This Is War by BardWooHoo

War2

Portrait of Emma Collingsworth by Ciegra

This Is War
by BardWooHoo

She woke in a deep haze, slowly trying to focus on her surroundings. Hideous sounds tuned in and out as she struggled through the fog of pain in her mind. The fog wrapped it’s smoky tendrils around images in her head, whispering of peace, solace, and an end to the all consuming pain. The young soldier slowly opened her eyes, promising to herself that perhaps, next time, she would answer those whispers. But for now, she just lifted her head and looked around.

She was tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of being wounded. What was this, she thought, the fourth time in as many months? Waking up in the field hospital was becoming routine. As routine as the long marches, bad food and dysentery. The only thing that wasn’t routine was the pain. It somehow managed to be different each and everytime. Right now, her left foot had a horrible itch, but she was too weak to bother scratching it.

Vibrant green eyes, only slightly dulled by the pain, peered out from golden bangs that were just long enough to be a bother. Slowly she scanned the tent. To her left was a makeshift table with a soldier laid out atop it. One man standing near the injured soldiers’ head encouraged the man to drink some more of what she knew, from seeing this same scene countless times, to be whiskey. The man replaced the bottle with a short length of stick, which the man bit into with firm resolve. Slowly the injured man nodded his head. The muscles in his neck went taut, and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. She heard again the sounds that had, just moments ago, roused her from her uneasy sleep. The scrape of blade to bone, the man screaming in agony through his clenched teeth. Others, woken from their own fitful rests moaned, some calling for water, some for comfort. Others for death itself to come and claim them. The young woman closed her eyes and let her head drop back down on the cot.

She casually blocked out the noise, and the all pervading stench which seemed to be coming from every direction, including the ground itself. A tall man walked over to her, sitting down on a small stool next to the cot. He had a full mustache, which hung down nearly to his chin on each side. A small hint of a goatee graced his bottom lip, and, like the receding hair upon his head, was peppered liberally with gray. The gray in his hair matched the gray in his eyes, which were sad and deep. They were the eyes of a man who had seen too much, and would be haunted by that for the rest of his life. “Lt. Bardlow.” His voice was gritty, soft and deep, a match to the depth of his eyes. “How are you feeling son?”

A twinkle lit the the young woman’s eyes as she gazed up at her Captain. Appearances had to be kept up. He knew her secret. One of only two others not counting herself and her kin. Captain LeRocka had sponsored her into the regiment, handling all the paperwork as well as the physical exam which had been needed to join the army. He had been a doctor prior to enlisting, and had convinced someone in the upper echelon that his services as a leader were more important than his healing skills. On top of that, he had also convinced them that he could give better care to his own wounded. As a result, he had a lower casualty rate than some other units, even though conditions were nearly as poor as the rest.

It was the quick immediate treatment that the soldiers received on the field that made the difference. Captain LeRocka made sure all his soldiers learned the basic skills to save a life. He hated the wasted lives of this war, but at least in his own little corner of it, it was a bit better.

“Feel like I’ve been dragged through Hell in a handbasket, Sir. Cold use a little water.” “Here,” he reached into the blue surcoat he wore and pulled out a flask, “got somethin’ better than water.” Her face lit up into a grin as she took a healthy swig of the strong brandy. “Always could count on you, Rock.” The tall man leaned in and said softly, “Aw, Reil, you know your Pa would have my head if’n I didn’t give you the best treatment possible.” Reil smiled. she knew the man would take excellent care of her.

It had been that way ever since she had met him. He had always looked out for her. Being an old friend of the family, he often stopped by for visits. Her father, on occasion, would be off to the next town buying supplies when Rock would arrive. Rock had kept quiet all those years, but he knew how Reil’s mother had treated her when her father was away. It pained him, but he never said anything, a man’s family was his own business. He saw that Reil had talent. She was smart, crafty in the ways she handled her mothers unwanted abuse, and a damn good shot with a rifle. Growing up in Texas had hardened the young girl, but she had grown into a determined young woman, setting her own path in life.

When she turned fourteen summers old, Rock had turned up one day, had a talk with her father, and the next thing she knew, she was on her way to New York. She didn’t have to think twice about the sudden change her life took. She left Texas without looking back.

Under the care of Rock, she had gone to school, helped out on his small farm in upstate New York and led a peaceful life until the war broke out. Rock and her father had always taught her to stand up for her beliefs. She took them to heart, always knowing that she had a destiny to fulfill. She knew it wasn’t a destiny including cooking, cleaning and sewing the rest of her days. She felt the call that so many young people were drawn to. And she answered it.

As soon as the first whispers of war were afoot, he knew what Reil would want to do. He also knew there was no talking the headstrong young girl out of it. After writing a letter to the girl’s father, the two of them headed off to Cornwall, to enlist in the Union Army. Rock was given command of Company A, 124th New York State Volunteer Regiment. He had prior service in the local militia that qualified him for the position. As such, he was able to wrangle a commission for Reil, putting her in charge of a special squad of expert marksmen. It wasn’t long before the 124th, known as the Orange Blossoms, went to war.

Reil came out of her musings of the past, anxious to get back to her unit. Struggling to sit up, she gave an eyebrow up to Rock. “Where ya hidin’ my boots Capt’n? Gotta go, lots of work to do.” The tall man visibly paled in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, he was at a loss for words. “No Reil, you’re goin’ home.” She grabbed the front of his uniform, and stared the man down. All the fears of the past few years were coming back in full force. She was being sent away. Maybe she had been injured one too many times, perhaps Rock had finally gotten fed up with trying to hide her secret. She wouldn’t go home!

Rock saw the fight in her eyes, and lowered his own. He couldn’t look her square and lie to her. “Reil, it’s for the best, look at your leg.” Reil released one hand from it’s hold on the officer’s uniform and pulled back the wool blanket, revealing her leg. The bandages which covered the leg from the knee down were soaked through with blood, and her foot had a strange coloring to it.

For a moment she simply stared in shock. A bit of relief was that she still had both her legs. Must’ve been the stitches that were causing all the itching, she absently thought. But it didn’t look good. “How bad Rock?” she silently asked. The man hesitated, then just before he spoke Reil demanded, slightly louder this time, “How. Bad. Is. It.?” With each word, the hand on the surcoat gripped tighter, the other forming the blanket into a knot. “I want the truth, don’t you go lyin’ to me now.”

The man who had seen much torment, had tried to explain the loss of limbs to young boys much younger than Reil, found he had no words for her. But he tried anyway. “You took some nasty scrapnel. A lot of the bone was blown right off. There will be a good deal of scarring. Chances of walking again are slim, and if you do, you will definitely limp.” He got the words out, in almost a clinical manner. But Reil saw the pain in his eyes. She knew that he had been the one to tend her, nobody else was allowed…Rocks’ orders. She also knew that he had done everything to save the leg, and at best, she would be a cripple. A lone tear snaked down her face. She wasn’t gonna let that stop her destiny, she thought madly. She just wasn’t gonna let that stop her.

CHAPTER 2

Two months prior…

It was begining to get warmer, being the latter part of March. The unit had stored away their winter gear in exchange for summer uniforms. Not much difference, thought Reil, both were wool. She slowly scratched an itch along her ribcage, the bandages she used to bind her figure itching slightly. For the hundreth time that year, she again wondered why women should be banned from fighting. She knew many that were just as good a shot as she was, and just as willing to fight. But not so many had as understanding a friend as she did in Rock. She sighed, stretching out her small form as she sat in her camp chair. Ah, well, she figured there was no way to change the way people think, especially when men run most things that are counted as important in life. The young woman decided she didn’t need the headache that would accompany trying to change the world, she settled for changing her corner of it, one day at a time.

The tent she shared with Rock and the other lieutenant in the company was sparse. Looking around, she didn’t think it was much to write home about. Several chairs, a table set up which held maps as well as a pot of yesterday’s coffee, a small stove in the center, vented through the top of the tent, three cots and three footlockers made for as comfortable a tent as could be expected during war. A small folding camp table was set up along one wall, for personal use. A few pictures sat atop it, the faces staring back at her with no expression.

They had made camp several months ago, settling into a fairly familiar routine. Each company would take turns scouting the perimeter or clearing trees, both rather mundane tasks which led to boredom, fatigue, and general unrest. Several times word had come down from higher command that they would soon see some fighting. Each time had been a false alarm. Daily drilling, poor weather and terrible food took it’s toll on morale.

Lieutenant Bardlow tried to keep the spirits of the men high, but it was a daily task which wore on her own reserves as well. Fortunately, the men had been paid, and so were able to make use of the Sutlers, purchasing better food than the army could supply. Things like fresh eggs, butter, and sugar were in short supply, so when the Sutler came around, men were able to break the monotony of their rations of hard tack and salt pork. Peddlers were also there, unlicensed locals seeking a new market, part of the entourage of followers that often tagged along with units, selling milk, pies, or other comforts that reminded the men of home.

Reil had never liked the idea that groups of people would follow around after an army. In her mind, she equated them to something akin to a horde of vultures. They would watch a battle from far off, like it was a play put on for their amusement alone. Some of those people would be from whatever town or city was near the battle site. They would return to the safe comfort of their homes when the fighting was done. Some were even related to the men in the camp. Another part of that group, however, were those who followed simply to make a profit from the war. They cared little for what the dispute was about, only that there was cash to be made.

Reil disliked this group the most. She had lied about her age, her gender, simply to give what service she could offer to her country. She simply couldn’t understand why others wouldn’t do the same. In the back of her mind, she knew that wasn’t a completely fair judgement to make. Many people donated in whatever ways they could, opening their homes to injured soldiers, tending the wounded, some paying the ultimate cost of losing a son or husband to the war effort. Those Sutlers and peddlers were probably doing a great service to the Union Army, maybe they wouldn’t have made a good soldier and were helping in the only way they knew how. Reil just wished they didn’t make her feel like they were just circling in on an animal they knew would soon be wounded.

Some of the camp followers were quite useful, they provided services such as mending, entertainment and morale support. It was, in particular, one ilk of entertainment that had the young lieutenant the most concerned. As with any army, men would become restless. In order to relieve this, many sought comfort in the arms of those who cared not about home, hearth or family, but carried on the age old tradition that had been around since time began. Their tent even had a lantern with red shutters hanging outside.

It wasn’t that Lt. Bardlow begrudged her men some enjoyment, but when a man took sick, it was harmful to the unit as a whole. Often enough, sickness followed an army like bees to honey, it didn’t need any help from an indiscreet coupling. More than one young private (as well as a sergeant) had to be sent for treatment which would keep them away from the unit for at least a week. Reil decided it was time to visit the followers’ camp and have a talk with whomever was in charge of “Hooligan’s” as she had heard the men call the tent in question. Apparently, the men had quite the rowdy time there.

Her men had never questioned the fact that Lt. Bardlow never visited Hooligan’s. It had been assumed by them (thanks to a little help from the Captain) that while the Lt. was most definitely indoctrinated in pleasing a woman, he had more important things to worry about, and that a certain young lady back home had already stolen his heart, and he couldn’t bear to be with another. The men had accepted this, Reil helping to also allay any suspicion by engaging in friendly banter with the men, thus causing them no reason to doubt that there was anything unusual about their lieutenant.

As she got up from her chair and made her way down to the small camp, Reil pondered how to approach the subject. She had wondered how a man might handle it, and had asked Rock for advice. “Be polite, yet firm, this is the men’s welfare after all. Try to be as diplomatic as possible, if presented in the proper manner, you can make Mrs. Collingsworth think it was all her idea. And don’t forget yer manners, these are southern ladies you’ll be dealin’ with, even if they do run a bordello. I could always come along with, just to make sure things run smoothly, that is…” After giving him a look that would fell a moose, Reil had insisted that she had to be the one to go. It was, after all, her responsibility. She sighed again, the things a person had to do to keep up appearances!

Her heavy army issue boots threatened to pull off her feet with every step she took. The recent rains had made quite a mess of things, she silently brooded. Mucking about in the mud just helped make a sour mood at having to talk to this woman even worse. She came upon the camp, and found the tent Rock had given her directions to. She saw a stake in the ground where a lantern could be hung. At least they have the decency not to advertise in the light of day, thought Reil. Sitting outside, under a stretch of canvas that had been set up, were two women. Sitting, chatting, acting for all the world like there was no war going on. Both were sipping tea out of small china cups. One of the women glanced up as Reil approached.

Whatever it was that either woman was expecting, it wasn’t what each felt at making eye contact. They would later come to find out that they both had felt the same thing; a deep burning sensation, starting at the bottoms of their feet and working its’ way up, ending back with the eyes till both were almost sure they could see the sparks in the air between them.

Reil was the first to pull away from the intense eye contact. With effort, she willed her face to appear hard, uncaring. She didn’t understand what had just happened, and pushed the incident down in her mind to examine it later. Right now, she had business to attend to. Months of training, schooling her face so that she could lead men into battle, into death, served her well at this moment. For all outward appearances, she looked like a capable officer in service to the Union army attending to business. She calmly executed a small bow to the ladies assembled. “Good afternoon, ladies. I was wondering if I might have a word with a certain Mrs. Collingsworth? I was told I might find her here?” Her voice was smooth and even, nothing to betray how her nerves were reacting, still, to the site of the woman before her.

The woman who had looked at Reil as she first arrived stood up. “Clara, why don’t you excuse us. I believe this officer and I have things to discuss.” The other woman, blonde, but obviously not naturally so, stood and adjusted the front of her dress. She appeared, to Reil, to be quite put out by the curt and obvious dismissal. The Lt. gave her a small smile, another small bow, and got nothing in return except a huff, a snapped open fan and near incoherent mumblings which might have been refering to the other womans lineage. Reil righted herself from the bow, and was once again caught in the eyes of the other woman. Her only thought at that moment was how remarkably blue those eyes appeared to be.

“Why don’t we go for a walk, Lieutenant, is it?” Her voice was rich and deep, velvety, and seemed to stoke a fire in the very depths of Reil’s heart. “Yes ma’am, Lt. Bardlow of the 124th from NY. A walk would be nice.” She offered her arm to the woman, and they strolled for a while in silence toward the edge of the camp. Reil took this time to appraise the woman who had her hand placed lightly in the crook of her arm. She didn’t even want to think about the unfamiliar sensations which that was causing. This woman was not at all what she had expected. In her mind, anyone who ran a brothel, even a camp brothel, should look old and worn. Used. This charming lady was anything but that.

Mrs. Collingsworth wore a long dress, light blue in color, with a high lace neck. A finely woven shawl lay across her shoulders, with a parasol cradled in the crook of her arm, and fine lace gloves, she looked like nothing more than a finely bred southern lady. She was tall, without being towering, and had a grace about her that spoke of gentility. Dark hair was pulled back in a knitted snood which was the same color as her dress. All in all, Reil was quite taken with the site of this woman. The duality of her appearance and what Reil knew was her profession, intrigued her to no end. This might be a woman to get to know, there was just something so *right* about having her on her arm.

Her voice had just a hint of southern accent, Reil had noticed before, which indicated the woman was probably from one of the states closer to the north, rather than the south. Sometimes this damn war really did confuse her, the lines were so mixed. More often than not, families had two sons or more fighting in the war, one might be fighting for the north, the other for the south. Sometimes a southerner fought on the side of the north, simply because that’s where his beliefs lay. Coming out of her musings, she realized why she was reflecting on her origins. Mrs. Collingsworth had asked a question. Reil pulled her head back onto her shoulders.

“My, my, Lieutenant, you seem miles away, I was commenting on the distinct lack of mud along this path.” The smooth voice tingled along Reil’s nerves, what in the world was wrong with her. Mentally shaking the feeling off, she replied, “Why yes, Mrs. Collingsworth, I do believe you’re correct. The sun must shine more on this small stretch of Virginia than the one currently occupied by our unit.” By Reil’s estimate, the sun certainly did shine more here, specifically, wherever this woman stood. The taller woman gave a small smile, so this young pup of an officer want’s to play with words, she thought to herself, well, two can play at that game. “Do tell, Lieutenant, what brings such a charming young man to the followers camp?”

Reil’s face became more stern than before, if that was possible. “Well, ma’am, it seems some of the boys from my unit have taken sick. Three of them all had the same complaint, and the same three claimed to have visited your tent at some point or other in the course of several weeks…” This was much more difficult than she had imagined.

“My good sir, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about. All the ladies who share that tent, myself not included, have eaten the same foods that were shared with your men, the same brandy has been had by all. Perhaps you’re mistaken. None of those ladies has taken ill.” Emma Collingsworth was no fool…she wasn’t about to admit that the young man was probably correct, but boy was she ever going to have a talk with some of her girls. This was bad for business. Things like this were bound to happen, but perhaps letting a few girls go and calling in a few more from Fredricksburg wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Reil may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. She carefully phrased her next statement. “My dear Mrs. Collingsworth, seek not to trifle with me. I am well aware of the activities that are conducted in that tent, and am only looking out for the welfare of my men.” Their walk had led them back to the tent in question. Emma took her hand off of the Lieutenants arm and turned to look at him full in the face. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, Reil could almost imagine hearing the other woman’s thoughts ticking away. Gentility was one thing, she wanted this matter settled. “Lieutenant, you sully my honor, to think that I have any connection with activities such as you insinuate. I am deeply offended.”

Reil was slightly taken aback. The woman sounded sincere. What if a terrible joke had been played on her? What if this woman, indeed, had nothing to do with the tent of ill repute? Impossible, thought Reil, some deep instinct told her the woman was just trying to cover all her angles. Well, at least she had gotten her message across. Time would tell the good it had done. “Please accept my most sincere apologies, Mrs. Collingsworth, I truly meant no disrespect. If I erred in my thinking, please forgive me and allow me some way to demonstrate my sincerity through some action.” Reil’s voice had the desired effect as she slowly watched the fire dwindle in the other woman’s eyes. Emma’s posture minimally relaxed and a slow smile brought up one corner of her mouth.

“Youth does tend toward excitability, Lieutenant. But I believe your words to be sincere. We shall keep in touch.” Reil knew a dismissal when she heard one, and when Mrs. Collingsworth offered her hand, she gently took it in her own, bowing over it and placing a gentle feather light kiss upon it. Glancing back up, still holding her hand, Reil replied, “I look forward to it.” Breaking away from the gaze, the young soldier turned to leave the camp. Emma watched as he made his way through the muck, and wondered how someone could appear so graceful in mud up to their ankles. A slight blush ran up her face. Taking out her fan, she sat back down in her chair, absently waving the fan to cool her heated skin. I think a dinner engagement is in order, she thought…as a languid smile graced her perfect features…and soon.

CHAPTER 3

The Colonel sat in an ornate wingback chair. A fire blazed away in the large fireplace to his right. The room was quite except for the occasional settling of the logs resting on the firegrate and the soft tinkling of ice in the glass of whiskey that he held casually in one hand. The other hand held a large cigar which the man brought to his full lips, slowly exhaling the smoke in tiny rings. He was an old man, he silently mused, fighting in a young man’s war. He could go home, retire his commission, but he felt his duty was clear. He would not let some beaurocrat in Washington dictate how he could run his life, his farm. Heritage and history, to him they meant something almost sacred. He took another languid pull on his cigar as he waited for his companion to meet him at the appointed hour.

He didn’t have long to wait. Just as the ornately carved mahogany inlaid oak door swung open on silent hinges, the clock in the hall struck the hour. The sound gently reverberated off the high ceiling, then became muffled as the door closed once again. The Colonel rose from his seat, placing his whiskey on the small table next to the chair. The light in the room was dim, so he stepped to the side to allow the light from the fireplace to fall upon the woman who had just entered.

“Emma, how are you my dear?” His thick southern accent filled the air, hanging there, dripping. A smile crossed his face, causing his cheeks to pop out from behind his enormous mustache. He absently straightened his gray surcoat, smoothing down the doehide gloves that were tucked into his belt. Even though in his heart he knew he was using this woman, just another tool in the war effort, he found himself drawn to her. His wife had not ever made him feel what this woman had, he genuinely liked her. He admired her bravery, and although he hated to admit it, he needed this woman. Not that she would ever let his flirtations get him anywhere. But that was their game, and they both seemed to enjoy it.

Emma walked over to the wet bar that was built into one of the grand bookcases that were built into the wall. Pouring herself some brandy, she gave an inquiring look to the Colonel, to which he shook his head no, his drink was not in need of refilling. Her silence filled the room in a way that was different than before she had entered. Her silence was profound, whereas before, it was just emptiness.

“You really didn’t take heed of my last warning Colonel.” Her voice cutting through the silence like a hot knife through fresh churned butter. She was in a foul mood already, from having to travel all the way from the Union camp to Fredricksburg in the pouring rain. “That damned Senator from Illinois had the information you needed and you ignored it. I’m not sure you appreciate the trouble I went through to get that. If you had passed the information along properly, perhaps the Northern troops wouldn’t now hold such a desired position.” She baited him, wanted him off guard. She didn’t want another assignment. She longed for a more peaceful life. Each day was a constant danger. Emma walked the edge of a knife, always hoping that this old, blowhard of an officer wouldn’t find out that things had gone exactly as she had wanted them to go at that fort.

The Colonel began turning beet red, making his already large face seem even larger. How dare this *woman* dress him down in such a manner! She, who knew nothing of battlefield tactics or conditions! “Tilghman delayed those damn Yanks as long as possible on that river.” He was sputtering, and almost ranting, but he kept to it. “We felt sure they wouldn’t get through in time to assist those attacking Fort Henry. And for you’re information, *Mrs. Collingsworth,* the papers you acquired were most certainly passed along in the proper manner. It was no one persons’ fault that the damn messenger got shot in the leg, slowing his arrival. But even with all that, we knew of the enemies movement, just not when.” He didn’t know why he felt the need to elaborate to this woman. She was a spy, after all. Necessary, but expendable. So few women wanted the position, but they were best suited for the job, given mens views on how women were to be treated and thought of. Women on the whole, as a spy, went unnoticed. He gave a mental hrummph as he thought how silly it would be not to notice this enchanting, albeit aggravating female.

“Be that as it may, my dear Colonel, it is in the past. The future is what we must now think about. There is a rather large encampment nearby, do you think they are a problem?” The colonel saw the wisdom in the woman’s words. Taking a deep drink of his whiskey, he let the head of steam he was building up fade away. No use crying over spilt milk, he thought, just call the cat in to clean it up! “No moreso than usual. But there is quite alot of blue out there. Not to worry, though. The force we have moving up more than outnumbers them.”

Emma moved across the room, leaning slightly on a desk cluttered with papers. She glanced down at them, picking one up and scanning it idly. Hmm, she thought to herself, have to talk to the girls about clothing purchases, too many more torn corsets and she’d be in the poor house. “That doesn’t mean much, you’ve seen what they can do. They can fight like demons.” They had this discussion before, and she really hoped he would just let it drop. To her surprise, he did just that. “God is on our side, Emma, His will be done.” He placed his glass back on the table and walked over to retrieve the large cloak he had used to cover himself while sneaking into Fredricksburg. He decided it left a bad taste in his mouth that he had to sneak in and out of a southern city, but such things happen in wartime.

He had left his wide brimmed officers cap behind, opting for an old beat up brown hat that he tugged down over his face. He flung the cloak over his shoulders and turned back toward the madame of the house. She walked over to him, allowing her hand to be taken. “My dear, one last thing. Look into the action near Kelly’s Ford if you could, there’ve been rumors of northern buildup. Seems ol’ Johnny Blue likes that area a bit. Don’t want them getting too attached to it. And remember, it won’t be long before the Union of Confederate States stand as a country unto themselves.” “May the South rise and overcome, Colonel.” With that, the man peered out into the hall, assuring that all was clear, and with a silence that belied his ample frame, stole out of the building, into the night.

Emma stood in the entrance hall of the large building. Fully one third of it had been blown to pieces in the attack last year on the city. Her parlor, dining room, and part of the servants’ quarters had been either entirely lost, or damaged to the point of needing extensive repair. Thinking back to the attack on the city in December of last year, she was grateful that they had found other lodgings for the wounded. For two months her house had been refuge to the injured and dying soldiers, both blue and gray alike. She would never forget that time, cannon fire all around, buildings burning, smoke all through the city, choking, inviting oblivion. She had come back to the building, knowing she was putting herself in danger, but had remembered paperwork that needed to be destroyed, lest it fall into the hands of the enemy. Women had gone from door to door, banging, seeking supplies, desperate. She was just slipping out of the building, when they were upon her, begging, pleading, and somehow she had given in. Allowed them to use her home, or more accurately, what was left of it, she was still scrubbing the floors to this day, months later. The stains would never come out.

Hearing footsteps behind her, she returned from her memories, and turned to meet the warm brown eyes of Flo, the cook. Her dark skin contrasted sharply with the white outfit she wore, and there was concern in her eyes. “He gone yet, missy?” “Yes, my friend, he’s gone.” “Didden like him none. Gives me the willies, he does.” Flo’s eyes went wide at the thought, and she made some quick hand gestures to ward away any evil spirits the man may have left behind. Emma gave her a warm smile, Flo was just…Flo. “We’ll be heading back to the camp tomorrow afternoon Flo. I plan on holding a dinner party the next evening. Here’s a list of supplies we need, I know some will be hard to get, but I know you’ll do your best.” Flo took the note and looked it over. For all the show and the talk, Emma knew that Flo was a shrewd woman. She could charm any merchant out of a chicken before the chicken was even hatched, much less on the shelf to be sold!

“I’ll do my best, Miss Emma, but land sakes, I wish you didn’t have to talk to the likes of that man. And by the way, just what did you say to Miss Clara? She came home here yesterday in quite a huff. And what’s all this for?” Emma let out a small laugh, Flo never beat around the bush. “Well, as to the Colonel, we may only have to see him once more if my plan works. Clara is in a snit over a handsome lieutenant I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of, and that’s for the meal I’m gonna serve that young man.”

Flo’s eyes went wide again, this time in disbelief. “This some soldier try’in to get up your skirt? ‘Cause I won’t have none of that!” Ever since Emma’s mother had died when she was a child, Flo’s maternal instincts had multiplied ten fold. No one could have asked for a better protector. “No Flo, I think there’s something special about this one. I just wish I could put my finger on it.” Flo gave her a look, turned and walked back down the long hall to the kitchen. Emma could make out a few of the words she was mumbling, half to herself, “Just as long as he don’t put no finger on you…..won’t have it….not in my lifetime…..”

Emma just smiled and walked up the stairs to her room. Everyone else was already asleep, but one bleary eyed soldier came stumbling out of a room, hastily tugging on his uniform, hopping on one foot to get his boot on at the same time. He made blowing kisses gestures into the room he was leaving as he closed the door. As he pulled himself together, he was aware enough to sketch a sleepy bow to the mistress of the house. She gave a short curtsy to the man, along with a smile. He then walked down the stairs and out the door, all the while softly whistling. Another satisfied customer, she said to herself with a mental wry grin.

As she readied herself for bed, letting down her long, dark hair, she began to think. Picking up the brush, she slowly ran it along the length of her hair. Keeping two businesses going at the same time had been an ingenious idea. The one at the camp was lucrative, but lacked the amenities of the comfort that the one here in the city held. The added bonus to the one here, was that it provided steady, regular business. Perhaps in the morning she should look over the books again. Maybe it *was* time to retire, get out of this business. It had been a whole year…she had to catch her breath…a whole year since they died. Maybe retribution had been made. Suddenly it seemed to her that life was too heavy to bear.

She had gone into this business for many reasons, but they all seemed hollow now. In the beginning, the Colonel had asked about her reasons, but she had been evasive, stating simply, “My husband and son had no choice in this war, neither do I.” and had left it at that. How could she tell this man, the man whom she knew was using her, that her family had shed blue when they died, not gray. Somehow, the young officer she had met a few days ago would understand this. The young man with the wispy, golden hair and eyes of springtime green would understand the sacrifices she had made. It was only a feeling, but it felt right, somehow. That young officer was her chance, and she wasn’t going to let it pass her by. She left these thoughts for another day, as she lay down on her bed and slowly drifted off to sleep. Thoughts of a dusky haired lieutenant filling her thoughts as she slipped away.

