Protection in a Wild Land
Working title so far. I have been wanting to write this for a little while but was really inspired by another story I read on here recently to get going with it.
Warnings (mostly later on): M/M relationships, violence... Individual warnings in certain chapters but none for this one.
All main characters mentioned are fictional - some minor characters mentioned are real people put in to provide more of a background.
Dakota Territory, spring 1867, modern day Wyoming
Major Everett Bailey hadn't seen a single building since leaving Fort Laramie over a week ago. Since then, it had been endless prairie land, fractured sometimes by tall pine trees and broken smatterings of rock. The temperature had been high, the air sticking to everything it came into contact with, and for the most part of the long, tiresome journey, the landscape ahead seemed to waver in strange strips, hills becoming just green splodges against the painfully blue sky. This is what it must be like to go mad, he kept thinking each time they staggered over another swell in the earth. There was no end to it, and no beginning either. Just land. Pure, untainted land.
The thought would have made him shudder had he not been blessed with travelling next to a wagon inhabited by a family with an infant who bawled and screamed for its Mother on a periodical basis. He swore the little rascal could shriek louder than any artillery commander he had ever known during the War and he was continuously woken up during the night because of it, causing him to bury his head under his small bag and curse himself for ever agreeing to come here.
He didn't even know where 'here' was though.
The map in the wagon told them that they were somewhere in Dakota Territory, isolated in the middle of a forbidding landscape and surrounded – no doubt, observed – by the indigenous tribes of the area. The commander of Fort Laramie had put it differently, saying there hadn't been any major trouble since the end of the previous year, but Bailey was wise enough now to see through his superiors' glossy words.
The forts around this area had done nothing for the protection of the battered old trails winding their ways through the prairies and deserts. In fact, the mere presence of the forts along the roads had incensed the Indians even more and in some posts, Bailey had heard the soldiers were becoming prisoners in their own constructions. Fort Phil Kearny, Fort CF Smith, Fort Reno, all of them were slowly descending into uselessness. A part of him didn't understand why the little detachment he was travelling with were even being sent out here anymore but the other part of him pined when he saw their weary faces.
He knew the feeling. After the War ended, he was left out to the dogs. When he arrived back East with his company, he was greeted by the cheers of the people he used to know. He tried to settle into his life again yet he found he didn't know these people anymore. They hadn't changed – none of them had; their smiles were still the same, their voices were still the same and their names were still the same but Bailey felt empty around them, as if the minnie ball that had destroyed so many of his friends' lives right before his eyes had driven a hole into his stomach. He couldn't sit still, he couldn't sleep, he couldn't even eat sometimes.
It frightened him but each time he woke up in the morning and looked out across the streets where his old neighbours were opening up their shops and businesses for the day, expecting nothing more than a few sales and maybe the odd argument with an upset customer, he felt as though something was out of place. He jumped every time a glass smashed, watched with wide eyes as lightning streaked in bright forks across the sky and each morning, he woke up at the first signs of dawn, waiting for the bugle but being greeted by the cockerel instead.
He was a military man. The town knew that, his army knew that, the country knew that but it took him to be brought back into civilian life to know that himself. His body was in Maine but his mind was still in Virginia and no matter how much he tried, he just couldn't adjust back.
It was two years since the War ended now. One year of slow civilian life, half a year of post-War recruiting into the now stumbling army that had been through hell and back and now he was here.
And he still didn't know wherever 'here' was.
Fort DeLacey was somewhere up ahead though, a tiny dot hardly any bigger than the grains of sand which whirled around the wagon's creaking wheels on the Dakota Territory map. That's where they were headed. Major Bailey, one young surgeon, four enlisted men, one Sergeant with his family and the required escort they had been granted when leaving Fort Laramie. From what he'd heard, Fort DeLacey wasn't suffering as badly as the others along the Platte road. Their supplies were good, they had a sufficient number of able-bodied men and from the sound of a letter that his fellow Officer in the wagon had read aloud one night on the journey, it was as close to home as an isolated little military fort could be.
Major Bailey would be serving on the staff of the commander of the fort, General Sanborn Prior. He had been requested there, the words 'aide de camp to General George B McClellan' on his record still getting him far, and though he had never met General Prior before, the men at Fort Laramie had kept him informed while he had been on his short stay there.
A lot of it had been the idle type of gossip that some of the older commanders had referred to as being strung along the 'Officer's grapevine' that ran the Westward routes between the forts. Bailey didn't like to judge people until he had actually come into contact with them but he had certainly heard a well rounded view of the man already. Some of it could have been truth, and some of it was blatantly fiction, yet as the wagon train groaned along the perilously unstable landscape, he had much time to contemplate it all.
As outgoing as the majority of it was though, the sentiment still made him smile to himself. He'd missed how caught up the younger soldiers got in the wild tales of their associates.
