Men of Honor

By Beth

Civil War AU (Seven)

Notes: Please don’t read these stories with the expectations that the ‘seven’ will act as we ‘know’ them. Their characteristics and behaviors will change over time, and I start this series before their hardships, and before the characters that we’ve grown to love and adore through the television series. I hope you read and enjoy this series and I’ll think you’ll find in the last story, “From Heroes to Legends” that the boys are defiantly back!

Please send comments and suggestions to

Special Thanks to: Shari, Antoinette, Yolande for all your help…and to everyone else who helps keep me writing!!


April 16th 1860

Meadowdale, bordered between Kentucky and Indiana

Chapter 1

The newlyweds danced in awkward rhythm as people moved back and forth with their arms raised. The women spun in slowing circles, while their dresses bloomed out around them. The men moved strong and determined holding their partners with pride and accentuated smiles; their heels pounded the hardened ground, creating hallo tempos. 

Nettie Wells and her husband John watched, from a distance, their sons in the array. Jacob and Samuel had found themselves partners for the day, and they demonstrated their dancing skills with pride. Chris Larabee and his new bride Sarah radiated with joy. Her brown curly hair bounced around her delicate shoulders, her tiny frame embraced heartedly by Chris’ lean, muscular physique. His blonde hair frayed around his face, his bangs falling into his eyes, despite Sarah’s gentle touches to his forehead to keep them at bay.

“You did good by him, Gloria,” Nettie said, watching them from a distance, as her long time friend took a seat beside her on the picnic table bench. Nettie brushed a few stray hairs from her face as they separated from the loose bun at the base of her neck. Her brown eyes glittered in the reflection of the sun.

Gloria Potter looked at Chris with a sense of pride in her eyes. “His mother did the hard part,” she spoke softly, wishing she could bear a child of her own. “Edward never complains of my incessant need for children.” She laughed, speaking of her husband. “Buck recently got a job working for Lucas Bell at his ranch…”

“Sounds promisin’,” Nettie added, “Will he be workin’ with Chris?” she asked, knowing the two young men thought of each other like brothers, having grown closer after Buck’s mother, Naomi, passed away.

“Buck’s affinity with horses is less than ideal,” Gloria laughed, “He’ll be working with the cattle—fixing fences, that sort of thing.” She dusted her brown dress and leaned against the table, after seating herself on the long bench. A soft wind caught a few strays of her black hair that had escaped her tightly woven bun, tickling her face and neck. She looked toward Buck, watching him laugh and dally with a few of the farmers’ daughters. “His mother would be proud of him.” She missed her friend, despite what she’d been labeled with all of her life: a mother by choice, a prostitute by force.

Buck had grown into a handsome young man, tall and lean, his dark brown hair glistened under the sun’s rays. His smiles were expandable, like a beer drinker’s waist, and his eyes danced with an undeniable energy. At sixteen he was a young man ready to start his journey into the world, and he intended to without hindrance or apprehension.

“Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Wells,” John Wells said with a smile. “I’m taking young Vin here for some refreshments…would either of you enjoy a repast?”

Gloria giggled: “No, thank you.”

“Mr. Wells, a punch would be appreciated,” Nettie replied, smiling toward the young boy at her husband’s side. She watched them turn, hand in hand, and head toward the large table behind the hotel.

“How’s he fairing?” Gloria asked, speaking of Vin.

Nettie shook her head: “He misses his mother,” she answered honestly. “When I agreed to care for him, I had no idea what I was in for.” She shrugged, watching her husband’s kind and gentle movements around the boy. “Vin reminds me of Samuel at that age—he’s so quiet, almost afraid to talk,” she admitted sadly.

“Give him some time, Nettie, his mother’s death is still fresh in his mind.”

“He’ll never get over that void, and I’m afraid he’ll search for it the rest of his life,” Nettie sighed, looking up as Evie Travis made her way toward them.

“He will…in a way,” Gloria responded, speaking of both Chris and Buck, “but think of the opportunities you can provide him.”

“I hope so,” Nettie replied softly. She looked up with a smile as Evie Travis took a seat beside them. Nettie reached out and gently hugged her friend and watched as Evie and Orin’s son Steven and his wife Mary joined in the dancing. “So how’s the wife of Meadowdale’s new Mayor?”

Evie giggled and then sighed: “It’s exhausting,” she replied plainly, “but…rewarding.” She joined with the other’s laughter. She was a stark contrast to those around her. Her blonde hair had been pulled up around her face, framing it gently like gold leaves on a newly minted dollar. Her features were soft and elegant. “He misses the law, and I doubt he’ll continue with his latest endeavor.”

“How’s Ezra doin’?” Nettie asked, watching as the eleven year old climbed up a Maple tree, Vin soon followed, finding a connection with the older boy.

Evie watched as well, wishing she knew how to bond with the child…wishing she knew how to ease his pain. “He writes her every morning—the letters always come back…I’ve been hiding them from him—I can’t bear the thought of him finding out she’s refused to read them—accept them for that matter.” She watched the two young boys hide in the tree, talking quietly with each other.

“Do you believe she’ll come back for him?” Gloria asked, not understanding how a mother could abandon her child.

“Heavens, I wish I knew,” Evie responded. “Orin believes she won’t, but I can’t help but feel as though Maude got herself into some trouble—she won’t come for Ezra until she’s certain he’ll be safe…as a mother, I have to believe that.”

“I hope you’re right, dear,” Gloria said, watching the children in the tree. 

“Oh good Lord,” Nettie sighed, looking at her husband. She sighed and leaned back against the picnic table edge. “He’s got three cups of punch and he’s drank every one of them.”

Gloria laughed: “At least he offered to bring you some. Edward is still at the mercantile, refusing to leave his post until closing—despite the fact every business is closed today for the wedding.”

Evie nodded in understanding. “Sometimes, I think this land was better suited for men.” She looked at Mary and Sarah, knowing the hardships they would soon face: childbearing, darning, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and then living, if they were fortunate. “At least our sons are honorable men, and will do right by them.”

“Or they’ll answer to their mothers,” Nettie responded, wondering how long it would be before her own sons married.

Evie looked toward the tree where Ezra and Vin had positioned themselves. She met Ezra’s eyes briefly, before he quickly hid behind a branch.

*  *  *

“…she’s nice,” Vin finished, resting his shoulder against the tree branch. “Chris said I could come stay with ‘em one day—said he’d teach me to rope.”

“They’re all nice—at first,” Ezra said softly, looking at the festivity before them.

“Naw, Sarah’s really nice…she give me a cookie with a face painted on it.” He picked at some bark, pulling it from the tree truck, and then he tried to drop it on a rock directly beneath him.

“And you ate it?” Ezra asked, with a shocked expression on his face. He looked at Vin briefly before returning his gaze toward the crowd.

