18-year-old James Morrison walked in the front door of his house, pushing his long, dark hair out of his brown eyes, water from the buckets he was carrying sloshing out onto his long, slender legs. He sighed, and rubbed his side ruefully, wincing. His ornery personality and quick, fierce temper had escaped him one to many times that morning, and he had become involved in a fight with his older brother, Stephen. Though he had never gotten on with people in general, he seemed to disagree with Stephen most of all. His younger sister, Charity, always said that he had plenty of common sense, but it was drowned out with his obstinacy.
Putting the buckets down by his father's bed, he looked out of the window. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the grass shone with remaining dew and the previous night's rain. The cows in the green grazed happily, and he could hear his black horse, Star, whinnying from the barn. It was too bad that days like this had to be spoiled by war – just twenty days ago, April 19th, battle broke out with England. It was really too bad. But at least there wasn't any fighting here in New York. Or, yet, at least.
James was brought back from his thoughts by a loud, hacking cough from behind him. Turning on his heel, he could see his father, lying in bed, and his stormy gray eyes were on the fresh water. James's face turned serious as he helped his father sip some of the clear fluid. The man was very sick with the Whooping Cough, and there was a horribly real chance that he could die.
"Thank you, boy," said the old man in a low, raspy voice. But James left the room only to delay further conversation. No matter how much old Charles Morrison tried to hide it, it hurt something terrible to speak, and his son knew it.
As he walked through the open wood doorway, he crashed into his brother, and James eyed him with a look of venom. Stephen just sighed – he'd been doing a lot of sighing lately – he didn't need to ask why his brother was annoyed – angry, even. Still, as much as he didn't want to, James listened through the wall to the conversation.
"Father, how are you feeling?" James didn't hear a response – only another cough, which was answer enough. He could just imagine the grimace that would surely have formed on his brother's face. "Father?" Stephen continued on, "Charity sent me to tell you – Mr. Allen wants to see you." Though James only met his father's business partner, Ethan Allan, two or three times, he didn't like the old man very much. His temper was worse than James's was, and something told him that the man couldn't be trusted. There seemed to be something evil lingering about him.
"Let him in," the man groaned. His voice was still very hoarse, and barely audible. Stephen rushed past James, not taking notice of him (for which James was glad of – it wouldn't matter to Stephen, but for some reason, James would never live it down) and returned a minute later, the stout man by his side. Ear to the wall, James could make out the discussion.
"Morning to you, Morrison," said Allen, "And how are you on this excelent day?" James silently prayed for his father not to respond – it would hurt him even more – but the pride that he was famous for, the pride that he had passed on to James, got the better of Charles Morrison. To think of it, he shouldn't have even let Allen see him like this.
"Well enough, I suppose, thank you, and you?" Allen grunted a reply, but it was so fast and low that James couldn't make it out.
"Mr. Allen, what are you doing here? Father is terribly ill, didn't you know?" That was Stephen, but he was almost immediately silenced.
"I come," said the blacksmith, "to see my business partner, Charles Morrison, strictly on business terms. It seems, Morrison, that you owe me a favor. I got you out of a spot of trouble with the governor several years ago, if you remember correctly –"
"My memory is as good as it ever was, Allen."
"Right then. But anyway, it's high time for you to pay me back."
"Very well. What, exactly, is it that you want?"
"I have come to request," said Ethan Allen in a low, clear voice, "your boys."
For a moment, James forgot that he was supposed to be hidden, and nearly cried out, but he stopped himself in time. His father, however, started.
"What?" he yelled. Or, rather, yelled as best he could in the condition he happened to be in.
"You heard me well enough, Morrison, but I'll explain myself. The news of Lexington and Concord could hardly have traveled far through Lobster ears. They'll never expect anything – I'm taking a handful of boys up to Ticonderoga – the British station – and trying to capture the fort. There's a good chance that it will work, so with any luck, we'll get our noses further into this war than the redcoats have time to." There was a silence. Allen broke it. "Remember, Charles, you owe me."
The man in the bed sighed.
"Very well, Allen, but if anything – anything – happens to those boys, mark my words, I won't rest until you are dead and buried. I don't want my family involved in this war any more than they have to be." James, behind the thick wall, could clearly see Allen's tight-lipped, wry smile.