“You alright boy?” Rock was getting a bit worried. His young charge hadn’t been the same after returning a few days back from visiting the followers camp. He suspected that Mrs. Collingsworth had something to do with it, but wasn’t sure. He knew her to be a beauty, but also knew, from speaking with some of the men, that while she ran the business, she never partook in the pleasing of clients. So this is what had him worried, had the woman perhaps changed her policy? Perhaps made a pass at Reil that the young woman was unprepared to handle. Damn, he silently cursed himself out…he should have seen this coming.

“Fine Rock. Aces high.” Listlessly stated, Reil threw down her cards in the game of poker the two were playing. Damn again, Rock swore to himself once more, even when she’s out of it, she still beats me at cards! Reil took a deep breath, then let it slowly out. “Can I ask you something Rock? It’s kinda personal…” “Sure, what’s on your mind?”

“Do you believe in love at first glance?” She rushed on before he could stop her train of thought. “I mean, like, deep down in your guts, just, aw, heck, I dunno. Forget I said anything.” Rock just looked at her, suddenly realising, as if for the first time, that Reil was growing up. When did that happen, he wondered. He only knew of his own experiences, as a boy, gawky, clumsy, his first crush. Ah…she was a sweet woman. He shook his head, no time for that he thought, Reil needs some reassurance. “You maybe find someone who made you feel this way?” The girls head hung low, she was staring intently at the toe of her boot. A small nod confirmed the question. “All I can tell you is to give it time. Time may be a precious commodity right now, with the war and all, but time exists for a reason. It allows us to understand, to grow. If it’s right, you’ll know, in time.”

His words made some sense to the young woman, she silently prayed that the war would allow her enough of that commodity to figure out what was happening to her. Suddenly, there was a light tap on the pole of their tent. Reil wearily hauled herself up from her seat, and stepped outside. There stood a small boy, not ten summers old, if he was a day. As Reil looked him over, he gathered up all his youthful courage and puffed out his chest. A small fist thrust outward, a delicate looking piece of paper nearly crumpled from the determined grip. “From Miss Emma.” As she took the note, the young boy turned heel and ran, not giving her a chance to reply.

She turned the slightly crumpled note over in her hands, examining it. The front, in elegant handwriting, contained her name Lieutenant R. Bardlow on the reverse side a wax seal held the folded paper together. It’s impression, an intricate worked knot, wound around a staff. Carefully, she broke the seal.

Lieutenant Bardlow

Mrs. Emma Collingsworth requests your attendance

On the evening of 10 April, 1863

7 o’clock, semi-formal attire

Graciously yours, E Collingsworth

She stood there, her body began to shake. She still had no idea why this woman affected her so. She had lain awake nights, for more than ten days now, trying to figure it out. Somehow, deep inside, she knew that she had to find out about this woman. But now, when that was within her reach, she suddenly felt lost, like a child. The weight of her responsibilities was overpowering. On the one hand, she had her troops to think about. They relied on her, but the past few days, she was unable to concentrate on what needed to be done. Going through her daily routine was mechanical at best, poor soldiering at worst. Rock peeked outside to see what was taking Reil so long. One look at her condition, the fear on her face, and he grabbed hold of the scruff of her uniform, dragging her back into the tent before the troops got a good look at a lieutenant falling to pieces in front of them.

Once back inside the tent, Reil collapsed to the ground, legs no longer willing to support her. She looked up at Rock, silently pleading, then vocally, “What am I supposed to do? She’ll find out for sure. But I need to see her again, like the next breath I take. Without it, I’ll die.”

Rock began to pace, Damn, he thought yet again to himself, why were things never easy? Why hadn’t he seen this coming? Reil had always been headstrong, independant, different from other young girls, why would falling in love for her be any different? He had silently hoped, from the earlier conversation, that it had been one of the troops. Some soldier, whom upon finding out that Reil was a woman, would have her resign her commission and pack her off to his farm, to await his return from the war. Silly of him really, he should have known that would never happen, even if it had been a man.

“Go.” One word, but Reil burst into tears. Rock knealt down beside her drawing her into a gentle hug. When she had cried herself out, she lifted her head from Rocks’ broad shoulder and asked, “But she doesn’t know. I…I…I’ll lose her for sure.” “If you don’t go, it will appear suspicious. She denied to you any involvement with the prostitution, if you don’t go, you’d be seen as committing a serious breach of social etiquette. As an officer, it could literally ruin your career. And, if she finds out, maybe it won’t be for the worst. If she’s attracted to you as a man, well, you’re still the same person.” “I hope you’re right. Now help me get ready, I’ve only got an hour, and it takes fifteen minutes to get there.”

Getting ready to dine with Emma Collingsworth was more nerve wracking than getting ready to be reviewed by the President, as they had done two days prior. The Division, the 124th, and the 12th New Hampshire had done particularly well, the units had been cited in particular by the President and Gen. Hooker. But the brass couldn’t shine enough this night. And the creases in the uniform couln’t be sharp enough. The broad rim on her officers cap had suddenly developed a dip, and after several furious attempts, it finally succumbed to efforts of steaming.

She washed up in a small basin, and with the help of Rock was able to wash her hair, not the best conditions, but after a couple of rinses, all was well. She stepped out of the tent and began walking towards the followers camp. Several of her men gave cheers at seeing their Lieutenant all spiffied up. Good natured ribbing, but she was hard pressed to keep a straight face, not wanting to let on how much more nervous it was making her. She truly wondered if her legs would carry her all the way.

Emma glanced at the arrangements that had been made in the large tent. She had sent the other women off to fend for themselves this evening. She wanted no interruptions. It was a little unseemly that she had invited no other guests, but she was already thought of as a Madame, this just added to the assumptions. If people actually knew what she was doing, they would respect her a bit more, but not much, she really did run a brothel. But try telling the uppercrust of society that she was only trying to make a living, well, it just didn’t matter to them. Fortunately for Emma, it didn’t matter one way or the other to her, as well, how people viewed her.

Few things could make this woman, widow, spy, as nervous as this night was making her feel right now. She had seen glory, and defeat. She played a role that she neither had wanted, nor sought for. The passion that had been sparked by this one young man had been thought all but lost. Had it already been a year? A year since she had kissed her husband as he went out the door of their home with their four year old son. He was only supposed to have gone to town to sell one of their horses. A simple trip, and little Eb had wanted to go with his father, because he knew when Daddy was gone, he was the ‘man of the house’. A lone tear rolled down Emma’s cheek. A single shot from a drunk rebel soldier, it had hit the horse, but both had been thrown.

She shook herself from her musings. Can’t change the past, she scolded herself. The rational part of her mind told her that it was well past the traditional period of mourning, and that she should move on with her life. Fear that she would somehow forget her husband if she gave her heart to another, paralyzed her. Now, for sure, she was going too far. She didn’t even know this lieutenant very well, really not at all. She forced her nerves and fears down deep, telling herself all the while to just see how things went.

It was still light out as Reil walked along the path to the camp, but it was one of those seemingly rare evenings when you could see the moon. She paused, and stopped along the side of the dirt path. Feeling that she needed to collect herself before facing the evening ahead. A large rock lay just off the path, she turned towards it, and leaned against it. Staring at the moon, she remembered stories from her youth about how Artemis was the moon godess. Reil was never a blind follower of any faith, but she felt comforted with the thought that if she could see the moon, maybe the huntress was watching over her. Knowing that she risked being late, she made her way back to the path, towards the camp, towards her destiny.

Finally managing to get Flo to take the carriage back to Fredricksburg, (no easy accomplishment), Emma stepped outside the tent. All was quiet in the camp, as though there were a tension in the air that she could almost grab hold of. Looking up, throught the slight canopy of trees, she spotted the moon. Hanging there, defying daylight. Daring the sun to banish it from the heavens. How brave the moon must be, thought Emma. To defy the sun in such a way. She took some of that bravery. Let it into her soul like a shield. And then she felt something. A tugging, warm fuzzy, strange, yet known kind of sensation. She turned, searching for the source of it. Thinking for a brief moment that she had imagined it, then, around the bend in the path…striding down the road like he owned it. Beautiful, handsome…hers.

Reil held her head high. This night was important. She would tell Emma her secret. She was scared. But the thought of deceiving this woman was unconscionable. If she didn’t want her after that, well, at least she had been part of her life, if only for a short time. Something told her she could trust this woman. After all, she certainly held her own secrets quite well.

As she came ‘round the bend, she felt an odd feeling, comforting, yet alien. She tested it with her mind, discovered that it came from within, and without. She rolled it about with a mental shrug, looked around her and realized what it must be to be in love. Completely. For there before her, was Emma. Looking, for all the world, like she was feeling the same thing.

Their eyes locked on each other, neither knowing what to say. Reil broke the silence, months of training coming to her rescue. She sent a silent ‘thank you’ to Rock for teaching her all the proper forms of etiquette. She sketched a short bow. “Mrs. Collingsworth. So kind of you to invite me. I hope our encounter this evening is more pleasant than the last.” She took the hand Emma had offered her and placed a light kiss upon it. Did she imagine? Or did the woman hold onto her hand a bit too long?

Emma executed a deep courtsey, even as her hand was extended for the lieutenant. “Lieutenant, so good of you to come. Please, right this way, dinner is all prepared.” She gestured towards the tent, Reil taking the liberty of holding the flap open for the other woman. As Emma passed, lightly brushing up against her, Reil could smell hyacinth, and some type of herbal scent in her hair, perhaps sandlewood. Before she could faint dead away from the sensory overload, she moved into the tent, stepping away from the heady aroma which nearly brought her to her knees in front of the tall woman.

“Would you care for a drink? I have whiskey, brandy, or something less potent if you wish.” She was having trouble concentrating. Why was the man so nervous? Sure, he was a bit young, but not very. After all, you had to be seventeen to enter the service, by northern standards. If he joined when the war started, that would make him eighteen, young, but by that age, most boys had overcome their awkwardness at least a bit. “Whiskey, if you please.” Yeah, thought Reil, I need a stiff drink. Maybe that will make my palms that much less clammy. After accepting the drink, she took a small sip. She closed her eyes so the other woman wouldn’t see them practically pop out of their sockets. Hmm….good whiskey. Gotta watch that, she thought.

“So Lieutenant,” before she could finish her sentence, Reil interrupted her… “Please, call me Reil, all my friends do, and I’d like to consider you among them.” She felt a blush at her forwardness creep up her face, but she stoically ignored it. Emma gave a smile, and Reil thought she never had seen such a sight. It transformed the woman’s face, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud when you least expect it. “Very well, Reil…may I ask you a question? And please, call me Emma. All my friends do.” A wash of relief passed through Reil. “If I can answer it, I shall.”

As she looked over at Reil, she started taking a good look at the lieutenant. Now that their gazes weren’t locked on each other, she began noticing several things. There wasn’t the tiniest trace of facial hair. His hands were calloused, as he had taken his drink, Emma had noticed. Sword practice, no doubt. All officers carried one. That, and she knew that the units spent alot of time clearing trees. That would also cause callouses. But they didn’t appear, well, brawny, she thought. Almost delicate. “How old are you Reil?” “I’m seventeen, be eighteen in a few days. I…well…I lied to get into the military. When I joined, I was still sixteen.” There, she had gotten part of it out anyway.

“That’s not unusual, from what I’ve heard. It must be a relief to know that now, they can’t send you home for being too young.” She felt she was getting closer to knowing this person who had captured her interest. But she felt she was far from figuring him out. “Yes, ma’am.” Reil blushed again, damn the effects this woman was having on her. “Sorry,” she quickly stated, “military habit. They really drill it into you. Sticks like hide glue.” Yeesh, Reil, she thought to herself, sound a bit *more* stupid if you could. She was sure her blush would become permanent.

Rather than pressing the issue, Emma asked if Reil was hungry. Thankful for the change, they sat down to eat. It was simple fare, Emma had managed to get a chicken, which Flo had cooked to perfection. Some greens and mashed potatoes completed the meal. Not much, but it seemed like a feast to Reil, who had been living off military rations for far too long. The food managed to relax both of them, and they shared idle chat. “Have you seen any fighting yet, Reil?” The thought of Reil being put in danger caused Emma to quake a bit. She covered up the slight tremble in her hands by knotting her napkin in her lap.

“Small skirmishes, nothing major. Pockets of rebels that were unfortunate enough to be in our path. I’ve even been shot.” A small amount of pride was evident in Reil’s voice, it had been her badge of acceptence into the unit, even though it had hurt like hell. She raised her hand up, and showed Emma the small half moon scar on the outer edge of her palm. “Bullet ricocheted off the stone wall we were taking cover behind. Nothing much really, stung like crazy though.” Emma leaned over the table and took Reil’s hand in her own, examining the scar. She traced the outline with her fingertip, amazed at how such a simple contact could make her feel so much more…alive. Reil began to squirm. She pulled her hand back, sorry that she had not forseen what this womans’ touch would do to her. “I’m sorry, Reil, does it still pain you?” Her permanent blush became a deeper shade. “There’s something…someth…I’m not the man you think I am.” She finally blurted out.

“I don’t understand. It was very brave of you to stay and fight, it’s an honor to your name. So often one hears of those who, when the battle finally comes, turn tail and run. War is brutal, becoming wounded is unfortunate, but you lived to fight again. Do you fear that because of this one injury, that you will not have what it takes to fight the next time?” Emma spoke softly, realizing that the young man in front of her was at odds with something, but she couldn’t for the life of her figure what it might be. Reil had a million thoughts running through her mind. That’s that…she won’t understand. I’m such a fool, she thought, thinking that she would be the one to understand. Panic was clearly written across her face. Where there was once a flushed look, now was pale.

She stood up suddenly and retrieved her hat from where she had placed it near the entrance to the tent. “Mrs. Collingsworth, thank you for the lovely evening. Perhaps we can do this again sometime. I must go now.” She gave a short bow and moved towards the tent flap, eager to get out into the cool night air. Making a fool of herself had not been on her agenda this evening. She hadn’t heard a sound, but suddenly Emma’s hand was on her arm, gently halting her progress. She knew she shouldn’t turn around. Knew that if she did, she would lose what little dignity she had left. “Reil, don’t go.” Three simple words. She turned around and fell into the arms of destiny.
CHAPTER 4

Emma was unprepared for the bundle of blue uniform that suddenly wrapped small strong arms around her, pressing her head against her shoulder. She put one leg back to steady herself, thankful that Reil had turned his head to the right. The brim of the cap was turned up on the left side, any other position, and it would have been uncomfortable, to say the least. She tentatively returned the hug, unsure of exactly what caused the distress her new friend seemed to be going through. For some unknown reason, she had been expecting tears, such was the intensity of the situation. But there didn’t seem to be any tears, just this fierce hug.

Slowly, she increased the hug, marveling at how well their two bodies fit together. She breathed in the scent of the officer. Wool, leather, a lingering scent of the soap used to was the hair, even a faint trace of the oil used to clean weapons. It was an incredible mix to Emma. She soaked it in, memorizing the smell. It was long minutes before the taller woman brought a hand up to gently stroke the blonde hair that was poking out of the cap at the back of Reil’s neck.

This movement seemed to awaken Reil to just exactly what she was doing, and to whom she was doing it with. She pulled back a bit to apologize, realizing that if she had made a fool of herself prior to reaching the tent flap, she was making a complete ass of herself now. Emma brought a hand up as she saw clearly that Reil wanted to apologize, and placed a finger on Reil’s lips, silencing any words that might have come out. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. I’m not going anywhere, and I won’t hate you.” Reil couldn’t believe that this woman was practically reading her very thoughts. “Why don’t we go sit on the sofa,” Emma continued, “I’ll get us some drinks.” Reil nodded, and released her hold. A wash of emptiness threatened to buckle her knees, but by some miracle, she made it over to the small sofa.

The hand Emma used to pour the whiskey was noticably shaking. She only hoped Reil didn’t see. The force that had hit her at their separation was like none she had ever felt before. Even with her husband. She had certainly loved him, but there had been something missing. Emma was beginning to believe that this was that something. Bringing the drinks over, she sat down. Reil had her elbows on her knees, and her head in her hands. “Here you go.” Reil thankfully took the offered glass, taking a large swallow, and coughed just a bit as the liquid burned it’s way down to her gut. “Easy there. Feel a bit better?” The other woman nodded, and took another swig, smaller this time. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? I obviously said something that upset you.”

Reil didn’t know where to begin, but she couldn’t let Emma take the blame for her own stupidity. “No, no…it’s not your fault, it’s my own. There’s something I need to explain.” Emma waited patiently, never in her life had she been so much at a loss for what to do. “I told you that I lied to get into the army.” The dark haired woman nodded, thinking perhaps that Reil was much younger than originally thought. That might be a problem, but not one that would cause such an intense reaction. She had seen many young boys, eager to be dubbed a man, try to hire one of her girls. Strict policy dictated that if it was suspected that the boy was under 16, he was not to be served. If they were old enough to fight, that was one thing. But if they were too young, there were plenty of other brothels they could go to that didn’t care so much. Emma didn’t want word to get out that her women took care of just anybody. What reputation she did have, she wanted to keep intact.

“Well, that’s not the only thing I lied about.” Reil’s head hung low, waiting for the inevitable question. She waited, but it never came. Suddenly, for Emma, something became quite clear. She took it all in, rolled the thought around in her mind. So many things were contradicting one another. She felt everything from relief that it was nothing life threatening, to thoughts of how she could feel this way about a woman…a *woman*! She couldn’t help but stare at Reil. She understood now why there had been such a reaction earlier. On the one hand was all her years of genteel southern upbringing. She knew what peoples thoughts were on the matter of two women together. On the other hand, she also knew she had found the other half of her soul. It was as though she was finally complete, she knew this when she had held Reil in her arms. Nothing had ever felt so right. It made her next statement all that much harder to say.

“Reil.” The woman being spoken to looked up at the sound of her name, wondering what her fate would be. Emma looked once more into those eyes of springtime green, and found that this would be much harder than she had expected. If only she didn’t fall into those eyes everytime they were directed her way. “We’ve only known each other such a short period of time…” Reil knew what was coming. She stood up and composed herself. “No need to say anyting more Emma, I’ll be leaving now. I’m sorry to have troubled you so.” Emma rose to her feet, a look of desperation on her face, this wasn’t going as well as she had hoped. “No, you misunderstand. I just need time to think this over. It’s all very new to me.” She took Reil’s hands in her own, and felt once again a feeling of completeness that she was hopelessly getting used to. “When you’ve had time, you know where to reach me.” With this said, Reil tenderly kissed the tops of both of Emma’s hands, released them, and this time, actually made it out of the tent.

She stood outside for a moment, breathing deeply. Small puffs of her breath slowly disappearing in the cool night air. Well, she thought, that didn’t go *that* bad. She let out another sigh, who was she trying to kid anyway, that went lousy. The low sounds of the camp finally worked their way into her abused senses, and she made her way back to her own tent. Pulling off her frock coat, vest, hat and boots, she gratefully climbed into her cot, sleep not coming til the late hours of the night.

*******************************************

Reil was sweating freely. The axe head resting on the ground at her feet, the handle leaning against her leg. She pulled a large hankerchief out of her pocket and wiped the sweat from her brow. Her not quite shoulderlength hair was matted to her face and neck. She pulled out her canteen and soaked the cloth with some water. Not wringing it out, she draped it around her neck, sticking the ends into the top of her shirt, closing her eyes as the water cooled her heated skin. Some of her men had chosen to remove their shirts, Reil, being an officer, had made it optional. She was thankful that she wasn’t alone, several others had opted to leave theirs on as well. Living on the edge, Reil mused, had it’s drawbacks.

She resumed her work silently, ignoring the friendly banter that the others shared, hauling around a fair sized tree for better positioning. Swinging the axe in clean, even strokes, she worked in silence. Each strike of the axe brought out good chunks of wood, each strike reminding her that her heart was ripping out in chunks, the days being the axe, her heart, the wood. It had been a week, and no word yet from Emma. Reil was resigning herself to the loss. But each day, instead of forgetting about the woman, the ache in her heart became more intense. Each night, she silently cried herself to sleep.

The day finished up, she collected her men, and headed back to her tent, stopping several times to answer questions directed her way by some of the soldiers. One needed new boots, another a new kepi, and yet another just wanted to try to get out of clearing trees the next day, citing blisters. The first two she sent to see the quartermaster, telling them that supplies were short, but to see what he had. The third she directed to Rock, and the two walked together to her tent.

Upon arriving, Rock quickly took care of the young soldiers hands and sent him on his way. The Captain ended up excusing him from duty on the trees tomorrow, for his hands were really quite torn up, but directed him to report tomorrow to him, to run some errands. The young man had thanked him, and took his leave, hands bandaged up. Reil was glad when he finally left, the energy it took to maintain her duties was becoming exhausting, and she couldn’t relax with the soldier in her tent. She collapsed onto her cot, throwing one arm over her eyes.

Rock moved over and stood next to the cot. “Reil, you’re working yourself too hard. Let your men do the work. You’ll kill yourself at this rate.” Reil moved her elbow up just a bit to throw a one-eyed glare his way. “Leave me be, I’m fine.” “No, you’re not, and I’m ordering you to take a two day pass. You’ve been working yourself into the ground for the last week, and you deserve some time off. You haven’t even taken any of the regular leave that you stored up, maybe even a longer rest is in order?” At the mention of taking so much time off, Reil bolted up into a sitting position. “You know darn good and well that I’m not taking that much time. I’ll take the two days, just to get you off my back.”

“Well, that’s more constructive energy than I’ve seen in you in quite a while. Maybe you’ll want to see what came for you today. If you hadn’t been so busy out in the field, I’d have brought it to you sooner.” He lifted a white envelope up, waving it in front of Reil’s face. It took her a minute to identify that it wasn’t from her father, then she snatched it out of Rock’s hand. “Oooo…..Rock….how could you….” She tore open the seal, then stopped suddenly. “I don’t recognize the handwriting, do you think it’s from her?” She said softly, looking up at Rock. She calmly collected her thoughts. What had made her think it was from Emma, afterall? She silently swore to herself that she would learn to live without the woman, her life had been a wreck since she had met her, but she had gotten along fine before meeting her. She would just have to do the same now. But just in case, she made ready for the worst. Ever so slowly, she took a deep breath, and opened the note.

Lt. Bardlow,

It has come to my attention, through a mutual friend, that you are stationed nearby. You, and your Captain are both cordially invited to share an evening at my home. It has been said that the 124th displayed themselves proudly recently upon a visit from President Lincoln. It would be an honor to meet you, seeing as how you did impress our leader so. The event will begin at six o’clock, 19th day of April, in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and sixty three. I have enclosed a brief map. I look forward to meeting you, as I have heard so much about you already from my dear friend Mrs. Collingsworth, who mentioned that she may attend. Until then, Lieutenant….

Most Graciously yours,

Mrs. Penelope Haversham

Reil didn’t know what to make of the letter. If she attended, she risked putting her heart on the line. What if Emma didn’t actually want to see her again, and they had to fumble about for the right words to say when they actually met again? The whole situation could be extremely awkward, and she wanted no repeat of a week ago. She had felt utterly childlike in her assumption that Emma would understand. Although Emma had said that she only needed time to think, Reil took this as a polite way to back out of a bad situation as gracefully as the woman knew how. To see her again, without actual word from her, could destroy the fragile hold on reality that Reil was desperately clinging to. She didn’t want to put herself out on a limb like that. Not again.

She handed the letter to Rock, who suddenly broke out in a grin from ear to ear. “What’s so great?” she asked, just a bit grumpy after working hard all day, only to come back and find out that her presence was requested at a party she didn’t want to go to. “Don’t you see, Reil?” Rock couldn’t believe how incredibly dense Reil was appearing at the moment. This was good news!

“See what?” she replied, a bit more testily than she probably should have. “All I see is another opportunity to embarass myself, no thank you. You go, you’re invited also. Go, have a good time. Without. Me.” She accentuated the last two words with sharp jabs to her pillow, which she had begun hugging while Rock read the note. Rock squattted down in front of her, resting both hands on her knees. “Reil, you know that before I took you in, I helped raise others.” The young woman gave a small nod. “I guess settling down and raising kids of my own was never meant to be, but I’ve raised quite a few, and they all turned out to be fine upstanding citizens.” She looked at Rock, raising one eyebrow in question, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”

“Well,” he said, as his grin got even bigger, “Penelope was quite the young spitfire if I remember correctly…” He trailed off, letting the meaning of his words sink into the clouded mind of his latest ward. “Always did throw a nice party, lives not too far from here if I recall…” Reil lowered her head, letting it all register, blonde locks coming down to almost cover her eyes. She looked up, huffed one of those locks out of her way, and gave Rock a smirk. “How do you manage to always talk me into these things?” “You wait here, I’ll go get our passes cleared through the company clerk.” He was out of the tent in a flash. Reil got up and went to the door, peeked out, a small smile forming as she caught the older man doing a small jig as he made his way down the row of tents. “Ok, Reil,” she whispered to herself, “you can do this. Now where did I put my white gloves?”

CHAPTER 5

“Did you tell Jeremy that we would be needing Alcaeus?” Reil grabbed up her saddle, saddlebags and tack, preparing to walk out of the tent. It was early morning, and the ride to Mrs. Haversham’s estate would take most of the day. Rock had secured the necessary passes needed to leave camp for the day and had readied his horse nearby. All that was left was to collect Reil’s horse and they would be on their way. “Yup. Jeremy said he’d have her ready for us. Meet you down there?” Reil did a small bounce to rearrange her load, then nodded. They were on their way.

It wasn’t a long walk to the quartermaster’s area of the encampment, but Reil was a bit winded when she arrived. Both had opted to pack their dress uniforms, their utility coats and forage caps being better suited for the long ride ahead. That, plus all the gear made the saddlebags feel like they held cannon rounds instead of just clothing to the young woman. Dropping down her heavy load, she looked around, spotting Jeremy walking towards her with Alcaeus.

As they neared, she stepped around her gear, petting the large horse on the nose, and giving a scratch behind one of the twitching ears. “Hey, girl,” she whispered to the horse, resting her face along the sleek neck, “miss me?” The golden color palomino gave a huff and shook her head. “I’ll have to take that as a ‘yes’.” Reil gave a quirky grin to the horse, and received another head shake in return. “She been giving you any problems, Jeremy?” The dark haired boy shook his own head no. “Alcaeus is never a problem, Lt. Been doin’ just fine. Still don’t know why you won’t ride with her with the troops.” Reil left her horse in the care of Jeremy, a young private with the Quartermasters. Alcaeus pulled one of the smaller supply wagons, and in turn was fed and taken care of by them. It made things easier for Reil, who had more than enough things she needed to worry about, and it allowed her to have her horse with her (seeing her anytime she wished) but not have to worry about her constantly.

This had been an ongoing situation. While some officers chose to ride a mount, the lower grade officers were actually better off not riding. Reil liked being with the men, letting them know that she didn’t feel any better than them. She trugded through mud, rain and snow right along with them. This had earned her, at first, strange looks from her men. But in due time, they came to see the sacrifice for what it was…good leadership. They would even brag to other companies that *their* lieutenant put the needs of the men above personal needs. The first time Reil had found out about this, she was a bit embarassed. After all, to her it just made sense…how can you lead your men in battle if your making such a fine target for Johnny Reb up on the back of a horse? But she learned to live with it, and even learned to like it a bit as the men did seem to treat her differently for it.

“No need to Jeremy, just not my style.” She gave the young man a grin, and tossed him a coin. “Go down to the followers camp and have some fun tonight, why don’t cha?” He deftly grabbed the coin out of the air, and went on his way, after first asking if the lieutenant needed anything else. Reil hefted the saddle up into place, carefully checking and rechecking all the straps and buckles. Wouldn’t do to go to war just to break your fool neck falling off a horse. She attached the bridle, then the saddlebags, and swung up into the saddle just as Rock arrived.

The sun hadn’t quite risen yet as the two made their way out of the camp. Moving through their rear guard, they showed their passes to the outer limit sentries, setting an easy pace. The Haversham estate was a good full days’ ride and by the time they had stopped to rest the horses, the first leg of their journey was complete and they found they had made good time. They had been roughly following the river, and allowed the horses to drink their fill as they sat under a stately elm, shaded from the noonday sun. The days had been getting steadily warmer, summer slowly taking it’s place in the seasons cycle.