“It was good,” Vin replied, not understanding his friend’s disgust.

Ezra rolled his eyes and continued to look on the crowd. The dancing had stopped, but the three musicians continued to play their guitars, fiddles, and mouth harps. People ate and talked, moving into collective groups: farmers, ranchers, wives and daughters. Everyone had something to say or gossip about. 

“Why do you hate it here?” Vin made himself more comfortable on the tree branch, letting his feet dangle.

“Ah don’t…hate, it here…” Ezra sighed, wanting to be left alone. As hard as he tried, he wouldn’t find his mother in the crowd…she wouldn’t come back for him…he just knew it.

“Yes ya do,” Vin wisely corrected. “Do ya miss yer home?”

Ezra turned tired eyes toward the younger boy. “How can Ah miss somethin’ Ah’ve nevah had?” he asked sharply, before grabbing the thin branch beneath him and swinging down out of the tree. He dropped to the ground and headed toward the horses, at least they knew when to be silent. He’d had a home once…a long time ago it seemed…

Vin watched him go, wondering why Ezra seemed so sensitive about some things. Vin sighed and swung down off the tree in the same manner his friend had. He rushed toward Nettie, with the hopes of getting a slice of cake.

*  *   *

Gloria smiled when she noticed Josiah Sanchez walking toward her and the women she was sitting with. He still walked sorely with his arm tightly braced up against his side, after having confronted a couple of thieves who had tried to hold up her and her husband’s store. A handsome young man, with light brown hair, hazel eyes, a strong beard-covered jaw and upper lip, and wise eyes; he stood tall, muscular, and undeniably strong. He smiled, pulling his hat from his head he nodded politely.

“How are you today, Josiah?” Gloria asked.

“Much better, thank you, Mrs. Potter.”

“Have you met, Nettie Wells, Evie Travis?” Gloria asked graciously.

“My husband speaks highly of you Mr. Sanchez—” Evie said softly.

“Josiah, please…I’m not one for formality.”

“Josiah,” Evie responded, “Then I must insist you call me Evie—why should I sound older than my age?” She chuckled and smiled warmly.

“I’m Nettie Wells,” she stuck her hand out to shake, and he returned with a hand of his own. “I understand you’re the new sheriff?” she inquired, noticing the glimmer of his badge under the sun’s rays as he stepped back.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Josiah nodded. “I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself to those that I haven’t met yet.”

“Such manners,” Nettie grinned, “You must be from the east?”

“California actually,” he corrected. “My father was a travelin’ minister—”

“That would explain it,” Evie replied.

“You ever do any preachin’?” Nettie asked, a thought coming to her mind.

“Some…Not so much anymore—”

“Nettie, call me Nettie.”

“Nettie,” he said her name softly.

“I’m sorry to hear that…we could use a good preacher around here.” Nettie sighed and then a cunning smile appeared on her face. “How would you like to practice up on some of your sheriff’n skills, Sheriff?”

Josiah cocked an eyebrow and grinned. “Be happy to.”

Nettie smiled: “See that man standin’ beside Judge Cooper—the one slappin’ his thigh and spillin’ my punch?”

“Yes, Nettie, I see him.”

“Would you mind tellin’ him that his wife is wantin’ him placed under arrest for spillin’ punch on his Sunday best…my punch?” She looked up and smiled, ignoring the laughter from her friends.

“Wouldn’t mind at all…” he tipped his head and replaced his hat, “Ladies.”

“You are shameless, Nettie,” Gloria laughed.

“Well,” she sighed, “I am a women.” Her eyebrows danced and her friends laughed even louder.

*    *    *

Chris stood with his new bride and his friends, talking, laughing, and enjoying their time together. Sarah glowed. Her brown hair seemed to be embraced by a halo. She had her right arm wrapped around her husband’s waist, a smile stretched across her cheeks, and her eyes sparkled. Chris was just as blissful, his smile saying all that needed to be said. He held Sarah tightly, unwilling to let her go.

Buck appeared from between two horses, with Ezra hanging over his left shoulder, screaming and yelling, demanding to be let down. Buck just smiled, looking like a cat that caught a canary. “Found ‘im tryin’ to steal a horse—”

“Ah wasn’t stealin’ any horse!” Ezra yelled, still trying to worm his way out of Buck’s arms.

Buck winked at Chris, letting him know he was just teasing. “Boy’s got to learn ‘im some manners,” he said with authority, trying to sound older than he was.

“ME?” Ezra yelled again, momentarily stopping his tirade.

“Good heavens, Buck,” Sarah protested, “Put him down.” She smiled as she spoke, unwilling to play along.

“Well now, Mrs. Larabee, wouldn’t be doin’ the world any good if’n we let a horse thief loose.”

“He didn’t steal no horse,” Vin argued for his friend, crawling out from under a picnic table…he’d been listening. “I seen ‘im, he’s just tryin’ to pet that gray.” Chocolate was smeared across his mouth and he continued to lick his fingers free of the frosting.

Chris smiled and reached for Vin. “Let Ezra go, Buck.”

The young cowboy reluctantly released his charge, and quickly dodged the fisted hand that was thrown at him. Ezra quickly stood and straightened out his clothing. He shied away from Sarah’s hand as she reached for his head, pulling a small leaf from his hair. She smiled and let the item float to the ground.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Give us a song, Ezra!” someone from the crowd yelled.

The youngster shifted nervously in his boots, wishing he’d stayed hid. He rang his hands together and looked at the man who’d called for a song. Ezra liked to sing, and his voice was amazing, but he hadn’t prepared anything. He bit his bottom lip and sighed, wishing now that his mother were there…encouraging him… She could do that with just a few words.

He missed her.


Buck placed a strong hand on the boy’s shoulder and knelt down in front of him. “Where’re your cards, Ezra?” he asked softly, knowing the boy had lost them…a simple bargaining tool.

Ezra shrugged. He’d lost them when he went fishing with Chris and Vin a week ago. He bit his bottom lip, wishing he’d had them back. His mother had given them to him before she left.

“Why don’t you get on over there,” he pointed toward the musicians, “give us a real purty song—somethin’ for Chris an’ Sarah, an’ I’ll take you to Mr. Potter’s store an’ let you pick out a new set of cards.”

Ezra looked at Buck, searching his eyes for the lies, but he didn’t find any. Bright green eyes turned and looked toward Sarah and Chris, seeing the love they had for each other, and slowly, he nodded. He’d sing, he’d do anything for some new cards. “Promise?” he asked softly.

Buck nodded with a smile: “I won’t even tell that you were tryin’ to steal a horse.”

Ezra rolled his eyes and shook his head. Like the man he was growing into, he stuck his hand out for Buck to shake. “Words aren’t worth much… Shake on it.”