James and Stephen took the rest of the afternoon to pack in silence. James wasn't in any mood to talk, and Stephen knew his brother well enough – he wasn't about to annoy him.
But Charles Morrison, ever since the unwanted and unpleasant visit from Ethan Allan, had seemed to decline in health. His cough was now so dreadful that he could barely get words out to request water to wet his bone-dry throat. He couldn't sit up – his head would spin horribly, and often, he seemed to slip into delirium. It would be difficult enough for the two boys to leave their father only in the care of Charity, who was only thirteen – they felt terrible about it.
But no matter how horrible he felt about that, he couldn't help but worry more about his own life. Through no decision of his own, he had been forced into this war headfirst – he could be killed – so young, too.
Suddenly, after what seemed like days of packing – but was really only several hours, an excited voice broke through the silent air of the house.
"Boys?" It called. It was unmistakably Allen's voice. James could hear his brother sigh from across the bedroom.
"Well," said Stephen, "I suppose we'd better go, then. I'm only going to say goodbye to Charity, and Father, and I'll be ready to leave." James hesitated – but he couldn't bear to see the torn, ill face of his father, so instead he said:
"Alright. Give them both my best. I'll go greet Allen."
But when he arrived at the door, he was utterly shocked. Not only did he see Allen, but also, behind him were maybe one hundred and thirty boys his or Stephen's age, grinning, decked out in their three-pointed hats. James was mildly embarrassed – he was no where near grinning – he didn't even own a hat for the occasion.
"Stephen will be down in just a moment – just saying goodbye," he told Allen when he had rediscovered his ability to speak. But as he said it, a heavy, callused hand came down on his shoulder. He looked up at his brother, and suddenly didn't feel as out of place. Stephen's face was grimmer than his own.
Soon, the boys were only two among a mass of people, marching across the New York countryside. Side by side, neither said anything. Stephen only sighed a lot.
Evil of him, thought James, how he waited until father was sick and weak before crawling to him for the favor. But he didn't voice his thoughts to his brother. Instead, he made an inquiry.
"How was father?" For a moment, Stephen didn't reply. He bit his lip, and shook his head. Then he sighed.
"Not well at all, I'm afraid…" he trailed off.
"And…?" James prompted his brother.
"I'm afraid that – that he might not make it." Suddenly, James's anger bubbled up again.
"I'd bet you'd just love that wouldn't you Stephen?" he said, his jaws tightly clenched. "Wouldn't you? Just wait until he dies, get the shop, and rub it in my face some more? Why don't you, Stephen, see if I care." Stephen looked shocked, and even a bit hurt.
"James, I can't believe you'd think that," he uttered in a low voice, "I care about Father as much as you do – maybe more. And for the last time, I don't want to be a blacksmith. It's not my fault he left me the shop; it's not my fault I was born first." But after that, he couldn't think of anything to say.
"Sure, Stephen," said James sarcastically, "I'm sure." And with that, he stalked off to another section of the mob, as far away from his brother as possible.
Looking back to make sure he was out of sight, James ran into someone.
"Ow! What the –" the person who had stumbled turned around to face James. "What was that for, you clumsy ox?" James's eyes widened at the insult – of all the things he'd been called, and he'd been called a lot, he'd never been called clumsy before.
"I – I'm sorry, I suppose I wasn't watching where I was going. I'm sorry about that."
"Yes, well," said the boy, annoyed, as he rubbed where he'd been hit.
"What's your name?" said James, hoping to start a conversation with someone so Stephen wouldn't come crawling back to him.
"Mmm?" The other apparently wasn't listening in full. "Oh, I'm sorry. The name's Davis – Richard Davis. What about you?" James looked the boy over carefully before answering – he had light brown hair, and stormy gray eyes, much like James's father's. He was tall and lanky, a bit like James, only a hand or so shorter.
"James Morrison. How'd you end up in this march?" The other boy's face was suddenly distorted with a wicked, sad sort of grin.
"Lost everyone in the war a couple of years back against the French – my father, and all four of my brothers. Thought since I had no place to go, I might as well join the army. I mean to say, why not?" James was shocked at what he heard – losing everyone in a war? He felt terribly sorry for Richard – to him, at least, it seemed as though the great loss had turned him against the world.
