In the foreground inside Wilmington's town hall, Marietta, Adeline, Christopher, and William were filtering through the lingering crowd surrounding the dance floor, making their way to the front entrance. The night was quite late, and it was time to return home.
"Why are we stopping?" inquired Adeline as she tightly wrapped her arms around Christopher's, standing on her toes to get a better view and assess the situation.
"I don't know," muttered Christopher as he looked around curiously, arching an eyebrow. "I know 'tis crowded, but still... This is rather odd."
"We've completely stopped," added William.
"Right. But...why, though?" Christopher stared at William with a quizzical look. "What is happening?"
"I don't know," muttered William as he looked over the heads of the crowd. He was the tallest one of the group. He listened, observed the crowd. There were a lot of whisperings, but he couldn't discern them.
"What do you see?" inquired Christopher in a serious tone to match his expression.
"Not much... I'm going to take a closer look. Wait right here."
"But William-" interjected Marietta.
"Keep a close watch on the ladies, Christopher. I'll return."
"William!" Marietta took a step forward, wanting to chase after him, but the crowd stopped her in her tracks. Getting lost was the last thing she wanted to do, especially with her sister at her side. Marietta heavilly sighed.
"Worry not, Miss Marietta," said Christopher as he walked forward and stood beside Marietta, resting a reassuring hand upon her shoulder. "He'll be fine."
"But what if he gets lost in the crowd?"
Christopher chuckled. "William? Lost?" He laughed again. "My dear, Christopher is the last person in this world who would ever get lost, even if he tried to get lost. He knows his way around. He has an excellent sense of direction."
"Hm." Marietta wasn't completely reassured, but she would take what comfort she could from this fact. "I hope you're right," she muttered.
"Is everything alright?" inquired Adeline as she looked around. "I don't know if 'tis simply me, but...everyone looks...worried and afraid." She furrowed her eyebrows.
Marietta instinctively went to her sister to protect and comfort her, taking a hold of Adeline's arm. Marietta recognized the tone in Adeline's voice. It was the same one she'd hear, whenever Adeline was afraid of the loud clasps of thunder when they were children. And the look of fear and uncertainty plastered upon Adeline's face was the same as it was back then. Marietta reassuringly smiled. "You've nothing to worry about. 'Tis simply confusion." Marietta turned her head to look at the front entrance. "There might be broken carriages outside."
"...Or a drunken brawl. There is always one in a city as large as Wilmington." Christopher lamentably sighed as he pulled out his snuff box and took a sniff.
"Yes... So, worry not, my dear sister." Marietta looked at Adeline. "We'll be on our way, shortly. Have patience."
"Indeed," agreed Christopher, nodding at Marietta to signal her to release Adeline. He abruptly took a hold of his love. "You have me at your side," Christopher comforted. "I'll protect you, no matter what happens. I'll see you safely home, my beautiful lamb."
Adeline blushed. "I'm glad you're with me, my Christopher."
Marietta smiled at the two. In her heart, she was grateful that Christopher was here. It certainly helped her, when some of her words did not quite get through to Adeline. Marietta lowered her gaze. I forget we're not children anymore... It is a little difficult to console now than it was back then. She'd always run to me for comfort, for any words to be spoken... Marietta smiled softly. Time has certainly changed.
Suddenly, Marietta shook herself from her deep thoughts when her ears noticed the the whispers grew louder, more panicked. She could pick out a few words: "war", "not safe", "fire", "British". Her heart began to race as she felt her body grow tense. What do they mean? Alarmed, Marietta looked around. She placed a hand over her heart in a vain effort to steady it. "Where's William? Do you see him, Christopher?"
"No, I don't," Christopher answered as he peered through the crowd, looking this way and that way. "Do you see him?"
"Is WIlliam alright? He has been gone awhile..." Adeline frowned.
"He is fine, my love," replied Christopher. "'Tis just that this damnable crowd makes it difficult to find him."
"And here, you said he can't get lost..." Adeline smirked.
Christopher briefly smiled. "He can't get lost. We're just blind, I think. Ah! There he is! I see him." Christopher waved his arms high into the air so WIlliam could find them.
Marietta sighed in relief. "Thank goodness!"
"There you are, my friend! I was worried. You were gone for a while. What ever happened to you?"
"My apologies," panted William. "It was difficult to cut through the crowd."
"Your face..." Christopher frowned. He recognized it well. "You found something, didn't you?"
William's face went pale. He dithered momentarily, looking down at the floor. William raised his head and looked at Christopher, slight pain glinting in his green eyes. "I did," William answered slowly, capturing the attention of his three friends.
Christopher slowly nodded, pursing his lips. "...And?"