Fort DeLacey, Dakota Territory
General Sanborn Prior sighed emphatically as he slicked back his hair in the mirror. As if his day wasn't going bad enough, there was a crack in it, lined along the side of the glass and making his immaculate office behind him seem distorted and twisted. After all he'd done, it bit down incessantly on his nerves that there was still this little mistake. Dandy would have to get that fixed.
Flicking one disobedient strand of ebony hair out of his worryingly creased eyes, he straightened his collar and stretched his back, hearing one or two snaps of protest. He groaned quietly at the sudden rush of pain and saw Dandy, his obedient young aide, wincing in the mirror though it could have been just the warp in the otherwise gleaming glass.
'' That doesn't sound too pleasing, General,'' he said in that ever-gentle voice of his, approaching with his jacket in his hands. Prior merely smiled at the statement and shook his head.
'' I'm getting old, Dandy,'' he said simply and patted the boy's shoulder once he had helped him ease into his jacket. '' It'll happen to you one day.''
Dandy smiled and lowered his head, glancing at the papers stacked up on the General's desk. On top of all the dispatches and mail from the Dakota Territory's commander General Terry was a document with the name Major Everett W Bailey written in rather a scrawled hand. He dared to bring up the subject again with Prior.
'' Everything is prepared for Major Bailey's arrival, General,'' he half-muttered, returning to Prior to tie the sash around his waist. He couldn't help noticing the flash in the General's eyes. The man sighed and flicked back that same piece of hair again.
'' May I remind you that it is not just his arrival, Lieutenant,'' he said with that hint of sternness in his voice now. '' Along with him is another long-needed Surgeon, an Sergeant and his wife and child and four Privates. He may be the highest ranking Officer among them but that doesn't give him the right to be the only name mentioned.''
'' Yes, Sir, but may I remind the General that he will be his aide.''
'' As you keep reminding me, Dandy.'' Prior sighed again in a typically dramatic way and brushed past his Lieutenant, stopping to push his own chair back under the desk. Dandy turned and folded his hands behind his back. '' But if I had known sooner – or at least, worked this whole shambles out sooner – I doubt Mr Bailey would have had the chance.''
'' General, you mustn't be so prejudiced against him. Especially when you have yet to meet the man.'' Dandy had been holding this line ever since Prior had started his gradually intensifying complaints about Major Bailey. The boy seemed only to want to see the good in people. Prior had been a military man long enough to know when to search and when not to search for these traits. Dandy's naivety might have made him smile had he not been so frustrated already.
'' I have met enough of his relatives to form a clear picture of him. They say things like – these – run in the family.''
'' Things like what, General?''
'' Dear Lord, boy, have you not been listening to me?'' Prior paused his pacing, the type of pacing he didn't even realise he was doing until he stopped, and ran a hand across his forehead. He could feel the first sheen of sweat forming there already. He certainly couldn't look like this at the approaching dinner. '' I knew his both his Uncle and his cousin during the War and heaven forbid if I ever happen to meet them again. The two most obnoxious and arrogant men I have ever had the 'privilege' to come across as Colonel Wright stated it. The most ill-conceived orders ever given I heard spout from their mouths and I doubt they cared much about their men, just glory, glory, glory.''
Dandy looked down at the first flares of Prior's oncoming rant and felt initial pools of dread starting to form in his stomach. This dinner could not turn out to be the smooth and polite event he wanted it to be. But Prior merely exhaled slowly and Dandy was relieved, at least partly, as he risked a glance up to see a smile, albeit a rather strained one, beginning to pull at his lips.
'' My apologies, Dandy. I must not trail off like that. You know my feelings already.'' The smile beginning to show finally consumed his mouth and he crossed the garish rug to his aide. A hand came down on his shoulder and his eyes flashed once more as he looked at him. '' You must promise to restrain me at dinner.''
It was meant as a joke but it did nothing for the worry still gurgling in Dandy's belly. He attempted something of a half hearted smile, knowing his General would expect a response, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Prior moved away and granted permission for the visitor's entrance. A young Private came in, fresh with a salute to his commanding officer.
'' General, Sir, there's a wagon train comin' in.''
'' That'll be Major – the detachment,'' Prior announced to nobody in particular. Dandy noticed the stumble he made. '' Thank you, Private. May you meet them at the gates and tell Major Bailey he will have a tour tomorrow, and then bring him up to my dining room. Lieutenant Rowland has been ordered to help with the organisation of the arrival. It is your job to receive Major Bailey.''
'' Yes, Sir.'' The Private saluted and exited the Office. Prior straightened his collar once again and then allowed Dandy to open the door for him. He granted himself a fleeting glance in the mirror again.
'' After you, Lieutenant. I wager we have a long evening on our hands.''