The two sat in silence, sipping from their canteens. This far north of the encampment there was little worry about coming across the enemy. Never the less, both had their service revolvers with them as a precaution, with their Enfield muskets secured to their saddles just in case.

Reil picked at her hardtack, too many uncertainties running through her mind to be much interested in eating. She flicked a maggot off into the bushes, losing her appetite even more. She thanked every god she could think of for the presence of the sutlers at the encampment, and wished that she had given herself the time to stop there before having begun this journey. In the beginning of the campaign, the hardtack had simply been tasteless, but filling. As the war wore on, it became infested, due mostly to the poor storage facilities. As it was, they were both stuck with their rations til they arrived at the party. Reil’s mouth watered at the thought, but then her thoughts sobered again, remembering the possibility that Emma would be there.

Reil snapped out of her musings when she realized that Rock was stowing away the last of their snack and preparing to mount up. Anxious, yet not, to be on their way, Reil stood, dusted herself off and walked over to her horse. “You seem awfully far away, Reil. Dont’ fret though, all will be as it is meant to be.” Reil marveled at Rock’s words. How could the man remain so optimistic? Or maybe he just appeared that way…those words he spoke could mean just about anything. She let the words toss about in her head, and felt a bit calmer knowing that Rock’s words were true. What would happen, would happen. She only hoped that whatever would happen would be over in as quick and painless a fashion as possible. “Sure Rock. Now let’s get going so we can let it happen that much sooner.” The two mounted and were on their way once again.

The sun was setting as they neared their destination. The had paused a few miles back to change into their dress uniforms. The nerves that had been dashing about wildly all day long seemed to have increased with Reil’s change of clothes. Rock had given up some time ago trying to talk to the young woman, understanding that nothing he said would change the situation. He silently rode along, hoping that his friend would hold up through the evening.

It was another one of those nights when the moon came up before the sun had fully set, but on this night it was also one of those rare times when the moon took on the appearance of being so close as to touch. The different bends in the road changed the perspective constantly, one time making it appear the size of a belt buckle, the next turn making a person think they could take out their knife and cut a slice out and save it for later. Reil again though of the moon goddess, and sent out a small prayer.

They came upon two stone pillars, a wide dirt road leading up to a grand old house. Two grooms came out to meet them at the entrance, taking their horses to the stables in the rear. They had timed their arrival just right, a fair sized crowd already could be seen inside. As they ascended the marble steps, they crossed the threshold of the door where they found themselves at the beginning of a recieving line. They politely greeted various people, some Reil had heard of, others not, all seemed to be rather important. As she moved along the line, she took a few moments to look around. They were in a large hallway, with a long staircase towards the back leading up to the second floor. The decor was plain, but Reil could tell that the furniture was simple yet well made. Paintings graced the walls, Havershams from years gone by, most likely. Off to the right were large double doors, open, revealing a grand sized ballroom. and across from that opening, on the opposite wall, another set of double doors, also open, revealing a large dining room.

Finally, towards the end of the line stood the host and hostess. Mrs. Haversham’s face lit up as she turned from greeting someone else and she saw Rock. “Oh, Papa! I’m so glad you could make it!” She chose to forgo the handshake and hugged the tall man in a sincere embrace. “Looking a bit thin…aren’t they feeding you?” Rock actually blushed a bit, lost in the charms of the woman who always thought to care for others above herself. “Feedin’ me fine Penny, worry not. You look fit. Selby old man, how are you?” He took Mr. Haversham’s hand in his own, giving it a heartfelt squeeze. The man smiled and shook his head, “Old my left foot! Who has the grey?” It was a long standing joke between the two, and Penny playfully slapped her husband on the arm. “Leave him be, Selby. Papa, why don’t you introduce us to your fine looking lieutenant here. He’s looking a bit lost.”

“Oh, my, where are my manners. Penny, Selby, this is Reil Bardlow. A finer soldier and truer friend you couldn’t find.” Rock practically beamed. “Ah, the infamous Lt. Bardlow, a pleasure to meet you at last.” Reil took the woman’s offered hand and gave a small bow, lips not quite touching the hand, as was considered appropriate. “A pleasure to meet you ma’am. Sir.” Reil released Penny’s hand to shake that of her husband. “Oh, and so well mannered! Come, you must meet everyone. Selby, I think we’re done here, don’t you?” It was easy to see who was in charge of this household. Reil tried hard to suppress a grin.

Selby caught the look on Reil’s face. “Go ahead, giggle if you like, but you’ll find out one day when you’re married off young man!” He said it all in such a good natured way, Reil finally did let out a small laugh, joined in by the others as well. She felt immediately comfortable with these two, but was worried how many people Penny decided to show her off to. She had always managed to be on the other end of these things at the few functions she had attended before the war.

“Come along Lieutenant, the night won’t get any younger. Oh, look, there’s Mrs. Brisby, you simply must meet her.” Penny took Reil’s arm and led her off in the direction of the first target. Before they got there, Penny was whispering pointers in her ear. “She’s very nice. Husband is in the Zoaves, out of West Point, a graduate of there also, I believe. She’ll try to marry off her daughter to you, but no matter how tempting she makes the girl sound, agree to nothing! The girl has the face of a ferret, poor thing!”

They continued on along this vein as the night went by, Reil had met more people in the half hour she was there than she had ever thought existed. She finally away for a few minutes from the hostess and grabbed a drink. Finding a relatively secluded spot along one wall of the ballroom, she sipped her drink, still not knowing if Emma was there.

Reveling in her moment of solitude, she didn’t notice when Mrs. Brisby came at her from out of nowhere. “Did I tell you Ethel has just completed finishing school? We’d love to have you over for her debut. It will be in Philadelphia…just about anyone who’s anyone will be there…” Reil tuned the woman out, nodding now and again or mumbling the affirmative or negative at the appropriate times. She wasn’t about to go anywhere near this woman’s daughter. And it wasn’t just because of the fact that she wasn’t a man…the girls mother was just way too irritating! As she nodded and mumbled, her eyes scanned the crowded room. It seemed that the Havershams’ knew just about everyone.

Suddenly, she spotted Emma. Reil watched, fascinated, as the woman took a small pastry off the passing tray a servant held. With divine grace, she placed it in her mouth, savoring the small treat. Reil was jealous of that tasty treat, wishing she could reach the same status which the small morsel had undeservedly attained. Emma chose that moment to look up, and once again, blue met green. They became the only two people in an otherwise crowded room. Mrs. Brisby, realizing she had lost the attention of the good looking lieutenant, moved on through the crowd, just a little peeved, muttering to herself about young folks these days.

What Reil saw in those eyes of amazing blue, nearly took her breath away. She saw desire, clear and unblemished. There could be no mistaking it, but she also saw uncertainty. She felt it as well. Well, she thought, I *am* the man here. Might as well take advantage of it. And with that thought in mind, she went and asked Emma to dance.
CHAPTER 6

A shy fourteen year old boy tugged at his collar. His mother had insisted he wear his Sunday best for the party. The air inside was stuffy, and he was more comfortable here, outside on the balcony. It was a relief, as well, to get away from all the old biddies who only wanted to pinch his cheeks and pat his head.

A young girl about the same age as him stood nearby, each having said hello to the other, but each too shy to continue the conversation. The boy tugged again at the stiff collar, glancing first out towards the manicured lawn, then through the large bay doors at the party crowd.

The girls’ gaze followed the direction the boys’ had taken, each hearing the soft tune float invitingly on the early evening air. The two young people stood, looking through the wide, glass paned doors as a handsome, blonde, lieutenant approached a stunning, tall dark haired woman. The officer bowed low, the woman gave a graceful curtsy.

The boy was young, but he knew as he watched the scene before him play out, that he was privy to a rare sight. The two stared in awe at the way the officer and the lady complimented each other, tall to short, light to dark. They were witness to more than they could ever understand. Like two lost pieces of a puzzle newly found to each other, the boy and girl could almost hear an audible ‘click’.

The mouth of the officer moved, then the woman’s, and the two marveled yet again at the grace the couple showed as they accompanied each other to the dance floor. They stepped into the dance crowd, and for all the rest of their lives, the young couple on that balcony would swear that the officer and his lady were the only two on that floor.

The young boy turned to face the girl, giving her a deep bow, as he had seen the officer do. “Becky, would you like to dance?” His voice quavered as only a young voice entering adolescence can. Becky curtsied in response and replied in her most mature voice, “Why Clarence, how sweet. I’d love to.” The two gave the dance their best attempt, each a little unsure, but comfortable just the same. As they waltzed, there, in the light of the moon, true love blossomed.

Neither one knew where it would lead at the time, but three years later, the two were married. He became a successful lawyer, she a devoted housewife. Together they raised six fine children. When the two were old and grey, they would happily answer the questions their grandchildren would ask about the night they met, the love they shared, and how two complete strangers allowed it to happen without even realizing they were a part of it.

They weren’t the only two to notice the young dancers that night. Women knew disappointment at not having a chance with the young lieutenant. Young men silently grumbled at not getting the chance to dance with the beautiful woman with the jet black hair and piercing blue eyes.

****************************************

For all outward appearances, that is what everyone saw. What they didn’t see were how Reil’s knees were shaking, or how much her palms were sweating. The tension nearly consumed her. It was all she could do not to fall into a heap on the floor right then and there. As she made her bow, her voice only betrayed her slightly. “Emma, how good to see you again. Would you be so kind, as to allow this humble soldier a dance?” Emma rose from her curtsy, a light blush on her face, fan waving in a seductive manner over her chest.

She had expected to see Reil tonight, just not expecting the rush of such strong emotions. Emma looked up into green eyes, her own sparkling still with her battling desires. She well knew that she was throwing away all conventions, diving into the unknown. And she couldn’t have been happier. Her answer, though soft, spoke volumes to Reil’s tired heart. “My kind sir. I would be remiss if I didn’t allow myself a dance or two with the most handsome man in the room.” She poured every ounce of love and acceptance that she could into those few words.

Reil’s relieved smile told her that she understood what Emma had been trying to convey. For tonight, at least, they could hold each other, for all the world to see. Reil offered her arm to the lady and they made their way to the dance floor. They might not, at that moment, have called it love. Everyone else who witnessed it would have. Such a rare joining of two hearts made whole, such a beautiful thing, can not hide for long.

They danced silently for long minutes, neither wanting to break the spell they knew they were waltzing through. A moment like this comes but once in a lifetime. Finally, it was Emma who broke the silence. Her voice pitched for Reil’s ears alone. “I meant what I said before, Reil. You are the most handsome of any man here tonight. You truly take my breath away.” Reil felt a familiar blush creep it’s way onto her face once more. By all the Gods, she thought, will this woman always do this to me? She sincerely hoped so. The blush deepened.

“Emma,” Reil whispered softly, “I was never so scared. I felt like my soul was on the line.” Propriety refrained her from hugging the small woman, though she very much wanted to do so. Instead, the hand which rested on the blue clad shoulder gave a small squeeze. “You look tired. I’ll bet you’ve not been getting anymore sleep than I have.”

“You, but…” The end of the song cut her off, with everyone politely clapping their applause to the talented band. This truly broke the spell. Reil spoke again, “Why don’t we talk out on the balcony? I could use some fresh air.” Emma agreed as she placed her hand once more on Reil’s arm, very much liking the secure feeling which accompanied the gesture. Reil, for her part, very much enjoyed the contact, knowing that when the time came to end the evening, she would have to leave without the other half of her soul.

As they stepped out onto the stone walled balcony, two young teenagers totally absorbed in each other, were walking inside arm in arm heading towards the refreshment table. Emma tilted her head a bit and raised an eyebrow. “Cute couple.” She commented to her officer. Hmm..she thought…*her* officer. She definitely liked the sound of that. “The same might be said about us.” Reil looked up into eyes so blue, they put the heavens to shame.

“Help me out here, are we going for cute?” Reil wrinkled her nose a bit and grimaced. “Good point.” They both laughed as they made their way towards the stone rail and looked out over the freshly trimmed hedges. The soft smell of roses hinted at on the wind.

“Can I ask you a question?” Reil knew practically nothing about this woman whom she was certain now she was falling in love with. “Sure.” The answer came easy, but a dark cloud seemed to come over Emma’s features. Now comes the hard part, she thought. Sure, Reil would want some answers, she just hadn’t really prepared herself to answer them tonight. She decided being honest was her best route. The week she had spent without seeing the woman had practically torn her apart. She didn’t want to face feeling like that again by losing the woman due to lies and deceit.

“Are you married?” Oh, Emma thought, good…go for the easy stuff first. “Once, seems like a lifetime ago now. He died in the war, along with my child.” The telling of it hurt, but there were no tears now, the time for shedding any being done. A small part of her heart wished she could have remained in her grief, if only to prove how much she hurt. But her more practical side prevailed. The wound in her heart was there, but it was no longer fresh. She looked out over the lawn and recounted to Reil the incident leading to their deaths, pausing now and again so she could get through it. It actually felt good to talk to someone about it all. She hadn’t had anyone to share it with, no one to help ease the pain. She knew instinctively that she could trust Reil with her heart.

Reil listened until Emma was through, her hand placed on top of the other woman’s’ hand which still held her arm throughout the telling of the sad tale. “I’m so sorry. You haven’t ever told anyone that, have you?” Softly, Emma replied, “No, no I haven’t. Thank you.” Thank you for listening, she though to herself, thank you for coming into my life, thank you for completing me. “How about I ask you a question now? Do you mind?” She looked over at the small blonde, trying in her mind to memorize each feature of the proud face.

“Not at all. What would you like to know?” She didn’t much like talking about her past, most of the memories too painful to dredge up even after all this time. “Well, I’m a bit curious. How do you manage to keep hidden the fact that you’re a woman? It must put quite a strain on you.” Yes, Reil thought, it was quite a strain until tonight. Never was she so glad that she could appear the man, out at a fancy party with a beautiful woman. There were some definite advantages to hiding your identity.

“Well,” she started out, “it’s really not as difficult as you may think. When I signed on, they barely looked me over, just wanted to make sure I didn’t have any deformities, blindness, things like that. It helped that Rock is a doctor, he vouched for me. And you know how men are, they are so modest.” She got a smile for that one, loving how it lit the other woman’s face up. She decided that she wanted to see more of that smile, and vowed silently to herself that she would make that her life’s work. A chore she gladly shouldered.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a single soldier yet jump into a river to bathe without leaving on their undergarments.” Here comes that blush again…good thing the moon isn’t that bright! “Going off in the morning to bathe privately isn’t seen as so terribly unusual. The same goes for answering nature’s call. The communal latrine is so hideous, no one wants to use it anyway. So, again, going off for a little privacy is not an issue.”

“Aren’t you afraid of being found out?” Reil took a moment to think about that, and how she was going to answer. It was a question that was on her mind each and every day. It was her turn to look out over the lawn. “Most people see what they want to see. They see a young boy fighting in a war. So far, my illusion has only been broken by my choice to tell someone. The only people that know are my family in Texas, Rock, and…you.” Emma had realised immediately the other night that she had been let in on something very private, and was thankful that the woman had chosen to trust her with her secret. She silently vowed not to let Reil regret her choice.

Emma’s attention was brought back to the present as Reil continued. “I heard stories, about a woman from Ohio. She got tore up pretty bad by some grape shot. They had to cut away the uniform to treat the wound and she was found out. That’s my biggest fear, really. I don’t ever want to get hurt so bad that I end up in the hospital. I’m here to fight in this war, and I don’t want to get kicked out on a technicality. Regardless of why this war is being fought, the country should remain whole. Not broken up into pieces so that the world can see how weak we are.”

She paused here, knowing that her next statement would probably seem extremely peculiar to the tall beauty. “I’m finding that I like being thought of as a man. I don’t get treated like a second class citizen, good only for darning socks and cooking. Guess you must think that makes me kind of strange, huh?

Emma had wondered a great deal about what would motivate a woman to take up arms, keep her identity hidden, place herself in constant danger. It all made much more sense now. Here was a woman who saw her country being torn apart, and only wanted to do what she felt was right. It was beyond a game, as most men thought when women spoke of war, it was her duty to her country. Each woman chose how to serve in the war effort, Reil had chosen to serve in the utmost manner. Emma felt proud to know her.

“I think that perhaps no other soldier has given up as much as you have to serve in this war. People fight sometimes because they think the South is wrong, or the North is wrong. Ideals that may mean nothing to them personally. I’ve spoken to some soldiers who say they are fighting simply because they are told to, many not ever having any thought beyond that of self preservation. But you, you fight to prove that a woman can defend her country as well as any man, even knowing that you may never be recognized for it. You fight because it’s the right thing to do. And if it is a side benefit that you get treated like an equal in the process, well…you deserve it.”

Reil turned to face Emma once again. Their faces just inches apart. “You really think so?” “Yes, without a doubt.” But Reil’s next question came out of some long held, deep, insecurities. “Do I deserve you?” She said it so softly, Emma’s breath caught. She hadn’t expected that one. She pulled away a bit, nervous…she wanted so badly to run at that moment. Surely Reil would hate her if she knew the truth. “There’s so much about me that you don’t know, Reil. Maybe the question ought to be whether or not I…deserve…you.”

Emma looked away, she couln’t bear the look of hurt she knew would be on the younger woman’s face. Reil’s gloved hand came up and she gently turned the woman’s face toward her. “It’s alright, I already know about the brothel in Fredricksburg. It was one of the reasons I told you about me, I’d seen how well you kept your own secret. I knew I could trust you. And it doesn’t matter to me, I’m sure you have your reasons.”

“It’s not something I’m proud of, Reil. I actually inherited it from my grandmother. When I got there, about a year ago, right after my husband died, I was going to disband the girls. I really had no idea that grandmother had that type of business…no one knew. But there were matters which needed to be settled…debts owed…” Her voice trailed off, the telling of the fact helping somewhat to relieve the ache in her heart.

The Confederates owed her two lives. Emma had known she couldn’t rest until those debts had been paid. She left it at that, hoping that her other activities would never have to be revealed to the young officer. Once her dealings with the Colonel were done, she would be able to tell her of her involvement, but doing so now might jeopardize her situation. “But it won’t be long before those debts are paid, then I can hand the business over to one of the girls who has since shown interest in managing the brothel. She does most of the paperwork now, and she’s good at it. I only run the place, and with my husband dead, the extra money was welcome. I wouldn’t make a very good whore.” It was Emma’s turn to blush, she hadn’t expected the conversation to turn out so detailed.

Reil knew that it was a big step for the woman to take in telling her all this. If Emma’s secret were to get out, the standing she had in society would ruin her. No more parties like this, that would be sure. She knew about keeping up appearances, knew how much sacrifice was required of ones own self. She felt a bond with this woman. Unconventional times called for unconventional actions. This was just another woman who was just doing what was necessary to survive in a very chaotic time.

This amazing woman had accepted Reil for who she was, Reil felt she could do no less. “You just do what you have to, like me.” Throughout the conversation, Reil had begun to feel more comfortable. She desperately wanted to have Emma understand that no matter what happened, in her eyes, things like owning a brothel made no difference in her feelings towards her. She tried to convey this feeling with her words, but saw that it wasn’t enough. Once again glad that for any who might look their way that she was clad as a man, Reil reached up and ran the outside of her fingers along the other woman’s’ finely sculptured cheek. “Oh, Emma. Don’t you see?”

“See what?” The reply was husky, and Emma leaned her face into the caress. “My heart.” With this, she gently cupped the taller woman’s face with her hand, thumb softly brushing along the line of a delicate ear. Faces only a scant distance apart, they both hesitated, knowing what this would mean, the change that would alter their lives forever. Ever so carefully, their lips met. The dance of destiny had begun.
CHAPTER 7

Selby and Rock sat in companionable silence in the study. The two men had managed to escape the party, but knew that it wouldn’t be long till they were found by the ever energetic Penelope. Each held a snifter of brandy. In between sips, they puffed on cigars. Rock glanced around the study, admiring the craftsmanship of the oak bookcases, the large oak reading table and other furniture in the room. “Can’t understand why you went with oak in here, Selby. Must’ve given that man you hired to do the work a complete fit!” Selby was reclined in his chair, feet propped up towards the fireplace. It had begun to rain a bit, and the change in weather caused him pain in his old hip injury which had prevented him from joining in the war. He shifted positions, finally placing a small pillow at his back and finding a small degree of comfort.

“Yes, actually it was Emma’s husband who did all the woodwork throughout the house. Fine job he did, too. That man had talent. I gave him the basic ideas for how I wanted this room to look, and he about busted a vein in his neck when I told him I wanted it all in quartersawn oak. He blathered for a few minutes, but I convinced him I was serious.” He smiled a bit at the memory of the man turning completely red, indignant that he would have to work with cheap wood, not the more sought after mahogany or teak.

“Less wealthy people paint the darn stuff over, hide the fact that they can’t afford the more elegant stuff. What got into you?” Rock was truely curious. It wasn’t often that someone openly displayed oak, the price being so low due to the quantity of it. At first Rock had thought that Selby was just a bit odd, but over the years he came to know the man, and knew that sometimes his passions overrode popular opinions.

“I love the tones. The texture. The solidness it exudes.” His face took on a faraway look, the man had a passion for the finer things in life, and if he was the only one who thought of oak as something so worthy, well, then the rest of the world could go jump in the river. “Well,” Rock said, “I must admit it does look nice, but I don’t think it will ever catch on.” The late hour and the fine brandy were catching up to him. He leaned his head back in his chair as the two men continued basking in the quiet solitude they had found away from the noisy party.

A few moments later, the door to the study opened, the hard wash of lights from outside disturbing the soft tones in the room that the fireplace had created. “There you two are!” exclaimed Penelope, as she bustled into the room. “Come now, Selby, you too Papa. We have to bid goodnight to our guests!” Slowly and with much grumbling, the two men rose from their seats, tugging on vests to try and appear less rumpled than they were. “Papa, the widow Lindsey was asking after you. It seems she very much enjoyed the dance you two shared earlier in the evening. It would be a shame if you didn’t say proper goodbyes to her.” They allowed the woman to shoo them out into the hall, where it was apparent that many of the guests had already taken their leave.

Rock glanced around and found the woman in question. He had indeed enjoyed the delightful widow’s company, finding her witty and charming. Rock found it difficult to believe that such an attractive woman was still single. As he maneuvered his way over to say goodbye, he took a moment to take in the sight of the woman. She was no more than forty, he figured, only the slight indication of grey about her temples. She had strong features, but her eyes were kind and she had a smile that made his old heart skip a beat. “Mrs. Lindsey, a sorry thing that this delightful evening has to end.” He gave her a smile, and she practically swooned from the attention. “Oh, Captain, my word, a sorry thing indeed. You’ll be returning to your unit I suppose?”

“Yes, sadly. I would much prefer more time in your sweet company. Perhaps, if I could be so bold, we might correspond?” The widow blushed a bit, bowing her head demurely to hide the reaction. “Not bold at all, Captain. I would like that very much.” They stood at the doorway, the soft patter of rain could be heard from outside. “Please, allow me to escort you to your carriage.” Holding his overcoat over the petite woman’s head, he led her out to her waiting ride, promising to write soon.

As the carriage pulled away, Rock made his way back up the steps and into the house. Reil and Emma were chatting with Penelope and Selby. Emma had her left hand in Reil’s left, with Reils right arm about the taller woman’s waist. They seemed unconcerned about the display, and to Rock, it looked as thought the two had been in that position many times before tonight, even though he knew that was impossible. They just looked *that* comfortable together. Rock was happy for his young ward, and only hoped that she wouldn’t get her heart broken.

As he approached, Reil turned his way, gone from her face were the traces of doubt and indecision that had been present for the past week. In their place, a look of confidence and bliss. Her inner demons had been tamed by the dark haired beauty that stood by her side. “Rock, I was wondering where you disappeared to! What are our plans?”

“Well, the passes I got give me two days, but yours are different.” He hid a smile that was bursting to get out. The confused, crestfallen look on the young woman was priceless! “Well, whu…umm….I have to leave now? In the rain??” She was sorely confused. Rock couldn’t hide his smile anymore. He pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Reil. She let go of Emma’s hand and opened the paper singlehandedly. A relieved look came over her features as she read the furlough papers. “I should hit you, you know…good thing for you that you outrank me!!”

“I know you said you didn’t want to take that much time, but it’s only for five days. You really do need the rest. I’ll be going back tomorrow, there’s things I need to take care of at the unit. But you take your time, enjoy yourself, have a little fun! You deserve it.” Reil leaned over and gave the man a tight one armed hug, nobody in the room missing the fact that contact with Emma was never lost. “Um, Rock? Could we talk a minute?” With a look of apology to Emma, she reluctantly let the woman go, pulling Rock off to the side to talk to him in private.

“What’s on your mind, Sprout?” Reil smiled at the childhood nickname, used so rarely now since she had grown. She smiled at the man who was more of a family to her than her own had been and placed a hand on his upper arm. “Emma has asked me to stay at her place. Would the Haversham’s be offended if I don’t stay? They did mention earlier that they had been expecting us both to stay due to the distance we had to travel to get here.”

Rock thought about this for a moment, carefully exploring all the ramifications. Finally he answered, “Reil, I’m sure the Haversham’s won’t mind, but I’m concerned. I don’t want to see you rushing into something that may hurt you eventually.” He ran his hand down the side of her face, conveying through his deep grey eyes his concern for her well being. Out of all the children he had taken in over the years, Rock believed that Reil was the most trying. Always so headstrong, so eager to get on with her life, hating the restrictions that her age and gender had placed on her. Not that he didn’t love her for it, it just made for more worry.

Reil saw the look in his eyes and read him like a book. “Don’t go getting all mother hen on me now, Rock!” she gently admonished the tall man, “I’ll be fine. I am fine. I’ve never been *more* fine.” She looked him in the eye, and he could see that, yes, she was. It took him almost by surprise, when did his little girl grow up, he wondered not for the first time, and probably not the last. But he wanted to be sure, ever so sure, that this was not a passing thing. “What do you see when you look at her?” A simple question, really. With no simple answer.

Reil answered with not a single ounce of hesitation. “I look at her, and I feel as though her eyes dive into my soul. And when I come up for air, there she is, all shimmering, the droplets of my soul still clinging to her in a halo of light. And left behind are shards of her own soul, filling in the once empty gaps that I didn’t even know I had. I am lost, but in her arms, I am found.” She had taken on a faraway look as she said all this, and Rock had no further doubts that at least Reil, was in love. As for how Emma felt, all he had to do was look over and see the woman watching them. No, watching Reil. “Go, go to her and have a wonderful time. I’ll talk to Penny and explain.” She gave his arm a squeeze, a silent ‘thank you’, and went to stand beside Emma once again, this time to say goodbye to her hosts.

Emma’s carriage was awaiting them outside, with Reil’s horse tethered to the back. The horse’s tack had been placed inside on the floorboards, making Reil grateful that she wouldn’t have to dry out the leather. The carriage itself wasn’t fancy, just a cushioned seat with a canvas top, a few tassels, some brass trim. Functional, yet fancy enough befitting a lady of Emma’s station. Reil had wondered about this point, knowing that in Fredricksburg it was known that the woman owned a brothel. Obviously, her social standing here, nearer to the north was different than what it was further south.

As they tucked the carriage blanket over their legs to ward off the chill night air, and headed for their destination (which was still unknown to Reil), the young blonde took the opportunity to satisfy more of her own curiosity. Speech became difficult, however, when she realized Emma’s hand was placed on her knee under the blanket. While she certainly enjoyed the sensation, she was also concentrating on keeping the horse on the muddy road. Emma’s soft voice occasionally giving directions and the light patter of rain on the cover of the carriage was quickly lulling her into forgetting everything else and kissing the woman again right then and now.