Chris laughed: “Better do it, Buck…next thing you know he’ll have an attorney here with papers for you to sign.”

Buck shook his head and stuck his hand out. “Make it a good one.”

“What else would Ah make it?” Ezra replied, walking confidently toward the musicians.

“That little shi—kid,” Buck quickly corrected, already receiving a look of warning from Sarah, “is goin’ to be a handful when he gets older.”

“He’s nice,” Vin added, standing up on a chair so he could get a better look as his friend instructed the musicians on what he was going to sing. “He just don’t trust folks.” He knew people better than most knew themselves, and at such a young age his observations went unnoticed. Vin crossed his arms in front of his chest and watched as the crowd started dancing and singing along with Ezra, his voice moving softly over the collection of individuals, moving like a warm breeze on a spring day. 

Chris locked eyes with his wife and smiled. “Josiah,” he said, looking past her and toward the sheriff.

“Brothers…and sister,” came the welcoming response. “What an inspirational day!” he announced, clapping with those around him, encouraging the boy with the voice of an angel to continue.

“Yes,” Chris whispered in his wife’s ear. “Truly.”

Sarah giggled and grasped her husband’s hand as he pulled her into the crowd to once again enjoy the party. She spun on her heals allowing her dress to bloom out and swirl around her legs. Chris’ blonde hair glistened in the sun’s rays and his smile was comparable to the yawn of a window on a spring day. He watched his wife’s beauty, her smile, her laugh, the way her brown hair fluttered around her face and chin. At that moment in time he was the luckiest person in the world.

No doubt.

April 20th 1861

Chapter 2

Nettie Wells looked at the newspaper clipping and her heart sank.

It had begun.

She looked out the window toward her two boys, Samuel and Jacob, neither one older than eighteen. Both shared their father’s good looks, his charm, and his desire to do well. She wiped her hands on her apron after stuffing the clipping into her pocket, wanting to keep it from her family…it would only be a matter of time before they learned that the war had started…it would only be a matter of time before her boys would leave home and fight for what they believed in. 

“Nettie,” the soft young voice said from behind her.

She turned and looked at the familiar face. “What is it, Vin?” she asked, looking toward her boys again.

“John said I should come help ya,” he replied, taking a seat at the table, his legs still too short to reach the floor. He was quiet for an eleven-year-old, polite, and tender, having experienced much pain for his age. His light brown hair and blue eyes accentuated his gentleness. He was young in age—old in spirit.

Nettie nodded and handed him a bowl full of unsnapped peas. “You ever help your momma cook?” she asked, bringing a smile to her face when her boys tackled each other and fell into the hay pile.

“She teached me to skin a rabbit so’s we could use it all…not just the meat an’ skin.” He grabbed some peas, eating a few, and snapping the others. His fingers moving awkwardly as he thought about the things he’d rather be doing. “Momma said it was better if’n I learn to shoot an’ kill…”

Nettie half listened to him, wishing Norma were here to care for her son…wishing she were here to comfort Nettie in her time of uncertainty. It was difficult enough trying to raise three boys—four if she counted her husband. However, it was going to be harder watching them leave…watching them ride away to fight in a war that was so far away—and yet, so close.


She jumped and patted the front of her dress, smiling to hide her duress. “Yes, Vin…what is it?” She took a seat at the table; close enough to the youngster to share the same bowl.

“Tell me how ya met Momma again?” Vin asked, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his shirt, continuing to snap the peas, working diligently.

Nettie smiled and shook her head. “I met your momma and your daddy when they came up here from Texas—you hadn’t been born yet…”

Vin listened to the story he’d heard a hundred times over. His memories were fading, but they lived vividly in her tale. He did remember the way his momma always smiled, the way she cried at night when her burdens became to heavy to bear…the way she spoke of his father. Vin didn’t consider himself a smart boy, words were hard, and numbers were worse, but he knew people. He knew what they were really like, despite the words they spoke with, or the pretty clothes they wore. He knew a crooked smile, and he understood a hard lie. Perhaps that was why he liked the Wells’ family. They were all good people, they worked hard, laughed together, and they loved each other.

“…Your momma asked John and I to care for you,” Nettie smiled, “and I’m glad we did.” She looked at Vin, a sense of pride in her eyes. “Why don’t you call Mr. Wells and the boys into dinner?”

Vin smiled and jumped out of his chair and rushed out, the door swung on its hinges, bouncing on the doorframe before coming to a rest. Nettie shook her head, remembering when Samuel and Jacob had rushed out that door in much of the same manner.

*  *  *

Chris dismounted his horse and tied the old bay to the hitching rail. He looked up when Buck rode in from the west. His chestnut with the long white blaze walked at a leisurely pace, in as much of a hurry as the teenager riding him. Buck grinned, his teeth appearing like magic under chapped lips.

“You here for dinner?” Chris asked, resting his arm on his horse’s withers.

Buck’s grin widened: “It’s Sunday night…Sarah’s makin’ her chicken and dumplin’s—course I’m here for dinner.” He slipped off his mount, tied him to the hitching rail, and followed his friend into his home.

Sarah turned from the wood stove when she heard her husband enter. She smiled when Buck followed, carrying his hat in hands and rolling the rim between his fingers…and looking like a child begging for a meal. “Wash up out back, dinner will be ready shortly.” She reached up and kissed her husband’s cheek and watched them leave out the back door. She chuckled softly to herself, before turning to stir the soup. Buck was as much a part of the family as Chris was—even herself for that matter. Both boys had grown up together in town…they knew and understood each other’s pain. Gloria Potter and her husband had taken Chris in because they couldn’t have a child of their own. Chris Larabee had just been six, and Buck Wilmington five when they met. Buck had lived above the saloon with his mother until her death three years ago. Both boys had been inseparable, bonded as though brothers, and still they were found within each other’s company.

The door opened again and the sound of chairs scraping the floor filled the room. Sarah knew without looking who took the deep breath and let it out slowly—Buck, and she knew who reached up to run his fingers through his hair simply by his sigh—Chris. She smiled to herself, knowing how predictable her husband had become over the past year. She gently touched her stomach, knowing the child she was carrying would have a loving father.

She couldn’t wait to tell him…

“Gloria took in another stray,” Buck said casually, reaching out to grab a roll. “Six-year-old John Dunne—but call him JD, he gets a little riled when you call ‘im by his given name.”

“Where’d she find this one?” Chris asked, all the while keeping his eyes on his wife.  The way she’d brush her brown hair away from her face as she cooked, trying her best to keep those strays behind her ears. The way she moved in her dress, the subtle sway of her hips as she stirred the soup, the occasional swipe of her hand on her apron.

“Guess his ma died on a wagon train headed west—nobody wanted to take ‘im in, so Gloria did. I guess the wagon train stopped in Meadowdale to stock up. He’s a tiny shit—”

“Buck!” Sarah snapped, “your language.”