"That's really too bad," mused James, though he really wasn't fully in the conversation. Part of his mind was still contemplating Richard's situation.
That night, the mess had stopped for a half-hour or so to rest up and have a drink. James and Richard sat on a log, Richard taking a swig of water from his canteen, and James massaging his aching feet, wishing he had brought along water.
"You want some?" James looked up, and Richard was holding out the canteen.
"Thanks." He took the offer and refreshed his dry throat – then handed it back to his friend.
"I'll be back in a minute – I'm going to refill the canteen at the stream."
"Alright." But with Richard gone, James began to think again about his father. How was he? Would he live? Was he getting better?
He was suddenly drawn out of his thoughts. Someone had sat down beside him on the log. James looked up, expecting to see Richard back, but to his complete surprise, he saw his brother, looking down at his feet. James could feel his mouth becoming thin, and he tried tightening his throat to prevent himself from saying something he would regret – not that he hadn't already.
Finally, after a very long, uncomfortable silence, Stephen spoke in his quiet voice.
"Hello." James stiffened. What a stupid thing to say, he thought, even though he didn't know why it was stupid. Just, at the time it seemed that way.
"My friend is waiting for me," he said curtly, and stood up, and no matter how much his raw feet cried, he walked to the stream to find Richard.
Luckily, he found him soon, and was able to sit down. He took off his shoes and dangled the sore feet in the cool, clear water.
"Hello." It was Richard who spoke. In his mind, James could remember his brother saying the same thing, and now, it didn't seem stupid in either context.
"Hello." James caught himself sighing, and mused over how he sounded remarkably like Stephen when he did so. It surprised him, really.
"Sore feet, James?" Asked Richard, with that same distorted grin on his face.
The party of 'soldiers' continued walking on through the night, mostly in silence, contrary to before. Often, the only sounds that were heard were light footsteps and chirping crickets, but more often, Allen could be heard arguing with the other commander, Benedict Arnold, over which direction they were going in. James felt out of himself, almost as though he were walking in his sleep – he hadn't had much rest recently anyway, what with the Whooping Cough and all, but this time, he really seemed to feel the weariness – he could feel it in every bone, every muscle, every inch of his body – he was exhausted.
Richard didn't say anything that night, either, but upon looking at him, James could tell that he wasn't tired in the least. His eyes were alight and dancing with excitement, he couldn't wait for the approaching battle that was to arrive in a few hours time. James really did feel sorry for him – the loss of his family had turned him bitter. He cared, now, about war, and revenge, and seemed as though he couldn't wait to get his hands on his musket – as though he couldn't wait to kill something. Richard seemed to be the kind of person who loved the sound of the fire exploding in the gun, loved the sight of his enemy crippling on impact, loved the smell of blood seeping through their clothes and onto the ground. He was the kind of person who couldn't wait to kill something – all because they existed as part of the world. And of course, Richard hated the world.
James often caught glimpses of Stephen, as well. Stephen didn't seem tired, either, though he had probably had less rest that James the past few days. But he didn't seem to be at all like Richard, either. James could see his brother, deep in thought as he had seen him so many times before. He could see pain in his dark eyes, and probably not from physical weariness. James knew it was because of him, and he did feel terrible about it, but his pride, like his father's, got the better of him. Part of him hoped Stephen would drop dead in this very battle, the other part of him wanted to run up, shed tears of apology, and go home – a home where Father was well again, and Mother was still alive, and everything had returned to normal once more. But…
James didn't have time to finish his last thought. He was too busy rejoicing with most of the rest of the mob – the first rays of dawn were shining through the trees, and just beyond the forest, maybe only a mile and a half away, was the fort. They had reached Fort Ticonderoga at last.
"GET OUT, YOU OLD RAT!" Ethan Allen shouted this at the top of his lungs. He was standing at the foot of Fort Ticonderoga, yelling up three flights to the officer, who was obviously still asleep. It had been a much easier entrance than James ever could have hoped for. They caught the soldier on guard as he wasn't paying attention, and overpowered him easily. But now, he braced himself for the battle between Allen's army and the British.
