An Uncivilized Yankee

Chapter 1. Chance Meeting.

Outskirts of Richmond, VA
June 26, 1862

 

It was the dryad who warned Travis that there were Confederate soldiers already on his side of the Chickhominy. She had been trying—unsuccessfully—to pry several Miníe balls from the trunk of her gnarled black oak. Though startled at his ability to see her, she willingly accepted his offer of assistance.

“How is it that you still see clearly?” she wondered, wincing as he dug out another lump of lead.

He peered closer at the bark, then frowned thoughtfully. “Mum says it’s our Irish blood.” Satisfied with his work, he said, “There you go, ma’am. I think that’s the last of them.”

She ran a hand down the trunk and smiled as her slim body began disappearing back into the tree. “Yes. My thanks, bluecoat.”

“A pleasure, ma’am.”

Her nut‑brown face faded from view. Travis turned to remount Meg, not at all surprised at the shortness of their conversation. The few Elder Folk he had met previously had not been the most talkative of creatures either.

Then a pair of leaf‑green eyes blinked from the trunk. “You should not continue down this road—there are many of the gray men ahead.” She paused, as if listening. “Hundreds more are crossing the river even now. Blue riders and the men with deer tails have already retreated towards the city.”

Oh blast, he thought, one foot in the stirrup. She’s talking about the Fourth and the Bucktails. If they’re back in Mechanicsville, that means we’re cut off.

A slim arm pointed back the way he’d come. “There are more of your kind that way, down the road that enters at the grove of beeches, near to what you would call the Totopotomoy.” The eyes opened wider, looking puzzled. “There is something else, but I can’t place it . . .” Her voice faded as she vanished completely.

Travis looked at Meg and shook his head. “That’s not exactly what I wanted to hear,” he said, hauling himself into the saddle.

The big bay just snorted. They backtracked about half a mile, to where a little farm lane wound its way through a thick stand of beech and oak. Pausing at the entrance, Travis pulled out a crumpled roll of paper and scowled at it.

“Small wonder we missed it—looks more like a mistake than a road on this blasted map,” he grumbled. From further down the road he could hear loud cries, like a flock of crows. “Wonder what has the birds so riled.”

He drew his Colt and listened intently. It wasn’t birds. Something else, the dryad had said. There was the high‑pitched bugling of an angry horse, and loud cursing, and shrill cries . . . The devil…! That’s a girl! Before he quite realized what he was doing, he had spurred Meg towards the sound. Only as they flew around a corner and into a tiny clearing did he consider that he might be outnumbered.

He was, and he didn’t care. An entire company of Rebs could have been there and he wouldn’t have cared. Two men in tattered gray and butternut were fighting to control a bucking, bugling horse. A third held a girl tight, laughing as she screamed and thrashed about in his grip.

“Enough of your squawking, little lady,” the Reb said, muffling her cries with his hand. Immediately he yanked the hand away with a curse. The girl spat something out.

“Bitch!” he growled, backhanding her. She dropped like a rag doll into the dirt.

“You filthy bastard.” Travis could not quite believe what he had just seen.

The other man looked up, startled, then gave him a gap-toothed grin. “Well I be. Lookee who’s come to join the fun.” Ignoring the gun pointed at him, he took a step toward the lone Yankee. “You wouldn’t be wantin’ to draw attention to yourself by using that, now would you?”

“Now that you mention it, I really don’t give a damn,” Travis said and shot the man, watching with little satisfaction as he tumbled back into the dirt.

The dead man’s companions turned at the sound. The horse took advantage of their momentary distraction and pulled free. One man went down in a kicking, squealing, snapping whirlwind of raging horse. The other darted behind a tree and took a shot at Travis.

I’ve no time for games, was his angry thought. He stood up in his stirrups and gestured furiously, forming threads of Air into a rope that dropped snugly about the man’s neck. The Reb gasped, clawing uselessly at his throat. Travis jerked his hand back; he felt rather than heard the neck snap, and shuddered in disgust. It wasn’t the first time he’d killed a man that way, but to use his Talent in such a manner still turned his stomach.

The glen was suddenly silent. “So much for avoiding trouble,” Travis muttered as he swung down from Meg’s back and knelt in the dirt beside the girl. He hesitated, then gingerly turned her over. She whimpered, a tiny helpless sound that went straight through him and banished what little regret he’d had for his actions.

He cursed silently when he saw numerous mottled bruises in various stages of fading and the shiny, too‑tight scarring of a massive burn on the one thin shoulder peeking out from a torn sleeve.

A genuine damsel in distress. He swallowed hard.

“Who are you?” he asked softly, pushing a tangled mass of dark hair from her face.

The jangle of a harness made him twist around, reaching for his gun. The horse, the prettiest gray mare he’d ever seen, stood there, wild‑eyed and bloody‑mouthed.

She bared her teeth at him. “Touch her again, Yankee, and I will kill you too.”

Travis managed a slight smile. “Protective, aren’t you? Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt her.” I haven’t the faintest idea what I am going to do with her, but I would never hurt her.

The mare backed away, ears laid flat. “You understood me?”

Meg placed her considerable bulk between her rider and the other mare. “Lieutenant Black’s not your usual two-legger. Might want to watch your step around him. And around me.”