Chris snickered.

“Sorry, Sarah,” Buck quickly apologized.

“What’s he like?” Sarah asked, serving up her chicken and dumplings onto tin plates.



“Oh, nice kid…follows ya around like a pup.” He sat up straighter when Sarah placed the food on the table. He waited until she was seated before he continued, “Gloria’s already got ‘im workin’ in the store.” He smiled, rubbing Chris’ face in his past.

“Least I wasn’t the one that fouled up the books,” Chris snickered, before taking a bite of his dumpling.

“Figures ain’t my strong suit…unless they’re of the more…shapely form.” Buck laughed, dodging the napkin thrown at him from Sarah’s side of the table.

“Judge Travis rode by this afternoon,” Sarah spoke softly, changing the subject. “He said he wanted everyone in town tomorrow night for a meeting at the grange.”

“What about?” Chris questioned.

“He didn’t say,” she answered, and then giggled when Buck wiped his plate clean with his day old bread.

The man inhaled his food.

“I’ve got to get married—you’ve got it good, Chris,” Buck said, shoving the bread into his mouth, stretching his cheeks out past his ears, his lips moving as separate entities.

Sarah laughed, and tried to cover her mouth. “You’re such a child, Buck.”

Buck shrugged and finished his glass of milk without stopping. When he finally fished he said, “Chris brings the best out in me.” He slapped his friend on the shoulder and stood up, tossing his napkin on the table next to his plate. “I want to thank you, Sarah, for such a splendid meal…an’ I’ll take my leave and let you married folks do…whatever you do.” He snickered, grabbing his hat and scampering out of the cabin before Chris could throw something at him.

Sarah shook her head with a smile. She looked at Chris and scrunched her nose before saying, “I’ll let you clean that up.” She looked toward the tin plate next to the door and the small spatters of food on the floor and walls.

Chris just laughed.

*  *  *

Orin Travis sat at his dining room table, looking at his wife Evie, his son Steven, his daughter-in-law Mary, and their guest Ezra Standish. The room was quiet, almost still as the news of war disrupted dinner. Orin looked at Evie, seeing her despair—she knew things were about to change.

Twelve-year-old Ezra sat mute in his chair, looking at his plate of untouched food, feeling unsure about all things.

Steven looked at his wife, knowing his duty to her…and his duty to his country.

“I’ve called for a town meeting tomorrow,” Orin spoke up, his voice penetrating the air with a forceful blow.

“How do we know the news is accurate?” Steven asked, “If Lincoln made his announcement for 75,000 volunteers seven days ago…how do we know the South hasn’t yielded to the Union’s demands?”

Orin shook his head: “If that were the case, we’d be talking about something else this night.”

“Why did you summon a town meeting?” Evie asked, afraid of the answer she might receive. She locked eyes with Mary and saw the same uncertainty.

“Because we can’t hide from it.” The answer was simple but true.

Steven ran a hand through his black hair and looked hard at his wife. He saw her beauty, as her long golden locks hung about her face. At seventeen she was strong-headed and full of life, and the child she was carrying would make them both proud. “What do you plan to say at the meeting?” he asked, but knowing in his heart, the answer.

“I plan to tell the truth—to let the citizens of Meadowdale decide their own fate, and where they want to stand in regards to the Union—”

“You don’t believe it’s right?” Steven interrupted sharply.

“I didn’t say that—”

“You didn’t have to,” Steven replied. “We’re a boarder state, Father—with a strong leniency toward the Union.”

“That may depend on which side of the road you stand,” Orin said sharply, wanting only to reiterate that Kentucky continued to be a slave state, despite many citizens’ disagreement with the issue.

 Mary reached out and clasped her hand over her husband’s, trying to offer comfort in some way. She knew Steven’s passion for the Union, and the importance of keeping it together. He saw the South’s succession as treason, and she knew in her heart he’d leave her to fight to keep the States together…he’d do it for her, and their child.

Ezra refused to look anyone in the face, keeping his brilliant green eyes on the potatoes on his plate. His dark umber colored hair frayed around his eyes and his features gave nothing away. Though he was young, he understood what was being said.  He had family in Virginia. He’d been born there, spent most of his summer’s on his grandparent’s plantation.

He loved Virginia.

Ezra looked up and smiled tightly when Evie gently touched his hand.

She knew.

She knew the pain he was in, and the turmoil in his eyes was evident. “Go upstairs, Ezra…I’ll bring you up some warm milk.” She squeezed his hand and watched him leave the room in silence. He was a smart boy with a keen sense of perception. “I think it would be best if we refrained from speaking of such things until a better decision can be made—perhaps tomorrow at the meeting.” Evie carefully placed her napkin on the table next to her plate, and stood up from her chair. She looked hard at her husband before gracefully leaving the room, her skirts bustling around her as she moved.

“Do as your mother says,” Orin ordered, getting to his feet. “Get Mary home, she looks as though she could use the rest.” He turned and left the room, leaving through the same door his wife had left through just moments before.

Steven nodded and looked at his wife.

Mary smiled and nodded, knowing her husband, and knowing his decision had already been made. “When will you leave?” she asked softly, refusing to look him in the eye.

“Before the end of the week,” he answered simply, but honestly. “I’ll arrange it so you can stay here while I’m gone—I don’t want you alone when the baby comes—”

Mary turned her head, unable to look at him. “I want to go home,” she spoke softly.

“Please understand—”

“I want to go home now, Steven.” She turned sharply and looked at him, leaving no room for doubt in her demand.

Reluctantly, he stood up and did as he was asked.

*  *  *

Meadowdale was not a large town by any means, but it was growing, and bringing with it new citizens. Like so many new arrivals, Josiah Sanchez hadn’t been born in Kentucky. He’d come to Meadowdale at the age of twenty-two and made a life for himself, not only as the town sheriff, but a preacher—of sorts. Born the son of a traveling minister, Josiah had become disillusioned with his beliefs and his father, and as such decided to make his life his own.

He’d come to Meadowdale with the intention of getting a drink and staying the night. He hadn’t anticipated getting knifed behind the saloon and spending the next three weeks fighting for his life. It had been David, the town’s liveryman, who had found him behind the stable. Gloria Potter and the runaway slave, Nathan Jackson, had nursed him back to health, and as a result he’d found friends at a time in his life when he’d needed them most.

When Travis and the town council offered him the position of town sheriff, Josiah had at first been hesitant, but he later agreed, realizing he needed the job as much as the job needed him. He became close friends with Nathan, spending their time talking about their pasts, their hopes, and their futures.

That had been less than two years ago.