William glanced at Marietta and Adeline, trying to read their faces. He sighed heavily. There's no way I can avoid telling them this. I can't save them, can I? Damn it! William sighed again. I don't want to hurt either of them, but they'll know one way or another, especially Marietta... She always finds a way.
"...William?" Marietta furrowed her eyebrows in worry as she placed a hand upon William's shoulder.
"I'm sorry," William painfully said as he stated at Marietta in guilt and pain.
Marietta's head slightly twitched. Her heart picked up a few more paces. "W-What do you mean?"
"I..." William lowered his head. He inhaled deeply and steadied himself. He looked at Marietta again. "Brunswick is burning."
Marietta dropped her fan as her eyes widened. For an instant, she felt Time - no, the entirety of the world - stop. All the whispers, gasps, and fear gushing out of the mouths of the crowd was brought to silence. And before Marietta could bring herself back into reality, she heard William and Christopher yelling Adeline's name. Oh, no! Marietta sharply turned around to see her sister disappear into the crowd. "Adeline!"
Marietta, without a moment to think, bolted for the crowd. I can't lose anyone again.
"No! Wait!" WIlliam managed to quickly grab Marietta's left wrist.
"Let me go!"
"I said, let me go! Now!" Marietta demanded through gritted teeth.
"No! Think before you run off, Marietta! You'll get lost!"
"I don't care! My sister is out there! I need to follow her!"
"It's dangerous out there! If you go out there, the British - "
"I can't lose her, too!" cried Marietta.
"And I can't lose you!" William shot back with more feeling than he had planned to reveal, giving a yank on Marietta's arm. William's words silenced Marietta. He could see it strewn upon Marietta's soft face. Marietta felt the message from William's heart, and William knew it.
"Let me go," Marietta whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I don't want to lose my family..."
The very words and sight of Marietta silenced William. He felt his heart sicken within him like a fruit upon an ancient tree. He shakily inhaled, his grasp on Marietta's arm dithering. William could feel Marietta's fear in every quake of her wrist. William slammed his eyes shut, feeling conflicting emotions clawing at the walls of his heart. William, with some effort, slowly unwrapped his fingers on Marietta's wrist, and he felt Marietta slip away from his hold, disappearing into the crowd.
"William! Why did you let them go?" Christopher looked between the crowd and William in confusion. "We need to go after them!"
"I know!" William snapped. He sighed. William opened his eyes. "We will. Let's find some horses and quick!"
"Good!" Christopher followed his friend through the panicked crowd.
"Knowing Marietta, when something urgent happens, her thinking is rash and reckless. She will have taken the horses we came here with."
Christopher sighed, holding onto his tricorn as the two men plowed through the crowd. "Of course she did. She would do that... You need to keep that lady tied down, my friend."
"Hmph!" There's no need to tell me that. William heavily sighed again. Damn it! Why now? I don't like this. "Quick! We need to hurry!" William glanced behind at Christopher. "This city's on alert. It'll make it harder for us to follow Marietta and Adeline, if we don't get through this damnable crowd in time."
"Right." Christopher narrowed his eyes. "Well, there's only one way to solve this."
"Become the wolf that scares the cattle, of course." Christopher smirked. He pulled out his flintlock pistol and shot it into the air, scattering and scaring the crowd. "Now!"
The two men dashed up the wide staircase and through the front of Wilmington's town hall, heading for the nearest stable to find horses.
Meanwhile, Marietta had taken the spare horse from their carriage and was in pursuit of her sister Adeline, who had surprisingly rode farther than Marietta anticipated she would. Marietta proudly smiled. So, she was paying attention to father's lessons... She knows the roads and shortcuts as well as I. Marietta sighed, before fear returned to plague her heart. "Please, be careful," Marietta whispered to the humid night air. All around her was darkness. The road was only barely visible by the light of the moon. But Marietta knew these lands well. Her father taught her, too. She would not get lost here, nor would her sister Adeline.
Hours passed. Marietta's hair had come undone, to her indifference. She shivered as the cool breeze coursed through her long black hair. She felt the air roll over her bare feet. Her high heels were obstructions to her. Every minute that passed with no sign of her sister ahead if her was a minute of agony stabbing her heart. Questions and worries began to flood her mind.
And then, after riding for what felt like endless miles, Marietta's heart cringed as she halted her horse. The orange and yellow glow of the flames danced upon Marietta's shocked face. The sharp scent of smoke weaved its way through the air to reach Marietta, wrinkling her nose. Marietta's eyes were open wide in fear. She covered her mouth with a hand to stifle a gasp as she felt an onslaught of tears cascade down her rosy cheeks. "It cannot be," Marietta managed to squeeze out of her. Adeline!
