Western Fiction posted April 17, 2014


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Battle-Born

by RodG


Those on the wharf first thought he was drunk when he lurched down the gangplank, pulling the reins of a black-maned horse. A few of the Negro stevedores paused as he plodded toward them, but glanced away, fearing the sudden wrath of their overseer should they dawdle even a moment. The foreman, a Union soldier wearing stripes on his sleeves but carrying no weapon, smirked as the tall man shambled by. Then the sergeant frowned, his shoulders stiffened, and his right arm, unbiddened, snapped the black bill of his cap.

"Why?" he demanded of himself when the man nodded and passed on. "The eyes," he thought. He froze when he remembered where he'd seen that savage glint before. In the eyes of the Confederate cavalry officer who had swooped out of the woods at Shiloh, swirling an already-bloodied saber at his head. He'd shot that son-of-a-bitch out of his saddle. Now glaring at the stranger's back, the sergeant wished he had his Springfield at hand. He'd plug this son-of-a-bitch, too.

The stranger felt the hostile eyes boring into his back. The sensation was not unfamiliar. For almost a month he'd lived with the notion that every man he met was a potential enemy. Even here in his hometown he'd have to be alert.

"I shall be spat upon," he mumbled. These were the first words to tumble from the man's mouth since he'd boarded the steamboat in St. Louis earlier that morning.

Many of these former friends and neighbors would indeed have "spat upon" him--and worse--if they knew what he had become.

The man was a deserter!

Already the steamboat he had come on was pulling away from the dock and heading up the sluggish river. Instead of mounting his horse, Sean Benteen trudged up the river road, his eyes watching the huge wheel churning against the current, propelling the white vessel slowly toward the middle of the Mississippi. He paused in the deep-rutted road as the boat disappeared around a wide bend, only the thick black smoke of its twin smoke stacks still visible.

Then he pushed off again, careful not to pull too hard on the reins. He hoped any observers would think he had been leg-wounded. Knowingly, he limped along. Wispy puffs of now-greying smoke dotted the sky as his gaze shifted to the top of a bluff overlooking the river not quite a mile away. Vaguely he could discern the outline of a house in the wobbly distance. In the summer he could attribute this impairment of his vision to sweat and the thick humidity that blanketed the region and warped the nebulous space between river and shoreline. But it was late December, and the breezes off the river were brisk and penetrating. It seldom snowed here, but there must have been quite a sleet or ice storm recently. The branches of the naked trees were glazed and some, so brittle and laden with additional weight, had broken off and lay strewn in the road. There were also many frozen puddles he could not always avoid. The hooves of his horse cracked their surfaces as he plunged on toward the white-pillared house now more distinct.

He loosened the neckerchief around his throat and swiped at the hot tears coursing down the flesh of his exposed cheeks.

At last he was home. But could he stay?




The First Page writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
If you decided to start writing a novel, what would the first pages look like ? Details in the announcement.

Recognized


Thank you Google images for this photograph.

This story is set during the Civil War. The action described in this scene takes place in late 1863. The hometown mentioned is Nauvoo, Illinois, on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
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