Strength and Honor

by Beth

Notes: The June 2002 Challenge:  offered by Christine  (sevenstar)
Assuming that the Seven get together in the 1870's (my personal date is 1878, but you don't have to go with that): Write a story in which one or more of the guys encounter a historic figure. This may be a Wild West character (Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, the Earps, Quanah Parker (!), any famous outlaw you favor), a Civil War figure, anyone who would fit into their timeline. The encounter can take place before or after the group comes together, whatever works for you. And it has to be a *story*--something *happens* in it.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and should be taken as such…however; the facts therein are true to life. I don’t know if Robert E. Lee ever spoke with anyone about the things listed in this story, but know; they are facts and really happened. 

Special Thanks: To Antoinette, who so graciously gives of her time to beta these challenges on such short notice!

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April 5th 1865

Nobody ever told him what to feel or how to show his emotions at such a time in his life. He was too young to understand, but here he was despite that…fighting in a war that couldn’t be won. They knew that now, and after four long years of fighting, riding, walking, and in general…giving everything he had for the cause.

They were all young…too young. Most were thin and frail…looking more like scarecrows than humans. The clothing they wore was old, tattered, and muddied…most didn’t even have shoes. And still, they stood strong, determined, and ready to fight to the end.

Ezra watched the fire burn. The flames flickered against the gentle breeze and sparks flew upwards, disappearing into the dark night sky. Spring had arrived and brought with it new life. Trees now sought the bright sun and early rains, and flowers bloomed as though the heavens were upon them. He could hear the horses in the distance, the swishing of their tails, shaking of their heads, and their soft knickers.

“Mind if I share your fire?” the man asked, his long gray coat hung from his shoulders and his silver hair feathered around his ears and neck.

“No, sir,” Ezra replied softly, getting to his feet to salute.

“At ease,” the man responded, sitting next to the fire to warm his aging hands. He watched the younger man return to his former position. “Might I ask to whom you are writing to?”

“A friend,” Ezra responded softly, unwilling to answer more. He quickly put his pencil and paper away.

The older man looked at the youth…boy, really, and sighed. “Do you regret what you’ve been fighting for?” he asked in earnest.

Ezra looked up and met a set of eyes that held more grief than any he’d ever seen before. How could this man ask him such a thing? “I regret not having fought harder,” he admitted regretfully.

The general smiled slightly. “I can only hope and pray that the results of this war will be told in truth by the men who fought it.”

“The Yankees are writing lies about us…and our views of slavery.”

The general chuckled and shook his head. “Slavery is not the issue, nor has it ever been.” He leaned back and looked hard at the young man sitting across from him. “In 1646 the colony of Massachusetts passed a law legalizing the slavery of Indians. They were the first to legalize slavery in this country and it was Patrick Henry the governor of Virginia who prohibited the importation of African slaves.” He smiled sadly. “Strange to think that we are fighting for something we so strongly prohibited…No, son,” he spoke softly, “this is a war that deals with much more than the subject of slavery.”

“Then why are lies bein’ told?”

“It’s easier to fight an enemy that is seen as evil,” the man admitted thoughtfully. “When this war is over, and you’re looking into the eyes of your children let them know that their father fought for a just cause. He fought for the rights of his land, his home, and his people…” he paused, thinking of his own family…and the news he knew he’d share with them. “Slavery was dying in the South long before the war started.”

Ezra looked hard at the man sitting across from him: “If we’re so right in our cause…why are we losin’?”

The question cut him to the bone and made his heart yearn for a time passed. “I am the leader of the greatest army ever to step foot on Southern land. My men have faced and beaten the odds with the greatest of care and grace…” he stopped momentarily, “…we are one third the size of the Northern aggressor and we have fought gallantly for four long years…We’re not losing…” his words were strong and full of hope, “we’re building the strongest nation in the world. One day brothers will reunite in the homes they grew up in, families will cherish those they thought they’d lost, and the blood of this nation will run thicker than honey.” 

Ezra watched him, and understood his words on many levels. “What will happen when it’s ovah?”

He watched an unfamiliar emotion cross the young man’s face. “You’ll return home, and keep the integrity of the South inside your heart and you’ll be there when she rebuilds herself.”

“And the lies…?”

“Will continue,” the older man admitted. “Unless you take it upon yourself to write the truth…and to keep the South free of neglect and slander.” He smiled softly and looked at Ezra with a kind and generous eye. “We’re a proud people, and no matter the outcome of this war, we should not be ashamed of what we’ve fought for…but proud. Our children’s children will one day look back on us and be proud of what we accomplished…of what we stood for, and fought for. No matter the privation we may face we should hold or heads high and let no man take what is rightfully ours.”

Ezra smiled, remembering why he’d enlisted…and why he wanted to fight in the first place. He watched as the older man slowly got to his feet. “General Lee,” he said, getting to his feet and saluting. “It’s been an honor…Sir.”

His face was strong and yet held more softness and care than a gentlewoman’s breast. His eyes were stoic and filled with grief and compassion. Though his hair was gray…almost white…his strength was undeniable. He brought his hand to his forehead and saluted, clenching his jaw proudly. “The honor is mine,” he replied, before turning and disappearing into the night.

The End

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