When the officer finally came out, it was all Allen and his mob could do to stop from falling over laughing. He wasn't even properly dressed – he wore no pants, only his long johns. There was a loud ring of laughter. The man at the top of the fort, who was turning quite red (whether from anger or humiliation, no one could be sure), said something, but James couldn't hear it over the din of his comrades. But Allen certainly had heard him, and his response rang out loud and clear in the dawn light.
"In the name of the Great Jahova and the Continental Congress!" And then, it all seemed to happen so fast. The British sent the white flag up, so to speak, and the colonists took control of the fort. They held prisoner some of the opposing soldiers, but most of them escaped, a boy or two chasing after him, waving a musket, and holding his hat on.
After several hours of this chaos, the colonists, each weary from marching the long night, were able to rest. James sat down on a large rock, but Richard thew his hat down and stepped on it, grinding it into the ground.
"I can't believe it! I cannot believe this! They call this a battle? There wasn't a single shot! I can't believe that Allen… dragged us all the way out here and there wasn't a single shot! No blood! How do they call this a war?" His brow was furrowed tightly in anger as he picked up his muddy hat and threw it to the ground again. Not being able to think of anything to say, James kept quiet. Finally, Richard sat down next to James, still grumbling rudely about Allen and Arnold.
That night, the 'Army of the Continental Congress', as one of the soldiers had called them, was finally able to rest. They were each given one of the British soldiers' quarters, and were really quite comfortable. But still, James couldn't sleep. He hardly closed his eyes all night – for some reason, he was feeling odd. His father kept flashing through his mind, sick and delirious. But more often than that, James thought about Stephen. He felt extremely guilty about what he had done to his poor brother, but he couldn't muster up enough strength, physical or emotional, to be able to go and talk to him.
From James's room, one could travel throughout the entire fort, look into every bed, and not one other person would be awake.
Until he arrived at the last bed.
There lay Stephen Morrison, thinking hard about his brother.
That night, neither James nor Stephen slept. Both felt guilty. Neither could seem the approach the other. They were more alike than they seemed.
Marching back from Ticonderoga was an enjoyable affair for most. Allen and Arnold were no longer with them – they had stayed to contemplate over how the cannons were to be brought back to Boston. But meanwhile, the rest had begun the day's journey home. James and Richard walked together, talking comfortably as they had in the other direction. James hadn't seen Stephen all that day. But, come to think of it, he wasn't really looking.
When they finally reached the Morrisons' New York town, James had to say goodbye to Richard.
"Where are you headed?" he asked.
"I've got to go back to my cousin's house – she lives in Albany, a while south of here. If you ever want to, come on down and see us. She'll be glad to make dinner for four rather than three." He gave James his distorted grin once more, and disappeared into the ever-shrinking mass of people.
James sighed, and began to jog home. With any luck, he'd be able to get there separately from Stephen. He still didn't feel much like speaking to him.
He was glad to be walking down the well-known cobbled Main Street, walking the familiar path to his house. He could get there with his eyes shut – had he wanted to.
Humming merrily, glad to be back, James knocked on the door to his house. At the time, it didn't seem as though he should walk right in – though perhaps that was his lack of sleep operating on his mind.
Charity answered the door. Her cheeks were tear-stained, her eyes were red and bleary, and she couldn't have looked more a mess. Nonetheless, she gasped, and threw her arms around James, nearly toppling him off his balance. She said his name over and over, sometimes whispering it, sometimes shouting. Finally, she let go of him, and stood back to look at him. She choked on a sob, and asked in a small, quiet voice:
"Where is Stephen?" James could feel his throat tighten. But before he had to answer, he felt that same callused hand on his shoulder.
"I'm here Charity." James could see their eye contact. It seemed to be sealed shut, like it contained a secret that only James was kept from. But finally, Charity spoke, another wave of tears rising up, these, which she was unable to control.
"James, he – he's dead."
James stood there. He knew who. He knew who had died. He watched as tears came down Charity's face, it seemed as though they were slowing down. But then again, James's thoughts seemed to be working slower than normal, as well. Finally, he decided on something to say.
"Well, Stephen, I hope you're happy. You've got the shop." And, without hearing anything else, whether anything else was said or not, he walked to the room that he and Stephen shared, lay down on his bed, and fell asleep almost immediately.
