Following Chains and Forge, Ashes returns to the scene of the American Revolution where Isabel and Curzon, having escaped Valley Forge, are branded runaways. They carry on with their mission, determined to find Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, an indentured servant in the South — but all the while, Bellingham is on their trail.
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Monday, June 25, 1781
“In short, monarchy and succession have laid… the world in blood and ashes. ‘Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.”
Common Sense, Thomas Paine
Source: Paine, Thomas, Common Sense, Penguin Books reprint, New York, NY, 1986, p 80.
“Vexation, bother, and blast,” I muttered, trying to blink away the sweat that stung my eyes.
Curzon dug his elbow sharply into my side, scowling, then tapped his finger on his lips. He wanted me to be silent as the grave, even though the British patrol we were hiding from was much too far away to hear us.
“A little closer,” I whispered low, “maybe I could read it then.”
“Any closer and you’ll be gutted by bayonets.” He turned his head so his lips touched my ear. “Patience.”
That foul word again. “Pox on your patience.”
I shifted my gaze to the lobsterbacks gathered at the edge of the woods. If they weren’t a patrol, then they were a foraging party sent to plunder farms. Whatever their purpose, they looked about to expire of the heat. The cool shade of the enormous live oak had so delighted them, that they’d quickly stripped off their sweat-soaked coats and waistcoats, and hung them from branches to dry. Two had even removed their shirts and rinsed them in the stream, showing a shock of white skin paler than any ghost would ever dream of being. ‘Twas a frightful sight, but their desire to cool themselves had allowed Curzon and I to crawl safely to a hollow that was sheltered by tall ferns, and overhanging magnolia and bayberry branches.
We’d had several encounters with patrolling soldiers in the previous weeks. Our course of action had always been to retreat slow and careful, and then circle wide to avoid them. This time we could not. A milestone stood at the crossroads a few paces from their fire. Hidden under their collection of blood-red coats and dingy haversacks was the carving of letters and numbers that showed travelers the direction and distance to Charleston, South Carolina.
After walking more than a thousand miles, after months spent laboring first in Lancaster, then Baltimore, then Richmond, and at whatever mountain farm would have us…. After having been cheated, lied to, near captured twice…. After months lost in worry, waiting to see if Curzon would recover from the wounds inflicted by a falling hemlock, then another half a year wasted as I fought an intermittent fever that gripped my lungs so tight I could barely walk…. After dodging two armies, wild packs of banditti, and armed Loyalists deep in liquor… After sleepless nights haunted by ghosts and endless days of empty bellies…. After all that, I was close to finding my baby sister, Ruth.
The thought of it made my heart pound.
All I needed was the information on that milestone.