“Ain’t you scared, Reverend?”
Timothy had to smile at the awed tone in the boy’s voice. Yes, he was a boy, despite his white-knuckled grip on the rifle in his hand and the blue uniform that hung limply on his lanky frame.
“No, Rob, I ain’t.” Timothy slowed his strides as Rob attempted to speak again.
“But you didn’t sign up to go fight Injuns, didja? I mean, you bein’ a preacher an’ all.” Rob’s freckled-washed face tinged crimson as he wrestled with the words. “I just figured you’d stay in the fort.
A memory, unbidden, sprang into Timothy’s mind. A room spattered with blood, the heavy death-stench in his mouth, the moans from the dying family – his family. His jaw flexed beneath his beard.
“I’m a chaplain, which means I have to care for the men of this fort. Where are they most likely to need me? Inside these walls or on the battlefield?”
“I get your meanin’.” Rob nodded sagely, eliciting another smile from his fort pastor. “I reckon it takes a heap o’ guts for a man of the cloth to head out into a fight with savages.”
The reply rushed to his lips by habit, but Timothy choked a little on the words. “They’re people, too, Rob. People with souls to be saved.”
“Beggin’ your pardon, Reverend,” Rob apologized quickly, face flushing darker than before. “I gotta’ get to my column. I’ll be watchin’ for you, just so’s nothin’ happens to ya’.”
“Thank you, I’ll be praying for you.”
Timothy smiled with genuine warmth as the boy loped across the parade ground to join his comrades. Hot bile flamed up his throat as he shouldered his own weapon. He had not been required to go into combat since his assignment to the frontier fort, and the time away from the battlefield had not lessened his distaste for it. This particular battle, though… his heart was pounding with the struggle to keep the anger at bay. The years of study and prayer had succeeded only in burying it and the hate that coursed through him when he thought of the brutal way his parents and older brother had been slain. All because of some drunks who decided to take the Indian problem out of the hands of the government. His was not the only family destroyed by the aftermath.
The piercing call of the bugle reminded him that he had been standing stock-still since Rob left him. He hastened toward his column, trying to ignore the snatches of memories still teasing at his straining nerves. He had fought back against the renegade who stole his baby sister. There was a livid scar just covered by the hair on his left temple and his sideburn, showing where the brave had so easily cast him against the sharp edge of the fireplace. Rose’s scream was his last memory of the scene before the blood dripping down his forehead had sent him into oblivion.
Dear Lord, have mercy on us this day. Protect these soldiers and give them success in battle.
The prayer felt like sacrilege as his took his place in the column. He knew better than to pretend with God, but he was trying. Wasn’t his present obedience worth just as much as the forgiveness he could not give? He had accepted this post knowing what it would likely cost him.
Rob turned in his place several rows up and sought his eyes, his face deathly pale against the carrot hue of his hair. Timothy did his best to smile encouragingly as the bile flamed red-hot within. The boy wasn’t much older than he had been that day…
A shrill war cry broke into the colonel’s instructions. The men immediately fell into battle stance. Their enemies had anticipated them.
Timothy brought his weapon to the ready, watching as the gates were thrown open to meet the foe. His heart wrenched as his finger froze on the trigger, waiting for the signal. He could not kill in anger. He could not erase the anger coursing through him. The struggle tensed every muscle in his body. The well of red-hot fury opened even further. The mandate from his heart terrified him.
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