Josiah looked down the short road, and out toward the dark horizon. The moon’s bright glow caused the stones on the ground to glitter, and the leaves on the trees to shimmer. The horses in the corral next to the livery moved about, swatting their tails and nipping at each other, maintaining their pecking order. A stray dog ran through the streets, looking for morsels of food, no doubt he’d find something behind the restaurant. A few lanterns flickered in open windows, evidence of those with night owl instincts.

“I heard Travis’s called a town meetin’ for tomorrow?” Nathan asked, stepping up beside his friend, watching the moonlight flicker off the glass windows.

“You mean tonight,” Josiah replied with a chuckle, replacing his pocket watch in his jacket.

“There’s a part of me that wants to go back and fight…an’ there’s another part that wants me to say as far away as I can.” He knew what was going on…what everyone was talking about. He knew better than most what could happen for all men, not just the white man.

“Are they all the same to you?” Josiah asked, seeing anger in his friend, and understanding why it was there.

“Enough of ‘em,” Nathan responded, “there was a few though—good people…but there weren’t ‘nough. I’m still wanted by ‘em…an’ I’m afraid if I stay here…I’ll be puttin’ others in danger.”

“Don’t limit yourself by what other’s think or do, Brother,” Josiah said softly, “You’re worth more than that.” He slapped his friend on the shoulder and started walking toward his office.

“If the North can abolish slavery, Josiah, why can’t the South?”

Josiah stopped and looked out over the land, everything seemed so peaceful, so natural. “It’s a nice thought, believing the North abolished slavery because it was morally wrong, but the truth of the matter…” he looked hard at his friend, “…there’s no money in slavery here.”

“You don’t really believe that…do you?”

“I wish I didn’t, Brother, I wish to God I didn’t…” Josiah bowed his head and slowly returned to his office. 

Chapter 3

People moved around the grange searching for seats or places near the walls to stand and listen to Travis’ announcement. Farmers, ranchers, miners, and more knew what was coming, they could feel it in their hearts…they knew what they had to do.

Josiah moved to enter the grange, Nathan right behind him. Josiah was a big man, bigger than most with muscles that didn’t seem to end. Though he could intimidate most men with his size, rarely could he stop an army.

“Don’t want no niggers in here,” Tom Morley said, looking at Nathan, never taking his eyes from him.

“Let him be, Tom,” Josiah tried to reason. “Now ain’t the time.”

“Never goin’ to be the time, Sheriff.” Tom pulled his eyes from Nathan and settled them on Josiah. “Lots of folks in here think j’st like me—ya can’t fight us all.”

Nathan reached out and grasped Josiah’s arm. “I’ll wait out here,” he said softly, turning toward the sheriff’s office. He’d dealt with men like Morley all his life, and a fight would only rile them more.

“You’re a blind man, Morley, and even dumber than you look,” Josiah snapped, entering the grange. He looked around at the faces he knew and the ones he wasn’t as familiar with.

Voices echoed throughout the room, resting like a heavy fog over a lake.

Mayor Travis stood up and pounded his gavel on the makeshift desk before him. “LISTEN!” he yelled, pulling everyone’s attention to him. “Many of you know why we’re here tonight…for those of you who don’t…” he sighed and looked around the room, “…Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter eight day ago on…Saturday, April 13th.”

The crowd hushed, looking for answers and understanding.

“President Lincoln has asked for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months—Kentucky, and North Carolina have refused to send troops—”

“So it’s started?” an unknown voice asked from the crowd.

Travis looked at the faces around him and nodded. “The war has indeed begun,” he finally admitted.

“It don’t mean nothin’ for us—we’s too far north for it to bother us—”

“It all touches us in some way—we can’t just abandon what’s right,” another person yelled.

“Fightin’ our own kind ain’t right—ain’t never goin’ to be. I’s born in Louisiana—ain’t about to fight my kin.”

“We have a right to protect what belongs to us.”

Chris leaned forward in his chair, rested his elbows on his knees, and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked up and caught sight of Buck, and he knew right then that his friend was going to leave—many of them were. Even Nettie Wells’ boys looked ready to enlist. They stood apart from each other, almost miles across the room…Samuel had been born in the South…like so many of them.

A war would destroy so much…more than could ever be repaired. Men didn’t leave home to fight and return as they left, many didn’t return at all…those that returned were never the same.

Chris felt a soft hand on his back, and he turned to look at Sarah. She remained quiet, as though she didn’t have a word to say, but her actions spoke volumes.

They were going to war.

*   *   *

Orin looked at his wife and saw her dismay. He wasn’t blind to the emotions in the air, and he wasn’t foolish enough to ignore it. He looked at his friends and family, seeing their burdens as well. He looked toward the stairwell of his home and saw Vin and Ezra sitting together, eavesdropping, trying to hide themselves from the ‘adults’. 

“I’ll depart tomorrow,” Steven spoke bluntly. “Anyone willing…may join me.” He looked at his friends, Samuel, Jacob, Chris, Buck, and Josiah.

Sadly, Steven looked toward his wife, and watched her turn away from him—not from shame, but fear.

“I’ll ride with you,” Jacob spoke up, having made his decision long ago, but voicing it for the first time. He looked, and saw pride in his father’s eyes, and fear in his mother’s.

“Count me in,” Buck spoke firmly, leaning against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest.

*    *    *

“Who’re they fightin’, Ezra?” Vin asked, grasping the banister railing. He looked toward the young man beside him.

Ezra sighed, his shoulders slumping, and he turned away from the room and looked down the staircase. “Us,” he answered simply. “They’re fightin’ us.” His accent echoed hauntingly. He looked at Vin with heavy eyes and saddened features.

“What’s that mean?”

“Go home, Vin.” Ezra stood and turned toward his room.

“I ain’t got no home no more,” Vin spoke softly toward the retreating form. He looked again toward the room, seeing the confusion and unease.

*   *   *

Orin cleared his throat and looked at his family. “You should all go home and talk about this…what you’re deciding tonight will change the rest of your lives.”

Jacob stood strong. “We have to keep the Union together at all costs…no matter what.”

“Be leery of what you say, Brother,” Samuel snapped, grabbing his jacket.

“You’re not with us?” Steven asked.

“Us…? Us, implies a unity of ideals, or thought…there ain’t no ‘us’ in this room.”

“Samuel,” Nettie spoke softly, looking at her son.

“No, Momma,” he sighed, “I can’t…not like this.” He looked once at his father and then quickly left the room.

“I’m sorry, Evelin.” Nettie got to her feet and gently hugged her good friend. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she smiled tightly and waited patiently for her husband.

John stood and politely nodded to his friends before following his wife from the room. He called for Vin, and the youngster trotted down the stairs and grasped hold of Nettie’s hand and walked beside her, turning to look at Jacob and the others…all the while wondering what it had been that Ezra had meant.