She finally roused herself out of the soft nest her mind was settling in and broke the silence. “Where are we headed?” Emma looked over at her, her head still reeling with amazement that this woman had stolen her heart, and in so short a time. “Home.” came the soft answer. “When my husband died, I took over everything, although I had some small fight on my hands when some male relatives wanted to run things. It took a bit of work, but now everything is in my name. We’re not far, that’s why I’m not worried about finding the way in the rain…otherwise I, too, would have taken up Penelope’s offer to stay the night. Turn left up ahead, there…between those two trees.”

Reil did as was instructed, easily handling the docile horse that was attached to the carriage. “What did your husband do for a living?” Emma had told her earlier how her husband and young son had gone to town to sell a horse, been attacked by a lone rebel who had been roaming the countryside (apparently trying to get back to his own unit), and how the horse was shot out beneath the two, killing them both instantly in the ensuing fall. She knew he was in the Army of the Potomac, like herself, but Emma hadn’t mentioned what he did.

“Well, prior to the war, Roger was a master craftsman. Learned his trade in England. He did all the work at the Haversham’s house. That’s how I know Penelope, we became fast friends. When the war started, he joined the north, loyalties being very divided here in Virginia…I believe the people here have been hit hardest by the split, so many having relatives on both sides of the conflict. Fortunately, he was very good at his craft, and there were many pieces of his work in our house, so between the family inheritance that I learned about after his death, and what I was able to sell, I’ve been able to live fairly well.”

“Why do you think he never told you about the money?” Reil thought it a bit odd that it wouldn’t have come up at some point. “I figure he wanted to make it on his own, he just put the money in the bank and left it there, I did all the bookkeeping for his business, and I only ever saw the money from the work he did. Don’t get me wrong, he did very well, but I don’t think he was ever proud of his family, saw the money only as something of a bother. Since he knew he could take care of his family on his own, he just never thought about it. He used to always be so proud, didn’t like to take any kind of favors from anyone. I guess he saw the inheritance as a favor. I only know I’m glad, now, that it’s there. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

They were nearing the house, and even through the dark and rain, Reil could tell that it was not as large as the one they had just left, but it wasn’t small either. It had a big wrap around porch, and a large door with stained glass insets. There were three visible stories, and probably a full sized root cellar, judging by the small windows along the bottom, under the porch. She could barely make out a building towards the back, and Emma directed her in that direction. They pulled up to what was revealed as a barn, and Emma got out and banged on the small door. Reil got out as well, and joined her, trying to use the carriage blanket as shelter from the rain. Emma ducked down a bit to share the makeshift cover. They saw a light go on in the loft, and finally a young man with dark, tousled hair opened the door. “Jimmy, see to the horses, would you?” The boy woke up a bit more, realizing his mistress was the reason his sleep was interrupted. “Yes, ma’am. Right away Mrs. Collingsworth! Anything else?”

Emma gave the young man a warm smile, “No, Jimmy, and thank you…sorry to wake you, the party got out late.” Jimmy had moved outside, opening the big bay doors to the barn. He began leading Reil’s horse inside, then came back out and began unhitching the other horse. “No problem, ma’am, I’ll have these horses set up right quick, don’t you worry none.” Emma thanked him again, and led Reil towards the back door to the house. They entered into the large kitchen, and Reil found herself face to face with a very irate Flo.

“Where have you been with my little girl? Come traipsing in here all hours of the night! I ought to have you horse whupped, boy!” All the time, Flo was waving a wooden cooking spoon at Reil, who had backed up against the kitchen door and was desperately searching for something…anything that would calm the woman down. “Th..the…party…got out…la…late….uhm…” The wooden spoon came very close to the blonde woman’s nose, and she stared at it cross eyed. “Don’ wanna hear yore ‘scuses boy!” Reil sidestepped and moved quickly to the other side of the butcher block island in the middle of the kitchen. Flo followed, the chase begun.

Meanwhile, it was all Emma could do to keep from laughing at the scene unfolding in front of her. She let it go on for the sake of Flo, who felt Emma needed at least a token show of protecting the woman she had practically raised. “Aren’t you going to do anything? I could use a little help here!” Reil had overcome her stuttering in favor of outright peevishness. She had seen the faint smirk that Emma was trying to hide. “Come on, Emma!” she pleaded with the tall woman, “she’s gonna smack me silly with that spoon if you don’t do something!” Poor Reil was a sight, standing there feinting moves left and right, trying to stay out of the range of the madly swung spoon. “And drippin’ water all over my kitchen…I’ll string you up!” Flo was in full fury, but she wasn’t really mad. She was having too good a time seeing the young man squirm.

Emma finally gave out a laugh, but stepped in between the two just after Flo had actually managed to get a whack in on Reil’s arm. “That’s enough Flo. I think you’ve scared Reil enough for one night. Why don’t you go and get some sleep. I’ll call for you if I need you.” All the while she was talking, Emma was steering Flo towards the door, taking the woman’s cloak off it’s peg, wrapping it around her shoulders. She was finally able to stop the woman’s tirade long enough to take her face in her hands. Looking deeply into Flo’s eyes, she said in a soft voice, “It’s ok, Flo. This is the one. You go now, please.”

Flo immediately calmed down, realizing that the woman in front of her was no longer a child, she could make her own decisions. And Emma’s words were the same ones she had used nearly eight years ago, when Roger had come into her life. Emma had been right then, and she knew Emma was right now. When it’s love, she thought, it’s love, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it. With a grand resigned sigh, she quietly left through the kitchen door, walking across the way to the small house that was next to the barn. She turned once, calling out, “You be sure to shout if you need me…” then slowly made her way to her small house.

Emma turned to see Reil standing there, nursing her sore arm. “Yikes, Emma, who was that? She sure wields a mean spoon! Do all your guests get treated like that, or am I just a special case?” Emma laughed again and walked over to her poor, dripping soldier. She pulled her into a tight hug, “You’re special alright, do you know how much I’ll have to pay for that in the coming weeks. I’ll hear nothing except how you dripped water in the kitchen!” Reil looked up into shining blue eyes. “Go ahead, laugh. At least you won’t get stung with that spoon!” Emma decided the best solution was to lean down and give the woman a soft kiss. “How about,” another kiss, “I make it,” yet another, “up to you?”. Reil was melting under the assault and felt her knees going weak, when suddenly, the loving embrace broke off. She wobbled a bit, trying to find her balance once again. “Wha…?”

Emma was tugging on the wet overcoat. “We have to get out of these wet clothes. I have some things of Rogers upstairs that you can use, if you don’t mind. He was a bit bigger than you, but they’ll do.” Reil let the coat come off and Emma placed it by the kitchen hearth to dry. She walked over to the door where she had dropped the blanket in her attempt to get away from the crazed housekeeper. It was soaked through as well, and she placed it alongside the other wet things that were accumulating near the hearth. She stared at one of the objects that had been set out, her mouth going dry at the implication. Finally daring to look up, there was Emma, calmly standing there in her shift, one leg propped up on a stool to remove her shoes. Reil felt her old companion the permanent blush making it’s grand return. She quickly turned her back to the woman and placed her hand over her eyes for good measure.

Reil had known it would come to this, eventually, but had hoped it would have been a bit more, well…romantic. Everything that had happened since entering the kitchen had been a new experience. She was at a loss for how to properly react to this new situation. She politely cleared her throat, then asked in a weak voice, “Um, you mentioned some dry clothes?” Emma wanted to let out a laugh, but realized that Reil was seriously embarrassed. “Don’t worry, you can turn around. The shift goes all the way to the floor, it’s not like I’m exposed or anything.”

Reil considered this for a moment, then slowly turned around. She bent down to shuck off her wet boots and set them by the fire. Padding over in her stocking feet, she stood before the woman once more. “You’re shaking. Did Flo upset you that much? Here, let me take a look at your arm.” Emma hitched up the sleeve to reveal what would soon become a nasty looking bruise. “Ow, that must really hurt.” She ran her fingers lightly over the discoloration, causing the woman to flinch slightly.

Emma pulled her hand away thinking she had hurt her, only to find her hand suddenly held in Reil’s smaller one. Hesitantly, Reil drew the hand closer, placing small kisses on each knuckle, finally bringing the clasped hands to rest over her heart. Head bowed, speaking so softly Emma had to strain to hear, “I…I..don’t know where to go from here. What to do.” She lifted her head up and looked into the eyes of the woman who held her soul. Reil wished desperately at that moment that she actually was a man, that she could please this woman in every way. She silently thought that maybe this wouldn’t work out. That maybe all they would ever have were kisses, hugs and soft caresses. The thought made her heart sink.

Lucky for Reil, Emma had different thoughts. It wasn’t that she had ever been with a woman, but she was older, a bit more experienced. “Don’t you worry about that. We just try a little bit of everything, find what works. I’m not sure what to do either, but together, I’m sure we can come up with something.” This brought a small smile and a deepening of the ever present blush. “You’re cute when you blush, do you know that?”

“Nobody else ever made me blush, so I wouldn’t know.” She stumped a woolen toe on the floorboards, fighting with herself over her next words. “But, I’m…well…I’m not a man. What if I can’t please you?” Emma cupped the small face with her free hand. She thumbed away a tear that had slowly escaped the confines of those springtime eyes. “Please, love, don’t cry. It doesn’t matter to me that you’re not a man. I don’t want you to be. I just want you to be…you.” The taller woman hadn’t even noticed the endearment that she had used. Reil just looked up at her in wonder. How did she get so lucky? She really didn’t know.

A little while later, they sat on an old mattress that they had pulled out of a spare bedroom, sipping hot chocolate while wrapped in several large blankets. The fire crackled merrily away in the kitchen hearth. The smell of wet wool and leather boots and shoes drying mixing with the smell of hot chocolate creating an odd combination in the air. They talked long into the night, finally falling asleep in the hours just before dawn, arms wrapped tightly around each other.
CHAPTER 8

The rain continued to fall steadily outside. A cloaked figure waited patiently, as first the light in the stable loft winked out, then as the large housekeeper trundled her way to the small cottage and after a bit, the lights there, too, went out. The large figure moved silently to hide in the bushes that lined the small back porch, his position affording him a clear view through the kitchen window. What he saw there made him angry. More than angry, he cursed silently to himself. He vowed that he would never be made fool of again, not by that woman. He would see to that.

The hours ticked by, the man having only a bottle of cheap whiskey to keep him company. The more he drank, the angrier he got. He considered the tall woman more than just a threat to the Confederacy. She was a threat to all he held dear. If he allowed her to continue on, he himself, could be called traitor. It had taken a good deal of money, but people talked. According to the medical reports, the messenger who had carried the necessary information to the troops at Ft. Henry had a self inflicted wound. She must have paid him off nicely for that, he thought to himself. He began to tire of waiting. His bottle was almost empty.

The hidden man dozed as he could, waiting out the time till the two people inside fell asleep. He shifted now and again to try and make the best of his situation. Branches dug into his back and face, the cloak long since useless against the steady barrage of rain. Sitting there in the mud, he thought of his plan, not much of one really, but it had taken him so long to get to the here and now. Weeks of tracking, his men following each of the two. He had taken over the tracking when it became obvious that the two would be leaving the Haversham’s party together. He couldn’t have arranged a more perfect scenario himself. Both were in the same room, totally unaware that they had been followed. Inside, it became quiet. The low conversation he had been barely hearing for the past several hours finally coming to an end. He waited a few more minutes, then made his move.

The two women slept easily by the fire. The feather mattress like a nest for them. Emma had found an old uniform of her husbands and it fit Reil better than expected. She herself wore a long flannel nightgown. Reils’ wool clad toes stuck out slightly from beneath the blanket. The two were entwined, with Emma’s head resting in the crook of Reils neck, face tucked in close, one arm slung across the smaller woman’s chest. Reil had an arm draped in an almost protective manner over the dark haired woman’s’ shoulders. They both bolted up into a sitting position as the kitchen door was kicked in.

A tall figure stood in the doorway, silhouetted briefly by a flash of lightning. The man, which it had to be by sheer size, held a pistol in one hand, the other clenching into a fist. He strode in like he owned the place. His alcohol laced mind convinced him he soon would. Emma rose to her feet, instantly recognizing the man. “How dare you! How dare you come into my house! What right do you have to come barging in here?” She was furious, but Reil thought it might not be such a good idea to anger someone who was pointing a pistol at you. She glanced over to where she had laid her own service revolver, and knew that if she moved for it, she would only have seconds, and she didn’t want Emma hurt. She leaned back on one elbow, her right arm draped across her stomach. She would just have to wait for an opportunity to present itself.

The man looked up, the large brim of the hat he wore under the hood of the cloak caused his eyes to be hidden in shadows. The only noise to be heard was the steady drip as water from his huge, graying mustache sent one after the other drop of water onto the whitewashed floor. The man’s booming southern voice filled the room, his pistol still aimed at Emma. “You lying bitch. I never trusted you from the start. The excuses you gave me…the lies…all for what? So you could bed some damn Yankee? You told me once you took no man to your bed, I gave you time to grieve…” The man was practically choking out his words, his anger building with each syllable, his drunken state threw caution to the wind. “That should have been me dancing with you tonight, me lying there next to you. ME! Then there was the misinformation…the stalling…it all makes sense now. But it doesn’t matter now. Lee has his plan all set, he’s been watching Hooker’s troop movement since that lousy excuse for a General took command of the Northern forces. There’s gonna be one tremendous battle ahead, and we’re gonna win it. But first, first…you’re gonna die, you traitorous whore!” He leveled the gun at Emma, his knuckles white from the death grip on the handle.

Reil saw that any opportunity for distraction that she may have been hoping for was lost. Something about the man’s voice was vaguely familiar, but the words were so distorted, she set aside the thought. She had more important things to worry about. She reached for her weapon, coming up slightly to get one leg under her for balance. Not having the time to take it out of it’s holster, she aimed the gun, holster and all at the large man and fired a round.

Time seemed to slow down, it was as if one could see the motion of the bullet, it’s slow turns as it made it’s way out of the barrel of the gun, moving towards its’ inevitable target. The man saw the movement of the young soldier, redirected his aim, firing at the same time as Reil. Emma turned to see what had made the man change his sights. The large man crashed against the island in the kitchen, falling heavily to the floor, the hood of the cloak falling away from his face. Reil took the force of the blow, and it landed her in a noisy, clanging heap amoung the racks and chairs by the hearth that had been used to dry the wet items from the night before. The last thing Reil saw, was the man’s face, twisted in agony. The last thing Reil heard, was Emma scream. It echoed in the now quiet room. “Nooooooo!………”

******************************************

A loud noise woke Flo from a sound sleep. Her eyes flew open, and with the kind of instincts only a mother has, she knew Emma was in trouble, even if she weren’t her own blood daughter. She had raised enough children, and knew deep in her heart, that something terrible had happened. She rushed to get her shoes on, and threw a shawl about her shoulders. Quickly igniting the lantern from the banked fire in the front room, she raced out across the small patch of land in between her home and the larger house. She saw Jimmy already at the splintered door, pitchfork in hand, and he motioned for her to stay behind him. She roughly pushed him out of the way, striding past him saying in a gruff voice; “Lemme through, my baby’s in there.”

As she came in the door, the first thing she noticed was a large, dark lump laying on the floor. A bright crimson pool of blood, faintly glowing in the light of her lantern was slowly spreading out from underneath. Her eyes opened wide as she scanned the room for the other two people she knew were in the house. She spotted Emma first, who was on her knees tending to the young man. “Emma, my lord, child, why is there a dead man on the floor of my kitchen?” She moved over towards the tall woman to see what had happened to the young soldier. “He gonna live?” Emma, to her credit, had regained her senses quickly after seeing that Reil was, indeed, going to be alright. “Yes, bullet went through the arm, got knocked out landing on all the clutter by the hearth. Can you get me something to clean the wound with?”

“You just let me take care of everything. Did you stop the bleeding?” At the woman’s nod, she set about stoking the fire back to a blaze, and heated a pot of water. “Jimmy, be a dear and take that man outta my kitchen.” The young man had turned the body over, checking to see if there were any signs of life. He used the cloak to cover the man’s face, it’s hideous visage too much for the hired hand to look upon without feeling queasy. “Lord above, Flo. That there officer got him right through the heart. Bugger didn’t stand a chance.”

He got the large form onto it’s back. Hooking his arms under the portly mans armpits, Jimmy began hauling the body outside. “I’ll stick him out behind the barn for now, bury him at first light so’s I can see what it is I’m doin’.” Flo looked up as he made his way towards the door. “Hold on there a minute.” She walked over, carefully avoiding stepping in the blood. Lifting back the hood of the cloak she cried out. “Lord have mercy! Emma, that’s the Colonel!” Emma looked up from tending Reil. “I know. Reil saved my life, he would have killed me for sure. Somehow, Flo, he found out about me.”

She looked back down at the unconscious form of the woman who held her soul. “I should never have let Reil into my life. Reil’s hurt now because of me, Flo. I did this as sure as if I had pulled the trigger.” Flo came back around to the other side of the room and placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry none about that. That there young man knew he might find trouble one way or the other as soon as he put on that uniform. We’re all living in a hard time right now. Nothin’ you could’a done. If you ask me, that Colonel got what he deserved.” She glanced over towards the body once more. “Always did give me the willies.”

It was small comfort to the woman, but she knew that Flo was right. Life these days was filled with danger, but she still couldn’t fully shake the feeling that if it hadn’t been for her, Reil wouldn’t be injured right now. She gave a small smile to the housekeeper, then pointed her chin in Jimmy’s direction. “Better go and take him outside now Jimmy. And look around, should be a horse nearby. Big black one. Don’t worry though, it looks fearful, but it’s really a gentle horse.” Jimmy nodded that he understood. He had no fear of horses, hadn’t met one yet that he couldn’t tame with a gentle word. He bent his back again to the grisly task, the Colonels boots thumping on the doorsill as he was dragged away.

“Flo, help me move Reil somewhere more comfortable. We’ll have to toss that mattress out, it’s covered in blood.” The two women were able to easily lift the still unconscious form and carry Reil into Emma’s bedroom. This earned a ‘look’ from Flo, but she kept her thoughts to herself, for once. Emma stayed by the bedside, holding Reil’s hand. Flo left and quickly came back with the heated water and some fresh bandages. Tucked under her arm was a flask of whiskey.

Flo set down the bowl of water and the bandages on the nightstand and handed Emma the flask. “Pour some of that on the wound, then some inside him when he comes ‘round. That man is gonna have one heck of a headache, I imagine. I’ll go fix up some breakfast.” Emma looked up, she hadn’t missed the reference that Flo thought of Reil now as a man, and not a boy. Reil was accepted, in Flo’s mind. She made a mental note to ask Reil later if she could let the housekeeper in on her secret. She just didn’t feel right hiding something like that from the woman who had been like a mother to her for so long. Flo was always there for her, like she was now, making everything right. She would never be able to express her thanks enough. As Flo was leaving, Emma spoke up. “You saved Reil’s life, you know.”

“How’s that?” Flo turned around, confusion showing clearly on her face. “Last night, when you chased Reil around the kitchen? You smacked with your spoon, leaving a bruise just above the elbow. Right where the bullet went in. See?” She indicated to the older woman the exact spot on Reil’s arm. A faint bruise could be seen outlining the bullet hole. “I’m glad you didn’t aim for the head!” Flo began making some hand gestures, warding off evil. “My word, Emma. Looks like I must’ve had some good magic in that spoon! All things happen for a reason, I suppose.” Emma finished cleaning and bandaging the wound, thankful that the bullet had gone clean through, missing the bone.

“Emma, you look a sight. Why don’t you get some rest while I cook?” The dark haired woman nodded, never taking her eyes off of Reil’s unconscious form. As Flo left the room, Emma heard a soft moan. “Wh…ow..what happened?” Smoothing the hair back from Reil’s eyes, relief showed in Emma’s face. She smiled down at a sight she knew she would never tire of seeing. “You were shot, then you hit your head. Sleep now, you’ll be fine. I’ll be right here beside you.” Finding herself too tired to protest, she asked in a small voice, “Promise?”. “I promise.” Emma crawled up beside her, the smaller woman instinctively moving closer, even in sleep. Later on, she knew she would have questions to answer. For now, she was content to hold the small woman in her arms. Emma drew the woman closer still, and finally drifted off to sleep as well.

*************************************

She was cloaked in blackness. No sight, no sound. As she stretched her arms out, they were met with a solid, sticky object. Every direction she moved in, on hands and knees, more of the objects met her questing fingers.

The woman began to notice a change in the darkness, it was softening into light. She could make out shadows all around her in the gloom. A crimson fog settled over everything, allowing her to only see that which was nearby. A wind picked up, whispering it’s baleful howl, searching for a soul to steal.

She was not afraid. Managing to stand up, she shouted her defiance in a guttural snarl, balling up her small fists at her sides. The wind carried away the fog as more light illuminated the grisly scene. There she stood, a frozen monument of hatred in a bloody sea of bodies.

She spun around, searching for the cause of all this carnage. Off in the distance a figure of a woman could be seen. Head hung low with long, dark hair flowing about the figures shoulders, head and face. A long white lace gown hung down past her feet. Floating above the sea of bodies, it slowly approached the angry woman. The figure held out both hands, palms up, blood covered.

“You!” The angry woman shouted. “It was you. You caused all this!” She gestured across the bloody landscape. In a dry raspy voice, the figure replied; “T’was only what was owed me…” The floating woman’s head came up, piercing blue eyes slamming into the angry woman. Her own green ones blazing an off color green, reflecting the red glow now coming off the bodies. “Those you see here wear gray…”, the figure spoke again, “you are now responsible for one as well.”

Green eyes slowly looked down at her own hands, still clenched in fists. She raised them up, and opened them slowly. Red ocher poured off her hands, down her elbows.

A scream tore itself from her throat…

The noise had Flo running in from the kitchen, but she stopped at the door to the bedroom, seeing Emma rocking the officer in her arms. She turned and went back to her duties, hearing the soft endearments that Emma was whispering fade as she moved farther from the room. Flo was a bit worried about Reil. Some never moved on from the nightmares. Her nephew still woke screaming in the night. Her sister had told her once that sometimes, even waking, the boy had seen things that were no longer happening, jumping at loud noises and such. Flo truly hoped that Emma’s young officer didn’t suffer the same fate that the war had handed her nephew.

Reil’s body sensed two things upon waking up later that same morning. One was a soft warm comfort snuggled against her left side. The other was a dull throbbing pain in her right arm. She decided even before she opened her eyes, that she liked the former much more so than the latter. Struggling to remember the events of earlier (Today? How long had it been?), images came in rather fuzzy, some out of order. She finally worked up the energy to open one eye, and beheld a sight she knew she wanted to wake up to for the rest of her life. The taller woman was sprawled across most of her body, one hand cupping a breast, and one leg tucked between her own. Reil didn’t know whether or not she actually wanted the woman to move or not.

Emma moved in her sleep, readjusting her position, causing Reil to blush furiously. The fact that they were both clothed made no difference to Reil. The fact that Reil was rather enjoying the contact also made no difference to her. It was simply that she felt a moral duty to have some type of formal relationship with the woman before they took things any farther. She mentally clamped down those feelings that her body was telling her. Based on recent events, Reil wanted some answers before anything else happened. She lay there for long moments, thinking about just those events. Too many questions needed answers.

Acknowledging the need to wait for those answers, Reil decided she needed to get up. She had become sore sleeping in one position, pinned down. A small smile showed, as she had trouble thinking of a better thing to be pinned down by. But, she sighed, all good things must come to an end, and it really was a bit embarrassing. She wouldn’t be able to control herself again if Emma shifted once more. Gently, she used her good arm and nudged the sleeping form.

Emma made a small noise that Reil could only describe as a purr, and it sent shivers through her whole body. She nudged again. Emma opened her eyes, then realized where her hand was. Reluctantly, she moved her hand to a safer place, but decided the rest of her was way too comfortable right where it was. “Morning. How do you feel?” Reil gave her a one armed hug. “Waking up with you in my arms? Couldn’t feel better! But…um….I kinda have to get up.”

“Oh, sure. Umm…I think I smell coffee. Flo promised breakfast when I saw her last.” The smaller woman gave a small smile. “Oh, so the woman who chased me last night has a name? That’s good to know. By the way, how long was I out?” “Just a couple of hours.” Emma decided it was best not to remind the woman of the nightmare, thinking that it might embarrass her. Reil sat up, allowed the brief dizziness to pass, and made her way to the chamber pot. She was having some difficulty with the buttons on her trousers, due to the limited use of her arm. “Here, let me.” Emma walked over, commented once again on the cuteness of the blush, and lent a hand. She then left the room saying that she would meet her in the kitchen.

A few moments later, having managed to get the buttons redone with minimal cursing, Reil made her way to breakfast. As she looked around the kitchen several things had changed since last night. The mattress was gone, as was the clothing and other items that had been set out to dry. A faint stain was on the floor, it would have to be whitewashed again. Flo knealt by the hearth, stirring something in a large skillet. Wonderful smells filled the room. “Ah, there you are.” Flo said as she stood up. “How you feeling today, Lieutenant?” At first, Reil had backed up against the counter, expecting another all out attack. But the look on the woman’s face and the tone of her voice convinced Reil that she was safe, at least for now.

“Cat got your tongue? Mebbe that blow to the head rattled somethin’ around.” The large woman’s wide smile softened the words. Emma came to Reil’s rescue. “Not so many questions, Flo. I’m sure Reil’s still a little weary from all the excitement.” She came over to stand by the blonde, asking her if she would like to sit down. Her head was still spinning a bit, and gratefully took a seat at the small table next to the hearth. Flo set down two plates of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes, then poured them each a cup of coffee.

Reil looked at the feast in front of her. She hadn’t eaten a breakfast this fine in quite a while. She dug in with gusto, putting the thoughts of earlier that morning aside for the time being. She had decided that maybe, just maybe, she could put the whole thing behind her. She didn’t want to think about who she had killed. She knew Emma would probably want to talk about it, but for now, she just enjoyed the meal. Finishing off what was on her plate, Flo promptly reappeared, filling it once more. “Well, at least it looks like that blow on your head didn’t ruin your appetite none!” Reil ducked her head and fiddled with a piece of bacon. “No ma’am.” Then she resumed eating. Flo chuckled softly, seeing the amazement in Emma’s eyes at how much her friend was actually putting away.

Finishing breakfast, Emma suggested a walk. “Let me show you the grounds, Reil. It’s not much, but the walk will do you good. I think we could both use some fresh air.” Reil agreed and Emma helped her place her boots and jacket on. Snugging her hat in place, and wincing just a bit where it touched on a sore spot, Reil was ready to go.

The two stepped out onto the back porch and Reil offered Emma her arm. Although the smaller woman would never admit, it was just as much for her desire to be close as it was to balance herself. The rain had stopped and there was a crispness to the air that promised warmer days ahead. They walked to the barn first, Reil checking in on Alcaeus. Seeing that Jimmy had done a fine job with the honey colored horse, they made their way to a small stream behind the barn.

Off to their left, Jimmy was just finishing up with his task, placing the final shovel of dirt on the small mound. “Emma, there’s something I need to do. But I think I’ll need your help.” The smaller woman was having a hard time controlling her emotions upon seeing the grave. Setting the problem aside and not thinking about it were moot points now. Here it was, in her face, and she found that it was harder than expected. “Of course. Anything you need.” Came the soft reply. Reil looked up, gratitude showing in her eyes.

They made their way over to the grave. Reil knelt down, removing her hat from her head, the arm holding the hat resting across her bent knee. “Do you know who this man was, Emma?” She remembered from earlier that Emma *had* known the man, but he wasn’t who she thought he was. Or maybe he was more than what either one knew. Emma knelt down beside Reil, heedless of the mud. “This man was a Confederate officer who thought I was his spy. He was wrong, I could never work for them, not after what they did to my family. But he didn’t know that. He found out I was a double agent, and he came here to kill me.” She rested a hand on the blonde woman’s shoulder. “Thanks to you, that didn’t happen. You’re my hero.”

Reil blushed a bit, then sighed deeply. “I’m no hero. I just couldn’t stand by and see you hurt.” She looked the woman in the eyes, trying to convey how much it would have pained her if things had gone differently. “But there’s a problem. One I’m going to have to work out alone.” Emma was a bit confused. This was, after all, wartime. People died, the enemy…died. That was just the way things turned out when people fought. “Emma. That man was my father.” With that statement, Reil’s defenses broke. Emma gathered her up in her arms as they both sank to a sitting position. She let the woman cry herself out. “You’re wrong you know. You won’t have to be alone.”

