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“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
The whizz-crack! of bullets pierced the stillness of the summer morning, mowing down soldiers in their wake. Cries of fear and pain rent the air, rivaled only by the distant sound of cannon fire and the thunder of a thousand boots tramping across the field. My horse whinnied plaintively, frightened by the sudden turmoil of battle. It took everything I had to keep my chin up, to keep my gaze focused on the cloud of dirt that hid my enemy.
“…the Lord is with thee…”
I gritted my teeth and tightened my grip on the reins. I had to ignore him. I had to, or I would surely break.
“…blessed art Thou—”
“Steady, man,” I finally said. I glanced over to see that the soldier at the very end of my line held a rosary between his trembling fingers. I didn’t recognize him; he had only recently been transferred to my unit. His face was blotchy and pale, reinforcing the abject terror which lit his eyes and set his hands to shaking. I looked away quickly, hoping that he might be quiet long enough for us to be blown to pieces.
“My father was a pastor, sir.”
His voice was almost lost in the commotion around us. Still, I heard him, and I couldn’t help but crack a wan smile.
“Pray to your God, then – maybe He can get you out of this mess.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
I turned my face so that he could see the awful scar that stretched from my chin to my forehead. It was puckered and red, still scabbed over where the saber had dug deep into my skin. I grinned. The other men under my command had learned not to stare at the wound; even now, I could sense them automatically looking away. Him, though… he missed a step in shock, practically tripping over his rifle while he struggled to recover himself.
“You could say that I’ve given up on Him since last we spoke.”
Not a moment later, the faint sound of a bugle drifted across the field. I stiffened, drew my horse to a halt, and quickly drew the sword hanging at my side.
“Steady – steady!” I yelled, breaking from my place in the line and riding up and down the ranks. I was thankful that I could not see their expressions; I didn’t think that I would have been able to deal with their frightened faces, their haunted eyes. “Prepare to fire!”
Rifles were raised and powder poured. A cannon ball crashed into our left flank, sending dirt and bodies flying. The rebels finally came into sight; I raised my sword, pointed to them, and recoiled as a bullet lodged itself in my shoulder. I hissed, gritted my teeth, and reined in my horse before it could bolt.
I will never know who issued the order in my stead. The men listened, and the world around me exploded with smoke and musket-flash. I ran my horse down the line, barking commands as I worked to tie a tourniquet above my wound. The men held their ranks as the rebels began to charge, loading, firing, loading, firing…
As I turned again to charge down the line once more, my horse took a bullet to the knee and I was thrown. The battle fell into chaos when the two armies finally met. Bayonets danced in the grim half-light, claiming more lives than bullets alone could have. I was still on the ground, struggling to my feet, when something cold pierced my ribs. My vision swam; I was vaguely aware of something warm soaking into my coat, spreading out across my skin…
“Holy Mary, mother of God…”
I glanced up from where I knelt, eyes searching blindly until they rested on the broken body of the pastor’s son. There was blood everywhere; I could smell it, feel it beneath me as the world began to fade.
“Pray for us sinners…”
He, too, was wounded. I tried to lift my hand to reach out to him, but found that it would not move. The pain in my chest and the throb of the bullet in my shoulder slowly lost all meaning to me. I just wanted to close my eyes and drift away, to surrender to the darkness at the edges of my sight.
Strong hands grasped my shoulders and hauled me up. My head lolled to the side, but someone forced it back so that I looked into their eyes. I couldn’t recognize him, could no longer remember if I should recognize him. He looked angry; I wanted to tell him that everything was ok now.
“Captain Wiggin?” He shook his head and pulled me closer, eyes wild as he fumbled with the regimented buttons which hid the gaping wound between my ribs. “Don’t die on me, man. Please, God, don’t die…!”
I didn’t understand why he was so worried. God, all I wanted to do was sleep. I wanted the noise to go away and I wanted my head to stop hurting, but sleep would have sufficed in the others’ stead.
“P-pray for us sinners, now… a-and at the hour of our death.”
Wearily, I closed my eyes.