Chris watched Vin, though only seven years older than the boy, it seemed to be a hundred. Chris grasped his wife’s hand, his heart heavy with uncertainty. He knew by looking at her that she knew the answers to questions he hadn’t asked, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“Are you joining us, Chris?” Steven asked firmly, expecting an answer.

“I don’t know.” Chris stood with his wife in hand and helped her with her shawl.

“We’ll leave at noon tomorrow,” Steven added.

Chris nodded, and escorted Sarah from the home, unsure about his future.

Josiah stood up, having been quiet the whole time. He slipped into his coat and nodded as though agreeing with himself. “I’ll be here,” he said quietly, turning and leaving.

Orin sighed, shaking his head. He looked at his glass of bourbon, and watched as the amber fluid moved with each shake of his hand. “You’ve been to college, Steven, they’ll promote or elect you as an officer.” He looked up at his son. “Remember the boys you send to die will haunt your dreams—”

“Enough!” Evie stood up, refusing to cry, but her tears fell anyway. “I will not have the talk of war in this house!” She looked at her husband and her son. “I understand your desire to fight for what you believe—but I do not understand the desire to kill. Do as you will, but do not speak of it here!” She turned suddenly and headed up the stairs.

Jacob grabbed his jacket and nodded to Orin and Steven before departing, leaving the two men together.

“Mother shouldn’t be frightened,” Steven spoke confidently.

Orin nodded: “You should be.” He placed his glass on the fireplace mantel and left the room.

*   *   *

Sarah lay with her back to her husband, contemplating whether or not to tell him of the child she was carrying. She was willing to try almost anything in order to keep him home, but she knew in her heart she couldn’t ask that of him. She grasped his hand when he rolled closer to her, lying his arm over her waist while spooning her. “Promise me one thing,” she whispered.

Chris opened his eyes, and gently squeezed her hand. “Anything,” he answered.

Sarah rolled onto her back so she could look her husband in the eye. “Come home…no matter what, just come home.”

Chris nodded, and looked at his wife, memorizing the color of her hair, her hazel eyes, the softness of her features. “You know I will.” He traced her jaw with his finger. Wanting more than anything to start a family, have many children, and own a ranch. He wanted to teach his sons how to work a horse, how to fish, and how to become men. Chris wanted to grow old with his wife, complain about his arthritic knees, watch his daughters get married…have children of their own.

“What are you smiling at?” Sarah asked, unable to hide one of her own.

“The vision of you trying to feed all of our children at the kitchen table, and me walking into the house covered in horse manure.”

“And just how many children do you see me trying to feed?” She brushed his cheek with her fingers.

“Five, three boys and two girls.” He moved his hand gently over her breast, feeling her.

Sarah laughed: “I like your vision.” She kissed his mouth as he pulled her nightshirt up and ran his hands along the length of her form. “I like it indeed…” 

*   *   *

Nettie stood in her kitchen looking out over the moonlit plains. Vin slept peacefully in his bed adjacent to the fireplace. His brown curly hair fell about his features in soft whispers. Already handsome, his childish characteristics would chisel over time, and those knowing eyes would pierce the souls of his enemies. Nettie shook her head, and turned her attention toward her boys…thinking about the times they’d had moving to the homestead.

Carefully, she finished packing the knapsack with food: apples, sandwiches, pickles, and plenty of beef jerky. She placed the Bible her mother had given her inside the pouch, carefully placed between some hand woven handkerchiefs, and a letter. Her heart burned, as though she were saying goodbye forever. She tried not to let her pain show, but she didn’t know how much longer she could hide it.

“Momma,” Samuel spoke softly, stepping up beside the old wooden table.

Nettie took a deep breath and turned to face her eldest son. Not giving Samuel a chance to say much of anything she handed him the knapsack. “I’ve packed you plenty of food in here, and you make sure you get lots of rest—don’t push yourself too hard—and say your prayers—” 

“I will, Momma,” Samuel said softly, taking his mother’s hand as he took the knapsack.

Nettie clenched her jaw and looked hard at her boy. “Promise me you won’t fire at your brother—promise me at least that, Samuel—give me that.”

“I promise.”

Nettie nodded and quickly started to pull at her son’s jacket, making sure it was closed and in order, she didn’t want him getting chilled. “Jacob didn’t mean what he said at the Travis’—he’s a lot like me in that way,” she smiled tightly, “he wants to do what he believes is right—”

“So do I, Momma.”

Nettie clenched her jaw and nodded. “Your father’s out in the barn…waitin’ for you.” She dusted off his shoulder, wishing he were young enough that she could force him to stay.

Samuel nodded and reached down to give his mother a hug. “I love you.” He pulled away but was quickly pulled back into the embrace.

“Come home,” Nettie whispered in his ear, and then quickly released him. She brushed the front of her skirt, trying to hide her tears. She watched him grab the doorknob. “Don’t you ever forget how much I love you, boy…don’t ever forget that.”

“I won’t, Momma.” He smiled and slowly opened the door and headed out to the barn.

As soon as the door closed, Nettie covered her mouth with her hand, trying to keep from crying aloud. Samuel had always been the quiet one. The one who never spoke his mind, but who spoke with his actions. His decision to fight for the Confederacy wasn’t an easy one for him to make. It was a decision made after careful consideration, and one made with a heavy heart. Nettie looked at Vin, seeing a strong comparison between he and her son. She’d do all she could to keep him home, keep him safe, and hopefully the war would be over before he could join.

*    *    *

Samuel entered the stable and watched as his father worked diligently on the mount he’d prepared for his son. The big bay gelding stood patiently while he was saddled, bridled, and loaded down with a bedroll and saddlebags. 

“Your mother insisted,” John said, tightening the cinch, “She thought it would be best if you had more than a work horse.” He placed the stirrup back into its original position and gently slapped the horse on the chest. “He wasn’t the best lookin’ one there…but he had the best conformation.” He untied the horse from the post and slowly led the animal forward. John sighed and played with the reins for a moment before looking up at his son. “It’s not too late…to decide not to go.” He looked for even the slightest hesitation, but he didn’t find any.

“I can’t, Pop, you know that.”

John nodded: “Yes, I suppose I do.” Hesitantly, he handed over the reins. “It ain’t much, but I put a little bit of money in the right side pouch—and I added a couple leather straps…just in case you need ‘em to fix your shoes—or have trouble with the bridle…” He looked at his son. “I wish I could stand here and tell you what to expect…but I can’t.”

“I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

John nodded and furrowed his brow. “Good, I’ll need some help come harvest.” He tried to smile, but he couldn’t. He reached out to shake his son’s hand, and quickly pulled him into an embrace. “Be careful.” He stood back as his son mounted.