As the two women had approached, Jimmy slipped away, sensing that they needed a private moment. As they stood back up to make their way back to the house, he intercepted them. “Sorry to bother you, but if I may ask a question?” Emma had her arm around Reil, who was feeling a bit worse for wear. “Sure, Jimmy, what is it?” Emma liked Jimmy, ever since her husband came back from some time in Missouri, Jimmy in tow. He had said, in his gruff manner, “New stable boy. Feed him good, he starts right away.” And Jimmy had been a part of her extended family ever since.

Emma came out of her musings with a gentle nudge from Reil. “Well, Mrs. Collingsworth, I made up sort of a cross for the poor fella out there. I was wonderin’ if you could tell me what name to put on it?” Reil looked up at the young man. Softly, ever so softly, she said, “Silas Bardlow.”
CHAPTER 9

Reil stood staring at the place on the kitchen floor where her father had drawn his last breath. There was no stain, no mark to indicate the area as anything more special than the rest of the floor. She found that oddly disturbing, that the evidence of his death could be so fleeting as to be easily washed away. The young woman slipped into a battle weary stare, seeing everything and nothing, both at once. As if far away, her mind barely registered the fact that Flo was singing as the housekeeper changed sheets and cleaned the house. A hymn, she absently thought. How ironic.

She had little faith in any god who could allow this type of thing to happen. Not just the death of her father by her own hands, but the whole war in general. What kind of faith could she have in a god who stood by as a country tore itself apart with hatred? Where was the sense in it all? Her inner struggle over the fact that she had to save Emma, by killing her father, was wreaking havoc on her mind. On the one hand, she was immensely grateful that Emma was unhurt, while at the same time, was devastated over the fact that she had to kill her own blood kin to ensure the womans’ safety. Nevermind that she didn’t know it was her father at the time…but did that absolve her of guilt? Could it have had a different outcome? She didn’t think so, and this frustrated her even more. An old song floated through her memory, blending in with the song Flo was singing.

On my honour, I will try,

There’s a duty to be done, And I say “aye”.

There’s a reason here, for a reason above,

My honour is to try and my duty is to love.

She let the song melt into the very fiber of her being. There was a reason that things happen, even though the path may not be clear. She had joined in this war because she felt a duty. A duty to not only do the right thing, but to ensure that future generations had a chance to live in freedom. The Confederacy was slowly turning into a dictatorship, from what she had heard, and knew that the founding fathers had never intended such a thing. She had only tried her best, even though the results were unimaginable. Reil had loved her father, and had never intended to hurt him, in any way. The words of the song soothed her, helped ease the pain. A little of her trust in God had been healed, the simple words reminding her that in her own way, she had tried, and she had loved. The rest was up to God. She only hoped God would understand.

Emma came up behind her, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman. “That was a beautiful song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.” Reil leaned back, accepting the embrace, placing her hands on the woman’s forearms. She hadn’t realized she had been singing out loud. “Oh…uh..it really is related to something entirely different, but somehow, oddly, it fits my situation. I learned it a long time ago. From…my father.”

“Are you going to be alright?” Emma didn’t want to push the woman, but she also didn’t want her falling into a well of self pity that she might never climb out of. “Yeah,” Reil slowly replied, “I think so. Can I ask you something?” Emma’s head brushed against the side of her own. “Did you know what his name was? Before now?” Reil had to know. Somewhere deep inside, she knew the answer might shred that final bit of sanity she was currently clinging to, but she just had to know.

“No.” Reil let out a breath she didn’t remember holding. “He told me his name was Sykes. Please, believe me, I would have told you. Something like that would have been too coincidental to let pass by.” This gave Reil some thought, as she dug through long forgotten memories as to where she had heard the name before. “I think…yes…that was my grandmothers maiden name. Why do you suppose he would use that name, rather than his own?”

“I can only assume, due to his position, that he needed an alias. I know he was in charge of the spy network for the Confederates, and I only came across that information by accident one time. It seems there weren’t too many people between him and Jefferson Davis. I met with him just five times in almost a year and a half. The last time being this morning.” She paused, unsure if a simple apology would be taken as anything but sounding trite. “Reil, I really am so sorry this all happened. If I had told you sooner, maybe…” Reil cut her off. “I would have only known enough more to have shot him on first sight. It wouldn’t have made any difference. It’s not your fault, Emma. This war has damaged us all.”

Emma knew an answer was unnecessary. The statement was true, no matter how much it hurt to admit it. They were forever changed because of this war. She would always, however, feel guilty. “You realize I’ll have to leave soon.” Emma nodded once more against Reil’s head. “I figured as much. But you need to rest. You can’t catch up to Rock, he probably left at first light to make it back to the camp. Why don’t you lie down, get some rest. I’ll need to change your bandage as well.” The day was finally catching up to Reil and she readily agreed, leaning back deeper into the connection they still shared. “Sounds good. A short nap wouldn’t hurt.”

Reil sat propped up against the headboard of the bed while Emma made short work of removing the old bandage, cleaning the wound, and placing a new bandage on the woman’s arm. As she rose from the side of the bed, preparing to allow the woman some time alone, a small hand came up and hesitantly wrapped itself around her wrist. “Please don’t go.” Emma wondered if she would ever truely be able to deny any request this amazing woman desired. She climbed up onto the bed, propped a pillow up next to Reil’s on the headboard, stretching out her long form on the bed.

Emma’s gentle touch while tending her arm had reminded Reil of the strong desire which had pulled her towards this woman. All she was sure of, was that she deeply needed her close by. It was as if, by distance, she would leave a part of herself behind. Right now, she was feeling lost and alone. So much had happened in such a short amount of time, and if Emma took a part of her even a short distance away, she didn’t know how she could bear it. At a point in her life when she felt most disgusted with herself, Emma had stood by her, held her, wasn’t afraid to be there for her. And Reil was reluctant to lose that sense of security she felt when she was in Emma’s embrace.

Still somewhat uncomfortable with their new found feelings, Reil scooted over until she was shoulder to shoulder with the other woman. They sat that way for some time, content in the silence. Although very tired just moments before, the blonde soldier found herself wide awake. She looked over, saw that Emma’s eyes were closed, but knew by the sound of her breathing that she wasn’t asleep. “Could you…well….maybe…hold me?” The dark haired woman opened her eyes, the corners of her mouth turning up in a small smile. “I’d like that,” came the soft response, “if that’s what you’d like.” Emma lifted an arm up, and Reil snuggled under it, still resting her head against the backboard.

Reil placed a small kiss on the corner of Emma’s lips, “I’d like that very much.” she responded, her voice low. “You said something last night…” That pesky blush made it’s timely appearance. She felt a surge of boldness, accompanied by a flash of intense desire that had everything to do with the close proximity of the tall beauty by her side. “What was that?” Emma responded, accepting another gentle kiss from her soldier. “Something about trying a little bit of everything…” Another kiss, this one a bit bolder. Reil’s hand came up, tracing the outline of Emma’s face, marveling in the soft texture beneath her fingers. She traced her fingers along soft, inviting lips, and began kissing her way along the path that her fingers were forging.

Neither woman knew, at any given point, where she ended and the other began. Clothing found the floor as they pulled back the covers and slipped between the sheets to escape the slight chill of the room. Gentle hands explored new territory as they learned the ways of each others bodies. Each flying high on their feelings, never wanting the sensations to end.

A healing also took place, parts of two torn, abused souls finding each other in a way that was pure instinct. Reil understood that she could still be loved, even after all that had happened. Emma found a healing as well. That part of her which she had carefully closed off for well over a year opened up, letting in this remarkable woman whos’ touch was like fire to her kindling. There was some laughter, a few tears, and a sense of finally coming home for both women. The laughter eased the bumbling attempts that each made, so unsure of what to do. The tears coming as their depth of feeling was tapped, drained, then discovered again. The sense of homecoming was profound. For it was only at home, that a peace like this existed. A peace that neither woman had known before.

Some time later, wrapped in each others arms, bodies entwined, they lay there staring into one anothers eyes. Emma ran a lazy hand down along Reil’s side, immensely grateful that Reil had overcome her apparent shyness. There was no shyness now, the woman had shown her a passion that had come from somewhere hidden deep inside, and she was thankful that she had chosen to show it to her. Reil absently twirled a strand of long, sable hair about her finger. She basked in the new found sensations the two had explored, and wondered if her new lover felt the same wonderment. “I’m still scared about the future, but I feel better knowing you’re in it. You make me feel so…right, so connected. Will it always be like this?”

Emma smiled, thinking that the scent of the woman, alone, would cause her to react and feel this way each, and every, time. “Well, that’s up to us, I guess. But I have the feeling something much deeper is happening to us that we can only go along with. To deny it much longer, I believe, would rip our souls to their foundations.” She gently nibbled along the smaller woman’s neck, causing sweet sounds to come forth as her lover responded to the attention. “So you feel it too?” The question came in a whisper, almost as though the words themselves were feared to be heard. “Yes.” Emma brushed blonde hair away from eyes that were steadily showing signs of drifting off into sleep. “Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do.” Reil lifted her head up a bit, to get a clear view of the woman who held not only her body in her arms, but her soul as well. “What’s that, love?” Reil swallowed hard, daring herself to deny the emotions this woman was causing. Taking a deep breath, she could feel the blood pounding in her ears. Boldness before had been one thing. This was a leap of pure faith. “I guess I’ll just have to make an honest woman out of you. Emma Collingsworth, will you marry me?”

Emma blinked once, twice. A tear rolled down her face, her own emotions hammering away at her senses. “If you’ll have me. Yes.” The two women stared at each other, both surprised, one at the asking, the other at the answer. Slowly a smile broke out on each face, and they drew each other closer, unable to meld their bodies into one, but content none the less. They lay like that for quite a while, neither wanting to let go of the fierce hug.

Finally pulling apart, they once again gazed at one another. Reil was the first to break the silence. “This could get complicated.” Emma burst out laughing. “What’s so funny?” Reil let a bit of irritation show, not seeing the humor in her statement. “Reil…I don’t think things could get any more complicated than they already are!” Reil thought about that for a moment, her emotions being battered too much already this day. Soon she too started laughing, the simple statement helping to heal even more the pain in her heart.

They could hear Flo bustling about the kitchen, no doubt preparing dinner. Knowing that the housekeeper would never let them go without eating, Emma pulled Reil closer once more. “Get some sleep, you really do need some rest.” Fighting to keep her eyes open for just a bit more, Reil sleepily replied, “Weren’t thinking of that when we started. Guess I must’ve had a burst of energy or something.” Emma was drifting off as well, utterly content with the small woman tucked up beside her. “Or something.” came the drowsy reply. Soon both women were sound asleep, finally getting some much needed rest. Little did they know…destiny wasn’t through with them just yet.
CHAPTER 10

A muscular, bandaged arm was draped across Emma’s body, and an equally muscular, though unbandaged, leg was draped across her legs. They both lay on their stomachs, the appendages in question above the covers. Just enough of the blanket covered Reil’s backside and her other leg. A candle, it’s drippings filling the holder, tossed it’s fitful light across the two bodies. Both were sound asleep.

Flo had waited to enter the room, knowing full well the two did not need an audience. As soon as it was reasonably safe to assume that she would not catch them unawares, she quietly knocked. Getting no response, she cautiously peeked into the room, and saw that the two were sleeping soundly. Her original plan was to tell them dinner was ready, but she didn’t have the heart to wake them up. It had been too long, she thought, since her Emma had let someone into her life.

Flo figured the woman more than deserved a little happiness. It had been too long since she had seen such a peaceful look on Emma’s face. The fact that this small slip of a man had caused it only helped endear him closer to Flo’s heart. This man had risked so much already, all for a woman he hardly knew. From what Jimmy had told her, the Colonel was Reil’s father. Such a horrible thing to have happen, she mused as she quietly lit a fire to take the chill off the room. And to one so young. She gave a mental tsk. Oh, the twists and turns of war, she thought, if only things were simpler.

She looked once again at the two forms, blissfully sleeping, and thought, well…there’s something simple right there…true love. She softly closed the door behind her and went to take the roast of meat out of the cast iron oven. She would keep it warm for them, knowing that the young soldier’s appetite would probably get them both up before long.

****************************************

True to Flo’s thoughts, Reil was the first to awaken. A lazy stretch produced a slight twinge in her arm, but taking that for a good sign, she paid it no mind and wrapped herself once more around the woman who had become the most important thing in her life. She let her gaze linger on the sleeping form, drinking in every detail. So beautiful, so…real. Letting her thoughts linger on that for long moments, she wished she didn’t have to leave…ever.

Reil knew that the information her father had blurted out the night before needed to get back to her commander. It wasn’t much, but it was important enough for her father, even in his drunken state, to mention it. That made it important enough for her. She finally pulled her eyes away from Emma, and glanced about the room. Both her and Emma’s clothes had been picked up from whence they had been tossed earlier, and a small fire was merrily blazing away, the soft pops and hisses comforting in a way that only a fire can be. It was dark outside, causing her to wonder what hour it was. Guessing by the amount the candle had burned down, several hours had passed since they had fallen asleep. She gently nudged her sleeping companion.

Slowly, Emma opened her bleary eyes and turned over on her back. Reil almost forgot what she was about to say, so taken was she with the sight before her. Emma gave her a quizzical look, seeing the womans’ mouth hanging open. “Did you wake me out of a sound sleep just so I could watch you catch flies?” She leaned over and gave the gaping woman a quick kiss. Reil closed her mouth. “By all that is good in this world, you are beautiful.” Emma gave a languorous stretch, causing the blondes’ face to flush at the thoughts running through her head. “Well, you’ll catch more than flies with words like that.” She leaned over once more and stole another kiss, enjoying the emotions playing across Reils’ face.

Long moments later, Reil finally found her breath and voiced that which she had originally intended. “Someone’s been here.” Emma looked thoughtful, then replied. “As in, someone’s been sleeping in my bed? I would say that is accurate.” A playful smile crossed her face, there was just something so intrinsically right about teasing the young woman. Like she had been doing it all her life, and then some. She put it down to just another aspect of their deep connection. “No silly! I mean, literally, someone has been here. I don’t recall us taking the time to light a fire, much less carefully arrange our clothes!” Emma sat up, looking around. Indeed, someone had been in the room while they slept. “Don’t worry, it was probably just Flo. She’s been doing that since I was little. Taking care of the small things like that…I guess I’m just used to it.”

Reil turned bright red. “You mean…she saw me…well…naked?” The woman looked like she would pass out at any moment. Emma drew her in and held her close. “Don’t worry, I’m sure she was discreet. Besides, we had the blanket over us, remember?” Reil let her thoughts collect themselves, then slowly began to relax. She was sure the aggressive woman would have woken her up immediately, had she realized her gender. It would have been a repeat of the previous evening, but with probably much dire consequences.

Not getting a response, Emma became concerned. “You alright? I was going to ask you if I could tell Flo…about you. But if it upsets you this much, then letting it alone is best.” In reality, Reil had just become too comfortable once again in the taller womans’ embrace. “I know you’re close to her, but I’d rather you didn’t tell her. If you remember correctly, you agreed to be my wife. I don’t think she would take it that kindly were she to find out my true identity.” Emma hadn’t thought of that. Reil had a point. Flo was a wonderful, loving woman, but everybody had their ideas on two women loving each other. It was few and far between that you would expect to find those that had no problem with the arrangement.

“Oh, no, I haven’t forgotten about that, but I think you’re right. Even after knowing her all these years, I don’t think I know her well enough to be able to predict how she’ll react. There’ll be time to tell her later, if need be.” Saying this, she climbed out of bed, moving towards her clothes. “Hey, I was warm here a second ago!” came Reil’s mock indignant reply. “Sorry, love. I’m hungry. And so are you.” The timing couldn’t have been better as Reil’s stomach promptly concurred. “Aw, heck.” Reil knew this wasn’t the first time her grumbling tummy had betrayed her. She was notorious in her unit for out-eating most everyone. Except that one big hulk of a guy in Co. D., she thought with a mental wry grin. She climbed out of bed and began dressing also.

****************************************

Dinner was eaten in almost silence, the only real chatter coming from Flo. She went on and on about how dinner was almost spoiled, how you can only cook something so long before it wasn’t food anymore, and more along that vein. Throughout the tirade, however, she kept piling more food on each plate, bringing out more food to set on the table, and generally stating through her actions that she was happy to see the two with such a good appetite. Flo marveled at how the two could eat, given what had gone on that morning. But then she realized, suddenly, what probably caused the appetites, and put it all down to youthful exuberance. Lord, she thought to herself, can’t remember as ever being that young, to take so much in stride.

After dinner, Reil wanted to check one more time on her horse. Taking a lantern to light the way, she made her way to the stable where she found Jimmy bedding down the horses for the night. She noticed for the first time that a large black stallion was in the stall next to Alcaeus. She pushed away unwanted thoughts as Jimmy spoke up. “Evenin’ sir. Hope you don’t mind none, but I took your horse out for a short run. She rides like the wind!” Reil patted the horse in question on the nose. “No, Jimmy, that’s fine. You’ve taken real good care of her. Thanks.” The young man ducked his head, “Shucks, was a pleasure.” She clapped the young man on the shoulder and gave him a grin. Reil figured she liked the man, was glad that Emma had him to help out around the place.

“Oh, Lieutenant. I almost forgot.” He dashed up the stairs to his loft. Reil looked up and could see that he had a nice place set up, with a bed in the corner and a small braizier for heat. She supposed in the truely cold winter months he shared space with Flo over in her cottage. He came back down the wooden steps with a small gray bundle in his arms. “I took the liberty of collecting the Colonel’s personal effects. Thought you might want them.” He held out the bundle for her to take.

Reil held the items in her hands, looking down at them, and wondered if she had ever really known her father at all. It seemed his whole life had been reduced to one small bundle. She had known he was unhappy with her mother, resented her even. He had told Rock that if it hadn’t been for Reil, he would have left the woman a long time ago. As it was, it seems he took the only way out that would afford him some dignity. He enlisted.

If anyone had asked Reil which side her father might have chosen to fight for, she would have said neither side. Her father had always been a level headed man, not prone to involve himself in the fights of others. But something had pushed him, and she knew what it was. Every time her father had gone on a business trip, her mother had paraded yet another boyfriend through their house. Reil figured her father had finally found out. By the way he had been ranting before he was shot, the young woman figured he had been pretty badly treated since she had last seen him. Something had snapped, and that instability had eventually led him on a path that none could have foreseen. In her mother’s own petty, sideways style, she had managed to steal yet another piece of her childhood memories. Her father had never drank, never cursed, and certainly was no spy. Not in Reil’s mind anyway.

She carefully set the bundle down on a bale of hay and opened up the blanket that the items were wrapped in. A small bible, some notepaper, stamps, quill and ink, shaving kit and sword were all that were there. Lifting up the notepaper, she realized there was also a bundle of letters. She flipped through them, some addressed to her, others to Rock, all pre-dated. “Lieutenant? There’s also his tack, riding blanket and saddlebags. Will you be taking the horse?” Jimmy was trying to be tactful, but feared that he was failing miserably. Seeing the look on his face, Reil tried to reassure him that he had said nothing wrong. “I’ll have a talk with Emma about selling the horse. You can all split the money from it.” She thought about that some more, remembering how Emma’s family had died. Reil struggled for a solution. “No, I have a better idea, Jimmy. I’ll take him with me, sell him on my way back to camp. I’ll send the money back here…”

The young man was grateful, the memories of that horrible day were still fresh in his mind. She reached down and picked up the sword from the blanket. “Here, Jimmy. I want you to have this. It’ll be some story to tell your grandkids about one day.” The young mans’ eyes opened wide, reverently taking the sword from Reil. “Really? Oh, but I can’t take that, sir. It just wouldn’t be right.” He tried to hand the sword back to Reil, but she gently pushed it back into his grip. “It’s more thanks than I can give you for the help you’ve been. And you’ve taken such good care of Alcaeus. It would make me feel better if you had it.”

Reil picked up the bundle of letters, tucking them into her jacket pocket. She would deliver those addressed to Rock, and read her own later…maybe. Something told her that she would know the contents already. Letters had arrived from him on a fairly regular basis, given the conditions mail had to traverse to get to her. They were all basically the same. No news, things were fine, business moving along, well wishes and the like. She supposed he mailed them first to her mother, so that they would appear to be coming from Texas. Originally, she had blamed the mail service when she had gotten sometimes four or five letters at once. Now she just blamed it on her mothers indifference, saving herself the bother and just mailing them all at once. Carefully she wrapped up the rest of the belongings, handing them to Jimmy.

“Here you go. I’m sure an extra blanket will come in handy, and you can do what you want with the other things. Makes no difference to me. You’ll have to either bury or hide the tack and bags…including the horse blanket. It’ll be harder for me to explain trying to sell CSA marked items.” Reil knew she would have a bit of trouble selling the horse as it was. Virginia was a Confederate state, although it was heavily occupied by Northern troops. But being in the middle, as it was, it would be a simple matter of finding a sympathizer who dealt in horse trade, and selling the stallion. It seemed she would have to talk to Emma after all, regarding the horse.

Jimmy only nodded in agreement and watched reflectively as the lieutenant strode out of the barn. He was somewhat in shock at the calm collected manner in which the young officer decided the fate of the items which had formerly belonged to the man’s father. He both admired and feared such a man who could kill his own kin, then go on about business. Deep down, Jimmy knew that the lieutenant hadn’t started out life this way, that it had been the war which had changed him. He fervently hoped he never had to join the fighting. It was all volunteer at this point, and he hoped it stayed that way. Jimmy wasn’t afraid to fight, but he had seen too many people hurt and changed by it. He didn’t want to become someone he didn’t know.

Arriving back at the house, Reil had a brief conversation with Emma regarding the horse, with Emma agreeing that it was best for her to take it with her in the morning. Still tired, the two retired to bed. The incident in the barn had upset Reil somewhat, but it had also reinforced her belief that she needed to make the most of her time on earth. She didn’t want her personal effects to amount to one small bundle at the end of her days. That night, she poured every ounce of love and tenderness that she could into her time with Emma, wanting to leave an indelible mark upon the other woman’s memory. She need not have tried so hard, for Emma’s thoughts were along the same path. Neither knew when they would see the other again, and neither wanted to let the other go. The morning saw two women emerge, not one of whom had gotten a decent nights’ sleep.

Goodbyes were said, Flo gave Reil a parcel of food, and the woman was on her way. Emma stood watching till her love was gone from sight. An emptiness filling her almost immediately. The promises they had made just moments ago in regard to staying safe, sending letters, and most importantly, coming back, seemed as though they were made by a bystander. The words could not keep her heart from aching, or stop the tears that flowed freely down her face. The other half of her soul had gone back to war. She didn’t know if she could take losing her mate to conflict twice in one lifetime, but desperately hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

*************************************

Reil rode hard. Pushing her horse more than necessary. To her mind, the quicker she returned to her unit, the quicker this war would be over, and the sooner she could be with Emma again. The wind stung her eyes, adding to the tears that were already falling.

Halfway back to her unit, Reil came to a small town and found a man Emma had mentioned. He gladly bought the horse, and only gave her a little less than she had hoped for. While there, she ate, watered her own horse, and went on about her way. The whole interaction took less than an hour. Riding out of town, she was surprised to come upon a lone rider. As she neared, she recognized the horse, and the man seated upon it as well.

“Rock!” she called out as she came within shouting distance. The man turned in his saddle, a large smile gracing his worn face. Looking at the man who had practically raised her, she found she couldn’t do it. Couldn’t tell the man what she knew about her father. Most definitely couldn’t tell him that she had killed her father. Trusting Rock implicitly, she decided that he must have had a reason to hide her fathers activities from her…if he had known himself, that is.

It was altogether possible that Rock had been receiving the same letters that she had. The mundane, everything’s ok type. She also didn’t want to break down again, fearing that the loss of her father and her separation from Emma would cause her to be seen as weak in Rock’s eyes. She didn’t want him thinking that she was just some foolish woman to whom the trials of war had finally caught up to. Reil pushed everything from the previous day out of her mind, and greeted Rock as if nothing was amiss.

“Hey! I didn’t expect to see you yet! I figured that you’d be back with the unit by now!” Rock took a moment before answering to look Reil over. Somehow, she looked different, and it wasn’t just the glow of love that he had seen two nights ago. The woman looked like she had been through a grist mill, older, somewhat sadder. He put the thought aside, intending to ask about it later. “I was held up, Cronus threw a shoe. I only got as far as this town last night, and the smith couldn’t reshoe him ‘til today. I waited out the morning, just getting done about an hour ago. How are you doing? I figured you’d not be back for several days. Everything alright with Emma?”

Now Reil was in a spot. She needed to get the information passed along, but didn’t want to tell Rock about her father. She settled for the truth, just not all of it. Briefly she recounted what had happened the previous morning, leaving out the identity of the man. Rock nodded, agreeing that the information was important. He put down Reil’s appearance to having had to kill a man, it was harder when you could see their face. The two raced along making good time, and arrived back at the camp just as the sun was setting. They made their way immediately to the commanders tent.

Colonel Ellis made time to see them, listening carefully to his young lieutenants’ story. “And this woman,” he asked, “you’re sure she was a counter spy, working for the North?” Reil nodded, in truth, she wasn’t completely sure, but she trusted Emma to have told her the truth. “Did she say who she reports to in the Federal army?” Reil thought back, then answered, “No sir, things happened pretty quickly, and I wanted to get back with the news as soon as possible.” The commander asked a few more questions, sorting out the facts, then dismissed the two. Reil left his tent without being reassured that her message had been taken as seriously as she had hoped. Less than a week later, she would find out just how seriously.
CHAPTER 11
From the Letters of Reil Bardlow, 1st Lt, 124th NYSV. As were sent to Mrs. Emma Collingsworth, Fredricksburg, VA. Graciously on loan from her great, great neice, G. Bardlow.

April 24th

My Dearest Em,

I thought as I left you the other day, that you looked a bit hesitant to admit that I would truely write to you. Well, here it is…and it is with a heart full of my love for you that I only wish I could fully convey through this meager piece of paper. While it has only been several days, I miss you terribly, and hope that upon my return, we may be wed as we spoke of. I long to see you, and hope that the time won’t be long til we are together once more. Your letter, which arrived this morning, was a breath of life in an otherwise dull world. I, myself would have written sooner, but they have kept me busy here like none other time.

I hope this letter finds Flo and Jimmy well and in good spirits. Please tell Jimmy that upon my return we shall have to go for a nice ride together, he did enjoy Alcaeus so. You may inform Flo that my arm is healing nicely, thanks to both your and her attention. I am forever grateful. Send them both my warm regards.

The rain keeps our spirits low, but all I must do is think of you, your warm touch, and brilliant eyes, and my spirits lift from the mire they find themselves drawn to. I must go now, I’ll try to get this letter out on the next post.