Travis ignored their posturing. We’ve got to get out of here, he thought, scrambling to his feet. Those Rebs crossing are sure to have sent scouts out, and I’ve made plenty enough noise. If he could hear things at a distance using Air, others could too. And since the South had a much larger population of Talents in the field than his side did, it was unlikely that his actions had gone unnoticed.

He bent down and picked the girl up, surprised at how light she was for her height. Almost frail. He shook his head and fought down another burst of anger.

The girl’s horse shifted closer, ears swiveling to and fro. “Someone’s coming,” she announced. “We should leave now.”

“Too late,” Travis returned. He could hear it too, the clanking, jingling, clattering sound of cavalry on the move. Not close yet, but too near to retreat. He set the girl back down as if she were made of china, and planted himself in front of her, gun held ready. He took a deep breath, gathering the energy to work the air again and praying he wouldn’t have to.

But the horsemen who appeared around the bend wore blue. Travis let out a sigh of relief and eased the hammer down carefully. The cavalry has arrived, he thought dryly.

“Captain Logan’s not going to be happy with me,” Travis informed Meg, looking down at the motionless form at his feet, at the bodies, then back up at the girl’s blood-spattered horse, who stood there blowing hard, but quiet, having apparently decided he wasn’t a threat to her mistress after all. “I wasn’t supposed to call any attention to myself.”

At that his captain hurried up, halting his paint in front of Travis. “What’s going on, Black? Screaming, gunshots? Thought you’d run into trouble . . .” He stopped and stared, bemused.

“My apologies for raising such a ruckus, sir. It was not intentional, I assure you.”

“Lieutenant,” said the captain, shaking his head, green eyes bright with interest, “I can’t wait to hear your report.” He motioned for the column to halt and dismounted. “Who is she?”

“No idea.” He gave a short explanation of how he’d found her. “Sir, we can’t just leave her out here in the middle of nowhere.” I won’t leave her here.

Logan slapped his reins against his thigh rhythmically. “No, I don’t suppose we can. Still, … she could be a spy.”

For once catching his tongue before he said exactly what he thought of that remark, Travis shrugged. “Well, sir, she certainly could be. But in her condition, she won’t be running off to make a report anytime soon.”

The captain laughed. “From the look on your face, Mr. Black, that’s not quite what you wanted to say. But what did you find? Any sign of the enemy? Any sign of anyone?”

I hope he doesn’t ask me where I got my information, Travis thought with a hint of amusement. “It looks like we’ve retreated back to Mechanicsville, and there are Rebs pouring over the bridge. At least a regiment, probably more, between us and our lines.” He put his gun down and unrolled the map, tracing a smeared line. “This road we’re on should take us far enough north to keep out of trouble.” Or more trouble, in my case. “It looks like we can cross the Totopotomy here.” He stabbed at the paper. “At least I think that’s the Totopotomy. It might be the Pamunky, or the Matadequin, or the Rubicon for all I can tell.”

“Blast. Damn mapmakers.” The captain sighed heavily, staring at the crumpled paper. “Well—”

“Where am I?”

Travis whirled around. The girl was awake, sitting up, and pointing a gun at them. His gun. The one he’d just left beside her. That was really, really stupid.

“Easy now, girl,” Captain Logan said, taking a step towards her. She stood up in a hurry, cocking the gun and holding it rather unsteadily. Meg made as if to move in, but Travis gave a quick shake of his head. No, don’t startle her.

“Don’t come any closer, Yankee. I’m not afraid to use this,” she responded, voice and gun shaking. “Now, who are you, and where am I?”

“We’re part of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, miss.” Travis kept his voice even, made no move towards her, and twisted the air before him slightly … just in case her finger slipped on that trigger. “As for where we are, we’re still trying to figure that out ourselves. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to help us, would you?”

She ignored his attempt at humor. “So now I’m a Yankee prisoner?” She sounded defiant, but Travis thought he heard something closer to despair.

“No, miss, merely a guest,” the captain said quietly.

With a tiny gasp, the girl crumpled. Travis was half expecting this, and caught her as she fell, lowering her back into a sitting position.

“Miss, when was the last time you had some food?” he asked her, taking his gun and carefully returning it to its proper place.

She shuddered away from his supporting arm. “I … I don’t remember. A while.” He looked up at the captain.

“Go ahead and get her something to eat. I sent Schuman ahead a ways, and he just got back.”

“You just rest a bit, understand?” Travis said. She nodded, eyes shut tight against the tears he could see leaking from under her lashes. He rummaged through Meg’s saddlebags for something—hopefully better than hardtack—and was pleased to discover he’d saved a hunk of bread from their last foraging party.

She didn’t look up as he came near; only when he squatted down next to her and handed her the bread and his canteen did she open her eyes.

“Eat it slowly,” he advised. “No need to go making yourself sick.”

No response.

“By the way, I’m Travis Black.” He paused expectantly.

“Starla Anderson,” she said, head still down.

“Starla? What kind of a name is that?” Travis could have kicked himself for saying that out loud. Her head snapped up, big blue eyes hard with suppressed anger, jaw jutting out in a very unladylike fashion.

“It’s my very own name, Yankee‑boy,” she spat. “You will call me Miss Anderson.”

 


 

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