Samuel took one last look around the home he’d grown up in, wishing he could have left at sunrise, but alas his yearning wouldn’t allow him to wait. He watched his father carry the lantern toward the house and wait on the front porch. Samuel saluted and quickly galloped off; afraid if he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to leave.

John watched; a part of himself was going with him. He turned slowly and headed inside his home, the home his sons had helped him build. He watched his wife for a moment, sitting on the edge of Vin’s bed, brushing his hair away from his forehead. “Mrs. Wells,” he said softly, affection lacing his tone.

Nettie looked up, regaining her composure. “Mr. Wells,” she smiled tightly. “There’s coffee on the stove.” She pulled a blanket up around Vin’s shoulders. “Jacob will arise in a couple of hours…I should start preparin’ him some sandwiches.” She stood up and moved past her husband.

“Our boys are goin’ to war.”

Nettie nodded, but continued to slice some bread. “The horse, Mr. Wells?”

“The boys need them, and I wasn’t about to watch them walk into a war.”

“It’s a war, Mr. Wells, boys die in wars…we should be foolish to believe our sons would come home untouched by this madness.” She sighed. “And Jacob?” Both sons were equal in her eyes.

“The chestnut gelding…I purchased them both at the livery a couple of days ago.”

“Mr. Wells…?” Nettie turned and looked at her husband. “Two days ago?”

“War has been stirrin’ in this land for a long while…and our boys are no longer children—”

“I guess that is how we differ,” Nettie snapped, “As a mother…they’ll always be my boys.”

John watched his wife, knowing her pain. He turned and looked at Vin while he slept…so innocent, so peaceful…

*   *   *

Josiah packed his bag, filling it with clothing, his bedroll, a picture his sister had drawn him stuffed inside the Bible his mother had given him so many years before. He took one last look around his room, wondering if he’d ever see it again. He ran a hand over his short brown hair and scratched at the beard he’d started growing the day he’d turned twenty. Four years was a long time, but he picked up his razor and moved to the mirror.

At twenty-four, Josiah had a pretty good vision of what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he wanted to come back to Meadowdale, make a life here for himself…one day he’d like to have a child of his own. He continued shaving, even as a soft knock sounded at the door. He yelled for whomever it was to enter just as he wiped his face with a towel.

“Josiah,” Gloria said, standing in the doorway, refusing to enter the room, knowing it wouldn’t be an acceptable thing to do. “I’ve packed you a bag with plenty of food: apples, sandwiches…I’ve even added a couple of my sweet potato pies.” She smiled and handed the heavy bag to him. “David reshod your mount and readied him…and my husband’s got you a new bedroll—it’s already packed on your saddle.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Potter.”

Gloria smiled. She patted the front of her skirts and brushed her black hair away from her young face. “Be careful.” She smiled tightly, remembering how Josiah had helped save her husband when his store was being robbed. “If you ever need anything, please…don’t hesitate to ask.”

Josiah nodded, feeling the heavy weight of the bag.

Gloria turned and quickly headed toward the store, she smiled when JD burst out the front door with his usual energetic step. His black hair bounced around his head as though it were a separate unit. He grasped Gloria’s hand and half dragged her back into the store.

Josiah laughed; he was going to miss the boy’s antics. With one last look around the place that had been his home for so long, he reached for his bag of belongings and his jacket. He closed the door behind him as he left. The town was awakening for the day, but their luster for life had been diminished. Now the thought of war lingered heavy in everyone’s mind, even the young ones knew on some level that something was wrong.

David stood out in front of the livery with Josiah’s big chestnut gelding, saddled and ready to go. He handed the reins over, wishing he felt young enough to go.

“Thank you, David,” Josiah said softly, taking the reins.

“There’s an extra set of horse shoes in your saddlebags, it weighs you down a bit, but I figure with the distance you’re travelin’ they might come in handy.” He stepped back as Josiah mounted. “I’ll keep that stall for you—for when you get back.”

“And an extra bag of grain?” Josiah asked with a smile.

“Will do.”

Josiah reached up and tipped his hat before nudging his horse forward.

“You gonna take me fishin’ when you get back, J’siah?” JD called, running along side the big chestnut.

“That’s a promise, John Dunne.”

“I’ll go fetch us some worms,” the boy yelled, dodging off to the side, unaware of just how long Josiah would be gone.

*   *   *


Nathan waited for his friend out by the old willow tree. His appaloosa gelding cocked his right hind hoof while his rider sat still. A brisk early summer wind caught the sleeves of his shirt, blowing it gently against his skin. His decision to fight hadn’t come from his need for escape, but his need to help change a way of life…for himself…and others. Slavery had almost killed him on more than one occasion, but his drive for freedom had saved him. He hoped he could repay those who had helped him on his journey to Meadowdale, both white and black, both Northern and Southern.

At seventeen, Nathan was a big man. Tall and muscular yet lean… He’d taught himself to read with the use of an old book about dogs, though he still had trouble with larger words, his devotion and determination always won out. He looked at his hands, at how callused they were. He hoped that one day they would be worth more than chopping wood, fixing a fence, or planting a field. He hoped that one day he’d be able to use them for a greater good.

He’d watched his grandmother with avid fascination as she used herbs and poultices to heal fellow slaves and the animals they worked so closely with. He wanted to use all the information he’d learned from her, all that she had taught him.

He looked up when he saw Josiah’s familiar chestnut gelding come closer. The sun’s early rays opened up the sky and lit the ground.

“Wasn’t sure I’d see you,” Josiah said softly, pulling his horse to a stop.

“Wasn’t sure I’d come,” Nathan admitted. “There’s a group of runaways in Ohio I’ll ride with—but I figured I’d ride with you an’ the others ‘til then.”

Josiah nodded in agreement. “Sounds good.”

*   *   *

Vin clasped hold of Nettie’s hand as Jacob finished saddling his mount. Unsure of what was happening around him, he knew things were bad. The talk of war had filled the home late at night when everyone thought he was asleep, and he knew people were going to die…just like his mother had. He looked at Nettie’s hand, watching as the veins protruded from her skin, as her knuckles cracked and bled…

Symbolic of what was to come.

Nettie looked down at the boy and smiled in reassurance…things would work out—they had to.

Jacob sighed, and turned to look at his family. He stepped up to his mother, seeing her fear—her uncertainty.

“I’ve packed you plenty of food…don’t ride too hard—get plenty of sleep—stay warm—stay healthy.” Nettie dusted his shoulders. “Your brother is a good man, Jacob…don’t kill him.” She looked into his eyes, fearing above all else her sons would fall victim to each other’s convictions.

“I will not.” He wrapped his arms around her, memorizing her smell, her hair, the way she smiled, and the way she cried. “I’ll come home, and God’s will, I’ll bring Samuel home with me.”

Nettie nodded, unable to speak, and she placed her hands on either side of her son’s face. “Be careful.”