All my love, Reil

***************************************

April 28

Darling Em,

This next letter shall contain several days worth, since finding time to write is very scarce. We must have marched ten miles today, something is definitely going to happen. All the false alarms previously were never like this. It is near midnight, and there is a tension in the air that I can almost touch. Fear not for me, love. I am fine, albeit tired, hungry and thoroughly wet. I love you. Be well. R

It is the next day now, and we can hear the cannons in the distance. Laying in the mud all day is not as comfortable nor nearly as much fun as lying next to you. I would much prefer the latter. My thoughts are always with you. R

Morning of the 29th, we were on the march once more, all the way back past our old camp, then onward. Must have covered eighteen miles today. I no longer regret having done all that wood chopping and marching to picket…it has strengthened my legs and back considerably…the eight days of ration we each carry would be much too heavy otherwise. Many of the men wish we didn’t have to carry such a load, but it is a necessity.R

On the 1st of May, we all hoped to see some actual fighting. It was hot today, and the heaviness of the knapsacks is starting to wear on everyone. The men would much rather fight, than carry on like this marching to and fro. We crossed the Rappahannock today, the men grateful to leave their heavy load hidden in the woods, to retrieve later. Our unit was held in reserve, and saw no action this day, but did hear more cannon fire. Rock sends his regards, I have told him only the briefest of details regarding the incident at the house. I don’t know which I fear more, what he does know about my father, or what his reaction will be if I have to tell him. I will let it go for now, the impending battle needing my attention. I love you. R

We saw some fighting today, nearly got surrounded by the rebs, but pulled back just in time. A minie ball went right through my canteen, but Rock lets me share his. Fear not, my love, I am fine. The 11th let old Stonewall in through the rear, but we held fast and pushed them back. Although it was night, and hard to tell, we think one of our boys actually shot the old man in the arm as he was leaving! Wouldn’t that be grand! A member of the 124th killing off Stonewall himself! Well, we’re behind a sturdy wall now, and shall wait for morning to see what else happens. My love is always with you, my dear Em, think of me often, so that our thoughts may cross each others’ path. R
CHAPTER 12
Reil was muddy and tired. The skirmishes they had fought the previous day had wounded several men in her unit, as well as killing a few. But her men were brave, and they fought on, following her, trusting her, to lead them onward. It was the morning of the 3rd of May, and she had only a rough idea what the day would hold. Looking over at Rock, she saw he was weary as well. He handed her the canteen, and she took a long swallow. “No time for breakfast today, Reil. We’re moving out at first light.” Reil nodded. Things were going to get hairy today, she could just feel it.

The unit went straight away to the battlefield, just outside of Chancellorsville. They engaged the enemy for a bit, but before Reil could fire off ten rounds, they were ordered into an area of forest that the locals called ‘The Wilderness’. The fighting in the woods was fierce. Men were falling all around the young lieutenant, screams filling the air as well as the whistling of rounds going by. Reil got the order to fall back, and she ordered her remaining men to do so. As they made their way back through the woods, she thought to herself that she couldn’t be seeing the numbers that she was. By her quick estimate, nearly half the unit was decimated.

Slowly, they made their way back through the woods. Then word came that they were to rally. The young officers first reaction to what they had just gone through was terror. The mere thought of having to do that all over again, nearly made her loose her nonexistent breakfast. Looking at the men arrayed before her though, Reil felt a surge of pride. If these men had come all this way, so far from their homes and loved ones, then she, too, could fight again. She just didn’t like the idea of retreat, no matter how tactically correct it was.

Reil re-formed her men and brought them back down to where they were first posted that day. Sword raised high, golden hair flying out in every direction, she appeared as an angel, an angel of death. She swiftly meted out men’s fates, a battle cry her hymn to the troops, they once again engaged the enemy. Hand to hand, it was a bloody scene. Artillery fire all around them, smoke filling the air. The noise was deafening, it was a wonder that the shouted orders were heard at all.

Rebel forces swarmed out of the woods, colors flying and incoherent noises coming from their throats. They were the devil incarnate to Reil. The reason she existed at that moment. The angel of death needed to thin the earth from the evil it had spawned. It was her job. It was her destiny.

Through the red haze that had become her sight, she reveled in her bloody chore. She could smell the sweat of a thousand men, hear every beat of those thousand hearts. Reil was one with the battle, a small separate part of her mind registered small cuts, bruises and aches she would surely have later. She ebbed and flowed with the battle, always towards the front. When the guidon bearer fell to a bullet, Reil dashed over to retrieve the company flag, wasting only a second before handing it to a private who stood next to her. When she saw a Confederate soldier lift his bayonet to finish off one of her men, she took careful aim and killed, urging her sergeant, only slightly wounded, to pick up the fallen rebel’s weapon and continue fighting. She was covered in blood and gore, and she was in her element. Fierce and uncompromising, a dark angel on the rampage.

Rock had been fighting side by side with Reil, but an enemy had pulled him off to the right. He saw the mortar coming in, fired off a round into the man he was grappling with, and tried to warn his foster daughter. Reil never heard the shout, so entranced as she was. Fire burned in her veins, men fell before her, she was on top of the world, invincible as only the young can be.

Rock raced over to her after the round had hit, and the grapeshot had passed by. He saw that her leg was a mess, but he still got a pulse. He thanked every god he could think of, as he dragged her limp body off the field. Other soldiers of the unit gave him cover as they were all ordered to retreat. The Rebels won the field that day, called a great victory for the Confederacy. They did, however, lose a key commander in Stonewall Jackson’s death. The tide of the war had shifted again, and Reil’s life was forever changed.

***************************************

Three days later, when Reil finally awoke, Rock knew he would have a fight on his hands. The young woman would surely feel as though Rock thought she couldn’t handle things anymore, or that he really wanted to send her home for her own safety. In reality, her leg was in very bad condition, and she had lost a lot of blood. It had been all he could do, to convince the doctor that not only should he be the one to work on her leg, but that the leg did not need to be removed. It had been touch and go there for a while, Rock being fearful that the doctor would pull rank on him and not let him handle Reil’s case.

Fortunately, the doctor was too busy, and actually grateful that he wouldn’t have to remove the leg himself. He had done that too often lately. Instead, the doctor instructed Rock that he had three days. If the young lieutenant showed any indication of not waking up, or if severe infection set in, he would remove the leg so that the patient might live. Rock was forced to agree, and was grateful when Reil finally woke up.

Rock gently pried Reil’s fingers loose from his frock coat. “No, Reil. You need to rest, recuperate. We can send you to Emma’s. She’ll take good care of you there, and then, maybe, in time, you can come back to the unit. It all depends on how your leg heals.” Reil glared at the tall man, the fire from the other day raging once again in her eyes. Tentatively, she asked, “I’m not kicked out then? What about my men? How many are left?” All that Reil cared about was going back and finishing the fight. Rock placed his elbows on his knees, cradling his face in his hands. He slowly looked up, “No, Reil, your not out of the unit.” he replied softly, his eyes began to tear up. “Out of some five hundred, only about one hundred and twenty five are left. The battle only lasted one more day, with some skirmishing yesterday, then we pulled back.”

Reil lay back down in stunned silence. So many dead. How could that be, she thought. “But the wounded, some will return…” She wanted to believe that the majority of those missing were just wounded. “No,” Rock replied, “that’s with the able bodied wounded.” His head went back into his hands, no words able to describe the loss of so many brave men. “I’ll bet the commander never passed the word along. If he had listened to us, many of those men might still be alive.” Rock thought about that, while true, it was entirely likely that Gen. Hooker wouldn’t have listened anyhow. “Word has it that Hooker expected the Rebs to retreat. He had no cavalry to warn him otherwise, having used them elsewhere. Most likely our message never left our colonel’s tent.” Reil felt as though she had let her men down…if only she had been more persistent, more convincing. It was all so unreal.

“I’ve spoken to the commander, Reil. Made arrangements for you to get to the Collingsworth place. You’ll leave in about an hour. I’m afraid I can’t go with you though.” Reil feared that this might be the last time she saw Rock. If there was another battle, they might not get to say goodbye. Carefully, she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the bundle of letters that she had placed there over a week ago. They were a bit worn, and muddy, but still intact. She handed him the letters addressed to him. “What’s this then? From your Pa?” Reil nodded slowly, still not sure how to explain it all, only knowing that she had to. “That spy I killed? That was Pa.”

Rock stared in disbelief at the young woman. Reil began hammering questions at him, her built up anger finally finding direction. “Did you know he joined the army, Rock? Did you know which side he fought for? Did you know he was using Emma?” She was practically shouting at him now. In all his life, he never imagined having to answer those questions. He had thought the war big enough to have the two never meet, much less have them kill one or the other. A deep sadness filled his eyes. “Yes, Reil. I knew. He pleaded with me not to tell you. Said it wouldn’t make a difference, that each of you had your own war to fight. I just figured the chances of meeting up were slim, and then, after the war, well…he would tell you in his own time. And, no…I didn’t know anything about him working with Emma. I’m so sorry.”

Rock had never lied to her before. Rock had never done anything to betray her trust. At this point, she didn’t know whether she wanted to believe all of what he said or not. The foundations she had thought her life had been built on came crumbling down with a profoundly silent crash. Reil was beyond an emotional reaction. After all that had happened, her heart screamed out for Emma. She just wanted to be held close by her, get lost in her essence, and forget about everything. But her face showed no emotion. “Leave. Go.”

“But Reil…” The young woman’s face became even more impassive. “Thank you for taking care of my leg. I want to be alone now, sir.” With a heavy heart, Rock rose from his stool, taking one last look at the woman he no longer felt he had the right to call daughter. As he left the tent, he prayed to God that she would find it in her heart to forgive him.
CHAPTER 13
Reil was muddy and tired. The skirmishes they had fought the previous day had wounded several men in her unit, as well as killing a few. But her men were brave, and they fought on, following her, trusting her, to lead them onward. It was the morning of the 3rd of May, and she had only a rough idea what the day would hold. Looking over at Rock, she saw he was weary as well. He handed her the canteen, and she took a long swallow. “No time for breakfast today, Reil. We’re moving out at first light.” Reil nodded. Things were going to get hairy today, she could just feel it.

The unit went straight away to the battlefield, just outside of Chancellorsville. They engaged the enemy for a bit, but before Reil could fire off ten rounds, they were ordered into an area of forest that the locals called ‘The Wilderness’. The fighting in the woods was fierce. Men were falling all around the young lieutenant, screams filling the air as well as the whistling of rounds going by. Reil got the order to fall back, and she ordered her remaining men to do so. As they made their way back through the woods, she thought to herself that she couldn’t be seeing the numbers that she was. By her quick estimate, nearly half the unit was decimated.

Slowly, they made their way back through the woods. Then word came that they were to rally. The young officers first reaction to what they had just gone through was terror. The mere thought of having to do that all over again, nearly made her loose her nonexistent breakfast. Looking at the men arrayed before her though, Reil felt a surge of pride. If these men had come all this way, so far from their homes and loved ones, then she, too, could fight again. She just didn’t like the idea of retreat, no matter how tactically correct it was.

Reil re-formed her men and brought them back down to where they were first posted that day. Sword raised high, golden hair flying out in every direction, she appeared as an angel, an angel of death. She swiftly meted out men’s fates, a battle cry her hymn to the troops, they once again engaged the enemy. Hand to hand, it was a bloody scene. Artillery fire all around them, smoke filling the air. The noise was deafening, it was a wonder that the shouted orders were heard at all.

Rebel forces swarmed out of the woods, colors flying and incoherent noises coming from their throats. They were the devil incarnate to Reil. The reason she existed at that moment. The angel of death needed to thin the earth from the evil it had spawned. It was her job. It was her destiny.

Through the red haze that had become her sight, she reveled in her bloody chore. She could smell the sweat of a thousand men, hear every beat of those thousand hearts. Reil was one with the battle, a small seperate part of her mind registered small cuts, bruises and aches she would surely have later. She ebbed and flowed with the battle, always towards the front. When the guidon bearer fell to a bullet, Reil dashed over to retrieve the company flag, wasting only a second before handing it to a private who stood next to her. When she saw a Confederate soldier lift his bayonet to finish off one of her men, she took careful aim and killed, urging her sergeant, only slightly wounded, to pick up the fallen rebel’s weapon and continue fighting. She was covered in blood and gore, and she was in her element. Fierce and uncompromising, a dark angel on the rampage.

Rock had been fighting side by side with Reil, but an enemy had pulled him off to the right. He saw the mortar coming in, fired off a round into the man he was grappling with, and tried to warn his foster daughter. Reil never heard the shout, so entranced as she was. Fire burned in her veins, men fell before her, she was on top of the world, invincible as only the young can be.

Rock raced over to her after the round had hit, and the grapeshot had passed by. He saw that her leg was a mess, but he still got a pulse. He thanked every god he could think of, as he dragged her limp body off the field. Other soldiers of the unit gave him cover as they were all ordered to retreat. The Rebels won the field that day, called a great victory for the Confederacy. They did, however, lose a key commander in Stonewall Jackson’s death. The tide of the war had shifted again, and Reil’s life was forever changed.

***************************************

Three days later, when Reil finally awoke, Rock knew he would have a fight on his hands. The young woman would surely feel as though Rock thought she couldn’t handle things anymore, or that he really wanted to send her home for her own safety. In reality, her leg was in very bad condition, and she had lost a lot of blood. It had been all he could do, to convince the doctor that not only should he be the one to work on her leg, but that the leg did not need to be removed. It had been touch and go there for a while, Rock being fearful that the doctor would pull rank on him and not let him handle Reil’s case.

Fortunately, the doctor was too busy, and actually grateful that he wouldn’t have to remove the leg himself. He had done that too often lately. Instead, the doctor instructed Rock that he had three days. If the young lieutenant showed any indication of not waking up, or if severe infection set in, he would remove the leg so that the patient might live. Rock was forced to agree, and was grateful when Reil finally woke up.

Rock gently pried Reil’s fingers loose from his frock coat. “No, Reil. You need to rest, recuperate. We can send you to Emma’s. She’ll take good care of you there, and then, maybe, in time, you can come back to the unit. It all depends on how your leg heals.” Reil glared at the tall man, the fire from the other day raging once again in her eyes. Tentatively, she asked, “I’m not kicked out then? What about my men? How many are left?” All that Reil cared about was going back and finishing the fight. Rock placed his elbows on his knees, cradling his face in his hands. He slowly looked up, “No, Reil, your not out of the unit.” he replied softly, his eyes began to tear up. “Out of some five hundred, only about one hundred and twenty five are left. The battle only lasted one more day, with some skirmishing yesterday, then we pulled back.”

Reil lay back down in stunned silence. So many dead. How could that be, she thought. “But the wounded, some will return…” She wanted to believe that the majority of those missing were just wounded. “No,” Rock replied, “that’s with the able bodied wounded.” His head went back into his hands, no words able to describe the loss of so many brave men. “I’ll bet the commander never passed the word along. If he had listened to us, many of those men might still be alive.” Rock thought about that, while true, it was entirely likely that Gen. Hooker wouldn’t have listened anyhow. “Word has it that Hooker expected the Rebs to retreat. He had no calvary to warn him otherwise, having used them elsewhere. Most likely our message never left our colonel’s tent.” Reil felt as though she had let her men down…if only she had been more persistent, more convincing. It was all so unreal.

“I’ve spoken to the commander, Reil. Made arrangements for you to get to the Collingsworth place. You’ll leave in about an hour. I’m afraid I can’t go with you though.” Reil feared that this might be the last time she saw Rock. If there was another battle, they might not get to say goodbye. Carefully, she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the bundle of letters that she had placed there over a week ago. They were a bit worn, and muddy, but still intact. She handed him the letters addressed to him. “What’s this then? From your Pa?” Reil nodded slowly, still not sure how to explain it all, only knowing that she had to. “That spy I killed? That was Pa.”

Rock stared in disbelief at the young woman. Reil began hammering questions at him, her built up anger finally finding direction. “Did you know he joined the army, Rock? Did you know which side he fought for? Did you know he was using Emma?” She was practically shouting at him now. In all his life, he never imagined having to answer those questions. He had thought the war big enough to have the two never meet, much less have them kill one or the other. A deep sadness filled his eyes. “Yes, Reil. I knew. He pleaded with me not to tell you. Said it wouldn’t make a difference, that each of you had your own war to fight. I just figured the chances of meeting up were slim, and then, after the war, well…he would tell you in his own time. And, no…I didn’t know anything about him working with Emma. I’m so sorry.”

Rock had never lied to her before. Rock had never done anything to betray her trust. At this point, she didn’t know whether she wanted to believe all of what he said or not. The foundations she had thought her life had been built on came crumbling down with a profoundly silent crash. Reil was beyond an emotional reaction. After all that had happened, her heart screamed out for Emma. She just wanted to be held close by her, get lost in her essence, and forget about everything. But her face showed no emotion. “Leave. Go.”

“But Reil…” The young woman’s face became even more impassive. “Thank you for taking care of my leg. I want to be alone now, sir.” With a heavy heart, Rock rose from his stool, taking one last look at the woman he no longer felt he had the right to call daughter. As he left the tent, he prayed to God that she would find it in her heart to forgive him.
CHAPTER 14
Reil lost track of how far they traveled onward. Once, she managed to pull herself up into a sitting position, stick her head out the front flap and speak to the driver. “Sergeant, has this wagon become a magnet for every ditch you can find?” Her inquiry was voiced in her most ‘I am an officer, damnit’ type mode. The sergeant leaned over, not taking his eyes off the road, although Reil found that it was only a small comfort. “Sorry, Lt. I’ve been ordered to get you there and back in as quick a time as possible.” Reil sighed wearily, then in her most booming, and commanding voice, replied. “You’ll make your time on the way back, soldier! Or I’ll personally have your stripes!” The sergeant snapped upright in his seat, perhaps realizing that he was indeed talking to an officer, and by all accounts, one who had been responsible for many of the lives saved on the battlefield a few days prior. He mumbled a quick apology, and although Reil could hardly tell, the road did seem to become a bit less bumpy.

It was after dark, when the horses drew the wagon up to the entrance of the Collingsworth property. The sergeant steered the horses towards the barn, figuring that since the front of the house showed no lights, he might have better luck in the back. Having heard the noise, Emma, as well as Flo and Jimmy came out to see what the commotion was about. The sergeant was hollering for some help, calling out for whomever might hear. Emma grabbed the man by the arm, wanting to slap him in the face to calm him down, but it was not needed. “What’s all the noise for? It’s late, you know…tell me…what’s the matter?” For the last ten miles, the lieutenant had been unconscious. Unable to rouse the young soldier, he had made haste all the way, heedless of any thought other than to get the soldier to care. “He’s been out for about a half hour, ma’am. You gotta get him inside, ‘fore it’s too late.” A flicker of recognition hit him square in the eyes as Emma lifted up the lantern to peer into the back of the wagon, but he kept his thoughts to himself. If the orders said to bring the lieutenant here, then that’s what he would do. But, he thought to himself, this sure is odd, most odd.

Reil came around briefly as Emma entered the wagon. Through the cloud of her fever ridden mind, the young woman managed to lift her hand, cupping Emma’s face. “Em…” she managed to croak. The hand fell away, the energy it had expended to get there all but faded. Emma placed her hands on Reil’s face, brushing away sweat damp hair. “Oh, Reil…love. What have you done?” She began quickly snapping directions to those assembled, her ability to do something useful overriding her desire to collapse into tears. Knowing that she had finally made it to her hearts’ destination, Reil faded blissfully back into unconsciousness.

The sergeant helped Jimmy lift Reil’s body out of the wagon and into the house. Placing the small, pale form on the bed, he gave Emma a brief description of what was going on, then made his way back to the stable. After seeing to the horses, he found himself a comfortable patch of hay, and a worn grey blanket. His last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were, again, odd…most odd.

While Reil tossed and turned in a fitful sleep, oblivious to the outside world, Emma was busy tending to the needs of the injured woman. After shooing Flo out of the room, citing Reil’s acute sense of modesty, she gently removed the torn and dirty uniform and began to gently bathe the young woman. Flo had been none too happy at the excuse, but complied, saying that she would fix up some broth, in case the lieutenant woke up. As she carefully soaped and rinsed the battered body, Emma noticed for the first time, old scars. There were two on the woman’s back, as well as what looked like an entrance and exit wound on the thigh of the uninjured leg. She wondered just how many skirmishes the woman had been in, that she hadn’t been told about. There were several new cuts and scrapes, from either the battle, or the wild wagon ride. She cleaned each one out carefully and applied a pungent salve to prevent infection.

She managed to pull a fresh sleep shirt over the unconscious woman, the rest of her wounds were below the hemline. The wound Reil had received the week prior was healing nicely, causing Emma to sigh in relief…at least that was one less problem. The condition of Reil’s leg, however, was another matter altogether. Carefully, she soaked the old bandages, then slowly pulled them away, ever conscious of preventing more damage. Some sign of infection was present, but it didn’t look as if it had progressed too far. Upon looking at the leg, finally free of the bandages, Emma had wanted to cry. She knew without having been told, that Reil might never walk again.

Seeing no way of avoiding it, Emma poured the strongest whiskey in the house onto Reil’s decimated leg. It was the only way she knew to try and stop the spread of infection. At the first contact of the first drop of the fiery liquid, Reil bolted upright in bed, hands digging into the sheets, a strangled cry escaping her lips. Emma was just able to pour on a bit more, enough to ensure that the wound was washed throughly. She then pulled Reil into a tight embrace, mindful always of the other wounds. “Shush, love. I had to clean the wound. It’s over now, lie back down.” Emma continued murmuring soft nothings and endearments to the young woman until she lay back down on the bed.

Reil lay there, softly moaning, writhing slightly from the pain, eyes shut tight. “Oh, Em…it hurts! Please…make it stop…please…” This was said in a fierce whisper, her voice too weak after the last abuse. Earilier, she had been unable to show how much pain she was in, fearful that Rock would take it as a weakness, an excuse to force her to give up fighting. Here, safe and loved, she could voice her agony. Gently letting go of her embrace, the tall woman dug through Reil’s bag that the sergeant had brought along. Emma found some medicine, along with a small note.

Mrs. Collingsworth, (for I know it shall be you that finds this) you may administer the morphine as needed for pain, one vial at a time, no more than three per day. Please do not tell her the medicine came from me. She would refuse it if she knew. Take good care of her…as I was unable to do. Thank you.

Rock

Emma wasn’t sure of what to make of the note which she crumpled into a ball and tossed into the small blaze which had been lit earlier in the fireplace. Why had Rock been unable to care for Reil? It made no sense, but she put the thought away, focusing on the task at hand. She readied the medicine, having no trouble with the syringe, having had to do this same task numerous times when the brothel had been used as a makeshift hospital. Carefully measuring out the dose, she gently turned Reil on her side, and administered the drug. Within moments, the young face no longer held a pained expression, the eyes actually clearing slightly from the absence of pain. “Better?” she asked, softly stroking a wisp of blonde hair. Reil gave a small nod. “Pain is still there, but it’s more dulled. Where’d you get the medicine?”

Emma thought about this for a moment, Rock had said not to say it was from him, but he was a doctor, so… “The doctors at the field hospital sent it along with you, don’t you remember?” There, thought Emma, that was obscure enough. The small blonde shook her head, she didn’t remember much of the days’ events at all. In her fevered state, she struggled to remember what exactly had happened that day, but was unable to recall much of it at all. Slowly the drug took deeper effect, and she struggled to keep her eyes open. She watched through half-lidded eyes as Emma finished bandaging her leg. Sleep claimed her unwillingly, tugging her into the land of dreams filled only with more fighting, more pain, more betrayal.

Emma watched as her lover slipped back into an uneasy sleep. She had hoped to get some liquids in the woman while she had been awake, but sleep was more important right now. The poor woman had taken too much abuse in the past few days. Sleeping would at least allow the woman to gain some strength to fight off the infection. She settled for applying cool compresses, remaining by the bedside until the wee hours of the morning. She ended up in a chair, her upper body draped across Reils’, as the first rays of sun darted across the small room.

Flo had come in during the night and draped a blanket across both of them. She didn’t have the heart to wake Emma, even to move her fully to the bed, knowing that the woman would have protested. She placed the bowl of broth on the fireplace hook, far enough away from the embers so as not to boil away in the night. As she wearily walked back to her own cottage, she noticed that the barn door was ajar. Peeking in, she spotted two empty stalls and no sign of the wagon which had arrived in the night. A might bit perplexed that the soldier hadn’t even stayed for breakfast, she put it down to having to report back to his unit. She made a mental note to get his name from Reil, send him a thank you note.

Sergeant Thornton wouldn’t have appreciated the sentiment. He had slept just long enough to feel a bit more rested, then hooked up the horses once again to the wagon. Racing pell mell through the waning night, the mans’ only intent was reaching his goal…the command tent of the Federal Army of the Potomac. Every now and then he cast a glance back to make sure his precious cargo was still there. He would place a hand reassuringly on an old calvary saddle, gray blanket, and shaving kit of an unknown Confederate officer.

****************************************

Reil sat by the hearth in the kitchen, legs propped up, mug of warm tea in her hand. She preferred coffee, but it was hard to come by these days. As was the sugar and cream she preferred in it. So she sat, staring into the soft flames, while the rain once again pounded it’s rhythm on the panes of the kitchen windows, sipping unsweetened tea. It had been days before she could venture out of bed, and days more until she had been able to convince Emma that she wanted to be in the kitchen where she at least had different walls to look at. A large orange tabby had made it’s way into the house, seeking shelter from the rain. Flo had tried to kick the poor miserable creature back out into the elements. “Darn cat…barn is where you belong!” Reil remembered clearly how she had been able to coax the gruff housekeeper into letting the animal stay. She was rather proud of the small victory, having lost so much lately.

The blonde woman frowned, thoughtfully stroking the soft fur of the animal who had found it’s way onto her lap. The animal dozed in contented slumber, the low rumbling of a purr the only indication that the large cat was aware of the attention. Reil wished she could attain such peaceful slumber. Each night was a never ending battle. She was torn from sleep either from intense pain from her leg, or harrowing nightmares ranging from the battlefield to the look in her fathers eyes that horrible night.

Her saving grace had been Emma. Like an angel of mercy, the concerned woman had never left her side. Offering generous comfort and a shoulder to cry on; even on those nights when Reil didn’t remember waking up, she could see the dark hollows under the other womans’ eyes, indicating little sleep had been had that night. Several times Reil had insisted on trying to walk, stubborn pride getting the best of her. Each time, Emma would offer both physical and emotional support, as each time Reil would ultimately fail in her attempts. Reil was convinced she would walk again, and in her mind, that…was that.

Emma walked into the kitchen, took one look at her, and was immediately at the young womans’ side. “Are you in pain, love?” she asked in a low voice filled with concern. Reil hadn’t realized she was frowning so hard, and immediately relaxed her face. “No,” she said, placing a hand on the other womans’ arm. “I was just thinking. You needn’t worry so.”

Emma knelt down beside the chair, bringing her hand to the face of the woman she loved so terribly much. Her thumb traced a small scar along Reil’s right cheekbone. It was fading, but gave the younger woman a rather dangerous look that Emma found somewhat endearing, knowing full well how gentle Reil was deep inside. It didn’t detract from the beauty of the woman, rather, it added character. Reil had mentioned that it was an outward reflection for all to see, of the changes she had undergone. Emma continued to run her thumb gently over the mark, wishing that it didn’t have to be so.

Since that first night, Reil had retreated into a shell, stubbornly refusing to admit that she was in any pain. She would take the morphine only when Emma insisted, and would never take more than one dose per day. Reil complained that the drug, while it did help with the pain, left her fuzzy headed, and she didn’t like not being able to focus. Emma tried not to push too hard, but she knew there were times when the woman was in excruciating pain.

The tall woman had taken to holding her through the worst of it, sometimes reading to her, othertimes singing softly. She loved those times, but also hated them, knowing how much pain her love was in. There were even times when they would comfort each other. Reil’s frustration with her leg would overcome her, and Emma’s feelings of helplessness would come crashing through…neither woman knowing what the future would hold, only that they would be in it together.

A lone tear slipped out and Reil’s strong hand went immediately to the taller woman’s face, wiping it away. Emma looked deeply into the eyes of the woman who was the other half of her soul, the other half that she’d almost lost. “If I didn’t worry about you, you’d be off trying to stomp about on that leg of yours. And then where would you be?” Emma succeed in lightening the dour mood the two were close to slipping into. They had both learned to recognize it, and vowed to each other that they wouldn’t let it carry them away. A small smile pulled at the corners of Reils’ mouth. “I’d be stomping to where ever you were, of course!” They both let out a small laugh, aware of the truth in the statement.

At that moment, Jimmy came through the back door, holding something behind his back. He shook off some water, wiped his boots on the mat and shyly approached the two. As he came closer, both women could see a sparkle in his eye, as well as a mischievous grin begging to be brought forth. They both smiled up at him, as he just stood there, shuffling from foot to foot. Reil could take the suspense no longer. “Ok, Jimmy. What gives? You look like the cat that just ate the mouse.” With that, the cat on Reils’ lap lifted his head and jumped down in one swift movement, every motion screaming indignation. “I think Oughtnot was put out by that!” Jimmy said laughing. “Oughtnot…what an odd name.” Reil couldn’t help but wonder how the rotund cat had gotten it’s name.