It was a dreamless sleep, and when he awoke, James hadn't the slightest notion as to how long he had slept, or what had happened before that. All he knew was that he was warm, and more aware than he had been since what seemed like forever. He rose, and stood, unsure at first. He had slept so far that he wasn't sure of anything – perhaps his feet had stopped working properly as he rested.
But no, they worked perfectly fine, and he went to fetch the water for his father.
Out the door, to the well, gather the water, in the door, into Father's room – but James stopped there. There, a horrible wave of memories came floating back, too much for him to handle. Allen. The battle. Richard. Stephen. His father was what? No, he wasn't. Yes. His father was dead. There was nothing to do now.
James put the water down. It spilled, creating a puddle on the wood floor, but James didn't notice. Now that his father was dead, there didn't seem to be anything else to do, except go back to sleep. So he went back to his bed and fell asleep again. Again, no one disturbed him.
For the next month, it was all James could do to keep from dying himself. He was so sick with reality, and it all had happened so fast. So mostly, he slept, ate, and did his work. He didn't speak, and if anyone spoke to him, he didn't hear them. His ears had seemed to stop working properly. Everything had, in fact. Throughout the whole time, James couldn't remember thinking anything – just a schedule of what he had to do and when. It didn't consist of much – mostly he slept.
And then, one morning, he was coming in from collecting the water. Looking at the door, he saw a note. And all of a sudden, thoughts came back to him. He began to think again, to feel again. And how horrible it was to have his first emotion be horror.
Dear James, the note read. Dear James,
I'm writing as I'm leaving. I've thought about it, and it doesn't mean a thing to me, and it means so much to you. You keep the shop. I've been thinking, nothing really means anything to me. Nothing. I don't know, I guess nothing ever did, but I didn't realize it until now. So, I thought, I've nothing left to lose. So I'm off to fight in the war. I'll fight for the country. Good luck with your shop, James. And say something rude to Allen for me sometime.
It was entirely his fault. It was entirely his fault that Stephen had gone off to fight – had he not been such an idiot and apologized, Stephen would have stayed forever. In a split second, he made his decision.
He raced to the barn, note still in hand, and hopped onto Star, the old horse. Pressing his shoes into the horse's sides, Star reared up and began to gallop.
Again, time seemed to have no affect on James. He had no idea how long he'd rode. But he hadn't slept at all. It was as if all of his rest had been building up for this.
He approached the battlefield, somewhere near Boston, and he saw Stephen from three miles away. He could see his brother aiming, shooting, then reloading and firing again. But as he put the horse to a gallop, he could see the American soldiers retreating. He ran in a parallel line to them, gathering speed as he went. And then, a British officer shot a musket. And James saw the direction of it. And he knew, before it hit, that it was aimed strait at his brother. Everything seemed to speed up. The bullet pierced Stephen's skin, and James jumped from the horse, screaming, and rolled down a great hill towards his brother. But before he got there, he knew the awful truth. He was dead. As he reached the bleeding corpse, James could feel his body go numb. But this time, he wasn't unfeeling. This time, his emotions had double their average strength. He could feel the tears well up in his eyes, and angrily forced them back, biting his tongue. He felt depression, anger, and bliss bottle up, and finally, he couldn't control it any more.
He cried as he picked up the body of his brother, not bothering to figure how he managed to carry it. He cried as he rode the distance back to New York, not bothering to figure how he exactly knew the way. And he cried most of all as he laid the dead body of Stephen on the bed in the house in New York, where his father had been laid, not one month before.
A month passed, and no one had really recovered fully. James had ridden down to Albany to see Richard. Since his brother died, and he had an overwhelm of emotion, he hadn't felt much. Only anger, really, at himself and everyone else. Now I know what Richard must feel like – to be bitter and unfeeling, to hate the world.
Sitting atop Star, Charity clutching his waist behind him, James had the horse in a trot. They were once more going to Albany, and James was going off to fight in the war with Richard. Charity was to stay with Richard's cousin, Ann. It was all planned out, and everyone was happy. Except for James. James was just angry.
But as the two rode into the sunset, both knew that it couldn't get any worse than it was… it could only get better from here.