Just when Marietta was about to spur her horse into a full gallop, her eyes quickly caught sight of two British infantry soldiers with torches in their hands walking down the road, away from Brunswick, toward her. Marietta frantically looked around for a place to hide. There wasn't much, and she felt time tightening its noose around her neck. Marietta hastily dismounted and cooed her horse to turn around. She slapped its posterior, sending it galloping away from the distant soldiers and to keep herself concealed. Marietta quickly dove into a field of tobacco, keeping herself glued to the dirt as closely as possible. She gathered her ball gown tightly around her. Marietta covered her mouth and kept quiet, watching and listening and ensuring that she was well-hidden in the shadows.
Every footstep grew louder. The voices became clearer. The glow from their torches could be seen. Marietta saw their shadows dancing upon the road. They were near, now.
"You didn't 'ave to do that, did you?" inquired one of the soldiers.
"Why not? She's just a bloody Rebel. She would 'ave spoiled our plans, if I didn't."
"I-I guess you're right..." The soldier rubbed the back of his head. "I feel guilty 'bout it, though. She was lovely."
"Till she stabs you in the back, that is. She's fine~ She's resting near a pond. She just 'as a bullet in 'er back, now." The man smirked. "She won't be breathin' or spoilin' our plans."
...A bullet? Marietta's eyes widened as she muffled a gasp.
"Besides, we should 'ead back," continued the man. "I think it's clear 'ere. I don't see anythin'. Do you?"
"No. I see nothin'."
"Let's turn around an' 'ead back."
Marietta fought to breathe through her hands. She was trembling. Her breathing couldn't keep up with her racing heart. Marietta slammed her eyes shut and prayed with all of her heart that she heard incorrectly. Please, be well. Please, be well. Please, be well! When she felt the soldiers were a safe distance away, Marietta made a run for the pond they mentioned-the only one she knew of-slicing through the fields of tobacco as she kept her head low.
Marietta reached a clearing, noticing a reflection of the moonlight upon the still waters. She could pick out the silhouettes of the cattails lining the edge of the pond. A willow tree leaned over the pond as if weeping. The tips of its branches lightly touched the water like fingers slowly caressing the surface of glass. But there was a shadowy lump resting beside the pond. It almost looked like a rock, but something in Marietta's said otherwise. She felt her stomach sicken. Her heart tightened. Marietta clutched her chest as she tentatively crawled over to it.
Swallowing hard, Marietta managed to force herself to call Adeline's name. There was no response. "Adeline," Marietta called out again. Silence lingered, still. "Adeline...?" Her voice was tremulous. Marietta sharply inhaled as her face wrinkled in sorrow as her eyebrows furrowed. Answer me, please! "Adeline. Adeline, I'm here." Marietta slowly stretched forth a quivering hand to touch the shoulder of her sister. It was cold and her hand recoiled as Marietta gasped. Although it was dark, Marietta could feel a cold wetness covering her hand. Her hand shook as she stared fearfully at it. Blood. "Oh, no~" Marietta covered her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes again.
Marietta scooted away and curled up, covering her ears as she rocked herself back and forth, shaking her head. "No, no, no. No." She slammed her eyes shut, fighting to shut reality out, fighting to silence the voices "she's dead" in her mind. "She's not. She's not. She's not!" Marietta gritted her teeth, still fighting to hold back her tears.
But Marietta's stubbornness couldn't win against the overwhelming force of her sorrow. Reality came crashing down upon her as the ground of Marietta's world crumbled beneath her feet. Marietta felt her heart cave inwardly. Waves of tears escaped her eyes as her heart screamed out-sounds of anguish, of pain now audible. Everything within Marietta crumbled-her composure, her heart, her collected mind, her soul... Marietta let her heart bleed. Marietta threw herself over her sister's body, hugging it with all the strength she had left within her, rocking to-and-fro. "Come back," she said, her voice cracking. "Please, come back." Another wave of tears gushed out of Marietta. "Don't leave me alone. I don't want to be alone." More tears fled. "I need you."
But Marietta knew in her heart that her words would never be heard. Marietta's heart died-she could not feel anything, except for the sharpness and suffocating cruelty of her despair. Marietta could feel her heart wither away with each passing second. The truth of reality became clearer, too, and a little too fast than her heart and mind wanted to accept. "Adeline. Adeline!" Marietta repeated her sister's name over and over as if it was a ritual to bring her back. But she wasn't going to come back. No. Adeline would never come back. Adeline was gone, along with Marietta's world and all the light and warmth it held. Her laughter was gone; her smiles were gone; her scolding from being embarrassed was gone-she'd never hear and see that again. Everything she held just a couple of hours ago...was, now, completely stolen from Marietta in a blink of an eye. What was a day of joy and fun became Marietta's end. It was a darkened world, now.