“Oh, when he was a kitten, he was always getting into things that he ‘ought not’ get into…the name stuck.” Emma supplied. They all had a laugh at this, Reil thinking that it was very true, seeing as how Flo had thought the cat ‘ought not’ be here, but in the barn, earlier that day. “Alright, enough distraction, whatcha got there, Jimmy?” Reil was even more curious than before. “Oh…yeah.” He pulled out two items from behind his back. The first was a crutch. “I made this special for you. Smoothed down the wood, then oiled it real good. I used an old blanket with some cotton batting to cushion the arm rest.” I hope you like it.

Reil was speechless. She hadn’t fully thought out her recovery, but she realized now, that she would have to take it in stages. She figured the crutch was a good idea. It would get her moving around, and allow her to slowly start using her injured leg once more. The second item, however, truely took her breath away. It was an intricate, hand carved cane. The brass handle softly reflecting the firelight, she pulled it closer and could make out several letters engraved on the shaft where the handle met the wood. ECRB All along the length of the shaft were meticulously carved vines, leafs and small bunches of grapes. Reil ran her hand along the surface, marveling at the workmanship. “Did you make this yourself? It’s beautiful.” Words could hardly describe her feelings. “It’s too much, I can’t possibly take this.”

Jimmy ducked his head low, blushing slightly. “Aw, heck, Lieutenant, g’wan and take it. Think of it as a motivation to get walkin’ again. Spent the last two weeks on it, just for you.” Reil gave the young man a sturdy handshake, wishing she could give him a big hug, as such a present deserved. Emma saw Reil struggle with the awkwardness and spoke up. “Jimmy here was apprenticed to Roger for four years. But business has been slow, what with the war and all. My guess is, it probably kept him out of trouble!” She took the liberty of giving him a hug, allowing Reil to exit from the conflicting emotions that she saw the woman was desperately trying to hold back. The last thing she needed was to have Reil start hugging Jimmy in a very feminine way, it would blow the womans’ cover for sure. Or at the very least, produce some questions from the man.

Jimmy was oblivious to the whole exchange. “Here, try out the crutch, your leg is probably healed enough by now for it’s use.” With the help of the two of them, Reil made it to her feet. Unaccustomed to the change of height, she wobbled a bit, steadying herself on her good leg. Emma’s hand on her arm also helped. Finally, she thought, something to take my mind off the boredom, and a little more freedom as an added bonus! She tucked the crutch under one arm, and took a shaky step, placing very little weight on the injured leg. She made it all the way to the small butcher block island in the kitchen, which she leaned heavily against. Turning to look back at Emma, a wide smile crossed her face. “Half way there, love. Half way there.” Then looking over at Jimmy, “You have my deepest thanks, young man. You did a fine job with this crutch.” Jimmy practically beamed.

Emma knew the smaller woman meant half way to walking again and couldn’t help but smile back. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, this amazing woman would walk again. Even if it’s to prove everyone wrong who said she couldn’t. But the effort had visibly drained Reil and Emma suggested that she lay down for a while before dinner. For once, Reil didn’t argue. The now mobilized woman happily thunked her way towards the bedroom, finally collapsing onto the bed. In a short time, she was fast asleep, Emma there by the bed as always, watching over her love, protecting her from the nightmares that, this time, didn’t come.
CHAPTER 15
The first of June had dawned bright and sunny. It had been almost a month to the day since the battle. Reil had put thoughts of fighting aside, thoughts of that awful day in Chancellorsville aside, in her determination to walk once again. That fierce streak of stubborn pride that had led her to enlist, rose to the fore now, not allowing failure the tiniest crack to cling to. Her attempt to remain upright and not become intimate with the floorboards had led her here. Chopping wood. Once again, she allowed the steady rhythm of swing and slice ease her mind. Balanced on her good leg, hopping over to the stack of uncut wood, she banished thoughts of her repeated trys, repeated intimate knowledge of how many pegs kept the tongue and groove flooring together.

Picking up another short log, she balanced it upright on the chopping block. She found that by taking a short hop back, finding a good balance on her sound leg, and careful aim, her ability to chop wood was almost as accurate as before. After a month of sitting around, bored almost to the point of screaming, she decided some physical exertion was in order. In a nutshell…she was getting cabin fever. The reassuring heft of the smooth axe handle, the satisfying thunk as the blade came into contact with the wood, the gentle clatter as the split pieces fell to the ground, all gave Reil a sense of accomplishment. Something she was sorely lacking these days.

For two weeks now she had been able to get around a bit better, but her leg was slow in healing. At least, slow to her mind. All the other small cuts and gashes had long since turned to pink scars, while the leg was hindered from loss of bone and tissue. Another lazy heft and solid thunk. She was nearing the last of the wood needing to be tended to. Sweating freely, she quickly made short work of the rest of the pile. Then began the tedious chore of kneeling, loading up one arm, shoving upright with one leg, then tucking the crutch under her other arm and making her way to the porch where the other wood was neatly stacked.

It was on her last trip to the porch when Emma stepped outside to meet her. A small tray she carried held a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. She watched as the strong blonde made her way up the short set of porch steps, knowing from previous encounters that Reil would accept no help. At first, Emma had tried to persuade the stubborn woman to let Jimmy tend to the firewood. It had been a fruitless endeavor. The smaller woman would take no excuses for not doing her share of the work around the house, stating that she had felt as though she was nothing but a freeloader. Emma knew it was not the case, but did see that Reil was able to work out some of her frustrations. The young soldier put everything she had into all that she did, and this was no exception. Reil banished her inner demons well. Emma let out a small sigh. She only hoped the woman was working through the problems, not just burying them. After stacking her small load,Reil made her way over to the railing and lifted up her right leg gingerly, extending it out along the wide banister, her good leg swinging a little as she leaned her back against one of the porches support posts. Placing her crutch beside and a little behind her to lean on the post as well, she gratefully took the cool glass of lemonade that Emma held out for her. Thirsty from her exertion, she took a healthy swallow and sat bolt upright, her eyes nearly popping out of her head.

“Lord above, what’s in this stuff, Em?” she managed to choke out, waiting for the burning that reached her toes to die down. “Oh, didn’t I mention? I have a cousin in Lynchburg, Kentucky…he’s thinking about opening up a distillery. Sends me a couple of bottles every year.” Reil thought about that for a moment, that meant that the whiskey she was drinking came out of a… “I think he needs to clean his still, this stuff has hair!” It wasn’t that she didn’t like it, but it had come around the corner, so to speak. “Give a body warning next time!”

Emma gave her a small smile, followed by a deep throated chuckle. “Hey, you’ve already been baptised by fire, that’s the stuff I used to clean your wound!” Reil grimaced at the barely remembered memory. That had stung like nothing else she had ever felt. Another, more tentative sip, proved that the whiskey was, actually, quite smooth. The mix with lemonade adding a pleasant tang.

Emma moved up beside the blonde, straddling the leg that dangled with her own long ones and wrapped a comforting arm around her waist. Quietly the two women stayed that way, sipping their potent brew, allowing the late afternoon sun to bathe them in it’s warmth. Reil wrapped her left arm about the taller woman, and let her head rest against her chest. Reil could hear the steady heartbeat, pounding out a rhythm that thrummed straight through to her soul. No, she thought sadly, as much as she wanted to stay like this forever, she very much still felt the pull of duty. It was as though her destiny wasn’t quite done yet. Not by a long shot.

Reil was happy here, had even entertained thoughts of retiring her commission. She mentally pushed aside the thought that her injury would make that decision for her. To her, that wasn’t an option. Either she left the army of her own will, or rejoin her unit to fight once more. The injury would provide the means to leave the military, but the thought left her with a bad taste in her mouth. Reil was never one to use an excuse. So instead, she concentrated on regaining use of her accursed limb, very much expecting to reunite with her unit. She let the quite afternoon sounds wash away her thoughts, basking in the feel of the woman beside her.

***************************************

Flo had been cleaning in the front room when she heard a rider approach. Setting down her duster, she made her way to the front door, thinking that the mail was a bit early today. Things were so sporadic nowadays though, she didn’t give it much thought. She was a bit startled to see a man in uniform, an officer she assumed, standing in her doorway. “Good morning. My name is Major Ablemeyer. I wish to speak to Mrs. Collingsworth and her guest, if I may?” The mans’ deep, rich voice vibrating through the foyer. Flo’s dark skin lost some of it’s color. On sight alone, she instinctively distrusted this man. Hearing his voice confirmed her instincts. “Wait here, I’ll go fetch her.” She had to restrain herself from actually running down the hall.

Flo paused, looking out the kitchen door at the two figures so lost in each others arms. She was amazed anew each day at how the two could remain so close, the stress alone would have felled lesser people. But she knew that these two were not ordinary, garden variety people. They were the stuff legends were made of, she was sure. Many times during the past weeks she had felt privileged to have been able to witness such a joining of two souls. Two very, very old souls. This she knew, but not how. Only that it was there, and that somehow, this newly arrived officer was about to attempt to destroy it. Flo let a wry smile grace her lips before opening the door. That poor major didn’t know what he was in for.

“Emma, Lieutenant Bardlow?” The two lifted their heads, glancing towards the door. “There’s a Major Ablemeyer here to see you both. Emma, there’s just somethin’ about him I don’t like. Haven’t had this feelin’ since…well, you know.” Flo had made it a point not to make references to Reils’ father, since she had found out who the man was. She hadn’t wanted her petty feelings of the past to interfere with what was happening in the present. “Alright, Flo. Tell him we will be there momentarily.”

They made their way inside, to the front room where the major was waiting. He stood as they entered, taking Emma’s offered hand and giving a slight bow over it. “Mrs. Collingsworth, my pleasure.” His low voice oozed out, giving Emma a nearly uncontrollable urge to pull her hand away quickly. She resisted, but just barely, drawing her hand back in a polite amount of time. He turned and gave a curt nod to Reil, who returned it in kind. “Flo, why don’t you get us some tea? Would that be to your liking, Major, or would you prefer something stronger?” She indicated that he should resume his seat. He chose to remain standing.

Reil desperately wanted to sit down, but the major’s refusal to do so put her in the position of remaining standing, she would show this man no weakness. Her thoughts were moving extremely fast since the time Flo had informed them of their visitor. She had heard about this man…oh, yes…she had heard. He was ruthless, a force to be reckoned with. Major Ablemeyer was an aide to Hooker, an aide that did the messy work, cleanups, things that would leave a bad taste in the mouth of a decent man.

As she stood there, she took a moment to look him over. Well over six feet tall, he nearly dwarfed Emma, who wasn’t all that short herself. He had short, greased back, dark hair, reminding her of a beavers’ fur when wet. Small eyes for such a large face peered out with inky blackness, darting about taking in all around him. Yet for all their motion, they spoke of patience, confidence, and…dread…for those foolish enough to look at them. Reil felt a shiver run up her spine. The presence of this man was not a good thing…not at all. She followed him with her eyes as he made his way over to a small table near the bay window, sunlight glinting off his manicured nails as he picked up an idly examined a small figurine.

At last, after Flo had set out the tea, he spoke once more. Reaching into his coat, he pulled out a packet of papers. “We recieved some disturbing rumors from a Sergeant Thornton about a month back.” He moved around and handed the packet of papers to Reil. “He had some evidence to back up his rumors, but that wouldn’t have been enough.” Reil searched her memory, but could recall no sergeant by that name. Slowly she opened the packet. “You’ll understand, of course, that I had to follow up on these rumors. In doing so, I came across some very disturbing things. Perhaps, you…Lt. Bardlow, would care to elaborate.” Reil looked up from the papers she was reading. Her face went pale as she sank down in the chair she had been standing in front of, the papers falling out of her nerveless fingers.

Emma rushed over, scooping up the papers and placing a reassuring hand on her lovers’ shoulder. “Don’t bother reading it.” Reil stated in a voice devoid of emotion. “It says that I have been ‘medically discharged’ from the service pending the results of an inquiry. The inquiry to determine my allegiance to the Union.” She stared blankly ahead, then set her fierce green eyes on the major. “Does this mean that I am under arrest, Major?”

“No, Lieutenant. You’re not. You will, however, have to come with me. We’ll arrange housing for you near the courthouse in Washington.” The tall imposing man turned his head to look at Emma. “You, though, Mrs. Collingsworth, are under arrest. As a spy. My men are waiting outside.” Emma swallowed hard, the hand on Reil’s shoulder almost painful in it’s grip. “I’ll have you know, Major…” Reil placed her hand on top of Emmas’, effectively cutting the woman off. “Say nothing to him, Emma. We’ll hire a lawyer, and get this whole misunderstanding straightened out.” Emma bowed her head, allowing the sensible words of the woman she loved to hold sway, instead of the outburst she held ready to let fly at the smug major.

“Allow us to get our things in order, if you will, Major. I assume you want us to leave right away?” The major only showed slight irritation at not being able to get either of them to admit to anything, but that was all in due time, he thought to himself. No sense pushing the issue, the stubborn lieutenant had made it clear that nothing else would be said. “The house will be searched prior to you collecting your things.” He moved toward the bay window once more, raising his hand in signal.

Within moments, blue clad soldiers were everywhere in the house. Flo was crying out as Emma tried to console her, the men left no area unsearched. Jimmy had his hands full out in the barn, the soldiers digging through the hay, looking for whatever they might find. When they searched the grounds, they came upon the recent grave. It was immediately exhumed, the hastily thrown together pine box placed in the back of one of the waiting wagons. All the while, a smug smile was plastered across the dark majors’ face. This, he thought to himself, will make my career!

A full hour later, all had been searched. The house was a mess, overturned furniture, pots, cooking utensils strewn everywhere, and a dark forboding cloud seemed to hang over all who were there. Reil stood slowly, making her way to the bedroom. Silently she collected what was left of her belongings. They had taken her weapon, and any letters she had been carrying. Emma packed a small bag and together they made their way back to the foyer. Jimmy stood there, unsure if this would be the last time he ever saw his employer. Emma gave him a fierce hug, placing her mouth close to his ear. “You get yourself to Fredricksburg. Tell them all to scatter. They have no part in this, and they need to get away. Have Clara burn all the paperwork.” The low whisper was given a nod. Jimmy would make haste after they all left.

Flo waited there, bag in hand. She would be going with Emma. The tall woman had told her she needn’t come along, but Flo had protested, saying that where Emma went, she followed. The major saw no problem with this, him being in a generous mood having just captured the most notorious Confederate spy that the war had seen to date. Reil had donned her uniform, her calm face revealing not a hint of the turmoil that raged inside her. “Let’s be on our way, Major. The sooner to get this misunderstanding over with.”

Emmas’ carriage had been brought around to the front of the house, but she was not allowed to drive. Their bags were placed in back, with enough room for Flo to sit, feet dangling almost to the ground. Emma sat up front, with a young dark haired lieutenant holding the reins. Reil was forced to ride on the wagon which also held her fathers’ remains. She stretched out on the plank seat to the rear of the wagon behind the driver, trying to get comfortable. Her eyes only leaving the pine box situated in front of her to look up at Emma. Somber blue met moss green across the short distance between the two vehicles. Then the green eyes dropped, shamed that because of her, the woman she loved was now captive.

Reil had no doubts in her mind as to what had happened. There were a few blanks yet to fill in, but for the most part she knew that someone had betrayed her. She had a pretty good idea who it was. The sergeant that had been mentioned earlier was just not enough to warrant being discharged from the military, regardless of whatever it was that he had found. No, she thought, someone close had betrayed her. Betrayed Emma. The shame was overwhelming. She had brought this upon Emma…upon them all. She saw no way out of the hole she could feel herself slowly sinking into. No way out at all. The wagon lurched, and they were on their way, the coffin bumping softly against the floorboards with each stone in the road that a wheel found.
CHAPTER 16
“1st Lieutenant, Bardlow, Reil. Born 19 April 1845. Austin, Texas. It says here you served for several months with the 69th NY right after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. How can that be Lieutenant? You would have been a boy of sixteen summers. Hardly big enough to lift a weapon, by the size of you.” A murmer of laughter swept through the assembled crowd. The short, balding military lawyer by the name of Lieutenant Powers grinned and tossed the papers he was reading from onto the long desk in front of him. He turned and leaned back against the desk, awaiting an answer.

“I fought with the Irish Brigade at Bull Run.” Reil affirmed. “But I was fifteen, not sixteen.” All eyes were on the young soldier, disbelief in some, pride in those few who had seen war, and knew what courage it must have taken for one so young to have fought and survived. “And why, Lt. Bardlow, are you no longer with that particular unit? Were you put out due to your age?” Again, more snickering, but not as much this time. Many in the courtroom were beginning to see Reil from a different light.

“As many know, that unit was a ninety day unit. It was called up with other units under the belief that the conflict would soon be resolved. When they released us, I returned to my home.” The intentions behind the stress on her words was not lost on the arrogant man. She loathed him, and it showed. “Then perhaps you can explain, Lieutenant, why you didn’t immediately rejoin another unit when it became apparent that the conflict was, indeed, a war? Were you scared, perhaps?” A soft hush settled over the onlookers.

Reil glared at the man, then answered in clipped tones. “I’ve seen more battles than you ever will, sitting behind your desk. I don’t fear war, death, or you.” She took a moment to calm herself, knowing that outbursts would get her no help. “My foster father convinced me to wait, saying that he would join with me, when a local unit was mustered. The 69th was from New York City…we wanted to fight along side our friends. He was also none too pleased that I had run away. I promised him I’d wait. And so I did.” Reil still had the scars to show for her battle that first time around, and only wished that showing them would not reveal secrets best left hidden. Punching that smirk off the face of this low life soldier wannabe was high on her list of things she ‘ought not’ do.

“Yes, your foster father. Is he not a captain in your unit?” Before Reil could answer, he pushed on, stepping in close to the chair the young soldier was sitting in. “And isn’t it true that he conspired with you when you deserted?” Reil pushed up from her chair, nose to nose with the lawyer. “I. Did. Not. Desert. I was told by my captain that arrangements had been made for me to recuperate elsewhere.” A gavel knocked from the front of the room. “Lieutenant, control yourself, or I’ll have to have you restrained. Lt. Powers, continue.” Colonel Rachie was a fair man, but Reil knew she was pushing his good will. Slowly she retook her seat, never losing eye contact with the other man.

For three weeks now, they had been either questioning, badgering or otherwise insulting her. Nothing was sacred, but the only thing she was grateful for was that her gender had not come up. This worried her, giving her a brief moment of panic when Powers had asked about why she left the 69th. While she had given a truthful answer, she was concerned that he might have found out, just on speculation. She concentrated on fighting the charges that had already been brought up, not on those that were only possibilities.

Through all of this, the stress was beginning to tell. She hadn’t talked with Emma since they had made their first stop in town, the Old Capitol Prison. Emma, as well as Flo, had been confined there on the second floor, along with other women the government deemed secessionists. Each day, sometimes twice, Reil would walk the mile or more from her barracks, just to stand outside the brick building. Through all her guilt and shame, she still felt the pull of their bond. This pull brought her back here, day after day, just to catch a glimpse of her love through a dingy window. They would gaze at each other for an hour or so, unable to come together as their souls demanded, until Reil would have to leave to attend the hearings or drag herself away to eat and sleep.

A small tent was set up next to the house, guards off duty would lounge there in their off time. Reil managed to befriend one of them, a Private Redding, who saw no problem in delivering a small note and some fresh baked bread. The poor man had been removed from duty because of it, Reil getting a verbal lashing for it as well. She had gone back to simply watching, simply yearning. The young woman came back to her senses when she realized Lt. Powers had asked yet another question. Catching only part of it, she was none the less able to answer.

“If you wish to know why Captain LeRocka is not here, you shall have to ask him yourself. I don’t recall it being by responsibility to know his whereabouts. I would assume he is with our unit.” The bald lawyer smiled and rubbed his hands together, sensing he was moving in on his prey. “Ah, yes, but that brings us once again to the question of why you..were not with…your unit. You have been listed as absent with out official leave since the battle near Chancellorsville. You were aware of this, weren’t you Lieutenant Bardlow?”

Reil was weary of all this, the inquiry had moved from not just her association with Emma, but to the fact that there had been some sort of mix up as to where she had been for a month after the battle. “As I stated before, I was unaware that I was considered absent without leave. My captain informed me, after I had woken from my wounds, that due to the overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, I was to leave that morning. I was severely wounded during that battle. At the time, I was thankful to be alive, much less alive with all my body parts intact. I can recall little from that time, as I was under medication for the pain my leg was causing me.” This received nods from the assembled crowd, who knew Reil had, indeed, been very seriously injured.

Reil, for her part, played up somewhat the fact that she had been wounded. After all, she thought, if I’m to be discharged from the military, it won’t change the fact that not only am I a veteran, but a wounded veteran at that. She sincerely hoped that her bravery on the battlefield played a heavy part in the inquiry board’s decision. Once again, she thought of all the scars that she couldn’t show, some of those were on the inside as well. Scars that no one would ever see, that she would always see.

Things were soon wrapped up after that. The crowd moving outside into the bright sunlight. Reil quickly pulled on her wide brim hat to shade her eyes. Hmmm…she thought to herself…still early. Most days the inquiry lasted on into the night, sometimes with Reil on the stand, other times so-called witnesses were brought in. She had discovered the identity of the mysterious Sgt. Thornton, and regretted not having been able to make good on her threat to him. So far, she hadn’t seen Rock, and deep down, she didn’t want to. But something gave her an itch she couldn’t scratch, and had the feeling that Rock had already been there testified, and left. Since there was nothing she could do about it, she decided to move on. She headed off in the direction of the slowly setting sun, towards the other half of her soul which called out over the miles in a silent plea to be nearer.

If it was more than a mile from her barracks to the prison, it had to be a lengthy two miles from the courthouse to the prison. Reils’ leg was continuing to heal slowly, but the walks she made on her daily circuit between her destinations helped strengthen her muscles. She only used her cane now, but her limp was still pronounced. Resigning herself to a lifetime of pain was small in comparison to the pain she knew she had unwittingly inflicted on Emma.

Not for the first time, Reil castigated herself for things she, in truth, could do nothing about now. In her drug induced state, she had neglected to check for her authorization papers, thinking that Rock had seen to them. The information she had passed along, thinking that it would help in the coming battle, had turned against her. Colonel Ellis had, in fact, passed the information along, but General Hooker had thought it had come from a Confederate spy somewhere in his own ranks. He assumed that spy to be Reil. For two days, Powers had gone on about the circumstances leading to her fathers death. For two days, Reil had explained in every detail she could remember, the events leading up to that fateful day. For two nights, she cried herself to sleep, reaching out in her dreams each night for the arms of her lover that were no longer there to make the nightmares cease. And every night since her separation from Emma, the other nightmares came. New ones now, of Emma dying the death of a traitor, along with old ones. Both blending into a horrifying psudo-reality that woke her each night drenched in sweat, hoping she hadn’t screamed out her weakness for the other soldiers to hear.

She neared the brick structure which housed her heart as the sunlight was slowly sinking in the west. A man made his rounds with a long burning taper, touching them to the gas lights which lit the street in an eerie glow. Shadows taking on dire proportions in the waning light. Reil considered that they matched the mood of her heart. The guard at the door nodded to Reil, acknowledging her presence, to which she nodded in return and took up her habitual place leaning against one of the lampposts. She never knew if Emma would be looking out when she got there, and always feared that something had happened to her during her absence. Silent minutes went by, broken only by the occasional horse drawn carriage making its’ way down the street.

******************************************

Flos’ carpet bag seemed to be bottomless. At least, that’s what Emma thought. The tall beauty sat on a small chair next to her bed, needle in one hand, cloth in the other. She was sewing a fine new shirt for Reil, having noticed that most of the shirts the woman wore were at least one size too large. Her fingers flew as she deftly placed each stitch, knowing that her work would rival the finest tailors in any state. The sleeve she was working on being finally attached, she clipped off the thread with white, even teeth and set the work aside for the moment.

Emma glanced towards the window, noting that the sun was setting on yet another long, tedious day. She had received word today that President Lincoln had denied her request to attend religious services, putting her in a foul mood. It had been nearly a month, and they had yet to find the person she had named as her contact in the Union army. The woman was beginning to think that she would never again see any other walls but the four she was forced to look at each and every day. The only thing that had saved her sanity somewhat were when Reil would ‘visit’. Emma knew the toll it took on the small woman, both inside and out, figuring it had to be pure torture on her leg to make the trek twice a day. But it was the internal toll that Emma was most worried about. They hadn’t spoken since that one stolen moment on the trip to Washington.

They had taken a break from the noon day sun. A small stream under a towering elm brought much needed respite from the infernal heat.

Emma saw an opportunity to speak to Reil, to try and offer what comfort she could. She walked up beside the young woman, placing a hand on her shoulder. The younger woman had flinched and pulled away. “Does my touch now burn you so?” The smaller woman bowed her head, unable to look Emma in the eyes. “No. Not that. You’ve shown me nothing but kindness, and I’ve done nothing but act irresponsibly and caused all this to happen.” The blonde turned towards the stream, shame enveloping her like a heavy shroud.

“I don’t blame you Reil. It was a misunderstanding that was bound to happen. Being a spy carries that chance. I was aware of that since the beginning. But with the events that have happened…” The young woman spun on her, self recrimination clear in her eyes. “Yes. Events that have happened. If I hadn’t been so naive, neither one of us would be in this position now. I can’t bear your gentle touch, it feels too much like pity. I just can’t. I’m sorry.”

Emma tried once again to touch her young soldier, offer some solace, only to have Reil turn heel and head back towards the wagon. She didn’t feel pity, only a tiredness with the war. But Reil did not want to let her inside the walls she had firmly placed between them. A slow tear wended its’ way down her cheek, as one of her guards noticed that she had been talking with Reil and came down to fetch her.

A fresh tear made a path down her face. “Oh, Reil.” she softly whispered, “Please don’t shut me out.”. Standing, Emma made her way to the window, thinking it may be too early, but not sure. There, framed in the shadows cast by the lamplight, stood her love. The pieces of her soul screamed for the presence of the other, desperately needing to be made whole. Emma pressed her hand against a pane of glass, still warm from the recently departed sun. Look up, she silently called with her heart. Look up, my love.

Reil did look up, her heart leaping to her throat, causing her to swallow the lump that had suddenly stolen her breath, and let out a small cry. The guard at the door paid it all no mind. He had seen this scene perhaps twenty times or more during his stint. Leaning back in his chair, he let his gaze wander elsewhere, but his thoughts were that he might find love the likes of that some day. Unconciously, Reil reached for the hand that was pressed against the glass, the futility of it never crossing her mind. It took all her will not to overtake the guard and rush up to the room that held her heart. It would be foolish, she knew, although quite easy as well, to break Emma out and run away with her.

Two things stopped her from doing just that. One was that they would have to leave the country, never being able to return to the land they had cared enough about to fight for. The second, more important reason, was that Reil wasn’t sure that Emma would join her. After what she had said by the stream that day, she was fearful that Emma would hate her. Reil had hated the words she had uttered as soon as they had come forth. But there was no time to turn back, the guard having already spotted them talking. She felt helpless that she had been unable to apologize, so she had done the only thing she could think of to make amends. That was by coming here every day, hard as it had been to be so close, and yet so far away.

Reil lowered her arm, placing her hand to her mouth. Each time, she wanted to cry out at the love which burned her soul. Each time, walking away with her soul in ashes on the cobbled stones at her feet. “I love you.” She whispered each time, the figure in the window echoing it, though each could only see the words forming on each others lips, never hear it. This time, Emmas’ thoughts had brought her to the brink of oblivion, so desperately did she want to hold the other woman. “Don’t give up.”

“Never.”
CHAPTER 17
Early morning hours are that time of day that cause a persons thoughts to wander along the pathways of the soul. Reil was weary of the trek, certain that humanity was simply a cruel joke, a farce. She lay there in her bunk unable to regain the sleep that yet another nightmare had stolen, silently cursing the course in which the fates had decided to lead her. Cursing herself, as well, for having been so foolish as to follow. As she realized that her attempts at regaining some much needed sleep were becoming a waste of time, a change was in order.

