mend a stocking like it's a sail. I have blisters, you know, from walking in those stockings you mended for me."

She stared long and hard at him before stating, "You shouldn't have asked me to do it. I warned you."

"Aye, and I should have listened," James agreed with a mournful sigh.

Eva ignored him.

After a moment, he turned her way with the beginnings of a smile, only to scrunch his face up in sudden disgust. "Ach, Ross, you smell like a horse's rear end."

She made a face at him. "Stow it. I haven't had time to wash my uniform yet." She scowled and looked away, but she wasn't as upset by the insult as she was by how naturally "Ross" came out of his mouth instead of "Evalyn." She supposed it was a good thing—getting caught because of a simple slip wouldn't do—but it still caused her a small measure of grief. It had only been a few months; how would they survive two whole years?

"What's wrong?" James's concerned voice pulled her out of her reverie.

She shook her head. "Nothing. Just a thought."

"One you'd care to share?"

"No."

"Oh." James paused for a moment before tentatively pointing at something ahead. In the course of their walking, they had come up to the light company's tent, and he nodded toward it. "Go change out of that uniform. We have a bit of daylight left. Let's get that odious thing cleaned up."

She graced him with a brief, surprised expression before she ducked into the tent to change. James waited patiently for her to emerge, then he led her, uniform in hand, toward the camp-followers' camp.

The camp-followers were something that Eva had only recently come to learn about. She had not realized it, but an army was not only composed of soldiers and officers, but medics, cooks, and washwomen. Most of the camp-followers were related to soldiers in some way, and they travelled at the back of the army, helping in any way they could, whether it was cooking, cleaning, or entertaining the soldiers when they had time off. Many of them were women—sisters or wives that didn't want to be left behind.

"Don't you wish you had known about this before you signed up for the army?" James inquired as they crossed out of the somewhat orderly military camp and into the chaotic civilian camp.

"Don't start this again," she growled. He had already brought up the subject before. "I told you, I don't want to be somebody's washwoman. With my luck, I'd end up cleaning Worthing's dirty undergarments."

James made a face that looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh or scowl. "You'd at least be safe," he muttered.

"Not really," she countered. "At least as a soldier I have a gun to defend myself with. Now be quiet and help me find somebody who can wash this uniform."

James fell silent, scanning the masses of tents and moving bodies with narrowed green eyes. This part of the camp always seemed busy, but since it was the day the soldiers got paid, it was especially so.

"This way," he finally said, taking her by the arm and leading her through, tight, crooked rows of tents. "They'll be closer to the stream."

"I hope you brought money," she stated absently, removing her arm from his grasp and rifling through her pockets with a frown. "I haven't yet received any of my pay."

"You're still paying for that uniform," James explained.

"This is the most expensive article of clothing I have ever purchased," she grumbled. "Do you think they charge extra for the smell?"

He let out a soft, short laugh. "Well I did bring money. I'll probably have just enough."

"I suppose I could just wash it myself..." Eva mused.

"No," James interrupted quickly. "Jumping in the stream with your uniform on does not count as washing it. It would be all wrinkled, and you'd probably catch a cold. Let's be safe and let a real washwoman take care of it."

"It isn't as if they can wash it any better than I can," she said. "I mean, they just put it in a tub of stream water and poke it around with a stick."

"Yes, but they have something you don't."

"Oh? And what is that?" Eva retorted.

"Soap."

The glare she gave James could have turned him to stone if he had been looking. Instead, he was preoccupied with navigating through a crowd of soldiers that had just come from the military camp. He managed to slip by them, but Eva was caught in the middle of them, and by the time she pushed her way through the ranks, she had lost sight of James.

"Great," she grumbled. Standing alone, in the middle of a crowd of people, Eva whirled around in a circle, trying to regain her bearings. Suddenly, she realized how alike all the grayish canvas tents looked. There were no familiar faces to help her either. After a moment, she decided she ought to ask for directions from somebody and hope that they had seen James pass by.

Just then a woman stumbled past her, and Eva quickly caught her by the arm. "Wait, please. Did you see a man pass by here? He had longish dark hair and a hook for a hand—"

The woman, only slightly taller than her, slowly turned toward her. "I'm sorry, I can't help you."

Eva didn't respond. She was too busy staring.

"Are you all right?" the woman inquired, a streak of worry suddenly showing on her worn, dirty face. "Is something wrong?"

Eva loosened her grip on the woman's arm and took a step back. She knew that face. "You..." she breathed. "You're..." Her voice failed her, and she shook her head. "I'm sorry," she mumbled before she turned and ran.

She didn't stop running, dodging between people, tents, and animals until she was well out of the camp and completely alone. The small stream gurgled nearby, so Eva approached it and sat on a large, flat stone, staring into the water. It was moving too fast to catch a reflection; she was nothing but a shadow on the surface of the water.

Clutching her arms around herself, she took several deep breaths and closed her eyes. She didn't know what to think, much less what to do. She only hoped that the woman hadn't followed her.

Finally, after what felt like forever, Eva heard a familiar voice call to her.

"Curse it, Evalyn, where the devil have you been?"

She stood and whirled around, sighing in relief at the sound of her name. "James! You don't know how relieved I am to see you."

"Aye," he replied as she threw herself into his arms, "I think I do. You were the one who abandoned me, after all."