“I will, Momma.” He kissed her cheek gently and looked suddenly down at Vin. “You goin’ to take care of her while I’m gone?”

Vin nodded: “You ain’t goin’ to die…are ya, Jacob?”

Jacob shook his head and chuckled. “I’ll be home takin’ you fishin’ before the first fall of snow.” He sounded confident.

“Promise?” Vin asked, wanting to make sure.

“I promise.”

Vin looked up and smiled, feeling somewhat relieved.

John reached out and hugged his son.

“I’ll come home,” Jacob tried to reassure. He turned and mounted his horse and then reached out for his mother’s hand.

Nettie pulled gently on his fingers as he rode away, and slowly she let her hand fall back to her side. Tears fell down her cheeks in bold lines, falling in droplets onto her blue blouse.

Her sons were gone, fighting in a war that should never have started. She heard her husband walk toward the corral.

Both watching as their son disappeared into the distance.

“Go help Mr. Wells repair the fence,” Nettie said softly, brushing her tears away. “I’ll put us on somethin’ to eat.”

Vin watched her go…feeling suddenly alone. He looked around, trying to understand why things were happening the way they were. Everyone was leaving…and those that weren’t seemed so sad. He tucked his head and took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts he headed toward John…

*   *   *

Chris tightened the cinch and moved the stirrup back into place. His mount shook his head and waited patiently as his master tossed a bedroll onto the back of the saddle and tied it in place.

Sarah stepped out of the house and walked toward the corral, her housecoat wrapped tightly around her. Her eyes were puffy, red, still spilling those unwelcome tears. She smiled tightly when her husband looked at her, and as strong as she tried to be her body yearned for his touch, his comfort, his being. She choked back a sob as his arms were wrapped around her waist, and she gripped the back of his shirt with all her strength, wanting so much to make him stay. “…Please don’t go…”

“I have to, Sarah.”

She nodded, but asked again anyway.

“I’ll come home,” he whispered into her ear.

Sarah nodded, and kissed his neck. “Write me,” she choked, looking him in the eye, searching for his promise.

“Every day,” Chris answered, wanting so much to tell her he wasn’t going, but knowing he couldn’t. “I’ll be home before you know it, and we’ll plan on startin’ our family—I’ll even add onto the house.”

Sarah nodded even as her chin quivered and her eyes watered. She wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck and whispered, “Don’t you die on me, Chris Larabee.” She kissed his cheek and released him. “I need you here—with me.”

Chris smiled: “I won’t—I swear on my life.” He mounted his horse as he saw Buck riding in from the west. “I’ll come home,” he reassured.

With all the strength she could muster she stood up strong and proud and dried her eyes. “Go,” she ordered, “before Buck leaves without you.” She smiled tightly and waved him off. She watched for a moment as he galloped away, only to stop and turn, tip his hat to her and join up with Buck soon after. She watched until he disappeared, and then without warning she let her brave face fall. Tears ran down her cheeks and she rushed for the house, slamming the door and allowing herself to sink to the floor. “God send him home,” she pleaded, covering her belly with her hands, “send him home.”  

*   *   *

Evie finished packing a knapsack full of food and a few personal belongings for her son. She could see Steven out speaking with his father in front of the porch of their home. She could see Chris, Buck, Jacob, Josiah, and Nathan out waiting on the other side of the fence. Their saddles loaded down with belongings.

Boys heading to war…

Men who will kill…

Sons that will die…

She tried to be brave, doing her best in order not to appear weak before her son or his friends. However, she wanted to rush out that door and plead with him not to go—beg him to stay home and raise the family that was coming.

But she wouldn’t.

No matter what she said to him, Mary would have already tried it. Evie sighed and carefully tied the canvas bag closed, and she took a deep breath.

She had to be strong.

Like her mother…

Like her grandmother…

And those just like her…

*   *   *

Steven looked up and smiled when his mother stepped out of the house. She walked proudly toward him. “Mother,” he said softly, standing strong…standing dignified.

Evie smiled and handed him the knapsack. She reached out instinctively and pulled at his jacket, as though making sure for herself that it would be adequate to keep him warm. “Mary?”

“She’s at home, packing a few things so she can stay here until the baby comes—father approved.”

“Of course,” Evie replied. “I packed plenty for everyone—just in case you…”

“Thank you, Mother.” Steven leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. “Is Ezra around, wanted to say goodbye?”

“He was upset last night…I thought I would let him sleep late today.” She didn’t want the young Southerner to stand and watch as many of his friends headed out to fight those that had raised him…those that loved him, and those he loved. She reached up and wrapped her arms around her son’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Come home…whatever you do—come home.”

“I will, Mother,” Steven replied, returning her embrace.

Evie took a step back, grasping her husband’s hand as he wrapped an arm around her slender waist. She watched their son mount his steed, and like a champion he tipped his hat out of respect. He nodded to those around him, and together as one they moved toward their destiny.

Evie choked back a sob and her husband held her tighter.

“He’ll come home,” Orin tried to sound confident.

“Will he?” Evie challenged, not believing she’d ever see her son again. “Will you hitch up the wagon…? I’d better see to Mary.” She turned and headed for house.

Orin watched her for a moment before speaking softly, “That little gray mare went missing this morning—”

“The one Ezra’s so fond of?” Evie asked softly, knowing how disappointed the boy would be to find her gone.

“Evie…” Orin shook his head, hoping he wouldn’t have to explain.

She turned and looked at him, her face growing pale. “He’s just a boy—” she pleaded in a panic, rushing up to Ezra’s room, carrying her skirts in her hands, her legs brushing up against her petticoat.

A boy of twelve…

Orin sighed, and turned to look into the distance…his son and his friends no longer in view. A cold chill seeped into his soul, and for a moment he had to stop and force himself to breathe. Deep inside, he knew he’d never see his son or Ezra again, and the pain was harsh, and would only worsen over time. He knew that.

He feared it.

*   *   *

Evie entered Ezra’s room, hoping above all else that he would be there, but she only found his empty bed, perfectly made, his clothing gone, the only thing remaining was a note with the simple inscription…Thank you. Carefully, she picked up the note and seated herself on the edge of the bed.

She looked up when she heard her husband’s footsteps stop in the doorway. “Will we see them again?” she asked, turning her eyes toward the window, looking out over the land. 

“May we pray so.”

Evie wiped at the tears streaming down her cheeks. “Oh, Orin…” she cried, “I fear I have lost more today than I can ever regain.” She looked up and met his eyes. “Perhaps it is wrong of me to say…but I fear we may never see our son again.”

Orin slipped in beside his wife, gently took her hand and kissed it. “Now is not the time to fear what we do not know.”

Evie nodded, and slowly rested her head against his shoulder…she prayed for the boys she loved, and the men she cherished.