Quietly, so as not to wake the others, she decided to clean up, change clothes and sort through her things. This was her private time of day, with no prying eyes to meddle in her affairs. Although the lack of sleep would tell later, as it always did, this time was her own, no one else had a claim on her during these wee hours of the morning. Sitting up, she pulled out a change of clothes, and went to wash up.

Coming back to her bunk, she lit a small stub of a candle, its’ flame barely keeping the predawn darkness at bay. She decided to empty out her knapsack, tidy things up. As she upended it onto the thin mattress, she heard a tiny clank coming from the bottom of the bag. Reil noticed that her tin cup and spoon were not spread out on the bunk along with the rest of her things. Figuring the items had gotten hooked on one of the many strings inside the bag, she stuck her hand inside to search for the errant utensils.

The spoon, it seemed, had gotten stuck under a stiff piece of paper, the tin cup, in turn, had its’ handle around the spoon. With a bit of tugging and a few curses, she soon had all three items out of the bag. She turned the piece of paper over in her hands, wondering what it could possibly be…she hadn’t put it there, she was sure. There was handwriting on it, small and almost indecipherable. Reil moved closer to the window where the small stub of a candle was fitfully attempting to stay lit through the draft of the ill fitting sill. Barely able to make out the writing, her eyes grew wide as she struggled to read the cramped handwriting on the rigid piece of paper.

Lieutenant Bardlow, Reil. This leave paper hereby authorizes extended leave time to recuperate from wounds received during the battle fought near Chancellorsville. It will be reflected in the company records that this time will not interfere with accrued leave earned prior to the battle, but may be taken in conjunction with the leave mentioned above, should your recuperation take more than one month.

Signed this day, the 6th of May, eighteen hundred and sixty three,

Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis

Commander

124th NYSV Regiment

Reil wanted to cry, so overwhelmed was she. A little of her faith in Rock had been restored, thankful that the man had, indeed, come through for her when needed. The fact that the items had been hung up in her bag were probably the reason that the soldiers at Emma’s house hadn’t found the document. She wanted to yell out her joy, maybe even dance! She restrained herself, but thoughts were running madly through her head. She was put on profile, ordered to stand down from her post with the authority of the commander of her company himself!

Not only was this good for Reils’ case, but Emmas’ as well. She had been in her own trial for two days now, and this would certainly make the government drop at least one of the charges against her. They had accused Emma of causing the young lieutenant to become insubordinate, the motivating factor in Reils’ supposed desertion and of harboring her as a deserter as well, all charges by themselves worthy of being labeled a traitor.

Reils’ inquiry was in the final stages, she couldn’t have found these papers at a better time, but she truly wondered how it was that no one from her unit had come forth to defend her. This would at least hold up judgment while it was being verified, giving her time to make some inquiries of her own. She was also set to testify on behalf of Emma later that day, she only hoped things were finally beginning to look up for the both of them. A sudden flash of insight caused her to stop in wonder…what other paperwork might she have in her and Emmas’ defense? The soldiers at the house had taken all the letters she had received, but her coat had been on the back porch, and had somehow been overlooked. Grabbing her blue coat from the back of the chair it was draped across, Reil felt around in the inside pocket and pulled out a tattered bundle of letters.

****************************************

Emma sat in the courthouse nervously wringing a small white handkerchief. Reil hadn’t come by that morning for her ëvisit’, and it left the woman with nerves that were so taut, she imagined that she would hear them snap if she didn’t see the small blonde soldier soon. She tried to concentrate on the proceedings, still rather amazed that they had let Flo testify. Fortunately, Flo only had second hand knowledge of her dealings with Colonel Sykes/Bardlow, and would only be able to testify to that fact alone. Emma knew the government needed two witnesses to the accused acts of treason, and that had never happened, to her knowledge.

“All’s I know, is that Miss Emma would tell me how she’d messed up those Rebels plans but good. She would give that fat, miserable Colonel all kinds of bad advice, an’ he’d go run and follow along like you was tellin’ a dog to fetch a stick. From what I heard, the north’s been doin’ quite well by Miss Emmas’ deceptions.” Flo was incensed that these blind men before her couldn’t see that her Emma was a paragon of virtue. The poor woman had been through enough, what with the loss of her kin, just to be put through nonsense like this. “Did you ever see any other officers with Mrs. Collingsworth?” The opposing lawyer in this case was a painfully thin man with a nasally voice. It reminded Flo of a sound she once heard an old hound make when its’ tail got caught under a wagon wheel. Just the thought made her wince internally. Externally, she was all business.

“Yes, yes I did, as a matter of fact. It was a Union man. Tall, with short hair and a trim beard. A nice fella, not like that Reb. Didn’t get the creeping willies with him.” The tall man gave her a small smile. “And did you know the name of this officer? His unit perhaps?” Flos’ eyebrows scrunched in thought as she searched her memory for the name. “Paunton…no, not that…Paxell, no, wait…Parcell! That was him, but I always called him Major. Major Parcell. You go find that nice young man, and he’ll have your answers for you. I believe he was stationed in a unit not too far from where that terrible battle took place.”

“Thank you very much, Miss Davies. You may step down.” As Flo made her way to the seats, the tall lawyer called his next witness. “Your Honor, I call Lieutenant Reil Bardlow to the stand.” A hush fell over the courtroom as it was apparent that the officer in question was not present. A murmur started up causing the judge to rap his gavel. Two slate gray eyes looked down upon Emmas’ lawyer. “Mr. Green, you have five minutes to find your witness, it falls upon you, since he was proposed as a witness on your request. If he fails to show, you will be held in contempt of court. And he, when found, will be as well.” The minutes ticked by, Emma growing more concerned with each one that passed.

*************************************

Major Ablemeyer was in a full blown snit. He paced in front of the board members of the inquiry panel. Small eyes darted back and forth as he ranted, trying to remember how he could have missed such an opportunity. The letters the annoying lieutenant had produced blew his case out of the water, and it was all he could do not to start breaking furniture. In all his years of service, never had his men handed him such a glaring display of ineptitude. “Obviously these documents that Lieutenant Bardlow has produced are forgeries. There is no record on file with the Army of the Potomac as to his leave status, thereby rendering him absent without proper authorization. There can be no mistaking this.”

Colonel Rachie looked at the oily major in front of him. He was truly beginning to dislike this aide that Hooker had chosen to present this case. “Major, we will most certainly check the veracity of these documents, but it appears that there has been an extreme oversight on the part of the army if what they say is true.”

“If I may speak, Colonel?” Reils’ soft voice rang out in the intervening silence as all participants of this drama were obviously running out of patience with the whole affair. Nerves were taut, Reil sought to calm them if at all possible. Colonel Rachie nodded towards the young officer, indicating that Reil should speak.

“With the board of inquiries permission, perhaps we should take the time provided while the papers are being checked, to not only hold these proceedings until they are back, but until Mrs. Collingsworths’ trial is over as well. Seeing as how one of the possible charges against me is that I didn’t inform my superiors about espionage that I had uncovered, once her name is cleared, my name shall be cleared as well. And I do believe, Colonel Rachie, that Mrs. Collingsworth is innocent.” The colonel took a moment to confer with the rest of the board members, and so it was agreed upon. Reil would have two days…enough time for a homing pigeon to be sent out and a return answer to be given.

Reil stepped out of the courthouse, more confident than ever that things would work out. She fumed at the time that had been wasted collecting her paperwork from the board members. It had taken near pleading to convince them that the papers were also needed at the other trial, but she had them securely in hand as she made her way to the civilian courthouse.

***********************************

The door flew open with a loud bang as Reil swept into the courtroom. Her left hand flew up to remove her hat, wisps of blonde hair flying out as her momentum propelled her forward. As fast as her healing leg would allow, she strode down the center aisle, stopping only long enough at the low swinging doors to flash Emma a brilliant smile. For her part, Emma was thankful that she was sitting down, as she knew that her legs would be too weak to keep her upright at the moment. Her officer obviously had something up her sleeve, judging by the broad wink that accompanied the smile.

Reil knew she had been called to the stand, a young boy a whole dollar richer for delivering the information while Reil was still half a block away. She had practically run up the courthouse steps, as fast as her leg would allow, disregarding the throbbing pain which flared up. Her one goal was to get to Emma, the look on her face echoing the feelings she had of letting destiny be damned…she would no longer flow along silently in its’ wake. No, the raging waves that were destines’ vessel would no longer crash upon her shore. She was primal in her intensity, a massive granite cliff that the waves fruitlessly pounded against, the crashing force vexed by its’ own impotence.

As she made her way to the stand to be sworn in, the courtroom went completely silent. Reils’ strong, confident voice carried up to the highest rafters, floating back down with an underlying strength that mesmerized all who heard it. There was fire behind those green eyes, a fire that meant to burn out as much injustice as possible that came across their path. She handed her papers to the judge personally, making sure he read the specific parts she pointed out. He then called both lawyers to the bench, to ascertain whether or not they had a problem entering the documents into evidence. They had none.

Reil solemnly swore as to the contents of the documents, and how they came to be in her possession. Her voice strong and clear, she spoke to the court, but her eyes never left those of Emma. Without hesitation, she related once again the story of that fateful night which seemed so long ago. The prosecution had no questions, he gave the floor to Mr. Green so that the evidence might be presented by the defense.

Mr. Green was a man who looked like he made sure he took time out of each day to play with his children. The kind of man who saw to it that things were done right the first time. He was, at this moment, very grateful to the young officer seated now in front of him. The lieutenant had just made part of his job a whole lot easier. “Lt. Bardlow, would you be so kind as to read, out loud, this letter which you have just brought us?” Reil took the letter from him and began to read, thankful that her father had at least had the sense to hide her gender, even in his correspondence.

My son, Reil,

I have written this last letter to you, in the hopes that it will never have to be delivered. If you ever do find yourself reading it, it will mean that I am dead. There are things I need to tell you, that I was unable to during the time God gave me on earth.

For the past several years, I have been joined in this war between the states. Unlike you, however, I saw my duty as lying with the Confederacy. I won’t go into the many reasons, just believe that my convictions are strong ones. The position I hold is not of the most noble kind, but important to the winning of this war. I do that work which is possibly more dangerous for its’ consequences than even being on the front line. I have become an officer, rather high in rank, in charge of a spy ring.

I informed Rock not to divulge this information to you, as I thought it might upset you. You have your duty, and I have mine, and no sense in you perceiving that your loyalties need be divided. Please don’t be mad at him, he didn’t agree with the silence, it not sitting well with his views. It was upon his insistence that I take Grandmothers’ maiden name, and I found his advice to be most useful.

You may wonder why I write these things down, being a spy as I am, and that I would be fearful of being captured and have my letters read. Well, I fear that I may be exposed soon enough. A certain Mrs. Collingsworth, whom I’ve had the occasion to utilize in the past, I fear may not be what she seems. I believe she is, in reality, consorting with the enemy, and leading me and my good men on false trails. I shall have to confront her, and know not what the outcome will be.

Pray for my soul to be sent to heaven, my son. Make proud the name of Bardlow, as I was too ashamed to do.

Your father,

Silas Bardlow

As Reil finished reading, Mr. Green walked over, retrieved the letter and handed her the note authorizing her leave. Reil read this as well, smiling when she was done, as Mr. Green asked the court that those charges related to Lt. Bardlow be dropped. The prosecution had no objections, seeing that all which had been proven to that point supported the documentation Reil had provided.

As Emmas’ lawyer turned to congratulate her, he noticed a messenger coming down the aisle. The young boy appeared road weary, dirt covering him from head to foot. As he approached, his shortness of breath could be heard. “Message from General Hooker, sir.” His voice bearing out that he was just past puberty, old enough to serve as messenger, but just barely. “It’s addressed to the court.” He turned towards the bench. “Your honor, if I may approach?” Once again, both lawyers approached the judge. “Your honor…I must protest. How am I supposed to try my case with all these interruptions?” The nasal like voice was a barely restrained whine. The judge gave him a befuddled look.

“How can you say such a thing? We’ve been waiting on word from Gen. Hooker for weeks now!” He gave a small hrumph to the odd man and opened the note. “Well, gentlemen, I shall read this myself. You may both return to your seats.” Over the course of the proceedings, the judge had come to believe that a serious wrong had been done to the tall dark haired beauty known as Mrs. Collingsworth, but had allowed the trial to proceed due to the gravity of the charges.

“Mrs. Collingsworth, I have some news for you. It seems that Major Parcell is no longer among the living. However, since his untimely demise, Gen. Hooker has felt it will no longer jeopardize national security to let it be known that, yes, indeed, Major Parcell was a spy for the Army of the Potomac. He sends his regrets that he was unable to offer up the information in a more timely manner, but it would have placed the man in grave danger.” The judge gave a small smile. “Although it seems to me…it didn’t make much difference in the end, now did it?” Bits of laughter floated through the courtroom, Emma freely letting the tears and laughter mingle unimpeded.

Reil stepped down from the stand. Emma reached out her arms as two strong hands lifted her up off the floor. Reil wanted to spin her around, but settled instead to set her down softly. There, in the courtroom, for all the world to see, the handsome young officer and the tall southern beauty shared a kiss that would be remembered for a lifetime.

*************************************

That night, they rented a room in the city, careless of the looks they got from the deskclerk as two unmarried people asked for only one bed. Safely settling Flo into an adjoining room, they spent the night talking. Apologies were said, tender touches exchanged, and morning found them asleep, wrapped in each others arms. They still had the problem of Reil’s inquiry to worry about, but that could wait till later. For now, they were content to hold one another, reveling in just being able to hold one another once more. The lengthy separation causing fresh wounds over the old, the only salve being the touch of the others hands.

Just because the civilian court took Reils’ word as to the origins of the documents, the military was much more stringent in its’ practices. They would just have to wait for the answer to the message that went out by bird. The response would arrive on a wing and a prayer.

*************************************

Two days later, word came back from Reil’s unit that not only did she have official leave, but that she had given word to her commander about the possible spy. Col. Ellis, in his own hand, had sent a special messenger with a hand written note. In it, he praised young Lt. Bardlow for bravery on the battlefield, and having done the proper thing by delivering information that was vital to the upcoming battle. While he was unaware of the name of the spy, he trusted Lt. Bardlow implicitly, saying that if he had not been convinced of the lieutenants’ story, he would have sent a man out to investigate personally. Col. Ellis had not stopped there, though. In addition, to show his sincerity, and by word of those who saw the young man in battle, he was awarding Lt. Bardlow the Gilmore Medal for bravery.

The man who delivered the medal was Rock. He had asked to be able to deliver the message in the hopes that he could mend things with Reil. The young woman was happy to be reunited with her foster father, having forgiven him after having read the letter from her real father. She knew that Rock was only standing up for his friend, regardless of the fact that he had disagreed with the whole business. Rock himself pinned the award on Reil, never was there a father prouder.

It was upon Rocks’ suggestion that they asked Col. Rachie to find out why no one from his unit had been called to testify on Reils’ behalf. The colonel found this odd as well, and it was soon learned that Major Ablemeyer had set up Reil, just to advance his own career. The evidence that he actually had would have normally gone unnoticed, not having any basis in fact, if one were to look at the facts. With all the whitewash the major had applied, it would have made even Honest Abe look guilty.

The sight of Major Ablemeyer being led away in cuffs was almost worth all the headaches Reil and Emma had gone through. Reil had decided that maybe letting destiny play a small part in her life was just fine, as long as she could hold the reins now and then. All Emma wanted to do was be done with this city which had brought so much heartache. Home was where she wanted to be, and while home might be in Reils’ arms, she just didn’t want it to be here on this patch of earth much longer if she had any say. Flo had just enough time to celebrate Emma’s freedom before she realized that this was far from over. She had a wedding to plan.

Part 18

You Are

Cordially Invited

To The

Wedding of:

Emma Collingsworth

and

Lieutenant Reil Bardlow

To be held on the

29th of June, 1863

Kind and noble guests,

Welcome!

Enter through the church portal

Friends of the bride, to the left

Friends of the groom, to the right

Services shall begin shortly.

CHAPTER 19

One deep brown eye popped open, disturbed from sleep by a thumping pair of highly polished black boots coming closer and closer. Sneezing once, he decided it was for the best if he changed position, not wanting to be stepped upon. The large hunting dog, floppy ears slapping cadence against his head, lumbered up and loped out of the study. The only thought on his puppy-like brain was whether or not the nice cook out in the back cottage had any snacks for him. The figure standing in the black boots barely registered the fact that the dog had retreated from the small room. Tugging at her stiff collar, Reil wondered if she would live through this ceremony.

With only scant days to prepare, things had been going rather smoothly, but that did nothing to ease the fluttering sensation Reil was experiencing in her stomach. She mentally went over her list of preparation, making sure everything was done. Invitations had been sent out by Emma, only a select few would be attending the service. The tall woman had sincere doubts about upcoming invitations to balls, seeing as how she had forgone the customary ten day notice, not to mention all those who had been left out, but there was no avoiding it. Reil had been granted permission to return to her unit, and as it was the bride’s responsibility to set the date, the resulting offenses were bound to happen. Reil had asked Jimmy to be the best man, and while still in Washington, had purchased his gift of a pair of sleeve buttons. Also, while there, she had purchased the rings which Jimmy now carried securely on his person. That morning, Reil sent Emma her bouquet, along with a small note. They had not seen each other since the day before, Flo muttering something about custom, propriety and lack of good sense.

Emma, according to common practice, was in charge of setting up the reception which would later be held at her house. She had made all the arrangements for the invitations, the church, and seeing to it that things went as smoothly as possible. Being that she was a widow, bridesmaids were not necessary, so that helped eliminate some more hard feelings that might have come their way. But right now, Emma was somewhere else, and Reil was beginning to sweat. This was not how she had imagined her wedding day. No, far from it.

Turning to look at the disgustingly relaxed form of Rock, Reil stopped her pacing and turned on the man. “How can you be so calm? What if we forgot something.” Then she turned again, before the bemused man could answer, to look at Jimmy. “You have the rings, right? Where are my gloves? Damn, damn, damn…” Rock stood up from his comfortable seat and grabbed Reil by the shoulders. Green eyes blazed at him, daring him to break her out of her state of near hysteria. “This is all your fault, you know…if you hadn’t insisted that I attend that dinner three months ago, I wouldn’t be here now, sweating like a fool. Where are those gloves?” Rock gave her shoulders a small squeeze, a faint smile playing across his worn face. “Reil, it’s just your nerves talking. And your ‘damn’ gloves are hooked into your belt, next to your sword.” He couldn’t help but let a small chuckle escape. Reil broke free from his grasp and resumed her pacing.

“I’ve got the rings, sir. Safe and sound.” Jimmy patted his vest pocket, a smile playing on his own face as well. “Just like I told you ten minutes ago. You need to relax a bit. Else your gonna wear a hole in that rug.” Reil tugged once more at her collar, causing Rock to come over and stop her once again in order to straighten out the offending piece of clothing. He tapped her hands away from her neck. “Now quit that!” His voice low and full of underlying humor. “Your gonna make your skin all red from the fussing. I have to go, it’s almost time.”

Reil just looked up at him. All the years that she had been with him, and it was only just now that she realized what he meant in her life. He was the steadying force which pulled in all the torn fragments of her early life. Now she was taking a step in her life that would effectively state, ‘I can stand on my own now. I can take responsibility from here’, and she didn’t know how to let him know that she would continue to need him in her life. He seemed to sense where the thoughts of the young woman were going, as she just stood there looking at him with a rather lost look in her eyes. Rock pulled Reil into a short, intense embrace, giving her a quick pat on the back. “Don’t say it. I understand, and I’ll still be here for you when you need me.” With that said, he turned and walked out of the study. He had seen many of his foster children wed, but it seemed this was, by far, the most heart wrenching. He didn’t want Reil to see the small tear that escaped from his eye as he made his way out to the front of the chapel.

**************************************

An ornate, full length, free standing, hand carved mahogany mirror held the reflection of a woman who would, in mere minutes, formally marry to the other half of her soul. The blue eyes of the reflected image scanned up and down, while the highly coifed head nodded in satisfaction. In the background of the reflection, there was movement, causing the tall figure to turn and look.

Flo was primping again at the modest train of the dress, wishing yet again for more time. “Could have made this whole thing a lot cheaper than what you paid, Miss Emma. No time, no time…you young folks always in such a rush.” The soon-to-be-former Mrs. Collingsworth tapped Flo’s hands out of the way. “Leave it be, Flo. It was only twenty five dollars, and for the occasion, well worth every penny. I’ll just cut back on a few things for a while.”

Emma took off her wedding band, handing it to Flo. “Here, you hold onto this for now, I’ll put it away when we get home.” It was customary for the new bride, being a widow, to remove her former wedding ring, indicating that she was now taking a new husband. It wouldn’t be respectful to Reil if she continued to wear it. Flo silently took the ring, willing the tears back. Emma had said her goodbyes a long time ago, wearing the ring only in rememberance. She set her sad feelings aside, this being a day of joy. “How do I look?” Flo stepped back, to get a full look. “Fine, you look just fine.” The pride in her voice was evident, but she was letting her baby go yet another time. Rather than linger on the thought, she found more busy work for her hands. “We better finish up, it’s almost time.”

***************************************

A young boy poked his head into the study. “Their about to start, sir.” Reil turned from looking out the window, nodding that she heard. The boy scampered away, his task completed. Jimmy stood up from the chair and extended his hand. “Good fortune to you, sir. I wish you all the best of happiness.” The young woman took his hand, realizing that she would soon be part of the small community that resided at Emma’s house. “There’s something I should tell you, Jimmy.” The young man gave Reil a look that indicated she should continue. “We’re to be living together, of a sorts, soon, and there’s something you should know. I’m not a man.” Jimmy’s face broke out into a huge grin. “Aw, heck…I kinda figured that, after seeing you swing an axe that one time. Don’t get me wrong, you did a fine job, but something about it struck me as odd. But it’s no matter, I haven’t seen Mrs. Collingsworth happier since, well, since her family died. Besides, you’re probably one of the bravest people I know. The two of you have something special, don’t lose sight of that.” Reil was floored by Jimmy’s reaction, but since he was fine with it, so was she. She gripped his shoulder in a friendly squeeze and flashed him a grin equal to his own. “Let’s get going then, I have a wedding to attend!”

**********************************

All the guests had been seated in the small chapel. Emma stood with Flo in the vestibule, waiting for Rock to arrive. “Flo, there’s something you should be aware of. It’s about Reil…” Flo looked her directly in the eyes, anger clearly showing. “If you’re about to tell me that young soldier is a woman, then save your breath. Yes, you could’a told me sooner, but now is as good a time as any? Please. I’ve known since after she killed her pa. Saw you sleepin’….seen enough babies in my time to know what each type is equipped with. But it don’t bother me none. Reil makes you happy, and that’s that. I’ll hear no arguements about it. And if that young officer wants the world thinkin’ he’s a man, then that’s what he is. Besides, I ain’t never seen anyone, including your departed husband, who made your eyes get that look you get. Had an old aunt used to call that ‘bedroom eyes’, and you got it. Now close up your mouth ‘fore somethin’ nasty flies in.”

Emma did as she was told, watching as Flo strode out of the small entryway. Rock walked up beside Emma, gently placing a hand on the womans’ arm. “You alright? You seem a bit pale. Nervous?” Emma blinked a few times, then shook her head a bit. “No, no. I’m fine. Never could hide anything from that woman!” Rock had no idea what the conversation had been about, but just then the music began. Perhaps, he thought to himself, it was better that he didn’t know. He held out his arm for Emma to take, and led her into the chapel.

Reil turned towards the chapel doors as the music started. What she saw took her breath away and it was all she could do to keep her legs from giving out. A beauty walked down the aisle towards her, and Reil could feel an almost physical pull from her soul. She carried herself demurely, but when their eyes met, Reil felt the sensation deep inside her increase. Such was the dormant fire that lay there in those eyes. Every eye in the chapel was on Emma, but her eyes were for Reil alone.

The gown she was wearing was of an off white color, but not much so. The lace of the high neck came down to a vee, accentuating the curves caused only in part by the corset underneath it all. Her hair was pulled back in a low bun, with a wreath of orange blossoms set atop her head. Reil marveled that Emma had been so thoughtful, the Orange Blossoms being the nickname of her unit. As she approached, Rock stepped away, offering Emma’s hand to Reil. Reil accepted the gloved hand, and the two turned towards the minister.

Reverend Brooks was a short, middle aged man. He wore a tonsure in the style of monks, and spoke with a soft firm voice. As he came to the exchange of vows, his look became most serious, and his tone changed ever so slightly. “Do you, Reil Bardlow, promise this woman, Emma Collingsworth, to love, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, in poverty and in riches and, forsaking all others, to keep thee only unto her as long as you both should live?” (**)

“With all my heart, I do.” Reil glanced over to Emma, smiling, and placed a simple golden band on her finger. Emma repeated the vows, feeling Reil tremble as she stated, “With all my soul, I do.” Emma placed a similar ring on Reil’s finger, and felt a connection like nothing she had ever felt before. What had started out so many months ago as a subtle spark in the air, was now a full fledged jolt. Each had known that a ceremony alone would never change the way they felt for each other, yet it seemed that the act of the ceremony was a catalyst, allowing the two halves of one whole to be seen by all. Years later, many would remark that they had actually seen an aura of light surrounding the newlyweds as they stood there united in wedlock.

The reverend’s soft voice interrupted their moment. “Commune with your own hearts, ask your conscience and your feelings, and tremble before an offended God if you have dared to break this oath.”(**)

*************************************

The reception was a simple affair, held at Emma’s house. By the time all the guests had left, everybody was bone tired. They sat there in the main room, happily stuffed with the wonderful food Flo had prepared, slightly dozing. Emma was curled up next to Reil on the small loveseat, with Rock sprawled out in an overstuffed chair by the fireplace. Jimmy and Flo sat on the long sofa, both with their heads tilted back, holding their stomachs. It was Jimmy who broke the silence. “Ugh, Flo…you fed me too much.” Flo’s head turned, brown eyes peering over at the young man. “Hummfh…don’t tell me about it. I didn’t make you eat three helpings of dessert.”

Reil piped up with her own, “Hey, it’s not my fault he couldn’t keep up with me!” This got a small chuckle out of everyone, including Rock, whom they had all thought was asleep, producing more chuckles. “Well, it’s been a long day and it’s late, I say we turn in.” So saying, Reil stood and pulled Emma up along with her. Flo and Jimmy said their well wishes and goodnights, retiring to their respective waiting beds. Rock pulled himself up out of his chair, and headed up to the second floor where a room had been prepared for him. On the stairs, he stopped and looked over the railing. “Remember, Reil…we leave at first light.”

A sad look of regret crossed Reil’s face, and her arm around Emma’s waist tightened. “Where’s the unit right now?”

“Gettysburg”

The End?

There were 2 chapters written for a sequel titled Forsake The Devil you can read them here

this is war

**Excerpt taken from “A Whisper to a Newly married Pair” A whisper to the Husband on expenditure. Nov. 12, 1867. Possibly from Harpers Baazar.

The words to the song Reil sang in Part 8, Chapter 9 are from an old Girl Scout song called “On My Honour” There is an ongoing debate as to who actually wrote it, so I really couldn’t tell you. I like the song, so I used it.

Most of the characters are mine, some names were actually the names of members of the original 124th. They would be Col. Ellis, their first commander, Col. Hooker was indeed put in charge of the Federal Army of the Potomac just prior to the Battle of Chancellorsville, and any other mention of historical figures was meant to be as accurate as possible.(Lee, Grant…etc)

Approximately 400 – 600 women actually served during the Civil War disguised as men. Actual numbers are unknown, as the government originally denied their involvement. Many received pensions for their service, some even continuing to live as men once they were out of the military. I can only imagine that the government paid them their pensions when they applied for them under the male name which they served under.

For those of you who picked up on the reference to the song “Heart and Soul” in this chapter…you get a thumbs up, a wink, wink, and a nudge, nudge for being so observant!!

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