I could hear the screams of my family as I ran through the woods, my dark hair catching in the branches that seemed to reach for me as I made my escape. Just like theirs. They had reached for me through the flames as the townsfolk had lit the pier under their feet. The spit and sweat hissed in the crackling orange and blue as their cries grew louder and then out of breath.
I did what any 15 year old, scared child would do. I ran. Ran before anyone knew I was there, before they knew I was the one who should burn. Me, not them.
The smoke was rising and I could see it over the trees when I made it to the other side of the thicket and found sanctuary in the caves at the bottom of the mountains. I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance and knew that the heavens were just as angry as I. I wanted to voice my anger into the clouds, but fear kept me from harmonizing with the earth quaking blasts that still couldn’t drown out the pleas of my dying mother, father and little sister.
I don’t know how I made it out of there alive, or how long I had stayed in those caves, but the laughter of men pulled me from my cocoon of stone. I knew I shouldn’t reveal myself. What if they recognized me? Yet, something inside, maybe it was my destiny, pulled me up and pushed me forward. At the entrance to the cave four red coats were sitting around a small fire playfully picking on each other and having a clasping each other around the shoulders, the way men do.
The smell of tea and meat must have been what drew me, because my stomach immediately began to speak. Even the men could hear it, for they jumped up from their stone seats with their hands on their weapons. All except for one who stretched his arm towards me with a piece of bread that I savagely snatched before retreating into the shadows of my cave.
The other men, still weary, but curious as to who could have been hiding in this cave without them knowing, leaned towards me as I shoved as much bread in my mouth as I could.
“Would you like a drink?” the soldier who had offered me some bread asked. I could see his blue eyes and pale face peering at me through the shelter of the shadows.
He held out a sack for me to drink from, which I cautiously grabbed, withdrew again and guzzled, washing the smoke from my throat. The alcohol immediately went to my head, but when I had my fill and the soldiers still hadn’t moved I felt my confidence rise. I slowly made my way out of the depths of the cave towards the stunned gentlemen. It was only as I came into the sunlight that I realized how young they were.
Four young redcoats, possibly 12 – 15, their guns then relaxed by their sides as they took in the site of my very dirty, cold, tattered figure. My skirts had been torn to ribbons in my flight through the woods, and my dark hair, usually done up under a my cap, stood out all around me like I had been struck by lightning.
It was the blue eyed gentleman, the eldest of the group, who spoke first.
“You must be cold,” he said holding his hand out to me. “Come warm yourself by the fire.”
I took his hand and stepped down from my perch of rocks and into the folds of the red quartet as they all started chatting in whispers as they stared me down. They didn’t know what to make of the crazy mess before them.
Only the kind, blue eyed boy looked into my eyes and tried to converse.
“You have such dark eyes, I can hardly tell where the center ends and the color begins,” he said, tentatively hooking his finger under my chin to tilt my face up towards the light.
Standing next to each other, we were a yin and yang of blond vs. black, blue vs. deep, dark brown. But the touch of his finger against the skin of my jaw made me jump, my tattered hem sweeping into the fire. The next thing I knew, I was on fire.
I screamed as a vision of my sister, orange red licking over her body as she straining against the rope tying her to the steak, and she reached towards me, pleading for help.
Luckily, the fair soldier was quick to act, squatting down in the dirt to put my skirts out, but it was too late. My sister’s desperation still was still inked onto the backs of my eyes as the smell of burning singed my nostrils…again. The electricity shot to my head, which was too tired and tortured for any more bursts of adrenaline, and I fainted to the ground.
When I awoke I found myself moving. I jumped upright, not understanding how I had come to be wherever I was, but was immediately thrown down again by the movement of my surroundings.
I felt like a caged animal, enclosed in canvas above and wood beneath my dirt stained palms. My head was spinning as what I realized was a carriage hopped over another bump in the road and came to a halt.
The fair soldier popped his head through the flaps of the moving tent I was in.
“You’re awake!” he said, smiling with his blue eyes crinkling in the corners. “We weren’t sure what to do with you, so we brought you to commander Heath. He’s riding on ahead. I’ll go tell him you’re awake.”
With that the flap of fabric closed again and I was left to gain my bearings.
Images of the cave and the fire were swimming through my head when, like a flash of lightning, my burning family came before me. I curled into a ball and screamed into my lap, but no tears came forth. The blaze must have burned those all up. I felt a tingling in my palms and the bottoms of my feet, but I couldn’t see past the visions of the fiery pier.
The flap of the wagon opened again, revealing a dark, very tall, aflame and decorated in his red coat. His eyes burned into mine and a crooked smile crept up the side of his face.
“This must be the last of the devil’s soldiers that stupid town is quibbling about,” Commander Heath said, with a indignant huff. “You, girl,” he barked at me. “What is your name?”
“Angeline,” I whispered, the sound of my own voice startled me having not uttered a word in days.
“Angeline, you say?” he turned to the fair soldier beside him. “Thomas, make sure she doesn’t leave this wagon. I think we will clean this one up and bring her with us to America.” He turned back to me and smiled again. “Might be fun…”
The canvas closed in around me as the realization hit that not only would I never see my family again, but this evil man wasn’t going to let me see my home again either.
Ironically, in the end, he would never see home again either, but would be left to freeze to death in Charlottesville, Va with the rest of Burgoyne’s Convention Army. However scared I was then, glimpsing his frozen future at least gave me heart to brave the ride to the coast where I was forced onto a ship to make the long, arduous journey to America.
To be continued….