Eva let out a hollow laugh and drew away from him reluctantly. She hoped nobody was hiding in the trees on the other side of the stream, watching her as she had embraced James. "I beg to differ," she retorted. "How long was it before you realized I wasn't following you anymore?"

"Immediately," he said flippantly.

"Honestly."

He sighed. "Look here. It didn't take long to realize you weren't behind me when suddenly I didn't hear you complaining anymore." An amused smile flickered over his face, but it only lasted for a moment. "You're shaking," he observed with concern.

"It's nothing," she replied with a wave of her hand.

"What happened? You look troubled. Terrified, really." He lifted her chin with the flat of his hook and peered intently into her eyes. "Tell me."

Eva swallowed tightly when she realized that she couldn't keep this particular secret. "I saw her, James."

"Who?"

"My mother."

He frowned pensively. "You're sure? There were a lot of people in that camp. You could have mistaken her—"

"No." Eva shook her head vehemently. "No. I stopped her to ask for directions. I was as close to her as I am to you now. I saw her face so clearly." She fixed her gaze on the ground. "She looked... tired."

"What did you do?" James asked softly.

Eva scoffed. "What do you think I did? I ran for my life!"

"What?" he exclaimed loudly. "Why in the blazes did you do that? Why didn't you tell her it was you? Did she not recognize you immediately?"

"No!" Eva interrupted his rapid string of questions in a voice as loud as his and much more piercing. "And I didn't want her to! What do you think my mother would say if she knew I was here, disguised as a soldier? Do you think she'd take that well? I highly doubt it!"

"You at least owe her an explanation," James retorted. "You've been gone for over a year, you know."

"Well this is not the place to explain," she said firmly. "Besides, do you know what this means?"

"That you have serious problems with your family?"

Ignoring his jibe, Eva replied, "My father is here, James. He's here. I know it. Why else would my mother be here?"

"But you're not going to look for him, are you," he stated.

She frowned pensively. "No. I can't. Not like this."

James pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in frustration. "I don't understand you. Do you know what I would give to see my family? My parents?"

"And why can't you?" she retorted without thinking.

He looked at her with a mixture of anger and pain. "They died. Long before you were even born."

She put a hand over her mouth, but it was too late to take back what she had said. She knew he had no family, but she had forgotten for a moment how long it had probably been since he last saw them. He was technically only thirty and three years of age, but he had been trapped for nearly fifty years on an island where time did not pass at all. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"Forget it." He turned away and added, "If you're going to get that uniform washed, we had better go now before more soldiers get the same idea."

She nodded and followed James silently. Neither spoke to the other until after her uniform had been washed and they were on their way back to their camp.

"I really am sorry, James," she whispered, walking beside him, trotting to keep up with his long stride.

"I told you to forget it," he grunted, but he seemed a little less angry than before. After a moment, he glanced her way and added, "I just don't want you to miss out on something that I wish I had had."

"I know," she murmured.

"Do you miss them?" he inquired.

"Of course I do. But I'm also terrified of telling them about everything!"

"About me."

"That's part of it, yes," she admitted. "And no, before you even start, it isn't because I'm ashamed of you. Besides, how do I explain why I've been gone for so long and how I got here?"

He shrugged. "You tell the truth."

"Oh, right. That will go swimmingly, I'm sure!" she exclaimed, only to receive several odd looks from a group of soldiers as they passed by. Continuing in a hushed voice, she said, "Look, I can't just walk up to my mother and tell her that the reason I haven't seen her in more than a year is that I was trapped on an enchanted island, I married a pirate with one hand—no offense—and then joined the army."

He didn't respond for a long time, but when they reached the officers' tent, he growled, "Come here."

Eva didn't have a choice. James grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into the dark tent. After quickly checking to make sure they were alone, he kissed her forcefully. "You infuriate me, do you know that?" he hissed.

"Mmm..." she moaned in a noncommittal voice, her eyes closed. She wanted him to kiss her again. She had forgotten how good it felt, how every problem seemed so much smaller when he kissed her.

"Look at me, will you?" He shook her impatiently. "We don't have much time—"

"Which is why you had better kiss me again," she interrupted, putting her arms around his neck.

"...infuriating..." he grumbled, but he didn't deny her a second kiss. It had been a long time.

Losing track of time was easy when they were so preoccupied, and it was only sheer luck that Eva heard footsteps approaching before the tent door flapped open. She had just barely extracted herself from James's grip and slid out through the back of the tent when Captain Curtis entered.

"Lieutenant," the captain greeted James. Eva, standing just outside the tent, heard the man flop down onto his cot and sigh heavily.

"Captain Curtis. What brings you here so early?" James inquired.

"I just finished a meeting with Major Cunningham," the captain replied in a tired voice.

"Was it that exhausting, sir?"

There was a long pause. Eva considered leaving before somebody noticed her listening at the back of the officers' tent, but for some reason she stayed. She wanted to hear what the captain had to say.

"Yes, it was. In fact, take a page out of my book and turn in early tonight. You'll thank me."

"Why is that, sir?"

"Because we're breaking camp tomorrow."

"Breaking camp?" Eva heard James echo in surprise and dread. "What for?"

"We are to meet the main camp in three days' time. We're marching to the Front."