Leaves crunched beneath his boots as he ran. Pure white sunlight reached long fingers through the pine needles, softening the undergrowth of the forest as he passed. Jacob heard his breath rasping in and out, hanging in front of him in clouds of mist on the frost of early morning.
Behind him, far in the distance but still heard, a battle raged: its violence shattered the still of the morning with shouts of orders, the clash of sabers, the blasts of muskets and the screams of the dying.
Jacob reached to touch the papers in the breast pocket of his grey jacket: his orders…and a letter.
“Lord…please lead, protect and guide me.”
Held in his mind was an image: a boy, two years older than himself - his brother Wilbur – running; calling for help as Jacob struggled to remain afloat in the small lake of the pasture. Wilbur’s long brown hair had dripped with perspiration, his green eyes dark with terror as he’d attempted to no avail to pull Jacob to safety.
“Your brother Wilbur has been weakened by pneumonia”, his father had written. “Should your paths cross son, please endeavor to do as your heart leads.”
“Should your paths cross…”
His strides covered the miles. He stopped briefly. Sitting beneath the shade of a sycamore he chewed a stick of beef jerky and drank from his canteen. A mockingbird serenaded him with its varied themed songs. Then he was up again, running.
Flattening himself behind fragrant wisteria vines overgrowing a farm’s fence row, he waited for the column of blue coats to pass.
There it was at last, the encampment he was sent to spy out. He’d stashed his coat in the hollow of a tree a few miles back: he’d retrieve it on the return trip, if he made it. The papers were stuffed into his britches.
It was just dusk. He turned on his back, hidden in a copse of oleander in the midst of a vineyard. He watched the last paintbrush streaks of rose and gold fade into violet and blue in the western sky until a moonless blackness reigned in the sky above as he crept closer to the camp.
Sentries were easy to dodge. Jacob knew the pattern; he’d counted the number on duty at any time. Edging as close as he dared, Jacob hid just inside the tree line, watching. Soon his target came into view. He thought of his orders as he leaned a little closer, striving to hear the conversation.
“Colonel, I understand North is on the move to flank the enemy to the east…” the words drifted to him.
He heard the breaking of a twig near his head as he felt the blow.
His head was lifted slightly and a warm liquid was poured slowly down his throat. He coughed and gagged. “That’s enough for now. Better’n you deserve at that.” The rough voice moved away after his head was dropped back onto the rolled blanket. Another voice said “Take him to the Colonel when he wakes up”, and left.
Suddenly remembering his papers, Jacob felt for them. They were no longer in his pocket.
Two men came to lift him. He sagged between them, dizzy and a little nauseous as they half dragged him, blindfolded, through the camp.
He was dumped on the ground unceremoniously and his blindfold removed. Jacob saw that he was alone in a tent, his back to the entrance.
Someone entered the tent and stood behind him silently.
“Sergeant Jacob Moore.” It wasn’t a question. His orders were being read.
“It says here, you are to spy out our position and report back to your outfit. Is that right, Sergeant?” The man in a decorated blue coat and britches walked around him and stood facing him, a grim smile on his face.
“Yes, sir; that’s correct.” He lifted his chin and looked the Colonel directly in the eyes.
The Colonel gestured. A chair was brought and he sat down. “You took quite a risk coming here Sergeant; you realize that you are now my prisoner.”
“You risked being killed behind enemy lines, or perhaps shot as a deserter. Tell me Sergeant, what motivated you to accept such risk?”
“Sir, you read my orders. There was also a letter – something that made the risk acceptable. I wish to tell my brother that I love him and that his father hopes he’s well.”
“I see, Sergeant", smiled Colonel Wilbur Moore. "Consider it done”.
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